Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Handmade's Tale

The most meaningful gifts I've ever received are those that are handmade. A lifesize doll, pewter ornaments, a wooden music box, my quilt, hand-knit scarves, framed artwork, photographs, and poetry are just some of the cherished homemade gifts I've received - and loved - over the years. Thinking about ways to make Christmas more meaningful this year, I decided that our gift theme would be "Made from the heart."

In October, I gathered all the necessary supplies for making glorious gifts: wooden boxes, canvases, picture frames, paints, photos, mod-podge, and more. I spent several afternoons working with each boy to create beautiful gifts for each other. Leo and Aidan each made small trinket boxes for each other, carefully painting, then decorating the outside of each box. Aidan wrote sweet notes to Leo to put in his box, and I scribed a list of "wonderful things about Aidan" for Leo to put in the box he was making for Aidan. The older boys painted picture frames for Pax, then created pictures to go in the frames. I finished all of the frames and boxes with a protective coating. The end result was like lots of kid projects: the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Another afternoon, the boys created gorgeous and original notecards for extended family and friends with cardstock, liquid starch, acrylic paint, and a water bath. Each notecard was beautiful in its design, the colors either vibrant and bright or light pastels. After they had dried and I pressed them flat, I divided them into piles of four and added the envelopes to go with them. There was not a single one among them that was unattractive - each was unique and special.

In November, I took the boys to the Glass Palette to create fused glass art for my parents and for Jeff. Working together, they made two of the most gorgeous abstract art ornaments you've ever seen - not to mention, the experience itself was so much fun!

Jeff helped Aidan create a beautiful Christmas plate for me - Aidan had seen how upset I was after two (!!) of my beloved Christmas plates (decorations, not used for food) got broken. He set out to re-create the Christmas tree surrounded by holly, and the result is, dare I say? -- better than the Spode original. (though I still regret that the Spode was shattered). Leo made the sweetest mug for me, adorned with a colorful rainbow, a heart, his name carefully printed, and two of his famously cute people drawn on it.

Pax helped with the fused glass art (and the projects for me as well) in the way he knows best - staying out of the way - but even he got to make a gift for his older brothers. He chose his favorite picture of all three boys and carefully mounted it to a piece of cardstock. Then, he painstakingly handprinted two sides of the picture with his acrylic painted hands and asked me to write "Best Brothers Ever - Hands Down!" below the photograph. The framed masterpiece was fantastic.

Meanwhile, Jeff and I were also hard at work on our own homemade gifts. (Oddly, we chose not to do homemade gifts for each other this year, although we've frequently done them in the past. But we certainly enjoyed all the time we spent working on and collaborating with each other on the projects!) Jeff had found these Nature Collages in a catalog, and we instantly knew how much the boys would love them. Instead of purchasing them, Jeff crafted them himself, and they turned out beautifully. For my own part, I made each boy a cute and cozy fleece hat, complete with funky prints and pom poms.

The project I am most proud of, however, is the cookbook-storybook I created, with Jeff's help, titled Betty Eater's The Joy of the Table. Quite simply, it is a collection of recipes, each of which includes a rich story behind it. There's the "Four Generation Banana Bread," the "Rattlesnake Pasta," and the "How I Met Your Father Soup." In addition to writing, rewriting, editing, and finalizing each story, I also cooked or baked each recipe in the book and carefully photographed each dish. I have a whole new appreciation for food photographers - it was hard work getting the food to look good! The end result is something I hope will be cherished and enjoyed by the recipients of the book; I certainly enjoyed the time I spent making the gift. (How wonderful, too, to discover a gift under the tree quite coincidentally for "Betty Eater" - a handmade apron from my mother!)

The mod-podge has left residue on our kitchen counters; the acrylic paint stained a few shirt sleeves (and Pax's pajamas!); there were some minor injuries in the sewing and hammering; but the cost of the gifts we gave? Priceless.

"If as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have time to make the long slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the Child as did Mary? For each one of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover and a being within ourselves to bring to life."
(Source Unknown)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Joy's Shadow

This year, Christmas would be different. Less stress, more merry, more meaningful-ness in everything that we do, less do-ing on my part, more memorable stuff, less stuff stuff...

It was so good. It was among my most favorite Christmases for sure. Yet every year, despite all the happiness, despite all the sheer gratitude I feel, there is always some sadness - always. Desperately, I seek to find the reason behind this shadow of sorrow that hovers around me in such a way that even amidst my joy, I feel the Shadow's weight.

The day after Christmas, I needed to clear my head out because my Shadow was becoming heavier than I was willing to let her be. I headed outside, by myself, for a walk around the block. Bundled tightly against the frigid chill and stepping carefully over the leftover slicks of ice and mounds of snow, I walked and walked while Shadow and Joy battled each other out in my head. "Why are you here?" Joy demanded. Shadow did not respond, yet her silence and unwavering presence commanded Joy's attention. I walked and walked.

The seed of my shadow was probably planted in my freshman year of high school when my grandmother died on Christmas Eve. For many years after that, we each tried desperately to replace the sadness of her death with the joy we hope to feel at Christmas. Eventually, of course, we did. As a family, we healed and recovered and Christmas was full of joy again- as well as the memory of my dear Grandma. And so as I walked, I searched for other such sources of sadness...

"But I am just so grateful. I have so much gratitude for rich blessings in my life. What is this weight of sadness?" Joy persisted. Finally, after I had walked and walked, the answer came to me quickly and with clarity; instinctively, I knew I'd found what I had sought. "Compassion," Shadow replied. "In order to have deep gratitude for something, you often must have deep compassion for it as well."

The logical, sense-making right hemisphere of my brain seemed satisfied. My heart felt comforted. For this year, as with every single year, there has been heartache and hardship and grief and loneliness and hunger and pain and longing and desperation. Thinking of these people and the burdens they have carried, I feel deep compassion for them, knowing how hard each day must be, and in particular, how much harder these festival days must be. I've walked in those shoes before. And I've imagined walking in many other pairs, too.

If I could choose a single character trait for my children to develop fully and completely, it would be that of compassion. May my children learn to view others and the world "with passion," and with the willingness "to suffer with [another person]" If this means that the joy of our living will be lined in a faint shadow of sorrow, I'll take umbrage knowing it is because of the depth of our gratitude.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Laughter like a bowlful of jelly

Among my most favorite Christmas decorations are the myriad nativity sets we have acquired over the years. They are wooden, cross stitched, etched in gourds, formed from resin and ceramic and cloth. They hang as ornaments on small trees, adorn our stockings and tree skirt, and congregate in every room on the main level. Naturally, the kids are drawn to them; watching the kids with the nativities provided great amusement; initially, Aidan couldn't remember the word "Nativity" and instead called them "Activity scenes" - aptly named, as it turns out --

Aidan loves to re-arrange each set of manger-gazers in such a way so that everyone is gathered around the Baby Jesus to admire him. He is creative in his design; I loved finding the animals nestled right between Mary and the wise men. Most often, they huddled in a tight circle around the baby, adoring him and protecting him all at once.

One nativity traveled to church with us on Sunday mornings, and Pax enjoyed seeing how many times he could throw the camel on the ground and still have us pick it up and give it back to him. Next it was the sheep, and then it was Joseph. When he started to chew on the Baby Jesus, however, we decided he'd had enough of the creche. Hastily, each of us grabbed a piece and put it out of Pax's sight to save for another day. Later, I was troubled that I couldn't find all the parts, but decided they would turn up sooner or later.

A week later, Aidan came home from school and said, "Look what I found in my pocket!" (Recently washed, he was wearing the brown cords he'd worn to church). Out came the Baby Jesus from the church nativity set. I loved that he'd toted that baby around in his pocket all day long!

And then there was Leo's take on the whole manger scene. One particular set, the Little People Nativity, was featured prominently in one room of his doll house. He has a strong affinity for the Angel Gabriel, since it is his middle namesake (having only recently accepted that his name is NOT Leo Paul, but rather Leo Gabriel). That angel doesn't do much watching over the stable; instead, the donkey sits perched atop the manger scene while the angel busily drives with the camel in the undersized red Matchbox car convertible. Meanwhile, Mary attends to the baby Jesus, who had the most unfortunate encounter recorded here. He used tiny voices for each of them, high pitched for Mary and higher still for Jesus:

Mary: Oh baby, why are you crying? Let me give you a kiss (kiss)
Jesus: Um, I am crying because I hurt my cheek. Someone dropped me and I hurt my cheek.
Mary: Well does it feel better now that I gave it a kiss?
(apparently a nod from baby Jesus)
Okay, good.

Later, Leo decided Mary was a dirty thing. He took her in the bathtub with her and gave her a thorough scrubbing.
My mom also has a good number of nativity sets at her house; like Aidan, Leo loved arranging the figurines around the Baby Jesus. However, he'd taken all the Baby Jesus's from all the different nativites and gathered them together to adore one Jesus (the cutest one, perhaps?) My mom commented on all the babies and Leo responded,
"Yes, but do you know why there is no sheep here?"
"Why's that?" she asked.
L: The sheep is in time out.
Grandma: Oh, the sheep is in time out? [was the sheep ba-a-a-a-d, I wonder?] Does the baby Jesus ever get put in time out?
L: No, never. But if the Baby Jesus is being naughty, his mama takes him and puts him down for his nap and when he wakes up his behavior is much better.
G: Oh, does that happen to you sometimes?
L: Um, yep!

(Discussing the church pageant with Grandma)
Leo, what do you want to be in this year's Christmas Pageant?

L: Um, a pumpkin.
Grandma: Well, I'm not sure that there was a pumpkin at the birth of Jesus. Is there something else you want to be? A king? A shepherd?
L No. A pumpkin.

(Leo ended up being a "reluctant" king.)
Our Advent calendar included daily questions, like this one:

If you could bring the baby Jesus a gift TODAY, what would you bring him?
Aidan: Gold.
Gold? What would he do with gold? I thought it was a pretty silly gift when the wise men brought it to him in the first place!
Aidan: But I like gold, and He would, too!!
Me: Oh, okay. Well I would bring him a pacifier. It would have helped him sleep a lot better, and it would have helped Mary out, too!
Leo, what would you bring the Baby Jesus?
Leo: Hm. I would bring him a leetle, tiny Santa.

And finally - On Christmas day, as is our family tradition, I made a birthday cake for the Baby Jesus (vanilla with chocolate icing - his favorite), decorated with the plastic Baby Jesus from the aforementioned Little People nativity. Leo did not remember this cake from previous years, and didn't see the cake until it was time for dessert. He took one look at the Baby Jesus smushed into the middle of the cake and shrieked, "Why did you do that to the Baby Jesus? That is not nice! He does not like that!" He refused to touch his cake until I washed that baby clean and returned it to his safekeeping. With eyes brimming with tears and a trembling chin, he reported to me at bedtime, "I did NOT like that you put my Baby Jesus into the cake. That made me ANGRY."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Special Delivery... for YOU!

In our efforts to have a simpler kind of Christmas this year, we decided early on not to send out Christmas cards this year. It seemed like an easy enough piece to let go of, and yet it has not been as easy as I imagined....

For starters, a few friends have expressed disappointment that we're not sending out a card. Last year's manger scene was tough to beat....did we even want to attempt to top it?.... and the popularity of Facebook makes me feel like everyone's seen it all, already - so why should I send out a card? But part of what I loved about our card last year was the fun we had in taking the picture, and if I buy my own excuse about Facebook, I'm feeding the Technology Beast that threatens other time-honored and lovely traditions (like reading Actual Books.)

There are two cards in particular we look forward to receiving each year. The first one is That Christmas Letter - you know the one I mean. Every family gets one - the one from the extended relative whose letter is just.... ridiculous. Maybe it's over-the-top full of accomplishments; maybe it's paragraph after paragraph of oh-woe-is-me; maybe it's so riddled with spelling and grammatical errors you can barely resist pulling out your red pen as you read it. You get one like that too, right? We always have a good laugh when that letter arrives, albeit at the expense of dear family we truly love. But still - the comic relief is usually quite timely amidst the chaos that precedes Christmas. So __________ Family, we thank you for the laughter your card brings and the joy we feel in receiving it!

The other Christmas card we await with great anticipation is that from our college friends, D and J (the "Funtimes" family, I'll call them). I met D the day I moved in; her dorm room was across from mine. 13 years later, we're both moms to big broods of boys - she has a boy Leo's age and twins just a few months younger than Pax. The first Funtimes Christmas card was when they were still childless but newly married - it was a photo card with J. Funtimes dressed in drag as Britney Spears. His outfit was Britney a la "Baby One More Time" but his physique was more
"Britney's Nervous Breakdown." The next year featured a close-up photo of their positive
pregnancy test; the year after that, a photo re-enactment of the delivery of their firstborn son. (Regrettably, I realize I should have archived each year, for subsequent years get kind of foggy.) And so it was with great anticipation that we awaited the arrival of the 2010 Funtimes Christmas Card - and this year did not disappoint! In essence, this year's photo might just top out the "Got Milk?" campaign, as it features all of the male family members sporting the infamous milk moustache with the implication that the milk THEY all prefer doesn't come from a COW..... but rather from the hot mama in the superhero cape framing the shot.

Oh the fun they must have, scheming up the photo, taking the shot, then mailing it out to all of their beloved friends and family, knowing the laughter that would ensue! I was missing our family photo once more....

And so I settled on a compromise of sorts, at least for this year. We staged several photo shoots on two different days, and got a couple of decent pics:

I love this first shot for several reasons. Leo is ready for summer; Pax is ready for Santa; Jeff is sportin' stripes and snowmen; and Aidan is a vision in teal and red. I also love it because it precedes one of my favorite December traditions of ours: a picnic dinner in front of the Christmas tree.

These next two are "outtakes" from what was our second fun photo shoot. I love how Pax is hanging upside down in the first one, and in the second one, how Leo is peeking around with mischief in his eye.....

..And finally, my favorite family Christmas picture this year (so far.) Envision this photo arriving in your mailbox with the lovely quote calligraphied at the bottom, each card painstakingly hand-made with card stock, letter presses, and glue dots. (Hey, if I'm going to go virtual, I might as well go all out, right?)

"The best of all gifts around a Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." -Burton Hillis

Merry Christmas to you!
Love, Anne et al.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


This is about as quick and dirty as they come - I'm in the thick of final exam prep, holiday prep, shipping prep, wrapping, cooking, baking, and merry making prep. I'll return to my normal, loquacious self after the 14th at approximately 9:00p.m. when my final exam will be finished. Until then -

Tonight my mom invited us to view Monticello in the "after hours" tour for a chance to see Jefferson's home decorated for Christmas. It was cool and kind of spooky to be on grounds after dark - I often feel like you don't really know what a home is like until you see it in darkness...

We were touring the various rooms and Leo kept asking about all the rope barriers that prevent visitors from touching anything in the home. Leo asked, "So we are not allowed in that room?" "No, Leo, we're not allowed." Staring into the room, backlit by candlelights, he asked, "What about shadows? Are shadows allowed into the room?"

I loved, loved, loved this question on so many levels.... Leo delights in his shadow whenever he finds it, and it is still clear that he does not have it altogether figured out yet. On the surface, his question probes a basic concept he has yet to master fully - but delving deeper, it suggests so much more. Maybe I've had a little too much Freud this semester, but all I could think about was a shadow representing one's Id... the ability of my shadow, my Id to go where no one else is allowed to go, to lay down on Jefferson's bed, wear his boots, look out his telescope.

This morning, we were shivering inside the car at the bus stop. I had the heat on, but we were still frozen. Aidan looked up at the car's thermometer and said, "I know it is 10 degrees, but what is it in Calcium?" (Celsius).

Thursday, December 2, 2010


(posting a little late - this was intended for Thanksgiving time.)

his November when we created our Tree of Thanks, I noticed that collectively, we were not as enthusiastic nor as, er, gracious as we've been in years past. I thought about this for a time, and realized that, in large part, we continue to be thankful for the same things, year in and year out - and that's a good thing.

Later in the month, as I was reading a parenting magazine that highlighted holiday traditions, my attention immediately went to the "Show and Tell Thanksgiving." The author briefly described the same observation I had made: our families feel such gratitude for the basics in our lives, and because those basics are so important, the list is fairly unchanging over the years. So this mom got savvy. Instead of writing down their lists of gratitudes, instead, mealtime during the month of November consisted of Show and Tell. Each family member would bring one item to the table to share; this item was something they felt particularly grateful for. Predictably, the items included ipods and DSs, but gradually, the kids brought more and more creative items to the table to represent that for which they were most thankful.

And so my list this year, my list of gratitudes, is heavily annotated. I did this a year or two ago, but this time I was determined to be even more specific and detailed, setting this year apart from other years with similar blessings.

I am grateful for my home. THIS home. This small house on this wobbly, steep hill that has bad drainage during heavy rains and a steep driveway that scares most visitors. This house, which has welcomed home three beautiful newborn babies. This house, that has sheltered us during terrible and scary storms, both literal and figurative. This house, that has been upgraded, built upon, painted, wallpapered, repainted, floored, finished, and decorated again and again for seven and a half years - and counting. This house, that has been recently weatherized thanks to a grant from a non-profit energy conservation group, making it even more snug and cozy than before. This house, that I would not trade right now for any other house, because I love it here. Because this is our home, because we've made it so, because it is the place I love to be best in the whole world. I give thanks for home.

I am grateful for my husband. Really, deep down, stop-me-in-my-tracks grateful for the life we have together, for many more years of "for better" than "for worse." My husband, who knows me almost as well as I know myself, and who loves me unconditionally. My husband whom I love unconditionally, despite the fact that he doesn't clean the cat pan often enough, because I simply cannot imagine living life without him. My husband, who supports me in everything I do, who cheers me on, who respects me, who loves me. We have known too many couples whose marriages have ended in divorce, or who have struggled mightily to stay together. I feel so grateful that I am married, happily and forever and ever, that we are living happily ever after. I am grateful for Jeff.

I am grateful for my children, because they enrich my life beyond what I could have hoped to feel otherwise. Because they are funny and so unique and clever and creative. Because they are beautiful, kind, loving. Because they define so much of who I am. I am grateful beyond measure for the richness they have provided, for the quality of life they have granted me. I am so grateful for Aidan - who is such a big kid now, who asks about fractions and reads to his younger brothers and thanks me for the dinner I made and notices when I clean the house. For Leo, who is determined and capable and independent, who is loving and affectionate and cheerful - reminding me of myself, over and over - both in trials and in tribulations. For Pax, who is the Happiest Baby Ever. Who is not such a baby anymore, because he is working so hard at being a big boy like his brothers, who makes me laugh every single day because of the humor he finds in everyday life. Pax, because he is my buddy - when the older boys are into mischief and driving me nuts, he'll snuggle in my arms and hug me close.

I am grateful for our health. Even though last week, on the same day, I took Aidan to see a specialist for an autoimmune virus he's been battling for the past 5 months; I took Leo to our regular pediatrician for his pinkeye and cold; and I treated Pax's hive-covered body because of an allergic reaction to penicillin, given to him because of a terrible ear infection, I am still thankful. Despite all the recent (and ongoing) illness, I know that we are so lucky to have very healthy children - and to be so healthy ourselves.

I'm really grateful for my job - my job as CEO of this family. In 2004, I left my career as a middle school teacher to stay home with my newborn baby. I knew there was no way I could possibly teach full time, and yet I was fearful of how to make it work financially. And here we are, going on our 7th year, and we're doing it. We're making it happen, year after year, and our company seems to benefit immensely from it. For that I am grateful. And I'm also grateful for Jeff's job as a nurse. I'm prouder of him than ever because I think his job is so important. He's so good at it; he is a role model to our sons; he is a gender stereotype-breaker; and in his care for others, he provides his own family with so much more than just a paycheck. I am so grateful.

I'm grateful for my "silver and gold" friends - those I've known for years and years, and whose friendship sustains me - and the new friends I've made, the ones with whom our history is relatively short, yet already rich and full. I'm grateful for my mom and dad. Every day, I'm grateful for their proximity to us, for the relationship with our kids, for the fun we have together. I'm grateful for our collective family, for Jeff's people and my people. I'm grateful that Adam and Hugo and Julian made the long trek here to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. I'm really, really, super grateful for that.

And I'm grateful for you, reader. Whomever you are. I write this blog for myself, mostly, but I like knowing that someone somewhere might enjoy it too. I'm grateful for the feeling of connection I have with you when I write.

Our great President John F. Kennedy asserted, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." Indeed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Run Like a Mother

November 13, 2010 - 4:45 a.m. and heading to Richmond for the race!
I guess you could say I dabble in running. I started about 10 months ago - training first for a 10k in Richmond, followed by the 10 miler, and then a break for summer. In August, I signed up for my first half marathon and started training again...

Yesterday, I ran the 13.1 miles. My goal was to run it in about 2 hours 2 minutes or so. My official time was 1:57:50 - I ran sub-9 minute miles until the very end, when I sprinted across the finish line. Success!!

While I was training for this half marathon, I was trying to scope out some new running gear. I'd seen some pretty awesome slogans and various gizmos and contraptions on all the "real" runners in previous races, and I was in the market for some new stuff. My favorite slogans and sayings were those about mom runners, and one that really grabbed my attention was "Run like a Mother."

I wondered, do I run like a mother? (Am I certain that's even a compliment?) So I started to ponder it more deeply.....

Mothers are among the strongest people I know.... yeah, runners are pretty tough, too.

Mothers can evoke a certain fierceness about them, i.e. the "mama bear" instinct that comes out when we're guarding our beloved children. Runners are pretty fierce.

Most moms I know are determined, hard-working, goal-oriented. That sums up running quite nicely, too.

Being a mother is empowering. The best example, in my own experience, was giving birth to three amazing human beings. Running is empowering, too, with each mile reached and each goal achieved.

The best moms I know always allot themselves plenty of "Me" time. Running is my "me" time. I heard it described on NPR as "full body meditation," and indeed, that's what running has become to me - a time to reflect, contemplate, ponder, think deeply, and simultaneously rid myself of the stresses, frustrations, sadness, and anger I feel.

When I "hit the wall" that is infamous among runners, I call upon my reserves - those times when I've been a strong mama. I think about those times, visualize them, draw strength from what I have done powerfully and well in the past - all times when I've been a mama.

Moms want their kids to be proud of them. Running is one way I hope to make them proud.

Running is tough. Being a mom is the toughest job I'll ever know.

So..... Do I run like a mother?
You bet I do.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recognizing the Meal

Given the opportunity to speak and to be heard, children are amazing philosophers and thinkers. Their unique perspective on the world sometimes takes one's breath away with its accuracy, poignancy, and truthfulness. Their ability to see the world through an unclouded lens is refreshing. It is rewarding to hear or to see one of these rare glimpses into the deeper minds of children.

Pax has very few spoken or signed words right now. He says "Mama" and often waves to people. He imitates "Hi!" but only if he's in the mood. He'll sign "more," and that's a cute one - it's usually in the context of "more toys! More playing! More fun!" And he has one other sign that he uses mostly in the morning - "Eat, eat eat!" He gets excited to see his high chair and helps drag it into the kitchen; as I load him into it, he signs to me, Eat! Eat! Eat!

Last Sunday at church as I led our family up for communion, I was holding Pax on my hip while guiding Leo toward the altar with Aidan trailing behind me. All of a sudden, I felt Pax shift in my arms as if to get my attention. When I looked down at him, he was looking right at me and signing, Eat! Eat! Eat!

Pax, merely 13 months old, recognized the meal we were about to receive. He does not take communion, but in his sign, he was saying, "I recognize this! I know what we're doing! We are receiving a meal!" He continued to sign, over and over, eat eat eat until I whispered into his ear, "Yes, Pax. This is a meal. I am going to eat."

In its purest and most basic sense, I was fed and nourished - by the tiniest one at the table.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Halloween was, as usual, such fun. Aidan was a regal wizard, compliments of my mom's excellent seamstress skills. He cast (friendly) hexes on anyone who would stand still long enough to do so, and took his role as Wizard very seriously...

Leo went as Superwhy, from the cartoon on PBS. The best part of his costume, for me at least, was when he declared how much he loooooved wearing the green tights. (The tiny running shorts were a close second, though.... and Aidan had the same reaction to the tights when he wore them with his pumpkin costume 3 years ago!)

And Pax went as a Monster, because only monsters keep you up at night! I had a real moment of panic at about 3:30 on Halloween afternoon - I had put off finishing his costume because I wasn't exactly sure how to make him look monstrously cute. I started panicking, envisioning years of therapy with the claims, "Look at how I suffered as the third child! Look at this ridiculous, half-arsed costume! Oh, how they failed me!!!" But then, as these things usually go, Jeff and I were able to cobble together a pretty terrific looking monster - so terrific, in fact, that Pax seemed to revel in wearing the Monster hat, even though he typically resists having anything adorn his head.... (I have to say, I'm always kind of impressed with how well Jeff and I collaborate on these little projects. We are perfect complements to each other; I like to think that I'm the ying to his yang.)

...even if Pax's costume had turned out a disaster, at least he'll always be able to find comfort in the easy and relaxed parenting styles that comes with being the third. While comfortably strapped into the Radio Flyer red wagon, Pax happened upon a miniature Snickers bar that I felt certain would be impossible for him to unwrap and eat.... until I witnessed him smooshing and sucking every morsel of chocolate/caramel/peanut/nogut out of that tiny wrapper. Never in a million years would a Snickers bar have crossed the lips of 13 month old Aidan... and yet we saw it differently with Pax - he was happy and content to ride in the wagon... and who could blame him, after all? Snickers really satisfies.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Venn Diagram

(<--Leo on Halloween.... He is dressed as Superwhy, a cartoon character who is a Super Reader.)

Oh, my Leo Leo. He is the middle of my Venn Diagram, the one around whom I am always drawing circles. In one sentence, he's a part of the "older boys" - as in, the older boys are building stuff with Jeff in the basement. The next minute, he's a younger boy - as in, the younger boys are having their naps right now. We call him "Middy" - a reference to his birth order position as well as possibly a position he'll play in lacrosse one day.... (after all, he's already got that great lacrosse player hair, not to mention the kick butt attitude that goes with it...)

His determination knows no bounds. (See video of 3 year, 10 month old Leo riding a two wheeler). This is both one of his greatest assets, and one of the most trying facets of his personality.

Recent favorite sayings of Leo:
"Becept." A combination of "because" and "except," and in context, is used as the latter.

"Will'nt" - possibly the best contraction ever developed. Far superior to its proper sister, "Won't..." In Leoease: "I will'nt go upstairs for my nap. I will'nt eat the rest of my apples."

And finally - out of the blue, Leo asked me with utter solemnity and due gravity - "Do you know why Thomas Jefferson is buried?"

Me - "Why?"

Leo - "Because he's DEAD." (a quiet pause, to let the news sink in with me.)

Pedal, Pedal!

Leo - Age 3 Years, 10 Months

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Got milk?

The Future of Fatherhood
(as envisioned by Leo Carter)

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Good Night

Our going-to-bed ritual began like many often do (particularly on nights when Jeff is working): Aidan and Leo chased each other around their bedroom and into the hallway, laughing loudly, being rambunctious and mischievous and playful and happy. Although I much prefer this to the meaner, taunting chases that sometimes ensue, none of this behavior is appropriate nor respectful to the little brother who just wants to go to sleep in peace. Evenings like this can be exhausting and leave me feeling weary. I feel so... outnumbered. I just want this to be a good night, I thought to myself as I read Pax his stories...

I sighed heavily, went back outside Pax's room, and tried one more time to coax Aidan and Leo into converting their energy into something that more closely resembled "getting ready for sleep." I made my request, closed the door before a protest or argument could errupt, and retreated back into the room to nurse their tired and puny brother...

I savor the moments I spend nursing Pax. Nursing has always been one of my most favorite parts of the day. I get to put my tired feet up, rock back and forth in our comfy, well-worn glider, and watch my child be nourished by my milk and my love. I smooth his fine hair, stroke his plump cheek, and marvel at the sheer beauty of this child. Nursing my babes are among my most private and cherished times with each of them, and now, more than ever, I cling to these moments. While I don't have plans to wean him any time soon, I know that this is not forever.

Because of my attention of being "in the moment" with Pax, I was somewhat startled to realize, on my quiet exit from his room, that all was calm. At that moment, I heard Aidan's voice -
..."We need a goodnight kiss," said the little dragons. And they lifted their scaly little cheeks. "This is going too far," said the Good Knight.
But he was a good knight.
So he bent and kissed each scaly little cheek....

Quietly, ever so quietly, I opened the door to the room to discover the two of them perched side by side on Leo's bed, heads bent low over the book that Aidan was reading aloud. Aidan was reading fluently, easily, and with great prosody (prosody = fancy word for "with great expression") to his younger brother, both of them deeply engrossed in the endearing story, Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas. As I remained undetected in the doorway, Aidan finished the story and they both lingered over the last picture in the book. Finally Aidan asked, "Now Leo, would you like me to read you another?"

These are the "paybacks." These are the moments I relish and savor. These are the times I collect and store and invest and commit to my long-term memory, because tonight was a Good Night. Oh how I love my Good Knights.

Monday, October 11, 2010

You're Never Fully Dressed...

Leo cannot get enough of costumes and the dress up box. His favorite from the trunk in the basement is a fierce green dinosaur head and feet, complete with a programmed "RAAAR" in the paw of the foot. (Paw? Did dinos have paws? I guess I mean in the foot of the foot... hmm.) Fittingly, his lion (his leo) costume from last year's Halloween is another favorite. Some days, he chooses to be a superhero, or a nurse, or a police officer. Other days, he mixes it all up and becomes a mythical creature - Superhero-Lion-Firefighting-Dinosaur - able to take on Minotaur, Basilisk, or Ent. The richness of imagination at age 3 1/2 is, in some ways, at its finest. He is unself-conscious and lost in the fantasies of his own mind; he has no inhibition about wearing his alternative wardrobe to the grocery store or the hardware store; he uses his imagination to boost his happy moods and sometimes, to work through his unhappiness as well. Each day, I look forward to seeing what he'll decide to be, and I love that in his mind, nothing is beyond his limits or capabilities.

However - his love of dress up poses a unique challenge for committing to ONE Halloween costume this year. So far, Leo has declared his desire to be
a ghost
a mouse
a bat
candy corn
a witch
a lion (again)
a Which-What-Who (this was Aidan's suggestion, a combination of all the things he might be, and a reference to this bedtime favorite)

...until one night at dinner, when we were trying to decide on what Pax might be for Halloween. Leo said,
"I don't want to dress up for Halloween. I just want to be Leo."
Me: "Um... I don't know if people would really understand that you were dressing up as just Leo."
Leo: "Oh. Okay. Then I want to be a walrus."
Me: "A Walrus??"
Leo: "Yes. A walrus with two legs."

...I just looked at him, not without a smile.

Who's line is it, anyway?

Endlessly entertaining. If there's one phrase I would choose to describe life with young children, it would be just that - they are endlessly entertaining. I love to hear the funny things that they say, and of course, those are easy to record and remember. But equally amusing to me, yet harder to record, are the unique ways in which they play, or how they climb the stairs, or the faces they make at themselves while brushing their teeth - when they think no one is looking...

The weather has been gorgeous these early fall days, and we've had the windows open as much as possible. After school one afternoon, the big boys were playing outside in the front yard while Pax and I put away clothes in the rooms upstairs. I was was intrigued by the game that was unfolding outside; Aidan and Leo each had their baby dolls with them, as well as the doll-sized stroller. At first, I was confused and slightly alarmed at what I saw - one of them would snatch the baby from the other's arms, shove the doll into the stroller, then race across the grass and push him straight into the bushes, a formidable tree, or the bumper of the car. What on earth? I thought. I'm always so proud of my boys for playing with dolls, but now I wasn't so sure - the game looked awfully.... violent. At least from the poor doll baby's perspective. The longer I watched, though, the more clear it became that this was a carefully orchestrated, detailed, almost scripted kind of play, with definite roles and rules. Finally, I couldn't resist not knowing. I went outside and asked them about their game. "It's called Kidnappers!" Aidan exclaimed. "We are taking turns protecting our babies from the Bad Men who have tried to kidnap them!" "Yeah!" piped up Leo. "We are saving them!" he explained, dangling his beloved doll baby from one foot before dropping him on his head. "Oops."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to you

Pax Augustus turned O-N-E on September 24! We celebrated with a big party with friends and family the weekend before, and the "Apple of our Eye" (the party's theme) enjoyed himself very much. Party activities included "Pictionary HD," Rochambo, bobbing for apples on a string, and a "How Well do you Know the Birthday Boy?" Quiz. My favorite part of the whole event was watching Pax eat his cupcake - at first, he was reluctant to touch it, not even sure it was consumable. But as soon as I showed him that it was, indeed, edible, he dug in with both hands. Within minutes, he was covered in frosting and positively delighted with himself. One of the many teeth he's cut recently has proven to be a big sweet tooth!(crinkle eyed birthday baby)
Jeff's parents arrived on the Actual Birth Day to help us celebrate - this was the first time Jeff's stepdad has seen Pax. We sang "Happy Birthday" to Pax countless times that day because of the reaction it prompted every time - a huge, crinkle-eye grin and lots of hand clapping. As every parent of the very young will attest, Pax was more interested in the boxes and wrapping paper that held the gifts than in the actual gifts themselves.

This year has gone by so quickly and yet, when I stop to reflect on the many months that Pax has been here, it seems like so much longer. Pax has truly lived up to his name. He fills our lives with peace and joy. Everyone who knows him well comments on what a smiley, happy person he is, and indeed, he is.

Our journey over the past year has been filled with many ups and downs, triumphs and struggles. What has remained constant and unchanging is the gratitude I feel every single day for Pax. I know I am not the only one who feels this; Jeff is smitten with Pax in a way that is different than it was with the older boys when they were babies, and Aidan has continued to absolutely adore every ounce of Pax. He gazes at Pax, holds him, kisses him, and loves him so tenderly and gently. Aidan refers to Pax as "my baby." And finally, Leo has come to appreciate the playmate that Pax will be. Coming from the boy who pleaded with me after Pax's birth, "put he back into your belly," this affirmation of a future playmate is enough for me.

Perhaps it is because I know he is likely our last baby; perhaps it is because I've learned from experience how quickly babies become toddlers...preschoolers... 1st graders; perhaps it is because of his always-smiling demeanor - whatever the case, I am so grateful for the blessing of Peace in our lives. Even amidst the chaos and noise of a family of five; even through the bickering, the tears, the fatigue, the worries, the tantrums, and my own exhaustion of still not having a full night's sleep, I feel insanely lucky. More accurately, I am insanely lucky.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Social Activists

"Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with Thy God." Micah 6:8

Tonight a woman on death row will be executed in the state of Virginia. Teresa Lewis was denied every appeal possible, from the Supreme Court to the governor. Her story is compelling and heartbreaking beyond most stories of death row inmates, and she, like all others facing execution, does not deserve this punishment. I have two friends who are intimately acquainted with Teresa Lewis. Today, for them, as well as in an attempt to appease my own social conscience, I stood with two of my children and 20 other men and women in protest against her execution.

I took this photo to bear witness to our protest today. I took this photo because when my children become grassroots organizers, political activists, and leaders of social justice, I want to have this on record. I want my children to look back on this day, and others in the future like this one, and say, my mom stood up. My mom stood up for others who could not. My mom protested and let her opinions be known and had the courage to bear witness to that which she opposes from the core of her being.

I struggle now with the right words to express what lays so heavy in my heart. I realized today how desperately I want my children to care, to have compassion, to love humanity. Perhaps it is my most fervent desire for each of them. And so I will lead them, as best I can, to
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First day of Preschool!

Leo is an official "school boy" now! He started preschool just after Labor Day, and is very proud of his new status - one that brings him one step closer to keeping pace with big brother.

I really had no idea how the first day would go with Leo - he is somewhat of a loose cannon - but he marched right into his classroom with his best buddy, Garrett, and said simply, "Goodbye Mom!" He was so proud to be wearing his brand new, pint-sized backpack, and had created a dozen different drawings to display in the backpack's see-through front pocket. In truth, the first day seemed much harder on me than it was on him. The car ride home was unnaturally quiet; I missed his sweet little voice asking me a million questions. But that is my great hope - that milestone days in the future will continue be harder on Mom than on my beloved boy. Jeff, recognizing that this was a hard day for me, surprised me with a gorgeous bouquet of salmon-colored roses when I arrived home from preschool drop off.

As the novelty has begun to wear off, it seems as though Leo is more in love with the idea of school than actually going to school. He brags of going to "library special" (Aidan's gym, library, Spanish, music, and art classes are called "specials") and points out his "school bus" every time we pass a Jaunt bus. He describes the homework he has to do that evening and writes out elaborate sentences (long scribbles) that he reads back to us with great emphasis and detail, pointing carefully to each turn of the marker as he reads. He tells great stories of the friends he has at school, naming kids he's heard Aidan mention - not actually naming kids in his own class. Drop off has become more difficult, and it is hard to watch him resist something I know he will come to love. I find myself silently thanking Aidan for all the lessons he taught me in his earliest preschool days; I know now, in the long run, how good preschool is for children. I know how important it is for them to take this big step toward independence. I know how hard it is for both of us, and yet, because of Aidan, I have great confidence with Leo that I once lacked with Aidan.

Leo is a magical thinker. He has started to discover his own way of navigating through the uncharted waters of the school world. Leo lets his imagination guide him through his reality, looking through the lens of his brother's world, making the unfamiliar more familiar through the shared experiences of being School Boys. He, like me, is faithfully and trustingly following the trail blazed before us by Aidan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This and That

It has been far too long since I last posted, and there is so much to catch up on. :( I just need to get back on the horse and keep riding, so away I go. Here are several "quick and dirty" posts of anecdotes that need little elaboration or reflection; in the coming days I will post more entries of the many thoughts and reflections I've been musing over in these silent days away from my blog....

Leo's language, vocabulary, and ability to speak in full essays astounds me. He is a chatterbox!! My two favorite mix ups he uses are

Becept = Except. As in, "I wanted to ride my bike, becept Mommy said no!" (Aidan used to correct him on this every time, but recently gave up because Leo completely ignores him.)

...and one day, Jeff told Leo that he was being very contrary, "Like Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary." We teased him about being Mary Mary Quite Contrary, and now, when he is being ornery, he announces with delight, "I'm being like Mary Mary Concentrary!!"


Aidan's voracious appetite for reading continues to delight me. He's taken to reading books on the long ride home on the school bus, and even reading while walking the whole way home!!! He walked right past our house one afternoon because he was so engrossed in the adventures of Jack and Annie of the beloved Magic Treehouse series.

I try not to be a braggart parent, but what good is a blog if not for a little bragging here and there? Recently Aidan's teacher called me about when I could come in and volunteer in the classroom. I mentioned how much Aidan enjoyed her class, and for the second year in a row, his teacher said to me, "Oh, if only I could have an entire room full of Aidans!"

I felt great validation and satisfaction over a deliberate parenting choice Jeff and I have made. By and large, we do not use extrinsic motivators of any kind with our kids. (Exceptions included M&M's during potty training and recently, a trip to the ice cream store after a particularly painful shot) As a teacher, I am firmly against the use of extrinsic motivators; my philosophy of teaching, much like my philosophy of parenting, is that intrinsic motivation is the driving force behind success. Reading is its own reward; a job well done should result in satisfaction and self-pride, not a prize; high expectations, without extrinsic rewards, leads to healthy, happy, self-confident, productive people. At Aidan's school, they use a positive reinforcement behavior plan which I support wholeheartedly - positive reinforcement is an excellent method. Students are recognized for their good behavior and earn tickets that can be redeemed at the Star Store. Last year, much to my dismay, Aidan came home week after week with absolute junk - crappy toys, cheap blow-up animals, beaten-up stuffed animals. Much to my relief, the novelty eventually wore off and at the end of the year he was left with a hundred or so unredeemed tickets. I raised my concerns at a PTO meeting and suggested that items sold in the school store should support the school concept - markers, crayons, folders, cool pens and pencils; the "top shelf" items could be - gasp - BOOKS!! My suggestions were met with some enthusiasm and some skepticism; I let the matter go, and decided this was not a battle I was willing to fight.

Imagine my surprise and delight when Aidan came home from school after his first trip to the Star Store and announced what he had "bought" that day - the opportunity to have lunch with one of the assistant principals!! My boy chose to have lunch with a principal over all the other stuff that was available to him. I felt proud and happy, both because Aidan had made such a wonderful choice all on his own, and because the school, in one small part, had listened and responded to my suggestion. Although there is still a lot of junk being sold, there are also crayons, markers, folders -- and the opportunity to have lunch with a principal.

Hard at work

Pax deserves a very long, reflective post about how very wonderful and BIG he is, but I must mention just two tidbits about him. Every morning when the school bus arrives to collect Aidan, Pax enthusiastically waves goodbye to Aidan and grins from ear to ear. Every afternoon when the big yellow bus returns, Pax waves eagerly in excitement to greet his biggest brother. All the parents at the bus stop, and I suspect, the passersby waiting in cars, adore the sight of a baby waving to his beloved oldest brother.

One other favorite thing about Pax these days is how hard he is at "work." Pax views the toys in our home as his full time job. Each morning after breakfast, he seems to say, "Okay, put me down. It is time I get to work!" He starts at the kitchen set where he dumps out all the bowls of play food, turns the bowl upside down, and beats on it like a drum. He chews on the slice of orange and carries the potato chip around in his mouth. He makes his way over to the fridge, where he pulls off as many magnets as he can, pulling himself to standing to reach the triceratops I've scooted to just beyond his reach. He hits the music button on the Leapster fridge magnets for good measure before heading into the family room, where he clears every shelf he can reach in Leo's dollhouse. Holding the Daddy doll in one hand and the elephant in another, he claps them together, laughing with the strange noise the wooden doll head makes against the semi-plastic elephant trunk. Finally, he heads to the totes under the table where he methodically dumps each one out - until the Foreman comes along and takes away any totes he hasn't managed to dump yet. Undeterred, he sets about mouthing every new toy that litters the ground, content to "work" until sheer exhaustion forces him to demand his morning nap.... (that's some kind of a cushy job that lets you take a siesta mid-morning!)

"The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world
there has never been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him."
-Pablo Casals

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crooks and Kindling

He greeted us cheerfully, eagerly, grinning a too-wide smile before we were fully through the door. I eyed him warily, met his Cheshire grin with a steady look that politely said - don't even try it with me, Buster. His very presence was an affront to the beloved store we'd just entered. I announced, "C'mon, this way to the books!" (heavy emphasis.) I triumphantly marched by him, my posse of children and their adoring grandma in tow, straight to the back of the store where the magic of Eric Carle, Mo Willems and Mary Pope Osborne awaited us. He watched us go, sheepish, knowing he had nothing - nothing to offer us; slightly (hopefully) deflated, he returned to his position behind the Nook display and waited for his next target. He had to be lonely - there he stood, a veritable hot dog vendor in a sea of vegetarians.

I make no attempt at hiding my true feelings about the Nook and the Kindle. They are filthy words in my mouth; I prefer to call them what they really are - Crook and Kindling, for they steal paper-and-binding books out of people's hands and their only use might be kindling for a bonfire (Farenheit 651). I loathe them, I detest them, I despise them. Like the octogenarians of today who shun email and cling to stationary and stamps, I will be the 85 year old woman who refuses to give up my beloved, true, actual books. I vow, here and now, that I will never, ever own a Crook, Kindling, or anything else that threatens the existence of my beloved books.

Aidan has recently taken another giant leap forward in his reading. At the beginning of the summer, he could not read Osborne's Magic Treehouse books without a lot of support. He loved the stories, though, so Jeff and I spent many lazy summer afternoons reading the books aloud to him. Gradually, he started rereading the ones we'd read, gaining confidence - and comprehension - each time he decoded and fluently recited the words on the page. Then, suddenly, he was reading them fluently, with accurate comprehension, and completely independently. I was stressing one afternoon over the homework assignment we'd somehow managed to lose - a collection of words he was supposed to sort and practice spelling. The words were review, and very easy for him - cot, hot, lot, mat, hat, bat. After listening to him read Magic Treehouse without so much as pausing before reading "Pennsylvania," I decided we could stop stressing about the words. He was reading circles around "cot" and "hat"!

He can be a voracious reader. After school one day, I asked him if he wanted to help make banana bread with me and Leo - something he positively loves to do. "Not right now," he said. "I'm reading, and I just don't want to stop!!" "Really?" I asked incredulously. "Yes, Mom, I need to find out where Annie and Jack are going next!" I paused, relishing in the moment, letting it sink in to my permanent memory. He has arrived, I thought to myself. He has arrived at the discovery of the magic and power and love and lure of books.

I love the smell of books, the sound they make the first time you open them. I love books from the library; I always look at the dates stamped on the check out card to see when else this book was checked out, how many people had read it. I think about who they might be, and I wonder if they loved (or hated) the book as much as I did.

There are few purchases that bring me more pleasure than buying a book - book buying even beats a great sale on a fabulous outfit. Buying books feels indulgent and decadent, yet it also feels like I'm doing something really good for myself, since books make you smarter and more interesting. Books are cheap. I can take risks - try books beyond my usual preferences - with no regrets except possibly not liking it. Books don't come in one size only; I don't have to try them on, and I can share them with all my friends. Books aren't exclusive to age; although I can no longer pull off a onesie or a miniskirt, I certainly can still get lost in a Leo Lionni book or the latest adolescent read. Books decorate a shelf, add interest and personality to a room, act as coasters on a coffee table, and can be used by home dwellers in self-defense against creepy crawlies from the outside. I ask you, Dear Reader: can the Crook do all that? The Kindling?

The revered Thomas Jefferson aptly stated, "I cannot live without books." I cannot live without books, either. But I certainly will live without Crooks and Kindling. The score? We, the reader of true, real, actual books: 1. Them, the Crooks and Kindling peddlers -seller of that hated "n" word - Nook - 0.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sweet Tooth

(left in the tooth pillow under his pillow)

Dear Tooth Fairy,
Mommy accidentally put a brownie in the sandwich baggie that had my front tooth in it, and sent the brownie/tooth to work with my daddy. Will you still visit me tonight? Love, Aidan.

Dear Aidan,
Your mommy is so silly! Do not worry about not leaving the tooth. I have extras. Love, The Tooth Fairy.

P.S. Now that's what I call a sweet tooth!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dear Mrs. Jackson

Tomorrow we head off to Business Day at Aidan's elementary school to meet his first grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson. He is very excited to give her this letter that he wrote to her; when I was teaching full time, one of the last assignments my students did each year was to write a letter to their future teacher as a way of introducing themselves. Aidan loved this idea when I presented it to him, and worked hard and diligently to complete the letter. Aside from giving him the correct spelling of "Jackson" and except for a few reminders about spacing, this is 100% Aidan's work. (For those of you who might be a little rusty in reading first grade writing, it reads, Dear Mrs. Jackson, I am excited to be in your class. This summer I went on a airplane to California. Did you go on vacation? One of the things I like to do is read non-fiction books. See you on Tuesday. From, Aidan Carter.)

One year ago, Aidan was writing short, simple sentences and still practicing the letters of the alphabet. Even though I've had more exposure than most parents to the process of learning to write and read, this developmental milestone ceases to amaze me. I am so proud of Aidan for the writer he is, and the writer he is becoming.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Graham Carter

Aidan's alter ego sometimes takes the form of Tom Sawyer. By his powers of persuasion, he is often able to convince his sidekick in crime, Leo "Huck Finn", to do something inconvenient (i.e. fetching a band aid from upstairs) or slightly scary (retrieving paper from the darkened basement) or something gross (picking up a dead insect). Yet a recent Saturday afternoon takes the cake for Impressive Sawyer-like Smooth Talking.

It was nearly dinnertime, and as usual, the kids were going a little nutty. As usual, we sent them outside to play in the yard until we rang the bell to summon them back in. As usual, we reviewed the basic rules of safety and sent them on their way. When dinner was ready, I sent Jeff out to get the boys. He returned without them, the look on his face equally proud and terrified. "Guess where your son is right now." (Why is it always MY son when it's something naughty? I wondered...) "Which son?" I asked. "Leo." "Um...." Jeff was impatient with me. He didn't wait for me to guess. "He's across the street!" he screeched. Well, that's not so bad, I thought. He's not supposed to cross the street, but really, what's the big deal?

I waited, and Jeff continued. "HE GOT THERE BY CRAWLING THROUGH THE DRAIN PIPE!!! TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET!!!" I dashed outside to see if this was possibly true. I, too, felt equally horrified - and proud. On the one hand, what was he thinking? There could be snakes! Or rats! Or resting raccoons!! There could be rushing water! Or big hairy spiders! On the other hand... wow, Leo, you couldn't pay me to climb through that drain pipe. The one that spans the width of the street, the one that is about 2.5 feet in diameter, the one that is deep in the ditch on the side of our house...

(Notice the tiny speck of light in the second photo. That is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the one that convinced Sawyer that it was okay to send Finn through it.)

After a very strict, very stern, very formidable talking-to about the perils that could befall a drain pipe trespasser, we asked Leo why he did it. "Aidan told me to do it. He just told me to crawl through the tunnel, so I did it. I was a little bit afraid. But then I did it."

And there you have it. Sawyer & Finn, 1; Parents, 0.

The littlest Carter is fast on the heels of mischief, too. Suddenly, food is highly interesting to Pax, and after refusing traditional baby food for months, he gobbles up any finger food/table food we place before him. Still, we're trying to go by the book, introducing a few things at a time and sticking to the softer stuff.

Our small kitchen never has enough space for pantry storage, and food is always spilling out of the cupboards. I've given up the organizational fight, and have informed all who complain about it that "It's the price you have to pay for me being such a creative woman." (....Elmer's glue, Epi pens, and an Etch-a-sketch also compete with the cupboards for space). So I didn't notice the box of graham crackers that had fallen out of the cupboard, but Pax sure did. Jeff and I were both on the main level but in different rooms when we realized someone should find Baby and see what he was up to. "Paxo!" I heard Jeff exclaim. Then a baby's giggle. Jeff carried Pax in to see me, and there he was, triumphantly clutching half-eaten graham crackers in each hand and grinning boldly. Message received: we'll move on to some crunchier stuff, Mister Baby!

And finally, a most beautiful moment. Yesterday was a very difficult day for us. I was weary and worn out from a day spent breaking up squabbles, shushing tantrums, disciplining sassy mouths and potty mouths and mean mouths. We finally sat down to dinner; I was anxious to reach the end of our day. Pax sat quietly in his high chair as we settled in to our own chairs. We began to sing our grace, "Johnny Appleseed," when we heard a most melodious sound - that of Pax joining in on our singing. Jeff and I looked at each other in surprise, then in joy, as we finished out the verse, all 5 of us singing our thanks and praise. What a moment! It was just the grace and pax I needed to get me through the rest of our evening.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turn Into

Aidan and Leo are creative and imaginative; I love to watch them play. Watching them make their imaginations come to life is marvelous to witness and yet, as an adult, frustrating to try to join. My grown-up mind simply cannot compete with the magical thinking of these children! Their bed becomes a pirate ship in shark infested waters; the couch is a rocket ship one day, a train the next, and a mountain to climb on the third day. They are chefs on Monday, knights and pages on Tuesday, pirates on Wednesday, and nature poets on Friday.

They invent games that they play with each other that seem to make perfect sense to the two of them, yet are inexplicable to those who try to join in their unending fun. One game, called "Sparkle Sparkle Backhoe," is one that can only be played at meals (and usually only at lunch, per Mom's request). The object of the game is to get the forkful of food into one's mouth before the other person finishes saying "Sparkle Sparkle Backhoe!" Aidan, for example, will sloooowly raise the macaroni-filled fork tongs toward his mouth as Leo starts out, "Sparkle, sparkle, back---" suddenly, Aidan shoves the fork in his mouth -- "hoe!!" Apparently, this means Aidan was successful. It becomes Leo's turn, and the game continues in this way for the rest of lunch - accompanied by peals of laughter at every turn of the game.

But my all time favorite game of theirs is called Turn Into, because there is something about it that reminds me of the children's book called The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. The story is about a bunny who challenges his mother by telling her he will run away; in turn, his mother responds how she will find him every time. (Little Bunny says, "I will become a crocus in a hidden garden." "If you become a crocus in a hidden garden," said his mother, "I will be a gardener. And I will find you." and so on.) Some have mentioned the possibility of this story as an allegory representing God, in that God finds us every time because we are God's children. Allegory or no, the story is touching and true, for what mother (what parent, for that matter) won't go to the ends of the earth for her (or his) child?

There is something about the format of Aidan and Leo's "Turn Into" game that reminds me of this book. As Aidan describes the game, "You start by saying "I'm going to turn into...[insert item here] and then you say something nice." Different every time, this is a recent transcript of their game:

Aidan: If I turn into a trash can...
Leo: If you turn into a trash can, I will dump you out.

Leo: If I turn into a towel...
Aidan: If you turn into a towel, I will dry you off.

Aidan: If I turn into a kitty...
Leo: If you turn into a kitty, I would pick you up.
Aidan: (interjecting, joyfully) I would like that!

Aidan: If I turn into Gladys... [Aidan's Lovey, Gladys]
Leo: If you turn into Gladys, I would hold you.

And that is where the game ended that day. I can only hope that in their hearts and in their minds, these boys are saying the same thing to each other that I am saying to them: I will go to the ends of the earth for you, I will do whatever I need to do for you because you are my family, because I love you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

California - part 2

Finally, a chance to finish -

The second part of our California adventure was equally memorable and fun. We visited the Grants, with whom we've been friends for more than a decade. Emily and I suffered through our student teaching days together, then celebrated our successes over pineapple & rum drinks at the Green Door. We were in each other's weddings and were pregnant together for two of our babies. During our many years of friendship, there have been countless adventures and dozens of travels back and forth between New York and Maryland, and now California and Virginia. Connor and Aidan are 6 weeks apart in age; Patrick and Leo are 6 months apart. Needless to say, all the boys were thrilled to be on a constant play date with such terrific buddies! It is a uniquely lovely experience to witness the friendships that play out with the children of some of your closest friends. It's affirming, really, to see your children discovering common passions and interests with the children of your own good friends.

Probably the biggest highlight of our time in Valencia was the chance to experience Six Flags Magic Mountain. Although the adults did not have a chance to ride many rides, it was worth it just to see the joy in Aidan and Leo's face as they explored the amusement park for the first time. Shockingly, we discovered that Aidan, who is usually more careful and reserved, is a fearless roller coaster rider! He even held his hands way up in the air, whooping and hollering at every turn. Leo looked petrified during the coasters, yet afterward, professed his love of them, too. And Pax enjoyed his first ride on a real* Merry-Go-Round, and was thrilled! (*The teeny one at the mall doesn't count). Our adventure at the park was another one of those times where I found myself marveling at how much enjoyment can be had in simply watching my children experience something so exciting and novel and fun.

Made-from-scratch sticky buns, grilled lemon and garlic shrimp, homemade crabcakes, and fabulous sushi were some of the delicious meals we enjoyed with our hosts. Many of my best recipes come from the Grants, and these culinary treats were no exception. Recently I was watching a show on PBS where they were interviewing an Italian chef, and he described the making and sharing of food not only as pleasure in the food itself but also in the "joy of the table." Indeed, these meals we enjoyed were not just about good food and good drink, but also about good friends gathered together.

Our travel back home was as smooth and seamless as our flights heading out. Home! Few experiences make you appreciate and love your home more than being away from it for a bit. We reveled in our house, our community, and our East Coast, mountain view setting for days. Reuniting with our friends and reconnecting with family, I felt a deep sense of peace and happiness about the choice we have made to live here, in this friendly, comfortable lake community and in such close proximity to my parents. I love going to the grocery store where my kids talk to Miss Mary and Miss Linda as they bag our food. I love how the small business owners here greet me by name. I love heading to the park and knowing - or at least recognizing - most of the moms there. I love that our kids can walk through the "secret trail" to their grandparents' house. I love our small town, I love the familiarity and the safety and the security we feel. I love the trees, the mountains, the lake, the nearby rivers, the four distinct seasons. As much as we love our California friends and family, and love the time we spend visiting them, we know now more than ever that our roots are firmly planted here in the deep red clay of Virginia.

For more pictures of the Valencia portion of our California adventure, click here...