Saturday, August 24, 2013

Surviving the Boy Scout Nature Hunt

As we ascended the final leg of the hill, Caleb cleared away some brush and squealed, "We made it.  I see the parking lot!"

We exchanged high fives and pulled each other into bear hugs.  It was as if we survived a treacherous wilderness trek and not just an hour and forty-five minute nature trail.

In the parking lot, we were greeted by a crowd of fresh-faced parents eagerly waiting to pickup their children.  Perhaps they spent the last hour at the local Starbucks nestled up with a good book and a latte.  Maybe they just finished a rejuvenating nap.  I  instantly loathed every single one of them.

I could have been standing in the parking lot too.  Instead, I agreed to accompany the Boy Scout troop on a nature treasure hunt (and just for kicks I brought along my other boys too).  With eight boys (plus two grandparents of one of the boys) in tow, it was an adventure.  

The boys entered the hunt with gusto.  They raced past the start with as much energy as if they guzzled Red Bull minutes earlier.  They slowed when it dawned on them that they hadn't the foggiest idea where they were going.  They looked to me for guidance.  Silly boys.  I can barely find my way out of the mall let alone a nature trail with a barely legible map and a compass.  I deferred to the accompanied grandparents as the grandfather claimed to be former military.  (Although he never specified what he did in the military, I'm betting it had absolutely nothing to do with navigation.)  It quickly became apparent they knew even less than me.

As the boys waited for us to lead, they noticed nature is full of their very favorite things...sticks.  Now anyone who knows boys realizes sticks are no fun unless they are whipped around with abandon and used to perfect ninja moves on each other.  As such, it took about one nanosecond before the first stick-related injury occurred.  Such was the case which prompted the implementation of the largely unpopular "no stick" rule.

Without any sticks to fling around, what's a boy to do?  That's when suddenly everyone desperately needed to use the bathroom.  In the life of a little boys, can anything be better than peeing out in the woods?  So says this troop.  They enjoyed another five minutes finding trees and bushes to "fertilize."  Boys!

After the sticks and "restroom" breaks, we decided that the only way to make it through the treasure hunt was by finding another group that actually knew what they were doing.  Within minutes we found a knowledgeable group and so we tagged along behind them like a bunch of lost puppies.

After we discovered the last clue, the boys rushed to the parking lot finishing line and eagerly awaited their "treasure."  I could see the little wheels in their heads spinning.  What could the prize be...candy, cash, gold?  The anticipation was killing everyone.  They reached into the prize bin and pulled out....granola bars.  The disappointment was palpable.  Before one single boy had the opportunity to whine "oh man" I chirped, "Let's all say thank you boys."

From their throats came the most pitiful chorus of thank yous.

I heard one boys whisper, "If I had died out there..."

I didn't listen to the rest of his sentence.  I imagined how I would answer it....

"If I had died out there, I think I would have earned a special spot  in heaven solely devoted to the mothers willing to escort a Boy Scout troop out on a nature hunt."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Things I've forgotten: the thrill of visiting the school nurse

 First day of Middle School!  Caleb picked out his first day attire!
Cooper was over the moon to be wearing this new accessory from the school nurse!
 Grandma sent pictures of the goings-on at home while we were away for the race.  Love Collin's action shot!
 He actually touched the ball!!  Progress!
A weekend group shot of the babysitters and our crew.

Around the last day of school, we parents always get the same spiel from teachers.  We're encouraged to maintain our children's scholastic skills over the summer.  Twelve weeks is a long time, they tell us.  Things will be forgotten.

As we've entered into a new school year, I've realized just how much can be forgotten over the course of a summer.  Namely, things I have forgotten like:

  • It takes extreme precision to assemble school lunch boxes with just the right balance of foods they actually like and those that contain at least an iota of nutritional value. 

  • Children hold strong opinions on school-ready attire and will fight you tooth and nail (minutes before the school bus arrive) over the appropriateness of a shabby pair of sweatpants. 

  • No morning is ever "regular" and there's always some sort of kink that can pull everyone into a tailspin.  
I'm out of practice, you see.

I also forgot about Cooper's affinity for visiting the school nurse.

Four days into the school year, I was rummaging through Cooper's school folder when I stumbled upon that familiar yellow note.  On official school paper Cooper's medical visit was outlined.  Under cause of visit, the nurse scribbled "bandaid."  When asked, Cooper motioned to a week-old injury covered with a fresh bandaid.  An owie, yes.  School nurse visit, no.  I explained the difference.

The next day, I riffled through his backpack again.  Pulled out the same school folder and jerked out...another yellow note.  Groundhog's Day anyone?  Cause for this visit?  A lost tooth on the playground.  A needed nurse visit?  Perhaps not, but Cooper wasn't about to miss out on an opportunity like this.  Cooper knows one important thing about losing a tooth at school: It scores you a plastic tooth necklace from the nurse that will quickly become the envy of many first grade companions.

We gave Cooper a pass over this nurse's visit seeing that a plastic tooth necklace was involved, but reminded him AGAIN about the appropriateness of school nurse visits.  I'm giving it a week before he returns, but that may be progress.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Madison Mini Marathon

 We took another race road trip.  This time to Madison, Wisconsin and we brought along precious cargo: our husbands.  
Claudia and I competed in the Madison Mini Marathon.  (Pre-race picture above.)  The course was beautiful.  It snaked around the University of Wisconsin campus, scenic neighborhoods, and gorgeous nature areas.  Before I arrived, I vowed not to like the University of Wisconsin—me being a Hoosier and all—but it was hard not to like.
 After the race, we traveled over to the mega farmer's market around the Wisconsin capital.
 What's a trip to Wisconsin without trying cheese curds? 
 ...or baked goods!
 After pumping ourselves with calories, we cruised around Madison on two wheels.
Thoroughly exhausted from the run and ride, we found respite by the water.  
 The next day, refreshed and (not really) ready to go home.  
 Our two favorite cheerleaders.
Last stop before home:  New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Claudia said we needed to have a word to describe the weekend.  A word.  Hmm.  We tossed out socks.  (Inside joke.)  Funny, but I wanted something more.  I wanted a word that really captured the essence of our few days away.  The problem was I could never pinpoint just one single word.  Many words popped into my mind.



With its rolling hills, crystal clear lake, and architecturally stunning homes and buildings, we were awed by Madison. Chris declared it love at first sight.  I called it like, reminding him that Madison may not be as attractive in January!


There really is something to the whole Midwestern hospitality thing.  Every single Cheesehead we encountered could not have been more welcoming or friendly from the food servers to the people on the street.


I love college campuses.  There really is no need for a car.  And so we traveled by foot or bike to every single place we went.  We were exhausted by the end of the day from our numerous treks, but the good kind of exhausted.


All of the activity made us hungry.  We ate our way around Madison, devouring everything from cheese curds to pizza to gelatos.  (May be the reason I managed to gain a few pounds over the weekend!)


We treasured all our time with dear friends.  They are delightful traveling companions.  They make us laugh.  We love them more every time we travel together!

Thanks so much for our babysitters, Grandma and Grandpa Joseph. We so appreciate you watching our kids!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Insert Mommy Guilt

 Cooper's first day in first grade.
 Connor's first day of third grade.
 The male portion of the bus stop.
The complete bus stop ready for the first day.

Two of my boys have soccer practice at the same time.  Their playing fields couldn't be farther apart and so I spend the hour floating between the two fields.  The non-soccer playing boys run around on an adjacent playground during practice.

Such was the case on Tuesday night.  As I was running between fields, I gazed onto the playground.  I noticed Connor was hunched over surrounded by a team of parents.  Not good.  

I raced over the playground and found Connor in hysterics with blood streaming down his face and baseball-sized bump on his forehead.

Good Samaritan parents tending to Connor's wounds providing me with the blow by blow.  Evidently, Connor was sprinting around the playground and failed to notice a swing set bar located exactly the height of his noggin.  He smacked right into it, flying backward from the impact.

I took one look at my son and panicked.  I'm not good with blood...or injuries.  I whisked him in the car and dashed him to the ER.  Dr. Dad checked him out and deemed him "fine," but battered and bruised.

Connor continued to cry during the whole ordeal and clutched his forehead in pain.  He whimpered softly, "I wish you had been there.  You would have told me about the bar and I would have never got hurt."

Ugh.  Insert mommy guilt.

The problem is that Connor is one of four kids and I am but one mom. As much as I want to be there with everyone for everything, I just can't.  If only I had a clone, then I could monitor, participate, and celebrate every single aspect of each of their little lives.  I could warn them of every impending harm.  If only.

As I relayed Connor's comments to my mom (feeling a bit like the worst mom in the world), she bombarded me with a host of stories about moms and caregivers closely watching children who still endured injuries despite careful supervision.  She's right.  Even if I had been standing on the playground, Connor could have still sustained an injury.  Who knows?  But somehow that does little to alleviate the inevitable wash of guilt.

Connor looked better the next day.  His forehead was still bruised and bumped but less severe.  He said he couldn't go to school....because of his injury.  Sounds like he's back to normal to me.  Hope I will be too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zip, Zip, Away

We wanted to celebrate the end of summer as a family, with a bang.  I proposed canoeing. 

Caleb shot me down.  He said he wanted "variety" in his summer.  Canoeing had already been done.  (So yesterday, mom!)

I'm not sure who first suggested zip-lining, but the word spread like wildfire through the home.  A chorus of boys couldn't say "yes" fast or often enough.  Now, when does that happen?  They can't even agree on breakfast cereal!

Being that we have little ones, I researched zip-line establishments that would accept pint-sized passengers.  I found a zip-line business about an hour away that allowed riders over 50 pounds.  Quickly, I ushered the boys to the bathroom scale.  The three oldest fit the bill with Cooper squeaking in at 53 pounds!  Collin was too light which was just fine with him.  (After last week's fair ride terror, Collin prefers to play the role of spectator with two feet firmly on the ground at all times!)

We loaded the boys in the car and to the trek down to southern Indiana.  After an hour commute, we found ourselves deep in the woods getting sized for helmets and climbing gear.

Fully outfitted, Bree, our zip-line guide, loaded our crew into her open-aired, truckish-like thing.  She transported us up (up is the key word!) through the woods, finally stopping where the hill plateaued.

It was a Monday and business was sparse.  We appeared to be the only ones in the woods and there was a peacefulness that came from being one with the squirrels.

Bree delivered instructions.  She said this zip-line began with a running start...straight off a hillside. Then, thanks to gravity and some help from Bree, we'd float back to the same spot.   We were to channel our inner "Peter Pan" or (for me) "Tinker Bell."  

Cooper begged to be first.  Always fearless, that one!  After he was suited up, I watched my little guy sprint off the hillside and then sail through the air.  He returned beaming and giggly, desperate to go again.

And so it went, boy after boy.  Then my husband.  Then me.

For over an hour, I had watched each boy jump off that incline without an ounce of fear, but once my turn came up I began to sweat.  Can a person really just jump off a hill and not wonder if this (seemingly) little line will snap?

That's when I started to think about faith, how much faith I had in this line, this guide, this business without knowing one bit about any of them.  Why is religious faith such a hard concept for people when we put faith in so many other things that have never be tested or proved reliable?  (soapbox moment!)

It's a weird feeling to purely run off a hill.  Bree suggested I clutch my safety harness.  She said many people feel safer holding the straps.  I grabbed the attached ropes and instantly felt calmer.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps it's that feeling of having a bit of control when rationally I knew placing my hands on the straps did not one single thing to aid safety.  (Hmm...can I think of any other times in my life when I try to grab on to things erroneously thinking they'll provide safety or comfort?)

Taking a deep breath, I dashed off the hill instantly feeling every bit like Tinker Bell.  It was magical.  I gazed down at the underlying lush forest.  It was view not to be replicated any other way other than dangling in the air off a hillside.  

Before I had a chance to panic, I was back on land wishing I was back in the air.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Toy Story

We stood in the toy aisle at Target.  All four boys and me.  It was the third store we had visited in a matter of hours (yes, hours!).  I was tired, exhausted really.  More than anything I wanted to plop down in the cart and curl up for a nap (confident in the fact the boys would STILL be in the toy aisles when I awoke).

It was the day the boys had looked forward to for months, an end of summer ritual for us.  Today, I let the boys spend their hard-earned summer allowance money.

Each armed with $40 or less, they felt a bit like Richie Rich walking into the stores.  They mulled over their choices with as much thought as naming a child or selecting a home.  They ogled video games, Pokemon cards, books, Lego sets, and an assortment of other toys.  Decisions.  Decisions.

I scanned the selection.  So many of these things have arrived in our home before.  I felt a bit sorry for each item.  Plenty of their "friends" have landed in the boys' arms only to never be the same, sustaining drastic injuries and deformations.  (Perhaps I've seen Toy Story one too many times!)  Little boys LOVE on toys a lot, you see.  And once a toy sustains too much love, it end up in toy abyss—the recesses of a toy bin—not to be seen again until the post-Christmas purge.

I bit my tongue as they made their selections.  Their choices would not have been mine, but it was their money to spend.  They will reap the fun or heartache from each decision.  Today wasn't really about the item, I realized, it was about their reward.

When we FINALLY arrived home, the boys tore open packages and pulled out coveted items.  They raced outside and paraded around the yard with their new finds.  When they tired, I saw them plop down in the grass in a huddle.  There was a sense of pride and happiness plastered across each boy's face.  These are items they earned and selected.  They will be loved.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Indiana State Fair

 Cooper is having a blast at golf camp.  So wish I could learn along side him.

Spent the afternoon at the Indiana State Fair.

We walked through the entrance and immediately spotted a gentleman devouring a turkey leg as large as his head.  He stood next to a woman inhaling a super-sized elephant ear.

I knew right then and there, we had arrived at the Indiana State Fair.

We Hoosiers have an unspoken understanding about the Fair.  There are no dieters at the fair.  Calories don't count at the fair.  Gluttonous behavior is not only welcomed, but expected.  

(Have you ever seen a salad stand at the Fair?  Neither have I!)

And so while some go to the Fair to gaze at swines, colts, fowls, and other livestock, most go purely for the food.  It's a junk food junkie's paradise that even the healthiest among us can't resist.

The boys and I behaved...pretty well.  We bypassed the fried veggie stands and country fried steak booths, opting instead for a singular trip to the Dairy Barn.  The kids ordered ice cream and I a grilled cheese.  We selected a table near the action and didn't speak as we devoured the sights as eagerly as we did the treats.

One son spotted the Fair's Midway and motioned to the others.  From our spot on the table, we could hear the squeals of happy children, the whir of the rides, and the jingle of bells.

The boys were smitten.  

They wolfed down their remaining bites and pulled me into the Midway.

Due to time constraints and one frugal (cheap) mother, the boys could only go on two rides.  For their last ride, they decided to ride together.  They picked a tug boat-looking ride that oscillated back and forth with twists and turns along the way.  (Perfect for those that get sea sick!)

Once the ride started, I first noticed Cooper.  His face lit up and he screamed with pure delight.  He pulled his hands off the safety bar and flung them in the air.  He had arrived where he is most happy: in motion, with the added bonus of danger.

Then I observed Collin.  He was screaming too... in complete and utter horror.  Tears burst from his eyes and he gripped the bar.

The ride operator became alarmed.  He raced to the ride's controls, ready to hit the "abort" button, when I stopped him.

"Don't stop it yet," I said.  "He has three older brothers with him."

I noticed that once Collin began to wail, his brothers rallied around him.  One was hugging him.  All of his brothers were booming out words of encouragement and comfort.  Collin stopped crying.

As I watched the scene unfold, I thought how grateful I am that they have each other.  When life presents bigger twists, turns, and dips, will they act like they did on the ride?  Will they find strength from each other?  Will they always be there for each other when one flounders?

At the end of the day, we walked out of the fair with full bellies and happy hearts.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Not To Wear....Ever

 Caleb was SO excited to win the library's summer reading grand prize: a NOOK!
 We had a great day playing at the park with the Mitchell girls.
Can you guess which one didn't want to go on the hike?

I believe there are two types of children in this world:

1)  Children that don't give a whit about what they wear (and therefore can easily be dressed and primped by a parent),


2)  Children that hold strong opinions on appearance and fashion.

The latter group looks stylish, well-groomed, sane.

The former group?  Like a pack of colorblind hobos.

Statistically speaking, in a posse of four offsprings, some children should fall into both categories.  However, for some of us *lucky* moms, every single one of our children can be lumped into the former group.

For years, I squabbled with various sons over questionable fashion choices.  With each new dispute, I took solace in the fact that at least they are boys.  I may be jostling over the appropriateness of wearing tattered sweats to the Christmas concert, but my friends with daughters were fighting over sequined tube tops and pleather skinny jeans.  Ha!

My smugness diminished as of late.  I have one son that's whipped up ensembles that would make even Lady Gaga cringe.  I'm not sure the look he's going for, perhaps a cross between a hip hop mogul and a vagabond.  I shield my eyes every time I see him waltz out of his room wearing his latest getup.  With every fiber of my being, I fight the impulse to cover him in a bath robe and beg the school principal to mandate school uniforms.

I struggle with knowing how to handle the boys and their fashion choices.  Do I:

1)  Keep in mind it's only clothes?

There are fights to be fought, and clothes fall down low on the list of priorities.


2) Save him from his own fashion missteps?

Will he look at old photos one day and think, "Why on Earth did my mother let me wear those acid washed jeans paired with a members only jacket and jelly shoes?"  (Wait, that was me!)

Confused, I asked the best mother I know (my own mother) her thoughts on the matter.

She said:  I think the way kids dress attract similar friends.  What friends do you want your children to have?

Good point, perhaps not the colorblind hobo ones.

She added:  Tell your boys they can wear whatever they want at HOME.  When in public, they can take some fashion advice (mandate) from their parents.  

Got it.

Armed with a plan, my goal is to transform four fashion don'ts into dos... one bad t-shirt and sweat pant at a time.   (A mom can dream, right?)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Liking My Kids

 No, this isn't the Hoosier Herpetological Society canoe trip (see prior post).  We (the family) took our annual canoe trip on Sugar Creek.  
 Connor asked to be captain and did a great job manning the ship's bow.
 Collin was a superb passenger.
 Skipping stones is quite possibly a boys' favorite pastime.
 The real muscles behind the canoe:  Dad.
 The canoe ride ended at this historic covered bridge.  So pretty!
 We had to replenish the calories burned with big bowls of ice cream.  Up the Creek Boat-ique', an eclectic eatery, hit the spot and included an actual boat in their dining pavilion for the kids to roam.

We pulled our canoes onto a rocky beach and pulled the picnic basket onto the shore.  Little boys jumped out of their seats and rushed towards the goodies.  They inhaled sandwiches and chips seemingly without taking a breath.

With full bellies, they selected prize pebbles and plunked them into the water.  Plop.  Plop.  Plop.  This went on for what seemed like hours. 

Chris and I stood on the bank soaking in the scene.  Not once did I scream, "No," "Stop That," "What on Earth are you doing?"  "Even banshees don't act like that!"  (OK, the last one I don't really say.....that often!) 

I cut into the silence and said to my husband, "It's so nice to have a day where you realize you really do like your kids."

He laughed.  

It sounded mean.  

What I meant was, I always LOVE my kids, but somedays they prove hard to like—the days when the squabbles and sassiness outweigh the smiles.

Today was refreshing.  On a canoe ride out in the middle of rural Indiana, without life's little distractions, I was truly able to focus on the boys.  They weren't talking to me while I scrubbed pots and I wasn't shouting at them while they sat glued to a television show. I was completely focused on them and they on me.

As we paddled in unison, I began to appreciate their unique little personalities.  They each made keen observations, witty comments, and good conversation.  They appreciated the process of paddling down the river, focusing less on the final destination and more on the journey.

As we neared the end of the trip, I realized they were all just so...likable.