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Saturday, June 28, 2008

I made a discovery. Looking back over some of my Blog, I realized that it’s not really haha-laugh out loud funny. I’m a little disappointed. It’s not that I expect you to bust a gut whilst reading of my triumphs, trials and tribulations. I just hoped for more than grunt-in-humoristic-appreciation funny. Bummer. Sorry to disappoint. But I guess at this point, if you’re still reading this, then you know what to expect. I’m the only one who is surprised. Sigh. At any rate, I’ve haven’t quit my (imaginary) job to go compete on Last Comic Standing, and I haven’t tried to submit any funnies for the Comics. So I guess we’re OK. Here’s your half-ass chuckle for the week.

First of all, last weekend Mike and I went to Spokane for an Engaged Encounter meeting. We squeezed in a nice (and brief) visit with his aunt and uncle before coming home. But the majority of the weekend was spent in our meeting/workshop. The meetings are always so fun, and we did get to stay in a Convent. There were ACTUAL habited-nuns running about the place! (Actually, I never saw one run, but I did see one driving a golf cart with a dog on a leash running alongside). And nuns made our food and packed us a sack dinner for the drive home on Sunday. I honestly had to bite my tongue for bursting into “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” I thought that that desire would all be in my head. But no. I REALLY did fight the urge to do that. I succeeded. Just barely.
We saw a total of TEN deer while on our travels. Unfortunately the last one was taking a nap next to I-90 on our drive home.
One of the couples – Bob and Vicki – at the meeting is from a distant and rugged land called Montana. They thought it was pretty entertaining that I was so desperate to see wildlife as it’s a daily occurrence for them. So, Saturday evening several of us ventured out to see if we could find some deer on the picturesque Convent grounds. Sure enough, within moments of setting out the door, I spotted four deer over in a grassy field. Bob was so proud that his wildlife-spotting-protégé (moi) showed such promise. I then decided that seeing the deer wasn’t enough of an education in nature for me. I wanted to see what deer poo looked like. We then went on a deer-poo hunt. (Because of course, the deer had leapt away as we walked towards them; we were able to go right to the spot where they’d just been mingling). Bob found some poo to show me. Did you know that it’s quite firm? (Oh, to clarify: I didn’t touch it, I was just surprised that it appeared to be little hard pellets. With all the grass and roughage they eat, you’d think the grass would keep things loose for them.)
Bob picked up a pellet and chucked it at me. I squealed like a City Girl much to everyone’s delight…turns out it was just a little pine cone.
I also learned that people actually BUY deer pee to cover themselves in when hunting. Who knew?
In true EE-style, Saturday night of our “meeting” was a big ‘ol rockin’ party. So, the deer-hunting party was actually about 12 people stumbling around the Convent grounds being WAY too loud and raucous. Sunday morning, as we all groggily staggered out of our rooms for breakfast, we realized that people were showing up for Sunday morning Mass…and having to practically step over and around the piles and boxes of empty and discarded wine and beer bottles. We tried to quickly hide the evidence. But they were on to us. “Oh, Engaged Encounter was here. Right.”
The kids have been extra challenging lately. Basically being boys – wee, little, troublesome boys. Zach has decided that the best form of self-defense and self-expression is screaming a high, blood-shaking and window-curdling [yes, intentional. I’m mixing up the clichés to keep you on your toes]. Matthew has decided that being all around difficult, argumentative and non-compliant is his new behavior-of-choice.
So, Mike and I have found ourselves saying “NO!” and “STOP!” a lot (and pulling out our hair a lot more often). In all the parenting books in the entire world – basically all the places where it says ‘Don’t do what Mike and Jenny do’ it basically states: instead of saying No, put it in a positive way. I.E. “You can’t hit the dog, but you CAN pet the dog…or you can go hit your pillow.” This is all fine and good but kind of a bunch of hooey. Mike brought up a good point, “So, your child is running towards the hot stove and you’re supposed to calmly say ‘You CAN go touch the fridge…” Right.

In the car, on the way to the zoo, yesterday, Matthew said the following, “We should have a baby girl, Mom.”
When I explained that yes that would be lovely and we certainly have the girls’ clothes in boxes, it would require that I be in bed – and possibly the hospital – for months; I just don’t know if that’s a good idea.
He responded with “We’ll adopt her because she won’t have a family. And you can be her Mommy! And” – getting more excited – “Zach, we’ll be big brothers! Isn’t that great? We’re going to have a sister!”
So, apparently, with this all decided, I asked, “What should we name her?”
Without skipping a beat, he replied, “Abigail. ‘Cuz we’ve been saving that name.” I can’t even articulate what I was thinking at this point…it’s like he opened my brain and dumped all my thoughts onto the empty passenger seat next to me.
After a long pause I said, “I don’t know Matthew, I’ve been getting pretty frustrated with you two boys lately. Do you think we could handle another kiddo? Plus, you’d have to share toys with someone else and you have a hard enough time sharing with just Zach.” [All the while, I’m thinking: should I really be responsible for screwing up another little humanoid?]
Matthew said, “Yep! We’ll share. And she’s going to help us. She’ll tell us when we’re making bad choices.” That’s a lot of pressure on this little girl! I should know since that’s now my role. But I’d be willing to do some form of job-share.

Once we arrived at the zoo, Matthew said, “Let’s go see the teeter-totters!”
“Matthew, I don’t think they have teeter-totters here.” I tried to remember seeing a playground.
“No, Mom, the TEETER-TOTTERS. By the bears.”
“You know! The ones that swim.”
It finally dawned on me. “OH! The SEA OTTERS!”

“Let’s dance!” Matthew said, jumping up from his Legos. (“HUH?!” I thought. Matthew is not one for physical activity...especially if it interrupts something like playing-Legos).
“OK.” We stood up, Matthew took both my hands and we started walking back and forth, back and forth – About four feet in one direction, then we’d stop, and go back to where we started.
“What dance is this?” I asked (not actually expecting much of an answer).
“The Mango.”
“The Mango?” huh? He’s never eaten a mango in his life. “Oh! Do you mean the Tango?”
“Yeah, the tango!” How he knows what the Tango is – or how it’s danced – is beyond me. How his brain works, in general, is beyond me. (Then again, I don’t actually know how any brains work. I’m not a brain specialist, just to be clear.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mike and I are heading to Spokane for the weekend. We have an Engaged Encounter Unit Board Meeting and will also hopefully squeeze in a brief visit with his fam before returning to our boys. (Our offspring will be living it up with my parents). We will stay at the retreat facility where Spokane Engaged Encounter weekends are held. This retreat facility just so happens to be at a convent! I’m so pumped to stay at a convent. I’ve been brushing up on my The Sound of Music numbers like, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” and “The Hills are Alive.” I hope they have a Swiss-Alps-type hill for me to perform that one on. I’ll need space to spin and enough open room for the helicopter to fly over. Also, I’ve worked up a couple of routines from Sister Act. I’m not too familiar with the musical Nunsense, but I think I better look into that one as well. I’ll fit right in at the nunnery! You can actually quote Hamlet to me, “Get thee to a nunnery!” And it would be perfectly acceptable and appropriate.
When I haven’t been practicing my nun-themed musical numbers, I’ve been doing extraordinary things like finishing a book! (As in writing one, not reading one). Yesterday, I printed off 157 pages of my completed manuscript. OK, it’s not at all completed and shouldn’t even really be called a manuscript, but that just sounds much more impressive than, “I printed off 157 pages of my first draft that needs a lot of revisions.”
I typed the last sentence, hit . and just sat there. I’m done. Wow. This is not at all how I thought it would feel. I’m not exactly sure what I expected but a little bit more somethin’ somethin’ than this. It’s not like I realistically anticipated that I hit “Save” one last time and then the phone rings – it’s an Agent on the phone saying that he/she would like to represent me and my 157 pages of literary genius and, Oh, they already have a publishing house interested…actually a few are ready to seduce me and my poor Agent has had to fight them off with a stick (in a polite, Agenty sort of way). Agent will have to sort through the mayhem and negotiate the most amazing book deal offer ever. “We’re making history, Dame Martin. Oh, why am I calling you Dame, Martin?” asks Agent. “Haven’t you heard that the Queen lady-ed you?”
I’m not really sure how it works, but, you know, a guy who’s fancy-impressive like Sir Isaac Newton or Sir Elton John gets knighted and amazing women, Dame Judi Dench, for example, get lady-ed. I think I even beat J.K.Rowling to the Ladyhood.
So, the phone didn’t ring and an Agent didn’t call. Not that I expected that. Nor did I expect a marching band to come parading down my street playing John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever – not because it’s patriotic so much as, in my head, when I think of hoorah! Yippee! Congratulatory music I usually hear the opening notes of that…and then once I start singing it [the words go “duh, duh, duh-dun-duhn, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh! Crash! – that’s the cymbals], I can’t help but get up and march and clap. It’s a pretty sad sight to be with me on the 4th of July…I just can’t be contained.
No Agent phoned. No marching band strode down 127th PL. Nothing. But I did write a book – from start to finish, and you can call me Dame Martin. Although, this weekend, at the convent, I’ll probably answer to Mother Superior.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I love it when I find an article or factoid that validates what I’m feeling. Like the one that comes out every year, saying that Moms/Housewives don’t get paid [at all] well enough. Although, I think that this year our approximate salary was quite deflated from last. I understand that the economy’s in rough times, blahblahblah, but I’m still doing my job here. I might demand a raise!

Anyway, the article this time basically supports everything that I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. For some reason, our boys chose Father’s Day to use up all of their perfect behavior skills. While, I appreciated the thought and it was a very nice day – we went to the zoo with my fam – I’m a little bummed they used up their perfect-quota all in one fell-swoop. Ever since then, I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but scold, referee, fix wounds, pull my hair, etc. (OK, I’m hearing the little mini-therapist who lives in my head say, “Jenny, remember: you can’t change those around you, you can only change the way you respond to them.” Yeah, yeah. I know.)

The gist of the article (if you don’t want to read the whole thing) is this: boys are harder until the age of 12 at which point, girls totally take the pain-in-the-neck cake. However, to water it down some more: we’ve got 12 years of hard (per boy), whereas parents of female-little-people only have about 6 years of at-home-in-your-face issues. So, we still win. Boys are tricky little machines!

By Paula Spencer –
“I often say that I spend more time and energy on my one boy than on my three girls. Other mothers of boys are quick to say the same. Forget that old poem about snips and snails and puppy dog tails, says Sharon O'Donnell, a mom of three boys and the author of "House of Testosterone." "Somehow it's been changed to boys being made of 'fights, farts, and video games,' and sometimes I'm not sure how much more I can take!" Not so fast, say moms of girls, who point out that they have to contend with fussier fashion sense, more prickly social navigations, and a far greater capacity to hold a grudge. And as a daughter grows, a parent's concerns range from body image to math bias.
Not so fast, say moms of girls, who point out that they have to contend with fussier fashion sense, more prickly social navigations, and a far greater capacity to hold a grudge. And as a daughter grows, a parent's concerns range from body image to math bias.
Stereotyping, or large kernels of truth? "I think parents use 'which is harder?' as an expression of whatever our frustration is at the moment," says family therapist Michael Gurian, author of "Nurture the Nature." "Boys and girls are each harder in different ways."
Every child is an individual, of course. His or her innate personality helps shape how life unfolds. Environment (including us, the nurturers) plays a role, too: "There are differences in how we handle boys and girls right from birth," says David Stein, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Virginia State University in Petersburg. "We tend to talk more softly to girls and throw boys in the air."
But it's also true that each gender's brain, and growth, unfolds at a different rate, influencing behavior. Leonard Sax, M.D., author of "Boys Adrift," believes parents raise girls and boys differently because girls and boys are so different from birth -- their brains aren't wired the same way. Pros and cons of learning the sex of your baby
So, can we finally answer the great parenting debate over which sex is more challenging to raise? Much depends on what you're looking at, and when:
DISCIPLINEWho's harder? Boys
Why don't boys seem to listen? Turns out their hearing is not as good as girls' right from birth, and this difference only gets greater as kids get older. Girls' hearing is more sensitive in the frequency range critical to speech discrimination, and the verbal centers in their brains develop more quickly. That means a girl is likely to respond better to discipline strategies such as praise or warnings like "Don't do that" or "Use your words." "Boys tend to be more tactile -- they may need to be picked up and plunked in a time-out chair," Gurian says. They're also less verbal and more impulsive, he adds, which is especially evident in the toddler and preschool years.
These developmental differences contribute to the mislabeling of normal behavior as problematic, a growing number of observers say. Five boys for every one girl are diagnosed with a "disorder" (including conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, sensory integration disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder), says Stein, also the author of "Unraveling the ADD/ADHD Fiasco." Some kids -- most often boys -- may simply fall on the more robust end of normal. They need more opportunities to expend energy and aggression, as well as firmer limits. Guns and dolls
PHYSICAL SAFETYWho's harder? Boys
"Much after-dinner wrestling here," reports Michelle Mayr, the Davis, California, mom of four boys, ages 5 to 12. "I'm constantly fighting to keep my house a home rather than an indoor sports center. Their stuffed animals' primary function is to be added to the pile of pillows everyone is launching into from the coffee table."
In general, boys are more rambunctious and aggressive, experts say. Taking risks lights up the pleasure centers of their brains. Many parents find they have to keep a closer eye on what a son is "getting into," or use more bandages.
But letting kids explore -- at the cost of a few scrapes and cuts -- builds character, self-confidence, resilience, and self-reliance, says Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee." Boys, being natural risk takers, may need encouragement to slow down a little, but maybe girls need to be encouraged to take more risks. Look for opportunities for your daughter to jump off a wall, swim in the deep end, or try the bigger slide. Potty training: girls vs. boys
COMMUNICATIONWho's harder? First boys, then girls
From birth, a girl baby tends to be more interested in looking at colors and textures, like those on the human face, while a boy baby is drawn more to movement, like a whirling mobile, says Dr. Sax. (These differences play out in the way kids draw: Girls tend to use a rainbow of hues to draw nouns, while boys lean toward blue, black, and silver for their more verblike pictures of vehicles crashing and wars.) In a nutshell, girls are rigged to be people-oriented, boys to be action-oriented. Because girls study faces so intently, they're better at reading nonverbal signals, such as expression and tone of voice. Boys not only learn to talk later than girls and use more limited vocabularies, they also have more trouble connecting feelings with words.
"While most girls share their feelings and details of events, my three sons honestly don't see that as important. I spend my days asking, 'What happened then?' or 'What did he say after you said that?'" O'Donnell says.
Important note: Because boys hold eye contact for shorter periods than girls, parents may worry about autism, since this can be a red flag. "It's a relief for moms to know that this is normal and comes from the way the brains are set up," Gurian says.
As girls get to be 8 or so, things can get harder: The flip side of being so adept at communicating is that girls exert a lot of energy on it. There can be a great deal of drama around who's mad at whom, who said what and why, and more. Start when your daughter's a toddler to establish an open communication, so she learns she can come to you for advice. Diapering tips: boys vs girls
SELF-ESTEEMWho's harder? Girls
Developing a healthy self-image is critical to all kids. But as the more compliant and people-oriented gender, girls tend to grow up less confident and more insecure than boys, researchers say. Famed gender researcher and psychologist Carol Gilligan, Ph.D., calls this "the tyranny of nice and kind" -- unwittingly raising girls to be people pleasers.
"This cultural pressure to put others' needs first, ignore one's own gut feelings, and avoid asking for what one wants has traditionally harmed girls," says Jenn Berman, a California family therapist who wrote "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids." "Despite the fact that she enjoys the positive attention and accolades that people pleasing brings, the more a girl pushes her own needs and desires underground to please others, the more likely her own self-esteem will suffer."
"I see a natural nurturing instinct in my daughter and her friends," says Tracy Lyn Moland, a parenting consultant in Calgary, Alberta, who has a girl, 11, and a boy, 8. "I find myself saying, 'I can take care of that -- you get yourself ready,' when she's trying to mother her brother."
Make no mistake, helpfulness and nurturing are virtues for everybody. But this tendency in girls makes it smart to help her explore and strengthen her inner nature and encourage her to try new things.
Body image is a big part of self-esteem, and though there's certainly body-image dysfunction in boys and men, it remains mostly a female issue. The natural rounding out of the body that happens in puberty clashes with the unnatural slimness girls see in the culture around them.
Be aware of the messages you convey about your own body, diet, and exercise. "It's painfully obvious that girls' negative body image can come directly from seeing their moms look critically in the mirror and complain," says Berman. "Teach your daughter to listen to her body's signals of hunger and satiety. Girls who listen to their bodies tend to listen to their instincts in other areas." Sports are a great way for girls to build confidence and a healthy appreciation for their bodies.
SCHOOLWho's harder? Mostly boys
Boys and modern education are not an idyllic match. An indoor-based day and an early emphasis on academics and visual-auditory (as opposed to hands-on) learning ask a lot of a group that arrives at school less mature. In their early years, most boys lag behind girls in developing attentiveness, self-control, and language and fine motor skills.
The relatively recent acceleration of the pre-K and kindergarten curricula has occurred without awareness that the brain develops at different sequences in girls and boys, Dr. Sax says. Music, clay work, finger painting, and physical exercise -- early-ed activities that once helped lively kids acclimate to school -- are vanishing. Few teachers are trained in handling the problems that result.
One area where girls do less well in school concerns spatial learning, such as geometry. Girls may use different parts of their brains to process space perceptions. The key is for parents to present both boys and girls with plenty of no-pressure opportunities to try out the areas that are challenging. Gender vending
The bottom line? On balance, the general consensus seems to be that boys are more of a handful early on, and girls more challenging beginning in the preteen years. Which means that, as the mom of daughters who are 12, 9, and 7, I have the next ten years cut out for me!”

Monday, June 09, 2008

I, well we, have a big announcement to make. We’re expecting!!! I know it comes as a big surprise – a HUGE surprise. Trust me; I was just as surprised as you are. I really didn’t think we’d be ready this soon. It’s a big commitment. We’ve been keeping it all hush, hush for a while…until we were ready to share the news with everyone ‘cuz we knew people would have mixed feelings on it. But, we’ve finally wrapped our brains around it. We’re really excited and we hope that everyone can share in our joy. We’ve been busy getting things ready for the arrival – for the big day – doing all sorts of “nesting” to get the room ready. We have a little while yet, but the due date is coming up pretty soon here – June 23rd. She (that’s how we’re referring to it, anyway) is doing well and is great for her size. She’s 47 inches, has 1080p, and is 120 Hz LCD High-Definition. That’s right; we decided that it was time for a new Martin baby, so we’re getting a flat-screen TV. [Did I have you going there at all? Even just a little bit?]

Our current TV, which was a hand-me-down from family friends, has been dying a long and slow death. It actually still works though it does annoying things like occasionally cutting the picture out entirely so that you’re suddenly watching a pretty (and loud) snowstorm. You have to go behind the TV and jiggle a cable in the back to fix it. This is especially trying when I’m attempting to use the TV to entertain my children so that I can have two seconds to myself. I need to be assured that the TV will do its’ job of being the electronic babysitter that I expect it to be. We’re even thinking that we could write-off the purchase of the TV as a “childcare” expense on our taxes.

When our family room flooded back in December, I put the TV on for the boys (the carpet had been saturated just up to the entertainment center) so I could go out and try to unplug the drain. I’m standing out there in a torrential downpour, digging crud out of a drain when Matthew comes over and starts pounding on the slider door. He looks upset and very distraught. I’m so touched by his worry for me. “Oh, honey…it’s OK. I’m fine. I’ll be done in a minute.” He looks at me confused for a second and then yells through the glass, “No! The TV!” Motioning behind him I see that the TV had done its thing and the Curious George cartoon had been replaced by static. Thanks for your concern, Matthew. No, it’s OK, don’t worry. I won’t float away in this flashflood. It’s all good. I know your stinkin’ cartoon is way more important than my personal well-being and safety.

You see why we need a new TV? And we think that this new baby’s arrival will be the best of all deliveries. This baby can be muted or turned off, and it can even serve as childcare for the older Martin Offspring. It’s great!

We really have been preparing for her arrival. (Yes, I’m still going to give this inanimate object a gender). We had to get a new TV stand as our current entertainment center only holds TVs as large as 27 inches and, well, that just won’t do. And the new TV stand, led to the purchase of a new DVD storage wall cabinet, which also, for some reason, led to the purchase of a new desk, which then led to the purchase of a new ottoman cover for the one upstairs that got ripped and won’t even be in the same room as the new TV but is necessary none-the-less, and this led to the purchase of a new silverware set. See how all things are so interconnected? It’s amazing – this universe of ours.

Mom was a little concerned (or maybe curious would be the better word) that all this “nesting” was potentially affecting a desire for an actual, new baby…um, yeah. Seeing as that would require, most likely, five months of bed rest, I better have a rockin’ TV to watch first before I even CONSIDER the possibility of a potential baby/Offspring #3 which at this point just sounds like a bunch of crazy talk. I do like kids. And for the most part, I really like ours. I actually love them, as it turns out. But a baby that doesn’t wake you up at night and that can be muted and turned off? It’s almost too good to be true!