Snuggles

Mornings are a bit of a hodgepodge at our house. We’re up at 6:20 with the 8 year old, quietly extricating him from his room in the hopes of not waking his younger brother tucked into the bunk below. There is the rush of dressing, breakfast, lunch packing, back pack stuffing, teeth brushing and lace tying to make it out the door at 6:54 for the bus that comes shortly thereafter. Then, it’s quiet time for the hubby and me. I either take my morning walk or get some “busy work” done over email or take a long shower. By 8, it’s time to nudge the little one through breakfast, dressing and teeth brushing in order to make 9 am carpool.

But in the middle of all that, is a traditional warm, sleepy snuggle with the just waking 4 year old. He’ll emerge from his room somewhere between 7 and 8, rubbing his eyes, cowlicks defying gravity, his body still deliciously soft and warm with sleep. I assume the position in the living room arm chair, lifting him into my lap where he nuzzles under my chin and we sit, quietly, snuggled and safe and time stops. No matter how crazy our morning or how late we may be running, there is always time for the morning snuggle. It is one of the highlights of my day.

The 8 year old is tougher to pin down. The hubby and I have been instructed to hug and kiss him goodbye inside instead of at the bus stop in the mornings. I take comfort in the fact that at least he still wants the hug and kiss at all. At night, he and I are reading the Harry Potter series. He’ll curl up tight into my side, head resting on my shoulder as he follows along. Occasionally, he’ll bring a blanket to tuck around us or pull my arm around his shoulders. When we close the book, he’ll snuggle in tight, encircling me in a tight embrace.

I love my kids fiercely, even when I don’t like them very much. I try my best to tell them often that I love them. And by often, I mean more than once a day. I crave their little bodies in my arms, their sweet smelling hair under my nose, their warmth as they surrender into my love. I joke with them when they’re snuggled in tight if they will let me snuggle them when they are 16 — although the thought is terrifying to me as I imagine them as all legs and arms and strength and too big for my lap. The little one always says “Yes! Always!” barely able to imagine what the weekend looks like not to mention a day 10 years hence while the older one is already testing the boundaries of his burgeoning independence in life and movement and emotions and answers “Maybe.”

So I am banking my snuggles now. I am tickling and hugging and smooching and building up the stores of those little bodies I created now while I can because I know that one night they won’t want a good night kiss anymore, just a hug, as I tuck them in. Then they will simply hug me quickly in the living room on their way to their beds with a simple “Goodnight, mom. I love you.” Then they’ll move on to just a shout from the hall to let us know they’re headed to bed which will come close behind me knocking on doors telling them not to stay up too late because I’m headed to bed. And finally, one night in the future, the house will be quiet and empty and I will see the line of Harry Potter books on the shelf collecting dust and I will call upon these morning and evening snuggles and remember the sweet innocence of their childhoods while they are out in the world on their own armed with the love armor I’m shoring them up with now. May it be enough to give them the courage they’ll need to open their hearts to the world.

Hopefully, in this far off future, they will come home knowing that they are safe and protected and loved no matter what the world challenges them with. Maybe, just maybe, they will let me snuggle them in their adult bodies, if only for a moment, through a hug or a dance or a head resting on a shoulder. And then my babies will be mine again. And time stops. If only for a moment.

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On the Road Again…Or Not. Deciding on Holiday Travel.

It’s that time of year. The hubby and I pull out the calendar each year around now and start coordinating holiday travel.

There was a time in our early marriage, pre-kids, when we’d travel home from Washington, DC, at the drop of the hat. We even had season tickets for UNC football and made it back for most home games. At that time, we were four hours away and could leave North Carolina on a Sunday afternoon and still have plenty of time for take-out and the Sopranos when we got home to DC. These trips were easy, relaxed, enjoyable. We didn’t have to stop for meals. Sometimes we didn’t even have to stop for coffee or bathroom breaks. Holidays made sense to travel home for, too. Yes, I wanted to experience waking in my own house on Christmas morning, but to spend the day with the hubby seemed lonely or selfish or both. It was much more fun to go to midnight Mass with my parents and challenge dad to a sing off of Silent Night to see who knew more verses without the missile cheat sheet, sleeping in late the next morning and lazily opening presents with coffee and my mom’s apple bread before making the rounds to see other family in the afternoon.

Once we had kids, the traveling became exponentially more difficult. And yet, we did a lot of it anyway. I nursed in parking lots and rest areas, changed diapers while balancing kids on laps in gas station bathrooms, stopped at Chick-fil-A playgrounds just to get their wiggles out. Departure times coordinated around nap times and bed times. Getting home in time to start the laundry and make a quick grocery run were suddenly necessities. Re-entry became a thing that was not to be trifled with and can set our family routines into chaos for several days no matter how short the trip before it was.

Holidays? Even more complicated. After packing up Christmas for two kids into the back of our SUV just once, I declared it enough. Never again. We officially stay home at Christmas, going up after the big day to visit family and extend our boys’ enjoyment for days on end, which is exhausting, but fun to watch.

I realized, as we sat with the calendar the other night, that I am finally becoming much more confident in making these decisions. After several years of doing what I thought was right or expected of us, I am doing a better job of listening to our family’s needs and understanding what makes our nuclear family’s experiences more fun and enjoyable. It’s not about not wanting to be in North Carolina or visit with family or help when needed, it’s about also realizing what tolls these trips exact on us physically (pre-packing, wear and tear on the cars, routines thrown out the window) and mentally (how many times can I tell B we are not in North Carolina yet when we just left the house 10 minutes ago and still have 5 hours and 25 minutes still go?). It’s also about taking into account our day-to-day life that we’ve built, love and want to enjoy as well.

Staring at us on the calendar this year was the November 15th Homecoming game in Chapel Hill. We’d missed the last couple of years and had decided back in the winter that we’d try to go this year. Then the hubby’s aunt passed and we made a trip to North Carolina to mourn and spend time with family in late September. Much needed. Well worth it. Then we hit up North Carolina’s coast for Fall Break, a trip on the calendar for quite some time. We desperately needed the vacation and had a great time. No regrets. But within three weeks, we spent nearly 30 hours in the car and with the 15th looming, I just couldn’t do it again. We opted out. I’m going to miss seeing friends and being back on the Hill and watching my boys in Carolina blue cheering on the Heels. But there will be other opportunities. And this year, we need us.

Seems strange to say since we have us all the time. But we are the us I need to protect. And if going up exhausts us all again and right before the big holiday rush, I can guarantee by the time we hit the road after Christmas, I’ll be resentful, counting up the miles and hours in the car that we’ve spent that others haven’t or don’t need to. Not the holiday spirit I’m hoping for or is fair to anyone else.

I used to second guess these decisions, wondering if I was hurting anyone’s feelings by deciding when to or when not to travel home. Now, I’m content. I know I’m doing what’s best for us. I know that we are building traditions as a family of our own that our boys will take with them into their own worlds one day. And I know that one day I will need to be just as understanding when those traditions change as they make way for their own families. Now that we’ve finally made our holiday travel decisions, I’m excited. Excited about trick-or-treating and birthday parties and Thanksgiving and even that pesky elf on the shelf. I’m looking forward to our  traditions.

It’s taken 16 years of living away from our home state to finally get to this place of feeling comfortable with acknowledging that home is where my boys are. And it’s good to be home.

Halloween Horrors

Mom guilt. We find it in the most ordinary things. The lunches we pack for school. The forgotten signed permission slip. The t-shirt in the school photo when the notice about picture day went unnoticed. The fever you missed. The movie you won’t let them see yet. The list goes on and on and on. Some of it you become inured to. Barely registering it on the seismograph of your day, letting the comment go about the possible GMOs in your kids’ jelly because you were too busy checking the labels to get the one that didn’t include high fructose corn syrup. You just can’t win ’em all.

But other harbingers of mommy guilt are harder to avoid. And they are different for all of us. The majority of these bigger guilt inducers coming from deep within our historical or cultural psyche. I found myself confronted with one in the costume aisle of Party City this weekend.

This year. Both my children will be wearing store bought Halloween costumes.

Yup.

Ugh.

I know this wouldn’t make many of you bat an eye. But growing up, every year, my mom made our costumes, or we put them together ourselves when we were old enough. Each year, we’d brainstorm ideas then head with mom over to the Piece Goods fabric store, searching the plastic pull out drawers for patterns that could accommodate our witches and 50s girls and crayons. We’d wander the aisles for fabric, picking out buttons from the wall full of a myriad of colors and sizes. I’d stare in awe as the women would measure our wares, sluicing through the fabric in one fluid motion with a pair of orange handled scissors (I still feel a deep-seated satisfaction when I get just the right kind of Christmas wrapping paper that allows me to sluice through the paper in similar fashion. Strange the things that stick with you.). At home, we’d help my mom pin the various pieces as she’d cut and sew and create that year’s costume (on top of her full-time job and mothering duties).

Never. In my childhood. Did I wear a store bought costume.

And in my naiveté, I actually thought that made me weird. In a bad way. There were times when I just wanted to go buy a Smurfette costume with the creepy plastic faces like the rest of my class and be done with it. But I’d always end up proud of them, in the end. Knowing they were real. Knowing that my mom and I had done that. I remember being a clown, Little Red Riding Hood, a hobo, a crayon, a witch. That black witch’s dress going on to become a pilgrim, Dolly Madison, a goddess and Virginia Dare for a variety of school-related projects (it’s all about the right accessories, people).

So, I feel a sort of failure each Halloween my children opt for the plastic-y store bought creations. Now, I have made a few costumes for them in the past – there was the Thomas the Train year (that only made it to three houses because the little dude was sick, total waste) and the crayon I made out of a pillowcase (a low-rent version of the felt one my mom made, but looked great, nonetheless) and last year’s minion. But this year, my astronaut and ninja will trick or treat in all their pre-fabbed glory.

A piece of me misses the homemade costume, if for no other reason than the time we spent as a family working on them. I tried to make an outing of it with the 8 year old to go look for his costume this past weekend. After 10 minutes, he’d picked his number off the wall, immune to my more creative, build-it-yourself suggestions. We then spent 5 more minutes arguing over his sword accessory since this mama knows that thing is just a weapon of little brother destruction. And that was that. A swipe of the card and a hanging of the bag in the closet when we got home and Halloween prep is over. No magic. No moment. No nothing.

Maybe it’s because they are boys and the dressing up thing doesn’t hold as many options as it did for my sister and I. Maybe we are all just too busy and I need to let it go. Maybe they are just too young to believe they can do it themselves. Maybe Halloween costumes just aren’t my thing the way they were my mom’s. After all, I don’t own a sewing machine (nor do I have any desire to do so).

But maybe next year I can institute a homemade costume edict. Force them into a little creativity. See what we all can come up with. Or maybe we’ll just buy another pre-made costume, call it a day, and spend our time doing something else as a family.

It’s strange to see how things that were so monumental to me as a child aren’t even desires of my own kids. It can be hard to let that go. But seeing what new things we create together that have become tantamount to the people they are becoming is pretty amazing, too. In 30 years, when the boys are fathers themselves, I wonder what memories they’ll hold onto?

Changes in Location

My paternal grandfather was raised by a single mother after his father passed away when he was very young. My paternal grandmother reportedly threw rocks and taunts at Lizzie Borden’s house as a child. She was a housewife and mom to seven children, the oldest with special needs. He was a sewing machine repair man in the textile mills of Fall River, Massachusetts. They were a hard-working Catholic family who lived extremely modestly – one pair of shoes a year (despite my father’s best efforts to hide his claiming they were lost in an attempt to game the system for a new pair – my grandmother always found them), everything used and reused, dining rooms as bedrooms, hand-me-downs, and walking both ways uphill in the snow to school each day (or so I’ve been told).

Yet, somehow, my grandfather managed to purchase a small house on Martha’s Vineyard. Every summer, my grandmother would pack up the kids and take the ferry over. Several of their friends and family also stayed nearby, their proverbial village temporarily relocating for a summer away from the city. My grandfather would work all week then take the boat over to spend weekends on the island.

Seems idyllic. A way to avoid the stinking factories of the city in the summer heat. Freedom and fresh air and ocean water for the children. A small community looking out for each other.

Until you realize, one summer when your dad takes you by the old house, this was not the Vineyard of recent presidential vacations. This was a house that was little more than a structure for sleeping. There was no hot water. No washing machine (unless you count the ringer contraption). My grandmother was known to say that her summers on the island, while seemingly enviable, were, to her, simply a change of kitchen.

We just spent the Columbus Day weekend and surrounding fall break days at Bald Head Island with my father-in-law. He has a place there that would put my grandparents’ island shack to shame with its modern conveniences – washing machine, dryer, dishwasher and an ocean view. Yet, I came home exhausted. There were still meals to prepare and dishes to do, kids to entertain and trips to urgent care made more complicated by the fact that we were on an island requiring a ferry trip to the car to the town that boasted the nearest doctor and pharmacy.

Every parent knows that once you have kids a vacation is less the refreshing retreat we once knew them to be and now just more of the same with a different view. With kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a change in location. And yet, we do it anyway. We pack up the sound machines and stuffed animals so they can sleep. We bring favorite snacks and movies and games and books to keep them entertained. We do the dishes and the showers and the pancake making because between all that is normal that comes with us on vacation are the miracles, the adventures, the memories.

The canoeing on the marsh.  IMG_4679

The Bocci ball on the beach.

The sandcastle building.

The seashell seeking.

The boogie boarding.

The wave jumping.

The golf cart riding.

The crab clinging to the back of the swim shirt.

The washed up dead shark on the shore.

The dolphins cruising by.

The sunsets.

The tennis.

The pelicans hugging their reflections in the waves like Narcissus.

The endless hands of Uno and Crazy Eights.

The dog walking.

The meals around the table.

The laughter.

The fun.

So I get where my grandmother was coming from. But I also know that it would have been easier to stay in the one kitchen back on the mainland. And she didn’t. She, too, knew the value of the difference.

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As for me, I’m ready to go back. Despite the 14 hours round trip in the car and piles of luggage that returned full of sand, seeing my kids experience joy, try new things and smile with pure abandon was a refreshing retreat for my soul, if not for my body. But I can rest that bag of bones anywhere.

It may not always be a vacation, but sometimes, a change in location can be even better.

Sick Days

Moms don’t get sick days. Truer words may never have been spoken. I’ve taken the kids to the Children’s Museum with a full blown sinus infection before my doctor’s appointment, volunteered at the elementary school fair only to realize later that icky feeling wasn’t stress but a stomach bug coming on, napped on the floor while the boys played cars around my germ-riddled body. It can suck to be the one needing care when you’re the designated caregiver.

This week, however, I’ve gotten the cold the four year old brought home. Despite not feeling great, I did the Sunday morning marathon of church and sports and birthday parties finally sitting down at 5:30 to realize, yup, it wasn’t getting better. So I did something fairly uncharacteristic for me. I took Monday off. As much as any mom can, anyway. I asked the hubby to pack the 8 year old’s lunch and handle my volunteer carpool spot at the preschool. I slept in. I laid on the couch. I watched Overboard on TV like my sister and I would do when we were sick youngsters. I did manage to get dressed and pick the 4 year old up from carpool at lunch time. Then we popped in a Thomas movie and I napped again. I drank tea laced with Echinacea and took shots of elderberry syrup like it was Spring Break. I read. I rested. I snuggled with my bugs. I went to bed early and asked for another morning of hubby pinch hitting.

Today, although it’s still here and I’m not 100 percent, I’m a heckuva lot better than I would have been. With a fall break trip on the horizon it’s been hard to sit still and not run errands, pack and plan, but with a fall break trip on the horizon, it’s been tantamount that I kick this thing to the curb in order to enjoy time away with the family. So when the four year old came home from school today and asked to watch a movie, I said yes when normally the rule is no. We’re snuggled on the couch as I type this and I should still have time to sneak a nap in before the credits. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

Because sometimes, for moms, taking care of everyone else, means taking care of ourselves.