Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Value of Leaping

Even without shoes, this one managed to beat me at the Indianapolis Museum of Art mini golf course (although the fact he was also the scorekeeper may have added to his success).

What I love about summer is the pockets of flexible time when a child can ask, "Can we go there?," and there is no reason why we can't.  We passed by this park near downtown Indianapolis, and I just couldn't say no to the boys pleas to stop and play.

One of my very favorite summer traditions: a canoe trip down Sugar Creek by Turkey Run State Park.  This year we attempted the six mile trip.

With Connor at basketball camp, it felt a bit like someone was missing on the trip (but Cooper's lively personality kept us laughing despite his brother's absence.)  

This was my canoeing partner whose introspective manner made the ride serene and delightful.

Another favorite summer tradition: spending a day with my childhood friends.  As the years and wrinkles have increased, the happy memories have multiplied.  

I insisted he change into a swimsuit at the splash park.  He huffed at this suggestion, but quickly jumped into the nearby restroom and changed.  Within seconds, he emerged from the bathroom wearing a suit and a grin.  He raced onto the concrete, as if by magnetic pull, dodging sprays of water and pooled puddles.  A little girl in a drenched pink tutu trailed behind him like a lost puppy.  Within minutes, Cooper transformed into the pied piper of the splash park with a legion of followers who thought his every harebrained move was ingenious.

This is Cooper, I thought.  The kid who jumps, then thinks.  The one who leaps into life and squeezes every last morsel of joy and fun out of the experience.  I've always heard what we love about our spouse can also be the their most challenging personality trait.  I think that applies to children too.  Cooper's spontaneity, jubilant, lively personality makes him both endearing and dangerous.

Over the summer, I've seen the upsides to Cooper's personality. I've witnessed things in his character that I would love to emulate.

For example, our pastor neighbors just adopted two children, ages nine and seven years old.  Cooper knew the children would soon arrive at the neighbors' home.  He rang their doorbell for days asking to play with his new friends.

At the end of the week, the children finally arrived at the neighbors' home.  It was a stormy day, and Cooper fought fat rain pellets to land at their doorstep.  As my neighbor described it, she opened the door to find Cooper bundled in his winter coat with his hood mostly covering his face.  Underneath the coat, he wore baggy shorts and flip flops.  What was exposed beneath the layers of clothing was Cooper's 1,000 watt smile.  

"I'm hear to meet my friends," he announced while practically pushing her out of the way to make his acquaintances.  She said she didn't have the heart to turn him away.  Within seconds, Cooper and her children were darting around the house in a fierce Nerf gun battle.

As she recalled the story, tears welled in my eyes.

This is Cooper.

A friend to all.

Fearless and loving.

Hilarious and friendly.

Kind-hearted, color-blind, open-hearted, and welcoming.

While I hope to teach Cooper the value of looking before he leaps, I hope Cooper teaches me to find the joy in the leap.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Life lessons from neighbor kids

Clearly Collin and his friends were taking Boy Scout camp seriously.

Neighbor kids have been a big part of our summer.  They wander in our house at all times of the day, sometimes still clad in their pajamas.  Our refrigerator and pantry seem to be communal.  I think our couches have imprints of their backsides.  Sleepovers are not uncommon, and usually are decided on the fly.  Backyard soccer games, driveway basketball scrimmages, and indoor movies fill the hours.

Neighbor kids are a blessing, but with that blessing comes the inevitable conflict and "growth opportunity."

On Wednesday my phone buzzed right before bed.  It was my neighbor on the other end of the line.  She was pleasant and sweet, as expected.  But she wanted to let me know about an "incident" that happened between her daughter and one of my (unnamed to protect the guilty) sons.  My neighbor and I agreed years ago that we had an open relationship, meaning we'd always be open and transparent on the kids' goings-on in the yard and our homes.

Evidently, a "burn battle" began in the back yard.  (No fire was involved, this sort of "burn" is a tit-for-tat roasting/joking session.) The battle centered on "yo momma" jokes where the weight and hygiene status of each mother was discussed.  (Thank you sweet son for always making me feel special and loved.) While my son thought it was hilarious, the neighbor girl took these words to heart.

As an act of allegiance to her mother, she challenged my son to a "kick fight."  A kick fight is just what it sounds like, a fight where only kicking is involved.  What could go wrong?  My son accepted the challenge and evidently both parties took some blows.

The interesting thing is my son never mentioned the burn battle or the kick fight.  He waltzed into the house without an ounce of angst or despair.  It either didn't register as traumatic in his mind or the kick fight solved their squabble (problem solved).

The next day, we had a big talk about fighting with the girl.  But she started it, he cried.  Regardless, we said.

I've often told the boys that they will be great college roommates one day because they've experienced the joys and challenges of siblings.  There's nothing like siblings to teach you how to share, resolve conflict, deal with irritations, and be empathetic.  But I also think these encounters with neighbors are growth opportunities.  They are teaching my boys how to get along and deal with differences that come with other genders, value systems, and behaviors.  

The life lesson we learned this week is kick fighting is never ok, especially with a girl.  Who knew this was a life lesson that needed to be taught.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Last week's storms were brief, but intense.  High winds blew down our beloved Bradford Pear tree.  On the upside, a missing Easter Egg was found among the debris.

I love my running group, but it hasn't quite seemed complete once our friend Emily moved to North Carolina.  She returned for the weekend, and we made the most of our time with her in town.  What we discovered is there are not enough miles to really feel like we've caught up with our sweet friend.

On Father's Day, we did a lunch celebration of Chinese and barbecue takeout (both special fathers favorites).

What I most remember from my second son's birth is my husband's reaction.  Moments after Connor made his arrival into the world, my husband scooped him up in a blanket, cradled his newborn son in his arms, and nestled into an armchair in the corner of the room.  I vividly remember the love and affection my husband displayed while marveling at the beautiful pink bundle in his arms.  What I knew at that moment is that my husband adored his role as a father.  

As we've added boys and they've grown in years, his affection for his position as Dad has only increased.  

When they were young, he engaged in everything from diaper changes to intense discussions on Thomas the Train.  He was the Dad who made time to snuggle with his young sons in front of Sesame Street, while still clad in scrubs and bleary eyed from an overnight ER shift.

Over the years, he's been the field trip chaperone, soccer coach, snack dad, basketball scorekeeper, and two zillion other roles. He's given the '"talk," and every other discussion in between.  But I think it's the words he hasn't said that's impacted the boys the most.  

There's many legacies my husband will leave his sons, but I think the greatest is how to be a good father.

Happy Father's Day sweet husband (and to my dad and father in law too).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Welcome to the family, new van!

Welcome to the family, new van.  She has a lot of miles ahead of her.

Cooper poses with his counselors at Springhill.

The gang is all back together after three boys spent a week at Springhill Camp.

I vividly remember when she became part of our family.  It was right before a family vacation to Michigan, and I was pregnant with Cooper.

By she, I'm referring to our minivan.

And for those who may not know Cooper, he is about to enter middle school.

You do the math.

In van years, she was old.  In fact, within the last several months, she had entered hospice.

Throughout the years, her once shiny exterior became tarnished with a collection of dents and bangs.  Once the first dent happened, we sort of lost the will to fight it.  The interior didn't look much better.  When we acquired the van, we were knee-deep in the goldfish and sippy cup years.  At points, it felt like the goldfish were multiplying and practically swimming on the floor. 

As the boys aged, so did the amount of snacks, trash, and crumbs they contributed to the van.  No joke: once we were doing a deep clean of the van and found a FULL sandwich wedged underneath a seat.  I wish I could say this was the worst of our discoveries; but as a courtesy to anyone who may be reading this while eating, I will hold back many of the filthiest memories.

I think my van put my father-in-law, a former car dealer, into full-blown panic attacks.  Once when we were out of town and he was managing the boys, he surprised us with a full detail of our van.  This was one of the sweetest gestures I've ever encountered (and I'm sure a way he could cart the boys around without feeling the need to put his head between his knees and take breaths into a paper bag).

After ten years and 214,000 miles, we knew it was time.  Our van has served us faithfully for a decade, but she was ready to go where old vans find rest.  (God bless her.)

When Chris pulled into the dealership and asked the sales representative the trade in value of our van, he replied, "You will have to give us $800 to take it off your hands."

We worked out a few dollars for her trade, gave the keys to the dealer, and walked away with a newer, sturdier model.  I'm grateful to now have a new car with enough power outlets to light up a Christmas tree (and without a cassette player).  

 While I'm happy to be the owner of a new van, I have mixed emotions about leaving my old one.  This van's predecessor carted us safely through hundreds of thousands of miles, to and from numerous family milestones, while we engaged in conversations that ranged from the hysterical to the heartbreaking.  We strapped brand new babies, fresh from the hospital, into her car seats.  We cautiously placed unseasoned potty trainers into her boosters (and prayed for dry seats).  She carried too many carpools to count.  She transporting both the winning and losing teams, science fair projects, camp gear, Costco runs, and anything and everything in between.

I imagine this new van will be present during the next chapter of family events and the many milestones to come.  

I told my new van she has big wheels to fill. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trip to the Big Apple

A few weeks ago, Chris tossed out a crazy idea.  "What about going to New York City?" he proposed.  Neither of us have ever been.  I had plenty of reasons to say no, but the timing was just too right.  Three boys were attending overnight camp this week and Grandma was willing to watch the remaining son.

So acting in a whimsical fashion that is way out of our character with two logical, planned people, we booked two plane tickets to New York City.

On Sunday, we hopped into a plane bound for the East Coast.  Less than two hours later, we were walking around Manhattan.  Amazing!

Our first stop was Trinity Church.  The history and magnificent architecture was breathtaking.

(By the way....sorry for picture overload.  Had too many good ones not to share:))

After Trinity Church, we walked a few more blocks to the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Words truly cannot describe the extend of devastation and tragedy you feel in this spot.

Although we loved New York City, we hated the weather it offered us.  As you can see, this fleece sweatshirt (the only one I packed) became my best friend on the trip.

From 9/11, we headed over to the Liberty ferry.  With a short boat ride, we landed on Liberty Island.

This was our first sight of The Statute of Liberty.  It brought tears to my eyes because it felt like a very momentous occasion.  It stirred up deep-rooted patriotic emotions and gratefulness to be seeing this American icon.

On Liberty Island, we were feeling ambitious.  So, we climbed the 200 steps to the statute's base.

From the base, this was our view.

On Liberty Island, we had more time to gaze at this lovely statute.

The Ferry took us across to Ellis Island where we gained a better understanding of the plight of immigrants into our country.

Empire State Building at night.

As a runner, this felt like a momentous occasion.  I had a few runs through Central Park.  I was seriously hooked!  It was a runner's paradise.

We made it to the NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza.  Unfortunately, Jimmy Fallon forgot to leave us tickets.  It must have been an oversight.

This beauty adorns Rockefeller Center.

We made it to the top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center).  The views were spectacular.  My favorite thing to eye is the trees sitting on various rooftops.

Ball drop for the New Year.

 Another magnificent site: St. Patrick's Cathedral!  

Rockefeller Center

Per a friend's recommendation, we ate lunch at Serendipity.

Oh my word!  I think I found the place I want my last meal!

Of interest to us was the Trump Towers in New York City.  Each location was under heavy guard with lots of barricades.

I'm glad we experienced Times Square, but it was a bit (ok more than a bit) overwhelming.

Between the noise and the lights, I think we both wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cover our heads.

On Monday night, we ate dinner with my cousin Susan (a Brooklyn gal) for dinner.  She gave us the insider scoop on visiting NYC and a super helpful tutorial on the subway system.

On our way to a Broadway Show, we experienced Times Square at night.

The next day we jumped on bikes and toured Central Park.

Between the cold and the rain, we almost threw in the towel.  But I'm glad we didn't.  Central Park blew us away.

Every nook and cranny had a new wonderful surprise.

Another friend recommended the Boathouse in Central Park for lunch.  Our table had a sideline view of the boats drifting off into the park.  It was a truly spectacular lunch.

To finish up the day, we headed over to Brooklyn to experience the Brooklyn Bridge.  The views of the bridge were spectacular.

The architecture was amazing!

Final morning in New York, we awoke bright and early and headed over to Rockefeller Center.  There we found a place in the Today Show crowds and enjoyed the summer concert series.

Chris said this look was a bit too touristy.  I thought it was just right.

Carson Daly!

If I walked by this man on the street, I would have no clue as to his identity.  I did learn he is a singer with the group, Naughty by Nature.

We also danced to TLC and Sugar Ray.  Chris and I both landed on TV.  It was one of those really fun (and early) experiences.

In summary, we loved New York.

I'll start by saying we fell in love with the people.  I know we Midwesterners think we have a monopoly on hospitality, but New Yorkers rolled out the welcome mat and threw on the charm.  Everyone we interacted with was proud to show off their hometown and eager to warm us to their surroundings.

We adored the food.  Thank goodness we walked about 100 miles a day, because we devoured about a zillion calories with all the delectable foods.  We decided in advance that diet and calories would be forbidden words in New York.  And both of us complied.

We enjoyed the depth of experiences.  One moment we were touring a remarkable cathedral with historic roots.  The next moment, we were shopping on 5th Avenue.  Then, we were sitting in a Broadway Crowd.  And the next moment, we were touring around Central Park.  The list of things to do was endless.

We said our goodbyes to New York City after four days.  We reminded her that we would be back soon.  We'd miss her too much if we didn't.