Silver Linings

After nearly five years at this parenting gig, there are a few things I have figured out. Picking your battles is paramount. Your child’s behavior typically has a source – hunger, boredom, fatigue, frustration (to name a few) – and the quicker you can figure it out, the better. And my children are always their best selves when they spend time, as much time as possible, outside.

Living in Atlanta is certainly a positive when it comes to outside time during the dark days of winter. The mild weather allows us to take advantage of our neighborhood’s playground and area parks throughout the year. The trouble with summer, however, is that it can get too hot. If we don’t play outside somewhere in the morning, I don’t have it in me to tackle the playground in the 90+ degree afternoon heat.
This afternoon, I had to pack them up for a quick grocery store run before dinner. When we returned, Pumpkin was practically pulling me down the hill from our front walk to the playground across the street. Even though they’d had some great playground play this morning, I decided to suck it up, put my own tired bones aside and off we went.
Balancing two kids with two totally different skill levels at the park can be tough. We tried some frisbee action in the field, but pretty soon Pumpkin was having none of it. I managed to convince Peanut to join us on the playground, where he promptly fell off the monkey bars. Mommy was there to pick up the pieces and put his confidence back together, once it was apparent there were no major injuries, but I was contractually bound to watch whatever jumping game he had just devised.
And while Peanut was mid-bounce, that’s when I heard Pumpkin start crying. It wasn’t the hey, mommy, pay attention to me cry. It wasn’t the somebody help me cause I can’t reach cry. It wasn’t even the I was running too fast and fell down cry. It was the I. AM. HURT. cry.
I immediately rushed to his side and couldn’t see anything obvious at first – he was standing, there wasn’t any blood, all his limbs were attached. Then I saw it. A small red dot near his temple that was beginning to swell around it.
My baby’s first bee (wasp? something?) sting.
He’s fine. Mama’s fine. But our impromptu attempt to get through the witching hour despite my better instincts? I want to say it was a fail, but to be honest, the outside time, albeit brief, helped their moods immensely. And when I was done putting the baking soda paste on Pumpkin’s head, Peanut came over and gently gave his little brother a kiss on the head.
That certainly took the sting out.

If These Walls Could Talk

I’m not sure if it’s my father in me or the writer in me, but I love houses. I love the stories behind them, in them, of them. It pains me to see homes torn down to make way for new buildings. I know it’s necessary and certainly, a lot of times, warranted. But I can’t help but think of the lives lived within those walls, the phone calls to friends, tears shed over losses, the slam of the door as someone rushes home to celebrate triumphs, the sweat shed pulling weeds or painting bedrooms, the dents in walls caused by overzealous children, the quiet shuffling steps down halls with new born babies.
When we lived in New England (before my dad was transferred to NC when I was five), we were friends with the “O” family. Their daughter, D was my age and we had numerous play dates and family gatherings. When I was in first or second grade, D got on the phone during one of our mothers’ touch base phone calls to ask me to be her pen pal. It was for a school project, ostensibly to practice their handwriting, but we kept it up through high school. I dropped in and saw her one summer when we were in New England visiting family and I was still in college, I think. Thanks to Facebook, we’re back in touch after losing contact somewhere after college. She has two boys, too, and lives on the west coast now.
D recently commented through Facebook on this post. She was apparently preparing for her annual summer trip with her kids back East. I jokingly told her to say hi to the old house for me. She did – by posting a picture of the old homestead on my wall:

After a quick search on Zillow, I realized the house hasn’t changed hands since my parents sold it in 1982. It looks better than it did the last time we drove by, several years ago. And so I have been wondering who bought it? Did they raise children here? Why the recent updates (other Google sleuthing shows a dumpster outside the house during the Street View shots – apparently renovations done relatively recently)?
The house was originally built as a fire station in 1888. And so I have been wondering when did it become a home? How many different families have lived inside its walls? How fleeting of residents we were, compared to its long history.
My first real memories were in this house. I remember big events, of course, like cutting the tip of my finger off during the “sandbox building incident,” dripping blood on the kitchen floor, waiting for my parents to grab the car keys to take me to the ER. A few errant drops permanently stained a few places on the floor by the back door. The time a car took the turn at the corner and a little girl fell from the moving car (always lock your doors and make sure your kids are in their seat belts, people) and my mom rushing to help.
I remember having a conversation with my dad in the back yard one fall while he was doing yard work, concerned that Santa would not be able to fit through the tiny chimney from our wood stove. I remember hiding in the thickness of the blueberry bushes in the backyard, and picking fresh berries for blueberry pancakes. I remember mom cursing the bunnies who kept eating the strawberries we planted. I remember wiffle ball games in the back yard. I remember squishing caterpillars on the blacktop driveway. I remember “men falling from sky” (we could see the parachute exercises from the nearby Army base).
I remember dressing like a clown one Halloween and my mom reminding me to keep my heavily made up face away from the couch and then promptly falling asleep, my rouged cheek staining a spot (oops). I remember following my dad and Uncle B up to the “bell tower” attic (the turret where the bell once hung for the fire department) and my uncle making some joke about bats in the belfry, only I didn’t get the joke and forever was afraid there were actual bats in our house. I remember my bedroom with the red curtains (the first two windows on the second floor on the right hand side), my dad’s closet of a home office with his drafting table crammed in it so that you couldn’t open the door all the way if he was sitting in the chair.
I remember “shaving” with my dad in the home’s one bathroom. I remember painting Snoopy paint-by-number Christmas ornaments with my mom while my infant sister was taking an unprecedented nap. I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” one night with dad while my mom was working nights. I remember the wide curved wooden stairs. I remember sitting at a window on the stairwell and realizing that my eyes actually moved inside my head, that it wasn’t just my head moving (weird, but revolutionary revelation for a four year old).
If I remember that much about a short time living in a house, I wonder what my kids will remember of this house? Our current house is not our forever house. It’s entirely too small for two young boys as it is, not to mention two raucous school-aged boys and (help me) two teenage boys and their gaggle of friends. We have no plans to leave now, but occasionally, I find myself fingering the dent in the wall a thrown train made or remembering the spot where Peanut took his first steps or realizing how the step on the front porch has been home to waiting for daddy, popsicles and last night’s water bubble contest (might as well put our eldest’s obsession with blowing bubbles through a straw to competitive use, no?). I try to mentally snapshot these memories so that when the boys grow up and say “remember when…” I, too, will fondly remember the first house that they do.
I hope we are doing this house proud. Despite it’s failings and my constant desire to knock down walls or refinish surfaces or add on, it’s more than a house. It’s part of the family. It’s home.

Fever Phobia

Peanut’s had a cough for the last couple of days. It hasn’t been too frequent, he’s had no other symptoms and he’s been acting normal.

Then, this morning, he started running a low grade fever.
Fevers for me make me question every little thing about my kids’ behavior, attitude, activity level, food consumption, etc… I think it stems back to my parents typically taking the line that you’re fine unless you have a fever. So when my kids have a fever, I tend to think, oops, something must be WRONG. I do this with myself as well and am constantly asking the hubby to check and see if I feel warm when I’ve got a bug. And, probably 90 percent of the time, I don’t.
Most of my fever paranoia was dissipated during Peanut’s toddlerhood. He was constantly coming down with mystery fevers that had no other symptoms. He was once diagnosed with a “fever virus,” whatever the heck that is. During that time period, my pediatrician comforted me with the wisdom that a fever means a body is fighting something, it’s a good sign and is not, in and of itself, cause for worry.
So, this morning, armed with the knowledge that my kid’s fever was only in the low 99s, I put him in his swim suit and took him to swim lessons.
Does this make me a bad mom?
All I know is that he was acting fine, wanted to go and actually did great during his swim lessons. To make myself feel better, I did speak to the nurses line at my pediatrician’s office later and they think it sounds like a tiny cold and unless he’s at 101 for 3 days in a row, we’re doctor’s-office-visit free.
Meanwhile, I’m restraining myself from checking his head too often and whipping out the thermometer too many times. The last thing I want is to give him the idea, by asking too many times how he feels, that he can use that as a ploy to get out of stuff in the future.
It’s bad enough kids are like petri dishes passing along all their germs, I don’t need to add to the equation by passing along my own phobias.
And yes, Y parents, barring any increase in symptoms and/or fever, we’ll be back in the pool tomorrow. After all, he probably caught it from one of your kids anyway.

Dreams of Summers Past

Summer often makes me nostalgic for my grandparents. Growing up 700 miles away meant we didn’t see them but once a year. BUT, once a year, we spent a week or two there in the summer, often just my sister and me. I don’t know if the 24/7 nature of those visits made up the distance difference, but I felt close to my grandparents. Maybe because I loved their place as much as they did.

My grandparents lived in a nondescript house on a pond in Tiverton, Rhode Island. I loved everything about it. The crunch of crushed clam shells in the driveway. The rickety tire swing in the front yard. The splotches of dehydrated moss on the boulders bubbling up in the back yard. The damp, dusty scent and clammy painted cement floor under my feet in the basement. The picture of one of my aunts as a teenager in a bathing cap, up on water skis, a smile as big as joy itself on her face. The sliver of beach and splintery pier perched on an outcropping of rocks. I loved the carefreeness of spending our days in the water, on the boat, in the sun. It was coffee ice cream before dinner, Red Sox games on TV and my sister, cousin and I taking turns with the mousse and curlers in my grandmother’s hair (always the night before she was due to have it done at the salon). There was a satisfying heaviness that would overtake our bones at the end of the day as we finally crawled beneath the nubby white comforter on the bed.
This place spoke so much to me and I still am not sure why. Was it simply the beauty of place? Was it that I was away from the routine, the mundane? Was it the company of cousins? Was it the ever present sound of laughter? Was it the unconditional love and “go outside and play” attitude of my grandparents?
My grandparents have been on my mind a lot lately either because it’s summer and I’m nostalgic for our yearly trips, I want to share the magic of their place with my boys, or if it’s my heart’s annual tug towards the water.
It could be because today would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. They made it to their 62nd anniversary before my grandpa passed in 2003, my grandma not long after in the summer of 2004.
Whatever it is, there is a part of my soul that yearns for Tiverton, for childhood, for raucous family clam boils, bawdy jokes shared in whispers amongst the “adults” that ended in gales of laughter traveling across the pond, clam cakes and lobster rolls at Evelyn’s, days spent without television, the smell of pond water in my hair as I drifted off to sleep.
My grandparents and summer days spent at their house were my lighthouse growing up. They somehow showed the way back to a quiet part of me that often got lost in the noisy day-to-day. I always felt at peace and whole after a trip there. My parents recognized it and sent me there as a college graduation gift. My husband recognized it and we often planned vacations that included a trip to New England.
Although I’ve been to visit family in New England in recent years, it’s been a long time since I’ve been back to the pond. In fact I don’t think I’ve been back since my grandmother’s funeral. Maybe this pull I’m feeling is my grandparents silently lighting the beacon for me again, shining the way to stillness. With all the changes in the last six years, my inner me yearns to recalibrate, to dip my toes back in the murky waters of Sawdy Pond, to watch the light play on the water for awhile, to listen to the sound of children’s laughter roll down the lawn. Only this time it would be my children.
Looks like it might be time to check the fare sales.

Mama Needs a Business Trip

After a week away with the boys, I came home chanting: “I need another vacation.” Once you have kids, the current wisdom says, you don’t really have a vacation, merely a change in location. While adults can easily blow off daily routines or postpone a meal or simply lounge on a beach all day, the kids don’t react well to too many skipped naps, meal times are sacred and to be adhered to at all costs and lounging? Ha!

Although there is something to be said for a change in location. The boys loved all the attention, exploring new things and playing in a different environment. Mama, however, was exhausted after juggling a variety of visits, entertaining the kiddos and trying to keep them out of the way of the contractors working to reassemble my parents’ kitchen. I had a great time, but R&R? Not so much.
As the sibling squealfest during dinner reached decibel levels that should require protective ear wear, I announced that I needed a vacation without you know who and who. Then it dawned on me, I don’t need a vacation. I need a business trip.
An unplugged plane ride with US Weekly, dinner and drinks with interesting people talking about a variety of topics (I was lucky to have great clients), an expense account, a quiet hotel room where someone else makes the bed, no one to raise an eyebrow at my mindless TV choices, coffee and the newspaper in the morning without interruption.
I never would have thought that one day, a business trip could feel like a vacation.