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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good time.

We've had the same clock on our wall since we bought our first house thirteen years ago. Nothing fancy, probably from Target, but it does the job. Or at least it did until a few weeks ago.

I'm not sure what happened but it is now just pretending to do the job. It's not stopped or barely moving; it's just...wrong. Inconsistently so. I think it's about an hour slow but not in a way that I've yet to figure out. It's just slow enough that we feel like we're being robbed of time whenever we fall into its little trap.

This generally happens to me in the morning when the boys and I have gotten a slow start. I'll look at it and think, "Ten? Hey, that's not so bad." Then I remember it's not working and check a more dependable source. "Eleven fifteen?! Dang. It's almost lunch time! Uh, boys? I think we'd better get dressed..."

It also throws us off most evenings. Bill and I will get the boys to bed and then flop down in the living room where we, seeing how it's only 8:30, decide to watch a movie. When it ends a couple hours later, we congratulate ourselves on getting to bed at a decent hour on a weeknight. Then we go into the bathroom to brush our teeth and see that it's actually almost midnight. Dang clock! Fooled again.

The other night, just as our show wrapped up and we realized we'd been fooled by the clock once again, Bill yanked it off the wall and headed toward the junk drawer where the batteries are kept.

"But didn't you try replacing them already?" I asked, knowing he had.

"Yeah. But we can't have a broken clock on the wall."

I told him I'd get a new one but realized immediately this just wasn't true. "I know I'll get to the store and have to settle on one I only kind of like. Then I'll have to spend forty bucks on the thing. Plus, I'm just so used to this one, you know? I just don't want a different clock up there..."

I hear him fishing around in the drawer and hope that changing the batteries a second time will do the trick. You never know...

He comes back into the living room and sticks the clock back on the wall. "There," he says standing back to admire his work. "Now it's art."

Monday, July 7, 2014


I was almost done packing Liam's lunch and making his breakfast. If I waited much longer to wake him we'd most certainly be late for his first day of camp. I tiptoed down the hall to his room but stopped when I noticed a light on in the Rec Room. There he was, sleepy eyed and wrapped in White Bi, sitting at his desk and working on his newest Lego set.

"Hey, Bud," I said smiling. "I was just coming to wake you up. And now I guess I don't have to."

"Yep," he said, sleepily, barely looking up.

"You ready for class today?" I asked. I had signed him up for two weeks of SAVY where he'll be learning about algebra all morning and molecules all afternoon. Kind of a hard sell for the middle of summer.


"Okay. Well. Maybe just hop in a quick shower and get dressed, then you can build your set until it's time to go?"


I walked back to the kitchen to finish getting everything ready. I wrote a quick note for his lunch box. Hey Bud, I know this isn't exactly your idea of a fun way to spend summer vacation but just think, soon we'll be chillaxin in Hawaii! I appreciate you giving this your best today. Love, Mama. Then I walked back to the Rec Room to check on him.

He was still sitting at his desk, wrapped in White Bi.

"Hey Li, you really need to get in the shower. Then you can play with your Legos."

"I already took a shower," he said calmly.

"You did? Really? That was fast. Did you wash your hair?"


"Wow... Well, I guess you should probably get dressed."

Morning time is never this easy. Getting him out of bed, dressed, fed and out the door is easily a two man job. The only times I can remember him waking up early, before I came to get him, were days I never had to get him at all. Days when he knew waking up early would buy him some much needed alone time. He never wakes up early if he has to be in class. And certainly not for two new back-to-back classes in the middle of summer.

Who wakes up early for summer school?

The rest of the morning was equally painless and soon I was pulling up to our designated drop off spot at Vanderbilt. The kids who had already arrived were sitting in neat rows on the grass, waiting for camp to begin. The whole thing made me a little nervous. I mean, when was the last time I had to spend the day with ten people I didn't know and learn something new? I had no idea. But the idea of it felt a bit overwhelming. I wondered if Liam was feeling similar apprehension but he seemed to be completely unfazed. When I stopped the van he simply gathered his things, said goodbye and walked off to find his spot on the lawn.

Part of me still expects him to cling to my leg.

This is the third camp he's attended this summer. He did a week at Camp Widjiwagan, learning archery and making friends and cruising around the lake on a banana boat. Actually, he only rode the banana boat for a minute. Then he was like, "Get me off this crazy thing!" and spent the rest of the time watching the action unfold from the speedboat. He was there all day long, outside, in the sun, with a bunch of kids he'd never met before. He loved it. I still can't believe it but he really did. He's already asking to go back next year and spend the night.

After that he did a week of tennis camp at USN. It was just a couple hours in the morning but we had to be there at 7:45. That is really early for us. I'm not even that embarrassed to admit that one of the main reasons we love homeshcool so much is that we never have to be anywhere that early. Kindergarten and those ten fateful days of first grade were insanely hard for us. Being up and dressed and fed and out the door and on time five days a week was almost more than we could handle. Okay, maybe I'm a little embarrassed by that. What can I say? Mornings are just not our thing.

He handled it fine for tennis though, even though once again, I was dropping him off at a strange location with strange people and just leaving him there, expecting him to figure it out and fend for himself. It blows my mind to see him handle stuff like this. To just get out of the van and go. Go where? I wonder from the comfort of the drop off lane. Where's he supposed to go?! He might not know but he sure doesn't let that slow him down. He knows he'll figure it out or find someone who can help him. Either way, he's not worried.

It amazes me. How much he's grown and who he's become. He's like the light at the end of the tunnel on my hard days with Finn. Because when he was three we had our fair share of struggles too. I almost wouldn't believe it if I couldn't go back to my archives and read it for myself. This blog is a godsend for that sort of thing. A memory keeper that doesn't rely on my memory. Because let's face it, memory can have a mind of its own. Add in the rose colored glasses and hindsight being 20/20 and all that - who knows if what we remember ever really happened at all?

But I'll remember today. Liam sitting in the grass with the other kids as nonchalant as anyone I've ever seen. Finn's blond hair blowing in the breeze as I pushed the stroller down to the duck pond and back up the big hill. Mama, if I'm calm and quiet on our walk can I please have some chocolate when we get home? Their laughter swirling around them as they took silly picture after silly picture with the photo booth on my computer...

This is why I take pictures, why I write things down. The moments go by so fast. Like, poof, and then they're gone forever. I like having a little something to hold onto. Something that tells the story of our lives and lets me savor our time together just a little bit longer.

Fourth of July alliteration special.

Friends, family, fireworks, floating down the river, face painting, fun and photos. So many photos...

Hope y'all had a fabulous fourth (fifth and sixth...). xo

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The three year old.

This title has been hanging out in my drafts for weeks and weeks now. Maybe months. I started wanting to write this post right after Easter when Finn and I got into a fight over which stroller we were going to take to walk to our friends' house for an egg hunt and both of us nearly lost our minds.

He recovered immediately. I am still trying to regain my footing.

Whoever coined the term terrible twos had obviously not yet gotten to the threes. Because with no context, the twos do look pretty terrible. But compared to the threes? No contest. I'm sure when their little darling turned three and they realized they were not even close to being out of the woods, they wanted to kick themselves for wasting such a good catchphrase on the wrong age.

But mostly they just wanted to kick something, anything!, to channel the rage that comes from living with a three year old.

After our Easter Sunday throw down, Bill sat me down and made me re-watch the Louis C.K. comedy special Hilarious where he talks about his three year old. He doesn't call her his three year old; he calls her the three year old. I found this very comforting. It's such an easy way of saying, "My child is great. But this age can suck it."

I immediately took to calling Finn The Three Year Old.

It's not unlike that scene in Knocked Up when Ben and Alison are fighting and Ben says, "I know it's not you, it's the hormones, but I just want to say FUCK YOU, HORMONES. You're a bitch...HORMONES!" Because, sure, it's the hormones. But who wants to fight with a hormone?

That's how I've felt with Finn this year. Like I want to shake the three year old part of him and scream at it and kick it to the curb without causing any damage to the little person inside. Because I LOVE the little person inside. But the three year old part is driving me nuts. The fact that there's no separation between the two is what makes it so challenging.

They're so small and impressionable and adorable sometimes. Like, just the most precious beings you'll ever have the privilege to know. They're amazing. But they're also psychotic. And you never know what you're going to get. One minute, cutest, sweetest person ever in the history of the world. The next minute? Full on rage fest. It's like invasion of the body snatchers.

I do everything I can to avoid Finn's three year old moments. I agree with almost everything he says, even when I know he's lying. Because who wants to get in another fight about what he did with his grandparents (the ones with the Legos) before I was born? That's a losing argument and I know it. So I just nod and say, "That's nice. Why don't you tell me more about it..." Because he will fight - and win - over just about anything.

There are, of course, times I have to engage and those are the times I dread. Like this morning. At five forty this morning, Finn walked into our room and said sweetly, "I want to watch a show on Netflix, please." We've been working on asking nicely instead of demanding so I appreciated his tone. But at five forty in the morning? That's a no. (I'm sorry if your house is one that wakes up at the crack of dawn...ours just doesn't.)

I said it as nicely as I could. I tried my best not to back myself into a corner. No if/then statements, no strong oppositional stands. But it didn't matter what I did or said, he was not getting his way and he knew it. This is where things can go really bad really fast. It's like he has a reserve tank of whoop ass at the ready just for these moments. I may be bleary eyed and half asleep but HE is ready to rumble.

Once he starts, I know I can't reason with him. And I certainly can't cave once he's screaming at me. The whole thing can go from a simple request to a lose/lose in 2.4 seconds. It's like I don't even know what's happening until it's too late. It's maddening. And SO unpredictable. It seems there is no rhyme or reason to the there year old.

We got lucky. For whatever reason, his heart wasn't quite in it this morning. He cried and whimpered and protested some but there were no full on screams, no kicking or yelling, "NO!" in my face. He didn't even wake up Liam. 

I think that my sister's advice is helping. The more I find ways to lay down the law and stick to my guns (even over silly things), the more Finn learns to listen to me and respect my wishes. 

Either that or he's running out of juice. His fourth birthday is right around the corner...

{Here's a link to the Louis C.K. clip - take the time to watch it. You will not be sorry.}