Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December Highlights


Mom's night at The Local; Playgroup cookies & books with Santa

My Three Kings on Christmas Eve; snuggling after playing in the snow

Christmas dinner - Carters, Seehavers, Hammons

What a wonderful way to end the year! We enjoyed so many treats and special events this month. Highlights include:

In early December, we made our annual visit to see Santa Claus. The boys were so exited! Aidan talked all about our visit last year to see Santa, and how Leo looked "worried" as he sat on his lap. Appropriately, Aidan & Leo wore shirts that said "Naughty is the New Nice." No longer shy, Aidan marched right up to the Fat Man and gave him a nice hello. Santa took his time talking to each boy, asking what they wanted and reminding them to be good helpers to Mom. (Yay Santa!!!) Aidan asked for a tumbling mat "to practice my gymnastics and for exercising." Pax requested more hair. (Santa said maybe he could have a hat instead.) And Leo's request? "A remote control." Santa responded, "A remote control?..... like a remote control car?" "No," said Leo. "A remote control." Santa and I were both a little puzzled, but Leo refused to say more. Later, he explained to me that he wanted the remote control to spin the Christmas tree around in circles. Hmm. In the same way that I came to learn that Santa doesn't always deliver, through repeated requests for a pony and a TV for my room, Leo didn't seem too surprised not to find a remote control underneath the tree. Instead, he was thrilled to pieces with the lollipops Mr. Claus left in his stocking.

Last year, I figured we'd seen the end of a holiday party through Jeff's work, since he would no longer be working for UVA in the academics side. I was really pleased, then, to find out that he and his fellow nurses held a bake sale and other fundraisers to come up with the funds to rent out a nice community center and to purchase a liquor license for their annual nurses party. Even though I was really looking forward to our first date post-Pax, the very introverted, shy part of me was dreading going to the event. Jeff nearly dragged me there, kicking and screaming. Of course, we ended up having a lot of fun, and I was very happy to be able to put faces with the names I've been hearing about for the past 5 months. Clearly, Jeff is adored by his fellow nursing staff (mostly women, of course!) and it was nice to hear how much they appreciate him and how highly they think of him.

We changed things up a bit for this year's annual mom's night ornament exchange and dinner, forgoing our tradition of going to Bang and instead heading to The Local. The atmosphere was great; the server, a cute artist type, and the food, outstanding. And of course, the company couldn't be beat!

On December 17, I joined Aidan at school for his holiday party. It was really fun to see him in his classroom, interacting with his peers and friends. His teacher set up four stations and the kids rotated at 15 minute intervals between them - a beautifully orchestrated party, indeed. They decorated a cookie, made a reindeer craft, created a glittering snowflake, and devoured snacks and desserts. I enjoyed the party much more than I could have imagined, and yet it still affirmed for me, with no uncertainty whatsoever, that I'll take 100 middle schoolers over 10 kindergarteners, any day!

On December 18, we were hit with a record-setting snow storm! In all, we received over two feet of cold, fluffy powder, trapping us indoors for 2 days. I was so glad Jeff was not scheduled to work. We spent the days playing in the snow, sitting in front of the constantly-fed fire, and snuggling on the couch.

But that snow would not keep us from our other fun events! We braved the roads just 3 days later to attend our playgroup's annual cookie and book exchange, where Santa Claus Himself makes an appearance each time to deliver the books. The new favorite cookie of this year is Stacy's Chai Eggnog. It is simply divine! The funniest part of playgroup was when all of the kids (except Pax) locked themselves into a huge dog crate and told stories to each other. WHY didn't we think of a dog crate earlier, we wondered aloud?

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the holiday season came in the next two days, on December 22 and 23, when we went caroling to those who could use some holiday cheer. First, I asked all of the playgroup moms and kids to come with us to the home of my homebound student who died in October. With song sheets and jingle bells, we caroled for Susan, Johnnie, and Alex, who seemed very pleased and touched by the singing. The next day, our family of 5 headed to the hospital to carol for our good friend Ed, who has been in the hospital for several weeks and only recently was moved out of ICU. We added "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to our list of carols for Ed, since Leo is so good at singing it. Aidan pointed out to us, "It's kind of like a Christmas carol! Twinkle twinkle is about the stars, just like "the stars in the sky... looked down where he lay!" So we're singing about those stars!" The caroling was simple and easy, and yet the message it sent to our children was so much bigger - Christmas is about doing nice things for people, because you care about them. I'm so grateful that we had the chance to give this "gift of service" with our kids, because it was finally something that they seemed to understand. It left me with the determination to continue to find small gifts of service that my young children can contribute to others.

And finally, on Christmas Eve, I was so proud to watch my Three Kings in the Christmas Pageant at our church! Aidan marched tall and regal in his get up, solomnly holding up his gift of gold; Leo was positively gorgeous in his attire, yet was mischevious and squirrly - hiding his bag of frankincense, punctuating their quiet entrance with "Pow! Pow! Pow!" and wandering all over the manger scene. Pax was serene and peaceful in his crown and robe, comfortably observing everything in the Bjorn baby carrier (worn by Jeff) and mounted atop an oversized camel puppet. As the story was told and the children gathered around the cradle to admire the baby Jesus (doll), a quiet stillness came to most of them. In that moment, all was calm and bright!

Christmas morning was among the most calm and chaos-free of any we've seen in the past 5 or so years. Aidan could read the names on the gifts, and was a huge helper in the distribution. Leo actually quit opening his gifts about 2/3 of the way through, happy to play with whatever he'd already opened. And Pax was the happiest baby we've ever had, content to sit in his bouncy seat and watch the action. The day was unrushed and fairly relaxing, and culminated with a fabulous dinner prepared by my mom at their home. The Hammons family joined us in celebrating, and it proved to be one of my favorite Christmas dinners in recent history.

Tonight, we're heading to Richmond to the botanical gardens there for the Gardenfest of Lights, an anuual event where visitors walk through the gardens to enjoy the light show. We're treating ourselves to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and then heading over to see the lights.

As we begin to look to the new year, I continue to feel so incredibly grateful for the many gifts and good fortune our family has enjoyed. I've said it before, but it bears repeating - I feel fortunate and lucky for our good health and our happy children. I am filled with gratitude. I understand that we have so much to be thankful for. And I know that I must find more ways in which to help others. "For of those to whom much is given, much is required." (Luke 12:48; JFK)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Found!

We once were lost, but now we're found. This past Sunday, we officially became members of St. Mark Lutheran Church. It was an unexpected match in our quest to find a new church home; we had visited St. Mark when we first moved to the area, but it was not a good fit then. Now, with a new pastor leading the congregation and what seems to be renewed life in the church, St. Mark felt just right for us from our very first visit. We were happy to learn how soon we could become official members and circled December 13 on our calendars in red.

It was a memorable day for us because we've longed for a church to call home. I think it was rather memorable for the congregation as well - Leo put on quite a show for the members, despite my best efforts to mitigate his monkey business. It began with a simple nose-picking display, then moved on to crawling around the spaces between the communion rail, then on to dipping his hand in the baptismal font (and sweetly dripping the water on his head) and wandering around the front of the sanctuary, all while we were being introduced and officially made members. Aidan stood with his hands in his pockets, looking dapper in a sportscoat, pinstripe shirt, and bright red snowman tie, and Pax looked around bright-eyed and slightly apprehensive, eyeing the baptismal font where he'll be baptized on January 10. We felt warmly welcomed, with open arms and loving hearts.

While we still miss our old friends terribly, and will never enjoy the music in quite the same way as when it was directed by our good friend Julie, we know that this is a good fit, a place where our children will hopefully become deeply rooted and carefully nurtured in faith. Already there is a place for each of them during the Christmas Eve pageant - stay tuned. The Carter Brothers will make their debut as the Wise Men, the three kings, the Magi - yes, even Pax!!
(Aidan decided that this was all well and good, but that Pax could not be a king if he was going to spit up. So maybe he could be a camel instead... a spitting camel....)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Leo


My blog entries feel kind of heavy these days, so it's high time I lighten things up a bit. Here are some very funny quotes from Mr. Leo Carter himself. You have to imagine him saying everything, though, in his sweet little voice. He is very articulate for an almost-three-year-old, and that's what makes what he says even funnier sometimes...

(at dinner one night -)
Leo: I need to eat my bite ums.
Daddy: Your vitamins?
Leo: Yes. My bite ums.

(after finally settling down at his seat and eating his lunch, very quietly and intently--)
Leo: (with a sigh of relief) Oh good. The monsters ate up all of my lunch for me.

(Leo, referring to Pax's sneeze)
"He blessed me!" (He sneezed!)

Leo has a love-hate relationship with the cats. He wants to love them, and tries to, but they kind of hate him for it. Especially Alice.
Leo: I do not want my kitty to go into the bathroom, so I lock the door.
Mom: Why don't you want Alice to go into the bathroom?
Leo: I do not want my kitty to be flushed down the potty.
(now THAT would be quite the sight. Alice nearly outweighs Leo! She's huge!!!)

Leo to Daddy: I lost my tooth.
D: You lost your tooth?
L: Yup. But I can get a new one.
D: Where will you get a new one?
L: At Target.

At church last week, the Sunday School teacher asked if there were certain roles Aidan and Leo would like for the pageant. I told her they would be whatever they needed, so she asked if they would be kings. Aidan was very excited about this, but Leo just kind of stared at her. At dinner, when Aidan was talking about being a king, he was very excited and said that a king was much better than a shepherd (what he'd been two years ago.)
Jeff asked Leo, Are you going to be a king in the Christmas pageant?
Leo: No!!....... a pumpkin!!
[silence as Jeff searches for how to respond]
Daddy: Leo, I'm afraid there aren't any pumpkins in the Christmas story...
Leo: Oh. A king, then.

We went to sit on Santa's lap recently. I was nervous about this for several reasons, the biggest of which being I didn't want the kids to announce some big, elaborate, extravagant gift that they hadn't mentioned wanting before. I even coached Aidan for weeks beforehand, hoping he'd change his mind on the real violin he was set on having. (He did - he asked Santa for a tumbling mat so that he can practice his gymnastics. Whew.) But I thought Leo's request would be a cinch - at first he said he was going to ask for lollipops, and then decided on train tracks. Done and done. Well.... Santa and I were both a bit thrown off with Leo's request:
Santa: And what do you want for Christmas, Leo?
Leo: Remote control.
S: A remote control..... what? What will the remote control do? Like a remote control car?
(Leo just stared at him, and that was the end of the conversation - at the time, at least.)
At dinner, we asked Leo to tell us more about the remote control he was hoping Santa would bring.
Leo: "A remote control for the tree. So that it goes round and round when you push it!"

Santa certainly has his work cut out for him!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Waiting

I have had a hard time sitting down to write a blog these days... not for lack of ideas, exactly; not for lack of desire; and not because of a lack of time, believe it or not... it's more that my thoughts are still festering and simmering, have not yet reached culmination. Best put, I am waiting...

And maybe that there is the culmination - the waiting. I am waiting to sort out my thoughts, to achieve the "ah-ha!" moment of my musings. In the meantime--

I am waiting for Christmas, for the celebration of Jesus' birth. I love the anticipation almost as much as I love the day itself. I love the traditions - the decorating, the carols, Countdown until Christmas books. I love the excitement of my children, growing bigger each year as they understand more and more about the holiday. I love reveling in the time before the big day arrives.
*****
Recently I overheard the phrase, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The original context of this quote describes the role of the newspaper, and Finley Peter Dunne is credited with coining the term. It was the first time I'd ever heard it, and it struck me to the core. I am waiting to figure out my response. I am comfortable, too comfortable. I want to be afflicted into action, afflicted into doing something more than I am doing now. But what? For whom? How? And when?
*****
In many ways, the Christmas holiday greets us in a new way each year. We may take out the same old decorations, put them in the same old places, make the same old cookies, tell the same old stories - and yet each year, there is something new and different. Sometimes it is new and wonderful - the birth of a new baby, such as our sweet Pax. Sometimes it is terrible and painful, such as the death of a loved one. Sometimes the year has been so good, we hate to see it end. Sometimes the year has been awful; we can't wait to bid it good riddance. I sense a change coming, not a bad change by any means, but a change. I feel too comfortable this year, too lucky, too fortunate. I'm not sure I have done enough, am doing enough for those who have struggled so much, who are struggling still. I sense a change; I feel an imperative to do more.

And so I wait.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Podcasts



Be sure to check out Aidan and Leo's podcasts below.... Aidan's podcast is a song he learned at school and performed on the auditorium stage with the rest of his class (in the festive attire featured in the photo). Leo's rendition is of his favorite song. My favorite thing about this song was that he used to sing "Winkle, winkle, wittle star..." but his brother's incessant corrections led him to alter his pronunciation. Anyway! Happy listening.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

one moment in time

The most recent edition of Real Simple asked a dozen or so well-known writers to identify and describe their favorite moment of the day, and why. I started to think about my own day, wondering what I would say in response to this same question. I am highly routinized, following predictable patterns every single day, so the first two moments that popped into my head were the moment I have my first sip of coffee in the morning, and the first sip of happy hour in the evening. I quickly decided that, although I enjoy those moments, they are definitely not the best of the day.

Next I considered the ritual of getting Aidan on and off the bus - in the mornings, I often breathe a sigh of relief as the bus pulls away, enjoying a moment of contentment - we've made it through another morning; I've managed to get three kids dressed and to the bus stop before the bus pulled away; I've done my part in getting Aidan off to school safely. In the afternoons, I eagerly await the arrival of that same bus, searching the windows until I catch sight of Aidan's "bright shiny penny face" beaming at me - a ritual of his own that he's created, grinning at me for a moment or two before making his way off the bus. I love the bus stop moments, but they are not my favorite.

Every parent loves the moment when all the kids are tucked into bed and are drifting off to sleep. Usually, this happens without too much fussing or tears (on their part or mine) but that moment of peaceful bliss is especially sweet after a night of difficulty in the going-to-bed routine. Before I turn into bed myself, I always go in for one last glimpse of their sleeping bodies, kiss their sweet faces and marvel at how calm, still, quiet, and beautiful each child is in slumber.

But none of these moments compares to the moment before the dinner ritual begins, when I've prepared all the food, fixed all the plates, grabbed all of the last minute requests, and finally, finally settled into my chair at the head of the table. It is this moment that is my favorite, as each family member settles into his chair, folds his hands for prayer, and looks with happy anticipation at the meal that awaits them. Oddly, mealtime is usually when Aidan and Leo have their best behaviors. (Certainly there are glaring exceptions, but by and large, this is the truth.) Admittedly, they squabble over which prayer we'll sing, and we often end up singing two prayers, to appease Leo. But as we settle into the meal, the dinner ritual begins, and this is my favorite moment, the part I look forward to all day, when we come together as a whole family and share our days with each other. Dinner is the time when we nurture our life together as a family as we nurture our bodies with food.

Research supports the benefits of sharing meals together, and it is no wonder that this is my favorite moment of my day. Upon reflecting on my own childhood, the memories that surface the strongest in my mind are those shared around the dinner table. In the house where I spent the formative years of my childhood, we had a very small, square table that felt cozy and close, the four of us eating there each night. Spaghetti nights were my absolute favorite - mom always used the same brown ceramic bowl with a matching lid for the sauce, and simply catching sight of that bowl on the counter when I arrived home from school made me eager for dinner to begin. We talked politics, highs and lows of the day, shared jokes and laughter, and always, my father requested a "fun fact" from each of us.

Thirty years from now, I wonder what my children will look back and remember most vividly about their growing up years. I hope it includes the many hours we spent together as a family, gathered around the table, breaking bread and making memories, for it is certainly one of my best memories with my family - past and present.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Renewal




We tend to think of spring as the season of renewal. But this fall, I am feeling more and more like this is the time of renewal, of the return to the old as well as welcoming the new. As the cool days now outnumber the warm ones, and the leaves have shared all but the last few bursts of color, we return to the familiarity of the last few months of the year - and yet we are joined by a new family member, making all things new. Finally, I, too, feel as though I have returned to my former self. I had been struggling quite a bit with postpartum depression, and finally I feel as though I have turned the corner. I am so grateful for the support of my family, particularly my mom, as well as my friends and my beloved midwife. In retrospect, I am shocked at how unhealthy I was; thus I feel renewed in this new season, and so grateful to be back.

Because of the many holidays we celebrate in these closing months, I love the return of the traditions. Last weekend, we enjoyed another Halloween with the kids. Aidan was a "Piwrite", a Pirate who writes. Last-minute, Leo decided that he wanted to be a lion, complete with a ferocious growl! And Pax was a skeleton - the cutest one you'll ever see. We carved clever and unique pumpkins in the morning - Leo insisted on an "upside down" pumpkin, and Aidan designed a mouth on his that was much-admired by the big kids who came trick-or-treating to our door. In the afternoon, we headed to the Martells for a special trick-or-treat, then to the Williams' for pizza and delicious goodies. Finally, it was time for trick-or-treating! This year, we went with our friends and neighbors, the Greens. We had so much fun, despite the on-again, off-again rain, and the scary chainsaw at the neighbors' house. Aidan stayed out with Logan [Green] after Leo and Pax had called it quits, and when he finally got home he announced, "My dogs are barking! My feet are killing me!"

This weekend, we took the kids on the first hiking trip of the season, to Shenandoah National Park. We chose the hike that was closest to the park entrance, the Turk Gap Trail. It's 2.2 miles round trip, with considerable hills and some rocky parts. The kids were amazing hikers! As long as Leo had a stick to drag in his hand, he was a happy boy, and Aidan loved scouting out the next trail marker. I am so impressed by how far Aidan has come in a year. He was clearly exhausted by the end of the long hike, and yet he kept on plugging away, never whining or complaining. Pax showed his enthusiasm for hiking in the way he knows best - contented sleep in the Moby wrap. While the trees were well past their prime, the weather was gorgeous and we all felt rejuvinated and restored from the time we spent together, enjoying nature and all its glory.

Today, we created our annual Tree of Thanks, and it was so rewarding for me to watch Aidan cut out each leaf himself and write his own thanksgivings on each one. He composed ones for the kitties, ("Zoe and Alice are thankful for mice") and gave suggestions to Leo and Pax about what they might write. (Cookies; Flat Cat; milk; Flippo, Pax's flat hippo lovey.) The best part was that Aidan remembered this tradition from last year and initiated his own gratitudes on each leaf.

This year I feel more grateful than ever, for my healthy, beautiful family of five; for the love and support of our family and friends; for the safety, stability, and security we enjoy; for overcoming the struggles of the past six weeks. Thus, this quote resonates particularly strongly for me:

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today,
and creates a vision for tomorrow."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Month Old

Day 1: You emerge into the world, looking altogether like you’d rather go back to the cozy, dark, fluid familiarity of my womb. There you are, a whole human being, filling the empty space in my arms, emptying the full space of my belly. A whole person who just minutes…. hours before… had been tucked deep away inside me. I savor the smell of you, newly born. There is no scent on earth that is as delicious to me as you are – you smell of earth, of life.

Day 3: Your eyes peek open, surrounded by swollen creases yet eyes bright and shining through. It is not altogether unreasonable to say that you look alien like, and indeed, you are a brand new visitor in a foreign world. You look at me as if to say, oh, hi, it’s you who has carried me and nurtured me and loved me these long months. It’s you.

Day 5: You begin to unfurl your long, skinny limbs. I hold your hand; it is fully relaxed to the side, for the first time. I watch you stretch. I recognize your stretch when I see it; it’s the visual accompaniment to the movement I felt when you were rolling around my belly. You are trying out, testing out each limb, in a way that you’ve refused to do until now – tightly crunched in your fetal hold. You stretch, trusting that the world will be there to hold and support you. Trusting, at least, that mom or dad will be there. And we are. Here we are.

Day 10: You stretch your legs out straight, hold them high in the air as if to say, look. Look at me. Look at what I can do. Look at what I am doing with these skinny little parts of me. You are so proud of this tiny accomplishment. I am, too. One more time you stretch them long and tall at me.

Day 14: Your fuzzy, unfocused eyes try desperately to make sense of the features of my face. You know me now, know my voice and my smell and my laughter and my tears. You stare at me while nursing, while snuggling, while quietly gazing in my direction, seeming to want to know who I am yet already knowing me inside, now outside. In your constantly needy, demanding state, it is the first “I love you” I hear you say. I recognize you, you’re my mama, I love you, you say with those fuzzy unfocused eyes.

Day 21: We spend quiet minutes studying each other. You stretch, you show off your length and your ease with your limbs. You clutch my shirt, grasp at my neck as I snuggle your tiny body, breathe in the milky scent of your skin, your breath. I take deep gulps of you and still can’t get enough.

Day 28: You are one month old. One whole month, which feels both like forever and just yesterday all at once. I cannot imagine our lives without you in it. Today you accidentally catch sight of your hand waving near your face. You are captivated, astounded by the simple discovery. Watching you, I take for granted the marvel of moveable limbs.

I am watching you. All these days, I am watching you and recording you and savoring every bit of you. As you cry, I study your features, your expression, your angry little face, your gummy mad mouth. You smile at me, accidentally, and your happiness infects me in that moment. You sleep. Nothing is more beautiful than watching you in peace-filled sleep. Nothing is more beautiful than you, tiny you, one month old you. Forever and just yesterday, you are here. Here you are.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eatin' Good... from the Neighborhood

No one ever tells you that one of the (many!) perks to having a brand new baby is the fabulous meals you're likely to enjoy - especially if you live in a community like ours. When Aidan was born, I was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of generosity through home-cooked meals that virtual strangers brought to my door, courtesy of our local parents' yahoo group here at the lake. We didn't know a soul here aside from my parents, and I was amazed to learn just how many young, hip, stay-at-home moms were at the lake. Little did I know a few of those "virtual strangers" would become my close friends and comrades in playgroup together. I attended my first playgroup with Aidan when he was one month old, and met Stacy and Melanie, who are still in the group today.

When Leo was born, my playgroup arranged for meals to be delivered to our door, and this time, all I could think was how lucky I was to have such a great group of friends. Now, with the arrival of Pax, the feasting has never been so good! Our playgroup, along with other friends and neighbors have been so generous to us. This house may not look like an Applebee's, but we're eatin' good... [from] the neighborhood, indeed!
******************************************
Recently a childhood friend emailed me for my thoughts and ideas on transitioning to being a stay at home mom. I still need to write her back, but as I was reflecting over what has made my years at home so enjoyable, one recurring theme is my playgroup. Over the past five years, we have...

-Enjoyed countless hours of play time with our kids - inside each other's homes, at the beach in the summer, at the pool, at the playground, at parks in Charlottesville.
-Participated in cookie swaps and ornament exchanges at Christmastime, plus a book swap for the kids, delivered by none other than Santa Claus himself.
-Celebrated birthdays and holidays together, including the Semi-Annual Carter Halloween Party, a Chinese New Year party with the most authentic Chinese food any of us had ever encountered, and many BBQs and potlucks to celebrate the 4th of July, New Year's, birthdays, and the like.
-Indulged in monthly mom's nights, ranging from casual movie and game nights to feasting at favorite restaurants and summer dinner cruises on the lake. Occasionally, we've even included our hubsters for couples' nights.
-Endured parties like Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, and Southern Living for the sake of one another. (Oh, admit it! Those parties are absolutely something to be endured, unless you're the benefactor of the free goods!!)
-Cooked for each other in a cooking co-op together, making dinner once a week for the 3 other families in the co-op and delivering food to their doors each week - in exchange, we received prepared main dishes 3 days a week. Our families enjoyed each other's cooking, and many new favorite recipes were discovered this way.
-Cooked for each other with the arrival of new family members
-Hosted baby and adoption showers for each other, where we shower the mom with gifts like certificates to the local spa
-Formed an "Activity Swap" for our kids last year when the economy was so terrible. In lieu of Tumble Buddies and Kindermusik, we met at each other's homes where we each took turns developing a structured, hour-long schedule of events for the kids. We each planned according to our strengths and interests, and the results were awesome: we had music classes, arts and crafts classes, physical movement classes, health and nutrition classes, and safety classes - for free.
-Babysat occasionally for each other, informally; we're trying to formalize it now into a babysitting co-op.

Our group has changed considerably over the years as people move away, toddlers and preschoolers become grade schoolers, and other obligations get in the way of playgroup. But the constant that playgroup as a whole has provided me is something that I will be forever grateful for, and the friendships I have formed are ones I cherish in these labor-intensive early years of childrearing - and I know I will continue to cherish in the years to come. Indeed, all the moms I've known from playgroup are women I consider to be my fellow comrades in this highly demanding, unrelenting, exhausting career of Motherhood.

Hooray for playgroup! And hooray for the kindness of our friends and our neighbors, who have fed us well and made us feel so happy and lucky.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

To Everything a Season


Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4
To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

*****************************************
It is with a heavy and mournful heart that this passage from scripture comes to mind for me. Because of my involvement, dedication, and commitment to this child, I feel compelled to respond to her death here in my blog. Yesterday, my homebound student died of heart failure. While this was not unexpected, the pain and grief is no less enormous. I have worked with Alice* (name changed) one-on-one since she was a fifth grade student; now, as an 8th grader, she would have turned 14 on October 22. Alice challenged me with her wit, her sassiness, her giftedness of mind and knowledge, and her physical limitations resulting from her Muscular Dystrophy. I am a better, more creative teacher because of her. I am a more fierce advocate for students with special needs because of her - especially when those students are also gifted. I will never forget, in her 6th grade year, when I boldly announced to her classroom teachers that "There is no assignment that Alice is incapable of doing. No matter what it is, assign it to her and I will help her adapt it into something she can do independently." That teacher took me at my word - her first project was to create a diorama. I laughed out loud, because what could be more hands-on than a diorama? Did we find another way? Of course we did! Alice created a beautiful tri-fold travel brochure highlighting the same region of the U.S. that the other kids used in making their dioramas. And she did it completely on her own. And together, I think - or at least, I hope - both Alice and I opened the eyes of many teachers at her middle school with our absolute, rigid insistence that there would never be an assignment that she couldn't do.

I am so, so very thankful to have been able to see Alice this past Sunday. Her mom cooked a meal for our family, and I went to pick up the meal from them for the sole purpose of seeing Alice and giving her the chance to meet Pax. Alice looked terrific when I saw her - great color, and in great spirits. Her mom took a photo of us, one I will always cherish. I am forever grateful for this last chance to see her looking so well and on such a happy occasion.

Once again, I am acutely reminded of the seasons of life, the birth and the death that is a necessary and definite part of our existence. Acutely I felt this when Leo was born; Jeff's grandmother had just passed away days before he arrived, and tragically, a young teenager from our church congregation died in a car accident that same time. Additionally, Leo was born on the same day that we found out, the year before, that I was pregnant with the baby we lost. Acutely I felt the pain, and then the joy, of our life's cycles. Again, with Pax's birth, and now with Alice's death, I am reminded of both the joy and the sorrow of life.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Thousand Words


....or more....would it take me to do this picture justice....

Pax Augustus, age 9 days old.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections and Reactions


Our transition to life as a family of five has been, by and large, smooth and successful. For better or for worse, life goes on for everyone when babies are born into families of school age and busy toddler age siblings. My mom and Aidan made dozens of "baby cookies" to decorate and take in to share with classmates, and Leo even got to take some to share with his Kindermusik class. The proverbial other shoe could drop at any moment, but I have to say, this has been the easiest transition by far; there's nothing quite as shocking, life-upheaving as bringing home your firstborn child; with number two, I wondered if my life would ever be the same; by number three, I think I know that life is simply three times as good. Are there moments when I want to tear my hair out? Of course. Do I break down in sobs at the tiniest thing? Absolutely. But I recognize how smoothly this transition is going, and I feel supremely lucky, and happy, seeing my three gorgeous and healthy children.

When Aidan met Leo for the first time at the hospital on the day he was born, I will never forget his first action toward his brother. Unprompted, unrehearsed, never even discussed, Aidan took Leo's tiny hand in his own and said, "Peace be with you." It was touching and beautiful. I was curious to see what, if anything, Aidan would do this time around. When Pax arrived home, the older brothers gathered around as I rocked a sleeping Pax. Quietly, Aidan reached over to Pax's forehead and made the sign of the cross on his head. He quickly glanced up at me, but I didn't quite know what to say. Aidan asked, "Did you see what I did? I put a cross on his head." "Yes, Aidan, I saw that. What a wonderful thing for you to do for Pax." Aidan responded, "I put a cross on his head because Pax has not been to church yet, and he does not know Jesus, so I put a cross on his head." It was so tender, raw, authentic. I was deeply moved. Children continue to astound me in their depth and their compassion, their love and their honesty.

In contrast to his serious brother, Leo was not quite as sold on the new sibling - although he has adjusted far better than I could have ever hoped for! On day 3 of Pax's life, I was nursing Pax when Leo came downstairs from his nap. Jeff and Aidan were out, and Leo was clearly annoyed that there were no free arms to snuggle him. As I made room next to me to tuck him by my side, he took out his pacifier and said, in no uncertain terms, "I want you put he back in your belly!!!" It just doesn't get more articulate than that, coming from the mouth and heart of a 2 1/2 year old brother. Lucky for all of us (especially me!) Leo has seemed to have abandoned this idea.

When my own words fail me, I turn to what has been better said by others. I was browsing the StoryPeople website by artist Brian Andreas, and this print's verse spoke to me today-

"He laid on my chest and his breathing filled me almost to beyond what I could hold."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pax Augustus


Pax Augustus was born on Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 8:47 a.m. He weighed 6 lbs, 5 oz and was 20 inches long. His first name, Pax, is Latin and means Peace. Additionally, Jeff and I met at St. Mary's College, near the Patuxant River - Pax River for short. I delivered Pax in a beautiful, peace-filled, unmedicated water birth - a fitting name indeed. My mother had the honor of choosing his middle name, and she chose Augustus, a Seehaver family name stretching back six generations. We love the name, too, because her birth month is August, and thus it directly honors her as well...

In the featured photo, Pax is wearing a hat, also known as a "Magic Hanky," made and given to us by Julie Martell
:
The Magic Hanky
I'm just a little hankie, as pretty as can be;
And with a stitch or two, a bonnet was made from me.
I can be wron home from the hospital or on your baptismal day
And then I will be tucked away
to await your wedding day.

On your wedding day, a hanky I will be,
for every bride needs something old,
and surely I will be.
Since you happen to be a boy,
and someday you may marry,
you can give your lovely bride
a hanky she can carry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Waiting.

Waiting and patience have never been my forte, nor will they ever be in the future. I am waiting. I am more than ready for this baby to be born, because I want to meet him and I want to see my feet again and I want to drink beer with my husband again. I want to fall in love with the newest member of our family and I want to ooh and aah over every tiny feature of his little self.

I've been resisting writing a blog entry because I simply wanted the next one I wrote to be a birth announcement. I've been working on some "drafts" of future posts in the meantime, but "write true feelings on blog" has been nagging me for a few days now. Although my due date is still (!) two days away, I am feeling especially anxious and hopeful that I will have this baby by Friday, because my midwife is suddenly going out of town on the 26th, and won't return for two weeks. While I know everything will still be fine if Friday comes and goes with no baby, I clearly chose to have a midwife for a reason (or twelve) and I am fervently hoping she can see me through to the end.

It's hard to put into words exactly how I am feeling, except I think it's fair to say that I'm feeling it all. I can't think of another time in one's life when one can feel happy, excited, depressed, anxious, scared, elated, nervous, thrilled, sad, wistful, envious, selfish, ornery, mean, witchy, and nostalgic all at once. I bet I skipped about 10 other emotions in that list, even.

I'm ready. I couldn't be more ready, more excited, more impatient to meet this boy. And you won't hear from me here until I do! Here are a few quotes I collected while ruminating over the long wait.

"All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope" Alexander Dumas Pere

"Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting - that is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow."

"Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; [patience] is concentrated strength." Edward Bulwer-Lytton

(Based on this last one, you might just want to call me Hercules from now on!!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Survival Tips

A random collection of tips for surviving parenting.... my favorite discoveries, at least!

1. If you are completely exhausted and need a break, but are feeling way too guilty about too much TV to justify a movie, turn it into an "event." Call it "movie night." Have everyone put on their PJ's, regardless of what time it is. Grab blankets and pillows, make some popcorn, and voila! Suddenly, you're not an exhausted mom (or dad) parking her kids in front of the TV, you're the cool and creative mom who has created a veritable movie theater in the family room!

2. At bathtime, again if you're exhausted or if you simply need a pick-me-up, soak your feet in the tub while the kids play. They will find this hilarious, and you will feel rejuvenated by the time it's time to dry off. Seriously - this is the best part of bathing the kids!

3. Location, location, location! If you were too exhausted to go to the grocery store as you'd planned that day, and felt too guilty about ordering out or going out, call it a "picnic dinner" and enjoy those PBJ's parked on a blanket in the middle of the family room. Or, call it a "camp out," turn out all the lights, and light some candles. Voila! Another face saving evening. Your lame PBJ dinner suddenly becomes a cherished memory.

4. If you feel you absolutely will not survive the bickering, pestering, antagonizing behavior from your children, and if you are about to Lose Your Cool and Blow a Gasket, simply get out your ipod, plug in, and tune out. This really disarms your children because they know you can still see them but not hear them. They know you are tuning out. They are curious about this, and they usually stop their bickering, pestering, and antagonizing - at least long enough for you to get your groove on to Jack Johnson or the Black Eyed Peas or whomever - enough to regain your cool.

5. Then promptly open a bottle of wine and indulge in a glass.

6. If said ipod + glass of wine trick does nothing for the bickering, pestering, and antagonizing, try this approach - take one child and plop him onto the kitchen counter while you continue to attempt to make the delectable, nutritious, and semi-creative meal you've been trying to make for the past half hour. The other kids can't reach him, he can't get down because the counter is too tall, and peace is restored..... for a few minutes, at least. Summon your husband/partner to arrive home with all your mental might. If said spouse is unable to arrive home because of demanding and very necessary bread-winning job, consider reverting to "lame" PBJ dinner and see above.

7. Making school lunches is not a fun job. I marvel at the fact that my father made my lunch for me, every day, until I graduated from high school. Especially because I insisted that he make the sandwich the morning of school, not the night before, because it did not please my palate when it tasted "stale." Especially because he always asked how my lunch was, and I always managed to find SOMETHING wrong with it. Anyway. In order to survive the nightly ordeal, I've gotten into the habit of pre-packaging snacks for the entire week on Sunday afternoon. I pre-pack the grapes, pretzels, cheerios, tubes of yogurt, granola bars, and carrot sticks into individual bags, then place all the bags into a plastic bin that I store in the fridge. On school nights, I simply have to grab one of each, make the sandwich, and voila! Done. This is far from an original idea, but it is amazing how much of a difference it makes in the attitude toward packing lunches.

8. Listen. Sometimes kids say the most amazing and creative things when we are not listening. When we take a moment to silence ourselves and not speak, occasionally gems of beautifully spoken language emerge. (A word of caution, however. Sometimes you'll hear sailor-type words you wish you hadn't heard.) Tonight, we were reading a favorite bedtime story, The Imaginary Garden, a beautifully illustrated story about a girl and her grandfather who paint an imaginary garden on a large canvas on Papa's balcony, in lieu of the real thing. We finished it, and Leo wanted to go back a few pages. Sometimes I am too tired and try to rush through this. Tonight I was simply too tired to rush, so I just turned the page and waited. He pointed at the picture and said, "Why not Theo have any ice cream?" "What?" I asked, incredulous. "Why Theo's Papa not give her any ice cream?" he asked again. I replied, "Honey, it's just not part of the story...." "Oh.... Theo's Papa should get her some ice cream." (Apparently, Leo was savoring the memory of his own recently enjoyed dessert). Fine, I'm a sucker for literary connections, but this was a gem.

9. Laugh. As much as you can. And when you're faced with the choice to laugh or to cry, choose the former. This takes practice, but generally speaking, children provide ample opportunity to practice the "laugh over cry" choice.... plus, children provide the added advantage of allowing adults to laugh over things that really aren't appropriate in the grown-up world. Tooting in the bathtub still ranks very high on my list of Most Hilarious Things Ever, but I'd never admit that in real life.

10. Love. Sometimes, the thing that they least expect is the thing they need the most. A hug and a snuggle after a terrible tantrum - or to end the terrible tantrum. A warm embrace stops the nasty backtalking mid-sentence. Kissing them one last time before going to bed yourself, watching their peace-filled bodies deep in blissful sleep, knowing you have kept them safe and loved them well one more day - love.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Toucan of the Week!



Each week, Mrs. Hinkle sends home a newsletter telling the parents about what the class is doing in school. How happy and proud we were with this week's letter! The newsletter is at the top; I enlarged the "Superstars" image on the bottom.....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of the Mouthes of Babes (# I've lost count)

Leo wanted a(nother) cereal milk straw after having already had one that morning.
L: Um, another milk straw for me?
M: No, honey, they're not very good for you.
L: Why not?
M: Well, they're mostly made of sugar.
(Leo, pondering this idea....)
L: Want to know what I mostly made of?
M: What?!
C: (dramatic pause, meaningful Look--) COFFEE!
***********************
I was helping Aidan get into his pajamas and ready for bed. Exhausted myself, I'd already changed my clothes into my own pajamas....

A: Why do you keep wearing Daddy's shirts? Yours look better.... and they SMELL better, too!
***********************
As I was cooking dinner one evening, Leo looks at me and says,
"Mommy, why you in my house?"

I stared at him, puzzled and perplexed. I repeated,
"Why am I in your house? Is that what you said?"

L: Yeah. Why you in my house?

I was left speechless.
*********************
Kindergarten update: He loves it! He completely, absolutely, positively loves it. I've been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop (or foot to fall, or whatever happens to one's lower appendages) but so far, it has not. However. While I am thrilled thrilled
thrilled that Aidan never needs so much as a warning about changing his behavior during school hours, I'm starting to think that perhaps a warning here or there might not be so bad if it prevents the struggles and battles that ensue after he gets home! I knew from my experience as a teacher that students often save their "worst" behavior for when they get home, but now I'm witnessing it from the flip side - the parent perspective. (This notion always made me wonder, though, about those monstrous seventh graders I occasionally had... HOW did their mothers survive them at home??) Still, I'm trying to take it all in stride, as proof that I've done a good job preparing him for his school career when he comes home to poke, step on, and wrestle his brother, make high pitched"pow! pow! pow!" sounds at his mother, and even - gasp - pretend to pee on the cat. Yeah, I'm pretty sure those are all behaviors I'd rather he save for a more.... appreciative audience.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Day!





Top to bottom: wearing Fluco colors and ready!; Leo had to have a backpack, too; on the way to the bus stop; boarding the bus.

A
idan's first day of Kindergarten was, by all measures, a complete success. Both kids were up well before the alarm went off - the upside is that they got to see Jeff before he left for work; the downside is I had no chance at my morning coffee before their excited shouts and general bounciness demanded my attention. The 45 minutes before we left for the bus stop went by in a blur. I had to coax Aidan to get ready a lot more than I usually do, because he was so excited and therefore so distracted. (If this isn't Jeff reincarnate, I don't know what is.)

We left for the looooong (.7 mile) walk to the bus stop and enjoyed holding hands and looking for birds en route. Leo was content in the stroller, and we arrived in plenty of time. The walking, the waiting for the bus to arrive was very surreal; we'd practiced walking to the bus stop before, pretending to see the bus pull in around the bend, but I always had Aidan's small hand grasped in my own on the return trip. My feet felt heavier with each approaching step.

I don't think it really hit Aidan that he had to board the bus all by himself until he was standing in line, and then a look of real fear overtook his face. That was very hard for me. He was so brave, hopped right on that bus and introduced himself to the driver, then sat down with his buddy Logan. They sat on the far side of the bus, however, so I didn't have a chance to wave as the bus pulled away. It's probably best, though, because by that point I was really struggling to stay composed. As the bus finally made its way to the next stop, both Leo and I burst into tears and sobs. I held him, and neighbors said kind words to me, all knowing what it was like to be in my shoes. I walked home, empty handed.

The hands on the clock creeped by all day long, until finally, finally it was time to pick him up. He hopped off that bus looking taller, prouder, older - and scurried right into my waiting arms for a big hug. When we asked him for the "best and worst" parts of the day, he could only come up with "bests." "I really like it!" he proclaimed.

I'm so grateful to all of the people who helped to make Aidan's first day such a complete success, including our neighbors, my parents, our supportive friends (especially Clancy!) and of course, his teacher, Mrs. Hinkle.

"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece." John Ruskin

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Heart


Kindergarten readiness - the first scanned image is from May 29, 2009; the second, August 7, 2009.

"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." ~Elizabeth Stone

My heart is about to step onto the school bus and make its way to Mrs. Hinkle's kindergarten class, on Wednesday morning. Never has this quote resonated more with me than in these final days leading up to the much-anticipated start of Aidan's official school career. My heart is full of conflict and emotion. I vacillate between periods of elation, seeing how excited Aidan is to begin school, and terror, when I think of the fact that I am essentially leaving him in the care of strangers, all day long, every day, for 180 days. I have complete confidence that Aidan is 100% ready, and that he will soar. And yet, I see his anxiety and nervousness hidden beneath his excitement. I hug that little body close as he sobs over the littlest nothing, exactly the way I act when I am preparing for a huge change. He is my smart, articulate, polite, smiling kindergartner; he is my sensitive, emotional, sometimes fragile little boy. With rare exception (Leo's birth; an overnight church event for youth), he has never spent more than a few hours away from my care; above all, what is hardest for me is how much I will miss him, how I will miss our days together. I am grateful beyond belief for all those days we've shared together - all 1,896 of them.

At the beginning of the summer, I was determined not to let Aidan's preschool progress lapse as the lazy days of summer took over our structured preschool routine. I've included a "before" and "after" sample of his work, and his "kindergarten readiness" speaks for itself. It is my greatest comfort - in those moments I find myself fantasizing about keeping him home, delaying kindergarten and school, pressing the pause button of Time, I simply think of the evidence, of this proof that he is more than ready for his Career as Student. To hold him back would be nothing short of cruel, for his wings are primed and he is ready. To my loyal readers: "She pushed him... and he flew."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pineapple Head


Every time we see a pineapple at the grocery store, Aidan asks about it. Finally, remembering the time when I was his age and begged my mom for a coconut, I bought a "real" pineapple for investigation and enjoyment. Aidan attentively watched each step as I began to cut apart the fruit. When I cut the green top off, it was so cute I couldn't throw it away. Aidan asked why I was saving it, and I said, "Don't you think it's so cute?" He replied, "Yes. It looks just like Grandma's pokey hair!"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lost

I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn't limit the posts to sunshine-and-happiness reports and ignore the clouds and storms in our lives. We as a family are in the midst/on the brink of so many big (and happy) transitions right now, including Jeff's very different working schedule as a floor nurse, room sharing by Aidan and Leo, Aidan's impending start of kindergarten on August 10, and the new baby's arrival in a mere two months. Change is hard. But if Jeff's transition to nursing, and room sharing, are any indication, hopefully the others will be manageable and smooth as well. However, we are also faced with another transition, far from smooth or easy - that of finding a new church home. I am angry and resentful that we were left with no other choice but to leave a church we loved; I feel powerless that I am not able to voice my objections loudly and publicly. I can certainly give voice to them here.

We had been very involved, active members at a church near our home, with a church family who loved and supported us, who nurtured our children and helped us to root our family in faith. Jeff and I both sang in the choir and offered our gifts of flute and trumpet. I taught Sunday School, led Worship Workshop, and helped out with youth events. Aidan participated in Sunday School each week and was looking forward to singing in the children's choir. Leo made himself well-known to all those around us during worship. The members of the congregation loved us, and we love them. Most regrettably, irreconcilable differences with the pastor have forced us to leave the church, and it is painful beyond measure that one person alone could undo the good that so many others had created for us.

We visited a new church this morning, the first of a handful on our list. Jeff and I were hopeful and wanted it to feel like a perfect match, right from the start. We don't want to spend week after week searching for a place that feels like home. We want to be home already. When we told Aidan and Leo we were going to try a new church, Leo asked us, "Um, they sing bumblebee song at new church?" My heart ached as I responded, "No, honey, I don't think so." The bumblebee song is one of the warm ups our choir uses before the service, and Leo loves it (He also loves the "wee-oh wee-oh" warm up that sounds a whole lot like "Le-o! Le-o!") Aidan didn't have much of anything to say. But his behavior during and after church betrayed his feelings, and he made it crystal clear to us that he resents having to find a new church as much as we do. On the way home, all he kept saying is that he wanted to go back to our old church. Why can't we go back to our old church? he implored, over and over. I tried to explain to him, as accurately and age-appropriately as possible, why we could not go back, but still I failed him in my attempts.

In my 5 years of parenting, this has been one of the hardest times for me - doing what's right in the long run for my children even if it feels terrible to do so. I endure the cries after vaccinations at the pediatrician's because I know I am protecting them from greater evils than a needle prick; I put up with the protests when dessert is withheld when a good dinner is not eaten. But how can I possibly expect them to understand and accept that leaving a place that they love is "doing what's best" for them? We tried to stay. Oh, did we try! But a year later, those attempts have proven to be futile and we are back where we started, if not more saddened than when we first began. A wise man once asserted, "Doing what is right is not always popular. Doing what is popular is not always right." It is right for us to leave; we must find a new church home. But it makes us very unpopular with our children, and that is a difficult burden to bear.

One day soon, I hope, this rough period of transition of being church-homeless will only be a distant memory. The feelings of loss and resentment will be replaced with knowing that we have a new church where the congregation loves us and supports us - and the pastor is a leader who demonstrates integrity and a calling to nurture, encourage, and guide us in a positive, caring, and constructive way. We are lost, but we will be found.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

7th Annual Camp Laguna!

Pictured above, the Camp Laguna Campers 2009: Kitty, Dan, Jake, and Max B.; Sue, Mike, Molly, and Haley F-O; Michelle P; Emily, Connor, and Patrick G; Paul and Susan Seehaver; the Carters.

A
ttempting to explain Camp Laguna Weekend is nearly an impossible task, but I'll give it a go. In a nutshell:

7 summers ago (in 2003) my mom and dad had this idea to invite all the neighbors from our Clyde Court house to come down for a weekend of fun at Lake Monticello. We lived at Clyde Court for about 15 years or so, and I used to babysit for some of the kids who were invited for the weekend. The Beckhards, Feazel-Orrs, and Polchows were always in attendance at homeowners' association meetings, Christmas parties, and even gathering on front lawns in princess dresses to watch me get into the limo on Prom nights. (Okay, fine. The adults were in normal clothes. The kids dressed up. But I wouldn't put it past Sue, Kitty, and Michelle....) I never would have imagined that the one weekend 7 summers ago would become an annual event with elaborate rituals and traditions, as well as ever-evolving new ones, but indeed, it has...

Camp Laguna Traditions, Rituals, and Highlights include, but are not limited, to the following:
  • Games, games, and more games - Farkle and Rochambo (aka Rocks, Paper, Scissors); Ladder jacks; ping-pong tournaments; and of course, Mexican Train (complete with an official plaque with names added each year of the Championship Team).
  • Drinks, drinks, and more drinks (this probably should have come first!) Vast quantities of Sue's homemade white sangria and Jeff's homebrews are among my personal favorites.
  • Food, food food! Michelle brings delectable baked goodies; Kitty, the breakfast pastries and croissants; I provide some kind of cake or another (wedding cake, fish cake, sand and lake cake, etc.), and my mom (and dad, too) cooks up a huge feast for every meal. Dan and Mike try to provide fresh-caught fish, but always fail!
  • Boating, sunning, tubing, and fishing - we rarely leave the waterfront.
  • Competitions including "Name the Car Color," "Name the Boat," "Name the Baby," "Camp Laguna Theme Song Contest," and even "Talent Show!"
Almost always, Camp Laguna has included some new faces. Sometimes obligations like performing at Wolf Trap and returning from mission trips prevent the kids from joining us... but they always seem to make it back the next year. I've been pregnant for half of the annual events, so Aidan, Leo, and Future Baby #3 have all made/will make their debuts at Camp Laguna. This year, my close friend from college, Emily, joined us with her two children. What is most amazing is that in the past 7 summers, the Camp Laguna "kids" have started to become legal adults, heading off to college this fall!

I'm always afraid that "this year" will be the last of the Camp Laguna Weekend tradition, and I am always thrilled to hear everyone planning next year's activities as they are packing up the cars to head home. This year, we each received bright blue official Camp Laguna t-shirts, and there's even one for the impending Carter baby, so I think CL will be alive and well for at least one more summer.... at least, it better be, because I have some serious Sangria catching-up to do!

It seems only right to end with the Camp Laguna theme song. Sing it to yourself, to the tune of "Take Me out to the Ballgame," for the full effect. (It is worth noting, too, that it was the Carters who developed this award-winning jingle.)

Take me to Camp Laguna, take me out to the lake!
Bring out the ping-pong and ladder jacks,
We play in the sun as we float on our backs!
Now it's time for a glass of sangria, Mexican Train and grilled s'mores!
Here's to P_____! B______! F____-O___, Carters, and See...ha...vers!!!!"

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Rich Woman

"I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and no time to work at my real work. Think of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money. Writers stay with the first step - their time - and feel it is valuable even before they get money for it." -From Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Seeking inspiration to teach my students creative writing and blogging, and seeking inspiration to guide their own writing, I came across this excerpt in Writing Down the Bones. It spoke to me, resonated with me, not because of my fledgling attempts at writing, but rather, because it gave voice to a sentiment I feel, a challenge I struggle with as a mom who grapples with the difficulties of needing to work part-time and wanting to be with my kids exclusively.

Teaching at UVA's Summer Enrichment Program each morning, I earn an attractive paycheck in exchange for some pretty cushy hours spent with some smart and interesting kids. During the school year, I receive a hard-earned paycheck for working with one student a few hours a week. And yet, particularly in the summer when I am away every morning, I feel like a poor woman. I love teaching, am passionate about it to the core of my being, and yet it takes me away from the job I love best.

It is only after investing in a morning spent at the pool splashing Aidan and Leo, an afternoon going on a walk to the fishing pond to help them hunt for frogs and fish, or the half hour we spend before I start cooking dinner playing with play-doh, when I finally feel like a rich woman. Out of curiosity, I googled what a stay at home mom (or dad) would earn if she or he could be paid for what we do, and the amount is staggering - the mean salary is $137,000.

The things I miss most about earning a full-time paycheck are fresh-cut flowers every week, buying books for pleasure at the bookstore, and enjoying a weekly dinner out at a restaurant. But flowers wilt, books get read, and dinner ends up as poop no matter where it was first savored. I am a rich woman, indeed, because of the quantity, and quality, of hours I invest in my children.



Monday, July 6, 2009

More, more more!

"More, More, More! Said the Baby" - a popular children's book by Vera B. Williams. More blogging, more blogging more blogging! I've been so busy teaching my SEP campers how to blog, I've neglected to blog myself. So here's a quick-and-dirty post to get caught up. (Quick because the content is pretty much already written for me; dirty because, well, you'll see.)

Out of the Mouths of Babes, part 5(?):

(During a "school" session in which I have Aidan practice writing the alphabet and sentences, plus illustrations)
Aidan: "I'm a Piwrite. I'm a Pirate who Writes. Get it?"

(Jeff and I both think that this comes from a book or something that Aidan has read. But it is still impressive that he can verbalize one of the strongest tenants of our faith in such a memorable, concrete, visual way...)
"If you put God's love into a measuring cup, it would overflow."

(a short time later - this is Car Theology, by the way, announced to me on the drive home from gymnastics class)
"You can't measure God's love, because God loves all the people in the world, and there are a LOT of people in the world."

(After Jeff and Leo made a quick run to the store, Leo kept telling Jeff all sorts of random things that we "needed," like honey and syrup and milk, all of which we had. Finally, Jeff asked him,)
"Leo, do you like going to the grocery store?"
Leo: Yep. Actually,..... sometimes.

This is a turning point for Leo, a change in our conversations with him - instead of reflecting back a question as a simple yes or no, he is elaborating and incorporating abstract ideas into his answers. To answer more completely for Leo, he likes going with Jeff, because Jeff lets him use the tiny pint-sized shopping cart made especially for kids. I, on the other hand, feel I deserve a medal when I acquiesce to the dreadful, impossible-to-steer, low-capacity but kid-pleasing "car cart." Finally, there's nothing quite like hearing a two and a half year old utter words like "Actually...."

And finally - as I've stated before, a second child will prove to you, over and over, that nothing is the same or can be expected to be similar (or easy) as it was with the first. Potty training has proven to be an ongoing battle which Leo is still winning, for the time being. Here's a recent exchange between Leo and Jeff:
J: (groan) Leo, did you poop?
L: No.
J: You didn't poop? Then what's this? (pointing to his rear)
L: Shorts.
J: (grabbing his rear) So there's no poop in here?
L: Nope.
J: Then what's inside your diaper?
L: (stares at Jeff, blinks, stares some more).......... "Chicken."
(Perfectly articulated, two distinct syllables, staring right at Jeff the whole time.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

When it rains....





It pours! (A little foreshadowing there, to keep you reading...)

This past weekend, we headed to Virginia Beach for a beach getaway at our favorite campground and state park, First Landing. The forecast looked good; the kids were psyched about sleeping in the new tent we got for Christmas, and Jeff and I were excited about sharing the joys of outdoor living with Aidan and Leo. Here you'll find our new, Top 10 Rules of Camping:

Rule #1 of Camping: Expect the unexpected. This ranges from expecting your children to ask "Are we there yet?" before you've reached the gate 1/2 a mile from your house to doing things you swore you would avoid at all costs (more details on that to come.)

Rule #2 of Camping: Put the rain flap on, even if there is not a single cloud in the sky. Miraculously, we followed this rule - but only because we interpreted "rain flap" to be "shade provider" in the blistering sun and muggy heat.

Rule #3 of Camping: Anything you think is really cool and possibly your favorite parts of camping, your children will not agree. Case in point - cooking and eating outdoors. Personally, this is one of my favorite parts. Aidan and Leo were completely nonplussed by the meals we prepared and the cool camping gear we got to use. Instead, they were fascinated with the clothes line hung up for wet towels and the camping trowel formerly used to bury unmentionables when camping backwoods on canoe trips.

Rule #4 of Camping: If you think to yourself, "This is so much fun! Everyone is having the best time! What could possibly go wrong?" pack the car and head home immediately. I think this is what did us in, our fatal error on this trip.

Rule #5 of Camping: If your campsite happens to have showers, go ahead and enjoy them... as long as you're prepared to continue to enjoy the shower long after you've turned off the faucet. Case in point: after hosing down the kids after dinner (they'd been playing too close to poison ivy, and I was envisioning weeks of itchy rashes) we heard a loud PLINK PLINK PLINK on the roof of the shower house. Jeff and I looked at each other in dismay - could it be? - and opened the door to see the deluge that was just the beginning.

Rule #6 of Camping: If there are hotels nearby, forget about even thinking about getting a room. Hotel owners know about desperate campers who hydroplane their way into parking lots after attempting to weather a storm for 3 hours. Not even these desperate campers were willing to fork over $200 - and our pride - for a mediocre room.

Rule #7 of Camping: If said Hotel Room option fails, consider options you never considered before (see rule 1). In our case, it was one of three options. 1. Drive home. (And lose all street cred as campers. No way). 2. Transfer sleeping kids into tent.... and pile them, sandwich style, in order to avoid laying in the gallon-sized puddles lining the sides. 3. Sleep in the - gulp - car all night. We chose option #3, although I'm not sure I can really qualify what I did in the front seat as "sleeping." Pregnant women stuffed in the front seats of cars, along with all the camping gear and bags, do not make for good sleepers.

Rule #8 of Camping: Rain brings out the mosquitoes two-fold. It does not matter how clean you feel after your shower. If you feel too clean to apply more bug spray, you should not have showered in the first place. (I have precisely 57 bug bites to prove this rule)

Rule #9 of Camping: Enjoy the moments and find the humor. Sometimes, things end up funnier the more tired you are. Cases in point: Aidan woke up in the wee hours of the morning, complaining that everything in the car was "stinky." He went on and on until Jeff found a bandana for him to sniff. Oddly, this was the cure. Point 2: Leo's pacifier was wet and therefore especially noisy as he sucked on it all night long. There was nothing rhythmic or soothing about it, but Jeff's imitation of the noise kept both me and Aidan in stitches. Point 3: Surrenduring to the sleepless night, we wimped out on those lovely outdoor meals and headed to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast instead, where Aidan announced that he "looooved sleeping in the car - it was so cool!"

Rule #10 of Camping: Take what you can get. If you're disappointed that the torrential downpour, huge gusts of wind, and relentless flashes and booms of lightning and thunder prevented you from enjoying your tent, take heart that your children loved the adventure of sleeping in the car. If the huge storm affords you the beauty of a calm, cool morning before a muggy Virginia summer day, savor it. If the skies clear and the sun shines warm on the beach, relish the time to play in the ocean, no matter how tired you are. If you intended to stay longer but bailed early, know that your kids enjoyed every minute of the adventure - and laugh at how excited they were to sleep in their own beds again.

Although we bailed early, due to our wet stuff and spirits that were spent, our adventure continued at home. In the end, roasting s'mores on the outdoor fireplace on the deck, we were all such happy campers.