Lately

Lately, my stepdad has been sending me blogging ideas, which makes me think I should dust off the old blog and write some stuff. It’s hard when you haven’t blogged in almost a year and feel like you should write something special and momentous. Then I realized that I should just start somewhere. Anywhere.

Lately, we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to think or write or do much of anything else. I remember when my kids were babies and people would tell me how much harder it would get when they were older. At the time, I was breastfeeding, changing diapers every hour or more, and not getting more than two hours of sleep in row. I thought they were nuts.

Now I realize that when it comes to kids, things don’t really ever get easier, they just change. I get more sleep and change fewer diapers, but now that my kids have a full array of linguistic strategies at their disposal I spend a lot more time negotiating sibling squabbles and bedtime routines, supervising homework, and discussing the finer details of bee life. Yes, I did indeed know that honey is bee puke. Thank you for reminding me, Oscar.

Lately, I’ve realized that our toy days are numbered. This first came to me when I was shopping for Oscar’s Christmas presents. It occurred to me that it would only be another year or two before he was no longer interested in toys. Certainly he will be interested in Legos, video games, art supplies, and books for many years to come, but I’m talking about little kid toys, the kind that sometimes feel like they are taking over our house. I know that one day I will blink and they will be gone, replaced by smelly clothes cast off in all directions, cell phones, and requests to borrow the car.

A few weeks ago I insisted we pull out the Thomas the Train sets and play with them. Oscar thought I was a little bit crazy but he obliged me. He played with his little sister for a short time and then lost interest in favor of a new book. I can’t tell you how much I love to see my son sitting around reading, but it gives me a pang to realize I’ll probably never see him build train tracks out into the living room again, spending hours creating one disaster after another with Thomas and Percy and Henry and James. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He still plays. He love action figures and Legos and will play for hours. But he asked me to stop putting the Thomas the Train container in his lunch box. “I’m too old for that now, Mama.”

Lately Aria has stopped calling me into her room in the middle of the night, every night (it still happens). It feels good to sleep through the night, but I looked around the other day and realized that most of the baby paraphernalia is gone from the house. I honestly don’t miss having babies around, but what bothers me is that the transitions don’t always happen with fanfare and documentation. Oh, sure, we take pictures of first steps and first days of school and lost teeth, but not of the last time our kids ride in the front seat of the shopping cart or need help getting their shoes on. Most of the transitions and changes happen in the midst of our hectic daily routine, and aren’t noticed until much later.

I’m trying to strike a balance between making it through each day as it comes, creating happy memories, and holding onto the little details that make life with children so unique. As the saying goes, it’s the longest shortest time of your life.

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2014: Toddlers, Tornadoes, and Tremors…OH MY!

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2014 was the year Oscar turned five and Aria turned two. It was the year Oscar went to school and fell in love with Legos and Letterbots, the year I didn’t write my novel or run a marathon, and the year I realized that life really gets better with age, despite the wrinkles and gray hair, because you realize what truly matters and learn to shrug off the rest.

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The changes came fast this year. Oscar learned how to swim and ride a bike, how to read, how to write, and how to count to 160. If you have a moment, he would like to count to 160 for you. Over and over and over again.

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Aria stopped nursing and starting talking up a storm. Her favorite things to say are “I did it!” and “I do it!” and “Alone!” but she still loves to be picked up and cuddled like a baby. She still wants her mama more than anything. She still smells delicious. She wants what she wants and she is hell bent on getting it.

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She is a fireball of passionate fury.  I remember when Oscar was two, I thought, “Terrible twos? Not this kid! Must be a myth.” With Aria, the twos are terrible and crazy-making in every way. I am flat-out exhausted at the end of each day, but that’s when the battle is just getting warmed up. Despite being weaned, Aria still wants me to wake up many times throughout the night. I will be drifting into sleep when suddenly I hear, “Mama? Mommy? Mama! MAMAAA!!!” This is the year I came to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture mechanism.

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Don’t get me wrong, there is so much sweetness and joy. My daughter is beautiful, funny, smart, and expressive; but parenting  her has been and will continue to be one of my biggest challenges.

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This is the year Oscar learned about his own mortality, and therefore became obsessed with all things disaster-related: tornadoes and volcanoes and bad guys and big dogs and bears. And speaking of natural disasters, we experienced our first real earthquake in Flagstaff when I was shook awake at 11:00 P.M. one night a few weeks ago with a 4.7 quake centered just a few miles south of our neighborhood.

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After that little tremor I read some stuff about earthquakes, and found it interesting that although geologists can measure earthquake activity, they can’t predict it. The earth can move and adjust and crack open anytime without warning. An earthquake can be minor or disastrous. The occurrence of one can mean that another is close behind, or that another won’t come again for 1,000 years.

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For some reason geology reminds me of parenting. Before I had children I used to think, foolishly, that I could guide my children and shape them, that I could somehow predict what they might become.

I have since learned that they will shape me, bit by bit, one seismic event at a time.

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Parenting from the Trenches

I’ve been having a bad case of the comparisons lately. When I see how much other people do with their kids (witnessed by social media but also personal conversations) I ping back and forth between a variety of emotions, from jealousy to anger to anxiety to frustration. I want to be super mom, but I also want to be realistic. I also resent the fact that what I do with my kids is compared to mothers who don’t work full time. There are plenty of people who claim these comparisons don’t exist, but they’re kidding themselves. I get comments from family, friends, other mothers, and my own kid.

It prompted me to write this post on Facebook. I’m always deeply comforted when other parents admit to their struggles and shortcomings, because social media is full of pictures of family outings on beautiful summer days, kids participating in all kinds of enrichment activities, parents out on the town at all hours of night (how can people afford to eat out AND hire a babysitter?), and perfect marzipan birthday cakes as the centerpiece to huge parties with homemade decorations, games, costumes, etc. Every single kids party that I go to resembles something from Pinterest. Every. Single. One.

But enough complaining and bitterness! This is what I always teach my education students about observing other teachers or reading about teaching theories and methods: take what works for you and your students and leave everything else behind.

What works for me? A combination of listening to my kids and drawing on my own experiences. As a kid I hated being behind my peers in all things physical. So I’m encouraging Oscar to learn to ride his bike with confidence and I’ve enrolled him a series of swimming lessons at NAU over the summer (Another comparison: everyone else in Flagstaff goes to a place called the Aquaplex, but I am baffled as to how people can afford it–another instance where I feel like I’m wandering hopelessly lost in a foreign country). In addition to biking and swimming, my son has expressed interest in some science-y things, like planets. We are indulging these interests with planned visits to the observatory and various museums in Flagstaff and Tucson, along with visits to the library.

In contrast to planning activites, it’s very important to me to give my kids plenty of time for free play and downtime. In all my years of babysitting I saw MANY overscheduled kids, and I still do, and there is nothing more depressing than small children being dragged to activity after activity. As a family, I want us to find a balance.

It helps me to focus on prioritizing the things that really important to me. Right now, having a nice house, throwing parties, and traveling extensively have to be set aside.

It also helps me to enjoy small moments of calm. These are almost always in the mornings–my new favorite time–when we make oatmeal or pancakes or eggs, watch cartoons, play, read books, and lounge around in our pajamas. I relish the calm and quiet of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, and my kids love it too.

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A Letter to My Son Oscar

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A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”

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You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.

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I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.

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I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.

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I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.

Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.

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Oscar & Aria

Poor Aria! For the first few years of Oscar’s life I wrote him a letter almost every month. I read the infant development book with rapt intensity, curious about every developmental milestone. I carefully prepared organic fruits and vegetables for his first foods. I talked to him and sang to him and documented his early life with thousands of photographs.

Having two kids has wiped me out and blown my mind with how hard it is. Yes, I know people have raised more than two kids for millennia, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s kicking my ass.

Aria still wakes between 3-5 times each night, and no, I have no plans to wean her, stop co-sleeping, move her to her own room, or let her cry it out. I will just suck it up and you (and the people I live with) will listen to me complain about it forever and ever, amen. Anywho, there is no extra room for her to sleep in, I’m not moving, and if she cries it out she will wake her brother. Plus, she has the cutest little, heart-wrenching, gut twisting cry. You try ignoring her.

Oscar slept through the night at 15 months, so hopefully she will too. Until then, I reserve the right to fall behind on my novel, my contracted academic tome, the laundry, and personal hygiene. Luckily, Aria is beautiful and sweet. I give her credit for that.

Oscar is so smart and funny, and I love him more deeply and intensely than ever before. Sometimes I watch his little body running around the house, playing with toys, doing whatever, and I am seized with such love and affection it breaks my heart.

He’s also a pain in the ass.

I feel like I was lied to and tricked. I always thought that parenting would be all downhill after the terrible twos. Oh, I know having teenagers is its own special hell, I’m referring more to the constantly on your feet chasing kids around and taking care of their every need. Downhill after two, right? The terrible twos?

Oh, what I would give to be back in the blissful, wonderful twos. I had no idea how good I had it.

Not only is Oscar not more dependent (I mean, he can’t do the dishes or the grocery shopping yet), he’s more high maintenance than ever. Everything has to be a particular way and it has to be that way NOW. When he decides he wants lunch he will pester me relentlessly until he gets it. I say to him, kindly and rationally, “Sweetie, you will have to wait until I’m done with such and such (i.e. surfing the internet or reading a People Magazine article) and then I will fix your lunch.” He then proceeds to hover nearby and say, “Are you almost done with your work?” Or if he asks for a snack, I tell him he can have one when I’m done eating my breakfast, lunch, etc. He then watches every bite go to my mouth, carefully analyzing my plate for tell-tale emptiness. “Are you done now, Mama?”

But he is just so stinking cute, so I can’t get rid of him. Every morning when he wakes up he says, “Where’s Aria?” Aria, of course, worships him in every way. As soon as he walks in the room her arms and legs start flailing wildly and she shouts with glee. Anytime he is nearby she cannot take her eyes off of him and will crane her neck to try to watch him even while she’s nursing, being changed, etc.

Oscar says to me, “Mama, you are best friend.” Last night, he kicked off his covers and asked me to cover him up again. I asked him why he did that and he said, “I like it when you make me nice and cozy.” When he can tell I’m getting frustrated by his nonstop prattle, he will say, “It’s okay, Mama, I’m done talking now.”

His favorite game to play is, “Accidents Happen!” in which various trains and cars find themselves in dire straights. All manner of accidents befall his toys, such as train derailments, landslides, floods, helicopter crashes, plane crashes, car crashes, hot-air balloon crashes, and various other apocalyptic events. All the while, he’s screaming, “Accidents happen! Accidents happen! Aaaaaaaaacidents haaaaaaaaaaaapen!”

Aria has absolutely no interest in baby toys but will go after her brother’s toys with an intense zeal. She’s also interested in power cords and choking hazards. From early on she hated and refused baby food purees but will happily dig into anything we’re eating. I’ve stopped worrying about stages and allergies and organic purity and just let her have everything. When she’s happy she does what I call “baby zombie breathing.” I can’t really describe it. Have you seen The Walking Dead? Yeah, it’s like that.

As I type this, Oscar is sitting on the bed playing with Aria’s baby toys (she has no interest in them but he loves them). He says, “Mama, I want a hammer and a drink!”

Aria is at my feet. She has such an impish grin I have to stop now and pick her up.

I can’t sit down for more than two minutes at a time.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

Celebrating The Patron Saint of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Halloween: an ancient tradition in which the villagers spend too much time thinking about and making costumes for their kids, running around to all the craft stores in town and neglecting household chores.

Halloween is an interesting holiday, another one of those holidays from Western Christian tradition that was originally a pagan festival of harvests and dead people, two things the pagans really liked to celebrate. The old clergy got a little itchy at the thought of everyone dancing naked in the woods and drinking too much mead or whatever so they created All Saints Day, a holier than holy Christian holiday to make sure everyone dragged their butts out of bed and went to Mass the next day.

I just like the candy.

Look at Aria checking out that candy.

 

Here are pictures of Halloween Days Gone By:

2012

2011

2010

2009