/> Raising Angels: June 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Confessions of a Bad Mother (who tries to be good)

Remember me telling you that my boys were going to my brother's place in Florida for a bit more than a week? Well, the only down side to that arrangement is that I had to drive down and pick them back up. It was a chance to take Max along so he felt like he got some good uncle/Florida time.

Here's the thing though. I didn't want to make that trip. It's a long drive. But really, if I'm being totally honest, I wasn't ready for the boys.

Sigh. I hesitate to write this out of fear of what you might think of me. I hesitate that one day when the boys are older, they'll read this and feel bad about my sentiments. I hesitate because it scares me. I didn't miss them. And as that thought crossed my mind I wondered how much time it would take before I did.

Now before you think I've gone all Mommy Dearest, there are a few things you should know. The boys were with my brother....in Florida...having the time of their lives. I was at home. Somehow this helped me not to miss them like I do when I'm out of town. I wasn't feeling guilty that I was doing something fun while they were just hanging out. They were living it up at amusement parks, baseball games, water parks and lots and lots of restaurants. They also called daily to fill me in on their activities.

The other part of this equation was that for a whole week I had only Max at home. Mackenzie was at camp while the boys were in Florida. And Max, especially without the egging on and constant agitation of older sibs, is a piece of cake. My house stayed clean. My husband took us out to eat quite a few times. I even read a book...a whole book...in a week....just for fun. I was totally at peace.

On top of that is that fact that, wait for it - raising kids is hard work, VERY hard. This is not news to any parent anywhere (if it is, please call me and tell me how you do it). I know this. I knew it when I decided to have them that it wasn't going to be easy, only I didn't know just how uneasy it would be.

We're in a particularly tough season of raising kids right now. The kind where we talk about the kids all the time and how we are doing raising them. We talk about how to train them without killing them in the process. We wonder if we're too tough, or too easy. We wonder if we're doing it right. We wonder if they'll turn out okay in spite of us.

Sometimes, we throw our hands in the air and want to give up, give in, and be done with it because it's hard, Hard, HARD. This had been a long, hard season and our kids are still young so we don't see it letting up any time soon.

Somehow, not having to do much parenting for an entire week opened my eyes to how hard it is. I was acutely aware of how much easier life was without the constant reminding, disciplining and frustration that comes along with having them around.

I needed a break. They needed a break.

The reentry has been tough. It started when I met them at the restaurant that first evening. They ran out of the car to greet me. I ran outside to hug them and hold them and admire how much they seemed to have changed in that short time. After hearing about all their adventures, we finally got our food and that's when it began. "Eat over your plate." "Please close your mouth when you're chewing." "You don't have to talk so loudly. I'm right here." "Please sit down." "Use your napkin." "Don't talk with your mouth open." "Say, 'Excuse me.'"

You get the picture. Life is like that right now. Every day. All the time.

I've been thinking about this a lot since we got home Sunday. Really, I've been examining myself more than the kids. Am I a bad mother for enjoying some space? Am I a bad mother for not missing the kids too much? Am I a bad mother because diving back into parenting has been, ahem, an adjustment?

The honest to goodness truth is that I haven't been able to answer any of those questions. There's no doubt I love them, all of them, whether they're being obedient or not. I love them when they use their manners and when they act like they've been raised by wild animals. I love them when they are sweet to each other and I love them when they irritate the fool out of each other. This much I know. I do love them.

The more thought I put into it, the more grateful I am for the process we’re going through; because, the truth is that even though we're concentrating on raising them, they are helping us to grow. Without them, I fear I would be a self-centered person with little capacity to love. I would be less patient, although, honestly I don't think that's possible. I would be less compassionate, less understanding and less fun. I know that because of them, I will be a better person.

In the end I have faith. Faith that I can do this because God trusted me with them. Faith that they will grow and mature into wonderful adults who have the capabilities to go out and change the world. Faith that God won't give me one more thing than I can handle (even though He apparently has much more faith in me than I do).

So what does all of this mean? It means I'm human. I'm weak. I like things to be easy. I like to have things my way. Having children allows for none of this and it hurts....sometimes. Most of the time, it's wonderful and all the world seems right and I can't imagine my world any other way.

For some reason today I have had the chorus to Kelly Clarkson's song "What Doesn't Kill You" playing in my head:

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter

Of course, I know this sentiment is also somewhat scriptural but it's the catchy tune that gets me singing. I will be stronger. I will stand taller. I will be a fighter because being a good mother isn't about the easy road, it's about doing my job and no one said it would be easy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

D.C. Tour Part 2

This is the dome of our Capital. It's really quite impressive from the inside here. I found it interesting that the artist depicted George Washington as a god-like figure.  
From the Capital we headed to the Air & Space Museum, passing the Smithsonian's Botanical Garden, a  place I had never been inside. I tried to coax someone to walk through with me but there were no takers. Our guide, Leroy, encouraged me to walk through anyway. "You can just meet us at the Air & Space," he said. Since I had been to that museum just last March, I took his suggestion. Am I glad I did!

The place was absolutely breath-taking. I could have lingered there for quite awhile. That makes me sound so old, but it's true. A book, a drink and beautiful flowers and I would have told the family, "Have a good time! See you when you're done."

Did you know that orchids could be so "wild" or so beautiful?

This is the kind of view you have while you're walking through. It's like another world.

 I did manage to tear myself away and find the kids admiring the lunar landing module I took my photo in front of last March just so I could show it to Aiden. He loved this place.

That's Charles Lindbergh in the background on the plane that he took his first flight on. It was fascinating. Even more fascinating was the kids' ability to make a face or try to be silly in almost every picture we took. What is that about anyway?

That's our guide with us on the left. He's my brother's godfather and the best guide in D.C. He knows a lot about everything. He made us an itinerary and then accompanied us through all of it so that we could learn more than we ever would have just looking at stuff. Thanks so much Leroy!
Of course the White House was the top of everyone's list to see. Interestingly enough, the kids were very unimpressed with the actual thing. Regardless of who inhabits it, it's the history that moves me.
I think the highlight was the Natural History Museum. I think we spent five hours or more inside of it and the kids were never bored. If only it was in my backyard.
 Leroy arranged it so that we started in chronological order so that everything made sense to the kids. The cavemen were particularly curious to them.

Mackenzie loved the ocean section. I have to admit that the size of this jellyfish was impressive. I'm happy to admire its beauty like this. In the ocean itself, not such a big fan of the things. Ouch!

Max was in the, "Take my picture with this guy," mode as we walked through the early human exhibit. I was so busy keeping track of him as he darted from statue to statue that it took me a moment to notice how uneasy Mackenzie was. She kept asking if we could move on. Everyone else was so enamored by the exhibit I asked her why she wanted to leave it. "Mama, everyone in here is naked," she shivered. "It's so crazy. I want to get out of here."

I finally took a moment to take it in after shooting this photo. I was so taken by the cute impishness of my boy that I totally missed the fact that he was posing with a naked caveman. I'm such a juvenile that I laughed. Mackenzie was indeed right. And Max, well, he had no idea.

I think of all the exhibits we saw, we spent the most time in the insect one. Bugs, as most of you know, equals loads of entertainment for little boys. Having these insects behind thick glass means mamas can at least tolerate them.

This guy is not enlarged in the least. I simply put the camera next to the case and clicked. It makes my skin crawl to look at it again here. Totally gross and yet, its size alone is quite impressive. It's actually called a bird tarantula, not so much because it eats birds (it doesn't really), but because it's larger than most of the ones in the trees outside our house.

This is the Hope Diamond. It has a room dedicated to it in the museum. Mackenzie, upon seeing it for the first time, said, "That's it? It isn't very big." This attitude may keep the boys away for quite some time.

Nelson was so proud when the kids walked in the museum, saw this and simultaneously shouted, "Roll Tide!"

Here my men are holding up the Washington Monument, which we needed the help. It was damaged during the earthquake and we couldn't go up into it.
This picture is one of my favorites. It looks patriotic because of the flags next to the Washington Monument that reflect the colors Max was sporting. He was walking along a wall above the sidewalk. Looking at it after I took it, I was moved not only because of the picture's composition but because my sweet boy in the foreground was moving. He's still a miracle to me.
This one is taken at the World War II Monument which is fairly new and worth seeing. Its design is thoughtful and beautiful. The whole city is such a wonderful lesson in our nation's history. I loved sharing it with the kids.

No words are really necessary for this one. Somehow, with the little instruction we gave the kids, they understood the solemness of the monument.

Mackenzie is at the top of the stairs leading to the Lincoln Memorial here. Almost everyone knows about this monument, if not its history, they've seen it in a movie. However, surprisingly few realize that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous I Have a Dream speech was given right at the top of these steps.

I saw the Korean War Monument for the first time last March and I have to say that it's one of my favorites. The soldiers are so life-like and it's presented in such a way that they actually look like they're coming out of the jungle. We learned that the designer placed 19 statues there and that they are perfectly reflected in the adjacent wall. All in all then, there are 39 soldiers to represent the 39th parallel. Thoughtful indeed.

The kids were troopers after mass at the Basilica, the White House, 5 hours of the Museum of Natural History followed by a walking tour of several monuments. It was hot and hours upon hours on their little feet. I was amazed at how there was relatively little, if any complaining at all.

It was a lot of stuff packed into just two days in the Mall. Our goal was to have some fun, teach them some things and make a lasting impression on them so that when they see these things in their history books, they'll say, "I've been there." I think the mission was well accomplished.

But like I said, it was a long day and at the end of it, we were all worn out. Lucky for Max we brought the stroller so he could ride the longer distances and we could have a bit more speed.  Even though he was just as tired as the rest of us, he still had the energy to be silly for one last shot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

D.C. Recap Part 1

June 7th we piled the family in the car and headed to Maryland for the wedding of the second of our "household" weddings this year. When I heard where he was having the wedding I decided to turn it into a little D.C tour. My brother's godparents live in the D.C. area so it seemed the smart thing to do. I was so excited to bring the kids to our nation's capital. Last year when I was there, I couldn't stop thinking about how much they would love it.
We stayed in a hotel the first two nights to be near the wedding activities, although we learned that is a very relative term in a big city. It was an hour drive to the rehearsal dinner from the hotel and over an hour from the church to the wedding reception. One thing I learned is that I love visiting big cities but I would never, ever want to live in one. Oh my gosh the traffic would make me lose what sanity I have left. An hour to go twenty miles seems like a colossal waste of time.

However it was all so worth it. The rehearsal dinner was delicious and fun and the wedding was beautiful. The reception was truly a party, complete with glow sticks for the dance portion.

Can you believe how grown up my little girl looks...is? Yikes. It takes me by surprise every time I see her. My little girl is a young lady and a very beautiful one at that. That's probably why Nelson is holding her so closely here. I don't think she'll ever be allowed to date if he has anything to say about it. I'm thinking this is why he got the boys a bb gun for Christmas.

These last two were taken with my phone so the quality is not the best but I love the photo anyway. It makes me feel as if I can freeze her in time for just a little while longer.

The reception was at a beautiful monastery right outside of D.C. In fact, it is where he proposed to her which made it all the more special (as well as helped us over look the long drive home after midnight).

Pictures of our D.C. ventures will follow. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fourteen Years

Fourteen years. It caught me by surprise. Not the anniversary of course, but the number...fourteen. But really it's more than that. I met this man sixteen years ago, when I had all but given up hope of finding a husband. Okay, I hadn't given up, but almost. It just seemed that everyone had found someone but me. I thought I had missed the boat. And, just when I had given up my plans and given in to God's, Nelson (almost literally) waltzed into my life.

What can I say? We've been dancing together ever since.

While we lounged by the pool this weekend, we alternated between our reading material and eyeing the younger folks in town for a wedding prancing around trying to impress each other. And suddenly we were deep in conversation about things much more important than anything else going on. We dove deep into thoughts and plans and goals. We laughed together with ease. We were totally comfortable to do nothing together.

I love the adventure and I love the simple being. Mostly though, I love the man standing by me through all of it.

Happy Anniversary Nelson (a little late)! I love you!

Fathers' Day (punctuation intended)

So here's what we've been up to since I last checked in: packed up boys for a trip to visit my brother in Florida, packed the family for our trip to D.C., made the trip to D.C to attend a wedding, found out about the sad and sudden death of our neighbor and father of two of my closest friends during that wedding, toured D.C with the kids and loved every patriotic moment of it, came back home and sent the two boys to Florida for a week, helped my friends get ready for their dad's funeral, attended wake and funeral, made breakfast for the extended families, helped Mackenzie pack for camp in Kentucky and sent her off, bought birthday and Father's Day gifts, spent a wonderful two days with the love of my life for a belated anniversary celebration, attended a niece's birthday party and prepared a Father's Day dinner.  

Kind of explains the lack of communication here lately doesn't it? I have a lot of things bouncing around my head and numerous pictures and stories to tell but it's late so those will have to wait.

Today I am grateful. First of all I'm grateful that my dad is still here and doing marvelously well after this, which I still think of almost every day. Every time I see my dad, I am reminded of the miracle of his life and I am thankful, so very thankful. My dad is a wonderful, generous, funny, adventurous, spiritual, wise and thoughtful man. I love all those qualities and I always have. But this year, this year when I watched three of my best friends bury their fathers, I am most thankful that I can still throw my arms around him and hug him really, really hard.

I am grateful for a husband who is an amazing father. I am thankful for his involvement in our children’s' lives. I am thankful for a true partner is this adventure of parenting. I love watching him love the kids. I love how excited they are to see him and spend time with him. I love the true thoughtfulness he puts into raising them. He is amazing.

I am grateful for my father-in-law who raised such an incredible son. I am thankful that he treats me with love like I was his own daughter. I love watching him love my kids. I love the time he spends with them and the memories he creates for them.

As you can see, I have much...so very much to be grateful for today. Fathers are a wonderful gift in my life. I am a blessed woman to love the three of them. I am blessed to be a product of one, be married to the product of another, and be an eye witness to the unfolding of the third as he moves into each new stage of fatherhood.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Nelson and I celebrate fourteen years of marriage today. Unfortunately, I didn't acknowledge it until here. I love you babe!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Another Shirt Saved From Destruction

Today I was in packing mode. I was on the floor of Dawson's room having him hand me the shirts he wants to wear and helping him pick out the matching shorts. He tossed me his flag football jersey.

"Dawson, this one has a big rip in it. You have a ton of other shirts. Let's pick another one," I prodded.

"Aww, I love this one. I can tuck it in and nobody will see it," was his counter.

“That's a good idea but you don't really tuck in jerseys," I tried to explain.

"Oh! I know! I can wear it so people will know how hard I really played that game."

That, I thought was an excellent reason, but I still sent the shirt back to the drawer. My compromise was not throwing the thing away.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Evolution of a Cake

I have always loved to bake. It is a great way to combine two of my loves - art and cooking. Through a series of unusual events, one day many years ago, I got put in charge of doing a groom's cake for a friend. That cake led to many more cakes over the years. However, other than doing cakes for my own kids, it's been years since I've been tasked with a really big event cake.

The leader of our Glory Run team had a daughter graduating from high school this year. This same daughter babysits for us on a regular basis and I also got to help her on her research paper last year. How could I say no?

However, when I said yes, I had no idea that the cake she picked would be so elaborate. I tend towards the creative, build a shape kind of cakes. This one was a bakery style decorated cake. I seriously doubted my ability to make it happen. I shared my doubts and she assured me that she didn't need it to be perfect so I carried on.

I didn't believe her when she said her favorite cake was Funfetti. I thought she was trying to give me a break. Her mom confirmed that it was her favorite cake, so even though it was hard for me to turn out a straight box cake, I was glad at least one part of it would be easy.

These are just a few of the tools and ingredients necessary. I didn't even use the gum paste.

The first step of course was to make and bake the cakes. This took hours in those big deep pans. A baker friend gave me a tip for helping the cakes bake evenly. The only trouble was that they also stuck to the sides of the pans and I had a messy mistake on my hands. I baked the second round the way I always have and they came out much better. Lesson learned - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The next stage was to make the frosting and put the crumb layer on the cake. This required lots and lots of icing to smooth out those ragged edges.

Cakes this big need a support system so dowels had to be cut. This is the part I wish Nelson was in town for. I'm guessing he would have had a much easier way to cut those things. My little knife did not make easy work of it.

The big layers are stacked. Then the dowels go in those. The cardboard round is cut and put on top of those and then the top two layers are put in place and iced.

I started baking shortly after feeding the kids lunch around 1 PM. I was finished with this much, plus a smoother top layer of frosting around 1 AM. Really the only other things I did were to feed the kids supper and put them to bed (Nelson was out of town). That's a really long time and a big reason I don't do this much any more.

The next morning I awoke tired and a bit bleary eyed from looking at the cake for so long the night before. I was nervous about the actual decorating so I decided to practice on some wax paper. After all the time it took and how well it looked, I wished I could just peel it off and stick it to the cake. Unfortunately, I had to scrape it back into the icing bag and start from scratch.

I was so nervous. Nelson and Mackenzie, my usual support team, were both gone. So, I resorted to what was available. I asked the three boys to come into the kitchen and say a prayer for me. They did, and let me tell you, it was a good one. I thanked them for the prayer and then told them to stay out of the kitchen until I was done. Bless their little hearts, they did just that. They had a very clear sense how important this was to me.

The basic design was simple enough. It required changing tips and a steady hand but I was happy with the results and that gave me the courage to move forward.

The delicate lacy designs were a bit harder. In the end I wished I had used a smaller tip to get those lines a bit thinner. However, because it was not an exact design, it worked. The bad part was that I didn't notice how crooked the cake was until I was at this point and it was way too late to fix it.

So onward I went. After a few hours and a sore hand, I thought I was done as the picture only had designs on the front of the cake. Since mine was not covered in that smooth, perfecting fondant, I decided I needed a distraction from all the imperfections and decorated the back too.

The top I am most proud of as there was no picture to go by. The graduate merely said she'd like her monogram on the top. I bought that gum paste because I envisioned some three-dimensional flowers and a monogram that stood up. By the end of my 10 hour saga, I opted to go with what I know, not what I have never attempted. I was totally pleased with the design and thought it tied in perfectly with the rest of the cake.

The graduate requested a photo of me in front of the cake (taken with my phone, thus the poor quality). Here I was happy. Happy it was done. Happy nothing happened to it as it rode in my lap for the thirty minute drive to the graduation. Happy I didn't trip carrying it up the two gigantic flights of stairs on my way in. Happy she smiled when she saw it.

Each time I do one of these, I totally understand the very big price tag on cakes like this. They are a work of art that gets demolished within minutes. Really though, I guess this is the best use of art. I don’t have to throw it away once I take it down from the fridge.