Monday, August 25, 2014

Terms of endearment.

We rented a couple of sea kayaks yesterday to tool around the bay and shake things up a little. We haven't really done a lot on this vacation (beach day every day) which has been relaxing and perfect for all of us but it seems to work best if we throw things in now and then to prevent burnout (and sunburn...).

We had never tried sea kayaking before but took to it like fish to water. Every time we'd pass one another Bill and I would boast about how awesome we were doing.

Not that sea kayaking is necessarily hard but given our lack of upper body strength (alright, my lack of upper body strength - Bill can at least do push-ups), it doesn't take much for me to feel like a stud.

Finny was in my boat. He sat up front and talked while I paddled. As you can imagine with the waves and wind and all of the physical exertion, I could barely make out a word he was saying. He knew I couldn't hear him but it didn't stop him from trying.

He talked, and talked, and talked. About what, I have no idea. Every now and then I'd catch a little something but none of it made much sense.

At one point I asked him to hand me our water. "Thanks, sugar," I said, handing it back to him.

"Why do you call me sugar?" He asked, suspiciously.

"What?" I yelled, straining to hear over the waves.

"Why," he yelled. "Do you call! Me sugar!"

"Oh!" I said, finally understanding him. "It's a term of endearment."


"It's something sweet I like to call you that's not your real name. Like how sometimes I call daddy Babe or Liam sweet pea. It's just a sweet name you call someone that's not their real name."

"Like Ron?"



"Um, sure," I said laughing. "Ron would work. Can you think of anything else?"

"How about... heart? Or Harry Potter!"

I was totally cracked up. "Yeah, buddy, those are good ones!"

"Thanks, Heart."

Sure, sweetest angel.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aloha from Hawaii, day one.

We're in Hawaii! We arrived yesterday morning and are beyond thrilled to be back home at our home-away-from-home. (For those of you who haven't "travelled here with us" before, we're on the Big Island in Kailua Kona at the Mauna Lani Resort. Bill's parents bought a condo here a million years ago and we're lucky enough to be able to come visit whenever we can make it happen. They rent it out as well so if you're interested in an AMAZING vacation, email me and I'll hook you up.)

Yesterday at the beach, I was watching Liam play in the waves while Bill and Finn walked up to get a drink. This kid is awesome at playing. He gets totally lost in his own little world and it's really fun to watch. He looks like a modern dancer doing an interpretation of something really intense complete with sound effects and big sweeping motions. At one point he was laying on his back on the shore (full mask on, of course), letting the waves gently roll him up and down the beach (not unlike his Mama!).

One of my most favorite pastimes is watching people, trying to figure out their story. Watching Liam on the beach makes me so glad I know him - not just for how awesome he is but also for the fact that there's no way I could figure out his story if I wasn't a part of it.

I was also watching the kids next to him playing Smash Ball in the water. They were about twelve years old, blonde, tan, sinewy and strong without a hint of self consciousness between them. I couldn't tell if they were brother and sister, cousins, friends, or just a couple of young swimsuit models taking a break from their photoshoot.

I guess I should mention that confident twelve year olds are kind of my gurus. I can't relate to them AT ALL but I find them fascinating and impressive. They are big enough to look like perfect, slightly smaller grown ups but they're completely comfortable in their skin like kids. Sometimes at first glance, I think they are really fit adults, like marathon runners or yogis or something. But then they start to play and run around and I realize they're just kids.

It's like this sweet spot in life I don't remember experiencing.

At one point, Liam realized his boogie board was washing out to sea without him so he swam off to get it. As he did, he noticed the Amazonian duo and stopped to watch them play. He set up shop right in between them, rested his arms and head on the boogie board and watched the ball go back and forth, like an LOL cat watching tennis on TV.

It was hilarious.

I was picturing what might be going through his head. Was he as impressed and intimidated by these kids as I was? Did he wish he was that tan? Blonde? Athletic? Did he wonder what it was like to dive for a ball in the water without worrying about your swimsuit going right up your butt? Did he hope he would keep his confidence throughout his tween and teen years?

After a few minutes he grabbed his boogie board and ran over to where I was sitting. He was smiling ear to ear and shaking his head. About half way between me and the kids he yelled, "Did you see that?" I nodded and thought, Yes! I could barely take my eyes off of them! He took a couple more steps and laughing said, "Those guys are HORRIBLE at ping pong!"

Meet my new guru.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Happy 4th birthday, sweet Finny Finn!

Today my baby turns four years old. What a ride! He's taught me so much already and I am beyond grateful that I get to be his mama. Here is a little slideshow I made for him. It's to one of his favorite songs. 
I belong to you, you belong to me, you're my sweetheart... 
Always and forever sweet boy. 

Much love,

Brain Chase > Summer Learning Loss.

Being homeschoolers who don't school at home a whole lot, I am always on the lookout for fun classes or tutorials I can sign the kids up for. We are fortunate to have lots of choices during the school year (physics lab, photography classrock climbingMinecraft homeschool...) but during the summer, we have even more.

I took advantage of it this year and signed Liam up for a few weeks of summer learning. At first he balked - it's SUMMER VACATION! How could I be so insensitive? His friends don't have to go to school in the summer. Why should he?! But then I reminded him what the REST of his year looks like and he stopped complaining. (Seriously. He does a lot of stuff and is learning all the time but it's nothing like the day-to-day grind of real school.)

So for two whole weeks he went to SAVY camp at Vanderbilt from 8:45 to 3:45 every day (a very full schedule for a kid who's used to an a la carte approach to schooling). In the morning, he learned about Awesome Algebra and in the afternoon it was Marvelous Molecules. In between he had lunch and there were some P.E. breaks thrown in for good measure. 

He loved it. Maybe not the algebra and molecules part so much (for an academically gifted kid he's sort of meh about academics), but the making new friends and being silly part was right up his alley. Actually - I have no idea what part he loved. I just know that the part he told me about was all the goofy stuff he did with his buddy at lunch. For all I know he totally geeks out when I'm not looking. 

Anyway. At the same time we were schlepping back and forth to Vandy every day, the other summer learning program I signed him up for started. Fortunately for us it was an online program done at each student's own pace. Also fortunately for us? It's the most awesome program we've ever signed up for!

Brain Chase is a six week summer learning program designed to beat summer slide, or the phenomenon that happens when kids break for summer and forget everything they learned during the school year. I don't worry about that happening with Liam since we school year round (he likes to say he always and never goes to school) and don't ever have to cram within a certain timeline, but I liked the premise so much, I couldn't wait to sign up. 

The big idea is this: there's an academy who's trying to figure out where the Globe of Magellan is buried and they need our help. Each Monday they send a video that details part of their adventure and has secret clues that will help us find the Globe. Not the one the kids in the video are looking for, the REAL Globe of Magellan that is buried somewhere in the world. Seriously! It's a massive global treasure hunt. Each week the student can unlock a second video with more clues but in order to do so they have to complete a certain amount of math (on Khan Academy), reading (through MyOn), writing (they are assigned different prompts each week), and a bonus challenge that has to do with the adventure or the whereabouts of the Globe. 

If you've ever wanted to see a kid excited to do math on summer vacation, entice them with a video that holds clues to a valuable buried treasure. Can you say MOTIVATED?!

Whoever figures out where the treasure is buried first gets to fly there with one other person to dig it up. It can be anywhere in the world! The winner gets to keep the Globe AND gets a $10,000 scholarship. How cool is that?! 

Every so often during the challenge Liam has received a special package from the Academy. He got an awesome decoder ring, a very cool compass and, I'm not even kidding, magic seeds that were supposed to grow a clue (I think ours got over watered so they didn't quite work out but the picture another kid posted online looked amazing). 

He's done all the work without complaint, finishing early in the week so he could get his next video as soon as possible. Liam LOVES the videos. This weekend he and his friend watched every single one of them again and after that I could hear them in his room playing real life Brain Chase. 

He's excited about finding the treasure but the person who's really obsessed with it is ME. It's so hard, you guys! I mean, seriously. I feel like a detective who never went to detective school. So many times I've thought we were finally onto something and then he'll find another clue and suddenly nothing makes any sense. It's really fun. Frustrating and mind bending but really, really fun. Like a crossword puzzle on crack that spans the whole world and comes with a buried treasure. 

How's that for summer school?!

We will definitely be doing it again next summer and I've got my fingers crossed that the creators will come up with something for homeschoolers. Now if I can just figure out where that darn globe is buried...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The family circus.

We celebrated my sweet Finny this weekend with a circus themed birthday party at our house. Once again we shared the party with our friend Coen because he and Finn share a birthday and two circus freaks are always better than one.

It wasn't necessarily a costume party but who could resist a chance to dress up? Not us. Costumes are quickly becoming my Most Favorite Thing and I will find any excuse I can to put one together.

(before I sweat all my my makeup off)

I especially love a group costume and am so glad my family does too.

We had a great turn out and, after the day we had had on Saturday (MAJOR plumbing issues, a little flooding, multiple workers at our house ALL DAY LONG...), we were beyond grateful that we still had a backyard to party in (and toilets that flush and air conditioning!). There's nothing like filling a space with family and friends to celebrate the one you love.

This guy. I mean. He's just...the best. Except when I tell him things like that, he's always quick to correct me. "Finny, you're my most favorite guy ever. I love more than I could ever love anyone in the whole WORLD!" Then as I'm devouring him with kisses he stops me to say, "But you love Liam that much too, right Mama?"

Yes. Of course. Liam and Finn - Tattooed Man and Tiger Tamer - tied for best forever.

My sister and Jack drove down from Louisville for the party which was awesome. I love having family so close and the relationship Finn and Jack have developed is just fantastic to see.

I hope someday they bogart a photo backdrop and try to re-create the Olan Mills moments they had to endure in childhood. (Note: schedule some awkward family photos at Olan Mills STAT!)

I love having my sister around.

One of my favorite parts of the party was the face paint/fortune telling booth Liam created. He decorated the little swing set play house and held court up there all day. It was always packed with kids and I was really happy that his idea turned out so well.

I wanted to do something circusy too and thought it would be fun to make balloon animals (it was!). At first I only offered swords (the only YouTube tutorial I mastered...) but as the afternoon wore on I got a little more comfortable and soon just sort of went for it. I didn't make animals or anything that could be easily identified as wrong, just one of a kind hats. Those can only turn out perfect!

We hung out, ate circus food (popcorn, hot dogs, corn dogs...), danced to pop music and passed around all the sweet babies that were kind enough to show up. All in all it was a great party. Even the Pinteresty things I attempted worked out! (Of course, now I know only to choose the things that look easy...)

I hope the birthday boys enjoyed their party as much as the rest of us did. Coen and Finn forever!!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When you know better, you do better.

My first day back to real life after five days away from my family (and my "job" since parenting is technically what I do) went pretty well. Pretty well. I would say great except that it was kind of unsettling that things carried on so well without me and then, well, Finn dumped the bottle of sand I brought home from the beach down the bathroom sink.

I was really mad at him, not because he did it (not a bad place to put sand, actually) but because I had JUST told him not to open the bottle of sand in the house.



By the time Bill got home (he's in town this week but has work dinners every night), my anger and frustration had subsided and been replaced with confusion. Does Finn not understand me? Is there some sort of learning disability specifically linked to listening? Is it possible he's just...not that smart?

The more we talked about it, the worse it got. We decided that, while Finn is plenty smart and probably not disabled, he's basically gotten the shaft every day since he was been born. His entire life takes place in Liam's world. Like his big brother came along first and laid all the ground work and no one ever thought to take another look around to see if anything needed remodeling.

Nope. It was just, "Welcome to Liam's world, Finn. I hope it's a good fit for you. You two are probably exactly alike right? No? Well, darn. I luck with that..."

I mean, seriously. The more we talked the more I wanted to kick myself in the face. What the hell have we been thinking? Finn's the littlest one. Shouldn't all of our lives revolve around him? No wonder he's never napped or learned the alphabet...Liam's too big for stuff like that. Finn could definitely ace a test on Star Wars but I honestly don't even know if he can tell a triangle from a square.

I have to say, as a first born, I suddenly felt like a big ole jerk.

The whole thing had me in tears. I just felt awful. And then Bill threw this one at me: Think about your kids in their mid 20s, getting together for a beer and shooting the breeze. What would they say about you?

That you were kind and loving and a great cook and super fun to play with and they felt very connected to you?

Or not?

I was already having a low moment so I honestly couldn't even think about it. If the boys were talking specifically about the day we had just had (which was fine - up until the sand in the sink at bedtime - but also sort of tedious and boring and I felt a bit disconnected from them both), there's no way they would have given me a review I would want to hear.

It's really hard to think about these things - about Finn getting the short end of the stick, about what the boys might think of me, about this life I have dedicated myself to that seems to carry on just fine without me - but I knew it was an opportunity for me to take stock and reassess some things that might need little work.

Even though we had said last night that it's too bad we couldn't just wipe the slate clean and start over, in a way, that's exactly what I did. I went though the day today with that future conversation top of mind. How do I want my children to remember me? I also paid special attention to Finn and let Liam know that he would no longer be calling all the shots (he knew exactly what I was talking about).

I chose my words more carefully, maintained an upbeat attitude and met them each where they were. I laughed more and huffed less. The only show they watched today was a Leap Frog show for little kids and when Liam wanted to listen to an audio book about surviving a shark attack, I asked him to wear headphones and I read Blue's Clues to Finn. We went to story time because it guarantees some cuddles. I made connecting with the boys my number one priority and went out of my way to find ways to bond with them individually.

I even signed Finn up for soccer at the YMCA - the very first thing that's just for him. His very own thing! I can't wait until we all go watch him play. All of us supporting him. It's about damn time. But when you know better, you do better, right?

That's basically the subtitle of parenthood.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Road test.

Several months ago I came to the conclusion that friendships are not found, they're made. They take time, commitment, work, a willingness to give and take, some vulnerability and a lot of buy-in. Oh, wait. You already knew all this. I wrote about it right here.

I had decided to start acting more like a friend to some of the acquaintances I had collected over the years. And the amazing thing was, as soon as I made the decision, opportunities came up almost immediately for me to prove it.

Most notably: The Beach Trip.

A couple of my favorite homeschool moms asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with them in July to celebrate one of their 40th birthdays. Normally this type of thing would have caused me to take a step back. FIVE DAYS with people I hardly know?! That's way more than a cup of coffee and even that can be a bit intimidating at times.

I sometimes feel like I go through life like my dance card is already full. Like I've got all I need right here under one roof. And while that's probably true in some ways and I feel really fortunate to have such a "problem", I also know how vital friendships are to a well lived life.

I love how that fresh perspective or a great conversation can leave me feeling filled up in places I don't always think about, like parts of me I may neglect from day-to-day are being brought out into the sunshine and getting the fresh air they need to thrive. Still. It can be hard for me to bust out of my much loved rut to make time for such things.

But I had already made the decision. So I wholeheartedly said yes to the beach.

Since I signed on to the trip so long ago, we had months to plan our trip before we set off in the mini van. Only instead, we worked on becoming friends and left the planning to dumb luck and Airbnb.

I gotta say, that's the way to do it.

The trip was so silly and amazing and relaxing. Pretty much all the things you'd imagine. Like Moms Gone Wild wherein wild means not reapplying sunscreen to wet children or making sure no one drowns. We stayed at a ridiculous place on the bay with an attack cat named Jerry (or was it Courtney?) that by day two we were calling The Fat Girl Frat House. 

(The clock on our covered porch was broken...)

We drank Bushwhackers and ate terrible food, fell asleep super early and were back on the beach by 9am. We answered compelling questions like, "How many lime-a-ritas will fit in this go cup?" 

(The answer is four.) 

We did what we wanted, when we wanted to do it. No one asked if we could go home now. No one got cranky or sunburned or threw a tantrum in the middle of Rite Aid. No one had to suffer the embarrassment of their mom flailing up and down the beach as the ocean tried to take her away. 

We could just BE. It was the epitome of relaxation. And friendship. Honestly, I didn't know I had it in me. 

I'm so, so grateful that I did.