How Old is Hallie?

Lilypie Fifth Birthday tickers

How Old is Lea?

Lilypie Second Birthday tickers

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy 4th Birthday Pictures! (A Much Belated Work in Progress)

Well, at long last, I'm finally getting around to posting pictures from the multiple birthday celebrations that Hallie enjoyed this year. In the interest of actually getting this task accomplished, I will try to keep my verbiage to a minimum (well, a minimum for me, at least).
As I think I mentioned, we sent in 25 single-serving sized containers of Hallie's favorite dessert--Haagen Dazs Ice Cream--to preschool on the actual anniversary of Hallie's birth. We also brought in Dora and Diego birthday hats, which were at least as great, if not a greater, hit than the frozen creamy treat that accompanied them. Who knew that hats priced at $2.99 for 8 would make such a splash with the preschool set?

The ice cream itself, though, was irresistible. The teachers served it at the 10:30am snack break (rather than after lunch, when they deemed it more likely to lead to sugar high and interfere with the schedules of those kids who still napped). When the teachers whipped out the bag of treats from the freezer and distributed them to the kids, the preschoolers could not wait to indulge.

Hence, they had to backtrack in the middle of their snack to sing Happy Birthday to Hallie. Hallie loved it, and really relished being able to blow out her own candle (she couldn't quite do this at ages two or three but is now an expert at this art form, as we'll see in a bit).

After a chorus or two (one little girl insisted on singing Happy Birthday a second time and Hallie did not protest, the kids went back to eating their treats in earnest.

In some ways, it appears that Hallie feels that this was the most memorable and important aspect of her birthday celebration. For at least a week after the preschool party, Hallie kept mentioning it to us. She also, apparently, has a good handle on her peers' ice cream flavor preferences. She can still tell you who chose Vanilla, Strawberry, or Chocolate (she, of course, opted for the last of these). I don't think that there's a single thing that eludes this kid's powers of observation or a minute detail that she overlooks and/or forgets.

But the preschool party was just the beginning of Hallie's official celebration this year. After I picked Hallie up from preschool on her birthday, we came home and got ready for another party, this one with Aunties Renee and Kim and their little girl, Taylor.

After a quick dinner, we got ready to have some of the yummy chocolate cake that I had procured from Wholefoods in honor of Hallie and Olivia's birth earlier that day:

Hallie independently blew out the candles on her cake (she did this at school, too, but we weren't there to capture it on video). She was thrilled. So were we.

Then, on Sunday, we had her big birthday bash at Bounce U. It was the perfect venue for a party for Hallie. Hallie adores trampolines and jumping on inflatable structures (and is getting more independent at handling the big and somewhat scary slides, too). What better way than to share this love of vestibular motion with her close friends and family?

Here'e Hallie saying "Cheese" (but not quite managing a smile while doing so) in the reception area at Bounce. Please note the really cute shirt that Hallie is wearing, which was adorned with her name, age, and a dragonfly motif (to commemorate Olivia); it was made by a fellow micropreemie mom who sells birthday shirts and a whole lot more over at Pixie Stitch Boutique. The quality of the shirt is wonderful, the detailing is delightful, and the colors of shirts and fabric patterns that they use for appliques are really spectacular. It's hard to find something other than whites and pastels, and Hallie does not look nearly as good as these as she does in bright colors.

Hallie was thrilled to be at Bounce and to see so many of her friends there with her. She gave a nice big hug to Eliza (whose mom, Anne, took many of the pictures I am posting here).

Everyone was super excited when it was time to go into our first bounce room. The Bounce birthday party package includes the exclusive use of two separate rooms, each for 45 minutes. This is great since the kids don't get bored and we weren't running over/into/onto a million other kids whom we did not know and, since the doors were not opening and closing all the time, we were pretty much assured that none of our kids were going to escape the premises. Other than the fact that we had to talk over the noise involved in keeping those inflatables nice and full, we adults were able to converse with one another and bounce along with our kids if we so desired.

A bunch of the girls, including Hallie, took off for the climbing wall that led to a giant slide.

This thrilled Eliza, who loves sliding and knows no fear.

A couple of Hallie's school chums and friends enjoyed the slide just as much.

Hallie, alas, was not so sure this was her kind of activity. She got to the very top, took one look at the sheer drop, and panicked (I am with her on this, by the way, but I would prefer that she grow up to be a person with considerably less anxiety than I possess so I was hoping that she managed to work things out by the end of the day). So Hallie came down but there was no way that she was going to go back up there on her own. (More to come on this later...)

Lea, who is quite enamored of slides, went down with Sharon and very much enjoyed the experience (so much so that she is now turning everything into a slide, including our very dangerous stairs, much to my chagrin).

None of this prevented Hallie from having a grand time in the first bounce room. She just decided to do some heavy jumping instead:

Here she is in one of the bouncing structures with her brother Jake:

And here's a short video clip of Jake and his mom, Gina, doing "Ring Around the Rosie:"

But all was not lost on the sliding front. Some gentle persuasion, coupled with some lap sitting and hand holding convinced Hallie that it was okay to slide down the really big slide in the second bounce room.

Here she is on Gina's lap with Jake by her side:

From the look on her face at the bottom, you can tell that Hallie had a great time:

So did Jake (who has now asked for his 5th birthday party to be held at Bounce; Gina has granted this birthday request and I know that all of our kids will be thrilled).

Hallie then began to go down while holding hands with her cousins. Here she is with Hannah:

Adam followed right along:

Sarah descended while holding Lea:

The other kids had a great time, too:

Some of the kids were a little too small or timid to make it onto the giant slides, but they also had a great time.

Here's our micropreemie friend, Maggie:

And one of Hallie's classmates, Xavier, who had a grand time shooting hoops:

And yet another micropreemie pal, Elizabeth, who had a blast on the plasma cars:

Everyone had a grand time, especially Hallie:

Then it was time for pizza.

Amazingly, this year, Hallie actually ate at her own party:

So did Lea:

More playing followed the pizza. The kids were especially eager to have fun with the balloons:

Finally, it was time for cake. Hallie put in a special request for this one (a very delicious chocolate cake layered with chocolate pudding and frosted with chocolate butter cream from Wegman's):

She was mesmerized by the candle lighting.

And did a great job blowing them out:

Hallie had a wonderful time turning four. For those of you who sent gifts, I'll be getting to the thank you notes at some point soon! At least I did manage to finally post this entry. Stay tuned for highlights of our New England road trip. I'm hoping to get to it before the fall!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Because Rachel Coleman Always Says It Better Than I Do...

If you are fighting the system to get your child services, if your child is being written off as unworthy, and if you need some inspiration about how to channel your anger into something constructive, you need to read this post....

Thank you, Rachel and Aaron Coleman, for fighting for your daughters with every ounce of strength that you had (and probably then some) and then channeling your energy into providing a resource to all of us out there through Signing Time. You guys gave Hallie the capacity to use language before she could ever vocalize and helped pave the way for us to communicate with her.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Funny Hallie Story

We have lots of pictures (don't know how good they are) from Hallie's birthday party that I have yet to upload to my computer. But in the meantime, I didn't want to forget this funny story:

Hallie's been thrilled about going to the "bouncy castle" for her party for weeks and weeks now (I'm not sure why we started calling Bounce by this name, but it sort of stuck). Practically every days she'd ask me hopefully if we were going to her party at the "bouncy castle" and every day I had to tell her that her birthday was still a ways off. On Saturday night, when she went to bed, she knew that she'd wake up and we'd be going to her party. So, by Sunday morning could hardly contain her excitement about her impending visit to the "bouncy castle."

This only mounted once we picked up the special Dora cake (chocolate cake, with chocolate pudding, and chocolate ganache icing with a cool design and plastic Dora, Diego, and Boots figures) that Hallie had specifically requested at Wegman's. She knew we were going straight to Bounce and, in her imagination, a castle looks like, well, a castle. You know, with princes and princesses in it and turrets and those sorts of things. Just down the block from Bounce on Route 70, there's a cemetery that sports...a castle motif, complete with turrets and everything. When Hallie saw it she screamed: "Look! There's my party! There's the castle, and princes and princesses and a dragon!" Of course, we then had to explain that Bounce is not a real castle but a place with inflatable structures that she can bounce on. Since it literally was all of two minutes away (if that much) Hallie did not have time to be disappointed by the lack of princesses and had a wonderful time at her party.

It was SO clear to us that, this year, Hallie really got the idea of what a birthday is all about--from parties, to presents this girl has it down. Last year, she still had trouble sitting still for the singing of the birthday song but this year, she was thrilled to have it sung. Even better, she is a championship level blower out of candles (she got all 9 candles---don't ask me why there were so many---in a single blow). And while she was thrilled to be served the piece of cake with Dora on it (as she requested of the party attendant), she is also mature enough to share. One of the little girls from school who attended Hallie's party really wanted that Dora and started to cry when it was served up to Hallie. Hallie took notice right away and walked over to C. and handed her the Dora. While C.'s mom made C. give it back, it's the thought that counts.

What a great 4 year old you are, Miss Hallie Rose! We are so proud of you and are so happy that you enjoyed your special day!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Hallie!

We just sent Hallie off to school with 25 cups of Haagen Dazs ice cream, candles to place in them, and a whole lot of Dora and Diego party hats. While I could have baked cupcakes, my capacity to decorate them with cute designs is limited (what can I say: I'll never win a dessert challenge on Top Chef?). Besides, Hallie doesn't really eat cupcakes. She'll lick the icing off of them, and she'll eat regular old chocolate cake, but if you mix the icing and the cake, it's kind of a no go. I doubt any of the kids will complain about the ice cream.

Anyway, it's extremely hard to believe that Hallie just turned 4. It's equally hard to remember a time before there was a Hallie in our lives.

The birthday celebrations have just begun (actually, they began on Sunday when Hallie test rode a new bike that she'll be getting really soon and we took the kids to the see Nickelodeon Story Time Live at the Merriam Theater. Both kids had a great time singing and dancing and following their favorite TV characters act out stories live on stage. It's quite exciting that they love to go to live concerts and events ). Stay tuned for more updates about our weekend celebrations and hopefully some pictures from the school celebration today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"I DID IT!!!!"

I've been awfully quiet about potty training because we've not really attempted it in earnest until pretty recently. Sure, we're the proud owners of not one, not two, but three potties, plus numerous portable toilet rings (one lives at school but is no longer used; another lives in the stroller or car and is the fold-up kind; and a third lives at Grammy's house). We've owned the majority of these potties and potty-tops for over a year now and at various points in time I've considered turning some of them into planters because they were woefully underused. In contrast, we have been supporting our good friends at Procter and Gamble (parent company of Pampers Easy Ups) and Kimberley Clark (who make Huggies Pull-Ups). We are fairly certain that we've helped keep their companies afloat and are now seriously concerned about the potential for imminent lay-offs.

This is because, drum-roll please, we are now well into training Hallie to use the potty. For over a week now, we've been practicing the keep-Hallie-in-the-altogether from the waist down while she's at home and, for the past two days, have sent her to school in Gerber triple-ply 'big girl underwear'. I wasn't going to send her in her undies today because her aide was out due to an arthritis flare-up. But when I went to change her (out of her undies) after nap time, she was dry. She proceeded to use the potty and then requested that she be put back into 'big girl underwear.' I gave her a choice, but she informed me that "diapers are for babies. Big girls wear underwear." Notable here is that Hallie used to (as of three days ago) refer to her pull-ups as pull-ups or "Princess pull ups" (the Huggies kind) or "Doras" (the Pampers kind). Now, all of a sudden, she is calling them diapers again. And big girls don't wear those.

Leaving Hallie naked from the waist down has really worked for us (and for her): Hallie has been consistently using the potty (and with great glee) when she's needed to pee and is now doing so without reminders. In part I think things have gone so smoothly during this attempt (in contrast to all earlier attempts) because we've relocated the main potty (the wonderful Primo potty that has a removable soft seat and turns into a step stool that allows those under 4 feet tall to climb up onto an adult potty on their own and provides them with a nice footrest once they have assumed their perch) to our living room. While a bit unseemly, perhaps, one should remember that French noblewomen used to use chamberpots in their dining rooms whilst dining. These were pretty fancy chamberpots, too, and not our typical unadorned white porcelain ones (there are several really interesting ones on display at the Chatelet, which is the Museum of the City of Paris, in the Marais Arrondissement). Refined ladies would lift up their skirts, hop on their pots, and do their thing while never missing a conversational beat. This, of course, was facilitated by the fact that said ladies did not don undergarments; until the late 18th century, underwear (at least among the Parisian haut monde) was the sole reprieve of, shall we say, a less refined class of ladies who practiced the (ill) reputed oldest profession. (Remember, I am a European historian...)

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: once we put Hallie in panties, things do become a bit dicier: I don't think that the distinction between disposable pull-ups and washable undies is as clear to her as it is to me (while not practicing history, I do a lot of laundry). So she's had a few accidents, but how else is a girl supposed to learn? What's happened the past couple of days at school is that she doesn't quite realize she's going until it's a bit too late, and then she can't get to the bathroom in time to prevent leakage. The critical thing is that she's telling her aide/teachers that she has to go and is trying to get there in time. In the process, though, she is learning about her body and, as she does so, she is refining her capacity to hold things in.

This was driven home tonight as we gathered in bed for our bedtime stories (we are trying to integrate Lea into the book-reading-at-bedtime ritual). Part way through one of Hallie's five books (a typical evening involves reading most of the Mother Goose Rhymes collection, which Hallie has committed to memory, along with several other selections), she informed Sharon that she needed a new diaper (again, note that she did not call it a pull up). We checked and she was dry and clean. Then she insisted that she needed to go potty. And she did: Sharon and Hallie headed off to the bathroom where Hallie peed with vigor and then let Sharon know that she wasn't done. She then proceeded to poop in the potty. She was beyond gleeful. While she is normally quite proud of herself when she pees (we do lots of high fives, smiles, clapping, etc), her joy this time around was beyond anything we've ever seen. She proudly described her poop (sorry, Hallie, if you are reading this) and kept exclaiming, "I DID IT!!!!" Exclamation points were audible. So was the glee and mirth of the potty celebrants.

Anyway, we're very proud of her. I think there's no turning back on this: our girl GETS IT. I don't think that she did a month or two or six ago, but she's ready now, and she's let us know. So while we are not ditching the pull ups quite yet (they will no doubt remain useful at night, perhaps during naps, and quite likely on our upcoming long car trip to Maine), we are getting to the end of our disposable rope. And Hallie is entering a new chapter of her life, just on the cusp of four. While this may seem delayed to some, in our estimation, it's just on time. Hallie seems to us to be on the cusp of yet another cognitive leap, and this is why potty training her right now seems like the perfect time to do so.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Gotcha!

Today was a wonderful day: my adoption of Lea was completed and the decree was signed, sealed and delivered.

Lea's adoption doesn't change anything, of course. I've been Lea's mom since before she was born (indeed, since way before she was born. I even transported her while she was a tiny blastocyst frozen in a test tube from one fertility treatment center to another when our Reproductive Endocrinologist switched practices). But the adoption formalizes my legal rights and responsibilities to Lea and that is a very, very good thing.

So, as both Hallie and Lea love to say when they jump into our arms for a big bear hug, "I gotcha!"
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Ride 'em, Horse Girl!

On Saturday, Lea napped in the car with me while Hallie went off with Sharon to ride Sir G (whose real name is Sir Gawain; he's a Gypsy horse and, apparently, he doesn't really like any of his other riders but adores Hallie). Part way through Hallie's session, Lea woke up. I took her out of her carseat and let her run around in front of ARCH. Anders, pictured above, who is a very sturdy Fjord, was enjoying his lunch. Lea, of course, noticed him and screeched, "HORSIE!". I brought her over to see him and Jen, the volunteer who was hanging out with him, said that Lea could pet him. Lea pet him, and kissed him, and pet him some more. Then Jen let me put Lea on his back, which thrilled her to pieces. I ran and got Sharon and had her hold Lea while I took a few pictures.

So, even though Lea is too young to ride in ARCH's sibling program (she has to be seven to do this), she at least got to sit astride someone other than me or poor Zen.

On a related note, Lea's language is really exploding. She says five or ten new words a day and is asking for things by their name when she knows it/when she's not too frustrated to do something other than scream/whine. And she's beginning to put two words together, too. On Friday she said to me "Bubbles! My turn!" when I was blowing bubbles for her (which, as it was for Hallie, is a favorite pastime of Lea's). And on Saturday, when we were headed off to ARCH for Hallie's session, she said to Grammy (at whose place we were staying in order to avoid Saturday morning shore traffic), "Bye Bye Grammy!" How cute! It is really fascinating to me to watch a typically-developing child's language develop.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Playing Sure Helps Work Up an Appetite!

On Friday when I picked up Hallie from preschool, Lea was sleeping in the stroller. Hallie had just finished a PT session that involved a lot of running, jumping, and climbing up and down the stairs, but she was still full of pent-up energy. There were a couple of other kids hanging out on the grounds of the preschool and I know that one of the little girls is someone that Hallie has occasionally played with at our local playground (we actually have quite a few local playgrounds, but one is a mere half a block from our house so, even though it's far from the nicest of the bunch, it's the one we frequent most often). Anyway, I was hopeful that Hallie might join in with them in their play since their small number wouldn't overwhelm her. Hallie had other ideas, and while they didn't involve other kids, they did involve using her imagination.

She crept behind one of the evergreen bushes and when I came and stood next to her, she said, "look, that's a spooky forest!" Since she went on to say, "look, there's the Boots the Monkey!" she was apparently referring to a Dora the Explorer Halloween special that aired last about nine months ago. I can't confirm this since I have nowhere near the prodigious memory that Hallie possesses. But never mind: in what I think was good Floortime form, I shouted, "look, there's a ghost!" and proceeded to make all sorts of scary goblin ghoulish noises. She thought this was hilarious, and the whole thing ended up turning into a big game of chase with sound effects.

Then we went on to play Hide and Go Seek. She still doesn't get the idea of hiding when it's her turn to do so, but she gets a kick out of looking for me (I do, however, suspect she's peeking since she seems a tad bit too good at this game). We raced around and hid from one another for quite some time.

Just as Lea awoke from her nap, Hallie asked if we could go get ice cream. This has turned into a ritual of sorts: at least once a week she'll request ice cream--chocolate, of course--and we'll head off to the Haagen Dazs shop on South Street for a kiddie sized cup. This time, however, Hallie requested a cone. She's never requested a cone, let alone eaten one before, and I was happy to indulge her.

Hallie did not quite get that you are supposed to leave the napkin wrapped around the waffle cone to catch the drips. Nor did she actually eat the cone. But she loved holding it. Ultimately, however, things got too messy to eat that way so I dumped the remaining contents of the cone into a cup and Hallie proceeded to devour the remnants of her treat. Start to finish it took her less than 20 minutes to eat about 4 ounces of ice cream.

This was, of course, far from a neat prospect. She ended up wearing quite a lot of the creamy chocolaty stuff:

After Hallie was done with her ice cream, Taylor and Renee joined us. The girls were thrilled to see each other for the third time this week. We ended up having a grand time at Three Bears Playground, which was virtually empty. Of course, it was about 6:00pm, which is probably prime preschooler dinner hour. Hallie had already finished up her 'dinner', which was the ice cream. She did go on to eat a couple of slices of bread and butter when we got home later on but I think most of her calories came from the ice cream. As of her last weigh-in a couple of weeks ago, Hallie tipped the scale at 34 lbs, 5 ounces and we are hopeful that she might keep it on this time. I think Haagen Dazs must be responsible for at least a couple of pounds of this healthy weight (Hallie is at the 50th percentile for weight and 90th for height---she is now just shy of 43 inches tall).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fun at the YCCA!

Yesterday evening, Hallie's preschool, the YCCA, held its annual Family Fun Day. It's one of a series of fundraisers that they hold in the spring so that they can do important things like upgrade their facilities (they recently did a complete renovation), buy excellent new toys (they own most of the Lakeshore Learning catalog from what I can tell, and this is a good thing), install air conditioning in their 17th-century building, and other fun stuff like that. We're thrilled to participate because, really, these events are a ton of fun. And, most importantly, let's not forget that the YCCA is one of the few preschools of which we are aware that's not just willing to tolerate a special needs kid (often implying that this is true as long as they are not too needy), but are actually inclusive by mandate: the school director, who is a trained music therapist and special educator, long aspired to open a preschool that welcomed kids who were not developing in completely typical ways. I dare say that she has achieved her goal: long before Hallie was willing to say a single word at school, Hallie's teachers made sure that she was not left off on the sidelines but that she actually was central to her peer group. As she's begun to speak more at school, they make sure that she is heard even though her voice is raspy and faint as a result of her vocal cord paralysis. They don't see a kid on the spectrum whose eye contact could be better and who can't really hold an age-appropriate conversation. They see, and appreciate, a little girl who knows the name of every animal and insect and sea creature out there; who has a prodigious memory; who loves books and stories and who is beginning to read; who knows a great deal of ASL (she still uses it with us and several of her teachers sign while they speak or sing); who loves art even if she has little strength in her fingers and cannot use a tripod grasp; and who, by their account, is one of the sweetest and most helpful kids out there who always gives instruments to peers who lack them during music time and who brings joy and unbounded enthusiasm into the room with her when she shows up at school. Of course, they also highlight her exceptional clean up skills; we see little of this at home but, then again, she's never playing teacher's pet at home, either. This, like clean up monitor, is a role that she reserves for school. I suspect that they are related.

Anyway, Hallie's buddies Taylor and Alex joined us for the evening.

Here are a couple of pictures of Kim and Taylor hanging out on the grounds of Old Swede's Church:

And here's one of Alex waiting patiently for her face to be painted by Hallie's teacher, Kristen:

Hallie was happy to watch the whole process unfold and she really liked some of the designs, but there was no way in the world she was going to allow anyone to take a paint brush to her face!

Lea, however, might have been game for it; she certainly took active interest in it:

While face painting was interesting, the real highlight for our kids was the Ernie and Neal concert that the school had booked. From the moment she saw the musical instruments and heard the band warming up, Hallie's attention was riveted. While everyone else was chowing down on hot dogs, pretzels, and hummus and pita (which, of course, hold very little interest for our girl), Hallie was rocking out and dancing to Ernie and Neal's opening numbers.

Apparently, this was not lost on the duo. While I was off chasing Lea, they called Hallie up on "stage" and asked her to play lead air guitar on one of their numbers. Hallie was happy to participate:

Sadly, my skills as a videographer are limited, to say the very least. So, not only do you have to ignore the smudge in the lower right hand corner of this video, but you also might need a dose or two of dramamine. Apparently, having a PhD does not, in fact, provide one with sufficient common sense to realize that bopping up and down while taking a video is perhaps not the smartest thing one can do. On the upside, though, I did manage to get the entire song on digital video:

Later in the evening, a ladybug jumped onto Sharon's shirt and when we showed it to Hallie, she was thrilled and wanted to hold it.

She walked around with it for quite some time until it decided to take flight.

We left at 7:30pm; by then the kids were a hot and sticky mess and covered in water ice and assorted grime. Hallie, Alex, and Lea (and Sharon, Sheila, and I) headed over to our house where I threw the kids in the bathtub and awaited pizza delivery. Bedtime was not terribly late last night, which is a very good thing.

On an only tangentially related note, here are some pictures from the Memorial Day picnic that was held at the YCCA on the Friday preceding the holiday weekend. The school regularly takes pictures of stuff like this and uploads them to a gallery that parents can access (and from which they can also download). We really like this feature.

Whoever took the pictures got some nice close up shots of Hallie.

They also took some group photos of our girl and her peers.

These two are notable because Hallie ordered, and apparently ate at least part of, a grilled cheese sandwich. We only occasionally serve her this (with mixed results) but maybe she prefers her teachers' cooking to mine?