Thursday, December 10, 2009

Popsicle discoveries

I tried to make jello popsicles today, trying to recreate those "slow-melt" popsicles (secret ingredient--gelatin!), but the sticks came right out. Managed to extract one, stickless, and distributed forkfuls to delighted kids. Anyone got a better recipe than 1 box jello, 2 cups boiling water, 1/2 c sugar and freeze? :) Left them in for more than 24 hours, but they didn't seem to freeze very hard. Chemists?

On another popsicle note, I was looking up "popcorn" in our ASL dictionary as I was making it, and came across "popsicle" on the same page. And the sign is (drumroll) exactly the same sign James made up for it! Interesting how often this happens.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Isabel to the rescue

As I cried "Ho, ho, ho!" while I was reading "Merry Christmas, Curious George" this morning, Isabel rushed to the refrigerator and came hurriedly back, clutching a letter from her magnetic alphabet set.

"O!" She cried. She smiled, satisfied, having faithfully fulfilled her mother's fervent request for that particular letter.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What happens when I don't teach signs fast enough

Isabel sometimes has "silent" days, where she only signs. A funny thing about this is that she also keeps her lips clamped tight, as if to emphasize that there will be no talking today. It was on one of these days that we saw her signing "please milk mama shirt" where her usual version is "please milk mama SURE!" ("Sure!" is apparently the answer she's anticipating, and the answer she thinks worth prompting. It works pretty well, I have to say.) So this one was pretty easy to figure out. It got me thinking, though, about why she might be signing what looked like "pig" whenever she played with her mini-pumpkins. Sure, they both started with "p", but...

This morning the explanation emerged. Isabel was quietly stacking her pumpkins, when Signing Time came on and Rachel said "Hopkins!" (the frog). Isabel was exceptionally pleased, and raised up one of the pumpkins signing what was now, clearly, "frog", and yelling "UPkin! "
(By the way, Isabel DID have a clip in her hair the morning we went to Webb Ranch, above, but she soon took care of THAT...)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Marco's teaching the kids in the bathtub

[Marco whistles.]
Me: Yes?

Marco: Watch this! [Sings.] Ice, ice, baby. Dindiddleindiddleindin. Ice, ice, baby. Stop. Hit it?

Isabel: Uhnatime!

Me: [Buries face in hands.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kaa suggests Forster, but I opt for Koko

James has a cough today, so he's home with me while Isabel's off with her grandparents. We'd been hypnotizing each other as we watched Kaa in the Jungle Book (with James occasionally falling spectacularly as if Mowgli'd just pushed him off a branch, and, more often, strangling me with his arm coils), when James ran off to my room and came back waving a book. I thought, oh, good, enough boa constricting, let's see what he wants to read.

E.M. Forster's Aspects of the novel. Hmm. Thoughts of James, the budding literary theorist were quickly dispelled as James signed "Please milk Mama". So Marco was right. But I will say that James has astonishingly good taste in reading material--he always knows which books I'm in the middle of. He probably wakes up in the middle of the night and peruses my Goodreads selections.

Despite this, I decide to put on A Conversation with Koko instead while James has some milk. His interest in milk fades as he realizes that there is a gorilla using ASL on the television, and he goes over and looks her over, signs what she does, and looks back at me. It is really wonderful to watch his surprised, pleased face whenever he sees someone new signing.

Isabel, meanwhile, made her first foray into counting backwards last night, in the dark, in her car seat, very softly: "9, 8, 7, 6, 5...6, 7, 8, 9, 10" while swinging her feet in her new brown mary janes.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This one goes up to eleven.

Prompted by Isabel's more enthusiastic response to my dad's prompts for speech when they were directed at someone other than her, I looked up afterwards what I could remember from what he'd said: "parrot rival method".

Pretty sure I'd never typed that before.

I was interested in the "model-rival method" that psychologist Irene Pepperberg had used with her parrot, Alex, at Brandeis, because I had originally thought that James might have a similar reaction once Isabel started talking. I thought he would be motivated to vocalize when he saw interactions that I had with him generating a different response in his sister, but what really happened was that Isabel became more interested in signing than in vocalizing herself. That is, it worked. On her, not him, and James' system, signing, took precedence. James, contrary to what I thought at first, has never had a problem with motivation. I was astounded when I realized that he signed, and spoke for that matter, before Isabel did. His reasons for barely being able to speak are different from the reasons for Isabel's expressive language delay, and the squawks of the unlearned parrot, and the way he eventually comes to speak will be just as different as the ways they will. Diane Sherman has had some success using Pepperberg's version of the model-rival method with small groups of children with autism. Autism hasn't much in common with Down syndrome. Still, it would be interesting to apply these principles, consciously this time, having both kids be models and rivals, and see what happens with both.

It turns out Alex was the parrot Kim mentioned to me last week who "knew about zero". I was skeptical, because (it's a character defect, and) it seemed from what I knew about numerical history (I mostly enjoy math when it's historical, or when it's impossible), zero was a pretty late concept in humans. So I'm interested to read about it. Here is the article. It's not often you can get this kind of thing without a subscription.

I've been interested in counting, too, because of two things. I've been bogged down in the book, The Psychobiology of Down Syndrome, for, I think, a year now, and the studies on the stages of understanding counting were fascinating. Also, counting was one of Isabel's first interests, and numbers perhaps her first attempts at words. She's gone through a few stages so far: learning a list of vocalizations, knowing that, aside from a vocal performance, counting is something we do as we pick up one object at a time, and the dawning knowledge that sometimes we count backwards, and why do we do that?! She sometimes furrows her brow at this, and sometimes smiles delightedly, but never, never participates in it. She also never counts past eleven outside of her immediate family, and never past fourteen no matter who's listening. Anything beyond that, to judge by her laughter when I suggest fifteen, is just ridiculous.

Friday, October 30, 2009

James' suggested reading material

Last night James launched himself onto my bed by way of the glider, carrying a small, pink volume. He offered it to me, cover towards me, and signed, "please milk, mama". The book was "Mothering your nursing toddler", by Norma Bumgarner. Marco thinks James just noticed that I liked to read while nursing, and thought he might have a better chance of a yes if I already had a book. I prefer to think he had some idea of the content of the thing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Greased lightning

Marco came in to a baby, face down on the dining room table, pushing up on her hands and scrabbling with her feet to gain a toe-hold. She was covered in butter.

I know. I want the picture, too.

So while I was enjoying an hour to myself at the bookstore, glutted for choice, Marco was wiping down a greased baby with paper towels.

Monday, July 27, 2009


As I tried to navigate the narrow doorway, laden with two laundry baskets, Isabel took her accustomed station, standing directly in front of my feet and gazing unconcernedly around the room. "Zizi, move please." She backs up, managing to manoeuvre a little closer to my shins without standing on my feet. "Move, please." No response. "Zizi. I'm stuck. Move, please, so I can get through." Isabel, thoughtfully, emphatically bovine: "Moo!"

How arbitrary the world must seem when you are not yet two. I wonder how many of my requests make as little sense to Isabel as this one. It's really astonishing how cooperative children are, considering.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"And now for something completely different"

It is fascinating to read Henry James. His preoccupation with detail is mesmerizing. I find it delightful to move so slowly through his words, to see life in slow motion, every part emphasized, the unimportant unsevered from the important. This methodical record of every gesture and thought gives such a reassuring importance to life, and to self, unimpaired by the pettiness of the outcome or motive. Somehow this pace, this all-enveloping gaze, lends a gravity unsullied by the object of its focus. It is relaxing. There is no hurry. And no one is going anywhere.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thinking about Zizi. And Mr. Rogers.

After watching James and I hold hands while "rowing" the boat this afternoon, Isabel let me do the same with her. It is the first time since she was a tiny baby that she was willing to have me hold her hands, without her feeling that she was losing her independence. She and James did quiet screams, and small, smiling, roars. It is such an amazement to me how quiet they both are. They can be loud, and Isabel can be very loud, but their general temperament is so calm and easy-going. I've been watching a long documentary on Fred Rogers rather slowly, and I find his way of talking about things is slipping into mine. I'm remembering now the song about how the very same people who are sometimes wet, are sometimes dry, and how the very same people who are sometimes noisy, are sometimes quiet. It makes me think, too, of what a friend said recently, that there is no one at all in the world who is always in control. Mr. Rogers said that feeling out of control is the scariest feeling in the world, and I think, you know, that he must be right. And so "What do you do with the mad that you feel?" comes to mind. I remember that I used to do a few of the things he mentioned--play angrily on the piano, and run as fast as I could. I wonder what I do now, now that we aren't allowed to have a piano, and running as fast as I can is too fast for the two children who are always with me. I'm not quite sure what I do with it.

I teach a class of girls from eight to eleven years old, and I happened to mention Mr. Rogers this evening, and no one had heard of him. I could feel my face fall as I thought of this. I tried to explain to them what he was like, and what the show was like. He is on DVD at our local library now. There is something about him which seems to affect me now as much as then, and, I can't help thinking, maybe even more than when I was a child. There is so much background to what he is saying now, that what he says fills in more experience than it used to do. I daresay this is more Mr. Rogers than you're used to hearing about from anyone these days, but it really has been quite astonishing to go back to him again. "It's you I like" has made me a better person the last few days, more than any goals I have made for myself have done. He says, that, too, now that I think about it--that it is hard to grow, unless you can be accepted for who you are right now. That simple idea helps me with myself, and with other people, too.

Isabel has some delays in receptive and expressive speech, which seem to be lessening lately. I'm encouraged by this, but confused about how much to worry, or to do. I know that if she had been my first child, I would have patiently waited and done nothing, and been sure it was the correct course. I am not so sure this is the correct course now, but neither am I sure I want to jump into evaluations and therapy, as helpful as I know they can be. I can't help feeling, in the back of my mind, that this, this way Isabel is "doing" language, is the way she has done everything else. She was watched, and studied, and she has done these two things for a long time, and then she has done it, all of the sudden. And I see a kinship there, with liking to read the manual of a camera from front to back before I turn it on, with the almost unconquerable desire to "start at the beginning", no matter how ridiculously far back that may be, and no matter how repetitive it may be, rather than to jump in the middle. But, I might be wrong. And she might need help. So we're easing our way into the pool, and I'm almost thankful for the wait list and endless backlogs before we can see the audiologist, and the developmental pediatrician, the speech therapist, and possibly the regional center. I'm hoping to somehow travel both paths, I suppose. Wait, and not wait.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying who she is. This evening, after James went to bed, Isabel and I looked at "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Colors". She smiled and roared quietly some more, but it was the "Colors" book that piqued her interest. She turns to the yellow page, and says, "ba: ba: ba:" for the duck, then turns to the blue page, and signs "butterfly" with her hands apart, with many flappings. On the orange page she says "shhhh" for "fish". We talked about strawberries on the red page, and I signed "strawberry" a few times. She liked putting my hands together to make the sign.

Isabel also likes "What Does the Baby Say?", by Karen Katz. She gives her own version of most of what the baby says. Most of her versions are imitations of the rhythm and intonation, rather than the words. James is this way, too. Isabel's "talking" reminds me of the saxophone in Disney's "Fun with Music" saying, "well, what do you know about that?" in notes. I like how surprising her little musical outbursts are, and how shy and smiling. She is so very pleased with little things. I like that about her. James likes that, too. It is easy to make her laugh, and she likes to be caught when James chases after her. I love her serious face and bouncing curls, and the sudden outpouring of dust and bark all over her clothes when she dumps the bucket of tanbark all over herself with delight. And I like it when she says, over and over, "zizi. zizi. zizi." I love you, Zizi.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another epiphany at the park

James, Isabel, and I were at the park at midday yesterday, and it was sunny and full of kids. James and Isabel had moved on from the smaller structure to the big one, and James was climbing up the arch, and sliding down the big slide. A bigger boy was playing with a little girl, and gently encouraging her up the ladder, step by step, and waiting for her to go down the slide with him. James was fascinated by this pair, and began following them, doing exactly as they did. Sometimes he would catch up, and sometimes he would be far behind. Sometimes he would just wait, halfway there, and watch them go down the slide, a smile on his face. When the boy started coaxing the girl up the arch, step by step, James, at first, followed to do the same.

Halfway up, he changed his mind--he wanted to come down, but the little girl was right behind him, and she didn't seem to know how to back up. He was losing his grip as he hung on, scared of a drop twice his height, and I plucked him out and put him down. He stood smiling, watching her go the rest of the way. It was then he seemed to decide on a new course of action. He waited at the bottom of the slide for the two to appear, and he'd smile at them. Then he'd accompany them to the base of the ladder or the arch, smiling up at the two children, and walk slowly towards the slide, his gaze never leaving them until they reached the bottom again, and he would laugh. At first I loved this, and then, quite suddenly, I worried, why doesn't he follow them anymore? Why did he give up?

I'm happy now that I had read, many months since, an experience by a fellow mother with a son with Down syndrome. She had seen him playing tag with friends, and it seemed, that though he was smiling and having fun, that he was always "it". This dampened her enjoyment in their game until she felt she had to say something. The children were embarrassed, and she quickly realized that she had spoken as if her feelings were her son's, which, she saw suddenly very clearly, they were not. He liked being "it". He loved being the center of the game!

And so it was this that immediately came to mind, and it brushed away the worry in one clean stroke. James loved watching them, and he loved his own small part. They smiled when they saw him peeking over the tunnel slide, every time they came down. He was a part of the game, without interfering, and his delighted appraisal of their every move seemed to make the already wonderful little pair a little brighter, a little more worthy of admiration.

Isabel, meanwhile, was happily sucking on tanbark.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Uh oh!"

As you may have noticed, my kids are not big talkers. Isabel very occasionally does a dead-on imitation. Once, in the middle of the night, when there were teeth coming in, Isabel was up for an hour, imitating me beautifully. I heard her say "Grandpa" absolutely clearly. In the morning, she said, "aempah", and then never said it again. This is what Isabel's talking has been like--momentarily glorious, usually meaningless, and then never seen again. So Marco and I have been delighted, that something seems to have finally stuck. And it's "uh oh".

It's fun, that glottal stop in the middle. Maybe that's why it stuck. Isabel has always seemed to like the pauses, the intonations, the expressions of speech more than the practical use of it. She puts blocks on top of each other, and "counts" them with "uh"s. You can tell she's counting because of her beautiful rendition of my falling then rising tone that I use when I count. "wuhUHN, tuU, thriI..."(Can you tell I'm too lazy to put in the international phonetic alphabet?). She knows what dogs say and what ducks say, (at least what James thinks they say), but is utterly uninterested in talking about mama, or even papa, unless he makes the mistake of not paying her homage at exactly the right time in the morning. If he is early (that is, before 90 seconds post-waking up), she screams. If he is late, or makes the mistake of passing by to go get his socks, "pahPAE!"

James is beginning to take these outbursts in stride. At first, Isabel's yellings reduced him to a crying heap of jello. Now, he's down to a worried look, and an occasional creeping smile, if the reason for the outburst is particularly outrageous, or better yet, of his own making. ("I wonder what Isabel will do if I put this red fluffy chair on top of her?") Luckily, they are so close in strength and size, that she can't really be preyed upon for long without her own particular siren going off, and James backing up. It's kind of entertaining. James couldn't make that kind of noise if he tried, and it's interesting (in my better moments) to hear that kind of noise coming out of a baby of mine. Though I prefer Isabel toddling across the park repeating, worriedly, "Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh," as I pull the stick out of her mouth, and she, being rather delightfully obedient, drops it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drawing again

As I drift back to my prepartum weight, I find myself awakening to charcoal. I'm amazed to see that the little desire is still alive. It has been submerged for years now, and I had not thought to revive it. But, it has started again, and even though I haven't yet rummaged in my cupboards for the stumps that I have left, I recognize its coming, because when I look at people I know, I start to see their planes and smudges, their sparkles and twists, their weight and texture. And they look different every time I see them, instead of the same. This time, I think, it will be easier. This time, I won't have to worry about whether I'm any good. This time, I just have to find a fixative that works.
I had hoped to write. I had hoped, that, one day, it would just hit me, that urge to write, that not being able to live without writing. It hasn't. It is disappointing to find that I am only a reader of books. No creative drive that hits me, ever hits hard enough. Every way seems equally open. Nice problem to have, I think, and I say. But it isn't. I wonder if I've been fooled--by what writers say about writing, by what artists say about making. I've always had a bit more fellow-feeling for the ones who did it for the money. It's probably natural contrariness, but it does seem irritating, this quest for purity in art, and seriousness in literature. The robbing of practicality detracts also from the pleasure. There should be more transitory, and repeated pleasure in art, like the pleasure in life drawing, from sketching, and curving, and following caressingly, and shading--the gloriousness of the curls erased into being, and then tossing it for the next view, the next movement. Which all sounds rather decadent and delicious, until you go home and having nothing to show for it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Ekhem" and Frequently Headless Snow White

We have a little Snow White doll that my sister-in-law gave us, who plays "let me call you sweetheart" when you twist a key in her back. She started out new and pristine (see left), but she's been so well loved, especially by James, that her head, which originally bobbed slowly from side to side, now twists all the way around, and easily comes off, despite numerous supergluings. (Isabel, with furrowed brow, was frantically snapping her finger up and down this morning, and when I looked to see why, one of the doll's curls was stuck in a small snag in her fingernail, and the doll's head was bouncing up and down at her side quite cheerfully. Isabel had been carrying the head around by the hair this afternoon, like a little totem.) Her springily curled hair is permanently tangled, and wraps around her neck, and her shoe buttons have come undone. Her face is smudged below the nose, so you can't see her mouth anymore. It's the best thing that could happen to a doll--well, almost the best thing, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

James loves the music, but he can't yet twist the key. He signs "doll", and hands her to me when he wants the music. I said to him today, "say 'help me'", while signing the same. He dutifully signed "help me", and vocalized, "ekhem". I was so excited! He was happy, too. I like James' sounds.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Isabel cannot resist the Force

Isabel, attached to Mama like Superglue, has been detached and placed into a cushy red chair, whereupon she angrily protests all attempts to be distracted from the horror that is Being Separated from Mama. Cracker? Fling! Stuffed animal? Fling! Book? Isabel, about to fling, looks again, out of the corner of her eyes. It's "Where's Baby's Pumpkin?", a Karen Katz Halloween book. She makes a tense "eeee" sound, with all her teeth showing. Her hand attempts to fling, her wrist moves, but she is unable to follow through. Her arm draws the book inexorably towards her, and she sighs. She flips the pages, wiggles around in her chair, and looks at the pictures. Books--Fox kryptonite.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Elmo seems familiar

Isabel, James, and I were playing with Elmo today. It all started rather innocuously--we gave Elmo some milk in a bottle to drink, and some juice, while Elmo wore his bib. James showed Isabel how to give Cookie Monster some milk, too. Then James tore off Elmo's bib. He signed "hurt". I asked Elmo where he was hurt. "Where? Where? Your nose?" James pointed to his nose and smiled. I gathered up Elmo and said, "Oh, Elmo, that's too bad. Oh, poor Elmo--his nose hurts." Then I banged his nose on the floor. "Oh, no, Elmo hurt his nose! Oh, I'm sorry, Elmo." Well, Elmo got mad.

James put his hand in Elmo's mouth, with a fiendish grin, wrestling him around. "Elmo, no! No biting. That hurts James. Say you're sorry, please." After Elmo says he's sorry, he bites James again. "No, Elmo!" Then James bites Elmo. "No, James! No biting. That hurts Elmo. Say you're sorry, James." James signs that he's sorry. Then Elmo sits in the camping chair. I put some mismatched shoes on him. James takes them off, and puts them on again. He puts Curious George next to Elmo. They sit together companionably. James signs, "sleep". He sweeps up Elmo and looks for a suitable bed. He heads off to Mama's, and gets Elmo comfortable, reaching high up to get Elmo's head on the pillow. He gives him a good night kiss. Then James makes Elmo cry, and signs "milk", and takes him out of bed and hands him over. Ah ha. Elmo has just gotten some milk when Daddy comes home.

It's fun to see how what Elmo does corresponds to what James does, and what, maybe, he wishes he could do. I liked how the biting came right after I hurt Elmo's nose, and I thought it was interesting that Elmo wanted milk before bed. James doesn't usually get milk before bed, these days, and when he asks for Mama, Daddy explains that she's sleeping and she'll come in the morning.

I'm still a little shocked that I hurt Elmo's nose on purpose, but I'd been reading about pretend play and how it's a safe place to explore scary emotions. It's better to be able to experiment with these in this setting, and though I was thinking, like one of the mothers talked about in the book, but why model behavior you don't want to see emulated, I could see that, even without a model, James was perfectly capable of scratching my face, biting my shoulder, etc., and that NOT modeling it hadn't prevented it so far. Maybe if he was able to distance himself from the emotion a little bit, displace it, I guess, it would be easier to see different ways of responding to it, and easier to accept them. It always seems easier to me take advice on a subject before, or when it is not currently, the problem. Even if not, he seemed relieved to be led into a somewhat aggressive, a little bit whiny storyline, and it didn't prevent him from bringing in things to make Elmo feel better, like his friend Curious George, and the milk, and hugs and kisses from Mama and James. Of course, Elmo thinks this is all a pretty dumb justification for a totally unprovoked attack on his nose. Sorry, Elmo. Sorry.