Band Kid

Oscar recently decided, of his own initiative, that he wanted to learn an instrument. There’s a program at a nearby elementary school that allows him to take the bus over after school and take lessons with the band as part of an after-school program. After giving it some thought, Oscar decided he wanted to learn the clarinet.

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He has really embraced it, loves the program and the teacher, and practices diligently every day without complaint. He’s definitely more motivated than I was at that age.

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The concert was a big surprise. After attending so many squeaky violin concerts, Darin and I were impressed with the level of playing and how good the young musicians sounded.

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The teacher is one of the nicest and most patient and friendly people I have ever met. She has a special appreciation for Oscar, and I love it when people see certain things in my kids that I also love and cherish, because it makes me realize that this adult has taken the time to get to know my son.

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Aria also enjoyed the concert, and was surprisingly quiet and well-behaved. She recently lost BOTH front teeth (of course I taught her the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”).

Fall in Flagstaff

As promised, I will be writing about things other than the history of photography during my October blogging streak. Today I wanted to give you a little glimpse into what the kids have been up to. Last weekend we went to the Cornucopia Festival because at the last minute the kids’ school asked for volunteers to play violin and Aria wanted to go.

The exposure here is a bit weird because although the kids were playing under an awning, the sun was shining directly at me when I took the picture.

This is Aria’s last year playing the violin. Her big concerts are in March and May, and that will be it. Neither of the kids expressed any interest in continuing the violin after second grade (when they take it during the school day). Oscar did just take up the clarinet, which he loves, and next year Aria wants to (among other things): join choir, learn guitar, take ballet, take art lessons, and become a scientist and astronaut. I’m sure she’ll do anything she wants to do.

The kids have also been busy with little personal projects at home. Oscar has discovered the art of stop-motion filmmaking and has made several short LEGO films. He loves the process and gets absorbed for hours. Here he is in his little “studio”:

Meanwhile, Aria draws constantly, going through reams of paper. She staples her drawings together into little books, bringing back memories of when I used to this as a kid. I hope she writes more books than her mom!

Finally, last week the kids participated in an annual traditional at their school called the Marshall Mustang Gallop where they run laps to raise money for the magnet programs at their school, which features not only violin, but also dance, gardening, robotics, coding, science, and leadership classes.

The kids love their school and ran their hearts out. This will Oscar’s last year at Marshall. He graduates from 5th grade in May and goes on to middle school, which starts at 6th grade here in Flagstaff. I can’t believe I’m going to have a middle school student!

I see every day how big he’s getting, but seeing him run really brought home to me how old he looks. He’s lost that baby look and I can now see how he will look as a teenager. He is such a beautiful and remarkable child. I mean, every parent thinks so, but there is something extra special about Oscar and even other people see and comment on. He is kind and thoughtful and wise beyond his years, with a healthy dose of goofball.

I’m so lucky to be a mom. I’m harried, haggard, tired, overworked, under appreciated, and can’t remember what it was like to have time alone or be bored; but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lately

Lately, my stepdad has been sending me blogging ideas, which makes me think I should dust off the old blog and write some stuff. It’s hard when you haven’t blogged in almost a year and feel like you should write something special and momentous. Then I realized that I should just start somewhere. Anywhere.

Lately, we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to think or write or do much of anything else. I remember when my kids were babies and people would tell me how much harder it would get when they were older. At the time, I was breastfeeding, changing diapers every hour or more, and not getting more than two hours of sleep in row. I thought they were nuts.

Now I realize that when it comes to kids, things don’t really ever get easier, they just change. I get more sleep and change fewer diapers, but now that my kids have a full array of linguistic strategies at their disposal I spend a lot more time negotiating sibling squabbles and bedtime routines, supervising homework, and discussing the finer details of bee life. Yes, I did indeed know that honey is bee puke. Thank you for reminding me, Oscar.

Lately, I’ve realized that our toy days are numbered. This first came to me when I was shopping for Oscar’s Christmas presents. It occurred to me that it would only be another year or two before he was no longer interested in toys. Certainly he will be interested in Legos, video games, art supplies, and books for many years to come, but I’m talking about little kid toys, the kind that sometimes feel like they are taking over our house. I know that one day I will blink and they will be gone, replaced by smelly clothes cast off in all directions, cell phones, and requests to borrow the car.

A few weeks ago I insisted we pull out the Thomas the Train sets and play with them. Oscar thought I was a little bit crazy but he obliged me. He played with his little sister for a short time and then lost interest in favor of a new book. I can’t tell you how much I love to see my son sitting around reading, but it gives me a pang to realize I’ll probably never see him build train tracks out into the living room again, spending hours creating one disaster after another with Thomas and Percy and Henry and James. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He still plays. He love action figures and Legos and will play for hours. But he asked me to stop putting the Thomas the Train container in his lunch box. “I’m too old for that now, Mama.”

Lately Aria has stopped calling me into her room in the middle of the night, every night (it still happens). It feels good to sleep through the night, but I looked around the other day and realized that most of the baby paraphernalia is gone from the house. I honestly don’t miss having babies around, but what bothers me is that the transitions don’t always happen with fanfare and documentation. Oh, sure, we take pictures of first steps and first days of school and lost teeth, but not of the last time our kids ride in the front seat of the shopping cart or need help getting their shoes on. Most of the transitions and changes happen in the midst of our hectic daily routine, and aren’t noticed until much later.

I’m trying to strike a balance between making it through each day as it comes, creating happy memories, and holding onto the little details that make life with children so unique. As the saying goes, it’s the longest shortest time of your life.

2014: Toddlers, Tornadoes, and Tremors…OH MY!

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2014 was the year Oscar turned five and Aria turned two. It was the year Oscar went to school and fell in love with Legos and Letterbots, the year I didn’t write my novel or run a marathon, and the year I realized that life really gets better with age, despite the wrinkles and gray hair, because you realize what truly matters and learn to shrug off the rest.

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The changes came fast this year. Oscar learned how to swim and ride a bike, how to read, how to write, and how to count to 160. If you have a moment, he would like to count to 160 for you. Over and over and over again.

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Aria stopped nursing and starting talking up a storm. Her favorite things to say are “I did it!” and “I do it!” and “Alone!” but she still loves to be picked up and cuddled like a baby. She still wants her mama more than anything. She still smells delicious. She wants what she wants and she is hell bent on getting it.

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She is a fireball of passionate fury.  I remember when Oscar was two, I thought, “Terrible twos? Not this kid! Must be a myth.” With Aria, the twos are terrible and crazy-making in every way. I am flat-out exhausted at the end of each day, but that’s when the battle is just getting warmed up. Despite being weaned, Aria still wants me to wake up many times throughout the night. I will be drifting into sleep when suddenly I hear, “Mama? Mommy? Mama! MAMAAA!!!” This is the year I came to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture mechanism.

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Don’t get me wrong, there is so much sweetness and joy. My daughter is beautiful, funny, smart, and expressive; but parenting  her has been and will continue to be one of my biggest challenges.

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This is the year Oscar learned about his own mortality, and therefore became obsessed with all things disaster-related: tornadoes and volcanoes and bad guys and big dogs and bears. And speaking of natural disasters, we experienced our first real earthquake in Flagstaff when I was shook awake at 11:00 P.M. one night a few weeks ago with a 4.7 quake centered just a few miles south of our neighborhood.

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After that little tremor I read some stuff about earthquakes, and found it interesting that although geologists can measure earthquake activity, they can’t predict it. The earth can move and adjust and crack open anytime without warning. An earthquake can be minor or disastrous. The occurrence of one can mean that another is close behind, or that another won’t come again for 1,000 years.

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For some reason geology reminds me of parenting. Before I had children I used to think, foolishly, that I could guide my children and shape them, that I could somehow predict what they might become.

I have since learned that they will shape me, bit by bit, one seismic event at a time.

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Parenting from the Trenches

I’ve been having a bad case of the comparisons lately. When I see how much other people do with their kids (witnessed by social media but also personal conversations) I ping back and forth between a variety of emotions, from jealousy to anger to anxiety to frustration. I want to be super mom, but I also want to be realistic. I also resent the fact that what I do with my kids is compared to mothers who don’t work full time. There are plenty of people who claim these comparisons don’t exist, but they’re kidding themselves. I get comments from family, friends, other mothers, and my own kid.

It prompted me to write this post on Facebook. I’m always deeply comforted when other parents admit to their struggles and shortcomings, because social media is full of pictures of family outings on beautiful summer days, kids participating in all kinds of enrichment activities, parents out on the town at all hours of night (how can people afford to eat out AND hire a babysitter?), and perfect marzipan birthday cakes as the centerpiece to huge parties with homemade decorations, games, costumes, etc. Every single kids party that I go to resembles something from Pinterest. Every. Single. One.

But enough complaining and bitterness! This is what I always teach my education students about observing other teachers or reading about teaching theories and methods: take what works for you and your students and leave everything else behind.

What works for me? A combination of listening to my kids and drawing on my own experiences. As a kid I hated being behind my peers in all things physical. So I’m encouraging Oscar to learn to ride his bike with confidence and I’ve enrolled him a series of swimming lessons at NAU over the summer (Another comparison: everyone else in Flagstaff goes to a place called the Aquaplex, but I am baffled as to how people can afford it–another instance where I feel like I’m wandering hopelessly lost in a foreign country). In addition to biking and swimming, my son has expressed interest in some science-y things, like planets. We are indulging these interests with planned visits to the observatory and various museums in Flagstaff and Tucson, along with visits to the library.

In contrast to planning activites, it’s very important to me to give my kids plenty of time for free play and downtime. In all my years of babysitting I saw MANY overscheduled kids, and I still do, and there is nothing more depressing than small children being dragged to activity after activity. As a family, I want us to find a balance.

It helps me to focus on prioritizing the things that really important to me. Right now, having a nice house, throwing parties, and traveling extensively have to be set aside.

It also helps me to enjoy small moments of calm. These are almost always in the mornings–my new favorite time–when we make oatmeal or pancakes or eggs, watch cartoons, play, read books, and lounge around in our pajamas. I relish the calm and quiet of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, and my kids love it too.

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A Letter to My Son Oscar

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A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”

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You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.

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I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.

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I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.

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I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.

Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.

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