Archive for August, 2014

Preschool! First day at Becker

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

I have so much I want to say about the girls starting school. But I’m too tired and stressed to organize all of my thoughts. So here are some tidbits.

I think one of the most important outcomes of preschool is for kids to be comfortable going to school. We already know Cate and Sam are interested and engaged in all manner of things. I’m confident they’ll learn lots of good stuff. However, I really want them to transition comfortably into *wanting* to go to school.

To that end, we’ve been talking a lot about what happens at school. We’ve also been reading, Blue goes to school, Maisy goes to preschool, and Knuffle Bunny Too.

* * *
Tuesday was “Meet the Teacher(s) Day” at Becker. Sam and Cate were both a little nervous, but were eager to explore the classroom. At the end of the hour, Sam seemed energized and ready for more. But Cate was overwhelmed. She sought out Dad to pick her up, then Mama for a hug, and then burst into tears in the car. I think Cate’s going to need some time to get used to this school business.

* * *
After a summer of going to sleep after sundown, and waking between 8:30 and 9 am, we’re struggling to shift our schedule early enough to get to school on time. We worked hard the last ten days, with occasional success, to get the girls into bed before 8 pm.

This morning, the alarm went off at 7 am. Sam stirred almost immediately. Bill turned off the “air machine”, uncovered the southeast window, and turned on the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Cate woke a few minutes later, and we all got out of bed.

By the time I shepherded girls to the kitchen for breakfast, Bill was returning with a surprise bag of donut holes. I insisted that they eat some eggs first: Cate chose a red “omelette” and Sam asked for “blue plain eggs.” Cate declared, “I love donut holes!”

While the girls were donning their play shoes, Bill and I slammed a variety of foodstuffs into their new lunch bags (Thank you, Auntie Emi!). When I collected exhausted girls later, Cate had eaten her half banana, Sam had eaten her steamed carrots, and both had picked at some hummus. Neither ate the hotdog or Babybel cheese we packed.

As we headed out, I tried to get girls to pause on the porch for a first-day-of-school photo together. Cate accommodated me:

Cate sat where I asked, but once we were in the classroom, I noticed that she had put her shoes on backwards.

I saw Cate consciously school her expression and smile for the camera.

Sam paused momentarily on the step next to Cate, then strode down the front walk. She stopped at the gate to regard the rest of us. Then despite Bill admonishing her to come back to me, Sam let herself out the gate and ran down the sidewalk to the driveway, before returning to my van:


Sam hiked her lunch bag up onto her shoulder, the way I carry my tote bag.

Cate, resolutely ready to face preschool

* * *
A week ago, while helping my mom purge her office, I came across an old leaflet from the Steineau School that had urged my parents to plan to stay at school *all day* during my brother’s first day of preschool. In keeping with that, I packed a book and a bottle of water, and camped out at Becker this morning. When it was time for me to leave the classroom, I told the girls that I needed to read a book and was headed to the library. I assured Cate and Sam that I would come back during lunch.

I peeked at them repeatedly through the little window in the classroom door, and they seemed calm and engaged. However, at story time, I heard Ms. F announce that she was about to read, Love You Forever, and I went to pieces. Our friend Susan introduced me to that one years ago, and we don’t own it because I cannot read it without crying my eyes out, every time. I fled, and made friends with Ms. T, a very-kind assistant director, who reassured me without making feel even a little bit silly.

After school, Sam told me that she had cried right after I left. Tomorrow, I’ll do a better job of saying goodbye and making sure she recognizes that I’m about to depart. And tonight, it’s time for us to read, The Kissing Hand.

Catherineism #: She needed a trim!

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Shortly after I cut Catie’s hair for the first time, Auntie Em’ gifted me with a cute pair of hair-trimming shears. The cover is shaped like a giraffe, and doubles as a whistle. It’s useful for motivating the girls to sit still and let me trim their hair. It lives in the tool drawer in the kitchen.

* * *
When Bill left GE at the end of May, we agreed that it would be helpful if I could settle Gran’mom’s estate sooner than later. We decided that I should shift gears and focus on trying to disposition all of her belongings, empty her condo, and list it for sale.

With Bill scheduly unconstrained, he could now cover girls during the afternoons and evenings, freeing me to make overnight runs to Galveston, for the first time in many years. In the last 12 weeks, in addition to Toddler Tuesdays for swimming, I’ve made 9 or 10 trips to help my mom purge, recycle, donate, and slowly empty Sarah’s place.

* * *
Monday afternoon, Sam saw something on the dining room floor, and exclaimed, “what’s that?!?” Cate observed that it was hair.

Nane asked to see it, and then remarked that it was *a lot* of hair. On closer scrutiny, it looked decidedly like a lock of hair. I asked the girls whose hair it was.

Cate replied cheerfully, “Sam’s!”

I asked how Sam’s hair came to be loose on the floor, and Cate said, “we cut it with scissors.” She continued knowingly, “She needed a trim,” and then added, “I told Sam to sit still, but she wiggled!”

I reminded both girls that scissors are a tool for grown ups, and to please leave all the trimming to me and Victoria. In the meantime, Sam’s bangs are a little thin in front!

The giraffe shears with snippets of Sam’s hair

Catherineism #: Oh, crumbs!

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

A few months ago, while reading reviews on Amazon, I came across a marvelous children’s book called, The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It’s about a cheerful, intrepid, and clever little mouse who takes a stroll through the deep dark wood, and the creatures he meets along the way.

The story is told in lyrical verse and is delightful to read aloud. Also, because the author is English, the story includes several Britishisms. For example, when the fox takes leave of the mouse, he says, “I’m off!” When the snake becomes alarmed, he exclaims, “Oh, crumbs!” before he slithers back into his logpile house.

* * *
The girls are all signed up to begin preschool next week at the Becker Early Childhood Center of Congregation Emanuel, across from the Rice campus. Thursday night (Aug 21), the four of us attended a “new families” welcome event at school. Sam and Cate are really excited about becoming “school girls” and were eager to see the campus and meet some of the kids.

Afterward, we went to Jason’s Deli for dinner, although they’d had enough cheese, fruit, and pink lemonade that they weren’t especially hungry.

Rather than ordering entrees for them, we fed them off of our plates. Cate asked if she could please have *another* club cracker and I encouraged her to eat some more meatball and veggies instead. Undeterred, she continued to work at prying away the plastic wrapper from the crackers at the middle of the pack, thoroughly smushing them in the process.

Eventually, she succeeded in perforating the wrapper, sprinkling a shower of tiny cracker bits across the floor. Cate paused for a moment, surveying the situation, and then exclaimed gleefully, “Oh, crumbs!”

Hee hee!

While I remember Baba Jean exclaiming that during my childhood, it’s not an expression Bill or I use. Which means, in retrospect, that the girls would have to take it literally. Too funny!

Samanthaism #: Hey, grown ups!

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

A month ago, Cate had figured out how to hold her breath under water, but Sam didn’t have the hang of it. In the meantime, she and Bill have been practicing.

Both at the Memorial Park pool and the Bellaire Family Frog pool, there are water slides. Cate has been eager to slide and have me catch her at the bottom, but Sam hasn’t been excited about sliding. Instead, Bill helped Sam practice launching herself from his knees toward the wall, kicking and pulling, until she grasped the edge of the pool and pulled her face up to breathe.

By the first week of August, both girls were feeling confident, and eager to jump into a(ny) pool, unsupervised. So we’ve begun practicing “sit and stay” on the edge of the pool. Most of the time, Sam and Cate now call out, “Are you ready?” before lunging through the water. Sam usually asks each grown up by name: “Are you ready, Baba Jean?”

While swimming last Tuesday in the condo pool, Sam launched herself toward my back unannounced, into water well over her head, as I was looking the other way. I turned to find our daughter several inches underwater, reaching toward me. I scooped her up, and admonished her to make sure I’m ready next time.

Sam asked, “Why???”

I tried to explain that, if she swam out and no grown up was expecting her, she might end up on the bottom under water with no air to breathe, which would be very, very bad.

Sam looked thoughtful for a moment. Then she replied, “I would yell, ‘Hey grown ups, I’m under water. Come pick me up!'”

Toddler logic: still scary.

* * *
This week, for my birthday, I asked Papa Chuck to play hooky from the Field House and come swim with us at the condo instead. I’m so glad he did! Much swimmy fun was enjoyed by all:

Cate, Papa Chuck, and Sam enjoying the condo pool

Cate kicking with bar floats with Nane nearby

Papa Chuck, Sam, and Baba Jean

Cate and Sam were startled and utterly fascinated to hear Papa Chuck blow their bar float like a bugle…

… but Cate was ready to blow bubbles in reply.

Sam was delighted to swim from the steps to Papa Chuck, from him to Baba Jean, from her to Nane, back to Baba Jean, and back to Papa Chuck, lather, rinse, repeat. I even caught some of Sam’s swimming on video. Check this out:

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Sam and Cate have worked really hard this summer to learn to swim, and I am immensely proud of them. I’m excited to watch them grow and go!

Bobbin’s farewell to 42 and hello 43

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

By coincidence, both Emily and Michele came to Houston on Wednesday. So the three of us took the girls to Whole Foods for some pre-emptive cupcake shopping, and then ordered pizza for dinner.

Bill and Emily with Sam

Michele and Bob with Sam and Cate

I got a ton of productive work done with Claudia on Thursday. On Saturday, Sam more-or-less got the hang of swimming, and Bill made homemade chicken enchiladas with roasted poblano cream sauce for dinner. Yum!

After dinner, we eschewed bedtime in favor of an after-dinner family adventure to watch the nearly-full moon rise over Houston’s downtown skyline from the Rosemont bridge over Buffalo Bayou. I’ve really enjoyed the last few days of 42. Whatever tomorrow holds, it will wrap up a pretty delightful birthday. Hello 43!

Sunset paddlers on Buffalo Bayou

Sam and Cate cavorting on the new Rosemont Bridge

Downtown Houston looking lovely in blue

Cate and Sam “helping” with the tripod

POSTSCRIPT: Sunday morning, these two sang “happy birthday dear Mama.” And even though you can see giant bags under their eyes because I kept them out much too late the night before, they were remarkably cheerful.

Cate and Sam

Sam and Cate’s farewell to Tibbs

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

We know friends with friendly cats. Our Tibbs was more of a curmudgeon: cuddly with Bill and me, often prickly with others, high-maintenance, and high-strung. Bill says Tibbs was just what we deserved; that is, he was the perfect cat for us.

Despite Tibbs’ mercurial ways, our kids accepted him as part of our family — their “furry brother.” They learned early to approach him with caution, lest he bat at them. And they internalized that a swishing cat tail is “saying no!”

As they grew taller, more coordinated, and more confident, they learned when and how to pet him. Tibbs seemed to accept that, with Mom and Dad too sleep-deprived to function, the girls were his most-likely source of attention. From time to time, he would sit quietly in sphynx-pose and allow the girls to ruffle his fur, apparently conceding that inexpert cuddles were better than no cuddles at all.

When we finished a carton of milk, Cate learned to place the cap on the counter, and call, “Come kitty!” to invite him to play “futbol.” When Tibbs would bat the cap onto the kitchen floor, Cate would cackle gleefully as she rushed to retrieve it, and then stand on her tiptoes so she could just barely reach to slip it back on to the counter. Then she’d say, “again!”

Sam says, “I liked it when he knocked over my toys!”

I’m not sure I have any images of Tibbs playing with the girls, but this video from March 2010 of him playing soccer with me is one of my favorites. Sam asked me to play this video over and over for her yesterday, and she laughs out loud when Tibbs bats the paper wad straight into his water fountain. Last night, while playing in the tub, she lost her grip and slipped back under the water. She popped up, turned to me and exclaimed, “I went into the drink!”

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Tibbs playing wrapper-wad soccer with Bob in March 2010

* * *
Over the final week as Tibbs grew sicker, the girls heard me and Bill fretting about what might be wrong. Several times during the week, they tried to help. Cate gathered various balls and kitty toys and brought them to Tibbs. Sam pulled Tibbs’ comb out of his drawer and wanted to try to comb him, which I helped her do a little.

They recognized that not eating was not good, and repeatedly pulled the bag of Greenies treats out of his drawer and demanded to offer him whole handfuls. That he only ate a treat or two before wandering off was a very bad sign.

On Sunday afternoon, I pulled our kitty blanket on to the floor, and invited the girls to come scritch Tibbs’ head. Sam said gently, “I’m trying to help him feel better.” Cate leaned over and carefully wrapped her arms around him in a gentle hug. Then Sam hugged him, too.

* * *
Two years ago, when the girls were still babies, they soothed themselves with Wubanub “kitty binkies,” that long ago succumbed to teething. From time to time, Sam or Cate has rediscovered them in a drawer, pulled them out hopefully, sucked the broken binky once or twice, and then returned them to the drawer, disappointed.

Auntie Emi’ was in Houston Monday afternoon, the same day that Tibbs died. When she came to visit, she helped me with a project. During naptime, Emi masterfully disassembled the old Wubanubs, removed the broken binkies, and stitched their little mouths closed, giving them new life as four tiny “kitty friends.”

Sam played happily with her two kitties for a bit, and Cate joyfully readopted hers. I’m not sure whether Cate was that attached to the kitty binkies, but she sure is now!

Emily reassembling the kitties’ mouths

Sam and Cate stuck myriad tiny spools on their fingers and wiggled gleefully

Cate hugging a reclaimed kitty

Sam cuddling a reclaimed kitty

Goodbye, Tibbs.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

In June of 2000, about ten weeks before Bill and I left consulting to attend business school at Rice, we accidentally adopted a kitten.

Bill and I were going to play racquetball with Chris and Brit at their apartment on Holly Hall. As we stepped out of the Jimmy, we heard a small “mew” outside, and being friendly, we said, “meow, Kitty” back.

But it bothered me that I couldn’t figure out where the sound had come from. We saw no kitties on the ground or in the tree nearby. The next “mew” sounded like it came from under a red Oldsmobile Alero. When I got down on my belly to peer under the car, I glimpsed a swish of orange tail behind the right-front wheel, from a kitten in the engine compartment.

Oh, no! That’s no safe place for a kitty!

We cooed and cajoled until an orange, stripey kitten — coated from nose to tail with engine grease — emerged from the car, and offered it some water from a bottle of Ozarka.

When a clap of thunder startled the kitten back toward the wheel well, we scooped it up and put it in the Jimmy. All of a sudden, we were involved. Oops.

Lost kitten

I had little experience with pets. I naively imagined that someone had lost this furry bundle and would be overjoyed to see it again. So I snapped a photo, made up “Lost cat” posters, and recruited my brother to post them around the complex. Two people called that week, looking for older cats. But apparently, people don’t “lose” kittens.

A warm bath in the kitchen sink got rid of the engine grime, and his first trip to Montrose Vet took care of fleas, ear mites, and worms. The vet alerted us that this kitten was male and estimated his age at ten weeks, making him approximately an April Fools Day kitty. She gave the kitten — name T.B.D. — a clean bill of health and he was ours.

Bob at 29 with Kitten T.B.D.

Bill at 28 with Kitten T.B.D.

* * *
As consultants for Plaut, Bill and I were both still supporting IT clients in other states. Our friend, Susan, and my brother graciously agreed to catsit while we traveled during the week.

Initially, we confined the kitten to the spare bedroom, formerly Cindy’s room. But one Friday morning, Bill sent me an email with the subject, “Open Sesame,” and from then on, the cat pretty much had the run of the house.

Open sesame…

* * *
When Tibbs was perhaps six months old, we took him back to the vet for additional vaccinations and to be neutered. He weighed in at 11 pounds, and the vet tech encouraged us to switch his food from Kitten Chow to adult kibble, and assured us that Tibbs was fully grown.

Despite the tech’s pronouncement, Tibbs grew to become a strapping, 22-pound, adult cat. He could scale any cabinet, open doors, and even jump from the floor into the open freezer (?!?).

Jean captured this image of Tibbs, ready to pounce, in July 2002

Jean caught Tibbs, swishing his tail “no”, in June 2003

Tibbs in Jan 2004

Tibbs in Jan 2005

* * *
In November of 2005, during the week before Thanksgiving, two things happened. The refrigerator that had come with our house died. And we belatedly realized that our five-year-old cat, Tibbs, was becoming sicker and sicker.

Most obviously, Tibbs seemed really thirsty, spending a lot of time drinking from his fountain, and making a LOT of pee in his box. He also seemed hungry, but ate only a little of his kibble before wandering away. Less obviously, he was losing weight. And he had become less playful. What we mistook for the sedentary style of middle age turned out to be the lethargy of systemic illness.

Early in the week, we took him to Montrose Vet, where they tested his blood sugar and pronounced him diabetic. They sent us home with some glucophage tablets and a case of Purina DM, low-carb/high-protein, canned food to see if that would help.

But by Thanksgiving Thursday, Tibbs was struggling to breathe and his abdomen was distended. Glucose dysregulation was impairing his kidneys, and his body was accumulating fluid. Our vet referred him to VERGI on IH-10 near Bunker Hill for emergency care.

Tibbs was so sick that he almost didn’t survive. After Tibbs was admitted, they shooed us away to treat a more-urgent case. We were nearby at Target when a VERGI staffer called to say that Tibbs’ heart had stopped as they began treatment, and they had successfully resuscitated him.

Tibbs at VERGI in 2005, with IV ports for fluids, insulin, and lab draws

I remain grateful that Bill had not hesitated to sign the admission form authorizing heroic measures. Tibbs stayed in hospital through the weekend while they titrated his insulin dose. That 72 hours cost us $2,400, but saved his life. By this time, we had been trying to make babies — unsuccessfully — for more than a year. We had even started fertility treatments at OGA. For all practical purposes, Tibbs *was* our first baby, and we couldn’t bear the thought of losing him.

By Sunday, Tibbs was stable. Signing up for daily insulin shots didn’t seem like a big deal to me — my Dad had already been insulin-dependent for a decade. We took him home, and his Aunt Amy sent him a vase of lovely get-well-soon flowers. We settled into a new routine, Tibbs regained a few pounds, and he thrived again.

Tibbs checking out his daisies from Aunt Amy

Tibbs amongst his sharps in Dec 2006, before I learned the vet could safely dispose of them

Tibbs in July 2006

Tibbs in the soup cabinet, July 2007

Tibbs in May 2008

Tibbs in May 2009

Tibbs in Jan 2010

Tibbs was an excellent partner for “bedrest” everytime, especially the time that really counted in Feb 2011

Tibbs was not particularly amused by the babies or their playthings, Aug 2012

Tibbs in Mar 2012. When the babies were away in their beds, Tibbs still preferred to nap near Mama.

* * *
In retrospect, Tibbs probably stopped eating appropriately two weeks ago. He seemed hungry, and we were slow to notice that he ate only a little of his kibble before wandering away.

Puzzled, I scrutinized his food supply and noticed that the label had changed. Purina, in their continued quest for cost savings, had changed the formula of his food again, this time to add “natural and artificial flavors.” I don’t know what they added, but Tibbs refused to eat the stuff.

(It really, really irks me that Purina repeatedly tinkered with the formula of their prescription diets, which have a captive audience. The health of a diabetic animal — who cannot tell you how he’s feeling, and is difficult to test — depends on a predictable balance between food and insulin. I really wish they had just raised the price of the food every year.)

I called around to 8 or 10 cat clinics in our area, but by the time I had realized the issue, all of them had only the new formula in inventory. Despite my effort, I located just one can of the prior formula, and by then, Tibbs was already so sick he only nibbled at it.

Over the weekend, it became apparent to us that Tibbs was really sick. He was lethargic, and yet seemed to have trouble settling down to sleep. His belly became distended and his breathing became labored. Slowly, it dawned on me that we’d seen this before.

Monday morning, August 4th, Bill and I gathered Tibbs to take him to Montrose Vet for the last time. Sam and Cate expressed concern for Tibbs and insisted that they should come with us to the vet. Recognizing that no good could come from that, we sent the girls with Claudia to Weir Climbing Park. Sam cried as we took Tibbs away.

An x-ray scan revealed that Tibbs had fluid in both body cavities, consistent with glucose dysregulation. Dr. O told us, while the cause was unclear, “it cannot be fixed or managed, and he will not regain quality of life.” At 11 am, Tibbs gently came to the end of his life.

* * *
In 2005, when VERGI gave us the educational brochure about caring for a diabetic animal, I was horrified to read that the average diabetic cat only survives 18 months. In retrospect, that’s a population statistic that includes unfortunate animals whose owners make no effort to manage their diabetes.

Tibbs lived 8-1/2 years after diagnosis, and he thrived for much of that. I am confident that he lived a longer and better life with us than he might have otherwise. Nonetheless, I wish that I had recognized sooner that his not eating would dysregulate him, and acted sooner to prevent his final suffering. Go in peace, Tibbs.