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 Those stressful days of praying she stays in the wagon have been replaced by days of good behavior, increased language skills, exploring, and exercise.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


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.