The Little Guy’s Word for the Year: Hope

It was a rough start to the school year if you’ve been following my life in the middle of the Madness! The Little Guy clearly was struggling with expectations for behavior. I don’t know if it was the stress of school starting back up, the increased academic pressures of third grade, or just a trial of flexing his eight-year-old will, but he and I clashed over the importance of telling the truth about his misbehavior. In turn, I had to flex my brain in keeping up with consequences for behavior – writing “I shall only speak the truth” two hundred times, grounding, missing Halloween and finally, the ultimate consequence (which only works in the winter holiday season) – you shall not receive any Christmas gifts other than socks and the traditional gift of a book.

To “Mr. Resilient” this didn’t phase him. One day on the way to gymnastics practice, he was flipping through the Target toy catalog that had recently arrived. He found a pen on the floor of the car and started describing the toys that he was circling in anticipation. I matter-of-factly reminded him that his only gifts under the tree would be empty boxes wrapped in wrapping paper (handy that the boys don’t believe in Santa) and he nonchalantly responded without pause, “Well, there’s always next year.”  The circling continued.

I took every opportunity in late fall to remind him of behaviors and consequences. Lying to your mother is serious enough to miss Halloween, remember. And when you do it AGAIN, you miss Christmas. But any time you think up a consequence as a parent, you better be sure that you have the strength to pull it off. And gosh, Christmas is Christmas. That’s a tough one.

A couple days before Christmas, Mr. Ornery (age 10) decided to check on my resolve, clearly a little worried for his little brother. “Did you really not buy The Little Guy anything for Christmas?” “Oh, I told him. Lying is serious. All he’s getting is a book and empty boxes.”

Christmas morning arrived. The boys entertained themselves (The Little Guy made a ‘vlog’ video of himself brushing his teeth) while I took the dog for her morning walk. They impatiently sat on the top steps as I got the oven on to warm up breakfast. They begrudgingly (and with almost a smile from all of them) participated in the requisite selfies and photos of them in matching pajamas. They sprang to the family room. They jumped upon their stockings and whipped through the smaller gifts while shoveling handfuls of chocolates into their mouths. (Super Tall Guy sorted his stocking stuffers into “worthy of keeping” and “garbage” piles! 😊). I love stockings.

And then it was time to turn to the gifts. After the initial excitement of trying to stockpile some gifts, I glanced over at The Little Guy. He sat with a small pile of wrapped boxes. I handed him some gifts labeled 1, 2 and 3. I explained those were his gifts this year. He warily opened Gift 1. It was a box with three clementine oranges and a piece of paper that read “Don’t Lie.” Box 2 was a box with animal crackers and a paper that read “Don’t Lose….”  Box 3 was empty with a sheet of paper that read “….Hope.”

The Little Guy broke into tears.

I said, “Hey, what does ‘hope’ mean?” trying to break through the sobbing.  “Little Guy, what does ‘hope’ mean?” He ran from the room as I followed. My arms encircled him as he wept on the stairs. “What does hope mean?” I asked again. “I don’t know,” he cried.

“Buddy, ‘hope’ means ‘waiting for something good.”

“Let’s start over and think about this. Don’t lie. But don’t lose hope.”

I sat him back down in the family room and Mr. Ornery and I carried in a large box brimming with gifts. The smile returned to The Little Guy’s face. Hope returned to the Little Guy’s heart.

And that has become his word of the year. When you make a mistake, don’t lose hope. Things can turn around. When life looks bleak, don’t lose hope. Wait for good to come again.

Days later the boys and I sat in the theater watching the final Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. The Little Guy caught the word among the dialogue in one scene and turned to me with a smile, “Hope, they just said. I guess that’s my word.”

Harsh? Quite possibly. But then, I don’t think he’ll forget the meaning of Hope for awhile. I also hope that he doesn’t forget the reason we went through this and how important Truth is.

Now if only I could get that lesson to sink into Mr. Ornery…..

….works in progress is what we all are….

Finding Gratitude for the New Year!

The morning of New Year’s Eve my neighbor and I woke up early to get a short run in before the day got crazy. We’ve been meeting up for the past few months and as much as I despise getting out of bed before 6:00 am, it’s such a joy to spend the morning chatting in the brisk air with a friend. As we ran (okay, jogged is the more accurate term), she asked if I had a tradition of setting goals for the New Year. “No,” I laughed. “It’s never been a big part of my life, though my goal in the recent years has been to just keep the boys alive!” (You know they challenge that goal frequently!).

New Year’s Day turned bright and sunny with a very thin layer of snow on the grass. My boys bundled up (but rapidly shed layers) to head to the county park ice skating rink. I trudged along with book in hand, but also with a stack of thank-you cards to send my appreciation for the gifts I had received. As I sat in the warmth of the sun through the window of the lodge, I wrote the first note. Suddenly, I realized what my New Year’s Resolution would be – to more frequently let people know of my gratitude. And so I began to write a couple notes to friends for whom I am grateful.

After seeing the new Star Wars movie with the boys (grateful to have seen it with my Godson on opening day and thus enjoyed the second viewing tremendously because I could catch more minutiae), I sat on the couch between the boys’ bodies curled around an electronic device. The staying up until 1:00 am thing seemed to have caught up to them and they sought some “alone” time together. Suddenly, the little guy looked over and asked, “Can I write my thank-you notes too?”

He started off with the ones that I had asked him to write to the people who had given him gifts. And then a beautiful thing happened. His gratitude grew. Next he wrote a note to his grandparents to express his sadness that their car had been broken into but that he was hoping they would have a good new year. Then he moved on to writing a note to every teacher he comes into contact with over the course of the week. And he finished up with a thank-you to the principal and the assistant principal with gratefulness for their kind hearts in keeping all the students safe.

 

Of course, my heart melted. I leaned over to kiss his head and said, “Isn’t it kind of cool that when you start writing thank-you notes, you really start feeling grateful for what you have and experience.” It was a beautiful moment of sensing and supporting his heart and I hope he and I – and all the boys – will continue to grow in gratefulness this New Year.

So for tonight, I express my gratefulness to you, my friend. And hopefully this resolution will last longer than the average duration of the middle of February, for it is true that a grateful heart is a joyful heart.

Wishing you Peace, Joy and Gratefulness in the New Year!

 

 

Gifts of Hospitality at Thanksgiving

“When are these people leaving?” the youngest asked with sincerity. My cousin, her mother, her husband and their two kids were staying at our house a few months ago. While the boys were still sleeping in their rooms (except Super Tall Guy who is an extreme introvert and “moved” to my sister’s house temporarily), clearly The Little Guy noticed some disruption and change in their routines. He wasn’t asking in a negative way. He probably genuinely wanted to know when his “fun” playmates were leaving. But his question struck me as an honest one that usually only kids can ask. And it struck me that this was the first time in his memory that we had a house large enough to “host” people and enough space for people to actually spend a few nights with us.

I love having enough room to “host” people. I grew up a missionary kid with parents who believed in a revolving door philosophy of “come on in, we’re here.” I want people to visit and to stop by whenever they can. I also want my boys to understand how to help people feel comfortable and how to treat guests with respect and kindness.

So, after the front room carpet was torn up the night I moved in; after the hardwood floors were stained on Christmas afternoon; and after the “wood room” served as Mr. Ornery’s crafting, building and storage room for months, I was thrilled to clean it up to get ready for the delivery of a dining room table a few days before Thanksgiving. My brother and his family of ten and my local family totaling ten would be gathering around the table. Mr. Ornery and I counted out who were the eldest of the grandkids who would make the cut and win seats at the new “adult” table whilst the others would be at the folding tables down the middle of the kitchen. I ordered a ten-foot Thanksgiving table cloth and my friend suggested an idea her family does of stenciling on a turkey every year with people signing their names around it. I was thrilled.

Until the delivery men said, “Did they call you to tell you that the base is broken? We can leave the table but can’t put it together until they deliver a new base.” I stared dumbstruck. You mean, you’ve arrived with my almost $2000 table but it’s broken?!? It took several phone calls and a good night sleep for me to get over my disappointment. It took days of hassle to realize I wouldn’t have a table up in time for Thanksgiving. (It’s taken even more phone calls and grumpiness once the table was set up but the seating bench didn’t have “hardware” in the box to put it together. Don’t buy Bob’s Discount Furniture is the moral of this saga…even if you really love the table!)

And yet, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving of folding tables and folding chairs and lots of people and plates tipping off the too-narrow tables and good food and okay wine and lots of noise and Nerf darts everywhere and high-stakes games of UNO and Bananagrams. Because it turns out that celebrating family and celebrating what we’re most thankful for didn’t require the perfect dining room table at all. The gift of welcoming people just involved opening the door.

May The Little Guy soon learn to ask, “How long can you stay?” and bound away with thankfulness that all are welcome in this house.

 

 

Managing This “Season’s” Stress

The theme of this month seems to be figuring out how much stress my brain can manage before it entirely implodes.

I think I’m pretty close to that, although I seem to just yell a bit more at the boys and that releases some from the pop-off valve.

Given that it’s mid-December, there’s a great deal of excitement about the upcoming favorite day of the year. There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the daily Elf and his location search (for the younger two) and about the daily “Advent Bags” (which were lovingly packed by their grandmother) that reveal goodies. And there’s a great deal of excitement about moving to a new house. For the boys, these past few weeks have been filled with constant expectation and a lot of joy. (Not complete joy because their mother hasn’t been giving in to their every whim and desire for “stuff, but there’s been plenty of joy!) 

But for their mother, it’s been an endless stream of things to do and things forgotten. For one, until you go through the process, it’s pretty hard to understand the emotional energy and time required in purchasing a house. Inspection. Negotiations. Research on radon abatement (including an hour on the phone with a talkative radon guy when I essentially had just one question – will you get it down below the acceptable safe limit of 4!).  Finding, printing, signing, scanning, emailing financial papers after financial papers to the mortgage lender.

And then there’s the packing; that is, after finding a moving company. The man who came in to provide an estimate might have casually mentioned, “Looks like you need to start packing….” I took his advice and increased from my two-boxes-a-night pace to spending almost this entire weekend packing up the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, the storage area which hasn’t been touched in three years (hello, daddy long-legs!).

And….two boys have succumbed to upper respiratory infections (the fancy name for a cold) and the middle one has succumbed to pre-teen obnoxiousness (the fancy name for being a brat).

If this was the only stress for December, it might be tolerable. But interestingly, there’s also the impending expiration of the 5-year cycle of my “Maintenance of Certification” for my pediatric boards. So I’ve spend 15-20 hours in the evenings working on those requirements. Strangely, my Pennsylvania medical license is also due for renewal by the end of the month so that requires some additional “continuing medical education” credit hours. And then there’s the email from the hospital where I am credentialed that my TDaP vaccine needs to be updated by the end of the month; so now my arm is sore from squeezing that appointment in!  Oh….and  also the oil change because I’ve had the new car for three months now, so I had to pop in and get that done on the way home from work one day.

To top it off, it’s also The Little Guy’s first year in competitive gymnastics and he had his first competition at the beginning of the month. Fortunately it was in town and we didn’t have to travel, but his joy in winning first place for his age group in the Rings event made me realize I better get prepared for his next competition in January. It took awhile to book a hotel room at Splash Lagoon (a water park close to the competition site), but the boys are thrilled.

It’s gotten to the point of being humorous (almost). It’s definitely to the point where I am conscientiously spending my days telling myself to unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I’m reminding myself that this is a season of craziness and it will pass.  I’m reminding myself that we don’t have to do everything we usually do this time of year (I say as I compose this from the hard wooden bench at the ice-skating rink…since the boys “had” to get out of the house). I remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect; the boys will have fun no matter what I do, despite my personal pressure to make this move and this Christmas “special.” And I remind myself to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep (at least every third night….as there’s clearly some viruses around to fight off and supposedly good sleep makes moms less grouchy!).

And tonight I have a sneaky suspicion that my neighbor is right….Mr. Ornery has his first band concert tomorrow night. I’ll need to find some dress clothes for him. I don’t think I’ve packed those yet…..

Sigh, so when you see me and you think – “wow, your hair sure has gone gray” – I’m still blaming it on the boys and this time I’ll blame it on not having enough time to keep up with the dyeing!

Countdown to Christmas – yes, this Advent, I am grateful for the greatest gift two thousand-some years ago and the many blessings and gifts bestowed daily this month!

(Ahem…well, I’m off to make my list of things still needed for Cookie Day at the new house. It’s going to be a blast. I hope!)

 

 

Ready for Cookie Day

 I’m not sure how exactly it got started, but in the early 90s, my best friend K and I were new graduates of Edinboro University. We had formed such a strong friendship over the course of schooling and found ourselves suddenly separated by 100 miles. I’m pretty sure it was her idea to invite me up to her mother’s kitchen that first December, and there her best friend from high school, she and I stood in red aprons soon covered with flour dust, rolling out sugar cookies and cooling sheets and sheets of cookies on the dining room table.

Every year I went back and every year the tradition grew. From her mother’s kitchen to her first kitchen after marriage. From a trio of friends to an open invitation for all friends and relatives who wanted to join us. One year her traditional red apron was imprinted with a recipe that included the phrase “bake for 9 months.” We hugged. The following December, a little 7-month-old joined our Annual Cookie Day! Soon, I was transporting my own seven-month-old son to his first Cookie Day weekend. 

On a specific Saturday in December, my friend would spread out folding tables and lay out eggs and butter, flour and sugar, cookie sheets and cooling racks. She would set up her Kitchen-Aid mixer, bring over her mother’s and I would bring mine with me. Flour dust would fill the air. Egg shells would fill the paper bags set under the tables for trash. Sprinkles would fill the cracks in the hard-wood floors. And endless chatter and laughter would fill the night. We’d bake and eat until our feet couldn’t keep us going anymore.

The kids would build snow forts, sled down her hill or engage in “epic” Nerf gun battles. When their fingers and noses were too cold, they’d settle down in front of the TV for the classic “Grinch who Stole Christmas” or “Polar Express” showing. We’d order pizza or K would cook up pasta with her homemade sauce and there’d be a break in the baking to have a meal.

My friend’s job was to manage the chaos. Find the almond extract. Refill the pretzel bowl. Welcome in the next guest. She has an amazing gift of hospitality! Each guest would pick a recipe and get started on making the dough and loading the cookie sheets. My job was the baking. K’s husband would bring in an extra oven and I would have 2 or 3 different (one year four) ovens going at the same time. Each oven had its own timer and my classic mantra was “Not really caring what directions you give me – it’s going to bake at 350 degrees until done!”

My most important job, however, was Undisputed, Don’t-Mess-With-Me Cookie Counter. All participants in this most precious of baking days were under one rule – Thou shalt not taste or eat a cookie until it has been counted by the master cookie counter! (Me!). I counted each and every cookie as it came off the cookie sheet onto the cooling rack. I recorded the type of cookie and tallied the totals as they cooled. At the end of the night, whenever we were ready to collapse, I added up all the batches of cookies and proclaimed loudly the total cookie count and the equivalent number of dozens!

My cookie count was so sacred, that one year, K’s husband doubted that we could have made over two hundred “Russian Tea Cake” cookies. He methodically recounted each and every powdery one of them. His number matched my original count exactly – and he never doubted me again (sort of). From then on, no one was to question the count!

The other golden rule was to double all recipes (except the Nieman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe since we learned the hard way one year that it was already essentially a double recipe) and to form the cookie balls on the smaller size. After all, it was all about the count and the smaller the cookie, the more individual cookies there were.

Actually, it was all about the fun and the joy of giving as each guest wrapped up boxes and boxes of beautiful cookies at the end of the night to share with family and friends and co-workers. There were so many memories wrapped up in those twenty-plus years of cookie making, that it was hard for me, yet completely understandable, when my friend announced she couldn’t keep up the tradition. So for the past three years, we’ve had much smaller versions of “Cookie Day” at a friend’s and at my sister’s house (as my townhome is way too small to welcome in guests). Having the event locally has drawn a different group of friends and my boys have adjusted. The rules have stayed the same, but the grand size of the day hasn’t been recreated yet.

As I contemplate the season of Advent and the preparation for Christmas, “Cookie Day” remains one of my great loves and one of my boys’ favorite days of the year. So in the spirit of thriving on chaos, I mentioned to my mother that the current plan to close on my new house on a Friday…. naturally meant….I could….potentially…..host my first Cookie Day the next day!

Yes, it’s going to be crazy, but I figure as long as I have the utilities on, have cable and wi-fi connected to entertain the boys in case of bad weather, carry over boxes of baking supplies and get the kitchen area cleaned up at least….I could be ready!  After all, one of the key criteria in my house-search over the past two years was: Can the kitchen host Cookie Day?

I think I found the kitchen.

I’ve started my list of supplies.

Now I’m ready to make magic again. Care to join us?

Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, dear sister

Our Family
A circle of strength and love
Founded on faith….
Joined by love
Kept by God
Together forever

 

To my sister,

Thank you for the Willow Tree figurines of my three boys this Christmas. More importantly, thank you for my three boys.

You started this journey eleven years ago during whichour-family we fell into adoption and flew into love. I still remember nervously standing around a bassinet of two-day old Super Tall Guy, waiting for the social worker to find some clothes for him to wear out of the hospital. We walked to the car swinging him in the car seat unable to talk other than whispered “Oh my goodness.” I stared into his eyes while you ran to the store for bottles and formula and diapers and baby wipes. What had we gotten in to? Leaping by faith to into a family.

I broke your heart once. Probably more times than that, but once in a big way. It was the day I was sitting in my office chair and looked up at you standing there innocent and announced that I needed clarity on being a mother. I couldn’t share mothering. I wanted Super Tall Guy to be mine despite having both of our names on the adoption certificate. I needed there to be just one mother. I was naïve. I was strong-willed. I pushed the limits of our love, but you held firm. You sacrificed and continued to love me. We learned to be independent yet together.

And I divorced you once in a house of five young boys. We sat on the hard wood floor of the second-floor bedroom and divided the children’s books into yours and mine piles. We clung to memories of books that mattered to our mother-hearts. We snapped softly at each other. We made lists of books we were determined to replace as they clearly meant so much to us. It’s been two years. I haven’t found my list. I haven’t replaced the books, because it wasn’t the books that mattered, it wasn’t the toys that mattered, it wasn’t the Christmas ornaments that mattered; it was the sadness of separating. It was the reality of beginning to parent on our own. It was the fear that dug deep within us. And yet, two years later, we hold together as a family. We rely on that bind. We trust that bind. We are still in it together.

boy-figurines2“The Caring Child” – Super Tall Guy – strong and huge with occasional explosions of rage, but deep within there is such a soft tenderness.

“The Inquisitive Child” – Mr. Ornery – always wondering how to push the limits and whether that line in the sand was really meant for him or for someone else.

“The Kind Child” – the Little Guy – overflowing with love and kindness, ready with a smile and a story, eager to meet the world and charm the skies with his eyes.

Each beautiful boy a gift of God. Each beautiful boy a gift to my life. Each beautiful boy so touched by the love that you share with them as well as with your own three boys. Each of us touched by being part of our larger family.

Thank you for my boys. Thank you for being my family. Thank you for being in this together forever. No matter what.

Love,

Your sister