Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Repeat Offender

My parents live just a few streets over; in July, when Jeff was unavailable, my parents were the ones who cared for Aidan, Leo, and Pax during my mornings at reading clinic.  The boys looked forward to "Camp Grandma and Grandpa" as one of the best parts of summer.  And it's no wonder, when mornings were full of adventure, beginning as my dad arrived to pick them up....

....in his new golf cart.  There's nothing cuter than seeing a proud grandpa zipping through the streets with three grinning grandsons (safely strapped in, of course).

There's nothing cuter than that - unless, of course, you happen to be a police officer.

At dinner one night, Pax told his first-ever story, complete with hand motions, sound effects, "big eyes," stealthy glances, and a mischievous grin.

Pax's Account:
No cops.

Perfectly told and practically poetic, this boy rendered his first tale, and quite a fine one, at that.  We were a captive audience, delighted to hear it told, again and again, as Pax perfected his timing, delivery, and animated expression.

The full story:
The crowded golf cart set off in the direction of my parents' home when they spotted a police cruiser.  Quick as lightening, my dad turned around and fled back to the cover of our driveway.  The officer did a slow drive-by of our house, staring intently at the four people sitting in a golf cart but refusing to make eye contact.  Eventually, the officer drove away, and finally my dad could drive the golf cart and its giggling passengers back to his house.

I asked Pax, "And who were you with when this happened?" Shooting a furtive glance in each direction, he replied, "Grandpa!" and with a tone that implied, who else would you expect?  Grandpa, of course!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

California Dreamin' 2012

In 2007, when our second son was born, we chose the name Leo, a tribute to the first Leo I'd ever known and loved:  Jeff's grandfather, the famous Leo Vanoni.  Famous because of his 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren (and counting).  Famous because he makes friends with every person he meets.  Famous because of his enormous and loving heart, encased in his slight stature and unassuming demeanor.  Famous because, after nearly 60 years of dedicated leadership, "Uncle Leo" has become synonymous with "Ventura County Fair."  Famous for the love and warmth and pride and joy he finds in the ordinary and extraordinary. 

In 2008, Jeff and I made a commitment.  We decided that there were few gifts we could offer our children that were greater than the gift of family, of legacy, of love.  We decided that we would fly across the country, every other year, so that our children would know their only living great-grandparents, the lovely Leo and Rita.  We want our children to know their roots and to be engulfed in the love of extended family.  For if there is one thing you can say about the Vanonis, it is this:  their home knows no strangers.  Every visitor is welcomed with a warm hug, a cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, and a generous portion of guacamole straight from the avocado trees in the "backyard."     

This year marked our third cross-country trek.  It was, perhaps, our best trip ever.  Some snapshots:

The ocean always seems delicious to me.  But when it's 3,000 miles away from home, it seems extra-special.  Our first afternoon:

 I've had a thing for artichokes since I was a kid.  Imagine my thrill to discover these on the farm!  I asked if I could take one home, and my cousin-in-law snickered at my request.  "Anne!"  she said.  "They are in the brush pile!  Of course you can take it!"  then I heard her mutter, "I guess one man's trash really is another man's treasure..."

 Always, I am humbled by the food.  The primary crops on the Vanoni ranch are lemons, limes, and avocados - although they grow strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kumquats, loquats, oranges, grapefruit, and artichokes - for fun.  Every time we tour the farm, I feel abundantly grateful for how easy it is for us to put food on our table, and how hard others must work to make it so.  Though nothing parallels a ripe California strawberry still warm from the summer sun, sometimes, watching the laborers in the field, the taste is bittersweet.
 This photo is the gem.  Our camera lens broke, and we hiked all over Ventura and surrounding counties, trying to purchase a new one, to no avail.  Using the lens in manual mode proved a steep learning curve for the Carters, but thankfully, there were several Vanoni photography experts who were willing to lend a (steady) hand.  Photo credit:  Matt Vanoni.  Fashion credit:  Marie Barratt, who made the boys' farm shirts.
 I love this photo because of the stories I elicited right before it was taken - stories of falling in love, with Rita Vanoni, some 65+ years earlier.  I love this photo because of the grins and the laughter.

My mother got me hooked on pictures of hands.  I love this one, especially - the weathered, worn, gentle hand of the farmer with the tiny, tender hand of the picker.

We'll never take for Granted....

...the friendships that we have.  The second half  of our California visit is always spent with our long-time friends, the Grants.  Emily and I became very close during the fall semester of my senior year of college as we shed many tears bonded over our student teaching experiences and collaborated on drinking at the Door coursework requirements.  We stood as bridesmaids in each other's weddings, compared notes during months and months of pregnancies together, and have remained faithful friends, through weekly phone calls and yearly visits.  Though the photo is blurry, I love it all the same, because it takes my breath away:  Emily, look at what we've done in 11 years, I think.  Look at these gorgeous, happy, healthy, playful, funny, kindred-soul boys we grew.  Look at how they love each other, look at the friendship they share, just like their mamas and daddies.... 

The Grants treated us to four nights in Palm Springs.  It was an unbelievable luxury, providing us the respite and relaxation we so desperately craved.  More importantly, our friendship grew and our ties to each other strengthened in the most unlikely and unexpected ways.....

 ...inventing games down the water slide, for example, and conducting "wipe out" type races across the pool....
 ...playing rounds and rounds of the most inappropriate, hilarious, pee-in-your-pants kind of laughter-inducing game of all time:  Cards Against Humanity....

...and in what I have come to think of as our Palm Springs theme song, the reminder that life is short and fleeting.  No, it's not the perfect song for this occasion.  But each time I heard it (played on the outdoor speakers connected to the endless ipod playlist) I heard its wisdom:  embrace the moment.  Fill our lives with our own rhythms of love:  Our family.  Our friends.  And know that it is good -
good beyond measure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

(nearly)Back in the Saddle

Dear Blog,

Oh, how I have neglected you, you poor, silenced, thing!  I owe you many posts.  But, though I have many planned, tonight's must necessarily be brief.  In the days to come, I promise the following:

1.  A recap of our California Adventure in which I will ATTEMPT to capture, in words and a few photos, the unforgettable journey we had, the memories we made, the stories, laughter, respite and rejuvenation we enjoyed; the countdown until our next visit.... 
2.  Drowning in Liquids:  from cat pee to tonic water. 
3. An Epic Tale in a New Direction.
4.  Close Encounters with The Constable On Patrol:  Story and Poem by Pax Augustus, age 2. 
5.  What I Have Mastered.

Until them, I leave you with two gems:

On the day of the final swim meet of the season, Leo was protesting and complaining that he did not want to go to the swim meet.  "But Leo," I implored, "Why not?  You LOVE swim team!  You have so much fun!  And tonight, you get to do backstroke again - I know how hard you've been working!"  "I know," he replied.  "It's just that I don't like all the RACING at swim meets."

Aidan attended camp at Monticello last week, and he positively LOVED it.  He learned so many interesting facts about the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, and I was impressed by how much fun he had, how varied the activities were, how engaged he was in the experiences, and how much he gained in the short week he was there.  Toward the end of camp, the kids toured the home as a group, and because Aidan has toured it several times before, I wondered how interested he'd be to see it yet again.  "How was the house tour, Aidan?" I asked him.  "Mom!  It was so great!  And GUESS WHAT?  I learned a SECRET about Thomas Jefferson's house, something that NO OTHER GUESTS KNOW ABOUT when they come!"  "What is it?"  I asked excitedly, thinking that they had been shown a cordoned off section, or perhaps the dome room, or even something super-cool like a hidden room.  "I KNOW WHERE THEY KEEP THE VACUUM!!!"  he exclaimed with a puffed chest and a broad grin. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Katie Goldfish and other Tales

Last November, Pax started receiving speech services, one hour a week, for his expressive speech delay.  Immediately, I knew that his speech therapist, Katie, was a perfect match for Pax's personality and needs.  It took several sessions for Pax to warm up to Katie, but hers was the first name (after Mama and Daddy) that he spoke.

Progress was slow and arduous for many, many months.  Katie's patience and steadfast determination allowed her to weather the storms of Pax's fits of rage.  Sometimes, he threw blocks at her.  He hit her.  He tried to bite her.  Mostly, as she coaxed him into using the words she knew he had, he scowled at her, shot her dirty looks, refused to say goodbye to her.

Gradually, though, her patience and her kindness and her understanding won him over.  In February, when we had to buy a new goldfish for Pax to replace the one that had died, Pax rejected every name suggestion we offered, until the last one--

"Pax," I said excitedly.  "What about if you named your fish Katie?"

He beamed, nodded his head vigorously, and beamed some more.  Katie Goldfish - a play on her last name, as well.  On her next visit, he was eager to introduce her to her namesake, and she was honored by the name choice.  "I think that's the first pet that has ever been named after me," she said.

With regret, Katie let us know some months ago that her husband had gotten a new job, and that they were moving.  Perhaps sensing that their time together was coming to a close, Pax seemed to redouble his efforts these past few weeks, and gave it all he has.  Pax has quite a ways to go, still, but it was a celebratory farewell we said to Katie on her last day, one that was filled to overflowing with words, with happy play, with sweet hugs and fits of giggles.  It was a beautiful way for Pax to say goodbye to his beloved Katie, who is also one of his best and fiercest advocates.  

It feels exciting to list those words he's used in abundance these past two weeks:  

 apple juice  (thank you, flight attendant, for frequently offering us drinks!) 
two minutes!  (this one has been perfected.  As in two more minutes of whatever I am doing, please!)
baby pool (delivered with great urgency, as in, I want to go there NOW!)
dead (and not dead.  Indicated with a vigorous shake of the head, followed by "dead."  Applies to many bugs we find, inside and out).
thank you
hot tub (thank you, Palm Springs, California!)
Hyatt (thank you, airport hotel shuttle!)
night night
bye bye
happy (as in "happy boy."  He says this one a lot.)
one, two (and more, with modeling, first).
love (I can prompt him  to say I... love.... Mama!!)

Sometimes, his delivery is perfect beyond his age and his ability.  On vacation, Pax necessarily shared a bed with us at two hotels and one rental home.  Thankfully, they were all king sized - a luxury we don't even have at our own home.  So after 8 nights of not sleeping in our own beds, we were all grateful to be home again.... though Pax still found his way into my bed at some point in the night.  In the morning, I asked Pax,

"Did you like sleeping in your very own bed last night?"
He replied, "No!"
I said again, "You didn't like sleeping in your very own bed?"
"No," he said.  Paused.  "Mama's," with emphasis on the possessive.

Still, there are moments when his silent expression is most eloquent of all.  And it is these moments I will miss the most, despite how loquacious or eloquent he may become.  One night, Pax kept searching through one book after another, clearly looking for one in particular.  I tried to help him, naming favorite characters or often-read titles.  Finally, I asked him, "Pax, can you show me what the book is like?"

And this is what he did:

Obviously, as plain as day, I knew what he wanted -