Thursday, October 31, 2013

Albert E. Lukey, and the Minion

Halloween 2013:  Possibly the best one yet?

Despite preparations that lasted well past bedtime (mine and Jeff's, that is) last night, this year was possibly our best one yet.  Costumes, once assembled, were low-maintenance and easy to wear.  As usual, each boy's choice reflected his personality and interests to a T.  Aidan actually wore two costumes this year:  during the day, he dressed as Tom Sawyer for a book report project, and at night, he was Albert Einstein.  Leo made an especially good Luke Skywalker, given his Luke-like hair.  And Pax has been practicing to be a minion ever since we saw Despicable Me 2 way back in July, causing mischief and resulting laughter every chance he gets.  The afternoon was calm and relaxing (the best part of picking the kids up from school); dinner was easy peazy (thank you, Papa J.); and the trick-or-treating was... a treat.

An added bonus to this year's tradition of pizza before setting out for the night was that Great Aunt Babe is visiting, and she joined in on our fun.  Sitting down to dinner:
 I like to call this "controlled chaos:"
 The smartest of the bunch.  (Maybe Aidan should have dressed up as Paul instead of Albert?)
 Away we go!

 It's all relative...
 May the Force be with you!

 Bee-doh, bee-doh, bee-doh!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Round Up

My mind composes dozens of posts that never quite make it to this space, and the neglect of this space makes me feel off balance.  Dozens and dozens of tiny moments I hope never to forget; phrases I wish to record; snippets of conversations I know I'll laugh about again and again -- I am forever composing. 

Alas, here is one small attempt in recording such moments, taken from a small handful of hastily jotted down notes I write to myself on the backs of receipts and to-do lists, the margins of my calendar, tiny post it notes I keep in my purse....

Two weeks ago, after we'd eaten a quick picnic lunch on the floor of my office after preschool, I was rushing Pax to get out to the car. We had so many errands to run, none of which I was particularly looking forward to; I felt impatient with Pax for being slow, guilty for feeling so, and determined to hide my obvious annoyance.  Balancing an armload of bags, books, and water bottles, and in a tone of voice that surprised me in its calm and patience, I asked him to hold my hand in the parking lot.  He easily agreed, and I breathed a small sigh of relief that it was one battle I'd managed to dodge that afternoon.  Seven steps into the walk to the car, I felt Pax suddenly slow to a stop.  I stopped too, bit my tongue from urging him onward, and paused just long enough without saying anything for him to change the grip of our hands:  he tucked his index finger between my ring and pinky fingers, squeezed my hand gently, then started walking again.  Surprised by this tender, perfect moment, I stopped us a second time, shifted all the weight of what I was carrying, and bent down to kiss his tiny hand, overcome by the moment.  "Mommy, I WOVE [love] you," he exclaimed.   

I slowed our pace; I savored the feel of his tiny hand in mine; I suddenly realized that Jeff had taken the time to teach each boy the special way in which we hold hands.  Pax knew I wanted to get to the car; he felt my hurry and my impatience.  But it was too important not to hold hands in the way where our fingers fit just right.
Another day, during more errands (albeit far more enjoyable ones), Pax fell asleep during the ride to town.  Our first stop was to the strip mall for one quick trip into the book store. I parked the car, unloaded the sleeping boy onto my shoulder, shopped for my purchase, paid, left the store, and was oh-so-carefully easing the still-slumbering Pax back into his seat when he woke up, looked around, and asked, "What are we doing, Mommy?"  I answered, "We're going to head up to the fabric store."  "Then why did you accidentally park here?" 
Later in our errands as we unloaded from the car, I said playfully, "Come on, Stink bug!"  He looked at me quizzically and said, "But I thought I was your baby!  I cannot be your stink bug AND your baby."  I replied, "Okay, then.  You're my baby.  You will always be my baby..."  and for the first time, he didn't correct me to tell me he was not a baby, he was a big boy.  (I suppose he was simply relieved not to be called a stink bug anymore).
Pax has incidentally learned lots of letters and numbers.  That is to say, he lives in a print-rich environment, but we've taken no steps to formally teach him anything.  So we're all pretty amazed and impressed with how much he knows, considering a) there's no teaching from us; b) he's newly 4; and c) he's a third child, notoriously neglected.  At bedtime recently, the two of us shared this really beautiful little exchange, and I felt deeply connected, all over again, to Big Nutbrown Hare.  Our conversation:
Pax:  I really love you.
Me:  I really love you... more.
Pax:  I love you super duper.
Me:  I love you super duper and oodles and poodles.
Pax:  I love you A HUNDRED.
Me:  I love you a million.
Pax:  A million?
Me:  A million times a million.
Pax:  wow.
Aidan competed last weekend in a karate tournament, and did very well.  I am so proud of him for doing something that I know made him feel nervous.  I'm proud of him for showing up; for doing his best; for working hard.  I'm immensely proud of him for his sportsmanship.  He competed against a friend/teammate/classmate of his who didn't do quite as well as Aidan did in the competition.  When Aidan asked if he could bring his medals in to show his teacher, I reminded him gently that I didn't think it was the best idea, that he needed to be careful to protect his friend's feelings, knowing it might be hard to rehash the whole thing again in the classroom. "Oh, I know!"  Aidan said.  "I already thought about it.  I wasn't sure it was a good idea, either, but it was Timothy's idea to bring in the medals.  He was really excited for us both to show her."

I love to watch you do karate, Aidan.  Be proud of what you have achieved.... and be proud of the kind of athlete and friend you are to your teammates and fellow competitors. 
Leo is the perfect.... middle child.  Truly.  He is gifted in his ability to be younger brother one minute, older brother the next.  He is a mediator, a peacemaker, and the kindest, most sensitive young person I know.  At church this morning, Pax had been in a little scuffle with another four year old in the narthex.  I was coaxing Pax through his apology to Christophe, and Pax was pushing back, doggedly determined to admit to no wrongdoing.  Finally, Pax managed a half-hearted, eyes cast down, mumbling apology - "I'm sorry, Christophe."  There was a slight pause in which we all hoped Christophe would accept the meager apology.  In the silence, Leo piped up, "It may not sound like it, Christophe, but Pax means it from deep inside his heart." 

In our roller-coaster weekend filled with very high highs and plummeting lows, a ride notable for its seemingly endless bickering, it is these moments, these memories, that remind me to see the forest through the trees, see the child through the chaos of child-rearing.  From deep inside my heart.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Farewell, Old Friend

In college, I had a quirky creative writing professor who gave us an assignment at the start of the semester that I've never forgotten.  She had us write an entire paper devoted to the bumper stickers on our cars, perhaps thinking these stickers would provide windows into our creative minds or souls.  I think she was greatly disappointed with my paper, because at the time, the only sticker on my little, hunter green Dodge Shadow was an uninspired Pedro's South of the Border decal.

I've driven just two other cars as my own since that freshman year of college.  The second car, a beautiful blue 1995 Mustang, was a generous gift I probably didn't deserve but one I loved with all my heart.  After totaling the Shadow, my father went on the hunt for a car to replace the Shadow.  It had to be safe - airbags were a must - with low miles and at a good price.  The Mustang proved to be all of those things, and I became the somewhat incredulous owner of a pretty nice ride.  I kept minimal decals on it - only a college sticker, plus an Indy Racing League sticker, providing predictable insight into my psyche:  I loved our college, where I'd spend such happy years of my life; occasionally, I felt like a badass racecar driver in my sporty coupe.  (Thankfully, the accident with the Shadow made me a much more cautious driver, so I didn't actually drive much like a racer those days).

I drove the Mustang for the rest of my college years and into my life as a married adult until finally, in the last months of my pregnancy with Aidan, I could barely squeeze behind the wheel with my big belly.  After Aidan was born, Jeff and I swapped cars, but I never stopped thinking of the Mustang as mine.  Apparently, Jeff hadn't either.  As much as he enjoyed my car, he wanted his own car back - after all, he'd bought it brand new, custom to his specifications.  Alas, the day had arrived.  With a one-year-old in tow on a blisteringly hot August day in 2005, we bought a minivan to replace a Mustang. As minivans go, I thought we'd scored on a good one.  It came equipped with a VHS player, (!!) and power sliding doors; it was quiet, with low mileage.  Much as I'd viewed the Mustang as a 19 year old, as a mid-20s new Mom, I saw the minivan as somewhat of a status symbol.  I felt I had arrived.  

(That doesn't mean I didn't cry copious amounts of tears, though, after the selling of the 'Stang.  I kissed it, loved it, posed with it on our last day together:)

And so, as I watched my beautiful blue baby drive off into the fading sunshine, I turned toward my really beautiful baby, loaded him into our new van, and began a new journey.  In its 8 years with us, our van has carried us safely to many destinations and on many adventures.  We've visited parks and playgroups, pediatricians and preschools. We've traveled to beaches and campsites, airports and museums.  We've schlepped thousands of pounds of groceries in it, and as our family continued to grow in size, we've ferried tiny pounds of newborn babies in it.  We've swept it clean of pine needles from Christmas trees, billions of bits of ground up Cheerios, and once, a fermented apple that had been so completely reduced, it was but a putrid, reeking mess.  Our van has been inhabited by many a friend and family member, as well as some famously uninvited guests:  this summer, the wolf spider.

But all good things must come to an end.  My criteria for cars has always been that it must provide a method of transportation that gets us from point A to point B.... safely.  And our poor old van just wasn't living up to that standard anymore.  With a big road trip looming next month and the increasing number of clinks, groans, and shudders emanating from beneath the hood, we knew the final hour was approaching.

But still.... as my quirky college professor must have known, it's not easy to say goodbye to this:
The happy people who adorn the left side of the window (painstakingly designed for a whopping sum, an embarrassing amount to admit to spending on stickers).  Oddly, I grew more attached, more protective of these little people after the random act of vandalism was committed against Jeff's likeness. (His was cruelly and maniacally ripped off in one stealth swoop.  Still baffled by that one.)

And then there's the rest of them to part with.  If my college professor were to find me now, and give me that same assignment?  I'm not sure where I'd even begin.  For each sticker holds a story, a memory, an important milestone in the life of this family.  The space on the back of the van was precious real estate; a sticker had to earn its right to be there.

The college decal collection has grown to include
  • the polarizing political stickers that invoke many glares in this overly-red little pocket of the purple state of Virginia; (one such sticker even provoking a heated exchange in the Target parking lot, resulting in promises from each of us to pray for the other)
  • the requisite SMCM and UVA stickers;
  • the resume of races completed;
  • the vague references to beautiful births and the importance of breastfeeding, the latter of which was obtained by Jeff from the lactation consultant he met in nursing school, whom he affectionately dubbed "The Milk Nazi;" 
  • the local bar we love best for draft beers; 
  • the family's beloved local radio station;
  • the shelter for homeless residents we support in the coldest months;  
  • the reminder to be brave, assertive, and strong; 
  • and the newest and perhaps my very favorite sticker of all, loved both for its subtle nuance and direct imperative: "Make Dinner Not War."
That is to say, our stickers represent some of the very best of our lives these past 8 years.

So when we welcomed the new arrival today, Aidan closely inspected the interior and exterior of the car, tried out the power windows and doors, fiddled with the radio and air controls, adjusted the seat, then asked with sudden urgency, "But Mom, how are you going to get all of the stickers transferred onto this car?"
Answering softly, I said, "We're not, buddy..." realizing, at that very moment, that if this same van that seems so shiny and new and young sees us through another 8 or so years, the sticker I'll be adding then? in 2022? is the collegiate sticker of where my firstborn chooses to earn his degree.  The realization that just as our old van safely carried home our tiny newborn babes, this new van might very well be the one that gets packed to its silver gills with dorm life necessities.  

With that sobering thought, I think we'll keep her just like this for now....

What a view this backseat offers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I remember you

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  Today, I remember our Lost Baby, whom we call Apple Baby.

I remember the myriad mothers and fathers who have suffered, grieved, and been forever changed because of the death of their dream.

I remember the friends and family who provided comfort in our darkest hours, loving us and mourning with us.

I remember, because it is important to remember, to acknowledge, to de-stigmatize, to mark the very real death of a tiny person who was already loved beyond measure.

I remember you.