Leaps and Bounds

While Aaron takes a two-week training in Orff for music education up in the blue grass state of Kentucky, Clara, William, and I visited my family in Tampa.  We are establishing some traditions, I noticed during this visit.

One new tradition I hope will continue is a date night for sisters. Sam and I left the kids for an evening at Starbucks. It was the one day this week I put make-up on.

Clara always has a slumber party with Aunt Sam, Uncle Tim, and Baby Jack. She saves her most embarrassing family conversations for Aunt Sam, like girls have you-know-whats and William has a you-know-what.  She is really into taxonomies—simple ways to make sense of our big, huge world.  In many ways, Clara is Sam—she’s super petite (according to Baby Center’s height predictor, she won’t be any taller than 5’2”); she loves to run; she can be a little shy around strangers.

During the sleepover, she and Sam shared a nice dinner of conversation, lima beans and shrimp.

Aunt Sam

Every visit, we go swimming at my Aunt Maryann’s house. My Aunt Maryann loves Clara so much. I find that all I really need from anyone is that they love my children. I had a really nice talk with my aunt tonight as we remembered my mom’s mom, my Grammie Elaine, who died when my aunt was just 33. Her father, my step-grandpa, died just four months later. I can’t imagine. I’m about fifty years away from being ready for that.

Here are me, Aunt Maryann, and my handsome boy.

Aunt Maryann

Every visit, at some point, my dad will chase the kids around the living room. He will bring out at least one of my old toys that he fixed up for the kids.  This time, he pulled out my old tricycle, which was, of course, much more sturdy and well-built than the Radio Flyer we got Clara off Craigslist. 

We always go down to Papa’s, my grandpa’s, to feed the geese. Every visit, Clara gets more and more comfortable; his chocolate stash is very persuasive.

I have heard it said that having children will bring out the child in you. I think this is true, but for me, Clara and William’s childhood transports me back to my own. And, I’m one of the lucky ones because when I feel my childhood swell up in me, I am made strong by those memories. 

Clara and Papa take a walk every visit to feed the geese.

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Clara and Papa II

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Clara and Papa

And here they are in 2013.  I look at my grandpa’s yard and remember how he would let me ride the nice cows and how he would run around the chicken coop just to catch the little chicky for Samantha and I to pet.  He taught us how to make turkey calls.

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Every visit, my mom makes something for the kids—this time, travel pillows so Clara doesn’t get head-bobbling in her carseat. Every visit, my mom does everything I ask—sometimes nicely, sometimes impatiently. She does a craft with Clara. She is, right now, sleeping in the bunk house with Clara.  May is the busiest month at school and this year, I didn’t get a Mother’s Day card out to my mom. I often fail to devote an entire blog entry to her like I might to my grandpa.  But I want to go on record: my mom is everything to all of us.  I will never live up to her as a mom and the only reason I’m okay with that is because she doesn’t expect me to.

After making our Tampa rounds, it was off to the beach for a week. A true vacation. We spent mornings at the pool and beach, afternoons relaxing during naptime, evenings cooking, late evenings on a walk. All in a condo shared with us by my mom’s friends—a condo with wonderfully old carpet and furniture I didn’t have to worry about.

Clara’s a waterbug. She could live in the stuff.  Now, when we go anywhere, like on vacation with Sam and Tim over Memorial Day or to my mom and dad’s, Clara’s first, most urgent question is: “Do they have a bathtub there?”  I think the big Rubbermaid tub we use at home for baths is getting a bit tight.

Also, she loves to participate in conversations but, of course, doesn’t always know everything she thinks she knows. Lately when she doesn’t know something or can’t remember it, she says, “I can’t show it.”

She also likes to blame her friends for things almost to the point that she believes it was Blake or Brody who scribbled all over the condo’s chair upholstery or who pressed the alarm button on the elevator—not me Clara! When each of these horrible, no good, Clara-had-a-bad-day offenses happened and she got herself a pretty serious talking-to, she said about fifty times, “My friends press the button. I didn’t press the button. My friends press the button.”

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And, my dear, darling William. The boy loves his mom. He hasn’t allowed himself to be passed around as much as we all would like. In the event that Grandma or Aunt Sam will hold him while I do things like apply sunscreen to my face, he is prone to some serious wailing. I take him back—instant quiet. Like a switch. He’s my last baby. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it just a little bit. 

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At the beach, I treasured my girl. We took long walks, chatting a little, looking for shells, and I saw us doing this years and years and years from now at every stage. I am so, so filled with gratefulness that these are my children.  We’re working on Clara’s listening, which sometimes means I have to be firm, tough Mommy, but I’m finding it easier to put toughness away when toughness is done with its job.  Clara loves mints, and a few days ago, our secret stash in the car ran out. At the time she asked me to get her some more, and I remembered to do so last night on a formula trip to Walmart.  This morning, she saw the replenishment and asked, “Why did you get me mints, Mommy?” And, feeling it even more than usual, I said, “Because I love you.” There was the most perfect moment when I saw her understand that. She said, “I love you, too.”  I’m not sure how one comes to understand the meaning of pure without the love of a child.

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On our walks, we picked out all the boats.

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Checked out all the wildlife.

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Ran ahead for fun. I like this shot below of Clara because one of my favorite things is to see her from a distance.  Also, I feel like my heart is covered in her footprints.  She’s growing up, becoming her own person. I feel like we need our moms and dads and aunts and grandpas to get our footing—something strong to push off from. I feel Clara leaping into her own little life and meanwhile, leaving her marks always on mine.

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Boys and Girls

We are really enjoying our summer off. Here are a few pictures from the last week. More to come soon.

Without lunches to pack every night, we’re squeezing in some extra music time. 

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William adores his big sister. He follows her around the house all the time, and for the most part, she’s patient and sweet with him.

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Clara likes taking care of him. We had to switch our seats at dinner so that she could be William’s primary feeder. She keeps him in healthy supply of blueberries. He’s a terrible eater—actually terrible at the activity of eating. He refuses the spoon unless he can wipe its contents all over his face and insists on feeding himself everything.  But, he’s not a masterful chewer yet so it’s a tricky game we play every night—trying to figure out what foods are solid enough for him to pick up but not so solid that they won’t just slide down the wipe after one, maybe two, gum mashings.

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They love getting into trouble. Clara didn’t really know how to get into trouble until William came along. I remember when Clara was one she would carefully put everything away—books on the shelves, dishes on the counter, etc. William is the total opposite. I was putting dishes away last night and he systematically removed every single fork and spoon from the silverware holder. He looked up when he was finished with the most beautiful, boyish smile, and I thought, I will let that child do anything he ever wants.

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Doing his best with a strawberry.

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To wrap things up, Clara is growing into a sweet little girl. She likes to say, “I’m a good helper” and she is always randomly throwing her arms around our legs and exclaiming, “I love my daddy!” or “I am so happy.” She doesn’t like to try things that she knows should be easy but are hard for her. For instance, she’s getting pretty good at recognizing her letters, but she absolutely refuses to count when asked. Her feelings are hurt very easily if she is told “no” for doing something she thought was right.  Netflix thinks she’s a boy and is always suggesting she watch “Monster Trucks” and “Spiderman.” She goes all day at school without accidents but as soon as she gets home, she sneaks a pull-up on the way most people sneak a drink after work.  She likes to have a good pee in the pull-up and then it’s off again for bath, and we usually make it until bedtime without one. When she is sad, she will often say, “I need to hug my baby” and goes looking for William.

I remember always being a little afraid of Clara when she was a baby—will she cry? Will she throw a fit? What will she do when I have to tell her “no?” William, as boy babies in general might be, is simple and predictable. He’s crying because he’s either hungry, tired, or in need of Mom. He barely cries when he hurts himself. He smiles when you tell him to be careful or not to do something. Clara is endlessly careful; William is shaking book shelves and doing everything he can to get his mouth on the Windex bottle.

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When There Wasn’t a Tropical Storm

As vowed, here are some pictures from our first trip of the year to St. George Island. (Aaron posted a lot of these to Facebook, but the blog medium allows me to indulge and post the same picture with multiple expressions.)

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Aaron is getting Clara revved up for some sandcastle making. I will remember the days fondly when Clara always had some kind of self-applied bandaid on her legs.

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During the great sandcastle construction, William thought it would be perfect timing to snag a sip of Clara’s Powerade.

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We did a lot of feet-burying.

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Also, lots of strolling along, looking for shells. (And, I know what the grandmas and Aunt Sam might be thinking: where are those kids’ hats? Well, I found them today, during the great summer clean-up, but no worries—we weren’t there for long and all of our scalps and appendages are still reassuringly pale.)

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Someone likes the camera . . .

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It takes us twenty minutes to set-up our beach site and twenty to tear it all down. We’re constantly rinsing sand off drinks and little hands. I’m paranoid I missed a spot with sunscreen.  I always bring a book that I never, ever read.  Still, it took a second child, but I feel converted.  This was my favorite beach trip ever, even with all the smashed blueberries that William tried to eat and all the times Clara pranced on my clean blanket with her sandy, wet feet. Right now, we’re swimming in love; the kids can’t get enough of us. We spent minutes and minutes and minutes sitting where the waves hit the sand. We stopped for ice cream and napped on the way home. Clara sang us the ABC’s fifty times. It’s a good life.

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Haircuts, Memorial Day, Black Eyes, etc.

Friday was our last day with students, so I am hoping to update this here blog a bit more regularly through the summer. In the meantime, since we’re working the ten-o-clock hour already, here are a few to catch you up on May.

I took William and Clara to get their summer grooming.  William was better at getting a haircut than Clara. Halfway through hers, Clara said, “I don’t want to,” but fortunately, I had  a few Laffy Taffies in my purse to keep her seated. William, however, seemed to like the clippers surfing around his head.

I’m sad his hair is gone and didn’t intend to say “yes” to clippers, but it’s a long story—one that involves a certain three-year-old thrashing through my purse while the hair stylist too slowly scissored away at his locks.

Before.

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After. Yes, even with the smile, it’s a bit sad.

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Clara’s new thing is to wear overalls with William.

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She’s riding a bike now, thanks to Aaron’s early morning Saturday trips to the park while I stay back and clean the house, Tasmanian Devil-style.

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I was innocently walking down our English hallway when some rambunctious eleventh grader karate-chopped my temple with a door.  I had this shiner for a few weeks.

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My cutie.

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We went on a short but very sweet vacation with Tim and Sam and Jack. Actually, we crashed their vacation for a couple nights. Here’s Uncle Tim with the happy William.

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Clara practiced fishing with Dad and William on the dock.

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Out to lunch after a stroll through the perfectly quaint town of Ellijay, Georgia.

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The house that Tim and Sam rented was the most beautiful work of manmade art I have ever slept in.  I could get used to a hot tub on a lanai outside my bedroom.

I also like this one because William is always yanking Clara’s hair, and Clara is always being pretty tolerant.

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First try at a cousin shot. We’ll keep working on it. Clara is pretty protective of Baby Jack.

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The light’s not the best, but these family shots are few and far between. I thought it was worth a post, nevertheless.

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We had our first beach day of the season today. Pictures of that to come. Really.

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BDays

It’s getting late, but I wanted to share some pictures from the weekend.

Aaron had a great birthday.  We went on a family bike ride in the morning—about seven miles in to the playground and then seven miles back to the water where we had lunch together at the Riverside Café.  He woke up to Clara singing happy birthday. She’s a sweetheart.  Steak for dinner; fruit pizza for dessert.

Clara is starting to say some funny things. She’s caught on that I have a name, too, and it’s Sherry.  Sometimes she likes to joke with me and say “You’re my Sherry” when I tell her she’s my Clara.  It’s incredibly strange to hear your three-year-old call you by your first name. 

Lately, when things aren’t going her way—when, for instance, not all the Ovaltine has been mixed in to the milk—she’ll exclaim, “I am so upset!”

William has gotten two fat teeth on top—none on the bottom yet.  He is also much more reckless than Clara ever was.  I did not realize until William came along how little we really had to worry about Clara, especially since she refused to walk until she could do it perfectly.  He scratched his nose this weekend and just tonight, as he was scurrying across the dining room, his hands gave out and his two fat teeth cut his lip a little.  Of course, Clara wails at a stubbed toe and William gives one good, hard scream at a bloody lip and feels better.

My dad polished up one of Sam’s and my old desks and Clara loves to retreat to her bedroom to paint or color. 

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The only thing William has really cried about is more ice cream.  I gave him a small little taste of mine one night and he went for it like a wild animal.  This is “someone give me some ice cream” look.

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Here’s the more familiar face.

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Hanging out on the man-porch with Dad.

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Clara likes to arrange our books and read, e.g. sing the ABC song. 

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Playground sweetness.

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Clara shows Dad how to do yoga in the sand.

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We love the bike trailer (thank you, Piehs!).  The kids will snuggle together for miles and miles.  Clara plays Mom, naturally—trying to feed William his bottle and puffs.  This time around, she had carefully put his pacifier and bottle in the bag so that they would be handy when he needed them.  On our commute home from work, she likes to laugh at William but gets her feelings hurt on the occasions when he doesn’t laugh back. She tells me, dejectedly, “Mom, William isn’t laughing at me.”

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On the way back, the both feel asleep, but Clara woke up recently enough to pretend like she was a baby with a paci, too.  They like to hold hands while they ride together. Stinkin’ melts my heart.

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Birthday loving for Dad. Clara took another late nap on Aaron’s birthday while I made the fruit pizza, but when she woke up, she, utterly devastated, cried, “But I wanted to make Daddy’s cake!”  She is all love and drama.

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Finally, happy birthday to you, Dad.  (And, don’t worry we were 1) watching to make sure her hair didn’t catch fire and 2) watching William to make sure he didn’t singe his cute finger.”

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Not on Words Alone

At the end of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (spoiler alert), George tells soft-hearted Lennie to look over the bluff and talk about their dream to live off “the fatta the land’”—a dream where Lennie will tend the rabbits and no one will be able to “can” them.  They are on the bluff because Lennie has accidentally killed a woman and her husband is after him.  George, Lennie’s dearest and only friend, tells Lennie to talk about their dreams as he shoots Lennie in the back of head.

I ask my high school juniors if George did the right thing.  Absolutely, they say, as they return to sneaking glimpses of their text messages. I persist. Curly would have killed him anyway, they say; even: Lennie really wasn’t useful to anyone.  It was the merciful thing to do, they argue.  I can tell they hope I will stop asking questions, as they are ready for the discussion to end and not because it, death, is a difficult thing to talk about but because they don’t see the point.

I teach at a good school, an A school, but many of the kids can be very cruel, and the cruelty happens almost exclusively in their “other lives.” I see that they are kind, tolerant, and patient with each other in class but then I hear from Discipline or  from the students themselves that someone has dropped out of school because of incessant cyber-bullying on Twitter.   They secretly take pictures of overweight girls and post the pictures to see how many “ugly slut” comments they’ll elicit. They create pages on Facebook to bash teachers.  They call seniors who date sophomores “pedophiles.”  In the lives they live through their phones, they barrage each other with meaningless words, said only for effect.

***Before he set a bomb off at the Boston Marathon, the nineteen-year-old tweeted: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city. Stay safe, People.”  Empty, chillingly ironic sentiments in 140 characters or less. (Irony: Words lacking literal meaning and instead, said for their effect.)***

I am completely serious when I say many of my students are ALWAYS on their phones. Their reality consists almost entirely of language and images. When we live in a world of words, language becomes disconnected from the real things it was formed to describe.  When we live in a world of words, we have no choice but to become those words, also disconnected from real, physical things.  As a high school English teacher, I always thought language was powerful because of what it could mean; now, as an English teacher in a high school, I see that language is at its most powerful when it is completely meaningless.

It also goes like this: Three nights ago, Aaron was still reeling from a terrible day at work.  The kind of day that stays with you through the night, wakes you up at 2:00 a.m. The day had been sitting in his head all evening. I was worried.

Suddenly, the dogs are barking wildly in the backyard. Savage canine growls.  Aaron goes outside and discovers they have cornered a opossum in the shrubs. The opossum is baring its teeth and hissing defiantly as our domesticated dogs hiss-bark back, not knowing what else to do.  Aaron comes inside, wary not to get too close to the hairy creature, and decides, rather brilliantly, to spray the dogs with the hose as a distraction that would allow him to corral them inside. He comes back in, mildly exhilarated.  The bad day has disappeared as Clara asks us what had riled the dogs. A opossum, we say; then, it’s like a big mouse.  Now, of course, she is always on the hunt for the big mouse in the backyard.

The next day, Clara is screaming in the car on the way to school for ten minutes straight that her hot Ovaltine HAS TO BE HOTTEE, which I translate as “hotter.”  She won’t stop screaming. Then, I hit a bird. A loud thump, as the bird bounces off my windshield.  I gasp, grunt, and quickly try to hide my sudden despair since we are not ready to answer the five-hundred “why’s” that will follow the statement “Mommy killed a bird.”

The screaming abruptly stops: “Mommy, what is it?”

“Oh, just a bird.”

“Mommy, what is it?”

“Just a bird.”

“Mommy, why?”

“Oh, it flew into our car.”

“Mommy, why?”

“Because it flies.”

Why. Because it has wings. Why. And then, what I’m learning is always the final answer to the string of “why’s”: because of God. (In fact, I now know that the longer it takes you to get to “because of God,” the more intelligent you are.  For instance, Aaron and I are discussing someone we know who has diabetes: “Can you believe she can’t eat pizza?” Clara overhears and asks, “Why?” “Because she has diabetes.” “Why.” “Because her body can’t process sugar.” “Why.” “Because her pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin.” “Why.” “Because of God.” “Oh.”)

But the screaming had stopped and we rode the rest of the way to school, strangely contemplative, considering “we” consists of a tired mom, a three-year-old, and an eight-month-old.  The car was silent.  I remembered why I moved to Alaska. It had something to do with not killing birds on my way to school. The encounter with our physical world was jarring.

My own encounters with the physical world are few, and I think of them as the lime sorbet, what I understand to be a palate cleanser, one eats between courses in the extravagant meal of life.  Like everyone else’s, most of the courses I eat happen in words—either words in my head, words I say in class, words said to me, words not said to me. Occasionally, however, I will feel the sun shine or my heart pump or I will smell a flower or the smoke of a prescribed fire.  I will hear an ambulance or see someone cry. More often, I will hold my children and feel their soft cheeks on my collarbone. I will mop the floor with Pinesol. I will kiss my husband.  The moments when I do not need words are the moments that give words their meaning.

My concern for my students can be wrapped up by something Sherry Turkle said in her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other: It used to be, she says, we would say, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now, she says, it’s more like, “I want to feel something; I will send a text.”

It’s like my students are living in a world without antecedents—a world where pronouns are only referencing other indefinite, impersonal pronouns.  Where words no longer reference real experiences but images or other words.  When we live only in language, and that language refers to nothing but itself, we, too, start to live in a kind of nothingness.

Earlier in Of Mice and Men, a couple of the ranch-hands are trying to get an old fellow named Candy to shoot his old dog.  They say the dog is too old, a burden to himself and to everyone else.  The barn is divided between men who say “no, shoot” and those who say “no, the dog.”  Those who say, “I feel something; I will love this old dog” and those who say, “I want to feel something; I will shoot this old dog.”  The word “feel” begs for a direct object: I feel this, I feel that, I feel something.  It is a word that cannot exist alone, syntactically or otherwise. “I feel feelings” is fleeting; it cannot last. I think if we want to feel something, we have to remember that “something” doesn’t refer to a word inside us but a world around us.

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Spring II

Aaron took the kids for the morning so I could give the house a good cleaning.  They’ve been out for almost four hours on one bottle, so I’m not sure how that’s working out, but it’s otherwise an ideal time to catch you up on the last couple weeks.

We had an easy-going Easter with a few egg hunts at school, at home, and at the neighborhood park. We shared a ham dinner among the four of us and talked about how Easter is the day when Jesus “felt better.”

William is crawling all over the place, pulling up, and even trying to take a couple steps between stationary items. His teacher at daycare is predicting he’ll walk by nine months.  This morning he pulled over a standing lamp and last night he knocked over a few drinks. It occurred to me then that we didn’t have to do an ounce of baby-proofing for Clara.  Where she was content to sit and stare, William has to hold and eat.

Clara spent her first day in day care all day in her underwear, e.g. not a diaper. We were all really proud of her, and I like having her teachers at day care to help us celebrate these accomplishments. 

Clara also has a little boyfriend at day care—Blake Jones.  I always catch them walking around the playground, holding hands and trying to go down the slide together. He is her new best friend.  She knows which is Blake Jones’ car, his mommy, his nap mat, his cereal box.  In general, at school, I can tell she likes boys more than girls. She’s a big tomboy.

She is also, still, a really good big sister.  On our twenty-five minute commute home, she spends the ride making funny faces at William or singing songs to him. She likes to tell me, “ I make Baby Willum laugh, Momma.”  She’s very protective over him and likes to feed him his bottles even though he’s been able to hold them himself for over a month.  The best part is she likes to hang out with him. They play together on the floor and in the crib. The first thing she asks when she gets up in the morning is if she can hug her baby. 

I can hardly remember when William was a little baby.  He is trying so hard to stand and walk, and, like his dad, he has the most even-keeled temperament I’ve ever seen.  He’s always happy, always content.  I think he and Clara–my feeling, dramatic, concerned, sensitive little muffy pants– will be a good balance for each other as they grow up. 

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Above, Clara plays her version of dress-up, which is to pretend she’s going to work. 

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This is Aaron’s band, Thursday Night Music Club.

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My little girl at her neighborhood Easter egg hunt.  This is her “I know things” look.  Her favorite thing to do is to make connections. She’ll tell me that the pants I wear to clean the house are the pants I wear to yoga.  She likes the fact that, at day care, they all have pretty much the same car seat.  She loves it when the things in her book, like bicycle rides or kitchens, are the same as what happens to her.

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And this is her “I’m about to play a joke on you” look.  We can’t get her to count to ten anymore because, lately, her way of counting is “one, two (dramatic, conniving pause) FOURTEEN!”  She also likes to joke and tell me she has a “baby sister.”

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On a warm weekend, William and Aaron juiced up on vitamin D.

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Aaron’s roommate from Davidson, Will, came for dinner last Sunday night. 

Below is video of when William first started crawling.

And, here’s Clara “eating” a cupcake.

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