Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Still a House, No Longer a Home

Today was a tough day. I am here in New Jersey with my parents preparing for my grandmother's funeral. Today my mom and I drove over to my grandmother's house in Philadelphia to start going through some of her things.

It wasn't until I walked into that house that it really hit me that she was gone. She lived in that house for almost sixty years -- it's the only place I've ever known her to live. And every single inch of that house holds some memory for me. I was overcome by them as I made my way through the house. Just being there evoked remembrances that I haven't thought about in years and years.

The house definitely looked the worse for wear. When she was well, she was fanatical about keeping things clean. When my aunt was alive and well, she did all the maintenance. But, the last few years had been hard on them. The house seems sad and neglected: the carpeting on the stairs has holes in it, the wallpaper looks worn and faded, the house lacks the aroma of meatballs or gravy. The house had all of her stuff, but it didn't have her. And so, it seemed empty.

It was a sad day. I think the only positive I found in it is perhaps my inspiration for the eulogy I am to give on Friday. It's a meager silver lining.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Dreaded Phone Call

My grandmother died today. It wasn't a surprise. We all knew it was coming soon, but that doesn't make it any easier to take. She was 91 and her health had been failing over the past six months, ever since my aunt (her eldest daughter) died in December. I knew the phone call would be coming soon. It came as I was driving through twisting and turning mountain roads on the way home from the Sierras. I am glad it was my sister who called -- if it had been my mother, I don't think I would have been able to keep my composure behind the wheel.

I last saw Grandma in October. She feared it would be the last time we saw each other, but I kind of buried my head in the sand about that possibility. At that point, I was facing the knowledge that it was to be the last time I would see my aunt alive. I couldn't deal with the idea that I wouldn't see my grandmother again.

I am going to fly home to be with my mom and help her in the next few days as she prepares for the funeral and all of the other details that need attending. The funeral is on Friday, so I'll probably leave on Tuesday. That will give me tomorrow to wrap up all the stuff here that needs to be addressed before I can leave for five days. Fortunately, my in-laws can be ready at a moment's notice to take the girls.

This is the third death in our family in nine months -- R's grandmother, my aunt, and my grandmother. S is starting to wonder why so many of the people in her life are going to Heaven. But in the innocence that only a very young child can possess, she looked at me and asked, "I bet that Bisnonna and the other Bisnonna are talking to each other in Heaven right now." She made herself so happy with that thought. It made me feel a little better too.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Say "Squirrel", I Say "Surl"

A few weeks ago, I had my end-of-year conference with S's preschool teacher. In it, I asked her about S's speech. Like lots of kids her age, she has trouble with L and R, but she also has difficulty with what I've since learned are called "s-clusters". That is, if there is an S followed by one or more consonants, she drops the consonant(s). For instance, "snake" sounds like "sake", "spider" sounds like "cider" and my own personal favorite, "squirrel" sounds like "surl". Her teacher recommended that I talk with a speech therapist that she knows (whose kids also went to our preschool). So, earlier this week S and I went for an evaluation with "Teacher Judy".

The main objective of the evaluation was for Judy to listen to S's speech and determine if she would be receptive to speech therapy. I was a little concerned that S would clam up and be too shy to say much. But as a professional, surely Judy has encountered plenty of kids like this. She was great, and knew exactly which tactics to take to draw S out. She started out talking about the preschool, and moved from topic to topic until she found one that S was enthusiastic about (pets). And then she started a conversation with her. I just sat back and watched, not chiming in at all -- very hard for me to do! Next she pulled out a book and showed S pictures and asked her to name them. Each picture represented a word with a different sound. In this way, Judy was able to hear all the sounds she wanted S to make. S just thought it was a fun game and was excited to show off all she knew.

Having seen (or I guess heard) for herself S's problem with s-clusters, she started doing some exercises to get S to pronounce them properly. Her approach is clever: she uses something that appeals to each kid and incorporates it into the therapy. For instance, she saw that S really liked art. So, she used some pens and stickers each time she wanted S to try out a word. What was really impressive was her ability to perceive when S was starting to get sensitive about the exercise; she would then back off, redirect, and try again in a minute or two. I really appreciated that. I could see that S was getting self-conscious and was afraid she would clam up and it would be over; but, Judy saw it too and knew how to handle it. After the session, Judy said that she thought S was very receptive to therapy and she would probably conquer her issues quickly. So we're going to start seeing her for 30 minutes twice a week.

I am glad we're doing this -- which is funny because I started out reticent to have her evaluated at all. For almost a year, we have be wondering about her speech. It's not as if she is unintelligible to other people; she can definitely be understood. We just noticed that other kids didn't seem to have the difficulties that she did with the s-clusters. Our pediatrician and preschool teacher at the time told us that most kids work this out on their own by about 5 or 6 years old, and that we didn't yet need to worry about speech therapy. And that was fine with me. I was content to see if she figured it out on her own. However by the end of this school year, I began to think that maybe we should just have her evaluated. She may very well learn how to say these things properly on her own, but if we can help her do that sooner, why wouldn't we? In addition, I was starting to see the beginnings of the exclusionary social dynamic at preschool. I didn't want her speech to be a source of ridicule or stigma when she gets to kindergarten next year. This way she'll have an entire year to work on it.

So, we'll start therapy next week. My little girl will learn how to say things like "spoon" instead of "shoomy" and "smile" instead of "sile" -- and she'll be that much closer to growing up. Just add it to the list of things I'll miss as she moves out of her baby years into little girlhood.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

As Perfect As It Gets

Today was one of those rare days in parenting when everything seemed to go just right. Wait. Let me say it again: everything today went right. Ah, it feels so good. I don't think I had to threaten, cajole, or raise my voice even once. I had so much fun with the girls today.

It didn't seem promising when I woke up this morning after a restless night: we had a tight schedule for the day which included a berry-picking field trip with S's preschool to which I also had to bring my toddler, L. To top it off, we're going on the fourth day of R being out of town (which generally leaves me unsettled). Suffice to say, I was prepared to be grumpy. But lo and behold, everyone was cheerful, cooperative, and well-behaved -- including me.

Berry-picking was great fun! Each girl had her own bucket in which to carry berries. I didn't expect L to pick her own, and I really wasn't prepared for her incredible display of berry consumption. She must have eaten her weight in strawberries! I started out picking berries for her and dropping them into her bucket -- I assumed she would just carry it around filled with berries. Yeah, nice image, but so far from the truth. As soon as I dropped a berry in there, her chubby little fingers were darting in there to pluck it out and shovel it into her mouth. Then she decided to start picking berries for herself. She ate white ones, she ate the stems, she ate dirt, and even some dried grass. Her hands were stuffing things into her mouth so quickly that I couldn't move fast enough to prevent it. In no time, her hands and mouth were covered in a sticky mixture of berry juice and mud, and her clothes were splattered all over with pink splotches. This picture doesn't even do her justice. She was one grimy little kid! Notice the straw or grass or something hanging out of her mouth.

By the time we got home, we all needed a bath so I filled up the big tub in our bathroom. The three of us climbed in and scrubbed the dirt off of our bodies. Then it was nap time for them, and exercise time for me once the babysitter arrived.

After my workout, I packed them up and took them to Aunt M's for dinner where they played with LS and E. The four of them play so nicely together. Just six months apart, S and E were thick as theives -- at one point M and I looked over to see the two of them with their heads bent close to each other whispering and giggling. It doesn't bode well for us in the future -- M and I are going to have to keep our eyes on these girls. And at almost seven years old, LS is such a little mother hen; I hardly had to watch little L as she was constantly shadowed by her older cousin. After dinner, we threw all four girls into the tub, put on their pajamas, and I took my two back home to bed.

It was a great day -- one of those smooth and idyllic days that give you the fuel you need for the rest of them.