Saturday, January 28, 2012

The End Of January

The month of January is coming to a close. See ya next year, Jan.

January, as the first month of the year, is like the trial for the entire 12 month stint. Have you ever noticed that? It's subconscious, I think, but we all jump on board the Resolution Train on January 1st, readying ourself to make this year the best year. Ever.

And we have one whole month to prove it, right?

It's not cynical to point out that by the end of the month we've relaxed our expectations. After all, the year will be okay if we don't jog every single day, right? And really, what were we thinking when we thought that the year would somehow be better if we stopped partaking of the Lord's special gift to us: sugar products? January is kinda the trial test-month for the whole enchilada. Maybe it's a good thing we found these important truths out now, you know, before we get too far into things. It would be especially painful to come to these conclusions in say, October or something right?

Really, January is a great month, located in just the right place: right up front. It gives us time to sort through all those resolutions to see which ones are really useful and which ones are not so much. Doritos are not our enemy, people. They're not.

It is always with a sense of "Don't Let The Door Hit Ya On The Way Out" that I bid a fond farewell to the month that is January. Casting off this first month feels like shrugging free of some sort of restraint and finally being able to charge full force into the rest of the year. (Now that it's not that hindrance of January anymore.) Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I greet February first with a smile and a confident, "Let's Go Get 'Em" attitude.

January at our household is winding down with the clatter of teeth falling out. Both girls suddenly have no fewer than 5 teeth each that look as they they are hanging on by a strand of DNA. The other night, Ashlyn happily yanked out her first top tooth. We rejoiced in the new found vacancy in her upper pallet; two hours later she evicted its next door neighbor, creating yet another vacant lot on Upper Street.

Last night Caedance joined in on the fun, pulling out her first upper tooth, and freeing up a spot on her top  deck. The tooth next to it is wobbling, wobbling, wobbling. We await a repeat performance any day now.

So January ends with Jack-o-lantern grins at our house. An interesting close to the month.

February is poised to greet us with a smile. And inevitably the jingle of more loose teeth. But we're ready.

See ya later, January.

How ya doing, February?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How To Spend A Snowy Day

We awoke this morning to a fluffy layer of snow on the ground. White and beautiful, it lay in waiting for boots, snow pants, sleds, and mittened hands to scuff it up.

When I was a kid, an overnight snowfall like this always, always, always meant a morning of playing outside in it. There was an understanding at our house that undisturbed snow was just waiting for a Rumpus, and we were more than happy to provide that. My brothers and I had a never vocally acknowledged competition between the 3 of us to see who could muck up the most of the fresh, smooth snow. Considering we had 2 acres of open yard, it was a free for all in those first moments when we were bundled and released into the wild.

I remember my frustration of watching my older brothers toss on a coat, some work boots, a ski hat, and a pair of rubbery day-glo orange gloves (which, incidentally, made absolutely wicked snowballs), and head out the door first. While I had to endure the entire process of bedecking that involved putting on multiple layers, one after another, and then squeezing into a last layer, which by this time felt to be about 4 sizes too small. I still cringe at the memory of squeezing my multi-layered foot into a tight boot, and shoving my hands into yet another layer of gloves.

At last ready to finally go outside, it was with extreme dismay that I looked around and saw that my hard working older siblings had canvassed pretty much the entire expanse of the yard while I was still enduring the Suiting Up process. Most of the yard had seen the Rumpus. If they were feeling especially generous, they might have left a small patch for me, or they might have avoided the furthest corners of the yard, by the treeline perimeter that surrounded our property.
This gesture was really not such a gift considering I was absolutely terrified of heading to that part of the yard unaccompanied. And they knew it. So they would heroically offer to escort me to the frightening End Of The Yard. Naturally, once there they'd proceed to dash in all directions, quickly mucking up everything in the vicinity.

Such givers they were.

Snow meant fun when I was a kid. It meant going outside into the freezing weather bundled to the point of near paralysis. It meant playing for hours making forts, slides, and having snowball fights, (which I always lost and wherein I  was generally injured). It meant going back inside, half hypothermic, and having hot chocolate, and warming up by the fire, having competitions to see whose appendages were the coldest, the most bluish, and the most numb.

Apparently that particular gene did not get passed down to either of the girls.
At the sight of today's fluffy white blanket, both of them cringed in dismay and sincere disapproval.

"Girls, do you want to go out and play for awhile?" I asked them this, fully ready to commit myself to the half hour long ritual of bundling that I knew would come next.

They stared at me with an incredulous look upon their faces. The look clearly stated that they were sure mom had officially danced off the pier of Sanity into the dark abyss of Crazy Land.

"Mother?" They questioned in unison, as if to ascertain that they had heard my ramblings correctly.  "Oh my no, mom. No we do not."

At that last, they turned and pranced into the family room and each snuggled up with a book on the couch.

How can I complain with this turn of events? After all, although I love my childhood memories of dashing here and there through drifts of freezing cold snow, I never have been taken with the other side of that fun: The Mother's Side. The side where you pull and tug and shove your child into multiple layers amid their groans and grunts of frustration, only to have them go outside for a few minutes, cringe at the cold, and stand at the door waiting to come back in, looking like sad puppies who have been neglected. Then there is the Disrobing procedure that involves unwrapping the now cold and unhappy children, and piling the wet, snowy garb somewhere out of the way to be dealt with later. Of course by the time you get to the wet, snowy gear that you put out of the way, it has melted all over, and in addition to putting it all away, you now have a wet mess to clean up as well.

Freed from this ritual, I shall take a lesson from the girls instead. Book. Couch. Blanket. Mug of tea. Perhaps a biscotti.

Maybe they do know the right way to spend a snowy day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keeping Their Histories

"Mommy, I have a question," Ashlyn asked with her usual sweet demeanor.

"All right then, my sweet," I said, turning to face her. "I'm ready for it."

"Do you remember when I was in your tummy?"

Ah, yes. This one again.

Both girls have been revisiting their collective pasts over the last few months. The surge of Growing Up that has hit them has also left its traces of melancholy and an extreme need to know and understand what came before.

And both are fascinated with the idea that they ever, ever could have fit inside of anything at all.

"Yes, as a matter of fact sweetie, I do remember it. Very well. That was a very special time for me." I smile at her, welcoming her to continue.

"What did I feel like in there, Mama? What was I LIKE in there?" Her head is cocked to one side. Curiosity has gotten the better of her. I have memories of herself that she does not own. She wants the information I have. Who was she then.

Pulling her into a hug, I wonder where to begin. How can I tell her how amazing it was? To feel not one but two little heads moving around. Two bodies twisting in a space built for one?

What words can I use to paint the picture of awe that I felt when they were fighting inside their confined space? There were the kicks from 4 legs, punches from 4 arms, and 20 fingers grabbing all around. Never enough room. Never. And two little girls who made it very clear from the earliest moments that they needed their space and would have it, one way or another. (Even if it meant punching at their mother's rigid frame.)

There were the peaceful moments where all I'd feel is a flutter here or there. A brief stirring as if one was waking from a nap. Gentle movements that felt almost fluid, comforting in their reassurance that the two lives inside me were quiet and okay.

There were the uncomfortable moments too. Times when those collective 8 limbs felt like 80 or more. Their motions so quick they morphed into a squirming sensation that radiated throughout my entire being. True to what became their nature, these night owls performed feats of dexterity and flexibility throughout the night hours. When they were not at rest, I was not at rest. Could not be at rest. My prenatal night times were spent rocking on the glider chair in their nursery. A dry run for the months to come. Months before the big day arrived.

How can I put these many feelings into words that will truly express how it was?

How can I tell her that even though I couldn't see her or hold her while she was wrapped tightly in her cocoon, even though her features were dark to me, I knew her the moment I held her. The first time she was placed in my arms, it all connected. The little girl whose face I stared into was the one who sat on this side of my belly. The one who spent the happiest of hours with one toe wedged delightfully in between two of my ribs.

How was she in there? WHO was she in there? She was exactly herself. Exactly the way she is today; this girl standing before me, a grown up version of her baby-self.

There is no way to put this all into words. No way to make her understand that entire experience.

So I look at her, wrapped in my arms and smiling up at me, waiting for an answer.

"You were you, Ashlyn. You were a precious miracle. When you moved I smiled. When you kicked, I laughed. Sometimes that hurt a little and I would say, 'Ouch'. I knew when you were awake, and when you were sleeping. I knew which baby was you and which was your sister. You were both yourselves, even when I couldn't see you. Even when I couldn't hold you."

"Did you love me in there, Mama? Even when you couldn't hold me?" Her face turned somber. Serious.

"Oh yes, my love. I loved you very, very much when you were in there. And I love you even MORE now." I give her a squeeze.

She looks up at me, wrinkling her nose with deep concentration.

"Was I ever really that small?"

"You were then. For that very short period of time you were very, very small."

"Mama?" Her look is thoughtful again.


"What's for dinner?"

And just like that, our trip down memory lane is over and we're back to the present once again.

Come back again, my love. Anytime. Your history is written inside my heart. I'll be here when you're ready to learn another part of it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Still Lovin' "Are-Chother"

Today I witnessed something that made me feel sad, confused, and, in a way, angry. All at once. That's a lot of feelings to roll up into a ball and toss
anyone's way, but I had to take a moment to get it out of my head. I hope you don't mind.

I suppose I should start by setting a background to our parenting style. You see, I was raised with the belief that respect is something that is earned, not a given right. If I wanted my parents to respect me, I needed to first and foremost show respect to them. And not just because I wanted to be respected, mind you, but because...(are you ready for this?) they were the parents. How do you like that one, huh?

Cardinal rule number one in our house is firm: Children will respect and obey the parents.

Does this mean we dominate our kids and treat them like chattel? Of course not. We love them dearly and want them to feel secure in these truths: Mom and Dad are there for them. Will protect them. Care for them. Provide for them. Will listen to them about anything they need to say. Will love them unconditionally. Always. Part of instilling that sense of safety is by setting rules and letting them know that however much they want to, they do not rule our roost. That's our job. It's a big job, but it's one we signed on for. Let us take the reins on this one, sweetums. We've got it.

Okay, so back to today.

 I was waiting for the girls to finish up a dance class and had the opportunity to watch a mother and her son, who appeared to be about the same age as the girls, perhaps a bit older. He was playing a video game while sitting in a chair.

The office was getting crowded, so his mom asked him to move to a smaller, Kid-Appropriate chair to make room from some of the other adults.  He ignored her.

She asked again. He threw an angry look that included his eyes and his upper body, physically grinding himself into the chair in defiance. His eyes screamed, Make Me.

She gave up. Stopped asking him.
Adults shuffled in around all of us, the room was crowded. Everyone was just standing.

She made one more attempt to have this kiddo move to the children's area. "Please move to that blue chair."

He looked up with effort from his game. Met her eyes with his. "Blah-blah-blah-blah. Stop talking to me. Can't you see I'm concentrating?"

His tone smacked me in the face, and I have no idea who he is and doubt I'll have to deal with him again. But what about his mom?

She just smiled at the curious strangers around us. Perhaps to say, "Oh yes, this happens all of the time. It's normal you see. He never listens to me."

Every part of me was itching with sheer irritation. Why didn't she do something? This kid has been given the freedom to set his own limits, move back the boundaries, live in his own world. Now would be the perfect time to pull out some Love & Logic and turn this bad choice into a learning moment.

Instead, she pulled out her phone and proceeded to peruse the Internet. Content to wait. Meanwhile, Lil' Mr. Sassy pants played on, game volume turned to High. Now, my girls travel with their video games when I know we'll be waiting for awhile, so I am all for the simplicity of letting technology keep an otherwise bored kid out of your hair. For us though,  when they are playing the games in public, the sound is off on them. No questions asked. The girls are good at this now, turning the volume off before the game even starts up.

Mom was getting annoyed at the dinky-tink-tink-waaa litany coming from the device and asked him to turn the volume down. He ignored her. Played on. She asked again. He threw The Look and squared off his shoulders. (I have seen that stance on many a student. He was prepped for battle, this one). She shrugged her shoulders and sat back against her seat. Back to the Internet again. Defeated.

Honestly, the whole thing made me sad. How tiring her days must be, forever struggling with him over small things like these. How draining. How long those 24 must seem, when one hour to the next is a new battle. An ongoing war.

I'm not judging here, either. I am not. My girls have their days, and I'm sure some people have looked at me and thought, "What is up with that lady?" I do not judge.

Truthfully, the entire scene made me incredibly thankful. Thankful for so many things. I'm thankful that my parents raised me with the beliefs that they did, and that their parenting style was one that made me see the importance of respect. I'm thankful that even when it was hard, and when Dan and I were sleep exhausted and consumed with the need for a laissez-faire attitude, we still persevered with a discipline. Still pushed on with another time out, another "Bummer, this is so sad...." I don't have these constant struggles with my girls. I have struggles, sure, but...not constantly. Not non-stop.

After dance class, I felt the very strong need to hug them.

 "You two are pretty good kids, aren't you?" I asked them on the car ride home.

"We are, Mommy. You're pretty good too, you know."

"Hey thanks, loves. Do you know I love you?"

"Of course, Mother!" Caedance laughed.

Ashlyn added, "We love are-chother."

"We sure do, sprite."

We sure do.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Grandpa Celebration Weekend

This weekend has been Grandfather Celebration Weekend for our family. One evening we spent celebrating the 88th birthday of my husband's paternal grandfather, and the next evening was devoted the 85th birthday of my husband's maternal grandfather.

Two truly amazing gentlemen who have led extraordinary lives, and who have been strong leaders for two very beautiful families.

Spending time with the familiar faces of this family that I was blessed to have married in to, surrounded by the stories and laughter I've been around for the last 14 years, got me thinking about how much I miss my own grandparents.

I have two dear sets of biological grandparents who left my life too soon. My mother's parents had passed on before I even had a chance to meet them. I grew up with their histories on her lips, their faces in her smile, their presence fully felt by me in an odd and comforting way. Even though I haven't met them, I know they're with me. I like to think they're proud of me. (I rather like to think I've turned out okay).

My father's parents were apart of my early childhood. I have vague memories of a dim house and a Formica table with those very shiny red chairs. The red plastic seats that had little sparkles in them. (If they truly existed outside my memory, I loved those chairs.) I remember pictures on the wall, filled with black and white photos of faces I never really could place. I remember my grandparents together in that house.

My grandfather died when I was very young, and I honestly can't recall at what age I could have been. 5? Maybe younger. I remember he was in the hospital. I remember he would always save me an apple. A Red Delicious apple. The ironic thing is that I do not like Red Delicious apples, or any apple for that matter. I never have. Oh, but I've always thought they were beautiful. The quintessential apple; red and shiny. And shaped like a tooth, to boot. I was never ever allowed to have a whole apple myself. (Why would I be when I never ate them?) I always wanted my own though. There was a very distinct joy in having the freedom to eat an apple just the way it was,  or so I thought, bite for bite. So he would give me one every time I visited, probably saved from his meal tray. Naturally, I was delighted and eagerly bit in with gusto. And naturally I had no desire to take any more bites after that first one. (It's funny how our parents seem to know exactly what we're going to do before we do it, isn't it?) I have no memory of what happened to my many uneaten apples. Were they pitched? Did someone else eat them? I was so young, one might even question if this memory happened at all. But I like to think it did; my grandfather saving me an apple he knew I wouldn't eat, just because he knew his granddaughter would be ecstatic about having one. All to herself. (Grandfathers are pretty cool like that).

My dad's mother was around for my childhood and those awkward years that happen between 12 and adulthood; otherwise known as The Teen Years. My memories are filled with Easter baskets filled with Kit Kats (which she knew were my favorite), pretty bracelets at Christmas. And lots of Elvis music. Honestly, every time I hear an Elvis song I am transported back to her living room on our weekly Sunday visit.

She saw me get married and begin the next phase of my life. I'm glad she was there for that.

Four distinct people who are a part of my life and a link to who I am. They're a piece of my history. A piece of me. I feel their presence in various ways. Making Chicken Paprikash pulls me back to my paternal grandparents; the sauce, not too thick with sour cream; dumplings, never noodles, thick and doughy.
The breakfast staple at our house, "Patch In The Eye" is one of my links to my mom's parents. Otherwise known as "One Eyed Jacks", though my daughters prefer to call them "Pirates In A Hole" and I really don't know why. My mom tells me when she ate them as a kid, my grandfather had the kids eat them under the table. My kiddos sit at the table, but it's a tip of the hat to Grandpa Rogal just the same.

I am grateful for those precious links. For those cherished memories, whether real or created in my mind. They are a part of who I am today. Their stories are told to my daughters who will know them through me. I like the imagery of that, the legacies of the past moving forward, ever onward, generation after generation.

And for the two men I've been lucky enough to call Grandpa for the last 14 years of my life? I feel so very fortunate. My daughters are growing up surrounded by "Grands" in their Great Grandparents, Grandparents, and Great Aunts and Great Uncles.(And of course some pretty great Aunts & Uncles; let's not forget about them). Their childhood memories will be filled with sleepovers that don't include those annoying bedtimes, dinners that include an extra dessert (sometimes even before dinner), a surplus of that most luxurious of all beverages, Cream Soda, funny stories with animal noises, and more hugs than they'll ever know what to do with.

If that's not a pretty great start in life, I don't know what could be.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Dickinson

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Avsec

Here's to many more.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

12 Unfilled Pages

Here we are once more. Another year has slid away into the murky reminders of yesterday. Before us is the dawn of a new year, filled with possibilities, a multitude of unknowns awaiting around the corner.

I find I'm rather two sided about the start of another new year. On the one hand I confess to a certain thrill when unwrapping that new calender and skimming through the pages. They're all unfilled; blank and ripe with possibility. Each little box has the potential to be so many things. They're just waiting for their time to come, to unfold in the tidy sequential order in the great cycle of Time.  There is an excitement in that. A daily present to unwrap and discover.

On the other hand, there is the uncertainty. A whole 12 months yawn before you. 365 days of Who Knows What lurking on each page. In some strange way it makes me think of a haunted house with glaring things half hidden around each corner, every turn a twist in a plan you didn't know you were following. Scary stuff.

I think I'll choose the former and leave the latter confined to the starkness of this page. Out of sight out of mind, as it were.

What do you hope for in this New Year? What will you make out of 2012?

The way I see it, we all start with the same tools: that blank calendar with 12, as of yet, unfilled months. Each of us has a choice to fill those boxes with love and hope, with peace and kindness. Or we can spend our time fearing each box, worried what each one will bring. From one moment to another, fearing, fretting, worrying.

Let's face it, those darned boxes will fill up quickly. Pens will fly and plans will be set in ink. Pages will turn as weeks and months go by. It happens with our without our knowledge. In a blink of an eye.

What am I going to do with this opportunity? With this New Year?

I think I'll fill those boxes with happiness. I choose to let go of so much of the worry that seems forever tied to me, my unwanted passenger. My eyes will focus on the path I am on, not on the journeys I am not taking. One step at a time. Forward. Onward. Face, forever looking up.

Looking up. Taking it all in.

Life is a journey. This year will be a journey. Take it all in. Enjoy the scenery. Fill those boxes with things that matter and leave the other stuff to the years gone by. Behind. In the past.

Hey, 2012. Nice to meet you. Let's go.