Thursday, October 31, 2013

all hallows eve

The 2013 cast of characters...


A peace-loving rock star...


An Indian Warrior Who Lives On The Plains And Hunts Buffalo (her exact description)...


Superman, who is feeling more like Captain Grumpy Pants because his Indian Warrior Sister Who Lives On The Plains and Hunts Buffalo won't let him play with her new bow and arrow...


And a trickster Ninja, who is missing his black hood and who I thought for sure would be an Army man this Halloween. Serves me right for thinking.


For the third year in a row, we set up a bonfire in our front yard and offered up 'smores, hot apple cider, water, and pumpkin-themed brewskies to our trick-or-treaters and their chaperones.


For the first time in three years, it rained.


But that didn't stop the neighbors from coming and by 8 PM, we had a nice congregation of friends on our front yard, braving the drizzling weather and helping to make this yet another fantastic night for the memory books.  All of us are already looking forward to next year, when Halloween falls on a FRIDAY and we don't have to worry about having our little ghouls and goblins dressed, fed, shoed, and on a school bus by 7:45 AM.  Thankfully, I have this guy on my team who is quite literally, The King of getting kids ready and out the door in the morning.


The kids were tucked in to bed by 10:00 PM after I spent 20 minutes on each child scouring their candied teeth with baking soda.  I don't think it'll be much longer that I'll have the honor of assisting in the brushing of the triplet's teeth. Sometimes, you don't realize just how fast they're growing up, until a night like tonight, when they took off from our house, and soon ventured in separate directions with their friends.  For the first time ever, Charlie and I weren't with them the whole time as they went trick-or-treating.  When they returned home to me safely (and after I checked them over from head to toe), I could tangibly sense they were inching further to the edge of the nest, itching to spread their little wings and fly.

Oh, not just yet little birdies.


Not just yet. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

conflict resolution

William has developed a love of camouflage and all things military related.  When we were in South Carolina a few months ago, my mother bought him an army helmet and camouflage pants at a thrift store. For school, he picked out a camouflage backpack. When Charlie was recently making a drop-off at the Salvation Army and saw that someone had just turned in a camouflage jacket - he snatched it up for $3.00, and gave it to William.  This week, William dug some money out of his piggy bank to buy dog tags at the school book fair.  For his birthday, I finally caved in and bought him a rainbow laser. Seeing as it was camouflage, I thought that it completed his ensemble, nicely.


Today, William, dressed from head to toe in his military gear, climbed in to the back of Charlie's truck and set up a bunker. He had his backpack loaded with various supplies and rations, and he was curled up with a good book - watching over us as we were raking the yard. Soon, some of the neighborhood kids came over to play and William slowly climbed out to join them. He didn't rush out, because he was perfectly happy where he was. But upon my urging, he exited to run around and play with the boys. They retreated down to the creek, and within a few minutes, William came up the hill crying.  One of the boys told him that he looked stupid dressed like an army guy. Wrestling ensued and the boy picked up William's brand new gun and snapped it over his knee.  The gun is still intact, but the hairline crack is obvious. William was crushed.

That was more than an hour ago.

Since then, I've talked to the boy and let him know how that toy was William's #1 birthday gift and it is NOT okay to go over to people's houses and break their toys.  I tried to have him apologize to William - but William won't let him come near, without running in the opposite direction.  William has been hiding in his room, crying, while the boy who has moved on from the situation, is running around the yard with the rest of the kids who are all immune to their brother's deep hurt.  I've told William that when he is able, we'll go over and talk to the boy's parents and let them know what happened.  I'm not interested in them replacing the gun (it wasn't that expensive) - but I'd definitely want to know if my child intentionally broke another child's toy. Especially if it was their coveted birthday present.  I've also told William that he has two choices in how to respond.

1. Carry a grudge and cry all day, never forgetting this moment.

Or ...

2. Forgive the boy, go outside and enjoy the beautiful day - and next time, put his favorite toys away.

While he's pondering this advice, I'm wondering if there's something else I should be doing? But what? Send the boy home? Ban him for life from playing in our yard? Tell William to not play with him anymore?  Recognize that kids are kids and kids do things like this and this is how they learn?

William is looking to me to make this situation right. And I'm looking to MY mother. I'm sure I'd know the answer to all of those questions and so much more if my mother was home, but apparently, she's out busy today because all I'm getting is her voicemail.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

loved to pieces

I've had a pair of blue flannel Life is Good pajamas since ... well, probably since before the children were born.  I don't rightly remember where - or when - or who exactly gave me these pajamas, I just know that I love them. They've got a drawstring waist and despite the wintery snowflake motif, I wear them year 'round.


They're not really even flannel, anymore. They're just a soft and cozy cotton and although I strive to get dressed every single morning, there have been many a day on weekends, or when I'm working at home, that despite my best intentions, I've stayed in these pajamas as the sun rises and then sets again.


More recently I've begun to notice that the pajamas are starting to get pretty thin. But I've kept wearing them and I don't know what precisely happened, because I never noticed the hole nor heard the tear, but one morning, the entire backside was split wide open.  As in, there was at least a 12-inch gaping hole that traversed the seam. The children, with their eagle eyes, noticed it first, when I was bending down to pull out our griddle to make scrambled eggs and someone said, "Um, Mom? What happened to your pants?" I didn't comprehend what they were talking about so didn't pay much attention to the question until Charlie hollered, "OH MY GOSH! JEN. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR PANTS?!" So I looked over my shoulder to investigate and that's when I noticed that my hiney was completely hanging out.  Oh. So that's where the draft is coming from?

It saddened me to take those pajama bottoms off and throw them in the trash. But I knew they'd had a good run, and rather than reduce them to cut up pieces of dust cloths, I'd retire them with dignity to the trashcan and retain my memories of how comfy they once were.   While I mourned, my husband was thrilled to see them go.


A few days later, I awoke to discover that there was a wrapped package waiting for me on my bedside table. First, I opened the card that accompanied the gift...


It read (in essence):  To Mom: I know how much you love these pants so I sewed them hope you like them. Love, Liz. 


Then I opened the package. Inside were my tattered pajamas that my daughter had extracted from the trash. She found some thread, and a needle, and went about the task of stitching up my pair of PJ bottoms.  That my sweet little girl dug my decade old ripped and worn pajamas out of the garbage and lovingly stitched up the tailgate for me, and then gift wrapped them as a surprise, has got to be the sweetest act of kindness I've ever experienced.  This is really such a GREAT example of the awesomeness that children can bring to life, when they're focused on exerting their energy in to love, and not say, arguments with their little brother.


Unfortunately for Charlie, I can never throw these pajamas out, now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

nine is fine

Let's see, where were we?

Oh yes ... birthday party eve with sweet little children sound asleep beneath their beds.


This year the children's birthday was on October 14th (remarkably, as it is every year) - which this year happened to fall on the second Monday of October - Columbus Day - which is a national holiday here in the States. Because it was a national holiday, the children were out of school, and I took the day off from work to reminisce on the life changing event that happened to me exactly nine years prior when I became the mother to this amazingly wonderful little tribe who have blessed me in more ways than I can count; and who I know will continue to bless me in more ways than I can possibly fathom.

In honor of this great occasion - which is the last year our triplets will be in the SINGLE digits - Charlie and I decided to host a big birthday party for them. A bash of sorts, that would extend to every child from the their three separate third-grade classes. And, their Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts and various neighbor friends who are either home-schooled or attend private school.

When Charlie asked me if he thought that we were being pretentious by inviting everyone, I said huh? Then I said, I don't know, let me go look up "pretentious." And then, once I fully comprehended the definition, I said NO we're not being pretentious, because when we tried to whittle the list down to just 10 kids each, I was heartbroken to exclude some of the kids that I really, really like.  And then there were a few kids who I know never get invited to birthday parties, and they needed to be invited BECAUSE.  And then the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that when it comes to things like outdoor birthday parties on crisp fall days - The More The Merrier!

This is an experience that we will all (hopefully) remember fondly.  And that is how we unpretentiously, and with as much love in our hearts as possible, mailed close to 100 invitations to our children's peers for their 9th birthday party celebration. This is what the invitations looked like:


We opted to again do a book exchange in lieu of gifts because quite frankly, our children have more than enough toys and prefer a good book, anyway.  The thought of that many presents is excessive. And in our quest to nurture an appreciation for sharing - what better way than to have our children share gifts on their birthday?


The theme for our party was, "Nine Is Fine Fall Festival" and we invited the children and their families to participate.  Partly because I appreciate mingling with our children's parents - - and partly because I'd really need the parental support because we could potentially have more than 100 kids at the house.

The full impact of what we'd done hit us the day after we'd mailed the invites, when Charlie shot out of bed one morning and screamed, "OH NO... WHAT DID WE JUST DO? Last year we were panicked about inviting their entire class - and that's when they had the same teacher. This year we just invited THREE entire CLASSES!"  So we breathed in to a paper bag for a few minutes, and then in a moment of supreme clarity regarding the improbability that everyone would actually attend (it is a Monday, after all), and how to keep those kids that did attend engaged during the party - I decided to make up these name tag / passports for each of the participants that I then affixed to the kids with a yarn lanyard.


Because we laminated them, when the children first arrived, I had them write their names with a Sharpie on the front, and on the back, they had to write down their guess for the number of pieces of Candy Corn that I had put in to a Mason Jar.  Because no one selected the exact correct number (354) and because you know how I love third grade math so much (!!!), I had all the kids round their guess to the nearest 10 and then picked whomever was the closest to the actual number at the end of the party.

Sticking with the concept of "Nine is Fine!" there were nine separate stations, each one with a Halloween theme. For example, instead of the "Moon Bounce Obstacle Course" we had the "Monster Dash."  As the children rotated through the various stations, I had parents (whom I stealthily recruited when they showed up to drop their kids off) hand out "bling" for the kids as a reward for completing the event. The bling consisted of orange and black rhinestones and the object was that the children complete their entire passport before the end of the party. This worked out great because it kept the kids moving, and would allow parents to take inventory of where kids had been to ensure that they didn't camp out the entire time at the "Donut on a String" station.


Here are our nine stations that I thought up the night before the party that I printed out on card stock and had affixed on wooden dowels around the yard:

Station 1:  Monster Dash (aka: Moon Bounce Obstacle Course). This was a killer. I did it once and mid-way through had a cramp in my gluteus maximus that drove me to my knees. 



Station 2: Scare the Crow (aka: Horseshoes). Charlie, who is slightly dyslexic, told me this one was really going to confuse the other dyslexics in the crowd.




Station 3: Lil' Pumpkin Depot (aka: Little pumpkin decorating). In addition to the book that each child took home (that they opened during the book exchange), they also took home their little pumpkin that they decorated. Voila, party favors!



Station 4: Gobbling Goblins (aka: Donut on a String). Just noticed that I typed "Gobbling Gobins" on the sign, and forgot the "L" in goblins. This is what happens when you're up making signs at 2 AM...



Station 5: The Witch Hunt (aka: Capture the Flag). But instead of grabbing a flag from the opposing team, the kids had to grab a toy witch off a tree. I never got a picture of this game in play because they  were down by the creek, but Charlie was the referee and wore his official attire that I bought him last year. He was highly impressed with the level of respect that he commanded from the children, and thinks that he might make this ensemble part of his every day wardrobe.



Station 6: Ghost Case Chase (aka: Potato Sack Race - in white potato sacks). Just noticed I didn't get a picture of this, either. But imagine little kids jumping across the yard and toppling down in potato sacks.


Station 7: Trick and Treat (aka: Bean Bag Toss). My sister, Eileen, sent the children a new bean bag toss game for their birthday, and we cut out pieces of butcher paper - colored them in to look like various creatures, and taped them to the surface.  The picture shown below is "Treat." Hopefully, someone can remind me to take and post a picture of "Trick" since I don't see one on my current camera roll.



Station 8: Candy Corn Craze (aka: Candy Corn Relay Race). I don't have a picture of this station, either, gosh - what was I doing the whole time?! - but this was one of my favorites. The kids were lined up in two separate teams, with three or more children, per team. They then had a relay race, in which they had to pick up a single piece of Candy Corn on a spoon, and then run (without holding or touching the Candy Corn) ~30 feet to one of two small bowls where they deposited their piece of Candy Corn. If they dropped the Candy Corn, they had to start over. When they finished, they ran back, handed the spoon to the next person in line, and progressed through their team. The first team to get 10 pieces of Candy Corn in the bowl, won. It was ridiculously fun to watch especially when the Candy Corn popped off the spoon just before they deposited in the bowl and they had to start ALL OVER again.


Station 9: Fairies and Frankenstein (aka: Face Painting). I adore our pre-teen neighbors kids that were perfectly happy to paint children's faces. ALL DAY.




For fuel, there was homemade chili and cornbread, Spider Cider (apple cider with plastic spiders floating about), fresh fruit, and a humongous stack of pizza for the kids. I conducted an informal survey and determined that children 4:1 prefer cheese pizza over pepperoni pizza.  But if you happen to run out of cheese pizza, 2:1 they will begrudgingly accept pepperoni pizza with the pepperonis plucked off.


One thing I should mention is that a week or so before the party, our neighbor - a retired paramedic - told me that years ago, he'd had a birthday party for his grandson and had asked the fire department to send a truck over.  Because I wasn't sure what we were going to do, I thought,  "What the heck, if I'm going to have potentially 100 kids and their families, why not give it a shot?"  When I called the fire department and told them what was happening, they told me that they'd TRY to send a truck over. But of course whether or not they actually could send a truck was contingent on their being no emergencies that would otherwise summon their attention and resources.  So the highlight of the day - at least for me, was when not one, but TWO ladder trucks, came driving down our street and eight jovial firemen jumped off their trucks and exclaimed, "We're here for the PARTY!"   


Firefighters, who have always held an exceptionally high place in my book of awesomeness - just catapulted to the absolute TOP. I didn't mention these surprise guests to anyone other than my husband, so Charlie was stunned and could not believe that they actually came to our house. When they pulled up along our street (in reference to Spinal Tap), I asked him if I took the party to 11 and he told me, "No, Jen. You just took it to TWELVE."


The firemen gave all the children (and parents) tours of their trucks, and awarded each child a red plastic fire hat.  They enjoyed pizza with us, and Spider Cider, and then they helped lead the crowd as we sang happy birthday to our children.


After they were here for an hour, the Captain whispered to me, "I was wondering if it would be OK if one of my rookies went through the obstacle course, in his full gear?"




Uh, yes. I think that would be more than OK. 


While I had all of the children evacuate the obstacle course, the firemen suited up their rookie, and then - they blindfolded him - before setting him loose inside the two story course.


While the children stood along the outside of the course - screaming for him to, "GO! GO! GO! TURN LEFT, DUCK! CLIMB UP!!" his Captain timed him and snapped off pictures for the guys back at the station.


When he finally escaped by sliding down the 55-degree angle slide, he was grinning from ear to ear.


He said that he woke up that day, he never imagined he'd be hazed at a nine-year-old triplet's birthday party.  I can't imagine why not?


All in all it was really a fantastic day.  But I probably shouldn't have pulled out all the stops.  To top this event next year when my cherubs turn the double digits 10,  I'll need to have someone parachute in.


Or, at least see if I can convince the Blue Angels to do a fly-over.