Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One Week: Pre-school Prepping

In one week, Eliot starts pre-k3.

Back in February, Chris and I chose to enroll him in pre-school for fall in hopes of him socializing more, learning more, and getting used to structure. I wouldn't say he has any social problems to sort out, but he loves being around kids, so we thought it'd be good for him. He is a smart kid, but it is hard for me to teach him at home when Jack is around. Eliot will either completely ignore me when I try to work with him or will do an entire workbook in one sitting. As for structure, I wanted to get him used to school and listening to other adults. Since Chris and I work from home, that extra time with Eliot at pre-school will really help.

Sometimes, though, I don't want to let him go. He doesn't have to go this early. It's optional. Totally optional. I worry about him. He has been saying he is excited for school, yet when he found out that I'd be leaving him there, he didn't seem so stoked.

However, we went to open house on Monday. His teachers were nice and he talked to them. I was relieved that he wasn't too shy (and closing his eyes) or too outgoing (and saying crazy things about Godzilla). I had him use the potty there to show him that it wasn't loud and scary. He played with toys. He didn't want to leave. I left feeling much better about the whole situation, and I think he did too.

Of course, I still worry. I worry about pre-school and then kindergarten and middle school and high school. I can't imagine him walking down a hall to his class by himself (which he won't this year, but eventually, I mean). I can't always be there, but I want to be. And I'll miss the little guy! I try to remind myself that it is only three hours. By the time I get home, do a load of laundry, and unload the dishwasher, it will almost be time to go pick him up.

When I worry, I try to think of my own pre-school experiences.

When I was three, I attended a mom's day out program once a week. I don't remember how long it was. I remember there being a lot of kids and a slide and a playground and doing crafts of a squirrel made out of foam while I sat on the lap of an old lady. When I would get home, my mom would say that she could smell the old lady's perfume on me. It was a positive experience, I think. Then the next year, when I was four, I went to a traditional pre-school at the same church. I remember sitting at a desk. I remember my backpack, watching The Land Before Time, and going to a music class. We didn't like the music teacher. We said she was mean, so we would mouth the words unless she got close--then we'd sing loud because we were scared. I say "we" because one of my neighbors went to the same pre-school.

I didn't really have negative experiences at school until fifth grade (we won't go there...). I mean, I had scuffles and not good experiences, but nothing that caused me to come home crying or impacted me overall. So, all I can do is try to stay involved, build him up at home, earn and maintain his trust, and continue to pray for him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Little Boy Growing Up: Eliot at 3.5 Years

I write my monthly updates about Jack, just as I did with Eliot, but my letters to Eliot have finished at three years. However, I do think it is important for me to write a little bit about how Eliot is growing from time to time. So, here is his half-year update.

As Eliot grows, his interests grow too. His favorite tv shows are Transformers Rescue Bots and Wild Kratts. He is always transforming into some animal and going on some rescue mission. He loves to play pretend.

Eliot also loves to draw, paint, and color. He draws pictures for me and it melts my heart. We set up a little craft area for him to keep it all organized, and I must say that it was one of my better ideas.

He is becoming such a big kid and stepping into more structure. He is doing better than ever at his soccer classes at the Beach Field House. He has done so well that I signed him up to play on a team in the fall with Chesapeake Soccer Club--practice is just about a week away! He is doing quite a good job with running too. He loves to run all over the place, and Chris signs him up for little kids' races every now and then. Recently, he ran a race with other three- and four-year-olds and won second place!

His first year of pre-school is about two weeks away. He will attend a three-day a week pre-school for three-year-olds. I am pretty nervous, yet I know he'll have so much fun. He loves being around other kids, learning, and doing art. I'm assuring myself that it will be OK since it is only for three hours. How much do I really accomplish before noon anyway? I worry about stupid things too, like if he'll eat his snack (he's SO moody when it comes to food) or if he'll pull his pants up right when using the potty or if he'll freak out when someone says the word "frozen" (it happens). I just need to let go, though, and face challenges as they come.

One of the amazing things about Eliot is how he is intrigued and fascinated by all of the details around him. He is always piecing together collections:  collections of shells, rocks, sticks, dead bugs... If it is organic, he's collecting it. I love how he sees beauty in everything. He keeps his shells in a jar on his dresser. He tucks his rocks away in the wood beams of the top bunk in his bed. He sees value in everything.

I am so happy that Eliot is still interested in being sweet and cuddling. Let's face it:  he's a momma's boy. He always wants me to put him to bed. It is a special time for me to connect with him peacefully (usually), no matter how our day has been. He asks so many questions while I'm putting him to bed, often about death, which really puts everything into perspective. He cuddles with me most frequently. In the evenings, though, he is happy to lay in his daddy's arms too. Eliot sleeps in his bed in his room, but creeps in our room in the middle of the night. He is so kind with his words and tells me that I am cute. He notices when I wear a dress, get a hair cut (like, twice a year), and even simple things, like cleaning. He always compliments my cleaning skills and thanks me for picking up his room.

I am so thankful for the relationship that Eliot has with Jack. There are times when they have trouble sharing (mostly Eliot's fault), yet Eliot is mesmerized by Jack. He says he is cute all the time. They give eachother kisses. When Jack cries, Eliot reaches to comfort him.

I think Eliot is the sweetest, funniest, most creative kid. He drives me bonkers sometimes with the constant questions and how he bear crawls throughout the house (often accidentally running into the walls and hurting himself), but I know I'll miss all of the insanity. Our beautiful baby has grown into a handsome boy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Will I be all alone in the world?"

As I tuck Eliot in bed at night, he has so many questions about life and death.  His questions give me a glimpse into his little three-year-old brain.  And sometimes his perception on life breaks my heart because he is so full of fear at times--fear that I don't want him to be dealing with.

"When you and Daddy and Jack die, will I be all alone in the world?" he asked.  My heart sunk.  What a horrible feeling he must have felt when he thought of that.

I told him no, that we weren't going to die for a long, long time, and that he has so many people that love him and family members to care for him that he would never, ever be alone.

Still, in my heart, I know that I cannot promise Eliot that I won't die any time soon.  I don't think I will, and I pray that I don't, but we never know.  I certainly didn't tell him that, though, not now.  Eliot is such a positive little guy.  He loves life.  If Chris and I are bickering, he always tells us to stop.  If Jack is crying, Eliot comforts him.  If one of us gets stressed out, even just driving in traffic, Eliot tells us "it will be all right".  So when he starts asking about death or tells me that he is scared of monsters, I feel so bad for him because that is real in his world.  In Eliot's world, he takes things literally:  shadows are monsters, games of freeze tag really result in someone being frozen forever, and the AC turning on at night is a t-rex roaring.

I cupped his face in my hands and said, "I thank God for you every day.  Before we had you, I prayed for you.  I prayed that God would give us a baby.  And that baby was you.  And we love you so much.  I'm so glad we have you."  Eliot smiled and seemed more at ease.  He said he loved me too, rolled on his side, and asked me to sing to him while he went to sleep.

I do wonder where this is all stemming from.  We haven't lost any family members recently.  Our rabbit and cat died within a year of each other, which we tried to keep hush-hush (but he figured it out, of course).  Is it normal for three-year-olds to begin asking about life, death, the afterlife, creation, and so on?  Maybe it is.  I know three-year-olds question everything, so maybe he has just started exploring the abstract, especially since our two pets died.

These existential and spiritual talks all serve as a reminder that Eliot is indeed growing up.  He loves to have fun and run around and draw and jump and pretend to transform into animals.  He is light-hearted and could play all day, but there is also a very deep side to him that wants to understand everything.  That little brain of his is always thinking.  And he reminds me of my own questions and worries.  The world is full of beauty, hope, love, and life, yet it is also full of suffering, evil, cruelty, and death.  The more questions Eliot asks and the more he becomes aware that there is more to life than play, I have to prepare myself with answers or gentle guidance that we don't always have all of the answers and that is OK.  I want to teach Eliot to focus on the beauty around him and be the best person he can in order to help snuff out the bad.  Be generous to all.  Love all.  Be hopeful in all circumstances.  Persevere.  Pray everyday.  Be thankful for everything.  And sometimes all the medicine we need is a short walk through the woods with a pen and some paper.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Photography After Kids

When Chris and I used to feel bored, we would go take photos.  It was our favorite thing to do.  We brought our camera everywhere with us.  If Chris or I did not look our best in a photo, I deleted it.  I had high standards for our pictures.  And I got to be pretty good at photography too.  I've photographed four weddings, numerous family events, and have done family portraits.

There is a big difference, though, from taking pictures of adults and then taking pictures of kids, especially your kids.  So, since having babies, I've learned to change my standards.  This is what I have learned (and how I'm hoping to grow) over the past few years of taking pictures with my little guys.

If they're being silly, just let them be silly.
I always want to capture the perfect picture of our boys, but sometimes they just would rather make funny faces than smile.  And that is fine.  It shows their personalities. I'm lucky if I can get Eliot to even look at the camera.  Sticking your tongue out?  I'll take it!

Capture the day-to-day moments, even if they don't look perfect.
 In this picture, Eliot really needed his hair brushed, but he was sleepily snuggling with his stuffed panda, a rare moment that I wanted to capture.  Did I grab a hair brush?  No, I grabbed the camera instead.  If I had tried to brush his hair, the moment would have been over for sure.  When I look back on pictures, some of my favorites are those that remind me of what our simple day-to-day activities looked like.

There are times too when I don't want to take a photo because my house is messy.  In the photo below, my hair looked crazy and we were still unpacking from moving (anddd I was kind of embarrassed that Eliot still used a paci at two years old).  However, Eliot was helping me put together Jack's crib.  It was something that I didn't want to forget.

Take a picture on special days, but don't be too picky.
I usually try to take photos on holidays.  It's always a good excuse to dress nice and keep track of how we are growing.  I don't keep it going too long, though, to the point that the kids get upset and frustrated.  In this photo, I feel like I don't look the best, Jack is staring at me instead of the camera, and Chris could use a hair cut.  Eliot is cute, though--and is actually looking at the camera for once.  I know when to stop, though, and I'm sure I won't be as critical of this picture in years to come.  Instead, I'll just smile and remember that this was Jack's first Easter.

Don't just take photos of the kids--take pictures of what is around you, too.
It is all too easy for me to get caught up in getting that perfect portrait of the boys.  I'm crazy about them!  However, I need to remind myself that taking photos of the scenery around us is part of the memories too.
Get in the picture.
This is something that I really need to work on.  I focus so much on capturing moments and taking portraits of my kids that the thought of taking a photo of me seems incredibly vain.  The thing is, though, I will want those memories too.  And I suspect that my sons will one day treasure photos of themselves with their mom.  Whether it is a selfie, a self-timer, or asking someone to take the picture for you, make it a priority to get in the shot too at times.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dear Jack: 13 Months

Dear Jack,

You are now 13 months!  You are at that weird place with age where I could just say "a year and a month," but it feels so confusing.

Everything about you is so much more independent than I remembered with Eliot.  I can't eat with a fork around you because you want to steal it.  You are set on feeding yourself.  You want to climb all of the stairs by yourself, give yourself a bath, pick out your own food, brush your teeth, and even try to wipe yourself during diaper changes.  You've stepped it up in playtime with Eliot too and have specific toys you want to play with.  A simple "trade" strategy no longer works with you two in order to maintain the peace, but we're always working at new ways to play.

You really are taking in the world around you and are beginning to understand how things work.  You take the remote from us and point it at the tv.  You take our phones and pretend to talk.  You get ahold of the ear thermometer and put it in your ear.

As for speech, you haven't expanded your words much lately and mostly stick with ball, dada, ma, dog, some form of "kitty," and bye.  These are your favorite things, so it makes sense.  It's funny because when we are leaving and saying bye, you wait until we are almost gone before bellowing out this huge "BYE!!!"  If we are leaving Target, you wait until we are about to walk out the door.  If I am dropping you off at Nana's so I can work, you wait until I'm pretty much on the front porch.  You're so silly.  And, of course, you continue to growl and roar all of the time because you love dinosaurs the best.

Your dad and I have kind of concluded that you are a daddy's boy.  Sure, you get sad when I leave and so excited to see me, but you yell "Dada" all the time and almost bust out a window if your dad goes to check the mail.  Maybe you aren't playing favorites all the way because I can tell that you really love us both for sure.  And you love dogs the most, probably.  You bring them balls and try to get them to lick the inside of your mouth.  Yuck...

You are so good at so many big kid things.  You love to color with your brother.  You read books on your own (and don't let us help).  

I know that you will grow up and continue to become a boy, but I can't imagine you as anything but our sweet baby boy.  I really can't.  At the same time, I have a hard time remembering what your brother was like at your age.  I'm enjoying this period with you as our little one--our youngest--and I know it will just keep getting better.