Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Family (not the Chinese food kind)

There are so few photos of the three of us all together since I'm always the one holding the camera.  Here's one my father took last week and e-mailed to me.  Thanks, Dad!

Monday, July 26, 2010

What Do You See?

What you do see in this photo, is DC United player (and just-that-day-named-member-of-the-All-Star-team to play Manchester United next month), Jaime Moreno, inscribing a ball to Samantha at his soccer camp last Monday. What you do see are the cameramen from Comcast Sportsnet trying to capture the sweet and touching scene on video to be broadcast that evening. What you do see is Samantha, in all her glorious cuteness, rocking the Puma.  One other thing you may see (other than the sweat pouring down our faces and soaking our shirts) is me, with my hands on my hips, looking peeved. “Why?” you may ask…well, because of the things you don’t see in this photo.

What you don’t see in this photo is that Moreno is sponsored by Addidas (a fact that he pointed out jokingly when admiring Sammi's outfit).  What you really don't see is Samantha being a right little terror. You don’t see her digging her heels into the ground, refusing to even acknowledge Jaime (with whom she has been very affectionate in the past), refusing to take the ball, refusing to thank him, refusing to kick a ball around with him or with Steve (after being so excited to go play soccer as we were leaving the house), and basically saying “No!” to anything that was said to her. You also don't see her pushing him away when he tried to move in for a hug (typical!)Unfreakingbelievable. My little social butterfly, totally missing out on the golden opportunity to be the cute-little-girl-with-a-disability-interacting-with-soccer-star on tv. Okay, not too exploitative, right? But it would have been a very nice moment, had it gone as planned.

We left soon after to beat a coming storm (which thoroughly soaked us upon our arrival home). Thinking Samantha was sick, we took her temperature (normal) and gave her some Motrin, but she bounced back immediately and wanted to play as soon as we set foot back inside. Cheeky girl!

We caught the Sportsnet broadcast a little while later, and were relieved to see that they only included an interview with Jaime that they shot right after the Samantha fiasco, and not any of the other footage. I don’t think she would have done much for the Ds community and public awareness.  Oh well, there's always a next time...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

**Attention "Cutest Blog on the Block" Design Users**

Pure chance that I saw the warning signs on some blogs I was reading this morning, stating that the blog owners who use The Cutest Blog on the Block would lose their backgrounds on July 23rd, if they didn't update their code.  (Surely, this won't affect me, right?  Maybe this was just the sign I needed to give my blog the makeover I've been mulling over for the last few months...)  Once I looked into it, I discovered that it was nothing too terribly drastic, but I wanted to warn all you bloggers who use TCBOTB that you will lose your blog background tomorrow unless you either re-load the code now, or follow the directions below. They’ve lost their photobucket hosting and will be moving all of their designs tomorrow (they will still be free, and the new codes have already been posted on their site).

I sure don’t want any of you to wind up surprised and out in the cold!

(The following was copied from The Cutest Blog on the Block - I followed these directions and had no problems whatsoever.)

• Go to the place you pasted your background code in your blog
• Find in the code where it says:
• Replace it with:
• Click 'Save'
• You will no longer be at risk of loosing your blog's background once photobucket shuts down TCBOTB account
• You may notice that the blog background loads slowly over the next 24-48 hours while our servers are upgraded however everything will be back to normal after that. (Note:  I had to refresh my page to get my background to load after changing the code.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Child's Memories of Summer

Most of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the days of summer. Actually, when I even think of childhood, in the most non-specific ways possible, I think of summer. And they’re not those blazing bright, hot, uncomfortable memories, but the sepia-tinted, lazy-afternoon visions of brown cedar lakes and floating docks, terrycloth shorts and ice cream cakes, Star Wars trading cards and the mall bookstore, the smells of sunscreen and ocean sand, and grilled onions on the hotdogs from the wooden hut on the beach.

I’m not sure if summer was ever really completely like this, or if my rosy view has somehow evolved from wishful thinking, now that I’m so far removed from that time. Either way, wishful thinking doesn’t stop me from hoping I can recapture some of that now that I have a young child.

This weekend was a visit back to my South Jersey summers. We drove up to stay with my parents on the family farm my grandparents owned and lived on from the time I was 5 years old. My parents took over it when my grandfather passed away when I was in high school. The landscape and the house have changed pretty dramatically from that time, but they remain a bucolic utopia, unspoiled by suburban sprawl. Some other family members, some family friends, and three of my best high school buddies gathered with us on Saturday evening for a cookout with lots of gabbing and catching up. Samantha wasn’t too impressed by the fare, and, after picking at a hot dog, preferred to play with her toys in the house. Steve was only too happy to indulge her, not being a fan of heat or bugs, both of which were omnipresent outside. My friends and I talked about anything and everything, going with the natural flow of random conversation. I love having friends that remain so constant, over nearly 3 decades. Friends who don’t judge, who are happy to pick up where you left off when time gets away from you. I just wish we had had more time together.

Sunday was pre-determined to be a beach day. Okay, pre-determined by me. I was going to go to the beach come hell or high water, and was thrilled that my folks were on board with it and joined us. Samantha has been to the ocean a few times, but usually in the off-season, when staying and playing or going in the water was not an option. This time we came prepared to spend a few hours. It may as well have been a mere 10 minutes, from the way Samantha enjoyed herself, endlessly entertained by the sand and the water, going from shovel and bucket to shells and seaweed (“I got it! Ewwwww, gross!”), back and forth, purposefully dirtying her little hands so she could run to the water with an exaggerated, “Oh no! Hands dirty!” to rinse them off and start the process again. The day was capped off by a quick trip to a playground, pizza delivery and a drive to the local custard stand, tracking tenacious grains of sand with us wherever we went. I had forgotten how much I love South Jersey in the summer. We’ll be paying a longer visit to the beach in September, and I’ll be making a list of all the other memories I want to make then.

(By the way, the pics below are not watermarked.  I'm still trying to decide what to use and wanted to post these quickly without too much effort today.  I figure the thieves already stole plenty, a few more probably won't make much of a difference right now...)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Cause for Concern?

I love taking photos of Samantha. It’s my passion. I can see the progression from dolt-with-a-camera, back when she was born, to much-less-of-a-dolt-with-a-camera now, and I think she has definitely brought out the best in me. I’ve got soooo much to learn, but I feel certain that she will get me there, shining as brightly as she does.

For the last 3 years I have been posting my favorites shots up on Flickr (see sidebar). It’s a wonderful place to show your own photos and learn from others, and I like that my friends and family who do not live nearby can watch Samantha grow up. It also has social networking functionality, which allows you to comment on other people’s photos and receive comments on your own. There are specific groups people have set up to target their specific interests, some more outlandish than others, (for example, chosen in a random search: Green Smile Club, with the baffling description: “As you see, we are looking for green photos containing a fair amount of smile via a curvy shape” Huh?) where I’ve met some truly exceptional people who happen to be the parents of children with Down syndrome, who happen to love to celebrate their children and their lives in pictures. There’s even a private message component.

Ah yes, the private message component. Generally, I get the occasional message from an admirer of my photos. Once someone asked if they could use a few photos of Samantha for a presentation he was doing on Down syndrome for the hospital where he was a resident. I agreed, after a few well-placed internet searches and agreement by him that he would send me a copy of the presentation. And occasionally, I get the creepy ones, you know, the ones that make you think someone is up to no good. These have all been almost exactly the same, so I suspect they are from the same person or group of people. Written in broken English, identifying themselves as a young woman who is smitten with the photos of Sammi, and who is requesting that I allow her to use the images for her page. It’s really bizarre. If you scroll down to my last blog post and click on the comments, you’ll see one such message for yourself. I have always replied to the people sending me messages on Flickr by telling them I would not like them to use my images. But when I have checked my Flickr analytics, showing which photos were viewed most often, some had hundreds and hundreds of hits, far more (by hundreds and hundreds) than they should ordinarily have had. Curious. A few months ago, I decided to change my settings so my photos could not be downloaded by anyone but me (kind of a shame for my family in the UK who printed them off frequently).

A few days ago, I received two identical blog comments (one of which I have published, below). Identical to the messages I have received on Flickr. Asking for permission to use my photos, although there is no way to respond to the sender. My hit counter from Brazil went wild, showing that this person viewed 45 pages of my blog and spent an hour or more perusing and downloading. I will remedy this in some fashion in the near future by watermarking my images and posting only low resolution photos, but it’s pretty much a moot point for the shots they’ve already stolen.

I have absolutely no idea what they do with them. Sometimes I think I would just rather not know. Really. Do any of you have any insight into this practice, and have you ever seen similar messages? How concerned should I be? I know Samantha’s safe, but I don’t like the idea that her pics could be anywhere, being used for anything.

Leave it to the creeps to spoil all the fun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Just Another Day at the Office

Sammi's passions are computers (which we don't let her anywhere near) and telephones. 

Samantha loves talking on the phone. I honestly don’t know where she gets it, because it certainly isn’t from Steve - he abhors the phone and is the last person you’d find talking socially on one - and it’s likely not from me, since his aversion has rubbed off on me over the years and, frankly, I just don’t have the time. But her phone “conversations” are incredibly animated, accurate and appropriate, for someone who loves to gab on the phone. Seriously, her conversations will go something like this:

Samantha (leaning on the couch/table/chair/bed/sink/floor):  Hi, Gramma (or Grampa/Nana/Matthew/Marissa/etc.), how are you today? (pauses) Good! (pauses again) Yessss...okay.  Hahahahaha! (pauses yet again, then gets a horrified look on her face) Oh no!  Uh huh. Yes.  Okay, hold on… (hands the phone to me) It’s Gramma!  (or Grampa/Nana/Matthew/Marissa/etc.)

It’s just the incredibly casual way she leans on some piece of furniture or the floor that cracks me up every time, like a teenager talking to her best friend.  I can see her future very clearly at these moments, and it’s the same one I experienced as a teenager, shut away in my room sharing the juiciest gossip, stalling for time when my parents would come to tell me I’d been on the phone long enough, wishing for my own line so I didn’t have to constantly hear the phone downstairs being picked up and hung up over and over again by someone waiting to make a call…

Nope, I have no idea where she gets it, but I have often wondered what is hard-wired in humans (nature) and what is learned behavior (nurture), and I suspect that what she does is entirely natural.

(sorry about the quality of this one - another cell phone pic, literally)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Let Them Grow What They Will...

Give the children an opportunity to make a garden. Let them grow what they will. It matters less that they grow good plants than that they try for themselves. --Liberty Hyde Bailey

Got you, Mommy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Little Taste of Freedom and Independence

Since my marriage to an Englishman nearly two decades ago, I have been trying desperately to get my husband to join me in the most general of July 4th celebrations, not the least of which is the viewing of the traditional fireworks display. We lived in DC for 10 years, a decent walk away from the National Mall, where the most beautiful and extravagant fireworks are presented every year, but he would always decline, in favor of remaining at home. His justification is (mostly jokingly) that he sees no reason to celebrate the day our country gained its independence from his (now he states that it's the day his country let us have ours back...). And every year, I challenge him to poll a group of Americans about what July 4th is to them and defy him to come up with much more than answers akin to “fireworks” and “hotdogs on the grill.” I tell him to enjoy our ignorance and come party with the rest of us! Perhaps this has changed since September 11th, 2001, when Americans now more strongly recognize our troops who are fighting to maintain the liberties that we, as Americans, have, and for them we are so grateful.

We had our own little taste of freedom and independence, working hand-in-hand, this weekend. Samantha likes to try to exert her independence, as all 3 and 4 year olds do, but the reality of this is that we pretty much do not let her out of our sight unless she is locked in her room (we have a childproof door handle on the inside of her bedroom door, which will probably be coming off very soon...). She is not confident enough on stairs to allow her to roam the house alone, and after the scare with her pulling her dresser on top of herself last year, we’re extra vigilant about everything else. Lately she’s been really getting into the game of hide-and-seek. I now feel comfortable that her attention to the game is strong enough that she can count in one room and track us down in another, minutes later. She’s very focused in this, and is a relentless “seeker.” Also, she respects the gates I put up to block access to the other floors. She never tries to bypass them.

On Saturday night, we had some friends over for dinner, including their (typically-developing) 7 (sorry Susan, can’t remember how old N. is…did I get it right?) year old, N. We wanted to eat and socialize out on the deck, to enjoy the beautiful weather that is so uncharacteristic for July in this part of the country. Samantha had to be bribed with books and toys and potato chips to stay out there, as we really didn’t want her wandering around inside the house on her own. I think I spent more time chasing her and bringing her back out than I did actually enjoying the conversations we were having. Once we had finished eating, we stayed outside, and N. and Samantha went in. I figured the gates were on the stairs, and N. could keep Sammi entertained. And entertained, they were! Every time I looked in the window to the living room, they were engaged in a different game or activity. They went from playing doctor to having a tea party to drawing on magna-doodles to playing hide-and-seek. For nearly two hours. I was so impressed. I felt that little bit of freedom that comes with the acknowledgement of a child’s independence. I felt like allowing her to do those things will help to make her more confident, as well. At one point, I told N. that I’d have to put Sammi to bed soon, and nearly laughed at the sad look on her face when she said, “Can’t she wait and play with me until I leave?” I let Sammi play longer. 

We must have been feeling relaxed that evening, because we even let the cat out on the deck with us, which has always been a no-no. I forgot about him for a while, suddenly panicking when I realized I hadn't seen him in a while, until I saw him fast asleep on the grill cover on the floor in the corner. Enjoying his freedom and independence with the rest of us.

And now a few pics from the weekend. Steve stayed home while Samantha and I walked to the lake (just three blocks away) with friends to watch the fireworks under the stars.  Okay, that sounds so peaceful and romantic, but the reality was that every time the fireworks exploded Sammi cried, "No fireworks!" while being sure to still watch them.  She relaxed a bit when I covered her ears, but was very relieved to go home when they finished.  I actually was glad that Steve stayed behind, because he was then able to tell me when we returned that we have a perfect view of the light show from our deck. Perhaps next year we’ll all stay home.

Playing soccer (okay, sitting on the ball then falling off of it)

Waiting for the Fireworks with Matty & his Daddy

Waiting for the fireworks in a chair that matches her dress surprisingly well

Beating the heat

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Caillou and the Dragon

I thought for sure I’d blogged about television before, but looking back on my posts over the last year-and-a-half, I don’t think I have. Amazing.  What you're about to read comes with a disclaimer:  We are not bad parents!  We just have found a lot of good things about television and children's programming in the last 4 years.

Sammi has always been allowed to watch TV. Steve and I are already television junkies, and when Samantha was born we never really had a plan for how we would introduce and monitor TV time for a child. Of course for the first year she really had absolutely no interest in it. Then we discovered a love of the PBS Sprout channel as a perfectly adequate babysitter when we wanted to cook/clean/pee without a small child in the mix. We also began to notice a marked increase in Samantha’s verbal skills around this time. The programming she watched really sparked her interest, and, little mimic that she is, she began to copy some of what she was hearing. Now, mind you, we didn’t have the TV on all the time, just when it was convenient, and as a routine end to her evening, prefacing bedtime.

We also noticed that Samantha’s favorite programming usually revolved around characters that were more real, rather than fantastical. For example, she was obsessed with Nina and (creepy) Star from Sprout’s Goodnight Show (live action) and Caillou (cartoon of a mysteriously-bald Canadian 4-year-old boy in everyday family situations). When she graduated to Nick Jr. (more preschool-oriented programming) by age 3, she added in a love of Max & Ruby (cartoon rabbits, but who still portray everyday social situations, other than the fact that they have no parents and live in a big house by themselves. The words “roadkill," or "big dog roaming the neighborhood" come to mind, although they've never been confirmed…), Olivia (precocious grade-school-age cartoon pig and her family, also in everyday situations) and Little Bill (cartoon boy and his family living in the big city, produced by Bill Cosby). 

Her speech and language skills have exploded watching these shows.  She can recount episodes of each, telling them back in her own way (gotta pick up context!).  She has learned compassion and acceptable social behavior by modeling what she has seen these other “children” do. I watch these programs with her, over and over and over again, and can find no fault. She’s also at a stage now where she will watch for a short time, get up and turn the television off, saying “All done TV,” then sit down to read a book. I sometimes wonder who’s the parent and who’s the child when I see how in control of her TV “education” she is, and I’m amazed.

Below is an episode of Caillou that really caught me off guard when I first saw it nearly a year-and-a-half ago. Caillou’s preschool gets a visit from a new prospective student, Allen. While nothing is specifically said, I strongly suspect Allen sports an extra chromosome… More reasons to love TV.  Enjoy!