Monday, May 25, 2009

If it's not one thing, it's another

Is there anything worse than a sad-eyed feverish little boy who just wants to cling to his mama for comfort because he feels so bad?

Why, yes, as it turns out, there is. A hyperactive little three-year-old boy who is relishing the fact that he has his energy back and can now wreak havoc upon his poor, exhausted parents.

Let's just say that I'm tired of 5:30 a.m. wakeups, screaming temper fits and general all-around orneriness. And I'm still disappointed that we've had to delay our trip to visit my parents in Natchez.

This too shall pass, right? Right?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Come on, Disney. Work with us here.

Does anyone know for sure that Disney is still using that silly "buy it now because it's going back in the vault forever!" policy toward selling its movies?

I thought it was still in effect, but I just discovered, through, that I can still buy a DVD of "The Little Mermaid" from Which was good news, actually, because William is dying to see "TLM" but I couldn't even land a copy at the local used bookstore, much less buy a new one.

In fact, I'd been getting really annoyed with Disney because I couldn't buy several DVDs that William has asked for because they just plain aren't selling them right now. Those movies are supposedly locked up in that "vault," and silly me for not realizing before I even got pregnant that I should have snatched up all these random Disney movies on DVD anyway. I mean, I'm not really a big Disney person myself, so I didn't buy all the movies just for myself (well, except for "Lady and the Tramp" because I am very sentimental toward it and "Sleeping Beauty," same thing). And we didn't show any movies to William when he was a baby. So he just started asking to see some of these movies within the last year or so, and then...we couldn't get ahold of them.

I vaguely recalled the "going back in the vault" paranoia that emanated from all those commercials heralding the release of this movie or that movie on DVD, and so I asked at the local Disney store. Sure enough, the saleswoman confirmed that they're just not selling certain movies. Bah, I say. William's all into the princess movies right now, but he wasn't even around four or five years ago. Like I was going to buy movies in anticipation of a baby that may or may not have even been born! And what if he doesn't like princesses and princess movies when he's a jaded five-year-old who doesn't want to be caught doing girly stuff?

Of course, it's mostly the ones that I'd want to get that I can't get. I can easily get the straight-to-video also-ran "The Little Mermaid III" or something equally Rocky-esque, but I can't buy the original movie, which I remember actually being a cute movie with fun music.

I realize that Disney uses that policy to drive up sales and create demand, but in my case, they're actually losing money. And I can't believe I'm the only mother who would happily drop some money on "The Little Mermaid" or "Cinderella" or "Beauty and the Beast" right now for my preschooler but probably won't in a few years when the preschooler is older and would rather watch the more sophisticated Pixar movies anyway. I did get lucky and happen into a used "Cinderella" DVD a couple of days ago, much to William's delight. But the Disney company didn't get any profit from the sale. McKay's bookstore did.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sick boy

So William's been sick the last couple of days. As a result, we've been more or less housebound, except for a Kroger-and-Walgreen's run for supplies like Tylenol, ginger ale and most importantly, popsicles. (Don't tell me that a popsicle wouldn't make you feel better if you were sick because I won't believe you.)

He's been running a low-grade fever, so when the fever flares, he gets fussy. When the fever goes down, he's cheerful and sunny. But the two biggest signs that he's not been feeling well are:

1) He's barely eaten anything the last two days except for a cereal bar and, yes, popsicles. This is William we're talking about. He's usually the human equivalent of a garbage disposal when it comes to food. Only my old friend Miller could give him a serious run for his money,


2) This morning, I realized that I hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile. I left the computer and my work and ran downstairs to see if he was still watching "Sesame Street." He wasn't. I panicked and began searching the house for him. Know where I found him? He'd gone into his room and put himself back to bed. Again, this is William. He never ever ever voluntarily sleeps, much less crawls into bed on his own free will with no parental intervention.

Poor little sick guy. I've been trying to keep him quiet so he can rest, and I've mostly succeeded. He's been pretty good about drinking plenty of fluids, so I'm not worried about that, either. But he missed the last day of school today, and that made me a little sad because we love his school--and one of his teachers is moving away this summer. And I'm getting a little nervous about us leaving town on Friday. Let's hope he bounces back quickly.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Ernie shirt

A few weeks ago, Mary Clare called me from a Hanna Andersson store in Atlanta. She wanted to find out if I wanted her to pick up a few items on sale for William.

I immediately said yes and asked if she could find what we call "easy pants"--or as the case may be for summer, "easy shorts." What makes pants "easy"? (I am resisting the urge to make a stupid joke here, I really am.) It's very simple. Their elastic waists means they can be pulled on and off with no trouble; the lack of buttons or zippers makes them easy for a child to put them on and take them off without an adult's assistance. I was hoping to get some red "easy shorts."

Mary Clare immediately found some red shorts, as well as a pair of blue ones. Then we began discussing the possibilities for matching shirts because the store had a variety of striped t-shirts on sale to choose from.

"I really like this one with blue and gray stripes," Mary Clare said. "And then there's this other looks like, well, it looks like a shirt Ernie would wear."

And as a child raised on "Sesame Street," I could immediately envision what she referred to.

But you don't have to. I took a picture of it for you and posted it right here:

See? It DOES look like an Ernie shirt, doesn't it? Hanna Andersson should hire MC to write product descriptions because she was spot on.

For the record, that is my old Ernie puppet in the photo. That puppet is legendary in my family because he is responsible for the fact that I clung to a pacifier well into preschool.

You see, my mom left me for a few days at my grandmother's house with a decrepit old pacifier when I was about two or three years old. My pal Ernie went with me. Mom hoped that maybe I'd have so much fun at my grandmother's house that maybe I'd forget all about the pacifier--or, at the very least, maybe it would finally just disintegrate, and she'd be rid of it.

At some point, I was playing with my Ernie puppet and I accidentally made the puppet bite off the nub of my pacifier. Like all young paci-ddicts, I howled and pitched a big ol' fit. My grandmother was scared that I had swallowed the tip of the pacifier, and she panicked. Eventually she realized that wasn't the case and calmed down. However, I was still a raging howling mess. So she cast about for a way to soothe me. That translated into my poor sweet Mama Joy bundling me into the car to go to the dime store so we could buy a new one. An hour or so later, we arrived home with a three-pack of brand new pacifiers.

When my mom arrived to collect me, she couldn't believe it. Thirty-odd years later, she still can't believe it. She had been so close to getting rid of the pacifier once and for all, and Ernie had just set it all back by what turned out to be many months.

Ernie lives at my house now. William had already easily given up his binky by the time Ernie arrived here, so Ernie couldn't cause any more paci-related mischief. But you know, I wouldn't turn my back on him for too long. You just never know what he's up to. He and William, as you'd imagine, get along very well, even when they're not dressed alike.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

William Wyckoff may be reached at...

How absurd is this?

I just signed William up for his own email account. For the record, he can now be reached at williamdwyckoff [at]

Isn't it nice that we could get a really good username for him? Apparently it's much easier when you have a last name like Wyckoff. David should have thought about that angle when he asked me to marry him and I decided to keep my own last name.

And, no, I'm not deluded enough to think that my son is so smart that he's ready to start reading and sending his own email. He can spell his own name, yes, but I don't know how many of you want to receive emails with nothing but WILLIAM spelled over and over in them. I had to establish an account for him in order for him to receive a two-year subscription to Lego magazine. Yes, I'm sure you can all imagine whose idea that was.

So now my son sleeps in a big boy bed, he's getting potty-trained, he's learning to read (okay, that may be a stretch), and now he's got his own email address. Sniff. My boy's growing up so fast. (He also asked me if he could have my car keys the other day. Since his feet do not yet reach the pedals, I figured it wouldn't destroy him if I demurred.)

Obviously, David and I have privileges with this new email account. We have the password. And control. (For now.) We probably won't be sending out much email through the account, but if you should ever get an email from a William Wyckoff, well, for goodness sake's, open it and read it!

And no. He will not be receiving a cell phone anytime soon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shoe shopping with the three-year-old

I took William to the shoe store today to get some new shoes. (A big FAIL, I might add.) We went at a time when I figured the store would be mostly empty, and sure enough, it was deserted when we got there. Of course, within five minutes of our arrival, a passel of moms arrived, with their lists of shoes to buy in their hands. And unfortunately, William did not much behave like a gentleman there when all those people were milling around. Quite the contrary. We didn't have to call Mall Security, exactly, but maybe if we'd stayed there another ten minutes...

But one thing did make me feel better about the less-than-perfect shoe shopping expedition. One mother, who had her baby in tow, reassured me that William couldn't do a thing to bother her. When he approached her son in his stroller and growled at him like a dinosaur, she waved her hand to dismiss my concerns. She added about her son, "He has a four-and-a-half-year-old brother. He's seen it all. Nothing's going to upset him or hurt him." Sure enough, she did not blink when William tore around the store like a tornado. She didn't mind at all when he leaned up against her leg and giggled. She didn't even flinch when William roared at her son (and then leaned over and kissed him on the knee).

Mind you, I was trying to control him the entire time. It's not like I was just sitting back and letting him wreak havoc (actually, he didn't mess up anything in the store itself; he just dashed around and shrieked and flopped around and growled). But it was nice to have a fellow parent express some solidarity with me when my child was acting like....well, when he was not on his best behavior, let's say.

You know how I've written about the "That Child" phenomenon? Where you worry about what other parents are thinking of you and your child because it is your child who is causing all the trouble? And you catch the looks of superiority (er, or fear) that the other parents are directing at you and your wayward child? And the parents flinch every time your child moves because they're convinced your child is going to mow down their child (and, well, he just might)?

Well, it's nice to get the opposite reaction. It's nice to hear that other parents have been there and know exactly how you feel, and you can't faze them a bit. I feel like I'm often that parent, actually, but I worry that not many other parents feel that way toward me and my son. Luckily, the women in my Disciple class at church have often played that role for me. They've told me stories about how their kids bit other children or caused a ruckus or whatever. And they've reassured me that whatever crazy thing William's doing, it, too, will pass.

It's just a good feeling, when other parents not only know how you feel at a less-than-perfect moment, but they smile and tell you they've been there too. And that it will all be okay.

So if you ever encounter a weary mother with a wild child in the shoe store, give her a pat on the shoulder and a few encouraging words. It will go a long way.


Epilogue: We came home, and I ordered shoes online. I wonder if I should send flowers or something to the shoe store ladies, though.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another happy Mother's Day

Want to know what I got for Mother's Day this morning?

My son made his bed all by himself! Not bad, eh? That's even better than the time he put dishes in the dishwasher for me.

And David got me a vase of beautiful flowers (including my favorites, roses and stargazer lilies) and made us pancakes for lunch. I also got a very small mint plant. I'm sure I will unintentionally find a way to kill it sooner or later, but for now, it's very nice.

So, so far, I'm enjoying the day. Being a mother is hard work, and I have to admit that it's nice to be recognized for it. In fact, I totally disagree with a premise supposedly espoused by the mother character in the book "Belles on their Toes" (the sequel to "Cheaper by the Dozen") by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth. The mother, Lillian, claims to dislike Mother's Day because she believes it's one day that people use to atone for neglecting their mothers the other 364 days of the year. Of course, I suspect she espoused that belief to prevent her children from spending their hard-earned, hard-to-come-by money on a gift for her on Mother's Day.

And in the movie "A Christmas Story," there is a scene where the mother hops up and down, up and down, from the dinner table to fetch various things for her husband and sons. The narrator (the oldest son, Ralphie, as an adult) then dryly remarks, "My mother hasn't had a hot meal in fifteen years." That scene takes on special meaning for me now.

Also, I think I may have racked up some extra points for dealing with the massive nosebleed that William had at 2 a.m., requiring me to break out my Super Special Laundry Skills. You'll all be glad to know, I'm sure, that all the blood came out of the Star Wars sheets.

So yes, I love the recognition on Mother's Day. No, so it didn't require any formal schooling or advanced degrees. And yes, I've also gotten some great joy out of it. But I'd say I've definitely put in some blood, sweat and tears into this motherhood thing, and I'm glad that it counts for something.

I hope all you mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers out there are having a lovely Mother's Day yourselves. As always, I have to thank my own mother for the fact that I'm here at all; thanks, Mom. And thanks to my mother-in-law for providing a lovely husband for me. And thank you to my grandmother, Mama Lou, too.

Here are some photos that David took of me and William after church in the front yard....

Here we are, checking out the blossoms on our baby dogwood tree:

Friday, May 08, 2009

A rose by any other name

William's name continues to be popular. It's the No. 8 name for boys on the Social Security Administration's list of most popular names for 2008.

I'm not feeling guilty about choosing the name for him, though. Hello, my name is Jennifer. My first name was the No. 1 most popular girl's name for about 15 years back in the '70s and early '80s. See? It was the No. 1 name for the whole decade of the 1970s. (Incidentally, if you go back to that list and look at boys' names, you'll see David at No. 4 and William at No. 9.) And to my surprise, it hasn't totally gone away yet, either. And it's still in the top 100.

Also, William is a classic name that's good for a boy or a man, and it pays homage to numerous men on both sides of the family. And doesn't his name fit him? Can you really see him having some other name?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

He blinded them with science, too

So we're back from our first session of the speech and language development study. As I've said here, the study is designed to examine young children who are stutterers and children who are non-stutterers.

It was a good experience, I'm happy to report, and William behaved beautifully, which is noteworthy on its own. They put him in a room and asked him a bunch of questions about a series of cards and pictures. David and I watched him through the two-way mirror and listened through the sound system. The questions started out fairly easy and progressed to become harder. He was quick to point to pictures and identify the rose, the trumpet, the mountain, the circle, the square, the panda bear, and so on. But as they asked him to point to the picture of "dissecting," I think David and I nearly fell off our stools with muffled laughter. I mean, William's smart, but you show me a three-year-old who knows what "dissecting" means. He also did not point to the correct picture when asked to identify "militia." I'm not so worried, you know? But we were very amused when they asked him to supply another word for "big" and he gleefully replied "Gigantic!"

In between "games," they asked him to chew a small wad of cotton, so they could collect saliva to test for cortisol, which is a hormone the body produces under stress.

At the end of one series of photographs, we noticed that he was clearly getting antsy because he didn't seem to be paying as close attention as he had been. But he gamely stuck with it. He did everything he was told, smiled, used his manners, and even stayed in his seat the whole time. I was so, so proud of him.

William even behaved wonderfully during the hearing tests. The head researcher coaxed him to raise his hand every time he heard a "beep!" during one test. I whispered to David that as far as I knew, he had no concept yet of raising his hand. But after a few tries, William caught on. And he completed the test with no problems.

At the end of the whole session, the researcher met with us to share the results. She praised William for being so bright and cooperative, and she commented on his good manners (which made me feel good!). David smiled and said, "Now, if we can just get him to wear underpants..."

Overall, Wiliam has very good language skills, particularly in expressive and receptive language. That was very reassuring to learn. And as it turns out, William does have one vocal tic--they call it a "disfluency"--that puts him into the category of mild-to-moderate stutterers. Who knew? Actually, we probably did. If you've ever spent any time playing with William, you may have heard him do it. He sometimes repeats one word or syllable a number of times before going on to finish his sentence. For example, he might say, "That, that, that, that, that's not where the castle people belong, Mommy." It's not that he's having trouble getting the actual word out, or that he's laboring over the word. though. He doesn't produce the halting, sort of labored sound that people who have a traditional stutter produce. But he does sometimes repeat a word, often when he's excited or is trying to talk too fast and get all his thoughts out.

However, the researcher who was heading up the study assured us that she doesn't think it's anything to worry about right now. Since he's still so young, and because he's very expressive, he may outgrow it. And it doesn't seem to be bothering him or hampering him in anyway. So we're just supposed to ignore it, and it may eventually go away on its own.

Overall, this was a fascinating experience for me. I've always been interested to watch people conduct research, and so I would have been interested even if William had not been involved. But it was fun to learn a little more about how he works, too. William's my only child, and so I have no one to compare him with. It's interesting to learn how others see him and what they are able to learn by evaluating him.

Our next session is scheduled for later this month. If anyone's interested in enrolling their children in the study, they are still accepting subjects (children ages 3 to 5). Let me know, and I'll put you in touch with the research team. Email me at larson_jennifer [at]

He blinded me with science

I'm about to leave to take William to Vanderbilt for the speech and language development study. The lead researcher told me that the kids whose parents talk to them about it beforehand tend to be the least scared and perform the best. I've been trying to prepare him for it, telling him about how he'll be helping some researchers with science. Lord knows what he'll actually say when we get there! Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Describe your child here...

Do you know how hard it is to describe William on paper?

I know. The irony. You'd think it'd be easy for me. After all, I call myself a writer. Not only that, but I've been describing him here on this very blog for three years now. But think about how many thousands and thousands of words I've used over the course of the past three years. Now imagine trying to condense all that down onto a five- or ten-page questionnaire.

And I've had to do a lot of that recently. For example, I just signed William up for a speech and language development study at Vanderbilt. The study is designed to examine young children who stutter and compare them with children who don't stutter. As a non-stutterer, William will participate in two sessions, of which the first one is this Thursday. In preparation for the study, I had to fill out a long questionnaire filled with questions about his health, his developmental history, and his personality.

I got stuck on one of the questions on the form. The question read "How would you describe your child's personality?" I sat there and gnawed on the end of my pen for a few minutes before getting up to find David to ask him how he'd describe his son's personality. We ended up with "friendly, extroverted and bossy." (I probably could have also added "stubborn, wiggly, affectionate and funny" to the list, but I figure that the study administrators will find all that out in due time.) Wow. Three words. Is that William? Is that enough? Is that accurate? Should I have crammed in, in teeny tiny letters, "stubborn, wiggly, affectionate and funny"? And yet, do they really need seven words to describe a person who's three?

I also recently filled out an application for the the local school system's gifted program, which is called Encore. The Encore program begins as early as preschool, and one of William's teachers suggested that I look into applying for him. So I did. I filled out a lengthy application, as did William's teacher, and we submitted them last week to the school system for review. I guess if they think he merits an assessment, we'll hear from them.

As I anticipated, the Encore application included pages and pages of questions about how he solves problems, how he interacts with people, what his curiosity level is like, etc. And the whole time I was filling the form out, I kept thinking, "Well, I'm doing the best that I can to tell you what he's like. I hope that's okay." But the reality is--and I hope the people who read the forms get this--my perspective is so limited, so one-sided. I have no idea if his approach to life is normal or not. I don't know if what he's doing constitutes gifted behavior or just normal three-year-old behavior. I don't have anything to compare him with. He's the only kid I have. Something that I might consider pretty normal might be amazing--and vice versa.

And not only that, but it felt weird to even be applying for the program because in some way, I felt like I was bragging about my son, and I don't even know if I should be doing that. I mean, I think he's smart, but who knows if he's "gifted," you know? I was once labeled "gifted" as a child, but I have to tell you, I don't feel particularly gifted as an adult! But I guess it's not up to me. Hopefully, the decision will not depend solely on my ability or lack thereof to adequately depict my son in all his complicated glory on paper. Maybe I should have added a coda: "I used to think I was pretty smart, but now I'm second-guessing everything I've written here, so maybe you should just meet William and then tell me what you think."

And hopefully, they will. I'm sure they understand that a parent's perspective is just one perspective and not the end-all, be-all--that a child is not just what or who his parents think he is. Even from someone like me; I'm a journalist, and I've been trained to view things as objectively as possible when reporting on them. But it's hard to be really objective about your own child.