Sunday, September 30, 2007

Way Up High

Apples, apples, way up high
I can reach them if I try
Climb a ladder, hold on tight
Pick an apple, take a bite
Apples, apples, way up high
I can reach them if I try.

This is the very first new song that Ellie learned in preschool and came home singing, expecting me to join in with her. But I couldn't, because I didn't know the song. I sat in on "closing circle" one day last fall and learned the tune, then looked up the lyrics on the internet when we got home, and we've been singing it together - complete with Ellie-led hand gestures - ever since.

It's so wonderful, as she learns things that I haven't been teaching her. And it's so scary, too, not least because I'm often not very good at understanding her yet, though she tries so earnestly to tell me so very many things.

It's scarier still that I'm so much better than others at understanding her, as she increasingly makes her own way in the world. But we're busy celebrating successes here today, and "apples" is one of the words that Ellie can say very clearly indeed.

"Apples" were the theme for the September STLBloggers Carnival.

Friday, September 28, 2007

14 Months is Way Too Long

"All good?"

"Couldn't be better!"

My friend's husband is safely back from Iraq, and they're enjoying a quiet week together in Hawaii. That text exchange (yes, we insist on using both capitalization and punctuation when we text) is the first and last I hope to hear from her until I am alerted to pick her up from the airport.


I am breathing a sigh of relief and filling up my Tivo with America's Next Top Model, Private Practice, and Grey's Anatomy for us to watch together when she gets back. For while she will be coming home all-too-soon, he'll be stationed elsewhere for a while. She won't have to worry quite as much every day, but she won't have her husband home with her, either, so I'm sure she'll still need a little bit of juice box and guilty pleasures television.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Adding Patriotism to Our Daily Routine

Ellie's sitting on the potty:

"Mommy, puag! Pooag, mommy!"

"OK, Ellie. You say it with me this time. I pledge allegiance, to the flag . . . "

I wonder if I should add some Red, White, and Blue to the bathroom decor?

8 Months

I have not been particularly amazed by the ages at which Ada has reached various milestones so far.

Part of that is because I think we tend to forget how helpless little babies are, which is part of why we expect (and, often, receive) more rapid progress from younger siblings than first children. They have older child role models, and parents who are used to children exercising a bit of independence.

Ada has always been developmentally ahead of the curve: she held up her head securely the moment she was born (and could lift it while being on her tummy). She rolled over, sat unassisted, started crawling, grew 8 teeth, all of that pretty quickly. She also learned peekaboo, patty cake, and fake coughing,

But Ellie learned all of those things too, and if maybe a month or two or more later on some of the motor tasks, well, she was turning pages of books earlier, and playing the social games at least as well, as quickly.

I have enjoyed watching both of them progress, but I haven’t had too many set expectations of either girl, so I was pleased but not amazed when Ada started exhibiting her natural strengths.

No, the biggest surprise for me has been the trajectory of progress within a specific skill, rather than the expected differences in age at first reaching a milestone.

One day, I walked in and found Ellie sitting up in bed. “Did I leave her sitting up?” I wondered. I must have done, because it didn’t happen again for a while. Then it happened once more. Then again. Long pause. Several occurrences. It was quite a while before it was a mastered skill.

With Ada, I saw her sitting up in bed one morning, and then every nap and morning from then on. From emergence to mastery oh-so-quickly!

Ada turned 8 months old last weekend. She’s really getting quite chubby, and loves this whole solid food gig. She’s also getting too long for many of her 6-9 month outfits already, and she loves pulling herself up and trying to cruise on anything that will stand still long enough.

She goes to bed around 7:00 pm at her own insistence, wakes to eat around 5:00 am, goes back to sleep, then gets up for the day around 7:00. She might or might not nap a little throughout the day.

I’m leaving her with someone other than Paul or myself for short periods a couple of times a week, and the separation anxiety seems to be getting a little better.

Already she’s so huge. My little baby is much closer to being a toddler than an infant, now!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Note on Politicians

The fallout from 2000 and 2004 has lasted a long time for me: I'm still burned out on politics. The relatively good year in 2006 didn't help it, and I'm just plain disgusted with most politicians. I hate their extreme weaknesses (bribery, prostitutes, pedophilia, inability to be honest and principled, etc.). It's all an image game, with people who want to be politicians playing to their audiences, saying what they think people want to hear, stating their "opinions" based on polling data.

That said, I do think we treat them unfairly. Politicians, like other celebrities, are asked to live their lives almost entirely under public scrutiny. Flashbulbs in their faces, reporters grilling their families and friends, no real escape from being on display.

Clearly, it takes an extraordinary sort of person to be willing and able to live this way. But then we judge these people by normal standards.

There's no excuse for breaking the law, your marriage vows, and standards of basic decency as many politicians seem prone to do.

However, we can't elect a guy who's charismatic and open in front of the cameras, then later accuse him of being addicted to seeking out that limelight.

And, dare I say it?

We can't elect somebody because he seems like a good ole boy we'd like to have a beer with, then complain that he doesn't have a sophisticated grasp of foreign policy.

It's been written before that we look for something different in candidates than we require of elected officials. That's certainly true, and so often we vote based on what we think we want. What we need to do is to be more realistic about what we're looking for in a president. Do we need to know all the details of his or her private life, or is it enough that she or he is a law-abiding citizen?

And certainly we need to know how our potential leaders really feel about the issues of the day - and whether their inconsistencies are proof of continued growth and understanding, or are rather a shameless chasing after votes. But we should definitely look beyond those willing to give pat answers to complicated questions, calling soundbites "leadership."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Silent Pens

This is hardly breaking news, but I'm still feeling a touch melancholy about it.

James Oliver Rigney, Jr., more commonly known as Robert Jordan, died on Sunday. He was only 58 years old. He seemed really happy before his diagnosis with cardiac amyloidosis. And he wasn't done with his life's work; he had so much left that he was planning to do. Very very sad. Lots of people die every day, and there's a war going on. So why does this matter so much?

Perhaps because, as a writer, he touched a lot of people. Sure there are valid critiques of his work. Still, I have read many hundreds of pages of his writing, and so someone I know - however distantly - has died. Too soon, too soon.

Madeleine L'Engle (LENG-el, Mom, I was right) also died this month. She was 88 and died of "natural causes." She had a robust body of work, comprising writing for adults and children, poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. Her work touched me too, probably more so than Jordan's. L'Engle's husband and son were already dead, and she had moved into a nursing home. Over the course of her slow decline, she had osteoporosis and a cerebral hemorrhage. She accomplished a lot in her life, and did some really interesting things. It's not such a terrible way to end.

I had other thoughts, about the disparagement of fantasy literature and its importance in our society, but it turns out that I don't want this to be part of a larger point. Two writers died. I find myself celebrating the life of one, and mourning the loss of the other. That's your time. Pens down.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Still Legal, Just More of Me

The Department of Motor Vehicles opened at 9:00 this morning, and Ada and I were out of there by 9:10 with my new driver's license - less than a week after the old one expired! We've been running errands all morning, and as I open my wallet to pay for things, it's weird to see a different picture of myself peeking up from my wallet; I'd had the last one for about 6 years.

But it was a momentous occasion not just because I got my picture taken, but because I finally changed my driver's license weight. I'd already decided to do it, though I wasn't sure which "goal weight" I'd choose.

After I sailed through the documentation presentation (passport, previous driver's license, current bank statement, and social security number), vision test, and identification of street signs portions of the process, she began asking me the usual questions:

Do you wear contacts, or just your glasses?
Are you registered to vote?
Do you want to be an organ donor?

(Both - though not at the same time, yes, yes)

You're 5'4"?
135 pounds?

She was looking right at me! With a straight face!

I laughed and told her what I weighed when I got pregnant with Ada, which is, presumably, a realistic goal.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sea Turtles and Other Notes on Crawling

I'm at a bit of a crossroads with my blog, and I've been here before and found it just as frustrating. I like to take what's happening in my life and write little essays that tie pieces together, sometimes getting the general as well as the specific. But I also like to just jot down the day-to-day quirks and milestones of my daughters' lives, and I'm frankly not energetic enough to keep two records. So the way this works out is that in the first year or two, there are more blog entries that are just records of what the babies are up to, and fewer of the pieces of writing that I'm proud of. Because, while I prefer a more considered style of writing, it takes a bit more mental energy to turn milestones into enjoyable prose.

Today, Ada learned to crawl! She didn't take off like a shot, but she certainly moves a few feet at a time across the floor, grinning with pride or crying for her out-of-sight mama.

She also sat up all by herself for the first time today. I went in to pick her up out of her crib, where she'd been rolling and scooting around, and found her sitting, ready to be picked up.

She loves to wave now, whenever she sees someone she knows, or hears someone say, "Hi!" The even cuter part is that she does it backwards, opening and closing her palm toward herself. I think it's like she's so excited by her new skill that she doesn't want to miss a bit of it. My friend, Ada's "sponsor" (godmother by another name, I suppose) thinks she looks like Morpheus from The Matrix, saying, "Bring it." That too, I suppose. 7 days. 7 days until her husband leaves Iraq. Praying, praying.

Unfortunately, Ada is also dealing with some intense separation anxiety. And she's really past the age where I can easily take her with me wherever I go. I mean, of course I could take her along to my book club, haircut, birthday dinner date, marriage therapist, Sunday School class, etc. But I won't get nearly as much out of the events as I would if I weren't spending 90% of my energy entertaining the baby, who requires relatively little daytime sleep. I've learned that mama who goes out and does fulfilling things is a much better, happier mama. But Ada screams whenever I leave her, which leaves me with a dilemma: which of my friends do I trust enough to care for my baby but hate enough to put them through an hour or two of her screaming? Right now we're employing a rotating schedule, and hoping that Ada grows out of this phase soon.

We had a busy weekend. Saturday was the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, which we did not attend this year - something had to give! But on Friday night, we had friends over for dinner then drove into U City to pick up the light rail (two stops on the new line of the MetroLink) and take it to Forest Park for the Balloon Glow.

The next morning we went to the parade portion of the Kirkwood Greentree Festival, before heading home for the girls and Paul to nap. While they were snoozing, I went to the mall for lunch and shopping with girlfriends. After the family woke up and I got home, we headed back to the Greentree Festival, then did some shopping at Target. By bedtime, the girls were so over-stimulated that one or both of them were up every hour all night long.

Sunday morning was Sunday school and church, then brunch with friends, and in the evening we left Ada with a friend (see above) and took Ellie to see Finding Nemo on Ice, which she loved. $22 per ticket I could stomach. The costumes and special effects were good, as I would expect for a Disney show. But the souvenirs! Fortunately, Ellie was happy to drink in the experience, and didn't need a cheaply made, ugly plastic or plush takeaway to remember the experience. Silly flashing Nemo on a plastic stick? $20. Small plush baby sea turtle? $15. Sno-cone in plastic Nemo cup? $10. Ridiculous! And nearly every kid in the place had at least one souvenir.

I didn't even suggest a nap time today, for either girl. Ellie finished supper before the rest of us and asked to be excused. She headed into the front room to put her dolls to bed, and this is how we found her 10 minutes later:

"Secular Liberal"

Tonight, I am too tired to get into my incredibly busy weekend - much of which involved my church community - so I'll just jot off a little political rant. I listen to NPR (whenever Ellie lets me). I read Newsweek. I check the Google and Yahoo! news headlines. I watch The Daily Show. It might not be great, but it's what I do to keep informed.

Just so you know, I am so over the whole "secular liberal" as opposed to the "religious right" thing. So over it!

1) There are lots and lots of liberals who are religious.

2) Liberalism, when taken to heart, should be very tolerant of others' beliefs, even when they're not shared beliefs (indeed, aren't liberals often criticized by conservative talking heads for being "sympathetic" to Islamic extremists?).

3) Plenty of "conservative" political positions (especially regarding public assistance, immigration, and the environment) aren't terribly Christian at all.

When the media uses this language (over and over and over and over) what it says to me is that the media itself is fostering a divide, fracturing the debate from something that can be more nuanced into a either/or issue that doesn't reflect the complicated realities of our world.

It's sloppy reporting, journalistic short-hand, and anyone who finds him- or herself using the term "secular liberal" or "Christian conservative" should take the time to reexamine. Is the adjective necessary to the sentence? Are you talking about a specific subset of liberals, of conservatives? If so, make that perfectly clear.

Otherwise you're just cheapening the discourse and wasting space.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Year

In my family, my mother said "I love you" with wonderful, thoughtful birthday and holiday celebrations. She didn't always spend a lot of money, but all the details were creative and showed that she'd made a significant effort for each of us.

Before your birthday, she'd ask you to name your favorite meal. The morning of, you'd come downstairs to the kitchen to find streamers, happy birthday signs, and doughnuts. Doughnuts! (We normally had a very healthy home.)

We were encouraged to celebrate in the ways that made us comfortable - I usually wore a tie to school and called it my "birthday suit" - and for dinner we had our most favoritest foods homemade by mom.

There were presents, too, great ones, not brand name dolls or jeans, but surprising things she'd discerned that we'd really love to have just from listening to us talk to each other and watching us play.

And we had great birthday parties, though my parents never rented a bouncy house. My mom made an amazing, incredible, creative cake (always strawberry for me!), decorated the house, and invited as many children as the birthday warranted (9 on my 9th, etc.). She had great timing, starting new a game just before we lost interest in the current one. All our friends loved our parents, loved birthday parties at our house.

It's not that Paul forgets my birthday - how could he, with all the electronic reminders prompting him to remember? But it's just that it's so hard for him to do the things that I consider "thoughtful," to show me that he loves me in the language that I learned as a child.

And it's hard for me to understand that he really does care, that he struggles to find ways to show it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Today was a difficult day, as my continued refusal to get adequate sleep is taking its toll. But it was also a lovely day: brightly sunny with an early fall crispness to the air.

Ada and I went to church this morning for her first MusikGarten class. My normally interactive daughter was stone-faced and solemn the whole time, just soaking it all in. It was not a terribly overwhelming experience, either, with only one other baby in the class this early in the year.

After "nap," we went back to church for Ellie's age-appropriate MusikGarten class, and Ada seemed slightly more comfortable. Ellie was almost unbearably excited the whole time, and there was lots of vocalization ("ehhhh!") and hand-flapping. These behaviors are becoming more frequent as she ages, which both puzzles and concerns me. As a baby/young toddler, she didn't do this at all. I'm being patient and hoping that part of it stems from her expressive language not quite keeping up with her emotional range at this point.

From the moment yesterday when I told her what today's schedule would be like, she's been talking about "Shoo-kick-Gar-en." By the end of today's class, she was already saying something that sounded a lot more like "music-garden."

For a long time, Elmo and Nemo were both "Elmo." Now they have their own names, or occasionally they're both "Nemo."

It's always a little sad when Ellie loses a cute little toddler way of saying or doing something. But, with Ellie, it's a bit of a relief, too, since it often takes her longer to reach each milestone, and a part of me wonders if she ever will.

What if her language never gets more understandable than this? What if she never does learn to jump? What if she never walks independently? That last is a reminder to myself that, of course, she did learn to walk, and before she even turned two. Likewise, she will jump someday, and she will continue to improve her enunciation and pronunciation, and someday I'll have moved on to wondering if she'll ever master keeping a safe following distance and using her turn signals reliably.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How's the writing going?

Well, since you asked . . .

I've been to bed earlier than 2:00 am exactly twice in the last couple of weeks. I can't remember the last time I was asleep before 1:00. This is largely a symptom of my own disorganization and poor prioritization/time management, but, nonetheless, it's exhausting.

Currently, I'm feeling enormous pressure to write (all of it self-inflicted). Simultaneously, I'm so tired that I feel numb and uninspired. As is the way of such things, it's hard to keep perspective and realize that one day I will be rested again, and I will have the energy to write. Because all of this is compounded by crippling self-doubt, where I'm so very afraid of failure that I can't even begin.

I know the correct steps to take to make things better: get more sleep, exercise more, make modest and achievable writing goals.

But if I had an easy time doing those things, I wouldn't be the person who's always running late, showing up with wet hair and bags under my eyes.

Friday, September 07, 2007


I don't remember when I was last in a Cokesbury store, but after many years of subconscious avoidance, I dropped by today to pick up some books for the adult Sunday School class I'm leading again this fall.

I was wearing Ada in the sling and having a really good time, imagining myself buying and using everything in the shop. About this time, I noticed that I was clenching my right hand so tightly that my nails were digging into my palm. I started to feel a little panicky.

I felt like I had been running away from something for a long time. I felt like I was ignoring a calling, the most obvious calling, one of the first careers I ever considered (and rejected and considered and rejected). What child doesn't imagine herself, however briefly, following in her parent's footsteps?

But this is not what I want to do! This is not how I want my life to be!

And then I found myself in the marriage section, looking for a gift for a newly married friend, perhaps a book about adjusting to seeing herself as a spouse. And the books I found weren't what I expected for a United Methodist ministry. My choices tended heavily toward Dr. Dobson and an entire book built around dancing imagery - with the husband leading and the wife following.

And all I wanted was out. I paid for my books and headed for the door as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the urge has (mostly) passed. Again. For now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ellie's Family

Both of my daughters are so beautiful to me; I can happliy sit and look at them for hours. Ada is a classically beautiful child; people on the street tell me so. (More on that later.)

Ellie is just as beautiful, but in a completely different way. She is so different from me: her skin is so fair, and is missing the yellow pigment that underlies my own. Her hair is light, where mine is dark, and her eyes - her eyes! - are the most amazing, clear, bright, beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen. My eyes are warm brown, with flecks of green and gold, nothing like hers.

My face is pretty traditional; people are always telling me that they know someone who looks just like me.

But Ellie's face is so unexpected. She has these flat planes to her cheek bones, and these beautifully tilted eyes, that look so exotic when combined with her unexpectedly fair coloring. The effect is - to me - mesmerizing.

Surely every child deserves a mother who thinks she's the most beautiful child in the world, and has no cognitive dissonance applying that superlative to each of her children at the same time.

I have a friend who once talked about using an egg donor to conceive a child. Both of my daughters are genetically my own, so I can only imagine how that must feel. I feel like I have a small window into that world, however. Perhaps we each do: our children might be genetically our own, but they're also half other, our spouse's family.

And for me, with Ellie's Down syndrome, there's another peep hole in the wall. Ellie is obviously my daughter in so many ways. She is as much a part of my family as I am. But, when we're out somewhere with other people with Down syndrome and I'm noticing all the similarities between her features and theirs, it's always felt a little bit like she belongs to this other family as well to to mine, to me.

Surely parents feel that way as their children grow up and make decisions on their own, beginning to live their own lives. Like when I rebelled and dated a Republican for three years.

But different, too, because I've always felt this way, from the moment in my pregnancy when I learned about Ellie's trisomy 21. I brought a daughter into this world, into my family, but into another family too, one I can visit but never truly belong to.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Recently, I wrote about what Ada's been up to lately. Here's an update on where Ellie is these days.

"MOMMY! Bye, bus! MOMMY! Bye, bus!" Imagine an adorable 3-year-old grinning and alternately hugging my leg and turning to wave goodbye to her bus driver, and you've got the mood of our new daily ritual.

When we get into the house, it's potty and hand washing time, then I open Ellie's backpack and we attempt to talk about her day. (Her contribution often involves a lot of non-specific talk about the bus.)

One day last week, I pulled out a piece of paper colored heavily with marker on both sides, explaining the way she's looked upon arriving home recently. How do you get marker on the backs of your own thighs while coloring? I can only imagine.

"This is beautiful, Ellie! Can you tell me about the picture?"

She looked at me consideringly, then replied, "Blue." And, pointing at various other places on the page, "Brown, yellow, orange, red. Green."

Well, yes.

The next day, she came home marker-free and with a piece of artwork that involved shapes pasted onto a piece of construction paper. When I asked her about it, she said, "Glue." I pressed for more details, and she counted the shapes, telling me that there were 6 items glued to the paper. Then she told me the name of each the shape and its color.

Her dolls are all named, "Baby." Or, "Doll." Or "Baby Doll." Or, for variety, "Dolly."

I love this kid.

I've been frustrated with my purse, so I went out recently - without the children! - to buy a new one. The next evening, Paul opened my new purse to get out the checkbook, and Ellie grew very concerned. It turns out that my new purse looks rather like my friend's, and she thought that daddy was getting into Elizabeth's purse! And that would be wrong! The next day, she commented on it a few times to me, in her Ellie way, obviously thinking it unusual that I was carrying around Elizabeth's purse.

I've often chuckled about Ellie's enjoyment of handbags - particularly the time when she packed for a road trip by placing 7 purses on her arm and walking to the car with that arm held stiffly out in front of her - but I never realized how much attention she paid to my purse and the purses of other women she sees. I thought her interest was focused on her own, Ellie-sized, fancy little bags.

Once again, Eleanor surprises me with how much she knows, how much she understands, and how thoroughly she processes what's going on around her.