Friday, September 25, 2015

Our "Car Friends"

At least once a day when we've been out and about, the boys ask me to drive home through an alternative route in our neighborhood. Although it adds a minute or two to our drive, this special route is important to them because it takes us past our "car friends."

Let me explain.

Some time ago, Silas became enamored with a silver dually truck that we sometimes drove by on our way into the neighborhood. The truck was always parked backwards in its driveway, and always had cool items like ladders in the back of it. Silas and BJ dubbed this truck "Silver Bullet," and Silas occasionally asked that we drive by to "say hello" to Silver Bullet. A few times a week we looked like creepers in my white minivan, pulling up slowly to the bend in the road and stopping so that Silas could have conversations with this truck.

"Hi Silver Bullet!" he'd say. "We just ate dinner, and now I'm going to go play outside! Why is one of your tires in the grass, Silver Bullet? You're silly!" Etc., etc.

Once, the owner of the truck was in his front yard when we stopped, and he waved to us. I rolled my window down and briefly explained the sitch to him, in case he had seen us driving by his house very slowly in recent weeks. He laughed and told Silas to come by anytime.

I wish for my sake that it had all ended with Silver Bullet, but alas it did not. Silver Bullet has since been sold and replaced by another, smaller truck which Silas has named "Black Dart." At some point, George jumped in on the fun too. He bestowed the name "Chon Chon" to the black truck that lives next door to Black Dart. The sports car at the house on the other side of Chon Chon became "Black Wheel," and then next door to Black Wheel we welcomed "Guna." (In case you can't tell from these few examples, my children have serious taste differences in their names for things. Silas, ever the literal one, has a favorite stuffed zebra named Tall Girl. George, with his creative flair, has a favorite stuffed tiger named Yetoon.) The frequency of our drive-by's has intensified from a few times a week to once a day, as the boys look eagerly to see which cars are home and which are out doing their jobs "or getting married or something," as Silas once suggested. Even Van chimes out, "Chon Chon!" as we approach the bend in the road that is the home to our car friends.

From right to left we have Black Dart, Chon Chon with his trailer, Moon, Black Wheel, CatCon, and Red the Smed. Not pictured because they were either out getting married or live further down the street to the left (Lord, yes, it continues) is Guna, Sky, Trailey (a trailer), Six-Wheel, Little Blueberry, Fall Tree and Leaf, Silver Bullet II, The Bean, and Blueberry Strawberry, which is actually a pink car with a teal hatchback. There you have it.

If you're ever wondering why I can't seem to remember important things about our friendship, or your kids' birthdays, or what vacations you recently took, it's because my precious brain space that I would normally save for things like that has now been relegated to completely useless information such as names of the cars on a street at the north end of our neighborhood. My apologies.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gabardine Suit

This past weekend, I boarded a plane and left my family to spend a long weekend with our dear friends Sara and Jeremy in Portland, Oregon. I had an amazing time. Sara and Jeremy have no children (yet), but are the godparents of our sons and they adore children. In this regard, the weekend was child-free but still filled with stories of my kids that they patiently listened to and laughed at because they love me and they love my kids too. My time in the Pacific Northwest was fabulous as always, and we crammed every minute full of activities that are difficult, if not impossible, to do with young children. Examples of such activities included wandering around bookstores for hours, enjoying a coffee shop and not worrying that my very presence might be disturbing the people around me, perusing a menu at a restaurant, leisurely nursing beers at microbreweries, crossing rivers by jumping onto slippery rocks, reading books on an airplane, and occasionally sleeping at night. I was really able to let loose, indulge, and enjoy myself while I was away, though doing so many adult-oriented activities made me miss my husband like crazy. Of course, I missed my kids like crazy as well. I thought my nostalgia might do me in when we reached the small fountain at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland. The last time I was at this fountain it was steadily raining, and I snapped an adorable photo of Silas as a toddler in a raincoat, examining a rose petal that he had pulled from the water with grubby fingers. When I looked at that fountain and imagined my baby standing there smiling at his prized petal, oblivious to my camera, I about wept.

The fountain without Silas, four years later
The funny thing is that I felt like a fraud the entire time I was gone. At this point in my life, I find my identity wrapped up tightly in motherhood—so much so, in fact, that packing a suitcase and driving away from home for three and a half days led to my initial feelings of anxiety and loneliness. In my everyday life, if I run to the grocery store or pick up a pizza alone while the kids stay home with BJ, I feel like I'm tricking everyone that comes in contact with me. The cashier and fellow customers (if they notice me at all) notice a mid-thirties woman by herself, and may assume that I'm sailing along in life unattached. They can't see who I really am: a mother with three invisible children hanging on her legs, wiping boogers on her shirt, serenading her with stories of thwarting bad spies by intentionally setting the faucet to “too hot” so that enemies who might choose to bathe in our home will get what's coming to them. My kids are inextricably tangled around me and in me, and walking around without them seems deceitful. What you see is not what you get, for I really come in a package deal.

I remember the first time I ever felt this way. Silas was two weeks old, and BJ's parents kept him for a couple of hours so that BJ and I could go eat a nice dinner at a quiet restaurant. I distinctly remember standing and waiting for a table, and suddenly experiencing a panicky feeling. I wondered, how will these people ever know that I'm a mother? They probably think I'm not a mother! For once, the evidence wasn't with me, either in utero or in my arms. Why I think this matters to anyone in the least is beyond me. It is my own self-consciousness, or perhaps my own self-indulgence, that leads me to surmise that anyone may wonder if anything might be amiss when I walk into a room alone. In any regard, the feeling is real, and I have a suspicion that I'm not the only mother who feels this way.

So here I sit on a small United airplane, flying over what I suspect is the Painted Desert, counting down the minutes until I hug my husband and tackle my three children's soft, good-smelling skin with kisses. Only an hour and a half to go. It all reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's “America,” in which a couple on a bus pretends that fellow passengers are undercover spies in order to pass the time. I'm not a spy in a gabardine suit with a bow-tie that's really a camera, but I'm not who I appear to be either. And the people around me will never know my ruse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kindergarten: The Glad Game

Half a mile down the street is a little elementary school, only a few years old. We drive past it often, and ever since it opened we occasionally have told Silas as we passed it, "Some day that's going to be your school!" That 'some day' always seemed so far away.

'Some day' finally arrived last Wednesday, the day that my little boy strode into kindergarten sporting an awesome pair of light-up Star Wars kicks and a Despicable Me backpack, and holding his mother's nervous heart. Apparently I need never have worried. The kid loves his school day, adores his teacher, and has easily made some friends in his class. The school seems to be quite tight-knit, and as luck would have it, I even know some of the faculty and staff. The lovely "Ms. G.," who has been a friend of mine since I was 17, is a full-time teaching assistant who has eyes on my boy from the moment I drop him off until he comes running into my arms with a grin at 11:48AM, which is the end of his day (we're doing half-day kindergarten). At the open house last week, I even recognized the school secretary as the mother of one of my childhood friends, and I was happy to receive her bear-hug upon our recognition of one another. The school is new and lovely, his classroom is exciting yet cozy, and his teacher is creative and personable. Silas is clearly in great hands.

As kindergarten approached, I (mostly) persuaded myself to play Pollyanna's "Glad Game" in place of wallowing in sadness. After all, I reasoned, it's not like I'm losing Silas. He's actually introducing us to this new, awesome thing! Besides, he's only gone in the morning. I reminded myself of Malala Yousafzai, the widely-recognized young activist and Nobel Prize laureate who survived a Taliban gunshot to the head and has fought bravely for the rights of girls and women to receive an education in all corners of the world. We're lucky, I told myself, that Silas has the privilege not only to attend school, but to attend a great school. Sending him to a place where he can learn how to reach his potential is not a sad occasion. There are mothers in many places who long for this opportunity for their children and don't receive it. We have our lives, our health, strong social support, and exciting opportunities. No wonder Pollyanna played this game! I felt a million times better about sending Silas to kindergarten when my perspective changed from negative to positive. As Pollyanna herself said, "When you're hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind."

Malala Yousafzai, whose book I Am Malala is fabulous, by the way

Still, despite my best efforts, it was a bit of a sucker punch during the first morning's walk home without him. I held back tears until we were off school grounds, and even then I only shed a few as I pushed my other two along in the stroller. The waves of grief that day were brief and only brought on by my recollections of Silas as a newborn. I remember so well my maternity leave with him, those bright summer days spent falling in love with a new little baby so fast and so hard. I remember the kisses on his tiny face, smelling his hair, and falling into naps with him in my arms while Ellen DeGeneres and episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" played in the background. Those were sweet, sweet days, and I'm lucky to have those memories. I've even been lucky enough to have them three different times with three different boys, two of which are still home with me full-time for years to come. Boy, am I excited when I think about that!

A new mom
 We're a little over one week into school now, and I'm very excited about the part in our lives that this little elementary school is already playing. Silas is currently enjoying School Spirit Week, which has included such antics as "Minion Day" and "Duct Tape Day," much to BJ's chagrin (I put BJ in charge of making duct tape accessories and he excelled---a new-found talent!). At occasional points throughout my life I have felt a sense of crisp clarity that I knew I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. In the millions of directions I could have gone, somehow I had gotten it right and was following the correct path. Yesterday as I was chauffeuring my younger two around, another of those rare clarity moments hit me. Our family is in exactly the right home, in exactly the right school, in exactly the right class; the five of us belong here, and we are where we're supposed to be. I take great comfort in that intuition.

Nowadays, we still frequently drive by that little elementary school a half-mile down the road, but our words as we pass have changed a bit. Now we say, "Silas, there's your school! And George, that's going to be your school too some day!"

Some day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Seinfeld-Potter Confluence

Some serious time has passed since my last post. You're welcome. I haven't wanted to write, and I couldn't think of anything to write about, so instead I spent my me-time after the boys go to sleep devouring travel memoirs and catching up on "VEEP" episodes. Last week on vacation, though, ideas for blog posts began popping into my mind in quick succession, so here I find myself again!

Topic number one: "Seinfeld." It seems to have been one of those love-it or hate-it shows, and I loved it. Elaine, Kramer, Jerry, and George are tops in my book. I've seen every episode at least once, and BJ and I regularly quote one-liners to one another when appropriate. Sometimes in my mind I pair a scene occurring with one of our boys with an equivalent "Seinfeld" scene and I smile inwardly. Occasionally this habit is my own personal "Serenity now!" that gets me through chaotic situations. There are just too many good scenarios and one-liners to ever capture in one place, but I thought I'd record some of our personal favorite "Seinfeld" quotes with images of our kids. My personal favorite scene had no appropriate place, but I hope the resulting Seinfeld-Potter Boy confluence brings a chuckle to "Seinfeld" fans. Enjoy!

George: "My name is George. I am unemployed and I live with my parents."

Kramer: "You think people will still be using napkins in the year 2000? Or is this mouth vacuum thing for real?"

Kramer: "These pretzels are making me thirsty."


Kramer: Here's to David Puddy for helping me install a much-needed and much-appreciated garbage disposal in my bathtub.
Peggy: You have a garbage disposal in your bathtub?
Kramer: Oh yeah, and I use it all the time. Yeah, I made this whole meal in there.
Elaine: This food was in the shower with you?
Kramer: Mm-hmmm. I prepared it as I bathed.

Kramer: Well, it's a story about love, deception, greed, lust and unbridled enthusiasm.
Elaine: Unbridled enthusiasm? 
Kramer: That's what led to Billy Mumphrey's downfall.
Elaine: Oh, boy.
Kramer: You see, Elaine, Billy was a simple country boy, you might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high-stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.
Elaine: Oh, my God.

George: "Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."

Elaine: He's like a Svenjolly.
Jerry: Svengali.
Elaine: What did I say?
Jerry: Svenjolly.
Elaine: Svenjolly? I did not say Svenjolly.
Jerry: George?
George: Svenjolly. (licking some peanut butter off his finger)
Elaine: I don't see how I could've said Svenjolly.
Jerry: Well, maybe he's got, like, a cheerful mental hold on you.

Jerry: Elaine, have you ever gone out with a bald man?
Elaine: No.
Jerry: You know what that makes you? A baldist.

Jerry: "Did you know that the original title for War and Peace was War, What Is It Good For?"

George: "The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli! I got about fifty feet out and suddenly, the great beast appeared before me. I tell ya, he was ten stories high if he was a foot."

George: "You should've seen her face. It was the exact same look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to be a ventriloquist." (In this photo, I'm referring to our George's countenance.)

Elaine: "We don’t know how long this will last. They are a very festive people."

Elaine, on pain pills: "Stella! STEEELLLLLAAAAA!" 

(Elaine is writing a catalogue with a mail room clerk that she intended to fire, but instead promoted because she was intimidated by his gruff voice and military fatigues.)
Eddie: I think I got something here! For the Bengalese galoshes. "It's tough keepin' your feet dry when you're kicking in a skull."
Elaine: Eddie...that might be just a tad harsh, for women's wear.
Eddie: Well, I'm not married to it. 
Elaine: Oh. Well, um, in that case why don't we take the phrase, "kicking in a skull" and we tweak it, you know, just a hair, to something like, what, like "strolling through a dewy meadow"? 

And finally, of course, the greatest of all:
Elaine: "You're through, Soup Nazi. Pack it up. No more soup for you. NEXT!"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The First Daisy

Every fall, BJ and the boys plant a beautiful display of tulips in our front garden. Each spring, they wait with bated breath for the emergence of the leaves, then the bulbs, and the opening of the beautiful flowers. It is always a sight to behold, particularly with my favorite guys hovering near them, viewing them in admiration.

I love the tulips; don't get me wrong. What I really can't wait each year for, though, is my daisies. As April rolls into May each spring, I find myself hanging around my daisies more often, willing those little stems to shoot up buds, and then willing those promising little buds to show me what's inside. Every year I count on those daisies, and they never disappoint. They mean so much to me, in fact, that I have told BJ that if we ever move to another home (a thought that breaks my heart even to consider!), half of those daisies are coming with us.

The nostalgia behind those daisies is incredible for me. I remember well the evening of May 4, 2010. BJ and I came home from the hospital late that afternoon with our first newborn, a little guy named Silas. I was already deeply in love with him, and I relish even now the promise that that evening held--an entire lifetime to come with this amazing little boy. I felt terrified, yet on top of the world. That first night, though, I might have been mostly terrified. Because of that, BJ's mom Susan came to spend the night with us. She had a dinner engagement with her job, but once it was over in the early evening, she came to our house toting an air mattress, a tray of leftover food from the shindig, and a bucketful of daisies from her yard. I sat on the grey sectional in our living room, looking out our large front window and smelling my sweet new baby, as I watched BJ and his beloved mother plant those daisies in our front garden. It is perhaps the sweetest memory of my entire life.

Daisies are perennials, destined to come back each year, and for that I am so grateful. That means that every May, I get to look at our beautiful, humble garden and remember with swells in my heart what it felt like to have a new baby, a devoted husband, and a mother-in-law-turned-mother who would give her time, efforts, and love to her son, his wife, and her new grandson. Later that evening we all watched YouTube tutorials on how to swaddle a baby, and we all laid Silas down in his crib together. I remember Susan telling me to go to sleep and get some rest, and I asked with trepidation as I looked at that tiny being in that huge crib, "Are you sure there is no way he can die tonight like this?" She reassured me that Silas was fine, and then she met me in the living room during each nursing session that night to talk to me while I fed Silas, and then she put him back to sleep while I rested. It was the first night that she stayed, but it was by far not the last.

Last weekend, my first daisy opened. Then another, and another the next day. Silas excitedly ran to me last night and announced that five daisies are now in full bloom. The same little boy that snuggled sleeping in my arms five years ago now races on big-boy legs to tell me the big news...

The daisies have bloomed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Parent Fail

When it comes to motherhood, I like to think that I get most of the important things right. There must always be a balance, however, and I more-than-occasionally tip the scale over to the side of "probably not the best-ever mother performance." My kids eat vegetables, but they also eat Happy Meals and suckers. They take baths or showers, but sometimes with a three-day stretch in between. They love reading, but they also love watching "American Ninja Warrior" and then building their own harrowing obstacle courses in the living room. They love exploring nature and handling toads and worms, but then I sometimes forget to wash their hands. They love to listen to music, but they may have a thing for Meghan Trainor. Currently, their favorite song is "Tribute" by Tenacious D, which they have dubbed "The Demon Song." I partially blame Jack Black for his awesome characterization of a hilarious, snorting demon. It cracks me up to hear my kids' tiny voices singing from the backseat, "We are but men. ROCK!" (George's pronunciation is more like, "We ah but men. WOCK!")

The award for "Mother of the Year" (as my friend Chanda jokingly calls herself) isn't likely to go to this gal, whose 17-month-old son calls all drinks "Coke." On the subject of drinks, though, Coke might be slightly better than the conversation I had with Silas the other day, in which we talked about how he is the oldest child and will therefore get to accomplish a whole lot of milestones first. We took turns listing them. I said he would go to school first, he said he would turn eight first. I said he would drive a car first, and so on, until he proudly announced that he would "get to drink beer first."

Nope, parenting isn't for the faint of heart. It's being stuck on an airplane with a sick child, using baby fingernail clippers to cut a Zofran in half because it's the only thing you can think of that might help. (It did!) It's letting your kids taste your coffee, realizing that they love it, and relinquishing what was yours when you spot the waffle bite from his mouth going back down your straw (I only give them the rest if it's decaf, at least). It's getting up from the table no less than eight times (I'm serious) during a meal to take care of spills, get refills, retrieve forgotten utensils, and take kids pee-pee. It's making room for one more in bed after a nightmare involving wolves in the house. It's just all-encompassing.

So forgive me for the following story, which is really the impetus for this post.

A couple of weeks ago, BJ was gone for a jog in the afternoon. Van was sleeping, so bear in mind that I only had two children to keep an eye on, not three! Silas and George played in the sandbox as I packed groceries to take to Susan's house, as we planned to cook a meal with her there. Even though the sandbox is easily in my line of sight from the kitchen, I must have lost track for a couple of moments because Silas stepped into the back door, lamely announcing that George had just covered his nice shirt in sand. As I stepped closer to Silas to help him brush off, I could see that he had sand in his hair too, and quite a bit of it. I stepped outside to put the kibosh on these shenanigans.

"George!" I began. "If I catch you dumping sand on your brother again..." My voice trailed off as I realized that what George had inflicted upon Silas was only about one-tenth of what he had done to himself. The sand was absolutely caked into his hair. What's a mother to do? There was no way that they were stepping into my house like that, so I stripped them down to their underwear and turned on the hose. The weather was warm, but the water was cold and I don't blame them for their reticence about getting hosed down. Silas screamed in laughter and enjoyed it, but George screamed as though I was murdering him, and promptly ran around to the front yard. Eventually I had enough sand off of my children to herd them inside, straight to the shower.

This they loved. However, I could hear that Van was awake and now playing in his crib, and we really needed to get ready to go to Susan's house. So, after a couple minutes of letting them spray each other and themselves, I took over and scrubbed scalps to remove the grit, beginning with Silas. Once out and dried, I pulled Silas close, said, "Listen bud. Look at me. I need you to go get some underwear and get dressed. That's your job right now is to get dressed. Got it?" He gave a thumbs up and trotted off, laughing as he went. I then tackled the trick of getting the sand out of George's hair. (As an aside, I don't think I actually got the last of it out until about ten days later.) George got out of the shower and we got him dried off, precisely as I was beginning to notice how quiet the house was. I suggested to George that we should go get dressed and find his brother, and he agreed.

Silas wasn't in his bedroom, nor was he in any room of the house. I went to the back door, which was still open from our trek in from the patio, and I didn't see him anywhere out back. He knows not to go out front without telling me, but my chest tightened a little and I thought, "He must have gone out front." Just as George and I reached the front glass door and opened it, I could see that BJ had returned from his jog and was walking down the cul-de-sac toward our house, laughing hysterically. And there was Silas, buck naked, riding his bicycle around the street of the cul-de-sac. The child had not a shred of clothing on, not even so much as a sock or a pair of Ninja Turtles underwear. Buck flipping naked.

When I later asked him why he didn't go straight to his room to put on his clothes as instructed, he told me that he had seen his bike on the front porch as he walked past the front door to go to his room, and he "forgot" his instructions and ran outside to go for a spin on the street. In that moment, caught by BJ--which doesn't really matter because BJ knows I don't always have it together anyway-- I had to come to terms with my limitations as a mom. Here I only really had two kids under my care since the third was in his crib, and still I had let it get away! And I sometimes have visions of a fourth?! Who am I kidding? A quick peek around our street confirmed that, fortunately, there were absolutely no neighbors outside to witness the spectacle of my son's garmentless joy ride. I'm not Catholic, but it only seemed appropriate to cross myself in that moment.

And so, dear Committee, this is why you should consider my application for "Mother of the Year" Award. And did I mention that last week my youngest son was taken to the emergency room twice in one night for entirely separate problems? I bet you don't have many applicants that can claim that! Hey, someone has to keep it real around here...