Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day Care Disaster, Part 2

The daycare situation hasn't really gotten considerably worse, but I suppose it's not really much better either.  So far a total of six staff are gone, and I know many of the others are looking elsewhere.  The boys' rooms are still pretty stable and the new director started this week (much needed fresh start, but jury is still out), so I guess we're okay for the moment.  But I still don't like knowing what the owner is capable of, nor do I like giving him my money.  I know he's not going to have our back if something else goes wrong, and I worry about what happens if too many other teachers or kids leave.  It seems like about half the kids have left so far, though a few new ones have started to offset that.  But luckily the boys have been fine.  Even still, my concerns with the ownership prompted me to take the afternoon off today so we could go on a full-family tour of a couple other centers.  Even if I don't feel the need to switch now, it's good to have the chance to see what's out there.

Visiting daycares is one of my least favorite things in the world.  It's overwhelming.  I mean, there are plenty of obvious things to think about--their hours, their policies, their location--and so many other intangibles to take into consideration.  You need to think about how you think your kids would fit in, if the teachers seem friendly and trustworthy, and even whether the other kids seem like friends you want your kid to have.  It's so much to take into consideration, and it's such a short period of time to absorb it all before making a monumental decision that could impact your kid's safety, happiness, education, and general well-being. 

This was our third time through this process.  We looked at a handful when I was pregnant with Jacob, and a few more (some for the second time) when Jacob's daycare closed when he was 18 months old.  The first time around we didn't even have a baby yet, so we had absolutely no clue what we were looking for or what questions to ask.  The second time around we knew Jacob and had to consider how his personality would work in each place, but at least we were better equipped to understand how things worked and what we needed to look out for.  This time around we have the added challenge of trying to find a good fit for two very different kids.  The amazing thing, though?  That in the end, each time, it all comes down to a gut instinct.  While we need to consider the logistical stuff, ultimately the biggest deciding factor is still how we're left feeling about the place.

Today's first tour was at Doodle Bugs, a chain that seems to get good reviews and is sort of the daycare equivalent of a mega church.  You know, it's got all the flashy bells and whistles, and is all shiny and new.  It might lack some of the warm fuzzy closeness of the smaller version, but you can't argue with its success in drawing people in.  I had myself all ready to hate the big, commercial feeling of it all, but....well...in the end I couldn't.  The place was pretty amazing.  We were first in Doodleville, a central space with a two story city-themed play area with Little Tikes cars, a slide, and room to run.  It was immaculate, and Carter loved it!  We went on a tour to the rooms, and Carter seemed intrigued but nervous in the room that would be his.  We went outside and both boys fell in love with the one outside space.  There was a basketball hoop and a mini soccer field that Jacob loved, and a tricycle track that Carter desperately wanted to explore.  We also checked out the toddler playground, which Carter loved as well, and then headed into the school age area, where Jacob saw two kids from our current daycare who had just started there.  There has been a constant stream of kids moving over there, so both kids would probably have a few friends right away.  It seemed to put Jacob at ease a bit more to see his friends (though the basketball hoop did a great job, too!), after being very reserved when we got there.  Everything about the place was first class, though.  The staff was very welcoming and the feel was good.  The play spaces were awesome and the assistant director is even gluten-free! The one thing that wasn't awesome?  The price.  It would be $30 more per week per kid.  On top of already feeling like we pay too much.  UGH.  It's more than our mortgage (with taxes) for just Carter.  Yuck.

We moved along to the other option, a smaller center just around the corner from our house.  We'd heard good things from a friend of ours, and some of the daycare families seemed to like it there, too, when they toured.  In addition to a couple families from our current daycare who picked there, one of the teachers that left is actually starting there Monday in the three-year-old room.  So it was nice to know that there were a few people around that the kids would know.  I'd also heard that it cost less and diapers and wipes were included.  However, I knew they possibly didn't have a spot for Jacob, and that was indeed the case.  Still, we walked through.  Worst case scenario we could have them at separate places for the summer or find Jacob a camp each week, so I figured we needed to give it a shot.  But in the end, it just didn't do it for any of us, kids included.  I suppose almost anywhere wouldn't look great compared to stop #1, but we just didn't get the warm fuzzies from it.  It just didn't seem as well organized, and while the staff was nice, they just didn't have that extra level of "polish" or something.  Their playground wasn't great, and there were a couple other little things that bugged me.  Picky as it sounds, I really like having direct withdrawal of tuition, and they didn't have that. 

I came home feeling defeated (and very tired!).  I guess for now we just need to stay where we are.  There are a couple other possibilities out there that I may look into, but for now perhaps fate is telling us to stay where we are.  There are a lot of reasons that bugs me, but it's not like we have a lot of options unless Craig gets a big bump in pay (because, clearly, I think I'm maxed out for a bit--and yes, I am making more than I was before, but no, I'm not willing to give up that big of a chunk of that extra security blanket just yet.).  So we will soldier on and see how it goes.  We can always reevaluate in the fall when Jacob goes back to school.  This probably isn't over, but I guess we're taking a time out for a bit.  Sigh.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ages and Stages

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the boys and their ages, and also the space between them.  There are days I wish that our three-year gap would have happened, but then I realize that had it happened I might be locked away in the looney bin and unable to enjoy it anyway.  Jacob was such a handful at that age that I can't even imagine how I would have managed an infant.  Even with a four-year gap I think we'd have had quite a challenge, and in either case we'd be considerably poorer from double daycare for so long.  So I think it worked out for the best.

Still, the nearly five-year gap is looking bigger and bigger to me every day.  Even though Jacob is coming around a bit as a brother, the gap is really pronounced.  Carter is too young to do big boy things, and Jacob is too old (in his mind) to lower himself to Carter's level.  I know a lot of this is personality, too, that if Jacob was like most kids we'd get a little more willingness to be a good big brother.  He had a lot of time on his own and Carter's arrival shook him up more than even we expected, with prior knowledge of his personality and behavior.  It's still hard for me to tell if it was Carter's mere presence, or his dominance of my time, or all of the changes that went along with it, but it's evident that it took his behavior to a whole new level.  I think things have calmed down a bit, though, and Jacob is finally acknowledging Carter more and more.  Of course, not all is good attention.  Sometimes he does engage him in playing knee hockey or throwing a ball around, and it's nice to see them playing together.  It rarely stays civil for long, though.  Jacob will take away something, or Carter will tackle him, and that's the end of the fun.  Jacob also has this terrible habit of goading Carter into doing something or talking about something he shouldn't, be it potty talk or which daycare friends hit him or whatever.  It's so annoying.  At this point I can only hope that as they get older they will get along better, but I'm not so sure!

One of the challenges right now is that Carter is getting to a point where he wants to hang out with the big boys, but isn't quite able to.  If Jacob wants to play lacrosse with Daddy, or if Daddy's taking Jacob to baseball, Carter wants to do it too.  He may love his mama, but he wants to be with Daddy a lot more than before.  He wants to be included in what the boys are doing, but because he's so young it's hard to always include him.  He can't play sports at the level Jacob prefers, or and I can't always send him to baseball games with the boys because Craig helps coach and he can't be watching Carter as closely as needed.  So he's "stuck" with me and isn't always happy about it.  This is where the gap definitely becomes a challenge, because Jacob can do so much more and Carter doesn't quite understand why he can't.  And most likely, this will be the case for years to come.  Oh, and we definitely had to deal with some jealousy on Carter's part when Jacob got his birthday gifts and got to go spend his gift cards at Toys 'R' Us last weekend.  Hopefully he outgrows that and learns that they'll be taking turns with birthdays!

Even still, I'm still feeling like I want to freeze Carter at this age for a while.  He's so cute and so sweet that the tantrums and annoying moments are easily overshadowed.  I don't ever recall wanting to freeze time with Jacob because I was so eager for the terrible twos to be over.  If only I knew, right?  But even though he never wants to go to bed or brush his teeth or eat certain foods, he is still so sweet and so engaging the rest of the time.  He says "Please" and "Thank You" and "You're Welcome" without being prompted.  He calls me "pretty" and gives hugs out of the blue.  He's talking a lot now and seems like he's getting to the point where it's a constant running narrative.  I was sort of dreading this stage since Jacob is still in it and a double narrative might make me crazy, but gosh, he's cute.

Yesterday we were at Wegmans and he was sitting in the cart.  He gave me a little trouble about not being able to go in a car cart, but once we were off shopping he was fine.  He was rattling on about random stuff, and at one point an older African-American woman stopped me and said, "I just had to tell you how well your son is talking!"  She'd been walking near us and had been listening to him.  She remarked how adorable he is and said that he must be a ray of sunshine.  I told her he is and thanked her.  It was really sweet and just adds another story to my arsenal about how amazing it is that people see that in him after just a short time in his presence.  After that incident, we were in the parking lot and Carter said hi to the "eagles", which I pointed out were actually seagulls.  After we went over how seagulls are birds, too, he launched into a little mini-story about the seagull and its mama.  It was sweet and it really struck me how his imagination is really starting to develop.

Last week before Jacob's party I put away a few "baby" toys, like the stacking rings, Carter's lion push walker, and a baseball toy (since he can now hit a ball off a real tee, that one seemed unnecessary).  Every time stuff goes in the basement, it's a little sad because I know it's not coming back up until it's leaving the house.  Last time I knew we'd have another baby, and even if it was a girl some of the toys and baby things would still get reused.  This time that's not the case, and it's sad.  With Carter as sweet as he is, I can see where some people get to this point and are ready to do it again.  If I knew we'd get another baby as sweet as him, it would be tempting, but I honestly can't do another kid like Jacob.  I love him SO much but I simply do not have the energy or patience for another one like him.  I'm just not up for another pregnancy or cramming our house fuller or worrying about three car seats.  I can't deal with a baby who doesn't sleep or have the energy to manage three boys or even try figuring out a girl.  I just can't.  I don't want to pay for another round of diapers or daycare, or worry about more reflux or intolerances.  I have to be done. 

Of course, the one thing that gave me pause was that a couple weeks ago we were at Jacob's baseball game and I noticed Carter randomly playing peek-a-boo with the baby brother of Jacob's teammate.  He's almost a year old and super smiley, and Carter was loving the game!  I'd never really thought about how Carter would be as a big brother, and it made me sad that his natural big brother skills were going to go to waste.  He'd probably be awesome, especially at this age.  I realized as I was writing this post that if we had wanted a third and tried to do a three-year gap this time, we'd be trying right about now.  YIKES.  Carter's conception "birthday" (remember, it was well-planned) was just a couple weeks ago, and it's hard to believe that was three years ago already!  I guess it's good that this time around I can feel the baby urge (since I really didn't last time!), but I know better than to listen to it!  Still, I will look longingly at infants and fantasize about cuddling my own again.  But I just can't.

So, now I will try to revel in the ages my boys are at--Carter learning so much and Jacob turning into a real person, a talented athlete, and a bright student...I hope, anyway.  It's not always easy but I'll admit the stages are harder to leave behind knowing we won't be revisiting them.  Heck, I might even miss diapers.  And don't get me started on the crib or the Snoopy decor that's been ever-present in our home for the last seven years!  Man, this is going to be tough!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Party Time!

So, this happened the other day...
Last Day of School!
I'm not quite sure how Jacob is already done with first grade, but it happened!  Second grade is a mere 10 weeks away, and I can hardly believe it.  Second grade sounds so....old!  It'll be his last year in his current school, meaning that next year at this time he'll be on his way to a new school.  Which one, we're not sure yet.  We may take the opportunity to move to a private school if his choices of friends don't improve, but it's tough to resist having him at the public school around the corner!  We shall see.  But for now we'll enjoy the summer!

It's been a busy week.  Between all of the daycare drama, Jacob's baseball, and getting ready for his party today, it was a little crazy...which is why it took me since Tuesday to post about the last day of school.  Last night in particular was the epitome of the craziness.  I made a quick dinner and then started on assembling the new patio table we bought last weekend.  Only, I figured out about halfway through that the table was defective and needed to be returned.  The brackets that held the legs in under the table top were in the wrong spots and couldn't be moved, so the legs were not lining up right with the lower support frame.  So we had to load it back up into my car, I took it back to Lowe's and got a new one (since they all assured me they rarely see problems with that one and the one guy loves the one he owns), and then ran off to Wegmans to buy everything else we needed for the party.  I got home around 10pm and started baking two layers of cake so they were ready to frost this morning. 

Once I got up this morning it was pretty much non-stop.  Clean the bathroom, clean off the dining room table, put away random stuff, decorate the cake, cut fruit, and on and on.  Poor Carter spent the morning in front of the TV (sorry, buddy), but he was great.  Craig and Jacob went to Jacob's baseball game, which just got in before the torrential downpours started.  After five years of great weather for Jacob's parties, today was a throwback to his first birthday when it was cold and rainy.  Boo.

I was busy right up until the party and continued in the kitchen for most of it.  The good news about an indoor party is that people hang out in the kitchen with you!  Still, all of the hard work was worth it.  The food was great, the company was lovely, and it was a very nice party!

And once again, I did my best to give the birthday boy the cake of his choice!
Playmobil basketball game!


He had some great gifts, too.  He will be doing some shopping at Toys 'R' Us...

...and he got a Playmobil plane to help his soccer guys travel to their games...

...and he got a new baseball bag and a pitchback for baseball (and undoubtedly lacrosse, too!).

While we were getting ready for cake, Carter went "shopping" in the kitchen, courtesy of Uncle Brad...
Note the contents of the cart...silly boy.
 Jacob loved his cake! 

Getting some help blowing out candles from Carter and cousin Luke!
It was a very nice day, but it went fast!  It was like a busy day at work, but a lot more fun!  Tomorrow is our 12th anniversary, and I think it will simply be a day of rest!  We all need it after this week!  Dinner out will have to wait for another night when we can get child care, but at least we have leftovers to keep meals simple!  I guess this officially concludes Jacob's festivities, though.  Now I have a little less than eight months to recover and prepare for another cake! ;-)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Day Care Disaster

Friday started out as a totally normal day.  I dropped off Carter, joked with the director about how she was wearing white pants around all those kids, and went on with my day.  Craig went to daycare in the afternoon for the Father's Day ice cream social, and brought Carter home.  We ran off to dinner right away, and I never had a chance to check Facebook or email.  When I finally settled in for the night, I brought up Facebook and my jaw dropped.  The assistant director posted a vague but disconcerting status, and it wasn't until I looked at the comments that I figured out what had happened.  The daycare ownership (our center is one of four) fired the director, who had been there over 25 years.  From his perspective it's because she showed resistance to some of his (bad) decisions, but if she (and her 25+ years of experience) had concerns, I think they're at least worth noting. 

Everyone, parents and staff alike, were devastated.  We had no complaints about anything at the center, so letting her go seems extreme.  The comments on the initial post from the assistant director were pretty crazy, and eventually all of the activity moved to a private message.  Messages were popping up every 20 seconds from one person or another.  On Sunday I was enjoying our family time in Buffalo and decided to check my messages, and suddenly I found myself scrolling back frantically trying to figure out what happened.  Turns out the assistant director must have made a comment to the owner that prompted him to tell her that she was no longer welcome at the center.  She could basically take a job at a different location or quit.  So she left.  So now the top two people were gone, parents and staff were even more up in arms, and everything seemed to be falling apart.  I was very upset and was probably a bummer to be around the rest of the day. 

Things have gotten no better in the past few days.  First there were a couple staff members that refused to sign a ridiculous gag order, so they were sent home.  The gag order threatened their jobs if they were caught saying anything about the happenings to anyone, including each other.  How they expect a bunch of people to not discuss such a major upheaval that completely impacts their daily life with each other or even parents (who, clearly, will have questions), I have no idea.  The way it was written was completely unreasonable!  So, with all of the shakeups, there have been issues with their ratios, problems with kids not getting medicine, and even a baby that got the wrong bottle.  It's been a mess.  Everyone is upset, parents are pulling their kids, and the new management is completely ridiculous.  It's been awful.

For the time being, we're hanging in there.  I clearly do not approve of the changes the ownership made, nor how those changes were handled.  The one new person I've met is the girlfriend of the owner, and she is really fake, which gets on my nerves.  Beyond that and the other issues I've already stated I don't have any other specific bones to pick with the new folks (unlike some parents), but I trust the long-time staff members' opinions so I know we could be headed for trouble.  But as much as I hate giving this guy my money, my priority is my kids, and for now I want them to have whatever consistency they can get.  Four people may be gone, but there are still a number of teachers there that my kids know and love.  And I know they love my kids back.  Quite frankly, until they're all no longer there, I'm very hesitant to pull them.  Same with their friends--if they're all gone, there's less reason to stay. 

I totally get that a lot of parents don't like the management, don't like the upheaval, and don't like everything that's happened since.  Some parents have more reasons to be upset than others, for sure.  If my kids medication was missed, I'd be pretty ticked.  If my baby got the wrong bottle I'd be REALLY ticked.  And maybe then, on top of everything else, I'd leave.  But for now I trust that my kids will still receive the same care they did before from the teachers they love, so until it becomes an issue we'll stay.  In addition, the more people that leave, the greater the chance that those teachers will be laid off, and I'd hate to see that happen when they need to keep that paycheck coming.

The remaining teachers are all pretty miserable, but they're there for the kids and doing everything they can to keep things as normal as possible.  They're venting privately and documenting everything, because there have been a lot of violations since the new regime took over.  I think the hope is to make a case against the new people with the regulatory folks.  I don't blame them, as they're upset and frustrated at how much more complicated things just got and how the new management seems to have zero regard for the rules.  I'm not sure what the end goal is here, though, since I'm not sure what the benefit is to them aside from bruising this guy's ego.  If they get shut down they're out of work (though they assured me they'd be available to watch the kids during the day--ha!), and if they get a lot of violations people won't come there and eventually it will close.  I think they're all hoping to be out of there before disaster strikes, but the whole thing is just sad.  I hate to see them hurting and I don't particularly like some of the high schoolish behavior I've seen from everyone involved.  In the normal corporate world, this stuff happens all the time (speaking from experience, obviously), but I'll admit it is a little different when involves someone beloved by a bunch of change-averse little kids.  Ultimately, regardless of who's right or wrong, all I know is that we had a nice, stable childcare situation for us and the kids and it is now a giant, messy question mark.

I've given Jacob a head's up on what's happening, trying to keep it non-political and just tell him what he needs to know, but I did tell him that if he sees anything out of the ordinary or anything that makes him uncomfortable, to please let me know.  I need him to be my eyes and ears, particularly with tensions so and with so many people around that we don't know.  I get plenty of updates from the teachers in the background, but I want to know if he sees anything that bothers him...because if it bothers him, it bothers me.  He was a little worried about going today, and he's worried about everyone leaving, but I assured him that for now there are still people there that he likes, and hopefully it will be fine.  In the meantime we've looked into a couple other options for him specifically, but now that I don't have a close relationship with the management, I don't know how difficult it might be to pull him out for a week here and there or to pull him out completely.  It's such a bummer all around.

I know the hope is that the two former directors will get together and open their own center, at which point existing staff and parents would flock to them.  I don't doubt that that could happen, but I have no idea how long it might take.  They'd have to find a place, acquire all of their equipment and supplies, get all of their licensing and other approvals in order, and have all of the money to make it happen.  That's a lot.  And Carter's memory is still pretty short term, so I don't know if he'd remember everyone enough by then to make it all worthwhile.  I mean, I'd trust their management way more, but yeah, it's complicated.  In the short term there are a couple other places for us to check out, but chances are they're going to cost more and won't be as convenient.  If at some point we have to switch, I sincerely hope we can go somewhere with a familiar face or two to ease the transition.  But ugh...I get sick just thinking about it.  We had to do that change once with Jacob and it was very stressful for all of us. 

The thing is, a daycare should be like a family.  They should consider each other family, and we in turn consider them as an extension of our family by entrusting our kids to them every day.  I didn't grow up with the daycare thing, and I'll admit I was really skeptical of it all going in.  I had a bad stereotype of daycare kids and the business in general, and our first daycare showed me how wrong I was.  I don't think I realized the full impact until Jacob started hitting milestones and they were as excited about it as we were!  And it really hit me when that daycare shut down and the teachers were so crushed about not being able to see the kids every day anymore.  I ended up becoming Facebook friends with a number of them, and they're still the ones wishing Jacob a happy birthday or liking photos of him.  We run into some of them once in a while, and while Jacob doesn't remember them anymore, it's still so nice to know how much they cared about him.  It took a while to get to that point at the new daycare (having a difficult kid can do that), but once people started seeing Jacob's quirky fun side, suddenly they all loved him and we bonded over the challenge of handling him.  And then when Carter came along and was the sweetest baby ever, they were completely sucked in.  We got to know teachers we missed out on the first time around, and we had deep connections all over the center.  It's been so wonderful to have such a loving, stable situation for the kids, and now that's just....gone.  It's such a great thing when you can have so many people that love your child.  It truly is like an extended family...contrary to the owner's insistence that it's just a business.  Shows what he knows.  He's clearly not someone who should be in a business that involves children. 

Tonight we had a covert get-together at a local playground so we could all just talk and vent.  The kids played and the adults let it all out.  We got to see all of the ex-staff and hug them and talk about the injustices.  We were there for over two hours and it was such a fun time.  Of course, we're all so sad about everything, but it's clear we're all behind the staff (and ex-staff) 100%.  The turnout was amazing.  We took over the playground.  Dozens of kids, tons of parents, even an additional former employee or two, all brainstorming about how we're going to get through this.  Even the ones that are leaving are still working on some things behind the scenes, and who knows where it will go. 

We're just incredibly bummed that things went so bad so fast, and can only hope the kids weather the storm for now.  We may have to make a switch down the road, and maybe it will even be a good character-builder for them, but it's such a sad thing to know we had such a good thing going and one idiot managed to ruin it all.  My kids deserve better than to have a dishonest, disloyal, business-minded jerk making decisions that impact them.  But for now it's more important for them to be with the people that have nurtured them for years, because those relationships mean more than anything else at a time like this. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Busy Birthday!

So....Jacob is seven!  Hard to believe.  We ended up having a crazy busy weekend, and Saturday was no exception.  And really, things went very well!  Sunday turned out a bit different than planned, but I'll get to that in another post.  But first...the good stuff!

We decided to start the birthday celebration Friday night because we already knew Saturday would be crazy.  We went to Red Robin, Jacob's favorite, for his free birthday meal.  He enjoyed it as usual and was caught totally off-guard when the wait staff came out singing with his ice cream.  He was actually full and thinking he wouldn't be getting anything, but they never actually asked specifically when the time came, so suddenly there it was!

He ate a few bites before deciding he was too full.  The rest of us picked away at it a bit, but in the end I think we were all too full!  Darn you, bottomless fries!

Friday night after bedtime I whipped up a batch of gluten-free cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  I knew he'd be excited when I offered those up instead of cereal!  We got up the next morning, I wished him happy birthday, and made his morning with the cinnamon rolls!  After some getting ready for the day, we sat down to open presents!

He got a double DVD of Scooby-Doo movies, a couple sports shirts, a book on Pompeii that he really wanted from his book fair, a second Wii controller, a Toronto FC (soccer) shirt, and a Toronto Raptors basketball jersey.  He seemed very happy with his gifts!
Scooby!

Checking out his Pompeii book!


He insisted on a picture with the lacrosse ball, but knew he'd blink.  He's right!

His Toronto FC shirt

Raptors jersey!
Jacob had a game at noon, so we were off to the diamond shortly after.  My parents met us there to see Jacob play and spend the afternoon.  The weather was gorgeous and we had a good time!

First base coach Craig giving Jacob some pointers after his hit
We ate lunch at the field and as soon as we got home I put Carter down for a nap.  He needed it!  Meanwhile, Craig and I ran out to Lowe's to try to buy a new patio table (finally found one I liked) and my parents hung out with Jacob.  I still have to get the table together before the party on Saturday, but at least we have one and it fit in my car!

I failed to mention that I spent part of Saturday morning attempting to bake a gluten-free angel food cake.  Among the plethora of new gluten-free items at Aldi recently was a boxed angel food cake mix, which isn't something you see very often, if at all.  The recipe was very simple...just cake mix and eggs.  However, it took 12 egg whites, which meant I had to separate a dozen eggs!  Thank goodness for Tupperware egg separators, and thank goodness I found I had a second floating around in my box of extra utensils!  I was a little nervous, but it turned out great and we got to sing to Jacob while my parents were still in town.


The cake was really good, especially with a spoonful of strawberries on top!  Like most gluten-free baked goods, it was slightly different than the real thing, but surprisingly good!

We headed out after that to the Red Wings game for Little League night.  It took some convincing to get Jacob to want to go on his birthday, but in the end we had a great time.  We were a little nervous about the weather since it turned very quickly during the afternoon and rained for an hour or two, but it was a pleasant night despite the clouds.  It sprinkled a bit once, but our seats were under a cover, so we were fine.  We got to sit with his team, which was fun, and we stayed right through the fireworks.  It was a late night, but it was a really nice time.  Here are some highlights...
The boys on the field with Jacob's team

I got the best picture of Jacob here last year, and I like this one, too!

Carter was busy looking around and checking things out, but he did really well.  He loved carrying his little bat!

My boys...Carter refused to smile, but two out of three isn't bad!

It was Star Wars night, so there were some characters in the concourse.  This R2D2 was cool.  He actually moved around and made noises!  Carter was not a fan of Darth Vader.

It was also Zooperstars night.  They're one of my favorite baseball promotions ever.  They're inflatable characters that do silly skits and dances.  The costumes are rigged up with tricks like silly string, funny moving parts, and tricks like being able to "swallow" an entire person.  They're funny.  This is Tommy Laswordfish (get it, Tommy Lasorda, the great Dodgers manager...but it's a swordfish?) and Harry Canary (instead of the infamous Cubs announcer Harry Caray).

Craig got Jacob's birthday on the scoreboard!

Since it was Jacob's birthday and it's only a dollar, he got to do the speed pitch.  He was in the 25 mph range, I think.  Getting better!

Carter got to hit for the first time!  He made contact with the ball pretty good, but we definitely need to work on aim a bit :)

Fireworks were fun, and Carter deemed them "awesome".  He wasn't scared a bit.  Apparently Jacob got all of my firework phobia genes!  He's OK now, but we had a few rough years in there!


It was already a late night when we got home, but I still had work to do.  I had to bag up Father's Day gifts for Craig's dad and brother, as well as a DVD we got Craig for part of his Father's Day gift.  On top of that, I had to finish off Craig's big gift, which I had to do at the last minute.  I had to ban him from our basement bathroom, which he uses a lot of the time.  I had decided a while ago to redecorate the bathroom a bit.  Previously it just had one picture on the wall--one of my favorite IKEA posters of Gerber daisies.  It matched the yellow countertop and didn't really have anywhere else to go, so it ended up there.  But over the years it has become Craig's spot, so I wanted it to reflect that.  On our trip to Toronto last month I bought a bunch of frames, then printed off a number of pictures from our various baseball trips over the years.  I replaced the poster with a poster of Craig's that we unearthed a while back and meant to hang in the office when we got a picture wall going in there.  Turns out it was the perfect centerpiece for this project instead!  In the end I think it turned out really cool.  I definitely like using that bathroom more now!
The toilet is off to the left, below the two blue frames. 

This is looking to the right, across from the toilet. 
Craig got to see it Sunday morning, and then he got the rest of his gifts after church.  Jacob gave him a cool pen that he wrapped clay around.  It looks pretty neat.  Carter gave him a frame that he decorated.  Oh, and while we were at church they had an event after Sunday School with games and snacks.  They had one fun booth where we got to do a family handprint.  Such a sweet keepsake!
Craig is yellow, I'm pinkish-orange (the pads were running low by the end so I had to try a second color), Jacob is blue, and Carter is purple.  I love it...probably more than Craig! ;-)
We had a very busy day on Sunday after church.  We headed off to Buffalo for time with Craig's family, and the boys had a lot of fun playing whiffle ball and eating snacks!  My day ended up not-so-great due to a developing situation at the boys' daycare that I'll get into in my next post.  We've got a bit of a crazy situation on our hands, just as Jacob transitions from school back there tomorrow.  Hard to believe today is the last day of first grade!  Wow.  More on all of that soon enough.  But I'm happy that Jacob's birthday and the gift part of Father's Day went well.  On to Jacob's party this weekend!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Seven!

Dear Jacob,

I can't believe you're SEVEN!  Back when you were a baby, I used to think about what life would be like when you were older.  I'd think about what it would be like when you started walking and talking, or how things would be when you hit Kindergarten.  We've blown past all of those milestones, and now you've hit the age that I had in my mind where you'd probably be a cool kid we'd just think was fun to hang out with.  I figured that by this age we'd be past a lot of the dependent phases (meaning, we wouldn't have to do so many things FOR you) and we'd be at a point where we'd enjoy doing things WITH you.  We'd be in the sweet spot of parenting--where you'd be more self-sufficient and fun to hang out with, but still too young for the drama and eye rolls that come with the preteen years. 

Turns out that life had some other plans, I guess, because things are a tiny bit more complicated than that!  Rest assured--we think you're a pretty amazing kid, and I'll get into that more in a bit.  But let's get some of the obvious tough stuff out of the way first.  You are a tough kid to manage sometimes.  You are very particular, very stubborn, and very independent, but still surprisingly needy in some ways.  I never really thought we'd still have to tell you to eat with a fork or sit on your butt while eating.  I never thought I'd still be reminding you that you have to brush your teeth every morning, or that I'd be getting a king-sized groan back every single time.  I just thought certain things would be easier by now. 

It's hard when you take everything personally and don't understand that discipline is not an attack on you, but rather an attempt to teach you how to become a better person.  We may not have a lot of practice at parenting a kid your age, but we've lived a lot more life and have an idea of what it takes to become functional adults...so maybe you should just trust us and listen!  Take advantage of our wisdom and learn what lessons you can the easy way.  We've told you repeatedly that kids without limits turn into very bad adults, and we desperately want to help you avoid that.  When we tell you to get ready for school, or to do your homework, or to put down the electronics, or to go to bed and stay there, there are reasons for it.  Those are normal things expected of normal people, and you really should just get used to them.  I know it's hard to have things taken away or to feel like you can't do anything, but you have to trust us that these things will teach you about what's valuable in life. 

Here's the thing....we wouldn't push so hard if we didn't care so much.  We can see that there's a brilliant, fascinating kid in there, and we're just trying to help you reach that potential.  I've said it here before that sometimes you just need to get out of your own way.  You worry about so many of the little things that don't matter that much in life, and I hate to see it suck the fun out of it for you.  Speaking from experience, I know that I've done a lot of the same things in my life, and in the end I know better, that some things just aren't worth worrying about if they're going to ruin your fun!

I will say that we've had a much better year than last year.  Six treated us all way better than five, for many reasons.  While listening and respect issues have probably gotten worse (we're working on it), the meltdowns have decreased and our daily life is a little more manageable than it used to be.  We're tired of the yelling and the backtalk and the constant repeating of instructions, but certain things are better.  We had a much easier year of school and most tasks are not the daily struggle they used to be.  You've grown up so much this year that I can barely believe me eyes every time I look at you!  You've lost four teeth, and that alone made you look so much older!  You're getting so tall, and before we know it, your feet will be as big as mine.  You're just starting to look like a big kid, and I can barely believe you were once a tiny baby that fit in my arms.  You're turning into a true athlete and I've felt such pride watching you score a couple goals in lacrosse this year and start to become a better fielder in baseball.  You have so many talents--smart in school, fascinating artwork, awesome imagination when playing--and watching you come into your own is so amazing.

You've also started to come around a bit as a big brother this year.  Of course, the two of you together can be a massive handful, but at least you're starting to be nicer to Carter and more tolerant of him than you used to be.  Once in a while I hear you trying to teach him something or trying to include him in an activity, and it makes me so happy!  I could do without the bickering or baiting him into trouble, but I have hope that someday you might be a great sports teacher or even a good buddy for him. 

Even though we go through a lot of tough times right now, the good thing about it is that it makes the good times even more special.  I love seeing pure happiness on your face.  It may not always be easy to get there, but it's so great when we do.  You had a really great birthday today, and it makes me so happy to know you're going to bed a happy kid. 

I guess the one thing I can tell you at this point is that one thing has remained constant for every moment of the last seven years--Mommy and Daddy love you more than we can ever describe.  We may not be perfect parents, but that hasn't stopped us from trying every single day to get there.  We know you're worth the effort.  Everything we do is an attempt at giving you a better life, whether or not you realize it now.  Hopefully one day you will, since it took me becoming a parent to realize where my parents were coming from all those years.  This year I've had the realization that although I've always wished you would become an easier kid to parent, I really need to keep praying that I can become the best parent for you.  You make me want to be a better mom, and I can't imagine my life without you.  I'm hoping that seven is our lucky number, and this will be a great year for all of us.  We love you so much and look forward to seeing where this year takes us.  Happy Birthday, buddy.

Love,
Mommy

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Right Back Where We Started From...

Today marks 10 weeks since I started my new job.  Things are getting a tiny bit better as far as having work to do and feeling involved, but we're coming up on the end of the fiscal year so things are crazy and most people are in "just get it done mode"...which means that in a lot of cases it doesn't make logical sense to pass a lot of things off to me because it takes time to explain and train.  I have no doubt that as time goes on and I'm involved in the start-to-finish process things will get very busy and I'll be dreaming about this time where things weren't wall-to-wall projects.  But for now I'm just contributing where I can and taking it as a good sign when they say they're happy with my work and my progression.

But the job itself is not what this post is about.  As we hit the 10-week mark I find myself disappointed in myself that I seem to be right back in the working mom rut I was in before.  Misguided though it may have been, I really hoped that my time off would refresh me and have a lasting impact on my perspective even after that break was over. Turns out that whatever impact it had didn't last long. 

At the very least, I had hoped that having nearly three months off would have refreshed me to the point that I wouldn't feel desperate for vacation time too soon.  I'd hoped that the mere sense of gratefulness for having a job would sustain me through tough weeks and I'd feel rested and ready to take on any project that came my way.  That lasted for a month or so, and then I guess reality set in.  I'm still just tired.  It didn't matter so much when I was home all day (though, strangely, I probably only took a couple naps the entire time I was off), but being tired makes working so much harder, and there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do what I need to do AND get enough sleep.  I'm back to having a hard time getting up, then rushing around in the morning, daydreaming during the day about all the things I'd like to be doing instead, and cramming my evening with as many to-do list items as possible.  Add Jacob's sports or even a workout into the mix and we're facing a dinner time that runs directly into bedtime.  Once the kids are in bed, most nights I struggle to stay awake while sitting in my chair.  You'd think that should be a sign that I should just get up and go to bed, but I'm simply too tired for that and often I'm still groggily convincing myself that I need to wake up and get things done.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.  But I'm not spending enough quality time with the kids, and I'm not getting enough sleep...and that's a recipe for disaster all around.

I find myself longing for the weekends, and dreaming about all of the things I'd like to do with my vacation days, although I definitely can't take them until July since everyone is busting their butts for the next two weeks.  Even then I need to work around being out of the office for my conference in July, and I don't want to miss out on any important planning meetings as the summer progresses.  But I know how this goes...suddenly the summer will be over, I won't have taken advantage of the nice weather and the kids' flexibility, and I'll be kicking myself. 

I realized the other day that I really haven't sat down and played with Carter and his toys in far too long.  Honestly, we've been relying on the kids' joint fascination with the show "Paw Patrol" more than we should.  Both kids like it, and it's awfully easy to pop an episode on after dinner and have the kids snuggle in with Daddy on the couch for a bit.  Craig relaxes, and I try to get a few things done before I run out of energy.   Then suddenly it's bedtime and the battles begin.  I've tried in the last couple days to make more of an effort to just play with Carter, particularly because I know he's at such a great age for it.  I'm trying, but it's hard sometimes.  If I had all the time in the world, sure, it would be at the top of my list...but when I look around the house at the piles and the dirty floors and all of the things that I need to do to keep the house functional, it's almost an impossible scenario.  How can I do both?  It seems like the easy choice to sit down and play, but as the list grows longer, it becomes an even bigger monster to slay and soon enough it's overwhelming.  Ultimately, fixing it pulls me away from my mom role even more.  I often feel like when I don't put in enough time to keep household things functioning, suddenly I'm forced to play catch-up in a more concentrated period of time, meaning I'm available even less than usual for a while.  It's all about finding the balance, and I guess I still haven't.

I really hoped that having a cleaner, neater house while I was off would inspire me to keep it that way once I was back to work.  I discovered that I didn't hate cleaning--I just hated devoting valuable time to doing it amidst a busy schedule.  I also learned that it didn't take long to make an impact--15 minutes here and there can do a lot--and I try to remind myself of that when a project seems unmanageable.  Sometimes that thinking does work, but most of the time I feel like I don't even have that 15 minutes to take, or I take it and 15 minutes turns into 30 or 45 and any spare time I'd set aside to be a good mom goes right out the window.  The mom guilt gets pretty bad at that point, and while I know people will poo-poo that because we all just do the best we can, it's still not fair to my kids that I'm choosing other things over them.  I don't want them to live in filth or not have food in their lunch bag or miss the deadline to bring a picture in for their Father's Day project either, but again, there aren't enough hours in the day to fulfill the physical and emotional needs the way I should.  It sucks.  Seriously.

Every day I look at the pictures of the boys on my desk and find it so ironic that they're both the reason that I sit at that desk and the reason why it's so hard to sit at that desk.  I'm so thankful to have this job and I know this is just how life has to be.  We have two pretty happy kids, loving families, and a nice home, so we really don't have much to complain about.  I just hate that it's so hard to find balance, and I hate that all of the de-stressing I did over those three months has faded away so quickly.  Boo.