Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Run

It's one of the traditions I cherish on Christmas: annual Christmas run with dear friends.

Within minutes of returning from my run, the boys are up and ready to greet the Christmas tree.

Christmas gifts didn't dissappoint!

It was our first Christmas without Grandma sitting at the table.  So, we stopped by her new facility to wish her a Merry Christmas.

Cooper giving Grandma a hug goodbye.  Warmed my heart to see this image.

The big family celebrated on December 27th.  Dad posed with his sisters and their spouses.

I snuggled just a bit with my nephew Parker.

My siblings, cousins, and spouses.

Blood relatives only:)


New generation of cousins/siblings.

On Christmas morning, my alarm blares at an unreasonable hour of the morning.  When I awake, the room is pitch black.  I stumble around in the dark, and pull on appropriate running and cold weather gear (that may or may not match).  Then, I slip into the darkness.

I end up on the trail where I typically meet at least one dear running friend.  We greet each other with a hug and whisper "Merry Christmas."  As the words escape my lips, I realize she's the first recipient of the greeting.

There's something quite amazing about experiencing Christmas in the wee hours of the morning while wearing running shoes.  The world is peaceful, and few have arisen to greet the holiday.  I feel like I've been given this special gift of a few more hours of Christmas.  And in those hours, I've been allowed to savor the holiday under a blanket of quiet and darkness that leads one to grasp the reverence of the day.  

The Christmas I experience in those moments is unencumbered by holiday stress, baking fails, mounting credit card statements, family drama, and elevated weight gain.  It is Christmas, in it's most raw and awe-inspiring state.  I thank God for the many gifts He so graciously gives me, including the gift of a Christmas run.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When Have Boys Become Too Old for Santa's Lap?

Happy Birthday to my sweet hubby!  He got just what he wanted for his birthday: he passed his boards!  Woo hoo!

Running friends "dressed up" (aka out of running clothes) for Marie's Gingerbread party. 

Collin working on his masterpiece!

Cousins celebrating the holidays a few days early.

We also celebrated the December/January birthdays.

5/6th of my family was part of the celebrated.  As you can clearly see, this birthday crew simply cannot take a decent picture.

Per our annual tradition, the boys jumped into the Celebration Crossing train at the Indiana State Museum.

Some boys found the experience to be about as exciting as paint drying, but they humored this mama.

The entire crew in their "holiday" wear.

As we were standing in line to see Santa, I was struck with an epiphany:  my children have gotten older.

I looked at the family behind me.  They were all dressed in Christmas sweaters with Christmas light necklaces draped around their neck.  (Yes, their lights even flashed in rhythm!)  They brought their two young daughters, both clad in their Christmas finest with expressions of eager anticipation.  Extended family, equally excited Grandparents, joined in the festivities and shared in the holiday cheer.

This family wasn't unique.  The line was packed with families toting little ones dressed in holiday wear.

And then there was us.

Remember that song, "One of these things is not like the other."

We were the thing not like the other.

Getting a 13 year old to stand in a line for Santa is about as easy as convincing said teen to hold mom's hand in public.  And my 11 year old shared his older brother's sentiments.  It would have been easy to cave and ditch Santa, but my youngest son is six years old.  I couldn't zap him from the experience.

Getting the boys to Santa was half the battle.  The second half was holiday wear.  That's the half that I waved the white flag in surrender.  We comprised: they showed up, I didn't fuss over the attire.

As expected, holiday wear was missing from our collective wardrobe.  The boys broke out their comfy clothes, sweats and athletic shirts.  At least they went with a theme, I whispered as I comforted myself.

The girl in front of us in line lingered with Santa.  She actually broke out her mom's phone in which she could pull up her Christmas wish list.  Santa listened intently and her entourage (extended family) snapped enough pictures to last a lifetime.

When it was our turn, the boys sat nicely for the picture, but exchanged few pleasantries with the man in red.

As we were leaving, I wondered if this was our last year with Santa.  It had to end sometime, but that "sometime" arrived so soon.

But the end of Santa's lap, did not have to be a bad thing.  Maybe it signified the beginning of a new tradition.  One in which teen boys don't have to be dragged, and can flourish.

Too be continued next Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sibling Squabbles: The Cure For Infighting

Caleb celebrated the evening of his birthday with barbecue and homemade chocolate cake.

The next day we woke up and celebrated Connor's 11th birthday.

Back-to-back birthdays feels a bit like Groundhog's day with two day's full of cake and presents.

Connor requested a Dairy Queen cake!

Connor invited a few pals to celebrate his birthday at an indoor aquatic center.

A few buddies spent the night too.

Cooper with his case file.

A decade plus into this parenting gig, I've realized that sibling conflict comes with the family package.  I've also learned no item is too small to argue over and no cause is too petty.  Case in point:  this summer two sons were arguing over a glass of water.  WATER.    I reminded them that, in this country, water is free and plentiful, thus negating the need to squabble over it.  But, deep down I knew the disagreement had little to do with the water.

Why do they argue?  Perhaps it's the sport of it.  Maybe, males have a primal need to exert their testosterone and protect their territories.  Or, they could just be bored.  Whatever the case, infighting is no stranger to this household.

This morning, I was washing the dishes when I heard a whack followed by crying.  I raced up the stairs to find two siblings in a heated conflict.  When I asked for an explanation, two sons offered varied versions of the events.

Typically, I would greet this encounter with my own anger followed by a quick delivery of a punishment.  But, this time I paused.  I contemplated things.  Then, I told them to work it out and come downstairs when things were settled.

About an hour later, Cooper and Connor (boys in conflict) motioned me to the kitchen table.  Cooper was clutching a file folder.  He announced, "I've got our case file."

It was hard for me to stifle my own giggles.

Cooper and Connor opened up the file and set out papers on the table.  They had documented the events in question.  My favorite part of the account:

"Connor brought in a deadly weapon.  It was plastic," read Cooper.

How many deadly weapons are plastic?

By the time Cooper had finished reading the "deadly encounter" of events, we were all laughing.  Cooper and Connor had set aside their differences.

I learned a valuable mom lesson today.  Perhaps letting them work it out was the best punishment/solution of all.  Something to remember the next time they argue over water.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Encouragement from a Teenage Mom

Much to the boys' displeasure, they attended a dinner etiquette class on Sunday (writing about the experience for my local magazine).

It actually ended up being really fun.  It was a "backwards" dinner.  The food was served in reverse order:  dessert first!  The utensils were mixed up and the boys had to put them back in the proper place.

Manners faux pas: elbows on the table!

I'm not sure they've mastered the art of selecting the proper utensils, but I think they gained a few practical pointers.

Santa even joined them for dinner!

Collin looked dapper for his Christmas concert!

Best picture I could snag of Cooper's speaking part on stage.

I blinked and he turned into a teenager!

No shirt required for birthday breakfast!

In my mind, he's still this age!

Around 3 in the morning, I heard a rapping on my door.  I stumbled to the door with sleep clouding my eyes and tried to focus on the figure standing in front of me.  Collin outstretched his arms to pull me into an embrace.  He whimpered, "I had a bad dream.  It was about zombies."

Truthfully, I would normally find this annoying.  I'm one who jealously protects her sleep and doesn't welcome interruptions.  But this was different.  Even in my half-lucid state, I knew this was a fleeting moment.  My days where little boys seek a safe haven from bad dreams in their mother's arms are dwindling.

Caleb turns 13 today.  We officially have our first teenager in the house.  I finally understand those old women in the grocery store who used to look longingly at my babies bundled in their car seats.  They repeated the same phrase with identical levels of sincerity. "It goes so fast," they whispered with a smile that seemed to mask a level of sadness.  I'd always return the smile and pleasantries while internally disputing the fact that the whirlwind daily demands of caring for a baby (and toddler) moved quickly.

But the days did go fast, and the years even quicker.  And today I woke up with a teen.

Oldest children are parents' guinea pigs, they say.  I believe it.  We've learned and grown up along side him.  I think Caleb didn't want us to become too comfortable in our role, and so God gave us a child that pushed us onto our knees in prayer for him over and over again.

When I think about Caleb as a baby and a toddler, I'm filled with a mixture of emotions.  I remember those days where the most important thing we did was pace the driveway in search of interesting insects.  At the time, I found those days to be mundane.  Now, they seem refreshing (days without being in the car all night!).  

But, I also remember Caleb as a toddler who had absolutely no tether or allegiance to his mother in any situation.  I would turn my back on him and he would flee.  Who knew two year olds were so quick?

He also exhibited numerous challenges and idiosyncrasies at a young age.  At seven years old, he earned an autism diagnosis.  This was one of the hardest moments of our lives.  The "A" word was terrifying.  I was most prone to uncontrollable sobs when I speculated on his future.  I wondered what would Caleb look like as a teenager?  As a young adult?  We spent years in therapies, social skills classes, and doctor visits (many still ongoing).

I'm emotional today becauase Caleb is a teenager, and....he looks great.  God is good!  His diagnosis never changed.  He still faces many challenges, but so many things about his life are even better than I imagined they would ever be.

He has friends.  A whole group of them!  They dialogue with terms I know nothing about (video game lingo), but they are like-minded and kind to their cores.  And, most importantly, they love my son.  

He adores music.  When he plays the trumpet, I see how God gave him this strength.  This summer, he even played a solo at Butler Band Camp.  As I listened to him belt out the notes, I had a pride that bubbled up in my chest and a gratefulness that spread out in an endless smile.  

He's funny in a way that's advanced for his age.  Adults marvel at the words that slip from his lips (while many of his peers scratch their heads at his banter).  

Personally, I love his dry wit and listening to him rattle on about the variation of reptiles and the malaria crisis in third world countries.  He can recite a million and one facts about anything and everything.  As one who harbors an inner nerd, I find these statistics endlessly fascinating.

He is an individual, with absolutely no qualms about how he differs from his peers.  His confidence in his uniqueness inspires me to be confidence in mine.

I write this as a love letter to my son, but also as an encouragement to any reader in cyberspace who is struggling with fear on how their child with an autism diagnosis will emerge into teenagedom.  My advice?  Get interventions early.  Embrace the child God so graciously gave you.  Pray for strength and wisdom in parenting this child.  And most importantly, enjoy the days.  

They truly move quickly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Mom's Job: Teaching Traditions

Thanksgiving with both sides of the family.  My side.

Chris's parents came too.  (The best picture we could snag of this group....7 out of 8 smiling faces:)).

We've hit the point where the kids can have an "unsupervised" table.

The conversations were hilarious.

Cooper told me he drank out of a medieval goblet.  (I suppose he's not used to drink out of anything other than plastic.)

If diet linked us genetically, Caleb and I would not be related.  Our favorite parts of Thanksgiving could not be more different.    Eating turkey made him giddy.

I got snuggle time with my niece Caroline.

On Thanksgiving morning, I finally got to cleaning out school backpacks from the previous week.  From Collin's backpack, I fished out an envelope addressed to Chris.  He tore it open and unearthed a letter written to him by Collin.  It was absolutely precious.  In it, he expressed his gratitude for how his Daddy worked to bring food to our house.  He also thanked his Dad for helping him with homework and playing with him.

I pulled Collin into an embrace and praised him for his sweet note.  

A few minutes later, I asked Collin, "Why didn't mommy get a note too?"

With complete sincerity, Collin replied, "I didn't know what you do for me."

(And for the record, he said this to me while I was standing washing dishes and working on a meal.)

If he wasn't so cute.....

I then gently reminded him of the laundry, the meals, the school transportation.  It was as if he experienced little "aha" moments.  Like, "Oh she's the one that does all that."

I want Collin to know I tend to the household responsibilities and his everyday care.  But, more importantly, I want him to know I did other things for him, like create and maintain family traditions that I hope he treasures later in life.

Thanksgiving is where family and traditions intersect.  It is the day where dishes are served that were passed down by prior generations and created by precious family members.  With certain dishes, I am transported to past Thanksgivings and relatives who have passed.  The cinnamon rolls bring back images of my Grandmother Joseph whizzing around the kitchen.  She served the rolls hot and with a slab of buttery-goodness.  The green bean casserole was my Grandmother Hartley's dish.  (This is the first holiday her seat remains empty at the table as she currently resides in a rehabilitation hospital).  I think about her contagious laugh and giving spirit when I gazed at the dish.

One day, I hope Collin enjoys the same dishes and with each spoonful remembers beloved family members and special holidays from his childhood.  This is something I can do for him, and I do it with great pleasure.