Lifetime of memories just starting to be made

These days, it seems like every little moment with the kids is one of those things that makes me understand just how fast they’re growing up.

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And just how little time we have to soak everything in.

It can be hectic having two little kids — especially when both of them happen to be boys. The noise, the messes, the half-eaten dinners, the refusals to go to bed — it can absolutely be overwhelming at times. There are moments where I’m so exhausted I could cry.

But then there’s the first tee-ball practice, a kindergarten orientation, even an after-school dentist appointment (no cavities, thank you very much) that make you understand just how important it is to take stock in the moment and count your blessings.

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And that was just with one kid, just last week.

At tee-ball practice last week, Miles stepped up to the plate with his brand-new green bat — he’s very proud of his green bat — and smacked a ground ball between first and second base. He stood there as everyone cheered and shouted for him to run for first.

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After a few seconds he remembered to run, taking off for first base — then, halfway there, took an abrupt left turn, diving on his own ground ball, reminding us all what it’s like to be a kid — grass-stained pants and all.

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Michael was so proud.

“He totally sold out for that ball,” Michael said. “He’s like the Pete Rose of tee-ball.”

That’s the kind of story parents tell about their children for a lifetime.

Other people often tell me when I’m out and about with the boys, “Make this time count, it goes by too fast,” and it seems like that has become extra true lately for some reason.

It seems like just yesterday we were bringing Miles home from the hospital for the first time, going 20 miles an hour the whole way, excited, nervous and in no way prepared for what being parents was all about.

miles peace

Suddenly, that little boy is nearly 5 years old and is preparing to start kindergarten. We toured his new kindergarten. I feel like if I keep saying it, somehow it will seem more real and less scary. I just can’t believe how the time has gone by just like that.

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Owen turned 18 months just about a week ago. He’s already making couch cushion forts in the living room, dancing and singing along with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, getting into anything and everything he can. We know that it won’t be long before we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) call him “the baby” anymore.

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And as bittersweet as it can be to see them growing up so fast, I am incredibly lucky.

There have been — and still will be — moments of frustration, tantrums and tears, from them and me. And in those moments I may be counting down the minutes to bedtime. What I’m choosing to focus on is the lifetime of memories — mostly amazing — yet to be made. There’s a world of firsts ahead.

And knowing that is the best blessing of all.

owen chicks

 

KINDGERGARTEN round up day!

It’s here; it’s here! I can’t believe the day is here.

I’m trying so very hard to focus on the excitement of today — Miles gets to meet his new teacher, see his new classroom, visit is new school!

Yep, I keep repeating those things in my head — fun, exciting, new!

Fun!

Exciting!

New!

Fun! (Did we make the right decision?)

Exciting! (Is he ready?)

New! (Will he fit in?)

I’m going to throw up!

first day of pre-k 2015

Seriously, I’m not just saying that. My stomach has been doing flip-flops all day. I’ve done so much anxious toe-tapping and ankle jiggling that my feet are for sure going to be beach ready. All that’s missing is the pacing, and the closer it gets to 4:30 (start time for round-up) the more likely I am to be worked up to a full-on panicked, pacing parent.

Michael won’t be able to join me; he has to work. Thankfully my aunt is going to watch Owen so I don’t have to juggle into everything 1 1/2 year old extraordinaire and I can 100 percent focus on Miles, who is 100 percent unfazed by this daunting undertaking.

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“Kindergarten, cool,” he said this morning.

I’m sure we made the right decision. OK, maybe we didn’t. Who knows? We’ll never know. We’ll always second guess. EVERY DECISION, right. I think that comes with the territory.

We will ALWAYS wonder if he is ready. Again, I think that’s parenting 101 and totally a moving target. I still wonder if I’m ready. I often turn around and say, “What, I own a house? I’m someone’s boss? I have to adult today? Am I ready for all that?”

And I’m terrified about him fitting in. Heck, I don’t know if I fit in or if I want him to fit in… How I want him to fit in? This parenting stuff is SO HARD!

Ready for kindergarten?!?

It can’t be possible.

Just yesterday I was encouraging him to walk.

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Wasn’t it last week that he was smearing a peanut butter sandwich in his baby soft ringlet-filled hair?

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But it is… and I have to.

Today, this afternoon, in about three hours I’m registering my kid for kindergarten.

I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST TYPED THAT OUT. I still haven’t been able to say it aloud. That makes it real, right? It becomes a thing if I verbalize it, right? (And we all know what happens when it becomes a real, live thing, right? I cry. I cry a lot!)

In addition to not feeling like it is possible that my little guy is growing up, I also have conflicted thoughts. Is he ready for this? I’m a planner (shocking I know) and in my head he was going to be in preschool another year.

That was the plan. Well it wasn’t always the plan…

miles grad

The original plan was for him to start preschool at 3 (he started nine days after his third birthday actually) and to go two years, the first just a few days a week and the second on a more fulltime basis to prepare him for Kindergarten.

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It was all planned out in my own head. But then the outside world weighed in.

“Oh, you can’t start him in school this young!” “Boys need more time to mature before starting school.” “You’re setting him up for failure!” “Let him have more time to just be a kid and play; there’s plenty of time for school.” “He’ll never be ready for kindergarten that young!”

Shhhhhewwwwww….. (that’s the sound of the wind releasing from my sails.)

So, I did some Googling (I know, it’s a terrible idea) and found all kinds of articles to support the idea that boys who are a “young 5” struggle with the adjustment and are better off being “held back” a year. Miles’ July 20 birthday puts him just 11 days before the cut off.

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I was convinced. He CAN’T possibly be ready for Kindergarten. The new plan was hatched.

Fast forward nearly two years… I stop by the office at my son’s preschool asking about registering him for next year.

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“Won’t he be 5 by the cutoff?” the secretary asks me.

“Yes, but we’re choosing for him to stay in preschool an extra year,” I respond plainly… doesn’t she get that that’s the plan? It’s already been established.

“You can’t do that. It’s not an option.”

CRASH. SLAM. BOOM.

There goes my plan.

Several panicked phone calls, some more Googling and a few tears. I learn she’s right. We could choose to enroll Miles in private preschool but if we want him to stay in the public school system he will be starting kindergarten this year. GASP.

I once again opened myself up to advice and insight. Some of the same folks who two years ago thought it would be a terrible idea gave me encouraging thoughts. They knew Miles and said he was ready. His current preschool teacher was supportive, other family and friends calmed my fears as well.

And guess what, the good ol’ Google found me several articles supporting the fact that my kiddo actually will survive. And maybe, just maybe, mom will too.

3 weeks miles

So… moral of the story, heck I don’t know. I’m too worried about registering for Kindergarten to make any sense today!

Blast from the past

My mom called me a while back, talking through fits of laughter.

“I found this box of yours that said, ‘Do not open,’ with threats of death if I did. Of course I didn’t open it, but I really want to know what’s inside!”

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It turns out, she exaggerated a little — the box threatened a surprise attack by a cow (what was I thinking? It wouldn’t be much of a surprise with the warning proclaimed in purple marker.) I was kind of a strange kid. In addition to the cow warnings (which I put in three separate places) I had drawn my childhood dog Molly, a giant rainbow, two hot air balloons, a unicorn …box

Inside was an amazing collection of items dating back to at least 1991, though I suspect many are much older.

There were silly things like rocks, a plastic spoon (still in the plastic bag) and two straws from McDonald’s, buttons cheering on my alma mater, postcards I’d collected since elementary school, letters from friends at church camp, memorabilia from church youth trips, newspaper clippings mentioning my name, a hospital bracelet, my first-ever hair color box (Glints, gingergold), a papier-mâché bracelet I made from a cereal box, pictures from a million years ago including some terribly embarrassing prom pictures, stickers from every imaginable environmental group (I was a tree hugger even then) and a Biore pore strip (unused, thankfully) with Lilith Fair branding. Those all made me laugh, a lot, and cringe a little. box4

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But under all those silly treasures and memories was some incredibly important stuff — things I thought I’d not ever have again.

It’s been a year and a half since we lost many of our belongings in a fire. I was frustrated and angry about the loss of furniture, clothes and other valuables. But I was devastated by the loss of memories — photos, keepsakes from my adventures overseas, cards and letters (including from my dad who had passed away three years before then), photos, my son’s baby book and all of the mementos from his first two years of life … None of that can be replaced, and emotions were intensified by the fact that I was about six months pregnant with Owen at the time of the blaze.

So this treasure trove of unrelated items of “junk” is the best Christmas gift I could have ever imagined. I’ve been given some physical reminders of my amazing childhood memories.

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In the box, there were about a dozen cards and letters from my mom and dad. Some of my favorite tidbits from the letters and cards from my dad: 10/31/91 “Hi honey. I have been very busy at the workshop, but not so busy that I don’t have time to think about you. I realize how important you are to me when I go away. I realize how much I love you. Remember, it is who you are that I love and am proud of, no matter what you do.”

In that same envelope — written on stationary from an Omni hotel — was a nomination letter: “After long and careful thinking, the board of directors and I have decided that you would make the best choice as Daughter of a Lifetime. We decided this based on how frequently and effectively you prove how wonderful a girl you are. Your honesty, sensitivity, intelligence and beauty set you apart. Your mother and I are lucky; we love you. Respectfully, Daddy, co-chairman of the Brown Family Board.”

Card upon leaving for camp: “Show those girls what you’re made of, play tough, be fair, have fun.”

A just because card: “It’s amazing to me how often I tell somebody else how lucky I am, how great you are, how you are more adult and responsible than I am, how I wouldn’t know what to do without 1/3 of the best family a guy could have. You’re special, you belong here and I do love you.”

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I am incredibly lucky. I was, and still am, so loved. And, thankfully, my parents were willing and able to illustrate that love. The impact of these cards on me now — decades after they were written — are more powerful than I think can be imagined. And obviously they affected me when they were first written or I wouldn’t have had them tucked away and protected by an imaginary attack cow.

These were a reminder of how important it is for me to do the same for my boys. I heard my mom and dad tell me how special I was, how loved I was. And I truly heard those words; I felt their hugs. But reading it, being able to turn the cards over in my hands back then, today and decades down the road — it’s an incredible reminder of those facts when real life self-doubt and hate inevitably creep in. I am special. I am loved.

In this digital age I need to be sure I’m putting these same kinds of things onto something my boys can squirrel away in their room. So 20 years down the road I can give them their metal Paw Patrol lunchbox sealed shut with duct tape and a “do not enter” message.

And they can have those same laughs, tears and cringes and be reminded just how important they are to me, their dad and the world.

They are special. They are loved.

Making a difference in small ways

In life, just like in television, there seems to be themes that rise to the surface every now and again. Sometimes I don’t think I always sense or recognize what they may be, and other times it is like someone is hitting me over the head with them.

This past week or so has been a time where I have to keep rubbing that same spot because, man, is it ever clear what this “episode’s” theme would be: making a difference.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the message floating around in my life right now, considering today would have been my dad’s 61st birthday. That guy was certainly one who knew how to make a difference. And nearly six years after his death, my family and I are still learning about the impact he made on people’s lives.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

 

I give both my dad and mom most of the credit for my drive to do the same in my own life, to make a difference in my little corner of the world. Sometimes, though, I get so busy with the minutiae of life that I forget about that mission, or I tell myself that I’m just too busy to step outside of my own world to make an impact for others. I get this mindset that it’s only the grand gestures that really make a difference.

Part of that may be that when I had initially planned my life out, I didn’t picture myself with a husband, two kids and living in Evansville at 34. Right now, in that plan, I am living somewhere in Africa or Southeast Asia with my husband, whom I’d met during my travels post-Peace Corps, and we are talking about the possibility of kids (Stella and Oliver, we’d name them). We would of course raise them there. I work as an international correspondent covering social justice issues.

That’s a life full of grand gestures, one I was on track for — serving in Bangladesh as a Peace Corps volunteer at 23. But my “perfect plan,” like all plans really, didn’t go perfectly. I got very ill during my service and was medically evacuated home where eventually I was diagnosed with a heart condition that necessitated a pacemaker. Life took a different path — my post Peace Corps travels included the tropical and exotic destinations of Alabama and Louisiana rather than Bali and Nepal. While I didn’t get to stay in a tiki hut or do some peak climbing, I did meet my husband and realize that this path was the one I was intended for all along.

But in this current life I often feel it’s not possible to make much of a difference. Then, sometimes I have weeks like these last few, and I’m quickly reminded of the impact that each of us can have, even in the smallest of ways.

As a journalist, you don’t often hear from readers unless they are unhappy. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of doing our job — reporting and writing your stories — that we forget that you guys are reading them.

But every once in a while, we get one of those treasured things — a positive comment, a sign that someone was impacted in some way by something you wrote. I made them smile. I made them aware of an upcoming concert they are now attending. I alerted them to a program that will really benefit them. Way to go, me!

Sometimes those signs are even bigger. Last week a fifth-grade teacher reached out to me, saying she was touched by a story I wrote in August about an Evansville native, now living outside of St. Louis, trying to raise funds for a service dog to help with the PTSD he suffered after six military deployments in seven years.

Before that August story, the soldier had raised $400. Since the publication of the story, more than $10,000 has been raised toward his $15,000 goal. That story made a difference. It made people such as this Highland Elementary teacher and the dozens of others who donated aware of this soldier’s need.

The teacher, Barbara Lynn, shared the story with her students, who were moved to do something. They’ve started a coin drive — underway through Tuesday if you’d like to contribute — with a goal of pushing the soldier past his goal. It was so invigorating for me to talk to those students. I just got this note from Mrs. Lynn: “It feels to the students like they are changing the world — at least part of it. I am grateful beyond belief for the chance to work with you.”

Thanks for the reminder, life, about how I still can make a difference — how everyone can. And thanks, Dad, for instilling in me the desire to leave my corner of the world a better and happier place.

School meeting prompts self-evaluation

By Michael

At this writing, it’s the night before our first real parent-teacher conference, and I’m not kidding — I’m kind of freaking out a little bit.

For starters, it’s at our house. When I was a kid, these things were held at the school, during an open house, with all the other kids and their parents.

But there are no secrets at your house. I already feel like it’s Judgment Day.
I’ve met Miles’ teacher once, and she seemed like a perfectly nice and reasonable person, but still, you can’t help but feel like she’s going to discover every single flaw.

I haven’t been this nervous to have somebody over to my house since my first date with my future wife. But then, I didn’t have two kids, and the place was already relatively clean.
After a whirlwind housecleaning session, I’m still not satisfied. I keep finding all these little reminders of what imperfect parents we are.

Over here, a stray McDonald’s receipt on the table; better make sure to get that. We wouldn’t want Miles’ teacher to know we feed him McDonald’s on occasion. Do we eat McDonald’s too much?

Over there, in a corner, the crusty remnants of something that probably once qualified as food. It looks like chewed-up pasta, but it could be a dried-up piece of cheese, or maybe a desiccated chunk of pineapple. Why is this here? Don’t we have a dog to take care of this sort of thing?

There’s an epic layer of dust, dog hair and assorted kid-related sticky bits on the TV and the stand it sits on. This is not just a minor dusting session. It’s a good 10-minute job, in which I have the opportunity for further self-examination. Do they watch TV too much? Are we addling our kids’ brains with nonstop viewings of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “The Wiggles”?

Another black mark.

Miles’ room, hah, let’s not even tackle that, we’ll just close the door. But wait. What if she wants to see his room to get a glimpse of his home life? Or worse yet, what if he asks her to come see it? That would not be good. I’ve been told there is a floor in there somewhere, but it hasn’t been beheld by human eyes in quite some time.

Best to just close off that entire section of the house altogether, I guess. If somebody needs to go to the bathroom, the Marathon station across the way isn’t too bad.
But the most concerning part is his behavior. We’ve gotten a couple hints lately that he “has trouble listening” which with Miles is code for “completely ignores you when you’re telling him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”

We are doing our best to try to remedy this behavior that is definitely exhibited with us but we — up to this point — have consoled ourselves with the knowledge that he’s always been a model student at school. What do you do when that isn’t happening anymore? Should we be more strict? How do you do that and not stifle his individualism, crush his spirit?

This whole new-age parenting thing is really tough sometimes. Hopefully all this worrying is unwarranted, and we’ll find out that it’s really not that big a deal.
In the meantime, I’ve got a kitchen to scrub.

 

Germs seem to be winning the battle

By Michael Doyle

It’s 2 a.m., and I’m staring at the endless wall of cold medicines at the drugstore when I get a major sense of déjà vu.

Then I realize, it’s not déjà vu; I actually did do this before. It was probably about a month ago that I stood in this exact same spot in this exact same CVS, probably shuffling my feet while taking in the enormous variety of red, green, purple and blue syrupy, boozy bottles guaranteed both to taste terrible and knock you flat on your back for an evening of non-cough interrupted sleep.

I picked out a green one. The guy in the checkout line in front of me got red.

“You know they have the two-packs of this stuff,” the cashier quipped. “You want to go back? You look like you might need the two-pack.”

“Seemed like a jinx,” I told her. “I’m just gonna hope one is enough.”

At our house, cold season has been going on for a while now. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that young Miles started back to preschool in late August and the germs started taking over about a week later.

I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the little ones. But they can shrug it off a little better, it seems — wipe your nose on your sleeve and get on with the business of being a kid. For all the confluence of green goop always pooling around Miles’ nostrils, you won’t ever hear him talk about feeling “sick.” And even Owen, who just turned a year old, seems to take it in stride. His poor raw, red and crusty little nose doesn’t really seem to deter him from his daily routine of household exploration (AKA destruction) and dog-tail chasing.

For me, though, it’s another story. I already have such chronic sinus and allergy problems that getting a full-blown cold on top of that is just about all my immune system can take. I feel feverish and get chills, my throat hurts, my body aches and get a heavy hacking cough that always seems to linger for weeks. By the end of the day, I’m a disaster, all used up by 7 p.m. or so, which just so happens to be my bedtime for most of the last week.

And what’s worse is, right when you think you’re starting to get better, it comes back on you full force.

I don’t know if we’re just passing the same set of germs back and forth among each other or if there are new invaders constantly making their way into the house.

It certainly can’t help that we’re all in close quarters, breathing and recirculating each other’s germs constantly. My guess is if you had a microscope the place would look like a bacteria’s dream come true, complete with a little bacteria Statue of Liberty right outside the front door:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of germs, waiting to break free.”

Surely this whole season of germ-giving will come to an end soon enough. In the meantime, we will continue to live in a world where there are too many boogers and not enough Kleenexes.

Extracurriculars, already?

I have no one to blame but myself (well, maybe my mom too since it was a Christmas gift) but my kiddo already has a “thing.”

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He’s only four and already has an extracurricular activity! I’m not really upset about it; it just makes me feel old (and a little nervous as to what a hectic, “scheduled” life we are too soon going to be leading.)

We signed Miles up for gymnastics about a month ago, and he’s already gone to two sessions. The third is tonight. He LOVES it! One of his buddies from school is in the class; he gets to run and jump and twirl.

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And they mean business in this class. He sits on a dot, does stretching, has spun around the tall bar on the uneven bars, jumped on a balance beam and even vaulted! We are very pleased with this. It was one of the reasons we joined the YMCA. Thankfully our family is enjoying some of the other benefits (swimming and working out so far!)

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We love that Miles is involved with this, but decided one thing was enough. Let’s wait a little while longer to get too much on our plate.

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How do you keep your kids from getting overscheduled?

Second day not so great

There was little trepidation the first day and definitely no tears from either Miles or momma. Day two, not so much. Lots of tears for both of us.

Things went GREAT day one. Miles came out of school excited and chattering about his new friends, the toys and lunch. He was stoked about going back. And Michael and I were excited about how positive he was being, his enthusiasm about school and what that meant for the next day, the day after that and so on.

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We were feeling pretty confident that things were going to go pretty smoothly with this whole school thing. I mean, if the first day is good it guarantees a good year, right? OK, real talk, I know that isn’t the case, but I at least was banking on the fact that he wouldn’t have an issue with going back the next day.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

He got a great night’s sleep, was chatty all morning about looking forward to going back to school and we got off with little issues. As soon as I drove by the school to drop him off the protests began.

“NO! Not this school mom! The other school,” he whined.

“Which school honey, this is the only one,” I replied, trying to figure out where else he thought we’d be going.

“NO! The one with the race track!” Mile said, now in tears.

We recently joined the YMCA, and Miles went to their “Childwatch” room last night and had a great time there. There was a race track… He thought we were going back there.

“Honey, that’s the Y,” I said, desperately trying to calm him in the next 30 seconds before my car made it to the front of the drop-off line. “We’ll go back tonight, after school, after momma is off work.”

ALL OF THE TEARS.

I pulled up and looked at the teachers at the door, desperation and tears in my eyes wondering what I was supposed to do as he could be heard crying and shrieking from the back seat.

Mom of the year right here… I peeled him out of the car crying, kicking and screaming and handed him off to one of the loving teachers who promised me he would be fine within minutes and who snuggled him close, carrying him into the school as I slunk back into my car and drove off no longer able to hold off the floodgates.

ALL OF THE TEARS.

So here I am, sitting and waiting, tapping my finger waiting for dimissal to hear how it went and wondering what tomorrow holds.

This too shall pass, right?

How was day two for you?

Happy Miles playing with his brother.

Happy Miles playing with his brother.