That’s a Wrap

And, just like that, another school year has come to a close.

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That’s a rising second grader on the left, a rising fifth grader on the right and a never-misses-a-good-party Pre-K’er in the middle (at least she’s consistent).

These last six weeks of school were especially busy. There were just SO MANY details to keep track of. It seemed like a race to fit in as many activities and outings and meetings before the big summer break. Here, I made you a handy chart that summarizes what it all looked like:

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This chart fails to show my cookie consumption and how it closely follows the trajectory of blue and red lines.

I am relieved that we are on the other side of school and that our schedules will be, well, less scheduled for the summer months.

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Not shown: last day of school coonskin cap.

Look, I know it’s in poor taste to brag but take a seat, because I’m going to brag about Henry for a minute. As part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for fourth grade students, Henry took part in a “Race to the Governor’s House,” a nine-week intensive study of Virginia state history. Each week, Henry would study a new set of flash cards covering topics ranging from geography to trade to persons of historical significance. Then, he would take a test on those topics. His performance was pitted against the performance of his classmates in the race.

The competition amongst the fourth graders was intense, this we knew. Henry would update us weekly on his position in the race and explained that the whole thing was coming down to him and two other friends. When we headed to the school for the special Race to the Governor’s House awards ceremony, we were a little anxious since we knew how excited he was for the final results. When Henry took home first place, we were elated.

Now, here’s where I admit that, overall, Bob and I were pretty hands-off with this race stuff. We tend to focus a lot of our homework completion laser eyes on Charlie so Henry runs mostly on auto-pilot. I signed the slip giving Henry permission to participate in the race (probably because that was all the way back in March), I saw the flash cards that Henry would bring home and I occasionally quizzed him on the topics covered. But, we really didn’t realize just how hard he was studying for this or just how diligent he was in taking the tests. Because, to our complete surprise, Henry won the Race to the Governor’s House by correctly answering 31 questions each on 9 separate exams. He answered 279 questions out of 279 questions correctly. His teacher pointed out that they weren’t multiple choice questions, either. Most questions were open-ended where he had to write in the answers from, like, his own brain. He had to really, really know a lot about Virginia history. He aced the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

We are so proud of his accomplishment. Henry is, too.

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I posit that nerd trophies are WAY better than sports trophies.

We have a lot of fun plans for this summer and I’m enjoying how much easier it is to explore and investigate and travel now that the kids are a bit older. Our adventures are more enjoyable with each passing year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still settle an innumerable amount of sibling arguments each day, spend a good portion of the time wondering how much screen time is really too much screen time and count down the August days until they return to their classrooms but, until then, you’ll find me lazily sleeping in until 6:30 in the morning. I know, YAY SUMMERTIME!

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Spring Break Grab Bag

We were supposed to spend spring break at Legoland in Florida, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Henry’s to vacation with his favorite mini figures. I had booked everything in January, when the infinite possibilities of a brand new year makes one overly optimistic about traveling 950 miles with three children. We were going to surprise the kids, too, in that super fun way where you wake them up and go, “SURPRISE! We’re leaving RIGHT THIS MINUTE for Legoland! In Florida! Now, get dressed, go to the bathroom and let’s spend the next fourteen hours trapped in a car while I yell, SIT ON YOUR HANDS! every fifteen minutes in the general direction of the backseat.”

It was going to be great. So, so great.

However, at some point, Bob and I decided that we didn’t actually WANT to take the kids to Legoland. We didn’t actually WANT to drive all of the way to Florida. The tediousness to enjoyment ratio was out of balance. There just wasn’t anything in it for us. I mean, other than the unadulterated joy and tremendous happiness of our three delightful offspring. And, I’m going to be honest here, sometimes, that’s just not enough incentive.

We canceled our spring break travels and had absolutely zero regrets. Instead, we promised the kids a week full of adventures. I organized some day trips to new and interesting places and planned little excursions and activities I knew they would love to do. All things that were manageable and low commitment and definitely fewer than fourteen hours from our home base.

Stop #1: Library Playdate With Friends

We were supposed to kick off spring break with a trip to the local library in town which my kids find to be a super special treat since I never take them during the school year because they already bring home tons of books every week from their school library which all seem to magically disappear by their due dates and explains why, after a particularly contorted top bunk bed search for a Davy Crockett title, I ended up relegating the library to a summertime/special occasion treat.

However, on library day, they acted like hooligans all morning long and lost their library privileges so we spent the afternoon at a friend’s house where the kids ran and ran and jumped and played and laughed and did not get into trouble for acting like hooligans.

Stop #2: U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center

For years, we have driven by the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, without really realizing that it was there. What’s visible from I-81 is a mounted helicopter and a few tanks in what appears to be someone’s backyard. There’s no large sign or marker to indicate that the site is an actual museum. So, when we decided to make a spring break trip to finally find these tanks we’d passed over and over again, I half expected to take a tour of some super eccentric individual’s collection of military surplus parts.

That was not the case. The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center is actually a Smithsonian affiliate, is housed next to an expansive collection of army archives and is on the same campus as the U.S. Army War College at the historic Carlisle Barracks.

The museum tells the story of the U.S. Army’s involvement in conflicts dating back to The Revolutionary War all of the way through to the present “Global War on Terror.” The inside museum tour does a great job of keeping kids’ interest through interactive displays, mini-movies and lots and lots of guns. The walking tour of the grounds is surprisingly expansive with replicas of everything from Civil War cabins to a German bunker. All open for exploration.

This place was such a treat and the kids had a fantastic time. If you’re local enough, I would put this on your summer to-do list. It’s free (donations accepted!), has an on-site cafe, plenty of bathrooms and lots of room to roam. So, very kid-friendly. In addition, there is a DRIVE-THRU Starbucks right around the corner so you can fuel up for the car ride home.

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This GIANT sign obviously not visible from the interstate.

World War I Trench Exhibit

World War I Trench Exhibit

World War II Barrack Tour

World War II Barracks Exhibit

Razor Wire Obstacle Course (I'm thinking of replicating this concept in our backyard.)

Razor Wire Obstacle Course (I’m thinking of replicating this concept in our backyard.)

Stop #3: Target

Because spring break is supposed to be fun for mommy, too. Only, I had three kids with me so it wasn’t fun. At all.

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Travels with her own fairy wings.

Stop #4: Bowling with Friends!

I can’t remember if we’ve ever taken all of the kids bowling before. My memory is clogged full of other important information like, which kid doesn’t like ketchup and who’s out of clean underwear. All I know is that group bowling was not a total disaster as I had absolutely expected it to be. It was really fun! The kids were fully engaged the entire time, only one (1) finger (Millie’s) was smashed at the ball return/shoot and I totally beat the kids to emerge as the big winner which was super satisfying.

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Stop #5: Swimming

Bob was in charge of the swimming portion of spring break and he reported that no one pooped in the pool so, I think, from all appearances, the activity was a grand success.

Stop #6: Antietam National Battlefield

The final stop of our Spring Break Not Legoland Tour was a day trip to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. I knew of Antietam from assorted history classes, I just didn’t know what really happened there or that this was located only about 30 minutes from our house.

We’ve toured our fair share of battlefields throughout Virginia and Pennsylvania so the details of each tend to blur together in my mind. However, traveling with Bob and Henry to these places is sort of like traveling with my own little history department. They are both so knowledgeable about the American Civil War and were quick to explain exactly what happened. Almost 23,000 persons were killed or wounded in a single day of fighting at Antietam making it the bloodiest day of battle in American history. And, this particular conflict is seen as a lost opportunity by the Union to end the war early when they did not pursue retreating Confederate forces at day’s end. It’s really tremendous to stand there imagining such a destructive scene.

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The battle took place in and around the fields of a few farms in Sharpsburg and the homes still stand today, although one had to be rebuilt after the fighting. While Charlie is most interested in the heavy weaponry used, I really find the little farmhouses to be the most fascinating part of any battlefield tour. Mostly because I simply can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been when a war arrived, quite literally, on your doorstep. There are so many old homes tucked into the nooks and crannies of the mountains around here and I always imagine how scary that would be to see troops emerge over a rise or converge on your front lawn. Something we are unbelievably blessed to have not had to deal with since.

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Through the National Park Service’s Every Kid in a Park program, Henry had a paper pass that he presented for admission to Antietam. The staff at Antietam converted that pass to a special card that he can carry as a 4th grader (through August) that grants him free access to national parks and federal recreational lands throughout the country. I think we’re going to be using it as our guiding compass for summer activities. It’s really a neat program and the parks employees were so great to the kids, handing them trading cards and encouraging their interest in where we were and what we were seeing. They are doing such important preservation work and we should give the National Park Service all the money they need until the end of time forever and ever.

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So, that’s it! Everything we did (and didn’t) do over spring break 2016. Even though Florida was in no way involved, the kids really did have a ball with Henry declaring it the Best! Spring! Break! Ever!

However, out of an overabundance of caution, if you see our kids, please don’t mention that we had the chance to take them to Legoland and didn’t. We’ll get there. Someday. Maybe. (Probably not.)

Double Digits

Ten years ago this week, we brought a brand new baby Henry home from the hospital. Childbirth is one of those unique time stamp events you can pick pieces of from your memory with precision.

Ten years ago this very evening, Bob and I drove to the hospital after eating spaghetti for dinner.

Ten years ago this very morning, I woke up in labor and delivery with contractions.

Ten years ago this very afternoon, Bob went to eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria at the worst possible moment.

Ten years ago right this minute, Henry was born.

So many memories from the past decade of parenting have blurred together, a hazy hodgepodge of details, but the memories of the birth of my children remain large, like skyscrapers sticking up through the fog.

Henry was born by cesarean section after about 36 hours of increasingly unproductive labor. The long, complicated day that preceded his birth left me exhausted and utterly depleted. I fell asleep right on the operating table the minute I knew he had arrived safely. The first family photograph we have was taken in the surgery suite and just behind Bob, who is seen proudly holding a swaddled and slightly forsaken looking Henry, is me, asleep, my glasses askew.

I remember having absolutely no idea what to do with Henry once he finally arrived. My rather extensive babysitting experience accrued between the ages of twelve and sixteen proved surprisingly useless at thirty. Well, in every other baby-related area besides diaper changing. I knew exactly how to change Henry’s diaper. But, that was about it.

When a nurse popped in to check on the two of us that very first morning we were together, I commented that Henry had been fussing.

She looked at the two of us and asked, “Is he hungry? When was the last time you fed him?”

“Oh, right,” I sheepishly replied. “When am I supposed to start doing that?”

Right away. The answer is right away.

When I was finally able to climb out of my hospital bed, several hours after Henry’s birth, I relocated to a rocking chair in the room and Bob handed me Henry to cuddle. Having only seen him swaddled in a striped hospital blanket, I was eager to take a look at him. I wanted to really meet this little boy that was already changing everything. I remember unwrapping his blanket – just like you would a present – and peering in wonderment at his little toes and hands and knobby knees. Realizing with equal parts amazement and fear that he was finally here.

By the last evening of our hospital stay, I was already on the mend and we were beginning to find our groove with Henry’s care. We settled in after dinner to watch Washington play their final football game of the season. There we were, me in my hospital bed, Bob sitting in the recliner next to me, Henry swaddled and tucked into the bed between us. Our little family of three.

I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is it. We’ve done it. Here’s how it all begins. Here’s how the story starts.”

I’m not sure how much more of Henry’s story I’ll tell here. He is ten now and seems deserving of greater privacy. He is getting older and I can already see that the changes have begun.

A baby, a toddler, a young child, they’ll tell you exactly how they’re feeling. Every minute of every day, they make themselves known. But, after a decade of knowing just exactly how Henry is feeling – a decade of knowing everything about him – I can see him starting to pull away ever so gently. Keeping more of his thoughts, feelings and emotions to himself. Increasingly cognizant of the way others perceive him. Trying on sarcasm and new kinds of humor. Asking tough questions. Thinking about big ideas and concepts. All amazing things and all things I could never have imagined the day of his birth in 2005.

My newborn has grown up.

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