Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Garden

This is one of my favorite things about Hyde Park (Well, Woodlawn, technically.) It's our plot in the Community Garden on 61st Street.
This year we're growing lots of herbs, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and strawberries.

Potty Boot Camp

Is there such a thing as Potty Boot Camp? You know, a place where you drop your toddler off in diapers and they come back a week later wearing underwear, able (and willing) to use the potty? Up until now, I've never wanted to spend even a night away from Nourit, but at this point, I can make the sacrifice. I'll let her go for a week - as long as someone else will potty train her.

I can't say for sure how long we've been "training" Nourit. I wouldn't say we'd even begun, except we've had the potty chair for almost a year now, and we've watched at least 1,000 repetitions of 'Go Potty Go.' She's run the gamut from screaming and crying when we suggest sitting on the potty, to a few weeks of happily pooping daily on her little green seat with the cute frog on it. (And at this point, everyone who is not the parent of a toddler is allowed to stop reading, because it only gets worse from here.)

Now we're back to the screaming. And I would happily keep her in diapers until she turns 4. Let's face it, it's way easier on us. But she's started praying to the Poop God again, and she's started giving her dragon suppositories (yes, she can pronounce the word very clearly,) so I think the only option to combat her self-imposed constipation is to get her used to sitting on the potty regularly, which I think is referred to as potty hell. Sorry, potty training.

I really don't know why she's constipated at all, except she's been a weird pooper her entire life. When she was 5 or 6 months old, she went for 3 weeks at a time without pooping. It eventually came out, and she never seemed uncomfortable, so the doctor wasn't concerned. Then, as she got older, she'd spend days dropping to her knees, thrusting her head back, and pressing her hands together in a prayer-like position. Finally, she'd poop, and it would stop for a day or so, before she resumed her unique regimen. Still, though, she never seemed like she was in any kind of pain. And goodness knows, her diet consists of more fiber and dried fruit than, well, than any other person or animal I know.

Then, a few months ago, it really seemed like it was difficult for her, and at that point, I brought up the issue with the doctor again. He suggested mineral oil, and it was like magic! She would poop every day, on her potty, no less, and it seemed like it would finally be possible to potty train her without hysterics. But the mineral oil lost it's charm and she's refusing to sit on the cute little green seat, and so we've introduced her (and dragon) to the words 'suppository' and 'underwear.'

I have no idea if it will work, but at this point, what else is there? I've cut cow's milk out of her diet, and put her in underwear while we're at home. (Pull-ups are just a marketing scam, and training pants are just diapers without leak protection.) I ask a billion times a day, "Would you like to sit on the potty?" and get screams of "Noooooo! Can't want to!", followed by "Hey! I pee'd on the floor!" (or the puzzle, or the couch...) In those moments, I'm possessed by the desire to shame or ridicule her into sitting on the potty, but all the books say I shouldn't do that. (Does going to the pantry to get myself a cookie after I peed, and very obviously not giving her one since she didn't, count as shame?)

Anyway, there have been alot of things about having a child that I wasn't sure how I'd handle. But surprisingly, I've regularly maintained a calm demeanor with the get-my-child-into-a-snowsuit-boots-hat-scarf-mittens-then-out-the-door routine, and escaped unscathed from putting Nourit on a sleep schedule at 12 months, as well as weaning her at 16 months. (Well, she did that on her own. One day, she just looked at me and laughed when I offered to nurse her like usual. And that was the end of that.)

But the whole potty training thing is like going into medieval battle for me. And as Karen Carpenter so sweetly put it, "We've only just begun."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting Discipline

Okay, (deep breath) I think I'm ready to commit to this. Now that Avi is 6 months old, and we're on a semi-routine, it's time for my body, mind and soul to emerge from this fog. It's the kind of fog where I think in circles, and find myself breathing shallowly while my mind checks out, only to come back and realize how aimless and detached I'm feeling these days. I know that I need to give myself a break - after all, how razor-sharp can my thoughts be with two children under the age of 2? By the same token, I don't want to wait until they are in college to have a vital and maturing inner life. This is precisely the time I need to call on vast resources of patience, humility and peace - as a mother and a wife - and these things aren't piled up in excess around here. For me, they will take a commitment to my body and to God, (not necessarily in that order.) I do feel, though, that the physical really does impact the spiritual. If I practice yoga (which I do mainly for its physical stretching and strengthening properties, and not so much for meditation), I relieve physical stress, and have a quieter mind. This helps me to subsequently focus my mind on prayer, with less "wandering." If I overindulge in food, especially sugar, caffeine or alcohol, I also feel a fuzziness to my thoughts, like my body is working too hard to process what I've put in, and cannot rest. Not very scientifically put, I know, but there it is. For me, a discipline of time is also necessary. There are so many things I want to do, and only enough to do half of one of those things. If I'm constantly checking email each time I walk past the computer, or running to the cupboard to fill my tummy every hour, the time adds up, sprouts wings, and flies out the window.

Foremost, though, is my need for a disciplined prayer and study life. Yes, I pray unceasingly - while I'm walking around trying to get Avi to sleep; while I'm walking to work; while I'm washing the dishes - (the ones that don't go in the dishwasher); while I'm doing a million other things. I've been craving - (and thanking God for this craving to motivate me to action) - a quiet mind, one that's able to listen and hear what God says to me each day, one that's able to be in the moment (yeah, yeah, Mom - the power of NOW), and not be concerned with planning the future so there won't be any bumps or surprises...or moments for God's grace to be exhibited. I've been craving the time to get to know my Saviour, to really comprehend why I've chosen this path, and to live unequivocally.

So here goes - a public (for all two of you reading this blog) commitment to: a) getting up early each morning to spend time in solitude and prayer, b) practicing yoga regularly throughout the week, and c) being mindful of what, when and how I eat. Feel free to hold me accountable over the next few months. I'm looking forward to blogging again about the challenges and clarity that will come with this commitment to a more disciplined existence.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Got Discipline?

So, I was going to blog about discipline - the need for it in my life, not the "spare the rod, spoil my child" discipline. But then I started looking at Facebook and the NYTimes, forgot what I was about to do, and went to grab another handful of Trader Joe's cat cookies to avoid cleaning up the dinner dishes. That's when I remembered about the discipline thing. Maybe I'll write about that later...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Got Teeth?

Yesterday afternoon, we discovered Avi's first two teeth! So long, gummy, toothless grin - Hello, chewing gum...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fais Dodo

The night before last, Nourit had to go to sleep sans Dodo. The only other time that happened was when she had hidden him in one of her many hiding places, and I could not find him anywhere. She eventually screamed and cried herself to sleep, but as a rule, Dodo is her constant companion in the house, evidenced by the hourly searches for Dodo on the days we stay in. Every once in awhile he'll escape into the outside world with her, and she gets a funny little smile on her face and says, "Dodo's outside!" Normally, though, Dodo stays home and waits for her.

Dodo was given to Nourit before she was even born by a dear friend who also gave us Nourit's favorite blanket, and an assortment of unique hats and clothes. Everything was handmade by her daughter and I've never really seen it replicated, even on her website Dodo, who it seems, comes from the Noni family, was christened by someone in our family - my mom, I think. (She thought it looked like a Dodo bird, and the name sort of stuck.) It fits, though, because Nourit will not fais dodo without Dodo.

Until the night before last. Dodo mysteriously ended up in the tub with Nourit and had to spend the night hanging upside down to dry.

The next day was laundry day, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to really get Dodo clean. (We, Grandma, Auntie Laura and Mama, had made a valiant attempt to put Dodo in the washer two weeks ago, but Nourit wouldn't release him.) When it was time for bed, we pulled a softer, and much pinker Dodo out of the laundry bag. His new eye had even stayed on through the ordeal! (Dodo recently had surgery to replace a missing eye. A pink flower button was chosen to fill in the spot where Dodo's original right eye had been. Surprisingly, the original never turned up, even after we took apart Nourit's crib and cleaned her floor. But soon after we traded in our old green Saturn for a brand new car last month, Nourit started proclaiming that Dodo's eye went away with the old car. It would be a likely story if he hadn't actually lost his eye months previous.)

Sweet dreams, Nourit and Dodo!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's a sign! and $360 Worth of Baby Vitamins

She did it! Avi exhibited, very clearly, her first sign - MILK!

The sign for "milk" is made by forming the right hand into the letter "s."

Open and close your hand, alternating between the letters "c" and "s." (Copied from

I've been signing milk for a couple months now, and Mike said he saw her do it yesterday, but I thought it was probably just a clenched fist reflex from being upset. But tonight, at the dinner table, she'd been fussing for awhile, and from her perch in her daddy's arms, she looked directly at me with red-rimmed eyes and squeezed her right hand like she was milking a cow. So of course, I gave her what she asked for!


The FedEx man brought me three boxes today full of Enfamil baby vitamins. $360 worth, to be exact. I think it was a big mixup at the company. See, I was supposed to receive 3 replacement bottles of vitamins, not
3 cases containing a dozen bottles each. And at $10 a bottle, that's a pretty big mistake.

Over the past 2 years, I've been buying the vitamins that the doctor had prescribed for Nourit, with the fruity flavor she loves. But for some reason, the last three bottles were flatly refused, by both my toddler and my infant. I figured out why when I tasted them myself. Horrid stuff. So I contacted Enfamil, and had a wonderful experience with them. The customer service woman sent me a prepaid envelope to send them to the lab and promised to replace them. When the new bottles came in the mail, we all had the same reaction - yuck! I finally figured out that it was my mistake, and that the formula hadn't changed at all. I had just begun buying the vitamins with the iron supplement. How any child would ever accept that in their mouths is beyond me. It's wretched. Anyway, it was my expensive mistake, but I sent the vitamins back with a handwritten note asking if they could replace them with the non-iron vitamins. I think 36 bottles is more than sufficient!

Friday, July 18, 2008

When "time-out" Just Doesn't Cut It

Just as I was thinking about what fun things I would document about our trip downtown, and how I managed to get everyone home happy and in one piece, I catch Nourit hitting Avi on the head (repeatedly) with a hard object (a pitch pipe, to be exact. The one she had been playing a few minutes earlier when I had smiled at her adoringly.) I am consumed with rage at anyone who hurts my baby, and unfortunately, the only one who does try to hurt her on a semi-regular basis is her big sister, my firstborn. So, overwhelmed with this anger, I firmly pick Nourit up and put her in the corner - her usual time-out place. I pick up my crying infant and console her as I calm myself and try to decide what to do next. A simple time-out just seems weak and ineffectual at the moment, and I contemplate spanking. But Mike and I have agreed not to spank, and besides, it just doesn't make sense to hit someone to teach them not to hit. Duh. So, I march Big Sister down to her bedroom for an extended time-out, and tell her I'm very angry and that she will not play with any toys tonight. Again, I go into the next room to look at the purple welts starting on Avi's forehead and I just want to cry. It's my fault for staying out all day and skipping Nourit's nap. It's my fault for letting her eat snacks all day instead of insisting on full, regular meals. It's my fault for having another baby when she just probably would have been happier being an only child. Should I get a time-out for that?

I go back into Nourit's room and tell her to come and clean up her toys (which she does without any hesitation.) Next, I give her a bath without any toys and again, she's acquiescent. She even remains put while I give Avi a bath. At this point, my anger is fading, and now I'm just sad. Sad that Nourit feels like our love for her is threatened by this not-so-new-anymore baby, and sad that I can't just pour all my attention out on Nourit like I used to, and sad that Avi has just taken a beating by her older sister. (I FULLY remember the time my big sister laid one on me. I guess the good thing is that we are close now, despite our childhood sibling rivalry.)

Nourit was especially good for me through dinner (which she barely ate because of an overload of snacks all day) and didn't fight me to go to bed (2.5 hours ahead of schedule.) I hoped I had fully impressed on her little 2 year old mind that hurting her sister was a dangerous thing to do, but I imagine it will happen many more times throughout their childhood. That doesn't make me feel better, but how else do I lovingly discipline my child for these crimes? (I would love some advice here!) I realize more and more that we are not all born as sensitive and loving creatures. We are born selfish and needy and must learn how to react lovingly, regardless of how we feel inside. I guess I always thought the selfishness was learned, but I've changed my mind about that since having Nourit. (Perhaps this is all written up by the developmental psychologists that I work for.) She is my wonderful little girl, and it breaks my heart to know she's human, just like me.

So, I'm not sure what will stick in Nourit's memory today: the choo-choo train ride downtown, the happy woman with a guitar singing songs, having fun splashing in Crown Fountain, the dead deer hanging upside down in the portrait at the Art Institute (she thought that was hilarious,) or my anger and disappointment with her for not embracing the little sister we brought home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ancient Baby

It's so bizarre - so many times I look intently into Avi's face and she looks back at me like someone much older and more prescient than a 5 month old. She smiles more than any baby I know (even though she can be really fussy if not being held a certain way all the time!) But sometimes I'm convinced that she's got an ancient's mind trapped inside an infant's body.

Grandpa's visit and Oh, no, she's turning into her mother!

I really miss my hubby, but I realized that I haven't spent one day without family the entire time he's been in France. The girls have had such valuable time with their grandparents and auntie, and it's made the time go quickly. The most recent visit was from Grandpa Neild and when Nourit said to me last night, "Grandpa's not sad. He's a nice man," I knew that an important bond had been forged. We don't see my dad very often, and when we do, it's usually just over a quick lunch with no time for Nourit to get to know him. She sees pictures of him on our screensaver each day, and we talk about him, but when the time comes to visit, she's shy. So when he surprised me by promising to come visit while Mike was away, I was looking forward to the extended time with him, both for me and for the girls.

On Monday he arrived and we just hung out around the house. Nourit was treated to extended storytime with Grandpa (he's a great book reader) and Avi hung out with him while I picked up around the house after our trip. Tuesday morning, we walked to the backstory cafe and had their wonderful slowdrip coffee and chatted while Nourit played with a toy kitchen. We watered the garden and walked back to get home in time for the babysitter. However, when she called and canceled sick two hours before I had to go to work, my dad immediately volunteered to babysit. When I returned from work hours later, he didn't look overwhelmed at all, and said Nourit was a stellar kid for him. He didn't even seem put off by Avi's usual bouts of crying. It must not have been so bad because he volunteered to do it again today if the sitter couldn't make it.

Although the sitter apologized profusely for canceling, I couldn't help but think that God had planned my dad's trip so he could be there for me and for the girls, and give us all a couple of days together to remember. I'm glad she called in sick.


My 2.5 year old daughter is turning into her mother - already! A few months ago, I noticed she would say "Thank you so mu-uch!" Boy, did I shudder when I heard myself on the phone after that and realized where she got that from. She was also reported to have said "What's up with that?" (Words my husband has never uttered.) This week, my dramatic little girl started with a big intake of breath, huge eyes, and saying "NO!" in a funny imitation of - yep, you guessed it - her mother. So now I know that a) she picks up on everything we say and b) she doesn't take us seriously.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Going Home Part 4: Wrapping it up

We're back in Chicago, and already I hear people walking down the street yelling their conversations within a foot of each other. I'm home, but I miss "home," too. My sister is back on a plane to NY, and my mom is probably busy with her therapeutic act of picking up after all of us. (I told her I left a huge pile of therapy up in Matt's old room in the form of all my old toys that Nourit dug out.)

We did all the usual things we do when we get together at mom's- the Turkey Farm, South Haven, the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, Target and Sam's Club. We ate too much ice cream, and complained we didn't walk enough. Some things never change, no matter how much you promise yourself you won't get sucked into that conversation again. (Or start it!)

As a mom, I want to give my daughters a stimulating but holistic life experience, and I just hope and pray they learn to love to be in nature as much (or more) than I do. Everything just gets put into perspective when you are at the beach with the horizon stretching out to forever and the waves continuously crashing. (Nourit loved going in the water with me, waves and all.) Family also has a way of doing that, too. It is a blessing to have parents and siblings who love my children, who will hold Avi nonstop for two weeks straight, and who teach Nourit the 'happy' songs she loves so much.

Today, on our way home, we stopped at my childhood friend Amy's house and caught up after two years. Earlier in the week, we had stopped at her parent's farm (where I spent countless hours as a child) and introduced Nourit and Avi to the horses and chickens. This afternoon, Nourit took her first horseback ride (with me whiteknuckled at the edge of the corral the entire time!) on Dandy, the 28 year old horse that Amy and I used to ride. She had no fear, and wanted to "do it again!" She also met her first kitten, and watched the mama cat pick it up by it's neck to move it to safety.

I don't know how these experiences will be stored in her memory, but I hope we continue to build on them, finding peace and sanity at a slower pace with family and old friends.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Going Home Part 3: Raspberries for Nourit

Although we didn't have to worry about meeting any mama bears on our hunt for wild raspberries, we did have to battle mosquitoes, thorns, and really high grasses to find the tastiest berries around (in my opinion, at least!) With Avi comfortably asleep in the Moby wrap, we three set out into the field to find wild black raspberries. I thought she would want to turn right around the minute we left the mown path, but after her first taste, nothing would stop her from finding more berries. She ate anything and everything she could get her hands on, while I picked from the higher bushes and put those berries into a container to bring back for Grandma. Nourit didn't complain once about the prickles or the dense underbrush - she just wanted more raspberries. And when we found the path to return to the house, she asked for "just one more" raspberry from my bowl - about 20 times! Grandma was lucky there were any left!

Today, long after the berries have been digested, the results of our little adventure are apparent. Big, puffy red bites cover our arms and legs, red scratches adorn our arms, and Nourit's left knee and ankle are swollen to twice their normal size. She says it doesn't hurt, and the minute we left to go on our walk today, she started asking for more raspberries.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Going Home Part 2: Existential Conversations with Nourit

One of my favorite things to do when I'm home is to take walks down I Drive South, past the end of our property where my sister and I used to plan escape routes from potential kidnappers, past old Mr. Damon's home, past old Mr. Buck's home, and back again. Yesterday I took the girls in the stroller and we took that walk together, eating wild raspberries from alongside the road and looking for deer. Tonight after dinner we took the same walk, Nourit chattering and singing in the back, Avi snoozing in front. About 3/4 of the way home, the conversation turned to holy matters when I overheard Nourit say,

"I'm gonna take a time out. I hit God."

"Why are you going to take a time out?" I asked, not really sure I had heard her correctly. "Who did you hit?"

"I hit God."she said.

"Oh," I responded, " Did you say you were sorry?"

"No." Long pause. "Where is God?"

"He's everywhere." I told her, looking around at the beautiful sky and trees we were walking through. "He's in the sky, and the trees, and all around us. He's in Heaven and he's right here with us now. You can't see him because he's invisible, but he's always here, and you can always talk to him."

She didn't seem convinced, but decided that God was hungry. We were walking by one of the many trucks parked on front lawns that you see around here and she said, "God is going to eat that truck."

Going Home Part 1: 10920 I Drive South

Even though I moved out officially when I was 18 (16 years ago), I still think of my childhood house as "home." And really, nothing much has changed cosmetically - just a few more knickknacks on the shelves. Even my parents' wedding portrait is still up. I love this house and the land around it. It is one of the most peaceful places on earth, and I always feel like I've witnessed something special when I see a deer or the sky full of stars. (I'm lucky if I see one star in Chicago, and in general, I'm never out past dark for my own safety.)

There are so many complicated feelings and memories tied up in this house. Whenever we visit, I spend hours re-imagining the house; how we could change it to be more airy and comfortable, what we could do with the land and gardening. I have built my mom her own cottage across the driveway, and purchased the land across the street a few times in my head already. This would all help to bring back life to this house, rejuvenate it, and redeem it from the memories of difficult teenage years, bad decisions, divorce, and life disappointments.

But for now, I just come with all our laundry and babies, and pass the time trying to drink in the fresh air, and find peace from the craziness of our life at school and work in Chicago.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Block Party

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary and my husband is far away in France, so I accepted my friend's invitation to her block party. She lives up near O'Hare airport, and although she makes the trek to Hyde Park every day during the week for work, to me it's like driving to another country to go all the way up there. I really hate driving. But I knew once we got there, I'd enjoy spending the day with my friend and her family, and I was right. She has the kind of family that just feels like your own after you've spent a few hours together, and I know a good part of that is because of our shared faith and values.

Every year, the people on their block remove their cars, block the street with police barricades, and pull their kitchen tables out to the street. They set up snow cone machines and bean bag tosses and a raffle. They even rented those blow up castles that you can jump in. Later in the day, they had a dj and loud music from the 80's, and who knows what happened after the sun went down. (We had to leave before Nourit imploded...around 6:30.) Growing up in the country, and then spending the rest of my life in city apartments, I've never witnessed this complete, unabashed attempt at neighborly-ness in quite the same way.

Although I didn't get to know my friend's neighbors, I loved spending the day outside with my friend, losing track of my 2.5 year old in the sea of little kids playing, and seeing how independent she's become. Her constant refrain of "I'm gonna do it ALL BY MYSELF" gets a little trying sometimes, but I really love watching her enjoy herself without me from time to time. When we arrived, she immediately attached herself to 3 year old Jacob and played for hours without doing anything out of jealousy or possessiveness. When we walked down to the castle, she scrambled right in with all the bigger kids without even a look back at me. When I did catch her eye, she beamed and said, "This is fun!" I even went in to jump with her, and while she enjoyed having me there for a few minutes, she finally ordered me out of her domain with a "You go out now, mama!"

Today was a day for firsts - her first popsicle, her first ice-cream cone (she happily ate all the ice-cream off the top and then told me we had to take the rest home in it's cup holder. So I showed her how to take a bite out of it, and now she'll know what to do with ice-cream cones for the rest of her life. Can't say I didn't teach her anything!)

She was asleep by the time we returned home, slack faced and grimy, and even her efforts to do things "all by herself" were muted. As I put her to bed, she told me she loved me, Daddy, and Baby Avi. And now I imagine she is having sugar-induced dreams about jumping in castles, riding bicycles and being surrounded with people who love her.


I just noticed Avi is quiet. Can she really be asleep by herself in her crib???

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Things I Love about Hyde Park

Now that we've lived in Hyde Park for 5 years, it's really beginning to grow on me. I guess it took awhile because I was so in love with Boston - from the minute we moved there. We only lived there for two short years, but my feelings about it were confirmed when we went back to visit last summer. I digress. Back to Hyde Park, Chicago. I'm finally realizing how much I like our life here, and I think it has so much to do with having kids and being part of a community. The following are the things that I love (or like alot) about Hyde Park:

-Our community garden on 61st Street
-The new market on 61st Street
-The new backstory cafe at the Experimental Station
-Istria coffee shop under the traintracks on 57th
-Marsha's Music Together at Joan's Studio
-The nun's croissants and tarts at Hyde Park Produce
-Hyde Park Produce
-57th Street Bookstore and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore
-Hyde Park Alliance Church
-Our neighbors
-Our backyard
-The friendly people in our housing office
-My walk to work through the winter garden on the Midway right off of 59th street
-The Japanese pond in the middle of campus with the turtles and big orange fish
-Bixler Playlot and the great parents I've met there
-The Family Resource Center
-The Music Teachers of Hyde Park

I'm sure more things will occur to me, and I'll have to add to my list. So many of these things became important to me only after having children. So many center around the connection I feel to this community. And I suppose that connection has helped me through the transition to being a parent during the times I've needed it most.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Blank slate - now what?

Ever since I learned what a blog was, (not so long ago!), I've been tempted to try it. Sometimes I walk home from work, or from the playlot, or the garden, and have a monologue running through my head. I want to write it all down, capture the moment, but then I get home and something else comes up. Mostly, I want to capture the moments with my kids and my family - the ones that just amaze me, and the ones that make me laugh. At the same time, though, I think - is this egocentric? So many other people say the same thing more elegantly. Does anyone else really want to hear the monologue in my head? Or the day-to-dayness that might not be so amazing to anyone else? Maybe not. Maybe it will just be my outlet, diary, record-of-my-family-life. We'll see where it goes...