Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cafeteria Concerns

The boys and I enjoyed a play date with Aunt Heather and cousins Will and Caroline.

The weather has been unseasonably warm. So warm that the boys can run around outside without coats. Of course, Cooper pleaded to throw on his swimsuit.

Caleb had an appointment this morning that took him out of school until lunch time. When we returned, I escorted him into the cafeteria. The room was buzzing with students and activity. We quickly spotted his third grade class in the back of the room. One of his teachers had already unpacked her lunch. An ensemble of girls found seats next to her. The boys gravitated towards the other end of the table.

Caleb took in the scene with much anxiety. He rushed over to the teacher and asked where his friend was sitting. Caleb's friend was absent. Fear seemed to grip Caleb. He quickly zoned in on another familiar face and glued himself to his classmate. They plopped down at the end of the table. Caleb wolfed down his lunch.

I watched the scene with a mixture of sadness and trepidation. Caleb looked like a fish out of water. I wanted so much to encase him in bubble wrap and protect him from all the stings and uncomfortableness of life. I pondered swooping in and returning him to the safe confines of home.

Instead, I left him at the cafeteria table and forced myself not to look back. I prayed let him just make one really good friend today. One friend would make the cafeteria a much friendlier place.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Well Loved

Remembering one of the truly magical moments of parenting!

A few weeks ago, a leaky toilet damaged the floor in an upstair's bathroom. We were forced to uproot the damaged flooring and replace it with brand new linoleum. For the last few weeks, we've admired our new pristine floor... until tonight.

As I was putting boys to bed, I rushed into the bathroom to assist with teeth brushing. I glanced at the floor in horror; navy blue ink spots blanketed the linoleum. One son rushed in behind me and quickly explained his ballpoint pen had exploded all over the floor. He had an "oopsy daisy" sort of expression as he professed his sorrow and assured us it was an accident. It was one of those parenting moments where I really just needed a minute to take a few deep, yoga breaths and count to ten.

After I composed myself, I rushed to the computer. I Googled "How to remove pen from linoleum." (I really wanted to Google, "How to keep calm when your children seem to damage every last morsel of your home.") Google equipped me with remedies and I rushed into the bathroom clutching bottles of hairspray, rubbing alcohol, and nail polish remover. What I assumed would be a minor cleanup turned into an over hour endeavor.

When I first started scrubbing, I was angry. I even questioned what life would be like if we had remained childless. Surely, I wouldn't be huddled over a linoleum floor rubbing out pen marks. I imagined my only stress would be which book to read or what TV program to record. Darn kids, I muttered.

But, as I continued to rub, I really reflected on parenthood. Before I held my first baby, I never imagined parenting to be so messy, imperfect, and hard. But despite all its challenges, I would never trade being a mother for pristine floors or an immaculate house.

As my cleaning supplies dwindled, I glanced at the floor. A few ink spots still dot the linoleum. The floor is no longer perfect. I think I'll refer to it as well-loved.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Boys Club

Look up...zip liners

The boys had a blast walking around the Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis with some friends.

Caleb modeling his first official shirt and tie.

This afternoon, we took Caleb to buy his first shirt and tie. My husband selected a handful of ties and escorted him into the fitting room. He fiddled with the knot and offered Caleb a couple of tips. I watched my husband's demeanor; he seemed to sense that this was one of those monumental father-son moments and savored their shared experience. I imagined Chris would have lots of these moments with the boys in the future. I envisioned my husband providing teenage shaving lessons, dispensing dating tips, and offering marriage proposal pep talks. As happy as I was for Chris, a little part of me hurt. The advice fathers give their sons often can't be replicated by their mothers. That, I know.

I keep reminding myself being the only girl in a family has its benefits. I avoid the trips with the boys to public potties. I'm not asked to coach the teams. Strangers tell me I'm the "princess" in the house. But the thing is, most days I don't want to be the princess as much as part of the group.

Usually the boys look past my gender and adopt me into their male world, but on a day like today our differences emerge. I stand at the door, looking in, blaming my tiara for blocking the entrance.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Accomplishments of Parenthood

Cooper started swim lessons at the high school. He looks so official!

I volunteered in Cooper's preschool class today. I was amazed by how calm he was in the classroom. He must store up all his energy and release it at home.

Yesterday, Caleb looked at me and said, "Mom, your kids are your greatest accomplishments."

I snorted. His comments couldn't have hit me at a worse time. After the last few days, I'm not feeling so "accomplished" as I've hit a rough patch in parenting.

Today was better. I'm feeling a little more "accomplished."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Forgotten Fourth Borns

Collin's birthday began with present opening. Suddenly, his three big brothers were SO interested in him.

Collin invited three friends over for a pizza and cupcake lunch (two friends brought a big sibling).

In pure-Collin style, we served a Batman cupcake cake.

Little friends hovered around the cake, eagerly awaiting a piece.

The cake was enjoyed and devoured!

Opening a few goodies.

After all his friends left, I took the two boys to the Holliday Park Nature Center. Collin looks a little spooked by the snake (me too!).

I've come to the conclusion, fourth borns have a very different birthday experience than their older siblings.

With my first son, birthdays were such a big deal. I spent more time preparing for his first birthday than I did writing my law school admissions essay. I handmade invitations and delivered them to practically everyone we knew. I whipped up a small feast and ordered a gorgeous vanilla buttercream birthday cake. A crowd packed into our tiny house and hovered around the birthday boy eagerly watching his every move.

Flash forward three boys and almost a decade and birthday celebrating has changed. Yesterday, fourth born Collin celebrated his birthday in a more subdued fashion. With the business of life, I plumb forgot about a birthday party until days before. With no time to make or send out invitations, I phoned a few parents. The night before the party, I searched the house for anything resembling a party craft or game. An hour before the party, I still didn't have a solid plan. The kids mostly played and then devoured a Costco pizza topped off with a Target birthday cake.

Reflecting on the different experiences, I questioned, "Do fourth borns have it worse?" Someday, will Collin lounge on a therapist's couch and lament the fact that he didn't have the same caliber of birthday party as his older brothers? Will he flip through his baby book and gasp when he scans the meager entries? Will he wonder why his photo album jumps from a few baby pictures to his high school graduation photo?


But, I hope one day he'll understand he was loved just as much, cared for just as deeply, but celebrated differently.

I'm imagine when he becomes a parent he'll understand.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thinking of Two

Collin and I celebrated our birthdays (two days apart) with one birthday cake. The boys picked out a delicious cake.

Chris and I got a sitter to celebrate my birthday. I love this picture because it shows our laundry baskets in the background. Unfortunately, laundry doesn't take a birthday break!

This morning, I opened his door and peered through the darkness. A little figure shot up in bed. I crept over to his dresser and snapped on the light. I gazed at two-year-old Collin, my baby. He rubbed his eyes, smiled, and then outstretched his hands. He murmured "mama." I scooped him into my arms and stroked his hair.

Today, I lingered over hugs and cuddles as it was the last morning I will hold a two-year-old. Tomorrow, Collin turns three. He'll be a big boy, he tells me. I nod my head in agreement while inwardly grieving the fact he's one year older.

Leaving the twos is hard for me. I'm probably the only mom in the world that absolutely adores two-year-olds. The year a child turns two, the world seems to open up to them. They learn to speak and certainly say the "darndest things." The best is when they say "mama" and later "I love you." Two-year-olds become more aware of the people in their lives. They start to play with other children and even develop favorite playmates. Personalities emerge at two-years-old. They express preferences and obsessions materialize (think Thomas the Train, or in our case...Batman).

Of course, two-year-olds are not without challenges. With a stronger voice and emerging personality, they ensure anyone and everyone is aware of how they feel about anything and everything. They'll wage war on car seats, coats, vegetables, and bedtimes. They'll explore the world, but not in the way envisioned, like by marking up couches with pen and spreading lipstick on mirrors.

At least, that describes my two-year-old.

Just when I'm tired of two-year-olds, he'll outstretch his arms and coo "cuddle me." I'll hold him and whisper "stay two forever."

He doesn't listen.

Suddenly, he's three.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Playdate with Papa

Since Papa has retired, he's enjoyed some babysitting gigs. Yesterday, he even did it alone. Collin was pleased to have a "play date" with Papa.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Still Love the Christmas Tree

It's mid-January and our Christmas tree still stands in our living room. The lights still twinkle among the naked branches. The angel perched on top now hangs to the side. It's Chris's job too tear down the tree, but long hours in the ER have left him bleary-eyed with little energy to tackle anything else.

Truth be told, I don't mind that the tree still stands. I'm the sort that never really tires of the Christmas tree. I truly wouldn't mind if come April we were hiding Easter eggs among the branches.

Why I love the Christmas tree, even now, hit me when we took all four boys to a furniture store (a harrowing, not recommended, experience). My blood pressure rose as I ensured little boys didn't dirty pristine furniture or shatter breakable knick knacks. Just as I was starting to sweat, a grey-haired gentleman approached our crew. He smiled and announced he was one of nine brothers. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, "We had crazy times, but the Christmases were the best. They were truly wonderful." His expression softened and I imagined he was reflecting back on happy memories of the Christmas trees of his youth.

That's why I love the Christmas tree. It transports me back to those Christmas Day memories of four little boys darting down the stairs, gazing wide-eyed at a sparkling tree brimming with presents. Then watching as the scenery changes around the tree; the room fills with torn wrapping paper, discarded boxes, unwrapped goodies. Four little giddy boys sit in the shadows of the tree, their smiles sparkling as brightly as the tree.

I know it's time for the Christmas tree to hibernate.

I keep reminding myself the magic of the tree remains whether I see it or not.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dinner: The Perfect Storm

Connor was thrilled to have friend, Brock, over for a play date.

The kids enjoyed bowling on Martin Luther King Day.

The boys' latest invention: a bungee cord jump.

It was the perfect storm: four cranky boys converging around the dinner table. A few of the boys were bleary-eyed (one who bypassed a nap and another recovering from a sleepover). And, the son who craves routine survived a day filled with variation. The final son, well, he doesn't require much to enter a fray.

Their moods went from bad to worse when I unveiled dinner: pork roast. One son gazed at the steamy platter and declared it "a giant squid, cut in half and cooked." Another son accused me of inflicting "torture treatments." Just like that, the waves began to crash. It erupted into mischief, mayhem, and misconduct. I could literally feel my hair graying strand by strand during the whole ordeal.

As the meal crashed to a close, I sat hunched over the table with tears of frustration welling up in my eyes. Caleb glanced in my direction and mumbled, "Sorry for being mean and stuff."

I was flabbergasted, how very un-Caleb like. My tears of frustration turned to tears of gratitude. I said, "Caleb, I'm so touched by what you said and...."

He stopped me mid-gush, "Don't expect this to become a routine."

I'll take what I can get. It was the rainbow after the storm.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Brother Slumber Party

Caleb and friend, Dennis, enjoy spraying the snow with a colored water mixture.

For days, the three little boys begged to have a sleepover. Tonight, I acquiesced. They beamed as each boy tugged a sleeping bag onto the floor. They lined up their bags in one little row with their heads facing the same direction. For some time I heard little voices and endless giggles. Now, the room is silent. I glance at the scene, three slumbering brothers nestled together, and I feel grateful. I'm so glad they have each other.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Precious moments

Connor's Boys and Girls' Club Team poses after their last game. Connor proudly displays his new trophy.

Tonight, Connor pulled me aside and asked if we could go to the store. When I questioned his request, he whispered, "I want to go get Collin a birthday present. I'll use my allowance."

It really touched me. So many times, I referee their squabbles and then nurse physical and emotional wounds inflicted by an angry sibling. Those moments where they are tender towards each other are truly precious.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coat Conflict

Caleb's third grade class is required to learn guitar. Perhaps the next Jimi Hendrix?

It's going to be a long winter. We barely have a toe in January and I'm ready for spring. I suppose my biggest frustration is my daily battle between the boys and their coats. It's funny, I have one son that refuses to take it off, and three others that refuse to put it on. As the weather has chilled, it's the three abstainers that provide me with the most grief.

I've tried everything. I've tried to give them a little control, letting them select which coat they'd like to wear. Of course, they picked the lightest, most inappropriate jacket possible. While everyone else was wearing parkas, they were clad in breezy raincoats.

Then, I tried logical parenting: they'll realize it's cold without a coat and put one on without my intervention. The thing is, they never seemed to get cold. Really, I think they'd rather have a full blown case of hypothermia than confirm their mother's right. So, they pranced around outside, clad in skimpy t-shirts and light weight pants. They smiled and act as if it was downright tropical. I cringed my teeth.

Finally, I decided coats were not optional. They looked at me as if I just declared war. Battle lines were drawn. Alliances were formed. Both sides stood ground. Finally, mom victory was had. Three little boys surrendered and pulled on their coats. Clad in winter gear, they begrudgingly piled into the car. Within seconds, they were shedding their jackets.

One broke the silence, "You didn't say how long we had to wear our coats?"

Did I mention it's going to be a long winter?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cooper: One of a Kind

The little boys and I made homemade cookies today. Our sole goal was to make more than we eat.

Recently, I was asked to write about one of my sons. Here's what I wrote about Cooper:

When I first gazed at my third son, Cooper, I was shocked. He looked nothing like his two older brothers. The most striking difference was his full head of jet-black hair. He arrived looking a bit like Don King with unruly tresses that seemed to defy gravity. Despite all our attempts at proper primping, his rebellious locks always seemed to fan out from his scalp in a peacock like fashion.

He was also smaller than his older siblings: the tiniest in birth weight and the shortest in stature. At first I worried that his more petite physique could prove to be his handicap, especially in the inevitable scuffle with his older brothers. But as his personality emerged, I realized his innate moxie more than made up for any physical shortcomings. Cooper exhibited a fearlessness, curiosity and ingenuity on par with the likes of Evil Knievel or a Flying Wallenda. He’s what strangers refer to as “spirited,” “all boy,” or “spunky.”

He’s the one that taught me to quit asking “Why?” He’s the one that hurled a golf ball into a one-week old plasma TV. He’s the one that dove into the wishing well at the park. He’s the one that propped the skateboard on the top of the play set slide. Then as my heart skipped a beat, he whizzed down the slide screeching in pure delight. He’s the one that created the human pinball machine by convincing his little brother to stand at the base of the stairs, while he stood at the top clutching my large plastic exercise ball. Then, he erupted into giggles as the ball plummeted into his unsuspected brother. Need I go on? I didn’t even mention the homemade zip lines or the creation of the world’s largest sling-shot. Another time, perhaps.

And, just when my fingers are inches away from wringing his neck, Cooper breaks out into his signature fifty-watt smile. It’s the sort of smile that radiates from his mouth and lands in the twinkle in his eye. Then, he erupts into giggles, the sort of full belly kind that’s highly contagious.

I smile, then giggle, and then question, “Now, what did he do again?”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lessons in Self Control

Collin taking advantage of one of the particularly warm days recently.

The boys and I exited from church. As we meandered across the parking lot and into our car, their behavior began to unravel. First, one boy snatched a book from another brother's hand. Then, angry words were exchanged. Finally, threats were uttered. I raised my voice in a volume only appropriate for a crowded nightclub. I sighed and glanced through my windshield at the church's steeple just inches away.

Caleb, engrossed in his own book, yells, "Mom, did I tell you Sunday School was about self control today? They suggested taking deep breaths."

I busted out laughing and thanked Caleb for the tips.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sunny Days

For January in Indiana, the weather has been downright tropical. The temperatures rose past 50 degrees with blue, clear skies.

Cooper said, "It feels like we're at the beach."

I suppose after experiencing snow and frigid temperatures just days early, it certainly felt sultry.

The next question came at no surprise. Cooper pleaded "Can we get out the pool?"

No, the boys weren't wearing swimsuits, but they enjoyed spending lots of time outdoors. Today, the sunshine provided a wonderful backdrop for a day trip to Columbus.

We keep crossing our fingers that this weather lasts.