Monday, October 29, 2012

Insta-Memories: Puerto Rico

Five days in Puerto Rico came and went, and just like that, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. Except we’re not quite there yet. Sunday was our first full day back, and my girls were complete beasts. Today, things are a little calmer, but that’s because one of them is in school. The other, sporting two new teeth, have not been able to leave my side.

Being with them 24/7 on our trip spoiled them. The pools and ocean, as well as the lack of a schedule, spoiled them. Watching TV on the mobile phone while having breakfast at a restaurant or while we were getting ready spoiled them. We were only gone five days, but it’s amazing how easily they get used to something when it’s in their favor.

A little Dora the Explorer at restaurants? Oh yes!

Ice cream for breakfast? HELL yes! (Uh-huh, we really did that.)

It’s also incredible how easily we found ourselves breaking our own rules while we’re away. We figured, hey it’s a vacation – we’re loose on convictions because we’re tight on time. We only had a mere five days to relax (and I use this term lightly) so why fight the kids on everything? We needed to chill too.

And that’s why our kids are finding it difficult to go back to business as usual. Because “usual” means one kid show a day (and not on a whim), ice cream on special occasions (certainly not as a meal), and going to bed on time, in their respective beds (unlike the snuggle fest Little Miss had when she slept with us in our hotel bed). What a drag, I know.

So they want to go back to their happy place. I get that. I do too. Because, in all honesty, it’s so much easier saying yes than saying no. They also seemed to like me better when I wasn’t putting my foot down every seven minutes. Heck, even I liked the vacation me better.

But I know I will hate myself later if we let them rule the roost with their agenda. And that’s why what happened in Puerto Rico, will have to stay in Puerto Rico. And perhaps that’s why they miss it so much. It’s good to be the king after…even if it’s just for five days.

They may not be able to get back there very easily, but at least, thanks to Instagram, they will have these memories to tuck them in bed at night.

Just before dreaming about waking up to ice cream for breakfast.

 

IMG_0853 Day One was all about exploring Old San Juan. As a fan of architecture, I was quite taken by the city’s well-preserved buildings from the 19th Century. Little Miss, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel to get into her bathing suit.

 

IMG_0854One of the highlights of our trip was our hotel – La Concha Resort. We had an amazing ocean-view suite so the girls could be in bed at night, and we could still be up with our bottle of wine while we caught up on our favorite show, Dexter, in the next room.

IMG_0859The hotel lobby - it has quite a night life, so we heard. With sleeping babies, we had to trust what we read because we weren’t able to partake ourselves. Not that we had any energy left after an entire day wrangling kids in the water or while exploring the city.

IMG_1027We were rained in one morning, but the hotel had plenty of space for our little monkeys. Here’s another part of the lobby. I have a thing for white furniture.

IMG_1028The stairs we took every morning to breakfast. This is just another architectural detail I loved about the hotel.

IMG_1148Maybe I have a thing for stairs, too. Or maybe it’s the floor-to-ceiling windows and the view they provide. But it took my breath away every time we saw this on our way back to our room.

 

IMG_0863For the first time in my life, I used a hotel fitness center on vacation. I think I’m a little addicted to this running thing, which is probably good, considering all the breakfast buffet I had to work out of my system.

IMG_1104On the subject of firsts, I dusted the cobwebs on my bikini and wore them for the first time since the summer before Thumper was conceived, which would be close to 2.5 years.


IMG_0860  IMG_0864
Yup, breaking our own rule here of using a mobile device for distraction. We did that at bus stops and restaurants. Anything to give us a vacation state of mind, right?

IMG_0957All they wanted to do was to play in the water, and who can blame them? Thumper asked for it by saying, “Fish?” as in swim like one. And that they did.


IMG_1026  IMG_1025

My Guy fell ill (thanks to Little Miss’ preschool germs) and slept in one morning while Little Miss opted to rest with some iPad games. Always restless and ready to explore on vacation, I took Thumper with me to see the sights in our neighborhood, Condado, where we discovered a little gem of a park that contained interesting sculptures and beautiful old trees.


IMG_1029We had a memorable dining experience at this restaurant that overlooked a little plaza in Old San Juan. A little Puerto Rican / Spanish tapas and a pitcher of sangria were just what we needed to battle the vacation-with-kids blues.

 

IMG_1145 IMG_1147
What’s a tropical vacation without some poolside dining…

 

IMG_1146…and a little bit of romantic rendezvous (while the kids napped)?

 

 

IMG_1149 IMG_1150
On our last evening, our kids lingered downstairs to catch a glimpse of life after sundown. Little Miss was in awe of the pool lights, and the girls danced to a live jazz band. There’s some truth to this night life after all!

In the morning before our 3pm flight, we spent the longest time in the water, both in the calm, clear ocean (while Hurricane Sandy was brewing a havoc somewhere) and in the hotel’s three pools. Just before leaving, I was transfixed by the pool’s illusion of infinity, knowing that our time there is anything but.

So here we are, with a phone full of photos, and some jewelry and hot sauce from that restaurant we loved as souvenir. In the coldest, longest nights of the coming winter, we’re going to have to dig really deep and really hard to find that warmth that followed us everywhere on our vacation.

We will hope to be back, where both kids and adults can play. Where rules become suggestions. Where everyday worries stay home.

And it’s that much easier to see the rainbow.

 IMG_1105



* * *

What kind of vacation-parent are you? Do your rules relax with you or do they still stay the same? If so, how do you relax? Please let me in on your secret!

What’s your favorite kind of family vacation? Beach? Mountains? Active? Pure R&R?

If you’re on Instagram with me, you may have seen the above pictures already. If not, follow me, IHaveLanded.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Little legs

 

That's My Guy and Little Miss making the steep ascent towards the San Felipe del Morro castle, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. That was this morning.

What you see here is a lovely verdant green hill that rises up to meet the azure sky. But what you don't hear is this:

"My legs are tired...Can you please carry me?... I want water...I've been walking for a long time...Can I just sit and rest?...Where are we going now?...My legs are tired...May I please have more water?...Yes, it's pretty, but can we go to the pool now?...Where is the ocean?...No, where is my ocean, the one I can swim in?...Are we going back to the hotel yet?...I'm really tired...When are we going to get ice cream?..."

Yes, we're quite enjoying our vacation. For the most part, anyway.



p.s. To her credit, we did hike a great deal around the old (and rather hilly) city today. And she did get to go to the pool. And the ocean.


Everybody's happy in the end.


* * *


Hope you have a great weekend yourself. See you when we get back!






Monday, October 22, 2012

The old and the new

punkins

I love family traditions. Growing up in Malaysia, I had many with my extended family. From Chinese New Year’s Eve dinners to Deepavali celebrations at my grandparents’, there were a few occasions I could always count on like a comforting lovey that goes to bed with my girls every night - predictable, important, and wonderful.

Now that I have a family of my own, the past four years gave us many important and wonderful occasions, but we have yet to find one that we could easily identify as a family tradition. Our holidays have not achieved a pattern as we’ve spent the last few at different locations, with different people. This year, we still haven’t figured out our plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That our major holidays are not settled is, naturally, a little unsettling. But at least we’re not entirely void of traditions. I realized that yesterday, when we went to our favorite apple orchard for our annual Fall celebration. This time, we picked pumpkins instead of apples because of a draught that decimated most of the apple harvest this year, but regardless of our reasons for being there, it was an event we all looked forward to each year.

I recall writing about our first trip with Little Miss, and we’ve been back there twice since. I remember feeling so proud of Little Miss for braving the moo-choo train on her own, as she wasn’t even two when she was the only toddler on the train without an accompanying parent as it traveled around the glistening apple trees before coming back to the “station” to find us still standing there, waving with one hand and a camera phone in the other.

Last year, Thumper was a wee three-month-old when we visited the orchard, which means she mostly stayed in the stroller or my arms. This year, however, she was everywhere. Like her sister, she would never be content unless she was moving , exploring, and exclaiming, “Truck!” (actually, it was a tractor), “Baa” at the goats, and “Eat!” when she saw the freshly made apple cider donuts. This apple didn’t fall too far from this tree, that’s for sure.


Goats    

We walked around a corn maze, we picked one pumpkin from a sea of orange, and we petted farm animals. Just like we did the years before. And in keeping with our tradition, we saved their favorite for last: the moo-choo train.

Train


Little Miss was tasked with the very important job of holding her little sister on her lap. Thumper, at nearly 17 months is part-monkey, as you may know, so we feared she’d climb out of her seat. She liked climbing out of bath tubs, plus she climbs up and seats herself on her high chair – there’s no certainty of what she would do once she disappeared from our view on the train.

MooChooYes, I picked the cow named “Bossy” on purpose.


I was also a little hesitant in handing such a responsibility to Little Miss, a mere three-year-old (although she’d insist, “I’m going to be four in a few weeks!”). However, I was also hoping that the new scenery and the thrilling experience of being on a little moo-choo would be a distraction from Thumper’s sneaky moves.

Thankfully, my theory prevailed. Both girls made it back safely into our arms, and now we have more pictures to add to our favorite annual Fall tradition. What’s more remarkable is that even though Little Miss had been on that train twice on her own and was looking forward to the ride again this year, she made space for her little sister without uttering a single protest. It seemed like she expected it. Like it was only natural.

Perhaps someday she may even forget that she once experienced a life all by herself, never having to compromise, never having to share. The same way, four years after the birth of my firstborn, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Our family of four has seen our share of hardships. I’ve lost many of my own childhood traditions after I moved here, and going from living independently to living with people who are sometimes entirely dependent on you are difficult adjustments to make. But we all do what we can and what we must to accommodate these changes.

While I remember lighting my own firecrackers to welcome the Lunar New Year, I now look forward to decorating our Christmas tree with the girls while Burl Ives sings about a certain reindeer in the background. We make new traditions.

And sometimes, we make room for all the things we never thought we had space for, yet we eventually find that we do. The new weaves itself around the old, the exciting with the familiar.

Until someday, we can’t imagine it any other way.



Truck

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My closet demons

Remember how I spent four hours of my life last week sorting my daughter’ clothes? Well, that project was so successful and rejuvenating that I decided that Wednesdays will be my one big-project day of the week.

This week, I tackled my closet. As you can see here, it’s no small feat (pun intended).

photo 1

While last week was all about reliving sweet memories of my daughters as I went through their clothing, each item a reason for a smile, this week’s project was more of a mixed bag. It wasn’t so much that each piece of garment recalled a certain event – although there were those too – but it was mostly related to the different periods of my life.

The first to go were the “corporate attire” that I tossed on the bed, where the giveaway pile sat. I couldn’t wait to be rid of them, because it made me remember things I would rather forget. Like the horrendous commute. The cubicle farms. The office politics. The measly (but most important) two hours a day that I got to spend with Little Miss for the first two and a half years of her life because I had to make a living.

And yet I was hesitant. Is that life really over for me? I’m not going to stay at home forever. What if I get a job someday? What if I need these?

If you’re going to have a job, you’re going to get paid right? You’ll be able to afford new ones then, because who knows if you’ll still fit in the ones you have now. Besides, do you honestly think these will stay in vogue forever?

I think that’s my voice of reason. I don’t always like her; especially when she’s right. But I do listen sometimes, and this was one of them. So goodbye fitted suits, merino wool sweaters, cardigans, cuffed trousers, and pin-striped shirts, and good riddance dry-clean-only.

Next up, souvenir gear.

photo 2

I used to collect tee-shirts and hoodies from my travels as souvenirs, but my closet had enough of it. And so I moved on to jewelry instead. Today, I knew that, after years of carrying certain clothes around with me just for the sake of preserving the memory, it was time to let go.

I found this San Antonio Hard Rock Cafe shirt at the bottom of the drawer. I don’t even remember the last time I wore that, but I still remember the trip. I was there when I was an undergrad student in Illinois. Let’s just call it, “a long, long time ago”. I was on a Texas road-trip with some Malaysian friends, and I remember the River Walk, and how pretty I thought it was. And naturally, I remember The Alamo. Hah! Sorry – I just had to.

And the one from London was hard to give up. I loved every moment of my trip there. From my first tea service near the Covent Gardens to my experience of the intricacies of the London Underground network. It was amazing, but the person I was there with was from another lifetime. And I wanted to keep him there.

After giving those up, it was easier to move on to the other items that held far less meaning. Like clothes that were so yesterday. Although some of them have been with me for so long that it went through an entire style cycle. You know, when something’s trendy, then goes out of style and comes back years later to rule the glossy fashion magazines again? My chunky heels survived the cut because of it.

Then there were pieces that have been enshrined in the closet from being too big or too tight, preparing for the what-if’s and waiting for that someday. I decided that that day is now. After all, if I’m happy with the me that I see in the mirror today, shouldn’t my clothes reflect that too?

Finally, I moved on to the last bane of my existence: socks and underwear. So many little pieces to go through; so very time-consuming. But it had to be done. I didn’t give those away; they just filled a trash bag. I went through every drawer, every closet nook, and even the closets in the other bedrooms. Up until today, I had clothes in my daughters’ room and My Guy’s office. Ones I had completely forgotten about because they were never easily accessible.

It’s wonderful to have everything back in one space. Organized (somewhat). And nothing is bursting or crammed into a corner. Everything has its place, and is exactly where it belongs.

 photo 3
Six hours later, I had seven garbage bags of clothes to be donated, one to be trashed and a soul that feels like it just went through a cleansing. So much to remember. And so much to forget.

Even then, the skeletons will always be lurking somewhere. But at least now I know that they’re definitely not in my closet.

*  *  *

 

Have you had a heart-to-heart with your closet recently? What does it look like? Clearly you can see that I have a thing for shoes. And maybe even clothes. What about you? What’s your vice(s)? Maybe we can form a support group?

Monday, October 15, 2012

No more monkeys jumping on the bed

MonkeyOnTheBed
Thumper fell off the bed yesterday, and it was my fault.

I think.

I’m not sure.

Perhaps you can tell me.

After my run in the morning (yes, I’m still at it - woot!), I decided to take a shower while My Guy was busy working in his home office downstairs and both girls were being all sweet and cuddly in my bed.

I asked Little Miss, “Will you play with your little sister and entertain her while I’m in the shower?”

To which she replied, “Of course!”

I wasn’t worried. They’ve played together, unsupervised, countless times, and other than the occasional squabble, it has worked out well for everyone.

In the shower, I soaked in the heat of the water to counter the cold that lingered on my skin from my run outside. I was still on a high from my best run yet. But that all came crashing down soon after.

When I stepped out, I heard giggling. Oh good, they’re playing well together. I took a peek at the girls and gasped a little. They were both on their feet, on the bed, and they were making a game out of falling onto pillows, like trees going “timber!” Except trees don’t get hurt. Little girls do.

My instinct was to whisk Thumper off the bed and stop the game. Instead, I voiced my concern, “Little Miss, I don’t think this is a good idea. You are steady on your feet, but Thumper isn’t. She may fall off the bed and hurt herself.”

“But she loves this game!” she protested. And she was right. Thumper cackled every time she fell onto the pillow. She also added, “We’ll be careful!”

The overprotective mother part of me wanted to put my foot down. They could get hurt after all. And the other part, the one that wants my kids to learn their own limits, said so what? If they fall, they learn; if they don’t, they would’ve had a ball.


WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?

I saw the hardwood floors and gauged the danger level to be 6.5/10 or so. Perhaps it would’ve been higher had it not been for my own childhood where I fell many times on head-crushing concrete floors. Had my girls been playing with matches, it would’ve been a 10. But this wasn’t the case.

And so I decided to help Little Miss pad the edges of the bed with more pillows and made sure that they both knew to aim for the middle of the bed as they dove forward.

I then proceeded to the rest of my post-shower regime, with more girlish laughter in the background. Just as I was heading back their way, I watched Thumper, as if in slow-motion, roll off the bed and onto the floor. I was neither close nor fast enough to prevent the impact. By the time I got to her, the bawling had already started.

Mad at myself, I held her and rocked her in my arms and glowered at Little Miss.

“And that’s why we don’t play these games!” I seethed, but the moment it came out of my mouth, I regretted it. I knew I had misplaced my anger, but it was too late. Little Miss started crying herself.

“But I didn’t push her off the bed - she fell herself!” she objected as tears streamed down her face. Perhaps out of fear or out of guilt. Or maybe a little of both. I certainly didn’t help assuage any of that with my accusatory tone; I felt ashamed and started to apologize.

Having heard the thud on the floor directly above his head, My Guy rushed upstairs and found two crying girls and their remorseful mother. He gently took Thumper from me and made sure that she was okay, and she was. I reached over to Little Miss and pulled her to me, cradling her.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. The last thing I wanted was to have her shoulder the responsibilities of everything that happens to her sister. At least not now, when she’s not even four. “It’s not your fault that she fell. It was an accident. And look, she’s okay...she’s hurt, but it will go away. She’ll be fine.”

I wanted to add that it was my fault. I shouldn’t have allowed this in the first place. But I wasn’t convinced, even at that point, that that was the case.


MAKING MY CASE

Kids fall. From that, they learn to a) never do something again and/or b) get back on their feet. It’s a fact of life, and even though I could’ve prevented it this time, what of the other times when they’re not under my protective wings?

Besides, this time, it wasn’t so much about my toddler falling. It was a lesson for Little Miss, who had to see for herself that Thumper couldn’t always keep up. That her actions do affect the others around her, especially her little sister who dotes on her and wants to do everything she does. At 16 months, Thumper’s too young to take anything away from this experience, even if it’s her head that bumped the floor, but Little Miss isn’t.

I try not to intervene when they’re fighting. I try not to helicopter-parent. They’ll have to figure some things out for themselves. Not in the jump-off-a-building-and-see-if-you-can-land-like-a-cat kind of way, but more akin to the things one might find in the school of hard knocks.

For example, trying to keep a toddler who’s part monkey from pulling herself up onto the couch or the bed is a losing battle. Instead, we taught her to climb down safely - from the couch, bed, stairs, you name it - because we know we can’t always be right there with her. If climbing seems to be her calling, why not just arm her with the ability to come back down safely rather than prohibit her? That way we don’t have to be glued to her side at every moment.

PartMonkeyCase in point: A day later, Thumper is back to being herself again, choosing the coffee table rather than the couch to watch TV. Yes, she has fallen off that too.


I’m not trying to make myself feel better about the incident, but if this is the parenting route we’ve chosen, which is to empower our kids to test their own boundaries, we’re going to have to accept that sometimes, we’re going to learn the bitter end of that philosophy.

Our hope is to instill independence and confidence in our girls at an early age - skills that both My Guy and I value deeply. Looking back at the incident, it might not have been the best decision to let them indulge in a rather precarious game. But it was a necessary one.

Yet, even when the decision is right, with two babies sobbing in my arms against my aching heart, it doesn’t necessarily feel right.

I suppose that’s parenting, in a nutshell.

* * *


Do you think I should have prevented the situation when I could have? Let me ask you this: What would you have done?

On another note: Here’s my most recent post on Families in the Loop, a site for Chicago families, about my experience this past year with all the acronyms created for moms and their careers (WAHM, SAHM, etc.).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sorting memories into bins

Bins1Have you ever allocated a morning to complete a project only to find that you needed the entire day instead? That was me today.

I spent over four freakin’ hours sorting my daughters’ clothes. Yes, four. Hours.

I knew it would be a big project, so I was prepared to dedicate the morning to the task, but when Thumper’s naptime came, and I was only halfway done, I knew I had to kiss that afternoon sunshine goodbye. It was do or die time. (I can be a tad dramatic.)

When Thumper moved into her sister’s room, we only moved the crib and kept her clothes in our bedroom. There were many bins with clothes that ranged in size, from 6 months to 18 months, and seasons. And recently, after seeing regular leggings looking like capris on Little Miss, we went back-to-school shopping for her and stuffed the new purchases into the dresser along with the old.

Clearly, we had some sorting and organizing to do. But four hours??! Well, at least it was a fruitful day. As a result, I had:
- All of Thumper’s clothes out of our bedroom (but still waiting to get into her dresser, so really this would have taken five hours if I had that time to spare)
- Two bins of hand-me-downs from Little Miss to Thumper, one marked 2T, warm weather, and the other, 2T, cold weather
- One bin marked 4T, Spring 2013
- One bin saved for a friend
- One trash bag full of clothes for donation
- Little Miss’ clothes from this season neatly arranged in her dresser drawers (I give it a week before they’re all disheveled again)
- Put on and took off about five different outfits on Thumper, who had wanted to try some of the things she found in the bins; sometimes I had to put one outfit on top of another because she refused to remove the first layer (yes, folks, she has learned to say the word, “No!”)

So there. Over four hours of my life I would never get back again.

But, I have to admit, it wasn’t all that awful. Sorting through Little Miss’ clothes, I had the chance to revisit some of my favorite moments again, just by looking at an outfit. Seeing some of them, I had a visceral experience of a past that was tucked away in the little nooks and crannies of my brain.

DotsDress

Just one glimpse of this dress, and I saw my firstborn walking into the hospital room to meet her little sister for the first time. Little Miss brought cupcakes as a celebration of Thumper’s arrival, and as much as she was glad to meet Thumper, she was perhaps slightly more enthused about the amount of chocolate on her cupcake. (There was a lot.)

 

PlaidDress 
When I saw this dress, I "aww’d” a little. I have a thing for plaid, and I loved this on Little Miss. I also remember that this was what she wore the first time she experienced the Crowne Fountain at Millennium Park. This water nymph of mine was soaked and deliriously happy. I was excited that Thumper would have the chance to wear this someday and perhaps create her own unforgettable moment with it. It’s now in her dresser, waiting for the right occasion. Probably not the fountain this time, seeing as it’ll be cold for the next, oh, eight months or so, here in lovely Chicago.

 

DCdress

Then I found this outfit and shuddered a little. I remember Little Miss in this when we were in D.C. – it was a great trip, but she was so full of energy that it wore us out. That was the time we discovered that “relaxing” and “getaway” no longer belonged in the same sentence together – not when we have kids in tow.

That was also the time we realized that the most telling sign of Little Miss’ fatigue was when she sang her ABC’s, back to back to back to back to back. Until she ran out of steam. If you were on the Moonlight Trolley Tour with us that night – and you would remember us, I assure you - I am so, so sorry. 

Finally, I moved on to Thumper’s clothes, and a different sort of pang hit me. Apart from nostalgia, I was also lamenting the disappearance of a baby from this house as I packed the onesies from her first year away into a bin. I realized that there would never be another from our house who would ever wear those again.

A few of the outfits I adored were passed down from Little Miss, and knowing that both girls grew in and then out of them, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with them.

Especially this one:

KimonoDress

Sure, it’s a little worn, but when it’s something this precious, it could never look weathered to me. Only well loved.

I remember Little Miss wearing this when she first felt the sand under her feet. Before that, she never wanted to be on the beach without her shoes. That day, we removed her shoes after some coaxing, and she tentatively took her steps as if she was learning to walk again. That was before we moved closer to the beach, and now she can’t wait to be buried in the sand, let alone barefoot run on it. 

FirstSandonFeet



I also remember Thumper prancing in this garment with unsteady feet after she first started walking on her own. So eager. So proud. So bruised.

BipedGirl



Such great memories. Such wonderful girls. It’s comforting to know that there would be more of these to come, and clothes will not be the only mementoes of these moments I want filed away under, “never, ever forget”.

Without such aids, whether visual or otherwise, to help conjure long forgotten memories back to life, I fear that I would lose them altogether. I have thousands of pictures of my girls, but not many contain the breadth and depth of emotion of something as tangible as a dress or a blankie.

Perhaps that is why, despite the myriad stains on the front, despite the fraying edges, I have this last dress stashed away just for myself, so that when I want to - need to - remember, I can.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Little big girl

teafortwo They had their first tea party together this past weekend. With real red-velvet cake.

As a stay-at-home mom with the occasional freelancer’s deadlines, weekends aren’t what they used to be. I once needed that time to recharge, but without a 40-hour work week plus the harrowing commute, TGIF is mostly just F.

However, now that Little Miss is back in preschool, there’s one part of the weekend that I look forward to, and that is the quiet time we share while her sister naps for two to three hours in the afternoon.

They don’t nap together, lest we want two little exhausted (and exasperating) monkeys in our hands, so the older sister gets to use our room. She would either leaf through her books and eventually fall asleep. Or not. Either way, the important thing is that she has some down time.

Lately, I find myself climbing into our bed with her for the first half hour before I leave her to rest on her own. We usually chat a little, reflecting on our morning or discussing future plans, or I read her a story. Today, we got these Tell-Me-a-Story flash cards from the toy store this morning so she could make up her own.

“The witch took the key and opened the door, and she made some bubbling hot potion...And then the fairy fluttered by, but actually the big bad wolf is coming and the daddy mouse is protecting his baby...”

The story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but maybe that’s why I enjoy it immensely. Like most kids, she’s not self-conscious about being silly, and I think to myself, how liberating that must be. I smile at the names she picks for her characters, like Ria the mouse, Italen the witch, and the simple plot twists that are so, well, fairy-tale-like. “The princess runs away to see the mice get married...”

I have to say, her unrehearsed, real-life moments can be funny too, like this recent exchange:

Me: “It’s not a good idea to pick the flowers from the bushes.”
LM: “Yeah, because if I pick all of them, there won’t be flowers to make them pretty. Actually, the bushes will just look plant-y.”

This girl cracks me up, and that’s what I treasure the most in our quiet moments together. When she’s still, and when she isn’t clamoring for attention, she’s actually wonderful company.

It also amazes me when she uses words like “actually”, “otherwise”, and “although” in all the right places that sometimes, when she’s acting out, I have to consciously remind myself that she’s not even four. That she’s still at that age when she is cranky without proper rest, and that she isn’t always good about sharing.

We have to remind ourselves to continue to be patient with her, knowing that her missteps are often age-appropriate behavior. Not acceptable, but, at the very least, understandable, and it helps us to react accordingly.

This past summer was both a joy and a challenge when both girls were home because Little Miss was constantly competing for attention. Look up the word “infuriating” and you’d see her face next to it, sulking. I was mostly exhausted by the end of the evening as there was only so much “look at me” and “watch me” I could handle in a day. And, oh, the screaming.

At her worst, she was Little Miss Banshee when we removed her from an undesirable situation, and her screaming would then escalate from unpleasant to nasty in her room. There were several epic meltdowns that warranted complete isolation for a few minutes; there wasn’t much we could do except to let her blow off some steam.

I tried to be fair to her with how I divide my attention, but with a toddler who newly learned to walk and who loved putting everything in her mouth, I had to be be vigilant with Thumper. That also meant Little Miss had to find new ways to vie for attention, positive or negative. Many times, unfortunately, it leaned towards the latter.

I’m grateful, at least, that her ploys never amounted to anything malicious. She played well with Thumper, and continues to, often looking out for her baby sister when I’m not in their immediate vicinity - “Mommy, she’s eating the sticker!”

Wagoneers 
First wagon ride together. Can’t believe we didn’t use it at all in the summer.

As concerning as those terrible episodes were, once school started, they all but disappeared. I saw a transformation in Little Miss, and while she is still a little more unpredictable around her sister, I can usually expect a rather pleasant, even enjoyable, time, when it’s just the two of us together.

It’s not surprising, considering she’s had me all to herself for two and a half years, and to share what was once all hers can be a little tough. She’s only three after all.

I have to keep reminding myself that she may be a big sister, but she’s still only a little girl handling big changes in her life. When faced with a flurry of activities and life events beyond her control, she needs a constant. A rock. She needs us, her parents, to reassure her that while things change, we won’t. That we will always be there for her, just like we were the first couple of years of her life.

Realizing that, I decided to carve out some quality time for Little Miss and me during the toddler’s nap, and in that time, it would be all about her. Even though we mostly talk and read together, I’ve also fallen asleep beside her, and there’s no describing the sweetness of cuddling with our babies. Even if said baby is over three feet tall and all arms and legs. And the delight I see in her face when she sees me next to her upon her wake? Priceless.

This past weekend, we branched out and used this sacred time to craft, like this simple Fall banner that started the previous day with a walk in the park right next to us to collect leaves. Little Miss then helped me cut the pennant shapes - she did the straight lines - and glued the leaves to them before I strung them together with yarn. It was an easy project that involved the three people in the house who weren’t napping while Thumper was down.

FallBannerCollage This has been a Fall worth celebrating

Monday is Columbus Day, and there’s no school. I decided to leave Thumper with a sitter while Little Miss and I indulge in a morning all to ourselves.

I haven’t concocted a plan yet but I suspect there will be some conversations, some giggles, and perhaps an adventure or two. There may even be some chocolate - her favorite - in there somewhere. I will get my Little Miss fix. She will get her mama fix.

Then we will come home, and perhaps even take a nap together. Just me and my little big girl.

My big little girl.

And I absolutely cannot wait.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Momentum

2500072902_7dee20da13

I am running.

Not away. Not from something. Certainly not for pleasure either.

I’m just running, to exercise.

For those of you who know me, you also know how impossible and weird that is for me. Because I just don’t do that. I’ve always loathed running. Something always hurts - leg, sides, lungs, toes, you name it - and it never felt natural to me.

But it wasn’t until my first attempt at running with other moms, one of whom is a marathoner/triathlete who gave us great tips as we ran, did I realize that I’d been doing it wrong all along. No wonder I hated it. When I got back from my first session, nothing hurt. In fact, it felt right. And by our third running session, it felt great!

I never thought I’d use these two words in the same sentence: “running” and “great”. Yet here I am. Sunday would be our fourth week at this, and I’ve not missed a single day. We only run three times a week, first thing in the morning, but for a bunch of moms with kids, it’s quite a feat to get us together to do this for as long as we have.

Now that it’s Fall, the air is crisp and the leaves are falling from the canopy of trees all around us as we run on our neighborhood sidewalks, as well as the path by the beach. Some mornings, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Literally and figuratively. It has been a great motivating factor, apart from having a wonderful gaggle of moms as running partners.

runningview Our view sometimes – photo courtesy of one of the moms


We’re quite a posse, if you ask me. We may be slow, as we’re mostly trying to get a hang of this running thing so we’re running and walking to build our stamina and strength, but we’re at least determined. We talk, we encourage, we support. Mostly, we run.

And man, I don’t have to tell you the sense of accomplishment I feel when we complete our run. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the main things that keeps me going.

I chose to write about this experience because I know there will be days that I’m going to need the motivation to get out there. When it’s cold - we’re in Chicago, where the winters can be as brutal as you can imagine - and when all I want to do is to curl up with my girls under the blanket, going outside to run will be the biggest challenge.

I will have plenty of excuses to drop out of running, and that’s why I want to dispel all of them now, so that I can come back to this when I need it the most. So that when the time comes, I will remember why I need to get out there.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES!

Excuse Number 1: No time
Bullshit. I know of moms of two, three kids with a busy full-time work schedule who train for and complete marathons and triathlons. And My Guy has been exceedingly helpful in making sure that I do get the time to get out there, which brings me to Excuse Number 2.

Excuse Number 2: I can’t do this alone
But I’m not. I have running partners, and even if I don’t, I have a partner at home who makes it easier for me to do this. When I’m running, My Guy feeds and dresses both girls, and he even makes coffee and sometimes waffles for when I get back.

Today, when I came home from dropping Little Miss off at preschool after my run, he had Thumper on his lap while he was on a conference call. She was silently watching a computer screen filled with Elmo as he used the other screen for his meeting. He did what it took so that I could get my run in.

As if that isn’t enough, he has also moved meetings, stayed home to take client calls and left for work later just to accommodate me. Because he knows how important this is to me.

They say it takes two, and I have that in spades in this amazing man of mine.

Excuse Number 3: Running gear is expensive. I can’t afford to run!
But I can’t afford a gym membership either. Also, if I don’t get some kind of exercise in, I won’t be able to afford my medical bills from sitting on my ass even more! I’m no spring chicken, and I already feel creaks in my joints. I know I will pay for it dearly in the long run (haha, pun intended) if I don’t do something about that now. While I still can.

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention...

So yes, my new running shoes were expensive. But it’s worth every penny if it means a longer, healthier life with my family.

NewRunningShoes
These came in purple, blue and pink. I got these in pink to make Little Miss happy. She approved.


Excuse Number 4: It’s too cold

I have to admit, this does concern me. I have never run in the winter. Hell, what am I saying? I’ve never run before, period.

At this point, I don’t have a good solution for inclement weather. I only know that, with proper attire, it’s doable, and I’m willing to give it a shot at least. More gear to buy! And if that makes me hesitate, see Excuse Number 3.

Excuse Number 5: It’s not as fun as...well, nearly everything else!
Okay, so this is a tough one to beat. My family starts the weekend mornings with a Planet Earth documentary. They lay on the couch, all piled on top of each other. It’s hard to look at that and not want to dive right in to make a little nook for myself.

But the thing is, when I get back, they’re still there. As are other things. Like brunch, a walk in the park, and a slew of other fun activities. It helps that I’m already out the door by 7:30 most mornings, which means I still have the rest of the day to spend with my family.

ParkJaunt

A jaunt to the park to collect Fall leaves. After my run.


Excuse Number 6: Saggy boobs

Too late. Thumper got to them first. But there are also myriad options out there to keep “my girls” in place. Apparently, with the right gear, anything is possible. Again, see Excuse Number 3.

But we also need the right attitude. I get that. I’m writing this while I’m still on a runner’s high, and I’m all about High Five’s and Can-Do’s. Suddenly, achieving a 5K by the end of the year doesn’t seem so impossible. Or even daunting. And I want to do it.

LET’S DO THIS!

ChairPotatoesCouch, err…chair potatoes in the making. 

Above all else, running is important to me because of my girls. Not only do I want to be around for them, I also want them to be healthy. And as we all know, the best way to do that is to model the behavior I want to see in them. For the longest time, since both girls were born, our family made many excuses to just sit on our laurels/behinds. I depended on breastfeeding for post-baby weight loss (woot!), and both My Guy and I relied too heavily on decent genes in keeping us relatively in shape.

But exercise isn’t just about looking good in a bikini is it? It’s about health. It’s about energy. And oh my goodness do I have that now. I remember spending one evening picking up around the house for three straight hours. I felt like a bullet.

Before, I would just sit behind my computer and call it a night once the kids were in bed because I would be too exhausted from all the working and mom’ing. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I need to physically do something every evening. And fortunately for my family, housekeeping it is.

* * *

I think I have enough here to keep me committed to running. However, ask me again when it’s five degrees and gusty outside. Let’s see if this post will be enough to get me out there.

If nothing else works, I should at least try to remember this: When I’m running, I feel capable; I feel strong. I feel like I can do anything.

I never could believe that before, but I am finally starting to.

 

* * *

If you’re a runner/cyclist/<insert active lifestyle of choice here>, what keeps you going? How do you maintain your lifestyle with each season? What is your biggest motivator?

Tell me more. Tell me everything. Because I really want to do this, and I will take all the help I can get.

 

image source: Running feet, by Eva the Weaver.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Change is good

Why, hello there! Welcome back. It’s been a little over two months since I last published a post on this space. I’ve had many in my head in the eight weeks I’ve been away, but none that have found their way here. It’s a shame really, because just as I decided to take a break, so many momentous things happened.

Thumper started walking, for one. During our vacation, nonetheless. We flew into Asheville, NC and met with some friends at a local brewery right after we arrived at the airport. That’s when she decided to take her first steps. When we weren’t looking. Of course.

First flight, followed by her first steps, at 14 months. And that same night, the girls slept together in the same room for the first time. So many firsts! Guess she was a busy girl that day.

Thumper_Aerobics  She doesn’t just walk now; she even does aerobics apparently.

Having them sleep together on vacation worked so well that the very evening we arrived home, we decided to move Thumper out of our room and into her sister’s. They’ve been there since.

Some nights, through the monitor, we’d hear, “Be quiet, Thumper! I’m trying to sleep!”, and on other nights, we’d hear Little Miss reassuring her fussy sister, “Thumper, it’s okay, I’m here. It’s okay...”. Mostly, it’s quiet in their room, and I’m in awe that this transition has been so incredibly easy for us.

Speaking of transitions, Little Miss started a new preschool. She didn’t care for the idea, but there were at least no tears on her first day. It’s a little over three weeks now, and she has made new friends - ones she hugs when she leaves school. Something tells me she’s fine with this change. But then again, she has never had a problem with change. In fact, this girl thrives in it, and it thrills me to see her meeting every challenge with such gusto.

This decision to switch schools also made a huge impact on our family. Instead of the 20-minute drive each way to get her to and from school, we now just walk five minutes down the street. Well, 10 with Thumper in tow.

LittleMiss_FirstDaySchoolOn our way to her first day in the new school

This change means we’re a little less frazzled in the morning, we don’t eat breakfast on the go, we don’t have to juggle one car for various needs, and we even save money on gas! But the best part is that I get to hold my daughter’s hand while she talks about her day in school on our way home.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but for someone who has recently opened her eyes to see the beauty in the ordinary, I can’t think of anything better than feeling the warmth of our clasped hands and the tug from her jaunt, which tells me that my girl is happy.

That this change is good. That change, in general, is good.

As I settle back into my old-but-new routine, sending my older girl to school and spending the day with my toddler who is quickly leaving her babyhood behind, I ache to see the disappearing chubs from her cheeks and the once unsteady feet that have now learned to walk, no run, away from me.

Then I remind myself, over and over again, that change is good.

But I grapple with these changes myself - the ones that my daughters seem to master so easily and so well. I try to remember (and take comfort in the fact) that at least those little feet that walk away still do find their way back to me.

And right beside me, as we trod synchronously on the path that lead us home.

One step at a time.

WalkintheWoods

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