Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cold That Lasts Forever

The Wife just texted me to let me know that she was picking The Boy up at school. Ms. B, her teacher, said that he just wasn't doing very well, so - discretion being the better part of valor - she went to go get him. I wonder, considering his medical history, if we're always going to take a softer approach with him in regards to sick days. I know, with Little Bear, I tend to be a lot more cavalier: "He's not as feverish as he was. I'm pretty sure he's not contagious anymore, so send him to school." But, with The Boy, we tend to respond to every little thing with a lot of close attention.

It makes sense, right? We educated ourselves quite thoroughly on the long-term effects of his chemotherapy drugs, and we are extremely well aware of the higher incidence of kidney issues and other forms of cancer (particularly leukemia in the teenage years). I would wager that we know more about the frequency and quality of his bathroom emissions than many parents of kindergarteners do for that exact reason - we're also aware of the higher incidence of intestinal blockages in patients who have had his surgeries. I've called it the Sword of Damocles before, and it truly is. We're thrilled he's through the other side of treatment, but we don't relax much.

On the other hand, we're a lot more chill about the other two students. Little Bear dives off the slide and earns some chin stitches? Whatever. It's unfortunate, and we feel for the kid, but we're not going to flip out about it. I mean, my oldest son had 10% of his body mass removed in the form of a tumor. 5 stitches on the chin is, literally, nothing.

I could see it coming, hindsight being 20/20. Last night, I got home slightly later than normal from work - you'd think that people in Pittsburgh would know how to drive in the rain, considering the amount of rainfall here, but you'd be mistaken. I had a quick dinner, then called the boys, one at a time, in to practice violin. They hadn't played in a couple of days because they've been sick, The Wife has been sick, and I've been significantly slower than normal (going through the same illness, but much slower and much less intense). So, after dinner, we were set to play. Little Bear came in, flipped the f**k out, and refused to play. I tried my usual jokey ways to calm him down and get him ready to play, but he wouldn't. Lacking patience and time (I had a 7:00 meeting to attend), I offered him the choice: either play or, being too tired, go to bed immediately. He chose bed. I called The Boy in, tried to talk him into playing, failed, and offered the same choice. He chose bed.

Granted, this caused an enormous meltdown, because bedtime without playing violin doesn't come with stories or snuggles or talking or songs. Just, put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, give a hug, and go. This would have been around 6:30 by the time both boys were "settled" but upset in bed. The Wife texted me at 6:45 to let me know that both boys were asleep.

Little Bear was up around 5:30 and causing some minor mischief: opening and closing our bedroom door, playing with the Trio blocks, putting on various costumes. I finally got up at 6 (I'm still on hiatus from exercising until Thursday), and we went down and had breakfast together.

The Boy grudgingly woke up at 6:45 and went to the bathroom. He looked entirely asleep when I saw him there, and I figured that he might not be quite back to normal. Looks like I was right. Don't get me wrong - knowing what I know now, I would still have sent him to school. I don't want him to get the idea that he shouldn't go to school at the slightest touch of a bug. But, he was kind of wiped at that point, even after he had cleaned up, taken a bath, and started to remotely resemble a human being.

It will be really nice when this cold has worked through our respective systems and pushed forward. I'm tired of everyone being sick.






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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sesame Street Live: a Review

On Saturday, I took The Baby to see Sesame Street Live: Can't Stop Singing at the Consol Energy Center. It was a bit of an iffy thing for a while - he developed quite a fever on Thursday which didn't start to break until Saturday morning. However, considering that this was a Christmas present from my father and me to him (and to me, because I don't get to spend that much time alone with him), I was planning on bringing him if I had to carry him around and keep him in a surgical mask. Didn't matter; he was reasonably well by Saturday afternoon, so we went.



The other Grandpa dropped us off downtown; the Consol Center has ample pay parking, most of it the $5 or $10 variety depending on how far you want to walk. There's a TGIFriday's attached to the arena, and that's where we went for dinner. He wanted the chicken fingers with the fruit cup; he ate the fruit and the broccoli from my plate and didn't touch the chicken. He tried it, but the honey mustard dip didn't meet his approval. At 5:15 (5:30 show time), we moseyed over to the main entrance, went up three escalators, through two checkpoints, and finally got to the auditorium entrance. There were several souvenir booths set up, and I bought a program from the shortest line. It's cute - big, big full-sized live pictures from the show along with a description of the storyline.



This was my first time in the Consol Energy Center, and it's nice. They used about a quarter to a third of the hockey floor as stage and floor seating; we were in the third row on the far stage right. We weren't on the floor, we were in the first bit of elevated seating. It was good seats - not top price, not the "cheap seats." We could clearly see the stage, and our chairs were high enough that the mommy and daddy who sat directly in front of The Baby didn't obstruct his view much. The Baby was in awe of the size of the room, the number of steps, and the size (and lights) on the stage. But, he hadn't seen anything yet....

The show started darn close to the listed 5:30 time. I really appreciated that: considering the audience, any kind of delay could be disastrous. I truly believe that 95% of small children's behavior issues are caused by parents or unknown factors putting the children in a bad position; know your audience, if you will. Starting at 5:30 on the dot allowed me to manage him better, creating a wonderfully positive experience. The starting time was great, as well: safely away from normal nap times and early enough so it didn't interfere with bedtime. The show turned out to be right around 90 minutes long with intermission, and a later time could create grumpy, sleepy kids instead of engaged, wakeful ones.






When the show started, the effect on my son was amazing: he froze, his eyes went wide, and he was absolutely beside himself, in a good way. He could not believe that his friends from Sesame Street were real and alive in front of him! All in all, he truly loved the show and had a great time. He behaved extremely well, only getting a little antsy during the last two songs of each half.

You've got to give it to the Sesame Street Workshop folks and the ones who produce the live shows: they know their audience. The storyline was simple: Abby left her wand on a bench, and Elmo picked it up. Instead of giving it back to Abby, he used the wand so that his friends would keep singing and dancing all day. Everyone was unhappy and tired, singing and dancing all day, and Elmo lost control and couldn't stop the magic. Abby found him, took the wand back, and reversed the spell. Along the way were some familiar songs, some unfamiliar ones, and some elements from the show (Murray's "Word on the Street," Elmo's "Elmo's Musical Adventures," and Murray's "What's on me that starts with M?"). The songs were between 90 seconds and 2 and a half minutes long each, and they all contained plenty of dancing. During the company songs, individual characters would run out into the crowd, hi-five some kids, and run back to the stage. Passing directly in front of us, close enough to almost touch, was Elmo, The Count, Ernie, and Grover. Security was good and active, shepherding stray children back to their parents when the kids made a headlong charge towards the stage. They also had two secondary stages set up in the middle of the crowd for individuals to dance, allowing for a change in focus helpful for small children.



I truly geeked out at "It Feels Good When You Sing A Song," which I know from the Elmo Loves You video. In that, it was Mr. Hoots duetting with John Legend; in this show, it was Mr. Hoots and Elmo. "Sing A Song" was also performed, another fanboy geek out for me. Oscar's song and dance number was pretty epic: the legs sticking out of the dancing garbage can was hysterical.

The music and singing were all canned, of course. The dancers in the character outfits were all good dancers, and the mouths moved appropriately and believably. The whole company numbers were fun and energetic. Each half of the show was about 35 minutes with a 15 minute intermission in between - and the intermission was 15 minutes, period.

They sold Elmo balloons during the intermission, which I bought. It was an easy trade - The Baby goes potty, he gets a balloon. I was okay with that.

The negatives: where we were sitting, we were right on the speakers. It was LOUD. I mean, really, really LOUD. The sound system was not balanced well, and the highs were really piercing by the fourth or fifth song in a half. Overly loud and poorly balanced makes for a headachy-type performance.

The biggest complaint that I have is the cost. The two tickets - not the highest, but not the lowest, and purchased long in advance - came to slightly more than $70. That's an awful lot of money for a 90 minute show. Considering that the auditorium was half-empty, I wonder if they could have sold out the house - and made more money - with a slightly smaller ticket price - say, $50 for the two tickets? If my father wasn't subsidizing the tickets, then there is no way that I could have taken The Baby to this show.

Sesame Street is ubiquitous these days - it really, truly is everywhere. It's quality television, with good messages for kids. Lord knows, during The Boy's treatments, that we lived with Elmo on a minute-by-minute basis. All three boys loved Sesame Street passionately through the appropriate times. I also know that not everywhere has Pittsburgh money - it's very different from New Jersey money, when I likely would not have batted an eye at paying $70 for two tickets for that. I didn't go to Sesame Street Live before this because of the money, and I probably won't go again because of the money. There's a very small window for kids to love Sesame Street and to be old enough to enjoy a live show, and if I spent $70 to have a kid go to a show and be bored with Sesame Street... I'd be upset. This happened to land at the exact perfect time for him, but I don't know that a second performance would be worth it.

All in all, it was a wonderful night, and it will be a very precious memory for me. Watching his face while his brain worked through the "omg that's Sesame Street and it's real" process was amazing. I am happy that we went, and negatives did not detract from this great night.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Speechifying

Little Bear's point of comparison is "...like a hippopotamus." "I'm as warm as a hippopotamus." "I'm as comfy as a hippopotamus." "I'm as hungry as a hippopotamus," etc. I'm not entirely sure where he picked it up, but it's quite cute. He has a vague idea of what a hippo is - he's seen the cartoon pictures in books, maybe a photograph or two or a real hippo. I'm pretty sure that he hasn't seen a real hippo outside of Seaworld, but that was two years ago, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't remember that.

It is extremely interesting, listening to the kids' speech develop. I love listening to them talk to each other in their rooms, when they think that we're not listening (or rather, when they're paying attention to each other rather than us). They're very earnest in their conversation, and I can hear them trying out phrases and words with each other. "Oh my goodness, Little Bear, will you please just leave me alone?" is one that The Boy says quite frequently. That's usually followed by somebody getting pounded in fairly short order.

The Boy's speech is developing quickest at the moment, mostly because he's in the public school and around a wider variety of teachers and students. (Yes, I'm aware that language development in the brain of a 2.5 year old is immensely larger than a 6.5 year old, but I'm talking about styles, here. Don't crimp a perfectly good story with facts.) Every once in a while, he pulls out a phrase or word that he learned in school from his teachers or fellow students that cause me to kind of stop and stare at him for a second. Fortunately, it hasn't been cuss words yet (he hears them enough at home, unfortunately), at least that he's said around me. The other two boys are in pre-school, but it's a small class. The teachers and other students tend to be of the same ethnic background, education level, and socioeconomic class as The Wife and me. They hear the same general language pool.

The Baby, like his older brothers, is developing well and earlier than many of his peers. It helps to have bigger (but not too much) brothers at home! He puts together relatively complex sentences. He identifies letters, numbers, colors, and most shapes (up through 8-sided and some of the specialty shapes like stars and crescents and such). He is able to adjust song lyrics on the fly, and he's been able to figure out parody lyrics and jokes. (Example: Knock-knock; who's there; elephant; elephant who?; elephant in your refrigerator!, which is really funny considering that that's adapted another joke - how do you know an elephant was in your refrigerator - into knock-knock form.) His favorite song to sing is still "Ba Ba Black Sheep," which is his go-to- during car-ride singing sessions.

His voice is very smooth and very sweet, too. That helps.


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Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year

My last two vacation days from work were taken on Monday and Tuesday, December 30 and 31. The original plan was to travel to New Jersey to see my father and some of my friends, but December turned out to be a tad more grueling that I expected. Combine that with the fact that I had stuff around the house to do - and my vacation days in 2014 would be predominantly taken by chorus-related travel - and the decision to stay home was an easy one. The good news is that I accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to do; the bad news was that I didn't get quite the rest that I needed. I'm feeling kind of beaten up right now, but I'll get over it.


















On Monday, we took the kids to Jumpzone. Jumpzone is an awesome place: a big warehouse building filled with a half-dozen large, inflatable climbing and sliding toys. We had three more visits on the pass that had to be used in 2013, so we took the opportunity for a family visit. The boys absolutely love this place: it's good for about two hours of non-stop sprinting and climbing for them, which is a huge deal. In the winter, places that encourage the kids to run and climb and play are worth their weight in gold. The Baby turned back into a pumpkin first, so we left there and had a nice lunch at the Original Pancake House before heading home.












On New Year's Eve, we hosted a small gathering at our house. We had over a family from Rodef that the boys know from preschool and Sunday school; a family from my chorus; one of The Wife's quartetmates, and one of my quartetmates. We had a nice little meal, and the kids (there were four in addition to our three) ran around for a few hours, playing costumes and such. The biggest hit was the Silly String, which, we discovered, shares traits in common with Christmas tree tinsel: you're going to be digging pieces of it out of the living room for months. Sigh. Still, the kids colored, and did puzzles, and chased each other around, and played trains, and ate, and otherwise had a wonderful time. The grown-ups enjoyed themselves, too, by the way.

Little Bear crashed first, and two of our little friends went home. The Boy and The Baby fell asleep on my lap, and we managed to successfully relocate all three children to their beds. The grownups played Mad Gabs for a while before petering out at 2AM - which is, I think, the latest I've stayed up in quite a while. The next morning, The Boy was awake at 6:30, and Little Bear followed suit at around 7AM, which brings to mind my refrain about small children: no matter how much you drink the night before, they are still awake at 6:30AM. Sigh. The Baby and The Wife did manage to sleep until 9, mostly because I confiscated every noisemaker I found as the children discovered them the next morning.

Backtracking a bit, on New Year's Eve, I did some erranding early in the day. I had to mail my broken Playstation 3 controller back to Playstation, go to Big Lots for clearance Christmas lights and for some food, go to the alcohol store for the party favors, and go to the bank to deposit Christmas checks from Grandpa into the kids' savings accounts. The Wife, Little Bear, and The Baby were busy straightening up the house for the party, and The Boy was being difficult. When she was "motivating" him by guiding him towards his stack of toys, he tried the ultimate passive resistance and lay flat on the floor. I decided to save her the issues and told him he was coming with me.

Well, that provoked an epic tantrum from him. He took his shoes off, and I walked him out to the car, anyway. It was a short walk, but wet and cold, so he didn't try that trick again. He proceeded to scream bloody murder all the way to Big Lots and into the store, where I hugged him close and told him that, no matter what he did, I loved him very much. Once inside the store, he started pushing on the front end of the cart; I pretended that he was superstrong and allowed myself to get "slammed" into the shelves at the store, making appropriate groaning sounds. He thought that was hilarious, and after six or seven more of those, he calmed down and got into the shopping. I even let him pick out a toy for the party - "rocket balloons," with a small plastic pump, which turned out to be a huge hit. You pump up the long, cylinder balloons, and when you let them go, they make noise and shoot wildly around the room. It's very clever.

I was really quite proud of how I handled that one. I didn't shout back at him, I didn't engage in a punishment contest (threatening more and more severe punishments until he stopped shouting), and I kept my cool and my patience until he calmed down. I understood that it was a control thing more than anything else, and at the first safe opportunity, I let him take control of the cart in a fun way. +1 for me.

The bigger issue, with him, is that he's just not getting enough sleep. He's been coming downstairs earlier and earlier while I've been exercising. I can get by on 5 or 6 hours sleep on a regular basis; I've done it for decades. He's a growing boy, and he needs that extra hour or two of sleep. Wednesday night, I told him that, until he caught up on his sleep, he couldn't get out of bed until either 1) I was done exercising, or 2) Mom had gotten out of bed. The last two mornings, he's slept extra, and he's been a nicer kid because of it. I wish it was different - I really, really enjoyed spending time with him, because I don't get to spend nearly enough relaxed, non-activity



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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Time Was Here

Christmas Day was, all things considered, a pretty awesome day for us.

The boys have been off school all week, and they let us out of work around 2 o'clock on Tuesday. Tuesday night (Christmas Eve) I had no chorus rehearsal, so we engaged in the ancient Jewish Christmas tradition: Chinese food and a movie. Grandma sponsored the Chinese food from the kosher Chinese place in town, and The Wife and I went to see the second Hobbit movie.

Side note: the funny bit was, when Grandma went to go get the Chinese food, it took her around forty-five minutes to get in and out of the restaurant. Apparently, a large portion of the Jewish folks in town were there, waiting for their food. The rabbi was there, the cantor was there, everybody was there... which I find hilarious. Stereotypes are awful, awful things, but they come from a grain of truth.



Side note 2: loved the movie. The real Hobbit story is quite short - about half of the length of "The Fellowship of the Ring." They're interspersing The Hobbit story with information from the appendicies of the Lord of the Rings, from the Silmarillion, from additional short stories written or plotted out by J.R.R. Tolkein, and just plain conjecture. For instance, while I enjoyed the whole Legolas thing in the movie, he never shows up in the actual book.

Christmas morning, everybody in the house slept in. It was Wednesday, which is my normal workout off day, so I didn't even have to talk myself into taking the morning off from exercising. No one got out of bed until 7:30! That was a brilliant treat. The Boy spent the whole night in his bed (for once), and The Baby spent until around 2AM in his own bed, so The Wife and I actually got some sleeping room. We had a relatively normal breakfast, except for the fact that we were all sitting together and eating at the same time (as opposed to The Boy and I, then followed by members of the family one by one as they wake up).



Side note 3: The Boy has decided that he wants to stop sucking his thumb. This came concurrently with awful, terrible dry skin on his hands. So, at night, he puts liberal amounts of hand lotion on his hands, then wears gloves to bed. He didn't have to unconsciously suck his thumb more than once to realize that a mouthful of lotion and fuzzy glove is not worth it.

We Facetimed with my father for presents opening. We tend not to get the boys very much in terms of gifts, mostly because 1) we're poor, and 2) they've already got more toys than they can play with. I bought The Boy some comics (which he ripped up before lunch was over... sigh) and a Peanuts treasury edition; Little Bear got a Superboy costume (on sale from costumes.com for, like, $3 with free shipping) and a Superman comic digest; and The Baby got some wooden trains and a Thomas the Tank Engine pillow pet. Grandpa was quite generous, too, with the kind of gift that folds (not talking about laundry, here).

The Wife got me the greatest Christmas gifts ever: she made a brilliant, beautiful lunch, with a turkey leg, homemade mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin bread. It was delicious!! Afterwards, she sent The Baby and me upstairs to nap and took 1 and 2 to "Mitzvah Day." A mitzvah, for those not "in the know," is the Jewish term for a good deed. In this case, they joined #Mitvahdaypgh to bring cookies and songs to a couple of seniors homes. Cool thing? One of the ladies they met was a Holocaust survivor; The Boy regaled her with an enthusiastic belting of some of the prayer songs that he knows.

Side note 4: we're dealing with some significant attitude issues with The Boy lately. "No, I don't want to go! I'm not going to do ANYTHING!" - that sort of thing. It's the same sort of loud, stubborn complaining that I did when I was a kid. Karma is a real bi&&h.

Christmas evening, we went to Grandma's house for a holiday party she threw for some friends. One of them has multiple boys, just like we do - a bit older and a bit younger than mine. There was a glorious, terrifying, exhilarating Royal Rumble of Wrestling occurring in the living room. It was a Christmas miracle that no one got hurt, but all had fun and no egos were bruised. Little Bear and I left the party early; he was exhausted and starting to misbehave. We went home, did a puzzle (a nice, calming one-on-one activity), and got ready for bed. Of course, I didn't get to sleep until the other side of midnight, thanks to sleeping late and taking a nice nap in the afternoon. Can't win 'em all.



SIde note 5: I'm aware of the irony of using "Christmas miracle" to describe a bunch of Jewish kids not getting hurt wrestling on a floor of couch cushions. It was an intentional word choice. Just sayin'.


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