Thursday, January 15, 2015

when stress cracks you like a cadbury creme-filled egg

Stress is a funny thing because it has a very unique way of expressing itself in people.

For me, I take information, internalize it - think I'm doing just fine and then after a day or two - find that I'm unable to sleep and yet unable to stay awake, almost simultaneously.  Last night for example, I was desperate to get in bed. But once I was there, I read books until 2 AM and then tossed and turned and was wide awake for the day at 5:55, with several things to do, but unable to get up and actually do anything until 7:40.   I just think when I lay there ... think about what I should do, what I shouldn't do, and imagine the different scenarios.  Then we miss the bus.

It can be so tough to be a grown-up. 

Charlie and I are again on the threshold of making a huge decision.  Where are we going to go?  What are we going to do?  I think we're afraid that we're going to make a wrong choice and that fear, just manifests stress and a host of other ailments like my narcoleptic insomnia.

I say "we" but in reality, I'm the one that's afraid. I'm afraid of giving up my career that has supported us. I'm afraid of moving north and buying a farm and relying on Charlie to carry the financial responsibility for our family.  I'm afraid of the alternative - moving to Texas and getting pulled deeper in to my career and away from my children.  I'm afraid of how fast these children are growing up and the teenage years that are looming a mere two and a half years away.  I'm afraid of success. I'm afraid of losing control.  And for as much as I enjoy each day ... I'm afraid of this nagging feeling that I'm hanging out in the "waiting room" of life.  Tick, tock!

Because I tend to overanalyze things, and then write about my over analysis...

On the one hand, we could move to Texas for a few years and do very well for ourselves. People at my age in the company are very well poised to move in to higher management roles, but what makes me think I'd want that?  (Answer, I'm human).

For as much as I love the idea of more women managers in this business, I'm afraid of success and what it will do to my ability to control the other components of my life.  I do not need the additional pressure and stress that comes with increasing responsibility.  Nor do I need the additional money.   That sounds crazy, but what do you do with additional money?  My experience is that you consume.

You buy houses and cars bigger than what you really need ... more crap that your kids won't play with and this makes you angry that they're ungrateful and don't care for the things you bought with money that you made while sacrificing time away from them ... and in general, you just have more and the weight of the stuff in your life bogs you down.  

Unless, I'm wonderfully disciplined and  can convince everyone to live in a small apartment so we can aggressively save for four college tuitions for two years.  (Mom, that's unlikely).

On the other hand, we have an opportunity to buy a 20-acre sheep farm with virtually no mortgage, in a picturesque little ski town, near one of the best STEM schools in New England. This sounds idyllic, except we haven't figured out yet how we'll support ourselves, beyond Charlie's very part-time consulting business, and my ability to 1) catch a sheep; 2) sheer a sheep; and 3) sell its wool.

For as much as I love the idea of that life, I'm afraid of being broke and desolate in a nearly 300-year old farmhouse with one bathroom.  What if there is a health crises and we have insufficient insurance?  What if the roof leaks?  What if a fence breaks?  What if we all get sick and have to use the bathroom at once and the toilet won't flush?  What if we have to EAT THE SHEEP?

That's how I'm dealing with my stress.  I'm imagining worst case scenarios and trying to summon the strength of spirit to charge forward despite the fear.  I'm also reminding myself how much I love an adventure. Whatever happens, I know this will be one of the best experiences of our lives!  

And then there's my husband...

This evening, Charlie was beside himself.  He's such an even-keeled guy, it's not very often that he is bothered by things, but tonight he was infuriated.  He'd heard this story on the radio while he was coming home from the store about the Cadbury Egg.  

According to Charlie, the confectioner has changed the recipe and packaging of this beloved and traditional treat.  Instead of coming in a 1/2 dozen, there are now five to a box. And the wrappers are different and the driver to this change is purely economic.  What set him off the scale, was that Cadbury was bought by Kraft and as my husband is telling me this story, he is becoming more and more agitated.

His face is red and his fists are clenched and he's yelling that Kraft makes crappy macaroni, now they're going to ruin the iconic CADBURY EGG and why can't people just leave GOOD ENOUGH ALONE?  "You know what they did, don't you?" he bellowed. "I'll bet management at Kraft said, 'Just substitute cheap cocoa chocolate instead of the good dairy stuff, and charge them the same amount for five crappy eggs instead of six. People will still buy them and we'll save $14.25 million a year!'  Why does it always have to be about money?!"

I'm not sure, but hearing him say that, makes me thing we should totally buy the farm and rebel against the financial ties that bind us in this society.

Oh, wait a minute.  "Bought the farm."

Doesn't that mean they died?!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the quest for sense and sensibility

For as long as we've lived in Virginia, five years this coming July (how's that possible??) ... we've known that our stay here was temporary. We knew coming in to this situation that by 2015, my company would be constructing a new corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas.

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We knew that if I were to stay with my current employer, the expectation is that we'd need to move our family, again.  And while we knew all of this and we've obviously been thinking a lot about it and weighing different options, it really struck me yesterday when I spoke with a 46-year-old co-worker who is in a different part of the country and he was told that he needed to provide his decision regarding whether or not he would move to Texas by March 3.  If he opted not to relocate his family, his last day with the company would be March 4.  And that would effectively conclude his 23-year career with this organization.

Business is business. 

A challenge for myself, and so many of my co-workers who are considered "mid-career", is that if we can hang on until we reach the age of 55, we receive a private pension that comes with insurance benefits that essentially lasts for the rest of our lives.  To put a price tag on that kind of benefit package, would likely top the scales at over a million dollars.  I've heard countless people (including my parents) tell me that type of retirement package is virtually unheard of in this day and age and I'd be a fool to not stick it out.  But, in exchange for that retirement pension - you need to remain with the company until you reach the age of 55 and have worked with them for 15 years.

To terminate your employment short of 55-years old, you're still eligible to receive a pension, albeit significantly reduced and with no insurance benefits, when you turn 65.

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At this juncture, I've been with the company for almost 14 years.  But I'd need to continue working, until at least April 20, 2026 in order to retire with my full benefit package.  And then I'd need to wait until I reach 60, in the year 2031, before I receive my pension at 100%.   While I'm wildly speculating, should the cost of crude oil prices continue to nose dive, there's always a chance that lay-offs could occur and who knows what might happen to future pensions?  And if the state of my industry has taught me anything over the past five years - it's that nothing in the business world is guaranteed.  Except taxes.

So at this moment in time, our family is facing two significantly different options.

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Option 1 is that we accept the move to Houston this summer, immediately after the children finish the school year.  We, or rather my company, sells our home in Virginia, and we take what equates to a very profitable relocation package.  Under this scenario, I'm committed to remain in Texas for a two-year minimum.  Or, until the children have completed third, and sixth grades, respectively.  We could move at that point. Alternatively,  the more financially conservative approach (and somewhat soul-sucking) is that I could continue working until I reach the golden age of 55, provided I'm not canned. Management assures me that wouldn't be the case, but crazier things have happened.

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Before I get to Option 2, I need to convey a situation that happened with my boss a few months ago. When he asked me my thoughts on moving to Texas, I told him, "As a Project Manager, I always start with the end in mind.  That said, if we move to Texas I'll need to continue working for another 12 years, before I'm eligible retirement. In that same span of time, my four children will graduate from high school and will likely attend college in Texas, seeing as we'll have four in school at once and I'll be pushing for in-state tuition.  I'd then expect that if our children are anything like me or their father, they may fall in love while they are in school. They may opt to get married following graduation, and find jobs in the area.  And then, they may have children. That means I now have GRANDCHILDREN in Texas.  Just like that, BOOM, I'll never leave. And while I thoroughly enjoy the Lone-Star state, I don't want to be buried in Texas."    

Charlie scoffs at me and says it's irrelevant because I'm actually planning to be cremated - but the point is, in my mind's eye, I'm not spending the rest of my life in Texas.  I'd be desperately sad if I could never wear my wool sweaters and snow boots.  And since life happens so fast, I can absolutely see that scenario playing out.

Option 2 is that we do not accept the move to Houston in June.  Instead, I resign from my role this spring and embrace the role of homemaker and homeschooler.  People who know me well tell me that there's no way I could be a homemaker, because I'm too driven and after being at the "high career level" I've been at the past several years, I'd be bored by Day Three.  To that, I just laugh because being a homemaker and teacher sounds like the most GLORIOUS GIFT in the whole world and people who claim to know me well, likely don't know me too well at all.  (Or maybe they do, and I don't know myself??)  So I'll add the caveat that maybe I'd eventually pursue a part-time job if deemed absolutely necessary from a mental stimulation (or financial requirement) perspective.

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This option spurs a whole lot of other options, akin to throwing a dart at a map, but the one that we are most seriously considering, is a relocation to Massachusetts and the purchase of a sheep farm where we can tap maple trees for syrup, and spin wool.

Yes! YES!  It's a very real possibility, just like I dreamed about nearly SEVEN years ago!

In either scenario, our Virginia house is going on the market in April or May of this year. While we have tremendously enjoyed it here, I'm craving a life significantly more simple than what northern Virginia has to offer.  So if you've been wondering why the blog has been so quiet the past few months, now you know what's been keeping us busy.

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On those nights when I'm not live-streaming Jane Austen movies, Charlie and I are huddled around our computers, analyzing spreadsheets, and developing Excel macros that weight-average the pros and cons of me continuing with my career or retiring at the age of 44 and pursuing my dream of being a full-time wife and mother; while Charlie re-enters the fray of the working world.

And who knows what else?

Maybe we'd learn to do some other things like brew beer and make candles and soap??

Then again, Houston might be an excellent adventure for us, if we pursue it for two years and I'm able to resist the temptation to get pulled deeper in to the career world.   Money is a tempting, tempting thing. But what instantly sobers me up, is looking at our children and realizing that I only have them at home with me for another eight years.   That time is going to fly past and I know we'll regret the things we didn't do ... more than the things that we did.

So in the midst of our spreadsheet analyzing and Jane Austen live-streaming (me, not Charlie he can't handle Jane Austen, although he did seem to enjoy the full six hours of Pride and Prejudice - Colin Firth version), we've been fervently praying for clarity, wisdom and courage.   There are so many thoughts swirling around our heads, we need to be able to have the clarity to recognize the best and healthiest option for our family, and then have the courage to implement it.

If we played the lottery, we'd probably be praying for a winning Powerball ticket, too.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

brother bear

Seven and a half years ago, just before I went in to the hospital to deliver Henry, a special package arrived on our doorstep.  It was a gift to our children from Marie, who is Julie's sister.  I can't recall everything that was in the package, but I do recall that there was a little brown bear, that Julie had received when she was sick, that she had named, "Forest."

Every night for the past seven and a half years, William has slept with Forest cuddled between his arms.  And every night when we say our evening prayers, we include one for Julie's family.  Forest's head peeking out beneath William's chin, always reminds us of my good friend, and his first owner.  Since today is Julie's birthday (and coincidentally, Henry's 1/2 birthday), we prayed extra hard for her family, tonight.

When the triplets were in Kindergarten, they were invited to a birthday party at "Build-A-Bear Workshop."  As William worked his way through the line, selecting the animal that he would like to stuff - he chose a little black bear that he named, "Climby."

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After he carefully selected the heart that would reside in the bear's chest and oversaw the stuffing process, he proudly showed me his new bear and indicated that this bear had been made specifically for his little brother, and he hoped Henry would love it as much as he loved Forest.  And so it is, Henry is also inseparable from his bear at night.

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These two brothers...

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Might all of us have someone that loves us as much ... as these two love each other.

(At least most of the time.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the season of miracles

Just before Thanksgiving, my sister, Eileen, sent the children an "Elf on the Shelf."

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They were thrilled.   

Everyone - or so it seems - at their school has an Elf and why it is that they've been denied for so many, many years (or three, however long it's been since the Elf has made its appearance?) is a mystery.  Not only did Eileen send the Elf, she also sent a full flight suit for him (bomber jacket and googles).

And a book and a movie that tells his complete story.

The Elf was promptly named, Jackson, as a tribute to their new little cousin who was born in October. And then as quickly as he appeared, he vanished. Poof!

Gone into thin air. 

The children all knowingly explained to me that the Elf cannot come out until after Thanksgiving so it was likely he went back to the North Pole and yes, yes, this all makes sense.  Sure enough, on December 1st, the Elf reappeared. He was propped on a picture in the hall and spotted by Henry who turned inside out upon seeing him.

"GUYS!! GUYS!! COME QUICK!!! JACKSON IS HERE, OH MY GOSH, HE CAME BACK!!"  

And so it is that every morning for the next ten or so mornings, Jackson would show up someplace new in our home. Perched on Charlie's coffee pot ... nestled in our Christmas tree ... sitting on top of the cuckoo clocks, etc. etc. etc. 

One of the mornings, however, in the throws of my sickness when I could nary move a muscle, as I lay in bed, I was suddenly gripped with dread when I remembered:  I had forgotten to move the fireplace screen so Jackson could fly out the night before, and although Charlie was home - he was not aware that such coordination efforts were required to ensure that the Elf could return to the North Pole - report on the children's behavior to Santa - and return to his new perch in our home.  

Earlier in the week, when I was under the weather and on solo parent duty, I'd been unable to help facilitate Jackson's relocation and his non-movement prompted dire concern from the children and caused Elizabeth to immediately craft this letter to Santa Clause.

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It reads (typos corrected),  "Dear Santa:  I think Jackson is sick. He hasn't moved in to a new hiding spot. But if he is sick, I am reporting back to you.  (This is when she turns in to a total nark!) My brothers punch each other and my sister hates my clothes.  My mom is sick and thinks she is going to die. :(  Louie threw up today. My Dad is very happy and for me, I really don't know but I think I'm happy today. Those are all the reports I have today. Love, Liz L." 

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Because I didn't a repeat of that situation,  I flew out of bed at the speed of a turtle on muscle relaxers, and rushed in to the living room.  My eyes quickly scanned the house and I did not see, nor hear, anyone that was awake yet.

The Elf was still perched on his ledge from the day before, and reaching up in one swift move, I snatched him off the shelf.   My plan was that I would "help" Jackson move to his new location.

What I did not see, however, was that laying right there in front of me, was one fully alert William who with his blonde hair and barren chest, was perfectly camouflaged against our beige couch.  He gasped loudly, "MOM! YOU TOUCHED HIM! YOU TOUCHED THE ELF!!"

For those not in the know, it is a cardinal sin to touch the Elf because doing so will zap them of their Christmas magic.  And yet, here I was, red-handed holding Jackson.   There was no disputing it, and yet I tried.  "Did you see how he just FELL right off the shelf? He toppled and I grabbed him out of the air!"  William shook his head and said, "No, he didn't fall off the shelf. I was just watching him and wondering why he didn't move and you GRABBED him! I saw you Mom, don't even try to deny it."

And I knew in that moment that I could continue my lie, or come clean and tell my son, who was highly suspicious of the whole Elf thing from the beginning, the truth.

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So I summoned him in to the dining room, the most far removed room in the house, and I whispered, "William. I have something to tell you but you must promise you'll keep it a secret." He nodded in agreement, and taking a deep breath I said, "The Elf is not real. He's been created as a fun addition to Christmas, but he doesn't really fly back to the North Pole each night."

William seemed relieved to hear this and said, "OK, that's fine.  I get it."  Then he paused for a moment and asked, "But Santa's real, right?!"

"Of course Santa is real!" I said.  "Yes, of course absolutely positively. YES."

Because I wholeheartedly believe that. 

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Fast forward a few days, and William very seriously asks, "Mom, you've got to tell me the truth. Is Santa real?"  My first course of action was to grab our book, "Yes, Virginia There Is A Santa Clause" and read to him about Santa is as real as love.  

But the more we talked, the more my skeptical son wanted to know if there is a man in a red suit that flies around the world on Christmas Eve, slides down chimneys, and delivers toys to children.  He wanted to understand the logistics, and spatial physics, of such an operation.

Again, I summoned him to a part of the house where we could talk quietly.  We sat on the edge of a bed and I said, "William, your first question is whether Santa is real.  The answer to that is YES." Then I paused and said, "Your second question is whether there is a man that flies around the world on Christmas Eve and slides down chimneys delivering toys to children." He gazed at me with big eyes and I paused again and had a feeling that is akin to RIPPING off a band-aid.

You've got to just do it. 

I cleared my throat and said, "The answer to that question is no. There is not a man that flies around the world in a sleigh and slides down chimneys on Christmas Eve."  He look bewildered and said, "But you just told me that Santa is real!"  Nodding I said, "Oh yes, Santa is real ... the spirit of Santa is very real!"  Then I pulled up my friend, Google, and looked up Santa Clause so I could read William the origins of Saint Nicholas.

As I scanned the page, I said, "He lived a long time ago and sold all of his belongings to give money to the poor. He was especially generous to children.  Let's see ... then he was put in jail .... um, was released from jail ... and then he died."

His eyes flew open and he cried, "Santa's dead?!"

Good heavens, am I totally incapable of having an age appropriate conversation with my children?!

Taking a moment to regain my composure and find my breath,  I explained, "No, wait a minute! Santa's SPIRIT is ALIVE in everyone who believes!  That's why we say, 'If you don't believe, you don't receive the gift of Christmas' ...  and I believe more than you could ever imagine! "

As my son sat next to me with tears streaming down his face, I rambled on about love, grace, kindness, giving ... and the real meaning of Christmas which is the birth of God in human form.  I'm sure if there was a fly on the wall, they would have told me it was a bit of a mess.

But I finally seemed to gain some traction when I told him that there is a special magic that comes with believing in a man that flies around the world in a sleigh on Christmas Eve, and then I winked and said, "Now, let's revisit your questions again.  Yes, Santa is real; that response is never going to change." Then I said, "And YES, {wink, wink} there is a man that flies around the world in a sleigh and delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve.  It's the most magical thing and he's coming to our house ... squee!!!... in three days!"

His teary eyes twinkled and with a smile he said, "Mom, you do a GREAT job with the ashes near the fire place and the boot marks. You really had me fooled."  Then he added, "Now I see why you want us to go to bed at 7:00 on Christmas Eve. You and Dad have a lot of work to do at night."  After he sat thinking for a moment, he concluded, "You can count on me to keep this magic quiet and to help get the other kids to sleep on Christmas Eve.  I'll be your Number One Elf!"

The more we talked, the more he came to understand why we do Toys for Tots each year. He'd always wondered why Santa didn't bring those children gifts, and now he understands there are families who are not able to provide gifts for their children. He also understood why this year, our small group from church adopted a low-income nursing home - and brought gifts for 74 seniors and stood singing carols for them in their dining room - because they might not otherwise receive anything this holiday season.

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This morning, I took the boys on our annual outing to the mall so we could pick out gifts that they could give to their sisters.  As we were checking out at Macy's, we asked the 50-something year old cashier if she was ready for Christmas.  In this day and age, that seems like a bold thing to ask a perfect stranger, but given her Christmas-esque sweater, I felt pretty confident she would be celebrating the holiday.

She nodded and said, "Yes, I'm ready."  Then she hesitated and added, "I didn't do any shopping this year."  Our eyes locked and she continued, "Things are very tight for me and I just couldn't...." her voice trailed off and she looked down at the register.

Every so often this feeling comes over me, like a little nudge on my heart.  Taking a quick inventory of my situation, I see that I'm standing in Macy's with my two beautiful and healthy little boys, enjoying the first week of our two full weeks off for the holiday season, and all I could think was that everything I need, I already have in abundance.

So when the clerk handed me back my debit card, I handed her the cash that I had in my wallet. It wasn't much, but enough that she looked confused.  I gently touched her arm and said, "Merry Christmas. Hopefully, you can use this for something."

Her expression went from a look of confusion, to one of surprise, to disbelief as she shook her head and couldn't speak.  The boys piped up, "Merry Christmas!" as we collected our bags. While we walked back to our car, William squeezed my hand and said, "Mom, that was so awesome.  As far as this Elf is concerned, you're at the very TOP of the nice list!"

Considering I haven't had the most stellar parenting moments as of late (in addition to being especially short-fused, not sure anything can top, "Santa is dead?!") ... I accept his heartfelt sentiment as evidence that Christmas miracles really do exist.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

let me tell you about the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees

So.

A few months ago, I had "the talk" with our fourth graders about "the birds and the bees."

It was a simple conversation that started when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood and William saw two teenagers hugging and he mumbled under his breath, "Geez, they should get a room."   His comment floored me, because: 1. Where did he hear that? And 2. Does he even know what that means?!

So I asked him and he said he'd heard kids on the bus talk about hugging and kissing and "all that kind of stuff" and I suddenly remembered being in fourth grade and riding the bus.

On or around the day that Ronald Reagan was shot (circa 1981), my best friend, Vivian, told me that babies came out of a woman's belly button. Since she was a whole year older than me, I suspected she was an expert on the subject.  It wasn't until a few years later, I'd learn she had her facts slightly mixed up.

By the time we'd walked back to our house, I had given William and his sisters the 30,000-foot overview of human reproduction.  When we arrived home,  I pulled out our dry erase board and sketched pictures of a woman's reproductive system, a man's reproductive system, and how babies are conceived and delivered.

It was a very informative discussion that only slightly traumatized the children and caused my husband to hide in the garage until it was over.

Apparently, earlier this year, we were informed that the school would be having a talk with the children about similar topics, including what to expect with the onset of puberty, but I must have forgotten about the communication. And I must have missed the subsequent communication that was distributed late last week to remind parents that they could opt-out of having their children participate in this session which would be occurring this week.

To be honest, I'm lost under all the academic paperwork.  Unless they send letters home glued to my child's forehead, I'll likely miss it.

This past Monday evening, our phone started ringing off the hook as several angry parents (who also have a challenging time wading through the ocean of school paperwork) called to ask if we knew that the school had talked to our kids about puberty?  Interestingly enough, we did know about it, because our kids were still talking about it ... nonstop.  

As I explained to the parents who called, I think it's fantastic that the school is talking about it, because knowledge is power and with all the changes that are about to explode in our children - they need to know what's happening with their bodies. Also, not all families feel comfortable talking about these topics, so at least the children have a basic understanding that is rooted in fact.   

Most days when the kids get off the bus and we ask them what happened that day, they can nary remember a thing.   But on Monday, the three of them rushed us at the bus stop and didn't take a breath the whole walk home.

"MOM, MOM, MOM, did you know that I'm going to grow HAIR in places I could NEVER imagine?" followed by, "MOM, MOM, MOM, and did you know that I'm going to get PIMPLES in places I could NEVER imagine?"

Within 10 minutes of arriving home from school, one of William's best friends - who lives in the neighborhood and comes to our house most afternoons - arrived with his notebook.  I was busy talking with Charlie and didn't notice until much later that they were swapping notes and making sure that they captured all the Rules of Growth, as explained to them by their teachers.

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The 12 Rules, as recorded by two 10-year-olds are:

  1. We can't control growth of our body.
  2. We get hungry as we get older (big appetite).
  3. Our muscles get bigger and stronger.
  4. We need food because the calories help us grow.
  5. We get taller by the amount of food and growth we have.
  6. We need water to help our body stay healthy.
  7. Apples are not only good for your teeth, but your body, too.
  8. Some people find growth painful, awkward, or embarrassing.
  9. Sometimes in boys, they will get hair in places they can't even imagine like facial hair, underarms and chest.  
  10. Sometimes boys get things called "wet dreams" (Jen comment: OMG. Wait, WHAT?!)
  11. You might get pimples all over your body in puberty.
  12. Pimples grow in parts of your body you couldn't imagine.

My daughters then told me about the things that they discussed when they were pulled aside with all the other fourth grade girls.

They said the teachers explained how a woman's body works and how they, too, will grow hair in places they never imagined.  They talked about a woman's cycle, mood swings, and the development of breasts.  At the end of the discussion, the teachers told the girls that if they had any questions remaining, they could anonymously write them on a piece of paper and she would answer for all to hear.  Carolyn said she wrote down a question and passed it to the front of the room and as the teacher worked through the 10 or so questions that had been turned in, she got to my daughter's question and read aloud, "Can you please explain how an erektchun happens?" 

According to Carolyn her teacher read the phonetically spelled word a few times, before she realized what it said and then she gasped out loud and asked, "Who turned this in?!"

Carolyn raised her hand and the teacher said, "Oh No Dear! We don't talk about THAT until seventh grade!"  Then she asked my daughter where she had learned about that word, and Carolyn said, "My Mom. She explained a lot AND she drew us pictures."

I might never show my face at school again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

embracing an attitude of gratitude

What I didn't mention in my first post about our recent trip to the eastern Caribbean, is that we missed our flight on the way to Miami.  Even though we left our house at 3:00, the airport is only 30 minutes away, and our flight wasn't leaving until 6:30 ... we missed our plane.   Here's what happened...

We left the house at exactly 3:00 PM.  There was virtually no traffic on the road and by 3:20 PM, we were less than three miles away from Ronald Reagan National Airport. It was expected that we would be parked and standing in security by 3:35 PM and be sitting at our gate by no later than 4:00 PM, a whole 2.5 hours before we were scheduled to depart.  However, as we approached the exit, traffic slowed and then came to a halt.

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For the next three hours, we moved less than 500 feet.  We would learn that there was a serious automobile accident on the 14th Street Bridge in to Washington, DC and all four lanes of traffic were stopped.  Stopped to the point that we turned off the ignition of our vehicle, and sat waiting, while watching planes take off and fly over our heads.

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While we were sitting in gridlock on 395, I struck up a conversation with the woman in the car next to us.  We had started to move a tiny bit, and she tried to cut in to our lane to the point that she nearly hit the passenger door.   I rolled down my window to tell her, "PLEASE! We are trying to get to the airport before we miss our second flight!" and she rolled down her window to tell me that she was trying desperately to get home because she was returning from the funeral of her daughter and granddaughter, who had perished in a house fire earlier in the week.  The house caught on fire and the father was able to rescue one child and raced back in to help his wife and daughter, but he fell off a ladder and was unable to get back inside.

We tried to let her go first because we were broken for her loss.  But she insisted we go first because she didn't want us to miss our next flight.   If only we really knew what was happening in the world of people around us, I wonder how much more compassion we would have?  I suspect our hearts would grow at least three sizes each day.    

When we arrived at the airport, we were placed on standby along with several other passengers (that arrived after us) and had also missed their previous flight because of the traffic gridlock on I-395.

Five minutes before the plane was scheduled to push back, we were called to the gate and told that they had just enough seats for us.  But instead of the nice row of six seats - we were spaced all over the plane.  William was on row 8; Henry on row 14;  Charlie on row 18; Carolyn on row 22; me on row 27; and Elizabeth on row 34.

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I was so prepared with coloring books and crayons to keep the kids entertained for the three hour flight, but because of the hasty nature of us boarding the plane and taking our seats, I didn't have the ability to give the kids any of the supplies that I'd packed.  Earlier in the day, this might have been a problem for me, but the woman from the freeway was still on my mind, and so we were feeling nothing but gratitude that we were together as a family, and embarking on a wonderful trip.

Carolyn and Elizabeth wound up being seated between Korean men that didn't speak a word of English. William had a book on Jamestown that kept him entertained, and Henry immediately picked up the menu from his seat back pocket and giddily began pondering aloud what he'd have to eat for the duration of the three hour flight?

PRINGLES! 

SNICKERS! 

For all the traveling that Charlie and I do, it's remarkable that the only time we have significant travel issues is when our family travels together.  This past April when we flew down to Florida for Easter, we were on our plane, racing down the runway for lift off, when the wheels touched back down, the pilot slammed on the brakes and banked a u-turn back to the gate.

I'd never had that happen before and was wondering what exactly had happened, when the pilot came on over the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, as you can see we are heading back to the gate. As we were taking off, an alarm sounded that indicated our door was not shut properly and the last thing we want to do is have the door fly open when we're 37,000 feet up.  Am I right?!"

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Yes sir, you are right about that.  I'd much prefer that the airplane door remain firmly closed when we're seven miles off the ground.  I'm grateful for your attention to detail.

By the time the door was properly closed and secured, and we returned to the line-up, we were number 14 in queue for take-off.  Being so far back in line, meant that we landed later than expected and we missed our connection from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale.

We had to fly standby, then, too.   Here are the children, settling in and waiting for a flight that could accommodate us all.  This was a particularly long wait since there are not usually an abundance of empty seats on planes flying south to Florida for Spring Break.

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What a good experience for my fledgling travelers, and wonderful opportunity for Charlie and I to demonstrate kindness and patience!

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When we finally boarded our plane, we were immensely grateful that we caught a connection and arrived safely.  Albeit six hours later than we expected.

We were also grateful for our sense of humor.

When you pack for a trip, never forget to pack your ability to chill-out and laugh.

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Today, my doctor called me to tell me that my blood work came back.  In addition to my auto-immune disease flare up (which I'd suspected), I also tested positive for parvovirus, which is what caused my severe arthritic conditions and inability to move for several days last week.

The first thought that sprung to my mind, is the "parvo" that dogs contract, but this is apparently a totally different virus that affects humans.   When I told Charlie the news I said, "See, I told you I was sick as a dog!"   (Get it?!)

According to the doctor, the symptoms can last for a few days, to a few weeks. But I've found SUPPORT FORUMS for people who have suffered from parvo for years.  Alas, over the past few days, I am finally feeling better and am extremely optimistic that I will not be one of the victims that suffers from this crippling viral infection for the next decade.

Sincere gratitude for my health, because it is awful to be sick

Last but not least, I've got gratitude for the amazing trip that we shared with my amazing mother and the awesome memories made.  Gratitude that my children had the courage to stand on the main stage and participate in a "Talent Show", the last night at sea.   Elizabeth, hula-hooping...

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And Henry wow-ing the large audience in to fits of laughter with his "karate" moves.

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Henry showing "the crane"...

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Daniel San (from Karate kid) showing "the crane" ...

(Henry's was better.)

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Gratitude for beautiful sunsets over the ocean.

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And gratitude for the onboard treadmill that I used once during the seven-day cruise...

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That helped burn off approximately 1/1,000,000 of the calories consumed.

Friday, December 12, 2014

aye matey!

We left from Miami on Saturday afternoon and our first port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico.  As we cruised out of the Miami harbor, a pod of dolphins showed up along our starboard side and were jumping throughout our wake...

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We were supposed to arrive in San Juan on Monday afternoon, but because of rough seas - we didn't arrive until Monday evening.  Those two days at sea - with the boat tossing and turning - were quite difficult for William, who had turned a light shade of green and was happiest when he was standing outdoors, with his face perched over the railing, feeling the warm ocean breeze on his face.

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It was almost 8:00 PM when our boat docked in Puerto Rico.  We had just enough time to get off the ship, walk across the street to the Ralph Lauren outlet where we bought Charlie a new shirt marked 75% off, buy Dramamine for William, and get back on the boat.

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When we woke up the next morning, we were in St. Thomas.

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Because we had a full day planned that started early, we had room service drop off breakfast, which we enjoyed on our balcony while the ship docked.

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Good morning, Noni!

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The plan was that Charlie and I would take the four children to swim with dolphins in Tortola, while my mother stayed on the ship having a massage.  Instead, moments after we stepped off the boat in St. Thomas - after a lovely breakfast on the balcony, and after clothing our children in full-sleeved sunscreen protective shirts - the 95 degree humid and windless air engulfed us.  As I was snapping off this picture of my mother, in her pink hat, waving from her balcony, as the dolphin tour guide affixed bracelets to our wrists...

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Elizabeth leaned near me and whispered, "Everything is turning yellow, I see spots."  And then she collapsed, limp against me.  I'd been giving both her and Henry a slight hug, so was not fully cognizant of what she was saying - or doing - and I felt annoyed that she was now hanging on me, in what I thought was an attempt to bogart all of the attention from Henry.

So I tried to nudge her upright and gave her a little kick while saying, "Liz, stand up! What are you doing?!" and that's when her head flopped to her shoulders and I could see that her eyes had rolled to the back of her head and she was totally unconscious.

Her sudden fainting spell surprised me, so I quickly scooped her like a baby and gently laid her flat on the ground before gravity kicked in and she fell down.  As I was getting her horizontal, Charlie - who was listening to our dolphin tour guide - called over at us, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WOMAN?! WHY IS LIZ LAYING ON THE GROUND?! GOOD GOD, GET UP!!!"

And I called back to him, "GOOD GOD, MAN. SHE PASSED OUT COLD.  DO YOU HONESTLY THINK SHE'D BE LAYING ON THE GROUND, IN PUBLIC, IF NOT FOR GOOD REASON?! CAN YOU PLEASE GET ME SOME WATER, STAT???"

A lovely woman who was standing next to me, with her four children, whipped out a huge unopened bottle of Evian and handed it to me, while I tried to peel Elizabeth's long sleeve swim shirt off.  She'd clearly overheated and I needed to cool her off.  Then I waved up to my mother, who was still overlooking us from her balcony, and summoned for her to come down.

Mom was on the scene within minutes, and Elizabeth was sitting upright, pale as a sheet and horrified that I tried to take her swim shirt off in public.  (She'd forgotten that she was wearing a bathing suit beneath it.)  We had a split second decision to make as to whether we were going to go swim with the dolphins on another island, or stay behind with Elizabeth.  Given that my mother, a retired nurse, was with us, she suggested we leave Elizabeth with her - and go with just the three kids.

So that's what we did.

While we were on our outing to a different island, my mother took Elizabeth upstairs for what would be a three-hour nap. Followed by shopping that included Elizabeth having a Jamaican braid and beads put in her hair, and scouting out places to have her ears pierced.

Meanwhile, we took a boat to Tortola, went to a dolphin rescue center, and were able to dive in to the lagoon and swim with real live dolphins.  I'd love to share pictures of that experience, but the photos cost $35.00 each, or $359.00 for the package of 50 photos and well, we've all got really nice photos in OUR MIND. 

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Henry quickly became best friends with the son of the family that gave us their Evian...

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And after spending a full day together, they were making plans to back pack around Europe when they graduate from high school. Or something equally awesome.

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Island Living!

A Christmas tree, next to a palm tree (in front of a $100 million dollar private yacht!)

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It was such a wonderful excursion. While the dolphins were amazing, just the scenery was enough for me to soak up.  It was so picturesque and at one point, I suggested to Charlie that we sell off everything and buy a catamaran and sail around the Caribbean.  We could teach the children onboard the boat, and what an INCREDIBLE educational experience for everyone!

THIS COULD BE US!!!

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Or, perhaps this if we wanted a more pirate-y feel!

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Charlie just laughed and told me to put down the rum and punch.