Monday, January 25, 2016

Callum is FIVE

Yesterday Callum turned five. FIVE. Five, which sounds like such a big kid age (and hey, BabyCenter agrees with me... those weekly emails that I've been getting since before Callum was born and that I never bothered unsubscribing to changed, on his birthday, from "My Preschooler This Week" to "My Big Kid This Week"). The age of kindergarten. It's a whole new world up in here.

At five, Callum is spectacular. He is, as much can be expected at this age, incredibly kind and thoughtful. He always wants to help--he loves to hold doors for people, and when Annika can't do something, he's the first to race over to assist. We talk a lot about how we do things in our family, and he is internalizing and repeating it, and as a result we hear a lot about how we are kind and helpful in this family, and we don't say mean things in this family, etc. He offers to share desserts with not just Annika but also Torsten and myself. He's an incredible big brother, and loves Annika so much. We are constantly blown away by how well they play together, and how much he cares about her and thinks about her.

He's incredibly imaginative. He makes up all sorts of games and dialogues that take my breath away with their creativity and complexity. He can happily play independently for hours, crawling around on the floor with his cars and superheroes, acting out scenarios and interactions. He is testing some limits right now, and comes up with explanations and excuses for his behavior that make us hard-pressed not to laugh (for example, he tells us that Superman or Peter Parker are in his head controlling his voice and that it wasn't HIM that was defiant or said the unkind thing, it was just that Peter Parker made him). He still loves Lightning McQueen, but recently has become very into superheroes (particularly Avengers) and Ninja Turtles, too. He loves Legos, particularly the trains.

He LOVES preschool. He adores his 15 classmates, knows them all well, and talks about them frequently. He has a best friend at school, the same one all year, and watching them interact is almost like watching brothers--they know each other so well and they press each other's buttons and argue and then figure it out and move on. He is enthusiastic about everything he does, and even if he doesn't do it with finesse, he always does it wholeheartedly.

He has made some strides with his eating this year, but remains quite picky. However, he will now happily eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and deli meat, and can be convinced sometimes to take bites of chicken and fish, which is a huge step in the right direction after being a de facto vegetarian for about three and a half years. He still prefers carbs and beige food to all else, and would drink as much milk as we would allow. He remains on the bigger side of his age group, but nothing like the incredible off the charts numbers of his infancy. He is very active. He loves to run around, and told me that his favorite activities in gym class are sprints and log rolls, in that order.

He's just at the point where he's starting to try to write words and figure out letter sounds. He knows all his letters and the sounds they make, and he can figure out the first letter and often the second letter of almost any word. He can write his full name. He constantly wants to know how to spell things, and is getting pretty good at making reasonable guesses when we ask him what he thinks (for example, he wrote "bot" for "boat" and "flor" for "flower"). He seems to have a strong number sense, and can count basically indefinitely, and read five-digit numbers.

He remains a sensitive kiddo, with a strong desire to be sure he's good at something before he tries it. He is concerned about other people and worries about how they feel. He is experimenting with defiance, and while that's not so fun for any of us, we can see that it makes him feel sort of scared and out of control when he tries it. He has a goofy sense of humor and loves jokes, especially if they involve farting or anything else toilet-related. He is still snuggly, and loves to curl up with us to chat during his bedtime routine each night. He is deeply caring and affectionate, and surprisingly observant about what other people do and like and want.

He is a pure delight. Happy birthday to our big boy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winter 2.0: New and improved!

Last winter was tough. Annika had just turned one. Callum was turning four, and four has been, for us, the most challenging age so far. Torsten was working long hours at his (then new-ish) job. I was also working full time and balancing the primary parenting role as we figured out a new work-life balance with our jobs. I don't get seasonal moodiness or SAD or anything, and I actually like Colorado winters, but two little kids cooped up indoors was hard to manage, especially when one was so little and not really independent. As a result, 2015 was the first year where I had a really strong reaction to the onset of summer, after never caring much about the seasons before (I mean, I LIKE seasons, and I enjoy them changing, but the seasons never had such a direct impact on my daily life before).

But yeah, winter was hard. Finishing work and trying to cook a decent dinner for the family without any childcare, while Torsten was still at work, with a four-year-old in a challenging phase and a clingy one-year-old who wasn't yet super independent and needed a fair bit of supervision was just... draining. (As illustrated here.) There was a lot of painful multi-tasking, and dealing with whining and protesting and demands while either letting the dinner boil over or forcing the kids to wait, and there were a lot of messes and a lot of loud indoor horseplay and just... it was wearing.

And then summer came, and it was lovely, and I really actively enjoyed the outdoors and sunlight components of it, and then when it started getting cold again I thought, shit. Here it comes, another winter of being cooped up inside and stretched too thin and dealing with restless, whiny kids. It was the first time that I've really dreaded winter, flashing back to what it was like the previous year.

But! Newsflash: A two- and five-year-old are very different from a one- and four-year-old. VERY different. And this winter, I mean of course it's not over yet but in mid-January and multiple large snowstorms in I'd say we're solidly entrenched in the middle of it, but it has been TOTALLY different, and SO MUCH BETTER.

Two-year-old Annika isn't attached like a barnacle to her mother's leg! (Almost) five-year-old Callum isn't nearly as whiny and combative! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum play together independently, and don't require constant supervision! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum are learning how to clean up their own messes (albeit usually with some prompting), so turning around after being absorbed in cooking dinner to discover allllll their toys on the floor no longer creates quite the same heart-sinking feeling of doom that it did last year! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum can talk to each other, and make up games, and truly interact and enjoy each other! Two-year-old Annika adores five-year-old Callum like nothing else, and will do anything to keep up with him! Five-year-old Callum is a sweet and careful big brother who wants to help two-year-old Annika with everything!

YOU GUYS IT IS SO GREAT. I mean, it isn't perfect. They argue over toys and Annika sometimes hits (though only Callum, not her classmates at school) when she's frustrated (example from the other day: Annika hit Callum. I asked her to apologize and she did. Callum said "it's NOT okay." Annika yelled, "YES IT IS OKAY" and hit him again in a rage over his lack of acceptance of her apology. Aaaaand scene). Callum is a little less tolerant of Annika's shenanigans than he used to be, and will sometimes retaliate. It's not all sun-dappled fields of sibling adoration over here.

But it's so GREAT, still. Generally our philosophy is to let them sort their stuff out on their own as much as possible, and if we do have to step in, to redirect them back toward each other to figure it out together as much as possible, and you know, I wouldn't have even thought that would really be possible with a just-turned-two-year-old, but at least with Annika, it totally is, and it's amazing to watch how well they can usually navigate their little hills and valleys themselves. And now I finish work and I cook dinner mostly in peace. And the kids can reach the toys themselves and don't have to constantly ask for help, and I can trust that they aren't going to grievously injure themselves or destroy the house. And the horseplay is still there, but they both love it and nobody has broken a bone or needed a stitch yet (KNOCK ON WOOD) so it doesn't have the same fraught, chaotic feeling to it that it did last year. They are still LOUD and I wouldn't exactly love to try to get WORK done where I have to read and focus and be creative while they're around, amusing themselves, but something like cooking? Or straightening up? Or other household stuff? I can TOTALLY do that. There are no more barnacles in this house, and it's such a good thing.

I guess in some ways it's poignant... I mean, Annika moved into a big girl room this summer and we converted our former nursery back into Torsten's office and that was very much the end of an era, and there are no more baby toys and containment devices and no more bottles or cribs and a lot fewer cuddles, frankly, unless someone's sick, and you know what? Those things were delightful, they were, I truly enjoyed the baby phase (though I don't think Torsten would say the same about himself), but where we are now is even better, so I don't feel wistful for what's gone. I just love how much simpler and easier and RIGHT things are now, and the fact that they will continue to get even more so (like, say, when whatever weird sleep regression that Annika is currently undergoing ends, PLEASE LET THAT BE TONIGHT). It just feels... like this is why we did this, this is where we are, with the four-person family we wanted, and the associated dynamics we were hoping for.

We are so lucky. And I can enjoy winter again.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A year of personal growth

(Previous years: 20142013201220112010200920082007 

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Traveled internationally with two children. Biked in a race. Sent a child to public schoolCommissioned a painting. Took two kids on a beach vacation (pretty sure that trip single-handedly ensured the success of the sunscreen industry this year). Hosted my French host family at our home. Flew by myself with two kids. Visited Isla Mujeres. Started a five-year diary, and wrote in it every day.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year I said that I wanted "to do some more organizing (nursery and basement closets: I'm looking at you), blog about something real from time to time, get the kids' college funds in order, and take more photos with our real camera." I did get the nursery and basement closets organized, as well as Torsten's whole office, which was our catch-all room, so that's a yes. I did return to blogging, which has been great, though it's petered out a bit toward the end of the year. The college funds remain an ongoing thing to resolve. The camera photos... eh. Some, but not enough. So, two out of four. Next year I think we may buy a smaller "real" camera that isn't quite so unwieldy and will be easier to carry around with us and grab to shoot with, so hopefully the photo thing will improve, and I want to keep blogging at least as much as I blogged from May through October of this year. We are going to try to potty train Annika. And I want to work with Torsten to find a balance that works for us now that we've hit a routine... the kids are getting older, there are no more babies in the house, we have school and daycare more or less figured out, work is reasonably stable... so now is the time to figure out some stuff about how our family life works best and how we can establish a division of labor and routine that make us both feel supported and not overwhelmed.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Jonna, as well as two of my college friends, Jill and Jen.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?

Mexico and Germany. I also took both kids to Maryland and Pennsylvania as a surprise for my mom's 60th birthday, went to Albuquerque for PJs at TJ's, went to Boston and Chicago for girls' weekends, attended a wedding (with bonus Susie and Miranda time) in the Bay Area, and went to DC for work.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
A skincare routine that consistently keeps my skin in good condition. A bit more balance in our home life.

7. What moments from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Watching Callum transition to a new and very different preschool, and seeing how he has thrived and built friendships there. Seeing Annika develop into this incredible little PERSON with opinions and verbal skills and a sense of humor and, yes, curly hair. Spending time with Torsten in Mexico and having some really important state of the union conversations about our future goals for our family. Going on a family trip to the North Sea with great trepidation, only to discover that it's completely amazing and we want to go back as often as we can. Surprising my mom with a visit to Hershey with all her grandkids for her birthday, and spending a week in Pennsylvania during an incredible cold snap. Getting to a deeper plane of friendship with my closest friends, and seeing how we all collectively love and support each other through all kinds of shit.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I spoke up for myself, on a couple different fronts, and got the results I wanted. I have learned that I tend to be a problem-solver not just for myself but for everyone around me, and a person who always wants to accommodate other people, and sometimes that means I don't do what I need for myself, and that is something I've been working on, and I think it's actually starting to take.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not always stepping back and seeing the broader perspective. Failing to understand underlying reasons for things, and reacting with frustration and snippiness as a result.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing major.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A FitBit. The aforementioned commissioned painting (a watercolor of the cottage in Maine that we always stay at). Skincare products. Earrings (after I finally got my messed-up left ear piercing fixed). A rowing machine.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Torsten's, like every year. He has watched me go through my own little set of epiphanies and adjustments, and they haven't always been easy on him, and he hasn't always known how to handle them, but he has been right there, in it with me, wanting to help, wanting to know what he can do, and trying really hard to support me. And all while dealing with his own stuff--a challenging job, his own figuring out of work-life balance, his fitness.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
People who are incapable of friendship on a deep level, but pretend otherwise and thus make a mockery of what it means to truly love and support and trust your friends.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Same answer for the fifth straight year: our mortgage and childcare.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Our family. I am loving this phase and feeling really good about how our lives will look as a family of four moving forward. The prospect of years of all of us together laying out in front of us makes me feel really happy.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

Bad Blood by Taylor Swift

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter?
c) richer or poorer?
a) Happier
b) Thinner - all baby weight is finally gone
c) About the same - maybe a little richer in the boring ways like retirement accounts and home equity

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sleeping. Working out.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Waiting for problems to get fixed without me contributing.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
My parents came to visit (they're still here, actually). We had a very nice, l0w-key Christmas with happy kids, lovely gifts for everyone, and a delicious dinner in our pajamas. Both kids are completely in love with their grandparents, and we've been enjoying a really nice, pleasant visit.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?


22. What was your favorite TV program?

House of Cards. Cheers. Veep.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of books this year, which I'm pleased about, AND I tracked them all, so I was able to look at my list to pick a favorite, and I think it was I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Like pretty much every year: I'm not sure I made any.

26. What did you want and get?
A happy family. Work-life balance for myself. A really lovely Christmas present from Torsten (and another from a dear friend).

27. What did you want and not get?

A magic bullet. A foolproof eyebrow shape.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I think we only saw one movie in the theater this year, Inside Out, which I liked, though it was by far not my favorite Pixar movie.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Torsten gave me my gifts (a gorgeous watch and earrings) in the morning before work, then we took a lunch break together and grabbed Chipotle and birthday cake. After work, Torsten and I went out on our own for dinner at my favorite restaurant. I turned 31.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I've said this for the last couple of years, but I really mean it: truly, nothing. Not to say that it was a perfect year or that everything in my life is ideal, but it was deeply satisfying even in the hard parts, because I am winding up the year feeling like a team and a family, and knowing that we're all on the same side, and happy about our lives together. The satisfaction of that feeling papers over a lot of cracks.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

Pants that fit correctly. Colored jeans when possible. Venturing into the world of booties and earrings. 

32. What kept you sane?
Same as last year: My little family. My group of best friends.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I'm bad at this.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Like last year: Pretty much all of them. The refugee crisis is a big one at the moment, of course, though I find it depressing that it even qualifies as a political issue.

35. Who did you miss?
I'm slightly tweaking my answer from the past six years: Most of my friends and family, since many of them live far away (this previously said pretty much all of them lived far away, but by now I have several very dear local friends who are lovely and sanity-saving, so I'm amending a smidge).

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Well, I didn't meet them this year, but there are two moms of classmates at Callum's old school who I've known for a couple years now but who have truly become close friends this year, and I love them both and am so grateful to have them. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
There are people who seem like fun and who can be enjoyable to spend time with, but not all of them are people who truly care about you and love you and will see you through any shit. Sometimes the people in the latter group mess up, and that's OK, because they will still be there after they mess up, trying to fix it. And, as always, follow your instincts. Sometimes there's a reason someone hasn't moved from the first category to the second. Sometimes people will say things that don't make sense, and that's when you need to look closer, because that's when you can discern who is really your person and who isn't.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
As last year: I don't think there is one. There pretty much never is.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heart rate

I've now had my lap-band for 6.5 years, during which time I've lost 85 pounds, interspersed with two pregnancies and two sets of lost baby weight (so total pounds lost is actually WELL over 85, but alas, the baby weight doesn't count in the total). During that time I've also developed a lot of opinions about attitudes and language and self-image related to weight loss and concepts of health and fitness. At some point I will try to articulate all that stuff in a blog post. At this particular moment I will say that, counter-intuitive as it sounds, having the band has actually enabled me to care LESS about my weight, not just because it's lower and therefore a less pressing concern but because it's done wonders for my mental state.

That's really a topic for another post, but I started with it because it's a segue into the very specific niche thing I want to talk about recently, which is my obsession with heart rate as a measure of fitness. The reason this relates is that it used to be that I worked out to lose weight. And that was extremely frustrating, because I actually haven't noticed a major correlation, at least in myself, between frequency and intensity of workouts and rate of weight loss. For me, diet is the much more influential component of weight loss. So, if I'm working out to lose weight and I don't see an impact, I lose my motivation very quickly, and before I know it, weeks have gone by and I haven't worked out. Not good.

But! For a long time now, I've been able to separate working out and weight loss in my head, and it has been a huge mental bonus for me. I work out because it's good for me. It improves my fitness level, it's good for my heart, it makes me feel better physically and mentally. It's just a good thing, even if it doesn't result in any weight loss.

(This isn't to say that I am perfect about working out... various shifts in our lifestyle like babies, job changes, childcare changes, etc. have had their impact over the years and so how often I work out really depends on where we are currently, but recently I've been able to get back into it more and that's been great--though I know there will be more periods of less frequent working out in the future.)

Anyway! The point is, in lieu of weight loss as my benchmark of effectiveness, I look to heart rate. I always wear a heart rate belt when I work out, so I can see my real-time heart rate on the machine and adjust the intensity of my workout to keep it in my target zone (120s-130s, typically). Awhile back, Torsten got me a watch that communicated with my heart rate belt so that I could see my heart rate while doing exercise not on a gym machine, primarily bike riding.

I LOVE being able to track my heart rate. First of all, it's data, and I'm sort of obsessed with data, so it suits my personality. But second, I find it incredibly motivating, because I see tangible improvements and I see them very quickly. I have to work SO MUCH HARDER now to get my heart rate into the target zone. When I first started working out, my heart rate shot into the target zone basically immediately. I recall, years ago, plodding along on the adaptive motion trainer (my gym machine of choice) with the resistance and incline on the lowest setting, having to force myself to basically walk interspersed with bursts of short jogging to keep my heart rate from flying into the 160s. Now, I usually do interval training with the incline on 3 out of 5 and the resistance ranging from 13 to 19 out of 20, and I still have to push pretty hard to get my heart rate into the 130s. It's such a huge difference. And! When I go without working out for a few weeks, I can see that my heart rate goes up faster, but! The flip side is that just a couple of workouts and I can already see it improving.

It is so SATISFYING, is what I'm saying. You can SEE your heart getting healthier and your body getting fitter as a result of your efforts! IT is SO MUCH MORE GRATIFYING than measuring results based on weight loss.

And now! I've been using a combination of iPhone apps (primarily MyFitnessPal for nutrition tracking and Pacer and MapMyRide for steps/activity tracking) as my fitness tools. Torsten tried out a FitBit a few years back and didn't love it, primarily because at the time it was wildly inaccurate, so he returned it, and since then neither of us has really thought about getting one. However, Torsten noticed recently that there's a new FitBit out, the Charge HR, that tracks... you guessed it! Heart rate! So, good man that he is, he got me one (AND it's purple).

I've only had it for a day, so I'll report back, but so far I LOVE it. It's so cool! And it's really accurate! And it has a great iPhone app, or an online dashboard if you want to be a Luddite using a regular computer. It tracks your heart rate and it can tell whether it's resting or active, and buckets those things separately so you can track them differently. It tracks the steps you take in a day and how many flights of stairs you climb and how far you travel and how many active minutes. It also tracks your sleep, which is so so cool, and it lets you track exercise, start a food plan, monitor calories, and track water consumption, too. So basically, it's everything that I've been managing across multiple apps, all rolled into one and conveniently synced with the FitBit itself.

I am so, so pleased. And also, I think I may now have a new obsession... now that I don't have to wear a heart rate belt to see my heart rate, and I have essentially continuous monitoring via wrist, I can start focusing on changes in my resting heart rate over time. Fitness, ahoy!

Sorry, I'm a geek. But seriously. It's purple, it streamlines activities that I was already doing, AND it tells me my heart rate ALL THE TIME. It was MADE for me. I am so happy.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Our chunky, squashy newborn with the rubber band wrists is no longer. These is no baby in this household anymore. Because this baby girl is TWO:

At two, Annika is a wonder. She runs everywhere. She loves horses and dogs and dolls and fire trucks and Legos. She sings and dances frequently. She loves to watch football, and gets very angry and yells "MORE BRONCOS!" whenever a commercial comes on. She is obsessed with her brother and wants to do everything he does. She is very physical and loves to jump and horse around. If she falls down and hurts herself, you can usually avert the meltdown by saying, "Can you say..." and her face will light up and she will shout, "BOINK!" She is so, so happy, nearly all of the time.

She talks up a storm. She says four-word sentences, has her "me/I" and "you" pronouns down (alas), uses subjects and verbs correctly, and has just in the last day or two started figuring out to invert subject and verb to ask a question (this morning she asked me, "Can you help me?"). She has very firm opinions on every topic (also this morning, when I went in her room I said "happy birthday!" and she said "NO HAPPY BIRTHDAY"--but changed her tune after opening a couple gifts). If you ask her if she's a muffin, she will loudly say, "No, I a NUT NUT BEAR." She sang "happy birthday" to herself all the way to preschool today.

She is a creature of habit, and likes her routine, but is getting better and better at rolling with the punches. We have learned that she needs to be informed about things in advance so that she has time to process--not just that bedtime or whatever is in a few minutes, but also what is going to happen over the course of the day, especially anything out of the ordinary. Armed with that information, though, she can handle everything, but is definitely a verbal processor, as we will hear her talking about any upcoming plans or changes in routine pretty much nonstop.

Her hair is definitely curly. Her eye color is still undetermined... they are not as blue as they once were, and seem to be turning to green or gray or maybe hazel? She remains near the top of the charts for size. She always wants to pick out her own clothes and her own bowl and spoon, and put the top on her milk cup herself. She loves to be a helper and she's surprisingly efficient at cleaning up. She has a little conscience, and knows when she's doing something wrong (yesterday I found her holding an iPad and when I walked in, she jumped guiltily, put it down, and said, "No iPad. Callum's iPad"). She also has a little sense of humor, and laughs hysterically after she tells her toddler jokes, or after anyone else has a bodily function of any kind. She says "bless you!" when people sneeze or cough or hiccup. She is sensitive, and if she gets scolded her giant eyes will well up with tears and her face will fall and she will run sobbing into my arms for a hug. If she is playing roughly and you ask her to give gentle touches, she will softly stroke the person's hair before immediately returning to her roughhousing. She loves to give hugs and kisses, and will request them frequently and then lay her little curly head on your shoulder and snuggle in.

She is a pure delight. Happy birthday to our big girl.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Snapping out of it, because come on

It has been a WEEK. Work is super hectic, primarily because one of my best employees gave her notice on Monday and after I finished weeping over the loss, I've been scrambling desperately to replace her. We were supposed to be doing our annual family photos this weekend, but a miscommunication with our photographer led to them being rescheduled to next week, which is fine, really, but frustrating as I've been preparing and also am thinking the leaf colors won't be quite as good a week later, but so it goes. I have been having repeated frustrations trying to schedule a play date with one of Callum's best friends from school ("Davey" from this post), which still hasn't happened after four attempts spanning more than a month. Annika has been fighting bedtime with me for the last few days, with incredibly aggravating and escalating stalling attempts, though thankfully she doesn't seem to do this with Torsten so... guess who's in charge of bedtime now? Small mercies, I guess.

Anyway, it's only Thursday and I'm basically here flailing about and crying uncle because I'm afraid of what else the last couple days of this week might throw at us. But instead of dwelling, I'm trying to take refuge in good/small things, because otherwise, bleh. So, here's my "snap out of it, self" bulleted list:

  • After an unseasonably warm September and first half of October (we were still running the air conditioning! Regularly!), the weather has finally turned over the last couple days. Highs below 50 yesterday and today, lots of rain (always good in a semi-arid climate, plus what's rain in Denver is snow in the mountains and that's good for ski tourism), and tomorrow the sun returns but the weather will remain cooler and fall-like. Yay! Summer was lovely, and very practical with kids, but I'm ready for something different.
  • I've been focusing on my fitness for the last few months, and I'm seeing results, both in terms of weight/clothing size and in terms of stamina at the gym (getting to higher levels on the machines while maintaining the same heart rate). That is very moralizing, and also right now I'm wearing smaller pants, and that's very moralizing too.
  • We are heading into a spate of celebrations/occasions... first Halloween, of course, and then our wedding anniversary is November 1, Annika's birthday is November 2, and Torsten's birthday is November 7, so that's honestly probably the craziest week of the year for us (plus the birthday of one of Callum's best friends from his old school is November 3 so that throws an extra party into the mix for us that week). Lots of stuff to plan and coordinate, but also: birthdays! Anniversaries! Kid-adored holidays! All good things. We will definitely be going low-key on the celebrations for all of the above, but it will be a fun week for sure.
  • Per the above, the week of craziness always feels like the kickoff to the holiday season for me, because once it wraps, it's almost Thanksgiving. And I do love the holiday season. I actually really like winter in Colorado, because even though it's cold and snowy, the cold isn't enduring, and neither is the grayness--we get lots of sun, even in winter. So, bring it on. (Famous last words?)
  • Also per the above, we have so many toys already (this is a real second child advantage--access to all the cool toys at a much younger age) that we are keeping it very limited for Annika's birthday presents. In fact, we're only planning to give her one, but it is a splurge: an American Girl Bitty Baby. I am super excited. I'm leaning toward getting the one with red hair and hazel eyes because it's surprisingly rare to find a red-haired doll that doesn't look comical, but also would love to get something a little more diverse, so... am torn, basically. But don't worry: the outfit will definitely be purple.
Hey, wow, just writing out that list has made me feel better. Catharsis! I have it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kindness and giftedness and schools

One of the things that has really come to the forefront of our minds as parents during this whole school research and selection process has been what our priorities are for our kids and how we raise them. That, to me, is honestly what a lot of this school stuff has boiled down to. As we've thought through this process, the question hasn't just been "where can Callum (and eventually Annika) find the academic rigor we need?" In fact, that hasn't been the question at all. For us, the question has been "where can we find a school that will nurture our kids holistically, help them grow and collaborate and learn from others, and foster a spirit of kindness and community?"

Of course we care about academics, but honestly, I feel comfortable that any solid school can provide those, and we are lucky to have multiple solid school options available to us. Torsten and I were both gifted as kids, and we both spent our fair share of school time sitting around waiting for others to catch up. It's too soon to tell, with our kids not quite 2 and 5 yet, whether they will also be classified as gifted. So far we have heard from each of their preschool teachers that both kids appear relatively advanced, so although they are too young to label as gifted, we currently have no concerns about their general ability to thrive academically in pretty much any decent school environment. So truly, what we are looking for is (excuse the buzzword) a whole child education. And we feel that we've found that in Callum's school, and are deeply happy with our choice, and are very hopeful that he will be able to remain at that school throughout elementary, and that Annika will be able to attend there as well.

Because here is the thing about schools: even if our kids turn out to be gifted, I am not really worried about them being challenged with difficult enough material (granted, they are still very young so I may change my tune about this down the road). But I strongly believe that "gifted" in the sense of academically talented and/or high IQ is just one way for kids, and all people, to offer things to the world. Kids who might be more middle of the pack, or even behind, academically, have just as much to offer to the school, to the class, to their peers as everyone else. I don't want my kids to be bored in school, but I want them learning the value of collaboration, and considering diverse perspectives, and understanding that even if schoolwork is easier for them than it is for some of their peers, their peers still have thoughts and opinions and ideas that they didn't have, and that maybe the very fact of school being more challenging for some kids actually enhances their ability to contribute in certain ways, because they are learning from their experiences, and every child's school experience is unique, even among kids in the same class.

So, if my kids are gifted and fly through their schoolwork and need to be challenged? Fine. I want a school that will challenge them by encouraging them to collaborate, and look elsewhere, and work harder, and revise, and keep trying, and consider new ideas. I want them to be encouraged to spend any leftover academic energy on thinking critically, and growing as a person, and caring about their friends and classmates, and investing in their little community. I want them in a community of diverse people and I want them learning how to work and play with all different kinds of people. You know, kind of like adult life.

So, for me: I don't care if my kids are academic standouts who test well and are known as smart. I don't care if they are the class president or the star of the debate team or the star of the football team (actually that's a lie, I DO care because they will not be allowed to play football, sorry, but you get the point).

What I do care about is kindness. That is my top priority to teach my kids. And I LOVE Callum's school (and Annika's, which also has this DOWN, and which isn't the point of this post just because I'm thinking long-term here and her school is preschool-only) because the educational model is ALL ABOUT teaching kids the value inherent in each person, and teaching them how to collaborate and learn from each other, and I feel like those are the sources from which innate kindness grows. There's no superiority conveyed to kids who have an easier time with academics or are considered gifted, there's no glorifying or separating out for accomplishments. There's a focus on effort and feedback and sharing and considering multiple viewpoints. And I believe that is how you teach kindness.

Callum's class this year is also much bigger than it was last year (15 kids compared to last year's 5 kids), and I've been impressed at the opportunities that this social structure has provided for teaching kindness. For example, the very first week of school Callum made a friend, let's call him Howie. For the whole first week all we ever heard from Callum was Howie this and Howie that and Howie is his best friend and he and Howie played superheroes together and Howie Howie Howie everything. Then, in the second week of school Callum made another friend, let's call him Davey. At first Callum said that Davey was his "second best friend" but very quickly we started hearing more and more about Davey and not quite as much about Howie.

Then, one day on the ride home from school I was asking Callum about his day and he told me that he and Davey had played together but they hadn't let Howie join, even though Howie wanted to play with them. He told me that Howie was sad and didn't have anyone to play with and that he and Davey didn't care. Then, he added that if Howie came over for a playdate that weekend as planned, he (Callum) would lock the door and not let him in, and wouldn't share with him or play with him at all.

Seriously, my heart almost broke. These kids are only four years old, and it's already so complicated! Also, not having been particularly popular in school myself, I think somehow I was much more steeled to deal with other kids being mean to my kids than mine being the mean ones. I felt so terrible for poor Howie being shut out, and so so sad that it was my kid making another one feel bad. The whole way home from school I talked to Callum about how it's OK not to be best friends with everyone, but about how it's all of our jobs to make sure that our friends feel included and have someone to play with, and how it's never OK to make someone feel sad or excluded. Every time I tried to explain this, he just interrupted to say that Howie wasn't his friend anymore and only Davey was his friend and how he didn't want to play with Howie anymore. By the time we got home, I was feeling super defeated and exhausted, like I was beating my head against a brick wall and not getting through to Callum at all about this value that is so very important to our family. Finally I just gave up and reminded Callum of how much fun he had had playing superheroes with Howie, and he brightened up and was like "Oh yeah, OK, Howie CAN come to our house for a playdate and we'll play superheroes!" and we all moved on. But I still walked away feeling like I had completely failed in teaching the kindness lesson to my kid in this instance.

BUT! The next morning on the way to school? Callum started talking independently about how that day he was going to play with Davey AND Howie, and the other kids at school too, and how he was going to be kind and make sure that everyone felt included so that nobody would be said. Honestly, I almost fell over. He had so CLEARLY been listening during our talk the day before, even while he was arguing and protesting and acting like it was all going over our head, and I could see that what I had said had stuck in his head and that he'd been thinking about it and was planning to act on it. And! He truly did. He came home that day and told me all about how he'd played with Davey and Howie and also Susan and Willa Jean, and had so much fun, and was so kind to all his friends. In the month since then, this problem hasn't arisen again. Callum, Davey, and Howie seem to be a little trio of friends, they play together regularly, and Callum also talks about playing with the other kids. He knows all of their names and things about them, and I have been really impressed at how well he has gotten to know them so quickly. He talks about who does what and who likes what and who does art and who brings lunch from home vs. eating the school lunch. I can see that he has been absorbing the lessons we've been trying to teach him, and that makes me feel so much better about those frustrating moments when it really does feel like I'm beating my head against a wall for no reason.

And--to bring it full circle--I love how this is the exact philosophy that Callum's teachers are working so hard to impress on the kids. They have the same approach, that you don't have to be best friends with everyone but that it's not OK to ever be unkind or exclusive, and they are very big into fostering collaboration and teamwork and encouraging everyone to provide feedback to everyone else to help them grow and improve their work. For example, they all did self-portraits and have gone through multiple iterations based on class feedback. They all share their work and discuss it together and offer ideas and suggestions to each other on how to build on early drafts. Obviously, at the preschool level we're not talking about rewriting essays, but I've been impressed at how they've applied this philosophy with age-appropriate activities. Here's Callum's first self-portrait iteration and his most recent version, created based on class collaboration sessions:

I guess in the end I'm just really grateful that we've found a school that makes me feel like I'm not going it alone in this, where I really feel like the principal and the teachers and the whole educational philosophy are working to support exactly the same priorities that I have for my own kids. That, to me, is much more important than academic rigor to promote giftedness. My kids are thriving, both of them, and learning in every way, and learning social skills and values that are exactly consistent with what we are trying to teach them at home. And THAT is exactly what we want in a school.