Sunday, June 30, 2013

Barefoot Grace

Love this shot of Cooper performing his household chores clad  in a witch hat and a swimsuit!

I checked my watch and smiled.  Finally, we arrived to church on time.  I smugly exited my car, hoping any parishioner in the parking lot took note of our punctuality.  Mentally I was patting myself on the back and giving an acceptance speech for the award of "Best Mom Ever for Getting Four Boys to Church on Time (and doing it all by herself)."

Just as I was getting ready to thank the academy, Connor's voice belted out from the backseat.

"Oh no," he exclaimed.  "I forgot my shoes."

Connor is eight, too old to consider shoes a non-essential.  

 The fact we were inches away from the church doors made me pause and stifle the flurry of comments I so desperately wanted to unleash.

It was one of those pivotal mom moments: Do I run home and have him grab his shoes or let him waltz into the building barefoot (Jesus-style)?

I could have picked option A.  I was pretty sure a "No shoes, no service" sign isn't affixed to the church doors, but something in me felt like a barefoot eight-year-old child might raise a few eyebrows and cause a few snickers.

We selected option B.  During the whole commute home, I replayed the morning.  I thought about all the time he fiddled with Legos, bickered with his brother, and lounged around on the couch.  There were plenty of moments (millions even, it seemed) for him to snag a pair of shoes and pull them on his feet.

Connor was quiet during our ride.  He could feel the steam radiating from my seat flowing back on him.  He finally uttered, "I'm sorry."

I ruminated on the way to respond.  I could bombard him with a lengthy lecture.  I could scream.  I could pout.  Instead, I decided to put things in perspective and forgive.  I knew what he might remember most from the morning was not the shoes, but my response.

"It's OK Connor," I said.  "Mistakes happen.  I make them too.  Let's just think about shoes next time."

A peace immediately swirled through the van.

He grabbed his shoes from home and we finally arrived back at the church (late).  I slipped into the church's sanctuary and fell into my seat.  I listened to my pastor recount a childhood story where he accidentally cracked his grandfather's car window.  He spoke about his grandfather's kind response to his mistake and how at that moment he truly understood God's grace and forgiveness for what it is: a gift not earned or deserved.

I thought about Connor and the shoes (or lack there of) and felt hopeful that I showed him similar grace.  I hope he saw a small sliver of the grace that can be offered by one very imperfect mother and learned about the infinite Grace extended by a loving God.  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Race Day

 Caleb and Connor ready for the start of a 5-K race (with friends Emma and Annabel).

 After the race, the kiddos spotted the Butler Bulldog.
A post-race photo of the Wood team.  So proud of the boys!  Connor completed his first 5-K race and Caleb finished his second race.  We're also very proud of our friends the Hermacinskis.  They ran an amazing race!

I think it was January when I got the idea in my head.  The thought that running might be a good fit for Caleb.  He needed it.  His clothes seemed a little snug.  He was sluggish, moody, and struggling with sleep issues.  I'm sure there are plenty of cures for many of those ailments, but personally I know none better than running.

That's when I encouraged/bribed him to slip on some running shoes and jump on the treadmill.  With little reluctance, he did the first workout and then the next and the next.  Pretty soon, he was nine weeks into it and running his first race.

I didn't want Caleb to be a one-race wonder.  And so I continued to encourage/bribe him to run another race.  This time, Connor agreed to run too.

Today was the race.  We lined up at the start along with our friends the Hermacinskis and a slew of other racers.  When the announcer said "Go," Connor sprinted past us and fell into stride with our faster friends.  He continued this pace for half the race before admitting the girls were just a tad too fast for him and falling back into line with Caleb and me.

Caleb and I stuck together the entire race.  He selected a more modest pace and fiddled with my phone as he continued forward.  Days early, he created a playlist and was giddy to listen to his tunes via my headphones.

With the headphones jammed in his ears, Caleb spoke in a volume level only used when speaking to the elderly.  Add this to the fact that Caleb has a flair for the dramatic and absolutely no filter (he thinks it, he says it) and we put on quite a show for our fellow runners.

Caleb (screaming):  I'm hyperventilating.

Me (trying to whisper):  I promise, you're not hyperventilating.

The runners around us exchange glances.

Caleb (yelling):  I'm going to die.

Me (in hushed tones):  You wouldn't want to die before eating that donut at the finish line!

New runners pass by and shoot me concerned looks.

Caleb (hollering):  Shoot me now.  THIS. IS. HARD!

Me (hissing):  You want to talk hard?  How about running a marathon?  Childbirth?  Trigonometry?  Low Carb Diets?  I could do this all day.

At this point, it was pointless to whisper.  Practically everyone from the start to the finish was in on our conversation.

I felt a bit like a Tiger mom, pushing him along the course.  But the thing is, he can do it.  That I know.  He's better because of it.  He's proud of himself.  And so despite the crazy looks and snickers, I continued to push (gently) and encourage.

He crossed the finish line one minute faster than his last race with Connor along side.  As soon as we hit the food table, he was a different kid: happy, peaceful, and proud.  It was all worth it.  I was proud too (of both boys!).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The question a woman should never be asked

 The boys loved the Star Wars exhibit at the Indiana State Museum.

Connor adores Boy Scout camp this week. 

Connor had a play date.  I was talking to his little friend's mom when I noticed her eyeing my mid-section.  Suddenly she exclaimed, "You're not pregnant, are you?"

It took me a minute to process her words before I stammered, ""

She fumbled a slight apology before taking a sharp left turn in the conversation, "So what do you think about the weather?"

I limply contributed to a discussion on storm clouds and precipitation, but my mind was elsewhere.  I was instantly transported to an obsessive world where I couldn't stop the "Why does she think I'm pregnant?" thoughts from dominating my constant internal dialogue.

I landed on a few conclusions:

It's because I gained a few vacation pounds after visiting the food trucks one too many times.  Curse you ice cream trucks!

It's the shorts I'm wearing.  I'll burn them when I get home.  

It's that time of the month, the lighting, the big lunch I ate...and on and on.

Suddenly, I had mentally committed myself to a forever diet of celery sticks and bottled water or a wardrobe filled with mumus.  

As I've shared this story with various friends/acquaintances/strangers/anyone that will listen, I've become amazed at the number of women that have been on the receiving end of this same question.  And the way the question is asked varies; the delivery can be bold, creative, rude, or (fill in the blank).  Those of us that have heard that question (and indeed are NOT pregnant) can find the humor in the situation, but still walk away with a bruise to the ego and a ding to the self esteem.

So on behalf of all of us, I beg the general public NOT to ask a woman if she is pregnant.  NEVER.  EVER.  EVER.  The rare exceptions to this rule are if she's wearing a t-shirt with the word "Baby" on the front and a downward arrow or you actually see a baby crowning.  Otherwise, never take the sight of an abdominal pudge as an invitation to get personal.  NO GOOD CAN COME OUT OF THIS QUESTION...if there's the slightest possibility that you're wrong.  If someone is truly pregnant, she'll let you know at some point, even if it is nine months later. 

And for those of us that have received that question, let's hold our heads high (suck in our guts) and laugh/cry together.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mommy Knows Best...Not This One

A few days ago a friend unloaded her problems.  One of her children was being especially obstinate.  I listened intently to her woes and heartache.  And then I literally couldn't stop myself.  Instead of just being a good listening ear, I took it upon myself to verbally assault her with my "wealth" of parenting knowledge.  I channeled my inner Dr. Spock and spewed out every trick, tip, and philosophy I could unleash until both of our heads were spinning. Within a moment, I turned into the parent I despise: the know-it-all.  (Ah, how easy it is to dole out parenting advice.....for other people's kids!)

Proof positive that God has a sense of humor, today I found myself in the same situation (times four).  One (or four...depending on the moment) son(s) was/were a hot mess.  I really don't know where to start (or end).  Their naughtiness seemed never-ending and far-reaching.  Their antics seemed to grow exponentially with the hour as my patience waned per the minute.

When I was practically at my breaking point, I ran into the same friend I offered advice to just days earlier.  I was eating crow, BIG TIME.  At that point, all I could do was laugh.  Mid-full-on-belly-laugh, I apologized for playing "Super Nanny" just days earlier.  I vowed that the next time I offer up advice, it will be "what not to do" from my own personal experience.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Little boys love a good traffic stop

I was cruising down the road in our little town when I noticed the flashing lights in my rearview mirror.  Drat, I muttered (or perhaps  a slightly stronger word) and did what all good drivers do in that situation: slam on the breaks and pray.

I pulled over to the side and watched as the police man moseyed out of his vehicle and landed at my window.  During his promenade, my boys became fully aware that a police car was parked behind our minivan accompanied by a REAL LIFE police man standing mere inches away.

It's funny, a friend told me her girls cried buckets when she got pulled over by the police.  Not my boys.  No sir.  My boys were giddy.  In their world, a traffic stop ranks right up there with firetrucks, puppy dogs, and birthday parties.

Mr. No Nonsense Officer got right to the point; my license plate frame was obstructing the state name on my license plate.  Really, I wasn't speeding?  Really, this is traffic stop worthy?  He scowled at me and asked the perfunctory questions:

-Any weapons in the car?  (Lightsabers count?)
-Suspicious objects in car? (Define suspicious.)
-Active driver's license? (Yes, but inactive photo...can you do anything about that?)

All during this time, the excitement in the car was rising.  As soon as the officer returned back to his vehicle, a floodgate of questions poured out from the back.  

Cooper squealed, "Are you going to jail?"  He seemed ecstatic about the prospect of his mother wearing a bright orange jumpsuit trapped behind bars.  Perhaps he was already envisioning the Cops episode featuring his mom (with his own brief cameo).  

When I assured him I wouldn't go to jail, his face fell.  He mulled it over for a bit and then perked up when he asked, "Will you lose your driver's license?  Maybe we'll all have to ride bikes everywhere, even to really far places like Alabama.  It might take like ten hours to ride there."

Without a chance to respond, the questions continued:

-Will you lose your car?
-Will you end up in handcuffs?
-Does he have a taser?
-Can we see his gun?

Right about that time, the Officer returned.  

Much to the disappointment of my boys, I ended up with a warning.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dirty Windows, Clean Souls?

A mean game of kickball in the backyard!

Bob, of Bob's Windows, handed me a bill.  He looked pooped.  Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead and pooled on his cheeks.

He stammered, "When was the last time you washed your windows?"

For a split second, I considered rolling off my tongue, "Just a few months ago, why?"  But then I thought the better of it.  I imagined a man who specializes in making things transparent would easily see through my little white lie.  Honestly, presidential elections and olympic events happen more frequently than a window wash in our home.

I felt sheepish about my deep domestic inadequacies and pondered how best to explain myself to Bob.  I opted for the truth and put it in words he could understand.

"You see Bob," I began.  "The last decade of my life has mirrored the surface of my windows; It's all been a haze.  Frankly, the windows never reached the top of my to do list." (Truthfully, they never landed on the list AT ALL.)  In between birthing/feeding/diapering/toilet training/schooling/disciplining/and so forth, the windows never became a priority.

Bob shot me a disappointed glance.

The thing is, I won't apologize for my dirty windows.  I'm glad that I spent more of my time working on the reflections of four little souls, rather than the sheen from the glass.  At the end of the day, if they shine brighter than the windows, then I'm happy.   

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

 There's never too many vacation pictures, right?  The boys declared the International Spy Museum as their favorite trip destination.

Father's Day lunch was spent with Papa.  Poor guy, Chris was at work.
The best picture I could snap (appropriately) at church of  Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty.  He preached this morning's sermon.

Perhaps the most common question I've received about our Washington, D.C. vacation is "How was the trip?"  By trip the questioner means commute.  I think most cringe just thinking about being stuck/trapped in a minivan for nine plus hours with four boys under the age of eleven.  A week ago, I cringed/panicked too.  After one too many sleepless nights, I took matters into my own hands and determined if sanity was to be had the commute must be planned for with precision.  

So by the time we departed for DC, I was ready.  Packed into the minivan sat new books for the boys (compliments of an awesome book warehouse sale, thanks Cara for the heads-up!), an array of sweet and savory treats, and enough DVDs to fully stock a Redbox.  Those goodies kept them busy for the first half and then I resorted to old standbys: the license plate game, rhyming songs, and prayer.

We arrive in Washington, D.C. happy, even still speaking to each other.  It was a win!

The thing I failed to plan for was the trip home.  I hadn't given one thought to the inevitable return commute (denial anyone?).  No more new books sat in the car.  Sweet and salty snacks were no longer novel.  The DVDs had all been watched.  

For the first half of the ride, the boys stayed fairly busy.  It was the second half when things started to unravel.  We hit a nasty patch of traffic that left us parked on the highway for over an hour.  Little boys (and two adults) were hungry/hot/cold/wet/mad.  I was forced to get creative again.  We tried new games; "Guess the roadkill" became a quick favorite.  I turned to old standbys: prayer and bribery.  A mere 12 (yes 12!) hours later, we rolled into our driveway still speaking to each other, but barely.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lessons Learned from a Washington, D.C. Vacation

 One of their most favorite DC experiences: the Metro.  (Chris was mortified that I took this picture on the Metro!)
Mere feet away from Barack and Michelle? 
 Next stop after the White House: the Lincoln Memorial.
 After Lincoln, we traveled back to the Smithsonians.
 No trip to DC is complete without a visit to one of the MANY ice cream trucks.
 Last stop of the day: the Capitol.
 The next day, we toured Mount Vernon.  
 The third day was spent at the American History Museum.  Is the country ready for President Cooper?
After an endless amount of walking (says the boys), many breaks were requested/begged. 
 No one had trouble falling asleep at night.  
 One day, the boys walked the DC streets in their Reds t-shirts, presents from Papa.  They received much grief from Washington Nationals' fans!  
 When there's nothing else to do, why not?
 The last afternoon was spent at the zoo.
We love that Caleb just hit a phase where he is an adventuresome eater.  (Although the kiddie menu offerings are much easier on the wallet!)

On day three of our Washington, D.C. vacation, we cruised around the city streets in our minivan.  As we jetted past 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I motioned the boys towards a white structure perched nearby (the same building we had admired up-close just days earlier).

"Does anyone know what we are passing?" I quizzed.

Connor grew excited.  He squealed, "Yes, the Choco Taco truck!"

Connor's statement perhaps best sums up the boys' memorable moments from Washington, D.C.  Sure, they found sights like the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol to be grand, but they were most wowed by the "charms" of big city living: the endless parade of mobile food vendors, the array of street performers, and the disheveled individuals clutching signs that warned of imminent doom or the perils of Big Brother.

The moments Chris and I found to be monumental (like attending a Senate session) didn't hold a candle (in the eyes of the boys) to:

-the "finds" peddled on street corners or in the countless souvenir shops.  (In case you're wondering who is the target audience for Washington, D.C. shot glasses/aprons/salt shakers/bath mats, look no further than my boys!)

-the Metro experience (I'm still trying to mentally erase the image of one little son licking the Metro pole!)

-the hotel elevator buttons (never to old to find pushing them fun!)

Nevertheless, the boys DID learn a thing or two from our museum visits and landmark stops such as:

-Mexico is not a state.

-Bo, the Obama's dog, cannot be buried in Arlington Cemetery.

-George Washington is no longer president.

(Yes, these were all questions asked by the boys!)

No vacation is perfect.  When we faced challenges, I took solace in the fact that the mental health professionals' convention was being held at our hotel (complete with a suicide prevention and substance abuse tables)!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Baseball Date with the Grandparents

Caleb adored being the special grandson to accompany Papa and Memaw to a Red's ball game.  Even though he's not much of a sports fan, he enjoyed the evening (according to Papa).  

The next day, I asked Caleb to name his favorite part of the game/overnight date.  He said, "Spending time with my grandparents."

It really touched my heart.  Often when I asked my kids that question they'll respond with "The Lego set they bought me" or "Watching a movie."  I was so happy that he appreciated his time with his grandparents.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Country Creek

My childhood pal Erin grew up in the same slice of suburbia as me.  The closest the two of us ever got to nature were weeklong stints at church camp.  Perhaps that's why I greeted her "moving to the country" announcement with such surprise.  I wondered whether one "city slicker" would take a shine to rural living.

Today we visited Erin and her girls in their new country home.  Her house sits amid cornfields, flanked by a chicken coop and a vegetable garden.  Erin guided the tour and provided a detailed explanation on the rooster hierarchy and chicken hatching.  I was impressed!

After play and lunch, Erin escorted the kids through her fields and down into a slender creek.  We cut through thick brush, crawled over tree branches, and bypassed thorn bushes before landing at a muddy creek bed littered with rocks, pebbles, and critters of all sorts.

Most of the kids had fun.  Cooper was clearly in his element.  He scaled fallen tree branches and launched pebbles into watery graves.  Connor dug furiously through the muddy banks, searching desperately for a find: an ancient fossil, a ginormous bug, perhaps even a buried amphibian (a boy can dream, right?).

The other two boys had plenty to say about the experience such as:

-it was too wet (well, creeks are wet)

-it was too muddy (creeks are muddy too)

-they had to walk through too much thorny/prickly/muddy/wet/icky stuff (all part of the experience)

-there was not one single video game out in nature (OK, they didn't say that, but I know that's what at least one was thinking)

I tried to ignore the "haters" as much as possible.  I desperately wanted them to have fun and to enjoy what cannot be replicated at our house, to relish a summer childhood adventure that can't quite be experienced the same way by the time one reaches adulthood.

We headed back to Erin's house through the same brush, over the same trees, across the same bushes.  Two boys never warmed to the experience.  It made me sad.  But then I thought about Erin and wondered if one day they'd feel differently too.  


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mom's Courses in Life Skills

 Chef Caleb beams over his dinner creation.
 Chef's choice for dinner:  cheese quesadillas, corn, and apple slices.  
 Caleb topped off dinner with individual servings of "worms in dirt."

Connor and I sat inches away from the commode.  He was clutching a toilet brush; I cradled a cleaner.  I motioned him toward the open lid.  He wrinkled his nose and said in disgust, "I'm not doing that!  This isn't my job!"

Fighting the urge to swat him with the toilet brush, I questioned, "Well, whose job is it?"

He opened his lips and then caught my eye.  Wisely, he hesitated and then went mum.  He barely let out a grunt as he began to scour the porcelain.  Connor was disappointed; he envisioned a summer perched in front of video games, not toilets.

Summer: the perfect time for leisure and laze.  However, any mom knows the leisure and laze only lasts so long before it's transformed into mayhem and mischief.  From years past, I've learned the best way to combat unruliness is to keep them busy.  

The busy part is the tough part.  You don't want them so busy that summer doesn't feel like summer, but busy enough that summer doesn't feel like summer.  Know what I mean?

This summer, the boys will be busy completing courses on personal independence with the added bonus of life lesson skill-building exercises.  I will serve as their instructor, tutor, and proctor throughout the course.  My course objective is to teach the boys home skills that they are capable of performing and learning.   

This morning, they attended a session on wash room sanitation. (You already know how that went!)  Later, one lucky boy, Caleb, received a private tutorial on dinner preparation.  Per course instructions, Caleb drafted the menu, compiled a list of ingredients, set the table, and then prepared and served the food.

Caleb selected cheese quesadillas with a side of corn and apple slices.  Although he initially scoffed at all his responsibilities, he quickly relished his role in the kitchen.  As I worked along side, I thought about how many hours we've worked on complex math problems and conjugations of verbs and yet the boy doesn't know how to work a can opener.

As important as it is for me to encourage their academic, social, and athletic pursuits, it may be even more essential that I teach them needed life skills.  And so we'll take this summer to master the art of the can opener, the toilet brush, and the washing machine.  They'll be time for video games too, but they'll be earned.

As unpopular as I've suddenly become with the masses, I take solace in the fact that four future wives, roommates, and (most likely) boys will thank me later. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reacquiring Mom Hearing

"I have to go to work," Chris shouted.

"You need a fork," I screamed back.

"No," he yelled.  "(pause)....Work."

And so went many of the conversations between the adult Woods today.  Our discourse was disjointed, drowned out by the clamor of little voices.  I realized we're out of practice.  During the school year, we became accustomed to just one little boy running around home.  Quite become familiar.  We forgot how loud and lively a house can be when all four boys (plus play dates) thunder through the halls.  

The voices were mostly happy.  The newness of home was still fresh.  They discovered all the "fun" that lurks in the recesses of closets and sits nestled in garage bins.  A toy tub can be used as a rolling ride.  An Easter egg hunt is still fun in June.  Chalk and water can mix to create an eclectic driveway mural.

And so went most of the morning.

Around lunchtime, little friend Emma ran up the basement stairs wearing an expression mixed with exhilaration and fear.  She exclaimed, "Miss Becky, it's total mayhem downstairs.  Somebody might get killed."

I stopped fussing with lunch and listened, really listened.  The sounds from the basement sat at the level of a lively mosh pit or perhaps a roaring freight train (not angry sounds, just energetic).  It's funny; I hadn't noticed the noise.  My selective mom hearing was back.  I reacquired my ability to tune out little boy racket so as to preserve personal sanity.  

That's when I knew: I was ready for summer.