“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” —Norman Vincent Peale
That trip to North Carolina I mentioned in my last post? Pictures!
p.s. Only one year of this until I’m caught up.
p.p.s. Andy was at GenCon with friends, which is why he is absent from all these photos. Also, thanks Mom and Dad, for making that 8-hour drive with me. Not sure I’m ready to do that alone with all three kids (still).
“It was different, going to sleep with all that new breathing in the house.” —Cynthia Rylant
This year your birthday started with a visit from Grandma and Grandpa in Baltimore. And, on the way to the airport, Owen threw up all over himself and the van. As I was trying to get him cleaned up with the few wipes and plastic bags I had, changing him into one of Daddy’s shirts slated for Goodwill I found in the back of the van, you ever-so-helpful said from the back, “Mommy, you are not prepared for this.”
And I loved that, the humor you gave to an otherwise awful situation. And I loved that, because it showed you are still young enough to always speak your mind. And I loved that because, when it counts, you really are generous and kind. You care, about everything, so much.
Which is why, in part, I felt so badly that your birthday was a bit of a bust.
It started out wonderfully, with a present from Great Aunt Susie—a handmade Elsa dress.
Still, on the day of your birthday party at the YMCA, Owen and James had been sick less than 48 hours prior, so both boys had to stay home with Grandpa. (But don’t worry about the boys—Grandpa came through with a small birthday celebration they threw for you, on their own, in the backyard.)
And you, I believe, had fun.
Nini and Pop Pop came to your party at the YMCA, and then followed us home where you opened your presents from them on our front porch. They were on their way to see your Aunt Katy, Uncle Tom and cousin Colleen, who, as you know, has a birthday the day after yours. They stayed on the porch in what we hoped was a germ-free zone, so as not to get pregnant Aunt Katy sick.
After Nini and Pop Pop left, you said your stomach hurt. I tried to convince myself it was the sweets, but then you, too, got sick. After emailing my sincerest apologies to all the other parents of your friends who were at your party, I sat next to you on the couch, holding your hair and scratching your back—not a great way to spend your birthday, any birthday, but especially a birthday when you’re 6.
Still, you said you wanted to open presents. It was clear you loved them, but you were quiet and reserved, and you hardly played with your gifts after, which included some much-anticipated Frozen merchandise.
Several days later you were ready for your meal-of-choice: scrambled eggs, fruit salad, bacon and cinnamon rolls “from the can.”
Still after, you had a stomachache.
So it wasn’t until you were 6 years and 1 week old that you finally had your Frozen ice cream birthday cake, which your dad, who has many varied talents, made for you.
We even threw in a couple extra presents, for good measure. And then, we had cake!
And now is when I normally write a personal letter to you. And I will, but privately. For you’re 6 now, my sweet child. You’re in kindergarten. You’re learning to read. Your friends are learning to read. My thoughts and reminiscences about the year past are no longer primarily focused on physical milestones and parenting mishaps, but more personal milestones—your emotional and intellectual milestones—your growth as a human being, into an adult. And they are yours. And for the ones we share, also mine. And they belong to everyone you choose to share them with, both in the present, and in the future, if that’s what you wish.
This was the first year I didn’t know what you wished for—you have secrets, experiences, thoughts and frustrations tucked away in your brain that I’m not privy to—as it should be. Still, I love when you share. And I hope you continue to share. And in return, I promise to respect your privacy, as well as a mother (who also is a writer) can.
Happy, happy birthday my generous, passionate, funny Sophie.
I love you, always.
“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” —Emily Dickinson
Sophie spent the night with her cousin Colleen at Nini and Pop Pop’s house over Christmas. So tonight, it was James and Owen’s turn to spend the night at Nini and Pop Pop’s. My parents asked the boys if they wanted to spend the night together or separate and they said together (everything is together these days, including their clothes, which they love to match).
This worked out well, as Andy was in Columbus all day and Sophie and I had a baby shower to attend.
Lovely Danielle is due in March!
Sophie’s next request: the aquarium.
Once back outside, we watched the snow fall on the Ohio River.
And then: Dinner at Bravo. All she really wanted for dinner was to sit in a high chair (bar stool). (Halfway through talking about it, she realized, with hilarity, that “high chair” sounded an awful lot like she wanted to sit in a “highchair.” We used the phrase “tall chair” then on after.) She got her wish and so much more. Newport’s Bravo does have tall chairs, which overlook the kitchen. We got to watch everything being cooked. And (I had no idea they did this) she was given a small ball of dough to form into any shape she wanted (she chose five “snowballs,” one for everyone in the family). Marissa (at least I think that was her name, it was loud when I asked her) was in charge of making and cooking all the bruschettas, pizzas, etc. She cooked Sophie’s snowballs, in the wood-fired pizza oven. Sophie watched them rise and brown, and was thrilled.
We drove home slowly, in the snow. Once home I discovered my parents had my house key (we switched vehicles). And both our front door and back door were (for once) locked. So I tried the cellar door—thankfully, the basement door at the bottom of the steps was unlocked, and Sophie laughed with great joy at the oddity of entering our house this way. Once inside, and having fed Tucker, both on our own, we immediately put on comfy clothes. I started a fire and she curled up on her new bean bag couch, a gift from Grandma, and we watched “The Little Mermaid,” which I had ordered online earlier in the week and which she had been waiting patiently for, as she had never seen it.
My mom just emailed me. “They went to bed at 8:00 and fell asleep before I hit the bottom step. They were on their best behavior all day.”
Today was so nice.
I could spend a paragraph writing about how much I love Owen and James but truly, I feel it’s unnecessary. I love them.
But I also love and crave one-on-one time, with all my children, too.
And this has been a tough year for me, with two three year olds. It’s, well, chaos. I don’t think even the sleep-deprived nonstop first six months was chaotic as this has been. There was more control to their infancy—there was a schedule and when they cried it was OK because that’s what babies do and everything—they and all their things—stayed put, unless I moved them.
Now. Now it’s just chaos.
And today, I could have fixed that chaos a bit. A bit more, I should say, as we’ve deemed the year 2014 as the year we put our house (and lives) back in order. But instead, I spent it looking at fish. And making dough snowballs. And breaking into my own house. And remembering how sweet and funny and kind my little almost 6-year-old is, and how much she shines when, every once in awhile, the wonderful, beautiful chaos of being a big sister to two 3-year-olds is removed.
I’m so good at seeing the beauty in the chaos once removed. Now, I just need to learn how to recognize the grace while in the thick of it.
“If chaos is a necessary step in the organization of one’s universe, then I was well on my way.” —Wendelin Van Draanen
Work, for my dad, started early—in life and in the day. He grew up on a hog farm in Lewisburg, Ohio. He helped with the hard work of the farm, and my grandparents paid him and his siblings for the work that they did. He went to college, taught, got a master’s degree and taught some more. He was good at his work, but he never let it define him. Case in point: In 1982, he started working for McGraw-Hill Book Company. I have postcards from the early 80s from places like New York City—places my dad traveled for work. I remember going to the airport with him, getting on his plane and stepping into the cockpit. I remember a pilot giving me my own pilot wings. I remember watching his plane leave the airport and I remember the excitement of postcards in the mail. I don’t know if I simply associate Harry Chapin’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle” with my dad’s decision to leave his district manager job or if the song truly influenced him but he did leave it after three years. And most of his career, from 1985 to 2013, was spent with Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, most recently as Vice President of Business Operations. He did a lot of good there.
In June, he retired.
We attended a banquet for all the Great Oaks retirees late this spring. His speech made me teary.
And then in June, Kyle from San Francisco, and Katy, Tom and Colleen from North Carolina, came to town to celebrate.
These were some of the best summer days and nights.
We celebrated many things that week. We had dinner at A Tavola followed by cake and gifts at our house to celebrate Father’s Day and my mom’s birthday.
Our immediate family toasted and gifted my dad after dinner at Troy’s Cafe. My mom gave him two engraved bricks that both say “But it’s Baseball! Gary Gebhart”—one’s at home, the other, at Great American Ball Park.
For weeks beforehand my mom gathered one word from people who know my dad—one word that describes him. She then made The List.
Carnac the Magnificent
The next day family, friends and colleagues attended a party at my parents’ house.
My dad and brother-in-law spent days preparing Detling Field for a ballgame. We played a bit but then …
Still, an enjoyable day, complete with Eli’s BBQ sandwiches for all.
Now my parents are both retired. My dad still works, but it’s work of his choosing. He gardens. He works in the yard. He works out. He attends services at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. He volunteers at the Freestore Foodbank. He tutors a kindergartener once a week at South Avondale Elementary School. Every week he and my mom go on a date—Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Findley Market, a concert in a coffee shop. Next weekend they’re going to Colonial Williamsburg to see the Threads of Feeling exhibit with my grandma and my sister and her family. They went to Hawaii.
My dad stopped by the other day, after tutoring, just to hang out, to play tickle monster with the kids, to be beat in Bingo. This time for him is so incredibly well-deserved. And I’m just so thankful to be a part of it.
“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” —Harry Emerson Fosdick
Dear James and Owen,
For your third birthday, we hung up the birthday banner (of course).
The night before your birthday I went out, after you were asleep, and bought you each a balloon.
The next morning you wore your Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate T-shirts. You were so.very.excited. Too excited. So excited that we let Sophie give you her birthday presents after breakfast (she was too excited to wait, too). James, even though you love Jake the Pirate, you wanted Thomas trains as presents. So that’s what Sophie gave to both of you. You loved them.
Nini and Pop Pop came over for a birthday lunch!
I was planning on making two meals that day, as it is our tradition that you pick your favorite meal for your birthday. This year, though, you picked the same thing—pesto pasta and bread with butter.
Owen, you humored me by wearing your 1st birthday hat, which I purchased from Etsy. (James, you did not humor me—this year.)
You both wanted chocolate cake with chocolate icing. As such, Andy said it only made sense that we make one cake. I would have none of that. None.of.that. Two cakes, one for each of you. You are two separate people with two birthdays to celebrate. (We had a lot of leftover cake.) Owen, this was your cake.
And James, this was your cake. (Sophie insisted on decorating them both.)
James, this year, we sung to you first.
Owen, I love this picture of you. You are watching your daddy come into the living room with your lit birthday cake. You were so excited.
You blew out your candles quite well, too.
And then, you got to open presents! One of your joint presents from Nini and Pop were wooden marble run tracks from Haba.
You love them. Daddy often comes home from work and builds intricate mazes down our stairs. However, you’re also getting better and better about building working runs all by yourself, too.
After presents, we ate cake and ice cream.
We spent the rest of the afternoon with Nini and Pop Pop, playing with your new toys and old games, too.
This year, you were lucky because you got to celebrate your birthday twice! Grandma and Paw Paw visited the following weekend. This time, we made Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate cupcakes.
You blew out your candles …
and opened presents.
Grandma and Paw Paw got you a jeep. At first, we didn’t tell you and you didn’t realize you could drive it. You were simply just thrilled with the idea of sitting in it.
Pop Pop and Nini came over—like Pop Pop like grandson.
Then all of us went to Nini and Pop Pop’s house, where we revealed the truth of the Jeep—that it moves.
You each took a turn riding with Sophie. And … you haven’t ridden it since. You’re afraid of it. I’m baffled by this, but am guessing (hoping) this will change with time.
We finished out the afternoon with a game of baseball on Detling Field.
You eat a ridiculous amount of food. Just today, you woke up from your nap and immediately asked for a tomato—an entire tomato. I sliced it all, you ate it all, and then you asked for more. The night before we had homemade pancakes for dinner. You ate five—five large pancakes. I always say, “I don’t know where he puts it all!” (you can still wear 18-month shorts) but that’s not entirely true. I do know what happens to all those calories. You burn them off. Constantly. You rarely walk—unless it’s outside and the temperature is not of your liking (and when it’s too hot or too cold you are sure to let us know). Inside, though, you run. Everywhere. You dive and jump and barrel and twist and turn and dance and swing and hop and roll all.around.the.house (and all over us and Tucker, too.). I envy your energy.
You love “You Are My Sunshine.” You request it at bedtime. You ask for it whenever you hurt yourself. When you are in the midst of a full-blown tantrum, it is the one thing that will calm you (just like it always has). I pick you up and you wrap your arms and legs around me, nuzzling your head into the crook of my head and shoulder. And I sing. And scratch your back. And you calm. Your entire body relaxes into mine, your breathing slows, you stop crying. You calm. I love singing “You Are My Sunshine” to you.
You sing it, too. You sing it in this beautiful, high-pitched, perfectly sweet voice that makes me want to cry every time I hear it. Because of it, I’ve become “one of those moms.” Again and again I say, “James, can you sing ‘Your Are My Sunshine’?” to anyone and everyone who will listen. Often, you do. My favorite moments, though, are when you sing it unprompted. A couple times Owen has hurt himself and on my way upstairs to kiss yet another knee I hear you, sweetly singing to him. People talk about hearts melting. This, this turns mine into a puddle.
You’re sneaky. You hide things. I’m still missing a-now-cancelled credit card I believe, because of you. When you’re mad at someone you will take something of importance to them and throw it—behind the buffet, behind a bed, behind the couch. And then you smile. (We’re working on this.)
You love to read. More so than Sophie and Owen. Every day you pull a new book off the bookshelf, sit on my lap and ask me to read. I try my best to stop whatever I’m doing to read to you. Never, ever lose this passion.
You’re good at puzzles. Really good at puzzles. Scary good at puzzles. Every day you do Owen’s four-pack Thomas the Train puzzles. Babysitters have gotten out other puzzles and noted how good you are at doing them. I need to get you some more puzzles.
I love your curly hair. Sophie loves it, too. Often she does your hair for you. She brushes it and poofs it and puts barrettes in it and headbands in it. She puts you in her dress-up clothes and you just laugh and smile. You’re such a good sport about it.
You take things apart constantly. TV remotes. Toys. Cell phones. The contents of wallets. The contents of purses. Sophie’s treasure box. If anything has a battery in it, you take it out. If any outlet is childproofed, you get into it. Maybe you’ll be an engineer. Maybe you’ll be an inventor. Maybe you’ll be a builder. Maybe you’ll be an artist or a woodworker or an architect or a teacher. I love your curiosity, even if some days it drives me crazy.
I love you, James. I love the way you laugh—such a big laugh for such a little dude. I love how you are all wiggly arms and wiggly legs all over me, all the time. I love how your eyes shine. People talk about shining eyes but yours do. They really do. I love how much you love Tucker and I love how much he loves you. I love how much you love us. I love how much you love life. The toddler years can be trying—for us. For you. But they are so short-lived, which makes me both happy and so incredibly sad. I love that I’m spending your toddler years with you.
You have the best facial expressions. Everything is exaggerated. Your surprised look. Your “I’m sorry” look. Your “Aw, isn’t that so cute?” look. Your mad look. Your sad look. Your silly look. I love all your looks. May you always remain that expressive.
You love trains. While Daddy and I were out of town, you recently rode on one at the zoo with my cousin (and one of your favorite babysitters), Kelsey. You were almost manic describing it to us. When we cross a train track or you hear a train in the distance, you become inconsolable if you don’t see a physical train to go along with the track or the noise. You know all the words to the Thomas the the Train theme song and you love to sing the song in different silly voices. You know all the engine names and, thanks to some other non-Thomas train books, you know the different parts of a train (the engine, the tender, the caboose). Lately you will spend afternoons in your room running your trains over your tracks, making up stories about what they’re doing and where they’re going. I love listening to these stories, these worlds you create in your head.
You and Sophie are buds. All three of you love to play with each other, and I know these pair-offs will change over the years, but right now you two often can be found together—especially outside. You both stick the swing seats on your stomachs and you run and kick off and go so high—so high. You love to balance on anything—curbs, stone walls, benches. You love to ride Sophie’s pink tricycle although you refuse to use the pedals. Still, you are fast—and intent on catching up to Sophie on her scooter. You and Sophie race all the time—from the van to the front door, up the stairs, to the entrance of Tower Park—all the time. You’re really good at Memory. So good that it startles Sophie. “Mommy,” she says. “How did Owen beat me? He’s 3 and I’m 5!” You surprise her (and us) with this skill.
You are very particular about the order in which you do things. There is a certain way you have to get in the van, a certain order to the buckles on your car seat. You insist on buckling the last buckle, but only after everyone else is in their seats and buckled, too. (And then you ask Sophie, about five times while we’re driving, if she’s buckled—this drives her mad.) When it’s time to get shoes on, you often insist on sitting on a particular step. You’re particular about the clothes you wear. James would be naked, all the time, if he could. You—you must have pants and a shirt on. And when hot weather arrived, you spent several weeks dismayed with the fact that you were in shorts, not pants, and t-shirts, not long-sleeved shirts.
You know what you like.
You still love the moon. And the cardinals that live in our backyard pine tree. And Mia—although you scream “MIA” and scare her so much she never sticks around long enough for you to do anything with her. When you see something cute, you cock your head to the side, smile and say “Awww, that’s so cute!” in, well, in a seriously cute way.
When you color, it’s not the normal all-over-the-page kid scribble. Rather you draw these tiny little individual scribbles, all over the page. And they are each something. If I ask, you tell me what they are. They are fish. Dogs. Words. Letters. Numbers. Houses. Trains. Trees. I should ask you about your scribbles more often.
You scare easily. And, as such, you show your bravery so often. This year I’ve seen you tackle the “shake shake” bridge at the park. The big fish at the aquarium. The pool at the Y. Child watch at the Y. Hip hop at the Y. The backyard swing. The tricycle, fast. Scooby Doo. I’m proud of you.
Recently, you fell asleep on me—just like you did when you were an infant. Your head fit up on my shoulder perfectly, but your legs were so long against my body. You were so baby-like, so toddler-like. So small, so big. I loved it. I didn’t move, for more than an hour, craving the moment, knowing how fleeting it was, knowing it was rare, knowing, someday soon, it will never more be. Thank you, for that small and precious gift you gave to me.
I love you—everything about you.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you both don’t exhaust me—us. You both are demanding. You both throw spectacular tantrums. You both whine. Oh, do you whine. But this passion also shows on the flip side, too. You love. You love. If we’re leaving and one of you thinks we’re leaving the other behind (which we would never do), you lose it. You cry and yell and we have to console you, over and over, that all of us are coming—no one is being left behind. If one of you cries after being hurt, the other one finds one of us, desperate to get help for his brother. You fight with each other, passionately. But you also love each other, equally—if not more—passionately. We love you both the same, passionately.
Sometimes, at night, around 10pm, when you should be sleeping—when you should have been asleep two hours ago—you creep down the stairs, together, while we are watching a show. We’ll hear your tip-toes and your “shhh’s” and look up to see you both, heads stuck between the rails, smiling, like you’re holding mankind’s greatest secret. And we melt. We should be angry, but we can’t be angry. You are both too cute to be angry.
And that’s how it is, with both of you. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. But I love it, you. I’m addicted to both of you. I can’t imagine my life without either of you and I’m so proud of the men you are becoming.
And here is where I’ll admit a truth: I was a little scared when I found out I was the mother of two boys. Your dad constantly perplexes me (and I mean that in the most loving way). But I’m a girl. I felt like I knew nothing about boys, raising boys. But now I know you are both people. Beautiful, loving, happy people. People who are growing, people who I’m excited to watch become men.
Often, I change the words to our favorite song. I make it plural. You are my sunshines. My only sunshines. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know dears, how much I love you. Please don’t let my sunshines go away.
“A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.” —Bill Vaughan
Andy comes home today! Sophie has quite the welcome-home plans for him …
My parents came over and treated us to dinner last night. And earlier in my week of solo parenting Owen and James spent the night at my parents’ house, giving me time to tackle my piles while Sophie was at preschool. My mom took this picture of Pop Pop reading to them during their stay.
Also, the sun is shining today.
“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” —John Denver
Finding the perfect tree at Burlington Tree Farm.
Decorating the tree.
Sophie’s handmade Christmas present to us, from preschool (she couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to us).
A late night writing Christmas postcards.
Christmas at Great Grandma Gebhart’s house + handmade train whistles from my uncle Skip.
Pop Pop’s lap overflowing with grandkids.
James and Owen with their new cars from Great Grandma.
Autumn and Amanda
James’s new Jake the Pirate set from my aunt Ellen and uncle Skip (he loved it).
Aunt Katy and sleepy Colleen
Uncle Kyle and (Great) Uncle Skip
Autumn and her mom, Lisa
Sophie getting some puzzle help from Autumn.
Andy and my uncle Roger in the kitchen.
Christmas at my grandma’s farm, a tradition I’ve long loved.
Nini making pomegranate cosmopolitans.
Nini, Katy and me!
(They were delicious.)
Nini reading Eve Bunting’s Night Tree to the grandkids.
A Christmas gift for the birds—bagels covered in peanut butter and bird seed.
Hanging our gifts on the pine tree.
Mom and Dad (Nini and Pop Pop)
Writing letters to Santa.
Christmas around the house.
Sophie’s preschool Christmas gift to us.
The decorated mantel—Sophie wasn’t pleased with it so she added the ribbon and, if you look close, handmade snowmen hanging from it (of course, I left it).
A Christmas Eve viewing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Andy reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
James and Owen, clearly ready for bed.
More Christmas around the house.
Letters, cookies, milk for Santa, and lots of carrots for the reindeer.
Christmas Eve, right before bed = joy.
The walk down the stairs.
Christmas day at my parents’ house.
Colleen and Sophie
Colleen’s handmade hand-print wreath (with the help of Nini) to Uncle Tom and Aunt Katy.
Uncle Kyle and Sophie
My mom made beautiful teddy bears for each of the grandkids. They loved them.
The BonBonerie Christmas cookies.
Sophie trying out her new skates …
in my parents completely reorganized, repainted basement.
Christmas around my parents’ house.
Christmas dinner and paper crowns.
James, Owen, Sophie and Colleen
The teddy bears my mom made …
Gear. So. much. gear. (But of course, no boots. We hadn’t bought them yet.)
The kids’ first snowfall of the season—and their first snowman!
Making the traditional Uhl Family Christmas Cookies with Grandma and Paw Paw.
Owen taking a TV break from making cookies.
Christmas Eve w/ Grandma and Paw Paw.
Sophie opening her very special craft box, which Grandma put together.
Paw Paw and Grandma
Early morning sun.
Grandma made a craft box for all three kids—it’s huge and organized and labeled and filled with so many wonderful things—all three children play with it daily (thank you).
Thomas the Train tracks = love.
“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: The presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” —Burton Hillis
Great Grandma came to visit—with huge peanut butter cookies. Aunt Janeil was more than willing—and got everyone else—to participate in a parade. The kids wanted to try on their costumes before my parents left. This is the only picture I have of all three of them in their costumes—the boys refused to wear them on Halloween. Still, they do make a pretty cute Rapunzel, Thomas and Percy, no?
“Cookies are made of butter and love.” —Norwegian Proverb
beautiful Katy; beautiful Colleen
Katy reading to Colleen and James
the beautiful/terrifying spider waiting for dinner on their front porch
climbing Jack’s beanstalk at Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem
catching flying scarves
a trip to the grocery
happy Pop Pop
Katy and Tom, storytelling
“But in the east the sky was pale and through the gray woods came lanterns with wagons and horses, bringing Grandpa and Grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins.” —Laura Ingalls Wilder