Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fun in the Sun

Cooper's face after I wiped off most of the sand.

Connor looks sweet and innocent in this picture!

An absolutely gorgeous day: dreamy temps (75 and holding) and pristine skies. Unfortunately, the kids and I were stuck in the minivan, left to gaze at the sunshine from the confines of our car. As I was shuffling the kids between school pickup and Caleb's social skills class, the kids spotted a church playground. The back of the minivan begged to stop. With an hour to spare before class, how could I not?

So, I swerved into the parking lot, and the kids leapt from the car. In no time, they were climbing on equipment, soaring down slides, and swaying on swings. Then, they ran to a large rectangular sandbox planted among the equipment. The sandbox lay bare: no shovels, buckets, or toys. A disappointment fell over the boys. How could they possibly play in the sandbox without the proper equipment? That's when I spotted the wheels of imagination spinning in their heads. They used what they had: two hands and a little creativity. Soon, they were maneuvering the sand into castles, car washes, and villages. Random sticks were used in conjunction with unearthed candy wrappers to form flags. The remaining twigs were transformed into canoes and railroad tracks.

The boys were engaged and happy. I soaked in a few minutes of peace and quiet, basking in the sunshine, gazing at my content little guys. I couldn't let this moment go uncaptured, so I ran to the car to snag my camera, hoping to document the fact that sometimes they actually do get along.

In the 30 seconds it took to get to my car and back, the happy play unraveled. Evidently, Cooper rearranged Connor's sand creations. Connor, not taking a liking to Cooper's modifications, pushed Cooper's face into the sand.

When I arrived back at the sandbox, Cooper's face looked like it was covered in a facial mask. Grains of sand lay imbedded in every inch of his visage from his scalp down to his chin. His nostrils were coated with sand, and wet muddy sand was oozing from his mouth. He looked absolutely pitiful.

I confronted the culprit on his actions. Connor pled his case and touted his reasonings. Consequences were delivered, as tears were shed. Cooper was wiped up (sort of).

How I miss those few peaceful moments!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cuddling at bedtime with the boys. (Yes, Collin is wearing X mas pajamas!)
Anyone notice anything different? Four inches got whacked off my hair today!!!!

I got an e-mail from my dear college friend yesterday. "My son's been diagnosed with Aspergers," she wrote to the list. I was astonished and immediately felt compelled to respond. As one who has experienced this first hand, I know responding to this sort of email can be tricky. "Congratulations" is not appropriate, but neither really is "sorry." I (personally) think the best way to respond is:
That's a lot to take in.
I'm here if you need anything.

And, now over a year into the process I'd add:

Good things can arise from a diagnosis that may seem hard to embrace.

So I sent an email. We've been volleying e-mails back and forth since. When asked how she's doing, she mentioned tears, initially and intermittently since. How I can relate! About a year ago, I was one big slobbery mess, for months and months.

That was then, today I met with the psychologist that referred to Caleb as an "Aspie." Hearing that word didn't cause me to whimper, weep or wail. I've learned to embrace it, and only through acceptance things have gotten better.

Having an Aspergers kid is not the end of the world, it just means the world as we know alters a bit.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Friends

This last week, three good friends celebrated their birthdays. Fortunately, I've been able to squeeze in two celebrations, and have one more scheduled on the calendar. Because these friends mean so much to me, I wanted to blog a little about each (in order of birthdays):

Cara: Cara and I met about four years ago. She's a neighbor with two little girls. We hit it off right away, and scheduled a play date. The first play date was pretty crazy (thanks to three little Wood boys). When she walked out of my house and I said to myself, "Well, I doubt I'll ever see her again." Fortunately, crazy doesn't faze her very much, and we still attempt play dates even today.

Cara is a genuine friend, in every sense of the term. She's been my confidant, counselor, and cheerleader through this very challenging year with Caleb. She always says, "I'm on Team Caleb." I feel blessed to have a member on my team like her.

Ali: Ali and I met almost a decade ago when our husbands were in residency together. At the time, she was pregnant with her first, and I was engaged to be married. Her husband completed training first and we lost touch for a few years.

A couple of years later, our friendship recommenced when we both moved within minutes of each other. Today, we are living parallel lives: both mothers of four kids (almost identical in age), ER doc husbands, avid runners.

Ali is the gold star in mothers. She manages it all, and makes it look easy and even fun, while looking absolutely beautiful in the process. I'm blessed to have a friend I can learn from, laugh with, and enjoy the time together.

Erin: Erin and I met in kindergarten. She was the "cool" girl in the kindergarten class. We both admit now that a large part of her kindergarten popularity stemmed from the fact that she had really cool hair accessorized with adorable hair bands (although she had a fabulous personality too!). Fortunately, Erin befriended me (maybe out of pity) and I've clung to her side ever since.

Today I went to Erin's house to celebrate her birthday. When I'm with Erin, I feel like I don't want to leave. She's kind, fun, funny, and abundantly compassionate. Above all, she's loyal and I'm blessed to have 31 years with a friend who knows everything about me and loves me anyway!

Happy Birthday dear friends!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Family Heirloom

It seems that every marriage has one: a decorative item displayed in the house that isn't fully appreciated by both parties. For us, it's the pool table. We adopted the pool table about a year ago: a twice hand me downed table donated to our family from my aunt. She warned me the table had a few nicks and tears, but it was, after all, free. I was sold!

The table was well loved (loved to death practically), but it found its home in our basement. I described the table to Chris as a family heirloom. He disputed my semantics while expressing displeasure over our acquisition. Since then, he's been stewing over this table and shooting it homicidal glances. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to come home from a trip to the grocery and find the table transformed into fire wood with Chris holding the saw.

In the last twelve months, the table has been used a lot, but not for pool. It's been used to wrap gifts, build blocks, leap from, and on and on. The amount of time we've played pool could (sadly) be limited to one hand.

Today the boys had Korinn over for a play date. The kids were running around the basement, when Korinn glanced at the table. She questioned the table's actual use. As her words were spoken, I could see the boys curiosity piqued. I grabbed the balls and a couple of cues and positioned the kids around the table.

I have one word to describe the game: stressful. Trying to insure that no child got impaled by a pool cue, while teaching the rules, and demonstrating technique was chaotic. Finally, we all gave up following rules and the kids used the palms of their hands to maneuver the balls to and fro. For the next two minutes, they had a ball (literally). Then, they went on to the next.

So, the pool table that occupies about 1/4 or more of our basement, lay unoccupied, again. I could hear Chris's words ringing in my head, "I told you so."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Fall Clothes

Cooper sitting among all the "new" clothes, wearing his "new" pajamas!

Tis the season: the season where you could be wearing a tank top one day and a sweater the next. The seasons are transitioning and so goes our wardrobes. The boys needed to replace some of their summer duds with cooler weather gear. I knew the best place to find boys' clothes nearby: our basement

Within the confines of the basement sit container after container of boys' clothes. Although I always yearned for a little girl, having children all the same sex certainly has its advantages, and none greater than hand me downs! At this age, the boys still think hand me downs are cool. The day I unearth their "new" clothes from the basement, excitement and cheers erupt.

Today I dug up cool weather clothes from the containers. I first emerged from the basement clutching an arm full of Cooper's "new" clothes. He was giddy with excitement. He kept saying, "You're the best guy in the world!" Then he would motion to his brothers, "Come see all my new clothes!" As I inspected the clothes, there was the occasional ripped jean or stained shirt, but most were wearable and still fashionable (somewhat). Cooper spent the evening modeling his new finds, selecting his new favorites.

I think when you're in a big family having something new and individual is a novelty and a gem, regardless of that items' identity. Cooper was thrilled with his clothes: holes, stains, and all. They were his and I'm happy he has something to call his own (until Collin needs them!).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Honesty Time

Papa introducing Caleb to one of his colleagues.

The calendar says it's the first day of autumn, but I'm not sure if summer got the message. In the least, summer's making autumn feel very unwelcome by refusing to leave. Temperatures soared to 90 degrees accompanied by gusts of wind that shuffled the heat to and fro. My emotions teetered between annoyed and grateful that summer was here for at least another day.

Caleb and I spent our warm evening cool and comfortable within the confines of Sahm's Tavern and Grill. The restaurant played host to a retirement party for my father. We snacked on finger foods, and devoured cake slices smothered in icing. Caleb enjoyed meeting papa's colleagues, and informed a group of judges of his future aspirations to become a herpetologist (which they all found rather amusing).

At the end of the night, the temperature had cooled to pleasant. I asked Caleb if he'd like to walk around downtown for a bit (quite a novelty for the both of us). He agreed, and we strolled among the tall buildings and urban dwellings. We chatted briefly. Well, I talked while Caleb looked around and mumbled his replies.

At the end of the walk, I said, "Caleb, I love you."

No response.

I continued, "Caleb, do you love mom and dad too?" I know, even writing it sounds pathetic, but I was curious.

He paused for a moment, and then said, "I'm still trying to figure it out."

It wasn't the response I was hoping. He didn't enthusiastically shout "yes" while embracing me in a bear hug and planting a kiss on my cheek. But, it was Caleb and he was honest. I guess the truth is we're still trying to figure him out too. In the mean time, I know without a shadow of a doubt we love him whether he gets us or not.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Texas or Bust

Connor and his friend Korinn taking shelter from the rain (yes, finally rain!!).

The sign Caleb was clutching on our driveway.

Have you ever had one of those days where you counted the hours...minutes...seconds until bedtime? Today was one of those days. I began yearning for bedtime just about the time Caleb arrived home from school. He was in a funk, a mood, a tizzy. His prickly disposition gradually soured the rest of us until we all felt a little wretched.

Finally, I had to intervene. Consequences were delivered. Tears were shed. We parted ways: I to fold laundry, Caleb to sulk in his room. While sorting and folding, I took a few deep breaths, uttered a few prayers and decided to start afresh with our afternoon. A few minutes later, I exited my room and rapped softly on Caleb's door. No response. I peeked into his room and discovered Caleb was nowhere to be seen. I jogged down the stairs, and found the front door open. Caleb was standing at the base of our driveway clutching a homemade sign. Quickly, I raced to Caleb.

I questioned, "Caleb, what are you doing?"

He stood stone-faced and motioned towards his homemade sign with the words, "Texas or Bust" scribbled across the front.

At that moment, I teetered between wanting to wring his neck and erupt into laughter. I held it together and responded, "Caleb, if you're going to Texas, we need to pack."

My response shocked him and he begrudgingly followed me into the house. Once inside he seemed to calm down and agree to remain a Hoosier for at least another day.

Later, I asked him, "Why Texas?"

He said it was somewhere really far away.

"Next time, maybe consider California. It's even further," I replied.

I could see the wheels turning in his head. Oh boy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Falling Heart

Cooper and I were engaged in a friendly game of tickle torture. He lay on the ground, exposed and defenseless. I took advantage of his helpless state and tickled him here, there and everywhere. Cooper mocked anger at first, but soon erupted into giggles. Cooper giggles are the best: deep, intense, genuine and contagious.

Amidst giggles, he shouted, "Stop tickling or my heart will fall out."

Now it was my turn to giggle at his words. Silly boy. Doesn't Cooper know it takes a lot for a heart to fall out? Believe me, I've heard lots of reasons for a heart to fall out (and experienced some personally): tragic losses, unwelcome diagnoses, unexpected life circumstances, and on and on. Yet, I've never actually seen a heart fall out. In fact, I think I've seen the heart get stronger through it all. Funny, huh?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lunch with Friends

Cooper and Annika having fun with the cars!

Collin with his bud Alyssa.

My neighbor Sy and her two daughters came over for lunch play date. The blue skies and perfect temps allowed the kids to bring lunch outside. The kids alternated between bites of food and swigs of juice boxes. After lunch, Cooper shuffled his matchbox cars and beloved toys out to the deck. Sy's daughter Annika shares Cooper's passion for cars, and the two played harmoniously with the toy vehicles for over an hour (no small feat for three and four year olds!).

Sy and I soaked up the peace and devoured uninterrupted moments of conversation. Our conversation flowed between her experiences as a Japanese-American to a topic near and dear to both of our hearts: motherhood. She opened up about her struggles with fertility that led to a deep appreciation for the blessings of two healthy daughters. When all the words had been said, we sat and looked at our children happily playing with newfound friends. Sy said she just hoped they'd be happy and independent one day.

Later, I thought about the differences between Sy and I. Our upbringing and experiences diverge greatly. But, we have the same hopes and desires for our kids and that brings us together and builds a friendship.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Racing for Fun

Heather and I pre-race, still smiling!
A picture Heather snapped during the race.

Heather putting on a brave face after her fall.

I'm back. The last 24 hours flew by in a flash, but included some awesome memories: a dinner date and overnighter with my dear friend Gina, capped off with the Air Force Mini Marathon in Dayton, Ohio.

The race was spectacular: an interesting course, beautiful weather (sunny and clear), and best of all a wonderful running companion (my sister in law, Heather). We passed the miles gabbing, encouraging, sweating and smiling (at first). For the first couple of miles we were a little giddy, even snapping pictures of each other on our phones (see above!). By mile 11, I turned to Heather and said, "I'm not sure this is so fun anymore."

The "fun" diminished even further when Heather tripped close to mile 13 and tumbled to the ground. She quickly arose, and appeared well. With our sights set on the finish line, I encouraged her to keep going. Her speed diminished a little after the fall, but she continued and breezed through the finish line seconds later.

I turned to offer my congratulations, when I noticed blood trickling down her legs, and oozing from her palm. We located the medical tent, and bandages were applied to the impacted areas. With the bleeding stopped, we grazed through the food lines. Soon thereafter, Heather's health deteriorated, and we ended up in the medical tent again. Two IVs later, Heather was back up on her feet, with the color returning to her cheeks but still a little worn from the experience.

As we were walking to our car, her spirits lifted again and we reminisced about our morning. I was flooded with wonderful memories of two hours spent with my dear sister in law. I finished the conversation by saying, "Heather, we should do this again."

She didn't respond for a minute. I looked at my sweet, dear sister in law: her hand and knees were bandaged, her arms displayed fresh IV puncture marks, her cheeks were stained with smeared mascara marks from all the tears, and her typically perfectly coiffed hair lay astray.

I answered my own question, "Or maybe not, It's too fresh isn't it?"

But, I know Heather and I can bet we'll be crossing another mini marathon finish line in the near future. I've seen Heather fall before, and she always gets up, looks graceful and finishes like a champ.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Weekend Help

Today I left Chris with three of the boys for a couple of hours. When I returned, Chris greeted me with a litany of crazy boy moments. He seemed in good spirits about it all, but a little worn out.

Those couple of hours were a small taste of what he has in store for the weekend. You see, for only the second time I'm going to leave ALL the boys in his care. I'm fortunate to have a husband willing and able to take on the brood, alone. I'm anticipating they'll all have a ball. I'm sure the weekend will entail lots of frozen pizzas, movies, Notre Dame football, and wii. That being said, I'm not sure who is more excited for me to leave: the boys or Chris?

My hope is that Chris truly enjoys the time with his boys, and likewise for his sons. Selfishly, I hope his weekend breeds a greater appreciation for my current occupation. But, not too much of an appreciation that he never offers again!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cooper performing his daily chore!

"If you've met one autistic child, you've met one autistic child." A common axiom repeated in autism circles. Basically, it means every autistic child is different, but somehow united under the umbrella of autism. The truth to this statement never rings louder than seeing a group of parents describing their autistic children. Each child exhibits unique temperaments, social impairments and behavioral challenges, but what unites these children is striking. The commonality brings us together, and encourages us to understand and support each other as only someone can who comes from the same place.

Such was the case last night, our asperger's/autism group at my friend Jessica's house. Almost ten moms congregated in her living room. The group held many familiar faces, along with four newbies. We stuck with our familiar format: circling the room to allow everyone an opportunity for introductions, updates, and concerns.

Many moms shared minor victories, with school successes being huge for several individuals. Of course, we all had shared challenges, while welcoming comments from the group. Despite the heaviness of the topic at hand, we found time to laugh at ourselves and the truly wacky situations that arise in the day to day.

One of the newcomers announced she was the mom of a teenage autistic boy. We all appreciated her transparency, as she openly shared major challenges she's facing with her son. I think we collectively cheered her arrival. Last month's new mom (of a teenage boy) needed a contemporary: someone who truly understands the challenges of teenage boys. Instantly, they hit it off, and rattled off treatment plans, pharmaceutical tips, and a whole host of acronyms while the rest of us couldn't stop smiling because they found each other.

At the end of the night, I was glad to be with these other amazing moms. But, most of all I was elated by the connections that were made.

Each autistic child may be different, and each parent as well, but what binds us together is the need for understanding and support. Hopefully last night accomplished just that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Remembering Woolly

Collin with his neighbor buddy, Rosie. She loves playing with Collin and is a huge help!

Almost a week ago, Connor adopted a pet woolly caterpillar, plucked from the great outdoors. For Connor, it was love at first sight, so he named him ("Woolly"), housed him (in an OUTDOOR habitat), and entertained him for days. It appeared to be a win-win situation: I dodged the whole "Can we get a pet?" plea for another week, and we acquired a pet with absolutely no maintenance or upkeep. Things looked good.

Then, today happened. I was pulling into the driveway when I heard a slight crunching sound. I jumped out of the car and gazed at what used to be Woolly's habitat smashed, tattered and tire marked. I examined the carnage: pieces of Wholly's habitat were scattered about, but no Woolly. I imagined the worst (Woolly became embedded on the tire), but hoped for the best (Woolly leaped from his home seconds before my tire came bearing down.)

Now came the really hard part: breaking the news to Connor. I sat him down, and gingerly admitted my wrongdoings. "Connor, I've got some bad news." I sighed, "I ran over Woolly's home and I'm afraid he may be gone."

Connor looked startled at first, but then he replied, "Mom, I've got good news for you. Woolly wasn't in his home today. I think he turned into a moth."

Whew!! I think the dog discussion may be back on the table.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not again!

Pictures not related to blog, but from today's fall festival attractions.

As I mentioned in a prior blog, Cooper's had a few accidents as of late. That being said, I wanted to share a funny story about Cooper from Friday.

Cooper, Collin and I headed to the library. Cooper was scavenging through the videos, and I was chatting with one of the librarians several stacks away. Suddenly, I heard Cooper crying. I excused myself from my discussion, and searched for the cause of Cooper's hysterics.

When I turned the corner, I noticed Cooper holding his drenched shorts standing among newly saturated carpet. Between sobs, he uttered, "I peed." After he calmed down, I was faced with a moral dilemma: Do I admit to the librarians that my son was the source of the pee-stained carpet or escort him out of the library and act like someone else's kid was the culprit?

My conscience tugged on me to do the right thing, so sheepishly I located a librarian. "I'm sorry my son peed on the carpet, I'm happy to clean up the mess," I apologetically announced.

The librarian was extremely sweet about the whole thing. She looked at me as I was holding 19 month old, diaper wearing Collin and began to caress his legs. She then gazed into Collin's eyes and cooed, "It's o.k, accidents happen when you're learning."

Moral dilemma number two: Do I tell her Collin wasn't the source of the accident and admit his almost four year old brother was the guilty party?

Again, my desire for a guilt free conscience outweighed my pride, and the truth tumbled out of my mouth. The librarian shrugged it off, and recounted the number of accidents that have occurred among the children's stacks. Her honesty soothed my soul.

I took a couple things away from the afternoon:

1) Always pack an extra pair of clothes for Cooper;

2) Never walk barefoot among the children's stacks in the library; and

3) Selfishly, I was a little happy it didn't happen on our carpet (again!).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Parade to Remember

Every September, Zionsville holds its annual Fall Festival. The weekend offers amusement park type rides, carnival games and all the greasy finger foods you could want. The boys love it all, but hands down the kick off parade is their favorite part of the weekend.

So each Fall Festival weekend, we load the boys up and head to our quaint downtown. We try to go early to snag a premier piece of sidewalk: a space ideal for securing the maximum amount of goodies tossed from floats and parade participants.

Once we claimed our seats, we watched as the parade promenaded down the cobblestone streets, with the emergency vehicles leading the queue.

For the boys, the emergency vehicles are always the biggest hit. The boys practically squealed in delight when the sirens sounded and the horns blared. They've learned from the past that the fireman and police officers are the most generous and deliberate with tossing heaps of candy at the kids. Again this year, they didn't disappoint. The boys' bags bulged with all their newly acquired treats after the emergency vehicles streamed past. (On the other hand, the boys won't forget the dentist that distributed tooth brushes and the insurance agent that tossed kleenex packs. To say they were disappointed would be an understatement!)

After the emergency vehicles, we cheered as the cheerleaders tumbled and engaged the crowd. We swayed along to the marching band's rhythm and the beats of the percussion instruments. We laughed as we gazed at our beloved librarians dancing in synch down the street.

Perhaps the most touching portion of the parade was the floats dedicated to remembrance of service members, veterans, fire fighters and police officers. You see, the parade's theme was "heroes," and on this September 11th it was fitting that we would honor all those in our community that fall in that category. Several floats housed veterans of wars from World War II to Iraq. We sat on the side and applauded those people. We have celebrations like we had today because of those heroes.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wake Up Call

Cute pic from day!

This morning I awoke to a knock at the door and a voice whimpering (again), "I'm going to get sick." I jolted out of bed, and rushed to the door right in time to receive a drenching of...well, you know. Last night's dinner remnants cascaded down my body and littered the floor. Then the stench of illness jerked me into consciousness and thrust me into "mom mode."

I rushed Connor into the tiled bathroom, and positioned him over the toilet. Then I surveyed the damage. Sigh. Our poor carpet took another beating, and I'm not sure it will recover from this latest blow.

So, at 4:30 a.m., I was scrubbing carpets, bathing Connor and nursing him back to health. When his color began to return, we spread out his sleeping bag on the bathroom floor. He climbed into the bag, and closed his eyes for a bit.

As for me, well, I was definitely awake and counting on diet cokes to get me through the day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Last Day of First

Best picture I could get of the first day of preschool!

Cooper began preschool today, and Collin attended his first mothers' morning out class. We arrived a few minutes early, leaving just enough time to snag a couple (not great) photos. Then I escorted both boys to their classrooms. The boys happily entered their classrooms. Neither boy even turned around to see where I went. Both made a beeline for interesting toys and towards new friends. They appeared content and gleeful about their new arrangements.

As for me, well, I was a little gleeful too. I actually had TWO hours to myself. Looking around, I realized I wasn't the only mom elated about the start of preschool. I didn't see any tears shed, just smiles as mini vans squealed out of the parking lot heading for exotic locales such as Target or Marsh. (In fact, my friend Jenny rolled her mini van's window down and yelled something like "freedom" as she peeled out of the drive.)

I spent my two hours shopping for some birthday presents. It's amazing when you're used to shopping with four kids in tow the little things you appreciate. I didn't have to worry about potty breaks. I didn't stop every five steps to touch anything and everything in my path. I listened to my own music in the car, and talked on the phone without any interruptions.

The two hours went by in a flash, but the mental health benefits lasted for the whole day!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What an afternoon!

Being a parent for the last seven plus years, I've learned two important lessons:

1) Everything always happens at the same time; and

2) A child that is potty trained, may not be accident free.

That being said, you can just imagine what kind of day I had!

The morning started with a flat tire, and then appeared to get better as the day progressed. Once Caleb arrived home from school, the day began to unravel again.

We started the evening off with homework. Caleb has a new nemesis: spelling words. Getting him to practice spelling is about as easy as it is to get him to play sports. I finally got him to sit down and practice when I hear Connor yell from upstairs, "Cooper pooped... on the floor."

I cringed, and reluctantly climbed the stairs just to discover the soiled carpet. I swooped Cooper up and placed him on the potty. Then I ran down the stairs and googled, "poop on the carpet." A couple of minutes later I ascended the stairs clutching rags, detergent, carpet spray and hydrogen peroxide (thanks, Cara!). As I was cleaning the carpet, I noticed Cooper had removed himself from the potty and sat (with an uncleaned backside) on another part of the carpet to read a book.

Again, I swept him in my arms and placed him in the bathtub. From upstairs, I could hear Caleb requesting (loudly) his words. So, I'm screaming, "Spell gravity, now applaud," while washing Cooper, in between scrubbing the carpet.

In the middle of this chaos, Connor comes in and announces he needs a home for "Woolly."

"Who's Woolly," I inquired.

"My pet woolly caterpillar." Just at that moment he displays a woolly insect perched on his arm. I'm not fond of insects, especially in the house. Seeing this creepy crawly made me jump.

I went into triage mode: bath, spelling words, carpet cleaning, (outdoor) habitat selected for Wooly.

Just at the moment, the phone rang and I let it go to voice mail. I found out later it was Chris.

He wonders sometimes why I don't answer the phone!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day

About mid afternoon, Chris declared, "I think this is the perfect Labor Day."

I questioned him on his declaration, "Because of the weather or the activities?"

He quickly responded, "Both."

I couldn't agree more. We had spectacular Labor Day weather: sunny, clear, warm (but not hot). As for the activities, we filled our day with a mixture of all of our favorites: friends, family (close and extended), and fun activities.

Our morning was spent with church friends apple picking in a beautiful orchard in Southern Indiana. I said to Chris, "I thought apple picking was a fall activity, isn't it still summer?" Chris reminded me that college football session had commenced, so it was indeed fall.

Be it summer or fall, the orchard was breathtaking, offering charming pastoral scenery and a natural snack bar for the kids. The rolling fields were lined with rows and rows of apple trees, segregated and labeled by variety: gala, jonathons, cortlands, and so forth. (Fortunately, the orchard provided an "apples for dummies" guide so we could select the apples best suited for our family.)

The boys ran between the apple tree rows, plucking sherbert and blush colored apples from the trees. Some fell into our bag, others went straight into their mouth. Once they tired of their horizontal play, they went vertical, scaling the trees, discovering the best apples residing on the higher branches.

I told Chris maybe we were meant to live in the country....someday?

At the conclusion of the day, we visited my 88-year-old grandmother (who lives not that far from the orchard). She accompanied us to a home cooked style dinner. The boys enjoyed comfort food fare: creamy mac n cheese, fried chicken, creamed corn, and decadent pies.

After dinner, we drove Grandmother to her house. The boys all seemed content with full bellies and worn out bodies, so Grandma and I got to talk, really talk. It wasn't a long talk, but a meaningful one. She shared stories about her mother, someone I never remember meeting. Then she told me two of the best things that happened in her life were:

1) That she married my grandfather and he and his family brought her (an "unchurched" woman) to church; and

2) That she went through the depression, because it taught her to appreciate all she has.

After she got out of the car, I thought how I'll always remember what she said and how those two things best exemplify her: full of faith and appreciation.

Today, I appreciate friends and family. The holiday was perfect because of all of you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Paint Play

Collin's new favorite!

Caleb covered in paint, having a ball!

The boys busy creating masterpieces!

There are those days when the boys find happiness in the simple things. Today was one of those days. After enjoying a morning at a birthday party, we were housebound for the afternoon. I fully anticipated hearing "I'm bored" and "There's nothing to do." Instead, the boys concocted some creative (and messy!) play.

First they broke out the finger paints. We spread a blanket on the grass, and lined up bowls of paint. The boys used Q tips, fingers, toes, and an assortment of other body parts to decorate sheets of paper. They each corralled their inner Jackson Pollock, drizzling, flipping and smearing the paint around their paper canvas. They had an absolute ball! At the end, every inch of their body was covered (even their hair), except for their smiles.

While the boys were crafting masterpieces, Collin made circles in his new (inherited) riding car. He spent hours pressing the buttons, giggling with each beep and click, and shuffling his legs along the grass.

Today was simple, and simple was good.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Running with a Purpose

Cute Collin pic from the day!

A friend invited me to join her running group for one of their early morning runs. So, at 5:45 a.m., I arrived at Town Hall right next to the fitness trail. I was the first to arrive, but within minutes six other runners congregated in the parking lot. It was dark, but I was still able to identify my running companions: six moms (four of us mothers of four children), all in our 30s, clad in form fitting running apparel.

Once everyone was present, we took off down the trail, running two or three in a row. The pace was brisk, and the conversation lively. Some of us were dear friends, others new acquaintances, but we all found common ground to land the discussion: good babysitters, cleaning tips, school bus woes, and so forth.

As the miles went by, the group began to taper, until our posse had dwindled to three. We were acquaintances, but with each pound of the pavement we were moving our way towards friends.

One of the moms shared her father's (a workout fanatic) advice: all runners must have a purpose when they run. We all pondered his comment, sharing our thoughts.

It made me think. Why exactly do I arise at the crack of dawn, to sweat like crazy with five other women I barely know? Of course, I run to reduce stress, and it sure helps to lose some of those pregnancy pounds. But the truth is, running provides a forum for companionship and a springboard for friendship. I run with these other women because that's why they're out there too.

We were helping our bodies during the run, but I think the biggest benefits went to our hearts!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chaos in the Carpool

Chris and Caleb wearing matching shirts!

I've just discovered a new torture technique for the military, more effective than water torture or sleep deprivation: chauffeuring five kids in a carpool. Yesterday I did just that, and I'm not sure I'll ever be the same! I think part of the problem was four of the passengers were related, and as you know siblings know just what buttons to push on each other.

Cooper is particularly "gifted" in pushing brothers' buttons. He has the unique ability to never actually touch another sibling, but bug them enough that they finally snap. Then the disgruntled sibling lashes out at Cooper in one way or another. Cooper erupts into tears, and feigns surprise with the outcome. (Deep down I know it's wrong, but Cooper sort of had it coming!)

Yesterday was one of Cooper's performances. Collin was sitting in the middle with our carpool friend five-year old Grace. The three older boys were sitting shoulder to shoulder in the back row. A few minutes into our commute, Cooper starts leaning towards Caleb.

Caleb (not one to let things slide): "Cooper's leaning on me."

Me: "Cooper quit leaning on Caleb. Sit up straight."

Cooper sits up straight and starts to look directly at Caleb and blows in his face.

Caleb (with tensions rising): "Cooper's breathing on me."

Me: "Cooper, stop breathing on Caleb."

Cooper stops breathing on him, but then moves on to swing his legs in close proximity to Caleb's shins.

Caleb (completely flustered): "Cooper's trying to kick me."

Me: "Cooper, don't kick your brother."

At this point, Connor decides to join the fray too, not one to be left out.

After several exchanges like this, I could feel my blood pressure start to boil and my fingers clutching the wheel with pure frustration. Just at the point where I thought I'd explode, I started to....laugh. Not just giggle, but howl almost to the point of tears. The whole scene was actually pretty funny: Grace looking bewildered, Collin acting like nothing was happening (as the youngest of four boys he's used to all this), and total and utter chaos in the back row. It was hilarious.

Then I laughed even harder when I thought how my mom would feel witnessing this scene. I'm sure she would laugh too, reflecting back on my childhood and all the torture I inflicted on my younger siblings in the car. After a few chuckles, she would utter, "Finally, payback!"