Monday, October 6, 2014


Every parent wants to imagine that his or her children are going to grow up and still be close friends.  We imagine our children supporting each other through the hard times; working together when we are aging and frail; our daughters going on shopping trips together; the older ones passing their parenting knowledge along as their nieces and nephews come along.  Some siblings stay close, others drift apart; some buckle down and support each other when the going gets tough, and some hide their weaknesses from their siblings at all costs.  What makes the difference?  We have our ideas, but in the end, we never really know.

So I don't know what the future holds, but this is what I see: I look into my living room, and I see the three best friends that childhood could imagine.  If you asked about their friends, they would each name someone from their respective classes, and then maybe a couple other kids in the same breath.  At this age, "friendship" means "we had fun playing together yesterday."  What they have with each other, is something more real than they can even understand.

Of course, friendship IS having fun playing together.  Which is the first part of it.... how can any outside friendship match the hours and hours and hours Hibiscus, Sunflower and Buttercup spend engaged together?  They wake up in the morning and tumble into each other's beds; by the time we come along to try to goad them into ridiculous concepts like "putting clothes on," they are already deep in their fantasy world of the morning.  If the day is pleasantly unscheduled, they will glide through a few hours of intense play negotiation until we manage to herd them all in the direction of breakfast, and they tumble straight from their toast into their own world.  Lately, there have been a lot of forts in the living room.  If left alone, they will continue to play for the entire day.  The forts turn into reading books; then there is a pack of dogs who need to go to the vet; toy trucks are zooming around for some urgent reason; baby dolls are comforted, wrapped, and fed snacks.  They are interrupted by the occasional negotiation gone awry, which involves some screaming and hurt feelings; and, like a very small herd of buffalo, migrate from the living room to the bedroom, and then right out the door to the yard.  When I serve lunch or snack, it is immediately co-opted into their imagination -- Sunflower holds the round cracker above his head, and suddenly they are all in a cathedral serving communion, intoning something serious.  The cheese comes in very handy, because the girls are dogs and Sunflower is trying to train them, so the snack is distributed in bits, hand to mouth.

If they day is unscheduled, they can fill it with play.  But if there are other things going on, they still discover all these moments to squeeze in their games, imagination, contests, and ideas.  Daddy and I are not at all amused when bedtime involves running up and down the halls, feats of strength, making up new songs, hiding and popping out, and millions of other high-jinx -- but there is no doubt that the kids are having fun!

Some families, probably the ones with outgoing mothers, are always going to play dates and on multi-family adventures and all kinds of activities.  We do things a couple times a week, but I've never been able to manage an active social life, and doubt I ever will.  Therefore, the sheer amount of hours that the three of them spend playing together will never be equaled by more distant play mates!

Then there's the support that they offer each other.  When it comes to sibling bonding and making lasting friendships, it's hard to imagine anything more powerful than three book-loving children, only one of whom can decipher the actual words.  Sunflower is constantly engaged to "read me this one" or "read me that," and they all huddle together, heads close, all potential arguments forgotten as they are lost in the picture book.  I am quite sure that this arrangement means that the girls have had more books read to them than a busy parent could ever manage, and that early-reader Sunflower has had more inspiration to extend himself and read massive amounts of books... even when he wanted to give up or at first thought the words were too hard.

Besides enjoying having a reader in their midst, they appreciate taking care of themselves and helping each other.  Children of this age feel really good when they are able to be self-sufficient, and the next best thing is keeping the sufficiency within the children.  When they are turning into horses to pull their covered wagon up and down the hallways, they all are relieved that Hibiscus can tie the knots to connect everyone together, and that she's big enough to actually move the "wagon;" that's much better than having to bring a grown-up into the play!  And when they want something read, written, spelled, or figured out, it feels much more reasonable to get Sunflower to do it.  By combining their skills, their group is much stronger, which clearly gives them all a deep satisfaction.  Buttercup doesn't have many strengths she can contribute just yet, but it's perfectly clear that most games are more fun with a third party.  What fun is being the mom and dad if you don't have a baby (or a dog) to play with?

Then there is the sense of justice that they extend to each other.  Now, we must start by acknowledging that they are all in the black-and-white stage of childhood that appreciates justice and rules much more than mercy and individual circumstances.  So, at bedtime when Hibiscus breaks several family policies and then isn't ready when the timer goes off, the younger children are happy to get into bed with me and smug that they have finished their jobs and get to listen to books.  "Shall I shut the door?" asks Sunflower.  "Yes, she is TOO LOUD," Buttercup complains about her tantruming sister.  Mercy and pity is not in evidence in the literal early childhood stage!

But when Sunflower has earned a privilege that is more nebulous, he may gloat for just a moment.  (Especially when Hibiscus has been particularly obnoxious lately, which was probably why he earned something she didn't.)  But then he starts to worry.  And finally he decides to share what he has with her -- "maybe I can be the leader, but she can come along too."  Or "what about Hibiscus? I'll make an extra one for her."

And when Hibiscus enjoys one of the privileges that age grants her, like going to a birthday party, she doesn't forget her siblings.  At a party a couple weeks ago, the other girls scolded her for picking up multiples of the same item from the pinata, but she braved her peers' scorn in order to bring home the same prizes she got for her brother and sister.

As for Buttercup, there is little she can actually do to help out her faster, stronger, and wiser siblings, but she honors them with unfettered adoration.  Which is a pretty powerful gift.

Buttercup is also reaching the point where she is a genuine part of the play process.  Last fall, Buttercup was always the baby of the family, to be hauled around, or the patient with a busy doctor and nurse surrounding her.  She still isn't the leader of their play, and she probably never will be, but now she is acting under her own agency -- she's a dog busily learning tricks, and her voice is heard saying "let's pee-tend I'm da one doin' dat" and "let's play dat I'm da dog now, okay?"  And she does and she is.  She is contributing her own personality, which enriches the game for everyone.  The children do not say this in so many words, but it is clear that everyone appreciates it.

So are the children best friends?  They wouldn't say they are, because they also make each other so intensely mad.

When Hibiscus is frustrated with the world, she is defiant to me, and goads Sunflower.  She especially goads Sunflower when being defiant to me isn't getting her anywhere interesting, which is always.  And she's very good at it -- perhaps he's exceptionally teaseable or trustworthy, but she can pretty much always make him crying mad, which is a good enough reward for her.  It's more likely that big sisters can always make their little brothers and sisters crying mad; it's just Nature's gift to big sisters!

Hibiscus is also excellent at telling her brother and sister what to do in exactly the way that frustrates them the most; the kind of advice they don't want to hear from a parent, but gently phrased they would understand that maybe the parent was right.  From Hibiscus it is never anything less than a grave insult, resulting in times when Buttercup screams "sto-AAAAAH-p, Hibiscus you not da PEEE-rent!" when Hibiscus even tries to speak to her.

And Buttercup is always being awkward and touching someone who doesn't want to be touched, or saying something when it stopped being funny any more, or copying when it's annoying or appreciative.  And Sunflower is not always graceful about defending his personal space, or using his words before he starts screaming.  He is busily capitalizing Nature's Gift to middle children, which is always presenting himself as the injured party in the eyes of the parents.  In short, they all drive each other crazy at times.

Because the friendship is so easy and always-present, and being mad is so very maddening, the negative feelings probably play a large role in how they think of each other.  They will compare their relationship with each to their relationships with their friends, and one day they will each say to themselves, "I'm so glad I have x friends, because we never shout at each other and x is always so friendly and supportive."  And then will start the age when they love to be with their friends, and they roll their eyes at the thought of their family and look forward to moving out and moving in with these wonderful people who are always supportive and never yell.

And then one day, they will move into a house with their best friends, or even find the very best of the friends and marry that person.  They will be so happy, because now they have found something so much better than their family of origin, who teased and yelled too quickly and touched when touching wasn't wanted.  Those siblings scolded them when their feelings were hurt, and always knew when they were trying to tell white lies and get away with something, and laughed at them when their outfit looked silly that day.  And those siblings yelled at them when the sibling was having a bad day, and acted grumpy, and they looked messy and were occasionally rude at the dinner table.  Unlike the wonderful friends, who never tease and never act like they have hurt feelings, and accept what you tell to them, and always appreciate your outfit.  And these much-improved friends always act polite, even when they're having a hard day, and having dinner together is a constant joy.

So they move in together.  And then the next step in this story is clear to anyone who has gone through adulthood, but blissfully concealed from the optimistic teen and young adult: the boundaries gradually come down, and everyday life settles in.  When the friends are comfortable with each other, they take out their bad days on each other; and when they're frustrated with each, angry feelings burst out instead of being put on an internal shelf.  Dinners are half-hearted or messy or something there's nothing to say to each other.  Compliments fade away, and the occasional sigh or rolled eyes sneaks in.  Some of those friendships weather the difficulties of being truly open and honest with each other, and some of them unravel.

But at that point, I think that grown-up child will look back.  And he or she will look on those hours and years of playing and talking and being joyful with his or her siblings.  And suddenly, all the frustrations and ugly edges of one's brothers and sisters seem a lot less important, because one realizes that everyone has ugly edges inside.  Instead, the grown-up child remembers how the siblings didn't let him look stupid in public; or shielded her from outside anger.  Or simply, they remember the hours and years of pure, simple joy in being together; the joy of escaping into a fantasy world, accompanied by people who truly and completely understand and accept you.

And all of a sudden, those brothers and sisters start looking an awful lot like true friends.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


I have many beautiful thoughts and ideas that have been mulling around in my head to share with you, but today, I'm going to write a very different post.  I have tried to write this blog envisioning that each post could stand as its own story or chapter in a book, but today I'm going to write some catch-up and descriptions of some changes, so the readers who have been keeping up with me can follow some things.

First of all, names and pictures.  When I started writing I used the names of our family members, and the day I went to the orphanage I knew I needed to protect the identity of the children, so I used what were obvious pseudonyms, as flower names.  However, as I continue to write, it seems odd that I am calling one of my children by his given name and the other children by a flower name.  I kind of like the image of my children as my garden of flowers, so I am switching all to flower names, and they also like the idea of having their own flower names.  So from here on out, I'm calling Emerson "Sunflower."

When the girls were partly or officially wards of the Ugandan state, sharing their pictures was prohibited.  Now that they are our daughters, I am not so worried about privacy and I do share pictures in some places on the internet.  However, I think that mostly stories in words fits the intended purpose of this blog, which is sharing ideas, stories and experiences of parenting, especially as it applies to adoption.  So there may be the occasional picture, but this will not turn into a picture-based blog.

There have been some significant logistical events this summer.  The biggest one: our paperwork has gone through the American courts, and my husband and I have officially adopted Hibiscus and Buttercup, granting us all the privileges of parenthood and the girls all the privileges of American citizenship.  This is both exciting and anti-climactic; we just got a letter in the mail with some judicial stamps on it.  After all the drama for every single little bit of official-ness we had to fight for in Uganda, it is either refreshing or astoundingly disappointing that it's so easy in this country!

The paperwork also confirms Buttercup's birthday: August 10th, 2010.  Her original Ugandan paperwork, which was filled out when we began the adoption process, had put a random birthday, and since clearly the parents had just filled out Hibiscus's paperwork, they just repeated the same date a few years later.  We felt strongly that she was older than that date, and after observing her progress and her development for a while, we asked for her birthday to be changed about six months earlier.  I feel this is the absolute youngest that she could be, and based on how several of her developmental categories are still above this age, it's quite likely that she is actually several months older.  However, we didn't want her to be bumped up a grade in school, so we aimed for summer.  We chose August 10th because that is the first day that the girls started to live with us.  I figured that if Buttercup would one day have to face the sad reality that no one had cared enough about her to even remember when she was born, and thus her "birth" day was in some ways meaningless, at least the memory could be paired with the date being a special and meaningful one, and a time when people did care about every aspect of her being.

So, Buttercup just turned four years old.  She will have three years of mixed-age kindergarten, and enter first grade right after she turns seven.  We are in the middle of switching stair steps in my two-years-apart stair-step children: Sunflower will be six in December, and is in his final and "real" kindergarten year,  and Hibiscus is still solidly seven, with her birthday in the middle of winter, and starting second grade.  They are each two years apart in school, and a little less than two years apart in birthdays.

In related news, do you want to know how big they are?  I don't know exactly how big they were when we got them, but Hibiscus was slightly taller and definitely lighter than Sunflower when we first met, which would have put her around 35 pounds.  Just over a year later, she weighs 58 pounds!  Buttercup gained a pound a month for a while, but just when I worried that at this rate she was going to be bigger than I was, she started eating like a toddler and is hanging out around 32 pounds.... almost double what I imagine was around 17 when we got her.  But that was a total guess; the local scales started at 10 kilos (22 pounds), so the doctors just wrote that on her cards, because it was the closest number to the barely-moving little red line.  I guess there are a lot of 10-kilo toddlers in Uganda!

Sadly, this spring the girls' biological mother passed away.  This was not unexpected, and she was so ill she was probably relieved to go.  She also had not been active or present in the girls' lives for several years, and I didn't see either of them choosing to interact with her during the times that we saw her.  I am very sad for the girls, insofar that one day when they might want to understand what happened that led to their adoption, or understand the complexities of their birth family, they will not be able to reconnect with their birth mother and learn her story.

Everything that I write about the girls, I did it with the consciousness of what they would be willing to share or have known about them.  One of the parts of their story that I carefully omitted is that they have an older sister, whom the parents did not place for adoption.  Her name is Patricia, she is only a little bit older than Hibiscus, and the father wanted to keep one child near him, although we believe that she lives most of the time with an auntie.  I chose to not write about her in the blog, because I knew this was precious information to Hibiscus (and Buttercup, although she was not so cognizant about it), and I wanted to follow her lead.  Well, by this point she has made very clear that she wants to talk about Patricia.  So I am choosing to put her name here, so that all of you can remember Patricia and pray for her if it moves your heart.

And I hope this also clarifies the tragedy that is adoption, which is part of which I want to help people understand.  It is so easy to see that our girls have gained so much when gaining a family by adoption, but we never forget they have also lost a family by adoption.  And the birth parents' difficult decision to send two of their children to "a better life," and keep one of them close, in the misery and squalor of their current existence, also highlights some of the pain and difficult decisions that the entire family suffered through.

On a practical note, we are still in touch with people in Kampala who are in touch with the birth family, but that's as far as it goes.  The birth family is too poor (and too sick) to have the links of communication that we take for granted, such as being able to receive a cell phone call or access email.  So at this point I have confidence that if anything major happens to the birth family, we will hear about it.  And we can send pictures or news bits through the people that we know.  But sadly, there is no practical way for Patricia to have any kind of back-and-forth with her sisters at this point.

And now, on to some interesting stories!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Season for Quiet

It's cool and has been raining all morning.  The children are in school -- all three of them.  The house is quiet, but I put on the classical radio and the tea kettle is starting to gurgle and boil.  Autumn is here.

When I lived in Africa, there was so much that I was able to learn about and take into my self-hood that I never would have experienced here.  I can still close my inner eyes and feel that certain heat of the equatorial sun; feel the air that is full of red dust, and always infused with scents and smells.  And while I lived in Africa, there was a pain inside from missing what I have always known, what has gone into the making of me for so many years.  The pain of missing my husband, my dogs, and my friends, was sharper and more towards the outside of my being.  The pain of missing the air, the green, the peacefulness of gray, was deep inside, in the places you don't even fully realize you are existing.  And the strongest of all those pains was that of missing seasons.  And as much as I wished I were home to appreciate the snowy pictures my local friends posted on Facebook, the worst seasonal pain was missing autumn.

So perhaps that means autumn is my favorite season, although I think actually my favorite part about seasons is how they change.  As someone who has been either a student, a teacher, or a mother of students, for all of my life, fall also feels like the beginning of the new year to me.  And fall means fresh apples, and I really like apples -- the entire experience of apples.  Living in Africa, I also learned that I have very deep feelings about apples.  At any rate, between all these different aspects, school has started, the weather is changing, and the apples are ripe on the trees.... and I feel like a new door has opened in my life and our family's lives.

Part of that new door is our new adventures in school.  Buttercup has started school for the first time, and is attending mixed-age kindergarten with Sunflower three mornings a week.  Sunflower has the same schedule at Waldorf school as he has had for (at least part of) the last three years, but we are also starting a more deliberate home-schooling pattern, and he is deeply invested in that work.  And part of that door is opening something within me.  I have determined to celebrate the autumn by preserving so much of its beautiful produce into something we can enjoy all year long; and I have made a schedule where I can preserve some time for the things that nurture me as a human being.  Part of which is that I will come back and write this blog on a regular basis, which allows me to create something, and also gives me time to reflect and contemplate on my daily thoughts and experiences as a mother.  Furthermore, I think that these writings have touched people in different ways.  I have heard that people feel closer to my family, that they have new understanding about adoption or emotional special needs, or new ideas for their own parenting, or a more realistic expectation about living abroad or in Uganda, or simply have the time and space to appreciate standing in someone else's shoes.  So perhaps these writings are part of "the work God has given (me) to do," as we pray every Sunday after communion.  Thank you for sharing if you have found this writing to be meaningful to you, and I will now work to continue it.

We have now been home almost exactly eight months, which coincidentally is the same amount of time that we lived in Uganda.  I feel like most of that time has been some kind of dream state, or transition period -- in my inner world, as well as the outer one.  There has been so much in this outer world to get "done," and yet it has seemed impossible to do it.  I have taken care of the children, and kept up with the necessary basics, but I have not been a "do-er" for the last eight months.  I know both my husband and my mother have been frustrated with me or worried about me at times.  Although I occasionally have been frustrated with myself, there has been a certain necessary depth to the feeling of floating through life.

Part of it, I know, is habit.  At home, I have always had projects and things I'm involved in, and like many people of my class and generation, I am usually over-committed.  But in Uganda, what I really learned to do was wait.  Ugandans are experts at waiting, and perhaps there is something in that particular, sultry equatorial air that lends itself to slowness of body and quietness of mind.  The simple chores of existence -- buying groceries, doing laundry, bathing -- took up so much mental and physical energy there was not enough left to think of larger projects.  And of course, the children themselves took up everything that was left, and more!  Yes, there were long periods when I was simply sitting... writing or reading or something else  But even then, I think my internal energy, something about my soul, was required to throw over our household, keep our fragile lives intertwined.  The children's chaotic energy required a balance of quiet and calm to hold them together.  If you could have seen into the room, it would have seemed like I was doing nothing or wasting time, and yet my internal energy was deeply engaged.

And then when one gets home from almost a year of learning to wait, and listen, and be quiet, one can't just jump back into being active all the time.  When every evening after the children are in bed, one restores their soul by enjoying the absolute quiet of the house, it's hard to switch to rejuvenating oneself by talking.  Maybe an extrovert would have relished it, but I have always been introverted, and spending almost eight entire months with never ever having an open and emotional conversation (except for a few brief visits), strengthened the introversion and self-sufficiency within me.  Once home, I appreciated so much being able to connect with the people I love, but the daily availability of connection seemed almost too much.  By the end of the day, it felt like I was out of spoken words and didn't know where to find them to chat with my husband.  When my mother visited, it was like I didn't remember how to be together and interact with an adult all day long.  I had to ease into it from the inside, which looked like quiet or passivity from the outside

I haven't been depressed, although all this quietness seems like depression.  I have never been more deeply and fully grateful for what my life is filled with, and never has it been easier to feel like my life itself is a prayer of thanksgiving and joy.  But on the surface, I have run out of energy quickly.  It has been easier to be calm and passive.  Unlike my husband and mother, this hasn't bothered me.  I have felt like this, too, was a season.  Perhaps a season of re-learning what energy and activity is, or perhaps a season where I knew that stillness was what my children needed the most.  When I have plenty of "quiet time" alongside them, instead of folding the sheets and mowing the lawn, I do have a lot more energy left for the giant and improbable meltdown that pops up later that afternoon.  They have needed my reserves of energy, and creating an actual balance has not looked balanced.

And now, the season has just seemed to pass away from me.  I have a schedule for the children and myself, and it feels good to get out and DO the next thing.  I've been doing homeschool with Sunflower, and deeply enjoying the chance to work intimately together with him.  It's been easy and enjoyable to get out for a walk with the dogs in the woods almost every day, even when I need to bring children along with us.  After I put the children in bed, instead of feeling completely depleted and unable to stand, I've enjoyed working on fruit or canning in the evening, and other nights I've gotten housecleaning done.  I've also given myself a rhythm for kitchen work and house work, and our house suddenly feels manageable now.  I have not girded my loins and forced myself to be different; it feels like the door has opened and we have simply passed into a new place.  As the seasons change and the apples ripen, so suddenly we are ripe for something new.

It feels to me like the children are ripe to their new phase of life, as well.  Well-meaning friends suggest how "the transition" of moving or new siblings might be so hard on them, but they have not been here for every day of the last eight months in Uganda and eight months in Eugene, as I have.  I am feeling like we are finally out of transitioning, that this is real life.  What is bubbling out of them isn't in response to all the transitioning, it's what has been bubbling all along below the transitions.  When they're tired or angry or whiney as they get used to their new school schedule, it isn't because it's a new language or their home routine isn't what they expect or everything is new.  It's because everything else no longer requires their extra energy, and they are simply responding to starting a new school year which is harder than they wish it would be.  When Sunflower and Hibiscus are so deeply involved in their play they don't notice the passage of time, their words and actions tumbling over each other as they create a world that only they see; and then minutes later they irritate each other so much that they both end up screaming until they turn red.... it's no longer because they're getting used to each other as siblings.  It's because they ARE siblings.  We are off and running, and this is the path we are on.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."  When God made me, He made me capable of action and activity, but He did not make me an active person.  He made me a person capable of deep calm and quiet.  Which I admit freely can lead to a messy house, but I also believe that it's a powerful and meaningful gift, and as I have grown into myself I have learned to appreciate and value my own inner gifts.  And I believe that by giving this gift to me, He is also giving the gift of peace, of a quiet space of acceptance, of an aura of freedom from anxiety; into my home, for my husband and children.  The last few months apparently my energy has been needed for quiet.  Now it is time for a new purpose under heaven, and our season can change to more energy and activity on top of the quiet.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Day in the Life of Executive Processing Difficulties

Executive function can be described as the "boss" functions in our brain; what stands between our thoughts and our actions.  Executive function is divided into 8 major categories, which include areas like knowing how to start a project, having the follow-through to finish a project, working memory, knowing how to control impulsiveness, imagining potential cause and effect from actions, generalizing specific incidents, and understanding when other people are no longer interested in what you are talking about.  The simple definition of executive function is: "not acting like a two year old."

Children with complex backgrounds, such as children who wind up needing to be adopted, often have executive function difficulties.  Their disorganized lives have not taught them the skills they need, and the stress they experience interferes with normal brain development that would, say, help you learn how to not act like you're two.  In the category of "executive function disintegration," Hibiscus came out with gold stars leaping out all over the place.  In fact, after reading a book on the subject, I realized that Hibiscus is basically a walking demonstration of executive disfunction: she has it ALL.  Except a couple of the potential behaviors are conflicting; not knowing how to make decisions can either paralyze a child with confusion and indecision, or result in impulsive and random behavior.  Hibiscus is never paralyzed with anything.

I wrote that this is a day, but come to think of it, there is no way I could record an entire day of executive function difficulties.  So I'll go through some highlights, but I want to clarify that this is not selecting out the dramatic stories of a bad day -- this is her (our) life.  Executive function is so very universal, that it colors everything that happens, and every decision that we make about ourselves.  Also, I hope it is clear that I am not writing this to complain about Hibiscus or describe how "bad" she is, but the exact opposite.  I am writing to explain how these little skips in her brain are affecting her large and small decisions throughout the day, and thus her entire life and family interactions.

The children are doing their chores of taking care of the chicks in the garage.  Emerson pours them more food, and Hibiscus goes to clean out and refill the waterer.  By the time something is a routine, we don't need to use our executive function as much, because we can go through what is a normal habit without making new decisions; therefore, it is fairly easy for the children to get started working peacefully on the baby-chick chores.

But this morning Hibiscus decides to clean out the waterer in the bathroom sink.  The chicks get the water cavity filled with their coconut-coir bedding, which needs to be pulled out before the waterer is cleaned and refilled.  I have instructed them several times to do this in the trash can with a plastic bag in it, not in the sink.  I don't know if Emerson usually does this part, or Hibiscus just decided to try something new, but habit slipped through this morning.
-poor working memory (that I have instructed them how to do this)
-inability to imagine cause and effect of actions (filling the drain with coconut coir)
Emerson comes in to get me because Hibiscus is flooding the sink, as she watches with confusion as the water gets higher and higher.  However, she figures out that if she pushes the mass to the side, the water goes down, and she smiles at me with success.  I am not so impressed and tell her that she has to get ALL the coconut coir out of the sink.  She starts grabbing at it (it's possible she even skipped the step about fussing and whining; she's getting kind of used to my rule that she has to clean up her own messes), and I remind her to get the trash basket with the plastic bag from the kitchen.  I have to repeat this and hold her hands still so she can listen.
-difficulty planning steps to complete a project successfully

After a while she comes back in and reports that everything is clean.  However, I suspect her very first step was pushing things down the sink, so I go and take out the U-joint under the sink to make her make sure it isn't full of coconut coir.  I put a towel under to catch the drips, and show her the pipe she needs to clean out.  As she reaches for the sink, I tell her not to touch it.

"NO-OOO!!  I don't know how to do da-AAAT!" she whines and wails (the gist of which is probably not related to executive disfunction, although the second sentence can describe difficulty understanding how to start projects).  I start to explain, but she jumps to show me that the sink is actually clear and running smoothly.
-when an idea is in her head, it's hard to stop and think about something else
She turns the water on full blast to prove that it is running.
-poor working memory, that I just told her not to touch it.  Or, perhaps:
-inability to generalize; I hadn't told her not to touch that PART of the sink
Water enthusiastically flies out the open pipe into the cabinet under the sink.
-low ability to imagine consequences of actions

I was not there to see how she did in her classroom and her after-school nature program.  There were probably small difficulties, but in many ways these settings are easier.  The routine is stronger and more clear, which allows her to rely on habit instead of decision-making.  There is a tidal wave of other students moving along, so if she pauses for a millisecond and follows along she is likely to make the right choices.

Furthermore, in her particular case, there is less desire to prove herself independent (or smart, or powerful, or who-knows-what) by doing things a little bit differently than how her parents ask.  Plenty of children do this, but some of them are able to use their reasoning to figure out a way to do things creatively without totally ruining the point of the activity.

For instance, when asked to clear things off the table, Emerson might sulk about it, but then pretend that he is a train.  He needs to add "whoo-whoo!" noises to each item that he picks up, and walk in a particularly train-ish manner, but he delivers the proper things from the table to the counter.

In contrast, when I asked Hibiscus to put the milk in the refrigerator, she put it in the freezer.  Which ruins the point of putting milk in the refrigerator.  Actually, it just plain ruins the milk.

Clearing the table took the children 45 minutes tonight, with one adult in almost constant guidance.  How it is even possible to take 45 minutes to clear and set a table is completely beyond me; you will have to ask someone with executive disfunction, I guess.  However, here are a few elements:
-difficulty understanding how to start a task
We actually have lists on the wall, breaking down setting the table into very small jobs, for just this reason.  However, tonight they were:
-easily overwhelmed
and unable to even use the lists as a tool.  (Emerson doesn't have executive disfunction, but he has extreme anxiety over being able to do things the right way, which looks similar when it comes to task completion.)  And furthermore
-lack of being able to generalize
probably meant that they couldn't see that ALL THE STUFF covering the table was actually on a couple of categories: crayons and paper, dishes from lunch, and a few books.  Instead, it looked like a million totally random things.  So, when faced with a million things to do, why not
read every book you encounter, and color with every crayon?

We spent a while figuring out how to count by 5's, which Hibiscus's class is also working on.  It's difficult for her to figure out, because as soon as she hears something that gives her an idea, she's saying and acting upon her idea.  But since an idea usually comes to her by the third word of the first sentence, this means that she misses most of the explanation.

Then the conversation took a turn like this:
Hibiscus: I am taking some more potatoes.  I like potatoes.  Look, this is a little potato!  What a cute potato, I want to eat this potato.  Now I am cutting it.  I am cut, cut, cutting it, and now the potato is cut.  I'm going to put butter on my potato.  I like butter!

At this point I said her name in a warning tone.  We have had many discussions about what constitutes a conversation; how, for instance, people take turns talking, and the thing that you talk about is the thing that the previous person was talking about.  No one else had been having an in-depth discussion about Hibiscus's potato, surprisingly enough.  In fact, I am trying to add to our understanding of conversation, that monologues about what you are eating are actually not interesting at all to the other conversationalists.  But even though she clearly hasn't grasped that, this fell under the previous rules of other people not getting turns, and not being germane to the conversation that everyone else was having.

Hibiscus apparently didn't remember those concepts about conversation.
-poor working memory needs lots and lots and lots and LOTS of repetition
"What?!" she protested.  "What's the matter with butter?"
I tried to say something succinct about that being enough talk about her potato, and then model moving on in conversation.  Hibiscus was not moving on.
"I wasn't talking about my potato!" she protested.  "I was talking about butter!"
-inability to generalize, since her last phrase was indeed about the butter
"Can't I have butter?  I like butter!  I like butter on my potato!  Butter is really nummy on my potato!  My potato is good with butter --"
-extreme difficulty in realizing when other people are no longer interested in what she is talking about

After dinner, Daddy was dealing with washing hair and getting kids in and out of the bath, and I was doing their physical therapy routine with each of them in turn in the bedroom.  (Wilbarger brushing and joint compressions, plus some reflex-integration exercises.)  While each child was not being either bathed or brushed, he or she was expected to be cleaning up the bedroom.

We have even made a song about it.  Before leaving the table, we sing:
"Clear your plate,
Potty and wash-hands,
Clothes in hamper,
Clean your room, till the grown-ups come."  
Each line repeats one note of the scale, until by the last line it's reached the dominant and does a simple arpeggio up and down, which is the most musically compelling part so the kids love to sing that line.  Now whenever I remind them to tidy, someone always sings "clean your room, till the grown-ups come!"

Having a song aims to help poor working memory, and general mental disorganization.  The tune gives the memory a boost, and if we repeat the song and tick steps off on our fingers every time a child says "what do I do now?" (or goes scooting past at 60 mph with a naked bum), they can usually figure out what step they're on.

First of all, as for actually tidying the room, there was a lot of similar behavior as I described about the table, with discussions like "I don't know what to DOOO-oooo.  I don't know HOOO-oooow to clean my room" said in the most whiney voice possible, to which I would reply "pick up that kleenex right there and put it in the trash," or something along those lines.  This is an outside influence providing some executive function.  However, they were gradually getting to the point where we could vacuum.

I finished Buttercup and took her to brush teeth.  Daddy was getting the vacuum.  Emerson started screaming at Hibiscus to stop something, and ran desperately away.  She was laughing; he was not.
-gets carried away with emotion and misses social cues

Most of the time, I try not to get involved in their little altercations, but sometimes something is pretty clear.  In this case, they hadn't been upset and there wasn't time for an altercation.  However, there was a dead fly waiting to be vacuumed up, and upon seeing it, it had clearly popped into Hibiscus's mind that it would be interesting to put it on Emerson's chin.  When he startled and shrieked, she responded to the heightened emotion by chasing him.
-lack of impulse control
-difficulty to imagine consequences to actions

The words burst out of him so spontaneously the story seemed clear.  I looked at Hibiscus is surprise and asked "wait a minute, did you put a DEAD FLY on his FACE??!!"  Just to make sure I had both sides of the story.  Hibiscus looked even more horrified than I did, and then she made a miserable sound, flung her arms over her head and crept out of the room.  Obviously, that's exactly what she DID do (or she would have denied it), and obviously, as soon as she thought about the situation for 1.2 seconds, she realized that it was a REALLY BAD IDEA.
-no pause between thinking of something and just doing it.

Actually, Hibiscus really hates bugs herself, and was probably at least as upset about the idea of a bug on someone's face as anyone else.  It just hadn't occurred to her that that was what she was doing.  Because she didn't take that 1.2 seconds to think before she acted, nor did the social cues indicate to her that something was wrong.

I told her that I could see that she felt bad, and that she didn't mean to do it, and now she just needed to make her brother feel better.  After wailing that she didn't know what to do (this has been a theme lately, apparently), she stomped back into the room, said "SOR-REE, Em'son" in her most affronted voice, and stomped out.
-human nature does not like apologies, I am hypothesizing

In our family, we are not required to say sorry.  We are required to make the other person feel better, and not move on with fun things in our own lives until we are ready to do that.  Hibiscus said she didn't know how, but Emerson and I agreed that for an offense like this, she could help him with a chore.  His laundry needed folding, and I suggested she could help him with that.
"She has to do the whole thing!" he demanded.  I was going to say that that was a little out of proportion to something that wasn't actually mean-hearted, but he had reconsidered himself.  "Maybe she can do part of it," he reasoned. "We can sit and fold it together." Upon further contemplation, he agreed that that would make him feel better, like she was helping him and not hurting him.

Hibiscus had been horrified about the fly, but she was even more horrified that she was going to get another chore.
-difficulty imagining consequences to actions
-poor working memory for household rules
She had been asked but hadn't chosen to participate in the discussion about what chore it would be, but since Emerson himself had argued her point and offered to help her, I felt like it was pretty reasonable.

For the entire rest of bedtime she kept forgetting that she needed to fold laundry for Emerson.
-poor working memory, or possibly just finagling to get out of something moderately unpleasant

So, she ended up having to fold laundry while the rest of us started books, but even though it took us more time to get into bed with the pillows in order than it would have taken her to just fold the clothes (Emerson moved clothes into two piles and made sure that his pile, for the morning, was bigger, so it wasn't unfair), she was so busy throwing a giant fit that she didn't have a chance to fold.  To make a long story short, when she finally came back from the other room where she and the laundry had been placed, she complained of a headache.  I said it was probably from screaming so much.  She wailed and wailed that her head hurt, which was more crying.
-inability to see past the immediate moment

I suggested that she get a drink of water.  She yelled "NO," and resumed complaining and crying.  I said that when I have a headache I get a drink of water, and got another "NO."  Then "it hurts, it hurts, it hurts!" as she bangs her head against the floor.  (Really?)  I finally told her to go get a drink of water, and to stop crying so her head could have a rest.  She went into the bathroom, but came back saying she didn't want a drink.  She kept complaining that her head hurt, and really the only solution that I could think of was having some water -- and I knew she would be thirsty after all that screaming -- so I kept gently insisting.  Besides, when you are drinking water, by definition you can't be screaming and banging your head against things.  She skulked back from the bathroom a minute later, trying to explain that something was in the cup, and she wasn't thirsty anyways.  I explained how she could remove the object from the cup and then drink, but she wasn't having any of it.  Since she calmed down and climbed into bed to listen to the rest of the story, I left it alone.

Fast forward ten or fifteen minutes.  I have finished books and blessings and left the room.  Emerson gets out of bed and asks politely for some water, so I fill a sippy cup and give it to him.  As I do that, he politely tells me that Buttercup wants some too, can I get her one?  From the upper bunk, Hibiscus demands sulkily that I get her water too.  First of all, she has a shelf by her bed that always has a water cup on it, and when I glanced up it was there.
-poor working memory
-inability to put details in context/generalize: i.e., it was reasonable for Emerson and Buttercup to ask for water, because they didn't have a shelf with a cup on it.  She thought it wasn't nice that I didn't bring her water, without realizing that the detail that she already HAD a water cup changed the situation.

But furthermore, I told her with some exasperation that I wasn't getting water for her, when she had refused over and over to get water for herself, and protested over and over that she wasn't thirsty and wouldn't drink.
"You didn't tell me to get water!" she complained.
I did, I said, I had told her to get water over and over, and she wouldn't do it.
"You never told me to get water!" she yelled.
We repeated this a couple of times.  I finally appealed to Emerson, and he agreed with me, obviously completely confused about how someone who had just refused to drink water 17 times in a row could say that she had never been invited to drink water.  Finally one of us said some kind of word that cued Hibiscus in to the conversation we were talking about.
"Ooooh, THAT telling me to get a drink," she replied.  She was equally confused about how being asked to take a drink from the sink had anything to do with the current issue of filling her water cup.
-inability to generalize.  Generalization is a really useful skill, isn't it?

And those are some small but very typical incidents, in the day of a life with very few executive function skill.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


We just got back from gymnastics.  We have to attend at six o'clock so that all three children have their classes at the same time, since despite how close they are in age, they are each in a separate mixed-age class.

Emerson has gone to gymnastics since he was 14 months old, and I figured since he was climbing everything in sight, I might as well put some climbing equipment under his little feet.  He is full of enthusiasm to be back again.

Buttercup is having her first experience with a real teacher and a real class of her own peers.  Her enthusiasm translates into trying really hard to follow all the directions, and very little physical capability of doing just that.  This could not be more opposite of the last time I parenting through the toddler class!  When she gets to the frog area, she is precise in remembering that she should ribbit, but it is only sheer statistical probability that some of her many, many jumps actually propel her in a forward direction.  The balance beams are accomplished mostly because she's holding my hand, and as soon as she has that anchor she starts looking around the gymnasium to see what her brother and sister are doing!  Today she was supposed to "drive a car" (hold a circle like a steering wheel) which occupied both her hands while she balanced.  She moved exactly one inch with each step, and then she very very carefully matched her color of steering wheel with the color of cone at the end of the balance beam, which it took her several moments to gather her feet together and step off of.  Buttercup is the child who is the bane of every toddler boy, having fun doing all the obstacles at top speed and energy!

Hibiscus has energy.  She has energy, and she has a great deal of strength in her long legs and wiry frame.  She also has flexibility, that makes it look like all her limbs can go in their own directions.  What she lacks, is any kind of planning or mental control.  So basically, she is like a giant rag doll, sprung out from a huge slingshot, and aimed at the trampolines or parallel bars.

Then this was the conversation that ensued on the way home.

I don't remember how the conversation in the back seat got to this point, but Hibiscus laughed that she was going to throw wraps at me when I died.  Emerson replied that that wasn't very funny.  And that when I died, he was going to make a bed with glass sides, so he could go and look at me every day.  And he was going to keep the bed in his house so he could look at me every day because he would miss me so much.  Hibiscus said she would cry if I was dead and she looked at me.  Emerson said he would not ever, ever cut me open and take out my heart and things, and Hibiscus agreed that she wouldn't cut me open either.  Emerson was going to look at me every day.  They agreed that in order to get a skeleton, you have to cut the dead body up and take the bones out, and they weren't going to do that.

Emerson said, in a loving and secretive manner, that if Hibiscus didn't get married, she could come in his house and look at me in the glass box every day too.  Hibiscus said she would cry and cry if she looked at me because she never wanted me to die.  Emerson said he would look in the glass box and see how beautiful I was and how much he loved me.

Hibiscus suggested that possibily she did want to get married.  Emerson said if she married someone else, some other person, someone else, then she couldn't come in his house every day.  Hibiscus started to get annoyed, and replied that when she birthed a baby, she wasn't going to let Emerson come see either.  Emerson said if she married someone else, she could come to his house to see me in the glass box maybe one time.

I suggested that I hoped that when they were grown up, they would still be a loving brother and sister and be welcome in each other's houses.  Just like we went to Gramcy's house sometimes.

Emerson immediately offered that Hibiscus could come and look at me in the glass box every Sunday after church, which coincidentally exactly the same schedule on which we visit Gramcy's house.  Hibiscus said he could see the baby she birthed, too.

And that was our evening at gymnastics!

Monday, March 3, 2014

News Flash: Buttercup is Actually Black

On Saturday, I took Buttercup with me to catch up on all the errands I hadn't been able to get done with Daddy out of town -- or at least some of them!  We went to six or eight different places around town, which I guess is good practice for Being A Trans-racial Family In America.

We were looking for something specific in Toys R Us, so I went up to the main desk to ask if they had it.  She said they did, and could describe the general area but not right where it was, so she said she would call someone to help me within the Imaginarium area.  I didn't hear her on the radio, but when we were in that section someone came up to us, and hesitantly asked if I was looking for what I had mentioned, obviously somewhat confused about whom to help.  I said I was, and she helped us, and that was fine.

When we were done with our shopping, we happened to go back to the same register where I had asked for help.  The clerk cheerily asked if I had found the item, talked about what I was buying, and then started talking about our request for help.

"When you went back to Imaginarium area, I didn't know how to describe you so the associate could find you," she chatted.  "The only thing I could think of, was to say 'look for the lady with a REALLY BEAUTIFUL baby,' but then I realized that could describe just about anyone in the store!  Haha!"  And then she went on in the same vein.

I was absolutely stunned.  Point A: you have GOT to be kidding me; that doesn't even make any sense.  Point B: why on earth are you even telling me this?

Regarding Point A, we had to be the absolutely most distinctive pair in the store.  I had been wandering around for a while; I knew this.  Buttercup was the only Black person in the entire place, and I am one of the few White women with a Black baby in the entire state.  Race is something we humans instinctively recognize, so there is not the slightest chance that describing this characteristic would be misunderstood by any listener.

But even if one felt too squeamish about talking about race to use these words, we are still pretty easy.  One could just say "look for the woman carrying her toddler on her back," and you would have ruled out every single other person in Toys R Us, and probably everyone else to come into Toys R Us that week.  Everyone else had their toddler in the cart, from which they leaned out and grabbed things, or running around, which gave the toddler the opportunity to grab things and the parent the opportunity to say "no, leave that alone! come on!" seven million times in a row.  (I love toddler-wearing!)

Frankly, I think this second characteristic would have occurred immediately to anyone, unless their brain was completely spazzing from trying so hard to ignore what colors we were.

Or, you know, one could say something like "look for the mom in a blue shirt," which would not be as distinctive, but would have clearly been more information than the associate actually received.

Regarding Point B, if for some reason you have a brain freeze and couldn't think of how to perform your basic job of communicating to your co-workers, why would you explain that in great detail to your customer?

One possibility is that she was one of those people who does not have an "edit" function for her mouth, and just talked about whatever came to her mind.  Working with us had made her slightly uncomfortable, so it was on her mind, so she nattered on and on about it.

Another possibility was that she thought she was giving us a compliment, and didn't have the sense to remove the complimentary part from the rest of the nonsense she was saying.

But it was also likely that she was trying to prove how un-racist she was, by going out of her way to bring up an incident to prove that she didn't even SEE race, so she couldn't care less if I didn't match my baby.  As long as the baby is beautiful, I guess.

My friends, I have a public service announcement.  Black people know that they are Black.

Even Black 2-year-olds know that they are Black, and they know that other people are not Black.  And in this case, they know that their mother is not Black.  Toddlers may still be in the developmental stage when they think that if you put lots of white lotion on, your skin color will change color, but they do understand the current situation perfectly well.

Furthermore, mothers know when their children are Black.  I am 100% Northern European in descent, with blond hair and sunburns to prove it.  There are only two ways for me to end up with a Black child.  I could have adopted her, which is an involved enough process that I probably noticed that it happened.  Or her biological father could be very Black, and the child ended up a kind of middling color, favoring that side of her family.  In which case, I would have had sex with the fellow, and I would have noticed THAT at some point too.

What is more, everyone else notices what color everyone else is, too.  (There are a few people who are mixed enough in race, or have unusual characteristics, that it might actually be confusing, but in this case we are all pretty distinct.)  Science has proven that race is one of the things that we notice within milliseconds of seeing someone, and in milliseconds more we have made assumptions about the person as we insert them into a category.  Just like gender, or generation.

And friends, this is NOT a bad thing!  If we had to figure out everything about every person every time we met them, we would be paralyzed with trying to decipher why everyone was acting the way they were, and how to treat them.  One of the reasons that humans are able to have such complex societies is that we are really good at figuring out basic information about other people really quickly, before our conscious brain even starts working.  This gives us the ability to relate to people appropriately: we might use simpler language with a young child; wait to go through a doorway when we see an older person or some struggling to move pass through; speak respectfully to someone in an official uniform; or use business language to someone in a business setting and more informal language to a laughing barista in a coffee shop.  It means that I, as a mother of young children, might make a wry smile to another mother and comment on what a difficult time one of us is having, and we'd both share a laugh; that would come off as inappropriate if I were speaking to an older man in a suit, or be completely insulting to her if *I* were an older man in a suit.  It means that when we are in a familiar environment, we can recognize someone who doesn't "fit" into that environment and offer them extra welcome.  It means that most of us, by adulthood, can move seamlessly from one kind of human interaction to another: with friends, with people of different social status, in a business setting, ordering food, with children, solving a problem, being at work or being at the swimming pool.  This is the exact same part of the brain that tells us whether what race someone is -- except that the "race" identification happens even earlier in our mental process.

So when a human sees another human, they identify their basic characteristics -- including gender, race, and age -- and then the brain puts that information in a box, and spits out the analysis of how to treat the new human in front of oneself.  And THAT is where the danger can come in; not in identifying the race by itself.  The assumptions we make can help us relate to new people appropriately, or they can get in the way of appropriate interaction.

For instance, if a cashier sees that her customer is a child, she might automatically switch into simpler language or praise the child for saving her money.  But if she sees that her customer is a Black person and switches to the same kind of phrasing, that is not going to help their relationship.

In our own personal case, here is an example of an inappropriate mental thought process:
1. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ---> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> maybe she couldn't have her own babies ----> I wonder what fertility treatments she went through ----> she probably feels really bad that she ended up with a baby who doesn't look anything like her ---> I'll say how pretty the baby is, to make her feel better.

Here is an example of an appropriate mental thought process:
2. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> people who go through all the trouble of adopting usually really enjoy children ---> I'll ask her something about what the child enjoys doing, because she probably likes to talk about her kid.

Or here's an alternate appropriate example:
3. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> I don't really know anything about their situation, so I'm going to make a conscious effort to treat them just like every other customer, even though I'm kind of curious.

Here is an example of an imaginary mental thought process that is actually impossible:
4. I cannot tell any difference between the mother and child in front of me, compared to other mother-child pairs.

The first example results in an action that is nice on the surface, but other human beings -- equally adept at making instant judgements on very little information -- can sense that there's something "off" or condescending about the comment.  The second example results in an action that would be appropriate for almost everyone.  The last example is going to result in something awkward.

The third example really cannot go wrong.  That is the really great part about being human -- instead of, say, dogs, who often also can gain a lot of information about someone new almost instantly.  We have the mental capability to OVER-RIDE our instinctual information.  We can decide whether the information we have received is actually germane to the situation.  In our case, what was germane to the situation was that I had money to pay for my purchase, and I was acting appropriately for the context.  Usually, in modern America, especially within a business context, what race the person is should have nothing to do with the way we treat them.

Some of us may have so many positive or neutral impressions of a particular race (or people with tattoos, or in wheelchairs, or Down's syndrome, or wearing cowboy hats, or whatever jumps out at us), that their natural thought process will lead them to acting calmly and appropriately.  For instance, after living in a fully Black society as a young child, Emerson will probably have a more neutral impression of Black people than most of us can manage.

But when we do not have enough neutral impressions to create a neutral space for interaction, we each need to find the "over-ride" button until we are able to gather more information.  Denial does not work, and it doesn't fool anyone.

Trying to cut off the information our brain already has given us results in:
5. This lady has a Black child, but she is not Black ---> AGH!! EMERGENCY!!  I just thought about race ---> I must unthink this thought ---> black child! black child!! ---> but the harder I try to unthink it, that now becomes all I can see! ---> maybe I'll do something COMPLETELY RANDOM to fool everyone into thinking I'm not thinking what I'm thinking about ----> black black black black black!!!

There are a lot of possibilities for action after that thought process, but there really is no graceful way out!

I will see what I think after I have had more chance to gather information as a Surprising Person, and I would be interested to hear from other minorities as well.  However, my impression so far, is that if you can't manage the ideal #3 (over-ride), that #4 (ignorance) is impossible and we all know it, it is best to veer in another direction than aim for #5 (pretend I'm not thinking what I'm thinking).  For instance, it will be more graceful to acknowledge the internal debate and say, "oh, is she adopted?" than suddenly start chattering about how we look exactly the same, or stare at a corner of the ceiling and mention how beautiful she is.  Make sure you can manage to stop talking before you come out with something like "how much did she cost?", but a simple acknowledgement of the situation that everyone knows exists is unlikely to offend.

Unless you really aren't sure, and think she might be my biological child with a Black father.

In which case, "is that cash or credit?" and "would you like a bag today?" is a really appropriate conversation for the check-out lane.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Poison Control

Today I got to call poison control.  Luckily, the number was right on the toothpaste tube.

Buttercup is in this awful phase where she gets really really tired and grumpy, but half the time she can't (won't?) nap.  She has been so unpleasant for the last day and a half (since she hit nap time yesterday, and didn't take one) that as soon as she started laying on the table ("more snack please now!") and rubbing her eyes, I put her up on my back.  I really thought she would fall asleep.  She didn't.  I kept her there for an hour and a half anyways, hoping that at least getting some rest for her body would help her find some mental equilibrium.

I finally put her down after everyone was home from school, and they were playing in the bedroom.  I poked my head in a couple of times, and it seemed like a normal, happy game of "we're on an airplane."

Then the older two came out, and we were working on something.  I cannot even remember what it was, but it was something that they needed.  And at first I was thinking "good thing Buttercup isn't in the middle of this, because she would want to do it but just get in the way, and I'm glad that I can explain it at bigger-kid level."  Then I started noticing in the back of my head that it had been quiet on the Buttercup-front for a little bit too long.

I found her in the bathroom, standing on the stool with the water running in the sink.  So far, no surprise; I've caught her making a big, happy mess with pouring water in and around the bathroom sink before.  But what has she got in her hand?  A toothbrush.  In fact, to be specific, her brother's toothbrush.  And what is she doing with it?  Rubbing it on the bar of soap.  Yum!

As I took that away from her, I noticed the tube of toothpaste lying next to the sink.  It's Tom's of Maine kid toothpaste, and it has a flip-up top, but the whole top was kind of loosely screwed on in a suspicious manner.

Buttercup told me, "I go-ed sou-sou.  By MY seff.  And I washed. MY hands!  See, I washing dem." (That emphasis and stop at "my" is her usual phrasing.)
"And you brushed your teeth?" I suggested.
"Yes, an I buss.  MY teef!"

This was obviously a fairly incomplete description of the situation.

I tried to get her to describe if she ate the toothpaste straight out of the tube or put it on her toothbrush (or Emerson's toothbrush, as the case may be) over and over.  She just said yes to both, which might have mean she did both, or she might have just felt agreeable.  She was in a pretty good mood, as she was not only having fun but feeling virtuous for completing all these chores without assistance. When I used gestures, she made it perfectly clear that she thought sucking straight from the tube was a great idea, and yes she would have some more now!

Meanwhile, I was testing the tube to see how much was left.  It was still more than half full, I guessed, but it had been a new tube very recently.  The directions on the back said "call poison control if more than the usual amount used for brushing is swallowed," along with a description of the tiny amount that is supposed to be used for brushing.  Pea-sized, I think; I actually use more like a lentil.  I figured that somewhere around half a tube was more than pea-sized.  I didn't really think she was in grave danger, but I figured that I ought to call the number.  If, of course, I could manage to fight off all the children running around my legs and demanding my immediate attention.  And crying, because someone needed a nap, and instead, had had her beautiful soap-scrubber and water attraction removed.

Did you know Tom's of Maine has it's own, personal, poison control number?  Apparently it does, and that is who I reached.  There were a few preliminary questions about names and ages and so forth.

And that is when Hibiscus got the idea that I was "calling the police on Buttercup!"  At first she was frightened, but I told her I wasn't and to go away, and she kind of believed me but by then thought it was a really exciting idea, so she got all whispery and told her younger siblings about her new theory.

By the time I got off the phone, they were all waiting on tenterhooks for the police car to show up and take Buttercup away.  I explained -- perhaps without a good deal of patience left -- that I didn't call the police, and police don't arrest 3-year-olds anyways, but if you eat toothpaste it can make you very, very sick, so don't anyone do that again.

The poison control woman said that it wasn't that much, and at most Buttercup would have an upset stomach.  But I'm sure that if Hibiscus got the idea in her head to eat toothpaste, she would be much more efficient at it, and probably go through about four tubes in the time it usually takes her to pee.  So I wanted to make it very clear that this was a very bad idea, because generally they are all passionate about trying out each other's bad ideas.  As though, "if it was enough fun to make it worth trying for so-and-so, then I better try it too..."  So I sensed a toothpaste-eating explosion on my hands if not dealt with sternly!

Hibiscus quickly made the switch from police to "am-BOO-lance," and started looking out the window for one of those.  Buttercup started to cry.  Hibiscus danced in circles around her, saying "you're going to get SHOTS, you're going to have to get so many SHO-OTS!!" which quickly turned the crying into downright hysteria.

I picked up Buttercup and said that no one is getting any shots, and an ambulance isn't coming, and Buttercup isn't very sick right now, but no one was EVER to eat ANY toothpaste again.  I don't know about Hibiscus, who was probably enjoying creating drama more than actually believing it all herself, but I think the juxtaposition of "eating toothpaste" and "lots of shots" scared the younger two off of playing with the toothpaste for life!

I said that there were no doctors and no shots today, but Buttercup was supposed to drink a glass of milk.

Buttercup drank that milk with a dedication and singularity of purpose that was admirable to see.