Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life in (Parentheses)

Parentheses:  "Parentheses are used around text that adds extra information to what has gone before." (Encarta® World English Dictionary)

I love parentheses. When I review whatever I've written, I notice that I use parentheses a lot (in fact, in my best New England-ese, a wicked lot). These are my explanations, my sidelines, my back story. I am not always a "you get what you see" kind of person, so I feel like, as a person, a lot of what makes me who I am is in the parentheses. And there are times to share that and times to keep it to myself.

This morning at Target, I just had my two little girls - Eliza was properly buckled in the seat in the front and Violet was riding inside the back where the items go (and, yes, I know there are big no-no signs about that, but this was a quick trip - okay, not exactly a quick trip because what trip to Target is a quick trip? - and I need to figure out the proper way of using parentheses in my parentheses). The point is I felt Violet was completely safe because she always stays seated and loves to organize my items inside the cart (and I was planning on only getting a few things).
Not our Target trip, but my sweet girls at the grocery store

A woman shopping alone commented on "how cute" Violet and Eliza were (and they are!) and asked if they were about two years apart (which they are). She reminisced about how she remembered those days and reminded me (as I have been reminded a gazillion times) that it goes so fast. I smiled in agreement with her and murmured, "I know, I know." She went on to say, "I know it goes by so fast because my two children are also two years apart and they're already 5 and 7. And now here I am, shopping alone. I miss them so much." Five and seven years old? And you miss them so much and are now forced to shop at Target alone? Where did they go? Work camp? MY oldest is 9 and, trust me, I am fully aware of how fast it goes. In fact, I think about it often when I look at my 9-year old that I cannot believe he has already been on this earth for nine years. And that's gone by so fast. And that in another nine years, he will be GOING OFF TO COLLEGE! And that freaks me out. (That's not what I said, though, that's what went through my head.)

This mother looked at me and probably thought of me as the young mom just starting out.  She probably DID think fondly to when her children were 1 and 3 and would ride so sweetly in the Target shopping cart together. (And, trust me, I know that is not such a pleasant experience when they are 5 and 7.) She probably felt that mother's ache to have them small (or small-er) again and carting them around Target instead of dropping them off at school every day where who knows what was going on in their day. She probably did have moments during her much-quieter day when she missed them intensely and looked forward to the school dismissal bell so she could gather them back into the safety of her arms again.

So I kept my dismissal of her advice "oh no, these are my number 4 and 5" in the parentheses in my head. I didn't lie, I just didn't want to ruin her moment. Because that mom is at a place where I am not yet. My days are still full of little ones, and my heart will ache, too, when that time is done.

Hypothetical Humiliation

Do you ever imagine what could be the worst punishment for your child? Not in a truly child-abuse way such as locking them in a cage in the basement, but a consequence that your child would just despise. Something that would really stop him in his tracks when the next time rolls around.

A certain child of ours loves to argue. About anything and everything. Drives me nuts. I allow my children to express their "opinion" (if done respectfully) and do not mind if they ask for an explanation to a decision or command (sometimes), but arguing for the sake of arguing is not tolerated. And oh how he loves to argue! He is the cliche that if you said the sky was blue, he would argue it is green (or, more truthfully, argue that it was a slight shade of blue-gray with some white clouds). So about a year ago, we instituted his "arguing strikes" - a piece of paper taped to the fridge where we tally mark every time he argues. When he reaches five tally marks, he loses a family activity (backyard bonfire, friends' birthday party). We didn't want it to be a foregone conclusion that he would always be losing an activity, so we set a "redemption goal": if he survives an entire day without arguing, his slate is wiped clean. This has proven to be extremely successful. Usually just the physical act of watching us draw a big black tally mark on the paper is enough to remind him to close his mouth and consider a better way to communicate with us. But we have reached that final faded horizontal slash on the chart a couple times, and he does not like the consequences. More often than not, though, he redeems himself. The chart worked so well for a while that we eventually removed it from the fridge. A reminder not to argue sufficed.

Lately, however, this child has returned to arguing. And, once again, he argues about anything and everything. So tonight, we told him that the arguing strikes would be going back on the fridge. He begged, pleaded, cried, ARGUED! that he didn't need the strikes and would stop arguing. He finally admitted he didn't want the strikes on the fridge because his friends made fun of him about it. When we asked him which friends even knew he had the chart, he named one friend (and, yes, I do remember actually having a conversation with this person when they spied it in the kitchen and asked me what the paper was for, and, yes, I could see this friend saying something to him about it - a friend who probably does their own fair share of arguing at home!). Regardless of his pleas, we told him the chart was going back up.

Later that night, I was trying to think of a way to impress on my arguer that we were serious. So I came up with this... Shawn said it's mean, but I figured that if my child was worried about what his friends would say, maybe he would actually work on arguing less. Besides, I couldn't talk Shawn into renting a billboard (and the logistics of getting the big black tally marks up there were complicated), and that's really mean.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Taxicab Confessions

It's amazing the conversations you find yourself having (and overhear your children having) while driving around. Today's conversation revolved around two important topics of discussion - 1.) Would you rather smell like a skunk or a tomato?  and 2.) What kind of bug would you eat?

Answers - 1.) A tomato.... which then brought on sub-question a.) What if it was a rotten, 100-year old tomato?

2.) Various answers but Violet decided on spiders and Clare chose butterflies. The boys were indecisive. Apparently choosing which bug you would eat is a tricky choice. Especially if you have the option of dipping it into chocolate.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Family That Soccers Together, Stays Together

As I have stated in other posts, spring months and sunny (and a lot of rainy!) weather brings spring travel soccer. As Shawn commented to me a couple of weeks ago, “I never thought we would be that family who drives 180 minutes roundtrip for a 45-minute game involving a bunch of 9-year olds.” But, yes, we have become that family. The kids are involved in other activities, but soccer does seem to consume the majority of our family time together.

Family friends are celebrating their daughter’s fifth birthday this weekend. However, Jamie is already committed to a two-day soccer tournament, and it came down to the option that if we wanted to do both, our family would have to split up. During the week, there is a lot of running around (and splitting up) to be sure that all the kids get to their activities, homework is done, and at least the younger children have a decent bedtime. So when the weekend rolls around, we try not to split up unless necessary and we spend the weekend as a family. After a particularly crazy week (Jamie’s school play week), Shawn and I decided that we would decline the birthday party invitation rather than dividing up all day on Saturday. My friend was very generous in her understanding and, when I explained about not wanting to split up and do separate activities on Saturday, commented, “I don't blame you for not wanting to split up events--it's a slippery slope!”

It is a slippery slope and who knows where the bottom is. We strive to eat dinner together every night as a family – which is very hard during soccer season. There are many afternoons when I find myself making sandwiches once again and loading up the cooler before I embark on the afternoon pick-up run. From school dismissal, we head to hippotherapy or speech therapy, and then straight to the soccer fields. We are usually the only family who comes in full force (and I do mean full force!). Maybe we seem slightly odd to the other parents, but this is one way in which we can be together as a family during a busy week. We eat our simple picnic dinner, Jamie does his practice, the other kids run around and play, and Shawn and I usually begin a heated Scrabble game on the iPhone (which six weeks later, I have yet to win one game).

As the kids get older, I know it will only get harder to find that quality time together as a family. But that just means we will have to become more creative. Maybe we’ll always be the only family who eats dinner together at the soccer field three nights a week. We just may look a little weirder when the kids are teenagers (but maybe I’ll have perfected my Scrabble game by then)!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Season

I just finished doing Simon’s homework. (Gasp)

Before you judge me, Simon is only five and in preschool. And, in my defense, after a busy day of two doctor’s appointments with five kids, entertaining small children on a rainy day, babysitting a friend’s two kids in the afternoon, supervising Clare’s homework (which is an exercise in patience), doing dinner and bedtime solo while Shawn helped out at Jamie’s dress rehearsal, reviewing Jamie’s long-division homework once he returned home, and finally getting ready to end my “work day" by checking the calendar for what was on schedule for tomorrow, I saw that Simon (who had long since been put to bed) had homework as well… homework due yesterday. Homework that involved searching through magazines for pictures that began with the letter Z and cutting out said pictures. Homework that we had already done 25 times for 25 other letters (sitting at the table, diligently going page by page, sounding out words, then painstakingly practicing our fine-motor cutting skills). I figured Simon had already gotten out of the assignment what he was supposed to get out of the assignment. The kid knew all his letters at the age of two anyway. I decided to cut myself some slack in the Teaching Moments department (Mommy does not do your homework) and not insist Simon collect his letter Z pictures in the morning himself and instead turn this into one of Life’s Lessons – sometimes Mommy will do your homework if the stars line up in exactly the right way. And that is why I just finished thumbing through my recent parenting magazine and now have a little baggie on the kitchen counter with pictures of a zipper, zigzag, zoo, and zzzz’s (why is there never an article about zebras when you need one?).

Late spring is always a chaotic season in our house. It is crowded with end-of-the-year school projects and events, Jamie’s play opens tomorrow night, IEP planning and meetings, spring soccer ramps up, the ballet recital is in a couple weeks, and Jamie always seems to be hit hard during this time of year with allergies, headaches, and migraines (which on any day can send us revising our schedule depending on whether Jamie is in bed with a migraine).  At least this year, I am not dealing with swollen ankles and feet and backaches while waiting for a baby to be born. (The 11-month old baby who still has not even started crawling yet, which I know is very fortunate in a makes-my-life-easier kind of way. Mobile baby is not on my radar yet. Looks like Eliza is following in her brothers’ footsteps – no pun intended – in the slow-to-move area.)

On those days when I feel as if I am treading water and completing one load of laundry is an accomplishment, I’ve really been trying to find the quiet moments to reflect upon where I am in life and, more importantly, why. I think back to my life six years ago to another season when I felt like we were barely surviving day to day. But not because we had five active children and the packed life that comes with that. Because we had a baby who was critically ill. Who underwent five cardiac procedures in her first 11 months of life. Whose future seemed full of huge, scary unknowns.  A baby whose bedside I stood by helpless in the CICU on the most horrible night of my life while cardiologists, nurses, respiratory therapists, and surgeons threw around frightening words about codes and plummeting heart rates and external pacemakers and there was so much commotion and chaos in one shrinking room. A baby who I literally had to walk away from because I was only in the way, not knowing if she was going to live or die that night.

There are many days when I am at my wit’s end (and just want the Legos picked up off the floor before I scream), and I wonder if God did give me more than I can handle. But I remember that mother six years ago on that terrifying November night who, after two hours of unceasing crying and praying, realized that her prayers had changed from “Please, God, don’t let her die” to “Please, God, give me the grace to know Your love, the faith to trust Your plan, and the strength to do Your will.” And, although this season is chaotic for a different, much happier reason, my prayers today are the same.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catching Up

Oh, to be faithful to my blog!  I try and I try, but life gets in the way!

We've had a whirlwind last couple of months, but I think I am finally getting the memo that life with a young family of five children is going to be a whirlwind. "When things slow down" never happens. I may even just start getting used to the idea that life in general with a busy family (no matter how big or little) is going to be a whirlwind! Here's what we've been up to in bullet points:

* 40+ hour road trip to take Clare to Louisville, Kentucky for her annual visit with Dr. Mervis. (And had the bonus of seeing my grandparents, aunts, and cousins in WV while we were traveling.) Other than a deer hitting our car (thankfully minor damage to our car - I don't think I can say the same about the deer), it was a great trip. Wealth of information from Dr. Mervis (and a new learning disability diagnosis of Specific Language Impairment) so we are armed for Clare's upcoming IEP in June.

* Lots and lots and lots of birthdays. Our family's birthdays are between the months of January and June, so we had small family dinners, hockey parties, movie parties, pirate parties, Hello Kitty parties, and are getting ready for Eliza's One Year Birthday Bash with her cousin Finlay (born 8 days apart) next month.

* Clare's Make-A-Wish trip to Disney last month. This has been the highlight of the year so far (and I can't foresee anything in the future topping it). There are no words to describe how magical the trip was for our family and especially for Clare. Going to Disney (and Universal Studios and SeaWorld) is amazing enough, but doing it as part of Make-A-Wish is fabulous. Red carpet treatment everywhere we went. Clare's Wish to see a princess in her castle came true. Clare and Violet were able to go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and be made up as princesses. Jamie and Simon participated in the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios and even got to meet Darth Vader and receive signed light sabers. Shawn and I got to enjoy a family vacation without worrying about money, standing in lines with bored, anxious children, and planning every last detail. It all just clicked. And we had an amazing time. Make-A-Wish is such an incredible foundation, and I am so grateful to all the donors, volunteers, and staff who work so hard to give children like our Clare their Wishes. They know how a diagnosis and medical conditions such as Clare has truly affects the entire family, and they strive to take care of all of us.

* End of the school year hoopla. Why do I always manage to forget how crazy everything becomes at the end of the school year? Spring soccer practices and tournaments (and now Simon plays as well as Jamie), ballet lessons, rehearsals, and "Cinderella" recital (and now Violet dances as well as Clare), extra rehearsals for the upcoming school drama club production of "Pinocchio," and planning what's going on for school next year. Simon starts kindergarten in the fall. We are formulating Clare's new IEP for her full-day first grade year. And we're always evaluating what's best when it comes to our children's education.

* Our endless routine outside of school of allergy shots, hippotherapy, speech therapy, nephrology appointments, endocrinology appointments, cardiology follow-ups, blood work, orthopedic visits, orthotic fittings... and that's just for Clare and Jamie! I am incredibly thankful that over this past winter and early spring we have had no major illnesses run through the house. (I better not be jinxing myself now!)

There are my bullet points, and now my oven is beeping to let me know it's time to start making cake pops. Simon's special day at school is on Monday, and ever since he went to a birthday party in March where cake pops were served, he has had his heart set on cake pops for school. So cake pops it is!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Happy 5th Birthday, Simon!

Dear Simon Joseph,

It's hard to believe you are 5 years old already! I clearly remember the moment I first saw you after a long, drug-free labor! You were born shortly after the calendar turned to May 1, my May Day baby, born on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. And you have been a joy in our lives these past five years. Even though you are so grown-up at five years old, you are still my snuggly boy. I can always count on you to make sure you give me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek every night before bed. You still ask to be tucked in. You love snuggling next to us to read books. You are more reticent than your other siblings and remind me a lot of how I was as a child (and as an adult!). As my middle child (since I am the middle child in my siblings), you have a special place in my heart.

We love you, Simon!  Happy Birthday!