It started as a daydream. The third-best shelling beaches in the world, within our country's borders.
It continued as an obsession. Time to myself. Beautiful pieces of nature to photograph.
It was put on the back burner, something I would do someday when a trip by myself or with girlfriends was a luxury but not a foolish extravagance.
It flashed across my mind in alarm as oil was spreading across the gulf. Would we run out of somedays?
Then I had an idea: why wait for someday? Why wait until I could go alone? I could go now, with the kids.
I had the idea on Thursday. I booked rooms (with some flexibility built in) on Sunday. On Monday, the kids and I set out on a grand adventure, not knowing how many days it would take us to get there, or whether we would all be screaming one or two or sixteen hours down the road, or how much fun or stress we would have, or when we would return.
All told, we took two days to get there, spent four nights on the island, and two days (ish) coming back. There were lots of expected and unexpected joys and relatively few lows. This starts a whole new chapter in family adventures, I suspect.
Some of this stuff is blogged under the "adventure" category on Spark (June 21-27 plus a "Surviving Spontaneity" series that followed it and is still waiting for completion). There's also a photo set on Flickr. Mostly it was the kind of amazing adventure that can't be described in words, and we all want to go back (with Dan this time) soon.
When we moved last year, the movers set up the crib, and they did it wrong. One of the bolts was put into the wrong place, and it left a small gap in the frame. I couldn't get the under-bed drawer to sit on its rails, and investigated, and discovered the problem. The bolt they used is just barely different from bolts used in other parts of the bed, and didn't fit into the nut well enough to pass through it, so it got stuck. They stripped the wood around the nut holding the bolt in place, so I couldn't get it back out; the bed was stable so I left it for the day when I needed to dismantle the crib. I wasn't sure how I would do that, short of a sledgehammer.
Well, I needed to lower the mattress, so I started taking out bedding, and then had a moment with no kids climbing on me and got all manic and Ms. Fixit-y, and started taking apart the bed one bolt at a time (I've disassembled and reassembled it before). Through enormous application of force and an ingenious (if I do say so myself) application of a screwdriver to brace the nut, I managed to pry the mismatched bolt out. I then took a guess at where the right bolt might be and removed one at a time, comparing bolts, until I found it (it took 2 or 3 tries). Everything went in nice and tight, hooray!
Movers of the world: if it doesn't fit together, you're doing it wrong. First rule of anything: don't force it.
Ok, so then I had the bed mostly put back together, sans the front rail. Well, it turns out the bed can be converted into a daybed, and since the other two boys were sleeping in a twin-sized bed by Xander's age, I decided, hey, let's try it! So we're front-rail-less now. Xan was concerned and asked for his "nap" (the missing bed part), but I moved it to the attic, showed him where it was, and talked up the big boy bed. So, here we go on the slow transition of the crib out of the house. Crossing fingers...
Am I the only one who finds the beginning of a new year really disorganized and stressful? It's not just the expectation to set resolutions (which I don't do on Jan 1, I'm an idealist 24/7/365) or looming tax dates, there's something about the sense of a new opportunity, the holiday decorations to be put away, the lack of light and vitamin D, the list of things to plan (spring activities, summer vacation, school events), and this nesting feeling I get once the tree is down. Ugh. I mean, exciting, but UGH.
So, sorry to go without updating for a while. I decided to undertake a 365 project - which is a creative project you do every day for a year - and Griff joins me on it most days. Finding time for it has been difficult. That is complicated further by a big career thing that I'll get to later.
First, January catch-up! (the links lead to 365 posts)
The kids and I finished up their winter break in a real do-nothing, go-nowhere mood. I guess that's good in some ways? I wouldn't mind it so much, except that I didn't cook enough breakfasts and read enough stories. Things to remember for next time. I'd like to remember stay-at-home days as snuggly instead of driving-eachother-crazy.
Oh, except we did do something productive. Griff and I hand-delivered birthday party invitations again this year. Part of me wants to swear that I'll be ahead of the game next year and mail them two weeks in advance, but I actually enjoy driving around and seeing where all of his friends live, maybe getting to say hello to a friend or two. (Hi, Pache!)
Xander shocked me by being the only one of my children ever to voluntarily wear a knit cap as a toddler. He's SO cute in it. He stopped wearing it two days later, though. Ah, well, at least he was warm for those two days.
Reese continues to want to wear no outerwear or only his grey jacket. He HATES wearing a coat. Our surprising compromise: grey jacket over coat. I dont' understand what part of this arrangement makes the coat acceptable to him, it looks awfully bulky to me, but hey, this is one winter during which I never have to worry about him being warm enough outdoors. He wears two shirts every day, too.
Occasionally I took a freezing-cold walk around the back alleys in our neighborhood, toting my new telephoto zoom lens and stalking hawks. I was lucky enough to find this one with a fresh kill.
We visited New York Deli at least once. We always bring a stack of quarters.
Luke spent a few Thursday mornings with me and Xander.
I learned how to do some really cool long exposure tricks.
A 1920s typewriter followed me home from a local antique shop and sparked much interest among the kids. How does it work? Why is there no #1?
We celebrated Griff's 7th birthday with a bowling party for him and his friends. Seven seven-year-olds are the perfect number and age for this kind of party!
I learned some PhotoShop tricks - textures and vignetting.
I also had a "Mom's Night Out" at the home of one of the NAP mamas, who is also one of the first friends I made after moving to Richmond.
We had some pajama days and a lot of screen time. Reese and Xander played better together than ever before.
We had an impromptu after-school playdate with Jack and Josiah, during which Dan took ALL FIVE KIDS to the grocery store. Voluntarily. Hokey Smokes! They had a great time, Josiah taught Griff some new jokes, and we all ate fabulous junk food (mmm, onion dip). I love these kids, they're so sweet and fun and polite and adorable! My boys all love them, too.
Griff had his first school dance and his first "date". You know those stories you hear about childhood sweethearts who fall in love when they're five years old and eventually marry each other and have this precious storybook romance? Those stories sound eerily like what's going on here. Griff and Mia have been sweethearts for a year or thereabouts. Not to jump the gun or anything...but the in-laws are awesome.
Ok, so back to the stressed-Jess thing. I was asked to be a photographer for the Sabot auction this year, which involves working with two lovely Sabot artists who are putting together a gallery of children's art. I count this as an honor. Then a friend referred me to friends of hers who were looking for a wedding photographer. I've been researching and deep-thinking and planning ever since. I'm arranging a meeting with the couple and there's a chance they may hire me (I believe they're also looking at one other photographer, maybe more). This would be an INCREDIBLE opportunity and honor, but it's also incredibly stressful. I had planned to take at least one paying client this year, but not until the fall and only for children's or family portraiture. This ups the stakes considerably and steps up my time frame for things like figuring out rates, contracts, insurance, model releases, and acquiring some new equipment, too. I would have four months between now and the wedding, and I need to spend that four months PERFECTING my photojournalistic event/human connection skills as well as learning flash. Yikes. This couple knows that this would be a first for me, and they have seen my Flickr; I need to address expectations with them even more before signing anything.
Scary, but sometimes you have to leap!
Phew. Writing out all of January (thus far) makes me feel like we've been far more productive than I had considered before! Here's to all the learning and living we'll do in the weeks and months to come.
Xander and I were running some errands a couple of days ago and it occurred to me that soon he will stop that adorable flap-flap-flap toddler gait and that it will be gone forever! He is officially no longer a baby, even if he'll always be *my* baby. I think if you're old enough to pretend to be a baby, you're probably not a baby any more. Hard to believe that the tiny baby who smiled at us the night of his birth and only just turned one is now a little boy!
One of my favorite things about this age is the appreciativeness two-year-olds have for the world. They have few expectations and take great delight in everything. Everything is still fresh and new, but now they have the ability to tell you about it. "Mom, look! Christmas lights!" Or this exchange from last Saturday:
X: Where going?
J: We're going to Williamsburg.
D: Or, as I like to call it, "The magical land of Williamsburg, where history comes alive!"
Adam reflected today that on Luke's birthday, he had no way at all of knowing what was in his presents, no expectations of what the packaging might contain, and each revelation (most having something to do with trains) was met with rhapsodies of pleasure. Christmas will be extra-fun this year for our families because of these kids who live so fully in the moment!
Xander has been working hard at growing up, probably in an effort to keep up with two older brothers, whom he adores. He and Griff are SO precious together. Xander is devoted to Griff, who returns the adoration and often reads to him or walks hand-in-hand with him. They are the sweetest brothers ever, with a special connection since Xander's birth. Reese and Xander have recently become buddies and often invite each other to join in some game or building project; watching their relationship develop is interesting and rewarding. Unlike his brothers, who were each more attached to one parent at this age, he focuses pretty evenly on both parents. He asks for "mommy snuggles" and "daddy snuggles" all the time, although one recent development is that he'll playfully tell me "yuck!" and wipe his face after I kiss him. Where did he learn that?
As social as ever, he greets people everywhere he goes and usually enjoys hamming it up. He and Luke are still best buds and I love hearing them talk together from the back seat of the car - usually something like this:
X: Luke, look! Big truck!
X: Over there!
L: Oh, I see it!
They also tell each other jokes all the time and recently seem to be making plans together. I keep imagining them as teenagers. Not sure whether to look forward to those days or cower in fear. They're both devastatingly charming and mischievous. Look out!
Xan has way more adults in his social circle than his brothers had at his age, and I enjoy seeing how important these people are to him. He looks forward to seeing the teachers at the preschool, especially Anna, Kara, and Page (who, I'll admit, are some of my favorite people, too). He greets our friends, he asks to go visit Aunt Johannah and Brody. It's great to see that he has a sense of himself as part of a bigger community. Part of his community is also the places we go - this kid also has a greater knowledge of stores and restaurants than his brothers had, and knows exactly where he wants to go. He recently gave me a very detailed order for a burger with pickles and ketchup from 5 Guys.
His cognitive skills never cease to amaze me. While he's not using as advanced pronouns and syntax as his buddy Luke, he is able to string together an enormous amount of content and tells me long, complex things, makes intricate requests, and tells detailed stories. He's always been an impressive communicator and doesn't show signs of slowing down. It's so much fun! He's always asking me what things are and then repeating it back to me, or asking me "what mean?" He's also into building things lately - machines made of tinker toys, tall stacks of blocks - and loves to doodle. His fine motor coordination is awesome. His sense of imagination is also surprising to me. He loves to pretend he's a puppy, and often tells me that he's changing the poopy diapers on small toys, which requires a tiny piece of toilet paper to use as a wipe.
His favorite books are still the tales of Curious George, which we read nightly with him and Reese, after which Xander hops up, gives me a kiss and a hug, and then pads out the door to find Daddy for a song and tuck-in. Not quite as adorable: he still wakes up multiple times a night. Oof! Someday everybody will get to sleep all night, right? On the up side, he's been night weaned for a long time. He shows no signs of being ready to give up mommy milk entirely, though.
He's the most adventurous eater of the three boys, a trait which I hope he maintains, but which I fear will fade; already he's hitting the two-year-old dinnertime pickiness. He loves baby yoga and sings a lot - either made up sing-song tunes with lyrics of his own devising, or standards like "twinkle, twinkle, little star," "row, row, row your boat," "happy birthday," or "jingle bells". He frequently mushes songs together, with amusing results.
I could probably go on forever about this kid, he's a lot of fun. I asked him what we would do for his birthday, and he told me "cupcakes", so we made sure to have some for him today, complete with M&Ms and brothers to help him blow out the candles:
Parting shot: a look back at 4-month old Xander giggles:
Luke is TWO! If you dont' know who Luke is, read here, here, here, here, here, or here There are lots of adorable Luke & Xander pics in those posts, so even if you know all about Luke, you really should go peek. I'll wait.
No, seriously, go look. There are no children in the history of the world as adorable as these boys. Go.
Ok, On with the birthday wishes. I can't believe the babies are two already. Luke is an amazing kid, he has these fun sparkly eyes and a great sense of humor (even if it does run to the poop side a bit lately). I love how he and Xander are best friends in a way that I never knew possible at such a young age.
His parents claim that he has a crush on me, and honestly, I kinda like it that way. I like being a cool auntie of sorts. You can come play trains at our house any day, kiddo.
Luke amazes me. His language is off the charts, people. I mean, he's been using baby word combos forever, and now he's using these super-long, grammatically correct sentences - like pronouns, correct verb tenses, the whole nine yards. It's amazing. And defying all of those stereotypes about some kids being physically advanced and some being verbally advanced, he's got the physical thing down, too. You should see his yoga moves and pitching arm.
To celebrate the day, some of my favorite shots of Lukey boy from the past year...happy birthday, baby!
1. By playing with the menus on my camera, I discovered how to take photos in black & white (rather than remove their color in post-processing).
2. Family trip to Starbucks. Not really a rare occurrence, but it happened, so I'm telling you.
3. Bowling. First time I've gone in...um...huh...not sure how long. A decade or more? Can't be possible, but I suspect that's the case. Kids' first time, obviously. Griff and Reese were both huge fans, Xander got in on the action, everybody was totally happy through 7 frames and were fine through the 10th, so it seems one game is the perfect length for us. Griff wants his birthday party there in January.
4. Ran into Griff's friend Logan and his family at the bowling alley. Happy birthday, Logan!
5. Lusted after bowling shoes. I'm not sure why they're cool. They're certainly not terribly comfortable. Yet I want to steal them every time. Why is that? (And no, I won't ever steal them, I have a super-sensitive ethical gag reflex.)
5. Ditched the black and white settings an went for VIVID COLOR at the illumination night of Lewis Ginter's GardenFest of Lights. The RVA Hoop Lovers put on a show before and after the countdown and we really enjoyed the effects of their LED hoops.
6. We froze our butts off at GardenFest! Why do we always go on the first truly freezing night of the year? Had a great time nevertheless.
7. All of these photos were taken on fully-manual. This could not have
happened at all a year ago or even half a year ago. I'm pretty proud.
And, erm, modest. Ha.
I almost forgot! Monday the 23rd marked one year since we moved into this house. It has been an incredible year, one that confirmed everything I believed about the importance of our environment (the house itself, the neighborhood, the proximity to friends and favorite places) in our lives. What a year of building community! Recession notwithstanding, this was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Living in a place that inspires and energizes us is just amazing. :o)
Griff, standing in my bedroom doorway this morning:
"Mom, did you know I have a girlfriend?"
I actually did know, or rather, I know that he and Mia Krivanec have been sweet on each other since Kindergarten, when the use of the too-adult-for-five-year-olds words "girlfriend", "boyfriend", and "love" were declared taboo (a far cry from Sabot's response to young love). I know that he was delighted to learn that her desk would face his in their little pod of five kids in his first grade classroom. I know that he's told me that he likes her in a special way, a way he can't quite explain, and that his teacher thinks the two of them are so cute together, completely smitten. I know that they eat lunch together and that they play together at lunch often enough that Mia's friend Mariposa is furious.
But "girlfriend"? It hadn't been declared official yet. I told him that I knew he liked Mia, but that I was happy that he was sharing that she's his girlfriend with me. Apparently he asked her, and she agreed. There doesn't seem to be anything required to be boyfriend and girlfriend other than loving each other and enjoying spending time together. Which is the way it should be, right? ♥
On one of our sick days, Reese drew a
series of egg shapes that he called "the poisonous bananas". These
bananas apparently live on the playground at the preschool. Some are
white and some are black. Then he started adding faces and bellybuttons
and limbs and soon we had a host of poisonous but very cheerful bananas
"holding hands and walking along". Most of them
have noses below their mouths, and one had a beard. These must be traits specific to
poisonous bananas, because I've never seen a Chiquita or Dole with
features like those. I had also never seen Reese draw figures like these, and was so excited to watch them evolve on the Magnadoodle (of course, on the Magnadoodle!). The first three (bottom center, bottom right, top right) have noses below their mouths, but the top left banana ended up with a nose in the anatomically correct place. Nifty progression!
I asked a teacher today what the "poisonous
bananas" are, and it turns out they are mushrooms that grow on the
playground. I immediately remembered similar fungi that grew in our yard on Burberry Lane one year. They may resemble bananas to children, but not so much to adults.
Xander has discovered the phrase "why not?" and uses it all the time. Unfortunately, it doesn't always make sense. Much nicer: a few days ago he started saying "thank you" every time I hand him something. It sounds like "seekoo." It's really sweet.
Slightly less sweet but funny nevertheless: he noticed that mommy doesn't look quite like all the other members of the household, and has been asking where my penis is, or rather, where it has gone. What a strange world we live in, dominated by males with this single odd other creature living among them.
Reese asks "why?" about every. little. thing. When I run out of explanations, he gets exasperated, petulantly begging, "just tell me," as if I know the answer and I'm just stringing him along for the fun of it. He craves information about everything, and doesn't seem to understand that sometimes I simply don't have the information he wants. I'm pretty sure it's not by chance that this coincides with a big burst in literacy skills, drawing, and major exploration of death and kidnapping. Holy schmoly. Four-year-olds are amazing and exhausting.
Griff frequently does his homework on the playground or in the car, since he's figured out that doing it sooner rather than later means having more time in the evening to do fun stuff like playing a computer game or hanging out with Mom & Dad. One glaring exception has been the dreaded Wednesday-night sentence assignment, in which he must write one five-word sentence for each of that week's five spelling words. The first couple of weeks were excruciatingly painful, entire evenings filled with tears and tantrums. Yay, homework. Then a couple of weeks ago things started getting a little easier, last week things were even easier, and this week, he did the sentences completely by himself, early in the evening, without being prompted! That needs more exclamation points: !!!!!!!!!! Go, Griff!
Reese started telling me how to write the letter H this afternoon. I drew some incorrect Hs and he carefully showed me how to make one correctly, then told me he can write his name. Trying not to over-encourage, I managed to get a clean sheet of paper in front of him without triggering his "I'm not your trained monkey" reflex, and he slowly and deliberately wrote his name. He's so proud, and I'm so exicted! This is the first time I've really seen him show interest in *anything* representational - he doesn't enjoy or seek out drawing or writing ever.
The letter Es are especially thrilling. Every one of those crossbars was carefully added.
I forgot to mention in the Xander update: he surprised Dan and me last week by referring to both of us by our names. I didn't even know he knew who "Dan" and "Jess" are, but apparently he does. This morning he couldn't get my attention and started hollering "Jess! Jess! Help you!"
This shouldn't surprise me; Griffin calls Dan by name on a regular basis and occasionally does the same to me. I think it disturbs some of the more traditional Mr. & Mrs. types that we know (who, now that I think of it, are few and far between these days), but after the initial strangeness of it, neither of us minds. If the owner of the name isn't bothered, no problem.