Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hanging On

I get comments all the time from people, strangers and friends alike, about the girls. Some seem to think that they look like they could be twins. Some remark on how there is no denying the genetic link between them. Comments like that often amuse me, mostly because I don't think they look that much alike at all. Maybe it's because I know them better than anyone else does. And I know just how different from one another they are. I don't think it could be possible for two kids to be more different.

While Ally is a wild child, Ashley is restrained. She never ever jumps into anything with both feet. First she has to test the water, think about it and weigh her options. Sometimes she needs a little persuasion. She is cautious. She always has been, ever since infancy. She had a terrible case of separation anxiety, then stranger anxiety. She wanted me pretty much all the time, and never did very well with other people. Even Tom. She earned herself a reputation as a baby. It always bothered me when people would take it personally. Thinking that she just didn't like them, some stopped trying. It was never them. It was her.

When she was probably about 6 months old, she pulled herself up to standing. She had been crawling since 5 months old, though I do have a picture of her up on all fours at 6 weeks old. She fell the first time she pulled herself up, and hit her face on the coffee table. She didn't try to stand up again for weeks. When she did, she held on for dear life. She didn't walk until she was about 8 1/ 2 months old, and if it wasn't for her hesitation, for her fear, it would most likely have been long before then.

Things have always been a little harder for her. She's slower to adapt to changes, needs a hand to hold through transitions. We were afraid that she would struggle with school because of that, but just the opposite has happened. She has thrived. She is doing well, she is developing friendships and she is learning. It's not always easy for her to let go of my hand in the morning, but she does it.

She insisted on keeping the training wheels on her bike for far longer than she really needed them. We would take them off, and she refused to even try. Then all of a sudden one day, she asked for help getting them off the bike. And she was great.

I have a picture of her that I took very recently that really sums up her personality in a visual form. It is of her, teetering on the edge of the swimming pool. Wanting so badly to swim, yet unsure. She is reaching back, one hand firmly hanging on the the lifeguard stand. Go ahead, baby. Let go. You can do it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sponges

I live with a broken record. Funny, because that saying is one that has quickly become an outmoded one. My children will most likely never own an actual record, never get to experience the frustration at the sound a broken record makes. They will never truly get what the phrase actually means. That is, of course, unless one of them grows up to collect antiques. The phrase, forgive the pun, is one in heavy rotation around the house. The reason is simple. We have a four year old who lives here.

Any parent of a child over the age of four or five will understand what I mean. Ally asks a lot of questions. Strike that. Ally asks a ton of questions. It begins very shortly after she wakes up in the morning. She wants to know what we are eating for breakfast. When will Ashley wake up? Does Daddy go work today? Why? Is you wearing your brown shoes today?

The constant, relentless barrage of questions goes on all day and all night, literally until she falls asleep. I have been through this before, and almost all the time I have enough patience to answer the same questions over and over again. But I don't always. There are times that she drives me crazy.

Tom can't handle it for very long. I joke with him that he wouldn't last more than a day as a stay at home dad. He just doesn't have the frame of mind to deal with the constant nature of Ally. And when I say it is constant, I mean constant. It will test the patience of anyone.

Some days are harder than others. Days when we have a lot to do, or the days when someone else is sick, or the days when I didn't get enough sleep and/or coffee. Even on those days, I try very hard to remind myself that the questions are there for a reason. That there is a very legitimate purpose to it.

Four year olds are sponges. They take everything in that they see around them. They are learning continuously, and the questions speed that process. New experiences foster new questions. And one question and it's answer almost always trigger a new one.

As frustrating as it can be at times, it really is an amazing process to be a part of. Every single day, I help her learn something. About herself, about the world, about an animal, about the weather, about anything she can think of. And helping her learn is something that I am grateful to be a part of. Even if it means answering the same question for the 10th time today. And even if it means I have to answer it 11 times tomorrow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Phillies

Aidan is playing baseball for the third season this year. He moved up from t-ball to coach pitch this time around, and it's been fun to watch the boys grow and develop as players. T-ball was just a basic introduction to the game, this year is more involved. They are learning to actually play now.

I was
talking to one of the other moms on the team about the difference between t-ball and coach pitch. Besides the obvious source of the ball, there are other subtle differences. With t-ball, the kids usually only played 3 innings. Each team hit around every inning, regardless of whether there were any outs made or not. Trust me, there weren't a lot of outs being made anyway. The innings, therefore, took forever. The first inning, the kids were just trying to figure out what was going on, arriving late, and so forth - not really into the game yet. By the third inning, they had all lost interest. There was a lot of dirt kicking, grass picking and staring into the sky going on in those third innings. The prime time of the game, the only part where most of the kids were paying any attention and cared what was going on, was the second inning. If you missed any part of that, you might as well not have bothered watching.

By the time they reach coach pitch, most of the boys have played at least one season before. They have a rough idea of what the game is all about. For the most part, they can throw and hit. It might take 20 pitches, and every once in a while the tee has to be drug out to home plate, but they can hit. The things that elude 7 and 8 year old players are catching and fielding. It's so much easier to throw a ball than to catch one, and this year there are only a couple kids that can catch with any regularity.

The boys have longer attention spans, and outs count now.
The innings have the potential to be shorter, and every so often we get three outs before the opposing teams bats through their whole roster. They manage, usually, to pay attention for longer. And there is less dirt kicking and grass pulling.

Aidan does much better
hitting from a pitch than he ever did with the tee. It was like a light bulb went on a few weeks ago. He got a new bat and it's bigger and heavier. He was swinging way too late and too slow to hit anything. I pulled him aside and gave him two pieces of advice. Keep your elbow up and start swinging sooner. Hit the first pitch the next time he was up. Maybe he should listen to his mother more. I always was a much better coach than I was a player.

Tom has been helping out, as he has every year. He doesn't want to be the head coach, but not for the reasons that most people would think. He loves coaching, has a great time with the boys. What he doesn't want to deal with are the parents. It's amazing how, even at this age, the parents get too overzealous. How quickly they can suck the fun out of things. There was one last year that demanded to know why her son wasn't playing shortstop at every game. He needed to refine his skills. Um, well, because every kid plays every position. Because they all need a chance to play each place, so they can learn the game and figure out where they are best suited. Because he's 6. And because it is supposed to be fun. It is, after all, a game.

For whatever reason
, Tom got roped into pitching the last two games. He certainly didn't step forward, and I'm not sure how it happened. I don't know who it is more nervewracking for - him or me. He is so afraid of beaning one of the kids. And he needs to work on getting out of the way faster. Pitching can be dangerous, and he learned that the hard way yesterday, when he was leveled by a line drive.

This season, Aidan plays for the Phillies. He is having a ball. He's improving as a player. And if he could just listen to his mother a little more, he'd be one heck of a hitter.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Up

I only just this morning realized that I never posted about Aidan's birthday party. Perhaps that is because he didn't really have a birthday party this year, at least not in the ordinary sense of the word. And perhaps it is because I wasn't invited. He decided a few months before he turned 8 that he wanted to do something different.

Rather than have a party, he wanted to take a few friends to see a movie. He was pretty much ecstatic when he realized that the Disney Pixar movie Up came out on his birthday - not only was a cool cartoon coming out, but it was on his actual birthday.

It didn't take him long to choose which friends to take. It helped that we gave him a limit. Three kids, no more. Hector and Will were shoe-ins for the invite. They have been two of his best buddies since preschool. The other spot was a pretty easy choice too. Another friend from preschool, one that he recently has reconnected with in a new and different way. Holly. I just have this feeling that Aidan and Holly will be friends for a very long time, the kind of friends that look out for one another and come to each other's rescue more than once.

When it was time to hand out the invitations, we had to come up with an interesting way to do it. Aidan is too creative for a standard fill in the blank card. We settled on tying the invites to balloons and hand delivering them to his friends. The movie is all about a house flying away, carried around the world by balloons. It seemed appropriate, and the link was made by all the kids immediately.

The day of the party, they all came over here before the movie. Aidan opened his 3 boxes of treasure - legos and k-nex. His friends, these friends, they know him well. Tom had kid duty, and was charged with taking them all to the theater. Everyone involved survived, and apparently the movie was good. I'll see it eventually when it's on DVD.

Happy Birthday Aidan...maybe next year you should invite your mom, so she remembers to post about it in a timely fashion. ;)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Threes

Bad things, so they say, tend to happen in threes. It does seem to work out that way. When Hollywood lost Ed McMahon earlier this week, the entertainment world was a bit on edge, wondering if there might be two more lost. I know that I will forever associate the Tonight Show with his opening line, "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" He was a television icon for decades, and will be missed.

Yesterday morning, Farrah Fawcett passed after a lengthy battle with cancer. A battle that she captured on film, one final piece, a gift to the world from her and on behalf of all the families out there struggling with cancer. Love her or hate her, she was passionate about her beliefs. She was beautiful and captivating. And she starred on one of the most famous shows in the 70's, one that my parents happened to watch quite a bit, and the one that they chose my name from. Charlie's Angels. She is one now for real, and pain is no more.

The third of the deaths came more as a shock. Michael Jackson. Again, almost everyone seems to have strongly held beliefs about him. He was a strange and unique guy, for sure. But the truth is now and will always be that he is a legend. He is one of the few musicians who you can honestly say shaped the entire industry. He was an artist, truly. And his music was in large part the soundtrack of my childhood. I can think of few people my age that have not at some point in their lives owned the Thriller record.

He had a bizarre childhood, if one could even call it that. And that childhood, or more frankly, the lack thereof, I believe is the main precursor to all the weirdness that followed in his life. Neverland was his desperate attempt at having a youth, the one that was taken from him and replaced with a stage, choreographed dances and tour dates. His inability to form normal adult relationships was evident. But as twisted as his outward showing of affection seemed to be, it was hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Did he molest any of those kids? I don't know. He may have, but I also know that there are plenty of people out there willing to lie about harm being done to their children just to make a quick buck. The sad realities of fame.

He will be remembered for his charisma, his charm, his amazing song writing and yes, he will be remembered for his quirks. He didn't earn the nickname Wacko Jacko without good cause. Over the years, he has had more than a few opportunities to demonstrate that it wasn't a falsely placed label. Normal people don't dangle a nine month old over a balcony. But he wasn't normal. He was Michael. And the world lost today a piece of culture, a piece of history.

Rest in peace, Michael. We all know that you had too little of it while you were here.

Thriller Video - the complete version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtyJbIOZjS8

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Governor

A few years ago for Christmas, the girls got a big present. One that they had to share. One that we were pretty sure that they would love for years and years to come, which helps when trying to justify spending a good chunk of change on a toy. They can play with it together and take turns. They would learn about hand eye coordination and hand foot coordination. All good things, right?

What exciting thing did they get, you might ask? What could make them squeal with delight? What would they still ask to play with on an almost daily basis, even after a year and a half? They got a Jeep. But not just any Jeep. They got the two seater Barbie Powerwheels Jeep, complete with roll bar, luggage compartment and working radio. It's a pretty tricked out ride for a kid.

The morning the Jeep arrived in our house, delivered by the big red guy, we should have known it would be the instigator of trouble. The very first time it was driven, it rammed directly into the side of the refrigerator, leaving a pretty good sized dent. Maybe we should have had a brief lesson involving starting and stopping before we turned the wheel over?

After the fateful fridge denting incident of '07, Tom promptly inspected the instruction manual for any information he could find on speed control. Surely, the Jeep wasn't intended to go that fast. After some time, he found what he was looking for. There is indeed a speed regulator, known otherwise as a governor, on the Jeep. He made sure to slow that thing down as much as he could.

It wasn't until last week that we remembered that there was even a governor on the Jeep, or that it had been used to the fullest extent possible. The battery needed to be charged, and for whatever reason, Tom decided to unscrew the governor. I suppose that he thought that the girls could handle going a bit faster now that they are older. They both can drive it without hitting things most of the time, and it did seem to go a little too slow to be fun as they got older.

Ally is a speed demon. Tom didn't tell her that he took off the governor. And you should have seen the look on her face the first time she hit the accelerator without it. You'd think she was qualifying for the Indy 500. Now she derives great pleasure from going as fast as she can, turning the wheel and getting the back to spin out. She figured out that she could hit the reverse button and spin the tires. She goes fast enough now to take it off roading, and she does that with every possible opportunity.

If this is how she is with a little battery powered car, I can't even begin to imagine how she will be when she starts driving for real. Actually, I take that back. I know someone, someone who looks vaguely like me. She likes to drive fast too. ;)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sorry

There are times, like today, that I kick myself for moving. When I know that there is someone back in California that needs me. And that I would give anything to be there for them. It breaks my heart to know that I can't be there. I wish I could.

If there was a way to magically transport myself there when things happen, just to hold someone's hand and put my arm around their shoulder, I would. If I could somehow be in two places at once.

This morning, my dear friend, know that I am with you in my heart. There is no substitute for physically being there, I know. No matter what happens today, please know that I am here for you - even if I am actually 1200 miles away. I love you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unfair

Life isn't fair. It's one of the hardest lessons to learn, and one that it seems we are never really done learning. Just when you think things are going your way, reality is there to put you in check. To steal away from you something precious.

Some people have a harder run with the unfairness than others. They struggle more, have more confrontations with fate. They lose more, are forced to live through more pain. Why is that? It just seems well, unfair.

The path that my life has carved has not been an easy one. At times it has been downright cruel. There have been countless times that I have stopped and asked that fateful question, the one that has been asked time and time again by people for centuries. Why? Why me? The realization that there is no answer to that question is torturous. There is no good answer. Horrible, terrible things happen. And sometimes those things happen to people who never did anything to deserve the pain and anguish. To the people who question their own ability to handle it.

Part of the lesson learned from these challenges is that we aren't really in control. At least not as much as we think we might be. Sometimes it just makes no difference how much you want something, how hard you work towards it, how much you long for it, how much you hope. If it isn't meant to be, none of that matters. Surrendering to that unkind reality does not happen by choice, I assure you.

If there is anything to be gained from the unfairness in life, it is this: what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger. Forgive the cliche, but it's the truth. You can handle much more than you ever imagine possible. And there are some things in this life that you can only truly appreciate when it's been a challenge to attain them. Through loss and pain, you realize what you really want. You learn where your true priorities lie. And you learn more about yourself, about your character than you ever would have if you didn't have to. If you weren't forced to.

Bad things happen to good people. But life goes on. And time heals. And you will, I promise, be stronger in the end.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Garden

I spent the better part of Saturday morning working in my garden this past weekend. There is just something about getting down on your hands and knees and getting dirt under your nails. It's good for the soul.

I planted my roses as bareroots three years ago, and they are finally thriving this year. I only lost one of the original six bushes the first winter, which is pretty good considering we had more than a few nights in the -20 degree range that year. I feed them what some would consider a strange diet. No miracle gro, no fertilizer, no rose food. They, like me, love coffee. I pick up bags of used grounds and sprinkle the roses with them a few times a year. When we get aphids, I just run to the store and get some ladybugs. I can't think of a better way to control the pests, honestly. When something so simple and harmless is an option, I really wonder why people would use anything else. I love my roses, I even talk to them sometimes. Just don't tell anyone. ;)

We originally planted three trees in the front yard when we did the landscaping. Two died, and so far we have only replaced one of them. Trees have a hard time here with the wind - I've often wondered when one of the trees in the backyard will give in and just snap during a microburst thunderstorm. The trunk on that tree bends almost 90 degrees.

We have a row of huge golden daylilies. The flowers haven't popped up quite yet, but once they emerge, they last almost all summer. I really do need to dig them up and split the bulbs, but not this year. Maybe in the fall.

Most of the other plants in my garden came from a city sponsored program for xeriscaping. They handpicked groupings of plants, native to the area, that will grow and thrive without constantly needing water. I'll admit that I was more than a little skeptical when we got them, since most of the plants were teeny tiny. Those were all put in the ground about two years ago, and most are nearing maturity.

We have a small garden area running down the driveway, and it's mostly planted with ground cover. At one point, we had three lavender plants there, but 2 out of the 3 didn't make it one winter. Ironically, the only one still with us was the cheap plant from the garden section of a discount store - the expensive home improvement store ones died.

Every Spring, the garden starts to come back. I always find myself crossing my fingers, hoping that they will all make it. My garden now grows not just plants, trees and flowers. It helps other things grow as well. The largest bushes out front have shielded migrating geese and ducks. We have a pretty strong spider community in the trees. We have at least one nest out there, and we might have more - but I try hard not to disturb the birds. Those mama birds can be a bit testy!

Right before the end of school, Aidan had to do a project on an insect. He was pretty sure that he wanted to choose bees, but we spent a while looking for other options in the garden. Digging in the dirt, we found tons of roly polys, worms, caterpillars, spiders and more. The kids had a blast, and we learned a lot from the second grader in the house.

If you look close enough, you'll find other things growing here. We have a fabulous crop of toes coming up this year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Daddy

I don't get to see my Dad as much as I would like. Mostly, it's my own fault for moving to Colorado. I moved here in the hopes of a better family life for my kids, but did so at the expense of many things. We left behind some amazing friends, the Southern California climate, a house that I loved and my family. The thing that I miss the most about California isn't the beach, or Disneyland, or warm winters even. It's my Dad.

He's still working, still owns the lab. Though his hours are less these days and he doesn't work as hard as he used to, he's still there. He still deals with the realities of owning his own business. When it's good, it's great. When it's bad, it's terrible. There is no larger entity to absorb the profits and losses - it's all him. And that level of responsibility and accountability comes with a price. He doesn't take a vacation very often. He knows all too well what happens when he leaves for more than a few days, and so do we. We went on a few big family vacations when I was a kid, and we always came home to fewer clients than we left with. I wish that the doctors weren't so fickle. That they could understand that as much as they think they need him to be available 24/7, he needs a break too. Hell, they take vacations weekly it seems. Why can't he?

Partially because of the lab, I don't get to see him very often at all. He sends Mom out here to see the kids every few months - and he tries to live vicariously through her. If she sees us, then he feels like he sort-of does too. It's too expensive for both of them to come out here all the time, so he sends her. We haven't been to California in a couple years. Last summer I was pregnant, and it just wasn't going to work this year for us to go financially. I wish we could.

It's funny how having kids of my own makes me think about things differently. It has taught me lessons that my Dad tried so desperately to teach me before, and I refused to learn. I thought for so many years that I was right, and he was wrong. I know now that in many, many ways I was sorely mistaken. We disagreed about just about everything at times, it seems. I wish in some ways that I could go back and pay attention better. That instead of arguing and rebelling I could instead listen.

I wish that I had made more time to just sit and talk to him when I was there. That I had been better about carving out time in my schedule when I was in college to come home a little more often. If only I would have known how much I would miss him now, I would have.

Distance is a hard obstacle to overcome, for sure. But in some ways, I truly believe that the distance has brought us closer. We don't talk on the phone often - he's just not that kind of person, but when we do, we almost always talk. We don't just discuss the trivial things like the weather and sports. We talk about important things. How I need his guidance sometimes with making tough decisions about the kids. How the business is really doing. How he is.

I remember one particular phone conversation very vividly. It was the day that I left California, with a car full of kids, for a new adventure. Tears streaming down my face, I called him. And I begged him to tell me that I was doing the right thing. That moving was the right thing to do. He simply told me that I was doing what I needed to do. I was doing what was best for my children, and that's all he ever tried to do. And that I needed to go. Things would work out, it would be okay. He never once told me to stay, though I am sure he wanted to.

I know now that the hardest part of being a parent is letting go. And I know that you no matter how old you may be, you never stop needing your Daddy. It's days like today that I miss you the most, Dad. I love you. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 20, 1998

Eleven years ago, today, I married my high school sweetheart. Having met when we were only 15, we have spent more time together in our lives than not.

Tom and I met in 10th grade. We were in the same Driver's Education class, and sat next to each other for the entire semester. It wasn't until early May that I started to talk to him though, since he was super quiet and shy. The guy who sat in front of me was driving me nuts, and finally I had enough and just turned to the next closest person to talk to. Little did I know that it was the start of something.

We started dating pretty shortly thereafter, and have been together ever since. We worked together, we had many classes together, and in large part, we grew up together. By the time we graduated from high school, we had been together for two years already. We'd made it through serious family health problems, a near-miss car accident and a major natural disaster, all at 17.

We have never once broken up, not even for a day. We did talk about it briefly around the time that we graduated. Back when lots of well-intentioned people tried to tell us that it would never work out, with going to different colleges in different cities. That we needed to be free to meet new people and such. That the distance would be too much. That it would just be better to start fresh, not be tied down to a relationship. We decided to give it a shot.

There were times that we didn't see each other for over 6 weeks, especially freshman year. Neither of us had a car, and we were 120 miles away from each other. This was in the days before email was big. Neither one of us had a cell phone. We talked when we could, and got very creative with methods of transportation. Trains, carpools, bummed rides and some very bizarre friendships got us where we wanted to be - with each other. Here we are today, 15 years later. I guess the doubters were all wrong.

We've both changed a lot, but we've learned to deal with those changes. He changed a lot that first year especially. Some changes have been easier to adjust to than others, but that is part of life. Any long term relationship requires the ability to adapt.

Someday when the kids ask the story of how Tom proposed, they are in for a bit of disappointment. It's not a great story, but it's ours. We knew that we were going to get married after we finished college, that was just a given. At some point, we started planning the wedding. I used to give him a hard time that he didn't ask me. And finally, one night he tried. A few weeks before the end of our senior year, I was visiting him in San Diego. He had gone out and bought two of our china place settings, and made a fantastic dinner. I ruined it by mentioning that it would be a great time to propose. I felt terrible, and I still do.

The day of our wedding was gorgeous. It was an El Nino year, and had rained for the entire week before the big day. My dad was sweating pretty good since we had no back up plan and the reception was outside. I told him that it would be fine. I just knew it would. It was sunny, without the June gloom. It was warm, but not hot. And it certainly wasn't raining. As I danced with the best man at the reception, he told me that he wanted what we have.

Since then, life has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One that we didn't plan to ever get on, that's for sure. Life hasn't worked out the way that we always thought it would. We had a plan from about the time we were 17. We were going to get married after college, wait 5 years, then have a baby. Plans changed one afternoon, sitting in a doctor's office. Cancer.

You don't know how much you love someone, how much you need them, how incomplete you would be without them until it is called into question. When you are no longer sure whether they will be there with you forever. Contemplating life's big questions at 22 is hard thing to do. Will he survive? Will he be healthy? Will we be able to have children?

And you have no idea how strong you really are until you have no choice but to be that way. And you really and truly learn how much you love someone when you are watching them sleep at night, thanking God that they are there. I joke with him, tell him that I must really love him. Otherwise, I wouldn't have washed his feet for him when he came home from the hospital. It must be real.

We have been through illness, recovery, loss, infertility, and the miracle of our children. I may struggle sometimes with the day to day issues of parenting a small herd of children, but I am now and will always be humbled and thankful for them. Every child is a blessing, for sure. When you have defied the odds as we did, though, you can't help but be even more grateful.

Here we stand, all these years later. Defying the odds still. Long distance relationships fail. People change too much in college to stay together. The radiation will irreversibly damage his fertility. Somehow, we challenge these rules. We shouldn't still be together. We shouldn't have kids. And yet, here we are.

Happy Anniversary, Tom. You are my husband, my partner, my best friend. You are my life, you are my love. And I'll wash your feet any day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cheese

There are many things about having a big family that are made more difficult by the sheer number of people involved. One that comes to mind quickly is taking pictures. There are very valid reasons that I prefer pictures of the kids playing, swinging or twirling over posed pictures. I prefer, almost always, individual pictures to the group ones. Kids are far more relaxed and natural when you capture them just being kids, and forget trying to get them to sit still and smile.

I take tons and tons of pictures of the kids. I try to get pictures with all of them occasionally, and it almost never works. I should be able to do this, right? I mean, come on - other people pay me for this stuff. In fact, taking pictures of young children is my specialty. But taking a picture of all four of my own children is no easy task. There is one fundamental reason for my inability to take a decent picture of all four kids - it's because they are my kids, and not someone else's.

This might sound crazy to some, but it is a truth validated by my fellow photographers time and time again. The most difficult subjects are the ones that belong to you. My kids, like most kids, listen better to other people when it comes to taking pictures. I love taking pictures of them one at a time. But you get all of them together and the difficulty level rises exponentially.

Getting four little people to cooperate is hard. Posing, sitting still, smiling without looking like they are in complete agony - no easy feat. One of the most difficult things to do is to get the older ones to sit still and smile continuously, holding their positions indefinitely until the baby looks in the right direction and smiles.

Having been both behind the camera and been the mother of the subjects, I know that I am far more patient as a photographer than I am as a mother. Give me other people's kids, and I have no issues waiting for the fit to be over. Waiting for the redness in their face from crying to fade. Waiting for a diaper change. Waiting for a toddler to finally decide to sit. But when I am in the other position - as the mother trying to get my kids to do those things, I am less patient. And if I am trying to be both the mother and the photographer, you'd better hope I am in a good place to start out with. Because it won't take long for my nerves to get fried.

I've had people ask why I don't get the kids pictures taken as often as I used to. Mostly it is because it is a waste of money. I could wallpaper my house with the baby pictures I have of Aidan - I took him all the time it seemed. What am I ever going to do with all those pictures, honestly? Since I started doing photography, it's been fun for me to take the kids pictures myself. Mine usually come out better than the studio ones anyway.

I took them this week for the annual Father's Day pictures. I survived, they survived. And they are almost all looking in the right direction. Hey, almost. ;) That's good enough for me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A.M.

Leaving the house to go anywhere with four kids is an adventure. Leaving the house to go multiple places is an organizational nightmare. Here is a peek into my mornings lately.

6:00am - Feed AJ for the second or third time, try to go back to sleep
6:12am - Ally appears, pokes AJ, who has just fallen back to sleep
6:25am - AJ wakes up and decides to try climbing off the bed, I no longer attempt to shut one eye
6:27am - Ashley makes an appearance, twirling her hair, still half asleep
6:28am - Ally and Ashley start kicking each other, fighting over the blankets
6:29am - I give up and get up. Turn off the alarm...don't need it today.

After downing at least one cup of coffee and dishing out breakfast at least twice to the girls (yes, they generally eat breakfast twice), I have to go wake Aidan up for the first time, usually around 7:00am.

7:03am - Put AJ in the crib
7:06am - Get in the shower - "Mom, I want to take a shower!" Fine, get your towels.
7:12am - Get dressed, wake Aidan up for the second time
7:16am - Brush hair, brush girls hair, do girls hair, insert required hair pretties, argue about whether that hair pretty matches, re-insert required hair pretties.
7:21am - Wake Aidan up for the last time. Steal blankets. Threaten to leave without him.
7:25am - Realize that AJ is now fast asleep in the crib. Wake up angry baby. Change angry baby.
7:29am - Tell girls they need to get shoes on. No, you cannot wear high heels to the pool. Because I said so.
7:30am - Tell Aidan to turn off the TV. Did you get dressed? No. Did you eat? No. Do you have your swim bag ready? No. Sigh audibly. Repeat.
7:31am - Give fake 5 minute warning.
7:33am - Fill up Tinkerbell coffee cup, realize I didn't eat breakfast, decide that half frozen Eggo waffles constitute breakfast in some cultures.
7:35am - Crawl on floor looking for matches of shoes, goggles and pacifiers
7:37am - Decide that it doesn't really matter if Ally's bikini top doesn't match the bottom. It's on.
7:40am - Put angry, sleepy baby in car seat.
7:45am - Final warning. Get in the car. Get in the car now. Get in the car right now. You don't need your purse. No, you can't bring your Leapster.
7:47am - Pack half the snacks in the pantry, fill up water bottles and grab Cheerios. Get in car. Realize coffee cup is still in the house.
7:48am - Get out of car. Grab coffee and half frozen waffles. Breakfast of champions.
7:50am - The doors are closed. If it isn't in the car, it isn't going with us today.

It's not even 8am yet, and I'm already exhausted.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fly It

Birthdays are big business around here. The kids function based on an alternate calendar than us adults. They judge time in increments they can understand. One of the most commonly used methods by them is birthdays. Who's birthday is next? When is my birthday? Who else needs to have their birthday before mine comes?

I have calendars printed every year that have the birthdays of our family members on them, and the kids are keenly aware of when it is someone's big day. They were well aware of the fact that yesterday was Uncle Gary's birthday.

We were out a few days ago, rounding up the last pieces of Gary's present when the kids asked if we were going to see Uncle Gary. They were sad when I told them no. He's at his home in California, and we are here. They decided that we should make him a cake, and pretend. It's his birthday, after all - and everyone is supposed to have a birthday cake, right?

After some debate, we settled on cupcakes. We settled on cupcakes for a reason, which I will save for later. I made the cupcakes and frosted them, the kids eager to lick spoons and sample the finished product. We even found a fancy dish to put one in and take a picture to send it to Uncle Gary.

We celebrated Uncle Gary's birthday, even though he wasn't here for the party. It wasn't for lack of trying. And it wasn't for lack of originality and creativity.

You see, cupcakes apparently are easy to transport in the eyes of a six year old. Ashley wanted to make sure he got one. She desperately wanted to tie one to a balloon and "fly it" to Uncle Gary. Told you there was a reason we had to make cupcakes. ;)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bubba

Today is my little brother Gary's birthday. As of this morning, he is officially 31 years old. So if you see him today, please be sure to remind him of that fact. ;) It's funny that how no matter how old we get, he will always be my little brother. I don't think you ever outgrow that.

He is unmistakably my brother - all you have to do is look at us together and you'll see it immediately. I joke that we look like we could be identical twins, just all of his facial features are bigger than mine. Same, but bigger. He's got the same dry, sarcastic sense of humor that I do. Comes in handy sometimes, especially when we are teaming up to mess with people.

He's ambidextrous. He's got huge duck feet. He affectionately refers to our shared hair color as sh*t brown. He's almost as blind as I am without contacts. He once had a blue clarinet. (Inside joke!) I used to call him Gary Gnu. He got suspended from school for lighting binaca on fire in junior high. He's Bubba.

My little brother has gone through a lot in his life. There have been few dull moments for him. He was a crazy kid, and I am reminded of that every day since I practically live with his clone, Aidan. He ended up in the ER so many times that they started questioning my parents. Wasn't abuse, just Gary. Between me, the neighbor kids and his own propensity for going all-out with whatever he was doing, he tended to get hurt a lot. He wasn't playing if he wasn't playing hard.

His teenage years were mostly a blur, for all of us. He was sick for many of them, and that experience in large part shaped the man he would become. It changed him in some ways. He learned, often the hard way, that sometimes doctors are wrong. That love is occasionally displayed in strange ways. One of my best friends at the time went to see Gary in the hospital after one of his procedures, and sat at the foot of his bed eating a Snickers bar, knowing full well that Gary couldn't eat anything. Hey, just because he was sick didn't mean we could stop picking on him! And through that experience, he learned who his real friends were. He learned that sometimes people can't be there. And that sometimes people will move heaven and Earth to be there. And that sometimes you don't know which category people will fall into until they have to choose.

I was glad when Gary got into USC. It was nice to have him around, though I could have done without the screaming-into-my-answering-machine-at-4am phone calls. Watching him transform from a somewhat shy and reserved freshman into a frat boy was fun to watch. He developed both his art and his business savvy while there. I hope someday he will find a way to combine the two. He's such a creative person, the world is missing out with him not working in it.

He fell in love when he wasn't looking for it, and I knew the second he called me after that fateful conference that it was the real thing. Having sworn off relationships, he was sent there strictly for work. Little did he know that he would be bringing home a souvenir. Gretchen and him belong together. They suit each other. They just fit. It's hard to describe unless you've seen it. He might not have been looking for her, and she might not have been looking for him. But someone brought them together. Who knew that mortgage conferences could be so romantic?

Moving to Colorado was a hard decision for me. I knew that I wouldn't be able to see my family as much. I wouldn't be able to see my brother as much. Today is his birthday, what I wouldn't give to see him. And on this birthday, Gary, I hope that your wishes come true. I love you. I miss you. Happy Birthday!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Webbed

One of Aidan's favorite books when he was little was called I Wish I Had Duck Feet. It's a cute little story about a kid that imagines what life would be like if he had various animal parts instead of the normal kid parts. I used to jokingly tell Aidan that he didn't really have to wish he had duck feet, because someday he just might!

Aidan, as I have mentioned many times before, is a lot like my brother. One of the many physical traits that they share are duck feet. They might as well be webbed, honestly. They both have wide feet, ones that are disproportionately wider at the toes. Aidan's feet are already as big as mine are, and he just turned 8. I shudder at the thought of just how big they are going to get.

Once he started to grow up a little, and the duck feet became evident, Aidan decided that having his funny shaped feet would make him a good swimmer. As luck would have it, he is a pretty darn good swimmer. Last summer, he topped out with swimming lessons. He had reached the point where there wasn't much else that they could teach him, and that if he wanted to develop more, he'd have to consider competitive swimming.

We asked him if he wanted to do swim team, if he was really serious about making such a huge time commitment. Swim team is 5 days a week, all summer. It preempted him from taking part in many other summer activities, including bible school and some camps he would have otherwise been interested in. He said he was sure - he wanted to do it. And he promised to keep it up all summer.

Considering the fact that he gets almost no pool time 9 months out of the year, he turned back into a swimmer the instant that he hit the pool that first day. He was a little rusty on the basics, but he is getting into the swing of it. He's pretty good with the front crawl and backstroke, working on developing the breaststroke and butterfly. The butterfly in particular is a tough one for him. If you think about it, the motions involved aren't exactly natural. Makes you wonder whoever thought up the stroke...what were they thinking?

He had his first meet this past weekend, and he did a good job. He was nervous and excited. He tried hard and did his best. He cheered on his teammates and really started to realize how important teamwork is with the relays. It was the first, I think, of many swim meets ahead for us. The girls are already talking about racing when they get better at swimming.

Aidan once wished he had duck feet, and now it seems he does. Let's hope that those duck feet make him go fast. He's hooked.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

15 years


It was called to my attention earlier this week that it has been 15 years since we graduated from high school. Since we walked across that stage, and waved goodbye to Simi High for the last time. 15 years! Has it really been that long?

Obviously it has. While I certainly don't feel 15 years older than I did then, the sheer number of things that have happened in our lives dictate that at least that much time must have passed. College, distance, marriage, cancer, law school, CPA exams, moving 3 times, and 4 kids. That kind of stuff doesn't just happen in a couple of years.

Our senior year of high school started out fairly uneventfully. Tom and I had already been together for a year and a half when it began. We had both basically decided where we wanted to go to college, and just needed to finish up the last year of high school. Do the obligatory things, like work a part time job, go to lots of football games and go to the prom.

Things were chugging along until about 4am in the morning one day in January, 1994. The Northridge earthquake. We would realize later how fortunate we were to be home, and not at school when it struck. The concrete overhangs around most of the buildings at school collapsed and the damage was substantial. We were not allowed back into school. Our senior year of high school, and we weren't allowed back.

For a few months, we split schedules with the other, rival, high school in town. They went in the morning, we went in the afternoon. The teachers tried to salvage what they could educationally during that time, no small feat considering that most of the books and supplies were locked inside our school. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we went back to our campus. But it just seemed different. Less safe.

Our prom was moved too
, and we had it in an earthquake damaged hotel in the Valley. We had to walk through scaffolding and tarps to get to the ballroom. It was an interesting way to finish up the year, that is for sure.

15 years have passed, and it seems strange to me. In so many ways, it feels like we were just there. But other times, it seems like a fading distant memory. I was different then. Tom was different then. Young and naive, with no clue about what the future would hold for us. One thing has remained the same though - us. I am pretty sure that we are the couple from high school that has been together the longest.

You can't go back to high school. I certainly would never want to. Truth be told, I didn't like high school all that much. The cliques and the drama and the social awkwardness. No thanks. Wasn't much for that stuff the first time around. Simi High will always hold a special place in my heart, though. Not for the things I learned there, but for who I met.

Hail to thee, Oh Simi High School
We'll be ever true
To your honor and traditions
True our whole lives through
Hail to thee, O Simi High School
We will ever praise
We will cherish our dear memories
All our live-long days

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Early

I'm lucky. I know that. The kids happen to go to the elementary school with the latest start time in the entire district. They don't start school until 9:10am. It's good for me, since I am the furthest thing from a morning person. It's good for the kids, since they don't usually have to be woken up before they are ready. It's nice, especially when the weather is bad during the winter. It gives me more time to get them up and going, to shovel the driveway if I need to and still get to school on time. It's late enough that if the district is going to cancel school for the day because of weather, I will know long before I'd be getting ready.

There are many, many upsides to having a later start. But the late start also comes with a price. We aren't used to getting up really early. I'm not, and the kids aren't. When it came time to plan the activities for the kids over the summer, I quickly realized that we'd have to get used to alarm clocks and yawning. Many of the activities the kids are interested in start hours before we are usually out and about.

Aidan exhausted the usefulness of swim lessons last summer, and still wanted to be in the pool all the time. We asked him if he would be interested in swim team and he jumped at the chance. Only it's 5 days a week, all summer. And it starts at 9:15. On the other end of town.

That was bad enough, but then Ashley decided that she wanted desperately to take tennis lessons. Great idea, right? They start even earlier than swim team. We have to leave the house by 8am twice a week for tennis. It too is on the other end of town. I'm starting to think we live on the wrong side of the city.

Ally is taking ballet, but thankfully her class doesn't start until 10:30. By then, my day is already half over!

I've learned quickly to get as much ready at night as possible. And the kids have bags for their activities, holding the must-have items all the time. I was telling Tom last night that I need to come up with some more functional way to organize the daily necessities. The rackets and cleats and goggles and footless tights. The things that the kids need on an almost daily basis. Trying to keep it all straight is a challenge, to be sure.

I've wondered why they schedule all these summertime activities for so early in the morning. Between tennis and swimming, I have 15 minutes. 15 minutes to get all the kids and the chairs and the tennis gear and the stroller in the car. Drive to the pool, and get out the stroller, the kids, the sand toys, the towels and sunscreen. I have a bit longer between swimming and ballet, but it never seems like it.

I spend the first few hours of my days running around like a mad woman trying to make sure that everyone gets where they need to be in time. And, at least so far, I've been successful. I just wish the kids weren't done for the day by 11am. I could do without the afternoon whining and boredom.

Summer, it seems, is more work than the school year. And summertime means early mornings. And early mornings mean coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. When does school start?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes

So far we have had six consecutive days of crazy weather here. It's easily the longest stretch since we have lived here. The kind of day when you spend at least a few seconds every few minutes glancing up at the sky, peeking in every direction, and wondering about which way the winds are blowing. Today is supposed to be more of the same. I'm starting to think I live in Kansas, not Colorado.

Even for people who grew up around here, this year seems excessive. The meteorologists insist that it isn't, but many people would beg to differ. The first half of June tends to be the most active time for weather here, it's true. But this is just crazy.

The sirens haven't gone off here for a couple days, but the weather warnings are always scrolling across the bottom of the television. The kids know all too well what that blaring noise and blank screen mean. When that computerized voice comes on, they know to be quiet so that Mommy can listen. I need to know where this warning or watch is for, and which way the weather is headed.

We have had rain every night for the last week, almost like clockwork. It comes in with the second, or sometimes third, wave of moisture for the day. And it isn't just any old rain. It starts around sunset, and continues for however long the cell can sustain itself. I know where they came up with the phrase "raining buckets", because it has been doing that here. Last night, between the hail and the rain, the poor rain gutters on the house seemed insignificant. They served more as channel for the rain than any sort of gathering mechanism.

The dogs like to alert me that a storm is coming. Sometimes, they know more than my eyes can tell me, and even sometimes more than the radar can tell me. They make no attempts at bravery, and at the first hint of thunder, they are begging to come in. Crying, whimpering, they curl up under my feet. Follow me everywhere around the house until it passes. The funny part is that I would generally consider both of them to be Tom's dogs. They don't listen to me much, that's for sure. But if there is a storm around, suddenly they want me. I've spent a lot of time this week, in the basement when has been the worst, with the dogs huddled around my feet, both of the girls seemingly in my pocket and the baby on my lap.

The storms don't bother Aidan nearly as much as they bother the girls. Perhaps that is because he was safely inside a bathroom at school last May while we I was stuck with the girls outside when the funnel cloud started coming down. They know, all too well, what the clouds can turn into. They have been pelted with golf ball sized hail. They know just how scary the weather can be.

And so today begins as every other day has this week. Partly cloudy, relatively calm. It won't stay that way for long. Something wicked this way comes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Twirl

Little girls just love to twirl. They love to dance and sing. They can't just walk anywhere like a normal person would - there is skipping and hopping involved. Playing the in background of my daily life is a constant soundtrack, songs usually invented on the spot by the girls. They sing about everything it seems. They sing along with the radio and even commercials sometimes.

The girls are pretty good at entertaining themselves, but there are times that they desperately want someone else to dance with them. Aidan is surprisingly a good sport about it, and often finds himself dancing with his little sisters. Tom is too, and he hardly ever groans when they ask him to dance. He knows that it won't last forever, and reading the newspaper can wait.

The girls got a package in the mail yesterday - a gift from their godmother, Auntie Blythe. The days we get a box at the house are like Christmas to the kids - they beg to know, what is it??? When I opened the box, I knew what it was. Blythe asked a while back if the girls would be interested in pettiskirts for their birthdays, and I pretty much instantly said yes. It took a while for them to get here, but it was worth the wait.

It took only a fraction of a second for the squeals to start. "Oooooh, Mommy, these are fancy!" exclaimed Ashley. "One is for me?" Ally asked hopefully. As soon as the skirts were on, the twirling began. And it didn't stop until they had to go to bed last night. First thing they both put on this morning were the skirts.
To see such unbridled joy truly is a gift. Thanks Blythe. Love you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lost in Translation

Ally is a crack up. She's just a funny kid. Sometimes she is intentionally funny, but sometimes she is hilarious without even trying. I've been trying to write down the crazy things that she says, because I don't want to forget them. Or how hard we laughed at her. With her. I think a lot of it is the age. There is just something about 4 year olds.

There are a few kids in her preschool class that have the same tendency towards hilarity. One told Tom that he had a really big head, on the same day that he told their teacher that her hair looked like a top hat. During a discussion about the frogs the class was raising, he commented that he was pretty sure that a particular frog was a woman. Not a boy frog or a girl frog, but a woman frog.

I was cleaning up after dinner last week. Ally stopped after putting her plate in the sink to ask me if "No way, Jose" is a bad word. I answered her back that it wasn't exactly a bad word or phrase. I told her that depending on how it was being used, it could be considered rude though.

I noticed that she had not finished her milk, and told her to drink it. She looked me square in the eyes and said, "No way, Jose". Hey, at least she checked to make sure it wasn't a bad word first, right?

Rest assured, she did get in trouble for talking back. But that story will probably follow her around for the rest of her life. I've already told her, "No way, Jose" a few times since then when she has asked for something. She doesn't seem to think it is as funny coming from me though.

Then just last night, she misinterpreted something that we were talking about, probably in the funniest way possible. Since Aidan has been swimming every day, we are trying to make sure that he gets the water all out of his ears. He asked why, wanted to know if the water could hurt him and how. Tom replied that there was bacteria in the water, and if it sat in his ear for too long, it could start an infection.

Ally started laughing. A little chuckle at first, then a full belly laugh. She told Aidan that he was going to have diarrhea in his ear and get sick. Tom said bacteria, she heard diarrhea. Took about five minutes for all of us to stop laughing.

Sometimes a little gets lost in translation around here. Those four year olds, they are a funny bunch.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tiny Umbrellas

I am not now, nor have I ever been outdoorsy. I don't really ever have intentions of becoming such either. It's not that I don't love the outdoors, because I do. One of the best parts about living here in Colorado is that there is always something to see. The seasons change, and the scenery changes right along with it. The mountains are beautiful no matter the time of year. We live thirty minutes from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and try to get up there at least once a year.

Nature is amazing. It is overpowering sometimes with beauty. The colors, the smells, many of which just cannot be fully enjoyed through a picture or a television program. They must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. To see animals in their natural habitat. To sit and watch the motion of a river, peaking with snow melt run-off. To marvel at the wonder of an eagle flying overhead. And sometimes, when the air is perfectly still, to see a mirrored reflection across a lake. It's magnificent.

I enjoy nature, for sure. I just don't want to live in it. I don't necessarily mind camping, but I don't see the great appeal in it either. For me, it is just living outside somewhere. It's not by any stretch of the imagination a vacation. I still have to cook, still have to clean. And everything is tremendously more dirty than it would be at home. I can appreciate nature during the day, even into the night. But that doesn't mean that I want to sleep out there.

I like to hike too. My husband will beg to differ with this. But the truth is that I like to hike. I just don't like to hike with him. Tom doesn't see the purpose in a leisurely stroll. He doesn't want to take breaks to admire views. He gets in the zone, and sees a goal. And he won't stop until he gets there. It's like he puts blinders on and just goes. He slows down for no one, and it's not much fun to hike with him. He thrives on it, and can't understand why other people aren't the same way.

He used to hike a lot, even go backpacking. Since I am not a fan of camping, and not interested in hiking with Tom, the idea of backpacking is not even on my radar. I'm sure that there are sights that can only be seen in the back country, and they are beautiful. I'll take your word for it. I have no interest in carrying my stuff into the wilderness. None.

I don't like to fish. I don't like to sit and watch other people fish. I especially hope that no one catches anything when they do go fishing, because I have no desire to clean, cook or eat any fish you can catch around here. Just not interested.

Tom knew these things about me when he married me. He knew full well that my idea of a vacation involves a beach or a pool, and someone bringing me drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. I haven't had that luxury in many years. I long to feel the sand between my toes. To sit, and do absolutely nothing, but soak up the sun and read a trashy novel. My idea of a good time does not, in any way, involve lanterns and sleeping bags.

I camp because I should, because it's something I am supposed to do. We didn't go last year because I was very pregnant during the summer. Tom is itching to go. If we get a trip together, I will go. I will go because the kids like it, and because my husband loves it. I just hope that someday in the not too distant future, there is a cabana with my name on it. And a drink waiting for me. I think I've earned it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sirens

This time of year, I am reminded all too often how unprepared I am. How I am supposed to have a good supply of food, water for everyone for days, flashlights with batteries that actually work placed strategically around the house, a working radio. Things that you might need in an emergency.

I always have intentions of getting these things together, and somehow it never quite happens. You would think after the whole tornado experience last year that I would be more on top of things. But, the sad truth is that I am almost completely unprepared.

We do have a refrigerator in the basement, but it mostly holds sodas and frozen meat - things that wouldn't do us much good if we were ever stuck down there for any length of time. We have, I think, one working flashlight in this house - and it's missing at the moment. We have a few radios, but none with fresh batteries, and none in the basement. There aren't any extra clothes down there. No dog food. No water.

One thing that I realized yesterday is that there isn't even anywhere down there that I can safely put the baby down. There are tons and tons of things all over the floor that he can't be touching, and there isn't any way to contain him down there.

These are all the things that I think about, it seems, only when the sirens are going off. When we have no choice but to retreat to the basement and hope for the best. The line of storms that came through yesterday missed us, luckily. But I can't, and I shouldn't, always think that will be the case. I know better. I've seen a funnel cloud forming right above my head. I know that they can happen here.

I was talking with a friend here about the weather. Both of us are from California originally, and neither of us are well-seasoned with severe weather. Give me an earthquake, and I know what to do. Been there, done that. Still have vivid memories of that infamous Northridge quake in 1994. I can pack my house in a matter of minutes if there is a wildfire nearby. I've done that before too. Things are different here though. When the weather service issues a watch here and the sirens are going off, I can't help but be scared. I'm not used to them, and I don't know that I ever will be.

There were at least 5 tornadoes here in the metro area yesterday, though none were in our town. Here is a picture of the one that hit a mall south of Denver.

Let's hope for a short, calm severe weather season this year. I'm still a newbie.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Home

Ally likes to think that she is a big kid. And most of the time, she is. Most of the time, she is limited in her abilities to keep up with the older kids only by her height or some arbitrary age limits. She's fast, she's strong, and she's smart.

She likes to tell me at least three million times a day that she is a big girl. And that she is four. And that at her next birthday, she will be this many, as she holds up seven fingers. No, sweetie, you won't. Have to get through five and six first.

She carries her purse around everywhere she goes, and is obsessive about it these days. She has to have her play phone, her chapstick, her Tinkerbell keys, her giant heart shaped ring, a hairbrush and preferably some gum. You never know what you might need when you are out. She can climb, swing and run just fine while carrying her purse. No, she doesn't need to put it down. She's just fine.

She wants desperately to give up naps, but the problem is that she loves to sleep. She can still take a two hour nap without it affecting her nighttime sleeping at all, and she's a much happier kid on the days she allows herself to rest. But she's afraid that something fun and exciting might happen, and she doesn't want to miss it. She is a big girl, you know.

Sometimes, though, she will curl up on my lap and ask me if she is still my baby. She knows the answer. She is now and will always be my baby. Even when she is a grown up and has babies of her own, she will always be my baby. While she almost always wants to be a big girl, sometimes it's good to be little. She still loves to be carried upstairs by Daddy at bedtime. She still wants a push on the swing every now and then, even though she doesn't really need it. She reaches up and holds my hand often, just because.

She was over at Grandma and Papa's yesterday, with her big sister. They were intending to spend the night, but at some point, Ally got homesick. And she wanted her Momma. She told Papa that she wanted to, "go to my home". And her Papa brought her back. She wants so much to be a big kid, to be able to spend the night there. But she just isn't as big as she thinks she is. She still needs her Momma sometimes, and that's just fine with me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stinker

I've written a lot about the nicknames that the kids have. The ones bestowed upon them by us, by their siblings and even by themselves. They are the affectionate labels that mesh with their individual personalities.

One of Ashley's is stinker. It started when she was a baby. She, like all the other kids, transformed from three dirty diapers a day to a poop saver at about 2 months. It's one of the little things about breastfeeding that I was totally unprepared for. Some breastfed babies go almost constantly, but some can go for days or weeks without a movement. Breast milk is almost completely absorbed by their digestive system, not leaving much afterwards. It's an efficient little system, if you think about it.

Well, the upside to this is clearly the fact that there aren't as many stinky diapers to change. The downside is that after a few days, the babies begin to stink. Ashley in particular stunk. After about a week, it was almost unbearable. You can just imagine how bad it was after she'd gone two weeks.

We started calling her stinkerbutt, affectionately, of course. At some point, it was shortened to stinker. It is a nickname she still deserves to this day, and one that she responds to. She even has a face she makes, called her stinker face. She saves that for the times she is being naughty and knows it.

Ashley is a bit on the gullible side, and tends to take whatever you say to her seriously. At the beginning of the school year, she was learning to write her full name. She started with just her first and last name. Once she perfected that, she wanted to know how to write the entire thing - middle name included. I sat down, working with her. Then she asked me the funniest question. "Mom, how do you spell stinker?"

She thought it was actually part of her name.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Numbers

Since I have become the mother of four children, there are certain things that have become abundantly clear in my life. Things that weren't as clear when I just had three kids, and certainly not before then. There is a knowledge that seems to be inherent in having a large family. There really is no other way to explain it.

When I had one kid, I couldn't seem to get anywhere on time. I was perpetually running late for doctor's appointments. If there was anywhere that I had to be at a set time, I could virtually guarantee that I wouldn't get there on time. It was a physical impossibility. Surely it was because I thought, incorrectly, that I couldn't attempt to go anywhere without having a fully stocked diaper bag, several toys, pacifiers, changes of clothes, etc.

Having four kids, you would think that it would be even harder for me to get anywhere on time. Truth is, I'm almost never late and usually arrive early for things. I figured out at some point when Ashley was a baby that I didn't need 90% of the stuff in the diaper bag, and the other 10% could just be stashed in the car. All I really ever needed was a diaper, wipes and some kind of kid-friendly snack food. Everything else was just more stuff to carry.

I get where I need to go these days because I have perfected the science of timing. I know precisely the amount of time that it takes for me to shower and get ready, whether I am happily alone or multitasking by washing one or both of the girls. I know exactly how far in advance I need to start my departure from the house. I know how long it takes for everyone to go to the bathroom, to find, match and put on socks and shoes. I know how long it will take to feed AJ and get him changed and into his car seat. And I know how long it takes me to do Ally's hair in at least 6 different ways. It's a science.

It's not a science that I couldn't have perfected with one child, or two, or three. It's just one that I never had to worry about until I got up in the numbers. Long before AJ was born, it was obvious that I needed to get really good at getting a lot of things done. I needed to be really organized. And I needed to perfect multitasking.

Another one of the things that has become clear with having four kids is that they have to behave. There isn't any other option. I get compliments from strangers all the time about how well behaved my kids are. It's not that they are terribly good at impulse control and are always angelic. It's that they learned, as did I, that bad behavior just isn't acceptable when there are this many people involved. I can't let them slide. I can't let someone wander off in a store to look at the things that catch their eye. I can't do it because if I do, someone else will inevitably wander in the exact opposite direction. And I simply cannot be in two places at once. They know that if they act up, we will leave and go home. No matter what. They know that they have to listen.

One of the strategies that appeared when AJ was born is a little thing I call forced compliance. No idea where it came from, but it seems to work pretty well. When the kids are being uncooperative, I stop and just tell them what they are going to do. And then I make them say, "Yes, Mom". You wouldn't think that something that simple works, but it seems to have magic powers. It's amazing.

I think part of it is that when you only have one or two kids, you can tolerate a certain level of naughtiness. You can look the other way, ignore the little things. You can do this because you have two hands, and there are only two of them. Worst case scenario, you can make them put something down, make them leave, make them sit. When you have four kids, the odds are no longer in your favor. I only have two hands. I can't make them do very much. I can wrangle most of them, sure. But I can't physically control all of them at the same time. It's impossible. I know this, but fortunately they haven't figured it out yet.

I get comments a lot about the kids, and questions from people about how hard it is to have them. It's not easy, it's true. But it's also not as hard as most people think. I honestly think that the transition to two kids is the hardest.

When you have your first child, everything is hard. You are learning everything for the first time, and are completely overwhelmed. And then you have another one. And not only are you still learning everything with the first one, but now you have another needy little person to take care of. Someone always needs you, and sometimes more than one someone needs you. It is a hard thing to get used to.

Having the third isn't as hard, which seems strange to most moms I talk to - at least the ones with one or two kids. They can't fathom how it isn't really, really hard to have three. The learning curve just isn't as steep, mostly because you have already gotten used to the reality that more than one person needs you. You are used to spreading yourself. By the time we had the fourth, it was literally just a matter of making room in the house and throwing another car seat in the van.

I never really pictured myself with a big family. We always planned to have two kids, but the plans changed. One thing that people always seem to question is how you can love another kid the same as you love the first. The moms tentative about adding another child to their family. How can you love the third as much as the second? It's easy. You just do. It's not a matter of scooting over and making room for them in your heart. Of giving everyone a smaller piece, a little less attention and love. It's a matter of finding the pieces of your heart that you never knew existed. And find them, you will.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dreams

Since we've been on our journey as parents, we really have been lucky with the kids. We've avoided major illnesses and injuries. We have not had any major hurdles to tackle in the development of the kids. Aidan did see a speech therapist for a few months, but in the overall scheme of things, that is very minor. Ashley did have a long battle with colic, but none of the other kids ever had it. We've largely avoided many of the common painful ailments of childhood. I could count on one hand the number of ear infections that the kids have had put together. We have yet to experience tonsillitis. We've had it pretty easy.

One department that we have struggled a bit with is fear. Not our fear, but the fear of one of the kids. The fear in the middle of the night. Nightmares. Aidan has had it happen exactly once in his life, and thus far Ally hasn't had one at all. But Ashley has them often. She tends to go in cycles where she will be fine for a few weeks, then she'll awaken with them for days or weeks on end. I tend to think that most of them are triggered by some sort of anxiety with her, but I can't be sure. It just seems like the most logical explanation.

Ashley's nightmares are terrifying, but they couldn't hold a candle to the night terrors my brother Gary used to have. At the peak of his struggles with them, he would just start screaming in the middle of the night. Most of his dreams had to do with something attacking him - usually bugs or spiders. He never gained consciousness during them, which is the strange part. He'd be standing upright, thrashing about, throwing things, yelling and screaming, and be completely asleep. My dad had the lucky job of trying to contain Gary in his room, mostly so that he didn't run off and fall down the stairs or hurt himself in some other way. But guarding the doorway came with a price more than once for my dad - and he'd get hit.

The good news is that Gary has mostly outgrown the night terrors. I say mostly for a reason. He still has them from time to time. He had to warn his roommate in college so the poor guy didn't freak out the first time it happened. And we warned his wife. It's a scary thing to watch happen.

I fear that Ashley may develop night terrors, like Gary did. He had nightmares for years before he started the terrors. And I am fairly sure that Ashley has had at least one night terror already. That night, she just sat upright in her bed and screamed for what seemed like forever. The next morning, she remembered nothing.

The unfortunate thing about both nightmares and night terrors is that little, if anything, can be done to prevent them. We try to help Ashley work through her anxiety issues, we try to teach her ways to cope with the world so that everything isn't always so difficult for her. But we can't get inside her brain and shut off the dreams. We can't make them stop. I wish there was a way we could.

All we can do is be there for her. Sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Ashley is up more at night than anyone else except AJ. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, we never know what to expect. Sometimes she is just whining because she is hot. Sometimes she is thirsty. But sometimes, she is terrified. And though it seems crazy, we can't always tell the difference. She can be just as hysterical about being hot as she can about being scared.

She told me this morning that she had a good dream last night. She dreamt about frogs hopping in a pond and singing. Good dreams, the kind that she can actually remember having, are rare for her. A peaceful night of sleep is a blessing in her world, and in ours.

Good night baby, sweet dreams.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hit, Bounce, Catch

Ashley is taking tennis lessons this summer. She, for whatever reason, decided that she really, really wanted to learn how to play tennis. It might have a little something to do with the fact that her father played tennis as a kid and was hoping to steer at least one of the kids towards it.

Ashley has played soccer for two seasons, and never fell in love with it. The first year, she mostly twirled her hair and waved to us from the field. There wasn't much actual soccer playing going on. The second year, she was slightly more interested, but wasn't aggressive enough to throw the elbows required to get to the ball. I asked her if she wanted to play this year, and the answer was a resounding no.

She would like to play softball, but she isn't quite old enough. She could play coed t-ball, but we thought it might not be the best fit for her. Some of the coaches, and many of the other parents don't seem to understand that t-ball is supposed to be the time and place for kids to learn the sport. It isn't supposed to be competitive yet, they are supposed to be working on the basics. After having a ultra competitive coach last year for Aidan's team, Tom was hesitant to put Ashley in that kind of position. Especially when there is a decent chance she would be the only girl on the team.

She has taken swimming lessons as well, but there isn't a whole lot of swimming going on in the pool. She prefers to walk along the bottom and fake the arm motions. Luckily, she had a swim teacher last year that figured her out and tried to push her to learn to swim. She still needs a lot of help in that department and will be starting lessons again in a few weeks.

She's done cheer leading at school, but we aren't really interested in her focusing on that as a sport. At least not at this age. She needs more aerobic activity - the kid has a lot of energy to burn. And cheer leading has more than it's fair share of impact injuries, not a good thing when you have a generally accident prone child to begin with.

Tom was pretty excited when she expressed an interest in tennis, and he started taking her in the fall to the courts to work on the basics. She's been working on building up her arm muscles to swing the racket properly. We've spent a lot of time helping her with her hand-eye coordination. She is very eager to play an actual tennis match, but I think she is beginning to understand that she needs to learn how to do lots of other things before she can worry about playing against someone else.

We were glad that the city recreation department is offering classes to kids her age this year. She's the kind of kid that does better with instruction from a third party than from us, which is fine. Her teacher seems to be very experienced in teaching young children to play. And Ashley is excited to get up and play, even though the classes are really early in the morning.

So far, they have mostly just been working on hand-eye coordination, racket handling and running drills. You don't really realize how many skills you have to develop in order to play tennis until you try to teach it to someone else. The hardest thus far has been the hit-bounce-catch drill, but she's getting the hang of it.

Ashley makes sure that we watch the major tennis tournaments, and she loves to watch the Williams sisters play. Every once in a while, she talks about wanting Ally to play too, so they can be like Venus and Serena. Ally, though, hasn't shown any interest in tennis at all. And that's just fine with us. It's Ashley's turn to shine.

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