Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Kids Go Back to School (And Ali's Still Crazy)!

This unplanned photo bomb makes me laugh. 
Eliza nailed it.
However, Henry has a slight creeper/crazed expression in his eyes 
that adds something special to the photo. 
To me, his eyes say: 
"Mom, I'm letting you take this picture as a courtesy. 
But seriously, just stop with pictures."
My reply:  "NEVER!"
Be still my heart.

Well friends, we survived the first week of school. The moment leading up to the drop off, as well as the back to school preparation, felt big. Even though we've done this before, the range of emotions I feel each year remain mixed and sharp. Here's a brief rundown:

Anxiety fills bellies at bedtime. Tears of apprehension suddenly appear. As parents, we do our best to dispel these feelings with laughter. Once there's a smile, you know it's a safe time to proceed talking through what they're feeling. You focus on the positives; like the new school clothes! I'm sure there are a lot of critics who could tell me why the whole concept of "back to school" clothes is wasteful, superficial, etc. However, seeing their new clothes, patiently waiting in their closet, fresh with the verbal Mom restriction:

You Can't Wear These Until After School Starts! 

...adds happiness and excitement to their natural anticipation. Not to mention, it's a scientific fact that children grow what makes shopping a need. So there's that. :)

On the first day of school, putting on their new clothes and shoes gives them an extra surge of confidence. Eliza felt beautiful. Henry knew he looked sharp. He has never wanted a super hero t-shirt. He loves wearing button down shirts with collars. As I'm typing this, I can't help but laugh as an image of Andrew's closet fills my mind. I see two long rows of button down shirts. He truly emulates his Father. 

Returning to that morning, I kept my mood pleasant and positive. I watched the clock carefully. Old habits and patterns returned. We prayed together. We read and talked about some scriptures. I made sure we had a healthy cushion of time for photos. Andrew was able to join us for our walk to the school. Having him there is probably more reassuring for me than the kids! As we made our approach, Eliza wanted to hug and kiss me "Goodbye" before we got too close to the school. This didn't break my heart like you may think. She wants to be mature and grown up like her friends. I'm secure in her love for me. The idea of her wanting to limit public affection would have devastated me in the past, but I surprisingly understand where she's coming form. Henry, on the other hand, was happy to let me steal my smooch from him before he ran to greet friends. 

Eliza kindly allowed me to walk with her to the fourth grade door. A row of familiar, beautiful faces stood already waiting in line. I recognized each girl. Because of the Chinese program, the mix of students in her class is pretty much the same year after year. I could feel their nervous and excited energy. These girls are good and kind. But for whatever reason, none of them acknowledged Eliza. I watched as she waved and softly whispered her greetings but it went unnoticed. I saw the sudden heart break and panic on her face. I knew that my expression mirrored her own. She desperately began to search for her best friend but she wasn't on the playground yet. 

One of the girl's parents took notice of us. I watched as he caught his daughter's attention and whispered a quick something to her. Two seconds later, this friend bounced out of line and over to Eliza. With animation she welcomed her and invited her to join her. The man then suggested: 

"Hey! Can I get a picture of you together?" And just like that, Eliza had a friend. She was fine. His small act of kindness meant the world to me. I was so touched. I could feel my composure fading so I gave Eliza a final wave and returned to Henry's line where Andrew was waiting. 

As I relayed the story to him, I burst into tears. I was kicking myself for forgetting my sunglasses as my emotional state of crazy was obvious to the parents around me. I was comforted to see Henry happily engaging his friends. I realized once again how unique children are. The concerns I have for both of them are so different from the other. The bell rang. It was time to shake off the crazy, walk home with my younger kids and then call my Mom (so I could cry some more). 

I hesitated whether or not to share this experience because its personal to Eliza. However, the week has a happy ending because she had a very positive social experience each day. The first ten minutes were rough but from what she's shared with me since, she has plenty of good friends. I am so happy and grateful. Also, I want to remember this man's thoughtfulness. 

Yesterday, Eliza and I went to pick up her new glasses. I decided to leave the radio off so we could more easily converse. I was delighted as she shared detail after new detail about her first week of school. Even though I quiz her each day, she was in the proper mood to share and we were free of distractions. It was a blessing to bond like this and reminded me that more often not, the most important conversations happen on their own. Henry has also been very positive. It's fun hearing the great feedback on their teachers, the lunch time report and other tidbits.

The week as a whole was emotionally and physically exhausting. Not to mention, Andrew was traveling for work for two nights which impacted my sleep. But really, I can't complain because they are happy and doing well. I feel very thankful for that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Try a little harder to be a little better.

(Written: Monday, Aug.24)

Per usual, I am behind on blogging. My head, however, is swimming with thoughts of sending my children back to school tomorrow. Charged with these back to school jitters, I feel I have no other choice but to postpone the posts I've been working on and go with the moment. That, after all, is my favorite way to blog.

It was a simple scene to stumble on this morning; familiar in many ways. I suppose it was the timing that made the moment poignant for me (*side note: I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever typed the word poignant in my life. I feel like a grown up!!).  It was our last day of summer vacation and I was able to sleep in. I couldn't believe that I woke up before Forrest! I tiptoe down the hallway toward his bedroom. That unexpected surprise of sleeping in past your baby eventually shifts into slight alarm. I peak into his room and wait a quiet moment to make sure all is well with him. Next door, I can hear Lottie and Henry chatting.
Greeting them, "Good morning!" I let them know that I'll be downstairs to help with breakfast.

"But we're playing, Mom!" Lottie informs me.

"Oh, that's fine! Keep playing!" I linger a moment to observe them. Henry's red dragon is scooping up one of Lottie's baby bunnies into its mouth. Lottie doesn't protest. This makes me laugh. It would seem that life on the Flegal funny farm has desensitized her. A surge of emotion passes through me as I take note that this moment of spontaneous morning play will soon be replaced with busy back to school mornings, soccer Saturdays and the continuation of, "Let's Survive Sunday morning without Dad." (That's a thing.) As with each change in the season, I cross my fingers that next summer the pair of them remain friends; playing with toys and imagining conflict between dragons and bunnies.

The rest of our day unfolded per the usual chaos. Eliza was invited to go to classic water slides with friends. I quickly agreed (she was THRILLED) as long as she promised not to share the news with her younger siblings. I could only imagine the shade of green they would have turned had they figured it out. Eliza and I were pretty James Bond about the whole thing as we got her ready for the outing. Before she left, my Mom was kind enough to give my girls a haircut. It's torture watching Lottie's curls fall to the floor. Relief flooded through me as those newly cut ends bounced into their curly shape as her hair dried.

While Eliza was on her fabulous play date, the other kids were treated to a trip to Costco. That's not a bad consolation prize when you consider the hot dogs and pizza! Ha! Andrew worked from home today so he was able to join us for his lunch break. After that, I put Forrest down for his nap and then headed to the Dollar Store. Again, Andrew was working from home. I complain a lot about his travel schedule so I feel that's it's only fair to share the perks of his job too. Running errands while Forrest naps is definitely a favorite. That afternoon we prepped for our "Back to School Feast" and then called the crew together to celebrate!

Back to school night at the elementary school followed dinner. It's crazy to me that I feel seasoned in this yearly ritual. It was exciting to return to those familiar hallways, meet teachers and sign up for the PTA! They sign said that if I signed up, I would become a "super parent;" so here's hoping. ;) The kids seemed excited as well.
The best part of the day was the Father's blessings Andrew gave the children. Forrest even sat still, allowing Andrew to give him one! There are a few things I want to remember. Keep in mind, these are rough notes from my brain. Andrew was articulate and sensitive to Heavenly promptings as he spoke. My words are choppy and awkard in comparison.

Andrew blessed Lottie that she would make friends this year, some of whom will be life long friends. I thought that was interesting. He also promised her protection and told her she'd be guarded by angels. Henry was blessed with courage and confidence. Andrew told him that he has a talent to make people smile and that he should use that gift to build people up. Once more, he blessed his eyes to stay straight. He told Eliza that she has been blessed with a brilliant mind and told her that she will find joy as she helps her peers who might be struggling. As for Forrest, I just cried. He immediately blessed him with the gift of tongues. He blessed him that he'd catch up with his verbal skills, among other things. This back to school experience is a comfort each year. It was the best part of the day.

As for our theme this year: Eliza and I were talking a few weeks ago about President Hinckley and some of his teachings that have lingered with me from when I was a youth. The other night as she was praying, she incorporated one of those teachings into what she praying for.

"Help us, Heavenly Father, to try a little harder, to be a little better and to be a little kinder." I knew as she said those words that I'd found our theme.
At dinner tonight, we talked about our goals. Our objective isn't to "be a little better" than another person. This is a personal thing for each of us. I suggested we try to be a little better with scripture study. Dad's suggestion was to be better at family night. Eliza said she'd be a little better at not procrastinating her homework. Henry's goal was to be a little better at focusing and listening. It's easy to get distracted by other kids! Lottie's goal was to be more kind and friendly.

Tomorrow's the big day! I hope we all sleep!

Here are a few misc. back to school prep photos:

My Mom was kind enough to cut the girl's hair.  
Shopping for glasses with Eliza was my least favorite back to school experience. We went to four or five shops. Her self esteem plummets when she wears them which makes me so sad. I wanted her to find a pair that she loved. Sadly, the pair of glasses that I loved most weren't her top pick. I really wanted to get them anyway, but eventually backed off. She needs to like them. She finally went back to a pair we found earlier on in the hunt. They are similar to the ones she has now. I still pine for the other pair, but am trying to tell myself to let it go and get over it. Here's her new pair.
Earlier in August, we went back to school shopping. Henry really enjoyed himself! It was fun having him along with us this year. :)
We stocked up on supplies requested by their teachers.

And here's something funny I found out when I was cleaning out Henry's backpack. It was what he hoped he would do over summer break.

I will want to go to my uncls cabin. 
I will go hunting for deer. 
Ther is a boy's fort.
It is sooooooo fun. 
But...there are fire ants!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Slips By

At the end of July, Andrew was treated to a trip of a lifetime! Thanks to his Dad, Andrew and all "the brothers" went to Alaska for a dream come true fishing adventure. He was in heaven!
"I want to move here." He told me in a text. "For our ten year anniversary trip, you know... the one we never took, let's come to Alaska." His interaction with the children and me, while he was away, was sparse. He was in full fisherman mode. I've never questioned his devotion to our family until Alaska happened. ;) The kids and I were pretty excited when he returned home.

We exchanged a few pictures while he was gone (and when I say "we"... the pictures I received were mostly courtesy of my brother's in law. These photos highlighted a most beautiful Alaskan setting and a lot of fish! In return, I did my best to remind him that he has darling children who love and miss him. Here's a sampling of what I sent.
These photos were taken Sunday night. 

While he was away, I took the children to church by myself.  So naturally, it was the first week in months that Forrest needed to leave Sacrament due to disruptive behavior. Thankfully, my neighbors quickly came to my aid as they sat with my other kids. After dropping a grumpy Forrest off to the best nursery leaders ever, I "relaxed" by shifting my focus to teaching my high energy sunbeam class. Coming home with a headache, I put Forrest down for a nap and proceeded to cry in my bed. Aside from that low moment (I blame exhaustion), we managed well while he was away.

Finding that there is strength (and maybe a little chaos) in numbers, we gathered at Nanna Teresa's for a cousin sleepover.
Cute Nanna loves to read stories.
When you combine her animated personality with her fun collection of books,
story time becomes very special. 
After putting our little cutie pies to bed (it took a few attempts), 
all the Mom's (plus Cece) crawled into Nanna's bed and watched a movie.
My family slept well that night. 
The boys and I slept until 9:00 a.m. 
That sleep was exactly what I needed!

Nanna serves in the relief society at a near by care center. She asked the kids and me to prepare a musical number for their weekly lesson the following morning. The kids and I sang, "I love to see the temple." It was a good service opportunity for all of us.

Another bright spot was attending the musical, "The Little Mermaid" at Hale theater with Nanna and our cousins. We loved it! Thank you so much Nanna and Bubba!
Everything in the Disney universe is still very "real" to Lottie. Despite trading in her voice to the evil sea witch Ursula, Ariel continues to sing additional songs as the musical progresses. As a viewer, you understand that she is "thinking" the lyrics so the other characters can't hear her. Lottie, however, didn't grasp that.

"Mom! Why is she singing? She gave her voice away! How is this happening?!" It was tricky to explain that one to her. Ha ha ha. And, Andrew Flegal be warned, it made my desire to return to Disneyland that much stronger.
The rest of today's post is a mish-mash of random cell phone photos.
A neighbor recently asked to borrow our rock and play. Having returned it, Forrest discovered it in our family room. Breaking my heart in the process, he climbed in it several times reminding me that my baby is a big boy now. He spent hours and hours in that little bed!
This was taken a little over a week after Henry's surgery. Since this was taken, the redness has pretty much disappeared. Hooray! His eyes remain very straight. We are pretty excited about it!

Eliza snapped these one night at bedtime. Andrew was out of town and I was tired...
I look gross and exhausted, hence the switch to black and white, 
but it's real life. 

As for these...

Sometimes, I get swallowed up in Mom guilt. Thinking back on summer, I didn't organize as many play dates as I intended. A few times, we were invited on an outing that I know my kids would have enjoyed but I I felt the need to decline. And then I'd wonder:

"Maybe if I had reserved an extra helping of energy or managed money just a little wiser, I could have made it happen." Sometimes, it was simply the need to be home and check off some to-do's on my list that made the decision for me.

Whatever the reason, I have to remind myself that I am doing the best I can. As I continue to mention, I am often sailing our little ship solo. It's okay if my personal pace and ambition isn't the same as another Mother's. Compared to some, I am wound more tightly. Others may think I'm a fairly easy breezy Mom. Parent's operate and manage differently and that's okay. So when I stumble upon scenes like this, it reinforces that time at home is a good thing. Happy memories can be made when marching to a slower, more ordinary, rhythm.
I spotted the children outside playing with Barbies (of all things). I was delighted as I watched their imaginations in sync with one another. I wanted to interrupt it all to say,

"See! You are friends! I told you so!"  Don't worry. I didn't do that. But I did snatch a few pictures. Some of my favorite moments this summer came courtesy of our own backyard. It's a well loved space and has saved my sanity several times.

"Here. Have a Popsicle. Now, go play outside!"
With school right around the corner, my heart breaks knowing that these summer days are coming to an end. I just hope the friendship they've grown keeps blossoming (blame the sunflowers for the use of the word "blossoming") when that separation hits.
Returning to Andrew's trip to Alaska, when he finally came home, the first thing I did was treat myself to a walk by myself through the neighborhood. This sunset was a lovely gift.