Making Memories Part Two

 

IMG_1396Jack’s Christmas present from me was a trip to the Big Apple Circus. Just the two of us. I was nervous about how this might go…Jack has never exactly said, “You know what I REALLY want to do? Go to the circus!” But as luck would have it, one of the first things we saw after making our way across town on the bus was a cat. A real, live cat. Just hanging out on the sidewalk. With his owner. And a litter box. Only in New York, people. We hadn’t even made it to lunch yet when we happened upon this “moonieeeees!” as Jack affectionately called the cat. This was not the cat’s name. This is just what Jack has come to call all felines at this point. It would be very hard to explain via blog why or how Jack refers to them this way, but if you’ve spent any time with him over the past five years, you will know Jack loves cats (all species!) something fierce, and he can hardly contain his excitement when we find one in a book, let alone real life. You will also know that although he knows the word, “cat,” and he understands which animal “cat” refers to, he has never referred to them as such, and his strange pseudonym for the feline family is derived from the name of our former pet cat, Milo.

Enough about cats. I don’t even have a picture of this cat. I do know, however, that if you ask Jack about his favorite part of the circus, you will undoubtedly hear about the cat on the sidewalk before you hear about the trapeze artists or trampolinists.

After the random cat interaction on the sidewalk, we found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. Another NYC specialty.

I know it isn’t very glamorous, but one-on-one lunches are their own rare treat in this family, and everyone likes pizza, so pizza it is. Or was.

Once we got to the circus, we secured popcorn, a light-up souvenir, and our seats.

IMG_1378

How cool that the ringmaster is a woman, right?

First up were the horses.

IMG_1370I used to go to the Big Apple Circus almost every year as a child. A lot has changed since then, but I was just as mesmerized by the incredible feats of human strength and courage today as I was back then. From the trapeze artists to the trampolinists to the couple who literally balance on each other’s heads, the circus performers were pretty incredible to watch. There was a free standing ladder act, horizontal juggling, and a dog driving a car. I was partial to the acrobatics (particularly the aerial straps). Jack was a fan of the trampolines, the horizontal juggling, and the popcorn. And the sidewalk cat, of course.  Oh, and the the dog driving the car. Because honestly, who ISN’T a fan of that?

This is the husband-and-wife team known as “Duo Fusion” whose skill is called “Acro Balance” for obvious reasons. This woman is wearing HEELS while her husband balances on her back like that.

The team of trampoliners were a big hit. They use that wall in between to jump off of and onto, to walk up and over, and to flip onto.

It was hard to capture just how cool this was on camera because they were constantly in motion. But this was the only act about which Jack said, “I wonder if I could do that one day. That would be cool.”

And finally, the dog driving a car. It’s probably easier to teach a dog how to drive a motorized toy car than to learn how to fly through the air from one trapeze to another, but Jack was right, this was pretty great.

For me, the best part of these outings is getting to spend time with my favorite little people one-on-one. From the walk to the bus stop to the ride across the park to lunch at a pizza shop and an afternoon at the circus…all of those little moments add up to one really special afternoon that I know I will cherish for a long time. Long after we’ve forgotten what our favorite act was. Long after the souvenir has been broken or lost. I’ll remember how Jack ran around me in circles at the bus stop on the way home. How he laughed so hard while he ran that he suddenly had to pee. AGAIN. How we played the animal game on the bus ride (to distract him from his bladder) and how we both got stuck on the letter “n.” (Narwhal, duh). How he wouldn’t stop talking about that cat on the sidewalk. (And how I tried to explain the situation of the woman who appeared to be living there with him). How he couldn’t wait to tell Henry and Sophie what he’d seen. I’ll remember how we got to sit and eat pizza without anyone interrupting to tell “their version” of the story or to fill in the details they thought we’d forgotten. And how I held Jack’s hand as we walked without having to worry (or being reminded LOUDLY) that someone else was feeling left out. Life with triplets is pretty amazing. But an afternoon with just one of my kids? That’s priceless.

IMG_1382

Making Memories

This year, instead of toys or games or clothes, I opted to give Henry, Jack and Sophie each an experience for Christmas. Our apartment is overrun with art supplies, pony beads, Paw Patrol figures, and PJ Mask figurines. I am constantly picking up markers, stepping on pony beads, or trying to find the missing puzzle piece for one of our seven thousand puzzles. Don’t get me wrong. Henry, Jack, and Sophie are lucky to have all of these wonderful toys, and I am grateful for a closetful of project to do, costumes to try on, or games to play on these frigid winter weekends. We have some favorite family games like Kids on Stage, Disney Candyland, Zingo, and any of the five memory games we have acquired. We could spend ALL day building with Magna Tiles and Legos. And their brand new Paw Patrol Lookout and PJ Mask Headquarters (Thanks, Nana!) have led to countless hours (yes, hours!) of fun.

But my favorite weekend activities are our weekend adventures.

Usually, our weekend adventures look like this: Me (or me and Will) dragging the kids around on the subway and bus, traveling in a (rather unforgettable) pack, and racing around until we get too tired or hungry and have to go home. Where we (the grownups) collapse on the couch. Henry, Jack, and Sophie look forward to the weekend all week. “Is it a weekend day?” they used to ask each morning. Now that they have a better sense of time, they say things like, “What fun things are we going to do this weekend?” and “How come we get to do all this cool stuff on the weekends?” Last weekend we hit up Barnes and Noble, Shake Shack, the New York Public Library, MOMA, and a nut-free ice cream parlor (more on that in a later post).

So rarely, however, are these adventures a one-on-one affair. Usually the child-to-grown-up ratio is three to one or three to two. And as much as I love (truly) bouncing around the burrough of Manhattan with three four-year-olds in tow, I cherish the very rare moments when we are adventuring in a one-to-one ratio. Just me and one of favorite little people.

So this year, for Christmas, I decided to make more of those memories.

Choosing what to do with each of them was a big part of the fun. Sophie was somewhat easy. When Will saw the Black Friday sale on “Frozen” tickets, it was a done deal. Giving Sophie the chance to see Elsa on stage at her first Broadway musical was a no brainer. The only hard part was picking the seats.

It seemed fitting that Henry, still obsessed with dogs, would get a chance to go to the Westminster Dog Show. (Side note: how lucky are we to live in NYC where all of this stuff happens?!?) Jack was a little trickier. It was important to me that each experience felt personal to the child but also not something that the other two would really regret missing out on. They all love PJ Mask and Paw Patrol, so there was no way I could take just one to something like that. And as far as I could tell, they don’t have “cat shows.” (Although I did just discover “Cat Cafes” and there is (of course) one in downtown NYC…another weekend adventure to plan)! Jack loves cats, he loves tigers, he loves sports, he loves drawing…I got stuck on the tigers thing a little bit. That lead me to the circus. I know they don’t have tigers at the Big Apple Circus anymore, but then I started thinking about all the things they DID have. A quick peak at a Cirque de Soleil performance with Jack rendered him a perfect candidate for Big Apple Circusing. He was mesmerized by the trapeze artists and the jugglers (Daddy can juggle too!), so we had our event.

Jack was the first to open his gift from me. I had gotten the kids ornaments to commemorate the experience 1) because even though they don’t need more stuff, not having anything to open on Christmas seemed like a bit of a bummer and 2) because that way, every year when we decorate the tree, we can remember our adventures from Christmas 2018.img_1168

It was hard to explain that his gift was a trip to the circus, and he was a little skeptical of the fact that we would be going without Henry, Sophie, or…gasp!…Daddy. Since we haven’t seen a circus yet, I think it was hard for him to imagine how much fun it  would be. Don’t worry, as the days and weeks have gone by, Jack’s excitement has mounted, and he can’t wait to see the circus!

img_1170

Henry was next, and he was almost as excited about the Dalmatian ornament as he was about the prospect of going to the dog show. “Are they going to have every type of dog in the world there?” Pretty much, buddy, pretty much. He’s excited to don his new doggie sweatshirt (thanks, Aunt Lizzie!) for our trip to the Westminster Dog Show. Waiting until February 7 is an excellent lesson in patience!

Sophie was last to open her gift, but the first to experience it. It didn’t take long for her to figure out we were “going to ‘Frozen'” once she opened her Elsa ornament. img_1171It took quite a bit longer for her to wrap her head around what that meant. Sophie has been pretty discerning about the difference between characters in movies and books and people who dress up as the characters in real life. Ask me about our trip to see the “Easter Bunny” last year. “That’s not a bunny. That’s a man in a suit!” she said. Elsa and Anna are a little more convincing, but there were still a lot of questions about who these people were, if they were the “real” Elsa and Anna, how they could be the real Elsa and Anna if they lived in Arendelle and were cartoons, etc., etc., etc.

The buildup to “Frozen” was intense. Sophie asked every day for a week, “Is TODAY the day we’re going to ‘Frozen?'” She wore her Elsa costume nonstop. She couldn’t sleep. Like I said, INTENSE. The day of, after hemming Sophie’s Elsa costume by hand (I don’t recommend this!), we hit the Q train and headed towards Times Square.

Of course, we stopped for some selfies along the way.

img_0672

And some nut-free snacks. Sour Patch Kids and Cheez-Its. Now that’s what I call lunch.

And when we arrived in Times Square (which Sophie affectionately refers to as “Town Square” every so often), Sophie was in awe. “What is this place?!” she asked. “It is soooo cool.” The screens, the lights, the people…and even some leftover New Year’s Eve confetti littering the streets. She was eager to get right to the theater even though we had some time to wait.

img_0674

I let Sophie choose a souvenir, and surprise, surprise, she went for an Elsa doll.

56814203673__7ca0b31c-d8e9-463d-b8c2-edb9fa78b512

When the doors opened, we grabbed a booster, found our way to our seats, opened up our Sour Patch Kids, and waited for the magic to begin.

img_0702.jpg

It’s hard to describe how amazing it was to experience this show with Sophie. Our seats (in the balcony) were not great. We were pretty far away. Things were a little obscured by the railing in front. And it didn’t matter at all. Not one bit. Sophie sat, mesmerized, craning her neck every now and then, leaning over to whisper a question or two when the songs varied slightly from the movie, in total awe of the entire thing. She could have cared less where our seats were. Sophie’s camp counselors once described the way she listens to stories. “It’s like she is IN the book. She leans in, barely blinks, and is clearly rapt by every word we read.” That’s what it was like at “Frozen.” The woman sitting next to us told me at intermission, “I forgot she was there, she was so quiet!” She connects emotionally with the characters. Grabbing my arm when Anna and Kristoff begin to fall off the bridge. Bursting into (quiet) tears when Anna freezes solid at the end. Even though she knows Elsa’s love will unfreeze her eventually. Watching Sophie watch “Frozen” was the perfect Christmas gift for me too. Sharing one of my greatest loves (musical theater) with my children is such a special experience.

img_0698

Sophie’s first Broadway show. I know they say children don’t really store memories long term until they are seven or so, but I know I will never forget the experience. And I hope that we’ll keep remembering it together, through this blog post, through the photos I took, the souvenirs we came home with, and then every Christmas season, when we hang that ornament on the tree and say, “Remember when…”

 

 

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

IMG_4313

Skating Party 2017 – Sophie and Henry’s first time on ice skates

Another skating party in the books. Arguably the hardest one to date, but also the most memorable…first time on skates for these kiddos (2 out of 3 at least)!

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 10.07.37 PMScreen Shot 2017-10-23 at 10.07.37 PM

Every day I am reminded that as they grow up, some things get easier and some things get harder.

We made it there (and back) in the wagon thanks to some navigational assistance from Google Maps and a trusted colleague.

We only spilled one cup of hot chocolate, and it mostly missed Maggie’s purse.

We ate brownies.

We stayed up way past our bedtime.

And of course, we have no photos of the skating because the child-to-adult-ratio is still a little mismatched for these very wobbly beginners.

On our way home, Henry, Jack, and Sophie marveled at what it was like to be outside “in the middle of the night.”

They shared their observations about the colors of the sky:

“Why is it sort of brown here?…It’s black when we’re at Nana’s and Grammie’s.”

“Look at it now. It’s more blue and purple here.”

They asked a thousand questions:

My favorite was, “Where did the city go?” as we wandered through Central Park.

And they reflected on the best parts of their evening:

“My favorite part was the brownie, and when [Daddy] carried me around.”

“My favorite part was the hot chocolate and the brownie.”

“My favorite part was all of it. Because I loved all of it.”

And because we’re sharing favorite moments, I’ll share mine. As we were making our way out, into Central Park in the “middle of the night,” and we ran into a parent of some former students of mine. “Oh, what a wonderful thing!” she exclaimed. “It’s a wagon full of Strumolos!” And she snapped this quick photo, our only “memory” of the night.

I don’t know how much longer Will and I will be carting along a wagon full of Strumolos, but I know I’ll be glad to look back at this photo and remember what it was like to pile our kids into the back of our Radio Flyer wagon and wander through Central Park in “the middle of the night.”

It was an epic adventure for just a few minutes on the ice, and I was reminded that I can, when necessary (and it was necessary), still carry two of these rascals at a time, ice skates, helmets, and all.

 

#thedaysarelongbuttheyearsareshort