Monthly Archives: April 2012

Eight is Great

Jack’s eighth birthday is approaching in a few weeks. It’s a milestone birthday–the baptism birthday. and it’s something Jeff and I have been discussing much of late. This week I had a lovely conversation with our bishop about this topic and we decided what Jeff and I have known for a very long time:  Jack doesn’t need to be baptized.

At least, not now.  Maybe someday, years from now, he will have progressed to a point where it makes sense. but right now he is pure and innocent and unaccountable. And I am really peaceful acknowledging this.

As we discussed Jack’s development and level of comprehension, I explained to the bishop that if I were to ask Jack if he believed in God and in Jesus Christ, he wouldn’t be able to answer. The bishop then asked me if I believe that Jack has a testimony of the Savior and of Heavenly Father. This was the point at which I completely lost it.

When I composed myself enough to speak, I told Bishop that I have always felt that Jack is very closely acquainted with them both. I am quite certain that he feels their love for him. I’ve had, over the years, a handful of acutely spiritual experiences which informed that this is indeed the case.

One thing I’ve known about him since before he was born: Jack is valiant. There are other things I have learned since that time. He is brave and sweet and gentle. He is loving and happy and silly. He is special and he makes our whole family special. It’s goodness by association for the rest of us.

Instead of a baptism party, I think we may head to the farm for a celebratory tractor-pulled wagon-ride (a gauranteed Jack-pleaser) and quite possibly some individually wrapped Hostess cupcakes, complete with delightfully crinkly packaging (ditto).

Yep, eight is looking really, really great.

Marvelously Meandering

This year marks fifteen years of marriage for Jeff and me. We won’t reach our official anniversary date until mid-August, but the year we’ve just experienced compelled us to take a mini-break, as Bridget Jones is fond of saying, and which I am fond of taking. And it isn’t going to be the only mini-break on the horizon either (maniacal laughter….bwahahahaha!) We have masterminded a lovely little set of these mini-breaks, sprinkled across the spring and summer months leading up to our actual anniversary.

With a preemie baby, a perpetually ear-infected preschooler, and a Jack (Henry often reminds us that he is self-sufficient and does not require a sitter–sure kid, whatever), this was not the year for large-scale travel plans. But while we can’t get too far away, we sure can design ourselves a lovely little vacation not far from home.

In three days we managed to see three movies (two art house films!), two museums, and a play. We shopped. A bunch. We acted like tourists in the city where we grew up. We ate the best authentic Belgian waffles I’ve ever experienced, piled with whipped cream and dotted with blueberries. We also sampled pasta carbonara, settebello pizza, salmon and roasted vegetables, black bean ravioli, butternut squash soup, a gourmet burger with criminally insane encrusted potato wedges, and a fair number of desserts.

We did plenty of walking, and sleeping late, and flying by the seat of our pants. The spontaneity (of our getaway which has been in the works for many months–I know! I understand irony!) was really something I relished. My structured life proceeds according to patterns established by trial and error, as well as blatant necessity. There isn’t a whole lot of room for veering off the well-marked path of morning routines, school routines, therapy routines, transition routines, and bedtime routines around these parts. You can try it, but you may very well be met with a meltdown.

So we generally keep it sort of predictable. Attempts to change it up usually proceed best when they are small, gradual, and consistently practiced many, many times over many, many months. Structure, patterns, and order are good, especially when they maintain a sense of safety and peace for one special red-headed boy.

But freedom from these omnipresent structured routines can be equally refreshing and wonderful for this mom and pop. It gave me a sense of well-rested well-being and renewal, as well as a momentarily unencumbered perspective for evaluating how we do things at home. It’s amazing what clarity can arrive with a little bit of space and quiet.

As we drove home, I said to Jeff, “You know they are all going to fall apart when we get home, right?” And fall apart they did. But after the blitzkrieg homecoming of several hours duration, we shoehorned our way back into the routines which circumscribe our lives.

We’re back. The dust has settled. The boys are happy. It’s nice to be home. And round two of the year in which we celebrate our crystal anniversary is just around the corner.

A Serene Swim

We are at the cabin with the boys for Spring Break. Despite having two mildly sick kids of our own, plus a poor sick little cousin along, we are having the best cabin vacation our family has seen in years. The reason for this happy trip hinges solely on our Jacky. Something magical seems to have clicked in his brain and for the first time in his eight years of coming to the cabin, Jack is happy here.

Pause for happy dancing and gleeful exclamations.

I guess I’m glimpsing what other people must feel when they travel, which is to say “good times with the family.” This week, the notion of travel being a miserable chore endured for the sake of normalcy for one’s children has been replaced with a sense of invigorating fun at getting out of our daily structured routines and pleasantly enjoying each other’s company in one of the most beautiful natural settings on the earth (in my opinion).

Our special boy has turned some kind of developmental corner and seems to have matured and progressed to a point where he is now able to relax and enjoy himself. Instead of moaning and crying, pacing and stimming at all times, Jack’s cabin demeanor is currently one of happy curiosity mingled with silly, cuddly affection. He is happy to do whatever it is that we are all doing together, and when we aren’t outside, he is creating his own sensory haven with the two vacuum cleaners which reside here.

I took a long walk with my two middle boys today and was in awe of the complete lack of difficult behaviors. We simply walked. And looked at the sandhill cranes on the pond. And threw loads of rocks in the river. And explored the clumps of cork bark firs growing in pockets around the cabin. I think Jack would have walked for miles, but I wanted to keep this beautiful, happy morning outing unspoiled and end it before things went sour.

As we walked, and twice as we stood on the banks of the creek, Jack laughed and gave me a happy, extended hug. While he can’t really speak with much consistency or vocabulary, that boy sure does a good job of telling us how he feels. I’m grateful that he wears his emotions on his sleeve so we can better decipher his moods and wants when our motley communication efforts break down.

After our fairy-tale perfect nature walk, Jack watched contentedly as I played ping pong with two of his brothers. He hummed happily watching the electric trains circle the little winter village in the basement. He requested and ate a plateful of chicken nuggets, actually sitting calmly at the table on the back porch with the rest of us. This feat alone is especially noteworthy and actually fairly miraculous. But he didn’t stop exuding joy there! Jack cavorted around the bonfire we circled as dusk fell on the smoky valley. He bathed in an unfamiliar tub with no complaints. He requested a bedtime snack, he shared a toy with his brother, and he left a little gift in the toilet (instead of on the floor, walls, and bed sheets).

It is completely refreshing and essentially intoxicating to experience this kind of relaxed, peaceful family time. It’s so lovely and calm. I don’t want to think about the possibility of it being ephemeral. For the next couple of weeks, Jeff is home with us full-time as we enjoy his two weeks of paid paternity leave offered by the Sheinhardt Wig Company (wink*). It’s the first time I have not feared Spring Break. Now I don’t ever want it to end!

Today as we bumped along on one of our rides in “Jack’s Jalopy” (Grandpa’s Kawasaki Mule), we glimpsed a muskrat swimming soundlessly across the pond. His glistening pelt shone like the still water and his wake streamed out a fluid V behind his smooth progress. His quiet swim within the lovely landscape of our surroundings mirrors my own pristine excursion with my family. I felt as free as he appeared.

What Not to Wear

Sometimes when acquaintances learn that my children are all boys, they will say something brilliant and flippant like “Oh, boys are so much easier to raise,” to which I always want to respond, “Clearly, you do not know my children.”

Why does this comment make me want to roll my eyes, groan madly, and pull out clumps of my post-baby head of already-molting hair? It’s a little conversational generality that people repeat because, I presume, they believe it to be true. It might be true. For them.

But I tend to get bristly when I hear it because (though I don’t think people intend it this way) it is pretty insulting. People can say lots of things about raising sons which honestly do not apply to my particular brood of boys. I dislike hearing such broad stereotypes, even if they are meant to paint my family life in complimentary terms. We simply don’t fit into that sort of precast mold. My sons are sensitive, funny, handsome, thoughtful, curious, caring, and sweet. They also have vivid personalities, wild tempers, extreme hang-ups, and unequivocal opinions about pretty much everything. I completely love them. But don’t tell me that raising them is some sort of bunny-hill version of parenting.

Take clothing for instance. This is supposedly one area where boys are known for “being flexible” and wowing their parents with a supremely easy-going attitude about wearing whatever those parents place in their closets, or so I hear. Jack’s pediatric gastroenterologist, a mother of three grown sons, learned I had four boys and began reminiscing about going to Mervyn’s in her kids’ younger years and bringing home piles of a) shirts and b) pants, which her kids apparently just compliantly and interchangeably wore. No fuss.

This is certainly not the case at my house. If I were to bring home piles of mom-selected clothing and present it to my children, this is what would happen: Henry would announce “Forget it. I’m not wearing that,” Jack would place the clothes either in the bathtub for a good soaking (and lots of excitement!) or sprinkle them around the backyard before stripping off his own clothes to add to the mix, and Charlie would obstinately refuse the new duds unless they featured a neon Lego superhero on a garish background. Fortunately, baby still wears whatever I put on him.

My eldest goes through multiple wardrobe changes per day. Between his school uniform and his pj’s, he is a veritable fashion show of skinny jeans, basketball shorts, graphic tees, and hoodies. He is quite the fashionista. But don’t try to influence his style or you will be met with an icy rebuke. Jack, who only wears comfort clothes, likewise changes constantly. He likes to engage in the recreational swapping of sweat pants for track pants all the live-long day. It’s good times for Jack and maddeningly laundry-producing for me. My four-year-old fears new clothes vehemently, which makes Sundays, family photo shoots, and the first day of school your basic nightmare.

Does any of this sound easier than dressing girls? I really can’t say, since I don’t have one of those. Shopping for girls appears, from my limited vantage point, to be a foray into an embarrassment of riches. It’s all cute! In the boys’ section it’s all skulls and crossbones and camouflage. Or dinosaurs driving tractors.

My boys are marvelously opinionated about what they wear and I have given up trying to control it much. We aren’t lacking for opinions or personality at our house, and the laundry never quits either. I’m really okay with all of this.

Just don’t feed me some line about how breezy it is raising boys unless you want to see my head start spinning around in circles.