Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Birthday Cake Threaded with Affection

 Cooper's homemade birthday cake.
 Cooper's brothers quickly turn SO nice to him when they see he's the recipient of new toys!
I joined Cooper for a birthday lunch at the school cafeteria.  He loved wearing his "birthday crown" all day.

Recently I've thought a lot about Halloween costumes and how differently costumes are now compared to the ones of my childhood.  When I was a child, we never bought costumes.  Costumes were always homemade or composed of things we found around the house.

It got me thinking about other homemade things of my youth.  Birthday cakes spring to mind.  I certainly don't remember my mother ever purchasing a birthday cake.  Instead, each birthday she'd whip up my favorite red velvet birthday cake with cream cheese frosting.  Years later, I can't recall the actual taste of the cake, but I remember the feeling I had biting into each morsel.  Somehow my mom infused affection into the layers of frosting and adoration into the cake crumbles.  With each forkful, I felt special and very much loved.

As I ruminated on those memories, I realized I've never —in almost ten years as a parent —made my child a birthday cake.  I suppose I've never really thought about whipping up a cake from scratch when a perfectly beautiful cake sits ready for purchase just miles away in a grocer's fridge.  But a little part of my heart yearned to do something different for this child's birthday, to gift my child with the birthday cake of my youth.

I asked the birthday boy, Cooper, if this year he'd rather me make his birthday cake or purchase one.

Cooper face lit up and he chirped, "Make me one."

And so we flipped through cookbook pages, drooling over the pictures of fluffy, spongy cakes.  We finally landed on a (seemingly) easy recipe for American Chocolate Cake.  And so the birthday cake was selected.

I like to bake and so I entered into this cake-making project with gusto.  As a baker, I'm known for two things:

1)  Treating recipe instructions as mere suggestions.

2)  Taking risks and experimenting, especially when guests are involved.

These factors together can lead to two different scenarios:

1)  whipping up a baking masterpiece, 


2)  creating a gigantic culinary catastrophe.

Historically, my creations have tended to fall into the latter category.

As expected, I loosely followed the cake directions, modifying portion sizes as I saw fit and adding flavors that seemed appropriate.

The cake emerged from the oven nicely but didn't fare as well slipping out of the pans.  To compensate for my misshaped cakes, I doused the sides and top with frosting to mask the imperfections.  And as for the icing, well it came out in a more brick-like consistency than the creamy texture pictured in the recipe's photograph.

Last night, I served Cooper his birthday cake.  Under the weight of the icing, it seemed as heavy as a small child.  It wasn't a bit symmetrical.  The layers seemed to wobble.  Everyone tried it, but many plates were returned with sheepish smiles and half-eaten pieces of cake resting on top.

I started to second guess my decision to make Cooper's birthday cake.  Surely, a grocer's cake would have been so much more....edible.  Then again, I thought about my birthday cakes and how today I don't remember the taste as much as the feeling.

I'm hoping that's what Cooper remembers too.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Trouble with School Projects

 Connor in costume for book character day at school.  He was one of the characters from The Hobbit.

 For the last couple of days Caleb has been on fall break.  On Thursday, Caleb and I spent the day together (just us).  We went to the zoo.  Of course, a trip to the reptile house was a must for Caleb.
The boys and I had a blast at our church's Harvest Party.  They walked away with enough candy to keep our dentist employed for life.

I walked into my friend's house and immediately noticed her scowl.  Before I had time to ask, she spewed out her frustration over her daughter's school project.  No need to say more.  I certainly understand her frustration.

The last several weeks, we've been hit with a trifecta of projects.  We've had to create suitable habitat for a pet rock, convert a box into a Hobbit hole, and decorate a paper turkey.

With every project, the teacher sends out the same instructions, "To be done by your child."  I wonder if even the teacher can type those instruction with a straight face.

I always start with the premise that my child will complete the project by himself.  But sometimes it's hard to watch.

Me:  Wow, that's so interesting how you added a third eye to Abraham Lincoln.  

Me:  Really, I didn't know they had a McDonalds in the Egyptian pyramids.

Finally, that inner twitch gets to me and I just really can't stop myself for "assisting" just a tad.

Me:  Here, I can help you put together that pioneer village.  Doesn't that look much better?  How about this too?  

Two hours later I hand the project back.

Isn't it great!  Don't you love all the work you did!

The other thing about school projects is that they require a lot of stuff.  By stuff, I mean stuff.  I'll sift through the recycling in search of the perfect size plastic bottle.  I'll save old toilet paper rolls and salvage cereal boxes.  I'll spend our retirement savings on a couple of trips to Michaels.

Then all the stuff has to be adhered to the board.  So, we'll pour mounds of super glue all over a box or board, dripping remnants of the glue here, there, and everywhere.

By the time the project is completely finished, it's time to transport to school.  Transporting this delicate, gluey project to school takes about as much effort and concentration as you see on one of those celebrity cake shows.  You know the shows where the celebrity bakers clutch the bottom of a fancy, multi-layered cake and move it from a truck to a wedding reception while suspenseful music blares in the background.

Once the project lands safely in the classroom, I let out a sigh of relief and pray the next wave of school projects won't land back in our house anytime soon.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Treating Motherhood as a Paid Position

We were grateful to Caleb's grandparents (minus Grandpa Wood...you were missed!) that attended Caleb's Grandparents Day!

I was conversing with another stay-at-home.  She was talking about her daily routine and slid in the comment, "Well, that's my job."  She spoke those words with as much conviction as if she was the CEO of a major corporation or a big time surgeon at a teaching hospital.

I ruminated on her words and wondered if I would greet my job as a stay-at-home mom differently if I treated it as a paid position.  After some thought, I decided I would approach my day in this way:

1) I would be more intentional

Most employees clearly know their job's objectives and develop short and long term goals to reach those objectives.  

Am I making short and long term goals for my kids?  Am I continuing to keep those goals in mind as I steer my boys through our daily routine?  Am I taking the easy route or working earnestly with each child to churn out positive characteristics?

2)  I would be mindful that my "work product" represents my work.

Every employee wants to produce a work product that reflects well upon his or her efforts.  

Does my house look like I spent the day lounging on the couch gazing at soap operas?  Do my kids speak and act as if they've never been taught any better?  

3)  I wouldn't expect to "dump" my job on anyone else, but would find time to get thing accomplished.

When I was working, I wouldn't have dreamed of unloading all the unpleasant or cumbersome tasks onto a coworker.  

Am I leaving all the disciplining and home projects for my husband to take care of the minute he walks through the door?

4)  I would work hard but know breaks within the day prevent burnout

Any employee knows breaks are essential to get through a day.  

Am I working so hard with my kids and my home that I never find time to refresh?  Am I creating pockets within the day or week that I can just have for me?

I soon realized treating motherhood as a job is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Picture Day Fiasco

On the last day of fall break I took the boys to the pumpkin patch.

I felt sick to my stomach.  

Mid-morning I was sifting through old emails when I came across a remainder that Tuesday is picture day.

Tuesday, as in today.

My heart dropped.  I failed to remember it was picture day and allowed my son to walk out of the house in…(well, I couldn’t even remember what).  If history is any indicator, I was extremely confident he did not walk out of the house dressed in his Sunday finest.  More than likely, he was outfitted in his normal school attire:  a ratty t-shirt coupled with a well-loved pair of sweatpants or faded blue jeans.

I immediately contemplated what his teachers thought when they scanned their room full of children.  I envisioned a sea of well-dressed fourth graders clad in pretty dresses, button-down shirts, and starched khaki pants.  I imagined the teachers' eyes stopped on Caleb and immediately murmured: “One of these things is not like the others!”  They probably internally tsked and thought, “What sort of loony parent outfits a child that way for picture day?”

I had my excuses all lined up.

For one thing, it was a busy morning.  It was pajamas day at my other boys' school.  That I remembered!  I spent my morning racing around ensuring all the pajamas were appropriate enough to be seen by an array of teachers and classmates.

I could also blame my son.  Surely, he was old enough to take some sort of responsibility.  Couldn't he remember some things!

But I mostly blamed myself.  Why wasn’t I more on top of it?  I can’t believe I let something that important slide under the radar?

I immediately shot the teacher an email with a request for my son to attend the makeup photo session.  She responded back quickly and positively to my request.

The makeup photo shoot makes it all better.  It's an opportunity to capture a new lovely photo and act as if the prior mistake never happened.

Wouldn't it be great if mom guilt was as easily erased!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Did Halloween Get So Hard?

Aah...a picture of a Halloween in the past.  The good old days when costumes were so simple and innocent.

I saw a picture of my three-year-old nephew's Halloween costume. He's an elephant.  The picture is pretty adorable.  He's beaming as he's totally engulfed in this fuzzy, gray elephant garb with a floppy truck protruding off his head.

I looked at the photo and sighed.

My three-year-old will be a ninja this year. 

How I wish he was an elephant.

The vast difference in costume selection between my nephew and my son can be explained by the birth order of each boy.  My nephew is the first born.  My son is the baby of the family.  Enough said?

Halloween costumes have been a hot button issue in our house as of late.  It seems my older sons and I hold vastly differing opinions on what's appropriate Halloween garb for boys without even a toe in the tween years.  The boys lean more Freddy Kruger (slight exaggeration, but you get the point).  I'm more Thomas the Train.  And so lies the problem.

After almost a month of Halloween costume negotiation, we agreed that they would select three costume ideas that we could mutually agree on and then I'd make the final selection based on: 1) price, and 2) appropriateness.  They meticulously scanned through endless amounts of websites and catalogues putting as much thought into it as selecting a spouse.

Finally, they handed me their lists.  

When I looked at their lists and made my final decision, there was gnashing of teeth.  I picked one of their top three costumes, but not their top choice among the three.

I listened to the moaning and reminded them Halloween was optional.  We could go back to the day when a sheet with eye holes in it was more than adequate Halloween attire.  Even worse, the boys could skip trick or treating all together.  Gasps.

Later, I recounted my costume dilemmas to my mom.  I lamented the fact that the boys are getting older and they're hitting the ages where they're testing boundaries and pushing limits.

She giggled and said, "Wait until you think about cars ." (and dating, and social media privileges, and...)

She's right.  Costumes are just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not sure I'm ready.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Mom's Perspective: Children's Friendships

Picture from the weekend of my brother and Chris.  We outfitted my brother in Notre Dame garb so he could attend last weekend's football game in style.  


Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.  

Or something like that.

The concept of friends has weighed heavily on my mind ever since becoming a mom.  The thing is, I want my boys to have friends, lots of them, good ones.  But finding those friends is a process and one littered with speed bumps and heartache along the way.

As much as I’d like the boys’ friendships to evolve naturally and effortlessly, it has become apparent over the years that the matriarch of the family is really one of the most instrumental forces in a child's quest to find and sustain friends. 

At an early age, it is up to the mom to play friend “matchmaker.”  She is the one scouring the playground and the preschool roster in search of the perfect playmate for little Johnny or Susie.  She wants to find a companion with enough spunk to keep things interesting but not too much spirit to have a preschool version of Bonnie and Clyde on her hands.  Once the perfect fit is selected, the mom is the one arranging and supervising regular play dates and scoring birthday party invites.

In my opinion, those years are the easier years when it comes to friends.

By the time kids enter primary school, it becomes more difficult for the mom to play friend matchmaker.  She relies more on the child's judgement to secure friends (good ones).  If a child reports sitting by himself in the school cafeteria or swinging alone during recess, she begins to fret.  Is said child incapable of making friends, she worries?  Is he or she feeling rejected and alone?  What's wrong with these other kids that they don't see the specialness and beauty in this child?

Just when said mom has reached the top of her worry barometer, a son or daughter mentions a classmate's name and how they swapped sandwiches at lunch or played house during recess.  Things look up.  Said mom rushes to the school directory and dials up the classmate's mom.  A play date is arranged.  But then worry bubbles back into the chest of the mother.  Did the child pick a good friend?  A friend that will push the child to church and not a tattoo parlor?  A friend that will teach said child kindness and not four-letter words.  A child that’s dependable, loyal, thoughtful, and kind.  

Then the mom thinks about her own child.  Is he or she a dependable, loyal, thoughtful, kind playmate?  Did she teach him or her well by example and instruction?

After the first play date is arranged and several more follow, a friendship is started.  But the friendship has seasons.  Times when the two kids are compatible, moments were conflict is apparent.  The mom rides the waves of this friendship and coaches said child along the way (sometimes holding back tears when things seem painful).

As much effort as it takes to cultivate children's friendships, one might wonder why a mother exerts so much effort.  The thing is, the mother knows how important friendships are to a child because she knows how important friendships are to her.  Sometimes friendships can be hard, but they are one of the most rewarding and dear aspects of life.  If a child slides into the right one, a friendship offers a child companionship, acceptance, and encouragement.

Because friendships are so important, I've learned to be the mom that falls on her knees and prays like crazy for my children's friendships.  I pray that the right friends will land in my children's lives and that my children will be the right friends to others.  Then, I pray for the strength to endure (and enjoy) watching the process unfold.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lessons learned from the classroom

The pictures that won't be used for the family Christmas card! Allowing the boys a few "goof ball" shots helped them get out the wiggles for the regular pictures.

It was my first official day volunteering in Cooper's kindergarten class.  I walked into the room shortly after the welcome bell chimed and gazed at the scene.  Almost two dozen five-year-olds milled around the classroom placing backpacks into cubbies and folders onto desktops.  Despite the hustle and bustle, I immediately noticed the peacefulness and efficiency of the process.

As the students selected their little chairs, the room fell into a hush.  The children turned their attention to the front of the room.  Their petite teacher waltzed up to the chalkboard and then spoke to the group in a muted tone that oozed with sugary sweetness.

I took the entire scene in with great appreciation and awe.  Who is this teacher?  Is she some sort of "kid whisperer" that can tame even the most spirited five-year-old into a compliant member of the classroom?  I don't think she's a "kid whisperer" as much as a teacher and teachers know a thing or two about how to whip a group of kiddos into shape.

As I sat in the back of the classroom purging her supply closet, I continued to gawk at the scene.  I thought about my own challenges managing four boys and wondered what lessons I could learn from this teacher to apply to my own home.

I determined these are the teacher's "secrets" that can be applied to my mothering:

Predictability and routine are king

From the minute the kids entered the classroom, they knew how the day would unfold.  They knew where they sat, what time lunch started, when recess began.  Fussing was nonexistent when things are expected and a schedule is engrained.

She treated them like little adults

Even though they are pint size little people, she recognized their potential.  They picked up their own trash and carried their own backpacks.  They liked being treated as "big boys and girls" and rose to the occasion.

But, she still understood that they are kids

She knew five-year-olds can't sit forever.   They needed recess.  They needed reminders (wash your hands, Cooper!).  They made messes.  She expected it and didn't make a bigger deal about it than it merited.

She never yelled and frequently encouraged

I never heard this woman raise her voice a decibel over the volume  used in a library.  She didn't scream at the children or throw her hands up in disgust.  Instead, she told them instructions once politely and expected compliance.  I know sometimes they tested her and she had a behavior (color) system in place.  But I heard her heap praises on the children more than criticisms.

I walked out of Cooper's school inspired and eager to apply all the lessons I learned in his classroom.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Problem with Expectations

Thanks to Elizabeth Mendenhall for snapping pictures of the family this weekend.  Two of the potential Christmas card shots!

Sheepishly I lamented to a friend that I'm cranky on Sundays.  I certainly expected her to scold my negativity and remind me that Sundays are intended to be a day of rest.  Instead, she agreed and added her own feelings.  She said, "I think I'm cranky because of all the expectations I bring into Sundays.  I think Sundays will be these great family days and sometimes it doesn't work out that way."

It was an aha moment for me, perhaps that's the root of my irritability too.

I certainly thought about my friend's comments today.  I awoke this morning with great expectations for the day.  In my head, I imagined a morning spent worshiping at church followed by an afternoon at the pumpkin patch with the family.  Quickly, I realized the day would not unfold as hoped.

Chris worked late last night and it was up to me to get the boys out the door and off to church.  Right when we pulled into the church parking lot, the skies opened up and buckets of rain drenched the sidewalk.  I scooped up the one umbrella in our car and gathered all four boys (and myself) under its confines.  As one can imagine, a single, tiny umbrella barely covers one individual, let alone five.  What should have been a quick, peaceful walk into the church, turned into a WWF match under an umbrella.  The umbrella was tugged from side to side and up and down with cries of "no fair," "I'm wet," and "Can't we just turn around?"  By the time we entered the church, I was drenched and unaware that during the commotion my shirt became tousled and I was committing a major wardrobe malfunction right smack dab in the foyer of church.  (By the time I figured it out, I'm sure several parishioners got an eyeful!)  Even though church had its rough points, I held out hope for a lovely afternoon in the pumpkin patch. 

Or so I hoped...

The thing about expectations is that not everyone in the family holds the same expectations as me.  

My husband's expectations for the afternoon consisted of: nap, clicking on a football game, watching a football game while napping, more football.  

My boys' expectations for the day centered on anything they could do electronically (and nothing that involved the word homework in it).  

As the minutes turned into hours and we were still at home it became apparent to me that we wouldn't be visited the pumpkin patch this Sunday.

I began to sulk.  My crankiness grew.  I thought about my friend's comments about expectations.  I was irritated because my expectations didn't get met.  The more I explored that thought I realized the problem with expectations is sometimes it robs me of appreciating the joys right in front of me.

Today may not have followed my expectations of how the day would play out, but that doesn't mean it still wasn't good.  Not going to the pumpkin patch meant I had more time to prepare a home-cooked dinner that all six of us enjoyed family style around the dining room table.  It also meant my husband had time to work with my three-year-old on riding his bike around the block.  The boys adored spending the afternoon frolicking with neighbor kids amid the fallen leaves.

When next Sunday rolls around, I'm going to think about expectations and remind myself sometimes it's good not to have any.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Skinny on the School Conference

It was Christmas card picture time again.  Thanks to our sweet (and patient!) photographer Elizabeth!  

FYI... these are not her pictures, just the amateur shots I snapped on my phone.

As I walked the halls of the kindergarten corridor, I felt my chest tighten and my knuckles clench.  I was about to experience one of my least favorite parental duties: attending the school conference.

I've learned from the past, that school conferences usually go one of three ways:

1)  The teacher spews out honest (sometimes brutally honest) feedback.

Your son is the reason I needed to be medicated.

2)  The teacher throws out "buzz" words with hidden meaning.

Your son is so spirited/energetic/busy.

3)  The teacher gushes over a child's accolades.

Your son is the reason I became a teacher.

(Ok, I've heard the last option exists, never really experiencing it personally.)

I've certainly experienced enough of #1 and #2 to greet a school conference with as much excitement as a tooth extraction.

To make matters worse, this was Cooper's school conference.  Cooper, my spirited/energetic/busy one!  

I walked into the kindergarten classroom with my stomach in knots.  The teacher fell into a smile and greeted me warmly.  I wondered if she got me confused with Evan, Nicolas, or Parker's mom.  I reminded her again that I was COOPER's mom and then waited for her reaction to turn sour. To my surprise, her smile remained and she ushered me into a seat.  Things were starting out well.  I exhaled just a tad.

Then the teacher pulled out charts and graphs with percentiles and figures that made little to no sense to me.  Bottom line, he was cutting it in the academic world of a kindergartener.

Finally, she moved on to the report card.  She glided her finger towards the behavior section.  I took another deep breathe and waited for the other shoe to drop.  She kept her same wide smile and said, "Cooper's doing....


Excuse me.  

Come again?

"Fine," she repeated.

It was as if the heavens opened up and a choir belted out "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah."

She finished out the conference by calling Cooper a "delightful young man."  I checked my back to make sure a camera crew wasn't secretly filming our exchange and I was about to be on an episode of Punk'd.  Quickly I realized she was serious and he was doing fine, just fine.

I waltzed out of the classroom on cloud nine thinking maybe school conferences weren't so bad.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marathon Training Cut Into Steps

Picture of the cousins left over from the weekend.  Our family is certainly not lacking in boys.

In the heat of the summer, my friend Jessica called.  She gushed over the phone lines about her marathon preparations.  As a fellow runner, I adored hearing all the details about her training and experiences.  By the time I hung up the phone, the wheels in my head were spinning. I had this crazy idea fly through my head: perhaps I should run a marathon too.

I ran a marathon once at the tender age of 25.  Even though I had youth and time (as I was single and childless) on my side, I remember the process to be quite a challenge.  I vividly recall crossing the finish line and swearing to never/ever/don't even think about it run a marathon again.  I mentally checked the box and certainly didn't expect to revisit that agony in my lifetime.

Funny how time tends to lessen one's memory of pain.

Over a decade plus later, I wanted to do it again.  How did that happen?

I quickly roped in a few other friends (victims) to join me in the training.  We rummaged through the internet searching for the perfect training plan, finally landed on a particularly challenging 16-week Runner's World plan.

The first several weeks were easy.  We smugly raced through the workout without breaking much of a sweat.  But I knew things would get more difficult as the weeks progressed.  After studying the plan, I began to fear week 13.  That was the week when the mileage shot up to a level I hadn't reached in years.

This week is week 13.  The Runner's World plan suggests we run two 10 mile workouts (one with interval training), two low mileage runs, and one 22 mile long run.  In total, the week's mileage is 52 miles.  5-2.  Just looking at that number makes my knees shake.  52 miles is the distance between Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana.  I began to fret (to put it mildly).

I quickly realized 52 miles is not run in a day.  52 miles is divided over the course of several runs.  Then, those runs are cut into individual miles, strides, and steps.  When the mileage is chunked up, the running seems less daunting and more manageable.  Marathon training is successfully accomplished by a series of steps forward.  When I focus more on the individual forward steps and don't worry so much about the big picture, 52 miles seems feasible.

Running has taught me this philosophy and I've carried it over to many other aspects of my life.  I've thought about this a lot with my Aspie son.  The last few weeks have been a challenge.  My husband and I fret endlessly about his future and wonder how his life will play out.  But I've quickly realized, this sort of anxiety gets me nowhere.  It's better to think of his life as a series of steps. I just need to focus on continually moving him forward, day by day, step by step.  

And so we've set out, moving forward one step at a time.    

Monday, October 8, 2012

To Ride the Bus or Not to Ride the Bus

Story time with Collin (in the blue).  So darn cute to see him holding hands with his fellow preschoolers singing, "The more we get together."

I hit one of those parenting crossroads this morning.  I was faced with a decision that felt monumental and where I desperately wished there was some parenting manual that provided just the right answer to my dilemma.

Seven-year-old Connor has expressed some concerns about riding the bus.  As most of the conversations go with my male sons, the details are foggy.  What I have gathered is that there are some social issues (nothing major) swirling around the bus that have negatively impacted Connor.  After he expressed these concerns, he fluttered his big blue eyes and asked if I would drive him to school.

To make him ride the bus or not to ride the bus, that was the question.

About a zillion years ago, I remember riding the school bus.  I recall having no redeeming experiences within the confines of the bus.  Without any close supervision, colorful language and mischief ran amok.  I could easily remove my bus experiences from my vault of childhood memories and still be a happy and well-adjusted adult.

But what should I do for my child?

On one hand:

I can't shelter him from everything.  He needs to learn independence.

On the other hand:

He is only seven-years-old.  Shouldn't I protect him from challenging situations?

Back to the first hand:

He needs to work things out with his peers.  It's the only way he's going to learn.

Then the other hand:

But can't he experience peer situations elsewhere...like when there's a teacher or parent present?

And so my thoughts fluctuated back and forth until I felt dizzy.

When the bus rolled around, I still hadn't come up with a solution.  I was still debating when the bus whizzed past our stop and Connor was still pacing our kitchen floor.  The bus was gone.  The decision was made for me.  Connor would be a car rider, at least for the day.

I wish I could end this blog by revealing a parenting "aha" moment I had where the perfect solution fell into my lap.  Such has not been the case.  But for now, we're taking it one bus ride at a time.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rookie Swim Parent

Too much fun... 

celebrating my dear friend Ali's birthday with friends.
Too much cake... 

celebrating again (with more yummy treats) my mother's birthday.

 Too cute for words...

admiring my sweet niece Caroline all dolled up for the IU game.

Too energetic... 

spending time with my brother and his family at IU for homecoming. 

Too adventuresome.... 

striking a pose around the IU campus.

Too adorable...

having a great time with Collin at a playground near IU.

"What do you call spectators at a swim meet," my Dad asked.

His eyes twinkled when he blurts out, "Parents."

It's a joke I've heard several times.  Since becoming a swim parent, I've found truth in his statement.

Today was Connor's swim meet.  I signed him into the meet and then walked up to the spectator section clutching the hand of my three-year-old.  We snagged seats among the masses of swim parents.  I think it became apparent in a matter of nanoseconds that I was a rookie swim mom.  I didn't pack a cooler filled with a week's worth of food.  I failed to pack the appropriate entertainment for my toddler..an ipad, iphone loaded with apps, itouch, Kindle, portable DVD, and laptop.  I wasn't wearing the team's colors nor did I paint my face in green and white.

I was the mom cradling one single serving snack, a coloring book, and handful of crayons.  I was packed for an hour, they were prepared for a week.  I quickly saw the error in my ways.

I once heard a mom say a parent should never put a child in any sport that has the word "meet" in it.  This wise mom knew the word "meet" and "brief" would never be used together in a single sentence.  Meets are an event where the parent quickly learns his or her place...in the bleachers...for hours on end.

For a few hours, it was entertaining to watch budding swimmers race through the water.  But then we (Collin and I) hit the spectator wall.  He whined.  I couldn't blame him.  We hit the snack bar.  And then again.  And one more time.  We wandered aimlessly around the top of the aquatic center.  We yearned (desperately) for it to be over.

But then came Connor's turn.  Even though he was (what felt like) miles away, he spotted me among the masses.  He smiled and waved again and again.  I beamed as I caught each of his waves with my own batch of waves.  At that moment, I knew why I sit endlessly on the bleachers of a swim meet. Of course it's true, I sit to watch my son race down the swimming lane.  But, I really go so he sees that I'm watching him.  I want him to know his biggest cheerleader is sitting in the stands eager to celebrate his successes or commiserate with his disappointments.  Regardless of the outcome, I come because I care.  I care because I love.  

And so I sat in the bleachers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Girl Time.. Finally

 Enjoyed having my mom with me at the fashion show.

 It was wonderful to have my sweet friend Ali there too.
 My adorable friend Andrea (the one roped me into the fashion show in the first place).
 One of the more colorful ensembles.
Modeling an outfit that was WAY out of my comfort zone...feeling a bit like snufalufagus.

Once upon a time, I was a girlie girl.  As I added boys, this little part of me became submerged under the testosterone.  Living in a house full of men has certainly squelched my more feminine side.  My new little world revolves around primary colors, sports equipment, superheroes, and lego bins.  I miss pastels, fairy tales, princesses, pretty things.

Perhaps that's why I agreed to participate in Chris's hospital foundation fashion show.  When my friend Andrea extended the invitation to model in the show, I certainly could rattle off a zillion excuses why I should be sitting sidelines munching on a salad rather than strutting down the catwalk, but something inside me jumped at the chance.  It was my opportunity, at almost 40 years old, to play adult dress up.  I could slip into the world I've so desperately missed.  The one with frilly dresses, satin pumps, and chunky jewelry.

The process was just as fun and feminine as I imagined.  Last week, I had a fitting.  I entered the store and scanned my surroundings: not a boy in sight.   Everything was lovely and so darn quiet.  Pastels and sherbet toned sweaters lined the racks.  Females, everywhere, darted through the store and chattered on about hemlines and cup sizes.  I had arrived...back in my little girlie world.  I rediscovered my people.

Today was the fashion show.  We, the amateur, middle-aged models, sat up camp in the dressing room.  I slipped on my first outfit...a black ensemble broken up by a multicolored scarf draped across my neck.  I was fussed with and primped into proper runway order.  Then, I jetted down the catwalk trying my best to channel my inner Naomi Campbell.

As soon as I descended off the runway, I was shuffled back into the dressing room where I slid first into a pumpkin-hued, knee-length shaggy vest (Anyone else thinking snufalufagus?), then a fuchsia dress, and finally a pastel sweater set with matching scarf.  The outfits were fancy, but certainly ones that wouldn't fit easily into my lifestyle.

A few hours later, I was home...clad in sweat, tripping over action figures, and picking up sports equipment.  I was back.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We Got Booed

Caleb enjoyed traveling to a birthday party in the chicken limo!

A few nights ago I was tucking little boys into bed when a ring from the doorbell cut into our evening routine.  Boys that minutes before looked drowsy, popped out of bed and rushed to the front door.  We flicked on the porch light and swung upon the door.  Little eyes spotted it immediately.  Right next to pots of crimson mums and array of pumpkins sat a brown paper bag dotted with candy corn stickers.  Squeals echoed through the house.  The boys knew instantly what had happened: we'd been booed!

Booing was a foreign concept to me before we moved into this neighborhood.  Our first year in the house, come October, I began to see white ghost signs plastered on neighbor's front doors.  I didn't understand how and why these signs appeared on the front door until the night we received the ring, the bag, and the sign of our own.  The boys were ecstatic.  It was if they received all the benefits of trick or treating (i.e. candy) without all the walking.  Score.

Per the rules of booing, the night after receiving the boo bag the recipient family distributes two more bags to two other neighbors.  Although the boys certainly appreciate being the recipient of the booing, they love serving as the distributors even more.  After school, the boo plans began to formulate.  They discussed potential targets.  Strategized the optimal time for distribution coupled with a stealth escape plan.  

We waited until sundown.  Then under the blanket of darkness, we darted into the van.  As planned, the van crept along the streets sans headlights (even the radio was clicked off).  We rolled up to our first target's (friend's) house.  The boys requested I park down the street hidden behind a clump of trees.

In silence we motioned towards Caleb and all bid him "Godspeed."   Clad in dark colors, Caleb crept along the sidewalk and then tiptoed onto his friend's patio.  He sat the bag down gingerly and then with a flick of the wrist hit the doorbell and the sprinted off the porch.  The other boys couldn't contain their giddiness as they watched Caleb rush down the street under the fear of "getting caught."  There were cries in the van to "Go, Go" and leave poor Caleb behind.  I reminded them of our motto, "No man left behind," but that didn't seem to matter when it came to booing.  I inched the car forward as Caleb leaped into the passenger door.  We gunned it down the streets, the van swirling with adrenaline and bliss.

So the process continued again at the next house with just as much enjoyment. 

Once all the bags were gone and we rolled into our driveway, the boys rushed into our house flushed with excitement.  They babbled on about the whole experience, smiling all the while.  My smile was just as broad.