The rocking chair

by kristas on May 4, 2014

“Can you move that chair down from Cole’s room into the guest room?” I asked Craig earlier in the day. It was the gliding rocking chair in which I had rocked both babies from their first night home until a few months ago when Cole decided he was too big to be rocked before bed. I sat many, many hours in the chair, my feet propped on the ottoman in front of me – sometimes singing songs, sometimes telling stories, sometimes nodding off, and sometimes mindlessly looking at my phone waiting for their tiny eyes to close.

I wasn’t all that sentimental about giving up the rocking chair in his room. There’s a far more comfortable glider in my office if, by chance, I need to comfort someone in the middle of the night. And, truth be told, I want the space in his room so I can rehome the toy tool bench that has taken up residence in my grown up living room. We never used the chair  in Cole’s room anymore and I wasn’t really sad to see it go.

And then tonight as I was running the bathwater, I looked at my youngest, his hair still damp from his swim before dinner. His eyes were closed and his chin was beginning to fall. Standing up next to the tub, he was seconds from falling asleep. I shut off the water and announced to Chessa that she just got a pass for bath night and quickly put Cole in his jammies. As I went to lay him in his bed, his arms reached out for me and so I held on and sank back into the rocking chair.

I held onto him far longer than it took for his eyes to close and his breath to become deep. I ran my hand down his back and across his toes, smiling into his shoulder knowing that this would likely be the last time I rocked him in that chair. Smiling knowing that my baby is all boy now. His legs curl to fit onto my lap now and his arm wraps around my neck. He runs full speed all day long, jumping from pretending to be Santa Claus (yes, still. I can’t even…) to Peter Pan to a Super Hero. He is one moment sweet and loving and the next mischievous and ornery as hell. The rocker will still move. Those days of rocking him to sleep may be long gone, but the little boy that laid his head in my arms then is as sweet as the toddler that tap dances on patience now.

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Dear Cole {Age 3}

by kristas on March 7, 2014

Dear Cole,

I woke up this morning thinking about you and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that today you turn three. THREE. I want to be all sentimental and sad about your birthday because age three is so much closer to BIG KID than age two. But the truth is you still love to snuggle and when you hug me you still toss your arm around my neck the same way you’ve done all your life.

But now I get those snuggles and then you run off to play. Step by step with your sister, you two are off building with Legos, playing with dollhouses and mid-evil castles, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard or sharing the swing set. You have moments, of course, of arguments and differences of opinion, the occasional shove or pulled hair and outbursts of tears that end with someone yelling, “I’m telling Mommy!”  But generally, you and your big sister are the best of friends.

 Cole with Lucky

Everyone warned me about the twos and said the twos with boys were nothing like the twos with girls. When Chessa was two, our challenges were trying to rationalize with her emotional state of mind. We had to convince her that she couldn’t steal things from her baby brother (you) and telling her “no” was equivalent to kicking puppies and punching Santa Claus right in the face. With you, though, the last year has been about trying to keep you from climbing onto high objects, laying across the dog’s head and running away.

Last spring, just after we moved into our new house, we were spending an afternoon playing outside with the neighbors. Four moms, one grandmother and twelve kids running around taking turns with toys, running in between the houses and squealing with laughter. At one point I scanned the kids and realized there was a one little blonde head missing – yours.  As panic started to rise from my stomach to my throat, I called your name. I looked into backyards and yelled some more. The older boys on rollerblades stopped playing to look around corners and help me find you. Eventually I thought to look inside and there you were – safely playing with some Legos.

12-DSC_1871

That’s you, my sweet boy. Always doing your own thing. Never worrying about what anyone thinks. Hell, for a solid three months you wore a Santa Claus outfit every.single.day.  When I asked what you wanted to be for Halloween, you answered with a convincing “Santa Claus!” I bought the outfit but also bought a superman costume convinced that you’d change your mind in the weeks before Halloween. But you didn’t. You were the cutest Santa Claus ever, proudly swapping “Ho.Ho.Ho” for “Trick or Treat” when our neighbors opened their doors to fill your orange pumpkin. And you continued to wear that outfit (and the next three) almost every waking hour well into January. You wore the costume outside to play, you wore it to restaurants (when we let you), you wore it to bed (some nights). With your Santa hat and an old pillowcase full of toys, you fully believed that you WERE Santa Claus.

Cole, you made this past Christmas one of the most amazing holidays seasons ever. With you it was all about the magic, the excitement, the fascination, and the wonderment. You never questioned how Santa Claus would get in the house, you just believed that he did.

I love that. I love your unquestioning faith in all things good in the world. I love your animation and the way you sing Christmas songs all year long at the top of your lungs. I love the way you charm everyone – from the checkout lady at Publix to your teachers at school – your dad and I are convinced that you’re going to be that kid that never gets into real trouble at school. Not because you’re angel, but because you have that face that teachers just don’t want to yell at.

 Cole as Santa

I love the way you run headfirst into this world without even thinking about holding anything back. I love the way you look out for your sister and the way you repeat everything she does. I love the way you try to follow in your daddy’s footsteps and that you can convince him that ice cream is a totally appropriate Saturday morning breakfast. And I love the way you wrap your arms around my neck and hug tight or the way you hold my face in your tiny palms and plant a big smooch on my lips.

I don’t know what three is going to be like for you, Cole. But I can’t wait to find out.

We love you, buddy.

 

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Dear Chessa {Age 4}

by kristas on October 3, 2013

Dear Chessa,

You have been waiting so long for this day. The day you would turn four and be the same age as Gracie and Emma. The day you would wake up and magically be able to tie your shoes, unbuckle the bottom part of your seatbelt and brush your own hair.

Four was (is) a big deal to you. At first I thought it was cute, this desire of yours to leave the three’s behind you. I teased you that I wouldn’t allow you to turn four or that you were going to have to stay three forever. But then one day, about a month ago, you cried because you so badly wanted to be four and you just weren’t yet. So I stopped teasing you.

 

It wasn’t about the birthday or the presents, you just wanted to be older, bigger. But, sweet girl. Three was a pretty good age. While you were three you learned to pedal a bike. While you were three you made new friends at school and in our neighborhood. Three brought you a new house and a puppy and countless trips to the beach. At age three you discovered your love of Doc McStuffins and motorized child-sized Jeeps and quads. You took five trips to Pennsylvania and rode on 17 different airplanes. You were daddy’s girl and then mommy’s girl and then daddy’s girl again. At three you started to play with your brother – not just fight over toys but actually play and imagine and create things together.

At three you were stubborn, funny, sweet and a wee bit irrational at times. You could throw a temper tantrum like a champ or run full speed into my legs and wrap me up in a hug. At three we saw a more cautious side of you than before. You stepped away from your fearlessness and became more careful about letting your guard down.

And while sometimes I want to encourage you to Go! Do! Play! I know you will do it at your own time, exactly when you are ready. And until then, your daddy and I will be here to hold you and guide you. I won’t wish for the time that you run away from me, with only a backwards glance, to go play with your friends. Instead I’ll smile and tell you that it’s OK to stay next to us a little while longer, to take your time finding your comfort zone and to go when you’re ready.

 

You’re a special kid, little one. You have the world at your fingertips and I can’t wait to share year number four with you.

We love you bunches.

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Bittersweet

by kristas on May 30, 2013

I purchased the tickets months ago. A week visiting friends and relatives back in Pennsylvania would be bookended by a wedding and a baby shower.

Instead, we lost my aunt two days before her daughter’s wedding. A nearly four year fight with cancer ended days before my cousin walked down the aisle in her cowboy boots at their family farm. The day my mom called me with the news was the first day in a long time that I couldn’t call Florida home. I was getting on a plane in less than 24 hours but still, for an entire day, I sat and waited. Sure, I packed, I sorted and folded laundry, I made sure we were ready, but I was here and everyone else was there.

The wedding was as hard as you can imagine and as perfect as it should have been. The bride found laughter through tears and memories in what was missing. Tributes were played, hugs were held a little tighter and tears shone in everyone’s eyes. The dance floor was taken over by the under 12 crowd as the kids piled in and shook their hips to the beat of the music. My kids – my timid girl and my headstrong boy – were among them. Chessa danced until we pulled her away and all the while Cole ran circles around the dance floor.

Later in the week, as we drove back to Craig’s parent’s house where we were staying I made an offhanded comment about being “home”. Craig quickly replied and reminded me that this town wasn’t our home anymore. And it’s not. Even though our kids played in our old backyard and even though I sat with the new owner of our old house in her (our) driveway, it’s not home.

But it is.

But it’s a place that holds a lot of memories. It’s a place that holds so many of the people who are near and dear to my heart, even if they’re a thousand miles away. It’s the place where my children were born, where they took their first steps and ate their first meals. It’s the place where Craig and I met, where we fell in love and where we joined our lives together.

As the week went by, we saw old friends and lots of relatives – weddings and funerals bring families together, yes? We shared stories, we laughed and we ate all of our central PA favorite things.

And then, at the end of the week, we said goodbye to my aunt – a strong woman who never had a bad word to say about anyone ….a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a sister, an aunt….  a person with a big and kind heart, who never said no, who worked hard, who cheered passionately and loved fiercely.

And then hours later we celebrated the upcoming arrival of my first nephew at my sister’s baby shower. Such is the circle of life, I suppose. The coming and the going, the here and the gone, the knowing that home is less about where you lay and your head and more about who you kiss goodnight.

The bitter and the sweet

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Jumping in

by kristas on May 16, 2013

Her toes curl over the edge of the brick. She hesitates for a minute, glances over to me and then makes eye contact with her instructor.

“Go ahead, Chessa!” Miss Nancy calls out. “You can do this.”

She takes a breath and swings her arms and jumps into the water.  Into the water, not into Miss Nancy’s arms. There are no floaties wrapped around arms. She goes full into the swimming pool and her head goes under the water.  Time stops for a second as I hold my breath, feeling feelings of fear and pride, shock and admiration all at once as I watch her kick and come up to the water’s surface. She takes a breath, gets to her back and floats.

Miss Nancy talks her through the next steps as she swims for the side of the pool and reaches out to grab on. And then we cheer.  And Chessa beams.

Less than two months ago we took the kids swimming with their friends and we forgot the trusty floaties. While her friends were jumping in and out of the pool, splashing and swimming, Chessa was holding onto us. A few times she tried to let go and follow in her friends’ footsteps, but each time, her head dipped under the water’s surface and she got scared.

We knew then that we had to get her, and Cole, into swimming lessons. But I expected her fearless brother to be the one jumping into the pool and swimming unassisted after a few weeks. Instead it’s Chessa while Cole is still not so sure he loves the water. (Or he’d just rather play with the toys and eat the lollipops rather than get in the pool and, you know, swim.)

My girl who is often times timid and a little reserved. My girl who holds tightly onto my hand in new situations, isn’t wild about going to play at her friends’ house unless Craig or I go with her. My girl who doesn’t typically throw herself off of furniture the way her brother does. She’s the one jumping into pool and learning how to swim.

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On leaning in

by kristas on April 22, 2013

It’s 10:00 at night and my eyes are dry and heavy. My shoulder twinges every time I move it the wrong way – which is every way, apparently. My mind is spinning but I can’t focus on any one particular thing I need to be working on.

The to-do list is out of control this week. I have deadlines on projects I’ve been procrastinating on, new fires to put out and new opportunities to stretch outside my current role. I want to take every assignment that crosses my desk and hit them out of the park – sometimes.

The kids started swimming lessons two times a week. My parents were here for a long weekend. Craig traveled. I have work travel to book, bills to pay, grocery lists to make, dinners to plan and laundry to fold.

I can’t watch the Today Show or scroll through Facebook without hearing about “Leaning In” or “leaning out.” All these news interview, blog post and pretty quotes about work-life balance, being present with your kids, growing a career – each one makes my head spin.

I read the advice that says to pay attention, step up and do more. I hear about finding balance, putting the phone away and ignoring email for a whole weekend. I read about career women with regret that weighs heavy on their shoulders and I see working moms struggle to get through the week, only to spend the weekend running from activity to errand to critical must do house project. I listen to seasoned professionals caution against trying to have it all and well-meaning experts remind us to take a little time for ourselves.

And still, my mind spins.

I can’t be the only person whose opinion on the elusive parenthood work/life balance changes with every article she reads? I can’t be the only person who isn’t sure if she wants to lean in, lean out or go play in traffic just to catch a break?  And I can’t shake the guilt I feel every time I read a new opinion.

I want to sit with a beer at the end of each day and think about the things I did right. Instead, my last thoughts are often about the things that went wrong. And with the added constant pressure to take initiative at work without sacrificing family time or carve out time to do something just for myself with the responsibilities that wife, mother, employee, daughter-in-law and every other title I wear brings, I end up feeling like I suck at all of it.

Chessa asked me last week why I have to work so much. “I don’t need any more toys, Momma,” she said as I tried to pry her off my leg on my way upstairs to work. “I have a lot of toys.”

At the same time, I look at the quality of work I’m producing and wonder if it’s good enough. The funny thing about writing is that it’s never really final. There’s always a word that could be better, punctuation that could be tweaked, entire paragraphs that could be stronger. I know this and I accept a bruised ego as an occupational hazard, but it still stings.

Nobody is getting enough of my time, my energy, or my passion.

But that’s life. Working is not a luxury. To quote a coworker, it’s not something I do for entertainment. I enjoy it (usually) and I’m good at it (so they say) (sometimes). But it’s not something I do for fun. Parenting is my greatest accomplishment, but it’s hard too. Not a day goes by that I don’t sigh inwardly (or outwardly) and count to a bazillion in my head.

And so, while I appreciate the sentiment and I love hearing stories of how others shaped their careers or faced tough decisions, I would be happy if I could just decide what exactly it is that I want to be when I grow up.

 

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Just another Sunday

by kristas on April 15, 2013

The air smells like barbeque and salt, musty and damp and at the same time fresh, a stale cigarette breaks through and is then gone. The sounds of the seagulls overhead combine with the waves crashing and the dull hum of conversations taking place all around us. The sky is littered with kites and parasails, Frisbees and footballs.

We make our way through the sand, careful not to step on beach towels, reminding the kids not to run or kick sand. Craig pulls the red plastic wagon, overflowing with blue and purple buckets, orange shovels as tall as the kid and a small cooler packed with drinks and snacks.

We find our spot and spread out. Cole grabs a shovel, Chessa takes off with her favorite heart bucket, Craig sits on a soft worn towel imprinted with his college alma mater and I collapse into a chair with the latest copy of Real Simple.

The quiet moment is just that, a moment. Chessa asks to go in the water now and Cole cries because his hands are too covered with sand to eat the pretzels.  Craig and I each take a kid and walk into the ocean bobbing with the waves, giggling when we get splashed and holding tight when the little ones begin to get nervous.

A little while later Chessa and I sit in the sand and have girl talk. I ask about her favorite things and learn that peanut butter and jelly is her favorite lunch, Circle Time is her favorite part of the school day, Daddy is best at taking her to bed and Cole is best at swinging with her. Cole and Craig come out of the water and Cole sits down beside Chessa.

“Cole!” she says. “What were you doing?!”

“I was jumping waves,” he says in a matter-of-fact manner I didn’t know two-year-olds could master.

“By yourself?” she prods.

“Umm… yeah!” he giggles.

Their banter makes me smile and I promise to commit the moment to memory; to remember their conversations in the sweet and childlike voices with simple questions and active imaginations.  I swear I will remember the way his hair curls from being damp and the sand that’s streaked across his face, her messy ponytail and the pile of sand she’s kicked while we’ve been chatting.

And just in case I can’t remember it, I take a picture.

 

The trip is short, an hour or two building sandcastles, looking for seashells and eating all the snacks and then we’re back in the car, taking way too much sand home with us, caught in our bathing suits and stuck to our skin.  We drive home and the trip across the intercostal takes my breath away. I smile, holding onto a hope that this – the quick trips, the brilliant blue water, the smiling and happy kids – will never feel as ordinary as it really is.

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the beat of my heart

by kristas on April 3, 2013

Three sets of hands are clapping in time with the song, playing through the car.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

From the backseat I hear Chessa’s hands smacking together and see Cole lift his arms high up over his head to clap them. Beside me, Craig takes his hands from the wheel and claps them too.  We’re driving home from a late dinner. The kind of dinner where we threw our order at the waitress the second she walked to our table, begged her for a beer and really fast service.

Our pizzas didn’t take long to come to our table, but it also didn’t take long for dinner to be over.  We were all tired, the kids were fighting colds and I was a wee bit grumpy.  I definitely wasn’t happy and knowing it.

“Clap your hands,” Craig commands me.

I laugh at the goofiness and the irony. But on the next round, I play along and pat my knees.

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Days later, it’s a dreaded bath night, and Craig has a late game. Cole was still fighting a cold that had led to an upset stomach so I got him in and out of the bathtub quickly, leaving Chessa to play while I dressed him.

As I diapered his bottom and pulled the shirt of his pajamas over his head, she yelled out to me. “Mommy, I’m going to do it myself OK?”  I called back from the hallway asking her to hold on a minute and that I’d be right there.

But when I looked up, I found her, head wet and reaching for the shampoo. “Just talk me through it, OK?” she asked.

So I talked her through rubbing the shampoo into her scalp and down to the end of her hair, using a washcloth to get the dirt of off her face and making sure to use soap on her dirty feet. She insisted on doing it all herself, down to wrapping herself with the towel and combing her own clean and wet hair.

I watched her as I listened to music filling the bathroom from my iPhone and mindlessly tapped my toes to the beat. As I watched her try to comb the hard to reach back of her head, I noticed her foot tapping along too.  And so I started to shake my hips and in the mirror, I saw her hips shake. I grabbed her hands and together we “danced” to bad country songs, me singing along with the song, Chessa singing half of a word behind, both of us laughing.

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We are on our way to school and Chessa asks for “her” music. I flip the button and out plays kids music – I’m a Little Teapot; Wheels on the Bus; Where is Thumbkin and Down By the Station are all fan favorites in my car. I listen to the two voices from the back sing along.

I don’t know if I’ll always remember the pitch of their songs or the way they mix up the words. I don’t know if I’ll remember grinning as I hear them sing or the chaos of the morning routine. I don’t know if I’ll remember that nearly a month after his birthday, Cole still thinks the Happy Birthday song is for him and that Chessa always asks if they can finish listening to whatever song is playing before jumping out of the car.

But these are the sweet moments lately. The kind of moments that make me smile and make me look a little bit differently at these little people buckled into car seats, snuggled into pajamas, or wearing headphones that are two sizes too big. When everything else feels flat, repetitive or like it’s just trying too hard, hearing these songs, seeing these kids sing and dance and laugh is the spark that I need to just keep swimming.

 

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Cole: Two Year Letter

by kristas on March 12, 2013

Dear Cole,

Five minutes ago you ran into my “office” and reached up to me. “I need a hug,” you said.

I pulled you into my lap, even though I try to discourage you from coming upstairs while I’m working because, really? Who can say no to a beautiful blond, blue-eyed boy?

Last week we celebrated your second birthday. We laughed and we sang you happy birthday about 437 times.  On the 436th, you finally understood that we were singing to you. And then you dove headfirst into your cake.

 

At two, you are spunky and spirited and downright stubborn sometimes. And other times you are sweet and snuggly and so very gentle.

At two, you are rough and tumble – chasing after Chessa and the neighborhood children. Other times, you are shy and quiet, sucking your thumb while you size someone up from the safety of my arms, deciding if you’ll spend the next 15 minutes talking their ear off.  Most of the time, you do.

At two, you are smart and creative, and you love all things Frosty the Snowman. You insist we draw them on the children’s menu anytime we eat in a restaurant; you attempt to build Frosty out of sand, mulch or marshmallows; and you sing Frosty at the top of your lungs anytime you’re given the opportunity.  In the car? You sing Frosty. At dinner? You sing Frosty. At birthday parties, in restaurants, riding through the neighborhood in your little red wagon? You sing Frosty.

Cole – it’s March. And we live in Florida. Someday, when you can form longer sentences and everything – I’m really going to need you to explain to me this love of Frosty.

Oh buddy. It’s so hard for me to believe that you are already two. It seems like yesterday you were itty bitty and I was wondering if you were, perhaps, a little too serious of a baby. You may have been a relatively laid back, hard to excite infant, but as a boy you are not. You are loud and excited. You are happy and fun. You are covered in dirt and demanding a lollipop, while running in circles through the house.

I still don’t know who you’ll be when you grow up. I don’t know if you’ll shine on the soccer field or on a stage, if you’ll get straight A’s without having to study or if you’ll have to work hard for B’s. I don’t know if Chessa will always be your best friend or if you’ll fight as much over the car when you’re both teenagers as you do over Legos right now.

I just know that right now you light up a room. You bring a smile to the faces of your family, our friends and random strangers in the grocery store. You melt hearts when you ask for a hug and I can’t decide if my favorite part of the day is rocking you for five minutes at night or seeing your face moments after you open your eyes in the morning.

I just know that you are so very… you. And your daddy and I love every bit of you.

 

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Home.

by kristas on March 5, 2013

I stand in a kitchen cluttered with boxes, stray dishes and packing paper.  Several boxes are opened, more are still taped shut. Cabinet doors are flung wide, chairs are shoved around and a step stool sits in the middle of everything because I’m too short to reach nearly half of the shelves.  I move plates from one location to another, thinking about the most logical place to keep them. I look for smart storage solutions and realize the house we love, the kitchen I love, has only four drawers, none of them next to one another and I’m so very confused about whether the silverware should be in the far left corner of the kithen or the opposite right corner.

I think about giving up on unpacking. I sigh and wander around the house and the garage again looking for the box marked “wine glasses”. And then I hear a giggle from outside. And then another. And then little girl squeals as the door swings wide open and Chessa runs in with the girls across the street on her heels. As she runs through the house she yells, “I want to show them my new room, Momma!”  Cole trails behind them, trying to keep up but decides to stop for a kiss and a pack of fruit candies.

The wine glasses don’t seem like quite as much of a necessity now and I smile thinking about how lucky we are that a house with a layout and a backyard that we loved, happened to be in a great neighborhood where kids play in the street and run in and out of each other’s houses.

Days later the furniture is (mostly) in it’s place.  The wine glasses have been located. The boxes have been unpacked, broken down and taken to recycling.  The apartment keys are in a pile on the counter, ready for a trip across town to return them.  We still have pictures to get on the walls, we need a rug here, an accent chair there, a new comforter and some odds and ends.

But, we’re home.

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