Monday, August 22, 2005

Nobody told me there'd be days like these!

So how many ways are there to eat chocolate pudding? Let's find out!

I've been playing "house-dad" a lot recently: being at home, there is no way to avoid it. Cristina started teaching again last week, and besides actually going to the university three afternoons a week, she has to prepare lectures for two classes that she has never taught before. Once the kids arrive from school, the demand is constant: there is lunch to serve, there is homework to do, there are the after-school activities, and there is Kevin. We try to divide our free-time so we each have some time to take care of our professional and/or personal demands; but even when we are both at home, we have nowhere to hide: the domestic demand is like a gravity well that just sucks us both in.

This is also the reason I haven’t been able to find the time to blog more (or, when do I have the time, I don't seem to have the energy!). This past week, it seemed that, by the time the end of each day had rolled around, I was physically and psychologically drained. Whenever I managed to sit in front of the computer and tried to think, all that I could tune in was some kind of static hum ... pure electromagnetic background noise. I suspect anyone who has kids will know what I am talking about.

It's probably no coincidence that these last couple of weeks have seemed particularly trying. There is a hurricane of change blowing through our lives at the moment, and it's taking its toll on our daily routine. Not that any of the changes are particularly bad ... but change itself can generate anxiety and stress until you adapt to it.

Also, we find ourselves in the middle of Brazil's cold-and-flu season: so last week we had to fit in doctors appointments on top of everything else. Stuffy noses, coughing, and loss of appetites can go along way towards putting everyone on edge.

But there is good news: Kevin's adaptation to school could not have been more successful; he was declared officially "adapted" on Monday, and on Tuesday I left him there by himself for the first time. He ran into his classroom, and, literally, didn't even look back to see if I was still there. It was an amazing moment for me, exceeding the expectations of even our most exaggeratedly optimistic self-delusions. Wednesday was a repeat performance, this time with Cristina leaving him there. Each day, he left for school happy and excited, and came home the same. We had heard stories from people who claim that their kids actually like going to school, but always figured it was just a bunch of hot air.

Of course, with Kevin's entry into this new stage of life, fresh complications have arisen: since he gets out of school at noon, his afternoons are crucial. If he takes his nap too late, it will throw off his bedtime, which in turn will make it difficult to get him up on the following day. Also, since he snacks at school, when he arrives home at lunch time he's not the slightest bit interested in eating. This in turn delays his nap-time and throws off the rest of the afternoon. Combine this with the runny-nose /cough he has had all week and you have a formidable adversary for any would-be caregiver.

The net result of this chain reaction with Kevin was that, on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, for some reason, Kevin woke up around 2 am. This is rare for Kevin: he has always been good about sleeping through the night. But on these two nights, not only did he wake up completely, but he refused to go back to sleep, claiming he was afraid of monsters. On both nights it was 5 am before we could get him back to sleep... just an hour before it was time to get up again. Blech! Thus he missed school on both Thursday and Friday.

Cristina immediately broke out her psychology books: Nocturnal Terror: were these incidents related somehow to his going to school? Was it, perhaps, a subconscious manifestation of separation anxiety? Or was it just a result of his biological clock being out of whack?

Or maybe it's the new PS2 game that James and Christian have been obsessed with, where monsters wage dramatic battles in somber settings (which he watches transfixed, wide eyed, and then imitates the moves, complete with sound effects)?

Who knows..? Whatever the reason may have been, the last few nights have passed without incident, so hopefully we will be able to keep his biological clock running smoothly this week!


The picture above shows the consequences of a moment of supervisional distraction, having just served Kevin his dessert. Strangely, for us, one of the toughest things about raising kids has always been knowing when and how to stimulate and encourage independence. We of course know rationally that it is of fundamental importance for a child to learn how to feed himself, pick up after himself, dress himself, etc.. But sometimes it is so much easier just to do it for him. This may be partly because our first child was ... well ... let's just say that, he has always been somewhat challenged in terms of manual dexterity; i.e. he has always lagged somewhat behind what would probably be considered the statistical norm for his age-group.

With Kevin, we were determined to be more assertive in promoting self-reliance. But it turns out that all we may need to do now is avoid screwing him up by holding him back too much: he wants to do things on his own, and his fine motor skills exceed James' by two- or three years.

Frequently, Kevin will fiercely resist any attempt by us to do something for him (for example, to feed him), or to force him do something: but if you let him do it himself, at his own speed, he will go at it happily. I wonder: how many times did we lose an opportunity to allow his older siblings the same chance because they were more passive, or we were less attentive to their non-verbal (and verbal) communication when they were his age? One of the key parenting lessons we have learned is the importance of trying to listen more to what the child is trying to tell us, instead of just steamrolling over him with what we want him to do, or think he should do. Sometimes the best way to win a battle is to fight smarter.


Caring for Kevin by himself probably wouldn't be too overwhelming a task if one could dedicate oneself exclusively to his needs immediately upon arrival from school; but as luck would have it, another challenge has presented itself that is proving even more arduous than taking care of a two-year old: that is, homework time, for the older kids.

Elementary schools here in Brazil heap a seemingly inordinate amount of homework on their students. At least it seems inordinate to me ... I don't remember having anywhere near that much homework when I was a third-grader in the USA (but it could be that I just blew it off!). I don't want to go into too much detail on this subject; it's enough to say that the doing of homework has recently been transformed into an almost daily battle. With James, this started toward the end of last semester, when his teacher cranked up the difficulty level of the division problems; and now working with fractions is having a similar effect.

Come on! If I wanted to teach my kids at home I wouldn't send them to school!


September of this year will mark our 10th anniversary of parenthood. I don't want to discourage any future parental candidates, but there is no denying: it's been a decade of unrelenting challenge. My personal theory is that anyone who claims that parenting isn't hard work, must be doing something wrong. (Well... I guess it could mean that they are doing something right but I’d prefer not to entertain that possibility!) A two year-old you kind of expect to be hard work: it goes with the territory. But by the time they are eight or nine, you start thinking that things should be different, that you are just about out of the woods (at least until adolescence! argh! Thank God I don't have girls!).

It turns out that every stage in developmental growth puts old challenges behind you, only to reveal new ones.

There are some days in which it feels like you are swimming upriver, and for every stroke forward against the current, you are pushed two- or three lengths backwards. If you kick and swim hard enough, you might just maintain your position with respect to the current; but you never get anywhere. And it is exhausting. On days like these, you may forget all of the so called "rewards" of parenting and you begin to ask yourself: "why???". Why would a sane person actually choose to go through this?


On days like these, the frustrations seem to keep building up: lack of sleep has left you on edge all day long. There were sixteen things that you needed to have done today besides being a slave to the necessities and whims of your young charges, but somehow the time never materialized. It's been a long day. The kids sense your lack of patience and are pushing all of the right buttons. The 2 year-old Little Kid napped late and won't be going to sleep anytime soon.

You need to get the older kids to bed for the night, but they are not helping. Tempers are running hot, and you are running the risk of a breakdown. Older Kid has just decided he wants cereal instead of the meal you have set before him. A straw on the already ponderous camel's back. Middle Kid has just spilled his juice all over the table. Another straw. Little Kid is eating his chocolate pudding dessert alone while you simultaneously clean up Middle Kid's spilled juice and lecture Older Kid about hungry children in Africa who would be more than happy to eat the food he is rejecting ...

Little Kid is eating his chocolate pudding alone ...

Little Kid is eating ...

A silence falls as everyone turns to see Little Kid creatively enjoying his chocolate pudding.

You can almost feel the crackle of tension in the air. It's the final straw. There is a simultaneous sound of the sharp intake of breath as Older Kid and Middle Kid wait wide-eyed for the implosion.

Suddenly you realize that you have a choice: you can choose to cry, or you can choose to laugh. The comical aspects of the situation overwhelm the tragic and you erupt in an explosion of laughter.

Tension evaporates. The laughter is contagious. Dark clouds retreat. Soon you move to fix Older Kid the cereal he wants. What’s the big deal?

It’s ok anyway; he’s decided to eat the first meal you set out for him.

Some days, instead of fighting against the current, it's just easier to go with the flow.

Let me get my camera ... this will make a great picture for my blog!


Sorry about the length of this diatribe; I know I should go back and edit it, but I'm just too tired.
Please don't seek any particular point or moral to it: it's just the ramblings of a tired parent!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Award-Winning Photos!

I read once somewhere that every blog has to have kitten pictures. Since I'm not much of a cat person, I figured my chance of ever posting a cat picture was pretty slim, so I have tried to make up for it with cute kids and a dog that I'm trying to kill.

So imagine how thrilled I was to open my inbox yesterday and find that Kim (my sister-in-law, brother Steve's wife) had sent me a batch of pictures; and lo-and-behold, what did I find: a kitten picture! and a good excuse to post it!

Ok ... it wasn't exactly like that. First off, I didn't just "open my inbox" and find them there. I opened Outlook Express and waited fifteen or twenty-minutes for the first batch of four pictures to download (and this over DSL!). They were some big, high-quality pics, probably taken at 7 or 8 megapixels. There was also some confusion about repeats... but by the next day, and after about a dozen emails, I had received all of the pictures. Great quality, but big enough to choke gmail's pop3 server. In the end, I had to log into the gmail web interface to download them.

I already knew that Kim is an aspiring professional photographer, but what I didn't realize was that my 9-year old nephew Lane is also a budding talent. Turns out the set of pictures she sent me were prize winning submissions to a photography contest at the Johnson County Fair-- some of them taken by Lane, and some taken by Kim herself. The kitten picture shown above was taken by Lane, and won a blue ribbon for the Color digital - Animals category.

The above b&w picture of a leaf won a blue ribbon in the "nature study" category, and took overall Grand Champion in the Digital B&W category. He also won Reserve Grand Champion in the same category for another picture; according to Kim, the judge said he "couldn't believe a 9 year old took those pictures", but she then points out that he was 8 when he took them!

I've posted Lane's four award-winning pictures to the gallery: here.

I've also posted a batch of Kim's ribbon winners as well; all in all, some really neat pictures!

Congratulations Kim & Lane!


I've got a couple more blog posts coming up; if life stabilizes a little, I'm going to try and post more frequently over the next few days, and see how that works out.

I've posted this week's daily pictures of the house under construction here; you can see the day-by-day progress by watching it as a slideshow, or clicking here.

Now to bed!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Under Construction -- an Update

Our construction project is moving along according to schedule. Actually, since we built a huge wall to isolate the construction site from the house, the impact on our daily life and privacy is minimal. The most difficult part is trying to keep the dog from invading the work area every time we have to slide open the gate to get to the garage.

I'm of course taking a bunch of pictures... documenting every step of the construction process. I've decided to keep an online chronicle of the progress through pictures, in an album which I have created in the gallery. I know that it probably won't be of much interest to most, but, it's easy enough to do, so why not? I'll be posting the pictures either daily or every few days, depending on the progress or time available.

The photo-chronicle can be seen here (Under Construction).

I've snapped the pictures from more-or-less the same perspective so if you step through them, you can clearly see the changes each day (I wish I had thought about being more consistent with the POV so I could actually splice together an animation of the construction progress later!). It may seem like it's going slow, but you must realize that this type of construction, which is very typical in Brazil, is extremely labor intensive: the concrete is hand mixed on a pallet (no mixer), and all digging is done with picks and shovels (no backhoe). All things considered, it's moving along at a brisk pace.

If you want to see a floorplan of the construction (which will house my office, a living room / guest room, bathroom, tiny kitchen and a veranda), click here. A profile view and full plan of the entire yard with our current house can be seen here. The larger view shows an outdated floorplan, however; before we had decided to build a mini-kitchen onto the living room.


I'm tired and haven't been in much of a blogging mood-- nor have I had much time for blogging. But I was navigating around the internet when I finally ran into this webpage, much to my relief. The internet is growing at such a rapid rate that I thought I could never keep up with it; so this was really good news! Now I can sign off and get to bed! Really ... click it! It's worth it!

(p.s. I know, it's an old joke and probably everyone has seen it by now-- but it's still funny!)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pleasant Company

This Saturday afternoon marked another traditional Brazilian "churrasco" (barbecue), this time at Celio and Clea's (my in-laws) home; a pleasant afternoon with enjoyable company, good conversation, and lots of food. This particular event was special in that, besides the "regular" family (including Celinho, just arrived from Taiwan, and Gustavo, from Florida), we had the honor of receiving guests of a rarer caliber: Julio and Lucia, with their daughters Juliana (and her husband Marcos), and Mariana; and Luiz and Rita (aka "Uncle Lula" and "Aunt Rita") .

The "churrasco" could be seen as a farewell party, in that Regina and Gustavo's return trip to the states was the following evening, Sunday (last night). After nearly two months here, they will be missed, especially by the kids.

Julio is Clea's cousin, on her mother's side. Although I have had relatively infrequent contact with him and his family, my impression has been that they are, both individually and collectively (as a family unit) an elegant, intelligent, articulate, and extremely interesting bunch. Pleasant company indeed.

Lula and Rita are longtime friends of the family (Lula worked with Celio at Petrobras), but we haven't seen them as often recently. Lula is a real character ... a genuinely good-hearted intellectual but with a blunt manner and sense of humor that can be pretty pointed if you are on the receiving end. Rita is his alter-ego... always helpful, sweet and sincere. From adolescence through early-adulthood, it was often the advice that Rita had to offer that helped carry Cristina through some rough spots.

So without further delay, the pictures of our little family get-together can be seen here. Thanks to Juliana, who sent me a number of the pictures I posted!


Today represents one week of adaptation for Kevin at school: so far, it's been a resounding success. He is enthusiastic about it, and once he arrives, he seems to forget that Mom is even around. I hate to say too much, because tomorrow I will be taking him to school. Hope I don't screw up everything!

And finally, in keeping within tradition, a belated birthday announcement: my cousin Greg's birthday was August 6... which coincides with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (just the date, not the year!). But that's just a coincidence (I think). Hope you had a Happy Birthday, Greg!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I must be out of my mind ...

My yard, the day before yesterday ...

My yard, today ...

As if there wasn't enough going on in our lives-- what with the changes in my professional life, the company, Cristina going back to work, Kevin starting preschool, and the miriad array of other factors which make life so chaotic in general -- now I go and do this.

The second image above depicts the preparation for the foundation of our new construction project: my office and our guest house / home expansion (two rooms ... the office and a living room with fold out sofa-bed or something). In the last 48 hours, much of our living environment has undergone a transformation into controlled chaos (at least, my contractor insists that it's under control). It's amazing how fast the destruction part of construction is: trees have fallen, and much of the yard has been dug up. A new shack (?) and bathroom has been built for the workers so they won't have to actually enter into our house.

The kids loved having their very own construction site to romp around in-- especially Kevin. Unfortunately for them, I realized quickly that, although exciting and highly entertaining, the plethora of new attractions available to them -- nails, power saws, steel re-bar, piles of bricks, deep holes in the ground, dirt clods to throw -- were all somewhat inappropriate. Before the first day was out I had a massive plywood barrier erected between the house and the construction site, both to protect our privacy as well as to keep the kids away from all the fun stuff. It also helped salvage whatever vestige of sanity remains in our spoiled psycho-labrador, because he was allowed to leave his pen and hang out close to the house with us.

I'm not sure that James has forgiven me for the trees yet; in particular, one enormous Oiti tree (top photo, center of right side) whose noble branches stretched to encompass over half of the yard, stands right in the middle of my future office. Or, it stood there. I called the kids as the chainsaw started to cut through its trunk, thinking they would be impressed to see it fall. James pleaded with me to "spare it", and even developed a number of suggestions as to how we could get around cutting it down: the main one being, to leave the tree in the middle of the house, with a hole in the roof. As soon as James saw the blade slice into the trunk, he cringed empathetically, flashed me a hurt look, and fled back to the house. Cristina told me that, as he passed, he muttered angrily, "Dad's massacring the trees!".


This all relates to the life changes I mentioned in a previous post; I've basically been on vacation since we closed the office in June; now I will begin working again, but this time out of my home. I have a couple of personal projects that I plan to be investing time in, and hopefully I will be able to drum up some more consulting work to keep things rolling. For this idea to be successful, we need more space: at the moment, my "workspace" consists of standing with my laptop at the living room bar, or sitting at the kitchen table. With three boys in varying stages of "wildness", I typically have to migrate around the house like a Laponian reindeer herd in search of a peaceful place to graze-- a safe haven, protected from the pack of ravenous wolves that seem to follow me wherever I go.

I have been graciously offered a more secluded workspace by my in-laws Dr. Celio and Clea, which I will certainly be making use of in the interim. But I wouldn't want to impose for an extended period of time, and we really do need the space: actually, we needed it even before shutting down my old office.

So construction is underway: just three months to go!

Construction in Brazil is very different from the US, in almost every respect. Over the next few months I should have ample opportunity to comment on these differences, so I'll leave that subject for later.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Chocolate Lovers

Just a picture tonight ... no explanation needed!


(** update** Kevin's first two days of school (adaptation) went well. Ok ... his first day (with Cristina) went really well. Today I took him, and, much to my chagrin, he wouldn't let me put him down for the first half hour. After a while, though, he loosened up, and was fine. I'll post some pictures later this week.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Kevin goes to school!

Last month, we confirmed Kevin's enrollment in pre-school, so it's now official: as of this morning, Kevin has begun his long journey towards personhood. Also, as of this week, Cristina will return to her teaching position at the federal university.

Next step: adaptation!

This entire week is adaptation week. Basically that means he will only have class from 8-10 am; and a parent must stay with him the entire time. They say that this is so the child has time to adapt to the new routine, and to being in school in general; but in many cases (such as ours!), I think it's just as much for Mom to adapt to the new routine! This morning, Cristina has taken him, so I am waiting to find out how it went. I expect it will go well: in fact, I won't be surprised if she has to fight him to make him leave at 10 am! Tomorrow it will be my turn, since Cristina has class in the morning. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it, since it's something I missed out on with the older kids.

It wasn't easy to get to this point; Cristina has been very insecure about "letting go". I know... it's just pre-school ... not like were sending him to boarding school in Europe or something! But I am not sure if she is ready to face the adaptation process: i.e., the possibility that, after this week, it may be necessary for us to occasionally walk away and leave him crying in the classroom. Her experiences with James and Christian were somewhat traumatic, and I'm not sure how ready she is to face that again. I wasn't very present during this process with the other two (since their classes were in the afternoon); this time, depending on how things work out, I may end up being the one who has to take Kevin to school.

Hopefully this attempt will be more successful than the last one: in early May of this year, after much soul searching (mostly by Cristina!), and considerable research into the options in our area, we had decided that it was time. Cristina's confidence level with respect to the older kids' current school (where they both started in pre-school as well) was at a low level... the number of students has grown considerably, and our impression was that it has relaxed its standards somewhat; the student-teacher ratio has increased significantly, and the school is showing signs of overcrowding in its classes.

Then Cristina stumbled across "Sol de Manha" ("Morning Sun"), another school which seemed to have most of the right ingredients. The only downside is that it would be totally new for us: we don't know the teachers, or really anyone who has kids there. By contrast, we've been around the kids' current school for over a decade (since Bruno started out there in pre-school). Nevertheless, Cristina visited the new school a couple of times and liked what she saw. Kevin seemed to enjoy his visits as well: steeling her resolve, she made the leap, and signed Kevin up. She even bought his uniform and lunch box.

The picture above is not from today: it shows Kevin on his way to his "first day" of school at Sol de Manha back in May, excited, happy, and enthusiastic as he headed to the car.

Fifteen minutes later, Cristina called me-- but not from school! It seems that the entrance to the club we frequent is near Kevin's new school. As they passed by, Kevin recognized it and so flexed his vocal cords in favor of a change in plans. After all, he is a two-year old. The terrible twos! If he wasn't spontaneous, authoritarian and belligerent it would mean there's something wrong with him! But the creeping tentacles of guilt that Cristina was trying to suppress surfaced with a vengeance and wrapped around her conscience, and suddenly her conviction, her certainty -- evaporated almost instantly in a cloud of remorse. She turned the car into the club and revoked her decision: Kevin could wait until next year (or at least, next semester).

Turns out we only delayed it until August (today), which in the end was probably a wise decision: I sense that both Cristina and Kevin are more prepared now then they were back then. In fact, Kevin is currently undergoing an explosion of language skills. Cristina also went back to the original school and, after a number of meetings and even visits to the classes, they managed to renew our faith in their commitment to pre-school education. As a result, today Kevin is going to the same school as his older brothers, which should tremendously help his adaptation process.

I guess that's all for now... tomorrow I will post an update as to how it went!