Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful for happy moments like this

James and Isabel dance. (James likes country and salsa, and Isabel likes opera and folk.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spider glove!

Isabel seems to be on a spider-compound kick. Some of you may already be familiar with her "spider-frog". Now, there's the "spider-glove"! Pictured here on long-suffering Rody, dressed by Zizi.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


ai æm ə i a
Repeated after me, syllable by syllable, and please forgive the transcription, as I'm not a professional. :)

Can you guess James' current favorite song? :) If not, click here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October at Hidden Villa

(Pictures added!)
We came back with our pants covered with (I think) cow manure. There's a big pile in the chicken section that the chickens run away from kids on. Unluckily for the chickens, my kids are not intimidated by small hills of manure. After a bit, they realized that James was (mostly) harmless, and seemed to prefer his quiet advances and general plopping down in the middle of them to the squeals of some visiting schoolkids who were getting a great tour. I hope the chicken taking a dirt bath can recover--it looked as if all the feathers on its back had been plucked. Do chickens persecute each other? As the kids ran past the cows and sheep, we got the usual "Are they twins?" question, and heard some teenage boys talking about how they wanted babies and how they wanted to be "daddies", which isn't something I hear every day.

We also got to see two piglets. The sow didn't like me coming over to look, but seemed, as most animals seem to be, more tolerant of the kids. Is the red lamp a heat lamp? And why is there a fence between them and their mother? It looks like they can go to her, but she can't go to them. James didn't want to go home after peeking in at the goats, and had to be relegated to my shoulders to get him back to the car. Isabel insisted on holding hands, and as James isn't very interested in holding on at the best of times (he has absolute trust that I won't let him fall off), it was a somewhat precarious journey. We were very grateful that we'd saved our water for the end! (Also very grateful that those stinging weeds near the rams had been cut back.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great five minute video about how people with Down syndrome are more alike than different

I loved watching this movie from the NDSC (National Down Syndrome Congress) this morning--I was especially interested in the young woman teaching sign language! Here's the link.This second link has Spanish subtitles.

James is very gently putting two babies to bed at the moment, patting them softly and tucking them in, and vocalizing. Isabel is placing chess pieces in their case, quietly counting them. Last night she was fascinated by the numbers after one hundred. I hadn't realized before how interesting a concept that was. You could just see the gears clicking over.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guess that DVD

So. James decides he wants to watch a DVD this morning. The problem is, it's not a DVD in either of our two DVD cases. He embarks on a spectacular signing extravaganza in order to explain what DVD he wants. He signs what looks like "giraffe" (this is the only sign that I haven't figured out by now). He agrees that it's a giraffe. He signs "signing" (confirms this) and what looks like "caterpillar", or "snail". He keeps shaking his head "no" after each guess--no, it's not a caterpillar, it's not a snail, it's not a lizard, not a dinosaur, not blanket. After about five minutes of repeating this, he tries another sign, that looks like him when he's going "crack-a-dog". (What? You haven't read any James Herriot?) Or maybe a crazed monkey. He says no to monkey, and no to gorilla. And no to crack-a-dog, and wild. He leads me to the TV and guides my finger to change channels. No such luck. Whatever this movie is, it isn't on one of our few channels. Hmm. He starts again. Signs "horse", and confirms it. Signs "frog". Yep, that's frog. I worry that he's remembering "Neighborhood Animals"--our copy of it got so scratched we haven't watched it for three years. I point to a Baby Einstein symbol on a book, and he smiles, but doesn't confirm it. I open the drawer of DVDs that aren't in our two cases of frequently used ones, and look around. Dog. Frog. Signing. Could it be "Baby Signing Time"? We put that away six months ago. I take it out.

James ecstatically smiles and grabs the blue Baby Signing Time DVD, and signs again--"giraffe" "signing" "caterpillar". Ah-ha! "Caterpillar" is "time"! He just kept his finger moving instead of keeping it still. And "The Pets I Love" song has a frog and a dog, and the "crack-a-dog" is the "Diaper Dance". So he approved of the "baby" in "Baby Einstein", but not the whole. Still can't figure out what the giraffe had to do with it--James' signs morph over time, usually becoming more exact, but giraffe and baby don't look at all alike. That was really hard. I'm impressed that he didn't give up!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kids at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Our day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this summer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lately, hugs are the solution to everything

James and Isabel have decided that the small disappointments in life can be cured by the simple expedient of hugging each other. I can't tell you how many times I've had to unbuckle the straps on one of the carseats when we're in the driveway, because one of them has decided that he or she doesn't want to go to school/wear shoes/be parted from a sopping wet Tigger, and one must comfort the other or dissolve into tears. As any tender anecdote has its less sentimental side, I must in all fairness say that I frequently have to remind them to hug around the shoulders, or the belly, but not the neck. See how successful I am.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soundtrack to the "wait and see" approach

Our house is mostly preschooler-proof. So, I've got a little leeway before responding to puzzling sounds. I've also got a helpful Spiderman narrator in Isabel. So this is what I heard from the kitchen, while sitting in the living room.

James: (patter, patter)
Isabel: "Hi, James."
James (I can tell this is James because Isabel hasn't learned to do this yet): (fwuhmp (refrigerator door opens), clatter clatter, crash, crinkle crinkle)
Isabel (musically): "Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share, clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere." (Repeated three times.)

At this point I stood up and walked to the kitchen, in time to hear:

James: (click (closes bluberry container))

There is not a single blueberry on the floor.

Isabel (to me): "More blueberries?"

Me: "Sure! I'll get two bowls."

I love that they got it cleaned up before I got there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our resident Jeeves

James walked into the living room a few minutes ago, and signed "bread". I said and signed "Do you want bread?" back. He shook his head "no", and walked into the kitchen, looking over his shoulder at me. I followed him, and he stopped in front of the toaster, pointing to it.

"Oh," I said. "My toast is ready." I took the rye toast out and put it on a plate.

James smiled and went back to his room.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

A slim grey volume

I hadn't realized until this evening that two of the books I am reading are slim grey volumes of strikingly similar proportions. It was, therefore, with some shock that I opened what I thought was Mary Poppins, only to find myself in the third chapter of All Quiet on the Western Front. It is, perhaps, safe to assume that when one is in the mood for reading Travers, Erich Maria Remarque is probably not a suitable substitute. I do find, though, that night is the only time I can stand to read All Quiet on the Western Front. I can feel terribly sad and depressed, and even cry, and wake up the next morning with the day fresh and only occasional remembrances of poignant distress and utterly wasted innocence. Whereas, if I read that sort of thing in the morning or afternoon, the rest of the day is completely destroyed. And so I read another twenty pages or so, which is all I can take for tonight, I think. I suppose it would have been funny if I had steeled myself to read about World War I, only to discover that I was about to find out what happened after Mary Poppins left the chalk picture. As it was, there wasn't anything very funny about it.

There was a great deal, though, of insight for me, that I'm glad I don't have to learn the hard way. I've just read the part about the closeness that the soldier feels for the earth at the front--she is his protector, his shield, and even in death she embraces him finally. The gallows humor and strange tendernesses that survive brutality, the magical abilities of Kat to procure bread, horsemeat, a pan, a lump of fat and a handful of salt in an abandoned warehouse visited only by men begging for food, which prompts the narrator to suppose that, plopped down in the middle of a desert, Kat would be sure to procure a supper of wine, dates, and roast meat from the arid waste. It is strange to look forward to reading a book, and yet to dread it terribly, so that the accident of discovering its true contents seems a fortuitous one, even as my spirit sinks.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What they do when they are supposed to be napping

Isabel sounds like the boss of this outfit this afternoon, but don't let the sound of things fool you. I heard Isabel saying "come on" as the kids headed for the other room, and then heard her say it again as they came back in, but to my surprise, it was James leading Isabel by the hand and Isabel hurrying to keep up as she continued saying "come on, come on". Maybe she is narrating for him. She's sticking up for herself, though, never fear. She said "Stop it, that hurts," when he pushed her to the wall, and says "turn, turn" when James has something she wants. James has, thankfully, decided against washing the dishes and has decided to read a book while Isabel slides her boat down the slide.This is the fourth day without naps. Why is it that children STOP napping when they're sick, just when they need it most?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


James tried to open the freezer door for a popsicle, but it was too high for him to get a good grip on the handle. I said "open?" and as he signed I repeated "ohh" as I signed and then all the sudden, James said "OHHpm"!James clearly feels that he has well-earned his popsicle, and is smiling his way through a blue popsicle on our gigantic blue glider. This is his sixth spoken word that really feels like a word. Though he vocalizes quite a bit, it's usually just one sound at a time. It's especially wonderful, because James has had some hearing loss in the past few months.

In other, unrelated news, look at this spectacular feat of naptime mothering! Two kids asleep in the same bed! If I ever accomplish this again...well. Even I can't imagine the consequences, but I'd probably at least have to gather up a bouquet of big lush peonies and conjure up a slice of coconut cake before falling asleep on the couch.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The rash

Intermittent waves of relief keep washing over Marco and me this evening. I took James in to the doctor this morning for a rash that had spread very quickly over his body, thinking it was an allergic reaction. There had been an outbreak of measles recently, so the doctor came in with a mask. He was worried by the targetoid nature of the rash, and I realized quickly that he was aware of much more dangerous possibilities than hives. James got blood tests and I gave him an antihistamine. I watched him like a hawk to make sure no rash appeared on his face or in his mouth while we waited to see the dermatologist. The rash crept up his neck and hovered at his jawline. After a very careful and thorough examination by two doctors there, I heard that it was, after all, hives, and not what had been feared.

It wasn't, perhaps, wise to look up the possibilities the doctor mentioned, but it was impossible for me not to do so. At "5-15% death rate" I stopped, and took a deep breath. I thought, "I'm not going to think about this until I know for sure what he has. I'm just going to keep him calm and happy with me." And that's what I did, until I knew he was going to be okay. What a tremendous, overwhelming relief.

The strange thing is, it didn't just overcome me once, but every hour or so, it washes over me again, and I feel the stiffness I didn't know I had relax. It's remarkable how much my body worries when my mind has determined not to worry itself. Marco was so worried while we were at the dermatologist's office. He'd prayed about James before we left, and had tried to do something calm while he waited for us to come home, or call, but he couldn't sit down. He ended up installing all of our air conditioners by himself during the hour we were gone. Sometimes you get so used to bad news that it seems no other kind will come. Feels pretty wonderful when everything is better than you'd hoped. We're very grateful for all the people who know the possibilities better than we do, and make sure our James stays healthy.

The rash is now fading away, slowly. I suppose I should have taken a picture, but I'm so glad it's on its way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

More? Beaver? Okay!

Isabel's been picking up crayons and pens and offering them insistently at all adults who enter the house, saying: "More? (Supply animal here)? Okay!" This is a request to draw said animal on the easel in the living room. We've been getting a lot of requests for skunks lately, and beavers, but she's been a bit disappointed, it seems, with the beavers. (If you've seen my beavers, you probably wouldn't be as puzzled as I have been by this.)

So today, on the way to the stroller to head off to the park, Isabel grabs a palm-sized rock from our gravel driveway and says "Beaver!" triumphantly as she's packed into her side of the stroller. The rock was confiscated shortly before we got to the park because she was treating said beaver as a popsicle. So, once we arrived back home again, Isabel was barely released from the stroller before she plopped down in a w-sit on the driveway and gathered up more "Beaver!" with delighted smiles. Next time I watch Signing Time Volume 8, "The Great Outdoors", I'm checking out the beaver section. How much you want to bet there are a lot of rocks?

Isabel isn't the only one to find the idea of beavers somewhat elusive--when I was dating my husband, I had a hard time convincing him that beavers were real, and that, no, I was not making this up. I had to show him the article in the encyclopedia. It's pretty wonderful that there are still animals on the earth that defy belief.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Zizi the Bear

If you should happen to see Zizi standing next to a tree and bobbing up and down, saying "That feels good!" enthusiastically, it's because she's Baloo. She'd really like to pull the tree up by the roots and rub her back with it, but we haven't started weightlifting with the kids yet. (Though it's a treat to see pink-faced Isabel moving one of my dumbbells from one room to the other, for who knows what nefarious purposes of her own.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Zizi's chicken ambition, and James' night surprise

As I spooned out carrots and potatoes, and Marco began to carve off a drumstick, Isabel sat in her chair with her blue fork, waiting. This was all taking far too long for a hungry two year old. With a sudden look of wild surmise, she raised her tiny fork and planted it firmly into the 3-lb. roast chicken in front of her, whereupon she gamely attempted to lift the whole thing onto her plate.

James was asleep, and woke later, disconsolate, in the way that small children are when they've missed their naptime and fall asleep late, and unintentionally, only to wake a few hours later and find that there is no day left, and they are not tired enough to go to sleep for the night. After a few consoling measures to calm his tears, James sits and watches "Bedtime with Elmo" with me. Watches is almost certainly the wrong word. He sits with his back to the screen, and with a two foot Elmo in one hand, has him act out in the scene carrying on behind him, which he knows by heart. He doesn't speak, but Elmo turns the light on and off in the right places, looks in the right direction for every speech, and interacts with me as Elmo does with his Daddy in the movie. When I don't get Daddy's part quite right, James gently guides my movements. Soon we come to a poem. It is a poem in ASL, called "Night", that a young boy composed and performed. James, his back to the screen, and in the dark except for his small nightlight, performs it too, carefully and with expression. I watch, breathless, with a tear starting.

Here is the "Night" segment from Sesame Street.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A sudden influx of patience

As I was struggling to get James to accept the mask of the nebulizer over his face (he used to like this, see left), and James protested and scratched and threw himself around, Isabel began to express her displeasure with this summary treatment of her brother. Barely noticing the escalating screaming coming from somewhere to the right as I concentrated on trying to get some of that albuterol in James, there was a sudden burst of surprise and horror from the floor. Isabel, in her distress, had thrown herself from the rocking chair, headfirst onto the milk crate holding toys, and was now crying disconsolately on the floor. As I abandoned the dinosaur mask and rushed to hold her, James sat on the edge of the bed, shudderingly crying softly. That's it, I thought.

On some days, the "That's it." would have meant something entirely different. That's it. I've had it. I want to go into my own room, cry for a little, then surround myself with my down comforter and read something that has nothing whatsoever to do with children, while my husband comes home to rescue the kids from a mother who can no longer accept the terrible consequences of trying to do the right thing. I don't think I've ever asked him to do that, but I've certainly gone to my room and to bed until some little thing came toddling after me to peek at me under the covers.
Today, though, it didn't mean that. It was a like a blanket coming down on me, that made me feel lighter, not heavier. It meant, I'm not doing this anymore. I've always thought I've been pretty good at discerning which battles needed to be fought where my kids were concerned, and have congratulated myself on the many things that I haven't deemed worthy of my own specific control on the outcome. Spilled drinks are taken away, and aren't lectured over. Uneaten food is not insisted on. Sometimes, James doesn't have to sit in his car seat right away, but can pretend to drive for a minute, even when we're late to preschool. But this was a battle I thought I needed to fight. James was coughing more, and it's true, it did seem that James wasn't as enthusiastic over putting the dinosaur mask as he used to be, but it was only for a few minutes. Still, drastic consequences ensued--worse, surely, than more coughing and discomfort.

So we quit it. Everyone went to go watch Elmo. The nebulizer came too, and got plugged in, and sat with us. James didn't trust me at first, but within a few seconds, he sat in front of me and leaned back, the mask a few inches from his fingers. After the first skit, his fingers found it, looked at it, and put it away from him. After the second skit, I put it on my mouth. "Dinosaur!" I cried, and roared quietly. After a few repetitions, Isabel wanted to try. She did the same. We took turns over the next couple of skits, and I could see James smiling and eyeing us out of the corner of my eye. On my next turn, he grabbed it from me and put it on his face. I exhaled happily. We all took turns for a while. I turned the nebulizer on. James moved away and sat on the floor. Isabel and I took two short turns, Isabel holding it away from her face, and me too. Then we turned it off, and I packed it up. Little by little, but no more holding him.
It's true that he used to be used to it. But now, he isn't. The same at the doctor's office today, with the oximeter, the otoscope, and the thermometer. He was such a pro. But now, the only thing he trusts is the stethoscope. But we can start over again. And it can take a long time, and we may even have to start again sometime after that. And even though James wanted a bath, and ran away when I started the water and didn't come back, Isabel got one. And she got the most patient mother she's ever had. Everybody's asleep now. It's amazing to me, how when I felt everything was going wrong, suddenly patience descended, instead of withdrawal, or tears. Everything moved in slow motion, and it suddenly seemed that we had a great deal of time to work this out, and that there wasn't any rush. I hope it comes again--I really appreciated the visit. And so, I'm sure, did the kids.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I've been thinking about how deceptive appearances can be. In South, Sir Ernest Shackleton mentions the hopes some of the men had of boarding a solid-looking iceberg that seemed to be heading in the right direction, toward land, instead of staying on the floe they were on. His explanations of his misgivings about the soundness of such a plan are full of the deceptive qualities of icebergs--of their apparent sturdiness, of the invisible flaws that lead to a sudden collapse, of their susceptibility to changes in current, and the difficulty of launching the boats from their steep sides.

I am not very good at reading facial expressions. I had thought that I was, but I've had it hammered into me again and again that I am not. Facial expressions always seem more negative than they later prove to have been, and I have been guilty too often of trusting the interpretation I've given the face over the actions of the person. I've finally had to realize that I don't read faces well, and it is a strange relief to be able to remind myself of this when I get, I think, a negative reaction. Or maybe none of this is right, and it's simply a lack of understanding--the facial expressions of people may have nothing to do with what they are talking about! What a strange thing to discover, all of the sudden, as if it were new. That others speak, just as I do, about one thing, while they are often thinking of another.

But it isn't really this that has really come home to me today. It's the emptiness of jealousy. I have realized today, that someone I had envied years ago, once but intensely, was not to be envied at all. I would snatch my troubles to me and never release them rather than have hers, and I'm so sorry. It's amazing how easily I assume from appearances, that everything is going well. And this must apply to how people talk and act, to the currents underneath, the hidden flaws, the fragility of great strengths, the sudden great drops into dangerous waters. I don't mean that people are deceptive in that they aren't to be trusted, only in that they aren't what they seem, or, at least, what I see. I haven't been looking hard enough. People are so fragile and so strong in unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

James' ASL tutor

Marco and I have been really excited about what's happened since James started being tutored in ASL two weeks ago. Although we've only had two sessions of an hour each, we've already noticed many changes, most of them after the very first time. James began to work much harder on the clarity of his signs, and made handshapes and gestures during the class that he'd never made before. James also made a few signs perfectly that he had always adapted before, including "shoes", which he made with two fists for the first time, instead of a fist and an open hand, and "car", for which he made an alternating motion for the first time, instead of both fists going in the same direction. He suddenly began to understand that there was a difference between palm-forward and palm-towards-the-body, too, and began experimenting with that, making the sign for shoes correctly (and, later, incorrectly, with a smile, before switching back), and "rabbit" with the palm facing backwards for the first time. Though James' tutor only concentrated on ten signs (and James knows many hundreds), the effects of really concentrating on these signs seems to have extended to other signs he knows--he's been more careful to make them the way he sees me do them, and is paying more attention to the handshapes I'm making. He's isolating his fingers many things! It's really amazing to me.

As if this weren't enough, he's vocalizing more, especially while signing, and vocalizing to signs he's never made sounds to before, like "m" to "farm", and articulating, though not giving voice, to consonant-vowel-consonant words like "pen". He's also started saying "r" when we talk about the letters of the alphabet. I noticed this during the first lesson, and have been thinking about why he might be doing this more when his tutor is here. His tutor went to both Deaf and oralist schools, and says words for us as he signs them. He's good at this, but the sounds of the words are sometimes simplified. I think this makes it easier for James to try to repeat them. This seems to go along with what Dr. James MacDonald told us to do--to often emphasize sounds when identifying and talking about objects, rather than the whole word. He says this makes us more "possible" communication partners, which is a phrase that makes sense to me. The great thing about working with just a few sounds and signing as well, is that James gets, and repeats, the simplified sounds, and is still communicating completely at the same time with signs.

This has been an unexpected benefit to what was primarily an effort to bolster the language that's worked best for James so far, ASL. I'm very happy that this is both improving his ASL and his speech. Pretty incredible. We're really excited that so little time can improve James' communication so much, and the work certainly carries over to the rest of the week. James signs more in general, and talks about his tutor in his absence, using kind of an odd sign that looks like "daddy", but at the back of his head (maybe the cochlear implant?) to indicate him, and then demonstrating the signs that he emphasized that week. He really loves it when he comes, and brings him all sorts of things for him to identify. About halfway through he gets tired from all the work, :), and his tutor teaches me so I can teach James later. I'm getting a lot of practice fingerspelling, and understanding fingerspelling, which I'm not used to having to do. I know this sounds strange, but I've always loved the feeling of total ignorance I get when I'm trying to get along in a foreign language for the first time. This liking usually fades, as I get frustrated trying to get better, but better mastery (if it ever comes) usually restores the good feeling. :)