Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Daily Gratitude

This year, more than any year ever before, I’m grateful.  It’s not that I have so much more to be thankful for this year than any other (though I do), it’s that in the past year, I have taught myself to say thanks, every single day.

 

Like anything else in life, attitude is a habit.  I knew this, of course, we all know this.  How many books are written just on that subject alone?  Countless.  Think better, feel better, do better.  Give thanks and watch your blessings multiply.

 

But it’s unbelievably difficult to change your attitude and your outlook on life.  The hardest part was making a change; for me, it took feeling lower than I’ve felt in years.  Hormones make me depressed, and I was pregnant for much of this year, so… yeah.  Thankfully (and I AM thankful!), a good friend said the right words at the right time to get me to reevaluate.  She also put this book in my hands.  I started keeping a gratitude journal.  Than I abandoned it and started giving gratitude as a sort of constant daily prayer.

 

Some days it was just a list I would make as I was walking the dog under the stars, my big baby belly leading the way around the block.  I am thankful for warm summer nights.  I am thankful for safe streets and well-lit sidewalks.  I am thankful for starry skies.  I am thankful for my big, protective dog.  Other days, I would directly give thanks for my life’s bounty, finding something to be thankful for even when I was feeling sick, tired, and wrung out.  Even when, sometimes, the things I said “thank you” for were the very things that were driving me nuts or making me feel inadequate.  Like a realtor, I would change the adjectives I used to describe my blessings to myself.  My children wouldn’t listen, were being stubborn, were making giant messes.  Thank you, God, for healthy, energetic children.  Tony was not home often because of tax season and consequently couldn’t help much with housework.  Thank you for a loving husband who works hard to provide for our family.  Work became six million times more complex and scary as we purchased land and a building and began the (still not finished) task of renovating it for use.  Thank you for a flexible job that provides for my family and allows me to take care of my kids.  I felt hemmed in by a small house and small yard as I increasingly focused on finding land to build our dream home, the one we cannot afford.  Thank you for our cozy house that is within walking distance to Charles’s school.

 

Once I started giving thanks, I couldn’t stop.  I began to notice things – clouds, trees, rain, the scent of dinner in the oven or the sweet smell of my baby’s head, the comfort of a soft blanket, the sweetness of chocolate – in a way I hadn’t before.  If I died tomorrow, wouldn’t I have wanted to notice the blue sky today?  Wouldn’t I have wanted to inhale my sweaty six-year-old’s sleepy odor as I kissed him goodnight before I went to bed?  Yes.  Oh, very much yes.

 

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I am grateful for good walking shoes.  I am thankful for crisp, fall days that sting my cheeks as I push the stroller up the hill.  I am thankful for a body that tires, but does not fail.  Thank you, God, for friends who care about me.  Thank you for those people in the world who have hearts for service and help keep our hungry fed, our poor clothed, our stray dogs and cats warm.  Thank you, God, for loving, caring family who supports one another.

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I have found that the biggest thing that makes me feel badly about myself is a “the grass is greener” mindset.  We would be so much happier if we just had a bigger house and some land.  I would be so much happier if I could lose all the baby weight quickly.  Other people manage to have these beautiful, big houses and yearly vacations and plenty of stuff on only one salary – what’s wrong with us?  Kicking myself out of the habit of thinking like that was a long and arduous process.  I have not fully succeeded in banishing my demons – some days I still look in the mirror and wish for more.  Some days I still wonder why it is that I seem to be falling further and further behind while others are getting ahead.  But most days I can pinch myself and redirect my thoughts.  I am so grateful that we have the means to save for college for our boys, even if it’s just a little bit of money each month right now.  I am thankful that my babies have all been born healthy and have latched on and nursed without problem.  Thank you, God, for coffee and chocolate.

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It wasn’t easy.  Saying “thank you” can be so difficult for some of us, especially when we think we don’t deserve our blessings, but it was worth it.  It has changed my life.  Everyday is Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When I get to three cups a day, you can start to worry.

Since September, I’ve been drinking coffee in the morning and in the afternoon.  I don’t buy a latte in the afternoon or anything; those of you who are coffee snobs elitists enthusiasts will recoil in horror when you read this, but I just reheat the coffee leftover from the morning pot.  I’m not after flavor, I’m after caffeine and heat.  Scalding heat, preferably, to kill any germs that might be trying to lay claim to my throat.  I’m becoming dependent on that afternoon jolt to get me through the rest of the day.  What I really need is a nap, but that’s not happening.

 

When school started in September, my life got busier.  Like, a lot.  Busier to the max.  You wouldn’t think that the addition of kindergarten to our schedules would do so much damage, especially since Charles and Jamie were in full-time daycare/preschool before, but it did.  Kindergarten has compressed our schedule such that I am eking out every spare moment before I go to bed to finish tasks for the day while still trying to appear as if I’m in control enough to be a good mom, wife, business owner, and friend.

 

The friend thing has probably taken the biggest hit since September – I barely have time for my family.  I’m sorry, friends.  I love you and I miss you.

 

School starts at 9:25 am.  We leave the house for our walk at 8:50.  Used to be that I would have the kids to preschool by 8:45 and then head to work (earlier, if I was really on top of things).  Now, I get to work by 10 am (usually) with the baby, and try to go home by 1:30 or 2 PM so that I can spend some quality time singing to Freddie in the kitchen while I cook dinner/do laundry.  Then, we leave to pick up Jamie at 2:45, get home and get bundled up to walk and pick up Charles by 3:40, then home to change for boot camp or make dinner or to the store for groceries.  Stories, playtime, bedtime, more laundry, lunch prep for the next day, putting the baby to bed, snuggling on the couch with Tony (because the baby is still awake, otherwise: no snuggling), and then to sleep, if I can get it.  There is NO WIGGLE ROOM in my schedule.  None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

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Cute, sick, non-sleeping baby

 

And then there are the days, like the past few, when Freddie’s sick and won’t sleep for more than two hours at a time, so I’m up all night, and my brother’s sick, so I have to do his job and mine at work.  Tony’s gone tonight and tomorrow night and we have an event to attend on Friday, so the kids have a babysitter.  I just want to slow it all down and have some sustained, quiet time at home when we’re not doing anything, you know?

 

I’m not complaining, not really.  Everything is awesome, as the song says.  And it is cool to be part of a team, this team of adorable boys, one wonderful man, and a stupid dog.  I don’t want to change anything, not really, but I’m tired.  So, so tired.  And I keep hoping that something will shake loose soon to help me feel a little more in control and a little more relaxed.  The reality is that things are not going to slow down much until summertime.

 

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I seem to spend a lot of “spare” time looking for lost socks.

 

So how do you keep a crazy schedule from getting you down?  How will I manage to keep the feelings of guilt over not doing very well in any one category of my life (mother/wife/business owner/friend) at bay?  It helps to be so busy that I don’t have time to think about it much, but when I do, I wonder if it’s any better for anyone else.  Does anyone really have free time anymore?  Did anyone ever?  Is free time the purview of the fabulously wealthy?  What are the costs of letting some things go, and do I still have anything left to sacrifice in my pursuit of a few moments of genuine recreation?

 

Whoops.  Gotta run.  Things to do.  Sigh.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Frederick Roger at Four Months

Wee Freddie is four months (and one week) old and quite obviously our third child.  Not only is he the doted-upon baby (the favorite brother of his older two, who are at each other’s throats constantly but happy to shower kisses on Freddie, who has yet to steal their toys or ruin their LEGO creations), but also he is bathed infrequently, carted all over the place without regard for his schedule, and happy to be held by anyone who has arms and a desire (probably because I am constantly putting him down to deal with something else) to strengthen their biceps. 

 

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It would be really easy for me to wallow in guilt about my mothering of Freddie.  I don’t play with him very often because I am busier now than I have ever been, even when I discount the fact that I have a baby.  I don’t read bright, colorful baby books to him; instead, he sits with me as I read big-kid books to his big-kid brothers.  At four months, we started Charles and Jamie on rice cereal, quickly transitioning to pizza crusts, avocados, and bananas.  I’m inclined to keep Freddie exclusively breast-fed for another month or even two because it is far more convenient for me.

 

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But I don’t wallow in guilt.  Who has time?  If I wanted to feel guilty about something, I would stick to the massive quantities of chocolate I consume or the way I get frustrated with my older children every single morning when they stall and disobey and fight and lose their shoes and refuse to brush their teeth.  I would feel guilty about not spending enough time at work or not keeping my house clean.  I don’t have time for that guilt, either.

 

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Freddie is happy.  He is healthy, except for a rather nasty bout with eczema (he’s my sensitive-skin guy – maybe he’ll be pale like me instead of tan like his dad and brothers).  He weighs a whopping 16 pounds, 10 ounces, which is a little big larger than Jamie was (15 pounds, 8 ounces) at this age, and MUCH smaller than Charles was (NINETEEN POUNDS).  A goodly-sized kid who gives my back pain every day. 

 

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What’s more is that I am happy.  Or rather, I’m content, which isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close.  I don’t get enough sleep, but I’m not a total zombie.  I have too many things going on in my life to worry about what I don’t have.  I’m fully aware that Freddie is my last baby, so even though I have to put him down a lot to take care of other children and other tasks, I often hold him just a little bit longer than necessary.

 

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And he rewards me with winning smiles and sweet, milky breath.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Six

I pleaded with Charles to let me film him answering questions about himself for his birthday.  I had hoped to post an adorable video of my eloquent six-year-old telling the world about his dreams, the things he loves best, and his favorite superheroes, but that’s just not Charles.  Unguarded, without a camera, he lights up my days with his stories, his singing, and his play, but he refuses to perform on command.

 

DSCN1904Birthday dinner: Chicken with Skin (rotisserie chicken), potatoes, and carrots

It’s okay.  I still manage to record the most precious or amusing things that come out of his mouth, usually via a text sent to Tony as I’m snickering just far enough away that Charles doesn’t hear me.  The other day, he was talking in the shower, yelling in a super-hero voice, “I’m the JANITOR!  Dude!  I’m washing the windows!”

 

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In the past year, Charles has reached so many milestones: first sleepover, first day camp, first day of kindergarten, first loose tooth (it hasn’t fallen out, yet!).  He is learning to read, and will sit and laboriously sound out his Bob books until he can read each page aloud with ease.  He used to have trouble concentrating, but now he’ll happily sit and listen to me read aloud a chapter book for a half-hour at a time.  He is doing really well in Spanish class and when I ask him how his day went when I pick him up from school, he’ll often tell me, “I only got Steps ONCE today!” (Steps is the school’s version of time out.)  He has good friends with whom he plays elaborate vampire-hunting games on the playground or, sometimes, the more prosaic game of basketball.  He occasionally has cafeteria lunch, which is far more adventurous than I was at his age (my mom made me peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches for at least a year straight).

 

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RescueBots!  Roll to the rescue!

 

Charles is the “experiment” kid: when faced with a problem or parental dilemma, we experiment.  Often, what we decide to do doesn’t work and we have to make course corrections.  We are still learning how to manage, after all, and Charles bears the brunt of that.  Despite the mistakes Tony and I make, Charles continues to be a happy, well-adjusted, hard-working, respectful child.  I am so proud of him and I love him so much.

 

As I look over the last year, I see how much easier things have been with him.  We left behind the Fucking Fours and settled into much easier routines with low strife in our daily existence.  I’m the first to admit that I LOVE babies and the “baby stage,” but damned if I’m not seeing just how wonderful the next several years are going to be – kids able to entertain themselves for vast chunks of time, fewer fights about getting dressed and eating vegetables, boys bathing their own stinky feet, interesting books to read together.  There are good things on the horizon, and Charles is the taste of what’s to come for all of our boys.

 

Birthdays, I think, are becoming more fun, too.  This one, certainly, has been less of a production (perhaps because I am so much busier than I’ve ever been before) than in years past.  We had family dinner and a few presents last night and then will have a pretty casual LEGO party on Saturday with friends.

 

Charles received four totally awesome gifts yesterday: Transformers toys from Grandma Jane and Grandpa Roger with which he and Jamie have not stopped playing; a ray-blaster gun from Leland; and two less-conventional gifts, a knife and a haircut.

 

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Kids need pocket knives.  I expect him to cut himself on it by next summer.

 

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Tony and Leland’s barber does amazing hair designs.  This is Lightning McQueen’s number and, of course, some lightning.

 

I’m so blessed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Derailed Train of Thought

Too little sleep, too much caffeine.  Words.  More words.

 

Words here, too.

 

Okay, photos now.  Photos better than words today.

 

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“Wut?”

 

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My new band, Baby at Work

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Jamie says “We’re tins!”

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Football baby watches football

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Chins!

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Tummy Time is bullshit.

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It’s late.  Why are you still up, mom?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Naked Tummy Time

Post-bath naked tummy time is a tradition in the Cook household.  The boys seemed to like it, though I guess it’s tough to tell with babies.  Regardless, those buns!  I could just as easily call it “bun time!”

 

Charles, 2009:

 

Feb 13 002 Feb 13 005

March 19 003 

Jamie, 2011:

 

 November 009 November 005

 

 

Freddie, 2014:

 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Helpers

Freddie sometimes gets upset in the car.  I totally understand.  I sometimes get upset in the car, especially when the only snacks available are squeezy pouches of applesauce (I would start bringing my own snacks, but keeping a cooler full of sliced salami, brie, and grapes is maybe a little more than I can handle right now).

 

Most of the time, when Freddie starts to fuss, his brothers spontaneously start to sing to him, either that Muppets song or this song, which they made up themselves (the entirely of the lyrics is “like a baby”):

 

 

I’m not sure if Freddie truly appreciates it or is just always stunned into silence, but it works.  His brothers are able to calm him down, every time.

 

I, of course, nearly implode from the sheer cuteness every time they start singing.