Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

Four Years of Reading Aloud

Tomorrow marks the four year mark of our reading streak, that’s 1460 consecutive days of reading aloud to my girls, always Zoe, often both Zoe and Mia. Today, Zoe volunteered to help paint faces of kindergarteners at their picnic. The Scholastic book fair ended on Thursday. When Zoe was in kindergarten, I read “The Reading Promise” after buying it at the book fair, and I told her about it. She decided we needed to start our own reading streak. Here we are four years later, still reading.

The list of books this year is notably shorter than in prior years. In part, it’s because the girls are getting older, the books are more challenging and take longer for me to read. In part, it’s because both girls are independent readers, and have a full schedule of activities and also itch for screen time. Still, we read daily aloud. The characters are part of our lives, so in our current run with the Emily of New Moon trilogy, when the kitchen door closes suddenly due to a gust of wind, Zoe proclaims, “The Wind Woman is out there.”

Zoe asks me to read whenever she needs her cup filled. Last night, she asked to go upstairs early to be sure to have time for more than one chapter because the previous night it was too late for that request. Some nights, if we are out doing something fun, we only fit in a page or two. There have been times when I’ve had two read-aloud books running at the same time, one of Mia’s choosing, and one of Zoe’s choosing. There have been times when I was reading both mornings and evenings, daily. Right now, I am only reading in the evenings as part of bedtime, unless it’s my one night each week when I take the night off from bedtime routine and our au pair puts the girls to bed. Those days, I carve out time to read in the morning, even for only 10 minutes.

Their school is performing “Willy Wonka” this year as a bilingual musical. To prepare, we got the 1971 version of the movie from the library and the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” book. In one day, we watched the movie and Zoe read the book, in one go, lying on her bed. Zoe calls this style of reading, “being in a book.” Or, we sometimes affectionately talk about her being a book-head. It’s delightful except when she neglects eating and moving for too long and then the reentry can be tough. Zoe now requests her own books from the library on the computer, and finds book references from friends and in books she’s reading to give her ideas of what to read next. If we don’t have a book on hand that Zoe wants to read, we sometimes need to make emergency trips to the library.

Mia often listens, though there have definitely been times when it’s too many words for her. She seems to have caught up in her listening level so I haven’t heard that complaint in a while. She does prefer to use her time in the evenings to play a game with me and Zoe, or to read on her own while these multi month sagas go on and on.

I’ve heard from several parents in the past year who want to encourage their kids to read, and the kids know how to read, but don’t know what to read. This seems to be a common challenge. My first question is, “Are you reading aloud to them?” It’s super common to stop reading aloud when kids seem to outgrow picture books. I still read picture books aloud sometimes in between chapter books. My girls especially enjoy picking up books to read on their own that they’ve already heard me read aloud. The stories are familiar, the choice is a good bet.

My girls have had very different learn-to-read processes. Zoe was not very interested in reading independently until she could read content of interest to her. That clicked in second grade for her and she started to read lots of books quickly. Mia has been more methodical all along, staying the course with some of the easy readers, enjoying the decoding process, and gradually increasing the content as she goes.

There is no end in sight for this reading streak. The Emily series is ending though, so I’ll go get a pile of books from the library after reading some reviews, and see what the girls choose next.

Related Posts: