To my daughter's second grade teacher

Hello, you don't know me yet, but I promise you will. I can't volunteer in the classroom or the library, but I will consistently and without fail, sign up to send in baggies, pretzels, pipe cleaners or any other random item you may request. You can be assured that the homework my daughter is turning in was completed under my supervision, at the kitchen table, and that I checked it over before she turned it in. You won't know yet that she has a younger brother, but I am pretty sure it won't take her long to share that with you because those two are thick as thieves. She might talk a lot about the beach and BC Football and her family, especially her grandparents (both sets), her aunties, her uncles, and her little cousins because they are the most special people in her world.

You might notice she is shy and even a bit anxious about her first day of second grade in this new to her school where she isn't the biggest kid anymore. She won't outwardly tell you she is nervous, but I assure you that her nerves have been electric since camp ended last Friday.


I know that the sass I have seen at home this past week has been because of those nerves and I am quite sure that by the time she says "good morning" to you, that sass will all but disappear. One of her best friends in the entire world happens to be in class with her this year, it's quite a thing for them, three years in a row now. We are all aware that this is likely the last year for them to be together in grade school like this. Three years is quite a streak. We've shared with them how special this is, what responsible young ladies they must be to be allowed to share a classroom again this year. They haven't seen each other in awhile, they might be (they will be) full of energy and gusto and you may want to separate them. They understand that, but please don't. Give them a moment to quell their enthusiasm and I promise you will see the responsible young ladies I told you about before.

I know you will see her quiet side, the studious and serious one that she is supposed to show you at school. She will need to be reminded to pull her letters downward instead of upwards. She will hide her fingers under her desk when you ask her a math question. She will freeze while writing a story and if she struggles, she has been known to erase the entire page. Be patient with her, I know you will, but she wants so very badly to turn in a perfect paper. Those math problems before her on the new to her math wizard program are both her best area ("I love math!") and her nemesis.  She becomes easily overwhelmed when she knows she is being timed and she hates to see the many problems she must complete. I know the MCAS is next year. I know she needs to practice. Please, allow her some space to work through this and I promise, she will be a star.

Where she has deficits, she also has tenacity and I know you will see how fierce she can be. More than anything she is compassionate and unbelievably kind. She is sensitive to her classmates and you can count on her to seek out the student struggling, the one being picked on, the one needing encouragement. It is the single most wonderful thing about her; Caroline's spirit of inclusiveness and care for her fellow man. 

We have high expectations for this year, yes of her, but more for ourselves because we hear that things get pretty serious in second grade. I'm as anxious as she is today, full of worry that I won't meet the high expectations of a parent to a second grader. I'm trying to remember to be incredibly proud of her. I don't doubt that you will soon understand how special she is and we are so happy to share her with you this year.
 
I'll be the mom emailing you late into the night about something that she said or a homework assignment I don't understand. I'll be the mom who tears up during our parent teacher conference because I'll be listening intently to you talking about the education of my daughter. That's where she gets her sensitivity. I'll also be the mom who has a great partner, with equally high (if not higher) expectations of himself, and I assure you that he will be sitting beside me at the parent teacher conference. 

 
The year will fly. It will be full of ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments. I'll be an unwavering ally, but a steadfast advocate, and I'm looking forward to partnering with you on this journey. 

In sincere gratitude,

Caroline's mom

second rising

It's been a wild ride. First grade came in like a mack truck, rolling fast, with failing brakes on a downhill. The year held such promise and though at times the road felt quite steep, we forged ahead. We all learned. Caroline learned how to handle expectations; those she held for herself and those others held for her. We learned what a hard worker she was, how resilient she can be. Caroline learned that the sky was the limit and we learned that the sky is a lot higher than we thought. The growth was more than height, more than reading, writing, or even new math. (I am so happy to say goodbye to new math for the summer.) She grew in everyway imaginable.

There were times in this year when Steve and I perhaps unnecessarily wrung our hands in worry. We worked hard to remain positive, but gone were the "it will all be ok" feelings we naively had in Pre-School and even Kindergarten. We teetered along learning how best to approach homework, bigger assignments, learning sight words, phonics rules (that silent e is a killer), quiet reading time. We labored through our emerging reader's bedtime routine. No parent ever loved having their child's bedtime extended many, many more minutes than scheduled while listening to them struggle through "See Dick. See Dick run." We walked the fine line often between encouragement and pushing in the name of learning. She learned a ton this year and we learned twice as much.

Lessons in marriage - a timeline; sharing time, sharing space, sharing funds, sharing nighttime diaper duty, sharing discipline, sharing the responsibility of supporting a student. Remember back in the day when the biggest disagreement was who left the bowl in sink? Remember when you actually had time to go line by line through the transactions on your bank account? Oh, my husband still somehow finds time for that. I'm still always at the ready to defend a Dunkin' run or a great pair of shoes I found at Marshall's. (Thank GOD he does as he just discovered fraudulent activity today! It is rather odd that he found it after I had already drafted this!) Somehow when the marital debate moves on to how to approach your first grader's homework, this is where you will both draw lines in the sand and dig your heels in deeply. You will each reflect on how you learned, how you think she learns, and you will express great emotion defending your own position on how to move forward. It just gets harder folks. We weren't on the same page at all in September, but we came together in ways we hadn't before. We negotiated and compromised on an appropriate approach to supporting her education. It wasn't easy, but the best indicator of the good job we did is that she has no idea we struggled with it so much.

It's worth all the debate and energy when you see the last entry in your first grader's writing notebook, written on the very last day of school.

 


On her last night as a first grader, she wrote a letter to her treasured teacher who spoke quickly and effectively during our parent teacher conferences, the one who told us she was a hard worker and she could do this.




Time speeds up. They hit school and POOOOOF. She explained to her brother earlier this week on the ride home that "once you hit number grades, it's a lot of work, there isn't playtime anymore, and you have to do your best." A summer of camp, swimming, and fun lies ahead of her and before I can even acclimate to our new normal, she'll be picking out her first day of second grade outfit.

How does she feel about second grade? There were some tears tonight.



We made a deal to not worry about second grade yet as she sat in my lap, her body completely wrapped around mine, tears staining my shirt. We have a whole summer to celebrate and enjoy. We have a plan to fight the "summer brain drain" that even I'm excited about. It involves sewing, the United States, dolphins, and cooking.

I'm so incredibly proud of this kid. She continues to surprise us, but needs so much encouragement. She is both confident and cautious, sure of herself and full of self doubt, hurts your ears enthusiastic and painfully shy. Our Caroline is becoming a more fine tuned version of the person she will become and her wings are coming in faster and more fully than I ever could have anticipated.

She also apparently wants to be The Pioneer Woman.


 
 

warm & fuzzy

What to do when you have a kid at home that asks you to play hockey so often that you create this because the adult knees in the house don't last long enough to satisfy the tiny hockey dictator?



We play until we are out of breath, our bodies aching, and he still wants more. I yell behind me as I walk upstairs, "Steve, you got exactly what you asked for."

When we were a family of three, Steve would often say, "having a girl is fantastic, but when will I have someone who wants to learn about sports?" This was code for, "I want someone to watch sports with me" or more likely, "I need another vote for nighttime entertainment in the form of sports." Little did he know that a couple years in his future the girl who could not be bothered to watch hockey or football would be snuggled tightly against him screaming at Suban during the Playoffs this past spring. Sometimes, you get exactly what you ask for and then some. Some kids get to stay up late to watch a special show, we based an entire reward schedule around hockey games.

We have been cautious since the no go this past fall with Learn to Hockey. We have been trying to find that happy place between pushing and supporting to urge him onward. His smile is never so wide as when he is playing something with Steve, his laugh so hearty, his spirit so bright. Admittedly, part of me also wants to hide him away from the world, let this storm blow over and protect him from all the crazy, to let him be shy and non-participatory because he is four. He is my baby, let's just let him be.
This active play is his obsession. We never went through an Elmo phase, a Toy Story phase, a train phase, a car phase. This is it. We pulled the trigger and signed him up for lacrosse after he made several requests to watch some practices on our way home and couldn't take his eyes off the field. I worried we might have tears when we arrived at that first session, but tried to keep things positive. We were looking good until that now long ago Monday afternoon. I arrived after a particularly hairy day at work to pick the kids up from school. When Connor and I arrived to get Caroline she was surprised to see us so early, "how was lacrosse, buddy?" My seven year-old had remembered lacrosse. I had not. It hadn't made it onto anyone's calendar, both Steve and I had completely forgotten. Awesome parenting. Epic fail.

We were only 15 minutes late at that point. It was just up the road, thankfully, so I tossed both kids into the car and gave him a pep talk to end all pep talks. I knew that this would go against every cell in his body to join something already in session. If I don't drop him off before morning circle at school, he cannot cope. This would test him. I reminded him "how much fun this was going to be!" To my great surprise (and delight), he hopped out of the car, ran to the field, waited patiently while I got the instructor's attention that I had a late arrival (and apologized profusely). He got a stick, ran right over to where she directed him, and proceeded to laugh, smile, play and have the time of his life. "I was on the red dragons!" He came running up to me after the session with the biggest smile I have ever seen and he hugged his sister with such a big squeeze that they rolled right back down the big hill towards the field.

Caroline was so proud of him for his participation that she made him a "warm and fuzzy" just like she gets at camp when she goes beyond her comfort zone. It read "For being brave at lacrosse and listening to the coach." She gets him. Wow, did I have to brush that dust out of my eye on this one.

On the shoulders of that big success, we pulled the trigger on soccer. It's technically for kids going to kindergarten next year, which he isn't, but they opened it up to 4 year olds. I wouldn't have known about that if we had not originally been waitlisted for lacrosse. The staff at Park and Rec suggested it as an alternative. Steve and I had a quick convo while I drove to a meeting the following morning. Were we or weren't we? He was so excited about the shin guards and cleats that he practically wore them to bed. He cried every morning leading up to the first session that today was NOT in fact, soccer. He whined all morning because I wouldn't let him wear his cleats to school. He literally could not wait for Saturday.

Still, I have reservations, mostly about the outside world. Are we pushing him? Should he have just sat it out until it is officially his turn for Pre-K Soccer next year? I imagine the world judging these decisions and I try to push that judgment away because what they haven't seen is my shin guard and cleat wearing son in the backyard with his dad, screaming with laughter as they play soccer together. He needs this.

The final session of learn to lacrosse was last night. There was not one tear, not one whine or groan about going. Nor was there a single sideline boost of confidence or reassurance required, AT ALL. Was he sad lacrosse was over? Yes, but hey, "I still have soccer, right, Mama?!" The excitement on Saturday mornings grows as we get close to the horrifically early 8:45AM start time. The child who will not be dressed EVER, rips off pjs and pulls on shorts. He sometimes needs encouragement during the "learning" portion of the session, but once that game starts it is difficult to get him to sit out a turn. This past week he announced, "I am a really good player, daddy." Ok, buddy, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

He has blossomed, grown up, shed that shy exterior that was holding him back, and nothing is going to stop him now. It's what we wanted most for him and here he is. Watch out world, he's arrived.

change agents

This place has been heavy on sports related posting recently and I have a couple more on the same topic marinating in draft form. I read an article recently that caught my attention in a different way that went beyond me sharing about the epic meltdown at drop off from our "sports refuser" when I told him that NO, he could not wear his soccer cleats to school and WHYYYY could soccer not be today. I got a bit defensive reading it because while I agree with his opinion about the competitiveness happening in sports for kids and adolescents, I wholeheartedly disagree that supporting our kids' athletic pursuits will somehow sacrifice the importance of family. I am not a soapbox kind of girl most of the time, but today I am.

The article is written by an ER Physician in Indiana and he describes the competitive nature of parents, their willingness to set aside real physical ailments to instead address how long their kids will (or won't) be sidelined. He talks about what he feels is the deterioration of the family, schlepping from place to place instead of spending time together developing a family unit. I wholeheartedly agree that we as a society are putting too much pressure on these kids and ourselves. I do, however, see value in a society that celebrates healthy competition and encourages physical pursuits during an era when obesity is such a serious issue. I'm not looking forward to travel soccer or organizing a three times a week hockey schedule for Caroline in the fall. In fact, I am nauseous just thinking about fall and I'll be over her vomiting in the corner because nine months of this?

I do think that sports are our natural answer to engage our kids OUTSIDE. We didn't grow up in an era with on demand television, apple products, the internet, ABC Mouse or any of the other things that our kids naturally gravitate towards and we reluctantly give into for a few moments of blissful silence in our homes. "I used to be outside from breakfast to dinner during the summer" is our generations "I walked uphill both ways in the snow to school." For many kids staying indoors with these devices is more attractive than being outside at all. When I do unleash my kids into the yard, I can time it almost perfectly to the second when playing will deteriorate and someone is crying or screaming or not sharing. Playing in the yard becomes infinitely more harmonious when I introduce two soccer balls, the t-ball set, the hockey or lacrosse sticks. If I can spare the time because I don't happen to be wrestling with a hose or the electric hedge trimmer, it is when I play sports with them that their play and our family time is at its very best. Some of my favorite moments with my kids have been shagging their wiffle balls, instructing them in how to scoop a lacrosse ball, how to stop the soccer ball before they kick it back to me. I am sure my neighbors can tell when I am engaged in this way vs. yelling their name or telling them we will have to go back inside if they cannot get along.

I want my kids to learn the lessons that sports can teach them; teamwork, accountability, confidence. The title of the article, "your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros," yes, obviously this is true. I think my kids enjoy sports now and I want them to enjoy them for as long as they can. I hope that when they don't play anymore that they can carry their learned appreciation for the sport with them for their entire life as a fan. I want them to learn the lessons of sports while they are young and there is not such an emphasis on the competition part, the try out part, the traveling ridiculous commitment part. I want them to explore all of their interests, whatever they may be, but Steve and I as parents feel that sports are important. The lessons they can learn on the field both personally and collectively with their team are far too great to not explore; bravery and humility. As parents we need to emphasize their effort, hard work, team work, and good sportsmanship. That is our role, we are not just schleppers. Those rides to and from do not need to be divisive to the family unit. They are opportunities, not just time to pass out juice boxes and drive thru on our way to the next thing. We have an obligation not to overschedule and overexpose our kids to too many activities, allowing them to explore things in a reasonable way that makes sense for each child and our family. The last thing we tell our kids before they play is "have fun!" and the first question we ask afterward is "did you have fun?!"

I won't deny that the competitiveness has gotten out of hand. I have seen it myself as we strap Caroline's skates on and a game is finishing on the ice. From my own observations, it isn't the kids, it is the parents. What our kids do or not do on the ice, the soccer field or in the pool is not a reflection on ourselves, but an illustration of their own abilities within their peer group. The most important lesson I want my kids to learn in playing sports is that even when you do your best, you won't always win. It won't be Suzy's fault for missing the catch, Johnny's for not swimming his best lap, or Jane's for missing the ball. It is the work they all put in collectively together that affects the outcome and you can't always win, there is always next time. I want them to support their teammates when they score a run AND when they strike out. I want the opportunity to discuss with them in the car their own impressions of the game, how they played, and what they want to do next time. I want to hear about the thrill of scoring a goal or passing the assist as much as how it felt to miss the save or drop the catch. Both are equally important.

I don't know how we as a society can move more in that direction when things are so skewed in the other. I know that I want more opportunities for these conversations and less of the cliquey phone calling/emailing spring soccer team sign ups for first graders. My response to that this spring when I heard the rumblings of "who has room on a team?" and "I'm sorry, we don't have any more spots," was to ignore the entire thing and sign my daughter up for another sport. We chose something else where the goal was skill building and experience and not on which team you are on, if you win, or what your record is.

Back to the title, "your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros." They aren't, they likely won't, and that is okay. Our kids won't likely play baseball outside of the little league field (unless they are like my husband and play organized old man softball). Our kids aren't likely to get college scholarships for sports. They are even less likely to make a living off their hand eye coordination. Does this mean we don't do it then, that if you can't be the very best, it isn't worth pursuing in a reasonable way? Their childhood experiences in sports will carry them far in life, all the way to working on a team in a professional environment. Instilling a love for the game can create lifelong opportunities for them to enjoy time with family, not drive a hole in the family unit. We spend more time at college football games with extended family and friends we see only during football season than is reasonable for most people, but our kids love that time. It is not just for the game, but for the experience with their family. My husband and his father watch playoff sports together on occasion. Our children are so looking forward to the Bruins game on Saturday that we have planned our day around watching it together. Sports not being an opportunity to bring family together, I disagree.

We need to take a step back parents and reprioritize, seek out the value in these experiences and remove that which isn't healthy or helpful. We need to do it together. Our kids aren't learning anything positive listening to our "cheering" at games. They certainly aren't learning things by having no time unless you think it is healthy for an elementary school student to have to learn time management from the back seat of a minivan. Moderation is key, working together is essential, and we alone can be the change agents here.

"TranslateHer"

There is no school on Good Friday, but before I went into a whirling panic a few weeks ago, I saw a sign notifying that the afterschool program is going to be open to cover the day. They are also open during all but one day of Spring Break next week with lots of fun activities and field trips planned. These extra days cost a small bit extra, of course, but I think most of us working parents are so relieved for the continuity and saving the scramble of playing hot potato with our kids that we don't utter a single complaint. After I signed the forms, paid the fees, and marked my calendar we got some notes in our mailbox at school about the plans.

Today is SUPER HERO DAY and the children have been encouraged to dress the part. I personally cannot wait to hear about the Super Hero challenges and training, but more than that I am looking forward dropping to seeing the incredible educators who will all be dressed to the NINES in their Super Get Up. We are so fortunate to have a program like this.


I reminded her that it was Super Hero Day earlier this week. We could have grabbed a cape from the costume closet and added a mask or crown, but instead I asked her what she thought her Super Power should be. She was very detailed, more detailed than I had anticipated, and it became a fun little project. Before I knew it, she was writing out a list of things she needed for her Super Hero attire and I was off to the store to find stickers and iron on patches among other things in very particular colors.


(Bat Man Cape, a White T Shirt, Boots, Sparkles, Heart, Puppy, and Baby, Eye Cover Mask, a Crown, Pink, Purple, and Blue, She loves to "talk" to animals, babies, and toys)
 
 
Somehow she took the notebook to school with her, snuck it into her book bag while my back was turned, and the results of that were rather interesting as well. She apparently thinks Connor is a Super Hero and pleads for him to be put on TV. She reveals a "secret" number akin to Lost and then in what I am sure will be Daddy's favorite, states she doesn't like boys. We are still figuring out contractions.
 
 



Once we had all her required supplies, we could begin work on TranslateHer, her Super Hero alter ego. TranslateHer can talk to animals and babies and yes, even toys through the powers of her heart. She has won awards from even the President himself for all her good work in making babies, animals and toys happy. This girl... I don't know many kids who when presented with having ANY power they can think of would come up with this and not invisibility, super strength, or x-ray vision.


She was so flipping happy with her get up... until we got to her program, opened the door, and she caught sight of some of the boys in head to toe bat man and wolverine. She retreated to the cubby room and fat tears rolled down her cheeks. She mouthed to me that she was scared and I wasn't sure if it was that the boys were really into this, that she wasn't a "real" super hero, or if she was worried about how her own costume would be received by her peers. (GAH!!!) I still don't know. I had to force her into the main classroom area and with the help of one of her favorite teachers (who guessed her super power immediately) we got her to go explore an area of the classroom where kids were working feverishly on their own capes and headwear. I was so proud of her hard work on this; her super hero back story, her super power and I just hope that she found a way today to feel that way too.

"TranslateHer! Here to tell you why your baby is crying or what your puppy wants for dinner."

tweet

We have a lovely little tree just outside our kitchen window that the birds adore in the spring. When the blooms on the tree are in full effect, it is THE place to be for our little feathered neighbors. Sometimes the tree gets so loud with all their chirping that I have to close the window to hear myself think. There was an old wooden feeder in the tree left by the previous owner when we moved in nearly four years ago. It was old then so by now it was getting really rotted and was falling apart. I imagined ticks and bugs and decided we needed to upgrade this year.

Steve somehow bent our outdoor broom handle in half (apparently I am married to The Incredible Hulk?) and as is customary when I am tasked with going out to buy something, I come back with that and more.

I found a "squirrel proof" feeder at the local hardware store and brought it home to the kids. We filled it with seed we already had in the garage. Last spring we made Pinterest cookie cutter feeders with gelatin and seed (super easy and a huge hit with the kids), but they were gone almost immediately thanks to the squirrels who ripped them from the rope and somehow hauled them across the yard for a feast. I will spare you the suspense, the feeder is not in fact "squirrel proof." I'm not sure if squirrels are like this everywhere, but the ones in our area are straight out of Mission Impossible, hanging upside down from a nearby limb and swinging their already well fed bodies over to grab a few seeds. Luckily, they don't like it when we bang on the glass or kick the heat vents, but this one red guy in particular is pretty committed to his task of taking allllll the seed. The kids are really enjoying our blessing to knock on the glass and kick things to scare him away.

We have so enjoyed this little addition. It came with an identification card which was really meant to help you purchase the correct seeds for the birds you wanted to attract to your new seed free for all. We have been using it to identify the chickadees and goldfinches and blue jays. We have two huge cardinals that make sporadic appearances, but those two young blue jays are the stars.


It is so soothing to sit at our kitchen table and watch them all swoop in and fill the still bare branches. I find myself ignoring my own work or sitting there for an extra moment to watch one of my favorite blue jays work to open a black sunflower seed between his toes. We moved a bench to the window and the kids have been setting up bird watching camp there, whisper shouting the names of the birds they see, pointing to them on the card and asking me to read the name. They are simple little creatures, but so soothing to watch,


until the squirrels come by.

priceless

Spring. The crocuses start peeping out of the ground. Bird feeders get filled to the tippy tippy top. I inevitably put the winter coats and hats away just a smidge too soon. I start to plan the kids summer clothes. At some point, I take a brief looksy in the "keep" boxes I put away in the fall hoping beyond hope that some of it will still fit on their long bodies. Caroline is good about trying everything on because she knows if she doesn't it will get boxed away to be handed down to someone else or as is the case for most things this year, sold at the sale in town. It's a milestone of some kind I suppose. We have a nephew to hand most of Connor's things down to, but with a six year age gap, most of Caroline's things don't find their way to our niece.

I have attended this sale most years since Caroline was born. I raced there in the morning, cash in hand, to stake out a front of the line spot. I have scoured the equipment area for a wagon or bike. I have leapt over people to get to the winter coats. I have assisted Auntie Colleen in securing a sweet push wagon. I have hauled things to my car as only a mother who just got the deal of the century could find the strength to do.

I am on the selling end of things for the first time this year. I hung, tagged, and organized fifty pieces of clothing. I went on a search and destroy mission in the attic to uncover relics of babydom long past. I used all my strength to navigate them down the attic steps. I tested batteries, wiped clean, took apart, washed what really needed to be washed. I chiseled all the spaghetti dinner remains out of the high chair that is really in phenomenal shape if I do say so myself. I worked furiously until this was complete and then as I washed the spaghetti remains from my hands and began to set in motion plans to somehow transport it all down to the garage, I caught sight of it all just sitting there piled up in the living room again and wept.

I wept big rolling tears, the silent kind that just flow out of your eyes with no end in sight.

I didn't cry when we got rid of the crib. I didn't cry when we passed along crawl to walk toys, pianos, or blocks. In fact, it was probably the passing that got me through that unscathed because someone else I love was playing with our favorite treasures. They had a second or in many cases third life. I wasn't really expecting this kind of reaction, not so suddenly anyway and certainly not after washing three year old spaghetti dinner off my hands. My babies are not babies, I know this is true, but watching these things go just seems to mean so much more. I stood there at my sink, wiping my eyes with a dishtowel, and I could just see them bouncing in the bouncer, Caroline's wide Joker smile in the exersaucer on Monday and Friday mornings, her favorite ducky toy from the activity mat,

I don't need videos or photos to remember these long ago moments.



 






 
 
 






I suppose I am reluctantly happy to see these things go to new homes where they will much get better use that sitting in an attic. The small amount of profit we make will help get the kids some new summer clothes or maybe finance a few trips to the local ice cream stop for some delish Creamsicle. I thought I was doing this to make a little cash off things taking up space in the attic, but it seems I am doing it instead to say goodbye to that time in our family's life. I'm okay letting them go (except for the little duck on the mat, he stays with me forever) I've had my tears. I have the memories all saved right up there in my head. You can find them there filed under "priceless."

when you prepare for the worst, but hope for the best




When we last left off with the boy who cried hockey saga, Connor was furiously expressing his desire to go out on the ice with Caroline at Learn to Hockey. Here is what happened next.

Steve and I debated several times over the course of the following week what the right move was here. On one hand, the kid was telling us he wanted to go. On the other, we didn't 100% buy what he was selling. I suggested we talk to the organizers and let them know that he wanted to go out and let them in on our situation. I hypothesized that they would be quite sympathetic. Not only would their records show that Connor had been registered for a full session, I was also quite sure all the coaches were well aware of the challenges of session one and two. I think everyone in a two block vicinity was familiar with the challenges of session one and two. I thought it would provide us an opportunity to share our only goal was one positive experience out there to potentially make way for a real try next season. Steve wasn't opposed, but he worried we would get him there, get him dressed and WHAM, kid refuses to go out again after all the communication and great effort of everyone. We don't want to be those parents. No one wants to be those parents.

I spent much of the week talking to him about it as casually as I could and we were surprised his enthusiasm remained. I think we both thought he would react poorly to these conversations, shake off the idea, and remove any need for us to make this decision. There was not a hint of reluctance, not a squirm, not a topic dodge. He was IN. We scratched our heads and shrugged our shoulders. I think we both suspected that when the dreaded "time to get dressed" approached he would fall apart and that would be the end of things. Imagine our surprise then as he willingly changed his clothes, sat down to get shin pads and socks on, and was so fired up to go play hockey that we thought we had the wrong kid. What had we done? We sat the kids side by side to suit up at the rink and he was all smiles.

 
 
Steve brought his own equipment because we had promised him that Daddy would go with him. Wouldn't you know that the lead instructor approached Steve to ask him to assist in Caroline's group. He had to say he would help, but he had been planning to help the youngest group. This was a toughie. It went right back to where we were in the fall and our focus was inappropriately shifted to Connor getting on the ice when it really should have been on the girl excelling on the other end. I don't think we like being in that space very much. We truly didn't think Connor was going to last long (if at all) on the ice. Steve left the kids in line to get out on the ice with the coaches and Connor stepped right on out there. Solo.
 
I almost couldn't believe it. He looked a little lost and incredibly tiny, but he was out there, scooting along. The high school varsity girls who help out went right to his side to offer support and back and forth he went. Steve was there to help him while assisting with the session and after about fifteen minutes he was done.
 

 
 

I went down to the far side of the rink to collect him and get him undressed. He absolutely refused. For the rest of the session, he kept his equipment and skates taking pretend slapshots. I asked him several times if he wanted to go back out and he said no, so I didn't push. As the clock ticked on and we were approaching the end of the session, I finally asked why. He told me it was because they were just going back and forth and he wanted to play with a puck. This was not hockey.

I think we will have two hockey players in the fall at either competing or completely different times, I am unsure which is a worse scenario. I foresee some time at a local rink for some serious open skate time to get him skating well for fall because this boy has no patience for skating drills that don't include a puck. He's got a road ahead of him, but we are incredibly proud of him for getting out there last weekend and giving it a go, with a smile.

We had been so prepared for some hitch all week that would give us the opportunity to say, "ok, no go." It never happened and we didn't quite know what to do with that. I suspected he would ignore our discussion. I thought for sure when Sunday actually rolled around he would look at me with the painful, "you want me to what?" face. I was certain the application of equipment to his body would send him into hysterics. I knew there was no way he would ever step out on that ice willingly without a parent forcibly pushing his little hockey pant wearing butt out there. I held my breath for the entire fifteen minutes waiting for the tears to start, the crying to be heard throughout the rink, and imagining myself pulling him skates and all out the door to the car. I was prepared for the tears that never came, speech ready to comfort that I never needed. Your kids will always surprise you.

slow cooker sundays

My cousin Kristen and her adorable partner in crime Nick have "Sunday Funday." She posts photos of them skiing, having a cock-ee-tail, enjoying their relaxing wonderful Sunday with drinks by a fire somewhere up north. As spring enters I am sure there will be more beach photos down on the south shore at his parent's place. It is sweet to see and reminiscent of days gone by for Steve and I. The mornings when we would loaf around, turn on Phantom Gourmet from bed, and I would eventually sing Steve the "Panera Song" at the top of my lungs until he pulled himself up and went to get me a sandwich. Those were the days, right?

Sunday is now the catch up day. It is the fold all the laundry and put it away day. It is the clean the playroom ten times because winter won't go away and let these kids outside & they cannot seem to pick up one thing before moving to the next and the next and the oh my God, what happened back here?!?! It is usually my market day and no one comes with me. That makes me sad until I pop my ear buds in and either a/ lip sync Frozen through all the aisles and ignore the staring or b/ listen to a podcast or two. It is the day we try to do the least because it is our last one together before the new week and no one in our family looks forward to Monday. It is the tidy all the things day because our wonderful helpers come every other Monday to make it look like I have time and energy to care for my home. I swear just having them come accounts for 75% of the tidiness around here because it forces me to remove the piles of stuff and put things away and clear surfaces. Every two weeks, that is good for the soul, but also kind of annoying to people who like to keep their closest in a pile beside the bed. Steve.

Sunday is always and will always be Sports Day. There is always SOME game that the kids will half watch with Steve. They cheer for the Bruins especially hard these days, often racing up the stairs to alert us to any changes. "We scored!!!" "We got a penalty!" "The other team started a fight!" It's adorable and they get really into it. It is exactly as Steve pictured it would be when we started a family of little Boston fans.

It's also Caroline's Learn to Hockey day and as soon as the fields are ready, it will be Learn to Lacrosse day too. Both of these sessions are of course planned for exactly the same time; 5pm. For kids in first grade, on a Sunday night. Are they TRYING to kill me?

About a month ago when this Sunday sports at dinner time (seriously, WHY?) started, I decreed that until this insanity ended (which I am fully aware won't be for another 15 or so years) it would be Slow Cooker Sunday. We like to ALL go to her hockey together, Connor enjoys watching, and it is important to her that we are there for her. I don't want to miss it because I am at home cooking dinner. I also don't want to be frantically cooking for a starving hockey player at 6pm. Slow Cooker Sunday has SAVED us.

I cannot (CANNOT) say enough good things about the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution Volume One and Volume Two. This past Sunday we made the Volume One Sticky Wings (a huge favorite in this house, we do them with drumsticks instead) and even our "I'm a vegetarian" ate some that we took off the bone. I made a big salad and broiled the chicken with the sticky sauce when we got home. We served up some buttered egg noodles on the side for the kids. DONE. We sometimes go for an easy option for the kids and something we know we will enjoy like the Salmon for Two from Volume Two. That was so good that we called Kiki to tell her about it for salmon loving Papa. I don't think there has been a recipe we have tried that we haven't enjoyed. I tell people about these books all the time and sure, they do require more than dumping stuff into the crock and walking away, but that extra time spent on prep is so very worth it. Following the sad loss of our original crock in the fall during the BC Football Nutella Bread Pudding incident (a great recipe from Volume One), I was without a crock pot for some time. Those were the dark days. Most people have a slow cooker and just never seem to use it. Maybe they think they will have a ton of leftovers they will never finish (recipes for two in second volume!), or maybe they think everything cooked in a slow cooker is a pile of mush (NOT SO!), or maybe they never get around to it, but wish they could incorporate it better into their lifestyle. Do yourself a favor, get these books, and have yourself a little Slow Cooker Sunday. If you are really missing the good ol' days, have yourself a cock-ee-tail too.

the boy who cried hockey

Just when you think you have them alllll figured out...

First, he wanted to play hockey. His very first thought each morning was to pull out the knee hockey nets. He didn't even care if anyone played with him. He posed for photos wearing tiny hockey equipment. He couldn't wait. He took slap shots all the live long day and we could barely pry the stick from his hand to go to bed at night. I swear he even said, "five hole," in his sleep.

Then, he wanted to do anything BUT play hockey. We could not convince him to join the other newbies on the ice for learn to hockey. After several failed tearful attempts and far too much energy from any adult in the vicinity to talk him into it, we abandoned the idea. He skated once with a couple buddies, but was adamantly opposed to any formal learn to anything involving ice and skates, with friends or not.

For awhile he taunted us telling us he would skate only with us and only on the pond. "That's it!" Then the hockey guys hit the scene and he spent more and more time with them. He started paying more attention to the Bruins games, really watching. Bedtime got occasionally pushed up to catch part of the first period. He asked more questions, thoughtful ones. He got more interested, but still he refused to talk about playing himself, now or in any future tense.

All the while he kept attending Caroline's sessions as a spectator and slowly the story started coming out. He was afraid of the Zamboni he said, to which I laughed out loud because he is obsessed with Zambonis. He told me he was too little and he would not be able to get off the ice in time to get out of the way. This is where I had a little Scooby Doo style flashback to the ride in the car on our way to his first learn to hockey session when his caring sister nicely told him, "don't worry, I will make sure you get off the ice before the Zamboni comes." EUREKA! He had interpreted this not as a helpful big sister comment, but a warning. "You are going to get run over by a Zamboni."

I had some quiet discussion with him while Steve got Caroline prepped for the next session and we watched the Zamboni clean the ice. I was careful to point out how the driver checked the ice and made sure ALL the kids were safely off before starting. He observed. He understood.

Then he hit us with, "but I just want to do it with Daddy." No problem, I thought. I told him that Daddy had gone out with Caroline too when she was little and helped her get started, but she didn't need him anymore. I was sure he would do the same for Connor if he asked him. So he did, and Daddy of course said, "Anytime."

Now. He gestures madly at the ice from the scary old wooden stands during her Sunday sessions. He crosses his arms and pouts. He holds his head in his hands and whines without reason. I couldn't figure it out for awhile, but eventually, "I want to play out there!" So, now Mr. Fickle wants to play. He wants Daddy to bring him out next week. Seriously, kid? What do I even say to him? We aren't sure if we should capitalize on this moment and get him out there (with Daddy) or if this is a time to say "you had your chance, you need to wait until Fall." I told him we would talk to the coaches, we did afterall pay for an entire session he refused to participate in. Every morning since: "Did Daddy talk to the coach?!"

Seems like BOTH our kids like to do things in their own time, their own way and this, this is why I have so many grey hairs.

training wheels

At this point, I have told you many times that Caroline does things when Caroline is ready. We really thought last year would be the year we took the training wheels off her bike, but she never seemed ready, was completely not interested or motivated to take them off, and when we brought it up she panicked. This was going to be ONE OF THOSE THINGS. She believed she couldn't do it and there was no talking her out of it.

With Spring technically upon us, though snow still covers much of our yard, the kids asked for their bikes this weekend. Having dealt many times with a girl as lethally stubborn as her father and mother combined, I jumped at the opportunity to get those trainers off the bike. I knew taking them off before she could hop on, ride away, and decide she absolutely couldn't do it without them would be the key because as I said, we have experience with Caroline doing things on Caroline's time. I didn't want to give her a chance to get comfortable with those training wheels again and make room for fear of failing.

I didn't ask her, I simply got the tools and handed them to Steve and we took them off. There was no conversation, just "today is the day." She wasn't nervous, she was impatient, "when will you be DONE?" Mommy seems to be learning a bit too along the way here.

It was a very rocky start. She couldn't balance at all, her body control was completely absent and each time I released her seat, she immediately turned toward her right until she fell over. Every time. She realized she was on her own, that I had let go, and panicked. She cried. She screamed. She repeatedly said, "OHHH, Ratsadoodley!" (what?) She wanted the training wheels back. We knew we couldn't give in.

I gave her a few pep talks, we talked about having strong arms to keep the wheel straight, and we said some affirmations aloud. "I can do anything!" I told her not to just say it, but to really believe it. Steve and I stood at opposite ends of the street so she could ride between us; see a goal and reach it.

Reach it, she did. This was the end of that hour long session.




On Sunday, she was begging to get back out there on her bike. She wasn't afraid, just frustrated when she hit the curb, or fell over, or ended up with her handlebar digging into her shoulder or stomach. There was more of that "ratsadoodlely" business. She got a few cuts and scrapes and I told her that I spent entire summers with skinned knees and elbows and that was how I knew I had been having fun. It was bound to happen, don't be afraid of it, cuts and scrapes heal and we have Princess Band-Aids in the cabinet. She kept at it, she started getting braver, feeling more confident, and by the end of that hour, she was riding and turning and falling far less.

It's going to be a wonderful spring/summer. How long until little brother asks for his wheels to go away too?

Did you hear her tell Steve "I should be on America's Funniest Videos."  HA!!



the only ponytail

Sunday morning was Caroline's first tryout of any kind. We didn't call it a tryout. We knew that would elicit the kind of panic and anxiety that might result in her absolute refusal to get out of the car. We told her this was just a different kind of hockey practice, with some new kids and new drills. I gave her a simple pep talk on our ride to the rink, stressing that it was "no big deal, have fun, do your best, be a good listener." This was a required tryout for Mites, the lowest level of organized youth hockey. They were picking for the full ice team. Everyone else would be put on a cross ice team. It's a smaller space with fewer players and this new method of play has helped them to develop the kids' skills in a way that full ice play cannot. (That's the kool aid they fed me anyway) We snagged her gold numbered pinnie at the door, good ol' number 2, and as she looked around while we helped get her dressed, I could see the dread start building on her face.

The kids were bigger, they skated faster, stronger, and there was just one other girl out there. She started crying and telling us she didn't want to go out. Normally, when things elevate with her she is better in Steve's hands than mine. This was not one of those times. We were in very different places in that moment. Steve wanted her to power on out there and I wanted her to calm down, breathe, relax. She told me "I can't stop my tears." (my mama bear fur was up) I knew if we pushed her out there like that she would not recover and as far as we have come with her on this, I wasn't going to force her to do anything. Both Steve and I knew she could hold her own, that this would be a good experience for her, but I didn't want it to be damaging in anyway.

A friend, the only other girl who had been in the cross ice program this year, came over to her to offer support. Caroline was in an entirely different space and couldn't even make eye contact. I walked her away from the ice, I held her close and over my shoulder I watched those boys skate. I'll admit I had a pit in my stomach and I wasn't even going out there. This was mites, not the Olympics, everyone was going to make a team. It didn't feel that way. I think it is more than fair to say that Steve and I have no hopes of her making the full ice team, but we wanted her to have a good experience, not one that left her in tears or made her feel bad about herself.

I gave her a minute to stop crying and wiped her tears off through the holes in her helmet. I told her to take a deep breath and go for it. I reminded her I would be right there with her, watching every second, making sure she was ok. The coaches, who she had never met, helped her get onto the ice, walked her through the first drill. They instructed the goalie to let her score on her first time through. In the moment, I was happy about that. In reflection I am not so sure.

She did fine, she did better than fine because she stayed out there. We followed her through the three stations and her confidence never reached a good spot that I felt I could let out the breath I had been holding this whole time. They brought the kids all to center ice and broke them up into white and gold by pinnie and they went flying to the benches. Everyone went flying, except Caroline. She watched these boys hurl their bodies over the boards and onto the benches like lemmings. She didn't know how to do that and we could see her fall apart. This is when the tears started again and it took every fiber of my being not to find some way to reach her over there, to tell her it was okay, and even leave if she wanted to. They were about to play a full ice game and she had never done that and I couldn't even imagine how she was feeling. We watched across the ice as a coach calmed her down, offered assurances and sent her out for the next shift. Again, they helped and brought her out to center to do the face off on her turn. At the time, I smiled. Now I am not so sure.

We found refuge with another group of parents whose kids were in way over their heads too. I felt an instant relief because for the last 30 minutes I had been questioning if we were even in the right place. Was this really the mites session? They had been questioning it too. One had a son who had only worn equipment four other times and the other had completed his first learn to hockey program just a couple weeks ago. All three held their own and before long we noticed something; she was smiling. She was serious, determined, following man to man a kid taking the puck around the net and meeting him on the other side. She even asked if they "needed her to stay out" and her endurance rivaled even the most seasoned of the kids out there. We made car pool plans with our newfound Mite Cross Ice friends and breathed easier in knowing that she wasn't scared out there anymore.

Afterwards, rosy cheeked and exhausted, she announced she would rather not go to her usual Learn to Hockey program that night. The same coach who had rallied her into the game from the bench came over to her and told her what a great job she had done, that she had been fierce, that the best player on his team is a girl, that girls are taller and sometimes smarter than the boys. I mouthed thank you to him, touched at his generosity and support of her, the only ponytail on the ice.

Later, when Steve and I were debating in code about that night's hockey session, I took her into her room for a chat. She relayed how scary it had been to be out there, that she didn't want to play with the boys. Seeking inspiration or answers, I looked across her room towards her desk where she has those cutouts from the women's game we attended and the signed photo of BC's Olympic Women and I asked her to look at them. I reminded her that all of them had to play with boys when they were her age, that teams for girls didn't really exist the way they do now, and how brave they had to be to get through that. I didn't want her to feel like we were forcing her to go to that night's hockey, but I also didn't want her exhaustion from the day to make her lazy or her attention to wander because she had enough hockey today. Wouldn't that just have been the cherry on the whole day. I reassured her the only way I could, I promised her I would do anything in my power to get her on a girls team. I told perhaps more importantly, that even if she HAD to play with the boys, she proved to them today she was just as tough.

It's hard. So. Hard. I was emotionally spent from the day and when we talked about it later, I started to almost resent that special attention she had gotten, the kudos afterwards even. "Did they mean it or do they just want a ponytail out there?" I asked. Steve wasn't sure.

I knew he understood when he sent me this video:

http://screen.yahoo.com/journey-to-sochi/hilary-knight-playing-boys-going-181621188.html

We watched it together as a family tonight after dinner. The message was a little over her head, but she seemed to get that these girls had played with boys and she could too.

I'm not sure I want her involved in something where she gets credit just for being the girl. I want her to feel as fierce as those boys because I know she is. Part of me thinks the best thing in the world would be for her to play with the boys and part of me wants to shelter her from spending three hours a week with them. I'm not sure yet how this will work out, but it was eye opening, difficult, amazing, and boy, was she courageous. These are life lessons, not just hockey, and as she gets older it is tougher to muddle through.

sports guys

Ever since the sports guys hit the scene, Connor has laser focus on his guys. The tiny plastic snap together hockey boards are a permanent fixture in the family room. I occasionally pull the "rink" up to wipe it clean, but otherwise it sits at the ready for the next game. When football was in season, the green field was set up permanently beside the television and Connor would go between watching the game with Daddy, to setting up the offense for another touchdown. We apparently watch a lot of hockey right now because hockey is on permanent display and watching the Bruins happens from his odd vantage point beside the fireplace. At this very moment, the hockey game is in an intermission and the football guys are getting organized for a practice.

Practice occurs upstairs on the sofa. All pillows are removed and the couch is smoothed clean with both a brush and then a lint roller before practice can even begin. Connor still has many Neil cleaning tendencies. The cleaning cart is NEVER far away. He sets up intricate arrangements of players circled up perhaps strategizing, he pairs them up for face offs, and skates them carefully and deliberately through their practice drills. Here is a recent weekend practice session. Football guys were circled up in the middle, hockey guys skating around them. How cute are these pjs?

After practice concludes, he packs them ALL up and walks them downstairs to the appropriate field for the main event. The skaters line up on the far ends of the ice for "the song" and he announces to everyone in the room that BC is once again playing the Huskies. (voice in my head: "great.") He sends some players out, sets up the goals and goalies, and puts the rest to the other side of the boards to cheer for their friends. He moves them purposely, two at a time, moving with the huge enormous (thank god, we haven't lost it yet) puck. If you listen carefully, you can hear the play by play and let me assure you it is extremely adorable and alarmingly accurate. Penalties are given for hitting the puck too high and we suggest high sticking instead. Then at some undetermined time, everyone exits the ice and he lines everyone up around the outside to watch the Northeastern Toy Zamboni that used to be in the Man Cave circle the ice in the correct pattern (!) before another period of hockey begins. Somehow BC always ends up winning, but he always makes it a close game or a tie, even though I can tell he wants to make BC win 6-0 or something else equally embarrassing.

Beyond just being completely adorable, this guy thing illustrates how different our kids are. Caroline is not nearly as independent as he is. She will play alone, but prefers someone's company. Connor would be happy playing alone like this for HOURS if we let him. He will even pack the guys back up for another practice upstairs and just head there on his own. Caroline panics if you ask her to go back downstairs to retrieve her backpack or suggest she get herself a juice box. He gets upset when practice gets cut short by dinner and if we get caught up in something and there isn't time for a game before bed, wow, hell hath no fury like a hockey player deprived of a game.

His affection for his sports guys is endearing and clearly, we will be picking these up ASAP because opening days looms!!

hustle

We have found ourselves at another hockey crossroads. Having just slapped down a rather healthy deposit for Caroline to skate a tryout for Cross Ice Mites or a Girls Under 10 team in town next year, I am beginning to accept that it is a near certainty that I will be organizing a three times a week hockey schedule for her in the fall. Now before you say it, I know, we did this to ourselves, willingly. She has been doing great; skating well, fighting harder for the puck, pushing herself. I'm her mother, of course I think she is wonderful, but she has really turned it on this year.



The days of pushing her out of the ice and avoiding direct eye contact are long behind us now. Her questions about how much time is left have stopped completely and have been replaced with a wide smile or a look of incredible determination. Her only tears are from not winning a puck drill. (wonder where that competitive streak came from?) I still can't quite believe it sometimes. Our girly princess loving doll caretaker is a hockey player? It has been challenging to her to get past the "be nice to your friends" approach and actually cut in front, catch an edge tighter than the other kid, and fight for the puck during drills. She always seems to be paired up with this one kid whose parents tape his ankles (Steve comments on this EVERY week) and initially, she wouldn't get in there. She is now often fist pumping after scoring, beating him solidly most times.

She has also somehow caught the eye of one of the coaches who runs the program and he can really lay into her. She misunderstood a drill once and he kept her out there again and she was so upset that he had yelled at her when she forgot about the "second puck" that she needed a minute off the ice. We understand it is to make her better, we tell her this, but another parent confirmed my worry. "If he did that to my daughter, there is no way she would want to come next week." It's hard to keep quiet and walk away when that happens. He always catches her afterwards to tell her she "did well out there today, Caroline."

She followed the women's hockey in Sochi and we had the games on as often as we could realistically catch them. She was thrilled to see all the girls out there. We fulfilled our promise to her and brought her to the last home game of the year for the BC Women's team.


Can we please acknowledge how EMPTY it is there? They don't even charge admission for these games. This was BC vs. BU and still just a smattering of people. It is disheartening in a way, to encourage her to pursue this, knowing that even at a Division 1 program, no one seems to care. I'm in no way saying I'm expecting her to play at this level, but if these are the superstars and this is the support they get, it's really sad for kids her age to see. She is holding the face of one of the graduating seniors. Her mother gave the kids the signs and she was pleased as punch to point her out to us on the ice. Caroline cheered for "my girl" the whole game. We may have been the only people there who were not friends and family. Let that marinate. They played well, even without some of their standouts who were over in Russia competing. Caroline got to meet them at a Men's game she attended with Kiki and Papa while we were away last week. They signed an autograph card for her with their photo and she can still name them all, like they are besties or something. "That's Alex, Molly,and Kelli."

We asked her about the game when we returned home and she shared all the details. "They really turned it on and hustled." She sits with Steve now and watches the Bruins, something she never had any interest in before. She asks questions, she can see the penalties. I don't even usually see the penalties and I watch hockey way more often than she does. She cheers when they score, cries whent they lose. Daddy is very proud.

Strawberries and Cream

Most of the time when Caroline brings assignments home I spend a larger than should be reality amount of time scratching my head and trying to make sense of "new math." She responsibly draws thought bubbles to show her work and meanders her way through the page while I look over her shoulder HORRIFIED because as a 35 year-old woman with a Master's degree, I cannot follow what is happening.

I.cannot.follow.first.grade.math.

I often spend the time dinner is cooking (and I should be making lunches for the following day) reviewing "ABC papers" which have NOTHING to do with ABCs and everything to do words with similar letter sounds and other random things she has worked on recently.

This one goes all the way back to MLK. This draft has sadly been sitting over here for THAT long. I'm working on it, but failing nonetheless. Caroline was really into MLK this year, she had a book about his life and she shocked her teacher by remembering the year of his birth. This was not something they had covered in class, just information she had retained from reading. (!!!!) She might just be a non-fiction fan. I'm usually not that impressed with the way schools cover this topic for kids her age. They sort of gloss over it in a way, offer praise for him standing up to oppression and move right on into decorating Valentines. This year I was brought to a screeching pause over spaghetti and meatballs when this paper drifted under my nose, hidden in her folder.


I think my WOW moment is justified here. In my head I screamed, "FINALLY!" Every time my daughter reaches for the peach "skin colored" crayon I have to bite my lip and remind her gently that it is PEACH, not skin, that her skin might be that color, but that is not "skin color." I love everything about this worksheet. I love that they all had pasted on different swatches and they could lay these worksheets out in a big pile and literally see the diversity within their group. I love that she had them NAME their skin tone, not black, not white, but a REAL name.

Finally.

outside

Sometimes there are moments when you can suddenly see your family from outside of itself. You might be sitting at home all snuggled up on the couch together watching Despicable Me and suddenly you can snap a mental snapshot of this happy little moment. Click. Save As: "Snuggle Bugs." More often, you suddenly realize the world is watching and taking your little family in. You HOPE it is for something positive and not for an epic tantrum, but that happens too. It happened while we were skating New Year's Day. I was skating as fast as I could to keep up with Caroline and I could see the world watching us, other families smiling at our game of cat and mouse that she was clearly winning, taking us in, observing us.

This weekend we ended up at a local restaurant known for excruciatingly long waits. Steve dropped Connor and I off in front to go begin the waiting process, while he and Caroline hunted for a parking spot. It was nearly twenty minutes before he and Caroline walked in the door. By then, Connor was done with standing and had found himself to my shoulders. I told him his job from up there in the crow's nest was to locate his sister and Daddy. He kept his eyes fixed on the door and when he saw him, he began celebrating and kicking his legs and announcing to me, "there they are, I see them, I see them!!" I couldn't see him because he was on my head, but I watched a young couple across the very crowded entryway look up at him. He looked up at the commotion, smiled, tapped her shoulder and pointed up to him and together they smiled and watched the whole thing unfold. They watched the happy greeting of son to father and brother to sister and smiled again for a moment before going back to their conversation about the weather or their plans later or who knows what. It was a moment, but they saw it and I saw it through them. I was watching from outside of us, a simple happiness in an otherwise ordinary situation waiting for cheesecake. Swift and over, falling to pieces moments later in an argument over the glow paint on the iPad.

Sometimes it is the simplest of things that catch you. It is often the most ordinary that are the most compelling. Even when it isn't for such a cute family moment, but maybe instead is a child screaming "NO" after he drops the last bite of a granola bar in the parking lot and refusing to move another inch (true story). Even then I have noticed that it isn't disapproving glances, but knowing looks and sympathy that I often see around us. You can be outside of yourself, for a moment, watching by watching someone else. 

Connor's Army Guys

When the kids fill their marble jar for good or helpful behavior, we often end up at our favorite little bookstore in town. (Lately, I'm also offering ABC Mouse tickets and wow, you should see those kids clean a playroom!) This marble jar trip isn't for a large item or a big book. It's usually a small game, a notebook, a special pen, or a little Playmobil set. One of the first things Connor chose was a bag of green army men. He wasn't entirely sure what they were all about, but quickly decided that the ones with the radios were in charge. He didn't even immediately identify that they were holding guns, but he figured that out pretty fast. Mama wasn't too sure about that, but I find that he more likes to set them up, sometimes all together, sometimes just a few at a time. Rex from Toy Story tromps through them, he spends his spinning Zurg through to send them flying, but more often he leaves them in the most impossible spot in the middle of the kitchen floor before dinner. These occupy him for large amounts of time.

One night before dinner he asked me what their names were. I was distracted with dinner and asked him what he meant and he pressed on, "what are their names?!"

I picked one of them up and thought about it for moment and then grabbed a whole handful.

 
"This one is Bob, he's a Navy guy. This guy is Charlie, he's a Navy guy too, but instead of a boat, he flies in a seaplane that can land on the water. He even got captured by the enemy this one time and boy, that was awkward (Connor's favorite word) This one is an M.P. and his name is Neil. He looks an awful lot like you, don't you think?"  

the moon

The moon is perhaps the only positive about these extra special short winter days when it is dark well before I pick the kids up from school. By the time I get Connor strapped in and we head the admittedly short distance down the road to Caroline's after school program, the moon is usually beginning to peek out. I let him spot it first and as we park he points to it excitedly. I gather him from his seat and we stealthily sneak to the door hoping the moon won't spot us. Caroline takes her usually epically long time finishing her project, cleaning up, finding her coat, arguing about wearing her coat. By the time we exit that door to FINALLY head home, the moon is fully out, staring right down at us. The kids erupt in screams and race hand in hand to the car, now rushing me to hurry, "before he finds us."

We spend the ride home evading that pesky moon. He is tricky, often switching sides as we turn and meander our way across town. Just when we think we have lost him behind a tree, at a stoplight, there he is again. The kids alternate wanting him to find us and wanting him to get lost. It ends when we turn down our street and he usually gets blocked by a huge pine tree. The kids urgently request that I get in the garage and close it as fast as I can. They race inside, breathing deep sighs of relief and sharing high fives. I shake my head and as their personal Sherpa, drag all their gear in. It is adorable and fun and I hope they never, ever tire of it.

lesson in need vs. want

"I will," I told her when she asked me about party invitations after Christmas. "I don't know yet," when she requested the date of her birthday party. I implored her to stop asking questions. She did not know she was going to Disney World and there wouldn't be a big formal birthday party this year. Still, she asked. Still, she made list after list of the friends she wanted to invite. Still, I could not possibly wrap my head around any type of planning for this because we were going to Disney World. I was obviously neither stressed, nor excited.

I pushed this completely out of my mind, birthday party denial deeply set in. That lasted until we arrived home and she again approached me with those lists of friends again, a sullen look upon her face. I could ignore her requests no more. This was going to be a tough storm to navigate.

I don't do simple. Ask Steve. He will tell you that I am completely incapable of showing restraint around my kids' birthdays. Even if my goal is simple, I lose my way somehow. With our big trip looming, I had motivation to keep it simple because I had no time to spend planning anything more than simple this year. Well before we left for Florida, Connor's simple birthday was already behind me; group tickets for our extended family to attend a Boston College hockey game, dinner out with family before, and a lovely hockey themed cake from a local bakery. I could do this, couldn't I?

Orlando behind us and staring down the barrel of birthday number two, I suddenly announced to Steve Friday night (opening night for Frozen sing along) that THIS would be the ultimate simple birthday for her. No formal party with written invites and expectations, just a few close friends, a movie, some popcorn, and a bouncing snowflake to help them with the lyrics. I was shocked when every person we invited accepted (and we had kept the list to our closest girls). We had a "party" afterall! I was thrilled!

We had to do some more explaining about what the sing along was, who was coming, what fun it would be. She was getting excited, until she asked, "but Mama, what will I wear?" She had her heart set on an amazing Elsa dress we had seen someone wearing while we were in Florida. She saw it and instantly wanted it and we looked everywhere for it until they informed me that there was no Frozen merchandise at Walt Disney World. Disney World was SOLD OUT. The dress just wasn't going to happen. Thus began one of the most pivotal afternoons we have spent together, just us girls.

We talked about comparing ourselves to others. We talked about need vs. want. We talked about gratitude for the experiences and souvenirs from her VERY RECENT trip to Florida. We talked about appreciation. Our heart to heart had broken it down to simple terms; she was excited about the movie, she was so happy her friends could come, but she wanted to feel extra special. We talked about realistic expectations. I am capable of simple sewing, but a seamstress I am not. Together we crafted an idea for an Anna cloak. We whipped out my smartphone and looked at some images and made one more stop at a local craft store. We purchased a yard of raspberry fleece, some black ric rac, and she herself found the adorable clasp for the final perfect embellishment.

On the way home we talked about growing up, that in short time she would begin noticing that lots of people were dressing a certain way. I told her it would be normal for her to want to look just like them too, but that her being uniquely her and feeling confident in her own choices would be way more important than 200.00 boots. She looked at me skeptically in the rear view mirror. She couldn't care less what anyone else wears today. I warned her that would likely change and when it does, I will be ready to find a better solution; a way for her to be wonderful Caroline, not labels Caroline happens to wear on her body. It was a bit over her head, but she got the message. There would be no Disney label in this Anna Cloak, but it would be special and hers and made by me.

I did some online research and found a pretty good tutorial to base it off of. I didn't have a machine or time, just some basic materials and a deadline. We made the circular cape part first, then sewed a separate long piece to the smaller piece. I applied the ric rac while Steve and I watched Blue Jasmine and sipped wine. She was so positively in love with her cloak when she woke up in the morning. She felt special at the theatre, wrapped up in the fleece coziness. The entire project cost under $20.00. The Disney Elsa Dress is QUITE a bit more.

On the way home I told her, I think we might have Halloween wrapped up. That has to be some kind of record.

 

four fingers




Four years old sounds impossible. I thought he would always be my baby, that somehow time would slow down and it would last and last and last. That kind of goes hand in hand with my recent post about our family of four. I admittedly wanted to both hang onto my snugly hip baby and push through the challenges of reflux and all the other not so fun stuff.        

This year is hitting me pretty hard. I'm not going to be a mom to "two small children" anymore and that seems impossible. Steve and I turned 35 last year, but the kids' birthdays seem to be more of a milestone somehow. Four sounds so much bigger than three. I always tell parents, "it isn't two that you should worry about, it's three."            



Reflecting on the year, yes, three was certainly more challenging than two. We learned that Connor has a fierce temper. He is big into refusal with a stubborn streak that rivals only his father's. He refuses to clean, go to bed, or come to the table for dinner. This was the year of the marble. We instituted the marble jar this year to reward good behavior and reinforce that not so good decisions and behavior will not be tolerated. He didn't exactly get it when we started, but I realized this week he is very motivated for that trip to our tiny local book store and will CONSIDER cleaning up for a marble. Caroline understands it more and will spontaneously decide to "help" clean dishes, make dinner, set the table for a small handful of marbles. She is setting a good example, but so far he isn't drinking the kool aid. They both learned that it is their combined effort to do the right thing that will get the jar full. She knows better than him that he can lose marbles for losing his mind and she can gain them back by supporting his recovery from whatever unjust thing has caused his epic tantrum. 




His drop offs at school leave me sad most days. His smile disappears the moment we turn into the parking lot.  He stares at me with sad scared eyes as I remove his coat and clings to me as we head to the door. There was a small window of time when he used to push me out in the morning, but most days I need to literally remove him from my person to get out the door. My parting gift is the sound of his cry all the way down the hall to the exit. We will get through it, this is a phase like all things, but it does nothing to get me through it now. Just this week I started offering thee marbles for a good drop off and it is working! We are on a streak! He asks each morning barely awake, "is it a school day?" and the best day is the day I get to say "no."

 
 
In as many ways as he challenged us this year, he was an absolute joy. We are a diaper free house (except for the just in case bedtime pull up). That in itself is a huge accomplishment! He loves super heroes, especially Iron Man, Hulk, and Spider Man. He is not very open to things that require sitting and focusing, but when he does he enjoys puzzles, setting up his army guys or his football players, and board games. He may be the only kid I know who prefers the chutes in chutes in ladders.
 
 



When I can get him to color he is now choosing appropriate colors and though it is all I can do to get him to color, he loves reusable sticker pages and putting animals in the proper habitat. He delights in choosing an animal he knows is wrong just to get us to react. He loves anything rescue related (fire, police) and anything that goes. He plays with Legos for hours and can independently set up his playmobil sets to have pirates stealing treasure or the animals on the farm getting all they need to eat. He asks for popcorn when we watch movies and we have reached the point where they do not agree on movie choices. Epic negotiations are required to secure watch time for Cars or Planes. His sister is still his best friend, but he doesn't always follow along with what she wants to do anymore. He is happy to do his own thing and that has been a real adjustment.
 



He is funny. Like most boys his age, he takes every opportunity to embrace potty humor. He catches lines in movies and uses them in his daily life. Steve the monkey from "cloudy with a chance of meatballs" and his love of gummy bears are a daily part of our life in our house. When Connor gets excited about something, he will yell "gummy bears!!"




"Mulan" is a more recent hit over here and he frequently shouts Mishu's line exactly like this. 



He loves sharing the best part of his day at dinner, but hates washing his hands. He does not like macaroni and cheese, but can often be found rummaging through the snack drawer for a juice box, granola bar, or piece of dried mango. He insists that I bring a snack for him to eat on the way home from school, but reacts poorly no matter I tell him is for dinner, even his favorite thing gets a negative reaction. He loves sports, but is just as likely to beg to use the lint roller on the couch as kick a ball. He loves to toss a football in the air and race to catch it in a scary diving gonna break his teeth kind of way. He still watches sports with Steve, but seems to understand them better now. He recently asked Steve, "do we want the Cats to win?" during a Carolina Panthers game. He loves the Bruins, but refuses to learn to skate with a group of his peers. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years he was content to set up a net in the driveway and have his sister take shots on him. We found him awake the other night reading the back page of a BC football program. He was studying the hand signals cheat sheet intently. He is the sweetest little boy, with a mischievous side. He recently figured out how to work the remote and we heard his happy whoop all the way down the hall in the kitchen. He is amazing and wonderful and challenging all rolled together into a ball of Connor and today we celebrate his day. Happy Birthday, best boy.