Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Annie's 9th Birthday

Every time one of the kids has a birthday, it feels like my birthday except better since I'm not the one who's another year older.😊 I remember the agony and the joy of bringing them into the world, and marvel at how much they and I have changed since then. The kids themselves see each birthday as a magical milestone, a precise line between their new age and the last. Annie asked me the day before what time she'd been born. I told her 5:23 a.m. and she nodded, satisfied to know that first thing in the morning of the 19th, she would in fact be nine years old.
I did not sleep in Saturday morning; I got up at the usual time of 7 at the request of my new nine-year-old, so she didn't have to wait any longer to open her presents. She was overjoyed with the roller skates and jump rope that her daddy and Delaney had picked out for her. She ran to them and gave them hugs after opening them. Then she opened the Converse sneakers that she knew I'd picked out, and ran over to give me my hug. I thought it was funny how she'd kept track of exactly what came from whom, instead of thinking of her presents as from both parents. She misses nothing. She'd already seen the gift bag on the highest shelf of my closet and asked if she could open it first thing in the morning. (True, I hadn't made much effort to hide it.) She also knew what her father and sister were up to when they went on an errand the night before by themselves. I'm not raising a fool!
Annie has never rollerskated so safely.
Later in the morning the girls and I gathered up our birthday supplies and headed out for Annie's painting party with the girls in her class.
She had an incident when her hair went in the paint, and I said, "Annie's hair is always going into everything." (Especially her dinner) She was a fan of having green ends and didn't want to wash it out.
These two were the first done with their paintings and just hovered around the cake until the other girls were done and it was time to sing. Of course they did.🙄
Tim picked up Annie's dinner of choice, sushi, early in the afternoon so it would be there waiting for us when we got home from Mass. Annie had two spicy tuna rolls, and maybe some ramen noodles and miso soup. I didn't notice much because I was too busy feasting on all the sushi and cutting up things for Joey.
It had been decided days before that we would roast s'mores that night, but when the weather took a turn for the worse, the girls got really pouty at the idea of taking a rain check. I would have said too bad, but Tim's way nicer than I am. When the rain took a break he went ahead and made a fire in the wet backyard. Everyone was happy.
That was that, another birthday in the books. I am grateful on her birthday and always, for the gift of Annalise Elizabeth in our lives. I can't wait to see what her last year in single digits holds for her.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Grandma and Grandpa's visit, and my first time away from the Fabulous Four

We had our first guests at our new digs here in North Carolina. It was not so much a leisurely visit for them, though. Tim's parents came up last Thursday so they could stay with the kids while I went to join Tim in Quantico, VA for the spouses' portion of Commanders' Course which would be the following Monday through Friday. I documented as much of their visit as I could before I took off Saturday morning. I felt torn between "Freedom!" and "But I don't wanna go!". This would be my first time separated from the 'Fabulous Four' (as Delaney dubs them), not just the 'Big Three'. I have never been apart from my baby for even a night, so I was worried about him missing me, especially at naptime and bedtime. But I'm sure it's obvious to anyone scrolling through these pictures, I had no reason to worry about Joe. He was in heaven with his grandparents there, and I was kind of in the background. I always build things up in my mind to be such a bigger deal than they turn out to be in reality.

Even still, when it came time for me to say goodbye, that was a little tough for us both. Goodbyes are hard for him -- he doesn't even like when we take separate cars to get to the same destination. His sadness is short-lived, though, and out of sight is out of mind to him for the most part. Tim Sr drove us all to drop me at the airport, and I gave each kid a hug and kiss in turn, and told them to be good. Joey cried, saying, "Joey go! Joey go!" I kept the goodbye cheerful and short, telling him I was going on an airplane to see Daddy, and we'd both be back in a few days. Although my heart was heavy, I knew that as soon as the car rounded the bend, he was probably already cheering up. There was too much fun to be had with Grandma and Grandpa to waste time on crying.
I enjoyed two short flights sans kids -- lots of reading and coffee sipping time.😊 Tim picked me up the Reagan Airport, and we had the rest of the weekend all to ourselves. We ate Afghan food the first night and Vietnamese the next. We test-drove a Mustang we had no intention of buying, and did some shopping because I needed to return some things at Old Navy and find a few more pieces to complete my business casual wardrobe for the next few days. No denim allowed! (Did I overthink it? Tim would tell you just a bit.) We went for a run around Quantico, but since I've fallen out of the habit of running, I slowed Tim down too much. We talked to the kids on the phone at least a couple times and I loved hearing how cute they sound on the phone. I asked Tim if he remembered how the older kids, when they were little, never gave him the time of day when he was away and wanted to talk to him on the phone. He said, "I distinctly remember." (He was always so bummed.) We were/are pretty amazed at what a good phone conversationalist Joey is at only age 2. He must have learned from his siblings. It melted my heart to hear his sweet little voice telling me he loved and missed me.
We snapped this right before leaving the room Monday morning.
I didn't sleep much on Sunday night because I was a bundle of nerves. What was there to be so nervous about? It was just a gathering of all husband's peers and their spouses, during which we'd spend time mingling or sitting in an auditorium (sometimes with the Marines, but mostly with other spouses) listening to presentations, or in a classroom in small groups. I anticipated it like the first day of high school. Will I fit in? Will I find anyone to talk to? Eek!

The first day was the hardest, but after that it was OK. Highlights for me were, in no particular order:

 • the spouses' field trip to (and tour of) the Commandant's house at 8th and I
 • when the Commandant and his wife came to talk to us 
 • a presentation that Tim and I got to hear together about generational differences (bottom line: Gen X ruined the Millennials with all their helicoptering, and as a result most young Marines have never made any decisions.)
 • Anytime Tim and I got to have a class together or go to lunch together, which unfortunately didn't happen often. Most of the time our lunches overlapped by maybe a half hour anyway.
 • lunch with a friend from Parris Island
 • dinner with old friends and Tim's soon-to-be Executive Officer
 • When Tim and I visited our pictures at the Homecoming Exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps
 • The barbecue social on the quad. 'Social' is a dirty word to us, like a how early can we get away with leaving? kind of thing. We both had to make an exception here because in the random seating arrangement we ended up with two great couples who were fun to talk to; and the barbecue was delicious and I don't even usually like barbecue. 
So many tulips!😍
I was so glad they scheduled in time for us to get pictures with Chesty.
Quick 'Rachael story' for you: For our tour of the Commandant's house, we were all allowed to wander upstairs and downstairs and go anywhere there wasn't a closed door or a velvet rope. There were Marines stationed in various areas, and one Marine whose main job was to guard a half-million dollar Tiffany lamp. But he could also, like all the others, tell you a story/anecdote about each portrait, piece of furniture, really any object in the room. In the room with the Tiffany lamp, the Marine standing there told us that one of the couches was the one that Grand old Man of the Marine Corps, Archibald Henderson, died on. I asked if I'd get yelled at for sitting on it and he said no. But I prided myself on going through every room and not disturbing a single artifact even though I really wanted to sit when my feet started to hurt. There would be no butt imprint of mine on anything. After an hour or two of us milling around the house, one of the facilitators called, "Ladies, start heading to the exit!" I was already in the foyer and I obediently started walking to the nearest door. I didn't even get to lay a finger on that door though, because out of nowhere a little man in a checked blazer started barking, "No-no-no-no-NO!" as he swept toward me. One of the other ladies I was with grabbed my wrist and playfully slapped it. You can't take me anywhere! So there I am in the picture above, with the Forbidden Door (as close as I dared!) behind me.

We were all dismissed early that day, so Tim and I decided to run to the Marine Corps Museum quickly before it closed. We had already been through the museum a few times before, but we hadn't been back together since our photos had been on display. We got a picture of us next to our photos, and while Tim chatted with the person who'd taken it, I continued down the wall, lingering at each set of pictures and the stories they told. It was a very moving experience to look into all those faces and feel that emotion in my own gut.

Meanwhile, back home, our kids were NOT missing us whatsoever. 
May the 4th
We drove home Friday afternoon and arrived around 8. I was so happy to see all of them. It's not a perspective I often get, going away and coming back. In fact, I think the last time I was away for longer than two nights was our honeymoon. Joey fused himself to my body for the first few minutes, and I held onto him like, I'm never letting you go again!

We thought we'd get Saturday to spend all of us together, but to our disappointment, Tim and Carolyn opted to leave Saturday morning. It's a long drive to Massachusetts, and I think weather was a concern for Sunday. So we were sad to see them go, but happy and grateful they came. We'll see them again next month when they come down for the change of command.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

My 1st Grade homework: a letter to Timmy

Timmy is "Croc of the Week" at school this week, and as part of that, I was given an assignment due Wednesday (and it's already done, yay me) to write a letter for his teacher to read to the class. She said it could be a short story, a poem, or even a series of photos and/or stories about him. I thought about what creative approach I could take, but in the end I just went with sappy. I ended up cutting my rambles down a bit, keeping in mind it was going to be read out loud to a classroom full of fidgety first graders.

Dear Timmy,

Since it's Month of the Military Child and you are Croc of the Week, I can't think of a better opportunity to let you know what a terrific kid your daddy and I think you are.

You were born here in New Bern, in the midst of a 10-month deployment. You were the easiest baby ever -- laid-back and along for the ride, full of smiles. What a special gift you were and are. You met your daddy the first time when you were six months old, and I was worried you'd be scared of him, but you acted like you'd always known him. He deployed again only a year later. You had to get used to lots of change in your life right from the very beginning.
Image by Melinda Pepper Photography
From the time you could walk, you've been the child who keeps us on our toes. Sometimes you get it in your head that there's a different, better way to do something; or a quicker or more interesting way to get where the rest of us are going. It can be exasperating, but I know that independent streak is going to serve you well one day. You can be super stubborn, too. We've butted heads plenty of times, but I know that stubbornness  -- let's call it tenacity -- is going to be very useful to you too, getting through life.

You are inquisitive, always wanting to know the how and why of everything. You like to share the interesting things you read in your books. Recently you were telling me about the world record for the longest nose and the longest beard. Books are the best food for your inquiring mind, so I'm glad you're a reader.

You have such a good heart. Today you offered your sister your sweatshirt when she was complaining about the cold, even though she hadn't been nice to you. To me, that was nicer than the prettiest bouquet of flowers you could have handed me. Always be kind to people, whether they deserve it or not. You will be so blessed for that. I know it's not easy, especially with a sibling. Now that Joey's not a baby anymore, you've got him to contend with too, always wanting whatever you have and shattering glass with his shrieks when he doesn't get it.
Your life is a revolving door of people and places, always another hello or goodbye. We can see that this latest move has been the hardest adjustment for you. This new neighborhood doesn't have as many kids, and it's harder for you to find someone to play with. There isn't much we can do about that, except to remind you of this: no matter where we go, the thing that never changes is that you've got us.

We are so proud of you, bub.

Love,
Mama

Monday, April 9, 2018

Joey: 2 1/4 (and thoughts on weaning the fourth time around)

It's time for an overdue quarterly update on Joe. I am amazed at how much he's changed even since he turned two. I just love this age on him. He is hilarious with the things he says and does, makes "duck lips" when he pouts, thinks Tim's truck is a "monser truck", and gives the best hugs.
For the record, he is still in diapers and still in a crib. He wears 2T clothing and size 7/8 shoes (cutest little feet ever!). He takes a nap every afternoon for two to three hours, and is in bed every night from about 7:30 to maybe 6 or 6:30. He is not asleep that whole time. He usually cries for me at least once to come cover him up again. (The weighted blanket is heavy, but it maybe, possibly helps him sleep as long as it's on.) Still, we're in a lot better place than we were around the time he turned two. Are we out of the woods yet? I dare not say.
He is getting to be quite the little chatterbox, and he's been starting to use phrases and sentences more. "What time is it?" is his latest favorite. He likes to assert his opinions loudly. This past Sunday in Mass he declared right at Communion time, "No Jesus. Not like-a Jesus."😬 Last night when he was in the bath, I was being silly and acting like I was about to get in with him fully clothed. He said, "No, Mama." I said, "Why not?" "Clothes off."

Bathtime is his favorite. Unlike the other kids who regularly skip a day or two, Joey doesn't miss a night of taking a bath, and sometimes he gets more than one a day if he's had a messy enough diaper (since he is intact and pulling back the foreskin to clean is a big no-no). He'll sit there till the water is ice cold if I let him, filling up the cup, dumping it out, putting the cars in the cup, lining the cars up on the edge of the tub, etc. He hates it when I wash his hair, so I only do that once every few days.
He was getting so fast on his Strider Bike before we moved. I can't wait till he gets it back. He was riding it to the playground and back, and coasting down the little hills.

In the midst of all the chaos of the last month or two, we've reached a big milestone: he is completely weaned as of March 18. And I was (am) OK with it! I didn't get depressed for days like last time, even though I was more apt to since I'm only becoming more sentimental the older I get, and that much less willing to let go of the babyhood of my littlest. I applied the lessons I'd learned from weaning Timmy and did it a lot differently this time. We were already down to just one session, the bedtime one, for several months. Dropping that last session was a big deal to me though, so I had to take it slow. First I started to mention to him frequently at bedtime, that he was getting too big to nurse and we'd be all done soon. I don't know if he understood that at all. This was January or February. In the back of my mind, a deadline was looming; we'll be leaving all the kids with Tim's parents while we go to Quantico for about a week at the end of this month and beginning of May. To say I found this daunting would be a huge understatement.
Then I tried testing the waters, omitting nursing from the bedtime routine. If I distracted him by maybe talking about something, or having someone else come into the room, he'd forget and go to sleep OK. But more often than not, he'd say, "Nurse!" if I tried taking him straight to bed after we'd looked out the window and said goodnight to the ferris wheel and the tree and whatnot. If he requested to nurse, I'd nurse him.
That went on for a couple weeks, and then I started to get more intentional. For two nights in a row, we'd skip nursing, and I'd either distract him and he'd forget or if he remembered, I'd say, "It's not a nursing night." He only got upset once, and between Tim and me, we managed to soothe him. Then the third night I'd nurse him. I worried that this would confuse him, but forged ahead anyway. Dropping it cold turkey like a bad habit the way I'd done with Timmy, hadn't worked out at all for me at all, emotionally or physically. It takes awhile before the milk factory gets the message to shut down, so this gradual approach was mostly for my benefit, I admit. Fortunately he adjusted to this schedule with minimal fuss.

Then I stretched it to every third or fourth night, with him sometimes remembering to ask but most of the time not. I told Tim that I was sure we'd be done for good once we moved out of the house and into the hotel, and we were in new surroundings; and I was right. He forgot all about it and that was that. I feel relieved and a bit wistful whenever I think about it, but all the distractions and busyness of the past several weeks have been good for my coping. Nothing else has changed -- he's still my baby. Whenever he wants to be held or to snuggle up to me, I just drink him in, more grateful than ever for those moments.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Catching up

So where were we?  Right.. We descended out of the clouds and our sleepy kids perked up at the sight of Boston looking like a frosted cookie. I know that for northerners this has been the never-ending winter of hell, but for these kids to just get a taste of actual winter, was such a treat.

I don't know where they got the energy for it, but they played outside for a long time. I also don't know where they get the tolerance for the cold, having lived in subtropical climates for at least half their lives. Joey was wearing Crocs and not complaining. I couldn't be bothered to dig out a real pair of shoes for him -- I was trying to stay awake until it was an appropriate time of day for a nap. They are definitely made out of something different than me; either that or I just don't understand what a big deal snow is.
Annie was wearing Timmy's sneakers which were by then open toe because they were the brakes for his bike which we left on the curb in Okinawa. What a motley crew we are! Also, I never knew Tim's parents' front yard was a hill.
L-R: Natalie (9), Delaney, Alexa (14), Annie and Joey
Thanks again to our niece Sofia, for the great pictures!
Again, crossing so many time zones affected us all to varying degrees. I might have been hit hardest. For three days, every time I found myself in a moving vehicle I wanted to catch flies. Good thing I wasn't driving! The first time I did drive, four days after arrival, I might have almost made a left turn the Okinawa way (a.k.a. the British way) out of a shopping plaza in Framingham. I was like, Would someone please take my head off and screw it back on correctly? Every night I woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble falling asleep -- right up until Thursday or Friday. Tim had that problem too. Strangely, Joey slept better than ever. Of course he did, because he has to be different. Delaney adjusted to east coast time the quickest, from what I observed. I think her internal clock reset at the sight of snow.
Alexa got a birthday surprise the first night when we all sat down to dinner. I love the way this family does surprises! Sam, her mother, handed her a box. The first thing she saw inside was the sled dog team and the humans being pulled. I wonder if she had any idea where this was going.
Next, she found a folded sheet of paper on which was written, "To be read by Delaney". 
Delaney's double-take was priceless. We all laughed so hard. 

There was also fun with the drone that Delaney had gotten with Christmas Amazon credit and had shipped there. 
Tim took the boys for haircuts, and the barber took way too much off Timmy. Haircuts are so hit or miss anymore. He sure looked handsome with it combed to the side, but that's not typically the way he wears it.
We had such a nice visit for almost a week. We had at least a couple big family dinners. Tim and I went out to eat by ourselves one night, and another night we went to the new house of some old friends. The few days we spent there were so fun and relaxing, that I was utterly dejected to have to pack bags again the following Friday. We really tested the cargo capacity of the old Traverse, too. Tim would think he was done fitting things in and I'd be like, "Oh yeah, and there's this." Haha. He kept saying to me, "We need a Suburban." I had to admit that at least for that day (and no other), a Suburban would have been nice. It was kind of stressful wondering if we'd have to sacrifice a stroller or a pack 'n play or something. In the end everything fit but it wasn't pretty.

We left at 5 Saturday morning and it took us 16 mostly uneventful hours to make our way down the coast, where a dinner at 5 Guys and rooms at the Cherry Point Inn awaited us. 95 was not especially bad, but when you take it through so many states, it's bound to be bad in at least a few places. I might have hated my life the entire way, and frequently let Tim know as much. I'm was so done with traveling! So sick of being in a plane or a car, and having all our stuff in bags. I don't want to go anywhere again!

We didn't get to our rooms until 9 or so that night, but we still had to make sure the Easter Bunny would find us. He did! We didn't have our baskets, but he made do with boxes. And we all managed to clean up nice for Easter Sunday Mass. A side-by-side Moe's and Duncan Donuts made for a brunch that could please everybody.
Then we got the keys to our 'home sweet home' for the next two years. It's been a whirlwind, and I am ready for things to slow down for a while.