Posted by: halliesklar | July 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Teddy!

A certain someone in the Sklar household had a birthday today…

Teddy Bear turned three!

We’ve been talking about Teddy’s birthday for weeks. What we’d eat (pizza and birthday cake), what we’d do (play with visiting animals), who was coming (Mommy and Daddy and Jo Jo and Geoffrey and, of course, Ivry). We also talked about some of the things Teddy himself would do once he turned three—go in the toddler pool by himself, sit on the potty, give up his afternoon nap and instead agree to go to bed at 7 pm with Jo Jo.

This morning when he woke up Jamie and I went into his room to sing him Happy Birthday. He smiled and said, simply, “thank you.”

Then we went downstairs to show him a very special present from Pop Pop and Nana.

A new red tricycle!

The tricycle has intense symbolic significance. My father apparently got a similar red tricycle from his grandfather on his third birthday. It was right after the second World War and luxuries like tricycles were few and far between….but somehow my grandfather got one. So Pop Pop wanted to make sure his first born grandson—who is his doppelganger in so many ways—got his very own red tricycle to mark his third birthday.

So my boy did…and he loved it. And although I cried a bit because my father will never be able to actually see Teddy ride it, I take comfort in the fact that Teddy will be able to see Pop Pop in a few weeks, and tell him all about his new riding adventures.

Teddy also had another big milestone recently: he spent four nights away from me when he went with Jamie up to Canada for a long weekend. I’ve never been away from Teddy, other than Geoffrey’s birth and when I was in Boston with my father last November, and I missed him terribly. When he came back, he seemed different. Older, taller, more mature, and I got a glimpse or two into the man he is going to grow into someday.

He reminds me so much of my father sometimes it hurts. It’s not just that he looks like him, with the same hair color and facial structure and coloring. It’s the way he focuses on a project so intensely, his tongue between his teeth in concentration, or the way he protectively grabs Jo Jo’s hand when we’re all walking together and she starts lagging behind, or the way he slowly but methodically puts on his bicycle helmet when he’s riding his tricycle or insists on buckling up his seat belt himself (like my father, he is meticulously safety conscious, much to the chagrin of my adrenaline junky husband).

He is so much the big brother, both to Geoffrey and to Jo Jo. My in-laws wanted to get Teddy some sort of toy car to ride around in for his birthday and he insisted he wanted a truck that both his siblings could ride in to. When we go to the park, his favorite activity is playing on the toy bus, and he makes sure both Jo Jo and Geoffrey are sitting down and have strapped in their imaginary seat belts.

Geoffrey picking his nose at Teddy’s birthday party. Just had to throw it in there.

He’s really something, my middle child. It’s almost as if he was born to be the protector.

Playing in the pool with Jo Jo today.

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that my eldest son is now three. I still remember his birth day like it was yesterday, including the nurse carrying all 21 1/2 inches, nine pounds, ten ounces of  him over to me and exclaiming, “He’s a moose! What a moose!”

Happy birthday, my little moose. I love you very, very much.

Posted by: halliesklar | July 15, 2012

Hound Houdini

I’m without my little Teddy Bear this weekend. We’re selling our cottage in Canada, and Jamie decided to take him up north with him to pack up the house. There are tons of grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles and second cousins to play with, so we figured he’d have a great time. Plus I thought my big boy of almost three could use a few days of one-on-one bonding with his dad.

The boys got a late start in the morning, because Ivry kept Jamie up all night with her whining to go out. There was a big flurry of activity as we got Teddy fed and dressed and packed up to get on the road, and then when the minivan pulled out of the driveway the house suddenly felt so quiet. Too quiet. I didn’t like the sadness that was seeping over me, so I did what every mother does when she’s feeling down: I loaded my two remaining small children into the Civic and headed to Costco.

We returned an hour and a half later, loaded with boxes of paper towels and waffles and Gatorade. I stumbled through the garage door, pulling Jo Jo with one hand and two bags of chicken nuggets with the other while Geoffrey rode comfortably in the Bjorn. Ivry was right at the door to greet us, which wasn’t that unusual, but she seemed agitated. I wondered if something had spooked her while we were gone.

I took a few steps in when I smelled it. The unmistakable scent of poop.

I stood, puzzled for a moment. That couldn’t be right, I thought. No one had done a number two that morning, and even if they had, we always bagged poopy diapers and left them outside. But it was there, unmistakable, and it smelled like a big one.

I checked diapers. Everyone was clean. I put Jo Jo on the potty and unlocked the safety lock on the dining room door, planning to deposit some of the items there temporarily.

When I opened the door I almost gagged. Then I saw it. A big pile of dog poo, on the floor.

“Argh!” I groaned. “Ivry!” At least she had the courtesy to do it on the hardwood floor, I thought. Then I stopped and gaped in horror. We have only one expensive rug in our house, a cream and wine-colored Oriental we bought from Bloomingdale’s when we were first married and assumed we had plenty of cash to blow through for overpriced stuff. I’d always worried one of the kids would somehow end up barfing all over it, but it turns out our dog had gotten to it first.

“Oh no,” I moaned. “No, no, no!” Then I raced into the laundry room for the carpet cleaner. Ivry was lying by the washing machine, looking sheepish.

“How could you do that,” I started to say, and then I stopped and stared at her.

There are two entrances to our dining room. One entrance is a pair of French doors, which now always has a safety lock on it. There’s fine crystal and china in there that Geoffrey would love to get his hands on and bang around. Then there’s another entrance, by our front hall staircase, and that has a baby gate firmly planted across it and another safety lock on that.

It was about as baby-proofed as one could get, and if my kids couldn’t get climb or crawl their way into there, there was no way in hell a middle-aged overweight Labrador retriever could nose her way through.

“Ivry, how did you get in there?” I asked. She lifted her head up and gazed at me innocently.

I called Jamie. “You picked a good weekend to go away,” I told him. “The dog has massive diarrhea.”

But apparently the shit had hit the fan in the minivan, as well. Teddy had fallen asleep and when he’d woken up a couple hours later he’d also pooped all over the place, including the car seat.

“It was awful,” Jamie told me. “I didn’t know what to do. I cleaned him up as best as I could and then I took him into the bathroom at the next service area wearing only his T-shirt and diaper. He was crying and screaming and everyone was staring at me like I was a total idiot who didn’t know how to take care of my child.”

Wisely, I said nothing. “I’m still completely blown away by how Ivry managed to get into the dining room,” I said.

“She must have jumped the gate,” Jamie said.

“Our dog jump a gate?” I asked incredulously. “She’s so fat she can barely heave herself up onto the couch. And I’m expected to believe she just bounded over the gate like some prancing show dog?”

“Didn’t her mom win all sorts of agility competitions?” Jamie asked. “It’s in her genes. She really had to go and no one was around to let her out. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“There’s no way that dog could gracefully scale a gate, especially with diarrhea,” I said. “She would have slammed right into it and brought it crashing down.”

My husband snorted. “One of us must have left the safety lock off the doors and she nosed her way in,” he said. “What, you think our dog can just magically poof! enter a room like she’s some sort of dog Houdini?”

I didn’t say anything. I got off the phone and went into the dining room and scrubbed at the poop with a big sponge. Ivry’s pretty discreet. Even when she’s outside, she’ll go hide in the bushes and do her business where no one can see her. I can’t imagine she would have wanted to poop in the home and have the evidence out for everyone else to see. No, she figured the dining room was the one room that no one in the house ever really went in, and somehow, she’d managed to angle her way in.

I had to admit, the dog was pretty smart. If I hadn’t randomly decided to store some stuff in the dining room I would never have thought of looking in there. I would have just wandered around my house, searching for poopy diapers as the smell got worse and worse, while Ivry lolled on the couch in the family room, laughing at her owner’s stupidity.

I walked back into the laundry room. “You know, I underestimated you,” I told my dog. She thumped her tail.

When we went to the pool that afternoon, I made sure the locks on the dining room were in place and I locked Ivry in the family room with a bowl of water and a rawhide bone. If she can get out of there, I thought, then she’s really a Houdini.

When we came back a couple hours later my canine was still locked in the family room. I opened the door and saw her, lying lazily on “her” green couch, sunning herself. I smelled something and looked down to find two perfectly symetrical piles of poop lying on the carpet.

I sighed and got out the carpet cleaner to scrub it up.

“Did you have diarrhea,” I asked my dog, “or is this some sort of Rover’s revenge?”

Ivry just looked at me and wagged her tail, but I could swear that dog was smiling.

Posted by: halliesklar | July 9, 2012

Baby Steps

Geoffrey is so close to independently walking.

He took his first steps more than a month ago, during one of his occupational therapy sessions. He moved towards me, arms outstretched, before he realized with a start that he was catapulting through empty space. He sat down on his tush and started bawling.

“He’ll be walking the next time I come,” Aubrey, his therapist said confidently, but he wasn’t. Over the last several weeks, he’s taken two to three steps at a time, tentative, before losing confidence and sinking down to the ground or falling into my arms. He cruises everywhere, moving from room to room simply by bracing himself against the wall for balance, or insists on walking with me, holding onto merely the tip of my finger.

But while I impatiently waited for both Jo Jo and Teddy to take their first steps, and to walk alone, with Geoffrey, I find I’m in no hurry. Part of it is I know he’ll most likely walk earlier than them anyway—Jo Jo didn’t take her first steps until she was 20 months, and even then didn’t really walk by herself until she was at least two years old, while Teddy wasn’t walking until he was fifteen months. But part of me isn’t ready to acknowledge what walking by himself will mean—that he’s truly no longer a baby but a full-fledged toddler who is slowly but surely toddling down a path that will take him further and further away from me.

He needs me so much now. Full-fledged separation anxiety has hit, and when I put him down for a minute he’s inconsolable. God forbid I should even leave the room—within minutes I hear him, tottering after me wailing for mama. He’s happiest nuzzled up against me, his head against my chest as he blissfully sucks on his fingers.

But while part of me rolls my eyes and silently groans because it means stopping everything on my agenda to sit and cuddle with my 13 month old, part of me secretly loves an excuse to just sit and luxuriate in the sweetness of my third child. He amazes me with everything he does, how he seems to navigate the world so effortlessly despite his visual impairment. “He’s not going to let his vision loss be any sort of disability,” Aubrey told me a couple weeks ago, watching him attempt to push a kitchen chair across the floor in an effort to navigate the room. “He’s so determined—he won’t let it stop him from doing all the things he wants to do.”

I know she’s right. I marvel at Geoffrey’s tenacity, at how he will set something in his sights and slowly but methodically go after it. If Teddy takes a toy from him, he doesn’t yell or cry—he simply grabs it back and refuses to let go. If I’m reading him books in his room, he often pushes them away and heads over to his toy bin, dumping out books until he finds the exact one he wants.

He’s truly amazing, my child with his mane of white gold hair and blue-grey eyes and porcelain skin that’s tinged with just a shade of ruddiness.

Tonight, while snuggling before bed, he pulled away and stared at me, beaming at me with a huge toothy grin before nestling up against me again. “Mama,” he said dreamily, his blonde eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks, and I wrapped my arms around him a little bit tighter.

It won’t always be this way. He won’t always want to sit and cuddle with his mama, and he won’t always look at me with that same gaze of absolute adoration.

So let him take his time with walking. Let him insist on being carried on my hip as I navigate around the house, or only agree to take steps if I’m holding onto his little hand.

He won’t be a baby much longer.

Posted by: halliesklar | June 26, 2012

“You’re So Rude”

Last Friday, in the midst of the heat wave, I schlepped all three kids to the mall.  Teddy and Jo Jo needed new shoes, there was guaranteed air conditioning, and there was a play area to run around and burn off steam.

Geoffrey’s now all over the place, so I spent the better part of an hour chasing him around as he tried to scale up and down huge plastic butterflies and ladybugs. At one point, I turned my back for a moment and turned around to see him dangling from a large kiwi.

I swept him up and then realized I’d lost track of Teddy. I turned around in circles for a few seconds before I saw him under a large plastic watermelon, engaged in what seemed to be an intense conversation with another little boy who looked around Jo Jo’s age. The boy was talking earnestly to him, shaking his head and waving his hands.

I walked over just in time to hear him say to my son, “Don’t do that. That’s very, very rude.”

“What’s going on?” I asked in my best Mommy voice.

The little boy looked at me and scowled. “Are you his mother?” he demanded.

“Yes,” I said brightly. “Is everything okay?”

“Nooooo,” he said, drawing out the syllables. “He’s spitting!” And he pointed an accusing finger towards my son.

I glanced over at Teddy, who did indeed seem to have copious amounts of saliva coming out of his mouth. “Teddy, what are you doing?” I asked him.

He grinned as he shook his head and blew a huge wad of spit out of his mouth. “I’m spitting, Momma!” he said proudly.

“You are so rude!” the little boy exclaimed indignantly, staring at him in horror.

“Teddy, don’t do that.” Teddy laughed and shook his head and spit again. “Teddy, if you do that one more time we’re going home right now,” I told him.

“That’s very very rude,” the boy said again.

Teddy just looked at him, wondering, I guessed, whether this was  game or for real. “How old are you?” I asked the boy.

“I’m four,” he said proudly.

“Well,” I said, “Teddy is a little younger than you.”

“I’m two and a half,” Teddy said happily. “But Jo Jo’s four.”

“Teddy’s a little younger than you,” I tried to explain to the boy, “so he doesn’t quite understand that what he did was wrong. But now that I’m here I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again. And you can also tell him that if he keeps spitting you won’t play with him anymore.”

The boy stared at me, unconvinced. “He’s very rude,” he said again, but there was less certainty in his voice.

“C’mon Teddy,” I said, and we moved to the other side of the play area, close to where Jo Jo was sauntering around doing some impromptu dance routine that involved waving her socks.

A few minutes later, I was distracted by Geoffrey trying to scale a huge plastic carrot when I heard the now familiar refrain “You are so rude!”

I turned around. There was Teddy, lounging by one of the benches with his hand down his pants. And there was the same four year old boy in front of him, wagging his finger and shaking his head. “That’s not nice to do. You stop that now.” And then, to the pregnant woman and her husband sitting next to her, “This boy is soo rude.”

The couple started to laugh. “He’s very little,” the woman started to say kindly before I interjected shrilly, “Teddy, we don’t touch ourselves there in public, okay? Please pull your hand out of his pants.”

Teddy studied me earnestly. “Teddy likes his penis,” he said.

All the other parents near us were listening while studiously pretending not to. “I like mine too, buddy” I heard a male voice say and then all the adults started snickering.

“I like my penis, Momma,” my son said again. Then, somberly “I just do. I just like it. I like my penis.” And then, with a big grin, I heard a sound like “t’fu!” emanate from my son’s mouth and watched in horror as a shower of spit poured out.

“Ewww!” the little boy flinched in disgust. “You are soooo rude! You are so so rude!”

“What’s going on?” I heard a voice say, and then a woman who was clearly the boy’s mother strode into the play area.

“He’s spitting on me!” the boy yelled, pointing at Teddy, who had stopped giggling and was now watching the scene carefully. “And he put his hands down his pants. In public!”

“I’m really sorry,” I said to the mother. “My son is just two, and he didn’t nap today, and he’s really overtired, and he seems to think running around spitting is a big joke. It’s not of course, and I’ve been trying to explain to him, but he doesn’t seem to really be getting it…” I stopped. The woman was glaring at me and shaking her head, her lips crinkled up in the exact same expression of horror and disgust as her son.

“Anyway,” I said quickly, “I’m terribly terribly sorry and we’re going home right now.” I grabbed Teddy by the arm and yanked him out of the play area. “You wait right here,” I said in a low voice as I ran back in to get Jo Jo and Geoffrey.

“Don’t worry about it,” the pregnant lady said cheerfully as I slithered onto my stomach to pull Geoffrey out of a tunnel. “I could tell he thought it was a game. My son used to do stuff like that all the time.”

The boy’s mother was still standing there, shaking her head, muttering. “Look,” I said to her, “I’m really sorry. I truly am.”

She ignored me.

Teddy was silent as we walked to the elevator. When we got in, he reached for my hand and said, “Momma, I’m sorry.”

“You are?” I asked, curious if he understood. “Are you sorry for spitting?”

“Yes,” he said earnestly.

“We don’t spit on people. Ever.” I said.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No spitting.” He was quiet for a minute then said, “I’m sorry.” Then, “I love you Momma.”

“I love you too, Teddy,” I said, melting.

He smiled at me, that devilish grin he has that lights up his eyes and makes me think he’s going to be a total lady killer when he grows up. Then he said, with his best baby charm, “Can I watch Yo Gabba Gabba?”

I thought about the spitting episode as I drove home. I wondered if he’d done it to get attention, and I wondered—like I do almost every day—if I spent enough one on one time with him, my middle child sandwiched between the needs of two other siblings. I wondered if he’d learn to act out as the way to make sure he got the spotlight he so desperately craved.

But then I wondered if I was over analyzing things and it wasn’t anything more than the behavior of an overtired, overly stimulated two year old.

Jamie and I try to do as much one on one time with Teddy as we can. Jamie took him to his last soccer class on Thursday, where Teddy was thrilled to earn a trophy and a medal and run around the basketball court kicking balls with Dada. He “graduated” from his twos program last Friday, and I made a big to do about it and made sure to take lots of pictures.

But still, it’s hard to know how much is enough, especially with an intellectually precocious kid like Teddy who always tries to push the envelope.

It’s ironic that in many ways parenting my typical kid is the most challenging, but I also guess that’s just life.

Posted by: halliesklar | June 21, 2012

Princess Johanna

Jo Jo had her first ballet recital last weekend.

I was a little nervous. Ingrid, our nanny, usually shadows Jo Jo during class, but the instructor offered to help Jo Jo during the performance instead. I wasn’t sure how she’d react–would she insist on spinning off on her own with a collection of her very own improvised dance moves?–but she conducted herself beautifully.

Teddy kept saying before the recital that he wanted to go up and dance with Jo Jo, but when he was sitting on my lap during the performance he turned to me and said “I don’t want to go up there. It’s scary.” I’m not sure what he meant, but I’m glad my almost three year old son decided not to rush the stage.

He did insist on dressing up as Superman later that day, though.

 Jo Jo had another big milestone: “graduating” from preschool on Tuesday. Although it’s not really graduating, since she’ll be in the exact same classroom next year.

She got so excited about doing the song routine that she decided to get started early until one of the aides gently reminded her to sit down.

The boys had a great time too. Teddy was all fired up about the party snacks,and Geoffrey decided it was his job to explore every object in the playroom and throw them around to make sure they made enough appropriate loud noises.

His most exciting find? A random pair of girl sunglasses.

So Jo Jo has now officially “graduated” and the school year is done–although she does have a month of summer school in July. All this excitement was a little too much for her, though–she came down with a stomach bug Tuesday night and still isn’t herself.  She missed Teddy’s “awards” ceremony for soccer today, but hopefully she’ll be up for attending his “graduation” from Just Wee Twos tomorrow.

I can’t believe Teddy is “graduating” from his twos program and starting preschool in the fall. And I can’t really believe twos programs have “graduation” ceremonies, anyway. But I’ll be back over the weekend with pictures. In the meantime, we’re just laying low in the house trying to stay cool.

Lots of good times.

Posted by: halliesklar | June 3, 2012

What Is Wrong With You?

I call the time between 3:30 pm and 5 pm The Dead Zone. As any mom of small children knows, that’s the time between naps and dinner time where it’s too short to do anything substantial but long enough to seem endless if you decide to just hang out in the house. So on Friday afternoon I did what I normally do when I’m with my kids: I took all three to the park.

When we got there, the park was pretty empty, which surprised me but I figured it might be due to the threatening clouds hovering overhead. I ran into one mom I knew, and we chatted briefly, and then when she left it was just my crew and another couple moms with their kids, who obviously seemed to know each other as they were deep in conversation by the swings.

I was supervising Jo Jo and Teddy on the see saw in the toddler play area, Geoffrey happily chattering away in the Bjorn, when two boys ran in. They looked alike and were dressed somewhat identical—in khaki shorts and navy blue shirts—so I figured they were brothers. One looked about Jo Jo’s age and one about eight or nine.

“What’s her name?” the younger one asked, pointing at Jo Jo.

“Jo Jo,” I said.

“What’s his name?” he asked, pointing to Teddy.

“Teddy,” said my son proudly. “And I’m two.”

“What’s your name,” I asked the little boy.

“Brandon,” he said quickly, then moved away to follow his older brother into the playhouse, clearly losing interest.

I didn’t think that much about them, as they were clearly engrossed in playing with each other and didn’t seem to mind the fact that Teddy occasionally tagged along behind them. But a few minutes later, I headed over to a bench to give Geoffrey a bottle, leaving Jo Jo on the see saw alone. I figured she’d be okay, as she was doing what she usually does—waving her hands and singing.

Then I saw the little boy walking towards Jo Jo. Great, I thought. Maybe he’ll get on the see saw with her. Sometimes I’m amazed at the random tenderness other small children have towards my daughter.

I watched as he stood there and stared at her for a few minutes, watching my daughter as she gesticulated and sang.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked suddenly, and it wasn’t a question of curiosity. There was an undercurrent of impatience, anger even, in his voice.  And then, “are you crazy?”

I felt like I’d just been electrocuted. For a moment I couldn’t breathe. This can’t be happening, I thought. This little boy cannot be bullying my daughter right in front of me.

Jo Jo stopped singing and just sat there, looking at him. She might not have quite understood his words, but she couldn’t mistake his tone.

I got up and walked towards them, holding Geoffrey in my arms. “What did you just say to my daughter?” I asked, more in disbelief than anything else.

“Nothing,” he said quickly and began to back away.

His older brother immediately materialized and put his arm around him protectively. “He asked her if she’d seen his marble,” he said, and then, “he lost it. He can’t find it anywhere.”

I just stared at him. I had to give him credit, the kid was a really good spontaneous liar.

“C’mon, let’s go find it!” the older brother yelled, and both boys zoomed back into the playhouse, Teddy chasing after them. I grabbed his shirt. “Teddy, stop,” I said.

“I wanna find the marble, Mommy,” he protested, and then, in his sing song way, “I want to help them find it.”

“No, uh uh, I don’t want you playing with those boys,” I started to stay and then stopped myself. How was I going to explain what just happened to my not even three year old?

Then , I felt a few drizzling raindrops, not enough to soak anyone but luckily just enough to distract my son.

“Boys, five minutes!” one of the women yelled from the swing, and I stared at her. She was wearing a pink shirt and khaki cut offs and had blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, the exact type of mom I’d have struck up a conversation with if I’d been pushing Jo Jo next to her on the swing.

I wanted to walk over there and tell her what her son had done, but what could I say? That her child had insulted my daughter, who clearly had a developmental delay, and when I’d confronted him, both he and his older brother had lied about it?

I just stood there for a minute, watching her, trying to figure out what I should do, but Teddy made the decision for me.

“It’s raining Momma I want to go home!” he cried, and I thankfully grabbed both his hand and Jo Jo’s hand and booked it out of the park.

I thought about what happened the whole way home, and while I was feeding my children dinner, and bathing them, and reading them stories, and rocking them good night.

Up until now, Jo Jo’s never had to deal with another child’s cruelty. We’ve had to deal with sideways looks from parents, or inappropriate comments from strangers, but never from someone close to her own age.

I’m still not sure how I should have handled the situation. I don’t think I handled it appropriately—I felt like I should have reprimanded the kids, or turned it into a teaching moment somehow—but at the same time I am not sure what appropriate in this situation would be.

It’s a whole new world, really, and I have to wonder what it will be like when something like that happens in three or five years, when both Jo Jo and my two small sons are old enough to understand.

Posted by: halliesklar | May 22, 2012

It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Someone had his first birthday last Wednesday. We celebrated with a party on Saturday.

With his future prom date, Evie.

I’ve been a bit delayed with this post, mainly because I haven’t been sure what to say. My baby’s first birthday is a moment I’d been looking forward to—and dreading—for the last few weeks. Looking forward of course to celebrating the fact that my little guy has turned one, that he’s morphing into a toddler who walks holding my hands and drinks from a straw like a big boy and grins at me and says “ma ma.” But it’s sad, too, because Geoffrey is my last and watching him reach all his baby milestones this past year has been bittersweet. I’ll never get to do it again.

I keep thinking back to the day he was born, when he was placed in my arms and I watched as he yawned and stretched and then latched on, sleepily nursing. I remember watching Glee that night in the hospital room, cuddling Geoffrey in my arms and bawling because the episode showcased the death of Jean, the beloved sister of Sue (Jane Lynch) who had Down Syndrome. Geoffrey was out like a light, peacefully sleeping in his newborn trance, and I remember looking down at him and wondering if he would love Jo Jo as much as Sue seemed to love Jean, and if he would have to face a similar situation—and experience the same grief—in thirty or forty odd years.

I remember nursing him those first few weeks after he came home from the hospital, and how he’d fall asleep in my arms and we’d stay like that, snug and warm in the bed, for the rest of the night. I remember when we drove up to Montreal and stopped for lunch and a strange woman came over and exclaimed to me, “He’s an old soul.” I remember marveling at how placid he was, how amazingly serene, and how he could calm himself simply by sucking on his fingers. I remember noticing when he was about ten weeks old that his eyes seemed to move back and forth, especially when he was tired and ready for a nap. I remember the morning I snuck up to his bassinet while he gurgled happily and stood there silently, waiting for him to see me and smile, and how nothing happened until he heard my voice and beamed a huge grin. I remember feeling confused, and concerned, but also dismissing it as the concerns of an over anxious, over wrought, over tired mom.

I remember going to the eye doctor and being told Geoffrey had a form of albinism and would most likely be legally blind. I remember my husband asking increduously, “what does that mean? Does that mean he’ll need to read Braille? Does that mean he’ll need a seeing eye dog?” and the doctor just shaking his head and saying he didn’t know. I remember screaming in the parking lot, just losing, howling like a madwoman with tears running down my face, wondering how we could handle anything more after what we’d been through with Jo Jo.

But then I remember going home, and listening to a message from our pediatrician telling us everything was going to be fine, that he was very optimistic and that he had another little boy in his practice with albinism who was doing great. I remember taking Geoffrey to another eye doctor the very next day, one who had much more experience with albinism, and I remember him reassuring me that Geoffrey could indeed see, and that it would just take time for his vision to come in. I remember talking to the mother of a 16 year old boy with albinism who told me to not worry, to stop shaking rattles in front of my baby’s face and to simply spend some time cuddling and playing with him. I remember the positive blog comments I received from other adults with albinism, who wanted to just reach out and reassure me that Geoffrey would lead an exceptional life. I remember the college professor with albanism who emailed me to not treat Geoffrey any differently, to just “let a kid be a kid.”

Deep thoughts

A lot of people have emailed me wanting to know about Geoffrey and how he’s doing on all levels, and I have to say, he’s doing great. He’s right where he needs to be with most of his milestones, although he does have some delays with hand/eye coordination, which is to be expected due to his less than stellar vision and his nystagmus (that means his eyes go back and forth). We had a big scare in January when we took him to a pediatric geneticist who was convinced he had a form of Hermansky Pudlak Syndrome, a blood platelet disorder that can be associated with certain forms of albinism, especially among Jews, but he didn’t. Which just shows you at the end of the day how much the so-called experts seem to know.

I get asked all the time what Geoffrey’s vision prognosis is, but honestly, we still don’t know. Our local eye doctor is very optimistic. He seems to see a lot, but he’s also a very bright kid and has great adaptive skills, so he may just be using his little baby brain creatively to maximize what he has. And I have to say, it doesn’t really matter to me at this point whether his corrected vision will turn out to be 20/40 or 20/400. We’re not doing anything differently at this point. He has occupational therapy once a week and sees a teacher for the visually impaired twice a month, and other than that we’re out and about doing business as usual.

Geoffrey’s my last baby, and I made a conscious decision a few days after the diagnosis that I was going to just savor every last gurgly moment and not worry so much about things I can’t control, like his eyesight. He’s getting the therapy he needs to thrive, and I’d rather spend my free time “chatting” with him or playing peek-a-boo or helping him knock over block towers than obsessing over whether or not his vision will be good enough to allow him to drive. Besides, in twenty years, cars will be driving themselves anyway.

We had a great birthday celebration, although a certain someone got a little overtired towards the end (that’s what happens when you have a 7 pm bedtime) and cried while gumming down his birthday cake.

But hey, it’s his party and he can cry if he wants too.

Thankfully, we didn’t have a repeat of Jo Jo’s third birthday party, when the dog ate half the cake, but Ivry lurked around the high chair, just waiting for Geoffrey to throw some morsels her way. She looks so angelic, but you can just see her little doggy brain plotting.

Happy birthday, Geoffrey Solomon Sklar. We all love you very, very much.

Posted by: halliesklar | May 15, 2012

Barely Standing

Last Saturday, Geoffrey and I made a surprise trip to visit Nana and Pop Pop.

We haven’t seen them since Jo Jo’s birthday. Pop Pop is still going through chemo, so he’s very weak and his immune system is shot. Unfortunately, my kids are laden with germs—the last time my dad saw them, he came down with a cold and was house bound for a couple weeks.

But last weekend was special. Pop Pop’s birthday was on May 9th, and Sunday was Mother’s Day. I called Pop Pop’s oncologist in Boston, and he said it was fine to visit with Geoffrey as long as neither of us was under the weather.

We showed up at 10 am and surprised Nana, who was barely out of her curlers.

We had a great time. Geoffrey loved exploring a new place, especially one that’s not Geoffrey-baby-proofed and filled with such tempting items as sharp edged glass coffee tables. He bumped his head a couple times, but hey, just makes those skull bones stronger.

And my almost one-year old hit a major milestone while we were there.

Geoffrey and I were playing on the ground (inches away from the oh-so-enticing-but-oh-so-dangerous coffee table) while Pop Pop sat on the couch, listening. Geoffrey crawled over to me and pulled up to stand, grinning. Then he cautiously moved his right hand off of my shirt and stood, balancing himself by holding onto me with just one hand.

Then he looked at me and beamed his happy baby-toothed smile before removing his other hand. He stood there in shock, and glanced at me in glee.

Look, mom, I’m standing! I could hear him thinking.

“Daddy!” I said hurriedly. “Daddy, look!”

My father stared over in the direction of my voice, frowning, and I realized, with a huge stabbing pain in my stomach, that I had said the wrong thing. The completely, horribly, terribly wrong thing. He couldn’t look. He couldn’t see that his grandson was standing.

I tried to cover it up quickly. “Daddy, he’s standing!” I said brightly.

“Is that so,” my father said in his jovial Pop Pop voice. “Geoffie, you’re such a big boy!” And then the moment ended and Geoffrey toppled over on top of me—narrowly missing smashing his head open on the glass coffee table—and started bawling.

My dad was quiet for the rest of the afternoon. My mother said it was because he was tired, but also a little upset. It’s so hard for him, to know that Geoffrey is there but not to be able to see him. It’s so hard, for a man who for the last 40 years got up every morning at 6 am without even an alarm clock to rouse him to feel so exhausted and fatigued from chemo that he can barely move from the couch.

I know it’s temporary. In a couple months, the chemo will be done, and he will go into remission, and ideally he’ll stay in remission long enough for them to come out with some killer new drug that will forever wipe the myeloma from his system.

Yet I still grapple with all that’s happened to him. It seems so senseless, and so tragic, and some of it (the herpes encephalitis that ultimately led to his blindness) could have been avoided if certain doctors had caught it in time.

But I’m still glad I brought Geoffrey to see him, and that at least he got to squeeze my son’s little fat thighs and hear his giggle and smell his sweet baby scent (as well as the not so sweet scents when Geoffrey loaded his diaper).

And I can still hope (and pray, even though technically I’m agnostic) that next year in this time, on my father’s 70th birthday, we’ll all be in a different place.

Posted by: halliesklar | May 11, 2012

Gifted

It seems like the last few times I’ve logged onto Facebook, I’ve been inundated with status updates of people bragging about their kids’ intellectual prowess. So and So got into the preschool program for exceptionally gifted children! So and so is the brightest child their teacher has ever seen! So and so is only two and a half but is already fluent in two languages!

I have to admit, I read these posts, and they crack me up. A couple years ago, it would have hurt, to read about “exceptional” children and to know that my daughter wasn’t considered one of them. But now when I read or hear such things, I feel bemused, almost as if I were watching members of an alien species conduct a tea party in my backyard. It feels so out of my own reality, it’s fascinating.

All this came back to mind this morning, when I saw a clip from the Today show about a three year old , Emmelyn Roettger, who has an IQ of 135 and is already a member of Mensa. The little girl was on the show with her proud, beaming parents as TV host Natalie Morales tried to get her to answer questions about the solar system. Alas, the little genius was too busy sticking out her tongue and waving to the camera to answer questions.

As I watched, I thought, are you kidding me? Let the kid be a three year old. Don’t put her on TV and expect her to show off like a trained poodle.

But then the real moment came.

The child prodigy had to do a number two. And she announced it in no uncertain terms on camera. Morales tried to distract her, but Emmelyn was having none of it.

Her mother looked mortified. “I knew this would happen,” she mumbled, and I thought snidely, “that’s what you get when you make your 18 month old take an IQ test.”

Some people may call it sour grapes on my part, that I’m just bitter because my own daughter’s IQ will ultimately end up being no more than half that of little Emmelyn’s. I’ve thought about it a lot, and the answer is, no, I don’t think so. But I do think that having a child with developmental delays has made me question so much of what we value as “gifted.” Is being able to recite all the planets in the solar system at age three really what we deem important in our society? Is it not enough to be proud of your preschooler because she sings and dances and gives you wet, sticky kisses rather than the fact that she got into some supposedly incredibly difficult to get into program for intellectually gifted children?

This morning, I went to Johanna’s preschool for a Mother’s day breakfast. I watched as my daughter sat among her typical peers, and I watched as her typical peers (literally) ran circles around her. But then I watched as her teacher leaned over to show her something, and at the way her eyes crinkled together and she beamed back at her with delight. I watched as she shouted yay and clapped and cheered for the other kids in my class, and I was, to use that Jewish Yiddish phrase, kvelling. I couldn’t have been more proud if she’d stood up and demonstrated to everyone a new formula for Pi.

Personally, I think IQ tests are somewhat bogus. The party line among many in the Down syndrome community is you’re never, ever supposed to let the school system perform IQ testing on your child. I’m not going to let a school administrator within a foot of any of my kids with an IQ test. I think it’s dangerous to label any child with a number, whether it’s to bolster the case that they’ve got intellectual function way below or way above the norm. I’ve even heard parents of other kids with Down Syndrome boast that their kid did take the IQ test and scored in the borderline/low normal range (which usually then gave school districts an excuse to take away some of the services that were helping boost the child’s IQ in the first place), and I’ve always thought they were missing the point. They, even though well intentioned, were buying into the belief that their son or daughter’s value lies in a number.

But that’s something I never would have thought before I had Johanna. I would have assumed—like so many of us do—that the highest label you could ever hope to bestow on your child would be intellectually gifted.

I believe my daughter is just as gifted—perhaps even more so—than that poor kid Emmelyn, whom I am assuming will need years and years of therapy to deal with a world who only seems to see her as the sum of all her cognitive accomplishments. And perhaps Johanna’s greatest gift is her ability to force me to view our lives—and all we consider worthy—through a completely different prism.

Sounds hokey, but it comes from the heart.Image

Posted by: halliesklar | April 26, 2012

Sometimes She Amazes Even Me

A few weeks ago, I was strapping Geoffrey into his car seat when I realized Jo Jo was no longer standing in the minivan next to me.

“Jo Jo?” I asked, looking around the driveway wildly.

Then I saw her, sitting in her car seat beaming at me with a wide Cheshire-like grin, shoulder straps pressed solidly against her arms.

“How’d you get in there?” I asked, confused. I didn’t remember placing her there, but it was completely possible that in typical mommy brain mode, I’d done it automatically. Then Teddy started screaming that he wanted me to buckle him up, and I promptly forgot about it.

But on the way home from the park, the same thing happened again. Teddy climbed into the car, Jo Jo stepped in with a big boost from me, and while I was buckling Geoffrey up I noticed Jo Jo in her seat, beaming at me again.

“Whoa,” I said. “I know I didn’t put you there this time.”

She started giggling, obviously pleased with herself.

The next day, I watched her out of the corner of my eye while strapping in Geoffrey. There’s a small ledge on the back of his seat, directly in front of hers, and she’d figured out that if she just pressed down on it she could hoist herself straight in. “Yay!” she said happily as she snaked her arms through her shoulder straps. Then she caught me looking at her and grinned that Cheshire grin again.

It’s one of those things that’s no big deal when you’re the parent of a typical kid—Teddy’s been independently getting in and out of his car seat for quite some time now. But I’d just assumed that Jo Jo, with her low muscle tone and poor coordination, would require my help for at least the next couple years.

But here she was, surveying the view from her crumb stained car seat like a princess gazing over her fiefdom. She was clearly light years ahead of Teddy, who was grunting and squealing as he tried to scramble up into his seat. “Momma, help you, help you!” he wailed and Jo Jo looked at him with a look that could only be described as pure pity. Clearly her younger brother didn’t have the sophistication and poise to gracefully slide into his seat.

But that’s the thing about Jo Jo—just when you think you’re figured her current stage of development out, she goes and blows you away by effortlessly achieving some milestone you just assumed would be way beyond her.

I hope she takes pity on me, her poor clueless mother, who so clearly does not know how much her own daughter is capable of.

And I hope she continues to blow me away by showing me every now and then what she’s oh-so-capable of.

 

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