The Adventures of the Bello/Calisoff/Kaplan Clan

Joy, Sean, Roman and Sky left us Saturday afternoon.

We were all very sad to see them go.

I know the twins will miss Sky terribly. Sam followed her around like a shadow for days.

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And I know Jack is going to miss Roman too. They spent almost every moment together. IMG_7048

In fact, all the kids mixed and mingled together really well, for the most part.

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DSC_0085We managed to fit a few fun activities in together too.

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And we were very lucky to all be together to help Bubbie and Grandpa Bill celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.DSC_0106

Joy, Sean, Adam and I, with the help of two sitters, managed to escape one evening for an adults only dinner at The Boarding House.

After many days of being the only girl, we had a great afternoon where Sky connected with one of our friend’s daughter, Josephine.IMG_7099

They had so much fun together we continued the play date the next day.IMG_7133

Who says it’s just the boys who play with guns?IMG_7107

Joy and Sean took pity on my and kindly watched all our kids for an hour each day so I could go for a run. It was a very nice, unexpected treat.

Even though Roman is already 9, it amazes me that it’s still the simplest things are the most fun. I wish I could have captured the evening we spent chasing the kids up and down the stairs trying to tickle torture them. Or the random giggles we had just sitting around the house. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what age you are, the best times are when you have time to spend together with family and friends – no matter where, or doing what.

Lunch with the Pasquiers at the Butcher and the Burger

Lunch with the Pasquiers at the Butcher and the Burger

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A Good Day

Sounds like a boring title but considering the last few days that I’ve had it’s the most exciting thing in the world.

Since Ben’s sensory processing disorder has reared it’s ugly head, it seems the good days are fewer and the bad days bowl us over and over again.

Unfortunately it’s a demoralizing cycle. Because when you have a bad day it makes it that much harder to get up again and try for a good one. And when you have a bunch of bad days, the good days seem an impossible, distant dream.

Today, with much trepidation, I headed out with my four kids alone to Chinatown. We decided to take the water taxi.

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My friend Pam told us that they just opened a stop at North Avenue behind Old Navy so we were able to walk down and not worry about parking.

With some many kids, sometimes going anywhere outside the house is like an act of faith. Faith that nothing will happen to your kids. Because with so many little ones, anything can go wrong.

Luckily the kids were very excited to see all the sights on the boat. Jack very nicely held onto Sam while I held Aaron, keeping the twins safe.IMG_7057

And miraculously Ben didn’t get into an altercation with anyone on the playground.

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In fact, for the most part they stuck together. Jack was even sweet enough to get everyone’s water bottles after they were hot and sweaty from running around on this gorgeous, sunny and cool day.

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Even Ben, who is a runner, stayed close by and held the stroller every single time I asked him. Without a tantrum. He ACTUALLY listened.

It was going so well I even tried to sit down for lunch with all four of them. IMG_7077

The staff kept asking if I was expecting anyone else. No, I am just the crazy mom who takes all her kids to lunch. Alone.

Again, I was shocked that the kids all sat (or stood in their chairs) eating.

We even made it back on the el with no incidents. Jack and Ben took turns holding doors open for the stroller and pushing elevator buttons for me.IMG_7087

It was great.

And it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe Ben will be okay one day. That one day the good days will outnumber the bad.

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Cousins Visit

This must be the summer of Chicago. The night after my friend Laura left I had a visit from my sister’s friend Andrea. Then, later that night, another round of visitors arrived.

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I’ve been so inundated with visitors I haven’t even mentioned the Adam’s mother and hubby has been here all month from Arizona!

And for the rest of this week we get the pleasure of Adam’s sister and children’s company.

Adam was ecstatic to spend time with his sister. But that emotion paled in comparison to how Jack felt about Roman coming to visit.

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The gang of cousins, minus Aaron.

Stay tuned for more Calisoff/Bello/Kaplan adventures!

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A Higgs Holiday

Anyone besides Megan wondering what us Higgs and Calisoffs have been up to this week?

We visited quite a few parks. Her daughters are still at the age where bringing them to a park is much more fun for ALL of us than any museum or city tour has to offer.

Oz Park

Oz Park

Oz Park

Oz Park

Montgomery Ward Park

Montgomery Ward Park

Montgomery Ward Park

Montgomery Ward Park

One afternoon we dragged the Higgs along to a birthday party for my friend Pam’s son, Max. The party was at Adam’s park and they also had a concert that same evening. The place was a zoo. If my kids were not standing right next to me I would lose them in an instant. I felt awful that I brought Laura and her kids. It was so crowded she must have felt like she was in China all over again!

Adam's Park

Adam’s Park

We also managed to go running together TWICE, just Vertolli and I.IMG_7021

We spent one morning at Foster Avenue beach. photo-3

We also went over to Millennium Park to visit the bean and play in the fountain.

Jack, Sam, Helaina and Indigo.

Jack, Sam, Helaina and Indigo.

And no trip would be complete without food. Lots of food. I mean, it IS VERTOLLI we are talking about people!

Red Mango for FroYo

Red Mango for FroYo

Everything we did was a lot of fun and easier with Laura around. But the best moments weren’t even the orchestrated ones. They were the ones that happened at random times and places. Stuff that made you giggle, smile, or just feel blessed for good friends and even better than that – good friends with kids the same age as yours…

Jack reading 'Pete the Cat' to the littles.

Jack reading ‘Pete the Cat’ to the littles.

Helaina tickling Aaron

Helaina tickling Aaron

They insisted on walking these wheel barrels 7 blocks to the park.

They insisted on walking these wheel barrels 7 blocks to the park. It was annoyingly adorable.

Sam pushes Indigo at Park 535

Sam pushes Indigo at Park 535

Sam and Indigo built a castle for her, then put construction vehicles in it for him.

Sam and Indigo built a castle for her, then put construction vehicles in it for him.

One evening we walked down the street copying each other's dance moves.

One evening we walked down the street copying each other’s dance moves.

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Fresh Picks (July 16)

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This week red lettuce, spring mix, kale, potatoes, tomatoes, kolrabi, and cilantro.

The first night the potatoes and kolrabi were diced, oiled, salted and peppered then roasted in high heat until gooey and crispy.

The spring mix was sauteed in garlic and oil and added to a thai take out we had one night.

Kale was paired with the mangoes my mother brought up for me last week for a delicious Kale and Mango Salad.

Cilantro was chopped up and added to avocado for a lovely guacamole.

Finally I chopped up the lettuce and tomatoes into a salad.

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Vertolli, I mean Higgs

Vertolli arrived last night. She lives in Shanghai, but ironically she is not a friend I met from my time abroard. Vertolli and I met in Mass Media our junior year in high school. We were best buddies ever since.DSC_0928

We were a very unlikely couple back in the day. She taught me how to be cool. I taught her how to stay in school.

This week I am finding it yet another thing unlikely, discussing our asian experiences together. I’m very impressed how quickly she is learning Mandarin!

Even though Laura has been married many years now and goes by the name of Laura Higgs, I still call by her old high school name, AKA her last name – Vertolli. Some habits never die.

Other habits never die too...

Some other habits also never die…

Since she arrived, we have spent some time talking about friends we shared in the past. I realized I’ve done a bad job at keeping up with them. A stay at home mom with four small kids does not make a good friend. Fortunately everyone else seems to be in the same boat as me.

I also realized, as I sat exchanging easy conversation with a girl my mother dubs as my “most improved friend” that I didn’t do a very good job keeping up with her either.

But even as Vertolli “improved” and changed, one thing didn’t. We sat and talked as if no time had passed. And that is a mark of a true friend.

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Leon the Great

Many years before I met Adam, he volunteered for a mentoring program at Marillac House. The program was every other Saturday.   Adam would show up and tutor for 3 hours, but part of that time was spent playing sports in a classroom.

Many children ages 8-13 showed up, the first few weeks requiring mentoring in different subjects.   Each had different challenges and vastly different cognitive abilities.    Very quickly, Adam felt he was not making an effective impact for the time he spent, slowing down for some kids while others looked bored.

He asked if he could mentor just one kid instead of 3 or 4 and given that more tutors were joining the program, the director reluctantly agreed.

There were many kids there. And Adam talked to each of them. One day, he asked one of the students what he wanted to do in life.

This particular 11 year old said he wanted to be a basketball player. The best basketball player ever.

“Why do you want to do that?” Adam asked.

“So when people see me they would say, there goes Leon the Great.”

Adam realized he had found his match.

And so started a 15 year friendship.

Leon is now a 26 year old man and and last night we went to his wedding.IMG_6965

He married his sweetheart of 8 years, Nina.

The wedding was only 6 miles from our house, but it was like we had travelled to another city altogether. I realized quickly what a bubble I live in.

You’d think it would make a person feel shy and out of place but not here. Here everyone had a nice or funny comment ready. In fact, I was telling Adam it was one of the few weddings I had ever been to that was drama free. Rather than the normal family squabbles that seem so common among our friends, this family banded together. The sister was decorating the venue up to the last minute. The uncle saw the bartender was overwhelmed and stepped on the other side to help out.

They did a lot of other really classy things too. Traditionally after the mother/groom dance the bride dances with her dad. But Nina’s dad passed away early this year. Instead of an awkward moment, they had her girlfriends rally around her, dancing a joyous Wobble dance.IMG_2137

Oh yes I did. Don’t you know me at all? I never miss a chance to dance. No matter how out of my league I am.

When we arrived we were seated at the very front table. I was surprised and honored that they would place so much importance on Adam. Since we’ve had all these kids we have not seen Leon and Nina half as much as Adam would like.

I was even more flattered for Adam to see Leon’s own parents were at our table too.

Throughout the night many people came to say hi to Adam. One man introduced himself. He said that he never met Adam but heard all about him from Leon when Leon was a kid in the neighborhood.

My chest swelled with pride that I had married this great man.

Perhaps when people see Adam I should shout out, “There goes Adam the Great.”

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Ben Turns Five

Today was Ben’s official birthday and we wanted to do everything possible to give him the best day ever.

It didn’t start well. Ben and Jack started Lego Camp this week and unfortunately after Monday they handed me a page long list of ‘incidents’ from Ben. When I walked in, one of the counselors was pretty much holding him back like a horse at the gate.

She explained to me that one of the three teachers had to take turns blocking him from destroying everyone else’s inventions. He kicked a teacher. And much more.

So we withdrew him. The next day was his birthday. And I had to tell him he wasn’t welcome anymore at lego camp.

I spoke with his therapist about it. She explained that his motor skills are like a 2 year old, and what do 2 year olds do when they see a lego building? They smash it.

On the morning of his birthday, when Jack was about to leave for camp, he came crying to me.

I asked him what was wrong and he couldn’t tell me. Was it that Jack was going to Lego Camp without him? He said yes.

I told him that he can go to Lego Camp in the future, but right now his body wasn’t ready (language from the therapist, it’s his body, not him.)

I asked him what he didn’t like about Lego Camp. Holding him in my arms, he started to calm down and open up to me. He told me he just wanted to play with Jack and the legos without any other kids around.

I told him that he could still play with Jack and legos at home. Without other kids around. And he could play with his legos today in the morning while Jack was at camp.

And I told him that I’m glad he told me he didn’t like other kids around. That the word ‘camp’ meant there would be other kids around. And in the future if we ask him if he wants a camp he now knows that means lots of other kids.

I also said there are times when other kids around is unavoidable, but lego camp is optional.

After the talk he seemed okay.

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It helped that my amazing sitter showed up with a present for Ben this morning. She is so good I don’t want to tell anyone about her. Okay, okay I will eventually, but that is for another blog…

He went with the twins in the morning to the park. We let him ride Jack’s bike. He was so happy, he pretended he was Jack the whole way there and laughed about it.DSC_0838

He ran laps around the park, while either I or the sitter tried to beat him. He won every time. I wish I could capture the joy on his face after each win.DSC_0856

Our friends the Hutchinsons were at the park when we arrived. We were able to have a real race with lots of kids.

Then he got his favorite meal, McDonalds, on the way to the Highland Park Hidden Creek Aqua Park. We only took Jack and Ben, leaving the twins with my mom. No little pesky brothers there to ruin his special day!

IMG_6855Just hanging out with his best friend Jack. In a sensory kid’s dream come true.

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Later Jack was eyeing the big slides. Ben is just over the height limit and can’t quite swim yet so we were very nervous when he followed Jack up the stairs.IMG_6856

He asked a lot of questions about the slide. From his therapist we learned that he does not like surprises so we patiently went over every step, watching other riders slide down the curvy slide and pointing out what would happen next. We also told him he did not have to go if he didn’t want to. But as soon as Jack went, he surprised us by sitting down and sliding down next.

I was so proud of him I thought I was going to cry. But it didn’t end there. He also bravely tried the fast, bullet slide.

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So beautiful to watch him over come his fears and take the plunge. For a normal kid it’s exciting, but for a sensory kid who doesn’t like change or the unknown, it’s a tear jerking, heart swelling moment.

Oh, yeah. And this happened…

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Afterwards he had both sides of grandparents here giving him even more present and love.

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DSC_0864Ben makes Bubbie play the evil Kraang while Grandpa Bill plays trains with his buddy Aaron.

Happy Birthday Ben. I hope will be a great year for you!

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Ben’s 5th Birthday

Ben was very adamant that he wanted a teenage mutant ninja turtle party this year.

And so started another Pinterest inspired extravaganza.

Because of Ben’s sensory processing disorder we didn’t want to have any set entertainment. I find having him sit when he doesn’t feel like it is a disaster.

Still we did our best to make it as turtley as possible.

We had teenage mutant ninja turtle balloons.

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It was a hot and balmy day so we set up the pool on the back deck as well. I’m always amazed how much fun a tub of water is for kids. But it works every time! We had some TMNT foam stars for the kids to toss around out here but not sure where they ended up. Sometimes when you are planning a party that happens. Most times when you are planning a party that happens. In fact, I’m kicking myself right now as I remember I didn’t put the huge Costco chocolate turtles on the table. Now I’m going to have to eat them all.

DSC_0806 We had more teenage mutant ninja turtle inspired food. Stuff I actually remembered to put out…

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After I made this I asked Jack what he thought. He said he liked it except there is no yellow teenage mutant ninja turtle. Oops.

We also had the turtle’s favorite food – pizza!

And of course, the cake. Yes, Adam did it again.IMG_6810

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A triple layer cake. Inside was vanilla with two layers of raspberry. I had to break my diet for that one.

After the cake we let the kids stuff their own goody bags full of teenage mutant ninja turtle eggs.

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We stuffed 400 green easter eggs full of candy and had a turtle egg hunt.

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All lined up at the gate and ready to go!

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We also gave out some TMNT masks and coloring books too.DSC_0790

TMNT goodie bags.

People asked how we put together parties so easily. Sometimes they are a lot of work (the Harry Potter Party took ages) but this year I had a lot of help.

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A LOT of help…

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Mexican Wedding

Adam and I attended our first Mexican Wedding last night.

It was the son of Adam’s secretary, Paula. Paula and Adam have been working together for 13 years now.

Paula’s son is Paul and he married Brenda. Brenda’s background is half Pakistan, half Mexican, all Catholic.

The service was in this beautifully ornate church, done in the grand style that only Catholics can do, with stain glass stories in every window and steeped in the traditions of robed priests, eucharist and lots of kneeling.

Whenever I enter a place like this, it makes me think of how old the religion is, and how little has changed in the church. How godly it must have been to enter these sacred spaces, to hear the beautiful music before things like radios existed. Adam and I have not been married long by any standards, but still I felt the gravity of the ceremony having been through it myself a mere eight years ago. It is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life and any time I get a chance to witness such an occasion I feel honored to be there.

Paul and Brenda already have a son together who is between the twins and Ben’s age. I always felt like I related to Paula on an equal level but seeing her young son with a kid my kids age slid us right in the middle of the two generations. All of a sudden felt myself empathizing with Paul and Brenda as well.

Paula with her grandson, Johnny. I envy that she is a young grandmother and hope I have the energy she has for Johnny for my grandkids one day.

Paula with her grandson, Johnny. I envy that she is a young grandmother and hope I have the energy she has for Johnny for my grandkids one day.

In fact the whole wedding was that. Before I thought we were all so different, but by the time the night ended I realized we are all the same. We all want to find love and happiness. We all want to have kids, be a father or mother of the bride or groom, have our friends celebrate these milestone moments with us.

Even though the rituals may be different, the meaning behind them is the same.

Having said that, there were some really interesting different rituals.

At one point they stuck a apron on Paul and people lined up (mostly for Paul!) to stick money on the bride and groom in exchange for a dance.

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Johnny is unknowingly photo bombing…

I never saw that before!

And until last night I thought the Jewish chair dance was the most unsafe thing I’d seen at a wedding. But the Mexicans had us beat. Here they stand the bride and groom on chairs with good friends holding them tight while throngs of men and woman holding hands try to run into them and topple them over!

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Even though it was too late to take the kids, we brought them back four little candy boxes that you could fill on your own at the end of the reception. In a way we got to celebrate again the next day with the kids too!DSC_0777

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