My First Four

We celebrated my oldest son’s fourth birthday today. By we, I mean him and I and more than a dozen of his friends, because his little brother is still recovering from a stomach bug and his dad agreed to stay home with him.

What I mean is, I have been a mother for (pretty much) four years. It’s hardly enough to count as “experienced,” but when I look back at that New Mom me, I know I’ve come a long way. I know what to do when my kid pukes in the car. I know that this birthday experience was just one trial in the long, unproctored and ungraded test of parenthood. I know that there really isn’t one book out there that has all the correct answers for any one parent.

As his birth date approaches, I feel stuck as to what to say.

I want to brag about him – he really is amazing! – but I’m finally feeling the crush of the unspoken pressure of social media, the one that’s annoyed by bragging mums. (Probably especially by me. This kid is seriously great. He’s been mountain biking! He can recognize all the numbers up to 100! He can count by twos and build LEGO stuff meant for kids 6-12 years old BY HIMSELF! Did I mention he’s turning four?)(<-See?)

I’m feeling the strain to recover my voice. Where have I been? Who wants to hear? Is this writer’s block? But am I legitimately a writer?

I’m feeling the guilt of being an insufficient mother to this beautiful child. There’s also the gut-curdling vulnerability of admitting it and confessing that, way more than I’d like to admit, I’m far from the calm, connected and patient mother that he deserves.

Then there’s shame of being judged for not being upbeat, or funny, or helpful in putting this out there. It rides next to the shame of being so uncomfortable in large group settings – like today’s party – where I find authenticity to be really difficult and miss opportunities to connect with people who I really find interesting.

P.S. My big little guy is turning FOUR! Wha? How? When did this happen?

Does anyone else get this?

I am looking forward to a proper intimate family birthday celebration later this week. I’m eager to overcome this pesky writer’s block; that bugger Self-Doubt plagues bloggers everywhere once in a while, talking us into keeping quiet so we don’t run the risk of, perhaps, embarrassing ourselves.

ANYhow. Four years in and I’m feeling comfortable but uncomfortable enough to cringe when other moms tell me they don’t remember adults’ names, but they remember to which kid you belong. Whether this is good or bad for me may depend on the context of my husband’s military career. It’s fun for the kids here, now… but we’ll have our next orders by the end of spring. Will they mean starting over from scratch? Again?

To my son I promise that the post on his actual birthday won’t be about me. As transformative as motherhood has been, he deserves to be celebrated for being just who he is. Because he really is the greatest.

If you have tips for maintaining your identity while raising small children, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

100 Years

This weekend we drove to Indiana to celebrate my great-grandma’s 100th birthday! My sons are her only great-great grandsons and, thankfully, my husband is wholly on board the nostalgia train (and willing to drive ridiculous distances at a time).

I tracked down a childhood friend of mine to take photos of family at the party. She laughed that we all were introducing ourselves to each other. There were cousins I haven’t seen in 30 years, others I haven’t seen since my wedding (nearly 10 years ago!). Babies that turned into grown-ups and then had their own babies. There were, of course, several instances of mistaken identities (as will happen among a multi-generational group of family-strangers with similar features). To have such a joyous occasion to bring us all together is such a blessing (and I really don’t talk like that).

[After reviewing everyone's (terrible) phone photos after the event, I'm so glad to have had a professional on hand. I can't wait to see the shots!]

I’ve struggled with what to say in this post. It’s important to me to acknowledge the occasion – my great grandmother has lived 100 years, for crying out loud! My sister and I spent many hours at her house, eating Nilla Wafers, playing with a plastic ball in the yard of her post-war home. Funny the things that stand out in memory; she remembered the wooden cutout of a bent-over lady’s bloomers in the flower bed and I remembered the “I said ‘SIT’!” print featuring and elephant, a man and a pile of shit hanging in her bathroom. Also, something about strawberry lip balm in a strawberry-shaped case.

The truth is, I’m ashamed that I don’t know her better. That my memories feel so trivial. I’ve never asked her about her dreams. I haven’t asked about her favorite moment of the past century, or what is the best part of living for 100 years. I don’t know her love stories or heartbreaks. Where was she when she learned that JFK was shot?

As we drove back through Indianapolis, I spotted an ad agency where I nearly landed a job just out of college. I flashed back to the phone call: the woman who had interviewed me seemed to fight back tears to tell me that after a lengthy discussion, the agency decided to hire someone else. So then I found something in my home town, met my husband, applied to grad school… it was a moment that sealed the course of my future.

Did she have a moment like that?

I was so delighted to see her wearing a sparkling Happy Birthday tiara, a purple sweatshirt with “100″ in rhinestones and the same purple-with-silver-glitter nail polish combo that broke the ice with one of my best friends in high school. Perhaps my memories of the silly things are how I remember her sense of humor.

And isn’t it truly wonderful that I can now go write her a letter and ask her myself? What would you ask someone who has lived for a century?

Dream Field Farms

Fact: I farmed pumpkins in high school.

Other fact: I haven’t visited a proper pumpkin patch since. (Nice try, though, England.)

The preschool’s fall festival got us into the festive fall spirit, tricking us into believing it’s the middle of October despite highs around 80. So, off to a pumpkin patch we went!

Dream Field Farms is far from the pumpkin patch at my childhood home. It’s The Best Place On Earth To Play EVER If You’re Three Feet Tall.

Corn Bath

Bertie was. not. having it. Not any of it. Not the corn bath, not the bounce house, not the play tubes. Until we found the rubber duck races. That boy played gleefully in the trough and running water for 20 minutes. (That blissful 20 minutes that I didn’t have to hold him.)

at the trough

Walden of course ran into one of his friends from school and proceeded to play himself into oblivion. Inflatables, pedal tractors, hay maze…the boy would have stayed all day.

DSC_7642

The actual pumpkin patch is accessible via a ride on a hay rack pulled by a tractor. We’re pretty sure we picked the best pumpkins. You’ll just have to believe me because we didn’t get any pictures in the patch. This was the best the boys could muster after roasting in the sun for 3 hours and well past the wee one’s nap time.

The Guys

It was a wonderful day out as a family. If you’re in the area and considering it, just go. Well, read the directions on the website and then go. Google Maps can’t always be trusted!

PS – Check out how much Walden has grown since our last pumpkin “patch” here.

Dreaming of the Emerald Coast

This weekend the boys and I crashed my dad and stepmom’s vacation on Florida’s Emerald Coast. A three hour car ride through southern Alabama to Destin seemed like a small price to pay for this:

Miramar Beach

Sugary, soft white sand reflects the sun so that the Gulf is a beautiful combination of aquamarine and blue and sea green. The water is so clear that the waves look like glass just before they break. And, bonus!, the waves are generally gentle and warm. It’s a perfect beach recipe for tiny people (and their parents).

Emerald Coast

Both boys loved standing in the waves as much as digging in the sand where the tide lapped the edge of the beach. Walden was thrilled to discover the joy of bobbing in the waves just past the break. Thankfully the water was shallow for quite a way, so we felt adventurous but actually quite safe.

Boys in Sand

We rescued a beached flying fish, fed cracker crumbs to sea gulls and experimented with wet sand and waves. It was a perfect quick getaway, and I’m sure we’ll get back to the Emerald Coast again.

Are there any remarkably beautiful places to visit near where you live? I’d love to hear about them!

~Picking Up ~ Mixed Media

I have been really into feeling empowered lately. Feeling capable is a kind of high I enjoy, particularly because its goodness doesn’t expire like that buzz from the last of that bottle of wine. Confidently taking action feels better than wondering why things don’t just simply change. Mostly because the answer, “They just won’t,” is useless.

The actions I am taking seem small on their own: exercising, finally buying frames for prints to hang on our walls, cutting back on booze, tagging everything in that extra room for a garage sale, letting my husband file down my (new, eek!) bike frame so I can attach the trailer. They’re little tweaks that are shifting me away from the way things have always been.

I’m choosing to fill myself with positive messages and inspiring stories to keep the momentum. So, I present (again): Mixed Media, the formerly semi-regular posting of the media I’m consuming that I really, really like. You know, now that I have time to do stuff like that.

Books

I love reading books. Actual books, with pages in my hands. My bedside pile of books was starting to look a bit tall, so I decided to tackle it. (Never mind that I’ve joined a very fun book club, too.)

Dinner with the Smileys and Wild

“Dinner With the Smileys” by Sara Smiley, a memoir of the author’s experience inviting a guest to have dinner with her and her sons each week of her husband’s one year deployment with the Navy. It’s possible I could be in her shoes one day. I’ll remember this when the time comes. In the mean time, I’m inspired by the idea of hosting dinner guests as a way to teach our sons about belonging to a community. Perhaps I might at last finally consider myself grown-up enough to do this?

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, another memoir, of Strayed’s experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone after the loss of her mother. It’s beautiful, at once heartbreaking and uplifting, and now my favorite book. I think I’m permanently altered by it.

Hahn-Gilbert

“The Nazi Officer’s Wife” by Edith Hahn, retells the author’s experience of survival as an educated Jewish woman in Vienna during the Holocaust. My words can’t bring it justice; it’s simply a must-read for understanding the preciousness of life and of peace. It makes clear the good fortune we bear in being alive in a time and place without war (on our soil, at least) as well as the desperate misfortune of those who currently live in war zones.

Now “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert is at the top of the stack. I saw the movie with some friends and kind of hated it, but I gained the book at a swap so I’ll give it a second chance. The books are always better anyway.

TV

I don’t really watch TV on a regular basis. I much prefer to binge on entire seasons of shows on Netflix. Thank you, America, for Parks and Recreation! You have to watch this clip. (It IS Amy Poehler’s birthday today, after all. Have you checked out her Smart Girls, too?)

Music

Years ago I discovered that turning off NPR and cranking up pop music from time to time makes me a little bit happy. OK, a lot bit happier than hearing about the Ebola outbreak. These are the songs that make me smile biggest of all right now.

What are you reading, watching or listening to that makes you feel pretty awesome right now?

Throwback

I’m the worst at picking up on memes. By the time I think of participating, it’s because my mom’s friends are doing it, and then I know it’s probably long past its prime.

Anyway. It’s a #tbt kind of day.

Doggies

The ACSC book club kicked off last night. It was hosted by a beautiful woman who lived in a beautiful home, both of which reminded me of our glory days back in Omaha, in Dundee in our 20′s. One of her dogs reminded me of one of our dogs who is now happily homed with family in Minnesota. It was a mini-fling with the life we had before kids. I loved it.

Back Home in Indiana

And then… I met another woman who has actually been to a fourth of July fireworks show in Fowler, Indiana. It’s a town with a population of 2,000, people. This is a big deal. Have you even heard of Fowler, Indiana? Right.

Bahamas

And THEN… one of my best friends had a case of Bounty chocolate bars delivered to my doorstep. She remembered that I fell in love with these long ago, either on a trip to the Bahamas or Guatemala, well, probably the Bahamas, doesn’t matter which because now I’m nostalgic for both.

You guys, life is crazy good. Enjoy.

 

 

Englishican

I can’t help but mumble “Sorry” when I’m inconveniencing someone in any way, say, by entering their peripheral view at the grocery store. If you hold the door for me, I’ll probably say “sorry” and “thank you.” It became such a habit, uttering “sorry” upon any human contact, after three years in England. At least the east of England was filled with deferentially polite people who offered up a “sorry” for such offenses as selecting an item from a shelf next to where you are looking to see if the bread expires tomorrow. The nerve.

My Americanized version is said with a smile. It most certainly makes me look like a dope.

“Lovely” is another word I’ve brought home. I reserve it for legit complimentary purposes, i.e. “That sunset is lovely!” (because it IS.) I do not miss it as a stand in for “thank you,” as is the case when you hand a cashier any amount of money to pay. A £20 note for a £2 LEGO figurine? “Lovely.” Exact change? “Lovely.” Always with the same tone, mind you.

My Americanized version is said with an inflection that only us emotionally reckless Yanks can muster.

“Bits.” Walden likes to point out this bit or that. He also doesn’t like for us to get “cross.” His trash goes into a “bin.”

Alas, he does not call me “Mummy.”

From time to time I ask myself if I’m driving on the right side of the road, as in the RIGHT side, which is the correct side here. I always am when I do.

It won’t be long before our time in England becomes simply a place in the photo books that I’m going to make one day. The morning tea habit may stick, but I have a feeling the lingo will be gone in no time. That may just be the result of generally having no idea what they were saying most of the time anyway.

That Time We Visited Versailles

Palace of Versailles

We visited Paris on our honeymoon nine years ago. In our two days there, we explored the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, ate lobster and creme brulee with champagne at midnight in the rain and watched Tour de France racers ride up and down Champs-Elysees for hours.

I have since wished that we’d had time to visit the luxurious palace of Versailles, in case we never had a chance to return. Our family road trip this spring seemed like a fine time to check that box, especially given that it was on our way out of Paris to Normandy. I pre-booked and printed tickets in England before our trip.

We stayed in a somewhat-finished, budget rental in a southern suburb during our time in Paris (I suppose our fees helped cover refinishing the bare concrete spiral staircase; thanks anyway, AirBnB). We ate our first family meal at a Hippopotamus in a run-down shopping mall food court. Visiting one of the world’s finest palaces seemed like the perfect way to put some sparkle on our otherwise lackluster stay.

Under the Hood

We bounced and bumbled our 1998 4Runner over the cobbled stones of the parking lot. We all exited the vehicle into the mist and… the car horn started blaring. Nonstop. Thankfully my husband had the sense to remove the fuse. Perhaps we should have taken it as a warning?

Waiting in Versailles

The line at the entrance was huge. A kind employee saw us holding our little guy and told us we could skip to the front of the line with a baby. The gate attendant was a bit miffed that our guy was actually a toddler, but they let us in anyway. Thank goodness! We had walked all the way up there and had no interest in retreating to the back of the line.

We knew the audio tour would be pointless with the kids to chase around, so we skipped that line to get to business. Then we kept our tinies from wriggling out of our arms or getting stepped on or screaming too very loudly as we pushed our way through the crowds in bedrooms and halls of the very beautiful palace. Pictures were NOT to be had that day.

Just a note: metal frame carriers and strollers aren’t permitted. It’s just too hot of a spot and there are too many tourists. We tried carrying Bertie in the Beco Gemini, but he was not at all interested. Defiant, I might say. I bought some Ladurée macarons to feel better about it.

Versailles Gardens

We took off to the gardens. Beautiful, lovely, yes, SO big…then Walden had to pee. Then everyone was hungry and we grabbed a baguette with cheese from the snack bar next to the restaurant next to the toilets and then the drizzle came and we decided we’d had enough. It was time to go to Normandy.

In short: Versailles is lovely! I think. Wish I could have seen more.

Up for Air

Gah! Has it really been 2 weeks since my last post?! It seems our new routine doesn’t facilitate blogging. Perhaps we’ll get there? For now, another one of those all-over-the-place-what’s-going-on posts.

Splash Pad

Walden has started Montessori preschool and loves it. I also love it, because it makes him happy and because it’s 3 hours of each day that I have in relative peace. At least, Bertie is pretty content to do whatever at that time of day. He can be a great shopping companion and is capable of entertaining himself for a bit while I accomplish things. Walden is in this brilliant stage where he’s figuring out letters/words/language. He can read a few words. He can write a few words. He loves playing “what starts with the letter…” games. But, FOR THE LOVE, the child cannot go three seconds without some kind of conversation, and usually that conversation starts with, “MOM!”

Mama's Love

Also, Bertie is 18 months old right now. I started a tribute post but couldn’t get photos in order before his nose turned into a snot faucet. He does this super-cute hands-out “ehahEWWW?” (“where are you?”) thing. He still barely eats anything but toast.

My 34th birthday was last week. I was surprised with an amazingly delicious Publix cake with fudge frosting. It was meant to be shared with my husband’s flight, but… we were surprised with the arrival of our household goods well before we expected them: on my birthday! It meant we missed the flight’s icebreaker social, but I’d kinda rather have a proper bed to sleep in and meet them another day.

I got a beauty of a new bike for my birthday, too. I ride it to the pool behind Walden on his big boy bike and my husband, who pulls Bertie in a bike trailer. Riding home with my suit dripping through my clothes makes me feel like a teenager. It’s great.

Morning

About that routine. It’s great to have one. We alternate days for being home with the kids while the other works out. I like morning walks, and I’m still getting a handle on the schedule for showering/dressing/eating/getting out the door. We’re thinking of throwing toddler swim lessons in the mix next month. Maybe a preschool soccer skills camp. I think I’ll find myself feeling jealous of my husband for having legit, mind-bending homework each night. ‘Cuz I’m a nerd like that.

I have a little confession about being a stay-at-home mom. My oldest doesn’t nap, and hasn’t napped in a year. The youngest naps in the afternoon, after lunch, after preschool pick up. That means I spend all day, every day, with one or two awake kids. Sometimes it really feels like I’m playing hooky from life to be with them. They are both at very fun ages. They’re also lucky that they’re cute and mostly sweet at the times when I would say they’re at challenging ages. But the bottom line is this: when I don’t start my day before them, I get no time – NONE – to myself until the chores are all done in the evening. Usually there are three of us within the same two square feet of the house. I get to pee with either one climbing in my lap or the other banging on the door, yelling for me. I share everything I eat. I make animal noises the entire car ride back from school.  I’ve wiped butts for nearly 4 years now. It’s just… a lot of activity for someone who likes to retreat into a bit of quiet and solitude.

I have plans to brush up my resume and get myself back into the workforce (part time, ideally).

Receiving our household goods was such a relief. So much so that I’m not at wit’s end that our car isn’t entirely accounted for. At least, it didn’t arrive this week as expected. (It’s not just us.) The new (to us) Forester feels like an old friend, and I thank her daily for her outstanding safety features as I contend with Alabama drivers.

Sunset

The sunsets over the fishing pond behind our house really are magnificent. The food is good. The A/C works really well. I’ve met some pretty cool people. Really, there’s nothing to complain about (except the missing car, I suppose). Life is good.

5 (minus 1) Things to Do in Paris with Little Kids

The first friend Walden made at his new school was a boy who recently returned from a trip to Paris. Not that they talked about their experiences in Paris while playing pretend blasters, but having been to Paris was cool enough for the teachers to share that tidbit with me.

Five Things to Do in Paris with Little Kids

Visiting Paris with two small children was far from romantic in the traditional sense (as in, there was no eating lobster with champagne and creme brulee at midnight), but it was a great time. Paris is a lovely city, full of remarkable architecture and charm at nearly every turn.

Our time in Paris in May was fairly child-oriented. Having already toured the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay on our honeymoon, we chose to structure our days to make the visit fun for them. We planned walks around areas we wanted to see during times when they needed to rest. It was exhausting but nice.

1. Luxembourg Gardens

Jardin du Luxembourg

This beautiful park is a classic. We didn’t sail boats or inspect all of the statues, but we did very thoroughly explore its magnificent play ground. There is a (small, worthy) fee to enter. Totally worth it.

2. Ice Cream Under the Eiffel Tower

Ice cream under Eiffel Tower

Truth be told, we visited Paris mostly to show Walden the Eiffel Tower. He learned of it in a Justin Time episode and thought it would be SO COOL to go there. Then he got a giant chocolate ice cream cone and it really was the best.

3. La Cite des Enfants

Cite des Enfants

It’s a bit of a train ride to the city’s Science & Industry Museum, but if you’re looking for something super-exciting for the kids, it’s worthwhile. Cité des Enfants is a turbo-charged, concentrated children’s museum-style play area inside the Science Museum. Tickets are available for 90-minute time slots. While having a set ending time might be good for some families’ extraction plans, we had to drag (DRAAAAG) a screaming Walden away when the time was up. Water play, role play, construction play; play with gravity and sound and light; there was so much to do and it was all SO FUN.

4. Lock Bridge

Paris Love Locks Pont des Arts Bridge

Talk about good timing (for us, at least). For years lovebirds from around the world have inscribed their names onto padlocks and attached them to the Pont des Arts footbridge before throwing the key into the Seine. Sadly, SO MANY locks have been placed on the bridge that the weight caused the railing to collapse in June. Now the city will remove grills from bridges that are adorned with these “love locks” to prevent a fatal accident from a future collapse (though they aren’t banning the act of placing them there in the first place). It was quite the sight when we had the chance, and Walden enjoyed finding the quirky locks in the collection.

5. Nutella Crepes

Nutella Crepes

I mean come on. You’re in Paris. Why not? We found fast and friendly-enough service at Les Deux Palais, not far from Notre Dame, for our afternoon pick-me-up. What a treat!

Have you been to Paris with small children? What did you love to do?