Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Friendship, Appreciation, Rivalry, Teamwork

Bo is away at a camp for 5 weeks.  I'm 10 days into this 35 day ordeal.  AND I'M HANDLING IT VERY WELL THANK YOU!

Actually I am.  This was not an easy decision for me to make.  He's 11.  He's my baby.  I like to claim exclusive rights to free child labor and making him miserable.  I want to be the one whose ears he talks off every morning because he just spent 10 plus hours not talking at.all.  Also, I'm confident I'm not alone on this one, I want to be near him if he gets sad or disappointed or hurt or scared.  I need proximity for myself, even more than for him.  That was the part I had to recognize and kind of let go of in making the decision to let him go because it's not a good enough reason to limit his opportunities.  I mean, it's good enough for me, but apparently J has a say in this childrearing gig.

Also, this is a once in a lifetime experience---it's an incredible camp with amazing opportunities and with a price tag we could never afford (admittedly, if we could afford it, I would never spend that kind of money on a kid that still chews chicken nuggets with his baby teeth--it's liking feeding Ben and Jerry's to a two year old. Who does that!) so that all helps with making the decision to take the plunge into non-helicopter parenting.  By the way, what's the opposite of a helicopter parent?  That's me.  The opposite of helicopter parent is Gets Tapped On The Shoulder Regularly By Strangers Because Her 14-Month-Old Is Hanging From The Branch Of A Nearby Tree Parent. Or the Three Year Old Has Flagged Down An Ice Cream Truck And Is Buying Popsicles For The Neighborhood AGAIN With Your Grocery Money She "Found" In An Envelope In A Top Cupboard Behind The Vitamins Parent.  That's me.

We got our first letters from Bo today.  He sent separate envelopes and letters to Avee and Danyo.  So sweet.  He told Danyo he jumped in some water that was so cold it made him start singing like Yoko Ono.  If you don't know what that means, you should look it up.  It's insane.  He told Avee he was already learning valuable things at camp like:

If pretending that doesn't crack me up is the appropriate thing to do, I'm not good for the job.  I love this kid's sense of humor.  I think the thing that I love about the above is that those ARE viable "qualities" to be learning at a camp, and he knows it.  He didn't just slap up any random word, it's thoughtful, smart, and childish all at the same time.

He addressed his letter to me with "& friends" at the end.  He knows me well.

Tonight we (the three other kids and I) made a quick run to the store where it poured down just sheets of rain from the moment we stepped inside the store to about 2 minutes before we walked out.  I was watching it come down at the cash register, dreading the inevitable soaking we'd get, but not even a drizzle when we walked outside.

Avee was sitting in the front seat with her head out the window, enjoying the wind in her face.  I saw a gigantic puddle up ahead and it had to be done.  I sped up enough to create a giant splash.  I have no shame, I gleefully tried to soak my own child sitting not even two feet from me.  She shrieked with delight and Danyo immediately started whining from the backseat that he never gets to get splashed by me when we are driving in the car and he's hanging out of the window.

So we rolled down his window and spent the next 20 minutes hunting down worthy roadside puddles.  It was the most fun I've had in ages.  I thought Danyo was going to hyperventilate from laughing so hard.  He has the same laugh he had as a baby.  I can't get enough of it, plus he's kind of stingy with his hearty laughter, he's not wasting that near hyperventilation on just anyone.

I love the lighting at twilight, and the 30-45 minutes before. It feels like the world is softer, more gentle.  That time of day, when I stop to notice and feel and experience it, feels me with nostalgia.  Combining that with my kids' shrieks of laughter and delight was soul satisfying.

Then I came home and set the timer for 4 minutes and threatened to beat them all soundly if they weren't in bed with teeth brushed by the time the timer went off.

Parenting? I got this.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Good Dozen

That's how long J and I have been married.  A good dozen.

12 years ago this morning my mom dropped me off in front of the temple where we were married.  Throughout our  4 month engagement my mom would ask regularly, and with some incredulity, "Are you nervous, do you have any doubts, no cold feet at all?!" I would assuredly reply, "Nope, none, not at all.  Have never been more of anything in my life..."

As the car stopped and I looked toward the temple entrance, I knew I was walking more precisely toward my future than I ever had in my life.  My stomach filled with butterflies and I said, with my hand resting on the door handle, "Oh man I hope I'm making the right decision here."  As quickly as I said it--the butterflies went away. I opened the car door and jumped out, turning back for last instructions from my mom.  She had her head thrown back, eyes closed, and I suddenly realized that I had unwittingly triggered one of the greatest experiences of my childhood, her initially soundless, but momentarily erupting into her characteristic whooping, laugh.  It was soon accompanied by loud gasps for breath to sustain the whooping laugh.  I loved that laugh and worked hard to earn it all the time.  I didn't even realize I had done it this time, she drove away laughing heartily at my momentary "cold feet" outside the temple door on my wedding day.

It's true, you don't know someone as much as you think you do when you get married.  And you don't love someone as much as you think you can either.  I feel lucky to have experienced that expanded love that runs deeper and holds truer with each passing year.  I do know him better, and that has actually created more love.  He is more amazing than I ever imagined when I first said yes to marrying him.

It's interesting to me how in marriage, the low points feel insurmountable.  I wonder if we'll ever get past it, I let my mind go to places I know we are far from and let the weight of whatever we are facing press me down in despair and self-pity.  On the other hand, when things are good, we are smooth sailing, I imagine it will always be that way.  Real life is somewhere in between the two.  Days we just have to get through.  Decisions we have to make but don't want to.  Exhaustion. Four kids will do that, I s'pose.  Laughing.  Lots and lots of laughing.  Dreaming still, ideas postulated, hopes and desires for our future clung to or let go of as we see they aren't a possibility.  Four kids will do that, I s'pose.

I've told this story a dozen times, but I love the message I got from it.  When I turned 25 I really struggled with getting SO OLD and not having so much more accomplished in my life.  My how that has changed.  I genuinely praised myself for a solid 90 seconds the other day when the only quantifiable thing I accomplished was switching a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer before it got mildewy.  I probably can't adequately convey the immense pride I felt in that.

As I sat in my childhood bedroom (post-college graduation, enroute to graduate program) that day, crying and feeling sorry for myself, my mom slid a birthday card under my door.  Inside was a random selection of bills (I think it was like $68 or something like that) and a sweet personalized note from her.  She noted the "crossroads" I was at in my life and then said, "Life doesn't get easier, but it gets better." Those words weren't entirely comforting in my barely fully-developed brain.  I wanted easy.  But those words have become a comfort and my silent mantra.  Life HAS gotten better.  The joys, the rewards, the tender moments, more rich than I ever could have imagined.  The stresses, the worries, the "obstacles" bigger, more difficult to overcome.

I share this because, as I sit here nostalgically remembering the engagement, the wedding day, the early, idealistic wedded bliss, it's easy to think or make it sound like it has all been easy.  But also, saying things have been difficult or whatever else, makes it sound like it's been all bad or hard.  It hasn't been either, but it has been totally worth it. I love being hitched to this man.  I love who he is, who we are, and what we've created together.  

We've been on quite a journey in even just the last 2 years and it was bumpy at times, but at the end of every day, and this has never wavered, there is no other person I would rather our children call Dad. No other person I'd rather lay down next to at night and talk about my day with, or share my hopes and dreams with; there is no other man I'd rather be hitched to for life.  I'd call that winning.

And now for my friends who basically just skim for the pictures...

Us in the beginning....

Us in the middle...

Us now...

And a little bit of of what we've done along the way....

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Upside Down

I recently returned from a week long trip to Missouri for my brother's wedding.  I don't think I saw the white's of Avee's eyes a single time in that week.  Her and her cousin RED just disappeared into their own world and never came up for air.  I love that she has that built in best friend for life.

Shortly after our return, I came home from work to our Vietnamese neighbor waiting outside for me. About once a week he comes over with a piece of mail he needs help deciphering or responding to.  Helping him has made me very aware of how difficult it is to live in this country and how much red tape there is to get through.  He can't handle automated phone instructions and his English is pretty poor.  Actually, his English is really good, he knows a lot, but the pronunciation makes it hard for him to be understood, particularly over the phone.

I was on the phone as I pulled into our driveway and he waited patiently for me to be done, but as soon as I hung up he said, "Where you go!!? Where you been!!??"  He said he'd had a form for immigration that he needed help completing the week prior.  He waited and waited and waited for me to come home one day. I never came. Everyday, my car never showed up in the driveway.  He never saw the kids playing outside.  "Your husband, always inside. Alone." Days passed, and no sign of me or the kids.  Finally he had to take the form to the immigration office and get help completing it there.

He clutched his heart and said, "I thought your family broken. I thought you and husband were upside down."  "Upside down" is his translation for split up or divorced.  He was clearly so saddened at the prospect of us splitting up, it kind of melted my heart.  I assured him I wasn't that easy to get rid of and he laughed and laughed and then said, "Your husband had girls here every night lat week." Then he doubled over laughing, slapping his thigh at his own hilarity.

Today, he came home from the grocery store while the kids were playing outside.  Avee reported that when he saw them, he immediately began rooting around in his grocery bags and pulled out a bag of grapes.  The kids were delighted to receive this gift.  If we make eye contact with him when he has something in his hands, we get offered some of it.  One day he saw me packing the car for a trip and brought me a bag of apples and a bunch of bananas.  A couple of days ago we found a package of Oreos on our doorstep.  The best thing that comes from this is the commentary among the kids, afterwards.  Today's went like this:

Avee: I don't know if he's trying to impress us, or if he's just really, really nice.
Danyo: (matter-of-factly) Well, I think summertime here is his Christmas time, so....

So....that's explains everything.

Well, I wanted to blog about Father's Day.  Because it was funny.  Because Mother's Day was a bit of a flop 'round these here parts, my friend suggested to me a few weeks ago that I should make Father's Day about me.  She suggested a couple of ideas and although I was skeptical at first, I took the idea and ran.

So, I instructed Avee and Bo to write cards about how glad they are they J married me.  And I ordered a cookie cake that said, "You're a father! (Because of Mom)" and then I made a handful of coupons, offering things that already happen.  Like, "One night of quiet and solitude for uninterrupted study time" (Okay, to be fair, that doesn't happen regularly but we try.)  Also, "Good for one foot rub. (mine)" and other clever ones.

So, the day of, we went for a beautiful hike to a waterfall, had pho for lunch (we found a place THAT day, right here in town!) and just spent the day hanging out with each other.  We didn't even really talk about it being Father's Day or anything.

Around 5:30 PM I ran to pick up the cookie cake.  It was priceless.  I laughed all the way home.
I'm not the only one that royally fouls up cake decorations around here....

"Your Father" made me laugh and laugh and laugh, but Because of Mom put arbitrarily into quotations marks really troubled me.  I didn't understand that "creative license".  I FINALLY remembered, I had said "In parenthesis" and apparently they are interchangeable at the local grocery store bakery.  My bad.

The one thing that has made me laugh all week, and impressed me tremendously with the humor, was Bo's card.  I gave the kids one simple instruction.  Make him a card and in it talk about how you are glad he married me.  Well, for Avee, if she's making a card for J on any given day, I have to say, "DON'T make it about me" so this was like a non-instruction for Avee.  Permission to do so was met with glee and a giant bubble lettered "BMF" at the bottom of J's card.  Which stands for "Best Mom Forever", of course.

So this is what Bo's card said:
"Dear Dad, I like your haircut.  Mom cut it.  I am glad you married Mom.  I get my curiosity from you and I get my manliness from her."

In one fell swoop, the boy insulted half our family.  It's just so funny to me because of that, and also because I think that is ridiculously clever for an 11 year old boy.

Also, the cookie cake was really good.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Floppy-Eared Bunny

I have a confession.  Several weeks ago I had a blog post ruminating around in my brain and I REALLY was going to sit down and write it.  However.  Prior to this bright lovely day of a new post in the works, I was contacted by a woman who publishes a local magazine here in town.  She was interested in having me contribute so we made an appointment to meet---which was the same morning of The Post That Was To Be.  When we met, I was concerned what she was looking for wasn't really my style so I brought up that concern.  She said, "Well, then why don't you share with me what your style is."  So I told her about the post that I had knocking around in my head and she said, "I love it! I want that for the next publication!"  So, the good news, I got myself a writing gig, the bad news, I'm still a lousy blogger.

This morning the 6 year old reduced me to tears in a matter of seconds.  Yesterday he had me laughing for a good 20 minutes after he noted that all J did at school was "watch another class all day."
J's program is telecast from Charlotte so, he was telling that truth.

This morning.  Avee's friend spent the night and at the breakfast table the kids were talking about family coming to visit, where they've lived, etc. When Avee's friend explained that her great aunt was visiting, that it was an aunt, not her grandma, Danyo responded in his cherubic, matter-of-fact way, "My grandma died.  She used to give me stuffed animals (this is Danyo's love language through and through).  One time she gave me a fluffy, fluffy bunny.  Then she died."

At first I was touched at his sweet remembrance of her.  Then he mentioned the bunny and tears started falling uncontrollably.   Of course he ended his commentary in the way only Danyo does.  "Then she died."

My mom was on hospice and mostly bedridden but she really wanted her room decluttered as she knew people would be coming to visit her.  I sat on her bedroom floor while 6 week old AJ curled up on my mom's bed, camouflaged in her pink sleepers with my Mom's pink bedding.  She lived and died in pink.  That was one of the many tender and thoughtful things my sister did for her that no other would have.  Before my mom had even been discharged from the hospital for the last time, Sara sent me to Target to get her bright pink sheets for her hospital bed at home.

My mom had a couple of side tables against one wall of her room that she covered with tablecloths and underneath them was a treasure trove!  I pulled out shoes, jewelry, scarves, stuffed animals, treasure boxes, blank cards, baked beans, vitamins, V8 cans, plastic bags, and dozens of other things.  It was so very her and that one small part of her room took me all day to sift through.

At one point I pulled out a cute little floppy-eared bunny, about the size of my hand and asked her where it came from.  She said, "Oh, I just get cute little things like that when I see them to give away, do you think Danyo would like that?"  I told her I was sure he'd love it, but I'd like her to give it to him, because that kind of stuff matters to him.

I tossed it onto her bed where she was sitting upright and left to get Danyo.  I pictured her saying something like, "I have this little bunny for you Danyo because I know how much you like stuffed animals" or some other simple and sweet statement.

When we walked back into the room, the bunny was nowhere to be seen.  She just started telling Danyo a story, and as she spoke she pulled back one small piece of her blanket, and then another, and then another.  She spoke in her customary serious tone but with lots of inflection.  I don't even remember the words, but watched as layer after layer was lifted as she spoke.  I imagine Danyo was wondering why he'd been pulled away from his cousins to hear some random story from Grandma. Finally, when she got to her punchline the bunny peeked out at Danyo, to his pure delight.

I admired so much about my mom.  She had a gift like no other when it came to children.  She could engage, delight, entrance, encourage, educate, and understand a child like no other.  Of all the things I miss, watching her interact with my children is what I miss the most.  She would be teaching Bo Shakespeare and poetry, she would be challenging Avee with spelling words and math problems and praising her ingenuity.  She would be kissing Danyo nonstop and would be shameless about the trail of pink lips she'd inevitably leave.  She would be laughing and delighting in AJ's self-expression and sweet hugs and exploration of new words.  I like to think she is now.  Some days I just wish I could see it myself.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


This time I mean it.  I'm bringing blogging back.  At night when I tuck in Avee and Danyo, they beg me to tell them stories of "when they were kids".  So cute.  I realized the only stories I can share are the ones I remember because I blogged about it.  Danyo has so many fewer stories and AJ has none.  So, here I am, blogging again.

I started a new job today.  I can't be sure, but I think it might be the best job on the planet.  That's saying something since I really REALLY loved the last place I worked.  It's totally flexible so I can easily work around any kid things that arise and that is worth it's weight in gold.  But also, just the work itself (mediation) is interesting and rewarding.

When we first moved here Jay said he had a running track of "I think I'm gonna like it here" a la Little Orphan Annie going through his head on repeat.  I mean, most 35 year old men respond to a positive life change like that, right?  Well, that was running through my head all morning as I was getting training and meeting my co-workers.

It was a big day of firsts.  I also dropped AJ off at "preschool" and had to tear myself away from a crying baby.  I have been on the other end of those drop offs and I KNOW those kids are okay and the crying stops very quickly.  But walking away from it, aaaaaauuuuuugh!! Torture.  I sat with her for a few minutes but that girl has got my number.  I tried to peel her away from me and she demands a hug, "Cug! Cuuuuug!"  I canNOT resist that.  But I had to.  "I'm sorry I'm late on my first day of work, my baby needed cuuuugs."

When I picked up AJ her teacher came out and said she had a great day and that she had asked to go to the bathroom and then did.  Excuse me?  I asked if they had a weekend program.  This little girl is working us making us change diapers and then going to school and acting all potty trained.

I worked a job for the last 3 months at a local boarding school.  It's probably the most poorly run "business" I have ever been a part of.  I hated it. Like, loudly, regularly, and passionately hated it.  I have never been more happy to quit a job.  Out of the blue the other day, Danyo approached me and said, "Why do you hate your job so much?"  A dozen inappropriate responses passed through my mind and I maturely filtered.  I answered, "I just really don't like how the place is managed or the people I work with."  Danyo leaned in with his eyebrows raised and a little more wisdom than a 6 year old should have and said, "But the money."  Exactly.  But the money.  That is why I go back no matter how badly I don't want to.

Danyo is this fascinating combination of oblivious and deeply insightful and articulate.  It's hilarious when the oblivious shows up and astounding every.single.time the insightful and articulate come out.  Example of the oblivious:  He is in a Spanish immersion kindergarten.  He came home from school about a month after he got into that class and announced that he'd watched "The Magic School Bus" at school.  I was curious if the show was done in Spanish or English, and so I asked.  He paused for a couple of minutes in deep thought and then said, "What is it I'm speaking right now?"  We all laughed and let him know he was speaking English. "Oh, it was in English then."

Or he'll be in another room and we won't even be aware of his proximity.  I say something like, "It's just about feeling insecure, I can handle it."  And then we hear, "You don't have to feel insecure if you don't want to, Mom."  Those are my favorites, to be reminded he hears EVERYTHING I say.

Bo recently finished performing in a two and a half week production of "A Christmas Story" at the local playhouse. The theater is kind of a big deal in this region and it was pretty cool he got in on it, right after we moved here.  He wanted to be the kid who got his tongue stuck to the pole, that's all he cared about, so that's who he auditioned for, and that's who he was.  He's a pretty good little actor. It was really fun to watch him be a part of something so cool.  Those kids (there were 9 of them, almost all about 10 yrs old) worked HARD.  Bo came home from rehearsals and performances on cloud nine.  J and I loved seeing him so happy and to have found a niche he so completely loved.

Right now he's obsessed with Les Miserables.  It's something else.  He's determined to read the Victor Hugo book because "grown ups will totally think that's cool".  We've tried to talk him out of it (what is wrong with us!?) but he is determined.  Bo is going to be something great, despite us. I love that kid.  He is curious and interesting and sociable and knows how to talk to anyone.  I like that.

Avee is living the good life in 3rd grade.  She is so obviously the teacher's pet, but she doesn't know that.  I love that about her.  She is just doing what she's doing and people can hate or adore, it doesn't change who she is.  I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am to be raising a daughter like that.  We've made some changes in our approaches with her and I swear it has made all the difference in the world.  Her confidence has soared.  Her ability to let things go and her ability to express herself have increased exponentially.  I think she is pretty much perfect.

My little AJ.  What an absolutely perfect "bookend" to our family.  I'm pretty sure she has all of the best traits of the other three kids in her tiny little body.  She is curious and social and bright like Bo was.  She is precocious and sassy and very clearly has a lot more going on in her head than she can articulate, like Avee.  She is sweet and affectionate and knows how to charm people like Danyo.  J and I are enjoying her so much and think pretty much everything she does is cute or funny.  She loves to sing, but only sometimes likes to be sung to.  She will shut you up fast and fiercely if she doesn't want you singing.  Her favorite songs are Twinkle Twinkle, ABC's, and "Barney".  She is hilarious singing them.  She was watching a show the other day and they sang Twinkle Twinkle about twice as fast as we usually do and listening to her scrambling to sing along with them was pretty entertaining.

I already ran out of steam. I'm determined to be back though.