Category Archives: me and my thoughts

Minus One

Last weekend, for the first time ever, Luke went away for the weekend on a church retreat for sixth graders. I have to admit, it was really, really weird to not have him with us… I felt like I was forgetting something all weekend.

However, it was really cool to spend some time with just the two younger boys while Luke was doing all of the Big Kid Things. Because we did not have a crazy overscheduled weekend for once, we had plenty of time to just do what we wanted.

Friday night, after Matt and I took care of the yard work and finishing up our bathroom remodel, we decided to have a bonfire in the cul-de-sac and let the boys have s’mores before dinner. Might’ve been our best decision all weekend.

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Saturday: early breakfast at The Shack (I’m obsessed with their berry granola pancake), a long walk on Grant’s Trail,

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and took some time to hang out at Grant’s Farm.

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It was just so much fun for Matt and me to focus on these 2. And even better, by far, was how they got along with each other. I’ve loooong known that just removing any one of them from the mix for a while totally changes the dynamic, but it’s such a pleasant surprise to see these two getting along.

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By Sunday afternoon we couldn’t wait to have Luke back! He was, of course, exhausted, but full of fun stories. Growing up Catholic, I didn’t have these kinds of experiences, so I’m excited for him that he got to experience something like this with his youth group!

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Things are totally (eyeroll) back to normal now, with B and JH resuming their roles as oil and water. Oh well. It was sure fun while it lasted.

Some Thoughts on Parenting a Middle Schooler, 3 Weeks In.

Clearly, as the title indicates, I so far have a lot of experience parenting a middle schooler.

For the sake of record-keeping, and my failing memory, I thought it might be good therapeutic to write these thoughts and feelings down.  Because though some stages move along quickly, and others d-r-a-g by painfully, time wipes away some of the day-to-day type memories, right?

So here are my thoughts in a nutshell: I’m pretty sure I’m a much better baby/toddler/preschooler/early elementary mom than I am a late elementary/middle school mom. This really comes as no surprise to me, as my college major focused on early childhood development. I feel like I’m probably too snarky and sarcastic to be good at this at all. 

And let me say: it’s not like these new attitudes and behaviors and whatnot just came on when school started.  By mid-5th grade, there was some evidence of this tween Luke sneaking into our home. I can only describe it as such: sometimes, he seems like an exceedingly mature teenager, and he knocks my socks off with his insight and knowledge and responsibility. And sometimes, he’s like a giant toddler. And ya never know what you’re gonna get.

I DO understand that this is a major time of growth/exploration/changing about who one is, and that there is a ton of science that indicates major brain function changes (like, parts of the brain literally don’t work like they used to while other grow and stuff – obviously, I’m majorly oversimplifying it, but you get the point). I don’t think Luke is abnormal.  I just think I’m not used to this, and we – both Matt and I – need to get there.

Case in point: last weekend, one of us *might* have jokingly/not jokingly asked the other if it was possible that Luke had gotten a concussion we didn’t about. So you know, we’re handling this well. And by well, I mean we’re having a drink after the kids’ bedtime.

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In other news: though Luke isn’t exceptionally organized in general, he’s so far (as I can tell) been successful at keeping his school work straight.  This was a major concern of mine, so I’m really happy that this is going well!

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Next, beginning band. Oh, beginning band.

Luke is doing a great job as he’s learning to play the trombone. From what I can ascertain, it’s a pretty hard instrument to learn (I played the flute, so I don’t know anything about this, really), and he’s taking his responsibility to practice at home seriously. He has an excellent band director who is making learning fun. I’m being supportive, and congratulating him when I recognize pieces he’s practicing.

But let’s talk about that practice. It’s 100 minutes a week, guys. ONE HUNDRED MINUTES. Bless. That’s a lot of beginning trombone practice every week. And yes, he’s only going to improve if he practices. It’s just…

…I’m pretty sure there aren’t trombones in heaven. Or at least, there aren’t trombones playing “Let’s Go Band” and “Hot Cross Buns.” It’s just a hunch, so don’t quote me on that. 

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Lastly, to middle school teachers and pastors the world over: I love you guys. I mean it. I don’t know what on Earth would possess you to choose to spend your time and career this way, but THANK YOU. Thank you for coming alongside us and wanting to help my child grow and figure things out. I have so much to learn from all of you. 

So Clean.

The first week of the kids being back in school consisted of me running errands, meeting people for lunch, and just generally skipping and floating through life because, hello, freedom.

Now with the second week here, I’ve settled into a routine of volunteering at the school, working out, actually preparing food ahead of time for my family to eat, and starting on all of the things that have accumulated over the last few months that I haven’t been able to tackle.

One of those was deep cleaning the bathrooms, and I decided that today was the day. The boys had kept up all summer with their weekly cleanings, so it’s not like they’ve gone uncleaned for months, but I knew it was time for me to do it.

Let me just sum it up like this:

1. I didn’t know how bad a housekeeper I really am until today.

2. Toilets have so, so many tiny gross places on them, and I’d really never cleaned one that well, apparently. What prompted this crazy cleaning is my super-sensitive sense of smell, so, you know, gag.

3. I’d like to issue a blanket apology to anyone who has used the bathroom at our house the last, oh, say four years aka the whole time we’ve lived here. Because I guess our bathrooms really haven’t been that clean this whole time.

In the boys’ bathroom I realized that the shower curtain was due for a washing (extremely close proximity to the toilet), and in keeping with my previous low standards, as I rehung it, I asked the boys to please just do their best not to pee on the shower curtain. My comment was met with mostly-blank stares and some nods, like they didn’t have a clue what I was asking them to do. So we’ll see how that goes in the future.

Even though it was gross, I was surprised at how much today wasn’t horrible, even though I cleaned all day long…turns out being uninterrupted, with loud, favorite music playing, makes even the worst jobs tolerable.

Bennett, age 9 1/2

I’m very careful about what I write these days. (also, you might be thinking, “Nicole, you never write anything these days.” Fair enough.)  I have to be; the boys are getting older, and I would never write about something that would be embarrassing to them. So I’m wording this carefully, but as this blog is our scrapbook and this has become a huge part of Bennett’s life, I decided to record this.

this picture cracks me up...it was him, posing like a senior picture (he's seen them on the walls of his grandparents' houses)!

this picture cracks me up…it was his idea, posing like a senior picture (he’s seen them on the walls of his grandparents’ houses)!

By the end of last school year, I know I mentioned on the blog that Bennett had started getting in just a little bit of trouble at school.  Totally, totally minor…really, it was just him making some bad choices in the presence of certain friends. And it was right at the end of the year, so we discussed it some early in the summer.  Like how he might need to make some new friends, or really be aware of the choices he makes when around others, or else he may find himself in trouble.

Over the summer he also developed a bit of a negative attitude toward school.  This is a first for any of my kids, really, and it was unexpected. However, it boiled down to this: he just wants to be a baseball player.

So really, in his mind, he doesn’t need to be that educated. Like, he even came up with this gem this summer, completely on his own: “I want to go to a college that has a great baseball team and is just like, ok at academics. So it’s not too hard, and I can mostly focus on playing ball.”

Ohmygosh. Stop it. You’re nine.

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love that grin.

We talked a few different times over the summer about school. How important it is. How to choose (and behave around) friends. Of course, I tried to figure out what was causing this issue, and nothing bad happened to the best of my knowledge. What I do know is that Bennett is bright, a good student, much more confident in his math skills than reading (though he reads above grade level, he isn’t very sure of himself), and a middle child.

Yep, I think him being a middle is playing into this, too. He’s only 2 years behind Luke, so most teachers know him or have taught him by the time B gets them. And Luke is the kind of kid who volunteers for a lot of stuff, and he’s easygoing, and everyone in the school knew him, etc. Luke’s far from perfect, but you get the point…Bennett is second, and he’s a totally different kind of kid.

Then there’s Jack Henry, whose reading level is crazy-high for his age (which slays me, because as a toddler, I thought he was going to have some delays), and couple that with Bennett’s lack of confidence in his reading and comprehension skills, and you’ve got B feeling that middle-child pinch.

I made the following points, as lightheartedly as possible, but in a way that I hope got my point across:

1. If you want to be a pro baseball player, you first need to be a high school baseball player, then a college baseball player (I know that kids get drafted without playing college ball, and so does B, but he knows it’s rare), and then the draft/minors/MLB.

2. If you have to, view 4th grade as a step towards achieving your first big goal: high school baseball player. (This makes me roll my eyes, but I was grasping at straws to engage this child.)

3. My main point: no coach, at any point in this timeline, wants a dumb athlete. They want you to be able to critically think through plays. Plus, there’s the whole staying-eligible-to-play-based-on-your-grades thing.

Before school started, I got a chance to meet B’s teacher, who is new to our elementary school (ie hasn’t taught Luke) but isn’t a new teacher (and she has twin 7th grade boys!). I mentioned to her that Bennett’s attitude toward school had soured just a bit, and that he really wanted to be an athlete. Her immediate comment was, “Well, he will need to be able to read his contract, right?” I think this is going to be a good match. :)

School started 3 days ago, and Bennett has come home every day smiling and saying that things have been going well. So we’re off to a good start.

Only 175 days+/- to go.

Serious Question

I’ve come to the realization that are 2 kinds of people in this world: those who love the Robert Munsch book Love You Forever and those who hate it.

Friends, I must know which side you’re on. But you can be anonymous about it and just answer here:

Thanks for answering this super-important question. ;)

In case you’re wondering what made me think of this, it was this episode of Friends:

Life Skills 101

“So, Mom, did you know that there was like a TOTAL CASCADING WATERFALL OF MILK off the counter this morning? Right here. My sock got some on it, but I still wore it all day.”

This was a conversation I had with Bennett this evening while he was working on making dinner for himself and his brothers. It came up because as he was making grilled pj&j, he dropped glob of jelly on his sock, and I told him to just take it off since it was almost time to shower anyway.

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And actually, I did not know about the milk waterfall. I was upstairs getting ready for the day, and B and Luke were eating breakfast together (Matt and Jack Henry were already on their way to baseball).

They’d done a pretty good job of cleaning it up, but you know, didn’t do it in a way that would truly pass Mom-inspection. So, I pulled out my newest trick: telling him I was going to teach him a Life Skill, instead of correcting what wasn’t done right.

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“Life Skill” has become a frequently-used phrase around here this summer. A couple of months ago, I realized that there are SO MANY THINGS – all the things – that a kid needs to know and know how to do. It’s not like you can just put them in a book and have them read it. It’s things that pop up in day-to-day life that make you think, “hey, a kid needs to know this.” Maybe I should make a list.

Like being able to take a few bucks into a Quik Trip and buy a bag of ice (don’t worry, I sent 2 of them in together). Or how to do a load of laundry start to finish, or use the dishwasher. Or how to go up to a concession stand with your water bottle and politely ask for a refill, and say thank you when they give it back to you. Or how to order in a restaurant, giving the waitress your attention.

Or, figuring out how to put the dishes away that you can’t reach.

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So this evening, instead of correcting the cleanup that was done in the morning, I said, “Hey, buddy, I’ve got a Life Skill to teach you. Remember that little ant problem we’ve had in the kitchen? Well, ants like leftover food that’s on the floor. And if you don’t wipe up a spill like milk with a wet paper towel, they’ll find it.”

Easy peasy. Doesn’t sound judgmental. Problem solved.

WHY IN THE WORLD DID I NOT THINK OF THIS APPROACH BEFORE NOW?

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My favorite Life Skill teaching happened this morning though. Bennett, Luke and I were in the van on the way to Jack Henry’s last baseball game of the summer season. I had a bracelet I couldn’t put on myself, so I reached my arm behind me and told B what to do, then said, “You know, this a good skill for you to have when you’re older. Your girlfriend or wife might sometime need help with this.”

Bennett’s immediate response: “Well, the bracelet is on, but this is one skill I’m not going to need. Because I’m going to be single, and be a baseball player, and live with my dog.”

This has literally been his mantra all summer long. About not getting married, having his buddy Connor as a roommate since they’ll both be professional baseball players, and having a dog. (I’m all: “Life Skill: someone needs to take care of your dog while you’re on the road all the time with the MLB, cowboy. Maybe a wife would be a good idea. Also? I want grandchildren.”)

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So, help me out. What are some other things my boys need to know how to do on their own?

What 12 in ’12 Taught Us

2 years ago, in 2012, I pre-planned one date a month for Matt and me…it ended up being 11 dates in 2012 due to kid sickness, but oh well. All of the details and the dates were chronicled on the blog, and you can read about them here (also, in perfect me form, I did not blog the last date of the year, which was a fun overnight for New Year’s Eve, but whatever).

We LOVED it. It seemed weird to start 2013 without a plan in place for date nights. However, we realized that it refocused our attention to something we already knew, but had kind of shelved: we need to make time for each other.

Frankly, I didn’t think we were doing poorly at making time for dates pre-12 in ’12…and probably, compared to most American marriages, we weren’t. But that isn’t the standard we should be measuring ourselves by, really, is it?

Yes, it costs money. Just the babysitting, let alone the actual date, is expensive. I get it. But there are other things that get sacrificed to make this happen, and it’s worth it. And, a couple of times a year, we swap babysitting nights with my brother and his wife, which makes everyone happy: it’s free, there’s time with cousins, everyone wins. Also, we have some fantastic babysitters, and I love that the boys get excited to hear they’re coming over. It’s good for them, too.

We don’t get out monthly anymore, but we do get a sitter and go out for dinner, or meet friends out, when we can. Trying new restaurants is one of our favorites, so we do that whenever possible…which is slightly overwhelming in a city filled with amazing food where we already have so many favorite places to eat!

Several weeks ago, Matt took a half day on a Monday and let me sleep in while he got the boys ready and off to school (this is like winning the lottery to me). I slept late, he came with me to volunteer in Jack Henry’s classroom like I did every Monday (surprised JH, who loved it!), and we went out to brunch.

{Speaking of that: always a good idea to check if the place you’re wanting to have brunch is open on the day you’re going. Because for the record, Half and Half, the place I’d been dreaming of having breakfast since our cancelled Valentine’s breakfast date, is closed on Mondays. However, the cancelled V-Day date was to be on a Monday morning, too, so I would’ve been disappointed 2 months ago, too.

BUT: that place being closed led to an amazing breakfast at another place down the street from Half and Half that I’d never been, City Coffeehouse and Creperie. I ate so much that it was my only meal of the day…by late evening, I was hungry and had a small snack, but it was that good. And that worth the calories.}

I digress. I could talk about good food all the livelong day, and this was a place we ate weeks ago.

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We are in the thick of summer craziness right now…kid baseball nearly every night, and I’m not exaggerating. Getting a night at home is extremely rare, and when it happens, there’s SO much to do, and so many hours of sleep to catch up on, that a date night is not top priority. This isn’t a pity party; we signed up for this and for the most part, I love it. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t craving a quiet dinner with wine, at a table, with a server who isn’t in a t-shirt, since dinner recently is either some kind of sandwich I’ve made and brought with us or a pretzel with cheese at the ball diamonds.

So, we WILL celebrate Matt’s 39th birthday (which was yesterday) one of these days. It may be mid-July, but that’s okay, because then it can be my birthday celebration, too. :) And in the off-season, we’ll need some sitters. Regularly.