Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sending out love and wishes to all of you, my readers, for a bright holiday & merry Christmas.

Our best gift of Christmas has been the people we get to spend it with.

Hoping you all get to spend it with those you love most - by way of travel, technology, or thoughts alone.

friends, last minute sleepovers, and more Marco mischief

Monday, December 24, 2012

We have been whipping right through the holiday season and when I looked back through the pictures on my camera last night I got a little weak in the knees over the blogging/re-capping that needs done.  So I'm jumping back a whole two weeks to catch up on our holiday fun and of course to check in on our little Marco-elf man who makes us giggle every morning.

We got some quality playtime in with some friends earlier this month when Uncle Jonny and Ninna came to sleepover one night.  The grown ups stayed up laughing and guzzling sipping with class a bottle or two of wine.  And in the morning, Grey and Gem got to get their fill of Jonny & Ninna attention...and a chance to show off their mad technology skills.

Then we had a visit with Taryn, Dobber, and Deb at our house.  Dobber played the best monster ever (at Grey's 100 requests) and we spent the afternoon watching the Steelers, laughing, and catching up with the Vorndrans/Terchaniks.  

Then one day, I was writing in Greyson's baby book about how we misplaced his Maxie Bear while we were traveling in NYC this fall.  I haven't talked about it (and we haven't brought it up to Grey) because B and I are both a little heartbroken about it.  And when I started crying (!) about it while writing in his book, I up and emailed my good friend, Jessica, who lives in Erie (where we made Maxie) and self-invited myself and the kids for a sleepover on my two days off.  Jessica, being the amazing friend she is, responded back that she was happy to host us and have a last minute sleepover/playdate with her two daughters just a couple days in advance.

So I loaded up my two gremlins and we made the 3 hour trek to Erie - stopping along the way to grab a quick snack

And we all arrived at the Plummer's house in one piece.  Where we played, played, played ourselves well into the night.  The kids all got along famously and they were so sweet sharing and making up crazy games with each other.  I had a great time catching up with Jess and am so thankful to have a friend that opens her home (and organizes meals and sets up sleeping arrangements) last minute for my impromptu sleepover self-invitations just to re-make a lost bear.  (hi Jess!  Thank you so much, again!)

The kids and I headed over to the Millcreek Mall the following day to Build-a-Bear to get a new Maxie. Turns out Grey had his heart set on a puppy dog stuffed animal instead of a bear.  So now we have a Maxie Dog and Gemmi got a bear - Evie Bear (short for Evelyn, named by Gemmi's godmomma, Aunt Kitty).  For future trivia:  Maxie is short for Maxwell, named by Greyson's godfather Uncle Jonny).

6 hours driving with two small humans in less than 24 hours?  Worth it.  They love their Maxie Dog and Evie Bear.  They'll get wrapped up for Christmas (even though they both sleep with them now) because they are young enough to be happily surprised (and genuinely love) opening presents that they already own.

And then later that week, we got to go to Chuck E. Cheese for our cousin Caleb's 2nd birthday party.  The kids went bananas, having about the time of their lives, after chowing down on homemade cupcakes (delicious as always, Gail!) Happy Birthday Caleb!  We love you!

All along, we have been keeping up with our Christmas Tree advent calendar (our tree is really starting to fill up!)

And of course, Marco has been up to his antics...

on Day 15, we found Marco hanging from Greyson's underwear.  He had hung up Grey's underwear in place of all of our stockings

on Day 16, we caught Marco sneaking into the candy jar before breakfast.

on Day 17, Marco had toilet paper'ed the tree!  We had to clean up that big mess carefully so that it didn't mess up any of our ornaments

Day 18, we were having a sleepover in Erie, so Marco took a day off.
But he was back to his mischief on Day 19, when we found he had written us a note on the bathroom mirror (with dry-erase marker)

On Day 20, we awoke to find a couch fort.  The kids had a blast all morning playing in their couch fort that Marco (as Aunt Kitty pointed out) built with his creepishly strong muscles.  (thank you, Marco for the heads up that the couches needed cleaned out at 6am...ugh).

And on Day 21, we had to unwrap the television in the morning, since Marco had wrapped it all up like a giant present.  He is so silly sometimes.

Thank YOU! Thursday: Someone who gets involved

Thursday, December 20, 2012

As the oldest child in my family, it took only a sibling or two for me to realize the easiest way to get away with being bossy was playing school at home. I was the oldest, therefore, most obviously the wisest, thus; always the teacher for my younger sisters.  A chalkboard, some clipboards, and a few Sharpies later - my infatuation with education had an impressively solid foundation at about age 6.  I grew up and eventually became a teacher (at least for a little while), and made friends with an incredible number of awesome and dedicated teachers.  So it's not big secret that my respect and admiration for educators takes up a hefty part of my heart and head.

Dear Ms. Kotzan,
You were right there with  me in eleventh grade when I was getting ready to leave for my trip to Honduras - helping me collect donations of coloring books and pencils.  And you were right there too when I returned - and I'm pretty sure it took all of two seconds for you to recognize that I had caught the Spanish/travel bug on my short trip.  I went on to major in Spanish in college in large part because of your encouragement and support to go for something so different than most of my classmates.

Not only were you there to cultivate my passion for the language - but you also inspired the realization that even someone small can help in some way towards something big.  When I was a senior in high school - you took on the huge undertaking of organizing and planning a huge fundraiser with a group of scatterbrained teenagers.  With your direction, we put together the first ever benefit powderpuff football game to raise funds for the victims of the earthquake in Guatemala.  You were tireless in your dedication to the event - and I think of your enthusiasm whenever I am planning my own events now when they seem too big.

I graduated from Valley with the knowledge that you were proud of me - and knowing that you had planted a little seed of kindness inside of me that would never go away.

And then your job was done, because, technically, I was no longer your student.

But that's not really your way, is it?

Because when I was in college, you invited me back to your classroom when I was back in town for the holidays, to speak to your new students about my experiences.  And you asked about my life to my younger sisters and parents with genuine interest and care.  We still send each other Christmas cards and you sent me congratulations cards and gifts for the births of both of my babies.  And I know for certain that you are reading this now (hi!) because a few years ago when I posted my ridiculous renditions of the Itsy Bitsy Spider for Greyson on the blog- you sent me a beautiful card with the Spanish lyrics to the song and suggested I sing that version to him as well.

Out of the blue, after years (honestly, I don't know how many), I ran into you by pure serendipity - I was walking out with the kids and you were walking in.  2 minutes before or after - we would have missed each other.  But it was perfect timing and there we were hugging and laughing and chatting about opportunities to volunteer and lend a helping hand outside of a shopping center in a town an hour from where we both live.  When we parted ways, I smiled the whole way back to the car.  I told Greyson and Gemma, "That was my teacher," and it made me feel so grateful that my kids got to see us speaking to each other intelligently, and kindly, and with real interest about each other.

You didn't have to be anything to me but my 9-12th grade Spanish teacher.  But you have always been more than that, still now, almost 12 years later.  Thank you Ms. Kotzan for getting involved in my life and cheering me on.  I have been lucky to be one of your lifelong students.


...And, as most cases in motherhood, I have learned a lot more about admiration and respect for teachers now that I have a child with a teacher, or in our case; teachers.

Dear Ms. Melissa, Ms. Leanne, Ms. Megan, Ms. Abi, & Ms. Trina,

You are the women Greyson talks about when he comes home from day care.  He asks for his scissors and paper and crayons and lays them all out on the floor.  And then he announces that he is Ms. Melissa and gets to work cutting out tiny strips of paper and hands them out to us and gives us our instructions for the project.  He says things like, "Ms. Megan is my family."  and "I want to show Ms. Leanne my boots."  He chats idly in the car on the way home about how Ms. Abi helped him put on his coat and Ms. Trina says, "We got a problem here in your shoe."  We occasionally hear about his friends at school - but we mostly hear about all of you.  And we hear about you because our son loves you.

You spend large parts of three days a week with our baby.  You helped teach him to go on the potty.  You taught him 'Ring Around the Rosies' and he tries to get his baby sister to play and sing it with him.  Sometimes he opens his mouth and it is your words coming out - copying what you say and how you say it - trying it out in instances at home.

Our baby is growing and learning and trying new things - things that we wouldn't be able to give him -  because of you.  Thank you for hugging him when he misses us and hugging him because he had nice manners at snack time.  Thank you for giving him opportunities to be the leader and helping him practice to take turns and share.  Thank you for having patience with him when he's having a bad day.  Thank  you, thank you, thank you for taking such good care of our baby.

from the bottom of our hearts,
Greyson's Mom & Dad

the thing about heroes and 2 year old boys

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We are big into heroes at our house right now.
Greyson is 2 and a half and all day long he talks about being a superhero
like Batman
and Spiderman
and Metro Man

He also knows that there are other heroes too
Like soldiers
and police officers
and firefighters

When we hear the fire whistles blow, Greyson says, "Hear that?  It's the fire truck!  They're going to help people!"

Last night, I sat in the parking lot of Walmart sobbing hysterically thinking about the babies who must have cried out for their mothers in that school on Friday.  In the quiet moments of my day, I am overcome by this awful tragedy and cannot control myself.

This morning before anyone else woke up, I sat on the couch drinking my coffee watching the news, when Greyson came downstairs and found Marco (our elf) and started to play with his toys.  A segment then came on about Victoria Soto, the 27 year old victim; a teacher that is being hailed for protecting her students.

Me:  "Greyson, Come quick!  A hero is on tv!"
Grey:  "A hero?!"
Me:  "Yes.  There she is, she's a hero.  She helped some kids from a bad guy"
Grey"  "Like Batman?"
Me:  "Yes, she was brave like Batman.  She's a hero"
Grey:  "What's her name?"
Me:  "Victoria Soto"
The news segment:  "Victoria Soto; a hero."

And then in a reverent whisper, my two and half year old whispered a superhero's name:  "Victoria Soto"

This is how we will move forward in our house; how we will cling to kindness and goodness.
We will learn and celebrate 26 new heroes.
26 victims whose names will live on in our house as heroes.
And to my son, there is no greater title than Superhero.

My heartache for the children

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Greyson woke up from his nap yesterday and I asked him for a hug;

Me:  Darling, can I have a hugga please?  Something bad has happened and I am feeling sad.
Grey:  What happened, Mumma?
Me:  Someone was being very dangerous and unsafe.  Some people got hurt and it is sad.
Grey:  I'm sorry, Mumma

He then lumbers across the bed to give me a hug where he propels his heavy arms up over my shoulders and without a reservation in his mind, plops his full body weight onto me.

This is how much my oldest child weighs.  My body comfortably accepts it because it knows the exact feel of that amount of a little body in my arms.  This has always been a point of joy of motherhood to me - that my body remembers the feeling of the weight of my own children.  When I returned from the hospital with our daughter I was so surprised when I picked up my son for the first time again.  He was a ton of bricks compared to the new baby and my body went through a short phase of adjustment working out and memorizing the differences in weight and then learning the weight of them both in my arms at the same time.  When I hold other parents' kids, my body always feels slightly awkward and unbalanced, but when I hold my own, my body feels strong and supportive; my muscles hum with recognition of their tiny bodies.

He squeezes me tight and then steps back.  He gives me a little grin and I attempt to choke back a lump in my throat.  I know there are parents tonight that will not feel the weight of their child in their arms anymore.

Grey:  Mumma, we're not being dangerous.
Me:  No baby.  We try to be safe and take care of each other.
Grey:  Yea, we're not hitting.
Me:  No.
Grey:  We're not pushing.
Me:  That's right.
Grey:  We're not tackling.
Me:  You are right my baby.

And here it comes again, the deep pain in the bottom of my stomach.  My baby can spout out a grocery list of things that are dangerous; unsafe; 'bad.' But they are no where near close to what has happened.  I know the babies that saw and heard and felt those things yesterday have lost so much of what makes children's hearts wide open and ready to accept and love everyone.

Yesterday, during naptime, I sat in front of the television watching the news roll in about what had happened.  At first I sat there with my hand over my mouth disbelieving.  And then, I would lose myself and begin to sob uncontrollably.  And after awhile, I laid my head down on the arm rest with no expression at all; just tired and so so sad.  Our dog came over and rested his chin on the couch near my head in an attempt to bring me back from wherever I had been inside of myself.

I spent the rest of the day in a haze, trying to battle out what I was feeling - trying to comprehend that we live - I am raising babies - in a place where this sort of thing happens; now on a regular basis it seems.  What I feel for those families, for those babies, for that community, for anyone that has a direct connection to what happened yesterday - is so deep a hurt inside of me that I don't even think I've been able to feel the depths of it yet.

I have a pain inside of me about what happened; about what those families are trying to make sense of and recover from this morning.  But there is a part of me also that is aching because of the aftermath.  That my babies are growing up in a world that immediately following a tragedy, the media thinks its appropriate to interview children who aren't even able to comprehend what happened to their schoolmates.  That my babies are growing up in a world where people know what happened to the Kardashians on last night's episode better than the names of their neighbors. That my babies are growing up in a world where people call out their battle cries in their statuses:
"More Guns would fix this!"
"Less Guns would fix this!"
"There is no place safe for my kids anymore!"
"It's the fault of __________ (video games/media/rock music/mental health/fame-seeking/make up your own guess)"

I had a moment yesterday where it felt like the ground beneath me shifted.  When I thought, 'no, this is not the world that I see everyday.  This cannot have happened in my babies' world.'  And in that moment I re-established my footing and I took a deep breath and whispered to myself - 'what are you going to do about it, Tabitha?"

I'm going to do the only thing that I know how to do.  The one thing that I believe can battle against hate and evil and horrible things that have no place in my babies' world.

I am going to love.
I am going to keep sending out love and kindness and hope, albeit completely naive and ignored, out into the world.

I will seek out images and articles and videos and stories that remind me of the goodness of all people.  I will attempt to be a beacon of love and kindness and hope to people who see me, or come read here.  I want to live in a way that when people think of me they feel light and inspired and hopeful and that they will send love and kindness out into the world as well.  Being kind to one another and reaching out to each other is how we can change our babies' world.

We are good.
There is good.
I believe it; I know it deep within me.

So much more good than not.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."
 -Fred Rogers

October Kindness 2012: 'School' Donation in Punta Cana, DR

Friday, December 14, 2012

While we were preparing for our Dominican vacation, I sent an email to our hotel, Iberostar Dominicana, and asked them if they would be able to assist us in visiting a local school to make some donations and visit with the kids.

Helpful Tip:  ask the hotel or your travel group to organize the school visit.  In the past, we were able to visit a school with one of the local vendors surrounding the hotel, but this is not ideal because you interrupt the student's school day with an unannounced visit.

We always take small gifts and donations with us when we travel to the Dominican Republic, so although I hadn't heard back from the hotel - we loaded up our bags with donations anyway, knowing that we would be able to leave them with our servers/housekeeping and they'd go to their families.

Helpful Tip:  Along with a small monetary tip each day, we also leave candy, gum, washcloths, or perfume, etc for our housekeeper and/or servers while vacationing.  After getting to know the staff all week, we find out who has kids, what ages....  Most of the servers at the hotel stay and work there for a week (or a few) at a time before being able to go home to see their families.  So before we leave, we unload our luggage of anything that we don't need to take back with us to the States.  Like diapers, beach toys, some clothes (ours and the kids'), sandals (that the kids will grow out of before next summer), lotions, baby snacks/food, etc and we leave them with the staff that we become friends with during our stay.  

As we were checking into the hotel, I had a note on our welcome package that I was to meet with the head of hotel operations the second morning in the lobby.  We met with her and discovered that she had received my email and was busy setting up our visit with a local woman who works with the communities as a tourist/local liaison.

We made our arrangements and decided that we would visit with the school on Wednesday.  Our little group gathered up our supplies (pencils, crayons, coloring books, baseballs & gloves, plastic/play jewelry) and got ready to depart on Wednesday afternoon.

A local taxi picked us up and we headed over to a small community about a half hour away from the hotel where we were introduced to our local liaison.  She was very sweet and told us that we were going to visit a disadvantaged neighborhood's bible study school.  

We arrived at the school/church and we watched while the kids finished up their bible study lesson and then we were welcomed with a very enthusiastic welcome song by the kids.  I had the chance to stand up and introduce our group and told the kids a little bit about where we were from.  We played a quick game and then it was time to deliver our gifts.

Greyson was so happy to take on the job of main distributor of gifts.  He buzzed around the room handing out crayons and pencils placing items in each of the kids' hands like it was a precious stone.   The children all sat patiently for us to weave our way around the room unloading our bags with little surprises for them.  Some of them immediately opened their candy and tossed it in their mouths.  Some whispered out 'gracias' and others carefully tucked their gifts into their pockets with wide smiles.

We gave washcloths and slippers to the young mothers standing in the back holding babies just a few months (or weeks!) old.  My Mom, Mom-in-law, and Aunt all stood in the corner reaching down to the bottoms of their bags searching for more candy and gifts - anything else they could find to hand out to the kids and families. We made sure that every kid got at least some candy and a crayon/pencil.

The baseballs were prized and the bible school teacher had the children answer questions (about us that I had mentioned like where we were from) to win those - since we only had a few.  Brandon helped two kids with getting their gloves to slide on their hands just right and the kids beamed with delight smacking the ball into the center of the glove over and over.

Gemmi sat contented for almost ten minutes with a young girl who held and smiled at her calling her 'muneca' (doll).  The girl had younger twin brothers who she reminded to be patient and sit still until it was their turn for a gift.

After we had given everything we had, we thanked the teacher for allowing us to visit her students and left her with earrings for herself and a monetary donation for the church.  The kids sang us out the door and many of the little ones flashed us chocolate covered candy smiles.

It was a wonderful afternoon and I was so glad that we were able to get the trip organized.  [Thank you to Iberostar Dominicana for making sure we had safe and reliable transportation and to our local liaison for facilitating and occasionally translating for our group when my Spanish faltered].

Our kids know that our family's number one rule is that we are kind and try our best.  We also teach them that we take care of and watch out for our neighbors.  And since we live in a global community, we know that everyone everywhere is a neighbor.  Sometimes we make look different, and sound different, and have different things and experiences, and sometimes believe in different things.  But under all that - we are ALL the same.

Marco & a little Ho, Ho, Ho

Monday, December 10, 2012

Our little Marco was up to his antics this past week, both being naughty and trying his best.  Grey has had a lot of practice speaking to Marco with a voice that sounds eerily like ours when we speak to him and his sister.

On day 9, Marco was found reading a book to some of our toy friends under the tree.

On the 10th day, Marco was found slurping up maple syrup in the kitchen.  Grey said, "Marco, syrup isn't for drinking - it's for dipping.  You're going to get a bellyache like the caterpillar."  (Eric Carle's caterpillar from The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Picture Puffins)

On day 11, Marco left us a surprise of tear&bake cookies with a note that suggested the kids ask if we could have milk & cookies for breakfast.  Grey told him,  "Thank you, Marco.  That sounds like a good idea." 

On day 12, Marco was a sneaky little guy and painted the kids' noses red while they were sleeping.  Just like Rudolph from the story we downloaded on our iPad (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) ...same characters from the tv-movie version from our childhood, yay!

The next day (day 13), Marco was being extra naughty making 'snow' sugar angels.  Greyson said, "Marco, that's not nice.  Now we have to clean up this big mess."

And on day 14, Marco was in a mini-marshmallow ball battle with some of our robots.  Grey ate all those mini-marshmallows up 'all gone' to help Marco clean up his mess.

Other than helping Marco make good choices, we also enjoyed some holiday cheer this past week.  The kids, my Mum, and I made our way to a local high school to enjoy breakfast and crafts with Santa.  Bishop McCort students helped organize the event to raise money for Hogar de Ninos Emanuel in Honduras (my sister actually traveled there to visit with the children many times).

As soon as we arrived, the kids were eager to visit with Santa...but then we got closer and Greyson realized that he was a little scared.  So he stood straight up and down about a foot away from Santa and announced, "The Jungle and Megamind"  (he wants the Jungle Book and Megamind movies).  And then he walked away.  He said his peace and then he was done.  hah!

Even Gemmi did pretty good with Santa the first round. The high school student 'elves' were able to snap a picture of them and then we headed to the breakfast buffet.

We got to visit with our friend, Ryan (who was volunteering as a student elf at the breakfast), and Grey decorated a gingerbread man, and got make some Christmas crafts.  The whole thing was set up so beautifully and all of the students were very patient and sweet with the kids.  

Santa's elves gave us a copy of the picture they took in a foam snowman frame and we thought it was so cute we knew we had to get another - (one for my Mum and one for our house). 

The elves were happy to take another pic and we attempted another shot with Santa.  That one didn't turn out so well....although hilarious that we know have the customary child-screaming-in-Santa's-lap photo (while older brother shrinks in confused worry nearby).