Wednesday, January 20, 2010


With the kids getting so big, I sometimes feel like we're running out of 'firsts'. Know what I mean? I know there are still first dates and first kisses and all those things ahead of us, but I don't really want to think about those. I'm still in the phase of first steps and first dry nights. (Hey, could I order up some more dry nights already???)

Anyway, now that Smunch is firmly entrenched in the organized sports world, I didn't think we'd have a lot more sporting firsts. But here you go.That's our Mam...playing basketball, a sport her brother never ventured into. In fact, her mother never played hoops either, but "Coach Dan" asked if she might be interested in playing on his Y-ball team. Interested in basketball? Not so much. Interested in playing for Coach Dan? Absolutely! Turns out, the team is about half kids from the Blue Butterflies. After the first game (pictured above) they decided to call themselves the Hoopstars. Cute.Very little girls playing basketball are hilarious, it turns out. There aren't many skills that really transfer from soccer. It's all very different. The girls seemed to have a clue during practice, but I think that all went out the window during the game. One got the impression that they were just excited to have the ball and very excited to be bouncing the ball, regardless of the fact that they weren't moving and weren't near any basket in particular.Mam spent much of her time as pictured above, with her arms in the air, clapping her hands to say "Let's get it going!" or "Pass it to me!" or "Hey look, I'm clapping with my arms in the air. How cool!" It was hard to know, but it was funny. In the end, the only girl on their team to score was one who has an older who plays basketball. Final score? It was a tie - 6 to 6.

The 8-foot baskets are still mighty high for all of them. There was shooting, but not a lot of successful shooting. And no one seemed quite sure what to do about all those opposing players trying to block them.

For our part, the fans had to sit on the floor, scrunched along the wall. Hardly comfortable or inviting, but close to the action. Maybe too close!

Random Kidism #12

I'm fully aware that other kids are as hysterical as my least to their own parents. But I don't usually post the things I overhear, probably because I'm not at home and I never remember stuff like that long enough. But today I was volunteering in the kindergarten room. One of Mam's classmates, a normally nice an cooperative little boy, was having a hard time, didn't want to do his work and insisted that his tummy hurt and he wanted his Mommy. I felt really bad for the little guy, even though I suspected he wasn't really sick (but who knows, right?).

When I was done with my group, I asked the teacher if I could take the little guy to the office for her. She said yes, then explained to him that Mrs. Ryder would take him to the office. He looked at me and grabbed my hand. Such a sweet little gesture of trust and appreciation, yet all I could think was, "No, no, don't touch me. I don't want your germs!" Seriously. I don't think I let on. We walked hand-in-hand to the office where I explained to the very nice office staff that I was bringing him over from the kindergarten because he didn't feel good. As the admin, Lydia, (not her real name, of course) took him back to check his temperature, I overheard this conversation:

Lydia: What seems to be the matter?

Boy: My tummy hurts.

Lydia: Do you feel like you want know...throw up?

Boy: Yes.

Lydia: Do you feel like you are going to throw up right now?

Boy: No, I only do that in the car.

Mamism #259 - Attractive qualities

The other morning, Mam and Smunch mercifully occupied themselves by getting out their kiddie cameras and going around the house taking grainy photos of various things. The cat had quite a photo shoot. Daddy and I didn't escape either. The fish tank, the backyard, rain-spattered windows. They all got the photographic treatment.

Of course, this means that I was also treated to a slide show of all of Mam's photos when she was done. As she flipped through her photos, she paused on her shot of Daddy.

Mam: Daddy's pretty cute.

Me: Uh, yes, Daddy is pretty cute.

Mam: Look at how sparkly his eyes are!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Curse

Call it the Ryder Baby Curse, if you will. Whatever it is, exactly, it's not good. It's not us this time, but Daddy's sweet cousin in Indiana. She and her husband had a baby a couple of weeks before Christmas. He wasn't so our babies were...and they already knew they were in for some medical challenges because their little boy had been diagnosed with omphalocele. And things went well at first.

But as soon as his planned surgery rolled around, things started getting complicated. Now, they're downright ugly. They got to take their baby boy home on Christmas Eve, only to have his condition rapidly deteriorate at home. By January 2nd, they were back in Indianapolis at the children's hospital there. Their son (my second cousin-in-law, I guess) was in critical condition with a severe infection. They used CPAP to help him breathe, then went to a ventilator. His kidneys weren't working and fluid kept building up in his body. Last night, the ventilator was no longer sufficient, he was in respiratory failure and his heart was starting to fail. The doctors began to prep him for ECMO, a heart and lung bypass procedure, as a last ditch effort to save his life.

Somewhere in there someone decided to try treating him with nitric oxide...something that was given to Mam when she was first born and had a severe case of pulmonary hypertension. Apparently, it was just what he needed and the magical gas suddenly kicked his kidneys back into gear and helped him get enough oxygen to his tissues again.

We never quite got this close to the precipice of life with our babies. There were certainly "death seeking episodes" by both of them, but it's so much different when you're watching someone else go through something like this with the "benefit" of experience. Experience just means that you know how easily things can turn on a dime and hope fails to drown out the lingering feeling of dread. It's hard being so far away, but I'm glad she and her family are surrounded by positive people who aren't so battered by reality. They need that.

I've been reading my cousin in-law's blog and I'm blown away by her ability to stay positive in the face of her son's struggles to stay alive. But I also know how much she and her husband are leaving out when they write. I know they know the score. It's so hard to absorb the reality of a baby in trouble...and even harder to convey it to a hopeful audience.

I'm so appreciative that my kids both made it. They may have an issue here and there, but they're here. Sometimes, like after my total parenting meltdown last week, I need a pointed reminder not to take that for granted. Between the earthquake in Haiti and our family's struggles in Indiana, I can't imagine having more reason to feel grateful. I hope that the Law and Ryder families in the Midwest will be feeling the same way before too long.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Little Lanterns

There are a lot of days when I don't really pride myself on what I've done with my daughter between kindergarten pickup and 2nd grade pickup. If I'm lucky, she has a playdate. If I'm exceedingly lucky, it isn't here and I get a little extra time to do my own thing. But most days, she and I are just here.

I know what you're saying. "Oh, how lovely to have time to spend alone with your youngest." Well, kinda. I mean, it would be if I didn't often feel like web surfing is more important than another game of Candy Land. Because, you see, Mam likes to be entertained. She likes interaction. She'll play games with you until your mind is so numb, you can't possibly see straight to fix dinner. She's "fun" that way. And I'm usually too lame to take advantage of the time I have with her.

But one day last week, she asked before we got home if we could do an art project together. It's one thing not to come up with a fun activity to do with your kindergartner before her brother gets home. It's quite another to refuse a specific request for one.

Fortunately, Daddy and I do a lot of shopping at the Klutz fundraiser sale each year. Klutz is based nearby, so they just unload their warehouse of a bunch of their fun titles. They sell them at full price, but give the amount of your purchase to the school of your choice. It's not a bad deal, really.

So, we had some crafty little books stored away upstairs. I'd been looking forward to putting together some little paper room lanterns for Mam's room and this was the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, they were fairly advanced for her, so I made the folds and had her squish them into creases. She loved it and she was happy and engaged the whole time, thinking up which lantern we should put together next.

In the end, she had a really cute little garland of lanterns that we strung on her headboard.She was thrilled with them and so excited to turn them on when she went to bed. So cute!

And when Smunch got home, the two of them made cupcakes. I had Mam do that mostly on her own with some help from me where she really needed it and help from Smunch when he felt so inclined. But she had to tell me what to do. I ended up using the mixer to just blend up the dry cake mix and a few other fun little asides, but in the end, they had cupcakes. Cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.

(Of course, that means there were two dozen cupcakes lying around. After a few days, I had Daddy take them to work...leaving just enough for dessert that evening. That worked well.)

And, for a change, I felt like I'd done a few "good mom" things. Things I wish I did every day. The monotony of parenthood would be less if I put in this kind of effort every day. And the laundry would never get done, e-mails would never be written, appointments would never be made and the garden would languish. How is it that I can't even do it all when I don't have a job?

Nevermind. All those little lanterns sure make both Mam and me happy!

Monday, January 11, 2010


Life is not always so serious around here. And sometimes it has nothing to do with the kids. In fact, I took this set of photos while the kids were at school. I spotted this squirrel doing some impressive acrobatics in the birch tree outside the back window and thought it might be a perfect time to break out that new zoom lens again.It looks so darned wintery out there (you know, for this part of California). I'm sure glad I don't have to make any maneuvers like that for my dinner!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


To the uninitiated, that stands for...uh, what does that stand for again? Ah yes, Dynamic Ankle Foot Orthotic. That's it. And that's what one looks like. And this is the piece of plastic and Velcro that had me on the floor, nearly in tears just before the holidays.See, for a long time now, we've been concerned that Smunch walks on his toes...a LOT. It's not just once in a while. It's not just when he wants to see something above his line of sight. It's not just when he needs to pee...although it makes him look like he always needs to pee. Considering that I've never tried to take a photo of him on his toes, these were exceedingly easy shots to find in my vast photo library.Now, you may wonder, as my mother often wonders, aloud, "Why does it matter if he walks on his toes?" It's a reasonable question and I hope that Smunch's physical therapist would have discouraged this course of action if it didn't matter at all.

This is what I know. Smunch's "heel cords" are very tight. We started our physical therapy with stretching exercises. With the cords stretched out, at least it would be more comfortable for him to walk with his heels down. If he keeps walking on his toes, it's possible he'll no longer have the flexibility to stop.

The stretching was very successful when we were doing it faithfully. He gained a lot of motion, but it didn't stop him from toe-walking. And stretching twice a day is a hard and draining routine to keep up in addition to school, homework, sports and speech therapy, so once we slacked off, the flexibility went away too.

Then we went to shoe inserts to see if that might help. Our PT wasn't optimistic, but the inserts are relatively cheap and easy to use. They made zero difference, but one thing was obvious. This kid walks on his toes A LOT. The toes of the inserts are already worn away in spots. The heels? Not at all.

So, we were left with DAFOs as our only option. Smunch went to be casted for them before the holidays and we picked them up just before Christmas. In the office, the PT put them on and then put Smunch's shoes back over them, saying that they barely fit.

I have to admit that I felt a huge sense of relief when Smunch tried these on for the first time in office. It was the first time in a long time that I've seen him look comfortable walking flat-footed. It felt so normal.

The next day, when it was my turn to put them on, I loosened the shoes and stretched and wiggled Smunch's feet around until he complained. I just couldn't get his regular shoes over those things. They're slippery plastic on the bottom, so you have to wear them with shoes.

And I had more psychological issues with the whole thing than I'd anticipated. Not only was I crazy frustrated with trying to get them on and hurting my child in the process, but these things? They make him look like he has a real disability. Children with cerebral palsy have these things to help support their ankles. Smunch doesn't need them that badly and I felt ridiculous cramming his little legs in there because he walks on his toes. I gave up.

The next day, I went out and bought some cheap shoes a size bigger for the express purpose of wearing them over the DAFOs. I couldn't get those on either, but Daddy came up with a shoe horn and over time, they've stretched out a little bit. It's no longer such a process. He wears them 2-5 hours a day and only after school. He complains about having them put on, but once they're on, he's pretty happy.

The only thing he can't do is ride his new bike in them. The bike is too big and since he can't point his toes with the orthotics on, he can't reach the ground at all. Bummer. But there's plenty of time for bike riding.

Smunch is certainly happy to take his DAFOs off in the evening. And then?

He tippy toes off to bed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Farewell to the Holidays

The saddest day of the holidays is doubtlessly the day we pack all our holiday decorations up and say goodbye until next year. The house is clean, but it's no longer festive. Here's Mam saying a fond farewell to our cheerful little snowman.And here is Skimble, our wizard of a cat, enjoying watching Daddy put the tree lights away...or enjoying flickering blinky things on the wall, at least.Bleh. Taking down the decorations means getting back into the school routine. I wasn't ready. The holidays were really fun this least as soon as Christmas arrived and there were new toys an a lot less wound-up anticipation. School means fixing lunches every night, getting out of bed in the morning and not showering as often as I'd really like to. But a couple days and a wee bit less sanity later and I'd changed my mind. I couldn't wait to have the house to myself for a few seconds.

Fortunately, putting the Christmas decorations away also means there's no decorative use for a gingerbread house. It may taste like cardboard, but to the kids, at least, it makes the end of their vacation that much more bearable.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy Año Nuevo!

And what better place to go on New Year's Day than Año Nuevo State Reserve? You locals probably know that this beach is home to our native population of elephant seals. I hadn't been out there in more than 15 years and the kids are finally old enough to appreciate this sort of thing, so, I made some reservations for one of their guided walks (the only way you can legally see the seals). These reservations go quickly, but it turned out that there was lots of availability for today. We had to do a little working around the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Ohio State for our two football fans, so we were out of the house by 8, picked up Gram and Grandpa and set off for the coast for the second time this week.I don't really remember what time of year I was out there last, but I'm guessing it was early spring. It was much different than it was today. Today was awesome!See how awesome this guy thinks it is?

At this time of year, mostly male elephant seals are there...strutting their stuff and competing to become know, the guy who gets all the girls. Why any guy would want to deal with that many women and their children, I have no clue...except of course, elephant seals don't stick around to be nagged by their mates and hounded by their children, so I guess it's all O.K.It was a longish walk out there, about 2.5 hours round trip. the kids were thrilled to see the first of the giant seals, looking like not much more than big grey lumps on a distant beach. They had no idea just what they were in for. The walk took us very close to several bull seals and then up to the top of a dune where we could watch a big group of them...mostly lying around doing nothing. But there were a lot of males out there, so you can imagine they got on each other's nerves a little bit from time to time. We got to see some great sparring action...although nothing too violent. And no mating acts to explain, thankfully.There were a few females around. Apparently, they come on shore and give birth almost immediately, so they all had pups with them. So, there were some nursing pups in among the giant male seals.There were also some young seals, who mainly looked like they were trying to get away from the action.Mam was found playing in the sand along the way from time to time, but Smunch actually seemed pretty fascinated with the whole thing. He enjoyed looking at the pelicans, watching the bulls spar and even spotted a sea otter off the coast at our last dune overlook. No one whined until we were on our way back.I don't look too much like I'm whining, do I? But I was whimpering on the inside as Mam kept repeating, "But it's a mile away!" I made promises about getting her something at the gift shop and about snacks at the car. It was all too far away. But she didn't stop walking. She even ran ahead now and then...something I couldn't keep up with because I was dressed for a cold windy hike and had gotten pretty warm.

We stopped for lunch in a little town on the way back and made it home just in time to leave Smunch to watch the Rose Bowl with Grandpa. Mam decided to stay too. Nice quiet afternoon at home. Daddy and I both took a nap. I wish I was looking forward to school starting again on Tuesday. But honestly, it's been a great holiday vacation.

I think we started off the New Year just right. Bye, 2009!