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.