It's Christmas Eve. The Boy is asleep. The tree is dripping with ornaments and the bottom half is buried beneath far more presents than can possibly be good for any of us. My parents have gone to bed, and Neil and I are enjoying a few minutes of quiet reading before heading toward bed ourselves. It's very peaceful here. I wish it were this peaceful, safe, and sweet everywhere in the world.
1. There's a book of Beatles songs sitting on the music stand of the piano. (Don't tell me this surprises you.) Ben points to the piano and says, "Let's play some Beatles." We sit side-by-side on the bench, and Ben doodles away on the keys. He pauses and says, "This is an old-fashioned song called 'It's All Too Much'."
2. "Yellow Submarine needs to be watched by someone." [It's good to know he's developing a volunteer spirit already.] [His ploy didn't work, by the way.]
"It's not ours, but there's a baby inside my tummy. When it comes out, we'll have to do everything the baby wants. We should be really quiet when the baby wants to talk. It isn't ours, but there's a baby inside my tummy. That's why it's so squishy and hard. My tummy is like a house for the baby."
We have a couple of friends who are pregnant, and Ben is well versed in the age-appropriate explanation that we concocted for him. I have no idea how the "it isn't ours" element crept in. The house analogy is entirely his own invention, as are the strictures on the deference that should be paid to the baby. Neil and I were just about rolling on the floor during this speech.
In other three-year-old parenting news, we're finding good ways and renewed confidence for handling the non-compliance issues that I blogged about recently. We do tend to couch things in terms of choices and consequences, but we're increasingly comfortable with taking a firm line that basically represents a "because we're the parents" attitude. An example: "Nope, we're gonna put the pants on now. Yes, I understand that you don't want to. You've made that very clear. But we're gonna put them on now. You can choose to make this quick and easy, or you can choose to fuss and thrash, and that will make it more difficult for both of us, but it doesn't change the fact that we're putting pants on now. Okay, good choice -- one leg in...."
Also, we have fairly successfully weaned off the pacifier. As a baby, Ben was Not A Good Sleeper, and we found that the pacifier (or "ba-ba" as he calls it) was pretty much essential. Somewhere around twelve months, we reduced ba-ba usage to sleep time only, and we've felt for awhile now that the time was upon us to pull the plug altogether. We had enough travel over the summer and big transitions for the fall that we put it off until last week, but we finally braced ourselves for the inevitable. After consulting with friends, we devised a plan (which involved a lot of preparation, talk therapy, and one instance of massive bribery), and we carried it out. We were prepared for several nights of non-sleep, but in fact he has been sleeping at night perfectly, even better than before (because he no longer cries out when he loses his ba-ba at night); we are flabbergasted by how easy that was. Nap time has been a different story. He has yet to take a nap since the Great Weaning. Seriously. It's been almost a week now. We're hoping that this is just a temporary transition rather than a permanent lifestyle change.
It's a pilot for a new reality show about a family with two Deaf parents and a mix of Deaf and hearing children. It's great! I really hope it makes it to TV. I've never been into reality shows in the past, but I would definitely watch this one.
Happy Birthday, darling sweet wonderful Ben!!! The celebratory tone was slightly muted due to the fact that the Birthday Boy was sick. Yes, on his birthday. He started showing signs of an ear infection (his first ever, I'm glad to say) yesterday at daycare, and by early evening, he was a Very Unhappy Camper. Today we kept him home and took him to the pediatrician, who put him on antibiotics. By this evening, he was showing a bit of progress, and we're hopeful that might return to preschool on Thursday.
The upside was that he got to spend a lot more time with his visiting grandparents today than he otherwise would have -- as did I, since I had to spend at least part of the day at home with him. My parents have been in town for a couple of days, and Neil's arrived this evening. So Ben is surrounded by love, attention, cuddles, balloons, and (as of this evening) a riotous cacophony of presents and wrapping paper.
Ben, I can never get over the unbelievably great fortune of having you in my life.
P.S. Thanks for all the comments on my last post -- I'll have an update soon on How We're Coping.
Well, no, he's not three yet. Almost. But he's certainly gotten a jump start. Lots of parents have told me that "Terrible Twos" is a vicious lie; the threes are far worse. Now, when Ben turned two, he did take it up a notch in terms of testing limits and sometimes actively resisting us. But we figured out good ways to respond, and I was patting myself on the back for having survived the "Terrible Twos". Until a month or so ago. Oy, ve. Some days it feels like everything is a frickin' battle. His favorite word these days is "NO!", and if his mouth is full or he's too busy singing (which is often the case), he'll sign it just as vehemently. And while I am profoundly glad that he takes so much pleasure in music, it's also his defensive shield against anything he finds distasteful or anything that represents parental will. And you know, it's kinda hard to tell your deaf child whom you feared would never be able to enjoy music to stop singing for pete's sake and listen to you.
So what do the parenting experts say? Be consistent. Yeah, I get it -- don't make empty threats; if you say no, stick with it; don't give in to tantrums; etc. In other words, a long list of "don'ts". What I really need are some good "dos". Exactly what do you do when you've got to get out the door in ten minutes and your child refuses to let you brush his teeth or put his shoes on and throws a screaming fit when you even suggest that he needs to wear a jacket and also insists on singing the entire Peter Paul and Mary repertoire every time you try to explain the consequences of his poor decisions? Seriously, I'm asking. If any of you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Losing my temper and shouting doesn't work; trust me, I've tried that.
Well, it works for a short time. But it makes me feel pretty lousy (not to mention Ben), and it's not sustainable -- over time, we would need to get even more demonstrably angry with each new incident to have the same effect.
So far this is the best advice I've gotten, from several sources:
1. Give choices. A short list of concrete choices, enumerated on your fingers, including the final option of "Or do you want Mommy to choose for you?"
2. Explain the natural consequences of poor choices. "If you keep stalling, we won't have time to play before dinner. So you can choose to put your pants on now, or you can choose to wait a minute until you're ready, or you can choose to wait longer and not be able to play."
3. Don't be in such a rush. Either give up on getting out the door in ten minutes, or try to start the process a little earlier.
4. Take the drama out of it. Instead of responding with annoyance and anger, remain completely unimpressed by any demonstrations of violent three-ness. Register an expression of wan disinterest.
These are all great tips, and we've managed to implement all of them occasionally to good effect. But they're beastly hard to implement all the time. So I'd love to hear your advice. Please. Do I sound desperate?
Okay, this may seem a little out of place on this blog, but I still think you should read it and share these ideas with others. I'm a huge believer in academic freedom and the value of an environment in which an open, honest, and intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas can take place. I have the outstanding privilege to spend my working hours in such an environment, and I fear that fewer and fewer people (including our kids) will have such an opportunity in the future. Please resist the anti-tenure propaganda, and talk to others about it.
Ben has a new speech therapist who provides services at his preschool. Today we got the first of her weekly therapy reports. I have no intention of inflicting them on you every week, but I figured this first one might give you a sense of what she does. He gets pull-out/push-in speech for thirty minutes three times a week.
1a. Benjamin will auditorily discriminate the target sound from an error sound 8 out of 10 trials.
1b. Benjamin will produce target phonemes in isolation with prompts with 80% accuracy.
1c. Benjamin will produce target phonemes in imitation of clinician in all positions of words with 75% accuracy.
2a. Benjamin will be taught through models and imitate self-advocacy strategies 4 out of 5 trials.
2b. Benjamin will use self-advocacy strategies to strengthen hearing accuracy in noisy environments 3 times in a 30 minute period with cues as necessary.
2c. Benjamin will use self-advocacy strategies to strengthen attention to questions, directions, and conversation in noisy environments 3 times in a 30 minute period with moderate cues.
9/28/10 @10:30: Today we pushed into shelf work. He was able to use such strategies as stopping what he was doing and listening to the teachers' directions. He benefited from me saying "Stop, look and listen." He's starting to become more comfortable with his classmates. Ben was interacting, asking questions while a few of us played store.
9/29/10 @8:30: Today I pushed into yoga. Ben was able to independently transition in between activities. He had no difficulty attending during circle while there was background noise (ex. teachers leaving the classroom, classmates talking).
10/01/10 @10:30: Today I took Ben out of the classroom to work on our /f/ sound. We had fun finding /f/ pictures and objects in my magic bag. He's doing a nice job at both imitating me with the /f/ sound in isolation and at the word level. He loved looking at the headphones that I brought in.
Ben decided this morning that he wanted butter rather than cream cheese on his bagel. This is not news -- he's been leaning toward butter lately. He wanted to "help" Neil apply said butter to said bagel, so he went and got his little plastic stool out of the bathroom and dragged it over to the kitchen counter. Again, not news -- he often does that when we're preparing meals. This is the cute part, where he announces, "I'm going to involve myself with the bagel, and I'm going to involve myself with the butter."
This article was sent to me by a friend and colleague who is an anthropologist. She uses it in several of her courses. It's about efforts by some parents to select for certain conditions (that most people think of as disabilities, such as deafness and dwarfism) during pre-implantation genetic testing. I'm not sure what to think. How about you?
The following two items appeared on other people's blogs yesterday, and they're fantastic -- you gotta read this stuff.
First, Jodi posted a link to this great article by Josh Swiller, a CI user who taught for awhile at Gallaudet, author of The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa. We saw him speak at the CI convention in Sturbridge, MA, summer of 2009.
Second, Susannah put this up. Pithy, hilarious, validating -- a must-read:
Well, we've started preschool! Ben started at his new daycare facility yesterday, but his IEP didn't start until today (first day of school in our district). We made a short visit to the preschool yesterday, just to suggest what his daily schedule is going to be like (the typical kids were there -- Jackson greeted him from afar with his usual enthusiastic "Benny boy!"), and then I took him to daycare, following the route that the "school bus" (minivan with multiple carseats) will take. All went well, except that I forgot to tell the daycare providers that he still sleeps with a pacifier (I know, I know -- we're going to wean him off that soon -- terrible for oral motor development), and they didn't see the pacifier in his pack and figure that out until it was too late -- long story short, Ben didn't sleep a wink. He was in fine spirits when I picked him up, but by the time we got out to the car the exhaustion kicked in, and he was a right terror for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
And this morning we went to preschool, just like a big kid, with our big kid backpack. We made it there by 8:30 (just barely -- still working out some kinks in the morning routine), and Ben was again greeted enthusiastically by Jackson and the teachers. Apparently he had a good morning there, despite the fire drill less than half an hour later (and I'm still fuming that they scheduled one on the very first day of school for all the special needs kids -- pretty insensitive; I will be sending a Concerned E-mail to the Appropriate Party). Bus ride was fine (he reports that the bus driver is a woman, and he called her the Bus Captain), hand-off to daycare providers was fine, and (most importantly) he napped! So all in all it was an excellent day. I am sooooo happy and relieved.
Ben's most recent joke: "What's a mudroom with no mud?" "I don't know." "A no-mud mudroom!"
Yesterday, we met with his afternoon daycare teachers for the last time before he starts there next week, to discuss his hearing equipment and let them practice taking it on and off. Before we went over there, Ben reminded us that we were going to go see Monique and "explain how I hear." The cool thing about that phrase is that he came up with it on his own; we're quite sure we haven't used it ourselves.
This was posted on cicircle. It has a bunch of "conversation stoppers" that might get thrown at you during an IEP meeting, discussion of the hidden meanings behind these, and suggestions for tactful, effective ways to respond.
Here are links to the equipment handout I mentioned on cicircle, that many of you have asked about. If you have MS Word and want to open a .doc version of the file, go here. If you would rather open a .pdf version, go here.
I prepared this for the teachers at the preschool and new daycare where Ben will be starting next week. Feel free to use and modify it as you like.
Our fall semester started last Monday, so summer vacation is officially over. Today we made what may be our last trip to the zoo this year. A disturbingly large portion of the local foliage is starting to turn color -- not because cool fall temperatures have set in, but rather because the summer was so hot and dry that many trees have just given up and packed it in for the season.
It seems like just yesterday we were at Cape Cod, with Ben announcing that he had been out "waking with Fwed" -- i.e. raking dead seaweed off the beach with Uncle Fred.
Ben has one more week of daycare with his current provider, and then he starts preschool. He'll be in preschool in the morning, until 11:15, and after that he will be bussed over to his new daycare facility on the other side of campus. So he'll have two new classrooms and two new sets of care providers to get used to at the same time. We've already toured both facilities once and met the teachers. We have follow-up visits scheduled for next week. The afternoon daycare teachers made a welcome book for him with pictures of the room, themselves, the playground, etc. I made a similar book for his morning preschool. He loved both classrooms, bonded a little with the teachers, and is (at current writing) very enthusiastic about the whole project. We're also excited about the programs and impressed by the classrooms, and simultaneously very nervous about how all of this is actually going to go down on game day. I'll let you know.
And because we just don't have enough change happening at once, we're also taking a stab at toilet training. Real toilet training. As in Big Boy Underpants, carrying the potty around from room to room, and a shocking amount of unabashed bribery. And it's working, much to our great surprise. We started on a Friday after daycare, and during the course of the evening he used the potty twice and had three accidents (puddles). By the end of the weekend, he'd added only one more puddle, and a lot more potty usages, prompting my mother-in-law to announce that it's the Pots vs. the Puds -- gooooo Pots! And I don't think we've had a single puddle since. Not that we've been in underpants nonstop all week -- we don't fight him too much when he'd rather wear a diaper, although we're often pretty successful at negotiating for a switch to underpants shortly thereafter, and of course we're not making any attempt at sleep-training yet. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see a little regression when we make the transition to preschool. Still, we're pleased.
Here's a rough transcript of a conversation I had with Ben on the swings earlier this week:
Ben: "I asked Miss Pamela [daycare provider] if she had any musical instruments."
Me: "Did she?"
Ben: "Yes, she has a saxophone. Because J--- [Pamela's son] is going to play it."
Me: "Oh, and doesn't J------ [Pamela's other son] play the guitar?" [He does, BTW.]
Ben: "No, Miss Pamela played the guitar. And E-- played the drums and B----- played the bongos." [E and B are fellow daycare toddlers.]
See, he started off with what was probably a factual account of a conversation he'd had at daycare, and it morphed into a description of a fantasy concert featuring the whole daycare cast, inspired by one of his favorite books (Moses Goes to a Concert, by Isaac Millman, in which Moses' classmates get to play sundry percussion instruments such as bongos and tubular bells). You gotta love that toddler outlook in which fact and fiction blend so seamlessly.
At the zoo this morning, we encountered a family with two school-age children, both wearing cochlear implants. I was torn over whether to intrude, but I worked up the courage to approach the mother and point out that Ben has a CI, too, and we had a nice little chat about it. Afterward, I was kicking myself for talking with the mother about her children, in the third person, right in front of them. So why didn't I address the kids instead? Something like, "I see you have a CI. That's terrific! My son has one, too!" But nope, I make a beeline for the adult. Well, live and learn -- next time I'll handle it better.
Here are a few pictures from the Wilson family reunion in Ohio at the end of July. The first two are from a short hike that we took, very characteristic of Ben and my father.
Then there's a shot of Ben with Madeline and Alicia, and the famous "Claws" pic of Neil with Madeline and my niece Megan. I honestly don't know what was going on there, and I'm probably better off that way.
Here are a couple of great videos of Ben. The first one is older, from late June. There's a little subterfuge at the beginning; Ben tends to clam up when he knows we have the video camera rolling, so Neil quietly turned it on without telling him, and then disavowed all knowledge of this later, leading to some confusion on Ben's part as to when the movie actually starts.
The second one was taken by my cousin Madeline during our recent family reunion in Ohio. She and her sister Alicia taught Ben this little song. Another highlight of the trip was when Alicia played Beatles songs on her guitar by the campfire, and Ben sang along.
Well, three, to be exact. Sorry I've been away so long -- I've been faithfully following everyone else's blogs, but I just haven't had the time/discipline to sit down and post here. Here are April, May, and June calendars. We're just about to pack up and head to a family reunion in Ohio, so I don't have time right now to add any commentary -- I might get a chance over the weekend. But in the meantime, here's some of what Ben has been up to over the last few months.
Yesterday evening: "I think that today is a special day where everybody doesn't listen to their mothers and fathers."
This afternoon: Neil: "Would you like to swim in your kiddy pool after your nap?" Ben: "Yes!" A short while later... Ben: "After my nap, I think I will be a cat." Neil: "Why?" Ben: "Because I will swim in my kitty pool."
I am sooo behind on blogging -- much to report on, and almost three months' worth of calendars to put up -- but here's a little something to tide us over. (Call it a "splash and dash" -- an unfortunately dated reference to Formula One racing, now that they no longer allow refueling.)
Our week in Cape Cod was blissful. The weather was perfect, Ben adapted beautifully to the surroundings and the new experiences, and we all had a great time. I even acquired a modest tan, which those who have seen me will realize is a significant accomplishment -- pigmentation is not my forte. Ben takes after his father in that regard, and within a couple of days he was sporting a tan line at the top of his swim trunks that the Coppertone baby would envy. And this despite the fact that we kept him (and ourselves) positively dripping with very strong sunscreen the entire time. We maintained the policy of taking all hearing equipment off when Ben actually went in the water, and this went so much better than I feared (and much better than our few experiences last summer). We always talked to him ahead of time about what we were going to do, what it would be like, what our expectations were, and reminded him of a few key signs. And he was cool with it. He responded well to our attempts to sign with him, and that was a lot more effective than I would have predicted. (I'm increasingly convinced that we're taking exactly the right approach with him -- he's entirely oral, and he talks nonstop even when his equipment is off, but we're also teaching him ASL on the side, and there have been many occasions where that has turned out to be very useful.)
And this morning we had our CPSE meeting. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but man, what an ordeal. It actually went very smoothly and ultimately we got everything that we wanted, but I'm glad that we put so much time in advance into preparing for it. There is a lot of variation in how the IDEA is enforced. Some districts take the approach that if a child has a qualifying disability, he is automatically entitled to an IEP. Not ours. (In their defence, the IDEA does specifically say that a child must have both a qualifying disability and a demonstrable need for special education.) Our special ed director usually requires that a child be two standard deviations below grade level (or 1.5 standard deviations in two areas), and she made it clear that she had never before considered a child for special ed who tested as high as Ben does. She described it as a very unusual case, and she wanted a rationale from several parties as to why he was entitled. But a good rationale was duly produced, and after a little agonizing, it was agreed that he would get an IEP and that he would be placed in the Youngerman Clinic integrated preschool as an identified child, with continuing SLP services -- exactly what we wanted. (The fact that his best bud Jackson will also be in that preschool as a typical child had, of course, no bearing on the desirability of the placement!)
So, whooosh -- strike another major item off my summer To-Do list!!! (Only 50,000 more to go....)
Ben has had full sound since Tuesday afternoon. We used the loaner processor from then until Thursday, when we exchanged that for his new one (under warranty). He has been a much happier camper ever since. On Friday we drove to Neil's parents' house in the Catskills, and then on Saturday we all drove out here to Cape Cod, where we're renting a beautiful house right on the beach for a week. Ben was at first a little skittish about the feel of sand inside his shoes, the cold water, the wind, but he quickly got used to the elements and has been having a blast.
It is an indication of my in-laws' deep trust in me that they have left me alone in the house (except for a napping Ben), seemingly without any concern that I'm going to rescue the lobsters from the fridge and release them back into the ocean. I'm a vegetarian, but I guess I'm not a very militant one. Sorry, lobsters; your fate is sealed. I think I'll stick with salad, though.
Well, the new headpiece came right around lunch time. We took it over to Ben's daycare and tried it ... and no good. Didn't fix the problem. Even though we had explained to him that it might not work, he was still very disappointed. (And us bursting in on him at daycare, and then leaving again, was a very confusing disruption -- the tears were starting to well up as we left. It's been a difficult day.) Neil just took off a few minutes ago to take the processor up to Buffalo. Our audiologist is currently loading Ben's programs onto their loaner processor, so at least Neil will walk away with a working processor that we can use. When she gets a chance, she'll try to determine whether it was just the maps or the whole processor that got zapped.
I think it must have been the plastic slide. We went to a party at a friend's house Saturday evening, and Ben went down a plastic slide about a dozen times or more. And in general, plastic slides are a source of anxiety for CI parents, because of the static discharge. A generation ago, it was not unheard of for a big static discharge to damage the internal implant, requiring surgery. These days the internal implant is very well protected from static, and I don't think anyone's lost an implant due to static since the 90's. Every now and then a really big discharge will wipe out the program the child is currently using (which is not too big a deal -- you can switch to another program and use that until you can get to the audiologist), and I did read on cicircle about a processor getting fried on a slide earlier this spring. But given the relatively low level of risk, most parents decide to let the kid ride the slides, although it's a good idea to ground him when he gets to the bottom. We always do that, and sometimes there's a pretty significant shock -- those slides really do build up a lot of static.
But this past Saturday, it was very humid, and I wasn't detecting any static build-up at all. (Usually you can feel your arm hairs rise as you get close to the plastic.) And I was still ritualistically tapping him out (almost) every time he went down -- I might have let it slide (no pun intended) a couple of times. So it's a little hard to believe that that's really the cause of the problem. On the other hand, it was shortly afterward that we detected it. Coincidence? Static? Sweat corrosion? (That might have explained a faulty headpiece, because he was certainly drenched by the end of the day, but his processor was well-protected and dry inside the harness under his shirt.) Hard to say.
Anyway, I hope we have a working system by the end of the afternoon.
We're having CI Issues. Not too major, and hopefully they'll be resolved soon, but it's still stressful and a hassle. The short version is that it looks like there's a problem with his headpiece (or "coil", for you Cochlear users out there), although the diagnosis is not conclusive. The good folks at Advanced Bionics are going to call again in the morning to see if there is any news on the symptoms, and then probably just send us a new headpiece by overnight mail.
One consequence is that the poor guy had to spend the morning without his CI. He does very well with just the hearing aid, and it was amazing and encouraging to see much he could hear and understand. But it was clearly disorienting for him, and he kept fussing, "I want my headpiece! I want my headpiece now!" After said headpiece spent a few hours in the Dry&Store, we tried it again to see if that fixed the problem, but alas, it did not. However, Ben reported that everything sounded fine to him, and so we went ahead and let him wear it for the rest of the day. It wasn't clear how well he was actually hearing with it, and in any event the indicator light was still flashing red all day, so there's something wrong. I'll share the ending of this story once I know it myself.
Ben just had a formal speech and language assessment, as preparation for determining special education eligibility. Wow. The SLP who administered it is not Ben's speech therapist, and in fact she had never met him before. In both receptive and expressive language, he was testing at the 4.5 year age range, and at that point she would stop testing him and move on to the next category so that he wouldn't fatigue too early. She also assessed his articulation, and noted the same fronting and consonant substitution errors that his regular speech therapist has been working on with him, but also that he was highly intelligible. Despite all of the very long, exhausting tests, Ben stayed focussed and even had a lot of fun with it. Whatta guy.
At one point, the SLP pointed to a hand-drawn picture of a baby and asked, "What is this, Ben?" Ben studied it for a long time, and I was beginning to think that he didn't understand what he was supposed to do. And then he responded, his voice heavy with doubt, "Well, it's supposed to be a baby." Everyone's a critic!
I'm looking forward to reading the report, which she'll send us in a week or so.
Rouchi had a link to this post, which has tons of fantastic tips for improving auditory working memory (AWM). A lot of it comes down to what educators commonly call "chunking," i.e. breaking complex ideas or tasks into small pieces that are more easily processed and remembered (like the way we customarily break SS numbers into three small chunks). You can help a child improve AWM by gradually increasing the number, length, and complexity of the chunks.
We just (well, two days ago) got back from a quick jaunt to Toronto to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. In our pre-Ben days, Neil and I were in the habit of taking a little trip each year for our anniversary, but we took a little hiatus from that in Ben's early years. This year we decided to take it up again, and we all had a great time. We drove up after lunch on Saturday, got checked into the hotel in the late afternoon, and then hung out for a little before heading out for a nice Indian meal. We spent much of Sunday down at Harborfront Center (sorry -- "Harbourfront Centre") enjoying a kid-oriented circus festival. After nap, we took a very nice walk along College Street, meandering in and out of the U Toronto campus, and we ended up in Little Italy for dinner. On Monday morning we went to the Royal Ontario Museum, which was great. Ben was all primed to see dinosaurs, although he seemed a little disappointed that they only had skeletons on display, sans flesh, very unlike the colorful and talkative dinosaurs on Dinosaur Train. He really enjoyed the display of minerals and rocks, and we got him some more rocks for his rock collection in the gift store. He also had a great time "digging" for dinosaur bones using a wide paintbrush in a sandbox. His Aunt Kathy will be proud.
The only serious trauma was trying to change his diaper in the restroom at the ROM. He's had this thing for a few months now where he just freaks out when we change his diaper in a public restroom. As soon as I try to lay him down, he siezes up with fear, red and shaking, and screams his lungs out. It doesn't seem to be a behavior problem, or an attempt at manipulation; it's genuine terror. And it's terribly inconvenient and embarrassing. I'm usually able to distract and calm him with a story or song, but this time nothing worked. As far as we can tell, he's afraid he's going to fall off -- never mind the fact that at home, on his own changing pad, he rolls and flips around like a fearless acrobat, so that we have to stay within arm's reach the entire time. Anyway, there he was, beet-red and screaming bloody murder, and we're about to leave and get in the car and drive four hours home, so it's now or never for the diaper. I tried everything -- distraction, talk-therapy, bribery, you name it -- and it was no go. So I finally just plowed ahead, changed the darned thing, and tried to ignore all the people staring at me as if I were either a monster or the most incompetent parent they'd ever seen. Oh, well -- can't win 'em all.
Yesterday was special for at least two reasons. For one, it was our first annual Flower Day. Ben came up with this. I was wearing a very old comfy tee shirt that my friend Carolyn got me umpteen billion years ago. It used to have little fabric flowers that Carolyn had hand-stitched around the collar, very cute. But they had fallen off one by one over the course of many years of laundry, and now only one lone flower remains, in the front and slightly off-center. Ben looks at this and announces, "It's Flower Day!" He went on to explain that on Flower Day, people give hugs, kisses, and back rubs, and this was followed by a quick demonstration. All of this was entirely of his own invention. Neil and I were practically dripping with delight. We all engaged in the mandated rituals frequently throughout the remainder of the day.
Secondly, it was Fethiye's birthday. Mutlu YIllar and much love, friend!
Another little tidbit from last week: Ben at dinner said, "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well!" He got it all out perfectly the first time. When he tried to say it again, he stumbled a bit, but still you gotta be impressed. Ironically enough, he couldn't remember the name of Tikki Tikki's brother.
Ben's Grampy and Cousin Megan recently made (yes, made) a beautiful ukelele for him. He needed one. Seriously -- he was turning everything into a guitar -- hair brushes, sticks, air. He had played with a ukelele at a friend's house, and it was a perfect fit for him. In a related development, we got him a new pair of sunglasses, since he had outgrown his old ones. These developments are related as follows:
Here he is, performing for his legions of stuffed animal fans, and rocking out beautifully. He also does a good Stevie Wonder impression at his "piano" (Thomas box; he does have a real piano at his disposal as well). And the pose vaguely reminiscent of The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian" is actually his version of the PBS SteveSong about rockets in which Mr. Steve periodically sets his guitar aside to "blast off".
Toilet Training continues to be a central theme in our lives these days. We still have to straighten out a few kinks in our system. We've been doing "low-key" toilet training since last fall, meaning that we sit on the potty every night before bathtime, read a few books, and see what happens, but we've made no attempt yet to graduate from diapers. And this was fine for awhile -- Ben enjoyed it, especially when he was successful and got to put a sticker on the potty, and everything was mellow and positive. But he's starting to feel more and more performance anxiety, and Neil and I are engaged in a little research and strategizing right now, trying to come up with new tactics before anxiety turns to avoidance. Fortunately our daycare provider is an expert at these things, and has managed to make considerable progress during daycare hours, but we're really starting to feel like we're spinning our wheels at home. Anyway, you can see a reference on February 24th and a rather more explicit depiction on March 10th (Ben insisted that I draw him sitting on the potty, and this was honestly the best I could manage under the circumstances).
On Valentine's Day, Ben acquired a stuffed rabbit from my parents, and this is remarkable because it is the first stuffed animal or doll that he has attached a name to of his own volition. For about 24 hours we were convinced that the rabbit's name was "Max Bund," which was delightfully creative and unexpected. Then it became increasingly clear that the name was "Max Sponge," which is apparently short for "Max Spongebob." This pleased us considerably less, but we're still amused that he chose the name for himself. On February 27th, we got the cat's claws clipped at the groomer's, and yes we take her to a professional groomer because no sane person would attempt this potentially fatal act without due compensation. Ben was quite impressed by the whole spectacle. On the 28th, we forgot to get bananas when we were in the produce section, and Ben noticed this and brought it to our attention before we left the store. He was very pleased with himself for having remembered the bananas.
Saturday, March 6, was a day that I will long cherish. Students and faculty from our college's music program put on a series of children's concerts at the two local libraries. They are fantastic, and Ben loves them. The musicians talk about their instruments and the music, and it's all very hands-on and interactive. At the March concert, a group of students were playing percussion instruments from Ghana, including a marimba-like instrument that had gourds hanging below the keys for additional resonance. Afterward, Ben got to play this, and he was hammering out a fairly impressive little melody. So the music student commented, "Hey, that kid's got a great ear!" Not having noticed all the equipment, you see. Delicious irony. And I agreed, "Yeah, he's got a great ear, especially considering it's bionic," and I proceeded to explain that he's deaf and that he has access to sound through technology. The guy's jaw dropped, and he was absolutely amazed. I really felt like Ben had totally transformed this person's conception of what it means to be deaf.
For Spring Break (starting March 14) we visited Neil's parents in the Catskills and got a couple of days of skiing in. Ben's favorite experience from this was getting to eat an orange every day in the lodge. The one time we tried to put him on his skis, he protested loudly and vehemently.
On March 29th, Ben had an audiology appointment in Buffalo, and during one of the "listening games" he got to put a piece of cardboard "food" into the mouth of an animal every time he heard a sound. Obviously one of the animals must have been an elephant. At some point we told him a "Fiona and Emily" story in which their mother takes them to Buffalo to see Michelle Dube and play listening games, and this has now become his Most Favorite Story of All Time; he requests that we tell it several times a day.
The 30th was our fateful Seder at which Ben fell sick, and you can see that he visited the pediatrician the next day. Here is our only good picture from the Seder, plus some from an Easter egg hunt at his friend Jackson's house a few days later.
Ben's favorite movies are Mary Poppins, Yellow Submarine, and Free to Be. Lately, Free to Be has topped the charts. I grew up listening to the album, but never saw the made-for-TV movie until Ben's Aunt Kathy got him a DVD of it in January. At first the 1974 ambiance is a little thick, but after a few viewings it develops a quirky, retro charm. Ben's favorite song is probably "It's All Right to Cry," as performed by Rosey Grier; he can sing not only the words, but the instrumental portions as well.
We watched much of it tonight, the second time in a 24 hour period. This is more movie-viewing than he usually gets, but he's sick, and we're real softies when he's sick.
Last night we hosted a seder for a couple of other families. I was so excited -- we spent much of the weekend planning and shopping. Our local grocery store ran out of matzah, so Neil made some Monday evening. (Yes, after sundown. We're not too finicky about the details.) Brisket, vegetarian gefilte "fish", and all the usual suspects were on the table. About half an hour after our guests arrived, Ben had a meltdown, and was completely inconsolable for the rest of the evening. We'd never seen this before, at least not since he was a really young and somewhat volatile baby. It was contagious, and the other kids at the table got progressively crankier as the evening wore on. Ben's friend Etta asked the Four Questions, we did a few quick plagues, and after that it was pretty much a race to get food into the kids and distract them before all hell broke loose. Not exactly the sedate celebration of cultural and family tradition that we'd hoped for. (And yes, a quarter cup of bleach will take even a monster Manischewitz stain out of a white tablecloth.)
We were starting to suspect what the problem was, and when we finally took Ben's temperature after everyone left, it was over 102. And over 103 this morning. Poor kid was just miserable. Of course, he picked the perfect time to get sick -- right during Advising Week, the busiest week of the semester. (This is the second year in a row that he's done this.) So Neil and I shuffled everything around today and managed to take turns staying at home with him today. His temperature was still topping 100 tonight, so I have a feeling that I'll be cancelling classes tomorrow. My students will be delighted.
We introduced Ben to finger paints last fall. It went fairly well. He always enjoyed it once we got going, but he absolutely hated the make-shift smock that I insisted he wear (an old tee shirt of mine, and highly problematic for the purpose). So recently I got him the absolute best smock of all time at A Better Bib. And for an extra five bucks I got his name embroidered on the back. I love this smock. And if he had rejected this one, it would have seriously bummed me out. I introduced it very carefully -- just left it casually draped across the coffee table ("Oh, what's this? Hmm -- has your name on it. Check it out -- it's got elephants!"), and I avoided the word "smock" like the plague. It worked. Here's Ben at work, and one of the finished products -- it's a mixed media work, finger paint applied with paintbrush and crayon tip.
This morning, as Ben and I were headed upstairs after breakfast, I said to him, "One thing we're going to do is clip your fingernails." He immediately launched into, "One thing I can tell you is you got to be free. Come together (boom boom boom) right now (boom boom boom) over me." This was followed by various sound effects intended to evoke Paul McCartney's famous bass line. The boy loves his Beatles.
The other day Ben woke up Way Too Early from his nap, but as he was talking happily to himself I let him be and eavesdropped via the baby monitor. "But whatever the reason, our hearts or our shoes, we stood there on Christmas Eve hating Fiona and Emily." In case this sounds familiar, he was once again reciting a passage from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this time translating it into the first person plural, and citing as the object of our loathing the teenage sisters Fiona and Emily who have found youtube fame with their excellent covers of Beatles songs. (Yes, more Beatles.) As a matter of fact, Ben loves Fiona and Emily. He's always demanding that we tell him a Fiona and Emily story. Typical story lines revolve around Fiona and Emily hosting a picnic (attended by Winnie the Pooh and friends, Sid the Science Kid, Bob Dylan, and -- naturally -- the Beatles themselves) or going to the moon in a rocket, accompanied by the same variegated crowd.
We celebrated Pi Day yesterday -- a little early, but the real Pi Day (March 14) falls during our Spring Break next week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, the first few digits of pi are 3.14, hence the celebration on March 14. Depending on your Math Geek Quotient, you might even celebrate Pi Minute at 1:59 in the afternoon (3.14159...). (If you celebrate it at 1:59 in the morning, then you are probably studying for a math exam later that day. Which no doubt many of my students were doing -- I gave two midterms yesterday.)
Anyway, Ben loves Pi Day. Here he is wearing his Super Pi tee shirt (thanks, Grammy!). I'm dressed like a pirate, because ... well, it was a pirate-themed event this year. Long story. Pi-rate -- get it? I wasn't really intending to cast such a flirtatious glance -- a moment before I had been looking at Ben, and then I started to turn my head right as the picture was taken ... you know how it happens.
(If you're confused by the title of this post, read this.)
Short, sweet, and always in motion. Oh, and his haircut isn't really that crooked. He has the most infernal hair growth pattern -- we call it the Dagwood -- and that's just the way it was hangin' that day.
That is the blessing that one sings while lighting the candles on each night of Hanukah. Neil did the honors last December. Ben was very intrigued, and after a few nights could be counted on to come in on the final "Chanukah". Once or twice since then Neil has sung it for him on a whim, but we've never made a big deal out of it.
So here's what went down at dinner tonight. Ben was eating asparagus. Neil playfully asks him to sing a song about asparagus. Ben thinks for a moment, and says, "Here's an asparagus song." And proceeds to sing the entire blinkin' blessing. Almost word perfect. Yes, in Hebrew. With an extra flourish on the "Chanukah."
Yeah. Have I mentioned that this kid scares me sometimes? In a good way, mind you. And just to prove it wasn't a fluke, he went on to sing it again, and then I got him to do it a third time over his late night yogurt. No, he didn't pronounce every last syllable perfectly. But the bulk of it was there.
We'd better get working on those Passover questions.
I seem to have a considerable lag time when it comes to the calendar thing. Here are December and January:
Some of you may recognize the Wonder Pets paraphernalia featured in early December. Yes, Ben is a fan. I am too, I must admit. India Gate (December 7) is our favorite restaurant, up in Buffalo; Ben likes the naan and two large sculptures of a cow and elephant. That must have been a day that Ben had an audiology appointment and we grabbed a meal there afterward. The mass of red protuberances on the 8th is a very poor rendition of a large outdoor sculpture on campus that has taken Ben's fancy. Hanukkah started on the 11th, and we made cookies on the 12th. On the 22nd we flew to Wisconsin and celebrated Christmas with my family. We flew home on the 28th, and I honestly have no recollection what the giant 7 on the 29th is supposed to signify.
While we were in Wisconsin, my sister gave us an old VHS tape of Winnie the Pooh (seeing as how her college-age daughter has presumably outgrown it by now), and you can see images of the cast sprinkled throughout January. Other characters making an appearance are Elefun and Froggio (licensed cartoon characters that just happen to have their own line of toys -- our acquaintance with them is due to a free DVD that came with one such toy), a rather sickly looking Grinch, a Blue Meanie, and Skippyjon Jones (a.k.a. El Skippito -- we borrowed the book from the library and love it). My sister, Ben's beloved Aunt Kathy, visisted for about a week in January, and we made a really good ratatouille on the 17th, hence the eggplant and zucchini. Ben and his Best Bud Jackson made their ski debut on the 14th, in our backyard. Jackson is a natural athlete with no fear; as soon as boots touched skis, he was off on a tear. Ben is a little more reserved when it comes to such things, and needed some coaxing and cajoling. We figure they'll be good influences on each other.
And here are a couple of other pictures from my sister Kathy's visit. In the first one, Ben is signing "red". In the second, he and I are using a magnifying glass to examine a fragment of a geode that Kathy and Ben had just busted open. One of Kathy's Christmas presents to Ben was a great rock collection and the accompanying magnifiying glass.
We haven't really gotten into Official Toilet Training yet, but we have a little low-key "potty time" every night before bath. Ben loves it. I emphasize this because one might draw quite a different conclusion from his post-potty soliloquy tonight. I should also add that his favorite book right now is "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" -- a little out-of-season, but shows good taste. After tonight's potty time, we took his hearing aid out as usual (he doesn't wear his CI on the toilet) and put him in the bath. This is what followed:
"I hated my potty, the whole potty season. Now please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason. It could be my head wasn't screwed on just right. Or perhaps it's because my shoes were too tight. But I think the most likely reason of all is because my heart was two sizes too small."
I've commented before on how he has a really amazing memory -- I think that's been a key part of his quick language acquisition. With relatively minimal exposure, he memorizes long passages from poems, books, songs, etc. Often, it's clear that he doesn't fully understand everything that he's memorized (something I see in my college students all too often!), but in this case, he was able to translate into the first person, so obviously he's making a lot of sense of this passage. In any case, I thought it was absolutely hilarious.
I'm not sure if that's even a word, but at any rate it's something I've been thinking about lately. Jess recently wrote an eloquent (of course) blog post about what makes her son Connor special. Actually, she was responding to the very suggestion that he is "special", and what that word means to her and to others. Go read it -- it's good stuff.
And my immediate reaction was that of course he's special, in fact her whole family is special, in an entirely positive way that I tried very hard to convey in a comment to her blog post, but I couldn't quite get the words right. In fact, I confess that I rewrote the comment several times before I submitted it, and even then it never did capture what I was trying to say. And I'm pretty sure this post won't capture it either, but in re-reading Jess' original post I came across a line that clarified the matter a bit for me. Here she is describing Connor, "...who, like all of us, is doing his best to make the most out of what he’s been blessed with."
And that's just it. I'm sorry to disagree with you, Jess, but that's exactly what sets both you and Connor apart from most people. Most of us don't do our best to make the most out of what we've been blessed with. If I'm at all typical, then most of us waste our energy trying to come up with excuses for why we use so very little of our potential, or bemoaning all the things we aren't blessed with. Every now and then I recognize this, and I vow that I will do better, that I will invest my energy and resources into doing the best I can with what I have. And I think I've made a little progress in recent years. Certainly, having a child and feeling the overwhelming love and joy that come from just holding him, watching him, being present in the moment with him, has done a lot to redirect my emotional energy in more productive ways. But in other areas of my life, I still err on the side of crankiness and excuses.
Jess and her family live 3000 miles away from me. My only window into their lives is her daily blogs. They ring true, but what do I know -- maybe she puts up a good show. Well, we all put up at least a little of a show. Our inner lives are always more turbid and confused than our blog posts suggest. But still, Jess' ring true, and I know that the optimism and faith in life, love, and family that radiate from her posts are real, and a daily inspiration. You don't see it, at least not to this degree, in every family. My life may not (yet) exemplify it, but I'll credit myself with the sense to recognize it when I see it.
Ben: The Beatles are glad you didn't say orange or banana!
Ben's most graphic joke so far, concocted one evening while we were in Wisconsin over Christmas: "If Winnie the Pooh made a poop, he would be Winnie the Poop!" More recently, he has added the follow-up observation: "If he didn't make a poop, then he would be Winnie the Pooh!"
Ben tells his own stories these days, usually variations on ones that we make up for him. Most of his stories lately have been about the Beatles. [I know, I know -- you all think we're overdoing the Beatles thing. But I swear, the kid is absolutely obsessed.] His favorite theme these days has been The Beatles Go To The Circus. Invariably, there are clowns with balloons, and it is John's birthday, so a clown comes over, announces this to the crowd, and gives John and the rest of the Beatles balloons. The only suspense lies in which color each Beatle will ask for. Most of the Beatles seem to favor black or brown baloons -- read into this whatever you like.
For most of the time that Ben has been obsessed with the Beatles (since he was about 15 months old), his favorite seemed to be John. Now he has settled on Ringo, in no small part because of the mind-bogglingly beautiful wooden drum that my father made for him for Christmas. His favorite album is Let It Be, and his favorite song is "Two of Us." He has also developed an unfortunate interest in the lyrics to "Maggie May." Actually, I don't know all the lyrics to "Maggie May," but I'm pretty sure they're not really appropriate for a two year old. This happens. I'm sure that some of their critics thought otherwise, but the Beatles weren't really writing for the preschool demographic, and more than once we've run into a detail or two that we just kinda gloss over. He can sing all of "All Together Now," and he thinks that the line "Can I take my friend to bed?" is about naptime. And he has absolutely no idea what Kinky Boot Beasts are (do you?), but I must admit that it's rather cute when he refers to them as "Pinky Binky Boot Beasts".
We celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas around here, and Ben was heavily into both this year. Every night of Hanukah, he solemnly undertook the important task of picking out the shamash; most nights, it was orange. [We had one of those modern multi-colored candle collections.] "Shamash" is not an easy word for anyone to say, let alone a 25 month old, but he made a brave stab at it. He also sings the dreidel song at breakneck speed, and correctly identifies each Hebrew letter on it. I'm not kidding. He freaked us out with this one night. Now, each character is a different color on our dreidel, and he might have just memorized the colors, but even so....
I just made a quick count, and I'm estimating that he knows upwards of 100 ASL signs by now, perhaps more. Receptively, not necessarily expressively. In fact, his attempts to make signs are usually pretty primitive. One of his favorites these days is "jungle". For one of our Signing Time playgroups, I taught the group how to sign the song "In the Jungle" (you know -- awimaweh, in the jungle, the lion sleeps tonight, and all that). So several times a week he'll turn to me and say, apropros of nothing, "This is the sign for jungle, Mommy!", and proceed to create trees along his arm and up to his shoulder. Apparently, his idea of a jungle involves lots and lots of foliage.
Ben rarely makes any signs while watching Signing Time DVDs. In fact, much of the time, he seems to tune in and out. When we encourage him to make signs, he actively resists it (but part of that is Being Two -- if Mommy and Daddy want it, that's as good a reason as any to reject it). But then, a couple of days later, out of nowhere, he'll make some of the signs, so clearly he's paying attention. Receptively, he has a much larger vocabulary -- as is typical -- and this is of course the more important skill area as far as we're concerned. When his equipment is off, he talks and we sign.
...or is it? Remember the arguments about whether 2000 should be included in the old millenium or the new one, the old century or the new one? Well, whatever. It's a year ending in 0, and that always seems to bring on more serious jubilation and reflection than others. (If you really dig those, we should switch to a binary calendar, so we'd get one every other year, but I digress.)
I'll be honest: This last semester was rough, professionally and to some extent personally. I felt like I was working long, hard hours without reaping much success in the classroom, at least in two of my classes. It was frustrating and exhausting, and that seeped out into the rest of my life. Ben continued to amaze and delight us on an almost daily basis with his abilities, growth, and generally sweet personality; at the same time, he turned Two, and his increasingly intense episodes of Twoness have been a source of both gratification and exasperation. I'll save most of the Twoness for another post, but suffice it to say that I spend a good deal of my time reminding myself, through gritted teeth, "He's developing executive autonomy, he's developing executive autonomy," which sounds much more impressive than "He's being a stubborn and contrary little stinker!"
As a result, it's a little hard to look forward right now with the sort of anticipation and resolution which the occasion requires; I'm still in recovery mode. But I have recovered enough to be very mindful of how incredibly fortunate I am, fortunate in family and love, fortunate in the quality and security of my life. I wish everyone good fortune and peace in the New Year. And Ben, I love you.