Thursday, July 31, 2014

And John Turned 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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Laughter Is Indeed the Best Medicine

I had a migraine that ran seventy-two hours without pause and ended with Tim's retelling of a middle school field trip run amuck.

Lo some years back, the sixth, seventh, and eight graders loaded onto buses and headed for the corn mazes of Kackleberry Farm. Seems one corn maze was open, and the other was closed. Seems a few kids broke into the closed maze and began pelting their classmates with corn cobs. Seems kids fell into one of three groups: The Perpetrators, The Got Caught Up in the Excitement-ers, The Innocent Bystanders. Seems the fine folks at Kackleberry were not amused. Seems a bunch of kids were subsequently suspended and have gone down in Alleluia Community School history known as the Kackleberry Eleven.

Do not ask me why this made me laugh until I cried.

But it did.

The Kackleberry Eleven.

Migraine ground to a halt.

And then there was Tim's pithy assessment of my lame, lame, mega lame phone: Mom, the eighties called. They want their phone back.

Reheated, cliched, totally tickled my funny bone.

When you've been on a l-o-n-g drive followed by a l-o-n-g trip and concluding with yet another l-o-n-g drive, you'll take all the laughs you can muster. We are home from adventures northward, and I'm trying to analyze it all.

If we drive 750 miles straight through and arrive with every muscle and joint throbbing and I say, "Never Again will we drive straight through." If we break it into two days and arrive with every muscle and joint throbbing and I say, "Never Again will I double our misery and spend TWO days doing this."

Long drives have a way of whittling away at long-held standards and parental values. A year or two ago, we were heading out the door to purchase a portable DVD player and stopped by the computer to check reviews. The item of interest -- deeply discounted -- garnered terrible reviews consistent with my experience with these devices -- they are lightweight, flimsy, easily broken. No matter, I now say. Shelling out seventy bucks for a few hours of glassy-eyed calm? Chump change. A bargain at twice the price.

Once again, I spent a good portion of the drive evaluating each state we traversed. Though West Virginia is prettier and North Carolina sports better flowers and cleaner bathrooms, Virginia is skinny, skinny, skinny where I-77 cuts through it and, therefore, remains my favorite state. For a more elaborate, state by state analysis, click here. Colorful details involving constipation included at no extra charge.

Road trip humor begins low brow and only sinks from there as you can clearly discern from these edifying puns shared en route:

Where was Sally when the bomb went off? Everywhere!
Knock, Knock. Who's there? Not Sally.

Now they are ganging up on me and simply insisting that I head to the grocery store. Re-entry has been rough. The logistics -- unpacking, resuming normal activities -- not so much. But fatigue, fever, stomach issues -- yeesh, we've been hit hard. And now I am going to will myself to head to the grocery store.

Monday, July 21, 2014

If the Bathroom Door Is Closed

Home from points northward. Mounds of laundry and unpacking. Seven-year-old burning up with fever. Here's one from the archives . . . 

A Christmas Story lands somewhere on the list of my top twenty movies. Among its many charms:

1. Ralphie rifles through the mailbox, grabs the one letter of interest to him, and stuffs everything else back in the box. Not that I've ever been tempted to do that.

2. Ralphie takes his secret decoder ring and dashes to the bathroom, "the only room in the house where a boy of nine could sit in privacy and decode."

Paper Airplane bearing message, " Mom, can I have something to eat?"
Yesterday I was in the only room in the house where a mom of four can sit in privacy, and I hear, "Mom, Ainsey's pooping."

The tone implied scandal, so I gathered this was not occurring in the plastic potty designated for this activity.

Today I'm issuing a sweeping new communications plan.  If the bathroom door is closed, I am incommunicado.

There will be no knocking.

There will be no shouting.

No entreaties.

No notes shoved under the door. 

Don' t try my cell phone.

Don't enlist the help of the Morse code tapper.


There are, of course, exceptions to every policy. Let's review a few possibilities:

1. Popcorn? Don't even.

2. Television? Just forget about it.

3. He just (fill in the blank)!  Unless this ends with fell off the roof, it can wait.

4. Mom! Vague.

5. Can I (fill in the blank)? The answer will be an unswerving no unless the blank is filled in with something like put out the fire? in which case you forget about manners and focus on getting out the door pronto! or, heaven forbid, doing the Stop, Drop, and Roll thing we all learned in Boy Scouts and if it sounds like I'm being glib, I can assure you I am not. My brother and sister set fire to our house when I was a baby, and I'm glad someone got me (and the pyromaniacs) out the door in a timely manner.

6. Vomit. Depends. There is vomited - past tense (too late to do much about that), and then there's vomiting - present progressive (I just might hurry).

7. Blood. Please interrupt, regardless of tense involved -- past, present, or present progressive.

8. Fire! See number 3. And don't forget your baby sister.

Any questions?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Splinched Yet Again


I've been splinched.

Yet again.

It's becoming a summertime tradition.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, keep reading. But first look at the great fun we've had with a couple of metal detectors.

Mom's brain must be here somewhere.

The search and rescue team.
Master detectors!

Better than a brain . . .  a plane!

For those of you who wondered why I had fallen off the face of the electronic world, first, thank you for your concern. Second, let me site three reasons for Internet silence:

1. We were in Michigan and Canada for about three weeks.

2. We returned just in time for a three day frenzy of uniform and supply shopping

3. I've been splinched.

Regarding the third reason, Harry Potter aficionados will recognize the term "splinched." Splinching occurs when one attempts to magically move from one destination to another, a process called apparating. When apparating, one should remember the three D's -- destination, determination, and I can't remember the third one which may explain why I keep splinching.

The result of splinching is that some body part -- ranging from a leg to an eyebrow -- gets left behind.

I've done a lot of moving this summer -- home to mountains, home to Michigan, Canada to home. I've facilitated a lot of moves -- Dave and Tim to Boy Scout Camp, Tim to Boot Camp, Tim to a vocations' retreat. And while in town, we've moved quite a bit as well. Mostly home to pool, pool to home.

I've had lists and bags and tables covered with gear.Suitcases and backpacks and wet bags (or are they called dry bags?) have gone up and down the attic stairs again and again and again.

It's been good, really good. Our recent visit to Michigan and Canada was probably our best ever. In fact, this summer has probably been our best ever. That's if you disregard last Friday and Saturday which were just this side of gruesome. Boys and clothes shopping? Too, too fun, don't you know!

The highlight was heading out for boys' white button down shirts, size 16. Sounds easy enough. Walmart? Sold out! Target? Nary a one in sight! Sears? I found two -- same size, same brand, slightly different design. One was $5.98; one was $16.98. Sold!

Ignoring these rather trying and lengthy shopping excursions, we've had a good summer. Not perfect, but really, really good.

Even when it all goes well, summer has a certain intensity. A relaxed intensity in that we typically don't have deadlines and school bells and homework. But we're all together almost all of the time, and that alone can be intense.

In this world, there are introverts and there are extroverts; I would have to call myself a hybrid. I do not do well when I'm alone day after day. Isolation and cloudy weather are a particularly difficult combination for me.

But the opposite is also true.

When I'm never alone -- when I have to post rules detailing the circumstances in which my offspring can knock on the bathroom door -- when someone is nearly always right there needing or wanting something -- eventually, I splinch. Honestly, I don't think I've been alone of two hours since May.

When I splinch, I'm fairly sure the part I leave behind is my cerebral cortex.

I can't think.

While vacationing in Michigan and Canada, I had a dozen thoughts I wanted to write about, but most of the trip involved grandparents and aunts and uncles and lots and lots of cousins. It's wonderful, and it's intense.

And I couldn't string two sentences together.

Rather than fighting it, I simply recognized my splinched state of mind, put people before things, and enjoyed our vacation.

One day soon, I will locate (with or without the metal detector) and once again take possession of my cerebral cortex. Right?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Were You Raised in a Barn? Would You Like Some Hay?

So we are packing up for a road trip. This process follows an invariable path:

Step #1 - Congratulate myself that I am -- against all odds and despite a busy swim schedule -- caught up with laundry.

Step # 2 - Tote a suitcase to Ainsley's dresser and there unearth the mother-lode of dirty clothes.

Step #3 - Repeat Step # 2 for John, Kolbe, and Tim.

Step #4 - Think back to that YouTube video (remember A Mom's Rant) and recall that classic line: Were you raised in a barn? Would you like some hay?

Step # 5 - Embark on a marathon session of laundry, giving thanks all the while for the conveniences of modern life.

Step # 6 - Check Dave's dresser and thank our good and gracious Lord I married a man so tidy he could step into the Marine Corps and never miss a beat.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Iron Sharpens Iron

Swim Team 2014.

It's all over but the party. For the most part, the mothers are elated. But then mothers typically rejoice at the end of grueling endeavors -- pregnancy, labor, potty training, research papers, science fair projects, braces, nearly every sports season.

I, for one, have mixed feelings.

We started swim team in 2013 with nothing but noble motives:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

By those measurements, Swim Team 2013 was a great success.

But then a funny thing happened on the way through Swim Team 2014: John proved to be  fast. Wednesday morning during swim team means water polo, donuts, and ribbons. Last week I sat with a cluster of moms as their children began running to them -- some elated, some clearly not -- to show off ribbons earned the night before. One mom glanced over to her daughter and, in a monotone voice, fed her an obviously well-rehearsed line: Look at your time, not at your place.

Look at your time, not at your place.

I've said it dozens of times myself. This was especially true for my older boys who joined the swim team 8-10 years too late to have any chance of being competitive. Fitness and fun, I'd tell them. It's about fitness and fun. Look at your time, not at your place. I created a spreadsheet to track the boys' speed. And it really was fun to watch them improve both in form and in time.

So here we are in 2014, and our goals are pretty much the same:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

In our first meet, John garnered a couple of firsts and a second. Ditto the second meet when he might have earned three blue ribbons had he not lolly-gagged toward the end of the freestyle sprint. See, suddenly I'm analyzing and not just enjoying. The third meet brought a goggle malfunction as did the fourth meet and the divisional championship, and suddenly I'm stressed and aggravated and thinking like a Hollywood stage mother when, really, it's all about fun and fitness, right?

Then Dave got to chatting about swim team with a guy at work, and the guy showed Dave this mystical page that lists the swim rankings for our entire region and, as it turns out, John and his good buddy Henry were doing just swimmingly.

Horrible, horrible pun, I know.

And none of this -- the malfunctioning goggles or the ratings -- helps keep our focus on fun and fitness, and by "our focus", I really mean "my focus" because John? He's oblivious. He just gets in the pool and does his thing and does it well.

Go, Kolbe!

A whiff of success and suddenly we're far more focused on performance than fun, thinking about what didn't go well rather than looking at what did.

Well, we all survived and actually enjoyed ourselves in the process, if you can enjoy yourself spending hours and hours watching a sporting event in a sauna.

(Not to digress, but if I were still employed by Procter and Gamble, I'd totally be writing those commercials that celebrate swim Moms. Walking into a humid lobby with three children and fifty two pounds of gear, carrying the gear up two flights of stairs that were -- no exaggeration whatsoever -- my 140 degree attic in August, moving up to the bleachers that made the lobby feel like Autumn in Maine, squishing into the stands with a thousand other parents and feeling sweat drip between your shoulder blades all so that you can cheer for your kids who spend just about two minutes in the pool.

And that, my friends, is swim team finals! Please do not judge the mothers who prayed their kids wouldn't make it into the All Star Meet which was deja vu all over again the following night.

So let's offer a virtual high five for swim Moms everywhere).

Proverbs 17 reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

I've heard friends debating the purpose of athletics. Fun and fitness, of course, top the list. But what about competition? Does it do nothing more than fuel the ego (parental or otherwise)?  One dad mentioned Proverbs 17 and suggested that iron does indeed sharpen iron, that sports can be a greenhouse of virtue through which we learn to do our best, to push ourselves, to win gracefully, to lose gracefully, in short, to hone key life skills.

In a rather comical application of this principle, Ainsley turned the corner with swimming after watching her friend Isa put her head in the water and plow forward with the front crawl.

"Isa's more better than I am," my sweet daughter lamented, head down in the pool gutter.

Somehow that combination of bad grammar and green-eyed envy spurred my girl on. The next day, she, too, put her head in the water and managed a very respectable dog paddle.

The girl swims -- and one day soon I'll get a  picture of it. Meantime, let's dance.

I have come to no grand conclusions about it all except for what I shared with Rachel as we left the pool: There's one sort of struggle when your kids aren't good at sports and a different sort of struggle when they are.

I think we're all ready to party.