Monday, December 29, 2014

Dear Tor

Happy fourth birthday, big guy!!

This year you will have four parties: yesterday (with Tim and Caitlin) and again today we celebrated at Oma and Opa's house; we'll fete you again at Ahbee and Pakka's when we get there next week; and we'll tie one on with your preschool friends after we're back in Oxford. Although we didn't intend to match the number of occasions to your years on Earth, it does have a nice symmetry.

Right now you are SO into superheroes of all kinds, especially Ironman, so you were pretty easy to buy for and your preschool party will be a no-brainer to theme. Your birthday cake yesterday reflected this and I'm sure it won't be the last one to do so. You have a reasonable amount of clothes but basically wear the same five shirts over and over again because they feature your favorite characters: Spiderman, Ironman, and the Ninja Turtles.

Feeding the monkey

You are still an amazing big brother, though Col definitely presents different challenges than he did a year ago. You help Col walk by holding his hand and slowing to his pace, and you hardly ever bowl him over anymore. You clown for Col when he's unhappy and it cheers him up at least half of the time. You do get devastated by Col's penchant for wanton destruction when you're carefully crafting towers or pizzas or sticker pictures, but you cheerfully take responsibility for having taught him the bad habits of throwing toys and squawking to get his way. This does not mean you repent of having taught these habits nor of the habits themselves.

Get a haircut, you hippies
You definitely have a British accent, as heard here in "There Was a Chubby Snowman":

You're now thriving at your new preschool and we can tell you're learning. You can draw honest-to-goodness people, with heads, bodies, arms, legs, and hair, though drawing isn't your favorite pastime. You can sound out short words but need to rely more on your first impressions. (When reading Col's name at Christmas, for instance, you sounded out every letter correctly: "K! O! Llllll." But when we asked you to string it together, you said, "Caleb?" Then, "Caitlin"? Before getting to "Col!") You largely enjoy the same level of story that you enjoyed last year, but you're much better at remembering what happened in the narrative and telling us why a character did something. In addition to superhero stories, albeit to a far lesser extent, you're interested in "Jesus stories" and enjoy going to Sunday school.

You have "best friends" at school who fall in and out of favor, mostly depending on whether they want to play superheroes with you on a given day. The meanest thing you can think of to tell us is, "I'm not going to be your best friend anymore today!" Or if you're feeling really naughty, you might even call us "stupid." That one lands you in time out.

Unsurprisingly, your tastes are sensitive to peer pressure. I recently told you the story of Pinocchio and you begged for another one; when I gave you the choice of Thumbelina, Rapunzel, or Sleeping Beauty, you told me scornfully, "Alex Cabala and me don't like girl stories." When I pointed out that there are no girl or boy stories, but that boys can like stories about girls just like I'm a girl and can like stories about boys, like Pinocchio, you said, "You know, Mom, I love girl stories." I'm sure the pendulum will swing back once you and Alex get together again.

Your favorite toys are mostly toys you can imagine with, like action figures or Legos. We've recently discovered that you go nuts for charades, so you must actually be my kid. You enjoy music and dancing, and impromptu dance parties have staved off several tantrums.

Yet you can be intractably grumpy, especially when awoken while still tired. It's tough to see you sad and not know how to help you, and it seems like even you don't know what you want at those times. You still wake up in the middle of the night and want one of us to sleep with you, which is invariably Dad.

You use the bathroom completely on your own, but you can't yet do up trousers with buttons. You correct us when we say "pants" instead of "trousers".

You love doing things for people (although, sadly, not always the things we want you to do for us). You were more excited this year by giving Christmas presents than by getting them, and you worked hard with Ahbee's patient help to make us all candles. At Oma and Opa's we write clues for all our presents, and when it came time for Tim and Caitlin to open your gift, you said, "This one's for you, and the clue is...IT'S A CANDLE!"

You have a clear sense of your place in the family and think of family members in their absence. I think this is especially important in light of where you live. You also seem comfortable with your place in the world, while constantly testing boundaries.

We are blessed to be your parents, grateful for the four years we've had together, and excited to experience the future with you. Thanks for all that you bring to our family, Mr. T.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fourteen Months!

It's lucky that we're still counting Col's age in months, because without those reminders, I could go blithely on about life without ever remembering to post. Apologies to the boys' die-hard fans!

The fourteener, captured this very morning
as he selected wine for the table

Fireplace bumpers brought to you direct from our Newark house

Col now demands to do several kinds of self-care autonomously, most notably brushing his hair and teeth and feeding himself. He also likes to clean his tummy with a wipe during a diaper change.

The feeding is the most high stakes of these. It's highly gratifying to watch him learn to do it himself. For instance, yesterday I gave him a mini yogurt and a spoon, and I watched him grasp the spoon right above its bowl and poise it over the yogurt, ready for the plunge. But then he paused, looked into the yogurt, put the spoon down, moved his hand a little higher on the spoon handle, about the height of the yogurt container, and proceeded to take a bite without getting his hand all yogurty. You could practically see the gears turning.

Of course, there's always the hand if he needs backup
A less successful yogurt experience

Baby's First Hairbrush should come two-sided

It's been a full, full month. The highlight was a visit from our amazing newlywed friends Josh and April, who trekked all the way from Texas to spend our first UK Thanksgiving with us. Due to a week of Col being off sick, I had to work that day, and I came home to a feast the likes of which has never been seen--well, at least in England. The piece de resistance? A succulent smoked turkey (since our trusty Weber is twice the size of our oven, it was the only way to go). We ate leftovers for a week with gusto.

Off the plane and into Col's heart

On the quotidian front, our daily routine has been somewhat marred by Tor's propensity to fall asleep on the way home, and then to be grumpy for the rest of the evening once he's awoken. Col tends to fall asleep too, but he's usually willing to rally when offered food.

Just another 6 p.m. back at the homestead

So our weeknights tend to wind up with Tor draped over the couch like this and demanding the only dinner he generally eats:

"I need cheese sticks, peanuts, and bread with butter and no crusts"

whereas Col usually ends up more like this:


Sometimes we can bring Tor back around with an activity that interests him, like a game, a movie, or, recently, Christmas stuff.

This quickly devolved into pip-counting

This year's Advent calendar

Busting out the tree: who is most excited?

Picking up a few tricks from The American Boy's Handy Book

Mornings are my favorite, because Tor is so much happier. Although he does sometimes border on the manic. 

It's sometimes a toss-up which kid is the messiest eater

"You know, Spiderman is my favorite superhero
because he has red on him, and red is my favorite color.
And Ironman is also my favorite superhero because he's red."

I also enjoy chatting with Tor while I bike the kids to day care. Tor throws out a daily gem or two.

Scene: Biking behind a garbage truck
Tor: Ewww. It smells like the farmers' market.

Scene: Tor repeatedly clearing his throat
Me: Need some water?
Tor: I just have a frog in my throat.
Me: Water can help wash it out.
Tor: No, I'm going to use some dandelions, rubber bands, and a starfish to catch the frog. I'll mix them all up with some salt and that will make a net. Then I will put some oil on the starfish to make it into a hard pink bowl for the frog to sit in.

What do you even say to that?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Halloween (on All Saints' Day)

A rare success

Reprising Tor's costume circa 2011--you can look forward to seeing
Ironman again in about two years

Saturday, October 25, 2014


As I alluded to in Col's birthday post, we hit a bit of a rough patch the last couple of weeks. Settle in, because--rant alert!--it's going to take a while to relate all our woes.

Said patch was precipitated by a 9:30 a.m. phone call on Monday, 6 October, that the kids' nursery had to close for the day and one of us had to go pick up the kids. Turned out the nursery had been doing some bathroom remodeling, and a surprise inspection by the local childcare regulatory authority led to them being sanctioned for letting kids be there while strong paint fumes were pervading the nursery.

It happened to be less inconvenient for me to take the day off than for Lars, who had just returned home the day before from two weeks working in Greece. I got the kids and let one of the head teachers know that this surprise closure was unacceptable--they should have planned to do the construction outside of school hours if it were at all likely to pose a safety issue, and I'd certainly rather have them do a planned shutdown if necessary to complete it so that we could arrange alternative care. She in turn let me know that the nursery would not likely be open on Tuesday. Terrible news.

The kids and I bummed around town on my bike, going to the library, feeding ducks, and eating lunch, then heading home for naps and for me to triage my weekend/Monday morning emails. I also started getting in touch with babysitters to see whether anyone could watch the kids the next day. Finally, around bedtime, we conscripted a friend of a sitter to take the job.

Portrait in front of a fishcake factory run by a shark
(yes, the chainsaw is for the fish)

The next day we all met the new sitter at 8:30, and Lars and I gave her detailed instructions on managing the kids. We headed to work. At 11:30, Tor's teacher texted to say the nursery had had its funding withdrawn. I called her and the nursery; no response. Thinking this meant the nursery would be closed indefinitely, I started calling every daycare I could reach to see whether they had spots. Of course, because it's Oxford, no one had spots.

I finally got in touch with Col's teacher and she let me know that the childcare authorities had withdrawn funding from the school because of the paint fumes--they effectively didn't want to endorse the school, which meant that it wouldn't close, but that it wouldn't be able to receive childcare subsidies. Since Tor (like every 3- and 4-year-old in England) gets 15 hours a week of free care, this affected us. I let her know I was sorry, but we'd probably be shopping around now, though the kids would continue to go there and pay full price for the time being.

I called Lars. We thought this was bad news, obviously, but at 1:30, Col's teacher called back with the REAL bad news. Hold on to your hats:

The construction had unearthed a nest of rats, and the nursery wouldn't be able to open again until the authorities were sure the rats were gone. In practice, this meant the nursery would likely be closed for several weeks, if not longer.

Now it was urgent to find the kids a new daycare. I spent the next few hours (at work) calling more places and finally found one, considerably out of our way, that had spots for both kids. We arranged a tour for the next day. 

Blessedly, everything had gone fine with the new sitter, and that evening we tried to figure out how to handle the next few days. We finally sorted out an emergency nanny (not cheap--job hunters take note) for Thursday and Friday, but we had to cover Wednesday ourselves. We arranged a trade-off midday so both of us could kind of work.

This guys was stoked to spend the day at home and help unpack some remaining boxes

At this point I let my manager know what was happening--I just started a new job at OUP on 30 September, so this was particularly devastating timing from a getting-things-done-at-work standpoint. Fortunately she has a 3-year-old son too and had great sympathy for the situation--I could take as much time as I needed to sort out the care, as long as I made up the time later.

On our Wednesday tour. the new nursery was fine, though much bigger than the kids were used to: 24 preschoolers in Tor's room, 18 toddlers in Col's. But beggars can't be choosers, so we signed up the kids. They could settle in for an hour on Thursday and two hours on Friday and then start full time on Monday, 13 October, an unusually fast period for a nursery here, so we felt extremely grateful.

Wednesday afternoon, Col's teacher called to let me know the whole staff was at the nursery, cleaning, along with the owner, who had not contacted us during this whole time. I got the owner on the phone and spoke with her about her expectations surrounding the closure, which corroborated the picture we'd gotten: the rats were the issue forcing shutdown, and she had no clear expectation of when that would be resolved. Even when the nursery opened again, she said, the funding still wouldn't be available. I let her know we were highly unlikely to return, and asked if we could come say goodbye to the staff, which was fine with her.

So the kids and I biked down to the nursery to see the teachers that they'd been with for ten hours a day, five days a week for the last eight months. We collected the scrapbooks their teachers had made for them, with notes on all the milestones they'd achieved there and pictures of them with the friends they'd made there. We had ten minutes to say goodbye to these teachers before they had to go keep cleaning, out on the sidewalk because kids weren't allowed in the nursery.

Thursday and Friday, the kids had their visits at the new nursery and hung out with the emergency nanny the rest of the work day. The next week, they started full time. Everything seemed to be going all right, and I started to relax a tiny bit, until Wednesday--Col's birthday--when I picked him up. His teacher informed me that he'd just thrown up and would need to stay home for 48 hours. That is, we needed emergency care for Thursday and Friday. Again.

I biked the kids home and there we met two of Col's teachers, the ones who had spent the most time with him and who we'd invited to celebrate his birthday since he wouldn't get to see them as planned. The upside: one of them was available to watch Col for the next two days! The downside: Col was a basket case during the rest of the evening. He ate a little dinner, but he barfed right before bed. We still hoped it was just because of too much cake and excitement at school and put him down for the night.

This is the face of Norovirus

The one smile of the evening--maybe we'll have forgotten about the context
 10 years from now when we look through our photos with him
Col was fine the whole next day, and Friday too. Lars and I got work done, and Tor went to the new nursery. Then Friday, after coming home from a work dinner, Lars spent the entire night in the bathroom with Col's stomach bug. Saturday, which he'd planned as a catch-up day for work, was shot for him. I took the kids to the library, the grocery store, and the park, mainly just keeping them out of the house.


When we got home for their rest, Tor said that his stomach hurt. I got him a bowl just in time and he spent the next 12 hours sick, with three sets of sheets as casualties. (Now, this is bad if you've got a good washer-dryer, but it's worse when you've got a micro washer and zero dryer. We had sheets hanging everywhere for the next four days.)

It must be a miracle that I didn't catch whatever the guys had, for which I'm sincerely, sincerely grateful. But I simultaneously contracted the office cold that's been felling team members one by one. Monday, I went to work in the morning but had to head home after lunch to sleep it off. I stayed home Tuesday morning too, while Lars graciously biked the kids in (even further out of his way than mine). When I made it back into the office that afternoon, I brought Lysol and hand sanitizer for my desk--should've come standard with it.

Whew! So! We're figuring out this new routine and everyone's largely back to health. But the kids will take some time to settle in. Col still cries when I drop him off and again when he sees me coming in the afternoon, which he never did at the old nursery. Tor still talks about going back to the old school to play with his friends and teachers, and it's heartbreaking to have to explain that we don't know when he'll see those people again. Tor's also started wetting the bed at a higher frequency than at any time since he was first potty-trained, which we'll hope he gets control of over the next few weeks.

But today was good: we went to carve pumpkins with our friends, which was the first really normal time with friends we'd had since Lars left for Greece. Tor and I made Halloween cookies this morning and frosted them, and he wore his Ironman costume. Guess which pumpkin is ours?

Hint: it's the American-sized pumpkin

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear Col

We knew it was coming, but it's still almost impossible to believe that in just one year we've gone from this ...

... to THIS:

Insert eyebrows of choice

Today of all days, you have a tummy bug, but we still celebrate YOU! Here's a snapshot of a few things you're up to right now...

When you're excited about something--a person, a toy, food, or nursing--you rapid-fire kick both your legs in and out, in and out. You've done this since you were tiny and I suspect you'll quit once you start talking, but I sure enjoy it for now.

You love to dance, especially when Dad plays music:

You hold toys out to people as if you want to share with them, but really you just want to SHOW them. And keep the toy. You particularly like playing with anything that Big Brother plays with, right when he's playing with it. If he gives it to you and moves on, you lose interest and move on with him.

Corollary: You wholly worship your Big Brother except when he tries to wrestle with you. Then you squawk in no uncertain terms. He particularly loves grabbing your head and you particularly hate that.

We are looking forward to dressing you up properly for your second Halloween and to giving Big Brother all your candy (minus the candy tax, natch).

"Keep smiling ... make eye contact ... inch toward the berries"

For the most part, you go to bed around 7:45 and wake up around 4 a.m. to nurse, then you're down again until 6:30. However, some nights you're also up around 1 a.m., just to break up our sleep more evenly.

In terms of child care, you've stopped acting relatively low key when we (and especially I) leave. Instead you pitch a fit at the signs of imminent departure. I'm told you settle down pretty quickly, but it's never while I'm in earshot. I'm sure your security quotient is not helped by this week's day care drama: you have been unceremoniously uprooted from your cozy spot in the baby room at Stepping Stones and transplanted into a much larger toddler room at your new nursery, Kids Unlimited--Oxford Waterways. (More about the sudden and terrible nursery shutdown in a subsequent post--this is Col's day!)

You're in the 50th percentile for height, weight, and head size, but you look enormous to us because Tor was so bitty. Very few of his winter clothes fit you because he was a full size smaller than you at one year old. You've still got some epic thigh folds but I'm sure you'll lose these when you begin walking in earnest.

Livin' large

You think baths are THE. GREATEST. We have not had a bad one yet--you can be tired and angry or even hungry, but once you get in the bath, it's all good, and it's better than good if Big Brother's in there with you. Of course, it's a different story once you get out: the rage begins once you hit the towel and usually doesn't stop until there's food in your mouth.

You resemble baby pictures of both your dad and me. Which really means the two of us kind of looked like each other as children. I also think you look a lot like my mom's dad, which is fitting since we used his name for one of your middle names--Harry.

My dear Col, you have delighted us with your cheeriness from sunny California to drizzly Oxford. We are so grateful to have you in our family and I am honored to be your mom. May your year ahead be one filled with joy, growth, discovery, and love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Eleven Months Old

To mark the conclusion of Col's eleventh month on earth, I've posted two videos on YouTube for your viewing pleasure: here and here.

Honestly, most of the pictures in the last two weeks have been of Tor. We'll have to try harder for Col's upcoming birthday!

Loving the backyard trampoline and each other

Finding a perch--and a croissant--at The Perch Beer and Cider Festival

A new bike for Tor! Thanks, Oma and Opa!

"You know, guys, my bike is red because red is my favorite color."

Big Yoda gets a piggyback ride

Father-son time at a street fair

Picnicking at a 14th-century church near our house
(yes, the windows date much later)
In touch with history

Noted this week; having a preschooler around really makes you watch what you say, since he's such an imitator. The other day Tor told me, "Mom, focus on what you're doing!" Today he told Lars, "Hang on, Dad--I can't hear you because Col is talking."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye, Summer

A few photos from the past few weeks here--very hard to believe it's September! My dear friend Sharin' came to visit, with her husband one weekend and solo the next, with a conference in between. We enjoyed mostly good weather and took the kids out to the Oxford Botanical Gardens one day. Tor wanted to pick us flowers and had a tough time understanding that he shouldn't, until we told him it was like a museum for flowers.

He then contented himself with gathering leaves
and trying to feed them to disappointed ducks

Showing off his five teeth
Ah, to be a baby

Back home: least focused fisherman ever

"Big Yoda," a third-birthday gift from Brian and Tiffany, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity for the last few weeks. Here he is in Tor's wellies ( = rain boots).
"Mom, I need to keep Yoda's feet dry."

Tor recently enjoyed painting a set of wooden dolls that Rhonda and Tamer gave him. It's been wonderful to have them in town! One bonus is that we now have the ability to invite friends to do last-minute things, which is more how we generally like to do things but less how folks around here roll.
"This one is surprised, because she has really big eyes."

Col has been starting to drink cow's milk at work, sometimes mixed with breast milk and sometimes just on its own. I'm trying to cut back to pumping every other day, and my body is slowly adjusting. Solids are going great, and I'm pretty sure he could survive just off them if he had to. This one is a cheeky eater, giving you the side-eye and dropping his food off his tray as often as putting it in his mouth.
"Half for me, half for the floor"

Finally, as I do, Tor has started to say, "It's not my favorite" instead of "I don't like that [food/movie/etc.]" This week Tor and I were hanging out in Col's room while Col was watching his mobile, which has fish revolving around some seaweed. Tor pointed to the seaweed and asked, "What's that?"
Me: It's supposed to be seaweed.
Tor: It doesn't look like seaweed. It looks like tentacles.
Me: Oh! What kinds of animals have tentacles?
Tor: Octopuses.
Me: Yes. What else?
Tor: Jellyfish.
Me: Yes. I was thinking of squid.
Tor: Ugh! Squid are NOT my favorite.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bathing Brothers

Although Lars was gone last week, it seemed like poor parenting to just totally wash my hands of bathing the children. But a logistical problem arose: I could bathe Col while Tor hung out, but Col is not happy either to stay in his crib or to agree to not climb in the toilet or fall down the stairs while I bathe Tor. So it was that the boys got their first bath together. As the photos attest, they had a grand time--Tor even wanted to wash Col--and other than the water on the floor, the whole experience was relatively free of hassle. It may become the new norm around here!

Also, I'm pleased to say that Lars has made it safely home, just in time for the bank holiday weekend (= Monday off), so we're all looking forward to hanging out together. My cousin Marianne, Uncle Richard and Aunt Michelle came up from Southampton this evening for a pub dinner, which was a good way to kick off Lars's homecoming. Hopefully now we will all sleep through the night . . . fingers crossed!

Col's favorite tactic: Distract the brother, grab the crab.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ten Months Old

Col's moved from standing to cruising this month, with /n/ and /m/ added to his phonemic arsenal--meaning yes! I have heard the word "Mama" uttered. Though not yet with meaning.

We're about to start some fresh sleep training, since he's now getting up at least twice a night but is really old enough to sleep through without eating. I'm down to pumping once at work, which means I now get a 15-minute break where I just eat lunch, instead of eating lunch and milking myself. Moving on up!

Lars is out of town this week in New Hampshire, but hopefully Col will wait until he gets back to start walking. He seems to be on the cusp--I've even caught him standing unsupported a few times--but who really knows. Could be months yet, which I'd be fine with.

His biggest teething toy yet