Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Comparison Game

In my life, nothing has taught me more about my own failings and shortcomings than parenting. Something about seeing them manifested in the little people under my charge makes them scream out loudly in all their bald-faced, raw ugliness. It provides the objective microscope that I so often lack. Like looking in one of those fun-house mirrors and learning that the reflection is not a distortion but a reality.

Never was this more apparent than the other night while I was helping Addison with his reading. Addison's reading journey has not followed the trajectory I would have ever expected from such a clever and intuitive child. He has wrestled with reading from the very beginning, largely because he struggles with something much more basic, focusing. It's not that he's not capable of reading or putting all the concepts together. There are just much more interesting things to do, conversations to have, daydreams to imagine, and questions to ask. This has really caught me off-guard. My child not get reading straight off? Never! I mean...have you met Trey and me? We're nothing if not readers, and we have always read prolifically to our children. But as with so many other things on this long, parenting road, I am learning that doing all the right things doesn't mean you get the expected or desired outcome.

There is no formula. We are individuals full of complexity and nuance, shaped by our environment and our personality. Addison's mind works a mile a minute and it's a real challenge for him to sit still and put together all the pieces that are required to read. Eyes moving from left to right. Typical phonetic sounds, word chunks, rule breakers. Breathing and inflection and reading comprehension. These are things that all proficient readers take for granted, and I surely did until my son was back at the beginning and just not getting it.

He's actually doing much better now. After initially being tested at a Level 0 at the start of the first grade school year and working one-on-one with a reading specialist in his school, he has just reached Level 14. Which brings me to my story.

Another little girl in his class is also in the same reading program he is in, but she is at Level 15, and as we were working on his reading the other night, Addison looked up at me with his irresistibly blue eyes, chin beginning to quiver and said, "B is on Level 15 and I'm only on Level 13."

Wow. So this is one of those hard parenting moments. Boy, did I feel a knife to the heart for several reasons. First, because his sweet, little heart was in pain and what mother can stand to see that? And how do you take it away? But second because I do the same thing. All the time. Compare, especially when it comes to my children. I want to be best, the winner, the top dog. It's the occupational hazard of being eldest born, and although I'm fully aware of it and can readily identify it, I so often feel powerless to slay it.

And here I sat with my firstborn, hearing myself preach a lesson that I needed to live myself. That life is not a competition. That he has worked tremendously hard and achieved so much in improving his reading. That effort sometimes is worth more than results. That we need to celebrates others' successes irrespective of our own performance. Wow, did I feel like a hypocrite. Because if I'm honest, I've played the comparison game in my head about his reading too. He just doesn't know it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


When you get pregnant with your third and have two boys already and then people ask if you want a girl, the polite and usual response is, "No, I just want the baby to be healthy."  Of course I wanted the baby to be healthy, but the reality was I also wanted it to be a her. When I was pregnant with Genevie, before I knew she was going to be a Genevie, I wanted a girl. Not a little bit. Not a lot. But deep down into my bones I wanted a girl. I dreamed of doing all those mother/daughter things that mothers and daughters do, like going shopping and getting pedicures and talking for hours on the phone. I wanted to share clothes and shoes and fix her hair in adorable coifs. I wanted to teach her how to be strong and successful in a man's world without losing the femininity and intuitiveness that set us apart.

Well, you know how the story goes. God gave me Genevie. She is an amazing little girl. She is both feisty and sweet, tough and tender. She hangs with her brothers playing with cars and Star Wars figures, but loves purple and pink and earrings. In fact, these days she won't stop asking to get her ears pierced. I told her to talk to Daddy.

A few nights ago, I experienced one of those long anticipated moments that had made me desire a daughter so much. I came into her room to say goodnight. My hair was wet from just getting out of the shower. She doesn't usually see me with wet hair because I usually shower at night after she's asleep, and it completely fascinated her. She kept reaching up and stroking it and telling me how much she loved my hair. Then she blew me away with this one: "Mommy, can I brush your hair?" Um, yes! I went and got a brush from the bathroom and for five minutes we just sat there chatting away with her gently brushing my wet hair. It was such an intimate moment, the kind I had dreamed of and gave me a glimpse of the many more to come.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tree Rats

This is not my picture. Man, I wish it were. What an awesome shot. But you get the idea because this is essentially what our squirrels were doing to my brand new bird feeder that the boys got me for Christmas.

They gave me this lovely cedar chalet bird feeder with side cages for suet cakes. We haven't fed the birds since Aberdeen. Remember this post? Back then we didn't have to contend with squirrels. Aberdeen just didn't have them. No, our biggest predator problem were the fat pigeons who would try to steal the seed by roosting on our window ledge. We eventually solved that problem.

No sooner did I hang the bird feeder on our unused clothes line pole, then massive gray squirrels, or tree rats as I refer to them, began scaling the pole and performing the exact same acrobatics pictured above. I was incensed and determined to find a solution. A squirrel baffle seemed logical. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, it is essentially an inverted funnel fitted around the pole which prevents tree rodents from reaching high enough to get to the bird feeder like so:

Alas, our local wild bird seed store didn't have baffles with large enough fittings for the circumference of our pole, but all was not lost. The clerk informed me that squirrels, and blackbirds, starlings, and crows for that matter, do not like safflower seeds and will generally leave feeders with them alone. So I decided to invest in a 10 lb. bag of safflower seeds. I also bought a window feeder because I missed the one we had in Aberdeen. It was such an up-close-and-personal view of the birds once they got brave enough to enjoy it.

So here it is, ready and waiting.

You can be sure once we actually have some little feathered visitors I'll be sharing them with you.

In the meantime, I also got a third bird feeder for Christmas, and the deck mount for it arrived today. This feeder is squirrel proof already with a cage around it to prevent the tree rats from stealing seed. Needless to say, our backyard is becoming a veritable food court for our birds. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Snow at Last

Wednesday night we got our first snow this winter. I snagged this picture which someone had posted on Facebook of the swirling whiteness in front of my old building at Centre Square. It wasn't enough to delay school or merit a snow day the following morning, however. Just enough to make everything look pretty and to cause one little boy to redouble his prayers for snow this winter.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

My New Year's resolution began after the new year, but I think that's OK because it's a good one. In 2012 I resolve to take better care of my teeth. This Monday I had a long overdue dental appointment. Since I left my job at Westinghouse Lighting to go to Aberdeen circa 2006, we have been without dental insurance. You can draw down the necessary conclusions. I know. It's completely embarrassing. But I, like many, have a pathological dislike of the dentist. I always feel judged and manhandled, and really I know this is my own fault. I am a terrible non-flosser, and although I brush religiously the combination of non-flossing and infrequent dental visits make my cleanings a nightmare.

Now with my new job, we all have dental insurance again, and so imagine my surprise on Monday when I called to schedule an appointment and they informed me they had a cancellation for that very evening. Seize the day, right? When I left the dentist office Monday night my gums were puffy and sore and screaming at me, but I loved the hygienist. She was so wonderful and not a bit judgemental. In fact, if anything, she was self-deprecating, telling me that she is totally OCD and exorcises it on people's teeth to keep herself sane. I left her office feeling empowered with a new technique for brushing (angle, vibrate, gently sweep up...never scrub!) to help avoid gum recession and a renewed resolve to floss every day. Three days have passed and check, check, check, I've flossed every one of them. Amazingly, as she predicted, my gums are healing and no longer protest when I floss. They used to be sensitive and inflamed from the plaque and tartar build up and consequently bled a lot when I would occasionally floss. Now I can see they are a healthy, beautiful pink and almost no discomfort or bleeding from the flossing. I know it will only continue to get better.

Did you know that plaque, the sticky, bacteria-laden deposits from food that settle on your teeth after eating, takes 12 hours to form, which is the reason that dentists recommend brushing 2 times a day? Did you also know that plaque takes an additional 72 hours to calcify into tartar, the lovely junk the dentist scrapes off your teeth in a cleaning? This is why they recommend flossing every day, but at a minimum, every other day.

Sadly, I did have one small cavity due to the funny shape of my jaw on one side and the difficulty of reaching the very back tooth when I brush. So I have to go back in a few weeks to have it filled. I am almost giddy with excitement to show my dentist what a good job I've been doing flossing every day and brushing in the new way. To top it all off, I already scheduled my 6 month appointment in July.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Book Year in Review

2011 was the year I rediscovered how to read again. I know that sounds funny coming from someone who majored in English in college, but I have often felt that doing so killed my love of reading for nearly a decade. I had forgotten how to read something not for the purpose of analysis but for the sheer emotional joy of it. Of course, I can't deny who I am. My literary heart is always looking for themes, character arcs, and motifs, and so over the course of this past year I slowly re-engaged literature in the way that I was first introduced to it, by being read to, and then from there I have been able to delve deeper in a way that keeps my heart as well as my head happy.

My earliest and fondest memories of books are those cuddled on the couch with one of my parents, my sister on the other side, listening to The Chronicles of Narnia or the Little House on the Prairie books. This year, I read three chapter books to Addison and Davis and got far into a fourth. The act of listening to a book being read is a unique way to engage literature and one we typically equate with youth. However, this year as I have listened to 10 books on audio, I have become convinced that being read to allows you to notice things that you miss when you read with your eyes and not your ears.

Goodreads has made it possible to catalog my reading this year and discover other books of similar interest, and the book club I joined in February has kept my reading list ever fresh and interesting. Below are the 19 books I completed this year ranked from 5 stars down to 2 with links to reviews I've already done and brief comments on those I have not mentioned before.

As a side note, let me add that 2011 was a banner year for finding outstanding new favorites. I read two of the best books I've ever read, one of which is now in my top 3 of all time, Cutting for Stone. It is a book that now, many months after finishing it, still lives with me, and I'm sure I will re-read in the near future. I also find it interesting as I look back on the books I read this year that several recurring threads wove their way through many of them, most notably racial tension. Several focused on the Holocaust, one on illegal immigration, two on Jim Crow. Race was examined from an American, European, Asian, and African perspective, mediated through a medical mindset, retrospected through history's lens and laid bare in its most grotesque form in war as genocide.

5 stars

4 stars

This is the 6th of the 7 books in the Gabaldon Outlander series, all of which are at least 1,000 pages. I started the series in April 2010 and will probably finish the 7th book this January. I have come to the conclusion that while Gabaldon is a very gifted writer, she struggles with brevity, which ultimately detracts from her books. You may laugh at such a patently obvious observation given her books' lengths. However, at first, I was willing to concede that in order to effect the epic journey of time's passage (the books cover several decades and centuries), it was necessary for her to write such long books. Now, however, I am unconvinced. Quantity does not equal quality. All this being said, A Breath of Snow in Ashes was a very good book with inventive twists and, in my opinion, would have been better to conclude the series. Right now I am in the throes of book 7, which has been a terrible snoozer, feeling too invested to walk away but slightly dreading the fact that book 8 is still being written and may or may not be the finale.

This beloved childhood tale never gets old. I cannot tell you how many times I have read it or had it read to me, and I still get chills at all the right parts. A must read for every parent and child.

The Borrowers is a wonderful, fanciful story, which delights young imaginations and will make you wonder what does happen to all the AA batteries you keep buying and can't find when you need.

I hopped on The Hunger Games bandwagon this summer and was quickly sucked into its addictive vortex. This was a book club pick and by the time of our meeting I had completed the trilogy. THG is fast-paced in a disarming way, blending the brutality of ancient Greece and Rome with the voyeuristic narcissism of modern-day reality television and the terror-inspiring dystopia of futuristic technology, strange bedfellows that somehow work together in a cacophonous symmetry. The relationships in the book are admittedly adolescent, which I think is part of its charm. The writing style taps into the emotional intensity of now thankfully long-gone teenage years and ramps up the volume in a way that is completely engrossing. It is a book that is probably a lot deeper than most people realize, and I walked away feeling like it was an incredible indictment of our modern, entertainment-crazed culture. Somehow that has been lost with all the current movie-hype for its March release. Ah, the irony.

3 stars

Unfortunately, not nearly as interesting as the first book.

Two narratives from different times collide in this French-based book about a journalist investigating the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup during World War II when more than 7,000 French Jews were held by the French police in a velodrome with no food, water, or sanitation for 5 days before being shipped to Auschwitz. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about World War II, but this was an event I had never heard of, not surprising considering the French efforts to ignore their own responsibility in the Holocaust. A very sobering tale but, unfortunately, not all that well written.

Little Bee probably deserves 3.5 or 4 stars, but it was a very hard book for me to read given its heavy content. You may find it otherwise, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves soulful stories. Though I really failed to connect with one of the main characters in the book, by contrast the title character, Little Bee, was so beautifully written, so penetrating in her insights, someone who had lived too much life for her young years, it is worth reading just to get to know her as a character.

Book 2 in TGH trilogy (see comments above).

This is the 2nd book of 2011 that was also made into a movie this year (The Help was the other one). If you enjoy mystery and intrigue, you will love this book. Very engaging characters and a creative story with a bizarre twist at the end. A note of warning, it is very violent and not for the faint of heart.

A good, not a great, book. An odd example of an excellent writing style out-performing the plot.

I had just high hopes for the conclusion of THG trilogy, but if I'm honest the series started like a lion and ended like a lamb (see comments above).

I picked up Room while on vacation and had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. It is written from the perspective of a young boy who has lived his entire life in captivity in a single room with his mother. Of course, he doesn't know he's a captive, and so the book embodies irony in its classic sense, the reader knowing what the narrator does not that he is the victim of a heinous crime. The narrative style takes a while to get used to given the limited vocabulary and life experience of the story teller. This is another book not for the faint of heart but a story of human triumph and endurance in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

2 stars

Book club pick. Pure fluff.

Needed some serious editing. Way too long and not that interesting. Of course, I also have the third book in the series on audio book so I may give it a try in 2012 just because.

A fascinating true story of incredible survival, but another heavy one.

Left me with a big SO WHAT at the end. A book in which I struggled to find even one character I really liked. Sadly, this was my book club pick.

Please share your favorites from this year. I am always looking to add to my "to read" list.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter's Arrival

After an incredibly mild fall, it has finally started feeling wintry. On this, my last day of vacation for the holidays, Trey and I took the kids to the park for what turned out to be a quick visit.

The winds were biting leaving cheeks rosy and noses runny. I'm sure we would have stayed longer but this parent seems to have lower cold tolerance than the little ones.

One day of cold temperatures and I'm already planning our summer vacation.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Twelfth

One of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more frequently. I was horrified to discover that in 2011 I only blogged 106 times, the lowest ever including the year I started in 2006 in August when I still managed to blog 110 times. There is so much that happens in a day, and I want to capture some of its beauty and mystery even if it is mundane.

So today, January 1, I start with something far from mundane, our 12th wedding anniversary, which Trey and I celebrated this past Friday, December 30th. I look at the young girl in the photo and I smile because little does she know what lies ahead. It's amazing how much life we've lived in that time...many homes, degrees, jobs, children, and unforgettable adventures. I had lunch with a friend today and she reminded me of a wonderful quote I've heard before: "All those who wander are not lost." That's us. Though our path has been circuitous at times, we've always been right where we were supposed to be.

We celebrated a little early by going up to NYC for a quick overnight stay. The children stayed with one of our wonderful babysitters and we hopped the train to Penn Station, arriving in one of those torrential downpours that renders umbrellas useless against the winds which whip down the city's streets. After finding ourselves 125th in the cab line at Penn Station, we reminded ourselves from whence we came and braved the monsoon the 8 blocks to our hotel. You can't live in Scotland for 2 years and not be willing to get a little wet. We arrived thoroughly drenched and happy as clams. After all, this was the view from our room.

We had dinner at a fabulous Mexican (what else?) restaurant next to the Gershwin Theater where Wicked plays called Toloache. Strong margaritas, delicious guacamole, and inventive dishes, all at fairly reasonable prices for Manhattan. By the time we finished dinner, the rain had stopped and we enjoyed a lovely late evening stroll through Times Square back to our hotel.

The next day we decided to explore Central Park, something we had never done in all our many trips to the Big Apple. On the way we picked up a light breakfast at Pret a Manger, a favorite from our UK days.

Along the 20 blocks we passed Rockefeller Plaza and some really cool Christmas decorations. Do you spy the oversized lights in the previous photo?

In Central Park we passed the Central Park Zoo and enjoyed the antics of the seals who loved showing off and barking for the crowd.

Proof Trey was there. We never managed a picture together. Story of our life.

City skyline from within the park.

And proof that I was there too.