Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Michaela took the plunge this spring and decided to give softball a try. And she loved it. And we loved it.
Actually, I'm fairly certain we loved watching her play even more than she actually enjoyed playing.
We apparently joined at just the right moment: before the other girls got so good that a newbie would really stand out, and after the girls who play progressed far enough in their skills to actually finishing a game in two hours. We've heard stories of younger girls taking two hours to play two innings. I'm a baseball fan, but that's just painful.
The Softball Gods smiled on us and Michaela was randomly placed on a team with fantastic coaches who actually won the League Championship last season. The team this season was very good as well, and Michaela's team only lost two games the whole season.

Michaela played a lot of third base and outfield. And only had to be reminded a few times to not talk to the shortstop during the inning. At least she didn't do cartwheels in the outfield like I did when we played wiffle ball at home with my brother, dad, and cousins. That really drove them crazy.

Offensively, she held her own: most games she made contact with the ball, and had a handful of RBIs for the season. Not bad for her first time out. In the last game, she hit a towering shot that would have been a triple but, alas, she was sent home and tagged out by a catcher who easily had 25 pounds on her. But she did bring home one of the two runs that game. I was hoarse by the end of the game from screaming, "RUN!!!", Jenny-style from Forrest Gump. She is pretty fast and with some additional seasons and practice under her belt, can become a small-but-mighty force.

This past Sunday was the final game, awards ceremony and celebratory picnic. Here's her team accepting their first-place trophies for the Junior Division. They were very excited. I was really proud of them.

The whole experience brought back many awesome memories of watching my brother play Little League, Babe Ruth and school baseball. He was a tremendous player, always making things happen on the field, and so fun to watch and cheer for. I had forgotten the thrill of being down in runs in the last inning with two outs, and watching a player (even better if it's a player you are related to) hit a blast over the infield and cheering the runner on. So exhilarating.

But now the season is over and we are back to our normal routine. Michaela says she's going to adopt a Fall-soccer, Spring-softball sports schedule, but we are desperately trying to convince her to also play fall ball, which is four weekends of Sunday doubleheaders. Does it get any better than THAT??

So congrats to Michaela, her coaches and her team, all who did a magnificent job. You have a lot to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Birthday Letter to My Daughter, Forty Days Late.

Dearest Jenna,
How quickly this year has flown by: looking back, this will be the turning point, I think, to when I really began to Lose Track of Time and that is why this letter is so late. I apologize, and fully believe that if you read this blog, which you will someday, you would have gently chastised me in your no-nonsense fashion. You have been a miraculously wonderful kid during this year, rarely needing any type of punishment or correction, just lots of love and reassurance and, occasionally, a extra- long snuggle session in your bed at night.

You are a beautiful kid. You have been since the day you were born, gifted with not only those mesmerizing blue eyes, but an aura of sweetness and softness that permeated from you. You have chosen to grow out your hair this year, bangs and all, with the idea of letting it grow to your butt so people can call you Rapunzel. I have started to braid it at night to keep it under control while you sleep, and I think both of us find this nightly ritual of brushing out your hair and tidying it up a comforting one. One last chance to connect before bed.

You have grown like a weed this year, far outpacing your sister, and only 10 pounds separates you two. You are wearing the clothes Michaela wore in second grade and hopefully you won't outgrow them too soon because Michaela is now wearing the clothes you'd grow into. You are tall, taller than most kids in your class, but I still think of you as a petite little bird, fine boned and thin, needing protection.

You enjoyed kindergarten this year and adjusted beautifully to being away from home for the whole day. You were blessed with some of your best friends from Preschool in your class, which made the transition that much easier, and you just blossomed in their friendship. You love these girls, and they love you, and I laugh and marvel at how easily you giggle, hug and absent-mindedly hold hands with them as you walk around the school together, like it's the most natural thing in the world. You loved your teacher, who was a great fit for you, calm and quiet and reassuring and loving, and you learned how to read and do math problems and write. You cried on the last day of school, and I totally understand how you felt: happy to have time off but sad to leave a pleasant routine behind. (Though you did always ask me when you would have a day off, a weekend or vacation time, and did solemnly tell Gammie one day that "Kindergarten is the WORST.")

I feel like I get you because I think you and I are wired similarly, and the points of you I don't see in myself I clearly see in your dad. There is no denying it: you are a true product of your dad and I, cut from our cloth, so to speak, and very rarely, if ever, do we say, "Where did THAT come from?"

Except when you demonstrate the Iron Will of Jenna, the one that could take down entire civilizations in a single swoop.

I am slightly terrified of you, because I am realizing that while your bouncy sister and happy go lucky brother are amenable to boundaries being set (Michaela craves them, to be honest), you seem to take it as a personal affront when I tell you what you can and cannot do. Thankfully, you are a 50 year old woman living in a 6 year old's body, so rarely do I have to really lay down the law- you are remarkably reasonable- but when I do, holy cow. You can throw a fit and argue with me until the death. And keep arguing. And explaining. And telling me what YOU think should happen. And I have learned to hold my ground and Keep Being the Parent, lest we start a bad habit of you winning every argument and thinking you are right all of the time. And trust me, it ain't easy.

You are smart and deep and thoughtful and love extremes. At least once a week you declare "today was the best day EVER!" or "that party was the BEST ONE EVER!" or "this afternoon was the MOST BORING EVER!" and I always marvel at how you so enjoy life. You counted down your birthday month by month until it became weeks and then days until your big day. Then, two weeks afterwards, you started telling people, "I'm six... six and a half, really."

We had a super fun party with your friends and family, and you were thrilled to get Julie, the American Girl doll from your godparents Judy and Bryan.

You had a friends party at The Pottery Place a few weeks later with eight of your girlfriends from school and the neighborhood, and you all painted pieces of pottery like real artists. You wore your birthday crown from school, carefully put aside on your nightstand (you are an amazing mix of intentional neatnik and absolute slob), and looked adorable.

You and your sister remain as thick as thieves, simultaneously loving each other to death and driving each other crazy... you know, the way sisters do. One of the greatest joys of my life is watching you two grow up together, knowing what a bond you have and will always have. And your brother is just as crazy about you, his Nenna, and is constantly seeking your attention and wanting to play with you and show you stuff he has discovered.

You are a joy to behold, a blessing from God, and we just adore you. You have everyone who knows you wrapped around your finger. When you cuddle up on my lap and hug and kiss me, I burst with love for you.

I can hardly wait to see what the next year has to offer you.

You wrote this on the paper covering the table at your birthday party:

And I hope you always will be.

I love you, my sweet Baby Girl.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reasons # 1,067 and #1,068 of How Kids Slowly Kill You.

1067. Sunday morning, 2:27 am. Michaela creeps into our bedroom.
"Mom!" she whispers.
"What?" I mumble.
"Can you check me for ticks? I'm feeling kind of ... itchy."
Okay, I tell her, only because we have been playing outside in Dutchess County, known for its robust deer tick population.
"Why aren't you moving?" she asks me a few seconds later.
"Because I'm trying to wake up."

The next night Dan tells Michaela, who was thankfully tick-free, to only come into our bedroom again if ticks are literally sucking the blood out of her eyeballs.

1068. Tuesday morning, 7:30am. First, a little background.
Alec has just started in the last month or so sleeping past 5:30am. For almost two years he woke up around the same time, looking for his bottle, and while he would fall fast asleep again, I usually would stay up, enjoying holding my sleeping boy and catch up on news. It was quiet and peaceful and sometimes I would doze on and off until the girls woke up around 7am.
As nice as that was, it is nowhere near as nice as Alec staying asleep and me being able to sleep until 7 am, uninterrupted.
So now the girls wake up first and come and find me in bed, sometimes climbing in and snuggling up for a few minutes before we start the getting ready for school routine. Very sweet.
Michaela asked a few days ago if I could do her hair on the last day of school with wired braids, so she would look like Pippi Longstocking. I gave a lukewarm response, something deliciously non-committal (they teach you how to do this in the hospital after giving birth) and let it go at that.
So here it is, the last day of school, and Michaela comes jumping in my bed at 7:25am. "Hey! Can you do my hair this morning in the braids with the wire? I was going to wake you up at 7 and then thought you might like to sleep a little longer."
"Smart girl," I tell her. "I'll try to do the braids. Go look for the wire."
So I get up, Jenna gets up, Michaela gets up and we head downstairs. Michaela has found the wire with minimal assistance (a miracle in itself) and gets dressed (another miracle) and I sit with the wire and figure out how to do this project. I cut four strands of wire to equal length, put her hair in pigtails, bend the wire so it doesn't poke her in the head, wrap the wire around the underneath part of the pigtail holder. I do a tight, twisty braid and secure the end with another hair tie. I bend the pigtail, and VIOLA- a Pippi Longstocking braid. I repeat the whole process- wire, hair tie, braid, and hair tie- and bend the other end. I have her spin and show me.
She looks adorable.
I am quite pleased with myself.
Go look in the mirror, I tell her.
She goes and looks.
I look ridiculous, she says, and takes the braids, hair ties and wires out and decides to just wear her hair down for the last day of school.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Memory Lane.

Sitting on a folding chair, I am bent over, pawing my way through to the bottom of a plastic tote bin. The bin is a swirl of pink and yellow and white fabric, all crashing gently into one another. After a few seconds, I stop: I have found a fleecey, soft pink shirt with a heart embroidered on it, lined with sweet pink floral cotton. I catch my breath for a second and allow myself to go back the many years since Michaela has worn this shirt. What do I remember? How big was she when she wore it? Where did we go wearing it? Do I have any pictures of her in this particular shirt? What about Jenna? Do I have any mental snapshots of her wearing this shirt? Any memories attached to Jenna wearing it?

And even bigger questions come out... how did it feel to hold my girls when they were this small? What did they smell like? How heavy did they feel? Could they smile? Laugh? Walk? Talk?

I am overwhelmed by how far away it feels since my big girl wore these little clothes.

It was time to go through these bins, these Holders of Memories, and let them go. Let someone else use this perfectly good clothing and make their own memories in it. Get it out of my basement so I can make room for new things.

We had a garage sale on Friday and the main purpose was to get rid of all the clothes Michaela, Jenna and Alec have accumulated in the last nine and a half years. Bin after bin, box after box lined my driveway, waiting for thrify and eager grandmothers to go through and buy. After it was all done, I was exhausted from moving the boxes up from the basement, out onto the driveway and back into the garage; while that was physically tiring, I think my main source of exhaustion was the emotional letting go I had to do as I watched people- strangers, even!- walk away with bags full of my babies' childhoods.

My favorite customer of the day was a young woman who was pregnant and due in October with her first baby, a girl. She went through box after box, holding items up to show her amused and very patient husband, and kept oohing and ahhing over her finds. I watched her thoughtfully count out months of sizes- will it be winter when the baby wears 6 month sized clothing?- and thought of my own three attempts to guess the baby's size by season. She seemed to be flush with the excitement that I remember so clearly with each of my pregnancies, the excitement that I will really miss never experiencing again. I was happy that she left with a big bag full of some of my own favorite sleepers and onesies, knowing that most likely she will show her own mom the things she got and will lovingly wash them, fold them and put them away for her own baby to wear.

I did save some things, though... three bins were designated, one for each child, as the Forever bins. Items can go in that bin and be saved, but only what fits in that one bin. For years I have thought about eventually making a quilt with the fabrics of the clothing I have saved, one for each child, hanging that quilt up on some type of Hall of Fame Wall in my house, throwing up some of my favorite pictures, and after my babies have flown the coop, rocking away my sorrow, staring at the quilts and pictures, and remembering.

I am overwhelmed by how far away it feels since my big girl wore these little clothes.

After the sale was over, Dan asked what we were going to do with the leftovers. I knew we had to make a clean break and not bring those items back into the basement. I boxed up the rest of the clothes and brought it all to Goodwill. It was very hard to hand those boxes over, knowing that only a fraction of the items would really ever be worn again, and most of it would be junked and bundled for the cotton. Only a fraction would be washed, folded and pulled down over a giggling head or pulled up over soft, papery diapers. Only a fraction would be photographed on another child. It was really hard. As I was bringing the last of the nine boxes in, someone was already starting to sort through the items in the first box, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman hold up a Dora the Explorer nightgown that both my girls wore countless times, look it over and flick it into a huge bin, cast aside. I wish I hadn't seen that. Better to imagine that it all went to a good home.

So, like much of parenthood, it is all about growth. And stretching your emotional boundaries. And knowing what you can control and what you can't. And moving forward, always moving forward. And making room for the new stuff. And cherishing the past while embracing the future with gusto. And understanding that raising children completely changes your concept of time: sometimes it flies by, sometimes it crawls, and years seem both like minutes and decades.

But I am still overwhelmed by how far away it feels since my big girl wore these little clothes.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Down by the River.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review (And I Haven't Even Finished the Book Yet).

I got The Corrections out of the library on my birthday, which was last week, and I was savoring sitting down to read it. I had read Jonathan Franzen's more recent book, Freedom, a few months ago and it was mind-blowing: rich, complex, brilliant, dense, post-modern, familiar, funny, and an all -around terrifically satisfying novel. I still think about the characters, which to me is a sign of a great book.

I had heard such wonderful things about this book, the one that put him more on the map, and couldn't wait to start. And it has lived up to it's promise of greatness: it's amazing.

I am currently on page 466 with exactly 100 pages to go. I am already mourning being done with it.

A few afternoons ago, while I was reading, I came across a paragraph that so blew me away, so shook me and touched me and moved me, that I put a separate bookmark in so I could repeatedly go back to it and read it again. I think it is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. It touched me as a mom and as a reader and as an appreciator of language. I'm not sure if you will feel it as much as I do since you have not read alllllllllll the context he puts into the book about his characters, but here is a brief synopsis: Alfred- a smart, proud, quiet, hard working, midwestern man in his late 60's- has Parkinson's disease and his wife Enid- anxious, loving, in denial about anything unpleasant, enthusiastic, unrealistic- has dragged him onto a cruise up through the Eastern Canadian coast to see the fall foliage. Alfred, who is fighting bouts of dementia, wanders on the ship to a place he's not supposed to be and falls overboard. Alfred and Enid have three grown children, each with their own issues and drama and context, and while Alfred has not been a mushy, demonstrative father, he loves his children and raised them in a strict, secure, comfortable home and did what he thought was best for them.

And here's the paragraph:

"He was remembering the nights he'd sat upstairs with one or both of the boys or with his girl in the crook of his arm, their damp bath-smelling heads hard against his ribs as he read aloud to them from Black Beauty or The Chronicles of Narnia. How his voice alone, its palpable resonance, had made them drowsy. These were evenings, and there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, when nothing traumatic enough to leave a scar had befallen the nuclear unit. Evenings of plain vanilla closeness in his black leather chair; sweet evenings of doubt between the nights of bleak certainty. They came to him now, these forgotten counterexamples, because in the end, when you were falling into water, there was no solid thing to reach for but your children."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

She's a tooth-loser.

APRIL 26, 2011: Jenna arrives home from school and tells me her loose tooth, which she first reported only a few days prior, had become significantly loosened by biting into her sandwich at lunch.

Jenna shows me wiggly tooth.

Tooth is pretty floppy. I suggest she ask Daddy to help her get it out.

Daddy arrives home from work. They cloister themselves into the downstairs bathroom. Strategies are discussed. After about 10 minutes, Jenna emerges, triumphant and toothless, carrying an apple she bit into to release said tooth.

Mommy takes picture.

Tooth is hidden under pillow.

Tooth Fairy comes and leaves $5 for this, the first lost tooth, which was lost a full nine months earlier than her sister's first lost tooth (for those of you keeping score at home).

Jenna discusses at length what the Tooth Fairy looks like, how does she come into my room, how does she know, how Jenna KNOWS that she is real, how Jenna has a book that SHOWS what she looks like, etc, etc, etc.

Mommy tries to not freak out about her baby girl loosing teeth. Mommy doesn't do a very good job of not freaking out. Mommy gets a little sad that Jenna is getting older.

Within days, next tooth is loosened.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Blogger's Apology.

I am woefully behind in reporting just about everything going on here, so please accept my apologies and be ready for a deluge of family information. Here's some of what's gone down:

1. After eleven months of waiting, we found out what color the lilacs are next to our house. They were magnificent and scented the whole yard.

2. I was a Doubting Thomas about these irises ever blooming, but bloom they did, and now I see new blooms coming. These flowers are proud and majestic and noble, and a second bloom is just icing on the cake.

3. On May 26th was the elementary school's Art Show, with work from every class on display. I met their art teacher, who I was thoroughly underwhelmed by, and saw the projects they've created. They also had some pretty tasty cookies available for munching. Seeing little Jenna's artwork on the wall was amazing to me, because I still have a hard time thinking of her as school-age. Wasn't I just nursing her? (Well, in actuality, I was just nursing her a few years ago, but the point is the same: I think of her as barely preschool age, and here she is with displayed artwork. In a school. With Michaela.)
Both girls did a wonderful job with their projects, which were creative and colorful and very them.

4. May 25th was Michaela's Spring Concert, which featured her performing with the 4th Grade Orchestra and the combined 4/5 Choir. The concerts are fun because they are earnest and short and enthusiastic. Michaela played Lightly Row, Ode to Joy, and Song of the Wind, Frere Jaques, and French Folk Song on her viola as part of the orchestra. The choir, who was really fun to watched and listen to, sang Blackbird, Stand by Me and Dance Evolution Medley, which was well choreographed AND well sung.

Michaela has chosen to stick with viola for another year and she seems to do pretty well considering she never, ever practices. She briefly considered switching to play the saxophone in the band, which I think is actually more her style, and then lobbied me to allow her to switch to the cello, because "you get to sit down when you play" but I nixed that idea. So I sent in the form, saying I would pay for another year of viola rental, and felt kind of like I'd been suckered. But I like the sound of her practicing, and besides, look how pretty she looks with a viola: