And This Guy

I’m not in such a sappy, nostalgic mood tonight as I was when I wrote yesterday’s post about Em.  Maybe it’s because Jax’s growth is more subtle, less kick-in-the-gut obvious.  His changes are many and magnificent, but they are small accomplishments on a very long laundry list of accomplishments.  Not that they don’t deserve to be celebrated in their own way; don’t worry, each accomplishment is heralded as if it were miraculous.  But they don’t get me as much as Em’s right now because I guess I’ve gotten used to the fact that he is growing and learning and accomplishing more than I could imagine.

I’ve been amazed by him for years.

Lately it seems like he’s jumped full-throttle on the big boy band wagon, leaving his babyhood (and sometimes sweet temper) behind.  Last year at this time he couldn’t even jump.  Now look at him go.

He’s hilariously driven by praise all of the sudden.  It started with potty-training; when he’d succeed, he’d want to call everyone I have on speed dial and declare, “I went pee pee!”  Every time for days.  Thankfully, grandparents and aunts and uncles were good sports about it, but this kid loves nothing more than an ‘atta boy.  We bribe him with compliments instead of cookies now.  What kind of toddler is this?

He is very aware of and conscientious of having good manners.  When he remembers, he tries very hard to let Em have the first turn and says, “Ladies first!”  Not me so much.  He asked me to help him put a napkin on his lap at Panera the other day.  When he looked over at our neighbor, an extremely tolerant and sweet grandmotherly type, he announced, “Where is her napkin?  She doesn’t have one on her lap.  She doesn’t have good manners.”  Oh, Lord, child.  Cue the discussion of the words formal and informal, but I still think our poor neighbor was lowered in his esteem.

In case you wonder if my kids are perfect little cherubs with nary a fret or fuss, let me assure you, they have their moments.  Yesterday as I was counting the moments until JDubbs got home from work, battling the urge to strangle Jax in all his whiny, demanding, toddler monster glory, he looked up at me and inquired, “Mommy, what’s a cocktail?”  Only then did I realize I was muttering, “Mommy needs a cocktail,” to the tune of “Mary Wore A Red Dress” (from our Music Together CD), emphasizing cocktail happily.  He is charming and hilarious, but he can also push my buttons like it’s his job.  Which, I guess, it is.  And yes, I did give in and give him Crispix for dinner, which he had had for breakfast, because I was not going to pick that as my big battle of the day.  There are too many other ones to focus on right now.

Hand-in-hand with the love of praise comes the ardent desire to do whatever Daddy and his cousin Christian think are cool.  Those two are # 1 and 2 on the trendsetter list.  Jax  wouldn’t jump out of a burning building if I told him to do it, but if Christian was down there cheering him on, forget it.  He’d leap.

His personality is challenging and yet oh-so endearing.  He loves baseball and will create wonderful scenarios and conversations between two of his trucks or stuffed animals or even pieces of food.  He will follow Daddy endlessly with his toy lawn mower, pausing to throw sticks out of his path and stopping at the bottom of the hill to “dump” the clippings just like Daddy does.  If he messes up somehow and I sigh, “Oh, Jax,” he’ll come over, pat my hand and say, with his head tilted to the side sweetly, “It’s all right, Mom (It’s aw white, Mom).”  He really does love me, and all of us, as sincerely as he can possibly express.

And we couldn’t love him more.

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Our Em

At this moment, Em is 16 months + 1 week old.  Jax will be 3 in just seven short weeks. To my immense disbelief and dismay, my babies are no longer babies.  They are little people, whose needs are still met by me but not in the same way.  Not in a nourishing her from my own body kind of way.  Not in a only-have-eyes-for-me kind of way.  I am here but so is the big, wide word.  I am their mama and they love me, but it is clear sometimes that this is their world and I am just existing in their universe.  They are in the driver’s seat.

Look at my Em.

I wish I wasn’t neurotic about potential baby kidnappers so I could share with you her full name in all its magnificent glory.  It’s so her; she embodies it and wears it well.  A good friend of mine is knee-deep in the baby name quagmire and I am envious.  I used to play the board game of “Life” just so I could fill up my cars with little peg people and give them the most awesome names I could think of like Tiffany and Stephanie.  Miss Em has such a wonderful name that if I were ever lucky enough to have another girl, I think I’d be stressed that I wouldn’t like her name as much.  Or maybe it’s just that this little girl seems to be incomparable.

Em is in that amazing stage where connections are being made daily.  New words are flying out of her mouth, like “bus” and “Papa.”  She nods instead of just trying to convey her desires with her eyes.  She not only signs “more” but also says it (in her own garbled way).  She wants to read all day, whereas six months ago it was a battle.  She worships her brother but can also hold her own against him now.  She’s becoming her own person, and watching her grow is a pleasure.

She’s all girl, but at the same time, so not.  She is braver than me in some ways: saddling right up to a toad and poking it with interest.  Digging around in the shallow ocean water for periwinkles and minnows and God knows what else.  Fascinated by all creatures, especially the caterpillars, in Maine.  She belongs in the outdoors, and I’m just going to have to learn to keep up with her.  She’s already beyond me.

Another thing she picked up in Maine: the perfect goodnight snuggle.  She slept in a room with a big full-sized bed; every night when I put her to bed, I’d bring four of five books in and we’d lay side-by-side with our heads on the pillow, reading whichever book she chose.  Sometimes she chose one and then pointed to her pack ‘n play, telling me she’d had enough and it was time for bed.  She’d toss the remainders in her crib for later and then I’d stand at the foot of the big bed, and she’d pad over in her pajamas and “jump” up for me to hold her.  Immediately, she’d put her head right in the special nook of my collar bone, putting her Blankie between her cheek and my shirt, and close her eyes.  I would rock her and sing her anything that popped in my head, with my hands cradling her diapered baby butt and my cheek against her still-wet hair.  And when I’d put her down, not once did she cry.  She just looked at me, sucked on her Binkie, and watched me walk out the door.  Trusting me to come back.  To be there if she needed me.  And I always was.  We all were and are.

She’s darling.  She’s amazing and perfect.  She’s a little like each of us, her brother, her daddy, and me.  Yet, she’s herself.  She’s perfectly her.

She heard me when I said the shell wasn’t for eating.  But she had to give it a try anyway.  Just to be sure.

She’s perfect and caring and bright.  She’s clingy and loving and stubborn.  She is a delight, in all her complexity.  She’s an excellent sharer and lives to make her brother happy.  Her kindness gets me every time.

We didn’t know how much we need her until she was here.

Our beautiful, amazing Em.

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I will be one of the first to say that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was overhyped. We were on vacation in rural Maine, almost completely cut off from technology other than sketchy cell phone service, and even we knew that a hurricane was brewing.   The random Twitter or Facebook update informed us that we better get home, get ready, and prepare for the worst.  Being a lifelong New England girl, I have experienced my share of hurricanes.  They absolutely do not intimidate me.  Having seen wildfires burn in the distance from my home in San Diego, with soot and ash literally raining on my classroom, I scoff at an extreme weather warning up here.  New Englanders know how to prepare, we know what to expect, and we can handle almost anything.  Plus, we get a heck of a lot of warning.  So the little itty bitty rainstorm that showed up on Sunday night, with absolutely no wind, caused me nothing but intrigue, not fear.  We didn’t even lose power.

I get the feeling Mother Nature doesn’t appreciate my general disregard for her prowess.  Yes, that’s a Jeep.  Under a tree, roots and all, in a culvert of a parking lot.  Water is not supposed to be in that equation.  Actually, I don’t think the tree is, either.

As every media outlet has pronounced, Vermont got the brunt of the drama from Irene.  We had plenty of rain this summer, and got plenty more in an extremely short period of time.  Add a lot of dirt roads to the mix and a landscape that encourages waterfalls, valleys, creeks, and gorges, and you get the perfect recipe for unbelievable flooding.  And, being New Englanders, we didn’t really think it was going to happen until it was.  But even then, we knew we could handle it.

Take me and JDubbs, for example.  We turned on the Weather Channel Sunday and we heard hurricane, flash floods, and winds up to 85 mph.  We shrugged, turned it off, and went on our merry way.  We packed our bags with enough gear for us and the kids for one night away, certain we’d be back the next morning.  The only reason we went to my in-laws’ in the first place (other than the yummy food and babysitters) is that there was a reasonable chance a tree could fall on our house.  We live in the woods.  It happens.

The storm started just as the kids went down for their nap, so what did we zany New Englanders do?  Jumped in the car and headed toward the river.  Suddenly storm chasers didn’t seem so outrageous to me; it was exhilarating!  We took videos of the waterfall at the Quechee covered bridge that we know so well, marveling at the vibration under our feet, the literal roar of the river charging beneath us.  Only once a massive tree hurtled over the falls, only to shoot back up in a collision with the rocks below, did we realize maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing we’ve ever done.  Not interested in orphaning my children today, thank you very much, especially over something so stupid.  Back in the car, back home.

Put the kids to bed, back in the car, back to the river.  Harder to get there now because the river had taken on a mind of its own and decided that these measly banks and roads that encompass it were really cramping its style.  The laws of physics were suspended.  Where the river usually rushed thirty feet below the bridge, now it was actually passing through it and over it.  Through a bridge that was unbeliveably high, where teenagers idiotically jump to enjoy the freefall.  A bridge that used to look like this, from the river’s point of view before the waterfall:

over the falls, that usually looked like that:

Yesterday, the bridge looked like this:

The river devoured the road.  That’s all there is to it.  You can look down where concrete used to be and now see running water.  The back of that real estate office is gone, their paperwork and office supplies littering Main Street.  Simon Pearce, the restaurant and glassworks shop that you know I love so much from this post, was underwater. That workshop is a mangled heap of metal because the river knocked down the wall and made that space its very own playground.  And that glassblower, I’m sure, is now out of a job.  At least, until Simon Pearce rebuilds, which we all very much hope it will.

After the storm, JDubbs and I returned to our street only to be met with a less-than-friendly neighbor.  Meet Mr. Giant Sinkhole, Esquire, and admire my cell phone photography skills.

He ran the width of the street from end to end.  And climbing through him wasn’t a piece of cake, either.  He was deceptively deep and unstable.  Although I’d take that over our driveway any day.

Those are the pipes that the quaint little brook that flows through our property uses to make its way downstream and follow its destiny to join the big river, which will later merge with that same aforementioned waterfall.  Except usually, you can’t see the pipes.  Seeing them is bad.  Makes it hard for the mini-van to navigate, to be honest.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the town had it fixed that very day.  Why we were high up on the priority list, I’m not sure.  Maybe because it’s a dirt road so it only took a dump truck and a grader ten minutes to accomplish.  Maybe because the road was completely inoperable.  Maybe they went in alphabetical order or pulled a name out of a hat.  I don’t care; I’m just glad to be back home, with electricity and running water.  Not everyone up here can say the same.

On the way home we passed by the Quechee Green, where we admired the propane tank now resting beside my favorite willow tree and the swamp that was once a soccer field.

You are familiar with this park if you’ve been around here long enough.  This is where the Balloon Festival is held, where we took family photos on Father’s Day (same willow tree), where we play in the evenings and run the dog around, where I held my first professional photo shoot.  Needless to say, I am fond of this place; now we have to bring our rainboots.

That night I once again put the kids to bed, jumped in the car, and headed to the river.

The evening was full of poignant contrasts in some of my favorite places to take my kids, as well as to photograph.  My mind had a hard time processing the before and after.

Remember the fabulous red door beneath The Parker House?

Here’s what I found:

Those photos are somewhat misleading in their devastation because the main restaurant and inn are ten feet above this scene.  Luckily for them (and us), the water only got into their storage area (or so I hear).

Surprising myself, Mending Wall by Robert Frost rose unbidden to my thoughts when I came across this new landscape and this now unfamiliar spot.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Ah, Frost.  No one does New England like Frost.

The sun set upon another photographer, capturing mood and light as best he could, just like me.  At least the colorful sky made the scene less bleak and we marveled together at the transformation before us.

Again, I was inspired to recall a line of poetry, dragged from the recesses of my mind by the somber tone and some strange need to make order out of chaos.  I am not being romantic here; I literally thought these words as I stood there.  Another New Englander, Henry Wadworth Longfellow, from his poem The Rainy Day:

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.”

I’ll interpret those words at that moment like this.  Life is not going to be easy every day.  There will be rain and there will be clouds, but most of the time, there is glorious sunshine.  I’ll try to remember that on those rainy days, and watch with pride as the people around me band together to begin rebuilding their homes and communities.  Times like these remind me of the good in people and the strength in groups, and how we always seem to come together during difficulties.  We have our home, we have our family, and even our belongings.  We have to work to regain the beauty of our communities and to help support local businesses, but in the spirit of the people I’ve already seen out there, picking up debris and filling in holes, I know this transformation can only lead to growth.  And my kids will be out there playing in their rainboots, having just as much fun as before, making mud pies.

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Would you believe that we’re back in our home?  Tomorrow I will tell you the story, but for now, here is a photo of the aftermath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene on the covered bridge in Quechee, Vermont.

Now, up to sleep in my own bed.  More than I could have hoped for.

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Happiness Is…{beach days}

My baby girl is almost 16 months old, and this weekend we took her to the ocean for the first time.

Since living in San Diego, I feel pulled toward the ocean and its rhythms, colors, majesty.  I used to live half a block away from it and spent countless hours just watching its ebb and flow.  It was important to me to take Em there this summer, even just for a day, to introduce her to the salty sea and begin a tradition of summers on Cape Cod.

This day deserves, and will receive, its own post, but for now, just know that there is nothing better than beach babies, especially on the ocean.

There is nothing like it.  I’m smiling even now, just remembering.

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Happiness Is… {healthy babies}

Boy, do I have something to be happy about today!

Em had surgery to have ear tubes put in yesterday!  Although the aftermath of the anesthesia was difficult to watch, overall she was her old, happy self once we were home and she finally had a good meal and a good nap.  Since her big brother was off at the movies with Nana and Auntie Jenny, she had Mama all to herself (another thing to be happy about; 1-on-1 time with my baby girl).  So what do girls do when there are no boys around?

Have a tea party with baby dolls, of course!

And yes, that is how she wanted to dress.  That is just who she is.

This tea party took place about four hours after her surgery, and she was her fun, energetic, happy self.  I knew the effects of the surgery were going to be minimal since it’s such a basic procedure, but it was great to see for myself just how well she was and so quickly.

As I sat in the waiting room yesterday morning, fingers working my rosary beads in that soothing, rhythmic way that I find so comforting, my mind drifted a bit to all the other parents in this very hospital on this very day whose children were having much more invasive, much more frightening procedures than my Em.  I prayed for them as well and considered how blessed I am to have two very healthy children who only need to come to this hospital for check-ups and for everyday procedures.  I was still nervous for my baby, but I knew then and am very aware now how lucky we are to have such healthy babies.  And of course, I need not have worried because she is now right as rain and her procedure was over so quickly, I didn’t even have time to finish my rosary!  I did finish it later, and was thankful for the blessings in my life.

So that’s why I am happy (and thankful) this week.  And every week.  Healthy babies.

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Happiness Is… {roots and wings}

When I was seventeen and at my high school boyfriend’s graduation party, his mother did not have the traditional, Happy Graduation! written on his cake.  Instead, she had this:  We gave you roots and wings.  And here it is, fourteen years later (yikes!) and that quote has always stuck with me.  I remember thinking that that is what parenthood is all about.  Not just to give your children roots and keep them anchored to their hometown and perhaps never have the courage to leave.  Not just to give them wings to fly with, and yet no home to return to for a safe landing.  I knew even at that moment, with no children in sight, that I wanted to remember to raise my children that way.  To give them roots in our family and home but also wings that they would be brave enough to follow their own path, wherever it takes them.  Happiness Is believing in your parenting and doing what is best for your children and their future.

So, in the spirit of that thought, here is my little girl and her wings.

 And don’t’ think for a minute that it took any negotiating to get her to wear those.  They are just another accessory.

Fly, baby girl!!  You’ll always have a place to land.

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