Friday, July 3, 2015

The Summer of Ben

Being the youngest of three boys can't be easy. Ben has spent his whole life trying to keep up with his brothers. Now, as he is getting a little older, he is finally getting to do some of the things that he has watched his brothers do. 

One of those things is Boy Scout camp. 

Ben was so excited (and nervous) for Boy Scout camp. And I was nervous too. 

Ben was dropped off with the leaders on Wednesday morning and just a few short hours later the rest of my kids were commenting on how they already missed Ben. Grace insisted on making him "I miss you" cards and as the days wore on Tommy complained about how much he missed his roommate. I think the boys were caught off guard with how much they missed their little brother.

By Friday's family night we were all really anxious to see Ben again. We drove out to camp feeling like it had been a week since we'd seen our Benny, not just a couple of days.

Reunited and it felt so good. Ben was equally excited to see us and the hugs that ensued were so sweet. I wish I would have gotten pictures but I was too busy giving hugs myself.  
Ben led the way back to his camp and showed us around his home for the last three days.
As Ben went to change into his uniform I looked through his suitcase and his bunk, shocked at the condition he'd left it in. I thought that perhaps he hadn't changed any of his clothes while he was there but he assured me that he did. The suitcase was so nice and clean and neatly folded it almost looked untouched. But sure enough, Ben had his dirty clothes in the extra bag I gave him and neatly folded the clean clothes. Will wonders never cease? I was amazed. My baby boy was growing up.

The rest of the evening was spent laughing and hugging. Over and over again the kids told Ben how much they missed him. And he missed us too. By the end of the night I was questioning whether Ben even wanted to stay that extra night or not. I asked Ben if he wanted to come home with us and he said he did but that he thought he should see it through until the end. And he did.
It was a great experience for Ben. A growing experience. An experience he was proud of. 

This summer Ben also had a chance to catch up with his brothers in sports.

It's not easy being the youngest brother forever trying to play catch up. Many times Ben has come to me in tears because he is so frustrated always being the one trying to keep up. Time and again I have reminded him that he is much younger than his brothers and all of his efforts to play at the same level they do will pay off. I also remind him that he is a tall boy and one day he will tower over his two older brothers. That usually gets a smile out of him. 

This summer Ben is the one in the lead.

Ben is the only one of my kids playing a sport right now. Joe and Tommy decided to take the summer off but Ben was very excited to take a step up in baseball. It is a new experience for Ben to have his older brothers following him around to his games instead of the other way around. Ben has been used to taking a backseat to all of his brothers adventures and it was a source of frustration for him. Not anymore.
The kid who has struggled to play catch with his brothers, who was always on the bottom of the dog pile, who came in last place in all the big boys' races and games is getting his moment.

Benny was on fire last night at his baseball game. The kid knocked the ball into the outfield every time he stepped up to the plate. He played the pitcher position as well (although they have the coaches do the actual pitching) and caught ball after ball. He stopped the grounders and threw perfectly to first and third to get players out time and again. 

I had to laugh every time Ben made a play because he got so excited that he would hop up and down afterwards. So sweet. 
Yep. It can be hard to be Ben. But always working hard to try and keep up with his brothers has made him stronger. And I think he is finally getting to see that for himself.

I think this is the summer is a big year of growth for Ben. It is the summer of Ben

Monday, June 29, 2015

Remembering

My dad passed away six years ago today.

Part of me can't believe that it has been 6 years already and another part of me feels like I haven't seen him in decades.

I think back to the day he passed, a Monday just like today. His entire family circled around his bed the whole day and into the night. Praying, sharing stories, telling him how much we love him. After such a long battle with Alzheimer's this was a celebration of his life. We stayed late into the night until I realized that perhaps dad was waiting for us to leave. Sure enough, a few minutes after I got home hospice called to let me know that dad had passed. Even to his death he was protecting us from possible hurt and further sorrow.

Yesterday we were at our church picnic and my mom and I realized that it was the same date, same day (Sunday), same setting (church picnic), same weather as six years ago when we left the church picnic early with our parish priest and headed over to the nursing home to watch my father receive his last rites. A beautiful ceremony. A final symbol of dad's lifelong commitment to God.

I looked back at my blog and read this:

As one life prepares to enter this world another prepares to exit.

This past week my dad has gone down hill very quickly. Hospice has been called into the nursing home to help care for him. He can not eat anymore, and has trouble drinking water. He is not responding, talking, or opening his eyes. He has started running a temperature and has trouble breathing too.


Our parish priest came to the nursing home last night and gave dad the Anointing of the Sick (used to be called The Last Rites). When Father told dad that he was there to give him a blessing dad actually moved his head in the direction of Father and nodded his head. Clearly dad is still in there. And it is also clear that his faith and his God continue to be at the forefront of his life.


Dying will be a happy release for dad. He will no longer be stuck in a body that doesn't work. No longer imprisoned by his mind. It will be joyful for him. The daughter he has waited 40 long years to see again will surely greet him, and I am so happy for him. For both of them. But I'm sad for me. It is so final.


Still, life continues to go on. The boys play in the pudgie pool in the backyard. Picnics are attended. Fourth of July parties are planned. Cabinets and colors are picked out for the new house. And this little lady still kicks in my belly. And though it makes me sad to think she will never meet her adoring grandpa, and he will never get to hold my daughter, I comfort myself thinking that perhaps they will meet. Maybe even before I get to meet her. Maybe they will meet when she is on her way in and he is on his way out. And she will actually get to see the angel who will so carefully and diligently watch over her throughout her life.


It is comforting to read. I still believe all I wrote. I am still happy for him. Still sad for me. And for my mom. And for my kids.

But I know he is still with us. Watching. Guiding. Protecting. Loving.

And someday we'll see each other again.

For now, I'm remembering.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Stink At This

You'd think I'd be better at this by now. I've already had two of my children go off to camp so you'd think I'd be prepared for the third. I don't know why this is still so difficult.

But he just looks so little. And he is leaving all by himself. For FOUR days. ((sniff, sniff))
When Joey and Tommy went to Boy Scout Camp they left on the same day. I don't know why that made it seem better because they were going to two separate camps so they wouldn't be together. But they prepared together and that made them more excited. But Ben is leaving all on his own. It feels more lonely to me.

This is my baby boy. The boy that is used to having his big brothers with him everywhere he goes and in everything he does. He has never really been on his own before. He has never even been to a sleepover. And now he is going to go to camp for FOUR days all by himself. Ben even said that he wished Tommy could come to camp with him and admitted he was nervous. "I've never slept somewhere without you guys." he told me privately. My little Benny.

Sigh.

I just don't know if I'll ever get used to it, to be honest. I will forever have trouble seeing my kids leave.

When Ben left Tommy turned to me and said, "Well, before you know it we'll all be leaving for college!" The little dirtball. It's almost as if he likes to see me cry. Or maybe he just likes to see how much his mama wants her kiddos around. Little fart.

And I do like to be with my kiddos. Even when they are little dirtballs.

Hurry home Benny! I miss you already!



Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Reads

It is a dark and stormy day here. I knew the storm was coming so I headed out to the grocery store earlier than I normally do on my weekly grocery run. Ben came with me as my helper and the rest of the kids stayed home with strict cleaning instructions. All the floors needed to be swept, rooms cleaned, basement cleaned, all toys picked up. I had my doubts as to how the kids were perform the tasks. Their behavior yesterday (for Father's Day, nonetheless) was less than stellar (to say the least) and I wasn't about to get my hopes up.

I was shocked to come home to a very clean house. Joey, Tommy, and Grace went above and beyond what I had asked. They worked their little butts off, I tell you. I was so proud of them. When Ben came home and saw the work they had done he jumped on the bandwagon, too, and made his bed, cleaned up his toys, and helped finish off cleaning the playroom. It really made me proud.

I was so happy the kids did such a good job and that they could be rewarded. It is the perfect day for building forts and watching movies and reading books.
Each kid got their own fort/tent/tunnel/lean to. I had to use a flash on these pics because our house was SERIOUSLY dark. It was so much fun for them. While the kids played and messed around in their forts I read my books. When everyone settled down a bit I had the kids read for a little while too. Side note: kids are much more willing to read when they can read in a fort.
Last week the kids and I took a trip to the library to start on our summer reading program. I want to make sure their brains stay active this summer and keep them on track. Each kid was allowed to pick out 3 books but somehow they all ended up with around 5 books each. Dear me. I hope I can keep track of all of those books.

I have a nice pile of books myself. I have hit some summer reading gold lately and if you are looking for a great summer read I have got some great books for you.


This book is definitely one that has stuck with me. A story about a young girl searching to find out what happened to her mother. It is such a twisty-turning book, with rich characters, and an original plot. Bonus- the info on elephants (a huge part of the plot- the mother was an expert on elephants and worked at an elephant sanctuary) made me fall in love with the genius creatures. 


 

I found my new favorite author (well, one of them, anyway). Marisa de los Santos writes such brilliant characters. She writes with such intelligence. Her books are usually told from the perspective of three or four main characters but it is never confusing. Her characters are so strong that even if you miss the name at the beginning of the chapter you still know which character is speaking.

The first book I read by Marisa was Belong To Me. I was unknowingly reading out of order since Belong To Me is actually a follow up to Love Walked In but it worked. As a matter of fact, when I fell in love with Belong To Me I decided to read everything by de los Santos and read Love Walked In still not knowing that this book was to be first. It was a fun surprise unwrapping the beginnings of the characters I had already grown to love. Either way, You absolutely must read them both. Fantastic books.
As I said I read almost everything de los Santos has written (I'm still waiting on a few from my library). Falling Together is another great read. This one may be a little bit more predictable in some ways but still had plenty that kept me guessing and reading.

This last read may not appeal to all of you. I have always been a fan of Emily Giffin and this book is right up my ally. It is a considered chic lit but it is centered around football. Texas college football, to be exact. The main character in the book is a sporty, smart, feminine woman who is obsessed with football. I loved it. The book has an ending I'm still grappling with, but I still enjoyed it.

I have a handful of books on order at the library. Next up, The Rocks by Peter Nichols, Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews, Dietland by Sarai Walker, and The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. I've heard good things about all of them and now I just have to wait patiently until they come in. Many of them have a long wait list. Do you have any recommendations for me while I wait? I have a few I'm about to read but nothing I'm all that excited about. I just returned a book to the library after reading the first dozen pages. It was I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. The main character was so off putting that I decided not to waste anymore of my time. I have never done that before. Anyway, maybe I'll read a few more Harry Potter books while I wait for my other books to come in.

The skies have cleared now and it is a humid 84 degrees outside. I can hear Joey and Grace outside playing basketball together. I sneak over and listen as Joey explains the proper shooting form to Grace.

Tommy and Ben are riding bikes. The massive puddles from the earlier downpour have already dried up. They run Molly alongside their bikes and she comes back exhausted. I think she needs a haircut, poor pooch. She lies down on the tile in the front hallway trying to glean any coolness she can.

I, however, am reveling in the heat. I have all the doors and windows open and the house has heated up nicely. I don't think Todd will agree, but for now I am enjoying my summer warmed house. I hope the hot weather sticks around.

It has been a good day.

I see ice cream in our future.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thinking of Dad

Father's Day is quickly approaching and I have been thinking about my dad even more often than I usually do. Little things remind me of my dad daily. Funny things the kids say, the afternoon sunlight settling into the trees and flowers in golden sparkles, his wedding ring in my jewelry box and his laminated army license on my dresser. Seeing an older gentleman cruising down the road on his motorcycle I almost do a double take thinking it was my dad.

My dad has been gone for almost six years now but he is still all around me. He always will be. He will always be with me.
On our way up north my kids ooh and aah and point out the beautiful peachy sunset. They appreciate the rolling hills and the golden colors cast across the landscape. "You did that." I silently say to my dad. "You so appreciated and saw beauty in every little thing and you passed that on to your children and, in turn, your grandchildren. You did that. Thank you."
I watch as my boys grow to be capable outdoorsmen. They are already fine fisherman, great hikers, and are on their way to becoming confident hunters. I know my dad is bursting with pride at his grandsons. I know he is cheering them on at their basketball, baseball, and football games, and getting teary eyed watching them sing on stage just like he did when he would watch me sing on stage. What I would give to have him sit next to me and enjoy watching those boys together. It always struck me how all through his Alzheimer's he always knew the boys. He always got a kick out of those rambunctious boys.

And Grace. Oh Grace. I know dad never got to see Grace in this world but I am confident he was the first to meet her. I just know that they met as he was leaving this world and she was about to enter. I can picture him holding her, ever so carefully, and singing to her as he did to me as a child. I imagine he is thrilled at what a waterbug Grace is. How brave she is. How tough she is and how well she keeps up with her brothers, fishing and hiking with the best of them. And every time Grace has a stubborn, sassy moment I can see my dad chuckling. Oh how he loved his girls to be strong and tough and independent.

Oh how I wish he was still here. That I could hear his voice again. His laugh. That he could wrap me in his big strong arms and give me a hug. There is just so much of him that I miss.

My dad worked third shift in a factory for over 30 years to provide for his family of 8. He would walk to work every night. Sometimes he would ride his bike. We had one family car that he would NEVER take to work (even in a blizzard) in the off-chance that my mom might need it in the morning to take us kids to school. He found beauty in everyday things that most people didn't notice, making the ordinary extraordinary. He was a fierce protector of the underdog. He befriended all (except those SOBs that broke glass in the park and left it for innocent kids to step in). He was an avid outdoorsman and an inspired athlete. He was the life of the party, the ultimate comedian in his impersonations and jokes. He was an immensely talented singer (a crooner), a dancer, and a performer. He cut the grass, he grilled out, he fixed the fence (time and again- "stop climbing on the damn fence!"), he built a play tower, he took us camping, he killed the centipedes, he built the shed, he took us on motorcycle rides, he taught me how to change a tire and how to throw a spiral. I can remember how careful his giant hands were when he would gently wash my hair with my head hovering in the kitchen sink. When we were babies he rocked us, when we were scared he held us, when we were tired he carried us up to our beds. I remember faking sleep a number of times in my childhood just so he would carry me to bed. Not only did he tell us he loved us but he showed us as well. He was at every play, every concert, every game. He was always there. He was a constant. He would drop everything if we needed him. He thought my sarcasm was hilarious, he encouraged my spunk, he was proud of my independence. He told me I was beautiful and smart and even though I couldn't believe the words he said them with such conviction that I knew he believed and that meant everything to me. He taught me how to love God and how to put my trust in Him. My dad was far from perfect, he had flaws, he was human, he made mistakes. But my dad will always be my hero. I miss him more than I can say.

 Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

I love you and miss you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Step In The Right Direction

For the past few years Joey and Grace have had a tumultuous relationship. When Grace was tiny Joey was her biggest fan. Her big protector. Joey could not get enough of his baby sister and wanted to be around her all the time. The last few years, however, had seen a big shift. It was brought to my attention even more so when we were all recently watching some baby videos of the kiddos. I noticed how sweet and loving Joey was to Grace and I began to wonder when that all changed.

This past year it seems that Joey couldn't even be around Grace without losing his temper. Every thing Grace did or said made Joey upset and angry. It was pretty crazy to watch how constantly annoyed Joey always was with Grace. Watching the baby videos it was pretty heartbreaking to see such a huge shift.

I had brought it up to Joey many, many times. I asked him why she bothered him so much and the most he could come up with was that she just annoyed him so badly. I pointed out that his brothers do the same things that she does and it doesn't bother him nearly as much. Over and over again I would preach patience and kindness to Joey. I would tell him how it is hard for Grace to feel constantly left out of the boys' play and to be the youngest. I would tell Joey how much Grace looked up to him and how it would hurt her when he was mean. Joey would be upset with himself for how he acted and always felt badly about it. He would try for a while to do better but mostly he just tried avoiding her. Time and time again Joey would lose his temper with Grace over silly matters. It was ongoing and nasty. I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to improve their relationship.

After watching the baby videos I sat down and really thought about when the big shift occurred in the relationship. As I thought back the one time that constantly kept coming to mind was when Grace was around 2 years or 3 years old. Right around the time that Grace broke her leg. Oh my gosh! When Grace broke her leg!

It hit me like a bolt of lightening.

Joey harbored guilt and fear over Grace breaking her leg!

Of course as adults we all knew that it was an accident. Joey was on his bike and Grace went running out in front of him before he could stop. Joe ran into her and she broke her leg. That is pretty traumatic! And it didn't help that every time we had to explain what happened to people we would say that Joey and Grace collided when Joey was on his bike. That could definitely cause a child to harbor some bad feelings.

With my suspicions in hand I approached Joey. I asked him if perhaps he was always so mad at Grace because he still felt badly about the time she broke her leg. I explained that sometimes when we feel scared or guilty or sad it can come out as anger. I told him how we all knew it was an accident, and he definitely wasn't to blame, but maybe he blamed himself and it made him feel guilty and angry inside. I also told him that it had to be pretty traumatic and scary running into Grace. Feeling the bike hit her, and her going down, that had to be terrifying.

Joey nodded his head the whole time I was talking, his face very serious.

I told him over and over (as we had before) how no one blamed Joey for Grace's broken leg. I told him how people would often tell me that they felt as badly for Joey as they did for Grace because they knew that had to be difficult for him. I reminded him how Grace never blamed him and never held any bad feelings toward him about her broken leg.

Joe told me how scared he was when Grace broke her leg. He told me how badly he felt. He told me that when I took Grace to the hospital he thought dad was so mad the whole time. I explained that sometimes when someone is scared, as his dad was, it looks like anger but it isn't. I reminded him how many times his dad told Joey it wasn't his fault. Joey told me all the things he had been feeling about the accident that he never told me before. So many times after the accident I tried to get Joey to talk about it but he always shut down. He never wanted to talk about it before. Now it all just fell out of him.

When we finally cleared the air I was hopeful that unloading that burden would help Joey and Grace to have the close relationship that they once had before.

This was a few months ago and I'm happy to report that the difference has been night and day. Sure they still spat like normal siblings. Grace is still whiny and annoying at times and Joey is still quick tempered and preteen at times. However, they play together. Joey compliments Grace. Joey goes up to Grace at school and gives her a hug. He shares his toys with Grace and includes her in on the conversations and jokes.

Just this past weekend when we were up north Ben and Tommy decided to go out into the woods with Todd while Grace and Joey opted to stay back at the cabin with me. All day long Joey and Grace fished together.

Joey baited Grace's hook, cheered her on as she caught fish after fish, and got the fish off the hook for her as well.

He even went through his tackle box and gave her some of his first and favorite lures.

They decided to go fishing out on the paddle boat and  Joey helped Grace get her life jacket on too.


 They were out in the paddle boat for over an hour. They spent all day together. And they had fun. It was more than I'd ever expected.
Later on I told Joey how much it meant to me to see him teaching Grace and being patient and kind to her. He admitted that it was really fun and he had a great day with Grace. 

Of course, later that evening they still fought and got on each other's nerves but that was just silly sibling stuff. It seems to me that Joey and Grace are back on the right track. 

I really hope this is a fresh start. There is nothing more important than family and I so desperately want all of my kids to be close. I think we are headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

School's Out For Summer!

 It is the last day of the school year and I'm feeling that old familiar melancholy feeling.
(Left: 1st day of school/Right: Last day of school)

I am now officially the parent of a seventh grader, fifth grader, third grader, and a first grader. Wow. 

Grace's class had a lovely little graduation ceremony. It is silly how emotional it made me. I just can't believe she is now a 1st grader. Grace has had the same teacher for the last three years and she has been so lucky. What a fantastic teacher she is. I know Grace will miss her next year.
It has been a good year. A strong year of growth. Joey played tackle football for the first time, he received a nice basketball award, had a lead in the musical, and met his own personal goal by making the honor role. I am so proud of him. Tommy has learned to buckle down and focus and has pulled some good grades himself. He had an undefeated tackle football season, tried new things, and was on stage in a musical for the first time. Ben played his first year of football, showed that he is a math and spelling whiz, received his first reconciliation and his first communion, and won a few Boy Scout awards. Grace learned how to read, learned how to ride a two-wheel bike, read in front of the whole school for mass, and became more outgoing as a result of being at a different school for the first half of the year.

My kids have had a great year, all in all. I am so proud of each of them.

I hope we have a nice long summer together. Filled with fun and relaxation and adventures (and maybe not so much fighting, complaining, or whining).

Words To Live By

Be grateful for each new day.
A new day that you have never lived before.
Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably.
We can squander, neglect, or use them.
Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson