Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween, Halloween and more Halloween

We had a busy weekend, including Frances’s Halloween parade and party at school:

The rain moved the party inside, so as predicted it was crowded and loud. 
And as predicted, Frances and George loved every minute of it.

Playtime with cousins Trey and Justin:

Cookie decorating:

By Frances, George and Mommy

By our own in-house Martha Stewart (Daddy)

The Crown Jewel

Pumpkin carving:

What is sure to be the pumpkin-carving scene in every household - "Hey kids!  Let's all sit around a table and watch Daddy carve a pumpkin."

And attending a Halloween party (thank you Lynne and Bryan!):

Why yes, folks.  That IS Coach Taylor (from Friday Night Lights) holding a "football" next to his wife, Tami.  Princess Tiana is likely in the moon bounce.  And as a costume note, my poofy Virginia hair is no match for a true Texas football coach wife's bouffant 'do.  But I promise I did try. 

It hasn’t quite hit me yet that we still have trick-or-treating tonight.  Ugh.  Is anyone else a little Halloween-ed out?  No?  Neither are the other three people in my house.
Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Getting schooled on school

In case you haven’t noticed my picture-posting has been running low recently.  The kids and I are eternally busy, but most of our picture moments have been associated with pumpkin patches or fall leaves—and even I’m getting tired of those.  I’ll make an effort to take something more exciting like Frances and George in a duel headlock.  But until then, pictures may be scarce and/or boring – you have been warned.

So what have we been doing you ask?  My time this fall has been primarily occupied by school—specifically what to do for Frances’s schooling for next year.  Frances will be four in November (*sniff*), which means she is less than six weeks past the traditional cut-off age for starting public Kindergarten next year.  She would need to be five-years-old by September 30, 2012, no exceptions (at least not in our county public schools and about 99% of the private schools here in Richmond).  But as my mother (and probably Will) can tell you, I am not one to take “no exceptions” lying down (“but what if your child is the exception?!?”).  Of course I am kidding.  Frances is smart, sweet, calm, patient, a quick learner and introverted without being shy; but I am not claiming she is a child genius (“my Timmy could read by 18 months”) or some kind of learning prodigy.  But I have always thought that she would probably be ready for Kindergarten earlier than our county says she should be.  Her preschool teachers have been telling me this for at least a year, so I assumed that my only job would be to find the right private school to send her for a year or two until little bro could join her in our great neighborhood public school (and as an aside, the thought of paying for school is killing me, particularly when we live in one of the highest ranked public school districts in the state.  This is why we moved here after all.  But it is what it is.)

But the following is what I have learned in this endeavor:
·        Kindergarten is now called “the new first grade,” which means that children who are in Kindergarten and consequently all subsequent grades are learning material and being tested at least a grade ahead of where they traditionally fell.  I suppose this can be blamed in part on SOL testing requirements and the universally loved “No Child Left Behind Act.”

·        Because Kindergarten is seen as harder, parents are holding their children back a year.  Even children whose birthdays are before the September 30th cut-off (often several months before—as in March or April) are keeping them in preschool another year.  This means that there are children who are turning seven (yes, seven) in Kindergarten.

·        Consequently, because these children are older for their grade-level, parents are often demanding higher results, which in turn makes Kindergarten (and again the subsequent grades) learning requirements much more difficult.  Can you see the catch-22?  In fact, I have read articles where a parent will approach the Kindergarten teacher and ask whether his child ranks in the top 10% of his class.  Ranking.  In Kindergarten.
Needless to say, all of this research terrified me.  I talked to many parents who highly encouraged me to hold Frances back because she would have a better chance of making it into the gifted program.  I’m sorry?  In fact, some parents and educators told me that I should already consider holding George back since his birthday is two days before the cut-off (September 28th) and he will be one of the youngest in his class. 

All of this advice blew my mind.  Instinctively it wasn’t making sense to me that it is wise to hold children back from learning just so that they are more likely to end up in the top 10% of their class.  Something did not add up.  (And as another aside, I am in no way speaking about the parents who decide to hold their children another year because those kids are just not ready for traditional school.  I have no doubt that there are some 5-year-olds who need one more year of pre-K in order to be able to sit still for a 6-hour day, five days a week.  To those parents, I tip my hat to you because I know that’s a hard decision to make).

Then my often-cited friend (and go-to person for all things maternal) Sara sent me a great article from the New York Times written by two child development specialists talking about this very phenomenon – holding children back from Kindergarten so that they will excel in comparison to their peers.  In essence the doctors found that those kids did do well in Kindergarten and often through grade school.  But once middle and high school kicked in, many of these children leveled out and some even started slipping behind their peers.  In a very simplified version, their theory was that these children’s brains had not been tapped into during those early developmental years and had not been “stretched” (without over-stretching of course) to learn and work hard.  In other words, school was initially too easy for them and once it became hard for everyone (regardless of age) those older children didn’t know how to handle it.

I read this article and thought, “Finally – a theory that makes sense to me!”

If nothing else, I have learned that when a child should start school is an exceptional question—it is an individual decision and should be determined child-to-child and not when his or her birthday happens to fall.  I don’t want Frances to be so overwhelmed in her new environment that her mind shuts down or her nerves fray.  But it is a bigger risk for me not to tap into that little mind of hers early—to see that her potential for learning, socializing and progressing is reached when she is ready and not when the county says she should be.

So, we've decided to bite the bullet and send Frances to a private Kindergarten next year (and on to public school the following year).  I think she will do fine; I think we’ve made the right decision; I think, I think, I think.  But I don’t know and I won’t know for certain for many years now.

And isn’t that always the case in parenting.  Finally a universal truth I’m sure we can all agree on.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yada, yada, yada

A lot of nothing…

1.      After the sun has set and the light outside is fading (which is getting earlier and earlier these days), George almost always runs to our den window to announce that it’s “very, very dark.”  And it never fails to crack me up mostly because he says it with the nuance of a forty-year-old female smoker from New Jersey.  Can you hear it now? “Very, very dark…”

2.     For most of our relationship, Will and I have been about two hours off-sync – he stays awake about two hours after I am off in dreamland and I get up about two hours earlier than he does.  I am convinced this is a part of what keeps us happy and sane.  But one small thing Will has always done that I’m not sure I acknowledge enough is to stop whatever he is doing in the evenings (usually work, but sometimes watching “Friday Night Lights” or “Dexter” – what would he do without Netflix?) and come up to kiss me goodnight.  It’s a small gesture, but it means so much to me because I am not sure I would be as kind if our roles were reversed (so nice of me, huh?).  I am also impressed that his internal clock is set to know the minutes before my eyes are closing on whatever book I am currently reading (which right now is “Bossypants” by Tina Fey.  I couldn’t stay away after hearing so many recommendations).

3.     And speaking of Will, I must first caveat this paragraph by saying I adore my husband and he is (nearly) perfect.  However, recently he has taken up learning Spanish on his own using the Rosetta Stone program.  Sounds harmless, yes?  Except that every time I ask him a question, he answers me in Spanish.  And it’s kind of Driving. Me. Nuts.  I’m sure there is a Spanish translation for that phrase that I will learn tonight along with the universal question, “is that your dog?” or something equally essential.  Excelente.

4.     I’m not sure if it’s also your experience, but I have found that every single one of these compulsory picture moments force the poor subjects to look directly into the sun.  Daddy is clearly the “let’s make the best of it, kids!” guy, Frances’s expression sums up everyone’s thoughts, and George just couldn’t take it any longer:

Does anyone else see the perfect place for a future little brother/sister?  Don’t worry (Will) that’s not an announcement, just more subtle suggestions.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning as I go

Today was a hard day.  Nothing specifically bad happened, although George was his most-defiant self and both kids whined a little more than average.  But otherwise I had a great day on paper – a cloudless 70 degree day, George and I had some alone time this morning, F&G played the afternoon away at their favorite playground, and a family dinner with Daddy.

But in spite of this perfect looking Tuesday, I am grumpy and exhausted and just tucked my beautiful daughter in for the night whispering, “I’m pushing the ‘restart’ button tonight.  Tomorrow will be better.  I promise.”  (To which my curly-haired angel replied, “it’s okay Mommy.  I had a good day!”)

In replaying how I got here tonight, I think it started with my notion to cook a family dinner (which I define as one that we all sit down at the same table and eat at the same time – a near impossibility in our house).  I love cooking now that I have the time and so many incredible recipes at my fingertips; but for the most part I cook something well in advance knowing that Will and I will simply heat it up later at our usual dinner times long after Frances and George are in bed.  But for whatever reason I wanted to try a true family dinner.  The result?  Dinner was ready when Will walked through the door and no less than 10 minutes later the four of us were sitting down to a new recipe.  But to get to that point took more effort than I care to admit—and much more sniping, impatience, frustration and edginess than my children deserve.  In fact, just knowing that I wanted to try this penetrated my mood all day long and made me a less-than-desirable candidate for “Mother of the Year.”

So, my lesson for today is – regular family dinners at this stage in our lives are too hard.  I don’t have the heart to push my children aside as I’m trying desperately to lug scalding dishes out of the oven or manage boiling pots on the stove when all they want to do is play, read books or just be with me.  I don’t want the time pressures and mental fluster that planning a big meal from start to finish necessarily requires intruding in our daily lives.  The kiddos enjoyed the family dinner tonight, but I know what they really want at the end of the day is for me to be patient, understanding and happy.  And I was none of those today.

There are undoubtedly many (or most) mothers in my position who could handle what I am griping for paragraphs about—but I know that I cannot and I am okay with that.  Or at least, I want to be okay with that and I am just trying to plead my best case.  Either way, I am convinced that Frances and George are better off with a simple, stress-free dinner and a simple, stress-free mother (who will eat dinner later with her always calm and patient husband).

So, as I told Frances, I am pushing the restart button tonight.

And I’m feeling better already.  Happy Tuesday everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good things come in small packages

Today is my birthday and despite it being on a Monday and having a previous work issue rear its ugly head today (for approximately 5 hours), I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.  My mother came over to help me with Frances and George (along with the great Gram-E – man-to-man defense is the way to go with F&G) so I could attend to the aforementioned work issue and I loved being able to spend time with my mother today.

But is it bad to say that my favorite part of the day was waking up to this?

Yes, I don’t need anything small, sparkling and delicately wrapped in blue and white but I must admit it is awfully nice to receive it.  And I won’t keep you in suspense any longer:

I could not have asked for anything more beautiful!

And to beat the cliche to death, I can’t close this post without a picture (or three) of my other two small packages at the Chesterfield Berry Farm pumpkin patch where we spent most of our Sunday:

Does it get any cuter than a children's barrel train ride driven by a Santa Claus look-alike?

Happy Monday everyone!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

'Tis the season...

…for birthday parties.  In Frances’s school class everyone seems to be turning four this fall; and four is the magic age when the birthday parties begin.  I vaguely remember being warned of this phenomenon by some of my former work colleagues (‘enjoy your weekends now while you still have them’) – good advice.  Frances has no complaints though; if she had her way she would go to a party every day, as long as cake is part of the celebration.
This weekend Frances best friend, Carissa, celebrated her 4th birthday.  It was a perfect, small and calm (not a word typically associated with preschoolers much less at a birthday party) get-together at Carissa’s house:

Opening presents

My little daredevil

The whole gang - Jeremy, Sierra, Carissa, Frances and Maddie

The theme?  Ariel, of course:

Carissa, the birthday girl!  She reluctantly agreed to put on the tiara for these pictures; I’d say it was worth it:

Is this the face of a sick girl?  You would have never known that Carissa had a fever yesterday.

Two peas in a pod:

These girls have been best buds practically since birth – they both started at Goddard as infants within weeks of each other and by all accounts have been attached at the hip since.  According to their teachers, they have their moments of petty bickering; but just like any good sisters, they are back to playing and hugging within minutes.

Quick and easy forgiveness – yet another life lesson from my daughter I am trying to emulate.  That and ‘eat cake on a daily basis.’  That last one I can definitely learn to embrace.

Happy Saturday everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I’m not sure exactly where this post will end up (and I’m not even sure if it will ever get published although I suppose if you’re reading it I did in fact post it), but I feel the need to at least attempt to put in writing the culmination of thoughts and feelings I’ve been having for some time now.

I want everyone to know who reads my blog now or anytime in the future that I am completely aware of how incredibly lucky I am to have children.  I am blessed to be able to say that both Frances and George were conceived very quickly and easily; my pregnancies and labor were nothing but normal and predictable.  But for whatever reason, maybe from reading many articles on the subject or empathizing with friends and family, I can feel that overwhelming ache that women must suffer when such a miracle doesn’t come as easily—the taboo subject of infertility.  It’s as if I have felt that pain before—whether it was in some imagined “former life” or whether it is just in the basement rooms of my brain where I stored my innermost fears when Will and I were first trying for children.  “What if we can’t have any?”  “What if it never happens?”  “What if…”  Such thinking is often my survival mechanism for certain pivotal life moments— as my mother calls it, I tend to “awfulize.” 

I have no idea why some women are able to get pregnant while others struggle.  Obviously there are countless physical reasons that come into play on both sides of the coin.  But beyond that, I wish I knew (or maybe I don’t want to know) why I have been given this great gift of children.  The oft-quoted phrase “there but for the grace of God go I” comes to mind—that God has simply blessed me with a family as randomly as if I had just won the lottery.  But that notion frustrates me; why have I been blessed while others were not?  Why is that fair?  What have I done to earn this blessing (which I can wholeheartedly answer – very little)?  And maybe most disturbing, why are others not deserving of such incredible fortune?

I am about 3/4s of the way done with a very interesting but intense autobiography called “Lit.”  I don’t even know why I am reading it or why I thought I would like it – it’s the story of the talented author/poet Mary Karr’s struggle with alcoholism and depression, particularly as a young mother.  Sounds uplifting, yes?  But for whatever reason, this book has grabbed me.  Ms. Karr is a phenomenal writer, so dismal subject aside I am in heaven reading her prose.  Beyond that, she is brutally honest about her actions, thoughts and feelings during her darkest moments of addiction and recovery, which deserve much admiration from anyone not brave enough to admit even contemplating an inkling of her life choices. 

Perhaps most inspiring for me though is her struggle with prayer—one of the necessary steps in her regulated recovery program (is anyone else surprised that AA uses prayer as a part of its platform?).  The author describes herself as agnostic, has practiced cynicism down to an art form, and after a lifetime of substance abuse and mental illness (starting with both of her parents when she was still in the womb) is understandably hesitant to pray to a higher power, much less get down on her knees and thank or ask God (or god with a little “g” – she can hardly bring herself to say that word) for anything.  But after a serious relapse and a realization that she nearly orphaned her precious three-year-old son, she finds herself doing just that – kneeling in prayer.  I have loved every word of her toil and I couldn’t possibly do it justice in my writing (particularly since she is about 1,000 times better at describing it).  Her early prayers are humorously and sacrilegiously riddled with curse words (so much so that I felt a little fearful laughing along with her as though I would be struck by the proverbial lightning bolt).  But they are heartfelt and begrudgingly she realizes that her prayers are working.

If I am being completely honest with myself, genuine structured prayer is not something I come to organically.  I don’t regularly (or ever) kneel next to my bed and thank whoever is listening for my auspicious life.  I do make a daily, sometimes hourly, effort to step back from the present moment and express silent gratitude for my family, my friends and my role in this world (in fact, this is one of my primary reasons why I write this blog; to help me slow down and put in black and white as eloquently as possible how grateful I really am).  But if “Lit” has taught me anything, it is that prayer—honest, heart-felt, knee-bending prayer—may just be the missing link in life.

And all of this brings me full circle to my first thoughts—children.  If anything or anyone can convince me to kneel in prayer, it is Frances and George.  For many years, I have not wanted for anything (and I don’t mean that in a ‘we have all the riches in the world’ notion – I just happen to not want or need much); I have had no reason to ask God for anything, other than the occasional “please don’t let this plane crash!” request.  But I am eternally grateful for my family—more so than I ever thought possible.  Stomach-churning, white-knuckling, lump-in-my-throat, crawl-on-the-floor grateful.  And a small (but getting bigger) part of me wants to make sure that the silent universe understands how much I appreciate my blessings; and how much I ache for those souls who look at mothers and children and wonder if they do fully grasp how blessed they are.  As a member of that latter class, I want you to know—I get it.  I am lucky.  I am blessed.  And I want nothing but for those of you who want children to be able to experience the same ups and downs, joys and sorrows, bone-dragging exhaustion and sky-reaching anxiety that children bring.  I will do my best to remember those who cannot have what I undoubtedly often take for granted, that I must, will, and do give thanks.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day"
[Thank you, Sara, for letting me steal your quote!]

And thank you all for listening.  Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall-themed post #81

Sorry for the inundation of orange this month, but I cannot seem to steer away from taking pictures of this gorgeous fall weather and its ginger-colored produce.

Most recently has been our trip to a local church to pick out what I thought would be one pumpkin—the perfect jack-o-lantern canvas. 

Needless to say, once Frances and George found these little cuties, Will and I knew we were in for much more than anticipated.

Secretly?  I’ve loved decorating with the miniature pumpkins and may just find my way back to that same church this weekend for more orange.

Ahhhh, fall!  And happy Tuesday!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October colors

Seemingly overnight, fall colors have arrived in full force here in Virginia.  With the trees and the nearly cloudless, sunny weather finally in sync, our little family has been outside more of the daylight hours than not, walking, running, playground-ing, and every other kind of –ing you can think to do with two preschoolers.

This past weekend Will had a bar association meeting at Wintergreen, a mountain resort about two hours west of Richmond, which ended up being perfect timing for fall leaf season.  Truthfully, I was apprehensive about taking Frances and George to the meeting—every other time that we have been to Wintergreen it has been cold, rainy and incredibly foggy.  Add that weather to two high energy kiddos and hilly, mountaintop lodging built for snow skiing and you can understand my mild anxiety about finding something for them to do should we find ourselves surrounded by crummy conditions.  But we completely lucked out this trip and the children were able to experience something they haven't yet—autumn in the mountains.  At one point, Frances (whose current favorite expression is “Oh. My. Gosh.” with the requisite pauses in between words) followed that sentiment with a, “it’s just so beautiful, Mommy.”

I couldn’t agree more!

And I can’t close this post without adding this picture of Will and Frances:

I love Will’s attempt to get Frances to fully appreciate the beautiful day and Frances’s complete willingness to follow along with her daddy’s instructions to take a deep breath and soak up the sun.  But I especially love how tiny Frances looks next to her father.  Is it fair to ask her to stay this age forever? 

And of course, there’s our little camper-in-the-making saying “cheese!”:

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pumpkin patch-ing

Frances’s school class took their first official field trip this week – to one of our local pumpkin patches.  Parents were invited and I somehow snuck George in under the radar, so we were able to make it a family affair.

For weeks, Frances was beside herself with anticipation about riding the school bus to the pumpkin patch – this was by-far the highlight of the day.
Frances and her equally excited best friend, Carissa, holding hands as they get on the bus

As we drove out to the patch, rain spit on my windshield and I pleaded to the weather goddesses to hold off at least until naptime.  Thankfully, they listened and it turned out to be a cloudy, windy, but fairly dry morning.

We started with the hayride to the pumpkin patch:

Followed by pig races (welcome to the South everyone!):

George's favorite, by far

Water balloon slingshots:

Rubber duck races:

Playing in corn:

The entire class, plus little brother

Feeding goats:

And finally lunch!:

I was nervous about tagging along on Frances’s first field trip, much less with the unpredictable George in tow.  But it could not have gone better.  Her friends are adorable and the entire morning was much less chaotic than I had assumed it would be – they actually all listen incredibly well, are sweet natured (particularly to the little bro in attendance) and are just generally well behaved (and I can say this with confidence after watching some of the other visiting school classes yesterday).  But truthfully I worried most that Frances would feel embarrassed to have her mom as a witness to the trip—that it would be too hard on her to have her home and school worlds collide.  But none of this seemed to faze her.  She hugged me and played with George on occasion, but then seamlessly skipped along with her classmates to the next activity.  I know the humiliation phase is (likely) fast approaching, but I am happy to report to-date we are an eye-roll, hands-on-hips, overly-dramatic-sigh, and foot-stomping free household. 

And until then, I will gladly soak up as much of this smile as I possibly can:

Happy Thursday!