Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Summer 2011

I have finalized our summer trip plans.  I know, it seems early.  But even a year in advance, I was only able to get ONE night at the Old Faithful Inn, so I had to pin the rest down early.  Come to find out, it was just that inn that booked up so I could have waited.  But there are a lot of positives to have secured dates and hotels.  Namely, my family's strange taste in lodging, which requires a bit more research than staying at Super 8s along the way.

The boys were in vehement agreement that our ranking for overnights is:

(1) Theme suites.

(2) Camping.

(3) "Boring hotel rooms" (direct quote).

So, our summer trip is a hodge-podge of several hundred dollar theme rooms and $20 a night tent sites.  We're sleeping in a treehouse suite, a teepee, a Camelot-inspired room, camping out at a bison ranch, and then some historic places, like the Old Faithful Inn.  Many regular campsites along the way. 

I'm curious to see if longer-term camping goes well, as we have it penciled in to road trip and camp through Europe in 2012.  I'd rather find out it was a dreadful failure without an ocean and an 11-hour flight back as an obstacle.  But I'm hopeful.

Should be interesting, no matter what.

To kick all of this off, Jack is spending his first time at summer camp.  Immersion Russian, no less!  My, what a strange summer.

I hope my children appreciate their wacky childhood.  So far, it seems like they're having fun.  :)  We'll see when they rebel and ask for a regular childhood...although part of me wonders if I'm even capable of giving them that, and being true to myself. 

Hopefully, the most important part of motherhood is an authentic spirit on my part, while also honoring them?  I tell myself that.  We'll see.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mom Day

Mom absolutely loved the Christmas Tree pattern from Spode dishes, and always talked about getting the set.  I was never quite sure why she didn't, as it certainly wasn't about finances.  I still think about it often, and wished she'd bought her special plates. 

I was at TJ Maxx a few weeks ago, and they had a display of that pattern.  I contemplated getting a few plates, but that seemed to run counter to what we're doing in our life - trying to experience relationships and life through memories and experiences, and not about "stuff."  Did I really want to buy a stack of dishes to move around on our adventures? 

Then I saw they had a paper plate version too, which made me laugh out loud in the aisle.  I bought a few sets, and will bring a pack with us to Vegas.  Eat our Christmas dinner on the paper plate version of Mom's special pattern. 

For the actual anniversary, though, there wasn't a strategy in place.  Last year, to honor the first anniversary of her death, we had a chore-free family weekend.  We just did fun things laundry, cooking, whatever.  I remember marveling at HOW MUCH WORK it took to get to that place.  I spent a week to prepare for it. :) 

With the trip to Cancun and leaving for Las Vegas in a few days, a planned anniversary fell to the wayside. I was surprised by what a "Mom" day it ended up being today, without it being on purpose.

The three kids and I drove out to Newport News to drop off three of the Lost Boy families' presents for Christmas.  It'd been planned all week, as I wanted to make sure they got them before Christmas Day.  But when it clicked that today was Her day, I realized how truly perfect that was.  Her love for community and helping others was such a part of her motherhood with us, it seemed only fitting to be doing something like that today.

Peter had to leave before we arrived, so my boys missed out on playing with his two sons.  They've become good friends through our visits, so my boys were disappointed.  I wanted to replace it with something else special, so I decided to drive a bit farther up to Williamsburg and take them to the Yankee Candle Factory.  They don't care about the candles, but it has the area decorated with numerous trees and it snows inside over the bridge they can walk over.

It ended up being a huge hit.  They all dipped wax ornaments -  including the pink car Simone made for Grandpa.  I'm sure he'll appreciate his pink truck wax ornament. :) 

On our way home, we drove through the 42nd street lights.  And then came home, where Steve had pre-made the gingerbread dough so it could refrigerate for a few hours before we got home; that way, the kids just got to roll it out and frost it, without having the looooong wait beforehand. :)  

Today ended up being a perfect day for remembering Mom, and thinking about how she's still influencing our lives.  Christmas and Charity are two words that definitely come to mind with Mom. 

It makes me wonder what "words" my children will attach with me. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2nd Anniversary of Mom's Death

I was going through photos tonight.  Going through the box of mementos from mom's death and funeral.  The newspaper from the day she died and her obituary on Christmas day.  All the cards from loved ones.  The bulletin from her funeral.  My letter to her.  The pink pants she wore to all my children's births.

Suddenly, I had a realization.  "Steve, what day is it today?"  And without having realized it, I was doing all this on the eve of her death-day.  I knew it was coming, but I'm bad about dates...and that wasn't what prompted my going through the box.  I was just feeling sentimental, and wanting to sift through some memories. 

Tomorrow, she will have been gone for 2 years.  Her granddaughter was a lap-baby when she died - only 4 months old.  And now she is a spirited nearly 2.5 year old who speaks complicated sentences, dances and runs, and gets more beautiful every day.

I suppose many would say she's missed so much already, and will miss even more.  But I'm not feeling that way - and I have no idea why that is, on a logical level.   What I feel, in a deep place of myself: There is still so much unexpected comfort in how near and vivid she truly feels to me.  Looking through those souvenirs of our life...the photos and other keepsakes...I felt like she was smiling along with me.

In truth, I don't really sense this is true.  Do I feel like her soul is lingering?  Not really.  Do I feel like I am haunted by this ghost of my mom?  No.  But that's what her life and her love for me created this imprint of her into me.  She is always, always there.

She would love seeing her grandbabies so much, I know.  And there's a part of me that aches for her to see them.  But there's a surprising part to the grief that loves what she did for them already; the elements that live on even after her.

This is how I want to live.  In a way that echoes beyond how long I'm physically here.  I want to comfort my children, love them, live in them...even after my body's machinery shuts down.

She would love how truly loved she is.  How often and how much she is remembered.  The fondness we feel towards her.  And how much her grandbabies speak about her.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy 4th Birthday, Andrew.

Sometimes, a mild panic can come over me when I do the math.  My sweet little baby Andrew is now 4, which is more than 1/5th of the way to adulthood.  My goodness, it's going so fast.  I have absolutely adored getting to know you, and want to soak up every minute of your tiny self.  You will not be little for much longer.

When people see you in passing, they always comment on your smile.  Your whole face smiles.  Or more accurately, your whole body.  Nothing about you is halfway.  You do everything - eat, run, hug, laugh, speak - at such levels of extreme.  Even your smiles involve your arms, your shoulders, your eyes.

When people see you for more than a few minutes, they comment on  how active you are.  You don't stop moving.  When you eat, you are bouncing.  When you draw at the table, you are hopping in place as you move your pen.  There are thuds coming from whatever room you are in.  And very often, things are broken within minutes. 

This energy can drive me crazy sometimes, but it's always about my own reserves that day.  There is no malice in you.  There is nothing that means harm or ill-intent.  You are just "Andrew."  Active and busy and exploring. 

When someone spends more than a few hours with you, they always comment on your hugs.  We joke that you'll be the Free Hugs guy, standing in Times Square.  You love so much and so raw.  It radiates from you, that love.  I have never in my life been given a hug like the ones you give: You wrap arms and legs around us...burrow your face into our neck...and just hang on to us.  There's not a clingy insecurity about you; there is just 100% pure, unadulterated LOVE.

I have loved watching you "become":  From that tiny little being that came from my body to this fabulous young boy.  You are wicked smart and so filled with joy and love, I can't imagine it won't take you to lovely places in life.

We were gone to Cancun for a wedding for 5 days, and it was the longest we'd ever been away from you kids.  We got home after midnight, and all three of you were in bed.  I went in to check on you, and my heart just melted as I saw your tiny little self asleep on the bed.  I wanted to wake you and hold you.  I kissed your forehead and crawled into bed, exhausted from the travel day.

And then we heard your little footsteps a few minutes later... and your sweet angel voice saying: "Mommy?  Mommy!"  Then you crawled into bed and curled up next to me unquestioningly, like it was the only place you were meant to be.  I will be sad when you outgrow those snuggles. 

You bring me so much joy.  Thinking about you, talking to you, snuggling with you in the morning.  Every time I'm with you, I know we were meant to be son and mother.  You are a perfect fit for me.

You are loved and adored and a beautiful ornament on our family tree.  Your sword fighting, Star Wars-loving self are just what we needed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How do I love thee, Internet? Let me count the ways.

Even narrowing it to the last 24 hours, the internet has brought me joy by:

- Letting me send Amazon gift cards via email to the boys' teachers.  In my pajamas.  At midnight.

- Allowing me to finish my Christmas newsletter and upload a PDF file to Kinko's website.  Specify two sides, standard paper, color printing.  Have it sent electronically to the branch by the university where I taught today.  Pre-pay for it.  They email me when it's done.  And I run in and out in UNDER FIVE MINUTES.

- Oh, and:  Google for a coupon code for Kinko's (in my pajamas) and in under a minute find one that saves me $25 off my order.  Not a bad hourly wage. 

I love you, Internet.

Also of note:

- Instead of hassling my friends who moved this year (I attract nomadic friends...I can't imagine why!) ;) I could find most of them on  Christmas cards done in no time.  One of my absolute favorite traditions, made significantly easier in the last few years.

- Pay bills through my bank's website.

- Have my dad send me scanned newspaper articles via email.  I used to find stacks of them on my bed when I came home.  This is one particularly sweet way my dad shows affection, so it's nice to get my regular sampling even from 1000 miles away.

- Order my new curriculum for the co-op econ class.  In my pajamas.  At midnight.

- Do online scheduling for my haircut.  I LOVE PLACES THAT LET YOU ONLINE SCHEDULE!  In your pajamas.  At midnight. 

- Check Cancun's weather for the week.  How did people do those things before the internet? How did you pack for vacations?

- The obvious one:  Grade final papers online for a school I haven't stepped foot in for the last 8 years.  Having 90% of my livelihood be online makes me especially grateful to the World Wide Web gods.

So much more, I'm sure.  I didn't even mention Facebook, which brings me joy on so many levels.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When life hands you a fake fichus, make it a Christmas tree

This has been the Year of Living...Strangely.  We've done crazy things that we would have thought were (well...) crazy before, but there's been this drive within the family to scale back, live authentically, have more fun, and eek as much out of life as possible. 

Which leads us to this tree.

When I was little, I loved my grandparents' tree.  There was a color theme (rose and silver), it was frosted white, and all the ornaments matched.  It looked straight of Macy's.  When I grew up, I was going to have a gorgeous matching tree.  Not one of those hodge-podge trees my parents put up every year, with handmade ornaments and other such nonsense.

Enter Motherhood.  The cinnamon ornament of Jack's handprint when he was 18-months-old is one of the most precious things ever.  I have my mom's knitted baby sock in there.  The Skwish Classic toy that my mom gave to Simone for Christmas the year she died.  I was there when she bought it.  Is it an ornament?  Not officially.  But if it fits in the tree, it passes.  The clip-on toy we bought in Amsterdam, when I was pregnant with Andrew.  All three grew out of needing toys clipped to their shirt, so now I'll clip it to the tree. :)

The dress hanging from the tree?  Simone's first holiday outfit.  I found it dirt-cheap at a garage sale when I was pregnant with her.  I hung it on my dresser knob and stared at it in wonder that I was going to have a little girl who'd wear that outfit.  I still remember that feeling so vividly.  I'm thinking about sewing along the bottom of the dress to turn it into a baggie of sorts.  Maybe put slips of "holiday activities" in it for the kids to pull out during advent? 

The other years, we've had an actual tree.  But in scaling back 90% of our belongings, it didn't make sense to keep a huge artificial tree.  And I'm allergic to the real ones.  So this is our tree.  It came with the furnished rental. 

To be honest, I completely adore it.

We used to have boxes galore of Christmas decorations.  I'm a nut about Christmas.  My mom and I would stand in line the day after Christmas to get 50% off of decorations. 

But now...the decorations have completely changed.  I used to want a beautiful, matching, Macy's style Christmas.  I pretty much donated every single one of those decorations.  If it's actually beautiful and I saved it, it's just coincidence.  Because I saved all the handmade child-art ornaments, our super-cool giant stockings, and not a whole lot else. 

That our whole Christmas now fits into one tub?  I love it.

This year, we're using Christmas a new way.  Borrowing others' decorations, like going to Hunt Club Farms, Polar Express at the Botanical Gardens, the oceanfront lights.  There are so many beautiful ways to celebrate Christmas.  They don't all have to be in the house, right?

This is proving to be the sweetest, most stress-free holiday yet. 

And for the actual day?  Spending a week in Las Vegas.  Ha!  That should be interesting.  We're trying a year of NOT driving 24 hours through blizzards to see family, and instead having family meet us in Vegas. 

I'll report back on that one.

A busy dude!

Jack (6.5ish):

"When I grow up, I'm going to be an astronaut... and a paleontologist who draws pictures. Not like a dinosaur-looking-at paleontologist, but a drawing-paleontologist. And a bookmaker and toymaker.

I'm also maybe going to be the president. I'd make laws, like that everyone can eat ice cream at Christmas."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Closing up the storage unit. Oh my!

Less than a year ago, we moved out of our four-bedroom home.  I passed out belongings at playgroups, donated embarrassingly large amounts to CHKD (they knew me by name in the donation center), and on the street corner.  Literally.  We put a kitchen table and a few other things at the end of the driveway.  Free items on Craig's List. 

It felt amazing, and not at all scary.  We were ready.

We moved into the super-tiny temporary place, which transitioned us on either end of our 8-week road trip.  Since it was a one-bedroom apartment sublet (tiny tiny!), we got a storage unit.

After how many things we gave away, I was stunned there was still so.much.left.  I was starting to see that even minimalists with 3 children have a lot of things.

Then...The Conversation where we decided to load up a U-Haul of even more things and take to a Sudanese family.  We were surprised that things that previously held so much value to us (like leather couches we saved up to buy in our early marriage) had started to feel like a burden, not a blessing.  I gave it to that dad more for me than for him, in all honesty, although I also knew he really and truly needed our things. 

We still had a lot of things in storage.  Not much by most standards, but still felt like it was trapping us in some way.  While we plan to stay in Virginia Beach, the rest of the variables are pretty fluid.  And being able to float into whatever life situation sounds best is where both of us are right now.

Plus, to our surprise, we are happiest the less stuff we have.  We are reaching our maximum utility of stuff, I see.

And now we have reached a place in the process where I wasn't sure we'd ever reach. We are closing up our storage unit. 

Furniture we'll keep in the end:  Two recliners. 

I have been waffling about my mom's roll-top desk through our entire journey towards De-Stuffing our life.  The irony of this is that the desk wasn't sentimental to my mom.  I got it before she died, because she was trying to get rid of it. 

What I've decided:  If I need to remember my mom through a piece of furniture, then the memory must not burn very bright in the first place.  As back-up: If I really start craving a Mom-Heirloom furniture item, I can re-claim the hutch from my dad's house that goes back 4 generations.

In the last few days, I've been pulling back all these boxes labeled "Really Sentimental Things."  And I struck by how few of them really are. 

Case in point, the belly cast.  Written on the box:  "Really fragile.  Stack on top.  Belly cast."  It's the casting of my pregnant belly when I was carrying Simone.  I'm glad I did it.  I love, love, love the picture of newborn Simone next to the cast.  But I'm not interested in keeping it for 25 years until she's old enough to care.  And even then, would she care?

I think I'll take a few pictures of it and then let the boys destroy it with a baseball bat.  Bwahahaha!  That would likely bring them more joy than looking at a casting of their mom's big ol' belly.


A bit scary, I guess, but only in theory.  I wrote Deane about getting some of the big items for the MOPS sale next Spring...and I can't think of a better use for the Stuff in there.  When I think about the feeling of being ready to live on a boat, belongings' wise, it only sounds liberating...not at all scary.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give" (Kahlil Gibran).  I wonder if it's because, if you're giving to someone who already has enough, you're just passing along the burden of ownership?

Not every life needs to be as mobile as ours, and this isn't right for everyone.  But for us, the more we can fit our life into a backpack... the more joy seems to float to the top.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to take a freakin' family Christmas photo...

In case you're wondering, this is how it's done.  First off:

- Decide that all three of your children are looking rather shaggy, but you don't feel like taking them to the official hair-cutting place and spending all afternoon there. Since home haircuts have gone horribly in the past (like, REALLY horribly), use every ounce of your courage to attempt moderately passable at-home cuts.

- Be flabbergasted when the at-home haircuts turn out decently.

- Dress children in whatever red and green clothes you can find, because you refuse to spend money on Christmas clothes (unless they're under $3 at the thrift store or can be worn year-long).

- Borrow the condo lobby's decorated tree for a picture, because your minimalist self is using the fake fichus tree in the furnished vacation rental as a Christmas tree (hanging the ornaments on the fichus leaves).  Makes life simpler, but also makes an odd Christmas card.

- Realize that taking pictures of three children ages 6 and under is a bit like doing a photo shoot with steroidal monkeys.  It doesn't go well.  If one child smiles, the other is grimacing...closing eyes...walking away...crying...etc. 

- Snap pictures until someone trips on the lobby coffee table and starts bawling. Take break to soothe child. 

- Beg for a few more pictures, possibly even bribe with treats, until all three children agree to stand in front of the tree.  Scowling, but at least they're standing there.

- Watch 2-year-old daughter wrap tree ribbon around her body like a mummy. 

- Take 63 pictures, all of which are mostly terrible, until someone starts Real Crying and completely obliterates any chance of taking more. 

- Have husband say, "Um...let's try this another time. I don't think this is going well."

- Go back upstairs to the condo, admitting Christmas Photo Defeat...and then load 63 terrible pictures into the computer. 

- Prepare yourself emotionally to make a Christmas 2010 Outtakes photobook on Shutterfly, but yet still have no photo for cards.

- In a moment of stunned disbelief, realize that photo #53 doesn't look half-bad if you turn it black-and-white.  Yes, your son is giving a "half-Nelson" and your daughter is making a goofy face.  And you can still see the remains of your son's black eye.  But in the scheme of things, it's actually kinda cute.

- Decide that accurately representing the chaos of family (and turning it into nostalgic black-and-white) might be the best way to go.

- Upload photo and make 100 Christmas cards to mail out. 

- Marvel that you can make 100 cards for only $15 at Sam's Club.

- Feel relieved that the whole damn thing is over for another year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh yeah, Happy Anniversary...

We are wretched about remembering our anniversary. Both of us.  I was sitting with a group of women just yesterday, and mentioned that we always forget our anniversary.  And yet...STILL did not remember that today was the day until 10:30 tonight, and Steve had fallen asleep.  I woke him up to wish him a happy anniversary.

Here's why this is good news:  This entire day, completely oblivious to the fact that it was a Special Day, was still a special day.  The kids and I did Meals on Wheels this morning, since I didn't teach.  And we had an absolutely marvelous time doing it.  Steve got off at noon, and I asked if I could maybe lie down for 15 minutes while he doled out lunch.  Three hours later, I woke up. 

If I was going to ask for an anniversary present, this would have been it. 

We all went to the holiday lights at the boardwalk, and Simone was on my lap.  Andrew sitting next to me.  They give you a Christmas music CD that plays while you drive (2 miles an hour!) down the boardwalk.  Listening to the music, hearing their squeals of joy, and being there with Steve felt like the most perfect possible night that life could give me. 

I was acutely aware of how far we'd come (see next post), and what a beautiful thing we'd created together in making these children shrieking pure joy over the lights.  I really, really, really loved my family and the man who was helping me raise them.  And then realizing hours later that this was the day we were married just made it even more "right."

Happy anniversary, babe.

The Story of Us (part 1)

A few months ago, I realized that I was writing down all these things about parenthood and my kids, but not really documenting some of the bigger picture things about my story with Steve. 

I have the journals of when we were dating.  Four years of absolutely hilarious commentary on our path.  We can laugh until we can't breathe over what I silly we were, trying to figure it all out.  But I wanted more of Our Story.  

This is an horrendously incomplete installment #1 of our story, but one that seems appropriate on our anniversary.  Because when I conjure up how I felt during this time of our early period, I realize how truly and deeply grateful I am that we made it through all that.  The complicated variables of being together...but having our relationship survive all that made all This even better.

So here's what I wrote:

When Steve and I met, we were young. His 18 to my 19. I used to think I would wish that part of us away. Our youth. It made us stupid and bumbling in so many ways. Or that I'd had a starter relationship through my early 20s, and then met Steve when I was older and polished and had my shit together.

But then it wouldn’t be our story. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the story that was, not the one that sounded crisper and cleaner and less complicated.

Like the night we tried to talk about Prague. We met at the beginning of my sophomore year of college, and his freshman year. I was moving to Prague the next year, and we both knew it. We started dating for superficial reasons. We liked how the other one looked...and for how much we laughed when we were together. And because when he spoke, he said ideas and thoughts that I'd never heard someone say before. I was intrigued, but not in love.

While being handsome and funny and smart are nice, they are replaceable. This could be a fling, because I would go to Europe and meet funny and handsome and smart European men. I'd seen enough movies to assume the continent was crawling with them.

We never talked about Prague in any meaningful way. More accurately, only once. I told him I was going next school year. He nodded. And then we didn't speak of it again the rest of that school year. Until one night, in his room, right before school ended that year. He said, "So are we going to talk about Prague?"

And if I clear my mind long enough, even 14 years later, I can still feel that sucker-punch of emotion. That we were actually talking about it....someone broke the seal of that topic. I waited for him to say more, he waited for me. And then we sat up most of the the dark...saying nothing. Me on the side of the bed, sitting cold and panicked.

I wasn't ready for this to end. But I wasn't ready to make it last through Prague. Since I wasn't asking us to stay together but I wasn't ready to break up, I had nothing to say. The room was haunted with our youthful terror and inability to make this conversation work.

A complete disaster, really. So much of our early relationship was. So much affection and common ground, but zero knowledge of what we were doing. How to navigate a relationship. Especially one we’d mutually decided would NOT extend into Prague-period.

I walked home that next morning, my head buzzing with failure. Literally buzzing. It was perhaps insomnia causing the buzzing, but I attributed it to our dysfunction. And wondered why I was in a relationship so screwed up that my brain would audibly buzz.

We broke up. Not a real break-up with shouting and grocery bags of returned sweatshirts, just this unspoken understanding that neither of us was continuing this Thing that we'd created.

Our last interaction before Prague was standing on the front porch of my sorority house, the night before leaving home for the summer. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: "It's been really nice knowing you." And he walked away and went home.

When Steve talks of it now, he shakes his head in disgust at Young Steve. "I was so immature. I had no idea what I was doing. I had this idea like I'd have this weighty, eloquent thing about how much it meant to know you. And I just came out sounding like an ass."

I arrived to Prague the next fall, and moved into a tiny apartment dorm surrounded by other Americans enrolled in Charles University. I would size up the guys, wondering with whom I'd stay up until dawn, talking about whatever stream-of-consciousness comes to mind after midnight. I felt hopeful and optimistic about this next stage.

If Steve was that great, how much greater might the next guy be?

There was James, the guy from Georgetown, who looked like a photographic negative of Steve with longer hair. Blonde and blue eyed and Nordic...instead of Steve's Slavic dark. But I didn't really like talking to him the way I did with Steve. And then I would hear him made fun of people behind their backs.

There was the Aussie in the bar with the green shirt and ripped jeans. We sat at the café table, Aussie and his friend and me, until finally his friend went away to talk with the woman wearing the red beret. And we kept talking. And talking. Until I was pretty sure it was time to kiss him, so I excused myself to go to the bathroom and never came back. I walked past the tram stop and all the way home, five miles, disgusted with my inability to not care about Steve.

I was pretty certain I wasn't supposed to not be kissing Aussies in ripped jeans.

Remembering Steve felt like an empty coffee cup from Starbucks when I can't find a trash can in the park. It had been a delicious drink, yes, and I loved every moment of my white chocolate mocha. But I was ready to move on and clean things up a bit. Or just enjoy the liberation of a empty hand and no coffee cup.

Then: The collect call I made from a Czech pay phone, standing in the rain as taxis blared horns, in tears as I told my mom that he'd emailed. And that he missed me. And I didn't want him missing me, and I didn't want me missing him. This too was a disaster.

And my mom said: "Maybe it's not a disaster. Maybe this will be what you need to be together."

There were three years between that moment and when we married. So that pretty much gives away the ending of the story. But I don’t want to forget this part of the story. If I forget it, maybe I won't appreciate everything that came after it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This week, I am thankful...

(1) For Trader Joe's, who takes such good care of my family's food needs...even when I don't.

(2) That you can go to Melting Pot and just get the chocolate fondue course.

(3)'s 2-day free shipping with Prime.

(4) That after 3 children and 14 years, I still find my husband to be the funniest, kindest, most insightful, handsomest man I know.

(5) For my Canon Rebel's auto-focus setting, which takes amazing pictures even when I have no clue what I'm doing.

(6) That the Dean approved my taking off summer session, but still getting the official Visiting Professor position.  I had moments of angst about having to choose which path to take, but ended up getting to take both.  Deeply grateful.

(7)  For truly incredible woman-friends...with or without cheesecake and sushi MNOs...and how they re-fuel my spirit and energy every time I see them.

(8) For Google, without which I'm not sure how I'd survive my insatiable need for information AND immediate gratification tendencies.

(9) That my mom's death was the way everyone should leave the Earth, and thinking about how it happened fills me with more joy than grief.  Even as I miss her deeply, I never have regrets about how I lost her.

(10) For three active, curious, interested, active, soulful, active, and colorful little children.  Oh, and did I mention active?  Parenting them is the most miraculous thing I have ever done.  Tiring too, but definitely miraculous.

(11) That we live across the street from the ocean...and across the other street from the grocery store. 

(12) For marble countertops, which I swore I didn't care about having...and now that I have them, I realize they are pretty darn awesome. 

(13) That the people below us moved out of the Winter Rental, so we can jump again. Okay, so Andrew can jump again.  The rest of us don't really have an ongoing need to jump off the couch.  Praying that the condo stays empty the rest of our Winter lease.  :)

(14) That Cancun is less than a month away, and I'll have FIVE child-less days with my husband.  I'm not even sure how to fathom that reality, but I'm pretty sure it will be fabulous.

(15) For the people who put up Christmas lights early, and stores already decorated with trees.  In my book, Christmas can't last too long.

(16) That my children hit the jackpot with grandparents.  And, that my children seem to know that. 

(17) That the YMCA offers free childcare when Steve works out.  There's nothing better than cleaning my kitchen in an empty house, and knowing it will *stay* clean for at least an hour.

(18) For wireless laptops.  I'm sure iPhones are even better, but no, I don't have one yet.

(19) That after 10 years of teaching, it keeps getting better and better.  I never set out to be a professor on purpose... but now that I am, I know I'll do this until I die.  Or until all 3 colleges fire me...whichever comes first.

(20)  Castile soap.  It cleans my face, laundry, dishes, hands, and floors better than anything else I've found. It's the best shaving cream too. And... having only one bottle to buy makes my minimalist heart sing.

What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"That Emotion"

There's a particular unlabeled emotion I feel sometimes in motherhood.  It's this mix of excitement-fear-awe-bewilderment-joy and more, all mixed into one.  I never quite know when it's going to come up, but I always know it when I feel it.  Like this tornado of emotion just swept over me, and I'm left speechless. 
They aren't always the Big Moments.  Or at least, not the big ones I'd expect.  But they are moments when I feel like I'm seeing something raw and miraculous and important about my children. 

At the beginning of Jack's kung fu class, they have them sit quietly with legs crossed for five minutes.  Eyes closed, hands on their knees, back straight.  There are about 15-20 kids in the room, and within the first minute, nearly all of them had eyes opened.  Scooting across the floor.  Fidgeting.  Talking. 

I don't judge, trust me.  I'd be doing that too, and I'm multiple times older than they are.  And I certainly didn't expect it from Jack.

I kept watching Jack, waiting for the fidgets to start.  They never came.  Not once.  He sat, for a full five minutes ("dog minutes" in child perspective) with back perfectly straight.  Legs folded. Eyes closed.  Didn't move a bit. 

The longer I watched, the more That Emotion built up in me.  How is it possible that he's doing that?  What created that in him?  He didn't get it from me! I spent nearly every T-ball game as a child, picking dandelions in the outfield and staring through the spaces in my mitt.

It wasn't just that he was sitting still; it was the sense I got from him.  That he was in his own little place...that one I see in him, and know it's bigger than anything I could have asked out of him.  I don't really know how to put it into words.

The kid can definitely get hyper and non-zen at times.  In fact, he's been driving me crazy with his activity the last few days.  The running, the shouting.  But something in him is capable of scaling back in ways that I don't completely comprehend.  For whatever reason, there was something real and raw in Jack in that moment for me.

Watching Jack form is like watching Bob Ross painting on PBS.  When I watch Bob Ross, I'm so amazed by every new step he puts into his painting.  It always looks like a finished product, and fills me with awe.  Then he'll go and add some evergreen trees, and I'm astonished that it became so much better.  The final product was always beyond anything I could have dreamt up myself.

That is how I feel about this sweet, kind, soulful little boy who was created in my womb - but nothing I could have dreamt of creating.  This child who fell asleep while counting backwards in French, under his breath.  I haven't the faintest idea why counting forwards wasn't enough for him.  Who fell in love with Russian when he was barely four. Who makes sketches filled with math equations, even though his parents don't believe in teaching much math right now.  Who fills notebooks with writings and brings me pictures of Star Wars battles as though they were the most incredible gift for me.  And quite honestly, it feels like they are. 

It feels like he's plotted this course on who he's supposed to become, and anything I'd do to step in and take over would just mess it all up.  He's a boy on a mission in life, I think.  I keep thinking I'm not sure how to parent a child with such an intense curiosity and need to explore life...but most times, it seems like he might have that under control on his own.

What? No laundry-folding elves?

I find it interesting how, when I emotionally quit from a task, I can wander back to the task on a new term.  Case in point: I quit as a homemaker this week.  No more cooking from scratch.  Or more accurately: No more NOT cooking from scratch, but *planning* to cook from scratch...which means, ultimately, that there's no food around.

Suddenly, I'm finding the freedom to see the joy in moderation.  Instead of heating up leftover fried rice for dinner (as planned), I found myself putting together a sweet potato and bean chili to go over brown rice tonight.  The sweet potatoes were pre-cut, the black beans were organic canned, and the brown rice is pre-cooked/frozen from Trader Joe's.  So I still won't win any Chef of the Year awards.  But I was finding joy in putting together food again.

The twinkle of cooking joy hasn't been completely obliterated.  It was just out of balance.

How many times will I have to re-learn that joy only comes from balance?  Cooking everything from scratch wasn't "me" and neither was getting all my food from drive-thrus or after 10pm.  I'm somewhere in between...I just have to figure out the right proportions.

I am also actively making peace with the fact that elves will not fold my laundry.  It's not going to  happen.  Steve does help, but he doesn't need another task on his plate either.  The good man does plenty already.  I need to just stop waiting until Laundry Folding sounds super exciting, and just DO IT. 

Note to self: It will never, ever, ever sound exciting.  But yet, it must be done.

And's shocking how little time it really takes.  We have a minimalist wardrobe anyway.  The kids have about a week of clothes for each season.  I do laundry every day.  There's no reason not to spend 5 minutes just putting them away, instead of all of us dressing out of the laundry basket each morning.

Also learned: Sometimes the best thing to do is NOT to do something. We were supposed to go camping for 2 nights this weekend, and *very* last minute we decided not to go.  I looked around my family and realized the last thing we needed was more fun.  :)  Just kidding.  Okay, maybe not entirely.  Activity and fun and memories and such haven't been in short supply...peaceful calm in my PJs all day at home?  That's more like it.  There will be plenty of weekends to camp, but this wasn't the right one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Man cannot live on donuts alone

Day 1 and 2 of overhauling my food-management has been a huge success.  I ate green things, chugged water, and had a real breakfast (not just coffee).

Day 1, I'm pretty sure I cheated.  I was so proud of myself for packing a banana on my way out the door for the day.  Baby steps.  Forgot about lunch.  Then I met with the Dean up at school, and the Director walked by and offered us box lunches from Jason's Deli.  Fruit cup and veggie wrap.  Fabulous.  Saved by the box lunch.  Note to self to pack my own lunch for Day 2.

Day 2, I had my banana AND a real lunch.  No Starbucks run on the way home from Co-op today.  Normally, I drive the loooong way home to go past the drive-thru Starbucks, and get my coffee and whatever panini flavor they have left...normally stuffing the panini in my face before they even get the coffee out to me.  Tendencies towards low blood sugar and not packing lunches for Days Out are not a good combination.  :)

It's amazing how quickly the body can respond to getting Real Food back into the body, instead of donuts, caffeine, and leftover pizza.  Usually on Friday nights I've been drained, energy-wise.  Our weekdays are ridiculously packed.  We're still attempting a family movie night (Last Airbender plays while I type), but I'm not feeling fried or overly irritable. 

Dinner last night was TJ's french fries (just potatoes and oil) and pomegranate seeds.  Tonight is leftover pasta with their pre-cooked balsamic vinegar chicken chopped up on top.  Also, the pumpkin bread mix from Trader Joe's.  Goodness, that was yummy..and EASY. 

Could I chop and season things myself?  Yes.  Did I?  No. So having a bunch of chicken that needs cooked/seasoned would just rot in our freezer.  Okay, not rot.  But not be eaten very quickly.

This is definitely my new plan.

Getting used to easy-but-healthy foods is going to be a quick transition, I can see.  Not quite sure why I didn't strategize like this a month ago. 

Steve says we were in "food denial."  :)  I think he might be right.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Operation Out-of-Survival-Grocery-Mode

My house is a mess and we've been eating ready-made food for the last month.  Sometimes organic grass-fed beef hot dogs...other times Tony's pizza and donuts I've run across the street to buy after the kids are in bed (or send Steve).  This week has been much calmer than my last month, but I can see the last month left some souvenirs in my life. 

Like crappy eating habits.

I think the only reason I didn't gain weight the last month was because I was barely eating.  Also not good.  Starving all day and then slamming an entire frozen pizza down your throat isn't really a good weight-loss plan. 

I want to feel strong and healthy and full. 

I'm completely addicted to crap food at this point, so I'll have to wean back into things.  My goals for this week:

- Drink 64 oz of water, not just coffee all day.  One of these days, life is going to hand me a kidney stone to repay me for my 32 years of terrible drinking habits.  And no, I don't mean alcohol. ;)  If I'm drinking it, it's probably coffee or lemonade.  I need to embrace pure water.

- A salad every day. I don't care if it's loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, dressing, whatever it takes to get it down for the first week.  I must eat something green every day. 

- donuts.  Really.

- Eat something solid for breakfast.  A banana, apple, something.  Drinking coffee in the car on the way to teaching doesn't qualify for a meal.

I went to Trader Joe's today and loaded the cart with over $300 of food that was healthy.  Ready-to-go pomegranate seeds, organic veggie stock, cranberry sauce in a jar.  My Thanksgiving is coming in a package this year.  I just need to cook the turkey.  And we'll see if I feel like doing even that. :)

 I think sometimes my Puritan economics mindset at the grocery store backfires...because I buy all these need-to-cook-from-scratch materials.  But that's not how my life operates right now.  I teach oodles of online classes (okay, 10...but it feels like oodles), a few co-op ones, part-time college professor two days a week.  I need to use some of those funds to pay someone to chop my sweet potatoes for me. :) 

My role in life right now isn't a homemaker...and quite honestly, I'm not sure that was a good fit for me anyway.  Maybe it will be again.  But cleaning the house isn't fun for me.  Cooking 3 meals a day from scratch aren't fun for me either.  I love to cook, but for events...not for actual daily sustenance.  Teaching economics and English?  Rocks my world.  Doing things out and about with my kids?  Absolutely.  Somehow, I need to peel off some of the extra layers of my life, and get back to the core of who *I* am. 

Maybe if I stop thinking I'll make scratch-muffins for breakfast, and just buy the damn pre-made Trader Joe's muffins, things would run more smoothly.

Tomorrow:  Operation Laundry.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Apples and hurricanes

Life has been slamming me with to-dos the last few weeks, but suddenly, there's an eerie calm.  Very eerie.  This week feels like an eye in a hurricane, and I'm getting a chance to take a few deep breaths.  And spend some calm quiet, chatting with Jack after every one else fell asleep (the little ones, planned...Steve fell asleep putting Simone down to bed). :)

It's amazing to have long stretches of one-on-one time with him, and it's hard to believe I had it for 2.5 years with him.  But I think it's the change from the norm that makes it so special.  When it was just him, he was bored and wishing he had someone.  It felt so nice hearing his sweet little questions and ideas, without the background noise of chaos.  Or any "just a second, sweetie, I need to ____".  It was just him and me. 

We need to do that more often.  Even if it does mean he's up until 10.

He gave me a few pipe cleaners and then had me do an Odyssey of the Mind activity with him, where we each had 3 minutes to make something.  In secret. 

After 3 minutes, this is what we've both made:

Apparently, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My little cowboy

There's a particular exhaustion I feel after one of my children's birthday parties. Such a mix of joy and fatigue. The weeks of planning, the morning of chaos, the cake-baking and food preparation, the guest list shuffles and all the other myriad details that go into planning it.  But then, watching it unfold - balloons and laughing children and flying wrapping paper - just feels like perfection.  No matter what could go wrong, it's perfect because it's about making the day special for Andrew.

And then the best part? Tucking in the little birthday boy and having him say: "This was the BEST day ever." 

My body is tired, but I am so at peace right now.  I feel the love for my child when I plan a day filled with the things they love most.  Inviting their little friends.  Having them help create a cake. 

Birthdays mean so much to me because they celebrate the coming of my child into the world.  There are moments when I look over at Andrew...his nearing-4-year-old self...and am stunned to remember that very first second that I pulled him out of the water and into my arms.  Looking down at his tiniest of face, as he scrunched up his face from the light. And to think that the same child is now the sword-wielding, hug-giving, articulate and inquisitive little boy he is now. 

His birthday isn't for another month (we're loose with celebration dates), so I'll save my schmoopiness over him for the Birthday Letter.   

Here's the birthday boy with his sweet little buddy, Samuel (on the left). 

And the Birthday Siblings:

Friday, November 12, 2010

That Econ Freak

Today, my lesson for my co-op economics class was about the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.  I freakin' love this concept.  For two reasons.  One, it's completely awesome to have this concept as a rule.  Eating one donut is fabulous...eating a dozen makes me ill.  One peanut butter cup?  Fabulous.  A whole bag of them?  Not so much. 

That this can be charted is what keeps me in love with economics.

But also, I love how it illustrates that so many Super Cool concepts are hidden behind complicated economic terms.  I think it unnecessarily scares people away from the subject.

Today I was also thinking about it in terms of our family quest for minimalism.  Before our move last spring, we knew our old house was too big.  We had too much stuff.  We had diminished marginal utility of stuff and space.

But then we moved into our Tuna Can temporary place, and that was too small. Our children didn't really like sleeping on the floor every night.  And we didn't have enough bowls. 

We have now found our point of maximum marginal utility, in terms of space.  This place is the perfect size. 

I love having two bathrooms.  Three was too many.  Things I needed were always in the wrong bathroom.  Too many toilets to clean.  Unnecessary surplus of bathrooms, if you ask me.

But one bathroom wasn't enough, either.  Two is the perfect amount.

I'm starting to feel like That Econ Freak, because I'm becoming more and more alarmed at why we don't teach these concepts.  They're completely awesome.  My students were absolutely connected to the concept of Too Much leading to decreased satisfaction.  Thanksgiving dinner, Halloween candy, eating Hot Pockets. :)

Contemplating this in terms of wealth helps clarify my previous confusion as to why coming to America didn't solve the Sudanese refugees' situation.  It just replaced the old issues with new ones...because they came from "not enough" into "too much."  Finding that balance between lacking basic needs and having an overstimulation of Stuff seems to be where we will find our greatest peace.

Great article on this same topic:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Biology 101 with my 2yo

Simone, age 2y3m: "I think I might have accidentally broke my penis."

Me: "What?"

Simone: "I don't have one anymore.  Where it go?"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Carpe Diem?

I am beyond ready for bed, so I'm not at all sure why I'm blogging.  But my attitude is needing some re-focusing, and I tend to re-find myself in writing.

Today, we were gone from home from 8AM to 8PM.  Too long.  I have a love/hate relationship with my schedule.  I love (love, love, love) every single thing on it.  But there's too much on it.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

It was unusually full today, that's true.  But so is tomorrow.  And the next day, for that matter.

Spending the day at co-op is one of the highlights of my week.  I chat with brilliant, wonderful, interesting moms.  Watching our children spend their lunch hour having a light saber battle in the lawn.  It was so beautiful to see so many kids (and so many ages) interacting, playing, screaming with joy...and light sabering.  Andrew and his little friends gathered around the bag of chips and the Mickey Mouse game...their tiny little heads chatting and scheming together.  Jack bounding out of French class, chemistry, Three Musketeers, Dinosaurs...eyes bright and excited about his day.  He loves it so much.

But I am tired, too.  Today, I wanted to curl up on the couch with a book or just playing leisurely board games with the kids.  Instead, I had to pack an entire day of food and supplies and sit in traffic for 45 minutes of back-up on the highway...drop off Simone...unload everyone and then spend my day there.

Worth it?  Yes. Complicated?  Yes.

Our drive home lasted 5.5 hours...and included a Lost Boys' donation pick-up (where Suzanne kindly gave my children bananas and let Simone use the toilet), post office, picking up Jack's diagnostic lab, Starbucks, grocery store, Kung Fu, Jay's calculus books, and then dropping off 53 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for MOPS. 

Too much!

Home to laundry, dishes, and packing up to do it all again tomorrow.  Teaching instead of co-op, but the same idea. 

Balance.  I need to find it.  I know it's in there.  I just need to scale back.  Or wait until January.  Things will calm down then.  Or at least, I keep telling myself...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kung Fu Andrew

Tomorrow could be the turning point in Andrew's life...or a big fat nothing.  But he starts kung fu classes tomorrow, after asking to go to "karate kid classes" for the last year.  Yes, year.  Since he was 2, he has been begging for kung fu classes. 

And parenthood has taught me: When a child tells you something about himself...believe him.

This child is going to require a large arsenal of physical skills in his tool belt, I can see it.  If we don't give him arenas for his Big Energy, it could turn ugly. 

I've been counting down the days until he can take fencing lessons at 7, but perhaps this kung fu place will fulfill that need too.  They have weapons training there.  As he will likely tell you if you ask him anything about kung fu. :)

We interviewed with Master Lee today.  I felt like I was talking to Mr. Miyagi in person.  Wise, calm, unassuming.  And yet, he could likely reach across the desk and kill me with his pinky.

An interesting dynamic.

He said he normally doesn't take 3 or 4 year olds, but he would try out Andrew and see how it goes tomorrow.  He was surprised by Andrew's focus and attention during the meeting. Andrew...who normally runs in place if asked to stand still...sat quietly and patiently in the chair for a half hour while we discussed his kung fu classes.  He spoke rarely, and only to tell Master Lee: "I'm going to do kung fu and I'm going to listen really well." 

He was so enthralled by the prospect that this day was finally here.  I see this being a long and joy-filled relationship between kung fu and Andrew.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Playing his own game (in Russian)

Two events of today are creating absolute confusion about what a parent really means to a child.  How much do we really play a role in who our child becomes?

Normally, I tell myself that I'm a major variable in who they become.  It's why I want to be a better person.  It's why I try to teach kindness and giving, and do my best to instill manners and respect. 

But then William, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, came to speak to my college class today.  And as I listened to him talking, I thought:  HE is the type of person I want my children to become.  Valuing education, deep spirituality, generous and kind, believes that you control your own life path by your choices and actions.  But his father was killed in the attacks when he was 7, and his mother was lost to him until he was grown. 

So how did those traits come into his spirit?  Is it that they were already formed when he was 7?  Was  he parented by the extremes of his circumstances? 

And then, I talked to Tatyana.  She is a native Russian speaker, who moved here when she was 12.  She has a son Jack's age.  She talked to him a bit in Russian, and then said to me:  "It is very difficult to not have an accent in Russian.  But he has NO accent.  He's definitely going to be bilingual." 

Before parenting Jack, I wouldn't have cared in the least if my child could speak Russian without an accent.  It wasn't even on my radar.  It wasn't on my short-list of goals for my children...or even my very-very-very long list.  I just didn't care.

But hearing that, I felt this burst of emotion - almost a punch in the stomach.  So many things.  For one, absolute joy for him.  This is happening!  This language he discovered and fell in love with is actually happening in his life. 

Every month when we look at the budget, we wonder about the sanity of paying for Russian lessons.  But he keeps asking and loving it, so we just make space and keep writing the checks. Hearing what she said, I'm not sure if I will feel that apprehension again. 

And a sense of wonder.  How did this happen?  I mean, really...HOW did this happen?  Why this language? Why this child?  I don't believe in past lives...more of an Emersonian spiritual path.  But what path is language-learning sending Jack down?

Surprisingly to me, there was also a strange sense of loss.  He is opening up this side of himself that I will never enter with him.  I will never know how well he speaks it; someone else will have to tell me.  While that might have concerned me before meeting Jack (how can I nurture something I don't understand?), I'm seeing that perhaps that's the way parenting works best.  He gets to be his own person, completely, because I can't possibly get involved in it. 

Pay for Russian lessons, send him to immersion camp, take him to Russia?  I can do those things to support him, but he has to move through that passion on his own.

I'm not a sculptor of my children, like I might have expected.  I can't create their wirings, talents, interests.  I'm like a golf caddy, walking behind where they're supposed to go. Providing the resources and encouragement and support...but ultimately, they have to play their own game.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Superheroes and cold places

We talk a lot about future careers in our house.  I think it's the best way to capture where a child is at in any particular moment. 

Jack currently wants to be an author and a scientist, with a house in Minnesota and another one in Russia. He'd also like to sleep in tents a lot. He spends a lot of time writing stories and drawing pictures, and is always running some sort of experiment.  Living in very cold places?  Not sure what that one is about - he did NOT get that from his mother. 

Andrew wants to be a superhero and a science teacher, and that is such a great way to define the dichotomy in him - the deeply thinking, analytical side and the very-physical "helper" spirit. On his struggling days,  I have him make pancakes with me, move clothes into the dryer, get things for Simone.  He wants to know he's a valued, functional part of our family - and that his actions make a difference.  I love this about him.

I am very, very curious to see if these change completely as they get older...or if there's some reflection of that baseline interest.  I can't really imagine Andrew being a sedentary desk job.  Is it because he's only 3?  Considering he's the son of a math teacher who does Ironmans, perhaps that split between thinker/athlete will continue with him?

Having more than one child makes certain aspects of personality really pop out.  What seemed like it was age-appropriate and unquestioned with Jack, became more interesting when I see Andrew make completely different choices or decisions.

I used to plan on not comparing my children, but I now see that's just about value judgments.  Seeing the varied elements of personality is what makes our family more best...and lets us nurture our children. 

If we decided one trait was bad and the other good, that's one thing.  But watching our kids settle into this path, their personal groove, is one of the most fascinating things I've ever watched. 

Learning how to parent them differently, in ways that honors that difference, is one of my primary goals.  But I'm not always sure how to do it.  Some are simple: Right now, I can see sending Jack to his Russian camp the same week that Andrew goes to a Outward Bound trip.  But will that change as they get older?  And how do I best nurture that on a daily basis with them?

I think parents learn as much from children  (and grow as much from what they learn), as children learn from us.


Me: "Jack, does it sound interesting to you to listen to what someone says in Russian and translate it into English?  Would you like that job?"

Jack: "Nyet."

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Misreading Masculinity"

When Jack was a baby, mature moms warned me that my sweet little angel would one day point guns in my face and pretend to kill me.  Enough moms whom I really respected (and whose children I liked!) told me this, and I started to believe this might be true.  That it wouldn't mean he was on a path to violence in life.

When he was also tiny, I read Raising Cain and then Misreading Masculinity.  Freakin' fascinating, and both were invaluable for really understanding my very-very-boy boys. 

But something I read in Misreading Masculinity seemed strange to me at the time. It said that boys in school are told they can't write about death, so then they have nothing to say.  The crisis with boys in reading/writing isn't because boys aren't interested, it's because they want to read/write about things that aren't acceptable in schools. 

Boys writing about death?  Little boys?  I couldn't imagine.  Doesn't that mean they're unstable and unhappy?

I asked Steve (a kind, loving soul) if he'd ever drawn pictures or written stories about death and killing people.  "Oh definitely.  I remember this one picture of a haunted house, with axes falling on people and blood everywhere."

Whaaaat?  After that conversation...seeing how Steve grew up to have a stable, solid core... I stopped being concerned about seeing any of those things in the future with Jack (and then Andrew).

Fast forward 5 years, and Jack is creating "personalized stationary" for Grandma Candy for Christmas.  We're using blank notecards, and he's drawing pictures on them for her to send to people. 

Jack: "Can I put in rough pictures?"

Me: "What does 'rough' mean here?"

Jack: "Like shooting people and things?"

Me: "Hmm.  I'm not sure that would work with Grandma Candy. Can you draw other things?"  He nodded without issue.  "Sure!"

Jack spent about a half an hour at the table, drawing away.  Then he came to me, sincerely perplexed:

"I don't know what else to draw.  I drew two cards, but I can't think of anything to draw that isn't about shooting people.  That's all my brain wants to draw.  I drew one with pieces of candy and another with animals. That's all I've got."

We brainstormed awhile, and he came up with birds and her name done artistically and a few other things.  But seeing how much of a brain-block he had beyond shooting people was just downright odd....especially when you see the type of child he really is.  Kind, gentle, caring.  Not aggressive or violent. 

Also today, we were watching a channel with commercials (unusual for my kids - we tend towards PBS and movies).  Jack and Andrew went nuts over the Nerf guns and Buzz Lightyear commercials.  Then a toy horse commercial came on, and Simone shouted: "This movie is for ME!" 

Considering she's never owned or ridden a horse, I really don't know how she decided this.  But I've heard rumors of the horse craze rampant among girls, so perhaps this is an early indicator.

Parenting is fascinating.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The magical thrift shop costumes

The other day, Andrew and I were at the thrift store.  They were having 50% off their Halloween costumes...which in thrift-store-currency meant about $3 for nearly new costumes.  We bought a few for the Outreach Africa costume picnic and grabbed a Batman suit for the boys. 

Deng loved our Spiderman suit so much that I thought I'd go back and get one I saw at the thrift store.  We went right when they opened today, but Spidey was gone.  But, they'd brought out another we walked out with $30 of 10 costumes for the dress-up box.  A ninja, Buzz Lightyear, Megatron, Bumblebee, Green Lantern, and more I can't remember.  Oh yes, a princess dress for Simone.  Way too big, but she didn't care.

I told the boys we needed to wash the suits first, and Andrew said: "But I WANT my costumes to be dirty and have diseases."  Bwhahahaha!  I think this child inherited his mother's love of immediate gratification.  :)

I loaded them all into the washing machine, and watched as all three of my children peered into the front-loader window - watching the laundry like it was a riveting movie, for most of the cycle. 

And then they wore them wet.  No one wanted to wait for the dryer.  :)

I loved seeing how happy they were, going from costume to costume.  Jack even wore one to the library to meet with Gretchen. 

In all of this, there is the most wondrous sense of childhood to me.  I loved their grateful spirit about them. The excitement and joy they felt, even though they were from a thrift shop.  They didn't care whether they were new or not, they just wanted to have the magic of wearing the costumes.

And what I loved most was doing this for 2 little boys who said, when they learned there was no Spiderman suit at the store: "No problem, Mom, Deng can have ours."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not so zen life

There are so many chunks to my life.  It's almost as if I've gone out of my way to make things as complicated as possible, but really, that wasn't my goal.  It just happened.  I started teaching for one school...then added another...and another.  I was up to 4, but have scaled back to just 3.  Oh yes, and teaching my 2 co-op classes.  And 2 days a week in the classroom. 

One runs 8-week classes, one runs 9-week, and the other 15 weeks.  It keeps my brain active, trying to keep it all straight.  But sometimes, especially when I'm not in the mood for active brainwork, it just feels like chaos.  Like I can't just get ahead of the messy pile of "stuff" on my list.

Tonight, I have to submit final grades for one section...grade homework for another...30 essays for another...and update the gradebook in another.  When really, I just want to blog and eat more cookies from the oven.   

Even at its baseline, when there's no external drama, life is messy.  I suppose that's okay.  Clearly I don't mind mess too much, or my van wouldn't look the way it does.

But sometimes, I just want to have a To Do list with only 2 things on it.  Instead of pages and pages of different categories of things to do, people to call, errands to run, papers to grade...

And that's not even the other parts of life.  That's just teaching.  The boys have their co-ops.  Thirteen different courses (with different instructors), helping Jack track homework and make sure we have all his supplies.  Service coordinator for MOPS.  My work with the Lost Boys. 

Sometimes, like my emotionally charged last week, I have these visions of a calm, serene, zen life.  As zen as life can be with 3 youngish, active children.

But the thing is, I don't want to give away even ONE of those chunks.  I've looked over the list, many times.  And every single one of those chunks is this perfect accessory to what I need and want in my life.  All of them are part of my tapestry of a really full, nourishing, stimulating life.

So then what? 

Maybe I just need to embrace the tough weeks...where there are not nearly enough hours in the day...and just see them as part of how my life works best.  When I scale back and try to go back to zen, we just fill it back up again.  The quiet, rare days at home?  They don't feel that zen, since all of us are just itching to get out and explore.


While writing this post, 10 more Essay #3 submissions just "dinged" into my email.  It's a bit like the laundry.  Even as I fold and put away all the clothes, little persons are running around dirtying more.  Life marches on.  The inbox fills up.  The To Do list is growing. 

But blogging served its purpose, as I'm ready to go back and put those papers to bed.  And then put myself to bed.  Early morning tomorrow.  Picking up the suit for Deng...OCC presentation at MOPS...Hunt Club field for Andrew...meeting with Gretchen for Jack. 

Oh my.  I need to get to bed.

Snapshots of parenthood

In the messy madness of the days, there are moments that just melt me.  They catch me off-guard and give me a moment of wonder about how really spectacularly beautiful it is to mother little persons. 

Like Andrew, falling in love with the song Mr. Tambourine Man. Whenever we get in the car, he asks me to play it.  And his teeny-tiny angel voice singing along ("...hey Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me...") is one of the most adorable things I've ever heard.

And Jack, when he overheard me tell Steve that Simone hadn't seen Wizard of Oz, so she probably doesn't understand the "Dorothy" dress I bought on clearance last year. A few minutes later, we found him in the back bedroom. He'd found the DVD collection, picked out the movie, loaded it, and was eager to present it to Simone. I love how he takes care of his little siblings.

Or Simone, planning her Princess Birthday Party, despite being almost a full year away from another birthday.  She invites people all the time and tells everyone how she's going to wear a "princess suit." Not "princess dress."  Casey joked that it's because she's used to her big brothers wearing superhero suits.  We even bought some princess paper plates at the dollar store.  I think I might run with Casey's suggestion to just have a random princess party for all the little 2-year-old girls, because there's no way she can wait until she's 3.

I wonder now how I didn't mind if I didn't have a daughter, back before she was born.  If I'd had 3 boys, I would have been just as ecstatic.  But seeing this new chapter of parenthood...filled with sparkle shoes and dolls and tutus and Princess pretty fun to watch.

Then again, all of it is pretty fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Please send money" (some comic relief)

Updates on Ryan and Jack

I've had a number of emails asking about Ryan and Jack.  Most importantly, we received an amazing update from Susanne and Craig:

Good, if not great, news this morning. They took an MRI this morning and it came back reporting only "superficial" oxygen depletion damage to the brain. Much less damage than we expected to see.

More importantly, Ryan has become much more responsive. He reaches up with his hand when pinched which means his brain is able to send specific response to local stimuli. This afternoon he has started to look around very slowly, and even smiled a few times!!

The doctor is saying he can see the personality in his face today, as opposed to just being a mask yesterday. The doctor thinks Ryan my make a full recovery after all.

I can't imagine anything more beautiful than seeing my baby smile, after a scare like that.  They're not out of the woods, but what a renewed hope they must have.

Jack is doing well. He went to co-op today, so it's the first day back into "real life." We cancelled our plans for yesterday to give him a calmish week. I had sent around an email to the parents with a picture of Jack, so they could prepare their children if the child might be sensitive to it. He IS a bit shocking to look at, definitely. I also let them know he was fine, even if he looked shocking. So most everyone was prepared when they saw him, but I still wasn't expecting such a kind and compassionate welcoming.

A few kids made homemade "get well" cards for him.  All of them were so sweet and warm to him, asking if he was okay and if it hurt.  Jack didn't seem sensitive about the topic or concerned about them -  I think he was expecting them to be scared or disturbed by his face.  But he felt really good about their caring, I know.

It's feeling like a very good day, after a rather overwhelming weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Machinery of life

If the situation can cause any more anguish for her, I just learned that Susanne still can't hold her son.  Can't hold him.  My soul shattered reading that.  He continues to struggle for life.

When I was with my mom before she died, I remembered having the most overwhelming need to touch her.  Like I did with my babies when they were first born.  Touching hair, arms.  I've always felt that's how our souls touch each other.  Feeling the human warmth next to our skin. 

After she died and her spirit left her, her body was so cold.  I could feel that she was gone.  Where did she go?  What part of her left?  Her body was there, but it was so apparent *she* was gone.

When I look at Jack, it seems so surreal how his body's machine betrays who he really is.  He's still the same Jack.  Spent several hours drawing, offered to get Simone her lunch from the fridge, asking his typical line of questions.  But there's this bruised and battered mask covering him.  He looks nothing like himself.

Baby Ryan's brain is still showing trauma.  He's breathing, but not waking up.  I can imagine Susanne wanting to just reach in and pull him out - pull out who she knows he is.  The smiling, sweet little boy. 

It makes you wonder where the soul really is. What part of our body, our brain, are who we are.  His machinery is broken right now, his brain is betraying him.  His soul is still present, but where?

I have been stalking my children all day...holding them, hugging them, pressing my nose into their hair as I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that they are safe and whole and here.

I keep wondering how I'm ever bothered by the noise, the mess, the peripheral truths of child-raising.  Life is chaotic and cluttered sometimes.  Most times. But for right now, I am grateful...that my children are making chaos and clutter and noise. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Raw humanity

From Susanne, about Baby Ryan:

Ryan is struggling. Please continue praying. His brain is still reacting to the trauma, and he is having trouble breathing. We appreciate all of your words, prayers and thoughts...we will continue to update you on his status. God is faithful.

With the constant hum of thoughts of Ryan in the backdrop of our life, I keep looking over at Jack, his face almost unrecognizable.  I am grateful to have only this temporary injury, when it could be so much worse.  And yet, it pulls at my maternal stirrings so deeply.  It disturbs me to see how quickly something can happen to my baby boy.

He assures me it doesn't hurt much, and he's patient through my multitude of kisses and hugs and "I love yous." On the one hand, I am so proud of his calm confidence and strength.  He stares intrigued into the mirror and watches the progression of bruising like his typical scientist self.  He tells me he can open his eye at least a millimeter now, with a voice of triumph.

On the other hand, though, I want him to feel safe to be scared or bothered.  And as I write this, perhaps he *does* feel safe...and just doesn't need those emotions right now? 

It's been a contemplative day.  I am feeling raw and open and grateful and scared for Susanne.  I watched Darfur Now and was reminded by how much I NEED to use my raw feelings to change and shape things.  To bring something out of sadness.  I don't always know how to do that or it doesn't always work.  But I am feeling that sense exploding out of me.

If you haven't read this article about water safety and children, please take a moment to read it now.  It's called "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning."

And give your babies another hug for me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hug your babies

Yesterday, I learned that Susanne and Craig's 2-year-old son nearly drowned in a friend's pool.  Craig gave him CPR to keep him alive while the ambulance came. After being life-flighted to a hospital, they are sitting with him while he's on a ventilator and not responding.  Now off sedation, he's starting to show signs of brain trauma.

My heart is broken for them.  I vividly remember us sitting at a cafe while we talked about our shared infertility... back before we each had 3 wonderful children.  Attending her baby shower before her first was born.  The anticipation of what children and a growing family would mean. 

Motherhood can bring all types of emotion that you can't even fathom experiencing.  The deepest love, the most mind-blowing frustration.  But she's seeing a side of motherhood I can't comprehend.  I have so much grief for her, for Craig, for what they must be feeling.  This absolutely beautiful, kind, wonderful family must be shredded with pain right now.

Today in a soccer game, Jack ended up at the bottom of a pile of children.  He was kicked in the face by another child's fall...hard.  His face is so swollen on one side that his eye can't open.  I took this picture with a webcam, because I don't have my real camera this weekend in Williamsburg.  It looks a bit better in this picture than in real life. 

Seeing Jack's face almost unrecognizably deformed is sending a primal chill down my core.  Right now, it's just a swollen face and likely a killer-bruise on its way.  But how many parents have had their child's entire life change course in that same length of moment - falling in a pool, a car accident, so many things that can change the shape of a life.  I don't normally feel so struck by the negative possibilities in life.  But today life is feeling particularly fragile, particularly precious.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curiosity sounds exhausting!

Jack tends to ask questions in the car that require YouTube or Google for his mother to answer. =)  So he started carrying around a notepad to list his questions, so we can look them up when he gets home.

I thought he might like a record of his 6-year-3-month-old mind, translated from phonetic spelling:

- How does hair make itself?

- How do little cells crack themselves in half and make 2 of themselves?

- How was the first seed made?  Trees have seeds that blow out of other what about the first tree?

- Why do you write in cursive?  Is it faster because you don't lift your pen?

- How are eyeballs made?
- How does gasoline make an explosion that makes your car move?