Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolve

I'm not one to make resolutions. Most of the ones people ever make in the name of the new year are destined for failure, half hearted and broken within days. It's not that I am without flaw or imperfection. I surely am flawed. It's not that there is nothing in my life which needs improvement. Lord knows that there are many. I just don't see the purpose in screaming aloud a resolution just because it happens to be the start of the new year.

This year, instead, I am making promises to myself. Things I will push myself to accomplish, hopefully this coming year. Things that really have no attachment to any time frame. Things I want to do for me.

I promise that I will try harder to submit some of my favorite photography pieces to the fair. I've wanted to for years, and somehow always managed to miss the deadline. But if life gets in the way, there is always next year.

I promise that I will find a place to submit my writing to and do it.

I promise that I will start donating blood on a regular basis.

I promise that I will take more time for myself.

I promise that I will go to the gym more often, even if all I do is sit in the sauna and enjoy the break from chaos.

I promise that I will spend more time at the park with my kids.

What promises will you make to yourself this year?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Skills

There is no denying where Aidan gets his athletic abilities from. His parents. He's not terribly coordinated. He's not very fast. He's not very strong. It's not for lack of trying, mind you. He just wasn't blessed in that department. He more than makes up for all that by being the best teammate anyone could ask for. He cheers for his buddies and roots for his team.

There aren't many sports left that he hasn't tried yet. He wants to play ice hockey, but he has to get a whole lot better at skating first. He loves swimming, but doesn't much love to race. And he wants to play football, but his mom isn't quite ready for that. I have to get over that soon though, because he's getting old enough that most of the kids destined to play football in high school have started playing already. Maybe the next season I'll let him play. Maybe.

And then there are the girls. Ashley is pretty good at just about anything she tries, once she sets her mind to it that she can do it. She's generally a very competitive kid, but when it comes to team sports, she loses her edge a little. She does far better with individual activities. Tennis and ice skating are her favorites. She has improved at ice skating every year, and will be starting up lessons again next week. While we were skating yesterday, I taught her to start skating backwards and spin. And she could do it after I showed her just once.

We took the kids to the rec center a few days ago, and Ashley climbed up to the top of the climbing wall without any problems, hesitation or fear. She has also mentioned wanting to play basketball. When we were in California, we went to an arcade with a basketball game. And this little girl who has never to my knowledge played basketball aside from in the driveway with her Dad hit every single basket. Every single one. I guess basketball might be a good thing for her too.

Ally is different than the others. She is wicked competitive. And she isn't afraid to throw some elbows in team sports. From the time she could run around the backyard, she was dribbling a soccer ball. She is the only one of my children to ever score a goal in a game, and she's only played one season - half of which she missed to the flu and asthma. She can't wait for soccer season to come again.

Ally wants to play tennis this summer like her big sis, and she got a tennis racket for Christmas. She also got up to the top of that climbing wall at the rec center, twice, and faster than Ashley. Anything the others can do, she is determined to do better. I have a feeling she's going to be good at a lot of sports.

If his activity level is any indicator of AJ's future in sports, he is going to college on an athletic scholarship. He can throw a ball across the room with both hands already. He can climb up the outside of the stair rail. He can contort his body to escape from the stroller and high chair in mere seconds. He can kick and run and jump. Only time will tell what he will love. And whatever he loves, we'll be there, just like we are there for all the rest of them. I have many years of cheering ahead of me. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Watch

Tom is actually taking most of this week off, which is nice. He rarely takes a day off unless we are actually going somewhere, and we haven't gone much of anywhere lately. Thus, there haven't been a whole lot of days off for him. Yesterday we spent a few hours cleaning out the girls' rooms - it is only fair that I should put him to good use while he's around, right?

Today is different. We are planning to take the kids to the movies. Well, we are planning to take most of the kids to the movies. Grandma Kathi is coming over to watch AJ. I'll be taking the girls to see The Princess and the Frog, and Tom is taking Aidan to see Avatar. There was a time where we could all go to see one movie, but Aidan is just too old to be dragged to princess movies when he knows that there is something way cooler out right now.

The kids wanted to take AJ to the movies too, but I can say with my whole heart that I have no interest in that whatsoever. Taking a one year old anywhere that involves quietly sitting still is just asking for trouble. And I have a bad history with children in movie theaters. I learned a long time ago to avoid them whenever possible. The only exception to that rule is the summer movie series. Then, the theater shows children's movies for free, they actually have an intermission for bathroom trips, tons of people go and no one cares if you are loud. And even if they cared, it's free - so, really, no one can complain. Too bad it took me a few years of parenting to find out about the free movies.

When Aidan was little, I took him to a couple movies. The one that I am thinking of now is the Jungle Book 2, which we saw days before Ashley was born. He wasn't quite two yet, but had already developed his love of watching. Give the kid some popcorn and a big screen, and he was in heaven. He's a great spectator, always has been. Even when he was a toddler.

And then along came Ashley. She was a challenge as an infant to be sure, and her toddlerhood wasn't much better. She had colic and the incredible ability to start screaming anytime, anywhere. I really, really wanted to see Finding Nemo. So did Aidan. Against my better judgment, we went. Aidan was fine, so was Ash. For a little while. About halfway through the movie, she started crying and wouldn't stop. Obviously we had to leave, so I had to drag Aidan out of the theater. By this point, all three of us were crying. Making quite a scene, I am sure. I vowed not to do that ever again.

We started going to the drive-in instead. It was great. Cheaper than the indoor theater, and the kids could move around and make noise without annoying anyone except us. The problem was that it was often too cold at night to go there, and the movies didn't change as often. I think we saw Shrek three times one summer.

When Ally was about one, Cars came out, and again, we wanted to see it. We had moved here, and there aren't any drive-ins, so the indoor theater was the only choice. I had already made a deal with Tom that the only way I'd step foot in a theater was if he was there with me. Little did I know that I would spend almost the entire movie chasing a toddler up and down the hallway outside the theater, while he was inside with the older two actually watching the movie we were there to see. An employee of the theater felt bad for me, and gave me a free ticket. Clearly, I wasn't watching any movie that day.

As Ally got older, she was better about sitting and watching movies. We had about a year and a half where we could actually go as a family and see an entire film, interrupted of course by 4 trips to the bathroom. But no one screamed or felt compelled to do laps around the theater. I took the kids by myself even a few times, and we survived. Even once AJ was born, we could go. He generally fell asleep at the movies - it was a nice change.

He won't fall asleep anymore. He's a toddler now. One that doesn't much like to sit still. Those long hallways would just be too fun to run down. If there is any hope of me seeing any of the movie being shown, he has to stay home with Grandma. Maybe in a few months he'll be ready...but I think we'll try the free movies first next summer. In a room full of loud kids, he won't stick out.

So, I'll be seeing a princess movie today. Most of it anyway. Someone will have to pee. Someone always has to pee.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hermit

For the last few days, Aidan has spent much of his time holed up in his room. A hermit, perfectly content to be away from all of us. He shuts his door and keeps to himself for just about as long as we let him. It's generally not until someone else notices he's not around or we are leaving to go somewhere that he makes an appearance.

Normally, he isn't like this. Sure, he is happy to be alone at times. Usually, though, he is hanging out with the rest of us. Why the change? One word. Legos.

As seems to be the case for every birthday and Christmas in the past few years, he received quite a few Lego sets. And though the sets keep getting bigger and more complicated, he keeps getting better at building them. The first year he got big sets, Tom and him built them together at the kitchen table for what seemed like forever. The table was covered with tiny pieces of plastic for a few months, until I couldn't take it anymore and ordered them taken upstairs. He doesn't need help anymore to build the sets, and quite frankly he doesn't want it.

By the day after Christmas, he had the two biggest sets done already. Perched on top of other boxes in the middle of his floor are his newest structures. He has one left that he is working on, but it's a set that you can build into 3 different creations - so it's never really just done. I like those sets more. He seems to get a few more miles out of them than the other ones. They require more creativity than just following directions.

The kids are out of school for another week and a half or so. And for most of that time, he'll be disappearing constantly. There are things to build. He's busy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Give

Circulating inside each and every one of us is a precious commodity. One that we can give willingly. Something that can save the lives of others. Blood.

I've never donated blood before. I have certainly given much of my time, effort and energy to others, but have never once donated blood. I'd like to say that there are reasons, valid ones at least, for my lack of donation. But the truth is that I haven't always had one. I had problems with anemia in my teens and early twenties and had been told that I could not donate because of it. In the last 10 years or so, I've been pregnant quite a bit and thus ineligible to donate. But I haven't been pregnant all the time. And I should have donated. I will start now.

Tom was always better about it than I was. From the time he turned 18, he started donating on a fairly regular basis. He donated, that is, until he was diagnosed with cancer. No thank you, they said. He was forbidden from donating for 10 years. Those 10 years were up a few months ago, on the very same day that we got some news about another cancer.

Chemotherapy. For many it is their savior, but not without a price. It kills the good along with the bad, and right now it seems to be doing a lot of damage. As I write this, a donation from another giver is being pumped into someone I love dearly. Because of the generosity of a stranger, he will be better equipped to keep fighting.

I challenge you all to give. Call your local blood bank. You can save a life. And you never know when the day may come that you'll be on the other side.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After

And then it was over. All the anticipation, all the shopping, all the wrapping is done. Meals have been made, cookies baked. Wishes made, most fulfilled. And here we are, after.

The floor is littered with tiny pieces of paper and tape. Parts of new toys strewn throughout the house. Remnants of the day, ones which will be cleaned up at some point. But not until after we play. After we make sure that every single new thing is removed from it's child (and adult) proof packaging.

I know people who always rush to clean up. Who want the decorations down and put away the day after Christmas. I've never been like that. I see the value in waiting. In taking these hours not to sort and organize, but to watch and play.

I'll find the carpet again eventually. The things will find a home. The kitchen will be clean. But it can wait. It can all wait. We've got new toys to play with first.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Home

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter

As I sit here typing this morning, the scene outside is simply breathtaking. We have about 8 inches of snow on the ground, give or take. Though it was windy last night, it's calmed to the slight hint of a breeze. And there was enough moisture in the air after the clouds cleared that a fog formed. Still floating around in the sky, soft, fluffy clouds kissing the earth. With the fog comes the best part - the ice crystals. Every branch of every tree looks as though it's been coated with glitter overnight. When they talk of walking in a winter wonderland, it is mornings like this to which they refer.

It seems as though the cosmos, or fate, or some divine purpose is at work here in my own backyard. Someone out there knew that I had to wake up to these sights this morning. Someone knew I needed a nudge to feel Christmas. And here I am, list in hand. Ready to get all the last minute things done that I need to. Ready to see the joy on the faces of my children. Ready to share their anticipation. Ready to witness the power of believing in something magical.

Even though I'm not ready, I must be. For Christmas comes only once a year, and it, my friends, is here. Steal shared glances with your kids. Hug when the mood strikes you. Sing out loud. Kiss someone just because. Play. Laugh. Love.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White

Since we have been here, the weather on Christmas has been different every year. The first year was a cruel joke. All excited about living somewhere that a chance for snow existed, we found ourselves outside wearing shorts in the 65 degree sun on Christmas day. It felt like just about every other Christmas of my life, those spent in Southern California.

The next year couldn't have been more opposite. A few days before Christmas, we had a huge storm roll through, one that left almost 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground. We had drifts on the side of the house that were over my head. And though the sun was out on Christmas morning, we had more than enough snow on the ground to make it feel like Christmas. All those songs you hear, those pictures on Christmas cards, I knew then that they weren't a sham. White Christmases can happen.

Since that year, we've had a little snow on the ground, but nothing exciting. It's never been snowing on Christmas. As I sit here, less than 48 hours from Christmas morning, there are delicate snowflakes falling from the sky. Already a few inches on the ground and many more to come today, we are guaranteed to have another White Christmas.

There is something magical about snow. Maybe I just feel that way because I grew up in a place that didn't have it and to me it was always something I longed for. I didn't grow up shoveling and trudging around in boots. But, to me at least, it is magical. It can take even the brownest of winter landscapes and cover it with a pure blanket, hiding every flaw and imperfection. Trees that are already beautiful made more so. And houses, large or small, just look better with snow on the roof.

I've wished for a white Christmas about every year of my life, knowing that for most of them it was an impossibility. And here I am, getting my wish this year. A gift from the heavens, a feeble attempt at getting me into the mood for the holidays. The mood that I so desperately need to get into in a hurry. For the sake of my kids, I need to. But the truth is, for many years, Christmas has been missing something for me. And what it's been missing isn't snow.

I knew all along that in moving here, I was making a choice to be away from my family. I won't pretend that it was an easy decision to make, because it wasn't. We came here not for the snow, but to try and create the life we knew we wanted for our children, but couldn't have in California. We knew we couldn't stay there, but I wish we had found some way to.

To my sister in law, cherish this time. Enjoy it. It goes by too fast, and before you know it, you'll be caught up in the whirlwind of mothering. Take naps when you can, even if you don't think you need them. I assure you, there will come a day when you will give anything for that chance back. For you, I wish you calm and quiet. Take care of yourself. I love you.

To my brother, I miss you. No holiday is complete without the sarcastic banter that you bring. You are one of the only people in the universe who really understands me, and I hope that someday we can figure out a way to get together more often. Even though my son is just about as close as humanly possible to a daily reminder of you, he isn't you. For you, I wish you happiness and joy. You will be an amazing father. I love you.

To my mom, I wish you strength. The human heart is capable of far more than we ever think, and yours is capable of much. Take care of yourself. Find time for the things you love. Give yourself time to feel every emotion, and don't apologize to anyone for the way that you feel. Feelings aren't something we can control, they just are. Know that I am only ever a phone call or a chat away, though I wish with my whole heart I could be more. I love you.

And to my dad, I know that you asked that I not write about you here, and I've tried as best I can to abide by your wishes. Really, I have. But when in my life have I ever just listened to you? If there was any way for me to be there I would, just as I know you would be here, on Friday. But life has a way of changing our plans for us, often with no warning at all. For you, I wish you peace. I wish you health. I wish for you anything and everything you have ever wanted, and more. And I wish, oh how I wish, that I could be sitting with you, looking out a window together this morning. Snow, rain, sun - the weather is of no consequence. It doesn't matter what is on the outside of that window. It's the company on the inside that makes Christmas. I miss you Daddy, and I love you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Forward

It's easy to be cynical. I have a tendency towards it. The negative things are so obvious in our society sometimes that they can easily overshadow the good. What is harder is to be positive, to remember that most people at their core are good, and to see the bright side. Especially at times where it seems nothing is going the way you want.

As strange as it might seem, my faith in humanity was redeemed in the most unlikely of places this week. Twice in the same week, as though someone was telling me that I needed to smile. The first was while I was out shopping for those last Christmas gifts. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the elbowing and jockeying for position over the most sought after gifts, the general rudeness of shoppers, was a man. An elderly gentleman saw that I was struggling to get the bag and two children out the door at the same time. He smiled at Ally, told her to be a good little girl and listen to her mommy, then held the door open. As I passed him in the doorway, he sweetly replied that I was to have a Merry Christmas. By the time I could turn around to thank him, he was gone.

The next morning, the last day of school, after I dropped the kids off and before coming home to pick up the rest of the things I needed to take back to school for the parties, I stopped for a much needed cup of coffee. A very much needed cup. I pulled into the drive-through and placed my order, spacing out to the radio in line. As seems to happen all the time, I was starting to tear up over some sentimental Christmas song when it was my turn at the window. I drove up and the barista handed me my cup. Then informed me that my order had been paid by the gentleman before me. A complete stranger had done something for me. For me? I told the barista that I would wait until someone came behind me, and I would do the same. Pay it forward.

There really is such a thing as the Christmas spirit. And it is alive and well. Share it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Trade

In any relationship, there are bound to be trade offs. It's wholly impossible for any two people, in any kind of relationship, to always be evenly balanced. Whether it's marriage or friendship, co-workers or siblings, someone always has to be the one giving more.

Though it would be ideal to get precisely the same amount of effort, love and trust out of every relationship that you put in, life just doesn't work that way. Instead, one half of the relationship is always giving more. The other side, needing more. I know that in my life, I've traded places with many.

In most relationships, that dynamic changes over time. Hopefully the parties switch sides, at least occasionally. Hopefully it isn't always one person expending more energy. Of course, each of us could probably identify relationships that we have like that. The ones where we are constantly reassuring, helping, fixing. Over time, relationships like that can drain the energy out of you. When it starts to become obvious that you aren't ever getting much back. When the relationship ceases to truly be a relationship. When it becomes a parasitic one rather than anything resembling a symbiotic one.

Even those parasitic relationships, some call them toxic, they serve a purpose for those of us in them. For if you are anything like me, and I'd suppose that some of you are, a part of you needs to help, to fix, to reassure. And in that sense, the relationship serves a very real purpose, even if what you need isn't coming directly from the other person at all. Even if you are really only getting what you crave from the relationship simply by being needed.

I think that we all have to feel needed. At least women, anyway. It's what drives us to motherhood. What makes us so desperately want a person to depend on us for every single thing. And that innate sense of helping isn't something that goes away easily. It remains with us, most of us, forever. It is a great strength, but also a great weakness. It leaves us vulnerable. Let's all hope that those who surround us can appreciate the beauty of that weakness, without ever taking it for granted. For if they do, they are doing a great disservice to us all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dice

I started going to bunco a few months ago, dragged there by a friend who had been with the group for years. I only knew a couple of the other players from seeing them in passing at school, but decided that I would go and see if I had a good time.

I've played bunco before, with a couple other groups. But this group was the first one that I really fit in with. At least without trying. It's an interesting dynamic, for sure. Any decent sized group of women is sure to be filled with some kind of drama at least occasionally.

The last group I played with was filled with women who obviously all felt like something was missing in their lives. All had husbands with good jobs. All had kids. Some worked part time, but most were stay at home moms. And they were all missing something. None of them seemed content with their lives, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was because they were all too busy comparing their lives to the lives of the others. The proverbial grass was always greener. Or so they thought. It was funny for me to be there, since I'd met many of them while working at a local kid's clothing store. They, the loyal customers. I, their "employee". They could look down on me, feel sorry for me. When they found out that I lived in homes not much different than theirs and had more education than they did, they suddenly didn't like me as much anymore. They couldn't pigeonhole me and make themselves feel superior. Needless to say, I was never invited back to that group. And even if I ever was, I wouldn't be going.

This group is different. Very different. Another bunch of moms, though more work outside the home in this group. Their homes are well kept and warm, not cavernous and showy. They actually care about each other, not just pretend for the 3 hours a month that we are together. It's different. Maybe the thing that makes it so different is that we all recognize the imperfections in our lives and embrace them. We are not embarrassed by them, glossing over the unkind details. We lean on each other and we ask one another for help. We commiserate with one another, rather than judging. All this, and I have only been a member of this group for about 6 months.

Aidan asked me a while back what bunco is. I laughed a little. He asked again. He must sense that I am always insanely excited about it, and so he naturally assumed that it must be something really, really fun that he is missing out on. I told him that it's just a game, played with dice. Nothing else. He nodded his head, a little confused. Why would I be so excited to play with dice? It's because bunco isn't about the game at all. It's about the time, the friends, the food and of course it's about the drinks. It's about the only thing most of us do in any given month that is just for us. There aren't any tasks to be completed, no errands to run, no one else needs us to do anything for those 3 hours. It's not about the game, really.

To the lovely women who have welcomed me into their group, I thank you. You all really have no idea how much I needed this in my life right about now. Or maybe you did, and you needed me too. I'll see you all in a few weeks. The dice are waiting, and so am I.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Passion

As part of the chaos that is the last week of school before the holiday break, all the kids had Christmas parties yesterday. And AJ got carted around to all three. I only made an appearance at Aidan's party. He's old enough now that he really doesn't want or need his mom hanging out in his classroom. And though I'd be happy to do it if he wanted me to, I know that he doesn't. So I don't. At the same time, he really wants me to be there. But just for a second. Literally.

Ashley's party is almost always at the same time as Aidan's. Their classrooms are on opposite sides of the school, which makes my job as mom a little harder. Ashley wants me to be there. So I am. She fell off the playground equipment yesterday and needed mom a little more than normal. The hardest part about the parties in her classroom is that there are 29 kids in there. Add the teachers, the parents (about half of which routinely show up) and all the tag along siblings, and it's a crowded little room. A really crowded little room.

By far the most entertaining party of the day was the first one though. Ally attends morning preschool, and the two preschool classes had been rehearsing a concert of Christmas songs to sing for the parents. They even brought in risers for the kids to stand on. Ally had been singing the songs for weeks to get ready. Some of them are the traditional Christmas carols. Some are songs that she has heard for her whole life, since her older siblings had been through that preschool and sang the same songs every year. She asked me if she could wear a fancy dress to school, then spent over 20 minutes looking for the matching shoes. Everything had to be just right.

We get to the start of the concert, all the parents preparing to be entertained by their own adorable little ones. What we got was much different. While Ally was definitely adorable, playing with her hair, singing and lifting her dress up after nearly every song, she wasn't the one who stole the show. A little girl in her class, one who had never once sang in the rehearsals, decided to sing. And sing quite loudly. Except that she didn't know most of the words and was more than a little off key. But she sang with passion and pride. One of the little boys in the class spent half a song with his fingers in his ears, until he finally turned around and glared at her, as if to say, really? It was priceless. And a memory that the families in that classroom will always have from the Christmas party of 2009.

The lesson to be learned from yesterday is that if you have something you love, do it with passion. Do it with pride. And do it with your whole heart and soul. If you can manage that, everyone else will manage to overlook the fact that it isn't perfect.

Here are some pictures from the day yesterday. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hats

Every once in a while, I just have to do it. Sometimes it is because people ask me for advice. Sometimes they ask for clarification of an issue. Sometimes they gets themselves into a situation and need help to get out of it. And sometimes I just have to do it because there are times I have to do it. Even if no one wants to hear what I say when I do it. Sometimes, I have to put my lawyer hat on.

Most people here are shocked to find out that I have a law degree, figuring I am just like most of the other stay at home moms in the area. Most have college degrees, some left lucrative careers, but as far as I know, I am the only closet lawyer. Most times, it comes in handy. Usually, I am able to help others with their issues, or at least point them in the right direction. But there are times that I hate having such an analytical mind. Sometimes I hate asking questions that I have to ask.

I know there are people who hate it too. Who have a hard time seeing me in my lawyer hat, and distinguishing that hat from the others I wear. Mother, daughter, sister, friend. Sometimes my hats might disagree with each other. But wear them I must.

Ultimately, though, I hope that it helps people. Even if they might not see it quite that way at any given time. Lawyers are taught to see all the sides of an issue. To find options. To explore alternatives. And to seek out the best answer for their client. That's all I have ever tried to do. I'm taking my lawyer hat off for a while. I hope I don't have to put it on again any time soon. It's not something I particularly enjoy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Book

As soon as I am done writing this today, I will be dragging out the book. Only a chosen few know which book I am talking about, but it's one that has directly resulted in my reputation this time of year. I have a reputation for making cookies for everyone. Teachers, neighbors, coworkers, family. Everyone. I even ship them in little boxes, lovingly protected by bubble wrap.

I have many cookbooks to be sure, but there is only one cookie book. It's a book that has been passed down for generations, and it was one of the things that I received on the day of my wedding. I think in many ways, my mom was happy to pass it along. She didn't have to make the cookies anymore. It was now my responsibility.

There have been years that I have baked over 10 different varieties, not even including the fudge. The biggest problem that I face now is that it seems like everyone I know has a different favorite cookie. It gets hard to eliminate any of them from list.

This year is a little different though. I'm running out of time. Today is pretty much the only day I have left to get the majority of the cookie making done. Tomorrow is the last day of school, and I have a list of teachers that gets longer every year. Partially out of necessity, I have had to trim down the total number of cookie types this year, exchanging larger batches for variety. I'm sure I will be making at least one trip to the grocery store today. I always manage to run out of something.

I've got a lot of baking to do. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Traditions

This is the time of year that even the most non-traditional people start to rely on traditions. That you start to look back on your life, and the things that you have always done on Christmas. The places you go, the foods that you prepare, the songs that you sing.

When I was a kid, we always started the season by going to breakfast with Santa. It was at one of the department stores, and we went every year for years. Many more years than I believed. But we went for several reasons. My brother believed far longer than I did, and at some point I learned it was nicer to play along and let him than spoil the fun. My Grandma Doll went with us almost every year, and it was just a required part of the holidays. The other reason - they had the best hot chocolate in the universe and they would give you as many marshmallows as you wanted.

My dad has been a part of many men's organizations over the years, and when I was a little girl, one of them operated a Christmas tree lot. And so, for years, he spent time volunteering at the lot, helping countless other families create their own traditions. When I begged him enough, he'd let me tag along. Those nights I spent huddled around a trash can bonfire, listening to crazy stories told by the other guys, watching my dad be the strongest man I'd ever seen, those are nights that I will always remember. Never mattered how cold it was, he loved doing it. There was a certain sparkle in his eye, one that I truly only ever saw there. I can't drive past a tree lot without thinking about those nights.

When I became a mother, my parents insisted that I follow the Santa rule. They followed it for years, and they knew that if I did too that there would be times when we weren't all together. But it was important to them when I was a kid. And it is important to them now. Santa comes to our house. If anyone wants to see the kids open presents, they have to be here. No ifs, ands or buts. That's just how it is.

We have developed other traditions as well. The tree, whether fake or real, must be decorated in a certain order. The birds always go on first. My grandfather, my Pap, insisted that there always be birds on the tree. Some of the birds on my tree are the very same ones he used to put on his. And the last thing to go on the tree must always be the angel. The kids rotate years, taking turns putting on the last finishing touch.

One of the funnier traditions that I started involves underwear. Every year, Santa brings the kids practical things in addition to the fun stuff. They get toothbrushes and socks. And they get underwear. And the underwear gets hung on the Christmas tree.

I could probably write all day about the traditions that we celebrate this time of year. There are many more than I've mentioned here. There are the traditions that I remember from my own childhood. The new ones that we are making with each passing year. Memories are made, and they are the one thing that you can carry with you forever. I hope that my children will someday look back and fondly remember the things we are doing with them, as I remember what my parents did for me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Believe

One of the most amazing things about having children is that we, as parents, get to relive our own childhoods. Particularly around this time of year, it seems to come out. The innocence of youth, the power of blind faith, the true magic of Santa Claus.

I've been recently reminded of that magic. A few days ago, Ally made a comment that she needed some more shoes. We were out looking for shoes for AJ (the child who literally has one pair that fit him). Ally told me that she needed some more. Keep in mind that this child is a complete fashionista. Coupled with hand me downs from several friends and her big sister, and her mother's general weakness for little girl's shoes, the girl has a LOT of them. Two underbed buckets full. When I pointed that out, she quickly corrected me. The buckets aren't completely full. Humoring her, I asked what kind of shoes she so desperately needed. Purple sparkle shoes.

Since she could walk, she's always had at least one pair of sparkle shoes. She's had them in all different colors, or so I thought. She's had white, pink, red, silver and black. But never purple. And the sole reason for that is because they don't sell them anywhere I have ever seen. (Trust me, if I had ever found them, she would have already had them...see the above point about her mother's weakness for little shoes...)

I gently told her that though she wanted purple sparkle shoes, they don't make them. I even took her over to the girl's section and pointed out the lack of purple sparkle shoes. As plain as day, she told me that it didn't matter if they weren't in the store. She had never seen them, but she just knew that it didn't matter. Santa can make them. He can make anything.

As I was telling my mom this story, she reminded me for about the millionth time of a story from when I was just a bit older than Ally. About just how similar she and I are. It was the year of the Cabbage Patch craze, long before the advent of online shopping and auctions for the truly desperate parents. My mom and dad had asked me for months if I wanted one. My reply was always no. I didn't. And then, 4 days before Christmas, I sat on Santa's lap and told him that if he was indeed real, he would get me a Cabbage Patch doll. I doubted him. I figured he would be exposed for the fake that I was convinced he was. But I was sorely mistaken. And this doubter had been converted into a believer. Sitting under my Christmas tree all those years ago was a Cabbage Patch doll from Santa Claus.

A little girl in this house has decided to put Santa to the test just like her mother did decades ago. And next week, sitting under her tree will be a pair of purple sparkly shoes. And they will be sitting there because she believes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Days

I think I have been listening to the holiday stations on the radio too much lately. And I think that the kids have been singing the 12 days of Christmas too much lately, especially given the fact that as of yesterday, there were 12 days left until Christmas. This year has snuck up on me faster than any has before and I realized that I have a tremendous amount of stuff to get done in the next few days. Before they are out of school for the break and home all the time.

In honor of the season, the craziness of it all, I give you my new, modified lyrics. I shortened it for you, so all you need to imagine is that last verse of the song. I know you probably all have a million things to do this week too. ;)


The 12 Errands of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

12 packages to ship
11 dozen cookies
10 gifts left to buy
9 carols to sing
8 rolls of wrapping paper
7 ugly sweaters
6 strings of lights
5 HUGE meltdowns!
4 trips to see Santa
3 class parties
2 exhausted parents
and a half decorated Christmas tree!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Indefinite

Along with the rest of the nation, I've been following the Tiger Woods story. Once only known for being the best golfer in the world, he is now know for being a cheater. A big one. It seems like every day more and more women come forward admitting to relationships with him. Another "hero" fallen.

It's nothing new. It's nothing that professional athletes haven't done forever. It's nothing that politicians haven't done forever. It's nothing that men in generally high positions of power haven't done forever. For as long as there have been marriages, there has been infidelity.

In college, I took an interesting class, during which time we debated whether human beings are really and truly intended to be monogamous creatures. And we came to the conclusion that women may very well be, but men probably weren't. Over the centuries, our society decided that men and women are supposed to be married and faithful and all that, forsaking all others. But clearly, that isn't always the case.

Many men are surely capable of being content in their married relationships. But many aren't. And it seems that an increasing number of women are straying from their partners these days. Hurting not just their spouses, but their children in the process. And, occasionally, ruining their careers. All in the name of personal satisfaction.

The difference between today and times before really isn't that more people cheat now. At least I don't think so. It's that we as a society seem to care about it more. The paparazzi, the presence of cameras everywhere, and the pervasiveness of the internet mean that it's easier to not just get caught cheating, but it's easier for everyone else to know about it instantly.

It is sad what has happened to the Woods family? Sure. I feel tremendously sad for his children. I feel sad for his wife as well, assuming of course, that she was really unaware of his propensity for this type of behavior before marrying him. Women who choose to commit to men knowing they do this, for lack of a better way to put it, get what they asked for.

But do I feel sorry for him? No. With as much as he had at stake, he still couldn't manage to control himself. On top of the world one day, a media pariah the next. Hanging up his career for an indefinite period of time so that he can work on his family. Maybe he should have thought about that before. It didn't seem to bother him before he got caught. He was never forced to reevaluate his role as husband and father until that fateful car accident. Had that not happened, no one would be talking about any of this.

In this day and age, you would think that they would know better. You would think that people this high profile would realize that the whole world is watching them. The internet and the media certainly sped the downfall of Tiger, but he started the fall himself. And he has no one else to blame.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lights

For as long as we have lived in Colorado, this time of year has always meant one thing. The Parade of Lights. The city puts on several parades a year, but the biggest one of them all is the Parade of Lights. And for every year that we have been here, we've been in it.

The preschool always had a float in the parade. Every year that we have been here, we've had a preschooler. And every year that we have been here, someone in our family has been on that float. It's been a partnership between the preschool and Miller farm, a local family run farm, that lets us use one of their huge trailers for the event. Every year, the preschool teachers would swear they were never going to do it again, and every year we parents would manage to talk them into it.

Every year, I've been involved a little more in the planning of the float. The first year, we didn't make it to the actual float decorating day because Aidan decided to play hide and seek that morning. We spent hours looking for him, not hours doing what we were supposed to be doing. He had made his bed, with him in it and managed to lay there completely still for hours.

The next few years after that, I helped plan, but had sick kids when the time came to actually do the decorating. One year, it was snowing so hard that most of the floats didn't bother to show up. It was freezing, but our float was full of kids. Tom rode on the float that year, but I didn't get to see the parade because the snow was too deep for me to get over there in time. There was the time that half the lights on one side went out right before the parade started. And then the time that the generator for the lights ran out of gas and a dad got sent to the gas station in a hurry so we could make it into the lineup. We've had fun.

And then there was last year. The parents met for the meeting to come up with the theme before Thanksgiving. We decided on the Stars of Alpine Preschool, and designed the most elaborate decorations yet. And then over the break, something terrible happened. The daughter of one of the teachers was in a horrible car accident, ending up in the ICU with a shattered pelvis. We quickly switched from float decoration to food delivery and hand holding.

At some point, a handful of parents decided that we were going to figure out a way to make it work. We knew how important that float was to so many people. No matter what, we'd get that float ready. It wasn't easy. And not without blood, sweat and tears. A lot of tears.

I enlisted the help of my father in law, and he really made it come together. He cut out all the wood stars and other prop pieces we needed, and I spent an afternoon painting them all. The stars went to school and were covered with the hand prints of all the children, helped by a pair of mom volunteers. Another mom who had children in the preschool before, who had ridden on that float in the past, offered to help me do some of the detail work on the signs. Even though her preschool float days were over, she helped. Anyone who has been through the doors of that preschool knows how much it meant.

The initial plan was to have all the lights purchased, but that had been put on a back burner obviously. Instead, parents brought tools and extension cords and every spare light they could find from home.

It took a lot of people putting in a lot of work. When the teacher with the injured daughter arrived at the farm that morning, seeing her face made it all worth it though. Her daughter was fighting to recover, and her progress had been nothing short of miraculous. And though it might seem like something that shouldn't be too important, I think that float really meant a lot to her. Though the teachers always said every year's float would be the last, they were always joking. Until last year. Had we known that it really would be the last float, it would have been even more bittersweet.

The school has changed so many policies in the last year it's ridiculous. And they have prevented the preschool from participating in just about everything. The farm field trip. The parade. The things that our preschool was known for in the community. And what had become an annual tradition for the families of our kids is gone.

Tonight, we'll be at the parade. But it will be different. We'll be sitting on the side of the street, watching the other floats pass by. Wondering why the adults feel so compelled to take something so amazing away from children. On the other hand, it will be the first time I am really able to watch the parade. To sit and see the looks on the faces of my children when Santa arrives at the end .

It will be different this year. But we'll be there. We always have been and we always will be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sap

For years I have given my mother a hard time for being sappy. I'm not. Never have been. Every year at Christmas, there is an unspoken competition. Who can make Mom cry first? I'm pretty good at it, and we all know her weaknesses. Truth is, whenever we ask her what she wants, she always says nothing. So we are left to our own devices and we get her the things that we know she will love, though they generally make her cry. Personalized bracelets, photo albums, singing cards. Slam dunk, guaranteed tear jerkers.

She's always been the type of person who cries at Hallmark commercials. Movies make her cry, even the ones that she has seen about a million times. She knows how they end, and yet ends up teary eyed. I used to harass her about it, because I used to be the furthest thing from sappy. Used to.

Though I try to be strong, and I try to be stoic, I just can't do it all the time anymore. I used to be better at it. When Gary was sick, we had no choice but to stay positive when we were with him. I learned to cry when he couldn't see me. I got good at it. When Tom was sick, I was marvelous at hiding my emotions. We were living in the apartment at the time and I would cry the entire time walking out to take out the trash, and the entire way back. But I would be fully composed by the time I came back in the door. I had to be. When Ashley got hurt and needed emergency surgery, I stayed strong, holding her until the anesthesia took effect. Only after she was asleep did I let myself cry.

These days, I am so overwhelmed emotionally that I cry about everything. I find myself randomly tearing up at the littlest things. Sometimes they are happy tears, sometimes they are sad ones. I've learned that there is comfort in letting go of the emotions. Of letting myself feel them. I try to keep myself composed around the kids as much as possible, but it seems to only get harder the older I get.

The kids always want to listen to the Christmas radio station right now, and there are times I just can't do it. Darn that Josh Groban. Even those Hallmark commercials, they get me now. Break out the tissues, I've turned into a sap.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Angel

There are choices in this life that no one should ever have to make. Situations so unimaginable that no one should ever be thrust into them unwillingly. Yet, the cruelty of life says otherwise. The pain that people in these positions must feel is something that I cannot fathom.

My thoughts and my prayers are with them today. May they have the faith and the courage to do what they need to. And may they have the love and support to get them through it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cheer

After all the years that I have been doing this, you would think that I would know better. That there would be at least some half-hearted attempt at a minor calculation before it all begins. That I would figure out how many to get before I actually order them. To devise a way to avoid the yearly re-ordering. It seems like every year I need more. Christmas cards.

I suppose that I shouldn't complain really. I am lucky to have a large family. I am blessed to have many friends from all phases of my life. I try to keep in contact with everyone as much as is practical, and for some all that we manage are the yearly cards.

I always hated the letters that people would write and put in their cards when I was a kid. They seemed so distant and generic. Giving updates about everything their family was doing, with little relevance in my life. And then I had kids and life got busy and there wasn't time anymore to hand write out ever single letter. I started writing the letters too.

For the last however many years I have done the cards and the letters. I've told people stories about the kids, about our trips, about our life changes, and about the additions to our family. I've put a shiny, happy, positive spin on everything that happens in our lives. Made it sound good. Left out the disappointments and the failures. The illnesses and the challenges.

This year, I ordered my cards and got them in the mail yesterday. Most of them, anyway. As always seems to happen, I ran out and had to order more. As I was filling them out, I made a decision not to write a letter this year. Anyone who really cares about the minute details of my life knows them. Anyone who wonders what the kids are up to generally asks. I know many people follow this blog for family updates. And, really, I just am not in the mood this year.

If you are wondering about anything that is going on with us, ask. If you want to talk, call. If you want to anonymously follow our lives, read. All that will give you more information than any generic letter ever could.

As the holiday season is upon us, reach out to those you love. Don't settle for a photocopied letter and a stamp.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Special

I am special, but not always in a good way. When I was four or five years old, my knees started to hurt me. After seeing our regular doctor and an orthopedist, the diagnosis was made. I have chondromalacia. Generally an ailment that affects marathon runners in their 40's, I was the youngest person this doctor had ever diagnosed with it. Lucky me.

I spent the better part of my youth struggling with my knees. If I overdid anything, they would hurt. Even just walking sometimes made it unbearable. I spent the last hours at Sea World being pushed around in a wheelchair once when it was really bad. It made sports a virtual impossibility. I would try to play, but they acted up. I never got good at anything because I could never play long enough or hard enough. The sports that I really wanted to play were out of the question because there was too much impact. I could swim, but that was about it.

My parents were very reluctant to have it treated surgically because of all the horror stories they heard about the patients who underwent the procedure. When I was about 10 or so, the surgery began to be done with arthroscopic methods, and thus was less invasive with a shorter healing time. They still waited a few more years, making sure that there weren't long term side effects for the patients. Finally, when I was 14, my knees were to the point where something had to be done. I was in pain almost all the time and the surgery seemed safe. A couple weeks after I graduated from 9th grade, I went in for surgery.

Had I known how hard the recovery was going to be, I might never have agreed to it. One knee was worse than the other, so it was the one repaired. The surgical procedure is called a lateral release, and it basically helps to reposition the knee. I was in a full leg brace for 6 weeks and it took well over a year for me to be able to walk up and down stairs without feeling like I was going to fall. With time and healing, it got better. A little.

It's been a long time since that first surgery, and I was told then that I would probably need to do it every ten years or so. I'm way past that. I have stuck to my guns though, and refuse to do it until and unless I really can't take it anymore. Thanks to the surgery, I now have arthritis in the joint on top of the condition itself. I don't need a barometer to predict the weather, my knees do just fine.

I've been thinking about my knees a little more often than normal these days. They are getting worse. Again. And every time I step outside, they hurt. Though the cold doesn't bother the rest of me all that much, it bothers them. I've learned to live with the pain. To take medication to treat the symptoms. And as much as I possibly can, I try to just ignore it. The idea of going through surgery with four kids just isn't an appealing one.

I'm special. And I'm tough. At least in some ways. ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coat

One thing that everyone here seems to know about me already is that cold weather doesn't bother me. I generally wear my capris and flip flops. It needs to be below about 25 degrees or actively snowing for me to put normal shoes on. It just doesn't phase me.

I think part of it is that I cannot stand to be hot. And when you bundle up, you get hot. Even if it's cold outside, at some point, you get hot. And whenever you go inside a building, you have to take off layers and layers of stuff and carry it around with you. Or leave it on and get even hotter. None of that holds much appeal for me.

The neighbor just shook her head at me this morning and I had to chuckle a little. There I am, outside shoveling the driveway in six (yes I said 6!) degree weather, it's snowing, and I was just wearing a light sweater. No coat, no hat. Truly it needs to be below zero for me to go that far. Or I have to know that I am going to be outside for an extended period of time.

It's a running joke at school. There are people who wait to see just how cold it needs to get for me to wear shoes. I am constantly scolded for the kids too. Except for Aidan, they tend to be like me too. They don't bundle. Cold doesn't bother them too much. I guess I got too used to living here, and they did too. I can't help it if they are like me.

Last week, a cold front came through and it got cold enough that I made Ally and AJ bundle up to go pick up the others from school one day. But I still didn't have a coat on. Problem is that if AJ is all bundled up, and I am all bundled up, it is hard to hold him. There just too much fluff in the way. And, really, it's not like it's that cold anyway. ;)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Name

All of the kids are totally different when it comes to how they are in the morning. Aidan loves to sleep in some days, on others he is happy to get up and watch some cartoons before anyone else is awake to bother him. Ashley can sleep in like her mom. There are days I have to go back into her room over and over, practically dragging her out of bed for school. It always takes her just a bit to fully wake up too, she walks around with her eyes half open for a while. AJ generally wakes up whenever enough people make enough noise, then lets us all know he is ready to be set free from the confines of his crib.

And then there is Ally. Almost always the first one up, she never outgrew that toddler waking with the sun phase. I don't know that she ever will. When she was about 3, she would get up every morning and demand that I get up with her, going to the extreme often of prying my eyelids open. Though it has taken a while, I've managed to teach her that just because she is awake doesn't always mean that everyone else in the house has to be. She knows how to turn on the tv in our room and find cartoons.

Most mornings, though, she doesn't turn on the tv anymore. She'd rather crawl under the covers and snuggle up next to me. Sometimes she actually manages to go back to sleep. What she doesn't do as much anymore is wake me up. At first I thought this was a blessing, but then I realized it had a down side too. She is warm and sweet and makes me a little too comfortable. Having her there makes me sleep better. Every once in a while, she will go so far as to turn off my alarm clock before she snuggles in. And those are the days that I wake up too suddenly, realizing it is way past the time I really need to be awake. Warm and cozy, but running behind.

Ally earned the nickname Snugglebug because of it. I started calling her my Snugglebug after the first alarm clock incident. And the name stuck. She has started telling other people that they need to address her by her new name. Family members, her teachers at school, everyone. Her name isn't Ally anymore. Snugglebug says so.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Clark

Though I'm just not feeling the Christmas spirit this year, I'm gonna have to start soon. I'm going to have to dust off all the Thanksgiving stuff and put it away. I'm going to have to clear out space and drag boxes from the basement. I'm going to have to rearrange the normal decor and move the furniture. Most people would assume that all the fuss is for the benefit of the kids. Or for me. True, to some degree it is for the kids. And it's also true that I do generally love Christmas. But there is a bigger reason for all the fuss.

I married Clark Griswold.

My husband is like a kid in a candy store when he walks through the Christmas aisles at the store. If you can inflate it, slather it with cheer and illuminate it, he wants it. And our front yard display is easily the biggest in the neighborhood. Our electric bill suddenly spikes in December, but he never blinks an eye at it. It's the price we have to pay for our house to be seen from outer space.

Over the years we have collected a pretty large assortment of Christmas decorations, most of which are for the outside of the house. It takes up an entire corner of the basement. Every year I try to talk him into getting rid of some of it. Not an option. He repairs anything broken by the wind. One of the Santa decorations really has seen better days, but I'm sure he'll be out in the front yard in his usual spot.

It started when we got our first house. And when we got our first Santa. Back then, the inflatable yard decorations were still fairly new. And we had one. A giant glowing red beacon that we could see from a mile down the street. The neighbors started to give Tom a hard time about his huge Santa. That's when it all began.

He's perfected the necessary electrical arrangements that must be made to light a yard to the scale he wants. It took blowing out a lot of fuses the first few years, but he's got it down to a science now. There are lighting stations, timers and more extension cords and splicers than any one person should ever truly need.

Our house now has made things interesting for him. It has a huge front yard, more to cover with stuff, which he loves. Putting the actual lights on the house is more of a problem. The first floor of the house has 9 foot ceilings, and the peaks over the garage are pretty high. Even with a decent extension ladder, it's pretty intimidating to get up there. He has to get on the roof to put the ones over the porch. The first year we were here he got up there before realizing that he wasn't sure how he was going to get down. I thought for sure I'd have to be calling TJ to bring the fire truck to rescue his brother. But he managed to get down. Not without me laughing at him for a good long time though.

A lot of planning and work goes into Christmas around here. But, like in the movie, there is always that moment when he plugs in that last string of lights. When the fuses and circuit breakers are tested. Then magically all the lights come on. And he sits back and admires his work. Yes, the neighbors still give him a hard time. But that is part of the fun.

Once he gets it all set up, I'll be more in the Christmas spirit. How could I not be? I married Clark Griswold, and I love him.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Bowl

There aren't many things in this world that can put a mother's life more on immediate hold than a good old fashioned stomach virus. I had lots of things I needed to get done today, and none of that matters much right about now. Besides, now I have a chance to get some of the things done at home that I needed to work on anyway. Like the gift I need to give tomorrow morning for a friend, not even started yet. Who, me? Plan ahead? Nooooo.

Ally started it last night, and Aidan is down now too. They each know the drill. The bowl. All the time. We even have a designated bowl for just these occasions. The kids have affectionately named it the "throw-up bowl". Trouble is that we need two today.

We had a nice little break there, just about two weeks since the battle with pneumonia was over. In the meantime, we have only had to deal with teething and asthma - the usual stuff. But it looks like the germs are being shared again. Bring on the Lysol.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Howl

My baby is hurt. Not any of my human babies, but one of the canine variety. Maddie.

She is a pure bred beagle, and she's been with us for almost 10 years. After struggling with the loss of our first baby, there was a void in my life. I so desperately needed something, someone, to take care of. I needed someone to need me. Since our further attempts at getting pregnant again weren't working, I started to sink further and further into a sense of hopelessness.

We got two kittens right after we got married. But, as all cats are, they didn't seem to need much. They were terribly affectionate cats, but they were cats nonetheless. I needed something a little bit more needy. And even though it was a terrible idea at the time, we decided to get a puppy. We lived in the condo at the time, with no yard. We had only a small patio. It wasn't a dog-friendly place to live. But we didn't think too much about that at the time.

We actually did a little bit of research on breeds before we started looking. For some reason, we settled on a beagle. They were small, they were good family dogs and they were darn cute. We found a breeder not too far from us that had a litter almost set for adoption. And there were a couple puppies left.

We went to look at them, nervous but excited. It took some time to stomach the idea of paying $400 for a dog. But when we saw her, we just knew. The breeder almost tried to talk us out of getting her. She was the runt. By far the smallest of the litter. Her markings weren't distinct - she would never be considered show quality or qualify for prime breeding. We didn't care about any of those things. We just wanted a dog. When she looked up at us with those big giant brown eyes, we knew. She was the one.

At six weeks old, she was teeny tiny. She fit into the palms of our hands. We brought her home and set out her bed and toys, many of which were bigger than she was. I'll never forget that first night. She cried and cried and cried. She missed her mama. And she wasn't sleeping. So Tom did what any good new father would do, and picked her up and put her in bed with us. Little did we know that was the start of something.

Maddie slept under the covers in bed with us. She'd tunnel down to the foot of the bed and sleep between our feet. You would have thought she was hot down there, but she loved it. And there she stayed for a long time. She was our baby. She went everywhere with us. We took her on trips. We took her camping. One camping trip we brought home a solid brown dog - she had learned how fun it was to dig up the ant hills and was completely covered in dirt. Our friends marveled at this strange little dog, the one who would climb trees. She always was a bit different.

We thought we lucked out when she was a little puppy. She was well behaved and quiet. We had heard stories about the problems with beagles. We took her to a puppy training class and quickly began to see what they meant. She was fine with people, but she didn't much like other dogs. She never became socially friendly around other dogs, no matter what we tried. And then it happened. She found her voice. Not until she was about six months old, but find it she did. She learned to howl. She howled at anything and everything. And we learned to deal with a dog that howled. One without an off switch once she started.

Eventually, the day came when she wasn't the only baby anymore. And this hyper little dog, the one that howled at everything and was fanatical about playing with tennis balls, walked over to her previously unused dog bed and laid down. The day Aidan came home from the hospital, it's almost like she knew that her role in our lives was different now. She went from being the spoiled only child to being just the dog. Surprisingly, she was amazing about the transition. Never once did she show jealousy towards him, even when she got kicked out of bed.

We moved to a house a while later, and with that came a backyard. And with the backyard came another dog. It wasn't entirely intentional, mind you. I went to the pet store to get some dog food one day and they had an enclosure set up with a dog in it for adoption. I came home with more than just dog food. And Maddie was okay with it, she didn't mind sharing her new backyard with another dog. She had someone to keep her busy.

Over the following years, we added more children to our family. We moved to Colorado. And she always handled those transitions well. She has a bigger backyard here, more wild animals to howl at, more room to run. Until now.

While we were gone last week, something happened. I can't be sure what exactly and we will probably never know. But she is hurt. Her knee is injured, most likely damaged permanently. She may be able to heal somewhat, but will never return to her old self. The vet has mentioned possible surgery, but she's an old lady now, one that carries quite a few more pounds on her frame than she should. That part of being a beagle caught up to her too. It's probably not really a feasible choice.

So here we are, all these years later with a puppy that suddenly needs us more than before. She can't get through the dog doors. She isn't supposed to go up or down stairs. She needs to be carried. Tom built her a ramp for the stairs outside, though she stubbornly tries to use the stairs still. This puppy, now my old girl, is hurt.

It's a tough road ahead for her, a tough one for all of us. We are forced to accept that she will never again be the same. No more climbing trees. No more digging in ant hills. No more chasing balls. Of course, she can still howl. Somethings never change. My baby is hurt, but as long as she is comfortable and not in too much pain, we will help her. We don't have a choice. She needs us. And though I was the one that needed her in the beginning, we all need her now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hurry

In addition to the million other things I have to do today, I have a big project to finish. I have to complete the annual calendars. Every year since Aidan was a baby, I have made calendars with pictures of the kids for family members. It started rather simply, with a generic one from a catalog that you just inserted a regular size photo print into. At some point, I decided that wasn't good enough and started looking for other options.

I do it now through Shutterfly, one of the most well known photo websites. I haven't had the time or frame of mind to even think about the calendars until I got an email a few days ago from the website. They have a fabulous sale going right now, which ends tonight. So the clock is ticking. Trouble is that it normally takes me about a week to get it all done. I have 14 hours left.

We store our pictures on an external hard drive, and it takes forever to sort through them. Really, I need to find some better software than we currently have, but it just hasn't been on my priority list. I have to crop them and edit them, figure out which go together, find layouts that work and put it all together. It should be simple, but I'm picky. That doesn't help.

It wouldn't be so bad, but there are a lot of other things going on today. The older kids are home this morning for late start. Ally still has school at her normal time. There is an assembly at school, and both Aidan and Ashley are winning awards, so I have to get back there for that. Maddie is at the vet, and we are waiting to find out what is going on with her. While we were gone, something happened and she got hurt. I'm hoping the news isn't bad. I'm not sure how much more of that I can handle right about now. Did I mention that it's only 15 degrees outside and snowing?

I'll find a way to get it done. Always do.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back

We are back home and life is attempting to return to normal. Well, whatever normal is anyway. Normal is far from it these days, and most things just seem like going through the motions. It's hard to put into words what happens when your priorities are tested, but it's not a pleasant experience.

There is a saying that you can't go home again. And it's true. God, is it true. It sure would be nice if it wasn't though. If it was possible to reverse time. To go back to a place where innocence reigned. Where parents were invincible. Where time seemed to creep forward ever so slowly, rather than racing by as it does now.

There are choices in my life that I have made that I question. Right now, that seems to be a constant. The primary one of course, is my choice to move. It was not an easy one. It was years in the making. And it was done for the right reasons. It was done for the sake of the three little lives I was responsble for then. I don't know if it was the right decision. I hope it was. It doesn't seem like it today.

If I could be in two places at once, I would. If I could magically transport myself from here to there at a moment's notice, I would. And today, I know in my heart that if I could move back, I would. If only. I can't.

The only thing harder than being there for someone when they need you is knowing that you can't.

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