Sunday, June 29, 2014

the lazy sunday post

The children wrapped up their school year on Wednesday, so this weekend marks the first of our summer vacation.  Due to the nearly weekly snowstorms that lasted through the first week of April, we had a lot of school days to make up. From what I gather, this is the latest the children have ever been in school and I'm not sure if we actually did make it all up, or if the School Board finally decided enough was enough.   There are so many things we have in store this summer and the next 10 weeks stretch before us full of endless possibilities.  Here's the scene this morning...

Henry, helping to make breakfast:


Carolyn, lost in one of the books we checked out from the library yesterday:


Elizabeth, engrossed on tracing characters from a book we checked out from the library yesterday:


William, with his buddy (Tigger dba Hobbes), fully enraptured with a classic comic strip that matches his highly imaginative personality so well...


I'm surprised I've never considered the resemblance before.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

kaleidoscope eyes

Her eyes are just as beautiful now ...

harmless Gracie

As they were when she was (almost) two.  And her spirit is just as sweet, too.

She wants me to tell all the people who wrote to me in response to my last post, THANK YOU.  Especially Bec from Sydney, Australia who is ready to jump on the next plane.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

oh oh, here comes mama bear

I've started this post before several times before and have saved each version to my draft folder. At this point, I think there are three or four versions, waiting to be finished and published. But each time I sit down to wrap it up, I stall because I'm not really sure what to say, or if I should say anything.

Am I being an overreactive mother that is quick to jump in to the fray and protect her children from the pains that are simply part of growing up? Or am I being a proactive mother who is trying to nip bullying in the bud? As a reminder, this is the first year that the triplets have been in their own classes, so from my perspective, it's difficult to tell whether my children are being hypersensitive, or if there really is an issue that has warranted my attention.  

For the past several months, one of my children in particular has really been struggling with the social scene at school. The issues that I clearly remember with cliques when I was in middle school … are now present in elementary school.   Third grade to be exact. 

Our girls, although they are triplet sisters, couldn't be more different from each other.  Carolyn is a voracious reader and Elizabeth is a voracious athlete. Their personalities are vastly different and their physiques are vastly different.  Elizabeth is smaller than average for her age; whereas Carolyn is above average and stands almost six inches taller than her sister.  We suspect Elizabeth will max out at 5'7" like me, whereas Carolyn will easily top 6'0 and may likely approach 6'2" like her beautiful cousin, Alice.

The one thing that our daughters have in common, aside from their sparkling blue eyes and dark brown hair, is a sweetness that I now see is uncommon among nine-year-old girls. Although they aren't always delightful with each other, it warms my heart that they have such kind spirits with others, especially those who are not in any way related. Last month, when I was at the school, I heard from multiple teachers that our girls are consistently good natured with their peers and whatever we are doing at home, We Must Be Doing Right.  It was a nice moment, so I asked the teachers to write that down so I could frame it and put it on the wall.

Despite their good nature, nearly once every week, Carolyn has come home from school in tears. Now, perhaps it is just the drama of this age, but there is a small clique in Carolyn's class, that repeatedly does something or says something or looks at her funny or …. insert issue here ... that puts my daughter in to the realm of virtually unconsolable.

Lest I think she is overreacting, I've been to school and I've seen it, first hand.  The third grade boys are wonderful little goofballs.  But the clique of third grade girls in Carolyn's class, which is approximately one-third of the girls in the class - gather around one particular girl as their "Ring Leader" and can usually be found rolling their eyes at each other and scoffing behind one another's backs.

I've provided my daughter many pointers for coping with the situation that have ranged from just smile and be nice to them, to steer clear of them. I've even reached out to the teacher and apprised her of the situation, which resulted in Carolyn enjoying lunch with the school counselor on several occasions.

A few weeks ago, when Carolyn was conveying to me the story of something that had happened (I can't even remember anymore, all the scenarios have started to blend), I asked her what lemons tasted like?  "Bitter!" she told me.  Then I asked her what lemonade tasted like? "Sweet!" she told me.

I asked her what was it that made lemonade sweet?  "Sugar!" she said.

"That's right," I responded. "Sugar is what makes lemonade sweet. So when you feel like someone is being mean to you, all you need to do is add a cup full of sugar and turn that bitterness in to sweetness!" Then we practiced by saying various things to each other and responding as sweetly as possible.  The next morning over breakfast we continued to practice.

"Your dress looks awful!" I said.  "I'm sorry you feel that way, it's one of my favorites!" she replied with a twinkle in her eye.

"I don't want to sit next to you!" I sneered at her.  "Well that's too bad for you, because I'm awesome!" she responded with a grin.

"How do you feel?" I asked, confident that I had provided my daughter with all the wisdom and coping skills that she would need to survive the social bumps of third grade. "I feel great!" she replied as I kissed her cheek and sent her off to the bus.

When she came home that afternoon, she was in tears.

"What happened?!" I asked.

Again, I don't remember what exactly transpired but it had something to do with that little clique of girls. When I asked her about adding sugar to turn her lemons in to lemonade, she cried, "Mom, please! I was throwing BUCKETS of sugar at them all day and they were still so mean to me!" 

I've since been telling her that she should avoid them, completely. If you see them coming, walk the other way.  Don't be unkind to them - but surround yourself with people who are kind to you, too. And keep your eyes on the look out for the other kids who have been victims of their meanness, because they could really use you as a friend. 

Yesterday, I was at school for the third grade party and noticed that the little clique was standing together when another girl from the class ran up to join them. Why it is that kids flock to these mean children I don't understand - but they're like moths to the flame who get burned. 

As soon as the girl arrived, the Ring Leader turned on her heels and walked the other way, while the other girls scrambled to follow. As they walked away, they were glancing behind them to roll their eyes at the little girl who had been left.  Perhaps it was me seeing a moment in time that was not at all what I perceived it to be. But in the context of what I've heard from my daughter - and seen with my own eyes previously - I'm fairly convinced, this was cruelty in action.  

Just as I was walking over to the girls to say something (what I don't know … I hoped I'd have it figured it out by the time I reached them), the whistle blew and they all rotated stations.  But today, I was at school again for the kindergarten party and because I arrived a few minutes early, I joined our third graders in the cafeteria during their lunch.  As I sat with Carolyn and her friends at the table, who felt like the band of misfit toys that had been scorned by the clique, my eyes met the Ring Leader's and she scowled at me before rolling her eyes and looking away.

Oh no she didn't!

Oh yes …. she did. 

Rolled her eyes, at me.

Before I even knew what I was doing, I flew out of the chair so fast the kids at the table sitting next to me jumped.  At that same moment, the teacher walked in to the cafeteria to escort her students back to the classroom and the Ring Leader ran to the front of the line as her posse fell in behind her.  Walking straight to the teacher and glaring in to the eyes of each girl in the clique, I said in a significantly raised and barely controlled voice, "I want you to know that I have observed these children behaving very catty and it is unacceptable. They need to know that I see them, I know who they are and what they are doing, and their unkind behavior will not be tolerated."

The teacher seemed surprised, which was surprising to me, because these kids are with her all day and surely she has to be aware of the behavior. Or maybe she is so consumed with her lessons that she really is unaware.  Or maybe she is numb to it because it is commonplace for kids to act like jerks?

In talking with my mother tonight, she was telling me that social challenges are present in every stage of life.  Even now, in her retirement community in Florida, there are elderly women who only engage with a very small circle of friends and ignore everyone else.  OK, so even at 80-years old our children may have to deal with cliques, so they definitely need to obtain some lifelong skills to manage this now.

MY GOAL is to demonstrate the kind of behavior that I want to see my children exhibit. I want for them to be kind, gentle, inclusive and non-reactionary.  I do not want to jump in and try to solve my children's social problems by having us all stand around in a love circle singing Kumbaya, because I know they'll need to figure this stuff out on their own.  But I'm keenly aware of the devastating effects that bullying can have on people; I still remember the names and faces of the people that bullied me almost 35 years ago, and I'm sure that's why I'm such a vigilante and believe it's critical to teach our children to be brave and SPEAK UP.

On the one hand, I can let this third grade party / cafeteria incident slide and pray that (me and) my children mature over the summer, and next year will be better.  On the other hand, I send the girl's parents a note, tonight, and tell them what I've observed and how I'd like to get together and talk. I really do sense that there are some issues here that if we can work out in a healthful way - could do a great deal of good for the children on both sides: my Carolyn and the girls in the clique.  That really seems like a logical first step.

And if the girls are still mean to my Carolyn next year, well …. then I'll just push them down the rest of the steps.

Monday, June 16, 2014

this and that and now i need kleenex

Last month, someone wrote to me and asked about our blog books and in my response e-mail, I promised that I'd link to the company Charlie has used.  Here's that link: Blog2Print.

Last month, someone else wrote to me and asked about what kind of sandals our girls were wearing in this photo I'd posted to Twitter.  Now that I'm looking at the photo, I notice you can't see their sandals - but they really were wearing sandals, so maybe it was a different photo I'd posted. Or my eyesight is much worse than I think it is:


Regarding the sandals they were wearing in this photo, which I don't think you can see, they're Keens, of course. Here's that link: Keen Footwear.  These are still our all-time favorite shoes. It seems like just yesterday, I took them shopping for their first pair of itty bitty keens...


Look at how tiny! And now, they're wearing Keens that are almost the same size as mine.

Time, you go way too fast!


Earlier this month, someone wrote to me and asked if I'd talked to our children about the birds and the bees yet and the answer is no. Not really. Although I know the time is drawing very near and will likely happen over the next few months.

How do I know they're ready? Well, they're getting curious. For example, this past weekend, I noticed that our children had discovered the phenomenal book, "A Child is Born" and were in the process of reading it from cover to cover.  Actually, only one of our children ~ our most mature ~ was reading it from cover-to-cover….


The other children were busy doing things like peering over their sibling's shoulder and making funny faces at the various prenatal, delivery, and postnatal pictures.


And walking around the backyard with a lampshade on their head that they'd pulled out of my Goodwill donation pile, testing items to evaluate if they were magnetic.


Here's one taking a break from skateboarding down the driveway (hence the PPE), to harass their sibling's magnetic testing process. MOM! IF I WEAR HEADPHONES, I CAN'T EVEN HEAR HER YELLING AT ME! This is so great. Can I keep these forever?! 


Gosh, I'm nostalgic looking at these random pictures I took this weekend.  

Remember these moments: the days before the birds and the bees talk, the days of lampshades on heads, the lacrosse gloves and elbow pads for skateboarding, and the ribbing that siblings do. Remember these moments because they don't last forever.

Now I'm totally weepy. It must be crazy hormones.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

charlie's puffy shirt and ostrich plume

This past November, we took the children to Colonial Williamsburg.  I know I eluded to our trip in subsequent posts, but I don't think I ever shared pictures of our visit, nor the outcome of that fantastic adventure that took us back in time to the late 1700's.


I was prompted, tonight, to write about our trip from seven months ago, because my immensely talented friend, Holly, shared pictures on her blog, of the adorable colonial outfit that she made - with her own two hands - for her daughter.

(Remember that, please, because it'll be important later in this story.)


So we took off for Colonial Williamsburg to celebrate Charlie's birthday, while enjoying autumn in a beautiful area that is vintage 18th century.  It's hard to say who was more excited about our visit, me or the children.  I'm a huge American history buff and was so swept up in being there, I had to make sure that we had the full-on colonial-experience.

To that end, we put the children in the stockade... and went out for a romantic candlelit dinner.

(Just kidding!)


We watched the Red Coats advance across the green...


We went for a ride on a horse drawn carriage ...


We visited the 18th century apothecary and thought of my father ...


We visited the 18th century jeweler and thought of my brother-in-law, Michael ...


And we visited the 18th century milliner and thought of my mother's mom, Margaret...


We followed the militia down the streets...


We watched a re-enactment of slaves who were desperate for their freedom...


And we participated in a re-enactment with colonists who were rallying to rise up against the British. This man in particular was so convincing, "Liberty or Death!"


We visited a colonial-era farm and watched how people plowed the fields, built the homes, grew the gardens, churned the butter, made the candles, and smoked the beef.


We observed young men playing flutes and drums...


We saw little children, the same age as our children, wearing colonial garb...


And we never would have been reminded that we were in the 21st century, if not for the colonial dressed mothers .... holding their iPhones and live-streaming their experiences to the internet.

(I would later learn these people were there for a party and had rented their costumes.)


I'm sure I've mentioned before that our children have vivid imaginations and love to play dress-up. So after day three of being in the middle of Colonial America, surrounded by people who were playing the part - our children were begging me to buy them a costume.  Begging might not be a strong enough word.  Especially from this one, my most wonderfully imaginative child...


While I'd entertained the thought of buying them each an article of clothing, I reconsidered when I saw the price tags. For the price of one pair of genuine "colonial knickers" for the boys - I could have bought them 10 pairs of pants.  But the children, being children, continued to beg and plead, and all these unusual "signs" started happening.  Actually, just one sign.  It happened when I silently asked the Universe whether or not I should buy the kids colonial clothes ("If it's meant to be, the oxen will do something unusual, and just like that - one stuck out it's tongue. I'm fairly confident this means YES, BUY THE CHILDREN A PAIR OF KNICKERS.)


Then I started thinking about how next year, when the triplets are in fourth grade, they'll celebrate Colonial Day at school, so *if* I were to purchase them clothing - it would be very well used because I know they'd wear it to play dress-up, and they'd have it for school, next year.


And then I was thinking how we were celebrating Charlie's birthday and he'll never turn 47, again. I thought how life is short and what good is money if you don't use some of it to buy original colonial clothing for your awesome husband and children? And how totally fantastic would it be if the whole family matched? AM I RIGHT?

Of course it would be even more fantastic if I was a gifted seamstress like my friend, Holly, but I'm not, so I confided to the children I was geeking out and would buy their father an outfit, SHHH IT'S A SECRET, but I'd also buy them something, and they literally burst in to song.



While Charlie went hunting for 21st century coffee, we snuck down to see the tailor...


And I came to realize that the reason everything was so expensive, is because everything is hand-made.  


But I'd made the decision I was making a purchase, that in the end would be nearly the equivalent of a mortgage payment, so there was no looking back.  I picked out knickers, waistcoats, trifold hats, and socks for the boys. Oh, and toy rifles.


And I picked out dresses, bonnets, sashes and undershirts for the girls.


Then I picked out the full ensemble for Charlie.  The knickers, socks, waistcoat, puffy shirt, George Washington style trifold hat with a 18-inch ostrich plume.   I wish I had a better picture to show, but recently, I inadvertently deleted more than 250 pictures from one of my cameras that I'd snapped off from December through February.


Last but not least, I bought the full ensemble for me. The petticoat, sash, apron and bonnet.  Sorry, there's no picture of that. It seems I'm always behind the camera, never in front of it.

Charlie was stunned, shocked, dumbfounded that we bought him genuine colonial clothing. And then being the fantastic sport that he is, he wasted no time getting changed.  Once we were all dressed, we walked as a family around Colonial Williamsburg and we couldn't go 10 feet without people stopping us and asking if we could please pose with (and without) them in photos.  So although I don't have a picture of our entire family available for my blog, I'm sure there are a few of them out there on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet, somewhere.

Now because of the huge expense to purchase these clothes, and the fact our children are growing like weeds, we've tried to seize opportunities to wear our colonial garb.  For example, we wore them at Thanksgiving...


And we wore them when we had friends over for a Gingerbread House building party.


We wore them around our neighborhood to deliver our annual apple crisps for the holidays.  As we were walking up one neighbor's walk way, their grown son was walking down and he said, "Wow, that's quite the costume."  I happily replied, "THANKS!" until Charlie whispered, "He didn't say it was a NICE costume. He just commented that it was one."

All the while, I've watched the children's imaginations TAKE FLIGHT as they try to re-enact life from nearly 250 years ago. Here's Elizabeth pretending that she's washing clothes and hanging them on the line to dry, while her brother was fetching water from the creek.


When the girls had their annual Father-Daughter Dance in January, I thought HOW WONDERFUL of an opportunity for them to wear their colonial clothes!  Carolyn and Charlie agreed that it would indeed be a WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY, but Elizabeth vehemently shook her head and said, "No Way Jose, there is absolutely NO WAY I am going out to a dance with all my friends wearing that get-up."  I tried to convince her, I really did, but she wouldn't have any of it.  In the end, Charlie and Carolyn wound up wearing their colonial clothes, while Elizabeth wore a snazzy black sequined dress.

(Again, SO disappointed I don't have photos to share since these too were inadvertently deleted. I might have to have them recreate the scene so I can take a picture for posterity.)

Charlie and the girls took off for their date and within 30 seconds of them arriving at the dance, my husband called me at the house, frantically.  "Jen, this was a BAD idea.  Oh my gosh, I feel so out of place. I've never felt so out of place in my LIFE. All of the men here are dressed in tuxedos, fine suits, or are wearing their full military uniforms and I come in dressed like GEORGE WASHINGTON.  The women at the front curled their noses and were eyeballing me from head to toe and now Carolyn, who looks like she should be churning butter, is so horrified she is cowering behind me. We're driving home RIGHT NOW and getting changed."

I was disappointed and told my husband that he needed to EMBRACE the awesomeness of the past, but I think we were accidentally "disconnected" because all I heard in response to my plea was a dial-tone.  Within 15 minutes of them leaving the house the first time, Charlie and Carolyn returned home, changed in to more modern clothes, and went back to the dance where a great time was had by all.

Fast forward five months.

A few weeks ago, we were at a Cub Scout event and some man that I don't even know, but who apparently has a daughter that is in Girl Scouts with our daughters, approached me and said, "I've been wanting to meet you." I gave him a curious look until he added, "My daughter is in Girl Scouts and I was at the Father-Daughter Dance with your husband this year."  I replied, "Oh, that's nice. Did you have fun?" And he said, "Yes, I had a great time. But I have to ask, your husband is such a nice man - how could you have EVER let him go out of the house dressed like that? Why in the world did you set that poor man up?!"

Well, I never!

Me? Set up Charlie?! I was taken aback by his question.  So I told him that it was partially Charlie's idea (even if it was a very small portion ... like maybe 0.005%) and next year, I'm going to encourage Charlie to wear the colonial clothes again, because we really need to get our money's worth out of them and the kids are growing like weeds.  I'll try to go to the dance, too, and of course I'll be sporting my colonial clothes with PRIDE. I'm sure we'll start a whole new trend!  Although next year, my suggestion is that Charlie also bring his sword so that if anyone gives him trouble or looks at him sideways, he can whip it out of its sheath and with a swish through the air exclaim, "HOW DARE YOU SMITE ME! OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!"

Yes, I'm sure our girls would just love that.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

zooming along

Last week, Henry learned how to ride his bicycle.  One minute, Charlie and I are pushing him around our cul-de-sac, and the next minute, he's doing laps around the driveway.


I'm sure he could have started riding his bike last summer, but I think he's lacked the confidence. Until I reminded him that if he could ski ... he could totally ride.


He gave me a look of apprehension until I had him repeat a few times, "I CAN DO THIS! I CAN DO THIS! I LOVE BIKE RIDING!" and then in the blink of an eye, he jumped on his bike and took off.


The wheels on his bicycle were so small, that a few days after these photos were taken, Henry hopped on his brother's 21-speed bicycle with handbrakes and rode it around the driveway.


Everything was going great, until he tried to drive his bike down our driveway and park it in the garage.  Charlie who had stepped inside to check on dinner, was alerted to Henry's predicament by our 14-year-old neighbor who informed my husband that Henry was calling for him.


Charlie ran outside and found Henry ... 200 yards down the back yard, in the creek. 


From what he was able to deduce, Henry during his descent to the garage, missed the turn and went over the lip over our driveway, like a jump. The jump caused him to rapidly accelerate down the hill, until he hit the bank of the creek and flipped over the handlebars.


Charlie helped him up, and after tending to his scrapes and bruises, watched Henry jump back on his bike and take off again. We still need to work on his dismount, the whole act of gradually slowing down and putting your feet on the ground. As opposed to say, throwing both legs over the bike as it is still moving and attempting to jump off of it.


We'll get there soon enough.

Until then .... this is my baby, Henry.


My rising first grader, with perpetually skinned knees and a confidence and personality that is growing, every day. He continues to hold the world in his hands.... 


... along with my heart.