Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Memories

I'm on!  New computer installed LAST NIGHT! 

I do also, however, have a campout to prepare for four girls, aged 12 to 15, in our backyard, in honor of Ryan's birthday.  Seems the German taboo against having a party BEFORE the actual date doesn't stick in a country with a higher birthrate.  Honestly, mates, you do it when you CAN!

And a cake to bake.  And the computer telling me it has to do some initial scan before I use it.

Great.  It's telling me what to do already. the interests of my sanity...really, I go nuts when I don't are two links to Christmases past. 

For the Aussies who want to know what Christmas is like in a cold Northern winter.  (Highly overrated in my opinion, although I'll be the first to admit that Germany does Christmas well!)

And for Babette, who liked my spoof on the American Christmas card enough to print it out for her mother two years ago.  My highest honor as a writer so far, Babette.  No matter what I publish in the future I will never forget that moment in your living room with you and Lori, when you whipped out a copy of something I had written from amidst your stack of reading.  Best gift ever.

I owe Babette and Lori a newer version of an Aussie Christmas card.

And Anita and Liesl and Lynn-Ann an impression of my first REAL Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Merry Christmas folks, be it German, American, Aussie or other. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I AM the dummy!

"Does 'dummy' mean, uh, something else here too?"

Damon was assuming - and hoping - that it did.

"Or else everyone around here has taken to calling me an idiot."


"And that's your domain."

Like the time in Geneva when an English mum asked me for a nappy and then looked at me like I was out of my mind when I went through my diaper bag - note the term! - pulling out wipes, tissues and towels while at the same time explaining that I didn't have any napkins, but I thought one of those would do just as well. 

Looking back on it now, I don't know why she looked so exasperated when she finally took matters into her own hands and grabbed a diaper.  As if she'd never watched American television.  And hey, I wasn't the one without a nappy!

For the record, they don't call them diaper-bags over here either.  (Carry bags, maybe?)   Or strollers.  (Prams, which somehow always reminds me of heavily-bundled nannies in 1920s London.)  I believe what they call singlets here are what I used to call onesies in the USA.  Neither of which will mean very much to you unless you have had a baby.  I just call them those little tiny shirts that you can button under their legs to avoid confusion.

Back to the dummy, though.

"If the term fits." I replied.  Before explaining that yes, dummy was the term for pacifier. 

Seems that dummies are out here.  (As in dummies are out of fashion not as in there are idiots all around us.)

Which is fine with me, having never considered using one.

The generation - and nationalities - that ask are the ones who used them to keep their babies quiet while they spent time doing other things, the ones who have been taught that children shouldn't be heard (perhaps not even seen in some cultures!) and shouldn't make demands and certainly not as newborns.

There is also the mistaken belief that you should make it as easy on yourself as possible, that the baby should be taught early on to be easy, that you have the right to have time for yourself when you want it and that you are somehow a failure at parenting if you spend too much time doing it.

Problem is, I really wanted this baby.  Really wanted him.

Not so that I can silence his demands on my time but so that I can raise him.

Sure, I'd like to be writing more, I'd like to get that children's book out and submit to more - okay, admit it, ANY magazines.

I'd like to do my yoga.  Or at least 5 -6  minutes of abs.

But sticking a dummy in Ian's mouth is like plopping my other four in front of the television.

It's a poor substitute for my attention.

Let's face it, the little guy is already 8 weeks old.

"The Cat's in the Cradle" and all that.

I deliver meals to the elderly with a friend of mine every so often.  I see the amount of time I will have on my hands later on.  Alone. 

Say what you like.  I'll be the 'dummy' for as long as I have the privilege.

Andrew Sank the Boat

Andrew has this larger-than-life view of cosmic injustice.

Might be a middle-child thing.

Or an only brother to two twin brothers thing. 

I've had a sense Ian was born to bring balance.

Until Ian is older, we have addressed the great cosmic wrong with understanding and a sense of humour.

Andrew is  a very very good kid.  He has a deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong (or of what he sees as right and wrong) and as deep a need to see justice prevail.

You can imagine the trouble that gets him into.

Add to that a witty, precocious sense of humour and his inability to keep his mouth shut.  (He's inherited the latter, at least, that absolute need to share the wonder of his thoughts, from his mother.  Sorry about that, mate!)

So that, although Andrew is almost never the culprit, he is most often the one getting yelled at unjustly.  (Ryan tops the chart for involvement, again making me grateful for my four sons to one daugher ratio.)

His quips, absolutely on the mark, are so well-timed they are ill-timed. 

You would laugh, and do laugh later, but want to throttle him at the same time.

My guess is his teacher at school has the same problem.
We call him the straw that broke the camel's back.

That last flea on the bed.  (On top of the granny, the grandson, the dog, the cat, and the mouse in  the book 'The Napping House' by Audrey and Don Wood.)

The tiny mouse in the mitten. (On top of the bear, the badger, the owl, the rabbit, the fox, the hedgehog and the mole in the Ukrainian folktale 'The Mitten' retold and beautifully illustrated by Jan Brett.)

And lastly, the mouse in the Australian children's book 'Who Sunk The Boat?' by Pamela Allen.  (Was it the cow?  Was is the donkey?  The sheep?  Or the pig?)

So that when the boat is rocking precariously around here we can at least laugh at at the quip that threatens to send it to the bottom.

"Oh Andrew, you just sank the boat again."

And we DO laugh. 

Which beats any alternative that comes to mind!

Positive Reinforcement Gone Wrong

Thanks to Michael things are actually fairly mellow around here.

So mellow, in fact, that I am having some difficulties with the whole positive reinforcement thing.

Good enough for Santa? (Waiting for Santa's arrival at the Strathpine Shoppng Center.)

Positive reinforcement is also the cornerstone of the behavioural program at Lawnton State School.  So much so, that one begins to wonder when too much is too much.  The program is in place mostly for the children with behavioural issues and for those, often the same, who don't get the attention and positive reinforcement at home.  Ryan's teacher quoted some appalling statistic to me about children of university educated parents hearing positive things something like a hundred times a day while children of parents without a university education hear it only twenty.  By the time she got to children of parents with problems like drugs, alcohol and incarceration, the number went down to seven.

Don't quote me.  But you see where I'm going.

But when does the absence of positive reinforcement turn into a punishment in itself?

(Rest assured we never had these problems in the German school system!  There, Andrew's accomplishments were downplayed to make him more like everyone else and Ryan's accomplishments were never good enough to count at all.)

I strongly support the program at Lawnton.  How can I not love a program where the vice-principal comes onto the PA system before break to remind everyone to to be kind?!

But when I mimicked the program at home, I began to run into problems.  The first ten days were great.  We were dealing with minor issues; Matthew throwing a tantrum because Aidan had the chalkboard first, Aidan throwing his truck at Matthew, Ryan tickling Andrew on the back of the neck, Andrew punching Ryan in the face because of it.  All normal kid things really.

Not perfect, but trying.

When I implemented a reward system, counting the days they all behaved, and then celebrating with 'Spiders' after ten 'good' days, the days sped by quickly and we were sipping 'Spiders' almost immediately.  (Spiders are known as ice-cream sodas to the rest of the world.)

And now we can't get past two.

The problem doesn't lie in the kids' behaviour; again, we have some teasing, a bit of punching and throwing, some chatting with Jesus in a less-than-respectful manner. 

It lies in the expectations.

Sure, Aidan has called to Jesus twice in the past week.  But he immediately apologized and then told me that he really likes Jesus and meant no disrespect. 

There have been no other swears.  At all.  For ages and ages.

There IS hitting.  Aidan throws things quite a bit too. Quite a bit as in once every couple of days.  The hitting is almost daily, but it is one of the three boys throwing a quick punch.  Ryan pesters everyone almost constantly but we figure that is a girl thing.  (THANK GOD I HAVE FOUR BOYS!  I'll take a well-placed punch over constant pestering any day.)

Yes, good enough for Santa!  (I realize I have an extra in there; always room for one more, especially when it's Jade!)
Whatever it is, it happens once, is immediately addressed with a time-out, apologies are exchanged and the issue is over.

So that, really, ALL of our days are 'good' days.

And it seems that not labelling them as such under the current system is actually a form of punishment in itself.

I believe my expectations of perfect harmony at ALL TIMES isn't fair.  These are good kids.  They don't actually NEED a reward model as positive reinforcement for good behaviour.

The reward lies in a sense of family and in time spent together as family. 

Something a sticker on the forehead doesn't come close to.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Matthew's Worst Nightmare

Matthew came out of his bedroom yesterday morning looking particularly groggy and extremely concerned.

"I had a bad dream, Mommy." he told me.

Serious Matthew.

Andrew and Aidan are the monsters and scary bad guys men; Andrew sleeps with the twins ever since he started reading ghost and supernatural stories and Aidan occasionally falls out of bed when fighting off particularly gruesome monters in his sleep, but this was a new one coming from Matthew.

He looked so sad.

"Why don't you tell me about it, honey.  Sometimes that makes you feel better."  I told him.

He very earnestly related the following dream:

"Daddy brought home three chocolate Easter bunnies for a treat."

(Uh oh,  three, I thought, alarms immediately going off in my head.)

Slowly, very seriously, Matthew continued:

"And then he gave one to Ryan."

Oh.  The agony of early childhood.

Slower still:  "And then he gave one to Andrew."

A pause, some choked sobs, before he bravely continued.

"And then he gave one to Aidan."

Big breath, looking me squarely in the eye

"And there wasn't any Easter bunny for me."

WORST DREAM EVER!  What do you say to something like that?!

Hard to stand out in this crowd.

If I'd read it in a book I'd say it was too obvious to believe.  But really, I don't make these things up.  I don't have to!

And so I hugged my Easter-bunniless child and made it better. (I reassured him that that would never happen.) An hour later, when I asked him to tell Daddy his dream, he had already forgotten it. 

Damon told him we would have shared the bunnies equally, even if we had to bite their heads off to do it.  THAT, as it turns out, was the right answer, severed bunny heads apparently being immensely reassuring to an insecure five-year-old boy.

Making cookies with Mom!

As I tell Andrew when I kiss him before bed - you'll need something to share with your therapist later on!

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Version of STFUP

The thought has occurred to me that parents spend way too much time taking - and posting - photos of their children in costume.

Look at the joy with which I did it on my last blog.

Ready for entry into a blog I read about recently (and now can't find) called Shut The F#@$ Up Parents or something similar.  Meant to post articles about perfectly mundane things children do that their parents find absolutely fascinating.  The tag line apparently is "You used to be fun.  Now you have a baby." 

I wonder if it is linked to the book going by a similar title:  Go the F#@% To Sleep.  Now coming out in a children's version.  Without THE WORD.

Just when I've given up cursing. 

For the most part.

Another thing we like to do is post pictures of our older children tormenting the latest addition.

So, here goes.  (I gave up being fun YEARS ago.  I'll settle for relatively clean and out of my nursing top by mid-afternoon.)

Aidan explains the deal to Ian:  Pose nicely and she leaves you alone!

That's it!

No really Mom, that was it!
Ryan co-mothering.

With the burp rag.

And the chin-as-third-hand technique!

Who needs a doll when I've got a brother!
Andrew is not as fond of posing.  Ian agrees.

Honestly, Mom!

Matthew prefers the career route.  With family plans.  (Reads:  When I grow up I want to be a fireman.  With my girlfriend.  She will be a firelady.)

But keeps his options open.  (Reads: When I grow up I want to be an ambulance driver.  With my girlfriend.  She will be an ambulance lady.)  He also had a police option going. 

I'm showing this one at his wedding.  (Reads:  When I grow up I want to be a knight.  With my girlfriend.  She will be a princess.)

English as a Multilingual Language: Part One - Chips

The Germans!  Matthew and Aidan with Levi, whose Mum also hails from Schwabenland.
IF I can EVER get a series going, this English thing should be it.

Am I raising my children bilingually?  You betcha!

We were discussing the German-thing at a friend's first birthday party recently.  I told the other parents that my kids don't listen well in at least THREE to possibly even FOUR languages.

In addition to ignoring me in English and German,  the kids refuse to cooperate in French and Spanish as well.  (And the school is wondering why the twins need speech therapy for English!)

They should at least be able to understand "I don't know.",  "I don't understand." and "I am very very tired." in French.  Just rolls off the tongue.

The twins!  Thomas and Lachlan as Hawaians.

Why is it that they haven't picked this up,  I asked rhetorically.

To which Ryan replied, in a halfway decent accent, "Je ne sais pas."

Wise - ass.

Turns out the twins will deign to understand German as well, when it is something that it is in their best interests to understand.  Not just , "Get into bed now before I turn you into a Weiner-Schnitzel" but also dessert choices and whether or not they would like to turn on the Fernseher.

Thanks to the forty-five minute carride to riding on Saturday afternoons, I've got them singing more that Shakira songs in Spanish.  So that if the need ever arises, when we visit Spain, to point to their ears, eyes and nose, they will be on top of it.

Then three of us will be able to excuse ourselves in Cantonese.

The Americans!  Jack as an Eskimo, with two American Indians and a Hawaian.
We've got summer vacation coming up and will be homeschooling again.  More as a form of crowd control than as a need for more knowledge.  I thought about adding baby sign language to the roster.  Because nothing was more fun the first time around than two babies animatedly pointing to their mouths and demanding to be fed.

But this English thing is completely baffling.

Take Friday night, at Andrew's baseball game, when Aidan came over to ask if they could buy chips. 

"Chips.  Why sure honey.  How much are they?"  I asked.  (I do admit freely to bribing them with their weekly allotment of coca-cola and sweets in order to get them to consent to being dragged to their older siblings' sports activities.)

"And what kind of chips do you mean?"   You only get this kind of question from an American mother.

Bob as cowboy.  AMERICAN cowboy.

Aidan looked completely dumb-founded.  He meant the chips they'd had at school. 

"Do you mean potato chips, chips or do you mean French fries, chips?" I elaborated.


(Having never lived in America, or spent much time with Americans besides Damon and I,  it shouldn't come as a shock that American terms don't mean much to my children either, but somehow it always is.  Even in English, my children are often learning a different language than my native American.)

"Pommes frites?"  I tried in German.  And French.

Still nothing.

"We call the potato chips "crisps"  in Scotland."  Help from the crowd that was listening in on this rather interesting - and amusing- exchange.

It's A Small World, as demonstrated by the Preps.

"Would you like crisps, love?  Or chips?"  (Great.  Now we'd added ANOTHER English language into the mix.)

As if poor Aidan hadn't made himself clear.

"Hot or cold?"  a friend continued.


As in chips.

Andrew poses for his biggest fan!

The disgusted look on Aidan's face by the end of this exchange was plain to interpret.

Was he not making himself clear?

Was Mommy going to be needing medication?

Can we really call ourselves multilingual when we can't even understand eachother in English?!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baby Vocab Connor-Style

The Smile
Remember when the baby books told you that your newborn smiling at you wasn't smiling at you at all?  But that it was gas?

Yeah right.
Still a Steinmann!

Ian was smiling at me at three days old and it wasn't gas.  (You can tell when a Connor boy has gas.  And NOONE is smiling when he does!)

I thought it was contentment.

Would you trust THIS smile?
Three weeks later he does it more and more often, often in response to my voice while lying in my arms after nursing.

It's a smug smile and I do believe I've figured it out.

He's laughing at me.

Or this one?
Laughing at me, not with me, as in "go ahead and put me down now Mom, and see how fast I open my eyes and scream bloody murder."  As in "you may think I'm out cold, but I'm just waiting for you to let your guard down."  And as in "hey, lady, you and I are spending most of the night together....awake."

There's also the possibility that he's just dreaming about boobies.

The finer points of horseback riding explained by Ryan
Ryan found a way to get him back though.

I walked in from hanging the laundry yesterday to find him on her bed surrounded by all four siblings.  (I'd been fooled by that smile to lay him down, thinking I had at least thirty minutes.)

He was on his stomach - which at this point still means mostly on his face.

And the kids were cheering him on, encouraging him to start crawling.

"Look Mom, we're teaching him to crawl."

Has anyone seen the baby?
"Tummy time" the baby books call it. 

"Survival" is what I am calling it.

Or maybe "payback's a bitch, pal."

Wise to the world at three weeks

Go ahead and laugh little guy.  I'm yours all night, but I'm giving you to your siblings in the morning!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


The first time we attracted the attention of tourists was in Heidelberg.  That was before we even had the twins.  The Chinese tourists coming out of the castle onto the ramparts where we were picnicking surrounded us, snapping shots of Ryan and Andrew, totally impressed that two siblings could be so unalike in colouring.  One young lady even asked if Damon and I would pose with the kids.  (We did, happily.)

With Wolfy in Heidelberg

Genetics.  What a concept.  I hadn't even thought about it until then but yeah, white people ARE funny that way! 

This friendly interest totally beat the German woman in the swimming pool locker room a year later who boldy informed me - not asked - that my children obviously didn't have the same father.  In front of the kids.  Nice.

It's called hybrid vigour.  It's why mutts are less prone to diseases than purebreds and why the Russian royals were on the way out even before they were brutally executed by the communists.  (Hemophilia, for those of you who missed the in-school movie, thanks to generations of inbreeding.)

Both mine (Barefoot park in Germany - odd concept when I think about it now!  But cool!)

We draw less attention for the twin-thing now that Matthew has sprouted up a head taller than Aidan.  (Nowadays it's " how old ARE your boys?" as they try to figure out how I could have three boys so close in age.)

But I tend to dress them alike when we go to any major tourist spots; easier to pick out weather-appropriate gear AND easier to spot them if they are both dressed in brigh orange.  (I choose their swimwear identically for the same reason!)

We are often attention-grabbers, posing for pictures in front of world famous tourist spots as the tourguide patiently - or resignedly - waits for the photoshoot  and obligatory question and answer period to end. 

A Japanese tour group delayed their entrance into the Frauenkirche in Dresden in order to snap us.  And later the Italians gave up a view of the Elbe to follow for a photo session in the park.

Twins in Dresden  (Look at that hair!)

Last week Damon said a Chinese man promptly turned his lens from the Opera House in Sydney to fire shots of the twins climbing around the steps in front of it.

Twin sighting in front of some building!

Eh, you can always buy a postcard of the Opera House.

Eh - we've got the same barber!  (Dad.)

It isn't everyday you see twins!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Two Men in My Mirror (With Pictures of Sydney)

The week the baby came home - and the pregnancy hormones settled back to normal - I realised the toll the pregnancy had taken on the kids.

At the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney after renewing their American passports

I was a bit irritable at the end there. 

Irritable as in "why the  $&%^*ing  #&$* do I have to $*%*ing bend over to pick up everybody else's $&%*(^ing socks?"

Irritable as in bending Matthew over to touch his toes to show him how easy it was to bend over when you weren't carrying a person inside your belly.

And while the question about the socks - and books and sticks and legos and soccer balls - is a valid one, the  $*($%&%  used liberally as an adjective and noun isn't.

Big city.  Bit chilly for the Queenslanders.  (Huh?  How did Ryan EVER survive in Germany?!)

This hit home when Matthew used the "f" word as an adjective.  And then came up with the "er" version to describe the brother he wasn't getting along with.

Also when Damon asked Aidan to brush his teeth one night and Aidan sat down in the middle of the bathroom floor and said "JESUS CHRIST".

He sounded just like me.  Which would have been funny....

More impressed with the icecream than the Opera House.
Except that sort of behaviour really isn't acceptable - or pretty - in a five year old.

(We have since introduced Aidan to the "Jesus Christ" I keep in our kitchen pantry, next to the flour and baking products.  A gift from the Mormon missionaries, the picture is too pretty to throw out, and so I keep it to comfort me whenever I open the pantry.  When Aidan DOES slip up, we remind him about respect and invite him to visit Jesus in the pantry if he feels the need for a chat.)

Back in Brisbane!  (Where Mommy and Ian are waiting for us.)
Seeing my vices reflected in my youngest two children made me see how ugly - and unacceptable - they really are.

I've gotten WAY better.  (I only lose it when the computer refuses to cooperate with me.)

And the twins' behaviour has mirrored mine.

Michael Jackson knew what he was talking about.

"I'm starting with the man in the mirror.
I'm asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make the change."

At the Botanical Gardens.
It's very Tao.  (Verse 58: Thus the Master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will.)  But I never would have understood it without the example from my children.

I haven't had to do much.  Just change my own behaviour.

I want my kids to be better people than I am.

Meaning that I become a better person for them.