Friday, September 2, 2016

New Beginnings

SORRY FOR THE GIANT FONT. It's kind of nice, though, isn't it? (Or is that just me?) 

I didn’t prepare myself mentally for the highs and lows of Wednesday. It was the kids’ last day at their daycare center (where they went to preschool, full-time summer care, and before-and-after school care), and I stupidly thought the drop-off would be like any other day. It was going fine until my favorite teacher, Miss. D, got all choked up, gave me a hug, and said she was really going to miss the boys and our family (I mean, you really get to know people when you see them five days a week for four years). Her tears got me, and pretty soon I was wiping my eyes, too.
We’ve had such a great experience there—I honestly can’t say anything negative about the school or the teachers … it’s just too far away now. It doesn’t make sense to drive out of our way to drop them off and pay $600 a month for before-and-after school care, knowing all along that we’re moving from that district. (Summer care is much, much more, but jam-packed with field trips, library outings, and soccer.)
After the sad (long) goodbye, I missed my bus by two stinkin’ minutes (which, according to my phone, was two minutes before the driver should have left—and it was the last bus of the morning), so had to drive to work, then had one of those mentally draining days putting the book “to bed” (this was a crazy issue for me—like beyond crazy crazy), then drove back “Up North” to meet Aaron and the boys at my parents’ house to get to orientation before 5.
The boys start at their new school on Tuesday, and after orientation, I feel a lot better about our decision to pull the kids from their old school and open this new chapter in our/their lives. There was such a great vibe at orientation… I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but I could almost feel the positive energy, genuine excitement, and sense of PRIDE. The boys were able to meet their teachers and see a little bit of the school, which I think helped get them excited, too. (Ben announced that he was “going to be brave” at his new school. Fingers crossed.)
We looked at a school lunch calendar (PRAISE THE LORD NO MOZZARELLA CHEESE STICKS!!!), put money in their lunch accounts, talked to a PTA parent, and looked for the school nurse (gotta give her a heads-up about Adam’s migraines). The boys couldn’t wait to play tag on the modern playground (zip line and all). And while we didn’t talk to any of the parents or kids, I think—just by seeing them—Adam and Ben felt better about who would be going to their new school. People seemed approachable. (“Mom, that boy talking to my teacher is named OWEN. He’s going to be in my class. He looks nice,” Ben announced after doing a tiny bit of conversation-eavesdropping.)  
What really struck me is that there are 10 less students in Ben’s first grade class this year than there were in Adam’s second grade class last year, making me realize just how overcrowded (and underfunded) their last school was (and making me appreciate those teachers that much more, because no teacher should be solely responsible for 31 eight and nine-year-olds without any support or assistance!)
Adam’s new teacher has been in the profession for 30 years, and handed out a form stating that he expects a “quiet and busy classroom,” and will NOT give any math homework because there’s no research proving that it helps, the parents weren’t taught this new way of doing math so it’s confusing to even them (TRUE THAT), and he’d rather families have a “pleasant evening together.” (Adam loves math, but he was pretty happy to hear that he won’t have any math homework.) Instead, Mr. C asks that the students read for 20 minutes each night. (Adam wasn’t too happy about that. “Read for 20 MINUTES EVERY NIGHT?! That’s impossible,” he hissed to me after we were out of earshot. He definitely didn’t inherit my love of/for books and reading for fun.)
I can’t say that I’m still not worried about the transition, or the kids aren’t worried, or I’m not worried that the kids will struggle with listening (Ben), volume control (BEN!), anxiety (Adam), lunch issues (Adam), or, you know, ENJOYING school, but one of their preschool teachers reassured me that they’re both bright and personable and “will make friends in no time.” I also feel better thinking about my friend A’s solid advice (from her daycare provider) that kids NEED to learn to adapt to change, it’s actually good for them.
Positive vibes, please, on September 6. We’ll take all the good thoughts we can get. 

And I apologize for the information overload (so much copy!), but I think I might want to relive these moments one day, so here's a super long summer recap:

Ben's golden birthday was June 6 and we talked and talked and talked about his special golden birthday for months leading up to the big day. Did he want to go to Disneyland or Dave and Buster’s? (You keep on dreamin’ big, Ben.) Should he invite Drew and Sidney? Drew invited him to Pinz but Sidney didn’t invite him to her party and maybe she wouldn’t want to go because she’s a girl? Should he invite Lane and Logan? Leo and Lou? Was it ok to invite adults, too, because he REALLY wanted Josh, Shawn, Nick, Kyle, and Jeremy there. His request, in the end, was a disc golf party. Sure, fine, we can do that … because ain’t no WAY we can afford Disney this year, Kid. Sorry.
On the day of his birthday, Aaron volunteered with Ben’s class on a field trip to the zoo (the Birthday Boy got to wear a fancy paper birthday crown all day) and for dinner, we went to Jimmy John’s (more of the fancy). 

That weekend, we hosted his “disc golf” party with a BBQ at my parents’ place. A group of kids/adults played disc golf at the parkland next door, thanks to our friend Kyle bringing over his basket and discs, and then we played more lawn games. We had an excellent turnout and people were overly generous with gifts. Ben’s favorite? Money. He counted his cash over and over until we had to take it away and hide it on him so he wouldn’t start losing bills in random places around the house. (We did let him spend some of it, though, and what did he buy? Pokemon cards. Our lives have become overrun with Pokemon battles, questions about damage and health, the Quest for the Great EX Card, trainers and coins, and Reyquaza, Charizard, Venusaur, Kyogre, and Blastoise. (And Dillysnap and Googlyroo and Fohrigwa and other names I make up to try to trick the kids.) 

We also:    

Attended the last kindergarten event for our family, Ben’s portfolio  picnic. Another milestone to mark The End of an Era. *Sigh  “Let them be little ...”

• Went to Adam’s first fast pitch baseball game of the year playing for a different league … he got hit in the nose with a wild throw during warm-up, started spraying blood like a garden hose (blood, blood, everywhere blood), and tried really hard not to cry but you could tell he wanted to cry, so we headed home before the game even began. (But hey! His nose was ok and I got the blood out of his jersey.)  

• Saw my friend Remme’s dance recital at the U of M with my sis-in-law Trish. (Rem’s 4-year-old twins danced too, but I gotta be honest, we were mostly there for Rem.) The positive? The women, ranging in age from 20-something to 60-something. So inspiring! (And they rocked those burlesque costumes.) The negative? We had to sit through a three-hour concert to see Rem perform twice, and the woman behind us kept taking off her stinky shoes and polluting our air. (“Is that a dirty mop???” Trish asked. “What is that STENCH?!?! Did someone throw up? WHAT IS IT? I can’t even breathe!”) Stank feet aside, I give the dance company mad props for the creative choreography and costumes. And those little, little kids?!?! GAH. There was The Boy Who Froze Like a Statue, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Stop Twirling, The Boy Who Fell Down (and Stayed Down), The Girl Who Did Her Own Moves, The Jumper and The Cryer. The competition dancers were so beautiful to watch, especially the ballet routines.      

• Went to Valleyfair with my brother Shawn and Trish (a private event through Shawn’s work). It was the first time we brought the kids, and I was surprised that Adam LOVED the scary rides and Ben was terrified. (Ben told me, in all seriousness, “I thought I was gonna die,” after the white rollercoaster came to a stop. “I’m never going on this again.”) We waited in some reaaally long lines, got too much sun, cooled off in the waterpark, walked more than 15,000 steps, and had a really good, exhausting time.  

• Hung out with a group of friends in honor of our friend Jesse and his boys visiting from Huntington Beach, California.  

• Went to our dear friend Holly & Kevin’s cabin north of Green Bay for five glorious days of sun, sand, boat rides, swimming, Corona Light, horseshoes, girl talk, floating down the river (I think there were 24 of us this year!!!) and college-friend-bonding.

• Went to a pool party at my sister Mary’s house. She and my BIL Ben have a pool, a trampoline, an arsenal of Nerf guns and bullets, video games, really good food, a cat, a dog, an older daughter and two older sons (older as in older than Adam and Ben, but just by a few years), so basically their house is like the Taj Mahal.

• Co-hosted a baby shower brunch for my brother Nick and his girlfriend Ashley, in honor of Baby B due in August. Nearly everyone on the invite list was able to make it. It was fun to see/catch up with relatives, but when you’re co-hosting for nearly 40 people, you’re never sitting still for more than a few minutes. When the shower was over, I made myself a margarita, sat on the couch, and didn’t move for the next two hours. 

• Went to Adam’s baseball tourney—our first (of many?) weekend sports tournaments.  During one game, Adam shocked us with a from-his-knees throw from shortstop to first base, just like in MLB. (My dad exclaimed with pride, “That’s my grandson!” and my heart just swelled.) I hate to sound like I’m bragging, because Aaron and I both find it incredibly annoying when parents do that, but he’s actually pretty good. He gets a decent hit nearly every time he’s up, he makes good plays in the field, and for the first time, he didn’t let his anxiety stop him. He genuinely enjoyed playing and it showed. He was invited by his coach and his assistant coach to play in two different fall-baseball leagues, but we had to politely decline due to it already being a season of uncertainty and unknowns. (It would be different if either league was based in the city we’re hoping to live, but they’re both between 30-40 miles away.) 

• Got together with friends on many occasions for dinner, drinks, BBQs, or “just because. I’m beyond grateful that Aaron is so supportive of my NEED to maintain these different friendships/connections.

• Helped Jay and Pete celebrate their love and commitment at a beautiful Minneapolis riverboat wedding 

• Hosted a going-away party for our friends Kyle and Rachel, who moved back to the East Coast (we met them while camping four years ago). She’s a doctor; he’s an aerospace engineer, they’re brilliant, theyre fun, theyre kind, we just click. Theyre both far younger than we are, and we still can’t figure out why they like hanging out with us old people. 

• Helped my parents acknowledge their 45th wedding anniversary. That is a LONG ASS time to be married. My mom didn’t want a big party, so instead they planned a trip at the end of July. They flew to Vegas for the sole purpose of seeing J Lo in concert, then drove to the Grand Canyon on their way to a wedding in Colorado. After the wedding, they went to Red Rocks and the Coors Brewery and other places I’m forgetting. “I saw enough mountains to last a lifetime,” my mom said. They did a lot of driving, spent a lot of money, and enjoyed one another’s company (I was worried they’d start bickering with so much together time.) We grilled steak and chicken when they were home, and did a little champagne toast.   

• Enjoyed another fantastic evening at the Pizza Farm for J’s bday (we love this annual tradition). No rain, but lots of flies. (*Note to self: Do not set up camp in front of the cow barn next summer.)

• Spent bonus time with T and Evan, who flew in from Idaho last-minute to visit her sick grandma. I took a vacation day and T, Meg, and I brought the five kiddos to to Cascade Bay (lazy river, waterslides, and mini golf), the high school group was able to get the kids together at Karla’s another night (11 kids, ranging in age from 3 to 9), and we pulled some major strings to organize a girls’ dinner in downtown Stillwater, with both Tonya-who-lives-in-Coeur d’Alene AND Becky-who-lives-in-San-Diego in town at the same time, which hasn’t happened since Money’s wedding in 2009. 

  Celebrated Adam turning NINE with Chipotle, grandparents, and godparents at a park. (Our goal is to have an ANW party with friends later this fall.) 

• Went camping with my side of the family at Baker Park. Got rained on Friday (couldn’t even have a bonfire, it was too wet). Went swimming, hiking, and biking Saturday. Got attacked by mosquitoes. Found a really cool bug. Ate walking tacos (my parents brought their camper, so we had the luxury of a stove), hot dogs, and s’mores. Drank G&Ts. Played Apples to Apples. Slept like #$%@ wedged between two little boys on a giant air mattress. (The kids loved every minute, though, rain and all.)

• Got together with college track friends who I haven’t seen in-person in 20 (!!!!) years. Do any of us run anymore?

• Went to Madden’s Resort—just for the four of us—for a work travel story. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with tennis, pickle ball, croquet, badminton, bingo (we won three of the eight games, it was almost embarrassing how much we dominated!), lawn bowling, swimming (in an indoor pool, in an outdoor pool, and in the lake), Surly X-Tra Citrus, pizza, ice cream, burgers, more lawn games, mini golf at nearby Pirate's Cove, and a really good lunch at the Roundhouse Brewery.  

• Welcomed our nephew to the world, born healthy with thick black hair and beautiful coloring and big chubby cheeks. I fully plan on spoiling him. (You can do that when your own kids are 6 and 9 and you’re no longer “in the trenches” taking care of babies.)

• Had our photos shot by a professional photographer and will probably hate all photos of ME (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but that whole self-love/acceptance thing is a daily challenge), but was glad that the boys cooperated and followed direction and smiled on cue and didn’t wind up wrestling on the ground. Some days they are the best of friends; other days our house is like a war zone. After a super buggy shoot, we drove less than a mile to Kelly’s parents’ house (Kelly arranged the photo shoot) for tacos and margaritas and interesting conversations with Kelly's family and Book Club friends. I still miss working with her, even after all these years. Being writers in the marketing department (for seven years), we just “got” one another. Our personalities mesh. I miss a lot of people who have left the magazine, but I keep in touch with the ones I care to keep in touch with [thank you text messaging and Facebook and regular dinner dates]. More than anything, I’m grateful the “old-timers” are still here, because without them, work would be far less fun. (Also grateful for the opportunity to write more travel features and get free trips!)   

• Brought the kids to the MOA on a rainy Saturday during prime back-to-school shopping season and NEVER EVER EVER AGAIN. *The reason we went to the MOA was so that Adam’s godparents, Shawn and Trish, could have a special day with him at Nickelodeon Universe. I think it’s awesome that his godparents created a “special day with Adam” birthday tradition (last year they went to the State Fair; one year they went to lunch and a movie) and I hope I don’t sound like an ungrateful bee-otch by complaining, but between the traffic, the crowds, not really knowing the lay of the land, Ben asking me to buy this-and-this-and-this-and-this-and-OMG-KID-IS-IT-NEVER-ENOUGH?!?!??!, and trying to keep track of/gently steer/corral both kids, I was just a LITTLE stressed and cranky. After eating lunch together, Adam went off with his godparents to enjoy the rides and obstacle course, and I brought Ben to The Secret Life of Pets. (I apparently cannot handle a day at the MOA anymore, I needed to be a hermit and hide in a dark, cool theater, away from humanity.)     

• Saw the Dixie Chicks with Aaron, my SIL April, and Aaron’s uncle Jay (who had three last-minute tickets and was kind enough to offer them to us) on their second night performing sold-out shows at the Minnesota State Fair. If this is the only concert I see in 2016, I’m ok with that. What a performance. What talent. What FUN. My favorite was their cover of Sinead’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which holds special significance because not only is it me and my girl T’s song (we played it during a dorm-room memorial our freshman year at college, after hearing the news that T’s yellow lab, Kayla, had died), but also because Prince wrote and composed that song for Sinead, and the DC had a Prince symbol/backdrop/purple explosion on stage while singing. I think I’ll buy their new CD. Wait. Do people still buy CDs??! (This is a serious inquiry.) I wouldn’t go as far as to classify myself as a country music fan, I still can’t/won’t/don’t listen to country stations, but I have been a Dixie Chicks fan since Wide Open Spaces and used to have at least one of their songs on every mixed CD I created, and I like the Zac Brown Band and Garth Brooks and Keith Urban, and if a random country song is really good, I will pay $1.29 to iTunes because good music is good music, genre be damned. Anyhow, the concert was worth every penny and every Monday-morning yawn, reinforcing my belief that we need to see more live music because, during the time you’re immersed in the show, the world outside fades away and you just feel HAPPY and ALIVE, and really now, can't we ALL use more of that???