7 weeks

Well, this is the first Thursday I soundly missed my 11 am target. It was, of course, because I did not write my post. My Wednesday was busy! I hope you forgive me friends. I did manage to pull of the discipline for at least 7 weeks. I think it’s a great habit for me, and feel like I’ve been writing more, and more enjoyably.

Part of my posting delinquency has to do with a lack of good topics. So in lieu of actual good writing, I’ll give you a grab bag of thoughts.

1) My boys are in an awesome spot
Grey and Thane have just been rock stars this week, in the behavior zone. I was prepped for a horrible week of “What do you mean I have to go to school every day” following five consecutive Mondays out of school. But no! I’ve had children doing homework without being told the minute they get home. I’ve had children cleaning their rooms when asked. There’s been cheerful chores doing, tremendous snuggles, and book reading. I don’t know what happened to MY children, but man I’m sure enjoying the kids I have this week.

I was trying to think of a good way to thank Grey for his behavior tonight, without including junk food. Adam is doing aikido again (yay for him!) and so I had the kids myself. I picked up Grey and asked how his day was “Awesome!” and his homework situation (done at the Y!!!!). Then I offered him the chance to make the evening meal, with my active support/training and a grocery run if need be. He decided to make omelettes “Like Aunt Andrea made”. We stopped to pick up ham for cubing. (And Lucky Charms. And the tortilla chips I like that Peapod doesn’t carry. And bananas since every single banana I’ve ordered on Peapod for the last month has arrived frozen.) And then Grey sliced the ham and the chives, and I taught him how to make omelettes! Next up: teaching the children how to eat dinner….

2) Imagine how easy our commute will be this spring
All over New England, working parents have been doing rock-paper-scissors over who gets to leave early enough to get to work by 9 am, and who has to drop off the kids and saunter in at the crack of 9:30. (This is an improvement. Last week it was the crack of 10.) I didn’t think anything would make my normal commute look good… but having all the lanes available and the traffic just normal-bad will feel like a vacation. And parking… the lots have been full a lot lately, leaving my carpool to park in a $34 a day lot that’s about 1/3 mile away in 12 degree weather. Getting back to a reliable 3 block walk from a $18 a day lot will feel like a cheaper and easier life! Add in a commute that’s only an hour, and the mind boggles!

3) I don’t understand how a capitalist society can not have gloves for sale right now
I got in a car accident (I was rear-ended by a hit and run driver) last Thursday night. The car is like $999 dollars damaged. (This is how you can tell you have a $1000 deductible.) I was sore, but I’m ok. What was I doing Thursday night? I was driving to Target to buy more ski gloves for my kids because they would lose their limbs if they weren’t firmly attached to their bodies. I don’t blame my kids too much – I always lost gloves too. (Still do sometimes.) But in Target, there were swimsuits. Summer dresses. Bubbles and sidewalk chalk. And not a single warm glove to be found. Seriously, I would give a lot for a store that sold clothes you would be appropriately dressed walking out of the store wearing, and gear that you actually need right now. I simply do not understand how it is effective selling to try to pawn off on me stuff I can hardly imagine using while refusing to sell me things I desperately need. That’s how you get a grown woman on the verge of tears in your aisles after having risked LIFE AND LIMB to get to your store… thumbing up the Amazon app on her phone and picking next day shipping. Do better, Target, and all the other retailers in the US.

4) Lent has begun
By the time Easter arrives, the snow may have muchly melted. It is a time of transformational waiting, and I suspect I will feel that even more than usual as we go from the frozen heart of winter to spring. Six more weeks.

I’m really looking forward to someday going places and doing things again. I’ll be sure to let you know if that ever happens!

Looking back at 2013

The boys at the Harvard Museum of Natural Science

I’ve been procrastinating on writing a year in review post for over a week now. It feels a touch overwhelming to actually think through the past year, never mind coherently present it. But I put a link to my Christmas card to my blog with a promise that you might be able to replace the stunning content of the Christmas letter with the blog, so here you go.

Thane hopes you’re doing well!

Thane at 5:
Thane is astonishingly still in preschool. With an October birthday, he’s spending more or less the maximum sentence in preschool. My youngest son is incredibly bouncy and exuberant, with flying limbs and bouncing feet. At 90th+ percentile in height, he continues to outgrow his gross motor coordination. Happily, he couples this with a durability, toughness and focus that shrug off all distractions, such as pain and parents. He is a picture in persistence. He loves Legos, and forces his fingers to make the most intricate Lego creations. I think one of my favorite things in the world is to listen to him sing to himself as he puts together a puzzle or a sculpture. He always wants to help me cook, and has laserlike-focus on understanding particular questions.

This year, Thane did swimming lessons (which he did not like), soccer (which he did), aikido, cooking classes, science classes and Lego League (he was too young, but I snuck him in anyway). He prefers unstructured time to activities, so I’m careful about how much I ask of him in terms of following rules and toe-ing the line. He has begun reading slowly – very phonetically – which he finds hard work. He loves macaroni and cheese, Scooby Doo and his dear Puppy.

Thane is sweet and funny and affectionate. He thinks hard about the world around him, and asks questions to understand it better. He is wholly a delight!

How he spends his time
The artist at work

Grey at 8:
This year has seen a great flowering of Grey’s skills and abilities. He was irate that on our Christmas cards I included my blog, but not his Wacky Wonder Comics blog. He’s arrived at the shores of an age where he can do some things better than I can. He can certainly draw better. Of all the many interests he pursues, his drawing is the most persistent and pervasive. He makes Pokemon cards, comics, doodles, sketches, etc. He spent his Christmas money on some “real” art supplies – an easel that takes up his desk. After a time playing with one of his friends, I discovered a collaborative art project the two of them had created – without my help.

BFFs at Grey’s birthday

We are still looking to see what Grey’s great abiding passion may be – perhaps art – and are exposing him to many things. He enjoys outside activities more than his brother, which makes it easier. This year we tried basketball, swimming lessons, aikido, guitar lessons (still doesn’t want to practice!), baseball camp (a surprising success), soccer (Greece had a great year!), Lego League, and a Scratch programming class. Grey had a really tough spring, but over the summer and fall he rediscovered his emotional equilibrium and grew his resilience.

Grey about to hit a baseball

Grey likes lots of things. Legos, screens in all their many capacities (especially video games), art, rough-housing with his friends, games, books (especially comic books) and some sports. He has done stop-motion-Lego movies, comic series and extended card games of collaborative creation. At afterschool, there is a complex social society of Lego Houses, where the kids have in depth discussions about proximity, gear, style, creation and welcoming.

He might have read a LITTLE too much Calvin and Hobbes

Grey is a very complex, joyful, fun kid. I find myself very interested in his thoughts, and what he has to say. I look forward to being superseded in more skills every day!

Brenda (me):

This is what I look like in my mind’s eye. A less-expertly wielded camera might disagree.

I had a really good year this year. A lot of the changes for me were at work. I got two promotions, and am in a role now which requires my full capabilities and energy – and travel. It’s actually a great feeling to have a job that needs all you have to give, but that gives you the support to do it. I was trying to remember everywhere I went in 2013. I think the list looks something like this:

New York
Ft. Lauderdale
Los Angeles
Troy MI (Detroit) 2x
Montreal (for fun)

I think that’s it. Many of these trips were for only a day or two – the one-day-red-eye to California being particularly notable that way. On the home front, we also took shorter trips to New York, Connecticut and went camping three times!

Selfies while we wait

My personal life is just about as full as it can be. If I add anything (like say exercising more) it comes at the cost of something else (like socializing, sleeping or seeing my kids). There is very little optional relaxation I could cut out, so new years resolutions become like a zero sum game. I must stop an activity to add an activity. That said, I worked a lot on guitar this year, although I’m not notably better. I enjoyed cooking some pretty terrific meals. We gamed more or less weekly this year – we were a bit better than normal about it! I took a lot of pictures, but I do feel my blogging has suffered lately. I’d like to be a bit more consistent in the new year. I attempted a new blog – Technically Pretty – but it required too much research for me to keep up with it. I was less active in church than usual, which is likely to change in the coming year as we seek for an interim pastor.

I’m also taking a four week course on photography, which has already improved my skills! I can hope it will continue to do so and provide some ready-made blog fodder for the next month!

I don’t usually hike wearing a dress, but this was a special occasion.


Adam, gaming, with boys. A perfect scene.

The biggest news of Adam’s year was the closing of the dojo. Sensei became a father. Running a dojo, being a dad and having a day job were one thing too many. Adam earned his first kyu in aikido prior to the closing of the dojo. So there was much aikido until July… and then there was none. We’ve all been enjoying having Adam around so much more, but I think the new year may bring a new activity. He wants to do ballroom dance, which I think sounds like a blast. Adam continues to run our weekly game, and is raising two very fine gamers.

If asked, Grey will inform you that he played quite a role in the building of the bar

Adam also built out an addition to our porch to make it much more usable. The windows are very high, so a person seated in a chair could not see out. Adam constructed a gorgeous maple bar (with help from Grey) to which we added some stools. Both Adam and I have loved working and gathering there! He also launched a mobile application at a company sponsored forum which was a serious success, and of which he is very proud!

My incredibly handsome husband

Data and Tiberius

Snuggly brothers

Grey spent most of the spring and summer earning 170 “Chore checks” in order to get a new cat. The house seemed empty with the death of Magic and Justice, but I wanted Grey to have ownership in a cat, and to actually do the work of pet ownership, so we set a high bar so he could actually show me that he would be capable and consistent of cat care. The moment finally came over Labor Day, when we went to a shelter and found a bonded pair of brothers we really liked. The name Data had been pre-ordained. When we met his swaggering, over-confident, rather corpulent brother, the name Tiberius suggested itself. (There are two kinds of people, the kind who automatically know why Data and Tiberius might go together and the kind who, when the relationship is explained, cannot believe that anyone knows that.)

A few weeks after we brought the boys home, we brought Tiberius in because he wasn’t looking well and discovered that he had a very serious – life-threatening – condition. It would require massive effort and outlay, but if we made it through, his prognosis was to live a full and rich life again. I wrestled considerably with the right solution to this issue, and we did end up having the procedure. After that, he had to be tube fed up to 5 times a day for about a month. He threw up a lot. It was a grim period, and he came within a day or two of me deciding that his quality of life was not worth his suffering. But he pulled through and now is a completely happy, healthy cat with some odd bald patches that are already growing in.

A very sick cat being ministered to by two loving little boys

Data and Tiberius are excellent cats. They’re outgoing, friendly, and have wonderful litter box compliance. (It’s the little things in life that make the big differences.) Tiberius is always in the middle of the action, and Data would happily reconstruct his life to be Adam’s scarf. We’re enjoying them greatly.

“This looks like a great place for a nap!”

That’s where we are at the turning of the page of the year. Where does the new year find you?


The boys lined up to learn

Adam has volunteered to get tossed around the mat for as long as I’ve known him. Back in college, he used to be part of an aikido group. I remember watching them on the basement floor of Smith/Burdick – the upwelling lights revealing crazy people in white tunics throwing each other dangerously on the floor.

He took a brief hiatus after graduation, but about five years ago he found a new dojo not unreasonably far from us. Since that day, he has gone to aikido between one and four times a week (it depends on the week).

The art is fantastic for Adam. He’s in really, really great shape. (If I could do the things he can do, I’d be showing off. Constantly. He can do pushups from a handstand.) It’s also excellent mental rest for him – it allows him to meditate and be physical and not intellectual for a while. I think it calms and relaxes him, and helps him reduce stress.

Monday, sensei gave him the big news that he had passed his first kyu test. He’d worked his way from nothing, to fifth kyu and on up – each taking a year or more. For the last three or so belt tests, he’s been warned that maybe he wouldn’t get to test for the next one (since he only averages two sessions a week), but each time he’s studied books and videos, mumbled to himself while making striking motions in the hall, and proven himself on the mat.

Tiny Grey starts aikido

Over the last few years, he’s gradually become the senior student in the dojo, and assumed greater and greater responsibilities for teaching. There is a children’s session at the dojo too, and as our sons turned four they also donned white little gis and learned how to roll, and do the forms and techniques. Grey is now a green stripe. Thane still has to earn his first belt. But it has become a family thing, and an assumption about our time and energies. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, there is aikido unless there is a pressing reason that there cannot be aikido.

Until now. Sensei has a little one on the way, and a job. The martial arts are a rather consuming passion that don’t mix well with, oh, a full time job and children. And so, with sadness, the dojo (a labor of great love) is closing.
It’s funny, but even though I never took a single ukemi, even I feel at loss. What now? How will Adam be happy if he never gets to test for his black belt, or months go by with not a single person throwing him over their head? Is there an activity I should do with the kids instead, to make sure they’re developing the appreciation of exercise, grace, coordination and workout? What does life look like when Monday, Wednesday and Saturday are back on the table? Can we find another dojo for Adam, and if not… what takes its place in our lives?

For many years, this has been a wonderful thing in our lives. I’m grateful to sensei for the hard work, love and dedication he’s poured into it. A tiny part of me is excited about a summer “off”. But I also hope that what comes next is as wonderful and fulfilling as this has been for my family.

I was trying to look up when Adam started doing aikido, and I found this post from June 2008 that seems to be the starting point! I had completely and utterly forgotten!

So, to put it clearly, my husband was laid off today.*

This wasn’t entirely unexpected and it won’t be devastating. I’m pretty confident with his skill set, he’ll find a new job quickly. But it also makes for a less-than-fun Thursday. Anyway, he has a $300 wellness benefit from his current employer which, if he does not spend it in the next 2 weeks, he will lose. He had been talking about doing aikido for a while now. He did it in college and loved it, but in our grownup life we didn’t have time for both gaming and aikido, and gaming has won. With the dissolution of his standing Wednesday night game, he’s thinking about doing aikido instead on Wednesdays and (while working) maybe sneaking it in another night of the week. While unemployed, he could participate daily if he chose. And the $300 wellness benefit will pay for nearly 6 months of it.

I think that’s such a smart and productive way to deal with the layoff. I know that working out will make him feel much better and much sharper. I know that aikido in particular really helps keep him inside his skin. And since he’s got that benefit, it’s even fiscally responsible.

*He had a new job before he even had his last day at the old job, if memory serves.

Aikido kid

Last night my husband and I took advantage of the phenomenon known as “visiting grandparent” and went to see the new Jackie Chan “Karate Kid”. My beloved spouse was possibly less than enthused and set a minimum threshold for Rotten Tomatoes approval levels, which it just barely cleared. So off we went!

It was a tough story to watch from a parent’s point of view – to see a kid struggling and hurting and unwilling to ask from help from his mother. You hope you’ll never be as powerless to stop your child’s pain, but chances are excellent that you will — even if it isn’t Kung-fu master bullies. Anyway. It was not nearly as good as “Drunken Master”, is all I have to say.

It was less than 12 hours from Karate Kid to Aikido Kid. Grey has been doing Aikido, a defensive martial art since fall — before he turned 4. I’ve really enjoyed what it teaches him. You learn mostly by observation — there isn’t a lot of “talk” in the class. But the Sensei, Michael Baron brings an excellent mix of fun, humor and intimidation to the mat. The kids are expected to sit still and pay attention. They’re expected to run, jump and roll. They adore the “flaming sword of death”. They’re expected to follow rules and instructions. They’re getting VERY good at “Sensei Says”. And sometimes? Sensei cheats. That’s actually one of my favorite lessons…. that life isn’t always fair. What do you do when someone else has advantages you don’t? What do you do if everything has been carefully orchestrated to be perfectly fair your whole life, and then you get in a situation where it’s not?

Anyway, Grey had logged enough hours to test for his first belt, the yellow stripe. (Note: in grownup aikido you don’t get colored belts. There are two colors: white and black. You earn black when you’ve worked long enough that your previously white belt has finally turned black with age and sweat and dirt. But for the kids they bow to societal pressure.) But suddenly, after several months of enjoying it, he started not wanting to go. We explained he needed to practice hard for his test? He balked. I asked more questions, trying to figure out why he didn’t want to go. Finally he said, “I wish there less love about Aikido”. After waffling for a little while, we suddenly remembered he’s FOUR YEARS OLD and doesn’t need any pressure. So we told him he didn’t have to test and he could just go watch his friends take their tests.

There they were: four tiny figures on the mat. They warmed up and did some of their practices. Then Sensei asked who was ready to test, and Grey raised his hand. And test he did. He did shiko and rolls. He counted to five in Japanese. He knew tsuki, shomenuchi, kaiten, tenshin, tenkan, and several other techniques. (Note: I don’t pretend to know how to spell these terms.) He bowed appropriately. And he did very well!

When he got off the mat, he was a yellow stripe. I asked him how he felt. “I feel proud of myself.” Being proud of yourself is the greatest accomplishment you can earn, son. I’m proud of you too.

The aikido class
The aikido class

So many changes

Sometimes it seems like life goes more or less the same for a long time. Then suddenly you look down and your baby is enrolled in college. (Or, you know, going to his first day at preschool. 20 minutes until I can pick him up!)

This weekend was one of those abrupt-changes weekend. Since I’m now down to 19 minutes, let me sum up:

1) The boys switched places. For months, we’ve had one easy and one hard kid. Thane was easy — just drag him along and periodically boop him in the nose with a stuffed bunny while making a funny sound. Grey was hard — he has been known to be quixotic, investigative and opinionated at times. In like the last week they switched places. Thane is utterly frustrated, opinionated, thwarted and messy (we’re at the throwing everything phase of eating). Grey, meanwhile, can entertain himself for 10 or 20 minutes at a time! Amazing.

2) We debated a long time about Grey’s “Saturday activity” — something we’ve done since last summer. After a year of not-wildly-successful dance classes, we weren’t doing that anymore. I was interested in gymnastics but ugh. I did the math and they would cost between $16 and $19 per 1/2 hour session. That’s a lot of loot. Finally, building on Grey’s interest, we’re sending him to aikido classes at the same dojo my husband practices at. He had his first class on Wednesday. He loves being like his daddy, and I think aikido will teach him a lot of the body and self-control things I hope for. Also, it comes to like $6 per 3/4 hour class — assuming he never makes it to the Wednesday classes. I think this is a win.

3) We discovered that Grey really likes music. Duh. There was a MOMENT. In the tent two weeks ago during Hurricane Bill’s driving rain, I pulled out a Calloiu song-book with color coding and an attached keyboard. I was bored. I showed Grey how it worked and how to break the code. I played through the entire songbook.

He was entranced. Not a day has passed since then that he hasn’t supremely carefully sounded out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and sung “Six Little Ducks”. (The wiggle waggle still slays me.) He has, for a three-nearly-four year old, quite a bit of patience with this. He has a really lovely singing voice. He’s very interested.

I got a mediocre “teach your preschooler piano” curriculum. Which, of course, starts with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

So here I present to you my young Mozart:

From Grey playing piano

(Let’s see if this is working … I’m skeptical. Hey! It does! But the quality is pretty bad. Picasa is not doing it for me video-wise. Still, that’s what you get because it’s time to pick Grey up from preschool!!!! Woot!)