Monday, August 31, 2009

School Daze

Milo has started preschool. His first day, last Wednesday, was awful. Friday seemed better, and today I was able to leave him with only a whimper. Let me give you a quick play-by-play:

Wednesday: We talk all about preschool for at least five days preceding the actual event and I think he's got a good grip on what will happen. The first day is only a hour long and I'll take him, then stay int he room with him for a while, then attend a parents' meeting, then collect him and bring him back to the sitter's. I thought he understood this, I really did...

We arrive and we're a bit early. They keep us waiting in the hallway so that we can all enter at the same time and no one feels like they're arriving late. Milo is fine with the first four minutes of waiting, but the last five minutes dragged on like a lifetime of him pulling on my arm, sitting and standing on my feet, trying to use my bra as a hand-hold to scale me... He's already nervous and antsy and the suspense is killing him. Finally the door opens and we enter the classroom. He looks around and remembers is from the open house last spring. I guide him to the hooks where he's supposed to hang his backpack and tell him to find his name. He can read his name and write it, so this is actually accomplished pretty quickly. We hang his backpack and face the room.

I led him guide me past three or four stations to see if any of the toys peak his interest. Of course, they don't. Holding my hand and burying his face in my bum are way more interesting than toys he's never seen... I finally find a spot at the Playmobile table where three other litte boys are playing with cowboys and native Americans. He picks up a buffalo and starts winding it's tail like he's grinding sausage. About that time, the teachers call for the parent's meeting and I bend down and tell him I'm headed upstairs.

His eyes practically pop out of his head, he flushes and covers his mouth as he starts to wail. I pull him in for a quick hug, wipe his tears, and tell him that I'm going to be upstairs for just a few minutes and that he's going to be fine. I've glanced around the room and he's the only one that appears to be crying. Sigh... He begs me not to go, but I force a bright smile and reassure him that he will be just fine without me there. Then I turn and walk away, holding my breath and expecting him to tackle me as I try to leave the room.

He didn't. I waited about 30 seconds outside the door to see if I could hear him cry, then peeked my head around the door again. Much to my amazement, he was sitting quietly in the chair, his back to me. I could see him wipe tears, but could tell that he wasn't sobbing, so I didn't feel like the worst mother ever as I followed the ant-trail of parents up to the meeting room.

When the parents' meeting concluded, I rushed downstairs to find Milo, but after peeking my head in, didn't see or hear him right away, so I opted to use the restroom before formally retrieving him. When I came into the classroom, he was at the far wall, holding a toy and interacting with it, but also peering anxiously for me. His face lit up when I saw him, I breathed a sigh of relief that the separation wasn't fatal. As I got closer, he chirped excitedly, "I'm going to go home and play my Star Wars Wii!"

"Oh, not today, little buddy. Remember, you're going back to the sitter's house?"

And then it happened. Milo let his inner brat take over. He shrieked,"I don't WANT to go to the sitter's! I want to GO HOME AND PLAY MY WII!" Saying this once might have been fine, but he adopted it as a screaming mantra, saying it over and over and over until I was ready to cry myself. We couldn't get out of the room fast enough...

I am thoroughly convinced that he's now been labeled, "THAT kid." As in the one that screams like a banshee when he doesn't get his way. It wasn't typical of him, particularly in public, so I hope it was a combination of first-day-jitters and recovering from sore throat crankiness. I hope...

He screamed all the way to the sitter's, all the way up her porch steps and was about to run screaming into her house until I hissed at him that the babies were sleeping so he needed to be quiet, too, and that if he didn't stop crying by the time I counted to three, I was going to ask that he lay down for a nap, too.

"One..." Whine, moan.
"Two..." Sniffle, whimper.
"Three..." Silence. THANK GOD!

Friday: Milo asked that I walk him to preschool if it wasn't raining. It wasn't raining, so I put on my comfy shoes, walked to the sitter's, and met a smiling Milo in her foyer. He was eager to walk and even, for the first time ever, wore his backpack without complaint. of course, it was completely empty, but he was happy to put it on. I silently wish for a better drop-off and set out for the five block walk, his little warm hand inside mine. He hops over sidewalk cracks and chats the entier way there in a funny little stream-of-consciousness monologue. He tells me that he wants "three more little sisters and two little brothers" because "the girl babies are cuter." We'll see about THAT request.

When we get there, we're early again, and knowing how anxious he got just standing in the hallway, I say I need to use the bathroom and we duck into the ladies room. I say duck with a smile because there's a big duckie rug and a duckie soap dish and a duckie wall hanging in there. Milo laughs at all of the duckies and is happy to see a step stool at the sink so that he can wash his hands unassisted.

We finish up in the bathroom and get in line to go into the classroom. We're close to the door, so when the teacher opens it, we're the first in! Milo likes this as he's not held up by traffic when it comes to finding his name. He recognized it quickly and proudly hangs his backpack up on the little wooden peg. The he looks around the room, walks past a couple of stations, and finally decides, "I'm just going to stand here." I say, "OK, little buddy. I'm going to go back to work. Daddy will pick you up and you'll go back to the sitter's."

"I KNOW that Mom. You already TOLD me that." True, but since he didn't remember me telling him that the first day, I figured telling him a couple of extra times wouldn't be harmful...

Scott picked Milo up on time and dropped him off at the sitter's without incident. Milo announces, "I LOVE preschool!" Yay!

Today: Milo was clingy at daycare drop-off this morning, so I was anticipating another rough transition to preschool. He decided he wanted a ride today, so I picked him up and got him out the door. Drop-off was great, thanks in part to a disorganized alphabet puzzle -- he cant' resist puzzles or letters right now, so when I left him, he was busy with the puzzle and barely nodded. Whoopie!!!

So he's smiling and happy, but today as I pulled away from the sitter's, Violet's got her little nose pressed against the screen door, calling, "Mommy! I go, too! I go Mommy's car! Mommy! Mommy!" I guess I can't get my exit right... It just wouldn't be a day without me leaving a child crying for me somewhere...

Weekend funnies: Milo got caught by a cousin saying, "God Dammit!" Couldn't lie with a straight face when we asked him about it. We reminded him that we don't say things like that and suggested, "Oh, man!" and "Holy cow!" instead. He decided that he preferred his own contribution, "Holy macaroni!" Works for me.

Last weekend he and Scott were cleaning out the garage as I nursed (literally) a sick Violet all day. They apparently had a discussion about off-colored language:

Milo: Can I say, "What the heck?"
Scott: Not really, I don't think Mommy would like that at all.


Milo: Can I just say it in the garage with you?

Violet funny: We were at the fabric store and Violet spied a Tinkerbell pattern and squealed. I asked her if she wanted me to make her a Tinkerbell costume for Halloween. She was trilled and agreed to be "Tikka bawl." in fact, she talked about it non-stop all of Saturday. On Sunday, Scott's mom asked her what she was going to be for Halloween.

She answered "Rina!" (ballerina) without hesitation. Well... OK then. I think Tinkerbell can dance like a ballerina, don't you?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Letter to a Friend

Hello, my dear…

So I hear that you’re gonna have a rack that will FINALLY let you live out your dream of working at Hooters. :)

I have tried writing to you 18 times this week and have hated everything I’ve written. It was too sentimental, then too stoic, and always too exactly not what I wanted to say… I hope that 19 times is the right one.

I love you for being the older sister that I have never had; you and Dan and the kids are the people I include in my chosen family. I want you to know that I will always support you, cry with you, and cheer for you. I don’t want to push too hard, nor distract your energy when you need it so much, but I am with you every step. You have always been in my daily thoughts and will be even more so now. I know that I am too far away to hold your hand, fold your laundry, or to sing silly songs to you, but if I were closer I would do all that for you and your family -- and more.

Please keep us updated if you feel up to it, but I don’t want you to feel pressured to keep us in the loop minute-by-minute.

I’m not sure I got it right with draft 19, but I know that you’re going to be around to read drafts 20, 200, and 2000.

Love you always,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring...

It is raining today. I've looked at the RADAR and it will be raining, and possibly storming, all day. I think this is OK, the rain certainly matches my mood.

It was a tough weekend in the Olinger household and an even tougher start of the week. Today is that mythical mid-way point and I'm searching for signs of improvement in the forecast.

The kids are sick. Nothing serious, but annoying enough to them that I've spent most of the last three nights comforting one or the other of them for the majority of the time that I should be sleeping. Both seem to be doing better today, I hope, anyway.

Milo is hitting an important milestone today! He's starting preschool in T-2 hours. He is appropriately alternating between terrified and excited. My bet is that he'll be excited until we park at the preschool, then terrified as we walk to the building and into his classroom.

Violet can count to ten! Almost... She's got 1-6, 9 & 10. I think she's afraid of 7 because, well... 7 ate 9. Ba-dum-bump!

Work is busy for both me and Scott. This is the week that all of the first-year students are on campus and we've both got meetings and events galore. We played the "shift the kids back and forth so that both of us can attend as much as possible" game on Monday and Tuesday. That's so exhausting... Plus, the kids totally trashed my office twice yesterday. I need to figure out if I can scrub highlighter off of an upholstered chair. Don't ask...

But the news that has made this week the most difficult, drawing me deeply into my shell, is that our dear friend, my sister-by-choice, has breast cancer.

Selfishly I have yet to contact her. I haven't called because I know that I will simply come unspooled if I talk to her. I haven't written because everything I write sounds like a eulogy -- and I'm not sending something that grotesque to her. I know that she needs me and am very thankful that Scott has done what he always does: reach out, use inappropriate humor, and send massive amounts of chocolate. As in bought an entire aisle of dark chocolate from Target -- one of every variety, several of the most tempting.

I am not the one who is sick, but I am not processing this well at all. I am furious that cancer is trying to steal someone whom I love so much. Every time I put Violet to breast, and that has been quite a few times since she's ill, I touch the very tissue that my friend will lose next week. I hold in my hand that which is giving my daughter life and that which is poisoning my friend. And I am angry about it -- who gives cancer the right to creep quietly into her body, sliding between cells, ravenous and vicious?

On Sunday night, the night before I learned of my friend's battle, I lay next to Milo's bed, sighing because he didn't want me to leave his side. His sleep was uneasy, his fever rousting him every few moments. I lay there and thought, "This is annoying, but it will pass. I can't imagine what I would do if one of my babes was so sick that the illness won't pass. I can't imagine the grief of not being able to lie on the carpet next to the bed of my child. I am lucky."

I wept silently as I recalled a young family that I had seen at Disneyland on the trip to California that we'd taken when Milo was about 19 months old. I was pregnant with Violet and we were visiting my dear friend about whom I am writing. We were in line behind the family for the Jungle Cruise ride and I noticed that the young mother was struggling to hold a child on her hip in the heat. The child looked too old to really need to be held, or so I thought until I saw that she was bald. An ugly, ugly scar mapped her scalp. My heart stopped. I realized that the little girl and her family were on a Make-a-Wish trip.

Instantly my pregnant hormones went into overdrive and I started blinking rapidly to hold back tears. My chest tightened and my breath caught in my throat. It was all I could do to not bawl as I watched the girl, grinning from ear to ear, as she described all of the things she thought she would see on the ride. This mother wasn't just holding her child in a long line, she was clasping her into her body, trying to force her back into the womb, back into a time when she was safe and healthy, back to the time when their souls were one.

I had to look away, gulping air. I rubbed Violet's bum inside me, squatted and kissed a sticky Milo, then hoisted him up onto my hip, vowing that I would carry my children into my body any time they needed me to lift them up. I think of this family every time one of my kids is ill.

I don't want to overwhelm my friend, after all, this isn't about me and what I want -- it is about her and what she needs. I am thirsty for knowledge, but unsure how far to push her; I don't want to hover and smother, yet I am unsure of how to support. She is so generous that I don't want her to know how wrecked I am about this; her first reaction would be concern for me and I think she needs to put her energy into healing. I will write to her by the end of the week, I must swallow my own fear and grief and let her know how much I love and support her.

I want to carry my friend. I want to scoop her up and hold her. I want to sing to her and keep her safe. I want to do these things for her because I love her, because I love her children and her husband, and because I love my children and my husband, and a little girl whom I have never met.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The After Party

Here's a Violet funny: At a family wedding this weekend, someone was asking me how it was going with two kids instead of one. Clearly they think Violet suddenly dropped into our lives as a nearly-two-year-old toddler... Anyway, my answer is the same answer I usually give, "Aww, she's the easiest baby ever made, so it was no problem."

Her little ears had perked up when she realized I was talking about her, so she nodded and agreed, "Yes, I eassy!"

I kissed her plump little pink cheek and told her, "You may be easy, but that's not something you brag about, Sweet Pea..."


This past weekend was the celebration of the marriage of my youngest cousin. He's 24 now, 12 years my junior. I vividly recall his infancy as I was the perfect age to babysit when he was little -- at least until I moved away to college. I say this because it was a little strange being at his wedding. It made me feel old, but not really in a bad way. Old in that way that also makes me really glad I'm not 24 again and not just testing the waters of adulthood. I'm so glad that I have outgrown angst and insecurity and traded them for more experience and, yes, dirty diapers.

There were 11 Baker kids that were born in 12 years to my dad and his two brothers. Now, after a very tragic death, there are 10 of us. 6 married, 2 on second marriages, 1 divorced and 1 never-been-down-the-aisle (yet). Between us, we have 9 children and one stepchild. Plus two on the way (yay for babies!). And weddings aren't what they used to be, that's for sure!

Mine was the first and only two of us were of legal drinking age, so I can honestly say that it was the tamest wedding to date. My cousin (who counts as the divorced one in the tally above) was married next and his wedding was dry, but the after party... well... My uncle had turned the bathtub in the hotel into a cooler and it was probably a really good thing that we were all staying in the same place as I don't know that any of us who were old enough for driver's licenses could have driven. You know the wedding was insane when the father of the groom says, "Yeah... I need a drink after THAT."

The next few weddings really represented the "Golden years" as far as cousins whooping it up can go -- the majority of us were out of high school, some married, some not, but no kids on the scene yet. And party we did... The guys drank and the girls danced...and drank and danced and danced and drank. No one cuts a rug like the Baker Girls! To be fair, four of us studied dance for decades and shed all semblance of performance anxiety when the music is on... we joke that we're all Dancing Princesses until we marry and then we're Dancing Queens.

But the focus has shifted with the last three weddings. Why? The Baker Generation, Part II has arrived, though I'm guessing our parents see it as Part III, but that's something George Lucas has to figure out for us. Simply put, we've all got babies or babies on the way now. Well, most of us. Some have two and I'm working on three.

Instead of grooving on the dance floor with my close-as-sisters cousins, we're bouncing joyously around the parquet tossing shrieking, giggling toddlers into the air. My own Milo got his groove on like none other, even going so far as trying to line dance with a large group. Instead of joining us for a dance or two, our parents watch, smiling and nodding as we twirl our awe-struck daughters around the Princess Bride. You know, that whole Circle of Life thing...

I don't mind, in fact, I can honestly say I don't miss tipsy wedding dances, sweaty dresses and blistered bare feet. I don't want to go back to the days where I would roll my eyes at a sappy father-daughter dance song. I kind of like wiping tears as I watch my husband bouncing in time to the music his sweet baby girl on his knee, her profile outlined in fuschia from the DJ's lighting rig. I love partnering my young son as he enthusiastically mashes my toes under his feet, grinning ear to ear and trying to sing the words to songs he's never heard. Go ahead, Milo, play that funky music!

I know I'm not the only one. I caught my little brother, a soon to be daddy, holding his adorable wife from behind, rubbing her belly as they snuggled close, wrapped in a moment of time all their own. I saw my sister happily serenading her chubby little cutie and my cousin cheerfully encouraging his kids through a limbo line. For a moment, I was doubly blessed as I balanced my sweet, pale Violet with my cousin's dark Maya -- one on each hip, swaying to the music -- our tiny Dancing Princesses in training.

Who knew that life after the after party could be so sweet?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


First of all, let me start by saying that I am wearing the most adorable pair of black platform sandals ever. They are very comfortable and light and easy to walk in... normally... Yes, the heel is 3 1/2 inches tall, but the platform is 1 1/2 inches, so the heel height is only 2 inches. I was tap dancing in two-inch heels when I was 10, so this heel height is a height that I am very comfortable wearing.

Why do I need to justify my shoes? I need to explain why I shouldn't win the "Worst Mother of the Year" award. Or maybe I should win the "Klutziest Mother of the Year."

The day actually started quite nicely. I wasn't jostled from bed too early by the whines of a dog needing to go out and hadn't been awakened overnight by my lovely children, darling husband, or faithful hounds. Everyone woke in good moods and cooperated during the morning scramble -- this isn't something that I take for granted.

And then I got to the sitters. As per my usual routine, I opened Milo's door and unbuckled him from his car seat. He normally climbs out and shuts his door while I round the back of the car and unbuckle Violet. She's been in a very independent stage and this morning, she was insisted that she could buckle herself back into the seat. I gently explained that we were going to go inside to play at the sitter's and she relented, allowing me to slide her out of her seat.

Then I stepped back to close the car door and I realized that Milo had followed me around the car instead of climbing the porch steps and making his way to the door as he usually does. I knew this because as I stepped back from my car, I stepped onto his foot. Startled, I immediately shifted my weight back to the other foot and attempted to put the errant foot down a bit more behind me and not on his toes.

When I set my foot down, I don't know if I set it down in a divot or on a stick or what, but it didn't connect with the pavement the way I expected. For a moment, I held my balance, then my ankle wobbled and I rocked over the outside of my sandal. I fought to get my foot on solid ground, but lost the battle and tumbled to the unforgiving driveway. Violet, who had been on my hip, was dislodged during the impact and she sailed out of my grasp, landing with a thud on her diaper-padded bum.

The look of confusion on her little face compelled me to scramble back to my feet. Her eyes welled and she screamed in shock and, I think, pain. I scooped her up and held her close, but she continued to shriek. Worried, I made my way to the sitter's porch and into the house where I sat her down gently on the foyer steps and quickly combed her body for scrapes, cuts, bruises -- any indication that I had hurt her badly. I found nothing and she quieted in less than a minute, tears caught on her cheeks.

Thinking back, she likely only flew out of my arms as I connected with the cement, and though she traveled three feet away from me, she probably only went down eighteen inches or so. She didn't skid and I didn't sit on her, she didn't hit her head or try to catch herself with her hands, so I do believe that her bottom took most of the impact. But I still feel beyond terrible about it.

As for me? I was overwhelmed by adrenaline immediately after the fall and continued to be as I bid the now-calm children goodbye and returned home to change my clothes. I think that I might have bruised my left palm, but my ankle, knee, and back all seem fine. I can take a fall -- I've had enough practice in Aikido and figure skating to know that my fall was a "good" fall and that even though I'm fat and hit the deck hard, I rolled onto my back after impact and the motion dispersed a lot of the force with which I landed (and showed the neighborhood my undies). I get the physics of it. But I am still wrapped in guilt. I know that accidents happen and that no one was seriously -- or even minorly -- hurt.

I was so shaken by this, that after I returned home I stopped at the local grocery store. I dreamt last night that I was eating Ding Dongs and gave in to the craving this morning. It's fitting: a Ding Dong for a ding-dong... Yep, that's my prize for ringing my clock this morning.

p.s. I'm still wearing the shoes.