Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dating Tips

Water park date with the Brinkruff kiddos.  The smiles say it all.

It started with a conversation about dinner.  I tossed out potential restaurant venues and weighed the pros and cons of each locale.  Paper napkins vs. cloth?  Plastic forks vs. stainless steel utensils?  Kraft mac-n-cheese vs. the homemade, gooey sort?  

Eleven-year-old Caleb listened and then piped in, "Do you think the Cheesecake Factory would be a good spot for a date?"

Cheesecake slices the size of my head?  Quesadillas guaranteed to change a life?  Fried mac-n-cheese...enough said.  Of course, Cheesecake Factory would be a good choice, but I doubted Caleb's question was based on cuisine.

I inquired, "Why do you ask?"

Under the lens of his glasses, I could still see the twinkle in his eye.  He explained, "Well, I'm in middle school now and I'm thinking it's time to start thinking about dating."

Holy buckets.  

I certainly didn't see that one coming.

I blurted out, "Well, you're too young to date."

He looked deflated.

I softened and stammered, "But, yes, the Cheesecake would make a nice location."

From there, the conversation flowed organically.  He said the idea of dating came from his books.  (Thanks Divergent, Hunger Games, and likeminded teen books!)  And no, he wasn't eyeing a special lady.  But, he wanted information about this foreign world of dating.

"Do you have any dating tips?" he tossed out.

From when Caleb was just a pea-sized image on an ultrasound photo, it was the question I imagined he would ask...one day.  How did this moment arrive so fast?

Without ample time to craft a sage response, I went off-the-cuff.

I told him to think about the characteristics he's looking for in a girl, then find a date that checks off all of those boxes.  A friend told her daughter "You can fall in love with anyone if you don't have a plan."  I like her advice!

I said he needed to be the person he hopes to attract.  For example, is he looking for an honest, reliable, compassionate person?  Be that person too.

I reminded him to be a gentleman and show interest and appreciation for his date.

After our conversation, I thought of everything else I should have said.

Pay for the date.

Pull out the chair.

Open the door.

Let her order first.

Listen when she speaks.

Compliment her appearance.


Avoid the ones who gravitate towards drama.

Skip the ones who aren't really interested in you.

Beware of the ones who have more tattoos than charm. 

Please, oh please, don't bring anyone home who curses like a sailor, dresses like Brittany Spears, and engages in less than savory activities.

And so, I'm recording these ideas in my head.  One day, when he's ready to date, I'll be ready too. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reason One Billion Why I Love My Boys

 Yes, one son can be encouraged to place groceries on the conveyer belt in return for a penny pony ride!

It's not often I share my heels, but I will for family friend Mia when she visited for a few days (with her brother Liam).  

The swing seemed to entertain these two for hours.

And then the basement was transformed into a fort constructed from cushions, pillows, and blankets.

Fort building made little boys hungry, and so we refueled with ice cream at the park.  

They burned through the calories with outdoor play (with only one child vomiting from the ice cream/exercise combo!).  

Life can breeze by for weeks on end without one single ripple.  And then....




A week comes I didn't anticipate with the challenge I wished on someone else (the less than savory sort). 

That was my last week.

When I initially was dealt the sucker punch, I cried intermittent tears.  As one that doesn't make it a habit to succumb to the water works, a few sons took notice.  One seemed a little disconcerted.  He shifted his gaze elsewhere, avoiding the sorry sight of his weepy mother.  But another son, Cooper, couldn't look away.

As I hunched over in my chair, wallowing in pity, Cooper crept up next to me and crawled into my lap.  He placed a kiss on my cheek and then whispered, "Mom, God loves you and He's with you."

He looked baffled when I cried harder.

I pulled him into a hug.  Of all the words to say, he picked the perfect ones, from the perfect source.

As I parent, I'm here to comfort, love, and encourage my children, but the most amazing thing is when they do the same for me.  There are billions of reasons why I love my sons.  I cherish innumerable stories of their goodness.  They hold countless sweet attributes.  But, that moment was one I've committed to memory and will treasure for years to come.   

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Who needs a toothbrush at camp?

 Saturday the whole family gathered at my Aunt Linda's lake house.

 My cousin Brad was such a good sport.  He took the boys on an endless number of jet ski rides and tube trips.

Does this make anyone else a little nervous?  Just a mere 11 years until he is a legal driver.

Daredevil Cooper was in heaven!


Uncle Matt took turns at the wheel.

Sibling style!

 My mother, a closet daredevil, took part in the action too.

We ended the day by celebrating Uncle Matt's birthday.  Cooper Matthew, named after Uncle Matt, helped his uncle with the candles.  

On Friday the boy returned from camp.  I was greeted at the door with a suitcase filled with dirty laundry, tired kids, and endless amounts of stories.

The boys gushed about camp favorites: the "gusher" waterside, s'mores devoured by the fire, and silly camp sing-a-longs.  The snack bar was mentioned more than once.  In the life of a little boy, it doesn't get much better than holding $5 while eyeing a rack full of candy bars.

I asked Cooper what monumental purchases he made at the snack bar.  He rattled off a few sugary sweets and then quickly slipped in "and a toothbrush."  What?  Back it up.  A toothbrush?

Cooper exclaimed, "Well, I lost my toothbrush and Dad (the camp doctor) told me I had to buy a new one."

He sighed and added with disgust, "What a waste!"

I had to laugh.  How cruel could one father be that he "forced" his son to forgo the purchase of a candy bar in favor of some good oral hygiene?  Clearly, Chris didn't remember being a boy at summer camp.

Certainly, I've never been a boy at summer camp, but I've experienced camp through the eyes of my sons.  Camp is not a week full of nutritional food, good hygiene habits, and ample sleep.  Those things all take a back seat to endless outdoor play and new adventures.

I've come to peace with some of the realities of church camp.

While the toothbrush may not be used, the Bible will be cracked open.

While the broccoli may not be eaten, the candy bar will be shared among new camp friends.

While the sleep may not be had, the bunks will be used as a congregation point for endless amounts of laughter and sharing.

That's the allure of camp.  And for a week of summer memories and fun, I can overlook whether the shampoo bottle was opened.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All By Myself

I loved participating in the Indianapolis "Listen to Your Mother" show!  Video of the show just downloaded on You Tube.  

Sunday morning was chaotic.  With Chris at work, I was manning the boys alone and encouraging them (ever so gently) to scarf down breakfast and throw on some church-ready clothes.  All the while, I tried to tend to my own personal hygiene by squeezing in a shower and slapping on some (much needed) makeup.

I emerged from my bedroom about five minutes late for our church departure.  Caleb looked at his watch and deadpanned, "Having a leisurely morning, huh?"

I had to laugh as my morning was anything but leisurely.

Lately, I've felt the hustle and bustle of life weighing down on me.  I miss leisure.  I miss productivity.  I miss sleep.

And that's when my parents offered quite possibly the most wonderful gift a mother can ever receive: time alone.  With three boys at camp, my parents invited Collin (too young for camp) to attend his own "Grandmother Camp."  And in case you didn't do the math, that would mean ALL four boys would be away.  ALL FOUR!  In the 11 1/2 years I've been a parent, this has never happened!!

On Sunday evening, all the boys left for their camps and I returned to an empty house.  Remember Kevin from "Home Alone"?  When he first discovered he was left alone in his house, he did everything his parents frowned upon: ate junk food, watched TV loudly, danced around.  I was Kevin at first.  I ate popcorn for dinner, just because.  I cranked up the TV to an insane decibel with a show my children wouldn't view.  I stayed up later than reasonable without fear of an early wakeup call.

But as I reclined on the couch, I realized my alone time was short.  Perhaps I should tackle a few of the projects that have been on hold for a decade.  And so I busied myself with just about everything.  I found the check that's been missing for months.  I finally tossed out my 2005 calendar.  I matched and lined up Tupperware containers.  And the sad thing is all of these tasks provided me with the same satisfaction and sick thrill as winning the lottery.  

In "Home Alone," Kevin finally tires of being alone and filling his days with his own whims.  I wondered if I would reach that point.  But after a decade of "togetherness," my few days of aloneness never lost their charm.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Pottery Barn Kids Catalog Lied to Me About Parenting

A great picture of the table (with a background shot of my childhood friends and me)!  The best pic a ten-year-old photographer can snap!

Took the boys canoeing in Sugar Creek.  When asked how they felt about canoeing, they flashed these responses.

The before shot.

My co-pilot and navigator.  

At a mid-way stop, Cooper was more than happy to engage in some vertical exploration!

Last swim meet!  Cooper looks like a professional in his pre-race stance.

A friend and I chatted on the phone.  We lamented about the various challenges and struggles associated with parenting tweens.

She huffed, "Parenting is certainly harder than I thought."

I added, "Yeah, and the Pottery Barn Kids catalog made it look so easy!"

She laughed and agreed.

I was only half joking.  

I certainly remember perusing the Pottery Barn Kids catalog while I housed baby #1.  With my feet up, I stroked my swollen baby belly and admired the images on the beautiful catalog pages.  The photos featured clean, handsomely dressed nurseries and children's rooms.  Monogrammed linens hung on towel racks and personalized pillows perched on quilts.  And the monogrammed names were brilliant, better than those featured on soap operas or made known by the most celebrated of celebrities.

Then there were the children splashed upon the pages.  They were cute (understatement. understatement.): perfectly dressed, impeccably groomed, seemingly well-behaved.  I imagined they were smart, funny, creative, and (above all else) easily parented.

What I gleaned from the pages of those catalogs was that parenting was easy, clean, organized, pretty, and fun.

Shame on you Pottery Barn Kids.  

Parenting doesn't look that way.

Nowhere on the pages of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog will you see a child throwing a fit upon a gingham quilt with matching shams.  

You will not see the children firing punches over a bath toy with the backdrop of a pastel, butterfly shower curtain.  

The personalized lunch box will not be pictured filled with Cheetos, Milky Way bars, and nachos (because the fictional mom was truly over having yet another fight over the nutritional value of organic food).  

The monogrammed backpack will not be packed with substandard homework grades.  

The beds will not disheveled.

The walls will not wear crayon marks.

The floors will not show scratches from Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks.

No, Pottery Barn Kids shows an image of a utopia parenthood that I strongly believe is unattainable by mortal households.

What the Pottery Barn Kids catalog failed to tell us is that parenting will look nothing like the images on their pages.  Parenthood is messy, disorganized, stressful, and challenging.  There will be minutes, days, and seasons when life will be completely out of whack.

But the catalog doesn't display that even when life is chaotic and messy and completely off track, it can be beautiful...even if the shams don't match the bedding and the personalized towels are misspelled. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Epic Mom Failure?

 I continued on my quest to be the meanest mom in the world by "strongly encouraging" the boys (and my niece) to participate in a one-mile Fourth of July race while I ran in the 5K.

Cooper and I both secured third place.  Cooper finished third in the mile.  I was third place overall female/1st in age group.

The kids soaked sore muscles in the St. Joseph river.

Grandpa was our patriotic chauffeur!

S'mores provided a sweet end to the Fourth of July.

Cooper tried every trick in the book to snag extra treats!  Grandma is on to him!

July 5th was spent at the South Bend Zoo.  We certainly had full faith that this glass would hold!

Grandparent time!

Cooper's penalty for misbehavior: yard work!  Although he seems a bit too giddy about it!

I've heard dentists are some of the most hated professionals.  It certainly isn't personal, as I've met some truly lovely dentists.  It's what they do to sensitive mouths and the pain they inflict that tanks their popularity points.

Today I took the boys to the next worst thing to the dentist: the orthodontist.  

I hate taking my children to the orthodontist.  Why, you ask?  It's not because I'm worried about their discomfort during awkward X-rays, nor am I concerned about jitters before the orthodontist chisels away at unwanted plaque.  It's because of the guilt...mommy guilt.

When I escort my children to the orthodontist, I know what to expect.  My child will recline on the patient chair.  I'll plop down nearby.  The doctor will walk into the room, tools in hand.  He'll examine the gaping mouth, poke and prod, and then rattle off a slew of questions or comments sure to elicit guilt.

Orthodontist fiddles with teeth.

Dr:  Hmm, looks like his brushing could use a bit of work.

I squirm in my chair.

Me: I've really been working on brushing his teeth thoroughly.  We've practiced brushing teeth for the duration of the Happy Birthday song.  Next week, we're going to brush for the entire length of the William Tell Overture.  

Orthodontist doesn't look up.  He pulls out an additional instrument.

Dr:  Is he flossing?

Me:  I've caught him putting his shoe lace in his mouth.  Does that count? 

And on it goes with questions and comments that remind me just how poorly I've monitored my child's oral hygiene.  The entire time, three words flash through my mind:

Epic Mom Failure

I spiral down into this guilt-laced pit where I'm pelted with all my mommy failures.  My inner voice keeps an impeccable record of all my wrongs.  

Remember the time when you forgot to make him lunch.

What about the day he spilled his milk and you lost your cool.

Then there was the school holiday party you didn't attend.

And on it goes.

It's funny how my inner voice doesn't keep the same records of my rights.  Just once, I'd love to provide the orthodontist with this answer:

No, I didn't monitor every brushing.  Nor did I ensure daily flossing.  However, I did confirm that he was dressed and bathed for this appointment.  He's been fed.  I drove him to your office.  I secured insurance and payment.  I provided him with entertainment for the waiting room.  I encouraged his manners when you asked questions.  I held his hand when he was uncomfortable.

And when I look at it that way, epic mom failure doesn't seem to fit.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Neighbor Taught Me To Savor A Childhood

I kept saying to Chris, "This feels like summer."  One of our favorite summer memories to date is playing in Eagle Creek Lake on the giant inflatable slide and trampoline.  

Cooper competed in the competitive banana event at his swim meet!

A week of summer spent with cousin Grace calls for celebrating with sweet treats.  

I glanced out my kitchen window and gazed upon the sight in my backyard.  My neighbor sat on our swing; her three-year-old daughter, clad in a pretty pink sundress, was pushing her mother backward and forward.  Mother and daughter both wore smiles on their faces and I could hear the giggles from my kitchen window.  I have seen this scene many a time from this neighbor and her daughter.  

This daughter was an "oops" baby (I think...never having the guts to actually ask), as she has two older sibling: one in high school and one in college.  Although this little girl may not have been planned, she is deeply loved as evidenced by my backyard observations.

I've noticed my neighbor makes time for her daughter.  She'll sit with her little girl in the grass and pick apart the dandelions.  She'll attend patio tea parties and follow her tot around as she explores backyard bugs and other critters.

I often wonder if the neighbor mom behaved this way with her older children.  I've never asked, but I'm guessing she would say no.  I imagine that she's discovered from her teens how quickly a childhood can evaporate and the preciousness of those little moments.  In some ways, I wonder if this is her second chance to savor sweet memories.

When I gaze at this lovely neighbor and her daughter, I am reminded to relish time with my children.  And so I try to hang up the dish towel and put down the broom and go out and enjoy the boys.

And that's what I did this week.  On Tuesday we loaded up the kids and headed to our city park.  We heard whispers that an amazing slide sat on the lake.

Rustic would be a generous description of our city's lake and beach.  But once we looked past the weeds, the rusty fences, and murky water, we gazed upon the inflatable slide with attached trampoline and water play.  After successfully passing the swim test and adorning a life jacket, we swam out to the floating oasis.

It was paradise.  The kids climbed up and over the slide too many times to count.  They leaped on the trampoline, smiling bigger and bigger with each additional bounce.  They played chicken, wrestled, chased, and laughed for hours.

And Chris and I....we did the same.  At times, I felt a bit like I had slipped into a 16-year-old version of myself.  I was laughing and running around like a juvenile, looking nothing like the 40-year-old mother I am.

And I was having fun with my children.  We clutched hands and bounced in unison on the trampoline.  We raced down the slide.  We pushed each other into the water, emerging from the lake with a grin.

As our time at the lake was coming to an end, I sat on the trampoline and took in the scene.  This was one of those childhood moments that I had the good blessing to enjoy with my children.  It was a moment that would etch in my memory for years to come.  

My neighbor would be proud that she inspired those beautiful moments.