Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Favorite Resolution Ever

Can "have more fun" be a New Year's resolution? I sure hope so because it's what I'm picking. This year I am going to put on the record player to dance more often. And I'm going to say yes to parties, cookouts, and get togethers. I'm going to plan camping trips and hotel getaways. I'm going to swim with the kids more often than I stand on the shore.
I always enjoy the years I have babies more than the years that I incubate them, so I'm pretty optimistic that I can make it happen. The only problem could be that Tom claims his resolution is to have a year of "vigorous self-denial," so that could make for some conflict. 

Happiest New Year. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sometimes It Just Doesn't

Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Even though you may have really, really wanted to be a super together mom eight months pregnant with three kids who can effortlessly meet her friend in the city for a museum trip, sometimes your kids don't show off that well. Sometimes the whole reason (Spark Lab!) for picking that particular museum (National Museum of American History) is closed for renovation and you're stuck in a museum that your seven year old son has absolutely no interest in. And sometimes the museum is pretty crowded because it's holiday season and your two year old vacillates from wanting to run through exhibits and wanting to be held so he can keep his hand shoved down your top. And even though your daughter does love the museum, you accidentally focus on the fact that your older son is moping and isn't finding anything to get excited about. You know he's disappointed, but you want him to rally. You want him to find a silver lining, to be a sport, but he's bored and claims his stomach hurts, but you don't believe him. And sometimes when you finally think that maybe everything will settle down for a few moments, and you'll sip a coffee with your friend who is in town from England, all the way from England, you forget to order the youngest his own ice cream. But luckily your mopey, sulking older boy volunteers to give his up and get in line to get himself a new one. For a brief moment you think it's going to be okay after all. He may have whined and fussed, but at least he's sweet and generous. But sometimes, a few moments later he comes back on  the verge of tears, ignored by the cashiers, and your sweet friend tries to help him out and when he finally gets to place his order, he finds out the ice cream is out now, and he just can't take it anymore. So you promise a hot dog from the truck parked outside. And you fight the toddler into his coat as he screams ow, and you feel completely incompetent. Sometimes when you finally make it outside, you discover the hot dog truck is gone, and you fear that your son's tears will freeze on his cheeks, and your friend no longer trusts that you can make it to your car without assistance, and sometimes she is right, and you walk around for an extra block or two trying to find the entrance to the parking garage. And when you finally hug her goodbye, you feel so defeated and a little ashamed of yourself because you know that it wasn't really any one's fault but your own. Your kids weren't that bad, and your friend was completely and totally generous. You just want to appear to a few steps closer to perfect than you will ever be, and you wanted your children to be less like actual children and more like well-trained, but still adorably quirky robots. But you aren't and they aren't, and sometimes you go home wishing for a do over.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

This Weekend We

This weekend I wanted to go somewhere, do something. Something spontaneous and fun. I was feeling restless and in need of a change of scenery. But the rest of my people wanted to stay put. Tom wanted to finish projects and the kids just wanted to sit around enjoying their holiday spoils, so my dreams of a mini road trip were dashed, and we stayed in our neck of the bay.

(1) A study in blue.
(2) Sena training hopes of one day beating her brother.
(3) Beach exploring.
(4) The hunter and the hobbit princess.
(5) Ditch diggers.
(6) Asserting his independence. Chased by mother hen.
(7) A very scary end to our Christmas tree.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Family of Five

Since Arlo has been on the scene, we have only managed to get a grand total of two photographs with all five of us (first one, second one). Until yesterday, when we managed to snag a third.

Sena with her torn tights. An uncooperative Arlo. Gus on the move. Christmas Day 2014.

Tom got me a remote for my camera, so who knows? Maybe these family photos will become a more regular thing, although it won't be long until we're trying to wrangle a sixth person in the picture. 

Now off to find spots to store newly acquired things, break down cardboard boxes, dog ear pages in my new cookbook, and maybe play with some oils my sister gave me. Marry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Grumpiest Boy

He's not the easiest baby in the world.

For a while I might have thought that he was, but I think that I had forgotten that, generally, infants are pretty easy.

He is melodramatic. He throws his adorable hands in front of his adorable face and bows his head and manages to strike a pose of absolute despair. When he walks with his head bowed over, it is equal parts pathetic and hilarious.

He wants to be carried most of the time.  He is very big, and I am increasingly bigger myself, and I just don't want to. But he has no regard for my feelings. He just wants his mama. He also wants her at around four o'clock every morning. I had promised myself that I would work on sleep training him over Christmas Break, but then he was sick, and I didn't have the heart. But tonight might be the night. In a few short months he will have a little sister, and there are a few things that need to happen before her arrival, most importantly, for Arlo to stay in his bed.

Even in his grumpiest, most distraught moment, he can usually be ployed with the promise of a bath. And he will play in the water until it gets cold, identifying the octopus and the penguin, the snake and the dinosaurs. The way he says each word makes me remember why I carry him when I know I should make him walk. Why I let him crawl into bed when I know I should make him sleep in his own.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Darkest Day

When we moved to Chesapeake Beach when I was ten years old, Mr. Bob lived on our street.

Mr. Bob drank Natty Bo every day starting at 5 pm. He always had to leave out of whichever door he had come in. He liked to fix old clocks, and he was a top notch couponer. He was a ball turret gunner in WWII, and he bought me my very first piece of furniture to refinish.   Once he made me a spaghetti sandwich with tofu cheese.  He let me and my sisters swim off his pier to our hearts' content, and he was the nicest old man I had ever met.

When the autumn started to get dark and cold, he started counting down the days. 22 days. 16 days. 4 days until winter solstice. He taught me that solstice represented hope. The solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year, marked the day that things start getting lighter, brighter, longer, better.

The darkest day is the turning point.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Tree Tales

Last year, our first year in our new house, I thought I wanted to switch up our Christmas tree. I thought wanted something less colorful. Something with lots more white, with pine cones maybe. Our tree suddenly seemed garish to me in our new space, a little tacky or kitschy.  But the kids would have none of it. And besides, I didn't have the money to switch it up anyway.

By the time we were trimming it last Thanksgiving, I realized the error in my thinking. Christmas trees, like most things in life, should serve a greater purpose than being a fashion statement.

I distinctly remember gathering the things for our very first Christmas tree. Sena was nine months old, and I had saved a hundred dollar gift certificate to Pier 1 my aunt had given me for my wedding. With Sena in the sling, we ventured out on our own, which didn't happen very often. I usually did everything with my mom, then as now. But my mom had just bought a house in North Carolina, and she was busy doing all the things that are involved in buying (and most importantly, decorating) real estate.  Anyhow, Sena and I went shopping and made what felt like very important design decisions, just the two of us.

I was really proud of myself. I was proud of the pink and turquoise ribbon and the brass star. I was proud of all the bright wood and felt ornaments, proud of the glass bulbs I later found at K-Mart. I was 20 years old, and it felt like the most adult thing I had ever done, and I had done it without second guessing myself.

None of this is particularly significant, but you couldn't have convinced me of that at the time. I was setting the tone for my family's future holidays.

Every year, each of the kids gets an ornament to add to the tree. Buying those ornaments might be the part of Christmas shopping that I put the most thought into. The year we went to Paris, that's where Sena's ornament came from. Gus got a carved shark back when every book we read was about those scary, beautiful beasts of the sea. I'd be lying if I pretened that I didn't try to find ornaments that fit with the style of our tree. The tone I set that first Christmas stays with us. The tree tells our story, and our story is important to me. Tradition is important to me, more important to me than creative change.

So our tree remains bright and full of jewel tones and memories. It might not be the tree I would pick now if I was starting fresh. But that's the moral of the story. I'm not. I already have a half written story, and there is no need to change it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Weekend We / Back at the Farm

I think that the best testament to a good weekend is the absence of dread on a Sunday evening. I am a working mom, which is a term I have a hard time with for lots of reasons, but maybe chief among them is that I have so much help from my parents that sometimes it feels like I have unfairly appropriated that title from women who face much greater challenges than I do. That aside, unlike non-homeschooling, stay at home moms, Mondays mean that I have less time rather than more. Mondays mean that progress stops on most fronts, and that I have to enter survival mode. Do enough laundry that Tom has clean socks for work. Make dinner and do the dishes, but ignore that the refrigerator needs cleaned. Wipe off the bathroom counters, but don't bother trying to scrub the tub.

After the most fun weekends, I feel ill prepared to face the week ahead. After the most productive weekends, I feel disappointed about the lack of fun had.

However, after this weekend, I felt pretty content with the state of it all. Part of the secret is discovering that one of my very favorite ways to spend a Friday night is at my sister's house. It feels like I have done something without actually doing much of anything. When I crash their house with my entire brood, they make us dinner AND breakfast. They entertain the kids with midnight chicken visits, and since it's family, I don't even have to be too embarrassed when my two year old freaks out for an hour and a half because he wants to "go home." Plus, she has the nicest guest rooms in all the land. One of these days I'll get around to doing some sort of house tour because their house is cute, really cute.
The weekend also managed to involve an all grown-ups city dinner, lots of True Detetictive, and p
lenty of cuddles from another one of the common cold's victims. Now all I have to do is get through a few more days of work before two full weeks of every sort of good thing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Home Scenes

I think about house projects so much lately-- what corner I want to attack next, what needs painted, what needs cleaned, where to move things around. I suppose it's a nesting instinct, but despite the fact that this is my fourth baby, it's the first time this bug has bit.

What has plagued me in pregnancies past is a wave of anti-social tendencies coupled with a sadness over my lack of social engagements. It's a strange and confusing combination of forces. Basically, I don't particularly want to make plans. What I want to do is burrow into my hole and think about all the ways I can make said hole cozier and cuter.  But then it occurs to me that I'm not seeing my friends, and I worry that maybe, somehow, I managed to lose all my friends. I convince myself that this pregnancy completely and profoundly changed my basic personality, and I am no longer a raving extrovert. I worry that I have become family-centric homebody who still possesses a great deal of fear of missing out.

However, I have been down this anti-social path. I have crossed this introverted bridge. I am certain that in a few months, long as those months may seem, I will suddenly remember that I like going places on weekends. I will simultaneously forget all the little tasks I had hoped to accomplish around the house, I will be back to the non-baby bearing me, a woman who is less productive, but quite frankly, more fun.

This weekend we have plans, and I am equal parts excited and prematurely exhausted. 

The first winter cold has found its first victim. Gus coughs and complains, and I let the clean dishes from last night's birthday dinner remain on the counter so that I can sit with him and watch a movie in the waning afternoon sunlight. I reheat leftovers and send Tom and Sena to the library for provisions for a storm that exists only in my imagination. A few flurries this afternoon leaves me wanting a real storm,  an unexpected day off with my kids by my side, books and DVD's piled by our side. 

However, I do want to go to all the places and see all the people- a sleepover at my sister's farm on Friday and a night out sans kids on Saturday.  But still, the thought of sleeping in overwhelms me. Sometimes when I start to feel deprived of sleep, I start to pick off plans one by one, so that I can fall asleep early, stay asleep late. However, the busy weekend leads into the last week of school before a two week break, so imaginary storm or not, there is rest in my future, or so I tell myself. And there will be time for the projects that dance through my head like sugar plum fairies. And if there isn't time, it's because they just weren't that important. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Arlo Almost Two

Tomorrow Arlo will be two years old.

Like me, Arlo is the third child. From the start, that small, insignificant detail made him feel just a little more mine, as though our birth order gave us just a little extra in common.

He came when I was older and a little more prepared. I had learned that it would happen quickly, this thing called childhood, so I had better savor it.

He's my buddy, at my side while the big guys are off on their own adventures. I'm certain I spent just as much tickling Sena and Gus when they were Arlo's age. Just as much time shucking their chins, hiding under blankets, smelling their little toes and declaring "pee yew." But right now it is Arlo's time to engage in these small joys, and I think that this time around, I might get even more pleasure from them.

He has been a mama's boy from the start, and for better or worse, I've encouraged it. He is who needs me most, who wants me most. He is my shadow. He beams when I walk in from work, cries when I leave. He seeks me in the middle of the night, wanting to lay in the crook of my arm.

In a few short months, my time will be divided. I'll struggle with how to put him to sleep while an infant demands me. I know how big he will seem the moment I return with a little bug in my arms. It won't be much longer after that when he starts to seek independence over cuddles. When he no longer needs me the most, no longer wants me the most.

But for now, we can be each other's best friend and play while the big kids run off without us.

I spent a few too many hours over the past few days looking back.  The joy and torment of nostalgia.

The most painfully nostalgic thing I may have ever written. 

Arlo at one month

A smiling lump. 

Arlo at two months. 

Arlo's first summer.

Arlo's Birthday Brunch.

Arlo's Firsts. 

Arlo and Felix.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Weekend We / Memory Garden

For a few moments on Saturday night, the house was quiet. Tom had already taken off with the kids before book club began, and the tribe of women had not yet shown up. And I carefully and quietly lit candles and enjoyed the few moments of silence, a rare and lovely sound.  And the house was clean and the beef bourguignon that I had painstakingly made following each and every one of Julia's directions simmered in the kitchen.

A few more moments and friends filled the space and we replaced the silence with conversations about education and about transgender identity and about the ethics of eating meat. And as expected, we talked about the book, Memory Garden, because we take pride in being a book club that actually discusses the book.  Eventually the talk moved to childbirth and fertility, as it always seems to on these evenings, which only makes sense since there always seems to be a new baby and at least one more on the way. I guess this is what it means to be in your thirties?

When there are so many conversations-- huddled in the kitchen, gathered around the coffee table, tucked into the dining room corner-- it's hard to grab the camera and remember to capture the women whose company I so value. They may have teased me for the lack of friends that don the photo magnets that cover my fridge, still I talked rather that click.

The rest of the weekend included eating lots of leftovers and some sister induced inertia. Nothing saps my motivation like a few sisters next door who happen to be doing gloriously little with their morning or evening.

It's back to work for two more weeks before Christmas break. So far my December blues have been held at bay. In fact, I'm actually feeling downright cheery from time to time. Oh the power of faking ittill you make it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Character Development

In movies and books, character always trumps plot. I am far more concerned with who is doing something than I am with what is being done.

I grew up in a family of six children: one boy, five girls. From the outside, I am sure that we were frequently understood as a unit rather than a set of six individuals. But within our band, we knew who we were. We knew who was the firey one. The sweet one. We knew who was the quietest and who was the loudest. The bossy one. The most independent. Trying to explain each personality was a part of early friendships, the sort of thing you spend hours discussing with a boy you have a crush on while staring out at the dark water.

I felt like you couldn't know me without knowing them. And knowing about them collectively is not enough. You needed to know them as individuals.

As I write my children's story here, I hope that readers understand them as individuals too. It's easy for Sena to just be the girl. For Gus to be the boy. For Arlo to be the baby. But each of them is so much more. 

Sena is shy and bossy. Worried about breaking rules, but never worried about "fitting in."

On Sunday a girl at church, the same girl who teased Gus because of his long hair, made fun of the turban Sena was wearing. Sena just told her, "We have different styles. You're more a preppy style. I'm more of an artsy, weird style."

Gus is serious and charming. He is the sweetest of my children, the one most likely to offer a hug when he thinks someone needs it. He will tell me I look pretty out of nowhere, and suddenly, I feel pretty because Gus is above all things honest.

For the first year of Arlo's life we sang the praise to his mellowness. He adapted easily to situations, rarely complaining. As he has gotten older, he is more likely to let his displeasure be known, most often by furrowing his brow. He will sit quietly for long stretches playing with plastic dinosaurs or Sena's dolls. However, he would much rather be running after his older siblings around the center of the house, laughing and squealing, "Come on guys!"

Other attempts at explaining them: My Tribe  and Likes/ Dislikes

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This Weekend We / Christmas Intentions

This year will be slow when we need it to be, full of excitement when that's what we want. It will be defined by thoughtful  moments.

Tomorrow we might string popcorn. Yesterday Sena and I made wreaths. We might make wrapping paper or bake ginger bread, drink hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon or watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for the very first time.  I almost made a list of things I wanted to do this holiday season, and then decided against it. Lists just beg to be checked off, and I don't want the pressure of things left undone. Whatever we do, it will be intentional.

Arlo is doing his best to get into the spirit. He sings "Jingle bells, hey!" with vigor and enthusiasm. Even his walk seems more joyful these past few days. He enjoys playing with the Christmas ornaments we have left in his reach, things made out of wood or felt.

On Saturday night we finally drove down to Flat Iron Farm's in St. Mary's County. I've been meaning to do it for at least a half dozen years. And although the pictures don't accurately convey the Christmas cheer, it was there all right. We paid for over-priced pony rides, took silly pictures, hung out with some baby goats.  We bought old fashioned candies and fried apple pies. The hour long car ride would not have seemed worth it if the kids hadn't been so damned pleased with it all. But they were, so it was. On the way home, we dodged deer and stopped for pizza.  It was the sort of night that is what I want from this December.