Monday, September 15, 2014

My kids started school (a while ago...)

Oh dear. I've turned into that parent. The one who meticulously documents everything about her first and even second child and then by the time the third one comes along, not so much. Or maybe it's just that once they're older and speech impediments have faded that the stories aren't as fun. Either way, I haven't been writing about them as much. Maybe I should hold a family meeting and notify my kids they need to be more exciting. 

That reminds me, though - I've got a trip to document. And a summer death ride. And the beginning of another school year. I might have been the only person who didn't post a "first day of school" picture on Instagram or Facebook. We took them, but I just didn't do anything with them. Guess what - they still started school. Like six weeks ago.

Gemma's transition to first grade has been easier than I thought. And I mean that about both of us. Suddenly I have ALL DAY and let me tell you, it has been filled. This week all of my plans for the past five weeks will bear fruit as my new countertops and sink are installed, dishwasher replaced, gas line and venting run, and cooktop put in place. My new ovens were installed last week and they're so beautiful I almost cried. The final piece is having our cabinets refinished, but that won't happen until the end of October. It has been a lengthy process, mostly because I was scouring everywhere for the best deals. It has been a worthwhile process because I actually FOUND the best deals.

But back to Gemma, while she has been tired, she has remained fairly upbeat. She hasn't tried the whole "can I come home with you" that Donovan did when I'd come to volunteer in the morning. She loves school and phasing out the nap hasn't been too hard. I did get a note from the teacher saying she was noticing Gemma blinking a lot and did I think there might be something going on with her vision. Heh - I replied that she just had her eyes examined and they were perfect but the blinking happens when she's tired and until first grade she was a consistent napper. Poor baby. She loves the chance to nap on Saturday.

Gemma has started taking ballet at the studio where Ainsleigh is studying. I have perfected my ability to make a lovely bun (Ainsleigh takes care of her own). She has also started back up in swim lessons and is loving it. Mostly, she remains my cuddlebug. I like that.

Donovan's in big fat fourth grade now. So far he is loving it. I love that his teacher has a host of jobs and things they do to earn money and at the beginning of each month the kids have to pay rent on their desk. If they can't make rent, they have to sit on the floor with a clipboard until they earn enough to get back into their desk. They can borrow money, but the teacher encourages charging interest. And then there's a class fund and once they save $2000 she will throw them a party. So many concepts being taught. GENIUS. Donovan, our natural miser, immediately campaigned for "class police officer" because it pays the most and he gets to fine people. He actually said to me yesterday, "My job is really a collaborative effort because the hall monitor tells me when someone is in the hall or the desk monitor tells me when someone's desk is messy and then I give out the fines. I feel bad sometimes when the same people can't keep their desk clean, but rules are rules." Besides the whole use of "collaborative" I found his whole revelation amusing. I'm going to parrot that "rules are rules" part the next time he leaves underwear on the floor (now a 10-minute chore fine in this house).

Also awesome at our school is that all kids in fourth through sixth grade get a chromebook. They leave them at school, but they use them every day, most of the day. Donovan's teacher told us that about 80% of their schoolwork is done on the chromebook through Google classroom. It's amazing. Donovan comes home and can pull up all of his work online, work on it, then submit it online. It doesn't matter how many Entertainment Weekly's I read or Top 40 songs I download, I believe there will always be something that will remind me I am getting old.

Football and soccer continue to take up a fair amount of Donovan's extra time. I love watching him play. It helps that he's actually quite good. Unfortunately, I think he is advancing to the time where he will have to pick one sport over the other. With Ainsleigh in ballet and Gemma also in soccer and swim lessons, we can only be in so many places at one time. Also new this year, Donovan has decided to shower every morning. He actually asked me "would it be ok to shower every morning." True to his word, he has gotten up at 6:45 and jumped in the shower every morning. He claims this makes it easier to do his hair. Oh, we're doing hair now, too? This little man bit is excellent.

Ainsleigh has started junior high and the first thing Joel and I noticed is that junior high today (or here?) is far different than the junior high we remember. It's like someone looked at their junior high experience and decided to get rid of everything unpleasant or inefficient. It actually seems like a fun place to be. Although Ainsleigh's class has over 500 kids, they've divided them into three "pods" and those are the kids she has all of her classes with. So within one big school, it's more like 3 (or 6, if you include the eighth graders) mini-schools. We finally broke down and bought Ainsleigh a chromebook because apparently that's a thing here. That or a smartphone. But since most of her work is done/submitted online, the chromebook made more sense. 

The other thing I love about the school is that everything is posted online. I can see what assignments have been issued, when they're due, and then through my parent portal, I can check to see what her grades have been as well as whether or not she has any missing assignments. THIS is amazing. Because within a couple weeks, Ainsleigh had racked up several missing assignments. Some she had done and "forgot to turn in." One was just an oversight. One was an online thing she didn't push "submit" for. I'm hoping we've worked out the kinks. She understands now about checking the calendar and finishing those assignments. And if she has any questions for teachers, guess what - two mornings a week, instead of homeroom, they have "access" where for 45 minutes they can either work on homework, or can go and talk to ANY OF THEIR TEACHERS. Wow. And they're on an alternating schedule where Monday and Wednesday they have classes 1,3,5,7 and Tuesday and Thursday they have classes 2,4,6,8 and then on Friday they have every class. AND their security guards are the nicest ever. I've never seen such cheerful people directing traffic (and don't even get me started on what a well-oiled machine drop-off is!) - almost makes me want to go back to junior high. And that's something I NEVER thought I'd EVER say even if a million dollars was at stake.

Ainsleigh has started doing the occasional babysitting job (when Joel and I don't need her in charge - date night!) and is at the ballet studio 2-3 times a week. She is becoming more and more...teenager-ish. This is good and annoying. I don't mind the growing up, though some of the physical development is startling (seems like I was JUST potty-training her!). The attitude and hormones I could definitely do without. She feels the same way. It makes me sad and laugh a little when she says, "Why am I feeling like this? Why am I acting like this?!" And I have to say, "You're becoming a woman. Sorry." Also, she is pretty sure she's the only person in the world who has zits and isn't sure what she has done to deserve this humiliation. In a show of solidarity, I developed quite the beaut over the weekend. I'm a team player that way.

So that's that for now. Happy mid-September. 
Friday, August 15, 2014

Great. No asterisk.

Look at that: I had a summer! I decided that I would spend the time after the kids were back in school to talk about the summer, but use the summer to, well, summer. We did a bunch of things, mostly documented pictorially on Instagram (I'm peehee over there). The kids finished school, Joel and I rode the Denver Century again, this time accompanied by my parents and some friends. Then we rode the Triple Bypass. We also spent hours at the pool and playing here and there. Ainsleigh got braces. And our last big act of the summer was a week in Kauai with my entire family. It's been busy and relaxing, if that's possible. I'll get to all of that another day.

A couple weeks ago someone, in passing, asked me how I was doing. You know, when you're saying hi to someone without breaking your stride and tack on the "how're you doing?" but don't expect someone to give you more than a 1-2 word reply? That sounds insincere, and it is, though we all do it without being intentionally insensitive, right? Well anyway, someone asked and I answered, "Great." And then something happened.

As that person kept walking, I kind of felt a half-giggle rise up from inside. I've been answering that question for seven months now, always feeling like my "Great" came with an asterisk next to it. An invisible asterisk that few people even knew existed but was attached to the description: "Not great. In fact, kind of miserable, but I don't have the time/energy/desire to go into it right now." But this time, something was different. That asterisk wasn't there. That asterisk was heavy. That asterisk was sad. And for the first time in seven months, I realized that when I said, "Great," I meant it.

Later, I was driving around, considering that whole exchange. I wouldn't say that I feel like a burden has been lifted, but rather my view has been cleared. My mind feels cleaner, not crowded. I feel...happy.  I'm know everyone's experiences with depression are different, but for me it was a lot of tension. I still have a lot to do (ugh, getting the kids ready and off and successful before and during the first week of school is complicated!) and we have (big) plans to change some things in our kitchen, but I actually feel like I can handle it.

I've learned a couple new things. First, I think Ainsleigh going into junior high was weighing heavily on me. My seventh grade year was miserable. It was a new school and none of my elementary school friends went there. I spent the first couple weeks trying to make friends, but mostly just eating my lunch very slowly and then walking around the school so maybe it wouldn't be so obvious that I didn't have friends. After that, I made a friend and for a week or two it was ok and then she moved. I mean, come on! So there I was again. Eventually, I did make a couple friends. But it was a slow process, and I never felt like I fit in.

But this is what I realized recently: Ainsleigh's experience will not be my experience. Um, duh. First of all, we're completely different people. Second, she's going to seventh grade knowing a ton of people. Third, we've been up there to the school and it's amazing. I don't know who these people are who willingly teach junior high, but they are saints. As it dawned on me that she might even enjoy junior high, I felt relief wash over me. Since then, I have felt much better about this new phase of life for her.

The morning I drove her to her first day of class, I wore sunglasses just like I have every first day of school since she started kindergarten. I could not believe how many teachers and security guys were out directing traffic, clapping and shouting and fist-pumping and welcoming kids and parents to school. It looked, dare I say it, FUN. All these smiling, happy people dedicated to making my girl have a positive experience, with her sitting next to me eager to see what her day would be like, ensured that my sunglasses were good cover for the tears welling up in my eyes. I was able to hold it together until she shut the door and skipped off to meet her homeroom teacher. And then I let those tears streak down my cheeks the whole way home.

But I didn't feel the anxious, despairing sadness I've had for months. Just the same mixture of pride and gratitude (and a little sadness) that accompanies every milestone. I'm ok with that.

Several weeks ago I was getting my haircut and my hairdresser (who is amazing - best head massage ever. And if you don't think that's important, then you've never had a good head massage) was asking me about my summer. When I told him about the Triple Bypass he commented that he sees tons of cyclists riding up Mt. Evan.

"It just looks like so much work," he said. "And nobody looks like they're having any fun!"

I thought about that for a moment and then replied, "Ah yes, it is a ton of work. And going down is fun because it's fast and thrilling. But you know what? When you're going uphill, it can be slow and tedious, and sometimes you're by yourself and it seems like a grind. But those are the moments where you can really look around and view the world from a new vantage point. You see beauty like you wouldn't in a car. You notice details and appreciate things in a new way. Going slow can be hard, but it also carries its own rewards."

And then I realized what I had just said was also a good description of the previous seven months. Sometimes, things get hard. But I have been acutely aware of good friends, supportive family, and a loving husband who haven't pushed me harder than I could go, instead giving me consistent love and compassion and validation.

I don't know what tomorrow or next week or next year may hold, but for now I am enjoying what happy feels like. For now, I'm great.
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Donovan is published

Donovan has been writing books for quite some time now. It began with "Ghosts Haunt the House." This contained some autobiographical references such as when one of the kids falls out of his bunk bed and the parents won't believe his claims that a ghost did it, and some fictional incidents like when the aforementioned ghost scares the mom to death. It was riveting, as I am sure you can imagine. I have kept several of these books for posterity.

After the ghost series (it carried over to other adventures) and the Pumpkin Brothers (took us through several holidays), Donovan settled on "Joe and Zack," stories about two friends not unlike the much beloved (and legitimate) series, "Frog and Toad." Last year I was formatting years worth of blog posts on so I could print them, and when they finally arrived, Donovan could not believe how amazing this was.

"You wrote stuff, and now it's a BOOK?!" He was overly impressed. "Can I print a book?!"

Now this is where my husband, the creative, is a much better parent than I am. Having just completed MONTHS of formatting work (granted, I had hundreds of pages while Donovan had, like, 20), I began to say, "Your book is fine the way it is," but Joel interrupted with a very confident, "Absolutely!"

So it became his problem project. And, granted, it did take a while, mostly because Donovan wanted to work on it when Joel was, you know, actually working. But finally, they had it completed. And finally, it arrived.

Donovan opened his package with such care and excitement. He breathed in and out deeply, as if this moment, THIS MOMENT, was the pinnacle of his life so far. 

"I can't wait to read this," he murmured, as if he didn't have every page memorized.

I have to admit, it does look pretty good.

They later discovered a few typos because the editor had washed her hands of the project. That editor has since repented and will be fully engaged in future projects.

As I looked through the book and watched Donovan look through the book, my heart began to swell with love for him and for a husband who not only encourages creativity, but facilitates it. And then we got to the back cover.

The "About the Author" just about killed me, never mind that is one of my favorite Donovan pictures of all time. I love that they included this part. Granted, Donovan does always put in an "About the Author" (in the first Ghosts book, it's spelled, "About the Othor"), but I just thought this was awesome. And he couldn't wait to take it to school the next day. He had told his teacher he had published a book, and she had asked if he'd bring it in and share it.

The next day, he returned from school with his victory tales: how he had showed kids at school and they couldn't believe it; how they proclaimed that he was FAMOUS; how the teacher had him do a dramatic read-aloud in class; how the kids had asked if they could each read it; how he began working on an "AR Quiz" (a quiz kids can take after they read a book for points and they are expected to get a certain number of points each semester) because his teacher said he could.

Something so seemingly small has turned into a huge achievement for him. And if you come over, he will be delighted to show you this book. He will also bring out his other prototypes and answer any questions you may have about his career or characters.

Maybe one day he'll be a famous author and do book signings and everything. I hope he always uses his second grade picture in the "About the Author" section.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Somedays, I just don't feel like laughing.

It's a weird thing, to be asked how you're doing and reply, "Fine," and know that you are the biggest liar liar pants on fire. Let's face it, as you pass someone in the hall or at the store and they say, "How are you?" it's really more of a, "Hey, I see you!" And that's fine. I can reply, "Great!" Even if things aren't exactly great because of two reasons: 1) In general, my life is great, so there's that. 2) If I say it's great, then maybe I'll believe it. Lately, however, it's been a different story.

I'm going to be honest and admit something I've confided in few others. I think I've been depressed for the past few months. At least, I think that's what it's called when you cry every day for two months. On the upside, I suspect that it is circumstantial. Call it a little post-traumatic stress with a side of poor gut health. Here's what I've learned:

1) Having everyone fall incredibly ill can do a number on your mental state. Several nights I would lie awake, worrying about what was happening, what might happen next. (Recap: After Christmas, and for about the next month and a half, we took turns having the flu - like, the H1N1 - and in all of us, except Joel, it developed into pneumonia. All of us spent time in urgent care, besides various other doctor appointments for breathing treatments and check-ins.) Gratefully, we accepted meals brought in because for the first time in my life I couldn't function. I have never been that sick, and I hope to never be so again. It is incredibly frustrating to be the mother, the one who is supposed to make everything better, and have no idea what to do, not to mention how terrible it feels to threaten your children if they don't drink a tablespoon of liquid every 10 minutes.

2) It helps to have a family history of dealing with depression. I don't know that I would use the term "lucky" but I guess I'm fortunate to have an aunt who has been open and honest about her own struggles in the past. It doesn't necessarily make me feel better, but it makes me feel better about respecting when you just don't FEEL right. It has given me permission to decline invitations and take time for myself. I also have remembered when she would sign up for certain things or participate in things because that would force her to socialize. I've done that, too. Unbeknownst to her, her example has been a huge blessing.

3) It helps to have a spouse who respects you. A few weeks ago, I sat on the couch next to Joel and cried about how I didn't know WHAT was wrong, but that I knew things weren't RIGHT. I knew I wasn't acting like I usually did and wanted him to know it wasn't him or about him or because of him, but that it was making me anxious because I knew I wasn't the wife he knew. I had replayed in my mind how I would bring up this topic, a little scared about how he would react. To his credit, he thought for a moment and then just replied, "Don't let it get much worse before you go see somebody." That may sound like nothing monumental, but in those words he honored my feelings and approved of a means of help.

4) Your gut matters. A couple months ago I started taking St. John's Wort (sounds ew, and if you don't drink enough water, the burps ARE ew) but knew it may take up to a month to build up in my system. A month later, I finally confided in a friend here how I was feeling. She shared her own very personal experience with depression and then talked about the benefits of taking a probiotic. That very morning, I had taken Ainsleigh and Donovan to their well-checks where the pediatrician, after hearing about Ainsleigh's sporadic middle-of-the-night stomachaches, said we should start her on Zantac. She talked about how with all the antibiotics she was on after Christmas, it could have done a number on the lining of her stomach and that it probably needed to heal. As soon as my friend mentioned a probiotic, it was like it all fell into place - *I* had been on antibiotics. I wondered if my gut had been affected. My friend recommended listening to the podcast "Guts" by RadioLab. It's fascinating, and it supports the probiotic theory (if you don't listen to the whole thing, skip to the rats part).

5) Sleep is important, especially when it's hard to sleep. I don't think anything else needs to be said here.

A couple weeks ago at church, a woman was talking about a recent injury and how as she was in so much pain in the emergency room, she suddenly thought of Jesus Christ and all he had suffered and suddenly her pain seemed so insignificant. I know she meant well, and I'm glad she had that experience. But I just sat there listening and thought, "Nope. Not there yet." I'm not trying to be sacrilegious, and I wouldn't say my testimony has been altered, but I'm just not in a place where I can relinquish the stuff I'm feeling. I have hope I'll get there, though. I respect that these things take time.

It has now been 9 days since I've cried (I'm not counting getting teary while typing this). I know this because I started keeping track by putting stars on my calendar. I had joked with Joel I was going to make one of those workplace signs, "We've gone -- days without an accident" but with crying. Instead I just use icons on my calendar. I don't know if it's the St. John's Wort or the probiotics or both or neither. I'm not messing with the system. Some days I fully immerse myself in serving and helping others, and some days I fully immerse myself in cycling and organizing. Depends on the day, depends on my mood.

I've been hesitant about mentioning this at all because...why? I don't know. I guess I don't want people asking me how I'm doing. I might say, "Fine," and mean it, and I might say, "Fine," and be lying, but if I'm lying it's because I'm not in the right head space to talk about it. You're not going to be able to tell - I'm a really good liar. Also, I don't know that I want to talk about it a whole lot. That's a big reason I haven't mentioned this to family members. Talking about being sad hasn't proven to make me happier. I know I'm getting better, though, because a month ago I didn't even want to talk about this and wondered if I'd ever get to the point where I could. Look - I'm doing it!

I wish I had some witty or clever way of tying this whole thing up, but I don't. I guess I just hope that by being honest now, maybe it will tell someone else that it's ok to not feel happy. I'm generally the kind of person who can laugh through anything (see: making jokes while in labor, dilated to a 10), and I'm trying my hardest right now to do that. But somedays I just don't feel like laughing. There -- that's how I'm ending this.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not literally, of course.

A few days ago, Gemma went to a birthday party at one of those indoor establishments that house giant inflatable playthings and climbing walls and mazes. One of the giant inflatable playthings is a huge slide and I knew Gemma was a little nervous about going on it. I had reminded her that the last time she had been was a couple years ago, so she would probably feel more confident this time.

She returned home with cheeks still flushed (it's a 20-minute drive, mind you, after a 30-minute pizza/cake session) and pronounced the birthday party the best ever. Hours later, as she walked to her bedroom for the night, she was still talking about the first time she sat at the top of the slide.

Playing along, I asked, "And were you nervous?"

Eyes big and face solemn, she replied, "Yes. But then I held Molly's hand we went down together."

This time, however, she added something new to the story.

"I screamed my head off," she said. With just a slight pause, then she added, half-rolling her eyes, "Well, not literally, of course."

I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes went wide. My jaw dropped just enough to open my lips which were already curving into a proud smile.

Sensing she was on the right track, Gemma turned to me and in a very matter-of-fact tone said, "Because, you know, if I literally screamed my head off, it would have popped off and I'd be dead. I don't think you can literally scream your head off?"

I fell to my knees and wrapped her in a big hug, whispering, "I am so proud of you, my smart girl. You have learned a lesson that too many adults don't understand."

She proceeded to regale me with things that could and couldn't literally happen.

Joel came into the room a little while later and I recounted our exchange. Feeling a renewed sense of peace in parenting, I finished by saying, "This day could not end any better. My work here is done."

Not literally, of course.

Orlando, part 6: Sea World

A couple things: 1) I love Sea World. Yes, I've watched Blackfish, and no, I don't want to talk about how zoos aren't very nice for animals because they need wide open spaces and natural habitats and blah blah blah. The fact is, I'd never actually see these animals in person were it not for such establishments. So yes, I love Sea World. 2) This was the day Joel began to feel not very well, so yes there are fewer pictures.

We hit the new penguin exhibit right away, since my brother-in-law said that the wait gets long pretty quickly. Lucky for us, we waited long enough for them to open the doors. I was a bit confused - are we going on a ride? I thought we were just going to see some penguins? Turns out it's both. You take a little ride, following some animated adventure of a penguin just being hatched. You spin and glide around and then the music swells and the narration tells you he's joining his family and your car spins and this curtain goes up and BAM, there's a whole huge glass window with real live penguins running around on ice. I cannot do it justice, but I'm not going to lie - I got a little choked up. When I say I hate birds, I exclude birds of prey, penguins, and birds taller than me. This just makes sense. Also, I reserve the right to accept birds on a case by case basis. Parakeets will NEVER be accepted.

So then you step off your car or whatever it's called that you're riding in, and you stand behind a short glass barrier and you are literally (and you know I use that word sparingly) a foot away from penguins. There they walk and dive and swim right past you. It was amazing. I loved it. Also, it was freezing in there. Again, literally. Good thing we were accustomed to Orlando's frigid winter and had brought jackets accordingly. My sister-in-law Katherine told us how, in the summer, it can become quite uncomfortable. Having come prepared, we were able to enjoy quite a lot of time in there. It was really amazing.

I am a big believer in feeding the animals. I will pay insane amounts of money for sardines or crackers or whatever they feed the animals, and then insist we all de-cootie our hands with soap and water, but in the meantime we WILL feed these animals.

Like a complete amateur, I disregarded the sign to watch out for seagulls, and at our first feeding stop (the sea lions), I was showing my kids how to hold out the fish and the toss it out too the basking sea lions. The sardine left my hand in what was surely going to be an expert arc when a cunning seagull who had obviously been studying my technique from his nearby lair, launched himself and incepted the food. As if the birding community has completely given up on impressing me. Oh I hate them so much. So I used that as an example of what, obviously, NOT to do. Oh I hate them so much.

 Cute girl, hanging with some sea lions.
 look - you can see those birds taking off. oh i hate them.
 I'm pretty sure this guy got SOME fish.
 Nice pose, Mr. C. Lion
basking in the sun (both of them)

walrus and sea lion show
 entertained (not the guy in the background)

 the walrus is like the most epic slug ever.
watching a manatee is perhaps the most zen feeling

We concluded the day by watching a training session with the Orca whales. While there wasn't an actual show (while they work on the stadium), we got to see them closer than we would have, otherwise. It was really beautiful, and a nice way to end our visit to the park. 

I'm quite proud of this shot, thank you very much
Friday, April 4, 2014

Orlando, part 5: More Harry Potter

I couldn't figure out why we had so few pictures of Harry Potter World (aka Universal's Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and then it occurred to me: I never uploaded the pictures we took with our actual camera, not just our phones. Dir.

Prepare for the onslaught (and rest assured I'm not posting ALL of our photos because that would be ridiculous).

Applauding the Hogwarts choir, or something.

From how many angles can we photograph Hogwarts?

Ride in Seuss-land. Ainsleigh didn't trust the cartoon colors and slow pace -
she was sure there was a hidden upside-down section somewhere.

We got to Jurassic world in time to see a dinosaur hatch!
"'s not real," Donovan said. 

Being entertained by the stunt show.

outside Poseidon's Fury

Angle 2: Whole family outside Hogwarts

Hogwarts Express, with a Gemma who just won't quit the poses

Angle 3 - this is what we paid for!

Ropes course



Angle 4 - seriously, it's really fantastic.

Angle 5 - night time!

Bonus angle: with Katherine and Ryan

Hogsmeade. Obviously I'm out of order. Who cares.
storming Honeydukes (the candy shoppe)
Angle 6: "waiting" in line
(not really waiting - letting people pass us so we could walk slowly and soak up the whole scene)
Joel shot over his shoulder to catch this gem of us on "Flight of the Hippogriff"
man, i love that kid.

Hoodlums in a back alleyway
last call. delish.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Donovan's goats

Sometimes I read back over entries I made when Donovan was two and three and four and laugh over his antics and imagination. Sometimes I wonder if he'll ever be that funny again. And then there are nights like tonight where I think he only gets better.

As I mentioned previously, he does a pretty amusing goat impression. I'll have to actually record it. But anyway, he was talking about his day and mentioned "his goats." Ainsleigh nodded along, as if this were old news. Joel and I looked at each other, confused, and I asked for clarification.

"Oh yeah," Donovan said. "I've got a bunch of goats." He starts ticking them off his fingers, "There's Jimmy and Larry and Jimmy's best friend Frederick and Larry's girlfriend Kari and I've got 10 goats  named Gary..."

I was amused by the imagination he has that decides he's going to have pet goats, but I almost couldn't breathe from laughing at the idea of him naming goats and then getting to a clump of ten and saying, "Ok, you're all going to be named Gary."

Donovan doesn't lack for imagination. He often entertains his sisters by latching onto an idea and then going with it (common subject: ninjas, penguins, gerbils, secret agents). Long after I have tired of the story, his sisters listen rapturously. The kid doesn't lack for self-confidence, and that's a good thing.

Later, as he galloped upstairs to brush his teeth, making goat noises along the way, we heard him calling his goats and then yelling, "Bad goat, Jimmy!" I don't know what Jimmy did, but maybe he's the one who keeps leaving Donovan's underwear on the floor.

Dono turns 9

There is a little boy at church who reminds me of Donovan when he was younger. Sometimes I just stare at this kid, to see how he moves, the curve of his cheek, the mischievous sparkle in his eye. I listen for his deep, husky voice laced with the speech impediment common in toddlers and I find myself both giggling and choking back tears. I don't know this little boy very well, but I love him. And it isn't surprising to me in the least to hear that when Donovan goes over to their house for his piano lesson, this little boy climbs up next to him and gazes adoringly at Dono. They are two peas in a pod, those two, though my pea is getting older.

I tell myself that, just as I look at this little boy and long to be able to visit 2-year-old Donovan for just a day, there will come a time I will want to visit my 9-year-old Donovan, and I should enjoy what I have now. And I do. I love that this boy takes his birthday very seriously. This year Joel and I activated (that makes it sound pretty futuristic) about 50 glow sticks to leave a birthday message on his floor. As I began his birthday breakfast plans (pancakes and bacon, please), Dono stumbled, pajama-ed and bedheaded, into the kitchen to wrap his arms around my waist and murmur, "Thank you for my birthday surprise, Mommy. I love it!"
I love that he still calls me Mommy. I wonder when he will transition to just mom, so I capture each one in my mind, each one a little gift that tells me he is still young and mine.

At school, because of allergies, our options for birthday treats are limited. So Donovan opted to bring mustaches for his class. It was hilarious. The teacher even took a picture for me. Then, the next day for his party, Donovan and four of his friends mustached-up and went to the movies. I've got to say that taking five boys (plus my girls) to the movies is actually a pretty great birthday party. Joel drove the girls and I drove the boys. Immediately, the topic was farting. I didn't say a word, figuring they were boys and this was Donovan's party, so I would just ignore it. About five minutes in, though, Donovan said, "Ok guys, maybe we should tone down the farting talk. It might get too stinky in here for my mom." I loved him so much in that moment, for understanding a simple principle of respect and recognizing how to have fun without getting out-of-control.

The movie was fun and as we drove home, I wondered what kinds of games we should play when we get home. Pictionary? Charades? Oh wait, these are boys. Let's just hand them stomp rockets. And after a while, point to the trampoline. Boys are awesome this way.

Donovan was quite specific about what kind of cake he wanted. "I want a chocolate marshmallow cake, so can you do four layers of cake and three layers of marshmallow and then cover the whole thing in chocolate frosting?" Why yes, yes I can. And the family pronounced the toasted marshmallow frosting the best ever. I have to say it was delicious, if you're into sugary things.

My boy is getting older. I can hardly believe this tall, athletic, intelligent and curious 9 year old was once small and husky. He's still mischievous and sometimes frustrating, but it balances out the sweet and affectionate to make for an all-around awesome kid. The night before his birthday, I kissed him goodnight and whispered in his ear, "Having babies hurts more than anything, but you were totally worth it. I feel lucky to have you every day, even when you make annoying sounds."

He grinned with his eyes closed and snuggled down in his bed, then tipped his head back and opened his mouth, emitting his best goat impression.

Orlando, part 4: Harry Potter World

(ugh - two months later and I'm still talking about Orlando? yikes.)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is really just a section of Universal's Islands of Adventure. What is this, a Tyler Perry movie: Universal's Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World of Harry Potter...? So we'll just call it Harry Potter World, with a side of some other stuff. And besides, let's face it, the Harry Potter section is the reason we went to IoA in the first place. Oh wait, I'm sorry, UIoAWWoHP.

The older two brought their Gryffindor scarves I knitted a couple years ago but, upon my recommendation, left their wands at home so as not to lose/break/havethemstolen since they are way better than anything we could have purchased there, thanks to my extremely talented Uncle Terry, no disrespect Mr. Ollivander.

Not to be a snob (which you know is like when someone says, "not to be rude," or "not to sound racist," and you know that what follows is going to be exactly that), but Universal just felt different than the Disney properties. It's just...different. Not quite as...well...Disney. But we quickly made our way to Harry Potter World and I didn't care any more.

We knew Gemma wouldn't be able to ride on the "Forbidden Journey" within the walls of Hogwarts, so we first stopped at the Flight of the Hippogriff. This was an excellent move because she loved it, and we got to see Hagrid's hut. 
I am not sure what is happening in this picture except that Ainsleigh
gets bonus points for looking normal while her siblings do what they do.

I'm going to call this our Hippogriff Selfie. Some teenage girl sat next to Joel
and I didn't know for whom to feel sorry.

The castle was so much fun just to walk through that we were kind of bummed that there wasn't a line. So we went on it again, just to walk slowly through the whole thing. The details are really great and you feel like this actually could be where the kids went to school. I can't imagine what it would be like to dream up some an amazing world and then see it realized. I can't tell you how many appreciative slow-claps I gave to that brilliant mastermind.

The ride itself, holy cow. It was unlike any ride I've ever been on. I can't really describe it except to say I was thrilled and a bit nauseous at the same time. We then zipped in to the Three Broomsticks for our first taste of Butterbeer and some delicious fish and chips.

It was even better than we had hoped.
And I'm talking about the butterbeer AND the fish.

Butterbeer mustache - so delicious.

There ARE other parts to Islands of Adventure, but this is just about the only other picture we took. I mean, after you leave Harry Potter World, what's the point?
We did see a stunt show that totally blew the kids' minds. We rode the Spider-Man ride and they loved that. Gemma was furious that she wasn't tall enough to go on any of the "upside down rollercoasters." She kept wanting to sneak onto "the Hulk." She promised she'd be back when she was 10 so she could ride. I hope the rest of us get to go.