No Open Letter Needed. Just Conversation.

My news and social media feeds have been alive and well these days with chatter about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the Video Music Awards.

On both traditional and social media sites, it’s been all about the former Disney child star gone bad. I don’t need to link to it. If you’re reading this, you’ve been online. You’ve seen it.

Her name became a trending topic, and it busted previously held social media records, according to this and this. It’s been days since the awards show, and it’s still making headlines today. Continue reading

Finally, A Girls Night Out

 

Lola and I had a Girls Night Out last weekend. Just the two of us.It was very much needed. It’s been too long since we went out on our own for something fun. (Grocery runs aren’t so fun after the first few times, ya know.)

It was entirely her choice, so off we went to the local movie theater to see the latest kid flick.

Rocking the 3D glasses.

We got there early, which was a good thing because as soon as we parked, the clouds opened up in a downpour. We sat in the car for about 10 minutes, talking and devising a plan on how to best get out of the vehicle with one umbrella for the both of us, and how we were going to walk together into the building.

Here’s the thing about my Lola: she is one smart cookie.

As I listened to her come up with suggestions on how we could get from the car to the theater without getting wet — which included discussion about our height difference, our shoe-type (flip-flops), the distance to the curb from our car, etc. — I had to remind myself that she’s not even five years old.

Yet the kid is sharp as a whip and nothing gets past her.

I think like most other moms, I wake up with the goal to be a present, thoughtful, intuitive mother to each of my children. To really know them and their personalities, to know what works and what doesn’t for them as individuals.

Some days I feel like I reach that goal. Some Most days, I feel like I’m off the mark.

As any parent of multiple children knows, every child is just. so. different.

While there are some things that are pretty much universal for all children — ie: routines are good, exhaustion is bad, exhaustion/hunger is worse, etc. — there are many parenting methods that just can’t be applied across the board. What works for my daughters may not work for my son. What rolls easy for my oldest may not always roll easy with my second.

There’s got to be a balance in there to be able to address the needs of each child.

Simple enough, right?

Yet, this gets hard when one is trying to parent three very different children at the same time. Not that every child’s demand or whim should be catered to, of course. But more times than not, it’s easier to just steamroll ahead, to play the “because I’m the Mom and I said so” card, and move on with it.

Yet, as I do with all my children, I often ask myself if I’m being the mother Lola needs, if I’m giving her the right amount of attention and focus.

I don’t want her to ever feel lost in that shuffle. I want to show her that I notice she’s so intelligent, and kind, and a great sister, and just a really awesome young lady.

So I’m very happy that Martin is back, and that I have this time now to leave behind the other two for a little bit, and just focus solely on my Lola.

To talk with her.

To let her pick the movie treats.

And the seats.

To laugh at the same jokes with her, and dance in our seats to the music.

To let her speak up about whatever she wants with no interruption from an older sister or a younger brother.

And to not smile and shake my head too much when she inevitably says, “Mom, I really wish they were here with us. I miss them.”

***********

My dad captured this video of Lola’s first time paddling in the kayak. She proved a natural.

My dad noted that the whole time, Lola was convinced it was a race, and like a natural competitor, constantly encouraged her team (Martin and Miss C) to keep at it, to beat Grandpa, to get there first.

That’s my girl.

*******

Yea!!! My tooth is fixed! And though it feels a little weird now, there’s no pain. First stop = coffee. 🙂 All credit must go to the handsome dentist who did it. I was scheduled with a lady dentist, but when I got there a bit early, one of the gentleman dentists saw me right away instead. It didn’t take long at all. Thank goodness for good dental work … and dental insurance!! They flashed me the total bill as I walked out. I would not be grinning so big if I had to pay that whole thing.

 

Last Day of Fourth Grade

Old enough to get her own mail now. In this case, a postcard from a friend.

 

Today is the last day of school for Miss C.

Another school year completed. Another list of experiences and memories down in the books.

It’s funny: when Miss C rushed into my bedroom to say goodbye this morning, I didn’t think anything of it. But later, when her father was driving me into work, we were stopped behind a school bus from another part of the county. It was pulled to the side with the red lights flashing, and I assume the young people stepping off were at least in middle school, if not high school underclassmen.

I promptly teared up as I tried to swallow the ginormous lump that swelled in my throat.

It’s not going to be much longer.

And oh, I know it.

Continue reading

That Face

Miss C and I were walking back to our minivan after visiting Colonial Williamsburg last weekend, just the two of us.

Martin and the younger two were a few steps behind, slowed down by Lola’s dissatisfaction about leaving the place.

Miss C was not impressed.

“Why does she have to act like that?” she asked.

“Act like what?” I asked.

“In public. Why does my family have to be so embarrassing?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s not embarrassing,” I said. “You know what’s embarrassing?”

And then I broke out in song.

Not just any song, but the song Martin and I have sung to her since she was born. So I know every word by heart. Every note.

And I sing it with confidence.

This used to bring a huge smile. But instead, she covered her face with her hands, and fell back away from me, waiting for her Dad to catch up with her. When he rolled passed with the stroller, she dropped her hands.

“Mom’s embarrassing me,” she declared.

“She is? How so?” Martin asked.

“She’s singing!”

Without missing a beat, Martin opened his mouth and joined me in the second verse.

As you may know, Martin isn’t really blessed with a singing voice.

But there we were, two parents singing our hearts out to our oldest daughter while Lola cried and Jaz fussed.

Miss C sighed, her face twisted into a look of amused mortification.

I lifted my camera and took the picture.

That face.

That change.

It’s here.

That time in one’s life when it dawns on you that your parents can be … uncool.

No worries: I expect it. I’ve been there. (With my Dad, I think I’m still there – ha, ha!) I think Martin and I are ready for it. We’re ready to play this up when the moment is right, although I’m sure most of the things that will truly mortify our daughter (and the rest of them, for that matter) will be unintentional.

I know this is just a part of growing up. Our kids can’t always think we’re the best, that everything we do is awesome/hilarious/brilliant. While I could tell last weekend that Miss C wasn’t too bothered by our serenade, I know there will come a time when she’ll be seriously annoyed by our antics.

This is all bittersweet, of course. Because when it comes to making faces, dancing in public, being witty and silly … she’s been my girl. In a way, I’ll be losing my partner-in-crime. Not that I think her willingness to get goofy will completely evaporate as we enter these tween years. She’ll just be more selective, you know, with her moments.

And in those moments when our senses of humor don’t sync up perfectly anymore, I know what I’ll do.

I’ll just break out in a smile as I remember that face.

Miss C being silly in 2009, age 5.

Family Reunion

Martin got to reunite with the whole family this past weekend.

Ever since graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Martin’s been attending technical school at Fort Lee in Virginia. For the longest time, I thought this part of his training was going to continue in Lackland, as mentioned in his orders. While it is true that the training group is based in Texas, Martin’s school is part of a joint training facility located on an Army base, just like my own tech school experience.

You can imagine how thrilled we all were when we realized that Fort Lee is only two hours away from us in Northern Virginia.

Regardless of his location, Martin’s considered a “pipeline Airman” right now. That’s a term given to brand new Airman who make their way through the “pipeline” — BMT and tech school — before joining the real Air Force. Continue reading

Because It’s Always A Good Time for Magic

I was organizing my digital photos earlier this week, and discovered these two from the Christmas holiday.

Martin must have serendipitously snapped these during our visit with Santa Claus at the local mall because I don’t remember him taking them, nor do I remember seeing them because I’m certain I would have immediately posted them in the blog along with the story behind them.

But then again, the past holiday season remains a blur to me.

Especially that day.

I think any trip to see Santa in a crowded mall on the weekend before Christmas is going to be a trying experience, but I was still recovering from the physical and emotional hangover of the miscarriage. Fortunately, my desire for my children to have a magical experience overpowered my desire to just crawl into a corner and sleep some more.

But not by much.

It didn’t help that we had to wait in line for two and a half hours. My patience was worn thin and I was feeling weak. Once we finally made it up to the rope that led to Santa’s enclosure, one of the holiday mall workers walked by us in the line, announcing that Santa was about to go on his lunch break. I alternated between wanting to cry, wanting to fling myself down on the floor and wail, and/or just grabbing the kids and calling it a day.

But by some miracle, we made it into roped area. Santa’s helpers rushed us through the enclosure, telling us we could come back after visiting Santa if we wanted to look at the decorations. I wondered if the kids would feel cheated if all they were given time to do was rush up to Santa, smile for a picture, and then run so he could go to lunch.

But then we turned the corner, and there was Santa.

And even though the helpers were a little forceful in their directions to us, reminding us we had just a few seconds, Santa was calm and unfazed.

As the photographer talked with Martin about our photo package preference, I led the children up to Santa. Jaz tightened his grip on my neck and Lola clutched my hand. She had been unusually quiet and low-key in the line, and I wondered if she was going to be afraid.

As I started to move to pry them off of me, Santa greeted them.

And Lola responded.

“I know how to sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” she said with such clarity and certainty that I knew she had waited the whole time just to let Santa know she learned a song for him.

“Oh, do you?” asked Santa. “Will you sing it for me?”

In the midst of the mall ruckus, Lola began to sing for Santa.

I immediately looked out of the corner of my eye as the helpers started to circulate around us. I expected one of them to step forward and scoop Lola up to set her on his lap. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, they stayed behind and Lola kept singing. That’s when Martin must have snapped this photo, and I love how we’re all standing there, looking at her. I love how Miss C has the biggest smile on her face, her hands clasped together, her face full of joy and pride for her sister. Knowing the truth, and believing in the spirit of it anyway.

Even Jaz was watching intently.

And then, Lola paused in her singing.

She had forgotten the rest of the words.

And that’s when Santa started softly singing, picking up where Lola left off. And the two of them finished the whole song together.

The whole thing took just over a minute.

But oh, what a wonderful minute. I seriously teared up.

It was the magic I wanted for my kids.

It was the magic I needed for myself.

After that, the kids obediently settled next to Santa for the photo. And though Jaz reached out for me after about 20 seconds, the photos we got were absolutely precious.

I debated for about a minute whether to share them now, months later and just a week or so away from Valentine’s Day.

But I figured it’s always a good time for a little magic.

Flashback Friday: Keeping Us in Stitches

I got home from work last night only to learn that Martin had rushed out of the house just a few minutes earlier to take Lola to the emergency room.

Both Miss C and Miss Mary shared with me the details. Lola was playing around in the family room, ignoring the warnings from her father, her sister, and her nanny as she leaped with abandon, propelling herself into the edge of our entertainment center and splitting open her eyebrow. Again.

Yes. Again.

For my Flashback Friday post, I’m going back to May 2011, when Lola made her first trip to the emergency room. She injured herself in a similar fashion: hurling herself forward and hitting a piece of furniture. That time, things were a little bit frantic. That time, Martin nearly fainted.

But this time?

Apparently, nobody panicked. According to Miss C and Miss Mary, Martin scooped her up and cleaned her off. He couldn’t tell if the cut was deep, but it was a bleeder, so he played it safe and took her to get checked out.

Turns out, she didn’t need stitches after all. She didn’t even need glue. Instead, she got five stickers and a doctor’s warning to be more careful next time.

Fingers crossed she listened.

They Go Together

Snapping a picture before the concert, January 2013

 

Last week, Martin and Miss C drove to New Jersey together to see famed celloist Yo-Yo Ma perform in Newark.

It was her big Christmas gift. Martin and I wrapped the two tickets in a box along with a new purple party dress, a black lace cardigan, rhinestone jewelry and a crown, and a letter explaining that she would be going with her father and that it would be an overnight trip in a fancy hotel, too.

She couldn’t wait. The weeks leading up to the event were filled with such excited anticipation, but not just for Miss C.

For me, too.

Those two really needed that trip together.

Ever since day one, Martin’s been firmly wrapped around Miss C’s pinky. For the first two years of her life, they were together every single day.

The former German tank commander and the dark curly-haired little girl. You never saw one without the other.

Partners in crime. Best friends.

Loyal members of the mutual admiration society.

Totally enamored with each other in 2004

It made my heart soar knowing they were so connected. Their bond made it easier for me to leave the both of them when I deployed in 2007, because I knew that no matter what, they had each other. Neighbors sent messages to me, telling me they saw the two having a picnic on the porch, or going around the neighborhood for a walk.

Even when Martin returned to working full-time, he always made time for his daughter.

Like peanut butter and jelly, those two were meant to be.

But of course, relationships are easy when one person is a smitten new parent and the other is a happy-go-lucky cheese addict with a nap schedule. Relationships get harder as those people grow older, crankier, and sharper with their own opinions.

And let’s not forget the changing family dynamics. No longer the only child, Miss C’s assumed the role of big sister, and with it, the balance of being a kid and being a helper to us. Martin’s time and attention is more divided now, too, and let’s face it, with age comes less energy and patience that seemed to be in abundance just years ago.

Oh, and then there’s “the change” itself. The one that is slowly, but surely creeping into the household with the occasional eye roll, stomped foot, and slammed door.

Add all of this together along with homework demands, a household chores list, great expectations, and a genetically-identical sense of stubbornness, and you can see why there’s been a shift in the relationship between Martin and Miss C in recent times.

Instead of having to sneak into the conversations between the two, I’ve often found myself having to run interference, to be a referee when the two can’t make sense of each other.

The shift in their relationship isn’t worrisome, but just more complicated.

So when the opportunity came for those two to take a break and go off on an adventure together, we jumped at it. On a whim in early December, I checked to see if Yo-Yo Ma was performing anywhere local for the holidays. Miss C is taking cello lessons this year, and adores the famed cellist. As it turned out, Yo-Yo Ma was performing that very weekend at the Kennedy Center here in DC, but the show as completely sold out.

But I did see that the next possible East Coast opportunity to see him was in New Jersey in early January. That’s only a few hours by car, and there were still good seats available for really decent prices. I called up Martin and we added up the numbers — gas, hotel, tickets, a new dress, etc. It all fit nicely in our holiday budget, so we went for it, deciding that Martin would be the one to take her.

On Christmas morning, Miss C was thrilled when she opened up the box to find the tickets. January couldn’t come soon enough!

Finally, though, the big day arrived, and she and Martin buckled up into the car and drove north to New Jersey. Later this week, Miss C herself will share her experience about the concert. So I won’t share all the details here.

But I will say that it brought me so much joy as Martin sent me updates throughout their trip, telling me about the awesome time they had reconnecting away from homework and chores, household responsibilities, and the younger two kids.

He sent me photos and texts of Miss C getting some beauty sleep before the big event, and their view from the hotel.

Shopping for shoes when they realized Miss C’s feet no longer fit her black ones. How he let her pick new ones with just a little bit of heel that “sounded like Mom” when she walked in them.

Taking her out to eat and helping her put on just the right amount of eyeshadow for the special occasion.

How she jumped up and applauded when Yo-Yo Ma walked out on stage, as if he was Justin Bieber.

And how Martin watched Miss C talk so easily with the other music-goers, many who were decades older than she, and who were surprised to see someone her age in attendance.

Someone who is such a young lady now …. but never too grown up for time with her Dad.

One of my favorite pics of those two, from 2007.

Believing in Believing

Christmas morning 2005

I was sitting at the computer, updating our Christmas card mailing list.

She was standing next to me, working on an art project at the kitchen table. We’d been talking about random things, but at that moment, it was quiet. Her dad and sister were asleep on the floor next to the Christmas tree. Patches der Hund sat at our feet.

She broke the silence by asking if she could ask a question. Without looking up from my work, I answered yes, of course, ask away.

And so she asked. Straightforward and certain. No hesitation.

“Are you and Dad really Santa Claus?”

Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with my coworker about this very thing.

We were talking about that time in our own youth when we found out the truth. Or rather, when the truth dawned on us and we asked our parents to confirm. My coworker mentioned that there was about a two-year period where he knew, but he didn’t want to know, and he clung to the belief before finally, he just asked.

Martin and I had been talking about this moment, the questioning of Santa, too. Actually, we’ve been discussing it for years, beginning as newlyweds figuring out how to combine the German and American Christmas traditions of our Catholic families. Some things were the same, of course. While growing up, both of us participated in Christmas pageants depicting the Nativity, and caroling hymns and Christmas songs around the neighborhood.

And we still observe Advent, learn about Jesus’ birth, attend Christmas services, and participate in community outreach, such as Toys for Tots and food and clothing drives.

But what about Santa Claus and other secular holiday traditions?

For example, my house is covered in lights and tinsel the day after Thanksgiving while Martin’s family doesn’t put out a single decoration until Christmas Eve, when they put up the tree. And I used to feel weird having the tree still up for New Years, but his family doesn’t take theirs down until January 6.

That’s one area we combined tradition: our tree goes up after Thanksgiving and stays up until Epiphany.

In Germany, Martin and his siblings got treats left overnight in their shoes on St. Nicholas Day every December 6. Family members exchanged gifts with each other Christmas Eve, meaning everyone could sleep in before a big breakfast and church on Christmas Day.

I had a much different experience growing up in Cincinnati. Santa Claus was very real in our house, and I have very sweet memories of anticipating his visit with my sisters. Writing letters. Checking the sky for reindeer. Waiting for hours at the mall to see the REAL Santa himself. Leaving cookies and milk on the table. And then the excitement of Christmas morning! Waking up early with my sisters, sneaking downstairs to take stock first before waking the parents.

All very magical memories I wanted my children to enjoy, too.

With one of Santa’s most awesome helpers, Christmas 2004

So Martin and I embraced Santa Claus when we became parents. And at one point, Martin officially became one of his helpers while we were over in Italy.

However, the discussion about Santa Claus always comes up at least once every Christmas. Not always by us, but by others. Sometimes this was a positive thing, as we have friends of different faiths and traditions, and we all share our observances with each other.

Other times, discussions about Santa were more cynical, as we know folks who believe the whole idea of Santa is just wrong, who think nothing of pointing out to Martin and me that we are lying to our children.

“They will never trust you again when they find out the truth,” they warned us.

To that, though, I’ve always just smiled and nodded while dunking my combat boots in the ash of our fireplace to create the illusion of Santa’s footprints to and from the fireplace to our tree.

Because I knew how I handled the truth when I learned it, and I was confident my kids would react the same way. After all, my kids know Christmas isn’t all about Santa. They also know that not every family celebrates or believes in Santa, and that’s okay. It just so happens that we believe.

And I always said, when the moment comes, I will tell the truth.

That moment came on Friday.

And I told her the truth.

It turned out to be one of the sweetest conversations I’ve had with my daughter. When she asked, I turned completely in my chair to face her. I asked her reasons for wondering. A boy in her class claimed to have caught his parents on video putting presents under the tree.

And you can’t argue with an iPhone video.

Plus, she admitted, she had her suspicions about the logistics.

I told her she was right on schedule: that I was exactly her age when I asked that question.

“I was in the fourth grade, too,” I explained.

“Like me?”

“Exactly like you. I forget what made me do it, but I do remember I asked my mom, just like you did.”

“You did?” She looked relieved.

“I did,” I said, “And I learned the whole truth.”

So I spilled the beans. I told her about St. Nicholas, how he was a real person who gave gifts, and how the whole tradition of Santa Claus evolved to what it is today. How there’s definitely the spirit of Santa, and how her dad and I do what we can to make the whole experience something really wonderful for her and her siblings.

“So, you guys buy all the gifts for us? Isn’t that really expensive?” she asked, her face scrunched with concern.

“Don’t even worry about that,” I said. “We save, and your grandparents send toys, too. We enjoy getting those things for you.”

“But my iPod?” she asked, referring to her big gift from a few years ago. “That must have cost a lot. I feel bad for losing it so often now.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. She was genuinely concerned. But then her face changed.

“And what about the Tooth Fairy?” she asked. I nodded.

“The Easter Bunny, too,”I admitted.

She shook her head. But there was a clever smile on her face. She started listing a lot of the things she remembered from over the years, little things Santa did to our living room or wrote in his letters, and I explained how I did it all, although I told her I was still going to keep some secrets for myself.

After all, I wanted her to still enjoy Christmas, too, and to surprise her come Christmas morning.

I pointed out, though, that now that she knew the truth, she needed to be mindful that other kids, especially younger kids, still believe, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also pointed out that she could now help her Dad and me to make the time special for her sister and brother.

Her face absolutely lit up.

Miss C and Lola, Christmas morning 2009

“Oh, that would be awesome,” she said. “I could be like an elf, and come up with all kinds of ideas. Like, we could put glitter on the fireplace with the footprint. And I can totally let you guys know what Lola wants for Christmas. Oh, and can I help you go shopping now? I’m really good at that.”

I laughed and took her hands.

“Are you mad at us for being Santa Claus? Do you feel like we lied to you?”

“No, not mad. Definitely not mad. You didn’t lie to me. You made Santa real for me. But, Mom?” she asked. “Is it okay if I sometimes forget we had this conversation, and I believe in Santa again?”

I gave her a hug.

“Of course,” I told her. “Because I do the same thing all the time.”

Believing in the spirit of Santa, and the goodness of my daughter, and the love and magic of this season.

All the time.