Sunday, October 19, 2014

it happens

One day last week, the fourth grade classes of several elementary schools in the region, attended the symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.   It was a big deal for the children and the schools encouraged that everyone should dress up and try to look their best.  For our girls, that meant wearing dresses and their new boots.  For William it meant wearing his father's tie,  because his tie was too small.  I tried to dissuade him because it nearly came down to his knees, but he had his mind made up and so it came to be. When I spoke with my mother the night before this big event, I promised her that I'd take a picture of the kids dressed up and post it on the blog for her to see.

This is for you, Mom.

As is often the case in the morning, we were running late on the day of the symphony.  So Charlie was preparing to drive the kids to the bus stop, because we didn't want to take a chance we'd miss the bus - and it was starting to drizzle and heavy rain clouds were quickly moving in.  I'd almost forgotten that I'd promised to take a photo so as the kids were running out the door, I had them turn around and quickly pose for a picture.  I didn't realize that I'd captured what transpired in those next few moments, until I'm looking at the photos now...

Here, William realizes that he just stepped in something as Elizabeth and Henry look on with interest...

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"Something" that we would quickly discover was a "gift" that Louie covertly left on the walkway because children did not take him for a long enough walk earlier that morning...

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Here, Carolyn is graciously pointing out that she would not be sitting next to William.

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This just goes to show that even on our best days...

We can still sometimes manage to step in it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

... and then they were ten

Did I read somewhere that life gets busier as children get older?

I'm pretty sure that I did.  

I think I also read that the busier the life of a child gets, the more wiped out the parents feel.  That would certainly explain why Charlie and I have been going to bed by 10:30 every night and when we wake up at 6:30 (or 7:30 when we totally oversleep at least four times a week), we both say that we're so tired it hurts to move. 

This morning as we laid in bed wondering who was going to make the first move and get up, the thought crossed both of our minds that maybe we have mono, or lyme disease. Is it possible that those ailments could strike both of us ... at the same time? 

OK, so relatively speaking, we're not "that" busy. We know families who have something going on every day - including weekends - whereas we've squeezed most of our events in to three days, that only meet once every two weeks. So one week - we're running from one thing to the next, and the next week - we're chasing kids down and having them finish their homework and rid their backpacks of random debris and small organic life forms ... approximately three hours earlier than we do on those days when we have things happening after school.  But Charlie and I do both have careers in progress, and bathroom remodels underway, and random domestic things that keep us occupied and make us feel like we're always two steps behind in life.

All the while, our weekends have been intentionally left open and we've avoided weekend sport teams like the plague.  On those blissful nothing-planned-days we go for bike rides, or apple picking, or jump in leaf piles in the backyard.  But only after we get out of our pajamas at 11 AM and rush out of the house in a frenzy because ACK!  We've missed 1/2 the day! Whose idea was it to sit down and read the newspaper or fold laundry?!

Wait. What was the point of this post, again?

See, I'm so easily distracted. Is that a symptom of mono?

Oh yes... our triplets turned 10 on Tuesday!

Double Digits. One Decade. Two Full Hands.

HUGE MILESTONE worthy of a BIG celebration.  Right?

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Except ... big celebrations take time to plan.

And we spent the weekend before their birthday camping with the Cub Scouts.



We spent the day before their birthday, organizing their summer and winter clothes, packing things away and pulling things out while lamenting that clothes from last winter were significantly too small for this winter.  After spending several hours at the mall trying to buy them new clothes, I came home and ordered everything online.

(NOTE TO SELF: Do not take your children to the mall clothes shopping.  Lands End online is your friend. Especially when everything is 30% off as it was on Monday.) 

The evening prior to their birthday, after hours at the mall buying clothes that I'm planning to return next week, and another couple hours shopping online buying clothes that we'll actually keep, Charlie and I organized party favors that we'd bring in to their classes the next day.

As I was preparing for bed, it struck me that I hadn't bought them a single birthday present. So in lieu of a genuine present, I printed out pictures of items that I'd like to get them and put the pictures in a card.  The next morning the kids woke up and excitedly said to me, "Mom, can we just open TWO presents?!" and I said, "Uh, unfortunately no because as of right now, we have zero presents for you to open. Unless you count a card with pictures of things I think you might enjoy...?"

They were surprised by my lack of gift inventory, which surprised me because when do they think that I get things done? Do these children not realize that I fall asleep almost the same time that they do and wake up only a few minutes before them ... except for on those days (which constitute more than half the week) when they wake up before me?

As the kids raced out the door to school, yelling behind them that they really want a HOMEMADE MARBLE birthday cake ... I made plans to race off to the store.

My babies are TEN ... this is a big day!

I must bake a birthday cake for the children!

I must get birthday presents for the children! 

I must resist the temptation to just buy just ANYTHING and instead get them THOUGHTFUL gifts that they will use and enjoy and I will not be tempted to pick up and throw away the very next day! 

And, I have approximately seven hours to get it all done.

At 8:30 AM, this seemed like an eternity, so I ate a leisurely breakfast and read the front page of the newspaper. In that time, 45 minutes are gobbled up.  The next hour and 15 minutes are spent tidying up from breakfast, pushing through laundry, and packing the remaining party favors that I'd need to drop off at school.  I went to school and met Charlie who was volunteering for the day as a WATCH D.O.G.S

When my husband had decided the first week of school to volunteer as a "Dads Of Great Students" on the children's birthday - it sounded like an awesome idea. But when the reality struck that the ying to my yang would be totally out of commission and unavailable to help prepare for our children's 10th birthday celebration,  well ... the feeling was akin to crossing the monkey bars with one arm.



Once at school, together Charlie and I handed out party favors to 90 fourth graders, before Charlie informed me that he'd forgotten to pack his own lunch.  So I raced home and packed my husband a lunch and returned it to school. I then departed the school, flying solo, with only three and a half hours to get everything done.

Suppressing the feeling of PANIC, I raced off to one store and found a few good items. Books, wrapping paper, tape.  I raced off to a second store and found a few more good items.  Hiking shoes and a genuine Swiss Army Knife for William.  I raced off to the third store and picked up some craft kits and ingredients to make a marble cake: chocolate and white cake mix.

As I'm pushing my cart to the front of the store, I see that I have 55 minutes to check out, drive home, unpack the car, wrap the birthday presents, and start baking the cake.  I'd like to text Charlie to tell him to stall the kids and take them to a park - but his battery has died and I'm cast in to the dark ages of life without cell phones and ACK!

Directly in front of me in line is a mother with three small children.  She has two babies in the cart, a three-week-old newborn in a carseat within the basket, and a 22-month old toddler in the seat near the handlebar. The newborn is crying - a hungry cry - and the mother is trying to plug a pacifier in her mouth while she navigates her cart through the line with one hand.  Standing next to the cart is another little one, who stuck up her hand to show me pudgy little fingers illustrating she was four years old.

We made small talk, the mother and me.  I told her that she is blessed to have her beautiful children and as cliche as it may sound, we have to try our best to enjoy the time, because it goes past so ridiculously fast.  I then told her that I had triplets who were celebrating their 10th birthday, that very day, and I was at the store picking up supplies to bake their cake. I held up the box of chocolate and white cake mixes along with the 3 - #10 candles and waved them with a smile to demonstrate that I wasn't some crazy liar.

She distractedly made small talk back with me, oohing and aahing WOW triplets! How did I survive? And I joked that triplets were easy ... their LITTLE BROTHER ... was more work than the other three combined.   She oohed and aahed some more at the mention of four children under the age of three and I suddenly bit my tongue hard because:

1. No one who has their hands full wants to hear from someone who had their hands more full, and

2. No one who has their hands full wants to hear from someone who once had their hands full tell them how they are SO BLESSED and they should ENJOY EVERY MINUTE.

At this point, the mother had moved around to the front of the cart and was pulling it through the line (and likely trying to separate herself from the chatty lady who is reflecting on the absolute wonder that is life with babies!), while her toddler - at the other end of the cart - had climbed out of the seat and was precariously leaning over the wailing newborn in the carseat, trying to help her Momma unload groceries. But at 22-months old, her grip wasn't so strong so when she grabbed a bag of apples by the bottom and they ripped open and one nearly fell on her hungry newborn sister, and a half dozen rolled to the far downward sloping corner of the cart, I stepped in to help before the toddler toppled over the side.  Meanwhile, the four-year-old was trying to pull the milk out from beneath the cart and lift it over her head to put it on the conveyor belt.  But since the milk weighed almost half as much as she did, she stumbled backwards in to the magazine rack.

I couldn't help but smile and gently laugh.

Oh, how I fondly remember those days! 

The three-week postpartum mother was beautifully composed and exuding grace and patience, but when the bag of apples ripped open and the four-year-old stepped in to the magazine rack and nearly fell over, I briefly caught that frazzled look in her eye that said, "I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE."  Things quickly began to unravel and within a span of less than 10 seconds, the toddler had managed to climb out of the cart and was perched on the mother's shoulders, with one knee on her head trying to reach the candy rack, and the newborn had spit out her pacifier and was wailing. 

Ah yes ... these - these moments right here are the ones to savor!

But only if you're heavily medicated.  

Because I was standing in front of my little tiny cart, the easily maneuverable race car version used by people who zoom in to the store to pick up a few items, I helped to quickly unload the rest of the groceries from her gigantic cart that can hold three children and several days worth of groceries, on to the conveyor belt. We had both pushed through the line and were standing side by side in front of the clerk and the debit machine when they rang up her total.

I was feeling a little awkward at my positioning - so close to her and the debit machine (usually there is a cart separating people in the checkout line) - but there I was and in that moment, as she was trying to hold a baby with one hand and pull out her wallet with the other, the Universe whispered to me that I needed to BLESS this mother with a small gift for the BLESSINGS that I received ten years ago, when I gave birth to three perfectly perfect children.

So I quickly swiped my debit card and as I did, I said, "Please, let me get this. Hopefully, you can use what you would have spent on groceries for a few boxes of diapers for those precious babies. They grow up so fast. You really are blessed ... breathe deeply and have fun!" 

The mother was gobsmacked.

The clerk was gobsmacked.

I wiped away a tear of gratitude for my life, and my family, and for loving and exhausted parents the world over.  And then I checked my watch to see that I had 45 minutes remaining.

Once I arrived home, I had only 30 minutes before the kids would come barreling in from school, so I quickly wrapped their presents and immediately set forth to make their cake and after hunting high and low and thinking I'd lost my mind, realized that only the chocolate cake had made it home with me from the store because the white cake had accidentally gone home with the new mother.  And the only reason I knew that was because the clerk had given me her receipt and sure enough, the cake had been scanned right between the apples and the gallon of milk.

That night during dinner, I told the children what had happened to their marble cake and I explained why they were having a chocolate birthday cake, instead.  They loved the story and were thrilled to think of the smile (and hopefully not horror at the thought of derailing my children's birthday cake-making) on the new mother's face when she found the bonus box of white cake mix nestled in one of her bags of groceries.

In the end, the tenth birthday was a success.

The children had presents to open...

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And a well lit birthday cake to wish upon.

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Another highlight of the day, was a surprise visit from my sister Eileen who flew in from Michigan and called at the exact moment we had lit the birthday cake candles and were just about to start singing Happy Birthday. Eileen started singing with us on the phone, and then WALKED IN THE FRONT DOOR and finished singing with all of us.  Her sudden appearance totally blew the children's minds because ....

WHAT! 

HOW? 

Eileen said to us, "Are you kidding?! I love chocolate cake!!" 

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We couldn't agree more. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I excel at getting totally sidetracked

This past week, the laptop computer that Charlie gave me for Christmas last year, crashed. The good news is the logic board just needs to be replaced and experts think my hard drive is still intact. The reason that's good news is because all of the pictures and memories that I've captured since December 25, 2013 through approximately October 1, 2014, have been stored on that laptop computer and not backed up.

We have a device that backs up computers ... I think it's called a "Time Capsule." According to the people at the store, it's very user-friendly and intuitive. Despite that tag-line, I have no idea how it works. Thankfully, my husband does.  He'll plug some cord in to some USB and click a few things and then voila! everything is backed up.  Whenever I've tried to plug cords in and click buttons, I've erased everything on my computer and everything on the Time Capsule and so I just default that responsibility to Charlie.  Now, I just need to remember to remind him to back up my laptop, because even he forgot.

My laptop will be back sometime next week. Until then, I'm posting this blog on our desktop computer that is otherwise the computer our children use to practice their math.

Yes. Math, on the computer!

Maybe I'm not turning Amish after all. 

When one day, last week, one of our fourth graders was struggling with their homework and couldn't recall how to do basic skills that they'd learned how to do in second grade, I fell in to a pit of despair where life choices were called in to question, specifically the full-time career that has me in the office, or traveling all over the northern hemisphere and removed from my children for sometimes much of the school week.  In that moment, I flash backed to when I was in fourth grade and first started to fall behind in math, and thus begin a slow descent in to special education and years of private math tutors and a diminished self-esteem that didn't rebound until I was in college.

Yes, in that moment, I felt like a totally disconnected parent that is blind to how well their children are performing in school and where they might be struggling. So I devoted the next three hours (one hour per nine-year-old child) to reviewing material with my fourth graders and trying to get a better handle on where exactly they need additional support.  That three-hour session led me to a free session on IXL.com and after the free session abruptly ended, and I was hooked on the awesomeness of this program, I paid for one year access to the website.

Since then, I've had to monitor and regulate when the children can take turn practicing their math skills because they tend to get very territorial (aka: obsessed) about when they can play. The geniuses that designed the IXL program have prizes at the end of each 30 or so math question session, and I'm happily surprised at how insanely motivated our kids are to win those "prizes" at the end.  It certainly works better than me sitting before them with a pile of multiplication flash cards and having to take deep breaths and bite my tongue from saying out loud, "SERIOUSLY? YOU CAN'T REMEMBER 4 X 5?"

It would seem that anything electronic or technologically oriented gets them excited, even if it is math.

At the rate they're progressing through the different sessions, I expect Henry will be doing Geometry by next spring and the triplets will be on Pre-Calculus.  No, not really - but if they can easily round numbers and recall fractions, it'll be worth every penny that I paid for the year subscription and I will gladly relax my adamant opposition of children using computer technology.  

You know what's interesting?

I wasn't planning to write about any of that when I logged on to write this blog. I was planning to just post a picture of one of the world's newest and cutest Tiger Cubs.

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Our "Honowawy Cub Scout" is officially now one!

Monday, September 29, 2014

i hear jerusalem bells are ringing

While we are opposed to our kids playing video games because of all the negative that we've seen come from their obsession and overstimulation, we're not opposed to our kids listening to music as much as they want. To that end, we recently loaded up our little iPods with parental-approved music and let them listen to their heart's delight.

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Here's Henry - who is sporting a sprout like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals - listening to the five cellists play Cold Play's Viva La Vida.  He told me that he loves this song because it gives him the goosebumps.

Yep. Me, too.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

practicing

Two weeks in, and the novelty hasn't worn off.

What's been most surprising is how much I love to hear her practice.

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Even as a novice, the sound she makes with her cello is so beautiful ... I haven't worn my noise reduction head phones once.

Friday, September 26, 2014

pressure and time

This past April, on the same day that I left home for a one-week business trip in Puerto Rico, my husband decided to demolish the children's bathroom.  

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The state of that room - the grungy floor, the rusty tub, the peeling walls and ceiling had finally gotten to be too much for my husband, so he broke out the tile, the dry wall, the 350-pound cast iron tub ... and took the whole room down to the studs. And then, he paused. Because he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. 

"Uh, Jen. Is it too late to change my mind and stop right here?" 

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But we're part of a small group and one of the men that come to our home every Sunday evening, had remodeled a bathroom or two, and he encouraged my husband that he could do this.  Charlie was also encouraged by his big brother, Steve, who is a licensed contractor in California.  So my husband went to Home Depot, bought a big orange book on Home Improvement 1, 2, 3 and started reading.  

Several weeks passed. 

Six to be exact, before he summoned the stamina and courage to do the next thing. 

Over the course of the next four weeks, and with the tremendous support of Steve via telephone nearly every day, and numerous YouTube videos that Charlie watched and has him convinced he can do ANYTHING with the help of the internet, he installed a new tub ... plumbing ... lighting ... insulation ... drywall ... and then, tile.  

All by himself.  This is the finished product and although you cannot see the intricacies of his handiwork, believe me when I say it is flawless.  I'm so proud!

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On the opposite side of the tiled bathtub wall, is another bathroom: the bathroom adjoining the master bedroom.  Now that he has a very good idea of what to do and has one remodeled bathroom under his belt, this week, while I was at a business trip in California, Charlie decided to start demolishing the master bathroom.  When I returned home late last night, he was still working at taking the tile down.  


At first, he was smashing the wall with a sledgehammer, but when I told him I was afraid he was going to crack the beautiful tile that he had just installed on the opposite wall, he delicately began chipping away at the three-inch concrete with his hammer, one tile at a painstaking time.  

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He's calling this his "Shawshank Redemption" remodel because at this pace, he thinks it'll take him two life sentences to complete. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

when imagination takes flight

Although all of our children are very familiar with the Harry Potter series, we go through waxing and waning phases of interest with the story and various characters.

Probably because Halloween is right around the corner, this month the kids are 100% waxed on to Harry Potter.

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This afternoon as I was pushing Henry on the rope swing outside, I told him that we had actually considered naming him "Harry" before he was born, but didn't want to have a William and Harry - like the Princes of Wales.  (Clearly, I didn't do too much research, because if I had, I would have realized that Prince Harry's full name is "Henry Charles Albert David".)

"What? You mean you ALMOST called me Harry? Is it too late now?!" 

No, I suppose it's never too late.

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So at least for today (and until we forget), he's known as "Harry" around the house.

He is a wizard ...

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And he flies around our front yard on a Firebolt broom stick, eyes peeled for the golden snitch.