Don’t Eat the Berries

We had a little scare yesterday … the boys were playing hide-and-seek with Dixie and her older siblings, while I took the opportunity to have some adult conversation with Miss Shawn. Gabe waltzes up, complaining about the goop on his hands. Not long after freaking over the mystery pink coloration on his skin, we looked over and saw what seemed to be Zeke eating berries off of a weed.

Gabriel didn’t have any of the bright berry residue on his face, so I was pretty sure he didn’t consume any. However, Zeke had some on his mouth and lips, although we didn’t spot any remnants on his tongue or teeth.

Zeke looks for veggies (not pokeweed) @ Gramsey & Papa’s.

“Did you eat any berries?” I inquired. “Yes,” Zeke replied.

“How many?” I asked. “Two,” he said confidently.

Barely contained panic set in. I feverishly corralled the kids and got them across the street to our house to try to gain some perspective.

I thought the plant was called milkweed, but my quick Internet search proved otherwise. Stephen advised that I just call Poison Control to see what they had to say about the situation and its ambiguous details. After describing the plant, the agent said it sounded like pokeweed and asked me to verify that through an online search. Indeed, she was right.

Luckily, pokeweed tastes gnarly, so most kids don’t eat more than one or two, and it’s when someone eats more than six or so that it can be harmful. It’s not poisonous, but it can cause some nasty gastrointestinal issues, which have to be dealt with via home remedies. Needless to say, the boys are all fine, but are in dire need of some additional “don’t eat the berries, or anything else you find outside, unless Mommy says it’s okay” training.

Tough-guy Gabriel tries to lift the heavy bowl of produce.

The kids and I attended our second MOPS gathering on Tuesday. A MOPS veteran whose three kids are now teenagers spoke quite humorously about her motherhood experiences — from the first moments of being convinced she was the perfect mother, to the very-soon-thereafter stage of realizing that motherhood is anything but perfect, to all the chaos, doubt, frustration and perma-guilt that followed.

Her funny and poignant message struck home with me because I, like other moms, have such enormous responsibility, yet so often feel like I don’t have the time or ability to make it all happen in an efficient and healthy way for my family. Sure, I know intellectually that I can’t be Super Mom, but a mother’s heart is sometimes just irrationally heavy with a myriad of concerns.

A few things the speaker said that will hopefully help me get through those intermittent “heavy” moments:

  • Go for excellence in the household, not perfection. Leave the rest to God.
  • Don’t compare my weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.
  • Be gracious because, Lord knows, I’m going to need it.
  • And the best one … I’m not perfect, but I am the perfect mom for my kids!

Papa instructs the boys on proper veggie-picking techniques.

We’ve had one costume change since the last blog. Houston now wants to be a ghost, instead of a storm trooper. Since none of the boys’ costumes are that fancy or intricate (ghost, pumpkin and Vader, and we already have the mask for the latter), Jessie, the kids and I are going to homemake the get-ups, just like my mom and I did when I was a wee-bit gal. It’ll be a great seasonal craft for the 3 Amigos and a money-saver to boot.

This weekend will be first time ever that Gabriel and Zeke will be apart from one another for any significant amount of time (with the exception being Zeke’s surgery, when the twins were just 8 months old). We figured it was high time to give half of the double-trouble team some solo time away from his genetically identical cohort, big bro and the ‘rents.

So, Granny and Grumps are hosting one dude at their house for the entire weekend, while the other stays back at the homestead. Not sure how it’s all going to pan out, but regardless, I think it is a necessary step that each boy needs to make in order to grow into a healthy, well-balanced individual.

Houston proudly tosses a zucchini into the bowl.

And to determine who gets spoiled by Granny, I’m keeping score of every instance that Gabe and Zeke say, whine, scream or cry “no” to my requests. Each time one utters the two-letter word, he gets a “naughty mark.” And the person with the fewest marks wins some much-need “me” time in the mountains. At present, Zeke is in the lead for the dream vacation.

I’m still trudging away on catching up on photos, but you can enjoy a bunch of July memories (by clicking on the above pic) of the boys picking veggies with Gramsey and Papa.

Mischief & Merriment

“Rebecca Dillingham, please come to Child Watch” were the words amplified throughout the Y last week — a page I hadn’t heard since I first started taking them to the Y well over a year ago. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather, the 3 Amigos’ naughtiness was in high gear, and the childcare folks were simply overwhelmed with the antics — conduct they sometimes have to deal with from one of the boys, but never all three.

And even after a major talking to and varied punishments, a bedtime Houston said, “I have a secret to tell you.” So, I lean down and hear, “You’re the coolest mommy ever.” What a satisfying way to conclude that trying evening.

Luckily, this trilateral meltdown is an aberration of the dudes’ generally good behavior these days. Of course, they have their moments of misdeeds and impropriety, but overall, things have been hunky dory around the zoo.

I think it’s safe to say that Houston enjoys shooting Kara.

Miss Jessie 

Okay, so our already-beloved nanny kicks major butt! Although she began just a short time ago on 8/22, she is already playing a major role in schooling the boys and helping me maintain my sanity — and doing so in just 12 hours a week!

From her first day of making Play-doh creations, playing with Legos, reading and doing phonics with Houston, to her subsequent days of finger painting, light-saber battles and gun fights, flashcards and puzzles, Miss Jessie is just what the doctor ordered. She is particularly creative — for example, Jessie cooked up a batch of homemade Play-doh and let the boys color their own individually bagged amounts of the compound — so we incorporate arts and crafts in to most days.

Jessie’s presence has helped me already accomplish a few things I’ve been wanting to do with the kids, but didn’t have the time. Things like working on “Hooked On Phonics” with Houston, teaching Gabe and Zeke how to use scissors and glue (their first time was on 8/29 and they were both amazingly patient at learning the task and adept at following through on the activity), and giving Houston the extra time he craves for mastering penmanship.

In the beginning, I had loose lesson plans for our Jessie days. And since then, the two of us decided to have themed weeks by implementing the academic, the artsy and the active around a central idea. This week is all about “autumn” and the changing of the seasons. So, after an outdoor scavenger hunt for fall materials, the boys made a gorgeous leaf-imprint painting.

Ice cream is one of Zeke’s favorites, as is Cousin Meredith.

And this will hopefully tie well into next week’s tackling of “the solar system.” And a few other themes we have on tap are “fire safety,” “music theory” and “speaking Spanish.” Of course, the latter will entail an all-Spanish presentation by Daddy (he’s already nervous) and cooking and eating lots of Mexican food.

Church

The entire family is simply loving our move to Westover Church.  Stephen and I are taking a three-week break from our FOG (Families on the Grow) Sunday-school group to attend the Newcomers Class. We have learned even more about Westover’s philosophy and doctrine — which is just about perfect for us and our beliefs and goals as Christians — as well as discovered even more intimate, smaller-group classes that our church has to offer.

Another move we’re happy about is the “promotion” of the boys in their Sunday-school classes. Houston’s class is about the same level of awesomeness — Bible lesson, crafts, singing, inside play, outdoor fun, etc. — but Gabe and Zeke have made the huge and quite necessary leap from a baby-ish class to a big-boy learning environment, which involves all of what is offered in Houston’s class, but at an age-appropriate level. The twins are far less bored, making for a lot more double and a lot less trouble.

To our surprise, Stephen and Houston made the cover of Westover’s Septembers newsletter. The adorable shot of Daddy swimming with an elated Houston was taken from the church’s father-son campout they attended last month.

Houston does a mean Cookie Monster @ the Children’s Museum.

MOPS 

I also joined Westover’s MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). It’s an international church-based organization that “equips moms to embrace their mothering instincts” and helps moms to develop “their own parenting styles, while navigating through the myriad of daily mom decisions.”

After just one meeting, I think MOPS will be fantastic. I clicked with all the gals at my table, which we’re assigned to for the duration of the club. And being that MOPS runs through May, all these moms and I should be pretty darn tight by the end of it all. Also, my group consists of moms who live in my neck of the woods, with the hope that this will promote tighter friendships and easier get-togethers.

My little social butterflies seem to enjoy the “Moppets” childcare, which is just a more casual version of their Sunday school lessons, but with some new friendly faces.

Big-boy accomplishments 

In an effort to get the twins accustomed to sleeping in a toddler bed, Jessie and I sometimes let the best-behaved boy nap in Houston’s bed, since big bro does his required “relaxation time” later in the day. Both Gabe and Zeke have pulled it off successfully a time or two, so the goal is that when we finally save up enough dough for bunk beds, the transition from the crib will be a smooth one.

We passed on some of Houston’s too-snug briefs to the twins as to get a handle on the potty training. I told myself I wasn’t going to stress about it till they turned 3, and now that we’re down to less than a month away from Gabe and Zeke’s birthday, Daddy, Jessie, the grandmas and I are in full get-er-done mode. Not only will sprained wrists and thumbs be a thing of the past, but not shelling out the the big bucks for diapers and wipes might even move us up an income bracket — although, in this economy, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Gabriel feverishly shops for produce & grains @ the museum.

Dental hygiene 

The kids had to go in for their six-month dental exam on Monday. Sure, we had Jessie there to help out, but it was incredible how far the boys have come in overcoming their fear and apprehension of a good teeth cleaning. This is most notable in Houston, who used to be truly terrified of going to Dr. Mike. He even got x-rays this time around, and handled it with grace and bravery. The twins have never experienced quite the level of dentist-phobia as has big bro, but their courageous behavior was quite tenacious, as well.

Dr. Mike did give us a reminder that we’ve got to work on breaking Zeke of his thumb-sucking habit. I wrapped his thumb in an Ace bandage before a nap one day this week, but he quickly removed the attempted cloth repellent. Why would I expect anything less?

However, Zeke has finally mastered the art of spitting out his toothpaste in the sink. We’ve been working on it for six months now, so thank goodness that pea-sized amount of fluoride isn’t getting in to his system anymore. However, we still have a ways to go with Gabe, who still insists on swallowing before doing his humorous version of a hardy spit. We’ll get there.

And yesterday, I began flossing Gabe and Zeke’s teeth, which turned out to be an amazingly easy undertaking. Yay for small miracles!

The museum’s humongous chair is always a hit for the kids.

Mealtime & going potty

I stole a great idea from one of our new guilty-pleasure TV shows, “Nanny 911”: marbles in a jar. The twins earn a “diamond” (read: a colored glass stone) when they go potty when asked, or two diamonds when tell me they have to go before the act takes place in their diaper. Houston earns a stone when he completes a meal without spilling his drink. The boys each have a fancy jar, which they decorated with paint and glued-on embellishments. Once the jar is full, the reward is one-on-one time with Daddy doing an activity of their choosing.

The next was an idea that Jessie built off of mine. I had been telling the boys that kids who aren’t polite during mealtime don’t eat at Chuck E. Cheese. (Yep, a white lie, for sure, but whatever works, right?!) Jessie decided to make a “teamwork” reward poster, where the kids have to earn 30 marks before getting treated to the fun that Chuck has to offer. A mark can only be earned when all three use good manners and don’t potty talk, making this our only good-behavior motivator that isn’t based on the individual.

Also, we purchased sit disks, which a physical therapist suggested we try out, once she found out we were doing pre-K at home and planned on homeschooling, as well. The partially inflated rubber “wiggle seats” are supposed to help active children sit still, which they actually do. So the seats not only help calm academic and crafty activities, but they’ve also made a huge difference at mealtime. Awesome!

Halloween fever

  • “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is again in daily rotation. The twins laugh hysterically when Snoopy is a “shadow” (read: when he’s sneaking across the French countryside as the WWI flying ace and rising in Linus’ pumpkin patch).
  • The 3 Amigos are way into “Ghost-iz” (ghosts). They have some self-adhesive ones on their bedroom window that we named Scary Mary, Billy Boo and Rotten Boy (this one was Houston’s idea).

Zeke drives the fire truck w/ charisma & confidence.

  • There’s also Big J and Lil’ J: a plastic luminescent jack-o-lantern and his smaller, non-radiant counterpart.
  • And we already have the obligatory real pumpkin, Paulie, who guards the house from ghouls and monsters.
  • Costume update: Houston wanted to be a pirate, but now wants to be a Star Wars storm trooper. Zeke made the leap from wanting to be a cowboy to now wanting dress up like a pumpkin. And Gabe has never faltered: he will be Darth Vader.

Some other fun stuff

  • Stephen and Houston attended another Grasshoppers game on 8/30. Uncle Greg won a party package in a raffle, so they were treated to free admission, free food and box seats.
  • Houston’s t-ball has become a family affair. We have been attending his games and practices as a unit since it’s great fun for all. He is also doing superbly at picking up on the ins and outs of the sport.
  • Granny and Grumps visited Labor Day weekend. Happy belated birthday, Grumps!
  • And Gramsey and Papa stayed over one night last week. Thanks for the curtains!

Note: Please keep Zeke in your prayers because he in the throes of battling a nasty ear infection. Now that he’s medicated, we should get some decent sleep around here tonight.

Photos 

Finally, all the photos from Dina, Kara and Meredith’s June visit are available for your viewing pleasure. (Another “Thanks!” goes out to Cousin Merdy, who captured most of these early-summer memories.) Click the top pic to check out “Barber Park,” the ice-cream shot to see “McDonald’s” and the photo of Gabriel shopping for “Children’s Museum” fun.

I’m Freakin’ 40!

Yep, I was born four decades ago on 8/30. Man, 1971 was far out. Can you dig it?

Highlights & lowlights from the groovy & radical year

  • The median household income (in current dollars) is $9,028
  • A gallon of gas is 40 cents
  • A postage stamp goes from 6 to 8 cents
  • Richard Nixon is president and removes the gold/silver backing from the US dollar
  • The US Supreme Court rules that busing public schoolchildren may be ordered to achieve racial integregation
  • The 26th Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified, lowering the voting age to 18
  • Abortion is still an issue left up to the states
  • Nixon says “the end is in sight” about war in Vietnam, although the final withdrawal of troops is four years away

Zeke says, “Play-doh rocks!”

  • Charles Manson receives the death penalty
  • Jim Morrison dies at age 27 and Duane Allman at age 24
  • Films include “Love Story,” “Dirty Harry” and “Willy Wonka”
  • TV shows are “The Partridge Family” and “The Odd Couple”
  • Hit songs are “Brown Sugar” and “Maggie Mae”
  • The innovative year sees the introduction of the soft contact lens, the cat scan and the microprocessor
  • DuPont discovers Kevlar
  • Sharp creates the pocket calculator
  • IBM attributes first-use of the floppy disk
  • Programmer Ray Tomlinson creates the first network-based email, using the “@” symbol to separate user from machine.

Gabriel agrees, “Play-doh is great stuff!”

The big four-oh

We began the low-key celebration the weekend before my birthday. Stephen treated me to an early-morning nap on Saturday while he fed the kids’ breakfast. Then per my request, we feasted on Chinese food take-out for dinner.

I began my birthday day renewing my license at the DMV. Not quite Hawaii (where I was on my 30th birthday), but it actually wasn’t as torturous as I thought it would be.

That night, we had a lovely dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Stephen and Houston had to bolt a bit early as not to be late t-ball practice. (Yep, Houston’s finally playing t-ball, which makes Daddy very happy. He hasn’t had a game yet, but he’s really into it so far. It doesn’t hurt that his team is led by Coach Holder — his coach from basketball, who Houston just adored.)

Before he left, Stephen notified our waiter that it was my birthday. Thus, the wait staff sang me the obligatory birthday ditty in Spanish, made me wear a sombrero and then put whipped cream on my nose. Gabriel and Zeke were fascinated by the whole exhibition.

“Play-doh gives me the giggles,” Houston remarks.

Pleasurable play groups

August was jam-packed with play dates. A particularly fun one was with Miss Beth, Matthew and Jonathan on 8/19. I brought the boys’ stock of toy swords, shields, guns and light sabers, not knowing if this would be a smart or regrettable decision. Turns out it was a brilliant move ’cause every kid at the park (including girls) ended up sharing the weapons and doing battle injury-free.

On 8/27, Moms Club had its summer party at a marina, where the group had rented a pontoon boat. After playing and eating, we scored a ride on the boat’s initial trek around the lake. Being the twins first time on a boat and Houston’s first on a motorized vessel (except one time when he was a baby), the kids were thrilled.

The kids were also excited about throwing rocks into the lake, so much so that Gabriel walked into the water with his shoes on and then slipped into a shallow area when barefoot. Of course, the next boat ride was taking off right during his comedic plunge, so all the passengers saw Gabe’s goof in typical 3-Amigo style. Classic.

Kindermusik — a hands-on musical-immersion program for children — gave a free demo at the Moms Club social on 8/25. I ended up just taking the twins ’cause Dina and Kara were in town. Gabe and Zeke had a sublime time making music and playing with friends, while I enjoyed the break of having a little lighter load.

“Play-doh is so versatile,” explains hat-man Zeke.

Awesome outings & travel

While the twins and I were out, Dina and Kara took Houston to his first visit to Chuck E. Cheese. Needless to say, it was paradise for him. And then that afternoon, a nearby gas station/eatery had a day-before-school-starts celebration, which had free pizza, slushies, goody bags and a huge inflatable slide. A fun, but exhausting day.

We headed up to the mountains for the annual Houston Family Reunion on 8/21. It was nice to see familiar faces, like Cousin Terry, Uncle Clay and Aunt Naomi, as well as get to meet some distant relatives on Stephen’s side of the family.

It was amusing to beckon our Houston from afar and have about half the people in the room think I was calling them. And come to find out, there is a Houstonville, NC, which was settled by the ancestors of the same name and is located just a couple hours away.

On 8/28, we went to see the Greensboro Grasshoppers. It was the twins’ first-ever baseball game and Houston’s first of 2011. The boys did amazingly well devouring hotdogs and popcorn while in our seats. Then we played on the inside-the-stadium playground for most of the game, while Daddy got his baseball fix.

The game was super-hero theme, so the boys donned their capes and saw Buzz Lightyear, Spidey, Wonder Girl and Captain America; although, they were as impressed with the Chik fil-A cow. The kids got to run the bases at the end of the game, which was a spectacle, for sure. Thanks for the tickets, Uncle Greg!

“Yep, Play-doh hats are all the rage,” adds Cousin Kara.

Today, we went on what was supposed to be an apple-picking outing with Moms Club, but the orchard was out of pick-your-own apples. The other moms decided to leave, but we stayed and opted go on a nature hike instead. The orchard was teeming with friendly Blue Monarch butterflies, other cool critters and big tractors.

We ended up finding a huge Golden Delicious that the boys shared and three small Red Delicious apples for each. They were happy as clams with our small score. And honestly, I think the kids had as much fun throwing rotten apples as they would have picking them.

The boys’ banter

On the way drive home, Houston asked me about something I knew he would eventually notice: “Mommy, why is half my head wet and the other half dry?” I reminded that when Mommy was giving birth to him that he was cozy and didn’t want to come out. This not only gave him his “special eye,” but it also keeps him from sweating on the left side of his head/face. And that was that.

Pregnancy and child birth is an oft-talked-about topic with the kids. Recently, Houston brought up an inevitable topic — one I thought would come much later. He asked, “Mommy, how do babies come out?” Daddy and I decided (and hoped) that answering “the birth canal” would suffice. It did … for a second. Then he queried with wondrous curiosity, “”Is it, like, a hole?” I simply replied, “Yes, yes, it is,” praying he would lose interest. He has … for now.

Zeke went through a stage where he would say “I hate people!” when he found himself stymied by a task. “Do you really hate people?” we asked. “Yes, but I like babies,” he replied. And then “I hate baby owls!” was a standard for a while after that. Luckily, Zeke has discovered the word “frustrated.” The baby owls are now safe.

I’m quite proud of this still nature shot — one of my best to date.

Gabriel’s way of expressing angst is exclaiming (with clinched fist, of course), “Oh, no, not again!” He just looks like a little angry man when he does it. Luckily, he still loves people, babies and owls.

And both Zeke and Gabriel like to yell, “Sing it, Mommy,” when we’re jamming our Veggie Tales CDs in the car.

The funny, profound, witty, silly, poignant and adorable things the twins say are too voluminous to cite them all. And much of their progress with speech, comprehension and overall communication is due to their yearlong relationship with Miss Pat. They had their final sessions with her this week and it was bitter sweet. Sure, we’re all ready to move on, but she has become such an integral part of our lives. Thanks for everything, “pretty Pat!”

They’ll be info on Miss Jessie, church and other awesome stuff in the next blog. I’m also playing catch-up on pics. These Play-doh shots are from Kara’s visit all the way back in June. Click the top photo for part 1 and the above one of HL and Kara for part 2.