Birthday Loot

Charlie’s birthday was last Thursday and true to our (we’re-so-tired-all-the-time) parenting style, the event was pretty low key. Charlie had a good friend from school over for a playdate and we baked cupcakes and opened presents and sang and blew out a birthday candle and that was that.

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Charlie did not, as in years past, proceed to eat the actual birthday candle. With age, comes wisdom, apparently.

Charlie asked for one specific thing for his sixth birthday: a wallet. He has earned a little money helping around the house and wanted a place to keep it. Makes perfect sense. We were relieved with the simplicity of his birthday wish list since he kind of hasn’t stopped talking about bringing that baby bear home. A wallet is infinitely easier to procure. Charlie’s new Spiderman billfold doesn’t actually fit into his teeny tiny pant’s pocket but, whatever, he can just hold it in his hand since I’m sure he’ll need some form of identification when he goes to pick up his new bear.

At six, Charlie’s most defining physical characteristic remains his small stature. He is still rather wee, as six-year-olds go.

It has been entertaining to watch him board the bus every day, clambering up the massive first step. With his backpack loaded down with books on library day, he almost doesn’t have enough momentum to actually make it in. I sometimes worry he’s going to tip over and fall back out. In fact, for many months, there was actually a girl that sat in the very front seat of the bus – right behind the steps – that would lean over every morning as Charlie boarded and hoist him up by his backpack handle. Without fail, I would watch her hand appear, take hold and yank him up the steps. It was hilarious.

At Henry’s soccer practice last week, I was sitting on the sidelines while Millie and Charlie loitered close by playing. One of the other mothers looked in their general direction and asked, “Twins, right?” “Well, no,” I laughed. One is three and one is six. But, I can see why she would think that. Only four pounds separate Millie and Charlie. In fact, Millie, oversized for her age, has now surpassed Charlie in pants size.

At this age, Charlie’s compactness only works to his advantage since we find him ridiculously adorable and want to give him everything he asks for (except for a baby bear, but only because Target doesn’t sell them). That’s why we bought Charlie a new lawn tractor. The argument could be made that we purchased the lawn tractor for mowing the lawn but really, Charlie knows that we know that he knows that the mower is really for him.

Charlie and Bob studied lawn tractors for months, eventually deciding on one together. They brought me to the dealership, pointed at the model they both wanted and then waved me into the showroom so I could handle all of the paperwork. A week later, the day before his birthday, Charlie was driving all over the neighborhood on his new Cub Cadet.

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Sorry neighbors! You’ll be hearing the roar of this engine for months to come.

I cannot overstate how much Charlie loves this lawn mower. He wakes up talking about it, falls asleep dreaming about it and incessantly pings Bob to take him riding on it. I pulled into the driveway this past weekend, opened the garage door and found Charlie, with the hood of the lawn tractor up, examining the engine. He had a small notebook and pen in hand and explained that he was performing a twelve-point inspection.

Charlie's notes from the mower inspection. We should actually consider teaching him how to change the oil on this thing. It would be handy.

According to Charlie, everything looked good. Also, we should probably work on his counting since this actually appears to be a 14-point inspection.

In addition to the lawn tractor, we successfully convinced Charlie we got him bunk beds for his birthday. Technically, we just bunked their existing beds but the whole thing seemed novel and new.

I have been diligently attempting to get our house more organized over the past few weeks and bunking the boys’ beds was crucial to solving the storage problem in the small room they share. (Full disclosure: I have never been a fan of their beds. I hastily purchased them years ago when we were moving to Richmond and now I strongly believe no one should ever be allowed to panic buy furniture while living in a temporary apartment with a padded bank account between house closings. I was mostly irritated with myself for how much I spent on bunk beds that we never bunked however, now that they are in their final resting place, I love them with my whole heart.) The boys’ room is pretty much transformed with all of the new floor space bunking the beds revealed and with the addition of a double dresser that needed a new home.

This room will never look this neat ever again. (Also, ignore the paint colors and lack of curtains. WE'RE GETTING TO IT.)

This room will never look this neat ever again. (Also, ignore the paint colors and lack of curtains. WE’RE GETTING TO IT.)

Charlie feels like a king getting to sleep on the top bunk and Henry, nine, is enjoying the cave-like atmosphere of the bottom bunk. However, the absolute best side effect of bunking their beds is that the kids actually want to play in their room now which means significantly less Lego pieces in the family room and greater quiet everywhere else.

Basically, a marvelous birthday present all around for everyone.

Totally unrelated to Charlie and his birthday, I assume that, by now, most of you have seen this video mashup of famous dance scenes set to Walk the Moon’s, “Shut Up and Dance.” If you haven’t, we should remedy that:

Are you dancing yet? Because it’s impossible not to dance while watching this. Literally impossible. If you’re not at least moving your feet a teeny tiny bit right now, you might be dead. Even Bob dances when this song comes on. It’s no Wings or anything but it’s pretty catchy.

We have watched this clip innumerable times in the past couple of weeks (hat tip to Twitter for always having links to the best stuff). Also, Henry assures me that the “shut up” part of the lyrics aren’t bad to say because we’re not saying them TO anyone. We’re just singing them. Sounds good to me.

So, you’re welcome because now this song is stuck in your head for the next week. My birthday gift to you!

Happy Yellow

I painted our front door a bright, lively, welcoming shade of yellow shortly after we moved in. The old door was blue but I wanted a color that appeared friendlier. A color that beckoned, “Come in!” all the way from the street. A color that our new neighbors and acquaintances would see and feel confident that we weren’t weird or serial killers or anything. Because, look! A happy yellow door! A totally normal family lives here (sort of)! Approach with abandon! Be our friends! We’re nice!

It’s tough when you move someplace new. It’s tough to meet new people and make new friends. It’s particularly difficult to make new mom friends. Especially when you’ve moved to a very different part of town like we did when we moved from the suburbs to our more rural locale. Many of the moms around here have deep roots, friendships are established, school alliances are in place.

But, here we are, a year later and I HAVE made some wonderful new friends. I’m part of an amazing circle of supportive, kind, incredibly compassionate mothers. And, because I’ve met so many of these lovely women since I painted our threshold, I can only assume that my happy yellow front door has something to do with it. See, I’ve tried to open our front door to everyone this past year. And, that act has encouraged friendship in remarkable ways.

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At some point, apparently when two of my three children became elementary school-age, playdates stopped being a group event. Without my even noticing, it seemed we had aged out of library story times and big playground meet-ups. Our toddlers had become kids and play dates were of the drop off, singular, variety. It was one of those things I didn’t realize was even happening until it happened. It usually would begin with an email of introduction from a mom with a request for one of my kids to come to their house after school and would that be all right?

“But what about me,” I said to myself, as I drove Henry to the home of a new school friend. Play dates used to be for me, too. The camaraderie and friendship of us mothers would sustain me through the long afternoon hours. Talking, commiserating, and complaining about the demands of parenthood served as a necessary release and lifted my spirits during the most tedious of days.

Now, it seemed that entire era had ended. I guess there would be no more sipping wine and devouring cheese plates with my mom friends while we pretended not to hear that crashing noise in the other room. How would I unburden my woes and release the stress of mothering? Would I have to start exercising instead? I felt a little panicky. And, isolated.

So, I tried something new. The next time I received an email request for a play date for one of my children, I replied, “Yes, of course! But, please, come over to my house. All of you. Bring your other kids. Everyone is welcome. I have snacks.”

“Just look for the yellow door.”

I didn’t know these other mothers well. Some, I had only briefly met at the occasionally attended PTA meeting or random classroom party. Some were from the next town over and were new to our school, just like me. Some were from my mother’s group. Some from our church. Some worked, some stayed at home. Every one of them accepted my invitation.

And, they all exclaimed, “I love your yellow door,” as I ushered them inside.

It takes work to forge friendships. It is always a little intimidating to meet other mothers for the first time. I’m self-conscious over the dirty dishes in the sink or the crumpled pile of clean laundry on the sofa. It’s scary to open yourself up to others and talk about big things. Especially, when the only commonality you appear to have is that you are both mothers.

Magically and without fail, not one of these new friends ever seems to notice the sticky floors or the dusty furniture. We’re too busy talking. We’re too busy empathizing. We’re too busy connecting. We’re too busy with the really important stuff to notice the insignificant stuff.

Sometimes, at these mom play dates, the conversation flows and we speak in run-on sentences and we talk over each other and we run out of time because we have so much to say. We’ve found so much in common. Sometimes, these play dates stretch well into dinner prep and I find myself going about my kitchen duties but with the pleasant accompaniment of friendly chitchat. No one ever feels like they’ve overstayed their welcome. Occasionally, us mothers talk about very serious things. You know, the Big Stuff. We hide watery eyes as we reach for more snacks or take a sip of tea.

Many times, on their way out the door, my new friends will lean over and say, “I really needed this.”

Or, “I’m sorry if I talked too much.”

And, “Thank you for listening.”

Most importantly, they say, “Let’s get together again.”

Mothers need one another. We need other women to discuss and dissect our days with. We need all of the support and friendship we can muster during the years we spend raising our children. It is inevitable that, as our children age, our discussions age, too. We switch from talking about bottle brands and potty training to discussions about our marriages, our families, tricky school social situations, our transition back to a non-toddler existence.

There is always, still, so much to talk about. Life may change but the fundamental need for friendship and connection between mothers remains.

That’s why my door will always be open. It’s my new life policy.

Road Trip Rage

My three charming, delightful, whimsical children began their spring break with an unrelenting barrage of ridiculous arguments, incessant infighting and absurd complaints. The timing was perfect because we happened to spend last week at my parents so their behavior really made my mothering skills shine. I’m not sure what the root cause of all of this discontent was exactly because it began almost immediately after my mother and father individually gifted each child with presents, a seemingly celebratory event. But, then they argued over the presents. Which made them seem especially grateful and gracious and well-parented and all. It’s always extra cringey when your kids come off as unappreciative of gifts. Like, you are just absolutely failing at entry-level child-rearing.

There was a lot of bad behavior those first couple of days but the most egregious was when one of the three actually threw a temper tantrum because Bob was going to take them all to a playground. Again, A PLAYGROUND. TEARS WERE SHED over this plan. And, the playground was to be followed by a trip to Chick-fil-A which was all preceded by the presents. So, it was basically a children’s trifecta of fun. Which they ruined. Because… I don’t even know why. Kids make absolutely no sense.

They all got with the program after a significant number of threats issued through gritted teeth. (Bob is especially effective at this.) But, still, when I asked Henry to show me how much fun he was having as we WALKED ACROSS THE OHIO RIVER on a pedestrian bridge, this was all he could muster:

I think we've crested that point, at nine years of age, where everything I do and say around Henry is totally uncool.

I feel like I’ve crested that point with Henry, at age nine, where everything I do or say in public embarrasses him. This will absolutely not stop me from doing or saying things in public that will embarrass him.

Please to note the slouched shoulders of parental intolerance. Also, he is wearing his rec specs because his glasses snapped in half on day one – DAY ONE – of our trip. I’m wondering why we ever drove away from our house.

Despite their questionable behavior, we all rallied to travel to southeastern Kentucky towards the end of the week for a stay at Pine Mountain State Park. I’m kind of surprised my parents even wanted to follow through on this plan seeing as the first part of the week had been so enjoyable.

Anyway, the park sits close to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and the intersection of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The views were amazing and Bob got my parents and myself to agree to take the three kids hiking on a somewhat longer trail by lying and telling us that the trail was “mostly flat.” It was not indeed, “mostly flat.” Actually, it was “none flat.” We had to take turns holding on to Millie’s hood lest she fall into the somewhat raging creek many feet below.

NOT FLAT.

NOT FLAT, BOB.

Millie was… not amused (I’M SENSING A THEME HERE):

Ah, come on, Millie. You're sitting on the side of a mountain!

Ah, come on, Millie. You’re sitting on the side of a mountain that’s totally not flat.

Yes, Charlie is holding a slingshot. Yes, it was purchased by Bob. Yes, that went over about as well as you are imagining. Charlie walked around the park telling everyone he was going to kill a mama bear with it and take her baby bear cub home to live with us. Not everyone knew how to react to that proposition.

Illicit slingshot purchase aside, it was all a lot of fun and when I asked Henry and Charlie to show me how much fun they were having, I got this:

SO MUCH FUN YOU GUYS. The answer is they are having so much fun.

SO MUCH FUN YOU GUYS.

On the way home, somewhere around hour number seven of driving on I-81 through Virginia, I was wondering if our constant striving to give our children new adventures, new sights, new sounds is at all worth it. I definitely THINK it is but this trip was work. All of the trips we will take this year will be work. At this stage, there is not a lot of vacation to our vacations.

But then, I caught this:

Checkers in the lodge.

Checkers in the lodge.

I filtered this through Instagram and wrote, “Worth all the effort it took to get here.” What I meant at the time was, that seeing my daughter and my dad together made the work of planning and executing the trip worth it. But, the longer I stare at that picture and at the two of them, the more the caption really means. Because it is all worth the effort. All of it. Of course it is. From beginning to end. Life and living and vacations and road trips and homework and crumbs on the floor and inside out socks and terrible behavior and hugs and kisses and sore UNO losers. It will always be worth the effort.

Sure, our spring break was a little messy this year and yes, I could sleep for the next four days straight but the whole escapade was memorable. I’ll never stop taking these kids places.

You should go to this place.

You should go here.

Also, on a side note, I know I’m supposed to want my kids to look out the window on long car drives, studying the landscape, seeing new things, experiencing a greater world than their everyday but honestly, this is so much easier:

Charlie is back there somewhere. Sequestered for his own safety and he is The Instigator in most situations.

Charlie is back there somewhere. Sequestered for his own safety as he is The Instigator in most vehicular situations.

Three kids, three sets of earbuds, three electronic devices with magic screens. The four hours spent driving through the great state of West Virginia barely even registered, what with all of the quiet. Sure, they missed majestic mountain peaks, stunning valley views and a dizzying array of abandoned shanty towns visible from the interstate but we’ll show them pictures in a book or something.