Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Our "Quiet" Weekend

Early Friday morning, Craig and Jacob left for a trip up to Canada for a junior lacrosse tournament involving teams sponsored by NLL teams like the Knighthawks.  That left just me and Carter as a duo for the weekend, and I decided that I needed to make it a good one so Carter didn't feel left out being left behind (again).  I figured we could do some things he would like to do that Jacob wouldn't.  It ended up being a ton of fun, with the added bonus that I didn't have to spend the weekend refereeing between the boys or yelling as much as I normally would.  Of course, Carter has been having his moments lately, including a pretty awful report on Friday when I picked him up at daycare.  He's picking up some bad habits, though I can't tell if it's from watching Jacob, or managing the stress of being picked on by Jacob, or the result of a couple months of late bedtimes (as he stays up so long after bedtime in his room), or just normal three-year-old boundary pushing.  We had a chat about it and I told him that another bad report would cause the removal of the Batcave he just inherited from storage...so hopefully that works.  He remembered that fact yesterday morning still, so I'm crossing my fingers it sticks.

Anyway, I had a nice "me day" on Friday with a freebie day off of work (we get two "free" Fridays per summer), and I did some shopping to use up rewards, had some lunch, and went off to a GI appointment, which resulted in the scheduling of an endoscopy in a couple weeks.  Yay.  More on that later.  We had a quiet dinner at home and an uneventful bedtime Friday night.

Saturday ended up being a lazy day.  Carter was up pretty early and we both ended up being in our PJs until after lunch.  We watched shows, played a bit, and generally took it easy.  I was pretty tired, but part of the laziness was that I knew we were planning on going to the beach in the afternoon so I wasn't planning on showering or anything since I knew I'd want to do that later.  It took a while to get going, including an unscheduled visit to the pool store to buy chemicals for our suddenly green pool.  We got to the beach mid-afternoon, and it was a perfect beach day.  It was around 80, and with the lake breeze it was perfect!  Carter was not thrilled with getting sand in his sandals, but eventually I got him down closer to the water.  The beach was busy but not crazy and we got a great spot about 10 feet from the water.  We laid down a blanket and brought out all of our sand toys!

We had a blast building castles, digging, dumping, and pouring water.  I took frequent trips to refill our water buckets, and Carter was so content just sitting and playing!

I don't think I've ever done this particular mold so perfectly!

My finished project, before Carter started destroying it!
Near the end I convinced my water-averse little boy to walk down to the water with me and let the water hit his feet.  He giggled with glee as the water hit them, and said it tickled!  Our feet sunk into the sand and we talked about a quicksand book that we read at bedtime.  It made me so happy to see him discovering new things and having so much fun!  It was such a nice, relaxing afternoon that I hated to leave, but it was getting to be dinner time and we had more on our agenda!

We walked back up to the car (with a stop to dump sand out of his sandals), dropped off our beach stuff, and wandered over to the carrousel!

We've been here before with both kids, but it's been a while!  And now that I know how much Carter loves rides, I was excited to bring him here.  He picked a bunny to ride!
He was so giddy as we waited for the ride to start!

Happy boy mid-ride!  Love that smile!
After our ride, we walked over to the walkway along the river, right where it heads out toward the lake.  There wasn't a lot to see, but we saw a few boats and a bunch of ducks. 
Looking through the railing

Sculpture near the walkway

Real seagull on the lamppost...couldn't resist!
Carter got in a bit of a running mood after this, constantly wanting to run way ahead of me and not wanting to go back to the car.  Even though he admitted he was hungry, I think the new space to run and explore was too much of a draw for him!  I snapped a couple pretty flower pictures as I convinced him to come to the car with me, though!

We went to Wendy's for dinner, which was his choice, and enjoyed some Frostys when we got home, before he headed off to bed.

Sunday we went to church and then rushed home to eat lunch and head out to the movie theater.  It was a 90 degree day with thunderstorms in the forecast, so I decided that would be a good opportunity to head to the theater and finally see Finding Dory!  Jacob didn't want to see it so we skipped it when we went to the drive-in a while back.  I figured we could hit up a matinee and avoid the midday heat.  The matinee was still more expensive than I'd like, but when you have the chance, sometimes you just have to do it--and since our previous day's activity cost $2 total, I figured it was fine.  And we got dollar store candy to bring with us, so that was even better.

When we sat down, Carter was so excited, and with each preview he got even giddier!  It was so adorable to see him so happy.  We both loved the movie, although I could tell that he was sad in parts, especially when it seemed like Dory wasn't going to find her family.  He'd grab my arm and recap what was going on on the screen, and it was so sweet.  Of course, when the movie was over, he didn't want to leave!  We ended up wandering down to the mall play area and he played there for a while since it was too hot outside for a real playground.  He had fun climbing and sliding and playing with one of the activities on the wall, and then he wanted to sit in all of the ride-on vehicles on a little island nearby.  It took some effort to get him out of there, but all in all, it was a fun afternoon.

The big boys came back in the evening, and unfortunately we had a really rough night with Jacob as he settled back in to having Carter around again.  We have a very challenging road ahead of us to get those two in a good place, as well as Jacob and me.

But for one weekend, it was nice to have a little time to enjoy Carter and dive into some of the things that he enjoys.  With Jacob's lacrosse schedule we could be having more of these, but for now I will savor these times with my sweet little guy.   

Friday, August 26, 2016

Just How Special?

So, if you missed it, the other day Kate Gosselin came out and said that one of her sextuplets has "special needs" and is currently living in residential treatment to help him learn techniques to manage whatever it is that he's dealing with.  Of course she got a ton of flak for this, for sharing this news with the world (when, most likely, he'd have preferred to keep it quiet) and for sending her kid away.  I can't say I agree with much of what she does (though I still think the kids are better off with her than Jon, but anyway...), but in this case I can see both sides.  I mean, the tabloids were probably on to it anyway so she might as well tell the truth.  And while it's hard to judge because we don't know what the "special needs" are (she referred to some "fluid diagnoses"), most people have put the pieces together that it has to be some sort of emotional outburst situation, as it had already taken him out of school and it was affecting his siblings.  Clearly those kids have been through a ton, and it's possible their premature birth could have played into some issues, but I do wish that Kate would have come out and said what's up, if only to raise awareness and hopefully de-stigmatize something.  That probably would have deflected some of the criticism for sending him away, if there was a clear reason for it and not some unclear issues that perhaps she just didn't want to deal with.  I saw a few commenters commend her for doing what needs to be done to get her son help, though, and I must say, I give her credit for going out on a limb to get him help.  She had to know she'd get criticized for it, so I'm guessing it was probably necessary.  But this post isn't really about the Gosselins.  I guess it just played into something that's been bouncing around in my head recently--that term, "special needs".

See, lately I've been thinking about that term a lot.  We've obviously been through a lot with Jacob, but to most outsiders, he probably seems relatively normal.  I mean, there are definitely people that see him act out in public and probably wonder what's wrong with him.  He sometimes seems like he can't control his limbs, he'll fly around the store, talking or making noise incessantly (often not sounding particularly coherent, if I'm being honest), and sometimes he just ends up sitting on the floor.  I'm sure people wonder.  But he seems to function relatively normally at school, even if he doesn't fit in fantastically well, so to many observers, he probably seems normal.

But how many kids need a special diet?  How many have to go to a behavioral therapist twice a month?  How many leave their parents walking on eggshells and choosing their battles because the slightest bad timing or risky decision could derail the entire day?  I know everyone has their stuff, but I wonder how many have ALL of this stuff.  I know there are some, but I venture we're in a select group.  And sometimes I wonder, should Jacob be considered "special needs"?  I don't mean that as any sort of slight against "true" special needs parents, or to diminish their struggle at all, because mine isn't nearly the same.  But truth be told, Jacob isn't like other kids.  He has similarities, but at the core he is a very unique, very difficult, and very complex kid.  Getting him through life is taking a lot of assistance, and it seems like this isn't quite mainstream.  But knowing what most people consider "special needs" to be, I feel a bit bad using that term.

But...the literal meaning of that phrase, without the current-use connotation, seems to fit what we're going through.  When we're out in public and he's acting out, I find myself mentally preparing some sort of explanation for the moment he unintentionally disturbs someone else.  Like, if his flailing around knocked him into an old woman or a little kid, and they look at me for an explanation, I wonder what I'd do.  I mean, yes, I'd apologize, but I don't really want someone judging my parenting when it is clear to me that his issues go so far beyond my control.  I have tried and tried and tried to get him to behave, but it is simply beyond what I can change myself, so part of me wants to explain that, in not-so-many words.  It's too complicated to say, "I'm sorry, he is completely oblivious to other people because of the constant messages in his brain," so comparatively it's easy to say, "Oh, he's got special needs," but I still hesitate.  Is "behavior issues" enough to explain it?  "He can't control himself"?  I don't know.  I wonder if people have looked at him and think the R-word or at least wonder if he has autism.  His awkwardness is obvious. 

The other night I had to take him to the post office with me.  I didn't want to, but I knew it would only be a few minutes.  But then he blatantly refused to get out of the car, speared me (gently, but still) with his lacrosse stick, pestered me and called me "dummy" all the way inside (I will forever regret using that word a while back to describe someone and a bonehead move), constantly tried to screw me up while I wrote out an address, tried to take my bag and the package, poked me while we were in line, and tried to block my vision by holding up a brochure in front of my face.  He was obnoxious.  Awful.  Apparently all because I made him get out of the car on an 85+ degree day.  I can't imagine what people in the post office thought was up with him.  It's sad, because I don't want people judging him based on those moments.  He's a smart kid who can't control himself.  We're working on that, but in the meantime it's hard to help him understand what he's presenting to other people.  He seems to not care, but I swear if he truly understood, he might make more of an effort while out in public.

I guess I just wish there was an easy phrase for this in-between place we're in.  We're not like parents dealing with a child with cerebral palsy or microcephaly, but we're also not just dealing with a kid with typical kid moodiness.  We're managing a very challenging, high-maintenance kid who needs his life to be set up in certain ways in order for it to be functional.  He can't control his anger with his brother, and he can't remember routine, mundane tasks because he has too many other things flowing through his brain.  We're exhausted and we're doing what we can, but he still won't throw us a bone so we have no idea how to make progress with him.  At least not permanent progress. 

This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.  Oh, and if that's not enough, now Carter is getting in on the act.  We've had a series of bad reports at daycare--hitting, kicking, not listening--and the defiance in response to simple requests is getting out of control.  I don't know if he's been watching Jacob, or if his self-imposed late nights (he takes forever to fall asleep) are leading to behavior-impacting sleep deprivation.  We might have to take away the daytime nap at daycare since we've already had to do it on weekends at home, just to get him a more restorative night's sleep.  I don't know, it's something to try.  I'm just trying to be firm with him, but the sudden shift is concerning because I feel like we've seen this before and I just can't bear to do this again.  All along I've maintained the boys are different so I didn't think we'd ever get to the same point, but now I'm getting nervous that it's something more. 

Ugh, I'm so tired of all of this running through my brain all the time...from how to fix problems to how we're perceived by others to what the future might hold.  I just want progress.  I feel stuck.  Prayer, patience, and therapy...none of them involve a fast-forward button.  So here we sit.  And I still have no words to label it.  Sigh.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

News & Notes, Where Did Summer Go Edition?

Seriously, how is it almost the end of August?  As usual, this summer has flown by, and I'm now in the panic mode of clawing on to the last bits of summer with every last ounce of strength I have.  I'm not ready to wear coats and socks again, or start planning our fall activities, or sift through loads of school paperwork.  Not that unscheduled summer chaos is much better, but I'm just not ready.  Maybe part of me is discouraged because these difficult family dynamics of ours have made spontaneous summer fun a bit more challenging this year.  I have had way less motivation to drag us off to some festival or lakeshore excursion or evening ice cream run because I know that most likely it will end with two cranky kids and two angry parents.  Everything is exhausting right now, mentally and physically.  So as much as I normally panic about the summer bucket list, I feel like this year I didn't even build the bucket list as much as normal because expectations were forced to be low.  Sigh.

Sunday I had a rough day.  For the most part it actually wasn't a terrible day.  Church went fine, the kids had a period of actually getting along, and we didn't have anything we had to do.  But I had a moment where I realized I was just spent.  All the noise, all the nitpicking between the kids, all of the stress associated with Jacob's issues, all of it just got to me and I shut down for a few hours.  No tears, just hiding from the world for bit.  We were back to the therapist yesterday, so hopefully we can try a few more things and see where it goes. 

On the bright side, we got some good news last week that Jacob has made an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Lacrosse team.  It's going to be an interesting experience, as there are a few long trips for tournaments and it's going to be his first experience outside of the team he's been on since he started playing.  It should fill the gap before his fall season well, but we'll have to see where things go beyond that.  What we love about this opportunity is that it is a Christian-based organization, and he can certainly use more of that. They prayed in a huddle during tryouts, and I think that sort of practical application will be good for him.  He's so used to seeing prayer either at church or home and I think both of those things are sort of boring to him, so maybe this will help him see things in a different light.  He's excited, though, which is good.

We got his school packet last week, so now we know the name of teacher.  Unfortunately, his school is under summer construction, and they won't be having any sort of pre-first day event.  We're used to going in a week or a few days early, dropping off supplies, and meeting his teacher.  But even the event they were supposed to have if construction was done wasn't going to involve staff.  I know he's in third grade and we're getting out of the hand-holding phase, but this is his first year in a new school so it would have been nice to get a preview for this year, at least.  Of course, this is coming from someone who had home visits from my teachers right up through eighth grade, so I may be biased.  Those visits were awkward and nerve-wracking, no matter how cool the teacher, but I'm sure it made me feel a little better going in.  The other bonus of those preview days at school was that the rooms already had names on the desks so you could see who was in the class.  He'll be going in on the first day totally blind to everything, which carries some excitement all its own, but I fear that the unknowns of the teacher, classmates, and school will be a bit much for his anxiety level.  Even in high school I had an orientation that took the edge off a bit (or perhaps added to it!).  He has four days of camp left and then we have a week to fill between the two of us and my parents.  Hopefully we can finish up summer on a high note for him.

On the Carter front, we're definitely dealing with more attitude and listening issues.  I think he's learned some of it from watching Jacob, but the rest is definitely normal three-year-old stuff.  But as long as he still hugs me at the end of the day, we're good.  I did put away some of the little kid toys this weekend, including his baby basketball hoop, his ride-on car, and the beloved Incrediblock with the Peek-a-blocks, the fabulous eBay win I got when Jacob was only a year old.  That one is going to be a long-term keeper, I think.  The blocks themselves are pretty timeless, and the big block works for a lot of ages.  It was sad to see them go into storage, but it was time.  In their place we brought up the Imaginext Batcave, the one Jacob got for Christmas when he was the same age Carter is now.  I like to give Carter something around his half birthday since there's such a large gap between his birthday and Christmas.  He's loving all of the bells and whistles on it (elevators, light-up bat signal), and he's enjoying all of the guys that go with it.  There are a ton of other toys waiting in the wings, but we need to find places for them.  Part of it involves getting him a new bed with storage drawers, but with all of the other expenses lately, that's been on hold.  But he's getting to be such a big kid--taller every day, it seems--and eating like a house some days.  I can't believe he's only six months away from turning four.  I freaked out the other day when I realized that means that he's only six months younger than Jacob was when I got pregnant with Carter.  That doesn't seem possible. 

Speaking of not possible, 20 years ago today I left for college.  That means I met my roommate Mary 20 years ago today, which is mind-blowing.  How did my newest best friend become an old best friend?  That was such a monumental moment in life, for so many reasons, and I can't believe there are officially two decades separating me from then.  Last night I was thinking about that same night 20 years earlier, as I had a bit of a breakdown at bedtime worrying about what the next day (and the rest of my life) held.  I don't blame myself for being nervous, but looking back I would switch problems with my 17-year-old self any day! 

A few months back my mom gave me albums she had assembled over the years, and the drop-off pictures were in there:  
Sitting in my parents' living room with all of the stuff that was going to be loaded into the car momentarily.  It was an early morning and I was a serious grump about going, hence the forced half-smile.  I can only identify a handful of items, including a case of juice, my CD rack (with a towel taped over them), bedding, and a couple pennants.  It was a little overwhelming to be 17 and trying to move your life somewhere else.

Another half-hearted picture, this time half unpacked in my dorm room.  I'd have the walls and desk full of stuff rather quickly...but at least I had a place to sleep (albeit rather uncomfortably at that point, as I had not yet discovered the joy of the egg crate foam pad).  But how about that 90s look I'm rocking with the jean shorts?

This is the first picture of Mary and me together, probably a couple minutes after we met.  We had no idea at that moment that we'd just met a soulmate and the person who would make our college experience more wonderful than we could have imagined.  We were instantly inseparable and within a week I think we pretty much knew this friendship would be for the long haul.  But at that moment we had no idea what we were getting into and we just tried to put on a brave face for the parents.   
Oh, what I'd give to transport myself back to that day, adjust my attitude, and watch the magic unfold one more time.  I had no idea how monumental it all was.  It's so amazing to look at these photos and realize just how young we were!  Who thought it was OK to send that kid off on her own?!

It's been fun reminiscing today, but as much as I'd like to time travel, the reality is that I'm rooted firmly in the present--husband, kids, work, house--and those are the things that need my focus right now.  I wish it wasn't so exhausting, but just like my college experience, I hope there are happy things ahead.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Top Ten Reasons I Wish I Was Rich

Every day, as part of my job, I see people make generous donations to a very worthy cause.  I marvel when I see a four-digit (or more!) gift pop up on my screen, and I wonder what it would be like to just drop thousands of dollars because I thought something was a good cause.  I admire big, beautiful houses and see pictures of people's amazing vacations.  I hear stories about random things people buy, and in every case I'm left wondering what it would be like to be very well off financially.  To be fair, we're not in a terrible position.  We have a decent chunk of savings, though after this summer of a new van and new HVAC system, that has been significantly reduced.  We have decent jobs and we have supportive families in the event we ever got stuck.  In general we're pretty financially responsible and there are plenty of people who would no doubt be thrilled to be in our position.  Yet I often find myself wondering if the free spenders are all way in debt, or just lucky.  I can't quite imagine what it's like to not have to worry about money.  These thoughts really infiltrated my brain while we were on vacation (as you'll see below), and I came up with ten less obvious, yet reasonable, responsible, and slightly virtuous reasons why I'd like to be rich. 

1) Give generously - As I said, I see generosity in action every day, and I would love to be able to give large sums of money to great causes.  To make a huge difference in the life of a student, or to be instrumental in building a hospital, or to give people opportunities they couldn't otherwise have...well, it would be an honor. 

2) Better schooling opportunities - I would love to not think twice about sending the kids to private school  We live in an iffy district, and while things have been okay so far and there's nothing wrong with exposing Jacob to a variety of kids, it would be great to send him to a private school without having to consider how the cost might impact our budget.  Elementary school is less of an issue, as it's still far cheaper than daycare, but when we're looking at a high school that's more than a state college, that's a little overwhelming.  I don't want to sound like money is more important than a good spiritual foundation, but it is a huge decision because shifting that money can impact so many other aspects of life.  The same scenario exists for daycare right now, too.  Would I love to go to the fancy daycare with the cool playroom, amazing playground, and internet video system?  Sure, but is it worth an extra grand per year?  Probably not.  We'd also relish the opportunity to move to a better district, but that inevitably involves a more expensive house.  It always comes back to the money.

3) Travel better - When we were on our Toronto trip, I found myself wishing we could have upgraded our trip a bit.  I liked what we did, though pretty much anything would have been ruined by the issues we had with the kids.  But I would have loved to stay in a nicer hotel.  Ours was fine, but if I was the picky type it could have been bad.  I really wished we could have stayed in the city and taken the subway around, but with rates twice what we paid PLUS $30+ per day in parking, it just didn't make sense.  I'd just like to pick better places to go and more comfortable places to stay, and do cooler things without having to worry about how much things cost. 

4) Travel longer - One of our major challenges on our trip was cramming so much into four days.  We had paid for the passes to all of those places, and even though it was a significant discount overall, it seemed a shame to leave any stone unturned.  But I also didn't want to spend an absurd amount on a hotel by staying more nights, so we crammed.  But it would be nice to make it more leisurely, maybe one thing per day with time to lounge by a pool or do something a little lower key.  For example, there were lakeside parks near our hotel, and we never got to see them.  If we had more time, maybe that would have been a nice late day thing to run around and relax there.  We wouldn't have been as stressed or as cranky, I think.  We actually had that experience once, when we went to Disney and had a couple non-park days, and it was nice.  Not entirely without challenges, but nice.

5) More experiences - This is sort of an elaboration on part of #3, but it goes beyond just vacations.  I'd just like to expose the kids to as many things as possible without worrying about how it would break the bank.  Homeschoolers insist the world can be the best teacher, and it would be nice to be able to offer kids any opportunity (as opposed to stuff) that they wanted, be it travel, sports, or activities.  We try not to hold back too much when it will build character and feed their passions, but I always choke a little when I hear how much each season costs for Jacob's sports.  And while we're at it, I'd like to add to my own experiences, as it seems like they generally lag behind my peers when everyone is in storytelling mode!  There are so many places I'd like to see and things I'd like to do, and money always gets in the way.  My parents didn't take their first cruise until their 25th anniversary, so we still have time, but I suppose I've seen too much in life to assume that there will always be a tomorrow.

6) Freedom to live life - Obviously we both have to work for a living, and I do like my job.  But some days it is hard.  Particularly since I lost my job and experienced a few months as a homemaker, it's often extra hard to drop the kids off and go into work.  While I know I wouldn't be a great full-time stay-at-home mom, I really appreciated the chance to get chores done during the day so my evenings and weekends could be a bit more relaxed and enjoyable.  In addition, I feel guilty missing work to take the kids to appointments, and I would love to have the flexibility to go to moms' groups during the day or volunteer at school.  But because I have to work, that flexibility is seriously limited.  Ultimately most days are spent trying to fit in quality time, errands, and home duties into a couple hours in the evening.  Not enough hours in the day, literally.

7) Less stress in general - Lately our house seems like it has started to fall apart.  A shutter fell off over the winter, a piece of siding fell off this spring, the A/C went this summer, we had a bee infestation, and now we have a minor leak in our garage roof.  The house has treated us rather well until now, but it's been a rather rough stretch.  And with each issue comes a new level of stress.  It's not just the money--it's picking a vendor, coordinating the appointment, and bracing for any complications that may arise.  It would just be nice to pick the best vendor, not worry about price (or waste time obsessively getting quotes just to find a more reasonable one), and get it done.  All of these things have also pushed back the house stuff we'd like to do, like a minor bathroom upgrade or revamped landscaping.  It always seems like there's some extreme purchase--be it Jacob's sports, new tires, the elliptical--that comes up or is waiting in the wings.  They seem like a one-off, but suddenly you have one every month and it starts to wear you (and your bank account) down.  I'd love to not worry about timing or cost and just get stuff done and take that stress off the table immediately.  I'd love for those tasks to be just a minor inconvenience, rather than a monkey on our backs.  We're still super blessed and I know there are tons of people who wish they had our problems, but it's still something that nags in the back of your mind.   

8) Health - There are a significant number of doctors I should be visiting but haven't.  Mostly I'm just too busy taking care of the kids' issues and I haven't done much for myself...although I am checking the GI doctor off my list next week for my reflux!  But I should be going to the skin doctor, eye doctor, allergist (for shots), and any number of other doctors for my lack of smell and taste.  While time is always a concern, so is money.  The thought of countless co-pays on top of everything we already have going on is extremely demotivating.  It would be nice to have the freedom to pursue everything, but one thing at a time, I guess.

9) Eating options - We don't have a lot of options on the eating out front as it is, but it would be nice to not worry about how much we're spending to do so.  Sometimes it is exhausting to think about making dinner, as we have a pretty limited menu and no one gives me any ideas.  But every time we do, I worry about how much more we're spending than we would if we ate at home.  When it comes to eating at home, it's expensive to do that either gluten-free or generally healthy.  Fruits and vegetables are crazy sometimes, and gluten-free everything is way more expensive than the normal version.  Our grocery bills are so much higher than they used to be, and I can only imagine what will happen when we have two boys eating us out of house and home!

10) That third kid - I've talked on here multiple times about my internal debate about a third child.  While I don't really have the bandwidth for a third kid, sometimes I've felt like it would be worth it to push through the tough years because the long-term rewards--including a larger circle of family in our old age--sound wonderful.  I've always liked the dynamics of three siblings--having someone else to talk to if you're mad at one, or having different common interests with each, etc.  But even if I found the fortitude to push through, the money thing is still an issue.  Another round of daycare and diapers, another opportunity for expensive formula and random health issues, bigger vehicles and living spaces, another possible tuition payment or even a wedding way down the road.  It still may not have happened due to energy levels and practicality, but it would have been nice to cut the financial burden out of the picture during that decision-making process and focus more on our hearts' desire.

I know being rich doesn't solve problems.  A co-worker told me yesterday that she heard a quote from someone famous that basically says that money may not buy happiness, but it makes the hard times just a little bit easier.  And I think that's the point of this post.  Life is full of enough complications and frustrations, and it seems like it would be so much easier to focus on the issues that need focusing on if you already know that the financial side is covered.  I know that frugality makes you more thankful, more creative, and more aware of what you do have, and for that I am grateful.  But sometimes it would be nice to be on the other side and fearlessly make the most of every moment when the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My Little Daredevil!

A year ago, the kids and I went to Fantasy Island, a small-ish amusement park in the Buffalo area, with my parents.  I hadn't been there in years prior to that, and we ended up having a great time.  Jacob went on a bunch of rides and loved most of them, which prompted us to add an amusement park component to our vacation to Erie shortly after.  Carter couldn't ride much at the time, but after a shaky start he ended up loving the large selection of kiddie rides.  Well, this year, my brother and his kids were coming into town for a few days, and when I inquired about plans, my mom mentioned doing Fantasy Island again.  It worked out for me to take one of my "free" summer Fridays at work, but unfortunately, Jacob had lacrosse tryouts coming up the next day, and in the end it just didn't work for him to come with us.  As much as I wanted him to bond with his cousins and get back in the ride groove, it probably made the day way less stressful because I didn't have to worry about him pestering his brother or eating amusement park food or begging for a souvenir.
I measured Carter the night before and he appeared to be 38", two inches more than the minimum on a decent number of rides, including some of the more active kiddie rides and even a couple regular rides.  He'd loved the teacups and a spinning, flying hot air balloon ride last year, so I was interested to see how he'd do.  
Carter and I met everyone at the park on a very hot, steamy day.  The heat was a bit worrisome, but there was a good breeze and the sun was in and out of clouds.  There was a good chance for thunderstorms later in the day, but we braved it anyway.  Carter napped during the drive, and despite being in a good mood, he freaked out when we got there--mostly because he had to wear a bracelet, I think--so of course I was nervous we were started off on a bad foot.  And right through the first ride, the teacups, he whined and complained about the bracelet.  But when he started seeing the other rides, he got more excited and forgot about the bracelet!  
First up was a ride with various trucks and other ride-ons.  He hopped right in the middle, into the spinning hot air balloon!

Kate picked a truck...

And Max picked a jeep...

After another ride in a different configuration, they moved on to something else.  Kate and Carter went on the hot air balloon ride (with me), and just like last year, Carter whooped and giggled and loved every minute!

Of course, right near the end, Kate did some rather vigorous spinning of our car, and that was my reminder that my spinning capabilities are not quite what they were as a kid (which was pretty much unlimited--I rode the Tilt-a-Whirl at least a dozen times in a couple hours at a friend's birthday party when I was about Jacob's age!).

After a couple other rides, we moved along to the kiddie roller coaster.  I was excited he was tall enough, and so was he!
Excited to start moving!
He loved it from the moment we took off, and the gleeful sounds he made when we went down the hill were great!  He could not get enough of it, and this wasn't even that exciting of a kiddie coaster!  We finally met back up with Max, who was sticking to more docile rides, and the boys went on this classic goose ride.  Turns out it was manufactured by Herschell Carrousel, which is right in my hometown.  It belonged to Fantasy Island for years, then was sold, and then was finally reacquired in the 90s and refurbished.  It basically just bumps along in a circle, but it's really a charming ride.
Love Carter's face in this one!  Max is behind him with a goose that had "cool hair" :) (I think it's a hat but it did look like a mohawk!)
Next up was the airplanes!  This is a classic one I remember as a kid, and it was fun to finally see it "click" with them that if they pulled back hard on the levers, the planes flew high!  Carter loved being up there!

Nearby was a drop tower that Kate wanted to go on.  It wasn't a big one, but higher than most "kiddie" ones (like the Froghopper you see everywhere).  I'd say this one was about 50 feet, maybe?  John went on with her, and while she looked a bit concerned at first, she ended up loving it!

We moved on to the merry-go-round after that, and right about that time I was starting to get a little overwhelmed by the heat.  I should have drunk water the entire drive to the park, but didn't think that far ahead, and the heat and humidity caught up with me quickly.  I tried to drink water while we waiting for John and Kate, and I managed to get on the merry-go-round to spot Carter just fine.  But as the ride went on, I got dizzy and my vision got spotty.  I could feel myself getting very out of sorts very quickly.  As the ride ended and everyone else sprinted to get on the nearby train to ride to the back of the park, I helped Carter off the ride and feared I might pass out on the walk to the train.  Everyone was so far ahead and I didn't even have the energy to yell, so I just prayed I'd make it there so I could recover on the train ride.  I barely made it, but thankfully I did and the train ride was enough to clear out the spotty vision and hydrate a bit more.  But you can bet an Icee was in our near future!

Our next stop was this Rockin' Tug ride that not only moved along the track, but spun as well.  Carter wanted to go on and needed an adult, so on I went.  But since it was a kids' ride, I figured I'd survive the spinning.  It was fine, and of course, he loved it!


We moved along to the antique cars, but unfortunately Carter was totally preoccupied with being thirsty and not being able to have a drink in line or on the ride, so he only caught a couple minutes of enjoyment from it once he got excited about going through a tunnel.  Before that I was trying to drive while keeping him from trying to climb out of the seat.  UGH.

We moved along to the ferris wheel, which we were initially worried wasn't running because of the wind.  The very high swings my mom and I loved last time were closed (guessing it was wind-related), but eventually we saw the wheel moving, which made my dad very happy as that is more his speed these days!  Max was not on board, though, so our smaller group headed up and enjoyed the breeze.  I happened to be on the phone the whole time because we were trying to change over our insurance and Craig was having some technical difficulties.  But Carter enjoyed the ride and I was content with the scenic pictures I had taken last year!

Next up was the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, and Carter was very angry that he could not ride it!  Kate braved it, and it was super fun to listen to her commentary as the ride went along and our car flipped backwards!

We headed back toward the Wild West show, and we stopped into the jail.  There's a classic picture floating around of my older cousins and John, I think, and I would have loved to catch this next generation.  But they were freaked out by the jail and the bad guy hanging out in there!  But Grandpa hopped in there instead, which the kids found hilarious!

As the show wrapped up it started to rain pretty hard, but luckily it didn't last long.  It was enough to close the giant slide for a bit as we passed by, but my dad and I hit up the Silver Comet while everyone else took a bathroom/bench break.  It was too rough for him at his age, but I have to admit that the airtime on that coaster is great...but it still terrifies me a little bit!  Wooden coasters are like that, though. 

We did another round on the ferris wheel...

And then John and my mom did the spinning half pipe ride...
...and Kate loved the Music Express ride that Jacob liked so much last year.  We all cooled off with Icees, which was much needed on such a hot day.

As we worked our way back toward the front of the park, we hung out near Devil's Hole (aka the Gravitron), a UFO-shaped ride that spins and makes you stick to the walls inside.  I rode it for the first time last year, after many years of wondering what it was like.  Well, when I glimpsed at the height restriction and noticed it was only 36", I realized Carter could ride on it with me!  I asked him if he wanted to go, and explained that it would make him stick to the wall.  He said yes and ran over with me.  I was a little nervous taking my three-year-old on, but I figured he'd done well with spinning so far.

As the ride started spinning, I nervously looked over at him, half expecting terror on his face.  But then I realized he was giggling!  It was hilarious!  When the panel slid up the wall, he giggled even more!  He absolutely loved it!  When we came off the ride, the family was shocked to hear how much he loved it!  We went on it again later, and not only did Uncle John join us, but Grandma hopped on at the last second so she could see it for herself!  Once again, he had a blast, and this time he had all of us laughing, too!

As the day wound down, the kids did another round of kiddie rides...

Around this time, John had to head out to go to an event that night with our cousin and his wife, and of course Kate didn't want to leave.  I realized that I had an empty booster in my backseat, so I offered to keep her and let her and Carter ride a few more rides.  I got the green light while they were on the boats...

We hopped on most of the kiddie rides at least once more, if not twice, during our bonus time.  At one point Kate said she wanted to go back on the drop tower.  As we walked her over, I looked at the height restriction there, and it was only 36" there, too!  I asked Carter if he wanted to ride, and of course he said yes!  And once again, he ended up loving it!  The drops made him laugh, and I realized that I officially have a little daredevil on my hands!  I can't wait to take him on more rides next year!
After a few more rides, we were all getting hungry and tired, and we regretfully went back to Grandma and Grandpa's to settle down for the night.  It was such a fun but exhausting day and it was so much fun to see the kids have fun together.  Wish we had more chances like that, but hopefully now that they live closer, these moments will be a bit more frequent!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Post-Vacation Ponderings

So...post-vacation we came home and had a couple weekdays and a weekend to settle back into life before reality hit on Monday.  Craig actually had to work on Thursday and Friday, but the kids and I were home all day in the heat.  We mostly just hung out, since I had no desire to take both kids out in public again together anytime soon.  Luckily the weather got a little better so the house wasn't super hot for that time, but it was warm and it definitely knocks your patience level down a bit.  We did get some pool time in, and the gutters finally got cleaned, and the missing piece of siding got replaced.  That felt good to get crossed off the list.

On Saturday we all headed to Buffalo.  Craig and Jacob continued on to Canada (again) for a lacrosse game that Craig needed to do some work at, and Carter and I went to my cousin's 30th birthday party.  It was good to see my family, and aside from a rough start due to Craig and Jacob leaving and Carter not getting to close the van door himself, he had a great time.  There were a few other kids to play with, and he got very creative with the Kan-Jam equipment!

We came home Sunday afternoon and I finally drove the van, without incident, so that was good to get under my belt.  Don't ask me to take it anywhere with close quarters, or to park it, but at least we know I can functionally drive it.

The new A/C and furnace has been installed, and while we're not sure it's operating entirely properly yet, the house is definitely more livable.  We also got a bee problem taken care of, and had a plumber come fix an issue with our water heater (corrosion on one of the pipes coming out of the top) that was covered under warranty.  So, the good news is that we're checking things off the house list...but the bad news is that most of it doesn't come cheap.  It's been a rough summer on that front!  But now that the air is fixed, hopefully I can start using our other big purchase this summer, the elliptical.  Because apparently food has not been in short supply this summer.  Ugh.

On Monday we went back to the therapist.  We told her about our difficulties during the trip, looked at our treatment plan, and discussed our issues with reward charts/systems (as that was one of the items listed), but we didn't make nearly the kind of progress I would have liked given our current problems.  And it's continued to get worse this week, which has me oh-so-tempted to look up our therapist in the university email system and let her know the latest developments.  I thought that hurting his brother might bump us up on the urgency scale, but it didn't seem to...but now a new thing (I'd rather not share yet) has us concerned again, and waiting two weeks doesn't seem ideal.  I'm really starting to think this is some sort of anxiety-driven issue.  It seems like the mere thought of his brother--and especially his presence, particularly in a place he considers special to him--snaps him into crazy mode.  The other night when we grabbed a quick dinner after the first night of fall baseball, Jacob freaked out because Carter came.  He was agitated all through dinner, to the point he walked out of the restaurant (and yes, Craig followed him).  It's so sad that he can't seem to process this stuff properly, and has no desire to.  I have no idea what else to do, and it's heartbreaking that my kids can't just enjoy each other's company, and that one's presence is causing the other so much agony.  And I still worry what all of this will do to Carter long-term.  He's been a trooper so far, but he's getting older and things will definitely start to solidify in his brain soon.  He's picked up a nasty hitting/screaming habit when he doesn't get his way, and I feel like some of that comes from Jacob doing it more often recently. In fact, listening in general has become much more of a challenge for Carter.  Daycare has noticed, and he's definitely started doing that smile-and-defy thing that makes parents crazy.  I don't know if he's picking up on Jacob's behavior, or the attention, or if he's just super overtired from the trip and weeks of sleeping in the basement.  Or maybe he's finally gotten into the three-year-old groove.  But either way, it's been pretty disappointing to have our sweet kid be not-so-sweet right now.

We said on the trip that unless behavior improved, the only trips we'll be taking in the future will be adults only.  That seems harsh, but if the kids make it miserable and they're not appreciating what we're doing anyway, what's the point of taking them?  I mean, most of the trip was spent keeping them apart.  I ran around taking pictures so we could appreciate some of what we saw after the fact, but we spent so much time playing referee that we certainly didn't make the most of our time.  The reason you take kids on vacation in the first place is to expose them to new things and give them memories, but I'm not sure how much of that actually sunk in this time.  Jacob still talks about last year's vacation, but this year his main priority at each stop was making it into the gift shop (in addition to making his brother nuts), so I have no idea if he bothered to really take in much amidst his complaining.

It hit me somewhere in the middle of the trip that part of what makes family vacations special is the memories you make with your family, but since Jacob seems to have little affection for us, perhaps it's different for him.  I mean, he loves Craig but sometimes I wonder how much of that is tied to Craig's ability to get him things--including access to lacrosse experiences--rather than innate, child-to-parent affection.  He's not affectionate at all, with any of us, so it's hard to tell if there are underlying attachments that would remain if the only thing we provided him was very basic love and protection.  Anyway, I realized that since he doesn't seem to have much desire to make memories with us in the traditional sense, that buying stuff and associating that with the trip probably just resonates with him more.  It's sort of like the love languages thing.  He's definitely on the "material gifts" end of things, so I guess that's where he places value for something like a trip, too.  It's sad, but that realization probably gave me a tiny percentage more patience with the store thing.

But like I said, at this point I feel like anything more than a day trip or a weekend Buffalo trip to see family is just not in the cards.  It's not worth it if we're not enjoying it and they're not even paying attention to what we're seeing.  God knows Craig and I would probably benefit more from a vacation together than anything else.  Unless I'm forgetting something in my current brain haze, we haven't done a real one since we had kids, honestly.  Nothing more than a couple days here or there, and not many of those, either.  We could use a real one, definitely.  Or maybe down the road it's parent bonding trips--one kid, one parent.  I've seen those be successful, too.  But I suppose that's twice the hotels and twice the travel costs...or four times, if we each take each kid somewhere.  But it's clear that right now the kids can't be together if we want a functional trip, so we need to explore other ideas.  They're only kids once, so I hate to withhold experiences and memories from all of us, but we feel very stuck right now. 

I wish I had answers for any of this stuff, but I don't.  I feel like we've tried so much, with so little to show for it.  But we press on.  We have to.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Toronto, Day Four

The last day of our trip arrived, and it was supposed to be full but not crazy.  It ended up being the longest day yet. 

Once we packed up and moved out of the hotel, we headed to Casa Loma, a castle-like structure just out of downtown.  It's still in the city, up on a hill, and in a gorgeous old neighborhood.  But it is HUGE.  As we approached the hill and saw it, I was amazed!

We pulled in, parked, and walked up to the imposing structure...

It was breathtaking!  Just a quick backstory--this was the largest private dwelling in Canada, and it was built by a successful businessman who brought electric light to the streets of Toronto and pioneered hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls, but in both cases the government took them over and gave him nothing.  Those losses, combined with the stock market crash, left him penniless and later the house ended up in disrepair.  Eventually the city took it over, and it is now a major tourist attraction.

It took us a while to get going, as we HAD to stop in the store (UGH) and there were bathroom breaks, a map search, and a viewing of the movie that taught us the history lesson above.  But eventually we got started.  Our first stop was a wine cellar that was just discovered behind a wall earlier this year!  Then we walked down a tunnel (800 feet, I think!  It was long, taking us to a building more than a block away!) to the garage, stables, and garden shed. 
Checking out the cars in the garage!
The cars were cool and the stables still had the horses' names painted on the wall and sink basins in each stall.  We headed back to the main house, to explore the many rooms.  Oh, and in a continuation of a couple weeks of perma-sweat, this 100 year old house had no air conditioning, so it was another hot day.
A guest suite, complete with fancy peacock screen, and a private sitting room and bathroom!

The view from the patio of the suite belonging to the lady of the house

Her bedroom

The owner's suite

The owner's room also overlooked the main hall
We saw many different guest rooms and quirky things like old-fashioned bidets (we think) and nooks for old style telephones.  The top floor used to be servant quarters and it was mostly converted to a Canadian military museum.  By the time we got up there, the kids were nuts but I ran off quickly to check out the view from the towers.  It's good I didn't take the kids, as the climb up a narrow spiral staircase was stressful enough for me alone!  But the view from up there was impressive!

Back on the ground floor, we headed out to the gardens.  The view with the city in the background was truly beautiful.

Back inside we saw the library and then headed into the conservatory...

The conservatory was my favorite room.  It was so classic, so bright, and so elegant.  Of course, Carter just saw it as a big room to run around in.
At least Jacob liked posing for pictures...
It was a very hot, stressful trip and it took considerably longer than we thought, but I'm glad we saw it.  We drove back down into the city, weaving through the University of Toronto campus, which was gorgeous.  We parked near where we were for the baseball game and headed back to Wahlburger's to eat lunch.  I'm not a crazy fan of either Wahlberg, but it was fun and they handle gluten-free requests really well.  It was nice to have a relatively normal lunch without panic, for nearly the first time all trip. 

Jacob had been begging all trip to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame store, and we figured we could manage a walk down there.  It wasn't horribly far, maybe a handful of city blocks, but I suppose we overestimated our ease given the kids' behavior and never readjusted it.  So off we went.  Carter fell asleep along the way, so Craig carried him the long way down.  It was hot and the walk there felt long!  Jacob took forever to pick something, so long that Carter got a significant nap and still had time to wake up and pick something himself.  Strangely, Jacob wanted him to wake up and offered to buy him a stick with his souvenir money.  Of course he sort of reneged later, but I guess it was the thought that counts?  I didn't want anymore ministicks in our house because we have a ton and I knew it would lead to the kids beating the crap out of each other or somehow arguing (which it did--Carter's nets are the current bone of contention), but I have had to pick my battles.  So, Quebec Nordiques sticks it was.  The walk back had its moments, but it felt quicker, at least. 

Our stop was the CN Tower, the last item on our list and in our CityPass books.

As we walked in through security, we were informed that it was a TWO HOUR wait.  Nooooooo.  As it was it was nearly dinnertime (even with our late lunch) and it would get us on the road so much later than we'd hoped.  But you know, we'd sort of paid for it, it seemed odd to go to Toronto and not do it, so we took a deep breath and hopped in line.  It was pretty awful, I won't lie.  It was slow and crowded.  They had some things to read and see along the way, like this model of the original design of the tower...
Who knew?  The final one was definitely better!
...but it was a long wait.  Carter and I had to duck out mid-line to hit the bathroom, and technology was definitely our friend during that wait.  At long last, we finally went up.  The elevator ride is pretty cool, and it's neat to see Toronto from that high up. 
So many buildings!  And if you look in the lower left, you'll see a pool on top of one!

City Hall is in the middle

This is looking down at near where Wahlburger's was.  I took this one because I noticed the building fa├žade that's been preserved while the rest of the building has been completely removed.  At least a couple dump trucks of rubble loudly passed the restaurant while we ate. 

BMO Field, home of Toronto's MLS team.  Their defunct outdoor lacrosse team played there, too. 
One of the coolest parts of the tower is the glass floor!  It's freaky to step on it and assure yourself you're not going to fall!  I looked down at Rogers Centre...

...and the aquarium!

Unfortunately, while we were up there, the kids decided to lose themselves.  Craig looked away for a second while I was taking a picture, and suddenly everyone was gone.  I noticed Craig walking frantically outside, and the kids were nowhere to be found.  It took a few minutes, but eventually we found them tucked in the exit to the one higher observation deck.  Jacob insisted that Carter ran in there and he was trying to get him out, but I'm sure there was a little more to it than that, for as long as they were missing.  That was not fun.  Really not fun.

After that we got out of there pretty quickly, which was annoying considering how long we waited.  Back on the ground we looked in the store for last chance souvenirs.  We also tried for a decent picture with a Mountie moose...
Yeah, story of our lives.

We saw a Lego CN Tower, which was cool.

We attempted to get a decent shot of both kids together...

...and then picked out souvenirs.  Jacob picked a cool baseball, and Carter picked a spinning LED light that he has barely put down (and nearly destroyed countless times) ever since, and I chose a cute CN Tower magnet.  You can never have too many of those, and they're cheap. 

On our way out there was one last group of photo ops...
Best picture yet, in the nick of time...

I took a picture of this moose on the streets of Toronto 16 years ago, and apparently he's still kicking around!

We finally exited out of the tower and headed back to the car.  The sun was going down, and we were facing a very long night of driving.  On the walk back, we walked under one of the fan sculptures outside the Rogers Centre.  Jacob liked that the guy was taking our picture, and told me to take one back.  So I did.

I took a picture from a similar vantage point that I did on the first day, this time with fading sun and some lights on the tower...

...and snapped the pastel colors in the sky, too.

We drove out of town, stopped at a rest area for an ice cream dinner (hey, you do what you can at 10pm), crossed the border at 11 with both kids still awake (ugh--and we got a bit of an interrogation at the border!), and made it home by about 12:30.  The house was hot, and everyone was tired.  Craig was a trooper driving (since I was still nervous about the van), and we were just happy to be home.

It was a crazy trip, and now we're getting back in the swing of things.  Back to work, camp, daycare, and house repairs.  I'll have more thoughts on the vacation and our first trip back to the therapist after, coming soon...