supremely good

It's been a good weekend to celebrate thirteen years of marriage.
This was the little getaway car we drove the night of our wedding.  And by "we drove" I mean I drove, after Andy made sure ALL the champagne bottles on every table were empty.  I had to dig my way through my dress to find the steering wheel.  I'm not sure I had a single thing to eat that day and after visiting with guests and dancing and drinking ALL THE CHAMPAGNE, we decided we were hungry.  The only place that was open that late was Taco Bell, so we drove through.
And last night we pretended to do it again.
Minus the champagne and the chili cheese burritos.


Let go

A friend mentioned not long ago that when he and his son build Legos, they follow the package directions and he glues the set together as they go.

Most of the time, if Tuck gets new Legos, he sets right to work building whatever it's meant to be.  But it never stays together long, because he's already imagining other ways for the new pieces to be used.

There are as many ways to do things - to parent, to play - as there are Legos in the world.

Flat surfaces all over our house are covered with creations, windowsills lined with them, rugs strewn with them.  Tuck pursues Lego-ing with a passion.  He’s created a gallery of delicate structures, small colorful bricks stuck together to form whatever his mind conceives.  I am a little ambivalent about it all.  I mean, I love that he's using his imagination, and I am genuinely impressed by his work.  And I am so happy that he is happy.  “Cool!” I tell him when he shows me a new one, but a cascade of conflicting emotions nibble at me.

I've wondered several times this summer whether I should've pushed him to play a sport, signed him up for soccer, registered him for swim team or kept him in karate.  What's the purpose, though, besides making friends and staying active?  He does those things already.

My role as his parent is to support him in becoming his authentic self, not to guide him too far in the direction I want him to go.  And I don't necessarily want him to be the football MVP.  But when my instincts tell me his authentic self makes someone else uncomfortable, I am less confident in my conviction.  Still, there is really no reason for me to try to change my child's interests.  His intensity is a gift, I think, and I thank my lucky stars he has it.

All I can do, really is be the mom he needs today, to let go of the idea that I will determine much of my child’s future, sure of the fact that participation in things like little league or Legos will not have lasting effects.  I value freedom and personal responsibility, and respect the boys' rights to direct their own lives, benefiting from my guidance, I hope.

I celebrate his creativity, and the myriad ways to be a boy in the world, more, even, than stars in the sky.
Or Legos on my floor.
the desk in his bedroom, his favorites displayed (safe from the vacuum, and his little brother)
a gas station
a hang glider
an Angry Bird robot "eggbot" and a space ship
a playground with water features
a snow-capped mountain
a "scary Halloween scene"
 some zip-lining guys
*I took these photos over the course of about one week.



We cancelled cable months ago.  A year ago?  Two years ago?  I don't know.  I don't miss it.  The boys are thrilled to spend time places where they can catch an episode of something on Disney Junior, but for the most part, if they have screen time at home, they choose a "rectangle movie" streamed through Amazon Prime from their section of saved titles, shows like Popular Mechanics for Kids.  We still borrow lots of DVDs from the library too,  "Bill the Nye" most frequently.
And sometimes they just pick up a book instead.

Slowly, we've sent television sets out of our house, donated, sold, garaged.  Most recently we removed the one from our bedroom - it hadn't been turned on in months and I was tired of dusting it.  And now we have a big blank wall.  And I've been dreaming about how to fill it.

With cows?
Or flowers?  More flowers?  Even more flowers?
Or calm colors? (bonus, local artist!)
With confetti?!
Or words?

Or maybe with a print from our own camera, one from our Arizona trip or something?

We're leaning toward blues and pinks, yellows and golds, still lots of white.  Several small prints, or one large canvas, or some combination.
This is what we'll see when we wake up in the morning, assuming it's after the sun has risen, which is actually not a very safe assumption.
For reference, the arrangement around our headboard, above.
Notice we *still* haven't found something for that bright pink frame...

And the blank wall we'd like to fill across room, below.
The dresser is tall.  Like chest height.
Thanks for your input on the decision.

This post is sponsored by Minted.  Have you seen Minted's new Save the Dates?  We're celebrating thirteen years this weekend.  If I had it to do over, I think I'd still stick with the same loose star theme.  And I'd for sure choose the same guy.


Inside Out

So we burned her body and now it's ashes?  But actually, our bodies are made out of ashes.  And stars.  And dinosaurs and vehicles and grass.  Everything is in us, really.

He's right.  Smoke is a suspension of particles, billions of carbon bits, trees and televisions, kitchen sinks and wounded soldiers, drifting.  Ashes to ashes.

Can you still get bacon without killing the pig? Like instead of slaughtering it you could just pull the bacon out of one side?

He still has a little to learn about life and death.
Don't we all.
We took the boys to see Inside Out this week.  It was fabulous.  Huge themes, epic imagery.

The movie deals poignantly with way people manage feelings.  Perhaps most movingly, the film portrays memory and the way we often desperately hold on to it.  Memories play a really big role in the show, how they are created and stored, how they can influence our personalities, how we either retain or discard them.

I doubt the boys grasped every subtext, but the story led our family to some conversations about joy and sadness working together.
One large message is that sadness and fear and anger are valuable, and that emotions are often intertwined.  Although Joy is the main character, she may not be the heroine.  In the movie (mild spoiler alert) Sadness is compelled to touch some joyful memories, adding a layer of melancholy to them.  Just like in real life.
It's a powerful notion for kids and parents alike, the idea that sadness is natural and necessary and not always equal to unhappiness.
Talking with Tuck about the internal landscape of our brains, about emotions coexisting and memories crumbling and fading away, my own mind reached back to places that may be dangerous to go with an achy heart.  Do parents of dead children ever construct fake memories, I wonder, idyllic scenes that may not have actually taken place, through some surreal and unreliable lens of retrospect?

Sometimes I am guilty of living in a memory, a real one, I think, making tents and tiny houses to camp out there for too long.  I remember looking at his tiny hand resting in hers, remember feeling delighted and robbed for them both.  They had a rare gift that came at a cruel price.  He had no idea what was about to happen.  And we had no idea how to tell him, what to tell him, whether to tell him.  Your sister’s body is very sick and her brain is dying fast.  He was not quite three.  We wanted to be honest, but also to preserve their overlapping days without burdening our precious little boy with grown-up grief.

He's known grief though, he's fought off angry and afraid both in the same breath.  Sometimes we did it with him.  Sometimes we still do.  Sometimes we ignore it, pretend it away for a few minutes, maybe longer. Other times we wallow in it, allow it to wrap us up.

She was our happiest sadness, we agree.


These boys really scored in the dad department.

Andy's talents include smoking meat, sharpening knives and selecting the right wine with dinner.  He's also skilled at watering houseplants and unloading the dishwasher, fly-fishing and placing various tubes in various body parts, from what I hear.

But what he is best at happens at home.  Swaddling babies and executing the bedtime routine, reading picture books and racing plastic vehicles.  He is willing to compromise, available to listen, ready to tickle and to play rough and to show up, always.  He makes wooden dinosaurs talk in funny voices and drives trains along tracks with noises to match.  He always has a pocket knife, always has a flashlight, always has a smile.

Today the boys and I salute him for making money so we can pay the bills, buy new shoes and occasionally order delivery pizza.  But even more for patiently letting us help in the kitchen, in the garage, letting us hold tools and gadgets, letting us hold his hand.  For helping us learn the rules for football, teaching us about bones and muscles, taking time to look up and name the stars.

We are lucky to have his adoration, and grateful for his love.



save the date

My phone dinged all day last week, filling up with messages from folks who wanted to be sure I'd heard.  That night I cried in the shower thinking about those girls, forehead pressed against tile, shampoo sliding down my face.  Another family blind-sided by a gutting event, the kind that exposes the thin, arbitrary line between life as usual and life will never be the same.

It's hard to know how to situate a terminal diagnosis in a story that is also good.

Gordon Gray, Hollywood producer and father of two, has done more for Batten Disease awareness in recent days than many of us will do over a lifetime.  High profile celebrities like Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Channing Tatum, Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon joined forces to spread Charlotte and Gwyneth's video and to ask for help to #curebatten.  Both young girls are affected.

The family's story has also been featured by top networks and popular websites, bringing unprecedented national attention to the need for research:
CNN Health, Cosmopolitan, Good HousekeepingGood Morning America, People, Time, The Today Show, US Weekly

The Gray girls are precious, pretty little things, just four and two.  And Batten is still just as ugly as that dumb dress that melted the internet several months ago.  Was it blue and black, or white and gold?  I saw it all over social media and kept thinking, if only those people read about rare and were compelled to discuss the shades of horridness, to donate to science that could eradicate disorders.

I wondered how Batten could ever reach such a wide audience, but I never wished the disease upon another family.

And national attention or not, there are still so many people around us, helping make our small sphere of influence incrementally larger through their efforts.  Efforts that will, eventually, save lives.
For now, will you please save the date?

Battling Batten Disease 5K Run & Family Walk
Sunday, November 8, 2015
10:00a Scioto Audubon Metro Park

*Those are really Celia's little footprints.  Thanks to Laura and Josh for the thoughtful design efforts!


boys n berries

The school year wound down and the days warmed up and suddenly the strawberries were ready to be picked.

Revisiting the berry farm every June may not be as foundational as traveling to new places, but it's becoming a tradition.  And when the boys asked to go, after too many Not right this seconds it felt good to say Yes, let's do it.

I knew from listening to their conversations that their primary motivation was to find a frog.  Berries were secondary.  But I've learned that when they can be the architects of our day, they never fail to find ways for routine to mean spectacular.  My job is to drink in their exuberant, giddy energies and to try to respond gracefully to whatever occurs.

And maybe it’s far-fetched, but I’m hoping these trips act partly as an answer to why I won’t buy them all the new toys, the ones that provide a two hour hit of joy before becoming forgotten in the closet.  Hoping, as they get older, they'll remember they can always find something fascinating outside.
We passed a cemetery on the way to the patch, and Tolliver asked whether that was where Celia is buried up?
She's not buried at all, I tried to explain, mostly because we wanted to be able to feel like we could talk to her where ever we were.  Like today, if you want to tell her about the berries, you could, I went on.

He may not keep concise memories of his gentle older sister, but I hope somehow, at some level, those brief few weeks they had here together might settle into his soul and he would be better for it.

Just like I hope these small, simple excursions might lodge into the scaffolding of their minds, might become hazy, half-glimpsed visions of happy summers when they were small.


none of this is a big deal, but I like little deals too

cousins in a cave #wymanwoods
glue guns for days - helping Maya's Curls for Matilda Jane via @mayascurls
the sun came up again, as it tends to do
#betzboys at the #bobcatrevue

field day, fast cars
at the reservoir via @keg256
scallops and brisket
after school books
to work with mom
happy baby

mother's day
yard "help"
front porch books
field trip #ohiohistorymuseum
money for miracles via @jnferris
ain't nobody got time for trunks

table twenty four for the win via @heatherstraus
wedding toasts
maple bacon caramels #threekidsandakitchen

summer whispers, boys scream  
girls night
lots to read
last day festivities
thursday playdate crew via @mrsholby
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