to new beginnings, for us all

It's just birthdays and milestones over here.

Summer went by in a blink. Why must summer do that?

My baby starts kindergarten next week and while I am certainly reflective and emotional inwardly, it is hard to be sad when I see how excited and ready he is to go off and be a big kid.

He grew so much this summer at camp and he tried new things that made him scared. Connor is a boy who goes at his own pace, there is no sense in pushing him along. He will do things when he is ready and only then. Now, he seems to be more willing to put himself out there, to take risks, to do the hard things. It is absolutely wonderful to witness. Humbling too.

Caroline begins third grade on Wednesday. I remember being a third grader, sitting in Mrs. Conboy's classroom, learning about fractions, writing in cursive. It is clear to me that things we do now she will always have clear memories of. She will remember the things she did this summer and I will keep an image of her diving through waves confidently and alone while I sat on the shore and observed. I am not always a participant in her story now, I'm moving towards being the supportive cheerleader, the one watching but not interfering. It's a transition, but she still snuggles up to me and calls me Mama, so I won't start weeping over it yet.

We worked hard this summer to keep her math skills moving in the right direction and to keep her confidence up. I can still remember sitting in Las Vegas probably at her age, wearing my bathing suit, hair in a ponytail, ready to hit the pool and getting a reminder from my mother that there would be no pool until I completed the worksheet in the book she had brought along. My memory of my attitude; PAINFUL. She had the right idea though didn't she. Academics before fun, everything in moderation, keep those skills, don't backslide. I may not have executed it in the same way, but I really did try this summer to keep the momentum going.

and what of me?

I closed a giant chapter in my life last Friday when I turned in my hospice tablet, phone, and badge. I got walked out the door by my supervisor and I didn't even turn to look back. I start work this week in a local school system in a First Grade classroom as a Special Education Assistant.

I know.

It's a gigantic leap. It's anxiety inducing makes me want to vomit sometimes insane. It's wonderful. It feels intentional, balanced, exciting even. It makes me hungry to learn again. It also already helped me to take a step back and think about how to best support my daughter with her math.

Instead of, "how do you not just know that 9+2 is 11?" she now gets a reminder from me to pause, use her strategies, remind herself that she can do this, and poof. It's not magical. It's just perspective. This new job is going to benefit me 100 times over, but she may benefit even more. I have been observing her through fresh eyes and it's been such a lovely thing to witness.

It's a brand new beginning.

crazy eight

When I finally sat down to write this, I sat for several minutes staring at a blank cursor. Eight. How can this even be? My beautiful, energetic, sensitive, filled to brimming with love, sweet and sassy daughter is no longer a little girl. She is more my shadow now than she ever was, more needy of my affection than before, more attentive to my words and how I choose those words ever so carefully now. Gone are the days of questions about what words meant and arrived are the toughies like "what happens when we die?" or "how do some people not have a home?" or the hardest by far for me, "why are there bad people in this world?"

She is my constant companion in the kitchen, standing beside me on her stool carefully measuring, following a recipe, stirring, and creating. Even when the mess gets to me, I breathe deeply, laugh with her at the batter gone awry and remind myself that this mess is just a mess, that this moment will fade all to quickly.

We have been watching some very old videos and she is still very much the same as she was when she was two and three and four... full of energy and spunk almost to the point of WOW, please slow down.

Always a snuggler, she and her brother still demand I sit between them so they can each snuggle tightly to my sides. She holds my hand, sighs deeply and tells me "I love you, mama." I literally cannot tell her enough these days how much I love and adore her. How can someone so sensitive and so challenging at times have my heart tied into a such a knot?

What a gift my new lighter schedule at work has been to deepen our bond and allow us that mommy daughter time we never ever found time for before. I find myself picking up a special treat for an afterschool snack on my way home. I delight at watching her at our table working on homework while I sip coffee, in the silence of the house, just us two. We spend quieter afternoons reading side by side in the living room, my arm wrapped behind her back, her head nuzzled into my shoulder. I think to myself on those days, this is how I always imagined it would be. The truth is that 90% of the time I am picking her up to shuttle her to practice or CCD or somewhere else, then picking up her brother, then her again, rushing them both home, and frantically preparing dinner, asking how their day was, deciding whether or not they need a shower and putting them to bed. That 10% is all the more meaningful.

Her sense of righteousness and doing for others continues to amaze and inspire me. My daughter inspires me to open my heart more, ME, a bleeding heart social worker! For her birthday this year she requested we spend an afternoon volunteering as a family at Cradles for Crayons. When we asked her what she wanted or needed for her birthday? Gift cards for a shopping trip to select her donations. In as many ways as I think I fall flat as mother, I see this kid and her spirit of goodness and I can't help but feel that I am doing something, SOMETHING, right. I nurture and encourage this part of her to grow and expand and tell her that doing for others will always make her feel good. I know this to be true.

While her emotional wellness is strongly intact, I can already sense her self confidence shaking when she sits down at the table to complete her homework, especially math. I struggle beside her to make sense of this common core math and reinforce to her that this is hard work, even for mommy. I tell her that this might be something she always has to work harder at, but that with that hard work will come great reward. I walk a tightrope with her and her schoolwork, always trying to keep the balance because one small breeze too much sends her toppling over and to a place of such retreat that I cannot get her back on the platform to take that first step again.

Yet, we have never before seen a girl so scrappy, so confident as when she is on the ice with her cross ice hockey team. I thought I was going to have a ballerina. I thought my fall weekends would be spent waiting outside a rehearsal studio, learning how to apply performance make up again, sewing elastics to shoes, making headpieces in the spring for recitals. I don't know what to do with a hockey player, but I do know that I am sure I feel quite the same pride my mother felt for me when she watched me out there on stage doing something I loved. You can see how much she loves it by the smile on her face. It has clicked for her in so many ways and she loves a breakaway as much as taking it behind the net to defend the goal and NEVER have I seen her enjoy being a part of something like this with her teammates. I don't know how long she will want to play or what might come next, but I know that she loves it now and it is so amazing to witness this incredible transformation in her. It is teaching her so much about teamwork, hard work, endurance. Not to mention that I am incredibly jealous of my eight year old's abs because what a hard working little bod she has! No amount of T25 could get me into the same fitness category as this girl! It might not hurt any that she would prefer a salad for dinner and snack of sliced peppers. ???

I don't get it either.
Eight. I know that the relationship I have with her now will filter into the relationship we have in the harder years ahead and I work hard to set a foundation for that to be a positive and trusting relationship. I lecture. I yell. I sigh audibly. I am imperfect, but when it all comes down to us being mother and daughter she knows I am an ally, a friend, but very much in charge. I hope it stays that way for at least another ten years.

She was the baby who made me a Mom, I thought that was the biggest gift. Each day I am reminded that the gift of her continues to amuse, surprise, delight and improve me in ways I never knew would be possible. Happy Birthday, baby girl.

Connor is Five

This morning when Caroline crawled into bed, the first thing she whispered was, "today is Connie's birthday!" We waited patiently for him to wake up from their little sleep over in his room last night and when he arrived on scene, he brushed the sleepers out of his eyes and climbed into bed beside me with an excited but still tired "birthday!"

Today is Connor's FIFTH birthday and in so many ways I feel like this is the closing of a long, beautiful, hard, wonderful, went too fast chapter in our family's life. We are counting down the few months that remain of our colossal mortgage payment sized child care costs. (I can't even wrap my head aound this!!) At the same time, we grieve the loss of the ease of preschool: drop off/pick up, learning and playtime with no expectation greater than following the classroom rules, being a good friend, and learning what he can tolerate before Kindergarten.

It was an exceptional year, marked by memorable moments, personal triumphs, and knock your head against a wall frustration. Connor became more outgoing, but maintains a spot pressed tightly beside his mama any chance he gets. His highs are high and his lows are so very low. When he is happy and laughing you cannot help but join him. When he is less than happy, he erupts into a fury that has us calling him Hulk. I don't know of many other kids his age who become "hangry," but his mood is so tied to his appetite that we know we are in trouble when lunch is even slightly delayed. He struggles to communicate the things he is worried about, scared of, or upset about and we struggle to get him to open up verbally. He requires more patience than you should have to muster in a frustrating eruption.

His love for sports seems limitless. I've never before seen a child decline a bounce house to watch a college football game (not BC, by the way, Clemson, which he knows by logo). He perches himself behind Steve's legs on the couch to watch baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, anything. He asks question after question and cheers loudly. He can quickly determine if this is "our" game or just a random one Daddy wants to watch and needs to know immediately WHO we want to win so he can cheer appropriately.  Steve always hoped he would love sports and he got a kid who loves sports and then some. I like to imagine they will always share this and watch games together and talk about sports, the same way I see Steve talking to his own father about that play or that bogus call or that amazing goal. Connor is still Mama'a boy, but is leaning more toward Daddy all the time. He wants to come home and ditch his pants for mesh shorts often and I don't know ANYONE else who does that everyday.

He cheered for #74 during the Olympics and beyond and still feels conflicted when St. Louis comes to Boston.

We discovered the Sports Guys this year and quickly adopted the entire collection, even turning football into lacrosse for a short time. Limitless hours of play with these great sets.

 We tried the skates back on to at the end of the spring session with some success. He's gotten out there this fall, with smiles and tenacity. We recently discovered that his reluctance to go to hockey has more to do with leaving something home that he wants to continue playing with OR that he thinks he isn't very good at it. sigh.

Participation is something I think we will struggle with for some time. We alternated weeks in the spring Pre-K soccer league begging him to play AT ALL or begging him to pass the ball so he would not score AGAIN. He embraced the "learn to lacrosse" program we did after school without one ounce of reluctance. A true head scratcher this one.

He remains steadfastly in love with his best friend Caroline. There are of course fights and disagreements, but there is no sweeter thing than hearing her reading her bedtime book extra loud to herself so he can hear it too. He wants to be able to read just like her and he is closer everyday to picking up a book and reading it all the way through.


He learned to write his name this year, a huge feat for a boy who refused to acknowledge the existence of letters last year. Thanks to the Land of the Letter People at school his letter obsession continues. I think we ALL know about Mr. M and his munching mouth and Mr. O's opposites. He can identify and write all his letters and knows all their sounds. He is working on sight words and is motivated to read every word he sees. He knows numbers too and has been spending time with some of his big sister's math tools to learn his math facts.

Our lucky boy went to two Red Sox games this season and cheered for his favorite player Dustin. Ask him to show you his Pedroia impression next time you see him ;)

We lost a treasured friend while on vacation in New Hampshire and were reunited a short time later when a package arrived in the mail. He hardly needs his little monkey, "Monkey," anymore. I often find him in his backpack from the day before when I ready it again for the next day. His face is starting to disappear revealing the stuffing beneath. Like his babydom, he is ready to let this part of his life go, but maybe not just yet. The sound of the rattle in Monkey's head is often my first signal that he is awake in the morning.

Time slips away, but we adapt as they grow and try new things, explore our world more fully. A Boston College night game would have been a Steve only event in the past, but with these two, we try the impossible and bundle up for a game that doesn't even begin until bedtime. It's a past time so routine to them now. I remember the blank expressions people used to give me when I would tell them in CT that we were leaving on Friday afternoon to bring baby Caroline to a football game in Boston on Saturday and come home that Sunday. Looking at these kids now, I am so grateful that they know this, that they have these experiences, that we all have these memories. We sit squarely in the "golden years" of our family life when memories will last and be recalled in decades future, when we might not even be around to reminisce. We look for opportunities to do crazy things like spend the day in Boston, enjoy a meal in the North End, and end the day with a hotel room dessert party. Our Connor is big enough now to allow us to do ANYTHING and we plan to push that envelope even more this year.

This shy, sensitive, rough and tumble will totally scratch your face in a wrestling match boy is FIVE today. He wants to drive a Zamboni, make movies, and be Tom Brady or Tukka. Tonight, he gets to GO to the game with his Dad and Steve's parents and I can't think of another five year old who would appreciate it even half as much as our little big sports fan. Happy birthday, Connor. You are still and always will be my baby, but I adore watching you grow.