Monday, October 31, 2011

My Lil Kicker

I didn't think anything could ever trump ballet . . . but we may have found our favorite Darby family activity.

Don't blink. You might miss her.

Taking a much needed rest after all that crazy running and kicking . . . and running to the water fountain five thousand times . . .

Listening intently to Coach Carlos. He's so cool.

Already in training for when he's eligible next season.

Loving on his favorite coach.

Practicing "kicking."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ahhh, Autumn

My absolute most favorite time of the year in Chicago has arrived . . .

. . . ahhhh.

Sixty degree days and chilly nights . . . yellow and orange trees . . . apple orchards and pumpkin patches . . .

. . . and this gorgeous view outside my window.

I squealed with delight like a schoolgirl when my October Southern Living arrived in the mail. Page after page of drop-dead gorgeous homes filled with pumpkins and dried leaves and gourds. It made me want to put on some boots and a scarf and watch a football game.

And the recipes. Wowzers. Every single page in the back half of the magazine has been dog-eared. Pecans and apples and soups and casseroles. Yum, yum, yumminess. So I started with the apple-pear with maple-pecan bacon salad with cranberry viaigrette. Bacon and maple syrup and pecans and pears and apples and grapes and gorgonzola. Yes, ma'am, it was amazing. The bacon is actually dipped in maple syrup, covered with pecans, and then baked. And I added some grilled chicken just for fun. My, my, my. Mouth watering yet?

The next night I moved to the other side of the page to Chicken Marsala with pecans. I made a side of gouda and garlic mashed potatoes and some leftover salad from the night before, and then my husband knew for sure he married the right woman :).

Tonight will be a fantastic Pioneer Woman (gosh, don't you love her?) chicken thigh recipe. The hubs is super-appreciative of anything I cook, but he has told me many times that I should try more chicken thighs than breasts. Breasts are just so easy -- I don't even know what to do with skin and bones -- but Ree may have changed my mind, so here it goes, Clint. I might get a diamond necklace after this one.

With a new season, comes a new sport. Mimi started a soccer class at Lil' Kickers (they don't really play games. Just a lot of fun drills and playing). Mimi kicks ass at soccer. She may not be the best -- well, she's not the best. There's a little boy in her class who plays like it's his job. He races down the field, high-fives his dad, and then returns to the start before the rest of the class has even gotten half-way finished. Anywho, she loves it and really seems to handle the ball well with her feet.

And she looks really, really cute in her uniform.

Chicago seems to go all-out with Halloween, and almost every home in our neighborhood is decorated with orange lights and spider webs and ghosts. This makes for a very long walk to wherever we're going because Mimi constantly yells, "Wait, Mommy! Go back! I need to see the ghosts and spiders! Spoo-ookie!" She LOVES being scared. She asks over and over again to watch an episode of Curious George where he is afraid of the dark, a Veggie Tales movie called Where is God When I'm Scared? (which she insists is called God's Scared), and an Olivia episode where Ian pretends to be a ghost. By the way, Olivia is my favorite TV show by far. She is so smart and independent and awesome.

I must give you a Halloween sneaker.


Sweetest little lion. Ever.

Last year I pretended to be super-mom and made their costumes, and, well, that was just stupid, stupid, stupid. I didn't have the time or energy, and I decided this year would be different. While at Target one day, we walked down the costume aisles, and I let Mimi pick her costume all by herself. I tried to persuade her to be a fairy and Mack could be a gnome. Nope. What about the cute ice cream cone? Or the ladybug? Uh uh.

So what did she fall in love with? A pink pony with purple sparkle wings. Sigh. Not my first choice. Not even my twentieth choice, but whatevs. I'm sure Mimi rock as a flying pony.

And here's a little bit of brother and sister love. Sweet babies. Mack can totally climb up Mimi's little steps and onto her bed, and then they jump and squeal and throw off all the pillows and think it's awesome. And I just noticed that she is lying on a mini Pillow Pet that is a pink and purple unicorn . . . was this the inspiration for her Halloween costume??

As much as I love the changes that go along with this new season, my larynx does not. As of Wednesday night, I finally had a tiny bit of voice back just in time to see this . . .

That's right, homeys. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Huge fan. HUGE. It was awesome, and my sister told me to use spirit fingers instead of squealing. He he.

And I think formal introductions are necessary. This is my sweet Lacy:

We at the Darby household love, love, love her. On our way home from the show, she and I discussed how I totally offered her a nanny position after speaking about 3 words to her on the phone. She responded with, "Don't you at least want to meet me first?" and I, a fly by the seat of my pants kinda girl, knew I probably needed someone like her. And later I learned she was also a big fan of SYTYCD, and I knew it was a match made in heaven.

So tonight we're having chicken thighs and tomorrow we're off to Michigan to explore a pumpkin patch and a winery. Pictures to come . . .

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm Putting Myself in Time-Out

I am going to blame it on my laryngitis. It's something I'm stricken with once every couple of years either in the early fall or spring, and my number must be up once again. I can't talk, so all I can do is be quiet and listen and think. Gosh, how boring.

Over the past few weeks I've felt like I've had way more discussions with friends who are thinking about having babies, thinking about having a second baby, or thinking about pulling their hair out from all of their babies they already have. While doing all this being quiet and thinking, I have been going over those conversations in my head and looking at baby pictures and reminiscing a lot about my time as a mommy . . . and I've been wondering if I could go back in time what I would have told myself about all this baby business a few years ago . . .
. . . and I think I would have jerked myself up by the ponytail and said this:

#1) Stop thinking about yourself so dang much. Get in the routine of doing for others. Take care of others first. Volunteer. Take dinner to a sick friend. Call your Mom more often.

#2) Stop complaining that I'm SOOO busy. Limit my TV time and start cooking dinner and working out. If I don't do it now, why do I think I'll do it when I have a baby?

#3) Laugh at myself. Don't take life so seriously. Stop gossiping. And quit worrying about not having enough money for those fabulous boots in both black and brown.

#4) Stop taking forever to get ready for work or a dinner. Limit washing my hair to every other day. Clean out my closet so I only have pieces that I feel fabulous in. Put my keys, sunglasses, and wallet in the same place every. single. day. Don't pack for a month when I'll only be gone for a weekend.

#5) Join an awesome Sunday School Class at a church that is focused on what's important. And make sure that Sunday School class has plenty of young couples who have started their own families.

#6) Make awesome friends who I can trust and rely on and who don't complain too much. I'll need these people to help me not go insane when I'm ready to call it quits. And learn to tune out the haters. If friends or family members are being critical now, just wait until they can unleash all their judging on me as a mother.

#7) Learn to REALLY communicate with my husband. What makes him tick? What does he need to feel loved? What do I need from him? What's really going on when he gets so dang mad about not being able to find his belt?

#8) Talk to God. A LOT. Ask him for absolutely everything and learn that I fail miserably when I stubbornly try to make decisions on my own. Don't get so overwhelmed. Have FAITH.

#9) Don't be disgusted at poots. They really are funny :).

But I couldn't write this list to myself before we had Mimi, so Clint and I just jumped in head-first like everyone else has to do who doesn't have a time machine. And we've worked hard and succeeded and failed and bickered and been exhausted and have had a heck of a lot of fun. But I still need to make sure I'm learning and trying and failing so that I can learn some more. We've recently reached a new milestone with Mimi being a preschooler and Mack being a toddler. Things have changed and I have to roll with it and constantly keep myself in check, but I haven't been exactly sure how to do what's best for my little stinkers.

Stinker #1

Stinker #2

A good friend recommended a book to me called Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic, and it has completely changed my perspective. Stop rolling your eyes because I have probably already recommended you read this and I have talked about it, like, nonstop for the past few weeks. It was JUST what I needed. This chick is a mother of 5 small children all under the age of 6. Four of them are girls (imagine that house full of drama and hormones), and one is a set of twins. Just knowing that she has all of that going on and is still surviving enough to write a book should make most of us stop whining and complaining. She is a Christian, but I feel like really anyone who was raised with similar morals can take something away from this.

Anywho, get the book. The author is cute and funny and amazingly positive, and you'll want to highlight almost every single sentence. It's only about 100 pages and each chapter is only a few pages. I read it during a naptime and right before I went to sleep (which means I've been able to leave Mimi in bed by herself most nights! Woo hoo!). She's not preachy and condemning but is real and honest and doesn't claim to have all the answers. I promise you'll come out of it ready for a fresh start with a new perspective on what exactly it is we're supposed to be doing as parents.

So from this book and from talking to other moms and from trial and error, I have put myself in time-out to stop and reflect on this new list I created for myself:

#1) Quit complaining about not having "me time." I just had a convo with a new dad at Trader Joe's who has a 7-week-old. He was in total survival mode, and I could tell he was struggling from the way he was constantly rubbing his eyes to stay awake. He said he's a competitive cycler, and he hasn't even pulled out his bike since the baby has arrived. I wanted to say, "Dude, focus on the big picture. Just think about the first time he can ride on the back of the bike with you along the lakefront . . . and when you get to remove the training wheels from his Elmo bike and let him go by himself . . . and when he gets to race next to you one day." But all he needed to hear from me today was, "Don't worry. You will be able to do it again. You're in survival mode right now, and you'll be proud of yourself when you make it out of this stage alive." I've so been there. I've been so concerned about MY free time. When do I get to do things by myself again? Instead I need to find things I enjoy doing with my children. Taking them on a jog in the stroller . . . teaching them how to splash in the ocean waves . . . painting Mimi's fingernails while doing my own . . . and before I know it spending time with them becomes a lot more fun than spending time by myself.

#2) Speaking of survival mode -- it's okay to do this occasionally. We're rushing from a doctor's appointment to ballet to the grocery store, and somewhere along the way I need to fit in some lunch and naps. I will not beat myself up if I have to hit the drive-thru at McDonald's and Mack's nap is later that day. If guests are coming over and nothing is keeping the kids occupied so I can cook and clean, then I can't feel guilty about pulling out a Costco frozen pasta and pre-made salad and quickly Swiffering around the edges. I mean, who needs a friend who will look under the couch for dust-bunnies anyway?

#3) I can't stay in "survival mode." Although that is basically what everyone does during the beginning and certain transitional times, I have to realize that being a SAHM is my life now, and I must give it my all. The house does need a good scrubbing every now and then. I need to shower and put on make-up and matching clothes. I should cook healthy meals. I must put all that folded laundry away. And most of all, I need to make time to sit in the floor with the children and let them throw all the pillows off the bed and dump everything out of the toy bins and sing and dance and giggle.

#4) Remember that this is supposed to be fun. There was a mom at soccer last week who was begging and pleading and bribing and coaxing and guilt-tripping and all-out demanding that her child get out on that soccer field RIGHT NOW and HAVE FUN. Meanwhile, the little girl was in her own world twirling her hair and trying to find absolutely anything she could do other than getting on that soccer field. I'm not judging the mom because who knows what kind of day the two of them had had or what other issues have arisen at soccer each week, but I hated to see that it all ended with the mom whisper-yelling how she'd had enough and they could just go home. Then she stomped out of the building while the completely unaffected little girl skipped behind her. And all I could think was, Oh my goodness, so that's what I look like when I do that. Well, I haven't exactly done that, but I sure have let Mimi know how disappointed I have been in her when she hasn't willingly done the things I've wanted her to do. And guess what. Totally doesn't phase her. And I'm glad it doesn't. She shouldn't be doing these things to please me. There is a huge difference in doing what is "right" and just doing something that I think is right. So I can encourage and expose them to what I think is fun . . . but I need to make dang sure I'm paying attention to what she and Mack want to do for fun.

#5) Respect versus etiquette. Last night we had a new babysitter who responded to a question I asked her with, "Yes, ma'am." Oh my goodness. I can't recall the last time someone has said that to me, and I found her response with her sweet Texas accent to be so lovely. But I could tell she used this phrase genuinely and honestly with respect. When I taught high school English a million years ago in a small town in Mississippi, I noticed that some parents completely freaked out if their children didn't respond with, "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir" or "please and thank you" to the point of being ridiculous. I had a couple of mischievous ninth grade boys who were very good at using these magic words when they were in trouble, and finally one day I'd had enough. They were selfishly disrupting the class the day before exams, and as soon as I called them outside they both started with their "yes, ma'am" crap. I asked them to NEVER use those mocking and disrespectful words to me again, and I explained that it doesn't mean anything if it isn't said with respect. They obviously didn't respect me or their classmates, and I wish that they had learned how to do that rather than recite that meaningless word. While I do occasionally ask Mimi to use "ma'am" or "sir," I haven't cared too much about hen-pecking my children to always say this, but I care a heck of a lot about my children being grateful and unselfish and loving.

#6) Be ready for change. What worked a few months ago for keeping them occupied while I do laundry might not work anymore. While Mimi may have always been a fantastic eater, she is suddenly eating sporadically -- very little at one meal and an extreme amount at another. Time outs worked well last week but not so much this week. Mack has discovered how to climb on beds and up stairs. My methods must change and I have to be okay with Plan B. Or C. Or D.

#7) Save the yelling (this doesn't really work anyway with laryngitis!). A few months ago my house could fall to crap at any given second. Mack had begun teething, Mimi was being a really terrible two-year-old, and Ruthie barked her head off at everything that moved. I was still trying to figure out how to function being at home all day, and I lost it waaaay too much. And guess what? Little ones become immune to that. And they even learn to yell back and yell at each other. Uh oh. I knew that if I didn't stop soon yelling would become a way of life, and I'd make a complete A-double-S out of myself in public over Mimi kicking off a shoe. So now I'm forbidding myself from yelling unless Mimi is running out into the street or she's choking her brother until his face turns blue or Mack is about to grab scissors or a hot stove. If I freak out, so will my children. They need to learn how to calmly deal with problems by watching my example.

#8) Make sure I'm disciplining my children when they are sinning and not when they are just getting on my nerves. Are they being selfish and jealous and mean? Or are they just squealing too loudly while I'm trying to watch Friday Night Lights? Am I pointing out why we should share the blocks with our friends or am I just yelling and humiliating them? I remember being silly with a couple of other little girls in the ice cream line during snack time when a teacher smacked us all on the bottom and called us "disobedient little girls." We were all completely humiliated, and I found myself being very withdrawn and frightened around this teacher after that incident. I wasn't a bad kid, so I went over and over this moment in my mind trying to figure out exactly what we did that was so wrong. There wasn't a rule about not talking in line, so was it wrong to giggle? I know you think I'm crazy for remembering this, but kids do remember times like this. Children need to be children. Silly and loud and wild . . . but also kind and gracious and loving. Also, I need to realize when the real problem is all my fault. Did I forget snacks for my irritable, starving children? Did I really think I could buy groceries for the week during naptime?

#9) I need to let my children know my expectations. There have been total meltdowns in Target and at the park and in restaurants . . . and I kept going back with the kids and doing the same thing but expecting better results. Eventually I started telling Mimi, "We're going to the park, but we can't get any ice cream this afternoon because we will soon eat dinner with Daddy. Also, I need you to climb in the stroller when it's time to go because Daddy will be excited to see us." I asked her to agree with me and repeat this so I knew she heard me, and then I reminded her once again when we got to the park. And guess what? It usually worked. Also, I've learned to practice good behaviors with my children before expecting them to actually "be good." One sort of scary thing about living in the city is all the traffic, but I knew Mimi had to learn to walk next to me on the sidewalk and stop at all alleys and streets. I've seen some of her friends doing it, so we slowly let her walk short distances with us. And each time she did well she was allowed just a tiny bit more freedom to stop and pick up stick and rocks and point out dog poop and tell me how yucky that was.

#10) Let my children help. There was a family I babysat for some who had two small children and a girl who was about 8 or 9. When it was time for me to feed them dinner or get them ready for bed, I always asked the oldest one to help out by giving her simple tasks like clearing the table, brushing their hair, or drying them after their bath, and she was happy to do so. Whenever I let the parents know that she was always a great help, they seemed so surprised. The mom told me that she never even asked the daughter to help because she thought the girl would do it wrong and it was easier to just do it herself. I have to constantly remind myself now that Mimi can do more than I think she can -- I just have to guide her a little. And be patient with her while she's learning. I give her hand towels to fold when I'm putting away laundry. I give her plastic dishes to dry when I'm unloading the dishwasher. I ask her to take off her shoes and put them by the door when we get home. I let her stir and pour in some ingredients when we cook together. And there is usually a mess and Mack gets in the middle of it and I have to do it over. And each time I ask her she will get better.

So I'm jerking myself up by the ponytail and vowing to be a better mommy. I will fail daily and it won't be easy, but here it goes. I'll let you know how I do. :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Go Home

. . . goes to visit his mummy . . . she feeds him well, his concerns he forgets them . . . and remembers being small . . . playing under the table and dreaming . . .

I consider myself very blessed to be able to go home. My first home. My real home. The place that my parents brought me to from the hospital. The place where I snuggled in my father's lap while sucking my thumb and holding my pink worn blanket. The place where I watched ants building their dirt fortresses and collected pine cones and jumped in mud puddles. The place where we always had puppies and stray cats and an occasional deer or fox in the yard. The place where I know there will always be plenty of comfort food and hugs and where almost nothing has changed.

If you have it, don't take it for granted. Being in Chicago has taught me so much about myself, and one of those things is that I grew up in a damn fine home. It wasn't the biggest or the nicest, but it was my safe place. And I've been craving it for a while now. I've dreamed of pulling up the beat-up driveway, seeing the old trees and Dad's garden, walking into a kitchen that always smells like freshly-baked brownies and cooked vegetables, and flipping through our local paper. Luckily, I was able to spend a few days there this past weekend, and all I've gotta say is that it was about time.

I grew up in the country outside of Corinth, Mississippi, which has to be the complete opposite of my current neighborhood. I loved that when I pulled up the hill that leads to my parents' home Mimi said, "Oh, Mommy, it's a park!" because she assumes all wide-open spaces must be some sort of park. Well, I guess a huge yard with lots of room to roam is a fantastic playground for Mimi and Mack. Here's one of the "rides" at the park:

And another one. How cool is my dad on the old blue tractor?

This one is getting framed, like, real big.
My fuzzy-headed child who hates to put anything in her hair fell in love with a knitted headband I bought for her for this winter, and she wouldn't take it off. Whatever, Meemers.Just give her brown hair, and that could have been me about 29 years ago. I sat on this driveway and collected sticks and rocks and frogs and sorted them out just like she was doing.
But she had a really cool butterfly catcher that she quickly turned into a leaf and rock catcher.

"Oh, Mommy. The horsey is so hungry."
There were so many things that I had to relearn about being back in my small town. First of all, I had to figure out how to use the freaking bright lights on my car. Honestly, I've never had to use them. But there were no street lights once I left the city limits, and I now realize why my parents never wanted me to drive home late on our dark and windy road. Yikes. I also had to figure out how to sleep when it was completely quiet. I can always hear the bus outside our window or a car bumping music or an ambulance siren. Always. But at my parents' home it was so quiet that I could hear the clock ticking in the kitchen on the other end of the house.

I also had to get used to the gossip. And not necessarily bad gossip, but I had to remember how everybody knows everything about everybody. In a small town it is impossible to meet someone without being asked, "Where did you go to school? Who are your parents and siblings? Where did you go to church? Who did you run around with in high school?" People don't always mean to, but they are totally sizing up the victim. With those simple questions, one can learn another person's social status, income, morals, and basically whether that person is worth knowing or not. And I didn't need to let it get to me because it's customary, so I played along. Luckily for me, I have a pretty decent track record. :)

One nice thing about being in this small town was that I didn't have to fear for my life (or a ticket) every time I had to take a left turn. There was absolutely no traffic. The scariest thing about this town was the new turnabout by the elementary school. That's another fun thing. Someone here could say "the new elementary school" and everyone knows which one he's talking about. Or he owns "the downtown dry cleaners," or he goes to "the Presbyterian church."

Mom and I took the kids to Borroum's Drug Store (oldest and cutest drug store in Mississippi!) for lunch one day, and a few young guys walked in the door who looked like they had come straight out of the fields. They were tan and sporting jeans and work boots, and one of them turned to a lady who walked in after them and said, "Didn't I jest see you -- are you a' fallerin' me?" I completely melted. He may have had Skoal in his back pocket and you know the bed of his truck was full of beer cans and trash, but, my word, he was awfully charming. I can't quite say the same about a guy with a Midwestern accent . . .

A highlight of my trip was going to Hog Wild barbecue festival with a friend I've had since I was in first grade -- although there were some years we didn't speak because of a little disagreement on the playground where I attempted to cuss a lot and it just all came out wrong. Anyway, this consisted of fair rides around the square, some live music, and lots of barbecue and beer. It was a little strange to be back here and realize that I knew absolutely no one, and the few people I did know I had to take a second glance at because I haven't seen them in so long. And I love how they are lawyers and aldermen and dance teachers and policemen and accountants. How fun that we're all grown up with mortgages and children.

The main reason we took a trip back to the South was for a couple of parties for my newly engaged brother-in-law and his adorable fiance'. Her family is amazing, their friends are awesome, and I couldn't be happier for the sweet couple. By the way, this might be the coolest wedding around, so I will for sure have my camera handy for the big weekend.

The kiddos got to spend some quality cousin time while in Memphis. Ain't nothing but T-R-O-U-B-L-E in this wagon.

We're going to have to watch out for these two. As Clint told his mom, Mack does nothing but eat, sleep, and destroy . . .
Forward, MARCH, Mimi!

My Happy Place

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

Gorgeous white beaches.

Perfect weather.


And without a doubt my favorite place to go when I need to just go away.

I think there are a few others who agree with me . . .