Friday, May 22, 2009

Then Ten

It's a little strange to think we've been married for 10 years. Ten. That's the first number the Associated Press writes in numerals instead of spelling out. Ten. It's strange both because it's hard to remember exactly what it was like being single and because that's way longer than any of my boyfriends lasted. Guess there's something to that marriage thing after all.

Then again, maybe I was just lucky enough to choose well. Because I truly believe that no matter how smart you are, no matter how savvy, you are perfectly capable of making a bad choice in a husband. There's no telling just who that guy is going to become. No telling just who you are going to become in the years to come....the many years if you're lucky. And, if you're lucky, you both change in ways that make you more compatible rather than less. Because there's no fighting change. You change...and so does everyone else.

Case in point...look at us. Aren't we cuuute???See, we're not even married yet. Engaged, yes, but we've got no idea what's in store for us or what wild curve balls life might throw. We're happily naive and as much as I love our life now, I wouldn't mind being them again, if just for a few hours.

And here... Here we are as happy newlyweds, not so many months after that first picture. Still blissfully ignorant of what marriage really entails or what it's like to raise children or face tragedies together without losing sight of one another.

Here, we'd been married for a year and we're are off adventuring around Great Britain. This particular photo was taken in Yorkshire where I spent three years of my youth...the most awkward years, between 6th and 8th grade.I had so much fun showing my "new" husband some of my favorite places from childhood. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to show my children many of the same things someday. You know, whenever I think my sanity can handle that kind of trip.

After the trip to England and Wales, I got even more bold and planned a trip to Central America, specifically to Belize, with a day trip to Guatemala. I knew the hubby was a little resistant to the idea, but he didn't confess that he was petrified about the whole deal until we returned and we'd both had a fantastic time traipsing around the jungles and snorkeling around the reef.

The trip to Belize was supposed to be our last big trip before we dove into parenthood...inarguably the biggest adventure of all. And that plan succeeded, but it a more wildly adventurous way than we'd planned. Despite the trauma of having a baby in the hospital for 14 weeks, I think it only brought us closer and I learned what a tremendous support my husband could be under a variety of really awful circumstances.
Here's a man I couldn't do without. Other couples didn't fare nearly so well during their NICU stays. I'd give my husband a lot of credit for keeping the whole marriage together through a really rotten time.

But the next year was better. Sorta. I mean, time plays tricks on you, you know? I know we didn't get much sleep that year, so it couldn't have been that great, right?
Smunch was far from an easy baby. We did what we could to stay sane, but I'm not sure we succeeded. Looks can be deceiving.

See, if we'd really retrieved our sanity in 2003, we might not have decided that Smunch needed a sibling. We might not have taken the chance of repeating the whole NICU deal over again. If we'd been sane. With a toddler at home and 8 more weeks of NICU time ahead, we had a rough time juggling everything. Then Gram Ryder died suddenly, making 2004 by far our worst year on record. So much drama, so many tears. So hard to understand each other.

But Mam was a better sleeper and that meant that despite the horrible year prior, we slowly started regaining a little sanity. I know. Surprising with a baby and a toddler in the house, huh? Like so many things, it's all a matter of perspective. Here we are, trying to give a little back to the March of Dimes for the two children they arguably gave us. We both know, after all, that it's no small miracle that we have any children at all.

And by the following year, things had started to mellow out just a little. Our children were both happy and growing. Smunch had started stuttering much more severely than ever before. We both found it alarming and it was hard to get past just how difficult a stutter might make his life. For all of the people who have never really heard Smunch speak, I'd like to say that it's a huge struggle for him and it's exceedingly painful to listen to, whether you're a parent or not. Marriage is difficult during times like those, when you're both worried or scared, maybe for the same reasons. Maybe for different reasons. We did O.K. And look how happy we were looking that Fall!

That was 2006. Oddly, it was really hard to find any photos that included the two of us in 2007. There are, of course, plenty of photos of the kids. I'm usually the one with the camera, so there are even lots of the kids with their daddy. Not so many of me with my husband. Perhaps that explains this photo: where I look a whole lot like I might be saying, "This dancing is nice and all, but who is this dude?"

There has been no shortage of ups and downs in the last couple of years, but at least they're getting smaller. With the shrinking economy, I've found that I've largely run out of work. And I've found that it suits me. I get to do fun things like plan camping trips to Yosemite, where Daddy and I drag grumpy munchkins on spectacular hikes.Believe it or not, they were more enthusiastic than this picture suggests. We made it to the top of Vernal Falls that day with promises of the "Mist Trail".
Hubby's had some much more serious ups and downs at work, but seems to have come out alright in the end. And despite the hours of speech therapy, some temporarily added occupational therapy and newly added physical therapy, Smunch is doing well. It's a real joy to see him enjoying school, participating (quite dysfluently) in class and becoming a huge sports nut. Mam's only just begun her hours of speech therapy, but seems to be making great strides. She's ready for kindergarten. I'm looking forward to Fall when both kids will be in the same school. Look! In that previous photo, from just a year ago, I even remembered that maybe I'd like a reflective picture of myself with my husband. Nevermind that it was a photo taken in the "reflective bean" at Millennium Park in Chicago and my awesome husband is looking a wee bit distorted.

We've managed to spend a lot of money on babysitters and get out at least once a month, most months. We usually have cheap dinners and go see a movie. We've seen a lot of movies for a couple with two kids. My favorite part of our dates is stopping by Starbucks afterwards. It's not that I really need the coffee. I just like having a chance to sit down and talk to that guy I married. No urgent requests, nothing to be addressed, no kids to interrupt us every 10 seconds. We don't always have a lot to talk about, but it's almost like 10 years ago.

We can't go back there, but at least we can recapture little tiny bits of that time that used to be just ours. It's not quite the adventure it was, but you know what? I think I like it that way!

p.s. My overachieving husband promised himself that he would make it back to the same weight he was when we got married before our 10th anniversary. He had to lose more than 40 pounds. I thought that sounded good. I had to lose 3-5 pounds. My husband is now a svelte, skinny guy who's looking pretty darned good. I, on the other hand, well, what's 3 pounds anyway?

Meanwhile...a smattering

I need to do a better job of keeping up with my own life here. I figure the moment I slip too far from the current time, the ol' blog may be doomed. Sadly, the lack of blog-keeping mostly has to do with the fact that we've been crazy busy...and that means we've done all sorts of blog-worthy things.

Take this for instance:

Smunch's school has a special night with the local High-A league baseball team. They do this every year and we usually go because it's really a lot of fun. I didn't know until this year that before the game, some of the players hold a clinic for any kid 10 or under for free. All you have to do is be there at 4:30. I'm all about exposing Smunch to real baseball players. He had a great time running around and catching the ball with them. Too bad Daddy forgot to pack him a mitt, huh? I was at a PTA convention (er, um) all day and just met them there, so I'll take no blame on that one. Not one to be left out, Mam was out there too, having a blast with the baseball players. They played way out in the field where I couldn't get any photos, but here they are, all running back in before the beginning of the game.This was Mam's first baseball game experience. I've never dared take her to an entire baseball game before, but she loved it. Don't get me wrong. She was bored. She fidgeted a lot and repeatedly asked when it would be time to go home. But when it was all over, she announced that she wanted to go with us again next time. Too bad I only had 3 tickets for our next major league game. Still, it's a little expensive to take her to a major league ballpark anyway. She may love it, but I still have to put up with her.If you haven't noticed before, take a minute to appreciate her new purple horn-rimmed glasses with heart cutouts in the corners.

And then there's this:These are pictures from a birthday party Mam went to for one of her preschool friends. Yes. It's a bunch of 4- and 5-year-old girls bowling in fairy wings and tiaras. It must have been one of the most hysterical things I'd ever seen. They were so funny! I didn't stay for the whole shindig because I had errands to run and Smunch had a baseball game, but it was worth the drive to the bowling alley to see this.Face painting was not included, but was a side-effect of our morning trip to the Klutz Benefit Day that morning to assemble a new stash of birthday presents. We donated a bunch of money to Smunch's school that day. That's how I like to think of it anyway.

After attending her fairy party, Mam was forced out into the sweltering heat to endure one of Smunch's last games of the season. With temperatures in the 90s and plenty of blacktop to go around, we were all suffering out there. In fact, at the end of the 4th inning the coaches turned the field hose on all the kids just to cool them off.

Way back when my dad and I first started doing a little bit of field preparation before games, someone warned us about this particular hose. Nothing wrong with the hose itself, but the metal pipe of the hose attaches to PVC pipes underground and if you leave it all connected and you're not very careful, the PVC will get broken and you'll have a geyser. Then you have to call the city out to turn off the water and get the pipe repaired. Guess what?Have you ever seen more unadulterated joy?When the guy from the city finally arrived, his only question for the coaches was, "Are you sure you want me to turn this off?"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

It's late, but I hope all you mommies out there had a happy Mother's Day and got to sit back and relax a little. Turns out, I'm not that good at taking it easy. I've always got too much I want to get done.

My day started with the flowers in the photo above. And continued with breakfast at a local restaurant that has one of my very favorite breakfast dishes...banana french toast with caramel/brandy/pecan sauce. Yum!!! Daddy took the kids out to play a little baseball while I dug around in the garden after breakfast. Unfortunately, Smunch came home with a bloody, fat lip after fouling a ball into his own face. That took a little sparkle out the day and out of the Smunch for a while. BUT, it meant he got to have Jamba Juice for lunch and well, what's better than that?

We picked up Jamba Juice and headed out for a few hours of really unsuccessful letterboxing. I don't think my record of finding letterboxes has ever been worse than today, when I found just two out of five. Bleh. At least one of them was pretty cool and had a fun clue. The lost ones were drowned in puddles, lost in abundant foliage or just plain missing, as far as I could tell. Still, it was a beautiful day and we were outside. I couldn't complain that much.

On the way home, we stopped for some free bowling. I signed the kids up for this awesome program called Kids Bowl Free. It started at the beginning of May and runs all the way through the summer. They can bowl two games a day from now through mid-September for free, including shoes. And, because it was pretty cheap, I bought a family pass so Daddy and I can go with them as often as we want. This was the first time we'd used the program and it was flawless. Daddy and I had fun and the kids had a blast. Maybe by the end of the summer, Mam won't be throwing her bowling ball straight at the kiddie bumpers anymore!

We wrapped up the day by Daddy fixing a lovely dinner of fettucine with garlic chicken. It was yummy and the wine was good. The season finale of The Amazing Race was on tonight...a great way to settle into the evening, even if my favorite team didn't win. At least it was my second favorite team.

As you may have noticed, I left my camera at home today. Sometimes, its nice to go out and experience a sliver of life without feeling the need to record it all in pictures for posterity. I guess that was my way of taking it easy today!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Home Alone

It's a weird feeling to misplace your child. It's never really happened to me before this week. One minute I was on the playground chatting with another mom about orthodontists, the next Smunch came out of his classroom without his sweatshirt. I told him to go back and look for it. He couldn't find it. I told him it was probably on the hook outside the classroom. He couldn't find it. He said, "I wonder where I could have left it." And he took off toward the other side of the playground.

Assuming he was off looking for his sweatshirt, I kept chatting. He didn't come back. I finally decided he must've been distracted by an afternoon game of shoot-out or wall ball and headed out to the playground myself. I didn't see him. I went back to his classroom where his lonely sweatshirt hung out the hook outside. I asked his teacher if she'd seen him. Nope. I walked around the playground again, figuring I must've missed him somehow.

I still wasn't feeling very panicky. I mean, he and Mam often take off into the larger playground if I stay and chat too long. It's annoying because I have to head out there and get them if I want to go home, but it's hardly dangerous. He had to be out there somewhere.

I was getting hot walking around and around on the blacktop, overdressed for the warm weather in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. I walked around again and again. I went in the office. Nope. I went back to his classroom. There were now three first grade teachers in there and they all sounded concerned. "Would he have gone home?" one of them asked. "I don't think so," I said. "Has he ever gone home by himself before?" "No."

At this point, I'm starting to feel a wee bit panicky, remembering the note from the superintendent that went out the previous day, describing a potential kidnap attempt on another student in the district. My mind starts visiting unimaginable scenarios. I can't think for the life of me where he could be and can't imagine he would have gone home all alone. I walk the playground again. His teacher goes to the office and sends out a school-wide page over the intercom. "Smunch Ryder, please come to room 12!" Nothing.

I decide I'd better head home, just in case. I tell his teacher to call me if he shows up. In turn I promise to call her if he's at home. I head as fast as I can for the crosswalk, which goes across a busy street, but has a friendly crossing guard. "Did my son go across here?" I pant. He nods.

Although I wonder what he was thinking crossing Smunch without me (he's held both kids for my arrival many times before), I thank him and walk faster. I cross another street that is often busy. No crosswalk. No crossing guard. I can see my housecleaners leaving, but waving and gesturing. Clearly, Smunch has made it home and he's in the house. Turns out they've been trying to call my cell phone...which, naturally, isn't on me. They're awesome for realizing this was an unusual situation. They didn't even see me leave and head to school, as far as I know.

I walk in the house and there is Smunch, not the least bit abashed, beaming from ear to ear. He's so very proud of himself for doing such a big boy thing. I have a split second to think about what to do. Should I yell? Should I speak harshly? Should I tell him I'm glad he's safe? I came up with what I thought best fit the situation. I knelt down on the floor and gave him a hug. With Smunch giggling with pride, I burst into tears.

It was the right move. He apologized profusely and I could tell he actually meant it, for a change. Then I told him how worried I'd been, and asked why he'd left without me.

"You were talking," he said.

Hurumf. For the record, I've had much more important conversations while standing on the playground and talked for much longer. It didn't make him take off. I called the school office and cancelled the search of the campus.

We talked for a while about the necessity of telling me if he's going to leave. I told him how his teacher was worried and how he'd been paged all over school. He seemed both mystified and entertained by the whole idea. Now he was famous. Or infamous, at least.

What I will never, ever, ever tell him is that there's a little part of me that's really proud of him too. My shy, anxious little first grader decided what he wanted to do and did it...independently and with no help from me whatsoever. It was absolutely nothing I would have expected of him. It was gutsy and showed a side of him I've never seen. It's so nice to know that not everything scares him and that he can take pride in doing something a little scary and succeeding...even at the risk of his mother's fragile mental health.

First Graders at Filoli

Filoli is a somewhat local estate, famous primarily for its mansion and surrounding gardens. That alone made several moms in Smunch's class interested in chaperoning the field trip this week. Of course, we didn't get to go in the house...or the gardens...but who knew it was also a beautiful open space?So instead of some fancy kind of tour, we took a two-mile hike through a bunch of neat little microclimates/ecological zones. Just enough stuff to keep a bunch of first graders interested. We didn't get to see the manicured gardens, but there were plenty of flowers out in the meadow.And there were some beautiful, majestic oaks to marvel at.The docent introduced the kids to the trees, poison oak, thistles and hemlock as I snapped away with my camera.We headed from the meadow into the creekside riparian habitat and up the hill...The kids looked for water skaters... and got to visit with a banana slug. So many fantastic photos to take along the way...Smunch was happy. All that letterboxing probably paid off. Even though it was a pretty long hike, I didn't hear him whine once. With so much to see and so many places to stop and look at things, most of the kids were pretty happy. Just glad to be outside for a change. It's the time of year for irises in the forests around here. They were lovely, but so were the little pink flowers and the woodland violets.Although our docent and hike guide referred to this guy as "some kind of caterpillar", I'd beg to differ. This little fella is a yellow-spotted millipede. And these are some of the coolest little pink mushrooms/fungi I've ever seen. They looked just like Mam had spilled some of her treasures out there in the woods. There were stories from other groups who saw newts or snakes or got to visit the gardens with their docent, but all-in-all, I think we had a really successful trip. No one came home with poison oak or a new pet banana slug. Everyone had a fun time getting out and walking around. What more could you ask for?

Play Ball!

The title's a little bit of a misnomer since Smunch has been playing baseball for more than a month now, but it's about this time in the season that I start to feel absolutely steeped in the sport. I've got baseball coming out my ears and I'm still struggling to ensure that Smunch has a clean uniform for two games a week. And no, he doesn't always have a clean uniform, but given the state of his white baseball pants, I'm not sure you could tell the difference regardless.

Smunch lives for this time of year. He never complains about going to play baseball. And he rushes home from school each day to run over to my computer and type into my browser, no matter that I was in the middle of an intense e-mail conversation. Despite its annoyances, it's fun to watch his enthusiasm. He's not the most talented player on his team, but he's far from the worst. And he pays attention to the game, which is more than you can say for about half the team of wiley 6 and 7-year-olds.

He's intense, but not overly emotional. He no longer cries when he gets tagged out. He understands that this very same thing happens to professional players more often than not.

This year's been great for Mam too. She's no more interested in the games than she ever was...which is to say, she has pretty much no interest at all. But she's old enough to run off to the playground and play with the other younger siblings without a parent having to tag along. Here she is, avidly helping "coach Grandpa" install first base.The games this year are five innings long. And half the time, that's exactly the same as five long innings. I'm the "bench mom", which means I get to make sure the kids are in order on the bench. I take this job far too seriously. I'm the mean mommy. I threaten to change the batting order. I have no patience for boys climbing the fences when they should be on the bench. I'm a hard ass (if only that description was more apt for my physical derriere). But the boys are doing great, at least when I'm there to flog them into shape. I'm pretty proud of our team.

Then there's this. We do try really hard to make Smunch go to the bathroom before he leaves. By the fifth inning, he's still intent on the game, but clearly there are other things on his mind.Despite the late dinners, the busy Saturdays and the general frustrations of keeping 11 boys on task, I love this time of year. There's a lot of camaraderie involved in watching little boys play least at this age when they're still not technically keeping score. At the end of the day, Smunch almost always decides that his team won. I hope he can maintain that kind of enthusiastic optimism when they really start keeping score.