a hand and a thumb

We recently had what we swear will be the last crazy at home birthday party for the kids. I placed SIX candles on two small cupcakes for Caroline who stood at the end of our dining room table with her friends squeezed into every crevice of space around her. It was a crazy day, with an overflowing house of friends and family and farm animals. The kids sat sweetly holding swaddled up bunnies and chasing Matilda the pig around her pen. I made forty-four insanely adorable bunny cupcakes with cookie ears. The project took days, more time than I anticipated. while I wouldn't say I would make them for Easter, I would do it again for my kids. Maybe just not forty-four?

It's hard to remember now what tiny Caroline, who was almost Bridget, was like as a newborn. This week I held our new niece Tenley in my arms and while the motion was familiar, the weight of that baby feather light, I could barely picture in my head how the baby who made me a Mom looked when I held her in my arms, swaddled up, making those sweet little baby noises and expressions with her eyebrows.

From Caroline's First Month

My grandfather was right. She's a Caroline through and through. Her name means "free man" and I have yet to meet such a free spirit, a girl with such unbridled energy and pep, and especially free with her emotions. She gives advice and hugs for freely and with gusto. She's taking after her bleeding social work mother's heart, arguing the freedoms of humanity; the right to be safe, the freedom to love who we want and to speak out for the things we believe in.

From Caroline Month 6

Her brain is always firing and she's been coming up with some brain busters lately that bring me pause because holy heck, this is an important question. She no longer asks questions and listens intently to my answer, oh no, those days are gone. She listens to what I have to say and adds her own opinion and instead of being the teacher, I am often learning from her. We recently debated gun control when she out of the blue asked me why police officers have guns, followed by, "why do the bad guys have guns too?" I'm proud to tell you that she doesn't think anyone needs a gun because "people can get hurt or even die and what would we do if all the states had no people because of guns."

From Drop Box

I'm just as proud to tell you that when we recently learned that her brother Connor had a particularly pushy and aggressive afternoon at school, I didn't have to issue hardly a statement about his behavior. Caroline calmly and sternly reinforced that hands are for "hugging and high fiving, not for hitting" and that if someone pushes him he should "politely tell them to stop pushing." "OK Buddy?" She takes her big sister role very seriously, always has, ever since she learned he was joining our family. They aren't always besties, but most of the time they love each other so fiercely they hate to be separated for a moment. They fill silences with snuggles and laughter and I hope that continues for the rest of their lives. He calls her Mom and she calls him Dad and it gets very confusing.

From July 3rd 2009

She knows now that she lived somewhere else before here, but she only recalls this picture. "when I danced in the box." We haven't so much as driven by the house in CT since we moved and yet she claims to remember it in photos. She often hits us hard by telling Connor, "we had a kitty when we lived in CT, her name was Reese, she died." She is so sensitive and her heart so full of love that she recently changed her "when I grow up" occupation to "work in a pet shelter." She talks often about the dog she will adopt someday and draws him/her into pictures she draws of herself, still wearing a crown, but also holding a leash.

From Moving Weekend

As grown up as she is becoming, she still believes in fairies and princesses and magic. I hold onto the moments we spend talking about these things as they slip through my fingers like sand, the magic of her childhood fading away to reveal a more mature girl. We have to get back to Disney while she still believes this is THE Ariel, when we can spend more time on Peter Pan and less time on thrill rides. It won't be long before our little organizer has the whole trip planned out with notes on the map indicating where we will go and when. Sound familiar?  

From WDW.2011

When she turned five, I thought "this is where it all changes," but I was wrong. In so many ways she is just the same. She loves her family, she loves to be snuggled. Gone are the days of the upside down thumb suck and tummy grab she used to pull, but don't even consider sitting next to her on the couch without making room for her to push every available inch of her little body against you. She still lets me hold her hand and kisses me goodbye at the bus stop. She cries when I arrive to pick her up from her afterschool program because she doesn't want to leave, which crushes a piece of my soul each time I park the car and click the keys to lock the door. I am no longer her world, my role is not diminished, just smaller somehow. She grows and learns and inches her way away from us.

From Caroline Fifth Birthday.2012

She once declared, "I'm never going to college!" which seemed like a bold statement for a five year old to make. Some digging revealed that she did not want to ever leave home, to go away, to sleep away from us every night. I assured her, she could live at home, she didn't have to go away to school, but that she should reserve anxiety about something like this that won't be happening for a long time. She wears her BC colors, cheers for the white team at home hockey games, and can read the scoreboard herself. At a recent loss, against Maine she was sullen when we arrived because she looked up and said, "HOW IS BC ALREADY LOSING?" I'm not sure she will want to go to BC, that she will even want to go to college, but I do know that whatever she lends her particular blend of gusto, heart, and organizational oomph to will be an incredibly special career for her, whatever it might be. Of course I want her to go to college, does any parent hope for less than that today? I've seen now that this is MY wish, not hers.

From Caroline Kindergarten 2012

She's gorgeous; long curls, the lashes that go on and on, the freckles that splay across her nose and cheeks including that especially cute one I love near her lip. I hope she always feels as beautiful as she feels today. She glances in a mirror and gushes over how stunning she is, twirling her hair in her fingers, flipping it over her shoulder. The comparisons have already started, so and so wears this, so and so has straight hair. It won't be long before someone says something to her to crash her self-esteem and if I can hold myself back from destroying them, I hope I can remind her that she truly is perfect, just the way she is.

From October 2012

Her exuberance for life and finding the hidden amazingness in simple moments can be both a joy to watch and hard on your ears. Her excitement while playing with her brother (directing him/ordering him around) hits such a high volume at times that we need to pull her aside and ask her to BREATHE. Her reactions to even the simplest of things can be either soul crushing or light up the room excitement. Most times, it is difficult to predict which it will be. You'd have a better chance flipping a coin. When it is good though, it is so good and just looking at her makes us think THIS, this is why I am alive. She is our sun and moon and there are not enough stars to symbolize how much we love her, pout and all.

From November 2012



W drove to a birthday party recently and we were driving along and she pointed out these stones that could "bring back the power of a battery!" They were gravestones. I calmly and honestly told her that these were grave stones, meant to mark the place of rest for people no longer living. She shuddered at the thought, but accepted my answer. Later, at bedtime of course, she asked more questions and I assured her that most people are very old when they die and that I wouldn't be old for a very long time. "Mommy, will I be old?" "Someday." This made her sad and she all but said it wasn't fair. We made a bedtime pact to love the world and sun and the beach and cookies and yes, each other, as much as we possibly can before we "turn old."

She understands so much more, has so many thoughts and dreams and she is full of good intentions and a spirit of giving. She is logical, but emotionally resolved to never accept logic as a reason she can't do something. Caroline, our free girl, she reminds us everyday what it means to give of ourselves, to accept her and others at both their best and worst. She is full of energy one minute and at your side half asleep the next. She knows how to work the iPad to watch a movie, but still needs momma to open her fruit cup. She eats with a real fork and cup, but still insists on a happy meal. She is a conundrum of confusing and we adore her, our sweet six year old.

Three years ago I was baffled that I was finally in labor

Connor turns three today and there is no denying anymore that my babies are no longer babies. Well, that's not entirely true because we seem to still have diapers AHEM, but we are hoping to work on that with the assistance of Spider Man and Buzz Lightyear undergarments. Just today we had a little chat that this is when babies turn into big boys and he is doing a really good job at pretending he will actually follow through on my potty training plans.

This year brought such change to our family. It was difficult to keep up with what we were doing, let alone how the kids were growing and changing along the way. Still, it is hard not to notice Connor's new found enthusiasm for things non-sport related and for very loudly and clearly telling you everything and anything he is thinking about, every moment you are in his presence. When I tuck him in at night, I leave him still talking, stalking backwards towards his door as he goes on about something in a ruse to get me to stay longer, "with your whole body on my bed."

He is physically taller, stronger, his face thinned of baby fat, his hair darker, I'm sure of it. He still looks like a little Granda, which is certainly fun when I discipline him and my father's face looks back at me.

From Kids February 2010

This is where it all began, back in Connecticut, where my boy and I spent lazy days cuddled together in the master bedroom for fear of disrupting the perfection of the house, put on the market when he was just five days old. He'd wake up, eat, go back to sleep and I would marvel at wonderful, perfect, handsome, miracle Connor. Connor, the boy who took a long while to find his way to us, then scared us to high heaven that he would be born before Christmas, spent his Auntie's wedding stubbornly still in my belly, and arrived exactly one week earlier than his due date in a crazy fast labor, on Martin Luther King Day.

He's a dreamer. You can see in his eyes that he knows more than he lets on, that he has thoughts he is not quite ready to share. I watch him in my rear view mirror, gazing out the window on the way to school and you can see he is putting things together, deep thoughts on who knows what? For now he wants to be a football player or a hockey player or Buzz Lightyear, depending on the day. His imagination is just revving up, creating playtime scenarios that are not led by his big sister. This does not ever go over well.

His appetite is almost constant. He is always hungry, always digging for a snack in the pantry, and I fear his teenage years, especially if he does end up pursuing this football or hockey gig.

I forgot how round his little baby face was!

o
From Kids.6.2010

He gifts the world with his quirky smile, but we see less of his suspicious look. Connor seems to be trusting his little world more, opening himself to new experiences, grabbing onto family members' hands at the annual Christmas Party to show them the wonder of ALL THOSE PRESENTS! Who is this suddenly social outgoing boy?

This special shirt for the super special secret beach is ready to be worn by its fourth baby.

From Kids.6.2010

He is like me in so many ways and yet, he does not really care for sweets. He would prefer a potato chip over a cookie anyday. I suspect he forces himself to eat an OREO with his sister after dinner because she loves them so and she is in everyway his best friend and hero. Connor is lost without his sister, wondering when she will be back when she attends a birthday party. She is taking his birthday hard this year, to the point that he told her today not to make him feel sad about his birthday. We have had to sit through bedroom timeout discussions about the importance of birthdays, how it isn't just about cake and presents, but celebrating that he is a part of our life and how much we love him. Without a birthday, he wouldn't be here.

From 4 & 1 Party

In his three years he has seen so much, been so many places. He has traveled by plane, train, boat, and automobile. It would be difficult as their Mom to say that anything can beat Disney World in my mind; The magic, the never ending heat, experiencing the joys of being a kid with my kids, at a place that is so special to me.

From WDW.2011

Unfortunately though, the image above won't stand out in my mind as much as the one below because this trip was just so exciting and exhausting that it was difficult to LISTEN. Look at that sass.

From WDW.2011

Disney is magic and nothing can beat that magic ever. I want to recreate it everyday, but Florida is pretty far away. We work hard to create other memory makers with the kids and some of my favorite moments with Connor this past year were spent doing little things like making S'mores in the fireplace, going to the Children's Museum in "Daddy's City" on a Friday night, meeting his cous' in the city to see an almost empty Aquarium, taking him skating for the first time, going to a trampoline place on a Sunday whim, sweating at a fall football game, watching his delight at a hockey game wearing a Northeastern shirt and cheering against Daddy's team, looking at him standing alongside his sister by the shore, leaping through leaves in the backyard, meeting Daddy on his way home from work for ice cream at that amazing place down the street.

From Connor 2nd Birthday 2012
We cannot wait for the Bruins to start again because his sport preferences are based on what Daddy is watching. There has been plenty of "FOOTBALL!" and a new found love of dunking (thanks Uncle Sean, "watch Mama, I like Sean!"), but not so much hockey and that is the one sport everyone in this family can get behind. So, if you were wondering who will care when hockey comes back, who will watch? We will.

From Myrtle Beach.2012

Connor is somehow both independent and needy. In the span of moments in the morning he can go from running full speed towards the street for the bus with us chasing and calling after him while he screams in delight at the FREEDOM! to "Mama, hold me" pawing at my legs and jumping to be snuggled up close as soon as the bus rounds the corner. He asks me to call him my baby and then asks "when I be a big boy and go on the bus?" The photo above is of Connor on the return trip from Myrtle Beach last spring. He insisted on pulling his own luggage, all the way from the bus to the terminal and to security. That's Connor; he frustratingly/heartbreakingly wants to do it all himself, until something inside him senses that perhaps you still need a baby to love and he leaps up into your arms and says, "I the baby and you the Mama."

From July 3, 2012

Silence can mean two things and the less messier of the two is that typical three year old, doing something you shouldn't be doing moment. You know that moment, the one when you suddenly sense the quiet and leap up knowing you are about to happen upon something devious. The smile above is the one you will see on Connor's face. Perhaps he is climbing the Expedit to reach something on a high shelf, or standing on the plastic shopping cart declaring he is a snowboarder, or he might have scissors or a permanent marker that he immediately drops and runs away from as soon as you make eye contact. He will keep me on my toes. Parents, will we ever enjoy the silence again?

From Cape Summer 2012

Connor is a little explorer, who like other boys his age, loves DIRT. He spent a great deal of time this summer, relocating mulch, digging holes in the yard, and screaming at bugs on the porch. He would race to the sliding glass door like a dog who hears the door open, just to get a glimpse and smell of the air and to look out the side window for our neighbor's dog. He loves to be outside, but I do not recommend you volunteer to be the one to tell him it is time to come in.

From Pats Training Camp 2012
Here he is at one of those memory maker moments; a hot and did I mention HOT day at Pats training camp where he tried to catch a glimpse of the quarterback he knows by name. His sign was a hit, but in his mind, he is Tom Brady. We cannot drive by the stadium without him announcing it to the entire car. We cannot go to dinner over there without a stop to run around on the grass outside the entrance. He marvels at the size of it and you can just see that someday, when his dad finally gets off the waitlist for season tickets, they are going to have the best time going to games together.

From BC Maine 2012

Connor loves pockets. He loves "zipper pants" and hoodies with pockets, pants with pockets, coats with pockets. He doesn't put anything in them, he just likes to know they are there. If I put him in a shirt with a chest pocket, he's stuffing his entire hand into it's tiny little space, just to test it out. Think he will be combative during daily wardrobing? Offer him a hoodie with pockets! You never saw a three year-old drop his drawers faster.

From October 2012
Though I cannot ever be completely certain, it feels like Connor is our last baby. I think he knows this. I think he knows that I still need that cuddly boy in my arms, to feel needed, to feel the weight of a little person in my arms. He reminds me to slow down and enjoy the walk to school everyday as he points excitedly at the birds in the sky or asks for the thousandth time, "what that noise?" when a bird calls across the trees to a friend. The little boy who used to observe the world around him is long gone, replaced by a preschooler loudly learning things at an alarming pace, adjusting to great change, asking for help when he needs it, learning how to turn on Sponge Bob solo. He learned how to give a real kiss complete with pucker noise this year, but still cannot blow his nose. He announces he is a big boy and then takes it back just as quickly, "I the baby!" He is an exhausting joy and today, he enters his fourth year.

body and soul

Even before the last jingle bell was removed from the tree, Caroline was already full of enthusiasm about her sixth birthday. The realization that her brother gets his cake before her inevitably sends her into hysterics. Most years, I am feeling pretty bummed that within seven weeks, they will be done with the two most fun times to be a kid for the entire year. By summer, Caroline starts wondering when her birthday will come around again, lamenting that she will never get to raise the flag at camp or have a jumpy house at her party. In my head as she laments, I say to myself that her birthday makes her one of the older kids in her class, reminds me that she will be learning to DRIVE in the winter, and will hopefully have some maturity on her classmates, despite the fact that she has yet to lose a tooth and "WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN, MOM?!?"

I booked the birthday party entertainment two days after Christmas this year. With Connor changing preschools and turning just three years old, it didn't seem appropriate to plan a school friend birthday party. Caroline didn't have one at age three (which might be more related to the fact that her brother was just two weeks old at the time) and they had a joint family and friends party when she was four. Still, it didn't feel right to have a more casual family party for him when his turning six years old sister gets a big party. He is old enough to feel slighted and not old enough to understand that she is older and perhaps I should not feel so bad about it, but I do. Luckily, both kids were on board for the same theme and we are combining them again this year. I am not sure how this will go, but two cakes and two rounds of singing doesn't seem too bad. Connor will only have a few friends, but at three, I think that is acceptable.

There will be live animals in my home. I'll give you a moment to soak that in.

...

Amid all the birthday talk happening at home and invitation coordination, Caroline is presenting some interesting conversation starters.

"Will I grow bigger next year too?"

"Yes, you will grow bigger every year."

"Are you still growing?"

"Well, no, but there are other ways to grow (and not just horizontally). Eventually you will stop getting taller and your feet will stay the same size (IMAGINE!!!! I will not need to provide you with an entirely new wardrobe each season!). Your brain and soul will never stop growing as long as you are willing to work on making them get bigger."

"What's soul?"

Whoops. I totally brought it upon myself. How do you EXPLAIN what a soul is to a kindergartener? I had mistakenly brought up something about being immortal and intangible and EEK!!! 9-1-1. She seemed satisfied with my explanation that it was something inside each person that you cannot see. She looked back at me in the rear view mirror as I explained that you can grow your soul with your beliefs, values, how you treat other people, and the choices you make. I looked back at her searching for comprehension.

"So, if my brain keeps growing, will my head keep growing bigger too?"

She is still very much onto the next with her thinking and comprehension. I can't mess any one answer up too badly yet and for that, I am thankful.

Not even NERF

While I was transforming my closet into the single most organized space in my life, I found more than just extra shoes I hadn't seen in years or copies of newspapers from the Pats first Super Bowl win. I pulled down a box of cards from our wedding. I knew it was up there, on the top shelf, not out of view, but just out of reach. I couldn't resist opening it and soaking in all that happy goodness for awhile. I located several Princess crowns of Caroline's, scraps of paper that would only have meaning for me. I had to take all the robes and sweatshirts (which I wear year round to battle the Arctic environment) down from the hook just inside the bifold doors.

There, in the pocket of the robe I wore Christmas morning, I felt a bulging mess of something. Around here, that could mean anything from Legos to granola bar wrappers to a half eaten cracker or a buggery snotrag. In this case, it was a handful of tiny weapons; guns from Playmobil Pirates and three fancy looking definitely automatic military style guns from Lego mini figures. I had carefully whisked them up before small eyes had a chance to discover them and shuffled them away and into the safety of my pocket... in a breathless moment of panic.

I make my gun control stance pretty well known in my private life. It causes some trouble sometimes because I have a trifecta of terrible; a big mouth, a highly emotional personality, and a stubborn streak that will.not.be.broken. I don't always have to be right, but I will work HARD until my opposition will at least agree that I make a good point.

When we first asked Connor what he wanted for Christmas, his first and I kid you not, immediate answer, was "a gun that makes noise." I recall feeling a little shocked, then dismayed, and then I quickly began a campaign to convince him that he wanted something else. Anything else. I am VERY opposed to Connor playing with guns. I was well before December 14th. I am disappointed in myself that for a few brief days we considered some small target style NERF. I mean, who doesn't like a good Nerf War. I thought about that on Christmas morning, about how after all that happened in the world leading up the holiday, my children almost opened NERF guns on Christmas morning. Somehow, before that day, NERF was different, it wasn't really a gun. As of that day in December, they are all guns, even the teeny tiny ones from the Lego sets, even the pirates old school pirate rifle and none of them are welcome in my house. Not even NERF.

Miracle

I'm searching for a tiny red winter glove for Connor to bring back to school tomorrow. The boots are lined up, the task of lunchmaking awaits Steve and I. The holiday week flew by, just as it always does. Days anticipating the wonder of Christsmas, long days exploring new treasures, and days wondering aloud if there is school today and the joy in their tiny voices when we answer, "no!" Steve bore the brunt of the week, I had a few days off to tag team with him, some rushed work days when I just wanted to hurry up and be home.

It was a different kind of year. I always have such gratitude for this season, the magic of it all. This year with the palpable sadness in the world from disasters both natural and man-made, these children who smell like maple syrup and speak in high voices felt like gifts under the tree. There were momentary twinges of guilt; at church, on Christmas Eve after we tucked them in with sugar plums dancing in their heads, in the rush of Christmas morning, in the simple happiness of the days after, and just now.

We occasionally persue an elusive dream; the family nap. We look at each other across the lunch table and sensing meltdowns and a long never ending afternoon, give an eyebrow raise. Today was a day when it all came together. Connor tucked himself under my arm, Caroline against my shoulder, Steve behind her in a bear hug and we achieved a spectacular two plus hour nap. I woke up first, smelled my son's sweaty head, and felt the weight of Caroline against my back. I breathed it in, soaked in that quiet moment of perfection, and considered again those aching to feel the weight and smell the smells of their children. I promised a movie after our rest and in lieu of The Grinch or Prep & Landing or something seasonal, I put on Miracle. Connor is transfixed, Caroline is already onto Brooks that these boys don't play for anyone but USA and "WHY DON'T THESE BOYS GET IT?" She's trying to read over my shoulder and we are all together. It seems like a fitting way to start the New Year especially this year;  a true story of triumph, what the spirit can do if it wants something bad enough, good overcoming evil (ha), and we all need a little Miracle right now.