Friday, April 20, 2018

Sliding Into Six

Dear Jackson,

I debated whether or not to write you a letter this year. I felt like everything I wrote last year still holds true, and I felt like I didn't have anything to add because you really haven't changed much over the past year. But then something happened a few weeks ago that made me realize I was wrong.

A few Sunday afternoons ago, somebody in our house needed to go to the grocery store, but I was still in my pajamas (Don't judge me), so I didn't want to go, and the final round of the Masters was getting ready to start, so I knew Daddy didn't want to go either. That's when I suggested I could call you an Uber, and you could go to Publix for us. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Me: Hey, Jack, maybe I could call you an Uber, you can go get the groceries, and then the Uber will bring you back home.

You: Mama, I can't read all that stuff.

Me: Sure you can! And what you can't read, you can recognize. I know you know how to find the applesauce and the Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

You: You're going to go to jail if you send me by myself.

Me: Are you saying I'll get to sit in a quiet cell and not have to clean the house? Yeah, I think I'll survive.

You: You won't be able to read books in jail.

Me: Actually, that's about the only thing I will be able to do in jail. Jails usually have really good libraries. (Please note, my extensive knowledge of prison libraries stems solely from Shawshank Redemption.)

You (with a knowing twinkle in your eye): Yeah, well, you would miss my snuggles.

Boom . . . you got me! You were so right, I would miss your snuggles terribly.

This conversation, while a little unrealistic, did make me realize one thing: you truly have grown up over the past year, and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm okay with that.

What happened to my little roly poly toddler who usually came home with his shoes on the wrong feet, who only wanted to color things blue, and who always wanted to watch Chuggington?

Granted, some things haven't changed. You still wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to ask a gagillion questions and shoot some hoops. And Daddy and I still love to hear you giggle over physical comedy, like when Kung Fu Panda gets knocked in the head. And (sadly) you're still a Gamecock, no matter how much I try to turn you into a Tiger. But in so many other ways, you're a completely different kid.

You have taken on a new independence that is both exciting and heartbreaking. While I love the freedom that comes with being able to simply tell you to go get dressed, I wonder who this kid is who comes out of your room in head-to-toe Under Armor? Where did he hide his super soft onesies and smocked Jon Jons?

It's also a big help that you can buckle yourself into your car seat all by yourself. It warms my heart to see your compassion towards Reeves, patiently teaching him how to buckle his straps and lending a helping hand when he gets stuck. The hard part is, as I watch you buckle up, my mind flashes ahead, and I picture you buckling your seat belt behind the wheel and driving away all by yourself. That's when I start to panic, begging time to put on the brakes.

It has been truly amazing to see how much you've learned at school this year. I don't think I knew as much when I was 6 as you do now. I mean, you're even starting to master multiplication, something I still really have to think about. The 7's were always the hardest ones for me, but you make them seem easy breezy. In my defense, I didn't watch as much football as you do! I want you to know how proud I am of your curiosity and your love of learning. What scares me, though, is the knowledge that pretty soon, you'll surpass me. You'll be all into calculus and statistics, and you may not think I'm as smart then as you do now. Will you still ask me questions and come to me for help?

I know it isn't fair, my desire for time to stand still. I don't mean to hold you back or limit your possibilities. I really do love watching you grow into your own person, but you have to remember, you'll always be my baby. When you were born, you came out with some of my DNA, but the truth is, you came out with even more of my heart.

Now when I tuck you in, I may not be able to rock rock you like I used to because you're all arms and legs, and you may read to me just as much as I read to you. Just know, as long as we're in the same place, I'll still come back to check on you before I go to bed every night, no matter how old you are. And regardless of the miles between us, I'll always be praying for God to watch over you in all that you do.

I love you, Bud. Happy birthday!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

5 for 5: Lessons from Fixer Upper

Last week was the series finale of my favorite show, Fixer Upper, and I have to admit, after five years, I feel a little lost without my weekly dose of Chip and Jo. The show will always hold a special place in my heart because I started watching reruns of Season 1 when I was on maternity leave with Reeves. In fact, I watched so much Fixer Upper and Property Brothers, one time I accidentally referred to Jackson and Reeves as Drew and Jonathan. I really do know my boys' names, I promise. I'm blaming that one on lack of sleep.

For Alex and me, Fixer Upper has been our weekly date night for the past few years. No kids, no phones, just us enjoying some down time together.

I've learned a few things about myself while watching the show--mainly that my dream of owning my very own cow will never die and no matter how much I'd love to have a greenhouse full of beautiful flowers, I can kill a cactus. I've also learned a few life important lessons as well.

Different Strokes Work for Different Folks

I think we can all agree that Jo definitely has her own signature style. While she knows what she likes, she makes a conscious effort to incorporate the clients' style into the design, even if it means figuring out how to blend Moroccan with Scandinavian.

I would love for Jo to come redecorate my house; however, I don't always agree 100% with her taste. Take, for example, the weird frosted glass she keeps putting in pantry doors this season. So strange. Or the floor to ceiling bathroom shower tile. I'm sorry, I just can't get behind that trend. I know the tile is unique and it's meant to give the bathroom a spa-like feel, but the thought of cleaning all of that grout exhausts me. Give me a 1980s stall insert any day.

Ultimately, everybody has different tastes and different styles, and that's okay. Just because someone's style doesn't match our own doesn't mean he or she needs to be "fixed." After all, there's a reason why Baskin Robbins offers 31 flavors.

Work Is As Fun As You Make It

This lesson comes more from Chip and Shorty than it does from Chip and Jo. I have no doubt that flipping houses isn't always as fun and glamorous as HGTV edits it to be. I would imagine most days are sweaty and stinky and downright hard. But in the midst of all of the sawdust and shingles, Chip and Shorty find ways to spice it up. Whether it's seeing who can knock down a wall faster or who can do more pull-ups from the rafters, those two are always laughing.

I have been teaching for 17 years. Have I loved every single day of it? No way! Some days I'm exhausted, frustrated, and ready to quit. However, I have always been lucky enough to work with people who make the job fun. From rolling the athletic director's office at Mid-Carolina to dressing up for spirit days to celebrating Pi Day with multiple pies, my colleagues and I have always found ways to keep things exciting.

I know work can be a grind, and sometimes all we can do is fake it til we make it. Life is full of choices, and it's up to us to decide if we're going to make our work environment negative or positive. When it comes right down to it, we probably spend most of our lives at our jobs, so shouldn't we do what we can to infuse a little fun?

Life Doesn't Always Go According to Plan

If you've watched Fixer Upper for any amount of time, you know that during every demo day, Chip and Jo always find something they didn't expect. It could be a snag, like finding out the wall they thought could come down is actually load-bearing, so they have to put in a beam. Or it could be a jackpot, like finding shiplap hidden behind the dry wall. It seems like no matter how much they plan in advance, there is always a demo day surprise that sends them back to the drawing board.

Life is a lot like renovating a house.  You make plans, things are going well, and then . . . WHAM! . . . a sickness, a lost job, or some other obstacle hits you like a sledgehammer, causing your plans to crumble. You will have to do some work to get back on track, and the work may involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but the good news is, it is possible to rebuild bigger and better than before. You might have to peel back a few layers of nasty old wallpaper to get to your version of shiplap, but it's there as long as you're willing to work for it.

For me, the key to bouncing back from a setback is having a firm foundation of supportive family and friends, which leads me to the last two lessons I've learned from the show.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

One reason Fixer Upper is so popular is because viewers love getting a glimpse of Chip and Jo's relationship. In a world full of baby mama drama reality TV, their down-to-earth partnership is a breath of fresh air. They play off of each other and make each other stronger both on the job and at home.

Most days, I like to pretend that I keep the house running all by myself. In my mind, I'm a one-woman show, cooking, cleaning, driving carpool, scheduling appointments . . . single-handedly keeping everybody alive and happy. However, this winter Alex had to travel a lot for work, and while he was gone, I had a major awakening: I need Alex. I couldn't reach the burned out light bulbs in the kitchen, so they went unchanged. And I'm not as fun at bath time as Daddy, so we skipped it more times than we probably should have. The boys may have been dirty, but I couldn't tell because we were living in the dark! And don't even get me started on the debacle that was my attempt at ironing the boys' church clothes. Let's just say I'm better at using an iron to make a grilled cheese sandwich than I am at using it to get out wrinkles. The bottom line is I realized I should give Alex more credit than I do because life is better with him as my partner.

A successful partnership doesn't have to be a romantic duo though. Everybody needs a buddy-- Thelma had Louise, Han had Chewy, and Maverick had Goose. Some things (you know, like driving off a cliff or fighting the Dark Side) are more fun when they're done together. It could be a friend, a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a co-worker . . . life is easier when we have somebody to help us share the load. Just remember, when you find that special wing man, let them know how much you appreciate their love and support.

Celebrate Others

I think this is the most important lesson I've learned over the past five seasons. See, Chip and Jo are both really talented, and this show was obviously designed to highlight their skills, their businesses, and their family. They could have made every episode of every season be all about them, but they didn't. They have their own strengths, and they are lucky enough to have surrounded themselves with some really talented friends who help compensate for their weaknesses. There's Jimmy Don, who is a master of metal. There's Dustin Anderson, who is gifted with glass. And of course, there's my fave, Clint Harp, who can work wonders with wood. Together, these talented artisans make people's dreams come true.

As I have gotten older, I've realized I, too, have some strengths, and I also have some serious struggles. For example, fashion will never be my forte. I don't buy pieces of clothing, I buy outfits-- if it works on the mannequin at Loft, then it works for me. I have absolutely no ability to mix and match. I should have been born in the '50s when women always wore dresses-- then I'd only have to figure out if I needed black pumps or brown ones, and that's a decision I can (usually) handle. But my friend Andrea, that girl knows fashion. Watching her put an outfit together is like watching Cinderella's fairy godmother turn a pumpkin into a crystal coach. I kid you not, I've seen her effortlessly turn a belt into a necklace in a matter of minutes. She has a gift. If I could Skype her into my closet every morning, I totally would.

We all have gifts, and they're all different. Society often pits us against each other and makes us believe we're always in competition--who has the most money, the most success, the most likes. This is especially true for women. But maybe instead of focusing on what we can do individually, we should focus more on what we can accomplish collectively because the truth is, when we combine forces, that's when the magic really happens.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jen Hatmaker: "When we elevate other women around us, when we cheer them on, when we share the microphone, when we promote what they're doing, none of that makes our space shrink. In fact, is becomes way more expansive."

It can be hard to live out this philosophy. Personally, I've had times where I let my own insecurities and doubts about my abilities hold me back from being the cheerleader for others I should have been. Thankfully, with age comes insight, and as I approach the big 4-0, I can see that celebrating someone else doesn't make me any less. Truthfully, it's liberating and comforting to know I don't have to do it all myself, thanks to my awesome and talented tribe.

Well, there you have it, everything I've learned from watching Fixer Upper. Thanks to Chip and Jo for the memories. A visit to Waco is definitely at the top of my bucket list.

In the meantime, if you have a favorite show you think Alex and I should watch now that we have an extra hour in our week, let me know!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bidding on Love

Have you ever heard a statement that stopped you on a dime and made you seriously reevaluate your life?

This happened to me about a year ago. A Bible study leader shared with my group that a lot of her friends were struggling in their marriages because now that their kids were out of the house, they didn't know how to relate to their husbands. She encouraged those of us who were still deep in the trenches of parenthood to make sure we took time to find shared interests that didn't involve carpool, homework, and soccer practice.

I drove home from church in a bit of a panic, racking my brain trying to figure out what Alex and I enjoy doing together that doesn't involve our boys. I mean, sure, we love a good family story time, but it might be a little awkward if Alex is still reading me Llama, Llama Red Pajama after the boys have flown the coop.

Thankfully, after a little soul searching, I came up with three interests we share: sports, movies, and silent auctions. That last one is kinda random, I know, but silent auctions honestly make us a team more than the other two.

Silent auctions are the perfect activity for us because they play to our passions- namely my (highly) competitive nature and Alex's penchant for buying things he doesn't need. When I actually asked Alex why he likes silent auctions, he said he likes them because "the items are usually unique or are experiences that I wouldn't normally think to purchase on my own," which I think pretty much translates into buying things he doesn't need. But since I often benefit from his crazy bidding, I can't really complain.

It all started when our friends Anna and Doug invited us to a benefit at EdVenture. The event included tasty hors d'oeuvres, live music, and a silent auction to raise money for EdVenture's children's programs. This was in the days before mobile bidding, so we had to write our bids on paper. It also led us to circle the auction items like vultures ready to swoop down on our prey in order to make sure no one outbid us. I can't even remember what I had my heart set on, but I do know that at one point, Alex told me I had to stop bidding on it because at around $150, it was out of his price range. I could appreciate his fiscal responsibility and happily went back to chatting with friends.

At the end of the night, we all went to see if we'd won anything. Doug, being the thoughtful husband that he is, won an open-ended plane ticket Anna could use to visit her family in Texas.

Alex, ever the romantic, won a basketball signed by Coach K.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Blue Devils, but I had never known Alex to be a fan. As he explained, this was his logical first step in turning our den into his "man cave." Glad we discussed that plan, Honey. All I could think to say was, "I hope you got a good deal on it."


Alex sheepishly confessed the bidding had gotten a little bit away from him, and he ended up paying $350 for a basketball! A basketball that now resides at the top of my closet, mind you. So much for fiscal responsibility. He also admitted he had to hip check an older gentleman right as the bids were being collected to ensure his was the last bid. And I thought I was the competitive one! All the way to the car, all the way home, and even to this day, all Alex can say is, "I did it for the kids."

Even though that first experience was a little stressful for our relationship, we bounced back, and our love of silent auctions has continued to grow, thanks mainly to Junior League of Columbia's Holiday Market Preview Party and Silent Auction. We have even developed a strategic plan we use to increase our chances of winning. (I could tell you what it is, but then I'd have to kill you.) We have won all sorts of things, from a Mosquito Joe's yard treatment to Gamecock paraphernalia to a necklace I think I've worn once (That one was pre-strategic plan.). My favorite was the year I won a birthday party at The Little Gym. When Alex asked how much it cost, it was my turn to confess I may or may not have paid $10 over the normal party price. I really felt like he was missing the point because, hello, I WON! Okay, so maybe I didn't get the best deal, but at least it's for the kids, right?

Last year, we tried out another local auction when we attended the Friends of Epworth Gala. We bid on a few things we were interested in, and then a little later in the night, Alex went rogue, broke protocol, and went back through the items, bidding on a few no one had bid on yet. His philosophy was if he bid on them, they'd look like hot commodities, and then other people would try to outbid him, thus increasing the money going to Epworth. It was good in theory, not so good in execution. Nobody else bid against him for several things, so we ended up with some totally random items, like a teeth whitening service and cakes for a year.

As we were leaving the gala loaded down like pack mules, all of the Epworth employees kept shaking Alex's hand and telling us they were so glad we came. Yeah, I bet they were. Needless to say, we received a Save the Date for this year's event. I'd bet we were first on the guest list, and not just because our last name starts with B.

If you're not familiar with Epworth Children's Home, it provides group residential care for children and youth from all over South Carolina. I vividly remember my mom filling out the special offering card every May to make her Mother's Day offering to Epworth. I asked her once why it was such a big deal, and she told me not all kids were as lucky as I was. At the time, I thought she was just trying to toot her own horn as a mom because as a teenager, I didn't always feel so lucky. It's true, as an only child, I often got whatever I wanted, but I also felt I got some things I didn't want too, like extra pressure and higher expectations.

Fast forward to my first year teaching. Funny how God can put you in just the right place for just the right lesson. As I got to know the faces in my classroom, I quickly realized I was beyond lucky; I was blessed. I am fortunate to have a parent who cares enough to set expectations and hold me accountable. And I am fortunate to never have to worry if there is food in the fridge or if the lights will come on when I flip the switch. For better or worse, we don't get to choose our parents, and some kids end up with the short end of the stick. They need our help to make sure they have a fighting chance.

During a professional development conference that first year, a speaker told us she didn't like the term "at risk" because it places a negative label on certain students. She went on to say that, truly, all kids are at risk of something. Life can change in an instant, and hardship doesn't discriminate based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Any child's life can change dramatically due to death, illness, or loss.

That's why Epworth is so important. It offers children going through a rough time a loving and stable environment. In a time of chaos, Epworth provides kids with the consistency and structure they crave.

This year's Friends of Epworth Palate Party will be held at Hay Hill Market on Saturday, March 10. You can read all of the fun details and buy your tickets right here. Alex and I would love for you to join us. Even better, we'd love for you to try and outbid us. Just remember, win or lose, it's all for the kids.

The infamous Duke basketball

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Struggle Is Real, So I'm Hiring!

I don't know about you, but it appears I struggle with procrastination, implementation, and general day-to-day organization. Therefore, I am currently accepting applications for a personal assistant. The ideal candidate will be a self-starter with tremendous initiative, attention to detail, and a valid South Carolina driver's license.

Your main tasks will be as follows:

Task 1: Take Down My Christmas Wreath

Yep, you read that correctly. Somehow I took my tree down the day after Christmas, but I can't grab the wreath off the door and toss it in the trash on the way to the car. I packed away all of the ornaments, all of the nativities, all of the stockings, but I can't do anything with the easiest decoration to get rid of. What is wrong with me?

At least when I left my tree up all year, the only people who knew about it were close friends, family members, and one select babysitter, all who were required to take an oath of non-judgement before they walked in the door. My wreath, on the other hand, is front and center for everybody to see. The neighbors, the pizza man, the Amazon Prime delivery person who comes at least once a week, everybody. When I pull into the driveway, it's all I notice, like the wart on a witch's nose. Secretly, I'm hoping the garbage collectors will talk it over and decide they should help a sister out and just come grab it one Friday, toss it in the truck, and never look back. It's like ripping off a Band-Aid . . . sometimes it's easier if someone does it for you.

Task 2: Make ALL of My Phone Calls

I hate talking on the phone, plain and simple.

On Monday, I had to put on my big girl pants and make three calls during my planning period. Three! What kind of nonsense is that? When I was finished, all I could do was stare at the wall for the rest of my planning. I was done. Those three calls took everything out of me. The elevator music, the queue position notification, the repetition of "Katherine with a K" . . . it was all more than I could handle.

The only good part about making the calls was the feeling of victory that came along with marking them off of my to-do list. Believe it or not, I do love feeling productive. Sometimes if I forget to write something on my to-do list, but I end up doing it, I go back and add it to the list after I've done it just so I can savor the thrill of marking it off. Don't laugh, you know you do it too!

Task 3: Return My Library Books

Truth . . . There should be a sign at every Barnes & Noble register that features my photo along with the message, "Do not, under any circumstances, sell books to this woman." Barnes & Noble is to me what Target is to most women. I always end up with way more than I need and spend way more than I should. I used to love getting gift cards to B&N, but then I realized they were actually more of a curse than a gift because I just end up buying even more.

I know the answer to my problem is taking advantage of the library, and that should be easy, considering I pass two of them on my way home every day. My struggle, though, is I usually forget to return my books by the due date, and by the time I take them back, I owe what the book cost to begin with. I still have to pay the cover price, but I don't even have a book to show for it.

Sometimes, it's not even my fault. Alex will load the boys in the car for school with library books, and I don't even realize they're back there. Or, the books fall between the wall and Jackson's bed during nap time, and you know what they say---Out of sight, out of mind.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to use the library more, and I'm off to a good start. I've already checked out and read Bossypants, The Lying Game, and Small Great Things, and I'm proud to say, I returned all of them before they were even due.

I also finished Before We Were Yours, but this one could cause me some trouble. See, I finished it at school during silent reading, and it keeps getting buried on my desk before I can get it into my bag to go home. If you've never seen my desk, you should know that it's a little bit like the Bermuda Triangle, which leads me to Task 4 . . .

Task 4: Clean Out My Car

My desk and my car both fall into the category "Things I Can't Keep Clean to Save My Life." One time, I asked a student to go get something from my car, and as she walked out the door, I said, "Don't judge me by my car." She looked at me, looked at my desk, and replied, "Is it worse than that?" Touche.

Another time, a group of girls needed a soccer ball for a vocabulary skit, so I sent them to my car to get one. They came back doubled over with laughter. As it turned out, they had stumbled upon Reeves' rock collection, which he kept in the consoles of both doors and all over the floorboard. They still talk about my rocks, and it's been three years! (Alex did finally make us find a new home for the rocks--he was scared if we had a wreck, they'd fly around the car like projectile missiles and cause more injuries than the wreck itself. He probably had a point.)

Last week, I brought the entire car rider line to a screeching halt because as Jackson was getting out of the car, he accidentally kicked a Tonka truck, an old applesauce squeezie, and a dirty sock out of the door, causing one of the teachers to run over to help the sweet safety patrol student gather everything and toss it back on the floorboard. There was also some rogue paper flying around. All I can say is I hope I don't need it because I didn't stick around to get it back. My embarrassment forced me to flee the premises immediately.

Fair warning . . . This particular portion of the job may require a hazmat suit, as it will definitely involve touching all manner of unidentifiable objects, including, but not limited to, petrified French fries, moldy cheese sticks, and smushed raisins. But you should look at it as an adventure, kind of like a treasure hunt or an archaeological dig. You never know what you might find. It could be anything from five dollars worth of change to a long-overdue library book (See Task 3).

Task 5: Cancel My Gym Membership

Here's an embarrassing confession . . . I have three gym memberships.

Now, as you vacillate between asking yourself, "Why in the world does Katherine have three memberships?" and "Shouldn't Katherine be in better shape if she has three gym memberships?" let me explain the situation.

I joined Columbia Athletic Club way back in 2001. I've made gym friends there over the years and have seen it go from the CAC to Gold's to MUV. It has all of the equipment and classes you could ever need, plus a great childcare staff. I love this gym so much, I even went the morning Reeves was born. Of course, that was mainly so I could put Jackson in Kids' Care while I went upstairs to sit on a bench under a fan and read back issues of People for two hours. I'm not ashamed, I was nine months pregnant in Columbia in August . . . Mama needed a break.

In January of 2013, I joined Anytime Fitness in Chapin. It was perfect because I would leave Mid-Carolina, go work out, pick up Jackson from Chapin Baptist and then head back to Columbia. Once I started teaching at BC, I knew I probably only needed my MUV membership. I really did try to cancel my membership at Anytime Fitness, but they told me I couldn't do it at the Devine Street location. No, no, no, I had to go all the way back to Chapin, and somehow, over the past five years, I've just never found the time to make the trek all the way out to Chapin. In my defense, I have visited Anytime Fitness on Devine occasionally, but definitely not enough to make it worth it. And no, I do not want to calculate how much money I have wasted on that monthly fee.

Last summer, I joined Burn Bootcamp. My intention, since it was summer after all, was to head to Chapin to cancel my Anytime Fitness membership and funnel that money to Burn. Ask me how well that worked out. You know what's paved with good intentions . . . the road to a gym, evidently.

While you will not receive mileage for this portion of the job, I will be more than happy to cover your lunch at La Fogata in Chapin, provided you supply me with an order of Pollo Fundido. It's the best in the Midlands, hands down. It is also why I could benefit from frequenting all three gyms!

This concludes the responsibilities for this position. Other tasks may be added when necessary. These could include cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer on a regular basis or printing and cataloging the pictures on my phone. If you feel like this is a job you can handle, please leave your resume in the comments below. I'll look over the pool of applicants and call email you if I feel you would be a good fit. Be advised, this position is, in essence, an unpaid internship, but the life experience you will gain will be invaluable. Thank you for your interest in organizing my crazy life!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Truth About Life with Boys

I'm beginning to believe God specifically chose me to be a boy mom, and it's not just because I can't put hair in a ponytail to save my life. I think it probably has more to do with my love of sports than anything else. My love of playing them, watching them, and reading about them is actually how I landed Alex.

When we first started dating, I had a subscription to Sports Illustrated. Originally, I subscribed to the magazine so I could take it to school, as it was the only thing guys would willingly read during silent reading. Alex was really impressed with my subscription, so much so, that he would use it as my claim to fame when he introduced me to his friends. I kid you not, he'd excitedly exclaim, "This is Katherine; she has a subscription to Sports Illustrated." Seriously? That's why you like me? I mean, couldn't he have at least included an adjective in there like brilliant, kind, funny, hot, sexy, humble?

Several of my friends have recently entered the world of boys, either through childbirth, dating a dad of boys, or adoption, and they have all looked at me and said the same thing: "I don't know what to do with a boy." Let me tell you, there are really only two things you need to do: One, point everything down when you change a diaper, and two, love him just like you would a girl.

About a week ago, one of these new moms wrote me a thank you note that ended with the line, "Please make all of your future blogs revolve around how to raise Godly sons." Talk about pressure! That is a huge task, one that I'm not qualified to undertake in any way, shape, or form. But while I may feel totally unable to meet that specific request, I do have a few insights about boys that might be helpful for her to understand as she embarks on this new adventure.

Observation 1: Every object can become a sword and that "Vrrroom, vrroom" sound is genetic.

I know using the word "every" may seem like an exaggeration, but trust me, it's not. Boys can turn into Zoro wannabes in the blink of an eye, all it takes is a crayon, a straw, a stick, or a toothbrush. And those are just the normal swords . . . my boys have been known to get inventive as well. Last spring, I walked out of the bathroom to find the boys sword fighting--Jackson with a mailing tube and Reeves with my graduate school diploma that had come rolled up in it. While I could appreciate their creativity and resourcefulness, Mama worked too hard to let that battle continue.

Every parent tries to encourage their child's language development. We gaze into their eyes, repeating "Mama" and "Dada," making sure to enunciate each syllable. Then we move onto things like "dog," "ball," and "book." Eventually, with enough practice, our bundles of joy say that first word, and we start filling out college applications. I have a friend who told me to make sure the boys' first word was "Dada," that way when they woke up in the middle of the night, that's all they would be able to say, so Alex would have to be the one to get out of the warm bed and go help. Pure genius!

But one aspect of language development needs absolutely no coaching whatsoever, and that's the "vrroom, vrroom" sound every single boy knows how to make when he sees a car. I really have no idea how my boys knew to do this. If Alex drove some suped-up Corvette that didn't have a muffler or revved his engine in the driveway, I'd understand how they knew a car could sound like that, but we drive Hondas straight from the factory, no modifications whatsoever. Regardless, from the time they could roll a Matchbox car across the carpet, they knew the noise to make with it. Kinda makes me wonder how Alex drives when I'm not around.

Observation 2: Boys are biologically programmed to wrestle.

Last Saturday, we had two sweet little girls over to play while their mama went to the hospital to deliver their baby brother. Everything was going well--everybody was either painting or coloring, when all of a sudden, the girls and I looked over to see Jackson and Reeves grunting and growling, rolling around the kitchen floor, embraced in either a hug or a headlock, depending on which one of them you asked. One of the girls looked at me, her eyes as big as saucers, and fearfully asked, "Is my brother going to be like that?" Poor thing, I think we scarred her for life. I told her if she wanted to know if her brother would wrestle that much, then the answer was probably no since he didn't have a brother to feed off of. However, if she wanted to know if her brother would be rougher and louder than she was, the answer was a resounding yes.

I don't know why, but boys just need to move more than girls do. Girls can entertain themselves for hours by quietly playing baby dolls or doing arts and crafts. Reeves can build with blocks for hours, but every once in awhile, he's going to stand up, roar, and trample his tower with the same delight and zeal Godzilla had when he took Tokyo. Jackson is the same way- he can entertain himself for hours, but it's by throwing an invisible football up in the air, catching it, and running the length of the room for a touchdown. He whispers the score to himself and then turns right around and heads for the other end zone. Quiet, yes. Still, not so much. Neither way to play is right or wrong, they're just different. As a parent (and as teacher), I've figured out that if I can channel all of that energy the right way, we can really have a lot of fun.

Observation 3: Pants are optional.

Alex and I love watching The Goldbergs every Wednesday night. The dad in the show, Murray, is known for dropping his pants as soon as he gets home from work and then relaxing in his chair in his button down shirt and tighty whities (Seriously, I can never remember if it's whitie tighties or tighty whities!). Evidently, this habit is not limited to fictional TV characters.

My boys love to run around in as little as possible. Inside. Outside. Warm weather. Cold weather. It really doesn't matter. The boys strip down as soon as we get home from school and refuse to put on pants until it's time to go back. I've had to apologize to babysitters, friends, and even the occasional pizza delivery man for their lack of clothing.

The good news is if they ever decide to remake Risky Business, I have two boys ready to slide into Tom Cruise's role in nothing but their underwear and sunglasses.

Observation 4: Toots are hilarious.

This is the one I seriously can't wrap my head around. A girl would be mortified if she tooted in front of a boy, but from birth until death, boys find flatulence funny. Companies like Disney and Pixar know this to be true and include some sort of bathroom humor in every kids movie they make. I asked three different males of varying ages why toots are so funny, and all three immediately broke into giggles. Y'all, one of them is 43! None of the guys could explain this enigma, although they did all say it must have to do with the funny noises that often accompany the gas. As inexplicable as the reason may be, the bottom line (no pun intended) is that little boys think toots are hilarious. And when they manage to sneeze and toot at the same time, as they no doubt will, it's even funnier.

Observation 5: Boys love their mamas.

Before Jackson was born, I was certain that I was having a girl. I was so certain, in fact, that I went so far as to buy an adorable girl outfit at Target because I was worried it would be gone by the time I had my ultrasound. I may have been suffering from a slight case of cart before the horse syndrome. When the ultrasound tech revealed the baby was a boy, all I could do was mumble, "I guess I have to return some things to Target." Alex, the ultrasound tech, and eventually the salesclerk at Target all looked at me like I had lost my mind when I told them about my little shopping spree. Who does that? Who buys gender-specific clothes before they find out the gender of their baby? Oh, that would be this girl.

The one thing that other boy moms kept telling me was that boys love their mamas, and man, were they right. My boys always want to snuggle or hold my hand, and they love making me things and showering me with gifts of rocks and dandelions. They are super protective of me, always asking if a have a boo-boo or if I need a Diet Coke. They share things with me that they won't share with each other or with Alex. And even though they do call out "Dada" in the middle of the night, their first question for him is always, "Where's Mommy?"

I know there are plenty of other boy truths out there, but I'm kind of a stickler for things to end in five or zero, and since I couldn't make my list all the way to 10, I had to stop at 5. If you're the mama of a boy, I'd love to hear your theories. Or, better yet, if you're a guy who can explain one of these phenomena, please fill us in. Inquiring minds want to know!

In the end, I can't promise that I'll ever be able to give good advice on raising Godly sons, but I do know that when you snuggle a newborn swaddled in blue, or when you watch that three year old sleeping peacefully in his dinosaur pajamas, or even when you indulge that five year old who stumbled into your bathroom early in the morning in nothing but a T-shirt and his Spider-Man undies asking for a hug . . . that's when you truly get a glimpse of God's love in the flesh.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Power of Tradition

I love traditions. My obsession with them has become a running joke between Alex and me. He says if I do something twice and like it, I automatically deem it a tradition. What can I say, I'm a creature of habit, I like consistency, and I'm a little sentimental to boot.

Christmas brings out some of the best traditions. One of my favorites is Christmas Day breakfast. My mom would always serve breakfast on a silver tray in front of the tree. For as long as I can remember, we would eat our sausage and Moravian sugar loaf on Spode Christmas china as we opened gifts, Neil Diamond crooning carols in the background. I think I was out of college before I realized there may be a slight conflict of interest for a Jewish man to sing about Santa Claus, but it worked for us. 

There have been plenty of people who have asked me if leaving my Christmas tree up all year is going to become one of our new traditions. While that thought is seriously tempting, the answer is no. It's been a fun ride, but the old girl has got to go. Plus, I have a few friends who are already planning an intervention if it's not down by the 27th. 

One reason the tree stayed up all year stems from another tradition from my younger years. Growing up, my mom used to always read Christmas books to me. I loved when she turned her Southern drawl up a notch to read The Cajun Night Before Christmas. My all-time favorite, though, was The Tree That Stayed Up Until Next Christmas by Robert Kraus. It tells the story of a family of animals that keeps their Christmas tree up all year, adding decorations for each holiday so that they finally end up with a "Grateful Thanksgiving, Happy Halloween, Sane Fourth of July, Happy Easter, Happy Birthday, Happy Valentine's Day, Merry Christmas tree."

Please note, the characters in this book just keep adding ornaments to the tree, they never take any off. Over the past year, I've had well-meaning friends suggest that I change out the ornaments for each holiday, but look, y'all, if I could take 'em off, I could take it down.

Anyway, when our tree was still up in February, this book inspired Jackson to ask if the tree could please, please, please stay up until his birthday in April, and who could tell that sweet, almost five-year-old face no? After all, a boy only turns five once. 

When I was growing up, my mom's best friend Barbara would come up from the beach and help us decorate for the holidays. Since my mom is an only child, Barbara easily became just like an aunt to me. She has been at more birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baptisms than I can count. At Christmas, she was always the expert with the lights and probably helped cultivate my OCD tendency to go in and out of every branch instead of just around and around the tree. 

One year, my grandmother fell and broke her hip a few weeks before Christmas, so Mom and I had to go to the hospital in Florence. Knowing hanging out in a hospital wasn't a whole lot of fun for a child, Barbara drove up from Pawley's Island to take me home to Rock Hill so we could decorate. We had the best time trimming the tree and listening to the Stand By Me soundtrack. At one point, I decided to be extra helpful and set out the nativity. In keeping with her love of china and silver, my mom's nativity was made out of porcelain, and unfortunately, Joseph's delicate little pinky finger broke off when I was taking him out of the box. We still laugh about how I tried to diffuse the situation by explaining poor Joseph must have lost his finger in a carpentry accident. 

Like my mom, Barbara helped foster my love of reading, gifting me with some cherished titles, including Miss Rumphius and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The Tree That Stayed Up Until Next Christmas was her favorite Christmas book too. I remember snuggling up on the couch with her as she read it to me. I can still smell her Estee Lauder perfume, her signature scent.  

A few years ago, Barbara began suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. Mom and I could see it progressing in little ways, as she would forget names or repeat herself. Last year, Barbara and her husband Ray came to our house on Christmas Day, and I watched her pick up the book that had been our tradition and say, "This looks like a cute book," like she had never seen it before. She read it with the wide-eyed excitement of a child turning the pages for the first time, and while it broke my heart, I felt lucky that I'm still blessed with all of our special memories, memories I treasure more and more with each passing year.

When we're young, we take for granted that holidays will always stay the same, that the same faces will be around the dining room table year after year. I have several friends who are getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas without a special loved one. And I have several more friends who are still trying to get used to the empty seat at the table after a year or more. My heart goes out to them because I get it- the ache of the loss never goes away completely. Even 20 years later, I still miss sitting by the fire with my Mimi, watching It's a Wonderful Life, and snacking on "trash," her homemade version of Chex mix she only made at Christmas.

Traditions have the power to bridge the past and the present. They make us feel like the people we miss most are still right here with us. They can take us from laughter to tears and back again in a matter of minutes. In a constantly changing, sometimes crazy world, traditions provide us comfort and give us something to count on.

Your tradition may be having a gingerbread house decorating contest. It may be having the neighbors over for potato soup after the Christmas Eve church service. Or it may even be getting to open one gift on Christmas Eve, knowing good and well it's going to be Christmas pajamas. A tradition is not so much about the act as it is about the feeling that accompanies it.

So this Christmas, embrace your traditions, no matter how silly they may seem. If you don't have any traditions yet, start one. It doesn't have to be super complicated. In fact, the simpler, the better and the more likely it is to be repeated year after year. Just think of a favorite food, a special song, or something that makes your family unique and run with it. After all, you only have to do it twice for it to count as a tradition in my book. 

Whatever it is you decide to do, may you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hold Up, Wait a Minute

I am proud to say I was completely decorated for Christmas the Saturday after Thanksgiving, something that has never happened in my entire adult life. Wait . . . What's that you say? I can't brag about that accomplishment since I left my tree up all year? Yeah, I guess you're right, that did seem to expedite the process!

Anyway, now that the tree is decorated, the stockings are hung, and the nativities are set out, it's time to sit back and wait for December 25. There's a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. I can see the wonder and awe in the boys' eyes as they inspect the ornaments (because, you know, they may have moved in the last 365 days!). I hear it in Jackson's voice as he shouts out every time he sees an inflatable Santa or snowman or reindeer or Minion. It's evident every night as Reeves lovingly pets the camel in the nativity. Their giddy expectancy is contagious.

But is waiting always so exciting?

I feel like the rest of the year, waiting is super hard, maybe even painful at times. Waiting is often accompanied by its friends uncertainty and instability, leading me to a feeling of being out of control. Waiting can turn even the biggest optimist into a pessimist. Personally, I start imagining worst-case scenarios and the longer I have to wait, the wilder and crazier those scenarios get.

There are a lot of times in life when waiting can give way to panic. You wait for the guy to call you back after that first date, wondering why it's taking him so long or if you did something wrong. You wait by the phone for the doctor to call with the test results, hoping and praying everything is okay. Or, if you're like Alex and me lately, you wait for the confirmation that you got the job, crossing your fingers that this is the one.

I feel like Mary and Joseph knew how hard it is to wait better than any of us. I'm sure they were overcome with periods of anxiety, wondering how this whole giving birth to the King of Kings thing was going to play out. As a young, unwed mother, Mary had to be at least a little scared, but she didn't let her fears paralyze her; instead, she used her period of waiting to get ready for her precious baby.

Waiting can surely be a challenge, and while patience may be a virtue, it's not always mine. One Christmas, I "accidentally" found all of my Santa gifts hidden in the attic. After I thoroughly investigated each and every one, I went downstairs and proceeded to unwrap all of my gifts under the tree, carefully re-wrapping them so my mom was none the wiser.


Seriously, I killed the excitement days in advance by refusing to wait, so by the time I started unwrapping my gifts for real, I couldn't even fake the thrill of opening the cool new button covers from The Limited I had been coveting weeks before.

As I've gotten older, I've started to realize that sometimes the good stuff comes in the waiting itself.

I had to go to the doctor last week, and believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to the wait that often accompanies such a visit. Strange, I know, but I was super excited about starting the new book I had gotten the night before. Needless to say, I was a little heartbroken when they called me back after only five minutes and started the procedure right away--I had barely gotten past the dedication page! After looking forward to that time to myself to read and think and have some peace and quite, I was sort of annoyed when it was stolen from me. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of daily life, a wait can be a welcome respite from the noise of the world.

On the days I take the boys to school, I'm forced to wait. In order to get Jackson to school in plenty of time to eat his Lucky Charms, his second breakfast of the day, I drop him off around 7:15. That means I get to Reeves' school around 7:20. Unfortunately, his school doesn't open until 7:30, and even though it used to drive me nuts that I had to wait until then to take Reeves inside, I'm learning to love our little interlude. After going Mach-10 all morning trying to get everybody dressed, fed, and out the door, this wait forces me to pump the brakes. Instead of just pulling up and rushing Reeves inside, it's nice to have a block of uninterrupted time alone with him, where he can tell me all about dinosaurs or giants or Johnny, the gorilla from Sing.

As hard as it has been to wait for Alex to find a new job, some good things have come of of his wait. He has been able to spend more time with the boys, coaching soccer and attending daytime school events, two things he's never been able to do before. And while this wait hasn't always been easy, I know when Alex does sign the final papers, we will appreciate the job more since it didn't come right away.

I'm thinking Mary and Joseph learned a lot in their wait too. I mean, they had to take a road trip together, so you know they learned a lot about each other, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They learned how to be resourceful and make the best of a bad situation. But most importantly, they learned how to let go of their control and put their trust in something they couldn't see, having faith that God would guide them through.

Over the past week or two, I've heard myself saying, "I can't wait for Christmas break," like I won't be able to breathe and enjoy the holidays until I get out of school. But here's the problem with that--if I just fast forward to the main event, I know I'll miss out on some fun stuff along the way.

As we count down the days until Christmas, I'm challenging myself to enjoy the wait. To find time to relax. To be still. To sit in front of my tree with a hot cup of coffee and think about the gift we're really waiting for during this Christmas season. I have a feeling that one will definitely be worth the wait.

Sweet Reeves . . . just watching and waiting.