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.