Thursday, March 31, 2016

Six Years Later

Easter Sunday marked the six-year anniversary of the day we moved into our house.  That day was completely exhausting, and judging by my "On This Day" memories on Facebook, the entire month prior sucked pretty bad thanks to packing and general worrying.  But in the end, as hoped, it was worth it.  There are little things I miss about our old house, but all of the problems we left behind were well worth the move.  This house isn't perfect either, and I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix some things, but for the most part I love it.  I wish the kitchen, bathroom, and Carter's room were bigger, I need a landscaping fairy to fix everything outside, we need to replace a shutter, and there are a handful of cosmetic things that I'd like to upgrade.  But considering we left behind a house with a history of mice, sketchy wiring, super creaky floors, a purple bathroom, a bumpy yard, way too many trees, and not enough space anywhere, this is heavenly.

Six years in, there is so much that I love about this house and how it fits us.  Such as...

I'm using old pictures for this post.  This is from shortly after we moved in.  Everything is messier now.
1) The living room - It was the first thing that sold me on this house when we walked in the door, but it has remained one of my favorite things.  The cathedral ceilings are dramatic, the fireplace is pretty, the room is giant, and I love how the stairway overlooks it.  The floor space is necessary with two active boys, and I love how we have a ledge along the side--an extended fireplace hearth--that fits a lot of the toys very well.

2) The stairs - I wasn't sure how a split would work for us, but one part that I love is that no part of the house is a giant stairway away.  There are only 13 stairs total from the bottom floor to the top.  When I have something that needs to go to one spot or another in the house, I know it never has to go far, which motivates me to do it right then and not leave a pile near the stairs.  And let's be honest--when you have a kid that has a million bedtime excuses, it's nice to not have to run "all the way upstairs".  Everything is close.  It also made me feel a lot better with babies, that they never had far to fall.  And nothing is better than putting the tree near the stairs at Christmas.  Not only is it pretty, but it's functional.  You can see more of the tree and there's a built-in stairway to decorate it!

3) The dining room - It came in the same shade of red as the accent wall in our old living room, which made me miss that wall less.  I still don't like the brass light fixture, but I am grateful that I found a picture (free from my old office) that matches both the red wall and my blue glass collection.


4) The kitchen - The windows are the first thing people notice.  They're pretty and the light is great.  My old kitchen was super ugly, so this one is gorgeous in comparison.  I'd love to have a tile backsplash and stainless steel sink, and replace the wallpaper, and install a cute pendant lamp above the sink.  It's too small to fit us and our table comfortably, but the cabinets fit our stuff pretty well and I love the pantry.  It's functional.

5) The basement - We need a space to display a rather large sports memorabilia collection, and a finished basement is pretty much a necessity for that.  I would love to replace the paneling someday, but it works with the general feel.  The basement is also home to Jacob's giant Lego collection, and it's nice to keep it out of the living room.  Hopefully soon an elliptical will live there, so it's nice to have a possible space for that.  I also love that the basement has an office.  We don't use it like we should, but I like knowing we have a bonus space in case we need it.  And like I said, I love that it's only seven steps away from the main floor so no one is ever out of shouting range.

I just feel like we got so many of the things I wanted--a massive storage area, a decent sized foyer, a giant linen closet, a nice porch, a bigger garage (still two-car, but a couple extra feet all around), and a good sized master bedroom.  My fear is that if we ever move, I will be so spoiled by certain things that it will make me extra picky.  Ironically, tonight I saw a listing for a house that looks like a perfect "next house".  It's around the corner from us and it's a contemporary style, four bedrooms, lovely yard, gorgeous kitchen, and much newer.  But, of course, it's way out of our price range ($50K more) and there is no way we're doing that.  But even there...part of the outside of the house is not maintenance free, so that would concern me.  I'm sure if we saw it we'd have other complaints, but I can't lie--it gave me a brief moment of hope that there are cool houses out there that might have a lot of the stuff I want.  That's the first one that gave me that sense in a while.  And no, we're not looking...I'm just nosy and like looking at listings.  Watching HGTV lately has reminded me how much that whole process stinks, but I can't deny that the fresh start in a new house is always a bit inspiring!  Still, we fit in this one pretty nicely so I think we'll hang in here for a while, at least until the school district becomes too much of a disaster.  But that move six years ago was a good one.  I'm so happy we found this place.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Will Never Be

Full Disclosure: I wrote this blog post months ago, probably back in the late fall.  The timing just wasn't right then.  I don't know if it was holidays, or posts that I needed get publish ASAP, or just a general oddness that prevented me from posting it then, but the post meant too much for me to discard it completely.  So I sat on it.  Periodically I'd save it again so it popped back up to the top of my post list, but I didn't read it or edit it until now.  But now that I have, it is still 100% true.  What's more, I feel less weird about posting it.  It's a very honest confession, but given that it still rings true so many months later, I think it's safe to post it.  So here goes...

I have to admit, lately I've been a little sad that another baby is not in our future.  It's absolutely ridiculous on so many counts, but it's been on my mind a lot.  Carter is definitely stepping further and further out of the baby stage, which is probably part of it.  I see a tiny baby and miss the innocence of it all...tiny fingers and toes, first smiles, knowing that your baby's cries aren't strategic, and the lovely absence of back talk.  At the same time, there are definitely many things I'm glad to leave behind.  Sleepless nights, feedings every three hours, blowouts, not knowing why your baby is crying, pregnancy, labor, and delivery...none of those things were my favorite.  But was holding my sleeping infant outstanding enough to forget a lot of that stuff?  Absolutely.

I read a blog post not long ago that was written by a woman who was sure they were done after two.  And then she started to wonder.  And in the end she took some advice to think long-term.  Rather than dwell on being "in the trenches" for the next five years, look beyond it to the years of grown kids enjoying each others' company and big family gatherings.  And so, number three is on the way for her.

I totally get where she's coming from on that, and I can't argue that the long-term view is probably why this nagging sense stays with me.  I mean, yes, I love the little baby phase.  I love the milestones, I love the cuddles, and I love the anticipation of who this baby is going to become.  But if the good baby stuff and the tough baby stuff sort of cancel each other out, you look beyond and see cool stuff from your grown children (you hope, at least).  With two kids, I'll be honest...I worry about if something happens to one of them and the other is left as an only child.  Even as an adult that is isolating--no cousins for your kids on that side of the family, no one else to manage aging parents.  I'd hate for my kids to ever have to deal with that stuff alone.  And honestly, with how Jacob treats Carter, I do wonder if they will ever truly get along.  Jacob insists he will never like Carter, and while Carter still adores him, I can't help but wonder what years and years of that treatment from his brother will lead to.

Once in a while I notice a trait in Carter that makes me think about what a great big brother he would probably be.  He can be so helpful and so loving, and I'd hope that would translate to his treatment of a younger sibling.  But maybe not...maybe he'd flip and it would be awful.  But on the chance that Jacob actually never gets past this, I'd hate for Carter to not have a sibling he relates to.  I feel like he deserves that chance.

There's also the issue, of course, of the chance to have a girl.  I'm very much at peace with never needing to dress a girl, or even to have girl toys all over the house.  Despite my sadness when I went through my own toys a while back, I fear that I wouldn't be able to navigate some of the ridiculous girl toys out there right now.  But I'm still saddened by the thought that my boys will have to "leave me" someday, while a girl could always be my dear friend.  If boys are still close to their mom, it's weird and awkward as they get older and eventually get married.  But girls can always be close to their mom and it's fine.  That part makes me sad.

But most of all it's so fun to see what your child will look like and what their personality will be.  And when you have two, it's almost like you want a tie-breaker for all the ways the other two are different!  Would kid #3 be blond or brown-haired?  Would they love sports, cars, or something totally different? 

But the reality is, it just can't happen.  Even though I see that long-term benefit, I'm simply not sure I could survive the short term.  I just can't fathom going through all of it again.  I don't have the energy or the patience.  I don't feel willing to take the risks.  I'm 37, which is starting to get deeper into the "advanced maternal age" category.  That could mean a number of problems for me and for a baby, and honestly, I don't feel I have what it takes to be a special needs mom at this point.  My last pregnancy was hard, and I worry that I'd be earlier than three weeks next time.  Delivering another sunny-side up baby seems practically impossible.  I think about the stress of Jacob's newborn hospital stay and what we'd do if we had to do that again with two other kids waiting at home.  I worry about going through the SIDS age range again.  The stress of breastfeeding and milk intolerance and acid reflux is overwhelming.  After one rice intolerance and a Celiac diagnosis, I worry about a true allergy popping up in #3.  I can't go through the sleepless nights again.  I can't quite fathom fitting another baby into our house, cars, or schedules.  I think Jacob would completely implode if he had to deal with another baby here, and I have no idea how it might impact Craig's and my relationship if we could no longer do man-to-man defense or equally divide and conquer.  It's already hard enough to have time for ourselves, and #3 would make getting away (solo or as a couple) nearly impossible.  It would be another round of daycare costs and diapers and doctor visits.  It would mean a string of three straight stomach bugs instead of just two.  If we had another boy, the clothes and toys would just multiply again, and if we had a girl we'd have to get everything new!  I could go on and on.  The thought of it is simply overwhelming. 

And yet...all of the baby stuff still sits in our crawl space.  Part of that is out of fear that the second I get rid of it, I will somehow find myself magically pregnant.  But the other part of it is because I know that getting rid of it will be exceptionally difficult and emotional.  Inexplicably, apparently there is a huge difference between saying we're done and actually doing something about it.  I don't really understand why that is or what we're supposed to do about it.  The evidence is clear, but my heart is still pretty sad about it. Sometimes I feel like I just need a baby fix, to have a close friend or family member with a baby I can hold all the time, or to hang out in the baby room at daycare, or to be one of those hospital baby holders.  None of those are currently an option, however, and realistically, I probably really crave the connection I had with my own babies. 

So, I guess that leaves me in a place where I have to be okay to be done and okay to be sad about it, all at the same time.  I feel like it's smarter to err on the side of the known than of the unknown.  Another baby seems fun until reality hits, but at that point there's no going matter how hard it gets.  So I will just have to keep seeking out the joy in our current existence and hope it fills any of the empty spaces.  Our family's story is really still just beginning, and there is much to look forward to in the years ahead.  A third baby may not be part of that, but so many other things are...and that just has to be enough.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Up and Down Easter

We had a busy Easter weekend as usual, so busy and exhausting that I'm only getting around to blogging about it today!  Suffice it to say we all came home very tired, and we had very little problem getting the boys to sleep last night, too!  We had some fun moments and we had some not-so-fun moments.

Craig was on the road on Thursday, so I was alone with both boys in the evening.  I had a ton of packing to do and some food to make, but I still managed to squeeze in just enough time to color eggs.  Of course, bad mom that I am I probably don't let them do enough.  I try to let them pick out decorations (color, rubber bands, stickers, crayons, etc.), but I handle most of the dyeing myself.  Honestly, if one of those mugs go down, the clean-up is just not worth it.  I just don't have very gentle, careful boys.  Maybe someday I will, but not yet!  Of course, two of my eggs cracked--one pretty spectacularly--while boiling, so we only had 10 to decorate.  Still, they turned out pretty.
The ones with the stripes used rubber bands, the upper left one had stickers, and the middle one on the bottom was an attempt at a three-color one I had seen.  It was a fail, but it was pretty in its own way.

After bedtime I spent the rest of the night packing up clothes and all the other odds and ends, including Easter baskets, and I made gluten-free croutons for our traditional prunes and noodles dinner the following night.  I also had to pulverize a bunch of gluten-free Oreo-type cookies for the dessert I had to make the next morning.  I was up quite late but at least I got most of my work done!  I had taken off work on Friday and both boys were already off, so we had the luxury of sleeping in a bit on Friday.  Or at least being a little lazy.  Carter watched TV in my bed for a bit while I rested, but eventually we had to get the show on the road!  Breakfast, dessert-making, packing, early lunch...and then we finally we got on the road.

We got to my parents' house in the early afternoon and had some playtime before we headed off to my uncle's house for our traditional Good Friday family dinner, prunes and noodles (and a ton of other really yummy stuff as appetizers and dessert).  Shortly after we got there, the boys were running around like maniacs as usual.  No matter how much we tried to get them to stop, it continued, and all of the activity got the dog riled up.  Now, my aunt and uncle's dog is a sweetie.  A little overzealous sometimes, but generally very nice.  And apparently something about their chasing got him so out of sorts that he nipped at Jacob and got him on the side of his upper leg, just below his butt.  It didn't break the skin initially, but it did start bleeding a bit after a short while.  We iced it and put a band-aid on it.  It hurt him at first, but he seemed to recover quickly.  The worst part for him was actually having to put a band-aid on it, as he hates them.  This from the kid that used to beg for one for every little boo-boo.  All I can figure is that maybe the dog thought Jacob was trying to hurt Carter, and he was trying to defend him?

We ate our fill and enjoyed some family time before heading off to church for one of my favorite services of the year.  My parents' church's Good Friday service is so beautiful and moving.  The kids ruined it a bit this year with the usual ridiculousness--too much talking, not enough paper to draw on, etc., but it was nice to see my friend Heather, who was in town, and to at least attempt to get into the Easter mindset.

The only other thing of note on Friday was that it marked Carter's first attempt at sleeping in a non-enclosed space!  My parents had mentioned getting rid of the hand-me-down crib in my old room, and I told them whenever they were ready was fine, since it was about time for Carter to transition anyway.  He could still sleep on the crib mattress, just minus the bars.  I think Friday had been such a busy day that both boys went down relatively easily.  Maybe the novelty of the bed made it extra special to sleep in, but whatever the reason, he did well.

Saturday started out simply enough, with pancakes for breakfast and a lot of lounging around.  After breakfast my dad wasn't feeling well and had some lower intestinal issues.  He retreated up to his room to keep away from us, and we had a quick lunch before Jacob and I headed out for some shopping during Carter's nap.  I had promised Jacob we could hit up the Adidas outlet in Niagara Falls to look for some sneakers and summer clothes.  He pretty much only wants to wear Adidas these days, and despite my protests about the dozens of other things in his closets and drawers, he really only wears the same handful of outfits.  Sigh.  My concession to him was that IF the deals were good we could get something, but IF I got him a couple things, he'd have to either make the rest of what he has work for the summer or consent to getting some cheaper clothes from other brands.  The sneakers he wanted were $40, and I just could not spend that on shoes for him because he destroys his sneakers.  He shoves his feet into them while they are still tied, which breaks down the backs.  Then he doesn't re-tie them, or tie them tight enough, so his feet slide around and they get stretched out.  His shoes constantly look sloppy, and I refuse to spend that kind of money until he actively takes care of them better.  But we did find two pairs of shorts, two shirts, and one pull-over hoodie, all for less than $70.  Not my kind of cheap, for sure, but normal for most people, I think.  Some of it will end up being part of his birthday gifts.  He was happy, though, and the glee on his face when he was trying things on was pretty priceless.

We made a couple other stops after that, one to look for new dress pants for him, another to look for Easter stuff, and a third to wander around Hobby Lobby, which I love but rarely get to do since they're on the other side of town at home.  Jacob was rather well behaved for most of the trip--a couple stubborn moments, but as a whole not a bad shopping buddy at all.  I so wish we could clone that behavior and bring it out when he's near his brother!  Our last stop was at the candy store that provided most of the contents of my childhood Easter baskets--Platters Chocolates.  Yum.  I had checked earlier in the week to see what was safe for him.  I mostly wanted him to see all of the chocolate bunnies and smell how amazing it smells in the shop.  I miss being able to smell that!  We wandered around for a while considering the options, and while his preference was for the chocolate Buffalo wings and the cup of white chocolate "blue cheese", I made him settle on a large chocolate bunny sucker.  I got a smaller one for Carter and a couple other ones for Craig's cousins' daughters, who we'd be seeing the next day.  I wish I would have taken a picture of all the chocolate to show you here!

By the time we got back to the house, my dad's condition had gone downhill and the puking had started.  Ugh.  We definitely kept our distance, but I got a little extra neurotic whenever we had to use the bathroom upstairs...which happened a lot near bedtime in particular.  We had a pretty quiet night, at least as quiet as it can be with the boys chasing each other around constantly, but bedtime was miserable.  Carter wouldn't stay in bed and had a million excuses to get up.  He was also being loud, which prevented Jacob from sleeping.  All of it was driving my dad nuts, too.  I ended up having to threaten that the Easter Bunny wouldn't come, which did nothing for Carter but mostly just served to make Jacob frantic and extra mad at Carter.  Definite mom fail all around.  Eventually around 10pm they fell asleep and the Easter Bunny reluctantly hid their baskets.  However, he didn't do the planned Easter egg hiding.  He was a little rushed since they were up so late, after all. 

We managed to get ready pretty well on Easter morning, so the boys had a few minutes before church to hunt down their baskets.  Jacob found Carter's first, but it took some "hot and cold" to find his own in the kitchen cabinet...

Then he helped Carter find his...

Jacob got the movie "Max", which he really wanted, along with plenty of candy and a Playmobil hockey player.  Carter got a little Spiderman figure, a book, a little Duplo airplane set, and some candy.  Both boys also got these Dino eggs that you put in water and wait for them to hatch and grow.  I've grown a dinosaur in water before, but never before with the hatching aspect!  Carter's is starting to hatch and Jacob's is only cracking on the top layer so far. 

We reluctantly left Grandpa behind to head to church, knowing how much he loves singing on Easter.  We had a couple rough moments at church again, but we survived thanks to the many other vocal kids in attendance!  After church there was a breakfast in the gym.  The food was all generally a no-go for Jacob, but we came prepared.  I brought a couple gluten-free donuts, since there are usually donuts and pastries on the table.  We also brought leftover pancakes from Saturday, although I did bring leftover waffles from home just in case.  My mom nuked the pancakes, and we were good to go!  The rest of us ate pancakes, ham, and an egg-bread-sausage bake.

After breakfast we headed to the Easter egg hunt.  It's basically just a massive candy grab.  Carter started by picking up every Dum-Dum, so I encouraged him to pick up some Skittles and Starburst so I wasn't having to deal with constant sucker eating at home!

Jacob went with Grandma to his hunt, and he too picked up a ton of Dum-Dums!  Who knew they had something in common?!  I tried to get a picture as they started their sugar rush, but this was as good as it got... 

Jacob asked me to take a picture of his haul, specifically for the blog, no here it is :)

On the way to the car, Carter couldn't help but run to the play area and go down the slide!  It was a cool morning, but it was starting to warm up enough to stand there while he did it a few times...

We headed back to my parents' house and started packing up.  Craig was originally going to meet us there, but with the illness floating around I decided we'd be better off meeting him along the way to his brother's house.  Eventually I got everything packed up and we met up at a Park and Ride lot where we could leave one car very close to the Thruway.  We headed off to meet up with Craig's family and started eating all of the wonderful foods.  Polish foods are so good at Easter!  By this point the weather outside was lovely, in the 60s and gloriously sunny!  Such a contrast to how it was earlier in the week, or even yesterday for that matter.  It was perfect weather for an Easter egg hunt!

 The boys were very happy looking through their haul...stuffing their mouths full of Peeps!

They spent a lot of the rest of the day playing outside.  Carter played around the playhouse...
Jacob and his cousins played lacrosse and hide-and-seek, right up until dark.  We had a lot of good family time, but it was time to go!  We crammed the car full of gifts--Legos for Jacob, new Batman dinnerware for Carter, throws for both boys, flowers, jelly, and salsa for me.  It was practically like Christmas!  The boys fell asleep in the car pretty quickly and went down to bed at home very easily.  We were all exhausted yesterday, and today wasn't much better.  The jury's still out on whether or not the stomach bug is going to get us.  I've been off for a couple days. Yesterday it seemed more like the extreme tiredness, overeating on Sunday, and nervousness about getting sick.  Last night my mom came down with the bug, which obviously made me extra nervous.  Today I went from feeling fine to feeling iffy, and back to fine.  Sometimes I think I'm just extra hungry from stretching my stomach.  Sometimes it seems like I'm on the verge of stomach cramps or diarrhea, but then I'm fine and it seems like it's all in my head.  So I have no idea what's up.  Carter spent a lot of time on my dad's lap before the illness, and while he has said for the last day that he has a "tummy ache", he seems fine.  Usually he says his "belly hurts", so the new terminology makes me wonder what's really happening.  But so far he's been fine.  But just as a little insurance, I have decided to try the grape juice trick.  Have you read about it on the internet?  If you're exposed to a stomach bug, drink three glasses a day for a few days, and it will change the pH of your gut and make it inhospitable for the virus.  Lots of people swear by it, so I figured it was worth a try.  Maybe we didn't get to it soon enough, but we'll see.  I'm hoping that if we make it through tomorrow, we'll be in the clear, since most hibernation periods seem to be 24-48 hours.  But we shall see.  The good news is that Craig is off this weekend, Jacob is off school all week (but going to the afterschool program), and I'm not super busy at work.  Definitely praying that this one passes us by...and that I start feeling normal soon.  Mama ain't got time for this!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Free to Run!

Yesterday we had Jacob's next follow-up appointment with the surgeon, the one where we hoped he'd get clearance to get back to all normal activities.  Just one x-ray stood between him and running, jumping, playing sports, and generally getting on with all of our lives after three months of being in a bit of a holding pattern.  And thank goodness, everything looks fine and he is free to resume all normal activities!

He is very relieved and is saying that his leg feels even better now than it did before all of this happened.  I don't know how true that is, since supposedly he shouldn't have had any symptoms of the tumor, but I suppose it's possible that there was some sort of inherent weakness, or maybe the muscles were compensating for the bone structure...or maybe he just feels like the bionic man now that he has a plate and a few screws holding his leg together!  I think he's going to love being able to run with his friends at school and especially to play at the afterschool program, where I think things were pretty dull without gym time.  This comes right in the nick of time, too, since next week is spring break and I think another week of low activity at the afterschool all-day spring break program might have driven him insane.  He hates it as it is, but February break sunk to new lows.  We can only go up from here, I think.

As a parent it's still a little scary watching him get back to his normal daredevil self.  I had to remind him countless times in the last couple weeks (as I figured I would) to calm down and take it easy, because he was starting to pick up speed, try diving lacrosse shots, and hop around on his bad leg.  I knew that it was probably fine if he felt okay, but you can't be too careful.  But even with the green light from the surgeon, watching him tumble around the driveway playing lacrosse last night (yes, it was cold) made me more nervous than ever.  I can only imagine how I'll feel when he's back out on the field playing an actual game with a dozen other kids wielding sticks.  That's what started this whole chain of events, after all.

But he needs to get back out there.  I think it will do wonders for his attitude and his overactive body parts.  His inability to sit (and sit normally, might I add) is almost disturbing at times.  He sometimes reminds me of Mork from Ork (ahhhh, Mork and Mindy), with how Mork's normal means of sitting was upside down, on his head.  He is all over the place, particularly when we're at counseling and he has his own giant armchair.  Feet on the chair, sitting sideways, knees on the floor facing the chair, head and back on the seat with his feet in the air.  It's exhausting.  He also takes to half-sitting on chair arms or tables, usually just to be near one of us, and the squirming is ridiculous.  So, my hope is that getting out some extra energy will help his body to chill out a bit at quieter times.

His leg is looking pretty good these days, a massive improvement from the day the cast came off.  The scar is large and obvious, but it's healing nicely.  His leg also seems to be regaining some of its muscle mass, but he's still got a ways to go. 

They look closer in size here than they do in person

I have no doubt it will improve a ton now that he can use it fully.  The limp is still there but minor, and again, I think it's just getting his full range of motion back, and that will come with time.

We have to go back in three months for one more x-ray.  I'm not sure how I feel about yet another x-ray on a leg that already seems to have had its fair share of irregularities--a benign tumor and an irregular mole--but I know we just want to be sure it's perfect so I will trust the doctors on this one.  But that aside, it's so nice to know we're done.  We can finally put this whole thing behind us and move forward.

Looking back on the last three months, it's been quite an experience.  We certainly had our rougher moments, but as a whole I think we made it through relatively well.  Jacob wasn't always the easiest to deal with, but I have to give him credit for being relatively manageable during a very difficult time.  Yes, he was stubborn.  Yes, post-surgery toileting and nausea were low points.  Yes, the many requests for snacks and the iPad were annoying.  But he could have whined and complained constantly about not being able to run.  He could have screamed in pain for days.  He could have refused to follow the rules after surgery.  But he did fine.  With all the issues we have with him on a daily basis, it could have been exponentially worse.  But it wasn't.  Aside from having him on crutches or crawling around, things were a lot closer to normal than I expected.  But it was still different and it was exhausting, and I am so happy it's over.  But it has been a good reminder to take things day by day, and that eventually you'll get through it.  We got through it.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled sports...

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Kiddie TV Reviews, The Rest of the Pack

While the shows I've already covered make up the majority of our viewing time, there are a few others than sneak in from time to time...
Curious George
What I Like: Cute, classic
What I Don't: He's a frustrating little monkey!
General Thoughts: We mostly watch this show on weekend mornings when Carter watches TV in our bed, when nothing else of interest is on either of the other two networks I already covered.  Carter definitely likes it when he watches it.  Like every other kid, I read Curious George books when I was little.  We have a couple now that I got cheap from Kohl's, and with Jacob I used to get some from the library.  Speaking of which, I really need to get in the habit of going there again.  Anyway, the show is generally adorable.  George's little noises are cute, the narration is soothing, and I just think it's a sweet little show.  Of course, like my own children, George's antics can make me a little crazy.  But usually there are happy endings.

Daniel Tiger
What I Like: Mr. Rogers!
What I Don't: The songs can get annoying
General Thoughts: I loved the concept of this show since it's an animated spin-off of one of the best kid shows of all time, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  The characters relate to the people in the special land where the trolley went off to in the original show, and as a whole, I think it's a nice, pleasant show.  The handful of times I've really sat and watched it some of the music was a little too sweet/repetitive/annoying.  I know kids learn by repetition, but it just bugged me a little.  Still, I will give anything involving Mr. Rogers a free pass.  Again, this is mostly weekend morning viewing when we happen to catch it, which isn't often.

What I Like: Reliving my childhood
What I Don't: Modern takes that don't do it justice, Scrappy-Doo
General Thoughts: Both kids have liked Scooby-Doo for years.  I watched it all the time as a kid, so I was happy when Jacob took a liking to it.  Then, of course, Carter got in on the fun.  The classic episodes bring back so many memories.  I liked the live action movies from a few years back, too.  But lately I've seen more of "What's New, Scooby-Doo?" and the newest take, "Be Cool, Scooby-Doo", and I can't say I love those.  "What's New" sticks to the original feel of the series, but took it to a darker place.  The monsters are creepier, scarier, and more violent than the old monsters.  They seem bigger and more supernatural than before, and as a result they're not so easily explained by a costume, a projector, or some puppeteering like the original series.  I'm just not a fan of a kids' show implying that someone just died (even if it's not shown, as it usually cuts to the opening theme song or a commercial before the gore happens).  In the old series, people just disappeared instead.  I miss that simplicity.  "Be Cool" is pretty new and features more abstract, kid-like animation.  While it does have some funny moments, it's just goofier than the original spirit of the show.  Daphne is a weirdo, Fred is a goof, and I feel like the jokes skew a little more racy than older versions.  I guess I'm just not as comfortable with blindly letting my kids watch the newer incarnations than I am with the old stuff.  Ultimately I'm glad the franchise is still hanging in there because I love having them watch the old long as it's not one of the series where Scrappy shows up!

Tom and Jerry
What I Like: Reliving my childhood
What I Don't: Violence
General Thoughts:  We've been watching Tom and Jerry now and then lately, and it takes me back to watching it often as a kid.  I used to love Tom and Jerry.  I even had a favorite group of episodes--the ones where the opening sequence had a yellow background.  They were a little funkier than the originals, I think!  Of course, now that I watch them, I wonder about the cartoon violence.  I think that's just because the kids are always on the lookout for another way to torture one another, and I wonder what tips they'll pick up.  I never realized how much violence there was when I was a kid, so maybe they're not noticing either.  I could actually say much the same for Looney Tunes, now that I watch those. 

That's the bulk of what we watch.  We've strategically avoided Thomas even though Carter loves trains, mostly because the toys are absurdly expensive.  Terrible reason, I know, but generic trains are fine!  Carter seems to know who Bob the Builder is, even though we've only seen an episode or two, ever.  But luckily he never got really into that either.  I feel a little sad that we haven't gotten into Sesame Street.  Jacob watched it a bit when he was little, but we just haven't done it with Carter.  I was disappointed with the show in Jacob's time, mostly because the format was so different and had gone so far from the elements that I loved as a kid.  I think it may have changed a bit since, but we just haven't taken the time to revisit it.  However, Carter does love the characters.  He often has a giant Elmo in his bed and he loves his Sesame Street books.  The interest is there, so maybe someday.

While I find it interesting that Jacob has actually watched more of these "little kid" shows than I ever expected, I feel like there isn't much besides Scooby-Doo that is solidly within his age range.  He has watched a little "Wabbit", which is the Looney Tunes update, and it makes him laugh.  Luckily we've avoided the Disney and Nick tween shows so far.  I will say that we've accidentally watched 'Teen Titans Go!" more than I'd like, and I just don't get it.  I can't say that I have high hopes for Jacob's TV choices as time goes on, because so many of these big kid shows seem a little too sassy for my taste. 

So, I guess for now we'll be thankful that the kids can mostly agree on shows and that most of them don't drive us too crazy!  It's not my childhood lineup, but it will do!  I hope you enjoyed my little series.  Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Kiddie TV Reviews, Disney Junior Edition

It's time for another round of TV reviews, this time looking at Disney Junior.  There are a ton we have never seen, and a ton we have.  Like last time, I'll go over our go-to shows and then mention a few "honorable mentions". 

PJ Masks
What I Like: Kid superheroes, very obvious lesson
What I Don't: Repetitive stories, irrational and bratty behavior
General Thoughts: I had really high hopes for this show.  I liked the thought of kid superheroes because they seem a bit easier to aspire to than Superman or Batman.  It's a cute concept, but this show has slowly moved near the top of my annoying list.  Every storyline is the same--something goes missing, one of three villains stole it, the superheroes go out at night and find them, but one of the heroes has a selfish, bratty moment that puts the whole mission in jeopardy.  After a couple mishaps, the rogue superhero comes to his or her senses, decides "it's time to be a hero," and they work together to defeat the villain.  Every. Single. Time.  Sigh.  The bratty, irrational moments are so exaggerated and I sort of just want to smack them for their attitude in that moment.  I really don't want my kids picking up on that attitude, honestly.  "I want it for myself!"  "I'm going to get back at him!"  Eeesh.  The good news is that I think it makes it obvious to even little kids when one of them is being selfish.  I hope that means they also see the eventual lesson that working together makes everything go better.  The villians are all so whiny and bratty, too.  I want to like this show, but I just don't.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
What I Like: Classic characters, varied story lines
What I Don't: Getting sick of the catchphrases and songs
General Thoughts: This show was one of the first that Jacob got into watching when he was little and it has stuck around.  I like that it gets back to the Disney roots with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto, because really, they should never go out of style.  Their adventures seem different enough, and the variations on the Mouseketools keeps the problem solving fresh.  I suppose sometimes the tools seem a little too random, but it's fine.  But after about six years, I am getting a little tired of hearing, "Oh, Toodles!"  I even liked the Hot Dog Dance when I first heard it, and now I'm getting a little tired of that, too.  It's not usually Carter's top choice of shows, but he will watch it, and that's fine.

The Lion Guard
What I Like: Animals, nature education
What I Don't: Apparently not enough episodes right now
General Thoughts: I am actually not sure I've ever seen The Lion King all the way through.  I did see the musical in Toronto, which was amazing, so I know the story.  And I understand where this series picks up after it.  We have Simba's kid and a bunch of other animals banding together to protect the Pride Lands.  And I think that's cool, because it seems rare to find a show with realistic (enough) animals in their habitat.  Carter likes animals, and there are some unique ones here.  Once in a while there's a handy little bit of nature learning (we learned about dung beetles last week!), which is rare in the shows we watch.  I suppose my only complaint is that I feel like we keep seeing the same episodes, probably because it's new and there aren't that many out there.

Miles from Tomorrowland
What I Like: The family
What I Don't: Not much--maybe the space theme doesn't allow for much variance?
General Thoughts: When I first saw this show, I didn't really love it, for no apparent reason.  Now it's probably one of my favorites.  If I had to put one reason on it, I think it's because of the family dynamic.  The parents are cool and encouraging, the kids get along, and they're all just really smart.  I like how they problem-solve, and often do it together.  Perhaps because we're lacking that sibling love and family togetherness in our house, I sort of want to be adopted into their family for a bit.  They just seem like they'd be cool to hang out with.  Plus they have a robot ostrich as a pet, which is awesome.  I was initially a little freaked out by the two-headed admirals (Watson and Crick...get it?  The guys who figured out DNA?), but I've even grown to like them.  The space theme seems a little limited sometimes, even though they can go to any bizarre planet anywhere, but I guess I'm sort of waiting to see a "special event" where they go to earth!

Doc McStuffins
What I Like: Stuffed animals, new story line
What I Don't: Lots of pink, Doc's office
General Thoughts: We haven't watched a lot of this lately, but I'll be honest--their new story line has us hooked.  We saw promos leading up to Doc's family adopting a new baby, and even Jacob wants to watch it.  And I'll admit, I like the concept as a whole.  Stuffed animals are pretty big in our house, so it's a cute concept that a lot of families can relate to.  I've always been a bit bothered by the size and fanciness of Doc's office (a fish tank?!), but all I can figure is maybe that's just in her imagination?  I also think it's a little weird that even her parents call her when Jacob wanted to be called "Batman", only to an extreme.  The only bummer as my boys get older is that there's a lot of pink floating around that show, and with no boy main characters outside of the toys, I think it's inevitable that they won't find it as appealing.  After writing this earlier today I remembered to have Carter pull out his hand-me-down doctor kit and got him started doing checkups on his animals!  It was so cute!

Sofia the First
What I Like: Guest stars, encouraging lessons
What I Don't: Princess stuff, too girl-focused
General Thoughts: Jacob enjoyed Sofia when he was younger, but it's rare we watch it now.  We did very much enjoy the episode with Olaf from Frozen, though!  I think the biggest challenge with this show is that, again, the main character is a girl.  She has a brother and not all of the problems are girl-focused, but the princess thing doesn't scream "boy".  But I think a lot of what they talk about involves normal kid issues, so I like the concept.  The plots have been nicely varied, too.  We'll definitely keep an eye out for any other special episodes, even if it's not in our regular rotation.

Those are the main ones.  We sometimes watch Goldie and Bear, which is newer.  I like the allusions to fairy tales, and the stories seem sweet so far.  Once in a while we catch Jake and the Neverland Pirates--oh, wait--I mean, Captain Jake.  I was so confused the first time I saw that name change, because we totally missed that special episode.  We just don't catch it as much as we used to, but both boys will watch it.  Not a lot of educational substance, or even life lessons, since the whole object of the story is to beat Captain Hook, but it's fine.  Once in a while we happen to catch Sheriff Callie's Wild West, but it has never grown on me.  I like the little cactus, but that's about it.  Carter likes Chuggington when we happen to catch it, but it's not on at convenient times.  He's always liked trains, and the lessons are good.  And that theme song is so catchy!  We watched Henry Hugglemonster when Jacob was younger, but that didn't really stick.  And when Carter was younger we watched Little Einsteins a bit, mostly because I hoped that the classical music would be a little better for a developing mind, but again, we never really got into it. 

As a whole I like the Disney shows a lot.  They're a little light on school-ish learning in favor of more learn-by-example stories, but most of the characters are pleasant and I'm less worried about running into characters that aren't kid-friendly when it's under the Disney Junior umbrella.  Less commercials, too, I think. 

So, we have one more post to go, this time with a couple miscellaneous shows from other channels.  These two posts have covered the favorites, but there are a few more of note.  More to come soon...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Kiddie TV Reviews, Nick Jr. Edition

After I admitted that I generally overuse electronic distractions to keep my kids quiet and civil, I thought maybe I should share what exactly they're watching.  This post will specifically dive into the shows of Nick Jr.  I will have to do a Disney Junior one and a miscellaneous one, too, I guess.  But hey, why not?  I'll mostly talk about the shows we watch often, though I may lump together any others that I have a comment here we go!  Oh, and I know I should dress this up with pictures and all that, but I just can't be bothered to worry about copyright crap like that.

Paw Patrol
What I Like: Cute, harmless, Canadian, varied plots
What I Don't: Unrealistic, not particularly educational
General Thoughts: Both kids will watch this show, so that is a big win in our house.  The kids love the pups, especially Chase.  I will say that it can get repetitive with the same songs, catch phrases, and characters, but I do feel like they're kept the stories varied enough that it's not painful.  Different pups help out on different missions, and unless you're watching a bunch in a row, I think there are enough characters to go around.  I do wish that Rocky got more missions, as he seems a little left out, and while I understand it, I still think it's a little odd that the new pup, Everest, lives somewhere else and doesn't get full Paw Patrol credit.  At least she's in part of the scenes in the new season's theme song sequence.  I like how it focuses on the jobs little boys are fascinated by (rescue heroes, trucks, construction equipment), and that the pups are all unique and cute.  However, my biggest complaint is that the concept seems to reside in reality, but is totally unrealistic.  I mean, I know that most kids shows do this (Sesame Street started it all, I suppose), but talking, driving dogs take this to a whole new level.  The town doesn't seem to have any real fire or police department, so it's fortunate everything has been able to be managed by a few puppies and a kid.  Speaking of which, I've read in a couple places that Ryder is 10 years old.  Given the amount of technology he has available, and that he seems to be living alone with multiple dogs, that seems odd to me.  I think it's just that so many elements are so impossible, but yet it's set within such a typical setting and the contrast is strange for me.  But if I can suspend reality a bit, it's a cute show.  I also feel like it's lacking a bit in educational value, but I get that the point of it is mostly just problem solving so I'll give that part a free pass.  I just wish they had more new episodes.

Team Umizoomi
What I Like: Practical school-style learning, real people, enthusiastic
What I Don't: [There is something, but I can't describe it, exactly]
General Thoughts: This may be Carter's favorite these days, but Jacob will always make fun of it...yet still ends up sitting down to watch it more often than not, so whatever.  I like that it teaches math and patterns, and I like how Geo gets creative with his shapes.  The animation is cute, and I like how they often integrate real people into the stories...even if those real people aren't the best actors.  It just brings in a different element than shows that are all animation.  But the use of shapes, counting, colors, patterns, and even things like measuring and adding/subtracting on a very simple level, makes the show stand out to me from most of the rest.  I think I got that sort of learning from Sesame Street, so I like that he can get that here.  The adventures are all very different and imaginative, which in this case is fine, for some reason.  Maybe I just like the thought of a few little helpers running around a city and then venturing off into imaginary lands?  I also like how excited the characters get about learning, but there is something about their excitement that makes the show walk a fine line between cute and annoying.  For example, Milli's voice grated on me initially.  There's something sort of strange about its squeakiness.  BUT...then we saw an episode from the first season where she was voiced by a different actress, and it didn't have the same pizzazz or excitement.  So I hated it a little less after that.  I totally don't understand the "Crazy Shake" song at the end.  Why are we celebrating by shaking?  That just seems like a concussion waiting to happen.  And their little songs before they use a power, like "Super Shapes!", "Milli Measure!", and "Pattern Power" can get on my nerves on an off day.  But Carter loves the show and I hope he's learning in the process!

Bubble Guppies
What I Like: Adorable animation, catchy music, in-show definitions
What I Don't: Not much!
General Thoughts: We didn't start watching this until more recently, and it's still not one of our DVR regulars.  But when it's on and we catch it, we watch it, and sometimes I'll look through the episodes over the next week and pick a couple to record.  But I think the show is so stinkin' cute.  The animation is adorable.  The characters are cute, from the main characters to the fish to the adorable little lobsters.  I sort of like that thee characters are more 3-D, while their face just sort of looks added on, like it's a separate layer or a different sort of animation.  It's just cute.  It took me a while to pick up that it uses a variety show structure, as it jumps from the running storyline to side skits to running jokes, like the weird thing in Nonny's lunch every day.  Speaking of Nonny, I'm intrigued by him.  He almost never smiles.  He's super smart, though, and I like that everyone includes him even though his energy level is different than theirs.  The music is fun (seriously, the Outside song I linked to yesterday is so catchy) and with the cute animation it's just a really fun show.  Sometimes I wish there were a few more direct learning opportunities, but the way Nonny rattles off definitions of big words or other explanations in the middle of a conversation, I do like what's there.  It just makes me smile.

Blaze and the Monster Machines
What I Like: Carter likes trucks
What I Don't: Not as much regular life application, annoying "villain", monster trucks
General Thoughts: When I first saw the promos for this show, I got excited.  But then I realized it was monster trucks and I had visions of having to go to monster truck shows if Carter got really into it.  So we only watch it sparingly.  And at first I had high hopes, but the more I watched it, the less I liked it.  The "bad guy" monster truck is really annoying, and he seems to be a problem most of the time.  I don't understand why Blaze is the only truck with a driver.  I also feel like the learning opportunities aren't as applicable to normal life.  They're more on the mechanical, scientific side, and I think they'll make more sense to older kids.  Carter is probably at least a year or two away from understanding those concepts, but I think the trucks still appeal to younger kids.  I just think it's weird when Blaze is telling the kids to say "fulcrum" to make something happen.  Just a bit much, I think.  Maybe it'll grow on me.

We've somehow generally managed to avoid the rest of the Nick Jr. shows.  Jacob seems really interested in Mutt and Stuff, but that might be because he really wants a dog right now and they have live ones on the show.  However, we're never home when it's on and I've never bothered to DVR it.  I'll admit that while I don't often get to see them, I like catching Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom and Peppa Pig, just because I like listening to their little British accents.  They remind me of the little kids from Love Actually ("We hate Uncle Jamie!" "Are you carol singers?  Oh, please sir!"), which cracks me up.  I have no comment on the quality of the shows beyond that, though.  I think we got to skip Dora because Jacob and Carter are boys and it never appealed to them.  Diego must not be around much, because he's never been a factor.  Part of me always wanted to get into Yo Gabba Gabba, but when it was extra popular I think I was worried it would make Jacob's fantastical stories sound even crazier.  When Jacob was little I loved Blue's Clues (she's just so cute, and the hosts were both perky in a good way), and we also had a short Backyardigans phase.  We sometimes caught Wonder Pets back then, too, as Jacob's cousins loved them.  But all of those, while still on the website, are pretty hard to find these days.  Oh, and we've actively avoided Max and Ruby, as parent bloggers have been quite vocal about the weird lack of parents and Max's whining.  It hasn't been hard, as I think the only time I ever came across it was last year when I was off work.

For all the ones we don't watch, we sure get enough of the ones we do!  Stay tuned for my take on Disney Junior!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Time to go Outside!

Side note: If you could read that post title without getting the "Outside" song from Bubble Guppies in your head, you clearly don't watch them enough.  I really need to do a post about kids' TV one of these days.  God knows we see enough of it and I have opinions.  ANYWAY...

The past couple weeks we've had some unseasonably warm weather.  Aside from one crazy day in the low 70s, it hasn't been super warm, but pleasant and generally warmer than it should be.  It's been a nice change of pace wearing lighter coats and not dealing with snow like we usually do in March.  Of course, we didn't get to take full advantage of the weather the past couple weeks because it was still dark by the time we were getting home every day.  But over the weekend we set the clocks forward, so sunset isn't until after 7pm now.  Craig and the kids have had a couple days to go out before dinner and play, which is something I think the kids have needed.  Even though Jacob can't run yet, I think getting him in that more active mindset is good for him.  We need to get back at getting him to ride a bike, and Carter needs to start practicing pedaling again.  Both kids seem very pedaling-averse, so that's been an interrupted work-in-progress.

On Sunday we were in Buffalo for Craig's mom's birthday, and Carter got his belated birthday gift since Craig's brother's family wasn't able to make his party.

He got a new tricycle!

He was excited, but I think he liked playing peek-a-boo over the box more!

He's already got a little wheel of his own, a hand-me-down big wheel, and a hand-me-down bike and scooter that he hasn't really been able to use yet.  But the trike should be good bike practice for him to get him comfortable with steering and pedaling.  I put it together last night and he was excited to get on it this morning!  The weather wasn't ideal for riding it tonight, but hopefully soon!  He got much better at just getting on it today, so I guess we'll take it one step at a time.

On a side note, Craig gave me some grief about the pictures I've posted of him lately--weird faces, blinking, etc.--so when I tried to take his picture with Carter, first he said they should make faces...
You can't see it, but Carter is sucking in his cheeks to make a face!
 And then there was this one...and this is a good one, right?

So, it appears this weather won't last forever, but it's nice to have had the break.  It definitely makes me look forward to spring even more.  Hopefully the weather is gentle the rest of the way, but I suppose this is a lot to ask given how mild this winter has been as a whole.  I can dream, though!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Electr(on)ic Company

Over the weekend, I came to a realization.  I suppose it wasn't a shock, but actually admitting it to myself felt pretty crappy.  It definitely makes me feel like a sub-par parent.  And yet, I know that parenthood is often a matter of survival, and this is a survival mechanism right now. 

What is the problem?  Well, I realized that electronic distractions have officially become the one thing that keeps all of us from losing our minds.  And yes, I feel awful about that.  But right now, the kids can't be in the same room and not make each other crazy unless one or both of them is being distracted by some form of electronics.  Minus the electronics, they unsuccessfully try to "play" together.  They may attempt to play sports and it gets out of hand.  Stick swinging, errant ball throwing, and puck stealing all make the fun disappear very fast.  Then Jacob encourages Carter to do something he shouldn't, like fight him or throw toys.  Carter chases after Jacob.  Jacob tries to boss Carter around.  Carter walks away.  Jacob chases him down.  Carter falls and gets hurt.  Jacob makes fun of Carter crying.  Carter yells back.  Everything dissolves into a shouting match of nonsense sounds, and everyone loses their minds.  Almost every single time it is some variation of this.  It's a constant cycle and it's exhausting.

But then...Jacob picks up his iPad and is happily building away on Minecraft.  Carter can play how he wants without Jacob bossing him around.  Or we turn on Paw Patrol and both kids just sit there watching it happily.  It allows me to cook dinner without having to referee.  I can get a few moments of quiet to check my email or pop on Facebook...or even just to think.  It seems miraculous in contrast to how explosive they can be together. 

The biggest problem is that Carter is pretty addicted to TV, and Jacob is pretty addicted to his iPad.  When we took away Jacob's iPad for almost a week, he asked incessantly when he was going to get it back.  When he has it, it is very hard for him to put it down when we ask him to stop.  He always wants to finish one more thing.  Carter loves his TV shows and asks for them often.  In fact, if one of them is not on when he comes in the living room, he will tell us to "turn the commercials off" (even if it's really a show) and ask for one of his.  When Jacob was this age, it was actually hard to get him to sit and watch a show.  He almost always played while he watched, at the very least.  Carter, on the other hand, will just sit still and watch for hours on end if he could.  I'll admit that in the evenings I like nothing more than snuggling up with him on the couch after dinner and watching a show.  It's relaxing and cozy and I can catch up on life while he watches.  It's one of the highlights of my day.  I know I should be encouraging him to get back on the floor and play, but it's hard.  I love that time, he loves that time, but it's not the best way to spend our time together, unfortunately.  But when your kid barely slows down, sometimes it's nice to have those moments. 

I guess the other part of the problem is that there aren't enough hours in the day.  I would love to watch our shows AND play with his toys, but by the time I'm done in the kitchen after dinner, we usually just have time for one or two shows before it's time to start getting ready for bed, and by then I need the rest.  Sometimes he will watch one and run off and play, but when I join him he'll suddenly move on to something else, either because Jacob distracted him or he happens to wander back to the living room and remember that he wants to watch another show.  Not that we always give in, but still, he's three and it's hard to get him back on track when he really wants something, and the resulting misbehavior usually just leads to an earlier bedtime. 

To be fair, I always read him three books before bed, so I know he's at least getting that non-electronic quality time.  And he spends all day at daycare playing with toys and learning new things, so perhaps he's like his mama and needs some decompression downtime by then.  But the fact of the matter is, those TV shows keep the peace better than anything else, and I've come to rely on them far too much. 

Over the past week or two, I've been making a concerted effort to go to bed early...or at least on time.  I'd gotten in a terrible habit of not getting into bed until just before midnight, though many nights I'd nod off in my chair for a bit before that.  But one day at work I realized I was overly exhausted and it was impacting my ability to think through some of the complex processes that I deal with on a daily basis.  And right then I decided this needed to be a priority.  And ever since, with the exception of one or two nights (one was on a weekend) where I just needed to get something done, I have gone to bed on time, around 11pm or earlier.  I still can't get my butt out of bed in the morning, but I do feel like it helps me to function better during the day, and even to be more patient with the kids.  I'm hoping that the longer I stick to it, the more my body will recover from months of bedtime abuse.  I'm hoping to wake up easier, think more clearly, maintain my weight (I blame the sleep thing for at least part of the extra seven pounds I've put on in the last 6-9 months), and hopefully find more energy.  And once I find that energy (and even if I don't), I need to work on turning the TV off, or finding other ways to distract Carter or encourage both kids to cooperate.  I need to play with Carter, to bring out the mess of Duplos, to look at his toys and think of new ways to play.  And if electronics have to be part of it, I need to make sure it remains interactive.  I need to get off the couch and play Wii with Jacob more often, or I need to bring up the hand-me-down kiddie video game system in our basement and encourage the kids to start figuring that out together, or I need to pay attention more when Jacob shows me his amazing Minecraft creations (seriously--they're impressive).  I need to be more present for my kids in spite of how the exhaustion sometimes makes me want to check out and hide behind my electronic co-parenting "partners".

The exhaustion may have taken its toll, but now that I see the extent of it, I need to fight back.  Baby steps, for sure, but hopefully it will be progress nevertheless.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Struggle

For the most part, Carter is a sweet, funny little guy.  He cracks me up, and he's starting to tell elaborate stories that would make anyone smile.  His giggle is so cute, and his smile can light up a room.  I still get random people telling me how cute he is.  He gives so many hugs that I can barely get him dressed without having to take hug breaks, and I'm pretty impressed with how he got potty trained so early.  There are so many things that make having a kid like him so easy.

While I feel like we generally skipped over the terrible twos, the threes have been a bit of a different story.  Don't get me wrong--he had plenty of age-appropriate, typical two-year-old meltdowns, but for the most part, 95% of the time he was pretty easy going.  As he neared his third birthday, I could see the tide turning a bit.  He began to become more defiant.  He would have tantrums at bedtime.  He would refuse to come to dinner.  He started knocking the soft pillow-like decorations off the wall above his bed when he was having a timeout in his crib.  He would throw things or hit when he got mad.  Those were all new behaviors and caught us by surprise.  Of course, I suppose I wasn't shocked since we see variations of those behaviors from Jacob quite often, so it's not a stretch to think that Carter could have picked up on those behaviors along the way.  But it was a bummer.

We are still dealing with them on a daily basis, but I'll admit they still generally pale in comparison to everything we deal with with Jacob.  In fact, many of the undesirable behaviors we see in Carter comes directly from Jacob, as he has a tendency to encourage him to be naughty.  They ramp each other up with potty talk.  Jacob asks him if he wants to battle.  He "suggests" certain answers to questions or certain actions, and of course his obsessed little brother wants to do what his big brother suggests.  So we're running into a lot of that behavior, and I'm concerned about what Carter might pick up long term.  With Jacob we always worried about what he was learning at daycare, and this time around I feel like home is more of a danger zone.

But speaking of daycare, that's ultimately what this post is about.  Every morning is a struggle to get Carter to daycare and leave him there happy.  As you may recall, our daycare situation basically imploded last June.  The long-time director was fired for no valid reason, the assistant director (who we all adored) was basically forced out right after, some teachers were let go because they refused to comply with the ridiculous new regime, and other teachers left over time because the atmosphere was so poisonous in the aftermath.  We are one of the few families that stuck it out after that, only because Carter was in a room with two of the three remaining teachers that didn't leave, and I felt like as long as he was comfortable there, there was no sense uprooting him.  I miss his old friends and their parents so much, but most of them went to the crazy expensive daycare up the road and I just can't justify that right now.  While I can be pleasant with the current staff, I'll admit that even months later I'm still having trouble feeling comfortable.  It's not the same friendly banter I had with the old teachers.  I like the director, but neither she nor the assistant director are that visible on a daily basis.  I always felt like there was someone capable in charge at any given moment, and I'm not sure I feel that way anymore.  It's so sad because everything there was like a family nine months ago, and even now it's just...not.

A few weeks ago Carter moved into the three-year-old room.  One of the teachers has been there for a number of months now, but the other teacher left right before Carter moved, and there's been a couple different ones around.  While I don't have any specific concerns, I'm not sure what to think.  Carter doesn't really talk much about his teachers or his new friends.  In fact, he told me tonight he doesn't have friends in his classroom.  I know that some of what they're doing is above him right now, based on how his letter tracing sheets come home.  I know he likes the toys in that room, but there are a lot of kids and I can't help but wonder how he's managing.  But like a typical kid, I don't hear much at the end of the day.  I do know that most days he doesn't want to leave.  Even if he's happy to see me, he'd rather stick around and show me stuff.  So on some level I take that as a good sign.

But every single morning, Carter tells me he doesn't want to go.  Some days it's just that he wants to hang out in my bed and watch TV, or he'd rather play with his toys.  But some days he gets creative.  He'll ask me what day it is, I will tell him, and he'll say to me, "Oh, that means we go to daycare tomorrow!"  Or he'll just tell me no one is there today.  When I ask him why he doesn't want to go, he says he just wants to stay at home with me.  I have no idea if he still remembers his time home with me last year, or if he just loves Saturdays, or if there's really some compelling reason that makes him not want to go.  I will say that he got bit twice within a month or so.  The second one is still healing up.  He tells me both were from the same kid, who's actually younger than him and is only in the same room when they combine at the end of the day.  Both bites have been on the back, and they've scabbed and bruised pretty good.  I feel awful for him that he's had to deal with that.  I'm hoping that the staff is aware of who did it and is keeping a better eye on the two of them when they're together, but I don't know.  But he spends most of the day away from that kid, so I can't chalk that up as the only thing bothering him. 

It's horrible to get him out of the house in the morning, and he's usually grumpy as I strap him in.  When I drop him off, sometimes he will pretend he's sleeping in his car seat.  He's usually pretty pleasant about getting out of the car and walking in, but once we're in the door, all bets are off.  He doesn't like when I take off his coat.  He runs before I can change him out of his boots.  He will run from me every chance he gets, in fact.  I literally have to hand him off to a teacher in order to leave without him running after me.  I'm sure he's fine five minutes after I leave.  But I hate that it's like this every morning.

Of course, it doesn't help that I still long to be with him, too.  I can't lie--my time off a year ago was life-changing.  I never had the experience to be a stay-at-home mom where I wasn't mothering an infant, and it turns out that my time with him was really nice.  Apparently when you have a kid that doesn't have a tendency to make you nuts 24/7, parenting can be pretty decent.  I feel awful when he acts like he simply wants to be with me and that's why he doesn't want to go to daycare.  I tell him that I would love to stay with him if I could, but I can't.  He doesn't get it, of course, but I try.  I want him to know that I love him and that I wish I could be with him.  But reality is, I have a great job and this is just the way it has to be right now.  So daycare it is...

I'm still debating switching daycares, but I worry if that will just make things worse.  The clean slate would be nice for me, I think, but I worry about what a sea of new faces would be like for Carter.  Jacob insists he never wants to go to the daycare that we'd probably switch to, but I think he would adjust for the few weeks he has to go there over the summer.  But it's a big switch and it's scary having no one who you trust to look out for your kid.  Nine months after first considering changing, I'm still very torn.

I'm sad that he's sad, and it makes both of our days just a little bit more of a bummer that we can't spend them together.  But this is how it needs to be and I just need to figure out how to make it better for both of us until he adjusts again.  Might be a long road, but we'll get there...both of us. 

I love that kid, struggle and all.