Sisters Pogo Sticking

This morning, I mentioned to my girls that a year ago I had posted about their pogo sticking feats. Zoe reminded me that she led the way and inspired Mia to want to learn this new skill. When I commented that Zoe hasn’t been pogo sticking lately, she said that she has outgrown the one pogo stick we have so it’s time to upgrade.

Here’s Zoe in action with Head-and-Shoulders thrown in for fun in March 2017 at age 10.

Zoe’s tricks on the pogo stick motivated Mia to master her own tricks. A year prior to this, Mia had a hard time making the pogo stick go down.  Here is Mia “one handed” with her tongue out to help focus! Variety is one ingredient in healthy movement development so part of what I am sharing this month are many of the different activities Mia tries. Pogo sticking requires balance, timing, and comfort with falling. Here’s Mia in 2017 at age 7.

And, here is Mia this year in 2018 at 8 years old.

Library Brick – A Permanent Marker of Reading Streak

This picture is from the grand opening celebration of the Christa McAuliffe Branch Library in May 2016. An artist drew these fun henna tattoos on the girls’ hands. I bought this brick nearly a year prior to support the library construction. At the time of the brick installation, we were at 1327 consecutive days of our reading streak. Now, we are a month beyond 2000 Days of Reading Aloud.

These days, I spend a lot of time at the Christa McAuliffe Branch Library. It has great light, tons of windows, and plenty of quiet working space. Each time I enter, I find our brick.

While I’ve read to both girls since birth, Zoe initiated the reading streak, and we have promised to keep it going as long as we can. Mia’s interest and endurance come and go, sometimes it’s “too many words” and other times she joins us. Both girls are capable readers and still love being read to at least once and sometimes twice each day. Sometimes we have two read-aloud books going at the same time, one of each girl’s choice. Car rides got easier once both girls were interested in the same books. This beats the couple of years when our long drives alternated between an hour of quiet (Mia’s frequent choice) and an hour of listening (Zoe’s preference), and all the associated negotiations about who gets to go first and when it’s time to transition, especially if we were mid-chapter.

About ten days ago, in anticipation of the release of The Penderwicks at Last, the fifth and final book in the series by Jeanne Birdsall, Zoe was rereading Harry Potter, and she told me that she planned to finish reading the sixth and seventh Harry Potter books then reread all four Penderwicks books so she’d be ready for the fifth book. She did it. The newest Penderwicks book arrived yesterday and she read it straight through. Some school and household tasks get put off when she’s in a reading burst like this; it’s hard even to convince her to stop to eat or move her body.

Remembering Nightly Conversations with Grandma Barb

I wrote the post below when Mia was eight months old and Zoe was newly 3 years old. I was thinking about my mother yesterday, on Mother’s Day, how complicated relationships between mothers and daughters can be, how messy ours was. I was thinking about my own girls, about the imperfect parenting I’m doing. I was thinking about how all mothers do the best they can with the resources they have. And, now eight years after I first wrote this, I’m sharing it again here, even more grateful that I made the effort to repair my relationship with my mother in the limited time she had as a grandmother to my children, as a mother to me as a mother.

November 2007, Grandma Barb holding Zoe (10 months old).

August 2009, Grandma Barb holding Mia (2 months old).

August 2009, Grandma Barb reading “The Little Red Hen” to Zoe (2.5 years old).

March 14, 2010

A month ago, I drove to Ithaca for my last visit to see my mother. Two days before that was our last of many hundreds of nearly nightly phone conversations over the past three years.

I didn’t always talk with her daily. There were many years where I understood that her expectation was that I’d call each week and I dutifully did so, sometimes with stressful anticipation for many days worrying about what zinger of a remark she might make, what questions she might ask that I’d need to artfully avoid, and of course what small parts of my life I felt comfortable and safe to share with her.

But, something shifted when I became a mother myself. My mother’s last visit to the Boston area was for a baby shower when I was 7 months pregnant with Zoe. My sister Amy brought our mother and they stayed at Nan’s house where together my sisters threw me a beautiful baby shower. My mother enjoyed the trip, delighting in being part of the celebration of another grandbaby-to-be, reconnecting with friends of mine from high school, college, and meeting some more recent ones for the first time.

Her ability to travel was limited. Her health was fragile even then. And, her days were pretty monotonous. She spent a lot of time watching TV. She managed to get out to the pool 3-4 times a week for some water exercise. She had home health aides to help her get to her appointments and manage her own selfcare. She saw my 2 siblings who live in Ithaca frequently, and the rest of us less often.

So, I started to call, daily. In the early days when I was on maternity leave and spending great amounts of time sitting around nursing Zoe, it was fairly easy to call, and it helped the time pass. My mother enjoyed hearing about every little milestone, hearing Zoe’s coos through the phone, and I suppose remembering her own days nursing each of her 6 babies as newborns. Then, there were the few months that I started working part time while my house was also being renovated. She was interested in everything, Zoe’s adjustment to daycare, my return to work, progress on the house. We visited Ithaca every 2-3 months during Zoe’s first year so my mother often would say that she couldn’t wait to see Zoe doing this or that, whatever I had told her she was doing now. I also sent pictures every month. And, when I visited, she had albums ready waiting for me to fill with these pictures of Zoe. I have all those albums now. In fact, they’re the only photo albums I have of either of my kids. All my pictures are in digital albums and any prints are in a big box. There are several more months worth of prints that are in the basket where my mom collected them. I suppose they’re waiting for me to continue the tradition, to find an album and fill it. I might just need to make time for that.

As Zoe started to eat solid food, I adapted our phone conversations. I turned on speaker phone so I had both hands free to manage the feeding process. My mother wanted to know each night what Zoe was tasting now. “Is it all over her face?” “Does she like it?” “Did she make a face?”

Sometimes these conversations were as brief as 5 minutes, other times they were longer. It really depended on what was going on with us, how much attention Zoe needed, what else I needed to get done.

As Zoe started to talk, she could say things directly to Grandma Barb. At some point, they began a nightly tradition of “Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Only, my mother didn’t like bedbugs, so she asked Zoe to start a variation on the game. So, bedbugs were replaced by monkeys, kangaroos, koalas, and tens of other silly things that do and don’t really bite.

At times, mostly when Zoe was two, she didn’t want to call Grandma Barb, so I struggled to keep it interesting for her. Sometimes, we read stories together over the phone to Grandma Barb. Sometimes, Zoe’d be contentedly playing and I’d get to have an adult conversation with my mother, usually brief, often interrupted, but still a useful break from an evening of chatter with my extremely verbal toddler then preschooler.

These conversations went on through my whole second pregnancy. I didn’t know if I was having a boy or a girl. My mother wanted to know. She was impatient to find out. She was very excited that I had a second girl. And, then she was as worried as anyone when Mia’s early health complications arose.

At first, I was too overwhelmed to call her. Eventually, I did. She was frustrated and felt left out because a lot of the fast, real time communication in the days immediately before and after Mia’s birth went via text messages and e-mail, media she was not able to manage herself. My brother Andrew printed hard copies of these sagebaby posts and brought them to her. I have her stack of them, in the folder with flowers on it, where she kept them. She read them so carefully, and followed up with questions when we talked. At one point, she corrected me about Mia’s weight. She was sure that I had gotten it wrong in a post. In fact, she was right, I had made a typo off by a pound, and I went back and fixed it after she told me. Unbelievable.

She tried to keep track of every early appointment that Mia and I had. It was a lot to remember and so she’d ask me over and over again for the details and the sequence. She’d follow up to learn what had happened. She was remarkably understanding when I was unable to plan to visit until late August when Mia was almost 2 months old. On that visit, she enjoyed Mia so much. Mostly, I’d put Mia in a spot where my mom could watch her – in her carseat with a toy dangling for Mia to bat at with her hands, or on the baby gym mat where Mia looked at her toys and started to hit them. And, she held Mia too as much as she could. Even in August, it was tricky for me. I had to make sure my mother was in a chair with enough support that I thought Mia would be safe.

In September, my mother was hospitalized with pneumonia for 5 days. She was released with round-the-clock care at home and lived most of her last 5 months in one room. And still we called. I took Mia to Ithaca to visit right away, left Zoe for 2 nights with a friend from work. We all visited her in Ithaca again for Thanksgiving. And then, one last trip – Valentine’s Day. All together my mom saw Mia on 4 trips we made to Ithaca in her first 8 months. Mia had started to “talk” in our phone conversations, jabbering loudly enough that my mom would talk back to her.

In the weeks before her final illness, my mother said so many times that she wished she could come help us. She knew I was stressed juggling my two girls and work and the household maintenance. She tried to suggest things that might help. She was eager for us to visit again, though she knew that we were not ready to travel because of illness, weather, and my work. She said that she couldn’t wait for spring so I could bring my girls to visit again.

Spring is coming soon, perhaps jump-started today by the clocks springing ahead and the rain falling all day long.

We can’t visit her now. All we can do is remember and find small meaningful ways to keep her spirit alive for these girls who only barely knew her. I can continue the photo album tradition. I can wish Zoe “Night, night, don’t let the *** bite.” Lately, Zoe’s been wanting me to say “bedbugs!” Funny. I can go shopping for a baby doll for Mia. I had told my mom that Mia recently started to play with Zoe’s two baby dolls. My mom wanted me to get one (from her) for Mia that’s exactly like the one she gave Zoe at Thanksgiving 2008. I was busy. I didn’t go right out to get it even though she kept asking me about it. Soon, I will.

Triple Trapeze Stunts – Age 8

While Mia is more drawn to team sports than gymnastics, she continues to challenge herself on our backyard play structure and on similar challenges at larger playgrounds.

She’s come so far from five years ago when she first managed to skin-the-cat, as the flip over is called on this triple trapeze bar with two rings.

I love her inventiveness, how she does the movement to get her feet to flip over and then reverses it, then she starts from the midpoint, to flip back, again and again. As you watch the videos, notice how she is patient with herself, giving her right hand time to find its way into the ring, to grip, how she leads with her left hand but waits until both hands are participating to flip herself over. She uses her eyes to help make sure her right hand is where she wants it to be as her sensation in righty is reduced.

Mia had a stroke at birth and has right hemiplegia, affecting her right arm and hand.

Yard Work is Great Therapy

Both of my girls have long loved digging in the dirt each spring. Here they are at 4 and nearly 2 years old.

And, in the next picture, you can see how Mia is bearing weight on her right hand while digging with lefty in our backyard sandbox.

We also would play “wheelbarrow” where I’d hold her feet and she’d walk on her hands (not many pictures of that as I was usually the one holding her feet). This was great for weightbearing on both hands and for balance. Mia had a stroke at birth which largely affected her right hand and arm.

This afternoon, we set out to solve a puppy predicament. This morning, too early, our doorbell rang. I was asleep as the fifteen month old dog still wakes me up too early most days so I had fallen back asleep. The girls were up though and had let him out in the fenced back yard. Well, those holes he’s been digging finally panned out for him. He escaped into the neighbors fenced-in back yard, and was brought back to our front door by our lovely neighbor.

After researching a bit, and filling in the holes along the fence as best we could with bricks, dirt, and rocks, we decided to create a digging pit for Toby in a place where he already likes to dig. So, we dug a hole, and then used the wheelbarrow to transfer some sand from the sandbox that my kids have outgrown to the pit, layering sand and dirt, to make it a digging spot. Now, Mia can fill and push a wheelbarrow on her own, and it’s great for helping her use her whole self to coordinate balancing the wheelbarrow. She holds the metal rake the same way she holds a hockey stick when she’s skating out, and opposite from how she holds a lacrosse stick (for that she has her right hand near the end and her left hand near the head of the stick).

Zoe joined in the action for the training part. The girls buried Toby’s toys in the new pit and encouraged him to “find it.” Time will tell how effective this solution is for Toby. Meanwhile, he’s only allowed in the back yard with supervision. I’m pretty sure he’ll try to escape again.

Cutting with a Knife with Hemiplegia

  

At age 5, Mia was able to peel and cut a cucumber independently with some supervision. She has more limited use of her right hand due to a stroke at birth and resulting hemiplegia. Notice how she’s using her right thumb to hold the cucumber in place. For kids and adults with more limited use of their affected hand, cutting boards are available that hold things in place.

Today, at age 8, she used a utility knife to cut through cardboard for a school project. I don’t have a picture of that because I was supervising a bit more closely.

 

Monkey Bars at 5 and 8

Mia mastered lower monkey bars when she was turning four. Here she is traversing the high ones for the first time as an almost six year old. And, about six months after this picture, she did her improvisational routine on the parallel bars. She continues to enjoy all kinds of climbing, on play structures, rock walls, and natural environments. Hanging from bars or rings and bearing weight on both arms are both very important for developing and maintaining strength in her right hand and arm. Also, the problem solving, coordination, and tenacity to truly master these play structures is fantastic.

Here’s today’s video of her crossing the same monkey bars in an almost effortless way at age 8, almost 9, so 3 years after the picture above.

Playing Piano with Right Hemiplegia

Imagine that you are learning to play piano and your left hand and fingers seem to follow your brain’s plan with ease but your right hand and fingers do not. So it is for Mia, practicing playing piano. She uses her left hand to help position the fingers of her right hand on the keys. Messages travel fairly effectively to Thumbkin and Pointer on Righty but the other three fingers are much tougher to control. Mia was five years old at the time of this picture. More recently, she tried ukulele, but that’ll be another post.

Spontaneous Supination to Receive Cherry Blossoms

 

Spontaneous supination (palm up) with both hands. My girls were playing with cherry blossom petals, and Mia offered her palms up to receive the petals from her sister. Supination has been one of Mia’s goals since she was an infant as she had a stroke at birth. Many people with hemiplegia struggle to turn the palm of their affected hand upwards. In the picture above, Mia is 5 years old and Zoe is 8 years old.

And, because this is the season when the cherry tree blooms in our garden, we use it every year as a way of marking time. So, in 2018, my girls are now 11 and 8. You may notice in the picture below that Zoe is as tall as the cherry tree. And, Mia has both of her arms in a relaxed position by her sides. This was not always easy for her as she used to frequently hold her right arm in a contracted and pronated position with both her elbow and wrist flexed.