Friday, December 11, 2015

Thanksgiving Re-cap and Reflections

I haven't been updating recently for a number of reasons. Of course, I am simply so busy that whenever I plan to write something, it must wait and then it seems so off topic and late. However, keeping track of the years and documenting the life of my family is important to me, so I figured I should write about Thanksgiving even though it was a couple of weeks ago.

So, yes. Thanksgiving.

The past couple of years, we have hosted both of our families for Thanksgiving, which has been really nice, but this year, Chris's parents rented the beach house in the Outer Banks that we have stayed at a few times. It was a nice change of pace and the boys love going to "Mawmaw's beach house". They don't quite get that we don't own it. When I explain renting to Eliot, he just says the owners are so nice to share with us. Um, well, no, but. Sure. OK.

My parents ever-so-kindly allowed our dachshunds to stay with them for Thanksgiving and we took Marlowe down to the beach house. She gets very excited about visitors and has been known to steal food off of the counter, so I didn't want her to ruin my parents' dinner. Two dachshunds is enough--they didn't need a lab too. Ha. We headed down on Wednesday afternoon. It quite literally took me SIX HOURS to get everything ready for just a two-night trip. How? I don't know. Maybe because I would get the boys dressed and then walk in the other room to pack. When I returned to the den, Jack had gotten his clothes messy with food and Eliot threw his socks off into some infinite abyss of dog hair. Ugh. I would pack the bags and then Jack (who was just really excited) would UNpack the bags. Traveling with kids is insane. Insane.

BUT WE MADE IT. After we got settled in, we headed to see The Good Dinosaur movie, which was kind of a big deal for us because Eliot has not been able to go see a movie since he was about two years old. Eliot doesn't handle loud noises well, so whenever I'd try to take him to a movie, he'd run out screaming with a trail of pop corn behind him. It was bad. We made it work this time and he just covered his ears some. Jack did a fantastic job and sat the whole time.

On Thanksgiving, we walked down the beach and had fun playing in the sand and getting a little wet. Just a little. Marlowe may or may not have--OK, she did--eaten half of a pie and some rolls, so she was officially banned from the kitchen area if there was any food out. We managed to piece together a great Thanksgiving dinner despite cooking in a kitchen that was not our own.

On Friday, we had Duck Donuts for breakfast, took a walk on the beach, and slowly packed to head back to home and start thinking about Christmas decorating.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Life Lately

I have really been slacking big time when it comes to blogging. I guess I have felt repetitive when it comes to posting on Facebook and Instagram. Photos can be rather self-explanatory, but I won't always flip through old photos online to remember who we were.

A lot of happened lately. Simple things. Big things.

We traveled through fall still embracing warmth for the most part--and I am so glad. Chris has been taking lots of photos of our gardens. The tropical plants are doing great and thriving with the warmth. They are at a peak of sorts with all of spring and summer's growth. In fact, in one neighborhood, the gardener cut down his banana trees in anticipation of the cold. Here's the thing:  it has been so warm that they grew back! I love it! At the same time, the leaves around town have definitely turned and are falling. Our pool is disgusting. Yes, we have not covered it yet because we have been so busy and haven't had a moment without the kids around to cover it. So, I've been dipping the net in to get out a reasonable amount of leaves. Not much luck.

The leaves and cool water have attracted frogs, I think, in search of a place to hibernate. While playing outside, the boys and I rescued frogs on two different occasions. We put them in a plastic critter box and released them at a neighborhood pond.

I've tried to take advantage of nice days outside and played with the boys in our amazing new treehouse. I have been promising Eliot a treehouse since we moved in over two and a half years ago. We found an awesome local company that builds custom playsets, and it was way less than anything else I had found and about the price of us building it ourselves. So, that is the boys' birthday and Christmas presents for the year (or two. or three). The boys have had fun piling leaves at the end of the slide and crashing into them.

Somewhere in there, we all got sick. We all took turns feeling crummy, but fortunately it didn't last long. Then I somehow caught it again.... I was so sick that I didn't even take the boys trick-or-treating on Halloween. I just hid in bed while Chris took them around the neighborhood. Jack almost slept through Halloween, but I woke him up and helped get them dressed as Jedis. Chris said they did good and that Jack really got the concept of taking candy and saying thanks. Well, he said "bye" with a sucker hanging out of his mouth, but it's the thought that counts. Ha. I kind of hate Halloween because my kids go bonkers about candy. I rarely let them have candy, so on Halloween, it's nuts around here. Fortunately, they got really picky (they would only eat Starbursts, M&Ms, and Smartees), so it's pretty much all gone.

A couple of days after Halloween, it was time to head to Lynchburg for Chris's dissertation defense! We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, but since I was sick, we had to post-pone the trip by a day and didn't do much on our "list". We hoped to climb some mountains, see some friends, visit some family, drive by our old house, and more. And as we were packing to go out of town, I realized I was breaking out in a rash on my hands and feet! I thought maybe the rash was hives, but as time went on, they formed into blisters. I ignored it the best I could and pushed on. We were able to go to a park when we got in town, swam in the hotel pool, and then the next day I took the boys around campus with my boss while Chris defended his dissertation. So, we did see SOME mountains. And Chris passed! He was officially called a doctor. Afterward, we headed to his boss's office to talk for a little bit, but Jack was so ready for a nap and we were all hungry. We just walked back to the car and drove home. The next day, I went to the doctor and it turned out to be hand, foot, and mouth disease! It's a virus that mostly just toddlers get, so I'm sure I got it from the kids, but, man, it was crazy. I STILL have it on my hands a little--12 days later--but it doesn't hurt anymore.

Since we've returned home, we've kept pretty busy still. Soccer is over; Eliot started swim lessons. Eliot and Jack have kept busy building train tracks. We went to the zoo on a particularly warm day. We played putt-putt too, which Eliot was great at and Jack was stoked to throw his ball and hit things with his club. Cool... In October, we went to Jamestown for a day trip. The other night, we went to see Wild Kratts live, which is a pretty big deal because it's their favorite show ever and we never go to movies. Both boys did awesome! In the day-to-day, it feels like nothing is going on, but when I look back, we have made some awesome memories.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Boy's Life: Fall

We hold onto summer as long as we can, but the gardens seem to hit their peak in October. They have been growing since summer and the first frost hasn't come to bite the bananas, cannas, and elephant ears yet. The weeds are not growing as quickly, but the leaves slowly clutter the yard--and clog the pool.

I love playing in the yard with the boys. The bananas tower over them as they weave in between the plants. It must feel like a jungle to them. Recently, I fulfilled my two-year promise to them and had a treehouse built (for their birthday and Christmas presents for the next year or so). It is the stuff of dreams, and we've all had a blast climbing the ladder and sharing picnics in the house and rushing down the slide. I know they'll love it for years to come. Chris even put a chair on the deck up there to sit while doing work.

Lately, Chris has been using the camera more and taking lots of photos. He's doing great, and it has reminded me to take pictures too.

It's hard to believe that we just have a few more weeks left of soccer season for Eliot. He's done a great job on the field and I am amazed by how big in looks in photos. For the first half of the season, Eliot grew disappointed if he didn't "win" a game (score a goal), but I tried to keep reminding him that it's all for fun and about teamwork. If his team gets a goal, then HE gets a goal too, but the league doesn't even keep score at this age. He grew so discouraged by teammates stealing his ball (it is just peewee soccer, afterall) that he said he wanted to quit. I told him he had to finish the season, but could sit spring soccer out. Just agreeing to that somehow changed his attitude or something because his approach completely changed. Instead of pouting when he lost the ball, he'd keep up with the group. He clapped whenever anyone scored a goal. And then he starting scoring each game too, which really helped.

And Jack will be old enough for soccer next fall.... We might wait until the spring season for him so he's a little old. I'll just have to see how he is at that point, but he is so eager to get to play too.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dear Jack: Two Years, Four Months

Dear Jack,

This month, we made a new move for you. A while ago when we were on vacation in the Outer Banks, you figured out this cool trick where you could CRAWL OUT OF YOUR PORTACRIB. Well, that was terrifying. And I knew it was only a matter of time before you applied those portacrib escape skills to your regular crib. Sure enough, when we returned home, you were shimming that foot over the side and escaping like it was nobody's business. So, we transitioned your crib to a toddler bed. That was all well and good for a while until you kept crawling on top of Eliot's top bunk bed over and over again. Uh oh. I was so afraid that you were going to get hurt, so we unbunked them and put one in your room. So, now you are officially in a twin-sized bed!

Your biggest change this month was starting school! You are going to the same school as Eliot once a week for a few hours as part of a Parents' Morning Out program. You are more independent than Eliot and I think the fact that you have seen Eliot go to school there has helped, but you did really well. You were not so sure for the first couple of weeks, but you barely fuss anymore. I think it's good for you to get some extra play time with other kids and it will make your transition to preschool easier next year. I had a rough time with it at first. I really wrestled with the idea of sharing you--I didn't quite feel ready. You are doing wonderful, and I am confident that it was the right choice.

You've really gotten into painting since you started school as well. I let you do water colors at home somtimes, but you get to use all kinds of paint at school. When you come home, you try to get in your backpack and say, "Paint! Paint!" You have brought a painting home to show me.

One of your favorite activities is exploring with flashlights. You like to take them in the dark hall, in the closets, in the laundry room--anywhere that is dark. Sometimes we take flashlights to the beach at night to look for crabs.

This semester, I have been teaching twice a week at the community college during your naptime. I hate to say good-bye and you cry at the door when I'm trying to leave, but then we have the best cuddles when you wake up from your nap. You are always either so amazingly happy or angry, going so fast and snuggling up, extremely attentive or totally uninterested. It's always one way or the other, and I am so thankful that I get enjoy all of your love and affection still even as you grow from a toddler to a boy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dear Jack: Two Years, Three Months

Dear Jack,

At two years and three months, you are our adventurous son. You are always ready to go exploring in the woods or paddling. Recently, we bought a kayak, and while Eliot is always nervous, you get so excited to ride in the boat. I was surprised how well you did (and how you didn't tip us over). You just sit in my lap and let me paddle as you look around.

You are still our wild child. I think sometimes that you were meant to be raised by wolves. When we go to the zoo, you just want to chase the geese and peacocks. I always wondered what you would do if you caught them. Well, apparently you would throw things at them. Sigh. It is tough wrangling you and your brother, but you have a lot of fun.

Still, you must be civilized to a certain degree because you recently have gotten super stoked on accessorizing with hats. You love hats! You want a hat with every outfit. Your head is a little on the big side, so we had to buy new ones since Eliot didn't have any hand-me-downs to offer. It works out well, though, because your skin is so light that wearing a hat helps protect your face. The hats also tend to make you look like a teenager, which is weird.

You have become an absolute pro at getting your hair cut. You get so much practice because I need to get your hair cut every four weeks, but I try to push it to six. Your hair grows so fast and it is so fine (still like baby hair), so it quickly turns into a mullet. I'm not about to let that happen.

This summer has been amazing with you. We have had a blast splashing in the pool, and you just sit on the steps playing until someone can help you jump off the side (over and over and over for all eternity). We've explored the woods. We've eaten icecream and crushed ice. You love the beach and chase the waves while screaming. We feed the seagulls and, of course, chase them too to give them their exercise. You collect shells and give them to me for safe keeping. Fall is just around the corner and you'll be going to a Parents' Morning Out program once a week, but for now (right now) it's just the four of us finding new adventures every day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Small Childhood Wonders and Mystery

One of my favorite parts of having babies is watching them slowly become aware of their surroundings. That awareness grows to wonder. They find amazement in the little things that we take for granted. A blade of grass. A bird flying overhead. Bubbles. Even the TV remote.

As we grow older, we lose our fascination. I think we're too busy. Our lives are flooded with technology. Everyone says it all the time. And my boys like playing on the iPad and they watch a lot of Wild Kratts and Eliot is unbelievably great at puzzles in Lego games on the Wii. It worries sometimes to see them get so "plugged in," so I try to maintain a balance.

One of my hopes as a parent is to fill up their hearts with memories of an enchanting childhood. I hope to help them hold onto that curiosity and amazement with the world. I must keep that wonder alive as long as possible. I love to watch them interact with the world around them. Of course, going on adventures together helps maintain our bond between the family members. There's so much more to it, though. Children learn through seeing, touching, and experiencing. I see Eliot cup a baby goat's face in his hands, but he's doing more than just having a good time. He's touching on our family's past.

I'm not a scientist by any means, but I try to help them with little experiments when I see opportunities. We collect bugs in the backyard. They help us in the gardens. I bought some geodes for a few dollars off of Amazon and we cracked them together to look at the crystals inside. We collect shells, sandfiddlers, and sea glass at the beach.

Entwined with the attempts to scientifically explain the world stands perhaps an even more intriguing perspective: the mystery all around us. There is so much that cannot be explained, and that's where their exploration and new discoveries take root. As I let the boys run free on the beach or explore a peach orchard, their imaginations grow. Eliot develops storylines about what we're doing or where we are going. He digs in the dirt for dinosaur bones. He is always playing some form of pretend. I try to encourage creativity whenever possible. Growing older, I feel my imagination only decreasing, so I hope to build them up while at a young age and perhaps it will last them a lifetime. In college, I would read literature and hear one of my professors say, "You can't write what you don't know." Maybe if I give them many experiences, they will know many things. And maybe they will be able to write better than I can. One of Eliot's favorite activities is writing stories that I transcribe and he then draws the pictures. Jack is developing storylines with his toys better and better each day. His dinosaurs do more than just fight now. Imagination can encourage abstract thinking, which is of course is important in so many areas of life.

My prayer is that they carry some of this, just some, with them, even if they don't realize it. I hope that they at least grow up and have great memories of us all together.

Creativity has to be grown; it can't be taught.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Drifting Summer Days

This summer has been such a relief. In the winter and spring, I taught a heavy adjunct load at the community college and also taught my full load online. I loved being back in the classroom and also tried a lot of new approaches online. I do love my job--and I'm so glad that I can say that. The weeks were going by fast, though, with Eliot having both swim lessons and soccer twice a week (back-to-back, even, on Thursdays) on the days that I didn't go in to teach. I felt like we were running, running, running. So, having the summer to just teach online and consider my syllabi at the community college has been really nice.

We've gone to the beach so much. We got into kayaking. We splashed in our pool. We did so much gardening. Our backyard truly has grown into a jungle, tropical oasis. I love it.

In two weeks, I start back up at the community college and fall classes will also begin online. I am just teaching one course residentially, twice a week opposed to three times a week, so I know the schedule will be much more calm. And I will have most of my lessons all planned out, so I will not need as much preparation. Then in about a month, Eliot will start school. He is doing pre-K4, and I'm nervous yet excited for him. It took a long time for him to get in a groove last fall. He would cry a lot when I dropped him off, but I think he just needed to make some friends. After a couple of months, we would tell me all about his friends at school. He'll also be starting soccer again in the fall. He'll be one of the older kids this season, so it will be fun to watch him grow in his skills. I thought about enrolling Jack in the Parents Morning Out Program at Eliot's school, and I might still, but I just don't feel quite ready to let him go yet. Summer has been great, and sometimes I wish it could last forever, but I am looking forward to parts of the fall. Parts of it. ;)

Chris and I have been trying to set up a game plan to survive winter. All year, Chris tracks the weather and follows reports of speculations regarding what kind of winter we might have. It sounds like possibly very wet, but maybe not abnormally cold like the past two winters have been. That can be OK. The palms like water, but not ice and super low temps below 20. I don't like temps below 20 either. Part of plan, though, is to attempt to travel. I say "attempt" because we have never been good at it. We have been promising ourselves an island trip for years--since before we even discussed getting pregnant with Eliot. We always get close and say, "Well, maybe next year." I have so many regrets about not throwing caution to the wind and just going more often. And now that the boys can indeed survive with grandparents without us (and do so happily), hopefully Chris and I will bring ourselves to booking a trip, just the two of us, to someplace special in the winter (December/January). And we might maybe perhaps push ourselves to go somewhere warm with the boys later in winter (maybe in February or March). When Jack was nine months old, we drove to Florida. That was our last vacation other than the Outer Banks with Chris's family. Before that, when Eliot was a year and a half (three years ago), we went to Myrtle Beach. We forced ourselves to go because we were going crazy after my miscarriage. So, yes, it took a miscarriage for us to make ourselves travel. And before that was my and Chris's honeymoon to Florida eight years ago. There were some professional development and work trips for conferences here and there for a few days before we had kids, but no other vacations. Yeah, we haven't traveled much.

The boys left on Thursday for a long weekend with their grandparents in northern Virginia. Chris's mom and sister came for a couple of days, and as they were walking out the door, Jack grabbed his shoes and demanded to go with them. So, they said OK and we threw a couple of bags together last minute. And off they went. This is my second time away from Jack and I think Eliot's fourth time away. It feels so strange without them. I miss them so much, but I am glad that they love their grandparents. As Eliot was leaving, he kept saying, "I will miss you, but I will have fun with Mawmaw and Elizabeth and Granddad." It's a good balance.

While the boys have been gone, Chris and I were able to work and clean guilt-free. We would sleep past 6:00 am, I'd go for a run, and then we'd work for a few hours. I cleaned out and washed both of the cars--that took three hours, but they look awesome. Then Chris and I would try to do something fun together and go out for dinner. We don't take the kids to restaurants, really, so we've had a chance to check out some places we had heard about. We went kayaking off Old Pungo Ferry Road, which I suppose is the North Landing River? I don't know, but as a teenager, I would always drive over the bridge and show my friends how awesome the view was, exclaiming that it looked like Lion King. When I later learned that the water was accessible, I dreamed of finding a way to get a boat out there. Well, we finally put the kayak in and it.was.awesome. So many osprey. A little bit of a current and mostly quiet--just a couple of jet skis and boats. Chris had read that this area can get "busy," so he didn't want to take the boys there until we checked it out ourselves. It seems like a great place to take them.

While it has been nice being able to "get things done" without leaving the boys to their own devices or having Chris watch them, I am so excited to get them back today. It feels empty without them. I miss Eliot's commentary on everything and Jack, our little Bam-bam, running around excitedly.

I'm feeling all kinds of emo with about a month of summer days left. I ordered Eliot's school clothes since I found a sale, and I'm thinking about how he will be turning five in the winter. That makes me sad, yet he's such a fun a kid. I don't want to lose him. This summer has been great. It will be a sad day when the first frost comes and knocks out the banana trees and elephant ears until the return next spring. I measure the seasons and year in my plants. Maybe I'll plant a fall garden to keep myself going.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dear Jack: Two Years, Two Months

Dear Jack,

I knew it would come to this. I knew you would grow up fast after turning two--faster than your brother did. He held onto many "baby" habits, but you have always been in a hurry to catch up with him. You've always been more independent and more grown in that way.

I feel like you have checked most "big boy" tasks off the list other than starting school, which won't be for another year. I am happy, though, that you still are so very sweet to me and love to cuddle, especially in the morning. While we call you Bam-bam since you are a little wild one, you have picked up saying "sorry" whenever I tell you that you have hurt me, which is mostly on accident. I can't stay mad. And when I begin to fuss at you to correct you, you have started blowing kisses.

For a while, I was unsure of what to say were your favorite things because you go with the flow and love whatever your brother loves. As you have grown more vocal, I can say for certain what you love now. You are absolutely nuts for the tv show Wild Kratts in which the Kratt brothers activate their creature power suits to save animals. When I turn on the tv, you point and say "that" until their show is on the menu, and then you yell, "Rat rat rat!" You try to sing the theme song and hit your chest to activate your creature power. You are so enthusiastic about it. Fortunately, your brother loves the show too, so you guys could watch it all day. Also, you and Eliot have recently started loving Shaun the Sheep. You picked it out randomly because you saw it and love farm animals. And somehow we ended up watching it over and over for three days. You love to "cock-a-doodle-doo" with the rooster as the show begins and ask for it by saying, "Baaa!"

I've been working with you on swimming and holding your breath underwater. I'm sure you won't be swimming fully any time soon, but I am trying to help you not be afraid of holding your breath and putting your face in the water. You don't quite seem to like it (I know I don't without a mask), but you are doing it.

You have always seemed to be in a hurry to grow up, and I suppose I will have to let your baby side go. I will have to accept that I cannot (and will not) hold you as the baby forever. However, for now, you are still a child. You are still a boy. Your eyes are still filled with wonder. You are still bright and happy almost all of the time. You still hold my hand happily. You're still mine, and I will cherish this time for all that it is.