Friday, January 31, 2014

A 4-Year-Old's Book Club

This year at school, Lilly has entered the world of learning how to read.  Her little eyes, which are always eager to take in the world around her, have been opened to the language of books and it is so amazing to be a part of.  She has always loved listening to stories and has grown rather adept at convincing Jim to read "just one more book" before bed each night, but Jim's hour long bedtime routine deserves its own entry, so we'll save that for another time.

Lilly started off the year bringing home BOB books, which are a great introduction for children learning to sound out words.  Unfortunately, the story lines run a little thin, and as Lilly's teacher told us, the children tend to get sick of these books rather quickly, as lines like, "Sam sat on Mat. Mat sat on Sam," are not too captivating.  But, they do the trick and teach the little ones that they can sound out words on their own.  Lilly was more than eager to check off her 10 Bob books and start bringing home her "tall red number tab" books.  So far in this series, we've read about "Mac and Tab," "The Tin Man," "Al," "Tim," "The Jet," "Ben Bug," and the latest one that Lilly brought home was "Ed."

These books are so sweet, and at around 20 pages long, take a great deal of patience and concentration for Lilly to read.  We often sit down and read a book that Lilly has brought home during quiet time, and it's amazing to watch how quickly things start to click.  She has a whole bank of sight words in her head that she no longer has to sound out.  She's learned the difference between "b" and "d," which are two confusing little letters.  Watching her little tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrates never fails to make me smile.  And then, when she read me this story about Ed the Elephant, who ends up shooting water out of his trunk to get a nut off the rail, she cracks herself up.  That's the best part--listening to her read a story that she thinks is hysterical.  When she finishes each book, she smiles proudly.  She often reads it to us again on the way to school the next day.  And then, inevitably at some point, Jack sees the book and asks Lilly if she can read it to him.  As Jack sits next to Lilly so patiently, watching her with admiration while she makes sense of these words that he sees on each page, my heart melts.

After Lilly reads to Jim or me, she always wants us to read to her.  So, not only have we entered the world of Lilly learning to read, but we have also entered the world of chapter books and we're having a blast.  I don't know who enjoys these books more--Jim and I or Lilly.  We have a whole collection growing of books we're going to read together, or books that Lilly can read by herself as she gets older. 

At the moment, we're engrossed in the Magic Tree House books.  The storyline each time is simple--Jack and Annie found a magic tree house that takes them to different places.  All they have to do is point to a picture in a book and the tree house will take them there.  They spend their time in these various places getting through whatever obstacles they encounter and inevitably becoming trapped and trying to escape from the villain.  As we were reading one about pirates the other day, we finished a chapter where Jack and Annie were taken captive on board a pirate ship until they were willing to show the pirate (Cap'n Bones) where the treasure is and Lilly looked at me wide eyed and slammed the book shut, announcing that we could save the rest for tomorrow.  We picked it up again the next day, and she started off by saying that she knew Jack and Annie would be okay but she just wasn't sure how they were going to get off the ship.  She couldn't wait for them to get back to the tree house and point to the picture of their home town in Pennsylvania so the tree house could take them home.  This world of reading is fun.  Lots of fun.  And it's only just beginning.  I know how much I love lying in bed at night, falling asleep reading a good book, and I can't wait for her to do the same thing.  

I'm off to start "Night of the Ninjas."  Wish me luck.  This is a topic that I don't have a whole lot of interest in, but I'm hoping that Jack and Annie mix things up a little bit.  Maybe the tree house leaves them there.  Or the ninja takes their book and they can't get home.  What I do know is that Lilly will hide behind a pillow at some point.  And that with each book we read, her love of reading will grow just a little bit more.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't Forget Cuckoo Head

Life with children, especially chatty little children, is never dull.  Never.  Even after they've gone to bed, before Jim and I can sit down and enjoy the silence, we wait for the inevitable post-bedtime "emergency".  Last night, the emergency was "Jack and I don't have fresh water, and we're dying of thirst up here."  Never mind the fact that they finished dinner maybe 30 minutes before.  And then had water while reading books downstairs.  They had been left alone in their room for a whole five minutes and were dying of thirst.  If this doesn't constitute a true emergency, then I don't know what does.

From her earliest days, Lilly has been a chatty little girl.  The baby babble quickly turned into Mamas and Dadas and she never looked back.  Some of her expressions are just priceless.  I wrote about them here a few years ago. 

Around the age of two, Lilly started saying "Don't forget cuckoo head" whenever she says goodnight or goodbye to us, and that has stuck.  Neither Jim nor I remember where it came from, but it's important to her.  It's the last thing she says when she gets out of the car to walk into school, and the last words out of her mouth when you leave her bedroom at night.  She says it when she says bye to me and gets in the pool for her swim lessons and used to belt it out from her little line of ballerinas as she walked off to ballet.  The other parents always look at me and smile.  I used to feel the need to explain it--after all, it doesn't sound very logical.  But not anymore.  I smile right back at them, and secretly hope that Lilly says this to us forever.  Is it illogical to hope that she says "Don't forget cuckoo head" when we drop her off at college or when Jim walks her down the aisle at her (very very very far into the future) wedding?  Even Jack says it now.

Some of my other favorite Lilly (and subsequently, Jack) expressions include:
  • That really creaks me out (when she's scared of something).
  • Montessori Jack cheese (Monterey Jack cheese)
  • Mum, the Pedex truck is here (an almost daily occurance, as the Fedex truck arrives at our house)
  • I did it by nanaccident.  (Lots of things happen by accident in our house, if you can imagine...)
And a few classic ones that need a little bit more explanation.  The first is from a Thanksgiving song that she learned at school, all about the Pilgrims.  In Lilly's words, " where the mighty moose, ramble at will.  Blue skies and walking shorts, I will return once more..."  So one day, when I was singing it while wandering around the house (I've always got some sort of catchy tune stuck in my head), cue the following conversation between Jim and me:

                   Me: skies and rocky shores, I will return once more...

                   Jim:  Oooooh that makes so much more sense!

                   Me:  What makes sense?

                   Jim:  The rocky shores part! I always wondered why they would sing about walking shorts.

We all learn things every day.  Even when we're 32 years old. 

The second song lyrics that we have yet to correct come from a catchy little Christmas song that for whatever reason, our children are obsessed with.  I don't even know how they heard it, but it's almost February and they ask to listen to it every single day.  The song is Dominick the Donkey (if you haven't heard it, it's worth a listen), and Jack and Lilly bounce around the house when it's on singing, "...jiggity, jig, he haw, he haw, it's time to kick the donkey" instead of "...jiggity, jig, he haw, he haw, it's Dominick the donkey".  So we sing songs about kicking donkeys.  I leave you with our end of the day rendition of Dominick yesterday, complete with toys all over the house.  It really was the end of the day.

Don't Forget Cuckoo Head.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Goodbye 2013

When Edward sent out an email in November asking us to reflect on 2013 and share our thoughts with him, I knew that was the motivation that I needed to sit and take some time to reflect on the year.  Joseph's reflection on 2013 was wonderful to read.  I always enjoy reading things written by the people that I love, but this was especially beautiful.  As most things do in my life at the moment, this took me longer to write and more sittings than I planned. While 2014 is still new(ish), here are my thoughts on 2013.

Naturally, the first thing (well, little person, really) that comes to mind when reflecting on 2013, is Hannah. It is so strange for me to think that this time last year, Hannah was the baby that we didn't yet know, in my always-expanding-pregnant-stomach. And I still had almost 2 months to go until we would meet her and welcome her into our family.  2013 has taught me that love really has no boundaries.  Just when I think my heart is full of love, we introduce another little person into our family, and the love in my heart grows exponentially.  Hannah has been a part of my life for almost 10 months (of my 32 years), yet it is hard for me to imagine my life without her.  I am always amazed by the impact that a 7 pound person can have on the world, without doing anything except being born, cuddling, and smiling.  She crawls (pretty quickly, now), blurts and loves her food.  She has the best belly laugh.  She snuggles and sucks her (left!) thumb.  She has been an unbelievably good baby.  I love every single day of being her mum.  Going through all these stages the third time around is just as amazing as it was the first time.  I am still marveled by all the 'firsts'.  The first time Hannah clapped her hands.  Her first tooth.  The first time she waved (with that cute little hand opening and closing, like she's waving to herself, just as the older two waved early on).  The first time she crawled, as fast as her little arms and legs could carry her to the door, when she heard Jim come home from work.  Just as I did with Lilly and Jack, I savor these firsts.  And each time one comes and goes, I am nostalgic, as saying goodbye to the newborn days is never easy for me.  I know the best is yet to come, but I often have a hard time believing that life could be better than it is right now.  

I find myself loving Lilly and Jack more each day.  Lilly is growing into a real little girl, who will turn 5 in a few short months.  She is learning how to read.  She loves drawing and coloring and painting.  She loves talking.  So often, I look at her and see myself as a little girl; an oldest child and big sister.  She's inquisitive and funny.  She's kind. She's finding her place in the world, continuing to test boundaries, as I'm sure she will for much of her childhood and well into her teenage years.  2013 was the year Lilly became confident in the water.  She learned how to swim by herself, with her face in the water, and she actually looks forward to her swim lessons now.  Every day with Lilly is an adventure.  You never know what "quiet time" is going to bring on any given afternoon.  Sometimes, when I go up to our bedroom to get her after an hour or an hour and a half, I discover post-it notes stuck to as many pieces of furniture as she could find, labeling things and drawing people.  Sometimes I find a circus, full of stuffed animals and whatever possessions from my dresser she feels like including.  Sometimes there are elaborate stories, written and illustrated and stapled together.  Often, these stories are one long sentence with no spaces, making it difficult when I ask her what it's about, and she responds by telling me to "read the words" back to her!  Life with a four-year-old is fun. 2013 taught me to slow down and make time for Lilly's never-ending questions and stories, as I know one day I'll be wishing them back.     

In 2013, Jack transitioned from a baby to a train-bus-car-truck-loving toddler. He chatters constantly and puts together Thomas puzzles all morning.  He is a true boy.  Jack and I spend all our mornings together and he's my little companion while Lilly is at school.  He asks to go to Trader Joe's and Veres Park and Target (which are pretty much our only morning outings at the moment as Hannah is napping for most of the morning).  He carries a train with him everywhere--the car, the table, the bath and even to the bathroom.  Emily (and Emily's tender) is currently his train of choice.  It's not uncommon for him to wake up with wheel marks on his face, as Emily sleeps on his pillow with him.  He loves the color yellow and wants to do everything "by self." 2013 has taught me that our children are all such different little people, and while Jim and I can provide them all with the same boundaries, how they grow and develop within those boundaries is up to them. 

Amidst these three little people who consume my days, there is Jim.  He is the person who taught me what it really means to love someone.  He is the one who makes our family and our lifestyle possible.  He is the reason that I am so happy; the reason that I get to stay home and look after our children; the reason that I love my life.  In 2013, I watched Jim struggle internally with finding a job that he likes and supports our family, while trying to balance time for being the dad that he loves to be.  It is an ongoing struggle, one that will hopefully find a resolution in 2014.  Even with the challenges from work, Jim is the best husband and Dad we could ask for.  As life gets busier and it gets more difficult to spend time alone, Jim and I both know how important it is to make time to be together. In April, we will have been married for seven years.  In February, we will have been together for 13 years.  It is easy to take our relationship for granted, but it is essential that we do not.  We make time to go out to dinner.  We choose to spend our weekends at home with our little ones, when I'm not out teaching or tutoring.  We love our time together and after Hannah has turned one, we plan on going away, just the two of us.  2013 has taught me that my relationship with Jim is the most important part of my life and the part of my life I must work the hardest for.  

I have been able to start working out (real work outs, not pregnant work outs!) this year. I know it is important to take care of myself, however hard that may be.  When my body is happy, it allows my mind to be happy. These waves of happiness continue to ripple out to the rest of my family.  I'm a better mother and wife.  Over the past few months, I've found time to read more.  I have one more weekend of teaching and tutoring, and then things will calm down and I will make time for my knitting and sewing again.  I know this busy time in my life is so precious and so short-lived, so I want to treasure it.  But I also know that I need a little bit of time to myself in order for me to do that.  

In 2013, I've learned that I can't do everything.  On days when dinner is cooked and laundry is done, there may be toys all over the floor.  If the house is clean, we may have to have leftovers or pizza for dinner.  I can't write as many blog entries as I'd like without sacrificing reading or working out or having a glass of wine with Jim.  I can't do it all, so I have to choose what is the most important, and know that everything will get done.  I can do my best, and that's what I strive to do every day. 

This year, I have missed spending time with our family--the Stephens family.  Life is always more fun when we're together and I'm really hoping that we can all get together in 2014.  While nothing beats having the full family get together, I have been fortunate to have had every member of our family come and stay with us in Fairfield.  It is always amazing for me to see my parents as grandparents, and to see my brothers and sister as uncles and an aunt.  They are all idolized by my little ones--they speak their names with big smiles on their faces.  They associate them with nothing but fun.  I love watching, and being a part of these relationships, which are only going to get more special as the years go on.  

2013 has taught me that each year can get better when you love the people that you spend every day with.  It was a wonderful year--one that I was reluctant to say goodbye to.  And yet, somehow, I know that 2014 will be even better.