Back to the Beach

Dear Love Bug,

Here we are, back in our beloved Chincoteague. This year may not be as beachy as years past; the weather looks just ok. But we’ll make do and we’ll still have fun. 

In the late afternoon, after unpacking at Misty Moon, we drove out to Assateague to make sure it was still there. Just kidding (but some years we worry). It’s there, and other than the addition of a bike lane along the road across the island, it’s more or less unchanged. We parked as far to the left as we could, kicked off our flip flops, and ran across the sand toward the water. It was incredibly windy and pretty chilly, so we zipped you into a hoodie. 

After launching a kite–it was great kite weather!–in which you immediately lost interest and retrieving a shovel to ward off a meltdown, you got to work digging, which is your favorite beach pastime. But when you’d had enough of that, you ran toward the water’s edge and absolutely squealed with glee at getting your feet wet. You were jumping and twirling, running up toward the drier sand and then back toward the waves. You’ve found your happy place. 

The next thing we knew, the water–all 65 degrees of it–had lapped your front up to your belly button, and you’d managed to sit down in it as it creeped up the shore from the breakers. I consciously quelled the OCD rising up inside of me and told myself it was fine. 

I continued to do so as you hauled your fully wet self up into the powdery sand beyond the reach of the water and rolled around in it. You became a sandy burrito. A very, very happy sandy burrito. 

It was hard to haul you away from there, but we did. And we stripped you down and let you air dry in the gentler wind near the car until you were clean enough to put on dry clothes (Mother’s Instinct FTW, but it failed to remind me to bring a towel). 

Tomorrow will be a true beach day, and you can dig and jump in the waves to your heart’s content–and to mine, too. 

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma


Crossing the causeway, having just woken up from your nap. 

Heart Fonder

Dear Love Bug,

Last night, you had an impromptu sleepover at Nonna and Opa’s–the first of its kind, really. You’ve slept away from home without us only a handful of times, and all have been carefully coordinated and choreographed.

But when Nonna offered to take you home with her rather than babysit you here at home so we could sleep in this morning, we couldn’t say no. 

So you got a fun afternoon and evening with your grandparents, including dinner at your absolute favorite restaurant IHOP at which you were allowed to order the Happy Face Pancake chock full of chocolate and smothered in whipped cream AND bring Marshall to dinner with you. 

And Mamma and Daddy got a delightful dinner out with friends complete with a stop at the Charmery and a low-stress, lazy morning. 

Win win! And boy are we lucky–and thankful!–to have your grandparents close by and willing to do this for us. 

This is good practice for us, too. In September, we’ll be leaving you for a couple of nights for a weekend away in celebration of our fifth anniversary. And there may be opportunities before then for nights away from each other, too. 

What I realize is that I miss you almost immediately. The house is eerily quiet with you gone–I miss your constant, sweetly pitched chatter–and I have so much time on my hands, it makes me fidgety. 

And isn’t that exactly what they say should happen? Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I can’t wait to squeeze you in a couple of hours!

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma

Terrible. And not. 

25 months

We’re headed home from a blissful long weekend in the mountains of Western Maryland that was everything I hoped it would be: relaxing, wholesome, full of fresh air and chilly nights that are good for sleeping, exhausting in the way that only hours spent hiking trails can be. It was our first time away together since I started my new job, and it was so necessary for me–a pause in the breakneck pace of our new normal, uninterrupted time to make up for the distractions of a role that requires so much attention, even when I’m at home. Not having reliable cell service was a blessing. 

We spent most of the weekend with good friends who share our love for the outdoors and for good food, so that made it even sweeter. And they have an 8-year-old girl who’s tolerant of and generous with you. You adore her consistently with how you adore all the older girls in your life, including your cousin. You chase them around with such glee and want to do everything they do. And you miss them when they’re gone.

Yesterday evening, after our friends had left (we stayed an extra evening), you looked around, seemingly just noticing they had gone, and said, “Where is everybody?” We explained that Claire and Ollie (their dog) had gone home with their mommy and daddy. We asked you if you missed your home, and you said “My home is here.” I don’t know if that meant you liked the huge, beautiful, rustic cabin we’d rented so much, you’d prefer to stay there (wouldn’t blame you) or if your home is wherever you’re with us. Either way, it was sweet. 

We were unsure of how the weekend would go, as your behavior has been erratic lately. Or rather, it’s been predictably unpredictable. The more I read about 2-year-olds, the more I discover you’re pretty much a case study: sweet as sugar one minute, full of absolute irrational rage the next. And if you’re not wild with the hottest, burning fury birthed in the deepest pit of hell, you’re doing something to evoke just such emotion in Daddy and me. Usually something we’ve either told you not to do no fewer than 1,000 times or something we’ve told you not to do about 30 seconds earlier. And you do it with a lunatic grin on your face. It. Is. Infuriating. Almost unbearably so. But we’re trying different techniques to help us get through this rough patch and all we can hope is it’s short lived. 

People have said, probably to make us feel less like the most incompetent parents ever, that your behavior is a byproduct of your intelligence. It’s because you’re so clever–they say–that you’ve figured out so many ways to push our buttons. (And for the most part, they’re just ours, as your reports from daycare are overwhelmingly glowing.) But if that’s the case, I keep wondering why you aren’t learning from the constant lessons we’re trying to impart by taking things away, taking you away from the things you want, timeouts, discussions, distractions, offering choices and every other accountability measure we can think of. Why is being told “no” about a million times not sinking in? Anyone?

And then, once the tears and the wailing have ended, you are the kid everyone wants around. You can have full conversations with adults about what you did last weekend; you can explain why you want to play with a particular toy or read a particular book; you point out things that interest you in your sweet, sing-songy little voice: “Look, Mamma!” You can entertain yourself for a good chunk of time; you rarely fuss in the car; you’ve started cleaning up (if motivated) even without us asking. You eat like a champ, you ask for more broccoli, you sit quietly in restaurants and color or play with stickers until your food comes. You say “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry,” often without prompting. 

On our lengthy trail hikes this past weekend, you sat contentedly in your backpack, commenting on the leaves and the trees, taking in the world around you. You are completely unfazed by changes in your environment; you go to sleep happily in your Pack N Play in a room that isn’t yours in a house that isn’t yours. You have no problems making yourself at home wherever you might be. 

You are a study in contrasts. A beautiful, bold, frustrating, funny enigma. It may take the entire rest of my life to figure you out. 

I’ve heard from some that three is worse than two, and I wonder how that can possibly be the case. Perhaps their two wasn’t as bad? Maybe you’re precocious and we’ll get this over sooner and begin to move on more quickly? 

We can only hope. In the meantime, we’ll continue weathering this storm and praying we don’t wind up worse for wear. Your bads may be pretty terrible, but your goods are so good (your creativity, your compassion, your sweet gentleness with animals, your generosity, your humor), I have to think we’re doing something right. 


kind

22 months on the dot

It’s been a rough month for the world, kiddo. I read a tweet recently that went something along the lines of, “Let’s unplug 2016, wait 10 seconds and plug it back in.” It’s worth a shot …

We’ve lost some brilliant minds this year. But worse, we’ve lost a lot of average people. For no reason. Senselessly. Absurdly. Terrifyingly. Since my last post, just about 50 people were killed during our country’s worst mass shooting in history.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a jaw-dropping decision that you’ll probably read about in your history textbooks as “Brexit,” leading many voters to wish they’d acted differently in a response now dubbed “regrexit.”

The two incidents are completely unrelated until you look under the surface, and then you realize that they were most likely driven by similar rotten motivations related to intolerance. And now we’ve got a presidential election looming that is being underpinned by the same nasty motives.

And Daddy and I are depressed and frustrated, and we’re thinking about moving to Malta if Trump is elected. (It’s got a 99.5 percent literacy rate! It’s a gorgeous Mediterranean island! They speak English and Italian!) I spent some time feeling sad and a little guilty about bringing you into this world that’s seeming pretty dismal lately. I wondered if I was selfish, wanting you so badly because, well, I wanted you rather than thinking about what I might be subjecting you to. But then I realized that’s shortsighted because you–and your generation–can shape the world if we teach you well.

So we’ve started talking about values. I’m sure it’s all going right over that nascently curly little head of yours, but if we talk about it enough–and model the right behaviors–I know you’ll catch on. We’ve been talking about tolerance. But not just tolerance, no, that’s not right. It’s not tolerance; it’s respect for all humans and embracing others. It’s living and letting live and acting on what you believe is right. It’s sticking up for people even when no one else will because you know that it’s what you’d want if you were in that situation. It’s love.

You were born with a completely open heart, and it’s our job to make sure it never builds up walls and that it never believes that some people are more deserving than others. Daddy and I have a sticker that we got in Key West. “We are all created equal members of one human family,” it says. That’s what we’re working hard to make sure you grow up to believe.

In the meantime, we’ve been dealing with some “terrible twos” behavior, although I’m not sure that it’s so much “terrible twos” as it is just normal human development. (I am fascinated by this, and I don’t understand why it happens if you’re not seeing the behavior modeled.) For a while there, you were hitting, biting and pushing people. Daddy and I were  your favorite victims, although you’ve lashed out a few times at Nonna, and I’ve even seen you hit other kids–especially E, a little girl about six months younger than you–at daycare.

We put the kibosh on this immediately through a variety of strategies, and (somewhat surprisingly) you seem to be moving beyond those behaviors. But what’s strange is that instead of acting on these behaviors, you now express your anger/frustration/irritation by saying what I think you’d like to do. You’ll get mad and say “push!” and throw a hand up, palm out, like you’re pushing someone away. Or you’ll say “hit!” or “bite!” but you won’t actually go through with the behavior. So we’ve been responding calmly, since you’re not acting violently, and saying “No, Ethan, you don’t hit/bite/push. Why are you saying that? What’s bothering you?” Usually, it’s fleeting, and you’ll already have moved on to something else, but sometimes you’re able to express to us what the source of your negative feelings is, and I’m encouraged that we’re getting through.

You’ve got a pretty great group of role models, bud, and I hope you learn from them. Daddy and me, Nonna and Opa, Mimi and Beebee, Gina–we’re all working hard to make sure you grow up to lead a life motivated by love. And you are (generally) so sweet, so big hearted and loving. Just this morning, I caught you (via the video monitor) hugging your stuffed friends, one after the other, and my heart just about burst into a million pieces. A little bit later, I thanked you for helping me do something, and you said, “Eefan is kind.” Kind! Where in the world did you get that word? But without missing a beat (and because I jump on any opportunity to reinforce positive behavior), I said, “You are kind.” And I hope the world is kind to you in return.

In the meantime, lest this be a total downer of a post, here are some photos from the awesome, amazing week we spent at the beach (our beloved Chincoteague, Virginia) with Nonna and Opa. You were SO in your element, running on the beach, digging with your shovels, transporting water in your pails for no other reason than to transport water, jumping in the waves with Daddy and me, stomping on the sand castles Opa so patiently continued to build for you, chasing seagulls and ducks, collecting shells with Nonna, taking a ride in a bike trailer around the Wildlife Loop, racing around the top of the Assateague lighthouse, eating seafood like it’s going out of style and totally, completely, face-first indulging in the best homemade ice cream there is. You took a whole week away from home totally in stride, and we can’t wait for next year.

May this next trip around the sun engender kindness in everyone …

leaps and bounds

21 months

The hubbub in the house has died down post-Memorial Day cookout. The dishwasher’s running. The living room has been picked up. Food’s put away. My tummy and my heart are full. There’s something about having a lot of activity in the house that makes me feel satisfied, and the calm that follows it is even more satisfying.

You’re fast asleep–for hours already. I still wonder what you dream about–if you can remember the details of your day enough to recall them in sleep–and maybe the multitude of adventures we had this weekend are shaping your night thoughts. I’m glad we had the extra day off; without it, I would’ve been completely wiped out.

Between the outdoor time in the stifling heat, the pool, the sprinkler, the birthday party, the multiple meals out, the playground, the gardening and everything else, you’re exhausted–and so am I. You took a few marathon naps this weekend, and you’ve been crashing well before 8. This intensive time with you has felt like a luxury; our weekends are usually so rushed, trying to squeeze everything (chores, errands, play time) into two days. Having an extra day makes all the difference. Does anyone want to offer me a four-day-a-week job?!

We’re gearing up for more uninterrupted family time, as we’re off to the beach–for a full week this year!–with Nonna and Opa on Saturday. That gives us four short days to get everything prepped, packed and crammed into the car. And this after we packed and unpacked just a couple of weeks ago for a trip up to Massachusetts to visit Uncle Eddie, Aunt Lala and Hazel.

What a treat for you that was: You chased their chickens and collected their eggs; you rode in a wagon that Uncle Eddie pulled with his tractor; you had room to do nothing but run (through the sprinkler, even–a first!) on their huge property;  you had a built-in older sister to entertain you (I’ve decided that rent-an-older-sibling is a fantastic business idea); you ate delicious homemade ice cream and played on a couple of playgrounds; you hiked along the Mill River. It felt so good to breathe that fresh mountain air and to bask in having nothing in particular to do and nowhere especially to be. You had a ball, and Daddy and I had a chance to be grown-ups with our grown-up friends, which we think is important for our senses of identity and our happiness.

In getting to and from Massachusetts, you took your fifth and sixth flights, respectively. We managed to do it pretty cheaply (and they were easy-peasy, less-than-one-hour flights) with you flying as a lap infant, and it marked the last time we’ll be able to take advantage of that option. Next time we fly, we’ll be paying for a seat for you because you’ll be TWO. That happened extraordinarily quickly.

And as we enter the last quarter of a year leading up to that milestone, you’re growing by leaps and bounds. I’m fairly certain you’re stretching in your sleep; each day, you seem taller and more little boyish. We caught you with your leg slung over the top rail of your crib in attempt to escape, so we lowered it yet again–and this is the final frontier, the lowest setting. Next stop: toddler bed.

You’re getting excellent practice at climbing (and also running, jumping, galloping, hanging, crawling and shimmying) at the playground, where you spend most of your days (natch) now that the 40-Day Flood has ended and summer seems to be here to stay. And you work that playground like a boss. You’re up and down stairs and ladders and all other climbing implements effortlessly, and the other day–straight outta nowhere–you walked up to the slide, sat down, turned yourself around and went down backwards and on your stomach. What?! You were down and up again before I could figure out what had just happened. You’re also starting to make contact when kicking balls, your throwing arm ain’t half bad and you’re maybe (kinda) starting to figure out how to make significant forward progress on your riding toys and in your Cozy Coupe (as opposed to just pushing yourself backwards).

Other recent interests include coloring with crayons (rather than eating them, although you sneak an occasional waxy bite, still, here and there); playing with stickers; and preparing elaborate spreads of fake food and then demanding that we eat them. “Sit,” you say, pointing to the pouf in the living room. “Eat.” And you shove a wooden lemon toward us or, if we’re lucky, some “bread” that you’ve “buttered.”

Your language skills continue to floor us.

We’ve caught you responding to the TV when the characters–presumably either in Elmo, Super WHY! or Yo Gabba Gabba, the shows you request regularly–address the audience with a question. “What’s your name?” they ask. You’re very emphatic: “Ethan!”

You speak in full sentences, although much of it only you can understand, especially when you get going fast. Some of your latest gems include:

“Ethan push button and watch Nemo on the iPad.”

“Mamma, flip-flops hurting Ethan’s feet.”

“There’s a hole in the bucket” followed by insane laughter.

And–first words uttered upon waking up in the morning–“I need chocolate cake.” (You are my son!) This has led to some bargaining when I respond by saying there’s no chocolate cake. “Cookies?” “Nope.” “Goldfish?”

You talk so much, in fact, that we’ve realized we’ve gotten to the point that every parent, I imagine, gets to eventually: We respond exasperatedly to the endless “Mamma? Mamma? Mamma?” or “Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?” with a “Yes, Ethan, WHAT?”

I have to remind myself that you talking all the time is awesome because you’re able to express yourself using words and not by screaming or crying.

And that, Love Bug, is something to celebrate.

earning your wings

14 months

Oh goodness. I haven’t blogged in forever. It’s a compounding problem because when I’ve skipped many (many many) weeks of blogging, I feel like I have so much more to write. The idea of covering everything that’s happened over the past eight weeks (or more!) in a blog post feels pretty overwhelming. And because of that, I decide to put it off yet again and to focus on something else. In my defense, I’ve had hundreds of photos to edit, organize and upload, and photography always takes priority.

And now I feel silly defending myself on my blog about why I haven’t been blogging. Onward.

It’s been well more than a month since we landed in Verona, bedraggled and bleary-eyed after our first grand transatlantic adventure. It was much less traumatic than I’d anticipated. I think we were well prepared, or at least as well prepared as parents of a 13-month-old flying as a lap infant can be for approximately 11 hours in the air plus all of the airport time that goes along with an international flight.

We managed to get our three suitcases (one wheeled duffel each for Daddy and me and a much smaller, nonwheeled duffel for you), your car seat, your umbrella stroller, your diaper backpack, a second backpack and a large tote bag into the airport, checked/through security and to the gate with relatively little hassle. We were extremely, once-in-a-lifetime, won’t-hold-our-breath-for-it-ever-happening-again fortunate in that we somehow managed to book ourselves on a nearly empty flight. No one could explain why, but the 747 that would normally hold 370-something passengers took off with only 99. We learned this upon checking in and therefore dragged your car seat with us to the gate so we could strap you into your own seat. (I will never, ever underestimate the value of this, and my big takeaway from this whole trip is that I will never, ever fly with a lap infant who’s mobile again.)

You toddled around the gate area at Dulles, showing off your new upright moves, much as I did during my first transatlantic flight (in the other direction) precisely 35 and a half years earlier. You were asleep before we ever boarded, as we’d kept you up through your regular afternoon nap time, and you slept for the first two hours or so of the flight. You were up for a couple of hours and then you fell asleep for the night, tucked snugly into your car seat. We weren’t quite so lucky during the layover in Frankfurt; you woke up as we went through passport control and we had a tough time getting you to go back down. You did, eventually, but were up for the entire hour-plus flight to Verona, climbing all over us because we had to gate check your car seat.

So you were incredibly off your schedule and quite cranky during our first day in Italy, and you stayed that way, really, for the first three to four days. Meaning we did, too. We were so fortunate to have a beautiful apartment with a decent amount of space in which to take refuge. We even managed to figure out how to block you into the living room so we weren’t spending all of our time running defense for the plethora of stuff there that you could easily have destroyed if you’d set your mind to it. (You also seemed quite taken with Italian cartoons.)

We realized by Day 3 or 4 when you woke up screaming inconsolably in the middle of the night that perhaps there was something else going on. We took you to a pediatrician, a family friend, and he diagnosed you with an ear infection in one ear. He prescribed some antibiotic ear drops, and within 24 hours you were good as new.

We spent our time in Verona taking it all in at a relaxed pace. We saw your Nonno every day, and I reveled in watching the two of you get to know each other. It took hardly any time at all before you were cuddling up to him, and he was tossing you into the air and squeezing you. He took to calling you “Ercolino,” little Hercules, because you’re so solidly built. We wandered the charming cobblestoned streets of the center, stopping frequently to eat gelato, for which you are a fiend. You also couldn’t get enough pizza but turned your nose up to Italian cheese. We spent a lot of time with your zia Ila, who soaked up your cuddles, and we took some glorious day trips up to the mountains above the lake, out to the country and–most impressively–all the way to Burano, one of the islands off the coast of Venice. You were an absolute champ through all of it: happy, chatty, smiley and remarkably flexible, all told. We were pretty enamored of the schedule you adopted while we were there; you’d go to sleep between 8 and 9 p.m. and easily sleep until 8 a.m. What a treat!

We were less lucky with the plane situation on the way home. We were able to snag you a seat on the short flight to Frankfurt (that was nearly diverted because of an in-flight medical emergency) but the transatlantic leg was overbooked. We nearly volunteered ourselves to be bumped to the next day’s flight, but as they couldn’t guarantee us seats together, we stuck with the plan. Once we were in the air, you did beautifully: You played on the floor of the bulkhead until you fell asleep for the night, about halfway through the trip.

It took a good five days for all of us to adjust back to East Coast time, but after two days back, you started radiating heat with a super-high fever. Daddy and I were home with you for three full days, waiting for your fever to dissipate. By Thursday, you were back at daycare. On Friday, Ms. Gina, your daycare provider, mentioned she’d seen a slight rash on your torso. We took you into the pediatrician and were unsurprised by the diagnosis: Roseola. And now this, too, has passed.

Before we knew it, Halloween was upon us, and by then you were walking pretty well, even in your baby Moon Boots fresh from Italy. You were doing something funny with your right leg, though, kind of swinging it around in a strange limp-like movement, so I took you to an orthopedist. He wasn’t terribly concerned, and by the next week, you seemed really to have gotten the hang of it and were walking, steadily and diligently, everywhere.

Now there’s no stopping you. You’re fast and furious, and it takes all of our energy to keep up with you. Two weeks ago, when you’d fall from standing, your default reaction was to crawl. Now you tripod yourself and push back up to your feet. And it happened just like that, without anyone teaching you how. You’re so confident, you’d think you’d been doing it your entire life. I’m sure you’ll be running imminently.

At least you’re keeping us in good shape.


  
  
  
  
  
  

joaquin/walkin’

Posting this, despite never having finished it, for posterity’s sake. Spoiler alert: Joaquin headed out to sea, thereby sparing us all a lot of angst, and you’re now fully walking. Stay tuned for a major catch-up post on your first big adventure abroad.

13 months

Unpredictable powerhouse Hurricane Joaquin, churning over the Bahamas and absolutely battering them with its Category 4 wrath, is keeping us in limbo about the viability of our flight out on Sunday afternoon. Damn that weather system. Yesterday, it seemed awfully dire: It was going to race up the East Coast and all the way up the Bay–imagine!–and absolutely pummel us this weekend. Last night, after you went to bed, Daddy and I even cleared the deck of all objects that might possibly be picked up and flung by hurricane-force winds.

And this after we’ve been planning this trip for nearly a year. We even got our packing done last weekend, knowing we’d be pressed for time this week and seeking to avoid the stress of leaving things for the last minute. We still have a lengthy list of last-minute stuff to do and things to pack, but I’m feeling organized and on top of things, which hopefully will keep everyone’s blood pressure steady. We’re attempting to pack in two suitcases plus a (relatively) small duffle for you. We have a single carry-on (amazing) in addition to your diaper bag, although it’s fully bursting at the seams. We’ll also have your car seat and umbrella stroller, of course–and you!–so we’ll have plenty to wrangle.

I’m nervous but not nearly as nervous as I was before. At this point, I just want to head out.

Which is where Joaquin might foil our plans. We’ll know significantly more tomorrow, and all we can do is wait and watch to see what he’ll decide to do. (As an aside, is it weird that we name our storms? That we assign them genders? Every time I think of the storm, I see Joaquin Phoenix’s face–fitting, since I’ve never particularly liked him as an actor.)