Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day: Family ties

My first little baby, Abigail Grace, was born at the end of my first year of graduate school. I was so busy working on my thesis, teaching, and taking my own classes that I didn't even think about doing any research or reading on motherhood. It just seemed like something that would come naturally--right?

After nine years as a mother, I have learned so much about how to mother effectively, but I've also learned that some things make me feel like I've had a good mothering day and some things make me feel like I've completely wasted my day. I've learned that I have to consciously plan and research and prioritize my choices as a mother, just as I did as a graduate student and just as I do at work.

I've written about this before, but the most transcendent thing for me has been realizing that I need to deliberately create situations that allow us to strengthen our bonds as a family and our love for each other. Somehow I just sort of thought that these kinds of moments would happen on their own, and that contriving them was cheating. And now I realize that sometimes the magic strikes without warning, but more often than not, I have to really work hard to get us out of our normal chaos and busyness and responsibilities so that we can focus on each other--and it is SO imperative to do so!!

For me, the best way to make this happen is to leave our house behind and go outside. I always joke that I feel like an amazing mom when we're out in the woods together, but it's true! Leaving all of our responsibilities behind--the homework, the piano practice, the laundry, the dishes--allows us to just be together and focus on finding the perfect walking stick. We're able to shed our personas and roles and just be together.

Every season I spend some serious time planning our family activities to really try to knit together this group of mine--I usually start a couple of months before the seasons change and sketch out a tentative list and then during Family Home Evening we make a list as a family.

A few weeks ago around Nathan's birthday we started on our spring list--we went camping as a family. We picked the girls up from school and headed south to a state park which we had yet to explore--it was a perfect evening for camping and we had a delightful dinner around the campfire before we started roaming through the woods near our campsite. When we came back, we ate the Dutch oven cherry cobbler that Neil had made for Nathan's birthday. The kids started roasting marshmallows for s'mores (except for Jules, who wasn't feeling well and crawled into her sleeping bag with a book--she was such a trooper and insisted that we still go adventuring when we told her we could reschedule!). We sat around the fire laughing and talking together until about 10 pm, when all the kids insisted on going to sleep. The biggies fell asleep right away and Neil and I sat around the fire for another couple of hours talking about our hopes and dreams.

When we went to bed, Lukey woke up and decided he would be more comfortable inside my sleeping bag with me. The two of us had just reached an agreement regarding who would get the majority of my pillow (Luke!) and fallen asleep again when Natie woke up and made his displeasure clear in no uncertain terms! He was SO loud and so angry!! All of the other kids woke up and were so good-humored about Nathan's wailing (Jules and I went on an expedition to a nearby outhouse and were reassured by all of the snoring we passed on the way that our fellow campers were happily sleeping through Nathan's caterwauling). We ended up passing around a box of fruit snacks, chuckling as Isaac made a "disco party" with his flashlight, and Natie finally fell asleep again.

In the morning we had the obligatory hot chocolate, pancakes, sausage, and eggs that make any camping trip that much more delightful. The kids washed the dishes while Neil and I started packing up, and then everybody worked together to roll up sleeping bags and fold up the tent. It warmed my heart to see how cheerful and willing to contribute all of the children were, especially when Abigail bounded over and said, "Dad! How can I help?!"

We set off for one of the most delightful and challenging hikes I have ever been on. Sadly, no photos, since I still haven't replaced my camera (the lens jammed and neither Neil nor I have been able to fix it, even with all of the YouTube tutorials out there!) and I didn't want to bring my iPad on the hike. Turns out this was a good move, since we were hiking up a narrow, rocky streambed that necessitated straddling the stream and moving our feet along the sheer rock walls on each side! It was strenuous and quite difficult but immensely fun and incredibly beautiful. As always, the trickier the footing, the more interesting the hike is to our children--at one point we emerged from the watercourse into a beautiful forest and everyone was instantly bored/hot/too tired to walk until we hit the next bend in the stream and its tumbled rocks, at which point all our little gazelles took off again!

Highlights: we found a 5-foot-long black snake, we crossed a beautiful suspension bridge, we found lots of beautiful shells, and we got to clamber down a series of ladders bypassing a waterfall. Absolutely beautiful and we had an amazing time together as a family.

Yesterday we went on a trip that has been soooo long in the planning since it required a lot of coordination--we took the girls to spend a day at the Kings Island amusement park! The boys had a wonderful time here with a babysitter and we had an amazing time just focusing on our two girls. It was SO great to have time where we were able to do "big kid" things and really zero in on those oldest two of ours. It was the most wonderful day--just enough rain to really keep the crowds down (I think our longest wait was 15 minutes for any ride, which is CRAZY!), breezy and beautiful and cool, and the girls were so happy and cooperative and appreciative. Abigail stopped at one point and said, "Mom and Dad, thank you so much--I know you had to do a lot of planning and that this was really expensive, and I just want to tell you that this is the best day of my life." Can you say heart-warming?
Highlights from the day:
  • Juliet's insistence that we go on a specific water ride, and then asking just after we had embarked, "Um, Mommy...what does "drenched" mean?"
  • One of the kids' favorite bands came on over the park loudspeakers (Imagine Dragons!) and I started dancing and trying to get the girls to dance with me, and Juliet said, "Mom, it's not that I don't want to dance with you...I just don't want to look like a maniac."
  • Abigail is a total roller coaster fiend! She rode more than anyone else (thanks to the Parent Swap program & Jules deciding that she would rather not ride most of the coasters, so Neil & Abigail would ride one, and then Abigail & I would ride it again). Neil and I both started to feel like we were aging out of our roller coaster-enjoying years, but boy, Abigail had the time of her life!
  • Juliet found a few rides that she just adored and we did them over and over and over again--7 times for the flying-on-your-stomach one and 6 times for the bumper cars!
  • We bought the insanely overpriced blue ice cream just when all of us thought we were so nauseated that we couldn't keep going. It magically cured the nausea and gave us energy for the next eight hours! (Word to the wise: if you get motion sickness, do NOT go on the roller coaster where you lie down on your back and zoom around backwards upside down.)
  • Holding hands everywhere. I don't think I took very many steps all day without both of the girls holding my hands. I rarely get to do this with them anymore since my arms are always full of Nathan or Luke, and it was such a treat to have my little girls clinging to my hands while they hopped up and down with excitement.
  • Getting a chance to just focus on 100% pure fun & enjoyment of each other's company. I love getting the opportunity to all just be friends together instead of Mom & Dad &  to let the kids see us as people with our own interests and preferences (Abigail really enjoyed categorizing all of us into various groups depending on what kinds of rides we preferred).

    I just had the best time being with my girls and my darling husband. They are such fun personalities and I adore them so much. So much fun to talk with and so funny and witty and perceptive and fascinating. And it was so lovely to come back home to my boys, who were all tucked up snoozing in their beds, and wake Isaac up to go to the bathroom and have him sleepily say, "Oh Mommy, you are back! Did you have a wonderful time?" and then wake up the next day to my three little boys ready for cuddles and stories. I am the luckiest. 

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