imagesAt her annual ophthalmological checkup today, the eye doctor confirmed what I had suspected, that Zoe has convergence insufficiency. Actually I didn’t know that particular phenomenon was the problem, but I knew something was wrong. Zoe loves books and reads at a high level, but in recent months I had noticed her gravitating back to picture books instead of reading chapter books when given the opportunity. And I had observed that after the 20 minutes of required homework reading Zoe would often claim she was exhausted or had a headache. I knew something wasn’t right.

So I made a two-hour appointment (not covered by insurance and not cheap) with a developmental optometrist after hearing about a girl who sounded a lot like Zoe who was a capable but reluctant reader because of a previously undiagnosed vision problem. Then I filled out an extensive inventory of Zoe’s health and academic history and asked her teacher to complete another form.

Meanwhile Zoe became obsessed with a series of books called Warriors, about tribes of cats who fight each other (I don’t get it at all, but that’s another story). She devoured the first book and I thought maybe her reading reluctance was a passing phase. Her teacher filled out the form and said she didn’t notice anything amiss about Zoe’s work in class or behavior while reading. So I cancelled the appointment. And I figured that since we had her checkup scheduled for today, if there was anything wrong, the doctor would find it.

And she did. Apparently this problem is quite common and just as treatable. Surprisingly, the convergence insufficiency is hereditary, but Zoe didn’t get it from Randy, who has a history of strabismus, but from me. The doctor said many people are walking around with it but have never had any symptoms or problems. She did a quick check and said I definitely have it and could not blame Randy this time.

The cure for Zoe’s convergence insufficiency is eye exercises, which she can do with the help of a computer program, and reading glasses. I was thrilled to hear this seemingly simple remedy. Zoe was not. Our conversation on the way out of the doctor’s office went like this.

Zoe: “I am not happy about this. I do not want glasses. I never thought I would have to get glasses. I’ll look different.”

Me: “I’m sorry you’re not happy. You will look great with glasses. We’ll pick out some really cool ones. And I’m surprised you never thought you would have to get glasses because I’ve had glasses since I was in fourth grade and Daddy used to have to wear glasses so it was pretty inevitable that you would end up with glasses at some point. Besides, glasses are cool. Remember in Heidi Heckelbeck where Heidi’s friend got glasses and she was jealous because her friend looked so great, and she pretended to have bad vision so she could get her own glasses?”

Zoe: “I’m not the same as Heidi Heckelbeck. First of all, I’m not a witch.” [Heidi Heckelbeck is a witch, of the friendly Harry Potter and Hermione Granger variety]

Me: “That is true, you are not a witch.”

Zoe: “I do not want glasses.”

We went to the drugstore because the eye doctor had advised us to get a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses to see if they helped Zoe before investing in a pair of custom prescription glasses.

As soon as we found the glasses rack in the drugstore, Zoe was excited, drawn toward the animal print cases and sparkly frames. I found a pair with the right magnification and handed them to her to try on.

Zoe: “Wow! I can see so much better!” She tried on at least a dozen pairs and we took pictures. She got even more excited when she saw another rack of options that also included a shelf of colorful cases, which were free with a purchase of reading glasses. She started picking out a case to match the pairs of glasses she was considering. I told her to find the right glasses first and then we could find a case.

Finally she settled on red frames with blue earpieces and some shiny blue dots on the front. They are too big for her face because they’re adult glasses, but they’re ok for a trial run. And she loves them. On the way out of the drugstore.

Zoe: “I love my glasses. They are so cool. I can’t wait to show everyone. My friends will be so surprised. Zeke won’t know what to think. I can’t wait to show Daddy. When we get the real glasses can I get a hard case? Can I buy a cloth to polish them with? Can I wear them in the car? These glasses are so cool.”

At home I asked Zoe to read a few pages of her Star Wars novel without the glasses and with them and tell me what was different. “The words were so big and so easy to read,” she said. Well there you go. We’ll see what happens this week, and when we get the eye exercise program. But convergence sufficiency seems promising. And this is a good reminder that as a parent you should always trust your gut. Even an articulate seven-year-old can’t tell you that her eye muscles aren’t working together and that reading makes her eyes tired. I can’t wait to see what opens up for her when all those interesting words become bigger and easier to read.

Another Friday night, another adventure at the laundromat, with the woman in the fur hat scrounging through the trash retrieving crumpled lottery tickets, the telenovelas blaring above the whirr of the washers and dryers, the little boy racing back and forth between the lollipop machine and his family.

Our clothes and sheets and cloth napkins that at this moment may not be that good for the environment are spinning in six 40-lb. capacity machines. The beauty of arriving at the laundromat at 10pm on a Friday is that you have the whole row of jumbo machines to yourself, and everything seems to have just been tidied.

The pollo place adjacent to the laundromat is still open, although you’re full of slow cooker shredded beef tacos which were an experiment and you thought at first a failed one but they turned out all right and your husband and even your daughter cleaned their plates and declared the tacos delicious.

Perhaps tonight when you get home you will go online and order a new washer and dryer, since the repairman declared your dryer unsalvageable after four visits to your house with two sets of replacement parts. The washer works fine but they are part of one unit so must both be replaced, yet another appliance inconvenience you never considered when you bought the condo a decade ago. It turns out there are only a handful of washer dryer models that will fit into your laundry closet. But at least you have a Home Depot credit card and the promise of six months of interest-free financing. There’s always that.

And you are thankful that your husband is home keeping the kids in bed so you don’t have to chase children here, just sit and watch the laundry spin. And you are thankful that it’s a new year and mechanical inconveniences are just that, and that you have a loving family and a roof over your head and you can plan summer vacations and really you are surrounded by everything you could want. Even though washer 78 is making a terrible racket right now, it’s probably just your son’s overalls, which are very cute if somewhat impractical.

And hey, you found a quarter in washer 76 after you put that load in the dryer. Maybe it was your quarter to begin with, but either way it’s your lucky day.

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04277121_zi_blue_silverLast night around 6, when I was waiting for a friend to pick Zoe up for tae kwan do because I didn’t want to bring Zeke because he was coughing and his shoes were soaking wet because I let him stomp in a puddle when we were picking up Zoe from school and when we got home I discovered the dryer, which we just paid $400 to get repaired, was screeching mercilessly whenever I turned it on, I started feeling panicky. I was upstairs waiting by the window with Zoe to spot her ride when it arrived while downstairs Zeke had found a tray of Christmas treats Zoe had left out, and was stuffing chocolate covered peanuts in his mouth. When I ran downstairs to find him, there was a blend of saliva and chocolate seeping all over his face and clothes and his mouth was full of unchewed peanuts because he still doesn’t have that many teeth. He had also managed to open Zoe’s Finding Nemo DVD that she received for Hanukkah the night before and had somehow smeared it with chocolate as well. I wiped off his face and yanked off his shirt and fleece and went to put them in the bucket that we soak stained things in but discovered I had left it outside on the patio and it needed to be washed. And I couldn’t wash it because the sink was full of dirty dishes and bottle parts because even though Zeke will drink water from a cup he still refuses to drink milk unless it’s in a bottle.

I was short of breath, my chest was tight, I felt nauseated and dizzy. I have a friend just a few years older than me who had a heart attack last year. Someone else my age with whom I graduated from college died this year from one. And one of Randy’s grad school classmates just died from a possible heart attack. I was increasingly panicked. I looked up the signs of a heart attack and a panic attack and found several websites that said the symptoms are remarkably similar. How helpful!

When Randy got home he dropped me off at urgent care. I should have just gone to the ER. The people at urgent care did not demonstrate any sense of urgency whatsoever. The receptionists and the physician’s assistant all seemed bored and completely uninterested in their jobs or the fact that people they were helping might have some sort of problem. They acted like they had been hired for jobs at lackadaisical care. The PA greeted me with, “So are you having a heart attack?” I told her I didn’t know what was wrong, that’s why I was there. Later when she was doing the EKG and tears were streaming down my face she repeatedly told me to relax. Oh ok. Thanks for the advice. The doctor, who was at least friendly, said I was fine and there wasn’t really anything he could do for me, as my heart and lungs and blood pressure were normal. He asked if there was anything stressful going on in my life. I didn’t even know where to start. I offered, “I have two young kids…” He said something like, is that all? I didn’t go into the running my own business thing or the fact that it’s Christmas and Hanukkah and so many things are undone or the fact that tragedies local and global are constantly breaking my heart and assaulting my soul. He asked if I wanted anything to calm me down, like a Xanax. I declined, as I have attempted to use Xanax in the past and even in small doses it makes me feel drunk and unable to function. Calm, sure, but not really worth it.

So the good news is I didn’t have a heart attack. The list of things to do remains long and the stacks of stuff to deal with are piled high. I am struggling to resist the urge to climb back into bed with my book–The Gravity of Birds–which is so good. In the meantime, I will listen to John Denver and the Muppets and try to get back to work, and be thankful that my heart is good.

Santa_Claus_BMW_01This is excerpted from an actual conversation I had with Zoe the other night.

Z: “I just want you to know that two of my friends, K____ and M_____, don’t believe in Santa Claus. I’m not saying this is good or bad, I just thought you should know.”

Me: “Well the good thing about our country is that people can believe anything they want to believe as long as they don’t try to hurt other people with their beliefs or force them to believe something they don’t believe.”

Then Zoe mentioned a clarification of something on her Christmas list.

Me: “You’d better write Santa about that.”

Z: “It’s ok, he just heard me.”

Me: “Oh. OK.”

Z: “I know the Easter Bunny must be real because last year he brought me stick-on earrings and I know you would never buy those for me.”

Me: “Oh. OK.”

Z: “And I’m not sure about the Tooth Fairy because I don’t believe in fairies but I kind of think the Tooth Fairy is real. But I’m not sure.”

I explained to her what a contradiction was. I asked if the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real, who was putting the money under her pillow when she lost a tooth.

She pointed toward me.

I said, “Who? Is there someone in the kitchen who brings you money? Is the Tooth Fairy hiding in here?” She laughed.

And we left it at that.

courageboard

I lost count of how many times Zoe kicked her board during Saturday’s growth ceremony at Evolve All. At the end of the day, the number doesn’t matter.

Breaking the board is the final part of the test to graduate to the next belt. In this, Zoe was graduating from the yellow solid belt to the green solid belt, which requires you to break a much thicker board than all the previous belt levels. This is a big-time board.

To be fair, most of her yellow solid classmates found it challenging to break the board. Out of a dozen young martial artists, I think only one or two got it on the first kick, and most of them required several kicks. It was tough. And really breaking these boards is tough for many levels. The young woman who became a black belt during this ceremony, who is fierce and had to break five consecutive boards with different techniques got really stuck on the third board and had to kick it at least a few dozen times before she broke it. So this is not easy. Not impossible, but not easy.

For whatever reason, Zoe just wasn’t connecting with the board with enough force to break through. She had actually broken one of these thick boards before, during a board breaking focused summer camp at Evolve All. So she knew she was capable of it. Of course at summer camp, no pressure at all. She broke it there on the first try.

Back to Saturday, Zoe was the last yellow solid of her group to go. She kicked and kicked but no break. The instructors gave her extra chances and then had to move on to the next part of the ceremony. They took her into another room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. Master Emerson asked her if she thought she could break the board. She said yes. He asked us if we thought she could break the board. We said yes.

They gave her another opportunity back in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. She bowed. They took her into the next room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. They gave her yet another opportunity to break it in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. They said after the ceremony was over she could try again.

At some point during all this Zoe was sitting with me at the edge of the mat and a mom we didn’t know came up to her and said, “You are so courageous!”

The ceremony ended and most students and families filed out. A few dozen people stuck around to watch Zoe make her final attempt. Master Emerson explained to her that this was her last chance, and he couldn’t promote her to green solid if she didn’t break the board. She said she understood. Master Emerson and Mister Christian continued to coach, encouraging her to use her heel instead of her toes, and to fall forward toward the board as she kicked. They let her try different kicking techniques to see where she could draw the most power.

Finally, somehow, she gathered her strength and power and hit it with her heel and the board broke. At last.

Zoe told me later that she was embarrassed that I jumped up and down and screamed and picked her up and spun her around. She buried her head in my neck in a way she hasn’t done in years. She said later that she was crying. Something had to happen to all that tension and adrenaline. Everyone who had stayed was cheering wildly and taking pictures. Mister Christian tied her new belt around her waist and gave her a big hug.

Throughout the whole ceremony, Zoe never once said, “I can’t do it,” or “This is too hard,” or “I give up.” She didn’t cry. She just kept trying.

I took her to lunch after the ceremony and asked how she felt and she said, “This is a great day!” She was smiling and happy and in no way discouraged. I was kind of astonished.

We went roller skating that night and I had already decided that I was in no way going to push her. She started skating last year and was still pretty tentative about it the last time she put her skates on. I figured she’d pushed herself enough all day. But we got there and after a few minutes of skating with the walker on wheels that you can rent (an ingenious invention made of PVC pipe) she asked me to take the walker several feet away so she could skate to it. Over and over she would ask me to take it farther and farther away so she could practice skating without it. By the end of the night she was challenging me to races.

At the community center where the skating takes place we ran into a friend of a friend who we didn’t know but who had also been at the growth ceremony and who congratulated Zoe on her persistence. Then yesterday Randy and Zoe and Zeke were at a playground and another mom they didn’t know who evidently had been at the growth ceremony said, “Zoe! Did you break your board?” and congratulated her when she said yes. Zoe said she didn’t like being famous.

Last night when we were cleaning up, I asked Zoe to write the date on the pieces of board she had broken, so we would remember when it was from. We have martial arts board fragments in drawers and boxes all over the house. She wrote the date and Evolve All green solid break (actually it’s the yellow solid break to become a green solid, but that’s ok). She drew a little belt with the fortune cookie knot. Underneath she wrote COURAGE!

resilienceIt is hard to talk about your children’s failures, whether they are large or small. On social media you can brag about your kids, demonstrate their silliness or cuteness, and it’s definitely acceptable to discuss how they are making you crazy. But rarely do parents share when their kids mess up.

And in this era of what seems to me like excessive parenting, which I’m sure I’m guilty of it sometimes, it seems parents are reluctant to allow their kids to mess up. No one wants to see their kid fail, so it’s easy to try to swoop in and remove obstacles and provide extra support and do whatever you can to ensure your kid succeeds. Certainly as parents it’s our job to help our kids succeed as much as we can, but I realize that is not the same as not letting them fail. There is a subtle but importance distinction.

Yesterday Zoe took a test in her martial arts class to determine if she would be able to move up to the next belt level. She has been working toward this moment for about six months. She has learned upper body, core, and lower body exercises. She has mastered hand techniques, kicking techniques, and her martial arts form (a rapid sequence of kicks, punches, and blocks). And she has contemplated what virtue she could most improve upon and why.

This level of testing is the hardest she has encountered in her two years of practicing martial arts, because it is the first level of elements in the advanced class–the solid belts. She has struggled occasionally with techniques over the past two years, but this time around, the techniques have really been tough. But she is motivated and she has practiced and practiced and practiced at home, and she’s figured it out. Her instructors are kind and patient and encouraging and have provided constant support, often staying after class at her request to help her hone her techniques. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t experienced many small failures. The steps toward getting each new belt are obtaining a stripe on your belt that indicates your mastery of a particular technique. Students typically test for their stripes when the instructor or the student thinks they are ready, but they sometimes fail. Maybe even often. Maybe other students seldom fail, but Zoe doesn’t usually get her stripe on the first try. Sometimes it takes two or three. The instructors are very demanding. If your moves are not sharp and powerful, or your toes aren’t pointed, or you’re going too fast and lack precision, you don’t pass. They want to make sure you get it right. They always provide constructive critiques and generous encouragement to the students who have failed.

Usually when she gets to the stage of the belt test, which is a big deal, she’s got it all covered. Yesterday afternoon she was exceptionally nervous. She said she wasn’t sure if she could do it. I told her I knew she could. I have also been telling her for weeks that whatever happens, I am proud of how hard she has worked and proud of her for sticking to it. I knew this was not a sure thing. A few weeks ago I told her that whether she advanced to the next belt now or in a few months, I would still be proud of her, and either way she would still be moving toward her goal, which she says is to become a black belt and a student instructor. I struggle sometimes with making sure martial arts is her thing and not my thing. I try to motivate her to practice without nagging. Sometimes I am more successful than others. But I know how good she feels after she practices and I love seeing her face light up when she knows she has turned the corner and really knows what she’s doing.

So she took the test yesterday and she performed her techniques well. I didn’t see most of them because I was chasing Zeke around the studio, but Randy was watching. He left work early to see her test, at her request. After all the kids had tested, the instructors called each student up individually to discuss his or her scores. Zoe was the last of 12.

Because of her nervousness, when she said that the virtue she should improve upon is timeliness, and they asked her to explain it, she froze and couldn’t remember what to say. She knows what timeliness is. She explained it perfectly in class on Saturday, to the same instructor. She has practiced her answer at home with me more than a dozen times.

But somehow yesterday the answer wouldn’t come. That happens to all of us sometimes. At least it does to me.

So she failed the test, even though the instructor said she did great at everything else.

Fortunately she has an opportunity to take the test again on Friday. She will have to do everything all over again.

I realize that this may not sound at all like a big deal. There are no lasting consequences. It’s an enriching activity, not the Olympic trials. This is not going on her permanent record. But to her it’s a big deal. She has been working so hard toward this for months. And months to a seven-year-old can seem like years.

But she handled it well. She was disappointed, but she bounced back. We discussed possible options for helping her to practice and memorize her answer so it would come to her as easily as the techniques that she has engrained into her muscle memory. She was open to my suggestions.

On the back of one of her martial arts shirts it says RESILIENCE. It’s funny because it’s not like they say to your kids when they walk into the martial arts studio, “you are going to fail, so get used to it.” This is not boot camp. They are not cruel. But they know that the kids will struggle and they will fail and that when they finally master something and it all clicks and they succeed it will mean so much more to them. Master Emerson, the head instructor and owner of the studio, has said something to this effect to them many times. And if you can struggle and fail and persevere and not give up, it is indeed that much sweeter when you come out on top.

At the growth ceremony where the students break their boards for the final part of their tests and then are awarded their next belts, there is a lot of communal inhaling and exhaling. They call the kids up in small groups and they practice a few times with targets and then everyone counts down from three to prepare the students to break their boards. Many kids break them on the first try and there is wild cheering and applause. Some kids take a couple tries. Still more cheering and applause. And some kids take five or six or more times to break the boards. Once it took Zoe seven tries. So much tension. So much. Whether it’s your kid or someone else’s, because everyone knows that feeling. And when the student finally breaks that board after so many tries, there is seriously wild cheering and applause. That is a hard-earned victory.

Zoe does not give up. I am so immensely proud of her for this. Like anyone else, she may need a moment to collect herself, to feel all those hard feelings, and then she gets up and tries again. Enabling her to cultivate this quality is so important. The number one thing I want to teach my kids is to be kind, but after that this trait of resilience is high on the list. Whether you’re in second grade or in college or out in the complicated world in which we live, there will always be challenges coming at you, and sometimes they will knock you flat. If Zoe can continue to get back up again and start over, she will survive.

Tonight I was called in for Zeke’s second bedtime shift, after Randy had rocked him to sleep, put him in the crib, shushed him and left the room and Zeke decided he wasn’t yet ready to go to bed. This used to happen often. Now, thankfully, it is only occasional. Zeke typically goes to bed on the first try. He sleeps through the night about two-thirds of the time. That’s just the way it is.

It is easy to become frustrated when Zeke won’t go to sleep or when he wakes up during the night. He is as light a sleeper as his sister is a deep sleeper. I won’t lie and say we don’t often get exasperated, because we do.

But tonight when I went in to take my turn, I sang my lullabies in my scratchy voice and tried not to cough too much. And I snuggled Zeke in my arms. I stuffed his feet back into the sleep sack. I wrapped an extra blanket around him when he gestured to it lying in his crib. He drank a few more ounces of milk and he fell asleep. He was asleep long before I finished “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” traditionally my benediction lullaby, my way of praying for the people we love.

But I kept holding him tight and rocking and thinking of the people who can’t tuck in their babies anymore. My heart broke a couple weeks ago when my mom’s friend lost her 21-year-old son to a rare disease. She was the third of my mom’s good friends to lose a son in as many years. And my heart shattered all over again last week when 8-year-old Emily Barkes and her mom died in a fire in their home. Emily was in third grade at Zoe’s school. Zoe’s beloved teacher was Emily’s teacher last year. Emily’s 11-year-old sister Sarah and their dad survived. Sarah is still in the hospital recovering from injuries. I keep thinking of the fire and the aftermath and how Sarah and her Dad are even functioning. I keep thinking about how that could happen to us. And then you have to stop thinking because your brain just short circuits if you think that way for too long.

Tonight I was thinking about how Bill Barkes never imagined that night would be the last one he would spend with his wife, and that it would be the last time he could tuck his daughter into bed. I just couldn’t bring myself to put Zeke back in his crib. I kept thinking of the chorus of an old Pat McGee song “if I could hold you tonight, I might never let go” even though that’s about a girlfriend and not a son. I felt the weight of his muscular little toddler body in my lap and on my chest. One of his arms around me and one curled under himself. I leaned in and kissed his soft hair. I gave thanks for his breathing. I wished for him happiness, health, safety, and peace. I held him and rocked and promised myself I would always appreciate the opportunity to hold him, even when he’s going berserk and I’m very tired.

This is Emily Barkes. Emily BarkesI didn’t know her, but I know she is loved and she is missed.

If you would like to help Emily’s family deal with their medical expenses and rebuild, there is a fund set up here: http://www.gofundme.com/gsvlsc

emergency truck_IMG_0045Tonight we had to tell Zoe that a third grader at her school and her mom were killed in a house fire this morning. There were no smoke detectors at their house. The girl’s older sibling and dad are in the hospital.

We talked about how horrible it was and how we felt sad for her family and her friends and her classmates. We talked about why smoke detectors are important and what we would do if there were a fire in our house. We assured Zoe that we would run into her and her brother’s room and carry them out of the house.

We held Zoe and rubbed her back and I thought about the other heartbreaking tragedies that have happened to people we know that she doesn’t even know about. I’m not even sure what this means to her, but I know that she, like her parents, has a big heart and a lot of compassion, and the idea of a third grader whom she might have seen on the playground or in the cafeteria suddenly not existing anymore is probably overwhelming.

After a few minutes and a few tears and a few tissues, I asked if she had any other questions. At first she shook her head. Then she nodded, and said, “Can we not talk about this anymore right now?” A reasonable request. So we went downstairs and she got out her colored pencils and we all drew pictures. She drew a bear dressed as a robot for Halloween. It is good to be able to switch gears. I think that gets harder as you grow up.

After I tucked her into bed when I was walking down the hall she called me back into her room. “Will we have a fire drill tomorrow at school?” She asked. I told her I didn’t think so. I was picturing a lot of tearful students and teachers. A lot of questions. She was thinking about how to be safe. I will think a little harder than usual about how to keep my babies safe, as best I can.

gourds!Zeke is so delighted with himself.

Lately he loves to careen into my office, which doubles as our guest bedroom or the bed where Zeke sleeps with one of us when he won’t go back to bed during the night, and scramble up onto the bed and throw himself onto a pillow. He grins this huge grin like he has gotten away with something amazing. Then he pats the pillow next to him, indicating that you are supposed to lie down there with him. Then he pulls the covers up over himself and grins some more. He also loves to climb up on his sister’s bed, using the Lego bins or the dress-up bins as a stool. If there are objects sitting on the bins he will fling them away so he can climb unencumbered. If you move the bins away so as to discourage him from climbing onto Zoe’s bed, he will move them back or find some other way to scale the foot of the bed, perhaps channeling his inner Spiderman.

For an 18-month-old boy, Zeke is remarkably committed to good hygiene. For example, if the bathroom door is left open he will climb up to the sink and wash his hands with some frequency and plenty of glee. He loves turning on the water. He will also sit in the bathtub and play long after you’ve drained the water out. I don’t know why he enjoys this or how he doesn’t get cold, but sitting wet in the empty tub with his toys seems like nothing less than paradise to him. He loves the tub so much that one day when he and his sister were both driving me a bit batty, I stuck him in the tub with his clothes on. (Naked he tends to slide around some). I retrieved from a kitchen cabinet an enormous metal bowl that I have only ever used for food when I once made a huge quantity of salad for a picnic for people who were homeless. The bowl is now primarily used as a musical instrument or for science experiments. So I put some water in the bowl and threw some bath toys in and let Zeke play in the tub fully clothed until he was soaked enough to be uncomfortable. It bought me some time. We’ve recently resumed our efforts to brush his teeth because he has some now, but he prefers to do it himself. I think he is mostly brushing his tongue, but that’s important too, right?

Whether he is gathering and distributing or cuddling with gourds, or trying to scoop Chex cereal out of a snack cup with a small pasta ladle, pasta ladle!or turning on Randy’s clock radio so he can dance, Zeke does things his own unique way. He loves the co-op preschool where he goes two mornings a week. After a few mornings of crying when I dropped him off he now runs (as best he can) for the classroom and tries to scale the baby gate to get in as fast as he can to investigate the sensory table or squish playdough between his fingers. Last week I co-oped in his classroom and they were painting pumpkins with acrylic paint (the kind of paint preschoolers usually use doesn’t stick to pumpkins well, I guess. Or maybe it washes off too easily). Zeke had a paintbrush and a cup of black paint. He painted a bit on his pumpkin. Then he carefully painted the palm of each hand and all his fingers. Then he gestured for his teacher’s hand and painted it black as well. Then, as any creative genius would, he ran his fingers through his hair. Then, after washing hands, he wandered over to the book corner and laid down on a blanket and pillow and rolled around, adding his black paint touch to the pillowcase (I’ve since washed it and you’ll be relieved to know the paint came right out after being soaked in Oxi-clean.

When we drive by a playground, he squeals and claps in recognition. Yesterday at Zoe’s soccer practice he walked across the field on his own to reach the playground and did what all the four- and five-year-olds were doing. I sprinted in pursuit. He loves to carry Zoe’s rolling backpack and was rolling rolling backpack!it up and down the track around the field. Eventually he abandoned it and it sat there on the track with young cyclists and grown-up joggers maneuvering around it until I had a chance to move it at a moment when I didn’t think Zeke was going to leap from a 6-foot high play structure.

I would estimate that his sleeping through the night is up to 50% to 75% of the time. His tantrums run about five to 10 per day, particularly when you’re strapping him into his carseat or changing his diaper or taking away something that he wants but isn’t supposed to have. But when he’s not shrieking in protest, he truly is delightful, to himself and to us.

02392332004This morning at 7:40 when I put the kids in the car to go to school and day care, Zeke spotted a potato chip in his carseat, leftover from my snack Saturday afternoon to stave off low blood sugar as I shuttled Zoe from soccer game to birthday party and home again. I had shared a couple chips with Zeke to assuage his frustration at being hauled in and out of the minivan too many times. So he promptly put the chip in his mouth.

“Mmmm. Old potato chip for breakfast!” I said.

“How delightful!” Zoe exclaimed.

Zeke’s carseat is also stiff and stained around the edges from the pumpkin cranberry apple squeezer that I foolishly gave him during this same day of driving. I uncapped it and handed it to him after we deposited Zoe at the birthday party. We arrived at the playground where I would chase him around during Zoe’s party and pulled into the parking lot. Something funny was on the radio so I sat there for a minute. Also Zeke was very quiet. I was relieved that he was quiet, so I chose to suspend my better judgment for a moment. When I came to my senses and got out of the car and opened his door I discovered him thoughtfully dabbing small blobs of pumpkin cranberry apple puree all over his legs. He had made quite an interesting design. Then he was wiping the blobs off onto his carseat. I reached for the baby wipes and he grabbed some and started desperately trying to wipe the rest of the stuff off his legs and hands and face. I helped. The empty pouch and the dirty wipes, now hardened into a mass, are still on the floor of the car. And I haven’t brought the carseat in to wash the seat cover yet because it is unbelievably complicated to disassemble and reassemble. You may think “how hard could it be?” but unless you have done this yourself with a new model Britax Marathon carseat, I dare you to figure it out any faster than we can, or to do it without swearing.

When we are not feeding him potato chips, and he is eating regular food at the table, Zeke likes to feed himself with utensils. He stabs his strawberries and cucumbers and macaroni with a fork, but not the child sized fork we have thoughtfully provided. Instead he leaves the table and goes to the play kitchen to procure a very tiny fork from one of Zoe’s tea sets and returns to the table with that. Or a tiny spoon or two tiny spoons or a tiny knife but we’ve told him you don’t eat with a knife. Sometimes when he’s done he will reach up and push the tiny utensils into the sink to be washed.

If you’re looking for someone to furnish the sound effect of blood curdling scream for your upcoming Halloween party, Zeke’s your man. So far this afternoon he has demonstrated this skill no fewer than four times, to show his displeasure at such injustices as me taking my keys from him in order to open the front door, me putting him in his car seat so we can take Zoe to martial arts, me trying to extract from his grip the dirty diaper that I’ve just removed from his tush, and I forget the other one. When Zeke was younger we taught Zoe to always try to trade something to Zeke if she wanted something he had, rather than grabbing an object from his hand. Somehow I have not learned that lesson myself, or else I just don’t carry around enough objects to be able to make exchanges for all the things Zeke is clutching that he’s not supposed to have.

While he’s still not technically speaking English, Zeke can still communicate and understand most of what we say and definitely makes jokes. When he’s drinking water from a sippy cup he will often pause after a long sip and say “aaaaahhhhhh!” like he’s in a Coke commercial. When you put on music he will dance by kind of doing squats and smiling. He will put things in the trash can when you ask, wipe his own nose with a tissue, and retrieve your shoes when it’s time to go outside. He loves to play in the tub and fill cups with water. He will climb up to the sink and turn on the water and fill up a cup and pour it out. Anywhere. He makes phone calls on any handy banana. He loves to point at school buses and playgrounds. At said playgrounds, and everywhere else, he climbs like he thinks he’s three.

So much chasing, so much slobber, so much snuggling, punctuated by the occasional head butt.

Happy 17 months!

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