Thursday, September 26, 2013

Summertime, and the livin' is easy

Ben is three! And look, Batman is standing in for Adam!

Aaron is 40! Bottom row, l to r: Sara, April, the old man, Josh's girlfriend Becky. Back: Me, Amy, Patti.

My favorite t-ball player and coach

Crivitz, Wis. (Holly & Kevin's cabin, just north of Green Bay)

Canoeing down the Peshtigo River, Crivitz, Wis.

Some of my best friends from college. UWEC forever.

Itasca State Park

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

What? Everyone is looking? And smiling? Stop the press!

My parents

Family hike in Itasca State Park

We played a lot of bags this summer

Look-alikes Ben and Uncle Nick

My catch (Aaron), his catch (northern). Lake Itasca.

Camping at Hok-si-la, Lake Pepin. (Jeremy ready to get the party started!!)

Rock on, Tara, Trish and big brother Shawn


Adam is six!

Aqua Batman?

Mahtomedi Beach

Weekend at Becky's parents' cabin, Siren, Wis. - Aaron, Adam, Logan, Josh, Lane

That smile!

Captain Lucy, first time on a boat

What a nice big cousin

20 year (!?!) reunion -- trying to recreate the photo below. My best friends from high school. What a FUN night!!!

Treina, me, Amy, Karla, Tonya, Megan. So much love.

Cousins Ben, Leo, Adam

Annual Coon Rapids/Blaine overnight get-together near Prior Lake (Aaron was wearing Conrad's letterman jacket)

Shawn's birthday at Psycho Suzi's ... love my beautiful niece April

Fun in the backyard

Family reunion in Madison, Wis.

Family, sunshine, Spotted Cow. Happy girl.

Mumford and Sons!

Water your brother and he will grow.

Ready to ride into fall ...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Things change. Life doesn't stop for anybody.

Oh, man. I've been bad about blogging on here. June was my last post? A whole summer has gone by. I know I should do a summer recap, but first I'm gonna blog about September 2013 because it's kind of been a big month in our household. And it's probably going to be a long, drawn-out post. Be prepared for lots of rambling. I'm going to have to go with a "change" theme for this one, since there was change in my life (new company, new office), Ben's life (transitioning from daycare to preschool), and Adam's life (starting kindergarten). 

Ok, let me reverse a little bit to August. Thursday, Aug. 29 to be exact—Adam and Ben's last day at daycare. What an emotional day. Six years of pulling into and out of the same driveway five days a week, at first lugging Baby Adam in that bucket carseat into and out of the house, then carrying him on my hip, then balancing him on my hip as my pregnant belly got in the way, then lugging Baby Ben in that bucket carseat while Adam walked beside me ... six years of watching the seasons change ... six years of making small talk with Mary, chatting with the other parents, watching the kids play, getting to know the kids ... six years of watching them grow from helpless babies to kids with personalities. I can't tell you how many times Adam or Ben asked, "Can we play for a little longer?" once I arrived to pick them up. And how many times I've sat down next to Mary or Katie or Judy or Lindsay in one of those red chairs, out on the driveway, and watched the kids ride their bikes in the cul-de-sac, or play Star Wars in the grass, or chase one another, laughing and yelling and having fun while we talked about the little things in life that make our lives worthwhile. You really get to know people when you see them nearly 20 days a month for six years.

A page from Adam's daily notebook update. He was almost four months old. For nearly a year, Mary documented when he ate, how much he ate, when he napped, when he pooped, and any other facts of relevance.
Halloween 2010, Adam (3) as a duck and Ben as a chunky pumpkin four-month-old (almost five months). 

Mary watched Adam grow from a happy-go-lucky three-month-old to a sensitive six-year-old; she visited me in the hospital after having Ben, bringing us food and gifts, and watched him grow from a chunky baby (22 pounds at four months!) to a 3-year-old who just informed me that he wants to change his name to Bruce Wayne. [I know a lot of kids like Batman, but this is a serious obsession.]
She genuinely cared about our kids and reveled in their milestone moments (first tooth, first time crawling, first word, first time walking) just like family. And when I say family, I mean the good and the bad ... because sometimes a family can be slightly dysfunctional and a family member will say or do something to really upset you—something you disagree with, and other times you feel so grateful, so appreciative, so thankful for their love and support. Families are weird like that.

Over a few weeks I collected photos from the other moms, then waited until the last minute to put the slideshow together. (Last-minute is often how I operate, much to Aaron's annoyance.) I spent all night creating a slideshow for Mary as a farewell gift. I sent the video link to her email before I picked up the boys, not thinking she would check her email until after we were gone. When I walked into the basement, she was sitting at the computer with tears in her eyes. "I could only watch the first two slides," she said, grabbing a Kleenex. "And then I started crying. I'll have to watch it later." 
We walked together outside, trying not to bring up the Elephant in the Room that was really more like a T-Rex at this point. What should I say? How should I say it? What's the best way to say goodbye?  
What's that saying? It's always easier to be the one leaving than to be the one left behind? 
We made superficial small talk about our weekend plans before Mary gave each of the boys a parting gift (Batman books for Ben; Star Wars books for Adam) and suggested that we get together for dinner in the future. I agreed that it would be nice to plan a dinner date. 
"Good luck at school," she told Adam. "You'll do great."
He smiled shyly.
"And Ben," she said, "Be sure to use the potty this weekend for your mom and dad. Batman doesn't wear a diaper." 
"I will!" he said before running toward the car.

There were hugs and goodbyes and heartfelt thank you's and we were off, just like that. I felt sad, Adam was sad, Ben was oblivious. We watched the slideshow that night (after dinner) and Adam announced, "I wasn't even thinking about my friends and now seeing that made me think of them and miss them." 
Ben was still oblivious. He knew he would be going to preschool, but I don't know that he fully comprehended that going to preschool meant not going to daycare anymore.

On Friday I drove the boys up to Forest Lake for the day so that I could work from home and Aaron and I could go to the State Fair later that evening with friends to see the Mason Jennings/Suburbs/Trampled by Turtles show (such amazing local talent! I could listen to Trampled over and over and over again. Bonus that I was able to enjoy an ooey, gooey, chocolatey paper cone of delicious Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookies, my only "must-have" Fair food). It was the perfect summer evening to be at an outdoor concert with good friends. It almost made me forget about the Chore that Lied Ahead—the dreaded Potty Training Boot Camp.

On Saturday it was do-or-die training time. Ben was required to show up in underwear at preschool. We had three days to figure it out. It was a nearly impossible task, but I was hell-bent on at least trying. I mean, there were plenty of blog posts and books about potty training in a DAY. I had 48 more hours than that, practically an eternity! 

"We're done now with diapers," I told Ben in a firm no-nonsense tone when I picked him up from my parents house.
He nodded like he understood. 
"If you have to pee or poop, tell me, or you'll ruin these AWESOME Batman underwear."
"I will," he answered like a snotty teenage girl. If he had known how to roll his eyes, I'm sure he would have (and then texted a friend 'OMG, SMH, 303 is an ACORN, **//'). 
[Translation: OMG, shaking my head, Mom is A Completely Obsessive Really Nutty person, wink, wink, nudge, nudge].  

Anyhow, I'm pretty sure he peed in his pants about 10 minutes after that conversation. Yee-ha! We were off to a great start!

Aaron and I loaded him up on liquids throughout the day and set the oven timer for every 20 minutes, when we would rush him upstairs to our lone bathroom. I began to hate the sound of that timer. Again?!?! How could 20 minutes have gone by already!?!? (I remember the same feeling when I was breastfeeding Adam. How could he be hungry again!? Didn't he JUST eat??)

Ben was a good sport, though, and obediently tried to pee or poop every time that damned timer went off. Well, no, obediently is the wrong word. Sometimes he begrudgingly tried to go, sometimes he resisted, sometimes he DID go but only for a two-second trickle. Clearly he didn't understand what it meant to fully empty his bladder. And every time I'd think we had an "A-ha!" moment, it would be followed by an accident. I felt like a robot, constantly asking, "Ben, do you have to go potty? Are you sure? Do we feel like you have to pee? Do you have to poop? Let's just try." 
The low point of the weekend was, after one particularly messy accident, when Ben exclaimed "Mommy is mad at me!" then burst into tears. I felt like Joan Crawford. 
The one thing I never wanted to do throughout the weekend was make Ben feel bad.
"I'm not mad at YOU," I told him, furiously scrubbing the soiled carpet. I was annoyed, but more than anything, I was mad at myself.
"Give me a hug," I said instead. It wasn't his fault that we had placed this ridiculously huge burden on his little shoulders.
"Do I still get Skittles?" he asked. 
I am such a gigantic pushover that I gave him three Skittles just for trying.
Be persistent. Be patient. Be encouraging. Don't scream. Don't scream. Don't scream.
After the first day, he had successfully peed in the potty three times. Three times more than Friday. I considered it progress. Maybe we could pull this off, after all. 

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Sunday was an f'ing disaster. He had EIGHT accidents. Eight. Accidents. Part of it was because we had friends over for a last-minute BBQ and we weren't as good about reminding him and bringing him upstairs like we had Saturday. Part of it was that he was too busy playing with our friends' kids to stop what he was doing. And part of it—the part that terrified me—was that he just did not care
I felt like crying. Why did I think my 3-year-old could be trained in a long weekend? Was I nuts? I must be crazy. This deadline was too much, too soon. It was clear that no amount of Skittles, no amount of bribing (Batman backpack), no amount of praise and encouragement was going to magically do the trick. 

The next day (Labor Day) we went to Aaron's mom's house for a few hours during the afternoon. It was a breath of fresh air to take a break from that horrid kitchen timer. We had more successes than accidents, and one No. 2 victory. Even with the successes, though, I hardly slept at all the night before Ben's monumental first day of preschool, I was so terrified that his amateur potty skills would get him kicked out. How on earth could he be expected to wipe his own butt when he wouldn’t even poop without being prompted? I started doubting our rationale for pulling him from daycare (I know it was the first day of school for many of the preschool kids, but still, we should have waited a few months until he was ready). I felt like I was setting him up for failure—not only was he going to be in a new school with different teachers and new little friends and a whole new routine (learning!), he was saddled with this bathroom expectation that he couldn’t possibly fulfill. I was a terrible mom. This was a terrible decision. The whole thing was a gigantic fail and it was all my fault. 

In preparation of the first day of preschool, I packed four extra sets of shorts and underwear in Ben's backpack. At drop-off, I was a nervous mess. When I'm nervous, I either clam up or I can't shut up. This morning, I couldn't shut up. “We have to constantly remind Ben to use the bathroom. Does a teacher do that?” I asked the director. I just don’t want him to have too many accidents, you know? Do you ever put the three-year-olds in diapers, for the teachers' convenience?” 
The director answered in her stern Nanny McPhee way, “Oh no. We don’t have diapering facilities here.” And then, as if she suddenly realized the possibility that maybe—horror of horrors!—he wasn’t actually potty trained, she asked, her eyes wide in fear, “He is wearing underwear, isn’t he?”
“Oh yeah, he wears underwear,” I reassured her with a wave of my hand. (As of, like, three days ago.) 
“I’m just worried that he won’t be reminded to go and will have accidents.” (I’m just worried that even if he’s reminded to go he’ll have accidents.) 
I had this awful visual of Ben, crying alone in the bathroom, trying to clean his underwear, while the teachers were taking care of the other toddlers. 
The guilt.
“Do you have extra clothes for him?” she asked.
I nodded yes.
“Our teachers are very good about reminding the kids to go. He’ll be fine,” she finally smiled at me.

Ben didn’t want me to leave for work, and the only thing that eased his troubled mind was the fact that Adam was there, too. It was odd to see the normally nervous Adam in the role of caretaker. Ben also had “blue blankie” for comfort, and that’s how I picture him now when I think about Day One—deeply inhaling the comforting scent of his blue blanket. The blanket that smelled like love.

I was on pins and needles all day, worrying about receiving a call from the center. 
Miracle of all miracles he didn’t have a single accident. I should have bought a lottery ticket that day. He managed to stay clean and dry from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., peeing during bathroom breaks and THANK THE LORD never having to poop. His teacher sent us home with a progress report saying that he did really well for his first day (he hung near his brother for the first part of the day and then hung out with his class for the remainder). He listened. He followed directions. He took a nap at nap time. He ate his lunch. He colored. He played. He made a friend. 
Sept. 3 was also my first day in a new office, after being in the same space for nearly nine years. The new office isn't as big (I prefer to call it "cozy"), and it's not as modern, but it's alright. I still have a spot at the window, I still get to see and talk to my friends every day, and I still get paid to write. My only complaint is that it's way too quiet. I feel like I need to apologize to everyone around me when I eat loud food, like sourdough pretzels or carrots, and having a personal phone conversation is basically out of the question. There are some days when I really miss the buzz of the newsroom. 

Ok. Back to Ben. The rest of the week at preschool wasn't quite as miraculous when it came to using the potty (two accidents the next day, soaked through his bedding at nap time the third day, two more accidents the fourth day), but the teachers seemed understanding and Ben seemed to be making friends and having fun and adapting really well, despite the bathroom issues. 
One day, as we were leaving the center and Ben was grumbling about how he wanted to wear his lace-up shoes like Adam, I joked to one of the teachers that we sometimes call Ben "the crabby old man." I wanted her to know that she didn't have to sugarcoat anything with us. It was ok to be honest. I mean, we live with him. We know his moods. We sometimes live in fear of the next time he'll throw his cane at one of us.
She looked genuinely surprised and said, "Ben never acts crabby when he's here." 
Say what!?

We didn't ask him to pose like this. He just did.

And now he's been there for two weeks, so I think it's safe to say they're gonna keep him. (*Cue church bells ringing and angels singing.)

Adam also conquered a nerve-wracking first day of kindergarten. His first day of school was Sept. 4, and after weeks of us talking about kindergarten and reading books and meeting his teacher and touring the school and filling out forms, the day finally arrived. Aaron and I realized as we were getting him ready that we had failed to buy him a first day of school outfit. Oops. Unlike his Batman-apparel-obsessed little brother, he could care less what clothes we put him in. He wound up wearing a hand-me-down polo-style shirt, some brown cargo shorts, his new red tie shoes, his old Puma jacket, and a hand-me-down Star Wars backpack. [We vowed then to go back-to-school shopping before school starts next year, like everyone else does.] He talked a lot in the car ride to preschool—projecting his own nervous thoughts onto Ben, "It's ok, Ben. You'll be ok without me at preschool. You'll make friends. You won't be alone. I know you're scared, but you'll have fun." [I don't think Ben had even considered the possibility of being left alone at the center until Adam kept driving that fact home again and again and again.] Aaron and I wanted to watch our first-born get on the bus that morning, you know, first day of school ritual and all, so we dropped him off at preschool then went to Burger King for breakfast to stall for time, returning to the parking lot 35 minutes later. [Since we do open enrollment, Adam takes the bus to school from preschool.] When we pulled up, Adam was standing off by himself, looking worried. The other (older) kids were hyper, chasing one another and yelling. They had to be told a few times to settle down. Even armed with the knowledge that two kids from preschool would be in his class (Cadence and Adam's good friend Michael), he was quiet as a mouse. When the bus arrived, the older boys lined up and Adam kept a safe distance; he was the last one to get on the bus. I imagine it took nearly all of his courage to climb up those bus steps into the Great Unknown. I knew he was probably freaking out inside, but he kept his composure and even forced a weak smile (or two). I was so proud of him.

When Aaron and I waved goodbye to him at the bus stop, I don't think he realized he'd see us again at his school. The poor kid totally lost it when we showed up at his elementary school for the class "parent reception" at 8:45. Seeing our familiar faces triggered a release of tears. He was the only one in his class crying, and seeing that sad face and those crocodile tears just about broke me. I had blink really fast so that I wouldn't start crying, too. I was grateful that a teacher's assistant was there in the room, hovering near us, asking Adam questions to distract him. (Was she there just to help Adam? I have no idea, but I do know she was our guardian angel that morning.) 
When the other parents started filing out and we told Adam we had to go, too, first he buried his face in Aaron's work shirt and wouldn't let go, and then—after Aaron freed himself and left the room—he locked his fingers around my neck and held on with all his might. I had to pry myself free of his death grip and practically run out of the room so he couldn't chase me down the hall.
It was emotionally draining.

Today is Sept. 18 and he's only had one anxiety-related incident since then, when he threw up in music class (new room + new teacher = nerves + no breakfast and very little lunch + long school day without a nap  = upset stomach). Thankfully the very understanding teacher gave the very understanding nurse a brief recap of Adam's background and his anxiety, and the very understanding nurse called me to explain that his coloring was good, he didn't have a fever, he said he felt ok, and he wanted to return to class, so she said I didn't need to come pick him up. I can honestly say that Adam likes school. At night he sings the Spanish song he's learning in music class, he's excited on the days he gets to have gym class (his favorite so far), he recently told me that he learned the difference between fiction and nonfiction, and he even likes his once-a-week reading assignments. This is a huge relief to me, because really, it could go either way. Last year there were battles in the morning, tearful, emotionally-charged drop-offs, and incredible feelings of guilt as I backed out of the parking lot at preschool, looking at his sad face waving goodbye to me from the chair at the window. 
I know that it helps that he has familiar faces in his class (his teacher said that he and Michael "cherish" one another's friendship), because—no matter how old you are—it does make you feel better to have a friend at your side when you're going into a potentially intimidating situation, and I know that it helps Ben to have Adam at preschool in the mornings to help him when he's feeling tired or sad. I do miss daycare (mostly the social interaction), but I think—after everything—these changes were good for our family.

OK. WAKE UP! I TOLD YOU THIS WOULD BE A LONG ONE. Don't say you weren't warned.