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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mama Retreat and Mama's Birthday

This year, as a very big Mother's Day/birthday present, I got to go on the Mama Self-Care Retreat led by yoga teacher Jane Austin, pilates teacher Stephanie Forster, and life coach Katie Cariffe. If you are a mom in the SF Bay Area or nearby, I would totally recommend looking into this for next year. I got to spend Friday-Sunday up at Mayacamas Ranch near Calistoga doing yoga and pilates, eating delicious (and healthy!) food, and talking with other mamas. They had massage therapists available (though I didn't partake), a Tarot reader (also skipped that one), and a nutritionist, Katie Lauderback, who gave a talk (she was awesome). We also got ample time to relax by the pool. Or nap. Or nap by the pool. Super spoiled. I went with a friend and it was great to have a chance to really connect with her in addition to meeting a bunch of other moms.

View from our room

One of our yummy meals

I thought I'd share some of things I took away from the retreat... to prove I got something out of it other than a tan. ;)

From the nutritionist - I need to eat more coconut oil. Healthy fats are nourishing, especially for those of us who might be depleted of nutrients after pregnancy... or two pregnancies in my case! Coconut oil in particular is supposed to support hormone regulation.

From pilates - I need to stop clenching my butt. (Hahahaha!)

From yoga - Jane ends each class by telling us to touch our hands to our heads as a reminder of right thought, to our lips as a reminder of right speech, and to our hearts as a reminder of right intention. And she says that "right" simply means with compassion. I love that.

From the life coaching - I was nervous going into coaching. It was done whole group, all of us in a big circle. The thing is, I already do put effort into taking care of myself - I go to the gym, I get my nails done once a month, I go to a parenting support group with my girlfriends, James and I do a date night once a month, I pray, I read, I write this blog... but honestly I went in there feeling guilty about the little things. Things like letting Calvin play by himself while I sit and drink my coffee and check Facebook during Henry's morning nap. Or spending precious naptime freedom on Candy Crush and reality TV instead of cleaning. I went in there thinking that all the other moms would be these truly selfless, saintly mamas who were going to make me feel like an asshole. Of course, it's always me making myself feel like an asshole. And the other mamas were just normal parents like me, doing the best they can. So I guess my takeaway was just a reminder that I don't have to be constantly trying to do more. I'm enough. I'm doing enough. I do a lot, not everything, but my kids are happy and healthy - as healthy as can be expected. It's ok to be human-mom and not supermom. Sane human-mom is probably a lot better than crazy supermom!

I'm very grateful to James for encouraging me to go on the retreat and for taking care of the boys all weekend while I was gone. I was back for Memorial Day and we decided to spend the day out at the park. We went to two parks, actually, and then to dinner at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company (of course, because we love that place!)

Busy bag in action!

You can see how much Calvin liked his salmon. #smh

The next day was my birthday and I decided I wanted to spend it at the zoo. I love taking to the boys to the zoo. It's only about ten minutes from our house and we have a membership. We go like every other week! It's so relaxing to just walk around and enjoy the animals. Calvin loves it and gets really excited, and Henry is starting to take interest in the animals too.

That night Hartley babysat and James and I went out to dinner with a few friends. It's so nice to have an excuse to get together without all of our kids!

Creme brulee with shortbread cookies and an espresso martini! 
The retreat was great, my birthday was great, and really the rest of this week has been great too. Henry is getting to be quite a roly poly - still gotta catch him on camera! - and I'm not stressing myself out about his eating. Just feeding him when he's hungry and following all the doctors' orders, and he seems to be doing much better. Calvin had some upset moments after I was gone for the weekend, but I think that's totally normal and other than that he seems to be his usual sunny self. I had this really fun experience at the grocery store with Calvin where I started letting him help me "read" our grocery list and look for the fruits and vegetables we needed. It was also the first time he grabbed an item off the shelf and threw it into the cart! Some kind of chocolate covered crackers. He tossed in two packages of them! #nicetry. I'm feeling very well and very grateful and very sunny myself. And it's refreshing. So happy birthday to me.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

UN-Crafty Busy Bags

Once upon a time before my boys were born I made these very crafty busy bags for my friend's son Sagan. And since having kids, I've managed to keep up my crafting hobby a little bit and to make them some fun DIY toys/activities so far. I've been wanting to make some busy bags for Calvin because he is such a great age for something like that... but what if I'm too busy to make busy bags?? Solution: throw together some easy - but still fun! - busy bags using small cheap toys and stuff we already had!

If you'd rather BUY than DIY :)
I saw an idea on Pinterest from the blog All Things Simple to use pencil pouches for busy bags and put them in a binder. Sounded very neat and organized, so I ordered this set of pouches on Amazon and I tried it out putting them in a binder. But even when I tried to stick to really flat items, it was just too fat to be easy to carry. It would have to be a pretty big binder. I prefer a tote bag, but I still like the pencil pouches because they are nice and sturdy (as opposed to zip lock bags, which is what I used for Sagan's busy bag... sorry Rachel!).

Small puzzle (Target) + tiny board book

Party favor-size Fun Dough ( I think these are from the Dollar Tree?) + small cookie cutters

A few cards from a matching game we already had. It's the Eboo Classic Matching Game. I had split the game up into sets because matching 24 pictures is WAY too many for Calvin's attention, and I just stuck one set in with the busy bags! You can usually find matching card games at the Dollar Tree for a cheaper option. 

Cheap little Magna-Doodle-type toy from Target. Calvin's never even seen Doc McStuffins! But he likes this toy.

Sticker album set from Dollar Tree

Little 4-packs of crayons from Target + computer paper, cut and stapled. For a cuter drawing surface, of course you could buy a notepad :)
The idea here is not to necessarily use these exact things, but to make one trip to Target or the Dollar Store and find a few simple items that you could turn into some easy busy bags. Or maybe even grab some small toys you already have at home to use temporarily in busy bags.

Here are some other ideas:
- small cars
- a handful of Duplos (or Legos if your kid is older)
- small animal figures
- colorful baby socks that your kid has outgrown, as a matching game (still waiting for Henry to outgrow those...!)

Anybody else have ideas to share?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Problem with a Crystal Ball

This weekend we attended a 22q family meeting at UC Davis' MIND Institute (MIND =  Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) in Sacramento. All week I was nervous about going to this event. It was on the day that other cities were holding "22q at the Zoo" events, but this was the only event we heard about in our area and instead of doing a day at the zoo they called it "22q with the Zoo" and had the Sacramento Zoomobile come bring animals to the kids who were in the care of babysitters (UC Davis students volunteering) while the parents were in the meeting.

Calvin had a blast. Of course all the babysitters loved him and doted on him and went on and on about how awesome he is. #tellmesomethingidontknow ;) Henry was even a pretty good sport about hanging with the babysitters so that James and I didn't have to keep him with us. Calvin got some fancy face/body paint and got to see some reptiles from the Zoomobile. 

These pics were taken at a restaurant after the event. 
The meeting was kind of like a conference where different researchers and doctors gave short presentations on different aspects of development and care for kids/people with 22q. Feeding and eating... general medical needs and care... speech development and concerns... all the way to the really fun stuff like early signs and treatments of psychosis. Yiiiiiiikes. See why I was nervous? Who wants to sit in a meeting and hear about how your adorable two year old is at higher risk for developing schizophrenia??

Deep breath.

I didn't want to go. I felt like we had enough information to support Calvin right now. But James - being all science-y and knowledge-is-power-y wanted to be a pro-active parent and go hear the latest research. I do think it was the responsible thing for us to do. But being responsible is hard.

The last presentation was a panel discussion which included two young women with 22q who were there to share with us about their "transition to adulthood." One of the girls was an aspiring filmmaker who had worked with an inclusive film program at Davis (I think it was at Davis...) and she showed us a short film she had edited and produced. The other girl had a Master's degree in some area of child development (sorry, I don't remember the actual name of her field!) and she was currently a teacher. A 22q adult with a Master's degree is a pretty big deal. We were impressed. She was also married. 

It was encouraging to see these two women because it shows us that some people with Calvin's syndrome grow up to live "normal," healthy, and fulfilled lives. It took them a great deal of work and a great deal of navigating services to get the support they needed (for school/work/medical stuff), but they're all grown up and doing it on their own. 

The thing about having a kid with a diagnosis is that it's possible to make predictions and guesses about his future based on other people with the same diagnosis. Seeing those women was a little bit like looking into a crystal ball and seeing that college, graduate school, and marriage are all within the realm of possibility for Calvin. And that's a great thing to be able to hold on to - this vision of Calvin as an independent and successful adult. 

The problem is that the crystal ball also shows all the scary and worrisome possibilities. The research on the 22q population shows us lots of increased risks. Medical problems. Speech disorders. Learning disorders. Anxiety disorders. Psychosis. 

And I'm like noooo! Why did I look?! I didn't want to know those things! It's a burden to know those things. It's a burden James and I have to carry because it's our job to see them coming, catch the early signs, and get him help. A common theme from all the researchers and docs talking about all those possible disorders is that early interventions show the best results. Getting help as soon as possible is the best solution anyone's got at the moment. 

But I have to hold on to that vision of Calvin's possible happy future. How do I do that with the word schizophrenia haunting the back of my mind?? Then of course, there's also Henry and the crystal ball of possible outcomes for Dup15q!

Of course this "crystal ball" only shows possibilities. Only Calvin and Henry can show us what their outcomes will be. But I feel like these diagnoses have robbed us of the freedom to be fully optimistic about their future. We have to find a way to hope for the best, to believe in the best possibilities for them, while also working our asses off to mitigate the problems. And it's not just about looking to the future. Even if we put aside the crystal ball and focus on the present, it is still hard to balance caring for their needs and worrying about their struggles, with enjoying them and appreciating how wonderful they are. 

I remind myself that all parents have to do that. We all have to balance the effort of parenting with remembering to enjoy our kids. We all have to balance hope and worry for our kids' futures. From what I can tell, the difference for special needs parents is that crystal ball. Not every parent has doctors and researchers listing probable outcomes for their children. It's a blessing and a curse. And we're doing our best with it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's Not Your Fault It's Windy

Alternate titles: The Camping Trip that was Not Meant to Be ... or... Now That's My Kind of Camping!

The reason I say it was not meant to be is that this was already our second attempt to take the boys camping at Henry Coe State Park. It is a gorgeous park in Morgan Hill, CA and James and I have been backpacking there a couple of times. We had hoped to catch some nice warm weather and enjoy a weekend of good old family car camping. We originally reserved a campsite a few weeks ago, but when rain showed up on the forecast, we cancelled and rescheduled for Mother's Day weekend. The trip wasn't specifically for Mother's Day, but I was on board to spend my Mother's Day on the sunny, warm camping trip I was imagining. 

Henry is psyched!

So we get there, get out of the car... it's a lot cooler than I was expecting. But it was late afternoon, so I'm thinking, OK it will be nice tomorrow, it's fine. Little wardrobe change... jackets on... let's set up camp. 

We like to bring dinner already cooked for our first night of camping, so we made chili the night before and James warmed it up on the camp stove. (No campfires allowed! :( Terrible drought here.) And as we're setting up camp and cooking we quickly find that it's not just cool, it's getting cold, and worse, it is really windy. 

Lovely campsite, gorgeous views of the mountains all around. But I was starting to feel miserable in the wind and I also realized that I didn't pack warm enough clothes for myself or the boys to deal with this wind chill. James had checked the forecast for Morgan Hill, but didn't think to check the forecast for the higher elevation point where our campsite was. Oops.

I may or may not have acted like kind of a brat about the wind... (I'm sure my parents have no idea what I'm talking about.) But I pulled myself together and tried to apologize to James for my grumpiness. I hugged him and I said "I'm sorry I'm taking it out on you. It's not your fault it's windy." And he said "Thank you. That means a lot to me." And then we laughed at how ridiculous that all sounded.

We stuck it out overnight, and in our sleeping bags we were all warm enough to sleep. But we could hear the wind howling like crazy and I kept imagining all our dishes and gear being blown away! In the morning the wind showed no signs of stopping, so we decided to bail because it just wasn't going to be as much fun as we had hoped.

I talked James into turning our weekend into kind of a "staycation" by going to a hotel for the night instead of just going home. Someplace with a pool where we could play with the babies... where we could order in Mother's Day breakfast and neither of us would have to cook or clean up... and even though it was a crazy idea we went for it.

James booked a room at Hayes Mansion in San Jose and we made a Target run to pick up swimsuits and dinner outfits for James and myself.

We spent the afternoon at the pool and then had dinner in the outdoor lounge. It was chilly, but there were heaters and the wind was much calmer since we were in the valley and not on the mountain. We laughed about sitting around the firepit because it was like getting the campfire experience that we wouldn't have been able to have at our campsite!

The next day was Mother's Day. We breakfasted at the hotel, then spent the rest of the morning at the pool again. When we finally had to check out, I didn't want to go home yet because I didn't want the weekend to be over. So we went to a park to hang out until dinner time and had dinner at a pizza place to satisfy my craving for Chicago style deep dish. Yum!

Of course the pictures make it look perfect, and in reality there were more ups and downs besides the wind. Henry's reflux was particularly bad and he was vomiting more than usual. Presumably this was because I had tried to back off his Prevacid dose - I just don't want to give him more than he needs, but clearly he still needs it twice a day. So that made for several unpleasant clean-ups. Also Calvin had a really tough time sharing his water toys at the pool. But looking back, I remember it as a really great weekend overall. Henry's vomiting and Calvin's toddler-ness... those things are just a part of our lives for the moment. Can't let them ruin the happy memories. The wind wasn't James' fault. The vomiting isn't Henry's fault. Gotta shake it off and focus on the good stuff.


James and I like to pride ourselves on being able to figure things out on the go. (Good thing, because we are definitely "building the plane in the air" when it comes to parenting!) We like to be laid back about changing plans when we need to or want to. It was really satisfying to feel like we could still be spontaneous even with our two little nuggets in tow! You gotta do some crazy, fun things as a family every once in a while! #gowiththeflow #changeofplans #buildtheplaneintheair #onlyamazingthingsin2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

Wellness Update: Hearing, Feeding, and Playing

To end another busy week (is there any other kind of week??), we are getting ready to go camping! So I gotta make this quick!

Calvin - 
Our case worker found a spot for him in a speech therapy play group! Still waiting to hear when he can start.

He had a hearing test a couple of weeks ago and it looks like his hearing is fine and all the parts of his ears are working fine. (He is followed by audiology because his submucous cleft palate puts him at risk for hearing and ear problems. So far he hasn't had any. Yay!) The test was really interesting to watch. She gave him toys and showed him that when he hears a sound, he is supposed to add a toy. For example, they started with a ring stacking toy. So every time he heard a tone, he was supposed to add a ring to the stack. Then they did the same with putting blocks in a tub, and lastly with stacking blocks. He did amazing! The tone would sound, he'd look up at the doctor and hold up the toy as if to say, "Now? I do it now, right?" And she would nod and he'd add the toy. He nailed it.

These are blurry because of the two-way mirror. Henry and I were in the outside room watching Calvin.
Calvin was in the booth with the doctor.

Henry - 
Poor Henry was so sick with a fever for several days, followed by several days of a runny nose! He is finally well again, I'm glad to report.

The swallow study was last Monday and oh it was stressful. Doctors talking fast, giving instructions to one another, adjusting Henry, telling me when to start and stop feeding him, switching bottles, switching nipples, and me only vaguely knowing what is going on! Basically they took an x-ray video of his throat while I fed him liquids at different consistencies and with different bottle nipples to see what thickness of liquids he is able to swallow without "aspirating." Aspiration is when a little bit of the liquid actually goes down the trachea into the lungs.

On Thursday we had an appointment with his feeding therapist (OT) and she explained the findings of the study. They tested two levels of thickness and they referred to the thinner one as "thin" and the thicker one as "nectar." Henry was able to swallow the "nectar" thick liquid without aspirating. When drinking the "thin" one, he aspirated several times, regardless of which bottle nipple was used (the different nipples make the liquid flow faster or slower). Normal formula would be a "thin" liquid. Meaning that when he drinks formula, he is likely aspirating a teeny bit every time.

So this means we have to thicken his formula to a more "nectar"-like consistency using a special thickener called Thick-It. But it's complicated because the thicker it is, the harder it is for him to suck it out of the bottle. But the thinner it is, the more likely that he will aspirate. So there's a process of trial and error involved in finding just the right thickness and also the right bottle nipple.

THANKFULLY, after just a few days of this formula + thickener circus we seem to have struck a balance that is working! Other good news is that the swallow study confirmed that he has no trouble eating purees, so he can keep eating his solid foods (with oils added for calories!). And the best news of all is that I have seen a big improvement in Henry's mood, energy, and appetite over the past 24 hours, ever since we hit the sweet spot with the Thick-It. Fingers crossed and prayers lifted that it's not just a fluke and that this new feeding plan will work for a good long while! It is so reassuring to see him happy, fed, and ready to play.

Speaking of play, Henry also had his first physical therapy session this week. I like our therapist and look forward to seeing her every week. She will come to our house every Tuesday to work with Henry for an hour and it's during Calvin's nap time, so it's nice and peaceful in the living room. From our first session, it sounds like the immediate goal is to improve his neck strength. He still isn't really holding his head up for long periods. He tends to tilt his head back and kind of rest it on his shoulders and spine. So she showed me how to encourage him to "engage his neck muscles" and really use those muscles to support his head.

We also talked about getting Henry a new seat to use on the floor for playing. He sits in the Bumbo which gives him a chance to play sitting up, but it's also a pretty major workout for his trunk and neck. His therapist said it would be good for him to also have a chair where he doesn't have to work to sit and he can focus on learning to manipulate toys. He can do this in his high chair, but I had been thinking it would be nice to have something he could use in the living room and that we could bring to our friends' houses for him to use. So I went ahead and ordered him this chair, which is actually a feeding seat by The First Years brand. Though it's a feeding seat, he can use the tray for toys. It can sit right on the floor in our play area and it's small enough to be relatively portable.

That was not actually quick. Oh well! A-camping we will go! Gotta finish packing and load up the car! Camping post coming next week.... :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blooming Blossoms Gift Wrap

Haven't had much time for crafting lately, but I've got a few past projects up my sleeve waiting to be shared ;) So here's one that I think would be perfect for Mother's Day! I made this gift wrap to decorate a birthday gift for my dear friend Rachel. As I've said before, I like to use plain brown postal paper and decorate it instead of buying wrapping paper. I like having the opportunity to get crafty and I also enjoy the challenge of dreaming up a creative way to dress it up.

For Rachel, I wanted to do something pretty and nature-y and I ended up putting together this 3-D flower design! I've done similar things with hearts and butterflies. This concept is definitely adaptable.

Plain postal paper (or other wrapping paper)
Card stock
Paper punch in the shape of a flower*
Glue or adhesive dots**
Optional: embellishments like pearl or jewel stickers

*If you don't have a punch, you could cut out flowers by hand.
**I used foam adhesive dots. The foam dots add some height because they are thick.

-Start by wrapping your gift with the plain paper or wrapping paper.

-Punch out your desired number of flowers. You'll need at least two flower punches for each flower in the finished product. Let's call those "blooms." So to make 4 blooms, I punched out 8 flowers.

-Bend each flower petal up towards the center and crease it just slightly.

-Arrange the flowers. For each bloom, stack two flowers together and turn them so that the petals from the bottom one fill in the gaps between the petals on the top one. For fuller flowers, you could try adding layers, but you might have to start making the top layers smaller. Attach the layers together with glue or other paper adhesive, then attach them to your wrapped package.

- Cut out leaves using scissors. I cut mine freehand, but you could print a leaf shape, cut it out and use it as a tracer. Or freehand draw leaves, then cut them out.

- Curl the leaves around a pencil to give them some dimension as well. Then glue just one end of each leaf to the package, arranging them around the blooms.

Honestly, I'm not totally satisfied with how the leaves turned out. Next time I might crease them down the middle instead of curling them, or maybe just curl them less... But the finished product was still quite pretty!

- Add pearls, jewels or other embellishments to the center of each bloom or around the blooms as you like.

I don't have a picture of it, but I wrote my "Happy Birthday Rachel... Love, Diana" message right on the brown paper around the flowers. It would be cute to add a little gift tag to the bouquet with the To/From.

Have fun, and Happy Mother's Day!!

Here are my previous gift wrap posts if you're interested :)

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String (4 ways to dress them up for Christmas)

DIY Gift Tags (Embellished gift tags for wine bottles and goody bags)

Turning Two at the Zoo (Turn wrapped presents into habitats for toy animals!)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Signing as a Second Language

The boys are feeling better, though their noses are still like leaky faucets! Henry has eaten pretty well the past couple of days so that feels like an improvement. I'll give more of a wellness update later in the week after we get through the appointments that were rescheduled from last week.

The one appointment that we were able to keep last week was a meeting with our case worker from Golden Gate Regional Center. She came to do Calvin's yearly eval and to talk to me about finally setting him up with speech therapy. So I'm happy to say that we're very close to getting him set up with a therapy play group.

In the meantime, Calvin is starting to say more words! It's hard to understand him, but he's definitely talking. Some of his new words are help, splash, tiger, and bubbles. And he's improving on how he says some of the words he was already using like light. We're starting to hear beginning and ending consonants with that one so it sounds more like "yight" instead of just sounding like "I."

He's combining these new words with his signs to communicate. His doctors (and case workers and everybody else) are always impressed with how well he communicates using sign language. We're super proud of him and, as I've said before, super thankful that it has worked so well for us. The docs (and others) always ask, How did Calvin learn sign language? Well, his dad and I taught him. Then they ask, How did you learn it? And the answer is that we started with a baby sign class and then went kind of DIY from there.

We wanted to go beyond the typical small repertoire of baby signs (milk, more, food, help, etc.) and really try to equip Calvin with enough words to communicate not just his needs, but - to some extent, still limited - his thoughts and ideas. Last I counted (I actually keep a list!), Calvin knows and uses 112 signs. He can combine them into two or three word sentences. This is comparable to the spoken vocabulary of a typically developing 24-month-old.

If you're interested in signing with your child, here are the things we did (and still do!) to learn signs ourselves to be able to teach them to Calvin. It feels like I'm learning ASL as a second language, and for Calvin it's really his first language!

1. Take a class.
If you're near San Francisco, Touch Blue Sky does classes at different locations in and around the Bay Area. We took the one called Playgroup Zoom when Calvin was 6 months old at Natural Resources and we loved Bill White, the instructor. He really inspired me to take sign language seriously. Wherever you are, check out parenting resource organizations to find a class. My Smart Hands is another organization that I like and they offer classes all around the US and Canada.

2. Get an app.
Speaking of My Smart Hands, their app is another nice way to get started. We eventually outgrew the app and needed more words than the app had in it's dictionary, but it was plenty of signs for us in the beginning. There are other apps out there so definitely shop around and read the reviews. It was nice to be able to just grab my phone and look up a word when I found myself talking to Calvin about something I didn't know the sign for.

3. Use a book.
Also from Laura Berg of My Smart Hands, we have The Baby Signing Bible. It has lots of great info about using sign language with little ones and it's another easy way to look up words on the fly. Again, there's other books so shop around, but this is the one I can vouch for :)

4. Google it.
This is what I do most of the time. But I have a specific ASL website that I look for in the search results. Signing Savvy has a pretty extensive dictionary and simple, clear videos. The catch is that unless you have a subscription, their search feature is kind of a drag. You type in a word and it takes you to the entire list of words starting with the same letter, so you have to scroll (or ctrl+f) for the one you wanted. I find it easier to Google "ASL" and whatever word I was looking for, then click on the Signing Savvy search result. Or you could add "Signing Savvy" to your search terms. We should probably just pay for a membership and support them, but we haven't yet. ASL Pro also seems to be a good one. They have a very extensive dictionary.

5. Watch videos.
Laura Berg of My Smart Hands has some videos on YouTube with her own kids, and Baby Einstein also has a baby signs video on YouTube. I've heard good things about the Baby Signing Time series, but never used it myself.

6. Learn from friends. 
Friends who had kids before us set the example of what it looks like to sign with your baby. I feel lucky to have other parent friends who also use sign language with their kids because it means we can learn from each other and also communicate with each others' kids a little more easily. (Mainly it means Calvin can communicate with them more easily.)


No, I'm not being sponsored by any of those organizations, I've just used their resources and it's been helpful. Here are a few other tips from my personal experience signing with Calvin that might be useful for other parents getting started with signing :)

5 Tips for Signing with Babies or Toddlers

1. Say the word and do the sign together.
I remember being in baby sign class and asking "Um, how do I teach it to him??" And the answer is to simply model the signs. When you say milk, open and close your hand. When you say food, put your fingers to your lips. You don't have to say anything extra. It's the same way they learn to talk, they observe and learn to imitate. They will likely learn the sign first, then start saying the word with it and eventually they'll drop the sign and just say it. You don't have to differentiate between signing and talking.

2. Don't sign "cow" unless there's a cow in the room.
Hee hee. That is a direct quote from Bill White, who taught the baby sign class we took. It means that context is important for building meaning. This is important for teaching new signs. Once your child knows a sign, of course you can refer to things that aren't actually there. Like when Calvin signs the names of the animals he wants to see or expects to see at the zoo, before we are actually there.

3. If it's close, it counts.
A friend with an older kid told me that if the baby does something that looks similar to a sign you've shown him, assume he was using the sign even if you're not sure. So if Calvin was kind of opening and closing his hand, I'd be like "Milk? Oh here's your bottle." And give him the bottle. It reinforces that when he does that action, it has this meaning.

4. Start with a class, then add words as needed.
Starting out with a class is nice because the teacher can help you understand the how and why behind signing with kids. It will also give you a solid repertoire of signs to start with. Eventually, you may find yourself wanting to teach your kid more words beyond what you learned in the class, so then you can turn to one of those other resources I mentioned.

Context is important, so teach signs for things your child is interested in, things you want them to learn about, and things they see around them. Around Christmas, Calvin was learning signs quickly so I excitedly taught him Jesus, Christmas, star, the names for all the animals in the manger, and also Santa, presents, stockings, and reindeer :) Calvin loves animals, so many many of the signs he knows are names of animals. He also knows signs for his favorite foods and toys.

5. Their signs may not look like your signs, so pay attention!
Baby motor skills are wobbly still developing, as is their sense of where their body is in space. So if they do some weird hand thing every time they see a cat, even if it barely resembles the actual ASL sign for cat, that is probably what they were going for.

For example, the signs for pig and frog are supposed to be done with your hand under your chin. Well, Calvin apparently can't find his chin (can't blame him, he barely has a chin!), so he does those signs on his opposite wrist. Weird. Whatever. He knows what he's saying and I know what he's saying.

Keep modeling the signs correctly yourself to reinforce the correct way of doing it, and eventually they will find their chin. Or start talking. Whichever comes first ;) I think making an effort to teach the signs correctly shows respect for ASL as a real language used by many people. Also, I don't want to accidentally say a swear word in ASL in public by doing a sign the way my kid does it!


I hope this post is helpful! I'm not an expert, I never studied any of this formally, but I'm a busy mama with a speech-delayed kid and our family has had a lot of success with sign language. Please add tips and resources if you have any to share!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sick Week

This week did not go as expected! Of our 4 scheduled appointments only one actually happened. Everything else got rescheduled because poor little Henry got sick! High fever, then a runny nose (A very runny nose. I'm talking epic snot.) and then a rash. Doc says it looks like he had a virus that caused a respiratory infection. Rash indicates that the virus has run its course, but the remaining snot-face-ness and return of the fever mean that he needs antibiotics for the respiratory infection. Calvin never had the fever or rash, but he's definitely got the runny nose. 

I have to admit I'm actually relieved to have been spared the busy week I was gearing up for. But I was kind of bummed to be house-bound. While the rest of the Bay Area was probably at the beach enjoying this heat wave, we've been making do with the sunny spots in our wilderness of a backyard. Calvin doesn't care. He couldn't be happier. Some bubbles, a tub of water and his bath toys... he could stay out there and splash all day!

So instead of the wellness update that I thought I'd be sharing, here are some adorable pics of Calvin in the back yard :)

Bubbles, please.

How do I open this thing?

Water toys!

Signing octopus while holding an octopus. Calvin, don't talk with your hands full ;)