Let Me Tell You More About My Kids

Because, I obviously don’t write about them nearly enough. Also, I’ve got nothing else. It’s all parenting, all the time around here. (Well, except for when Bob and I watch Hawaii Five-O. It’s not about the kids then. It’s about Bob getting all fanboy about the muscle cars they drive. It’s such total product placement but he doesn’t care. For the record, that show is ridiculous.) ANYWAY, I digress…

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Henry had an appointment for a teeth cleaning yesterday. When he wrapped up the exam, the dentist recommended to Bob and I that we take Henry to have a consultation with an orthodontist. It appears that he has some crowding issues from the newly hatched adult teeth in his mouth. I did a double-take because, WHAT? He’s not even eight years old! He’s only seven! He was just a toddler, like, yesterday. Why, he’s practically a baby! Surely, you aren’t advocating putting braces on an INFANT! Then, I realized that – holy goodness – Henry is almost eight years old. I am definitely not the type of parent that laments the passage of time, however, I’m feeling it lately with this eldest son of my mine.

I think we’re pretty much at that Glory Days phase with Henry; that lovely age where kids are old enough to exhibit reason, can get their own snacks, work the “On Demand” feature of the remote control and occupy their own time without the need for constant supervision. There isn’t a weekend that goes by without Bob and I remarking to each other about how awesome Henry is. (In fact, we should probably tone the compliments down a notch for the sake of everyone’s self-esteem.) But, really, he is a complete delight. He’s thoughtful, smart, caring towards his siblings, helpful when needed and fun to talk with.

I’m assuming this behavior is completely unsustainable. This golden age of youth is the pre-cursor to tween-dom and I know I should soak up this charming behavior while it lasts. Because someday soon, he’s going to start wanting to watch the regular Disney channel. And, I think that signals the beginning of the end.

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This past Saturday, not too long after the above picture was snapped, we lit those two candles, sang our best birthday wishes to Millie and helped her extinguish the flames. As I removed the candles from the cake, Henry asked if he could lick the frosting off of them. I said, “of course” and handed both to him. He proceeded to pass one of the candles to Charlie (see above mention of being a good guy).

Before I could even rustle up the dessert plates, it dawned on me that Charlie was chewing on something. Since frosting normally isn’t consumed with such effort, I became quite puzzled. And, since my mind attributes a certain (albeit small) amount of common sense to a four-year-old, it certainly didn’t dawn on me that he was chewing on the candle. However, that is indeed EXACTLY what he was doing. Charlie had eaten the entire birthday candle, frosting remnants and all. I disbelievingly swiped my finger through his mouth (you know, like what you do to babies) and sure enough, chewed up bits of white wax emerged. It was mostly gone at that point and our guest quickly started googling the toxicity of tiny celebratory candles.

I would have loved to have been privy to Charlie’s internal dialogue when Henry handed him that candle. Just to know how he ended up looking at that wax, seeing the charred remains of the wick, feeling the stiff, textured surface and still concluding that consuming the entire thing was the right approach. We have high hopes for Charlie. Curing cancer is not one of them.

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Millie’s favorite song is Katy Perry’s, Roar. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about this. I know it’s her favorite because she absolutely freaks out when it comes on. She throws her hands above her head and stomps her feet and just dances like nobody’s watching (which is how all those inspirational posters tell me it should be done). She also puts her hands to her mouth and, although she can’t technically talk yet, she yells “ROAR!” at all the right times. It is super, super cute. Although, I should probably lie when I write in her baby book and attribute her first word to something like, “DaDa,” as opposed to a Katy Perry lyric . That also assumes that I will ever write anything in her baby book. Since she’s two, I should probably get on that.

In summary, orthodontia. It sounds really, really expensive. It is, isn’t it?

Celebrating Two

Millie turns two years old tomorrow. From the moment she arrived, she has been the life of our party.

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When we knew that Millie was going to be a Millie, the well-meaning advice from others began to roll in. The general consensus from parents of daughters was that girls are so much easier than boys. At the beginning at least, they said. Sure, they may be a bit more dramatic but they’re not as rough and tumble as boys. They are gentler. Quieter even. More studious.

I’m not quite sure where those moms and dads got their model of baby girl but ours arrived with a different set of attributes. There is nothing quiet, gentle or easy about Amelia.

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Millie is full of fun, full of joy, full of laughter but totally, completely mischievous. She is the reason that, after having two kids already, we finally had to baby-proof the kitchen cabinets. The half-bathroom cabinets as well. Actually, all of the cabinets. We had to baby-proof everything and then install a gate at the bottom of the stairs as a stop gap measure.

I didn’t know that kids came this way. The boys were always so full-on entranced by their toys, that deviating to off-limit items never really was a consideration. Why play with Tupperware or mom’s fine china when I could be destroying this tower of blocks with this giant bulldozer? Or, they simply obeyed when we told them “NO.”

Millie has no time for our admonitions. She has no time for “NO.” She’s way too busy throwing my serving platters and cutlery in the garbage can. Or, figuring out just how cat-like our reflexes are by unlocking the side door and racing down the driveway. Or, seeing what happens when you cover every inch of your limbs with your brother’s NINJAGO sticker collection.

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And, she is so much more curious than the boys ever were as toddlers. Because Millie finds sleeping to be a giant waste of time, she plays in her crib at nap time instead of sensibly resting. Since I try not to let anything interfere with what I consider to be the Holy Hours of mid-day alone time, I generally let her goof around instead of enforcing sleep.

But, when you have a curious child and you confine her and she gets bored, turns out she’ll play with whatever is around. I walked in one horrific afternoon to find she had removed her clothing, removed her diaper, pooped in her crib and then… well, I can’t go into further detail. I will say that a part of my soul died that very minute. I froze in place completely unsure of what my next move should be. There was poop everywhere. Where do you begin? The kid? The sheets? The books? The stuffed animals? Will my neighbors hear my muffled screaming through the open window?

Aware of her penchant for disrobing, we had wanted to promote her to her big girl bed thinking the new setting would stop all of the stripping but in a rare show of fear, it appears Millie is terrified of a larger sleeping space. We’ve tried tucking her in to the covers ever so gently, reading stories to ease the transition and even sleeping with her but she gets, oddly, as stiff as a board. She freezes in place. As if the twin mattress has rendered her paralyzed. It’s kind of hilarious actually. Until she starts crying.

So, for now, she remains in her crib and we’ve had to pull it away from the wall (after a paint-chipping incident, of course) while removing most of the contents. Now, it just floats in the middle of the space. Sort of like that scene in Silence of the Lambs where they’re keeping Hannibel Lecter in a cage for transport right in the center of that giant hotel room. Like that. But with less cannibalism.

We also had to cut the feet off of her pajamas so we could place them on her backwards to prevent access to the zipper. If she can’t get the clothes off, she can’t get the diaper off, was how my Facebook friends helpfully explained it. I was reluctant to destroy such cute pj’s but after that fateful feces-filled day, I think I knocked a couple of kids down in my haste to get to the drawer where we keep the scissors.

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Mealtime is always dicey because Millie has developed quite a palate. You simply cannot satiate her with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In contrast to the boys, she wants effort put into her meals. She likes variety and new flavors. She is an adventurous eater.

Whenever I put her dinner in front of her, there is always this dramatic pause where she’s studying the contents of her plate, judging if what I have served her is sufficiently different and unique from what she had for lunch. Or, breakfast. Or, from the night before. I just stand there, awkwardly, waiting for her reaction. Half the time, she looks up at me and I swear if she could talk she would be saying, “I thought I asked for a little drizzle of truffle oil.”

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I can remember, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant with Millie, heading to a sonogram with Bob. Around the mid-point of pregnancy is the ideal time to check the development of the baby and determine the gender. The technician performing our sonogram didn’t want to confirm if we were having a girl or a boy. She wanted the doctor to make the final announcement but, knowing that we already had two boys at home, I can recall her leaving to fetch the physician while exclaiming, “You’re going to be so happy!” At the time, I thought that was such a presumptive statement. After all, we love having boys. I could see myself as the parent of three boys. I already had all of the clothes! All of the trucks! But now, more than two years later, I imagine that technician must have known. She must have known how amazing our life would be with this little girl in it. How this baby would just radiate pure joy. How her incredible spirit and sense of adventure would guide us. How her laughter would surround us. And, ultimately, that technician was right. We are just so happy.

It Takes a Village

The summer after Bob and I were married, my father formally retired and moved with my mother back to the Midwest. I was pregnant with Henry at the time and my parents’ move took them from a totally doable distance of two to three hours away and replaced it with a much more commitment-heavy nine to ten hour drive. Their absence was felt immediately. And, most definitely later that year, when they had to leave to head back home within hours of Henry’s birth.

With our parents so far away, we were left to carve out a family of sorts from within our community. Del Ray was the perfect place to do just that. Our block in particular was full of folks in similar situations and we found a true surrogate support system. Some of my fondest memories of parenting during those early days are intertwined with memories of my neighbors and how they helped ease the burden of living so far from family. Whether it was a glass of wine, a huge Thanksgiving feast or just an extra hand to hold a screaming baby when I could no longer deal, the eight years spent on that street were spent as part of a large urban family.

Time passed and lives changed and over the course of a year, our block transformed dramatically as one by one, our dear neighbors moved on. We did, too.

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My dad introducing Millie to the ocean. As you can see, Millie has no time for your introduction.

The suburbs have a distinctly different vibe and our new neighborhood is not nearly as transitional as our old one. It also seems like everyone we know has close family right in town. I’m normally not an envious person but when another mom in the neighborhood described the convenience of having her parents living two doors down, I turned a tad green. When she mentioned that she often offers to babysit for others since her parents take their grandkids at every opportunity, I may have briefly passed out.

We just don’t know a life like that.

One of the biggest regrets thus far in my, admittedly, short tenure as a parent is that my children will not grow up living in close proximity to family. We live a full days drive, in opposite directions, from either set of parents. All of our siblings are the same distance away – some even further. Both Bob and I come from these large, loving families and we live nowhere near any of them.

My desire to live close to family isn’t about wanting an extra set of hands to help with my children. Outside of some dicey medical issues, when we’ve had to call in reinforcements, we’ve pretty much got that covered. It’s also not about having my dad nearby to help fix things around the house or my mom close by to act as life coach. It’s simply all about having more time. I selfishly want more time with those important to us. I want more time than a week’s vacation to the beach allows. More time than a hectic few days over Christmas. I want to spend time with our favorite people without having to keep one eye on the balance of Bob’s annual leave.

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My mom with a baby Charlie who was super sick. He had a mysterious virus and she flew in just to dance with him in our kitchen until he calmed down. Moms are good like that.

I want my children to really know their grandparents. I want my kids to bake cinnamon rolls with my mom. To go to church with my dad. To spend time outdoors with Bob’s parents. To know them in every day life, not just what can be compressed into visits of a few days in length.

I want more time with my sisters and my brother. With nieces and nephews and cousins all around. I would love for birthday parties to be big family celebrations and for holidays to be spent bouncing from house to house in seasonal sweaters.

And, I want to be available to help as our parents age. Our distance has meant we’ve had to stand on the sidelines for so many years as others have helped when we physically couldn’t be there. That’s been really tough; wanting to help but trying to figure out the how, when and where.

For now, we’re stuck. Bob has a career that he values. That he is really good at. That provides for our family and our future. That career keeps us in Virginia. We’ve crafted about a hundred different scenarios on how we could move physically closer to family while maintaining his employment but the bottom line is, we’re here for the long haul. I can accept that. Virginia is a beautiful place to live and we are endlessly blessed with his job.

So, we continue on the same path as before. Always in a state of perpetually planning our next visit with family. Imploring my parents to visit for Thanksgiving, booking a hotel for a Christmas holiday to New York, charting what we’ll do in Kentucky over spring break. My kids are still building big memories of their big family, its just there is always a long road between those memories. And, for now, that has to be enough.