Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lights at Night

My only regret about last night is that Finn was already asleep when all the magic happened. I can imagine how much he would have loved what Mike, the girls and I experienced just outside in our yard.

In 36 years, I haven’t really seen anything like it: millions and millions of lightening bugs right in our back yard. We back up to trees and brush with corn fields off to one side and it was as if billions of tiny yellow diamonds twinkled in the night right before us. I never knew that there could be so many little neon beings in one place and the girls were just as awestruck. The kids grabbed their bug box and headed out into the darkness with a couple of neighbors. They ran and twirled and jumped and climbed, in order to catch the little guys, literally screaming with excitement at every turn.

It was the essence of childhood, right in front of us. I loved every minute soaking it all in and almost couldn’t bear for it to end. In my heart of hearts, I hope that Logan and Riley remember last night for the rest of their lives. Or maybe it will be like this every summer, with those amazing little twinkles bidding us goodnight each balmy evening. What a cool way to end your day; grateful for the reminder of the tiny space you take up in this big, enchanted world we live in. Part of me believes that it may never be as truly fascinating as last night’s first discovery of the magic beyond our walls, but it will still be pretty spell-binding.

Really, you have to come and see it to believe it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Frog Whisperer

It all started with the weekly cleanouts of our enormous window wells last summer. Each week, we would collect massive amounts of frogs from inside our basement window wells, put them in a bucket and deliver them home to the pond behind our house. The kids got a huge kick out of this; especially when our daily tally would hit numbers like 13 or 14 frogs. I’ve always had tomboy tendencies and one frog at a time is no problem for me, but I’ve got to tell you, thirteen frogs scampering to get out of my hands or catapulting off each other to find freedom from the bucket, kind of grosses me out.

Frog dreams were squashed when we bit the bullet this spring and spent crazy money on the least rewarding home improvement project ever: window well covers. Finn was starting to climb down the ladder inside and I saw an ER trip in my near future. Plus, if you skip a week of frog collection, well, I’m sure you can imagine the disastrous results, visible from inside all basement windows. We had to do it.

So now, my girls lurk around unsuspecting neighbors' window wells, trying to catch a sighting of Toby Toad or Fred the Frog. I’ve caught them running with buckets full from another kid’s house, thrilled with their take and the other kid running behind crying, realizing that they want what they never knew they had. These kids have flipped for frogs, with Logan leading the way.

She’s good at it to, catching some every day, reluctantly taking them to the pond after she’s had enough prodding from me. She holds them and talks to them and makes them nice, temporary homes in buckets full of rocks and water and grass. They’re her pets.

Strangely enough (for frogs, that is) I think they like her, too! They almost seem to seek her out… we can be in a parking lot or even inside her state-of-the-art indoor pool for swimming lessons. Yesterday, she found five while we were leaving the pool building. All frog babies, who she gently picked up and placed in a muddy spot with hopes of each having a good, long life. I called her the “frog whisperer” and it stuck. I couldn’t believe she even understood what I meant, but she instantly loved it and proudly proclaimed the title the whole way home.

Within minutes after arriving home, Logan had another bucket full, including some other poor little rescued bugs that fell into her loving hands. Later, I found the bucket, empty of its previous live contents, sitting on my dryer in the laundry room. When I asked her if there were bugs or frogs in it when she brought it in, she said, “Yes, but I don’t know where they went!”

So, as I watch every step for inch worms, lady bugs and you guessed it - frogs, my question of the day is: How do I get this bug and frog catcher to ditch her relentless fear of spiders?


Thursday, June 19, 2008


Don't ever let your camera get confiscated by a 4 and 6 year old with time to burn. These are keepers for sure!!

Autumn in June

The number one thing on my mind when we moved into our new house last summer was planting trees. I am an old house, old neighborhood lover through and through and just couldn't imagine living in the shadeless surroundings of a new subdivision for too long. So we gratefully accepted two trees last fall for housewarming gifts and were thrilled to get them in the ground.

Spring began with the slow realization that our crimson frost birch was not going to make it; the 18 foot tall, beautifully shaped specimen which was planted so late that it had no leaves when we bought it, returned with leaves covering only the bottom third. The garden center where we purchased it replaced it with a very healthy, 12 foot tall river birch with an even prettier shape and we're anxious to watch it grow in our backyard.

The other tree we planted last fall was an autumn blaze maple and by all accounts it couldn't have looked any healthier this spring. Bright green leaves filled every part of each branch and we already noticed growth in just the first year. As soon as that new birch was replaced, I started to notice color on the maple's leaves. And although this picture does not do it justice, our autumn blaze maple is now in full blaze - looking gorgeous, but quite misplaced in the month of June.

As much as I hated to do it, I called the garden guy and asked why this was happening. After making some calls, his answer stinks. It is most likely slowly dying, either due to over watering or being planted in clay (which is what we're sitting on here.) I doubt it's over watering, I've only watered three times this spring. It must be the clay, the water that has nowhere to drain is just rotting the roots. There's nothing we can do.

It's killing me to look out each morning and watch as this big, gorgeous tree gets more and more autumnal-looking. I can't stand that it is slowly meeting it's demise and that I am helpless to save it. The garden guy says there's a chance it may persevere, and I so hope it does. I guess this a probably a good lesson in letting go and not having control of everything. For now, I suppose we'll just celebrate all its beautiful fall foliage and blazin' color.

Fall is my favorite season anyway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mini Words of Wisdom

Some kids are just so smart. Yesterday morning, I took Riley and Finn on an outing while Logan was attending her acting class. Yes, as she nurtured the “diva within”, I filled the two hours with something that could entertain both a 4 year old and a 2 year old – the park! I felt like a great mom bringing them over and doing something solely for them without the opportunity to get something I needed done on the side. It goes without saying that they were thrilled.

So we went and they cheered and danced all the way from the parking lot to the sidewalk and on to the jungle gyms. I realized that Finn was not next to me at one point and quickly turned around. There he was, backed into and on purpose, a four-inch deep sludge puddle. The mud-line was somewhere above his ankles and no shoe parts were visible. “Yucky Mommy!” he announced proudly.

Now, I can only tell you how happy I was that he was wearing his backup sandals, not because his nice ones required days and days of searching to find his extra-wide size 61/2, not even because he threw one of those nice sandals away and I didn’t catch it in time so I had to purchase another pair, but because just that morning he was wearing the new pair and sprayed the hose all over the nice leather, leaving them a wet mess. So I freaked. This was my second (and final) set of footwear for the little man to wear that day and now every ounce of them was covered in goopy mud.

I huffed and puffed and sighed and said, “I think we need to go home.” And then Riley, who was twirling with happiness moments earlier, looked me right in the eyes, smiled and said, “This just isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.”

“I say that all the time Riley,” I half joked. But then I felt horrible! I pulled those mud-filled clod hoppers off his fat feet and rubbed the shoes and his feet all over the grass until although they were still brown, it was just a thin coat of drying mud. We stayed and played for an hour and I know they appreciated every minute.

Sometimes I wonder why my kids seem to be losing their ability to bounce back from little disappointments here and there like they used to. Sure they’re getting older and feeling the word “no” more and more. But I bet it’s not their age that’s leaving them more disgruntled, it’s seeing their mom not bounce back from all the silly day-to-day stuff like I should. Yes, I need a break and no, I don’t really get one. But a summer helper of sorts is in the works and will hopefully add some adult time into my life.

Instead of shooting out my normal bite-back boomerang response of “This isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be either!” I’ll say it with a smile. This whole stay-at-home-mom thing may not be exactly like I thought it would be, it may not be fun all the time, but it is fun and it is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, my number one career of choice. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.

Sometimes it just takes the quick wit and intuitive understanding of a four year old for me to see it all clearly. Another point for Riley girl.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

His Hands

The other day I looked at Mike’s hands and noticed that they are pretty weathered from all the hard work he does on a daily basis. “Who needs gloves?” he jests when I mention that he consider them for things like yard work or WINTER! He just isn’t so-inclined and that has left his well-used hands showing a year or two, that’s for sure. But as I looked at all those deepening nooks and crannies that give his handy hands so much character, I also had another thought…

These hands, were the first so full of love, to touch our children. Sure, some doctor or nurse edged them out in the middle of surgery, but those hands didn’t love our kids, or anxiously await their arrival or wonder what it would be like to hold them, boy or girl, in their arms. Their daddy’s hands did. They waited patiently, never feeling a kick or shuffle from the inside to let them know just what was really around the corner. They opened wide at each arrival of our three beautiful gifts and brought them right to their mommy (who finally got the good drugs once the babe was out) to say a drowsy first “hello.” What a good daddy.

There really is no way I could have dreamed anything bigger or better or more boundless than the love I know Mike has for our kids. He works tirelessly to give us everything we need and bring us to better places in life. He operates with the much needed patience of a saint when mine is tapped out. He knows when to laugh to break the tension. He is good to the core, never thinking a bad thought about another human being unless they really (and I mean really) deserve it. I have always wanted to be more like him, this man of true blue character and I still feel that way so many years later. He is just plain good. And our kids feel it and emulate it, thanks to him.

As a stay-at-home-mom, I miss out on the opportunity to walk in the door at the end of a long day and have the room erupt in cheers and excitement. I rarely experience my children jump and almost fly to me as I walk in the door, but Mike does. Even Finn searches out his truck from a family room window each night at dinner time and announces “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” well before the girls, the dog and I have a clue. It’s unanimous; he’s just so great to have around. His absence is discussed as soon as the kids wake, “Is Daddy at work or the gym?” and felt greatly when it extends anything beyond the norm. His arrival home is always cause for celebration; there is just no better Daddy for us.

The four of us are blessed beyond belief to have this wonderful man and his weathered hands at the helm of our ship. Happy Father’s Day, Mike. Thanks for steering and for the wonderful father you are!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dancing Queens

We couldn't have loved our first dance recital experience any more. Grandparents joined Mike and I as the girls took to the stage for the first time - cool as cucumbers. The fancy outfits and make-up made it the perfect day! Here are some shots of our little ballerinas...

Getting the poses right....

A knowing look between performers??

Great job Logan and Riley!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bedtime Stories

Leave it to Riley to decide to ride her bike without training wheels yesterday – in the middle of a horrible chest cold – and accomplish it completely in about 30 seconds. She is definitely free-wheeling it now, so glad for the same freedoms that her sister has. I can’t wait to enjoy family bike rides without clunky training wheels dragging us down and I’m planning on taking them as many nights as possible right after dinner. (My metabolism wouldn’t suffer a bit from the boost, that’s for sure!)

Last night when I was putting her to bed, she asked if she could tell me stories. I said, “Sure, but make it quick, it’s late and I’m so tired!” She began “Jack and the Beanstalk” which made me chuckle because, for some reason, it has always been my go-to story for the kids. I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting pretty darn good and theatrical with my delivery. And so is Riley, with all the inflections, excitement and pauses in the right places, she delivered her version of my version (I’d hate to hear the real one at this point, sometimes I fear I have merged a few stories together!) with perfect timing. Of course, she added her own embellishments. Mid-way through, Jack became Justin and traveled up the stalk with sister, Sarah.

It’s only fitting that the funny part came on the tails of our good friends’ weekend visit from their home in Iowa. Logan, Riley and Finn delighted in having their pals Piper and Sadie here all weekend, with no schedule or real outings, just swimming and a movie and Portillo’s. Top it off with loads of outdoor play, ice cream and late nights in the same room together; I’m pretty sure they thought they had reached the Promised Land!

Riley got to the part of the story where Jack (Justin) climbs the beanstalk and she was saying how high it was. “The stalk was so high… do you know how high it was? It was so high that it reached to Disney! It was so high that it could go to California! It was so high that it went to North Carolina!” I was thinking of how, at four, these are her places of reference and how much that will change over time. And then she added, “It was so high it EVEN made it to IOWA!” she exclaimed proudly!

I love Iowa as much as the next guy, but it might not be the end-all be-all in my version of Jack and the Beanstalk. Riley’s version put her little self all in perspective for me last night – she sure has got it right. There’s no need to day dream about Calgon taking me a way to a beach in the Caribbean or the far off Italian countryside, we’ve got everything we need just a couple hundred miles west in corn country. Thanks to the Koski’s for making the trip. We all had a great time!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Day in Review

  1. Wake up at 5 am, write a little, prepare for afternoon phone interview, and pay bills.
  2. Easily fly through morning routine, the second-to-last this year!
  3. Repeatedly pull Finn away from new race cars and train set to try and make him eat, much to his dismay.
  4. Drop Logan at school and go to Target for summer pool supplies. Finn screams “Pool now!” at the top of his lungs for twenty minutes.
  5. Realize Target is out of chocolate chips and I have to go somewhere else. Walk into grocery store with raspberry dum-dum lollipop dangling from my hair, holding and orangutan named Finn. Need two items for Kindergarten Tea cookies tomorrow.
  6. While driving home, realize being a parent of a two year old boy borders on torture at times.
  7. Get home to find it has stormed into all open windows. Dry all window sills.
  8. Have two 4 year old girls over to play, watch as they destroy my house in a matter of minutes.
  9. Fix Finn’s invisible owie four times.
  10. Wash all bedding in the house and get it back on the beds (now that’s a feat!)
  11. Clean office – the mountain of unfiled paperwork was finally intruding on mouse space – I had no choice.
  12. Rejoice in a new Chicago Parent project received!
  13. Plan for this weekend’s much anticipated house guests – our good friends the Koski’s from Iowa.
  14. Make cookies for Kindergarten Tea.
  15. Give three baths at 1 pm during massive thunderstorm, exit bathroom to find that the sun is back out and watch as the muddy water splatters up my kids’ backs as they ride their bikes through it.
  16. Search for my children who forget to let me know where they are going, twice in a row – with Finn, who is wearing T-Rex PJ’s and frog boots.
  17. Plant salvaged pachysandra from Mike’s mom’s garden.
  18. Make and serve dinner, while simultaneously creating a list of house rules with the kids for the summer. I remember laughing when I saw something like this on a friend’s fridge awhile back. Now I know it is more than necessary.
  19. Get everyone to bed.
  20. Check email again, watch Hell’s Kitchen (how relaxing!) Fall asleep on couch at 9:30.
  21. Wake at 11:00, turn off lights, start dishwasher. Decide it’s time to do a mini-pedicure. Quickly fall asleep again.
  22. Wake at 12:30 and 1:30 for Riley’s nightmares – I knew she’d have them after seeing a scary guy on Wizards of Waverly Place.
  23. Give in and let Riley sleep with us.

All in a day’s work, I guess. And I didn’t include most of the everyday stuff. No wonder I’m so tired this morning, just like all of us mom’s out there!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

See Ya Later May!

This post and the previous one are my last two columns for The Prairie Times, which didn't make it into print. I figured if they aren't publishing them, I will!

Now that we’ve got a few days of June under our belts and we can really look back and see May for what it was, I have a question for you. Does anyone else think that the month of May has turned into a three-ringed circus? I can’t tell you how many times last month that I uttered, “May is worse that December!” Everyone that I have mentioned this to agrees, May is out of control, leaving most of us feeling that we are barely hanging on long enough to check one more item off our list.

A good friend of mine said that she was complaining about the same thing to her mom, who quickly informed her that this is nothing new – she even had a phrase for it when her kids were young. “Arrgh, May!” she would growl each April as the dreaded month approached. Since my oldest child is in kindergarten, this is the first time I can say that I have really experienced it all; the “last day” celebrations, weeks full of much-deserved teacher appreciation, grandparent’s days, field trips, summer activity registrations, dance recitals and spring activity wrap-ups. Throw in my toddler’s birthday, its related celebrations, a ridiculous high fever virus and ten days of house guests for me and that’s my month in review. All I can say is “Bring on June!”

May gets a bad wrap because we’re all so ready for a change and those lazy days of summer are just plain appealing. I can’t wait for that last day of kindergarten/ preschool/ soccer/ dance/ daisies and all other regularly scheduled activities to come to their natural ends. While they were welcome additions to our growing schedule way back when they began, we need a break from it all and soon. It’s not that we don’t have things on the docket for the summer; we just have less things and new things – both very important adjectives to me during my May days.

Bear with me while I tip toe through imaginary land for a moment. It seems as if the change in schedule will blow through and leave me at ease in comparison to the race around mornings I have each weekday. I look forward to hours at the pool, a nap for one each day and (hopefully) a babysitter one afternoon a week. I can’t wait to stop looking at my watch constantly, cease the repeated glances at my calendar and ditch that feeling that I have forgotten something. (Which I have – I endured tears over my inability to remember to turn in the Field Day t-shirt order form in time.) For now, all those hours to fill up with spontaneous sprinkler runs and park trips seem like a dream come true.

I know that there is probably some fantasy mixed up with my summer plans. When August arrives, I’ve no doubt that I’ll be chomping at the bit for some structure and a schedule. I’m sure those long summer days will eventually lose their shiny newness, leaving me fielding exasperated emissions of the dreaded phrase, “I’m bored.” So for now, I’ll just enjoy being on the cusp of what will be welcomed and relaxing and different. We’ll splash around in the freedom that summer brings for awhile, until it’s time to dive into something new next fall. Maybe I’ll only look at my day timer once a week, who knows – the possibilities are endless.

There’s no better time for living in the moment than summer, especially when the moments seem a little longer and a bit less hectic. Here’s to June (and July and August.) Let’s pick some moments to enjoy!

Me Time

There was a moment of deafening silence in my home the other day. When I looked around, I witnessed all of my kids watching a movie, in a little row, right on the couch. What’s so exciting about that you say? Well, it’s just so rare that I’m relieved of the worry of whatever possible haphazard they could be falling into, that I know they’re all accounted for and safe – it’s cause for celebration.

This tiny miracle of momentary peace left me thinking about how when they were smaller, I longed for them to be asleep simultaneously so that I could feel that same appreciated solace for an hour or two. Since I’ve had three kids, I’ve experienced that once during daytime hours, right after we moved into a new house and they all petered out from sheer exhaustion. (I had just enough time to wash the floor.)

Even when my oldest was two, I only had a brief period of six months or so that my girls cat napped together. Needless to say, I was glad to see them all kicking back on that couch; it gave me hope that there may be other pockets of relaxation in my future. And then it hit me – this hope for them to be together and peaceful never wanes, it just varies over time.

For example, right now I long for the last hour of my day, when the kids are snuggly tucked in or the snippets of time I have to get things done while the kids are otherwise occupied. But soon, I bet I’ll be hoping for something more fundamental, like all of my kids being home for dinner. With the activities and extra curricular events destined for our growing family’s future, I’ve no doubt those family meals will be a struggle to achieve. I pray that I’ll have many moments to look around and silently be grateful for having each of them at our table, telling us about their daily lives (yeah right) and sharing time together.

When I look further down the line, I imagine what it might be like when my kids have gone on to college and only come home from time to time. Although I’m sure that my husband and I will enjoy time alone again, I know that I’ll reminisce about busy days long since passed. More importantly, that feeling of having everyone home at once will be stronger than when all I wanted was an hour alone. I’ll be anxiously awaiting their arrival and the time we’ll spend together.

And then my kids will have families and make their own lives and dreams come true. Time will fly and their days will become as busy and tiring as mine are now. I dream about big barbeques, family holidays and plain old visits with a house full of whatever and whoever we all become, celebrating the family that we are. I’ll still be waiting for those three faces I love to be close together, but no longer will I wait for five minutes of peace. No, I suspect in the future I’ll be counting on my kids for an injection of the full house craziness of my past, which is currently my sometimes complained about present. I think what began as a wish for “me” time will evolve into a yen for some “be with me” time.

It’s true that the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. I sometimes look at moms with older kids and feel a little envy for the time they have on their own. But I’m so grateful to have a little insight every once in awhile, to imagine what our future might be like. It helps me realize what I’m missing right now, by not living in the moment and uncovering all the goodness in front of me everyday. Even though silly things prod me to forget, finding that goodness – and treasuring it – is my primary goal. Here’s hoping you find some good of your own today!