Friday, June 29, 2007

Full house, full hearts

Recently our lives got a little quieter, a little calmer, a little less fun. After staying almost two weeks, the Sacramento Bittle clan packed themselves and their stuff back into their car to start their return journey west -- most of them, at least. Alex, 12, talked her way into staying with us for a few weeks, returning to Sacramento when we fly out in late July.

Chris, Tracy, Alex, Kyle, and Adam decided to spend what little vacation time they had this year with us, and Megan and I chose to crazy up their visit a bit more by holding Kate's baptism during their visit, inviting my mother and grandmother to fly out as well. We converted our third floor into a dormitory/kid's room that by the end of their stay was decorated with "kids only" signs.

Clara is a happy kid normally, but nowhere is she as happy as when she is around her cousins, as I've documented several times in this blog. And the older she gets, the more expressive she has become. She's already bossing them around a little bit. She asks for them when she wakes up and when she is put in her crib at night. Swimming with them one day she exclaimed, "I'm happy!" Then she whispered to me, "I love swimming with my cousins." Really? When Megan got home that night Clara yelled from the pool, "Mommy, take your clothes off and swim with my cousins!"

Kate spent the time alternating between giving everyone flirty smiles, clinging to my leg, and calling Uncle Chris "punkin" -- that's what he called her. She mimicked people so much that Kyle spent an evening getting her to walk around saying, "I'm a baby!"

Though the weather didn't cooperate (storms and heatwaves) we managed to see our fair share of kid St. Louis - pools, the zoo, Monkey Joe's, Science Center, Webster Street Dance, and Snow Cone Alley. When we weren't watching storms from our porch, Kyle and Adam were chasing rabbits or catching fireflies in the back yard. Alex taught Clara to paint, and now we have beautiful canvases of multi-colored splotches all over the house.

My mom, who was on her way to the east coast to vacation with her friends, flew in for the baptism, as did my grandmother, who got to see our St. Louis for the first time. Thank you to Tony and Susan, who opened their home to them. There's nothing like the fresh eyes of visiting family members to put what's best of one's home town into focus. I found myself taking different routes just to show off different aspects of my new home town. Webster Groves has plenty to show off.

The event that brought us all together was Kate's baptism. Our parish, Holy Redeemer, holds one baptism day a month, so Kate was one of six or seven to be baptized. In the midst of infants dressed in white gowns walked our little Kate, pointing and saying "baby!" and "bless you!" After the baptisms of the cross, oil, the chrism, the candle, soy sauce, milk, and hummus, it was time for the baptism of water. As Chris held Kate over the font, Kate looked around and decided she wasn't ready for the responsibilities of being a Catholic and whimpered, "Daddy!"

Successfully cleansed of her original sin (though the cheerio stains remained,) Kate led us in a celebration back at our house and delighted in the spotlight for a day. Clara understood enough that it was Kate's day to say, "It's Kate's birthday!" Kinda.

We had too many good times and funny moments to write here, but my favorite had the whole family laughing. We were having a quiet moment in the office when Clara, who was playing with something in the kitchen, appeared at the door saying, "It's not good, mommy. It's not good." Then she disappeared, leaving the rest of us rolling in laughter. I have no idea where she got that, and luckily whatever was "not good" was only in her imagination.

Almost immediately after the Bittle clan left, the Williams family came through on their way to moving to Los Angeles, where Dmitri took a teaching position at USC. Many members of Cindy's family live in LA, including her mother. It'll be funny to see Mia and Jack in ten years and see them as Southern California kids rather than midwesterners. While they were in town, the four of us got to see The Police in concert, and though my ears rang for three days, I loved every minute of it.

Clara now calls every boy she meets Jack.

The 4th of July is now one of Clara's favorite holidays. With some of Megan's high school friends, we walked to a neighbor's house to watch the Webster Groves parade. Alex and Clara sat at the edge of the parade and caught candy while Kate canvassed the sidewalk for potential admirers. That night, Megan, Alex, and Clara found a place to sit near the train tracks to watch the fireworks.

My dad returned from California and got an earful from Kate, who wanted to tell him everything she had done since he left a few months ago. Some day she'll be able to do that using English, but not this time.

It's pretty quiet around here now, but soon we all head to California to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Random Puddles of Pee

The time has come for Clara to step out of her diapers and become a big girl, complete with big girl underwear. The decision to potty train Clara was a tough one -- Megan argued that it was time, while I was fine with continuing to let diapers catch whatever wanted to come out of her. But I was no match for Megan's tactic: bullheaded insistence. So the Potty training began.

Foolish man that I am I thought the child was the one being trained. Not so. I was clearly the one in training. For the first few weeks I had to place Clara on the toilet quite frequently, before and after meals, naps, and baths to get her used to this new experience and to keep her big girl underwear dry.

Progress was slow, and though we still have a long way to go, accidents are becoming less frequent. Success in the Bittle household is measured by how close to the bathroom the little puddles of pee are. Not quite able to understand her little body yet, Clara gives me a one second warning, stiffening up and declaring, "I have to go to the bathroom!" before letting it all go down her legs. At such times I calmly pick her up and carry her to the toilet, clean her up, and change her, then clean up the carpet - all the while keeping curious Kate at arm's length from all the fun.

Do I pull my hair out or otherwise bemoan the fact that cleaning up bodily fluids has become my occupation? Nope. I'm just glad there was no poop involved.

A couple of days ago Megan put Clara in a new bathing suit and shoes, which she promptly filled with pee. But just yesterday Clara told me she had to go, walked quickly with me and made it to the potty - a first that prompted quite the celebration.

Man, my life has changed.