Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy Helpers

I've read the parenting books and heard the experts encourage child participation in household chores and activities. In my heart I know this is a good idea, but my inner "Monica" (as a reference to the beloved neat-freak on Friends) is still warming up to the idea. Last night I let the boys "help" me put dishes in the dishwasher. I was busy packaging up food and not fully monitoring my helpers. After a few minutes, I heard Connor proclaim, "Good thing we're wearing swimsuits." My inner voice uttered, "Just remember they're helping." I tried to plaster a grin on my face as I examined the damage. It was just how I imagined, water blanketed the sinks, walls and counters. I'm still not sure how they practically flooded the kitchen and still managed to place food encrusted plates and utensils in the dishwasher.

I decided not to let yesterday's washout deter me from encouraging the boys to help out more around the house. Today the boys "assisted" me in packing for Spring Break. I gathered the boys and requested their assistance in the packing process. They were thrilled. Cooper sprinted to his dresser and dumped a mismatch of clothes on the floor. I'm not even sure if there was a pair of shorts or underwear in the pile. I could see him thinking, "That should do it." He then grabbed his backpack and proceeded on to (in his mind) the most important part of packing: the toys. Cooper stuffed his backpack with a slew of toys. The pack's fabric looked like it was about to burst at the seams. Big brother Connor thought Cooper had a fabulous idea. He too loaded a backpack with as many random toys as he could find. At this point I could tell the packing was going nowhere and fast.

I've learned a lesson from the last two days. Children should be encouraged to help, but moms like me should be prepared for what help they will get.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Squirrels are better than swings

I took three boys to our local park this afternoon. It was a beautiful day and we wanted to take advantage of the sunshine. Our park has amazing play equipment: a plethora of swings, slides and monkey bars. The boys had more than enough recreational apparatuses to keep them occupied. However, I wasn't surprised to see them engaged in the play equipment for only a few minutes before they moved on to their true passions: sticks, rocks and park animals.

They moved to sticks first. The beauty of sticks is their uses are endless. The boys first just enjoyed picking them up. The bigger the stick, the more fun it is to move. Then they threw the sticks. Merely tossing a fallen birch branch made the boys absolutely giddy.

After the sticks, the boys moved on to rocks. Again, my boys can spend hours hurling rocks just about anywhere (except at each other! We've had to work on that.)

After the rocks, Cooper noticed the park was full of squirrels. These furry creatures looked like loads of fun and the perfect pet. Cooper would sit and watch a nearby squirrel. Just when the squirrel was feeling confident that this kid was involved with sticks and rocks and was not the least bit interested in him, Cooper would pounce. Cooper would make a flying leap towards the direction of the squirrel. I can just imagine the squirrel seeing his life flash before his eyes as a three year old boy was barreling towards him. Of course the squirrel would begin to scamper away from this crazed three year old. This didn't stop Cooper, he would sprint after the (now) petrified squirrel. Each squirrel was just a wee bit faster than Cooper but this didn't stop Cooper from make every attempt to befriend his furry pals for the remainder of our time in the park.

I'm glad we enjoyed some time at the park, but I think we could have experienced the same fun at home.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cooper the Captive

Tonight we (just the boys and I) went to my nephew's birthday party. After filling their bellies with party food, brownie birthday cake and sugary drinks, we headed for home. We were only a couple of miles into our journey when two boys announced the need for a bathroom. I wasn't surprised. Historically this announcement is made with no warning and at a time when restroom facilities are by no means convenient. I immediately pulled into a Subway's parking lot. Caleb and Cooper jumped out of the car. I asked Caleb to help his brother in the restroom. As I was making this request my inner voice was saying, "This is not a good idea." I ignored all internal warning bells and watched the boys scamper into the restaurant and make a beeline for the restroom. I stood by the car monitoring the remaining boys with a birds eye view of the restroom door.

A few minutes later Caleb emerged from the door without his little brother. He reached the car and announced that Cooper wanted to go by himself. My inner voice smugly shouted, "I told you so." We reentered the restaurant and I attempted to retrieve Cooper from the restroom. The door was locked. I said, "Hey sweetie, unlock the door so we can go home." The knob shifted slightly and then a little voice answered, "I can't." I repeated my request and received the same answer. At this point customers and employees were becoming aware of the situation.

A group started to congregate around the bathroom door. They say, "Adversity brings people closer together." No statement could ring more true at that moment. Customers and employees stood side by side uttering encouraging words and offering tips to retrieve my captive three year old. All of our coaxing and instructions appeared to be in vain.

Moving on to Plan B, one of the Subway employees brought out a metal instrument about the size of my arm. It looked like something you could use to pick a car lock. (I was a little concerned that he had this instrument so readily available!) After several minutes of fidgeting with the lock, we heard a click, the knob rotated and the door swung open. The crowd gazed into the small room. We were fully prepared to see a petrified three year old boy huddled in the corner. Everyone was surprised (except for me) to see Cooper, happy as a clam, entertaining himself with the trash. I snatched Cooper up and commanded him to apologize to the Subway crew. He expressed his remorse and we exited the restaurant, heads held low (at least mine).

It was quite an experience, but isn't every day?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Bench Party

Our neighborhood has several benches strategically placed along the sidewalks. I'm not sure if the benches serve any actual purpose. I've never seen a jogger sit on the bench to catch his breath. I've never seen the school bus pull up to a bench full of waiting children quietly resting on the bench. I've only seen the benches used as a congregation point for the seven and under crowd. They prop their bikes against the bench. They pile their toys on the bench. They stand, leap and crawl along the bench.

Today the boys attended an impromptu "bench party." My neighbor, Ms. Inman, owns the house directly in front of the bench. The neighborhood kids had congregated around the bench. Some were kicking balls near the bench. Some were circling the bench on their bikes. Cooper was hanging from a tree behind the bench (shocking, right?). Caleb and Connor were fighting over a flipper in front of the bench (I don't know why either!). Then Ms. Inman emerged from her house carrying a pitcher and plastic cups. The kids grew quiet in anticipation of what liquid may be housed within the walls of the pitcher. Ms. Inman poured the first cup and a bright red substance filled the glass. There was a gasp. It was Kool-aid: a substance that contained no actual fruit, vegetable or nutritional value. The kids were ecstatic. They guzzled the sugary substance down in a matter of seconds and Ms. Inman actually allowed them a second round!

The bench party even got better. After the sugary substance had been consumed Ms. Inman returned to the bench with her final course, the grand finale: pushup pops. The kids could hardly contain their excitement: Kool-aid and push-up pops! At that moment, I think my kids were seriously contemplating asking Ms. Inman to adopt them. The push-up pops were a huge hit. The kids devoured the pops leaving orange streaks on their face, arms and clothes.

The boys had little appetite for dinner tonight. But, there's something to be said about childhood memories of Kool-aid, push-up pops, benches and friends.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

That Mom

I was that mom today. The mom who got everyone ready for the day but herself. (Therefore, the mom who ended up in sweats all day!) The mom whose one year old smeared peanut butter all over her (amazingly) clean shirt. (I was nervous to be around anyone with a peanut allergy!) The mom who wore pants blanketed with applesauce remnants from standing in direct proximity of a plunging applesauce container. The mom who received a bad report from her son's school and left the carpool line quite distressed. The mom who fully intended to keep a tidy house but ended up with a counter full of "stuff." The mom who sought to make a wonderful homemade dinner but served her family defrosted cuisine and leftovers. The mom who wished she had used softer tones and more encouraging words to her kids. The mom who intended to go to bed hours ago but knew dishes, dirt and laundry don't magical disappear overnight.

The mom who is hoping tomorrow she will be that mom. You know, the mom she aspires to me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Blessing of Mom Friends

I'm extremely grateful to have "mom" friends. The friends who understand firsthand the joys, challenges and stresses of raising little kids while keeping everything else together, including the friendship. My friend, Ali, is one such friend. Our motherhood journeys are so similar they almost converge: both moms of four, children almost identical in age, ER doc husbands, and fellow runners. It was a connection from the beginning. Fortunately the friendship has only grown stronger as we've dug deeper into each other's lives during playdates, early morning runs and phone calls from the car in the midst of ferrying our kids between activities.

This morning Ali and I enjoyed an early morning run, kid free! We laughed at silly stories and shared recent events in our family's lives. At the end of our run, Ali asked if Caleb could accompany her son, Cole, to a movie at his school. I was touched, almost to the point of tears. You see, Ali knows this invitation is a big deal. She knows Caleb doesn't receive many such requests. To me, Ali's invitation means she doesn't see Caleb as a diagnosis or slew of symptoms. She views him as a seven year old boy that likes movies and could experience that with some peers.

It makes me realize the best friends are the ones who can do the littlest things that make the biggest impact!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Carousel Approach to Motherhood

Chris was working another Sunday shift, leaving mom and the boys at home. The boys were itching to get out of the house and pleas were made to make a jaunt down to the Children's Museum. Seeing the need for them to expend some energy, I agreed. We loaded up the van and the five of us made the trek to the museum.

The museum was packed. I should have known:

spring break + rainy day + cold temps + Big Ten tournament in town = lots and lots of people

Monitoring four boys at the Children's Museum alone on any day can cause a little apprehension. (Haven't we all watched a child abduction segment on Dateline a time or two?) But, watching four boys alone at the museum on a busy day can be maddening. I spent the majority of the time at the museum counting to four. Once I found four heads I breathed a sigh of relief for at least a minute and then the counting resumed. I felt like I was constantly shouting, "Stay with your brother," "Did you tell me where you're going?" and "Don't move until I find ____."

We made it through the museum and at the end of our afternoon the boys wanted to ride on the carousel. The boys patiently waited for our turn to enter. Once the attendant gave them the green light, they burst onto the ride. I permitted each boy to select their seat. Caleb chose a moveable horse, Connor a stationary stallion, Cooper a bench (I'm surprised too!) and Collin rode with me on a horse adjacent to Connor. The carousel began to spin and the organ music accompanied the rotation. Four smiles emerged as the movement and music grew in intensity.

At that moment I thought about the carousel and what I had to learn from the experience. No one rides on a carousel to get to a destination. You ride on a carousel to experience the joy of the ride: the sounds, the sights and the squeals. I need to take more of the "carousel" approach to motherhood. Quite frequently I'm consumed with arriving at a destination, be it the next meal, the next activity, the next stage, etc. While yearning for the destination, I'm not taking the time to enjoy the "ride."

I decided life might not be so bad when it seems like I'm just running around in circles, as long as I'm finding the joy in the rotation.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Purple is not Blue

Yesterday Cooper started his second session of the storytime class at our local library. He is enrolled in the three year old class taught by Ms. Laura. Ms. Laura is the head librarian. She is a whiz at identifying call numbers and can recite every book ever written by Eric Carle, but I'm not sure she adores working with three year olds. Three year olds (especially a class of them) can be difficult to manage when you're the type of person that prefers order over chaos.

This session's class consisted of about 15 three year olds. This group appeared to be veterans. They knew to sit, listen and participate. Then there was Cooper. He has made drastic improvements in remaining stationary while listening to books and recitations of poems and songs. However, he is still Cooper: busy, fearless and opinionated.

The class began well. The kids belted out Hickory Dickory Dock and The Grand Old Duke of York. After song time, we moved on to acting out Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Ms. Laura assigned each child a role with a matching figurine. She began to designate parts. When she came to Cooper, she announced he would be playing the purple cat and presented him with the plum feline.

Something you should know about Cooper is that his world is monochromatic. He's crazy about the color blue. His clothes are blue. His toys are mostly blue. He colors in blue. He knows purple is not his color. I could see the little wheels in his head turning, "Doesn't she know that I don't do purple? I do blue. Well, I'll fix her mistake and snag the role of the blue horse." One problem: the part of the blue horse had already been assigned to Sam. And, Sam was perfectly happy with the blue horse and not the least bit interested in swapping the purple cat for the blue horse.

Cooper was not going to take Ms. Laura's "oversight" lying down. He informed her of her mistake and voiced his disdain for her selection process. At the end of his diatribe, he hurled the plum feline towards the wall.

Of course I was embarrassed, I scooped up my angry son and shuffled him into the restroom. After a few minutes, the purple cat was forgotten. The tears had subsided. Consequences were established.

Ms. Laura and I discussed the cat hurling incident afterwards. We both acknowledged launching the creature against the wall was a poor choice. However, she was kind and reminded me of the progress Cooper had made since his days as a two year old Storytime participant. She encouraged me to keep moving forward and focusing on what he is doing right.

We'll be back for week two. Hopefully no animals will be harmed next time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Weather to celebrate

Yesterday we experienced something we haven't felt in months: 60 degrees! It was like the plug was pulled on winter and spring rushed in to claim its spot. Neighbors emerged from their winter cocoons. In those months, babies converted into toddlers. Preteens transformed into teenagers. Neighbors swapped stories from their dormant winter months. Adolescents relished the time with neighbor friends unseen since the first snow touched the ground months before.

My boys loved it! We spent hours basking in the (gasp) sunshine and mild weather. They played pirates and good guys for awhile. The Wood boys snatched the good guy roles. In case you're wondering what a good guy wears, here's their version: a tennis racket stuffed in the neck of their shirt so the racket head cradles their skull, bike pads adhered to their forearms, winter boots adorned their feet, bike helmets rested on their noggin, and their hands clutched a weapon (a.k.a. stick).

As they were happily playing, I began to chat with a neighbor. We were in the middle of our discussion when she began to laugh. I turned around to see that the boys had ditched their good guy garb for their swimsuits. You see, the boys get excited when the temperature breaks 40 because they believe that indicates swimsuit season has begun. The boys were quite a sight running around in their swimtrunks while ice and snow patches still inhabited portions of our driveway and lawn. But, they were having a blast.

After four months sequestered in the house, I didn't stop the bathing suit frolicking. They were celebrating, spring has sprung. If I was under five I might be wearing a swimsuit too, jumping over the ice and bypassing the snow!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Letter of Explanation

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sunday School Teacher:

I wanted to write a letter to explain my children's appearances at Sunday School this morning. You see, I did church and church preparation alone this morning (hubby was working). There's four of them and one of me. You see the problem, right!?

The morning started out great. I awoke before the boys and prepared their favorite breakfast: chocolate chip pancakes. The boys devoured the hotcakes and then agreeably returned to their rooms to exchange their pajamas for church clothes. Church clothes tend to be a real hot button issue for the boys. It's no small feat to get them to trade their superhero embellished shirts for collared and button up garb. I don't know if it was the pancakes or something else, but they agreeably slipped into their nice church duds.

I was beginning to feel confident that we would actually arrive at church on time and dressed appropriately. I was the last member of the family to get ready. On a day like today, when I'm doing it alone, prep time is minimal. I slap on some deodorant, run a brush through my hair and try to throw on just enough makeup to conceal those wrinkles. I instructed the boys to play nicely and I quickly pulled myself together for church.

About ten minutes later I emerged from the bedroom. I was shocked to see the boys' appearances had been altered during my short hiatus. While I was primping they decided to forgo the legos and books. Instead they decided to color with permanent black marker (fortunately on paper) while helping themselves to a second round of gooey chocolately pancakes. Their crisp clean shirts were now covered in black marks and streaks. Blotchy chocolate smudges adorned their hands, face and clothing. And, I think Cooper took those few moments to rearrange his hair to resemble a peacock.

A wet rag removed the smudges from all body parts. Time constraints meant the soiled clothes would have to be worn to church and the hair would remain.

I know you must have been a little surprised to see their disheveled appearance. Just know attempts were made to bring clean, well dressed boys to church. But, I think God just wants them to be at church, regardless of whether they're wearing spotless khakis or perfectly coiffed hair. The boys were there and that was enough for today.

Hope things go better next week!

Yours-

Wood Boys' Mom

Friday, March 5, 2010

Contagious Kindness

I'm a routine gal. Friday mornings are reserved for grocery shopping. I selected Friday mornings because two kids are in school, meaning only two boy will accompany me throughout my shopping. The opportunity to bring just two kids to the grocery store increase the odds that I can actually make it through the store without any sort of incident or meltdown (I said increase not diminish!).

This morning I attempted a double-header: Target and Costco. I was pleasantly surprised that the journey through both stores was relatively uneventful. By the time we hit Costco, I was starting to lose my momentum. I was rushing through the aisles attempting to finish the shopping before anyone (namely me) lost it.

I entered the Costco check out line. Three lanes were open with long lines flanking each cashier's station. I entered lane two. Soon several more carts held their position behind us in the queue. The line was moving steadily forward until the cart in front of me reached the cashier. The female patron was attempting to make some obscure tender of payment that left the cashier looking perplexed and flustered. The manager was called, and the matter was attempting to get resolved. In the mean time, lane two was in a tizzy. I could see the steam rising from the heads of all the frustrated and impatient consumers. Loud sighs and angry grumbling could be heard.

There was still room on the conveyor belt, so I decided to start unloading my wares hoping to speed up the process. I was holding an angry toddler on one hip while trying to maneuver a 64 oz. bag of frozen broccoli onto the belt. From the back of the line a little old man made his way to my cart. He was definitely from the Greatest Generation. I imagined he was a shell of what he use to look like. He asked me if he could help and then proceeded to lift my groceries onto the belt. At first I looked at him with amazement. I think I had a better chance of lifting him onto the belt then watch him hoist my three dozen eggs from the cart to the counter. But, he lifted each and every object until the cart was empty and my groceries lay ready to scan.

I could feel the line start to quiet and the customers watch first in amazement and then in admiration. The angry murmurs subsided. I heard people say, "Wow," "How kind," "What a help." The kindness he displayed was contagious. I turned around to witness smiles, kind words exchanged, and people looking for other ways to support their neighbor.

That man taught us all a lesson on kindness by hardly saying a word.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Come on Spring!

It has become apparent that the boys are in desperate need of spring. Cabin fever has hit big time in our house. It was a huge disappointment to the boys that March 1st did not immediately bring warm weather like they were anticipating.

Trying to release a little of that bottled up energy, I took two of the boys to the Trader's Point indoor playground. Trader's Point Christian Church is a huge church near our house. The church constructed a massive indoor playground within their facility and allows families (regardless of church affiliation) to play. The playarea is so extensive it makes McDonalds and Chick Fil A playareas seem petite. The good thing about Trader's Point is it's clean, it's kid friendly and it's FREE. That being said, it is a hot spot for local families.

The boys and I entered the playland about 10 a.m. Traders Point playland at 10 a.m. on a cold, winter morning is like happy hour for the under five crowd. The place was packed. The energy level over the top. I don't know what was bouncing higher: the kids or the balls. The walls were lined with moms (and an occasional dad) clutching a Starbucks or a McDonalds Diet Coke. They were conversing with the other moms and occasionally monitoring their toddlers at play. Periodically a mom would leave her wall post to break up a spat or change a diaper. Juice boxes flowed and goldfish containers lined the walls ready to be dispensed.

The boys (mostly Cooper) happily jumped into the mix. They raced up stairs, barreled down the slides, hurled the balls, grasped rope ladders, tumbled onto the mats, and ran like they had been sitting in the house for months.

It may not be spring yet, but today it felt closer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Race of Motherhood

This weekend was a first for me. I had my first girls only (no husband, no kids) weekend since being a mom. My friend, Claudia, and I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee to compete in a half marathon together. I've gladly referred to Claudia as one of my closest friends for almost a decade. My friendship with Claudia began when we were both still considered newlyweds. Our connection deepened when we experienced pregnancies and motherhood in tandem. My relationship with Claudia transcends potty training tips and discipline techniques, we both are avid, zealous, fervent, devoted runners.

Claudia zeal for running led her to make a personal goal to run a mini marathon in every state. She asked me to accompany her in a race. It took me about two second to say yes about 53 times. Fortunately, Chris and my parents were supportive and agreed to work as a team to oversee the boys and man the house for the weekend we were away.

On Friday, we made the journey down to Tennessee. Saturday morning we participated in the Scenic City Half Marathon. The course provided some spectacular scenery but definitely included a lot of inclines. (My mom was correct in stating scenic does not mean flat!) The cold weather and windy conditions added some additional hurdles, but running with Claudia made the race more successful and enjoyable. She cheered us onward as we crossed each mile marker. She encouraged me when I started to get tired and offered suggestions on ways to revamp my strides. She reminded me to focus on the runners ahead of us and work on continuing to advance forward. Even when I got really tired and told her to run ahead, she informed me we were running together and we'd finish together.

After the race, I thought about how similar my experiences have been with Claudia in our shared journey of motherhood. She has encouraged me when I hit each new parenting milestone. She's there to listen when the challenges of motherhood slow my stride and make me question my ability to move forward. She then provides advice that makes the trek seem a little less treacherous. She reminds me to keep my focus ahead as I'm maneuvering through difficult parenting passages. Finally, she assures me that we are running the race of motherhood together. We'll stick together throughout the race because this race is best completed as a team.