Tuesday, September 24, 2013

late summer..early fall

Dear Kids,
Summer is pretty much over by now. We had a fairly glorious summer. We were in our new house, that we love. Every square inch of. The weather was not like it was the last summer or two (Satan's den of pain), we had short bouts of mild weather in the 80's! It was heaven. We went on our first family-of-4 vacation, to Grand Cayman and ok yes, we all were struck down like helpless moths to a severe Rotavirus, but we still made memories dammit. The Caribbean waters were still surreal, and we saw/held turtles, we stayed in a gorgeous condo (that we later desecrated with said Rotavirus), ate at beautiful restaurants, saw a sunset or two.. let's just leave it at that. And Pablo was attacked by a bird while he barfed in some bushes... ok NOW we can leave it at that.
Let's start with you, Andrew. I know I said I'd not discuss that trip - but something struck me about the whole experience. A few weeks after being back home, you started saying you missed Grand Cayman. And how you want to go back someday, very badly. We flat-out told you no, we would never go back, sorry kiddo. We left too much of ourselves there. Too much trauma! The HOA pool is nice though, right? It struck me that amidst that awful indescribable few days there, you still clung to the good memories. The ones of us swimming in perfect waters, together. You somehow indubitably blocked out the hours you spent sobbing between your father and I, both hooked up to IVs and worthless to hold you in our arms
, getting poked over and over and over for a successful IV in your tiny arm. Barfing and soiling your pants, in a foreign country. You only remembered the good. I cannot even put into words how that impresses me. I hope you can keep that selective positive memory as long as possible.

I started this summer with very ambitious plans to spend more quality time with you than normal. Which, really isn't THAT ambitious, given that most time I do spend with you, is quality! You get me ALL the livelong day long. So, regardless of what we're doing.. laundry, reading, eating, playing, arguing over your tone and attitude - I call it quality. Parenting experts probably wouldn't, but you see, I do not care about those people. But this summer, what I really wanted to happen was for ME to be more in-the-moment. To really soak up your boyhood, and make some pre-Kindergarten memories of my own. KINDERGARTEN. It was quickly approaching on the horizon, and sort of dictated a lot of decisions I made. Should we go out for cupcakes, just because? Did you earn that cupcake? Nope, not really, doesn't matter, you're starting Kindergarten and the march to total-independence is now upon us, so please, here, take all the cupcakes. Just take it, while I watch you eat it and imagine how you once fit on my arm - fingertips to inner-elbow. (*Your father haaaates it when I say things like that, he really doesn't like being reminded about the passing of time.) It's not that I'm sad about Kindergarten. What's there to be sad about? It's Kindergarten - unarguably your most fun year of school you will ever have. And if your Senior year is the most fun evar, then you're probably not getting into your first pick of colleges, so we'll have that conversation another time. So yes, Kindergarten.. it's just heavy, is all. Your grandmother kept your father out of Kindergarten (did not affect earning potential or social skills, thankfully!) and when I first heard that, years ago, I thought that was nuts. Just absolutely crazy. But you know, I get it. If I was a little more accepting and open with my neuroses, I might consider the same. It would be easier..  to keep you home. Tucked in the nest. To pretend that you're not growing up and out. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, my son. But, there you go. It's just hard. It's a milestone, and all milestones are hard.. and equal parts great.. and some parts sad. I think it's a lot to do with 'the bubble'. Since the day you were born, it's been our job to keep you bubbled. And I think we've done a pretty decent job with not keeping you so bubbled that you were aware of it. Or strange from it. You get little new freedoms all the time, as you grow, and it's really fun to watch... but you've never seen a movie with major violence or questionable language. We just don't see the point, given your age. We don't let you play with toy guns, because we don't want you to ever think guns are toys, even when they're packaged to be. We don't let you ride your bike, for any amount of time, without a helmet because SERIOUSLY SON IT'S YOUR HEAD. We don't tolerate, for one second, the notion of teasing or putdowns, in real-life or on TV. The word 'stupid' is punishable more than any other word. And I know, without a doubt, that you will soon become friends, by Kindergarten default, with children who have questionable language (by our standards, at least), watch violent movies, play with toy guns, tease other kids (possibly you), and ride barefoot and helmet-less on their bikes. And really, if we're being honest, that's what I kind of dread. The others. The not being able to keep you bubbled anymore because of this fact. You're a smart kid, and you very openly question others who choose to not wear helmets (let's pretend this is a metaphor for all questionable things in life), and so I have this comfort to help me through this phase..  knowing that you're a smart kid, and you continue to make smart choices, and we'll continue to raise you up to make them. What else can we do, really? And hopefully if you see a kid eating his own boogers you'll just walk away. That's just beyond help or reason.
But Andrew, you haven't given me an easy time this summer, behaviorally speaking (it seems to be the odd-years, 1..3..5..there HAS to be scientific backing for this, I'd really love to read something). You discovered, somehow (because I've become VERY conscious of not doing it myself) to roll your eyes, as a sarcastic way of receiving useless information. You know, like pick up those dirty socks and lean over your plate. Things that you know to do, but when you are told to do them get translated as an assault that is not worthy of your time. Major eye-rolling happening lately. And major 'tude, too. You furrow your brow (which is quite substantial, thanks to your father) and stare me down with SUCH a mad look, it cuts! Over nothing, and everything sometimes. And your tone would make any hormonal teen quiver in fear. It got to the point, where I felt like I was reprimanding you more than I was actually having any kind of fun with you, during the days. And I couldn't wait to get some separation from you and your furrowed brow at the end of the day. It made my time with AVERY seem easy. Does that tell you anything?! I sit at the kitchen table at night with you father, after you two are in bed, and as I was rehashing the difficult day one night, he came up with a plan. That turned out to be the solution (so far!). Because he's the better parent sometimes, who thinks logical effective thoughts. He suggested I make it a game of some sort, wherein you earn points for making good choices, and having a positive attitude. And if you reached some arbitrary number (we picked 30) by the day's end, you received a reward. The next day I told you about this new game, and you were ALL about it. You were rushing to do things to earn points - picking up socks left on the floor, opening the stair-gate for me as I went up or down..  you got insanely excited when you earned a point. The day was awesome. You would start to give me attitude and then I'd witness you stop yourself dead in your tracks, remembering that you would soooo not earn a point for THAT malarkey. The first day, you earned those 30 points by the end of the day, and you got your special-treat, which turned out to be playing Fruit Ninja alone with Daddy (no Avery interruptions, I do not blame you for seeing value in this!)..your pick!  however, after the bonding time was over, you resumed the entitled-ness that prompted us to start this point-system in the first place. Same thing happened on Day 2. A great day altogether, but once you reached your goal, you lost sight of how you earned them in the first place. After Day 2, we sort of slacked off with the end-of-day reward..  you earned the points throughout the day, but the busyness of the evening sort of made everyone forget about an actual treat to be had. You never said anything about it, so we didn't either. And after about a week, week and a half, you said - 100% unprompted - 'I don't need to write points down anymore, I'll just keep them in my brain. Because I know how to have a good attitude. And the points helped me remember this.' HOLY SELF-EFFICACY BATMAN! Works for us.
You also started Kindergarten this week. I did not cry. Well, let me specify, I did not cry when we dropped you off at school. Ask your Auntie Kelly what I was doing around noon the day before, when she called me with perfect timing as I made the stupid decision to read a poignant article about raising children. Who better to hyperventilate to than one's own sister?! (You'll know what I mean someday, I hope) You were dressed so sweetly, in a little striped blue and green top and khaki shorts and cute new shoes that I knew you liked. Your lunch was packed and heavy with my overcompensating anxieties that you wouldn't eat enough. We took a great many pics, which you smiled for, some genuine, some forced and trying your best to be patient. Your father made sure he had the first day of school on his work calendar, ohhhh, about a year in advance? He wouldn't have missed walking you in. In hindsight, I think he had more nerves than all of us combined. We navigated you through the throngs of kids/parents/grandparents to the gym, where we found your teacher and the line for your class. You were first in line, because of course. No child of mine is not going to be insanely early on such an important day! We said our goodbyes, but we lingered in the back.. you saw us as you looked up every few minutes, smiled and waved. So I'm sure you were confused with why we had not left. And then we didn't want you to look up and us not be there.. and then I remembered your teacher said us parents could walk to class that first day, so there ya go! Our anxieties were appeased and we got to stick around longer. We walked with you to class, and you put your backpack up and Miss Buchanan said to find a play-doh (set at each spot) and start playing. You found a blue one, of course, opened it and that was that. I leaned down and kissed your head and waited in the hallway (where Avery was getting very vocal in her stroller with her impatience).. and then your father went in and leaned in and kissed you and whispered something in your ear. He was decidedly misty when he returned to me. We walked home, the day flew by, I picked you up and you said Kindergarten was awesome but that you were very tired. By Friday (when you bought your lunch for the first time and said it was the best food ever), on the walk home from school, you said it had been a good week but you were ready to not have to work on the weekend. I hear that.
(*It's now over a month past that first day - I am awful about clicking publish, I know this - and you are still in love with Kindergarten. I think you love how strict it is, honestly. You're always talking about the rules and who broke what rule and just general dismay that anyone would break a rule. You are obsessed with their 'Honorable Character' system, and tell me how you earn whichever ones you earn with such pride. You earn 3-4 in a day sometimes, which I hear is pretty amazing, considering earning just one is the daily goal. All the things you're learning interest you, and I love that you come home with factoids for me. You said that the 4th graders come to read to you Kindergarteners, and you love having a big reading buddy. You wave and say your goodbyes to a half dozen kids just navigating the maze when school lets out, such a social guy. I'm so glad you're thriving there, because this is the next 13 years buddy! It doesn't get easier than this..  so I hope you soak up every second.)

Avery. My Lou! You are something else. In italics and all caps. You dance as you walk, arms swaying, singing some song that makes only sense to you. Something, something.. in da sky!!! Arm gestured out and up. You are throwing us all you got these days. Trying to redefine our definition of toddler-raising, and the easy peaceful path your brother paved for us. Mealtimes are... loud. It's a complete yin-yang experience, to look to my left and gaze upon Andrew, quietly devouring his meal, stopping to thank me for said meal.. and then fearfully glance to my right, where you reside in your throne, asking for NOT THIS! THAT! I WANT THAT! I WANT THAAAAT! Pease. And then you whack the sides of your throne with whatever utensil we gave you in naive good intentions that they would get used for strictly bringing food to mouth. We warn you that we will take your __ away if you play with it. We warn you, then we have to take it away (you never heed our warnings). You screech. We ignore. 10 seconds later and you're on to whatever else. We'll give you a second chance (as life is all about this concept), and it's hit or miss. Sometimes you'll be a classic 2-yr old and resort back to the misbehavior and other times a lightbulb will go off and the meal ends in peace.
You are a smart little toot. You recently have LOVED to count. Anything. And usually at bedtime when I am quite honestly dying to leave you for my end of the day solitude.. you'll count out ALL the animals on ALL the pages of whatever book you pick. And damn if you aren't accurate. It'd be one thing if you were all '1..10..9..yay!' but you count as accurately as Andrew, so I have to let you do it! I can't just glaze over and say good try! I'll be popping my eyeballs open with toothpicks, but so so proud of your accurate counting skills. You get all the way to 12.. skip a few..15,16,17, then say 19 about seven or so times.. then 20. But that 1-12 stretch is always 100% spot on. Most impressive, my 2 year old gal. You see no value in keeping clean hands when given the smallest most unassuming snack ever, but obviously your brain is just working overtime to count objects at the moment. Explains a lot, really.
Potty training? Still peeing/poopin' in the potty like a boss..  no news. Moving along.
Preschool! You love it. Even on the first day, there was no anxiety (on your part, at least).. you walked in, said hello to your teachers, and hunkered down at the puzzles table. I had to call you back over to give me and Daddy a kiss goodbye. You had no cares. You told them when you had to pee. You laid in your nap-mat (which you are obsessed with) but did not sleep, nor did the rest of the class, I later found out. You did nap the next time though, sawing logs with an arm splayed to your side, while the rest of the class played and yelled around you. I took a bajillion pics outside in the hall while trying to put my dropped jaw back in place. You LOVE the kids. You are drawn to other small people like a toddler moth to a baby flame. No personal space is given or requested. You love your teachers. We practiced their names for a couple weeks beforehand, several dozen times a day. Now, whenever I namedrop Andrew's teacher, you'll very loudly volunteer YOUR teacher's names too.. just making sure we don't forget that you are a schoolchild, too.
At nighttime, you have really started to give it your all with trying to say our prayers along with me. It's a doozy of a prayer, for a 2 year old, but we started it with your brother, who was old enough to quickly memorize it and actually understand the sentiment. We say it also with you, forgoing an age-approp one because we are 100% lazy. I'll just go ahead and quote it all here, lest 20 years from now when you read it, it's a distant memory to the 'thanks for not letting me die on my boyfriends Harley tonight' quickie thanks you send up nightly..... 'Father we thank thee for the night, and for the pleasant morning light. For rest and food and loving care, and all that makes the day so fair. Help us to do the things we should. To be kind and good. In all we do in work or play, to grow more loving everyday.' It's pretty cute watching you squint your eyes as tightly shut as you can, clasp your pudgy hands together, and garble out whatever words you can..  you really love the last 'grow more loving everyday, AMEN' part - because you get all of it, and you shout it proudly to overcompensate for the nonsensical rest of the prayers you are still learning. I lay you down, you grab your hippo and begin assaulting it, I tuck George in, cover you up. And then I sing a current fave song from a current fave show - Daniel Tiger (best show of all time to teach valuable lessons and catchy song diddys to accommodate them!) - I sing a very sappy.. 'I like you.. I like you.. I like you.. Just..the way.. you are!' And I tickle your cheek and say goodnight. You yell it back about 3 times before I can make my way to the door, I close the door and that's that. You wake up every morning somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30 yelling, I HAVE TO GO POTTY. Over and over and over, until we come in to retrieve you.
You still have the uncanny knack of making maximum mess out of minimum supplies. We played in the back yesterday afternoon, and I gave you & Andrew one cookie each, and as he neatly scarfed his, you licked yours. Then you licked your entire hand, and as your ONE cookie became a soggy licked cookie-shaped mound, crumbs forming a perfect circle around your happy little mouth, I thought to myself that this is how it's just supposed to be. You're not wrong for making such messes all the time. You're just you. You're not your brother, you're not the kid next door, you're perfectly messily you. Underneath all those crumbs, there you are, my sweet sweet girl, my nugs. I love you, crumbs and all. Both you kids are just so perfectly yourselves, confident in who you are, it just makes me so damn proud. One just has more crumbs than the other.

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