Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Chaos

Christmas has got me like...

For some reason, I feel like time is moving at twice its normal pace this Advent season. I can't explain why, but everything feels hectic and more complicated than usual. As a result, I've been feeling frustrated more than I'd like to admit.

Despite all that, we have been managing to have some pretty amazing days and spending quality family time together. Check out what we were up to the first 2 weeks here.

Sunday the 11th started out with a dead battery thanks to one badly aimed thrust of my T-Rex arm. Our attempts to jump start it only lead to the anti-theft alarm to sound endlessly, much to our neighbors' dismay. Our fun was not thwarted, though, and we got a new battery installed just in time to go ice skating. Despite a few blisters, the boys loved it.
And to top off the fun, the hubby was handed 4 box seats to see the local hockey team play that afternoon! So the kids enjoyed watching their first ever hockey game and $80 worth of pretzels. Yikes.

The 12th brought us a fun evening of (not homemade) cookies and all of our favorite holiday story books cuddled up together in the living room. The kitty even joined us for the fun. This day gave me all the warm fuzzies.

On the 13th we painted a Christmas lights masterpiece, went on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt, and incorporated a little Bingo into the mix. We got changed into our PJs, put on our Santa hats, grabbed some burgers at the drive-thru and headed out and about. We found so many amazing displays!

December 14th was our day to assemble care bags for the homeless and load up the car. The boys always insist that we spend some time driving around specifically searching for people in need to kick start our bag giving. The highlight of the night for me was to see an immediate need met, as a young girl immediately opened up her bag and put on the gloves we gave her.

On the 15th we said "Meowy Christmas!" and headed off to the pet shop, where they were collecting donations for a local shelter. N picked out a dog toy and some dog food. W and L each picked a cat toy and a huge bag of litter. I'm proud of their hearts for all creatures. While we were at it, we bought a few special treats and toys for the Iz and got her a stocking for the first time in her 14 years.

She's so excited.

Friday the 16th was gingerbread day! We made ninjabread men, built a gingerbread house, and decorated ugly sweaters. We had a messy lot of fun, and my heart was a full.

The boys really like icing. Can you tell?
Poor Hansel looks like he's coughing up some blood. Guess they didn't push the witch into her oven soon enough.

December 17th was The Muppets Christmas Carol and playing in the snow. We don't see much snow here, so this was quite a treat in our Santa hats and rain boots. When it got too cold, we warmed up with some cocoa and the movie.
 We even painted our very own blizzard with gouache and hot glue!

This was our last week of trying to fit in all the things. That is, having a regular school day plus the Advent activities. I'm really hoping that the more relaxed pace of this last week helps me feel less stressed out and focus my heart a little bit more on the birth of Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Two Weeks of Advent

Somehow the Advent season always sneaks up on me. I think I am going to be prepared for all of its wonderful craziness. And yet, every year, November 30th rolls around and I realize that somewhere, hidden in the boxes of holiday decor is the wooden Advent calendar. The one with all those neat little doors to open and reveal a family activity for the day. The tradition I, in a moment of insanity, started several years ago. So long ago that the children cannot remember a Christmas without it.

There is one problem, though. And it's YUGE.

Each and every one of those 25 little doors is empty.

And so for the first few days of December, I am scrambling to plan the entire month and stuff festive little slips of paper into those doors while no one is looking.

I've got to confess that it causes me a bit of anxiety.

This year has been no different. I got busy. I got stressed. But somehow, I haven't yet missed a day.

On December 1st, the halls were decked and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We had to improvise a bit and make our own fireplace this year. It came out pretty cute.

On December 2nd, we went to the Nature Center for their "Jingle Owl the Way" party. For some reason, this is the only picture I took from that evening. I guess that means we were having too much fun to be bothered. You'd never know it from the looks of the faces of these two bell ringers, though!

December 3rd was Daddy's Thanksgiving. He got sick and all our plans for actual Thanksgiving were messed up. I don't mind a second round of turkey, yams, and pie, though!

On December 4th we learned about Christmas traditions in different countries. W picked China and liked the idea of Christmas karaoke (this is the first evidence I have seen of my genetics having any influence on this kid). N chose Australia and loved the fact that Santa has to trade his reindeer for 6 white boomers (kangaroos). L wanted to learn about Italy. He thought la befana the Christmas witch was a funny part of their traditions.

December 5th was a great night for hot chocolate, snacks, movies, and a living room campout.

On the 6th we enjoyed a concert put on by the local symphony orchestra, attempting to bring a little culture to our day. Some of us liked the listening bits, while others preferred the sing-along portion. One sweet boy was disappointed that "Rudolph" was not among the selected songs this year.

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day a day late this year with our tradition of Veggie Tales St. Nick and packing shoeboxes online for Operation Christmas Child. This year each boy also got to design and make a wreath inspired by Santa Claus.

December 8th was Gift Wrapping Day!

On the 9th we tossed together some quick costumes and went to the bookstore for Harry Potter's Yule Ball. Professors Trelawney and Dumbledore had a blast with Draco Malfoy, Hedwig, and Dudley Dursley.

The 10th was a day to continue the tradition of a new ornament for the tree every year. Instead of buying them, though, we grabbed a needle and thread and made them! The end result was pretty amazing. Thanks to Red Ted Art for the inspiration.

And now in the blink of an eye, we are on the first day of the 3rd week. And the chaos continues.

I'm excited to see what the next 2 weeks bring. Already all my careful planning has been trashed. One mistake by my t-rex arm led to a completely dead car battery this morning, missed church, and possibly a disappointing change of plans for the rest of the day if no vehicle is available.

Oh well. Christmas is not supposed to be about how many cool crafts and activities I can fill our month with. Perhaps this is just a reminder to me to relax, slow down, and breathe in the moments.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

T-rex Rocks a Side Pony (in which I use the words "schwannoma" and "brachial plexus")

So lately I've been thinking a lot about the plight of our friend the Tyrannosaurus rex. He seems like such a grumpy guy most of the time, but can you really blame him?
I mean, with arms like that, he isn't exactly the life of the party, and even mundane every-day tasks would be so difficult for him. Let's face it, our arms are pretty useful. And we just sit back and take them for granted, not giving a thought to how frustrating our lives would be if we suffered from the condition of the T-rex.
Well, over the past month and a half, I have made it my goal to study and understand the difficulties of living life with T-rex arms. And I tell you the truth. The Struggle is Real.
I did not embark upon this journey of my own free will, so let me take you back to where it all began. 

Around a year ago I noticed a small lump on the left side of my neck. My doctor said it could be any number of things, and I should keep my eye on it. Fast forward to this past spring, when it became clear that it was not going away and might, in fact, be ever so slowly getting larger. Meetings with more doctors led us to the conclusion that it ought to be removed before it got any bigger. Then we would have it checked to see what it actually was. 

For reasons that seemed clear to me then, but have since grown fuzzy, I did not tell anyone about any of this. Only a few people even knew that I was going in for some quick "minor surgery" in the middle of the summer. I don't like to worry people with words like "tumor" or "cancer." Especially when it's all speculation. I don't like to ask for help. I can do it myself thankyouverymuch. My mama raised me to be a strong, independent woman, by golly. I don't like to give up control or admit weakness or impose myself upon other people.

So. I went into surgery.

They removed what turned out to be a benign schwannoma.

"Benign" was a good word to hear. I liked that word. That's one I could roll with all day.

"Schwannoma" threw me for a bit of a loop. I'm such a grammar dork that my mind immediately went to that ridiculous "uh" sound that any English vowel can make in an unstressed syllable. You know what I'm talking about: the unglamorous /ə/ -- the schwa. What in the world it was doing in my neck was quite beyond me. As it turns out, a schwannoma has nothing to do with phonics, nor is it related in any way to the Schwan's truck which sometimes drives through my neighborhood (my second guess). It is apparently a nerve sheath tumor

Go figure.

Immediately after the surgery, I noticed my left arm wasn't quite working right. I couldn't seem to lift it laterally or to the front. My shoulder just didn't work, and my whole arm was weak. I waited long enough to know that I wasn't just still loopy with anesthesia, and then started following up with the doctors.

After I successfully demonstrated to them that I was, in fact, half Tyrannosaurus rex, and reasurring them that I hadn't been so before the surgery, they set me up with some physical therapy and gave the order for more tests. They did all this while muttering words like "strange," "fascinating," and "mystery." Not things that you really like to hear from medical professionals.
This round of tests, I got zapped with all kinds of electricity for an hour to try to find out where my nerves were or were not working. A week and a half later, I got the results. It said simply that what was happening in my shoulder and arm was "consistent with a brachial plexus injury." 
Super informative.

Meanwhile, I wait. Wait to find out exactly which nerves were damaged. Wait to find out just how those nerves were damaged (stretched? compressed? torn?) and what, if anything, can be done to fix them. 

Meanwhile, I find ways to cope with the things I cannot do. Some more frustrating than others.

Meanwhile, I rock a side pony nearly every day because I can't reach a top knot. Or a regular ponytail. Or a clip. I can't curl my hair or straighten it. And, let's be honest, shampooing has become a bit of an that doesn't happen as often as maybe it should. Don't judge. Side ponies are amazing and there is one for nearly every occasion.
Meanwhile, we laugh about my relation to the T-rex. We laugh because T-rex Mommy has a hard time swimming, so please don't climb on her in the deep end. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't take the trash bags to the dumpster, so trash duty and kitty litter have to be someone else's job. And Mommy doesn't mind that one so much. We laugh because T-rex Mommy sometimes accidentally smacks herself in the face when she loses control during a PT exercise. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't reach the handlebars to ride a bike, so is really quite wobbly and may need training wheels.
Meanwhile, I find that I am being stretched. My character. My faith. My muscles. My pain tolerance. 

But mostly my character. It's funny how little ugly bits rise to the surface during these periods of difficulty. Nasty little parts of me that get overlooked in the middle of the ordinary. 

Like that weed. That little issue of pride. That one that makes me feel like I must be some sort of failure if I ask for help. That ugly flip side to the Strong Independent Woman badge that I carry around in my pocket. It's still there. Down deep the roots are still alive, waiting to take over again. But being a Tyrannosaurus for a while has helped trim it back, at least. It has forced me to admit that I can't do it all...
Because, well, I physically CAN'T. 

And I am learning, slowly, that it is okay to accept -- or even ask for -- help.

In the meantime, I'm going to be rocking my side pony.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Loving My Thing 1

How can "pig headed" be a good character trait, Mommy?
You asked me that question a while back after a discussion about how God can use all the the aspects of our personalities to glorify him, how even the parts of ourselves that seem bad can have a positive flip side. I'm afraid that lately you've been hearing words like "stubborn," "bossy," "mouthy," and "argumentative" roll off my tongue a little too often.

I want to assure you, son, that every character trait has both a positive and a negative. I pray that I can help you find those positives for the labels that we have put on you. I am sorry for the times you hear yourself described in words that paint you in a bad way.

You are resolute, steadfast, and loyal. You are determined. You set your mind to something and are confident in your decision and not easily swayed. I know that one day these characteristics will be useful for you as you stand up against injustice in the world or have to defend your decisions and beliefs against those who disagree. I will look back on all those times you refused to back down on your opinion, and I will smile, knowing that God was preparing you.
You have leadership potential and goals. You are the first born in our family, if only by 5 minutes. You are the biggest and the tallest, if only by 3 pounds and 1 inch. You recognize a certain responsibility that goes along with that role, and you are eager to take up the mantle. You make me so proud when I hear you talk about your dream of running your own zoo one day, and that you know you may well have to start out shoveling elephant poop to get there. You are willing to start at the bottom in order to reach your dream. Never give up.
You are the perfect balance of fun-loving and cautious. You know what you like and will not be persuaded by peer pressure to do something you are uncomfortable with. I hope and pray that you continue to develop in this way. That you can still enjoy yourself and have fun, but are confident enough that you hold to the boundaries you have drawn for yourself. No matter how much pressure you may have received, you stuck to your guns that you were not ready to ride the Iron Dragon this year. I applaud you, N. That takes strength.
You love cuddling. And coziness. And all things soft and warm. I am sorry for the times I have hurt your feelings by wanting a little space and not being in the mood for snuggles. One day you may stop asking, and I will miss those moments tremendously. This is a soft side of you that I love and want to nurture more.
Your most prized possession is your Yellow, whom you have slept with since your infancy. When I asked you why he is so special to you, your response was that he is old and it's important to take care of old things. That took my breath away, boy. May you always cherish the old things. Learn from the histories of people. Find the beauty and value in the ancient.
 You surprised me this summer by wanting to learn to fish. You like the quiet of it. The sport of catching. The observation of the creatures. And you were content to sit there and hold that pole until we could figure out a way to release that darn fish without killing it. You held your breath while we removed the hooks to make sure that each little bluegill was not going to suffocate. It was neat to watch you experience this new thing, and I look forward to standing by your side as you grow and learn how to be a man.
Your heart for the animal kingdom is so big. You love the cuddly and the ferocious, the playful and the lazy, and you see the beauty in creatures that most of us find scary or gross. You find something wonderful in each of them. And it brings me such joy to hear you talk about them. You teach me new things every day. I wish that we all could see the beauty in bats and scorpions the way you do.
You are a fun-loving Wild Thing. You add silly to my life. Your smile and your laugh are some of the best things. Thank you for being uniquely you. I love you, you stubborn, cuddly, animal-loving, crazy boy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

When it's hard...

Friends, you know I like to keep it real. And I'm going to be honest with you here. I'm sure this is going to come as a real shock to you all. 

Being a mom is hard.
I mean it. It's really hard.

The day in, day out of the job of raising small humans. The never-ending piles of dishes and laundry. The non-stopness of it all. 
And that's not even the crisis times. That's the normal. Some days, it's enough to drive a person to the edge.
And there really is no way out. As a mom, you have to put on your big girl pants and deal with it. Because, well, after all, you are responsible. It's kind of your job. Some people have to stock shelves or work in an office. You, mom, you have to clean the pee off the floor, explain to the short ones for the bazillionth time why it is NOT okay to eat boogers, and manage to convince them all to eat enough real food to actually nourish their growing bodies.
There are certainly perks to the job. Kisses and hugs and macaroni art are great fringe benefits. Bedtime stories and snuggles and belly laughs are pretty good, too.

But, if I'm honest, there are times when I'm just not feeling it

It's not that I don't love my boys. I do. Absolutely. I'd jump in front of a train for and Bruno Mars.

But...there are times when I don't really like my boys. Times that I feel disconnected from one or all of them. Days, weeks, when I just don't understand them. When I don't really want to sit down and hang out with them any more than I absolutely have to. When I feel frustrated and irritated by them more than I enjoy them.

Those times, when I just don't...those times are hard. Harder than the normal hard. Dark.

Maybe I'm on my own here. Perhaps I'm really the only one who ever goes through this kind of phase. I'm going to go out on a limb here, though, and guess that I'm not. I'm going to guess that we all have times when we are struggling to connect with, to enjoy, one or all of our children.

I think this is one of those things that, as moms, we just aren't really allowed to talk about. I think we feel shame. We feel guilt. We feel inadequate. We feel...alone.

As moms, we are supposed to think our kids are amazing! All the time! We can't wait to spend more time with them! They are our best buds in the WHOLE! WIDE! WORLD! And if we don't have that kind of relationship with them, well, what kind of mother are we? If your experience is anything like mine, you're reminded of this at least once a week when some (probably well-meaning) woman approaches you and reminds you that "they grow up too fast," that "one day you'll miss this," or that "the days are long but the years are short." Thank you, lady, for that mountain of manure guilt you just piled on top of my already difficult day. Thank you, ma'am, for making me feel like an even worse mother because I was currently not savoring every moment as my child disobeyed me for the umpteenth time today.

I'm here to say that we are fine. We are normal. I am fine. I am normal.

But I also need to be proactive.

I need to work on my attitude in these darker moments of parenting.

It's so easy for me, when I am frustrated with a person, to focus my attention on all the negative parts of his* personality. Every little thing becomes an annoyance. Even things that would otherwise be endearing grate on my nerves. I could so easily compose a funny little blog post about each kid (or the hubs) and his idiosyncrasies, playing it off as "cute" or "funny." Saying how much I "love" the little bugger. All the while, though, my heart would be ugly. I would be focusing on the negativity, the irritation. Not on the lovely. Not where my attention should be focused.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." Philippians 4:8

So, here I am in the midst of one of those ugly times, finding it so hard to enjoy my boys. Struggling to savor the moments. And I'm challenged to change my heart attitude. I am not going to passively wait for it to pass, as I know it will.

I am challenging myself to celebrate my boys. Each one of them.

So over the next few days or weeks or months (let's be realistic here), I am going to write a post about each of the Wild Things. With nothing but the lovely, the noble, excellent, and praiseworthy about him. Because everyone deserves to be celebrated now and again. 

It's important to put it specifically into words. And it's important for them to know that they are being praised publicly. Because, let's face it, there are plenty of times they are shamed in the middle of the grocery store for the whole world to hear.

So you'll have to bear with me as I brag on my children for the next few posts.

My hope is that I can encourage you if you have struggled with this at times, too. You are not alone. It doesn't make you a bad mom. 

And, even in the midst of the darkness, you can find lovely things to actively celebrate in each of your children. 

Maybe you'll even join me in writing some public celebrations of who your kiddos are.
Mine are pretty cute.

*Grammar Nerd Alert! I am using the word "his" very purposefully here and for multiple reasons. One, I have no problem with the masculine singular being used in a gender-neutral sense, despite the fact that it is going out of fashion. I'm just old school, I guess, and lots of other languages have the same thing going on. Two, most of the folks I focus my negative energy on just happen to be boys: 1 grown up one and 3 small fries. Outside of that small circle, I'm not so mean.
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