Sunday, July 24, 2016

As John Turns Nine

In light of John's ninth birthday, I pull this from the archives:

As John Turns Seven . . .

The day before his birthday, John rolled over in bed and posed an important question, "Is today tomorrow?"

"No," I sadly informed him, "Tomorrow is tomorrow."

Ainsley could sympathize. "There's so many tomorrows, so many tomorrows," she lamented.

Kids and time. Such interesting perspectives.

When Tim was still Timmy, Tomorrow was The Next Day To This Day and Yesterday was The Last Day To This Day. Kind of makes sense. Ainsley will ask when we're going to the zoo. I'll say, "next Thursday," and she'll then wake up everyday asking, "Is today next Thursday?"

Love that.

Well, eventually today became tomorrow and even John realized that the big day had at long last dawned. So instead of asking if today were tomorrow, he leaned over and said, "Presents?"

Love my John.

Love, love, love my seven-year-old, adventure-loving boy.

I love his laugh, his enjoyment of sea glass and stars, of bike riding and dead snakes.

Pelee Island is full of snakes. How these things can remain on the endangered species list defies evidence I viewed with my own two eyes and nearly stepped on at least twice. Every bike ride to the bakery garnered a few specimen dead in the road. I passed one freshly smushed snake and looked behind me to see if John would respond in predictable fashion. The boy does not disappoint. No, true to form, he screeched to halt, checked out the carcass . . . and ran it over a few more times with his bike.

{Insert head bang.}

I found one long dead reptile flattened and stiff. John carried it around for days until I found it hanging from my parents' door knob. He came out of the house sporting a blank, innocent expression and with a tone intentionally casual asked, "Has anyone seen anything near the door knob?"

You know, I should have screamed. Really, I should have produced the complete and proper scene John was looking for.

I was filling out a form for John's annual physical. "What are your interests," I asked him.

"Guns," he replied.

"Books," wrote his mother.

"What else," I asked.

"Computer games," he replied.

"Swimming," wrote his mother.

But really John reminds me of his grandfather in that he is a boy of many passions -- Legos and astronomy, spy gear and Batman, and, as he was quick to add, "money, presents, Auntie Kate, and all my cousins."

We walked down the shore of Lake Erie late one night, and John was astonished at the number and clarity of the stars. He slipped his hand in mine out of companionship, not fright, and pointed them all out to me.

I love all my kids. (Of course I do). But I look at each one through the unique lens surrounding their birth. Tim, our first, was born of youth and optimism. We wanted a baby; we had Tim. Kolbe came to us after four years of waiting and six rounds of fertility drugs. It's altogether fitting that he is persevering in nature. The month before John came to be, I endured my sixth miscarriage in as many years. For reasons emotional and physical, I had begun voicing thoughts about not pursuing that course of action any longer.

And then John.

I will always remember those first weeks of nausea and appetite swings that were followed closely by a week of feeling absolutely normal. Internally I mourned even as externally I continued to pray, continued to exercise the virtue of hope until there was no reason to hope.

And my boy held on.

I will always remember the night I spent in the hospital dealing with pre-term labor. Hooked up to monitor, breathene coursing through my veins, I took in the sights and sounds of the delivery room and was most struck by the pink and blue blankets stacked neatly by the bassinet.

I'm having a baby. I'm really having a baby this time.

He's the baby born of hope and healing.

Love my John, the boy who was just overheard saying, "Ainsley, do you want to see me put Pooh Bear on the fan?"

That's my boy.

Motherhood can bring its share of regrets, no doubt about it. I wish I had worried less and relaxed more, overlooked this issue and focused a little more on that one. But I realize that I'll look back on John age 5, John age 6 and know that I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, that I fully drank in and appreciated his liveliness, his humor, his energy. Even the challenges -- recurrent fevers, reading, math -- have led me to invest lots of one on one time with this boy of mine, so I can't regret those either.

One day John will no longer reach for my hand as we walk down the beach. One day his interest in bugs will give way to an interest in girls or cars or computers. One day Mama will morph into Mom.

But that day is not today.

And I'm glad.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'll begin with a beautiful introduction to my current read:

We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
but our worst crime is abandoning the children,
     neglecting the fountain of life.
Many things can wait. Children cannot.
Right now their bones are being formed,
      their blood is being made,
      and their senses are being developed.
To them we cannot answer, "Tomorrow."
     Their name is today.
 Gabriela Mistral

Their Name Is Today is a book that encourages parents to reclaim childhood, to build margins into family life, to give children unstructured down time. Beautiful, poignant, true -- and seemingly out of step on a day when the six Dolins are headed in five directions, in a week that sees swim team wrap up in a flurry of activities that includes a final dual meet, a divisional meet, an all star meet, and a team party.

Friday morning Dave and Kolbe and half our worldly possessions headed out for a weekend camping trip. As every scouting mother knows, prep involves rounding up a vast array of gear from various closets, attics, and sheds, inventorying the pile, drafting an exhaustive shopping list to cover missing items, and then heading out to Walmart armed with an American Express Card with a generous credit limit.

Meanwhile Tim headed off to Atlanta to visit a friend at Georgia Tech.

With Dave, Tim, and Kolbe gone, I headed into the final leg of swim team solo. So you can go ahead and queue the ominous music already.

Saturday was the divisional meet. Let's capitalize that. If an average meet is epic, The Divisional Meet is epic on steroids with a side of Monster.

The night before, I fully intended to get everyone bedded down at a reasonable hour, and I mostly succeeded. I was awakened around 5:30 to odd noises coming from downstairs. I ambled into the family room to find John watching Home Alone 3 . John is not an early riser. In point of fact, I'm 0 and 4 for early risers among these offspring of mine. My friend across the street routinely deals with disappointed boys who pop by our house at 9:20 to nab John only to hear he's still sawing logs. How do you do this, Sarah has frequently texted me. That's just the way it is -- except the morning of The Divisional Swim Meet.

As we packed up, John began saying he felt funny. Nerves, I said. As we pulled into a remarkably awesome parking space, I glanced at John in the rear view mirror. Not nerves, I thought. I put my hand on his forehead and detected warmth.

Readers of this blog will remember John and his fevers. John has run sky-high fevers regularly for years and years and years. Nearly eight years. Come this Friday John would have been 365 days fever free.  They suddenly stopped -- until the morning of The Divisional Swim Meet.

I pulled out some Advil and got him to swallow one and chew (ugh!) the other. And he was good. Cheerful. Energetic. Goofing off with his buddies.

(And not contagious! I always feel horribly judged about John and his fevers. He has an auto-immune problem that -- unlike Lice and Chicken Pox and Flu -- doesn't travel from kid to kid. He's fine. He's miserable. He's fine again. We've learned to live with this.)

Meanwhile I was shepherding the little girls I'm used to shepherding, the little boys I kind of know, and a group of older girls I hardly know at all. All this took place on a pool deck that was a sea of sweaty humanity with hardly a foot to move. To top it off, I was wearing a polyester team shirt that made this 52 year-old- woman feel like she might as well have been on that 101 degree camping trip roasting a marshmallow in the noonday sun.

Sultry, muggy, dank --words fail to capture it adequately.

I passed the time closely examining which women had hair that frizzed and which women didn't and wondering how the non-frizzy women pulled this off in the sauna that was the aquatics center.

And then John who had been cheerful and energetic suddenly was neither. He was wrapped in a towel and trying to go to sleep. I zipped across the street to buy liquid Tylenol and chocolate milk. Pain relief and comfort.

My shepherding duties were winding down. John had three more races, including the Ten and Under IM. He's eight. A demanding race against older swimmers and he was feeling horrible. I decided to give the Tylenol fifteen minutes before throwing in the sweaty towel and heading home early.

John rallied. In a move that shocked both me and Coach Ian, my girl Ainsley competed in backstroke and made it across the pool unassisted. Different kids, different goals -- one of the things I love about swimming is that you can celebrate all of it.

We drove home and collapsed, Ainsley and I figuratively, John literally. He woke up in the middle of the night scorching hot and vomiting. As John got older, his fevers were lower (102 instead of 104.5) but invariably he would vomit off and on for hours. He dealt with this every three weeks throughout second grade. It was terrible. Unpredictable for us, misery for him. When they appeared to cease a year ago, we were so happy for John.

Today he's fine with nothing but circles under his eyes to show for his troubles. Ainsley, meanwhile, sounds croupy. Isn't Croup a winter problem?

All Stars tonight.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why I Love Language

Because you could write:

Our story begins in Great Britain, an island twenty-one miles west of continental Europe. Its location and geographical features have made it prone to invasion.

Or -- if you're Winston Churchill -- you might try this:

Our story centres in an island, not widely sundered from the Continent, and so tilted that its mountains lie all to the west and the north, while south and east is a gently undulating landscape of wooded valley, open downs, and slow rivers. It is a very accessible to the invader,whether he comes in peace or war, as pirate or merchant, conqueror or missionary.
And now I'm off to transfer the laundry, gently undulating in the washer, into the dryer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Her, O Lord

And may perpetual light shine upon her.

May all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Travelling Underpants

John came to me in a state of deep indignation one day. "I'm wearing Calvin's underwear," he informed me, clearly distressed about this state of affairs.

"John," I calmly informed him, "Calvin Klein is a clothing designer. Some people like his stuff."

"No," he told me, "This is Calvin's underwear."

He pulled down the waistband far enough for me to see Calvin C______ written in black Sharpie, clear as could be.

It was, indeed, Calvin's underwear -- Calvin, our friend from down the beach at Pelee Island, not to be confused with Calvin, the designer.

To add insult to injury, those undies had traveled from our friend Calvin to Nathan, John's cousin, and then quite possibly to George, John's next cousin down the line, before landing in John's collection of intimate apparel.

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants. Believe me, John was less than thrilled to be a member.

Now I am a firm believer in thrift stores and consignment sales and hand-me-downs. I have a few scruples in this regard, and if truth be known underwear generally doesn't make the cut of what I'll buy used. Sippy cups and bike helmets and underwear -- we generally bite the bullet and pay retail for these goodies.  I am part of a vast, complicated network of hand-me-downs which results in notes in our community newsletter that might read something like this: Lost: Lands End school sweater size 8. Name tag reads Sterett. Please return to the Johnson family.

Mostly I'm cheap. But, really, I'm just cheap about some things. I think that's true of most people. You splurge on a pedicure; I might splurge on dinner out. You want a new car; I want a nice vacation.

An unidentified child of mine lodged a complaint about his cleats. Not the size or the fit or the general condition of the cleats. No, no, no. Dissatisfaction stemmed from the lame, lame, mega lame brand of cleats I had chosen to purchase. At the risk of offending my beloved offspring, let me just put it out there that the Dolins, as a rule, don't make the starting line up, and so I am not inclined to purchase those $100 basketball shoes, those $95 cleats.

"Look at the label on the piano," I gently told said offspring.

We seem to produce better pianists than soccer players, and, thanks to Grandma who just plain rocks, we now have a  n-i-c-e  piano. (But cheap soccer cleats).

A new babysitter once asked if my kids were allowed to play outside.

When, slightly confused, I said yes, sure, of course, she asked if the kids should change clothes before exiting the premises. I was baffled that kids should change out of play clothes to go out and, umm, play, but this sweet babysitter had been burned by a mom who had positively lost her marbles when her children actually dared to play in their play clothes.

I get it.

Ainsley had a pre-school classmate who routinely showed up on the playground in slightly bizarre designer outfits that topped a hundred bucks easy.

As for me, my heart swells when I see sights like this:

And this:

All that being said, I admit to minor heart palpitations upon seeing Ainsley's ruffly, new, white t-shirt from Gymboree looking as though it had taken a trip through the sewers that backed up last week. If she had to demolish one of her new tees, I'm thankful she chose the white one. Bleach and a little elbow grease might revive it.

I have my moments.

I may or may not have birthed a hapless child who takes freshly laundered dress clothes -- clothes that have been on a warm body for the whopping ninety minutes it takes us to drive to Mass, attend Mass, and return home -- and deposits these clothes in a hamper designed for dirty clothes. You can imagine my reaction.

Gruesome, I tell you, gruesome.

Yes, I have my moments. But going postal over clothing is not my modus operandi. At the end of the day, I realize these little people of mine will not be six and eight forever.

No, they won't.

While I certainly appreciate cute, I really want them to be kids.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seven Quick Takes

1. My mom has had a bad week. A really bad week. She stumbled and broke her foot.The first set of x-rays showed a minor fracture in the side of her right foot. A follow-up x-ray indicated a fracture in her heel. The doctor then noticed redness in her left foot, i.e. the non-injured foot, i.e the foot that allows her to pivot as she moves from wheelchair to bed, from wheelchair to bathroom, etc. A third x-ray indicated two breaks below her middle toes on the "good" foot.

Please pray that we can sort out the logistics of getting Mom from South Florida to Detroit without outright purchasing American Airlines.

And pray for pain relief and protection from further breaks.

And pray for my dad, a stalwart caregiver if ever there was one.

2. And on the brighter topics . . .  Ainsley comes to me and asks me to spell the name of a show so she can search for it on Amazon. Today is was Jack and the Bean Stalking which made me laugh and conjured up all manner of bizarre images. Love my girl!

3. John's Batman tennies went missing, so I texted my neighbor across the street.

Me: Can you keep a look out for John's Batman tennies in the yard?
Friend: You know I've never actually seen John wearing shoes.

True that.

4. So losing things seems to be a regular staple of life. John's glasses go missing, and I flat scour his room to no avail. I pat myself on the back that I have borrowed cowboy boots a full month before John appears in Pecos Bill, the third grade play . . . but the day the costume's supposed to head off to school, said boots are nowhere to be found. I spend the morning scouring the front door before painting it . . . but can't find the sander when I need it.

Ah, life.

Things have a way of turning up.That's what I keep telling myself.

5. While we're on the thrilling subject of my front door, I have to tell this tale. So the middle schoolers are in the big thick midst of Science Fair, and Kolbe and his buds are working at out house. A dad drops off his son and as he's leaving, he notices out front door is sticking, or more accurately, is entirely stuck. A talented carpenter, our friend David zips home and returns with saw horses, a sander, a drill, some sort of planer, and primer. While Dave and the boys talk data and bar charts, the other David completely fixes our door, sands down a rough area, primes the sanded bits, replaces the hardware, hangs the door.


6. And the above anecdote reminds me of the other day when I went in search of Ainsley. You know we moved a year ago. But we moved just around the corner. If I crane my neck, I can look out my new back door and see my old front door.

But the move has been huge for our kids.

We had the best neighbors ever for 18 years. The. best. ever. Almost no one had little kids. We moved  around the corner and suddenly my kids have 23 friends to play with on a regular basis.

I don't think I'm exaggerating.

Four behind us. Two next door. Ten spread between the two houses across the street. And a whole bunch more in the adjoining houses.

My goal of having free range kids is (partially) being realized.

So I went in search of Ainsley the other day and found her with her two BFFs wearing shorts and playing with water on a chilly day. "What are you doing, girls" I wondered. "Playing Lavabo Bowl," they told me.

They poured water over each others' hands as they recited the words from Psalm 51 that the priest says before the consecration: Wash me from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sins.

Playing Lavabo Bowl. I'll take that. Even on a chilly day, I'll take that.

7. And then there's John. The block across the street is shaped like the letter K and called -- no surprise here -- K Block.

We say that John doesn't play in K Block; he plays under K Block.

And if you were to go explore the underground bunker he and his friends have fashioned, you'd understand what I mean. No scrap of wood lying out by the street on trash day is too small to be incorporated into "The Safe House" as they have dubbed the bunker. Recycle! Repurpose! Pray there's no exposed nails!

Of late, the boys have abandoned Safe House in favor of epic Nerf wars that involve every last one of the aforementioned 23 kids plus a few others from surrounding streets. They're serious about these Nerf wars. Oh, yes they are. John returned home one night  -- shoe-less, of course -- with all exposed skin camouflaged with -- brace yourselves, now -- soot. Yes, soot. Left over from a fire pit. Soot.

Thank the good Lord for running water and up-to-date Tetanus shots. And free-range kids. Does this tomboy's heart good.

My life in Seven Quick Takes. Head over to the other Kelly's to add your update.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Wish Every Home Had an Eight-year-old Boy

They're the best.

Yes, they are.

They are mischievous and funny (even if their humor relies heavily on fart jokes). They are forgiving and kind (except when encountering their sisters' Barbies. Too, too tempting). They have a dozen passions that are relatively cheap (Legos and Nerf guns, bikes and scooters).

They love their Mamas.

Yes, they do.

They love their Mamas.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, they have their moments, these eight-year-old boys.  I find John's socks everywhere. Everywhere. The idea that they can be deposited in a single place that never, ever changes, a place that ensures they will one day be returned (clean! fresh!) to be worn again -- well, this concept is wholly lost on eight-year-old boys.

They breeze through snack food like ants at a picnic. In a moment of candor, John looked at me and said, "Look, Mama, You really need to find a better hiding place for the cookies."

"Or we could all develop a bit of self-control," I countered.

No one can match John when it comes to an expression of shock and disbelief, of incredulity and stupefaction. I'm pretty sure he's triple-jointed and can raise one eyebrow so fast and so high, I'm surprised it doesn't land on the wall behind him. Develop a bit of self-control? Surely you jest.

And speaking of walls . . . John admitted to me that when he dons his bathing suit for swim team three times a week, he tends to fling his underwear. That just might explain this:

Here's the zoom:

But he loves his Mama.

We spent some time in the yard yesterday afternoon mowing this and raking that. I gave the kids advance warning. I assured them we wouldn't be out there for hours. When the time to work drew nigh, the conversation went something like this:

What I said: Okay, let's go tackle a little yard work before dinner!

What they heard: Down in the mines for the lot a ya.

As I dealt with deep sighs and dragging feet, mild irritation morphed into anger. I chewed the lot of them out, set down my rake, and went into the house to grab something. I glanced at the To Do List sitting on the desk. Earlier in the day, I had a reality check when it said this:

When I came in from the yard, it said this:

i love you mom 

My first note in cursive (or as John used to call them "curse words").

His socks may doubt the existence of a hamper; his underwear may be hanging from the chandelier; he may be one highly unenthusiastic yardman.

But he loves his Mama.

Yes, he does.

I think of my my mother-in-law -- she who birthed four sons who went on to father eight grandsons in a row before Ainsley added a jolt of estrogen to the gene pool. She once shared story about her youngest son, Dave's brother Jeff.

She looked over at him at age ten and fervently wished time would just. stand. still.

She knew the storm that was lying dormant, that under that pleasant face was fomenting a toxic combination of hormones and attitude, that late nights and charming facial expressions were coming her way. Been there done that three times, she had. And, of course, she was right.

As for me, when John sprouts his first pimple or whisker, I intend to drape the house in black crepe and invite my Jewish relatives over to sit shiva with me.

It will be a dark day indeed.

As for today, I plan to savor this: