Thursday, May 30, 2013

To My Son, On His First Birthday

Dear Sweet Baby Grasshopper,

You are ONE! You are amazing! You are suddenly so BIG and it breaks my heart and is simultaneously so. much. FUN!

Where do I start? You have been a whirlwind and trouble since you were still in my belly. The events of my pregnancy with you turned me from someone who suffers from a slightly elevated level of neurosis on a daily basis to a woman in constant risk of totally losing it. And to be honest, there are still days where things are like that between us. For me, that pregnancy journey was about really learning to trust God, and not just to fix a trial, but to trust that He would carry me through one that couldn't be fixed. I had a lot of fear in the weeks leading up to your birth, but I learned that the ONLY thing that conquers fear is faith, and that sometimes faith is hard work. But always, it is worth it. Your father of course, was a perfect example of exercising faith. He always has been, and was my steady rock (along with the healthy sounds of your NSTs and the oft-counted kicks) through the uncertainty.

When you were born, oh, how I rejoiced at your safe arrival. You were strong and feisty and sheer perfection. You were my easiest recovery from a birth, but also my neediest baby. We had a tough go of it at times in this first year, as you rarely slept. Ever. You've never taken a pacifier and are attached to no lovey. Instead, your comfort items are me--nursing at the breast, pulling on my skin, chewing on my hair. At times it seemed that you were never satisfied with the level of closeness between you and me, but that you would literally chew my hair to get closer to me. And I admit, as a mom, there are times where I would hand you off to Dad and run to the store just to get at little distance.

You are my "Koala Baby" or "Velcro Baby"--the vast majority of your life has been spent in my arms. While I am exhausted by the busyness that your recent ability to walk has brought on, I am also glad for the respite it brings at times--for the personal space I regain while you destroy something besides me. You are now a year old and you still wake every 2-3 hours in the night, and a 45 minute nap in the day is practically a miracle. There were probably too many lazy days, too many dishes left undone, and too few sweet moments captured in all my sleep deprivation, but what I do know is that I wouldn't trade you for anything, even if it meant a year of uninterrupted nights! First of all, you are the only of my three babies who will actually snuggle me. Your brother and sister never had much interest in snuggling, and I am so grateful for the way you will sit quietly in my lap sometimes or fall asleep on my chest.

And, even though it is at times hard, I love that I am your favorite. By about six months old for both your brother and sister, Daddy was the favorite. They knew when he was coming home, and they looked forward to it. They were always happy to play with Daddy and sometimes fussed about being handed back to Mom. There is no doubt that I am your favorite. In fact, I can be sitting in my office working and hear you happily playing with Dad or the babysitters, and if I sneak in to use the restroom or get a drink, and you spy me, it's all over--you'll weep and wail and cry "muhMAH" until I come over and sooth your pitiful abandoned self. And yes, that's sometimes exhausting, like when the house is a wreck (always, since you came along, sweet thing) or dinner needs making. But it's also kind of sweet to know that no matter what everyone else in the world may think of me, I am your favorite person on the planet.

What you lack in sleep skills, you make up for in personality. You are at times the most pensive child I have ever seen. I love watching you watch things. You have this funny way of pulling in your bottom lip and gently furrowing your brow as you observe the world around you in a most meditative way. When strangers talk to you, you use this wistful expression on them until you decide whether they are friend or foe. Generally, you decide they are friend, and how you light up! I get so many questions from perfect strangers about whether you are always this happy, or what I do to have such a happy child. (The answers are: no, you are not always that happy because sometimes I try to make you sleep; and apparently if you want a happy baby, all you need do is never let it sleep, but take it out in public to perform for strangers!) You have one of those smiles that just makes people laugh out loud at you, and not in a "oh, what a sweet baby" kind of way, but a deep, surprising sort of way. Perhaps it comes from the contrast in your expressions, but I think it really is just that kind of smile that tells people that we're all children of God and He's closer than we think.

You don't dance. I think this is funny because your brother and sister both danced as soon as (or before) they were walking. You do not ever dance. Instead, you come over and sit in my lap or sit on the floor when your brother and sister are dancing about and give them that thoughtful look as though your are attempting to figure out just what this silly ritual is that they are performing. You clap for them now when they are done, and you'll laugh and giggle if I spin you around, but dancing is not yet your thing.

You spend a long time studying the pictures in books. When we read a book, you are very intent on a page, and if I turn it before you have fully completed your perusal of it, you will inform me with your angry squawks of your displeasure. You aren't big on TV (which to be honest, I have at times just wished you would sit and watch a Baby Einstein or something to get five minutes to myself!), but you do get very enthralled momentarily when the big kids want to watch Kipper. Something about that opening theme song just pulls you in.

You are so funny! And I really do think you know it. You have this funny little "Huh-huh" laugh that you use when you've done something that you know if funny. I love the little glint in your eye when you catch my attention--that infectious smile and one little raised eyebrow get me laughing every time. That same pensive quality you have lets you know when people will be surprised by your actions, I think, and you anticipate that you'll get a reaction. Sometimes, you like to poke me or stick a finger in my nose or smack me while you nurse, and you get a mischievous little smile, and laugh your little giggle. You'll peek around the corner at someone and giggle, you'll throw away a piece of food to get your brother and sister to laugh at you. I'm so amazed that such a little guy already has his timing down so well!

In just the last few weeks, your growth in every area has simply exploded. In the last month to six weeks, you have started to fully walk on your own, to reliably say a few words, to clap, to eat a variety of solid foods of all textures, to color, and to point. You got your first two teeth around six months, but haven't had any more come in for a while. Now, in just the last few weeks, your teething has been nuts--right now you are working on six teeth. At least three of them have finally broken through, and I think the next few will be just days behind. You'll have a mouth full of teeth in no time.

You say "mama" and "dad-dad" with knowledge of what they mean. My favorite expression you say right now is "HUMM" which roughly translates to "That looks yummy! Can I have some?" Any time someone is about to eat something, you will wander over and expectantly repeat "HUMM! HUMM!" until we share (or in the case of your brother, until he says, "No! No HUMM!").

In the last couple months, you have also become a much bigger fan of your Daddy. Where before, there may have been times when you didn't even want to let him hold you, you have now learned the great secret about Daddies: they are super FUN! You've learned to wrestle and roll about, to be tickled, to giggle and laugh with Dad and that it is a blast. I love this special relationship that your dad gets to have with you.

You absolutely adore your siblings. Squirrel comes in to the bedroom where you sleep with me most mornings, and you are always so happy to see her! I think your favorite part of the day is when she comes in and talks baby-ease to you and then drags you off to play with her. She's always my first up and always happy to rise, and so she's always good to carry you away for play time in the mornings. And you laugh and giggle as she carries you happily into the hallway or her bedroom.

When it comes to Little Bird, his feelings are not always as warm--I don't think he quite understands that you're just a baby, and so now that you're busy enough to do things like climb on him and pull hair, he'll push or yell at you, and we're working on that. But he does love you so! In fact, his love for you and his desire to help with you has been an unexpected, but delightful, surprise. He loves to wrestle with you, to play with you and your toys, even to help me out by taking out diapers or attempting to make you bottles. He's always looking out for you! He will be an awesome big brother, and I can picture the two of you on many adventures as you grow!

You are becoming more independent--with your recent mobility, you seem to experience less frustration and boredom than in the previous months. There is more trouble for you to get into and that really delights you. Even with your new independence, I am still home-base, and I love the way you'll wander off to check something out, and then return to sit in my lap and observe from afar. I love this relationship we have, this push and pull. I can see it being the type of mother-son relationship that helps you explore your world safely and learn new things in a deeper way because I hope you'll always bring back what you've learned and allow me to help you process it. I know that the bigger you get, the less time you'll spend with me as your "base," but I hope there will always be time spent there, no matter how little. To me, it will always be meaningful. And as difficult as it sometimes has been to give up so much of myself to being your mom, I wouldn't change it for the world. Because in the end, I'm getting all those pieces back, and they are so much richer and better than I could have hoped.

I love you, my sweet little Grasshopper. Thank you for coming to me and for being you. I'm so grateful to have you (constantly!) by my side and a part of our family.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Since our little picnic adventure, I've been telling Rob that we need to get out of town and go camping. It's a cheap and fun escape, and with a long weekend coming up, I keps saying that I wanted to go camping as a family for the Memorial Day weekend. The kids just don't get to see enough of him all buried away in organic chemistry and physics and kinesiology and whatever else he's always neck deep in, and since he didn't have a test that weekend, I told him we were going, darn it!

I think, at first, he just "yes, dear"ed me because he didn't think I would actually follow through--I'm not exactly an "outdoorsy" person. I aspire to be...I admire that quality in others...but frankly, I really am more of a spa-getaway in a cushy resort type of person. Last time I told him we were going camping, we went, pitched the tent, started a fire, and came home because it was DARN COLD! However, I was determined that would not be the case this time.

He started selling burgers at the farmer's market this year, so our Fridays are kind of eaten up by that, which is why we really needed a long weekend for a camping trip. So Saturday morning, I got everyone packed up, made Rob dig out the camping equipment, and we headed to West Yellowstone, MT. Now, let me say this. I attempted to find a campsite in Yellowstone Nat'l Park, but being that I made reservations the day before the long weekend started, that just wasn't happening. And so West Yellowstone it was. But let me also say I AM SO GLAD! We stayed in a KOA. Which has toilets that flush and showers. After this experience, I am happy to camp as often as my family wants, but I know enough about myself to know that really, I'm a girl who needs the comfort of a flushing toilet. (Side note: I have this weird, grotesque fear that one of my children will FALL IN to a vault toilet or a port-a-john. Worst case scenario--child drowns in pit of filth. HORROR. Best case scenario? Child is retrieved. I spend the rest of my life thinking about that instance every time I have to kiss them for the rest of my life. HORROR. So anyway, flush toilets=GOOD.)

It was a great little campground and we had a lot of fun. I had the foresight to plan our meals before we went and to get everything prepared. Unfortunately, I forgot to have Rob collect the meat for our first night's dinner (foil dinners). Lucky for us, we were only a few minutes out of town and ground beef is only about four times the regular cost when you are in a tourist town on Memorial Day weekend.

At any rate, we managed to make our foil dinners--they need some time to cook and we were already running WAY late on dinner since we had to go to town to buy meat, but luckily the KOA also had a pool which is THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER if you are 4 or 5, and so the kids happily swam for an hour while Dad manned their very late dinners. (And I planned this recipe for the next night, which is a PERFECT camping recipe because it is SO easy to chop and mince before you go, and then just throw in a pan and cook and dinner is ready faster than you can roast a hot dog.)

And this guy was in absolute heaven, making muddy boogers and eating rocks and using his newfound walking skills to meander all over the campsite. Seriously, the little Grasshopper was SO HAPPY to throw rocks and eat grass and dirt and generally be left mostly to his own devices outside, which never happens when you are a baby. 

Little Bird was, as usual, oscillating between pure joy and misery. I can't really blame it all on personality this time. He caught a TERRIBLE cough at preschool that week, and by the end of the weekend, we all had it. So whenever his meds wore off (am I a bad mom for still dragging us out when I knew he wasn't 100%...?), things went south. But for the most part, he was sweet and helpful and only occasionally telling me to take him home or that I RUINED HIS LIFE by bringing him into nature. 

Squirrel, too, was mostly delightful. I think her favorite part of the whole thing was getting to help make dinners and breakfasts. And s'mores. Good heavens. It is entirely possible that if we had waited four more seconds before we busted out the s'mores, she may have actually died. But she was a great help, especially with her baby brother, who she kept coralled in our site and mostly out of danger. 

She was also the one who was up at 5:30 in the morning after our first night there. A night in which I received zero sleep....and yet had to get up with her at FIVE THIRTY. I shouldn't be surprised. That's pretty much been her MO--up with the sun like a spring--since birth. And it IS pretty exciting to be on a camping trip when you are almost six.

The first night was mostly awful. Somehow, I got dealt the child-sized sleeping bag for the Grasshopper and I to share, and it comes up to about mid-torso. And temps were below freezing that night. So I spent the entire night curled in a ball with my tushie in the freezing air, worrying only about the Grasshopper staying warm and dealing with him wanting to nurse about every 16 seconds. The nursing part wasn't unusual. But the numb butt part was. And then there was the part where Squirrel woke up at O'Dark Thirty. 

The next night, in an adult bag, was MUCH better, even with the sporadic rain.

Except that we need some kind of padding. Sleeping on ground=no good.

How could I do that as a kid? No idea.

After our first night, we spent our full day in Yellowstone.
Unfortunately, we spent the first three hours of our day attempting to get IN to Yellowstone, as there was apparently a "Bear Jam" somewhere along the road that leads to the lower loop. 
If you don't know what a bear jam is, it basically consists of all vehicles, in both directions of traffic, slamming to complete stops in the middle of the road without looking around them, and jumping out of their cars into oncoming traffic, leaving doors open and running around like lunatics because: 
A) They have seen a bear, 
B) The see a bunch of people doing the same thing and think there must be a bear to see. 

So after driving 15 miles in two and half HOURS, we finally made it to the loop, and started our day. 

The bright side of this was that even though we saw no bears (or other animals) in this time, we did pass some trees where some bison had shed some of their winter coat. I hopped out and pulled some off for the kids to hold. Squirrel declared that it would be perfect for her collection of animal furs, of which I am assuming this is her first piece, but man she carried that dirty hunk of fur everywhere all day. She even asked me if I could crochet a hat for her out of it. If only I had collected more...

First stop: Old Faithful! It was a pretty overcast day, so the sky was the same color as the geyser, but  I swear, this is the big kids in front of the geyser shooting into the sky. 

And some nice park ranger let Squirrel wear her hat as we were waiting. This was a benefit because when she wanted me to make her a buffalo fur hat, I could remind her that she had already worn one that day. 

As we drove through the park, we did see a good amount of wildlife. 
Some mule deer: 

Some Bison eating grass.

Baby Bison and Mommy Bison:

Baby Bison frolicking in the grass:

Some up close Bison crossing the road: 

And some REALLY up-close Bison (insert Little Bird screaming hysterically and telling Rob to 

We also saw a baby moose, a grizzly, lots of geese, and plenty of various birds. 
(That black shape in the middle, WAAAAY off in the distance is actually a grizzly bear. I need a better zoom lens, I guess!) 

We stopped at the Mud Volcano area and saw the "Dragon's Cave" which we will henceforth use to terrorize our children if they don't go to bed at night:

Stopped in at the interpretive center at Canyon Village, which EVERYONE thoroughly enjoyed. 
(No really, he actually loved it, but this is what Little Bird does any time he has to do something which his loving mother asks him kindly to do.)

And here are some trees that were made into benches, which Squirrel was really excited about, because, well, because that's just how she is. :)

All in all, we had a great time! We were truly pooped by the time we got back to camp that night, and we all crashed early. We packed up camp the next day, and spent the remainder in the town of West Yellowstone. We visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center there and I have to say, I was really impressed. It's a great little facility for bears and wolves who can no longer live in the wild and does a nice job working to educate the public and provide a good "retirement" for the bears that would otherwise have to be put down. If you're in the area, it's worth an afternoon. (Plus, they have a couple of Alaskan grizzlies there and HOLY CRAP those things are ENORMOUS. I had no idea that Alaskan grizzlies are 2-3 TIMES the size of Montana grizzlies. Those salmon must be good eatin'.)

 In the end, the preparation and cold nights and hard ground were worth it because it was just us together as a family, leaving everything else behind, and we really needed time all together. And there were flush toilets. I don't really need any time with my family without flush toilets.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Hitting the Horizon

So, on Saturday, we were having one of "those days." If you're a mother, you are probably familiar with those days--you know, the ones where every. single. thing you say or do elicits stomping and tantruming from your children.

"Let's go to the park!" Children lay on floor and cry.

"Let's go with our friends to a car show!" Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

"Let's go to the candy store and you can have anything you want!" Children go limp with much sobbing and agony.

I should go back a bit. On Thursday, Rob and I woke to the Squirrel saying, "Dad! The kitchen is all wet! It's like a swimming pool!" He sprung up and ran downstairs to find the kitchen, bathroom, and a good portion of our living room covered in water, which had, delightfully, emerged from the toilet sewer line. We still don't know what caused the back up, as it must have happened in the middle of the night, but we spent a great deal of time with clean-up, ripping things out, and enduring the terrible smell of the disinfectant/sporicide that the restoration company used (Rob kept commenting how it smelled like the cadaver lab at school). So, in fairness to the kids, they hadn't even been allowed into the downstairs portion of our house in 3 days, and though I was trying to find ways to get them out of the house or have fun upstairs, they had pretty much met their limit. Add to that the fact that they went to bed too late and woke up to early, and by noon on Saturday, they were pretty much possessed by evil demons of despair. I could have offered to buy them ponies and let them live on a cloud of cotton candy, and they would have collapsed in agony.

So I made some PB&J while they wailed, dragged them, kicking and screaming, to the car, and started driving.

I should also mention that spring in Idaho gives me wanderlust. We've had a pretty cold winter, and the weather lately has finally turned and just been wonderful. And for some reason, it just makes me want to head for the horizon and never stop until I reach it. So we hopped on some back roads, and I headed east. I told the kids we were taking a picnic in the mountains. They wept and gnashed teeth about this too, but they eventually fell asleep, strapped in their seats. I enjoyed a bit of quiet, and they had some much needed rest.

About an hour later, the kids woke, and we found ourselves near the base of the Grand Tetons. We stumbled upon a, thus far, mostly undeveloped master-planned community. We drove around and found a sweet little pond with ducks and reeds, and set out our picnic. And this is when the magic happened.

My children, who had been so ornery and belligerent, were suddenly not just happy, but PEACEFUL. And by that, I mean that their sweet little souls were full of peace.

As we got out of the car, Squirrel closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, raising her hands above her head. She whispered as she let her air out, "Wow...It's soooo beautiful here!" And indeed it was. Little Bird looked around and said, "I love it here!" We stayed until the sun began to set, and the two of them, who often play well, but whose play is often punctuated by battles and arguments, didn't fight once. They shared their food, they told stories, they danced and called to the birds, they wrestled happily. The little Grasshopper was also in his element, grabbing any food he could get his paws on, picking up and chewing blades of grass and sticks, laughing hysterically at his brother and sister.

Little Bird, who is my touchy fellow--who tends to run only at each end of the spectrum and who can have colossal mood swings at the tiniest inconvenience, was calling everything his friend. The birds were his friends, the grass was his friend, even the mosquito who bit him (which would normally make him very angry) was his friend. "That mosquito is still my friend, Mom. He just wanted to taste me. That's why he bit me."

It was one of those moments where I really do wish I could have frozen time and stayed forever.

I think that's one of the remarkable things about nature, and its value to our kids. It's one thing for my kids to get outside and play in the park--they have fun, they get dirty and wear themselves out, all things I love. BUT, seeing them out in NATURE, in the vast openness, in the kind of quiet that can only be had when you are surrounded by the peaceful sighs of lapping water, wind through the tall grass, and the chatter of birds, to hear your own voice echo and yawp through it all, THIS is a powerful thing for kids. It teaches them about the vastness of God's creation, about the fact that they are just a small, tiny piece of this great big world--that the world doesn't center around them. And that, I think, is what finally busted them out of their funk. Once they experienced that connection to nature, and something much grander than themselves, they were able to feel the peace they craved. And I craved. :)

Anyway, I think we may drive to the horizon every weekend this summer. Maybe something new every week, some vast expanse to help them find themselves and connect with their Maker.

Of course, I forgot my camera. But the iPhone is pretty handy. Enjoy the views.