US Space & Rocket Center

At the very top of our Alabama bucket list: visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. We have a space-obsessed four year old boy, after all.

Winter break was a perfect time to make the three-hour drive. Said four year old doesn’t do well cooped up at home. (Or, we parents don’t do well with a four year old on winter break. My heart goes out to you snowed-in Bostonians.) Thankfully the little people fell asleep on the way there and woke up to gawk at the Saturn V on display in the museum’s Rocket Park.

Space and Rocket Center

You can’t miss it. It’s taller than a football field is long!

We had a reservation at the Marriott next door, so we drove past the museum to spy the Blackbird and space shuttle replica, too. The little taster had us all quite excited for the next day.

Shuttle Discovery

Despite noisy neighbors keeping the kids up waaaaay past bed time, we launched into the museum in good spirits. We didn’t even know that active duty military and children under 4 receive free admission. Yay!

A temporary multimedia exhibit of the 101 greatest inventions was captivating, and we would have spent more time exploring the accompanying material if we weren’t racing the clock to avoid an overtired meltdown before we could see everything else.

100 Inventions

Most of the material inside the museum is engaging for school-age children, with a variety of hands-on activities and artifacts. Our biggest guy was too small for the climbing wall, though he enjoyed watching his daddy land a space shuttle in a simulator.

Shuttle Simulator

A note for your planning: a rainy day can put a damper on your visit! We weren’t able to enjoy the Space Shuttle or Rocket Parks, or the small children’s play area because of it. That said…

SaturnV

There is a separate building displaying a Saturn V rocket horizontally! With a small play area, and a thundering video display of a test of the rocket (so thrilling!), and a moon rock, and a lunar module, and a lunar rover… we even spoke with Craig Sumner, a developer of the rover who trained the astronauts who used it. It was all SO COOL!

Space and Rocket Center

Other attractions weren’t really appropriate for our tiny, exhausted entourage. IMAX, thrill rides. However. Space Camp in Huntsville already has a place on a little someone’s ninth birthday wish list.

When the Baby Turns Two

Everything we did yesterday was accompanied by the thought, “This is the last time we’ll do this when he’s one!” The last nap, the last story, the last kiss good night. Done.

Today we celebrated the second birthday of my youngest child. My baby. Except he’s not a baby; he walks and jumps and sings and talks. At this moment I feel as if I’m perched on the edge of a rich and incomprehensible future: a future as a mom of two little boys. Two boys who screech and shout and run and crash and laugh. Two boys amongst mountains of Legos and in the warm blankets of hugs, until the mountains move out of our play room and my hugs become more like slimy octopus tentacles (but not in a fascinating-but-gross way).

Then they’ll leave.

Everyone promises when your baby is tiny and wailing in your arms at the grocery store that “they grow so fast” and “cherish it.” You smile while you secretly burn those strangers with laser beams from your eyeballs. So many days and nights feel like an eternity, HOW? I started to grasp the thought just a little with my first. Then I had my second. Now I see exactly what they mean. The past two years, they’re just…gone. Already. The soft squishy snuggles are a thing of the past. The burbles, squeaks and babbles are history. That sweet, sweet baby smell (you know the one, specially nestled in the fuzzy top of a baby’s head) has been replaced with an essence of peanut butter.

My baby is growing, as babies do. I’m torn between wanting to keep him this sweet and cute forever and wanting to see what kind of man he grows into. The time until then is a bit scary, as the parenting challenges evolve from simply nurturing to also guiding and preparing for adulthood. But this is the path we’re on, so we’ll live it well.

And what a lovely path it is. Happy birthday, baby Berts! This world is a better place with you in it.

The Things I Do

I’ve been mostly quiet about the things I struggle with internally. Because BOR-ing, right? So the short of it is that I’ve been working very hard this winter to head off depression and find/fix the source of its triggers. (You’ll recognize them as stress, self-esteem, unfair expectations, so on and so on.) A huge chunk of this process has been to shake out all the old “shoulds” that were cluttering my head space to make room for “what is.” The majority of the rest is simply doing. Taking action to do the things that make me feel my best. Latching onto a clue that I need something and fulfilling that need. Banning excuses for not doing those things. Once all of the “shoulds” were (mostly) out of the way, the “I’m going tos” came much more effortlessly and naturally. Then, suddenly, the “what is” became so much more fulfilling. It’s great.

Now I make bread. I exercise outdoors with my youngest son. I run. I wake up early every morning to write. I meet up with new friends. I connect with old friends. I have a rhythm to my days.

I feel like a proper person again. And it’s lovely.

I Run.

So, I run now.

Running Shoes

For years (YEARS) I’ve called some of my favorite people crazy for running for fun. My husband has tried many, many times to encourage me to run, which I’d attempt twice before retreating to the smooth familiarity of the elliptical. I’d say that my local peer group is comprised of more people who run than don’t. At least, the people who are training for 10k’s and half-marathons are being heard. “Everyone else is a runner,” I’d say. “I’ll never be a runner.”

Not that I’m calling myself a runner.

I played team sports growing up. A little volleyball, a taste of basketball, lots of softball. Other sports involving balls, too. Tennis. Golf. The thing about every single one of those sports is that long distance running has nothing to do with them. Sprints, agility, strength, hand-eye coordination, yes. But being able to run for an hour? Yeahno.

My book club made a team for an upcoming 5k. Somewhere along the way I got it in my head that if I were to ever run a 5k, I would actually run it. Like, the whole three miles, without walking. There were enough weeks to start a training program, so I agreed to join the team. “It’s just three miles.” I haven’t ever really run much more than one.

So here’s the thing: getting started with running is hard. Running on real ground is hard. Teaching your muscles how to move that way and building them to carry you step after step (and so many more) is hard. I’m on my third week of training and the idea of running for three miles straight sounds like The Worst. Right now I’m doing intervals of running and walking, increasing the running by 30 seconds every couple of runs. Usually I cover 2.5 to 3 miles. Muscles ache in ways I’ve never known (hello, hip flexors!). I often feel clumsy and awkward when I’m running. And the other morning I ran when it was 48 and overcast and super windy and really hated it.

But then there’s that feeling when I’m done with a run (er, “run”), that feeling of accomplishment, that has me excited for the next one. I feel stronger each day. I’ve decided to trust the training plan, which will have me running three miles in another month and a half. And how cool will it be to say that I did it?

Do you run? Are you thinking about running? I’d love to hear your stories of inspiration!

Stress Breaking Teeth

As a child of the 80’s who grew up on Kool-Aid, Cocoa Pebbles, Ding Dongs and well water (in addition to the regular meat and veg, to be fair), I grew my share of cavities. What isn’t taught and absorbed in the cavity fear mongering of our youth is that sometimes fillings don’t hold up and the cavities plague you far after that initial drilling.

I’ve become quite meticulous with my oral hygiene as I’ve matured, so I was surprised when a recent dentist’s visit revealed that one of my old fillings was “leaking” and needed to be replaced.

As drilling commenced, my DDS reported that the filling had “debonded,” or pulled away from the tooth.

“Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw?” he asked. I laughed.

I absolutely do clench my jaw. Fiercely, and for hours, as I try to burn up (or maybe bottle up) my frustrations daily. My teeth clench together so hard that my face is tired at the end of most days. I internalize my stress and don’t know how to handle it, so it winds tightly there.

He recommended a night guard, which seemed silly to me because that’s the only time of day I’m actually relaxed. So I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to recognize feelings of stress and let them go. From time to time I’ll check to see if my jaw is relaxed, just like the yoga instructors ask of you (so I can’t be the only one who is shocked every single time at the tightness one can find in a jaw). I’ll turn my focus to the muscles between my neck and shoulders and ask them to relax. It’s amazing what a tiny bit of attention can do to ease tension.

Lately I’ve begun to consider myself as a stress addict. Relaxation isn’t my natural state, but achieving it is a dream of mine. It’s just that somehow over the years I’ve learned that stress is somehow important. It became a barometer for how hard I was working, how much I cared about my family, how much I wanted to improve myself.

Then I started breaking my teeth.

I’m going to unlearn that habit before I break something else.

When It’s Time to Get a Haircut

If you know me in real life, you know that I have pretty great hair. It’s healthy, it’s fine but thick and straight, and it’s a color that every stylist I’ve had screeches protests against changing. It is also attached to my head, which is attached to my style-deprived body. As such, I let it air dry, or not exactly, then let it grow and grow until it becomes too unwieldy for the messy knot of my Mom Uniform.

Hair cut

Every two years or so I chop off about 10 inches to donate. Usually I wait for some kind of inspiration to strike. That feeling of a need for a change, or perhaps an act of taking control at the beginning of a deployment. Through the winter I had gotten used to my long (looooong) hair and wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to take it to the scissors, despite my last trip to the salon having been a half-year ago (eek!).

Then, at the turn of the year, I learned that a friend of mine is battling cancer (again, dammit). Minutes after receiving the news I knew that the time had come: it was time to donate my hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which will use my hair in a wig for a woman who is fighting cancer.

So I did it. Victoria at Amplify snipped off my ponytail, which went promptly into a Ziploc bag. I instantly felt lighter and prettier. I felt as if I was taking ownership of my life by lopping off this slightly cumbersome though mostly ignored excess.  Best of all, I felt satisfaction that what is ultimately such a small act can make a big difference to someone else. And isn’t the fact that I’m able to do this at all the greatest gift to myself?

If you’re teetering on the chop it-or-not fence, I encourage you to just do it. Go here to see exactly what you need to do to donate your hair, too. I’d love to hear your story about making the big cut!

A Year to Make My Heart Sing

2014 Collage

Things have been quiet since we moved to Alabama from England. Perhaps because life has been rather quiet? We’ve settled into a solid routine that makes our days fairly predictable and calm, if a little busy and noisy. Once I convinced myself that I don’t require as much “me” time as I used to hope for (you know, to write blog posts and all that), it has all felt pretty good.

Now that I have a little window of time I am at a loss of what to write. There has been so much! Lessons in parenting (what to do when you catch your four-year-old sneaking a chocolate from a bin at World Market), observations of American life and frugality (do you really have any idea how much stuff you buy that you really, truly don’t need?!), little adventures (a family walk in the woods), outings (McWane Science Center in Birmingham), little mishaps (getting locked into a bathroom at a restaurant with a toddler), big achievements (committing to an outdoor exercise routine), milestones (our first preschool concert), amazing meals (Thanksgiving with a Kenyan family or dinner at Central with my mom), good books (thanks for Princess, book club!), and finding peace (feeling so fortunate to be able to spend this time at home with my children). We just returned from a fun week with family in Minneapolis, too.

Life is good. And sometimes complicated and messy and hard. Holding that in my heart as we launch into 2015 makes me feel prepared for the adventure to come. This is probably a good thing; we have six months left in Alabama and no hints as to what’s next.

I wish you and yours the happiest and healthiest of years in 2015! xx

Put Down the Phone

Fall collage

Have you seen this beautiful video calling us all to put down our smart phones and live in the moment?

And perhaps you remember Hands Free Mama making a run through our Facebook feeds?

They’re talking to me and millions of other parents. I am so desperate to cling to the magic of my kids’ early childhood that I find myself constantly reaching for my phone to snap a moment. Losing memory of this (now) feels like a great tragedy. Plus, with family so far away, it helps me feel a bit more connected to share photos of little day-to-day landmarks. Especially because it’s so easy.

Recently I tried to hunt down a photo of my oldest as a baby, holding conference with a Big Bird toy. After hours of searching everywhere, I’ve deemed it lost. But I still remember it.

Once Walden struck up “Old MacDonald’s Farm” at the dinner table. Bertie chimed in with “ya-ya-oooo” and shouted “DUCK!” every time the song reached the line “he had a…” This was a pretty exotic farm, filled with a variety of domestic and wild animals, and it was just the cutest, funniest thing the two have them have ever done. No one ran off for a phone to take a video, which made me feel a bit sad – really, it would have broken the internet harder than Kimmy’s a$$ – until I realized that it’s a very special memory that my little family gets to share together. I don’t need 100 Facebook likes to confirm it. It was really, crazy cute.

I often drift off to Facebook on my phone when I get a bit bored waiting for my tea to steep, or if the kids are playing nicely together. It’s where my mom friends around the world hang out when they’re in that moment, too. Facebook is our commons, which is nice to have when we feel trapped at home. But it’s easy to get sucked in and lose track of time. Once you’re there it’s easy to stiff-arm your kids for juuuust another second so you can finish that comment you’re typing. Without thinking, you’re abandoning a chance for a real-life connection for the sake of connection with people you may never see face-to-face. Is it worth it?

My kids are so conditioned to seeing my phone in my hand that they say “cheese” and turn away the second I pull it out. They hand it to me if they see it sitting within their reach. It’s an integral part of our household technology – we don’t have a land line – but I wonder if I’m not spoiling many of our moments with it.

Do you feel the same way?

I’m going to revisit my own rules for social media use and hold myself accountable to them. Then I’m going to check in just once a day over winter break. I’d bail on social media entirely if it weren’t a hub for social planning. And if I want to snap a photo? I’ll grab the actual camera. Will you join me?

 

Four

My oldest son is four now.

On a Train

Apparently four-year-olds are allergic to looking at a camera and smiling nicely. Pretty much the same as three.

I know there will come a day when I’ll laugh at myself for thinking that this is such a momentous feat. After all, one day he’ll start kindergarten; one day he’ll graduate high school; one day he’ll be out on his own. All of that big stuff, that “Life” stuff, that’s still ahead. And I am so looking forward to seeing what it brings.

This guy. He’s brilliant and charming. He’s an eager helper (usually) and likes teaching his friends or brother how to do things. He’s pretty even-keeled (in the mornings), often thinking through what is happening around him before reacting (until he’s tired or hungry or, worse, hangry). He only stops talking to focus on something he’s really interested in, like building Legos or watching a show. He’s always making connections between the things he sees and what he has learned. It seems he forgets nothing. Mostly.

First Fish

He knows nothing about basketball and thinks quarterbacks play baseball. We’ll work on that. We have hope, though: he has caught a few fish on his very own Lightning McQueen fishing pole and he rides a bike without training wheels.

He still loves trains, though he’s more and more interested in playing Legos these days. We blame the massive influx of Lego sets for his birthday, though no one is really put out by it. He’ll spend hours (HOURS) by himself building a set by the book and breaking it apart. His unique creations are becoming more symmetrical and elaborate – who knows what he’ll be capable of by the time he reaches the actual recommended ages for these toys?

He’s also quite stubborn when he wants to be. Navigating his obstinance is a challenge, mostly because he reserves it for the most inconvenient times. Other times he’s exploring a new tactic of insisting that we’re wrong about stuff for the sake of arguing. Then there are the times when he drags out a string of “Why?”s simply to push us over the edge. What four year old doesn’t?

But then he’ll do something incredibly charming and we all move on.

He is pretty sophisticated in his ability to manipulate us. Offering limited choices. Telling us what will happen after we do what he wants us to do. Negotiating. We’re certain that one day he’ll be in charge of something important and will be very, very good at his job.

He really is an amazing kid. I’m so lucky he’s mine.

Best of all, his little brother adores him. The only thing sweeter than the two of them playing together is hearing Walden say, “Bring it in!” before hugging him, not thinking we’re watching. So cute.

Birthday Boy

Here’s to the best four year old I know! <3

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!