Sunday, May 22, 2016

Straight Shooter

It has been so long since I last blogged that I was worried I wouldn't remember my password this morning. December 15. The last time I posted. I am confused and troubled by this. It would be easy to say that I have been too busy to write, that I have finally succumb to the frenzy of two children. And while life is indeed different than it was a year ago, my silence is much less about the lack of hours in the day and much more about my overwhelming sense of confusion as to why in the WORLD we decided to have another kid.

Don't get me wrong, I love Clara in a way I never thought possible. She is sweet, and easy, and the perfect little person to round out our family. Morgan loves her fiercely, and is quick to correct my parenting on just about every level. In fact, Morgan is quick to correct me on just about everything these days. She is seven going on 17, confident that she knows more than me on issues ranging from weekly spelling lists to whether I accurately assessed her eye rolling when I told her to go fold her laundry. We are cut from the same cloth. God help us all.

Last weekend, after what I thought was a lovely family outing, Morgan began chatting from the backseat. For those of you who have (or have survived) a seven year old, they are masters of randomness. They can literally talk for hours without having a single compulsion to connect their thoughts into any sort of cohesive sentence. I get daily updates on recess drama, interspersed with hot lunch reviews, and in-depth analyses of the newest addition to her rock collection. And while I love all of this, I don't always feel compelled to listen particularly closely to every.single.detail. Imagine my surprise when the following conversation began to unfold:

"Dad, you know you don't have to do everything Mom says, right?"

"I'm sorry, what?" I shared a sideways glance with David from the front seat, trying not to react. Because you KNOW I was on the edge of my seat waiting for what was coming next.

"It's just that you don't always have to do what she tells you to. You know you're not her butler, right?" Yes, you read that correctly. Butler.

"Morgan, your Mom and I have a system, one that works well for us." I could see the little beads of sweat forming on David's forehead. Yeah, we have a system. One that involves me constantly reminding David that spending three hours organizing his tools in the garage is NOT the same as picking up the house.

"But Mom is telling you what to do all of the time. Like 'David, I told you to do this. And David, I asked you to do that.' Mom is always saying what has to get done."

At this point, Morgan launched into a lengthy and shockingly accurate role play of the interactions at our house. There was no malice in what she was saying, just her simple observations of the world as she sees it. Oh, but it stung. David and I work hard not to bicker in front of our kids, and we have developed a system that generally involves me dictating guiding our daily decisions. But it works for us. Well, at least I thought it did.

Morgan finished her reenactment, complete with hand gestures and horrifying voice inflections. And when she was done, she leaned forward, pulling on the back of my seat as she craned her neck to look me in the eye. With her brown eyes, big as plates, she met my gaze.

"Any questions?"

I looked away, not wanting her to see the tears that were welling. I shook my head, and she leaned back into her seat, quite smug with her insight. I sat in silence for a moment, unsure of what to do next. In my heart I wanted to explain to her the complexities of adult relationships; I wanted her to understand that David and I have a relationship that involves lots of lists and lots of reminders and that it really does work for us. But she doesn't give a shit about that, she just sees that I am bossy. And maybe I am.

David loves to remind me of my greatest strength and biggest weakness; I am the person who says what everyone else is thinking. Looks like I'm not the only one.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Celebrity Babies

A friend of ours recently referred to us as "the family that nothing bad ever happens to." Although I know that's not true, I also know that we are very, very fortunate. In addition to incredible amounts of hard work, we have had unique opportunities shine on us on more than one occasion. When David and I first met, we were contacted by e-Harmony to do a news segment in Virginia about on-line dating (they even sent us crystal from Tiffany!) - Two years ago, we were profiled on our local NPR affiliate to talk about our experiences as a family...I wrote about that here. But then, earlier this month, something happened that topped it all. My children became just a little bit famous.

When Clara was born, we made the decision to splurge on newborn photos. It was something I deeply regretted not doing with Morgan, as the JcPenney portrait studio just didn't quite capture the essence of her new baby perfection. We decided to work with a phenomenal local photographer, who then spent hours with our little family one Saturday morning, tenderly posing our new daughter. The results were stunning; as soon as I saw the proofs, I wept. They captured everything, from the tiny cowlick on Clara's forehead to the newly formed bond between two sisters. They were magic.

Fast forward to this month. We received an invitation to a reception being held at the hospital where our girls were born. Our photographer let us know that she had been awarded a contract with the hospital and would be profiling some of her work throughout the maternity ward. One of Clara's newborn photos had been selected, and we were invited to attend the unveiling. 

We arrived that night in standard fashion - 15 minutes late, swinging a diaper bag and a car seat. The lobby was packed, filled with families and hospital staff swapping stories between forkfuls of cake. Canvases lined the walls, showcasing tiny windows into the lives of newly formed families. We had no idea which photo of Clara had been chosen, so we had no sense of what to expect. I set our things down, smoothed my hair and reached for a cup of punch. And there it was. The photo. So perfect. So sweet. 

We stood in awe, overwhelmed and humbled. Of all of the families, of all of the babies, ours were chosen. Chosen to help tell part of the hospital story, chosen to showcase the impeccable work of our photographer, chosen to highlight the wondrous journey that is family. Tears of pride hung in the corners of my eyes, falling only when David's glance met mine. Our babies.

The hospital coordinator invited us on our own tour of the maternity wing. She explained that in addition to the photo in the lobby, Clara was highlighted in four more photos throughout the halls and within the maternity rooms. And so we went, swept immediately back in time as we entered the halls I walked for hours as I labored with both my daughters.

With each photo, my heart burst just a little more. I was struck not only by how tiny and perfect Clara was, but by how much she has changed and grown in such a short period of time. What were once tiny coos and squeaks have been replaced by demanding squawks and screeches. The tiny bundle that once only rested while nestled in my arms now fiercely fights being snuggled too tightly.

The picture of our girls together also adorns one of the birthing rooms, and I thought it only fitting to capture those two moments in time.  So as we finished our tour, our guide took one more photo of us as a family. Just seven months and an entire lifetime between those images.

As we said our goodbyes that night, our photographer encouraged us to take a brochure. David declined, assuring her we were done having babies and that a brochure was unnecessary. She calmly persisted, encouraging him to pick one up from the table. As he nonchalantly handed it to me, I gasped. There was Clara again, quiet and serene, a subtle reminder of just how fleeting and perfect life's moments can be.

So no, we are not the family that nothing bad ever happens to. But we are the family who cherishes our daughters, whose hearts swell at just the mention of their names. If you're ever at the St. Luke's in Meridian, whether it's to have a baby, visit a baby, or return a baby that's become an unruly toddler, look for our family on the walls there. Autographs by appointment only.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Finding Joy

The holiday season is such a complex time of year. Without fail, it makes me pause, makes me reflect, makes me think more deeply about my life. And my life is pretty damn good. I am married to my best friend, have two precious and spirited daughters, and have the luxury of parents who have been together for nearly 40 years and in-laws who have been together for more than 50. And they they all live here. And they genuinely like each other. And they like me...most of the time.

My children have an aunt and two uncles who adore them, doing their part to undo all of my parenting whenever they see my girls, reminding me that, indeed, some rules are made to be broken. My home is warm and full of love, which I hope will always overshadow our moments of anger and frustration. My friends are my village, giving me the love, support and encouragement I am too often afraid to ask for but need nonetheless.  My life is whole.

In all of that, I know. I know what my family shares is special. Because holidays are stressful, reinforcing more of what we lack rather than what we have. Relationships are strained, budgets are stretched too thin, and so much time and energy is spent on just trying to "get through." The loss of loved ones is felt more deeply this time of year, when someone's boisterous laugh isn't heard at the table, or when you realize you can no longer pick up the phone to get tips on your turkey or how to keep your pie crust from burning.

Several of my dearest friends lost parents this year, and this season will be a struggle to find balance between mourning and celebration. A number of my friends will mark milestones without their spouses, their lives forever shaped by the loss of the person they thought they would grow old with. Because life so rarely works out just like we think it will.

In all of that, I also know. I know there is joy. There is love. There is kindness. If we are willing to pause, reflect, and think for a just a moment, we will find it. Not surprisingly, it is in those tiny, mundane moments that can so easily be overlooked:

  • The woman who hugged my husband at WinCo this week when he paid for the last bit of groceries she couldn't afford. It was just kidney beans and popcorn, but it meant she didn't have to put anything back.
  • The new parents we took dinner to, who spent a large portion of our visit gushing about how perfect their newborn's belly button is.
  • My seven year old, who offered to give my mother some of her Halloween candy after my mom expressed concern that they hadn't bought enough to handle the swarm of trick-or-treaters making their way through the neighborhood.
  • The friend whose husband has started warming her car each morning, making her commute each day a little less chilly.
  • The neighbor who we regular swap flour and eggs with. In a time of convenience stores and 24-hour supermarkets, it's still nice to send your kid next door with an empty measuring cup.
And so today, and for the rest of this holiday season, I will continue to pause, reflect, and think. Because it grounds me and keeps me humble. And because it reminds that we always, always, have much to celebrate. And for that, I am forever thankful.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hat Trick

The thing about new babies is that they don't actually DO anything. Sure, they smile and coo, but most of their time is spent sleeping, and eating, and pooping...and not necessarily in that order. When Clara was born, Morgan wanted to immediately play with her. Despite months of preparation for the fact that Clara was going to be little more than a lump, Morgan was heart broken when she realized that it was going to be a long, long wait until she and Clara could actually interact with each other. 

At one of Clara's first appointments, our pediatrician warned us that the single biggest risk to her safety is her big sister. Despite their good intentions, older siblings often over estimate their abilities and underestimate just how fragile newborns are. Morgan was no exception. She wanted to burp Clara, change Clara, soothe her, and cuddle her. We very quickly had to implement a "no touch" policy unless an adult was present to supervise. Not surprisingly, Morgan soon found a work around to this new rule.

It was a matter of days before Morgan started putting things on Clara's head. Technically, this wasn't a violation of the new rule, as placing household items on her little sister didn't necessarily involve any actual contact. Just FYI, give Morgan any rule, and she is guaranteed to tell you just how far you can push those boundaries. She is going to make one hell of an attorney one day. 

Things started benignly enough. Who doesn't love seeing their daughters in coordinating headbands?

But then they started to escalate. Clara was soon the proud recipient of a hot pink plastic Mohawk:

And then Morgan decided that Clara needed a new work out accessory:

Now that Clara was beginning to sit up a little on her own, Morgan decided to take things to the next level and actually balance something on Clara's head. Clara was less than impressed:

Things finally started to take a turn at a recent trip to Lowe's. I am not sure what this is, other than it's some sort of insert for recessed lighting. Morgan clearly thought it made a good hat. While Clara may have agreed, I decided that using random home improvement items as props was bordering on unsafe (I am a super great mom). I declared a moratorium on hat tricks at our house:

Until last week. While carrying a load of laundry from one end of house to the other, I unwittingly left a trail of socks and underwear down the hall and tasked Morgan with picking them up. I didn't give Clara a second thought, primarily because she was safely strapped into her high chair and doesn't actually have any motor skills yet. As I passed through the kitchen, my poor helpless baby caught my eye. There she sat, bewildered, with a pair of Morgan's underwear perched on her tiny little head.

Morgan doesn't know this yet, but her days at the top of the food chain are numbered. Watch out, my daughter. Clara will be walking sooner rather than later. And paybacks are a bitch.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Math

Second grade has brought with it a shocking number of changes. First, my darling daughter decided to cut her hair. The decision has literally been years in the making, Every time she would inch a little closer to chopping her locks, some Disney cartoon would come out with a bunch of characters who had hair that cascaded down their backs and onto the floor. Not only were these images super realistic, they then planted these little tiny seeds of doubt with Morgan about whether she would still be as cute, funny, smart, or engaging with short hair. Despite my reassurances, it took Morgan two years to finally pull the trigger.

The change was immediate. She looks stunning, years older, and now carries herself like a young lady rather than a little girl. Except for when she's tired, or hungry, or if I've told her "no" too many times. Okay, fine. She acts the exact same way now as she did before her hair cut. Whatever. She looks cute.

A new look wasn't the only big change this school year brought. We have now officially entered the world of homework. Granted, we had homework packets in first grade, but I considered them more of a "suggestion" rather than a "requirement" - not sure the rest of the education world agreed, but it has clearly taken us a few years to gear up to this concept. The fact that David is a teacher played a large role in our lackluster approach to finishing homework. By the time he got home every day, he was done. Done being patient, done explaining every concept 47 different ways (because that's what good teachers do), and done telling 30 kids exactly when they could go to the bathroom.

We agreed that I would be the homework "liaison" this year. I like this term better than "enforcer" mostly because it's less likely to make Morgan wail at the kitchen table when I break the news to her that there is an entire set of problems on the back side of her paper. Part of Morgan's math homework also requires her to be able to talk about her solutions in different ways. This includes numerical representations, sentences, and even images. Images are by far Morgan's favorite approach, as it lets her turn her homework into its own art project.

Last week, I left Morgan at the table to finish her last problem. The problem was fairly simple: a visual representation of 7 +__= 17. She asked for colored pencils, which I gladly provided her. As is the practice in our house, Morgan let me know when she was finished, my cue to come check her work. As I quickly scanned the sheet. My eye was immediately drawn to the bottom of the page:

Yep, she drew a martini glass. Nine cups of sparkling water, rounded out with a glass of vodka and a couple of olives. If you look closely, you can see she even threw in a tooth pick. I could have been mortified, embarrassed that Morgan once again threw me under the proverbial bus. But I wasn't.  After all, she could have drawn a couple of cans of beer and a bunch of red Solo cups. At least she kept it classy. Now if you'll excuse me, we're going to go make some Bloody Marys for breakfast.