Friday, December 28, 2012

Putting the Fun Back in Parenting

Ready to sled!

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an old rerun of the Supernanny.  In the course of one episode, the supernanny guided a family of pint-size hooligans (with two substandard parents) into a model, functional family.  I devoured the episode (feeling a bit like I could relate to the chaos) and mentally jotting down notes on techniques and tips.  It was Parenting 101.  Things I knew, or should have known, but needed a good reminder to implement again.  The supernanny stressed: 1) consistency, 2) positive responses, 3) attentiveness, 4) structure, and 5) fun.

As I sifted through her advice, I realized I've forgotten to have fun with my kids.  I'm not even talking big, gigantic, amusement park fun.  I'm talking about playing a board game fun. Nestling by the fire and diving into a Dr. Seuss book fun. Playing the role of the bad guy while a son maneuvers superhero figurines fun.  Making decadent hot chocolate with four little ones fun.

Today, I was more attentive and had fun with the boys.  Little fun.  Good fun.  This certainly isn't a commercial for the tips provided by the Supernanny, but the boys (and I) had a truly wonderful day.  As the sunset, I realized how I really just enjoyed being their mom.

Thanks to a silly little TV show for reminding me the blessing of my little, fun boys.






Thursday, December 27, 2012

Little Sticky Fingers




 The day after the blizzard made for perfect sledding conditions.  All six of us headed over to Mulberry Fields (or Deadman's Hill as Caleb referred to it) for a good sledding session.  We all had so much fun.


We loved having an afternoon visit from the Henkle family.  Since they moved to England six months ago, we've missed our friends!

I recounted Cooper's latest saga to my friend.  She listened to the sordid tale and then replied, "I think I've heard this same story about a thousand times from a thousand different people."

She's right.  I've heard similar stories too, but the stories have never featured one of my sons.

Our story started on Christmas Eve.  We had friends over for dinner and Cooper and their little girl made crafts at the kitchen table.  As the adults were deep in conversation, their little girl showed off her beautiful project covered with an array of colorful stickers.

I admired her picture and then asked, "Where did you get those stickers?"

She pointed to Cooper and announced that he had purchased the stickers from the store.  Cooper and I did go to the store that day, but we never purchased any stickers.  After I confronted Cooper, the truth came tumbling out.  He swiped the stickers at the checkout counter.

I was livid and began to imagine six-year-old Cooper clad in a bright orange jumpsuit, chains wrapped around his ankles, picking up trash along the highway.  Is this the future he had in store?

As much as I wanted to lock him up in his room for eternity, I thought the best remedy was to take him back to the store and make things right.

With the holiday and the nasty weather, today was finally our day to head back to Target.  I escorted him up to customer service and nudged Cooper towards the counter.  In a hushed voice, he glanced at the clerk and admitting stealing the stickers and asked for forgiveness.  He then paid for the stickers out of his own money (and then the remaining stickers were promptly tossed into the trashcan).

Kudos to the Target salesclerk for not laughing it off or letting out a perfunctory "That's ok."  Instead, she pulled Cooper into a stare and provided him with an explanation of how that Target store deals with their petty thieves.  Cooper's eyes grew big as saucers when she explained that a security guard roams the store and can pull shoplifters into a room to wait for the police if caught stealing goods.

As we left the store, Cooper appeared subdued.  I'm hoping this puts the kabosh on any future he may have as a criminal.




Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Precious Homemade Gift

 If you have to be snowed in by a blizzard, I suppose the day after Christmas is the perfect day to be cocooned inside the house.  After all, the house was filled with new goodies that provided lots of entertainment for the boys.
 The boys spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the deep snow.  Caleb even helped shovel the sidewalk!


 All the neighbor kids were outside and the boys never seemed to tire of the endless snowball fights.

Between outdoor play, they'd rush in for a while and warm frosty toes and hands.

We celebrated Christmas night at my parent's house.  Three generations crowded around a Christmas tree packed with presents.  With eager children, gifts preceded dinner with little ones opening presents first.  Within minutes of the first unwrapping, Christmas carnage littered the floor: a flurry of torn wrapping paper, mangled tissue sheets, and discarded bows.  We adults waited for the last child to unwrap her gift before diving into our own.  A generous check.  Fluffy bath towels.  An emergency roadside kit. 

Thoughtful. Kind. Appreciated.

As the unwrapping drew to a close, four gift bags still nestled under the tree.  My Grandmother motioned me over and asked that I give one bag to each family present.  After all the bags were distributed, we opened them in unison.  Burrowed between the layers of tissue paper sat a handmade wooden cross perched on a small plank.  It was flawless, smooth to the touch, and hinted at the fact that the craftsman exuded much care and energy to perfect the finished product.

We looked at my Grandmother for explanation and she motioned to Gus, her 93-year-old new husband (married in August).  She announced that Gus had made the crosses as gifts for our family.

I was touched.  There's something about a homemade gift that can't be replicated by a purchase from the store.  Homemade gifts take time, thought, and effort and speak volumes about the value the giver places upon the givee.

I thought about Gus.  Blending families later (much later) in life has its challenges.  Gus's arrival into the family had some rough patches along the way.  Change is hard, after all.  But we all worked on carving out new relationships, smoothing over the imperfections, and crafting a truly beautiful, new finished product.

As I look at Gus's gift, I'm reminded that making something new requires energy and effort, but the finished product can be beautiful, just beautiful.  

Like Gus.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!


Our family celebrated Christmas Eve by attending a church service and then welcoming the Maxwell family over to our house for dinner.




 On Christmas morning, the boys awoke before 7 a.m. and eagerly greeted our Christmas tree bulging with wrapped boxes and bags.

 After presents, we savored our traditional Christmas breakfast complete with egg casserole and Jesus Birthday Cake.


Later in the afternoon, we headed over to Memaw and Papa's house for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange.  We are truly blessed with such generous, kind relatives.

Last night, all the boys were packed into our van en route to a Christmas Eve church service.  The van was quiet until Cooper's voice belted out from the rear of the vehicle.

"Guys, you don't need to worry," Cooper began.  "I did plenty of bad things last year and I still got Christmas gifts."

A collective sigh of relief whizzed through the car.

Merry Christmas from the Woods!!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wood Boys' Caroling Troupe

My little caroler.

Cooper, my adorable little six-year-old, has transformed into the human version of the energizer bunny.  On a normal day, his energy level rivals even the most spirited kids, but throw in Christmas (and the consumption of mass quantities of sugar) and Cooper surpasses his competition.  He was on fire, literally running circles around the house counting down the seconds until Christmas.

Just when I had about enough of Cooper's energy, he asked, "Why haven't we ever gone caroling?"

I muttered under my breath, "Perhaps because none of us can sing."

Cooper continued, "I want to go caroling."

Great idea.  A win-win: Cooper burns off some energy and spreads the Christmas cheer (or laughter) into the homes of neighbors.

Cooper solicited his little brother, Collin, for the first house.  They practiced singing a choppy rendition of Jingle Bells.  Collin even clutched a bell and swayed in time with the beat (well, sort of).  Once they felt confident in their performance, they took their act to the streets.  They insisted they should perform without adult supervision, so I watched the boys walk over to the Duncan's house without the benefits of hearing the audio.

A few minutes later, I called Mrs. Duncan.  Between giggles, she filled me in on their front door performance.  Evidently, the boys experienced some stage fright (and Collin's pants were unbuttoned).    The boys belted out a few notes before abandoning their caroling aspirations.

They walked home with heads hung low.  I encouraged more practice and they solicited another vocalist, Caleb, to their caroling troupe.  With newfound confidence, they returned to the Duncans with a new, improved act and then visited another neighbor's house too.  (Caleb even brought his trumpet to one house and performed a few notes of a song that had nothing to do with Christmas.)

As much as I'd like to believe I have the next Jonas Brothers on my hands, I'm thinking they best stick to a (captive) audience of neighbors and family members!





Saturday, December 22, 2012

Welcoming Winter


As if on cue, the first official day of winter looked like winter.  The previous night's rainfall transformed into snow flakes.  By the time the boys arose, a blanket of snow shrouded our yard.  They were giddy.  overjoyed.  ecstatic.  Their excitement was palpable and contagious.  

Still clad in pajamas, they raced around the house on a hunt for buried snow boots, caps, scarfs, snow pants, and matching mittens.  With lightning speed, they shoved on all their gear and dashed out into the unblemished snow.  The possibility for snow play seemed endless: "shoveling" the snow, making snow forts, snow angels, snow cones.  I watched from my kitchen window at the delightful scene.  

And so it went for the last two days.  Boys playing in the snow for a spell, then darting back inside to warm frosty toes and fingers (or beg this mother for yet another mug of hot cocoa).  My mind raced back to winters past as I am reminded again of the joys and challenges of winter weather:

A yard decorated with snowmen

Wet boots leaving a brown-watery trails throughout the house

Steaming mugs of hot cocoa

Owning a zillion gloves without one single match

Sled rides.  Giggles.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Helping little kids put snow suits and gloves on.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.....

Oh winter, I think you're here to stay.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Savoring Christmas

 I volunteered in Collin's preschool classroom on Tuesday for the pajama Christmas party.  Collin selected a snug pair of pjs that were a little revealing on his backside.  (I guess when you're three-years-old, that's ok.)  He was so happy at the party and enjoyed the festivities.  
Collin and a friend visited the Children's Museum for the Jolly Days exhibit.  The boys (and I) loved whizzing down the yule slide.
Blogging has been put on the back burner the last several days with cookie making and pretzel dipping occupying my time.   The boys (my little elves) gave out cookie bags to sweet friends and neighbors.

In C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, the evil White Witch casts a spell on the kingdom of Narnia.  She decreed that it would "always be winter, and never Christmas."

Most readers understand the deplorable nature of that decree.  To experience winter without Christmas, to many, would be unbearable.  Certainly, it would be for me.

Since the day after Thanksgiving, our Christmas tree has adorned our living room.  Beloved holiday mementos perch on tables and countertops.  Six crimson and green stockings line the fireplace.  From sunup to sundown, Christmas music flows throughout our house.  And for the last several days, the aroma of Christmas baking swirled among the nostrils of my four hungry boys.

It's Christmas.  I'm so happy.

I told Chris that I am the sort of person that would never tire of gazing at our Christmas decorations.  I honestly think I could comfortably leave up our Christmas tree until Easter, happily hiding eggs between the branches.

Practically, I know New Year's Day acts as the finish line of the Christmas season.  Begrudgingly, I'll strip the house of all its holiday embellishments.  It will look bare, as if it desperately needs some good accessories.  It will be winter, just winter.  I'll miss Christmas.

So, I'll savor the next couple of days before winter fully arrives.







Sunday, December 16, 2012

Grateful

 Happy Birthday Chris!
 Enjoying a sweet birthday treat!
 To celebrate Chris's birthday, we had an overnight date in downtown Indianapolis.  (FYI...To my Indiana resident friends, downtown hotels are offering half price rooms through the month of December!)

Thanks so much to memaw and papa for watching the boys for the night!
 We made our annual trip to the Indiana State Museum to ride the Christmas train and visit Santa Claus.  Along the way, we ran into some storm troopers.  

I think Santa was upstaged!


 Nothing says a Christmas photo quite like a stormtrooper in the picture.  (Stormtroopers bringing attention to a new Star Wars Science exhibit coming to the State Museum in the spring.)

 We ran into more...how fun!

The boys finished up with their museum visit with their annual trip to Santa.  We've finally arrived at the place where no one cries at the sight of Santa.  

Two boys asked for a dog.  I told them to remember Santa can't bring everything they want!

Perspective

Hearing the news coming out of Connecticut and viewing the images has been heartbreaking (especially as a mom of a kindergarten child that can easily put myself in the place of one of those grieving parent).  It has certainly put life's minor annoyances into perspective.

Gratitude

I'm so grateful for four healthy sons and one husband!  

Joyfulness

Joyful for a weekend filled with time with my husband (the birthday boy) and my children.

Prayerful

Prayerful for the grieving families and Connecticut community.  


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fathers, Sports, and Asperger's Syndrome


Old photo, but showing Caleb when he's most happy...surrounded by reptiles (yes, that's a snake on his wrist!).

On my son, Caleb's, bed sits a multi-colored, sports-themed quilt covered with basketball hoops, football helmets, and baseball caps.  To anyone who knows Caleb well, this choice in bedding seems odd.

Let me explain.

We purchased this quilt for Caleb when he was two-years-old and ready for a "big boy" bed as a brand-new brother needed his spot in the crib.  When I shopped for bedding, I searched for something that was appropriate for a toddler but would still fit in years to come for a tween.  A sports-themed comforter seemed ideal.  I certainly envisioned that our son's childhood would match the motif of the quilt with years spent at the ballpark or on the football field.

When Caleb was four-years-old, we placed him on his first sports team, a little league t-ball team.  We eagerly purchased a ball glove and escorted him to practice.  It quickly became apparent that Caleb and t-ball would not mesh well.  I vividly remember my efforts to coax him out to the practice field being met with defiance and tears (by both of us).

We chalked up the t-ball experience as "not a good fit."   Maybe baseball wasn't his thing, we assured one another.  There's many more sports out there, we agreed.  So we began a journey to find just the right sports fit for our son.  That odyssey veered from the t-ball field to the fencing court with little to no success along the way.  Finally, just this year, we've succumb to the fact that Caleb and sports may never harmoniously align.  Caleb is ten-year-old.  It took us eight years to come to peace with this fact and possibly no one took it harder than my husband.

Let me explain again.

Caleb has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.  With his many gifts come challenges and perhaps no activity has appeared as difficult as sports.

This morning, my husband called from work gushing about an article he just read: "How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal with Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood."  This candidly written essay discusses a reporter's journey to accept and understand his son's Asperger's Syndrome.

The author's journey with Asperger's Syndrome certainly mirrors our own experiences with our son.   Certainly the author's son  shares similar traits with our Aspie: tendency to monologue, narrow interests, social awkwardness, lack of empathy, and more.  

When the author discussed his son's challenges with sports, tears welled in my eyes.  He said, "Fathers and sons don't always know how to talk to each other, which is why we have sports."  For my husband, maybe his disappointment about not seeing his son perched in the outfield or darting around a basketball court has little to do with sports, and more to do about connections.  If my husband wasn't finding those connections on the sports field, where else could they be found?  

In the article, the author talked about finding a connection with his son on trips to historical destinations.  And so my husband has done the same.  He's escorted Caleb to museums and libraries while other fathers are spending time with their sons on the sports fields. 

When I asked my husband why he liked the article so much, he replied, "It reminds me to appreciate the son we have and not the one I thought he would be."  And so went the conclusion of the article as the author completes the piece calling his son: not the idealized son, but the ideal son.  

Today, I glanced at my son's sports-themed bedspread.  I decided it was time to purchase new bedding.  It was time for something new.   Something better.

Check out: "How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal with Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood" by Ron Fournier.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back To Back Birthdays


Happy 8th Birthday Connor!


In my last post, I pondered  how my children will view their childhoods later in life.  This question flares up every year at Connor’s birthday.  You see, Connor’s birthday lands exactly one day (and two years) after his older brother’s birthday.  The fact their birthdays fall even a day apart is a blessing.  Connor was due on Caleb’s birthday and my doctor planned to deliver Connor on my due date until I begged and pleaded for her to pick another delivery day.  I desperately wanted to give my boys their own birthdays, even if they were just a day apart.

Caleb’s birthday falls first.  He's birthday king for the day and we spoil him rotten with attention and birthday treats.

Then the next day, it’s like Groundhog’s Day.  Another day of celebrating and of course the celebrating has to be on par with the prior day’s festivities.  Believe me, one birthday cannot appear more special or exalted over the other.  My little boys are taking meticulous mental notes on how exactly each birthday is celebrated in comparison to their brother's birthday.

The cake is perhaps the biggest issue with Connor’s birthday.  It certainly would be easy to place birthday candles on Caleb’s half-eaten birthday cake from the day before.  But, then again I imagine Connor lounging on a therapist couch and lamenting the fact that he never had his own actual birthday cake, instead it was always his brother’s leftovers….the clothes, the toys, and the birthday cakes.

So, Connor’s birthday is capped off with his very own birthday cake.  In 24 hours, we stuff ourselves silly with frosting and forkfuls of cake.  We certainly don’t need to buy/make two cakes in two days, but Connor deserves to know he’s special, an individual to be celebrated.  So, we get another cake to remind him of that fact.

Happy 8th Birthday to my dear Connor.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Being One of Four: Asset or Liability?


 We had a great time at my running friend's Christmas party.  Pictured above with some of my running buddies.



Happy 10th Birthday to Caleb!

Quite frequently, I wonder how my children will remember their childhoods.  Specifically, I question how each will process being one child among four.  Will being raised as part of a crowd be seen as an asset or liability?

Today, I'm imaging Caleb found having three brothers to be a liability.  It was his birthday.  He officially reached double digits!  We had a wonderful day planned out for his birthday.  Church (although Caleb told me he didn't think people went to church on their birthdays....hmm, I don't remember seeing that in scripture), lunch out, followed by a dinner birthday party with lots of extended family expected to attend.

But little brother Cooper had other plans.  Starting around 11 p.m. on Caleb's birthday eve, Cooper began to vomit and continued into the morning until the first dosage of Zofran was administered.  Just like that, plans changed.  The birthday dinner was cancelled.

I broke the news to Caleb gently in the morning.  He was disappointed (perhaps the most because of all the presents he would miss opening!).  I imagined him years later lounging on a therapist couch and announcing, "Wait, wait, my childhood woes get worse!  On my tenth birthday, my celebration dinner was cancelled due to yet another brother!"

We scrambled for a Plan B.  Chris took Caleb out to lunch while I tended to his sick brother.  We had our birthday dinner at home with just our six (talk about leftovers!).  After dinner, the boys huddled around Caleb's chocolate birthday cake with ten flaming candles adorning the top.  Each boy was excited to be part of the celebrating and belted out "Happy Birthday" with much enthusiasm (and a lot of "cha cha chas").  At that moment, as he gazed at his brothers, I'm thinking Caleb found being one of four to be an asset.

Happy Birthday to my Caleb!   




Friday, December 7, 2012

Lessons Learned From a Christmas Card

I joined Caleb at lunch today to help celebrate his birthday with his classmates.  With all the allergies in his class, homemade birthday cupcakes were out.  Popsicles worked for everyone.

One of my very favorite parts of the holiday season is running to the mailbox every day and discovering all of the freshly delivered Christmas cards.  I love gazing at the beautiful pictures and reading the thoughtful captions.  The photos capture smiling, well-groomed children with arms slung around the shoulder of a sibling or hands crossed in a prayer-like fashion upon laps.  Each child looks angelic.  Each family appears flawless.  As I examine each image, I wonder if the pictures match the reality.

A few days ago, I opened a friend's Christmas card.  I gazed at the beautiful photo of my friend's four adorable children standing in a stair-step fashion.  Smiling.  Incredibly Cute.  Flawless.  I glanced at the caption under the photo.  It read: "Add an optional photo caption."  I skimmed the words again and then smiled and sighed at the same time.  My poor friend!  She forgot to personalize the photo caption.

I picked up a small paper insert nestled within the folds of her envelope.  In it, she admitted her omission and claimed sleep deprivation for her mistake.  She invited her friends to send their best idea for her missing photo caption and promised to post suggested captions on her Facebook account.  

I smiled and thought how this Christmas card was perhaps one of my favorites.  I think her card spoke volumes about her character.  I appreciate her willingness to be authentic and real.  She made a mistake.  It happens.  She wasn't afraid to let others see it.  How admirable.  She found the humor in the situation.  Bravo.

Yesterday I goofed.  I forgot it was make-up picture day at Caleb's school.  (You see, Caleb needed to attend the make-up picture day after I forgot to send him in "school picture appropriate attire" on the original picture day.)  Due to my forgetfulness, Caleb will be clad in his "Frogs of North America" shirt in his school's 2012 composite.  Embarrassing?  Yes.  But I found the humor/bright spot in the situation...I'm imaging no one else will be wearing the same thing!

Thanks to my friend for putting things in perspective.  Imperfect Christmas cards and botched school pictures won't mean as much in the long run as how the mistakes were handled.
  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Comfort Zones

Date Night!  

Chris's group hosted its annual Christmas party.  We had a great time with his fellow docs.

Warning:  My husband calls this post deep thoughts by Becky.

On Sunday, I stumbled upon a truly inspiring story.  A New York City tourist snapped a photo of a police officer placing boots upon the feet of a shoeless, homeless man huddled on a street corner.  The police officer purchased brand new boots for the homeless man out of his own money after he noticed the man sitting in the frigid temps with exposed feet.  If a picture says a thousand words, this photo spoke of compassion, generosity, kindness, and humanity.

On Monday came the follow-up story.  A reporter tracked down the same homeless man and found him again shoeless with his brand new boots nowhere to be found.  I read the story with deep disappointment.  If I could stretch my hands from my little spot in the Heartland all the way to New York City, I would shake that man silly.  I would remind him how much better his life would be with the boots.  The boots are warm, comfortable, and will protect him from the dangers of frostbite and injury.

As I struggled with why on earth this man would refrain from wearing the boots, a quote from Lysa Terkeurst's book, Unglued, jumped to mind.  She said, "Comfort zones don't have to be comfortable, they're just familiar."  The homeless man was comfortable in bare feet.  He was familiar with walking in bare feet.  He didn't know things could be so much better and easier for him by just wearing the boots.

It got me thinking about how often we settle for walking around in bare feet because its comfortable and familiar.  But if we step out of those comfort zones, God has so much more for us... a better life and one that can protect us for so much harm.  Sometimes it requires a leap of faith to take the first step and walk in the right direction.  





  


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wake up Call



Is it really December?  Yes, Cooper is actually wearing shorts and not the least bit cold!  I forced (as several boys complained) the boys to take a nature hike in the unseasonably warm December weather.  

Most mornings I awake early, while my boys are still asleep, and squeeze in an early run.  Sundays are different.  Most Sundays I skip a workout and "sleep in" until the first boy awakes.

This morning, I was sleeping soundly in my bed when I heard the squeak of my bedroom door opening and little feet shuffling along the floor.  I opened my eyes and focused on the vision of a boy clutching his trumpet and moving it towards my exposed ear.

It was as if things moved in slow motion.  I shouted "NO" right before he let out his first puff.

He, being Caleb, sighed and shot me a disappointed look.  Evidently, he thought it would be great fun to wake me (and the rest of the house) up by performing one of his fourth grade masterpieces at full volume..at 7 a.m.

Needless to say, we talked about appropriate wake up calls and how inappropriate wake up calls can give family members quite a fright (and the possibility that they could soil their sheets).