Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Smiles for the first day

Hard to believe another school year is here. While my kids were sad to see their summer break come to an end, they were excited about seeing their friends and lugging their new backpacks and supplies, so I was able to get some smiles for the first day of school pic. Well....from 2 out of 3, anyway. My middle son (standing) is going through a phase of not wanting his picture taken, so most of them lately have either a grumpy face or an arm in the way.

And my middle schooler even cracked a smile.

My brain is fried

I always prided myself on my good memory when I was younger. I memorized the birth dates and phone numbers of everyone I knew. Now, I can walk into a room and forget why I was going there. All week long, I've been doing things or have had ideas pop into my head and thought "I'll have to write about this for the blog." And do you think I can remember them now? I really need to write things down more often! Well, when I remember I'll write it down and then get it on here. :) It's been a busy week. My brain is on overload!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Resisting the routine

Ok. I know I'm not the only mom that does this. Summer comes and bedtime gets pushed a little further. Wake-up time gets a little later. There are more sleepovers. Things get a little more lax around the house. Then as the school start date gets closer, I attempt to get back on track and that always comes with much resistance.

Hey, can I blame them? What's not to love about the unstructured, lazy days of summer? If I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, I'd probably choose to play video games as much as I could and stay up as late as I could. It's just a lot of aggravation for a mother to return to the school routine after a long summer with no homework and no school bells.

One thing that does improve in my favor during the summer months is more chores for the kids. I get more help because they are home more. They have more time to help. And they are making more messes while they're home.

One week to go until school starts. I've instituted the school bedtime again, but for minutes - sometimes hours - after they are tucked in, they stray back in - hungry, thirsty, having to use the washroom, having to tell me something important. I have to start early...we'll see what progress I've made by next weekend.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taking me back to the early days

Nearly all of my recent posts have focused on summer or the upcoming school year. So, I'm going to switch gears. It's been over 17 years since I became a mom and my youngest was born six years ago. It's been a while since I was in a hospital room recovering from childbirth.

I have a part time job photographing new babies and their families in the postpartum unit at a nearby hospital. I spend my time there connecting with new moms and cooing over their adorable little ones as I snap their first shots. I've been there done that. Five times I've been in the hospital with my newborn. In fact, I've worked at three different hospitals as a photographer and I'm now at the one where I delivered all of my boys. It's fun. I remember a lot of the staff members. The rooms are familiar. Although it's been many years since I was there as a patient, it kind of all comes back to you.

I remember the frequent wake-ups to check vitals. The agonizing up and down from the bed after my c-section. The aching to be with my little ones, especially #1 (who was in Neo-natal for 10 days) and #2 (who was in special care under billirubin lights unable to be held.) I recall that deflated feeling in my gut when my boys were circumcised. I remember walking the nursery to retrieve my other little guys, trying to get the hang of nursing and chatting with my roommates (at the time there were double rooms - not privates like they have now.) I remember enjoying the candlelight lobster dinner with my husband that they offered new parents on the terrace. I remember feeling so unsure of what I was doing the first time around and how heart wrenching it was to head home and have to leave my baby behind.

It's also interesting to see how things change. They used to recommend sleeping on the side. No more. Now they tell you to not even use blankets. There's no more baby powder use. Pacifier use is reserved for the bottle feeding babies. Rooming in is the norm, whereas they used to require baby to be in the nursery if you wanted to nap or rest. Now baby stays in the room with you, even if you can't keep your eyes awake. It's a given that dad stays in the room with mom these days, but when I was there, there wasn't any space for a cot or pull-out bed for a guest to stay in the room with you - there was barely room for a chair at the end of your bed.

It's a nice walk down memory lane to a time in my life that I cherish.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nice to have friends around the world

When I was growing up, we were not a family of travelers. Aside from our visits downstate for family reunions and maybe an occasional jaunt across the Indiana border (which was about a 20-minute drive from my home), we were always at home. I did take a trip with my older brother and his new wife when I was about five-years-old to visit her family in St. Louis. I loved the long road trip.

Then when I was 12, my aunt and uncle came to visit in preparation for my big sister's wedding. They had no children, were both well educated and were educators themselves and world travelers. We'd seen them occasionally over the years and were fond of them both. We were fascinated by Uncle John, a native of Spain who spoke several languages. They offered to take us back to stay with them in Minneapolis and my dad's other sister and her husband, parents of seven with homes in Nevada and Missouri, invited us to their Missouri farm.

We were to spend a total of three weeks away from home.  The first two weeks were spent on my aunt and uncle's farm and visiting their neighbors and daughter on their farms. It was great to spend a couple weeks in the outdoors with open fields as far as the eye could see.

At the end of the two weeks, my Uncle John came and picked us up to take us up to their place in Minnesota. I spent my 13th birthday driving across three states. When we got there, we visited an amusement park and had fun in their neighborhood. For part of our stay, they had a house guest from Switzerland. We were tickled to be meeting someone from another country, especially when she gave us all some Swiss chocolate she'd brought with her. My aunt and uncle were such interesting people. Everywhere they traveled they made friends and kept in touch with the friends they made. I always admired that about them.

Fast forward a couple decades and my younger sister for several years has had foreign exchange students staying with her from such places as Thailand, France and Japan. We've enjoyed getting to know all these teenagers over the years and I think it's great for my kids to meet people from other countries and learn a little about different cultures.

One of my sister's former exchange students came back for a visit this last month. On her birthday, we went to a Cubs game together and went out for dinner for sushi (which does seem odd -- we probably should have taken her out for deep dish Chicago-style pizza.) She heads back home this week and we will all miss her. Another former student who was with my sister last year returned from Vietnam to attend college here, so for the next four years she'll be part of our family for summers and Christmas and Easter breaks. We'll enjoy having her around and look forward to meeting more friends from around the world as my sister continues to sponsor exchange students.

Rui, our friend from Japan.

Squeezing a lot into the last bit of summer

I typed that title and immediately it feels wrong. It isn't really the end of summer. Yet schools are getting back in session and the summer merchandise has been moved to the clearance bins. We're tricked into thinking summer is almost over, when in reality we just passed the half way mark. Autumn doesn't officially begin until September 23.

It all makes me a little sad that we barely get into summer mode and we're bombarded with back-to-school sales and school registration. It's getting to be like the Christmas push that once began right after Thanksgiving, but has now moved up to Halloween.

Back-to-school season used to mean mid-August back in the dark ages when school started after Labor Day. It slowly worked up to early August then July. Now stores are putting out back-to-school displays even before the 4th of July. My kids this year had their last day of school June 13. A week later I was seeing back-to-school displays in the store.

August tends to be the month when things slow down if you have children who have been playing baseball or softball or were enrolled in summer classes or camps. So, now we have some free days this week and tomorrow is the last weekday the pool is open. Boo!

I've tried to squeeze in a lot this past week -- water park, festival in Michigan, Six Flags Great America, baseball game. We also had our annual block party this past weekend. Lots of busy days. Just feels funny to be rushing to do things before the end of the season when the end of the season is still 39 days off.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A birthday day at the beach

My birthday was Friday and on the calendar I had written that we would be going to Six Flags Great America that day. However, I woke up that day and decided to reschedule. My dad invited me to lunch for my birthday at any place I wanted to go. I chose Olive Garden. Yum!
Here's me and dad after soup, salad, bread sticks and birthday cake!

After lunch, it was off to the beach. We had lovely weather for it. The boys had a blast. I had a blast watching them have a blast.

Nothing like a lazy river

Yesterday I made my way up to my sister's to go to a nearby water park. My other sister (her twin) was coming up with her three kids and two foreign exchange students from her home about 2 1/2 hours away. It's not often we all get together like that, so it was really fun. With me and my five boys, our group numbered 13. The kids went up and down slides, swam in the pools, splashed on the water playground and paddled through the lazy river. Me? I mostly stayed in the lazy river. My sister and I chatted as we went around and around. It's so relaxing to just lay there in the sun, although we both agreed that they need more comfortable tubes - something you can rest your head on.

As we neared closing time, I caught up with my niece, who just turned six. She was so excited that she was learning to swim and couldn't wait to show me. Being in a house with six males, it's nice to hang out with a little girl once in a while.

This was my second water park visit in a week (along with a splash pad visit and a trip to the beach.) Last week when we went to a water park on vacation (the newly opened water park at Beech Bend in Bowling Green, Kentucky), I said to my kids, "If I ever win the lottery, I'm having a lazy river built in my back yard." I mean it. Of course, I'd then need a bigger yard. LOL! I could literally sit all day in the lazy river. It makes the rest of the world just melt away.

We finished the evening back and my sisters with pizza then headed for home. We were on the road five minutes when my 6-year-old asked, "Can we go there again tomorrow?" I was so tempted to say yes. :)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Busy summer = tired mama

Boy has it been a busy week. We returned from a 5-day trip out of state. Got home and I worked a long day the next day followed by something that evening that I can't even remember now. They next day was the Paul McCartney concert with my son and two nephews at Wrigley Field. Then home very late and up early for work the next day, followed by the splash pad with my sister and her kids, then a meeting. Next day was a busy one around the house ending in a family bike ride and some kite-flying, then another long day of work. I was exhausted by Friday and had rescheduled an earlier trip to Six Flags for that day.

I woke up Friday, which was my birthday, at about 9 a.m. It felt so good to sleep in. I decided to reschedule Six Flags AGAIN. My dad treated me to lunch for my birthday and then I figured it would be a good day for the beach - one of the things that I've had on my summer to-do list that hasn't happened yet. It was a lovely, breezy day. Got lots of great pictures that I'm too tired to post now. I'll get to that later in the week after I rest up! :)

I decided that since I'm 39 this year, it will be the last birthday. I'm stopping here. Every year from here on out will be a repeat of 39. It's worked for my mom all these years. As were growing up, we'd ask her age from time to time and she always responded with "39." She turned 39 for the first time in 1974 and has been that age ever since. So, it was no surprise when I opened my birthday card from mom and it read "Happy birthday! You're finally as old as I am!" :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A historic night watching Sir Paul

As I get older, I learn to seize opportunities, especially those that may turn out to be once in a lifetime ones. Like when I heard Paul McCartney would be in Chicago for a show. I instantly knew I’d have to be there. He is a true living legend and, at age 69, who knows how many more years he’ll tour and if he does continue to tour, when he’ll be back to the states or to Chicago. I figured it may be my only chance.

In my lifetime, there have been what I consider to be three entertainers who are absolute tops – completely the best: Elvis, The Beatles/Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Sadly, McCartney is the only one still around and seeing him in concert is something I knew would be a wonderful memory.

At my nephew’s high school graduation party in June, we talked about the Bon Jovi concert we went to see last year. I asked if he’d be interested in going to a concert with me and my oldest son again this summer. He said he would. I started throwing around names of some 80’s bands I knew were touring as possibilities – Journey, Def Leppard, Motley Crue. Then, as a bunch of the guests were playing Beatle’s Rock Band on XBOX 360, I remembered that Paul McCartney was coming to Wrigley Field. Tickets to the first show had sold out earlier in the month (just a few days before, I believe), but a second show had been added. I mentioned it to him and he lit up. I know he’s a big Beatles fan, so I thought it would be a great concert to go to together. My sister-in-law overheard and said that her son would probably love to go, also. So, I then had another nephew, this one 13, who was added to our group. I got tickets right away, although they were way in the upper deck, far from the stage. It didn’t matter. We would be there. (And my apologies to my brother-in-law, Greg, who I learned would have also liked to accompany us -- after our tickets were already ordered. If there's a next time, we'll bring you along for sure!)

McCartney came on stage a tad late, but it was well worth the wait. He opened in a classy red jacket, which came off quickly on the very humid night at the Friendly Confines, stadium of the Chicago Cubs, leaving him in a white dress shirt and dark dress pants with suspenders. The set covered a mix of his hits from his five decades in the music business, leading off with a (insert thick British accent here) “Are we going to have a bit of a party here tonight, Chicago?”

If I counted correctly he played a dozen different instruments over the course of the nearly three-hour show. Two different pianos, eight different guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele. Each time he switched guitars, he held up the one he just finished playing high up the air, almost bowing to it, before passing it on to a member of his crew for the switch. Having always been drawn to his voice, I never realized what a talented musician he was. He rocked through Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” without skipping a beat. Then he shared a story about how he helped get Hendrix discovered in England, when he suggested him for a show the Beatles were unable to do.

There were some heartfelt moments among his humor, specifically when he sang “Here Today,” which was written about John Lennon after his death, adding a reminder to the audience not to hesitate to tell those close to you that you love them. He also recalled the story behind the song “Blackbird,” written during the Civil Rights battle in the U.S. during the 1960’s and performed “Something,” written by his former Beatles band member, the late George Harrison.

Later on, the momentum picked up with a dazzling pyrotechnic display om-stage and accompanying fireworks behind the scoreboard during “Live or Let Die.” Following was “Hey Jude,” and the sight and sounds of tens of thousands swaying and singing along gave me goose bumps.

The crowd couldn’t have been more diverse. I was with my son and two young nephews, all teenagers. In front of us were some middle-aged men and a group of girls, probably in their late 20’s (one being a real-life Elaine Benes, with atrocious dance moves.) Down the aisle were an older Hispanic couple with a young boy, likely a grandson. Beside them was a gray-haired couple who went through the entire concert with bright orange ear plugs in their ears like the ones my youngest son wears when he swims to keep water out of his ears. The gentleman even nodded off at one point. I was seated next to a woman who jumped in her seat and giggled while waving across me to someone. She looked to perhaps be in her early 50’s. I figured she was one of the young girls who fawned over the fab four in her younger days, screaming and crying at the sight of them. Then she climbed over me during “Hey Jude” and rushed over to make out with her girlfriend a couple aisles up in a very passionate PDA.

There were two encores. I believe the first included “Lady Madonna,” “Happy Birthday” (completely appropriate for me since my birthday is this week) and “I Saw Her Standing There.” The stage cleared and a couple minutes passed before he returned with a large American flag while his drummer carried a British flag. Then came the song I’d been waiting for, “Yesterday,” that is probably my favorite song of all time.

Seeing the concert was an uplifting and awesome experience – one in which you marvel and realize that you are witnessing history in the making.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Maintaining order or maintaining control?

There are times in mothering where I look back at something and wonder if I overreacted. Yesterday was one of those. Sometimes if I feel things are getting out of hand, I start barking orders. If the orders aren't followed immediately, I get mad. I take it personally. I kind of revert to the old school train of thought that kids should always obey and that it's a reflection on me if they misbehave or question my authority in the presence of others.

We were at a birthday party for my nieces and nephew. The kids were having a good time. They were rummaging through the loot they'd gotten from the pinata. One of the items was a stamper. One of the boys stamped his dad on the head. He thought it was funny. It was. He had a blue dinosaur smack in the middle of his forehead.

Then it escalated. Everyone was fair game. The kids were stamping each other. On the arm. On the leg. On the face. Everyone was giggling. No one was fighting. But I requested that they stop. My husband contended that they were having fun. My kids reminded me that I usually spoil the fun. They kept on with the stamping. I got more upset. I'm not sure if I was upset with the stamping craziness or the fact that I wanted them to stop and they wouldn't. It did go over the line when Grandpa was napping in a chair and was awakened to a T-Rex being stamped on his forehead. He wasn't amused.

Still, everyone else was laughing and having a good time. I was boiling inside. I took the stampers away from the kids. They found more. It just felt like things were out of control. I often like to be in control of things. I'm pondering the situation and wondering if I should have just backed off and let them enjoy themselves. I guess much of it was ego. I'd told them to stop and after a while, I realized it really was harmless fun, shaking my head each time I got stamped on the arm or one of them left a dinosaur mark on the other's cheek - but because I'd told them to stop, I felt like I had to follow through and make them stop. I was so frustrated by the time they'd finished. The mood went from fun to uneasy. We left with me mad at my husband for not backing me up and making them stop, my husband mad at me for being a party-pooper and the kids mad that they were leaving the party earlier than they wanted to.

The kids could have simply stopped when I told them to. Also, I could have lightened up and realized it was a party and that the weren't causing any harm (although, I'm surprised no one got bumped or knocked down in the process.) I think in the end, I stuck to my guns and got myself worked up not so much because things were noisy and seemed out of control, but because I wasn't in control. Lesson learned the hard way and a little too late.