Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Cure to School Picture Woes

Toasting my cousin Taylor and his new wife Kellen and wishing them the best on their upcoming move to South Korea with the Air Force.

A family shot at the end of the night!  I think each one of my kids ate their body weight between the buffet and cake station!  Notice the hazy, sugary expression on their faces!

There are a couple of days a year I dread.  Take deep breaths sort of dread.  Want to slide under the covers until the afternoon sort of dread.  School picture day is one of them.

My boys favor the more athletic (dare I say unkempt) sort of look.  As mentioned in a previous blog, they gravitate towards comfort.  Sweatpants are their go-to wardrobe choice.  Anything with a collar and a zipper (and sorely lacking an animal print or superhero image) is classified as church clothes and would never be a serious contender for school attire. 

Keep that in mind.

School picture day is a bit like the movie Groundhog's Day.  Somehow, in the course of a year, they've forgotten what is consider "picture apparel."  We engage in the same debates, year after year.

They'll arrive at the breakfast table clad in a Mount Rushmore/Star Wars T-shirt and running pants.  A shocked expression will appear on their faces when I nix their choice.  Theatrics, debating, and pleading will ensue.  Despite it all, I'll stand firm.

They'll stomp up the stairs.  Five minutes later, they'll reappear in attire that makes them look like cherubs.  I'll sigh and try my darnedest to suppress the dream that maybe, just maybe, they could look like this every day!

Yesterday was the same.  After a rocky morning, they piled into the car, four scowls radiated from the back seats.  As we pulled into the carpool line, one son yelled, "We're the only one wearing nice clothes!"

I relished in proving him wrong.  In a matter of seconds, I pinpointed a dozen (equally uncomfortable looking) students in similar clothing.  

Caleb, my most vocal opponent, pulled open the car door to grab his trumpet.  I whispered, "Caleb, do you remember how I was tagged in Facebook recently with my grade school picture."

Caleb started to smirk.

I continued, "Remember how completely awkward and miserable I looked,"

He giggled.

"Someday, when you look back at your awkward school photo, you can at least blame your mother for your wardrobe choice!"  

He walked into school giddy.

As I pulled away from the school, I thought about all the years of school picture battles and finally I found the way to alleviate the conflict.  Perhaps self-deprecating humor is the best way to connect to a son when he's not very fond of his mother. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mom Brain

Leftover picture from summer vacation....seems like a lifetime ago, but it's been less than two weeks.

Ever since I became a mother, I've complained about "mom brain."  Among mothers, the term needs no explanation.  We get it.  We understand it.  We give each other grace and understanding because of it. 

We know that the minute the pregnancy test registered positive, tiny brain cells fell out of our skull causing ordinary tasks to be forgotten and past knowledge (like the square root of 20 or the capital of Argentina) to stump us.  We have a pass when we forget to pick up a child from school or pack a lunch with only chips.  We're not expected to win Jeopardy (until the kids leave the house).

 And for those of us blessed enough to have more than one child, the "mom brain" phenomena rises exponentially with our number of offsprings.

What I've come to realize is that brain cells aren't lost upon becoming a mother.  Instead, I believe our finite supply of brain cells are used in other ways and the information we previously stored within the confines of our skull gets pushed back to the far recesses of our brain by other "mommy" knowledge.

I'm no doctor.

This is just a theory.

Let me explain.

Last week we returned to school.  For the three months prior, my brain was in summer mode.  The extent of my summer cerebral activity consisted of knowing the direction to the pool and how to pack for summer camp.

Then came the first day of school.  I was immediately thrust back into school mode and forced to retrieve the information that used to dominate my every waking thought.  

It was imperative that I remember each child's lunch box.  (Each one is blue, but they are different, or so my boys say.)  

Then, I had to recall what each child wants for lunch.  (Cooper wants peanut butter AND jelly.  Connor prefers ham with Colby⎯and only Colby cheese.  Caleb wants the same thing every day.  Don't try and change it.  Collin doesn't care and will probably not eat anything for lunch anyway.)  Remember the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally when she creates the intricate lunch order.  Welcome to my world.  

And I have to store so much more information, like:

Some children want more time to wake up.  Some thrive on rushing around in the morning.

Some won't wear socks (or underwear!), unless forced.

Some wear only jeans.  Others will wear sweatpants until the day they die.

Some want you to eat lunch with them.  Others would rather die (while wearing their sweatpants).

Some want to talk about their day.  Other will chat, if forced (or coerced by a particularly decadent snack).

Some will do homework willingly. Others will do homework, if forced (or coerced by something even greater than a particularly decadent snack).

Some want to chill at night.  Others want to flutter around the neighborhood.

Some value hygiene and willingly shower in the evening.  Others don't see the need.  (True story: Last night one child stepped on dog poo with bare feet.  He still questioned the need for a shower.  I've got my work cut out for me!)

Some appreciate an early bedtime.  Others crave the nightlife.

I retain all of this information in my little skull.  I remember this, that, and the other about four separate sons.  The price of keeping all the information relevant is that other tidbits of knowledge pack up and vacate (or become buried under the weight of everything else).

And so, that's why I may remember what jelly my son wants on his toast, but probably won't remember to pick him up from school.

(And don't bother to quiz me on the capital of Alaska.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When the Baby of the Family Starts School

My new sixth grader!

Fourth Grader!

 Second Grader!

Kindergartner!  He was so was hard to get a decent first day picture!

And then he walked into his classroom without looking back.

My Grandma is over 90 years old and a spitfire.  When you asked her how she spends her days, she'll rattle off half a dozen projects.  Usually, the tasks are as monumental as plucking the lint off all her sweaters or organizing her silverware drawers.  I surmise that my Grandmother needs to stay active so she doesn't have time to think and reflect.  That her constant state of busyness protects her from feelings of sadness and loss that could creep in should she have any idle moments.

I mimicked my Grandmother yesterday.  I packed my day with "stuff."  I left no minute unscheduled.  I worried that any lingering time could leave me with moments to deliberate on the magnitude of the day.  And then, I would melt into a puddle of tears.  

It was the day I anticipated for years: the day my last child started kindergarten.  Since I first became a mom, this was the moment that brought tears to my eyes.

The thing about us mothers is we have to be stealth with our emotions; the tears could not be shed in the presence of my son.  And so I'd make up excuses about why my eyes seemed puffy (allergies!) and watery (could it be a virus?).  I certainly didn't want to damper the excitement bubbling up within the son ready to embark upon his kindergarten year.

Kindergarten drop off was done in the school cafeteria.  His teacher announced his name and Collin jumped into line and eagerly followed his class out the door.  He didn't once turn around.  He never clung to my leg.  He didn't shed one single tear.

It was the way I wanted him to leave, but as I watched him exit the door a little part of my heart felt like it was missing.  My side felt like it had been kicked.

It was the end of an era.  For the last decade plus, I've had a little one in tow.  I've enjoyed the moments, but often pined for time alone to get one.single.thing.done.  Deep down, I knew the price for productivity would be an empty home.  I wasn't yet ready to pay that price.

Yesterday morning, Collin said, "Mom, I bet this is the best day of your life.  With me gone, now you'll have time all day with Dad!"

I smiled.

It certainly wasn't the best day of my life, but I realized it wasn't the worst either.

One day Collin will understand the day the baby of the family starts school conjures up a slew of emotions.  It's a day where nostalgia, heartache, and loneliness hit, but a twinge of excitement for a new chapter in our lives flickers too.    


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Traveling the Wild West: Griswold-style

Warning: If you're one who has an adverse reaction to an excessive amount of vacation pictures, this isn't the post for you!

But, if you're willing to indulge one blogger's need to share, read/look on....

A few months ago, an idea was hatched: let's introduce our children to the West. In their little lives, the boys have never experienced anything west of Chicago.  And so, we (with the help of our sweet neighbor/amateur travel agent Andi) planned a trip to Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

We left a week ago on a flight out to Denver.  An hour into the flight, we noticed commotion and then a call over the intercom "Is there a doctor on the flight?"  Chris jumped up and became the inflight doc (we laughed that the dermatologist behind us didn't move).  He treated the 20-something fainter a few rows up.  The passenger was completely fine; we saw him wheeling his luggage around later.

Once safely in Colorado, we traveled up to Estes Park.  First stop was the convention center where I picked up my race bib and an amazing race-T for the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon.

The next morning, I joined 800 other runners for the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon.  The race offered awesome views like these.

Of course, when you snap pictures while running, you'll take a lot more of these images!

 The race was one of my favorites, despite the challenges of a hilly course and altitude (7400-7900).  I still was pleased to walk away with a 4th place in the master's division (yikes...when did I get this old?) and 3rd in my age group.  

While I was running, Chris and the boys enjoyed the grounds of the YMCA Estes Park, where we lodged for several days.  

After the race, we headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was beautiful, but packed with tourist.  We had to take the shuttle between hiking locales which provided a bit of a Disney World feel. 

Hiking was mostly successful.  Only one boy fell in the lake after this photo.  He was surprised and dismayed to know Target doesn't sit in the woods where dry clothes can be instantly purchased!

The next day we visited the restaurant voted the best in Estes Park: the Donut Haus.  I tried to be good and munch on a granola bar, but I caved.  I have to say that chocolate, creme-filled donut was worth every calorie and ounce of guilt!

Connor called the Donut Haus the best part of our trip!  (Hard for the national parks to compete with donuts!)

Caleb's favorite part of the trip: earning Jr. Ranger status at five national parks and landmarks.

Rest safe knowing the national parks are under the watchful care of these four Jr. Rangers!

Day two of hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park.  Lesson learned on this day: bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer!  As hiking novices/dummies, we didn't think that maybe, just maybe, one boy would need to (ahem) in the woods during the course of an all-day hike!  Lessons learned the hard way!

But at least we remembered lunch!

And not one boy fell into the water during this hike!

 And they enjoyed the view!

One of those little finds a traveler happens upon during the course of a trip.  As we were driving along, we saw this church.  It's the most beautiful church I've ever seen.  Evidently, Pope John Paul visited this church in the 90s.

The adventurous sons and Chris took this aerial tram up the mountains.

The next day we journeyed through the most desolate (yet beautiful) land in America before landing in South Dakota.  Our first stop in Rapid City was Reptile Gardens.

Reptile Gardens touts the largest collection of reptiles in the world.  It was pure paradise for Caleb, our budding herpetologist.  

The next day we journeyed to Mt. Rushmore.

We were in awe!

And again, they earned Jr. Ranger status.

I think this is as close as it gets!

I promised Chris I wouldn't post this on Facebook (but never mentioned the blog:)).

Another amazing moment, the boys only wished the bison traveled closer to the car!

Custer State Park offered such delightful scenery.

Did I mention the Sturgis Bike Rally was going on during our time in South Dakota?  That meant a half million motorcyclist descended on our little patch of South Dakota.

A scenic trail.

Cooper couldn't get enough of the climbing!  Every time we turned around, he was perched atop another rock.

Our friends, the bikers, joined us at every stop.  They were always friendly, but a few wore attire I wouldn't recommend for my sons (or their future dates!).

Next stop: the Badlands National Park.  It was my favorite part of the trip.  The scenery was beautiful and pretty bare allowing the boys to truly enjoy nature without fighting a mass of people.

Again, Cooper found more places to climb.

We traveled on a more rugged hike.

Right after this picture was taken, Collin's shoe slipped off his foot and plummeted into the cliff.  I have my suspicions that the shoe was tossed since Chris was never fond of Collin's footwear!

Last stop after the park, world-renowned Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota. 

The boys loved Wall Drug Store; Chris said it gave him a headache.

Their last Jr. Ranger "swearing-in" at Jewel Cave.

From South Dakota, we headed back to Denver.

In Denver, we found trees covered with these tags.  Visitors could write "what summer is."

Summer is time for a great vacation spent with family.