Archive for the ‘the critter’ Category

School, Escuela, Shkolla

January 30, 2013

This morning was the kids’ first day at preschool. I had not intended to send Oz yet, but when I went to the informational meeting in December (here the school year runs from late January to November, with a long break in July), I kept thinking how much he would enjoy the focus on arts and music at this particular school. So I signed them both up.

Illyria is four years and eight months old, Oz is two years and seven months (almost). For her, I feel like the time is ripe – perhaps even a little over-ripe – the socialization will be really good for her. She is already reading at a first-grade level and exploring a lot of basic math concepts on her own, and has phenomenal gross motor skills (we call her our acrobat), but I have long been concerned about her language and social development. So I think this experience will push her in good ways.

Oz is an imp and a clown and a sweetheart. He’s deliberately and self-consciously funny. He’s affectionate, talkative, still baby-soft and cuddly. I think he is ready for this new leap – I’m pretty confident that he’s going to make friends and learn Spanish quickly.

When we were in the US, I took Illyria to a speech therapist – I was actually hoping to arrange for a full ASD screening but we didn’t have enough time to get all the proper referrals etc. in place, especially with everything else we had going on. The speech therapist said she did see some “social differences” in my daughter, but asked me what I really wanted from a diagnosis? If we were staying the US, a diagnosis would make Illyria eligible for certain kinds of educational services, but that would not necessarily be the case in another country, so did we really want to put that label on her? What would be gained by it?

I read an article online months ago, “My Quirky Kid,” that kind of summed up a lot of how I feel about Illyria’s, well, quirkiness, and made me feel better about foregoing pursuit of a diagnosis. As an anthropologist, I also see these systems of categorization as social constructs that are certainly empirically-based, but constructs nonetheless – ways of understanding the world, but not absolutes. They are culturally and historically contingent. They are inventions. So… what do I really want from a diagnosis? What would be gained?

I realized that what I really wanted was a) validation, that I’m not seeing things that aren’t there, or making mountains out of proverbial molehills (which I got from the speech therapist); b) ideas, techniques, things I can do to help her build positive social relationships that will help her experience the richness of human life to the fullest (I got some of this from the speech therapist, some from online reading); c) a “cure.” At some point I realized that what I wanted was a way to change her – to flip some kind of mental switch that would somehow make her this tremendously empathetic person, intuitively tuned in to other people’s silent signals and nonverbal cues, able to read social situations at a glance, etc. etc. Once I really understood that that’s just not possible – that the socially-oriented therapies that are done with people with ASD don’t actually do this – as far as I can understand it, it seems they teach behaviors, more or less), I had to let that go. And you know, that’s just not her, that’s just not who she is. She’s a fiercely intense little girl, extremely bright, athletic, strong. She loves animals. I can totally see her growing up to be a scientist, maybe a veterinarian.

It’s been really great over the past few months to see her relationship with her brother blossoming. To catch them sharing and taking turns unprompted. Having conversations. The other day she said “There’s the little white guy [one of her many nicknames for him]! I just love him so, so much!” and ran over and hugged and kissed him. It made my week.



June 26, 2012

Welcome, home.

It feels so good to be back.

It was such a good trip.

My heart feels so full.

So many stories to tell.

Here is a snapshot: After supper in the dining hall, people slowly spilling out onto the grassy, sloping lawn in the evening slant of the sun. My girl, my intense and serious child, running in an arc around the boys playing with a soccer ball. Her thick bangs fly up off her forehead and her bare feet flash in the grass. The boy her age – exactly six days older – breaks away and runs after her. Near me, they crash into each other and fall onto the grass. My girl is laughing hysterically. The boy runs away and she sits up, still laughing with that helpless full-body laughter that is like birdsong. He runs back, full tilt, and she meets him, and again they crash into the earth. The girl almost her age, but tall and strong, comes running to them and piles on top, and the three of them roll around like puppies, laughing and laughing and laughing. And again. And again and again, until their hair is soaked with sweat and their faces are red and flushed because it’s a hot, humid, summer day.

So I go to the guest house where we’re staying, pull out a few pots and pans and plastic tubs and buckets, measuring cups, pitchers, and fill everything with cool water and place it by the tall ornamental grasses and ornamental sandstone that forms a visual oasis just outside. The kids climb into the pots and tubs, squeezing their skinny little bums in as best they can, flinging water at each other with kitchen utensils. The splash and pour for over an hour, as the sun sinks low and fireflies begin to appear, winking on and off in the dimming light. (I think it was the first time my boy has seen fireflies.)

My kids had such a good time.


It was so strange to be in the US and not see my friends and family from home. I’m having mental whiplash. Then we came back into the heat of full summer. Our apartment smelled strange when we walked in, from having the A/C running. We’ve been hyper and exhausted in turn from the jet lag. At 1 a.m. our bodies think it’s time to get up for the day. Oz wakes crying, sobbing “Go! Out! Go! Out!” Illyria frenziedly keeps herself awake as long as possible and then crashes. Gimli just doesn’t sleep at all. It will take a few days to feel normal again.


So, for those following along, we signed our contracts to begin our work in Colombia in November. I can’t wait. Gimli is still – STILL!!! – on the fence. We’ve been having fantastically good conversations about what we want out of life, about our relationship, our kids.

(For anyone new here, we were just at a 2-week orientation seminar with the  development/ relief aid organization we’ll be with.)

Speaking of the kids… it was good to see Illyria in a preschool-like context. The child care provided during the seminar was so much better than I had imagined. The facility itself was amazing. I mean, it was to me – maybe it’s the norm, in the US, but to me it was just so well-equipped, so well-organized, it was like a toddler/preschooler paradise. And I think having a coherent daily rhythm where she was with the same group of kids every day was really good for her. She blossomed, socially.

At the same time, it made my heart ache a little bit to see her around the other kids her age, to see thrown in stark relief the differences in her patterns of interaction from them. As it turned out, one of the women on the staff was a retired special-ed teacher. On the last day, I mentioned to her that I’m thinking of having Illyria tested when we go back in September, and she sort of squinted and nodded, and said “yeah, I noticed a few things… a few behaviors…” and mentioned a couple things that I’ve also noticed. Gimli and I are so used to her ways of doing things and communicating that I think we don’t always realized just how unique she is in some of the things she does.

It’s weird – while I’m glad I had that conversation with the retired teacher (because it validated my concerns and made me feel less like I’m being hyper-vigilant or a worry-wart), it makes me incredibly sad that I now see my daughter differently than I did before. From a certain angle, anyway.

So. My heart is full. My head is tired. My body is resting. It’s 2:30 p.m., local time, and I should see if I can wake Illyria up so she doesn’t sleep the day away and then not sleep tonight.

Thanks for listening. xo


January 6, 2012

Yesterday I was lamenting to Dhurata that Illyria is still confused by aspects of language and grammar that I think she should have grasped by now, and Dhurata responded by pointing out how far she has come in a year. And it’s true. When we moved here, she wasn’t even making sentences – she finally started putting together subjects and predicates at 30 months. But now, closing in on four years of age in just a few months, she’s still confusing pronouns – referring to herself as “you,” and she thinks “me” means quite literally “mama” – and she doesn’t seem to understand some kinds of questions. She will answer “why” and either/or questions appropriately, but doesn’t seem to understand “what” questions. For example, she might say “Want Eeyore [Mama] tell Pooh [Illyria] a story” but when I ask “what story do you want?” She’ll answer “yes.” If I rephrase and ask “do you want Three Little Pigs, or Three Bears?” then she can answer that by choosing one, or suggesting yet another option, but it’s very consistent that she will fail to understand an open-ended “what?” or “which?”

I’m not quite sure what to make of this, or how to help her grasp these grammatical structures. I really want to have her evaluated by speech and developmental specialists when we get back to the States – another factor to put into the what-should-we-do-with-our-lives mix – so I can get a better idea of where she actually is, developmentally, and what I can do to help her more effectively.

She is finally starting to use articles, at last. Her speech and pronunciation are becoming clearer. Her grandparents report that even since September, they can understand her much better now than they could then. And in other ways she’s very quick to grasp concepts – she can read two-digit numbers and also count up to 100, and she’s very good at memory-matching games. She gets very involved in pretend play (as evidenced by her alter ego, Winnie the Pooh). She calls Dhurata “pretend Owl” (Dad is the real Owl). She has started drawing with markers, making happy faces with long arms and legs and flying hair. She adds big mouse ears to make them into cats. She knows the colors of the rainbow in order, knows upper case and lower case letters, can spell (both produce and recognize) Pooh, cat, Val, mama, sun, Dada, Babi (“dad” in Albanian), and others. She knows all the basic shapes, including the pentagon. It all seems amazing to me but at the same time I don’t know what kinds of things she is supposed to know at almost-four.

The bottom line is that I don’t know whether or how much I should be worried. What I should be researching. What I should be doing to help her get on track, so she won’t be behind when she starts school. And of course the social aspects are also a concern to me – particularly empathy. I don’t know how much of her selfishness is typical toddler ego and how much is indicative of potential problems down the road.


October 13, 2011

It’s the end of my workday; typically I head home by 3:30 so I can be there when Illyria wakes up from her nap. Otherwise she will lie in a dark room crying until I get there. But I don’t feel like going home today. I wasn’t sure what that was about, and then I figured it out.

We lost Pooh. Illyria’s grandma brought her two plush dolls, a Pooh and a Tigger, and they have been her constant companions for the past six weeks. This morning she threw the old “classic” Pooh out of Oscar’s crib and demanded the other Pooh, and suddenly with a sinking heart I realized I haven’t seen Pooh in… a while. She’d asked for him at bedtime on Tuesday night, and I was so tired I’d said “we’ll find him in the morning,” but when morning came I’d forgotten all about him. We’d had an exciting day, Wednesday, visiting Gimli in his office and going out for lunch together, so she hadn’t missed Pooh again until today.

And I realized the last time I saw Pooh was at the park on Tuesday. TUESDAY.

There is no way he’d still be there, but I went to look just in case. I even saw several moms and nannies again who had been there on Tuesday, and they all said they hadn’t seen him either.

So he’s gone.

I bought another, much inferior Pooh this morning but I don’t know if I’ll give him to her or not. Do I try to pretend it’s the same Pooh, and he never went missing? Or do I acknowledge that we lost Pooh, and this is a new one and it’s different, but it’s the best we can do? Or do I just see if Grammy can buy a new one in the States and mail it to us? I feel wretched. I suspect that Pooh got left out of sight in a little tunnel by the slide, but that’s still no excuse. I’m the mom and I should have remembered Pooh.

I’m dreading facing the moment when she realizes that we lost Pooh, and that’s why I don’t want to go home today.

Sleep Training

November 27, 2010

I thought I’d write this up here, instead of on my public/family blog since I’m feeling kind of vulnerable about the whole thing.  As I told T. this morning, I feel like a bad mom no matter what I do.

So we were off to a good start with G’s sleep training until he got sick, and then had his 4-month vaccines, and then started working on cutting his first tooth.  The past week or two we ended up in a sort of hybrid pattern, where I’d do the Baby Whisperer method to put him to bed for the night, and then after that just nurse him back to sleep every time he woke up (almost invariably every 2 hours, sometimes more), on the assumption that he was legitimately hungry.  He acts hungry and eager to nurse at night, but I will admit that generally he doesn’t really empty the breast, and by 3 or 4 a.m. he’s all gassy and grumbly and restless through until we wake up for the day around 7.  So I started bringing him into bed with me at that point because it’s so exhausting to keep getting up and tending to him, and it wakes T. up every time, unnecessarily.  A couple times the co-sleeping resulted in better sleep for me during this period.

For naps, after a couple times of trying unsuccessfully to Baby Whisper him down I ended up with a “whatever works” approach and just rocked or nursed him down.

So, no matter what sleep camp you’re in, I’m obviously doing it all wrong.

And it’s not working.  The trend has been that 1) ever since I started bringing him into bed with me, he’s been crying much longer at bedtime – back to 20-30 minutes instead of 5; and 2) naps have been getting harder and harder to manage, it takes him longer and longer to fall asleep and I have to rock him longer and longer once he’s asleep before I can lay him down in his crib (again up to 20 minutes or so).  If he were an only child that would be one thing, but V. has to wait for me until he’s asleep, and ends up watching way more E.lmo than I want her to while I’m in trying to get G. to fall asleep.  But even so, he’s getting so heavy that my back is killing me from rocking him in my arms all the time (no rocking chair here).  I just can’t keep doing this.  I need to be able to lay him down and walk away.

The trouble is getting there.  T and I had a council of war this morning and decided that our plan of attack is to do full-on BW for all naps and night waking.  He feels that G is ready for night weaning although I’m still kind of scared to go cold turkey.  I’d like to maintaing a feeding around 1 a.m. if I can.  It’s kind of frustrating cause all my gear is stuck in a shipment that won’t get here until Dec. 8 at the earliest – the breast pump, bottles, and bags for freezing milk – and until that gets here it’s all straight from the source.

The other complication is that T left this afternoon for a week-long work trip and so I’m solo with the kids for the next 8 days.  I’ve kind of decided though that I cannot wait until he gets back to start the training because I’m starting to lose all my patience and joy in life.  Friday, for example, I was so tired and dispirited that we just stayed home all day and I barely even played with the kids, it felt like keeping them clothed, fed, and in clean diapers was about all I could manage.  I felt like we did nothing creative or interesting all day.  I need more sleep, and I need G. to go to sleep on his own for naps.

Every time I rock him to sleep I feel like I’m being a bad mom.  Every time I nurse him down I feel like a bad mom.  Every time I hear him crying in his crib I feel like a bad mom.  But this afternoon I stuck with the BW method for his nap, and after 25 very long minutes (while V cried in the next room, unable to fall asleep herself for his crying) he fell asleep in the crib on his own.

See, 25 minutes really isn’t that long.  It just feels like it in the moment.

It feels good to have a plan and a method that I trust and believe in.  And I DO think that he will catch on more quickly than V did (personality plus starting earlier).  I just fear that for some reason it won’t work, and that I will have subjected both my children to unnecessary heartache.

Am I doing the best I can?  I’d like to believe so.  But I wish my best was better than what I’ve got at the moment.

Ok, so.

October 15, 2010

I keep going back and forth in my mind on whether or not V. might be “spectrummy.”  As you’ll see if you click on the link, I’ve been browsing autism spectrum disorder blogs, which is where I got the term.  And I’m so thankful that ICLW (even though I don’t participate myself, I just can’t take on another commitment) created a link between the IF blogging world and the ASD blogging community, I don’t know how long it might have taken me otherwise to find these bloggers.

Spending all day, every day, with V. is a new thing for me, and I’m seeing her in ways I don’t know that I did before.  To cut myself some slack, we did have a LOT going on this summer – high-risk pregnancy, new baby, moving a quarter of the way around the world.  Anyway, during her naps I’ve been reading stuff on line about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and like I said, I keep going back and forth in my mind – I read one thing and think “oh yeah, that sounds familiar,” and then another thing that’s completely not part of our experience.  But then there’s a great deal of diversity within the spectrum, so that’s inconclusive.

We’re in Albania.  I’m sure there are specialists here who could procure a diagnosis, but in English?  How would you possibly evaluate a speech delay in a foreign language??

V. is adding new words to her vocabulary every day, and she has finally started combining words – but just nouns and adjectives – “black shirt,” e.g. – not nouns and verbs.  She uses verbs, like something falls and she says “fall,” but she doesn’t say “book fall,” for instance.  She’s almost two and a half.

The other thing I’m uncertain about is pretend play – she doesn’t seem to really get it when I introduce elements of pretend into our play, although she does pretend certain things – she’ll pretend to drink out of an empty cup, and pretend to feed her stuffed animals.  That’s about it.

As for reciprocity, today I got her to take turns with me playing hide & seek, very briefly.  But most of our games consist of each person having a different role – like I throw her a stuffed animal, and she pushes it through the space between the table and the wall, one by one until the whole pile of toys is under the table.  Does that count?  I have no idea.

So anyway, I’m trying to really pay attention to the finer nuances of her play and verbal interactions, and to encourage the stuff she’s behind on, and lavishly praise her when she does new things and takes steps forward.

She is so precious to me.  Her smile and giggle make my day, her tears break my heart.

Red flags?

September 10, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was in the basement folding laundry while my sister-in-law packed up winter coats for long-term storage, and she asked me “have you ever had V. evaluated for…” and trailed off.

I knew immediately what she meant though, and supplied the words that have been lurking in the back of my mind on and off for maybe a year: “Autism spectrum, or Aspergers?  No.  We haven’t.”

So it was said out loud, and all I could think was “I don’t want to be having this conversation.”  But it was said out loud, and so I’ve been watching V. carefully and reading stuff online.

She’s only two, so a lot of the diagnostic criteria don’t really apply yet; for her age, there are a few red flags, though.  Not enough for me to be really worried – for once Dr. Google calmed rather than exacerbated my fears – but enough that I’ll keep watching and reading and maybe we’ll have her evaluated when we get back to the US in 2012.

There are a few red flags:

  • Generally, she really dislikes being around other children her age.  If she’s used to them – like the kids she sees every week at church nursery, or the daughter of the woman who used to babysit her 4 days a week – she’ll ignore them.  With the one little girl, she was finally getting to the point where she’d actually share toys and food with her, or imitate her, and then work schedules and bedrest and etc. led to our not seeing them for several months so I don’t know how she’d react to her now.  But if we’re at the playground and any other kids show up, she screams and cries – at best, just emits these high-pitched shrieks to get our attention and communicate her unease.
  • Speech delays.  We keep hearing anecdotes about some kid that didn’t talk at all until age 3 or 4 and then suddenly started using full sentences.  V. talks, but she’s way behind every other kid her age that I know.  She just barely hits the minimum requirement for her age.  I think she has over 150 words (many, many of them animals), but she very rarely combines them into phrases.  The closest she gets are “Ma, Da!” looking back and forth from one of us to the other in the car, or “In.  Box.”  when she climbs into a box.  It’s like she strings words together, but the whole isn’t really more than the sum of its parts.  I think she understands pretty much anything we say, she just doesn’t talk.
  • On the other hand, she’s very literate – she can identify every letter of the alphabet in any context – all the capitals and some lowercase – and knows what phonetic sound each represents.  She knows all the numbers and can (sort of) count to 20 (instead of “fifteen,” e.g., she says “fao-fao” which is how she’d pronounce “five-five”).  On a web site about Aspergers I read the term “hyperlexia”; I’ve been saying for months that she’s going to read before she can talk.
  • Another site mentioned that sleep problems are really common with Asperger’s – difficulty falling asleep? Check (up to two hours after lights out)  Night waking? Check (again, up to two hours at a time)  Early waking?  Hm… maybe; she seems to wake up for the day after 9.5 hours, no matter how they’re distributed, so sometimes she doesn’t get up until 9 a.m.  But sleep has been a huge issue for us since she was tiny.

So I don’t know.  She relates very well to her very small inner circle – me and T., her grandparents, her regular (30+ hours/week) babysitter, and doesn’t freak out in social situations that are familiar – friends we see on a regular basis.  But people she doesn’t know seem to provoke this extreme social anxiety.  Put that together with the speech delay and sleep problems, and we may have reason to have a screening done sometime in the next few years.

It makes me sad, but I still feel hopeful.  And watchful.

(You know what bugs me a lot though?  If we do get a diagnosis at some point, it will reinforce my sister’s campaign against childhood immunizations.)

Home bedrest

May 24, 2010

When we were in limbo, waiting for the proteinuria results, my husband said “well now you can imbue every moment at home with pathos.”  Indeed, I’m good at that!  I kept thinking “this could be my last shower at home… my last dinner at home… the last time I put my daughter to bed…” before hospitalization.

Now that I know I have some time – and blood pressures have been decent over the weekend, thankfully – there’s not as much pathos per se, but certainly I’m wringing all the pleasure I can from being at home and enjoying the company of my toddler.  Sure it’s not ideal that I have to lie on the couch or in bed, and I can’t play chase, or take her places, or even do the “Barnyard Dance” she keeps asking me for, but it’s such a pleasure to watch her play in the evenings after supper, before bed.  To eat breakfast with her in the mornings, looking at her books, talking about the day to come.

Over the next few days I may even be able to do a little work.  But right now I think I’m going to lie down again for a little bit before we go see the doctor again.  NST, ultrasound, BP check.  Here we go!

It’s true

February 16, 2010

It’s true, you encouraging people.  Things are slowly getting better.  My current theory with the toddler sleep thing is that it just took her that long to get used to the new babysitter.  Poor little one.  She started sleeping better about the same time that she stopped crying every time I left her.  I think that the various adjustments we made in her schedule helped, though, and we’re keeping them.  The only other change I’m making right now is to wake her up 2 hours into her nap.  The last couple weeks she’s been taking 3+ hour naps to make up for the interruptions in her night sleep.  Only right now she has a stuffy runny nose and so I’m tempted to let her go a little longer today if she wants to.

I can’t believe it’s snowing AGAIN.  I really feel for those people in DC and further north though who are getting it even worse than we are.

Oh, and we’re 18 weeks today… and I’m definitely starting to show…

Thanks, Mel!!!

February 25, 2009

Mel posted a very insightful response to the question I sent her last week about the Brianna situation.  I felt kind of weird about asking a parenting question on an IF blog, but I did think there were some parallels to the IF experience… anyway, she handled it graciously.

I haven’t decided for sure what to do, but I am leaning towards letting her go.  My other babysitter, Helen, said she can take on more hours, and MIL and T. said they can fill in some as well. 

I’m just so conflict-avoidant that I’m having a hard time getting up the nerve. 

This afternoon I did ask if she’d be open to trying other ways of getting V. to sleep, and she said sure, she just didn’t have any luck before with rocking etc.  “She won’t sleep for me.”  I need to get my work done, not spend 40 minutes trying to get V. to sleep because Brianna thinks she’s ready for a nap.