Back to School

Sep 3 2009

People often say to me something along the lines of “…but I shouldn’t complain about my one child [or two or three or four] when you have five” in a sort of breathless voice heavy with – is it disbelief? wonder?  Probably a combo.

I try to respond reassuringly, maintaining that, while five kids is a lot of kids, one kid is, too.

How does that math work, where one kids is many kids?  Well, when you have one child who, like my oldest, considers you parent, nurse, playmate, entertainer, personal chef, teacher, paralegal, secretary, taxi driver, therapist (I seriously could go on and on, but I’ll spare you the rest), the duties can feel a little overwhelming at times.

I remember having one kid.  It was hard.

While I wouldn’t say that five kids is easier than one (in fact, I’ll say right here that it’s not), I would say that it’s its own special kind of hard.  Different hard.  Especially when it’s time to head back to school.

I’m certainly to blame for a good portion of the annual back-to-school chaos we face.  And not just for my role in the procurement or production of said children.

I developed a philosophy years ago that each child is different with different talents, different tastes, and different needs.  (Maybe some child psychologist developed that philosophy, but, since I don’t have time to read up on the subject, I’m claiming this one for myself.)

My philosophy has resulted in three kids at three different schools.  Abby, grade 6, is attending a private school.  Ian, grade 3, is attending an intensive learning special education program at a public elementary school.  Aden, grade 2, also with special needs, continues to be mainstreamed in a public school classroom but receives additional one-on-one and small group instruction from the school’s learning resource center.

So about this time every year, when school is knocking on our door and despite the fact that I’m responsible for the chaos, I think that the scheduling stress might actually overwhelm me, tsumani-style.

My kind, reassuring words to parents with fewer children than me vanish, and I can’t quite manage to reclaim them.  It’s as though those words are intangible smoke rising from the inferno of my mad dash toward a reliable fall routine. Yes, I think unsympathetically, you shouldn’t complain about your one child [or four] when I have FIVE. I’ll think the last word with both disbelief and wonder.

I don’t wish to be uncharitable.  And I promise that eventually my head will clear.  I’ll figure out the fall schedule.  We’ll enter a routine.  I’ll stop using dramatic phrases like “smoke rising from the inferno of” anything.

I’ll regain my sympathy for parents with fewer children.  I’ll be back to my supportive, encouraging persona in no time.

Until then, I leave you with this year’s compiled school supplies list (with a special shout-out to my husband, who spent 4 hours inventorying what we already had and another untold # of hours procuring most of the supplies):

Writing/Drawing Implements:

  • 12 mechanical pencils with erasers
  • 62 sharpened No. 2 pencils
  • 6 Black ballpoint pens
  • 6 Blue ballpoint pens – Both Please
  • 6 Red pens
  • 2 boxes Colored pencils, sharpened
  • 2 black Sharpie markers – ultra fine
  • 1 highlighter
  • 2 dry erase pens
  • 2 boxes of short twistable crayons
  • 8 pink pearl erasers
  • 3 sets of water color paints
  • 1 box 16 color set of crayons
  • 1 box of 32 color crayons (no neon)
  • 1 hand pencil sharpener
  • 1 pkg. Crayola WASHABLE broad tip markers
  • 1 pkg. Pencil eraser caps


  • 1 pkg, loose leaf paper, college ruled
  • Graph paper


  • 2 – 12” metric/inch ruler
  • Calculator
  • Compass
  • Protractor (clear, see-through type)


  • 6 pair of Fiskar pointed scissors (for 3 kids? 6 pairs? Really.)
  • 9 boxes facial tissue
  • Small plastic water bottle (optional)
  • 3 sturdy backpacks with zippers


  • 3 spiral notebooks, college ruled, (max 100 Pgs)
  • 3 – 1” 3-ring binder (one with dividers)
  • 5 Folders with 2 pockets on bottom (1 girl, 2 boy, 2 neutral)
  • 1 composition book


  • 23 Glue sticks
  • 3 bottles white school glue


  • NIV Bible


  • Pencil pouch to hold protractor, calculator, compass
  • 3 plastic snap school boxes (6”x8” size)

Food for Thought

Aug 28 2009

I try to feed my family healthy and appealing meals.  This takes the form of a lot of homemade cooking, a general preference for locally grown food, an insistence that my children befriend vegetables, and an attempt to limit sugar and excess.  Attempt does not always equal success, but, hey, I’m trying.

We almost never have dessert, mostly because I don’t want my kids to learn that the reward for eating food is to have sugar.  Every once in a while, though, I surprise them and pull out a treat.  Tonight it was a luscious lemon pie.

I planned ahead (knowing it takes hours in the fridge to set after baking), and I made this pie from scratch.  I mean, I juiced the lemons and grated the zest myself.  I altered ingredients to cut the sugar and the fat without compromising taste, hoping to treat my family without the guilt.  I much prefer cooking to baking, so this was something of a sacrifice on my part.

And my family was appreciative.  They really were.  Everyone said, “thank you” without being prompted – a mark of success in every mother’s book – and that pie was gone in a blink.

To top it all off, I received these two complimentary gems:

“Yum! This tastes like jello.”


“Good job, Mom! This isn’t poison.”

I’m veritably saturated with pride.

“The reason why I’m so smart is because…”

Aug 26 2009

There are a lot of things that go through my mind when one of my children opens a conversation with a line like my eldest daughter, age 11, recently did.



“The reason why I’m so smart is because…”

Now, you have to really extend the “uh” syllable in “because” to make it sound as tantalizing as she did.  More like, “the reason why I’m so smart is becuuuuuuuhhhhhhz…”

Followed by a long pause designed especially for me to guess the reason behind this new found self-awareness.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because her mother has taught her many weighty and wonderful things.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because she’s been reading the dictionary secretly at night, knowing how much an excellent vocabulary will please me.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because I strictly prohibit watching junk like the Disney Channel on TV.  (Oh, wait.  No, I don’t.  Scratch that one.)

I admit it.  I have a reputation for having a big mouth and saying what’s on my mind.  It’s partially deserved.  (Those who know me would probably say it’s well-deserved.  But this is my blog, therefore my reality.  So there.)  I’m not sure whether it would be in my favor or not for people to know all of the times I actually bite my tongue and don’t say what I’m thinking.

Nevertheless, this time I managed not to say any of the pithy, smarmy comments that came to mind.  Chalk one up in the Mommy Column.

And the reason she’s so smart?

“Becuuuuuuuhhhhhhz… I did NOT just smack Ian on the head even though he totally deserved it.”



I was expecting something a tad more profound.  And a lot more self-serving on the Mom front.  Something that might justify all of the time and thought and attention I put into parenting.  Something that might follow her through life as a memorable lesson on how smart her mother is.

I suppose I was hoping all along that “the reason why I’m so smart is because…” could somehow be interpreted as “the reason why you’re so smart, Mom, is because…”

But when I really consider it and try to remove my selfish self from the situation, she’s right.  She was pretty smart.

Particularly because I’m quite certain Ian did deserve it.  He’s 9.  And a boy.  He’s pretty irritating at this stage.  Especially if you’re 11.  And his sister.

Which makes me think.

I’m pretty smart.

The reason why I’m so smart is because I taught my daughter not to smack her brother on the head.

I’m what?

Aug 25 2009

This morning, Cai, the eldest of my twin two-year-old toddlers, was adorable.

He was playing with a toy bulldozer. A scooper. Or, as he calls it, a “‘cooper.”

See? Isn’t that adorable already?

Yeah, I know our kids are mostly adorable to just us and not so much to other people. Given Cai’s ongoing proclivity to drool, I can intellectually understand that “‘cooper” doesn’t ameliorate the effects of perpetually damp shirts on your perception of his cuteness.

But who the heck cares what other people think about drool when your tiny, bedeviling kid looks up at you with big blue eyes and says, as Cai did, “Mommy, I’m going to ‘coop you up.”

Oh, the way my heart flipped and flopped. How precious that my son wants to ‘coop me up! What a tender moment.

And, as I reached down to hug His Royal Dampness, he followed up his comment with,

“Because you’re dirt.”

Disney On Drugs

Feb 21 2009

7 children. 4 parents. 4 grandparents.

4 with colds.

1 trip to Disneyland.

2 flights. 1 entire bottle of Dimatapp decongestant for children, distributed and consumed according to doctor’s directions. 2 boxes of gum for 3 older kids. 1 bag of gummy candy for toddlers.

1 crying child descending into California = 86% success rate.

3 days in the parks.  1 double stroller for 2 toddlers.  26 tired legs.  4 toddler legs running circles around us all.

1 bottle adult tylenol, and 1 blister pack of Sudafed, taken over 4 days with various forms (but always large quantities of) caffeine.

2 girls prone to carsickness.  2 child-safe motion-sickness prevention pills, broken in half.  5 minutes from home. 1 seat to clean.

1 Fun Family Vacation, and…


…the first meeting of the Mouse.


A Tale of Two Trips

Feb 12 2009

My aunt and I are each getting ready to go on a trip.  As a woman without children, Ann is able to live her life just a touch differently than I do.

Ann, an avid knitter and spinner, is leaving tomorrow to spend time with her friends at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.  If I understand correctly, getting into this retreat and into the most desirable classes is quite an accomplishment that requires significant advance planning.  Ann signs up annually on the first day registration opens.  Homework is required for classes with titles like “Steeks! What, Where, Why and How” and “Hybrid Sock Architecture.”

I, on the other hand, am preparing to go to Disneyland with 1 husband, 5 children, and, praise be to God, 4 grandparents.

Let’s review said children’s ages: 10, 9, 7, 2 and 2.  Yes, that’s 2 2-year-olds on airplanes, in restaurants, in hotels and cars.  But that’s also 2 2-year-olds who get to meet Mickey Mouse in person for the first time, so I’m telling myself that it’s a worthy trade-off.

Ann sent me this message today:

Subject Line: Amused

Once again, I’m amused at the difference between my little retreat and yours…I’m not sure how you are prepping for yours, but I’m sure it’s not like my last 18 hours.

  • Call B to warn her that it’s been snowing up here.  Definitely not California weather.  Pack appropriately.  (This part might be the same, just reverse.)
  • Call K to coordinate what we are bringing.
Me: I’ve got 5 or 6 bottles of wine.  I’ll stop off at the Greenbank Farm/Cheese Shop — anything in particular you want other than the stupendous Seastack cheese, extra sharp cheddar, and some brie?  Pate is a given.
K: No, I’ve got a case of wine, a port, and blood oranges and my martini set (blood orange martinis).  I’m swinging by Central Market tomorrow.  I’m making bruschetta, and bringing meats.
  • Homework and supplies check list.  Check.  I’ll do the homework tomorrow.  It’s not due until Friday.
  • Pre-retreat yarn shopping.
  • Wine and cheese shopping.

Um… yes.  Brie and pate are not on my packing list.  Here’s what I wrote back to Ann:

This is what I’ve done today for trip preparation:

  1. Begged my mom to go to the pharmacy to discover what kind of and how much decongestant we can give to two-year-olds
  2. Requested (and acquired!) an extra free water bottle from human resources at work… these are a good size and have a nice, non-leak flip top for easy access.  Needed an extra for the trip so we can designate 1 bottle for Greg and me and the other for the children who backwash.  (Abby may be old enough to share the parental vessel this year.)  In case you’re wondering, I’m aware of exactly how disgusting this is, but not unlike my years becoming acclimatized to living with the conditions of SE Asia, I’ve become accustomed to swapping germs in pretty unappealing manners.
  3. Planned the drive-out-of-town exit-strategy for tomorrow.  Includes: packing everything because I not-so-surprisingly have run out of time, dropping the dog at the kennel (which reminds me that I should call to see if there’s room), picking up Ian and Aden from school, picking up Cai and Cael from daycare, dosing Aden and Abby with anti-nausea meds (please do not forget!), driving to the airport, de-carring (a term similar to deplaning, used exclusively by large families for whom a specific plan is necessary lest injury and mayhem ensue), assigning 1 adult to 5 children and 8 pieces of luggage at the terminal while the other adult parks the van in economy parking and lugs 2 carseats (don’t forget the clips!) and the remaining 2 pieces of luggage to the terminal.  Don’t worry; I have a Plan!
  4. Planned meals thusly: Feed breakfast to the masses… I’m thinking stale cereal soaked in milk.  Take children to their various supervised locations.  Throw snacks at them when we pick them up.  Eat a more formal lunch (by which I mean McDonalds) at the airport prior to departure. (“I don’t care if you’re full on granola bars, eat your french fries!  I paid good money for those.”)  Fill water bottles after we go through security; stash full bottles in bag in case we end up delayed on a plane for hours, a la Jet Blue stories of the past.  Throw snacks at children (mine and whoever else’s) on the plane.  Feed them candy on take-off and landing to try to avoid ear aches.  Deal with the repercussion of feeding children candy in confined spaces.  Arrive in Anaheim.  Take children who are a) weary from travel, b) bottoming out on a sugar-low, and c) excited to go to Disneyland the next day to a public restaurant for dinner and require them to behave appropriately.

I’m sure you’ll find this hard to believe, but I’m super excited about this trip!  We’re going to rock Anaheim!

Mickey Mouse, here we come.

Maybe next year I’ll take up knitting.

Are They Identical?

Feb 10 2009

We get a lot of questions about our family from interested strangers.

When Abby (our oldest daughter whom we adopted from Vietnam) was an infant, I heard a lot of fun questions.

Is she yours? Um… yes.  That’s typically what adoption means.

Is her father Asian? Sure enough.  (I didn’t often feel the need to differentiate for strangers between Abby’s biological father, who almost certainly is Asian, and her adoptive father, who isn’t.)

How will you teach her English? Seriously?  Did you notice that she’s 3 months old?  I’m almost positive she’ll pick it up someday.

Will you raise her American? Well, we’re American and we live in America, so I’m going to go with yes.  Although, after that series of questions, I’m not totally comfortable with that.


Then we adopted Ian and Aden from Guatemala, and the questions changed.

Are all three siblings? They fight in the back seat of the car.

They’re not speech delayed!  They just haven’t learned English yet. Have you tried talking to them in Spanish? Hmmm… I’d say that after 5 years of living in the States from toddler-hood on, it’s speech delay.  Plus, in order to transition from Spanish, they would have had to have some Spanish to begin with.

Why did you adopt?  Couldn’t you have kids of your own? Um… I do have kids of my own.  I adopted them and now they’re my own.


And now we have twins.

Are they twins? Yep.

Are they identical?  (Wait.  You can’t tell them apart but you wanted to know if they’re twins?)  No.  They’re fraternal.

How do you tell them apart? I’m their mother, so it’s pretty easy, but I’m sympathetic to this question.  Cai and Cael look enough alike that it’s hard to tell if you’re an untrained observer.  There are no obvious “tells.”  Cael’s nose is a little wider, Cai’s hair’s a bit straighter.  It’s hard.  I get it.  And then their lame parents went with matchy-matchy names, which is a crime and should be illegal.  But that’s a story for another time.

The real way to tell Cai and Cael apart is to observe them for about a half a minute.

In fact, when someone asks me if they’re identical, my first impulse is to laugh.  Cai and Cael couldn’t possibly be more different.

It occurred to me very recently that Cai and Cael are as aware of this fact as everyone who knows them, as evidenced by their favorite, must-read-at-bedtime book, Opposites by Sandra Boynton.

For those of you less acquainted with early childhood classics, Sandra Boynton has to be my all-time favorite writer of board books.  Her characters are simple, but memorable.  Like the sad cartoon turkey who can’t remember which clothes go on which body parts resulting in such toddler-hilarity as a coat worn on the nose.  The poor turkey eventually gets it right and is dressed head to toe only to discover himself diving off of the high dive at the pool.  Awesome.

Opposites is pretty self-explanatory.  Each page shows animals who are opposite in some way.  Like the elephant and rabbit on a teeter totter (heavy, light) or the moose holding the mouse on a barbell (strong, weak).

Lately, Cai and Cael have begun to self-identify with the pictures.  As we go through the story, they tell me which one is Cai-Cai and which one is Cael for each set of opposites.  They never disagree about who’s who, and it’s remarkable how spot-on they are!

Where Cael is cautious, logical and thoughtful, Cai flies by the seat of his pants and jumps before he makes sure there’s a spot to land.  Cael’s primarily serious and stoic.  Cai’s never met Serious and wouldn’t recognize it if it introduced itself and hit Cai on the head.  Cael’s fastidious and clean.  Cai’s… not.  Cael does things the right way.  Cai’s too creative to acknowledge limiting concepts like right and wrong.

We try hard not to label Cai and Cael.  But they make it really hard.  We’ve long suspected that Cael’s like my husband’s family.  He’ll probably graduate summa cum laude and become a doctor.  Cai’s going to get Cael dates and teach him about keggers.  Cai’s, um, more like my side of the family.

For more on the boys’ self-identification, here are some excerpts from Opposites for your viewing pleasure:


Fast = Cai, who has the bruises from the wall corners, table edges and Matchbox cars to prove it.  Slow = Cael, who tests the jumping angle and factors in wind resistance before stepping off of the foot stool.


In = Cael, cautiously sitting back from the edge and watching his brother.  Out = Cai, who already fell over the edge, crawled out of the irritatingly confined box and is now egging Cael on to join him.


Right = Cael, always balanced, observant and correct; this is the best way to hold a phone.  Wrong = Cai, who always laughs at the pig with the phone on his head and tells me, “Cai Cai silly, Mommy.”  He won’t turn the page until I assure him that, yes, I know Cai Cai’s silly.

I believe I mentioned already how spot-on the boys’ observations are.  There’s only one page that Cai and Cael haven’t identified as themselves.


Whisper = Daddy.  Shout = Mommy.