Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Miscellaneous Memories

I always plan on writing more blog posts than I actually do.  One of the kids will say something, do something, get involved with something and I think to myself, "I should write a post about that.  It was funny (or endearing, or aggravating), and would be fun to preserve it for future days when all this stuff will be long forgotten." 

And then "all this stuf"' gets in the way of sitting down to type and it is so quickly forgotten.  All my intentions of writing individual updates about the kids gets lost in the shuffle of life.  I've been meaning to write an 18 month update for B . . . who is now nearly 21 months old.  So I say forget the individual updates and just toss a whole lot of random things into one post, slap up some pretty pictures, and call it a day.  Ready, set, go!

K is not growing up too fast, which I love.  She still laughs at little kid cartoons (though she never chooses to put them on for herself).  She generates such fun adventures and games when she plays with her little siblings.  She enjoys getting out her collection of star wars figures or fairies (which are really more like elves with wings, but they're German so we just roll with it) and making up sweeping, epic-type stories. 

But she is growing up some, and has certainly passed through that maturity barrier where you learn how to subjigate your own desires in order to attend to another.  Which makes her a fabulous babysitter.  Yes, ha!  We have an in-house babysitter.  There are so many glowing things I could say about that, I hardly know where to start.  Suffice it to say that it is truly one of the greatest returns on my motherhood investment. 

A few weeks ago, Shaggy and I went out to dinner with a group of friends (one of whom came all the way from Guam!).  We left K in charge with S as her trusty assistant.  Together, they fed everybody dinner, played some games, got everybody ready for bed, brushed teeth, read stories, and tucked them snugly into bed.  It was so liberating knowing that the little ones were in good hands and that we didn't have to rush home to do the bedtime thing.  We even decided to go hang out with our friends after dinner and ended up staying out until nearly midnight.  Shocking, I know.  It's been so long since we had that kind of a night life.  But we did make sure to call our kids and ask permission to stay out that late.  :)

K is witty.  Which makes her enormously fun to talk to.  One of my favorite times during the week is Sunday afternoon when we come home from church.  It's a little hairy for a bit as we try to manage a hungry, exhausted, stubborn little toddler.  But once B is settled down for her nap, we are free to graze and talk and laugh.  We sit around the table and talk about church, and life, and silly things.  We tell jokes and make puns and laugh at the goofy things the younger kids have done lately.  We just enjoy being together when there's no rush to go anywhere or do anything.  Those are the moments that I which I could bottle and save for future, quieter years.

K loves to give us daily reports about all the interesting happenings in her life.  Track and Annie are going well.  I think this blog post made an impression on K, because she has really stepped up to the physical challenge of running and no longer has quite so many aches and pains.  She has tapped into a little of that vast reserve of internal fortitude.  I have yet to make it to a meet where I can actually take pictures, so that will have to wait for another post.  Annie rehearsals are getting slightly more frenzied as the performance dates approach.  I do not envy her drama coach.

S has quite the wide range of emotions.  She can go from ecstatic to "hrrrrrmmmmph!!" in a split second.  Though it's much slower going the other direction.  She squeals when something strikes her as particularly funny.  And hollers when someone upsets her delicate sense of justice.  She gets quite excited about upcoming events like field trips and birthdays and she chatters and asks endless questions about them for weeks beforehand.  She is excelling in school and, according to her teacher, has a "four point something else" GPA.

She is not a procrastinator.  Unless she's wrapped up in an exciting new dsi game, in which case all other concerns fly far from her mind.  Her flute skills are improving dramatically and she's looking forward to playing with the district's honor band this spring.  I love to hear her play.  She has internalized the fact that she is quite artistic and no longer resists art projects like she did last year.

S's bangs are always too long. And it always takes me weeks to get around to cutting them when they need it. I should just cut them super short, but because she already did that to herself many years ago, I just can't bring myself to do it and always err on the side of caution. Which probably explains why they're always too long.

S finds the most joy in playing with B.  She has successfully passed on her passion for stuffed animals to her baby sister, who will almost always de escalate from a tantrum in order to go find the "mew mow" or the "woo woo" with her.  And then B wanders around the house, fiercely hugging the little animal.  Or S plays hide and seek with her, or chases her, or swings her around.  I have some pictures of the two of them playing in the backyard that warm my heart because they capture so clearly the joy of their interactions.  I've been meaning to post them, but will likely never get to it.

She is a loyal friend and has a generous heart.  She has a strong sense of duty and is brave enough to not follow the crowd.  I worry sometimes that she doesn't really understand just how much she is loved.  Because she is very loved.  Surrounded by it, in fact.

J still gets trapped by interesting things.  He is too smart for his own good and always wants to figure out how things work.  Which often makes things stop working altogether.  He likes to draw, on occasion.  His latest masterpiece depicted a girl Martian with eyeball antannas who only had one finger on each hand because that's how the boy Martians are born and the girls want to make themselves look just like the boys.

He adores his baby sister, but has become overly fond of calling her "BAD baby" when she does something he doesn't approve of.  Which, to be honest, is usually something none of us approve of.  I am trying to quash the "bad" baby bit before it creates too many negative repercussuions.  I have thus far not been successful.

His greatest passion, currently, is riding his scooter.  He can really fly on that thing.  One of these days I should try to catch some shots of him in action.  We recently had to replace the wheels because he sped his old ones into oblivion.  His passion for scootering (I'm not sure that's an actual real word, but it is in our house.) is a beautiful thing.  He knows he can't go outside to scooter until his homework is done, so he settles in right away and finishes his homework with nary a nag from me.  Anything that makes nagging unnecessary is a beautiful thing.

The most surprising thing in J's recent life, is that he has become the charismatic center of a constantly shifting pack of neighborhood boys.  Plus R, who would probably swear up and down that she was a boy just so she could be included.  But, really, she earned her right to belong to this pack because she will always be J's first follower. 

So their afternoons are filled with the joys of sunshine and friendship and the mischief that comes with lax supervision.  They break rocks and dig holes and share snacks and bicker and invent magical instruments and scooter to their heart's content.  They have sword fights where J has to protect R from the little boy across the street.  I hope he never stops doing that.  I love that he has such a protective streak. 

These afternoons are making J's face darken and his freckles bloom.  And it makes my heart sing because not so very long ago I thought he would forever be too fearful of social interaction to make many friends.  He even smuggles his most prized posessions onto school grounds to show his friends.  And he plants apple seeds at recess with a girl from his class.  He is finally enjoying all the wonder that should come with childhood.  Or more of it, anyway.  He still sometimes needs my help to ask his friends to trade scooters for a while or to negotiate little squabbles.  I marvel at how very far he has come.

This little girl amazes me.  When I listen to her rambling stories, or notice how beautiful her long lashes look against her smooth skin, or see the twinkle in her eye when something has sparked her imagination, I find myself in awe that I get to be her mother.  I remember having this feeling of amazement with all of my kids at one time or another.  But I don't know that I took the time to relish it quite as much as I do with R.  Shame on me, I suppose.  But just like I wish I could bottle our Sunday afternoons, I wish I could bottle some of what is the essence of R.

She is kind and nurturing.  She'll often spontaneously kiss me on the cheek just because she thinks I am sick or in pain, somehow.  She loves to cuddle and curls up to fit perfectly in my lap.  And we enjoy it while we can because we both know that B will shortly come and say MOO! (move) or memu (excuse me) if she's feeling extra polite.  B does not like it when other kids sit on her mama's lap.

R is so excited by the simple things in life.  She also has a deep sense of appreciation for her worth.  One day she asked me, "Did God know how special a person he was making when He made me?"  When she prays, it takes a long while because she prays for every person that she can see through her squinty, half-closed eye.  She takes the time to think of something they might need help with and that's what she prays for.  And she always forgets what to say at the end, so she whispers loudly for help with that part.

She has a driving need to produce art.  Which is nothing like the art any of my other children produced at this age.  Though she is now beginning to branch out a bit and draw things that actually look like what she means them to be.  And her pictures always tell a story, even if it is one that only she can understand.

She makes friends wherever she goes. There is a boy at preschool who loves her, she says.  She knows this because he follows her all around and gives her lots of hugs.  Out of all the kids, she has the least number of inhibitions. And she's pretty tough. Cuts and bruises don't get her down for very long. Her faith in her body's ability to heal itself is unshakable. 
She is generally pretty even tempered, and easygoing.  She has fun doing whatever, with whomever.  But sometimes she flips out over little things like the fact that her cup is blue (even though she has used that same cup about a thousand times before), or that B is trying to look at one of her own books that R happens to be hoarding.  It's good that she does this once in a while because I would otherwise be tempted to think that she was not a real child.

This child is a whirlwind.  Shaggy and I often look at each other and just laugh (in a "is this child for real?" sort of way) at the frenzied pace with which she tries to satisfy her curiosity.  While we are busy washing her hands or brushing her teeth, she is busy trying to hook the glass pan with her toe to see if she can make the water it's filled with do anything interesting. 

She hates her high chair.  And always climbs out of her booster seat onto the table to see what she can get her hands on.  She makes a beeline to her big sister's room when they fail to close the door.  She knows there is a world of amazing (read off-limits) things in there to explore.  She doesn't entertain herself very well.  Which is driving me nuts because all of her older siblings learned to do that at a relatively young age.  The only time she is content to do her own thing is when it's something she shouldn't be doing in the first place.  When she is quiet and unaccounted for, that's when we have to sound the alarm and hunt her down.  Something her siblings take great delight in doing.

She is a mama's girl, through and through.  Which is also a first for me.  All her sisters were complete daddy's girls and would toss me aside in an instant in order to spend a little more time with him.  Not B.  She adores her daddy and dashes to bear hug his knees when he comes home, but her affection for him is short-lived, especially when put to the mommy vs. daddy test.  She clings to me more than I would like, but I do appreciate how sweet her adoration is.  I know this "favorite person in all the world" status won't last forever. 

She was not born affectionate, but she has learned to be.  She is surrounded by people who give her so much positive feedback for her sweet hugs and kisses.  She is always ready to play with someone, especially me.  But she is a hard taskmaster.  

She does not allow me to use the computer when she is awake and has access to the computer room.  Whenever she catches me trying to sneak in a little keyboard time, she marches in and pushes the keyboard drawer closed and tells me firmly, "OFF!  OFF!"  She loves to steal my cell phone and has placed numerous calls.  She has taken countless photos with it and saved some to my online album, which I didn't even know I had.  She has even added some new numbers to my phone book.  This one is the most memorable:  855-555-555555555555555555555555555255555.  I laughed and laughed at how long it took to scroll across my screen when I discovered it.

Her language acquisition is coming along, but some of her pronunciation could use a little work.  Every day she stands at the window, waving to her daddy who is leaving for work, and she tells him, "Die!  Die!"   And her beloved baby doll is a "daydy," even though her milk-filled sippy cup is a baba and has been for months and months.  Animals are known for their sound effects rather than their names.  And she likes to count imaginary things with imaginary sounding numbers, after which everyone in the room must clap and cheer.

For better or worse, she is the focal point of our family.  She can quiet any squabble with her amusing antics, elicit a laugh from even the grumpiest of audience members, and erase the frustrations of the most exasperated caregivers with her beautiful baby voice and bright blue eyes.  I know she will not always be the focal point of our family.  She will get older and lose her baby charm and her power to draw us all together, to bind us fast in adoration of her.  But for now, she is here, at the center of things.  Just as she should be.  How can she grow up and learn that the world does not revolve around her if she hasn't spent any time at the center of things with the world revolving around her?

How blessed I am in my children.  I sure hope I don't ruin them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Happiest of Easters

I don't know what I'm going to do if we ever move to a place where winter still has hold during the Easter season.  Maybe I should start convincing Shaggy that we really need a greenhouse if we move.  What will I do without deliciously warm temperatures and blooming flowers and green grass?  I know I've said it before, but I really do love Easter here.  As long as it's not pouring rain, which it did our second week of spring break.  But the first week was gorgeous.  And I didn't procrastinate photo taking like I do some years, so everything worked out beautifully.

And no, that basket did not tip over on accident.  And yes, that is an egg B is tossing onto the ground.  She doesn't go much for props that don't do anything and which aren't small enough to be a choking hazard.  Ah, the joys of living with a whirlwind.

We did have to scramble to make time for our Easter traditions, but that's what I get when I'm trying to squeeze it all in the same weekend as a birthday party.  We decorated eggs after I finished S's cake and before the guests arrived and during a kitchen cleaning session.
Which explains the lovely hair on these two.  At least they were dressed, which is more than I can say for many of our vacation days.
K really got into the eggs again this year.  B was a menace, as usual.  She spent all her time trying to burn herself on the hot eggs or grabbing the bowls or the crayons or the tablecloth or anything else she could get her hands or feet on.  We did the crayon method again.  I think R's egg in the middle was my very favorite one.  It's a good example of her deliberately meandering approach to art.
S was too preoccupied with the countdown to her birthday party to be bothered with decorating more than a couple of token eggs.
Shaggy was a nice addition to our egg decorating this year.  Usually, he's working and misses out.
The next day we packed up and headed over to our favorite park for an egg hunt.  We branched out this year and found some new hiding places.  Those are giant Easter pencils dangling from the tree, in case you were wondering.
Little miss blue eyes here was only interested in one thing.  Getting to whatever was inside those little plastic eggs. 
Here she is tossing aside the nice shredded paper grass and dumping out her basket for easier access.
I loved the way the colors and textures and layers of these egg shells worked together to create something so visually interesting.
Happy hunters, with K doing her very best not to let B squirm her way out of her arms.  All she wanted to do at this point was run and run and run.  But what she really needed to do was sleep and sleep and sleep.
R made these bunny ears at preschool and insisted that we save them so she could wear them for Easter.  They lasted all of 5 seconds after I snapped this photo.

So even though it was busy and a bit rushed, it was a very happy Easter.  We spent a good deal of time on Sunday talking about the symbolism of eggs and bunnies and empty tombs.  And I loved being able to curl up on the sofa next to my beloved little family and partake of the Easter goodness on BYUTV and the Mormon channel via Roku.  There is something about those beautiful church videos that makes Easter come alive with power and promise and hope, even for the youngest members of my family.  How grateful we are for our Savior, who opened the door to eternity through the events that unfolded that Sabbath day so very long ago. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Girl on Fire

We haven't done a very good job this year of having birthday parties anywhere close to actual birthdays.  Our family scheduling seems to be getting trickier.  Fortunately, we have some patient children.  Unfortunately, S is not one of them.

But she survived the wait, even if it was rather unwillingly.

She had a tough time coming up with a theme for her birthday this year.  I had a couple great ideas (or so I thought) which she vetoed.  Her birthday was looming ever closer and she still couldn't settle on anything.  Finally, I had to explain to her that if she didn't choose something RIGHT NOW, there would be no party at all.  These things require some planning time after all.

So she chose the hunger games.  Shaggy and I read the books to S & K at the beginning of last year and all the hype surrounding the impending movie had S intrigued.  I took some convincing since just going to a movie and coming home for cake seemed like sort of a cop out.  But her procrastination made it's simplicity very appealing. 
I loosely copied a design idea I saw somewhere online and printed the invitations front and back, like a real ticket.  Then we sent them out and realized a day or so later that the day wouldn't work so we had to reschedule it all.

Which was totally ok with me since I had absolutely no idea how I was going to make a hunger games cake.  When my online searches came up with nothing that I  a) liked or  b) would be able to come remotely close to copying, I had to resort to skimming the book for inspiration.  It turns out that the book had a scene that lended itself perfectly to cake decorating.  "Frosting. The final defense of the dying."  Peeta totally lost his head over this, but we were able to re-attach it without incident.
If you haven't read the books and you don't know what I'm talking about, I only have one thing to say to you.  Read the books.  Don't go see the movie.  Read the books.  And then you can think about seeing the movie.
Like these brave tributes did.  And one girl from the capitol.  Who thought her friends were going to dress like they were from the capitol, too.  But their outfits lacked that certain capitol flair and looked rather ordinary, after all.
And no, I did not buy a t-shirt just for this party.  K bought that herself.  She has more spending money that I do, that's for sure.  She even almost bought a Kindle Fire a few weeks ago.  But the jury went back to deliberate a little more on that decision.
Favors were extra simple since we paid for all the movie tickets.  Dollar store boxes with some Etsy buttons and a circle printout which contained a mix of cherry jelly beans and red hots.  Sweet or fire, take your pick.

This girl was not so gung-ho on the whole fun picture thing, but she indulged her crazy mom just a little anyway.  Here she is ready to sleep tied to a tree branch with her bow at the ready.  Sometimes it's kind of nice that our backyard has such an odd assortment of leftover tree trimmings.  It makes these crazy pictures possible.
She's officially a pre-teen now, which is hard to believe since I was just watching some old home videos of her has a bald, but grinning little peanut.  She's so much bigger now and every bit as impatient.  I can't wait to meet the girl that she's becoming.  Happy birthday, baby girl! 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What If . . .

What if a gunman burst into your church meeting and ordered everyone to put their hands up? What if your daughter disappeared on her way to school? What if your car plunged into the lake with you and your five children strapped in their seats? What if your house caught on fire? What if your baby passed away in her sleep? What if some guy jumped you in a dark parking lot? What if your husband was in a serious car accident? What if an intruder broke into your house in the middle of the night?

What would you do?

Or, do you just shut these thoughts down before they even start?

I've often wondered why it is that people tend to do that. It's almost like we feel that if we even entertain that train of thought, we're daring the universe to bring our fear to life. Which is ridiculous because thinking about something doesn't make it more likely to happen. Most of the time. The scenarios I mentioned are extremely remote possibilities, but possibilities nonetheless. Why not give ourselves a head start, a fighting chance, the shadowy outline of a plan to follow when the world we know crumbles around us?

I hope against hope that no tragedy like this ever strikes my family. But hope is not a strategy.

So when these thoughts come, I let them in. I don't get lost in them, but I let them in. I think about what I would do. Who I would call. Who would be helpful to have around and who wouldn't. How I could navigate my children through a crisis and have them emerge whole. Because I will never allow such a tragedy to define us, to stop our progression, to suck the sweetness from the joyful things in life.

I realize that this might be somewhat unusual, the fact that I allow myself to run through these scenarios. Sometimes they make me cry, but I don't let that stop me from thinking about them. I would rather experience a little sorrow during a mental exercise than a complete breakdown during an actual crisis.

I used to think that it would not be possible to go on with life if I lost a child. But I have encountered evidence lately, that shows me that I was wrong. This blog, Sunshine Promises, is a heart-wrenching story of one truly courageous and faithful mother who lost her littlest son (who happened to be about the same age B is now). Her words bring tears to my eyes, a boundless ache to my heart, and inspiration to my mind.

Because I realize, seemingly more strongly with each passing day, how precious and fleeting and fragile life is. And there are times that I feel terrified that I will lose one of my children. That little B will be called home to heaven before I am ready to let her go. Sometimes I have dreams that a tragedy strikes S and she is taken from us. I have had entire days filled with a sense of foreboding, that something might happen that would shatter our world. I worry that Shaggy will not be able to walk hand in hand with me to our golden years.

I am not paralyzed by these thoughts and fears (except the one about the car plunging into the lake, because even though I have a rough reaction plan, that scenario still makes me panic just a little). I think, in a way, these thoughts are actually helping me gain the ability to push through shock and fear and denial if a crisis were to come my way. They're preparing me to be better equipped to help others during times of hardship. To have the strength to be on the front lines if that is where I am called to be.

If you ever want to read a totally eye-opening book about how most people react to disasters, read The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. I promise, you will never be so content to dismiss all these scenarios again. Most of the time, people simply do nothing. They freeze. And they wait for someone to tell them what to do because they've never thought about what they might need to do during a disaster. And sometimes they die.

But groupthink aside, all these scenarios are helping me to be a better person now. Because as I think about these what if's, I realize how important it is to cherish life as it is now. I am taking the time to create more memories with my children. I am drinking in the beautiful moments that happen on their own. I am less likely to hold on to the not so beautiful ones. Life is more meaningful and more awe-inspiring and more full of joy and just more because I allow myself to think about the possibility that this charmed existence might not last forever.

And I am feeling driven to capture these moments before they slip away. Whether through time or crisis. I felt such relief once I had a copy of the family portraits we had taken last year. Because the dear mother from Sunshine Promises didn't have a family photo of them all together. Now it's too late and that breaks my heart. Photos are such an important part of the way I cherish life. So lately, I've been driven to try to capture and preserve all the little things that make my current life so very meaningful and awe-inspiring and full of joy. Lots of photos and stories and video and awareness. Someday these may be the things that keep me afloat.

Now is my time to plan and prepare and gather. Right now, in the heart of the busy, chaotic, noise filled days. I will not let this time slip away.