Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Airing Out Boys

Collin and I spent part of our day making (or was it eating?) chocolate chip cookies.

I commented to my husband that I was officially ready to hibernate.  Just about this time every year, I get the itch to be a homebody.  This weekend, I spent many hours nestled around the fireplace, book in hand, clad in sweatpants and my warmest socks. It was absolutely divine and I thought, "If somebody told me I'd have to stay in the same exact spot until the March thaw, I'd be happy."

The problem is my boys don't seem to feel the same.  As winter closes in, they get antsy.  Their actions remind me of a puppet confined within a jack in the box, desperate to spring to action with the turn of a crank.  They appear trapped with energy to spare.  So they wrestle, mildly at first.  But the wrestling morphs to a chase that lands in a fight that ends in tears.

Tonight I watched this pattern began.  The four boys rolling around the living room floor.  Then, someone put a brother in a headlock.  Someone else knocked ornaments off the tree with his feet.  A fresh batch of tears fell from another.  I could feel my pulse quicken as I racked my brain on how best to rectify the situation.

I thought about a friend (mom of three boys) comment.  She said boys needed to be "aired out" daily (regardless of the weather conditions) to get that physical release many of them so desperately need.

Good advice.  

My boys desperately needed to be "aired out."  So I suggested/required they go run outside for a minute.

Caleb shot me a concerned look.

"But it's dark, and late, and cold," he whined.

I smiled, "I know.  Just run right outside our house for a few minutes."

The other boys gleefully threw on shoes and coats.  They raced through the door and frolicked around our darkened driveway. 

Minutes later, they stepped inside.  Caleb suggested a board game and I watched four little boys huddle around a Connect Four.  No one jumped on anyone's back.  Boys no longer rolled on top of each other.  They had been properly "aired out."  Amazing how much that helps.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Reality of the World

We've already had a Santa sighting!

With my older boys, I remember a moment.  A moment where the fog was lifted from their eyes and suddenly they saw the world with more clarity.  They realized that the world is not entirely made up of people just like them.  Poverty, hunger, and crime exists.   

Cooper had that moment this weekend. 

We pulled up to a busy intersection.  Within inches of my car window stood a disheveled gentleman clutching a homemade cardboard sign with the words "homeless" scribbled on the front. His presence triggered an internal dialogue.  I struggled with how to proceed.

One side screamed, "He needs the money.  You have some.  Isn't that the Christian thing to do?"

My other side snorted and replied, "You don't know what he's going to do with the money?  The best way to donate money is to give to an organization."

As my mind ping-ponged back and forth, the light flashed green and the traffic surged forward.  By default, my decision to bypass the stranger's outstretched hand was made.  Within seconds, his image was deleted from my mind and I was contemplating dinner plans and to do lists.

Just then, Cooper's little voice chirped from the backseat, "Who was that man?  What was he doing?"

And so I explained some people don't have homes, food, jobs.

He shot me a puzzled look and then replied, "We can give him money.  We can give him food.  We can let him live with us."

It was so sweet and innocent.  I almost hated to come crashing down on him with reality.  And so I took it upon myself to explain homelessness and poverty.  The conversation was awkward.  I was trying to explain a concept and a solution (and how we play into it) with the clarity that I lack.

Cooper listened but seemed unshaken in his resolution to help.  A little part of me wished I held that same passion and innocence.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ushering in the Christmas Season

 A Thanksgiving picture of the Joseph clan.
 The cousin table.
 Snuggling with Connor.
 Enjoying some time with my sister in law, Heather.
 My sweet niece Caroline snags her mom's heels.
Chris takes a moment with his parents before they turn into snow birds for the winter.

Just this week I was flipping through the latest's Southern Living magazine.  It was the December holiday issue and I've learned from the past that magazine certainly does holidays right.  I salivated over page after beautiful page.  The house decorating spreads were truly impressive.  The photos captured perfectly dressed rooms accessorized in holiday golds, crimsons, and greens.  I was inspired and vowed to decorate our house just as nicely for this holiday season.

As soon as the last morsel of turkey was consumed, I was already thinking Christmas.  This morning, I declared it the Wood family Christmas season and immediately unearthed our Christmas decoration bins from the basement.  My activity attracted a crowd (of boys), they rushed down the stairs and huddled around the boxes.

I soon discovered I wouldn't be decorating alone.  It seemed (to the boys) that this decorating project required many hands and lots of opinions.  Cooper fancied himself as a junior decorator and took to placing holiday decorations wherever he saw fit.  I quickly realized we had different creative visions.  I was thinking more Southern Living, he was going for a more eclectic look.

Just when I thought I might explode.  Cooper stopped tailing me.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went to busying myself with stocking placement.  Then I heard Connor say, "Cooper, did mom say you can do that?"

After a decade of being a mom, I know that phrase means:

1) The child is up to no good.


2)  There is no way I would ever, ever give a child permission to do the activity.

I rushed to the voices and found Cooper taking pictures out of our family photo album and "creating" Christmas cards to distribute to family and friends.  I internally chanted "His heart is in the right place.  His heart is in the right place."

As I neared the decoration process, I scanned the house.  It hardly resembled a magazine spread.  Holiday items were randomly strewn around the house.  Homemade decorations, gifts from little boys from Christmases past, took center stage.  Breakable snow globes and fragile candle sticks were placed high above the reach of little hands.

I thought about the decorating homes in Southern Living again.  I realized I never saw children pictured on any of the pages.  Perhaps there's a reason those homes looked so good.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching Children To Do For Themselves

Collin with his Thanksgiving hat (and remnants of the preschool Thanksgiving feast around his mouth).

Fresh out of residency, my husband's first job was in a teaching hospital's emergency room.  As the staff physician, his role was to see his own patients while at the same time oversee his medical student and resident's patient care.  After several months on the job, my husband came home frustrated with the inefficiency of the ER.  He'd whine and declare, "It's just so much faster to do it myself."

As soon as I was a mom, I understood his frustrations.

The other morning my friend declared that she's on an independence kick with her kids.  She's striving to get her children to do things by themselves (without mommy's assistance) if they are capable of doing those skills or learning them.  What she said made sense to me and as we talked I vowed to make similar changes with my boys.  

I began to notice just how much I was doing for the boys that they could do for themselves.

"Mommy, can you grab my socks upstairs?"

"Pour my cereal in the bowl for me."

"Brush my teeth."

For some things, they could do it themselves, it was just easier to have mommy do it for them.  For other things, they needed to learn the skill (pouring milk into a cup) and I needed to take the time to teach them.

As expected, having children do things on their own is extremely inefficient.  I sat through an almost ten minute shoe-tying session that I could have easily whipped together in thirty-seconds.  It is messy.  The kitchen counters became littered with milk stains and cereal flakes from little boys learning the skill of breakfast making.  It is confrontational at times.  I had a heated stand off with one boy about whether or not he really could put his own pajamas into the laundry hamper.  (The whole time I was thinking it's taking longer to fight about it then actually do it!)

Just when I hit the point of exasperation, I thought about my mom talking about "big picture parenting."  She advised me that raising independent, solid children requires some painful short-term choices (inefficiency, mess, conflict) that will have good long-term benefits (independence).

So I continued on my quest to be a "hands off" parent, knowing they'll thank me for it later.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Appreciating God's Grace

During a recent Bible study, a friend shared about a situation at her home.  She said her daughter had been disrespectful and generally naughty and my friend disciplined her accordingly.  The next morning, her daughter awoke thinking everything was resolved with her mother and began to peacefully eat her breakfast.  My friend said she was still angry and began picking at her daughter straight through breakfast.  Then, my friend felt a nudge.  She started thinking about grace, God's grace.  She thought about how God doesn't deal with us that way.  Once we've resolved things, He says it's done and it is.  As she shared this story, tears welled in her eyes (and mine too).  She said she never really understood or appreciated the magnitude of God's grace until she had children.

It really got me thinking.

As I was walking out of church today, one son's Sunday school teacher stopped me in my tracks.  With furled eyebrows, she recounted one son's morning mischief.  I listened to her words and could feel my face reddened and my pulse quicken.  I was mad, blazing mad (with a hint of sadness).  I was so mad in fact that I put myself in a little "mommy time out" and held my tongue from speaking to said son until we got home and I could sift through some thoughts with Chris.

Once I was in a good spot to talk, Chris and I approached our son.  When I came into his room, I spotted him perched on his top bunk with tears streaming down his face.  The three of us found a spot on the carpet and really talked about the morning's activities: the ramifications his behavior had on others; not being influence by others' misbehavior; and respecting God's house.  He listened to our words and then asked us to pray for him.  After our prayer, we doled out some pretty stiff and meaningful consequences and let him sit in his room to digest the conversation.  

A few hours later, he drafted a letter (seen above).  He handed the  typing paper to me and I read his words:

Dear Sunday School Teacher:

I am very sorry for being disrespectful.  You are a good teacher.  I will not do it again.  I will pay attention.  I don't do this a lot.  I prayed so I won't do it again.

I read his letter with a fresh batch of tears in my eyes.  The morning was done.  My anger needed to go.  Grace was necessary.  

Friday, November 16, 2012


With three boys in school, I've had the pleasure of spending some time with just Collin during the day.  Today we visited the Indianapolis Children's Museum with some friends.

Blogging has been put on the sidelines for a bit.  Finishing an article for Travel Indiana magazine (look for it in their spring 2013 issue).  In a few days, hope to get back to recording the charm and challenges of raising four boys.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Precious Words

Such a fourth child!  Collin fell asleep on the floor in the living room.

There are many a days when my boys exacerbate me.  The days when they fill the hours with shenanigans and naughtiness of all sorts.  But then they have moments, precious moments, when all their challenges seem insignificant.

Tonight I had one of those precious moments.

After I prayed the last bedtime prayer and tucked the last boy into bed, I collapsed onto my own bed hoping to take a few moments to unwind.  Within minutes, I heard a knock on my door and watched Cooper tiptoe into the room.  My face dropped.  I imagined he was going to fight me on bedtime by concocting another excuse to avoid slumber.

Instead, he said, "Mom, who prays for you at night?"

I smiled.

Before I had time to answer, he continued, "I'll pray for you."

He cupped his little hands together and motioned for me to do the same.  Then he closed his eyes and whispered perhaps the sweetest prayer I've ever heard.

He said, "Dear God, please help my mommy not to have any bad dreams.  Help her to be loving and kind tomorrow.  Amen."

I was speechless, blown away by the precious words that escaped from the mouth of a babe.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Assume Nothing

 My Dad surprised me with a Boston travel book as a gift for qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  So thoughtful!
 The boys invited my Dad, a veteran, to attend their school's Veteran's Day program.

 The kids sang to the veterans.  So sweet!

 Cooper invited a few school friends to the bowling aisle to celebrate his sixth birthday!

After bowling, the kids dug into the bowling cupcake cake.

A few weeks ago, Chris got the boys off the school while I was out for a run.  That afternoon, I watched the boys leap off the school bus and come barreling down the driveway.  I did a once over on Cooper and asked, "Is that how you went to school?"

He shot me a perplexed look.

"Did you really go to school wearing two different shoes," I said, fully aware that the answer was yes.

He shrugged his shoulders and dashed into the house.  

I dialed Chris at work and asked the obvious, "Why did you let him walk out of the house and into the school like that?"

"I told him to put on his shoes," he replied.  "I just assumed he did it right."

Aha!  There sat the problem.  He assumed.

I quickly sat my naive husband straight.

"You see," I began.  "You never assume anything with kids."

Good advice.  

I wish I listened to it more.

This weekend, the boys asked if they could sell candy to the neighbors.  I found the prospect of them removing even a portion of the mounds of Halloween candy we have and unloading it on to the neighbors to be quite ingenious (and helpful).  So I handed them a few candy bags and watched them skip out the door.

A few minutes later, I peeked outside to check on the sale.  I scanned the empty driveway with concern and then raced out to the edge of the yard.  I spotted a neighbor kid and asked him about the boys' whereabouts.

"They are walking door to door selling candy," he replied.

Sure enough as my eyes scanned down the street, I zeroed in on two little boys shuffling along the sidewalk, clutching plastic bags bulging with candy.

By the time I caught up with them, they were pleased as punch with their newfound wealth (a whole 16¢ richer) and totally unaware that their mother was in a tizzy about them wandering down the street selling to the neighbors.

As we talked, I realized we assumed different things.  I was thinking the selling would be transacted lemonade-stand style smack dab on our driveway (within eyeshot of their mother).  They were thinking more traveling salesman.  Clearly, we had a lost in translation moment.

I thought about my own "assume nothing" advice and added:

Spell it out.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Since When Is Being a Stay-At-Home Mom Not Enough?

A picture sent from Caleb's band teacher.  He's just picked up the trumpet.

On Monday I was cranky.  By bedtime, my fatigue turned into frustration that morphed into anger.  My sons seemed to sense mom was having a "moment" and tried their best to blend into their surroundings when they watched me steam down the halls, smoke trailing behind me.

The next morning I confessed my mommy indiscretions to a friend.  "I just don't know what got into me," I moaned.  "Perhaps it's post-marathon fatigue?"

My friend shot me a sympathetic glance and then questioned, "Now that your marathon is done, do you think you just don't know what to do with yourself?"

Hmm.  I certainly hadn't thought of that.

The wheels in my head began to spin.  Do I have a post-marathon plan?

That's when the thoughts began to race through my mind.  Perhaps I should:

-immediately run another marathon,
-train for an ultra marathon,
-try a triathlon,
-write a book,
-redecorate my house,
and on and on.

Then, I stopped.

Why do I have to have a next thing?  

When was being a mother, wife, and friend not enough?

Where did I get this notion that I can't just be a regular o stay-at-home mom, I have to be a stay-at-home mom that is, well, more?

If I really thought about it, I imagine the root of wanting more sits on issues of contentment based on self worth.  And that begs the question: where is my self worth found?

Certainly as a SAHM, self worth is not earned from the accolades of colleagues.  In fact, an SAHM rarely receives anything stronger than her own pat on the back for her efforts.  For many of us, it leaves a gigantic hole in the self worth department that seems to only be filled by something other than being just a plain old mom. 

The thing is, self worth shouldn't be based on a profession, or a race time, or even the praises of others.  Self worth should be planted on being content with the individual God made me to be and in the position where He placed me to be now.  Period.

The only post-marathon strategy I have is to find the contentment and worth in the now.  

That might be tougher than running a marathon!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Marathon Stories

I had to laugh at this picture from this weekend's race.  I think Chris snapped the picture as I was trying to lift my arms in a victory pose.  Instead, it looks like I'm about to take flight!

A sweet friend stood amid the cold and rain and watched me cross the finish line on Saturday.  We found each other among the crowd and I extended my appreciation on her braving the weather to watch my finish.

She smiled and said, "I love watching the finish line and seeing all the stories."

I thought about the truth in her statement.

Just months earlier, I flipped on the taping of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.  I was mesmerized by the athletes.  They seemed to defy all preconceived notions of what the human body is actually capable of doing.  I watched them swim, ride, and run for hours while baking under the Hawaiian heat.  Incredible!

Although watching the top athletes was riveting, I was even more drawn to the stories of the "common folk" competing in the race.  The 81-year-old doctor stumbling through the dark to cross the finish line.  The cancer patient.  The amputee.  The grandmother.  

They all had stories.  Wonderful, amazing, success stories.

And there were stories at the race on Saturday too.

On Saturday, we didn't have the benefit of knowing the backstory on each individual.  We relied on the images and imagined the stories.  Some stories were clear.  Friends helping friends.  Wives pushing forward husbands.  

Other stories came tumbling out later.  

A running friend posted on Facebook her story from Saturday.  She hit the wall around mile ten and started to walk.  According to her post, an older gentleman approached her and said, "I was diagnosed with Leukemia this week and I have five years.  I have a lot of living to do so let's get going."  And so they finished the race.

What a wonderful story.  I wished I had seen it unfold across the finish line.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Boston Bound

 Pre-race pose with my two training friends, Emily and Marie.  We certainly didn't look stylish.  We wore "throw away" clothes to toss off along the course.  Obviously my sweatshirt (compliments of Goodwill) was a little snug.

 I loved running by my own personal cheering section...all four boys, Chris, and my parents.  My mom made adorable signs for the boys to hold!
 So glad Chris took this picture.  Ran by this guy at mile 15.  As I was running behind him, I thought,"I'm going to be so mad if a guy in an elephant suit beats me."  My friend Claudia made me laugh.  She said, "I hope that costume isn't rented!"
 Just past mile 26.  Claudia (in purple) acts as my rabbit and pacer.  So glad to have my sweet friend that helped me along!
Post-race hugs with Claudia.  Soaked to the bone.  Cold.  Grateful. Happy. Loved!

Four months ago, I laced up my running shoes and hit the trails for my first official marathon training run.  I spent sixteen weeks (and almost 600 miles) pounding the pavement.  With every stride, I thought of one thing: I desperately wanted to run the Boston Marathon.

Yesterday, I crossed the 26-mile race marker and spotted my mom along the sidelines.  Beaming, I yelled, "I'm going to Boston."  And so I 2014.  I qualified with four minutes to spare.  It was one of the most exhilarating, rewarding moments of my life.

I realized my road to Boston wasn't done alone.  I'm SO grateful to the "village" of wonderful people that have been so supportive along the way.

Thanks to my husband for helping with the kids so I could squeeze in runs.  He listened to me babble on for months about things like tempo runs and carb loading.  He is (and always has been) my biggest cheerleader.

Thanks to my parents for also helping with the kids and constantly encouraging.

Thanks to my dear friend Claudia for serving as my pacer yesterday even after she just ran her own marathon a few weeks prior.  I'm so excited to be able to run the Boston Marathon with my dear friend.

Thanks to my training friends (Emily, Marie, Maggie, Miranda, Gwen, Cara and Ali).  Without you, I'm sure I would have hit the snooze button on the alarm many a morning.

Thanks to all my kind friends that supported me this week with texts, emails, and calls of support.  I truly felt so loved!

Today I feel so blessed and grateful!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Connor's Halloween TV debut

 Caleb enjoyed the Halloween treats at his school party.
 The boys dressed and ready for trick or treating.  Two went as Ninjas and two were Star Wars guys.

 The kids gathered by the Hermacinski house for the annual Halloween parade that kicks off trick or treating for the neighborhood.

The kids were overjoyed (and not the least bit camera shy) when they arrived at the parade start and found the Channel 8 news truck ready to report from the parade.  The boys stood dead center of the camera when Jay Hermacinski reported live.

This morning we all awoke in a fog.  We were recovering.  Recovering from a week filled with one birthday, Halloween parties galore, and way too much cake and candy.  It's been a fun couple of days, but exhausting and overstimulating at the same time.

Last night was probably the coldest Halloween I can remember.  I bundled in layers and stacked my most unattractive ski band onto my head before I escorted the boys to the annual neighborhood Halloween parade.

Imagine our surprise when we whipped around the bend and sat eyes on not one, but two news trucks.  They were parked and ready to capture the adorableness of this Halloween tradition.

The boys could hardly contain their excitement.  Quickly they rushed up to the camera, eager for a closeup.

I, on the other hand, started to panic wondering what exactly my boys would do when put on camera.  I pulled them over and uttered a warning that would have put the fear of God in the naughtiest of boys.  I reminded them of every single person that could be watching this news:  Memaw and Papa, teachers, our Pastor.  Did they really want to be captured doing anything other than looking adorable?

They shook their heads as if they understood.

The first broadcast went great.  They smiled and quietly complied while our friend and reporter, Jay, broadcasted from the scene.

I let out a sigh of relief and wandered back home to pass out candy while the boys worked their way around the neighborhood with Chris.

Then I got the text from my friend Cara (Jay's wife).  She asked if the boys could be in another segment for the news.  I said yes, but deep down my stomach churned.

Still at home passing out candy, I flipped on the news.  Within minutes, Jay was broadcasting again.  He offered safety advice to trick or treaters.  Several costumed kids lined the shot, but Connor was the only one digging into his candy with reckless abandon, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was on TV.

When Jay finished and shot the feed back to the station, even the news anchors were laughing about the little boy that just couldn't wait to dig into the good stuff.

My mom called seconds after the piece aired in fits of giggles.  I was laughing too.

Later I told Chris we now have the perfect video to show at his wedding.