Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dear Backyard

Dear Backyard,

It's the end of an era.  The moment we have been waiting for--for six years--has finally arrived.  You are being uprooted, converted, and transformed into something completely different and utterly unfathomable.  The process is called construction, and the end product is a house.  Um, we be gettin' new neighbors soon.


We moved into this community in the burbs six years ago, just before the market tanked, leaving a significant number of lots unsold and empty.  The original developer completed its responsibilities and sold the vacant properties to a new developer.  In the recent years, much to the credit of the new developer, all the lots have been sold, and construction has been ongoing.  In order for the properties to close before winter when construction halts due to weather, we knew that this summer would be the time to built.  And it all started last week--the ripping and digging--in the lot just behind our house.

Our own tiny backyard extends from our house downward toward an uphill slope.  The beginning of the upward incline is technically not our property, but since it was vacant, we freely planted our memories there as if it were our own.  

In summers, the grass on the hill grows happily and carelessly, spared from mowers that trim its neighbors down to a No. 2 cut.  Weeds and wildflowers take over, inadvertently inviting two little peeps to trek amongst it.  It was there that they picked and collected grass seeds, cupped them in their little hands and twirled and sprinkled them around as if they're tossing pixie dust, announcing, "We're planting grass seeds!  We planting grass seeds!"  It was there that they picked wildflowers and brought them back to put into a vase to decorate our table for a few days.  It was there that they ran round expending some cooped up energy that badly needed to be vaporized.  It was there that they collected stones and pebbles and rocks and oh-wait-that's-not-a-rock-throw-it-away-quick things.  A mass of green and a stroke of sky blue fill my view from my kitchen window in the summer.

In winters, we took advantage of the perfectly inclined hill for sledding.  For years, we didn't have to leave our not-technically-own backyard to have some speedy snow fun.  It was there that we swooshed and overturned and faceplanted while our sleds flew out from beneath us.  It was there where we plopped down and made snow angels and snow balls and snow forts.  It was there where clumsy hands covered in mittens and gloves shoveled snow, compacted pails, and patted down to make snow castles.  It was there that I watched two small bodies--covered in winter gear, leaving only a portion of their faces exposed--blow visible white puffs of moisture into the cold air from their mouths sandwiched between two bright, red cheeks.  A snow white backdrop separated by an uneven line of bare-branched trees fill my view from my kitchen window the winter. 

In springs, after a winter that overstayed her welcome, the hill is covered by grass eager to turn green.  As nature wakes from its monochome shades, the sun rays take center stage and shower the hill of my backyard.  It was there that my peeps finally run about without thick winter coats and snow gear to hit and catch and throw and chase and tag and jump and cartwheel and skip.  Up and down the hill, "Mama, look at me, look at me!"  It was there that we looked up into the sky and celebrated the arrival of warm weather.  Even from afar, you can see little bumps on tree branches budding with flower blossoms in the horizon.  A picture of a new beginning and new possibilities for growth perfectly frame my view from my kitchen window in the spring.  

Subsequently, on the hill of my backyard, the unattended lot brings us beauty of these sorts: magical cottony puffs for wishing-making and wildflower fields for eye dessert.

And now the making of such new memories will be no more. 

It will be a noisy summer.  There's nothing like being woken up by the sound of drilling into concrete and banging into metal in your not-technically-own backyard.  It will be a dusty summer.  Our air filters will be guaranteed to be covered in soot within a fraction of their normal time.  It will be a rapidly changing summer.  The speed at which houses are built these days is astonishing.  And we will be watching it every step of the way. 

Fortunately, I did manage to to think of a few positives.  Since our largest windows face west and get the most afternoon sun, once the house is built, we will benefit from significant shade relief (the new house will be much taller as its basement is on the level of our first floor).  Next, I know I will learn a thing or two as a bystander about building houses.  Or the work and break hours of construction workers.  Or the materials and labor aka blood-sweat-tears required to erect a home.  Lastly, we will be graced with new neighbors, much like the way a stork drops a baby in a sac to its rightful mommy.  We'll look up one day and poof! a family unveiled from a sac transplanted into the house in our not-technically backyard. 

Changes are hard.  I'm definitely not one to embrace change.  Six years worth of memories replaced by one giant change in a few months will be shocking even to trend-chasers.  But we are a resilient people.  We are tackling the changes of a rapidly growing girl who is beginning to exhibit emotional changes without cause, though I'd like to blame it on hormones.  We are struggling with the frustrations of a little boy who seems to take everything personally, even his own blunders and mistakes.  These changes make the Path of Parenting situated on a bed of nails at times.  But we'd no doubt walk on the bed of nails just to be able to get our kiddos through such tough times.  The optimist in me likes to think that it's these challenges that make the memories all the fonder.  The pessimist in me wants to travel back in time to save that hill in our not-technically-own backyard.

But I know we'll be okay.  We'll roll with the changes as they come, together.


So, Dear Backyard, since there's no going back, I'll look forward to peaceful days, a lower utility bill, and new neighbors ahead.  A family will be living on top of a lot of beautiful memories.  Lucky peeps.  


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dear Not-Good-At

Dear Not-Good-At,

You are representative of our limitations.  We are only human, and we have our talents and shortcomings.  Knowing where we fall short is the beginning of making improvement in that area--should we want to do so.  It's been awhile since my last #TopTen, so here is a list of my #TopTen things I'm not very good at:

10.  Sewing.  I can knit like a champ, but sew?  My ability to sew is stops at owning a sewing machine--one that I haven't touched for about six years.  You'd think that sewing is so much more welcomed because of its instant gratification appeal, but no--I must like the crafting that takes forever and a day to complete.  I've tried to sew, and all I end up doing is pricking my fingers countless times with those annoying pins, jamming my thread in the fabric, or--the best yet--breaking my sewing needle on the machine.  Four needles in a row.  #MyLifeCannotDependOnIt

9.  Singing.  And while we're on that topic, let's add Dancing, too.  I can carry a tune but I'm no singer.  I can dance a routine but I have no rhythm.  And that might be why some of my favorite shows are singing and dancing reality shows.  I live vicariously through truly talented people.  #PerhapsInMyNextLifetime

8.  Remembering.  From the plot of a recent movie I watched to where exactly I'm driving to, I seem to be losing some serious brain cells, thanks to my new membership of the 40s Club.  At my physical checkup the other day, the nurse instructed me to put on the gown with the opening in the front, like a robe.  On the drive home I suddenly realized that I had put it on exactly the wrong way.  I can't quite explain this disconnect, but I should probably be grateful that I even realized my mistake.  The next step would be going about my day oblivious to my own dementia.  #ImReallyNotStupid

7.  Public speaking.  Terrible, terrible at this.  I have a reflexive reaction to just to the thought of opening my mouth in public: my heart pounds so loudly that I swear everyone in the room can hear it.  If I don't have to speak, still, my face flushes and my hands drip with sweat.  If I do have to speak, I'll make no sense whatsoever, and then a clear train of thought will arrive in my head when my moment to speak is waaayyyy over.  #WhyIStayVeryQuietAtMeetings

6.  Twittering.  *Raises both arms*.  I've completely and utterly surrendered to Twitter.  I'm no good at it.  I don't use it correctly, and I suck at making witty, funny comebacks.  I just don't know how to have a conversation with complete strangers.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with having meaningful conversations with complete strangers, it's just that I am probably the boring-est stranger you'd ever talk to.  #YourTweetingIsMyQuacking

5.  Promoting blog.  It is still hard for me to think that anyone would want to read this blog, unless you're my Dear Husband, who reads it because I shove a laptop two feet from his face whenever there is new content.  Enough always comes to mind: is it good enough? interesting enough? bloggy enough?  I don't actively seek out readers or followers or promote posts for maximum visibility on social media, but I do treasure the peeps who do come by from time to time.  Do I wish I had more readers? Of course.  Will I do anything about it? Probably not.  It's just not me.  I'm writing this for me, and if some readers enjoy it along the way, well, that makes my heart happy, too.  #AdvertisementFail

4.  Multitasking with music.  Moms all know how to multitask, right?  Sure, I can cook and post a status update on Facebook at the same time.  Or I can clean and know exactly what my kiddos are doing at the same time.  I can even knit and watch TV at the same time.  But I cannot think while listening to music.  Which means I must read, write, and think in absolute silence.  The only time I can listen to music is when I clean, and even that is sometimes questionable.  It's like my brain can only tolerate one voice at a time. #SorryMyBrainIsFull

3.  Being a good bloggy friend.  I'm very guilty of not being the most timely reader/commenter to my friends' blogs.  I read them in volumes and spurts instead of routinely as posts are published (do others do this?).  I prefer setting aside a chunk of time to read and comment because I don't always get computer time everyday.  I also try to be vigilant about responding to comments here as much as I can, but sometimes that 'vigilance' sounds more like 'negligence'.  Whoops, sorry!  #HeadPalm

2.  Schmoozing.  In a large crowd at a party?  I'm so not good at making conversation among people.  There are way too many moments for awkward silences than I care for when I must converse with people I don't know.  Schmoozing is an art, and one that I have no mastery of.  If a good schmoozer is smooth, then I am as lumpy and bumpy as it gets.  #FindMeInTheCornerWithTheBooze

1.  Being fearless.  I was not brought up to be fearless.  In fact, I pretty much fear everything there is to fear (heights, speed, spiders, criticism).  Which means that I don't know how to teach my own kiddos to be fearless.  I know that some degree of fear is a good precaution for such things as stranger danger, but in most cases, one probably accomplishes more, or at least tries more new things, when one is more fear-less than fear-ful.  One of my major parenting shortcomings is that my kiddos are not apt to try new things very readily.  And I'm not one to encourage any sort of physical activity that has high risks of injury simply because I don't want them to suffer unnecessary pain.  But of course, I realize that participation could also achieve just the opposite, as experience usually keeps injuries at bay.  I'm probably overly cautious over all things, and not always in the best way, but it is what it is.  They say one becomes less fearful as one ages, so there's still hope for me?  #NotMadeToBeUnafraid

There are many more things that I am not good at, obvs! but these are the first ten that came to mind.  Not to be down on myself for any of this, but it is a good start to know what I need to work on.  Numbers 8, 3, and 1 I should definitely work on getting better at, and numbers 10, 9, and 4 I'll probably just not waste any more time and give up altogether right now.  And maybe on a day where I'm treading and keeping my head just above water and need a self-esteem builder, I'll work on a #TopTen list of Things I'm Awesome At.

So, Dear Not-Good-At, hopefully your list will evolve over time.  I know that some of the things I was not good at a decade ago I am much better at now.  I am more self-assured and can say no when I need to, I care less about what others perceive of me, and I am better at protecting myself from emotional wreckage.  And I know that's a good start.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dear Walk

Dear Walk,

"Put one foot in front of the other," and you begin the mobile phase of our lives.  Our first steps most likely took place toward open arms and encouraging words, with a few stumbles and falls, and amid some fierce determination.  Soon after, you become an ordinary, daily part of us for a long time.  We amble, we strut, we even drag ourselves at times, and we march from place to place, moments to moments in life.


We began our first summer vacation outing with a hike at a state park about a two-hour drive away.  Dear Husband had wanted to visit this particular park for a long time.  Seeing that we were going to have great weather, he mentioned this place for a hike.  I wholeheartedly agreed, and if you know anything about me, that is huge.  You see, I've come a long way.

Just after we moved to our current house in Suburbia, DH had often suggested that we go hiking at our local forest preserves trails.  Being the sun- and bugs- Major-Phobe that I am, I was not interested.  Much.  Dear Daughter was a mini-me in that regard, and Dear Son was still in diapers then.  So the thought of trudging through muddy trails in the heat, risking mosquito bites, and very likely having to carry DS for most of the hike was not very appealing to me.  So DH waited.

Finally, he got us to go on a 1.5 mile hike at a trail minutes away from our home (baby steps work well for stubborn people, if you ask me).  The kiddos were four and eight, and walked the entire way with nary one complaint.  They even had fun, as did I (no bug bites or sunburns involved).  So I said to DH, "How come we didn't do this earlier?  This is so close to home!"  He gave me the most amiable I-told-you-so look he could muster and called it a day.  At least we knew that it was totally doable. 

Last week, I had just been complaining about how this summer did not feel like summer yet.  It had been rainy and cold, forcing me to wear thick layers and winter slippers indoors--in June!  Upon coming home from a work trip across the country and seeing that there will be one sunny weekend day, DH suggested we go hiking.  It was a glorious day.  The sun played peekaboo through the thin clouds all day.  The air was cool, the gentle breeze tickled our skin and whisked away moisture, and the tall trees provided shade and enveloped us in nature.  We couldn't have asked for a better day.

Energized by lunch and excitement, we set off on the hike.  The first part of the hike had wood-board paths.  I wasn't sure why, as it seemed sort of unnatural to me.  But soon enough, we were on a good old natural, muddy dirt trail.  And I thought, this is how it should be!  See?  I've come a long way.

At the beginning, I trailed behind my peeps.  I was busy capturing photos and taking in Nature and all its glory.  Except we were warned by signs to avoid poison ivy, and once we learned how to identify them, we realized that they were indeed every-freakin'-where.  Some leaves where bigger than my hand!  I carefully steered DS away from them from all directions with my 360-Degree Mama Radar.

When we came to dirt paths, however, I steadily gripped DS's hand and walked behind DH and DD.  Without the wooden boards, the trail was bumpy, uneven, and at times, very dangerous.  There were stretches where two feet to your side was a drop-off of hundreds of feet.  For someone who is afraid of heights, well, I may have survived those parts at the expense of DS's hand perhaps hurting.  A little bit.  We had to navigate across some very muddy grounds, slippery stone steps, sandy areas, and even balance on logs to cross a tiny river.  But we all made it out okay, hand-in-hand.

But after the treacherous, steep parts, we came to a path along a river, and the concrete path was straight and easy.  And that's when I began to stride in my pace.  Anyone who has walked with me might remember that I happen to be a fast walker.  At the mall, I constantly have to stop completely to wait for my peeps.  Same with walking at theme parks, or even at the grocery store.  I just seem to need to get from point A to point B with as little resistance as possible.  I needed to be there yesterday.  Occasionally, DH reminds me to stop and smell the roses.  And I'm all, my roses are on my couch, so the faster I get this walking done the faster I can sit down on my couch to grow roots smell those roses.

But near the end of the trail at about 2.6 miles in, I was clearly running out of steam.  The very end was an uphill slope to reach a set of stairs to go up on a high point to see the magnificent view.  Here I was, worried that the kiddos would be too tired to complete the 3 mile hike, and they were the ones ahead of us, running up the stairs to reach the top while I had to stop slow down and catch my breath.  And this is when I realized that the kiddos are no longer little anymore.  We are the ones that are slowing down while they are blazing full speed ahead.  

It occurred to me that soon, hand-holding would be for our sake--the parents'--rather than for the safety of my young children.  Soon, they would be the ones waiting for us, and we would be the ones holding them back.  And even though that time has not come yet and is hopefully still a ways away, a tiny flash forward of it made me taste a touch of melancholy, though in a good way.  So this is what it's like to be aging in front of your burgeoning children.  This is how it feels to see your children ahead of you, flapping their wings and ready to take flight.  You can only hold their hands for so long before letting them go.  And although sometimes I have my doubts, I think that it is very likely that they will turn back from time to time to hold my hand, lead the way, and make sure I don't fall.

Life works in amazing, cyclical ways.

My momentary glimpse of the future ended as we finished the hike and sat down for a cold, sweet reward: ice cream.  I watched the kiddos eat their ice cream the way kids do--deliberately and with much enthusiasm--and I knew that I still have many more years before I have to let go.  


So, Dear Walk, whether we traipse, tread, or parade across paths, trails, or open roads, we accomplish your task of getting from one place to another.  But what we learn and realize over time is that walking the path of someone you love makes our own movement all the more interesting, meaningful, and profound.  I have once walked my children's paths; one day, they will walk mine.  


Linking up with Alison and Galit's Memories Captured

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dear Grand Plans

Dear Grand Plans,

You are like a flashing neon sign at the start of summer vacation.  When the weather gets warmer, when the kiddos are out from school, and when I have the kiddos 24-7 there's quality family time, you bet I kick into high gear and begin to brainstorm what it is we (as in the three of us) will do all summer long so that the kiddos won't kill each other and I won't kill myself.  School ended on Monday, and I had it all figured out by Tuesday.  Ambitious much?

When summers roll around, every time I ask the kiddos if they want to sign up for something over the summer, I get a negative.  Want to go to summer camp?  No.  Want to take swimming lessons?  No.  Want to try tennis?  I dunno.  Want to take basketball camp?  I dunno.  Want to take Mommy Day Camp?  YES!!!!  I guess my kiddos are home bodies.  They like to stay home and do things with me.  They want me to teach them how to swim.  They want me to bake/cook in the kitchen with them.  They want me to do fun projects with them.  I can't even pay someone to entertain them for a few hours here and there.  But I guess it's sweet that they like to be with me (for now), so I gotta suck it up.

As far as Grand Planning, Dear Husband has it easy.  All he has to do is look at his calendar and find a time for a family getaway (well, that and pay for it).  He'll even plan the entire trip.  I, on the other hand, will be joined to the hips of a tween and her little brother for 11 weeks (minus 2 hours a day for 3.5 weeks for summer school).  That's a lot of hours to fill.  And I must satisfy all of the following requirements: education/academics work, physical exercise, emotional well-being, imaginative/creative play, cooking/baking fun, responsibility training, and peer interactions over the course of the summer.  You see, I just cannot allow the kiddos' brains to ferment over the summer, nor can I tolerate any complaints of being bored.  So to seek a fine balance, I came up with Grand Plan v. 1.

Our school encourages academic review all summer long.  Reading is a daily requirement, and math is reviewed with a leveled workbook to be done throughout the summer.  There is also a computer-based personalized learning curriculum where teachers can track what students worked on over the summer.  So I thought it would be fair for the kiddos to do the math workbook and/or computer four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

Next, twice a week, we will review what the kiddos learned in Chinese School.  I would hate to have spent a year in the classroom just to forget everything over the summer.  Which is what would happen if we don't spend a little time each week to read and write.  Twice a week seems to be a reasonable amount of time.  Of course, we cannot leave out crafting and cooking/baking, which will fill the other two days.  Dear Daughter loves to do anything crafty, and Dear Son loves to do anything she does.  And the both of them love to help me in the kitchen, so cooking will be a highlight each week.  With all the crafts and kids cookbooks DD received for her birthday, I think we will be covered for the entire summer.

DD's art teacher gave the students a packet of ideas and guidelines for doodling for the summer.  She calls doodling 'Brain Dessert' (which I find awesome!).  DD will do this twice a week, while DS will work on his Pigeon Activity Book.  (This comes in handy when the two get into a quarrel and need some alone time).  The other two days will be spent on writing.  I told the kiddos that we will make a photo journal book for Summer 2013.  They will take their own pictures and write about each one.  I plan to make each of them a photobook with their work at the end of the summer.  I got this idea from having just made a Blurb book with the first 100 posts of this blog (thanks to my BFF's thoughtful gift).  It only took a year for me to complete this project, because "anal" does not even begin to describe my OCD personality when it comes to copy editing.  In any case, the end result gives quite a feeling of accomplishment (or so I'd hope, when I actually have the book in my own two hands), so I'd like for the kiddos to have a similar sense of achievement for their summer as well.

As for the extracurricular stuff, I cut the kiddos' violin lessons down to every other week over the summer.  One, we cannot afford weekly lessons, and two, I don't mind moving at a slower pace over the summer.  DS also has Tae Kwon Do lessons twice a week, and we plan to go to the YMCA at least twice a week for swimming and other sports fun.  Finally, the kiddos will do their chores twice a week.  Which means--Fridays are "Fun Days, Free Days, or Play Date Days," and weekends are Daddy Days.  So other than their daily reading and violin lesson requirements, they must do work on four days out of the week, which I think is a respectable and decent amount of time for learning. 

Now before you Tiger Mom me, I just want to throw out my disclaimer: these activities do not take long.  Each one is ten, twenty minutes, tops.  Unless they want to keep at it.  What I believe in is the routine and the continuity.  Because a few minutes a day is much more effective than all those minutes done in one or two days.  Remember cramming for college exams?  That never worked for me.  But believe me, this still leaves the kiddos with hours and hours of play time, screen time, and outdoors time each day.  They approved my Grand Plan v. 1, and there is always room for improvement and flexibility for change.  And, most importantly, this is something that works for our family. 

(And, I haven't given up altogether on finding classes for the kiddos to take.  I'm looking at kids summer fun courses at a local college as well as park districts and the Y.  It's just hard to plan anything at this point since summer school starts next week, and we haven't made definite vacation plans yet.)  

Yesterday was day two, and on the list was Craft and Writing.  DD still hadn't written thank-you cards for the gifts she received for her birthday (largely because I hadn't bought them yet).  So I suggested making the cards with decorative tape, stickers, and stamps.  She loved the idea, and worked diligently on hand-making 13 cards, while DS and I helped her fold envelopes.  For writing, DS began his photo journal with Entry #1, while DD wrote all the thank-you notes.  Voila.  Three birds, one stone.

There is always so much excitement at the beginning of summer vacation.  The change in weather, the longer days, and lots of time for daydreaming all make wrapping up obligations at school a welcomed one.  I just hope that we feel as accomplished as we are ambitious now come the end of the summer.  I will find out if my Grand Plan works out or not: if it's realistic, if it's actually feasible, or if I was just high on summer humidity.  As much as I'd like to stick to my plan, Flexibility is always a good passenger to have in the backseat.  You never know if you'll need her to take the driver's seat at some point.

Which sort of brings me to, um, me.  With this sort of schedule, I'm not sure if I'll be able to get anything accomplished--for me.  I'm not sure where I'd fit in cleaning the house or writing this blog.  I'd much prefer the latter to the former, in case you were wondering, but how can anything be written when I've got little mini-mes making demands at all hours of the day?  I need a snack!  What's this word?  Where is my <fill in the blank>???  What's for dinner?  S/he is annoying me!!!  Did I mention I have a backup driver in case I needed to, um, hop out of the car for a few moments of sanity?  At which time my kiddos might be seen out in the backyard playing in Fields of Gold Weeds while I type furiously to crank out an overdue post...

So, Dear Grand Plans, you have been created and posted on our calendar.  I guess only time will tell how silly I was even ever thinking of drafting you.  But I do wish to see the completed photobooks, I do wish to see the kiddos return to school not having lost their brains to the summer heat, and I do wish that they will have had fun while achieving all these tasks.  So, wish me luck, will ya?

Happy Summer Vacation!