Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl Blessings

So tomorrow we gear up for another fun afternoon of watching football. Super Bowl Sunday. Being football lovin' people around here, this is a big day for us, no matter who's playing.

But I can't think about Super Bowl Sunday without thinking about the best one I'll ever experience. (no, not the one when my Seahawks finally made it, although that one would have come close if they'd won.)

Sixteen years ago I was hugely pregnant and planning a hugely anticipated Super Bowl Party. Hubby and I were the first in our group of college pals to get married so we hosted the event every year, as an excuse for far flung friends to get back together. We lived in a duplex that maybe had 450 square feet of living space but we squeezed in as many people as we could and had a blast just being back together with great friends.

Daughter had just turned one at the beginning of January and her brand new brother was not joining the family until the first week of February. Since she had been two weeks late I was mentally prepared to be pregnant until just before Valentines Day.

The Saturday before the big game I made my lists. Decorations? Check. Food? Check. Dips made? Check. Everything was in place for the big shin dig.

Sometime after midnight I woke up feeling strange. Sure my belly felt kind of tight but it must be gas, I told myself. After all, this baby wasn't due for another week and wouldn't be overdue for another two weeks.

Hubby found me pacing the floor at three a.m.

"Are you okay?" It was the obvious question. "I'm fine..." was my insistent answer.

We had a party to throw in just 12 hours. Long distance friends would be on our doorstep by lunchtime. This was no time to get crazy and start thinking a baby might be ready to pop out of my body.

But by 5 a.m. I was starting to wise up. My 'gas' was now coming at regular intervals and feeling very much like the hard core contractions I'd lived through a year earlier, when Daughter was born.

By 6 a.m. Hubby was calling Marcy, our friend on call to watch daughter once our big day arrived. She asked if she had time to shower before she came over. Hubby turned to ask me the question, saw the look on my face and then turned back to tell her, "Absolutely not."

Luckily, through all my overnight pacing hours I had been keeping myself busy making more lists. Where the food was, which decorations went where, who was arriving when. And suddenly Marcy was not only the emergency babysitter, she was the instant party hostess.

Hubby and I rushed off to the hospital and within hours our sweet super bowl boy arrived. The doctor had not taken the nurses warnings seriously when they said, "She's almost ready to deliver" and breezed in wearing his leather jacket (on the way to his own Super Bowl party)that they quickly covered with a paper gown so he could catch our son like his own slippery football.

Back at the house Daughter woke up to her fun friend Marcy and then slowly her other fan club members began to show up. From her perspective, this was a day she got to be spoiled by all of her favorite people. Oh, and she happened to get a brother before the day ended.

Hubby and I were tucked in a quiet hospital room when the Super Bowl came on later that afternoon. Sweet baby boy was cradled in the crook of my leg, sleeping so peacefully, now that the hard work was done.

Because his birth had been so quick and efficient I felt amazing once the labor stopped and the baby was safely in daddy's arms. I lobbied the doctor for a chance to make it to our own Super Bowl party after all. He was grateful that he had not missed the game and after giving us a good once over and specific instructions about returning later for follow up, he let us go. On that same night.

We drove our Super Bowl baby across town to be greeted by his built in fan club. (on loan from his sister, of course) It was a surreal experience. In the dark of the early morning we had driven to the hospital as my belly squeezed and contracted. Twelve hours later we drove the same path in reverse, back home, with that baby who had shared my body on the drive over, now buckled in a car seat that made him look like a delicate doll.

One of my all time favorite pictures in our photo albums is one of our toddler daughter, in her footy pajamas, holding open the front door as her daddy lowers a car seat down to her level to show her the new member of our family. Her eyes are wide and she seems to be saying to us, "Welcome to the party mom and dad! Where've ya been? And who ya got there with ya?"

Her life would never be the same. A Super Bowl party that filled her house with people who loved her and a new lifetime playmate by the time the day ended.

So you see why I can't even say the words "Super Bowl Sunday" without thinking of my boy. Of my special Super Bowl baby who just couldn't wait to join the party.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Two Birthday Month

The month of January is a big one for our family. Just when we are bouncing back from the holidays, two more important days pop up. Five days after we welcomed in 2009, our baby girl turned 17. And in just a few short hours her younger brother will turn 16. These two were raised like twins and for many years it felt like they'd be preschoolers forever. For four years they were our only children and we made a perfect American family. Matched set - dad, mom, daughter, son.

Then we gave her another brother, and four years later another brother still. And we became a big family. But the days of being just the four of us are not gone from our memory. It was a special season of life and is full of its own precious memories. We love our house full of kids but also cherish the early days, when two little people filled up our house with giggles and chatter.

Happy Birthday(s) my Irish Twins. Don't ever forget how much mama loves you and how you'll always be my sweet babies.

Now give me back the car keys. It's my turn to drive.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Arctic Sledding

Okay, indulge me for a bit. A few weeks ago, when the temperatures were in the single digits but the snow was deep and fluffy, we headed over to a city park and threw ourselves down the sledding hill for a few hours.

It was one of those days where you can't even remember what it feels like to be 'too hot'. But one of the side benefits of the deep cold was what it did to our precipitation. We miss the perfect powdery snow we used to enjoy in Utah. And it is the first time since we've moved to NY that we experienced it again. So we just had to wallow in it and soak it up for as long as it lasted. These are just a few of the great shots I got that day.

Kindergarten Lessons

It was our first year in New York and the kids were not the only ones feeling a bit nervous about finding new friends. While they had a pool of new people to pick from during school hours, I found myself at home, unpacking, and feeling like I knew no one in the state beyond the nice guy at the transfer station and the regular clerk at Stewarts Gas Station. So I started volunteering in Sam’s kindergarten class.

From the first day I loved being there. I had signed up to help with writing time and I quickly realized it fit right in with my background in education. I began to come early and stay late. And just by hanging around I learned a lot.

"We can’t do everything right in a day." I heard his teacher say it many times and it warmed my heart. Not only for the forgiveness and grace it placed on the five year old she was saying it to, but because it reminded me that sometimes stuff just happens. And usually no one dies or is brutally maimed, so let it go. Move on. Don’t let it mess up even one minute of your day.

"Belly to belly, knee to knee." Often the children would face each other and share ideas about their thoughts and their writing. To stay focused on just their writing partner they had to face each other (belly to belly) and sit very close (knee to knee). Listen, really listen to the people who matter to you. Look them in the eye and pretend no one else is on the planet. Think about what they’re trying to say and don’t let the TV, dinner, work or interruptions get in the way.

Surround yourself with great art. Not expensive art. Great art. Hand prints dipped in paint that will double in size in just a few years. Happy rainbows and flowers dripping with glue. Construction paper hats and kites, clinging to the light fixtures. String it all up, on all four walls, so that wherever you look, you see something beautiful. Don’t just put up the best, put them all up. Celebrate every interpretation and every variation.

Keep little hands busy. Almost every activity the class did involved hand motions or movement. Busy little hands don’t have time to poke a neighbor or pull a hair braid. I wish I’d thought of this when I had toddler helpers at the grocery store. Hand rhymes don’t have to be reserved for rocking chair moments. They work just as well in the middle of the grocery store.

Surround yourself with rotating books. Every week I saw a different reading selection on the classroom bookshelf. Sometimes they were season related, sometimes holiday related. But every week there were some of the old favorites and some new ones added in. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, or read it all, challenge yourself. Look in a new section of the library. Cruise though the newsstand for something you’ve never read before. Who knows what new thing you might learn?

Respect beats fear any day. Mrs. B. was all about discipline. Her students knew the rules and knew what happened when you didn’t follow them. Some struggled to tow the line but they all seemed genuinely eager to please her. They respected her and loved her because she returned the favor. Anyone can be harsh and brutal. Compassion and loving guidance can be more difficult to dole out. But everything runs more smoothly and everyone feels more peace when love and respect are given freely.

When twenty three smiling faces walked across that circle time carpet on the last day of school they graduated with so much more than new reading and math skills. They may never realize it but I’m sure they learned a lot of the same lessons I did in our time together. How a friend can be waiting through the next doorway and life really does relate to what we learned in kindergarten.

My Other Daughter

What a treat. On a regular day our household is overrun with boys. Three sons and a neighborhood full of male children keeps the testosterone high around here. But this weekend I got a special treat.

My precious niece is in her second year of film school at Ithaca college, about two hours west of where we live. Her parents live in NH, three hours east of us. So every once in awhile we get to be the meeting place in the middle. And we win all the way around.

We get to see my beautiful, talented niece and her fun, entertaining parents. (one of whom grew up with the title 'little brother' to my husband) This weekend the in-laws went back home early to run a half marathon. (yes, it is five degrees in the East right now and yes, it is an outdoor race....not a pretty sight)

So tonight I find myself the 'mother' of an extra daughter. We will put her on the bus for Ithaca tomorrow, but for tonight she is all ours.

I had a staff meeting at work and when I walked in the door a few hours ago this is the scene I interrupted. My two 'daughters' hanging out at the dining room table, doing homework together, on a Saturday night. And they were having a good time together.

The boys are all off skiing with dad on some local mountain, the beauty of $10 night skiing deals, and I am hanging out with two great teenage girls. A girls night in.

If I ever doubt the decision to uproot the kids and move 2500 miles across the country just to be closer to the in-laws, all I have to do is look at pictures like this one. There is no question it was all very, very worth it.

Valuable Education

This is what your homework looks like when you are in film school. It looks a lot like the homework I did while getting my degree in Elementary Education. Oh, except that she actually knows how to use a computer, for papers and film projects. I typed my college papers on a fancy typewriter that plugged into the wall. And they were full of white out smudges. Times have changed in a few short years.

I just have to say it is very handy having a niece in film school. As of last weekend, and because of her patient instruction, I can now make slide shows all by myself, on my own computer. We're all benefiting from her education. I can't wait to see what new things she learns this semester.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Big Kid Playdates

I want to remember this picture in the years to come. I want to happen upon it five or ten years from now and find myself sighing and saying, "ahh...remember when?"

Because we so quickly went from buckling them up in car seats so we could drive to play dates at toddler friend's houses to texting the kid who lives up the block and meeting under the tree in the front yard to snowboard on fresh powder.

I can't imagine what our lives will be like when I find this picture again in five years. I can't even imagine.

"Really, Mom?... Really?"

This is the face of a teenage boy who is changing so fast I can barely keep it recorded on film. He is always away, running track, hanging with friends up the road, or sledding down snowy hills. I have few opportunities to get candid shots of him.

So this day, when I was outside taking pictures of the sledding adventure, I snapped a few extra shots. And these are the words he said to me....

"Really mom? Really? You are taking pictures of me putting on my hat?? Really?"

Oh sweet boy, if you only understood how I take this picture because I can't seem to make my eyes see the almost-adult man face under that hat. All I can see are your six year old bright eyes and chubby cheeks.

Forgive your mom, just this once.

Hesitant Acceptance

This is the boy who wanted a dog most of his elementary school years, but we were busy moving around the country and it could not happen. This is the boy who dreamed of owning a 'hound dog' type canine so once we decided to stay put awhile we cruised all the shelters looking for the perfect match.

This is the boy who was bitter and angry when, after three weeks with new dog, we decided he just had to go back to the shelter. It didn't matter that 'his dog' couldn't control his bladder for more than six minutes, barked 23 hours a day and humped anything that didn't push it away. He had waited for the perfect dog and he had no desire to give any dog 'back'.

This is the boy who would not even acknowledge the replacement dog we brought back from the shelter. When we had resolved to give up on dogs for a bit, get our carpets cleaned well, and try again later, suddenly the shelter lady was saying 'this is the most polite dog we've ever had'....

The word polite clung to my ears and tugged at my heart. She was a poodle, bred for seven years then dumped off at the pound like yesterday's news. (the family kept one of her latest puppies instead) She was polite to the point of apologetic. She soaked in attention and politely waited when you got distracted. It was worth giving 'dogs' another try.

But Big Boy would not accept a poodle. A poodle, for goodness sake! Poodles were not the kind of dogs cool teenage boys owned. It didn't help that she'd been shaved to the skin when we brought her home. She was not only the wrong breed, she was naked to boot.

But slowly she won him over. With every quiet evening that she curled up next to him as he watched TV, and every ordinary afternoon when she rushed to the door and wagged her whole back end to show him how much she'd missed him while he was at school, she quietly and effectively won his heart.

So don't get the wrong idea when you see this picture. He is a teenage boy. And teenage boys, at least cool ones, never own poodles. So even if it looks like he might like her just a little bit, don't believe what you see. He doesn't like her one little bit.

He loves her a lot.

Not Just for Toddlers Anymore

So if I showed you this picture and asked, "What comes next?", would you know the answer? If you have boys, you might know. If you have teenage boys, you almost definitely know. Here's a hint - it involves balance, a snowboard, and a decent chance at a broken bone.

Well, here you go. This is what big boys who are a week away from turning sixteen do with an old plastic swing set slide they found in the woods...

And no, we had no broken bones. Just a few wind chapped cheeks and a whole lot of high fiving as he and his posse of friends perfected snowboard sliding.

Eight Year Old Help

When it just keeps snowing and snowing and snowing and the windshield seems to be perpetually covered in snow and ice, you'll pretty much take all the help you can get. Even if it means an eight year old hanging out on the roof of the van.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

We Ate Cookies

Last Monday came and went. Just another week day. Just another school day. Just another day at work. But we had cookies and milk and a family meeting after dinner. Because last Monday was a very special day in its own quiet way.

Last Monday was January 12. Exactly five years after the surgery that made me an amputee. Every year we have recognized the day, sometimes having cake, sometimes just exchanging comments.

"Another year...can you believe it?"
"Has it really been three years?...four?.."

But this year is somewhat of a milestone. Five years. Half a decade. Five years is a long time to have lived this new life. It was worth stepping back and reminiscing.

So we sat at the kitchen table together and shared cookies. We asked the kids if they remembered surgery day and if their (our) lives are the same or different from what they expected.

You'd think we might have gotten some deep revelations or honest confessions. But the answers we got pretty much sum up the success of this choice I made.

Nothing to report. Life pretty much as usual. This new life slowly but surely sunk in and became our new normal. As I got more mobile, life for them went back to what it used to be, but better. I have to lean on them much less. I have energy to do the things that I used to ask them to do. Running things to different parts of the house as I clean up. Hauling groceries in from the car.

They still help out, but its because I want them to learn responsibility. Not because I physically can't do it myself.

They have a mom who happens to have one leg. Just like other moms might have red hair or wear glasses, their mom has a leg that snaps on in the morning. And it's not really a big deal to them. In the best way possible, I'm 'just' their mom.

It has become our normal and it has become the saving grace I needed it to be. I got the bionic leg I have thought about, and wondered about, since I was just a kid myself. And it has given me back mobility that I hoped and prayed it would.

For five years I've officially been an amputee. My first five years in this new world. It went by fast. I am sure the second five years will fly by even quicker.

So for that one night last week we slowed down long enough to celebrate as a family. Celebrate a surgery that gave mom a more active life and gave us a new normal.

It was a day, and a decision, to celebrate. So we sat and talked. And we ate cookies.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Movie Star Man

I generally don’t have much time to follow Hollywood stories. My thoughts tend to swirl around grocery lists and errands to run. But a few days ago one story caught my eye. A movie star’s child has died. An innocent child, not a drug addicted spoiled child. A child the same age as my own.

And although I don’t know him personally, this movie star is one I sense is a pretty nice guy. He’s made movies I respect and has given countless interviews that exude a caring spirit. All I can think is that it must be a very dark day for this man and his family, because the title of movie star is meaningless. The title of dad means everything.

The long list of projects he’s worked on cannot save him from this horror. The endless fortune he might have accrued cannot buy him back his son. Even the jets he takes such joy in flying cannot whisk him back to the normal life he used to know.

As I snuggle on the couch tonight with my very healthy child, I think of this man I have never met. I think about the sixteen years of small moments he has shared with his son, and how each moment will be a pebble in his quarry of grief.

Because raising kids is very much about the small moments. Sure, being a parent involves watching first toddler steps, first days of kindergarten and little league home runs. There are anxious days of trying out for student council and the high school soccer team. But the bulk of parenting is about none of that. It’s about very small, very ordinary moments that we rarely remember to appreciate.

It’s a small voice saying, “Thanks for the goldfish cwackers, mama. I wuv dem!” when the chaos of the grocery store is about to make you scream. It’s the peck on the cheek kisses every single night before he goes to bed, with promises of ‘I’ll see ya in the morning, mom!’ And it’s sharing a warm blanket on a cold winter night watching just about anything on TV together.

The reality of the empty nest is hard enough when it only involves dropping him off at a college dorm. Graveside services should not be within the realm of possibilities.

A good friend of mine lost her six-year-old to a nasty variety of cancer just a year ago. She is still figuring out how to come up for air. And maybe it’s because I know her and I know how these terrible things happen to really good people that my heart hurts tonight for this movie star man I do not know.

Because after a really average day and a really ordinary weekend, I get to tuck all four of my children into bed and kiss their warm cheeks goodnight. And tonight I am much richer than the movie star man.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Limping Along

Now if you know me at all you would think the above title implies I am having leg issues. But the truth be told, my leg is getting along better than my computer at this point.

Just about a week ago, after much groaning, whining,and fussing the past few months, our computer finally died. No extended period of hospice, it was just gone. It's a long, long story but it basically ends with much weeping, wailing and knashing of teeth. (don't tell my dentist).

The new computer arrives this weekend, if UPS can be trusted, and I will be back. Back to real life where my computer keeps me organized and sane.

So don't worry. There are many pictures yet to be shared and stories yet to be told. Just as soon as the guy in the big brown truck pulls into my driveway....

Update from two weeks later: The UPS man finally came and we immediately tore open the box. I was so excited that we were just hours away from being up and running again. I could finally get my online bills paid. I could finally finish the articles due for the newspaper. I could finally catch up with family and friends through email. Just plug it in and boot it we go!

But instead we plugged it in and nothing happened. Nothing. After hours on the phone with HP tech support somewhere in the middle of India, that ended with him screaming at me and me screaming back at him, we still had nothing. Black screen.

Daughter and I packed it up and hauled it through an ice storm (that was bad enough to give the kids a snow day and close the library where I work) to our local Staples store. The tech woman confirmed we had a dead hard drive.

A dead hard drive. After all the waiting and all the anticipation. A dead hard drive.
So we bought a similar computer off the shelf from the tech woman at Staples and by dinner time, by golly, we were back online! Thank you, Sarah at were my lifesaver in the middle of the storm.