Saturday, March 31, 2012

For the Living

When I was in about the seventh grade I somehow stumbled upon and became temporarily obsessed with the Yaz album "Upstairs at Eric's." I am certain that I still know all the words to the entire album and it infuriates me to think of these lyrics taking up valuable space in my brain.

Anyway, there's this one song called "Winter Kills" that is easily the most melodramatic and depressing song I have ever heard, and I'm talking 1980's melodramatic and depressing
complete with smeared eyeliner and bad hair, if you know what I mean.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good snow day just as much as the next teacher, but this unexpected dumping of the white stuff just felt kind strange. I guess I was just so ready for spring...

It was a beautiful, wintery scene that involved a brief power outage, hot cocoa from the back of the Hershey's box, frolicking kids and dog, books by the fireplace, and a lot of cozy down time.

But still, spring seems so far away when the ground is cloaked in so much powdery snowfall. And it's easy to feel the winter blahs when everything has been so cold and wet and grey and all I want is a little glimpse into a spring-y future...

And then after two days of snow the sun came out and it all began to melt away and I started to get the feeling that everything would be just fine. Just fine.

My grandma died last week. It was no surprise, she was 90 after all, but still... I felt kind of numb about it, I think that's easy to do when someone has been declining for awhile and they finally die and you feel a strange sense of relief. But then one night as the kids splashed and giggled in the bathtub, I was searching through my phone contacts and there she was. Grandma Catherine. And I knew that I should go ahead and delete her, but I just stood there in the hallway and let myself cry those tears and felt an emptiness that you feel when you realize you'll never hear that voice pick up the phone again. I don't care that she was 90 and I don't care that your grandparents are supposed to die. I miss her.

She wasn't the cookie-baking type of grandma. She was more of a "Let me pour you another scotch" type of lady who loved to sit up late into the night and talk. When I lived in Portland I spent countless evenings with her doing just that. At that point in my life I needed someone to talk to and she was always there to listen, scotch or wine glass in hand, equipped with a sharp wit and sage advice. She once told me "Life is for the living" and that's a phrase that I've held on to for many years now through some pretty trying times. Life is for the living. I need to remember that right now.

Back in the 7th grade when I was listening to my Yaz tape, I was also spending my summer with the same friend who I spend summers with to this day. And though my heart has been heavy in the past week, life is indeed for the living. I saw this friend labor intensely and push a gigantic and very healthy baby into this world. And as I stood a few feet from this new life and watched him gasp that first breath of air and belt out that wonderfully loud first cry, I remembered that spring is always just around the corner. There is beauty in life and there is grace in death.

I hope someday I sit and sip wine with my own grandchildren. I hope they think I am funny and wise. But for now, I just hope for a little sunshine.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nerding Out

This week I have been struck multiple times by the amount of unabashed nerdiness that goes on in our house. We are raising some kids with serious geek potential here. After much hemming and hawwing and hand wringing, I decided to sit down and teach Jack how to read. I dunno, somehow I was hoping that it would all sort of happen more... organically. (Do you hate it when people use that word to describe non-food items? I kind of do, too.) Like we would just read a bunch to him and one day he would just up and hop on pop and bad dog marley all to himself.

(OHMYDEARLORD PLEASE do not make me read either of those books EVER AGAIN! Kthx.)

But for all the reading we have done- hours a day, I tell you! hours!- no osmosis/divine intervention/organic learning was happening at all. And while some preschools emphasize early literacy and prereading skills, ours seems to be more of the macaroni necklace type and with kindergarten right around the corner (YIKES!!), I knew we'd have to take matters into our own hands.

I briefly masqueraded as a kindergarten teacher at a statewide reading conference and stocked up on some curriculum freebees and solicited advice from several elementary school teachers that I know, and then I sat there and wondered what the hell I was doing. My kid is barely five. He doesn't need to know how to read yet. He should be building forts and playing with matchbox cars and wrestling with his brother out in the mud or something.

But then I remembered Hop on Pop and Bad Dog Marley and I knew what had to be done.

We are using a book called "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and despite its dry title, I really like the program. We are on lesson 20 and Jack is already reading short sentences. Now, I should point out that "reading" is a relative term- kind of like "sleeping through the night" with babies. I've found that some people consider a child to be reading if he or she has a few sight words, but those are the people who consider a six hour stretch to be sleeping through the night. So I will say that Jack is reading short sentences only. But still, reading is reading.

Despite our success in the reading department, we have faced some recent adversity at the swimming pool. I signed Jack up for the swim class that his instructor had recommended to us when we finished his lessons last summer. But it's been awhile since last summer and big things have happened! People have learned to read! People have forgotten how to swim! And it was clear to me on the first day of swim class that Jack was totally out of his league. These other kids were like, real swimmers, and Jack still clings to that kickboard as if his life depends on it (probably because it does...). Anyway, there were big tears after the first class and lots of subsequent begging and pleading "Please don't make me go back to swimming lessons! Please!" and threats and ultimatums (made by Jack, not us) and finally some bribery (ice cream) and a stern lecture got him back to the pool for that second class. He did much better the second day and a big mystery was solved when another pool mom informed me that this was a split level class and that the other kids were in the higher level. And Brent and I were feeling pretty darn good about our parenting as we watched our kid frantically dogpaddle while his peers perfected their backstrokes and we gave him the exaggerated thumbs up so many times that the other swim parents probably thought we were tweakers. Then we patted ourselves on the backs for laying down the law and giving Jack some life lesson about conquering your fears or some other parenting cliche and then we all went home and ate ice cream.

The thing about parenting is that just when you think you have the upper hand, your kids will sucker punch you. Fast forward to swim class this week. Brent decides to stay home and tackle some math homework while I take the kids to the pool. I had the towel, I had the snacks, I even remembered to pack along some books to read to Sawyer. And when we arrived at the pool, Jack calmly informed me that he was NOT going to get in the water and that NO promises of ice cream would change his mind. And then he sat and cried and shrieked every time I tried to nudge him toward the pool and everyone around us was all "Look at the tweaker mom and her bratty kid!" and then they all went back to playing with their iPhones. The teacher was sympathetic, but the show must go on and so he began the lesson and called over to Jack periodically as I sat there fuming. Which seems like a totally ridiculous response to me now that I'm sitting on my couch and typing this, but I am telling you, I was PISSED.

I tried to get him to at least go and sit by the pool, but NOOOOOOO! More shrieking and more heads bobbing up from iPhones and more of me feeling totally defeated. Sigh. And so we sat for a few minutes while I tried to decide if I should sit through the whole lesson with my kid crying on the bench or if I should just slink out the door with my tail between my legs.

Then another mom leaned over and said, "This happened to me once and the woman sitting next to me told me to go throw my son in the pool. So I did it and it totally worked."

And so I picked my screeching, red-faced five-year-old up by his armpits, marched to the edge, and dropped him into the pool. The iPhones nodded their approval. And then I walked away.

Not far, I mean, just to the other end of the pool with Sawyer so he couldn't see us right away and sure enough, he had joined the class just in time for the grand finale where they all act like trees and get chopped down and jump into the pool.

Jack was the last kid out of the water and as he began to climb out, his teacher gently pulled him back in for a man-to-man chat and then paddled him around on the noodle a couple of times while his next class lined up on the deck. And I wanted to stick around and thank him profusely for his patience and kindness and for recognizing that my kid needed to feel some success in the pool today. But I was all choked up and so I mouthed a big THANK YOU and made a mental note to find out if he's 21 yet because I think we'll be owing this guy a six pack by the time this is all over.

So I am thinking we are not raising an Olympic swimmer here, but the reading is going pretty darn well. And then the other night I caught Jack in bed way past lights out time with a headlamp and some paper and pencils. When I asked what he was doing he told me that he was copying his dad's math homework.

Hoo boy. TAG camp here we come!

(At least I won't have to sit through swimming meets.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I am pretty sure that three is the birthday that marks the transition from toddler to preschooler. I am also pretty sure that I'm not ready for this. This is what three looks like...

For a kid who came into this world screaming and kicking, he is the happiest, most-carefree, loveable little guy we could have possibly imagined.

Except for first thing in the morning. He is a total grouch when he wakes up bleary eyed and tousle headed and ravenously hungry. It seems that we spend an inordinate time each morning pandering to his various demands and begging him to please please PLEASE remember your inside voice! (Though I am pretty sure he doesn't have one.)

He runs too fast and jumps from things that are too high. He has injured himself far more times than Jack ever has. He does incredibly stupid and dangerous things with an invincible smile on his face.

People kept asking us what Sawyer would want for his birthday. We told them all anything. It doesn't matter, he would like anything. That's just the kind of kid he is.

He has somehow managed to pick up habits like counting and recognizing letters and sounds. He loves to be read to and will eagerly snuggle into your lap with his blanky and thumb to hear a story.

He will often go off into the playroom or the backyard and invent some fantastic make believe game which might involve costumes or dishes or tools from the garage. Sometimes he sings to himself while he is playing. I love it when I catch that moment.

I don't understand how the preschool hierarchy works, but Sawyer is always willing to share with kids who are older than he is, including his brother. He does not care much at all for younger kids, but seems to use his sharing leverage with bigger kids to worm his way into an older circle. If you ask him who his friends are he will list off Jack's friends. I think he thinks he is much older than three.

Sawyer is definitely more easygoing than Jack and quick to find the positive in any situation. We ditched him with Grandma last weekend so we could take Jack skiing and rather than protesting or whining about the injustice, Sawyer simply got excited to eat grapes and yogurt with Grandma. When I caught Jack taunting him about not getting to go with us, Sawyer quickly replied, "But Jack, I get to go to Grandma's house! She has juice!"

He still has remnants of a somewhat German sounding accent and says "mine" for "my" as in "I want mine blanky." It's as charming as it sounds. He is all teeth when he talks. It is impossible not to lovingly imitate him from time to time.

Sawyer is a total mama's boy who will do anything for my attention and affection. He manages to weasel his way into our bed almost every night and I wake up to his thumb sucking noises and his little fingers rubbing my hair.

And when I think back to Jack at three, I marvel at the differences. Two boys, two parents, two sets of DNA, two beds in the same house. How could they be so unique? But then again, Sawyer made it clear from the start that he was running his own agenda. He is exactly who he is, brother or no brother. And we do love him so much, breakfast grouchies and all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Being a Jealous Sister and Weekending in the Snow

My brother and I haven't always gotten along. I blame my parents for this. There I was, a perfectly content almost six-year-old only child, living the dream. No one to have to share toys with, no one to compete for my parents' attention with, no one to fight with. Those were some good times. Then suddenly my world was turned upside down by the birth of a behemoth baby boy, who clearly was not going to fit into the frilly pink dress I had chosen for my new sister.

Once he grew out of the wormy newborn phase and started to put on some pounds in his cheeks, I thought my baby brother was kind of cute. It was fun to dress him up in my doll clothes and parade him around the grocery store. I liked bringing him to school to show off, since none of my elementary school friends had actual babies living in their houses.

But then he started to crawl and get into my things. Soon he was toddling all over the place and nothing was out of the reach of his grimy little hands. But the worst thing about my brother was that he was just so goddamned adorable. He had the face of a cherub- golden curls, chubby pink cheeks, sparkly blue eyes, and a set of dimples that made strangers on the street fall all over themselves telling my mom how beautiful and angelic her baby was. Meanwhile I had reached that awkward stage of growth where my teeth were too big for my face and to make matters worse, stirrup pants came into style. No one oohed and aahed over toothy, gangly, stirrup pants-wearing eight-year-old me, that's for sure.

As he got older it became obvious that he had a natural athleticism and it seemed there was no sport he could not play. The kid had trophies lining his shelves and enough Kidsports t-shirts to clothe a small continent. Not only was he a star athlete, he was also so personable and quick to smile and easy going that people were drawn to him. I, on the other hand, grew to loathe him.

But then years passed and there came a time when I needed my brother, and he needed me, too. We leaned on each other and from our shared dark time we forged a new friendship which has more than made up for all of the fighting we did as kids. And then he brought home a girl who became like a sister to me and now when we plan a weekend getaway to the snow, they are the people we want to invite.

The roads were bare when we arrived in Sunriver, but we woke up the next morning to this:

We had planned a day of skiing and snowboarding at Bachelor, but after a treacherous, white-knuckled drive up to the mountain it was clear that Mother Nature had other things in mind for us. So we came home and took power naps while the blizzard raged on and then we ventured out to find a sledding hill and spent the afternoon shrieking and sledding and laughing and throwing snowballs.

Sawyer continues to struggle with the concept of keeping your gloves on to stay warm. I am hoping he figures this one out soon.

Does this seem like a bad idea? It probably was...

Nick tried over and over again to snowboard down the sledding hill on the disc. Brent just made it look so easy, but something about Nick's towering size made this an impossible feat for him. I laughed harder at this than I should have, but then again I did have to sit through all of those Kidsports games while the crowd cheered for my MVP brother.

After we said our goodbyes on Sunday morning we decided to swing by Willamette Pass on our way home and get in an afternoon of skiing. It was powdery perfection and sunshine all the way.

Are you going to ask about my hat?? I've had this hat since I was in elementary school and my mom knitted it for me. I am pretty sure I chose the color scheme. I love this hat- you can always spot me on the mountain.

I asked Brent to take this picture because, although I am not usually a fan of the posed photograph, I am often struck by the notion that this is a moment that defines who we are. This picture is how I want my kids to remember me. I'm at work a lot. Sometimes I am grouchy. I probably spend too much time cleaning my house. But then there are the days when we drop everything and ski. Those days deserve a photo.

Just like how my boys deserve a weekend in the snow with their Uncle Nick. Because all that charisma and athleticism means that he's pretty much the coolest person in the world to his nephews. Even if he was kind of a pain in the ass when he was a kid.