Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas 2012

I know I did more than my fair share of complaining about the long drive, but I am so glad we made it up here this year.  I think mostly I was complaining about it potentially not even being worthwhile.  Tim had originally told me he wanted to stay three days and I was like, "Are you crazy?"  But we are here for about a week and a half, which is a nice long time.  We would have made the most of it on our own in North Carolina, but this has been a wonderful Christmas in New England.  Tim and I are so blessed to be spending it together, and to be in the place where he was born and raised, surrounded by family.  It is frightfully cold and we have been eating way too much junk food, but we are all enjoying ourselves immensely.  We've made so many great memories.

Lucky for us, our Elf on the Shelf Chippy brought us a nice new camera from Santa before we left, so we could take lots of good pictures.

The drive went well.  We were able to adhere to Tim's timeline, arriving maybe a half hour behind schedule due to traffic.  In order to do this, we only stopped to get gas and go to the bathroom, eating the snacks and sandwiches we had in the cooler.  Sometimes we didn't even stop for the bathroom.  At one point we were in the middle of three lanes in bumper to bumper traffic, maybe in Connecticut, when we heard a little voice say, "I need to use the potty."  We were like, "Oh no.."  I decided to break the law and have the girls use the potty-to-go in the back.  You do what you gotta do!

Tim's parents and sisters were so happy to see us.  I'm glad we didn't give his mom and dad a heart attack when we sneaked into their house the night we arrived.  We've taken over Karen's house again.  She was surprised to hear that we've actually unpacked and put our clothes in the  drawers upstairs.  She said, "Wow, you guys have moved in."  We don't like living out of bags, and Tim is very OCD about his stuff being organized.

Here are some highlights of the last several days:

-- Friday night pizza at Tim's parents', followed by an impromptu Christmas talent show.  Natalie sang a Christmas song from a Disney show called Good Luck, Charlie.  She sang it in such a heartfelt way, with such dramatic expressions and gestures, that all the grown-ups in attendance didn't know whether to giggle or cry.  She also worked the audience, taking one person's hand, pressing her cheek against another's, and one time hugging Delaney while Delaney froze like a deer in headlights.  Natalie's shows are a frequent occurrence at every family gathering.  She definitely has a future in the performing arts.
I was surprised to see Delaney take the stage next.  She sang a song she'd learned at school that had a southern flavor, called "Way Down in Bethlehem."  It made me smile, especially when she got to the last verse when she clapped her hands and stomped her feet completely out of rhythm as she sang, "They named the baby Jesus, Oh my Lord.."  Then she, Natalie, and Annie sang Christmas carols together.  
The older girls who are looking and acting more like adolescents every time we see them, did their best to stay away from the spotlight and the camera.  Timmy just drifted around from person to person, charming everyone with that silly grin of his, and enjoying all the attention.

-- Crafting, eating pizza, and watching Disney movies at Auntie Karen's.  The older girls put together some impressive foam gingerbread houses, and the younger ones had fun decorating Christmas trees with glitter glue and stickers.  Karen had warned Tim and me that it was going to be absolute chaos, but we marveled at  how calm and well-behaved everyone was.  We attributed it to the atmosphere of Karen's house, and the girls' knowledge of her expectations and what they can get away with.
-- B Family Christmas celebration on the 23rd.  There was lots of presents, food, more Christmas shows, a dance party, more food..
This picture, as well as the next four that follow, were taken with Kathy and Brett's fancy new Canon DSLR camera that Tim is jealous of.  It is very nice, but I like our little point-and-shoot.  Maybe one day we'll have both.
B cousins left to right: Annie (3), Juliana (10), Natalie (turns 4 tomorrow, I believe), Delaney (5), Timmy (17 months), Alexa (8), Sofia (8)
-- Christmas Eve.  We went to 4 p.m. Mass with Tim's parents and sister Karen.  Then we came back and took some pictures before heading to Aunt Jayne's house.  It was another late night like last year, but for some reason it didn't feel as long.  Maybe it was because last year Timmy was still an infant and waking up at night.  Being well rested makes a big difference and I am so grateful to have good little sleepers.
Timmy and his second cousin Kaden both sporting the outfits that Grandma, a.k.a. Auntie Carolyn got them
One of many yummy desserts.  My favorite was a Rice Crispie treat wreath.  Imagine my delight when Aunt Jayne gave us one of our very own to take home!
Tim's sister Kathy -- Sofia and Natalie's mom
Everybody participates in Christmas carols, and everyone has the words, thanks to the song books printed in 1992 and dedicated to "Auntie Carolyn."  Do not be caught having a private conversation while the carols are being sung.
There are six siblings on Tim's mom's side.  The family is huge and the last few years have seen a baby boom.
-- Christmas morning.  
-- The day after Christmas was a busy day.  In the morning the kids and I visited with friends down the street.  When we lived here, we lived in the same development as Karen, and these friends live in condo between Karen's and our old one.  The kids did not cooperate for pictures, little boogers.  In the afternoon, the girls went with Tim, their aunties Karen and Sam, cousins Juliana and Alexa, and Grandma, to go ice skating.  After ice skating they went to Clay Time, one of those ceramics painting places.  Timmy and I stayed back so he could have a nap.  
It was the first time ever ice skating for our girls.  They did pretty well, I  was told.
This evening, after we get the kids to bed, Tim and I will go to the house of some dear old friends for a get-together.  Then tomorrow it will be pack, pack, pack for the trip home early Sunday morning.  We are going to miss everybody so much, but right now I am just so happy and thankful for the great time we've had.  I'm just going to bask in that for awhile and try not to think too much about January yet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You might be married to a Marine if..

.. your holiday and travel plans look like this:

 Orientation.  We are currently located in New Bern, NC.  We have the Neuse River and Atlantic Ocean to our east, and the Croatan National Forest to our west and south.  Massachusetts is approximately 800 miles to our north, northeast.  Interstate 95 is the major line of communication.

Situation. Each year, families gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Since Tim and Rachael have been together, Christmas has been celebrated by the B. Family in different locations.  Last year, Rachael and the kids celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in Massachusetts while Tim was on a ship.  This year our intent all along was to travel to see Tim's side of the family for Christmas, but then we got news that Tim was deploying in January.  We decided we'd stay here so that we could have a peaceful, travel-free holiday before his departure.  Tim's parents and sister discussed plans to come visit us, but didn't book flights.  Then after further discussion we decided that we had plenty of time to fit the trip in after all.  A few weeks after that Tim found out he'd be leaving early instead of mid - January, and again we broke the news that we would not be going anywhere for Christmas.  Then Tim learned he'd be leaving in middle January once again, but by that time it was too late for his family to make plans to visit us.  At this time they (with the exception of Tim's sister Karen) believe we are going to spend Christmas in an as-yet-undetermined vacation spot within a few hours of home.

Mission.  At 0430 on 19 December 2012, The B clan will pack into their Chevrolet Traverse in order to travel the 800 miles to celebrate the Christmas holidays in Massachusetts.
                Commander's Intent.
                                Purpose—To surprise Tim’s mother, reaffirm family cohesion during the holiday season, and give the kids a great childhood memory.
        Method—Traveling by vehicle and leveraging family for berthing.           
                                Endstate-- To enjoy the Christmas holiday with family and friends.
Concept of Operations.
                                a.  To leave bright and early on 19 December 2012 in a fully loaded Chevrolet Traverse, begin heading north and hope for the best.
                                b.  Tasks.
                                     1. Tim:  Ensure that vehicle is loaded with family's gear and gas tank is full no later than (NLT) 1800 on 18 December 2012.
                                     2. Rachael:
                                 a.  Ensure that each child has enough gear and clothes packed for 1 week NLT 18 December 2012.
                                 b.  Ensure that each child has at least (1) fancy outfit for midnight Mass (midnight Mass, I hope he's kidding) on 24 December.
                                 c.  Ensure that all Christmas presents are staged in the garage by 1800 on 18 December.
                                     3. Delaney:
                                             a. Ensure that your backpack has a few of your favorite toys and stuffed animals.
                                             b. Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.
                                     4. Annalise:
                                             a. Ensure that your backpack has a few of your favorite toys and stuffed animals NLT 1800, 18 December 2012.
                                             b. Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.
                                     5. Timothy:  Ensure that you are in bed at 1900 on 18 December 2012.

 Enemy.  Other drivers, especially in and around New Jersey, possible construction and heavy traffic as we drive through heavily populated areas along the east coast.  Empty stomachs and full bladders.  Liberal loonies that live in Massachusetts.

Admin and Logistics.
                1.  Admin.
         a.  All B. Family personnel will be in attendance and seated according to the seating chart.
         b.  Schedule of Events:
                          0400       Reveille
              0430       Depart New Bern
              1100       Washington D.C.
              1500       George Washington Bridge
              1900       Grafton, MA

                2.  Logistics—All equipment will be staged and ready to go by 1800 on 18 December 2012. 

Command and Signal.
                Tim is the Officer in Charge for this evolution, and will be located in the driver's seat of the vehicle.  The one truly in charge, Rachael, will be located in the front passenger seat and will take over driving when OIC wants to catch flies.
                We will use voice commands.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A tough week

There is this exercise going on that has required Tim to work from about 11 to 2 or 2:30 in the morning so that he can be there to present one slide of a PowerPoint brief at 1 in the morning.  This is in addition to a full workday.  Starting last Sunday night he's been leaving for work about an hour after I go to bed, and getting back home and going to bed around 3.  I get up at 6, try not to let the kids make too much noise as I get them ready for the day, so he might be able to sleep until 7:30 or 8.  Then he heads to work around 9 or 9:30 and comes home at some point in the afternoon.  Then he might lay on the floor and let the kids jump all over him until he passes out.  Then he is awake again for a few hours in late evening, he brews some coffee, and we watch a few shows until it's time for me to go to bed and we start this whole process again.  This is the way it's going to be until December 14, I believe.

I feel so guilty going to bed at 10, with my eyelids so heavy, barely able to brush and floss before I fall into our comfy bed.  I wish I could stay up and keep him company until the minute he leaves the house, but even though I'm getting a full night's rest, I'm still so tired from my days.  My body is programmed to sleep from 10 to 6.  I can't even imagine having to be working late at night until the wee hours of the morning, when my brain is shutting down.  I don't know if there's enough caffeine in the world to jumpstart me when it's time for bed.

It's been a challenge to be doing without the little things that Tim does that I've grown used to.  I've been spoiled.  The sight of the full dishwasher in the morning catches me off guard now, as does the empty coffeepot.  But I'll get used to that when he deploys.  What's really hard is keeping the kids' noise down to even a low roar when he's either on the couch or on our bed sawing logs in the middle of the day.  At least I won't have to do this for long.  I feel for people who live like this all the time.

Now I'm going to tell you about how week one of this new routine went.

Throughout most of the week I managed to stay upbeat.  I got our Christmas shopping done, most of it online, and now there's nothing to do but wait and fret and hope everything gets here on time so I can wrap and mail it all.  I did my classes at the Y.  I made this coming week's dinner menu on Thursday night and took Annie and Timmy to the commissary on Friday.  Tim usually takes the kids on Saturday.  I kept up with the laundry for the most part and kept the house in some semblance of order.  I checked a lot of items off my to-do list.  I did not nap.  I looked forward to the weekend when Tim would at least get partial time off.  He would still be doing his middle of the night shifts but wouldn't have to go in during the day.

Then on Saturday morning I woke up alone and saw that I had an email from Tim with the subject line, "not getting home any time soon."  I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.'  He had another brief to do at 8 in the morning, and had to put together slides for that.  He said he'd have to do it all again on Sunday too.  My heart sank.  We'd already spent that whole week only getting to spend time with him (awake time) two hours  a day.  Now we were being robbed of the weekend.  And I felt so bad for Tim who would end up being up nearly 24 hours.

I decided I would take the kids to the Aquarium.  The weather was beautiful and I'd been looking forward to going again anyway.  The Aquarium is about 50 minutes away from us, so I hoped to be gone about four hours when all was said and done.  We left soon after he got home that morning.  The kids were on their best behavior.  I had given them a pep-talk in the car and promised them a movie night if they were good.  They are pretty good anyway on these kinds of outings.  We had a nice time.  But even after exploring the outdoor part of it for awhile (I think it was too cold to do that last time we went), sitting down for a snack, and going into the gift shop so the girls could admire all the cute stuffed fishies and turtles, we were still only gone three hours total.  We had as quiet of a lunch as possible (not really quiet at all!) when we got home, and I put them down for naps.

After naptime, my plan was to hurry the kids out to Harris Teeter to get some fresh fruit and something to make for dinner, but Tim emerged from our bedroom and said he'd come with us too.  It was so nice having that small part of Saturday still feel like normal.  I missed his company and I know the kids did too.  We brought home sushi and turned on Barbie in the Nutracker.  Since it was getting late, the promised movie night had to be concurrent with dinner.  Delaney tried a California roll and a tuna roll, and liked both.  Tim teased me, saying, "She holds her chopsticks the same way you used to."

This morning was intense.  We have three Mass times to choose from:  Saturday at 5 p.m. (that's the one we usually go to), Sunday at 8 a.m., and Sunday at 11 a.m.  They are all every bit of an hour and 15 minutes long.  Delaney has to attend Faith Formation from 9:30 to 10:45 on Sunday as well.  I thought I'd give 8 a.m. a try so that Delaney wouldn't have to go to Mass right after being at Faith Formation.  I thought this would be good practice for doing this by myself once Tim leaves.  I've been racking my brain trying to think of how I'm going to keep this family in regular Mass attendance for those seven months.  Saturday night is hard even with Tim and I working as a team.  We've got to feed the kids dinner at 4 so we can get them bathed and in bed by 7, and Timmy is just impossible that late in the day.  I always end up in the lobby with him, and Tim sits with the girls in the pew.  Neither of them has earned a star for good behavior at church on their four-week-old chore charts, but they are manageable.

This morning I was ready to go.  I was up at 6, I had my coffee, I had the kids' outfits picked out the night before, and I was like, 'I can do this.'  We left the house on time and we were already off to a good start.  I gave the girls another pep talk, saying, "I need you guys to be good for me, and help me with Timmy.  You want to earn that star, right?"

It was such a goat rope.  I left the pew in defeat several minutes before the opening hymn.  In the lobby I wrangled Timmy, who was determined to escape to the far reaches of the spacious lobby and press every handicap button (gaining him entrance to the bathrooms, the outdoors, or the middle of church, to his everlasting wonder and amusement).  The girls rolled over and under the bench I told them to stay on, sprawled this way and that, and kept telling me they were thirsty or had to go to the bathroom.  They always behave worse in the lobby than they do in a pew.  They feel almost like they have a license to because they're in the 'anything goes' room.  My whispered threats did nothing to curb the arguing and outbursts of two energetic little girls.  Praying was out of the question.  All I did was scold the girls and corral Timmy the entire time.  By the time I dropped Delaney off at Faith Formation, I had a headache.

In the car on the way to retail therapy Target I thought, I can't do this every Sunday.  I can NOT do this every Sunday.  I kept going over my options.  Saturday night:  bad.  Timmy is impossible that time of day and the girls aren't much better.  Early Sunday morning:  worse.  Because when Mass is over and I'm mad and ready to just take them home, I have to kill time with the two younger kids while Delaney's at Faith Formation.  The morning lasts forever.  Late Sunday morning:  unthinkable.  There is a nursery during the 11:00 that I could leave Timmy at, and that would help.  But the idea of being there from 11 to 12:15, and then having tired kids who are ready for a nap but still have to eat lunch?  (Not to mention "Hungry Rachael", who rears her ugly head every day at around noon if she hasn't already been fed, and I've been told she is quite scary to be around.)  Not going to happen.

After picking Delaney up at 10:45 and heading home, I was ready to cry just thinking about it.  I want so badly for this to remain a part of our life even when Tim's away.  The last time he deployed the only time I attended Mass was when a relative visited.  And it was during one of those times that a two-year-old Annie made her infamous lap around the church right after the homily, too quick for Delaney, or a hugely-pregnant me, or my father-in-law to catch.  That definitely didn't make me want to start attending alone with them.  But I really thought it could be different this time because the girls are older and much better listeners than they were, so it would just be the toddler I have to worry about.

I came in the door around 11, and Tim got home shortly after.  The house was in shambles, and I felt so discouraged and overwhelmed about everything.  Like, how in the world am I going to get through another deployment?  Everything is falling apart already.   He asked me how I was doing, and all I could manage was, "Alright, I guess."  I'd survived.  That was about it.

After I described how the morning had gone, Tim gave me another option to consider:  "What if you just left Timmy at Play Date and went on Saturday night?"  After I thought about it a moment, I immediately brightened.  I finally had another Mass option besides bad, worse and unthinkable.  This is the best solution. It will still involve a lot of effort, but with Timmy out of the equation I think Saturday night Mass will be very doable.  Then on Sunday morning, we just have to bring Delaney to Faith Formation and kill an hour and 15 minutes.  We divide up church events so that we don't have one long, harrowing morning in which I acquire five new gray hairs.  That is one thing that I can feel better about as I prepare to send Tim off again.

I believe I've rambled on long enough, so I will have to abruptly end here.  Here goes another week like the one before.  Hurry up, Friday!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mantel redo

One day I will have a mantel that does not require nearly as much fuss as the one we currently have.  I will put a mirror or a picture over it, a couple knicknacks on it, and be done.  Until then we have this monstrous corner fireplace with a huge cave over it meant to house a TV from the olden days.  Ugh, the cave.
Here's how it looked right after Thanksgiving.  Like Pier 1 threw up in it.  Pffftt!
When I found out we'd been extended here, I said to Tim, "I can't look at that cave for the next two years.  We have to do something."  (I really meant you have to do something.  And I only have a limited time to put him to work around here before he leaves again.)  As I mentioned before, if we owned the house we'd just close it up and drywall over it.  I wanted to ask the landlords if they would mind us doing that, but Tim didn't feel comfortable with us asking them.  At one point Tim dragged down a big ugly old mirror that used to hang over his dresser from his bachelor days.  It wouldn't be so bad once we  he cleaned it up and painted the frame.  But it wasn't even tall enough to completely cover the cave.  Delaney could stand up in that thing!

By then I had already been to the ends of the Internet looking for ideas.  Right now it's a trend to use things from outside, like old barn doors, gates, windows or shutters in the home.  I've seen old doors made into coffee tables and things like that.  It's even better if you can say it came from a building or other structure, and it has history and adds character to your house.  We'd both seen old pallets sanded, stained or painted, and placed over mantels.  Tim could grab a pallet from the flight line.  But would it be big enough to hide the cave?  (I keep switching tenses and I don't know how to stop.  Sorry.)  Below is one of many examples of pallet mantel decor.  People use these things even when they don't have a cave to cover up!

Source
I'd seen plantation shutters in mantel decor too.  I told Tim I wanted plantation shutters, and thought about ordering them custom-made from a company I found online.  Maybe it would look a little like this:
Source
Tim wasn't a huge fan of that idea, but he knew he needed to do something, so he went to Lowe's to look around.  I was hoping for shutters.  He came back with something I did not expect: picket fence posts.  He lined them up in a row and asked me what I thought.  I was like, "Hmm, interesting.. It could work."  We both liked how the one piece, when it was done, was still kind of weathered-looking even though it had been stained.  Then he cut one to fit and stained it.  I liked it!  So he spent one day during the Thanksgiving holiday cutting, sanding, and staining the rest of them, putting them together, and securing them to the entrance of the cave.    

When he was done, I didn't know exactly what to think at first.  Yes, the wood looks beautiful and blends well with everything else around it.  But now there's a fence on our mantel!  I like the idea of bringing the outdoors in to a certain extent, but making the outdoors a permanent fixture is a bold step.  It sets the tone for the entire room.  It commits us to a certain kind of theme, which is rustic and old looking (or something).  On one hand I love it and on the other hand, there's a fence on our mantel!  I guess I'd probably be saying the same thing about the pallet or the shutters.  I'm happy with it.  It's the next best thing to having a wall there instead.
Once the stockings are hung, we're all set for Christmas.
I've got to hand it to Tim for coming up with a creative and cheap solution to what is really a temporary issue for us.  I chuckle at the thought of the owners, or potential new renters or buyers coming in the front door and saying, "What's that doing there?"  But it has its charm and I will embrace it for the two remaining years we have here.

What do you think?  How did we do?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Timmy at 16 months

Timmy got three molars this month, two on top and one on the bottom.  He never made a fuss over it.  I just happened to look in his mouth one day and notice the first one was suddenly there.  The others soon followed, and I'm guessing the fourth will not be far behind.

As far as language goes, he's still mostly pointing and grunting.  He imitates a lot of our tones and inflections but he still has no other words besides ball, mama, dada and shish (sissy).  I may have heard him say "hi" once.  The other day he made me smile when he mimicked Tim whistling, "Woo -- woo."  He reaches an arm out and twists his hand back and forth when he sees something he wants.  He screeches when he's mad, like when I make him come inside when he'd rather stay out and play.  What I wouldn't give right now for that cute little fenced in yard we had in Quantico.  You could dump a toddler in that yard and just look out the window every few seconds.  Not this yard.  This yard is full of dangers and has no fence.  I will take him out there for awhile, but then have to take him in when it's time to start dinner.  Late afternoon is not a happy time in our house with a restless, cranky, cooped-up toddler, and me trying to cook.  I miss using front burners, and am ever exasperated by the need to prepare food and guard the oven door at all times.  I can't seem to distract him with anything.  I'm starting to think that I might really need to revisit the idea of a crockpot.  (We used to have one, but Tim made it disappear forever.  I look back on it as a 'morning sickness simulator.'  Everything that came out of it had a smell and a taste that was 'off' in a way that you couldn't put your finger on.  Very unappetizing.)  Until I sneak out and buy a new crockpot, I try to schedule leftovers or other easy meals at least two or three times a week.  That way I only have to go through the pain and aggravation of cooking with him underfoot every other day.
I'm learning to clear the table off QUICKLY after meals.
Not being able to follow his sisters outside is one of many things that make Timmy mad.  When he's really upset, he falls dramatically to the floor, grinds his face against it and wails.  Then he gets up and does it again and again.  He has a special shriek that he reserves for the times when he just wants to be free and wants nothing to do with whatever I'm trying to make him do or not do.  Things like putting on his shoes, taking away the remote, shutting the door of the bathroom so he can't go in, telling him no when he's standing on the table and grabbing the chandelier.. all are occasions for tantrums.  His face turns tomato red and big crocodile tears run down his face.  I feel bad, but at the same time I can't help but smile because he's just so stinking cute even when he is mad.

Sometimes he gets upset because I'm not paying enough attention to him.  He attaches himself to my legs and  moves with me all over a room, crying loudly.  Tim accuses me of making him this way because often I'll pick him up and give him a cuddle and kiss when he's acting this way.  I'm pretty sure we had those conversations when each of the girls were this age too, and I don't think I ruined either of them.
When he's not being such a handful (about 90 percent of the time), he's still my cuddly, kissable baby boy.  He still nurses three times a day -- when he wakes up in the morning, right before his nap, and right before bedtime.  I would like to keep nursing him at least through cold and flu season, and longer if it's still going well.  If he makes it to 17 months, and he likely will since he's at three times a day now, he will be my longest breastfed child.  I'm in no hurry to wean because I enjoy these peaceful times of the day with him.  He gets that sleepy look on his face and sticks his thumb in his mouth when he gets tired.  I take him to his room, change him, and sit down with him in the "milking chair", the comfy glider that I nursed his sisters in too.  In those moments he takes a break from being a crazy toddler and is just my baby again.  I hold him close and breathe him before I lay him down in his crib.  He still smells a little like a baby, but he probably won't for very much longer.
It's getting close to that time..
His smile lights up our entire world, and his laugh is like music.  We'll do just about anything to hear it again and again.  In the photo below he was snatching up cookie crumbs and whatever other treats he could get his hands on, as Tim and the girls were making Thanksgiving cookies. 
I will leave you with a video of Timmy's silly baby humor and giggles, guaranteed to make you smile or your money back.
video

Friday, November 23, 2012

I refuse to let this ruin my Christmas spirit.

Deep cleansing breaths.. in, out.. There... I hate people!  No, I don't.  Jesus loves all people and so should I.  More deep breaths..

Today we all went downtown for a Christmas shindig.  A whole block was closed off to traffic, there were free cookies, crafts, a ballet show, and a stage where Mrs. North Carolina was talking about stuff.  We found ourselves walking up to that stage ahead of the majority of the crowd.  She was introducing a magician, and I thought we'll just see how long we last watching the magic show.  To my surprise, it was an incredibly amusing performance.  Delaney raised her hand numerous times, hoping to be invited up on the stage like some of the other boys and girls.  There were the usual magic tricks you'd expect, and a lot of silly kid humor moments too.  The last few minutes he spent telling a touching story about The Velveteen Rabbit, what the book meant to him (I'd forgotten how sad it is -- I was about to cry listening to him talk about it!), and at the end he turned a stuffed rabbit into a real one.  The kids and adults were all laughing, and even Timmy was pointing at the rabbit and paying attention to the whole thing.

The girls and Tim were sitting next to the stroller.  Annie made Tim sit right behind them because for some reason she was scared to sit without him right there.  Next to Delaney was a girl of about 7 or 8.  When her mother got her attention and told her to move all the way to the front where she could see, only then did I notice that in addition to being a cute little girl, she had Down Syndrome.  I was momentarily puzzled as to why she needed to move in order to see.  She was right next to my small girls and they could see.  Maybe she was nearsighted.  I didn't think anything else of it.    Now I was aware of her mother out of the corner of my eye standing next to us, a smartly dressed woman with long, wavy dark hair and red lipstick.

When the show was over there was hearty applause.  Then Mrs. North Carolina thanked a long list of sponsors of this event.  A man in a t-shirt bearing the logo of a local radio station got on stage and offered free t-shirts to anyone who cheered.  He ran up and down the stage grinning goofily, tossing a t-shirt to this person and that.  I barely took notice of the mother I just described to you encouraging her daughter who was still directly in front of the stage to raise her hand and cheer.  At about that point Delaney also realized that free is good, and she raised her hand high in the air, a big smile on her face.

The man approached our side of the stage, poised to toss a shirt to a lucky recipient.  I would later conclude that he must have made eye contact with the mother and decided to throw it to her instead of the little girl who was standing right in front of him and was capable of receiving it herself.  You remember her mother stood further back next to us.  At the time I was not aware of any of this -- only that the man was approaching our side of the stage and looked like he was about to toss a t-shirt.

The t-shirt landed on Delaney.  It was draped over her head for a split second before she grabbed it with her little hands, looking pretty surprised and pleased -- like any five-year-old who has an unexpected gift land on her from a stage.

I was surprised and happy too, mostly because of the look on Delaney's face.  For all of about two seconds I felt that way.  Then to my everlasting disbelief, I saw the woman's hand reach down and take the shirt from Delaney.  I looked at her, like "WTF!"  but she refused to look over at me even though she was only two feet away.  There was a smile plastered on her face like she was determined not to notice me noticing her taking the t-shirt right off my daughter's body as if she knew it were hers.

I looked back and forth from her to Tim a couple times, as if to say, 'Did this just happen?  Are you going to say something?  Because if you aren't, I will.'

Tim looked at me and shrugged helplessly, indicating with his eyes the little girl a few feet in front of us.  I got it.  It was for her.  I immediately stood down, feeling ashamed of myself for my reaction.  The t-shirt was for the little girl with Down Syndrome.  Where was my Christmas spirit?  At that moment I felt like such an ogre.

A few minutes went by, the crowd dispersed, we all watched Santa roll down the street in a convertible, and at some point Tim and I looked at each other again.  We were like, wait a second.  That was still wrong.  That woman was not entitled to that t-shirt, who in the world did she think she was?  Taking a free t-shirt from a five-year-old, for goodness' sake.  How is that the right thing to do under any circumstances?  What does having a child with special needs have to do with our daughter being the one to catch the t-shirt, albeit accidentally?  We agreed we'd been wronged, we were both disgusted, and I tried not to think about it anymore.

But all the way home I seethed.  I told Tim as we were driving home, when things like this happen, like when the mean old lady audibly shushed us in church a couple weeks ago, I can't stop thinking about them for hours.  I want to go back in time to that moment and I want my hands to be quicker than that woman's, like, "Delaney, let me hold onto that for you (smiling cheesily at everyone around)."  Mindful that our kids were listening and learning from us as we rehashed this yet again, I said, "I know that woman needs our prayers.  She's a person who has a hard life, and if she feels compelled to take a free t-shirt from a little kid, she must have a thousand problems, the least of which is a shirt.  Maybe she really needed that shirt."  But I'm still mad.

To her credit, Delaney handled this with way more grace than either Tim or I did.  She waited the whole time the magician was on stage to be noticed, trying to raise her hand the highest and wear the biggest smile.  The one time something was given to her, it was snatched away immediately by someone else.  She would have been within her rights to be upset, but she never said a word and didn't pout.

"This is why I know I could never handle Disney World at Christmastime.  I can't handle an hour of Christmastime in downtown New Bern with the people there!"  Tim just smiled.  He knows we'll never be spending Christmas at Disney.  It only comes up because we have relatives who do, and our own kids would love to go to Disney any time of year some day.

I'm hoping that by writing this and hitting send, I can let it go and do what I have already said I should do -- say a heartfelt prayer for someone who despite appearing put together and not needy, still felt entirely within her rights to take a free gift right out of a small child's hands.  That has to be desperation.

Alright, here I go, clicking publish and letting it go..

Monday, November 19, 2012

Annie at 3 1/2

The three months since Annie's last update have been good, I am glad to say.  Back in August I recall I had mainly three worries about Annie: mood swings, constipation and how she would handle preschool.  At the moment I don't have any concerns about her.  She is a sweet, affectionate and funny, sometimes strange little girl who makes us smile more often than not.

The things that stand out most about Annie to me right now are her mostly grammatically correct sentences spoken in the cutest little voice ever, and her budding sense of style.  The latter she did not get from me, that's for sure.  I wouldn't think to put multicolored stripes and houndstooth together, but Annie doesn't think not to.  And it suits her.
As far as mood swings go and "Sweet Annie vs. Terrible Annie", I have seen a lot of improvement.  Her worst isn't as bad as it was, and it isn't as frequent.  I'm not sure why this is.  Maybe she's benefiting from having Delaney at school all day and not having to compete with her as much.  When the flare-ups happen, they usually happen after Delaney gets home.  Come to think of it, when the flare-ups happen, they are just as much her sister's fault as her own.  At that point in the day they're both tired and hungry.  Maybe her two mornings a week at preschool, which allow her to spend a few hours with her peers away from us, are also helping.  Maybe she was just going through a phase that she needed some time and growth and development to get through.  Maybe all of the above.  Whatever it is, we are all benefiting from a more mild-mannered Annie.
More about preschool:  She goes two days a week from 9 to 12.  She has 9 classmates and two teachers.  She has never cried at drop-off time, not even in the beginning, but it took her awhile to get comfortable.  For several weeks she was silent from the time I left her at the classroom door to the time I came back to get her. One day I came back to find one of her teachers completely frazzled because of an incident involving Annie. "You've got to get her to start talking!" she told me.  She went on to explain how Annie had silently endured the harassment of another student -- I don't recall exactly what the kid was doing, but he wasn't keeping his hands to himself and he was making her uncomfortable.  They happened to notice it and make him stop.  I was shocked to hear this and said, "This is not at all how Annie is at home.  She talks all the time.  She harasses her brother and sister!"  I was also told that Annie was not eating her snack at snack time.  She was just sitting there.  I know how my Annie likes to eat so I'd ask her about it and she'd say, "I was too tired."  The teachers seemed to think that she would warm up eventually, and I waited and hoped.

A few months later I would say she's enjoying school a lot more.  She is interacting with the other kids now.  She mentions conversations she has with them, although I think she is still content to observe for the most part.  She is always telling me about Kenny Lee, the boy who is always getting into trouble.  Her teachers tell me she's eating her snacks now, as of the last month or so.  When I'm waiting in line at the classroom door, I can see her in the circle at the back of the room dancing with the other kids to the goodbye song.  Her teachers often tell me she's had a good day.  I've observed a change in her in other settings as well.  When we go to someone's house she's more likely to leave me alone and go play with the other kids.  It used to be she either stuck to me like glue or picked a spot, like a rug, to sit on and stayed there the whole time.  I am so glad to see her having fun and coming out of her shell.
Lovey is in a vacuum sealed bag on a high shelf and has been for well over a couple months.  There was one last scare where I thought we'd lost it and then I was like, "That's it."  I had to put Lovey somewhere safe because at that point it meant way more to me than it did to her.  I was going to be the one brokenhearted if that thing never turned up again because it is such an important piece of her babyhood.

Annie still naps every afternoon for a couple hours.  Sometimes she asks me to clean off her toes before she'll go to sleep.  That's because when she wears Crocs or another pair of mary jane style shoes without socks all morning, her toes are all grimy when I ask her to take them off and get in bed.  I get a wet washcloth and clean her toes, and she says, "Don't forget to clean inside."  She means between the toes.  I do and she laughs and laughs, and I say, "Annie, you only made me do that because it would tickle, didn't you?"

I never knew anyone who loves to be tickled as much as she does.  Often she'll say to one of us, "Tickle me and squeeze me."  Then she laughs, shrieks, writhes and giggles until she's breathless.  It looks like pure torture, but when we stop she says, "Again."  We get tired of tickling her long before she gets tired of being tickled.
She is the worst eater of all our kids, and that's not saying much because they are all bad eaters.  It's amazing to me how healthy she is, considering that she eats only two food groups -- beige foods and raisins.  Thank goodness for the raisins that keep her regular.  If she decides she doesn't like them anymore, I'll have to resort to hiding powders in her food and drink again.  

She's turning into a great big sister to Timmy.  If I have to leave them at Play Date or at the child watch room at the Y, I tell the people working there, "Annie's a good helper.  She'll help you take care of Timmy."  And she does.  She follows him around and plays with him.  He's so much happier with her around.  I love to see the relationship between the two of them developing.

I just remembered that it's been a year since Annie spent the night in a hospital with breathing problems.  That was a crazy tough couple days.  I was remembering as we were driving to the Ball, how I followed the ambulance down those same streets, and how she, Timmy, and I all spent the night and next day together in that itty-bitty hospital room.  It's still hard to believe she ever got sick enough to make a doctor think she had RSV or pneumonia.  She hasn't had a single wheezing episode since so God willing, we've seen the last of it.  I still have the inhaler and a couple refills in case.

One last thing:  I know this is supposed to be just an Annie post, but I have news about Annie and her sister both.  They are officially nighttime potty trained!  Back in May, I posted about my frustration with the nighttime wetting, the new cloth training pants, and the constant laundry being generated by both.  Did that really happen only six months ago?  That same month, we began taking them to the potty every night about 10 p.m.  By August, they were both dry the majority of mornings, to the point where the occasional wetting was a real shock because it had been so long since the last.  We stopped using the training pants at least three or four months ago.  Then in the last month or so, Tim stopped making Delaney go when she didn't want to go in the middle of the night.  (By that point, it had become exclusively Tim's job to take them.).  She was dry in the morning.  Then he decided over a week ago to not bother taking either of them before he went to bed.  They've been dry every morning since!  The cloth training pants are in a stack in Timmy's closet waiting for it to be his turn.  They don't know because I don't want to make a big deal out of it (other than an occasional "good job!"), but I am very happy and proud of them both.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Birthday Ball

We had our Marine Corps Birthday Ball this past Friday.  As promised, I have pictures to share.  We had a great time.  I need not have lost sleep for two nights in a row prior to it, worried about leaving the kids with a  babysitter and going an hour away.  They were fine, and it was so much fun getting dressed up and hanging out with grownups.

I shopped my closet for a dress this year, choosing a simple black gown I bought a few years ago at Nordstrom.  It did wonders for my posture because every time I slouched even a little, the spaghetti straps would fall.  Tim wore his fancy new evening dress uniform or "mess dress" as it's commonly referred to.  

Since I was reusing the dress, shoes and accessories, I decided to go all out on my hair and makeup this year.  I went to the salon as soon as the kids were down for a nap, and I asked for a half-up/half-down hairdo inspired by a photo I saw of Carrie Underwood at some event.  The girl who did my hair did a decent job, but I think I ended up with hair more like Pam from The Office.  The top was very flat, pretty much like the way I wear it every day.  After some momentary disappointment I was OK with it.  My hair was still very pretty and shiny, the curls were cute, and I didn't have to worry as much about messing it up between another hour spent at home, and then another in the car on the way to the Ball.  

While I was getting my hair done, I said to the hairdresser, "I know this is a long shot, but is there any chance I can get my makeup done here too?"  I was so happy when she told me the aesthetitian had an opening.  I loved getting my makeup done and then not having to do anything when I got home besides put on my dress.  I am kicking myself for not getting a close-up picture of the makeup, though.  She did an awesome job.  I walked out of there feeling like a million bucks.

I made Tim get out the tripod and take some shots of us before we left, so the babysitter could keep Timmy occupied inside.  I'm so glad we did that because photos taken in natural light are always way better than ones taken inside.  And there was no professional photographer taking pictures at the Ball.
This was Tim's first time wearing this uniform.  He said, "I feel like a matador!"  I thought he looked dashing.
I know Andrea and Cameron from my Marine Corps days and now they both work or have worked with Tim.  We were all at a table together feeling like old fogies because we've never heard that newfangled line dance song.  I guess it was about time for "Electric Slide" to be replaced.
I've gotten many compliments on the back of this dress so right before we left I told Tim he needed to take a picture of me from the back too.  However, that silly strap used to hang the dress on the hanger kept coming out no matter how many times I tucked it in.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Stuff

I can't seem to put together a cohesive post so these scattered thoughts will have to do.

It's the end of an extra-long Veteran's Day weekend.  Delaney only had a half-day on Thursday, and then had off four days in a row.  We didn't do anything special, but we did a little bit of shopping and worked on the to-do list around the house and one of my Pinterest projects.  I think the highlights of the weekend were the Exchange and the dollar store.  The girls turned on all the singing and dancing Hallmark animals under the Christmas tree at the Exchange and had a little party.  And they ran around saying, "Mama, look at this!  Daddy, look at that!"  Everything's so glittery and bright.  Today at the dollar store, Delaney walked around exclaiming over and over, "Everything's $1!"  It takes very little to make their day.  I still get excited about the dollar store too.

I love this time of year, but at the same time I wish time would slow down a little.  It is so bittersweet to me, getting to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with Tim, but about to send him off on another deployment right after.  It doesn't even feel real that it's happening again so soon.

We got some more news and had to change our plans again.  Tim is leaving for Afghanistan a little sooner than he had originally expected, so we will not be traveling for Christmas after all.  There will be too much for him to get done before he leaves and he'll also be needing time to just relax.  So we're just going to have a laid-back Christmas here in NC.  It was hard to tell the girls we weren't going to Massachusetts.  Delaney cried.  But she seems OK with it now.  She is learning to be a flexible, versatile kid, which is essential for survival as a military kid.  We'll do everything we can to make it as happy of a Christmas for them as we can.  Here's hoping we can make it there next Christmas!
***
School is going really well for Delaney.  We can tell she's learning a lot and enjoying herself.  A couple weeks ago I went to eat lunch with her and go to the book fair together.  I can have lunch with her whenever I want to, but that was the first time I ever took the opportunity.  They'd sent home a special letter about it and I felt like it was something I ought to do.  We had such a nice time.  Delaney's face lit up when I showed up at her classroom door.  Before we went to the lunchroom I took this picture, but first an explanation:  A few weeks before our lunch date Delaney said to me when we were talking about tattling, "People tattle all the time in kindergarten."  I said, "I bet they do."  Then she said, "It's a good thing we have Obama for when we tattle."  Keeping my tone even I asked, "What does Obama do when you tattle?"  In all honesty, this raised my hackles.  I was thinking, What on earth are they teaching these kids?  She said, "He doesn't do anything, he's just a picture!  When someone tells my teacher on someone else she says, 'Talk to Obama.'  Or she just says, 'Obama.'"  I laughed.  Her teacher has a good sense of humor.
It's crazy to think that when Delaney is in 4th grade, Mrs. H's tattling kindergartners will still be talking to Obama.
I will be going to her school again in a couple weeks to read a story to the class.  She asks me every other day, "How many days until you come read to my class?"  She's looking forward to it because while I'm reading the story, she'll get to sit in a place of honor and keep an eye on her classmates.  Then afterward she'll pass out Skittles to all the ones who were sitting still and listening.  This is a very popular thing with the parents.  Mrs. H's storytelling calendar is booked up through the next couple months.  

It was so strange to me, sitting in the hall of Delaney's school waiting for it to be lunch time.  I was there a little bit early so I could put some money on her lunch account.  It smelled exactly the same as I remember school smelling when I was little.  It all looked the same -- colorfully decorated concrete walls, kids walking silently in lines, buffed linoleum floors.  It was like being in a time machine, except for the teachers with their thick southern drawls.  
***
I've gotten into a great workout routine.  In an effort to make our Y membership worthwhile during the colder months, I told myself I needed to go to a group fitness class at least three times a week.  So I go to PiYo twice (it's an upbeat blend of pilates and yoga, I guess) and TurboKick once a week.  I still run a couple times a week too.  The classes are really challenging and motivating, and I'm feeling good about myself at a time of the year when I am usually getting lazy and soft.  I feel my body getting stronger all the time and my energy level is increasing.  I haven't been in this good of shape since I was doing Jillian Michaels workouts during naptime in Quantico.  This is way more fun than that.  Annie and Timmy are good about going to the babysitting room, and that's good because they don't have a choice.  It gives structure to our days.  It is also a very effective way to relieve stress induced by my house being wrecked by a mischievous little boy and his aiding and abetting sister.
Our Marine Corps Birthday Ball is this Friday, and it's about an hour away in Greenville.  This will be the first time we have a babysitter put Timmy to bed.  I'm a little nervous about that but I think he'll be fine and I know the girls will.  I'm not sure how I'm going to handle staying up past 10.  I hope we get a good picture of us all glammed up.

I have nothing else to share except Delaney who's sitting next to me on my bed just informed me that she wants us to take her to the African Savannah (so she can see all the animals on Wild Kratts).  I bet I know what she'd like just as much -- another trip to the dollar store!