Saturday, September 29, 2012

If the World Only Came in Fours

"They need to know at some point that the world doesn't always come in fours," came the sage advice from my friend, a mom of four.

But how much easier life would be if things did come in fours:

-if four swings always sat unoccupied at the park,

-if four equal sized cookies always remained in the cookie jar,

-if four identical coveted books always rested on the library shelves,

-if we owned four of their favorite chairs/shirts/plates/blankets/(fill in the blank with any possible household good).

But life doesn't come in fours.

That I (and they) have learned the hard way.  

Today was one of those days were the world seemed unfair because it didn't come in fours.  A few days ago, I purchased a pack of headlamps from the store.  My intent was to use at least one of the lamps on my early morning (dark) runs.  When I picked up the item, I immediately spotted the issue.  Three headlamps came in the package.  Three!  My mind jumped into the future: three little boys running around the house with headlamps attached to their noggins, one wailing in the corner and bemoaning the injustice of it all.

But then I thought about my friends advice and decided they needed to learn.  I purchased the headlamps.

Just as I thought, when I unearthed the headlamps four boys begin to count.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four...what, no four?  The wheels began to spin: who would be the odd man out?  I admitted to my anxious sons that there was only three headlamps and that meant they would have to SHARE.  A few boys gasped.

At first, it was difficult.  I had to police the exact minutes (down to the second) every single boy had with every single light.  But after a while, they passed the lights around without much supervision (some even lost interest).

I think my friend's advice is right: they need to know life doesn't come in fours (but it's certainly easier when it does).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recalling the 20 miler

 Cooper poses with some of our new fall decor.

One of my running friends surprised me with a homemade apple cake.  Perfect post-run treat!

It all started out so pleasant.  My two running friends met me on the trail ready to run the Big Kahuna training run--a 20 miler.  For the first 13 miles, we were happy.  We exchanged funny stories, discussed favorite foods, shared running tips.  We talked about some other runners we knew that didn't talk while running.  We laughed and agreed we'd never be those runners. 

Then mile 14 arrived.

The laughter stopped.  In fact, all communication halted (remember us laughing at the other quiet runners?).  In silence, we panted and wheezed along the trail.  Finally, I cut through the hush.

"I think I've hit a mental wall," I whispered.

I could hear my two running friends let out a sigh of relief as they quickly agreed with my sentiments.  Then, we landed back in the silence and stayed that way for the final 6 miles.

During that time, a lot of things were running through my mind.

I first played the "Would I rather?" game in my head.

"Would I rather get trampled to death by a bull in Pamplona or run 20 miles?"

I'll take the bull.

"Would I rather contract a bad case of bed bugs AND head lice or run 20 miles?"

No question, the lice/bed bug combo.

"Would I rather be strung along by my toes behind the minivan on the highway at top speed or run 20 miles."

Highway, please.

After exhausted every possible scenario, I started to think about what word I would use to best describe the experience.  I thought about a recent book I read written by a physician.  She talked about a medical study that found patients in discomfort reported more of an alleviation from pain by saying curse words rather than any other substitute term (think darn verses @#?!).  Being the good Christian woman I am, I tried to chant those substitute words in my head, but found the study to be right (sadly).  Those gentler words didn't quite hold the same punch as the real thing.

Finally, we landed by our cars with 20 miles under our belt.  We all collapsed on a bench.

Emily said she almost passed out a few times.

Marie said every five miles a pain in her hip flared up.

I was too winded to even speak.

After a few minutes, I said, "So, see you next week for the same thing?"

Everyone nodded.

I'm hoping, like childbirth, the pain can be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Open Lines of Communication

A picture from the babysitters (the Grandparents) from the weekend.  They were even brave enough to take them all to a restaurant!

As mentioned in previous blogs, it has been a rough couple of weeks. Despite our difficulties, laughter still rings throughout the house.  We still have four boys that say and do "the darnedest things."

Connor and I had a major stand off over white chicken chili the other night.  He stuck his lip out and whimpered, "This is torture, not dinner"..and so our mealtime spiraled downward.

He eventually stuffed down a few bites and bolted from the table.  Clearly angry, I scrubbed the dinner dishes with a vengeance (perhaps they've never been so clean!).  After the last dish landed in the dishwasher, a guilt washed over me.  I felt the urge to reconnect with my son and erase whatever hard feelings lingered between us.

I crept up into his room and snagged a spot next to him on his top bunk.  We talked for a bit and I began to feel the bitterness wane.  In a better place, I whispered to Connor, "You know you can talk to me about anything.  If there's something going on, I'm always here to listen."

Connor perked up and he gazed into my eyes with intensity.

I prepared myself for whatever deep thoughts/concerns may be lurking in his mind.  Did he arrive at some deep theological epiphany? Did he want to talk about the birds and the bees?   

Connor cleared his throat and exuding as much passion as he could muster said, "I really don't like a cafeteria worker at school."

I said in stunned silence.  This is what he needed to talk about?  Clearly in my list of things I needed to get off my chest, this wouldn't rank high.  I almost couldn't stifle a giggle.  But in Connor's little world, this was major.

I listened to his rattle off his complaints about this man how he: 
-didn't let them talk even when his class was on the "green light,"   

-accused him of dropping a noodle on the floor, and

-talked too loud.

It certainly wasn't the discussion I was imaging, but I thought it was a start.  I'm imaging opening the lines of communication between child and parent is a process that happens over time.  It begins with a comfortability earned with (so-called) trivial talks but can lead to an openness with deeper discussions...or so I hope!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Discovering the Mercies in Trials

It seems fall has arrived.  I pulled out the autumn decorations and snagged a few pumpkins and mums to adorn the front porch.  The kids dipped apple slices in caramel sauce.  They  were excited about the arrival of fall.

This morning I strolled into my friend Melinda's house.  I was late for her Bible Study.  A dozen ladies lounged on armchairs and couches.  They looked up when they heard the door squeak and my foot steps patter across the floor.  I crept into an empty chair by the door and nodded to my friends.

Worship music swirled through the house.  The song was familiar; it was Laura Story's "Blessings."  I heard Story's soothing voice belt out, "What if trials in this life are mercies in disguise."

How fitting!  I certainly know a thing or two about trials as of late.  But classifying them as "mercies in disguise?"  

Just a few days ago, I would have whole-heartedly agreed with those lyrics and may even have thrown out that same line to a friend in crisis. But experiencing a plight personally makes such sentiments harder to digest.  As much as I'd like to scoff at those words, I've learned from the past, trials are not all bad (albeit still painful).  It's the manner we work through the trials and the good we find the midst of the trials where we glimpse at the mercies.

We're still swirling in the midst of our current trial, but the mercies I see are:

1)  A network of friends and family members that cloak us in prayers and surround us with love and encouragement.  We are so grateful.

2)  A deeper understanding and compassion for those other families struggling with issues, especially with special needs children.

3) A situation that rocks us so much that we're thrown onto our knees, praying with fervor and passionately reflecting on God's promises.

I don't know if the mercies are really in disguise as much as undiscovered.  

Today, I was grateful to discover the mercies.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Running Through Pure Michigan

 Beautiful Holland, Michigan.
 Pre-run, while it's still dry.
 Post-race reward meal at the Cottonwood Inn Bed and Breakfast.

 Displaying our medals.

 Beautiful (and cold) Lake Michigan
 We never tired of showing off.
 The boys joined us at Windmill Island.
 Love this photo.  Our boys braved the choppy Lake Michigan waves to secure an awesome view of the water.
Italian night, post race.

I've missed blogging. 

 Last week was rough for our family.  So difficult, that typing out the details seemed too painful.  Writing a chirpy blog post about anything other than the elephant in the room seemed phony.  So this blog sat dormant.

The timing of last week's stress was bad.  Everything went down right before Chris and I were scheduled to travel to Michigan with our friends, the Brinkruffs.  I voiced my concerns about leaving to our babysitters (my parents).  My mom was strong in her assertion that we needed some time away and they could handle everything just fine.  What I've learned from almost four decades as her daughter is that my mother knows what she's talking about and she often knows best.

Of course, she was right.  We needed a break.  Time with friends.  Time with each other.  Time to sleep.

The real point of the trip was a race.  Claudia and I competed in the Holland Park2Park Half Marathon on Saturday.  The race started out in beautiful cool conditions.  We ran through beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods and jogged alongside Lake Michigan.  As we neared the final stretch of the race, the sky darkened.  Thunder crashed in the distance.  Lightning flashed too.  Rain drizzled at first and then saturated the streets.  Hail followed.

I made it to the finish just to find out the race was black flagged.  Our times were treated as "unofficial" results.  Claudia was bummed (she got a PR!).  I was a little too, but just grateful we finished the race (in one piece).  

As I ran through those Michigan streets, I felt the stress of the last week diminish.  I thought about a quote I just read in Born to Run.  The author, Christopher McDougall said, "We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time.  And when things look the worst, we run the most."

I needed that run.


Thanks to my wonderful parents for watching the boys.  We so appreciate your help!

Thanks to our amazing friends for an awesome weekend!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Honey Boo Boo

Cooper models his "new" cold weather pajamas we unearthed from the hand-me-down box.  He was SO very excited.

After a seemingly long day, I collapsed on the couch and surfed an endless amounts of cable channels.  With the flick of a button, I landed on TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."  I paused, allowing myself just a moment to digest the show.  I've certainly heard plenty about this little reality show.  Just days before, I listened to talking heads debate the merits of the show versus the stereotypes perpetuated.  Each commentator expressed her opinions with as much fervor as if defending a tightly held religious belief.  My interest was piqued and it got me wondering: what is it about this show that brings out so much interest/disdain/adoration?

My moment watching the show turned into almost a half an hour.  I literally couldn't peel my eyes away from the screen.  I felt the same sensation I get when I ogle the racks of tabloids at the grocery store checkout counter; I know the content is fluffy and holds no intellectually redeeming qualities, but yet I can't seem to look away.

The show provided a glimpse into a red-neck family that certainly lives life in an unconventional fashion (at least to a middle-class midwesterner).  But the happiness exhibited from the family seemed genuine and deep.  As much as I wanted to hate it, I found the cast of characters quite endearing.  At times, I caught myself laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks.

As the show came to a close, Chris called for work.  I sheepishly admitted what I was watching.  He sighed, "That show will be the demise of our society."

Demise, I don't know.

Entertaining, yes.

But like the tabloids at the grocery store, every once in awhile I'll allow myself to peruse the contents, but I can bring myself to be a regular.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Marathon Mothering

 Cooper's soccer team.

We met our friends, the Coreys, at the playground.  The boys were so excited to help with their dog, Bella.

We met at an hour I can't even bear to type.  It was dark and the trail was barren; even the devout runners were still snoozing.  My fellow runners and I assembled a make-shift refueling station, littered with water bottles, power drinks, and energy chews.  With watches ready, we fell into stride, side-by-side, in two rows.

With the marathon inching closer, we settled in for a long run.  We ran. refueled. tinkled. ran.  refueled.  tinkled.  repeat.  repeat.  until at last we hit 18 miles.  

As we parted ways and I gingerly hobbled to my car, I realized the most grueling leg of my day had just began.  The moment where I turn from runner into mom...a tired mom at that.  For the rest of the day, I knew my job was to maintain that marathon mentality in my role as mother.  I needed to (cheerily) keep up my momentum for the rest of the day, even when tired and easily tempted to quit.

The first part of the day was easy.  With raging endorphins, I breezed through the morning.  Beaming, I escorted boys to a soccer match, pushed a toddler on a swing, and even attempted a little housework.

Then came the afternoon; my runner's high was beginning to wane.      Fights erupted between the boys.  A trail of mud snaked through our kitchen.  My husband left for work.  I began to putter out and desperately yearned to plop down on the couch in defeat.  

Finally, we landed at the bewitching hours.  Even when rested, this portion of the day can be cumbersome.  Ideally, I'd like four little boys to cooperatively scarf down dinner (even the veggies), bath thoroughly, and slip into bed with little fanfare.  But when tired boys mix with one exhausted mama, things don't always play out so smoothly.  Nonetheless, we made it through the evening and finally I tucked them into bed, feeling confident I reached the day's finish line.

Not so fast.

Two little boys reenergized.  

Just like that, I was back into the race.  

I hit the wall...big time.  

But that's why I train.  Marathoners train to run distance, even when tired, and I knew this race (mothering) was more important than anything I accomplish on the trail.  I pulled out my last burst of energy and made it through until the last boy landing in REM.

I finally collapsed on the couch, grateful for the recovery.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Free Range Parenting?

Enjoyed a birthday lunch with my childhood friend Erin.  It was the first time in a decade that we carved out time during the day without kids!

I was chatting with a girlfriend today and she brought up the topic of play dates.

She said, "Honestly, I don't know when people find time for play dates."

I agreed.  School nights are tricky between the homework and the activities.  Weekends can be just as dicey with games and other commitments.  Time for play dates?  Summer, maybe?

As I processed our conversation, I grew a little sad.  Aren't play dates a staple of childhood?  Shouldn't a schedule have enough wiggle room to allow kids to play with kids and to just be kids?

It got me thinking about a morning news segment I watched on free range parenting, a parenting style that discourages over-scheduled parenting and promotes more play (specifically unsupervised play).  Perhaps the author had a point.

Aiming to be more free range and less helicopter, I shuffled the boys outside (in between homework and scouts).  They raced around our play set and mingled with the neighbor girls.  They seemed happy, so I tackled the dinner dishes and sorted laundry.  Kids are suppose to be creative, happy and self-sufficient, says the free range advocate, so I purposely decided to leave the boys unsupervised in the yard.  After a little while, I grew anxious.  It was so quiet.  What exactly were they doing?  

Within minutes, Caleb came in and announced Cooper located the gas can in the garage.  I raced outside to reprimand Cooper.  That's when I found Collin clutching some nails.  Two boys were completely covered in mud.  Toys were littered out on the yard and in the garage.

I scanned the scene and thought about a quote from the free range parenting website, "We just also happen to believe that kids today are smarter and safer than society gives them credit for." 

Hmmm.  Maybe we're not quite there.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pet Owners for a Day

 Cooper and Collin gleefully displaying their new "pets."
Within a 12 hour period, both fish had passed.  Caleb insisted on placing a "historical marker" by the fish tank.

I left Chris alone with the boys for mere minutes at the Fall Festival.  Evidently that was enough time for two boys to become pet owners.  When we reunited, Connor and Cooper were beaming and each clutching plastic baggies filled with water and a carrot-colored goldfish.   

The $2 carnival acquisition of goldfish quickly morphed into a $50 visit to Petco.  I watched my husband leave the store clutching an evolve2 fish tank, a plastic palm tree, fish food, water cleaning solution, and baggie full of aquarium gravel.  Clearly Chris hoped the fish weren't merely passing through, but would stay awhile in a place they considered home.

Back at our house, my husband rigged up the aquarium and the boys huddled around the tank.  They didn't seem to tire in watching the fish float around the plastic palm and bob against the gravel.

As the evening went on, one fish grew sluggish.  Chris noticed it first.  Red Fin's lifeless body had floated up to the top of the tank.

Connor asked, "Do you think he's paralyzed?"

Cooper added, "Dad, can you give him CPR?"

But the truth was, Red Fin was gone.

With much reverence, we let him lead the group to the toilet with Chris cupping the deceased fish in a spatula.  Caleb offered the eulogy.  As a verbal minimalist, he stuck to the facts, "Here goes Red Fin.  He lived a couple of hours."  Just like that, Red Fin fell to his watery grave.

This morning, I glanced at the tank.  Overnight, Flame met the same fate as his friend.

I braced myself for the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but instead the conversation moved to dogs and snakes and whatever other fine pets they hoped to acquire.  Suddenly, I really missed those fish.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Season of Accumulation

 Zionsville Fall Festival weekend!
 Can you tell which boy wasn't feeling photogenic?

 Connor walked in the parade with his boy scout troop. He graciously handed out candy to his brothers.

Cooper modeled some of the goodies he acquired at the parade.

We spot our familiar place, a plot of sidewalk directly in front of the jeweler (the one with the tenderhearted owner that allows us frequent access to his restroom!).  The boys plop down folding chairs and snack bags.  They plunk down on their seats but could barely keep planted.  They are excited.  Within minutes the Fall Festival parade will cruise past.  

As seasoned spectators of the parade, they know what to expect...legions of cheerleaders, teams of police cars and fire trucks, and lots and LOTS of candy.

I know what to expect too...homemade high school floats draped in tissue paper, beauty queens perched on corvettes, a crew of costumed librarians dancing in unison, and lots and LOTS of stuff.  So much so, that I realize today marks the beginning of our season of accumulation.

Starting the weekend after Labor Day (always Fall Festival weekend), the boys begin to collect trinkets, doodads, and enough candy to ensure our dentist retires early.  At Fall Festival alone, each boy walks away from the parade with a plastic sack brimming with goodies/crap (depending on who you ask).

At parade day, the boys eagerly anticipate every float/group/vehicle that zooms past.  They sit in ready: hands outstretched clutching open plastic bags, eyes desperately searching for the man/woman carrying a plastic tub filled with, with.... well that's the fun.  They really don't know what he or she may be tossing to the crowds.  But the suspense and the thrill of the "hunt" is enough for them to desperately race towards whatever is launched their way.  Tissue packs from a local insurance agent.  Toothbrushes thanks to the dental office.  Stickers from the Presbyterian church.  All hunted and received with as much excitement as if they are gold coins. And when it's candy, it is as if manna is tossed from the sky.  No amount of exertion is too much in securing a coveted Tootsie Roll or Peppermint Lifesaver.

After the last float whizzes past and we arrive home, I snag the sacks and confiscate the candy (planting it high up in the pantry).  What's left over is returned to each boys.  They race up to their rooms and display their new finds (plastic frisbees, a handful of pencils, decorative bandaids).  Pretty soon, their rooms look less Pottery Barn Kids and more Hoarders.

And so it's begun.

Over the next several months, the accumulation continues.  Prize boxes from school.  Halloween bags loaded with candy.  Birthday goody bags.  Christmas stocking stuffers.

By the time January rolls around, things slowly go "missing."  

Funny how that happens.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tooth Fairy Survey: We're the 3%

 Chris walks Collin into preschool open house.
 The brothers snagged a chair in Collin's preschool class.
With school closed for the day, neighbor kids seemed to migrate over to our house.  At one point, eight kids were running around our house.

My mom fired me an email this afternoon with a warning for my kids not to glance at the news.  She alerted me that a new study was out that claims the average American child receives $3 per tooth from the tooth fairy (some up to $20).  I smiled, knowing exactly why she sent her email.  Her warning dovetails on a prior conversation we had about the stingy Wood boy tooth fairy.

Weeks ago, my mom and I were discussing the tooth fairy.  

"We only give a quarter per tooth," I firmly announced.

She shot me a perplexed (maybe even a tad disdainful) look and then reminded me I received a quarter per tooth as a child ( the 80s). 

I was shocked that my financially prudent (delightfully frugal) mother didn't see eye to eye.  I read into her glances.  Her eyes said, "Surely my adorable grandchildren deserve a tad more than a quarter.  Come on cheapskate."

I searched for the survey online and then scanned the results.  According to their numbers, only 3% of American children receive less than a $1 per tooth.  Ouch.  We're in that 3%!

The thing is, my boys have never once questioned a friend on the bounty they received from the tooth fairy.  I've never had a son slam down the tooth fairy pillow in disgust after fishing out a solo quarter.  In fact, some of the recipients of the tooth fairy money would much prefer a shiny metallic coin to a crinkled green bill any day (a mastery of money to come).

Nonetheless, we're going to reevaluate the tooth fairy's distribution.  Perhaps, she's subject to inflation too.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wanted: Greater Compassion

 The rain tapered off today and I decided the boys needed a proper "airing out."  So we ventured over to the Starkey Park nature trails.  The boys (all four) enjoyed exploring the woods and spotting wildlife.

Connor let out a wail and then yanked on my arm.  In between sobs and gasps for air he blubbered, "I stepped on a yellow jacket."

I whipped around and pulled up his foot.  One toe appeared red and puffy.  I ran to the computer and searched yellow jacket stings and remedies.  

Wash.  Ice. Baking Soda. Ibuprofen.  

Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

While I tended to his injury, Connor continued to moan and carry on at a level equal to any trauma one victim.

At first I nursed his wound with care and offered sympathetic hugs and soothing affirmations.  But after the twentieth time (and an hours worth) of hearing him scream, "This is the worst pain I've ever experienced in my whole entire life," I lost it.  

Secretly I wanted to say, "Let's talk pain when you deliver a 9 lb. 8 oz. baby."  But instead, I let words fall from my lips that were equally insensitive.  Before I could stop myself I said,  "Well Connor, I guess you haven't lived long enough."


How I longed for a "redo" button!  Since when did I turn into such an uncompassionate mom?

The thing is I am compassionate with my some areas.  My heart breaks in a million pieces when I watch them experience hurts from friends or disappointments at school.  But somewhere along the way I've lost my compassion for their injuries (the non-life threatening sort).

I pondered when it happened.  

Perhaps it developed from my years with my ER doc husband.  I've heard his stories.  I know the nature of a true emergency.  I've heard him say, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."  Certainly, a yellow jacket sting can't compare with a car accident or an embolism.

Or just maybe it's because they're boys.  Deep down, do I hold an expectation that boys take pain "like a man."  If I had daughters, would I coddle them more?  Allow them to feel pain as deeply and freely as they wanted?

Whatever the case, I felt bad about my reaction and pulled Connor into a hug.  I listened to him moan for a bit and then whispered, "Connor, if your injury is this serious, maybe we should consider canceling your play date for the morning so you can rest your toe."

The tears vanished and the moans stopped.  Just like that, he experienced a miraculous recovery.

Found these Batman socks on the $1 rack at Target.  Collin was giddy when I gave him the socks.  It's the little things, right?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Soggy Labor Day Weekend

 Chris cuddled with our niece Caroline.
 Enjoyed some family time with my brother Matt, my Dad, and my hubby.
Collin and his cousin Will were besties this weekend.  They attempted to do a "slumber party" and sleep in the same room.  When we still heard them talking at 10:30 p.m., the slumber party got shut down.

Labor Day weekend conjures up images of one last dip in the swimming pool coupled with backyard barbecues and open grills.  The wet weather (thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Issac) and a lousy ER schedule certainly put a damper on any such plans.

We've had to be adapt any weekend plans to the soggy conditions. Instead of barbecue, we ordered pizza.  Rather than lounging around a lake, we nestled on couches and watched college football games.  

I've tried my best to keep the boys busy.  We've done puzzles, crafts, and movies.  We've played board games.