Friday, February 29, 2008

Trip to the zoo

We went to the Rainforest building at the zoo with our friends Anna, Jonas, and Lavinia. For the most part, the children ran in opposite directions, taking little time to look at the animals. But they hadn't seen their friends in a long time and enjoyed running around and playing as well as the split seconds they spent watching the animals.

Here everyone looks over the edge of the railing at nothing in particular (save for lots of different types of plants). They can't resist an overlook, however.This is a Capybara, the world's largest rodent. Behind him is a Giant Anteater. There were two Anteaters that were both quite active during our visit, though mainly they just paced.
Here's the Giant Anteater again. The Giant Anteater is one of only two taxa of mammals without any teeth even in a mature state.
Here the kids climb the walls, watching an empty pool of water and a leopard who mostly ignored the little bits of meat all over his cage.
The male orangutan came over to talk to Jonas and Bastian.

A turtle with a long, snake-like neck.
A crocodile!
This is me nursing Bastian in front of the Francois Monkeys. The females were all in heat and sat around with their butts in the faces of the males, who mostly groomed them. They have super long tails, white chops, and fauxhawks. They were, true to their name, Frenchy monkeys who would not have looked odd drinking espresso and smoking cigarettes. Très sophistiqué!

First Sentence

Aleks recognizes a very few words, mainly from googling them to play games online. A few minutes ago, the following occurred:

Aleks: What's "T," "H," "E?"

Anna (ignoring, sucked into the computer): grunt

Aleks: What's "T," "H," "E?"

Anna: What's what? "T," "H," "E?" It's "the."

Aleks: Kill. the. zombie. s. Kill. the. zombies. Kill the zombiesssss...

Anna: Hey! That's the first sentence you've ever read!

Aleks: Kill. the. zombiesss. dot. com.

Anna: oh great.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Radio Objection

Aleks, turning off the stereo: "I hate NPR news!!!"


The kids have mostly been watching movies for the last two weeks, pretty much nonstop. Except for the breaks when Aleks plays Star Wars Lego for an entire day. I got tired of the constant background music created by Scooby Doo and the Ghost Pirates (not sure that it's actually called that, but that's what it is), so I said, "hey! Let's do some painting!" And they did.
Aleks used his fingers for probably the first time ever and Bastian experimented with color more than he usually does, blending it, which he never does. He also painted back and forth rather than just in circles. It was a nice time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Tuesday evening, Aleks and I built an Aleks and Bastian snowboys (the shorter one is Bastian, of course). Then I shoveled the walkway and completely exhausted myself. It continued to snow all night and by the next afternoon, they looked like this (I think their eyes fell out too):We went out again to play in the snow some more. We talked about making more snowfolk, but no one seemed interested, so I shoveled the walk again. At least it was sunny and I didn't nearly kill myself this time. Aleks tried dusting the snowboys off.

Bastian wandered around in the yard while I shoveled. It was kinda hard with more than six inches on the ground and his short little legs scrunched into a snowsuit and boots. He got all snotty and red in the cheeks.
Aleks made snow angels and threw snow at everyone (though I asked him not to because he kept getting snow in Bastian's face, hence the snotting redness). I got him over the head with a couple of shovelfulls, though, which he thought was pretty hilarious.
They wrestled a bit.
Then killed the snowboys.
Then I made a fort, which they were not interested in at all. Bastian enjoyed trying to destroy the walls, which frustrated me, and Aleks got mad when I used the remaining bits of the snowboys at the back when he wanted to build new snowmen. So we went inside. The end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A little early, don'tcha think?

Aleks decided he wanted to write a letter to Santa while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas Tuesday night. So I wrote while he dictated. He said he just wanted to say "thank you," but did manage to add what he might want next Christmas as well. He also told Santa about getting the ghost Anakin and Obi Wan in Star Wars Lego. As you can see, I was distracted while I addressed it and spelled "Clause" instead of "Claus," but I whited out the e. Then he drew his plan to kidnap Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter books) on the back. He doesn't like Hermione for some reason. I don't really understand it. These are stickers from a Harry Potter sticker book his Aunt Natty got him for Christmas.

Family History - How We Got Here

I had this idea that the "about" section of our blog doesn't really suffice for any readers there might be out there, actually reading and wondering all about us and how we came to be and all that good stuff. So in order to make me a total target for identity theft, I thought it best to just tell everyone the story of our family. So...

Once upon a time... Jon and I met September 24, 1998 at community college. We took a class together (along with his recent ex-girlfriend) called "The Search for Utopia." Our first date was October 10 and then we got married (the first time) November 7. We had a second wedding July 1, 2000 complete with the usual wedding accoutrements to satisfy the public.

So there's that. See how young we were? 21 at the time of wedding #2.

When we met, I was on my second go at college and Jon had started about 6 months before, after taking time off following high school graduation. I was attempting part-time community college while working full time after I'd dropped out of Antioch College the previous spring. Antioch was originally supposed to be a mix of freedom and structure (they have no grades, just evaluations) to follow my 2 years unschooling the last bit of high school. It didn't really work out.

I'm telling this story all sorts of out of order. When I was 15, a friend of the family's gave me a copy of Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook. It spoke to me so much. I was miserable in school - bored to tears and unable to focus on the things I was really interested in. I did poorly out of lack of interest, not lack of intelligence. I preferred writing, reading, theatre, and hanging out with friends to Algebra, Spanish, and the worst English teacher in the history of the world. I spent my entire sophomore year of high school convincing my parents that I didn't have to be there. Finally, in May, they consented to letting me come home.

Interestingly, Jon had a similar miserable experience in high school, but wasn't given any opportunity to get out. While his friends were National Honors Scholars, Jon was reading Carl Sagan at home and earning Ds and Fs at school. He graduated with a 2.7 gpa.

Early in our marriage, we talked about homeschooling any potential children we had. At the time, I figured I'd send my littles to Montessori school like I was, maybe homeschooling later, like I did. I had a bit of an aversion to being so responsible for my children as a stay-at-home mother, though I didn't really have a career that I planned to have occupy me outside of the home anyway. At the same time, I envisioned early on that I would be at home with my kids, exploring my own interests from a home setting: writing, painting, gardening... Ultimately, the fears as well as the conversation were pretty pointless pre-kids. Then came Aleksander.

I found out I was pregnant December 9th, 2001. So I guess we had one of those post-September 11th babies that I later read were a myth. We didn't plan on having a baby then. I had started to talk about potentially having children sooner than we'd originally anticipated, like maybe trying in a year, when Jon would be starting graduate school. As it was, we were living an hour from our families at a major university where Jon was finishing his Bachelor's degree and I was just deciding to quit my third attempt at going to college, having found it unsatisfying and feeling frustrated by having to take classes that didn't interest me. But we were pregnant.

The first few weeks were full of fear of the unknown and constant nausea. Our car got broken into and we were barely making rent, so it was a pretty unsettling time to be making a baby. After I started to feel better and we made it to the second trimester, I found my groove though and enjoyed my pregnancy. I took prenatal yoga, ate well, and enjoyed time rubbing my burgeoning belly. I became isolated from my friends being that I wasn't hanging out in bars anymore and had to hold down a full time temp gig to survive, but I still enjoyed being pregnant and focusing all my attention on preparing for birth.

We immediately planned on having a homebirth. I always knew I'd have my babies at home. I was born at home, my younger sister was born at home, and all our close family friends pretty much had their babies at home. Several family friends were direct-entry midwives and my mother had become a Certified Nurse Midwife while I was in high school. She mainly caught babies in the hospital, but would attend us at home with a midwife friend assisting.

The pregnancy passed insignificantly, and we prepared for an early birth that summer at my mother's house. We chose my mother's house to have our baby for several reasons. First, we were unattached to our cold apartment which was in a bad neighborhood, so we couldn't imagine being comfortable there. Second, Jon accepted a position as a graduate student teaching assistant at a university in Montana, which meant we were set to move just weeks after my due date.

I spent the summer months eating ice cream five times a day with my sisters and thinking I was set for an early birth so I'd have time to get to know my baby before moving across country. Oh, how wrong I was. I was due August 1, 2002. Aleks made his entrance on August 16th, the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death. The complete details of the birth story can be found here. Here is a slideshow of the birth (warning: graphic):

Aleks was born with a cleft lip and palate. It meant that my plans to nurse went out the window. I started pumping full time.

This also meant that Aleks would have to have surgeries. Lots of surgeries. His first surgery was at 12 weeks. The surgery brought together his lip, part of his soft palate, and part of his hard palate, and installed ear tubes (the cleft affects Eustachian tube functioning). He didn't eat afterwards for four days and could barely wake up. He also had trouble breathing due to the swelling.

Aleks' 2nd surgery was at 6 months to complete the remaining half of his hard palate. He again didn't eat for days on end and having kicked out his IV on the first day, became dehydrated. The nurses tried to get a new IV hooked up four times - once for each limb - and failed. Finally, on the fifth try, they managed a line in his head.

The hospital stays sucked, but the view was always nice.

His 3rd surgery to complete the rest of his soft palate was his easiest. He spent only one night in the hospital. Afterwards, he was finally able to eat solid foods without shooting cheerios out his nose. He has since had 2 additional surgeries to replace ear tubes - one at 13 months and one at 3-1/2.

Around the time Aleks was 7 months old, I started spending time on Mothering's message boards and figuring out that what I already did in terms of parenting and family life had a name- attachment parenting/natural family living. I also got way into making our commitment to leaving a decent planet for the kidlet stronger. We retired the few toxic cleaning products we had, went totally organic, and felt all the more confident about everything else we were already committed to: cloth diapering, family bed, my extended pumping (13 months!), natural birth, gentle discipline, and I finally came back around to homeschooling.

I read anything I could get my hands on, now that I was a full-time mom. I felt like I was doing serious research about mothering, like I'd finally found my occupation, my dharma. I read Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small, which reconfirmed everything I was doing. I got a hold of Grace Llewellyn's new book, Guerrilla Learning, and realized that I had to return to unschooling for my kids.

Jon graduated with his Master's degree in May of 2004 and accepted a position in a PhD program in Cleveland. We moved back to Ohio, settling in Cleveland in August. We also decided to try for baby #2. I had discovered fertility awareness and planned my second pregnancy down to the minute. I wanted an early summer baby so that Jon would have the full three months of vacation to spend time with us. We hit it perfectly on our second try. My due date was May 30th, 2005. We planned a second homebirth with a local midwife, though I seriously contemplated going unassisted. Ultimately, it happened the way it needed to happen.

During my pregnancy, due to exhaustion and nausea, Aleks was first introduced to Star Wars. It has been the most enduring obsession to date. Over the years, Aleks acquired action figures, light sabers, costumes, and watched all six movies and the Clone Wars cartoons ad infinitum. Most of his play revolved around Star Wars. It clearly succeeded like nothing else at making him feel powerful!
Aleks as Darth Vader:

At 22 weeks gestation, the unimaginable happened. Seriously, you can't even guess. Late January 24th/early morning January 25th, driving home from a (very late) homebirth meeting, a semi-truck flew off an overpass and landed on my car.

The baby and I were fine. I got hit in the head and had a bit of a bruise that disappeared by the next day. You can read the whole sordid tale here or watch my interview with Katie Couric:

Our car was totaled, but we were eventually able to get a new (used) one. Baby, now dubbed Zeno Warrior Fetus, kept kickin' and groovin' right up 'til his precipitous birth on May 29th (complete details).

We spent the summer relaxing and getting to know our family while Jon attempted to read 700 books in preparation for his comprehensive exams. He didn't succeed in reading 700 books, but we had a great time visiting with my sisters and parents while getting a handle on having two kids. It was the best three months of my life. We went to Canada when Baby Bastian was but six weeks old and to North Carolina at nine weeks. My sisters played in the ocean with Aleks while Bastian slept in a hammock and happily nursed in the sun.

The next fall, I joined a midwifery study group and began thinking seriously about midwifery as an actual career path. I was already an outspoken birth advocate and the study sessions helped bolster my growing obsession. Over time, and with life with two small children, the obsession petered out somewhat and the members of our group began to seek different paths. Still, I searched for activities other than being a stay-at-home mom to fulfill me.

The boys grew and grew. Aleks became obsessed with Halloween after we hosted a Halloween party. He loved carving pumpkins, all things scary, and eating junk food. His play often reflected his love of Halloween. His drawing skills began to blossom at this time too. He was able to draw figures not just with recognizable features, but with clearly delineated body parts.

Meanwhile, Jon readied himself for the comps. He scheduled to take them in May 2006. I set out to go to Santa Fe with Sebastian just afterwards for Mothering magazine's 30th anniversary. I had been volunteering as a moderator for their bulletin boards for more than a year and was excited to get the chance to meet Peggy O'Mara.

Just a couple of days before I was to leave, Jon got the devastating news that he failed to pass 3 of his 4 oral exams. Bastian and I went to New Mexico anyway, but came home to Jon's months-long struggle to find professional confidence again.

Jon rescheduled his oral comps for December 12th. I busied myself figuring out unschooling, getting Aleks into speech therapy, cleaning the house, picking up the million and a half Lego we'd suddenly acquired (the latest obsession thanks to several packages of Papa's old Lego sent by Grandma Barb), and come November, writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. Unremarkably, my novel was about a bitter housewife.

Then, more trauma. Cuz we always need more of that.

On November 25, 2006, while I was washing dishes after a post-thanksgiving party at my mother's house, a casserole dish broke and sliced through my dominant right wrist, severing two tendons, a nerve, and nearly slicing completely through two more tendons. It was gruesome. I had to have surgery, couldn't change a diaper, and was in more pain than I'd ever been in. Thank goddess I had my sense of humor and Clyo the hand-bandage to keep me company. Oh, and all those drugs.

Bastian and I discussing important stuff while I'm all doped up on narcotics (I nursed through it all, thanks to some consulting Dr. Hale, though I do still regret that it had to happen that way, but Bastian's still nursing and I'm no longer on drugs):

The boys and I stayed at my mother's house for several weeks after the surgery with a friend hired to take care of me and the boys during the day while everyone was at work, and my sister and father pitching in to get me to the hand surgeon and the occupational therapist. Jon went back home to finish the semester and pass his oral comps with gusto. Seriously. He won an award for best comps.

It took four months of occupational therapy and 10 months of meds (with a stop on the way to deal with unforeseen addiction - way to go docs!) before I was able to feel somewhat normal. Even still, my thumb, pointer, and middle fingers are largely numb. I regained full movement though with regular neuromuscular electrical stimulation. It was fun.

In February 2007, after having been incapacitated by the hand injury and because I didn't finish my novel, I wrote a poem a day as a challenge to myself. I put the poems together in a chapbook, which Aleks illustrated. The process inspired this year's Month of Poetry challenge.

Aleks' Dinos from my book, february:

And now, here we are. Jon is finally in the dissertation phase of his PhD, writing on Standard Oil and the Cuyahoga River. I'm starting my own business, and was just published in two books with my six-word memoir. The boys have grown so much. Bastian does all the things his older brother does, or tries to! Every day they are learning and changing. It's an amazing process to watch and we cherish the moments when we're able to step back from our modes of doing and really sense it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Unschooling Math

There seems to be much controversy over whether one can or should unschool math. I have no problem with it so far, as Aleks has already proven that he knows how to add and subtract small numbers with no teaching and no prompting. I asked him some simple math problems in the form of "if you have two apples and I give you three..." one day a few weeks ago after he'd said something about giving and taking away. To my amazement, he knew the answers to almost all of the word problems without hesitation. I continued making lunch and he went on to do something else. Clearly, he's getting familiar with numbers from doing other things and asking questions about specific problems he encounters.

At any rate, today I walked around the house to find some math. I found plenty. First, Aleks was playing Star Wars Lego I, which involves collecting studs (like coins), which he has been trying to do a lot of lately after his dad got him enough to buy the really expensive Ewok Catapult. Yesterday, he bought the Ghost Anakin, his first ghost. He constantly asks us to tell him what the numbers are. Since they are tens of thousands, he has a hard time and can only read one at a time or else says things like "seventeen four hundred." Today I managed to get him to say the thousands and hundreds separately and seem to understand. But he's always seeing the first number, adding more to it, watching it change...
He also writes down the amounts when we're in another room so we can tell him how much more he needs to purchase something.

He also has his money jar. He had all his money laid out today, seeing how many of each coin he has. He owes me $6.99 for a Star Wars action figure too, but is really reluctant to pay it. I'm not pushing it, despite the agreement we made before I bought Anakin.Aleks also crosses off the days on the calendar, sometimes adding events of his own, like here, "Lego," which means that he wants to buy Lego on the 28th. Bastian added the scribbles. I made this calendar from scratch rather than buy a new desk calendar this year.

We also play with Lego a lot, which requires an understanding of spacial awareness I can't even qualify. It's all geometry.
Then I found Bastian pew-pewing with the bath ducks.