Saturday, July 11, 2015

Evan is SIX.

My kindergarten graduate.

I'm playing catch-up after a week with not-the-best broadband speed at the lake in Louisiana. Rounding out our six-week Smith kid birthday extravaganza, Evan turned six on Sunday, June 28. That morning, we were staying at my aunts' house in Lake Charles, sleeping all together in one room. The kids were up a little before 7am, chatting still snuggled on their pallet on the floor. Tobin was reminding the younger two they had to wait 11 minutes until 7:00 before they could get up. Then they were pretending they were each Carolina Panthers. Lauren was whining that SHE wanted to be Cam Newton because "he is so funny and I see him on TV all the time!" Evan wasn't saying much. Matt and I were in our bed, amused as we eavesdropped. Then I suddenly realized what day it was and told Matt to go scoop Evan up and bring him to our bed so we could sing happy birthday to him. So there we were, our middle child snuggled between us, ready to give him a special moment on the morning of his sixth birthday. We barely got "Happy birthday to you" out when Ev started crying and tearfully said, "But I wanted to just stay in my bed." I asked, "You don't want us to sing to you?" "No," he sniffed. Matt took him back to his bed and we let him do his own thing.

Ev, knee deep.

What I should have remembered is that Evan rarely likes to be the center of attention. I never quite know how he is going to react to a certain situation. He is the most bashful of my three. Yet, he's arguably the quickest to make friends. He has a way about him that attracts other kids to him. From a very early age, when I would take the kids to a park playground, within minutes he would have made friends with a complete stranger and they would be running around as though they were best friends.

Ev & fellow buddy/grad Leif.

I used to say that "E" is for enthusiasm. He's always been an excited little guy. Some of that enthusiasm has mellowed with age, especially if he notices someone is paying attention to his reaction. These days, I'm more likely to say that "E" is for empath. Evan's teacher remarked about how excited he gets for classmates when they accomplish something or share something happy. Evan is also considerate of his siblings--most of the time. At the end of the year, his school library was giving away free books to each student and he picked one called Animal Babies because he knew Lauren loved baby animals. After his T-ball team beat a classmate's team, he checked in the next day with his friend because he thought his friend was kinda sad and explained, "Well, my team won because my coach really wanted us to"--which wasn't entirely accurate, but was a sweet sentiment.

Family dinner out to support George Watts Montessori!

Kindergarten was a year of growth for Evan. It was a joy to watch him grow in confidence, both in taking on the role of being one of the older kids in his combined pre-K/K classroom, and in his reading and writing. He worked hard on mastering his sight words and took special care with the drawings he narrated in Writer's Workshop. He wrote how-to manuals on football, baseball and LEGOs. He seems to really love math.

I am super proud of this kid, playing his first season of baseball, having a blast. Ev's indeed on a fun ride: his last-place Orioles find themselves set to play the T-ball championship on Saturday.

Baseball ended up being an especially fun part of Evan's sixth year. Last year, we thought Evan might start T-ball since that was the age Tobin began. But he was pretty adamant he didn't want to play. So we decided to wait until this spring. He still expressed some hesitation but we encouraged him because we felt sure he would enjoy it. He's played two seasons of fall soccer and has had so much fun. He's a pretty good backyard wiffle yard player too, so we felt like he was ready.

Happy Ev in the dugout, playing in his team's first scrimmage. (Photo cred: Dad.)

From the very first practice, Evan was all in. He proudly wore his Orioles hat and jersey even between games, donning the number 89 for his favorite football player, wide receiver Steve Smith. Evan's Orioles team was a particularly special one. The kids were great and the coaches really fostered a fun, upbeat atmosphere. They didn't win their first game until late into the regular season, but that made the victory especially sweet, and it was really awesome to see how they improved to reach that point. The Orioles headed into the postseason as the 8-seed, so they had to take on the undefeated 1-seed Rays in the first single-elimination playoff game. In his league, they play four innings, with a 5-run scoring limit for each inning. In an exciting contest, the Orioles led the Rays by 4 runs heading into bottom of the fourth and final inning. Evan was stationed at third base; he hadn't played that position much before. As I recall, the Rays got their first two runners on; they may have even scored a run. With runners on first and second, the coaches reminded Evan that if the ball wasn't hit directly to him, he should drop back and cover third so that Chase, the pitcher, could throw to him to get the force-out at third. The next batter hit the ball to Chase, who threw it perfectly to Ev. One out! Then, the next batter hit it to Chase, who threw it to Ev for the second out. I couldn't believe my eyes when the third batter in a row hit it to Chase. Evan bobbled the catch and dropped the ball onto ground, but calmly picked it up with his foot still on the bag just in time to get the third and final out. It was such a fun moment, with players, coaches and players cheering an arguably improbable sequence of events. (T-ball games aren't really conducive to getting three outs in a row. Ha!) After the game, my smiley Evan kept shaking his head and saying, "Mom, I didn't know I could catch the ball at third base like that." I hugged him and reminded him that he practiced hard and listened to his coaches well, and I told him I was just so proud of him. The Orioles went on to win another playoff game and finished the season in second place. Evan was disappointed to lose the championship game but was quickly distracted by post-game popsicles and, later, thrilled to get a cool second-place trophy.

Little bro: caught all 3 put-outs at 3rd in the last inning to pull out an exciting playoff upset win over the top-seeded team.  Big bro: proud.

Everybody's growing quickly around here, but I'm particularly blown away by the strides Evan has made, taking bold steps out into the big, beautiful world. Still, his heart remains quite tender and close to home. After a fun evening hosting some friends at our house, Evan said he loved our house and wondered if we would live in it forever. I said, "Well, Dad and I might live here forever, but you, Tobin and Lauren will grow up and move to your own houses." His eyes widened and welled up a bit, and he insisted, "No, I'm going to live with you here forever." I pulled him into my arms and promised he could live with us as long as he wanted to. Ev recovered and then quipped, "But if I do move out, I'm taking the PS4 with me!"

Ev and me.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Epic Summer Road Trip 2015: Georgia!

On Tuesday, we embarked on another Epic Summer Road Trip. These month-long journeys to see family and friends began back in 2010. We stayed home in 2011 (newborn Lauren) and 2013 (my surgery). In the other years--2010, 2012, 2014--our expeditions have covered many states and roughly 4000 miles each summer. This is our first year to travel in consecutive summers.

Our travels are made possible by Matt's and my work situations. He is off about 9 weeks as a teacher. I left the paid workforce back in the fall of 2008, when my two-year judicial clerkship ended, to be home full-time with then-two-year-old Tobin. We added Evan the next summer and Lauren, two summers later. Lauren will join her big brothers and start full-time school this fall. That transition will have me looking to work some outside the home. I don't have a concrete sense of how that will evolve, but I will be looking for opportunities that fit our family situation. These changes in our family life make me think that there's a good chance trips like this won't be quite the same in future summers. I'm sure we'll still travel quite a bit but maybe not as far or as long. That makes me especially appreciative of this particular trip. In the past, I haven't done a great job recording our travels apart from posting pictures. I'm going to try to share a little more as we go this year.

We were playing in Aunt Ashley's yard when a snow cone truck rolled by! Pretty perfect first night of vacay. #smithsummer

The first leg of our trip was 400 miles to my sister's house outside in Acworth (northwest suburban Atlanta), Georgia. Ashley and Donnie are always fun, gracious hosts. We missed Donnie this time though, because he was traveling for work. Their home is lovely and spacious. Their yard is great for wiffle ball and their neighborhood, for evening walks and morning runs. Our stay at Ashley and Donnie's was short this time--just two nights--but we packed in a whole lot of fun. We arrived in the late afternoon on Tuesday and waited for Ashley to get home from work. We closed out the evening walking the kids' canine cousin Caesar around the neighborhood, playing wiffle ball and enjoying snow cones, courtesy of a truck rolling through at just the right time.

Aunt Ashley and her fishies! #smithsummer

On Wednesday, we swam in the neighborhood pool in the morning, picked my mom (Mimi!) up at the airport midday and visited the Georgia Aquarium in the afternoon. Tobin was quite impressed that we managed to visit the world's busiest airport and the western hemisphere's largest aquarium in the same day. We had been to the aquarium three years before when the kids were 6, 3 and 1, and it was fun then. But this time was even more so. One of the great things about the kids getting older is that outings like this are just easier. We didn't have to bring a diaper bag or stroller. We kept it super simple and didn't even bring water or snacks. The kids loved the exhibits, especially the otters, beluga whales and dolphins. Tobin is old enough to read every sign in the building to his siblings. And with the intense summer heat and humidity, plus afternoon thunderstorms, it ended up being the perfect way to spend the day.

making friends.

They swam like fish this morning and this afternoon, they're watching big fish--now, with Mimi in tow! #smithsummer


My three best girls nearing the end of a fun day. 💞😍🐠🐬🐋

The five of us. (Lala is done.) #smithsummer

Thursday morning, we were in the van around 6:15am ready to beat Atlanta morning traffic and get an early start on the 700-mile trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana. We were sad to say goodbye to Ashley (Lauren asked for me to set a timer so she could stay in Georgia just a little longer.) but heartened because we would see her just a few days later when she flew to join us in Louisiana. Also, Mimi joined us for the long car ride, which was a special treat.

Next up: visiting extended family, including lots of first and second cousins, in Louisiana!

400 miles into a 700-mile ride, THIS is a good thing. 😴😍 #smithsummer

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lauren is FOUR.

birthday girl birthdayin' on her birthday.

The youngest among us turned four on Tuesday. It's pretty hard to wrap my head and heart around my baby being so grown up that she's headed off to school with her brothers this fall. But she still likes to suck her thumb and prefers me to almost anyone else, so I take solace in just a little bit of baby still being there.

This is Lauren about 10 days ago at her early birthday party, hair wind-blown & sweaty, face silly, new unicorn (named Aretha!) in her lap. Today is her actual birthday, so here's to four years of THIS GIRL. Happy birthday, Lala! You are everything.

The other night we were on a walk after dinner. It was hot and Lauren was content to ride in the stroller, blowing bubbles. It was a peaceful sweet scene all around, when she screeched suddenly, "Mom, stop! Hold my bubbles! I need to go yell and scare those birds over there!" And after almost throwing the bubbles at me, she ran after those birds, giggling and yelling. That scene sums up a lot about my girl. She is happy and engaged and excited and headstrong. The big feelings that come with baby- and toddlerhood seem not to have diminished with her transition into girlhood. Her preschool teachers often remarked about how happy she was ALL THE TIME, and inquired whether she was that way at home. And I said yes mostly, except when she's not happy, she's really NOT.

Earlier, enjoying Ev's graduation w/a Hello Kitty face.

The flow of our family life is still channeled by Lauren's temperament and need for sleep. Incredibly, she still takes an afternoon nap most days. With the recent busyness of her brothers' baseball season, there were quite a few skipped naps. She handled it well for the most part but would get confused in the late afternoon and come up to me and ask, "Mom, when are you gonna make my lunch?" When I'd try to remind her that we'd already had lunch, sometimes she would disagree passionately and other times she'd just kinda look at me funny, stick her thumb in her mouth and wander off.

having a soak

Lauren's school year ended in May, a couple weeks before her brothers'. I can't overstate how much she loved school. Almost everyday, she skipped into class, saying a hearty hello to whoever she saw, whether teacher, friend or parent. She was happy on the rides home from school but sometimes a little more contemplative. When I would ask about what she made or who she played with, she might tell me something like, "I wanted to play with [one friend] but she didn't want me to be her kitty, and that made me sad. But then Ms. Jean told me there were LOTS of friends to play with, so I played with [another friend] and I was her kitty all day long!" She experiences such a range of emotions, and yes, she really likes to pretend she's a cat.

Lala lovin' it too.

Speaking of cats, she's the first of the kids to really ask for a pet. For a while, she was asking for "a little cute doggie with bows in her hair!" I said that I wasn't sure Daddy and I wanted a pet right now, but maybe she could get a pet when she was a grown up and could take care of it. She quipped, "But Mom, YOU'RE a grown up! YOU can take care of my doggie!"

Standing on the plate in her church shoes. But she crushed it.

Lauren kinda has it all figured out, and I am loving it. Her boldness can sometimes be stubbornness, but I feel like she's teaching me a lot about acknowledging her (and by extension, her brothers') feelings better. It's often better just to ride the tide of feelings with her than to try to redirect them. Today, she insisted she didn't want to go to sleep at naptime, but a napless yesterday plus a busy morning made me think otherwise. I offered to lie down with her, thinking I wouldn't mind midday snooze myself. I tried to close my eyes but she kept insisting that she was scared of the dark, even though it wasn't particularly dark. I didn't argue but reminded her that she was growing so big and she needed to eat and sleep to grow even bigger. She added, "And I need exercise!" I was afraid she was going to start doing jumping jacks on the bed--as she often needs to show you exactly what she's talking about--but instead, she said rather thoughtfully, "Mom, do you know what I like to do when I sleep? I like to hug something soft. You can go now, I'm just going to hug my unicorn Aretha and go to sleep now." And just like that, our battle of the wills was over . . . exactly when she wanted it to be.

Perfect Carolina spring morning: seventy degrees & breezy, plus STRAWBERRIES!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tobin is NINE.

Tobin in pursuit!

Tobin turns nine years old today. I feel that same tiny ache in my heart with each passing year, as he seems more and more grown up. But the joy of watching him grow certainly helps the ache. I also think differently than I might have a couple years ago. I feel especially grateful to be here, taking it all in.

Tobin is starting his FIFTH season of baseball. He seemed a little nervous at the plate & struck out twice. But true to form, he kept his head up, cheered for his teammates, & played well in the field. He makes me really proud.

Things have always come easy for Tobin, even when they haven't. He's playing his fifth season of baseball this spring. For a few games, he was in a hitting slump. Through it all, he kept his head up, never complained and continued to lead the dugout cheers when each of his teammates came to the plate. Then one game, he went 2-2 and scored a couple runs. He was so happy. In the next game, things didn't go quite as smoothly. He got a bruised forearm while fielding a ball on the pitching mound and sat out a couple innings. When he returned, he ended up going 1-2 and got a put-out while playing third base late in the game. He quietly confided in me when we walked to the car after the game, "Mom, I think that was my best game of the season!"

#discgolf #rookies 8yrold

We had Tobin's birthday party at our house yesterday. When he woke up, he said he couldn't wait until 4:00--party time! We'd been planning the party for a couple months. Tobin wanted to set up games in our yard, and he and his friends had a great time playing kickball, wiffle ball and capture the flag. Matt and I both got a kick out of his school friends giving him mostly books as presents with more than one of them telling us, "Well, we know that Tobin LOVES to read." Sure enough, at the end of the day, while his younger siblings were still running around outside, Tobin had his nose in a new book about rocks and minerals.

Birthday bike! My first baby is NINE today.

Over the last few months, Tobin read the entire Chronicles of Narnia. (I've never done that.) We also have the Harry Potter series, and Matt and I have both asked him if he's looking forward to it, and he says something like, "No, not yet." As easy-going and open-minded as he is, I appreciate that he has a sense of what he's interested in and pursues that.

Birthday boy locked in, awaiting a pitch from Dad.

Tobin is an easy kid to be proud of. He excels in school, and is kind and helpful. In many ways, parenting him has been, well, easy. It's not hard to "stay out of his way" because his way is so harmonious. I guess sometimes I wonder if I'm not offering him enough help. Would he ask if he needed it? He's an understated kid, definitely less emotive than his siblings. He keeps a lot of things to himself. Recently, I swooned when he referred to one of his classmates as "probably my best friend." I treasured this glimpse into his heart. I am figuring out that the differences in my kids allow each of them to teach me unique, important things. And since Tobin is my first child--the one I've known the longest--I've probably learned more from him than anyone. I am thankful for another trip around sun with him, trying as best I can to follow his lead.

Riding Aladdin's Carpet with T.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two years later

Only supposed to last a couple hours but with overnight lows in the teens, resuming normal activities tomorrow seems doubtful.

Today marks two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. It's a mostly heavy day for me. I'm dealing with vivid memories of getting the call that sent our lives into a tailspin. That said, I am glad to be marking off the time--now officially years, plural--on this side of things. I see my team of doctors about once a quarter, and all appears fine. I've been lucky to have very few side effects from the Tamoxifen (estrogen blocker) I will take every day for at least another four years. I've started running regularly and really love how it makes me feel strong and, dare I say, calm. Our family life still moves at a hectic pace, but today things feel more settled, relatively routine and mostly happy.

I know I've been quiet over here at the blog. I post fairly regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr, so that micro-blogging has hopefully kept those interested tuned into how things are going for us. In my last post, a year ago, I wrote about feeling heartbroken and the daily work that is mending my heart. Of course, that remains a work in progress, but it made me reflect on some of the things that have strengthened my spirit this past year. This list, of course, is not exhaustive.

  • Taking the kids to NYC in April, where we visited with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Dan and met our cousin and nephew, Sam.
  • My babies turning eight, five and three over a span of six weeks in May and June.
  • Visiting family and friends in Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky over a month-long, 4000-mile family car trip this summer.
  • Buying and moving into our new house in August.
  • Lauren starting preschool and absolutely loving it.
  • Spending a weekend in DC with my best girl friends in September.
  • Selling our town home in October.
  • Hosting Matt's mom for our first Thanksgiving at home in many years.
  • Celebrating with my brother Al and his bride (my new sister!) Melinda at their December wedding in Louisiana.
[I started to include pictures, but I'm having a hard enough time finishing this post, so I will kindly direct you to our Flickr page, which remains a pretty good reverse chronological photojournal of our lives.]

As I think back on the busyness of this year, there's one experience that feels particularly poignant and significant in my journey moving forward. A little less than a year ago, Matt and I began the process of looking for a new house. We needed something bigger than our two-bedroom town home, and wanted to be closer to Matt's work. It took several months of searching--including a few setbacks--but we ended up in what feels like the perfect house for us, just two miles from Riverside with a large, flat half-acre lot on a quiet cul-de-sac, where our kids can run around and ride their bikes safely. Between our neighborhood and the one next to us, Matt and I have some great running routes. Our house itself has a nice open kitchen-family room area plus a separate living room, that mainly serves as a playroom. The boys share a bedroom and Lauren enjoys her own room that doubles as a guestroom when we have visitors. My favorite thing about where we live now is having great neighbors. We've enjoyed having friends and play mates across and just down the street. We are only about five minutes closer to the boys' school, but for some reason a 15-minute commute seems so much easier than 20 minutes. Go figure.

After we settled into our new home at the end of the summer, we began the process of putting our town home on the market. We were beyond thrilled when we got an offer just a few weeks later. We closed on that sale on October 17, which happened to mark one year post treatment for me. In fact, our home-searching-then-selling process spanned March to October 2014, neatly paralleling my treatment timeline from March to October 2013.

And nearly every day--as I prepare a meal watching from the kitchen window as the kids play in our backyard, or walk down my street to chat with our neighbors, or get a text from Matt that he's on his way home and he's walking through the door five minutes later--I am struck with a strong feeling of gratitude that this is the place where we live.

Feeling at home, at peace, is a precious thing. I try very hard to stay grounded in each moment. It's hard work, and some days--many, actually--I do a bad job at it. But part of my continued efforts to take better care of and be kinder to myself have yielded the understanding that even my bad days with their fear, anxiety, sadness and/or anger can teach me something. Each new day is another opportunity to learn more and hopefully do better. Indeed, I'm thankful to have another year with those I love. For now, I am well, I am happy and I am grateful.

Getting your footing on ice-covered snow is tricky.