Sunday, October 1, 2017

September, Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

So much for a return to routine and predictability with the start of school.  September was as chaotic as they come.

As I've written, we have not been happy about the changes at Courtyard.  The loss of nearly all of our favorite teachers, the exodus of many students, the authoritarian leadership style of the new Principal that was encouraging a further exodus of both kids and staff, and the uncertain financial future of the school all felt like a big gamble at the start of the school year.  But, we didn't really know what else to do -- it was September, afterall, and most of the public schools had already been in session for a couple of weeks. 

Then, I got a text from Justine's mom late one night about a week into school.  She told me they were pulling Justine out of Courtyard and that Crocker Riverside, one of the best public schools in the area, had several spots available for 4th graders.  It felt overwhelming to think about pulling Kailey out so soon into the new year.  Then we were told that another friend, Abby, was leaving too.  Her class was going to be down to about 14 kids and there were only going to be 4 girls, including Kailey, left in the 4th grade. 

I emailed the Principal at Crocker and he emailed back right away and told me we just had to submit a letter expressing our interest.  So, I did that.  And then I applied for an inter-district transfer, as our home school district is not Sacramento Unified.  Our home district had to grant the request and Sacramento had to also accept the permit to transfer into their district.  Justine didn't need to get a permit, as they live within Sacramento Unified.  The people in our home district told me it would take up to 2 weeks to process the paperwork.  This was all on a Friday of the first week of school.  By Monday, Sacramento Unified had approved our request to come into their district and to attend Crocker.  Now we just needed the permit from our district. 

We went to back to school night at both schools to compare the two teachers and the plans for the year.  It reaffirmed our decision to move Kailey and we started talking to her about the possibility of a move.  The teacher at Crocker had been teaching 4th or 5th grade for over a decade.  The new combined 4th/5th teacher at Courtyard had only one year of teaching her own class and it was for kindergarten.  And, the leadership at Courtyard continued to be more than problematic with increasing examples of his lack of transparency and used car salesman approach to education.  Nothing he did instilled confidence.

The second back to school night was on a Thursday. As of that day, Justine and Abby both had completed the process to start Crocker on Monday.  I panicked a little, wanting Kai to be able to start school with her friends and not have to prolong the transfer.  And, all the talk of transferring had sent Kai into a tailspin.  She had told friends about it that morning at school, even after we had been more than firm about the need to NOT talk about moving schools at Courtyard.  She knew Justine and Abby were leaving and that she was likely leaving and the secret was too overwhelming for her.  And, then she panicked and called us sobbing and out of her mind with worry for telling the thing we had admonished her not to share.  We felt bad that she was feeling such stress over it all and it also just made me want to get the decision part over with.

So, I called our home district Friday morning at 9:30 AM and asked if there was any way to expedite our permit request.  I was basically told that speeding it up might be asking for a denial but also told that if we had a child care affidavit signed (signifying that we had a child care provider that would be getting her from Crocker and not able to get her from our home school) that our request would be automatically granted.  One of the reasons for moving with Kai's friends was to be able to share in the duties of pick up after school, and so I got off the phone and rushed across town to get Justine's nanny (who had picked Kai and Justine up from camp many times over the summer and would be helping with pick up after school if Kai switched to Crocker) to sign the affidavit. She lives 25 minutes from my work in the direction of North Tahoe.  I had to get the affidavit and drive to our home district office and then get the signed permit to the Sacramento Unified Office before 11 AM when the Sacramento Unified Office closed.  It was 25 minutes to the nanny's house, and then 30 minutes from there to our home district office, and another 25 back to Sac Unified.  It was 9:40 AM. 

It was beyond stressful, and speeding laws may have been broken, but I walked into the Sac Unified School district with my signed permit at 10:59 AM.  I got Kailey registered and they said she could start on Monday.  Then I rushed back to my office to draft a letter to Courtyard withdrawing her from school and ran over to the school to drop the letter off and let Kailey and her teacher know that it was her last day.  I stayed and had lunch with Kailey and talked to her friends about the transition. 

The whole thing was both a giant ball of stress and also just uber depressing.  We love - or loved - her little school and it was like going through a breakup.  The staff still standing that we had come to think of as part of our school family were the hardest to tell.  As was talking it through with the girls. 

My conversation with the Principal just further affirmed our decision as he nickel and dimed us on the reimbursement for October's tuition and generally seemed oblivious to the fact that squeezing an extra $100 out of us when we represent $10,000 walking out the door may be exactly the type of attitude that was creating the mess to begin with.  But, I learned long ago that there are certain types of people that are not easily persuaded by facts and logic... this guy seemed to live in the fantasy world that what he said would be believed no matter how far afield from all the evidence to the contrary.  A little like what's going on in our country at large -- and dealing with that type of cognitive dissidence at school as well was enough to drive us over the edge. 

So, I left her school feeling angry and sad and resolved that we were making the right decision.  And, then I jumped on a call with my new boss at my job and dealt with another round of insanity.  Without getting into it, suffice it to say my new boss has a decidedly D.C. mentality in her approach to policy and seems not to care or be aware of the fact that she has joined a decidedly California non-profit that has a different, albeit well-informed, point of view as to what is and is not beneficial at the federal level.  Always nice to have your first interaction with a new boss be one of contention. 

September did not improve from there.  Kai started at Crocker on Monday and had an OK first day.  However, by Wednesday, the permanency of the transition caught up to her and she had a really rough morning getting out of the house. She was dragging her feet and complaining about going to school.  My ongoing work stress combined with an insane amount of work to do, separate and apart from the stressful nature of what was going on, did not result in me demonstrating the amount of patience the morning required.  By the time we dropped Kai off from school, she was feeling adrift and panicked because she didn't have anyone to ground her at school and she and I had just been arguing.  It was too much for her.  She fell apart and was crying in class and got sent to the office.  Eric went and sat with her at school and hung out in her class for awhile.  She made it through the day. 

However, that morning of tears at school seemed to have opened the floodgates.  There were more tears the rest of the week, each morning at drop off.  She would run after us and cling to us, begging us not to leave.  She was having chest pain and going to the office multiple times complaining that she couldn't breathe.  We took turns sitting outside her classroom and trying to get her to unarm us in the morning so that we could get to work.  We dreaded the phone ringing during the day, knowing it was the office calling to tell us to talk Kailey off the psychological ledge she has crawled onto. 

It was bad, but we made it through the first week and developed a star chart -- if she can get herself ready to go in the morning (there is a checklist on the whiteboard of what needs to be done) by the time we have to leave, allow us to drop her off at school with no tears and not go to the office during the day (i.e. stay in class all day), and get her homework done at night she gets a star.  30 stars gets her a laptop.  Desperate times call for desperate bribes, what can I say. 

Monday went OK.  We were able to drop her off without too many tears and she got a star.  Tuesday, she lost it.  She threw herself on the ground crying, desperate to have Eric stay with her at school.  She lost a star for the day.  But, it seemed that was the last stand (hopefully).   The remainder of the week she got back on track and earned a star every day.  And, in that second week at school, she started Beginner Orchestra (she's playing the violin), art class, and an engineering class after school.  Having activities after school and getting used to the structure and routine has helped. 

This weekend, we had a playdate with a new friend from school and she had a blast.  She also scored a goal in soccer.  Things seem to be looking up.  But, man oh man, it was a hard month.  My work stuff is not improving... but, it seems more management as long as I don't have a kid struggling at home.  One of my colleagues said to me, "you're only ever as happy as your least happy kid."  Parenting, it's not for the weak of heart. 

Months like these make me SO GRATEFUL for my many fortunes, though.  I have a job where I have a ton of flexibility.  I can leave in the middle of the day to deal with a kid crisis.  It doesn't make it easy to juggle -- this last week I was stressing about Kailey every day and was also in Los Angeles two separate days, did 4 trainings, dealt more with the stressful boss situation, and had at least a half dozen conference calls - most of which I was leading.  However, no one is keeping tabs on me and if I have to do one of the calls while sitting outside Kailey's class, I can make that work.  I really am in constant awe of the single parents out there and all the folks that have jobs with no flexibility.  This stuff is hard and having the ability to juggle it as I see fit makes a huge difference.

These parts of parenting where you essentially are being forced between the lesser of two options are the hardest -- and so much more difficult when the decision is fully resisted by the kid in question.  We've spent a ton of time talking to Kailey about it to walk her through our reasoning.  We made a list of all the things that no longer exist at Courtyard that she'll still have the chance to do at Crocker (music is gone at Courtyard, but there is a beginning Orchestra at Crocker; no more plays at Courtyard, but a professional theater company will be offering an afterschool program in December to put on a production of Alice in Wonderland; only 3 girls left at Courtyard and she already has 6 friends at Crocker since she knew kids that transferred over and also had friends from camps she has been to).  We also spent a lot of time just giving her extra snuggles and attention.  She slept in our room again for those two weeks because she needed the reassurance at night.  We also talked a lot to her teacher and I, in my rush to fix it all, inadvertently became the room parent for the year (hoping that by stepping forward to help the teacher would also be a little more patient and forgiving of Kailey's tears in class).  And then we talked to Kailey more.  We talked about her last experience with public school and compared the differences between Thornhill and Crocker.  We talked about how much she missed her Courtyard friends and allowed her to text her friends from Courtyard.  We've had extra playdates with Courtyard friends so she would know those connections are not lost.

In essence, we gave September over to making sure Kailey had support in this transition.  Hopefully, the foundation we've been helping her build is a solid one and she feels more confident going into October. That said, I'm not going to jinx October by wishing for calmer days.  I'm just going to bid farewell to September a grateful farewell.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Our 4th Grader - the Inventor!

Kailey started 4th grade today!!  FOURTH!  I remember the 4th grade.  I cannot believe how quickly the first few years of elementary school flew by... and now she's going to be doing math that might exceed my ability to help her (ha ha) and going to Astro Camp! 

Kai worked hard over the summer to keep up with her studies.  We bought her three math books and she did a lot of work staying up with her multiplication and fractions -- I think she's ready for this year!  Over the last few days, she finished up fractions in each of her books and also finished reading a few more novels that she picked up over the summer. 

The other thing she did in the last days of summer was continue to create.  Kailey is an inventor.  She sees the box that our produce comes in every week and thinks -- jet pack!  And then she sets about making a jet pack.  Or, she looks at the empty can that once contained vegetable soup and thinks - telephone!  And she proceeds to make an old fashioned telephone.  This summer with her cousins, she had them writing the script to a play and making puppets.  Kailey is always creating.  It can drive me a little nutty because she will be in her art room in the morning rather than making her lunch, eating her breakfast, brushing her hair or getting on her shoes.  She wants nothing more than to be making things at all times. 

There has been a lot of chaos at Courtyard over the summer and we are nervous about this school year.  We think she lucked out with another good teacher.  But that teacher, although seemingly good, is a newbie.  The person who was supposed to be teaching this year quit just a few weeks ago.  We are pretty sure her departure was in response to the new Principal, who has a bit of an authoritarian style that is really not conducive to the culture at Courtyard. Unfortunately for us, it means we are having to spend a lot more time at school board meetings and other school events.  And, we spent the weekend writing him a letter explaining why we didn't like the new decree (I use that word purposefully) that the students would be lining up every morning in the school yard to recite the pledge of allegiance. Our letter said the following:  

Thank you for the information about the start of the school year.  We are writing to express concern about the new Morning Line Up routine and, specifically, requiring the children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.  Part of the attraction to a school like Courtyard is that it is a non-denominational school that encourages our children to be critical, outside-the-box thinkers.  We want our children to be in an environment that encourages diverse and independent thinking and helps them develop a worldview. The Pledge of Allegiance, which includes reference to God and is focused on allegiance to country over responsibility to our larger global community, is, in our view, antithetical to these principles. While we understand that many public schools have a daily tradition of reciting the pledge of allegiance, Courtyard is not a public school and we are not bound by the rote traditions of public school. 

We do believe that other aspects of the Morning Line Up make sense including daily affirmations, gratitude messages, and recognition of birthdays.  These things are the types of community-building exercises that support all of the children and do not divide them based on their religious or world views.

The culture and community at Courtyard is one of the primary reasons that we chose to send our daughter to this school. It is also what has led us to reach out to other families and encourage them to consider sending their children to our school.  That culture includes (1) celebrating diversity; (2) recruiting and retaining teachers that are exceptional at teaching independent thinking and not bound to teach to a test or boxed in by standardized curriculums; and (3) ensuring that arts, drama, music and foreign language are part of the core curriculum for every child.  Our concern in watching the developments at Courtyard over the summer is that, in all three areas, this culture is at risk of being lost.  

Forcing the children to recite the pledge of allegiance each morning is the latest indication of a culture change at Courtyard that is concerning us.  The loss of master teachers late in the summer was also a disconcerting blow.  And, while we understand that cuts are required due to a 17% decline in registration, the elimination of the enrichment teachers and how that was communicated to the broader community was yet another indicator of a changing culture and focus that is of great concern.  

We would like to partner with you in making Courtyard into the school it promises to be and that it has the potential to become.  We hope that you take this letter in that spirit.  We would welcome the chance to discuss these issues further.  

Angie and Eric

So - the year is off to a rocky start.  Hopefully Kailey's inventiveness and love of learning see her through this coming year.  We have so loved this school and how it has encouraged her to be the inventive, creative student that she is... I hope we can maintain that culture for her and that we don't have to start searching for other options.
Here's to a new school year!
We love you, Kailey.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Take a Break

School starts for Kailey on Tuesday!!  Yea!  No more summer camps.  Courtyard opens at 6:30 AM and is open until 6 PM.  Every day!! And Courtyard is close to work.

If I'm being honest, the camps this summer have not been the biggest issue.  Just one of many things going on that have left me frazzled.  My travel this summer has been insane.  I was just looking it over, and it seems that I was out of town for something or other nearly every week the entire summer:

- week of May 29th:  Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of June 5th:  Eureka (3 days)
- week of June 12th:  Milwaukee (3 days)
- week of June 19th: Los Angeles (1 day) and Houston (3 days)
- week of June 26th:  no trips but back-to-back interviews most of the week for two positions
- week of July 4th:  Mendocino trip with family (gone 6 days)
- week of July 10th:  Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of July 17th:  Washington DC (2 days)
- week of July 24th: Los Angeles (1 day) and then leave to drive to Oregon and gone for 5 days
- week of July 31st: Los Angeles (2 days) and a new employee started
- week of August 7th: New Orleans (3 days)
- week of August 14th: Los Angeles (1 day)
- week of August 21st: Los Angeles (1 day)

SERIOUSLY?!  I was on the road every single week this summer except one.  Add to that a new camp for Kai practically every week, the drama at Kailey's school, hiring and training a new employee, converting to veganism, replacing our sewer line, fixing our busted air conditioner, the ongoing projects in the yard, Eric's many river trips, Eric's hiring a new employee, dealing with multiple days over 105 degrees outside, starting soccer coaching, and BEING PARENTS... no wonder we are beyond exhausted.  This summer was insane. 

 I've been very judging of myself lately for how cranky I've been lately -- but, then I look at the last 14 weeks and think about how intense it has been and realize that I really, really need a vacation.  A real vacation.  That isn't in the cards, but just getting down to only two work trips in September and another two in October feels like a vacation.  Whether it actually remains at only 4 trips in the next couple of months remains to be seen.  There is a lot of transition going on in my job and it is entirely possible that additional work trips get scheduled.  But, at the moment, I like living in the fantasy that I am going to have whole weeks at home.  And, this last week, I was home every day and it felt good to be here.

Of course, it was nutty week despite the fact that I was home.  We signed Kai up for a tennis/swim camp at the last minute that didn't start each day until 8:30 AM and ended at 5 PM.  That meant getting to work late and leaving early every day.  Since I was gone EVERY WEEK leading up to last week, I felt guilty and so made myself available for the bulk of drop offs and pick ups.  And Kai's soccer has started, so that was a particularly early end to my Wednesday. And, of course, there was other parenting drama mixed in -- like Kai losing her shoes and clothes at camp on Wednesday (when I picked her up she was in her swimsuit with no clue where her stuff had gotten off to... which made us late for soccer... which necessitated a run to Target on Thursday morning to buy new shoes... sigh).  And, we try to keep up social engagements with friends -- so, we had pizza night with friends on Friday night.  While working in the yard this weekend, Eric put the yard claw through his nail -- so, now we are also dealing with a new injury and I'm trying to find someone to help us finish picking each little blade of nut grass out of the yard. 

Maybe being on the road is better... I kid. 

The reality is, I don't pause enough (because, really, who has time to pause?!) to reflect on how much we are doing and feel OK about things.  Instead, I just feel like I'm constantly behind and I'm crabby because I cannot get it all done. I owe responses on projects to all variety of people, my staff need closer supervision, an my own work falls behind.  The house is not as tidy as I would like.  The laundry is never done.  Meals are often rushed.  The roof in the in-law unit needs repaired.  I lose my cool with my kids too often. I'm grumpy at Eric because he's one of the few people I can really BE grumpy at that doesn't take it too personally (at least he USUALLY doesn't take it too personally... this too is a delicate balance!) This is the stuff that plagues me. 

I need to give myself a mental break.  I was gone 33 days this summer.  And, each of those trips marks a major presentation or facilitation of some meeting or event or culmination of some project -- each trip represents an equal or greater number of days preparing and following up.  And, that's just a piece of my job. There is a lot more to what I do that isn't tied into all the travel -- and those projects also require significant time and energy.  And, I'm a mom to two young children that have all kinds of needs and wants. I coach soccer.  I volunteer at school.  I'm considering being on the school board.  I take kids to swim lessons (well, that's on the list -- if only I could find a moment to sign Alden up!), soccer practice, piano recitals and play rehearsals (again, possibly).  And, we have a big old house that has lots of things that break and need repaired.

And, for some reason, I've been thinking about getting a puppy.  Why, you ask?  Good question.  There is no earthly reason to get a dog.  That is one responsibility we don't need.  We have awesome cats that keep to themselves but are cuddly and sweet.  Dash is laying next to me while I write this.  We don't need another animal.  Sometimes it just takes writing it down to realize how much we do NOT need another thing in our life -- especially a dog! 

What I need is a nap.  Or a housekeeper.  Or a personal chef.  Or a driver.  Or a clone.  Any one of those things would be amazing.  I'm guessing the one within reach is the nap.  I'm letting the kids watch a movie so I can write on the blog.  And, the whole time I'm writing, I'm feeling guilty about all the things I SHOULD be doing.  But, I don't really want to do any of them... so, I'm writing (because god forbid I actually take that nap or do nothing).  It's like a disorder... I feel guilty if I'm doing something mindless unless it's between the hour of 9:30 PM (when the kids finally fall asleep) and 10 PM (when I fall asleep).  Otherwise, I feel like I need to be attending to work cleaning, cooking, ordering supplies, parenting, or -- as a break -- blogging.

I think - I hope - I let the kids have more down time than I give myself.  But, I know I put a lot of pressure on them, and especially on Kai, to stay on task, do chores, do homework, practice piano, practice for her play, help her brother, etc.  She's very good natured about most things.  She shares our work ethic -- I see it in her all the time -- and then I get frustrated when she's off task and have to remind myself that she is NINE.  She hasn't even hit double digits yet.  And she does a lot. 

I have this astrology book that has a description for every day of the year -- and, while I'm not a real believer is such things, the advice on my day is something I strive to keep in mind.  It says: "May 3 people must remember to invest enough of their energy in maintaining close friendships.  Those born on this day will make good friends if their human understanding and insights concerning the workings of society extend to the personal level.  They must never forget the importance of simple daily acts of kindness." 

My days are taken up with caring for a lot of people, ideas and keeping a lot of balls in the air.  But, I think that I get lost in the big picture and sometimes forget to just slow down and enjoy the people and ideas that drive me in the first place.

It's hard to carve out the time to enjoy things as a full-time working parent.  I'm not totally certain where the balance is -- but, I know part of my ability to slow down comes from the "breaks" I take when blogging.  This gives me a little chance to reflect and to appreciate what has come and what is coming.  So, I keep blogging.  I keep it in the mix of activities even though it hangs over me as another thing to get done and another area where I'm falling behind.  But, it is in the blogging that I slow down and reflect and recalibrate. 

OK... break is over!  Back to the grind... :)

At Home Vegan

Over the course of the last two months, we have transitioned to become a largely vegan household.  Alden, of course, still has "milk and snuggles" three times a day.  But, the meals we make at home are almost all vegan now and the contents of my refrigerator are quite different today than they were three months ago.  There is no meat anywhere in the house and, other than Alden's milk and a container of sour cream, there's no dairy.  All variety of dairy-free "milk" products (soy, cashew, almond, macadamia); earth balance butter; veganesse mayo; dairy-free cheeses; dairy-free yogurts and ice-creams; new grains; tons of frozen fruit; and all variety of veggies stand in the place of the chicken, hamburger meat, cheese, and eggs that used to dominate my fridge.

Kai, of course, maintains her veganism while she is out in the world.  She, after all, is the reason the rest of us have transitioned to this new way of eating at all.  But, when I'm away from home, I still eat cheese and dairy and, occasionally, I'll still grab a burger.  But, it's been a remarkable change - even if only partial for most of us.  Since the beginning of July, I've had two burgers and maybe a meat product one other time.  Three meals with meat in two months!  And, I would say that at least 50% of what I eat is now vegan. 

This change in diet has consumed an enormous amount of time.  I wish I could say I am totally gracious about the whole thing -- but, I've been quite a grump about it many times.  Mostly when Kai is complaining about something that is put in front of her that doesn't look very appetizing.  Kid!  We are ALL learning to eat new foods because of you -- so, no complaining!  Of course, that's not fair.  First, she's a kid.  Second, she's a somewhat finicky eater.  Neither of those things changed when she decided she no longer wanted to eat things that came at the expense of or exploitation of animals.  But, when I spend HOURS (really, hours) of my week pouring through recipes to find the few that look bland enough and familiar enough to make, and then spend additional time buying the right ingredients and cooking the food... it makes me a bit grumpy to see it go uneaten or listen to the whining that ensues.

There have been a few moments that have really not been pretty.  Like our battle over chia pudding with a mango smoothie on top.  It looked disgusting.  That much, I will admit.  But, it tasted fine.  Kai took one look at it and balked.  A yelling match ensued.  She dug her heels in.  I dug in right back.  Eventually she was forced to eat it after much teeth nashing and hollering.  Later, she said to my mom, "how do you decide to eat something after you've already decided it was gross."  She is good, at least, in reflecting on her behavior and improving going forward.  She always has been so self-reflective.  Since that day, mango smoothies (complete with protein powder) have become a mainstay and both kids slurp them down.  We haven't tried the chia pudding again.  I hear there are white chia seeds -- I have a feeling that might make it look a lot more appealing!!

After a few incidents like the chia pudding one, I started having Kai try things with her eyes closed.  That has helped.  She really psychs herself out about things and is quick to form opinions.  She might get those traits from me.  Just saying.  But, they are not helpful characteristics when trying to adopt a new diet. 

Several friends and co-workers have commented on what awesome parents we are for supporting Kailey in her newfound beliefs.  A friend at work who became a vegetarian at a young age told me that her parents were not supportive at all, and she had to pick around meat and figure out the new diet on her own.  That said, I would say that while we've been entirely supportive and have completely assisted Kai in adopting a new diet, the arguing about eating and cajoling her to try new things have not been among my proudest parenting moments.

We do seem to be adjusting, though.  The last couple of weeks have been much better.  I have started to find the range of things that the kids really like -- and the new brands that are their favorites.  Kai is more open to trying new things and has been much more appreciative of what is being made.  Last night, I was making a fried tofu dish, saffron mashed potatoes and a sweet potato and avocado salad.  Kai came in and said, "this looks amazing!"  Then she started helping with the cooking.  She ate nearly everything on her plate.  She also has asked me to make cous cous cooked in vegetable broth again.  And, she wants this vegan pumpkin pasta I made a few weeks ago again, too.  Oh, and a spaghetti squash with tofu ricotta.  It is very satisfying to have her ask for repeats of dishes and to be trying so many new flavors and dishes.  It doesn't happen with every meal, but, she's getting better. 

I think Alden would prefer that we'd go back to eating chicken and steak -- two things he very much enjoys.  He also is really missing mac and cheese.  I think, at 3, if we keep it up, he'll learn to adjust.  But, it's hard to have two children with such completely different dietary preferences.  I want to support Kailey in her beliefs and convictions.  But, I also want Alden to enjoy the food he is eating.  But, equally important, I do NOT want to make multiple meals for them.  And, ultimately, I think the plant-based diet is better for the planet and a healthier way to live -- so, if one of them is going to insist on eating vegan, it makes sense that we all do it.  The more I've learned about dairy production (even on organic and so-called "sustainable" farms), the more I believe that eating plant-based diets is really the responsible choice for the planet.  I don't think I would have ever made the transition on my own accord -- but, I am glad to be pushed in that direction.  I just want to have NO COMPLAINING about doing it since the brunt of the work in making the change has fallen on me.  I know, I'm a fun mom.

Beyond helping the whole family live in a more planet-friendly way, I'm also glad Kai has gotten me to spend more time thinking about what we're eating.  We eat a TON of fruit and vegetables now.  And, we are eating a whole range of grains that we didn't eat before (quinoa, lentils, whole grain pastas, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and tofu--so much tofu!)  I know what we are eating now is much healthier than all the dairy and meat we relied on before, and that feels good.  And, while it has been a lot of work to discover new recipes, I have also enjoyed trying to find new family favorites.  There are many evenings now when we stir fry a ton of veggies and heat up some brown rice -- and it's delicious.  We also are going out to eat far less because it's not easy to find places that have good vegan options for Kailey (the rest of us are happy to abandon veganism when eating out). When we do go out, it tends to be to Asian restaurants.  We found a new Vietnamese place we all loved.  We also still very much love going to sushi restaurants -- giving Eric and me a chance to eat fish, which we both enjoy. 

I have a feeling this new way of living is going to be with us for a long time.  Glad to have a daughter that forces me to be the better person I've always wanted to be!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Overcoming Grumpiness

Like most three year olds, Alden has frequent mood swings.  Often, he is grumpy at the end of the day when we pick him up from preschool.  This makes sense.  He spends 9 - 10 hours a day there and is really good the whole time he is at school.   By the end of the day, he just wants his "milk and snuggles" so that he can recharge his batteries. Alden asks for "milk and snuggles" three times a day -- when he wakes up, when he first gets home from school, and before bed.  The routine of milk and snuggles is really important to him and allows him to transition to being awake in the morning, from being home from school in the evening, and into the bedtime routine at night.  He is very particular about the whole thing -- it has to be me, the pillow has to be arranged a certain way, the blankets need to be pulled up just so, and then he settles in to suck down the sippy cup of milk while rubbing the mole under my chin (weird, yes, but true). 

Anyway, as soon as we pick him up from school, he wants... he CRAVES... that transition.   But, there is the 15 minute car ride that he has to endure between school and the milk/snuggles that await him at home. It can be a painful 15 minutes. 

Earlier this week when we picked him up, he was in a particularly grumpy mood. He'd had a disagreement with a best buddy at school and was all out of sorts.  He got in the car and declared, "I hate school."  We reminded him not to use the word "hate" and he restated his position saying, "I don't LIKE school."  We told him we understood and that it was a hard day. "I don't like my friends," he continued.  "I don't like our house," he went on.  Eric asked him, "what do you like?" and he replied, "I don't like anything."  He paused, considering how to make his point as impactful as possible, and then said - forcefully - "I don't LIKE the COLOR BLUE."  We couldn't help ourselves.  We laughed.  When Alden is really upset he says he doesn't like blue because he LOVES blue. And it's so funny to see him turn on his favorite color as his mode of rebellion.  Laughing at a grumpy toddler is never a good thing to do and he yelled, "DON'T LAUGH." 

We apologized and Eric said, "do you like Wild Krats?" (his new favorite TV show).  Alden didn't answer.  Then Eric said, "do you want to play Wild Krats when we get home?"  Alden considered this for a minute and then yelled, "FINE."  He paused a moment longer and then grumbled, "I like Wild Krats."  We held back our laughter and made it the rest of the way home with minimal whining.

As soon as we got home, Alden got his milk and snuggles and the moment that lost drop of milk passed his lips, he bounded up and said, "I'm done!  Where's Daddy?  Let's PLAY."  He was in a great mood the rest of the evening.

The transition time and promise of pretending to be Wild Krats is all it takes to overcome that intense grumpiness. As they say, "little kids, little problems."  It can be so trying sometimes to deal with such intense emotions over such small grievances -- but, also so satisfying to be able to overcome those grievances with a good snuggle and a cup of milk.  Our days of cuddling to solve problems are numbered, so I have to remind myself to soak them up while they are still here.

We love you, Alden. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

End of the Summer Chaos

We're nearing the end of summer. Most of the other kids in Sacramento have already gone back to school, but we have two more weeks before Courtyard starts up again.  Two more weeks!  The end of summer is in sight.  Thank goodness.

To catch up on all the activities since I last wrote:  We drove to Oregon the last week of July to hang out with Grammy for a few days, go to a bit of IPNC, drop Kai off at Nonnie and Papa's house and then head home.  It was a lot of driving, but we also had fun berry picking and visiting some Oregon farms.  And we went to the Oregon coast for a day -- I hadn't been to Cannon Beach in well over a decade.  It was fun to show the kids a place we both used to frequent as children.  And, we ended up having amazing weather for the Oregon coast -- clear blue skies, sunny and warm.  We spent a good chunk of time playing on the beach and even got to see horses.  Alden was enthralled.  He asked the horse's name and then played pretend the rest of the day that he was the horse and he would practice galloping along the sand.  Alden loves to pretend to be the people and animals that we meet in our daily lives.  We play "baby Joy Joy Joy" all the time.  And, after seeing Leo and Soren at IPNC, he started wanting to pretend that he was Leo or Soren (while Kailey, Eric or I would play the other twin).  He has been completely obsessed with Leo and Soren since seeing them at IPNC.  Teenage boys -- there's nothing cooler!

The following week, we had a week at the home with just Alden while Kai spent the week in Washington with Nonnie and Papa (and her cousins -- she ended up having like a 3 day sleepover with a couple of her cousins who are the same age as her).  While it would have been nice to have a quiet week to focus on Alden and do some special things with him, that was not to be.  It was a really hectic week.  I was in LA for two days.  Eric was on the river for three days.  And, Alden definitely felt left out .  He wanted to know why he couldn't be with Kai, Nonnie and Papa.  And then he wanted to know why I was gone.  And then why daddy was gone.  He kept saying, "it takes a lonnnnggg, looonnnngggg time" referring to the fact that we kept telling him it would be a few more days before everyone was back together.  It was a a hard week for everyone.  I think we ended up having pizza three nights in the same week (once to just give Alden a special treat -- movie and pizza night on a school night, something we don't do often.  The other two times because we had no food in the house and no time to shop). 

Kai arrived home with Nonnie and Papa on the following Monday morning the week that I had a three day trip to New Orleans and Eric had several more days of river events.  I had found time to go to the grocery store right before they arrived and in my over-zealousness, bought enough to feed a dozen people for a month.  Not exactly great planning given that I was going to be gone most of the week and not the one cooking.  That's how summer is -- I'm just off my game.  I try to engage in our normal routine and tasks -- but, the weeks are so hectic and devoid of normalcy, that it doesn't work.  We just end up eating out a lot and wasting food.  It feels like we're never home in summer.  Apparently, our neighbors agree.  We were talking to our nextdoor neighbor and he commented that our other neighbors are always asking him if we've moved.  Because we're never home in the summer. We're camping or on long trips.  We're leaving early for summer camps and coming home late.  We're at friends' houses and river events.  It's just non-stop.  Apparently, others have noticed (it's a very nosy neighborhood).

Anyway, so the week that Nonnie and Papa were at our house, Eric and I were mostly gone.  The kids had fun with Nonnie and Papa, but I think Alden was struggling with the disruption in routine still.  And, Kai started to really miss us.  She was back from her week away and wanting to be with us, but we were gone.  So, I think it was a hard week for everyone.  When I got home late Friday night, Kai had waited up for me and Alden must have heard me come in because he crawled into bed with us an hour after I got home and slept with his arm around me all night.  On Saturday, both kids spent the whole day basically mauling me and fighting over who got to sit on me and snuggle.  It's great to be so loved, but also can be guilt-inducing and sometimes is a bit claustrophobic.  But, I tried my best to give both kids the snuggles they craved over the weekend so we'd be ready for the next week (which was this last week).

Kai spent this last week at Aquatics Camp with Justine.  Which meant we were having to leave the house super early every day to pick up Justine and get the girls to camp by 8:30.  Aquatics camps is about a 40 minute drive away.  The early mornings meant everyone was super tired by the end of every day and tired often equals crabby.  And, adding to that, I was gone on Monday and Eric had a meeting at Kai's school Monday night where we learned that her teacher had given notice and that the school would be scrambling to hire a new teacher in the last 3 weeks before school started.  We babysat Will on Tuesday night and went to the Board Meeting at Kai's school on Wednesday evening to try to figure out what was going on with the school.  Thursday I took a half day off work to help interview the teacher candidates and Eric had a new employee start and also took a half day off work to go to the parents' day at Kai's camp (where the parents get to do boating activities with their kids).  All of this meant that Alden got picked up from school by our friends on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.  After three weeks of living outside of his routine, he lost it.  Thursday night when I got home from the interviews, Alden was in full on meltdown mode.  I picked him up and snuggled him and said, "this has been such a hard week.  You aren't getting enough time with Mama."  He cried and said, "I want you to pick me up and I want to be with you."  We hugged.  I told him I knew it was hard.  Things got better.

Friday night we had pizza and movie night and everyone felt good about all being together and being back in our routine.  And, this weekend, for the first time in a looonnngggg time, we had no plans.  We've been home together cooking and cleaning and doing home projects.  Alden has been happy as a clam to have normalcy.  And, Kai seems to also enjoy the down time.

Summer is crazy.  It's not that there isn't fun stuff mixed in amongst all the running around and chaos -- but, it can be hard to enjoy because of the utter lack of routine.  Next week, Kai has theater camp and then there is a week where there are no camps offered and we have no plans yet.  Maybe she'll just come with us to work for a week.

After that, it's the fall!!  Truth be told, the fall is no less crazy -- it's just more structured.  Soccer twice a week.  School every day.  Piano once a week.  Homework and practicing in the evening.  It's still a lot of running around -- but, in a more predictable way.  And, somehow, that makes it easier.

Kai has asked to try out for a play -- so, she may also have play rehearsal several days a week.  And it looks like we are going to need to stay fairly involved with her school and potentially join the school board.  Maybe I'm deluding myself that it's about to get less chaotic.  This is really just our new normal -- and I think with Alden getting older and having his own activities, it will probably just continue to ramp up in intensity.  I think the key is probably going to be to find stretches of non-activity to offset all the times when we have far too many activities.  We are starting to plan a trip to Costa Rica for sometime next year.  Hoping we can actually take 3 or 4 weeks off. That's the kind of break we need these days -- because the craziness of summer "vacations" and camps is really far from being a break.  Right now, I'm exhausted! 


Alden's mood swings must rival that of any teenager.  I haven't had teenagers  yet, so I may not know of which I speak, but I never fully appreciated the term "threenager" until this year. 

For example, Alden will come running over to me saying he wants "milk and snuggles".  Super cute.  I'll get him a sippy cup of milk and settle in on the couch, where he likes to snuggle.  But, suddenly, Alden is whining, "no! no! the pillow doesn't go like THAT!!"  So I turn the pillow 180 degrees and then he yells, "I don't have any covers!! I don't have enough room!  Not like that."  Everything has to be just so and I know he's just worked up from his day and trying to control the few things he has control over.  But, man, it's hard to accommodate his irrational demands sometimes.  Once everything is just to his liking, he settles in and we cuddle and as soon as the last drop of milk has passed his lips, he jumps up and bounds off to play, recharged from the milk and snuggles. And, I lay exhausted on the couch waiting for the next bout of mood swings. 

His mood switches on a dime.  Super sweet and cuddly one minute, and telling us he hates us the next minute.  I know he doesn't fully appreciate what he's saying, but it does get trying to have your toddler constantly telling you he hates you.  And that you're mean.  And rude.  I suppose this is also the effect of having a much older sibling.  He has picked up on phrases from watching TV shows and videos that Kai never watched at this age and just from listening to some of the things she says, that she never would have said at 3. 

But, he also has a lot of empathy and awareness of those around him -- although, it comes and goes (again, not unlike a teenager!)  The other day, I took him to school after a week of being away from school.  I thought he might have a tough time being dropped off, but he was happy to be there.  We went outside, where all the kids were, and his friend Sophie was in the middle of a huge meltdown.  She was clinging to her Mama and begging her not to leave, tears streaming down her face. I don't think she even saw Alden come outside.  But, he walked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.  She turned around and realized who he was and that he was back (they are very close) and threw herself into his arms.  They hugged and hugged, with Alden just holding onto her for a good minute and a half.  Then they let go of each other, and Sophie was no longer crying, but still looked upset.  Alden looked at her and then started hopping from one foot to the other and making goofy faces.  She laughed.  He laughed.  He made more goofy faces and then said, "Sophie! catch me!!" and ran off.  She ran after him, forgetting entirely that she was upset and happy to be playing with her friend.  It was really an amazing thing to observe.  I was so impressed with both how he responded to her emotional needs in that first moment, the need for a big hug and just to have someone there.  But, also how he pivoted - at just the right moment - to silliness and play. 

This morning when he woke up, he cuddled up to me and said, "I love you, Mama.  You're the best."  Not long after that, he was yelling at me and telling me I was mean because I wouldn't let him bang on the piano while Kai was using it.  So, the mood swings are real.  But, the sweetness makes it all easier to endure.  I suppose that might be the part missing from teenagers (again, not having gotten there yet, I might be off on that... but, it's hard to imagine teenagers having the pure sweetness of a three year old).

Right now, he's outside digging in the dirt with Eric (who is digging the nut grass out of the backyard, blade by blade, so that we can plant a new lawn this fall.... Alden, on the other hand, is just digging).  He's mad at me because I wouldn't let him have a cupcake this morning, which I wouldn't let him have because he wouldn't eat his breakfast.  He told me he was "full" and couldn't eat breakfast.  I told him if he was too full for breakfast he was too full for cupcakes, too.  He said, "you're rude" and marched outside to play in the dirt.