Saturday, December 31, 2011

Infusion

I've been mulling over how to close out this year on my blog. I considered doing a "best of" or most favorite posts from this year, but decided that was a little too tedious and redundant. I thought about reflecting on the end to one year and the fresh start of a new year, but that seemed too contrived. I contemplated previewing 2012, but I was bored with myself after composing two sentences. Browsing through old posts, I found this little gem, published back in March, and decided it was a most fitting way to close out this year - a small tribute.

My heart is always with the people I know who have lost someone they love during the holiday season, as well as with those whose hearts are still reeling from earlier loss. I offer this story at the close of the year as a reminder that life comes full circle, that endings can be the beginning of something new, that in continuing ritual and tradition, we can honor most fully those whom we love.

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My mother’s finest tea cups, Royal Doulton bone china laced with delicate flowers, lay before us on the table. At age 8, I could hardly believe my luck – it was Christmas Eve; I was up past bedtime (too excited to sleep, anyway); I got to use the fancy cups and drink tea with way too much sugar and milk.Best of all, seated around the base of the softly glowing Christmas tree were two of my most favorite women: my mom and her mom, my beloved grandmother. A tradition was born.

Each subsequent year, I looked forward to the Ladies’ Tea on Christmas Eve almost as much as I looked forward to everything else – the cookie making, the gifts, the magic of the season. I loved shooing out the men in our lives – my dad and my brother Adam– this was for girls only, we’d exclaim. They acted indignant, but it was all for show.

We shared tea for years and years and years. Our time together, like the tea we shared, was delicious and warm, infused with love. In 1993, when I was a freshman in high school, things changed. My beloved grandma died in the earliest hours of Christmas Eve, before we’d had a chance to drink our tea. It was not unexpected, yet the grief and pain of losing her on such an important and significant day shattered my heart like the fine china we’d sipped from. There was no tea that year….

….or the next one, either. I was angry that my grandma died on Christmas Eve, because the magic of Christmas was gone. Her death created a permanent stain in our teacups, one that refused to lift despite repeated scrubbing. Eventually, though, the stain began to fade, and our tradition resumed…

Many Christmas Eves later, when Adam was home for a visit and my future husband, Jeff, was staying with us, our tea tradition took a turn for the worse. Throwing our good sense down the drain along with the steeped tea leaves, my mother and I – the only women in the house – foolishly decided to allow the men to join us for tea, but only if they promised to be on their best behavior. We should have known that trouble lay ahead when they turned their noses up at our Darjeeling blend, insisting that their “tea” was a two finger pour of Glenfiddich. Apparently scotch and sugar cookies make for a boisterous pairing, because the tea had scarcely been served before my mother and I made a beeline for the door, away from the peals of laughter coming from the men. We loved them dearly, yet they had no appreciation whatsoever for the dignified, classy nightcap on our Christmas Eve. They’ve not been invited back.

In 2006, Adam, his partner Linsey, and their son Hugo joined us for Christmas; my mom and I were thrilled to have another woman join us for tea. Linsey had heard about this tradition before, and arrived prepared… with a new blend of “tea,” this one more of the bubbly and spirited kind. We exchanged our Wedgwood for Waterford, rose leaf tea for sparkling rosé.Although I was well past my 21st birthday, I had the odd sensation of feeling like that eight year old again, experiencing my first grown up tea with the fine women in my life; the rosé proved to be a whole new kind of grown up tea.

Since Linsey’s tea with us those years ago, we’ve continued to faithfully set out the special Santa tea pot each year - but we’ve abandoned tea in favor of one variety or another of sparkling wine. Yet I sense that the eve is approaching, soon, when the tradition will change again, when we will go back to tea with way too much sugar and milk, for there are up-and-coming eight-year-olds in this house. I have no daughters, but I do have three very fine sons who will revel in the opportunity to sip tea on Christmas Eve with two of their favorite women ever – Mom and Grandma. Our time together promises to be delicious and warm, infused with love.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Time and Love



Homemade Gifts, Year 2: Aidan sewed and decorated a pillowcase for Leo; Aidan sewed a bear lovey for Pax. Leo drew many beautiful pictures, painted a canvas, cut out letters, and mod-podged his collage together. Pax spent several hours creating a gorgeous 2012 calendar for his older brothers, that they hung in their room. Aidan and Leo each made ceramic pottery gifts for us (Aidan made the vases and bowl; Leo, the plate). My mother made me owl pajama pants, and my father made us gorgeous mahogany coasters with inlaid pieces of oak. Jeff macraméd bracelets for each boy, and I knitted scarves for each of them...


"Gifts of Time and Love are surely
the basic ingredients of a truly Merry Christmas."
-Peg Bracken

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to You!

There is one part of Christmas this year that we did skip - again. Last year, we decided not to send out Christmas cards, and last year, it felt like a big stress reliever. This year, I didn't give cards a second thought, assumed I'd feel the same sigh of relief over not doing them - but I was wrong. Even when we staged a few "would-be Christmas Card Photos," (which, weirdly, I looove taking) I didn't feel any guilt over not sending them, nor any real desire to send them. It was only after it was far too late that I felt the pangs of regret. Perhaps a good and gentle reminder, again, why we don't skip Christmas.

And so, Friends, I offer instead this virtual Christmas card. I know that, in its virtual state, it will disappoint you just as much as a Nook or Kindle disappoints a true bibliophile - but it is heartfelt and sincere all the same, and it comes with a promise no hand-held device can ever make: next year, a lovely paper Christmas card will arrive in your snail mail box. I'm done with skipping Christmas cards.

"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time." -Laura Ingalls Wilder




(^^I absolutely LOVE this photo, because it was taken a nanosecond before Leo goosed me!
I laugh every time I see it. Oh, and since you're wondering... those are reindeer
embroidered on Aidan's pants. )



Merry Christmas, You!
Love,
Anne, Jeff, Aidan, Leo, and Pax

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Doing Christmas

John Grisham wrote a novel, Skipping Christmas, some years ago. Have you read it?

I believe it was in the moments before leaving for our church's pageant last Sunday - searching for a lost shoe behind a stack of Christmas books; mentally rehearsing the list of stuff I had to remember to bring; stepping on pine needles in bare feet while avoiding a newly broken ornament; hollering at Aidan to bring his script along; cajoling Leo into rehearsing his line, one more time - when the thought flashed, in blinking lights, across the marquee of my mind's eye - what would it would be like if we could just skip all of this, one year?

Arriving to church 4 minutes late, I worried if I'd get a glare from the pageant director for being tardy. I felt the stress weighing down on me, could sense it among the many parents tittering about, trying to coax toddlers into sheep's clothing; attempting to get the wise men to stop being such... wise asses; persuading the angels not to hit each other with their stars-on-a-stick. It wasn't just the pageant - it was the realization I'd had that morning, that Christmas was just one week away - and yet the cookies weren't baked; scarves weren't knitted; gifts weren't wrapped; last-minute items were still on the "to buy" list.....and on and on. I felt panicked and paralyzed, all at once.

And then, the pageant began. It was a lovely pageant. Aidan, in his role of Joseph, delivered his lines confidently and proudly, looking important and in-charge next to his sweet friend, playing the part of Mary. Leo, acting as the Angel Gabriel, bellowed into the microphone, "Fear Not, Mary! God is with you!" And Pax, along with half a dozen other toddlers, played the part of the errant and wandering sheep quite beautifully, save for a short game of chase around the communion rails with none other than a pastor's son. As we smiled and laughed, I began to feel the burden lift from my shoulders as I watched our children deliver the story of Jesus's birth, happily and excitedly. Still, I was antsy to leave, to get home and start checking items off my endless list. I'd made a promise to the kids though, - that we'd stay to help decorate the tree in the sanctuary - and I groaned and moaned, knowing I had no choice but to honor it.

But then it happened - one of those moments in time that you remember for always, one of those moments when you are in "the zone," where you know how good it is, even as it is happening. So you drink deeply and thirstily and you are aware, so aware of every sound and smell and taste and sight and feeling, because you are present...

In the sanctuary, children unpacked and unwrapped large and ornate ornaments from boxes to hang on a towering and fragrant pine tree. Older kids lifted younger kids up to reach branches higher and higher. Grown-ups stood on ladders, adjusting the star on top and the white twinkling lights. In another corner, two men stood on ladders, taking down the huge advent wreath and replacing it with a large, pointed, brightly lit star. Three women dressed and undressed the altar, changing out the blues of advent for celebratory whites celebrating Jesus' birth. Two trumpets and the organist practiced "Joy to the World!" as Sunday School teachers moved out props from the pageant. Ushers mounted candle holders to the ends of each pew as the Pastor moved from one person to the next, answering questions, giving input, praising efforts. And I - I stood in the middle of it all, in the middle of the most beautiful chaos and most harmonious noise I've experienced. The finest Hollywood directors could not have orchestrated a better scene. And all I could think was - skip this? Are you kidding??

There have been many other, smaller moments when I've been so glad not to be skipping Christmas:

The parties! My, have we enjoyed the parties this year. Jeff and I even hired a babysitter for one and had a fabulous time at our party-date. I can't imagine skipping the parties.

In the midst of my angst about not finishing homemade Christmas gifts in time, I found myself asking, why do I do this to myself? Why didn't I start sooner? Why didn't I just buy stuff instead?... and then the gifts got finished, and wrapped, and each of them - the ones I made; the ones Jeff made; the ones each of the kids have made - are more beautiful and more perfect than I could have hoped for.... I can't imagine skipping homemade.

Stressed about needing to bake so many cookies (11 dozen in all - most of which will be distributed to the patients on the hospital floor where Jeff works), I wondered why on earth I thought it was a good idea to have Pax help me with the cookie prep. And then... I witnessed just why it was a good idea. He ran the hand mixer, cracked eggs, rolled dough, and sugared cookies like a seasoned chef.... I can't imagine skipping cookie baking with small boy.

Puzzled over the number of ornaments hanging up on our Advent calendar, Aidan, Leo, and I quickly realized what had happened: Pax had surreptitiously taken out the remaining ornaments from the calendar's pockets and hung them carefully on the lowest branch of the small advent tree - the only branch he could reach. We laughed and laughed and giggled some more over our mischievous little elf boy. I can't imagine skipping that kind of laughter.

Piling into our car after bath many evenings, we drive around the neighborhood, admiring the beautiful light displays in our cozy, sweet community. I can't imagine skipping the lights show.

In the end, as it is with Skipping Christmas, we realize that we cannot skip Christmas. And why would we want to? For when we are able to step back, let go of what doesn't matter, embrace what does matter, that is when we are Doing Christmas. We Do Christmas for each other. For our children, our community, our friends, and our family. Because of the joy we get from seeing each other's houses lit up in lights. From watching our children perform in the pageant. From celebrating at parties, swapping cookies, from time spent together making gifts, from laughing over mischief, from so many more moments that wouldn't - couldn't - possibly happen if we skipped Christmas.

Happy Doing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear Reader

Kate DiCamillo is the author of several highly acclaimed children's books (including The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and more.) One technique she uses as a writer is at first a little unnerving, the way she addresses the reader of her book - but I quickly grew fond of how her voice spoke to me, Dear Reader, as I read her well-crafted tales...

And so, Dear Reader, this post begins with an address to you:

I've gotten so much feedback from recent posts I've written, and I deeply appreciate all of it. From the small core of loyal readers who send me sweet emails now and again to the true strangers who took the time to send me a note - it means so much to me. Thank you.

"Mostly Boy" resulted in many readers sending me links to excellent essays on similar topics, so I've included them here:

This article comes from an excellent website, rethinkingschools.org. I love that this teacher speaks not only with authority and expertise, but also with humility and honesty in dealing with her own struggles and stereotypes. When I dream of changing the world through education, I dream of schools filled with teachers just like this one...

I liked this article too, because it spoke to the tremendous courage of parents who truly understood their child and who unfailingly demonstrated their unconditional love and acceptance.

This was a fun read, too, and a nice, light-hearted change from the heavier content of the first two articles.

And finally, here's another essay on Santa Claus (find my own thoughts here). I love how this writer connects Santa to all those people around them whose hearts are filled with joy - a beautiful testament to the power of the magic of Christmas.

...that is all for now, Dear Reader. But tune in soon for the ongoing tales of a karate-kicking Joseph, a mighty Angel Gabriel, and a wayward sheep, coursing and bleating his way in a short game of chase around the communion table....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small People, Small Places, Small Things

"Many small people, in many small places, do many small things,
that can alter the face of the world."
(Excerpt taken from the Berlin Wall, East Side)

...and it is the small people from this small place who are doing small things this season.

Recently, we experimented with a new tradition in our family. It began in 2009, when I was desperate to do something - anything - to help some families who were really struggling that season. One family was consumed by grief; the other, drowning in worry. Their pain brought to mind the last Christmas season we had with my grandmother before her death on Christmas Eve; she had been under hospice care and living in our home for some weeks. Thinking of that Christmas season, I was flooded with a most wonderful memory - the night the carolers showed up on our doorstep. Two dozen members of our church came to our home and sang one carol after another. Their voices were beautiful, but the warmth, love, support, and cheer they provided were what we needed - and enjoyed - the most.

So in 2009, we caroled. I asked my playgroup friends (and all the kids, of course!) to go with me to one home. We carried bells and maracas and song sheets and sang every song we could think of. Another night, our little family of five traveled to the hospital for a private concert for a most receptive audience. Reflecting on those experiences, I realized that they were the most meaningful parts of that season. I was determined to do more.

In 2010, Jeff and I planned out four service projects for our family, corresponding with each week of Advent. One week, the boys drew lovely cards for four people from our church and our community who were in need of some tender loving care that year. One had just lost his beloved wife; another was unable to leave his house anymore and was struggling with loneliness and isolation.

The second week, we collected extra towels and blankets from the closet. We shopped for toiletries, the boys each contributing funds from his piggy bank to help with the cost. Once our bags were overflowing, we donated the goods to the day haven/shelter that takes care of so many homeless women and men in our community. The boys were wide-eyed but respectful and friendly to each of the grateful friends we met that day.

The third week, we selected a few brand-new toys and a handful of gently used board books to donate to a family our church was sponsoring that Christmas. Aidan and Leo were so careful in making sure to select toys they thought the little girl would love, and they delighted in getting to wrap the gifts.

The fourth week, we baked the communion bread for the worship services on Christmas Eve. The kids were very proud of their bread, pleased that it would feed the whole church.

This year, it began with a goat. I fell in love with the baby goat featured on the cover of the ELCA's Good Gifts catalog, and I knew I wanted one.... to go to a family in Africa. Jeff and I drafted a list of chores and dollar amounts that the kids could choose to do to earn money for our goat. I decorated a small box that served as our "goat kitty" (maaa-eow), and for two solid weeks, the kids worked hard - cheerfully, and diligently - to fill the box. [Amendment: only after I assured Leo that we would not, in fact, ever have the goat at our house.] Pax fed the kitties and helped unload the dishwasher. The older boys cleaned the basement, put away laundry, wiped down sinks and counters, dusted, and even raked leaves at my parents' house. On the date we'd designated as our deadline, we discovered we were $2 short. The kids hustled and bustled around the house, tidying and straightening, dusting and cleaning. We praised them for their hard work and their cheerful spirits; we finalized our purchase of the goat, and during dinner, we discussed what that goat might be doing that very minute, whether she was feeling excited or nervous to go meet her new family.

Inspired by the book I mentioned in a previous post, Jeff and I are excited about the microloan we are financing through kiva.org . The website connects lenders to people all over the world for whom a tiny loan - $25 - could make all the difference to their families. The hardest part of lending the money was deciding whom to lend to, for every one of the bios we read came from very worthy and deserving people. Ultimately, we chose to sponsor a mother of three from Zimbabwe who will use her loan to purchase groundnuts which she'll use to make peanut butter.

Next week, we'll spend several days baking a variety of cookies that we'll package in cute bags and send to work with Jeff to give to his patients. If I find it hard to have a husband who has to work holidays (this year, we're lucky - he's off for Christmas Eve & Day) -- I can only imagine how much harder it is for the actual patients at the hospital.

And finally, we'll bake the bread again for our worship services on Christmas Eve. Our gifts are small. They come from the work of small hands, in this small place. But our gifts of service are among the most important gifts we can offer. I don't know about altering the face of the whole world, but our tradition of service has forever altered our little world. And hopefully, our gifts will change the world of a family in Africa, whose goat will provide milk, cheese, and eventually, kid goats; and our gift will change the world of one mom in Zimbabwe, using the profits of her harvest to send her children to school and to bring her family out of poverty.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift of the Magic

It happened one chilly morning in mid-October, the moment when I knew I needed to have The Talk with my oldest son. We were sitting in the warm car, waiting for the school bus to arrive. I asked quite casually, "So what do you think you'll ask Santa for this year?"

Aidan gave me a long, sideways glance as Leo began brainstorming a list of possible ideas. "I know why you are asking us," Aidan said to me. I ignored him, wondering where on earth he was going with this line of thinking. "I know why you're asking about Santa," he repeated. I continued to ignore him, pretending to give my undivided attention to Leo's list, when I heard him mutter, "It's because YOU are the one who buys the Santa gifts." He said it with a tiny hint of anger, and a whole lot of curiosity in his voice, as if he were testing out the theory aloud.

I looked at him sharply and said, "You better watch what you say." He ignored me and said to Leo, "Hey Leo, I know why Mom wants to know what we want Santa to bring us." "Aidan," I said to him pointedly, giving him my Mad Mama look - "You had better be careful what you say."

Leo was blissfully unaware of the conversation between Aidan and me; he was engrossed in a conversation with himself about the possibility of a Real Robot being delivered by Santa.

Aidan looked at me and said, with a hint of defiance, "I know what I want Santa to bring me. I want him to bring me a picture of Rudolph. Because then I'll know for sure."

The bus pulled up and Aidan took off, leaving me to mull over our conversation during much of the day. I had to laugh at the cleverness of his request for a photo - until I realized that Google images plus Photoshop plus a little bit of magic might just yield one awfully realistic Rudolph....

Later that afternoon, I pulled Aidan aside. For The Talk.

"Aidan, I want to tell you a couple of things about Santa Claus. I want you to know that if you have decided not to believe in Santa Claus anymore, that's okay. But I want you to know some things. First, I want to share a story with you from when I was a girl growing up in Grandma and Grandpa's house with Uncle Adam. Do you know how we put out beer and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer every year on Christmas Eve? Your Uncle Adam and I did the very same thing when we were living with Grandma and Grandpa, even when we were big kids home from college. Every single year, I have laid out cookies for Santa - and then you came along, and you took over for me.

I also want you to know that the best gift that my older brother ever gave me at Christmas was that he let me believe in Santa Claus for as long as I wanted to. He never questioned whether or not Santa Claus was real, he never tried to convince me that he wasn't, and he never teased me or made fun of me for believing in Santa. It was the greatest gift, and I admire him so much for being such a wonderful and kind older brother.

Now I want to tell you what I love the most about Santa. Santa Claus is magic. One year, we had a very sad thing happen in our family. My grandmother died, on Christmas Eve, and it was such a sad Christmas for us. On Christmas night, something magical happened. There was no snow in the forecast, and the sky was very clear and bright. Suddenly, it started to snow - and snow - and snow! We couldn't believe it. Grandpa and Uncle Adam and I went for a long walk in the snow that night, and we kept looking up at the snow-filled sky, dragging our boots to make patterns in the snow, and laughing, because it was so magical. We never expected the snow - and there it was.

Another year, more recently, some other kind of magic happened on Christmas. The father in a family that we know had lost his job, and the mom and dad had no idea how they would buy food that month, let alone Christmas presents. One day, the mom went out to the mailbox - and discovered that someone had sent them a very large gift card for Target. To this day, the family has no idea where that card came from, but not only did they have plenty of food that month, they also had some presents under the tree, too. It felt like magic, to receive such a wonderful gift, especially when they didn't know quite where it came from.

And so, Aidan, I want you to think about these things. I want you to know that I believe in the magic of Santa, because wonderful things happen at this time of year, and often we don't know how they happened or where they came from. And I want you to remember the gift my brother gave me, and I want you to think about if you might want to be the same kind of brother to Pax and Leo that Uncle Adam is to me."

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Many weeks later, Aidan and I were shopping at the mall, just the two of us, when we happened upon Jolly Old Saint Nick. Aidan was delighted at the chance for a private conversation with Santa, and was grinning with excitement. Santa invited him to come sit on his lap, but Aidan replied, "No thank you, I gotta bring my brothers back so we can all sit with you together!"

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And my final defense of Santa (for I've written about him before, here) is that while the focus in our family will always remain on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we will forever make room on our mantel for the stockings, as well. Jesus and Santa are not mutually exclusive. Grace, hope, love, light in dark places, peace, joy -- God is our Provider. But the sense of magic, the anonymous giving - those come from Santa.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tradition

Prepare, Anticipate, Wait, Hope, Believe... the verbs that bring us ever closer to Christmas.

For many years, one favorite part about preparing for Christmas was decorating the tree. Sometimes, I've managed to whip up a fresh batch of cookies alongside a hot mug of cocoa just before tree trimming began. We'd have the Christmas carols already queued up on the CD player with a fire crackling gently in the background. We'd take our sweet time unwrapping each ornament, reveling in the memory of where it came from or when we got it, joking about where to put THAT ORNAMENT - you know, that hideous one that you keep hoping will break-- yet every year, it remains indestructible. We'd stop to admire our work, munch on some cookies, sip our cocoa, perhaps pause for a lovely photo shoot, carefully framing one child or another in a worth-a-thousand-words picture.

This year? Yeah, not so much. No photographic proof of this year's decorating, please. It was Frantic. Crazed. Loud. Crying and fighting over the ridiculous possessiveness of inanimate objects quickly ensued. We had a mute two year old who would get frustrated, then start slinging and hurling ornaments at us when he didn't get what he wanted. Aidan (whom I dubbed "Tree Nazi" under my breath) was ordering Leo not to touch ANY ornament that wasn't his, then gloating over all the ornaments that he (Aidan) had made or had been given. I desperately searched through box after box (while dodging Pax's pitches) to find ONE ornament that had Leo's name on it, but could only unearth more of Firstborn's. (I had a sudden flashback to my own "unfair" childhood of having a brother 7 years my senior with four sets of doting grandparents and great-grandparents whose tradition was shower him with ornaments.... that tradition lost its luster by the time I came along. I spent my childhood trying to catch up.) Jeff was inexplicably occupied with... I have no idea what. Something, in another room.

We had eaten all the snickerdoodles the day before, so we didn't have any cookies to nosh on. It was 60 degrees and sunny, ruling out the hot cocoa and crackling fire. And our recently-replaced ipod didn't have Christmas songs on it; our new laptop doesn't have itunes yet. With cacophonous and loud voices, Aidan and Leo sang "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..." until in total desperation I went old-school and scrounged up the *actual* CD from whence all this music originated (... and played it on the DVD player, because who even has CD players anymore?)

But the music did little to cover up the wails and whines of the natives. We got approximately 1/8 of the ornaments hung up when I called it quits. "That's it!" I shouted in exasperation. "We're finished. I'm not doing this any more." I was really, really annoyed that these children were ruining my favorite part of decorating.

I pouted for awhile. No one noticed, no one else seemed disappointed.... except for me. I brooded over this for awhile, until I eventually realized - this year, prepare, anticipate, wait, hope, believe wouldn't include lovely memories of tree trimming - but it would include other things, instead. (Like me, finishing the decorating by myself, wine in hand and Harry Connick, Jr. crooning in the background.) And that's okay.

Prepare: the kids were dead-set on making gifts for each other again this year, even though I offered to take them shopping, individually, for gifts for each other. I love this. The hand-made's tale is working; the kids balked at store-bought gifts. Aidan already knew exactly what he wanted to make for each of his brothers, and my heart swelled with the warmth of his kindness.

Anticipate: Leo can't stop talking about being the Angel Gabriel in this year's Christmas Pageant. He loves what message Gabriel brings to Mary. "You know what that angel, you know what he said to that girl who had Jesus? He said Do not be afraid."

Wait: for new memories to be made, for new traditions to cherish.

Hope: that our service projects turn out as well as we've planned them to be. That we earn enough money to buy our goat for a family in Africa, that Jeff's patients will enjoy homemade cookies, that our church is well-fed with the communion bread we'll bake. That Jeff and I will choose a woman who will prosper through the help of our microloan. (Elaboration required in a future post).

Believe: in Santa. (Again- another future post to come.) Believe in the good news that comes with the celebration of Jesus' birth. Believe in kindness and goodness and generosity and compassion and love that is most evidenced this time of year.

...and know, with certainty, that tree trimming will become a lovely, calm, cherished tradition again. And in the meantime, I will love the chaos and the cacophony, and the children who make it so.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, our tree of thanks was filled with many of the same things we filled it with last year - in short, health and happiness, a wealth of love and friendship. I'm grateful, then, that so little has changed in this past year, that I still have so much to be thankful for: a healthy, happy family. Loving and supportive parents. Wonderful friends. I still have our beloved church family. The pursuit of my higher education. I still know how very lucky I am - for a home; for a husband with a good, stable job; for health insurance and working vehicles and money for food and shelter and clothing and some extras, too. For our happy kids. For our happy couple-ness.

And therefore, when so much remains the same, what is different this year? Stepping outside my comfortable and cozy surroundings, I'm so grateful for the courage I see in others. I know one really courageous kid who is putting up a mighty fight against the cancer that has invaded her body. A friend's mother who is waging her own terrific war against her cancer. I know a kid who is dealing with the death of her sister and her best friend, all in a span of two years. So many more people who have been forced to battle hardships and devastation and loss - and do so with great courage.

Last week while we were on the Downtown Mall, I saw, for the first time, the hundred or so people camped out as part of the "Occupy" movement. I was struck by their courage, their commitment, their dedication to the cause and the desire to be the change in this world. I'm grateful for the strong community they have developed, and grateful for how this movement has included - and benefitted - many homeless men and women. In my fussy church clothes, I felt overdressed and embarrassed to share the sidewalk with them, especially as my heart swelled with pride and gratitude for what they were doing for ME - just one of the 99%.

I just finished reading an Important Book. Written by a husband-and-wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning couple, Half the Sky details the marginalization of women across the globe, and describes what, exactly, we might do about it. Passionate, full of empathy, dedicated to recording the hard truths, this book is difficult to read, because of its content, yet demands the reader's undivided attention, because of the change that might result if we pay attention. I'm so grateful for this book, the people in this book, the groups and the individuals who try so hard to make life better. I'm grateful because this book is quietly working its way into my life. I'm grateful for new contexts, new perspectives, and new possibilities this book has forced me to consider.

I remain forever grateful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mostly Boy

Before I married Jeff, I spent much of my time chasing after cute boys, trying to gain their attention and earn their affection. Somehow, life isn't much different these days - except that my life is richer and fuller than I could have ever hoped it to be, with four adoring males in my life. How did this girl get so lucky?

I suppose this is the lighthearted way of easing in to what continues to trouble me. It's my Achilles heel of parenting, I suppose. Some complain of the Mommy Wars; I don't much care what other moms are doing and not doing. Me, I have an issue with the Gender Wars.

"You need a girl."

"Are you going to try again for a girl?"

"Three boys?! Poor Mommy!"

"You wouldn't understand about the pink hearts on her shirt, because you don't have girls."


I seethe when I hear comments like these. How often do you hear the opposite? How often do you hear these comments made about boys? While I understand that most who say these things aren't trying to be hurtful, the bottom line is the same: what you have isn't good enough.

"You need one with blonde hair."

"Are you going to try for one that's not deaf?"

"Your son is gay? Poor Daddy!"

You wouldn't understand that gender doesn't matter.

Sometimes I hear people say, "Oh, he's all boy." And while this one doesn't make me angry as much as the others, it does make me wonder. What does that mean, exactly, to be all boy? I believe what they mean is a short-hand version of "Oh, that child is so full of energy! He's on the go, and no one better stand in his way, or he might get aggressive. He is definitely assertive about what he wants. He pushes and shoves and only runs, never walks. He is loud and exuberant and fills up all the space in this room. He loves cars and trucks and and sports and blue stuff."

But when someone describes a child as being all boy, it leaves room for little else. It crowds out the space for what else that child is, or what he could grow to be: sensitive, kind, compassionate, empathetic, tender, gentle, loving.

(In the same vein, saying that a child is "all girl" (do people say that?) leaves little space for what else they can be: strong, assertive, independent, powerful. I'm pretty sure no one ever described me as "all girl.")

I was smitten with Jeff long before I got his attention and earned his affection. We were very close friends, however, and I suffered through watching him court other girls. One day in his dorm room, he showed me a list he'd created. It was labeled "How to Be a Boy." It detailed a great number of ways he thought he needed to change in order to be more like a boy, things like "Don't call her back right away. Make her wait." and "Don't write any more poetry for her." The list was a contradiction to the qualities I adored most about Jeff - all the things that made him "mostly" boy. Qualities like his expressive poetry, his kind and gentle actions, his sensitive and caring words and his sweet perspective on life.

Luckily, the list didn't work. The girl moved on from him, and Jeff (eventually) moved on to me. Where I continue to adore and appreciate how "Mostly Boy" he continues to be.

So when people make these comments to me, I bite my tongue. I mentally retort with a snarky comment or a question that makes them equally uncomfortable. But it hurts my feelings. It makes me angry.

Still, these comments make me stand taller and prouder than ever of my Mostly Boys. Who are loud and exuberant, who fill up the space of a room, who like to wrestle and have boundless energy. Who write poetry and weave wall hangings and sew gifts for each other and wear pink shirts. And to ease the hurt, I remind myself of the kindest, most affirming thing anyone has ever said to me when she found out I was having another boy. "Oh Anne, I am so glad. We need more women like you raising boys."

So that's what I'm doing. I'm raising Mostly boys.








Monday, November 7, 2011

Gem Collector

I collect these little gems, to enjoy their sparkle on a grayer day.....
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The kids have not adapted well to the time change. They never do! Despite keeping them up an hour later on the night daylight savings ended, they were still up before the crack of dawn. The next morning, a school morning, it was the same deal. (The irony here was that last week, I fussed at the boys a lot one morning after we had to chase the bus down, since they had dragged their feet so much in getting ready. Their solution? Get up half an hour earlier. Um, no?) The third morning of early waking, Aidan came into my room, abruptly woke me and announced, "Leo turned his light on, and he is playing with his slinky under the covers." He promptly turned around and walked out, leaving me half-awake and completely disoriented, trying to work out the meaning. Was this a clever euphemism, I wondered? Nah, I realized. Leo really does have a slinky that he's been playing with.

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This weekend, Aidan and I enjoyed a rare treat: a just-the-two-of-us date. I took him to lunch and we shopped for supplies he needs for the Christmas gifts he's making for his brothers. As we sat down at the table in the cozy, sun-light, warm room in a corner of Bodo's, he looked straight at me and asked with urgency, "Mom, do birds have eyelashes?" I loved this. I absolutely love how his mind works, how important it was to him to know the answer, how he'd clearly been trying to work it out for himself. I don't think that question has ever crossed my mind, not once. I wonder, then, how it came to him. I love that he catches me off guard, asks me something that really forces me to think. I love, too, that these are questions I can eventually answer (thanks, google), unlike the hard ones for which I still don't know quite what to say: What should I do when she is so mean to me? Why did he say that to me on the bus? Why did my fish have to die?

In case you're still wondering, eyelashes are usually found only on mammals, although the occasional rare bird is known to have them as well. Kind of like my rare bird, who asks such important questions.
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I'll never tire of the literary gems my children offer. Aidan's teacher told me about this awesome website, storybird.com, where people of all ages can create stories in a very user-friendly format, with clever artwork. One quiet afternoon before Halloween, Aidan dictated a creative story to me about a haunted house. I swooned when he delivered the following line: "The skeleton went back to the graveyard and said a poem that summoned his friends up from under the ground." Summoned? Said a poem??? Literary genius, this one is!!
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Leo is having a bit of a tough time right now. After all, he's the dreaded F word- FOUR. Luckily, things aren't quite as painful for me on the parenting end as they were at this same time with Aidan. So in moments of frustration and angst, I remind myself of some of Leo's very best qualities.

I've alluded this in previous posts, but Leo is having a bit of trouble with one particular boy at his school - whom I've called Mean Boy. He has tried "inoring" him (silent g in Leo's pronunciation). He has tried avoiding him. He has tried distracting him with strange diversions, like telling him jokes that couldn't possibly make sense, even to four-year-olds. (Mom, why did the cat cross the street? Because she was eating bananas, ha ha ha! Get it?)

But the most tender and kindest attempt at making Mean Boy have a change of heart about teasing and tormenting Leo is one that Leo devised all on his own. He decided to draw Mean Boy a card. And he did, and it was beautiful. He even included a "symbol salad" across the bottom (a sequence of random letters) in the hopes that he had written something. He was so proud, and so happy to deliver his card to Mean Boy. And while the long-term effect remains to be seen, it certainly appears that Leo's kind gesture was well-received. Again, I am humbled by the open, loving, and forgiving hearts of small children.
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I've saved the biggest gem for last. Although even as I prepare to write it, I know that not even a highly skilled writer (unlike me) could truly do justice to the gestures and facial expressions that would make this story scintillate.

As I've mentioned before, Pax has almost no expressive language. (speech therapy starts Thursday - hooray!!) And so he relies heavily on his expressive gestures and facial expressions to communicate his wants and needs. Dinner prep at our house is a rather torturous time of day. Pax, in particular, whines and fusses and pulls at my pants and begs to be picked up and fed. I try hard to resist his pleas, though, because pre-dinner snacks - no matter how healthy -ruin his appetite.

He's also a picky eater, so I give him small portions of everything that I'm offering, never sure what - if any of it - will make it to his belly. Last night, I served him one quarter of a veggie burger on a bun. He took one big bite out of it before we'd even said grace, then handed the rest of it to me as soon as we finished praying. I figured he didn't like it, so I put it off to the side of my plate. I took one bite of my own burger, with its melty cheese, toasted bun, and the perfect amount of each condiment - but barely had time to chew that bite before Pax was pointing and grunting that he wanted something different. Puzzled, I showed him that he had all the same things on his plate that were on my plate. I offered him more potatoes, more macaroni, more salad. No, no, and no. He abandoned the pointing and started army-crawling across the table to me. He pointed right at the burger in my hand. I shrugged and handed it to him, thinking he'd give it right back once he saw it was the same.

In a made-for-a-McDonald's-commercial gesture, he made "big eyes" as he held the burger out far from his mouth, then brought it in close, then back out again, practically salivating like Pavlov's dogs. He took one big bite. Then another. Then another, until I was begging for him to give it back. He paused, looked me straight in the eye, then pointed to the small bit of leftovers he'd handed to me earlier in the meal with a look as if to say, "See? There's yours." He continued to eat and eat and eat, shooting furtive glances at me whenever he thought I was giving up my fight. Finally, he put down the last bit of the sandwich on his napkin. I reached over to retrieve it but his ketchup-covered fist got to it first. He protectively pushed his hand down on top of the bun and glared at me with a look that said "Don't you dare touch this burger!"

I told Jeff that tonight, we're switching places at the dinner table.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Fearless, Brave, and Ready for Action: SuperAidan and his trusty sidekick, Batman!
Our resident Vampire Pax: because he bites and keeps terrible night hours.
Yahoo!! Trick or Treat time!!

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Another Halloween for the books!! What great fun we had. The costumes came together so well - I don't know why I always doubt that they will, but I do - thanks to Jeff for the design of much of the costuming, and to my mom for sewing the beautiful capes for each boy!

At first, I thought it was a little silly that Aidan chose to be SuperAidan. A little humility, perhaps? But the more I thought about it, and reflected on what school-aged kids deal with on a daily basis, the more I decided it was a wonderful choice, that he was so "full of awesome" about himself. I love his superhero stance - deliberate, strong, convincing - and I loved how much he enjoyed being himself this Halloween.

Admittedly, I was just a teeny bit disappointed when Leo chose to be Batman. Last year's choice was so creative - Superwhy - and I was hoping for something equally cool - and literary-themed. But I should never have doubted his choice; the boy is made for tight tights and short shorts, and his heart-shaped Batman mask was as endearing to me this year as his glasses were last year.

Pax was in his element this year as a trick-or-treater. I've never seen a cuter nor more convincing vampire, and I loved watching him walk confidently up to each house and hold out his bag with a grunt. I loved watching him chase his brothers and swing his cape around. Pax the Vampire: charming, handsome, wicked. Our neighbors, who are so sweet to our boys, had bought them each a special marker-and-felt coloring set, in addition to the candy they gave them. When Greg held out the coloring set to Pax, he took one look at it, shook his head, and pointed to the candy instead.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ephemeral

This picture is from lunch today - the three of us had been sitting around the little table, eating our bowls of cereal and discussing what we'd done that morning (a full preschool report from Leo, including how he handled Mean Boy successfully; my attempt to explain the walk that Pax and I took with a new friend to Leo, who couldn't fathom we'd done anything besides sit and wait for him to return home....)

We were each sitting in our own chairs, but after I got up from the table, Pax started inching closer and closer to Leo. Unsatisfied with his progress, he finally got out of his chair and shimmeyed in next to Leo on his chair, bringing his bowl of soup with him. It was as if he couldn't stand not being close to Leo for one more minute. I grabbed the camera and got the above shot, before I was detected....


Here, they know they've been caught - and so they've turned into little hams, happy as can be to share this tiny chair, knowing that it is silly - and special.

I'm collecting these moments. I'm acutely aware of how fleeting my time with Leo is, since he'll be off to kindergarten next year. I'm keenly aware of how different life will be next year, missing two boys in the house, not just one. I'm immensely grateful for the time these two have together, for the bond that they've forged, for the joy they find in sharing an undersized chair, eating soggy cereal. It seems as Pax sensed it today, the ephemeral time we have together, and so he wanted just a little more Leo for himself.

And I'm struggling, too, with the realization that, while our family is perfect and complete, I'm not ready for this to be over. I'm not ready to give up this full-time, all day, every day career. I'm being outsourced of a job I'm not ready to leave. I knew, even when I penned this post, how fast the days would go, how soon I'd be collecting memories of THIS year, this year before my Leo Leo goes to kindergarten. And so I collect, and I savor, and I relish, and I revel, and I remember.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fondest Heart

I've decided it's good to find out what it feels like to miss your kids. Not often, mind you, but once-in-a-blue-moon, perhaps.

Jeff and I enjoyed our first-ever, kid-free weekend. It was marvelous. We rented a condo at a large lake not too far away from our own home, and another couple joined us for an unforgettable adventure. We left our children in the protective, capable, and loving hands of my parents, where we knew they'd have some unforgettable adventures of their own.

What struck me was the silence of it all. So much silence. Space to breathe and to think, time to let a complete thought carry out in my mind. Not that I did much of that - no worrying, no stressing, no thinking about to-do lists or upcoming school assignments. We lived very much in the moment, and we were very present that way. I can't remember a recent time when I've laughed so much or been so relaxed. It was exactly the time this tired mama needed - time alone; time with my husband; time with our dearest friends.

And yet by Sunday morning, I was excited to go home. Unused to sleeping through the night, I had awakened the night before and started missing my loveys something terrible. When we arrived home, I just kept thinking about how lucky I was. How lucky I am. These kids are MINE! These are awesome kids! They are beautiful. They smell so good. God, they are so freaking cute! And funny! And lovely! And they're MINE! I held each of them, inhaled their sweet, yummy scent...

...and fell in love, all over again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Two: Snapshots

Pax Augustus Carter turned 2 years old just two weeks ago. We had a family celebration that started with gift opening, a favorite breakfast, a lot of time to play with new toys, and then a long nap. Rested again, we set out for Bounce n Play, a huge indoor "playground" of air-filled bounce houses, slides, and play sets. Exhausted, sweaty, and thoroughly filled with glee, we headed to dinner. Given his absolute love of hot dogs, naturally, we headed to the local hot dog joint that serves foot long dogs. Pax ate 9 inches out of 12 - no bun, just ketchup - and one might say he was in dog heaven. (get it? like hog heaven, but with a hot dog??) We topped off the night with delicious cake and ice cream, and Pax clapped and grinned each time we sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

So what does Two look like on Pax? Some Snapshots:


Pax has this wonderful, quiet way about some things. I absolutely love how his tacit determination has played out in several big milestone events. At 21 months, Pax decided he was done breastfeeding, for good. One night, he refused to nurse. Instead, he held my gaze steady, and seemed to say almost beseechingly, "I'm all done now, Mama. Is that okay with you? I'm done." Our eyes were locked on each other for a long minute, with silent understanding and acceptance passing between us. In that moment, I was reminded of the first time we locked eyes in that way - minutes old, holding Pax to nurse for the first time, he gazed deeply into my eyes as if to say "oh there you are, my mama. Here I am! I love you so much." It was a very full-circle moment: one long, steady, soul-deep gaze, bookends to the beginning and the end.

Just a few weeks later, Pax decided he'd had enough of his "baby" high chair. Instead, he would drag over the spare kid-sized booster chair, identical to the one Leo used. He would climb his way onto the seat while the food was being brought to the table, and he refused to sit in the high chair one more time. To his great credit, he made good on his end of the deal, and ate nicely without throwing his food or spreading it all over the table. I was thrilled to be rid of the hulking, bulky plastic chair, and even more thrilled at his place with us at the table.

Always a climber, Pax was not ready for nap one day and decided to climb out of his crib. Then, he did it because it was fun. Then he started doing it all the time, until I foiled his plans by turning the crib around backwards. That worked... for about a month. I knew Pax was careful when he climbed out - I'd watched him on the sly, and saw the graceful, almost poetic way in which he hoisted himself up and over the rails - but it got to be too much when he scaled the sides multiple times at night. I knew the crib days were over when I woke up to find Pax asleep next to me, having no idea when or for how long he'd been snuggled up in my bed. Out came the toddler bed, away went the crib.

Predictably, Pax lands himself in a bit of trouble, too. Hair pulling, biting, hurling small objects, and screeching are all part of his repertoire of "Two." Predictably, he often finds himself in time-out, as pictured here: the stove provides an oddly ideal location for time-outs (with Mom an arm's length away, of course.)

Finally, there was the pacifier. Oh, what struggles we had with Aidan and Leo when they had to give theirs up! Countless searches were conducted by weary parents when the pacifier went missing. And so it was with a deep feeling of dread one afternoon when I couldn't find the pacifier and needed to put Pax down for a nap. He did... fine. He didn't even seem to notice - his biggest concern at bedtime is making sure the scary cat isn't lurking under the bed. Still without the paci, I tried it again that night... and discovered how cute his little lips look as he's settling down to sleep. Pacifier? What pacifier? those lips seemed to say. I looked for the "easy button" to press on that one.

Oh, and he is a quiet little thing. He has almost no language, which is obviously a concern that we're investigating (although his receptive language is quite excellent). And perhaps because of his lack of words, the words he does say become all the more delicious to hear. My heart swells when he calls for me - Mama? Mama? because it is his best word - the one he's had the longest, the one he says most clearly - and because it means ME.

This boy has some mad skills when it comes to helping with dinner. Here, he expertly rolls the crescent rolls - I credit the many hours he's spent with play-doh for his developing culinary genius.

Pax is a budding musician. His favorite piece of music is - I kid you not - Carmina Burana. He absolutely loves the bombastic lines, loves the loud, crashing drums and the high trills of the piccolo, loves the chants and swells of the tenor and soprano. He listens to his Kindermusik CD and bops his head in time to the music; he thrills at using his new instruments to create all kinds of loud and satisfying sounds. Grandpa taught him "Itsy Bitsy Spider," and his favorite book at night is the Tomie dePaola's collection of favorite songs.

Half of the people we meet say that Pax looks like Aidan; the other half say he looks like Leo. Me, I think he looks exactly like... Pax. His gorgeous blond, silky hair; his chipped front tooth; his wide, open-mouthed grin and his crinkly, cresent-shaped eyes are only reflections of the person he is on the inside: sweet, happy, vivacious, loving, unique.

(He is also a Lollipop Monster, as evidenced here:)

Best of all - the novelty of Pax hasn't worn off yet, for any of us. We marvel at him. How cute he is, how sweet he is, how much we love him. How lucky we are that he is in our family, that he completes us.
Happy Birthday, Pax Augustus!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seeds

In the earliest days of my career as Mother, I had one objective: survival. His and mine. Nursing him back to sleep late at night, I would feel great relief, thinking, I've gotten him thorough another day. In the seven years I've been at this job, I'm willing to bet I've had fewer than 100 nights of uninterrupted sleep - and yet, oddly, their wakings, much like they were in the the newborn days, are often a source of comfort for me. Soothing a boy back to sleep after a bad dream, tucking a boy back in to bed after potty-ing, and rocking a boy back to sleep, I'm comforted to know that I have helped him and been there for him, that I know, still, in the middle of the night, that he is okay.

Wistfully I remember what it was like to worry about whether time-outs should be one minute or two, or in what order I should introduce solids, or how to handle that mom at playgroup whose kids always seemed to be sick. Of course, I worried about bigger things, too. I worried about SIDS, and always felt relief as each kid outgrew the most "dangerous" SIDS ages. I worried about their growth, their eating. I worried when they were sick. But perhaps because they were in my watchful round-the-clock care, there was a lot I didn't worry about, either because it was not possible at the time, or because it was so far in the future as to be unimaginable - getting hit by a car while riding a bike; getting kidnapped; falling in the lake and drowning; not wearing a seatbelt in a fatal car accident.

Parenting is harder now. Now, I fight not to be consumed by these worries. Now, these fears are warranted, imminent. In the constant push-pull state of parenting, I want to push them out of the nest as I simultaneously want to pull them back under my protective wing. I want them to ride bikes in the street and explore the nearby woods - and yet I fear an accident. I want them to be social and friendly - and yet I fear that they will forget to be wary of strangers. I want them to be responsible and careful - and yet they are children, deserving a carefree life. I want them to be compassionate and empathetic - and yet I do not wish on them the heavy burden of worry and sorrow that are often bedmates of compassion and empathy.

I'm trying to find the balance - guiding them with the right amount of caution, without being frightening. The right amount of repetition of lessons before the words become akin to Charlie Brown's mother's dialogue. (wah wah wah wah wah). The right timing of my teachings, not wanting to deliver them too early to be understood, not wanting to be too late to be able to make any difference.

I've heard that the things that you worry about the most in life rarely, if ever, actually happen. It's why bad dreams, even recurring ones, are so reassuring. They can't really happen in real life. So I've toyed with the idea of systematically worrying about every single thing that could possibly happen to my children, and worry about each one enough that I would effectively negate the possibility of something horrific happening.

Does this make me a control freak? Nah. It's humbling, really, because just when I start to feel like I'm getting the hang of this thing called Parenting - diapering while breastfeeding; breastfeeding while cooking dinner; cooking dinner while supervising homework; supervising homework while separating the squabbling siblings - suddenly these same children are peering out of the nest. They are working to gain their independence, to take responsibility, to see the consequences of their decisions, to deal with bullies, to grapple with dead goldfish, and to continue to develop their own unique selves, very much away from the parents who have quite literally held their hands through their earliest years....

...leaving me to grapple with my own struggles and worries, constantly wondering what kind of harvest the seeds I'm planting now will yield, wondering if I've sown enough of them, sown deep enough. Planted them when the soil is eager to receive, when they will be watered and well-fed, continually nourished. Knowing that the farmer must be ever-attentive, ever-dutiful, ever-dedicated to the harvest. Knowing that the farmer must toil for many years, in gorgeous weather and in harsh storms.

Hoping that each act performed by the farmer, each seed planted will find its roots, will thrive, will be bountiful and plenty. Hoping that it is enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Summer Memories (Virtual) Jar

I can't deny it any longer. Summer is OVER. School's been in session for 7 weeks; my white shoes, never-to-be-worn-past-Labor-day, were stowed away 3 weeks ago, and this past Friday marked the official start of the fall season. It was hard to say goodbye to summer.

And so - in order to fill our Summer Memories Jar, I decided to go through the photos I took this summer, to remind me of moments I might have otherwise forgotten. Here, I've included just a few. They are random and out of sequence, just like our *real* memory collection jar.

Summer 2011

I *love* finding stuff like this at the end of the evening, when I am tidying up the house. Who would have thought to place a zebra in a baby crib? Genius, I tell you!

Aidan was invited on stage to play the washboard (tie) when we went to a local winery during one of their live music concerts. He played it cool onstage, but he was in HEAVEN and talks about his stage debut frequently...

Swimming, swimming, and more swimming - this year was perhaps the most fun we've had at the pool. All of the boys are becoming terrific swimmers, and everyone looked forward to a trip to the pool!

Pax, fearless Pax was jumping off the diving board regularly in order to keep up with Big Brothers!
Leo demonstrated *the funniest* faces when he dived off the board! It was mostly a combination of fear, determination, and excitement. And it was priceless.


Aidan's creativity never ceases to delight me. Here, he decided to fill his truck with lavender from our garden, and present it to me. It's still sitting on our kitchen window where I enjoy it each time I'm washing dishes or prepping meals.


My awesome brother, gifting me with his guitar-playing wisdom....

Forts, forts and more forts! The older boys became Masters of Fort Building this summer. This one came complete with a welcome sign and decorations!


We discovered a local sprinkler park, and it was an instant family favorite. The boys had such a blast each time we went!

(We've tried desperately to catch this "tantrum face" on camera. This is as close as we've come. Pax folds his arms in a huff and usually puffs out his lip at us when he is utterly put-out with the injustice heaped upon his almost-two-year-old self.)

Summertime Joy.

Endless amusement at the dinner table!

Celebrating TEN YEARS of happily married life together...
Iced coffee on hot summer days, enjoyed on the "nature chairs" on the porch!


Daredevil Pax, climbing out of his crib.....


Pax learned how to give fist bumps during Camp Laguna....



Leo was in charge of setting the table this night. It made my heart swell when I saw Pax's place setting.... (shortly before Pax refused to sit in his high chair, and insisted on a "big boy" chair like Leo's.)

Cardboard Boat Race at Camp Laguna - need I say more??!!!


Boys who always make me laugh....


Camp Laguna group picture - this was our 9th year of Camp Laguna Craziness!!
The cutest bumblebee to buzz around our garden....


Myrtle Beach....


Lazy afternoons spent reading Roald Dahl's vast collection of beloved stories....


Hiking at local trails....


A summer full of cherished memories! Hooray!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From a younger poet

Since I'm kind of on a poetry kick these days.....

This is the poem that Aidan wrote, with minimal help from me. I suggested the acrostic version (an easy way to introduce poetry composition to the youngest poets) and I offered a few starter words (need; often) but the rest is 100% his own.

Aidan wrote this for a science project on weather; poetry is a perfect pairing for any project!

Windsock

Whoooo!! Windy.
I like breezes
Needed at a windy highway
Direction of the wind

Shows speed
Often used at a busy airport
Colorful
Kind of like a kite!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Homage

Recently I stumbled upon one of my many Lucille Clifton collections of poetry, and the random page to which I opened revealed one of my most favorite poems. Lucille Clifton - author, poet, distinguished Poet Laureate of Maryland, Professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland - my own beloved teacher - continues to inspire me.

In reading Homage to my Hips, she inspired my own...


Homage to The Girls

These breasts are saggy breasts,
baggy breasts,
wrinkly, deflated-balloon breasts.

They don't fill my perky polka-dot cups
anymore.
They don't demand more support,
anymore.
They're known to ask for additional
assistance
come bikini season.

These breasts were big breasts -
my cups runneth over.

These breasts were milky breasts -
engorging, bonding, nourishing, sustaining...
55 months long.

These breasts were immodest breasts -
bared at bars and backyard barbeques,
at the insistence of

the babe

to

Bond
Nourish
Sustain.

And so

I know them to be
beautiful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Semi-Squished Girls

I saw Aidan's teacher this past weekend, and she told me what Aidan's reaction to Tuesday's earthquake was: "It feels like our trailer is being pulled by a semi!!" [a semi-automatic truck, that is, one that's designed to haul such items as trailers, a.k.a. "learning cottages."]

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Leo was looking at the belly cast (made when I was pregnant with him) that we have hanging on the wall of the nursery. He asked me why it was there, and I said, "Isn't it so fun to look at and remember that you were in my belly one time?"

He responded, "It wasn't fun for ME because I got squished!"

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After preschool, I was grilling Leo for details. He seems to have particular troubles with a boy in another class; they have squabbled before on the playground. Apparently, he wears striped shirts a lot. Leo said,

"There's a striped boy who's BAD, so you know what I said to Connor? I said, 'There are GIRLS to save.'"
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Pax is as reluctant as ever to speak, yet his receptive language continues to grow exponentially. Sometimes I feel like a fool, talking to a near-mute at such great lengths, but then he demonstrates his clear understanding of everything I've said. I've had to devise clever ways of saying "I'm leaving" because he clearly understands I'm out the door, I'm heading out, I'll be back soon, I'm going now, I'm on my way... now I say I'm vacating the premises, I'm exiting the abode, I'm traveling elsewhere, choosing different and more creative expressions of the bottom line: Mommy's outta here!

He is patient and persistent in his efforts to communicate to us non-verbally, which makes his silence much more tolerable; there are no tantrums over misunderstanding the desire for coffee, not apple juice; for banana bread, not bananas; for the car keys, not the sunglasses. And I'm encouraged by his creativity. After an earthquake aftershock woke him up, I was telling Jeff what happened. Jeff asked him, "Did the shaky thing wake you up?" His eyes got big as he nodded, then made his body rigid while he shook his hands forcefully, illustrating the "shaky things." Similarly, he's grown fearful of big thunderstorms, and has devised a sign for "Boom Boom Thunder." He strikes his fist to his open palm several times, quickly, showing "Boom Boom!"

We like to joke that our kids are on a need to know basis when it comes to plans that are iffy, or when uncertainty is likely to upset the carefully-constructed balance in our lives. We think the joke's on us, though. We think Pax has decided that WE are the ones on a need-to-know basis, and he'll speak to us only when he decides we need to know whatever it is he has to say.