Archive for March, 2013

Parking with John and Elizabeth

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Friday afternoon, an errand took us over to Bellaire. As I drove past the Hawes family’s street on Avenue B, it occurred to me to call Susan and see whether any of her kids might like to meet us for an impromptu playground trip. She was just gathering John and Elizabeth from school, and they decided to meet us.

Sam mostly played with John, and Cate mostly played with Elizabeth. Between having big kids to take them down the big slides, and big kids to push them on the swings, our girls had a good time. I hope we’ll meet up again soon!

John and Sam about to go down the big blue slide

John pushing Sam on the swing

Elizabeth pushing a very-tired Cate on the swing

Elizabeth sliding with Cate


Friday, March 22nd, 2013

It used to be that we could lead these girls anywhere. As long as we went somewhere reasonable, they would roll with it amiably, even when we changed our minds along the way.

No more.

Yesterday after lunch, I was waffling about whether we should head out for an expedition of some kind. Sam was underslept, but the weather was really nice. When I asked the girls if they wanted to go out, I was regaled with a chorus of “cahr-cahr-cahr”, so I gamely asked Claudia to put on their socks and shoes and get them ready to go.

I returned one more phone call and then put on my shoes, too. But by the time I was ready to go, Sam yawned. I looked at my baby app and realized that Sam had been up long enough to need a nap. I decided that we would be wiser to stay home than head out. I switched gears and declared to the girls that we should all head to the bedroom for diapers and stories.

But when we tried to gather the girls, they protested, loudly. Both girls immediately started crying and Cate yelled, “No!” When I asked, “hey! what’s wrong?” she pointed toward the door and plaintively said, “cahr! cahr! cahr!” They had waited patiently, but they clearly expected to go. They fussed until I agreed to carry on with our original plan, going to the car.

Once underway, rather than heading to a specific destination, we went for rolling naps. Sam fell asleep pretty readily and Cate eventually succumbed to the gentle motion and white noise of the ride. I admit that repeatedly circuiting Memorial Drive from Downtown to IH-610 and back is getting old. But the girls woke up happy, and ready to enjoy a pleasant dinner.

Going forward, it’s clear that we’re going to have to be more careful about setting their expectations.

Cate and Sam asleep in the van on April 2nd

Cate swinging solo

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

When Sam was swinging by herself last Thursday, Claudia snapped a few photos for me. When Cate also tried swinging solo a few minutes later, Sam and Claudia had wandered over to the slides, and there was no one to take a picture.

We all went back to Ervan Chew Park on Tuesday, and both girls wanted to swing again on the big kid swings. This time, I leaned back from spotting Cate just long enough to snap her photo. I’m so glad I did: look at this grin!

Cate swinging solo

As an aside, thanks to Rebecca and Ben for the “future reader” shirts!

Communing with a Big Tree

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

One afternoon last weekend, the girls had energy to play before napping, but the weather had become sunny and hot. I pondered whether there was a place we could play outside, with enough shade to avoid sunburn and cooking. As we rolled down Memorial Drive, I suddenly thought of Glenwood Cemetery.

Glenwood is a lovely place, “designed in the tradition of 19th century romantic garden cemetery parks.” It was the first site in Houston to be designed by a landscape architect, and it’s a place intended for the living to mingle with the dead. Some of its trees are 130+ years old. At the far southern end, there’s an enormous live oak. Its canopy of branches spreads so wide that they’ve added steel support columns to prop them up above the ground. Lisa Gray wrote about the “Cemetery Oak” for the Houston Chronicle two years ago.

We finished our afternoon outing by wandering under the trees amidst the old grave markers. Sam wanted to climb on the granite monuments. Cate tried (unsuccessfully) to lift one of the low stone rectangles. Later, she sat on the ground and leaned back against one, gazing up at the tree-filled sky. Sam eventually wanted into the tree, and with Dad’s help, she and Cate both did their first tree climbing.

Sam and Cate collecting bark and acorns beneath the Cemetery Oak

Sam walking a branch of the oak

Cate walking in the tree

Ack! Now what?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013


As I mentioned previously, Sam is a climber. This afternoon, while I was trying to change Cate’s diaper, Sam was persistently attempting to scale the foot of our bed. I decided to put her in her crib for a few minutes so that I wouldn’t have to worry about her.

Sam protested and I reassured her that she wouldn’t be there long. Her protests grew louder.

I finished Cate’s diaper and turned to look at Sam, just as she made it up on to the top rail from inside her crib. Her climbing technique includes stretching a foot up as high as she can — which apparently now means the top rail at the foot of her crib — and then using that leverage to bring the rest of her torso up in turn.

I helped her down, and she promptly did it again. Impressive, but really not safe.

To compensate, I pulled the thick inner spring mattress out of her bed and replaced the thin foam pad that came with it. That seems to have prevented Sam from climbing out a third time.

Cindy recommended that we rapidly (and sternly) implement a no-climbing-on-your-bed rule, and we’ll work on that tomorrow. Beyond that, I am not at all sure what we’re going to do.

Good night!

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Last night, for the very first time in the 17 months since they came home with us, Sam and Cate both slept through the entire night (11 hours), and *at the same time*. No one fussed or needed anything, between 8 pm (when they fell asleep) and 7 am (when Dad’s alarm sounded).

I regret to admit that Dad and I both stayed up until after midnight, so we didn’t manage to capitalize on the girls’ excellent slumbering, at least not from a sleep standpoint. I’d sure like another opportunity.

I wonder how soon it might happen again?

Catherineism #4: I want Mama!

Monday, March 18th, 2013

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, in a chapter about “the stickiness factor,” he observes that young children generally expect things to have one identifying name. That’s why a Sesame Street episode in which Big Bird considers changing his name to Rick or Steve made no sense to its target audience, and Blue’s Clues episodes in which characters have names like “Mailbox” and “Green Puppy,” generally do.

As we thought about that, it seemed confusion would be even more likely with twins. For example, an infant right next to another infant would have a hard time discerning why “you” and “your sister” sometimes mean the one and sometimes mean the other. So we decided that we would always use names with the girls, rather than pronouns, in order to reduce confusion.

For the last 17 months, we’ve referred to everyone in the third person. We say, “give it to Mama” rather than “to me,” “be gentle to your Sam” or “please share it with your Cate” instead of “her,” “Mama’s here” instead of “I’m,” etc. We also refer to possessions with the name of the possessor, for example “that’s Daddy’s” rather than “mine,” in hopes of minimizing choruses of “Mine!!!!”

During lunch or dinner today (I no longer remember which), I slipped and referred to something I was doing by leading with “I…” I only noticed because Cate looked at me quizzically, asked aloud “eye?,” and pointed to her eye. I responded, “no, that’s not what [I] meant” inadvertently duplicating my pronoun use instead of saying “what Mama meant.” Cate then repeated, “I” thoughtfully.

At the time, I had this vague sense that I’d heard her say “I” an earlier time, but I can’t remember when.

The girls fell asleep a little before 8:30 pm. After midnight, Cate awoke with a loud squeal. We’re not sure whether she had a bad dream, or perhaps caught her ankle in the crib slats, but in any case, she woke unhappy. As Bill got to her first, I could hear calls of “Mama! Mama!” through the monitor, and went to join them. But I missed part of the message.

Apparently, when Dad picked her up, Cate said to Bill in no uncertain terms, “I want Mama!”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have pronouns.

Samanthaism #4: I can do it myself, Mom!

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

After dinner tonight, I gave the girls some Infant Advil to take the edge off any discomfort from the molars they’re making right now. Afterward, I let them play with the plastic syringes, as I often do.

This time though, instead of just chewing on one, Catie was interested in pulling it apart. When she abruptly succeeded, Sam took note and duplicated the act.

At that point, I challenged them to see whether they could put them back together, and they began to work on it. I gave Cate a pointer or two to get her going in the right direction.

But when I tried to give Sam similar direction, she rebuffed me. She pulled her hands back from mine, she gave me An Indignant Look with dramatically raised eyebrows, and then shook her head “no” several times. I waited and watched a while longer. I then asked her if I could offer a suggestion, and she responded the same way, as if to say emphatically, “I can do it myself, Mom!”

* * *
That wasn’t the first time she told me that, either. This afternoon, at Ervan Chew Park, Sam led us over to the big kid swings. I picked her up to swing on my lap the way we have in the past, and she immediately wanted “down!” But when I tried to lead us to another activity, Sam made it clear that she wanted to swing. She’d been watching the bigger kids swing by themselves, and she plainly wanted to swing, too.

So I lifted her up onto the big floppy rubber swing seat, guided her hands to the big chains, and told her she had to hold on tight.

As I nudged the swing into very slight motion, I shifted my hands down to her hips to ensure she stayed on the seat. But Sam wriggled against me and shook her head, “no!”

“I can do it myself, Mom!”

And she did. For a good 6-8 minutes, she sat very still and upright while I nudged the swing gently forward and backward, ever poised to catch her if needed. I told her that she had to keep her hands on the chains, and if she let go, we would have to get down. She swung slowly, held the chains firmly, and regarded all that was going on near us.

Sam swinging by herself, for the first time

Then, Sam apparently absorbed that the older kids weren’t just sitting still. She started leaning in to it, which worked exactly the way physics dictates, and she started swinging more. And then she got excited and thought about letting go, and I got alarmed and ended our swinging in favor of the next activity. Nonetheless, I was impressed.

I’ve heard from my parents for decades about the way I used to insist, “I can do it myself, Dad!” I should really have been expecting this, but it seems so early. They’ll be 16 months past their due date on Saturday.

* * *
It took maybe 10 minutes, but eventually, Sam and then Cate both succeeded in reassembling their little plastic syringes. After they took them apart again, I managed to catch them successfully reassembling a second and third time on video. I’m just struck by the complex dexterity required for the task, and the utter concentration they brought to it… at least, until Daddy Bill got home.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

On the language front, this video includes Cate saying “dobby” for dame/give me, Sam meowing at The Cat, Cate saying “oggie” for agua, and Sam saying “rawa” for water.

Sixteen months

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Every month on the 11th, with one exception so far, I take “birthday” photos of the girls. I am obviously less good at posting them, since it’s already been six months since the ten month photos. In fact, I see now that I haven’t yet posted photos from their actual birthday in October. I’ll have to get to that.

For February, we went to Ervan Chew Park on Dunlavy, where Sam and Cate can pursue their favorite activities. (Click for larger.)

Here’s Sam on the swing. She loves to swing, and she especially likes that from this vantage point, she can see — and “ruh!” at — dogs in the Ervan Chew dog park:

Sam loves to swing

And here’s Cate on the slide. She’s just come down The Big Slide at Ervan Chew, all by herself, for the first time. I’m saying “Yay!” and she’s clapping:

Cate loves to slide

The day was cold (~50°F) and overcast, and I underexposed almost all of the photos. Thanks again to my colleague, Katya Horner, with Slight Clutter Photography, for brightening these up.

Gram Nancy: for your photo printing project, you should download these full-resolution versions of Sam and Cate.

The girls are continuing to add skills faster than I can record them. Here are some recent highlights:

Sam asks for her “buo” (plush Rice owl that Gene and Adra brought), shakes her head for no, says “ga” for agua, “rawa” for water, “ba” for ball or bath, “ucky” for duck, “mah” for mac and cheese, and “baba” both for baby and for Baba Jean.

Cate says no, yes, ducky/pato, turkey/pabo, “ho[t] pa[d]s”, something that sounds like “up-pi-da” that it took me three weeks to figure out meant apple teether, “dobby” for dame (give me) and emulates a ton of other words along the way.

Both girls have mastered a wide range of animal sounds. For a while, they were saying cat, gato, doggy, and working on horse and others. But now they almost always identify animals by the sounds they make, e.g. “mau” for kitty, “woooh” for dog, “neigh” for horse, “maah” for goat, “baah” for sheep, “mooo” for cow, etc. They also open and close their mouths for fish, giddy-up for horse, open and close their hand for butterfly, and sputter while raising an arm for elephant.

Both girls are starting to sing. One day several weeks ago, I sang the “Sing” song from Sesame Street. As I began the second verse, I realized that both girls were pitch matching with me. And when I got to the “La la la la la”s, Cate and Sam sang some “La”s, too. That song often makes me weepy anyway, and having our daughters join in definitely queued up some tears.

They also chime in some “cah, cah”s during Woody Guthrie’s “Car Song”, and some “dahn, dahn”s during Ralph’s World’s “River Flow.”

When the girls finish eating and we turn them loose in the kitchen, Sam goes straight to the step stool (that I’ve just gotten up from), slides it the last few feet to the stove, climbs up to the second/top step, and begins to emulate Dad making breakfast. If there is a spatula, she stirs it in the skillet, as if making eggs.

Cate will also climb the step stool, but by the time she gets to the second/top step, she’s close enough to her grown-ups to want “up!”

When we get to a playground, Cate makes a bee-line to the little kid slides. She can clamber up the steps, walk across the platform, sit down at the top of the slide, scoot over the edge, slide to the bottom, roll on to her belly and dismount, walk back over to the steps, and do it all again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sam often goes straight to the swings, but she needs help to get up into the bucket.

While dancing to “Dance around” from the Ralph’s World album, we get to the verse that says “Jump so high, jump so high, jump so high” and Sam does. It clearly takes a lot of concentration, but she has figured out how to bundle her energy and get airborne.

A few weeks ago, Sam was searching for a page in Kiss, Kiss. When I asked her what she was looking for, she looked at me and raised her arm. When it occurred to me that she might mean Daddy Bill’s gesture for an elephant trunk, and I flipped to the page with the Mama Elephant kissing the Baby Elephant, she smiled broadly.

One day last week, as part of the wind-down to nap time, I sang, “Miss Mary Mack.” I got as far as “with silver buttons, buttons, buttons” and Cate began to sputter at me. She then raised her arm. When I got to the line about “to see the elephants, elephants, elephants,” I realized what she was saying and why, and laughed out loud.

In mid-January, Bill went to Oklahoma City for two days. On Tuesday morning, as Bill was preparing to leave, I explained to the girls that Dad was “going for a ride in an airplane.” On Wednesday and Thursday, when we saw airplanes flying overhead, Sam pointed up at them and declared, “Da!”

Cate has begun to answer direct questions:

Mama Bob: Do you have poo?
Cate: No!
Mama Bob: Are you sure?
Cate: Yeah!

Sam is experimenting with sticking her fingers in her ears, and apparently noticing how the sound changes.

While looking at photos on my iPhone, Cate has reached out with her pointer finger, and in a very controlled fashion, swiped it across the screen from left to right, scrolling to the next-earlier photo.

Both girls are learning to say their names. Catie can manage the hard consonant and vowel combination to say “Cay-tee”, but neither girl has Ss to say “Sam” yet. Sam knows her sister’s name, but says it as an adorable barely-audible breathy whisper, “keh-ti.”

This list is long and doesn’t begin to cover their new-found capacities. But it does convey the flavor of the newest skills being practiced around here. If you want to know more, you should really come visit!

Butterflies! ¡Mariposas!

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Last Thursday, the girls woke from their midday naps around noon. We had lunch together in the kitchen, probably green beans, sliced chicken, sliced cheddar, and fresh berries.

Cate’s hair had grown down in front of her eyes again, so I got out our shears and umbrella capes (thanks, Em!), and trimmed girl bangs while they sat in their booster chairs. Sam still doesn’t have as much hair as Cate, and the direction of her front whorl mostly keeps it off of her forehead, but I found a few longer hairs to trim so she could participate, too. For the first time, both girls sat motionless and watched while I combed and trimmed the hair over their foreheads. They’re growing up!

By 2 pm, the girls had on socks and shoes, we had packed water bottles into the diaper bag, and were ready to go out. Sam was saying, “ca, ca, ca, ca” for “car” and Cate was saying, “go! go!”, but I wasn’t sure where we should go. Back to Ervan Chew or Cherryhurst again? Over to Fish Gallery? The zoo?

Then Claudia asked, “the museum?” At first I was confused, “which museum?”, but then I remembered that the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) has free admission on Thursdays from 2-5 pm. They also discount admission to the exhibits, like the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Away we went!

I really like HMNS, and I’ve been wanting to take Cate and Sam to see the butterfly conservatory for a while. But sometime in the last few years, as my brother pointed out to me, HMNS has become a lot more expensive. Specifically, there’s a non-trivial museum admission fee as well as non-trivial charges for any of the cool exhibits, like the butterflies or the IMAX movies. Even members have to pay extra to access the premium exhibits.

Kids under 2 are free, but for Claudia and me to take them to see the butterflies would ordinarily cost $15+8=$23 x 2 = $46. But on Thursdays, admission is free from 2 pm on, and the butterflies were only $2.50 each, so I only paid $5, total. Nice!

Hermann Park and the HMNS conservatory



An HMNS docent invited us to paw through his box of dead butterflies

Cate holding a dead butterfly

Sam holding a dead butterfly

Butterflies only live for about two weeks. Since the center is breeding and releasing them constantly, earlier cohorts are dying constantly. So there are always dead butterflies available for examination. Claudia and I both thought that was really cool. I don’t recall having touched one before now, and I was struck by the velvety feel of the wings.

However, Sam and Cate both seemed puzzled, or even dismayed, by the dead butterflies. At best, they perceived them as broken. At worst, they may have wordlessly contemplated death for the first time. That’s not exactly what I was going for when I started this outing.