Saturday, February 26, 2011

family dynamics

I haven't talked to my dad in probably over a year, maybe more.  I think the last time I talked to him might have been Christmas three years ago; when we were thanking him for the gifts he'd sent the kids.  It was an awkward conversation, not at all the *genuine* feeling you'd expect from a father-daughter relationship.  It's not just the physical distance that causes this dynamic, but the emotional distance that's been growing over the years.

When I was younger, I was more or less a 'daddy's girl'.  I don't really recall a lot of that, but I've been told that there was a time when I could do no wrong in his eyes.  My memories of my dad are jaded as a result of many things that have occured over the years, things that I don't want to get into, as it's not the time to do so.  Unfortunately, what's left of our relationship isn't even what I'd qualify as a 'relationship' at all.  I can't really say that I miss the relationship however, because there is too much hurt.  The struggling relationship doesn't just exist between my dad and me, but pretty much with his entire side of the family. 

I know, that makes me look like the common denominator in this situation, and to the outsider it could appear that I should be the one who just 'sucks it up' and makes the first move.  Well, I have.  I communicated my feelings in a very open and honest way and, without going into too much detail, was somewhat disappointed by the response I received.  Rather than just begin a back-and-forth bicker to try and gain further perspective on their side of the issues we have, I opted to step back from the situation and focus my energies on the relationships that provide me with love, support, joy, and peace of mind.  Again, this might seem that I should have not just 'given up', but trust me on this.  The family dynamic is one that generally does not approach issues with what I consider an 'open mind'.  I did what was necessary for my sanity, as well as the sanity of my marriage and especially the relationship I have with my kids.

A lot of people believe that while friends may come and go, family will always be there for you.  This may be true, and has proven to be so in most of the familial relationships in my life, however I also feel that unfortunately family can prove to be nothing more than someone you're 'handed'; someone that you don't get to chose like you would a friend.  While friendships can be fluid throughout your lifetime, I've come to discover that family can also be that way as well. 

My husband and I are in the early stages of developing our own family values for our little family.  We work hard to create a strong sense of a family unit that has open communication with one another, where we acknowledge each other's feelings and don't view the words "I'm sorry" as a sign of admitting a weakness, but rather owning up to a mistake.  Growing up in essentially two different families (mom and dad separated when I was young) gave me two different perspectives on the concept of 'family'.  However, becoming a part of Randy's family when we were married gave me yet another perspective.  The work now comes in the 'weaving' of these various perspectives to create something that fits our own family.  We've taken the good parts, eliminated the frustrating parts, and are working to create something that give our kids the balance and stability, and a core set of values on which to base their lives. 

I refuse to allow the relationship with my children to ever strain in the way that I'm experiencing in my adult life.  I know that someday I will need to sit down and explain my family situation to them.  I will need them to understand that while I may come across as hypocritical, that from my perspective, there are definite reasons for my strained relationships.  My hope is that the values we are instilling in our children will help them to see past their mother's short comings and understand that the person I am today is because of the values that my mother instilled in me and the values I have refined in the years I've been a part of Randy's family.

She will definitely ALWAYS be 'daddy's girl'

tickles from her hero

my heart is happy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

angels among us

I just came downstairs from 're-tucking' Gavin into bed.  His door wasn't quite shut and he didn't want the cat to get in and annoy him.  As I kissed him on the forehead and told him, 'sweet dreams', he asked me a question I heard from him earlier today.  "Mommy, how many people are angels?"  hm.  "Well, Gavin, lots of people have become angels.  When people pass away, they become an angel." (at age 4, I feel he's not quite ready to have the whole 'necessity of leading a good life' talk...we just try our best to lead him by example at this point). 

The question, out of context, might seem pretty random from a four year old who is trying to eek out an extra few minutes before bedtime.  However, he had a definite reason for having angels on his mind.  Today, the kids and I attended a funeral for Mrs. Bowden, the mother of our former daycare provider (Miss Janine), and the grandmother of our current daycare provider's husband.  Over the nearly 5 years since we met the family, we have become close friends, which made it an obvious decision to be there to show our love and support for the family during their time of loss. 

As we were driving down to the church service today, Gavin was asking me what a 'funeral' was.  I told him it was similar to what we went to when Grandpa went to be with God; that there would be singing, some stories about God and Mrs. Bowden, and lots of prayers.  Gavin told me he knows a prayer he can say, and proceeded to recite, "God is great, God is good, now we're thinkin' for our food" (he doesn't realize it's 'now we thank him for our food'...despite trying to correct him a few times ;)

He wanted to know why Mrs. Bowden is an angel, followed by what cancer is, and then came, "Mommy, what's an angel?".  Fortunately for me, I was having this conversation with a four year old, so my answers didn't need to be too in-depth...or so I thought.  The conversation shifted back to what to expect at a funeral, so that they wouldn't be worried when they saw people (including mommy) crying.  Gav asked me why Miss Janine would be crying and I told him because her mommy went to be with God and she wouldn't see her anymore.  Then I said, "wouldn't you be sad if mommy went to be with God and you didn't see me anymore?"  His response?  ", I'd still have daddy."  I realize that he doesn't quite have a firm grasp on the concept of death, so of course I found his innocent response more endearing than heartwrenching. 

But then...came this, "Mommy, where would Brynn and I live if you and daddy both went to live with God?".  Remember that 'endearing innocence' I was feeling just 4 seconds earlier?  Yep.  Gone.  Where is the part in the parent manual for questions like these?  I think I did a pretty good job answering his question 'on the fly', especially considering I was driving to a destination where I'd never been and was simultaneously attempting to navigate toward the red dot on my phone's GPS.  My main goal was to give him enough information to satisfy his curiosity and avoid giving him too much information that would leave him neither scared nor scarred.  As a result of this 'mommy gut check' moment...I'm currently seeking resources that will guide me in the discussions that are starting to come up in this 'next step' of parenting.  *sigh*

So, where was Brynn during all of this?  She was listening along, not really asking too many more questions other than, "Mommy, are we going to see God?", "Mommy, where do angels live?", and "Mommy, is my Grandpa an angel?".  She knew the answer to the last question, as we discuss Grandpa often in our house.  Brynn adores looking at pictures of her Grandpa, and although she only met him once, when she was 4 months old, she constantly says, "I love my Grandpa" when she sees his pictures.  I smile whenever she says this, because I know that we're doing our part in keeping the memory and spirit of her Grandpa alive in our kids. 

When we were sitting at the service today, the deacon mentioned the importance of keeping someone's spirit alive by telling their stories.  I found myself getting teary-eyed and smiling at the same time when he said this, because it reinforced what I had just been thinking about on the drive.  I want our kids to know their Grandpa, not just to know of him. 

For now, most of the conversations about Grandpa are brief and revolve around the pictures that we're looking at.  I try to tell them as much as I can about who he was and how much he loved them, but I think the 'struggle' (? is that the word I'm searching for ?) I'm feeling is twofold.  1.) the kids are still pretty young to really 'listen' to the stories and 'get' them, and 2.) I've only known Dad for nearly 9 years, (the distance of course added to the challenge of getting to know him as well as I wish I could have)...but Randy's known him for his whole life.  And right now, he's still grieving (as he should be).  It hasn't been even a year since we lost Dad.  I knew when I married Randy that he isn't the 'talker' of the partnership, so it's been hard for me to get my husband to open up to me as much as I'd like him to when it comes to talking about his dad.  What I'm looking forward to is a time when the kids are older, we're sitting around the dinner table, and Randy just starts telling us all about some of the memories he has of his dad, the stories that we want to remember about who he was as a person, and the things we want our kids to hold with them in their hearts and in their minds as they go through their lives. 

So, for now...I do what I can, continue to share the stories and memories that I have from the short time I knew Dad.  I keep reminding them that while their Grandpa is an angel, he's the best angel that they'll ever know.  The angel that will love them the most and will always be there to look over them.  We're all so blessed to have him as 'our angel'.

Gavin noticed his Grandpa looks like he's 'flying' in this picture we used for his memorial (check out the shadow under his foot)

at the pond where Grandpa went fishing the weekend before he passed away

we love Grandma!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

marriage 'advice'

I've been reading I Do, Now What by Giuliana and Bill Rancic.  I know.  As if they need more money, and here I am contributing to their success by purchasing their 'manual on marriage'.  I'll admit it.  I went back and forth in my mind about whether to purchase the book, and even went so far as to read reviews beforehand because I felt silly and curious all at the same time.  Curiousity obviously took over, and I'm about halfway into the book.  It's not overwhelmingly innovative--that is to say, it doesn't offer groundbreaking, life-altering advice on marriage--but it does have a great voice to it, as though you're sitting across the table from them having coffee and listening to them share stories about what they're doing to 'make it work'.  I do find myself smiling at the back-and-forth banter they share throughout the book.  But, face it.  There just isn't a 'one-size-fits-all' manual for marriage.  It's a unique and ever-changing document that every couple must write--together.

As I'm reading, I've been marking a few of the passages that I've found inspiring, profound, or just simply important to remember.  I think the one that sums up the book (or at least what I've read thus far), is that "marriage is the one choice that will impact every decision you'll make for the rest of your life"..."because knowing each other makes us better people".  It took me a few times to read it to really process what they're saying.  I 'got it' right away, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's most definitely the truest statement I've read in the whole book.

Before getting married, I made choices solely based on me.  My dreams, my wishes, my finances...all served as the 'ouija board' by which I guided my life.  Sure, I had relationships before Randy, but I never had a sense where I felt fully invested in the partnership, and to be perfectly honest, several decisions that I made while involved in those relationships proved that very fact.  But then I met this guy.  He lived down the hall from me in the only dorm building with co-ed floors on the whole campus.  I was randomly placed in the room for fall semester, and wasn't quite 'looking' for anything serious (afterall, I was 'technically' dating someone at the time--as was he, not to mention I was just trying to get through the semester so I could student teach in the spring).  But something happened, and we became pretty inseperable.  Even miles and opposite schedules (I worked during the day, slept at night, and he went to class (sometimes) during the day and partied with friends at night), couldn't keep us from saying 'I Do' on June 25, 2005.

It wasn't quite our wedding day when the way in which I made decisions shifted; but when I realized that we were heading in that direction, something in me changed.  The 'me' that once ruled my decision-making process was replaced by 'us'.  The things that mattered most were more long-term than short.  I'm not going to say that we sat down and road-mapped our entire life together, because that's definitely not the case.  But we have taken life as it comes, worked with the cards we've been dealt, and maintained a healthy and happy marriage despite the busy life that comes with young children, a household to run, and two full-time jobs.  Not to mention, we're 1,800 miles away from our family, our 'roots'.  But, to be perfectly honest, I think it's the distance from our extended family that has given us an added advantage when it comes to the challenging times.  Because we've had them...there are disagreements and times where our communication isn't the best.  There are times when I'm not as nice as I should be, Randy's not as understanding as he can be, and we're not 'meshing' like we did when we were dating.  Before marriage (or even 'on the path' toward marriage), the 'me' in my decision-making process would have opted out when the going got tough.  I would have had my mom's shoulder to cry on, my friends to have a drink or two with, and the comforts of 'home' to fold myself into. 

The ring on my finger though is more that just jewelry (ok, not gonna fingers are just a little too swollen to wear my rings now-a-days...but they'll be back on in a few more weeks!).  It's a reminder that we gave vows to each other to be there through it all.  After we took those vows and enjoyed a week in Mexico, we packed up our lives and moved 1,800 miles away from the comforts of anything familiar and into a world where if/when challenges arise...we only had each other.  Over the years we've extended our circle of friends, and have people on which we can rely if we need them, but when you get down to it, we still only have each other.  The absence of the support of nearby family has caused us to work through things without the input of family, without the 'helpful' advice of those who love us.  At first, it was hard for me to deal with this, because I relied on my mom so frequently for advice or just as a sounding board.  True, I still call her to vent my frustrations, but I try hard to keep my marriage out of those phone calls.  It's something that I'm working on, because it can be an easy thing--to gripe just to gripe.  To nit-pick.  To find fault in every other direction except inward. 

While having just each other to rely on when solving problems (big or small) can be a hard thing to adjust to, it is the one thing I find myself consistently telling others is the best thing we ever did for our marriage.  We learned how to be married without anyone else telling us 'how' to do it.  True, we can't just 'drop off' the kids with grandma to enjoy a weekend sans kiddie menus, velcro shoes, and fights over who touched whom; but we've found ways to adapt.  While we've only once taken one whole weekend away from the kids to reconnect during our entire marriage, we're finding other ways to remember what brought us together.  For one, we've become fans of the 'date night in'.  Thanks to the kids' relatively early bedtime, every so often (although not often enough in my opinion), we enjoy a nice dinner, music, conversation, and the company of each other all from the comforts of home. 

This weekend, we had one of those nights.  Our belated Valentine's Day dinner on Friday night was somewhat of a dual purpose.  Earlier that evening, my 'baby' brother proposed to his high school sweetheart, and she, of course said yes (how could you not? my brother is so darn adorable!).  As Randy and I sat down to toast to our own Valentine's Day celebration, we also toasted to another happy couple.  I'm so happy for my brother and absolutely adore my sister-in-law to be.  July 2012 will be one of the happiest times for our families as we celebrate their wedding.  Now I have just over a year to lose the baby weight...and more importantly to figure out how I'm going to make it through that day without my mascara running down my face.

I think my first hurdle, however, is to think of an engagement gift.  Since I *just so happen* to have lots of words to share (and, to those of you who are reading this, I'm sorry...I do mean lots), why not offer my brother and his soon-to-be wife a bit of advice.  I'm not saying we're experts on marriage in any respect...but if you think about it, what makes Giuliana and Bill Rancic 'expert' enough in marriage to have a book published.  Although, I do completely agree with what they said about marriage impacting ever decision that you'll make for the rest of your life.  Our wedding song was 'You and Me' by Lifehouse.  It wasn't 'You and Me (and our families)'.  Stick to the 'us' that you've created by your union, respect the commitment you've made in every aspect of the word, and do whatever it takes to work through the challenges (start by looking inward).  There, guys...I just saved you $25.00 on a book (or $10.00 if you have a kindle).  Love you!

our weekend trip to San Diego, November, 2010

a momento captured from our trip

the newly-engaged couple!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

a little help from my friends

 ~The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow spearately without growing apart.~

The other day, one of my best friends reminded me that 'a true friendship is 'effortless'.  I was thinking about this tonight after staying late at work to talk with an amazing friend and then calling another dear friend while I was making dinner.  It seems funny to say something is 'effortless' when I obviously made the effort to stay at work 2 hours past my usual time to chat, or when I made the effort to balance the phone on my shoulder while chopping and cooking as Brynn put lipstick all over her mouth and discovered a sharpie marker. 

I don't think that 'effort' is the right word to describe the action of taking time for friends.  To me, 'effort' can sound somewhat negative, as though I'm being 'forced' to make the time for friends.  Don't get me wrong, in order to have successful friendships, you do need to make time for one another.  But, as friendships evolve, as life moves forward, as people go through various stages in their lives, a true friendship can maintain.  My friend is at a very different point in her life, as her children are grown and will soon both be in college.  Her evenings and weekends might not be filled with the same type of activities as mine, but her recognition and understanding of the current stage in my life is one of the things that makes our friendship so successful.  Sure, we spend time on the phone in the evenings when I'm home with the kids running around, but we have a definite purpose for doing so--to discuss, debrief, or de-stress from work.  Maintaining a friendship can take some work, some 'effort' if you will, to foster its growth and development over time.  But it shouldn't be work that is exhausting.  And true friendship shouldn't have a scoresheet attached to it.

There are so many types of friends, so many levels of friendship, and so many purposes for the different friends we have.  I think of the friends that I left behind when I moved from PA nearly 6 years ago.  There are several very, very dear friends with whom I don't touch base nearly enough.  I used to be so much better about picking up the phone to catch up.  I don't really wonder what happened to that time however, all I have to do is look around.  It's called life.  Two kids, a full-time job, and a few other budding hobbies on the side all while maintaining friendships and spending time on my marriage can put a limit on our humanly abilities.  I also consider where they are in their lives.  While some of my friends might not spend their time in the same way I do, it doesn't mean that they're not just as busy as I am. 

But then, every so often, when the time is right...we connect.  The game of phone tag ends with a 'hello', rather than a voice mail message.  And you know what?  It's like the time that's elapsed dissipates, and we fall back into a natural conversation.  It's effortless

I miss the time that I used to be able to devote to my friendships, but would never trade that in for the time I'm getting to spend with my kids as they grow up.  True friends will be there for you after you're finished the dishes, or kissing boo-boo's, or making cookies for your child's class.  It's not just because they've 'been there, done that' or are going through the same stage of life at the very same time, but because they value the friendship, they recognize what you have to offer to them and appreciate it, and they enjoy the time you spend together (even if it's only a few times a year and only via telephone).

True friendship really is effortless.  Friendship takes time, takes work, takes understanding, and acceptance.  But none of these things should be viewed as 'effort'.  They should be viewed as something you do because you want to, because you can do, and because you love that person. 

For now...I want to spend time with my absolute best friend in the world...

August, 2003

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

finding the heartbeat

Tonight I sat down to write.  And I sat.  And sat.  I was so frustrated because I couldn't come up with something that I wanted to share, something to remember.  Odd, because I just spent my last post writing about how it's the 'little things' that are really important.  I guess it's not really that I couldn't think of something to write about, but it's that I couldn't find some thing to write about.  I had a dozen or so different ideas floating around in my head...words, ideas, and photographs all swimming around.  I've become reliant on using photos in my posts because as I realize other people are reading my ramblings, I feel *obligated* to give them something *interesting*, rather than just a lengthy story (I'm not ashamed to admit it...I write just about as much as I talk.  a lot.).  While I love taking pictures of my kids, my life, the reality of finding something new and original each day to photograph is...well...a stretch.  I guess I'll see if I have any pictures to add tonight...

Tonight was the second night in a row where Brynn claimed she 'wasn't tired' and tried to opt-out of sleep.  After I put her to bed, she came shuffling down the stairs, blankie and lovey in hand, ready for some more cuggling and television watching.  While it's hard to resist her pouty little bottom lip, I do know giving in will give her the upper hand.  However...I've discovered that 'cuggling' with Brynn and her blankie will inevitably lead to sleepy eyes in roughly 5 minutes (recently...this is true for both her and me!).  After an exhausting day, 5 minutes of cuggling sounded far better than the alternative: tears, pouting, and foot stomping. 

I pulled Brynn onto the little lap that I have left and she promptly snuggled in, hand on my belly, ear on my chest.  She was quiet for a while, which made me think she'd fallen asleep.  All the sudden, she lifted her head up, and with a smile on her face said, "Mommy! I hear your heart beep!".   I asked her what it sounded like, so she made a 'thump thump' sound.  She asked why I had a 'heart beep' so I explained in basic 2 year old terminology what she was hearing.

It was about now that baby started kicking and again I saw her cute little face light up as she realized she was feeling her little sibling moving around.  Usually, this sort of movement results in Brynn putting her face up close to my belly and shouting, "Hey, baby! Don't kick my mommy!".  But not tonight.  She was loving feeling the little movements of feet/arms/baby bottom.  She put her ear to my belly and was disappointed to realize that she couldn't hear the baby's 'heart beep' in the way that we hear it at the doctor's office.  She couldn't hear it at all of course, and wanted to know why.  Again, 2 year old terminology saved the day, and my basic explaination seemed to placate her curiousities...for tonight.  Phew.

Finding the heartbeat.  It's simple and complex at the same time.  When I'm in front of my class teaching writing, I spend a lot of time getting my students to identify the 'heart' of their story, and focus their writing around that central idea.  It's a hard concept for my students to grasp, and, as I think back over my posts I've written here, I find myself not always 'practicing what I teach'.  I stray, I digress, I add little 'thoughtshots' (teacher term!).  But, I'm not trying to win any sort of prize.  I'm not out to impress or brag with my blog.  The goal, or rather, the heart of my blog is the very thing that brought me the inspiration to post tonight.  My kids.  Brynn literally found my 'heart beep', while inadvertently reminding me of why I write.  For me, writing gives me a chance to unwind, to relax, to experiment with words, to enjoy something that I remember loving when I was in school and have let go by the wayside.  For my kids, writing allows them to have little snippets of their life recorded, little stories remembered, and 'little things' recounted so that when they're older, they have them to share, read, and enjoy.  For my family, writing allows me to share the pieces and parts of my kids' lives that they're missing.  It gives them a window through which to peek into and observe the 'little things' that keeps the heartbeat going in our household. 

Since my goal is to have some sort of keepsake for our kids to have for when they get older, I want them to remember this:  Keep the 'heart of life' in perspective in your daily life and activies.  Remember the true purpose and what's most important.  Re-evaluate this often, because as you travel through your life, it will shift along the way.  Remember to take the time every now and then to snuggle in, rest your head on your chest, and find the 'heart beep'.  You won't regret the time it takes, even if it means your little girl getting to stay up a little later than usual.

the heart of her be 'herself' quirky as she may be :)

the heart of my keep a smile on her rabbit-like as it may be :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's the little things

Love.  Tonight the kids and I were eating dinner and I asked them what they thought the word means, seeing as how tomorrow is Valentine's Day.  Before that though, the kids were making Valentine's for their favorite babysitter while I was getting dinner together.  Gavin asked me to write the message out on a separate paper so he could copy it down in the card.  I wrote 'Happy Valentine's Day.  Love, Gavin'.  He asked me to read it to him and when I got to the word 'love', his face contorted in a way that made me wish I had my camera.  It wasn't in a bad way, he was just highly confused why I chose to use the word.  After seeing his face, I told him he could write 'from' instead of 'love' if he wanted.  I wrote the word 'from', and then was instructed to leave him alone so he could write.  When I returned to the table, this was his message:

follow the arrows!
 After all that, he opted just to sign his name (at the top of the card), but I thought this part of the card was too darling not to share.

While we ate, I asked Gavin why he didn't want to use the word 'love' for his card.  His response was a typical Gavin response, 'well, if I love her, I have to kiss her and the only girls I kiss are Mommy and Brynn'.  *Smile*  His heart still belongs to his mommy (and he feels ok about his sister, too).  I explained to Gavin that we can love people without kissing them and we can love things too, like his Eeyore or blanket.  It was here that Brynn began offering her laundry list of things that she loves...from nail polish to Lady Gaga (we had watched the Grammy pre-show before dinner) to her 'butterfly bedroom' to cheese.  I find it so funny how different our kids can reserves his 'love' for a specific and carefully chosen few people and items, while the other can find something she 'loves' about practically every aspect of her life. 

Maybe it's that Gavin has created a specific understanding of the word 'love' in his mind, and reserves such word and feeling for only the elite few in his world.  (Gee, that makes me sound a little pretentious, huh?)  I know Gavin cares a lot and 'loves' the people and things in his world, even if he doesn't use the word.  So I won't push him to say it...just accept the 'little things' that he does to show his love.

That reminds me of a conversation that Randy and I had when we first started dating.  We pretty much spent the first months (years, really) of our relationship on a long-distance basis, which made it challenging at times.  Especially because I was student teaching while he was still enjoying college life with his buddies.  We relied on the weekends to spend time together, but at the same time we wanted to be with our friends.  It was hard to find time for 'just us', with him living in a dorm and then apartment with roomates.  So it was the 'little things' that made the long distance part of our relationship both manageable and memorable.

1. One night, before we were 'dating', we were all heading out for a night of fun, and he reached over and grabbed my hand, despite the taunting and razzing our *dear* friends gave him.
2. Another night, before we were 'dating', I 'fibbed' to my dear friends, telling them I couldn't hang out just so he and I could go to a party together...then we ran into my friends while heading to the party (oops...I'm still sorry about that, girls!  But I know you understand!)
3. For our 'first' Valentine's Day, he gave me a card with George Bush on it...on the inside it said he thought it would look good on my desk.  I gave him Swedish Fish and Reese's Cups.
4. He knew that I slept better knowing he was safely on his way back 'home' after a night out with his friends, so he'd call me to talk as he walked home.  Unless it was between the hours of 4-6 a.m.  He knew better (except that one time when he clearly was in no shape to be even walking anywhere).
5. Randy was on a field trip (in college?!) for a geology class when I had traveled up to school with my friend for a job fair.  It snowed, so we called our professor and said we were 'snowed in' so we could stay another night.  Randy thought we left before the weather turned bad, and we wouldn't see each other for another week.  I tiptoed into his dorm room to surprise him...and it's one his favorite memories from college (I'm pretty sure?  Wait--it better be!)
6. He'd let me borrow his favorite sweatshirt for the I'd have something that smelled like him when I was home.
7. Whenever we came to a grate in the sidewalk, he'd carefully guide me around it, not just because I was freaked out by them, but so my heels wouldn't slip through the holes.
8. When we were out in a crowd, he'd grab my hand and squeeze three times ''  I'd squeeze back twice 'How.much.', and he'd squeeze back to let me know how much.  Our quiet little way of reminding each other we were thinking about the other.
9. One night when we were out with friends, he made me a rose out of the napkin.  I still have it.
10. During his seven-week long field camp in the western part of the country, he sent me handwritten letters, telling me about his trip, how much he missed me, and what he was doing.  We normally relied on instant messaging or the phone for our commuication.  I still have them. 

There are countless other moments, tiny memories that I keep...some that I honestly forgot until just tonight as I was thinking of them (some are too personal, some take too long to explain, and some are those 'you had to be there' moments).  All those moments, those 'little things' that remind us both of what's really important--'us'.  It's easy to get caught up in life, to take the little things for granted.  While our hand-holding days are very few and far between these days (well, we hold hands, but it's with the kids, not each other), and our 'I love you's' may occassionally sound obligatory in our rush of daily life...there are other 'little things' we do that show our love.  I'm going to make time to focus on those little things, to re-develop an appreciation for them, and to try and find a few new 'little things' that will show our love for each other.

Just looking at these two adorable faces remind me every day of how much love I'm capable of.

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Playing 'pwetend'

I often wonder what my kids are thinking about the upcoming arrival of the baby.  I know they 'get it' in their own way; they understand that mommy's having a baby and they'll have either a baby brother, sister, or giraffe :)  I know they see my growing tummy, have watched baby dancing around on the ultrasound screen, felt baby kick and move, and kiss and rub my belly often.  We've *sort of* addressed the logistics of baby's arrival (Brynn thinks my belly button has something to do with it, Gavin believes it's my mouth--like Alien?!).  They get that the nursery is where baby will sleep, bottles are what baby uses to eat, and that baby will cry.  But do they know that baby will not leave?  Baby will be a part of the family, become another person in our family with an opinion, another person waiting their turn to talk to mommy and daddy, another person trying to fit onto our laps as we 'cuggle' and watch movies? 

I don't remember what went through my brain when my mom was pregnant with my 'baby' brother.  I don't remember what mom's belly looked like, if I talked to my brother, asked too many questions about the whole concept of pregnancy and birth.  I don't remember how I learned to understand it all, how to accept it all, how to make sense of it all.  I guess these are conversations that I should have with my mom, stories I should hear, maybe record, and tell my own kids about so I can try to relate to them a little better  (maybe in all that *spare time* I have?!).  I wish I remembered what it was like to be so innocent, so unclear on how the world really works yet so able to create my own explaination that best suited my needs, and so easily able to accept things for what they are rather than seek out a lengthy explaination.

This evening while I was getting dinner ready, the kids were playing together using their darling little imaginations because mommy refused to allow video games until later in the evening, and no TV at least until daddy arrived home.  After the tears and tantrums in response to this devastating news subsided, the wheels began turning in their brains and they found other ways to provide entertainment--noisy entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. 

They played 'pwetend', one of my personal favorites.  I remember how many times we relied on 'pretend' to provide hours of entertainment as a child, and watch with delight as my own kids' little brains create these magical worlds in which they can be anything they want to be.  Tonight, they played 'puppy'.  Usually, one of them is the puppy (Brynn), one is the cat (Gavin), and mommy is the one that has to pet them, give them treats, feed them, and let them 'out' to pee.  This time, however, Gavin was the puppy from their daycare and Brynn was their daycare provider.  She would ask Gavin if he had to go potty, and pretend to let him out.  She'd help Gavin jump up on the couch, offer him toys and treats, and say all kinds of cute little names and sayings that I'm guessing she hears at daycare when everyone's talking to the puppy. 

After about 10 minutes of this game, they shifted gears slightly.  This time, Gavin was still a dog, however he was accompanying Brynn to the doctors appointment she had for 'her baby'.  She rubbed her belly, put her hand on her lower back, and 'waddled' around with her doggie following close by.  They went into the 'elevator' and made their way into the 'doctor's office'.  Here, they made sound effects similar to the doppler sounds they hear when we listen to baby's heartbeat, and Brynn chattered to her imaginary doctor about baby.  She left her appointment with a friendly 'see you soon', and off they went.  The whole 'appointment' lasted roughly 1 or 2 minutes, and it left me smiling at their interpretation of what goes on at the doctor's office.  Let's just hope that when I go into labor it's in an 'ideal' way for all of us...calm and low-pain for me (hey, I can dream, can't I?!), but more importantly, in a way that will not scar my poor children, thus leading to more games of 'pwetend' that will eventually cause the teachers at school to call us in to discuss things my kids have been teaching their classmates. 

In some ways, they're so 'grown up'...playing 'pwetend' from a grown up's perspective, for example.  They tell me to text their daddy if they want to know when he'll be home from work, they turn on the TV and video game without assistance from mommy, they use words like "actually" and "eventually" correctly, and just today Gavin told me he thought $10.00 was a lot of money for the flowers we saw at the grocery store.  When did he learn to read $10.00 on a sign, and when did he gain perspective on what is a 'lot' of money?!

On the other hand, they're still so incredibly little.  Their 'owies' are magically cured by mommy kisses.  They carry their 'lovies' with them for comfort.  They laugh and dance and respond to ridiculously insane television shows like Yo Gabba Gabba and Blue's Clues.  They can't pour their own milk (without giving me a mini panic attack).  They need help getting dressed (and especially picking out clothes that remotely look good together!).  Their little hands still fit perfectly in mine, and they actually want to hold hands with their mommy.  They still call me 'mommy'.

I once heard a quote that says, "You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they're going."  While I fear that with the arrival of this newest little family member that we'll begin to encounter more and more questions we're not quite prepared to answer, we still have a few more years until we're living up to this quote.  I'm cherishing their innocence.  Although, I find myself experiencing both joy and disappointment as they lose a little of that innocence with each passing week, month, and year.  Gavin knowing how to read $10.00 on a sign and giving his opinion about what it means, Brynn chattering on her toy cell phone to her Grammy, Grandma Conley, or Daddy about what her day has been like, or the two of them playing pretend together like they're a mommy or daddy...all of these things will be the stories that I get to tell them about someday, when they're older, when they're trying to remember what it was like to be young and innocent so they can relate to their own children better.

When did he become old enough to earn video games as rewards instead of Cheerios?

When did she become old enough to tell me to 'hold on' while she finishes her 'conversation' on her cell phone?!

He won't even acknowledge his mommy trying to document his childhood--he'll appreciate me later!

Meanwhile, this one *loves* to acknowledge the camera!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Potty for a party

My daughter.  I love her.  She is darling, adorable, and quite possibly will cause me to lose my mind. 

At the end of 2010, we began the 'journey' toward potty training.  The possibility of having several months free from diaper-changing duty brought me a great sense of joy and delight.  And essentially cursed me.

Brynn, 'being Brynn', has her own little agenda for how the world works.  More specifically, 'the' world is really 'her' world...and it revolves around her curly-haired little head.  That especially goes for potty training.  We've tried everything.  Rewards.  Joyous celebration upon 'performance'.  Bribery.  Threats (mild, of course).  Tricks that even David Copperfield would want the secrets to.  Nothing works.  Brynn's got her own little 'system' established.  A system that's beating ours. 

Yesterday I mentioned my frustration to her pediatrician at the end of her 'ear check' appointment.  I really do like our pediatrician, he has a great rapport with my kids, is approachable, knowledgeable, and genuinely adores what he does.  But yesterday, I was not his biggest fan.  In response to my questions/concerns/annoyances with Brynn's potty training (rather, lack thereof), he responded by simply saying, "I've never sent a child off to kindergarten still in diapers".  Thanks, Doc.  Here I was, desperate, seeking the wisdom of his experience, trying to find a magic key to unlock this door Brynn has closed, locked, and barricaded herself behind.  And his 'advice' doesn't quite fit into the category of 'helpful'.  *Sigh*

Fast forward to this evening.  Brynn was helping me make dinner when she announced she needed to go potty.  I immediately lowered her down from the counter she was sitting on (don't worry, I was standing right there!), and sent her on her merry way to her potty chair.  Since she's been requesting 'pwivascy', I left her alone and cleaned up the mess she made while 'helping' me cook. 

Brynn came running into the kitchen to proclaim her good news (!), and we had quite the celebration.  Not only did she succeed in meeting her 'goal', but she announced her 'goal' beforehand (again, !).  Again, during dinner, the same thing happened...annoucement, success, proclaimation of said success, celebration. 

Progress, right?!

Come on...this is Brynn we're talking about.  She's beat the 'system' we've been trying to put in place, and has crafted her own twisted little world, a world in which we're all pawns.  I knew better than to assume we were headed in a positive direction (sounds pessimistic, I know...I do always have a glimmer of hope, but I just need to keep reality in check here!)

After Brynn 'met her goal', she came running into the dining room with a giant smile on her face.  But, before I could even acknowledge her, celebrate her...she said, "Mommy, I went pee in the potty!  You are so proud of me!  Now I can have my birthday party!".  And there it is.  Her motivation revealed.  She's not wanting to make mommy and daddy proud.  She could care less about the plethora of princess stickers and M&M's I have waiting in the wings for her to earn (I told you we've tried bribery!).  She doesn't quite care about the effect that frequent pull-up purchases has on our wallets.  She wants a party.  Not just any party.  A birthday party.  A princess birthday party where she gets to be center of attention, wearing the gumball pink tafetta dress we've already found at the store and purchased.  She's already decided on her cake (Ariel, the little mermaid), she's been working on her list of friends to invite (and has requested that her Grammy, Grandma Conley, and 'aunts' Juliana and Kate fly in from Pennsylvania and Delaware).  She's working on her list of gifts she'd like to receive.  And after hearing my pleas to her pediatrician yesterday about how desperate I am to have her succeed at potty training, she's beginning to put the last part of her 'plan' into action.  Show mommy and daddy that she'll use the potty unprompted, willingly, and successfully...and get the ultimate reward for a 3 year old.  A celebration fit for a princess.

And don't you know it...she just might win.  You can begin preparing the padded room.  I'll be needing it in about 10 years.

Monday, February 7, 2011

*fun* at the doctor's office

I'm reaching the point in parenting when I'm realizing I need to start seeking out some resources for how to handle *those* situations that my pregnancy/baby/early years books never told me about.  I like to think I have a pretty good head on my shoulders, have some common sense about my parenting skills, am pretty quick on my feet when answering 'why' and among other questions, and am pretty clever in some of the ways I solve the little things life can sometimes throw our way. 

For example, I came up with the idea of the 'diaper fairy' when potty training Gavin...we left the diapers in a basket; and in the morning, the 'fairy' replaced them with big boy underpants for daytime, pull-ups for nighttime, and a slew of Matchbox cars as rewards.  The result?  Potty trained in a weekend.  Of course, there are always glitches in a seemingly 'perfect' system.  (In terms of potty training, we'll call that glitch 'Brynn's.attitude')

I'm quickly realizing, however, that potty training is a cakewalk compared to what we've got coming our way in the near future (yeah, yeah...I know...childhood has nothing on the *fun* of teenage years!  Give us time to get there, though!)

The kids accompanied me to my 30 week check up for baby today.  That's not anything new to them, as they've been with me many times before and each time they hear the doppler picking up baby's heartbeat, they debate whether it sounds like a helicopter or a fart (don't you just love kids).  Being well adjusted to this whole 'mommyhood' thing, I came prepared with snacks and juice as well as a whole variety of 'Simon Says' movements that were sure to keep them entertained. 

As I said though, there are always glitches that get in the way of what is usually a 'perfect' system.  Today's glitch happened to be a longer wait than usual for my doctor.  The exam room is only so big, and my kids happened to only have patience for about 6 minutes of 'Simon Says' with snack rewards for the winner.  Ok, so Brynn would have played forever (especially since the reward was Fruit Loops), but Gavin is a Simon Says expert compared to his flighty, yet adorable, younger sister.  He outsmarted her every time and soon began to seek out other things to keep him occupied.

He knew games on the iPhone were out of the question, as there were two of them and just one phone.  I had a few pens and paper in my purse, but he informed me he 'wrote too much' at school and his 'hand needed a rest'.  There weren't any books to read, or magazines for that matter.  So, he did what any four year old little boy would do in a similar situation.  He explored.

He opened the drawers and cabinets (thankfully they were pretty barren).  He stood on the scale and weighed himself a few times.  He checked his height.  He investigated the light switch.  He flipped through the pages of the calendar on the wall, commenting on each of the cute, fuzzy animals on each of the months.  Then, naturally, he started to 'read' the other things hanging on the wall and standing on the counter.  Think about it.  I'm at the OB/GYN office.  The posters...*informative*.  The diagrams...*complete*.  The 3-D models...*interesting*.  The questions...plenty.*fun*.

After a mentally draining trip to the doctor's (for mommy)...he was allowed to zone out in front of the xbox

I can't even begin to imagine the *fun* discussions we'll have with this one!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

and the countdown begins...

Q: What's the difference between a pregnant woman and a model?

A: Nothing, if the pregnant woman's husband knows what's good for him.

Ahh...the third trimester.  It's here, and it's *better* than ever.  On Monday I'm heading in to the doctor for my 30 week check-up...which means I'm basically in the single digit countdown for 'weeks to go'.  Wow.

The other night I found myself saying to Randy, "I'm so over this", referring to being pregnant.  I know, I know...I have basically an entire trimester to go, but I'm feeling done already.  Three pregnancies in 5 years is exhausting on the body, mind, and emotions.  Don't get me wrong, I love being pregnant, and as my husband so 'lovingly' reminded me...'I wanted this'.  I know we're blessed to have two healthy children and a healthy third pregnancy.  It's not that I'm not beyond grateful to have the opportunity to be a mommy three times over.  I thank God every day (multiple times, even) for the gifts of Gavin, Brynn, and baby 'giraffe'.  But there's all these diachotomies that come along with pregnancy.

For example...
~I adore the little kicks and shifts as baby finds the most comfortable spot in his/her cramped quarters. 
~I do not adore when baby finds a spot that might bring comfort inside, but causes mommy discomfort outside. 
~I adore the fact that I can use the old 'I'm eating for two' excuse as I help myself to an extra scoop of ice cream, or a second helping of pasta at dinner (or, sadly, both on many nights ;)
~I do not adore the weight gain, the stretch marks, knowing my body will never go back to how it was.
~I adore the fact that I have the ability to carry and protect our babies as they grow in my belly.
~I do not adore having to teeter-toter back and forth to get up from the couch or out of bed.
~I adore that we've been blessed with three amazing children
~I do not adore the feeling of lacking in my parenting as I try to dedicate special time to spend with each child individually (baby 'giraffe' included...I'm struggling to feel as connected with this pregnancy as I was with Gavin--I went through the same thing with Brynn)
~I adore baby clothes shopping.  They're all so darling, so tiny, so perfect (both boys and girls). 
~I do not adore that my clothes don't have waistlines.  They're not tiny, not darling, not perfect.  Every morning I cry as I try to find something to wear.  I rely on elastic, belly bands, and shapeless clothing to outfit my growing, changing body.
~I do not adore having to pee every seven minutes; not being able to wear my wedding rings all the time because sometimes my fingers swell; that I can't lay on my stomach; that I have ridiculous dreams that have been freaking me out, that it hurts to sit on the floor and play with my kids (I know, I didn't have something to 'adore' before listing these...they're just some of my current frustrations).
~However, I do adore being pregnant.  I'm not the first one to do it, I'm not the last, but while I am, I sure feel amazing that I have the power to do this miraculous feat of human nature.

I'm just feeling 'done'.  I know I will absolutely miss pregnancy once it's over.  I'm sure there will be times when I see a pregnant woman and think 'ohhh...I so miss that'.  I can guarantee I'll experience a whole slew of emotions and shed tears as baby grows (all the kids, really) and I have to pass on the clothing that no longer fits and the baby gear we no longer need.  I'm just letting Randy know this it won't be a surprise later.  I'll miss pregnancy.  I will always *love* babies.  I'll want to hold them, smell their little heads, and will wish our children were that small again.  Those things all come with mommyhood.  But I am also letting him know that this will be the last little member of our family, we won't have any more kids, and I'm absolutely, 100% happy about that fact.  Rather than our focus being on 'growing' our family, in a few months our focus will move to watching our family 'grow'.  It sounds the same, but in my brain it's completely different.  So just go with it.

And for those of you who's the latest baby bump picture (sorry for those of you who didn't ask!)
*ignore the tired eyes, dark circles, and general look of exhaustion* (thanks! ;)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's hard to be a wizard

Tonight the kids and I were *enjoying* a delightful episode of 'The Backyardigans' after dinner, while we were winding down before bathtime.  Usually, I'm not completely tuned in to the show but whenever they sing their little songs, the kids join in and dance around the room.  Tonight, one of the songs was called 'It's Hard to be a Wizard.  Of course, the show was about wizards, not moms...but as I listened, I thought, "hmm...if a mom doesn't qualify as a wizard, I don't know who does". 

Teaching allows me the opportunity to play both the role of 'working mom' during the school year, and stay at home mom (SAHM) during the summer.  I enjoy the balance of both, as I've told several people that I feel I'm a better mom because I work (note: this is my personal feeling about myself, not saying that working moms in general are better moms).  Being in the midst of the school year, however, I found myself thrown for a loop over the past two days.  Our school district was closed due to frigid temps, so I was able to experience a blissful break from my usual daily grind of mommy/wife/teacher/wake-at-5/out-the-door-by-6:30/non-stop-all-day/home-at-5/dinner/clean/play/bathtime/laundry/bed.  This break, however, presented an inner struggle.  I wanted to relax, rest, play, enjoy the 'gift' of these days with my kids, but found myself 'needing' to do things around the house and fall into the SAHM side that I show all summer long (and weekends).  I didn't want to 'waste' the day when I had laundry to do, coupons to clip, menus to plan, bananas needing to be made into bread, chicken soup and dumplings to prepare...but then again...I'm reading The Help and it  Plus, my kids were jazzed we got to hang out at home (so was I). 

Thankfully, as I mentioned, moms are wizards.  A few bolts of lightning, a wave of my magic wand, and I was able to successfully balance all of my wishes and desires for our two extra days off.  Pancake breakfast.  Baking banana bread.  Chicken noodle soup with homemade dumplings.  Coupon clippings.  Work on baby announcements.  Play.  Cuggle.  Watch movies.  Books.  Building blocks.  Time for mom to read.  Basketball.  Hide and seek. Bath.  Sweet dreams.

Tomorrow I've got a full 12-hour day for conferences, so while I'm back to my morning madness routine, I still get to *enjoy* a break from the evening time rush/balance to make dinner, clean up, and have fun with the kids before bed, as Randy will be home with them.  Rather, I'll be at work, working my magic with my students and their parents, especially since we've had two days off school prior to conferences and the prep work required for them has been non-existent.  My pendulum will swing from one extreme to the other in a matter of 24 hours. 

Moms have the power to make the magic happen each day whether we're working moms, SAHMs, or have the great fortune to experience both sides of the coin.  We have to balance the things we 'have' to do with the things that we 'need' to do, and 'want' to do.  I never thought I'd quote the Backyardigans...'it's hard to be a wizard'.

Here's some memories from the past two days...

sporting the princess snuggie

shooting hoops

watching Princess and the Frog with all her babies

stretching before he dunks

rolling dumplings for dinner

cooking 'all by herself'

loves her daddy :)

high fives for daddy!