Lost in translation

I read this blog post on language acquisition in children with a mixture of fascination and misgivings. (Did I make the topic sound scary? Sorry about that. The post title is “My Baby Learns Language Better Than I Do,” if that helps.) Fascination because this sort of stuff has always been deeply interesting to me — how we start out as helpless little creatures who do little more than cry and then, in the space of a year, transform into walking, talking little people. Misgivings because, as I’ve learned, it ain’t always that easy.

My son is 2. Nearly 28 months, if you’re that granular. (I’m not. I had to count that out on my fingers.) He understands almost everything I say; he simply chooses not to acknowledge some of it. (Said just now: “Don’t throw that chalk under the dryer. I am not moving appliances to get them back — if you throw it under there, it’s gone forever.” He’s still throwing the pieces of chalk…but not quite as hard as he was a minute ago. He’s no dummy.) He’s beginning to speak in sophisticated sentences, using words I had no idea he knew. He likes to crack jokes, too — always has, but now they, too, are becoming more sophisticated.

Currently he uses a mix of words and signs to communicate his thoughts. He knows that if he wants a piece of candy, he has to point, say “Canny?” and then say “Please?” — accompanied by clasped hands (because that’s how I taught both of my kids to say please, because it’s freaking adorable). He knows that his odds of getting said piece of candy increase if he a) eats all his veggies and b) doesn’t throw his unwanted food on the floor. He also knows that his odds of getting a second piece of candy go up if he tacks “Please?” onto “More?” (also said and signed — “Please?” and “More?” were among his first signs, and get much use, especially when candy is involved). And if that doesn’t work, he knows that adding “I you” never fails. (He always skips the “love” in “I love you.” I assume it’s because “love” is hard to say.)

He and I work on letters and numbers and sounds, with varying degrees of success depending upon the day and his mood. But I’ve caught him singing the alphabet (well, hooting the tune — he doesn’t know all the letters yet, obviously), and he can count to 4 when he chooses, so something’s getting through. It’ll come in time. In the meantime, he can let me know when he is hungry, thirsty, and needs to use the potty — that’s all we need right now.

But it’s not, of course. He is a growing boy, and has far greater needs than mere sustenance and elimination. So when his communication attempts fail, we have stage two: The meltdown. “Temper tantrum” is too mild a term for these fits. The other day, he screamed at the top of his lungs, while flailing about and sobbing hot tears of rage, for 45 minutes. Forty. Five. Minutes. Without pause. Why? Because I wanted to change his diaper and get him dressed. Actually, because I wanted to get him ready to visit a local museum. When he was already tired. He missed the part about how we were going to go have fun and instead fixated on the fact that we were getting in the car. (He hates the car.) And, because he was tired, he turned it into A THING. He couldn’t express to me that he didn’t want to get into the car, so he just threw a kicking, screaming fit. Because that message is unmistakable: HELL NO, MOMMY.

Eventually he calmed down, and we went, and he had a great time. But my bruises remain.

My daughter will be 6 in August. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, she has childhood apraxia of speech. She may also be dyslexic; it’s too soon to tell yet. What I know is this: She hyperventilates when presented with the alphabet. She knows almost all of her letters — and I’ve learned that we’re not talking 26 letters, but 52; upper and lowercase versions of the same letter are still distinct letter forms to decipher. I don’t remember having a problem with this as a child, but she is. She is not confused by b and d, as I’ve been warned that she could be. But I and i and T and t and p/q/a, in certain fonts, give her trouble. She can sight read more words than I would have guessed — and really, if you can play the song, who cares if you can name each note? — but if you quiz her on those words, she freezes. She starts strong, then devolves into nervous, breathy laughter, whining, fidgeting, and eventually anger. Which gets frustrating for me, because I’m trying to help her and she’s lashing out at me.

We’ve practiced deep breathing. I’ve tried making learning a game. I’ve tried reassuring her that I’m not going to make her walk the plank if she guesses and she’s wrong. I’ve told stories about instances in which I have had trouble learning. (I have the same thing with numbers that she does with letters, for instance.) But the problem appears to be the fact that I am Mom. She doesn’t want to let me down, but also feels secure enough in my love to push back…and here we are.

The iceberg image from that blog article I linked above is a perfect visual aid for my daughter. The words she knows, is comfortable saying, and can say understandably would fill a small cup. The words she knows yet cannot say intelligibly would fill a swimming pool. The words she knows but cannot identify on the page, even when prompted to sound them out (because she knows all of her letter sounds, though sometimes she struggles to recognize the written letter form) would fill the Pacific. And she can’t swim.

It’s frustrating for her, because her thought process is very sophisticated for 5; I know I wasn’t thinking on the level she thinks at that age. And she has a big vocabulary to go with her big brain. She just has a couple of wires crossed, which make it hard for her to express what she’s thinking in written or verbal form. But she conflates that into meaning she’s dumb, because she can’t make herself understood. I’m sure it doesn’t help to see her brother making such rapid progress. Just like it didn’t help that she missed half the school year last year — her classmates probably appeared to make similarly large leaps in comprehension.

She doesn’t kick me, but she does throw fits comparable to her brother’s rage tsunamis when she encounters those crossed wires. My challenge, therefore, is to try to figure out how to shut down the fits and channel that energy productively. Teach them that they are safe with me, and that I will help them try to express themselves if they’ll let me. Work with them so that when they get into school, they can confidently identify their letters (and numbers!). And ultimately setting my ego aside and focusing on what they need, even if that means that they learns best from someone who is not me.

I do better at this some days than others.

Shin guards would probably help.



Everyone learns at their own pace

“Remember when I went to my speech lessons, Mommy?” Anya asks. I know instinctively that she means the private speech therapy she was enrolled in at the age of two, not the speech classes she attended in pre-K. Sometimes I understand my daughter perfectly. Other times, not so much. Hence the speech therapy.

“Yeah, baby. I remember.”

“Don’t you think it’s about time Kai went to speech?”

To her, speech class is a normal part of growing up. She’s gone off and on as far back as she can remember. I’ve told her of my (short-lived) stint in speech therapy, as has her grandfather. Her dad never went to speech therapy, but she knows he, too, was a late talker and had speech issues. Kai is talking more and more, and not all of it is intelligible. So he needs speech therapy, right?

Thing is, Kai doesn’t appear to need speech therapy. Sometimes he forgets and calls me Daddy and his father Mommy, but it’s not like his sister’s melding every adult into Daddy — it’s more like how I call him Anya and Anya Kai from time to time. Rather than shying away from books, songs, anything that appears to be intended to teach him, he asks to be read to. He’s absorbed the lessons we’ve worked on with his sister and can continue counting and reciting the alphabet — not just adding “B, C” to “A” anymore, but “T, U” to “Q, R, S.” He has shown that he is not merely reciting numbers by counting my breasts. He sings, though he does not know all of the words just yet. He points to things and names them. He either knows some of his colors (yellow, red, orange, green) or is a damn good guesser. He calls my mother on the phone (for real, not just pretend — and bypasses my PIN in order to do it) and has 5-minute conversations with her. They are mostly gibberish…but not all gibberish.

Anya knows that she and Kai are different. She is grown up (her teen years are going to be fun), and Kai is a baby. She is a girl, and Kai is a boy. Now the delicate work begins: Helping her to see that Kai, like some other kids, has an easier time learning words — and that it doesn’t mean that she’s not as smart as he is, but just that she learns differently. At their age, words are the yardstick by which everyone is measured, but it will not always be that way. I have the same IQ (if not higher) as many scientists and others regularly lauded as highly intelligent. However, society does not value linguistic skills as highly as it does science, so nobody’s basting me with the genius brush anymore.

Having children has been highly educational for me. For starters, it’s made me think deeply about what is truly important in life. I used to value intelligence above all else, but upon further consideration, I have to admit that being intelligent doesn’t make me happy. It makes it easier for me to absorb certain types of knowledge, that’s all. What’s made me happiest is knowing what I want and taking steps to attain it. A secondary key to my happiness is nurturing an inner calm through meditation and simplification. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get to this point, though, so I am taking pains to teach these lessons to my kids early.

And also the alphabet, numbers, colors, and shapes, because otherwise their teachers send me homework. I never did like homework.

I am doing 43 things

Two posts in two days. Imagine that.

Actually, I’m cross-posting this from 43t; I don’t have that much free time today. And I wanted to get this stuff down so I can think about it, and write about it, and hopefully even do it.

As I think I mentioned somewhere, I want to do 43 things in my 43rd year. I’m adding the caveat that they can’t be boring things, like “spring clean my house!” or “purge my closet!” that I’ve done time and again and simply feel like I should do them to be a good person or whatever. These are things I want to do to say I’ve done them (projects), or because doing them will help me progress in other goals (challenges), or because establishing that routine will have a lasting impact on my life (habits), or simply because I want to do something nice for myself once in a while.

Some of these list items require explanation, and I’ll provide that in later posts. Which means I have plenty of fodder to help me achieve #31.

My overall goal with this list is not just to do 43 things for the sake of doing them, but to look back over this year next May and see that I’ve made progress instead of simply keeping the plates spinning. I have no illusions that this is going to be hard; as much as the kids have been sick this past year, at times everything has fallen apart, and I have had zero time and energy left over for extras. But I don’t want to look back on my life and see that I spent my time cleaning and shopping and watching TV. I want to do as much as I can with the time I’ve been given, and nurture the blessings in my life rather than squander them.

In that spirit, here’s my list of 43 things.

1 Complete an ab month
2 Complete a meditation month
3 Complete 43 things in my 43rd year

4 Be able to run a mile
5 Meditate every day
6 Exercise 30 minutes per day
7 Cook a meal using ingredients I grew myself
8 Have family dinners 4+ nights a week
9 Discover 10 healthy meal recipes the kids will eat

10 Read to the kids for 20 minutes each day
11 Help Anya with her speech 5 minutes each day
12 Work with Kai on letters, numbers, and word sounds 5 minutes a day
13 Have art time with the kids once a week
14 Introduce my kids to the library
15 Start a family heirloom collection
16 Have a weekly family game night
17 Make time for R (a monthly date night would be ideal)
18 Resume monthly family outings
19 Get married
20 Have an awesome familymoon

21 Improve my home’s curb appeal
22 Clean out the garage
23 Tidy up the deck (and nag the landlord about getting it replaced)
24 Complete my 2017 scrapbook
25 Rip my CD collection and reclaim that shelf
26 Finish Anya’s blanket
27 Complete a Duolingo course
28 Put together photos for photo books

New Habits
29 Fine-tune our morning and bedtime routines
30 Refine and expand our recycling routine

31 Blog regularly
32 Finish my NaNoWriMo book
33 Create 10 drawings I’m proud of

34 Brush up on my ID/PS/IL skills
35 Identify and take classes that will help with my career
36 Piece together sufficient freelance work/obtain full-time employment
37 Stabilize my finances
38 Put the same name on all of my credit cards
39 Put together a portfolio website

Foster Joy
40 Read one book a month
41 Grow flowers
42 Make time for friends
43 Have one do-nothing day per month

My 150-character personal summary

I’m fascinated with the form of the tweet. Having to restrict what I want to say to 140 characters is a fun exercise that I find has helped my writing. But I find myself annoyed by recent job applications that, after asking me to upload my resume, link to my LinkedIn profile, then retype my resume into their silly form fields (I have a master’s degree, and you’re asking where I went to high school?), also expect me to summarize myself in 150 words or less. “Say something that will catch our eye!”


Fine. Whatever. I usually say something snarky about breastfeeding, because I’m applying for telecommuting jobs and because I’m pretty sure none of the other candidates are mentioning lactation in their applications. So that ought to help me stand out. It’s not getting me any jobs, but I’m memorable.

But I’ve also been rolling the concept over in my mind as a personal exercise. And, because I do so love the form of tweets, I am limiting my playtime to 150 characters instead of 150 words. Pare it down. Get to the heart of what I’m trying to say. (I do have a tech writing background, after all.)

Who knows? Maybe one of these exercises will give me something pithy to put in these stupid job applications. Better yet, maybe I’ll learn something about myself.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with today:

Rock stars do one thing brilliantly. I do a lot of things: some reasonably well, others badly. Rock stars shine, then burn out—or fizzle. I intend to plod, and falter, and endure.

The school day routine

Each school night, we follow the same routine:

7:00 Vitamins/medicine for everybody. I start prep work for the next day:

  • Set out clothes for Anya and myself (Kai will wear jammies until after breakfast)
  • Pack Anya’s lunch, setting the refrigerated items in their designated place in the fridge
  • Verify that all homework is done, all forms signed, etc. I almost always take care of this stuff immediately after school, but I feel better if I double-check.

7:30 Tidy up kitchen and prepare for bedtime.

  • Get our bedside water (Anya and Kai) and ginger tea (me) ready
  • Set out jammies, plus a diaper for Kai

8:00 Brush teeth (mine and the kids) and shower. Usually the kids shower with me (which is all sorts of fun when I’m shaving); sometimes R takes one and I take the other, and occasionally they opt to take a bath and I shower all. by. myself. (Which is, at this point, a very strange, slightly lonely feeling.)

  • Jammie up and get into bed
  • Read a story or 5

9:00 Lights out; watch cooking show and nurse Kai until the kids are asleep (which usually takes less than 15 minutes).

  • Catch up on email, social media; maybe play a game
  • Drink a cup or two of tea
  • Listen to my deep sleep meditation

In the mornings, I also have a routine:

6:00 Get up. (Or, as has been the case during our recent spate of late nights, hit snooze until 6:15.)

  • Put in contacts, wash face, fix hair, put on sunscreen if I’m walking/makeup if I’m not walking
  • Get dressed
  • Fix a cup of tea
  • Make Anya’s breakfast

6:30 Wake Anya.

  • While she’s eating, brush her hair
  • Administer our morning medications (allergy medicine, and recently a probiotic for her poor tummy)
  • Finish my tea
  • Help her dress
  • Finish packing her lunch
  • Ensure she has everything she needs for school

7:00 Drop her at school; go for a walk if time/weather allows

A bit rigid for pre-K? Perhaps. But you have to understand what mornings were like when I was a kid. Lots of fussing. There were usually tears. It was a stressful way to start the day.

I like that our mornings are stress-free zones. Yes, she occasionally fights me. She does not want to wake up and go to school; who does? But our mornings are nowhere near as frustrating as mornings were when I was a child.

So I will continue my overscheduling, even if it interferes with spontaneity and weeknight play time. Because all days should start — and end — well.



What I want to be

(…when I grow up? I’m not sure I am growing up. Growing, sure. The direction remains to be seen.)

I haven’t had time to read this article in its entirety, but I’ve skimmed it, and this passage hit home:

Feeling like we need to be “practical” and “reasonable” is often a limiting belief. Of course we do need to worry about some realities of life; but most times our limits are just created by rules we’ve been playing by our whole lives. And we never stop to think it might be good to change them. It’s ok to stretch our desires into the “fun” and “exciting” instead of the practical, extend beyond the safe boundaries of where we’ve been living, and know we can dream bigger for ourselves than we’ve been allowing ourselves to.

This has been the hardest battle of my life. It’s why I quit music. It’s why I never seriously pursued art. It’s why, when I went back to college for an additional degree, I veered towards tech writing instead of creative writing.

And it’s just not working for me. I want to be more creative. And not just for fun in my free time.

So I’m making a list. Things I want to do and see and be. The do and see parts are easy. The be part’s been a challenge. I have to shoot down this voice in my head first, the one asking what purpose my desires serve.

What’s it do?

What’s it for?

What good is it?

It makes me happy, damn it. That’s what it is for.

  • I want to feel I am an artist. Not just a crafter, a hobbyist. I want to draw. Paint. Make jewelry that is as much art as accessory.
  • I want to cook well. I don’t need to be a chef, but I would like to be good enough to create my own recipes.
  • I want to write about topics that matter to me. I want to finish writing a book. Any of them. I want to get paid for blogging. I want to publish somewhere respectable. I want to be thought of as a writer again.
  • I want to speak several languages, even just a little bit. Not because I’m going to the country in which they are spoken, or for a job, but to understand the people who speak it better. As I’m learning from Anya, how we word something reflects how we think.
  • I want to feel and be fit. I want to jog. I want to practice more advanced yoga poses. I want to meditate daily. I want to make time for my health.
  • I want to be a good mother, a good friend. I want my kids to remember me as fun, loving, patient. Not as a grumpy person who worked all the time. I want friends. A life outside of this office.
  • I think I’d like to be a librarian. I’ve been kicking this idea around since I was 20 years old, and I keep coming back to it.

I haven’t quite figured out how I’m supposed to fit all that into my already full days. Maybe it will happen when Kai starts school. Maybe when R gets another job. Or perhaps I have to shift things around a bit in my current schedule. And perhaps…they just won’t happen. But I like to think I can pull at least one of them off.  I’d feel better about myself if I could.

And the really hard part is justifying this stuff in my mind without attaching price tags to everything. How much I would spend on art supplies. How much I could make from the things I would create. How much school would cost. How much my time is worth, and how much money I am losing by taking time away from freelancing to do these things.

Life is about more than paying the bills.

Things my hair has taught me

I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I have a lot of hair. Gobs of the stuff. I was pretty much bald as a baby, and my hair didn’t come in as quickly as my daughter’s did (she had waist-length hair at 3). But since then, it’s just been unwieldy, my hair. It’s thick and coarse and so heavy that certain hair styles make my head ache.

It’s also pretty curly. If you speak curl, it’s 3a/b. If you don’t, it’s the kind of curly that makes women go “oh, I wish I had your hair!” (Guess what? I wish I had yours.) And because I live in the South, it’s also quite frizzy. We are talking serious poof here.

It wasn’t always this way. While it was curly when I was a toddler, it straightened out during my preschooler days; only after I hit puberty did it start curling again. I didn’t realize at first that it had changed, in those days of blow dryers and hair spray, so I had crazy bad hair for a few years. Fun times.

Because there is so much of it, I let my hair air dry — I simply do not have the patience, or the tolerance to heat, to blow dry this mop. But it takes hours (literally overnight) to dry, even at shoulder length. I’ve tried cutting it short once or twice, thinking that I would have a little more flexibility in terms of hair style, but crashed and burned each time. My hair just doesn’t do short well. Anything above my shoulders is more floof than I can deal with. So I wear it long.

Long. Thick. Coarse. Curly. No blow drying. And I have allergies, so I have to wash it every single day. Product is, therefore, everything.

Since I was in my late teens, I have tried literally hundreds of shampoos, conditioners, masks, hair oils, mousses, gels, creams, jellies, puddings, and the like. Every time I find a product that I love, that works wonderfully, that leaves my hair soft and shiny and frizz-free, chunky-curly and still feeling like hair…they discontinue it. (Dove, I’m still not speaking to you for axing my mousse in favor of that whipped cream crap.) So I took to the internet.

The internet says that hair like mine needs moisture. Loads of it. I asked for recommendations from hair stylists, Sephora employees, classmates, coworkers, and people on forums. One by one, I tried the products they recommended — salon products, cheap stuff, and everything in between. Every few months, I go through my bathroom cabinet and throw away a dozen partial bottles of goop.

The recommended techniques also failed me. Plopping (twisting your sopping wet, product-laden hair in a t-shirt to dry) appealed to me because it sounded similar to my routine shortly after I went curly, only less drippy. But I awoke to soggy, definitionless curls that turned into frizz poofs when they dried, morning after morning. My hair also dried too slowly for twisting. Co-washing (washing with conditioner, to the uninitiated) worked at first, but over time I got gooey. No poo (washing with baking soda and vinegar) left my hair super shiny, but after a week it became tangly and brittle. I stopped brushing my hair. Then started again.

Finally I found some products that didn’t leave my hair goopy, but it felt dry, rough, and snarly — worse than it did when I was in high school and was bleaching it Lea Thompson red. My hair, which is uncolored and not heat treated, felt like straw. Nothing worked for me the way it did for other women. Was I using the products wrong? Or was my hair just that awful?

A little more research uncovered another possibility: That the issue wasn’t the texture or curl of my hair, but its porosity and reaction to protein. I read for hours on the subject (Kai was in a sleepless phase). Then I started reading the labels on my products, and a light dawned.

I picked up a clarifying shampoo (I was still sticky from my last product failure) and a mousse without protein. After degucking my hair (which took three washes), I conditioned it with my usual conditioner, then applied the new mousse and hoped for the best. The next day…I had hair again, not frizzy straw. Encouraged, I bought the matching conditioner, which was far lighter than my regular conditioner. That night, my hair dried within two hours.

Maybe my hair isn’t so awful after all.

Anya, too, has low-porosity, protein-sensitive hair. We have far fewer hair brushing battles now that I’ve switched her over.

I still don’t have the perfect products yet; I have to mix mousses to get the level of hold I want (enough to survive sleeping on it without frizzing, but not so much that it’s crunchy and sticky), and I’m not 100% happy with the results yet. But I’m so much closer to where I want to be. And I’m spending less, too; my new shampoo and conditioner cost half of what I was spending on the old stuff.

I’ve learned an important lesson in all this: Just because something works for everyone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. I should keep searching until I find what fits. Not just in hair products, but in all things.

Also, science. It works.