August 31, 2009

Brotherly love

Thomas has pretty much mastered the art of using the toilet these days but is still reluctant to actually venture off to the bathroom by himself.  Before dinner tonight he announced that he needed to go and his mad dancing skills indicated that he didn’t need to wait, but needed to bust a move. Mark and I were both busy at that exact moment so I suggested that he ask Andrew to walk in there with him.  Surprisingly, Andrew went willingly. 

A few minutes passed and I heard maniacal laughter, the sound of the toilet flushing and then looked up to see two boys jumping down the hallway into the kitchen with their underwear around their ankles.  But boy, oh boy, were they laughing. 

It was one of those where as soon as I asked, “What’s so funny?” I knew I didn’t really want to know.  Andrew was in hysterics and couldn’t even talk.  Thomas stopped bouncing long enough for me to ask if he had gone to the bathroom and he assured me he had, and that he and Andrew were very “tunny.” 

At this point he had Mark’s attention too.  “Tunny” often equates to, “naughty.” 

“I did make a potty and then we made an X,” he said, still laughing.

“An X?,” I asked.

“Yes, Andrew and me, we made an X when we both pottied at the same time.”

Awesome. I’m off to clean a bathroom.

August 22, 2009

Here's your sign

I recently celebrated a birthday that put me on the downhill slide to 40, and I'm now dropping my oldest at public school each morning. But? I'm still fairly agile, I'm using social media tools somewhat proficiently and I can even remember where I live.

That must be some type of medical miracle considering I'm now receiving this type of mail...

Maybe they know something I don't?

August 18, 2009

On being sure

I asked him four times if he was sure. I wasn't trying to harass him but I wanted to be certain I had given him every opportunity to change his mind. Or, to speak it in case he was holding back. We hadn't really talked about exactly how it would go this time and I just wanted to be positive we weren't rushing it. After the fourth time I asked, he looked me dead in the eye and said in a clear, calm voice, "Mommy, I'm SURE. I will be fine. I know where to go and I listened when they told me what to do."

And that's how it came to be that my oldest baby walked himself into school yesterday on his first full day of Kindergarten.

He climbed out of his buckle, gave me a hug and rarely-offered kiss, hopped out of the car -- slamming the door for good measure -- and then began his retreat into the building with his beloved Pokemon backpack bouncing along behind him. About halfway there he turned around mid-stride and gave me a quick wave as he flashed his best smile. I would like to think it's because he was just wanting to see me one more time but it's probably more accurate to assume that he knew I needed him to do that. I think it was for me, not him.

And then the principal held the door open for him and he disappeared inside.

I spent the next 15 minutes, as I drove to work, silently congratulating us on how prepared and ready he seems to be for this journey. Oh, and also trying to beat back the tears that seem perched just on the edge as he takes this starting Kindergarten thing in total stride.

He had an abbreviated day last week and Mark and I went in with him, waiting in the gym with the other 399 kids who obediently grouped themselves by teacher. He sat on a bench along the wall with his buddy, Josh, and they goofed around seemingly oblivious to the fact that their parents were lurking, watching expectantly, to see if they were "alright." They were fine. That day he barely looked back as his teacher entered the gym and ushered them to their classroom at the bell. That should have been my sign that yesterday was coming. And yet, I wasn't quite prepared.

I should have been. It's been clear for months that he was ready to move on, that he wasn't a preschooler anymore. We've known for six years that he would go to school just up the street and we really even stole an extra year by deciding to wait until this fall to start him there. We've attended all the meetings -- the ones at Stepping Stones and the ones at his new school -- and yet I feel a little blindsided.

I'm trying to remember that this is an exciting new beginning for him. He was assigned to a teacher who is nearly legendary. I've never heard a parent utter an unflattering word about her and his new afternoon teacher is wonderful too. She's quiet and calm and steady and all the things I'm not. I've told him that his new best friends are waiting to be made this year, and I believe it. But, my goodness. How could he be ready to walk into an elementary school all by himself already?

I am fighting the feeling that I have in some way let his first six years slip by, without enough fanfare, without enough togetherness, without enough being in the moment.

He came into our lives as a baby that was, in retrospect, such an easy one to please. But we were new and we didn't know. It still seemed kind of daunting because we were so clueless. Hindsight being 20/20, I can now look back on the stages we hoped would pass sort of quickly and all the sleep I regretted missing, and see that I can't, from this moment forward, wish even one second of it away -- the good, the bad or the ugly. There's plenty of all three of those with him these days and I'm trying to embrace the notion that even the ugly is worth my being present.

A couple of months ago, on a rainy Saturday when Andrew was exhibiting the bad and the ugly, I spent a day butting heads with him. Everything he did rubbed me the wrong way that day and, if I'm being honest, everything I did was having the same effect on him. After some outburst -- probably from both of us -- when I was wishing away the moment if not the afternoon, Mark commented that if Andrew and I had been the same age we probably wouldn't have been boyfriend and girlfriend. Truer words had maybe never been spoken.

This child is dramatic, mercurial and sometimes just flat-out irritating with his persistance in being the center of attention. Negotiating with him is sometimes, quite frankly, a bit like talking to myself in the mirror and I have occasionally feared that he inherited all of my least flattering personality traits. The difference is that I think there's a fighting chance he'll use all of those to propel him in this world. It's those same characteristics that drive him to walk into Kindergarten by himself, with a smile on his face and his backpack full of confidence.

He is also full of personality, in a way that I someday hope to be. He is sometimes surprisingly aware of who he is and, most days, pretty much alright with that. His curiosity is seemingly neverending and when he couples it with his ability to retain information, he can be a walking Funk & Wagnalls.

He's quick with a smile and he can strike up articulate conversation with kids and adults when the mood is right. He loves to have fun and he's good at it. He's sometimes appropriately cautious, but he's not typically going to let himself be left out of a good, old-fashioned fun situation. He likes to laugh and if he can make his friends or, better yet, his brother, laugh he seems to feel a real sense of accomplishment. He often doesn't know quite when to stop but by gosh, he's kind of hilarious as he crosses lines. He's a good friend. He has a sense of loyalty to his buddies that sometimes extends to me. When he senses that I'm going to be the odd-man-out in a family situation he frequently offers to stay with me, so I won't be lonely. We've never asked him to do the same for his brother, but I'm confident he would if the chips were down.

He's exuberant, enthusiastic, inquisitive and entertaining. I like him on my team.

So here we are. He has made it clear that he doesn't need me to hold his hand so tightly for this new adventure and in that message he leaves me with a choice. I can either be sad that time has moved so quickly and that I wasn't here for every second of it, or, I can choose to learn from his ability to make the best of every situation and be overwhelmingly proud of how prepared he is.

I'm guessing tomorrow morning will bring an even quicker exit from the car and that he's unlikely to turn around for a wave as he becomes more comfortable in his new routine. He's sure, after all. And I am too. I'm sure that he's not perfect, but perfect for us, and that he leaves me with only one choice -- to follow his example and to live without regret.

Tomorrow I won't ask him twice if he wants me to walk in with him. I will remind him to smile often, to listen more than he talks, to enjoy the little things and to go be sure. Then I'll vow to do the same for him because it's what he deserves and time moves too fast to do it any other way.

August 8, 2009

Summer school

Have you ever played "chicken"? You know, where you see who can forge ahead without flinching? I've been engaged in a bitter match for the last week. I'm playing chicken with my sister-in-law to see who will be first to recap the Henderson/Tucker Summer Vacation of '09. Now that I type that it looks like a really foolish game to have played, no?

It's a daunting task to recap a vacation that brought together 11 people under one roof for seven days. We're talking about a group of 11 brilliant, witty people that includes eight first-borns or only children and includes five people under the age of six. This was not a leisurely week at the beach, people. This was an action-packed stay.

Because I traveled the shortest distance -- from only the first floor to the second floor of my own home -- and because I had the fewest number of children for whom to care, I've decided to bite the proverbial bullet and end the standoff. I present for your entertainment the Henderson/Tucker Family Vacation of '09 Blog Post. My fellow family bloggers are both good. They're more concise than me and funnier too. I hope this will do it justice.

I'm posting no pictures here because I wouldn't know where to start, but there are some really good ones in this album. Go have a look-see.

The Henderson/Tucker Clan arrived at House Hondo on Wednesday, July 25. The following is a very abridged list of daily highlights and things we learned, saw and conquered.

Today we learned that Eric can overcome his fear of flying with the help of his good friend, Jack and that he will never book a ticket through Phoenix in the summer again. We also learned that blood is indeed thicker than most anything else and that explains how four kids who hadn't seen each other for six months could pick up and hit the ground running instantly. It was this night, when we sat outside voluntarily to eat dinner, that I began to allow myself to cling to the dream that the weather just might cooperate for this event. Most importantly, we learned that Cline Cellars makes a darn fine red table wine that they're selling in a little barrel now. There will be one permanently on display on my kitchen counter should you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Today we all met for lunch downtown and learned that trying to find a table for 11 was going to be a challenge from this point forward, but that as long as we were seated within shouting distance everyone around us would come to know our children well. We also learned that Butch had left his hearing aids somewhere that wasn't here and that's how he could eat with all of us and still smile.

After lunch we took the kids to paint pottery. We learned that soccer balls can be brown and orange -- thank you for that lesson, Thomas -- and that Jayhawks don't have to be painted blue and red -- we've forgiven you, Eric. Each child and Uncle Eric created awesome masterpieces that we picked up later in the week as fun reminders of the trip.

Happy Birthday, RoRo! The morning was spent looking around campus, visiting Aunt Claire's bench and then lunching at Yello Sub. Today we learned that it is possible to surprise RoRo with a birthday gathering and that if we didn't actually surprise her she's an excellent actress. Either way we had fun getting a group of her Lawrence friends together for afternoon dessert.

After those festivities we headed the group to the pool. Here is where we confirmed that Luke is a VERY tolerant baby as he chilled in the shade as the rest of us swam. Pool highlights included Uncle Eric convincing Andrew to jump off the diving board for the first time all season and Thomas and Claire making up great games to play together, oblivious the world was watching.

Because RoRo is a peacekeeping saint, we ate dinner that night at the neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It was probably not her first choice for her birthday dinner but the kids enjoyed it, despite Aunt Susan allowing a game of hide-and-seek to go out of control outside while we waited for our table. Again with that table for 11.

That night marked the first of several in which I had the pleasure of lining all four big kids up on Granny's camelback sofa in our loft and reading four books, one of each child's choosing. That was a daily highlight for me. I'm a sucker for clean kids in jammies who will listen to me talk.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Today we ventured bright and early to the Topeka Zoo, which never fails to be perfect for kids. It's not too small, not too big and the animals were all out enjoying the perfect weather. We learned that rain forest still stinks even when it's cool outside and that some people have no taste in sandwiches when Aunt Maria and I we selected Schlotzsky's for lunch. (We were self-appointed cruise directors and occasionally had some passengers balk at our food choices...oh well.) The orangutans and lions performed nicely for us and we really had a great time.

That afternoon was spent conquering a grill assembly and we learned that Uncle Eric and Uncle Mark work very well together. Those of us who were not needed (read: not invited) to help with that project ventured out for top-your-own frozen yogurt that we took to the Stickwork sculpture on campus where we had a dessert picnic. The kids were thoroughly unimpressed with it this time around but Thomas and Claire were endlessly entertained by the process of shaking out the blanket as we cleaned up. They acted as if it was a parachute and giggled hysterically as it floated down around them. The big boys were too busy playing dangerously close to Jayhawk Blvd. and watching the conclusion of a wedding at Danforth to notice.

For dinner Uncle Eric and Butch put the grill through its paces and we learned it was awesome!

This was a big morning. It's when we all took showers, we all combed our hair and we all brushed our teeth, all before 9 a.m., because that's when Lance arrived to take family photos. Actually, he didn't arrive until 9:30 but the cruise directors jokingly told RoRo that he was coming at 9 and she spread that word so Butch was pretty happy with us when he was ready at 8:45 a.m. for the 9:30 sitting. Ooops. The picture taking process was painless. Everyone cooperated and Lance was ultra-organized. I can't imagine it could have gone more smoothly. And? We only used half a bag of M&Ms and a few Capri Suns as bribes.

After that hard work we clearly needed more pool time. There was more jumping, some diving and more great pretending. We learned that it's more fun to eat on the sidewalk than a table when you have cousins around and that sunscreen does indeed serve a purpose...I'm talking to you, Uncle Eric.

In the evening we employed the services of super-sitter Erin to come help with watching the big kids while Eric, Maria, Mark and I went for an early dinner downtown and then, because we still had time until curfew -- aka bedtime for kiddos -- we had drinks and dessert where we could people watch and have uninterrupted conversation. It was definitely a top 5 visit highlight for me. It's lots of fun to have all the kids together but it was really good to be able to sit and really talk and it's always good to have so much fun with people that you would choose as close friends, even if they weren't related. What a gift. Here we learned that flourless chocolate torte should not be shared and cheesecake isn't.

This day was sent to remind us that it's still August in Kansas. Admittedly, it was a little warm. OK. It was hot and we chose this day to hit the Deanna Rose Farmstead, which is a really great place where you can feed goats and sheep, go fishing, ride ponies, see milking cows and generally do all kinds of really nature-y things in the middle of Kansas City's most suburban suburbs. Here we learned that Claire prefers cooler temperatures, as she told us she was, "breaking apart" because she was so hot and we also learned that goats and sheep will literally eat anything. I had a fearful moment when I wasn't sure the goat eating the tie on my shorts was going to let go and as I tried to swat him away the sheep that was trying to eat the map in my other hand was very persistent.

Uncle Eric and I took the big kids on a hay rack ride while Uncle Mark and Aunt Maria chilled -- as best you can when it's scorchingly hot -- with Luke, who once again earned his status as superbaby and the kids LOVED climbing up into a two-story barn and then sliding down the two-story slides back to firm ground. After we'd all had enough of the sweating we headed to lunch and then finally back home.

After dinner with my parents that evening we fired up the sprinklers and wading pool in the backyard and let the kids wear themselves out. We learned that evening that my brilliant idea to soak watermelon in rum was akin to purposefully drinking a bottle of turpentine so let that be a warning.

Since their arrival, the Tuckers had been hoping for a good thunderstorm. Tuesday morning delivered in the form of thunder from 3-7 a.m. and a power outage that had Mark and I literally and figuratively sweating it. It was feeling like we had too many people in the house to go without lights, or Spongebob. Fortunately electricity was again ours by the time most of us rolled out of bed for the day and our Californians had been treated to some impressive lightning.

Unfortunately the weather foiled our plans -- me and my co-cruise director -- to rent a pontoon boat for the morning so we punted and went downtown to acquire chocolates and Jayhawk gear before lunch. It's rumored that there might have been a few in our party who thought that putting five kids on a boat in the middle of a lake was a very poor idea to start with but since we never got to do it we can run with the memory of how great it would have been.

We did venture out to the Marina after naps and the kids fed the carp, which are as big as my thigh and as aggressive as you can imagine fish could be. Lake highlights revolved around a timely run-in with the Marina owner, who is a Henderson family friend. She filled the kids up with grape slushies and fish food and also had the great idea of putting Uncle Mark in a wheelbarrow then telling the kids push him up the dock to the parking lot. We learned that they're stronger than they look.

We wrapped up the day with more pool time and, when we got home, more group bedtime reading.

This was the sad day of departure. It was simply amazing that after seven days together the kids were still getting along and still wanting more time together. Claire and Thomas were just hitting their stride in their cooperative imaginary play and they were "cooking" in the kitchen up until the very last minute. Andrew and Zac had some rough moments over the week but they were few and far between and Andrew was in tears over them leaving when it was time for us to go to school.

Andrew would never tire of pulling Grandpa Butch's finger and Thomas would never tire of RoRo reading him books. I think it's safe to say that Mark and I would never tire of us all being able to eat great dinners together on the deck and have good conversation with people we see much too infrequently.

But, all good things must come to an end.

We arrived home that afternoon to a house that was far too quiet, and remarkably clean. (Thank you all!!!) I have so far found only one pair of flip flops and some Jo Malone samples that were left, which is really a packing miracle. We'll send the flip-flops your way and I'll send the Jo Malones right after I try each one. Just to make sure they're ok.

The kids are begging for us to visit California again soon and I'm hoping that we can stage a repeat of the Kansas Getaway again too. We love you all, thank you so much for your generosity, and are so glad we could learn together during our summer school session. We hope you'll come back soon to continue conquering Kansas!