Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blog Withdrawal....

I am suffering from blog withdrawal. I have a great desire to write, but have found no time to do so, because the must-do list seemed to grow exponentially overnight. I hope to catch a break here, in the next week or two, before the downward spiral of holiday stress overtakes me for good. (A note on that - I am bound and determined NOT to let holiday stress overtake me, so let the blog speak for itself in the next two months or so to see if that is actually possible....)

Aidan is beside himself with giddy excitement over Halloween, and his enthusiasm has infected Leo as well. While he can't manage "Trick or Treat!" quite yet, Leo has repeatedly said "Boo!" to us, over and over, whenever he sees us. If I walk out of the room and return, he says "Boo!" When I come into his room in the morning, it's "Boo!" When he plays his own game of peek-a-boo, he really plays it for the Boo!

We had our Mostly-Annual Carter Halloween Party this past weekend, and it was so, so much fun. Aidan dressed as an orange and white cat; Leo, a mouse; Jeff, a Political Junkie, and me, a Domestic Diva. (These were perfect roles for us all. Aidan chases Leo around all the time, and Leo squeaked appropriately and protested when he was caught by the cat.) We served all manners of Halloween goodies, and most exciting was the Smashing Pumpkin Ale Jeff brewed especially for this occasion.

...and tomorrow, the "real" fun begins with trick or treating! More to come after I've gotten some semblance of order back in my life. (Okay, scratch that. "Semblance of order in my life" is in approximately 20 years or so, I'm afraid.... so more to come.... whenever I can find my scattered brain.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I might just end up jinxing this, but I am amazed at what the picky picky Leo has devoured over the past several nights of dinners.... I must record it for all of posterity, for when he's back to eating goldfish and craisins, exclusively...

1. sweet potato biscuits - a strange yet delicious recipe that he thinks looks like cookies. And apparently, he thinks they taste like them, too, because he literally fought over Jeff's biscuit for a fourth biscuit! He only interrupted his eating to say, repeatedly "yum yum! yum yum cookie"
2. crescent casserole - eggs, cheese, crescent rolls, fake sausage, veggies - none of these, save the rolls, would he consume individually.
3. Spaghetti pie. Not all that surprising, except it does not meet the standard plain presentation that seems to dominate most toddler (and preschool) palates.
4. Eggplant parmesan! This indicates sophisticated taste, in my opinion. (On the other hand, what's NOT good fried in oil and baked in cheese?)
5. "Mexican skillet casserole" - a hodgepodge of ingredients, but the clincher for him was that we ate it with chips (thanks Caytie!)

The best part of all of this eating, aside from all this eating, is the influence it had on Aidan. Not to be outdone at the table, even Aidan tried half these dishes!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shenandoah National Park

It had been on the calendar for weeks; we skipped church for this; yet we nearly called the whole thing off. We were scheduled to go to Shenandoah National Park for a morning of hiking and enjoying nature and drinking in the gorgeous fall colors in the mountains. But it was cold this morning. And we had so much to do. And Aidan's behavior this morning was pretty awful - it seemed he was determined to thwart our adventure, despite his love of hiking. He is, after all, still the F-word - FOUR.

Amid the shouts and screams and squabbles that constituted our attempts at getting ready and out the door, Jeff and I looked at each other in total desperation at one point - desperate to leave, and desperate not to seem as though we were rewarding the very typically-behaved but very frustratingly-behaved four-year-old monster that seemed to have complete dominion over our normally functioning parenting brains.

Somehow, we made it into the car, equipped with diapers, wipes, sandwiches, waters, apples, chocolate chip cookies, and many, many layers - the current barometer reading was a chilly 45 degrees. The hour-long car ride passed remarkably quickly, without the usual "Are we there yet?" interrogation that often begins at the top of the driveway. The ranger who greeted us at the park entrance suggested a short, kid-friendly, highly enjoyable hike about 20 miles into the park. It sounded perfect to us.

The hike was all we had hoped it would be. Aidan was enthusiastic and energetic throughout, pointing out the trail markers, cool leaves he found, and interesting caterpillars and trees along the way. He was in his element. Meanwhile, Leo contentedly munched his pretzel while riding in the Ergo, pointing at the airplanes that occasionally flew overhead. At the halfway point, a gorgeous view of the mountains awaited us, plus an enormous mound of boulders that the boys were fearlessly, eagerly ready to climb. We ate lunch - PB & J never tastes as good as when it's devoured outside - and eventually made our way back to the car. Leo "hiked" a good deal of the way back, with Aidan leading him by the hand at some points. Away from the distractions of toys and books and stuff over which to squabble, they seemed to revel in the company of each other, the huge mountains, the plentiful sticks and colorful leaves.

Our to-do list for the weekend was a mile long, with only a few things checked off. I thought of forty-seven different reasons why it would actually be better to stay home and get those things checked off, to not have to drive way out of the way to hike, to stay warm and cozy indoors. But the little voice inside me nagged me, "Go! Go!" and of course, that voice was right. We delighted in the mountain, the weather, the colors, each other. A day that would have otherwise been unremarkable, forgettable, had we stayed home, instead became another memory etched in our family album.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tiding. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." -John Muir

The Year of the Horse

(I'm a little late in posting this. I wrote it early October but just now got a hold of the very necessary photograph - the author, circa 1989)...

Aidan wants to be a cat for Halloween. Orange, with yellow stripes, like our beloved (and deceased) cat Hobbes......
....or a fire fighter. Or a chef. Or a superhero. Or a pumpkin. Or a nurse. Or any number of other possibilities, on any given day. I knew this was going to be the case, the inability - or lack of desire - to commit to one costume. Polling other moms, I asked what they do when faced with this same dilemma. One mom advised me to go out right now and buy the costume, so Aidan can't change his mind. But I'm a purist; no matter how complicated or impossible, I think that Halloween costumes have to be homemade. Another mom said that she doesn't have that problem; her daughter has been dead-set on being a princess for months - 364 days, in fact. A third mom has so many costumes in the dress up box that changing one's mind at the last minute is no big deal. So then I thought of yet another mom, and what she did.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child. It wasn't so much the candy or the trick-or-treating but the playfulness and mischief of it all, getting to dress up, wearing that costume to school, going on parades through the hallways and in real parades in our town. It is, quite literally, the most childish of all holidays. The year I was eleven, the last year I would trick-or-treat, I decided to be something rather innocuous, boring, forgettable, I think something like a hobo. My mom kept prodding me, Are you sure that's what you want to be? Do you want to change your mind and be something else? This is your last year to trick or treat, you know......

On October 29, I came home from school, sobbing. I did not want to be a hobo. I wanted to be something different! Something special! Something so cool! With a kind and understanding heart, my busy mother listened to me, hugged me, took me to the fabric store, and helped me pick out, from the Simplicity patterns for costumes, the perfect get-up. I was going to be a horse-and-rider. The horse was a large beanbag-like costume with a hole in the center; I would wear it around my waist, with my own legs looking like those of the horse, and a second pair of stuffed legs would create the appearance of my own legs on top of the horse. I was taking horseback riding lessons at the time, and this was so perfect, so original, an optical illusion of sorts. A sophisticated costume for a sophisticated 11 year old. My mother spent the next two days slaving over sewing machine, churning out piece after piece and working late into each night until the horse was complete. And he was beautiful. Dark brown, with a lighter brown mane and tail and a beautiful red bridle made out of ribbon. I loved that horse, loved my costume, loved my mom....

...and loved the lesson it taught me. When it comes to the really, really important stuff in life -- like having the absolute, perfect, unforgettable Halloween costume, especially when it's your favorite holiday and you don't have much time left for silly trick-or-treating -- moms make time for you, because they love you. It's as simple as that. So although "Make Aidan's cat costume" has been at the top of our to-do list for weeks now, it somehow gets pushed below other pressing matters, knowing there's still that chance he'll decide he absolutely, positively MUST be a fire truck come Halloween night....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Race cars in the microwave

For me, one of the simplest pleasures of raising children is found in the most unexpected of ways - finding discarded, abandoned toys in unusual, unexpected places.

In the quiet of the evening, when I am wearily in the midst of the final toy clean up, I am often made to pause for a moment, and reflect on just what, exactly, led the race car to park itself in the play microwave, the small pile of Legos to land themselves next to the cats' food, or the measuring cups from my kitchen to nest themselves inside the ride-on train. Particularly on the days when I felt as though I might possibly run, screaming down the street, at the idea of creating one more train track or building one more Lego skyscraper, I love finding these unexpected reminders of the joy we found in our day. I am taken back to that moment we made "yucky coffee" in the play kitchen, when we created snails and nests filled with eggs from play-doh, or when we lined all the vehicles up for a "car parade."

But there's always something I miss. And that's the part that gets me the most. When was it that Leo tucked that race car away in the microwave? And what was he thinking - will it fit? Will it taste good? Maybe he was pretending it was a large hunk of brownie? And then there are the Legos near the cat food... was Aidan simply escaping his brother, who has a penchant for destroying Lego creations? Was he making a dining table on which the cats might eat? Or did he simply abandon them, his attention stolen by the crayons at the easel, a bird at the feeder?

It humbles me, actually, these discoveries. For as much as I think I know about them, as much as I try to orchestrate a fulfilling day of events, my children are hard at work, orchestrating their own ideas and opinions and ways in which to manipulate this amazing world - with or without me. It is that constant pull between wanting them under my wing at all times, and wanting to push them out of the nest to fly.

"Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some." -Robert Fulghum

Saturday, October 11, 2008

(Anachronistic) To the Moon and Back

This is something I wrote some four years ago, intending on submitting it to a small publication that has since gone out of business, Welcome Home. I remembered it because of the recent book of choice by Leo has been Guess How Much I Love You?
The words still ring true.

*The painting at right is from the book; Jeff painted it in Aidan's "Camp Bearwood" themed room....

The first time I read the children's book, Guess How Much I Love You? I was not impressed. Actually, as a college student, I just didn't get it. I didn't like how Little Nutbrown Hare kept trying to find the biggest way to tell Big Nutbrown Hare how much he loves him, but Big Nutbrown Hare always managed to show Little Nutbrown Hare just a little bit bigger way of loving him back - stretching his arms wider, jumping higher, loving him "to the moon - and back." I didn't like how Big Nutbrown Hare always seemed to "out-do" Little Nutbrown Hare; I wanted the love to be equal.

A few years after that first reading, I received the book at a baby shower. I stuck it on the shelf with many other new books, not giving it a second thought. Then, in one of our earliest days home from the hospital, determined that I would read to my newborn son every day of his life, (never mind he could barely keep his eyes open long enough to nurse, let alone read a book!) I began reading Guess How Much I Love You? to him.

Halfway through the book, I had an epiphany, an "ah-ha" moment. A new awareness, a new appreciation of this seemingly simple book overcame me as I tearfully whispered aloud the concluding sentence - "I love you right up to the moon - and back." Suddenly, and with absolute clarity, I got it. No matter what, Little Nutbrown Hare could not possibly love Big Nutbrown Hare to the same degree, and that was okay: it was okay that Little Nutbrown Hare will never be able to love Big Nutbrown quite as much as he is loved back. A parent's love is somehow always bigger than a child's love, and that parental love is utterly astounding.

As I sat there, realizing how powerful and enormous my love is for my son, I was caught in another sudden awareness - my own parents love me this much. I did not realize the extent to which my parents love me until my son was born. Only now, as a parent, do I understand what it means to love some other person with your whole being and soul. I am deeply in love with my husband and fiercely devoted to my family but the love I have for my son is different than these other loves, unconditional in a way that was not developed or learned. It is an innate, instinctual love. I was not able to understand or appreciate that love until becoming a mother. And to think my parents have loved me like this for more than 25 years! Suddenly, I was overcome with these two powerful and awesome gifts I received: the gift of this new life, this new creation, our son. And the gift of finally, truly knowing, and understanding, the depth of the love my parents have for me.

The book quickly became a standard read, the first of many board books whose words are permanently embedded in my memory. After story time, with my son sleeping peacefully in my arms, I gaze at his perfect face, his smooth skin, his beautiful bow lips and tiny body, and I contemplate the distance to the moon. 480,000 miles, to the moon and back, does not even begin to describe the love I have for this sweet soul snuggled into my shoulder. But it’s certainly a start.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Out of the Mouthes of Babes, Part 2

Leo's first sentence:
"Yum, Yum! Cookie!" [no interpretation needed.]

Leo's second sentence:
"Bump-Pa! Vrooom!!!!" [Grandpa drives the tractor! Gives us tractor rides! Lets Aidan do the steering while I sit on his lap!!]

Out of the mouth of my dear friend's daughter, who I'll call Allie:

Allie: Is this a Webkins, Mom? Because I can't have webkins at school.
Mom: No, honey, it's just a pony, and I know you can't have toys at school.
A: I especially can't have Webkins....
M: Well, that makes sense, I understand you can't have toys at school....
A: You know, I can't have Webkins.... like a sword, or those Star Wars things, or play squirt guns....
M: (the lightbulb going off)..... Weapons! Honey, you can't have weapons at school!!!!

And this last one, which I write with much chagrin. Except it is just too funny not to record.....

(shortly after returning from our camping trip at Mountain Cove Vineyard)

Aidan to Grandma: Grandma, maybe one day you can go camping with us!
G: That sounds nice, Aidan, but we do not have a tent!
A: That's okay, Grandma, you could sleep in our tent.....
G: Aidan, that's so nice! Thank you!
A: Yeah, and you could stay with us while Mommy and Daddy go out drinking!!!!!!

(long silence where Grandma and Grandpa are suppressing laughter)

G: Oh really, Aidan? What were they drinking?
A: (quite indignantly) They were drinking wine, Grandma. We were at a winery!!!!! (exasperated).