Sunday, November 30, 2014

amazing trips, noni style

Many years ago, my mother was inspired to take each of her seven children on an amazing trip in honor of their 40th birthday.


It all started when my oldest sister, Mary, turned 40 and to celebrate this momentous occasion, my mother took her on a trip to Ireland.   For several days, the two of them spent time together exploring the Emerald Isle - and the land of our ancestors.  Since then, whenever one of my other five siblings have turned 40, my mother has generously taken them, and their families (if they so opt), to a global destination of their choosing.  Mom considers it a wonderful opportunity to spend one-on-one time with her child (and grandchildren) on an adventure they might not otherwise have experienced. And so it is, over the past 16 years, my mother and siblings (and nieces and nephews) have traveled to Europe, Canada, Walt Disney World, and throughout Central America.  It's become an incredibly special tradition I hope to emulate with my own children (and their families).

My 40th birthday was a few years ago (3.5 to be exact), but I've delayed my "Birthday Trip" for a number of reasons. Most notably, Jim's health has been declining and I did not think that he could make the journey with us, nor would my mother feel comfortable leaving him alone for an extended period of time.  Mom had suggested that I go on the trip with out her, but that was unfathomable. The whole purpose of the Birthday Trip was to spend time with my mother.


Way back when my older siblings turned 40, and I told Mom that when it was *my* turn, she and I would hike to Machu Picchu and explore the ancient Incan ruins, my mother warned me that it was unlikely she'd be up for traversing Peru by the time she was 77-years old.  After Mom celebrated her 81st birthday this past year and I still hadn't made any Birthday Trip plans, she encouraged me that we needed to schedule something, soon.

Like, this year ... if possible.


And so after some discussion, we selected a cruise to the eastern caribbean over Thanksgiving.  We would depart from Miami and our port of calls would include Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten.  From a proximity perspective, this was great because Mom is still living in Florida, while they rebuild her South Carolina home after the terrible fire earlier this year. And since neither Charlie nor I had ever been to the Virgin Islands (or on a cruise), and our children were begging to go somewhere "tropical" with their Noni, this was the perfect choice.


What made it all even more perfect is that my wonderful Aunt Grace would fly to Florida to stay with Jim for the week, so my mother could embark on our trip with a mind free from worry knowing Jim was in good hands.


Tonight, I uploaded photos to my computer and there are more than 400 that I snapped off over the past seven days.  While I'm not going to post all of them, there are far too many for this one post, so I'll try and upload them throughout the week.  For now, I'll leave you with this: Somewhere over the rainbow...


Is a cruise ship that has all-you-can-eat soft-serve strawberry frozen yogurt.


As far as Henry is concerned, it doesn't get any better than this.

Monday, November 17, 2014

the ortho in the orchard

A few weekends ago, we fulfilled one of our Fall Rituals, by taking the children apple picking in the local foothills.


It was such a beautiful day ... the air was cool and crisp, and the sky was cloudy, but didn't rain.


It was late in the season, so we spent a couple hours running up and down through the orchard, looking for trees that hadn't already been picked clean.


One of Henry's favorite books at the moment is, "Ten Apples Up On Top!" so we stopped along the way to see how many apples we could stack, a la Theo. LeSieg (Dr. Seuss).



Without super glue and dowels, or other engineering devices, we determined two was as high as we could go.


We stopped to enjoy a snack and began to ponder all of the things we'd do with these wonderfully fresh apples.  The kids told me how excited they were to make carmel apples, but I told them that they really couldn't have carmel apples this year (and shouldn't even be eating an apple unless it was cut in to slices) because of their newly installed braces.


While Henry rejoiced that he could still eat carmel apples but his siblings couldn't (which somehow made his excitement all the sweeter), Elizabeth very loudly explained to me that she had talked to her orthodontist and he had told her that YES, SHE COULD EAT CARMEL APPLES. 


She was so convincing and I'd almost believed her, but with Charlie as my witness, in that exact moment - the only other person who was standing in our area of the orchard picking apples interrupted our daughter's pitch and said, "Young Lady, I AM AN ORTHODONTIST and I will tell you right now that you most certainly CANNOT have carmel apples with your braces. You will rip your arch wire right out!"


Oh, to see the look on our faces ... it was a funny, funny moment. If I hadn't been in such shock at the fortuitous nature of his presence, I would have snapped off a picture.  I also wish that I'd taken a picture of the good doctor waving a finger at Elizabeth as he stepped in to his vehicle a short while later.  His personalized license plate read, "N2 TEETH."

With my camera in hand, I was taking a ton of pictures, while thinking how much I love spending time outside with everyone.   I was also thinking that I really need to take a photography class, or read the manual that came with my camera so I can better understand how to use it.


At a minimum, I should get in to the habit of checking the camera lens before I snap off pictures, to ensure that there isn't a glob of who knows what smeared on the end.  (Sorry Carolyn!)


Each of the children had their own bag, so at the end of our outing, we had four pecks of apples.


Four pecks of apples equals approximately eight gallons, or one bushel. In our case it was probably 10 gallons of apples because the bags were packed so high.


With so many apples on hand, and carmel apples ruled out for three of our four children, we made Apple Crisps for several of our neighbors, including a few who recently moved in.


Because that's another one of our Fall Rituals

Friday, November 07, 2014

friday nights

My gosh we love Friday nights.

Here's the scene at our house, tonight... 

Carolyn, making pizza for the family.  Charlie comes to me in amazement, "Jen, I'm standing in the kitchen sipping a glass of wine and talking to my daughter as she prepares us dinner. WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?"  

I don't know but it's awesome! 


William, working on one of his special projects with his official dog tags from Fort Sill, Oklahoma (courtesy of Aunt Eileen and Uncle Clark) dangling before him. 


What is he so intently working on?   The specifications for a tank .... of course. 


Henry, playing a heated game of Zingo Jenga (!) ...


... with his sister, Elizabeth. 


Things were going great at this point in time, and I was savoring our family at peace. But then Elizabeth took two Zingo Jenga (brain misfire!) blocks as opposed to the requisite one... 


And the perfectly peaceful moment is disrupted by bickering.

(Their faces say it all.) 


I tell the children, "A quiet weekend stretches before us, sweet music is playing in the background. The smell of pizza fills our home. We're in a warm house while the wind rages on outside. Nothing will keep us down.  Be happy and get along ... or go to bed." 

They've opted to be happy. 

And so have I. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

the book thief

Way back in 2006, when I sat down one night to start this blog as the mother of 17-year-month old triplets, I couldn't comprehend just how fitting the title of this blog would become as we ventured in to the realm of parenthood.  But each time I log, I'm reminded...

This is an amazing trip!

We really are navigating life!

We have absolutely no idea what we're doing and we are absolutely figuring it out as we go and fervently praying for the best!

Because I couldn't sleep much on Sunday night, I was out of bed well before the crack of dawn on Monday, and I logged on to Amazon and bought a new Pokemon replacement book for the child on the bus.  (After I took the envelope with the other 50% of the book cost out of the mailbox before it was picked up. At this point, I decided I'd rather just send him a replacement book.)

After paying for expedited shipping so he'd receive it the next day,  I added a gift card that based upon my discussion the previous night with Henry read, "I am sorry that I took your book and told a lie.  I just wanted to read it on the bus because my book was at home.  I didn't want to keep it, but I didn't know how to return it to you and gave it the wrong person. Now it is lost.  Love, Henry."  

I then wrote the family a letter and offered my sincere apology for the anger and hurt that came from this situation.  In closing I told them that hopefully, we can all take the lessons learned from this experience and grow from them.

While I didn't write this in their letter, I can't help but think that if the father had approached Charlie a little differently, and didn't exert such instant hostility that put him on the defense, this whole situation could have been resolved in a healthy and positive way. Although several people, including the bus driver and the front desk staff at the school who know about this saga have said, "There are some very difficult and angry people in the world. Unfortunately, you crossed paths with one of them."

Yes, but I believe in honest communication!

No one likes to be difficult and angry!

Can't every conflict be resolved with successful communication?!

There is way too much fighting in the world. If we want our children to grow in to peaceful people - we must strive to emulate that behavior in every possible situation. In this situation, I owed the family a call on Saturday to tell them what had happened, so it really felt like we were in "crisis" mode and we needed Henry to tell us the truth - immediately.  But now that the dust has settled, here are some of our key observations:

1. If it took the fifth grader two weeks to confess to his parents that his book was gone, why should I expect our first grader to come clean in less than 24-hours?  Telling the truth takes COURAGE, and sometimes, courage takes TIME.

2. While you're waiting for the truth to emerge, patience, kindness and grace are helpful. As are left over Almond Joys from the Halloween stash.

3. It was difficult to decipher what troubled us more ... the reputation that our son may gain as a liar and thief, or the reflection on Charlie and I as deficient parents?  Ouch. Pass the Reese's.

4. While Charlie and I didn't behave ideally, what with us both being the "BAD COP" that destroys our son's Pokemon collection and all, our children should have zero doubt in their minds that we mean business.  While telling the truth is uncomfortable, covering it up with a lie is the absolute WORST thing you can do.  Ah, but guess what?  Once they tell us the truth, we will do whatever we can to support them. The truth really does set you free!

When the children woke up, I told them I am so thankful for mistakes - because without them - we would have so little opportunity to learn and improve. I also reminded them how lucky they are to be a part of this family, because we make so many mistakes, they're surely well on their way to becoming some of the wisest kids around. Charlie and I certainly feel a lot more wise after this incident.

Or at least, we both have quite a bit more white hair.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

the pokemon nightmare

A few months ago, we were over at some friend's home and once we arrived back at our house, we found that Henry had taken with him a small dinosaur that he had been playing with, which belonged to his friend.  I immediately talked to Henry about how it is WRONG to take things that don't belong to you, and then I wrote to the mother and told her that Henry had taken something that didn't belong to him - and were very sorry and would return the dinosaur post haste.  The mother wrote me back and said, "Eh, our kids don't even like dinosaurs - we have so many toys I'd likely be giving that one to Goodwill, anyway. Henry can keep it."   

My position is that even if they are giving the toys away, Henry CANNOT keep it, because his method of procuring the toy was improper, so the dinosaur was returned the very next time we saw the family.  Even if the boy had told Henry he could have the dinosaur (which Henry says he did), the proper channel would have been for Henry to ask me and the mother if he could have it, and once parentally approved, he could have the toy.  That's how we handle things at our house, and those rules apply outside of our house, as well.  Our kids know this.

Or, at least they've been told this countless times.

A few weeks ago, we were visiting the same family and Henry came home with a Bakagun toy that did not belong to him.  RINSE AND REPEAT the same situation that had happened before, but now I'm really emphasizing to Henry that he cannot take things that do not belong to him and I'm very disappointed that this has happened again, and we must return it ... etc. etc.

I should interject here that ever since school has started, Henry has become obsessed with Pokemon. One afternoon, he came home with a little card that one of the kids on the bus had given to him. Despite my rules of engagement that he cannot have something unless he clears it first with me, there are FOUR kids and quite often I'm not always completely aware of what precisely is going on at any point in time; in retrospect, we should have taken it away from him, completely once we found out.

Soon thereafter, Charlie bought him a pack of his own Pokemon cards and his obsession grew and he soon is talking about trading cards with other kids ... he needs an Ex something or other, yada yada yada.  Recognize please, that I'm totally opposed to all of this card trading stuff because I can see things going south, very quickly.

Nonetheless, nearly three weeks ago, Henry dug in to his piggy bank and took out money to buy a Pokemon book at the school's Book Fair.  Fast forward to this past Friday, Halloween, when the children were getting picked up for school, our bus driver summoned me to talk to him.  As I stepped on the stairs of the bus, he said "Some parents of a boy on the bus have approached me and are very upset because they say that Henry stole their son's Pokemon book two weeks ago.  They are planning to reach out to the school and file a complaint."

My heart sunk because despite my best efforts, I'm raising a pint-sized kleptomaniac.

Also, I knew that Pokemon was bad news!

Why must I always be right?!

We called Henry to the front of the bus and asked him what happened and he looked surprised that we would know anything about this.  Because they had to get off to school, I gave the bus driver our telephone number and asked them to please have the parents call me.   I then called the school and talked to the Assistant Principal (the Numero Uno Disciplinarian at the school) and told her that I'd spoken to the bus driver and was concerned that Henry had taken something that did not belong to him.  I also relayed to her that Henry has had a recent history of "sticky fingers" and taking things that didn't belong to him.

This was the first that the Assistant Principal had heard about any of this - so she asked my permission to talk with Henry and I told her ABSOLUTELY she could talk to him and root out what had happened.  I also told her that I was planning to ask one of the men from our church small group - - who is a police officer on the SWAT team - - to dress in his full gear and come talk to Henry about what can happen if you steal.  Not to mention the stories I'd tell him about prisoners who were once convicted of stealing and would have their hands chopped off!

She laughed and said, "Oh, I wish more parents were like you!" Which made me feel good because we are really trying to be proactive and nip any issue in the bud. 

Friday afternoon, as I was rushing to get ready for a Halloween party for 100 kids that would be descending upon our house in less than 30 minutes ... the parents of the boy with the missing Pokemon book called.   His mother who sounded very cool, appreciated that I passed our number on, and she explained to me that her son - who is in 5th grade - had told her that he had put the book in his backpack and zipped it closed. When he got off the bus at school, his backpack had been opened, and the book was missing.  According to key eye witnesses (including the bus patrol who lives in our neighborhood), Henry was seen holding the book.

I told her that Henry has had an issue with taking things that don't belong to him over the past few months, we're working on it, and I would definitely get to the bottom of what had happened and would call her the next day.  Then we had a Halloween party - and Halloween night - and I was planning how to talk to Henry.  On Saturday morning, I very kindly and patiently called Henry aside and asked him what had happened to the book.

He told me that he found it on the seat and he carried it in to the school and gave it to the Art teacher for them to return to the boy.  Asking him to look me in the eye, I said "Tell me the truth. Did you open the boy's backpack and take the book out?" and he said, "No, I did not."  

I asked, "Are you sure? Because that is what people are saying that you did..." and he kept telling me, "No, I didn't take the book." But then he started to cry and said, "I made a mistake!" So I asked him, "What was your mistake? Did you take the book?" and he said, "No, I didn't take the book, but I'm sorry I stole it and told lies."

None of this made any sense, so I started to get upset because these are some pretty serious allegations and he wasn't being straight with me.

Charlie at some point summoned me to listen to a message from the Assistant Principal who had called the day before (when we were hosting the party) to tell us that she had spoken to both children and Henry went around and around on a wild goose chase in his explanation of what had happened to the book.  Ultimately, Henry had said that he thought that maybe he had the book at home and would check.  When he returns to school this week, he'll either bring the boy's book back, give him his book, or give him the money to buy a new one.

This also made no sense because why would Henry keep the boy's book when he has the same one, already? All the while I'm wondering if the Pokemon book that Henry had bought from the Book Fair was really his, or if he stole the other boy's book and had been passing this one off as his own?!

The triplets are telling us that the book Henry's had in his possession really was is, because they saw him buy it at the Book Fair ... but no one really knows what happened to the boy's book.

As Charlie and I were listening to the message, Henry's eyes had a twinkle in them because this story was NOT THE SAME as the story he had told us.  I told him that we could not believe him if he lied to us, and trust is something that is not easy to repair.  We also explained that while we'd be upset if he took the book, we'd be even more upset if he was lying to us. I sent him to his room and told him to think about what had happen and then come back and tell us the truth.

Twenty minutes later, the truth was still not clear, despite Charlie and I trying to remain as calm and logical as we possibly could.   Around and around we continued to go, the story changing ever so slightly with each reiteration, until we both realized we were getting the run around.  Instantaneous combustion of both parents is extremely rare, but it happened at our house on Saturday morning.

It's bad enough to steal, it's worse to then lie about what had happened.

After listening to him waffle on and on, I'm seeing red as I grab what I think is Henry's treasured Pokemon book and I rip a page out of it, which I then held above a burning candle.  As the page singed, I said to my seven-year-old son much like I would to a hostile enemy under interrogation, "TELL ME THE TRUTH!" 

He cried, his siblings cried, and Charlie rounded up all the Pokemon cards in the house and ripped them in half.  Because we owed the family a phone call and an explanation, we had Henry write an apology note to the boy, which William helped him craft, that said something like, "I'm sorry for stealing your book and telling lies."  I then called the mother and told her that we still couldn't figure out what had happened with the book, but we are so sorry about what had happened, and Henry would be replacing the boy's book.

I told her that according to Henry's story, which never changed despite all of the torment that he endured from us, he found the book on the seat of the bus and he returned it, albeit to the wrong person whose identity kept changing like the wind.  Conclusion #1:  He did not take the book home and it is somewhere at school, unless someone else picked it up and kept it.

The mother softened up a bit and told me that her son reads all the time and sometimes, he leaves books laying around, including on the bus, and this particular book didn't have his name in it (yet).  And right then I had my first twinge of uncertainty because OH MY GOD.

Now Henry's convoluted story all makes sense.

Her son left the book on the seat and Henry picked it up and was trying to do the right thing by returning it, and he gave it the wrong person and we were so angry, that he became intimidated and not even thinking rationally because the situation happened two weeks ago and two weeks to a child is akin to two years.  Details get fuzzy! 

Before all these thoughts were fully straight in my head, we ended our conversation by me telling her that we'd come by the next day and drop off money to replace the missing book.

But that night, as I was having Henry dig money out of his piggybank to replace the book, and my thoughts became more congealed, I was frustrated that it appeared Henry didn't actually steal the book and yet, he was having to replace it in full because the boy had left it behind.  Also, both Charlie and I felt like huge piles of dung because we damaged our son's book and ripped up his playing cards, and psychologically tortured all four of our children over this issue and GREAT PARENTING MOMENT, CHARLIE AND JEN.


So my compromise - that Charlie agreed with - is that Henry should pay for 50% of the $9.99 book because it wasn't entirely his fault.

Today, Charlie and Henry took an apology card (which I had Henry re-write to read, "I'm sorry that you lost your book on the bus and I did not give it to the Bus Driver") and $5.00 to the boy's house.  As Charlie stood there making the exchange - the mother said, "Great, this closes the matter." And the boy said, "Yes. But, Henry told me that he would bring me my book tomorrow, or he would give me his book, or he would replace my book in full."  

Charlie looked at the boy and at the mother and said, "From what we understand, Henry did not take the book out of your backpack, but he found it and returned it to someone at school.  If you find your book at school, great. If not, this money will help replace a new version." And then he said to the mother, "Are we good?" and she said, "Yes, we're good" and my husband left.

But then.

Oh, but then.

Less than an hour later, the FATHER of the boy called.  I was out for a walk at the time and missed the whole discussion, but apparently the father ripped in to Charlie and said, "The agreement was that YOUR SON would replace the FULL COST of the book, or give him a new book. YOUR SON, who your wife even said has sticky fingers, STOLE the book and is a THIEF and is LYING about it" and then he ranted and raved and screamed that "THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH SOCIETY" people aren't held responsible for their actions and then he said more things relating to our son violating the Law of Cub Scouts and how DARE my husband condone this behavior when he is a Cub Scout Leader.

(Apparently the boy with the missing book is a Cub Scout, too.) 

Charlie doesn't get upset too easily, but he said that this guy was totally off the handle and these were fighting words.  He took a few deep breaths before responding, "I'm sorry, but we're talking about children and a children's book, right?"  Then he listened to the man berate him a bit more and say he'd be filing a complaint with the Principal, and then the other father slammed down the phone.

When I came home from my peaceful walk where I was channeling Love and Peace and could see real angels in the clouds above me, Charlie met me before I could even get in to the house and told me that the father called and it wasn't nice.  He said that if the man had been standing in front of him, there might have been punches thrown. But he was proud of himself for handling it so well and not calling the man vulgar names. Then he told me about what had happened and said he'd be handling it from this point on, because he was The Man of The House and this was a Man Matter.

Except, I'm a woman that works in a man's world and he should know better than to tell me anything about accusations where we are in any way blamed for THE PROBLEMS WITH SOCIETY. 

So I semi-flipped out and called the family back and when the mother answered the phone, I told her who I was (again), and I was calling to address some of the allegations that her husband had just raised with my husband.  She could either let me talk to her husband directly, so I could set the record straight, or she and I could try to work this out like rational women.  She opted for the latter which was nice because I might now be in jail, or in the morgue.

In a not so calm tone, I explained to her that we interrogated our son like a hostile enemy the day before and the only reason we didn't give her son Henry's book is because we had torn a page out of it and BURNED it in front of him, as we demanded he tell us the truth.  If after all of that, he still tells us that he found the book on the bus - we need to either believe him, or worry that we're raising a pathological liar.

Not to mention, she told me that her son had left things before, including books on the bus, and perhaps the reason THIS book was lost is because he had not put his name in it?  Then I bellowed on that the problems with society are PARENTS who do not realize they are dealing with CHILDREN and perhaps some KINDNESS AND GRACE are in order because we are, after all, supposed to be their ROLE MODELS.

(Yes, Yes, Yes. I recognize I wasn't being the best role model burning pages out of my son's Pokemon book and causing him psychological trauma ... or in that exact moment, when I should have borrowed from Charlie's Play Book and just let the situation dissipate while I focused on my breathing ... but I'm ridiculously human and I've got many, many more flaws than Charlie.)

She responded that her husband had reacted so angrily, because he felt that Charlie was calling her son a liar that he had left the book on the bus, as opposed to it being stolen.  I calmed down in that moment, because no ... we're not calling her son a liar. We're saying that there was definitely a mix-up and we do not think that Henry maliciously stole the boy's book.  She then went on to tell me that this wasn't the first time that Henry took something of her son's that didn't belong to him and WHOA.


She explained that Henry had taken her son's Pokemon toy that had been nestled in his water bottle mesh pocket and when the boy realized it was gone, and asked for it back, Henry returned it the next day.  My head started swirling and the mother, who was now crying said, "I can't tell other people how to parent their children...." and I said, "That's too bad because I'd love to hear your input on this matter..." but then she said she had to go and promptly hung up.


I told Charlie the newest twist to this saga and we immediately retrieved Henry who was outside playing. We're both feeling physically sick about the whole situation, as we ask our son about the toy that the boy has told his parents, Henry ALSO stole.  But Henry tells us that the boy had let him play with his toy and he didn't take it without asking, also - he returned it.  

OK, who to believe?  

Now I'm in tears as I sit down and write the mother a note and tell her how sorry I am that this has happened and all any of us want to do is raise children to be honest, responsible and kind adults. I also tell her that while the full truth continues to elude us, I pray that these challenges will make all of us stronger.  I've slipped the other 50% of the book cost in to the envelope and tell her that I want for this money to go towards the book replacement fund.

The envelope is addressed, stamped and mailed.

Tonight after our Sunday night small group where we divulge to our group what has happened, and people are nearly laying hands on us as everyone prays for clarity and wisdom and patience after this situation (and that at some point in life, I will learn to keep my mouth shut) ... Charlie and I pull Henry aside, yet one more time, and as kindly as possible, explain to him what has happened.  How one family is saying one thing and defending their son, and we are saying another thing and defending our son and how there can only be ONE TRUTH as to what happened and we are heartbroken that we cannot find the truth and there has been so much hurt over something as simple as a book.  We tell our son that we will always love him, but he has to tell us the truth. 

Just then Henry starts to cry and says, "Yes, I took the book from his backpack."  Soon the story would unravel that he took the boy's book from his backpack because his copy was at home - and he just wanted to look at it and then give it back. Except, the boy got off the bus before he could give it back and by the time he walked in to the school to return it, he couldn't go to the fifth grade floor, so he asked the Art teacher (who he passed on the way to his 1st grade class) where it should go and the Art teacher told him that he didn't know who it belonged to (Henry didn't know the boy's last name), so instead, the Art teacher pointed out a 6th grader that could take it to Lost and Found on the 5th/6th grade floor.  But since the boy's name wasn't on the book, it has since disappeared in to some black hole at the school.

Conclusion #2:  He took the book from the boy's backpack and he lied about it, which caused major trouble for two families.

I'm not entirely convinced we're raising a pathological liar / kleptomaniac ... rather, just a seven-year-old boy whose "wants" inconveniently  get in the way of any common sense or boundaries which are not yet fully developed.  Charlie and I will continue to dissect this saga and over-think what we could have done differently (and what to do next) while Henry gets his first taste of being grounded.

With excellent behavior, he'll be up for his first parole hearing by Thanksgiving.