Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If you keep feeding them, they just keep growing

A couple weeks ago, we went to the playground with the giant rock-climbing wall. I turned to grab my camera, took my eyes off Sweet Boy for a minute, and the next thing I knew, he was 12 feet off the ground, standing proudly on the platform at the top of the wall, waving and smiling to me. I looked at Big Daddy and said, "How the hell did he get up there?!" He climbed, replied my nonchalant spouse. "He can't climb up there by himself! He's too little!"

The day after that mindblowing rock-wall climb, we were sitting at lunch when I heard a tiny knock at the door. Standing on our steps was Sweet Boy's little buddy from across the street: "Can Sweet Boy come over to play?" Imagine my delight -- his first come-out-to-play request! I watched Sweet Boy take one last gulp of PB&J then charge out the door and across the street with our friend's mom. I yelled after him "just 20 minutes! I'll be over soon!" And I turned to my husband and said, "Can he go over there by himself? Doesn't he need me? He's not too little?"

Today we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and as I started unpacking the car with all our jackets and backpacks, I reached for the stroller. Both Sweet Boy and Big Daddy looked at me like I was nuts. "I can walk, Mommy," said the little one. "He can walk, hon," said the big one. But it's far! We're going to be walking all day! He'll be tired and whiny! He's too little! But once again, I was wrong. He's a big boy now. He walked and walked and walked all day, and only complained one time right at the end of the day (when all three of us were dragging and whiny).

These are just a few examples of the countless ways my son has shocked me with his maturity in the last couple weeks. There's also the vast and ever-growing vocabulary, the name spelling and writing, the wild and imaginative stories, the big boy pants straight through the night. The most significant grown-up boy development in the last few weeks has been the easy daycare drop-off. Who knew an exuberant, happy child waving bravely to me from the window could bring me to tears just as quickly as the miserable, crying one could?

It's no exaggeration that he's growing before our eyes, every day becoming more and more fun and interesting and intelligent and amazing. Yet in our busy day-to-day we often miss the little things. Which is why we decided to take this week off, to enjoy a family staycation, to soak up every wonderful minute with this little dreamboy. Because he's not so little anymore, and we just don't want to miss a thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Evacuation plan

Around 10:30 last night, my friend up the street e-mailed with a quick message: "Did your house just shake?" Although I hadn't felt the shake, I did hear a quick boom boom, and had just brushed it off as my cats wrestling in the hallway above us -- which often does sound like boom boom. Hmph, I thought, and turned on the news.

Sure enough, there had been an explosion at the giant Sun Oil refinery that sits on the river about 6 miles from our house. Any other night, and I would have been snug in my bed, unaware of this excitement. But this night, I sat in front of my computer and my television, trying to comprehend. All I needed to hear were the words "extremely toxic and dangerous when ignited" and "evacuation possible for residents within a 10-mile radius" and my brain went into high alert.

I stayed cool, but my thought process was weird. At least it wasn't what I would expect when faced with evacuating my family from our home. Big Daddy calmly stood, went to the bedroom, and packed up his backpack full of clothes and medicines. He was ready to roll in about 2.5 minutes.

I, on the other hand, thought the situation through like this:

  1. Do we have any food in the emergency box?
  2. Did I replace the $20 I took out of the emergency cash envelope?
  3. Do I have any clean underwear to pack, or is it all in the dryer?
  4. Should I call my dad?
  5. Where are the cat carriers?
  6. What DVDs would Sweet Boy want to watch in the car?
  7. How many toys and books should I grab for him?
  8. Is this travel sized toothpaste tube going to be enough for all three of us?
  9. Is there gas in the car?
  10. Where the hell are we going to go?
Ten minutes later, all this randomness in my brain had worked itself out. Within moments I had packed two bags for me and Sweet Boy, grabbed my laptop and a handful of movies and books, filled another bag with small toys, piled everything by the front door, and started throwing canned goods into the empty laundry hamper.

Then the word came that we had the all-clear. Which is a darn good thing, because it probably would have taken us quite a while to get it all in the car.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Got dirt?

I'm hot. My face is streaked with dirt, fingernails caked with mud, knees grass-stained. My back aches, my arms burn. Sweat drips down my forehead, soaks my shirt. My hair is frizzy from the morning mist and drizzle. But...the scent of rosemary lingers in my nose. I am smiling ear to ear.

We just turned over our veggie garden, prepping it for planting. Although we'd borrowed a (very old) roto-tiller from our good friends -- the friends who time and again bail us out with our home and yard issues -- we just couldn't get the tiller moving long enough to actually turn the soil. So, we did it the old-fashioned way: hoe, rake, hands, back.

We pounded the hell out of the weeds with a hoe, hacked at and yanked up clumps of grass with an edger, evened it all out with the rake. Sweet Boy "saved" all the worms by lovingly picking them out of the earth, collecting them in a pile then moving them to the far edge under the tiny dogwood sapling (that has remarkably survived not only transplant but two seasons of ragged lawnmowing and a toddler). Big Daddy pointed out all things creepy and crawly, and the two boys marveled at spiders, potato bugs, a beetle, some kind of pupa, and even a small snake.

Later today we'll take our annual trip to the garden center to pick out our vegetable plants. We all love that trip. So many possibilities await in those tiny plants! Tomatoes and zucchini and peppers and string beans. Oregano and cilantro and basil and mint. It all tastes so much better in the heat of the summer sun, when you've picked it with your own hands right out of your own yard. This is the stuff I longed for all those years in apartments and condos...now I remember. And maybe this is, in fact, worth all the other hassles home ownership brings.

I feel indescribable joy when digging in the dirt. Maybe it's the nurture of tiny sprouts into full-grown food-bearing plants. Maybe it's the nostalgia, memories of sitting in Grampa's garden eating snap peas, Mom with salt shaker in hand for the juicy tomatoes she ate like apples off the vine. Maybe it's watching the wonder in my child's face when he sees the first zucchini squash, the excitment he exudes when we get home each day and race to the backyard to see what might have grown while we were gone. Maybe it's the associations: summertime, delicious food, relaxing afternoons on the deck. Maybe it's simply feeling part of the earth, connected. Whatever the reason, this small patch of ground in my backyard makes me happy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top 5 Reasons Why My Husband Is Awesome

5. He not only washes and folds all our household laundry, but he puts my clean clothes away if I whine about doing it myself at the end of a long day. (He may not guess all the drawers correctly, but he tries -- and that's what counts.)

4. Instead of complaining about my spiky legs, he hands me one of his expensive uber-razors. (Ladies, don't be fooled by the pretty pink packages -- men's razors really are better!)

3. When we eat out, he never tells me what he's going to order. He lets me pick my own meal, then he gets the dish he knows I really wanted, and he swaps with me mid-meal.

2. He surprises me with a pair of purple Chuck Taylor sneakers he saw me eyeing in the mall weeks ago. (Because he knew I wouldn't get up off my wallet for something so silly.)

1. He calls me in the middle of a busy Monday to talk about mundane stuff like garage door openers and lawn mowers and all the phone calls he's made about each...then mid-sentence pauses and says "I can't stop thinking about you today."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Moms all around me

I'm thinking about the moms in my life on this Mother's Day. First, of course, I remember the mom who raised me to be the person I am today, the one I look and sound more like with each passing day. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could call her on the phone. I imagine today what she would be like as a grandmother, and I smile.

I think, too, of her mom, my own grandmother, the woman who spoiled me with frilly dresses and girlie gifts as a child, who traveled the country ringing a bell in the stands at my basketball games. She has stood tall by my side through happy and sad times as an adult and I'm so blessed to be standing by her side through next chapter of her fabulous life.

I think of my husband's mom, as well, the woman who raised the most amazing man I've ever known. She has taken me into her family without hesitation, with an open heart, and loves me as her own daughter.

I think of the moms who have filled in the gaps for me, the women who have lifted me up and carried me through uncertain times when I didn't have my own mom to do so. They have advised me and loved me when I've needed it most. Some of these women were part of my life for only a short time, but they affected me deeply; others remain crucial still today.

I think of my friends who are moms to little ones, women to whom I look to for advice in my own motherhood journey. These are the moms I laugh with or worry with, the ones who say, "hey, don't sweat it," or "maybe you should try this instead." I would be lost without these moms. Truly.

And I think of the friends who are not moms to their own children but who sometimes fill the space in my heart where a mom might dwell. I turn to these women to help me think through life's problems or to celebrate life's joys. They love my family as their own. They keep me balanced and grounded.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in my life. Thank you for enriching my world. I am so fortunate and grateful for each and every one of you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The grass is always greener

Once upon a time, Big Daddy and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a large apartment complex. A quiet building full of retirees who looked after us and doted on us like their grandchildren. We would call maintenance when the washing machine overflowed and flooded the kitchen, or when the window leaked and stained the wall, or when the air conditioner unit froze up, or even when we locked ourselves out. They would come within 24 hours, fix the problem, accept a cold beer as a thank-you tip, and be on their way. We lived there for four years. Yet I complained about it every week -- hated that we had nothing to call our own, longed for a backyard and garden, felt sad that we didn't have enough space to store the bread machine we received as a wedding gift.

Then we moved to a condo, a nice little place with three bedrooms and three levels, a pretty little balcony on the living room level and a patio through French sliders on the ground level. Nice big rooms, but not a nice neighborhood (hence, affordable). We had to take care of all the "walls in" portions of the property, but otherwise all the exterior stuff was handled for us: the lawn was mowed once a week, the flower beds weeded, the gutters cleaned, the siding repaired, the snow shoveled, the trash taken directly from our enclosed front patios. We lived there for four years, too. And I complained about it every week -- hated the restrictiveness of the condo association rules, cursed the lack of parking, wished for a yard we didn't have to share with 20 other homeowners.

Two-and-a-half years ago we moved to our current home, a four-bedroom split level in a quiet little family neighborhood. We have a quarter-acre yard, a deck, a sunroom, a fireplace, a garage, and a giant attic. We have a basketball hoop in the driveway. We have friendly neighbors, an elementary school around the corner, and three playgrounds and a library within a 10-minute walk. In the fall, we can hear the high school marching band practicing; in the spring we can hear countless children running and playing up and down the street. It's lovely, really. Exactly what we wanted.

But. We have a gigantic mortgage that makes me cringe with each monthly payment. We have three bathrooms to clean, four bedrooms to dust, and a house full of hardwoods to mop. We have a lawn to mow, a wrap-around garden to weed, and countless trees to prune and rake up after. In addition, this week we have a garage door opener to fix, a laundry drain to unclog, two sinkholes to fill, a sump pump to unstick, an electrical outlet to tighten, a piece of siding to refasten, and a lawnmower that needs yet another overhaul. All of this costs money that we really don't have...because of the giant mortgage. We also have a retired next-door neighbor with yard-work OCD whose "helpful" comments sounds much more like criticism; I often interpret "You can do that with a screwdriver" as "You're an idiot and a lazy slob."

As I gaze through the window at our two-foot high lawn this evening, I am considering putting a sign on the front lawn that reads, simply, "We're sorry, neighbors," and sneaking off into the night with a backpack and a tent. Suddenly, that two-bedroom apartment sounds so sweet.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Priceless moms

I often joke about being the recipient of the Mother of the Year Award -- usually when I've done something horrible or neglectful or stupid as a mother. So imagine my delight to learn with this breaking news story that I am, in fact, this year's recipient of the coveted award! One of the funniest e-mails I've received in a long time -- I'm just replaying and replaying and replaying it.

In other news, I read today that if stay-at-home moms were actually paid for the work they do on a daily basis, they'd be earning over $122,000 annually. Not bad. And working moms would be earning over $76,000 in addition to their at-work salary. (With that kind of cash, I could actually hire the nanny, personal trainer, and chef that I long for!)

I happen to think what we do is priceless, but this gives it interesting perspective.

I suppose, too, we're paid in other ways...snuggles, kisses, tiny hands holding ours, sweet voices singing made-up songs. It's nice work if you can get it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Grow old along with me

"Grow old along with me / the best is yet to be." These lyrics from our wedding song seem especially poignant to me today, after visiting with my grandparents this weekend.

"We met at my church, you know." Out of the blue, my grandmother (the original Tall Girl who still has show-stopping legs) will start her tale of her first encounter with my grandfather:

"My mother always invited the young servicemen at church home for dinner, because my brother was in the service, you see. As we walked to the church door, I noticed that it was raining. I was upset about this, you see, because I had on my brand new shoes (in those days you had to have a coupon for new shoes, so these were very special to me) and I knew I had to cross the street to get to the car. I stood and watched the water rush down the street, and I tried to decide if I should just take my shoes off and run in my hose. That's when he stepped up beside me. He asked why I fretted, and I giggled about my shoes -- I was embarrassed and flustered because he was just so handsome in his uniform, you know -- and he didn't even hesitate. He just scooped me up and carried me down the steps and across the street to the car. He carried me! Scooped me right up! My shoes didn't get wet. And I knew right then, he was my man."
This is the story we often hear of my grandparents' first moments together, the time he swept her off her feet. They were married not long after that scooped-me-up scene, and 64 years later, they still look at each other with goo-goo eyes. Photos from their wedding day can be found tucked around their home -- him tall and blond, blue-eyed and stern, her tall and dark and slender with movie-star pin curls. They were so lovely, so young, so full of sparkle.

They're living apart for the first time now -- Grampa in nursing care, Gramma alone in their home -- as they await their final move to a care facility where they can at least be in the same building. My sister and I didn't know what to expect from this trip, so we were prepared for the worst. We had a good visit with both grandparents, even though Grampa didn't remember our names and asked every three minutes where he was. He remembered and responded to Gramma, though, and that's all that really matters now.

It was difficult to say goodbye, not knowing when or if we'd see them again. But surprisingly, we both came away with strength and heart, knowing that our grandparents have lived a long, full life together. They raised four children, saw them each married with families and lives of their own. They traveled the world, did everything they wanted to do. They have seen their 7 grandchildren grow to adults and start down life's path. They have held their great-grandchild and played with him on the beach. Above all, they have been healthy and vivacious -- and they have been side by side.

These are the people my entire family has looked to for direction. They are entwined in all my best (and worst) family memories. They have shown us how to love and how to be loved. They have shown us the importance of family. And even now, they show us the meaning of those wedding vows, that even when you can't remember anything else, you will remember the face of the one who has loved you longest. Your eyes will light up when you see her, and you will be calm when she is near.