Making Memories Part Three

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Last, but certainly not least: Henry’s trip to the 143rd Westminster Dog Show. I am NOT a dog person. I know, I know, if I’ve learned anything from “Friends,” it’s that you’re never supposed to tell people that you don’t like dogs. Or ice cream. Just to be clear: I LOVE ice cream. And it’s not that I don’t like dogs. I am just mostly terrified of them. At least the big ones. And definitely the jumpy ones. I’ve been bitten as recently as last summer, and I had two somewhat traumatic experiences as a child, so I think there’s probably some legitimate reasons why I am “not a dog person.” But, I’ve got a kid who is decidedly a dog person. And I figured the safest place to interact with a whole bunch of dogs would be at the Westminster Dog Show, where they are all committed to being on their best behavior!

The agility competition was our first stop (and finding Aunt Addie, of course). These dogs are all so fast!

Over at the big dog agility competition, H made friends with a border collie. I don’t have any footage because I was a little preoccupied with the fact that there was a rather large dog licking Henry’s face (fear of dogs, remember?) but Henry didn’t seem to mind. At least, he didn’t seem to mind too much.

Next stop was finding the requisite snack and souvenir. Henry had it in his head (for WEEKS) that he would get M & Ms at the dog show. I am not sure why, except that we never have them at home due to Sophie’s allergy. But Henry got his wish (and I was relieved we didn’t have to come up with an alternate snack option) and we were off to to the souvenirs. Henry perused all the booths and took his time deciding on a stuffed Dalmatian to add to his ever-growing dog collection at home.

True to form, Henry later demanded that we “return” the stuffed dog for a pair of men’s dog socks he had seen later and also wanted. But we took Dooley (the new stuffed Dalmatian) to meet the REAL Dalmatians at “Meet the Breeds” and that was pretty special.

These are not the greatest photos, I know, but everyone was so excited it was hard to get one where the people AND the dogs stopped moving. But that one at the end? That’s Henry’s happy face. The face of pure bliss.

And of course, we had to check out the pugs for Mom. I know they are ugly, but they are so ugly they’re cute. I am not really a dog person, but my love of pugs goes WAAAAAAAAAY back. Back to “Eloise” and her pug, Weenie. And then of course there was Bruiser. This pup is Ginger. We met her AND her mom, which convinced Henry that we actually need to get TWO dogs, because you HAVE to have a mom AND a baby.

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And then Henry’s eye caught this: FLOWER DOGGIES! And cats! H thought this was hilARious. It kind of is. Also kind of impressive. I mean, REALLY impressive. IMG_1590

Several hours and about a hundred dollars later, we made it back to our neighborhood for lunch. That dog show is WAY out there, folks. And the new cab surcharge is NO joke. But with the -10 degree windchill, I couldn’t face the crosstown bus. I may never take a cab again though!

This is the face of a guy getting a MILKSHAKE for lunch. Enjoying a meal with just one of my little people is really just that: ENJOYING a meal.

We had a great time, and even though Hangry H assured me as we were leaving that he DIDN’T have fun at the dog show because he didn’t want that Dalmatian pup (he wanted the socks), I’m pretty sure H loved it. And I think he was pretty happy with his new “pet” when we got home.

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It isn’t easy finding time and opportunity to spend time with just one of our kiddos at a time. It is SUCH a luxury, and it is so dang wonderful. I will definitely be reprising this idea for next Christmas. More memories, less stuff. Ok, we still have a TON of stuff, but you know what I mean.

 

The Best Christmas Ever

A couple of days ago, I asked the kids, “What was your favorite part of Christmas?” And despite the dozens of new toys they received and the daily desserts they enjoyed, not one of them mentioned anything that has to do with either.

We’d been anticipating December 25th for at least 24 days by the time Christmas rolled around. Probably longer since the kids knew that “Christmas comes after Thanksgiving,” and the first “When is it going to be Christmas?” queries began on Black Friday.

We started decorating immediately. The ornaments weren’t even out of the box (nevermind the fact that our tree wouldn’t arrive for another couple of weeks) before the kids started decking our halls. They adorned their desks with ornaments and figurines. We made a “Merry Christmas” banner.

Here we are in action working on the banner.

Homemade banner hung? Check. Pentatonix Christmas special streamed? Check.

We live on THE prettiest block in Manhattan during the holiday season, and nothing says, “It’s nearly Christmas!” more than your ENTIRE street being aglow with lights.

It’s kinda hard to convince the kids to contain their Christmas frenzy when the thousands of twinkly lights from the street below are literally brightening up their bedroom each night.

Our Elf on the Shelf, Meatball, made an appearance on December 1 (after we feared we had lost him), and I thought these kids were going to lose their minds.

Guys, we barely even try at the elf thing. We manage to remember to move him each night at some point after the kids fall asleep and before they wake up, but that’s about the extent of it. Half the time Henry would say something like, “Meatball told me he was going to be hanging from your medals tomorrow.” And then we’d just make him hang from the medals. That’s 1) totally obvious and 2) really freaking lazy. But it didn’t matter. Every morning they were racing around like chickens with their heads cut off, “Where’s Meatball?!? Where is he?!” And, “SEE!!! I TOLD you he told me he was gonna hang from the medals.” Oh crap. I just realized that if our kids learn to read before they figure out this whole Elf on the Shelf deal (fingers crossed!) that I’ve kind of just ruined it for them. Oh well. Cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess!

And then they’d race over to their advent calendars to open the day’s window. And it didn’t even matter that two of them were the same. They were just doubly excited. And then they’d argue over whose turn it was to put up the next wooden block (our fourth…count ’em, FOUR) advent calendar.

And you know what? I barely even blinked at the bickering. I barely even cared. Because they were just so gosh darned excited about this whole “Christmas” thing. And we loved EVERY second of it. Will just kept saying, “Is this the sweet spot? I think we might be in the Christmas Sweet Spot.”

Each weekend was another Christmas-themed adventure.

Gingerbread cookies.

Best clean up crew ever.

Gingerbread houses.

MORE gingerbread houses.

A field trip to see all the holiday windows.

Henry’s favorite window

Jack’s favorite window

Mommy’s favorite window

Sophie’s favorite window

Seeing OURSELVES in the holiday windows.

Posing with this Christmas tree…

and that Christmas tree…

Watching the ice skaters (real and not so real).

Trips to Target and Flying Tiger and CVS for Christmas crafts, holiday place settings, and about a gazillion Santa-themed window gels.

And yes, we were serving tacos on those holiday plates 🤣

This year was the first year everybody bought a gift for everybody else, and those trips became part of our holiday-themed adventures. Picking the store we wanted to go to (CVS, Barnes and Noble, Target, Flying Tiger). Roaming through the aisles looking for the perfect thing (within our price range) for Henry, Jack, Sophie, or Dad. Then racing into Mom and Dad’s room as soon as we get home for a super secret wrapping mission to get the presents wrapped, labeled, and hidden before your siblings can deduce what’s inside. And finally, working VERY hard to keep the surprise a secret until the big day. This was, for sure, our greatest collective challenge 😝.

These kids were so danged thoughtful. When you’re at CVS and they have only two of the Paw Patrol watches you and your siblings love? What do you do? Buy them both and gift one each to your brother and your sister. Clean up in aisle five, please. I think my heart just melted all over the floor.

Having our own Christmas tree hand picked and hand delivered by Grammie and Nonno.

Decorating the tree.

And at this point, we were still two weeks out from the big day. I don’t know if it is because we were coming off of a pretty miserable fall, or because I love Christmas as much as I do, or because we just really had hit the “Christmas Sweet Spot,” but these last few weeks really have been all things merry and bright.

Well, aside from the lice breakout, but hey, you win some, you lose some, right?

We didn’t lose any steam in the days leading up to Christmas.

There were carol concerts to attend.

Classic Christmas movies to watch. About a billion Hershey kisses to consume.

There were snowball fights to be had and sleighs to ride.

Ice box cakes to be made and more trees to be trimmed.

Oh, and more window gels. Always more window gels.

And then, of course, there was Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and all of the traditions, new and old, that come with it.

Stockings hung by the chimney (er…TV?) with care.

Cookies and notes for Santa.

No-hay hay rides with Nonno on the tractor.

Making our own pizzas for dinner.

And presents. Yes, there were presents. And despite our best efforts to keep our intake low this season, between brothers, sisters, moms, dads, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, these lucky kids cleaned up. Oh, and don’t forget Santa. Santa who usually brings only one gift each but who this year brought two. Perhaps Meatball reported back on the perpetual good moods these kids were in for the entire advent season. Or maybe he took note of how thoughtful they were being in their efforts to give to others. Or maybe the two head elves neglected to communicate clearly with one another and there was a mix up at Amazon, er, I mean, the North Pole.

But either way, these kiddos made out like bandits.

EXHIBIT A: Paw Patrol Lookout & PJ Mask HQ

EXHIBIT B: Pink talking monkey 🐒 that is almost as big as she is.

EXHIBITS C – M: ALL THE LEGOS (plus the Elsa dress)

EXHIBIT N-Z not pictured here, but I’m pretty sure they scored at least 26 presents between them 🤦🏻‍♀️.

So when I asked the kids, “What was your favorite part of Christmas?” they had a LOT of things to choose from.

But you know what? Nobody said anything about any of the presents. Not one word. Because it wasn’t really about the presents for them.

We had gifts wrapped in our closet all month, and every once in a while, the kids would catch a glimpse and say, “I can’t wait to open my presents on Christmas.” But that simply wasn’t the point for them this year. (Although it was a pretty awesome perk, don’t get me wrong).

Jack was the first to answer the question: “Hugging Sophie and yelling, ‘Soph!!!!!!’” he said.

Sophie went next: “Seeing everyone,” she reported.

And if I’m being honest, I can’t remember what Henry said (#tripletmomlifeproblems), but it could have been “building Legos with Dad,” or “going for a tractor ride with Nonno and everyone,” or “making our own pizzas.” Because it was definitely about a memory made and not about a gift he got.

We grownups know Christmas isn’t about the presents. But I was pretty surprised to find out that our four-year-olds had figured that out too.

Even when it was about the presents, it wasn’t. They watched with such excitement and anticipation as their family members opened up the gifts they had bought them. They filled my stocking up with the PERFECT things, all hand-picked by them: a pug keychain, blue sparkly earrings, a Starbucks gift card, an insulated wine glass (don’t judge)! And they COULD NOT WAIT for me to find them all. And to tell me how they had picked them out. They raced towards each other with arms flung open for hugs after opening their gifts from each other. I wish I could bottle their joy in those moments. Save it for a gloomy February day when we all need a pick-me-up. I can’t, so I’ll just leave you with a few clips right here.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” -Dr. Seuss.

I guess if the Grinch can understand that, we all can.

So as we head into 2019, we’ll look back at this past year. We’ll celebrate the highs and learn from the lows. We’ll remember our wins and mourn our losses. But I will always, always, look back on Christmas 2018 as the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. At least to date. Perhaps we just hit the “Christmas Sweet Spot” this year. Perhaps not. But if future Christmases are all whining and bickering and moping and pouting, we will always have Christmas 2018.

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

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.