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.