Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waffle House

Ashley got to spend the night at Grandma and Papa's house last night. More exciting than just spending the night, she was treated to the all time most exciting dining experience. Waffle House. It's the stuff of legends, I tell you. You'd think for sure that Waffle House was shiny and sparkly, covered in toys and desserts based on how excited the kids are to go there. But in reality, it's just a greasy spoon by the interstate, frequented mostly by truckers.

It started as a joke, really. Papa has picked Ashley up from school on her half day all year, taking the opportunity to get to know her a little better. They almost always go to McDonald's. She's a little more talkative after a Happy Meal. The few times Ally has had a chance to hang out with Papa one on one, she always wants to go to Red Robin. Getting bored of those places, he jokingly suggested Waffle House one day. Instead of instantly shooting it down, the kids were intrigued. What is this Waffle House? Sounds like it could be good.

Ally got to go first. She was crazy excited the morning of her date with Papa, and could hardly wait to go. She flew out the door when he got here, and I don't even think she bothered to say goodbye to me on the way out. All she talked about the rest of the day was Waffle House.

I have never been to Waffle House, and to be totally honest I have no desire to ever go. It's not exactly the kind of establishment that draws people in with rave reviews and gourmet menus. It's somewhere you eat when you are on your way to somewhere else. At least for most people, it is.

But for Papa and the kids, Waffle House is a special treat. He takes one kid at a time, so they have time to chat. Time for just the two of them. Two people, separated by a generation, eating. This is the stuff that memories are made of. I can only hope that the kids continue to enjoy their time at the Waffle House as much as they do now. To them, it's just a chance to eat out with Papa. With time, I hope they will see what they are getting from their visits to the Waffle House. It's not about the waffles. It's much more than that, for sure.

When I was a little girl, my Pap would come to visit on the weekends sometimes. He was always more than willing to get me an ice cream cone, on one condition - we had to walk to the store. What I remember about that time I spent with him wasn't the ice cream. It was the walk. It was a fairly long walk, but what a walk it was. He never hurried me, there was nowhere else more important to go just then. He stopped to look at the rocks with me, he had nothing but time to admire the beauty in ordinary objects. At the time, all that walk meant to me was that I got an ice cream cone. Looking back, I know there was a bigger, more important gift there - time.

What I wouldn't give to have just one more ice cream cone with my grandfather. My Pap was gone before I was Ashley's age. I truly hope that the kids realize how lucky they are. Not only do they still have their Papa, they get to go to Waffle House with him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Delayed Gratification


We haven't been able to have Ashley's 6th Birthday party yet. She's been 6 for over a month already, but still no party. You'd think she would be upset, but she's been through this before.

Though she felt fine on the day of her actual birthday this year, she was out of commission and completely contagious on the day of her party. The poor kid has been sick on the day of her birthday party for the last 3 years in a row. I suppose that is the danger in having a winter birthday. When she turned four, she had a pretty bad cold. Last year, she was running a crazy high fever. And this year she had the flu. She was so sick this year that she hardly noticed when her party was supposed to be at all.

All her little friends have been through it before too - the canceling and eventual rescheduling of her parties. It's to the point anymore where the other moms almost expect that Ashley's party will be on a different day than originally planned.

I've learned not to buy food for her parties more than a day ahead of time, just in case. I ordered her cake this year for the original party, but not without asking when the last day I could cancel it was. And cancel it I did. Last year, I forgot to ask that question, and we had birthday cake for weeks.

We need to figure out when to have her party. It will most likely be next Sunday. For Ashley, having her birthday during tax season means that she doesn't get Saturday parties. The kids don't care anyway, really. A party is a party, and it could be on a Wednesday for all they care.

We need to get her party done and out of the way....Ally's is coming up soon too. Luckily, Ashley is used to waiting.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Childproof

At some point in the very near future, we will have to revisit childproofing. It's a phase of my life that I thought was over. I rejoiced the day I finally took the last baby gate down for good. We didn't have to worry about that stuff anymore. Or so I thought. Life had other plans for us, and those plans included another little person.

AJ is on the verge of crawling. He's going to be a handful, I can tell already. He's ready to go, just has to figure out the coordination. He has already learned to throw food to the dogs and picks up any tiny thing he can. He's going to be trouble.

By this point in our parenting careers, we are about as close to experts at childproofing as anyone could possibly be. We've provided countless friends with advice and even installation help when it comes to gates and locks. I've accompanied friends to the baby store to help them decide which safety items are absolutely required, and which are a waste of money. The things that all the baby companies make new parents think they can't live without. The things that feed on the paranoia of new moms.

When Aidan was a baby, we tried all kinds of locks. We even had one for the toilet. The house was like Fort Knox. Everything was safe from his tiny fingers. All that had been created in reality was the illusion of safety. Aidan was an inquisitive little boy, and he figured out how to open just about everything eventually. He pried the drawers open, managed to wedge his hands and arms under the locks. He figured out how to use his body weight to get the big locks open. And, yes, he figured out the toilet lock.

At some point when Ashley was a baby, we discovered the magnetic cabinet locks for the kitchen. They cost more up front, but they work like a dream. And in the long run, they are probably more economically efficient because they don't need to be replaced. We installed these locks over 3 years ago and they are all still in place. It takes a very long time for kids to figure out how to circumvent them. The only ones we used them on contain glass, sharp things, medications or cleaners. It's fun to watch people unfamiliar with them try to figure out how to open the doors. They aren't just childproof, they are downright adultproof.

We will soon be putting the gates back up. Will I bother trying to childproof anything else? Most likely not. Despite an entire industry that has arisen to feed off the worries of parents, they haven't convinced me that you can buy and install safety. I learned better when Aidan was a baby. No plastic clip, video monitor or piece of foam will ever substitute for supervision. Babies and toddlers just need to be watched. And they need to have cabinets to open and drawers to get into. They need an outlet for curiosity. The need to learn how to open and close, take out and put away. And parents need to learn to let them.

I have a picture somewhere of Ally sitting in one of the kitchen drawers. She was probably about 18 months old, and she was quite proud of herself. She got it open, took everything else out and climbed up in it. She could have fallen. She could have pinched her fingers. She could have dropped something on her toes. But she didn't. And she didn't learn how to do it all by herself, I helped her. We can't protect them from everything, and we shouldn't try.

I'll never forget the look on Tom's face when he came home from work one day. Aidan was about 2, and I was teaching him how to jump off the couch. He looked at me, as if to ask what the heck was I doing??? I knew that Aidan was going to jump off the couch regardless of how many times I told him not to. That he was going to jump off higher and more dangerous things in the future. That I wouldn't be able to stop him then either. I'd rather teach him how to do it safely then sit back and hope he doesn't do it at all.

Being a mom is hard. Watching your kids learn to do things that can hurt them is scary. I try to keep them away from the most dangerous things as much as I can, but I also try to teach them how to manage that danger. I can make those choices for them only for a short time. They need to learn how to do it for themselves too, even if it makes me cringe.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Morning madness


I am perpetually running late, at least it seems like it. This is particularly true in the mornings before school. Fortunately the kids don't start school until after 9:00 a.m. Much earlier than that, and we'd have trouble getting there on time with any regularity.

AJ has a habit of eating at about 7 then falling right back to sleep. Soundly, of course. He isn't a great sleeper, but something about the morning makes him downright exhausted. He can be up all night fussing, but then as soon as I need to contemplate joining the land of the upright, he's out cold.

Ally tends to be up with the sun, regardless of what time she went to bed or whatever else is going on. She's almost always the first one up. I know both Aidan and Ashley went through a phase like this when they were 2 or 3, where they would wake up at the crack of dawn for no good reason. But they outgrew it, and I don't think she will. I think she's a morning person, which is all well and good. But I'm not. Never have been, and I don't ever plan to be one.

Aidan and Ashley outgrew the early rising fairly dramatically. They like to sleep. They like to sleep so much that I often find myself prying them out of bed in the morning. I often have to resort to stealing blankets to rouse them from sleep. I have yet to sing that horrid song my mom used to sing to me in the morning. I hate that song. But someday I just might have to sing it.

This time of year is especially hard. The kids are up later to spend some time with Daddy. They don't get baths or showers at night, and have to do it in the morning. I swear Aidan uses the shower to wake up sometimes, robbing everyone else in the house of any hot water. Throw in the requisite clothing drama, and it can be a while before we even make it downstairs.

Aidan has a habit of sneaking downstairs and watching tv in the morning if he's up before I am. I don't really care if he watches cartoons, I just wish he would get ready first. What actually happens though is that he goes into a trance, forgetting to do any of the things he needs to do in the morning to get ready. There is a reason we call it the magic box. The hypnotic power of the tv is not to be underestimated.

Last week, we were running later than usual. Aidan had drained all the hot water in the house, and the girls and I still had to shower. Ally wanted to wear a tank top and shorts, and it took a while to get real clothes on her. It was only 30 degrees. Ashley couldn't find her shoes. She has this recent obsession with her shoes needing to match her clothes, and I just don't have the patience for that kind of detail in the morning.

I told Aidan to get downstairs and throw some waffles in the toaster for the girls. They would have to eat them dry in the car, we were already running behind. He grabbed a cereal bar from the top of the fridge for himself. I came down to fill up my Tinkerbell coffee cup and noticed he left the bag of waffles on the counter. What I did not notice is that he had nudged the full container of Kix to the edge of the top of the fridge, and when I opened the freezer, it came crashing down.

Kix. Everywhere. Since they are round, they bounce and roll too, which is an added bonus. Crap! I didn't have time to clean it up, since we needed to get out the door. I let the dogs in, and remembered all the times I kicked myself for forgetting to snap a picture. I grabbed the camera and took a few quick shots, then left the dogs in the house and took the kids to school.

By the time we got back, I figured the dogs would have at least made a dent in the mess. Nope. They licked the floor in a few spots, which just created a Kix paste. When did the dogs decide to get picky? Hello! It's people food!!! You are supposed to love this stuff!

I just took a deep breath. I started cleaning it up, then Ally got out all the Playdough. The floor was already a huge mess, so why not? Sometimes you just can't help but laugh.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What exactly was I thinking?

I spent the better part of an hour shoveling the driveway this morning. It's an awfully long, awfully wide driveway when you have more than a couple inches on it, and it takes a long time to get it done. Of course, I had a few little helpers out there with me, mostly piling the snow back in places I had cleared off. Takes a bit longer when you have to do it twice.

The kids in the neighborhood had gone over to the golf course to go sledding, but I couldn't let mine go. The baby was in the house asleep, and Tom had gone to work. Though Aidan would have been fine to go without me, I couldn't let him because of the girls. If he went, they would want to go too. If there is a tree, Ashley will find it. Ally's been known to sail down the hills over there and keep going indefinitely. I think she might have a future in luge competitions. She is shockingly aerodynamic on a sled.

We could hear the kids sledding while we were shoveling, and I felt bad. This is most likely the last snowstorm of the season, and I didn't want the kids to miss out on the fun. Aidan ran in the back and grabbed the sleds. He asked if they could slide down the front yard. I thought to myself that wasn't going to be good enough. It's not steep, and there wouldn't be much actual sledding going on.

So I built a hill. A pretty good sized one too, on the steepest part of the driveway. Took about 10 minutes to build it up, then Aidan tried it out. Worked pretty good, so Ashley ran and got her snow stuff back on. Pretty soon we had it smoothed down enough that they would sail out into the middle of the street. Fortunately we live in the far corner of the neighborhood and no one ever drives down our street, so I wasn't worried. Plus, I was out there supervising. And it was my idea.

The sun was working pretty fast at melting the layer of ice that was left under the newly shoveled driveway, a little too fast if it was going to be used for sledding. So I did the unthinkable. I started shoveling the snow back onto the driveway.




Snow Day


When we first moved to Colorado, I thought for sure that we would get a lot of snow. I mean, it's Colorado, right? The day we moved from the rental house to our new home it was snowing, and I figured it was just the first of many storms we would be having that winter. I was wrong. Winter around here means dry cold wind far more often than snow. Most of the time that the weather forecasters here tell us that there will be snow, there isn't any. The kids have gone to bed many nights hoping for enough to go sledding in the morning, to wake up and see only a few flakes wedged up against the fence.

The wind is one thing that we get a lot of around here. This year has been particularly bad, and on more then one occasion I have found myself chasing trash cans down the street. The fences in our neighborhood have gone down a couple times already. Our huge plastic swimming pool managed to get out from behind the tree and blew over by the side of the house on one particularly blustery day. I was scared to try and move it...it's big and would make a great sail. I didn't want to end up in Kansas. You would think growing up in Simi that I would have forever avoided living in windy places. I thought I was. I thought it snowed here. I didn't think it was windy all the time.

Living in Colorado, you learn about weather. You see, we live in what is known as the Banana Belt. And we are directly in the rainshadow of a 14er. These terms mean nothing to people living outside the Front Range, but they mean a lot here. The Banana Belt is the area just to the East of the Rockies. The storms hit the mountains pretty hard, but leapfrog over us and hit the plains more. We, for better or worse, don't get all that much weather here typically. Longmont is due East of Longs Peak, putting us in the rainshadow of a 14,000 foot peak. We get the downsloping wind, but the clouds go around us. The effect of the Banana Belt is exaggerated here because of it. Storms tend to hit harder North and South of us. Put it all together, and it means that we don't get a whole lot of snow. Usually.

If and when a storm sets up like the one did yesterday, we can get a ton of snow in a very short period of time. We got about a foot yesterday, most of which fell in 3-4 hours. In order for that to happen, the storm has to set up as an upper level low, centered in the SouthEast corner of the state. When that happens, we catch the backside of the storm, which pushes the energy up against the mountains from the East. Known to people here as upslope. A few hours of that, and we can make up for months of a dry winter.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does we can end up with blizzard conditions. And we did yesterday. School was closed yesterday and today as a result. It's the first time since we have lived here that the schools have been closed. The kids don't seem to mind at all.

We had real snow once when I was a kid. It was maybe an inch or less, nothing exciting by Colorado standards for sure. Living in Southern California, snow is something that almost never happens. I was in Junior High, and the teachers let us all out to play in it. For about an hour, we ran and played, threw snowballs and had a blast. For that brief time, school could wait. The adults in charge of us knew playing was far more important that whatever else we were supposed to be doing that morning. It melted quickly, but that snow day is something I will always remember.

There is something nice about a snow day. Being forced to take a day off. Sitting and enjoying the simple beauty of snow. Hot cocoa and tea, comfort food and sitting by the fire. Building blanket forts and baking cookies. Sitting around in your pjs watching movies. And a good old fashioned snowball fight.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We Now Interrupt This Program...

My house is loud. Incredibly loud. To the casual observer, and anyone unfamiliar with what life with 4 kids is like, it is unbearable. The noise that accompanies children is constant and unnerving. And it starts pretty much at birth.

They are born crying, or start very shortly thereafter. Ashley was screaming before she was even halfway out. We should have realized it was a warning of things to come with her. In actuality, this is one time that you want babies to cry. Silence is not a good thing in the delivery room.

Babies instinctively cry for just about everything at first. Tired, cry. Hungry, cry. Wet diaper, cry. Bored, cry. Eventually they start to figure out other ways to communicate, other ways to make noise. They coo, then they babble. Aidan made so much noise, even at 4 months old, that strangers stopped us. Once at the zoo, he was screeching so loud that several people just had to ask what was wrong with him. Nothing, he just likes to make noise.

When Ashley was a baby, a friend and I took our kids to a pottery painting cafe. Between us, we had 5 kids under the age of 5. We sat and painted and talked. At some point, we became aware that every single person in the cafe was staring at us. We were having a totally normal conversation, normal volume and everything. What we did not realize was that all the kids were making a tremendous amount of noise. We had completely tuned them out.

Ally has never been a very loud kid in general, but when she wants to be, she can be deafening. She's what I call a loud crier. When she's mad, plug your ears. I'm not kidding.

Even AJ has already figured out that he needs to make noise, and a lot of it, if he is going to get attention around here. With three older siblings in the house, he needs to make sure that we don't forget about him, I suppose. He is a momma's boy, and wants me to hold him all the time. If I try to do anything else, he lets me know about it, and loudly.

I was trying to watch the news for the weather report last night, and the noise quickly took over. The baby was crying, doing his typical nighttime fussiness. The girls were fighting over something. Aidan was asking me the same question about something over and over and over. I kept turning the volume up so I could hear the TV, but it was no use. Every time I turned the volume up, they just got louder. This vicious cycle is a common occurrence in the house, and it often results in me just giving up and turning the TV off. I've been known to send the kids to the basement to play just so I could watch something on TV. They spent many evenings during the election in the basement just so I could see the debates.

Too bad kids don't come with a disclaimer. We Now Interrupt This Program...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fashionista

Ally likes to pick out her own clothes. She has preferred to pick them out herself for as long as I can remember. Long before she was very verbal, she wanted what she wanted, and there was no point arguing with her.

She has gone through phases where all she would wear is dresses, and phases where she wouldn't touch them no matter what I tried. She much prefers footless tights to regular ones, since she adores her ballet flats. She doesn't much like to wear socks, and I can't imagine where she gets that from. ;)

She is still in a funny pants phase. Whenever we see bold, bright and crazy patterned knit pants she has to have them. She has striped pants in many different colors, pants with rainbow swirls, huge bright flowers and more. I try to find her plain shirts to offset the craziness on her legs. I suppose she should wear it while she can, for surely outfits like this have an age limit on them. Cute at 3, but not so much at 23.

She has a bit of a shoe fetish, fed by hand-me-downs from her big sis and a few friends. The girl has a ton of shoes. I got frustrated with her a few weeks ago and took all her shoes but one pair away, or so I thought. She had a few pairs stashed downstairs and three pairs in the car. Told you she has a lot of shoes.

You'd think that she would have a 50/50 chance of getting them on the right feet, but no. They are almost universally on the wrong foot. I tell her to switch them constantly, and even then sometimes they go back to the wrong foot.

She has some shoes, in similar styles, just different colors. She has two identical pairs of mary janes for school, in black and navy blue. At the beginning of the school year, we were running a little late one morning. We had to get Aidan and Ashley to school, then head to the pediatrician's office for AJ's checkup. I realized when we got to school that Ally was wearing one blue and one black shoe. And they were both intended for her left foot. We didn't have time to go home and grab the right ones, and we had just cleaned the car out the night before - so there weren't any in the car. So, Ally just walked around with two left feet.

This morning, she insisted on picking out her own outfit like normal. I didn't have time for negotiations, and she walked out the door in a one-of-a-kind creation. Moms of 3 year olds know all about these creations. The kind of outfit that boldly announces that, "I dressed myself today!"

Purple skirt, red tights, USC crocs, burgundy shirt and pink striped sweater. And she was quite proud of herself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aidan was a Race Car Driver


The title is stolen from a Primus song, actually about Jerry the Race Car driver. Every time we are talking about the Pinewood Derby, I can't help that I hear that song over and over in my head. The Cub Scouts participate in the Derby every year, and this year's race was not without the required drama.

The Pinewood Derby was last weekend, and as has become annual tradition, we managed to put off working on the car as long as possible. We had the car for weeks in advance of course, and Aidan had long ago decided what he wanted the car to look like. But, if it was done too far ahead of time, what would be the fun in that?

He wanted it to look like a truck, specifically, the truck from Jurassic Park, which is enjoying a second time around as Aidan's favorite movie. The car was shaped one weekend, and painted the next. We went over to Grandma and Papa's house to work on the final touches, and Tom actually took an entire day off work. Derby cars are important, you see.

Papa has become somewhat of a pinewood derby car expert, through many boys, and many years of racing. He turned the nails and sanded down any rough spots, coated them with graphite to perfection and made sure that the car weighed in at exactly 5 ounces. He stashed a few pennies in his pocket with glue just in case the car was under on the official scale. It was a good thing he did, since he needed two of them.

One of the things that did not go very smoothly last year at the race was the brackets, so Tom and I did those the night before. It's amazing how efficiently and quickly things run if there is even a tiny bit of planning involved.

Aidan's car unfortunately drew into the heat with the fastest car of the bunch. He got into the second round, but couldn't outrun that speedy piece of wood. Aidan is a good sport though, and cheered happily for the rest of his buddies as the races continued.

Right before the trophies were to be presented for the final race winners, someone realized that there was a problem. One of the cars had an illegal modification and had to be disqualified. My heart broke for the little boy who lost out, since it clearly wasn't an intentional mistake. And it wasn't his fault. His parents used nails they had at home since they couldn't find the ones that the car came with. They didn't realize that was breaking the rules. The adults in charge of the race cars didn't notice the nails when the cars were checked in days before - and if they had, the whole thing could have been avoided. All the excitement that little boy had, all the anticipation of racing for a trophy was lost because of a technicality. Because of a mistake the adults made.

How many times do we do that as parents? Screw up things for our kids? Mess up important moments, important triumphs for them? Miss out on seeing something that they so desperately want us there for? Probably more often than we realize. We all have disappointments from our own childhoods of the times that we were failed by someone. And we all like to believe that we will never do it to our own kids. But we do, we all do. At some point, we all fail our children. I can only hope that when it happens, my kids will know in their hearts that I tried my best and never meant to hurt them. And that I am proud of them and that I love them, even if I miss seeing something amazing or mess up something in a big way.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Puddle Jumping

I am strange, I've been told. I love the rain. Absolutely love it. I wish it would rain more often here. We almost moved to Oregon a few times, and the idea of virtually constant rain made me giddy. I'm not one of those people who needs sunlight to be happy and energetic. Cloudy is just fine with me.

Rain is nature's sprinkler system, and when you have rain, you have an abundance of green. The hills, the grass, the trees. I love how the asphalt smells when it rains. I love to walk in the rain. I own a few umbrellas, but I never ever use them. Just another thing to carry. Besides, it's just water. It's not going to hurt you. I love to sleep when it is raining, I love the sound of the raindrops hitting the roof and the windows. There is something soothing to the soul about rain. A cleansing, a renewal.

From the time I was a little girl, I have loved to play in the rain. I used to run around the backyard in my Wonder Woman Underoos in the rain. The kids think I am crazy. I get the kids dressed in their raincoats and we go out and play in it. They love their rainboots, though after a few good puddles they are wet inside and out and don't serve much purpose.

I have never understood the scolding that kids get for jumping in puddles. It's fun, and you only live once. Instictively, children know that a good splash is satisfying. There is just something about the pooling of water that makes you want to do it. They are drawn to puddles, and shooed away by well-meaning adults. The adults who have forgotten the innocence and fun of childhood. Pants and socks can be washed, shoes will dry. But if you don't jump in that puddle, soon it will be gone.

We don't get many good rainstorms here that aren't thunderstorms - and we have to take advantage of every one we can. I have been known to jump in puddles even when the kids aren't around, and I highly recommend doing so. The satisfaction that comes with a good splash doesn't diminish with age. You just have to let yourself jump.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Power of Words

This afternoon I read a book cover to cover, which hasn't happened in one sitting in a while. I was urged to read this particular book by a friend, one who shares many of my thoughts and feelings on spirituality and religion. She came upon it the way I did, at the recommendation of another. It is The Shack, and it was amazing.

There have been many, many times in my life when I have questioned the reasoning, the judgment and even the existence of God. I have spent countless nights wondering if there really is anything bigger than us, if there is a reason for all this. If there is a purpose in life. If the horrible things that happen are just our turn with mathematical probabilities.

The most trying moments in my life, I have asked why. I have looked for answers, for an explanation. I have been betrayed, I have been hurt, I have been injured, I have been violated and I have been alone. In my darkest days, I doubted. I doubted that God was real. If there was a God, why would he allow these things to happen? Why would he allow for such pain and loss?

This book spoke to my soul, in a deep and profound way. It has affected me in a way that books don't usually do. I suppose this is because of how often my own faith has been shaken. How often I have doubted.

Through the years, I have gained a clarity about my life. Though there have been some days and nights when I felt things could not possibly ever get better, they did. When I wondered what else could go wrong, and something else did, eventually the trend reversed. The biggest problem with trying times is that it is often difficult, if not impossible to see past them. Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is dim and fleeting. With time can you see the growth, changes and maturity that only come though blood, sweat and tears.

Things never make sense at the time. Looking back on the last 10 years of my life, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the path we would go down. Looking back now, I can see with a better understanding why. If it was not for all the pain, all the loss and all the hopelessness we endured, we would not be where we are today. I would not be where I am today. And maybe, just maybe, God had a hand in that.

Rocks

Our backyard is not finished. Well, not completely. We have sprinklers and grass, a few trees and a play area. The border area around the yard, intended for plants at some indeterminate time in the future, is void. It is supposed to be covered in mulch, but over time, the mulch has been shifted and relocated. Mostly by the dogs. Mostly by Jake.

There is little point in trying to plant anything along the back fence line because Jake has a friend behind us. Another dog. They bark and bark at each other every day, running up and down the fence line. We've spread the mulch back out along that fence more times than I can count and it always ends up in mounds on the edges within a few days. Funny thing is that if Jake and this other dog ever got to meet in person, without the fence between them, they would probably be buddies. Jake is a friendly dog. But, they bark and run, run and bark.

I hate mulch. Partly because of Jake, but mostly because of it's general ineffectiveness. Because of the wind here, it tends to fly away. You have to rake it every season, and should replenish it often - which we don't do. We got some free mulch from the city last year and won't make that mistake again. It was free for a reason.

When we first landscaped the backyard, we opted for mulch over rocks because it was what we were used to seeing. Coming from California, rocks weren't a normal part of landscaping. But after being here for a few years, I see the practicality of it. They don't dislodge from dogs running on them. They don't fly away in the wind. Once they are in, they are in.

We do have a large area of river rock on the side of the house, which currently is a thorn in my side. For whatever reason, the girls love the rocks. They play with them. They move them all over the backyard, leave them at the doorstep. They put them in the play area, where the mulch is supposed to be. Ally is particular is fascinated with the rocks. I wouldn't mind so much, but I've grown tired of the mulch being in the wrong place and the rocks being in the wrong place. It's time for a change.

What I would love to do, which may or may not happen anytime soon is to change the backyard. I want all the mulch out of the back. I hate it. Really, I hate it. It sticks to everything and gets all over the kids clothes. I want to put sand in the play area and put rocks all around the perimeter.

We'll see if it happens. I doubt it, but a girl can dream, right? Maybe the backyard fairy will come and magically change it for me. ;)

March Madness

I'll be the first to admit that I am not a huge basketball fan. I used to like the NBA, but haven't watched much in the last few years. They are overpaid and spoiled, perpetually stuck in a prolonged adolescence - well, at least some really high profile players are. And I can't stand to watch it. Of course, if the Lakers are doing well, and it's nearing the end of the season, I will suddenly become a fan once again.

I'm only slightly more interested in college basketball. I could care less about it for most of the season, and really don't pay attention to it until the brackets are announced for the big dance. The NCAA Tournament.

Then something happens. We become superfans. It's bizarre actually, and Tom is worse than I am. It's a good thing that we don't watch college hoops for the whole season - Tom can't handle the suspense. The last 2 minutes drive him crazy. He yells at the TV, especially when there are those last minute foul calls, the half court desperation shots. When teams get into OT, he's mesmerized until the end.

He was mad that SDSU didn't make it to the dance this year - they lost their tournament in the final game by only 2 points. But, the Mountain West is not a glorified conference in the eyes of the NCAA, and so to the NIT the Aztecs went this year. It's truly a consolation tournament, but it's almost a waste of time. No one really cares about the NIT.

UCLA, the perennial PAC-10 good basketball team was eliminated in the first round. It's always nice to see them lose. USC made it, and they are playing in the second round today. Fight On!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life Really Is Like a Box of Chocolates

When your first child is born, everything is new. You have to learn everything for the first time. Things like how to change diapers, how to soothe a crying baby, when to worry about a fever and how to give a baby a bath. That last one is universally one of the hardest things to master about parenting. Trying to wash this slippery little thing without getting them too hot, too cold, getting their face too wet, and without getting the entire floor wet in the process is not an easy task to learn. Lord only knows that we should have had the videocamera going the first time Aidan had a bath.

But you get better at it. The second child doesn't come with such a steep learning curve. By the third kid, just about any parenting issue that surfaces is something you've already dealt with before to some degree. You know how to do the basics. But the basics are really the only thing that get easier with having more kids. Everything else is still hard. And still new.

One thing I have realized about having kids is that they are all different. Different beings, different souls. Different body types, different talents, different strengths and weaknesses. What works for one kid will inevitably fail for the next one. What motivates one will have absolutely no effect on the next. What one child decrees as the worst punishment imaginable won't bother another in the least. What is a horrible tragedy to one is merely an inconvenience to another. They are all different, like night and day.

Aidan is like Gary, which is nice. At least I know what to expect with him most of the time. He is eerily similar to Gary and reacts to just about everything the way that Gary did - so I'm at least familiar with it.

Ashley is harder. She is the most like Tom. Shy, almost painfully at times. She tends to withdraw socially when she isn't comfortable and doubt herself a lot. Aidan is a people pleaser, but Ashley could care less. She will do something when and only if she thinks she can be great at it. When she does, she is great, and it's pretty cool to watch.

Ally is me. She looks like the girls on my dad's side, but her personality is all me. She's smart and fast witted, and stubborn as can be. We will most certainly do battle in the years to come, as I have a strong feeling that her teenage years will test me.

It will be interesting to watch AJ's personality develop. He's already different than the others in so many ways. Having kids is like that saying, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get". You really don't know. And I'm convinced that you could have a dozen kids and they would all be completely different from one another.

Friday, March 20, 2009

100 Things

Copy and paste it into your blog and then just bold the things you've done!
1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Gone on a hot air balloon ride
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing (though not well!)
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets and plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (well, I've had an article in a book, does that count?)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Totally copied a post from someone else's blog to your own

Again?

Aidan is a really good big brother. Of course, he has had many years of practice already. He may pick on his sisters incessantly, but he adores them. I think the only person more excited that the baby was a boy more than Tom was Aidan - he finally got a brother.

Aidan was there when Ally and AJ were both born. He loves to hold the baby. He will play dress-up with his sisters and dance with them if they ask him to. Anytime he sees them at school, he calls them over for a hug. He could care less if the kids in his class give him a hard time for it either. He loves his sisters, and seeing them never gets old. It's very sweet.

He is fiercely protective of his own siblings, but also of all little kids. He instinctively helps kids in peril all the time. He'll help stranded toddlers in the play area at McDonald's, give someone a push on the swing at the park and help moms he doesn't know by picking up the things their little ones drop at the store. He's an awesome kid and a fabulous big brother.

We were visiting with a friend yesterday who is expecting. She had showed me a picture of the ultrasound, and her son excitedly told Aidan that there was a baby. He glanced at the ultrasound picture and knew exactly what it was.

"Again???"

It was classic. He thought I was pregnant again, which I suppose is not outside the realm of possibility in his eyes. He has been through it before. I guess even the best big brothers in the world don't always want another sibling.

You think I'm paranoid?

So there is an issue at school. A few years back, after a shooting in the state, the principal closed the front double doors in the school and changed the access rules for the building. This year, new principal. She decided that they were going to re-open the doors and I wrote a letter.

I think it's a bad idea for many reasons, safety being the primary one. The way the building is configured, the doors lead to a hallway and classrooms. And you can walk through those doors before walking past the office. It wouldn't be hard for an intruder to gain access to the interior of the building if the doors are opened. And there are other options.

I was invited to a meeting of parents that serves as an advisory board to the principal, and asked to share my concerns. It was pretty clear that they had already made up their minds, and that they were just hearing me out. They all assume that nothing will ever happen at school, which is a nice assumption really. But it is an assumption.

Having lived down the street from Santana High and dealing with the aftermath of a stabbing at Valley View, I have personal experience with school violence. It is not just a hypothetical. It really happens. It's not something that people want to believe happens, but it does.

One of the board members was quick to judge me as being overly worried to the point of being paranoid. That I was being too overprotective, and that there is no way that we as parents can avoid all harm. Really, we are just talking about a set of doors. A set of doors that cannot be closed even with a panic button in time to keep someone out.

I don't live in fear of things. I never have. I found it interesting that I was being labeled as paranoid when I am pretty far from it. I am practical and realistic. And I am not alone. Most of the other parents I have talked to about the issue agree with me.

Yesterday, I realized why this board member, this mother, had labeled me paranoid. I was talking to a friend after drop off and the board member pulled up in the front of the school. Parked in the fire lane and left the car full of kids while she went into the school for about 5 minutes. Only one of the kids she left in the car belongs to her. The others are children she is supposed to be watching through her in-home daycare.

She sees nothing wrong with parking in a fire lane, one clearly marked *No Parking*. She seems to think it is okay to leave kids in a car, even those she is paid to watch. Bad enough to do it with her own kids, but to do that with other people's? Her definition of responsible parenting and mine clearly are different. No wonder she thinks I am paranoid.

Crocs

Oh, the things a girl will do for shoes. Crocs is based out of Boulder, and they have a warehouse here in town. A few times a year, they have a warehouse sale and you can get all different kinds of shoes for a fraction of the normal retail price. I've heard about the sale before, but never went for some reason. Until yesterday.

Let's just say it was an adventure in shopping. Worse than Black Friday, which is pretty hard! Kathi and I went with the girls and the baby, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. We should have been tipped off by the huge line to get in and the traffic police on the street that it was going to be crowded.

The weather was gorgeous, so waiting in line outside wasn't a bad thing. Patience is a virtue, right? Too bad that the girls aren't very virtuous. They got antsy within minutes. When we came around the corner and the port-a-potties were in view, the power of suggestion took over. The girls are bathroom tourists, and even if they don't really have to go, they have to go. They also could care less if it is a nasty portable toilet - they still have to go.

After waiting for about 40 minutes to get in, I lugged the stroller up the stairs and we were handed an economy size trash bag. As soon as we got inside the warehouse, it was pretty clear that this wasn't going to be easy or fun. Tons of people, everywhere. The aisles were so narrow that I could hardly get the stroller through them. And never underestimate the rudeness of a woman on a shoe mission - there were a few that practically climbed over the stroller. Really? Climbing over a baby just to get a pair of shoes?

After a little while, Kathi was done. Warehouse sales and claustrophobia don't mix well! She found a spot to sit in the middle and kept the girls and the stroller with her. I found a few more treasures and we made our way out to the cash registers. I did get quite a few good deals.

I really wanted to look for some of the shoes for myself, but couldn't get over into those sections at all with the stroller. So, I might go back this weekend to look again. But I'm not taking the kids, that is for sure. And I'm developing a strategy before I step foot in there again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finding Time

It seems that every major holiday that rolls around is fraught with a million things to do. Extra activities, special meals, things at school to do. In our house, St. Patrick's Day is a major holiday. Yesterday, the kids had to wear green for St. Patty's of course. A few years ago, I made some little ruffled capris with shamrocks for the girls and found an easy peasant dress pattern. Cheap, and didn't take long, plus they came out cute. They don't get worn all that often obviously, but they already have quite a few years of use.

While we were at school in the morning yesterday I overheard some of the other moms talking about the girls. How cute they always look and how they could never justify spending as much money as I must on seasonal stuff. That it must be only because there are two of them to wear it. One of them, who knows me better than the others, chimed in that she was pretty sure I had made the outfits.

They stared at me a bit, shaking their heads in disbelief. Here I am standing with the baby in one arm and a huge bag full of homemade Irish food for the preschool in the other. One mom commented on how there was just no way that I had time to make the girls clothes, cook for the entire preschool and do all the other stuff that comes with having 4 kids. But the simple truth is that I do.

It's not that I have free time to do these things. Because, clearly, free time is not something in my vocabulary anymore. I can't remember the last time I did anything just for myself beyond a quick 5 minute pedicure at home. I guess you could call the blog my me-time, but even that is misleading. Most of the time, I am typing with one hand or with someone on my lap.

The only way that I find time to do these things is that I have to make the time. St. Patrick's Day in particular is important to me. I want the kids to know about their Irish heritage and share it with their classmates. I don't want the kids to think that being Irish is just about having food dyed green one day a year.

One of the things that has become crystal clear to me, especially since the baby was born, is that I have to make a concerted effort to do the things that are important to me. I have to find time. If that means I sleep a little less, so be it.

Spring

Though it isn't technically Spring yet, I'm loving it. The weather has been beautiful, the birds are chirping and my tulips are sprouting. I love when everything turns green again, and I love to watch the changes. Spring is a good time to clean out the closets, to scrub the floors and wash the windows. A fresh start, a new beginning.

Late in the winter, the plant catalogs start coming in the mail. Flower porn, I call them. Everything in there is beautiful and unattainable. They do provide some motivation and inspiration, even if it is unrealistic for me to think I could ever grow anything that well.

It's far too early to plant anything here unless you are a trained expert like my neighbor, the envy of the block, the botanist. For the rest of us, planting generally has to wait until after Mother's Day. Since the growing season is so short here, I have vowed for the last couple of years to seed start some flowers so they would be ready to transfer in May, and would actually have a chance to grow. This year I finally did it. I have sweet peas, morning glory, sunflowers and golden poppies nesting in their little peat moss homes, protected in the tiny little greenhouse indoors.

Each of the flowers I am attempting to grow this year I chose for a reason. I love sunflowers because they are so easy to grow. They are hardy, and it's pretty hard to kill them. We get along. I picked the poppies because they remind me of home. Oh, how I miss driving up the coast to Santa Barbara, smelling the ocean and watching the wildflowers swaying in the breeze. The sweet peas were chosen by Ally, which is quite a coincidence. She can't yet read, but one of my nicknames for her is Sweet Pea. Out of hundreds of flower seed packets, she picked that one. And the last, the morning glories, are one of my most favorite flowers. Our backyard in San Diego was a constant work in progress. When we finally got the planter done on the North side of the yard, I planted it with morning glories and absolutely fell in love with them. In California, they can grow all year. Here, I only get a few magic months of them.

I hope that this little greenhouse works. Last year, out of all the seeds we put in the ground, the only ones that actually grew to maturity were the morning glory. Hopefully this year, they will have a better chance. We'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Perspective

There are many, many abilities that fade over time. That lessen a little bit with each passing day. As we age, we run slower, we wrinkle, we break easier and it takes a whole lot longer to heal. One thing that has, at least for me, gotten stronger each day is my ability to see things differently. To try at least to step into someone else's shoes and think for a moment how they see the world. How they feel about things. Why they do things the way they do them.

This is particularly important when it comes to other parents I think. Kids sure don't come with instruction manuals, and there is no one way to do things right. There are an infinite number of ways to raise a child, and no one can say with any degree of certainty that one way is better than another. They are just different.

Of course, there are the no-brainers. The stupid things that people with kids do that make you want to bang your head on the nearest wall. The people who let their kids whine and scream at them constantly. The people who let their kids hit them. The people who will let a 2 year old climb all over the inside of a moving car rather than making them sit in a carseat. The people who send a kid to school in 10 degree weather in shorts. The people who leave a car full of kids alone, with the engine running. I think most people could agree that these parents aren't making the best choices.

Short of the obviously wrong choices, there is a huge gray area. Degrees of right and wrong, good and bad. It's easy to judge people from the outside when you see how their kids behave, or how they interact with them. But only when you can fully understand what their life is like, what that particular child is like, can you begin to see why they do things the way they do.

I like to believe that I am pretty open minded about things. That I can sympathize with other parents and that I can at least try to see where they are coming from. Every once in a while, though, I am weak and I judge. I kick myself for doing it, particularly when I learn details I didn't know that bring clarity to their reasoning.

An example of this was fairly recent. There is a little girl in one of the kid's classes that has very involved parents - the kind that are around for every single event at school. Every holiday, every activity without fail. They go over the top with extravagant gifts for the entire class, just *too* much. I recently learned that they had tremendous difficulty getting pregnant, and it clicked. Everything made sense. While I had once judged them for being overindulgent parents who needed to learn to cut back and give their kids less, I now see that they are just insanely grateful to have been blessed with their children. Having been there myself, I can understand. They want to give their children everything, especially after what they went through to have kids. I can see why now. I've gained a little more perspective.

Judging people is easy. Learning not to judge people is hard. But it is a lesson worth learning. And walking a mile in someone else's shoes allows you to see the world in an entirely different way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sins

As part of the second grade religious education curriculum, Aidan was able to take part in two of the Catholic sacraments. He just had his First Communion, but before that he had to make his First Confession.

Though I did teach 2nd grade CCD when I was in high school, and am a Confirmed Catholic, I have a strong philosophical opposition to the idea of confession. Of course, I'm not in any way opposed to the idea of atonement for sins, of recognizing the imperfections and flaws in us all, and the idea of being sorry and being forgiven. It's the involvement of a third party that I take issue with.

I don't agree that we must confess our sins to a priest in order to be forgiven. I don't believe that God requires an intermediary. I disagree with the church's teachings on the subject, and have done so vocally on several occasions. I refused to go to confession before my confirmation, which led to several of my classmates doing the same. The director of religious education had doubts about my ability to teach CCD, not because of my teaching abilities, but because of my opinions about confession. I assured her that though I did not agree with it personally, I would teach what the church wanted. I also refused to go before I was married. I knew I didn't have anything I needed to confess, and even if I did it was between God and I. Not the priest and I.

Given this strongly held opinion I have about the subject, it was with mixed emotions that I helped Aidan prepare for his first confession this winter. I knew that it was part of the process in his religious education, and that in theory it is an important lesson to learn. But I also knew that I hated how the church insisted it has to happen in order for absolution to come.

Trying to teach a child about sin is not an easy task to begin with. Almost all kids that age are still inherently good. Sure, they can throw fits, hit their siblings, misbehave and talk back....but are those really *sins*? Not in my opinion. I can remember trying to think of things I had done at his age to confess about. It was always that I had hit my brother and not listened to my parents enough. Clearly not Cardinal sins.

We were talking about how the confession would go - what he would have to do and say. Then I asked him if he had any thoughts about what he might tell the priest. After thinking about it for a bit, he conjured up the worst thing he could think of. He was going to confess to clogging the toilet.

Now don't get me wrong, clogging the toilet is pretty bad. But, it certainly isn't a sin, at least as long as it isn't done intentionally. Here in lies the problem with confession. Kids don't get it. They don't commit sins, at least most of them don't. They confuse bad things with sins, and in Aidan's world, it was the worst thing he could think of. I had to explain that a sin is not something merely bad that happens accidentally. It is something that a person chooses to do.

Ultimately, I don't know what he confessed to the priest that night in January. And I don't need to know. It's none of my business. It's between Aidan and God. I just hope it did not involve a toilet.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events

There are some things I've tried to teach the kids that you aren't supposed to do. You aren't supposed to go outside without shoes. You aren't supposed to leave the bathroom without washing your hands. You aren't supposed to go to bed without brushing your teeth. And you certainly don't go anywhere without your underwear on.

That's why the series of unfortunate events that transpired yesterday was so confusing and amusing for the girls. The didn't expect me to break one of my rules.

We went to lunch before taking Grandma Judy to the airport, and at some point during that lunch, the long skirt I was wearing must have come into contact with gum. If I had to put money on where the gum came from, I can virtually guarantee that it was from Ally. Anyway, the gum got on the skirt, and I didn't notice. Not in time, anyway.

We got back in the car and dropped Grandma off, then went to Babies R Us to get some spoons and cups for the baby. When I got out of the car, I quickly realized that something was indeed very wrong. And I very quickly realized that it involved gum. Except it wasn't on just my skirt.

Since it was on the area of my skirt that I had been sitting on in the car, you can just imagine where the gum went. Let's just say it isn't a place you want gum to end up. I took the girls and the baby to the bathroom and had Aidan wait in the hallway. There was only one solution - and it involved breaking one of my rules. I had to go commando.

The look on Ashley's face was priceless. But, I don't understand mommy! How can you go out in the store without panties on? Leave it to the 3 year old to announce it to everyone. We walked out of the bathroom and she says in her least discreet voice, "Mommy, what if people see your butt?!?!"

Just add it to the very long list of things I never thought would happen to me as a direct result of having kids. Luckily it was a long skirt.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Tooth Fairy


The Tooth Fairy is one of the mythical creatures of childhood. Like the others, namely the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy comes only at night, only when kids are fast asleep and tucked into their beds.

When Aidan was 4 or 5, we were talking about what people in our family do for their jobs. The conversation was started by Uncle TJ showing up in his uniform one day. Aidan was well aware of the fact that Uncle TJ is a firefighter/paramedic - especially since he'd been an occupant of the back of TJ's ambulance once.

We started going through the other people in our family. Of course, I had to try and find a way to explain what each person did in a way that he could understand. Papa was a policeman - that one was easy. Grandma Judy worked in an office. Daddy is an accountant - though, to this day, I'm not sure that Aidan really understands what that means, other than Daddy is gone a lot this time of year. Uncle Gary and Aunt Gretchen help people get money to buy houses. Grandma Kathi worked at a grocery store. Uncle Tim is in the Air Force, and he's a mechanic for all kinds of cool trucks.

When we got to Grandpa, I was a little unsure of how to explain what he does. The best way that I could explain it was that Grandpa helps people when their teeth fall out, and he makes them new ones.

Aidan stared at me for a while, and then he asked me a completely serious, honest question - one that is logical for a 4 year old. He asked if Grandpa was the Tooth Fairy. Without missing a beat, I replied that yes, he is.

I called Dad that day to inform him of his new responsibilities. I haven't heard him laugh that hard in a long time. It's now part of the family folklore that Grandpa is the Tooth Fairy. Somewhere, someday, I will find a full length picture of Dad to photoshop. He needs a tutu and wings.

Whenever Aidan has lost a tooth, the first person he has to call besides Daddy is Grandpa. Even if one is loose, he'll usually ask to call. Today was Ashley's turn. She has had a few wigglers, and one tooth decided that it was time to go. She was nervous and scared, unsure what to expect. Her first instinct was to call Grandpa. He'd know what to do.

He is the Tooth Fairy, you know. :)

The Money Pit

The money pit I am referring to here isn't the house, as typically labeled. It is Build A Bear Workshop. Whoever came up with the idea of having kids stuff their own animals for twice the price they normally cost is nothing short of a genius. And most likely very wealthy by now.

I have to admit that I like Build A Bear. I think it's cute in a super cheesy sort of way. I secretly want to make and stuff my own animal, one just for me. I want my own cardboard bear house.

Build A Bear isn't just bears anymore. They have relatively inexpensive bears starting at $10 all the way up to $30, just for an unstuffed animal. They have just about every kind of animal you could imagine, and rotate new ones in all the time. They have seasonal animals, and those tend to be harder to find. We did get Rudolph, but never were able to find Clarice.

The place is a money pit because it is virtually impossible to walk out of there without dropping more cash than intended. The marketing department of the company is good. You have to hand it to them. In the years that they have been in existence, they have contracted relationships with Disney, every major sports franchise, Hello Kitty, even Limited Too - girls can get matching outfits for their new friend and themselves. Genius. Lure the kids in, and make them want everything.

There are walls and aisles of outfits for the bears. Costumes. Seasonal themed sets. Shoes, purses and carriers. There are even little bear underwear and pajamas. For the *baby* bears, there are baby clothes and baby toys. And of course, the kids feel like they need to get everything for their bears.

Before we ever step foot in the place, I have to sit the kids down and remind them that we aren't getting everything. You could walk out of that place easily spending $100 per bear. Easily. It's to the point now that I tell them they can have an animal, but that's it. And, preferably, not the huge animal or the logo animal that costs the most. Ashley in particular seems drawn to the most expensive animal every time. The girl has expensive taste.

Even Aidan gets in on it. He owns pajamas for his bears. Costumes and baseball outfits. You'd think that he might have outgrown it by now, but no such luck. Still fun for him.

The people that work there make or break the experience for the kids. A good BAB stuffer makes them jump up and down, twirl, make wishes for their bear and kiss the little heart at least once before stitching it closed. Rushed BAB stuffers aren't as much fun, and you feel like you aren't getting your money's worth without the silliness. After all, the animals can't really cost that much. You are paying for the ambience. The experience.

We went to Build A Bear last night, and like mom made them promise, no one threw a fit for extra goodies. They walked out of the mall, in a line like little ducklings following their momma, proudly carrying their new little cardboard houses. And Build A Bear got $40 richer thanks to me, even with two coupons!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Uncle Gary

If I had not been Gary's big sister, being Aidan's mom would be harder than it is. Fortunately for Aidan, I know what to expect, at least to some degree with him, because I have lived through it before.

The similarities between the two are insane. They look alike, act the same, share the same zodiac sign, and have many of the same quirks. They are both ambidextrous, and they are both far more creative and artistic than anyone else I know. Their personalities are ridiculously similar. On more than one occasion, I have accidentally called Aidan, "Gary".

Having lived with Gary, I know how to handle a social butterfly who makes friends in a heartbeat. They both love with an unyielding heart, and trust that all people really are good. This is one of their most amazing personality traits, but also one that makes them so vulnerable. I dread when the day that will come that Aidan will learn the painful truth like Gary did, that all friends are not really friends. They love hard, and fall harder.

Having lived with Gary, I know the organizational nightmare that is art. Trying to contain Aidan's paper, pencils, paints, clay, styrofoam, cardboard and ultimately finished projects is no easy task. He takes such great pride in everything he makes that he has a hard time parting with any of it. But, like his Uncle, if it is less than perfect in his eyes, to the trash it goes without hesitation.

Having lived with Gary, I know that just about any stain can come out of clothes, shoes, carpets and walls. And that sometimes no matter what you try, the stain won't come out. I find myself having to step back and remember that when Aidan gets a little crazy with a project. He dyed the carpet in his room red, but I keep reminding myself that it's just carpet. And it's in his room.

Having lived with Gary, I now feel how my parents used to cringe when he needed a new pair of shoes all the time. How can a kid totally destroy a perfectly good pair of shoes in such a short period of time? It wouldn't be so bad if I could get away with buying him cheap shoes. But, like Gary, Aidan has super wide, super sensitive feet, that require certain shoes. So far, he can really only wear skater shoes and Skechers because they are cut wider. And they are expensive!

Having lived with Gary, I see how Aidan wants with his whole heart for people to understand him. To know what he values. To accept him as he is. To be proud of him more for what he can create than for what he can do.

Once I lived with Gary, now I live with Aidan. They are so alike in so many ways. I am lucky to have been blessed with them both in my life. Even if I do mistake them for one another occasionally.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Boys Are Gross

Boys are gross. Not that it's a new concept. I'm sure they have been gross since the beginning of time. Just something about that Y chromosome. Girls can be gross too, but not in the same way. Not *as* gross.

It starts at birth, too. Boys are more likely to pee all over themselves. Boys are more likely to poop in the bathtub. They are far more likely to discover the artistic use of their own poop than girls are. Even as babies, it's hardly worth the effort to try and keep them clean. Sad, but true.

As soon as they can crawl, they start finding nastiness to get into. My brother used to pry the dirt out of the sliding glass door track with his fingers as a baby. Aidan would stick his arms under the couch and pull out any treasure he could find. Under the refrigerator. He'd eat the dog food, drink the dog water. Tip over the trash cans. The girls never did stuff like that.

Given the choice, Aidan would rather be outside, playing in the mud than doing just about anything else. It's not just a sandbox if you add water to it. It's way more fun. We have a small area of dirt in the backyard that is not covered by mulch or rocks - and it's always the first place the hose is taken.

Boys realize that farts are funny at a very young age, well before a year. They figure out burping not too long after that, and learn to giggle at such gas explosions rather than say excuse me. Aidan once brought me a ziploc bag half full of pee. He was pretty proud of himself. Still haven't figured out what he was thinking that day.

He can come home from school covered in dirt. His fingernails are always crusted with something. His feet smell. I swear that some toxic substance must be excreted from his feet, because he can wear holes through the bottom of brand new socks in the first wearing. He made sure to point out to me yesterday when he was putting away his laundry that there were 8 pairs of underwear - which meant he actually changed them everyday. We are making progress!

I know it isn't going to get better anytime in the near future. My brother was notorious for running the shower and sticking his head in just to get his head wet, pretending he was clean. He'd sit and run the faucet to fake out to my parents that he had brushed his teeth. I know Aidan won't be much different.

At some point, at least for most boys, they start to care about being gross. At least I hope so!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scissors

Scissors can obviously be dangerous - after all, that's why you aren't supposed to run with them, right? That's why they make safety scissors for kids. That's why you are supposed to hold them with the points in your hand, and never ever play with them. You don't want the scissors to cut you accidentally, right?

Well, sometimes scissors can do plenty of damage. And sometimes that damage is intended by the user. Even if the user's mom didn't say it was okay.

About this time last year, for whatever reason, Ashley decided to cut her hair. In the amount of time it took me to go to the bathroom, she had decided she wanted short hair and cut it. She had never mentioned wanting short hair to me until that day, so I had no warning.

I came downstairs to find some blond hair in the trash can. Knowing that it could not be a good sign, I looked around and saw more on the floor. It was darker blond, not super light, so I knew where it had come from. Ashley.

I called her over to survey the damage. She had chopped her hair in several sections, on the sides and the back. How did she manage to even cut the back? I realized pretty quickly that the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. My niece cut her hair at the same age, but decided to go right up the front. At least the way that Ashley had cut it was fixable. We had something to work with.

I took her to the local salon to get it fixed, and they ended up needing to cut over 9 inches off the length of it. She really wanted short hair. She walked out of the salon with a chin length bob style haircut. It was really cute, and it made her look years older instantly. But her hair was gone. One thing that people always recognized about her was gone. Her long hair was all gone.

She had afternoon preschool that day, and everyone raved about how cute her haircut was. The problem with that was that it just affirmed her decision. She wanted short hair, and since everyone loved it, she must have done the right thing. At least her preschool teacher sat her down and told her that it wasn't okay to cut her own hair.

Daddy wasn't too thrilled when he got home from work that day - he likes the girls having long hair. It took some getting used to, but it grew on him eventually. She has kept it short ever since, and she likes it. She can wash it and comb it herself. She no longer has to sit still for me to do her hair. She's gained a certain level of independence just because of her hair. No longer was she going to be defined by us and how we wanted her to look.

Random people still stop us to comment on how cute her hair is. And it is cute. And she knows it. I just wish she would have asked first.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Allyson

When I was pregnant with Ally, we knew that we didn't have much choice but to pick a name that started with an A. We thought we would be done with 3 kids and didn't want #3 to feel left out since the other two already had A names.

The situation was complicated somewhat by the fact that we decided not to find out the gender until she was born. We spent months talking about names as a result. We agreed on the girl name pretty quickly. We would name a baby girl Allyson, but call her Ally. Her middle name would be Jo, taken from Grandma Kathi's middle name.

We never did agree on a boy name. We went back and forth with several and could never come to an agreement. We got to the hospital and still couldn't find one we both liked. It is a good thing she was a girl!

From the time that she was born, we have always called her Ally. Allyson is just her official name, the one written on her birth certificate. When we would go to the doctor and they called Allyson, she'd look around to find whoever it was they were talking about. Her name was Ally.

By the time she was about 2 1/2, we started calling her Allyson occasionally. She'd always reply, "No me Allyson", which came out pronounced Assss-isssss-on.

Last summer, she was old enough to take swimming lessons for the first time. Her registration information is filled out with her full name, of course, not just Ally. When we got to the pool the first time, she met her instructor. The teacher was going down the list of students and came to Allyson. She called Allyson a few times. No response. I told Ally that she had to say here, and she just glared at me. The teacher again called Allyson, and she finally gave in. Shrugged, took a deep breath, and said in her most pouty voice, "Me Asssss-isssss-on".

Monday, March 9, 2009

Aidan's First T-ball Team

There are some big baseball fans in this house. Our primary loyalty is of course to the Dodgers, since that is the team that both Tom and I grew up rooting for. Generally though, we like anyone except the Diamondbacks and Giants in the NL West. We also really like the Cubs and the Red Sox. Tom's not really all that picky, and will watch just about any team if it's on TV.

There are a few teams, though, that we don't ever find ourselves rooting for. As mentioned above, the Diamondbacks and Giants fall into this category. The single team that Tom despises the most in MLB is the Yankees. He can't stand Steinbrenner. He hates the fact that they are all paid exorbitant salaries. Drives him crazy that they field some of the best players in the league just because they can lure them with the almighty dollar. He hates it when they are good. He enjoys the seasons where the Yankees crash and burn, not even making the playoffs. Vindication, he feels, for a "team" made up of highly paid individual players with egos to match. Tom can't stand the Yankees, and he makes sure that the kids learn that at a very young age.

One of the things that Tom looked forward to most as the father of a little boy was the day Aidan could start playing baseball. Tossing the ball in the backyard is fun enough, but it's not the same as a real game. When Aidan was 6, we signed him up for his first season of t-ball. Excited, we practiced with him at home a little, got some cleats and a new glove. Finding a lefty glove in a child's size is much harder than it should be, by the way.

The day of his first practice. We met the coach, got through the introductions. Then they did some drills which consisted almost entirely of the boys chasing the ball after it rolled past them. When practice was over, coach called the parents over. Snack sheet sign-ups. This is the practice schedule. He said he'd email the game schedule when he got it, and the uniforms would be ready next week. Oh, and we are the Yankees.

Tom was crushed! How could his little boy play for the Yankees?!?! Of course, parents have no say whatsoever in the team names, as they are picked long before the first practices. We would just have to make peace with the Yankees.

The morning of Aidan's first game, he got dressed in his new uniform and Tom turned on the videocamera. He was asking Aidan how he felt about getting ready for his first game, and if he was excited. Then he asked Aidan if we like the Yankees. Instantly, as if on cue, Aidan replied "No!" But then he thought about it for a second and realized his problem.

"But, Dad, I am a Yankee."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Forgery

Grandma is here to visit, and she had some toys hidden in the office, intending to give them to the kids at some point later. The kids found the stash, and wanted to know who they were for. My mom told them that the toys were for them, but they couldn't have them yet.

On the way home from school, Aidan started asking about the toys again. Grandma told him that today was not the day, and he'd just have to wait. A few hours later, I was sitting on the couch feeding the baby when a piece of paper magically flew over the back of the couch and landed on Grandma's lap.

She read the note, written in Ashley's super fancy curly writing, that said:

"Grandma can we have the toys you got"

She was impressed by Ashley's fancy writing, and called the girls over. I could tell she was going to cave and give them the toys. Before she could even start to speak, I stopped her.

I asked Ashley if she wrote the note. What note, momma? Grandma looked at me, confused. I told her that he had done a good job, but not good enough. Still not understanding what I meant, I told her that Ashley can't spell half the words on the note.

"Aidan!!!" I yelled. I asked him what he thought he was doing.

"Um....what do you mean mom?" he said. I told him that though he was a smart kid and had managed to pull a fast one on Grandma, it wasn't going to work on me. I knew he did it. He had managed to forge Ashley's writing almost perfectly, but he forgot that she can't spell.

Needless to say, Aidan didn't get anything that day, except to be sent to his room. Can't fool me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Polka Dots

I have sensitive skin. I have a tendency to break out in hives every time I try new soap, lotion or moisturizer. I have an unbelievably hard time when stores decide to discontinue the skin care products that I can use. It's a real loss in my world, not just an inconvenience. Trying anything new is dangerous - I never know if I'll be taking benadryl in a few hours.

Unfortunately, Ally seems to have the same problem. She's had eczema since she was a baby, and seems to have a flare-up on her face at least once every winter. Last year, she had a spot for 3 months. A few years ago, she had a quarter-sized spot on her hip all summer. I have to be pretty careful about soaps and lotions with her as a result, and use baby products still for her whenever I can.

We went shopping with Grandma yesterday to find a new dress for Aidan's First Communion this morning. She found a very pretty little dress, and against my better judgment I did not wash it before she wore it. She was so excited to get to wear it today. At breakfast after the service, Tom noticed a little redness on her side when she took off her sweater, but didn't think much of it. When we got home, she climbed up on the sofa and I saw some marks on the back of her knee. I looked closer and realized what was going on.

Hives. Everywhere. Every square inch of her body that the dress has touched was now covered in hives. Some bigger than a half-dollar. We quickly took the dress off her and got her into an oatmeal bath. I ran to the store for Calamine lotion and turned her pink. When she started breathing strange, I had to take her in to urgent care. The doctor confirmed it - she was having a pretty serious allergic reaction. Two anti-histamines and a prescription for prednisone just in case we need it.

Though we can't be certain that it was the dress, it seems the most likely suspect. The hives are only in places the dress touched. I have never had hives as bad as she has them, and I can only imagine how itchy she must be.

This is the price we pay for beauty. I just wish she didn't have to figure that out at 3.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Pants Are Wet!

For Christmas 2004, the kids really wanted a playhouse - the big kind to play with out in the backyard. Aidan was 3 1/2 and Ashley was almost 2. They were about the right age for it, and we had just finished completely remodeling the backyard. We removed a huge tree, put in retaining walls, new fencing, sprinklers, sod and built a big play area. It was a time and money consuming project - but we got it done in time for Christmas. Just in case Santa Claus was able to fit a giant playhouse in his sack of toys.

Christmas morning, with both sets of grandparents and Uncle Gary at our house half asleep, the kids woke up to find all kinds of new toys under the tree. When the pile had been whittled down, and the wrapping paper stuffed into economy size trash bags, someone mentioned that there might be something outside that the kids wanted to see. Aidan and Ashley ran to the patio door to see their brand new playhouse in the backyard!

It was a chilly morning, probably the coldest Christmas morning in many years and quite a bit of frost had settled onto everything outside. The kids realized as soon as they got out the door that there was more. Aidan had a scooter and Ashley had a fabulous pink princess tricycle. Eager to try out the new playhouse, Aidan ran in the house and grabbed some shoes. He could barely sit still long enough for someone to help put them on. Ashley did the same.

They opened the front door to the new playhouse and walked in. Ashley slammed the door, thwack. Again, thwack. She liked the sound it made, and kept doing it over and over again. She was pretty proud of herself for opening and closing that door without anyone helping her.

Aidan realized that this wasn't just a playhouse, there was a slide attached! He climbed up the little ladder and perched himself at the top. Look at me! A slide! He zoomed down the slide (all 3 feet of it), and got stuck at the bottom. As fast as he started sliding he had come to a screeching halt. Confused, he got up and looked around. What happened? Then he realized the problem. His pants were soaked. The dew that had once been on the slide was now all over the seat of his pants.

My pants are wet! My pants are wet! My pants are wet!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Karma

There are many concepts that fly over the heads of kids. That are too abstract, too complicated for them to really grasp. They can't fully understand these things. But they try to make sense of it in their own way. The idea of karma falls into this category.

The kids have all been sick for a while, Aidan the least sick of them all. He was picking on Ashley last night at dinner, telling her that she was going to get sick again for this weekend and have to miss her big father/daughter dance with Daddy. I told him that he had better watch himself, because karma just might come back to get him in the butt if he kept it up.

Aidan looked at me and asked, "what is karma?" Immediately I realized that this wasn't going to be a simple thing to explain. What is a forklift? That's an easy one. What is karma? Not so easy.

I told him that it was basically the idea that you shouldn't wish for bad things to happen to other people, because then they might happen to you. I paralleled the story they are learning at church about doing unto others as you would have done unto you. Mostly, think and do good things if you want the same in return, and be very careful about thinking and doing bad things.

He nodded his head, showing some level of understanding. Ashley couldn't understand why we kept talking about caramel. Why would caramel know if you weren't being nice?

Ally started laughing. She had figured it out. She told Ashley that it wasn't caramel silly, it was karma. We asked her what karma was, since she seemed to know. Her answer: karma is when Santa Clause comes and spanks your butt while you are sleeping. Ah, the logic of a 3 year old.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Audience

Aidan loves an audience. He is a funny kid, and he always has been. When he was a baby, he used to babble to anyone that would listen. Even when he didn't have someone to talk to, he would talk to himself. He was such a loud baby that people would often give me strange looks. Why was my baby making those screeching noises? And why didn't I make him stop? Trust me, any attempt at making him be quiet just encouraged it more. I used to get so embarrassed at the attention he would command. At some point though, I just got used to it. It was him, and there wasn't much I could do about it. He likes to talk. Like I said, he likes an audience.

When he was about 2, we got him a little table and chairs set to play with. We intended for him to use the table for things like coloring, crafts and stacking blocks. He did that with the table, certainly, but he also found another use for it. Specifically, he found another use for the chairs.

The first time he did it, I was making dinner. He started relocating the chairs, and I asked him what he was doing. He didn't say much - clearly he was on a mission and I was interrupting him. I just kept peeking my head around the corner, mostly to make sure that he wasn't constructing some kind of huge tower of chairs. I could tell that he wasn't doing that, but I still couldn't really tell what he was doing.

Finally, he was done. All excited, he came in the kitchen and told me to come and look, dragging me by the arm. Look, momma, look! Wait, I have to finish. He told me to stay in the kitchen for a second. Okay - look!

When I turned the corner, I had to laugh. He had taken all his tiny little chairs, and every other conceiveable chair-like item he had and lined them up. They were in a neat row, in front of the TV. On each chair was a stuffed animal, sitting up straight and tall, facing forward. On the last seat was Aidan, holding Elmo. He was so proud of himself. He had built an audience.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tippies

Not unlike millions of 3 year old girls, Ally wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. Ashley's obsession with ballet was much like mine was when I was a little girl - short lived. Ally's is not. She has wanted to take ballet classes since she was 18 months old and Ashley was in them.

Ashley fell out of love with ballet as quickly as she fell in love with it. She took ballet classes for exactly one session - the same as me. That was enough to satisfy her curiosity, and she was done. Not destined to become a prima ballerina. Though Ashley wasn't enamored with the idea of ballet once it became a reality, her little sister always wanted to stay and watch the class. She was in love.

Not even close to being old enough to take ballet classes, Ally would try and practice at home. She has been dancing for years now. She dances along to any music on the tv or radio. Over the years, she has amassed a sizable collection of leotards, tutus, footless tights and ballet slippers. She has ballet themed clothes and pajamas. She wants to have a ballerina birthday party this year.

When she finally turned 3, she could take her first ballet class. The anticipation was killing her. Once she knew she was signed up for the session, she couldn't wait. Every day for weeks, she would ask me when her class was. She wanted to know where the dance studio was and what she was going to wear. Every time we drove past the studio, she'd quickly ask again - is it my ballet class today, Mama?

The first day of that ballet class, she was so excited. She wanted her hair in little buns just like a ballerina. She picked out her favorite little leotard with a skirt and matching ballet shoes. Then it was time. What she had already been waiting years for. Ballet class. She was in heaven. 8 weeks of twirling, leaping and dancing.

So far, we have been able to get her into only that one session because of time conflicts with preschool. Once she turns 4, there are more classes available that she can take. Again, she waits eager with anticipation.

Her appetite for dancing was not satisfied with one class like her sister and I. She might really be a dancer. She could really be a dancer. She has some natural abilities that we did not even realize until after her first session was over. She can actually walk on her toes. Not high up on the balls of her feet - she can walk on her toes. Her tippies, she calls them.

She is not shy about dancing like most people. She doesn't try to hide her love of it. She doesn't care if people watch her. She is more than happy to show off her awesome ability to walk on her tippies. She loves to dance.

Ally wants to be a ballerina, and someday she just might be.

Monday, March 2, 2009

An Interview with Ally, 3 years old

1. What is something mom always says to you? Clean up!
2. What makes mom happy? Watching a movie with us
3. What makes mom sad? I don't know
4. How does your mom make you laugh? Make funny faces
5. What was your mom like as a child? A butterfly
6. How old is your mom? 4
7. How tall is your mom? Big and Little
8. What is her favorite thing to do? To do something (LOL)
9. What does your mom do when you're not here? Work
10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for? Nothing
11. What is your mom really good at? Nothing (totally uncooperative kid right now!)
12. What is your mom not very good at? I don't know
13. What does your mom do for a job? Take care of Ashley
14. What is your mom's favorite food? Green Beans
15. What makes you proud of your mom? That you are my mom
16. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be? Ming Ming from the Wonder Pets
17. What do you and your mom do together? Make surprises
18. How are you and your mom the same? We both have ears
19. How are you and your mom different? Our hair is different
20. How do you know your mom loves you? You tell me
21. What does your mom like most about your dad? Daddy loves you
22. Where is your mom's favorite place to go? Red Robin

Some of My Most Popular Posts