guaging reactions

It was an off day. It didn't feel right from the get up and go, even though we were on-time to the breakfast table. Realizing it was Wednesday, I dashed for ballet bun pins and post-school snacks and tossed the bag with dance shoes towards the door. The garage went up and we ambled down the street to the bus. It was extra chilly, so we had a few rounds of the hokey pokey to get the blood moving. When that got old, Caroline initiated "red light, green light" until Mommy finally realized it was 8:20 and school started in fifteen minutes. We must have missed the bus by moments. Perfect.

With both kids, two backpacks, and a forgotten dance bag in the foyer (DOH!), we headed down the driveway at a brisk pace in Lulu the Subaru determined to get Caroline to school ontime. It was still possible. Construction on our route had me go a different way because I was certainly NOT going to be responsible for tarnishing her perfect attendance. I thought we could just swing around the school, but I saw parents taking their kids to the back door, so in we went. I hadn't done an in-person morning drop since the new protocols went into place for pick up and drop off. I assumed they knew what I didn't, but really none of us knew anything, we were all just late.

The back door greeted us with a BIG orange sign indicating that all doors are locked and everyone should access the main entrance, completely opposite of where we stood. "C'mon," I said. "We need to go around." I diverted attention from this abnormal janut by pointing out playthings on the preschool playground, squirrels galloping up trees, anything to avoid a complaint or question. When the front door was in sight, Caroline suddenly said, "Why are the doors locked?" My heart beat faster, but I managed to calmy, and evenly, answer her question. "The doors are always locked when school starts. We are late today." A BLATANT LIE, we were still ONTIME. "But why, why are they locked?" I was screaming in my head, I just kept walking, keeping my tone even, "To keep you safe and to keep strangers out." (nothing is more scary to me than being locked IN somewhere.) "Like bad guys with guns?" I stopped. No, I halted. "What do you mean, bad guys with guns?" She squirmed. She was trying it out, she hid her face a bit and smiled at me like she knew she had a delicious secret.

I was alone, on that walkway, feet from the entrance to her school, Connor on my hip, and I had to steady myself. How did she know? Why did she know? WHAT did she know???? It didn't occur to me until later that she rides the bus with fourth and fifth graders, as pointed out by Kiki. She had heard something, but I still don't know what. In that moment, I gave her my full gentle attention. I gently inquired what she meant and then I assured her that this was a safe place and she didn't have to worry about things like that. I almost believed myself. Then I calmly walked her to the main entrance where she needed to be let in by office staff and I was told that only she could enter the school. I was happy to hear that, to see it in action, but I saw her face look back at me knowing this was not how we had done this last time, or any time before that.

I would have collapsed right there in front of the beautiful fragile glass archway window of the library, housing tiny chairs, picture books, a lego table, had it not been for Connor. I held it together for him, and managed to drop him off with a huge smile on my face before calling Steve and telling him, "she knows."

be not afraid

So many tears. As the headlines continued to flow in on Friday and the news became more grim and worse than anything I could ever imagine and each valley felt like it was the deepest it could possibly be, the valleys just kept plummeting and with them my tears flowed more freely forcing me more than once to pull my car over and sob. There was work to be done, but it was difficult to think of anything else, to propel myself forward in any semblance of normal, to smile at my carefree patients and play them a sweet song. I looked at them that afternoon as one might typically look at a very small child, so blissfully unaware.

When I close my eyes, my mind creates images I don't want to see. I can't unsee them now. My mind knows that an event like this is rare, but my soul is finding it diffcult to push these fears aside. I sobbed into my kindergartener's hair as she slept last night, cuddling her little body tightly against my own, enveloping her with my legs, my arms, and entire being, knowing that even all my love and care cannot keep her safe from this world.

She had asked me already if we were going to church and I immediately said yes, because what better place could we go? Until I woke in a panic this morning, knowing that the focus was not going to be on advent candles and mangers. I called the parish, I asked the priest who answered directly if this would be discussed and he answered, "there will be prayers for the children." My parish wonderfully offers a children's service that spans part of the mass and brings the kids to a seperate area of the church (which I'm not going to lie was hard to even consider today, sending her away from me in a public place). He suggested I send her along, but she has been resistant to it in the past. Then I asked him, "Father, I just don't know what to do, I'm having such a difficult time with this. What do I even do?" He took a pause, "You are a mother, you are the most important person in the entire world to your children, you must not be afraid."

Caroline reluctantly made her way with the other children to the children's liturgy and I sat alone in a mass of my neighbors, with tears flowing down my cheeks. There it was, just ahead of me, in stained glass. "Be Not Afraid." I focused on it and took it in, in great gulping breaths, until that bouncy haired beauty returned to my side with a sticker sheet of the holy family and her bright smile.

We had a birthday party today for one of her classmates this afternoon. I compared notes with the other mothers who also have told their children NOTHING. We watched them, like my patients, blissfully unaware, laughing, eating cake. She sang made up songs on the way home about "counting horsies" (28) and Rudolph and I pushed it all aside to be with her in that happy moment, to sing right along with her and remind her that I think she is most special thing in the entire world.

We drove by her school on the way home, "HI SCHOOL!" she yelled at the top of her nearly six year old lungs. "I LOVE YOU!!"

A mother at the party was speaking loudly about the events we are trying desperately to keep from our children's ears. She was talking about change and handprint door locks and... she was talking crazy because we all know, there is no way to promise safety, not ever, not anymore. No door, no lock, no fancy handprint gizmo can keep all that outside your door if it wants in. "You can't live like that," someone said. I started, surprised. It was me.

Be not afraid. I'm allowing myself to be myself and myself is desperately sad and incredibly sympathetic. I will honor those kids and faculty in my every action. I will love my children as fiercely as I ever did. I will think of Caroline Previdi every time I hear my daughter's name, every milestone, every birthday, every holiday, every night; surely as sweet as my Sweet Caroline, surely as special, surely as loved, and sorely missed. I will never forget, but I will not be afraid.

morning time

Steve's alarm goes off just after six and I have to elbow him awake to silence it for fear that the short people we have living with us will hear it and wake up early. Inevitably, one of them arrives at 6:15, climbs up onto the bed and snuggles in with us. If it is the girl, she slides in between and waits the obligatory three minutes before requesting PBS. If it is the boy, which is rare, he climbs up onto my side and in one motion is under the covers and snuggled right against me. By the time the TV goes on, Sid the Science Kid is yelling into his microphone about simple machines or what leaves do and I am wide awake. While Steve gets ready, I wrap my arms around those tiny beings and marvel at their length, their weight against my shoulders, and this is my favorite time of the whole day. When the garage door closes behind Steve, I pull myself from beneath my bed headed babies and propel myself into the shower. I always swore I wouldn't be that frantic Mom in the morning, "go, go, go, we're going to be late!" short on time and temper. Most days as Caroline spends no less than ten long minutes changing her underwear, I cannot help but threaten to turn off Arthur completely. I bring the clothes to them in our room. History has shown that any attempt to seperate them from each other or our room results in complete chaos, bed jumping, and an exasperated mother. Having them in our room while I get dressed, dry my hair and apply mascara keeps them under my thumb. Connor insists on getting dressed in our bed, which saves my back and my calves from having to do a full squat while tying his Sambas. When her ladyship is FINALLY appropriately attired with double knotted sneakers she can tie herself now, she walks her jammies to her hamper and makes her bed without me uttering a word. This may be my greatest Mommy accomplishment. I toss Connor's blanket, truck, monkey, and pillow in his direction before turning my attention to our bed, fluffing the duvet and applying all six glorious pillows. Unspoken rule; once you have shoes on, you are not coming back in the bed. Connor is still standing there lamenting that he "CAN'T make his bed!" until Caroline comes to help him, again without a word from me. Breakfast begins by 7:50 and is quick affair, but it is at the table with no PBS. There is just one large sip of juice each because again, I have learned that more than a tiny bit will just get tossed and juice is $$$! My fingers seem to fnally have mastered french braiding and as soon as I have tucked the last tendril, lunch bags get tossed into backpacks and we begin our parade to the lower level for coat application. I've laid them out, which is code for "I left them exactly where they were from when we arrived home." Zippers are zipped, mitten pulled on with emphasis on thumb placement, and hats are secured. The garage lurches upwards again by 8:10 and we walk to the bus stop which thankfully, is at the corner of our street. The kids either cling to me and fight over which leg they get to hug or they chase each other in circles until I must intervene with the "hokey pokey." Connor and I walk Caroline to the bus when it arrives and wave good bye to her and then we return to home to gather his things and my two bags and two phones so we can bring him to school. The drive at 8:30 is easy now that we switched him somewhere closer, but it was only yesterday that he stopped crying that he didn't "want to go to this school." His teachers assist me in detaching him from my body and then I head to the car where I warm up my work laptop and check to see what happened overnight. I plan my day, send emails, and organize myself right there in the parking lot. Sometimes I even have a chance to check my own personal stuff and social media. Sometimes. I head out on the road by 9:15, backroads if possible because I LOATHE 128 and I spend my day missing those kids. Sometimes I can still smell the maple syrup from their toaster waffles. I long to go to sleep to wake up with them again, in our bed, watching Sid, resting their heads into my shoulders and asking me to "put your arm around me, Mommy."

& then she laughed so hard

Advent. My kids barely make it through mass. I recently took them and I am quite sure that despite sitting in the very last row and approximately fifteen feet from the exit, the Lord himself thought someone had brough feral children into church just before Communion. Started off so good, ended oh so badly. Despite this, I am pushing the real meaning of Christmas this year. If you ask Caroline what Christmas is about, she will tell you "giving to others."

Steve got a chocolate window calendar for each of them and Caroline is LOVING finding the next number each day on both her AND Connor's calendar. In lieu of little gifts, I picked up some small notecards and envelopes, a fancy silver pen, and reviewed the "ABCFamily 25 Days of Christmas" schedule. My plan was to create meaning, memories, and make it special. I pinned like I had never pinned before. There is some really amazing fun stuff coming like making trees with ice cream cones and frosting and getting ready for bed and driving around to look at lights. They get to watch Home Alone again, which might be the highlight of the whole thing. It's a lofty goal to get through the month doing something special as a family each day, but it's worth it for the message (and for the memories I will look back and weep over when they leave me). ahem. Where was I?

So far we have roasted marshmallows in the fireplace with hot cocoa, met Santa and gave him our ONE "WANT" item (I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Caroline's ability to limit herself to just ONE thing), watched the Grich, and today we gave to others. What item do you think the kids were most excited about? I'd bet you are wrong. Caroline was so psyched this morning when she read "Give to others." When Steve and I showed up with Toys for Tots and gifts for both Fido and Mittens at the Animal Shelter in tow, her teacher told us she had been hearing about how Caroline's Mom was bringing things later ALL.DAY.LONG. Parent win.

Over the weekend, when football was on and the kids were turning the playroom upside down, I called a time out and tucked the kids into our bed to watch Elf. I had completely forgotten about the sleigh and how it runs on Christmas spirit and that whole dialogue about there NOT BEING A SANTA. Oh, boy. I could feel my intestines in my throat when it started and it was too late to stop it and wouldn't you know that my daughter has a little bit of Buddy the Elf in her. When Papa Elf suggested that there was a rumor going around that the parents were giving the gifts that girl laughed like I had never heard her laugh. This was clearly the craziest thing she had ever heard because, the parents? PLEASE. My intestines returned to their normal positions and I etched another year off my life and forced a crazy hyena laugh along with her.

The next day, Monday, the day we were to watch the Grinch she asked me if it was me sending her notes each day. I had said, "I don't know" when she first asked where they were coming from. She had her theories; Peter the Elf, Santa, a mysterious fairy. I froze and then said, "yes, they are from mommy." Which prompted a "why did you try to trick me?" This stopped me in my tracks. I explained that mommy just wanted to do something special each day with her and Connor to celebrate this very special time of year. That was enough. She "silly mommy'd" me and walked away. When she finds out the truth about the North Pole, I hope she doesn't feel betrayed, but understands that I just wanted to make a little holiday magic for her and Connor. It's coming. I don't know how much time I have left, but as long as she has a little Buddy in her, I am hopeful we have a little more time with all this glorious magic.

a visit to Santa

We met up with Cousin Lyle and his parents today at Bass Pro Shops for a photo with Santa.

We checked out the train, a picture of ideal siblinghood.


 Caroline wrote her list with the one item she has requested.


 then proudly displayed her work



 Connor prayed? He was actually just super excited about the glass elevator, but we can pretend he was praying can't we?
 It wasn't always rosy,

 but we mailed our letters anyway.


Two children, one Santa lap. Success!

tondu twirling and skate diving

We may have overscheduled her a bit, but I'm okay with it. Caroline is continuing with hockey (at least for a couple sessions) and chose a ballet/tap combination class as her other activity. Grace and Grit.

She is not always pleased when I open the door to her after school program with her dance bag in hand. In fact, I don't think there has been a single week since September that she has skipped over to me, grabbed the bag from my hand and let out a happy yell. Far from it. I'm not phased by this, not in the least. She is the queen of challenging transitions. There is much whining, sometimes some tears, and eventually she sits on the little bench outside the dance studio with six other adorable ballerinas and waits patiently to be called in by Miss Katie. Parents don't observe these classes, so it's all been a mystery, until today.



Caroline wasn't looking forward to "peak week." We had a good cry over it last week. She didn't like the idea of people watching her. I assured her that the other parents were there to watch their own children, that Mommy and maybe Kiki and MAYBE DADDY would be there just for her. She didn't bat an eye when I mentioned it en route this afternoon. She handled the barre like a pro, but fell apart once they got to the center. We'll work on it. Miss Katie assured me that this was not how it usually goes and that she is shy, but nothing like the scared to participate girl we saw towards the end of the hour. She was unphased by that pesky bar on the floor. She watched and listened and followed and looked so darn sweet.

In comparison, this girl is lightening on ice. Check her out there on the far end of the ice passing up her fellow tiny skaters.



Hockey was a hard sell. We first approached it in a "you decide" kind of way and she immediately, without hesitation declared, "NO!" I took a deep breath. I actually let it go for a day or two and then I sat her down to have a heart to heart. We talked about how she doesn't ever like to get ready to go, that it interrupts her weekend morning play'tastrophe with Con. I asked her if she could remember last year when she was four, how she barely could get across the ice. I asked her if she remembered that in the beginning she cried to get off the ice and then later cried because it was taking too long to get her ready to go on. I asked her to trust that Mommy and Daddy would make good decisions for her and that this was just one of those decisions she needed to hand over to us. We talked about moving up to group two with the rest of the kids who could skate without help, to see what it was like. She raced up and down the ice that first session, racing others to the end line. This past weekend she winded through cones and dove under sticks held up on cones with gusto and fearlessness. She got a number three on her helmet.

Our girl. Half sweet arabesqueing ballerina, half fearless speed skater. I think she is pretty near perfect.

stapled

We have now had our first E.R. experience for an injury and Connor's first staple.

We were having such a lovely little Sunday. All was well. The kids had gone to sleep a bit late in preparation for the time change and had magically slept until the light was green at the "new" 6:15. In fact, they didn't poke their heads in until 6:45. It was a day after daylight savings time miracle. We played in the leaves while Steve did a big part of the fall clean up. (I had already done my fall martyrdom of five bags earlier in the week when I just couldn't look at it anymore.) The kids screamed with laughter, jumped into piles, flung leaves into the air. They played together on the playscape and Caroline even tackled the "monkey bars" up top all the way across. I was so incredibly proud of her as she reached the end and slapped Connor's awaiting palm. She did it again and again and on what was to be the last time, she declared "no hands, Mom!" (as in, don't spot me) and fell hard on her right side. I encouraged her to jump up and do it again and she did, but it was clearly time for cocoa and an ice pack.

The adults showered, we ate lunch.  We sat down with a movie while the kids played quietly. I lugged the chest of costumes downstairs and we had a buzz lightyear and a princess in five seconds flat. Connor was hanging out, solitary, pulling out matchbox cars. It has been a bossy weekend over here. Caroline likes to be in control of play, executing her vision with Connor's assistance or without it, either way acheiving her own goal. She couldn't help but go behind the couch to investigate and thus, take over. I asked them to "please bring the cars out over here where I can see you." They were tucked into a corner, WHY do they do that??You can always sense with them when it will all go bad. I just knew this was not going to end well. I listened carefully, waiting for a snark or a whine or an anything to intervene. Unfortunately, this episode ended with a whine and then a scream and a trip to the ER.

When I leapt around the couch, Connor was lying on his back, Caroline across from him. It was clear she had pushed him, he had hit his head. It wasn't until Steve picked him up that he realized, pulling his hand from the back of his head and seeing it blood red, that this was more serious than a pushy bossy instigation. This was my worst fear realized. I put off building or buying something for the hearth downstairs because it is SO long and the most dangerous pointy part is usually barricaded off with pillows and doll strollers and shopping carts. Today, none of that was there, Connor had instead barricaded himself INTO this precarious spot and wham-o. Needless to say, I'm done holding my breath every time one of them runs, skips, chasing a hockey puck or rolls over within twelve inches of the hearth.

I am not proud to admit that I lost it. In a moment where a Mom needs to hold it together, I totally lost it. I mean, this is what I had been dreading and yet, I was shocked. After forcibly placing the pusher onto a step and then yelling down to her from the kitchen to take off her costume and put on her sneakers, I sobbed into Steve's back. The ugly cry. Connor stopped crying, pretty much stopped bleeding and we pulled on coats and grabbed a bag with virtually no snacks nor amusements and headed to the hospital. Steve suggested one of us go and one stay with Caroline, but I was determined that they both needed to see what the hospital was all about. Heck, they had heard me say it enough, "Stop running over there or you will slam your face into that fireplace and go to the hospital!" I guess I just wasn't expecting it to be at their sibling's hand. I don't know the details of the squabble that preempted this, all I knew was I needed to really hammer home this "hands are for hugging, not for hitting" thing. Pronto. She didn't mean for him to hit his head, I know this, but Caroline had a rough weekend with lots of pushing and kicking and carrying on and ugh. For it to end this way...

Connor could have cared less that we were at the hospital. He sat quietly while they took his vitals. He barely spoke when the doctor said hello. One staple. They didn't have numbing cream because it had been recalled as part that compounding situation in Framingham. They could do two injections to numb it and then the staple or just the staple. I opted for just one ouchy. Kid did not even flinch. He did not cry. He did not react in anyway. A staple in my son's skull. He has not complained even once, except for exclaiming "ouchy" when we laid him down to change him for bed. I put him to sleep on the unaffected side, kissed him goodnight and counted my blessings.

I'm buying the materials for that hearth cover asap. Your worst fears sometimes do come true. Trust that itchy part of your brain. I sure wish I had.

Ready...

and.... breathe.

Today was the first day I was partially on my own in my new position. The joys of starting a new job, particularly one that is supposed to be "self-directed" and "field-based," and just ISN'T in the orientation phase. The hardest part of giving up my other position was knowing I would have to endure this special part of a new job. We all enjoyed a collective sigh of relief as we headed out this morning knowing all likelihood, I would be back to collect the short people from school within a reasonable time.

The last two weeks are a whirlwind of early mornings, rushed commutes, LONG commutes to nearly New Hampshire, late day pick ups, rushed meals, a sad white flag ending another go at the Vegan Challenge, tired children, bus stop tears, and a mom managing on a ridiculous amount of caffeine. It's true. These past two weeks alone took my pumpkin spiced latte count for the month of October from 2 to 9. 

We could not have gotten through without Steve being able to split the pick up duties with me. Kiki saved us from having to endure a complete and utter bus reintroduction situation with Caroline last week. Someone got a little too cozy with her early drop offs at the school gym. Everyone ate dinner. Everyone had clean clothes. Everyone was an allowable level of clean. That's a win.

Now. To just get through the "easy!" Halloween Party I somehow signed myself up to help with. I spent over an hour last night cutting and wrapping sensory boxes to be filled with scabs (crumbled potato chips), fingernails (dried pumpkin seeds), and brains (damp sponges I sliced and painstakingly SEWED into a brain shape).

the man with the red bandana

I ran the Red Bandana Run today at Boston College. It's been a goal and Beacon Street scared the bejesus out of me, but I did it. Our friend Marc got the same crew who ran the Corrib Run back in May back together for a little 5K round II. As an added bonus, I got to run alongside my baby cousin Kristen. Both of us were aiming to finish, with no expectation for time whatsoever though we each run about a 10 minute mile. I shaved some time off over the summer, but a hectic fall has cost me those gained seconds. We ran pace with each other the whole race, stopping once before the beacon incline to walk and once at the top because we couldn't feel our legs. I yelled to her "Lean into the hill, you can do this!" It may have been more for me. We met up with the kids on College Road and took them with us the remaining .3 to the finish. She gave up her strong finish to hold hands with my daughter and cross the finish line. Connor's little legs could run no more, so I scooped him onto my back and carried him over. It's an important race and not just because I conquered the beast that is Beacon street. I felt compelled to write and send the following to the family.

October 13, 2012


Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust
P.O. Box 780
Nyack, NY 10960-0780
Mr. and Mrs. Crowther and Family,
I’m not a runner. Last fall, my good friend Marc, BC 2000 and lax player, asked if I wanted to run the Red Bandana Run with him to honor his friend and teammate. Again, I’m not a runner, so I said that it sounded wonderful, but I’d never be able to do it. This past spring I trained for and ran a 5K with Marc. I continued to run over the summer with the intention of completing the Red Bandana Run this year. Today, I did just that and I know that I will continue to participate year after year.

I have long been aware of Welles’ story, years before ESPN aired their story. I think of him every year on September 11th and yet, I never met him. I’m not writing today just to thank you for this race, for the wonderful charitable work you do in honor of this exceptional young man, but to thank you for giving me a way to talk about the events that bright, sunny day in 2001 with my two young children. My daughter turned five this year. When she asked me why I was running another race, I told her that once upon a time there was a very brave boy who gave his own life to help others. I know that with each passing year she will become more aware and I will have to answer more difficult questions, questions that I know I will not be able to answer. I will always have Welles’ story to remind her that even in the face of the most terrible things, there are good people, strong in character and spirit who do the right thing and put others ahead of themselves. This year, we stopped our discussion at the assertion that you don’t have to have super powers to be a hero.
Much thanks… see you next fall.

idle time

I quietly left my position this week. I released my computer to IT and practically skipped out of my office. I hit the parking lot, started my car, and didn't look back. An air of uncertainly rests around me now, but it's my air, my doing, and I like it that way. I think I like it that way?

Nothing but time today and yesterday. Kerri being Kerri, I scheduled myself silly, created an impossible to finish to do list, and off I went.

Did I sit and eat bon bons? No. Did I catch up on all the things on the DVR and on demand I have been meaning to get to? No. I did log in a ridiculous amount of time working on a Halloween Party in town, but more on that later. Dear Lord, what did I get myself into? I checked items off that ever evolving and growing to do list that included fun things like Homegoods for Pillows, Trader Joe's for snacks, a hair cut wherein I caught up on most of my trashy mags, and a test drive for a car we are considering. It also included things like researching a snow blower, laundry, reorganizing the plasticware (oh, how I loathe gladware!), and planning the logistics for the transition.

There are some fun things planned before my new gig begins; an afternoon at the Aquarium with Lyle and Auntie C, a night away at the beach with Steve to celebrate our anniversary, a morning to sleep in (thanks Auntie K), and a day with just Mommy and the kids on Monday. Four days until the next tomorrow.

enough

(from A&E Intervention)

I felt like I needed an Intervention often during the last oh, I'll say two years. Around the same time my "yay, you have been here for two years and now qualify to participate in our 401K" letter came in the mail, (YES, TWO YEARS?!?!), I determined that it had been enough and I was ready for change, but terrified of it. Lord knows I have endured enough change the past two years, why would a little more now be so scary, right? 

The pain of my everyday work life had become too much. It had become more terrifying than the change I dreaded. It was soul sucking and awful and each day I wondered what new mysterious new depth of suckdom we could reach. So many times I felt "this the bottom, it gets better from here." It didn't. I repeated often in my head, "the devil you know..." I really stuck it out, even when promises were reneged and life threw me a handful of half squeezed moldy lemons. I committed myself, held my head up, even when I wanted to toss my badge towards the door and never look back. "Here's your stinking mouse!" I kept going. I crossed every "t", I followed through on every single request, and I dutifully maintained my image of happy social worker, even when I was fuming and exasperated and feeling huffy. I don't know how I did this because at home, I was a ticking time bomb. I couldn't be truly present for my kids because the compartment I was keeping work BS in was overflowing. I couldn't be the best wife because at night when my helpful spouse tried to talk things through, I wanted to talk about anything and everything but not this, no, please anything but this. It went from hard to harder recently, when all my hope for positive changes went to heck. It happened while I was out with Steve's knee surgery and Caroline's lapse between camp and school. I literally came back to work and my heart was wrung out and hung to dry. All hope that we were now at the bottom of the neverending pit lost.


(Edited to add this e card from Amy, thanks!)

Change is painful. I am not entirely sure what the new routine might look like. I worry about the kids coping with another transition. I worry that it won't be what I want it to be. I worry that the devil I know is really better than the devil I don't. I worried so much making the decision to take the leap toward something that might be better, that I couldn't sleep. Then I worried so much that I was tired all the time. My worry killed my appetite and then suddenly revved it into full force with massive carb loading. My worry ate up all my downtime and I couldn't even shake it when I ran. People, I worried. A lot.
I questioned everything. I toyed with leaving my niche of my profession for something completely new. I started writing a business plan I was pretty jived about. It was the only positive professional thing in my life since May. I even considered just walking away without a plan, staying home until I figured it out. I really considered that actually, because I had no other options and was absoluely miserable. I knew there would be many questions from many people that I would have to explain away and I'm just not the kind of person who can say, "it wasn't working out," even though that is the truth. There are still thousands of people in this country who looking for work, ANY work, something to keep them from completely draining their bank accounts or retirement funds. I thought of the kids too. I would have to pull Connor from most of his preschool time. I would have to cancel Caroline's afterschool program. Her afterschool program is her favorite part of her entire day. I'd have to reconsider hockey this fall, dance, cute shoes, buying ahead when things are on sale at the market. I'd have to stretch every dime further than I am now. I've done all of that once when we first moved home and while I loved those 8 months with the kids, I know it set us back financially.

Today I tweeted that I am looking for new pillows, for an amazing new bed arriving in just a couple weeks. Pillows, by the way, are way more expensive than I thought they were. I called Steve to warn him that I was not going to be getting two pillows for the twenty bucks he was expecting. It's one of the things in our marriage I have learned: warn him because he has a ridiculous sense of monetary worth. "Pants for $60???? What are they made of? gold???" I knew I had to warn him that I was budgeting about $35 a pillow, which allows him to go hog wild online to see that indeed, nicer pillows do cost more than 2 for $20. That new bed, it wouldn't happen if I wasn't working. Me feeling entitled to new plush pillows for the new bed, that doesn't happen either if I'm not working. I know we could swing it, we could, but we would both be unable to justify. Do we NEED new pillows? No, we don't, but it will make it so much better to sleep in our new bed with new fluffy amazing pillows and I won't feel an ounce of guilt because my job paid for those pillows. It would kind of let the air out of my yay balloon if the pillows sucked that first night's sleep. I had wanted my next job to be part time, but it isn't. I've come to realize that my little niche of social work allows for a pretty flexible lifestyle. There is no train to catch, no office to check in at, just one set meeting, and all the time in the world to plan your day yourself. It's a pretty lucky thing to stumble into.

Mostly, I didn't feel comfortable telling Caroline that "Mommy didn't really care for work, so she quit." For me, it is of the utmost importance to show my daughter that she can truly do, be, live anyway she wants. If her life's ambition is to be Mom, then be Mom and ROCK that motherhood title. If she wants to be a face painter and balloon maker, I will buy stock in balloons and empower her to be an amazing successful entreprenuer. If she wants to have a career AND be a Mom, well, I hope I am showing her that THAT is possible too. Saying, I didn't like it, so I left, teaches her that when life gets hard, you can walk away. That is not the lesson I want her to get here. When I sit down to explain that crazy first couple weeks of my transition to her, I want her to know that I made a decision to hopefully make things better for all of us. I want her to know that I do this for a reason, not just for myself. I want her to know that the time I spend away from them is as hard on me as it is on them, but a family works together and weathers whatever is thrown at them. I want her to know that I make these choices to better her life. I want to show her that it wasn't working, but that I found a better way. I want her to know that if she values it, it is important, and worth doing. I want her to know I never gave up hope and I never will.

I start October 9th.

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a how to for the shoulder season and beyond

I took on the arduous awful task of switching the kids clothes over from "hot as hades" to "pleasantly crisp." I always do it too soon and usually end up with an overflowing amount of clothes to cover the shoulder season that make absolutely no sense and the drawers and the closet and the WOE!! It's New England after all, so the weather changes in an instant. Send them in long pants, it is sure to be hot and humid by the time you pick them up. Forget to send a coat and get treated to a whinefest on the ride home about how cold they were.

This is never really perceived as a big deal to Steve because he is always warm and would just assume to send them in shorts and t-shirts year round. See, the task of buying the clothes is mine too, but he oftentimes feels that they don't really NEED this stuff. I might not need a new pair of yoga pants, but Connor needs new pants each season. That is fact. If only we lived in North Carolina, perhaps year rund ts and shorts could be a reality. We live in Massachusetts where we are incredibly lucky to HAVE a fall season full of color and crisp air and apple cider (donuts).

I check the weather each night and by morning it is different. I like to plan the kids clothes for the week in advance, it saves precious time in the morning. It also allows for less chance that I will dress us all the same. If you get a hankering for nantucket red pants and a striped shirt and THEN go to select the children's clothes, brace yourself to walk out the door before you realize you look like a family of bees headed out for the day. In fact, that is probably the number one reason I must choose in advance because this happens to me all the time, particularly with Caroline.

Hint 1: ORGANIZE AND CREATE CHOICES
I have one of those fabric five shelf sweater organizers that hangs from the rod in each of their closets and it helps in many ways, namely that I can typically send Caroline in to choose a shelf and thus I have given her choice and helped her make an appropriate decision at the same time. This prevents a lot of fights, except the weather has been so unpredicatble that our laundry last week looked almost shizophrenic; jeans, sweaters, mesh shorts, long sleeves. I've been bringing her majesty two choices in the mornings instead of using my five day planning system because weatherwise, it just doesn't work in September.

There is a lot to choose from this season. Five years in people and I think I am finally starting to get a handle on how to shop for a new seasonal wardrobe for growing children... while saving as much money as humanly possible. It doesn't hurt that both grandparents contributed some pretty amazing finds of their own. Kiki found some fantastic Bear Paw boots and the cutest skinny jeans ever. Nana sent her home from her visit earlier this month with the prettiest fall skirts that I cannot wait to send her to school in with TIGHTS.

Hint 2: SECOND HAND
I still spend a good amount of time as the new season approaches scouring my favorite consignment haunts searching for quality basics like khakis, cords, skirts, denim. I search both their current size and a size up because with second hand clothing comes a second hand laundry history. I found a great Gap white button down shirt for Connor marked to half price for $3.00. For Caroline, I located an amazing Splendid three-quarter sleeve magenta and grey striped dress to wear with leggings for under $10.00.

Hint 3: CAREFULLY REVIEW BEFORE THE ATTIC AND (more importantly) REMEMBER WHERE YOU PUT THAT BOX
I have a system now, one that makes Steve roll his eyes and say "Oh, Boy." At the end of each season, I review EVERYTHING and make three piles; "Keep for next year," "Storage," and "Donate." Careful review before storing limits what I spend and buy the next season and yes, it's more work, but why buy a surplus of size 5 jeans just because you put them in the attic and have no idea where they are?

Hint 4: REVIEW & REVISE
Review what will still work from last year, revise your wardrobe plans to maximize what you already have. I review what will and won't work, forcing her to try things on when necessary. Unfortunately, asking her to try anything on is akin to requesting her to donate a kidney, so I put anything that I think MIGHT work into the keep pile and play a rousing game of wardrobe roulette on those mornings. I can already see how it will play out because she has already mentally placed several items in the "can never go to other people we know who are smaller" pile. Once I take a look at what each kid has, I take stock of what they absolutely need and what I think would be cute or fun to add. I literally write it down on a card and stick it in my wallet and I search for it. I took Caroline to the outlets and we checked off denim skirt, denim jacket, and button down (peter pan) collar white shirt (which ended up being a bit of a splurge.) We found and conquered "sporty comfy" pants and button down shirts for Connor. I learned last year that the best way to work a boy's wardrobe is to maximize the use of t-shirt year round; solo in summer and over long sleeves in the cooler months. He will literally wear some of his shirts for a full year this year and I am stupidly excited about it.

Hint 5: ALLOW THE OCCASIONAL SPLURGE
I spent a little more this year than I typically do because she is getting older now and has opinions and he is getting older and ruining less clothing. I splurged on some really cute things that Caroline loved because I know she will want to wear them and that is most of the battle isn't it? I'll post of photo of her wearing my two favorite splurges; a ridiculous heather grey DKNY swish (auntie!!!) and her off the runway long buttonless cardi with ribbon sash from Crewcuts. Girl knows she looks sweet, smiling at herself in the mirror, tossing her curls back. Don't you wish you could look in the mirrow and blow yourself a kiss because you think you are the hottest little thing?

HINT 6: DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOU
This is also the year I update myself because enough already. It cannot be nearly Thanksgiving again before I realize I didn't find one cute thing for myself this fall. Most often when I open my wallet, it is for them, while I still wear shoes from ten years ago. This is the year I hop on the leggings train and ride it into the sunset, discreetly covering up with long sweaters and tunics of course.

my tiny dancer

With so many exciting activities over the summer, it was difficult to discuss with Caroline that she could choose just dance OR gymnastics this fall. Clearly in July it was ALL gymnastics with the Olympics. Aly being from her home state almost sealed the deal. I called some gyms because I was imagining they were being peppered with calls from parents wanting to sign their little ones up and classes were sure to be filling. They weren't taking registration yet, but they reported an influx of calls and were anticipating record number of enrollments. One was even adding classes for the littlest ones. In essence, 2012 is a great year to be a gym. I still had difficulty getting a commitment from Caroline. She wanted me to decide for her and I refused to do that. I explained that this was her choice because she was the one who would need to go each week, listen, learn and then perform. I reassured her I would support whichever decision she made and that if it was not working out and she was not enjoying it, she should just talk to me about it. Rest assured, this will in no way affect her learn to hockey which she is firmly on board with. You will still see cute photos of her braids under a hockey helmet later this fall and winter.

As time ticked away and the days started to get shorter, I started reviewing the class schedules for both options and it looked for a bit that dance was going to be off the table because we needed a class that met after school mid week. We are still in denial that our weekends will soon be filled full tilt with the kids sports and extracurriculars. Steve is still in denial that he only has a couple more seasons of unintterupted BC Football. I got an email from a studio I had contacted in the spring notifying me of an Open House during the last week in August who also just happened to have what they were touting as a "Full Day K class" in the middle of the week after school. We hit the farmer's market and walked down the street to check it out.

It reminded me of my own dance studio. It was simple, with wooden floors, a small waiting area. There were no competition trophies or plaques on the walls. This was a simple studio where the goal was to learn and have fun. There was a very simple but strict dress code. The owner and teacher has owned the studio for thirty years and is nothing like that terrible Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms. (Isn't that show terrifying!?) Girls were trying on dance shoes in the first studio and Caroline leaned away from me to peek in on them. So we tried on ballet shoes; she did some spins and admired her beautiful self in the mirror. We tried on tap shoes; she lit up like a fourth of july bonfire, "high up heels, Mommy!" and she refused to take them off. I asked her if she had made her decision and she replied, "yes! yes! yes! I want these shoes."

I have to admit, I've been fighting this for awhile. I have vivid clear memories of my mother asking me if I wanted to dance when I was about four years old. (Four? mom?) She asked me what kind of dance and I knew it had to be ballet. She asked us to fetch her the phone book (yes, the phone book!) and she began doing research for a local school the way they did it in the 80's. I recall leaping on the couches in our family room, filled with such excitement because I was going to be a ballerina. She observed classes and dismissed schools that were too flexible, with little structure. She sliced her way through her phone book list until she found my dance school, the one I would attend until I was sixteen. I can still remember the first class, just a handful of us, learning how to hold our hands like ballerinas, how to hold a beach ball with our arms for what would someday become a port de bra. I loved it, I lived it, I breathed it in great big Cecchetti Method gulps. I never lost an audition, save for one bad experience at Boston Ballet (of all places) where I was so utterly confused that I couldn't tell if by calling your number you were in or out.  I heard my number and just walked off, stormed off actually (Don't be mad Mom). I experienced the joy of a second set of friends, I danced in so many Nutcrackers that I still can recall some of the coreography, and I even considered being a ballerina when I grew up for real, not as some childhood fanstasy.

This holiday will mark the third time we will take Caroline to the Nutcracker. Last year we got crowns with my cousin (and fellow dancer) Kristen to wear each year because why wouldn't you want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy one night every year. I am also trying to teach her young that an event which a crown is considered an appropriate accessory needs to be taken advantage of. Last year, on our way home, I explained that all the children she had seen were learning ballet, that her mommy had been one of those children a long time ago, that she had even been Clara. It's hard. It's hard to not press your own positive experiences on your kid. I avoided it for so long for fear that I would just be signing her up to be me, but I also started to see that I was holding her back from deciding for herself if she wanted to try it.

We bought the shoes, we found a dance wear shop to buy a black leotard and pink tights. I pulled her hair back into a bun and boy, did she remind me of a little girl I used to look at in the mirror.

We may not have a ballerina, but we might have a tapper. This video was shot for Nana on Wednesday after her class.




FDK - first day of k, video proof of the bus ride

For my husband, who was confused that I referenced a video I did not post, I give you "the kids sitting so pleasantville quietly at the table." Could you even imagine choosing to sit like Caroline? Hang in there for the ending.



For all posterity. First day of Kindergarten; from quiet confidence to tears and fears. Was I telling our neighbor she would be fine to reassure myself? Yes. I most certainly was.



the invisible line

It echoed over all our televisions in July. That "oh, oh, oh," of Phillip Phillips "Home." It was catchy, it got your heart beating faster watching Ali's smug "I nailed that tumbling pass" grin. Steve loves this song. The kids hum along. You almost can't help it.

I heard it on the way home last week from a group I volunteer with in town for newcomers. It made me think of Caroline and school and this little town and how I never thought we would be here and yet, here we are. Home. I've written before about how our goal when we were living in Connecticut (a long time ago now) when we realized it was not going to stick, was to be back to Massachusetts in time for school. At times it seemed reasonable, at others impossible, and then it just happened so fast and so suddenly. BOOM.

We have lived here in this home for almost two years and it feels equal parts, "didn't we just get here?" and "doesn't it seem like we've been here forever?" We've put our stamp on it now, freed it of its pale pink walls and wallpaper. We know the sounds of our home too; the way the water comes on in spurts for the washing machine and the way you can hear through the walls of the master bath directly into the kitchen. I haven't learned every squeaky step yet, but in time Caroline and Connor will to assist them in creaking up the steps, home past curfew.

There seems to be something about having one of our short people starting at the public school down the street makes it feel a little more like home now. We feel part of town in a way we didn't necessarily feel before. Still, there is just something about that song. Beyond the obvious I love you and you love me and we can take on the world thing, it seems pretty appropriate for today; the first day of Kindergarten. It goes a another unexpected way too; kid to parent, parent to kid. I'll hold onto you and you hold onto me and we will ride this thing wherever it takes us and you will never be alone.

Here are the lyrics... minus the oh, oh, oh'ing referenced up top.
"Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause i’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause i’m going to make this place your home"

This morning, my baby strapped on her backpack, put on her biggest smile and posed for this photo.


There were a few tears when the bus rounded the corner, but I maintained my composure (somehow) and led her by the hand across the street, avoided the rookie mistake of the hoisted hug, where my big kid stepped up and onto the bus and into the first seat beside her fellow first time rider Tyler. The sobs stopped, but her scared little face reached around the corner to get one more look at us before the doors closed and she rode away to her first day in kindergarten. I made it through Connor's drop off, made the u-turn, blew kisses out my window and tried to focus on the day ahead. My eyes welled up as I glanced at the clock, knowing she had arrived and her day had begun and she was there stepping across some invisible line into a new phase of life.

How did it go? This is seriously all I got from her. Her teacher was there to greet her. Our neighbor (the school nurse) was there to take a photo of her getting off the bus. She went to gym and danced around. She ate all the skin off her peach. She skinned her knee on the playground. She made friends, but could not tell me anything about it. She wants to go back tomorrow.

This morning before the bus came, I quickly went through the story "The Kissing Hand" and I kissed her hand and placed it against her cheek and reminded her she carried a piece of my heart in her own body and my kiss would be there in her palm all day to remind her that I love her. They actually read the book at storytime today. She then traced her own hand, placed a heart sticker in the center and brought it home just to make me cry, right? Oh, my heart.

Tonight at bedtime I brushed the curls from her brow, "I am so proud of you, Caroline." "I'm so proud of you too, Mommy." Gulp. God, she's good.

limit setting

I have difficult conversations with caregivers in my professional life about increasing responsibilities and roles. I always tell them, "knowing what you are not capable of doing, is just as important as knowing what you can do." I never seem to be able to take my own advice.

Last time I wrote here, I detailed how we need to get out, out, out or we risk insanity. We got out, out, out on Saturday at the second BC football game, but today, not so much. The biggest item on our agenda was grocery shopping and prepping for the Pats game. Ah yes, football season. Love the game, hate the time committment. I absolutely could not fathom managing these two on my own outside the house after yesterday, so we made nachos, we did watercolors, sorted buttons, strung beads. I use we liberally. I had hoped to deter them from further endangering their beautiful faces with all the physical playtime and get dinner prepped. Each time my hand touched a knife, someone needed more water, or a different paint brush, or more buttons. When I did finally start chopping peppers, the kids flew from their seats to get their plasticware knives out because they were apparently going to "cut peppers." Um, NO!

It was the kind of afternoon that makes you question how you got here; breaking up wrestling matches, constant requests to "stop," temper tantrums, wild screaming children racing about telling you when you ask them "who is in charge?" "me" and realizing they are sort of right.

We pushed through dinner and I took the kids on a walk around the neighborhood. The volume did not go down and I am sure the neighbors appreciated the camp song serenade loudly delivered by both kids. I ended up scooping the slower of the two onto my back and together we discovered that chestnut trees have very ouchy blooms. Eruptions of giggles during a simulatenous finger prick and a serious hunt for acorns replaced exasperation.

I love to be home. I love to stand against my kitchen counter. I love to fluff the sheets in the air and leisurely take care of those hospital corners I love to be home with my family, but my family right now just cannot be at home for long periods of time without it all falling apart. During those falling apart moments I worry, because things professionally have been questionable at best and I've been worried that I might need to be at home like that more and I fret about what I would do. I knew tonight during that walk that I would just be the busy mom, never home, always on the move. Home is my limit, it's what I cannot do. Walks, trampoline parks, dollar night at the Children's Museum, football games that last all day, things that make most moms shiver in fear, yeah, they are my shining moment. We do out so well, most of the time, it's home that is my limit. It won't always be that way. I have a short video today of the kids doing watercolors at the kitchen table and there is silence, until Connor spills his entire cup of paint water on the floor. It's chaos. Out it where it is at, just not the supermarket because oh my god, it should be parental punishment to take a kid to the market hours before the first NFL game of the year.






ps. it is still hard to be a mccashew

Steve had his surgery a week ago Tuesday and we were all so relieved, some of us (ME) smug actually, that it was NOT the ACL he had been preparing for, fretting about, searching out You Tube videos to scare himself silly about the recovery, and researching stats on the mortality rate from this particular surgical procedure. He DID have two tears; medially and laterally, which the doc told me were most likely the reason it felt to him like an ACL. AMEN. A hundred pounds off my shoulders right then and there as I hoisted his nerve blocked left leg into the SUV to drive him home and pick up his meds and fix him lunch and attend to the cryo cuff. Let's also say here how particularly grateful I was that my children were nowhere in sight (thank you Kiki) because that day I barely sat down, even during his two hour post anethesia snooze. He would do the same for me, though I think comparing his knee to having a baby will need to be chalked up to delusional pain medication talk.

The week tested me and while I was thrilled to pieces to have us all under one roof together for four glorious days (three if you don't count Saturday when we attended the first football game of the season! did you honestly think he would miss it???), the kids are in the wonderful stage where they are completely incapable of leaving each other alone for a single second. I am of the mindset that we need to get out, get out, get out somehow someway to do something before oh my LORD they either maim each other or I lose my voice loudly telling them to leave the other one alone for the love of GOD. On Sunday, that meant buying them each a 30-minute ticket to a local trampoline park. Our previously shy Caroline could not wait to get out there and once she did, she raced back and forth and cartwheeled and climbed walls and who was this brave kid? It took Connor half of his alloted time to decide that jumping was actually ok and "hey mommy, ball me!" while jumping. By the time 30 minutes rolled around, we had two crying kids who did not want to leave. We promised trampoline birthday parties and made for the door. Following a challenging lunch out where thankfully I had an adult beverage to blur the chaos around me, Caroline was finally able to set up her lemonade stand on the corner. She had three customers (five if you include the neighbor boy and his friend who were playing in their yard and received hand delivered drinks). Then it started to rain... a little. Anyone who knows her, you know the PANIC that sets in the moment you even speak of the possibility of rain and here were real live drops and she wanted inside immediately. So that was the end of the lemonade stand.

We are still in the midst of change. Connor walked into his new preschool room at school yesterday like he owned the joint. "Mommy, give me my bag." He took it over to his new cubby, emptied it of lunch, blankets, and Giraffe and walked away. Just like that. All summer I've had at least a few mornings each week with tears that require a teacher handoff. My big kid barely hugged me and I could feel myself choking up because I hadn't expected that and even though as a parent that is what you hope for, it was still so unexpected and hard. Caroline had her Kindergarten evaluation right after we dropped Connor off so I had not a moment to recover from one milestone before hitting another.  She was so excited about it that I thought she might pop a dimple from smiling on the ride over. Last week she went to the Open House for the after school program she will attend and our previously stage IV clinger with new situations and people made a liar out of me telling everyone on every enrollment form how "slow to warm up" she is and how "difficult transitions can be at times." Girlfriend walked in, surveyed a room of strangers, and took off. TOOK OFF.

I drove her west right after her evaluation through driving rainstorms to spend a few days with my parents who graciously offered to help with this second week between camp and school. She doesn't know it yet, but she will get to help Kiki with her cousin Lyle on Friday. She spent the greater part of that trip making faces into the rear view mirror, styling her hair, and asking me grown up questions. She showed off her penguin name tag to my parents and took off for a special adventure with them. It's odd to have just Con at home this week. It has never been just him ever for this long and she was the first thing he asked about this morning. I had to wake him at 7:45, the kid who would not sleep. He has all but given up his nap now and that hour he used to spend up there rolling around, calling for us to rub his back at bedtime is all but vanished and he STILL sleeps in later than his sister ever did. Who would have ever guessed it? Steve and I spent the time between dinner and bedtime watching him jump onto pillows last night and soak up every ray of our attention. He did ask to call his sister and the two of them on the phone with the "I love you" and "I miss you" conversation washed all the other "don't touch your sister" "stop bossing him" stuff away.

I dropped him off the same way today in his new room. He sat down with his favorite blondie to stretch elastics on little wooden boards and laughed the biggest laugh when I strummed one like a guitar. Mommy's life right now is in a time of great transition, but these hard moments, these bittersweet moments are pushing me through. They are reminding me that change is ok, that I need to be fearless, that only I can make the day a positive one and not one where I don't even want to open my eyes. If I didn't, I'd be missing all of this.

pinning

Caroline is now anxiously sitting in the time between camp and school. Last week I had a mini panic attack realizing she will be home this week while Steve recovers from a yet to be completely determined day surgery on his knee. It should not be too challenging to have her home, Connor at school, and the patient recovering with bad television and his work email. My panic was that I had originally taken this time for her, to make time for some special Mommy and Caro stuff before kindergarten. I hadn't exactly planned on the second week off before school, but we're taking that all in stride too thanks to wonderful grandparents. It was the mommy guilt. Surely, it makes the most sense for Steve to have his surgery this week, while I am available, before school starts, before football season gets into full swing, before the holidays and the snow, and is there really an ideal time to have knee surgery?

While eating a snack in my car/office last week, I was on Pinterest repinning wrecklessly. I tend to pin more when I am eating, anyone else? There are an unreasonable number of back to school pins, things to do with your kids, crafty things to "invite" them to play. I'm clearly not alone in the "holy crap, summer is ending, did I let my kid's head turn to mush since June???" I need to remeber to get my act together with either that chalkboard firtst day of school thing or first day printables.

I have plans for later this week when my patient should be doing a bit better, getting around the house independently, capable of fending for himself for a few hours. We have back to school shopping to finish because apparently sometime between spring and now my little girl has developed her own fashion sense. I got a jump with some excellent steals on leggings to extend her summer dresses through fall and some neutral long sleeve tees to wear under her favorite shirts, with perhaps the most adorable corduroy skirt or plaid kilty thing I've ever seen. She has also requested bumper boats, the library (!), a movie, pottery painting, and lunch with Mommy.

I started thinking about the other times this week when we are home and Connor is at school. She relishes that time at first and then gets desperate for him if he is absent too long. I worried about that time, when I might be distracted helping the man recovering from surgery upstairs. To be honest, I worried that her fun week home would be filled with 21-minute Disney shows and quiet afternoon movies, with a smattering of catching up on Dance Moms because she loves that Chloe.

I took those pins, that you sit and repin and file away. You hardly ever do anything with them, but I wrote a list. I took that list to Staples and Michaels, practically next door to one another in a neighboring town. I found two mini chipboard clipboards and 5x8 index cards that fit on them perfectly. I bought simple paintbrushes, two sets of crayola watercolors, a sleeve of pipe cleaners (the biggest hit so far), a bag of feathers, beads, pom poms, buttons, string, washable paints and mini paint trays, two of those date or number stamps you can scroll through to change, and a box to put it all in that would not look like a craft box. Admittedly, it was a lot. Admittedly, I had no idea what to do with it when I got home. I hoped the kids could figure that part out for me. We have a Kiwi Crate subscription for them and the two of them LOVE it! It comes in the mail and they cheer. We open it up and they dive in. Seriously consider it for your child ages 2-6 (it is recommended to be 3, but Connor has been doing just fine!). I cannot tell you how many "today is the day I lose my mind entirely" moments have been avoided by this green box.

When I brought those bags inside and informed the kids they could choose ONE item to do that afternoon from the new stuff, I had hoped it would occupy them through that terrible before dinner hour. Instead, I barely got dinner organized because they were so excited and wanted to paint, then stamp, then paint again. There was not a single request for television. Not.A.Single.Request.

I didn't have to follow any one pin from that kids board I created. Instead, the kids have been loving the the materials. I simply chose items from some of the activities that I thought they might enjoy using. They sat there at their little table stringing beads and buttons last night for almost a half hour. It was quiet, there were no fights, and it gave me a chance to work on something I pinned last week. I had gotten a berry box at a farmer's market the week before filled with new potatoes. I cut the kids freshly dried watercolors in place of the postcards. I can't wait to finish it and have it be three years from now when we can giggle or tear up looking back on what we did today all those years ago. I'm sure I will think of what a simple time it was, how amazing it was to have the kids on the brink of so many new things. I'm sure when I get to August in about sixteen years I will box it up, label it "memories," and face it every one in a blue moon because I am not the Mom with kids going off to college who could take reading about their college bound freshman's first day at preschool. I'll hand it to them someday when we clean out the attic and move back to a condo downtown with a harbor view (it's happening). They will surely roll their eyes and Caroline (probably) will put it in her own attic, until she someday falls upon it again, placing that painful first box of baby clothes into long storage up there. She'll email me looking for a berry box and that old dusty stamp and I will race it over that very day because by then she will understand and her memory jar will begin and mine will end in that way and begin in another.

I'm hoping that the next few weeks will be filled with nothing but amazing milestone memories, firsts, lasts, and laughs. I wishing that Daddy will recover swifty and successfully and make it to that football game this weekend. I'm hoping that I can remember that pom poms and feathers are fun things to have around and resist the urge to put them in a bag at the bottom of a box because THE MESS. There is lots of crazy coming, lots of tears from Mom for sure, a cup full of anxiety for the new kindergartener, tons of excitement about moving to the big kid side of the building for Con with his two girlfriends Sammy and "my-lena," a nervous Steve who is hoping but not believing his recovery will be fast. It's a hard but wonderful time to be a McCashew.

earlier sunsets

It is all coming to an end now. The weather is refreshingly not scorching and I even detected a slight dry unhumid breeze the other day. I got away with an overnight with the windows open earlier this week. The kids won't have to be subjected to shivering beneath blankets in our bedroom for storytime much longer.

Last week, Caroline had to say goodbye to her favorite counselor Meaghan. I didn't realize it was her last day until the day of the last day, which is another way to say that not only had Caroline not prepared a card or picture for her, but I was woefully unprepared for the tears that came at 4:20pm. Watching my baby koala bearing someone I barely knew, well that was new. It wasn't bad, in fact, it was refreshing. Here was a connection that my girl had made all on her own, not in a forced "this is your teacher" or "this is your babysitter" way. Her and Meaghan seemed to share a connection and nothing was consoling her as I strapped her into the car. I dove into my wallet to retrieve a business card for this blog and raced to the bus trying to catch it before it pulled away. Meaghan had gone to take a child to the restroom and when she came back, we handed her that card and Caroline clung to her one last time. My heart dropped as the bus drove away and though I didn't really know Meaghan, I cried too. A single tear, dripped right down to my chin and stained my pants. Caroline reached her arms out the window and called for her, over and over. We got through it. We hit up a favorite dinner spot and not only did the kids behave and eat all their dinner, but the tears were gone, replaced by smiles.

Meaghan returned to the bus stop one afternoon this week to see Caroline. She had written to me and I had written back, thanking her from the bottom of my soul for being such a warm and positive presence in Caroline's life this summer. I wanted her to know she had made a difference, that she had truly made a lasting impression on my daughter. I could tell she didn't want to say goodbye either and part of me felt intrusive, sharing that sweet moment with them. Meaghan leaves for the University of Michigan later this week. So far away.

This week is bittersweet. She made it through her first summer at camp, but really it was us who made it. She lived it, loved it, breathed it, sung the heck out of it, swam it, dared to do the previously impossible, and ate so many red popsicles I thought the skin around her mouth would be permanently four shades darker. We trusted, we pulled details out, teased out friends names, celebrated sucesses, learn those songs to sing with her, and avoided saying awesome. I didn't know every detail of her day, what she had eaten, if she had drunk enough water, or if she had reapplied her sunscreen enough.

Earlier this week, I scolded her for not wearing her swim shirt all summer. Each day it went to camp and each day it came home dry and folded at the bottom of her bag. I would remind her at least twice a week to wear her shirt, "slip, slap, slop." This week she has worn it all but one day. Suddenly, the zippered bag she keeps her swim stuff in was heavier. She had the audacity in that moment to tell me, "I didn't know it was there," but once I got over her statement I realized something else. I had reminded her, she had listened, and she had chosen to wear it. The End.

Caroline has had an amazing summer and I know she will have many more amazing summers at this little slice of kid heaven in her backyard. It has prepared her for the bus, for meeting new friends, and for being herself, whatever kind of whacky kid she ends up being. I am so proud of her and all her accomplishments, but most proud of Steve and I for giving her this experience, for going with it every step of the way, for not questioning (see "I have to wear Marroon and Green tomorrrow"), and for truly believing that she could do it. She could do it all along. We just didn't know it yet.

spirits

I told Steve last night at bedtime that I think Caroline took an extra souvenir home from The Cape. We had been talking about Caroline and her nightmares. Since we arrived home from vacation two weeks ago, she has only slept through the night without waking up crying twice. One of those times was at the beach and the other was this past Monday.

She is afraid of her room. She cannot verbalize what she is afraid of, but the look of absolute terror on her face when we try to coax some details out of her is almost painful to watch. Here is her room, a place meant to be peaceful and hers, and she is afraid of it. She cowers in bed during these discussions, as if afraid of even speaking about the details, not wanting some unseen thing to hear her talking about it.

She hears noises in the night that frighten her, which she cannot describe. I thought if she could, I might be able to provide a bit of reaility. You know an explanation of the "that scratching you hear is the branch outside the window" variety. Then she hit us with the one that sends shivers down MY spine. She wakes up because something is tapping her side to wake her up. When she hit us with that one, I made eye contact with Steve, and I was frozen in fear for her. At first I tried to reassure. "Mommy and Daddy tuck you in when we come to bed at night, it's probably just us you feel tucking you in." Of course, this could not possibly be true because we tuck her in around 10:30 and she wakes up crying between 2AM and 3AM. I'm actually starting to consider a spirit of some kind as a logical explanation because her experience with these wake ups is so real to her and truly terrifying. I know that these types of nightnares are in the range of normal for kids her age. I still cannot push the possibility of a souvenir from our trip from my mind.

We sprayed "Monster Spray" together in her room. I asked her to specifically spray extra on the spots she thinks whatever is bothering her is hiding out. It's just water and glitter that you need to shake to activate before spraying or it won't work. She really got involved in this, asking me to be sure to spray Connor's room too. We spray it every couple days, but I bet it might work better if we did it everynight. I just don't know if I can get behind her having to spray something every single night to sleep.

There's a lot going on right now. There is a lot of crappy grown up stuff on my mind. I have shared plenty of times that I am the girl who goes to bed and is instantly asleep. Monday night I found myself wide awake as time ticked away and it got later and later. I started watching a movie on Lifetime and even that couldn't put me to sleep. I sat in the living room for awhile, staring out the window, anxiously trying to make sense of the madness and put my life in order. I scribbled in my notebook where I keep the running brainstorm about a business idea. Instead of feeling like I had accomplished something with this, I was feeling more overwhelmed. I've been looking, finding very little, and even interviewing for jobs that won't help me pay the mortgage. My rule of working is that if I can't be with my kids, I better be doing something I believe in that also allows me to do more than buy them new shoes. The most recent salary offer would have had me cobbling their shoes at night in the attic. This is a tough order to fill and I am starting to feel the pressure of unhappiness and a feeling of entrapment. My own spirits, haunting my day and night, a monster I can't quite describe, but overwhelming and scary.

Once I had perseverated on my situation for long enough I walked back down the hallway towards the bedrooms. I sat beside Connor's bed, brushed the hair off his very serious brow, tucked him in and smiled at the sweetness of his slumber. The only time he sits still. I poked my head in on my girl, who I was anticipating would be waking up crying in about an hour. I "zooged" her in her sleep, righting her in her little nest, and she rolled over and smiled at my touch in her sleep. I lay down with her and she snuggled right in beside me, sighing loudly in her sleep. I closed my eyes and held her close and aligned my breathing with hers. I lay down with her to comfort her, to envelop her in love and safety. Color me surprised to discover that I was instantly at peace with her. Though I was holding her in my arms, I was the one who felt surrounded by her love. The worries slipped away, along with my insomnia.

There were no nightmares that night and all was quiet in the house, even my racing brain.

circle

Each morning I open my eyes and if it is before six, I grunt loudly at the little girl standing far too close to my face for such an early hour and bark at her to go back to bed. She turns and heads loudly back to her room where I can hear her whimper. It doesn't take long for me to melt and either physically retrieve her or call her back. What's fifteen minutes anyway when you are now wide awake? Wouldn't I rather have her warm snuggly self beside me, rubbing my back, wrapping my arm physically around her body, and whispering how much she loves me before leaping across my body to retrieve the remote and put on the Octonauts. ("Creature report, creature report, creature.report.") It won't be forever that she will wake up and instantly want to be at my side. This much I know to be true.

We fall easily through our summer rhythym now, you know, because it will be over in two weeks. Swimsuit, sunscreen, clothing, bug spray, shoes and socks. Connor's diaper, clothes, and sunscreen. I toast mini eggo waffles with jam and syrup or put together to go bags of cereal with sippy cups depending on how far we have fallen behind. I braid the left side of caroline's hair into a tight french braid and join it with the rest of her hair in a ponytail with double elastics; the only style besides a bun to outwit two sessions of swimming a day.

We head first to school for Connor and along the way the topics of discussion have changed from "look, a bird!" to things that make me take a deep breath before I speak. Topics this week have included scabs, construction, how airplanes fly, and anxiety. Anxiety. Every morning her tummy hurts at precisely the same moment en route. This morning I gulped and had at it.

I explained to her that sometimes when we are feeling nervous about something we can feel it in our body. I asked her if she had realized before that she tells me her tummy hurts everyday as soon as we pass her bus stop before turning towards school. Our gaze met in the rear view and she shook her head, unsure of how to respond, eyes full of confusion. I reassured, the tummy ache was real, Mommy knew it was real, but it was probably not coming from a reason she could understand. A five-year-old doesn't understand anxiety. A five -year-old knows her belly hurts.

She's too little to have to cope with this. My sensitive Boston College loving (Lord help us) Caroline has declared she does not want to go to college. When I push for a reason, it's that Steve and I won't be there, that she doesn't want to leave home, or sleep somewhere else. Whenever we talk about growing up, she is Peter Pan, she wants to be a kid forever. Peter Pan who lives with her mother and father and never leaves home. One morning on the Cape we were pulled over waiting for Steve to return to the car at the market and I was scrolling through music on my phone for the kids to listen to. I played her Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me" and halfway through she started crying. "I don't want to leave you." I think it was the "you leave home, you move on, and you do the best you can" line that got her. I know it always gets me.

There were tears yesterday that caused major deja vu over camp ending in two weeks. You might recall there were similar tears a few weeks before Pre-K ended. Transitions. Anxiety provoking, those transitions don't just apply to the start of something new, but even to the start of a new day. We have some work to do, but my mama heart was beaming that she was sad to see camp coming to a close. It's such a special place and for now, within this family anyway, it is all hers. "I don't want camp to end, I want to stay there forever!" I told her she couldn't, which got a huffy "WHY?!" I reminded her the camp would be closed, the docks pulled in and stored for winter, the Wibit broken down, the cabins locked tight. Presenting the reality might not have been my best moment (more tears), but I think I more than made up for it. I gave her some advice that her mama could have used about five years ago, when she was going back to work and worrying about leaving a teeny little Caroline at daycare. That Mama sat in the backyard in CT on the hammock and cried big tears while gazing up at a beautiful little baby girl. That Mama counted and dreaded every single day leading up to the first day of daycare. This Mama confidently looked back and said, "I know you don't want it to end, nothing good should ever have to end, but if we think about the ending, we can't enjoy the now and there is a lot of now that is worth smiling about today." I know, I shock myself sometimes. I encouraged her to think ahead to a brand new school year, full of promise and fun and new friends and reminded her that at the end of the 180 days ahead of her, the docks would be back in the water, the cabins swept clean, the flag on the flagpole, and we will once again be tortured with neverending camp songs. I can't wait either.


the one where I wonder if a family vacation is actually a vacation

We spent a week away and it took nearly the same amount of time for me to tell you about it.

Last week we packed up and drove over the bridge to The Cape for a week with some friends and their two young kids. Caroline was counting down the days until she and Dan could be together for "SEVEN DAYS!" She told everyone who would listen how excited she was, not for the trip, but for her friend. It was quite sweet. It's hard to not find this one charming.


We spent time at a little house built in 1911 by the great great something or other of the family that still owns it. It is entrenched in a time warp of an association that our friend Courtney has spent her summers at since she was in third grade. A family beach with gentle waves, a lifeguard during high tide, floating docks to jump off, mud flats to explore, crabs to entice with periwinkles and snag in pails on a jetty of rocks, and a theme of kid friendly and safe. It must have been a magical place to spend summers in, see the same kids each year, and now Courtney brings her own family back to share in the loveliness of it all. We were grateful to have the week to bask in the time warpy goodness of it all.




We spent a morning exploring the nearby museum of natural history and the mud flats. Caroline developed an affinity for moon snails and we practiced catch and release of many unhappy crabs.











The Moms spent a day at the Chatham Bars Inn Spa and we reconnected with some old friends and all eight of our collective children. Court, I still don't know how we pulled off that meal?!






As time slipped away, we strolled one morning through Chatham...



ate penny candy on the Library green before noon...



and finished the day with a fishing trip where each kid caught exactly one fish, which was exactly the same, and perfectly fine with me. Someone was a little anxious about the trip and refused to smile for what would have been a sweet photo. Connor was absolutely petrified of the fish, but his sister's favorite part of our entire vacation was holding that just caught lobster in her hands.







The kids had a ball and Steve and I feel like we need a vacation to recover from the week. Four kids in one house was amazing fun and tremendously challenging all in the same breath. There were meltdowns and tears and stomping and time outs galore, but there were moments like this too. These are the moments I know I will hold onto.