Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary

 When I was sixteen I met my husband. While I was delaying going to class, I was introduced to Eric by my teacher mother as Eric handed in a paper. It was mortifying as she exclaimed, "OH! Abbey, this is Eric! Eric, this is Abbey! Now you can date!" in front of her class. But when I looked past the hot pink cheeks and into Eric's eyes, I knew that I was going to marry him. And, here we are. Five years after our marriage and almost twelve years into our relationship, we sit on opposite sides of the country wishing that we were able to spend the day, heck, a nice quiet meal, together.

Our Wedding- June 28, 2008
I recently celebrated my ten year reunion from High School, while I was there, my former classmates were disappointed that they didn't get to see Eric. When they apologized that he was working in Colorado and kind of shook their head at the sad military wife who was alone, I thought it'd be appropriate to let them know that it was okay. We could handle it. Over the past four years we'd spent approximately 4,000 hours apart each year. That's almost three full time jobs (assuming a 40 hour work week). When I told them that, they looked at me like I was nuts. Someone pointed out that I also had two children to care for and I was "essentially a single parent". True. And, true. Later that evening, I was asked by an old friend after I commented that Eric and I didn't have a lot in common, how we made our marriage work. I thought about it for a second and answered, "Because he challenges me, every single day".

I didn't make the "we don't have anything in common" comment as a jab to Eric. I meant it as fact. We enjoy different hobbies, we enjoy different foods, sports, activities, ideas on what is relaxing and we even have our battles politically. But we always can enjoy a nice bottle of wine, a five star cheese spread and conversation. When I think about the question, "What makes your marriage work?"(which I've been thinking about for a few days now) I keep coming back to the same few things: we have the same morals. We have the same beliefs. We love to entertain and laugh. We're suckers for The Voice and America's Got Talent. We understand alone time and how to better ourselves. We acknowledge that we are not perfect, and don't have a perfect marriage. But we always are trying to better it, through books, conversation starters and conversations between us, we strive hard to do what the other person needs us to do. We constantly try to be better for us and most importantly, for each other.

When we met, you have to understand that while we were wildly in love, we weren't ready to get married. We talked about it all the time and even though Eric dragged his feet on popping the question (I actually asked first), we both knew it would happen. In our dating period, we went to different schools, had different friends, studied different things and aspired to be the best at what we were good at. We always took pride in what the other person was doing, but we did what was good for us individually.

Eventually, the distance got to us and that longing, aching, brutal thing called love got in our way. I moved to Colorado and finished up school while Eric was at the Air Force Academy. Even when I moved to Colorado, Eric and I lived very separate lives. I worked and was active in Model UN while Eric played hockey. But when we got together, it was as if time hadn't passed. We'd pick up right where we left off and head out on an adventure. And adventure is what our life has become today.

We are by no means a normal family, shoot, we actually chose to live apart for six months, but we are truly, madly and more in love than we were five years ago. As I've gotten to know Eric more and as we've entered the phases of our lives (teen-ager, college student, fiancé, newlyweds, first time parents, and old married couple) we've discovered more ways to love one another than we could ever imagine.

It's not the fairy tale like we're told when we're young. You don't just fall in love and have it last a life time. You have to fight to be in love. You have to fight to keep a marriage. When we were teens I loved Eric for his kind spirit, his friendly attitude and his passion for hockey. As a college student I loved him for his intellect and drive. As a fiancé I hated hockey, but loved and supported his determination and dream of being a pro-hockey player. As a newlywed I learned to love Eric as a provider and caregiver. As a first time parent, I loved Eric's gentile soul and patience as he held his sons as they screamed at us for no reason. And now, as an old married couple I love that Eric would do anything for us and me. That he's always going ask me a million questions about my newest venture and even play Devil's advocate, but still be on the sideline as my biggest supporter. I love that he's got more integrity than the Air Force requires, more heart than he lets on, and strength enough to move mountains (or as our sons believe, strong enough to physically carry all of their toys from Minot to Colorado).

Just because I sound big and tough with my marriage advice, doesn't mean that I don't miss him. It doesn't mean that I don't want to spend my anniversary with my husband, go on romantic getaway or just stay in bed all day. Because I want all of those things. I want to go back to the place we got married and take pictures of where we are now. Not because Five Year Anniversary Pictures are in these days, but because in five years, Eric and I have been through more than most people have in a life time. Because in five years we've accomplished more tasks together than apart. Because in five years we've learned and relearned how to be in love and what love is. Because, we've fought and cried, and sometimes suffered through the pain because we knew it was worth it still. Because we still love to laugh. Because we love to kiss and be in each other's arms. Because we could still stay up all night and talk until the sun rises. Because we're still best friends. Because we've become a team, a unit, one.

Today I went back to the place we were married. I took the boys with me. I walked around the mansion and grounds and told the boys that this is where mom and dad were married. They didn't care, and they don't even know what married means. But as I walked through the room I put my dress on, I could visualize every detail of that day. Where every one was, who helped me put on my dress, when Eric and I had our First Look, the taste of the champagne, the butterflies in my stomach, the smell of the hot, sweaty, Summer air. As we walked the grounds I saw our guests dancing, playing games and having one heck of a party. I saw our first dance, and even tasted our cake. It was like it was yesterday. I wanted Eric to be there with me. I wanted to have him remember those things too. I wanted to have him twirl me around the back yard and break into our choreographed dance while we laughed and probably fell to the ground.

2008 and 2013
Instead, I chased my sons around the yard and laughed as they twirled around and got dizzy. I had a picnic on the back porch, enjoyed a beautiful Summer day, changed two poopy diapers, and picked up giant ants so the boys could see them better. See, while it would be nice to have that romantic, movie, time travel moment, I actually have the fairy tale I always dreamed up. Eric looked like a prince, I looked like a princess. And we had a Pinterest wedding before it even existed. We were high school sweet hearts, got a dog, we got married and drove off to California for a year. We bought a house, got some good jobs and had two kids. While we don't go on as many real adventures as we used to, we get to slay dragons, build extravagant buildings and forts and have cozy campfires in our back yard. We get to stay up and talk as long as we want. We get to snuggle in to one another at night and we get to be together, no matter what.

Our love isn't as romantic as it used to be, I'd say we aren't swooning over one another anymore. We can keep our hands to ourselves and often have two little boys sleeping in our bed with us, but our love is real. It's no make-up, it's keep the door open when you go to the bathroom, it's sex with the lights on. It's rainy day hair, puke pajamas and hockey stink. It's also mature, and deep. It's a love that you only get to experience after a lot of respect and trust goes into the other person. It's a comfortable place. I'm not saying we don't like to get dressed up and put effort into ourselves to impress the other person, I'm saying we don't have to. I know that Eric isn't going anywhere. He knows I'm in it for the long haul. We just know, that no matter what, we're there for each other.

So even today, on our anniversary, while Eric is off acquiring things for the Air Force and I'm knee deep in a frog pond, we know that despite our distance and the lack of gifts or cards, that this anniversary is just as important and just as special as our wedding day.  Each year on our anniversary I re-read our vows. It's honorific to the day and a good reminder of what is to come in the next year. It's also a reminder of what we can improve at and how we can make sure we live up to our promises to one another.

Five years ago Eric said this to me: "Abbey, I promise from this day forward that we will forever share our lives together. You will be my equal and my best friend. I promise to make the most out of every day together, even though life can be difficult and complicated, no matter what, I promise to work through it. I pledge to you that no matter the obstacle, our love will remain and strengthen. I will do my best to be a good husband and a good friend. I promise to help you achieve your goals and support you in your times of need. I will never stop loving you, never lose faith in us and never give up on you. I love you".

And I replied: "Eric, today, I am forever yours. I promise to continue to support, encourage and inspire you. I promise to laugh with you, talk with you and make you smile. I promise to be there for you in times of sorrow and struggle, in good times and in bad, when our love is simple and when it is complex. I promise to respect you and honor you and hold you in the highest regard, always and forever".

After we completed our vows, our officiant said, "Eric this is Abbey, Abbey this is Eric, now you are married. Kiss your bride"And just like we started dating, we started our life together, and boy, has it been a life. The best one I could have ever imagined.

Our First Look

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All About The Hair

Three weeks after his third birthday, it was time. I couldn't take the "it's time to brush your hair" fight any longer, the curls were slowly drooping and only looked good when wet. I'd tried everything: thinning his hair, using curling gel, even using several spray bottles throughout the day to keep his hair damp, but I just couldn't take the shaggy, matted, mullet, has been hockey player look any longer. It was time for a big boy hair cut.

Part of my delay was that I hated the fact that every three year old boy out there has a buzz cut. Yeah, I get that it's easy, but I liked that my boys had long, blonde curls that bounced when they ran. I liked that they were unique. I liked that they got compliments every where they went for their adorable curls. I was proud that my kids always looked nice when we went out and at least gave the perception that we were a put together family. The other problem that prolonged the bad hair look, was that if I cut it, I knew that he'd instantly appear to look like a boy. I know, I've been talking about how much my kids are grown up since I started the blog, but acting like a big kid is different than looking like one.

I sat Henrik up on the bathroom counter with his feet in the sink, he faced the mirror. I tussled his hair around. It wasn't smooth and soft, it was thick, course and not curly. I took a breath and said aloud, "It's time!" Hank just looked at me. "Time for what?" "Time to be a big boy". I told him to sit still and I started to cut.

As I cut Hank's hair, and the curls started to fall, I started thinking about his babyhood. Each curl I cut was his innocence, his compliance, his naive outlook on life. I remembered his first smile, his first word, his first step, his first jump. (Can you tell I'm a very sentimental and probably over emotional parent?) Henrik asked if he was done. I told him I had a few more cuts, I couldn't believe how well behaved he was during this. During previous trims he'd wiggle and turn his head as quick as possible, forcing me to dodge cutting an ear or cutting on an angle. But today, he was able to sit still and listen when I asked him to turn this way or look down.

I made the last cut, told Henrik to look up and at the mirror. I actually gasped. "Mom, don't I look handsome?" he said with a proud smile. He liked it. "Yes, very handsome, and SO grown up". "Yeah, I'm big now" he said as he sat up a little taller. I brushed off the hairs from his back and let him down, he ran off. I was left looking at the pile of hair on the floor and sink. As I swept, I welled up. I told myself not to cry.

Later that day, Henrik ran around and played like nothing had ever happened. And to him, it was just a hair cut. He probably felt a little cooler in the 90 degree heat, but he didn't know that a simple haircut said so much about who he was now. I just watched him the rest of the day. Unsure if I liked the cut or not, I was stuck with it. And whether or not I liked it, I had an kid that looked his age.

After a few weeks, I look at Henrik and I see a much taller, much more boyish boy. But I like his hair. I actually like it much better than the curly locks he had before. I'll miss those baby curls, but I'm really enjoying this little boy that runs around these days. He's full of adventure, he speaks so eloquently, and he now uses this deeper voice when he uses a larger lexicon for his age. He carries him self like a kid, his mannerisms mock pre-teens and he's full of insight, on everything. I doubt it's the hair that caused this surge in his attitude and behavior, but the hair adds a lot to his whole persona.

Mock me if you want, but one's hair says a lot about them. Color, shape, size and style all indicate who we are and what phase of life we're in. Hairstyles have defined generations and shaped our country since the beginning of time. I realize that for now, I get to call the shots and I get to be the one who dresses my kids, picks their hairstyle and even decides which activities to put them in, but in a few years, I won't get to make those choices and I'll really get to see what kind of boy, or man, Henrik decides to be. To me, it's one of the more stressful, but fun parts to parenting. Call me crazy, but I believe that Henrik likes his hair. I think he notices that he now matches other boys on the playground and I think he's starting to believe that he's a kid and not a baby. While he insists he's only "Little Big" he's starting to cross the line into childhood and I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Just Let Me Poop In Peace

The kids have juice, a snack, fresh diapers and have peed off the deck. They have toys they haven't seen in a while, an episode of Octonauts and phew,  I'm ready. I assume I have more than five, less than eight minutes before I have to be back. I grab my phone and head to the bathroom. I close the door. As soon as I sit down and start to go, Thornado screams. It's not a danger scream, just a warning that he's unhappy. A few seconds later Hank-o-Saurus runs through the hall. Each time he lands the house shakes, then there's Thornado, he's bellowing as he quickly chases his brother and clumsily runs down Hank.

I can tell no one is hurt, but the possibility of a disaster is quickly approaching. I yell from the toilet, "Henrik, you give it back to your brother right now!" Clearly my warning wasn't going to work but it was the best I could do. Thornado starts to roar louder, Hank-o-Sarus has been defeated and starts to moan. The situation has escalated so much that I have no choice but to stop pooping (one of the worst things in the world as I see no chance of a potty break in the next five hours) and calm the storm brewing just outside the bathroom door.

"Just let me poop in peace, boys" I sigh as I redistribute toys and snacks. They look at me with big doe eyes. I just want to poop. Alone. Is that too much to ask? I'm already working a 19 hour day with limited breaks, I already have an open door policy for peeing as I try to encourage the boys to use the potty. I already have to shower with them in the tub or with them locked in the bathroom because I don't trust them to be alone in the house for the twenty-five minutes it takes me to shower, shave and do my hair.

I already have to battle them for counter space when I brush my teeth and soak up the water as they splash around in my toothpaste spit. I'm already gathering up clothes that are thrown from my dresser as I get dressed. I already re-roll the toilet paper as they spin in round and round while I pee, I already make the bed around boys as they jump on it and throw pillows on the floor to make a nest. I already have to have to share everything. Once, every month, can I have a few minutes alone in the bathroom so I can poop? Yes, everyone poops and yes, we are trying to convince our oldest son that the toilet is not the entrance to his worst nightmare, but ohmygod, can I please, have a few minutes of quiet as I try to take a private moment to myself.

I explain to Henrik that I have to poop, he asks if he can come too. I tell him that I'd like to poop alone today, just like he likes to poop in a corner, I prefer to poop by myself on the potty. I ask him to leave his brother alone. He agrees. I change the channel to Barney so that Theo can be occupied for a few minutes while Barney sings and dances and then I slip away again. I sigh, sit down and relax. I hear a knock at the door. "Momma?"

I drop my head. "Yes, Henrik?"
"Mom? Are you pooping?"
"Can I see it?"
"I'm not done yet."
"Can I see it?"


"Sure, when I'm done you can see it."
"Mom? The door is locked, I can't see it."
"I know, Hanky. I'm trying to have some privacy. Can you please wait in the living room until I'm done?"
"Oh, Okay..... Mom?"
I'm defeated. Theo is on his way and starts banging on the door. "Mommy!" he starts to say loudly. The doorknob is furiously twisting, the force on the door is actually impressive.

I'm able to hold them off until I'm done, but as soon as I open the door they literally fall into the bathroom. "Can we see your poop now?" I show them the poop, they both take a look, Theo says, "poop on potty?" I nod. Hank is unimpressed. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You've got nothing to say now? It's been THIRTY-FIVE FREEKING MINUTES of you obsessing about my poop and you're just going to give a half assed look and then walk away?

I flush. I wash up. Theo pushes his way through my body to get to the soap and water. Water goes everywhere. I turn off the light and place Theo just outside the door. He runs down the hall and starts to play nicely with his brother. I'm left cleaning up water and dreaming of the day they don't care what I'm doing and coming up with a strategy for the next time. I wonder if they'd even notice if I left the door open?

The Joys Of A Nap

I know a lot of parents say that their kids stop napping right around age two. I've been lucky that my kids still nap, and sometimes for four hours!  It absolutely gets in the way of play dates and outings, but without it, I'm tortured in a slow and painful way. Recently, the only way I can get them to nap is if I rock them. There is something very magical about that rhythmic rocking and clicking of the rocking chair. It's even soothing to me too. I listen to the classical music, I feel my children drifting away on top of me, our breaths start to sync and when they start to twitch when they are truly asleep, there is just something so angelic about their sleeping faces that I just can't let go of. All of the stress from tantrums, the day, or the battle we had about food is gone. When I see their sleeping faces, the slate is wiped clean. I know that rocking them to sleep is not going to help them sleep in their own beds and I know it's not going to make my night time battles any easier, but there's something I can't let go of.

Sleepy, sick babies
When they were first born, I literally spent the first six weeks of their lives holding them. I just couldn't put them down. I didn't want to. Not for fear that something bad would happen, but because I couldn't get enough of their smell, their soft skin, and the way they nestled right down into me. I loved how they curled up, so tiny in my arms and I could just stare at them. As they grew I tried to sleep train them and even was successful for a while, but when Theo was born things kind of changed. We started rocking more and doing a few more snuggles before bed. It was nice, it was a way to have some one on one time with Hank and it was a way to hang on to that babyness that was too quickly fading away.

Now that they are three and 17 months, I have rediscovered the wonder of the rocking chair. I actually just ordered a new one for our new house because it's a sure way to get them both to sleep in a matter of minutes. I sit here with one of them (or both of them on occasion) in my arms and I'm faced with all sorts of choices: put them down, clean up, take a shower, pee, exercise, eat.... as my arm starts to tingle I readjust them and I'm given an opportunity to make a break for it, but just then, they yawn and snuggle in deeper. I could just sit here. I could just hold you. I could just fall asleep and enjoy the few minutes I have where you're quiet and I'm able to take a break, rest my eyes, listen to Vivaldi and rock, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Oh my gosh, I'm the crazy mother in Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch! I'm the parent that can't let go of their children! Perhaps, but I like to think it's because when they are sleeping, and sleeping in my arms, I'm given the opportunity to study them and get to know them like I did when they were first born. As they grow and change, as they resist hugs and kisses, or even defy me; they allow me this one time a day to treat them like a baby and coddle them. They show me that they despite all of their attempts at independence, they still love me, they still need me and they still want to have me around. 

The only way I could get them to nap at age 4 weeks and 21 months
I know it won't last forever, and if there is one thing that I regret about having a second child, it's the fact that I couldn't sit and hold him for as long as I wanted to. So when I've had a few rough days fighting with my preschoolers, I'm taking the joy of the ever important nap and taking advantage of it fully in ways my children will only know when they too become parents.

Best friends.

A Day In The Life Of A Parent

It's 8:30 pm and both of my kids are asleep. I've got a glass of wine, I'm sitting by the fire and I'm laughing with my parents and brother, but, I'm not happy.

No, it's not like I need anything else and I'm really not taking the on time bedtime for granted, but it that this early bedtime came at the cost of a very fun, late night yesterday, no nap today, a day filled of fishing and swim lessons, sun and Uncle-Nephew bonding. It came with an out of line (and out of control) three year old, an upset Pop Pop, an irate mother and a room full of family members who heard me at my worst: they heard me yell at my son (and not the loud shrieking yell; the low, slow, quiet, finger pointing, stern yell). It came with evil glares, a firm placement in time out and a mother with her face in her son's face as she smooshed his cheeks and told him that he will never act like this again.

As I cover up my boys and walk down stairs I feel ashamed. Not that my boys whined a lot today. Not because they threw fits, not because they were clingy, but because I have the fear (and knowledge) that my children are brats. I've got a three year old who demands things, from food to cars. I've got a three year old who yells "NO" in a tantrum-esque tone when I ask him to come downstairs or to "come here".  I've got a three year old who has weighed the consequences and has decided that there is no threat I can make to get him to eat anything or do anything. I've got a three year old who fights me EVERY time I ask him to pee and will refuse to poop on the potty so he poops in his pants.

I have a 17 month old who says, "Gimme dat" or "I want it" as he shrieks and points at an object, even though he's perfectly able to say a four or  five word sentence to get what he wants. I've got a 17 month old who takes toys from his brother, then runs away laughing just because he can. I've got a 17 month old who doesn't do anything you ask of him, even when it's for his own safety, like "sit down" or "hold on to the railing". Instead, he looks at me, smiles at me and gives me a look like, you won't do anything about it and then does whatever he's about to do.

Most of the time I'm consistent, but it's hard being away from Eric to put in the 200% that these kids need to stay on task. It's true, I've been laying off of them a little bit and letting some things slide.  They always have to say please, but I'll negotiate just to end the battle (bad, I know). I don't always put them in time out because honestly, it's SO MUCH WORK (bad again) especially since it's like a tractor beam: if one kid goes to time out, even if they are angry at one another, the other kid, not in time out runs over and tries to play with the one in time out and I have to keep them separated for three minutes which is WAY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS through laughing and chasing.  For some reason, those damn kids turn into slippery little octopuses and I just can't catch them long enough to make the time out effective. I'm running low on sleep so the sleeping-with-me battle is basically over since both boys have realized that I'm just too exhausted and can't fight with them for more than two hours. Less if the fight starts later in the evening (bad once more). While I've started to ignore and interrupt their fits, I still try to calm them down when other people are around because I don't want to bug the other people. I've let the three year old wear pull ups because it's less work for me to clean up and I know he's not going to poop on the potty anyway. I've still pushed for the peeing on the potty but I've given up and hardly push the poop issue (bad, bad, bad).

At this point you're thinking one of two things:  ONE: Dang, she's got horrible kids and she's a bad mom. Or, TWO. She's over reacting, they are at the testing age! All kids do it.  I guess you could also be thinking that I'm not doing it right, or not pressuring them hard enough, or just taking the easy route and you could still be right.

But I'm stuck where I feel like I'm trapped and I can't see my way out of the whiny, "momma up", "I want snacks" tunnel.  I know that all kids are searching for their independence and they all push right to the line just to see if that line has moved, the problem is: I just expect so much more from my kids. I know they can be better, I know they have been better, I just don't know how to make them better.

I know it's my fault for letting things slip a little bit while I do the parenting thing without Eric.  My parents are excellent at making sure that they stick to the rules and enforce good, nice behavior (so I'm not totally alone, but some days it feels like I am).

Tonight I told Henrik that if he didn't say "please" the first time, he wouldn't get what he asked for, no matter what. I told him that if he ever talked back (or talked sassy) to me, Pop Pop, Mimi, Pal or Gam again that he'd go straight to his room for time out. I told him if he didn't do what I asked him to do the first time I asked, he'd go to time out. I told him that he could no longer fight me on routine things like brushing teeth, brushing hair, taking a bath, going potty or getting dressed. If he did that, he'd go to time out until he was ready to do those things. I told him that if he didn't eat his food then he couldn't have any snacks or milk until the next meal, no matter what. And if he did it at dinner, he'd just have to sit at the table and wouldn't be able to be excused until everyone was done. I told him that I'd take away cars, movies and trips, camp and classes if he was mean to me or threw tantrums. I told him that I was the boss and he had to do what I said, because I'm the mom and he's the kid. Wow, right? He's only three.

Do I mean these things? Yeah, I do. Will I enforce them? I'll really try, I have to try-- for the boys and for me.

The Terrible Twos for Henrik were nothing, The Thunderous Threes are turning out to be horrid. And Theodor is clearly going to have the Terrible Twos, in fact, he's starting early. For weeks I've felt like I'm constantly being challenged on every little thing, even by the baby! No one listens any more and no one cares. In fact, I'm "always cross" according to Hank.

So, who or what is at fault here? Are my kids really brats? Am I too lazy? Right away I'm going to blame the boys for being smart and stubborn, but I'm at fault too. I'm the one who has tolerated an inconsistent punishment pattern, and I'm the one who is sometimes too tired to care. But that has to change. We all have to change. Today was an eye opener for me. Not because I think I'm the best mom in the world. Not because I believed that my children were perfect, but because I saw that there was a flaw in my parenting which caused my boys to quickly find the loophole and to jump on an opportunity. While I really enjoy having fun with my kids, I have to make sure that I'm not just their friend. I have to make sure that they know I'm their mom and I'm the one who is in charge. They have to respect me for that. That respect may not come until they are parents, but it will come, I'm raising adults and they will raise our future, so I'll have to be better.

I realized today, while I gave myself a time out locked in the bathroom, that my kids aren't bad. I believe that there is a reason for all kind of behavior and if they are acting out it's likely because there's something wrong. Maybe the miss their dad. Maybe they are tired because we did too much the day before. Maybe it's because I've enrolled them in too many activities for the week. Maybe it's because I'm tired. Whatever the reason, I know that my kids are still kids, they are three and one. They are still trying to figure out who they are and why things happen, what consequences are and what rewards are. They are trying to figure out how to gain more power and how to gain trust. They are trying to cross over the line and walk the line and I have to make sure that they get to test that line. As a parent, I have to let my kids make mistakes. I have to let them work things out on their own and I have to let them throw fits because they don't have a better way to express their feelings. But I don't have to accept whines and fits.

Tomorrow is a new day. There will be a new crisis, there will be new tears, new problems and new issues. But I'll start the day knowing that I have to let the boys know what I expect, and while it may be hard for them at first, they will be able to learn the value of using their words, how to make choices and what the consequences are. Actually, we'll all learn those things. 

As I sit in my bed and finish writing this entry, I'm still not thrilled at the way our day ended as a family, but I am happy with the fact that I've got a plan for tomorrow. I'm happy that at the end of the day I can sneak into their rooms and fall in love all over again as I give them one last kiss. I'm happy that I have two wonderfully smart boys who want to challenge me and won't just take "no" or "because" as an acceptable answer. I am happy that I have a great support system in my parents to help me raise these boys for a few more weeks. I'm happy that I can sit back and admit my flaws and figure out a way to be better. As I finish that glass of wine I can be confident that if I work hard and give the boys 300% of my energy, that I can make some pretty great kids. And I can be comfortable knowing that through the tantrums, whines, tears and fits that I already have some pretty good kids and today was just another day in the life of a parent.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Tomorrow morning, Dads everywhere will wake up to brightly colored, overly taped packages full of golf balls, ties and technology. Tomorrow, there will be Dads and daughters, and Dads and sons playing outdoors, attending ball games and having BBQs with family. Tomorrow, older children will return home to have a beer with their Dad and thank them for being influential in their lives. Tomorrow, I will visit both of my dads, but my sons won't see theirs.

You see, for five months now we've lived away from my husband. Not because there is anything wrong between us, but because it was best for us. Life threw us some curve balls: My mom got cancer, we had to take care of a flooded house, we had to sell that flooded house, we had to move across the country, and live in a state we didn't yet have a home in. Instead of dragging our kids through that uncertainty, Eric and I decided I'd just return to Michigan where the boys would have their grandparents, some stability and a routine.

While the boys and I have been having fun playing outdoors, going to "school" and having play dates, their Dad has been working harder than they will ever know. They are too young to understand that their Dad sacrificed time with them so that he could make life better for us. Our boys will never know or really understand that not only has Daddy been rebuilding a home from nothing, but he's literally moved 10,000 lbs of our stuff six times (from house to house) by himself. They won't understand that in our new house Daddy is building them a dream bedroom, unpacking their toys and reassembling their playhouse in our new back yard so that when we arrive at the new house, the boys will recognize their things and immediately feel like we are home.

The boys don't know how much their Dad is missing out on so that they can spend quality time with grandparents, aunts and uncles. They don't realize how much time has passed since we last saw Eric, and they don't know how much it makes him smile to see Pix Messages of their artwork, or see their photos on Facebook. They may never know.

And Eric doesn't really understand how much the boys miss him. He sees their delighted faces when we do get together every month or so, but he doesn't know how much they talk about him, look at photos of him or pretend to call him on the phone or computer. He doesn't know that they long for their Dad to wrestle with them, fish with them, ride bikes with them or play trains with them. He doesn't know that when they play pretend, the boys pretend to be him, or that they pretend to be a Daddy. He may never know.

But I know.

I know that Eric is the best father I could have ever asked for for my own children. I know that there is more love between these boys and their father, and this father and these boys than there are stars in the sky. I know that Eric would do anything, ANYTHING for these boys and our family. I know that without knowing it himself, that Eric is already a role model, a hero, to our boys. Our boys believe that their Dad can build anything, even if it's as big as a house. Our boys believe that their Dad is the strongest Dad in the world because he packed up and moved all of their toys to Colorado. Our boys believe that their Dad is the coolest Dad on the planet because he's in the Air Force and has missiles and really fast jets. Without knowing it, these boys love their Dad and show their affection by carrying and kissing photos of Eric around the house, excitedly include him in ideas or plans they may have, and fight over who gets to hold Daddy to "see him better" when we Google Chat.

I know that being a Dad is a hard job: dads are portrayed as foolish on TV shows, they get told what to do and how to raise their own kids by mothers, other family members and our society. They get excluded from their son or daughter's lives during breastfeeding and don't often get to make up that close parenting bond. And, they tend to be the ones who work instead of staying home during the crucial imprinting and development phase.

In our case, being a Dad is tough. We know that at any time, Eric could be gone. We know that he works long, unpredictable hours and he often doesn't get to spend holidays or birthdays with us. But no matter how hard it is, Eric always makes the time for his boys. He's the Dad who races home for a family dinner then goes back to work to finish what he started. He's the Dad who pushes back bedtime to read one or two or five more books because he's having a great time with his son. He's the Dad who, when mom is away, creates a whole new house out of pillows, couch cushions, blankets and sheets or has dance parties, or wrestling matches, or car races or band practice.

Even though we won't be with Eric tomorrow, I'll make sure that my boys know that it's Dad's day and we're incredibly lucky to have a man like him as our Dad. I'll make sure Eric sees how wonderful his parenting skills are and how he's rubbed off on his kids. I'll promise all three of them that they will get to celebrate in person in a few weeks. I'll make sure that no matter what they do, and where ever we are, my boys know that their Dad is always going to be there for them. If you ask me, that's the true spirit of the day anyway, it just helps that I have technology on my side.

I always knew that Eric was going to be a great dad, I could just see it in his eyes. But, after the few years we've had, I've been even more impressed, even more in love, and even more in awe of his parenting skills and his passion for being a father than I ever thought I could be. And someday, maybe, my boys will read this or have some memory of their Dad and what he did at this time. Maybe it's in a year, maybe it's when they are in their 20s, but someday, they will truly understand that they are the luckiest boys in the world to have a Dad who has stood by them even when he was thousands of miles away.

Happy Father's Day, Eric. The three of us are so lucky to have you.

PS. I can't forget to wish my own Dads a happy Father's Day. I'm a lucky girl to have two of them in my life! They both have been instrumental in helping me become the woman I am today. Thank you!

With my Dad and Sisters

With my Step-Dad, Sisters and Brother

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What's In A Name?

When we found out I was pregnant we did what every new parent would do: called our family, stared at each other in shock, looked at our house and discovered how unsafe it was, looked at the house and realized we'd better get it fixed up, looked at our bank account (could it really cost $250,000 to raise a child?), posted the obligatory pee stick photo on Facebook and then sat on the couch, exhausted and realized that this child would have to have a name. Damn. What on earth do you name a kid?

We scoured the inter webs for anything, but our last name wasn't an easy one to work with. Once we figured that out, we looked into Heritage names, something to go with the Swedishness of our last name, we started a Scandinavian search, talk about a culture shock. I didn't want our baby to have a name that stood out, was too hard to pronounce or spell. But when I looked at these names, I wasn't sure this was the right avenue: Algot? Elnar? Agda? Agaton? I wasn't even sure if I was pronouncing them correctly! I learned as much as I could about the culture and the people, the place and the names.

When I found out we were having boys, I wanted to make sure they had strong names. I wanted names  that could work for men, but also worked for a cute little boy running around the backyard.  We decided upon Henrik and Theodor, very strong Swedish names to go with their last name and honor their dad's heritage and we gave them English middle names to go along with mine. Henrik Thomas and Theodor William. It worked. We were successful, it sounded professional, it sounded smooth and not as harsh as a lot of the Germanic and Norwegian names and I was comfortable and confident with our choices.

After I gave birth, and we were no longer referring to my bump as a "name we kind of liked but weren't sure it matched the kid", we looked at our boys, and realized that these were the perfect names for them. I'm not sure how I knew in the first five seconds that I held them, but I knew.

As they grew, we tested out nicknames and variations on their names but a few of them stuck:  Hank-o-Saurus and Thornado. Why? Well, My boys are exactly as their nick names suggest: wild, out of this world, larger than life, exuberant, full of volume, destruction, mischief and curiosity.

Hank-o-Saurus started with Henrik's love of dinosaurs at age two. Before two, Henrik was a calm, quiet, inquisitive child. But when he discovered dinos, he became one. He started stomping and roaring around the house, he took large growling bites of food and he held his arms out like a T-Rex as he chased us around.  His quest for knowledge led him to trouble as he climbed the pantry shelves, pretended to be a fish and got water from the dog's bowl all over the place, repeatedly, climb the fridge, knock over anything in his path, and his loud, wild, dinosaur energy that literally took three hours of hard physical play to diffuse. Around two and a half he discovered the art of the tantrum. By three he'd perfected it. He throws a fit like you wouldn't believe. He roars in a deep, bellowing prehistoric, man voice, he wails or lets out a loud AHHHHH or WAAHHHH, he finds a way to make his body 100 pounds heavier than it actually is as he stomps his way into time out and it takes what seems to be the entire Jurassic Period to wind him down. At three, it's not just the tantrums that make him a Hank-o-Saurus, it's his sneaky, mischievous quest for more. When you say no, he finds out a way to manipulate the situation like stalking his prey. He knows exactly what to say and how to say it to catch you when you're vulnerable.

We stole Thornado, I only wish we were that clever. We actually got it from Dragons: Rider's of Berk.
Thornado, a Thunder Drum dragon who has the strength of Thor and the ferocity of a tornado, is also... our son. Our little viking has the highest pain threshold of anyone  I've ever seen. He carries things that I wouldn't ever imagine a child (an almost 17 month old child) could carry (he moves and lifts dining chairs, he lifts logS, yes more than one log for the fire at a time,  and he even can knock a grown man over just by pushing on him). Just like Thor, Theo is a master of destruction, with every pass, his arms outreached, and BAM, nothing is on the table. He throws everything with such strength and power. He whirls through a room and seriously, the entire room looks like a tornado went through it. Nothing is left standing. Nothing is where it belongs, and things are upside down and sideways. Theo is the master at screaming. I mean, blood curdling, glass shattering, horror movie scream. He throws himself in every direction going "no bones" and then stiff as a board. He picks things up and throws them just to do it. He lays down and scooches his little(ish) body across the floor yelling, screaming and kicking the whole time. And no, it's not just the tantrums that earn him this name, it's his ability to read situations (at just 17 months old) and determine what he will concur next: Disabling the train track? Stealing a toy from his brother? Moving furniture so he can open the fridge or get water? And it's his persistence, at three months he decided that it was time for baby food, at six months he was crawling, eight months: walking, 15 months: doing whatever Henrik does, 17 months: putting on his own shoes, taking off his clothes and diaper, jumping (feet of the freeking ground, jumping). Once this child decides he's going to do something he does it. Through frustration, screaming, tears and without help, Thornado does what he wants when he wants.

Please don't hear that my children are bad kids, they aren't. At all actually. They are just a very large handful. They take every ounce of energy I have, they challenge me, not just with their quest for Independence, but their quest for life and adventure. They are exactly what I wanted in children, I want to raise smart, independent, capable, energetic, outgoing, mischievous, friendly children so that they can become hardworking, kind, responsible, successful members of our society. Yes, if it means I have to battle the Norse Gods and the most frightful dinosaur that ever existed, then I'm up for the challenge, some days I just wish that challenged started at 11 am.

A Meme from Facebook

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nuffin'. No Food. Never Not Ever.

Three times a day I have this conversation:

A: Henrik, what would you like to eat for (insert meal here)?
H: Nuffin'
A: You have to eat something.
H: No food. Never not ever.

In case you weren't sure, it's annoying. It makes me want to slam my face onto the table. It's getting old and it's beyond exhausting. I want to shake him and wipe that smirk of sass right off his face. I feel like I've tried everything: letting him pick his meal, giving him two choices, just putting food in front of him, letting him go hungry, no snacks, no milk, no juice, no dessert, making him sit there until the food is gone, letting him walk around to eat, bribes with anything, taking things away... the list goes on. I've read about a billion articles on what to do with a picky eater, but it's beyond picky. This kid is flat out stubborn, and the scary part is I'm not actually sure I can out stubborn him.

Different doctors and child psychologists all give different solutions for this problem and I have honestly tried every one of them. We can sometimes get him to eat if we feed him, but he's three freeking years old. I've put a bib on him and put him in a high chair and I've let him use adult silverware, including knives to cut with (don't worry, butter knives work just fine on hotdogs). I've let him serve himself and have given him smaller portions so it seems like a less daunghting task. But none the less, we have a meal with tears, loud voices and a child who closes his eyes at you, raises his chin and crosses his arms saying, "I'm not hungry".

If you ever come to my house you'll see that my three year old still has a bottle. I give him about 20+ ounces of whole milk a day. Guess what? The only way he will drink milk is if it's in a bottle, warmed. Not too warm, but kind of warm. There is one other way he will drink it: If it's been sitting in a cereal bowl of Froot Loops or Rasin Bran and it's not cold anymore, but that's on a rare occasion. I've tried milkshakes, protein shakes, chocolate milk and fake milk, coffee mugs, cups with fun straws and even cups he gets to pick out but nothing else works, he will turn it away unless it's in a bottle. The way I see it, the kid is demanding the calcium and protein from the milk but won't eat anything so at least if I cave and give him a bottle he's getting SOME calories. He knows it's a baby thing, but doesn't care. One day he'll grow out of it, right?

So after weeks (who am I kidding) years of this nonsense, I finally got smart this past week. I changed the language from Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner to Snack. Apparently Snack is much less intimidating and casual. I let him bring a toy or two to the table but they have to be placed far enough away from him so that I can move them closer as he eats. Yes, eating has become an olympic sport for me, but I have to beat him at this game. The boys still have to sit on their bottom when snack is at the table, and they still have to place their napkins on their laps, but for some reason, it's more fun.
Octodogs, Sailboat apples, Sea Urchines on a cheese kelp forest,
And Coral Reef veggie sticks with urchines (rasperries)
Since it's Summer, I've been able to encourgae (Eh? See that? Not bribe?) Henrik to eat by letting him play outside after dinner to go fishing or to play with friends. During the day, I give him healthy (they were always pretty healthy) snacks in bowls in the living room, coffee table, picnic table or playhouse, and we play while we eat.
Eating inside on a rainy day
One time, I let them raid the pantry and fridge and had the boys put food that they wanted into little grocery baskets. They had to pay me in coins for their food. They thought it was fantastic!

Cashing out at the Mommy Store
Theo counted his coins!
 Another time I made a parking lot and numbered each spot. I put one grape, two crackers, three pieces of cheese, etc. in the parking spaces. On the numbered spots that he has trouble with I put gummy alligators and skittles so he had to count them. It worked!
Turn salami into a Zero!

Counting, eating and talking with my big boy!
I've spaced lunch and dinner farther apart and made sure there was a lot of physical activity in between those hours so that he had to work up an appetite. I feel like I've won the lotto! The kid is WAY less annoying and sassy and I'm getting some food into his system!

I've let the boys help me cook and I talk about what is in each food (protein, calcium, vitamin B etc.) and it's created an awareness with the boys to eat healthy foods that they can be proud of. I've had Henrik help set and clear the table and I let Theo help me wash the dishes. It's been a pretty good way to get them involved in the whole activity of meal time.
Making Pizza with Mimi
So all this is good for Hank right, is it good for you? In a way yes, he's eating! And it's fun to do things differently. But it's SO MUCH MORE WORK. I feel like I'm loosing weight just by all of the calories and positive energy I have to burn to make meals fun. It's not 100% effective ; we still have our crabby, sassy days, but this is taking things to a whole new and better level. If we can get through two meals a day that are "enjoyable" (See footnote), them I'm calling that a win. To me, meal time is a time for families to gather around the table and talk about life. It's a chance for kids to engage in adult conversation and for parents to be involved in their kids' lives. Studies show that kids who have family meals together do better in school and are more confident. When I was growing up, no matter how hectic our lives were with soccer practice, debate practice, after work meetings or homework, we had a family meal together every night. I know the benefits from this simple activity so I had to do something to make the family dining experience better for all of us (that and I couldn't take the three year old attitude any more). 

Have any fun food ideas? Any tips on eating with picky, stubborn toddlers and preschoolers? Comment here! I'm always in need of new ideas!

Footnote: I have airplanes and monster trucks at my dining table, my one year old uses his fork as a hockey stick and his cup as a puck, both boys feed the dog from their seats, and I'm afraid of getting a new table because my boys are sure to scratch it while banging their silverware into the table as they drum and dance at dinner, but if there are no tears it is enjoyable.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Don't Cut His FIN-GERS!"

My children have always hated getting their fingernails and toenails cut. I on the other hand, love it, to me there's not much that feels better than having fresh cut, well manicured nails, the problem is that I never have enough time to do my own and I can't paint my nails because the second I get them painted, the boys wake up and my nails get ruined.

It had been weeks since their last cutting and it was absolutely time to get a trim since Theo gave me a pretty good scratch that morning. I sat down on the chair, turned on a show and grabbed Theodor. He's usually pretty good about getting his nails cut, I started with him today because Henrik throws a pretty good fit and I thought I could use Theo against Hank this time around. Boy did that backfire. As soon as I grabbed Theo's hand he started yelling, "OW, Owwwwyyy" and "Nooooooo, No Mommy!" like I was torturing him. I swear I was not. I hadn't even placed the clippers on his nails yet. I kept going and took extra care to dodge the swinging arms and flailing legs.

Henrik looked up from his show, "Mom, don't cut his fin-gers" he warned. That just pissed me off. Right Hank, like I'd do that on purpose. I started to get hot from wrestling Theo, I was starting to get annoyed and sweaty with anger, the three year old was giving me advice on something I do on a regular basis and giving me the stink eye while I held his brother down clasping his legs in mine. Even while contained, the baby was doing half somersaults in my lap. I sternly scolded Theo and snapped at Hank. Henrik went back to the show, but I had given fuel to Theo. I started yelling at him to stop screaming (really effective, I know). Theo got louder and whipped his body around faster.

*In case you think I'm exaggerating the tantrum levels of this child click here (This is a 13 second clip of a fit he threw before my phone died. The child then lifts the bucket and throws it over his head and then runs into the kitchen and bangs his head on the floor. It went on for 26 minutes)*

Before I knew it, I had turned into a monster, I was huffing and puffing trying to keep hold of him, while not cutting too deep or missing the nail on accident. My blood was boiling, I was furious, but I could. Not. Let. Go. If I did, he'd win. When I finally finished the last toe I let go of Theo. He dropped himself on the floor and laid his head, face down, on the carpet and continued to cry. He called for me but wouldn't come to me, when I reached out for him he screamed more and started to kick. I ignored him and decided to continue the job I had set out to do.

I turned to Henrik and looked at him dead in the eye, pointed my finger at him and said, "If you even make a peep while I'm cutting your nails, I'll loose it". I'm not sure what that meant, I wasn't ever going to hit them or even swat at them. I probably would just yell, maybe stomp around a bit, and look a little more like a crazy person until I could find a place for a Mommy Time-Out, but whatever I inferred got the point across. Henrik quickly came into my lap and sat still and quiet. For the first time EVER this kid let me cut his nails. By the time I was done with Henrik, Theo was still rolling around on the ground yelling and kicking so I picked him up and carried him to my bed.

It was close enough to nap time and I was starting to cool down from the intense activity and anger. I was sticky, so when I held his hot little, tear soaked body next to mine we stuck together. I tried calming him down using softer much more soothing words. I told him it was okay and I was sorry for getting upset. I hushed him and stroked his head, I started to say, "it's OK" as if I was also telling myself that whatever that was, was okay and it was over. I'm not really sure how much time had passed before he finally calmed down enough to let out whimpers and soft squeaks. He slowly started to sniff and take deeper breaths. I was still saying, "it's ok...shhh. It's ok, shhhh... it's, okay".

Finally he fell asleep. I let out a deep sigh, I was tired too. I wanted to hold on to him to make sure he knew that I still loved him. To let him know that even when he doesn't want to do something or if something is scary that I'll be there to make it be alright. To let him know that I didn't mean to yell or get so intensely angry at him I just was in such disbelief at his reaction I didn't know how to react. I kind of chuckled at myself, and him for what just happened, I still can't believe it. I laid him down in his bed, still shhhing him as I walked away. I came down stairs, picked up Henrik who wasn't sure what had happened and he just looked at me and said, "I don't fink Fee-o likes to get his finger nails cut".

I just laughed.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Go The Bleep To Sleep

Today is a very fitting day for this entry. Most nights I fight with my sons about bedtime. The younger one tends to be more independent as a sleeper, but the older one will fight you tooth and nail. A lot of nights, the last thing in the world I want to do is put my kids to bed. Yes, I know I should look forward to that time: snuggles, books, songs, etc. BAH, to me it's work. Yes, I do enjoy the snuggle time and books prior to bed, but once we start the march down the hall to brush our teeth and go potty, the game is afoot. And not in a fun way.

Think about it, I've been up from somewhere between 5 and 6 AM with these boys. In the first hour they are awake, I've changed two soaked night time diapers, changed wet pajamas, changed sheets,  changed probably two poop filled pull-ups, gave them milk, let out the dog, stopped with the dog to solve a fight over a toy, fed the dog, got the kids to pee on the potty, brush their teeth, brush my teeth, go to the bathroom myself and finally get to a cup of coffee. And then it's MAYBE 7 AM. By bedtime at 7:30 PM I'm exhausted. I've already spent 18+ hours a day with these kids and they're usually vying for one more. There are days where I'd rather clean up, watch a show or heck, I'd rather sit and stare at a blank wall in a dark room. But no, most nights, my kids will pull out all the stops.

Just the other day both kids were on their A game. I'd just put the baby down, patted him on the back and gave him a kiss. I calmly and quietly said good night to him and walked out. He was fine. A few minutes into my exercises (I do them during bedtime because I have lots of time in these battles) I hear Theodor say, "Mommy, I miss you". REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? He's not even 18 months old! I waited a minute, he said it again. I walked in the room assuming I'd have to lay him down again, but when I got there, he quickly shut his eyes and started PRETEND SNORING! I told him goodnight and walked out trying not to laugh. This went on two more times before he actually fell asleep.

That same night, Henrik was a pro, as we were walking towards the stairs he said,  "Oh, no. That toy fell out of it's box. I better put it away." I let him do it and them ushered him up the stairs and tried to re-direct the focus from why the toy had fallen to bedtime. We brushed our teeth together, went into his room and through his bedtime routine (which always includes me semi-bribing him to stay in his bed all night). About twenty minutes later,  I was sitting by the fire and heard three little taps on the sliding door. I turned around and there, staring at me with these big doe eyes and a Ben Stiller Blue Steel looking face, is Henrik. I opened the door.

A: Yes?
H: Um, I need to brush my teef again. Dey just don't feel really clean.
WTF?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I try not to laugh. I try not to be annoyed. I try not to get upset that he's playing me. I walk him back upstairs and tell him again that it's time for bed. We go through the whole "It's not dark" business, we go through the "my animals are scared" crap. We even go through the "I just want you to snuggle me" routine. It's not that I don't want to snuggle, it's that I want fifteen minutes to be brain dead! I want to play one of my six day old games of DrawSomething that is about to be forfeited! I want to watch a Big Bang Theory for twenty-two minutes in peace and quiet! I want to be off duty! So NO I cannot snuggle you.

About twenty-two minutes later I went up stairs and got ready for bed, Henrik greeted me at the top of the stairs. I wasn't really surprised.
H: Mom, need me to do stuff for you or somefing?
A: Sleep.
H: Oh, I'm not tired yet.


So I'm stuck in a place where I know I can't really win. The only way to win is if I change my definition of winning. If I assume a win is having the kid sleep, then I can do that with some effort. If I assume that winning is them putting themselves to bed and sleeping in their bed all night, then it requires a lot more work and I'm not sure I have the patience for that right now.  You see, our sleep issues started when we took Henrik out of his crib. We had just moved to a new house and were finally a family again after we were displaced for two months during the flood. Eric's work schedule started to get crazy and he'd leave before the boys would wake up in the morning and there'd be more than a few nights he'd come home after bedtime. On top of that, Eric was pulling a crew shift which meant he was gone for about 36 hours at a time. Because of this irregular lifestyle, Henrik would come in our room each night, walk to Eric's side of the bed to check and see if he was there, ask where Daddy was, and then climb in bed with me.

For a while we were quite the sticklers on falling asleep in your own bed by yourself, but it was an ugly battle that lasted over a month. There were nights I yelled. There were several tears by all of us, and there were nights I just wanted to come into their room and scoop them up and snuggle them to bed. We were finally successful, but it lasted only a few months until we traveled for a holiday visit to see family.

I don't mind co-sleeping, it'd be better if I had a larger bed, but I actually like being close to my family. I like waking up in the middle of the night for whatever reason and seeing my kids there. Sure I get punched, kicked and peed on, but even that doesn't bother me enough to move them back to their beds. I read an article in my quest for sleep solutions for bad sleepers that changed my mind and made me feel like I was right in my desire to be close to my children. I also discovered that humans are the only mammal that do not sleep in packs or herds. It's not natural for us to sleep away from our young and when I started thinking about it, I prefer to sleep in the same bed as my husband and don't really like sleeping alone when he's away for work. Heck, even the dog sleeps in the middle of the hall between both our rooms so she can be near all of us. I've even caught her on Henrik's bed with him!

So now I'm torn, do I do what is natural? Will I still raise normal kids that can become independent and confident if we occasionally sleep in the same bed? What if I make them do the cry-it-out method? Will that make me a better parent? What if it just doesn't work for me? For now, I'm pretty lax about it because our life is hectic and Eric is away, but I do like to have the boys start out in their own beds. I will snuggle them on occasion, and I've sat in their room or in the hall, just out of their reach but in their sight plenty of times. And on some nights, if I know I'm fighting a loosing battle, I give up my last possible free hour of the day and pick up one boy at a time (sometimes both at the same time) rub their heads, rock them and watch them start to relax. They start to meld into my body, they blink over and over... and over..., their grip is tight but not stressed and they drift slowly and peacefully to sleep. I hold on to them, smell them and rest my head on theirs. It's perfect.

Just because I said I liked holding them doesn't mean I want to do it every night. And no, just because I don't mind co-sleeping doesn't mean I don't want a night alone in my bed, I'm sure Eric would argue that we need more nights alone in our bed. But while I test out different methods and figure out what works for each kid and for us as a family, it would sure be nice if every once in a while the kids just fell asleep and I could pick them up, put them in bed and see them in eleven or so hours. Shoot, I'd take eight hours most days. 

I'd say that 90% of my nights are filled with a bedtime that takes at least an hour, and while it's exhausting, physically and mentally tiring, trying, and mostly painful, I look at my boys and realize that there will be a day when they won't want to sleep with me any more. But until then, I'm going to continue to fight when it's important and give in when it's not. Look at them, they won't be like this for long. 
The boys, a poison dart frog and a salamander in my bed

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Travel: Part Four, Home

On our way back from the Cabin we stopped along Lake Michigan, Ironically, it was the same place that Eric and I had stopped four years earlier, the very first day I was pregnant. TMI? Sorry. I guess it's a place that will always be important to us. Anyway, we stopped just shy of the bridge to let the boys burn off some energy in hopes they would sleep for a few hours on the ride home.

They boys had a blast walking along the sand and in the water, but much to our surprise, they did not sleep for any length of time on our 4-5 hour journey. I honestly don't remember much of the trip except for the fact that I worked hard to keep them entertained. I had finally had enough just an hour or so to go when Eric demanded that we change from Kid Music to Adult Music. With both boys whining and asking for toys that had fallen out of their reach, Eric said, "Mom's on break. She can't help you right now". I had just told the boys in a very distressed tone that they had to play with the toys that were on their tray and nothing else for 15 minutes, but when Eric said that, the whining stopped and it was quiet. They actually listened to him! HOW?! What kind of magic did he have and how could I get some? I'm sure it was because he was around for a few days and held the "We only see you once every 43 days" wand, but I gladly took the break!

Eric and I had a chance to talk for a little while about real things, I checked Facebook (I had over 100 messages wishing me a Happy Birthday and they all came in at once when my signal came back) and we just kind of enjoyed the road trip like we used to back in the good 'ole days. It was nice. The boys started to ask for something in a needy way and Eric announced, "Nope, Mom's not done yet" and they went back to playing. I was astonished. It made me chuckle a bit but I went back to enjoying a nice and quiet trip.

The boys played for a good long time and at one point I looked back at them, looked at Eric and smiled. I couldn't stop. My family was whole once again. It wouldn't be for long, but it was right in that moment and it was perfect. Have you ever looked at your family from an outsider perspective? That's what happened to me, I swear time slowed down, the music faded into the background (Ironically it was Home by Phillip Phillips- a song that reminds me of my life with Eric), I was looking at my family and I saw my boys, all there in one place. The little ones were playing cars and with their toy phones, they were playing with one another and were more than content. Eric was driving and singing along to the music and I was there looking at myself and I saw how happy I was. It was so odd, but such a magical moment. When I snapped out of it I feared we'd all die in a car crash because I'd had some out-of-body experience.

When my break was over I went back to fishing for fallen toys and searching for the last few packs of fruit snacks and had to settle down Theo as he demanded to exit the car (he even threw in a few pleases he was that done). When we finally pulled into my parent's driveway, we quickly got the boys and dog out of the car and told them to run around to find Mimi and Pop Pop. As they ran off, Eric and I looked at the mess in the car, the bags that needed to be carried and then back at each other. Vacation was over, our visit with Eric was rapidly coming to an end and our normal life began. I leaned over to Eric, gave him a hug and told him to leave it all for later, he was surprised but didn't argue. We walked indoors and with the closing of the garage door, our vacation was over.

Travel: Part Three, The Cabin

Our last destination on our whirlwind week of travel was to Eric's parent's cabin. They've owned it a few Summers but since we lived in North Dakota it was not on our list of places to stop by for the weekend. And when we came home to Michigan, we wouldn't put it on our list of stops because all three sets of parents live in a 30 mile radius so driving five or so hours didn't make much sense.

This was a trip that I was unsure about, and I have to be careful how I say this because in no way is this a bashing blog and I absolutely do not want this taken out of context, but what I can say is that I was worried about jealousy, competition and stepping on toes. I was worried about hurt feelings, jokes taken the wrong way or pokes turning into wounds. I was worried that grandparents would overrule parents, that Eric and I would have different rules and expectations for our kids than his sister and her husband would have for theirs.

The last time the Ehn family all got together was nine years ago. We were younger, unmarried and honestly, really close, good friends. Then, something happened. I'm not sure what, and I'm not sure I'm free of fault, but in those nine years, two dogs, three kids, thousands of miles of distance and boat loads of crap in between, something happened that caused doubt that this would be a good trip. I know no family is perfect and all families have some kind of feud or issue they just ignore when they are all together (please tell me we're not the only ones), heck, even the Brady Bunch and the Barones had at least one of the problems I've mentioned.
The Ehn Family 9 years ago

I wanted very much for this to be a good trip, I have really fond memories of going to my Grandparent's cabin when I was a little kid. I wanted my boys and their cousin to have just as much fun together at their Grandparent's cabin. *Yes, I do remember my previous post about wants for our children* I wanted to want to make this a regular trip where I'd sit at the picnic table laughing over a drink and Rummy with my sister-in-law (SIL) and mother-in-law. I wanted to go fishing with all of us in the boat, float on the water, and sit by the fire for way to long each night. I wanted to leave the cabin feeling refreshed and wanting more.

My MIL was trying SO hard to make this a good weekend. She was overly accepting and accommodating. She packed toys for the boys, took care in getting family safe bug spray and sunscreen. She got the food the boys liked, the wine I drink and even bought brownies for me so we could celebrate my birthday. In return I asked her what the cabin rules were, what the expectations were and how they managed chores up there. I wanted to make it just as easy on her as she was making it for us.

We got there a day before my SIL and her family got there, it was kind of an opening everything up day at the cabin since we were first to arrive but I have to admit, having my in laws all to ourselves was, well, wonderful. It was a reconnecting time for us. Our boys got to enjoy their grandparents who glistened just like the lake. I've never, in the whole twelve years I've known them, seen them this happy. And, it's true what they say, a smile is pretty contagious.

The next morning, Henrik woke up and asked if his cousin was there. When those were the first words out of his mouth I knew that whatever else happened, we needed this trip to be wonderful for the kids. And I am 100% confident that we did. We went boating, played in the lake, checked in at a cattle ranch, played outdoors, had campfires, s'mores, and daily family concerts. We cooked and cleaned, played and worked, it was better than the Brady Bunch. I laughed and had fun, yes, FUN with my SIL and MIL. I got to see my father-in-law in a way I'd never seen him, he was a hero to his grandsons and a best friend. I got to have my boys snuggle up to their grandma and aunt and I got to spend some good quality time with my nephew.

It was as if we all were on our best behavior, but not on eggshells. We respected one another, ignored annoyances, accommodated needs and helped one another during meals, with chores, through bath time, getting kids wrangled for a campfire and taking them fishing. It was as if we forgave the past even though it wasn't mentioned.

I hope I'm not the only one who had a wonderful weekend, I hope that there are many more of these to come. I hope that we can look back on this weekend and see that even if we don't agree on everything, then we can at least respect one another and move forward.

When I look back on this weekend and as I place pictures from the trip in the boys' photo album, I will remember a few things. First, I was wrong. I wasn't wrong to have those worries, but I was wrong to assume that the trip would be more work than play. I was wrong to think that this trip was a "giving in because I'm nice and it means a lot to everyone" experience. How snobby am I? Everyone had to work hard to make this a good trip and everyone had to be on their best behavior and you know why? Because we're all better than the way we were acting.

Second, I'll remember that this was the best time my boys have had with the Ehns. Because we were in my in-law's place, and they were in their element up in the U.P, they were completely different people. This was their home, this was their pride and I got to really understand better who they were and why. Because of that, my boys got to truly experience their grandparents and everything that they love. They got to go fishing, look out at the lake from the dock, go boating and rowing and get snuggled in for the night. My boys had a new respect for them too, they are just too little to know it yet, but I saw it in their eyes.

Third, I don't know what happened between all of us so many years ago. But I don't care any more. I'm not saying that we won't have an issue in the future, but what I am saying is that I will make it known to my in-laws that whatever I did in the past that hurt them, I'm sorry. And from now on, I will take that first trip to their cabin as a restart and remember how great we can all be when we want to. I'm doing it for me, my husband and my kids. I'll remember my MIL's smile that lasted three days, her larger than life smile when I asked her if she was still happy and enjoying a chaotically wonderful weekend with her family, her at peace smile when we sat around the fire joked with one another, and her proud smile as she took me on a rowboat tour of the lake.

Ehn Family Today
It's not hard to make someone happy, but happiness is best when can share it with someone else and that is exactly what this trip did for all of us and I'm thrilled that I got to have the opportunity to finally get up North to the Cabin.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Travel: Part Two, Marquette

Part A
A few days after we got back from Mackinac Island we were going to make an 8 hour trek back to Northern Michigan (8 hours away from home) to visit my husband's grandmother, Nana Grace. It had been almost two years since she was able to see Henrik and she's never had the opportunity to meet Theodor. We wanted to make sure that she got that chance, so Eric asked if I'd make the trek with the boys to the U.P. to visit her. Of course I said yes, and so my mother-in-law and I were going to drive up there with the kids. BUT, I had a sneaky plan!

It had been 43 days since we had seen Eric. And it was a LONG 43 days at that. The boys were starting to ask about Eric more often, they were starting to get upset that he wasn't able to be there for them. So, Eric and I booked a flight for Eric so he'd arrive at midnight on the night (or day) we'd leave for Marquette. I was all wiggly inside. I knew how surprised my boys would be and to me, this was the best surprise in the world. It was SO hard to keep Eric's arrival a secret, but I did! And when they woke up, there was DADDY! They just smiled in shock, they were silent and smiling and wide-eyed. I will never, ever forget the smiles on all of their faces! It was priceless. Pictures don't even do it justice (and not because it's a blurry one).

"Daddy home!"
As the house was filled with laughter and joy, I slipped away to pack a few last minute items (I already had the bag packed and just had to add personal items, and no, I didn't unpack all of the toys/diaper bags/totes from our other trip yet). I found myself taking a little longer in the shower that day; I'm not sure if it was that my partner was back and I didn't have to feel bad about him watching the kids, or if it was that I was giving the boys a few extra minutes together, either way it was good for all of us. 

A few hours after the boys wrestled and got reunited, we were ready to hit the car around nap time (my boys nap early because they wake up so freeking early). I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dreading this trip. Eight hours in a car with my boys, my mother-in-law and a husband I hadn't seen in 43 days, was not exactly how I wanted to spend this time together, but, sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do, right?

Before the trip even started I realized that my oldest son is a smart ass and I should have known then that it would be a long trip. As my MIL backed out of the driveway, she said, "Where'm I going?" Henrik quickly replied, "backwards" like it was no big deal.  With Eric in the back, I in the front, Alice behind the wheel, we tag teamed our boys trying to keep them happy and excited for this long adventure. Boy was it hard. 

For the most part, it was an easy trip. Eric was better than any toy I could have given the boys and the music really came in handy this time around, but we still had some tears and some crabby mommy time. As the length of time got longer and the boys grew impatient, Henrik and Alice had this conversation:

H: Grandma, drive faster!
A: I'm going the... oh, well, I thought I was going the speed limit.

With one hour left in our trip we were all getting restless. Theo was pretty much screaming to get out of the car and kept pulling on his harness and banging his head against his car seat, Henrik started up:

H: I don't want to be buckled. (Tired three year old)
Me: too bad, we have to stay bucked for a little longer. (Can you tell how worn down I am? SO not my "good mommy" voice.
Eric: pretend you're in a race car and it's you're racing harness! (Good Daddy!)
H: I don't want to race. (Smart three year old)

We made it to our hotel in just over 10 hours, we traveled coffeeless the whole time #sadmommy, the boys demanded gas station hot dogs, they ran lose in a restaurant where Theodor threw everything on the floor and Henrik puked, I got annoyed with Eric for some damn thing, we listened to Afro Circus about 16 times, Gangnam Style about five times and we only ate at McDonald's twice! But we made it. Phew. 

Part B
If I am honest, I'd have to tell you that I have had a hard relationship with my in-laws over the past several years. It's not that we don't love one another, it's that we've not yet figured out how to blend our different families and our very different beliefs. But know, that no matter what our differences are, I do love them and I'm proud and happy that I get to share my sons with my in-laws and their family. That's the only reason I decided to make the trip to Marquette. 

While yes, it is extremely stressful taking my sons on a day long car ride, it's even harder for Nana Grace to make the trip. I wasn't sure what to expect once we got there, my worst nightmare was that we'd be stuck in her apartment where there was no child proofing and a lot of things my children could destroy. I was worried that because they were cooped up in a car the day before that they'd be too wild to keep indoors and would make too much noise in her building. I hadn't traveled with my MIL with our kids yet either so I wasn't sure what she expected or wanted out of the trip either. Yes, talking about it would probably make it easier, but at that time I just speculated and worried. 

When the boys woke up, we met up for breakfast and Nana Grace suggested we go to the Children's Museum! REALLY? Marquette had one? We lived in a place larger than Marquette and they had nothing for kids. I jumped at that opportunity and after breakfast we headed out. We were even able to invite one of Eric's cousins and her son. It was a wonderful, and better than I imagined or could have hoped for.

I've always loved Eric's grandmother, she is a kind, smart, outgoing woman who is stronger than she looks. She's held her family together through some pretty rough times but always has a positive outlook on things.  I knew my boys would love to meet her, and when the were friendly and kind to her I knew that it melted her heart. The boys were playing in the kitchenette in our hotel room, hiding and playing in the cabinets, when Theo looked at Nana Grace and said, "Nana Gayce, in ner?" as he pointed to the cabinet Henrik was hiding in. He invited her to play with them and flashed a smile as he gestured again for her to come over. She respectfully declined the invitation, but she had a smile that lit up the room. She let out a little chuckle that just made me feel good. I can't really explain it, but it made me feel comfortable, happy and welcomed. 

While we were there to visit Nana Grace, it was also a time for us as a family of four to re-connect. Our boys needed their dad back. I needed my partner, my husband and friend. We all were like puppies trying to get his attention, the boys always won.  One morning when we woke up, Henrik jumped in our bed and clung to Eric. "We're magnets!" he cheered. Eric had a good laugh about that and played along. "We're magnetized!" they yelled as they ran through the room. Theo joined in and Eric soon had two boys, smiling from ear to ear stuck to his legs. This game lasted twenty or so minutes and in that time, I have never been happier. 

It was more than just seeing my husband with his sons. It was that my family was all together again. 43 days is a very long time and you always wonder what it will be like when you get back together. In our case, we didn't miss a beat. And even though it would have been nice to share that time with just our family of four, I think it was important for my MIL and Eric's grandma to see our family in action and see our interactions with one another. I've always said that family is more important than anything, and you always do what you can for family, and in this case I did. I brought my boys their dad, I brought my MIL her son and his family, and I brought some great-grand kids to their great-grandmother. So what if it was a long drive, seeing all of those happy faces made it all worth it. And shame on me for dreading the trip. I should have listened to my heart. I knew I was doing the "right thing" I didn't realize until I was there that it was.

Four Generations