Friday, January 02, 2015

Christmas 2014

I had high hopes of cultivating some new Houston Christmas traditions but alas I was too weary.  We attended Andrew's school production of A Christmas Carol, which was truly extraordinarily well done. I wish I had invited other people because it was probably the best live action rendering I have ever seen.  We sat on rolled up mats in the wrestling room and watched through the open-air windows, since the seating there was superior to our folded chairs on the deck.  Claire repeatedly requested "nursers!", Will and Porter demonstrated their incapacity to sit still for any length of time, and Andrew sat with his classmates in the choir probably not singing and it was perfect.  The night was beautiful and balmy, the play of perfect length (under an hour), capped off with cookies and chocolate milk under the huge great oak, dripping with oversized glowing lights, while kids ran wild in the dark adjoining field.  I loved it.

We took the boys to Toys R Us one night to buy gifts for each other.  Porter couldn't stop shopping for himself.  I can slightly understand, though, since he is the easiest one to shop for.  I couldn't stop shopping for him myself, and ended up having to give one of his presents to Will to even things out when wrapping time came.

The sister missionaries came for Christmas Eve dinner, which brought a lot of cheer, particularly to the boys who went wild with the attention of it all.  Brigham and I spent all day cooking up a feast of mashed potatoes (still in the fridge), fresh french bread, ham, tenderloin and green bean casserole.

After the sisters left, we read Luke 2, opened one present each, pulled out the Christmas pajamas we bought 2 Christmases ago (that would be 2012) and sent the boys to bed.  Then Brigham and I enjoyed my favorite of our traditions:  wrapping all the presents together while watching Its A Wonderful Life.  I kept thinking how we watched this movie in our townhouse when we just had two little tiny boys, and in the basement of our home in McLean.  How happy and especially in love with this man who has given me my own wonderful life--a life that seems to keep increasing in happiness so much that I feel nervous that something is about to befall and rupture this delicate bubble of joy--I feel every time we set to wrapping under the glow of this old movie.

Christmas morning was sweet.  Everyone had one big gift (a lego set for Andrew, a scooter for Will, a Playmobil Dragon Castle set for Porter and a kitchen for Claire (and Porter).  I bought a bunch of book collections at costco, including the Little House series.  I am usually so cheap about stupid stuff and I am glad I got over that to invest in some wonderful children's literature.  We read the Christmas chapter out of Little House on the Prarie and I almost cried.  I want to read a Christmas chapter from her or something similar every year from now on.

We got to Skype with Katie on her mission in Ireland, which was a lot of fun.  Brigham has a wonderful family and it brought back a lot of memories from being a missionary in Chile to see her.

Later that night we had Christmas dinner with the Hickman family, our home away from home.  The kids had a wonderful time playing in their playroom, eating their delicious dinner and getting showered with the attention of the Hickman kids, whom even Claire allowed to hold and cuddle her.  The elders were there, which was a lot of fun.  We played a game at the end of the evening and I felt such a happiness looking over and seeing Porter stretched contentedly across the laps of two of the Hickman kids while Andrew and Will raucously and somewhat cluelessly participated in the game.  After one of the elders played a beautiful rendition of a Christmas medley on the piano, I felt our Christmas festivities, though they may not have been all I had hoped to accomplish, were plenty and sufficient.  I am so grateful to families who can open their homes to us when we don't have family here.

I had wanted to inculcate some volunteerism, some hand-made-gifting, some special service into our season but at the end of the day all I managed was loading Will down with Toys for Tots, one hand-made ornament each and a lot of baking and delivering of cookies and bread on Christmas Eve morning (the kids were actually thrilled with this one, at least).  Our cousins had the great idea of the kids hand-making presents for each other and I'd like to attempt that next year.  We squeaked out a Christmas card that probably didn't arrive until after Christmas to 49 people (I wouldn't let Brigham order more bc last year's cards are in my dresser still.)

I was unsatisfied with our photographic recording of our season so today, when we took down the tree,  I forced everyone to pose for me.  Our undecorating efforts will photographically substitute for our decorating ones.  It is great to just let things be good enough.

I have been feeling even more on edge with my over the top unabating nostalgia lately because we are in such a sweet spot with our kids.  Andrew, at 9, is still a little boy, but only just barely.  I think 10 is really wading out into some tween waters.  He is a great kid and as he has gotten older he has shown such wonderful new sides to himself.  Last night he gave a family prayer that had both Brigham and I blinking back tears.  I just am not ready for him to grow up.  Even looking at photos taken just one year ago I can see the changes in their faces and it breaks my heart.  Sometimes it feel just too clear and true that life really is like a vapor that is here in the morning and then disappears.  I feel these years slipping by before I can fully get my bearings and I feel overwhelmed by it all and that's when I just start watching tv to ignore it a bit and return to it later when I am ready to face it.  In some ways, one of the best parts for me in having another baby is the sense of renewal it brings to me, to my vision of our family.  We aren't done--there is another little guy coming along who hasn't had any Christmases or traditions or birthdays, yet.  We are still at the beginning of something.

I suppose that is what Christmas, in its own way, might be about, too.  The renewal of life.  This mystical, magical promise of things and people never ending, of ultimate restoration.  These days, these people we love and lose, all of these forgotten moments will all be restored to us and we will all be made whole together, in the end.  So these special years I am treasuring and yet insufficiently appreciating, these years I know I would one day give anything to relive any mundane moment, are not really evaporating when they are done. Somehow they will come back to me.  Maybe that is part of what eternity means.

So that was Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It Should Be Like Riding A Bike: A Parenting Confessional

This is my third time parenting a preschooler so I ought to know better.  I have already experienced the remorse and shame of expecting too much of too young a kid, but somehow I tend to forget these lessons.

Porter's class was performing Christmas songs in the chapel for all the parents.  We were told they ought to wear Christmas colors.  I pulled out a red polo for him the night before, let him sleep in a little bit too long the next day, and lost all grasp on preschool reality that morning when Porter had other ideas about what to wear and eat and how quickly to get out the door.

I remember taking far too seriously what Andrew wore at this age.  It reflected on me, I thought.  I wanted him to look groomed and cared for, and he wanted to wear dirty tracksuits.  I died on hills in battles that injured him, too.  I felt so bad about this and thought I had reformed but I guess when it comes to a program with photos involved I slip back into old ways.

Porter wanted to wear his Marine Corps t-shirt.  Its red.  I deployed some reasonable tactics to dissuade him but none worked.  We were going to be late so I gave up and told him to wear whatever he wanted, I did not care, and I didn't anymore.  But I had already planted seeds of doubt:  I had told him everyone else would be dressed up, that he wouldn't look nice stuff like that.  That was ok to do, but I was mad and that made him feel upset.  We got in the car and I spent the drive scolding him for making us late (when I ought to have awakened the four year old kid earlier).  He often looks at the bright side of things, noting that "its better than being dead" about most negative consequences, and tried to do the same here ("at least we won't miss it!") but I was having none of it.  We arrived and I hurried him into the chapel where the program was well underway.  I walked him all the way up to his teachers--he was obviously nervous at this point to be late and in front of a room full of parents, but I just kind of deposited him.

As soon as I sat down with Claire I felt instant regret that I had once again taken something way too seriously.  My typically confident, joyful little crazy man looked a little stooped of shoulder and nervous as he tried to sing with his class.  He wasn't even smiling.  The whole point of all of this is that he have fun and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and I had made it about me.  All I wanted now was for him to feel good up there, to smile.  So I began acting like a different kind of crazy person, waving  my arms around and even daring to loudly whisper his name to get his attention.  I gave him big smiles and thumbs up, which he returned.  He started to look more confident and happy.

Then another little boy, just turned four and until a month ago the only child in his family, began acting a little silly.  He spotted his mom and all he wanted to do was leave the stage and sit with her.  She wanted him to remain and it turned into a big struggle ending with him crying in her arms while she told him how disappointed she was.  She was right next to me and I wanted so badly to tell her that it didn't matter but I knew I would just sound judgmental rather than so fully empathetic with her plight.  So I stayed out of it, but I wished there was a way I could tell her that we can't expect too much.  That some kids aren't ready to perform for us, that all we want for them is to find security in figuring out who they are.  That its ok if they just want to sit on the sidelines with us, so long as they are happy there.  There will be so many years and opportunities to venture further when they are ready.

Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe its good to have certain expectations in the context of public performances and also to enforce them, and maybe there are lessons kids need to learn that I am failing to see in these situations.  But for me, I know that when I am acting from a place of thinking about what others think of me or my kid or from fulfilling a personal parenting fantasy vision of what I think "ought" to be happening or what the other kids seem able to do, I am generally not going to end up handling my child well and things will probably end up in tears and frustration on both ends rather than laid-back, easy happiness.  One look at Porter's uncertainty and nervousness told me all I needed to know about what really mattered when it came to the preschool singing program.  If we were late, if Porter were wearing the slightly wrong shirt, well, at least we weren't dead.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How did it get late so soon?

How did it get late so soon?
Its night before its afternoon.
December is here before its June.
How did it get late so soon?

The first line of the above poem was the title of Will's (first ever) violin concert this evening.  It was my reward to take him while Brigham took all the other kids to Andrew's scouting event at church, so it was a relaxing and enjoyable experience for once!  As I ran across the campus to retrieve a bow from the teacher's room, something about the high 60s weather and the early darkness and the loud familiar noises of an elementary school basketball practice filled me with a strong sense of the past.  It struck me earlier today while on the phone in the backyard (to be sure not to rouse Claire from her nap) that it was so strange and surreal that the school secretary was referring to me when she said she had a "mom on the phone" asking about violin practice that day.  I am a mom and everyone else somehow thinks this is normal and natural.  But I feel just like I did when I was ten.  So tonight, walking through the schoolyard alone in that weather, with those timeless noises of elementary school basketball and the feel of the evening I had a few moments to think about how life really does just float by without us always noticing.  

Will did a great job.  It is only his second week of being involved in this violin group so he was pretty out of the loop on what he was supposed to be doing tonight but he just rolled with it in that easy way he has.  He told me tonight that he wants to learn to play the piano and drums, too.  I love his eagerness to delve into everything.    

Today Claire and Porter and I went to have lunch with some other moms from church.  Porter played so nicely with the host's toddler, chasing him and being a sweet big boy playmate to him.  Claire joined in while clutching a huge stuffed snowman and was happy and giggly so long as no one threatened her possession of the toy by looking at it.  I experience thoughts just about every day that my life here is so nice in many ways but it is hard to fully enjoy it bc my sisters and their kids are absent, as are a few of my closest friends and their kids.  The people who populated my days in Virginia.  I am not naturally inclined to spend time with other people, but I am making a goal to go out of my way to go outside of my comfort zone these days.  

Picking Andrew up from Western was another highlight.  While he was playing a dodge-ball-like game they have there, another little boy got really over-emotional and was trying to attack Andrew and other boys.  I loved watching Andrew handle himself in that situation.  He thought it was kind of funny and weird but he didn't get mad back or retaliate.  A few minutes later the kid reacted hysterically to being hit by the ball.  It was hilarious but my favorite part was that Andrew immediately recognized how funny it was and turned automatically to me to laugh together.  None of the other kids really got it or noticed, but I love that Andrew did.  He always has had a sophisticated sense of humor and I love that about him.  He mentioned that he wished he were a 5th grader so he could play school sports and I told him 5th grade would be here sooner than he knew.  It really will.    

So that was our day.    

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Like Riding a Bike

Porter has once again beaten Will to the punch in mastering a physical feat.  He can now ride a two-wheel bike.  I was raking leaves in the front yard today while Claire and Porter played in the driveway when I looked up to see Porter taking off on the bike.  He had false starts and fell a few times, but every time he got back up again wholly undaunted.  He didn't even need my help.  He was thrilled with himself.  More than being proud of him for mastering the skill, I was so proud that he kept getting back up every time he fell over.  I tried to emphasize to him that the reason he was able to learn so quickly was that he didn't give up.

Claire was pretty jealous and kept screaming "No! Mine! Bike!" variously but gave it up after a while and he claims of ownership turned to "Awesome!" after we ignored her sufficiently.

We had a picnic (or rather "picnic"--can it technically be a meal when very little is eaten?) on the playground out back.  Porter is so sweet with Claire and it occurred to me today as they were swinging side by side and smiling at each other that we will miss Porter a lot next year.  Sometimes I discount how much Claire's days will be altered by his absence since he does spend many solitary hours playing the game where he's Jack.  But I guess that happens more when I am not taking them outside.

Tonight we went as a family to Will's scouting activity at school.  We made a chocolate yule log cake together and he talked me into also making meringue mushrooms to decorate it with.  So glad I did bc they were easy and turned out awesome.  Was glad we once again won no prizes bc that meant we could bring it home.  It was a gorgeous cake and I too way too many photos of it.  All in all a fun and beautiful day.  My only thought today was that I would enjoy everything so much more if I had my family here to live life with.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

We flew back to Virginia for Thanksgiving this year. Aside from the flights themselves, the trip was wonderful. We flew out on Thursday night (arrive at midnight EST) and returned 10 days later on a 7 am Sat morning flight. During the trip we got to experience some snowfall/sleet-fall, spent lots of time with cousins and visited the zoo on a beautiful fall day and the natural history museum on a chillier one. The Friday after Thanksgiving, we braved the crowds to fulfill our yearly pilgrimage to see the Christmas trains at the Botanical Gardens. Afterwards we headed to the National Gallery of Art where we ate lunch in the Cascade Cafe for a thousand dollars and then dragged the kids away from the gift shop and through the actual exhibits. The boys actually did enjoy some of the war-oriented art and a painting depicting a young man being attacked by a shark while men in a boat attempted rescue. Apparently the painting was based on an actual event (the kid lost a leg). Claire managed to step into one of the fountain displays due to my lack of proper supervision but was pretty stoic about having a drenched leg in jegging. If it had been one of her brothers we would have needed police and ambulance assistance.

Thanksgiving itself was the typical chaotic scene of kids everywhere, parents trying to coax their young into eating, etc. I made two pies: cherry and pecan. The cherry, with its homemade crust and multi-step filling, was a labor of love and did not disappoint. The pecan was good, too, but even I preferred the cherry. Mom's butternut squash soup was delicious but we will never know how to make it since there is more butter and cream in it than she wants to admit. I also made rolls but since we had only one oven and some had to be frozen the night before and baked that day after the turkeys were out they were a bit of a disappointment to me. Katie's beast of a dog Milkshake only managed to eat one when she jumped up on the counter. Small price to pay for the reminder to keep food well out of her broad range. Brigham and I made sure to have the stuffing he loves so much and made enough to last for weeks. It probably got tossed by my carb-avoidant mom after we left. I realized not for the first time that I put way too much stock into how good the food tastes. We forgot to sing any Thanksgiving hymns until later that night (but we did it!) and I found myself thinking that someday when I had kids of my own I would dress them up as pilgrims and Indians. Yep. Maybe it'll be a grandma thing. I will be a great grandma after having practiced on my kids.

I had a few specific goals for our trip back home. I wanted to see friends, which I did; I wanted to eat with Brigham at Coastal Flats, where we both ordered the shrimp and grits; and I wanted to spend time in DC. Overall I would say I felt like we did a decent job of using the time wisely. It was hard to return back to Houston, but I felt a redoubled sense of determination to integrate myself and the kids as fully into our lives here as possible. At the wreath-decorating event the Mc2nd RS held the first Sat morning, I was reminded of how many wonderful people were all around me for so many years and it was so nice to see them again and I wished I had better taken advantage when I lived here. The same is certainly true anywhere, and I hope that it tears our hearts a bit to leave Houston someday, too. I am so grateful to the friendships I have forged over the years and am regretful about the ones I allowed to lapse a bit through inattention. It doesn't take much--a dinner once a year, even--to keep people in your life. Wish I'd figured that out a decade ago.

We arrived back in Houston at 9 am, trekked back to our house and immediately departed for our Christmas tree hunt. I am glad we chopped our trees in the past when we could bc that isn't happening here. We found a nice big one and had a lot of fun starting our Christmas season with getting it up and strung with lights. We have decorated it over intervening days but there are more ornaments and thus opportunities to capture attractive photos of the children with a real, as opposed to a phone, camera.

The one overarching feeling I had during the entire week in Virginia, though, was one of deeply noticing the absence of my dad. Something about returning after being away made me miss him even more. I think he would be really happy to know where we are all in our lives but I think he hates not being here for it. In a way I am glad that the holidays, and trips to DC or McDonalds or morning breakfasts at 7916, have all lost a bit of their savor without him because it keeps him with us a bit more.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

forget me not

Let it not be forgotten that right now

Porter calls Andrew and Will "Sugar" and "Buck" respectively, referring to their horsey names when they give him rides to bed or around the house. He corrected Will's classmates when they referred to him as "Willoughby" at dismissal, "Actually, his name is Buck." And referred to both boys again that way in a very sincere and long dinner prayer.

Porter's hair is way too long

Claire cannot be far behind Porter in weight. Now that he is closing in on 4 years old, I am feeling super motivated to pump up his weight gain. Carnation has been working well.

Will loves carefully going through his graded schoolwork when it comes home in his folder each day. We take about 10 minutes together to analyze every page and praise his achievements. He just moved on to the next level of reading books at school and is thrilled with himself. "I can't believe I am already in Stepping Stones!" Even though he is aware that he is not in the highest reading level, and he considers himself the in third place out of four kids in his reading group, he is totally pleased with his progress. As am I.

Andrew is exceedingly helpful with his younger brothers and sister, especially Claire and Porter. He relishes his role as older sibling and loves to play with Claire in rough and wild ways, which she also loves.

Claire is a thrill seeker. She loves going down slides, being thrown in the air, racing around in laundry baskets at high speed. She is sleeping through the night (mostly) in her own crib. Her routine involves patting her on the back and bum (bongo-style) while singing Frare Jacque. When I mistook her loud breathing for sleep-breathing tonight and stopping singing, she let out a disgruntled "Ugh!" to cue me to resume.

Andrew stays up late, sometimes until 9:45, to talk to me and Brigham. It is so nice to just chat with him over a bowl of ice cream that I don't mind the late hour. He always gets up in the morning on his own and gets totally ready, even if no one else is moving yet.

The boys are obsessed with listening to Top 40 radio. I have checked out some fun books on CD for them, but Porter hates them since they are geared towards older kids and I often cave to the demands for 94.7 FM. I kind of hate that.

Porter continues to have no fear. On Wed during Will's violin lessons at the school, Porter and Andrew passed the time sledding a very steep and windy slope. Porter rode that hill further even than Andrew and looked expert. They had a wonderful time and Claire and I probably had as much fun standing at the huge windows with a few other students watching the boys ride. We all, and I mean *all*, Claire included, laughed many times as the boys crashed or flipped or just the hilarity of Porter's grace. I loved that even the older students knew Porter's name. The smallness of that school really is special.

I think about my dad every day and dream about him every night. I try to not let thoughts that I will not see him again in this life enter into my brain. I think I am still in the stage of letting myself think he is just gone for a while. I can't bear to think that his physical body is in that grave in Quantico. I hate that thought.

I have spent most of this awful, long winter dreaming of our Florida trip. Then I have thoughts that we will all be killed in some horrific car accident on the way to or from our vacation and that all my longing for that week will be drenched in irony. I am pretty sure I am using irony in a very Alanis Morrisette manner, but you get my drift.

Claire is proving to be the easiest baby of the four. She is also entering a jealous stage. She does not like me to hold anyone else. I am crediting her with a vocabulary of 3 words: "Hi!" (first); "Bye!" (second); and "NNNNNNoo!" (third and most common). She doesn't say Hi and Bye much lately, but will wave excitedly (and kick her legs and bounce around) when I tell her to say hi or bye. She says NO! when she wants something I haven't moved fast enough to give to her / shove in her mouth. It is usually about food.

I am perpetually cleaning up and am usually annoyed by the toy and kid clutter, but its only for a little while. Andrew turning 9 at his next birthday is hitting home to me how quickly it is just over with kids. The days are so full and hectic and exhausting, but there just aren't enough of them. I want us to always remember what used to be normal.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The End

The kids keep doing and saying so many cute and funny things and I find them slipping between my fingers because I am failing to record them and they end up scattered and lost. I hate that. So even though my blog has been a source of pain for me, I am returning to it as a place to paste down our memories before they blow away.

October was obviously hard. But both the boys had birthdays that month. I let myself off the hook from throwing them a party with friends--we had cake and presents as a family, at least. But I find myself in awe of just how big and old they are now. Andrew is 8. Will is 6. And here in mid-Feb they are creeping up on being halfway to 9 and 7. Life has changed so much so quickly. It is all such a cliche until it happens to you.

I remember when I turned 7 I cried because my little A.A. Milne book Now We Are Six no longer applied to me. Now it makes me sad because it almost doesn't apply to half my kids.

Will, at 6, is extremely sweet and sassy. For this first time, I am able to get a more objective sense of him as a person. I was surprised this year at how extroverted he was at school, how social and happy and bubbly. As a much younger guy, and as a baby, he was so much more mellow and serious than Andrew, but I am realizing now that that was probably largely due to just being younger, a follower to his older brother's leadership. He's tough, too. He is laid-back about most things, pleasant and easy to be around. If he didn't have any issues at meal time, he would be my easiest child right now.

Andrew surprised me this year with how difficult an adjustment he had to Spring Hill. He was overwhelmed by the large size of the school and class. He didn't like how noisy it was; he rarely spoke in class. On the other hand, he made a lot of friends and was very successful socially. I was way off in my predictions. I was concerned that he could possibly be a discipline problem at school, when he was (thankfully) the opposite. But his reluctance to speak during class time worried his teachers and basically amounted to nonparticipation.

Andrew and I struggle when he does not want to do something that simply must be done (swim team practice, homework, chores), but he also has a sensitivity to him that is constantly catching me off guard. I was unloading dishes from the dishwasher last week--the week from hell when Brigham was out of town and I had a stomach bug. I was holding Claire on my hip and he knew I was sick. "Oh Mom, no! I hate to see you doing that! I will do it!" even though it was Will's job that week. He jumped up from his ice cream and took over the work. I realize that I often fail to give him credit for how remarkable and tender he is. It is like I expect all of that and am irritated when he falls short instead of the other way around. He is such a charming little guy, and I am sad to see a bigger boy emerging in his little face. 8 is young, but 10 is just around the corner. He has already left behind those really early stages of childhood and it breaks my heart to dwell on that thought for long because I feel that I didn't quite soak it up and treasure it as I ought to have. I was just so busy.

Those days when it was just him and me don't feel so long ago at moments like this when I am sitting alone and remembering them. I guess this is what life is.

So, as one dad, now gone, wrote long ago about a boy, also long since passed away, this is for my little guys tonight.

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

If only they could be.