Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The New Frontier of Parenting: Tweens

Cooper visits sweet Ruby once a week to help with school work.  She has such a sweet disposition!   

A few days ago, Collin had a preschool friend over for a play date. The two boys rearranged matchbox cars and zipped around our sidewalk on bikes.  I watched the action and smiled.  Four year olds are easy, I determined.  Really all they require are a few toys and active imaginations.

I get four year olds.

I don't get ten year olds.

I have a ten year old.  He's my oldest.  He's past the age of play-doh and picture books, but he's not quite into the world texting and Facebook.

He peppers me with request after request:

Can I read the "Hunger Games"?

Can I watch "The Avengers"?

Can I ride my bike around the neighborhood by myself?

Can I drink Sprite?

Can I have a phone?

I miss the age where the question was "Sesame Street or Dora?"

He complains that I always say no.

I tell him he's just not asking the right question.  There are many questions I would happily reply in the affirmative.  ("Mom, can I clean my room?")

He's pushing us into virgin parenting territory and we're terrified.  Truthfully, most of the time we don't know how to respond.  Saying no is least for us.

A friend with older children recommended that I enter the tween years with as much preparation as I gave to welcoming a newborn.  She reminded me that when I was trying to figure out baby sleep schedules and toddler tantrums, I turned to books and wise advice from seasoned friends and families.  My friend suggested using the same tools to guide us into the newest phase of our parenting journey.

Her advice was helpful.  I realized we need to enter the next stage of parenting armed with good advice and ready for whatever life brings.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The celebrity in the Sunday school class

 Caleb yelled at me from the kitchen, "Come watch density in action!"  He was so excited about his homemade kitchen chemistry project.

 The boys and I visited neighbor Sy and her daughter Allyssa at their Japanese booth at the library's International Festival.

Guess what's missing!

Chris picked up Cooper from his Sunday school class.  Cooper's Sunday school teacher greeted Chris at the door with a panicked look on her face.  Chris glanced down at Cooper.  Blood was streaming down Cooper's face and onto his shirt.  The Sunday school teacher quickly explained: Cooper lost a tooth in class.

In Cooper's world, this Sunday school class ranked right up there with a visit from Jesus himself.  The amount of drama and attention he received from wiggling a tooth free made him absolutely giddy and transformed him into the celebrity of the Sunday school class.

It wasn't just any tooth: it was the front tooth.  Every time he flashed a grin, I couldn't help but chuckle.  My perpetually jolly son took on the look of a jack-o-latern or a hillbilly.   And when he spoke, his words sounded a bit like Elmer Fudd.  I giggled some more.

Cooper didn't seem to mind the laughter.  He lapped up the attention and found creative ways to make the best out of the situation.  For instance, he discovered the gap between his teeth made a nice entry point for a straw.  And, he enjoyed the challenge of finding new ways to eat crunchy foods.

But most of all, he loved the thought of the tooth fairy paying him a visit.  He tucked his fallen tooth into the folds of the tooth fairy pillow and prayed she would come through in spades by the morning.  

Cooper looked happy as he dozed off to sleep, pleased with the day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Child We Wanted

What happens when you leave a four year old alone with tape.

Last night, freezing rain pelted our house.  It was one of those dreary nights best spent wrapped up in blankets on the couch.  It was a movie night sort of night, so I flipped on the flick I've wanted to see, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green."

About 30 minutes into the movie, I heard the patter of little feet descending the stairs and then Caleb appeared at the doorway.  He looks exhausted, but complained he couldn't sleep.  I patted the empty spot next to me and motioned him forward.  He plopped down onto the couch and snagged an end of my blanket, burying his toes under the covers.

We gazed at the screen and I tried to catch him up on the portion of the movie he'd missed.  

"You see," I began.  "The parents in the movie couldn't have kids.  In a final act of grief and acceptance, they wrote all the things they wanted in a child on little sheets of paper.  Then, they placed the papers in a box and buried it in the garden.  One night, a son emerged out of the box possessing all the characteristics written on the cards."

Caleb listened intently, clearly deep in thought.  Then he said, "Am I the child you wanted?"

It was one of those questions that practically sucked the wind out of me.  I stared at the screen, wondering how best to respond.

When Caleb was merely an image on an ultrasound screen, I had visions of what he would be like.  I never wrote a list, but certainly had expectations and dreams.  

As Caleb aged, his personality emerged.  He was different from the child I imagined.  I quickly realized different doesn't mean bad, just different.

I finally replied to Caleb's question, "Caleb, you weren't the child we wanted; You are better!"

He smiled.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Vegetarian or Carnivore?

Caleb displays his latest art masterpiece.

Cooper pulled up to the dinner table.  He glanced down at a plate filled with broccoli florets and slices of roast beef.  Immediately his countenance soured.

"Mom," he cried.  "Remember, I'm a veterinarian."

"Vegetarian," I corrected.

He smiled, "Yes, I'm that."

As a vegetarian myself (and a daughter of two vegetarians), I am extremely empathetic to those who choose the meat-free lifestyle.  However, Cooper's vegetarian status seems to wax and wane depending upon the type of meat served.*  Should chicken nuggets or hotdogs be a dinner option and Cooper is pure carnivore.  If the meat gets any fancier, like chicken encrusted in "green stuff" (herbs), than he's magically transformed into a vegetarian (and not afraid to tout his new status).

Tonight, I told Cooper we fully support his decision to engage in a healthy vegetarian lifestyle.  I assured him we would help him with his new dietary endeavors by purging all the chicken nuggets, hotdogs, and pepperoni pizzas from the refrigerator.  We would also pump up his diet with tofu, beans, and plenty of fresh veggies.

Cooper shot me a concerned look and then took a bite of roast beef. 

*Even though I am a vegetarian, I do serve my carnivore husband (and children) meat for dinner.

Monday, February 18, 2013

If Only Tests Registered Spunk

 The boys enjoyed seeing the Creation Museum outside of Cincinnati.

 We followed up the museum visit with a trip to Jungle Jim's ginormous grocery store.  The boys adored perusing the mammoth candy section.
Bummer this picture isn't any better!   Spent the night and President's Day with Uncle Matt, Aunt Heather, and cousins.

This week, Cooper's school sent us his achievement and intelligent test results.  It was interesting perusing the data and gathering more information on our son.  The tests were thorough, providing ample detail about his math skills and reading abilities.  Although the report was extremely comprehensive, the tests failed to capture the essence of Cooper.

The tests didn't measure Cooper's spunk, grit, and resolution.  If they did, I'm sure he'd register off the charts.

Cooper is determined and lives by one strong motto: "If there's a will, there's a way."

Ever since Valentine's Day, he's had one thought dominate his every waking hour: Valentine's candy.  He knows the Wood family rule: boys may select one piece of candy after eating a complete dinner.  Yet, he seems to think rules are to be followed by other people and not someone as charming and stealthy as him.  And so I catch him in the most precarious positions with a surprised look on his face and a fistful of lollipops behind his back.

Tonight was one of those moments.  Just minutes after tucking him into bed, he waltzed down the steps clutching his belly.  He moaned as he grumbled about his hunger pains.  I took one look at my pathetic son and insisted he get a little something to tide him over until the morning.  I suggested an apple sauce and he quickly agreed.

I heard him tinkering around in the pantry and watched him walk out clutching a small container of apple sauce. He sat at the table and scooped a few bites into his mouth.  One missed his mouth and dribbled onto his pajama top.  He sighed and lifted his shirt up to clean off the spot.

That's when I noticed it....a pack of sweethearts tucked into his pajamas pants.  (It reminded me of those inmates you see on TV smuggling in a pack of cigarettes!)


Cooper's feigned hunger was a decoy and provided him access to the Valentine's candy. 

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Do I really have to give Cooper a full pat-down every time he walks anywhere near our pantry?

Instead, I told Cooper his days with the Valentine's candy are numbered, but I'm imaging it will be only a matter of time until he finds something new.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Sweetest Valentine's Gift

The boys wanted to spend part of their long weekend at kidsCommons in Columbus.

I've certainly received my fair share of thoughtful Valentine's gifts over the years.  Chocolates.  Flowers.  Cards.  A thoughtful gift or two.  But this Valentine's Day I received a truly remarkable gift: answered prayer.

This year, Valentine's Day was uneventful.  Chris worked a night shift, so I spent the evening alone with the boys.  We made the best of it.  The boys and I ate pasta and then cuddled on the couch in front of a Charlie Brown Valentine's special.

Bedtime followed.  I tucked each boy into bed with a few books and a round of prayers.  When I came to Caleb, I asked if I could pray for anything for him.  He squirmed and didn't answer.  I prodded a little further.  Then, his words came tumbling out.  He said he wanted to become a Christian.

I almost fell off the bed.  

We certainly hoped and prayed Caleb would make that decision, but knew it was his decision to make.  Caleb has been my one son that's not warmed to religion.  He's freely expressed his doubts.  He's a science guy and a lot of his questions revolve around how science and religion gel.

A little part of my found this frustrating.  Why can't he just believe?  But a larger part of me found it refreshing.  I knew if and when Caleb chose to believe it would be a well-thought out decision and one that he wouldn't take lightly.

On Valentine's Day, Caleb accepted Christ.  I knelt by his bed and cupped his hands in mine.  We prayed.  Love filled the room. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Talk

An array of crazy attire the boys wore within the last 24 hours. 

Caleb hopped into my car and immediately fetched a book from the floor.  Quickly, he became engrossed in the pages.  I flipped on the radio, thinking we would spend the ride in silence.  

It was a few minutes into our drive when Caleb cleared his throat. Without making eye contact, he said, "Why did Dad decide to read me that book over dinner.  It was so disgusting; I almost lost my appetite."

I tried to stifle my giggles.

I had just picked Caleb up from a dinner he went to with Chris...just the two of them.  The books were ones that answer the question of "Where babies come from?" along with all the wonderfully awkward topics that come along with it.

After I composed myself, I asked Caleb what he learned from the books.

He replied, "That I'm never getting married!"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Box

 We had our Valentine's Day dinner early so as to accomodate Chris's work schedule.  The boys loved our special Valentine's dessert.  
 Enjoyed time with Caleb at his class Valentine's party.  As much as this picture looks otherwise, I swear he had fun!

Collin displayed his Valentine's goodies: a Batman swimsuit and a chocolate box.

Last night Connor said to me, "I'm too busy. Do you think you could make my Valentine box for school?"

I paused and then replied, "Sure.  My favorite color is pink, so the box will be pink.  Also, I'm going to write, 'I Love My Mom' or 'My Mom is My Valentine' on the side."

A concerned look shot across his face.

Funny, suddenly he found the time to make the box himself.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Answer To "Will I Really Ever Need to Know This?"

Ages ago, when I was a student, I remember struggling with a question of why.   Why on earth did I need to study obscure science and mathematical theories.  I certainly didn't anticipate using such concepts as the Pythagorean Theorem or Einstein's Theory of Relativity out in the real world.  I was a budding journalist or a future lawyer (or both).  I didn't need to waste precious brain space on such "nonsense." 

For a while, I was right.  During my years of employment, I never had to differentiate between an isosceles or a scalene triangle nor did I ever have to recite the elements in the periodical table.

But then I became a mother.  A mother with kids.  Kids with homework.  Homework and projects that needed supervision and direction.  Homework and projects that revolved around all those "silly" concepts I thought I'd never use.

 Today, Caleb needed help on his science fair project.  

Science fair of my least favorite childhood memories.  I detested them the first time around and I certainly haven't warmed to them in the last several decades.

He selected a "Nuclear Mentos" project (the classic mentos in the diet coke bottle one) guaranteed to fuse science with little boy fun.  Classic Wood style, we left the project until the 11th hour.  If the science fair project was going to be completed, it had to be done today.

The four boys and I dashed outside clutching armfuls of two-liter soda bottles and mentos' packs.  The weather was less than ideal for conducting an experiment: solid rain showers and cold temperatures.

Caleb lined up the first bottle and snagged a few mentos.  The boys all stepped back.  With the flick of Caleb's wrist, the candy fell into the bottle.  The boys watched in amazement as the soda instantly burst upward.  The boys treated the display with as much appreciation as a fancy Fourth of July show.  They "oohed" and "aahed" and skipped around with pure giddiness.

Then I noticed Cooper ducking into the house and then rushing back outside several minutes later.  During our second explosion, Cooper rushed forward clutching a cup.  He placed the cup directly under the shooting soda and watched in delight as the cup filled with soda suds.  Before I could stop him, he gulped down the bubbly beverage.  I realized the boys were treating the science experiment as snack time.  Mentos and soda pop seemed to be disappearing at a rapid pace.

I got frustrated.  I was out in the cold and the rain with four boys doing (or eating) a science experiment.  This wasn't meant to happen.  Once I earned my high school diploma, I wasn't supposed  to do science again.  Ever.

Today I realized exactly what I'll say when one of the boys asked, "Why do I have to learn this?  Do you honestly think I really need to know all the Canadian provinces?  Will I ever use this in the real world?"

I'll answer, "Yes, when you're a Dad."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Childhood Spent on the Sidelines

The busyness of the weekend left one little guy exhausted.

Collin pulled up to the breakfast table this morning.

"What are we doing today," he asked.

I rattled off the day's schedule.  Cooper's basketball game at 8 a.m.  Pickup Connor from a slumber party at 9:15.  Connor's swim meet at noon until (typically infinity).

He listened and then questioned what he would be doing during those hours.  

"Well," I paused.  "You'll be watching your brothers."

After the words leapt from my mouth, I thought how that statement summarized his little life.  He's the fourth born, the baby of the family.  He doesn't participate or play.  He watches his brothers.  He rides along.  He spends his time in the car.  He was born into the position of a spectator.

He doesn't complain about this things, because he doesn't know any different.  He doesn't know that there are kids out there his very age that don't spend nearly as much time in the car and actually play on their own sports teams.

He doesn't know it, but I do.  I'm overwhelmed with mommy guilt.  I wonder if Collin will have any memories of his childhood that don't revolve around being strapped into a car seat or plunked down into a folding chair on the side of a sports field.

I try to tell myself he'll be a better man because of it.  He'll be adaptable.  flexible.  supportive.

Or bitter. angry.  destined for therapy.

Guilt floods back.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Morning Mayhem

Enjoyed watching the Superbowl with our friends, the Maxwells.  Ali made these adorable football rice krispie treats.

I'm a morning person.  Always have been.  To me, mornings signify a new beginning.  A chance to erase the mistakes from the prior day and start afresh.  I wake up positive.  hopeful.  optomistic.  I think that's where I can get into trouble.  I'm so hopeful about the day that when the morning unravels it can quickly send me into a tailspin.     

This morning started off bright.  Breakfast was pleasant.  Little boys got themselves ready for school with little commotion (no fights about wearing a tank top in February or going without underwear to school).  Things were looking good.

I packed up the boys into our minivan and headed off to school.  The carpool line was particularly long this morning.  Minivan after minivan lined the perimeter of the school with mommy drivers looking particularly impatient and annoyed.

It was my turn for drop off.  I pulled up to the spot at the front of the line, right next to the school, and directly next to the principal who was directing traffic.  That's when Cooper announced his show and tell item was missing.  I knew the show and tell item made it into the car, but somehow in the transit to school it went missing.

Cooper became frantic and began to desperately search our car.  I did a quick scan for the item but found nothing.  I started to sweat.  I could feel the eyes of the principal and every single mother in the carpool line zeroing in on me.  I'm sure all the drivers behind me had their hands perched on their horns ready to blast out their emotions.  I shot a nervous smile to the principal and put up a "one moment" finger.

Then, I peered back into the car and noticed Cooper had hurdled himself into our trunk desperately searching for his much coveted show and tell item.

I thought I was going to lose it. 

I put the car in park and walked outside the car and opened the trunk.  Cooper jumped out of the trunk (still without his missing item).  I'm sure the drivers behind me let out a collective gasp.  The principal shot me a startled look and said, "Oh, there's a child in your trunk?"  I tried to shoot off a brief explanation, but by that time she (and about a million other cars behind me) just wanted me to move.

As I pulled away from the school, I realized how quickly my morning optimism can wane.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter Running Warms the Soul

Caleb made this sign and attached it to our front door.  He doesn't speak for everyone in the house!

I used to have standards.  A line in the sand, have you, that I would not cross.  Mentally, I formulated guidelines.  Weather conditions in which I would not run outdoors.  I decided freezing temps sounded like a good threshold.  So, if the barometer hovered close to the 30 degree mark, I'd ditch my running tights in favor of  athletic shorts.  Then, I'd make a beeline for the treadmill.  Sure, I felt a bit like a hamster on a wheel, but it was warm and dry...and did I mention warm?

Then I started running with a group of women with roots in the North.  One woman hails from northern Indiana, another native Canadian, and a third married to a Minnesotan (cold-blooded by osmosis?).  These women didn't view cold weather running in quite the same way as me.  

Emily, the Canadian, seems completely without any outdoor running standards.  No temperature is too cold.  No snow accumulation is too deep.  No icy roads are too treacherous.  In fact, she even seems a bit in her element running around in the cold.  I can almost see her smile as the blustery winds whip into her face and the snowflakes shower her forehead.

This winter we've had several days where the temperatures dipped into crazy cold digits.  The night before a run, an email/text exchange will typically go like this:

Me:  Looks like it's going to be really cold tomorrow.  Maybe we should cancel.

Girls:  It will be fine.  Just dress warm.

And so I learned the northern girls' winter outdoor running tip:  You can always dress for the weather.

Each time, I so easily wanted to type back "see ya'll in the spring!," but a little part of me felt like a wimp.  Like if I don't run through the muck and the cold I can't call myself a true runner.  Somehow I've adopted the notion that true runners trot through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And so I reply (with grit teeth) "be there" and arrive the next day on the trail in conditions that would make most question my sanity.  I wrap myself up in so many layers that I look a bit like the Michelin man or the little boy in "A Christmas Story."  (You know, the one so bundled up that his arms wouldn't bend to his sides.)  I encase myself in four layers on top, two on the bottom, headwear, and gloves with hand warmers.

Once fully bundled, I think, "Why can't I run with people from Florida?  I bet they're not out running in these conditions!"

This morning I ran.  It was crazy, I know.  The temperature was 18 with accumulated snow.  After a few strides, I realized I was comfortable - dare I say even warm.  And so I started to relax and truly enjoy the scenery.  The trail was bare and so quite.  (Most sane runners still nestled in their beds!)  The snow seemed to illuminate the path and powdery branches formed a canopy over the trail.  The surrounding was so peaceful and serene that it almost felt like running through a church where one must be reverent, talking in hushed tones and offering nods of appreciation.

By the end of the run, I felt rejuvenated.  Somehow, it warmed my heart and tingled my soul.  

[I still hold some standards.  No running is icy conditions, single digits, and thunderstorms.  That's a line I won't cross!]