Monday, May 5, 2014

"Calm down a little bit."

I suppose I should be happy. The nightmare that has been the process of finding child care for Eleanor is over (more on this in another post). We found a place we like, they have an opening and we’re good to go.

We’re good to go, right? Right?

So why do I find myself thinking about the next step, and the one after that? I spent about 24 hours in my happy, peaceful place last week before I began to obsess over Eleanor’s preschool and elementary school options. And then I began obsessing about whether or not we need to move to a new neighborhood, sooner rather than later. And then I began obsessing about everything, from whether people like me to what I’ll be having for breakfast tomorrow morning. Did I mention I’ve been having trouble sleeping again?

Eleanor is starting daycare in a month, and I am starting a brand new job in two months.

On Sunday afternoon, as our church small group was meeting (as we do every Sunday), I spotted Eleanor across the room. She was running out of milk in her cup, still thirsty. Suddenly, she became terrified that someone was going to offer her water (no one had, by the way). She began to repeat, “No Water!” over and over. This is a (somewhat) typical behavior for her. The phrase repeated phrase gets louder and louder, and it always ends on a panicked rising note. She sounds like a Dalek from Doctor Who:

Every time she gets like this, it’s like she realizes for the first time how little control over her life she has. She clings desperately to this obsessive idea, this panicked tone. And she’ll keep spiraling, ever upward in tone and volume until she’s out of any control she might have had in the first place.

And all this happens in the time it takes me to cross to the other side of a room.

Her panic makes sense to me, even though I find it hard to deal with sometimes. I have a really independent toddler, one who demands to put on her own shoes several times a day. But we’ve got a perfect storm of a situation in which she is preternaturally self-aware but not particularly coordinated. She gets stuck trying to do tasks on her own while being saddled with a realization that there is very little she can do by herself. Man, that must be frustrating.

You know, the good thing about being in therapy for the better part of a year is that you start noticing your spirals before you get too out of control. You remember the tools you’ve learned and you consider returning to therapy, if for nothing else than to just clear your head. I consider the fact that I can consider all this a good thing.

I cross the room, pick my daughter up, and I talk to her. I tell her that I’m going to get her some milk but that she needs to take a deep breath and calm down a little bit. I take a dramatic, exaggerated deep breath and blow it out, modeling for her. She does it, too, and she smiles.

As we walk to the kitchen, she says, “Calm down a little bit.”

I think she’s talking to both of us.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Where I’ve been

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind, full of sturm und drang, and signifying much. It’s difficult to know where to start, and what to put on the blog at this point. But with the momentous changes underway in the Holz-Russell house, I feel like I should put an update out there.

Here’s a blast of the essentials:
  • Eleanor speaks in full sentences, likes to “make jokes” and loves flowers.
  • I got a new job. It starts July 1st.
  • We have toured or will tour eleventy thousand childcare centers.
  • Katie and I went on our first no-kid vacation. (It was awesome.)
  • We tried snowboarding. (It was not so awesome.)
  • We dabbled in potty training. We thought we were ready. We weren’t.

Deciding to go back to work has been hard. In fact, I wasn’t even planning on it until my dream job showed up on my doorstep, a job I would have been looking for two years ago if I hadn’t made the decision to stay home and take care of Eleanor. Now that I’ve received and signed the offer letter, I feel like I can announce it: I have accepted a position as Education Technology Coordinator at STRIVE Preparatory Schools.

I’m sure I will spend the next six months (or more) processing this move. I’ve certainly spent the last few weeks processing what this will mean for my family. But I know it’s the right decision. Eleanor is ready to hang out with new people, and I’m ready to get back to work.

It’s funny. I’m sure that a lot of blogs reach this point, particularly those about parenting. Life decisions happen, and they take you away from the snapshot writing captured in a blog. I think that’s why it’s taken me two months to get back to writing. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I wasn’t really covering any new ground by writing about my experiences as a stay at home parent. And knowing that I’m moving into a new phase of my life (as is Eleanor) has made me hesitant to commit any thoughts in writing, blog or otherwise. I’m honestly not sure I’ll continue blogging about fatherhood. I don’t know if I’ll have the time or mental energy once I go back to work. It’s been hard to have the mental energy already, just thinking about going back to work and all the preparation that’s gone into it.

I spend a lot of time wondering if my daughter will remember any part of her first two years of life, hanging out at home with Daddy. Will she remember the library storytimes? The weekly strolls through the Denver Museum of Nature and Science? The tickles and pretend naps on the couch or the bed? All the book reading? On demand, all throughout the day?

My wife keeps telling me that it doesn’t matter if she remembers, because we will tell her the stories. I hope that’s enough. Sometimes I wonder if she’ll forget the bonding we’ve had for two years, or if it will be like muscle memory, and it will always be a part of our relationship. God, I hope so.

I have no regrets about staying home the last two years, and it’s taught me so much about who I am and what I value. The reverberations will sound through the rest of my life. However, I’m looking forward to spending most of my day talking to adults again. I miss adults. I miss them. So. Much.

Spending your day with a hyper-verbal, precocious toddler is a precious, unforgettable experience. However, I’d like to have conversations that don't involve naming objects I’m looking at or objects I’d like to build out of Play-Doh, like snakes, balls, kitty-cats, pancakes, etc. My current balance of conversations is completely out-of-whack. Heck, I’d like to talk to somebody about baseball during the day. And I don’t even like baseball that much.

I will start my job in July, and I think I have at least a few more posts in me before that. If nothing else, I must write a post about the search for child care. I feel like I could have a whole blog dedicated to our search. It has been...challenging. Two more months until our world changes again. I have to keep reminding myself that life is a constant state of personal world changing. But these world changes are a blessing, and I know we’re on the right track.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

“The stars are sleeping.”

It’s becoming clear to me that most of my parenthood reflections lately are centered around language. That makes sense -- I have a language teaching background and my daughter is in the process of acquiring language.

But I never expected the changes in her language to be so dramatic so quickly.

On the drive to a gymnastics class for Eleanor, we listened to a story on Colorado Public Radio about a new study examining sleep in young children. The story itself -- telling us that children’s brains are developing really fast and that connections are consolidated during sleep -- wasn’t surprising or particularly revelatory. However, this fact (from the CU press release about the study) stuck with me:

“They also found that the strength of the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased by as much as 20 percent over a night’s sleep.”

Twenty percent! That’s crazy! But what I’ve seen in the last week at least anecdotally confirms the possibility of this kind of leap.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about more cute, cool things that Eleanor says for the last couple of weeks. I make a mental note every time there’s a new phrase or a new way of constructing sentences. Fast forward to today, and it feels impossible to keep up. It’s incredible. Just the last week has been one of the most astonishing of my life. My wife went back to work after the Winter Break, and I expected to struggle mightily with the transition. And there were struggles, to be sure. A resurgence in explosive, unexplained tantrums is just one front in the transition war.

But the fact is that being able to have real, functional conversations with my 19-month-old daughter has been perhaps the most meaningful experience of my life.

Here are a few of the phrases and sentences she’s uttered in the last week (context in parentheses):
  • “Stars...sleeping.” (Gazing at the sky, under the noonday sun)
  • “Eleanor eat toast...honey.” (nodding vigorously as she replies to the question, “What do you want for breakfast?”)
  • “Wait turn.” (Hands clasped behind her back, waiting for the toy tunnel to clear in the library storytime play area)
  • “Mommy sing choir church” (On Thursday night, while Daddy does bedtime while Mommy is at church choir rehearsal)
  • “” (She says, all day Monday after Mommy returns to work after the weekend)
  • “Papa (grandpa) ship. Mama (grandma) ship. Eleanor boat.” (Eleanor’s spoken desire to join her grandparents on their recent cruise)
  • “Ottoman Game?” (Any time Daddy sits in his favorite armchair, near the ottoman Eleanor likes to leap off of into Daddy’s arms)
  • “Climbing.” (In response to Mommy saying, “What did you do at gymnastics class today?”)
  • “All town” (omitting “through the” which are the words she doesn’t understand in the “Wheels on the Bus” song)
The development speed is dizzying. Because she’s a really verbal kid (no surprise there), I’m getting to witness a brain getting wired in real time. What she talks about and the way she talks about it indicates in the most elegant way how her brain works and what she understands and what she remembers. She strings series of objects together because objects make sense -- she can see them and they can fall into categories or systems. In certain environments, objects exist and processes occur. If we’re at the library, there are books and toys and friends and snacks and turn-taking. If we’re eating breakfast, there are base foods and toppings and the highchair and the pink or purple bib.

If I ever return to teaching in a formal setting, I will hopefully remember this process my daughter is going through. People build on what they know. They will experiment tentatively, but only if they feel safe enough to make mistakes. They’ll keep learning and expanding their schema if they keep having successful interactions with the content.

But academic pursuits notwithstanding, I am so privileged to be a part of this little girl’s life. She is an amazing kid, and she’s almost always soaring through these experiences with a beaming smile on her face. I’ll try to remember that during the next tantrum.

For Eleanor, the stars really are sleeping. Something so beautiful, so way up in the sky, must need lots of rest so they can stay up there and shine so bright all night long.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Hat coat go car class."

That was one of my daughter’s first “sentences.” While it’s missing all sorts of parts, it’s hard to argue with the clarity, simplicity, logic, and effectiveness in communicating a very specific thought.

The aforementioned sentence was uttered a couple of weeks ago during the hour-long process of exiting the house to get to Eleanor’s second swim lesson. She was very excited, and I could see the wheels turning in her head as she processed the order of events necessary to experience swimming. She paused between each word, pronouncing them carefully to make sure I understood her.

It was a bitterly cold morning in a series of bitterly cold mornings, so Eleanor knew we wouldn’t be leaving the house unless she put on her hat and coat. Once those conditions were satisfied, then it was time to go to the garage. Then we get in the car and go to class.

Simple enough concept, but if you think about the working memory necessary to communicate all these words in a relatively logical order in a short period of time, it’s impressive. Anyone who’s learned a second language and then found themselves in a country where that language is the native tongue can attest to the difficulty of real-time expression. When you’re excited, you’re highly motivated, but you’re also easily flustered. My daughter’s resiliency in the face of impending sensory overload in the pool makes me smile. It also fascinates me.

The sheer number of words in her vocabulary astonish me. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I (briefly) attempted to keep track of my daughter’s new words. I gave up a few weeks ago because I couldn’t keep up anymore. She’s using 3 to 5 new words a day, at least, and that’s been fairly consistent for a couple of months. I need to explain that this isn’t meant to sound like bragging. I find development fascinating, and while I am particularly gleeful to be able to enter into real conversations with my daughter, I recognize the vast differences just among the children I’ve known in my life. Everybody moves at their own pace, and most kids end up in pretty similar places, cognitively speaking.

Book book book bus bus bus moon moon moon stars stars sky walk go mall play shoes shoes shoes socks socks socks (apple)sauce!

These are popular words in my daughter’s lexicon. It is a corpus mostly consisting of nouns, a few verbs and a very, very short list of adjectives. I suspect that in her mind they are all nouns, really. “Go” is naming a thing that happens more than a word conjugated to get a subject acting in some way.

I love listening to the way she uses prior knowledge and phonetic success to build new words. “Book” has led to “Boot.” “Socks” has led to “Sauce.” The fact that the only characteristics these words share are phonemes and part of speech leads me to believe that her unspoken, understood vocabulary is gigantic compared to the words she can say.

I love being witness to this language acquisition process. I used to be a Spanish teacher, so I am predisposed to love watching someone figure out how to communicate. But it’s really special to watch my daughter figure it out. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this moment for her entire life.

It’s pretty cool.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Your grace abounds in the Deepest Waters

My friend, Lanecia Rouse, wrote a beautiful post.  I wanted to share it with you.  Lauren Boyd

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
-Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), Hillsong United

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 my water broke.
Its breaking gave way to the birth of my 22-week and 3 days in the womb baby girl, AnnĂ©e Juredline Rouse Tinsley at 4:58pm.  Less than 2-hours after entering this crazy beautiful world, she died resting in the loving embrace of her mother and father.
So here I am approaching the first days of Advent according to the calendar, but in the thick of the last days of Lent in my heart and it seems right.   So I am going to just flow with it and grieve through this dark, but not starless, night.
Once again in life I find myself overcome with questions, an array of emotions and unknowns, as I stare in the face of the great mystery that is life.   Not sure what all of this really means for our journey or where it is leading, and to be honest, the fact that this death could have meaning or life-giving potential kind of pisses me off.
I am wired and have been shaped to search for answers and allow other questions to unfold as I get a glimpse of  the answers I seek. It is typically hard for me to sit with the questions without searching for answers, but not so much in this moment.  I don’t have the desire or strength to do that theological work.
Right now, today, the only desire I have is to sit in my pool of tears and allow Love to do what it needs to do within and outside of my broken heart.  I am thankful for Love’s presence over the past week and since learning of A.J.’s existence within my womb.  And though in the deep crevices of my heart I appreciate we are not puppets in the hands of the Divine, I must confess I am not thankful Love allowed the breaking.  Dare I say I never will be.
My heart grieves and longs for healing with every mother who has experienced the loss of a child inside or outside of the womb.  So many go through this breaking and crashing so silently.  My heart cries.  It is a backwards process and a true tragedy that no child, mother or father should have to endure.  God cries.
So one day at a time I will go through this season with my love, my partner and best friend Cleve and the many others who Love places in our life to be community caretakers of our healing souls as we walk together.   This Advent, I will choose to cling to the hope that after the painful good Fridays of our lives resurrection does come and that grace abounds for me,.  I will sit… at times stand…at times fight…at times walk… but because of the love of God not drown in our pool of tears until it comes.  Until resurrection comes…
I cry…
I pray…
I listen…
I believe…
I wait…
I mourn…
I embrace the silence…
I sit on the mourner’s bench with those who sit beside us…
and yes, I even sing in these deep waters.
*The memorial service for Annee Juredline Rouse Tinsley will be Monday, December 16 at 10am at  St. John’s Downtown in Houston, TX.  If you would like to send flowers we ask that they are sunflowers or yellow in color.  If you would like to make a donation in her honor, we suggest it be to a project that is fostering creativity in the lives of children.  Another way you can honor her with us is by doing something that day that gives you life. Thank you!*

Monday, November 18, 2013

The first tantrum

It was about pants.

My daughter loves to do everything herself, when it’s developmentally possible or not. Little did I know, as a (still) new parent, that this aspect of her temperament would directly lead to a 30-minute screaming meltdown.

A couple of weeks ago, Eleanor woke up cranky from her nap. Aside from crankiness, which makes everything more difficult, her current dislikes include vegetables and diaper changes. We struggled through getting the new diaper on -- it was such a frustrating experience that I didn’t even bother with her pants as I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. When I returned to my daughter’s room, I noticed that she was making a valiant attempt to put on her own pants.

Normally, I would applaud such initiative. But I was tired and feeling the need to get past the diaper changing trauma and on to the next activity of the day. Without thinking about it much, I lifted my daughter to her feet and pulled up her pants for her.

I chose...poorly.

This unthinking decision angered my nascently independent toddler to a level I’ve never experienced before. She exploded in rage -- my sweet, good-tempered, happy and smiley and always active daughter. She ran screaming from the room, quickly collapsing to the floor in the hallway. She kept the screaming fit going through pretty much every room in the house. She’d cry, her arms flailing until she would run into something, which would give renewed purchase to her fury. We finally ended up in the family room, where she picked up a puzzle and threw it to the ground. She dropped beside the puzzle -- still screaming -- picking up pieces and flinging them about in futility. She was reduced to writhing on the floor, amidst puzzle pieces she was too exhausted to chuck across the room anymore.

I tried several strategies to deal with this tantrum. I tried ignoring her -- I shut her inside her room and walked away, only to hear her screams reach an even stronger pitch. I picked her up and sang a song. I tried to read her a book, and then I tried making silly faces and then I tried letting her burn out the anger.

Nothing worked.

Eventually, we walked outside -- it was 40 degrees -- and we started talking about the sad tree and the happy tree. The sad tree is a crabapple in our front yard that never seems to get any bigger. It’s lost all its leaves and always looks a little pathetic. The happy tree is a glorious old linden tree in our backyard. Standing under that tree is one of my favorite things to do, in any season. The leaves turn a wondrous gold before dropping into my gutter.

I told my daughter that touching the happy tree always makes me feel better. I convinced her to follow my lead. It worked, and a smile even creeped onto her face. It wasn’t enough, mind you -- we still had to walk around for another 15 minutes outside until Mommy came home. By then, my crazy firebrand had calmed down. For them (my wife and my daughter), it was like the tantrum never happened.

I’ll never forget it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Stuff my daughter says (16 Months, 3 weeks)*


*I have a couple real posts coming, but I wanted to document this language development before it got lost in the shuffle of life.