Sunday, December 14, 2014

Two Years Ago: Innocence Lost

Two years ago today the three of us (plus Carter in utero) were on our way to Montreal for the Knighthawks' pre-season game.  On our way there, we stopped for lunch at Cici's Pizza in Watertown.  We noticed something on TV and then started checking things on our respective devices, only to find out about the Sandy Hook shooting.  It was horrifying, to say the least.  While I tried not to let it ruin our weekend, it definitely put a damper on things.  I couldn't even fathom it.

I only mentioned it briefly on this blog, months later, but at the time I had a hard time processing it all.  I wanted to blog about it, but it was just too painful.  I honestly couldn't even let my mind go there.  What happened there was every parent's worst fear.  To think about it too much was too hard, too gut-wrenching.

Two years later, Craig is in Montreal again this weekend.  We're not there with him, but the coincidence is interesting.  This year's anniversary has even more significance because this year Jacob is in first grade, the same grade that lost so many children that day.  I won't lie--the couple times that I've been in his classroom, my mind briefly went to that place, wondering if the Sandy Hook first grade classroom was anything like Jacob's.  I thought about the kids in his class, how they couldn't have been too different from the kids that lost their lives that day.  Sweet, innocent kids that loved the same sorts of things Jacob and his friends do now (minus Frozen, I suppose!).  The thought of most of those kids getting shot up by some psycho was unfathomable as I looked at them.  And while the odds of something like that ever happening again are slim, sometimes I can't help but wonder, "Why couldn't it happen here?  No one there ever thought it could happen there, so why should here be any different?  What's stopping someone from doing the same sort of thing here?" 

I know that's a terrible, dark thought.  I don't let thinking like that permeate my daily life, by any means, but once in a while I do wonder why those kids had to die when so many others live normal, carefree lives.  I can't imagine losing Jacob, let alone in such a tragic, violent, sudden manner.  I don't know how those parents have moved on, and I'm sure many truly haven't, but it's a good reminder to thank God for every moment we have with our kids. 

I don't know if I had a real point for this post, though I did feel it was important to address the anniversary given Jacob's age and that it has been on my mind lately.  Like I said, as a parent it's almost impossible to fathom and even now I can't really let my brain go there because it's just too horrible.  Those six year olds were just doing what they were supposed to do--go to school--and the teachers and other employees in the building that day were doing their life's work--caring for the kids--and the unimaginable happened.  Those kids would be in third grade now, and their lives were snuffed out far too early.  I don't understand it, not even within the context of God's plan.  It seems like no good could come of it, but maybe other lives will be saved down the line from legislation or security improvements, or mental health will get greater attention.  Anything to not make their deaths in vain.

It doesn't stem the sadness, horror, or tiny bit of fear as I think of Jacob's class (or even Carter's).  But two years later I just wanted to mention that my heart still breaks for those families and the terrible reality they still live with every day.   Their strength (little though it may seem to them some days) is astounding.  The energy they've put into making the world a better place in the aftermath is admirable.  Nothing will ever bring their kids back, but I pray that in their honor, society ensures that no one else ever has to deal with a loss like that again.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Video Friday

Just a few videos that I've been behind on...

This is from way back when we went to the pumpkin patch.  Carter was just starting to talk, and he shares one of his favorite words...to this day, even!


This is probably most representative of our life on a daily basis.  It also showcases Carter's cutest skill...seriously, the first time he did it I about died of cute...


And this one shows his talent identifying body parts...he's even better now...


Yes, we have a lot of cute going on in this house on a daily basis! 

My eye is still pretty nasty looking but it feels ever-so-slightly better today.  Hoping each round of drops makes things a little better...because I need to be better for the weekend!  Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Photo Thursday

It's been a while since I posted photos.  I guess it's a combination of not a lot of photo-worthy activity and Christmas busyness and general laziness.

This time of year is always crazy, let alone when we got a slow start and everyone's had some manner of the crud over the past couple weeks.  I'm hoping for a strong finish over these last two weeks so we can truly enjoy the holiday itself.  But alas, as I type this I'm sitting at the doctor with one eye squeezed shut because it hurts so bad I can hardly stand it.  It's red and draining like crazy and this all happened since I woke up.  I was hoping for some antibiotics that would also take out the cold that won't quit, the one I got a month ago that almost got better but never really did, but I got drops instead.  This is terribly painful and rather contagious, so it's a pretty bad situation.  As much as I wanted to use another vacation day, this is not the way I wanted to do it.

In the meantime, until I'm feeling better, some photos...

I took this from Jacob's window a few weeks ago, though the screen and everything.  I couldn't pass up the shot, though!

Mommy-Jacob selfie...once in a while he's cooperative!

Right near the end of our fourth two-hour shift at the funeral home...apparently he can be cute anywhere, at any time!

This is a little hard to see, but this is Jacob at his Sunday School Christmas program.  He is snapping along to the song, and he was freaking out the day before after the rehearsal because he couldn't snap.  He faked it really well.  He almost didn't make it to the program because he had been suffering from random stomachaches after a suspected glutening at the funeral luncheon.  He missed his lacrosse game the day before, but he gutted it out for this performance.

A wide view of the Christmas program.  Jacob's group was near the middle, to the right of the lighted cross.  Nice performance.

Carter got a little antsy near the end, and since I already had my camera out, I snapped this one of him smiling at the people behind us.

And now...a couple outtakes from our Christmas card photo shoot.  It didn't go very well, but we survived.  This was probably earlier than I've ever done it, at least in recent memory!  I got cute smiles from each kid, but never together or without some sort of awkward pose or blur.


Hope these bring a couple smiles to your day.  God knows we need them around here at the moment!  My red, swelled up, oozing, painful eye should hopefully start clearing up soon, but this was the last thing we needed, particularly with Craig heading out on roadtrip #1 this weekend.  Not like I was going to get much shopping done anyway, but this is not helping. 

On the bright side, a video post is coming soon!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tough Love: Giving Crushed Hopes for Christmas

Jacob wants a Wii U for Christmas.

He'd had his Christmas list pretty well set for a few weeks, right up until he got to spend hours playing Wii with his cousins last weekend and decided he really wanted to get one himself for Christmas.  In case you're unaware, those things are not cheap.  And you know, for a kid always teetering on the edge of the naughty list, I'm not sure a $300+ gift is really in order.  It's one more thing for him to get totally obsessed with and for us to argue about.  Heck, the other day we were already arguing about where we'd put it if we got one, and I really don't need another thing to drag him away from at bedtime.

To be fair, as far as video games go, it's pretty cool.  He can get plenty of exercise from sports and dance games (as he's constantly pointing out), and he really has a lot of fun doing it.  We've talked about getting a system for years, either a Wii or an XBox Kinect, so we could use it for exercise and because we knew Jacob would love it as he got older.  But at that price, for this kind of challenging kid?  I just can't.

But he really wants it.  REALLY. WANTS. IT.  He's been cooking up plans in his head all week, of games he'd play and things like that.  He even wrote a story about playing it with his cousins as part of a school project this week.  He's clearly really into it, and as a parent you instinctively want to feed your kid's interests and make them happy.  But this would be a really extravagant toy.  Bang for the buck-wise, it probably would rate pretty high in the end, but it just seems like too much for him right now--money-wise and when it comes to his behavior issues.

The big problem is that he's convinced he's going to get it.  Even though we've told him multiple times that just because he wants something, that doesn't mean he's getting it, he's still talking about it like it's happening.  Maybe that's because he's generally gotten whatever his "big" gift request was...the Club Penguin hockey rink, the Imaginext Batcave, countless Lego sets...but those were all so doable.  This one, not so much.  But for a kid that's used to getting his big gift, and still believes wholeheartedly in Santa, this is a tough spot.

It's easy enough for everyone to say that he needs to learn to accept disappointment.  We all did it to some degree as kids, for sure.  But look...the kid's already dealing with all the disappointment (and stomach aches) that go with having Celiac disease.  He is constantly driven crazy by his baby brother.  He's got us nagging him constantly (for good reason, but still, it can't be fun for him either).  Blessed as he is, he's got some hardships that I can see many six year olds having a hard time with.  I truly don't know how much of the behavior stuff he can control.  Yes, he could be a better listener, for sure, but that's not to say that I don't think there are certain elements of it (attention-wise, mostly) that he either can't control or would have to work beyond-his-years-hard to control.  When you can give him a command over and over again (literally, saying "Put on your shoes" constantly until he listens) and it still takes him a while to respond, something tells me he's just got so much going on in that head that he can't "hear" what we're saying.  And given that he's such a passionate kid, a kid full of ideas and plans, it's hard to dissuade him once he gets going.  He's just not your average kid, trust me.

Ultimately I know this could break his Christmas, no matter how many other great things he gets.  He's got his heart set on it, regardless of how we warn him, and I can easily foresee him ruining his own Christmas by moping around when he doesn't get it.  He's a very intense kid and doesn't let go of things easily.  There's always such a build-up to Christmas, and to see him let down at the end of it...well, that's a hard thought.  A frustrating one as a logical parent, but a sad one as a loving parent.

I read a story the other day about a family that canceled Christmas.  They'd spent months trying to improve their sons' behavior and make them less entitled, but in the end they felt they had no choice.  Oh, they're still doing a lot of Christmas-y stuff, and they've made a really great experience out of it by using the saved money to give to others, but Santa will not be coming.  The kids will get gifts from family, so they'll be far from deprived, but still...that's a big step.  In my anger and frustration, I've thought about doing something similar many times over the past few years.  Jacob is spoiled enough and I'd like him to know that being on the naughty list is a real issue.  But I've always stopped short, because Christmas is...well, sacred.  I remember back to being a kid, and how exciting all of the build-up was.  I waited all year for this one amazing time of year, and for this one exciting day.  I can't imagine how crushed I would have been if it simply didn't happen.  I worry that it would break his spirit, not just teach him a lesson.  And really, once he was old enough to know the truth about Santa...well, at some point I know he'd probably respect us for it, but he'd probably spend a few years really ticked off at us about the Christmas that never was.

It's complicated now, too, since Carter is around and there's no reason for Santa to skip him.  Not that Carter would know the difference, but I don't want to send the message to Jacob that Carter did something wrong to deserve it, too.  And it would just be horrible to have Carter opening presents and Jacob not.  There's a point at which it's not even about the stuff...it's the insinuation in the mind of a six year old that somehow he doesn't matter.  Even if he's been warned, even if material things don't equate to love...I just have a feeling that's how it would be internalized.  And I just can't do that. 

This morning we stopped at an event at Jacob's school where he got to sit with Santa.  And of course he told him he wanted a Wii U...and that was it.  Lovely. I eventually told Jacob flat out that it wasn't happening, and of course he was upset.  I will say, though, that he hopped right back on board demanding/adding things to his list.  When I brought up the possibility of putting his behavior rewards toward earning enough of it to get it next year, he didn't like that.  He pretty much said he just wants to get it.  Which tells me that he probably would be well-served by the experience of earning it.  We'll see how this plays out.  He'll be a very lucky little boy regardless come Christmas, whether he believes it or not.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Home...Finally.

Gosh, what a crazy few days.  Or, rather, nearly a week.  I realized this morning when I sat down at my desk that I hadn't been there since last Tuesday.  That's a long time.  We were in Buffalo for five full days, which is longer than we've been there in ages, if ever.  Certainly we wouldn't have been anywhere else during a time like this, but it's been a bit of a weird time nonetheless.

The time with Craig's family was good, I guess--as good as can be expected considering the circumstances.  The kids had a great time together and it was nice to see Craig's aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Everyone enjoyed watching Carter wander through the funeral home in his little man clothes.  Even the corrections officers who were there to guard the casket (for honor, not necessarily safety) cracked quite a few smiles as he ran past or constantly tried to play in the little fountain.  His cousins would chase him around, other people would scoop him up and whisk him off.  Craig's cousin's husband grabbed him to watch a show on his phone, and at one point I downloaded a couple new apps to kill some time.  Overall he was a handful, but very well behaved.  Jacob played a lot on his iPad and chased his cousins around.  He had moments where he clearly didn't understand the importance of what we were doing, but to the casual observer he was fine.  Overall there were a lot of very difficult moments for all of us, because this was such a tragic situation and two kids don't always understand that.  We ended up sending Carter to my parents' for the funeral because I didn't want to have to wrangle an active kid for such a long day of quiet time.  I'm glad we did.

One of the biggest challenges of the weekend was that our schedule was all over the place.  There were days to sleep in, but there were a couple early mornings, too.  Bedtimes were generally later than we would have liked, and sleeping somewhere else never really leads to the soundest of sleeps.  Mealtimes were a little random, as well, and Jacob's diet in particular was a little odd since gluten-free foods were not in abundant supply.  Between those issues and the emotional toll of the funeral process, we all came home pretty beat.  Craig and I are both battling congestion (again--second time in a couple weeks), Carter has a nasty cough, and Jacob spent part of today in the nurse's office with what we think may have been a touch of gluten cross-contamination.  We're all just tired and off.

We got back around 5:30pm yesterday and I started realizing just how deep of a hole I had to dig out of.  I had hoped to do some shopping or something over the weekend, but between our schedule and just trying to keep up with email and social media when I finally did get to a computer, I didn't get anything done.  Not that I was in much of a mood to.  I don't know if it was the funeral, or a bit of a pity party that the weekend I had planned on using to catch up on life and get a head start on Christmas ended up being so different, but I'm having a really hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.  I'd been waiting to listen to Christmas music and put up our decorations, but the weekend it was all supposed to happen ended up being such a sad one, and I almost feel guilty thinking about doing fun Christmas stuff.  At this point I just don't feel like it.  It didn't help that the tree that I put up before we left now has a row of lights out, and I'm not sure they can be fixed.  It's a pre-lit tree, so it's a little more complicated that switching out the set.  So we have a dark Christmas tree in our living room and all of my fall d├ęcor is still sitting on my dining room table.  I'm busy doing dishes because the dishwasher still isn't fixed, catching up on work because my schedule this week is weird, and staring at the pile of newspapers that arrived while we were gone.  We've barely bought any Christmas gifts, and I'm short on ideas.  Everywhere I look there's something I need to do work on or clean up.  I feel like the calendar has something on it every day this month, and with Craig's schedule I'm not sure when our shopping is going to get done.  There simply isn't enough time for anything right now, or at least my schedule, energy level, and brain power aren't aligning very well.

I know that my issues are nothing compared to the sadness we left behind an hour down the thruway, but it's hard heading into Christmas and not feeling it.  The season is so short and so fast, and here I am wasting it pitying myself and worrying about the million things I need to get done.  I don't want to pressure myself, but part of the fun of Christmas is the special stuff we get to do.  It's a delicate balance.  I need to figure it out.  But I won't be doing it tonight.  Tonight, like last night, I'm just happy to be home and in my own bed.  It's the little things.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving

Well, this Thanksgiving weekend isn't quite what we planned.  Best laid plans and all that...right?  For weeks I'd been looking forward to this long, five-day weekend.  I had visions of enjoying a day or so with our families, and then catching up on things at home and getting the house decorated for Christmas, then maybe venturing out to start checking things off the shopping list.  The first part turned out that way, but the second half?  Not so much.

Craig's uncle passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday.  He was only 53 and had been sick to varying degrees on and off for the past couple months, but this last admission to the hospital didn't look good and Craig was summoned to Buffalo on Monday to say his goodbyes.  He died the next afternoon, and we started planning for an extended trip and a very, very tough few days.  It's not just planning for five days of travel, it's five days of dress clothes and comfy clothes, odd schedules and unknown food situations, and a lot of tears.  We barely fit everything in the car.  Packing was almost as bad as Christmas, between having to fit things in the car and checking off a long list of things to remember. 

I had already planned on taking off Wednesday so I didn't have to stress while packing (under normal circumstances) and could go to the daycare Thanksgiving feast more easily.  Jacob was off, too, so I could save us some money by being home with him.  We headed over at lunch time (with gluten-free gravy and stuffing in hand) and had a very nice lunch--Jacob with the big kids and Carter with me.  We brought him home with us and I was hoping to get a long nap out of him while I got things ready, but alas, it was short.  I still got things done on time, but it was a little crazy.  We headed for my parents' that night to get a head start on things, and did church and a lunchtime meal with them, my aunt, two uncles, and my cousin Lori.  We had a very nice time, though Carter crapped out pretty early for a nap.

I cooked up my gluten-free green bean casserole (using Funyuns, of all things!), then we headed off to Craig's brother's house for our dinnertime meal there.  The food was delicious, the company fun, and the resulting bloat a bit painful (I can't help myself, seriously).  Jacob slept over with his cousins and was a mess today due to too little sleep, and Carter slept well but was a force to be reckoned with anyway.  We went to our nephew's basketball game at 12:30, grabbed a late lunch, and headed back to let Carter nap.  We headed over to Craig's brother's for a dinner of leftovers and some family time, until it was time for two overtired boys to begrudgingly go to bed.

Tomorrow the hard part begins.  I'm so thankful for our many blessings, but there's no doubt this Thanksgiving was with a much heavier heart than usual.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deconstructing the Work-Home Balance

I mentioned in my last post that there's not enough hours in the day to get everything done, and I've said plenty of other times before that it is a challenge to be the only person in my department with kids.  My one co-worker is just a few years out of college, and the other is a year older than me with a husband but no kids.  She knows a lot of people with kids, though, so she's aware of how it all goes, but I still get the feeling she doesn't fully comprehend what having kids does to your mindset when it comes to work.  I think on one level, sure, she gets it...kids are sick, you have to stay home.  Kids have something going on, you generally should be there for it.  On a practical level I know she gets it.  Heck, I know she feels strained enough in her daily life without having any kids at home to stretch her further.

But I still don't think anyone really realizes until they have kids that your entire biology changes when things impact your kids.  Immediately something else climbs to the top of your hierarchy and there's no stopping it.  You also know that you have to care for yourself enough to still take care of your family properly.  So while someone else might say, "Well, the job's gotta get done, so just get it done," it's harder for me to do that if it means giving up the time I need to care for my family or care for my own energy level or health.  It's one thing to do that for a one-time event, but another to be asked to do that consistently.  I don't mind putting in a couple hours once a week after the kids are in bed if it makes my life easier in the long run or makes a deadline, but I have too much that I'm behind on at home to give up significant time for work.  If that makes me a bad employee, I'm sorry, but my family comes first.  I simply don't have the option to stay up all night and wear myself down to nothing because I have two little people relying on me to be functional.  And while Craig is here and can hold up his end, it's not his entire job to be my backup.  He's got a lot on his plate, and a job that he can't let slip either.  Something has to give.

There's been a troubling trend at my job lately.  When I first started working there, it was generally a 9-to-5 job.  My job was, at least.  If you had to stay late here and there for certain projects, that was fine.  But most of the time I could leave work at work and my home time was mine.  But now I have a laptop, and so do a significant number of other people in the company.  And with a lot of people checking their mail constantly on their phones (I do not), there is a very clear indication that you're always somewhat on call. 

Our company is closed the week after Christmas.  We used to have to take vacation or make up three days ahead of time.  This year we heard that the policy was changing, but after much probing it came back that the company line was, "If the work is done, enjoy your time."  The flip side of that, of course, is that if the work isn't done, you need to do it.  But here's the thing--the bulk of my monthly deadlines fall within the last couple weeks of the month, which is when we're going to be off.  So in theory, there's no way my work will be done.  But that time is supposed to be reserved for my family (and I have the vacation days to back that up, actually), and if they're home, there's almost no way I can focus enough to get work done.  It's not as simple as sitting down and doing it--I need to work around kids and family commitments...and when it comes to that week, I'm just not motivated to give up that time I so desperately need because in the past it was "protected" time. 

I guess what bugs me is that it used to seem like if deadlines came calling, the company sort of had our backs to say, "Wait, this is the time we've set aside for our employees to be with their families and recharge.  It can wait."  But now that no longer seems to be the case.  My boss worked nearly her entire Christmas break last year because we had a ridiculously scheduled new business situation that needed immediate attention.  No one took a stand to try to alter the terrible scheduling, and therefore no one had her back to give her the rest she needed.  She's still upset about it, and she hasn't had a real break all year.  Now I'm seeing that mentality sneaking into how she deals with us, which was almost never the case before.  Or maybe she was just always able to deflect it for us, but she's so overloaded she no longer can.  The pressure is tremendous, and it's so damaging.  I can't help but wonder at what point she breaks and we're all left to pick up pieces that we can't put back together.  Everyone's replaceable, but it's at a major cost with people who are so good at what they do and that hold an immense amount of knowledge in their brain that can't be learned.

I think part of the problem, too, is that when it comes to your family, everything else pales in comparison.  Your perspective changes completely.  Work no longer seems as life and death as it used to.  Maybe it should in order to keep a job, but it's so sad that the mentality seems to have changed so much over the past few years.  I don't blame my boss--she has been put under tremendous, unfair pressure.  No one has her back (above her), and I think she's probably tired of feeling like the only martyr.  So while she's not going to try to push us specifically, she also won't be able to deflect things like she has in the past.  But it's so hard for me to get to a point where I'm okay with giving work priority.  My time with my family is limited enough, and letting work encroach on that is incredibly hard.  That said, I generally like my job and put in a solid effort every single day.  I have no intention of leaving.  But the recent shift in philosophy is definitely troubling, and this is the time of year when it usually becomes the biggest issue.  The end of the year crunch really stinks, and it's not going to get any easier.