Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sir Chomps-A-Lot

My kids go to a Spanish Immersion preschool, called Amiguitos!  (The exclamation point is in the name, so I include it whenever I write the name, even on my tuition checks).  We love the school, the staff, the teachers and the other families.  However, tonight, I'm not writing about the school.  I'm writing about L in the school.

I spent what feels like the better part of the summer getting L potty trained so he could attend Amiguitos!  They have a policy that you must be 3 when you start school there, and if not three, at the very least, potty trained.  They simply don't have the facilities to change diapers.  Since E was already flourishing in her Spanish aquisition, I just had to get L into the program.  Plus, it's five minutes from work, so there really was no other option.

L started at Amiguitos! at two years, five months, the youngest kiddo in his class.  In addition, he's small for his age.  He only recently outgrew is size 18 month pants.  The boy is a shrimp.  He's a freaking adorable shrimp, but he's a shrimp nonetheless.

Because he's small, the other kids in his class assumed that they could do whatever they want when it comes to him and the toys he's playing with.  What they didn't expect is that L had honed his dirty fighting skills on his big sister.  So, within the first month, I received my first report of my son biting another child.  It was over the little bike, which is popular among the kids because it's low to the ground and cool.  It's also the only bike the little kids can ride where they can actually reach the pedals.

So L was getting on the bike and another child decided to push him out of the way to get on the bike.

Not so fast, was L's thought, and he bit the other child.




When you are a parent of a child who bites, it's embarrassing.  When your job title happens to be "Early Childhood Education Specialist," it's humiliating.  For one thing, I felt like I should have known this was bound to happen, and I should have figured out a way to prevent it.  For another, after the third incident, I realized that I had no idea what to do, and I honestly thought I should send my teaching license back to TSPC.
Birds of a feather...

It's shameful, really.  This is what I do for a living.  I figure out functions of behavior in young children and help them meet their needs in socially appropriate ways.  I do this every day, and more than once in a day.  Yet, when it came to my own child, all I could do was hang my head, cross my fingers and pray that I would not be given the news that "this just isn't a good fit" when I picked him up from school at the end of the day.

And then I remembered that I have friends -- smart friends who also do this kind of thing for a living.  So I enlisted their help.  Specifically, I contacted my friend Ashley, who heads up the 2-1-1 Family Info line.  The 2-1-1 Family Info line is a great parenting resource for anyone living in Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington Counties.  You can call, email, or post on their facebook page any and all questions about parenting.  You may have questions about child development, school readiness, handling family stresses, finding playgroups or other parent support groups, and biting.  So I asked Ashley what I should do about L.  Not only did she respond, the great crew at 2-1-1 created an illustrated story.  I think they captured L's essence.

Click here to go to the totally awesome story.

Since contacting 2-1-1 and creating a partnership and plan with his school, we haven't had any more biting incidents.  In fact, L has told me "I rode the little bike today.  I took turns with _____!"  And I tell him that he must be so proud of himself for using kind, friendly words to take turns with his friends.  We walk out together with our heads held high.  Thanks, Ashley!

To contact the 2-1-1 family info line:
  • dial 2-1-1 on your phone
  • text "children" to 898211
  • email children@211info.org
  • facebook 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Camping With Kids

I know it's technically not winter, but in NW Oregon, we have two seasons: Rain, and Going to Rain Soon.  When the rains come, it's officially winter in my book.  And what does a parent with two young children do during the 6-8 months of rain?  Pack them up in the car and head to the coast for some camping, that's what!

I know you just blinked your eyes, swallowed hard and said "What the what?"  in your head.  But "winter" camping on the Oregon coast is nothing like "winter" camping anywhere else.  For one thing, it rarely gets below freezing out here, and for another, we don't use tents.  We use yurts.  According to Wikipedia, "A yurt is a portable, bent dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia."  The state park system of Oregon realized the benefits of having such in their campgrounds, and we discovered them many years ago.  They're cheaper than a hotel, and warmer than a tent.  Once we had kids, we realized it was the best way to camp.  It's kind of like RV camping but without the RV (or the satellite dish).  It's so freaking awesome.  If you have kids and live in Oregon, I highly recommend you look into it.

This past weekend we stayed at Ft. Stevens State Park.  We've never been to this particular park before.  I imagine it's insane in the summertime.  The campground part of the park is gigantic, with loops running the entire range of the alphabet.  The nice part about camping in the off season is that half the campground is empty, so you can let the kids run around with wild abandon.  Our yurt was on a hill, and the kids had a great time running up and down.

We packed in a hurry Friday night, and kind of forgot a few things.  Some things, like my camera and E's headlamp weren't terribly important.  Others, like our dutch oven and L's pants, were.  So Saturday morning, we drove into Astoria to get some breakfast and do some thrift-store shopping.

We found a quaint restaurant with views of the bridge.  The kids ate french toast with two kinds of syrup.  They thought they had died and gone to heaven.  We visited two different thrift stores.  The first, just around the corner from the restaurant, was a bust.  The second, located between Astoria and Ft. Stevens, was un-fucking-believable.  If I had realized I would be writing a blog about it, I would have taken a picture of it.  I would have taken TEN pictures of it.  It's called Penny-Wise Thrift Store, and it's amazing.  It's like everyone in the Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside area of Oregon cleaned out their garages and brought the stuff to Pennywise.  There is sooo much stuff!  You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a toddler ride-on toy, and when I couldn't find any kid clothing, the guy told me "That's next door."  I was confused, and then he explained that they had a second building where they keep women's & children's clothing and toys.  He gave us a key and we walked over.  The other building was a house.  The entire downstairs was filled with clothing and toys.  So many toys.  E wanted everything.  We had to remind her that we were there for pants for L.  But we ended up at the cash register with some pots and pans, pants, a musical jewelery box, a puzzle and alphabet stamps.  Nothing had price tags on them.  When we asked the woman about it, she said in a very cute New Zealand accent (I only recognize it as a New Zealand accent because she sounded exactly like my neighbors when I was growing up, who just happened to be from New Zealand), "That's because we have so much stuff and we're all volunteers, dear.  We can't put prices on everything.  All this benefits mental health, dear.  It looks like you have about $15 worth."  Paul looked in his wallet.  He had eleven.  I had conveniently left my purse in the yurt for the day, but remembered that we had a bunch of quarters in the car from when we were without a dryer for 6 months.  Paul really didn't want to do that, but the woman was excited, because "the fishermen are always looking for quarters to do their laundry.  They wipe us out all the time."  She offered us Dum Dum lollipops (which E insisted are "suckers" and definitely NOT "lollipops"), and was impressed when L took two, offered one to Daddy, and when Daddy said "Thanks, but no thanks," he put one back.  "You're doing a great job!" she said.  Thanks, lovely lady at the thrift shop, because I'm pretty sure I was doing a terrible job the night before when we realized we had nothing to feed them.  And I probably yelled at them about something stupid that morning.  I always yell in the morning.

After our trip, we decided to take a walk.  The sky was blue, and we figured we had a very short window of time to do much.  Within two minutes of leaving the yurt, the skies opened and down came the hail.  The kids didn't seem to mind.  They happily ran through it, tried to catch it on their tongues, jumped in puddles, examined leaves on the ground, and simply enjoyed the simplicity of being outside, in the rain, in the clouds, in the hail, in the wind.
Catching raindrops
Simple Pleasures

We roasted marshmallows after dinner, in the 30 minute rain reprieve before bedtime.

This morning, after packing up the car, we checked out the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.  It ran aground in 1906, and the skeleton of its hull still stands at the beach, a constant reminder of the power of the sea.  Even though I grew up on the ocean, the Pacific still scares me.  The rocky beaches, freezing cold water, "sneaker waves," and this...
The Atlantic's got nothing on the Pacific
Please note that this photo was taken from quite a long distance away.  The wind was really whipping and I didn't want to get any closer.  Some day when we return and I have my good camera, I hope to go down there during low tide and get some awesome shots.  For now, you'll have to settle for crappy cell phone photos from 1000 feet.

We also took some photos to commemorate dragging the kids out in the whipping cold wind and rain.  This is what makes the memories, kids.

 Next, we went to the fort.  L fell asleep in the car in the five minutes to get there, so E & I walked into the museum together.  There was a gigantic diorama of the fort during WWII, and with the push of a button, a little train chugged down the line.  It was a hit with E.  After L woke up, we walked around the old fort, and found a lookout tower that offered some cover for our lunch.
I swear, my family is not homeless
We returned to the museum, played with the diorama again, and looked at the displays.  One of my favorites was of a letter a woman had written about the attack of Ft. Stevens by a Japanese submarine.  Not only was it amazing to read the first-hand account of what it was like to be attacked, it was amazing to read it in her handwriting.  I felt a closeness to her in reading the words that she penned, in trying to decipher her script.  How amazing and frightening that time must have been.
The Jetty & Mouth of the Columbia in the distance
West Battery
Climbing down the stairs from the watch tower

Google does this really cool thing when you upload photos.  If they're taken in quick succession, they get put together into an animated gif.  Well, here's one that was made today when my photos were uploaded from my phone.  It looks like the Jeep is moving!


Monday, November 11, 2013

A Day of Thanks

Ahhh, November.  It's the month of Thanksgiving, so naturally social media is filled with "30 days of thanks."  And naturally, I fell for it, trying to post daily one thing that I could think of that I was actually thankful for that day.  Cutting back on my social media time has made it more difficult to post, yet not so difficult to think of things I'm thankful for.  Today being Veterans' Day, my thoughts and thanks go toward my grandfather, Sgt. Michael Hreha, a decorated WWII veteran.  While I'm thankful for his service to our country, I'm much more thankful for the life and memories I have of him growing up.  He was a kind, gentle and patient man who loved unconditionally and found joy in the simple and everyday.

I have an immense amount of respect for him.  He was in the first wave of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, landing on Omaha beach, a member of the 29th infantry division.    He was wounded twice, and when he took his last breath of life at the age of 89, still had shrapnel in his chest.

He didn't speak much about his time in the war.  One of the stories I do remember involved him getting shot from behind, and being saved by his bible...and shovel.  My mother had not yet been born when he left for the war, and she was two when he returned.  When he did return, she greeted him by pushing him back toward the door, saying "No man!  No man!"

How extremely heartbreaking it must have been, to spend that many years away, miss the birth and first two years of your first child's life, witness God knows what on the battlefield, escape death, be wounded, and return home to rejection from your baby girl.

It didn't last long, as my mother grew up adoring her father, but still.  It couldn't have been easy.

And I'm sure the years to come were difficult.  He most likely was dealing with PTSD, and in retrospect, I'm not sure he was over it in the 1980's, when I was growing up.  I remember grandma telling me one day when there was a terrible thunderstorm that grampa always went into the bedroom during thunderstorms because the noise reminded him of the war.  She said his friend was killed on the battlefield.  I always imagined it like a football field, with rain coming down and his friend being struck by lightning.  I'm sure it was just as intense, but I think it played out a little differently, and after reading the history of D-Day, I imagine there was more than one friend he watched die in front of him, or next to him.  Because he never really spoke of that day, I wonder how many hands he held as lives slipped away right before him.  I wonder how many times he was convinced he was dead, or going to die.

And I wonder how, after all of that, could he have been such a sweet, loving man my entire life.

As a parent of two small children, some days all the patience I have won't fill up a postage stamp.  After experiencing the sudden, unexpected death of my father, followed closely behind by the death of my dear grandmother, I found expecting postage-stamp sized patience was probably expecting too much from me.  I imagine grampa probably had the same trouble in the days and years following the war.

But I wasn't there, and I didn't know him then.  I didn't know him as Mike Hreha, or Sgt Hreha, or Dad.  I knew him as Grampa.  Who he was and what he did prior to becoming Grampa is important, as it shaped him into who I remember, but it is not as important to me, since who he was when we were both alive together is the most important thing.

I remember snuggling with him on the couch as he watched TV, with my head in his lap, resting my ear against his belly, the rhythmic up and down that corresponded with the breathing that I heard from the inside (a little rattle in his chest, thanks to smoking), lulling me to sleep.  I remember that he always smelled like tobacco, and it was always comforting.

I remember living down the street from my grandparents, having him walk me home after spending the night over there, and trying to keep up.  He always started out on his left foot, a habit from the military, he said.  His palms were rough, and the hair on the back of his hands was jet black and wiry, some strands standing straight up, at attention.

I remember watching him stand over the hood of his car, just looking, tinkering, changing a spark-plug or two.  I remember watching him build a fence, paint the shed, lay concrete, and turn the carport of our house into an extra room.  Grampa could build anything.

I remember bringing broken things to his house: toys, electronics, tools, furniture, you name it.  He would fix it.  He was the king of splicing.  Just about every item in our house that had a plug had a new plug spliced onto its cord when it stopped working, thanks to us kids pulling the plugs out of the wall by their cords.

I remember every piece of artwork I made getting a frame, and every puzzle I completed getting painstakingly glued, piece by piece, to a piece of cardboard or plywood.  I remember getting my hair cut off outside in the back yard when I had lice.  I remember countless pick ups and drop offs at school, work, play practice and cross country meets.

I remember Grampa's laugh -- it started as a wheeze, and would shake every part of him as he "heed" and "hawed" over and over again.

I remember Grampa building the dome for the new church, and seeing his picture with it in a supermarket tabloid of all places.  Who says they don't write the truth?

I remember jumping off the self-propelled merry-go-round contraption at the park, falling backwards and cutting my forehead at my eyebrow.  Grampa picked me up, and stopped the bleeding with his handkerchief.  As we pulled into the driveway, mom and Gramma were there, pale as ghosts, since the handkerchief was pretty bloody.

"It's OK, Mommy," I replied, "Grampa bought me a cheeseburger!"  He knew exactly how to make me feel better.
I remember the poem he wrote about me, and how much I loved and hated it when he wrote it, and how the hate dissipated as time passed, and I find myself reciting it whenever I need a laugh and a little encouragement.

I remember playing Uno with him on the back porch during hot summer nights.  No matter how many times we played, he never quite understood how the game worked, and always ended up with tons of cards in his hand at the end of the game.

I remember swimming in the pool as he got the grill started.  I remember the delicious smell of lighter fluid, charcoal, burgers, chlorine, Hawaiian Tropic and sunshine.  I remember eating the burgers while listening to WNDB, "The Music of Your Life," and Gramma insisting that the song about watching the girls go by was his favorite.

I remember how much I loved his delicious sauteed cabbage dish that I have yet to figure out how to replicate.

And my most favorite memory, or group of memories, will always be when he would pick me up from dance class on Saturdays when I was in elementary school.  We always stopped at McDonalds.  He'd order a cheeseburger happy meal with milk, and two hamburgers and two coffees.  We'd get it to go, and at his house, we'd all sit down at the table.  Gramma would pull out her green, plastic placemats with leaf designs that I spent much of my childhood tracing with my finger.  She'd open up my happy meal and pass me my cheeseburger and milk.  Then she'd dole out the fries.  She'd take two (she was on Weight Watchers), and split the rest evenly between Grampa and me.  I loved sharing my fries with Grampa.  He always seemed genuinely grateful to get those fries and I loved making him feel that good.

I don't remember seeing Grampa get mad or yell.  I was pretty sure he was incapable of such things.  I know it happened, and if I dig hard, I could probably find one or two examples, but that's not what I want to remember.  I want to remember how he hugged me, how the stubble on his face would scratch me when I kissed him, how that one stray eyebrow hair always stuck out, and how his toenails were so long and thick.  I want to remember how he would always crack a smile when Billy sang "Go go go Grandpa!" to the Godzilla song.  I want to remember the way his hands looked when he started his car, the Galaxy 500.  I want to remember the skinny legs and boney knees that came out of his swim trunks, the only time he ever wore shorts.  I want to remember his wheezy laugh.  And I want to remember his love.  He had a lot of it, and I am ever so thankful that I got it.

So on Veteran's Day, and every day, I am thankful that I got to be part of Michael Hreha's life, and I'm thankful he got to be part of mine.  I love you, Grandpa.

And because you're probably wondering about that poem, here it is.

Dawn Stringer
was a singer.
She sang like a bird
that nobody heard.
She danced on a stage
and she was a rage.
She also smoked a pipe
that nooooobody liked.


Hard Times

I got a phone call on my 40th birthday from my dad.  I missed his call.  I meant to call him back, but never got around to it.  Every time I pick up the phone to call someone, the kids get into a fight, or one of them needs help with something, or suddenly there's poop on the floor, wall, and other surfaces of the house.  Since we were on summer break, I couldn't call him from work, so I just didn't call.  I kept telling myself that I needed to call him, but each day ended with no phone call.

On August 29th, 25 days after I missed my dad's phone call, I got one from my brother informing me that I would never get the chance.  He died suddenly that morning, of an apparent heart attack.  Motherfuck.

We all headed to California, dealt with the craziness of packing up his house, getting him buried, finding a caregiver for my grandmother, and moving forward with our lives.  In less than a month, on September 27th, my mother's mother, the grandmother I grew up with and considered a second mother to me, passed away, just four days shy of her 96th birthday.  Doublemotherfuck.

It took six weeks to get her funeral scheduled at Arlington to finally rest with my grandfather, her greatest love.  It was bittersweet to say goodbye, but it was a beautiful ceremony, and so apropos to happen this close to Veteran's day, when grampa's picture is on my calendar to signify it.  It was quite unfortunate that it also happened to be the exact day of my daughter's 5th birthday.  Triplemotherfuck.

However, I've been trying to be zen about everything, stealing a line from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, "So it goes."  Of course, whenever I think that line, it always ends with motherfuck.

Because of everything that has happened in such a short amount of time, I've become overly sensitive to mortality -- mine, people I don't know, my mother's, my siblings', my spouse's, and my children's.  It is very hard to be zen about such things.  so it goes, so it goes, so it goes. motherfuck.

I'm trying to slow my life down a bit, take time to smell the roses, and my babies' hair.  I'm also checking their breathing on a regular basis, double checking their 5 point harnesses in their car seats, and cutting their food into the most impossibly small pieces so they don't choke. 

Part of my slow down plan includes limiting my social media time.  It has become such a time suck for me.  I found myself in groups on Facebook that did nothing for me, and only made me angry, posting advice to people I don't know and shouldn't care about that they're not going to read or heed anyway.  I don't have time to worry about other peoples' problems.  I have two beautiful children and a husband to worry about.  THEY need me, not names associated with profile pictures that may or may not portray the actual person.  I have actual people to think of and care about.

So, I spent one evening removing myself from all but a handful of groups on Facebook.  It was liberating.

My next step is to limit my time on said time-sucking social media website.  I haven't quite figured out how to do that, whether it's to set a timer or have a specific time of day when I can access the site.  I've already cut back on my time, and I think it's because I'm not reading all the posts on all the group pages that I'm no longer on. 

I've also decided to start writing more, because I have a lot to say.  I have so many ideas in my head that are dying to get out, and quite honestly, I can't handle any more death right now, so I need to let them out.  I have a lot of half-started blog posts saved, as well as ideas jumping up and down in my brain shouting "Pick me! Pick me!" as I sit down in front of my computer to type away.  My fingers don't work as quickly as my brain does, so they will have to wait a little while.  But I will write.  By God, I will write.  I may not get it all down in one sitting, but that's because I have children, and a husband, a job, laundry, and a shit-ton of squash to turn into sweet bread tomorrow.  But I will write.  I promise you that.  I will write.