Friday, December 31, 2010

Merry Christmas, here we come!

Like everyone else, I find it extremely hard to believe that 2010 is almost over. This time last year, I was relearning how to take care of an infant - this time with the added challenge of taking care of a toddler at the same time. Both the Squid and the Monkey have changed a lot in the past year. Mark and I have, too, but the change doesn't seem as dramatic when you're an adult. Since I haven't blogged in a couple weeks, I thought I'd wrap up the year by providing a quick rundown of our Christmas holidays.

The Monkey’s birthday: I know from personal experience that kids born in December get royally jipped this time of year. Not only do people inevitably try to call gifts combination birthday-Christmas gifts, but they’re also really busy with their own families. Mark thought I was nuts for scheduling a birthday party for a one-year-old (thought the same thing w/ her big sister’s party) but I think it’s important to celebrate a child’s milestones. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I had few birthday parties as a child. Having a Christmas Eve birthday will do that to a girl. On the plus side, I get to spend every birthday with family. But on the downside, I get to spend every birthday with family. Rather than completely skip out on celebrating the Monkey’s birthday, we just spread it out a bit. Since her birthday was on Thursday this year, we started celebrating her first birthday on Wednesday the 15th with Mexican food, margaritas (ok, so this was more of a celebration for mom and dad!) and key lime pie (which she LOVED, by the way). Her actual birthday party took place on Saturday. A few other babies came over and we had a great time watching them scoot around on the floor, play in the Squid’s tent and eye the dogs through the door. The cake didn’t look like what I expected, but it tasted amazing – the custard filling was fantastic! Another top score for the Tom Thumb at Coit and Campbell! As exciting as her birthday was, it was also bittersweet as she completely stopped nursing the night before her first birthday. I’ve written before that she had become less and less interested, but that night she flat out refused to nurse. It broke my heart in so many ways. I know it’s better if they wean themselves, but I wasn’t ready. I’m sure it’ll be the first of many disappointments, but hopefully the happy moments will outweigh the sad ones.

Visit with Santa: After several weeks of careful prepping on my part (including a trip to Santa's Village to see him arrive that first night), we all bundled up and headed across the street to meet and greet the man himself. I went and got in line w/ the Monkey about 20 minutes before his arrival, but that wasn't early enough, so we still spent more than an hour in line. The weather was warmer than in past years, though, so the wait wasn't bad. The Monkey, Squid and I wandered around the Village taking pictures while Mark held our place in line. When it was finally her turn, the Squid climbed into Santa's lap and gave him a great big grin. We got some really cute photos and she told him that she wanted a train and a track for Christmas! She had told me several times that she wanted a train and track, but I wasn’t certain that she'd say that to Santa. Until a few days beforehand, she was saying she wanted “big girl toys.” She was never able to tell me what a big girl toy was, but that’s what she wanted. Needless to say, it was both a relief and a holy-cow-guess-I’m-going-shopping-again moment when asked Santa for a choo-choo train and track.

The Monkey’s first visit with Santa Clause was less successful, but the photo is definitely one for the album! She screamed her heart out as soon as Mark plopped her down on his lap and I snapped a photo and had Mark grab her back up before Santa’s elf had a chance to snap the official ‘Santa’s Village’ shot. Thanks to the wonders of Photoshop- and an awesome colleague of mine – we still wound up with a single shot of the girls! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twas the night before Christmas

As a child, I remember arriving at my paternal grandparents house every year on Christmas day to find stacks and stacks of The Night Before Christmas books. My grandmother collected them, so she picked up copies during she and my granddaddy's travels and friends brought her copies from their own travels. As I got older, I remember scouring bookstores everywhere I went looking for an edition she didn't have to add to her collection. By the time she died on Dec. 17, 2003, she had close to 100 copies of the classic Christmas tale including versions in French and Spanish and a few other languages. They all have different artwork and slight variations on the text, but the message is the same.

When my dad and his two brothers came to me shortly after her death and asked if there was anything I wanted, I asked for a few pictures, but said that the only thing I really wanted was the Night Before Christmas collection. I'm not sure whether they gave me the entire collection because my birthday is Christmas Eve, because I was the first grandchild, or just because I asked, but shortly thereafter Dad arrived at my house with a huge gray plastic trunk with a burgundy top. The side read: Night Before Christmas collection.

My granddaddy had died exactly one week after grandmother - on Christmas Eve (my 25th birthday) - so to say I was still shell-shocked would be a bit of an understatement. I hadn't moved from the anger phase of the grieving process, so I did the only thing I could do. I put the trunk in the garage. And there is stayed, unopened, for seven years.

In the seven years since Dad delivered the trunk, I married my husband, buried two cats, added two dogs and another cat to our brood, and had two beautiful girls. The oldest is now 3 1/2; the youngest turned one on Dec. 16.

I'm not sure what changed inside me, but when we were getting the Christmas decorations out in early December and I saw the trunk, I grabbed it as well. I lugged the 60-70 lb. trunk off the shelf in the garage, though the kitchen and into the living room, where I'm embarrassed to say that I opened the trunk for the first time since it had been in my possession. I also announced a new family tradition. From here on out, we're going to read at least one of the books every night of December until Christmas Day. The best part is that we've actually done this.

Every night since then, Mark, the girls and I have snuggled up in the Squid's bed and read at least one of the books. The choice of the night varies in that we just pop open the lid and tell the Squid to grab one. So far, we've enjoyed the Cajun and Grandma Moses versions plus multiple takes on the original. Maybe tonight she'll pick a foreign language edition.

Surprisingly, the trunk contained more than the book collection. It also included a handful of stuffed animals that must have been my dad and uncle's childhood toys (need to send them pics to see if they want them) as well as my granddaddy's dress hat from when he served in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

Looking back, I wish I had opened the trunk sooner. I'm really not sure why I hadn't. I like to think that it wasn't because we don't have room or that we were worried that the dogs would drool on them, but that I was still going through the grieving process. Losing my grandparents within a week of each other was a truly unbearable experience for me. They weren't there to see me get married or meet their great-grandchildren. Though my grandmother's death was expected, my granddaddy's was not. The fact that it happened on my 25th birthday only made it that much harder.

I don't want to dwell in the past. The fact is that the trunk has been opened and my children now have the opportunity to learn a little something about two people who meant more to me than words can express. This is a good thing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The end is near

It happened. The Monkey flat-out refused to nurse this morning. I’ve known that the day was coming, but it still broke my heart. After nearly a year of experiencing that sweet bond that only a mother and her child can have, I know now that my days really are numbered. She nursed several other times later in the day, but the early morning shunning was a heart-breaker. I hate pulling out my pump on the weekend, but there was no other way I was going to get any relief this morning. My sweet baby opted for pancakes with homemade mixed berry syrup instead of spending 10 minutes snuggling with mommy.
The thing is that I’ve known this day would come. After she bit me and drew blood a few months ago, I joked that she was only going to get a year – if that. It was pretty much day-by-day for awhile. She has since sprouted 2 more teeth (for a total of 8) but we’ve found a nice equilibrium where I nurse her until she starts acting frantic/exhausted. At that point, I put her to bed, give her a sippy cup of water or juice, or grab a quick snack.
I’m not quite sure why I feel so conflicted. I recently started reducing the frequency of feedings (i.e. pumping sessions). And I was thrilled beyond belief when the Monkey slept through the night five nights in a row. I want my body back and have been looking longingly at the rest of my wardrobe – you know, the dresses and slim-fit shirts that are impractical when you may have to feed or pump every few hours.
But I still love the closeness and the one-on-one time nursing provides. And since I nursed her older sister for 18 months, part of me feels that the Monkey’s getting the short end of the stick yet again. She not only gets second-hand clothes, toys and bedding, but she also gets less – if any - routine alone time with mommy and daddy, and fewer months nursing. I realize (and have told many others) that every child is different and that you can’t treat kids the same, but this is one area where I really hoped I could give each of my girls the same thing. What I didn’t count on, though, was that the Monkey would come out weighing one and a half pounds more than her sister or that she’d have eight teeth by her first birthday! The Squid had less than that when I stopped nursing her at 18 months.
I know this isn’t the end of the world. I was able to nurse the Monkey several times throughout the day. And even if she had flat out refused again, I know that I don’t have to worry about her getting enough to eat. The girl is a mini-eating machine who happens to love and adore me. Deep inside, I know that her refusal to nurse is not a rejection of me – it’s a sign that she’s growing up and starting to assert her independence. Right now, though, it still feels like she rejected me.

Friday, December 03, 2010

True Beauty

My definition of beauty is as follows: Beauty is something experienced by all the senses; it is something to be shared with others; it is something you feel in the depths of your soul.

I grew up at the beach in Corpus Christi, Texas. From the age of 9 to when I moved to Dallas to attend SMU, I spent countless hours at the beach. We watched newborn sea turtles make their way to the water, I ran cross country races on the beach, we celebrated birthdays (my mom's 40th!) at the beach, and spent countless lazy afternoons doing nothing but collecting shells, building sand castles and playing in the water. (We also might have kicked a few jellyfish and fed Cheetos to sea gulls.) It was free entertainment when money was tight (which was always) and a place to take family when they came to visit. As I grew older, the beach became my refuge, a place I would go late at night to ponder my place in the world. I'd drive out, sometimes after midnight, with Caesar, our Doberman, and just sit in the car and watch the waves. Everything about the beach made me feel at home and at peace with myself. I loved feeling the sand between  my toes, the wind in my hair and against my face, the smell of the saltwater and grass-covered dunes; it all spoke to me at a level beyond comprehension. I didn't realize how much I loved the beach until I moved to Dallas and was forced to live w/o it. White Rock Lake is great, but it's not the same.

In late August, I had a chance to return to my beloved beach. My father-in-law needed help closing up his vacation home in Port Isabel, Texas, so my husband and I packed up the girls and headed south --- as far south as you can go in Texas w/o hitting Mexico. I snapped the pictures our first day on the beach. They're of my father-in-law, husband and our two girls walking hand-in-hand down a stretch of sand on South Padre Island. It happened so fast. I had been sitting along the water's edge, sticking my toes in the sand, soaking up the precious rays and inhaling the salty air when I glanced over and saw them. My husband was walking down the beach with our then 8-month-old daughter on his shoulders while his father walked along next to him, holding hands with our 3-year-old daughter- who spent the entire weekend calling Papa Bill her "best friend". The scene took my breath away. I managed to snap a picture, but the real picture remains in my head as a moment in time that I'll cherish forever. It felt a lot like the scene in Field of Dreams when Ray's dad asks him whether this is heaven and Ray (played by Kevin Costner) looks around at his farm/baseball field, sees his family laughing on the porch of his farm house, and says "yes." To me, that moment on the beach represented heaven and was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen or experienced.

(This entry was prompted by the final assignment for a graduate class on beauty. This was the assignment: prepare a 5-minute presentation about something you find beautiful.)