Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stopping to smell the roses....

In this life of raising up children where there will predictably be many surprises, I am delighted by two that have happened this week.  Maybe these are less a matter of surprise, more a matter of paying attention, stepping back, observing, and stopping to smell the roses.... either way, they were wonderful little unexpected occurrences.

The other day, Aidan and Leo got off the bus full of stories about a neighbor who was "mean" to Leo during the ride home. I heard their complaints, listened to the report of how Aidan came to Leo's defense, then talked them through what I thought was a pretty mild exchange on the bus, and how they might handle the situation differently next time.  Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and an entourage of neighborhood kids and dogs were there to greet me when I opened the door. They wanted to talk to me about what happened on the bus (read: tattle) but my spidey-teacher-senses kicked in right away and I quickly realized there was no room for a grown up in this battle.  I suggested to the spokesperson of the group (who was uninvolved in the bus incident) that I ask Aidan and Leo to join them outside, and meanwhile, that they wait on the porch, as their dogs were scaring the daylights out of our poor cat Alice, who was tensed up to six times her normal size.  Everyone agreed as the boys stepped out to join them.

I'm nobody's fool, however, and have been on both sides of this turf war line.  And so I made myself quite busy on the porch, in full view but quickly forgotten by the kids as they began to hash it all out.  Back and forth they went, and what it amounted to was a whole lot of venting with not much substance.  I could not figure out how this would ever end, and no one seemed to be very upset about anything.  Suddenly, the spokeswoman of the group interjected quite happily, "Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but can I just say that I love your garden?  Your flowers are really beautiful!"  Aidan immediately relaxed his arms to his side, his face brightened and he responded cheerily, "Thank you!  This year is our best garden yet."  All heads turned to look at the flowerbeds, and after a minute, the entourage began to walk away.  Recovering from nearly falling over the railing in my surprise, I came out of the corner and said, "Hold on a minute, was everything worked out here?"  Nods all around.  "Does everyone feel good about getting on the bus tomorrow and seeing each other?"  More nods, and grins.

Never in a bazillion years would it have occurred to me that I should simply direct everyone's attention to the flower beds.  Bless you, spokeswoman, you.  I see a long future for you, as a United Nations peacekeeper, perhaps, or an ambassador, or a diplomat.  Just be sure your office has plenty of sunlight for all those plants you'll need.

Our master bath has a large whirlpool tub that doesn't get a whole lot of use, but that the kids looove to use whenever they're offered the chance.  It usually houses plants I'm trying to coax back to life (my green thumb turns brownish indoors) and therefore, it's usually dirty - with literal dirt.  After a thorough clean of the bathroom in the morning, Pax asked excitedly if he could have his bath in the tub that evening.  I said of course! knowing that Jeff would be doing baths tonight, and he has a soft spot for giving in to Pax's requests, however inconvenient they are.  When I returned home from tutoring after the kids were already tucked into bed, I spotted the toys Pax had chosen to bring with him to the new tub.  Of all the choices he had, including Batman, a racecar driver, a carnival ride operator, and a zookeeper, Pax chose these two:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Wonder Woman.  What a pair!

In my quest to raise sons who are feminists, who value women, who  work for their equality, who honor the contributions women make to this world, Pax's choices for his playtime companions are pretty perfect.       

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


At the playground today, I watched from the distance as a youngish mom with her oneish daughter took a selfie with her iphone. She propped her daughter on her hip, pressed her cheek against her girl's, and stretched out her arm while leaning back to set the shot, the swings framing the backdrop of the shaded park. I imagined her posting it to Facebook, envisioned the "likes" and reactions to the picture and caption. I didn't see the photo, but I saw the story:

I saw that in taking that selfie, she wanted to capture a memory of the day, that fleeting and elusive high of being fully present at the park, with her daughter. Feeling happy because of an unexpected friendship she formed earlier with at-home dad she met, watching their children discover each other and delight in one another, swinging in tandem. I watched as she basked in the sunshine and experienced the joy she brought to her daughter in simply bringing her to the park, being present there. I witnessed the story she wanted to keep, and I loved what she wanted to preserve.

I hope, then, that when she sees that photo she posted, she does not notice that her hair looked perhaps a bit windswept, that her shirt was askew, that maybe, in the photo, the sunlight cast harsh shadows betraying what was true in real time. I do not say this to be unkind; in fact, what I mean to say is --

When she looks again at this playground selfie, I hope she remembers the new friendship she enjoyed, her laughter that bubbled out, an echo of her daughter's giggles in the swing. I hope she sees the glee in her daughter's face, that she notices how bright her own eyes shine with contentment. I hope she silences her inner critic and instead remembers the moment she captured, and understands that in snapping this photo, she's collected another illustration for the story she is writing - just one page out of thousands in the life she shares, the life she is making, with her daughter.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Earlier this week, I posted on Transition. It is only fair, then, to post on Discovery.

Yesterday, Pax and I enjoyed a gloriously wonderful day.  I savored our slow walk home from the bus stop, the time we took to look at a snail; the imaginative conversation I overheard him having with his miniature animals; the picnic lunch from Bodo's we had on the floor of my church office; his insistence that I paint his fingernails and toenails the same coral color I have on mine, then announcing mid-way, "these are starting to look really cute."  At bedtime, I looked deep into his bright blue eyes and said, "Pax, thank you for such a wonderful day.  I loved being with you so much."  He said "You're welpum.  And I did not even miss you today!"  I laughed and said no, we were together all day, how could you miss me? He said again, "I know!  I did not miss you at all today!"

I discovered, again, the deliciousness of what it means to give your youngest child your undivided attention.  To have the time, and therefore the patience, to be a yes mom, the kind of mom who will stop for the snail; who will hear the imaginative play and let it register for what it is; who will recognize the urging in the voice that says "aren't you going to eat your lunch with the me at my picnic on the floor?"; the mom who is reminded that he didn't miss me today because I was his.  Exclusively.

And so I am reminded that transition makes room for discovery.  Including this one:

The discovery, or more precisely, the affirmation of the kind of power that early reading exerts over emerging readers.  The discovery that the seed that we've planted here is deeply rooted, that the very first time, before this snapshot in time was recorded, he brought this book to me and announced we would read it together.  Skeptical, I gathered him on my lap.  I pointed to the title, read the words, opened to the first page.  He took over. Astonished, I listened to him "read" every single page to me, listened to how hard he worked to pronounce the elusive "silly S" sound on every page, pointing to the words on every page.  This articulate boy, who just over a year ago, struggled to communicate even a mere hundred words.

Today, I am so grateful for the transition that led to this discovery.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Transition:  (Merriam Webster's third definition) an abrupt change in energy state or level... usually accompanied by loss...

The first day of school has come and gone; it was both time for this to happen, and too soon.  As I remind my children on occasion, all good things must come to an end - and yet it is hard to let go of what was so good.  Last Friday, we spent the day at the pool with friends, then enjoyed a delicious dinner at my parents' house.  Saturday was a family day playing in the lake and riding on the pull-behind on the boat.  On Sunday, Jeff took the older boys out for an afternoon of golf while Pax and I spent the afternoon in preparation for the week ahead.  We made lasagna for one night's dinner.  Then we made pot pie.  We baked a chocolate chess pie, and then we made homemade granola bars. We cleaned out the freezer, set the table, swept the floor, prepped the lunches, laid out clothes for the morning.  After a delicious dinner filled with happy conversation on Sunday evening, we all lingered at the table, Jeff and I savoring our wine and our children.  But it was not enough; I could no longer stave off the Sunday night blues.  My angst in letting go of summer and moving on to a new school year was evident in the nonstop preparations of the afternoon, the only part of the transition over which I had any control.  

While I sometimes found the days of summer long and exhausting, I also knew them to be rich, fulfilling, rewarding.  Our memory tree is overfilled with moments we must not forget, and I am largely responsible for making those happen.  And so these transition days stand in stark contrast with the summer we so deeply enjoyed.  The transitions are so tough.  Changes in routine are hard for Aidan, and yet routine is what makes him thrive.  The days are simply too long and too exhausting for Leo.   As a young, fairly inexperienced, and child-less teacher, I used to parrot what I heard my mentor teacher telling parents as they expressed surprise at how delightful we found their children to be.  I told them that many children reserve their best selves for school, and save the hard stuff for their parents, at home.  Indeed, we are "lucky" in this way.  I feel empty as the bus pulls away after a difficult morning of re-establishing a school routine with a strict timeline.  I feel frustrated when the bus finally arrives in the afternoon, only to meet two hot, sweaty, angry brothers who have spent the ride home fighting with one another, seemingly forgetting all the laughter they shared this summer over Lego building and stop-motion video production.  I feel exhausted by the patience required in the evening as Leo falls to pieces with sheer exhaustion, screaming at the top of his lungs in frustration, crying and thrashing and lacking all ability to accept the quiet words and hugs I am attempting to offer.  I feel utterly clueless about their days at school, days that just a week ago, I knew every detail of so intimately.  Perhaps that's exactly what I miss the most:  the intimacy of our time together.  I miss them.  I miss the time when it was me who got a good chunk of their best selves.  I miss my kids so much, the very kids who, as I proclaimed to anyone who would listen, were driving me batty just last week.

Gathered around the table for dinner last night, we each shared our good part, bad part, and silly part of the day.  Pax announced, "I have two bad parts of my day.  My first bad part was that Aidan left this morning.  My second bad part was that Leo was not here to play with me."

In these transition days, even as I celebrate their successes at school - loving their teachers; watching their faces light up as they describe new friends; listening to tales of happy reunions on the playground - I feel the same as Pax, for there has been an abrupt change in my energy state, accompanied by feelings of loss... for time with Aidan.  For time with Leo.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

County Fair

This week, Fun Friday found us at the local county fair with my mom and dad, who treated us all to a day filled with mischievous goats, peeping chicks, squabbling pigs, buzzing bees, and sweet treats. Of course, an agricultural fair on the first Friday in August could not have been more fitting, given the family legacy of Uncle Leo and Aunt Rita in Ventura County, California.  Separated by several thousand miles, I nonetheless felt very much as though we were at the Vanoni fair, in spirit if not in body. Some favorite moments:

We all loved this extremely naughty goat who was doggedly determined to eat anything and everything in his reach.  He devoured half of this poster before it was *finally* moved beyond his furthest stretch.  Maybe he was a very literate goat who didn't like being reminded that he and his pen mates are Meat Goats?
We got to stroke his soft neck and feel his warm nose nuzzle against our hands as we fed him grain.  I am always so impressed with the 4-H kids who are at these ag fairs. They are so knowledgeable about the animals, so responsible in their care for them, and so comfortable with the highs and lows of farm creatures - the muck and mud and the hard work they require; the joy of watching kids and calves being born; the sorrow of parting with them as they are sold at the end of the fair.  They aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and they are patient and kind to the clueless city and suburbia folk who don't know a meat goat from a milk goat.  

Pax adored these little chicks and watched them for long minutes...
...before declaring, "Look Mom!  They are having a picnic!  A baby chick picnic!"

 We watched the pigs with their handlers as they were judged in the ring.  Unlike when the goats were in the show ring, the pig handlers each had a large, sturdy piece of plywood with a handle cut into the top.  I couldn't figure out what they were for until two large sows started squealing and were all up in each other's grill, grunting and pushing each other.  The boards came out to separate the pigs, and peace was restored once more.  My mom, observing the pigs and their handlers, turned to me and said, "Not a bad idea for your kids, eh?  Get a pig board and separate them when they start fighting like that!"  Personally, I think that is one of the most brilliant parenting suggestions she's ever passed down to me.

Last year, my mother-in-law made matching John Deere tractor shirts (or dresses) for every one of the 10 Vanoni great-grandchildren.  All I have to say is with as many compliments as they received on their shirts, I'm pretty sure they'd be shoo-ins for Best in Show:
Still thinking of our West Coast family and the Ventura County fair, I was delighted to spot an older couple that resembled the Leo and Rita of the county fair, although no one will ever quite live up to the Vanoni Legacy.  With my mom's clever distraction, I managed to sneak in a few photos of the Leo Vanoni doppelganger, (albeit a younger variation of the 98 year old legend). 

 And yet another Fun Friday memory was savored, then sealed away in our summer vault.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Take a Hike!

Last week we enjoyed "Fun Friday" on a Wednesday, which was a double bonus, since Friday turned out to be such an amazing and memorable day.  On Wednesday, we headed to our favorite little hiking spot near Monticello, and explored the many sights and sounds of the trail on a gorgeous mid-summer morning.

 Although it was both hotter and more humid than we'd expected, the morning left each of us feeling refreshed and refueled.  I love that about a hike.  I love how much we all love to hike, to explore, to listen and watch and seek.  I loved listening to the older boys encourage Pax to keep going, to push forward, telling him what a good hiker he is, offering to carry his walking stick for a bit.  This hiking, it's our thing.  It's our family thing, but it's also the thing my kids do with Mom.  Mother Nature. 

Walking behind my sons, I found myself envisioning Fun Fridays in 5 or 8 years, wondering what trails we'll hike, what mountains we'd climb... what they would look like then, teenagers towering over me; how they would sound then, encouraging each other or perhaps egging each other on to climb faster, higher; maybe goading their mom into a race to the top; how it would feel not to hold back... how it will feel to legitimately lose the race.
Brought back to the present moment by the weary three year old wanting to be picked up, I savored this fleeting time of being able to carry a too-tired boy who snuggles against me and tells me he loves me, his voice a flood of relief and gratitude in being held and carried -how good he feels in my arms, how his capable, independent, determined self still seems so tiny as I cradle his small frame easily against my shoulder.

I savored their excitement in discovering dozens of fish just below the surface, of watching a small family of ducks glide effortlessly across the pond, of examining downy feathers in the grass. I savored the reflection of the sky in the pond's surface, a double exposure of the day's brilliant beauty, and the human beauty of my sons.
After our hike, we explored the ins and outs the huge tulip poplar stumps, hollowed out and sturdily positioned near the base of the trail.

 The stranger-mom who took this picture - we shared a moment.  I don't even know how to describe it, except without exchanging many words on either topic, I seemed to know how much she needed and was looking forward to her run with her daughter in the jogging stroller; and she seemed to sense that I was wanting a picture with my kids, a memento of one of our best Fun Fridays of summer.  We recognized ourselves in each other, perhaps.