Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Adventures of Tyler and Tyr-bacca

Three year olds are the cutest kids ever! They look cute, they're sweet, they're cuddly and affectionate, they recognize emotions based on facial expresssions, and if your face is sad or angry, they immediately make an effort to cheer you up, just by getting close to your face, stroking your hair, and yelling, "Happy!!!" I say "they" because Tyler did the same thing at this age, and I remember my nephew Cole doing the same thing as well. Tyrien loves to play with my hair, climb on my back, asks for hugs, asks for kisses, and no matter where I end up sleeping, in the middle of the night, he wanders the house until he finds me, and curls up next to me. But he's also becoming more independent. This morning when I woke up, I saw the boys' bedroom door was open, so I searched the house, and found him asleep on the couch.

In February Tyler took his blue belt test in Little Dragons (jiu jitsu.) He was very focused, and seemed nervous, even though he was very familiar with the material.

After passing the test, he received his blue belt and a certificate. Then his teacher gets to throw him. Tyler went up in the air, landed on the mat at his sensei's feet, and looked up at him with adoration in his eyes. Then he got up and ran towards us, not realizing his teacher wasn't through with him yet. His teacher called him back, because he wanted a hug. Tyler's been training under him for almost three years, and has clearly won his way into his instructor's heart. We first started Tyler in the class because he was unable to follow directions on the soccer field, didn't listen to the coach, and couldn't seem to focus. This instructor affectionately calls him "Gumby", explaining to new parents, "I call him that because he's all over the place." Seeing Tyler alternate between focusing so attentively, and running around, light on his feet, laughing's awesome.

I decided to throw a mardis gras party this year. I decorated, ordered masks, hosted a mask decorating activity, cooked Cajun food, and made a king cake, including hiding a baby in it. I did a much better job of prepping - I decorated Friday night, then on Saturday, did all my vegetable chopping and shredding first, and measured all my spices first, got the crockpot going with chicken jumbalaya, made the king cake and decorated it with green, yellow, and purple sprinkles, then started cleaning. Then around 4pm I started prepping the red beans and rice, the cauliflower rice, and the dirty rice. I even had time to shower before the guests arrived. Tyson initially said he wasn't getting involved, but then the day of, he declared he was in charge of adult beverages, including hurricanes. I warned him that the reason I'd given up on making hurricanes was because I didn't think I'd find passionfruit juice in Tucson. He assured me he could find it, so hurricanes were back on the menu. He came back hours later after shopping multiple stores. That king cake was made out of Pillsbury Cinnamon Buns and the hurricanes were made out of Hawaiian Fruit Punch.

One of my guests was preparing to leave with her kids, so I rushed to do the King Cake. When I sliced into the first piece, Tyrien crashed over the front of his handlebars on his bike. Sarah kindly took the knife away from me and served the cake while I tended to Tyrien. With all the action, I forgot to take any pictures, other than this one:

Congrats to Auggie for becoming King for a Day! For a night, really. I might have been the only person willing to bow before him, but I got to see his bright smile and giggle, over and over. His dad said he loved it.

Oh my gosh, speaking of his dad -  his awesome parents...Penelope was sick, so Dahkniel and Sarah took turns attending the mardis gras party in shifts! Dan came first, then went home, Sarah joined us for a while, and then took Leo and Auggie home, then Dan came back to hang out some more.

That reminds me - they invited us to celebrate New Year's Eve at Noon with them, in a wash, mining for iron in the sand. That was so fun! Reminded me of raking a zen rock garden. When I first met Dan, I loved the way he fostered his kids' interest in science. Now he is doing the same, not only for his younger kids and their friends, but also by going back to school and becoming a teacher.  I can only imagine all the cool activities he must do in his classes. This was such an awesome activity, and now we have two tubs of iron for sciene experiments.

The boys' big Christmas gift of the year was a multi-game table. Tyler had been asking about ping pong, and I knew he liked pool, so I found a table that could allow him to play both. Sort of.
It also has slide hockey and foosball. It arrived in November, and sat, waiting eagerly to be assembled and played. On Christmas, after cooking and serving a delicious dinner, Tyson went to assemble it, and discovered that the dent on the outside of the shipping box translated to a hole in the foosball board. The manufacturer appeared to be very happy to work with us, but then reported that it was on backorder, and we'd need to wait until sometime in March to receive the replacement board. When I said that it is unreasonable to expect a 7 year old child to wait until March to get to play with his Christmas gift, they offered us a partial refund. I repeated my sentiments, and they gave us our full refund, and we didn't have to return it. So Tyson went on a multi-weekend quest to find suitable supplies to recreate the foosball board.

The table is a big hit! At the mardis gras party, Leo had a blast challenging all the attendees to foosball.

In February, for Tyler's rodeo break (it's so weird, schools here get days off for rodeo, and his school takes an entire week!), I decided to embark on a quest to find snow. My friend Emery informed me there was no snow in Flagstaff. But she made a trip to Flagstaff sound pretty enticing, so I decided to take the boys up there anyway. Good friends are better than snow, any day.

Then the day of, the weather app indicated snow was on the way. I looked at the hourly version of the map, and decided to adjust my driving time to avoid the snow. I planned to arrive at 4pm, when it the storm would have passed, and before the roads had a chance to ice up for the night. I asked Tyson whether he wanted me to drive his truck (four wheel drive) or my car (which needs new tires.) He said to take the car to save on fuel, since it was only supposed to snow an inch or so, during the morning, and would likely be melted by the time I arrived. 

At around 3, I let Emery know that my phone indicated we'd be arriving at 3:45. And then we passed the Oak Creek turnoff, and everything came to a standstill. 

I was in denial for the first 45 minutes.

I sent Tyler up the hill to relieve himself. After those first 45 minutes, I decided to go, too. Tyrien said he wanted to come. We began working our way up the steep hill, and then I heard multiple car engines turn on. I picked Tyrien up, and hurriedly made my way back down the rocky hill. I rushed to strap Tyrien back into his car seat, raced around to the driver's seat, turned my engine on, and we didn't move. More denial. I kept an eye on the temperature, 36 degrees.

At some point, Tyler broke into the Doritos.

Eventually I decided it was worth making the trek up the hill, for both myself and Tyrien. Then I decided to make the boys run laps around cars. We made friends - one woman offered us juice (because giving kids sugar while sitting in a car for hours on end sounds like a great plan! but I appreciated the sentiment, accepted her gifts, and saved them for the kids for later), another woman offered us the use of her restroom in her rv, and various people let us pet their dogs.
No one had thought to bring a frisbee. We returned to the car, turning the engine on periodically for heat, and listening to Charlotte's Web followed by The Cricket in Time Square.

Eventually, we resorted to this.

And then we stooped to this level.

Eventually we moved 30 feet, then stopped again for a very long time. The passing of tow trucks made me wonder whether there were multiple accidents occuring, rather than just one big one. I couldn't get internet connectivity, but I could text Tyson. Tyson found out two semis had collided, and there were casualties. When Tyler became impatient, I let him know the severity of the situation, and that we needed to be respectful towards the people who died. He assumed they were bad drivers, and I explained, as my brother in law once told me, "NO one's good at driving on ice."

We finally got moving again, after three hours. But by then, the temperature had dropped to 26 degrees, and sure enough, by the time we got to Flagstaff, the roads had iced up. We were traveling down a steep hill when the traffic light abruptly turned yellow. I applied the brakes, telling Tyler, "So, right now, I don't know if we can stop."Sure enough, we continued sliding forward. Fortunately, the drivers were used to this, and waited until we stopped before proceeding. We stopped just after the crosswalk, so were not actually obstructing the intersection. Phew.

I parked on the curb at Emery's house, but Chris came out to tell me to park in the driveway because the snow plough would be coming through. He left in his truck. I slid while parking in the driveway. Emery suggested I repark to give Chris more room. I attempted, and slid so much that I went back inside and admitted I'd made it worse instead of better.

It was awesome to be reunited with the Eaves! Emery took one look at Tyrien and said, "I have something for you" and returned with the most adorable Chewbacca pajamas. The boys played with lightsabers, we watched the Olympics, and then the boys all camped out in Wesley's room to read books and the three older boys eventually fell asleep. Tyrien stayed up late, as usual.

When I woke in the morning, the temperature outside was 2 degrees - this was the coldest my boys had ever experienced. But the house was warm.

There was a 2 hour delay, so Emery decided to let Noah take the full day off. Emery lent us snow gear, and we took the boys to a park to play in the snow - not deep enough for sledding, but perfect for traipsing, playing on the equipment, and the Eaves have a cool snowball maker that can make snowballs even with dry, crumbly snow.

This was Tyrien's first experience with snow! He loved first. He couldn't keep his gloves on. He especially loved sliding down a very steep slide and landing, hands/face first into the snow. He soon began crying insolably because his hands were too cold. Emery explained to me that little bodies get cold faster than adults, and that this was about the right amount of time for the kids to be ready to get inside and warm. I remembered then, when I was a kid, there were three houses in a row of kids, and we probably weren't spending more than a half hour outside before going into a house for hot cocoa, and that was why we rotated houses (even though my house had the worst tasting version of hot chocolate. The McClains' had Nestle Quick, that was the best.) We got in trouble if we kept returning to the same house, with parents getting cranky at wet boots on their floors. So we rotated houses. Until Emery's words, it had never occurred to me that we weren't actually "playing outside in snow for hours."

Emery had to travel for work that night. Chris took Tyler, Noah and Wesley to buy pizza while Tyrien finally took his nap. The older boys went to bed relatively early. Of course, the Sleepless Wonder stayed up late, watching  the Olympics.

 I initally thought we'd take our time returning home, and stop in Sedona. While driving through, I saw lots of large rocks in the road, and the sign warning for falling rocks. A loud thunk on the roof of our car made Tyler and me both jump. After such a long traffic jam on the way there, falling rocks inspired me to just go ahead and drive straight home.

We got home early enough to perform some science experiments, inspired by the Eaves' boys. Tyrien was so excited, he asked for safety goggles, too. I remembered Tyler had goggles outside, from his Toys for Tots reward bathtub chemistry set the year before. I retrieved them, cleaned them up, and had a very happy three year old scientist.

Our next rodeo break activity was Pump It Up "Glowdeo." What is it about black lights that makes everything so much better? I think I had more fun than the kids. I burned my elbows on my very first slide down. Tyrien wasn't a fan of the first room. The first slide was too steep for him. Then he went into a bounce house with me watching on the outside. A bigger kid kept pulling down a pop up tube and releasing it so it would hit Tyrien in the face and knock him down. At first I thought the big kid was oblivious. The third time he did it, he met Angry Mama Bear. But the damage was done, Tyrien had no interest in entering any of the equipment in that room. He figured out  how to have fun within an arms' reach of me, though!

Tyler and I made our way through this obstacle course several times, while Tyrien waited patiently for us at the opening.

The second room was a different story - as soon as we entered, Tyrien dashed off to a maze structure, so quickly that I actually felt worried as I looked for him. All three of us ran the entire time we were in that room. Tyler partnered with two kids from BASIS, so I played with Tyrien the entire time. It was so fun to see Tyrien figure out how to climb structures - going from falling and crying to being able to climb them all by himself in such a short amount of time.

I told my boss about this experience, and she told me she'd once been to an adult birthday party here. I LOVE that idea! It never occurred to me that adults would rent out the space for a party, but of course! Doing it. Someday.

I stuck with the 2 hour screen time limits for the boys even though it was vacation. This translated into lots of reading time. I'm so excited to have a family of readers now! I took Tyler to Barnes and Noble and taught him the joy of spending hours in a bookstore perusing books, and then lounging around the house on our couch, reading. I often discovered him snuggled up with Tyrien and reading to him.

I also was able to fit some extra Krav classes in. I am so grateful that the owner has created a kid-friendly environment. Tyrien understands from Lil Dragons that he can't be on the mat where we are training, but he can run and play on the other mat. Sometimes I bring them puzzles to work on, sometimes I let them play electronics as a last resort, sometimes I set up obstacle courses for them with hula hoops and cones. My favorite is when the teacher's kids are there, sometimes a game of chase ensues.

One day at work, I had the rare opportunity to go to lunch - it had been months since we'd had the opportunity. Students weren't due to arrive until 1. It turned out, only one other employee actually had the means to go. We went to Bison Witches because she'd never been there, and it was the UofA's spring break, so it was easy to park and get a table. She loved it. We reminisced about the last time we had gone out to lunch, about 6 months prior, and I had texted Tyson to say I was downtown, but he didn't receive the text, walked by, saw us, looked surprised and waved but kept walking, and D jumped up, raced outside and shouted at him, "Tyson! Nice to meet you!" So again, being so close to downtown, I texted him, knowing he probably wouldn't be able to join us on such short notice. He texted back asking if we were going to be there "All day?" D suggested I prank him. I claimed we were going to drink one more stout, then get a tattoo. I thought he'd know right then I was lying - drinking on lunch hour? AND with an employee??? D told me not to answer any more texts from him so he would think I was actually sitting in a chair, getting needled.

D took me to a thrift shop, sure enough, they had temporary tattoos. The cashier immediately picked up on the fact that this was a prank, and suggested we use lipstick to make it look more realistic. We returned to the office, and D ordered me to sit in a chair, ran out, and returned with a wet paper towel. The first tattoo didn't take - students were arriving in our building, and in her haste, D applied the wrong side. Fortunately, it was a twopack. We applied the tattoo in the same location as Tyson's. His is the symbol for a dragon, so I actually got a dragon, and D applied the lipstick after, smudging with  her finger. I told her to make sure to get my little bump in the photo so he'd know it was my leg and not someone else's.

She told me to wait until she called back to send him a picture. She called an hour later. I worried it was too soon, but I did need to get ready for a ceremony... I sent the text. I checked in with my tattooed teammates to get a realistic price to quote.

Tyson sees this prank as a failure, because he zoomed in on the photo, noted the detail, and immediately determined that it was fake because it would have taken more time than we'd allowed. I deem it a success, because we made him take a closer look.

That was the most fun I'd had at work in months! Every trip with D is an adventure.

For Tyler's March spring break, I ended up having to work for part of the week. Monday we all were off, and went for a nice family bike ride. Tyler requested we stop at the fountain in front of Old Main. Tyrien slept, Tyler stalked the two guys cleaning the fountain, and Tyson and I just sat on a bench relaxing and counting the number of women wearing yoga pants. Over 9 out of 10 women on campus that day wore yoga pants. The active wear fashion trend snuck up on me. I saw my employees wearing spandex outfits to work, figured they didn't want to change clothes for teaching gym class. I noticed lots of BASIS moms wearing spandex outfits and sneakers, and assumed they were stay  at home moms that had time to go work out at the gym right after dropping off their kids for the day. Then someone posted that viral video "ActiveWear" - "I go shopping in my Active Wear. I buy coffee in my Active Wear" and that's when I finally realized, these women aren't working out! It's just a fashion statement!???? So on campus, it's not the vibrant, matching spandex outfits - it's yoga pants. Mostly black yoga pants, sometimes grey or dark purple. Shirts are cropped short or at least, are not long enough to hide their derrieres. It's hilarious to listen to Tyson complain about how awful this trend is. When he was in college, he complained about all the college girls wearing Victoria Secret "PINK" pajamas and sweats to class, and imagining how expensive those sweats must be. Now it's yoga pants, and he's equally perturbed. We sound like a bunch of old codgers! "I buy coffee in my Active Wear."

Tuesday I had a doctor's appointment, so I had Tyrien go to preschool, and took Tyler back to his beloved Golf N Stuff. It was cool that day, so I only paid for a round of golf - no bumper boats, go karts, or laser tag (which Tyler is still fearful of.) I hit my ball out into a ravine, so Tyler kindly shared turns with me with his ball, but it made for a very short game. I let him spend $5 in the arcade, and again, he kindly gave me some of his tokens and taught me to play the Jurassic World game, before abandoning me for Star Wars Battle Pod.

Wednesday Tyler,  Tyrien and I went to a morning Krav class. Tyrien calls it "Big Dragons." They were so excited to go! Tyler told me he likes to watch me - that surprised me, and made me feel good. The disciplines are so different. Where Tyler wears a gi and an obi and has to bow on the match, follow Japanese commands, in a relatively quiet environment, I get to wear normal workout clothes, we listen to loud music, there is no bowing, definitely no Japanese...and where jiu jitsu is mostly grappling on the ground, with honor and discipline, Krav is dirty and brutal - eye gouges, kicks to the groin, repeated knees to the groin, escaping choke holds, lots of exercises where we're surrounded by 5 people, being attacked from all directions...with lots of burpees and planks between exercises.

After class, we got lunch and went bowling.

I love that the computers at bowling alleys are now touch screen and you can set it up so the bumpers go up for your littlest kid at every turn, and down for everyone else. Tyler did not love this feature for the first game. He cheered up at the second game when I turned the bumpers on for him. For the second game, I requested a ramp for Tyrien. He loved it!

Thursday Tyler went to A Camp for the day. We were the second people to arrive - a little girl was already there. Tyler immediately began chasing her around the gym. He looked so happy. This is the camp where he was greeted like a rock star upon arrival, and yes, sure enough she was a kid from BASIS. As I left he camp, I ran into a parent and son from Catalina. Yup, Tyler would be surrounded by friends. Sadly, I assumed there would not be swimming, while Tyler thought there would be. He was so nice to me about it. He played on the deck while other kids swam. I feel awful - of course he would have loved to swim! The concept of swimming outdoors in March is lost on me. But he'll go to A Camp the entire month of June, with swim lessons four days each week, plus the regularly scheduled open swim sessions.

Friday, I had to work, but Tyson again had the day off. This is a difficult time of year for us - my dad's death date and birth date anniversaries, and the anniversary of when Tyson's dad's cancer reached his brain. I believe Tyson honored his dad by taking Tyler shooting for the first time yesterday. I feel like it honored my dad, too. I texted my brother Eddie, admitting I felt nervous. He reassured me and sent me a website to show Tyler about gun safety.

I loved hearing Tyson teaching Tyler safety and respect, reminding me of when Eddie sat me down on his bed, showed me his rifles and pistol, and taught me about gun safety. I think I was about the same age as Tyler at the time. It was the same serious tone of voice, focus, the same rules.

They had a great time! They got to the range before it opened, were second in line to get in,  Tyler followed directions and rules, and proudly displayed his two targets on the wall above his bed.

I appreciated that Tyson took the time to text me pictures and video while they were there, and to let me know they had left. This reassured me that they left the range with the same number of holes in their body as they started. Then the next text I got from Tyson was a picture of Emery, Chris, and Noah - they all met up at the Pima Air and Space Museum! I was so glad that they got together. Tyson warned me after that he thought they'd be too tired to meet me after I got off work, and he was right. But somehow it still feels great knowing Tyson and Tyler got time with them. It just feels better having them in the same town as us for a couple of days!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sunrise, Sunset

Pictures never seem to do them justice.

We raced home on our bikes to try to capture these in time...just caught the tail end of it...

The End of 2017!

Continued from Part II...

Eileen continued to be a frequent visitor at our house. Tyler and Eileen met when they were 3, at preschool. They have not been in the same class ever since that first year, but they are at the same school, and continue to be best friends. This house is ideal for entertaining - there are so many options available to them - Eileen enjoys climbing up on the top bunk of the bunk beds, or they spend time in the family room, outside on the swingset, and occasionally, they end up in the living room to watch music videos. Eileen and her dad sometimes bike home from school, her dad kindly escorting us to our house before they head home. We enjoy the company, and he enjoys the opportunity for her to burn off some energy before homework time. That green shirt reminds me, Tyler got Eileen excited about Minecraft, and so her mom let her sign up for Minecraft Club since Tyler was doing it. And...the club was so popular that they had to split it into two sessions. Eileen's club met on a different day. So much for getting to be together!

 Tyrien's favorite show to watch on TV was "A Dog's Life", for a long time. This show was about the intelligence and sociology of pet dogs, including a variety of fun, behavioral experiments. One of the dogs happens to look a lot like Vader. Tyrien gets excited to see him, calling out, "Look, it's Vader!" Even though that dog is shown briefly, Tyrien loves to watch the entire show, over and over.

In September, Tyrien began watching Octonauts instead of A Dog's Life. We were happy with this too, it teaches facts about marine life and the importance of protecting the environment. Not to mention, I hope our kids will be as interested in marine life as I am when they grow up, so we can go on diving adventures together.

I asked Tyrien what kind of birthday party he wanted, but he was not able to answer. Based on his interest, we decided to throw another Octonauts birthday party. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to prepare for a party in light of our hectic schedules and the fact that kids tend to make messes. I had always thought that hosting a party at our own house would allow us to prep in advance, but so far, it has been windy or rainy the day before each party. This year, I took the day before off, and invited Anne Marie. I love party prepping with Anne Marie, it reminds me of the time we used to spend alone together, pre-kids, when Tyson had to work on Saturdays. This time, we got off to a slow start because I was stuck dealing with a work issue and was delayed. Then we cleaned, but the house was messy again by the next day. Next time, we'll make the cake and prep decorations first, and save the cleaning for either the night before or the day of the party. We were also trying to anticipate Tyson's preferences, which fluctuate between believing the inside of the house doesn't need to be clean because it's an outdoor party, to wanting a portion of the inside clean in case people come inside, to wanting the entire house spic and span AND wanting the yard cleaned up as well. Again, next time, decorations should be prepped first, even if they can't be hung yet.

I couldn't find Octonaut party invitations, so found a template and printed them at Kinko's. Tyrien was so excited to see his name sharing the same piece of paper as the Octonauts, so we posted it on the refrigerator at his eye level. 

Tyrien had just moved from the 2 year old classroom to the 3  year old class - the same teacher and classroom that Tyler had! Unfortunately, the kids we invited to the party were young 2 year olds instead of older 2s and young 3s. That changed the dynamic of the party! Several planned activities were instantly scrapped. Tyrien opted to play with the older kids, ignoring his younger guests, who preferred the swings, sticking close to their parents.

This is blurry, but such a happy memory - Leo lookinng on as Tyrien slides into the pile of Izzy, Tyler, and Eileen. We feel so lucky that our kids are so comfortable with the children of our friends, and that they are growing up together.

We did convince all the kids to play Duck, Duck, Goose, only we called it, "Squid, Squid, Octopus." Dahkniel helped me run a fishing pond, where the kids threw their line over the wall, and he hooked a ziplock bag with a paper fish, fish stickers, and a Finding Dory pencil, tugged the line, and the kids pulled their fish back over the wall to retrieve it. The kids that were on the top deck of the swing set were proud to share the secret behind the fishing pond, watching Dan hook the fish. It had never occurred to me that this was supposed to be a secret.

I made jello cups with "eels" in them, so the kids had to dig through the jello to find their sea creature. This was a bigger hit than I expected.

It was fun to see how some kids proceeded to eat the jello, while others were repulsed by it!

During pre-party prep, I showed Tyrien pictures of Octonaut-themed cakes to choose from. He selected the same cake I had made for Tyler's fifth birthday. This time I used fondant. I don't like the taste, but I do like working with the texture, and realized that instead of buying a bunch of different candies, I could just color and shape the fondant accordingly. This year, I didn't buy enough fondant, and was trying to stretch it over and over until it finally occurred to me to read the box to see how much fondant was needed for that size cake, so I had to make an emergency trip to the store late at night. So much for being faster at cake-making this year.

The last time I made this cake, there wasn't enough to go around, so this year, I made a sheet cake to serve as the ocean. We ended up with way too much cake. C'est la vie. But it is so fun to see the look of joy on a child's face when they see their birthday cake. I should try to make sure to capture THAT photo.

 At some point, Tyler came home from school with a beautiful, glossy brochure for the "Apex Fun Run." It was in less than two weeks. High gloss brochure for a school fundraiser, in less than two weeks? We'd just done the Spell-a-thon! Tyson and I decided not to sign his permission slip. A few days later, Tyler was talking about the Apex Fun Run the whole way home from school, and again throughout the night. He's never shown an interest in running before, so we decided to go for it. But we refused to do his fundraising for him.

We coached him on creating a sales pitch, then listened to his side of his phone calls. He left a message for Anne Marie. So we tried Jonell.  He left another message. Anne Marie called back. He gave his pitch, and of course, we heard her ask, "How much do you think I should pledge?"
"How about $5 per lap? Or maybe $20."
"How about $2 per lap?" she countered.
"How about 5?" he countered back. I couldn't stop cracking up.

Then Aunt Jonell called back. He was still negotiating with Anne Marie, so I gave Jonell a heads' up about the glossiness of the brochures until he was ready to start working on her. His sales pitch went smoothly, and he closed the deal quickly. Next was Grandma G. Somehow he convinced her to pledge $5 a lap! He was going to be allowed to run up to 36 laps! I quickly did the math, and told him to warn her how much money she might be committing to.

Tyler was proud that he had five pledges. The day of the race, I helped him select a layered outfit for running. I was sad that neither of his parents were going to see him run. That morning, I asked how many laps he thought he could run. "I don't know."
"How many laps have you been running during practice?"
"What practice?"
"During gym, then."
"We can't run in the gym, it's too small."
"How have you been preparing for this run?"
"We collected money."
I was downright freaked at this point. Who ever heard of running up to 36 laps without ever practicing? I did the math. 2.25 miles. I remember when I first started running in PE, one mile was a big deal. 2.25???

My coworker convinced me I should go watch him run, and offered to cover my class for me. Tyson was home sick that day, so he showed up to watch him run, too. It turned out, the kids had to stop after each lap to get a tally mark on their T-shirt. Plenty of rest. Tyler cranked out those 36 laps just fine.

 The joy of finishing! Tempered with agony.

The friends found each other quickly.

Proving they actually completed all 36 laps...

I'm sure the school didn't make much money on a fundraiser like this, but it was a joy to see Tyler push himself and succeed. He was so proud!

It was also time to focus on Christmas. We again went to the tree sale for the Tucson Boys' Chorus. This year we selected a Douglas Fir. Beautiful tree, but no pine scent, yet Tyson and I were allergic.

 I continued Jonell's tradition (which is really her mother-in-law, Peggy Johnson's tradition) of matching Christmas jammies for willing participants (Tyler, Tyrien, Anne Marie and me.) This year Target had some cute ones. Unfortunately, Anne Marie's and my package contained only a child size 4 blue legging instead of adult pajamas. It took some work, but I was lucky enough to get the problem resolved in time for Christmas. Meanwhile, the boys started wearing theirs right away. Tucson winter is so short, and this house gets so cold, I figured they were right, it was impractical to wait until Christmas Eve to wear them.

In keeping with my desperate ploy to teach my kids that Christmas is about "giving", not receiving, Tyler was required to join me in working for Toys for Tots. Maybe not the best venue for my goal - a warehouse full of toys. He was most uncooperative this year, even though we were lucky enough to be "runners" - taking the tickets from the parents, and running from one toy section to the next, selecting gifts for the family. I loved seeing the look of relief on the parent's face when we handed her multiple bags of toys. But Tyler wasn't feeling it. My quest to teach Tyler the spirit of Christmas was nowhere near complete.

We made cookies well in advance this year, and I learned the error of planning ahead - most of the cookies disappeared before it was time to give them away.  But it was a great way to get the kids in the spirit of Christmas. We made cookie cutter sugar  cookies, took the time to decorate them, and managed to reserve a couple for Santa. Then Tyson informed us that Santa doesn't actually like sugar cookies. He prefers chocolate chip. So on Christmas Eve we resorted to making slice and bake chocolate cookies, just to get in good with Santa.

Tyler prepared a plate of cookies for his teacher. I invited him to consider making a plate of cookies for last year's teacher, too - I know he still sees her, she was his soccer coach, and I remembered him commenting on how happy she was when he brought her a cookie last year. Good thing! While his teacher's reaction to her Christmas cookies was a harsh "Careful - don't drop them, you'll make a mess!" his previous teacher was delighted with her gift. One step forward towards understanding the spirit of Christmas...

Tyrien fell in love with this hat. 

 I had bought it to wear to work a few years ago. Tyler claimed it, then Tyrien. There were battles over this hat. One day Tyler wore it to school and somehow the pom-pom got ripped off and there were footprints on the white fur. So I stuffed it full of newspaper and let our gargoyle wear it for the rest of the season.

The Santa hat with the Halloween skeleton jammies reminds me of Jack Skellington and the Nightmare Before Christmas.

We worked on our gingerbread house - a kit, as usual, because nobody in our house has time for all that. This really does seem to be Tyler's favorite tradition. I vaguely heard Tyrien say "Tyler, I put it in my nose!" I assumed he meant frosting, and calmly responded, "We don't put things up our nose." "Oh-kaaaay." Then a minute later, I heard Tyrien cry, "It burns!" He'd stuck a tiny little candy way up inside his nose!

It is funny just how much we remember from our first job. When lifeguarding, when a kid gets injured, the first thing we do is get them into the first aid office, away from all the action, away from other people. We were trained to be calm, and by remaining calm, help to calm the injured child, along with a soothing tone of voice and demeanor, and to make them believe their injury is relatively mundane. When our kids get hurt now, the first thing I do is almost always to carry them to the bathroom with the first aid supplies, trying to get them away from the action of the rest of the household, and to speak in soothing tones, staying calm, treating them as though their injury is no cause for alarm. Tyson has a different approach.

When Tyrien cried out, "It burns!", I picked him up, carried him to the bathroom and stood him up on the counter so I could see, while he continued to scream and cry.  From the outside, I could see the ball shaped object was so high, it was near his tear duct. I began massaging it downward, trying to soothe him. After a couple minutes, he was still crying, the ball was still stuck, and I was beginning to consider the thought that a trip to the ER might be in our future...Tyson eventually overheard the ruckus, and burst into the bathroom, shouting, "Really? Are you going to be THAT kid? Don't be that kid who puts stuff up their nose! Oh, wow, it's way up there!!!" Tyson shouldered his way in, and took over massaging his nose, by which time the candy had begun to melt, so colored liquid was running out of Tyrien's nose. Tyson taught him to perform a farmer's blow into a babywipe, and eventually the little green candy came out, along with brightly colored mucus. Tyrien hugged Tyson fiercely in relief. I laughed at the fact that  I can calmly, soothingly, work on a child's injuries, while Tyson comes in yelling and scolding, and yet the kids are instantly comforted by his presence. Just the other day, Tyrien was running to the mailbox and tripped and fell, landing at my feet. I began to soothe him and look at his injuries, and sure enough, Tyson came running outside, scolded him for running too fast down a hill, picked him up, and again I watched as Tyrien collapsed in relief against him. Even Vader used to sit still to let Tyson pluck cactus from his legs, scolding and complaining all the while. It never occurred to me that first aid with simultanous scolding would be comforting, yet clearly, it is, and it's obviously a role Tyson delights in. I hope our kids always remember their father rushing to attend to their injuries, and the comfort they derived from his approach.

Our neighborhood "Rooftop Santa" was different this year - the house that Santa had always visited had been sold, and no one with a flat roof was offering to let Santa have a party on his roof. Hey, it's an old neighborhood, everyone's probably afraid his bodyweight would cause permanent damage. Plus, it seems the houses with the flat roofs are the ones that are less likely to have a chimney. He needs a chimney for his show. So this year, instead of a show, it was just a beautifully decorated yard, and a photo op with Santa. It turned out, Anne Marie had taken Tyler to see Santa the day before, unbeknownst to me, so Tyler saw no point in waiting in line to talk to Santa again. I could see his point. I asked Tyler to please be a good sport for Tyrien so we could get a photo. He begrudingly agreed. We waited in line, and, right when it was their turn, Tyrien suddenly realized he was too afraid to sit with Santa. Another good reminder that Christmas is about people - human beings. Little human beings who have their own hopes, dreams, and fears, independent of their parents', and who don't always want to do the things we expect them to do.

But they still have to make the effort. I took every opportunity I saw to teach Tyler about social contracts. "If you want to celebrate Christmas, you have to fulfill the social contract. Christmas is not about getting toys. It's about celebrating the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, and honoring his life's work by being kind and generous to others. If you really want  to skip  volunteering to help the less fortunate, and you want to skip  the church service, then we're not honoring the true meaning of Christmas, and that means we don't need to be celebrating Christmas." "I want to celebrate Christmas!" Okay. Then you have to volunteer and go to church. AND you have to smile for pictures."

Finally Christmas Eve arrived. Anne Marie came packed and ready for a sleepover. Our quest to find the right church has been a long one, but we liked Catalina at Easter, because they were so kid-friendly, so we returned to Catalina for Christmas. The brotherly love on approaching the church melted my heart.

They did a great job during the service! After the service, we drove around looking at Christmas lights. It is an annual tradition from my childhood, and for some reason, Tyler HATES it. He wants so much for Christmas to arrive, he seems to think driving around is somehow preventing Christmas from coming. The truth is, driving around gives me ideas for next year's decorations, and more importantly, gives Tyson more time to get things done.

We put out the cookies and milk for Santa - chocolate chip per Tyson's recommendation. Then we put out food for the reindeer - when I was a kid, we just left carrots by the fireplace. But I borrow Aunt Jonell's tradition of putting oats outside, so the reindeer can eat while Santa's inside, arranging the gifts.

With Vader gone, it was convenient to put out his dog food bowl instead of scattering the oats on the ground. I think the reindeer liked it better, the oats were all gone the next day.

This year the kids remembered to wake us up, I think this was the first year they awoke before me. .

Tyler shows excitement by dabbing.

Love the fashion model pose.

It's hard to get spontaneous photos that show Grandma's face - she is always looking at the boys :) But I promise, she was there!

More pics...

For some reason, opening gifts this year required opening one's mouth as wide as possible at the same time.

Seriously. We did not encourage this.

I don't know where they get it.

In the afternoon, Great Grandma Allaire, aka Gigima, and Anita, aka Auntie Em, came to visit.

I'll never forget the conclusion of their visit - on our front porch, Gigima grabbed me by the shoulders, speaking very emphatically to me, while out of the corner of my eye, I could see Tyson walking in circles around Anita's vehicle, drawing pictures in the dust on her windows, and Anita chasing him to erase each picture, but not wiping down the entire window, so the cycle continued, and Gigima's diabtribe concluded with her passionate cry, "I just want to live ALONE!" 

Tyson's cousin James and his son Christopher joined us for dinner that night. It  was so awesome to have all of the Allaire family at our house at some point on Christmas. 

What a great day!

Next was Winter Staycation. Who ever thought a staycation would be relaxing??? With kids, it becomes endless referring, endless cooking, cleaning, dishes. Staycation really just equates to..."stay at home mom-dom." Not my cup of tea.

On the 26th, I briefly violated "Official Play With Your Toys Day" to meet up with our Candian cousins, the Pattons, for lunch while they were in town for the day. This was the day that I learned, routine finally matters to the Sleepless Wonder. The boy who never regulated his sleep cycle, who seemed to have no need for scheduled bed times, wake times, meal times, naps, or other activities, suddenly was a disaster without his routine. Tyrien was in full meltdown mode for the entire lunch, repeatedly throwing himself headfirst into the floor, bashing his forehead, then flipping over to his back so he could bash the back of his head as well. I carried him screaming to the car, stuffed him into his carseat, strapped him in, rolled down the windows, then walked back to the restaurant to say goodbye. Don't worry, I could still hear his hollering the entire time. Tyler, on the other hand, had a fantastic lunch, looking at his cousins with pure joy in his eyes. I would have taken a picture of that, but couldn't get the shot, because I had a whirling dervish attacking me the entire time.

 The next day, I utilized a better strategy. I called in a friend. A friend I love and trust. A friend who knows how to survive the "stay at home mom" thing. A friend with kids my kids' age. And most importantly, a friend who has a zoo membership. Sarah!

Instant improvement in sibling relations.

At the end of our time together, Sarah and I chatted while Leo, Auggie, and Tyler embarked on an entrepreneurial  business venture together. They even designated a CEO, CFO, and COO. Tyrien was assigned to manual labor.

The next day, I also had an effective plan of attack. Or so I thought. Roller skating with Eileen!

I paid for Tyrien to get a cheater rack. I refused to get one for the older kids. That thing about kids being human beings...Tyrien didn't need the cheater rack, because he was in no way willing to wear roller skates. Meanwhile, Eileen commandeered someone else's cheater rack.

Tyler and Eileen had a great time. Tyrien did too, once I gave up on trying to get him to skate. He danced on a bench for two hours. I got to skate around the rink twice in that time.

The final day of staycation, we went to Paula's to watch a fight. And by watch a fight, I mean...

As for New Year's, well, I think this says it all.