Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reveling and Reckoning

I spend my days alternately reveling in the life as it must appear through a child's eyes, and reckoning with the struggles in how to guide them through it.  I revel in their independence; I reckon with the battle of wills to gain it.  I revel in their use of language: Aidan's imaginative stories and poetry; Leo's literary discussions about books he's read and loved; Pax's ever-expanding vocabulary and understandability.  Recently, he turned on the ipad and somehow queued up Siri.  She said, "Hello." He responded, slowly and clearly, "My name is Pax."  I reckon with how to shape their expression as their words turn nasty and ugly as they speak unkindly to each other and to me.  I revel in how much they need me, depend on me, how I am very much their compass rose - ever pointing them to their true north.  I reckon with the knowledge that these days are ever-fleeting.

Revel.  Reckon.

I don't pick up the camera nearly as much as I used to, in part because I am too impatient to remember important things like lighting and F-stop and aperature, and yet too frustrated with the mediocre results I often get.  Looking back on a month's worth of photos, however, I'm grateful, so grateful, for these moments of reveling I managed to capture.  I reckon I'll try harder to remember ISO settings in the future.

Some highlights and some revelings:

Oh, the simple pleasures!

Leaping Across a Blanket:  tongue out; pajamas on; shoes on the wrong feet.

He leaps....
...and clears it!!  Success!  Pride and joy clearly evident on his face.

 Aidan participated in his first karate tournament this month.  I was nervous for him, but wanted him to have a good experience and above all else, to have fun.  Despite doing well in the kata portion of the event, Aidan didn't earn a metal because there were so many good competitors.  I was worried how he would handle not earning a metal (I was secretly thrilled at the learning experience of it), but then he turned to me just after the awards were presented and he said to me, "This is even more fun than I thought it would be!"
 Later, he participated in the kumite (sparring) portion of the tourney.  This is the (only) part of karate that I really really dislike - the actual fighting part.  I usually avoid watching the sparring at home, but this time, I was glued to the match because that was my boy out there and I didn't know any of the kids he was fighting -- I was about to get all Mama Bear on the boy he was sparring with, but luckily remembered that they were supposed to be hitting each other.  He fought well and earned bronze place; meanwhile, I started breathing again.

Aidan, landing a solid punch

Bronze metal in kumite

Most awesome moment for me:  my tough little fighter coming straight to me for a huge hug.

Pax can be so naughty.  Have you heard that about three year olds?  He was supposed to be having a rest one afternoon, but refused to go to sleep.  He crept downstairs while I was working in the kitchen, my back to him.  He laid out this entire spread:  blanket; play food; cooking tools - and surreptitiously played and chatted with himself until I finally turned around.  With big, hopeful eyes, he looked at me and asked, "Mom, you want to have a picnic with me?"
 We noshed on artichokes and lemonade sprinkled with paprika for the rest of the afternoon.

Another day, I was trying to coax Pax into getting ready to run some errands.  He was resistant.  I left him in his room, only half dressed, but I was so frustrated I needed to go cool off downstairs. About 10 minutes later, he walked into the kitchen and said quietly, "I am ready to go now.  I put on my fire pants and my running shoes and I am ready to go."
The "fire pants" - given to us by Adam and Linsey when Leo was born - they are basically legwarmers that I used to style with rolled up jeans and a funky shirt, back in the days when I had more say over their outfits.  Pax adores these socks.
This is his look of contrition.  It slays me every time. How can I stay mad at that face?

....a better look at that face, plus the fire pants

Later that night:  Showing off his NEW underpants.....
 (Don't let the underpants fool you.  There's no potty training happening in this house, only conversation and "think abouts" as it relates to potty training.)

Jeff's folks came to visit and we headed to Maymont for the day.  It was a gorgeous day, and a fun adventure for us all: 

My Billy Goats Gruff!

Feeding the Billy Goats Gruff

Feeding the OTHER Billy Goats Gruff

Pax calls this his "cocoon" and invites Leo to join him - "Leo, you come get in my cocoon with me?"

 So much reveling.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing

Do I tell them, or not?

Do I tell them of yet another unspeakable act of horror, another killing of innocents, another terrifying day in our country's fast-growing history of violence?

Do I omit the part about the 8-year-old boy who was killed?
The dozens of people who lost their limbs in the sudden explosions at the finish line?

Will this make them think of times they've stood at the finish line for me?  Will it make them fearful to do so again?  Will they worry about their Boston relatives (who are very much safe and okay )?

If I don't tell them, who will?  An older kid on the bus?  A classmate or friend?  A teacher who might choose a different explanation from what I might hope they hear?

If I don't tell them, am I sheltering them too much from the realities of this frightful, angry, violent world?

In not telling them, am I failing to equip them in grappling with Bad and Scary?  In not telling, do I deny them the opportunity to struggle and wail and cry when they are still young enough to then be held and rocked, comforted and made to feel safe again, simply in the power of a loving embrace?

If I don't tell them and someone else does, will that make them more afraid?  Or will it make them think it's unimportant, since Mom or Dad wasn't the one to share the news?

Am I desensitizing them in telling them?  Am I desensitizing them in NOT telling them?

Will I overburden their tiny shoulders with the weight of so much grief, having already watched them struggle through the knowledge of Newtown in mid-December, and then the death of a 10 year old in our community, the sister of a former classmate?

We know that violence is cumulative; does the same hold true for grief?

I will tell them.  I will tell them gently and carefully.  I will tell them, and then I will repeat the same wise words that parents everywhere are sharing, the wisdom of the late Fred Rogers.  I will tell them to look for the helpers, and I might even describe some of the examples of the helpers we've learned about in the hours since the bombs detonated.

I will tell them to look for the helpers, because I want them to see the good in the world, the beauty among that which is brutal.  I want them to know that even amidst death and devastation, there is love and kindness and compassion and care.   The good guys will always outnumber the bad guys.

I will tell them, because I want them to know about the helpers.

Because some day, I want them to BE the helpers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Quantity and Quality

Of the many gifts we offer our children, the gift of time (quality and quantity) is perhaps most important to me. In fact, this is the very definition of my role as a stay-at-home mom:  I provide my children with massive quantities of my time with them, as well as the quality of time I create.  This past week, during Spring Break, I felt like Jeff and I were able to give both quality and quantity in heaping abundance.  We filled our week with wonderful memories.

On Monday, we headed to the D.C. area for our annual Spring Break adventure trip (a standard Christmas experience gift).  We started at Nottaway Park with a picnic lunch.  My past and present worlds collided as I watched my own children run and laugh and shriek in the same fields I roamed as a child.  I have one particular memory of this park from my own childhood, a day where my parents unexpectedly and randomly let my brother and me both play hooky.  We spent the entire warm, spring day in that park so many years ago, and the close bond of our family that day paralleled the feeling of my own family on this present day.  

Picnic at Nottoway Park - my old stomping grounds...
Love this pic!
 After lunch and playing, we raced each other to the car (I won) and made our way to D.C. We toured the completely-packed Natural History Museum, specifically to see the dinosaurs.  Luckily for me, the exhibit has changed very little in the past 30 years.  While Aidan, Leo, and Pax counted plates on the stegosaurus, I counted children, over and over again.  One, two, where's Pax?  One, two, where's Leo?  

(Can you see the dinosaur hiding behind
 Jeff and I played it cool but were secretly thrilled when the kids were ready to leave the overheated, noisy, packed museum less than an hour after we arrived.  (Yet another perk to the free museums of D.C.)

"I see Nemo!  I see Nemo!" shouted Pax

I was, however, genuinely disappointed not to see a single cherry blossom in bloom on the gorgeous trees around the Tidal Basin.  The harsh, long winter took its toll on the trees, and it would be another week until they were even thinking of blooming.  We headed out of the city and made our way to the hotel.

A little bit chilly, a lot fun.

 Next stop was dinner at Generous George's, an old favorite of ours:

Chef Leo creates his pizza, while Pax looks on with suggestions
George, you are soooo generous!

Day 2 (Tuesday) of our adventure:  Great Falls Park.  I never grow tired of this park, of watching the falls and the swift, slightly menacing river.  The sprawling, fairly level park offers tons of space for each boy to roam and explore, and we always manage to make new discoveries when we're there.  This year, we explored the canals a little more thoroughly, and tried to re-create for ourselves what it must have been like in the 1800s to use the canal as a means of conducting trade and commerce.

This was one of those "run into the frame" photos.  A miracle we're all here!

On our way home, we searched for a place for lunch.  Nothing sounded good - until I remembered one of my favorite, rare lunches as a child:  Decadent Lunch.  (Thank you, Mom, for yet another brilliant tradition for me to introduce to my family!)  We stopped by SweetFrogs and ate until we were stuffed to the tadpole-gills. (Get it?  SweetFrog? Tadpole?? GILLS?) 

On Wednesday, the kids enjoyed a day at home with Jeff, who generously took the day off so that I could take a group of kids from youth group on a hike at Shenandoah.  (Did you know I recently accepted the position as Youth Ministry Leader at our church?  It is such an incredibly good fit for me and for our family, and I am grateful every day for this new opportunity in my life.)  Our hike was so much fun, and it felt great to spend my day with older kids on adventure.

Grandma treated us all to a viewing of "The Croods" on Thursday, and it was such a treat, indeed!  The movie was very cute, but what I enjoyed even more was watching them watch the movie.  We went shoe shopping afterwards (total success!) and then went home to enjoy what little sunshine the week offered to us.

The sun didn't last long on Thursday; it turned to a mix of sleet and icy slush that evening. On Friday morning, we woke up to absolutely no power, which made me more than a little grumpy.  I'd love to say that I wanted to make the morning extra-special for the kids, and so I took them to IHOP for breakfast, but the bare truth is that I was beyond desperate for a cup of coffee that the pancakes and french toast they ate were but a mere side effect to satisfying my primal need for coffee.

During breakfast, I got a text from a friend inviting us to join them at the local indoor pool, and of course my first thought was to say no, because I hadn't planned on it.  But my second thought was, "but you are supposed to be working on being more spontaneous!" and the coffee had started to take effect.  I decided the pool was a great idea, and at the very least, a surefire way for me to get a hot shower in.

The pool was great.  It was so fun to catch up with our friends.  The hot shower was enjoyed in my very own bathroom, since I'd called ahead to see if the power was back on.  Halleluiah!  I might just be spontaneous more often. 

The rest of the weekend was filled with sunshine, good food, and good times with neighbors.  And best of all?  On Sunday night, I knew it had been a truly wonderful week because of the sense of longing, a bit of future-missing, that I might feel come Monday morning when the school bus drove off....

And what a relief to feel that, given our recent history... where I was forced to give heaping quantities, yet abandoned the quality.

Indeed, I am so grateful for this week, and these memories.  


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

March Madness

Madness!  Last month was pure madness, as least as far as the weather was concerned.  March blew in like a snow-covered lion...and out like a snow-covered lion, too.

Nonetheless, we managed to have a whole slew of photo-worthy memory makers this month.  A roundup, mostly in photos:

Snowquestration, March 2013:  (following the March 1 sequestration in congress):

I love the "action" of this photo!  So busy!

A fearless, determined sledder is he

Catching snowflakes

About to "deliver" a snowball...

Nothing beats a picnic lunch, fireside, in your skivvies... and hat.

In between snow storms, we had a short burst of not-freezing weather in which I ran the Charlottesville 10 Miler.  It was a bit of a damp, drizzly run at first, but it cleared up nicely.  I ran my best-yet time of 1:25:09, which is ~8:30min/mile.  It was a good run.


In March, we celebrate so many birthdays of so many good folks, especially my brother, dad, and Jeff.  We enjoyed a family outing to an awesome new-ish vineyard and pretended that the weather outside was as gorgeous as it was inside the unique greenhouse/seating area:

Love these happy faces! 

XOXOXO - outside the vineyard

Christmas came again in March in the form of "Kid's Choice Adventure Day."  The kids got to choose between many options - bowling, ice skating, a movie, swimming, or something new - like roller skating.  They chose roller skating.  It was such a blast!  Regrettably, I have no photos of this adventure.  But it was wonderful.  We drove to a rink about an hour and a half away, paid a mere $3 entry fee, and skated to 90's music for two solid hours.  It brought back so many fun memories from high school for me, and I couldn't help but feel a little bit of badass in me as I swizzled around the rink.  Aidan loved skating so much that he spent a whopping $40 of his own money to buy his very own set of skates (from Amazon) which he's used pretty much every day since they've arrived.  

A few random shots -
One snowy afternoon, Leo spent literally HOURS making one paper airplane after another.  He tested each one, then carefully laid it on the ground in a neat row.  His focus and determination was remarkable, especially given how much he struggles at times to stay focused on a task at hand.  I mostly took this photo as a reminder to myself that when the desire is strong enough, Leo has the single-minded determination to make anything happen.  Kind of like someone else I know.
So proud of his planes.
 This boy makes me laugh every time I turn around.  In this shot, he'd just disappeared to the basement for something.  I figured he was getting drawing paper.  I turned around and saw THIS - as he asked, "You want to play dodgeball with me?"
This is a look of glee mixed with giggles.
 Aidan started taking piano lessons at the beginning of the school year, and it has been amazing to see his progress!  He loves to diddle around on the keyboard in his room, but he also has made some seriously good progress in learning how to read music and play simple tunes.  I am so, so pleased that Aidan is an eager and willing piano student - our home had been missing something, and it wasn't until I heard Aidan first start practicing his music, over and over, that I realized how much our home needed the sound of young musicians.  I adore his music teacher, who is gifted in her musicality and also in her teaching ability.  She is such a good fit for Aidan in terms of her teaching style, her expectations, and her kind and loving nature, and he looks forward to the lessons almost as much as I do - they have afforded him such independence! It's one of my favorite moments of our weekly routine:  watching him hop on his bike and ride up the street to his lesson; peering out the window, 35 minutes later, waiting for his return.

He completed the Primer book of the series, and his teacher arranged a private recital, just for Aidan.  Here he is, playing one of his pieces: 
As my own piano teacher would say, "Aidan, that was almost perfect." 

Aidan with Ms. Christina, presenting his completion certificate

And finally, there was Easter. This year, it fell on the last day in March:  a cold, wet, chilly, cloudy day.  It didn't feel much like Easter to me, and I was endlessly grateful I'd chosen long-sleeved ensembles for the boys, and a cardigan that worked well with my dress.  I hosted Easter this year for the first time, and after the chaotic brunch and egg hunt before church followed by a beautiful worship service, I finally relaxed.  We had a lovely afternoon:

The menu:  maple glazed salmon; grilled pineapple salsa; Moroccan rice salad; 3-way deviled eggs; roasted asparagus and broccoli; small braided rolls; Toasted Head Chardonnay and a fruit tart for dessert.


I absolutely love the blazer that Leo is wearing... very retro. He pulls it off so well... when he agrees to wear it.

There are a lot of smiling faces here, a lot of happy memories.  They paint a very rosy picture of our life as a family.  Is our life rosy?  Eh.  Not so much.  It's messy.  It's loud.  It's hard.  It's frustrating and at times, it's lonely and sad.  But in these moments that are captured in photos - these real, true, happy, important moments - I am reminded of how much in our life is so good, so funny, so celebratory and so beautiful.  One of my favorite writers talks about how life is both "brutiful" and "beautiful."  The brutiful parts are hard, full of pain and struggle: brutal.  And yet there is so much that is beautiful in this life, too.

March was kind of brutiful.  March was very beautiful.