On experiencing moments instead of just recording them…

Yesterday’s birthday celebration went swimmingly — Mitzi enjoyed the presents we gave her, was thrilled to get so many cards and phone calls from loved ones, and seemed to really love the cake I made for her. I took this picture just after I finished, in case someone spilled it on the floor or something:

Purse Cake

I carried it into the kitchen as we sang the birthday song, and as soon as I put it in front of her I reached for my camera. FAIL. The battery was dead. So I snapped a few ones with my phone, but none came out well, because I’m rather a doofus when it comes to taking pictures with my phone. I lamented on Facebook (where else?) and a friend reminded me that we survived our childhoods without every moment being captured in pictures. And, of course, she is absolutely right.

Not long ago there was a piece on the Huffington Post by a mom about how she started getting herself into the pictures with her children. The blog post garnered a lot of readers, unsurprisingly, since, I think, most moms find themselves mostly taking pictures of their kids and are usually not in any pictures themselves.

This is also true of me — while searching for a baby picture of Mitzi to share yesterday, I started slogging through a lot of old photos. Many are filed in a huge document, where they’d been transferred to from a now-defunct web site where I’d shared them with family. I do not have any other copies — I’ve been through two hard drive crashes and had not backed up either time. (I finally got an external hard drive, yes, slow learner that I am.) Because the individual photos are not labeled, it took me forever to find the one I wanted, so last night I sat down to start transferring everything into iPhoto so I wouldn’t have to repeat my suffering in a few weeks when Cooper has his birthday.

And I realized that I am in virtually none of the pictures. So maybe that’s something I’ll start trying in the future, so my kids don’t look back on their childhood and say, “Um, Mom? Where were you all this time?”

But the other thing I’d like to do is remember that not every moment needs a picture. I mean, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Don’t just step in front of the camera, put it down entirely. Participate in the moment, which will never happen again. If you look at your life, at your beloved, at your children, at the world around you entirely through the lens or via the flat screen of your smart phone, you lose the chance to actually experience what’s happening. You might get a picture of the unexpected hug between two formerly bickering siblings, and it will be cute and everyone in your social media world will say so, but from behind a camera you are not engaged in that moment, not truly.

So put the camera down. Watch the small miracles unfurl in front of you, let them fill you up so much that it spills over to those around you. Live the experience instead of cataloguing it.

And the memory that remains will be more permanent than a digital rendering. I guarantee.

Happy Birthday to my oldest baby!

It’s about 10 degrees outside, the perfect day to hunker down under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book. But I am not doing that. Because it’s a big day around here. (drum roll, please…)

birthday banner

Happy 11th Birthday, Mitzi!!!!

So, today, in between the work I’m doing, I’ve been baking a cake, wrapping presents, and crafting a special card for the birthday girl to let her know what her biggest gift of all will be (a bedroom makeover!).

It’s been a fast 11 years, and so much has happened. She’s survived hospital stays and chest surgery and a diabetes diagnosis. She’s grown enormously — both in size (she’s almost 5′ 3″) and in creativity and intelligence. And even though she’s entering that gnarly pre-teen years and can be downright moody and edgy sometimes, mostly she’s just my baby. Even her little-girl curls are coming back, though now her hair is more brown than blonde.

candles

So, back to it. Lots to do to prep for the afternoon celebration. I have a purse cake to make, gourmet chicken fingers to wrangle, and nineteen other things to do. All the while I’ll probably be reflecting on her baby time, the little girl time, maybe even squeeze in a few minutes to peruse a few old photos. It’s entirely possible that I’ll find time to shower.

It’s a cold day outside, but inside — well, the party is just getting started!

Cheers!

 

The no-food birthday treat conundrum — no pencils, please!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. February 2nd.

Oh, it’s also Cooper’s ninth birthday. And, yes, every year, we joke about making him stand outside to see his shadow and all of that. Did you have to ask?

So today is birthday prep. Ray is commissioned to do the shopping. I will be working on the birthday treasure hunt clues, cursing myself all the while for starting this tradition that, come to find out, is the highlight of each of my children’s birthdays.

I will also be agonizing over what to send to school tomorrow — the special birthday treat the Cooper will share with his friends.

Yes, I said “agonizing.” Figuring out what to do is awfully hard. We are not allowed to send in food or candy. Cooper is tired of giving and receiving pencils for every occasion (frankly, so am I — we have a giant Ziplock bag of the things, enough to get us through high school, and I’m running out of space.)

He also doesn’t want to be the kid who didn’t bring in anything for his friends on his special day. He’s nine. He wants to party with his friends, if only in a limited way, because he knows that, yet again, this year we don’t have extra funds to throw him a “real” party outside of school. And he hasn’t pouted or complained about it. He’s practical, understands the reality of our financial situation, accepts it when we repeat what we have for the past few birthdays: Maybe next year. Maybe next year.

His matter-of-fact attitude makes my guilt worse, and I fret.  I can’t give him a party with his friends — the least I can do is make his time at school with those friends something of a mini-celebration, his chance to be the birthday boy for a few minutes as his friends smile and laugh and sing, if only for a few minutes of the day?

The easiest thing, of course, would be to mix up a batch of brownies. But I can’t do that, because, as I’ve ranted about before, somebody has decided that the occasional birthday treat during the school day is what is causing our epidemic of childhood obesity. (No, it has nothing to do with the lack of daily gym classes or after-school free time for kid play. Don’t be silly. It’s the cupcakes.)

I’ll probably go to the party store, figure out what I can get for 27 children that is not edible, and, instead of spending a few bucks on a box of Betty Crocker, I’ll spend about thirty dollars getting each one a bouncy ball or something.

It’s funny how, when making that no-treats-in-school guideline, no one considered the added expense to parents of a no-cupcake/candy birthday treat. Is it because I live in a wealthy town, where money doesn’t always seem to be an issue for a lot of families?  Twenty-seven kids is a lot to buy goodie bags for, even if I spend a dollar on each.

On one hand, a 120-calorie brownie that the average 3rd grader will burn off in about ten minutes of recess play. On the other, a fistful of money. Clearly, taking away the brownie is the better choice.

Sure, I can send in nothing. Or he will have to make do with the loathesome pencils. Or what he thinks of as “babyish” stickers.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst pain to suffer. Like I said, Cooper’s pretty easygoing. Whatever happens, he’ll give that little lopsided smile, a small shrug, and move on. He’ll have his treasure hunt and cupcakes at home, just as kids used to do back in the time before birthdays became the mega-celebrations they are today. (Seriously, do you remember having a party with your friends EVERY year? Me neither.) About the birthday treat, well, he probably will get over it in thirty seconds. So will his friends. I know I’m making too much over this, and, having written this post, will now let it go, except to say one more thing:

I sure wish I could make the brownies.

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Come on. You know I couldn’t let the day end without posting a happy birthday shout-out to my oldest child, who turned 10 today!

*thud*

How is it possible that I have a ten year old?

Come to think of it, how is it possible that I have four kids? Sometimes when I think hard about this, I laugh uproariously, because oftentimes I consider myself too clueless to bear the weight of responsibly raising another human being.  See? You’re laughing too.

The fact that I have wonderful kids seems more to do with them, rather than me, no matter what anyone says. Because in true parent form, like so many others, I tend to dwell on my failures, rather than on my successes. My kids are thriving in spite of, not because of me, much like the way my generation survived our childhood without the benefits of outlet covers and stairway gating.

Today, though, I will enjoy the success, because look at my kid! Beautiful, smart, resilient, creative, on and on….not unflawed, not by any stretch, but overall pretty darned amazing.

Sometimes I look at her in awe. (But because she is preteen I do NOT let her see me looking at her like this. Well, maybe only a little.)

I think it was a fun day for her, and I hope she felt special. Even though it was a ton of work in a very short period of time (yes, another Mom would’ve done this all days ago), Mitzi and her siblings had a great half hour on her present treasure hunt after school. In short: she got an initial scroll with a rhymed clue that lead her to present number one, and another clue scroll, which lead her to present number two, and so on). The first time I did this she was five, and the “clues” were things like “look in the room where the big couch is, then look under it.”  This year I used very tricky language, metaphor, and vague references. Next year, algebra.

Gotta keep them on their toes.

But the best was dessert. Last year was her first as a diabetic. Then, she was on a strict regimen of carbs throughout the day — because of the way we administered insulin, she could only have so many per meal or snack. Therefore, her birthday treat had to be at bedtime, her final snack of the day. But it could only be so many carbs. Instead of frosting on cupcakes, we used Cool Whip. It was delicious and no one cared. Well, I was still grieving, and cared a little.

But this year was almost decadent. Because she is using the insulin pump, she can eat whatever she wants, whenever she wants (well, as long as her parents say it’s okay. I mean, we’re not talking about a revolving door kitchen here!). So we had cupcakes with full-out sugared Betty Crocker frosting, diabetes be damned! I have no idea if she even remembered last year or noted the difference, but it was just meant everything to me.

And now, the day is over, my baby is gone to bed to read for as long as she can get away with. Ten years old. Holy cow.

Happy birthday, baby.

8 years old!

Happy New Year!

We  had a lovely, whirlwind Christmas with my family in Connecticut and a quick trip to Long Island to spend time with Ray’s mom.  Although exhausting, getting together with everyone — including our 10 kids — was perhaps the best thing about the holiday.  The kids and I enjoyed a week off from school playing in the snow, trying out the new Wii from Grandpa, and ringing in the new year with neighbors.

Then yesterday, my oldest baby turned eight.  How can that be?  Mitzi and I cuddled in the early morning chill and watched some videos of her first days.  I was more enthralled with the quiet images than she, who was eager to get to her presents.  What can I say?  To relive those days is stunning.  Somehow in the other 364 days of the year I forget to remember what she used to be — the Not-There then There — a fat, red, just-under-9-pound bundle of sweetness that I couldn’t stop hugging.

Of course, I also recalled the labor and delivery.  Like the pregnancy, that was mostly easy and pain-free.  Except for the brief period of baby distress and Mommy oxygen during contracting, I was comfortable, thanks to the successful epidural (which left me numb from the waist down for many hours that long night).  I remember when the doctor told me to push.  I thought, “Huh?  How do I do that when I can’t feel anything?”  But I visualized and willed my body to do something.  The doctor was encouraging, so I kept it up, and out she came (with a little help from the head-sucking Hoover device).

Mitzi was a great baby, eating well, sleeping well, developing ahead of the curve.  It’s no wonder we were thrilled to expand our family sooner rather than later when just five months later we learned that Cooper was on his way.  And she has continued to thrive in like form, growing well into her big feet and nearing my height a little faster than I could ever imagined, easily wearing a pair of Michelle’s hand-me-down Sketchers, but also cultivating her excitement for science, crafts and horse riding.

So we are now, with this beautiful bundle of daughter, well into her own personality and life-vision.  As always, ahead of the curve, she seems to be testing the waters of pre-adolescent defiance and independence, while still craving to be cuddled, carried, and babied.  The moment-to-moment fluctuations between defiance and desire make my head spin, but when the vertigo ends and I breathe, I can marvel at her very existence.

Maybe that’s what birthdays are for, to slow us down so we can remember where we started and where we’ve been, to appreciate not only the current location but also the journey we’ve taken, with all its potholes and delays, to remind us to remember, every day, what a miracle each of us really is.

And maybe that’s why we have mothers who make us watch our birth videos every year — guardians of our past and protectors of our future.  Mothers delight in who we are, even before we knew it ourselves.

I doubt Mitzi has any idea about all of this — although with her precocious nature, I can’t help but wonder just what she understands — but I do know she had a great birthday, and loves, loves, loves being eight years old.

That’s enough for me.

A Very Good Day….

April 12 is a very good day….

Today, my Eloise is 4 years old.  My Joanna is 3 years old.  So far they don’t hate me for the fact they share a birthday.

Today is Easter Sunday, a day that is all about new hope, new beginnings, new faith in a new future.

Today is the wedding anniversary of my cousin Sue and her husband Jay.  What a great day to celebrate love!

Today we’re going to Aunt Bernice’s and Uncle Frank’s house.  The grownups will watch the kids hunt for eggs and eat way too much candy and make up games and fight over toys.  We will wear our most forgiving clothes so that we can overindulge in AB’s amazing cooking and the overabundance of baked goods sure to cover every available surface.  We will talk the stuff of grownup thoughts and admire our children and bask in our family.

The sun is bright though the air is cool and windy.  The girls are wearing heavy leggings instead of fancy white stockings under their Easter dresses.  No hats — I’d like to say it’s because of the wind, but I just didn’t get any this year.  As far as I know, there’s no parade.

So much to be grateful for on this day, a day when your heart swells so much with love and bliss that it is likely to explode and you have to also be a little grateful that it’s a day that comes once a year, because any more than that would be an unbearable joy.

Today is the day that you wish for whenever you’re not having that kind of day.

A very, very good day.

Birthday

Today is my birthday.  We all have the Halloween hangover, but I’m used to that emotion on my birthday day.  Growing up, my sister Michelle, with the October 31 birthday, got the trick or treating, I got the day after.  Imagine my shock when Ray had the same Halloween birthday.  Forever, this was my destiny.  The “day after” celebration.

I am used to it.  In fact, I’ve come to accept, even embrace, my reticent personality, and the birthday mood as a reflection of that.  The day after suits me, the low-key, hanging out , sleepy November afternoon sort of day.  Naps and books and quiet time.  That’s what I got today; that’s what I like.

There was merriment at dinner with Ray, the kids, Michelle and our good friend Dori, who I don’t visit with nearly enough (mostly due to my own laziness).  We had excellent grilled steak, good wine, lots of laughs and much indulgence by the Aunties of my kids.

I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I have blow me away in their generosity and love.  Enjoying their company, watching them enjoy the company of my little family, makes for just about as perfect a birthday as one could want.