6868

It starts with the obvious.

This is the last time we’ll stay in this house when we visit my family in Ohio.

It moves on to the slightly ridiculous.

It’s the last time we’ll order pizza from Marsella’s. The last time Dad will make chocolate milkshakes in this kitchen. The last time we’ll grill in this backyard. The last time I’ll walk barefoot up this driveway.

Hey, this is the last time I’ll take a shower in the basement! (Yay!)

It ends with the sentimental.

It’s the last night I’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom. The last time we’ll all be here together.

Mom, Dad, Brother, Me

Mom, Dad, Brother, Me

Last weekend, I said goodbye to my childhood home.

After 19 years, my parents are leaving the house we moved into the summer before my 8th grade year. It’s the house I have the clearest memories in, the one I most associate with growing up.

I can still picture the way my bedroom looked when I was a teenager who blasted angsty music on a loop from my sleek(ish) black boombox. I can see the X-Files and Jim Thome posters scotch-taped to the back of the door. The hand-me-down 13-inch black and white TV propped up on the wooden bookshelf. The impressively vast collection of pink stuffed pigs.

I remember the morning I hugged my brother goodbye in the kitchen of that house as he packed up and left for college. I remember navigating my first car up the driveway of that house 15 minutes after proudly buying it. I remember eating cheesecake squares in the basement of that house during my high school graduation party.

I remember the day I packed up my bedroom to move to Arizona. I remember the time I brought my six-month-old baby back to that house and introduced him to his cousins.

cousins 2011

March 2011

It’s a three-bedroom ranch, the perfect house for a young family of four. But young families age and change, and the house is no longer perfect for a couple with two grown children, their spouses and four grandchildren. For one thing, the dining room can only hold about half of our crew. (A good problem to have as far as problems go, but still, it makes everything from a casual pizza lunch to a full-on holiday dinner somewhat of a challenge.)

It’s time for my parents to move on.

I’m excited for them to get everything they want and deserve out of their next home, a brand new house that will come equipped with the exact layout and countertops and flooring and paint colors they choose. (Also, I don’t mind that the set-up in the new house is going to be more ideal for us when we visit with our kid.)

newhouse

The lot where their new home will be built. They’re on a lake!

Still, my heart ached a bit at the end of the weekend as we packed up our car and began to pull away.

I rolled down my window and called out to my parents, “It’s the last time we back out of the driveway!”

My mom sighed and rolled her eyes as my dad called back, “If you ever want to do it again, just drive by and pull into the driveway. I’m sure the new owners won’t mind.”

Good point. Maybe I will.

We’re still sensory-activity’ing it up around here. In case you were wondering.

I am particularly loving right now because sensory activities take much less planning and happen much more organically when you can, you know, go OUTSIDE.

(I’m officially reacclimatized to the East Coast, taking a jab at winter when it isn’t even winter.)

First and foremost, nothing entertains my kid for long stretches of time like a sandy beach and an ocean shore:

IMG_3154

IMG_3146

Unfortunately, we live a few hours from the beach, so that can’t happen every day. But what can happen practically every day (as long as it doesn’t rain) is this:

IMG_3713

If it does rain, we ditch the pool in search of the neighborhood’s best puddles:

IMG_4010

Yet, it’s July already (wha-huh?), so even those activities are starting to get a bit redundant. So back to Pinterest I go, in search of outdoor sensory activities. My new favorite is …

SidewalkPaint

I used an old muffin tin that was long past its prime (you could also use a leftover plastic cupcake holder from a store/bakery or a bunch of disposable plastic cups). I filled the cups a little less than halfway with corn starch, added an equal amount of water and then several drops of food coloring.

IMG_4143

The more food coloring you use, the more vibrant your paint will dry. I added tons of color for the yellow paint thinking that color might be too light on the sidewalk … it turned out to be the most brilliant of the batch.

IMG_4163

This looks like a messy project, but it really wasn’t. I kept wipes nearby for our hands and a downpour the next day washed away the rest.

My mom got into it, too.

My mom got into it, too.

I’m not done, though. I also want to do:

And on and on and on. I hope that one day, many years from now, Ryan will look back on his childhood and say, “Wow, my mom dreamed up some wildly random activities for me as a kid.”

For more sensory (or just plain fun) ideas, visit my Sensory Play Page on the blog or my Activities for Kids board on Pinterest where I pin all the awesome sensory magic I can find. Also, if you have a fun summer craft/activity idea for kids, please comment here so we can all benefit from your creativity.

Ryan isn’t even four years old yet and I’m already starting to feel like I’m getting close to using up all my sentimental / affordable / unique / easy gift ideas for his dad.

I’ve designed photo books filled with pictures of Mike and Ryan together. I’ve made photo cards and photo plaques. Cards that Ryan has colored, cards with painted handprints. One time, in a rare moment of creativity, I dreamed up a pretty cool hand-painted DAD stencil print.

I thought long and hard about Mike’s Father’s Day gift this year. I had no new ideas. Therefore, I decided to steal my friend’s idea, something she has done for her husband every year since her oldest was born: a little D-A-D photo shoot.

FathersDay

I like that this gift is something you can easily update every year. I like that the pictures show their personalities and how they’ve changed during the past 12 months. I like that once you buy the letters (a few dollars each at any craft store) and a picture frame (I scored this one for $4), the gift will only cost you about 15 minutes of time and less than a buck in prints in subsequent years.

But the best part?

Oh, the best part is the outtakes…

Kissing the chair ... why?? WHY.

Kissing the chair … why?? WHY.

IMG_3783

Continuing to tolerate the shoot. Barely.

IMG_3766

He’s done.

I really need to create a folder on my computer labeled “Pictures for Ryan’s High School Graduation Slideshow” so I can add that last one to it.

What are your favorite DIY gifts for Dad? Mike has a birthday in a few months and now I’m really out of ideas.

But you have to let me watch a show, Mommy! You HAVE to!

The only thing I HAVE to do is die and pay taxes,” I shot back without thinking.

Wait, what?

Did I really just say that?

Did I seriously just channel my father* with one of those phrases? One of the most sigh-inducing, eye-roll-worthy phrases of my childhood?

He’s not the only one I channel lately. You should see how I open my mouth and my mother comes stumbling out.

I never, never, never thought I would demand that Ryan ask for something nicely by saying “Please, beautiful Mommy.” Because Oh For The Love Of All That Is Holy, It Is So Annoying.

Yet, I do. And unfortunately, I was outed when my mom recently asked Ryan to say “Please, beautiful Grandma,” and he repeated it so quickly and easily that she peered at me out of the corner of her eye and mumbled, “Hmmm … seems like it wasn’t the first time he was asked to say something like that …

Shit.

All of a sudden, the because-I-said-so’s and the when-you-grow-up-and-have-your-own-kids-you-can’s are flying out my mouth.

We do become our parents, don’t we?

I think I know why that is. I think it’s because our kids become us.

Ryan is blessed to grow up smack-dab in the center of Middle Class America, just as I was, just as my husband was. We have enough money to meet every one of Ryan’s needs and a decent portion of his wants. Basically, he gets just enough to leave him perpetually wanting more.

Middle class kids whine because they have a pool but not a sprinkler. A tricycle but not a bike. They have their own little watering can but, oh tragedy, they don’t have their own little rake. So they sit and fume in their personal kid-sized adirondack chairs, unaware that other kids around the world are working their childhoods away in sweatshops. They sob because you put the ketchup on the wrong side of the dinner plate while other kids their age starve.

It’s a little bit infuriating. Because as an adult, I can appreciate how hard it is to work and provide. As a wife and a mother, I know I was lucky to be born into a loving, two-parent family. I read (and write) the news, so I know a happy, easy life is not a given. I’ve worked with kids who battled cancer, so I know a healthy childhood should never be taken for granted.

I didn’t know any of those things as a child, and I’m glad Ryan can grow up innocently enough to not know them either. Even so, when he tells me I have to put a cartoon on TV for him, I become the tiniest bit outraged. Because actually, NO, I don’t. I don’t have to put on a show. I don’t have to take you to the playground. I don’t have to take you back to Disney World. I don’t have to buy you yet another giant ball – in addition to the two you already have – to kick around the backyard as you complain that I am, once again, not playing the game right.

All I have to do is die and pay taxes

FOOTNOTES

*Technically, Benjamin Franklin said it (or a variation of it) first. But kudos to my Dad for helping keep the sentiment alive for another generation.

I posted last month about how Ryan adamantly does not want to grow up.

I should have titled that post “Things Ryan Insists Upon On a Daily Basis, Part 1″.

Part 2 would be this:

His. Name. Is. RYAN. You ignorant fool!

It began innocently enough. We’d call out to him with something cute like, “Come on, ya little tater tot, let’s go!

And he’d respond with unexpected fury: ”I. Am. Not. A. Tater. Tot! My. Name. Is. RYAN!

Or we’d give him a compliment:

Wow, you look so tan!

I’m not tan! My name is Ryan!

Or we’d demonstrate respect:

“Oh, yes sir!”

“I’m not a sir! My name is Ryan!”

Naturally, as soon as we discovered the heightened level of annoyance he felt at being called a random name, we could no longer control it. Cutesy nicknames began flying about with abandon.

On any give day, he might be a Hummus Head, Stinker Face or Buster Brown. We might make reference to the fact that he appears to resemble a hot dog, a rhino or a snicker doodle.

Each name is met with the same sort of infuriated resistance. “I. Am. NOT. A. Potato Chip! My Name is Ryan!

I have good news, though. Occasionally, at the end of his rant, he adds that he is a “big boy.” For example: “I am not a little beach bum! My name is Ryan The Big Boy!

Perhaps we’re making progress on Part 1?

When Ryan was a baby, I couldn’t wait for him to talk.

I wondered what his voice would sound like and how he would pronounce things.

I thought it would be so funny when we hit the phase of the incessant questions.

When they can’t talk, notions like that seem so quaint, don’t they?

You think you’ll be the first mom who won’t get annoyed with the bam-bam-bam-bam-bam rapid fire questions minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day after day. Cuz, aw, they’re just curious and we want to encourage that curiosity and someday they won’t care what the heck we think so let’s appreciate it now.

Well, we’ve arrived and it turns out I’m not one to traipse along the side of the high road on this one. Instead, I’m snapping things like “Good lord, no more questions!” and “BecauseBecauseBecauseBecause!”

We had our house ducts and vents cleaned out today. (Which, by the way? When you move into a new home, do this right away. You don’t want to live with the knowledge that you’ve been breathing in someone else’s dog’s hair for 10 months. You just don’t.)

Anyway, after the nice duct-cleaning gentlemen left, we jumped into the car to head to tumbling class as Ryan asked a question that I naturally couldn’t answer: “But … where are the cleaning guys going now?

I could have been honest. I could have simply said, “I don’t know.” However, this not being my first rodeo, I know that “I don’t know” only prompts him to repeat the question over and over until we’re yelling at each other, “BUT WHERE ARE THEY GOING?” / “I. SAID. I. DON’T. KNOW.”

So, I made something up. I told him they were going home.

Ryan: Where do they live?

Me: Uh….. Allentown.

Ryan: But what street do they live on?

Me: Uh….. Allentown Street.

Ryan: Oh. Where is Allentown Street?

Me: In Allentown.

Ryan: Oh, right.

(There is a brief moment of silence; I begin celebrating internally that I have somehow managed to satisfy his curiosity on the topic of Where the Duct Guys Live.) But then…

Ryan: Wait, where is Allentown?

Me: Sigh. West of here.

Ryan: West of here??

Me: Yes.

Ryan: WEST of here?!

Me: Yes, west of here.

Ryan (pointing out the window): Wait, is THAT their house?!

Me: No, that can’t be their house. Because they live in Allentown.

Ryan: Ohhhhhh, right.

Finally, he was satisfied. That satisfaction freed him up to spend the remaining 7 minutes of the 10-minute ride asking me who was going to coach his tumbling class today and where was Coach Jen last week and why was she busy last week and where would the new coach lady be today if Coach Jen was back at his class and why why why why why?

On the plus side, at least I know that his voice is cute and he does pronounce certain words in a childishly endearing way. So there’s that.

Time passes so quickly in a place with four seasons. The heat melts away as vibrant leaves fall from the trees; then sheets (upon sheets upon sheets) of snow finally relent to make way for budding flowers, signaling the fast approach of the same heat you started with.

It’s a bit of a whirlwind. I’d sort of forgotten that.

East Coast seasons mark the passage of time in a way that the endless summers of the Southwest can’t. Each season is beautiful in its own way and they all feel so fleeting, so I find myself desperately attempting to commit every detail to memory.

I’m the idiot you see driving around, wide-eyed and swerving, marveling at the trees, the sky, the flowers, the everything. It changes so fast; I don’t want to miss a moment.

Right now, I’m in awe of the way the large trees are forming a green, flowered canopy over every side street. I take deep breaths as Ryan and I drive around town with all four windows down and the music blasting. I’m loving the way it feels humid after it rains, the smell of fresh cut grass, the way the sun warms my bare feet.

Also? Ryan’s first year of preschool has come to a close. As of Friday, we are officially on summer break.

How is that possible? Didn’t I just take this picture:

First day of preschoolSeptember, 2013

First day of preschool
September 2013

(Those shoes look so new and HUGE on him … Now they are faded, worn and small.)

Before I knew it, I was taking this picture:

Last day of preschoolMay 2014

Last day of preschool
May 2014

I thought I was going to be a little wary of the school year coming to a close. After all, having a few mornings to myself each week to grocery shop, run errands, watch Real Housewives, etc, is not entirely unpleasant.

But I’m excited to have the extra time with Ryan. He had a bit of a rough year in preschool. In hindsight, maybe he just wasn’t ready for it this year. The summer break feels like the perfect chance to regroup, slow down and refocus on having fun and allowing him to be a kid.

In preparation, I did what I do best: I came up with a plan for how we should spend all this extra time we’re going to have together.

The 2014 Phase Three of Life Summer Bucket List

Summer Bucket List 2014

I love mini seasonal bucket lists. I think the key with these is to not live and die by them. If I don’t make homemade crabcakes all summer, I’m not going to berate myself. These lists simply help me focus on what is really important at the beginning of a season and provide me with creative ideas on those inevitable boring, uninspired days.

Each change of season feels like you’re trading in one kind of awesome for another. Before we know it, the outdoor BBQs will give way to indoor pots of soup, we’ll trade in our ice cream for hot cocoa, and Ryan will be slinging a brand new school bag over his shoulder every morning.

So for now, I’m going to focus on the awesomeness that is having my son home with me every day to be lazy, to explore, to enjoy the outdoors and to create memories.

Mother’s Day is a good opportunity to take a long look around and appreciate.

0054

Today, I’m feeling grateful for a certain little boy.

Ryan2

Three and a half years into this parenting gig, I’m still quite sure I have no idea what I’m doing.

Ryan1

Each stage seems more complicated than the last, every day is full of new doubts.

Ryan3

Like any mother, I second-guess myself a lot.

Ryan4

But I’m learning. He’s teaching me.

Ryan6

He teaches me that even the tough days are a blessing because I get to spend them with him.

Ryan8

I get to see, in a hundred little ways each day, how smart he is. How creative, how compassionate.

Ryan7

I get to watch him grow up. I get to be his soft place to land.

Ryan9

Today is a chance to marvel at what a privilege it is to be his mom.

 

*****

Past Mother’s Day posts:

2013: I reminisced about a sweet mother/son moment

2012: I recovered from food poisoning

2011: I flooded the downstairs neighbor’s condo

 

One of the biggest responsibilities that comes with raising a little boy is ensuring he grows up to be a respectful man. While I want Ryan to be the sort of man who values and appreciates a strong, independent woman, I also want him to hold the door open for her.

Although this is important to me, I’d never really thought about the specifics of how or when to teach this to him. Luckily for us, Ryan has taken the guesswork out of it by making it pretty clear that the lessons should start now.

Ryan likes doors, you see. He likes to open them, he likes to close them. Which would be so perfect if he used this talent to politely open doors for folks. Instead, he is more likely to run ahead of you screaming, “I’M GOING FIRST!” before proceeding to open and close the door repeatedly, usually in someone’s face.

So, ok. Time to work on being a gentleman.

The first time I introduced the concept, it went a little something like this:

A gentleman, I told him, always lets a lady go first. Are YOU a gentleman?

Nope, he replied.

Oh, I said.

IMG_1574

Mine. Door is all mine.

I then spent a full week reiterating the concept of a gentleman. That nice, grown-up guys like Daddy try to do kind things for others, especially ladies. They like to be helpful by doing things like opening doors. Gentlemen don’t run in front of ladies to get through a doorway first, I explained. Gentlemen open doors and let the ladies go in first. 

Finally, after several resistant days of this, Ryan and I were getting ready to walk down the stairs to have breakfast.

You should go first, Mommy, cuz you’re a lady and I’m a gentleman,” he told me sweetly.

I beamed. I glowed. I teared up. I may have even heard the faint chorus of “Hallelujah” off in the distance.

I thanked him, gushed about what a gentleman he was and walked ahead of him down the stairs to the first landing.

As my feet hit the landing near the bottom, Ryan dove ahead of me to race down the last few stairs, yelling behind him: Now it’s your turn to be a gentleman and let the Big Boy go first!

Last month, my whole family packed up and headed to Disney World.

I always thought I had a fairly small family until we all rolled into the Art of Animation Resort’s lobby, pulling suitcases and kids behind us. It was the three of us plus my parents, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my brother, his wife and his three girls.

That’s 10 adults and 4 kids, in case you lost count. It’s a small family but a big group, you know?

We were there in honor of my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary, which is so awesome and yet slightly unfair considering they were the ones funding most of the trip. (Hey, thanks and Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!)

Anyway, the trip. Was all kinds of amazing. Thus, I feel it my duty to offer you my very best advice on navigating such a trip with a young one/multiple young ones.

How to make the Magic Kingdom extra magical with littles

DisneyTips

1. Stay someplace awesome. We stayed in the Nemo wing of the Art of Animation Resort, which was great because it was located front and center of the resort, putting it closest in proximity to the lobby, the gift shop, the cafeteria and the resort’s largest pool (i.e., the least amount of walking at the end of the day).

Also? Our whole room looked like this:

IMG_1837

One cannot possibly dwell on the fact that one’s feet feel like they are about to fall off when one is sitting in a room room where the lights look like bubbles and the headboards are painted with fish. It’s psychologically impossible.

2. Get the cheesy group T-shirts. If you’re not sure how 10 independent, opinionated adults are going to mesh for days on end, just buy them all matching family T-shirts. The camaraderie we felt wearing shirts that proclaimed our family was “celebrating 35 magical years” – and the shouts of congratulations we got along the way – made us grin and pose for several (hundred) photos.

IMG_2085

My parents and all their grandkids.

IMG_2091

My grandparents and all their great-grandkids.

IMG_2131

My uncle and aunt.

IMG_2132

Me and my youngest niece, Kyleigh, anxiously awaiting the magic carpet ride.

IMG_2136

One of the best moments of the trip: Looking ahead of me and seeing a sea of blue shirts and thumbs up. Love, love, love.

IMG_2139

Mike and our middle niece, Kaitlyn. (The kids had matching Mickey shirts that color-coordinated with the adults’ shirts.)

3. Decide what is really important to you. Let the rest go.

What was important for us was that Ryan had fun and made a couple of lasting memories.

IMG_1940

Like riding the Dumbo ride a half a dozen times because it was his absolute favorite.

Also? Mickey ice cream bars = very important.

Also, Mickey ice cream bars? So important for a successful Disney trip, as far as my dad, my brother and I are concerned. While the rest of the family was licking some boring vanilla cones, we snuck off for this must-have treat. SUCKERS.

These are vital to a successful Disney trip, as far as my dad, my brother and I are concerned. While the rest of the family was licking some boring vanilla cones, we snuck off for this must-have treat. SUCKERS.

And, of course, an epic group picture of the kids is a goal of any outing. We got a few good ones.

Pretty sure they weren't supposed to be wet.

Pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be wet.

IMG_2220

Don’t worry. If it falls, they’ve totally got it under control.

Just 7 months apart and could be twins from behind.

Unprompted hand-holding makes me swoon. Just 7 months apart and could be twins from behind.

4. Don’t push it. We recognized that Ryan is a mere three-and-a-half years old. He’s not built to walk the Magic Kingdom/Epcot all day long for four straight days. We paced ourselves, we did half days at the park whenever possible and we got back to the hotel (see also: #1 Stay Someplace Awesome) with plenty of time left for this sort of stuff:

Splash pad

Splash pad

Pool

Pool

Playground

Playground

Random resort tours with Mom and Dad the allow for family photos on the top of Cars movie props.

Random resort walks with Mom and Dad to take family photos on top of Cars movie props.

The whole trip was … well, magical. Naturally.