Managing This “Season’s” Stress

The theme of this month seems to be figuring out how much stress my brain can manage before it entirely implodes.

I think I’m pretty close to that, although I seem to just yell a bit more at the boys and that releases some from the pop-off valve.

Given that it’s mid-December, there’s a great deal of excitement about the upcoming favorite day of the year. There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the daily Elf and his location search (for the younger two) and about the daily “Advent Bags” (which were lovingly packed by their grandmother) that reveal goodies. And there’s a great deal of excitement about moving to a new house. For the boys, these past few weeks have been filled with constant expectation and a lot of joy. (Not complete joy because their mother hasn’t been giving in to their every whim and desire for “stuff, but there’s been plenty of joy!) 

But for their mother, it’s been an endless stream of things to do and things forgotten. For one, until you go through the process, it’s pretty hard to understand the emotional energy and time required in purchasing a house. Inspection. Negotiations. Research on radon abatement (including an hour on the phone with a talkative radon guy when I essentially had just one question – will you get it down below the acceptable safe limit of 4!).  Finding, printing, signing, scanning, emailing financial papers after financial papers to the mortgage lender.

And then there’s the packing; that is, after finding a moving company. The man who came in to provide an estimate might have casually mentioned, “Looks like you need to start packing….” I took his advice and increased from my two-boxes-a-night pace to spending almost this entire weekend packing up the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, the storage area which hasn’t been touched in three years (hello, daddy long-legs!).

And….two boys have succumbed to upper respiratory infections (the fancy name for a cold) and the middle one has succumbed to pre-teen obnoxiousness (the fancy name for being a brat).

If this was the only stress for December, it might be tolerable. But interestingly, there’s also the impending expiration of the 5-year cycle of my “Maintenance of Certification” for my pediatric boards. So I’ve spend 15-20 hours in the evenings working on those requirements. Strangely, my Pennsylvania medical license is also due for renewal by the end of the month so that requires some additional “continuing medical education” credit hours. And then there’s the email from the hospital where I am credentialed that my TDaP vaccine needs to be updated by the end of the month; so now my arm is sore from squeezing that appointment in!  Oh….and  also the oil change because I’ve had the new car for three months now, so I had to pop in and get that done on the way home from work one day.

To top it off, it’s also The Little Guy’s first year in competitive gymnastics and he had his first competition at the beginning of the month. Fortunately it was in town and we didn’t have to travel, but his joy in winning first place for his age group in the Rings event made me realize I better get prepared for his next competition in January. It took awhile to book a hotel room at Splash Lagoon (a water park close to the competition site), but the boys are thrilled.

It’s gotten to the point of being humorous (almost). It’s definitely to the point where I am conscientiously spending my days telling myself to unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I’m reminding myself that this is a season of craziness and it will pass.  I’m reminding myself that we don’t have to do everything we usually do this time of year (I say as I compose this from the hard wooden bench at the ice-skating rink…since the boys “had” to get out of the house). I remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect; the boys will have fun no matter what I do, despite my personal pressure to make this move and this Christmas “special.” And I remind myself to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep (at least every third night….as there’s clearly some viruses around to fight off and supposedly good sleep makes moms less grouchy!).

And tonight I have a sneaky suspicion that my neighbor is right….Mr. Ornery has his first band concert tomorrow night. I’ll need to find some dress clothes for him. I don’t think I’ve packed those yet…..

Sigh, so when you see me and you think – “wow, your hair sure has gone gray” – I’m still blaming it on the boys and this time I’ll blame it on not having enough time to keep up with the dyeing!

Countdown to Christmas – yes, this Advent, I am grateful for the greatest gift two thousand-some years ago and the many blessings and gifts bestowed daily this month!

(Ahem…well, I’m off to make my list of things still needed for Cookie Day at the new house. It’s going to be a blast. I hope!)

 

 

Ready for Cookie Day

 I’m not sure how exactly it got started, but in the early 90s, my best friend K and I were new graduates of Edinboro University. We had formed such a strong friendship over the course of schooling and found ourselves suddenly separated by 100 miles. I’m pretty sure it was her idea to invite me up to her mother’s kitchen that first December, and there her best friend from high school, she and I stood in red aprons soon covered with flour dust, rolling out sugar cookies and cooling sheets and sheets of cookies on the dining room table.

Every year I went back and every year the tradition grew. From her mother’s kitchen to her first kitchen after marriage. From a trio of friends to an open invitation for all friends and relatives who wanted to join us. One year her traditional red apron was imprinted with a recipe that included the phrase “bake for 9 months.” We hugged. The following December, a little 7-month-old joined our Annual Cookie Day! Soon, I was transporting my own seven-month-old son to his first Cookie Day weekend. 

On a specific Saturday in December, my friend would spread out folding tables and lay out eggs and butter, flour and sugar, cookie sheets and cooling racks. She would set up her Kitchen-Aid mixer, bring over her mother’s and I would bring mine with me. Flour dust would fill the air. Egg shells would fill the paper bags set under the tables for trash. Sprinkles would fill the cracks in the hard-wood floors. And endless chatter and laughter would fill the night. We’d bake and eat until our feet couldn’t keep us going anymore.

The kids would build snow forts, sled down her hill or engage in “epic” Nerf gun battles. When their fingers and noses were too cold, they’d settle down in front of the TV for the classic “Grinch who Stole Christmas” or “Polar Express” showing. We’d order pizza or K would cook up pasta with her homemade sauce and there’d be a break in the baking to have a meal.

My friend’s job was to manage the chaos. Find the almond extract. Refill the pretzel bowl. Welcome in the next guest. She has an amazing gift of hospitality! Each guest would pick a recipe and get started on making the dough and loading the cookie sheets. My job was the baking. K’s husband would bring in an extra oven and I would have 2 or 3 different (one year four) ovens going at the same time. Each oven had its own timer and my classic mantra was “Not really caring what directions you give me – it’s going to bake at 350 degrees until done!”

My most important job, however, was Undisputed, Don’t-Mess-With-Me Cookie Counter. All participants in this most precious of baking days were under one rule – Thou shalt not taste or eat a cookie until it has been counted by the master cookie counter! (Me!). I counted each and every cookie as it came off the cookie sheet onto the cooling rack. I recorded the type of cookie and tallied the totals as they cooled. At the end of the night, whenever we were ready to collapse, I added up all the batches of cookies and proclaimed loudly the total cookie count and the equivalent number of dozens!

My cookie count was so sacred, that one year, K’s husband doubted that we could have made over two hundred “Russian Tea Cake” cookies. He methodically recounted each and every powdery one of them. His number matched my original count exactly – and he never doubted me again (sort of). From then on, no one was to question the count!

The other golden rule was to double all recipes (except the Nieman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe since we learned the hard way one year that it was already essentially a double recipe) and to form the cookie balls on the smaller size. After all, it was all about the count and the smaller the cookie, the more individual cookies there were.

Actually, it was all about the fun and the joy of giving as each guest wrapped up boxes and boxes of beautiful cookies at the end of the night to share with family and friends and co-workers. There were so many memories wrapped up in those twenty-plus years of cookie making, that it was hard for me, yet completely understandable, when my friend announced she couldn’t keep up the tradition. So for the past three years, we’ve had much smaller versions of “Cookie Day” at a friend’s and at my sister’s house (as my townhome is way too small to welcome in guests). Having the event locally has drawn a different group of friends and my boys have adjusted. The rules have stayed the same, but the grand size of the day hasn’t been recreated yet.

As I contemplate the season of Advent and the preparation for Christmas, “Cookie Day” remains one of my great loves and one of my boys’ favorite days of the year. So in the spirit of thriving on chaos, I mentioned to my mother that the current plan to close on my new house on a Friday…. naturally meant….I could….potentially…..host my first Cookie Day the next day!

Yes, it’s going to be crazy, but I figure as long as I have the utilities on, have cable and wi-fi connected to entertain the boys in case of bad weather, carry over boxes of baking supplies and get the kitchen area cleaned up at least….I could be ready!  After all, one of the key criteria in my house-search over the past two years was: Can the kitchen host Cookie Day?

I think I found the kitchen.

I’ve started my list of supplies.

Now I’m ready to make magic again. Care to join us?

Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, dear sister

Our Family
A circle of strength and love
Founded on faith….
Joined by love
Kept by God
Together forever

 

To my sister,

Thank you for the Willow Tree figurines of my three boys this Christmas. More importantly, thank you for my three boys.

You started this journey eleven years ago during whichour-family we fell into adoption and flew into love. I still remember nervously standing around a bassinet of two-day old Super Tall Guy, waiting for the social worker to find some clothes for him to wear out of the hospital. We walked to the car swinging him in the car seat unable to talk other than whispered “Oh my goodness.” I stared into his eyes while you ran to the store for bottles and formula and diapers and baby wipes. What had we gotten in to? Leaping by faith to into a family.

I broke your heart once. Probably more times than that, but once in a big way. It was the day I was sitting in my office chair and looked up at you standing there innocent and announced that I needed clarity on being a mother. I couldn’t share mothering. I wanted Super Tall Guy to be mine despite having both of our names on the adoption certificate. I needed there to be just one mother. I was naïve. I was strong-willed. I pushed the limits of our love, but you held firm. You sacrificed and continued to love me. We learned to be independent yet together.

And I divorced you once in a house of five young boys. We sat on the hard wood floor of the second-floor bedroom and divided the children’s books into yours and mine piles. We clung to memories of books that mattered to our mother-hearts. We snapped softly at each other. We made lists of books we were determined to replace as they clearly meant so much to us. It’s been two years. I haven’t found my list. I haven’t replaced the books, because it wasn’t the books that mattered, it wasn’t the toys that mattered, it wasn’t the Christmas ornaments that mattered; it was the sadness of separating. It was the reality of beginning to parent on our own. It was the fear that dug deep within us. And yet, two years later, we hold together as a family. We rely on that bind. We trust that bind. We are still in it together.

boy-figurines2“The Caring Child” – Super Tall Guy – strong and huge with occasional explosions of rage, but deep within there is such a soft tenderness.

“The Inquisitive Child” – Mr. Ornery – always wondering how to push the limits and whether that line in the sand was really meant for him or for someone else.

“The Kind Child” – the Little Guy – overflowing with love and kindness, ready with a smile and a story, eager to meet the world and charm the skies with his eyes.

Each beautiful boy a gift of God. Each beautiful boy a gift to my life. Each beautiful boy so touched by the love that you share with them as well as with your own three boys. Each of us touched by being part of our larger family.

Thank you for my boys. Thank you for being my family. Thank you for being in this together forever. No matter what.

Love,

Your sister

Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

Advent Week Two: Who is in control?

The Candle of Preparation

“Do you or do you not have a bead in your ear?” I asked the 7-year-old for the hundredth (almost literally) time. I couldn’t decide which side of dragging children to the Express bead-in-ear-wpCare again I wanted to lean on. The otoscope at school apparently wasn’t working when the school nurse called me Thursday to explain the situation. My 25+-year-old otoscope also wouldn’t charge up so I couldn’t confirm Mr. Ornery’s story and given his orneriness, I couldn’t read his face. Was it worth going out another evening this week to check the ear?

The problem was, the week was just not going the way I had hoped. My idea was that it would be my final week of “preparation” for my once-every-ten-years required pediatric recertification examination. Having taken the internal medicine exam in October, I had been studying almost every day of the week since summer when I sat with a thick book in my lap at the pool. Now I had just a few more days of cramming small details into my brain and I wasn’t feeling ready.

Does he look like he ever slows down?

Does he look like he ever slows down?

But Monday was consumed with the fact that copper pipes were stolen from the basement of the house we’re trying to sell, necessitating quite of bit of work that my sister coordinated. Tuesday was the Little Guy’s orthopedic appointment (“When the cast comes off after 4 weeks, he’ll need to lay low for another 4 weeks” Um, have you met my Little Guy?!?). This was followed by a grand-slam knock-down homework battle prior to heading to a friend’s for dinner. Wednesday evening was karate. Thursday was going to be our evening at home so Mommy could settle and prepare for her test…..or head to Children’s Hospital Express Care.

Friday morning, the day of the test, started with running late to the bus stop due to having to rescue the neighbor’s locked-outside dog, followed by cleaning dog do-do off Super Tall Guy’s shoes, and culminating in finding out there was a conflict with the babysitter’s schedule at the end of the day which needed some childcare juggling as I would still be in my test. Keep it coming.

As hurdle after hurdle rolled my way, I realized that the preparation I was supposed to be doing the second week of Advent was laying all those burdens before the Lord. God was reminding me that there are many things in this world that I have no control over (and most clearly not the 3 little ones who live under the same roof with me!) and yet, He remains in control. As the things of this world – the big and the little – whirl around us and push and pull us, there is one thing that remains true forever. God is in control.

Advent Week Two – Preparation for what God has in store.

 

 

Advent Candle of Hope

Sunday was the first day of Advent. My boys don’t really care about the “anticipation” and the “waiting” for Jesus. They care about the wreath on the dining table that has candles on it. Candles can only mean one thing – the chance to fight about who gets to light the candles and who gets to blow them out. That’s what Advent is to them. Though they did learn last year that Mommy means what she says – keep fighting, keep arguing, keep driving me nuts, and that wreath disappears!!

So we sit down to a fine dinner of spaghetti and meatballs Sunday evening and light the first candle – the candle of Hope. I ask each one what they are hopeful for – and no, that particular Christmas gift does not count.

A couple hours later, during a typical wrestling match, Mr. Ornery apparently delivered a well-executed sweep kick that crashed the five-year-old to the floor. I did not witness said move as I was in the kitchen, doing what all single moms do after a meal – hiding and praying for a moment of quiet. But no, the Little Guy is screams in pain, and his unempathetic mom gives him a kiss and an elbow rub and a “get over it” look and we’re ready for bed, guys! After all, it is bedtime and sleep heals all wounds.

And what I realize in that moment is that all I’m hoping for this Advent Season is a moment of peace….which is not to be.

So here’s this year’s list of Advent Hope.

  1. Hope for just a few evenings of quiet to sit on the couch and stare at the tree lights.
  2. Hope that the hurt elbow heals up by the morning. This Hope, however,sam-cast2wp was replaced with Monday evening at Express Care and Tuesday afternoon spent in the Emergency Room for a lovely HUGE cast! (Mind you, on the same day, Super Tall Guy finished his 3rd week of boot-wearing after 3 weeks of casting. One out of a cast and one into a cast! Delightful.)
  3. Hope that this fracture train will end and the third boy keeps his bones intact! (He seems to hold the opposite hope, as these casts apparently to draw pretty cool attention according to his logic!)
  4. Hope that the dog will never ever ever again bark from her crate in the morning and wake me up on my golden morning of sleeping in as she did last Sunday! Really, dog?!?
  5. Hope that the boys will develop a much better aim for bodily fluids because I’m in-toiletgetting pretty tired of being the janitor (or else their hands are going to be cramping with writing assignments! “It’s 50 this time but it’s going to be 200 next time!”)
  6. Hope that we get a few more nice evenings to enjoy my early Christmas gift of a fire pit on the front patio (and again, not struggle with “behaviors” related to messing with fire!).
  7. Hope that there will be more dull moments this season – when the to-do list isn’t rumbling around in the back of my skull and the hype isn’t stirring up the boys’ inability to control impulses – and that we actually enjoy the days and each other (I know, too much to hope for, but I’m going to try).
  8. Hope that I can instill some meaningful traditions into this season where the boys catch a glimpse of the true meaning of Christmas and think about others for a few seconds; I’m only asking for a couple seconds.
  9. Hope for the world and all its people to find some peace and know that Christ is the Light of the world that disperses darkness.
  10. Hope for continued love and support of family and friends, and for patience….lots of patience….I need lots of patience…..