Wordless Wednesday: Birthday Cake Edition

February 1st, 2012

Seven

January 30th, 2012

Really? Seven? Can you slow down, universe, just a little bit?

Because honestly, when did this happen?

And what will the next seven years bring?

Sometimes, the hockey rink is like a time machine

January 13th, 2012

So one thing that’s interesting about spending all this time around hockey rinks is that in the coming and going with Small Boy and Boychen we cross paths with most of the other age groups. SB plays Bambini hockey – officially Bambinis have 2004 and 2003 birth dates though SB is one of seven kids one his team who are younger than that. After this season, he can legally play another two seasons of Bambini hockey before he ages into the next group, the Piccolos. Then he’ll get two seasons in that age group before he ages up to the Moskitos. The “Mosi’s” practice right after SB on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we see them running drills as we’re leaving. It’s hard to believe they’re twelve and thirteen; a handful of them are just one helping of steak and potatoes away from being as tall as their coach. I suppose right about twelve and thirteen is when the testosterone starts kicking in and they start shooting up and filling out, getting real muscles and broad shoulders; but before practice I can see  them screwing around, throwing snowballs at each other and stealing each other’s hats and they’re still very much boys. Just bigger.

Thursday nights the hockey school practices in the arena where the pro team plays, and hockey school overlaps with practice for the Junior Elites – the last step before a kid tries to make it in professional hockey. They’re 17, 18, 19 year old boys – men – and while I’m on the ice with the little kids the Elites are running their warm ups in the stadium. They run the stairs, playing a game of follow the leader where the first boy in line sets the drill: sometimes they run up as fast as they can touching every step with the balls of their feet, sometimes they jump up two steps then back down one then up two again, sometimes they run up on every other stair, sometimes they hop up on one leg. However they do it, it’s full gas to the top, then they jog over to the next aisle and down to get back in line to run the stairs again. These boys aren’t kids anymore, even if they are seventeen – if a kid is still in the SCB program by the time he ages into the Junior Elite level, he’s hands-down one of the best youth hockey players in the country. Those boys aren’t kidding around anymore, they’re looking to play professional hockey. Period.

I see these guys around the rinks, various versions of the future Small Boy – SB at twelve, SB at fifteen, SB at eighteen – and it’s disconcerting and exciting and mildly terrifying to imagine SB morphing into a big boy and then a man. It’s not the hockey I’m talking about here, I’m not imagining SB playing Junior Elite hockey, it’s just the vision of him tall and broad and muscular that’s hard to reconcile with my long stretched out boy of tendon and bone and high child’s voice. Somehow seeing these hockey players on a regular basis, and seeing them in their stair-step age groups, makes them more real to me than the fifth graders I see around town or the teenagers who take the train to school and work in the city. I know exactly how old those hockey boys are – the kids who take the ice Tuesday after SB have 1999 – 2002 birth dates – and I know exactly how far away SB is from looking like those boys. If I squint my eyes and tilt my head when the Mosis drill, it’s like seeing a vision of the future.

It’s like this, the now and the then in the same frame, and the staircase between them suddenly so unbearably short:

Concussed

December 13th, 2011

So, here’s an SMS you never want to get from your husband who you know has taken your son to the ER after a really hard (illegal, unnecessary, infuriating) hit in a hockey game: “SB’s pupils are normally the same size aren’t they?”

“As far as I know. Never noticed otherwise.” you message back. “Why? Are they not the same size now????”

“Nope.” comes the reply “one is larger – the left one – but could just be the light.”

At which point the only thing you can manage to type back is “What the FUCK?”

* * *

One of the small blessings of living right next door to R’s parents is that when this series of messages flew two weekends ago, my mother-in-law was able to walk across the driveway to take over putting The Boychen to bed and I packed a bag with some stuff for R and some stuff for SB – who was clearly going to be held overnight for observation – and drove to the hospital.

* * *

I’ll cut to the chase and say now that SB is okay. It was “just” a concussion; in spite of the most thorough opthalmological exam I’ve ever witnessed and a head MRI, no reason was ever found for SB’s unequal pupils. Here’s another thing you don’t really want, by the way: to watch over the technician’s shoulders as picture after picture of your son’s brain comes up on the screen. Pictures that you can’t read, and so you watch the tech’s body language instead, waiting for the widened eye, the sudden tilt of the head. It doesn’t come, but that doesn’t really make you feel any better until your kid is pulled out of the machine.

* * *

I’ve tried to write this a few times, it’s always a mess, brief paragraphs are the best I can do. Not even seven, a concussion, and though I know hockey players who have played for years and never gotten concussions, I find myself thinking “his first concussion” as if I expect more.

* * *

These recent articles in The New York Times about Derek Boogaard have not made me feel any better.

* * *

Trying to enforce a Sport-Verbot on a nearly seven year old physical boy used to playing hockey three times a week is not easy my friends. Not easy at all. SB has hated missing practice, hated being kept out of gym class at school, hates that I won’t let him play hockey in the driveway. The idea of being calm, and quiet and restful – it sort of makes him break out in hives I think and as a result his behavior at home has been … challenging.

This past Sunday was the Christmas party for SB’s team: a kids v. parents hockey tournament and then an early dinner. It was two weeks after the concussion, the earliest the doctors said he could start back with sports, and we thought it would be a good time to see how he feels – the tournament would be friendly and I would be right there on the ice to keep an eye on him. He played all three games and said he felt okay, but at bedtime he had a headache. He’s back on Injured Reserve and skipping training this week.

I played on the moms’ team and had the best time. I’ve been skating these past couple of years, but not playing hockey and this was hockey, with the full equipment, and even though it was a friendly match against the kids don’t be fooled: seven and eight year old boys play for keeps. They ran us hard. I still skate well, and I’ve got some game sense, but no puck handling skills at all; but I had so much fun that if I could somehow manufacture an additional twelve hours a week (stop laughing) I would run right out and join an adults’ recreational league because I had that much fun.

* * *

This is my new favoritest picture ever of me and the Small Boy. Look at that smile, do you think he was happy to be on the ice again? For all that hockey is a hard, physical, capricious and sometimes violent sport, anything that makes my boy smile like that has a place in this family. At least for now.

Forgetting, and remembering

September 20th, 2011

All things considered, our IVF experience was easy. I mean, compared to people who start their families unassisted it was a complete drag, but taking “IVF is your only chance for biological children” as a baseline, we had an easy time of it. I completed one fresh IVF cycle which netted 18 mature eggs, 13 of which fertilized. From these thirteen, we transferred two at our first transfer, only one of which implanted to become the Small Boy. The remaining embryos were stored for future transfers (a frozen embryo transfer, or FET). When we decided to try again, we decided only to transfer a single embryo on any given attempt – twins was no longer an outcome we were comfortable with.* Our first FET failed, our second FET failed, and our third FET became the Boychen. Four attempts, two healthy singletons pregnancies resulting in two live births. Compared to some people’s experience, it was almost laughably easy.

I forget, if forgetting is the right word, what we did to get these boys, to be this family. Forget, in the way I forget that my father is dead: it blends into my psychic background, an event I no longer dwell on every day because of the passage of time, because of the demands of the present, because if we are lucky we learn to wear our past lightly like the comfortable shirt you slip into at the end of the workday.

It’s there, though, as my father’s death is there, ready to be woken like a sleeping cat who notices the light has shifted and it is no longer dozing in a patch of sunlight. Today I revised some poems during the Small Boy’s hockey practice, and the poem I worked on the most was about that first, that only, fresh cycle. And I remembered it all: the drugs and the injections and the bruised thighs, the swollen ovaries swinging like a bunch of grapes with every step I took, egg retrieval, the transfer, the long long two week wait before we could do a blood test, the knowledge that it might not, might never, work; and I looked up from my notebook and there he was, that four-celled embryo, skating crossovers around the faceoff circle.

He is six and a half. He is in the first grade. He has a math test tomorrow. He plays hockey. He is bilingual. He is tall, and skinny, and blond, and asleep in his room. There he is.

My god, the wonder of it.

* Yes, identical twins could still have been possible and yes, I’ve seen some numbers that suggest that identical twins are marginally more likely to occur in an IVF using ICSI – which we did – than in unassisted pregnancies, and had that been the case, then so be it. But we didn’t want to risk fraternal twins. Given the crippling postpartum anxiety I suffered after the Boychen was born, it was a good thing twins weren’t in the picture.

The first grade in Switzerland

September 19th, 2011

From what I understand from my friends with school-aged children in the States (and from reading blogs), in the US, Kindergarten is the new first grade. Kindergarten is not, as I understand it, the way we experienced it when we were kids. There is less free play, and more sitting still, and the actual work of learning the ABCs. Some Kindergarteners come home with homework, even if does only take 10 minutes twice a week. The amount of time allotted to doing whatever you want with whichever classmates strike your fancy at the time seems to be limited, though from my distant perspective it seems to vary wildly from place to place. Certainly today’s Kindergarten does not seem to be a place where socialization and play are the priorities and hey, if you walk out of here writing your own name that’s pretty much a bonus.

US Kindergarten sounds a lot like the Swiss first grade. Small Boy did not have what we adults would recognize as “work” in Kindergarten. Fine motor skills and pencil control were trained through art projects rather than writing. Oh, the art projects. Cutting and pasting and drawing and sewing and weaving and carving and once, for this past Mother’s Day gift, etching a design into a rock with a stylus. Language skills and memory were covered in song and rhyme and story time. The rest of the time, they played. The children were largely free to choose what they wanted to do and with whom, although if Small Boy and Best Friend sat at the drawing table four days in a row they were encouraged, on the fifth day, to maybe do something else with somebody else. There was time to play outside every day, unless it was pouring rain (snow was fine), and judging from the knees of the Small Boy’s pants there was a great deal of wrestling and tackling involved. There was structure in the day, in terms of time blocks, but within the structure there was a great deal of freedom.

Towards the end of Small Boy’s second year of Kindergarten the children who would enter school the following year started practicing the type of work they might be presented with in school. The older kids (Kindergarten classes are mixed between the 5 year olds in their first year of Kindergarten and the 6 year olds in their second) gradually started having to sit still more; art projects became less paint whatever you want and more do here what the instructions are telling you. They did start practicing writing letters and yes, every single one of them could write their names. They took home a little bit of homework, and they visited the school building. Fridays, when the first year kids don’t come to Kindergarten, were almost, almost like school.

And now, Small Boy is starting his sixth week of school. He is fully settled in now, but the first week was rough. I could tell from his behavior at home – reacting badly to situations much more quickly than usual, arguing with me, breaking down in tears when I told him no to something (I no longer remember what – probably if he could watch TV). His behavior at school that first week was fine, no reports from the teacher, no notes home, but that is typical Small Boy: he works very hard to hold it together in places like school or hockey training (the trainers are strict, and I’ve seen them give kids 10 minute go sit on the bench penalties for what seem like minor infractions, but never the Small Boy)* and then he comes home and lets go. So I could tell, that first week, that the new routine – sitting still for 90 minutes before recess – was a lot for him.

The work so far is basic: they are learning letters and numbers, starting to read. There is homework three days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays), and it never takes very long; they do most of the work in class. So far the homework has only been in either math or German. The subjects covered in the first grade are German, Math, Nature-Mitwelt-Mench (natural and social sciences – right now the theme is Water), Art (drawing, textiles, and woodworking), and Music. He has a fifteen minute recess every day and Sport (P.E.) three times a week. He’s in school five mornings and one afternoon a week, plus every other Thursday.

Every student has a homework notebook in which the teacher writes down the assignments on the left hand page; there is a column where I am supposed to record how long it took Small Boy to do the assignment. I think this is a great idea – it gives the teacher an idea of how hard or easy the work might be for a child (if a kid got every problem right but took 90 minutes to do it, that’s something the teacher needs to know) and it also trains the parents in the idea that they need to be attentive to their child’s homework practices. This might be second nature for some parents and not for others; this way the parents are slowly learning to be involved and it’s done in what seems to me a non-judgmental way. I’m curious what other people think about this, but I sort of love this idea.

The right hand page is for communications between the teacher and the parents. Here on the page in the picture, the teacher wrote a note to remind us that class pictures would be taken on Monday (Mo: Photograf) and that by Wednesday at the latest Small Boy needed to have a toothbrush (Mi: Zahnbürste) because the dental hygienist was coming that day. Progress is noted on a weekly basis: sunshine, sun with a cloud or two, or clouds. (You’ll notice Small Boy got the sunshine. He’s had all sunshines except for one teeny tiny cloud last week because somehow we forgot to do one problem on a homework set. We just skipped right over it, didn’t even see it somehow. Both of us! The teacher told him if Small Boy keeps doing as he’s been doing, he’ll erase the cloud next week.) Clouds seem to be given for not paying attention, talking in class, and not doing your work. Each week, a parent has to sign that week’s page.

Can I just tell you I LOVE the homework notebook? Seriously. Best idea ever.

What does school look like where you live? If you’re an expat, and your kids are in the local schools, are you happy with them? I have to say, although I’ve been known to complain about the, um, limited hours shall we call them?, I can also see some real upsides to the Swiss schools. More on that in another post.

* I approve of this approach, by the way. Hockey is an extremely physical sport with a great deal of contact, and the kids need to learn early that the apparent aggression in hockey is actually quite controlled – there are rules, after all, about what’s a legal check and what is not. There are rules against fighting. If somebody deals you an honest blow, you can’t turn around and whack them for it and you can’t take it personally. The honest check is part of the game, and if you can’t get checked without losing your temper you won’t be playing hockey for long because no coach is going to want to deal with that. I approve of the trainers nipping temper in the bud, calling out every bad hit, and issuing penalties. A kid simply cannot engage in a contact sport without mastering some self-control.

Snuggle night

September 18th, 2011

Sundays are snuggle nights with the Small Boy – I stay in his bed with him until he falls asleep. He still needs this; if he had his way, somebody would stay in bed with him until he fell asleep every night. (If he had his way, actually, he’d sleep in bed with R and me.) I need snuggle night too, if only as a reminder that my big hockey playing boy isn’t really so big. He still wants somebody there with him until he falls asleep; he still sometimes gathers up all of his stuffed animals and surrounds himself with them before going to bed; he is still, sometimes, just a little boy.

Today

September 17th, 2011

Both boys wake earlier than they do on a weekday. The Small Boy sneaks to the bathroom, I can feel him trying to be quiet, but Boychen knows he is up and calls to his brother. He always wants his brother to be the one to open the door to his room, help him get out of bed. Small Boy goes to get him and they stay in the Boychen’s room, with the door closed, playing – horses, I think, from the sound effects; later, cars. This, then, the sweetness.

* * *

I am making pancakes when they start squabbling with each other in the living room; I let it go, giving them the space and time to figure out how to deescalate things themselves, but it goes in the other direction. Boychen hits the Small Boy, and I give him a two-minute penalty for unnecessary roughness, and Boychen tells me he doesn’t like me. I don’t like you, Mama! I’m sorry to hear that, I say, I still like you. But it stings.

* * *

Five minutes later they are happily putting together a puzzle of the United States. They finish it themselves, then come eat pancakes. Small Boy eats four. My mother used to joke that my brother, the hockey player, had a hollow leg. Yes, it would seem so. Boychen, the child who survives somehow on air and goldfish crackers, eats a respectable two. They drink their milk, ask if they are allowed to watch TV. The yelling, the hit, the penalty: forgotten

* * *

What will they remember from these teeter-totter childhood days? The horses and the puzzle, or the squabble?

Flipside

September 16th, 2011

Not, mind you, that it’s all sweetness and light around here. The same boy who can so impress me on the ice can drive me to distraction around the house. Don’t think, for example, that he doesn’t ignore his brother and pretend to be asleep when the Boychen comes to wake him up for school, ignoring him and ignoring him even as the Boychen’s distress grows, ignoring him as Boychen cries and grows ever more hysterical until it takes us twenty minutes to calm Boychen down enough to be able to eat breakfast. For example. That casual disregard for Boychen’s feelings – I don’t know how to talk about it (nor do I like to, here) and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s jealousy and sibling rivalry and some days I’m at my wits’ end. It is Boychen-specific and inconsistent. They can be adorable brothers together, and especially when we are out in the world, in museums or on playgrounds, Small Boy can be quite protective of his little brother. At home he can play perfectly well with his little brother or he can suddenly be… unkind.

And yes, I’ve read Siblings Without Rivalry although I suppose it’s time to read it again. In all my spare time. Actually I can read it next week, in the evenings, when I have nothing to do because R will be away on a business trip to the States.

And can somebody please tell me how it came to be the middle of September? And am I the only one wondering what has happened to the year?

A boy, bigger

September 15th, 2011

Back-to-school time in the US has prompted a flurry of posts about parental anxiety over the transition to school, about wanting to stop time, about how it’s all going so fast. And it is. So very fast. The Small Boy is so tall that sometimes people don’t believe me when I say he’s six – he was almost kept out of a shopping center’s playland yesterday until I offered up his precise birthday. But the thing is, it’s good. It’s amazing, actually, watching the Small Boy grow and grow apart from me. That is the goal, yes? That they can walk out the door themselves, walk to school themselves, put on their own hockey equipment, take off their own skates? That they grow older, and taller, and into themselves?

Every week at hockey training Small Boy practices some new step towards independence. It’s interesting to me, because it is clearly practice – lately, after I’ve parked in the parking garage and he’s hauled the hockey bag out of the trunk, he says to me: “I’m going to go ahead to the stadium now. You wait here so I can get ahead of you,” and off he goes, up the elevator and off to the rink. I wait a few minutes, and take the stairs. Inside the stadium, he gets himself and the bag down the stairs without help – he’s figured it out since the day Nice Woman had to help him, and it involves crashing the bag down the stairs, but that’s the way the Piccolos (the next age group up) do it, so that’s what he does too. Every week he takes over some small task that I had been doing. I used to fill his water bottle and carry it to the players’ bench, but he does that now. He just started doing it one day. After practice he gets his skates off himself (getting them on and properly laced up is still quite the challenge). He runs off to the showers without me – I’ve been told in no uncertain terms not to hang around making sure he gets all the soap out of his hair. After practice, in the parking garage, he hoists the equipment bag into the trunk of the car himself. (Getting the bag up the flight of stairs and out the stadium door, that’s the last barrier. He tried once, but it’s too much.)

Small Boy asked me recently if he could take the train to practice, and although he then immediately said no, he was joking, I don’t think he was entirely. I think he wants that. I think he is already looking forward and seeing the day when he is one of the older boys who does this whole practice thing without his mom’s help. And when I tear up a bit at that thought, and I do, it is not from a sense sadness or loss but sheer wonder and pride at this child who is becoming, so astonishingly, his very own self.