An Attitude of Gratitude

This has been a wild and crazy fall. The sweet, sandy days of summer are long behind us, and the frantic pace of September’s start-of-school hasn’t let up yet, despite the fact that we are closing in on December. The transition from September to October was so busy that we forgot to update our calendar for a full week. It’s a wonder anyone got to where they were supposed to be. But if I’m being honest, that fact is a wonder most days. Even with a carefully crafted calendar (or three).

For a long time, the simple logistics of going anywhere with three toddlers (much less going in different directions) was too much to navigate. But now, in the height of preschoolerhood, we can count ninja class, sports class, and musical theater class among our ever-growing list of activities. Because, you know, it’s important for little people to individuate. And when you have three little people, that means three individual activities. Add in swimming (an essential life skill if you’re going to spend your summers on Long Island at Nana’s) and soccer (because…have you met their dad?) for everyone, and suddenly, we are one of those Upper East Side families whose preschoolers’ schedules are more complicated (okay, not really…) than their parents’.

 

 

Top that with a Manhattan kindergarten admissions process times three, and well, I probably don’t need to say much more.

Amidst our busy schedules, we’ve had a fair amount of heartbreak and stress this season. In the past three months we’ve lost two people near and dear to our hearts. In the past two weeks, we’ve spent two nights in the hospital. We’ve managed two terrible cases of croup (when will they grow out of this?!?!), two x-rays and one broken arm. We’ve been to the pulmonologist, the endocrinologist, and the allergist. And we’ve endured an awful lot of poking and prodding for flu shots, blood draws, and IV medications. Not to mention about a thousand colds.

But we’ve also had about a thousand adventures. I can’t describe them all here or even post all the pictures, and I doubt you’d have the patience to scroll through them all anyway. Perhaps I should try to be a bit more regular about this whole blogging thing? But here’s just a taste (seriously, this doesn’t even begin to cover it!) of all the adventures we’ve been lucky enough to have over the past few crazy busy months.

We’ve fed the animas at the Bronx Zoo, seen the Statue of Liberty up close, and explored the many exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History.

We’ve run around just about every playground in Manhattan, chased bubbles in Central Park, and spent countless hours at the New York Public Library.

We’ve eaten a ton of cheeseburgers and two tons of French fries.

And we’ve located nut-free donuts. Only two subway rides away from home.

We’ve played a hundred board games and done a thousand crafts.

We’ve enjoyed getting lost in the ball pit at The Color Factory, trying on witch hats at “The Craft Store,” and watching the trains race by at Grand Central. And most of all, we’ve enjoyed each other.

And then every night (okay, not every night…see our crazy schedules above) when we sit around the dinner table together, we each list two things: 1) Our favorite part of the day and 2) One thing we are grateful for.

In the midst of all that is crazy and busy and hard and sad, we insist on an attitude of gratitude. You may already know I’m a bit of a gratitude fanatic. You may have seen my Friday Five social media posts. You may know that I force my sixth grade homeroom students to partake in the Friday Five practice on a weekly basis.

What you may not know is that this attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to me. I’m a glass half-empty kind of gal. I’m an “expect the worst, hope for the best” kind of worrier. My childhood drama teacher used to have to beg me to smile when I got on stage to play the ingenue. “I’ll smile on opening night,” I’d say.” And then, I wouldn’t really. (Sorry, Helene)! My tennis instructor used to call me “Smiley Gillespie,” his tone tongue-in-cheek, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

It turns out, even for those of us who have a million reasons to be grateful every day, this gratitude business is pretty difficult. One of my students asked the other day, “Can we list the things we’re not grateful for instead?” “Why would you want to do that?” I asked. “Because it’s easier.”

Yeah, kid, you’re right. It IS easier to recite our long list of gripes each day. To dig into all that is frustrating, exhausting, unpleasant, or even downright miserable. To complain or whine or wallow. But that’s the point of a gratitude practice, isn’t it? To retrain your brain to see the bright side? To look for the silver linings among the cloudy skies?

It still takes some effort for me, particularly when we’re having the kind of fall we’ve been having, but at the top of my gratitude list is the fact that my kiddos are learning early that being grateful is going to be the norm in our family. Even if it takes a little effort and reflection.

And then scanning through our photos and looking back on all the memories we made this fall, I’ve found about a hundred other reasons to be grateful.

I am also so very grateful for the friends and family (not pictured here) who have lifted us up and supported us during difficult times. The ones who check in via text twenty times a day to see how we’re hanging in. The ones who reach out in the middle of the night when they see we’re in the hospital and ask what they can do. The ones who stay at our home past midnight, holding down the fort so that Will and I don’t have to divide and conquer for the really hard things. The ones who come by on a Friday with pizza, or wine, or dogs. The ones who ask over and over and over, at work and at home, “How can I help?”

We Strumolos aren’t big on asking for help. All five of us could probably stand to shore up our self-advocacy skills. But what we know is that if we do ask for help, we’ve got an army of people ready and willing to pitch in. And that? Well that’s is pretty freaking awesome.

I am grateful for our family, near and far. And as I type this, I am especially grateful for Nana and Grumples who are hosting our kiddos for Thanksgiving this year, while we fly across the country to surprise the other half of our family. I’m grateful for Henry, Jack, and Sophie who didn’t bat an eyelash when they heard we’d be skipping out on Thanksgiving in Southampton, and went to bed last night saying, “Love you, Mommy. See you Saturday!”‘And I am grateful for the members of Strumolo clan who helped coordinate our surprise trip out to Seattle (and of course for those members who were out in Seattle waiting to be surprised)! I am grateful for the chance to celebrate birthdays and meet our nephews. And if I’m being completely honest, I’m grateful for six hours on a plane to read, to blog, and to soak up a little peace and quiet, even if it is from 35,000 feet up.

It is apropos that I am especially grateful today, but I aim to cultivate an attitude of gratitude daily. So for all of you reading this who have helped make this fall a little more bearable, thank you.

I may not say it enough, but for you, I am

Every Night a Slumber Party

This. This was somewhere in the realm of 8:45pm. An hour (or more) past bedtime and smack dab in the middle of the “grown-up dinner” we were all trying to enjoy. Our first night at Nana and Grumples’ for the summer.

I am often exasperated by their bedtime shenanigans. The mess that they make. The noise that they make. The fact that I KNOW they are tired. The fact that I know they will be up and ready for tomorrow before 6 a.m. (and before their clock “turns green”).

In fact, facing bedtime alone more often than usual is the thing I dread most about the summer. (I don’t dread a whole lot about summer, but solo bedtimes can honestly be often panic-inducing).

So last night, when I stood up from my dinner and trudged upstairs for what felt like the fifteenth time, I was ready to yell (even though I know that just makes Sophie laugh and the boys cry and is rarely effective).

But then, I opened the door, and I found this. Amidst fits of giggles, there they all were, snuggled together for “camping” on the floor in between their beds. And I couldn’t help but snap a photo and smile.

I closed the door, and of course, ten minutes later there were shouts and tears and cries of, “They’re kicking me!!” And “She’s scratching me!”

But for a few minutes, the thing that exhausts me most about having multiples was also the thing that made my heart swell. How lucky they are to have each other, and how lucky we are to have them. Even when they’re not sleeping. Even when they’re making a mess. And yes, even when they’re bickering (though it is MUCH harder to find gratitude in those moments). So here’s to longer days, later nights, and a summer full of slumber parties.

P.S. If you are eager to see more Henry, Jack, and Sophie she shenanigans, you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@estrumolo)…many more adventures await there, and I’m a little more regular about posting.

Might Just Be The Most Nutritious Meal They’ve Had All Week…

Pasta (with meatballs and sauce for one of the three), shredded carrots (for two of the three) a cheese stick (or two) for one, guacamole for one, and chips for everyone. Including Mom.

I’m pretty sure everyone got at least one bite of a fruit or veggie. Some days, that’s the best we can do. Sometimes that’s better than the best we can do!

It Wasn’t Perfect, But It Was Pretty Darn Cute.

The negotiations started weeks ago. One of our children needed ZERO encouragement to don a pretty outfit and perform in front of family and friends (I’ll let you decide which one). One of our children was pretty adamant about NOT participating in the wedding festivities. And one of our children fell somewhere in the middle: willing to fulfill his duties as flower boy, sort of excited about the outfit, but not quite as enthusiastic as the first.

Two participatory flower children would be a step up from the last family wedding they played a part in, but really, we were aiming for three. Their traditional Vietnamese wedding outfits (ao dais) has been custom made, and considering the flower child holdout was the godchild of the groom, getting him (or her) down the aisle felt like a high priority.

The negotiation went something like this:

Me: What if I gave you some Hershey kisses if you do your job at the wedding?

Child: 500 Hershey kisses!

Me: That’s too many.

Child: 100!

Me: How about 20?

Child: Woah. Ok! Twenty’s a lot!”

The math teacher in me cringed a bit at her offspring’s poor number sense, but the mother in me was thrilled to be emerging victorious (if bribing your child with twenty Hershey kisses can be considered a victory) from this negotiation.

The rehearsal did not go very well. Despite the promise of a score of Hershey kisses, two-thirds of our crew followed through with their flower child obligations, and one barely made it down the aisle with a lot of (literal) hand-holding from Mom. This was not the plan.

Considerations for alternative scenarios commenced immediately, and we spent the next twenty-two hours preparing ourselves for Plan B: three flower children and one Mom or Plan C: two flower children.

And then, at 1:30pm yesterday, without any mention of Hershey kisses, our holdout asked to suit up. Nevermind that it was a little too early to get dressed. Nevermind that there was a pretty big chance the ao dai would get wrinkled or stained before the ceremony. This kid wanted to get in his wedding outfit, and we were not going to stop him.

Two and a half hours later, they did what they had been asked to do. Quite literally. They threw the petals on the walkway (our efforts to distinguish between “throwing” and “sprinkling” came a bit late in the game) and went (RAN) to find Daddy at the end of the aisle. And while there may have been some Hershey kisses involved (only five!), those were really just a reward for a job well done.

I am so proud of my three little people for being so brave and for doing their job so well (which included sitting quietly–if not inconspicuously–throughout the ceremony). It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn cute.

And what a special, special day it was celebrating Uncle Andrew and Aunt Evelynn. We are so glad they got to be a part of it.