Sunday, July 16, 2017

Joey: 19 Months

He's got a lot to say but still uses just one word at a time. For example, he'll take my hand and say, "Me", which I take to mean "come with me" or "help me", depending on where he's taking me and what he wants me to do. Just the other day he beckoned with "Me", and plopped down on the floor with Little Blue Truck, wanting me to read it to him. If I ask him where something is, he says, "Know" for "I don't know." He also knows now that I'll often happily comply with his requests. While I'm wiping his bum he might say, "Bah!" (Bath. A lot of times I will just let him have a little soak after a #2 if I'm not feeling confident about how well I've cleaned him up, and he's always anticipating it.) Come to think of it, he does say one two-word phrase: "Dandoo" (Thank you). He is very talkative for a boy with few words. On a recent ride in the car he and Tim had a conversation that went like this:
"Da-dee? Da-dee?"
"Yeah, buddy?"
"Yeah, buddy?"
"Da-dee? Da-dee, car." He pronounces the "r" in car too. (What happened to Worcester?)
He wants to figure out how everything works. If it has a plug, he wants to plug it in and turn it on. He put a glove on one hand and took a screwdriver in the other and tried to "fix" an office chair. He's figured out the lock on the trash can lid. *Big frowny face* But he still doesn't know how to open doors. Once he does I know those covers will fool him for awhile too. He also brings me my flipflops and puts them on me, which is adorable. He really likes to be doing things. He needs to be busy with a job of some sort. To that end, he takes things from the place they belong and puts them somewhere else. So, during the last week of getting ready for movers, we had the situation where I was doing a lot of rearranging, he he was rearranging things his way, and it was kind of maddening for me at times. Again I relied on the base daycare to spell me for a few hours here and there. That was a real sanity saver.
I was just reading through Timmy's 19 month update and marveling at the similarities between the two of them. One big difference, though: I was having to wrestle Timmy into his carseat to go places, and he was doing that arched back thing every time! Having multiple errands was hell. Not so with Joey at all. He loves going for rides and never gives me any trouble about being strapped into his carseat. That was one of my saving graces with the rest of the family gone for several l-o-n-g days. How funny, since I remember Timmy being the easier baby. Then again, while he may have been the easier baby, he got to be quite the handful once he progressed through the toddler and preschool stages.
Joe is not much fun as an only child, and I now remember why it was harder to have just one than two or more. With his siblings away he has been very restless, bored, and gets feisty with me a lot. Every time I take a step in any direction he thinks I'm abandoning him, and he follows me, crying. He wants me to hold him all the time, but he doesn't want me to hold him and he squirms to get down. He tries getting into things he knows he shouldn't. He's been inside a lot too, which isn't helping matters. It is SO hot down here, and the mosquitoes are vicious all day long, not just at dusk. The 'black flag' siren goes off each morning as early as 9:30 or 10 (black flag means it's so hot the recruits can't train outside.) The 'no longer black flag' siren doesn't go off until around 7 p.m. usually. It's the dog days of summer, and kind of a challenging time for us.
With the older three kids away, Tim and I are having the novel experience of appearing to be a family of three again when we're out and about. We went to Mass last night and many of us were stuck in the back and it was mostly older people who smiled in our direction, probably thinking, 'They're one of those couples who wait till later in life to have a baby. Bless their hearts.' Joey got very restless and Tim had to take him outside and try to contain him on a bench since he wanted to run off to the parking lot. As people started to trickle out after Communion and saw the two of them there and Joey wailing, they would try to give Tim some encouragement as they passed, like, "Oh don't worry, he'll get it one of these days." Tim just smiled and nodded, but inwardly was like grr..

Coming up next -- one of the most eventful months in his little life.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On the Need to Simplify

My sister Anna recently sent us all this letter that I am sharing here with her permission:

Dear Family,

I realize that holidays and birthdays are far away, but since I just finished purging the house I feel passionate about expressing this now. I recently realized that our kids were drowning in toys. To the point that they couldn't even find anything they wanted to play with and just felt overwhelmed by all the choices; flitting from one thing to another and leaving a trail of things behind them every time. Every day we would go through and put back the items as neatly as possible. It would take us as long to put them away as it did for them to play with them. 

I know that everyone wants to express their love and feel like they are making them happy with things, but we really want a simpler life for each of our kiddos. We want it to be filled with more imagination, more experiences, and more memories. I donated about 80% of our toys so far, and already I see their imaginations blooming. The craft box is always out, books are being read, and cards are being played. We got rid of our TV and all video games, and the amount of time they spend talking, playing and arguing (lol) has skyrocketed. They actually have moments to be bored. I love it so much.

For birthdays and holidays and every moment in between, please no more toys. If you still want to give gifts I have put together a list of things I know they can really use and will appreciate. I don't want to waste your hard-earned money that you are all so generous with.

Gift ideas:

Movie theater tickets/gift cards. (They love to go but it is not in the budget.)

Art supplies/Play Doh (doh only)

Sneakers/clothing (these kids grow like weeds!)

A trip to see you/you come to see them (family is always welcome in our home).

Aquarium passes

Coney Island passes

Money towards a new computer that we will really need for the kids' school

Gift cards for ice cream outings

Swim lessons

Baseball games

Trips to the park

These are just suggestions. I hope you don't think we are being ungrateful; we are NOT. We so appreciate everything each of you does for us. I know that some of you don't get to see them often, and it can be tempting to want to show love through stuff, but we are really striving for a different lifestyle. We are hoping to raise our kids in an organized, purposeful, minimalist environment. We are striving every day to minimalize materialism for ourselves and our kids.

Love Always,
Anna and Robert

The issue of how to maintain simplicity in our life and to control how much stuff we and the kids have, is something we've been grappling with for awhile. As I sit here awaiting the arrival of a moving truck, I've already combed through every single toy (and not just toys, but everyTHING), and pared it all down dramatically. It feels like a fresh start, as it does every few years when we do this. My intent is that every box we open on the other side of this contains things that are either useful to us or make us smile (or both); and also that once everything has been unpacked in our presumably smaller house in Japan, we have a little bit of space left over: space to move, for the kids have their little dance parties and wrestle with their dad, and for us all to just be. I love the directness of Anna's appeal to all of us, the creative ideas she gives us for gifting occasions, and most of all the love and gratitude she conveys throughout her message. I ditto everything she said (except for getting rid of the TV -- that would be a really big step and we really like our Netflix!).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Delaney is in Double Digits!!

Dear Delaney,

Today you turn 10, a whole decade -- a big milestone. I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday. I woke your dad up at about 2:30 in the morning to tell him my water had broken. He said, "Should I still go to Quantico?" "No!" Haha. As a matter of fact, he's leaving for Quantico again, tomorrow, on a Sunday. He just can't seem to stay away from that place. I guess that's why Quantico is called the Crossroads of the Marine Corps.

I am starting to see glimpses of the young woman you will one day grow up to be. It's in your eyes, the expressions that you make, and even in the way you walk. It's hard to explain. But everybody kind of has their signature ways about them, and yours have been established. I get the sense that your little kid days are numbered and that these next few years will probably fly, and you will grow and change a lot. But at the same time I see you are in no hurry to do that, and that makes me happy. I like how you still run around the beach trying to catch critters and make little habitats for them. You still run circles around the house when you're excited the way you always have. The way you find joy in the little things -- that never needs to change. 

Remember the card I got you for your birthday last year? With the funny picture of the dog and the words "Dance like nobody's watching;" and inside it said something like, "Nevermind, don't." I don't remember exactly and I'm doing a terrible job explaining, but that card with that silly dog picture and those words.. that's your humor exactly -- the carefree silliness and the deadpanning. It's been fun seeing your sense of humor develop.

You are especially close with your father. I am always happy when he texts to let me know that the two of you stopped at IHOP or something, on the way home from somewhere. Stay close to him. The way he treats me, you, your siblings and his family and friends is the best example of the way a man ought to be. He'd do anything for you. When it seems like he's being hard on you, know that it's because he loves you and he wants to set you up for success in life. But you already knew that, I'm sure.

You are a lover of peace and never an instigator of things with your siblings. It's so nice to be able to count on you for that! You are a much loved big sis, as Joe can attest to. Since you left town he's been known to blurt out "Nay-nee" at random times. When I ask him where you are he points out the window like 'she's out there somewhere..' He attempted to sing 'happy birthday' to you today, and it sounded something like this: "Day, day, day, Nay-nee" and was accompanied by side-to-side swaying. You've got friends for life in your siblings.

I hope you grow in your faith and know that you are always a child of God. Pray to Him when things are going great in your life, and when they're not. Pray when we ("we" can be defined as your parents or the pesky brother in the backseat) drive you nuts. You always make it look easy having to go through so many transitions as a military kid. New schools, new faces, new plans, you've always seemed to take it in stride. If When it gets hard, pray about it. Remember none of us, however old or smart we get, do this alone. Besides, just like your earthly dad sitting across the table from you at IHOP, your Heavenly Father wants to hear from you too.

By now you've had about all the fun you could probably handle for one birthday -- Wonder Woman and lunch with your sister, cousins, aunties and Grandma; and the waterslide park all day today (have to admit, I'm a wee bit jealous;)) The pictures have put a smile on my face. You are very loved.

All this rambling to say, happy birthday! I'll see you in a few weeks.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Our Dreamy Topsail Vacation

When you plan a vacation and you've got four littles, the youngest of whom is a toddler, you go into it cautiously hopeful. You hope for decent weather, but if it rains half the time it's not the end of the world. You hope the toddler sleeps, but you know he has a spotty record so you have to be ready to gut out some rough nights and focus on the fun days. When you read your cousin's harrowing story about a vacation bug, you hope and pray for no sicknesses. But if it happens it will last a day or two and everything will be great afterward. You hope the place you're staying in is at least nicer than this. The goal is to come out of it with enough good memories to outweigh any bad, and that's always been true in the end. Cautiously hopeful, that's how you need to be.

What you don't dare to hope for is that the stars will all align, the baby will sleep every night and nap every day, the sun will shine all the time, and everything will be perfect. But that's what happened on our trip to Topsail, NC last week. 

We sat out in the sun watching the kids play, and didn't sweat because it never got hotter than mid-80s, and there was a gentle breeze. I had to be really be on top of sunscreen application because it's too easy to burn when it feels that nice in the sun.
They spent hours catching little fish, digging little pools for them, and then moving the pools as the tide came in or out.
Can you tell Delaney and Jaden apart? I couldn't half the time.
We boogeyboarded.
We took walks at sunset and had drinks on the back deck looking out at the ocean. I had to wear a sweatshirt a lot of times in the evening because it got chilly, and I LOVED that. 
We had toddler dance parties in the living room.
The kids had lots of quality cousin time and sleepovers.
We flew kites.
My mom, sisters and sister-in-law got away for a ladies' lunch. So much fun. A new tradition is born! 
We had many family photo sessions at sunset. 
Not everyone was happy about it.

Go figure she wanted to be in the picture with the boys. LOL.
It's not a werefolf. It's Delaney with all her hair blowing in her face.
This was just the break from reality we needed before we had to start getting the house ready for movers (Okinawa!!!!!!). Every day we were there I would take a look around and thank God for the gift of another amazing day with this wonderful family of ours.

Massachusetts family, we're coming for you next!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Joey: 18 Months

A few days ago there was a dispute between Delaney and Timmy over a fidget spinner. Timmy had bought two from Amazon and had given one to her. Then he had lost the one he'd kept and tried to say that the one he'd given Delaney was also his because he'd paid for it. It was time for a lesson in what happens when you give something to somebody. After dadsplaining it all, Tim then said to Timmy, "Now I'm asking you, whose fidget spinner is this? There's only one answer." Without missing a beat, Joey called "Miiine!" and reached out his plump little hand to grab it. We all died. Then he threw back his head and laughed at all of us laughing, as if to say, "I know I'm hilarious."
He still says just one word at a time, and he's adding more to his vocabulary all the time: go, ball,  bah (bath), home, boat, Joe and no are a few that come off the top of my head. He tries to say his sisters' names too. He says "Annie" and "Nay-nee" for Delaney. I haven't heard him try "Timmy" or make the "t" sound at all. Sometimes if I ask him a question he'll say "know" instead of "don't know." He still likes to use his own made up sign I call gimme -- extending his arm from the elbow repeatedly in the direction of whatever he wants. By the end of our beach vacation, his 22-month-old cousin Elise starting doing gimme too! She saw it was working for him.
I know a great way to distract him from having a toddler meltdown: ask him to do something for me. He will literally be in the midst of crying and having a fit, but if I ask him to "throw this sock in the hamper" he will stop in his tracks, look confused for a second, then change gears and be at my service. It's amazing. Same goes for "put this back", "put it away", and "throw it away". He's better at it than the other kids!
It's been nice having the Big 3 done with school, because he was getting bored to death of hanging out with me. He just couldn't stand seeing me trying to get things done around the house. So sometimes I'd stop and get down to his level and do things with him, but I know it was never enough as far as he was concerned. One thing he likes is looking at books together. He doesn't have the attention span to listen to me read the whole way through, but he loves flipping through books and looking at the pictures and listening to me read or talk about what's going on. Our favorite is Little Blue Truck. He can't get enough of looking at the pictures of the truck stuck in mud and pointing at the animals and making their sounds. They like to read with him and entertain him in all kinds of ways.
He loves to point at all the different kinds of vehicles we see in books and in real life. No matter what we tell him they are, he calls them all "cah!" It's the Worcester in him.

He needs some outdoor time every day. He gets stir crazy inside. I would hate to spend a real winter with him, but we won't need to worry about that for the foreseeable future. By the time we do, he'll be old enough to bundle up and push out the door.
His horrible haircut is mostly grown out by now, thank goodness. There will be no more scissor haircuts from Mama.

I took him to the doctor today and he weighs 23 pounds and is 30.7 inches tall. He's a peanut at only the 13th percentile for weight and 10th for height, but he's growing well. He is still wearing mostly size 12-18 in clothes and size 4 diapers. He's sleeping solidly (most of the time) from 7 p.m to 6 a.m. and taking one afternoon nap lasting a little longer now that the other kids are with us all day: about 1.5 to 2 hours. He slept well on the last two trips we've taken, first to my Mom and Dad's and then to a beach house in NC, and that gives me some hope and encouragement for the crazy summer ahead. He still wakes up from his nap in a terrible mood, but we can turn that around with a snack and an activity. We just dropped the morning nursing session, so now we nurse before his afternoon nap and before he goes to bed at night.

Toddlerhood really agrees with Joe; he is cuter than ever, and I am going to gobble him up one of these days.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Annie is 8!

Annie is getting to be such a big kid. It's hard to believe she was just the baby sister when I started this blog and look her now, big sister to two brothers -- one who is pretty much her nemesis and the other whom she dotes on constantly and pines for when they're apart. Any idea which is which? Haha. Tim likes to say to Joey, "One day she's gonna turn on you." I like to think that will never happen.

I haven't dedicated too much of this blog to Annie of late, but she's enjoying a heyday this month. So, what can I tell you about her?..
She's an outstanding student; her teachers have always raved about her. I have a story I'll try to tell quickly: The day we left for Cincinnati last week, Tim and I went to the kids' schools to pick them up. We wanted them to get at least a half day in because we'd had them miss more than a few days already this semester. Annie's teacher, Mrs. G, had texted me the night before to ask how long Annie would be in school that day. I told her until right after lunch because that was what Tim and I had discussed. Then Tim got antsy and wanted to get me to the airport sooner, and although I tried to hold him back we ended up getting them well before lunch was over. When Tim came out of the school with Annie and Timmy he also had a cupcake which he said was for Delaney. Mrs. G had brought them to school, planning to celebrate Annie's birthday with the class after lunch. When Tim told me this it made me sad that we had sabotaged Mrs. G's plan to sing happy birthday to Annie with the whole class. It also occurred to me that Annie hadn't told me to tell her she didn't want her birthday celebrated at school. For the first time since Pre-K, she might have been comfortable with it, and that would have been special. I just hadn't given the issue any thought at all as we got ready to take off on a trip that happened to coincide with her birthday. So I texted Mrs. G while I sat in the car, apologizing and thanking her for her thoughtfulness. This is in part what she replied: "She is so well worth the efforts made for her. I really do love her. She excels!!!!! And the class loves her too!" Then a little while later, "Let me clarify .. she really is the sweetest but it is so wonderful that she excels as well." We're very proud of her.
She finally has her front two bottom permanent teeth, but all the rest are still baby teeth.

She's growing her hair super long and takes pretty good care of it. She likes fixing it different ways, braids, buns and bows and head bands. Sometimes she asks me to straighten or curl it or do French braids. On Grace's wedding day she opted to spend the day with me, my sisters and Grace's kids while we had our hair and makeup done. It was nice having her around for a whole day of beautification, and I helped her fix her hair and painted her fingernails and toenails more than once since she can't seem to let them dry without damaging them somehow. Oh, and on the subject of nails: she quit biting them cold turkey several months ago. I was so impressed to see her nails growing and I asked her how she did it. I know how hard it is to break a nail-biting habit. She said, "I just didn't like it anymore."

She likes clothes and puts together really cute outfits, and I like seeing that since being put together is a good thing. I should try it more often.

She's very generous with her siblings, even Timmy. Just recently she bought them all books at the book fair. I love that it comes so naturally to her to share, and hope she always remains a generous giver. There have been times we've worried about her being too generous, like the time a friend messaged me asking if I was really OK with Annie giving her daughter a really nice bracelet. To this day I don't know what bracelet it was. It couldn't have been that expensive because not even I own a bracelet that costs more than $20! I still wondered, but if it was hers to give, it was hers to give.

Of all the kids, she conks out the fastest at bedtime and is up and at 'em in the morning with no prodding needed.

She remains our most dependable helper with Joe. She loves playing on the playground with him, and she even taught him how to go down the twisty slide feet first a few months ago. She likes playing music and dancing with him, chasing him around the house, and really anything. Most importantly to us, when we ask her to keep an eye on him for a few minutes, she has the attention span to do so.
Since reading The Temperament God Gave Your Kids by Art and Laraine Bennett, I've been into assigning temperaments to my kids. I've mentioned Timmy is a sanguine and Delaney is phlegmatic. I'm not sure about Joey yet, but I'm leaning toward choleric. I'd classify Annie as mainly melancholic, with a dash of choleric that she displays only inside her comfort zone (with us at home). The Bennetts say melancholics are "mysterious as a smooth stone on the sand -- impenetrable, dark, pressing into the ground -- concealing beneath its surface something precious. Melancholics are deep, serious and idealistic." (I like this description because I'm always thinking Annie is an enigma to me in many ways.) They like to observe more so than interact, and for this reason often appear aloof. They are slow to warm up in new situations and love routine. For example, Annie always sees the things written on my menu or the white board (agenda) in the kitchen as etched in stone, and doesn't like it when I change them on the fly. She also likes for snacks and meals to happen at a set time. Melancholics are serious and quiet, rarely speaking up in class. They are refreshed by activities like crafts, art or sewing, that allow them to focus and just be inside their own heads. That would definitely be Annie. She has mentioned she'd like a sewing machine, but I'd like her to be a little older when she gets one. Melancholics have a keen sense of fairness, like Annie who keeps score and expects 100% fairness and equality no matter how many times we tell her how unrealistic that expectation is. They are also known for their attention to detail, which Annie displayed in a picture she drew recently of her grandma that amazed me for its accuracy. Even though it was clearly a kid's drawing, the outfit she'd drawn for her grandmother was spot on. It was like seeing her through Annie's eyes.
She shows her choleric side when she bosses Timmy around and acts as the enforcer of rules. I am pretty sure this is a side of her never seen by people outside our family.

Not only has the book helped me identify our kids' temperaments and what their strengths and weaknesses tend to be; it also offers practical advice on how best to talk to them, discipline and motivate them. In the case of Annie, there are tips for helping her out of her shell and preparing her for changes. I'm finding it very helpful to flip through again and again. I'd also be interested to read The Temperament God Gave You, even though I have a good hunch that I'm a melancholic too.
It occurs to me that I've discussed how Annie gets along with Timmy and with Joey, but not with Delaney. She and Delaney get along well, rarely fighting or arguing. They've shared a room for years together without incident, and now they ride the bus together, playing with the stuffed animals they've filled their enormous LL Bean backpacks with. Since they're only 22 months apart, I've treated them like twins in many ways. I've bought clothes for them both to share since they've been the same size since they were 3 and 5, they nighttime potty trained together, and they tend to stick together wherever we go. It makes me happy that although making friends doesn't always come easily to either of them, they each have a lifelong friend in the other. I wasn't thinking about that at all back when I had one baby and was itching to have another before the first was even a year old, but I am very grateful for that.

We celebrated Annie's birthday twice -- once with her grandma and grandpa (Tim's parents) here, and again  in Cincinnati the day after Grace's wedding at Scotty and Faith's. I think she had a very happy birthday and I look forward to seeing everything age 8 holds for her.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Annie's First Communion

I've got a lot of catching up to do here. Lots of good things have happened this month.

Tim's parents came down one last time for a visit Mother's Day weekend for Annie's First Communion. It is always so nice to spend time with them, and I'm glad we had mostly good weather to do fun things.

I love this picture Tim Sr took of Joey while washing the rental car. Not sure why he wanted to wash the rental car..? Joey sure had fun though!
Delaney found a little lizard and was tormenting Grandma with it. Why wouldn't anyone want a lizard at the dinner table?
I hate asking strangers to take our pictures, especially when it's with my big clunky camera, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity since this would be the last time we all went downtown together. I watched and waited and finally chose another mom I'd noticed sitting on the rock wall where we were all kind of congregating. She apologetically said no because she had four kids she was keeping an eye on, and I felt so bad for asking. I was going to give up and go home but then she got someone else to watch the kids while she snapped a few pictures. I was grateful but still felt so awkward. Maybe I'll get a little tripod that folds up small one of these days, and use it with the timer so I don't have to harass anyone. 
Sunday morning was Annie's First Communion. Getting ready in the morning, I hit an unexpected snag in my plans when Annie first asked while I was curling her hair, "What's a veil?" When I told her, she said, "I don't want to wear that." I'm gonna go ahead and post this picture taken by Tim(?) that illustrates perfectly what Annie thought about that veil.
I was all, "But your sister wore it." "But it's so beautiful." "But that's what girls do on their First Communion, they wear veils." But! But! Tim and I had a whispered exchange after her hair was done and I'd cut her loose for the time being. He said, "I'll work on her," but something to the effect of 'let's not pick this battle, it's not that big of a deal.' I backed down. It wasn't as if the veil was made from my wedding dress or anything special. Besides, the veil was not what this day was about.

In the end I took the veil with us when we went to the chapel because Annie said she'd wear it if the other two girls in our little Catholic community on base were wearing them. I also thought maybe I could convince her to put it on for at least a couple pictures. When we walked into the chapel I was crestfallen to see that neither of the two other girls receiving First Communion had veils. What kind of conspiracy was this? But I got over it because they all looked beautiful anyway. I got some pictures of Annie without the veil, with the veil, and I accepted that she was just more comfortable without it.
To my surprise, I think I like the pictures of her without the veil better. At least I had learned my lesson from Delaney's First Communion, that I should set it back farther back on her head so it's not hiding her face. 

We had some cake in the rear of the chapel afterward, and then had a laid-back rest of the day and burgers and hot dogs for dinner. We celebrated Annie's birthday with leftover First Communion cake and candles. They left in the morning after the kids got on the bus, but we'll be seeing them again in July when Tim flies up with the Big 3 and leaves them there for a few weeks while we finish up moving, and then in August when we're all up there for a few days.