Sunday, December 18, 2011

Underwear Head Strikes Again!

Lately Emily has decided that there is nothing funnier in all the world than underwear. She just can't stop talking about it, laughing about it, running around in nothing but underwear. Ok, the last part isn't actually anything new; anyone that has spent a few days around our girls know they just don't like clothes all that much. But Emily has taken it to a new level.


Can I even say anything as funny as this? On Halloween she kept talking about underwear head, underwear head, and then she decided that underwear head was going to carve the pumpkin. She really gets into it too, shoving her face through the leg hole like that. Underwear head means business! Whenever she's in a silly mood, the talk turns to underwear. The other day she asked for a peanut butter and underwear sandwich. She calls me her underwear mommy. She wants to buy Nora underwear for Christmas. At the end of our grace before meals, she says "underwear hum" instead of "om ah hum". And she laughs and laughs and laughs.

I'm glad she's so jolly. It's nice to see that after all the changes and moves and what-not, she's found that inner joy once again. I just hope she doesn't tell her teacher that I gave her peanut butter and underwear for lunch.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Our New Home: The White House

Seven weeks after the fact I can happily report that our second move of 2011 was a success despite some pretty big odds. I didn't know how we would accomplish it, but luckily, since we hadn't finished unpacking from move number 1, it wasn't all that bad (notwithstanding my back injury. Note to self: No more dragging furniture up staircases alone! No more lifting file cabinets out of car trunks either, got it?)

The kids, Ryan, and I are nicely settled in a newly built townhouse located about 6 minutes away from my sister. Emily has dubbed it the "White House", and it has become a nice home. It is cozy in many aspects; the downstairs is like a great room, so the living room, kitchen, and dining room are all open. Its very modern, something I never thought I'd like, but who doesn't like shiny chrome and granite? While it seems small upon entering the house, there is a family room over the garage that now functions as the world's biggest toy room and the kids are thrilled! We are next to the train tracks, so six times a day Metra flies past to Emily's delight. There is an awesome playground at the end of our circle as well as a dog park for Lacey. Their Dad splurged and got the girls bunk beds, so with a few odds and ends from IKEA plus the stuff we bought from the landlord for next to nothing, we've managed to create a livable space that reflects who we are in less than two months.

For me, I think the nicest part about being here is that we will get to enjoy the holidays together as a little family. The one thing I cried about on several occasions in DeKalb was leaving behind our beautiful fireplace, and the memories of all the lovely Christmases we had had there. The smell of the fresh cut tree, the sound of the pine sap popping as the logs burned, the sight of the kids opening up their presents; it seemed impossible to enjoy the holidays anywhere else. It was the one thing that was so hard to give up, so watching Ryan lug the world's biggest Christmas tree through our new front door and decorating the tree with the girls was especially sweet. While moving in the winter isn't normally considered ideal here in Northern Illinois, for us, the timing couldn't have been better.

Here are some pics of our new place as several of you have requested. Click the box below to open up the album. Yep, this place is posh! Watch it morph from rooms filled with boxes to a home. But please don't think it looks this clean all of the time, believe me, it doesn't!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fun, Fish, and Friends at the Shedd

DeKalb might be a lifetime ago, but some of our dearest friends still reside out in the corn. Since Emily is still asking for the green house, and cries because she misses home now and again, I've decided we can't go back to see our friends out there until we are nicely settled into our new home. In the meantime, our best friends Tim and Rachel and their cutie-pie daughter Anna met us downtown for a day at the Shedd. Tim and Rach very generously paid the admission for Emily and I as her birthday present, so I'd like to say thank you very much!

Ryan and I haven't been to the aquarium since we were kids, and let me tell you, the place has been remodeled into the coolest museum this family has ever enjoyed, hands down. The price tag is hefty, don't get me wrong, but its actually worth every penny. The adults felt like kids again as we marveled at creatures both large and small that we had no idea existed. The kids were in awe, seeing sharks and whales for their first time in their lives.


Emily really enjoyed the animals in the Amazon exhibit, which included fish (duh), snakes, even monkeys! Nora and I recounted Jack and Annie's adventures in the Amazon as we strolled that wing of the aquarium.



Since we didn't get to see Anna this summer, it was really amazing to see how much she has grown up over the past six months. Baby Anna has been replaced by a talking, intelligent, and engaging little girl! She was so excited by everything she saw, and it was really cool to see how comfortable Tim and Rachel have become in their roles as Dad and Mom.


I didn't take too many fish pics, because if you weren't there they'd be boring, but this thing is alive! Cool!


Nora correctly identified the Macaroni penguins at the Shedd from her penguin project last January. The girl has my father's memory.




Nora and Emily spent hours playing in the Yellow Submarine in the lower level of the aquarium. It was impossible to get Emily to leave without a tantrum, she loved it so much. Ryan and I are considering getting a membership to the Shedd because we've never seen Emily have more fun at an exhibit before. On the car ride home, we played Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and Nora was amazed at the coincidence.

I didn't get any pics from the dolphin show, but I'm happy to report it didn't stink, and Nora didn't leave in tears. So thank you again to Tim, Rachel, and Anna, and hope to see you all again very soon!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting you all up to speed...

Hello one and all. For those of you that have been keeping up with us on Facebook, you know its been one hell of a roller coaster ride. Has it really been four months since I've blogged? Yes. Absolutely. And an awful lot can change in four months. I can say with certainty that our family is a very different family than the one that left DeKalb. But the butterfly is also very different from the caterpillar, and the changes we've experienced will help us learn to fly.

It is my intention to start blogging again on a regular basis, but before I do that, I'd like to do a blog montage of the summer to get you all caught up. As time goes on I may add some photo albums of these individual events, but this is what I can do in the meantime.

But enough of that (cue fast-paced montage music here)....

We moved in to our in-laws the first week of June. I would say the first six weeks are a blur in my mind. Unpacking, organizing, donating, throwing stuff away, reassembling furniture, painting the playroom, etc etc etc. This was a big time of transition for everyone. It was hard for the girls to differentiate between "Grandma's House", place of fun and lack of rules, and "home", a place where Mom and Dad do actually insist on both a bedtime and eating veggies. We adults also had a hard time figuring out how to run a home with two sets of parents. To be honest, we never did figure it out

Ryan settled in nicely to his new job as a consultant. Actually, he LOVES it. I am over the moon to see him so happy and productive. I had a hard time getting used to the fact that he wasn't home for lunch everyday, but now that he's fully trained he works from home some days, and has shortened hours on others (to make-up for the 12 hour days), so I feel like we spend a good amount of time together. The kids have noticed he's gone a lot more than he used to be, so the time they do spend together is more precious for all three of them. Bedtime stories are especially sweet (when the kids stay in bed LOL). Here is a pic of Ryan and Emily taken at Choo Choo Johnny's, a train themed restaurant that is a family favorite.

I traveled to Toronto this summer with my cousin Sierra and I met my newest best-friend, Rhondda Smiley. I feel like I've known her since forever. She welcomed me into her home, and we spent and amazing weekend listening to the teachings of Buddhist master Geshe Michael Roach and doing yoga. Sierra and I had a blast driving out to Canada, eh? I even made it into the Toronto Star! (OK, its the back of my head but that is still cool...millions of readers saw me looking at Geshe Michael! What they didn't see was my face, and the dippy-stupid-I-love-this-man grin).

Wednesday evenings in the summer were spent with my best friend of 23 years Lisa and her two children. Nora learned to play baseball, Emily didn't but had fun trying, and it has been great watching our children grow up together and form friendships that, hopefully, will be as strong as the friendship Lisa and I have. In this pic, we are at the zoo, a favorite hangout for the girls!

Although we miss our DeKalb friends terribly, it has been great being so close to our families again. The girls have spent more time with their aunts and cousins in the last four months than they have in the last four years combined. I'm not sure if we will ever be able to move much further from this area. I love my family so much, of course, but there is a closeness now that I didn't realize was missing until we came back. Here are Emily and Layla causing a bit of trouble...something those two are very good at!

Nora and Emily started at their new schools and love every second of it. I will have a separate post on their schooling, as there is so much to share. Both girls are natural learners, and it brings me so much joy to see them thrive in what is truly one of the best schools in the entire state.

We got an offer on the house. A lousy offer by some standards, but an offer is an offer! We are still waiting to see if we will be approved for the HAFA program through Citimortgage. If we are approved, the bank will likely accept the offer, and our credit will be bad but not for long. If the bank doesn't approve, we are still hoping to complete a deed-in-lieu. I personally hope that the offer is approved, because the man hoping to purchase owns a construction company. He builds neighborhoods for a living, and has all of the tools and the capital needed to turn my little falling apart bungalow into a really cute home for someone else. I think that would be good for the neighborhood, which needs all the help it can get. Ryan and I put our hearts into that place, and that effort should show, even if its not for us.

The biggest news which is best for last, is that Ryan and I officially converted to Buddhism. We took several sets of vows that have changed who we are forever. Some of the vows were administered here at home by Lama Claire and Lama Darin, and the last set we took were given in LA by Lama Cliff Spencer, the most amazing individual I've ever had the privilege of meeting. I am not going to say too much more here, because this blog is about the kids, and not our religious views per se. However, if you would like to know more about that aspect of our life, you can click the link for ACI-LA which is at the bottom of this page. Also note that I am the editor of the ACI-LA newsletter, so you can read some of my articles there. (And come on, it was LA!!! Do I really need to tell you we loved it????)

That is the summer in a nutshell. I should say, that is my happy version of the summer. Because in addition to the good times, there were some terrible times as well. As you know its my policy on here to not discuss health issues my parents or in-laws are facing, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. Days of happiness were clouded with worry, fear, and anxiety. I've struggled, and continue to struggle, with how to explain to the girls what is going on a manner that is age appropriate, that is truthful, and I've failed in a lot of respects. I'm beginning to think I haven't even been honest with myself. Other issues have arisen here in this very close living arrangement, and as of last night Ryan and I signed a lease to rent a townhouse in the neighboring town.

And a new chapter unfolds....

Friday, June 3, 2011

Operation Dump the House: A progress report

Well folks, I've been packing for what seems like ages, but its only been a few weeks. I am physically and emotionally spent. All of the stuff I've been combing through has brought up memories and pulled the heart strings, and I'm finding that getting rid of all one's possessions is a full time job. A difficult full time job.

The first step was, of course, getting in touch with an awesome lawyer, which we did. He got us in touch with a realtor, who came over, snapped pictures, and got the house on the market in 36 hours. Yes, 36 hours. The rapidity of this process continues to boggle my mind. My parents live in the same home I grew up in, meaning they've been there for 34 years. We've been here for 6 1/2 years. I suppose I thought that implied letting it go would also take a long time. Wronggggg (said in future teenager Nora's voice).

I had a hard time when the realtor was here, telling me how cute and darling our home was, how salable it was, how if the roof didn't leak it would be worth as much as we paid for it. Ugh. She sold me on my own house, and I didn't want to put it on the market! Then, I realized I was dealing with a professional, and upon re-examining the collapsing garage roof, decided to let her try to make a buck.

Of course having it on the market means showing it, and people want to see it! After about a week of showings, I told Ryan I needed to take it off the market for a week so I could get us out. You also read that right. I have decided I want to pack up the entire house this week an empty it out. Why the crazy rush? Well, trying to keep a house in company clean condition with two very active girls is, for me, impossible. To top it off, I don't have a car, and where are we supposed to go during the showing if its raining?

So I'm packing, I'm purging, I'm donating, I'm doing everything in my power to get this job done, so the girls and I can have a normal summer. I've made good progress in some respects. I can say with pride that the basement, which 2 months ago could only be traversed through narrow, winding paths lined with construction equipment, is almost bare. A dozen contractor bags and many trips to Goodwill took care of that. The living room is almost bare, as are all the kitchen cabinets. All of Ryan's clothes are hanging up in our new closet, and 75% of the kids toys are installed in their new toy room.

We plan on moving the majority of the things we want to keep over the first weekend in June. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. Will do my best to keep you updated....

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Graduation Follow-Up: An Interview with Miss Nora

Here is an artwork Nora did on her last day of school showing her favorite kindergarten memory. She drew several things she loved, including the red brick building, her classroom with the easel used for Spanish (that's the picture by the words I love my school), her cap and gown, and the bookshelves. I asked her to talk about the picture a little more, and typed her responses as she gave them. Enjoy!




Momma: On your last day of school you did an art project called "My favorite kindergarten memory". What is your favorite memory from the school year?

Nora: I liked doing cursive a lot.

Momma: Why?

Nora: Because I liked doing my journal in cursive, like that.

Momma: What subject did you learn the most about?

Nora: Well, I would say reading, because we do it in patterns. Monday is reading, and Wednesday is reading, and Friday. There's only two math days, so I learned more reading.

Momma: What was your favorite story from the whole year to read?

Nora: I don't really know. I liked them all.

Momma: Pick one.

Nora: I think my favorite one was the one that the title was "Dogs Can Save People".

Momma: What was it about?

Nora: On all the pages it showed different things that dogs can do to save people.

Momma: Who were your best friends at school?

Nora: I had a lot of best friends. Illiana, Ashely, Ian, Ivan, and I think that's it.

Momma: In addition to cursive, what else did you like to do in your classroom?

Nora: I liked to count money, and I like adding money. And art. I liked the spoon art, and it bleeds onto the piece of paper, and you use a black crayon to trace the thing you saw on the other side.

Momma: What was your favorite game outside?

Nora: Sometimes on really hot days, they turn on the sprinkler.

Momma: If you had one thing to tell Emily to help her get ready for kindergarten, what would you tell her?

Nora: I would tell her to start reading some easy books off her shelf. I do think we should help her count some money too.

Momma: What would you like to say to your teachers?

Nora: I miss you a lot, and have fun with the new students because new students come every new year. I put hearts on my art too, because I like doing hearts a lot.

Momma: Is there anything else you want to tell me about?

Nora: I don't think so.

Momma: Thank you Nora!

Nora: Can I leave now?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nora's Kindergarten Graduation


I am so happy and proud to announce that Nora Grace has officially graduated from kindergarten! The happiness we all feel is slightly bittersweet, for as we celebrate such a big milestone in her life, we are also aware that its a signal of the end of the way we've lived for 6 years. Her graduation marks the beginning of our transition to suburban life with the extended family.

Nora was keenly aware of the amount of change coming her way, and in the days and weeks leading up to the graduation she kept telling me she didn't want to graduate. Starting about 5 weeks ago, she would stand in front of the calendar and ask how many more days she had at Montessori. I'd tell her the number of weeks and days, and then tell her not to worry about the future. She needed to remember to enjoy the present. This worked until the Sunday before graduation. That night, before bed, she wailed that she didn't want this week to come. I held her close and let her cry, because she needed to express her feelings.

The next day she came home from school laughing. She said, "Graduation is just music! I've been afraid of music this whole time!" I was relieved that the impending stage fright had dissipated, and she enjoyed the next two days at school. The stage fright returned on Wednesday night, but I was able to calm Nora down by explaining everyone she loved would be in the audience. Nonnie, Poppa, and Grandma and Grandpa Geier would all be there (little did I know Grandma Esther was also coming!)

The big day arrived. After school, Nora, Emily, and I headed over to the Hair Cuttery. We all got beautiful haircuts (and I cut my once blonde then red now green hair off into a cute bob). Afterwards we went home, and Nora dressed in her new outfit that her Daddy got her as a graduation present. She also opened her gift from us, which included a necklace to wear at graduation, a purse, and a few other girly odds and ends.

The ceremony was beautiful. The teachers and the children at the school did a wonderful job. The kids wore blue caps and gowns and marched in to Pomp and Circumstance. I admit, I cried. The graduation was short and sweet, the kids tossed their caps into the air, and it was over. Coffee and cake and mayhem ensued as the kiddos ran around. I got to visit with my family as well as Ian's Mom and Dad, my friends Rachel and Aaron.

And then it was over. Although there is still a week of school left, the clock has started ticking. Our time here in Northern Illinois is drawing to an end.

Click on the image below to see all the photos.

Nora's Graduation

Monday, May 23, 2011

At odds with the American Dream

What do you do when you sit down and realize that the life you've created is at odds with your beliefs? What do you do when you feel that its your job to help others, to be kind to the Earth, and yet you feel trapped in old habits and patterns? What do you do when money is tight, when the stress is high, and the events of your life start looking like tsunami sized waves that are dragging you under? Well, I guess you have a couple of options. (1) Do nothing, because old habits are familiar and familiar is comfy. (2) Work and work and work and try to change the situation. Build up walls to block the influx of water. (3) Accept that things aren't working, and perhaps they were never going to work out anyways, and go with the flow. Ride the wave and see where it takes you.

Of course you know that we are going to ride the wave, but that is only because Ryan and I have tried options 1 and 2 for YEARS and know from first hand experience its not working!

After a lot of thought, tears of bitter disappointment, as well as a strange sense of relief and freedom, Ryan and I have decided we can no longer afford to live in our old house. The financial, emotional, and time costs are just too high. We, like so many thousands of other Americans, will be using the HAFA program to short sell the house, or more likely, do a deed-in-lieu. We are upside down in our mortgage, and will be for another decade. The roof leaks, the siding is starting to fall off, and the electric is out of code. We need at least 30K to fix the place. We could work and work to pay off another loan, or we can say enough is enough. Financial system of America, you've milked us dry. We want our life back. Basically, we are handing the keys to the bank and saying "Good luck!" We walk away (or float away?) after 6 1/2 years of payments and improvements with a 1000 dollar relocation check. The bank keeps it all.

Everyone we have told about this so far has felt REALLY bad for us. And if you believe in the American Dream, we did fail. Miserably! We had it all: the house, the picket fence, the dog, and we're only keeping the dog. We're also telling people we're getting rid of most of our stuff, to which many wonderful friends and family have offered to buy our things, to store them free of charge, and my Uncle even offered to pay for a storage locker! I want to say thank you to everyone, because I can see how much we are loved, and it warms my heart. I am surrounded by wonderful people. But please, don't feel bad for us! Let me tell you why.

I don't believe a house is the same thing as a home; its the love created by the people inside the walls that make a home.

I don't believe that money has the ability to make anyone happy; and losing money should not equate to losing happiness.

I believe that my time here is limited, and that what I do with the time is important. I have up to this point been wasting most of my time on pointless stuff and empty promises. Its time to be a full-time advocate for others.

I believe that Americans as a society have taken more than their fair share of the Earth's resources, and that our way of life is not sustainable. In our drive to consume and possess more and more and more, we are laying waste to our only true home, this beautiful sapphire of a planet. The idea that each nuclear family has to have their own McMansion full of possessions and two cars and a yard covered in grass instead of edible plants is a selfish dream, and its a dream I don't want to be a part of anymore.

JOY IS NOT IN THINGS, ITS IN US.


A lot of people say yea, that's a great list! I believe in that too. And then they get bored, and go shopping for more stuff. Or they're not happy with their house because it only has 4 bedrooms and they want 5 bedrooms. Or they work 3 jobs so they can continue to subsidize a life that being sold to them by ads on the TV. Buy now and pay later! (And now Momma jumps off the soap box to tell you the plan).

In order to live a life that we can afford on Ryan's income and that allows us to embody our values, we are moving in with my in-laws. They have a four bedroom home that is currently occupied by 2 adults and 2 very large Newfoundlands. My family will live on the upstairs portion of the split level with a few of our favorite things; my in-laws will have the downstairs. We will share the living room and kitchen and have wonderful family dinners together. They have a large yard in which I'll be able to grow veggies for the whole family to eat, and I plan on planting some native species to feed the birds and bugs as well. We are expanding out of the nuclear family into a grand community. Big living, smaller environmental impact.

Nora and Emily are excited to move to Grandma's House (sorry Grandpa, but it will always be Grandma's House). They have a lot of reasons to be happy! First of all, they will be in one of the best school districts in the state. They will receive the equivalent of a private education for the price of public school. Emily's new speech therapist has an office that is less than a 5 minute walk from the house, so I don't need to purchase a car. The neighborhood comes with built in friends and cousins. Plus, the girls will have access to both their parents and grandparents. All that extra love, and smarts, can only help in the long run. Four adults to two children is a ratio that ensures everyone's needs will be met.

Ryan will benefit as well. He has been offered a new job that he's accepted. He is going to be a consultant whose main job is to help teach people how to use computer software. No more making plastic packaging that sits in landfills for thousands of years! The downside for Ryan is he has to travel, so he can no longer ride his bike to work. But since I won't be driving to work (when I get offered work...another story!), we hope we won't be adding more to our current level of auto emissions. But he will have his Mom there to make his favorite foods, so he can look forward to good eats after a long commute. The best part is that he has gained his weekends back. No more old house projects. No more fixer-upper headaches. Time that can be spent with me and our girls.

This post has already gotten too long so I will add more in the future. Now its time to get more stuff ready for Goodwill. Out with the old and in with the new.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Emily's Diagnosis

I received the call from Dr. B two weeks after seeing her at Children's Memorial. She was kind enough to want to explain her findings to me over the phone and personally tell me why she made the decision she did, which I really appreciated. She followed our call with a letter, which is provided below (in italics)with some additional information to help make things less confusing.

Since the time of the initial evaluation, I had the opportunity to speak to her early childhood teacher, Sarah Mack, review her individualized education plan and school reports and speak with Emily's mother.

Emily has expressive/receptive language deficits, social communication deficits, and mild fine motor deficits. She does not have, however, significant rote, repetitive behaviors or perseverative interests that limit her functioning.

Based on the consideration of the new proposed DSM V criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, Emily does not meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder (lack of rote, repetitive perseverative behaviors).

Her diagnoses based on my evaluation are:

Receptive Expressive Language Disorder
Semantic Pragmatic Language Impairment
Lack of Coordination


Let me insert a bit of commentary for you to help you digest what the first page of the letter means. In the second paragraph, Dr. B. is laying out the case that Emily has all of the qualifications to be diagnosed with a Social Communication Disorder. She lays this out very carefully because, at the moment, this is not a diagnosis listed in the DSM 4, a guidebook used by doctors and psychologists all over the world for diagnosing their patients. According to the current DSM, Emily has the symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder known as PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delay-Not Otherwise Specified).

However, the DSM is updated every 20 years, and the new edition will be published for 2013. At that time, Emily will no longer fit into the PDD-NOS category. This, coupled with the fact that Emily (1) does not have the repetitive behaviors so often associated with autism, and (2) she is a very loving little girl, led Dr. B. to go for the newer (and controversial) label of Communication Disorder. For a complete overview of these proposed changes to the DSM-5 please visit http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=489#
In the comments section of the website, you will quickly find that many parents are unhappy with this new diagnosis, feeling it is a way for some parents to feel better because their children do not have the autism label.

Emily received three diagnoses, but I will only explain the first two seeing that we all know my kids are not coordinated!

Receptive Expressive Language Disorder:
taken from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001545.htm

Language disorder in children refers to problems with either:

Getting their meaning or message across to others (expressive language disorder), or
Understanding the message coming from others (receptive language disorder)
Some children only have an expressive language disorder. Others have a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, meaning that they have symptoms of both conditions.

Children with language disorders are able to produce sounds, and their speech can be understood.

Causes
For most infants and children, language develops naturally beginning at birth. To develop language, a child must be able to hear, see, understand, and remember. Children must also have the physical ability to form speech.

Up to 1 out of every 20 children has symptoms of a language disorder. When the cause is unknown, it is called a developmental language disorder.

Problems with receptive language skills usually begin before age 4. Some mixed language disorders are caused by a brain injury, and these are sometimes misdiagnosed as developmental disorders.

Language disorders may occur in children with other developmental problems, autistic spectrum disorders, hearing loss, and learning disabilities. A language disorder may also be caused by damage to the central nervous system, which is called aphasia.

Language disorders are rarely caused by a lack of intelligence.

Language disorders are different than delayed language. With delayed language, the child develops speech and language in the same way as other children, but later. In language disorders, speech and language do not develop normally. The child may have some language skills, but not others. Or, the way in which these skills develop will be different than usual.

Symptoms
A child with language disorder may have one or two of the symptoms listed below, or many of the symptoms. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Children with a receptive language disorder have difficulty understanding langugae. They may have:

A hard time understanding what other people have said
Problems following directions that are spoken to them
Problems organizing their thoughts
Children with an expressive language disorder have problems using language to express what they are thinking or need. These children may:

Have a hard time putting words together into sentences, or their sentences may be simple and short and the word order may be off
Have difficulty finding the right words when talking, and often use placeholder words such as "um"
Have a vocabulary that is below the level of other children the same age
Leave words out of sentences when talking
Use certain phrases over and over again, and repeat (echo) parts or all of questions
Use tenses (past, present, future) improperly

Because of their language problems, these children may have difficulty in social settings. At times, language disorders may be part of the cause of severe behavioral problems.

Outlook (Prognosis)
The outcome varies based on the cause. Brain injury or other structural problems generally have a poor outcome, in which the child will have long-term problems with language. Other, more reversible causes can be treated effectively.

Many children who have language problems during the preschool years will also have some language problems or learning difficulty later in childhood. They may also have reading disorders.

Possible Complications
Difficulty understanding and using language can cause problems with social interaction and the ability to function independently as an adult.

Reading may be a problem.

Depression, anxiety, and other emotional or behavioral problems may complicate language disorders.

This disorder is also known as Developmental aphasia; Developmental dysphasia; Delayed language; Specific developmental language disorder; SLI; Communication disorder - language disorder

Semantic Pragmatic Language Impairment:
taken from http://members.tripod.com/Caroline_Bowen/spld.htm

Semantics
Semantics is the aspect of language function that relates to understanding the meanings of words, phrases and sentences, and using words appropriately when we speak. Children with semantic difficulties have a very hard time understanding the meaning of words and sentences.

This is sometimes apparent from their unusual responses when they are told to do something, and sometimes it is revealed by the questions they ask, and the things they say about words. There is an example here of 12 year old Nerida's interpretation of the word "acquire". In the example, she was unable to detect from the context that she was being asked what "acquire", rather than "a choir" meant.

People with semantic processing difficulties have particular trouble with abstract words like 'curious' or 'vague', words that relate to feelings and emotions such as 'embarrassed' and 'anxious', and words that refer to status (for instance 'expert' or 'authority') or degree (for example, 'essential' or 'approximate').

They have difficulty with idioms, sayings and slang expressions, often taking them literally or interpreting them oddly. For example, when asked if he enjoyed spending time with his friends, a 14 year old with semantic processing problems replied, "I don't see how you can spend time, and I certainly don't see how you could enjoy it because spending time is not something you can do. You can only actually spend money".

Another difficulty children with semantic problems experience is that they may not be able to identify the key point or topic in a sentence, and because of this may suddenly change the subject, very obscurely, apparently thinking they are on the same subject. Here is another real example from a girl aged eleven. Question: "Could you get the book off the shelf and give it to me?" Reply: "The Gulf Stream warms the coast-line"

NOTE: CLOSE QUESTIONING REVEALED THAT THE OBSCURE CONNECTION HERE WAS THE CONTINENTAL SHELF, AND THE GULF STREAM. HER RESPONSE WAS RELATED TO HER DEEP INTEREST IN MARINE BIOLOGY AND OCEAN CURRENTS.


Pragmatics
Pragmatics is the area of language function that embraces the use of language in social contexts (knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it - and how to "be" with other people).
Children with pragmatic difficulties have great trouble using language socially in ways that are appropriate or typical of children of their age. They often do not understand that we take turns to talk, and they will "talk over the top of you" at times, or, at other times respond to what you say with inappropriate silences, or in a voice that is too quiet. They may interrupt excessively and talk irrelevantly or about things the listener shows no interest in. Their communicative behaviour often appears rude and inconsiderate.

They often do not assume prior knowledge. So for example, one boy explained to me in minute detail how to wash a car, wrongly assuming that I needed (and wanted) the information and that I had never washed a car.

On the other hand, they may assume prior knowledge that the listener could not possibly have, and launch into a long disquisition without describing in sufficient detail the participants, location and general background of their story.

They can go on far too long telling stories, and include so much detail that the listener becomes disinterested.

Pragmatics skills include:

knowing that you have to answer when a question has been asked;
being able to participate in a conversation by taking it in turns with the other speaker;
the ability to notice and respond to the non-verbal aspects of language (reacting appropriately to the other person's body language and 'mood', as well as their words);
awareness that you have to introduce a topic of conversation in order for the listener to fully understand;
knowing which words or what sort of sentence-type to use when initiating a conversation or responding to something someone has said;
the ability to maintain a topic (or change topic appropriately, or 'interrupt' politely);
the ability to maintain appropriate eye-contact (not too much staring, and not too much looking away) during a conversation; and
the ability to distinguish how to talk and behave towards different communicative partners (formal with some, informal with others).

Semantic-Pragmatic Language Disorder
Children with SPLD (called semantic-pragmatic disorder (SPD) in some literature) have a language disorder that affects both semantic processing and the pragmatics of language use. Some authorities see SPLD as part of the autism spectrum of disorders while others see it purely as a language disorder.

I once said to a twelve year old with semantic and pragmatic difficulties "Tell me all about yourself." He responded, perfectly seriously, with "It will take a very long time", and made an immediate start!

Although isolated examples like the ones here can appear quite amusing and even endearing, these difficulties with word comprehension and social aptitude can be extremely embarrassing, upsetting, confusing and frustrating for the child with SPLD, and can give rise to teasing and criticism of the child.

Family, peers, teachers and other adults need to apply great sensitivity to guiding the young person with SPLD. Understanding the nature of the disorder is helpful in this regard.

Assessment
Speech-Language Pathology treatment is planned on the basis of a formal language assessment, interviews with the client and their caregivers and clinical observations.

It is always necessary to determine whether the client has:

isolated semantic processing difficulties OR

isolated difficulties with the pragmatics of language use OR

a combination of the two OR

semantic pragmatic language disorder (SPLD) OR

SPLD in combination with another communication disorder that is NOT in the autism spectrum, for example, developmental apraxia of speech OR

SPLD in combination with another disorder in the autism spectrum, for example, Asperger's Syndrome OR

SPLD in combination with another disorder that is NOT in the autism spectrum, e.g., Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The diagnosis of isolated semantic difficulties, isolated pragmatic difficulties and combinations of the two is "routine" for many paediatric SLPs. The diagnosis of SPLD can be difficult, lengthy and indeterminate, often involving several professionals in addition to the speech-language pathologist (family physician, paediatrician, audiologist, clinical psychologist, occupational therapist, etc). There are many children with semantic and pragmatic difficulties who don't quite "fit" into a definite diagnostic category.


Intervention
Clinical management of any communication disorder is geared to the unique needs and capacities of the particular client in their particular setting. Children with semantic difficulties, or pragmatic difficulties, or a combination of the two, or SPLD are no exception.

The letter from Emily's doctor ended with her recommendations for intervention.

Therapeutic recommendations include:

Continue with an individualized education plan that include a preschool (blended classroom preferable), speech, occupational therapy, emphasis on social use of language.

Would recommend private speech and occupational therapy.

Enrollment in a private social language group.

Please call with any questions.
Sincerely,
Dana M. Brazdziunas, MD
Director, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics
Associate Professor of Pediatrics (at Northwestern)


Feel free to comment here or on FB. Thanks everyone for all the support you've shown over the past two years as we've struggled to understand how we can be of help to my sweet little Emily.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Random Silly Pics


Underpants, check!  Yellow, check!  Crown...crown??  Well I guess today she's a little princess.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Children's Memorial Hospital Visit

The long long long wait was finally over. After receiving a referral to see Dr. Brazdziunas at Children's Memorial in August, we met with our world class doctor at the DuPage Hospital--Children's Memorial Outpatient center.

Emily arrived home from school at noon, and we practically threw lunch into her mouth so we could make our appointment on time. My nerves were shot; I was surprised at how anxious I felt. It seemed liked everything in the world was trying to slow our progress to Winifield: the rain, the fog, the million cops pulling folks over for doing 5 over the speed limit. The longest car ride ever was followed by the world's busiest parking lot. It took 20 minutes to find a space inside the parking deck. I really was concerned we'd miss our appointment and have to wait another 9 months to see the doctor. Emily, on the other hand, had no idea what we were doing and took everything in stride. My little sweetie sometimes has more sense than her Momma.

We made it on time, thank goodness. Emily was seen right away, and the appointment progressed very much like the testing she's undergone in the past. Dr. B and Emily played a series of "games" that allowed the doctor to judge her progress in the areas of language, social interaction, cognitive abilities, and physical development. As they "played", Ryan and I sat and observed in the room.

The first test was given with the aid of a book. Emily was asked to look at a series of pictures and identify the objects and colors by name. She did very well in that task. When asked to count objects, she was able to do so with precision. The next part of the test involved the doctor describing objects with a bunch of adjectives rather than by name. Emily failed this test, and I could feel my heart breaking as she looked at the doctor with complete and utter confusion on her face. The doctor asked Emily to point to the object that was "in a store, made of metal, that food goes into when mommy is shopping". She had no idea that was the description of a grocery cart, even with the picture of a grocery cart right in front of her. Several other objects were described in a similar manner, and again Emily failed to understand the relationship between the words and the object described.

The second portion of the session involved role playing with a set of family dolls. There was a mom, a dad, a baby, and some animal pets. The doctor asked Emily to have the family interact, and she had a hard time understanding the directions the doctor was giving. She played with the toys, but in her own way. She was more interested in the animal toys than the human figures. Emily's social interaction was also tested with a baby doll. The doctor gave Emily the baby to see how she would treat it. Emily rocked the baby, talked to the baby, and even shared some of her goldfish crackers, which made me proud.

The last portion of the testing looked at Emily's physical development and coordination. As her OT therapist noted in the past, her muscle tone is low. This would explain why she was late to crawl, late to walk, and still has trouble with potty training. It's the reason why, at school, she is still struggling to hold a pencil in the correct manner. It could account for why she is so uncoordinated, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact she is my child! (I trip over my own feet on a regular basis). Emily will never grow up to be a professional athlete, but as a scholar myself, I'm ok with that. She did manage to jump around for the doctor without falling over, and made us all laugh when she ducked under the table to hide from the crazy balloon.

When the testing portion was over, Dr. B. left the room to go over her findings. When she returned, she surprised Ryan and I by saying she had decided to wait on diagnosing Emily until she could talk to her teacher, Mrs. Mack, and her speech therapist at school. She felt that Emily was a unique child, and not easy to classify without further information about her peer-to-peer interactions. What she did tell us was that Emily's cognitive abilities are almost off the charts. She placed in the top 90% of her peers for smarts (she gets that from me too!! J/K). Unfortunately her language abilities were much much worse than I expected. She tested in the bottom 10% of her peers for expressive and receptive language. Wow. That is pretty bad, and hard for a parent to hear, especially since I have been so pleased at the progress she's been making. She's a chatter box compared to her former self, but next to her peers she can barely communicate. Her lack of coordination was noted, but not necessarily seen as a major problem.

And now, the waiting game continues.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kids Say the Darnedest Things!

Another installment of the short feature chronicling the stuff that comes out of Nora's mouth...

At dinner tonight Ryan dropped his head into his hands and announced, "I'm sooo flippin' tired!" I shuddered a bit, glad he didn't say any other "f" word because he really was tired and not necessarily thinking straight. Then Nora pipped up, "You're flippin' tired! Flippin like you flip a pancake? Then you better flip yourself onto your bed!"

She's so sweet. And innocent. I love that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Random Silly Pics

 


I was babysitting my best friend Rachel's daughter Anna a few weeks back and my girls decided to put on a fashion show for her. Here they've stopped for a moment to strike a pose. They are so pretty...I think I'm gonna be in trouble in a few years!
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Random Silly Pics

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Nora is decked out in head-to-toe green in honor of the day. A big thank you to Grandma Geier for sending out a treat-filled care package for the girls.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Momma Learns to Knit...sorta

Just a quick little note to say that this winter I took up knitting as a hobby, and while I enjoy it immensely, I am terrible at it! My first big project was to make Nora a scarf, and I'm glad I took pictures because its already starting to unravel. I will try to make her another scarf before next winter because this one may not make it. I'm not too upset though, she really liked it and that's all that matters!




Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Royal Children's Ball

If you were to ask Nora and Emily what would constitute the perfect fairytale evening, they would tell you that it would include dressing up like a princess, wearing a crown, eating cake and ice-cream, visiting a castle, and dancing to Disney Princess music at a ball.

Well, the first annual Royal Children's Ball provided that and so much more! At the beginning of February I began to see ads announcing that a Royal Ball was going to be held at Altgeld Castle on the NIU campus. It sounded like fun to me, and I'm an adult, so I figured the kids would love it. The price tag was a bit hefty; $15 dollars per person, but the money was going to help fund after school programs, so really it was a win-win situation.

Getting ready for the ball gave me a little insight into what its going to take to get the girls ready for prom when they're older. Oh my gosh...I spent all day long steaming our dresses and finding the right shoes and jewelry. As soon as Nora got home from school, I did her hair up in rollers. Then it was hair and make-up for the three of us, and I had a hard time remembering where my tiara and gloves were hiding! (I hadn't worn them since my wedding day; it took a bit of effort on my part to dig that stuff out. As for my dress...that had to be dug out also. It was the dress I wore to Lisa and Bob's wedding). Unfortunately it was raining and terribly cold, but Ryan was kind enough to drop us off at the castle so we didn't have to walk through the dreary elements. However, the girls radiated sunshine and excitement during the drive to the castle; it was easy to feel like spring is on the way!

Nora and Emily were overwhelmed from the moment we stepped inside the castle. A red carpet wound its way up an ornate, curved staircase that led to the ballroom. The ballroom itself was built in 1895 and recently restored, so it was all marble and gilding and polished wood. The Victorian atmosphere, which could be daunting for some kids, was lightened up quite a bit by balloon sculptures and twinkling lights. A grape juice fountain greeted us, as did a pile of Sweet Dreams cupcakes. Everywhere we turned, little girls dressed in head-to-toe frills danced about, young knights and pirates ran through the crowd. It was so cool. Of course the girls wanted cupcakes, so we sat down and ate those first. We danced a little, and then Nora stood in line (for ever!) to get a tiara. I have to admit she looked beautiful when she was done, but during the wait, Emily became very comfortable coloring at the table next to the beauty booth and I spent most of my evening with her there from that point forwards.

They really did a great job making everything kid friendly. There were crayons and fruit snacks at all the tables. Waiters came around with mini hot-dogs and chicken nuggets. Emily and I made crafts while Nora ran off and danced with some of the girls from her school. (That, I admit, was a bit hard. Letting her run off to dance while I stayed out of the way seemed strange, but I have to get used to the idea that she has a life outside of me!)

The evening went very well until about 8pm. At that point they put out the "all you can eat, build your own ice-cream sundae" custard and candies. Oh NOOOO. Major mom dilemma! Within minutes there were hundreds of people standing around us stuffing their faces with Culvers. So tempting, but dairy is so bad for the girls tummies! What to do, what to do??? My heart ended up trumping all common sense when the girls starting begging for a sundae. I wanted to make them happy, I wanted then to fit in, and so we all ate very delicious desserts. Emily had eaten about half of hers when she started complaining that her tummy hurt; Nora managed to eat her entire serving before deciding she had had too much. Oh dear. The evening started to go downhill from there, because they didn't feel good, it was past their bedtime, and they didn't want to leave! Nora continued to run around with some friends while Emily and I tried to walk off the tummy ache.

The evening's festivities came to an end at 9pm, not a moment too soon! I was happy to have an excuse to leave, because the girls were DONE. We left in exhausted tears. At the time I wasn't too happy myself, but in hindsight it was awfully predictable and somewhat funny. These little girls had too much of a good thing and it showed! I've never seen someone fall asleep the moment their head hit the pillow, and after all of our fun, I witnessed two little girls fall asleep in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. I'm sure they dreamed of dancing and sweets.

To view the pics of us all dressed up, click the image below.

Royal Children's Ball

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Captain Caveman Gets a Haircut

If you haven't figured it out from the photo, Captain Caveman is one of Emily's nicknames. We could have opted for Cousin It, but its more fun to yell "CAAAPPPTAINNNN CAAAAAAAVEMANNN!" when she's running around the house in nothing but underpants with utterly tangled hair flying behind her.

Em's hair has always been a mess. She is so sensitive about it getting combed, about it getting washed, about anyone trying to do anything to it. She has had professional hair-cuts before, but I usually wait months and months in-between because the experience is traumatic for all involved. Case in point: Her last trip to the salon was just before school started in August. She refused to have it washed. She had to sit on my lap so I could hold her arms and legs down to keep her from flailing around. Did I mention she cried and screamed the entire time? It seems there is little difference between a hair-cut and torture in her eyes, and people were leaving the salon. How the lady didn't accidentally cut her ear or poke my eye is both beyond me and a true testament to the professionalism of the ladies at the Hair Cuttery. As for me, well, I try my best to laugh it off, and on the outside I do, but sometimes its hard to be the mom with the out-of-control kid. So instead of paying for the privilege of torturing my kid every six weeks, I usually wait every six months. In the meantime she morphs into Captain Caveman.

Well, Emily's hair started to get long, longer than it had ever been. It would take me 5 minutes to comb it, 5 VERY LONG minutes of trying to tease out what seemed like hundreds of tiny tangles. Poor Em would cry and scream and say, "No comb-y hair! No comb-y hair!". Sometimes she'd hit and bite to let me know she really wanted me to stay away. I finally asked her if it would be okay if she got her hair cut. I explained if she sat still and let the "special lady" cut her hair, it wouldn't hurt so much anymore. She listened intently and said, "Yes, cut hair!" and I was so pleased. I was less pleased when, later that day, Nora ran to tell me that Emily had gotten some scissors. Luckily she only chopped off a few bits in the back, so I was able to wait until payday to get her hair done.

And what a hair do it is! Captain Caveman is no more! She was such a good girl for Stephanie at the Hair Cuttery that she was able to get a bob. For the first time ever, she had her hair washed in a sink, and she sat in the chair all by herself. When she started to freak out about the comb, we gave her a sucker and she put all of her attention on the candy as planned. She was so well behaved, I honestly didn't even recognize her. The change was like night and day. I was so happy and proud I actually teared up a little. In that salon I saw for the first time that Emily will be able to fit in to the rest of society, that she's not always going to need special services. Someone actually told me how well behaved she was!!! Never ever did I think I would have that kind of day. After all, its just a hair cut. But it was so much more. My little ragamuffin has grown into a chic fashionista! Oh who the heck am I kidding...she still prefers undies to clothes. Well, its good-bye Captain Caveman, and hello to Captain Underpants!




Thursday, February 24, 2011

Zoo Day!

Winter feels like it will never end. We've been stuck inside for weeks now; the excitement of the blizzard is long gone. So when the weatherman called for a 50 degree day here in the middle of February, I made the executive decision to pull Nora out of school and take the kids to the zoo. It only made sense; after all, it's a really easy outing for me since the girls know what to expect. The days of Emily having a tantrum there because she is overwhelmed are long gone. Those stressful days of praying she stays in the wagon have been replaced by days of good behavior, increased language skills, exploring, and exercise. Plus its just fun, and sometimes a mom just wants to have fun with her children.

This trip was great with the exception of the dolphin show. The "dolphin disappointment" was really all my fault. Nora has wanted to see the dolphin show for ages. I told her how great it was going to be. The animals would jump through hoops and bounce balls off their noses, and more. She was expecting a spectacle, but what we got was closer to a TV show narrating the life of a zoo animal. Sure there was music and there were dolphins. But I thought it was boring, Emily wanted to jump into the tank, and Nora was sorely disappointed. While I understand that the zoo is trying to move away from a circus/exploit the animals model towards an educational/provide for the animals stance, I felt they should not have called it the dolphin "show". It was a dolphin educational lecture. Nora was so disappointed when we left that she sat down on a bench and started crying. Total bummer. I promised I'd take her to Sea World someday. At least there she can pet the dolphins.

I realized I'd have to do some quick maneuvering to help Nora recover her day, so off we went to the playground. Nora hadn't been on any playground equipment since breaking her arm, and her demeanor quickly turned around after a few turns on the slide. She and Emily and every other child was gleeful to be out in the sun. Fifty degrees in February is a rare thing to be enjoyed, and we all did. We played for a quite a while; so long in fact that I was afraid we'd not see any other animals at all if we didn't get going, so off we went.

We did see a lot, too much to document in complete detail. But we did pet a goat and a baby chick and a horse; visited our favorite friends in the monkey house, and had many of the exhibits to ourselves including the bird and reptile house. Because we were the only ones there, the girls could move at their own pace; could explore without their Momma hovering, something completely new and loved by Emily. Nora was over the moon to see the zookeepers feeding the penguins, her new favorite animal, and we spent a lot of time watching them eat and swim. We didn't leave until the other birds in the exhibit began dive bombing the crowd and scaring the kids (and half of the adults as well). My favorite exhibit was, surprisingly, the newly opened swamp exhibit. I really thought I was going to like the new Bear Wilderness better, but the Swamp had a lot of interactive displays for the kids and a "boat" we rested in for a while. There were lovely birds and critters to see, and I fell in love with the cutest little Illinois otter. I had no idea there were otters in this state!

The funniest episode happened during our second trip to the playground. Surrounding the equipment are picnic tables, and roaming amongst the chipmunks and squirrels are several large peacocks. One peacock, a beautiful male, jumped on the table and extended his plumes. He was truly magnificent, and much larger than I ever imagined. I got the girls off the monkey bars so they could get a better look. Nora said, "MOM!!!! Quick, get the phone and call the zoo manager! The animals are getting out!!!!" She was so serious, it took every last drop of effort to not roll on the ground laughing. I assured her all was well, and it was. We had a wonderful day I'm not likely to forget for a while.

Zoo Day!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Emily's Progress Report: A++ for the teachers and the student!

On Thursday I was lucky to have the opportunity to see Emily during school. Parents were invited to spend an hour in the classroom with their child to see what a typical day is like. I don't ever remember my schools doing this when I was young, and what a shame! I learned so much more in that one hour than from all of the notes home and parent conferences combined. A lot of the time I feel a little out of the loop when it comes to her education, since the bus takes her and I rarely step inside her classroom. This was a most welcome opportunity. Emily showed me her favorite puzzles, painted me a picture, and showed off on the fancy computer equipment they have for classroom activity time. After seeing all of the resources on hand for Emily and her peers, it is little surprise that she is making so many strides.



Emily and a friend painting. Everyday the kids have a free-play period, and at least 2 times a week Emily chooses art.



Here Emily is sitting on the pillow while the other children take their turn on the big computer, and then it was her turn. She had to pick a letter (she picked "E"), and then she played a matching game in which she dragged and dropped the letters across the board.

**********************************************************************************************

In addition to having fun playing with Emily, I got the chance to see how her classroom is run. All I can say is that Emily has an amazing team of teachers and specialists working on her behalf, and I am so truly grateful. In addition to her teacher Mrs. Mack, there are 2 classroom helpers that just adore the kids. There are 3 adults and 10 kids. This may seem like a lot, but remember most of these kids have severe delays. Some can't talk, one little boy was in a wheelchair, and most aren't potty trained. A lot of one-on-one time is needed just for the simple things. There is also a speech therapist and a occupational therapist on site working with all of the Early Childhood classrooms (Em is in one of three or four classes). They all tell me that they are pleased with her progress.

Speaking of progress, Ryan and I have noted two major changes in Emily over the past few weeks. After swimming at Shane's birthday party in late January, Emily told me about "the beach". Since then, she has slowly but surly begun talking about events in her recent past. Ladies and gents, this is simply amazing!!! She has never really shown an understanding for much outside of the present moment. Out of sight, out of mind. But not anymore! The only thing that is slightly confusing is that she hasn't mastered the idea of past tense verbs yet, so we have to decipher what she's talking about based on our understanding of her day. For example, when Ryan came home for lunch she said "I peed my pants!" I was shocked, because she had peed in her pants earlier that morning and I couldn't believe she had done it twice. Well, she hadn't. She was just sharing the events of her day. When we got home from the zoo, she said, "Animals! Zoo animals!". No verbs there, but again she was telling her Dad about something she had seen rather than what was in the room.

The other big-to-do involves potty training. She is still not trained by any stretch of the imagination. I have thus concluded that, in addition to not being able to hold a pencil with the correct grasp, she can't fully control all the muscles needed in order to use the toilet like the rest of us. She is in underpants during the day, but we set a timer and put her on the potty at the prescribed time. As noted above, an extra helping of juice can put the schedule out of whack. Oh my poor floors. Anyhow, there has been progress, and now I am hopeful she will be potty trained by her 5th birthday (that is sadly not an exaggeration, its realistic). Twice in the past week Emily has said, "I pooped my pants" but actually meant she needed to go. She has come up to me before the accident and used the potty. Again, there is a bit of a language barrier because she doesn't understand tenses, but the idea got across nonetheless. I am thrilled. Someday I will not be changing her diapers or mopping puddles off the floor.

Emily's progress is off the charts. I wish some of her first therapists could see her now. They wouldn't recognize this social, imaginative, almost-chatty, sweet girl. I am so happy for Emily, and blessed to have such amazing teachers in our life. I know I couldn't raise her properly without their help, love, and support.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Random Silly Pics

Well I shared a pic of baby Nora, so I had to share one of Emily too! This was taken on September 27, 2007. She was almost four months old. Still prefered nothing but a diaper back then too!

 
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Momma got a new job...

Even though I've been teaching for the past three years, for the most part I think of myself as a stay-at-home mom. I've tried to do my teaching duties (grading, writing lectures, more grading) when the kids are at school or when they're in bed. I've tried, but in that I've failed. I've been more of a work-at-home mom, and quite honestly, I don't think its working out for the girls.

This is a big problem, or rather, a big conflict of interest. I like what I do, and its always been important to me to make sure my lectures are polished. That takes time, a lot of time, and slowly but surely I've been finding more and more of that time during the day when I'm supposed to be taking care of the girls. Instead of spending time together, Nora and Emily have been amusing themselves in the playroom. While this isn't bad once in a while, it became all too often when I was teaching three classes. I hate the phrase, "Not now girls, I'm busy on the computer". Worse is the whiny, "I'm Workingggggg"

At the end of last semester, I realized I'd given up all of my time with the girls and I wasn't even happy with the online course I'd developed. Something had to change. The writing was really on the wall when, as the spring semester approached, most of my classes were empty. Why I was surprised at this foreseeable development is still a mystery to me; my spring enrollments are always low. That is what I get for teaching at weird, off the wall times (evenings and weekends). However, its that or not teach at all. The pay is so measly for what I do, and there's no guaranteeing a class will run, so finding suitable daycare options for the girls is impossible. Its not uncommon for me to have less than 48 hours notice if I am working or not; how can anyone line up quality care for their kids in 48 hours? And certainly its not fair to find someone willing to watch the girls only to fire them before they begin. Not my style!

Let's review...when I teach my kids are neglected. When I teach, I never know when or for how long my gig will last, so I can't give the girls any kind of predictability, something Emily needs in order to keep talking. When I teach, I don't make a lot of money, but it helps. When I don't teach, my poor husband worries about paying the bills. Oh yeah, and if I'm teaching, its always during cheap airfare season so we never ever get to go anywhere. (Feel free to read that as a whine).

Seriously, is it any surprise I went looking for jobs that were not adjunct teaching??

Anyways, I'm pleased to announce I was hired by my alma mater, and I begin a sweet, part-time gig next month. I'll be working in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies 3 days a week. It pays enough for me to hire someone to watch Emily in the afternoons, and Nora will be able to go to school full time. I will interact with a lot of foreign students and staff, and will get a thorough education in the behind-the-scenes aspects of study abroad, something I've wanted to do for years. Best part? I can still teach one ART 100 class a semester, but if I don't teach, its no big deal. (And maybe we could actually go somewhere??)

This new job is a 2 year post. At the end of the 2 years, Emily will be in kindergarten, and I can decide at that point what will come next for me and our family. Will I pursue my academic dreams or become a hippie? Go back to school for an Ed.D or landscape design? Maybe Ryan and I will start a non-profit charity. Maybe we'll run off to Italy...I hear they're our greatest European ally at the moment. We could teach English while the girls learn italiano. Or stay put, because I like being an office assistant! Who knows where this journey will take us. Its always exciting to start something new.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Random Silly Pics

I was going through Picassa the other day and found a bunch of old photos of Nora from before I started this blog. I thought I'd start sharing them. Looking back really warms my heart!


This one isn't silly so much as just plain cute. I took this a few weeks prior to starting grad school. She was so pretty, and I loved posing her. Actually, looking back at this does make me laugh. I had forgotten how her hair used to stand straight up! I feared she'd have to have a crew cut. How wrong I was, she did inherit her Aunt Stephanie's gorgeous locks after all. This was taken in August of 2005.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BLIZZARD!!!!


It was billed as the storm of the century. I don't watch network news yet still managed to hear the buzz. A major snowstorm was set to hit 33 states and bring the nation to a halt. Forecasters were calling for up to 20 inches of snow where we live, and 24 inches in Chicago. The hype was palpable. Snowpocalypse 2011 was due at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 1st.

While I usually ignore such warnings because they're more hype than help, something told me to listen this time. I told the girls we were in for major weather, and to expect that we'd be stuck in the house for a day or more. The day before the blizzard the we went to store to stock up on PB&J, baked beans, and other non-perishable snacks. We had plenty of water and plenty of gas. I dug out the sleeping bags in case it got chilly, and asked Ryan to bring in 20 logs in case we lost power due to ice and high winds. And then we waited (and laughed heartily at all of the funny stuff people were saying... I saw reports of Yeti sightings!)

The snow started falling at 8:15 Tuesday morning. I sat alone in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, watching the flakes drift here and there. It was really beautiful, and it started piling up early on. At noon our city declared a state of emergency, and asked everyone to get off of the roads asap. Emily got home from school ok, and we went to pick up Nora. By 2:00, the blizzard had started. Driving was pretty scary, considering the wind was whipping the snow, which was coming down in considerable quantity and was very powdery in consistency. It was the worst visibility I had seen (or hadn't seen???) in town. Since we were out and about, we picked up Ryan as well, who was asked to leave work by 3pm.

It snowed, but life went on. Nora played My Little Pony. Emily demanded to play Angry Birds. Dinner was normal. The girls and I wore footie jammies and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in honor of the bizzaro weather. Emily went to bed at the regular time, and Nora and I enjoyed a roaring fire. By 9:00, Nora snuggled close to me because the wind was whipping not only around, but through, the house. The drafts were especially drafty, and snow managed to get onto the enclosed front porch. Nora and I turned out the lights and watched the snow. Maybe it would be more accurate to say we watched the wind. It was amazing...we heard the rumble of the wind as it approached, and when it reached a roar you could see the wind in the road. Snow came blowing and swirling, there were eddies and mini tornadoes flying by the house. Then the sound would lessen, and the snow would fall rather than blow, until the next gust. It reminded me of watching the waves come ashore. Nora felt like Dorothy.

Ryan woke me up the next morning and told me to look outside. HOLY MOLY!!!! We got 18.7 inches of snow. It was everywhere. I've never seen so much snow in all my life. The look on Nora's face when we opened the back door to a mountain of snow was priceless. SNOW DAY!!! Weeee!!!!

The dog and I were out at 8:45 am. She was a little confused, since she usually doesn't go in the front yard, but we couldn't get to the back. The snow made it on our covered stoop; the dog didn't know where the stairs were! We tromped through the snow laughing (and barking). Lacey kept getting stuck; I couldn't believe it was up to my knees. Some of the drifts were as high as my shoulders. I plodded a path to the backyard so Nora could come outside and play. As soon as I had snapped some pictures, I went back inside to fetch her. We played for about 30 minutes. She made snow angels, and pretended that the drifts were ocean waves that she "surfed", although it appeared she spent more time paddling than standing. Once we were too cold to play longer, we went inside.

However, the sun came out around noon, and it was so lovely I couldn't bear to stay in the house. Ryan had gone out to shovel the drive, and when I checked on him, I found him helping our neighbor Alex. We share a driveway, and due to the way the wind was blowing, the drifts had piled on her side, leaving our side bare in areas. I got a shovel and pitched in, because all together we had 3 cars to dig out. It was fun, helping out. We could hear other neighbors shoveling and laughing and snow-blowing too. By this time, the whole neighborhood had come alive. Nothing like a good natural disaster to bring people together.

Once the drive was cleared, I took both girls out to play. Emily was overwhelmed by the snow, because in places the drifts were higher than she was. Poor little girl got stuck more than once, but she had a good time. Miles joined in, and we spent another 60 minutes outside. Nora and Miles made a serious of moats and castles and islands. They had mapped out the backyard quite extensively before a pretend earthquake came and destroyed their village. Even prior to the "earthquake", I can say I was, for sure, absolutely exhausted by 3pm. It was an incredible 24 hours.

PS Thursday was a snow day too!! Weeeee!!!!

Snowpocalypse 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January 2011 in Pictures

The month of January came and went in the blink of an eye. With the holidays over, things returned to as normal as they can be around here. The girls are back to school and enjoying it immensely, Nora's first adult tooth popped through the gum behind the baby tooth, and I found out I would return to teaching. The biggest change has been that we've taken Emily out of Montessori on Fridays, since I am at home all day long. That was a sad decision, but financially necessary. Since there aren't any real stories to write about, I'll include a few snippets below.


We spent New Year's with my best friend Lisa, her hubby Bob, and their children Shane and Sarah. Nora managed to stay up till midnight, and here we are! Ryan and I were beyond exhausted, but Nora continued to jump up and down till about 12:30.




The girls and their Dad had a dance party one evening after Ryan got home from work...too much fun!


Emily and her iPod!!! She managed to sneak it into bed, and we didn't hear her playing Bejeweled until 10pm! You can see also that (1) she still prefers sleeping in a nest rather than in a neat and tidy bed and (2) she has the lantern in bed with her as well, presumably to help her see as she continues to sneak around hours after bedtime!!!




During the month of January, Nora and her classmates did their first research project. Nora was given the task of learning about the Emperor Penguin, and then making a poster to share with the preschoolers at the Montessori. The funniest part of the entire experience, for me, was when we watched March of the Penguins. There is, at the beginning, a mating scene, but its tastefully done. As we were sitting there and I was thinking, "OH NO!!! I should have previewed this before showing it!!!", Nora said, "Look Mom! They're dancing!" PHEW!!! After the movie we made the poster. Nora did most of the work, although I made the big "P" with glitter. The kit of letters I purchased only had one "P", which isn't enough when you're doing a project on emPeror Penguins.