Thursday, October 25, 2012

Madeline's 5 1/2 and Growing Up Fast!

Miss Madeline just seems so grown up. It blows my mind to think I have memories from when I was her age; I love knowing that she may remember snippets of this happy time. She has the cutest little gestures and says "totally" and "like," as in "I totally forgot" or "She was, like, so excited!" She has a bestie at school; her name is Hannah and Madeline told me yesterday when I picked her up that Hannah's going to ask her mom not to hand out dark chocolate on Halloween, because, like, Madeline doesn't really like it.

A couple of months ago, we moved a desk into her room -- it was the tiny table my grandfather used at the University of Illinois when he was going to med school. I filled a tin with markers and put a couple hundred sheets of paper on her shelf. Now she disappears for hours, coloring every day when she gets home from school and during her quiet times on weekends. She's prolific; I'm constantly amazed by the incredible artwork she creates -- she's really talented!

Madeline was our tour guide at her school's open house; Rob and I laughed when we saw that every piece of art she created, whether it be a painted pumpkin, a skeleton made out of Q-tips, or a self-portrait, had giant eyelashes. And she's really starting to sound out words and take a stab at writing. She comes home from  Kindergarten practicing sightwords, with fun stories about who did what. She regularly writes Rob and me darling little cards telling us we rock. (I'm saving them to show her during her teenage years when she forgets how awesome we are).

She's silly and playful! And she's fiercely independent, brave and determined, which I love about her. She picks out her own clothes every morning for school and will push through her frustration to figure something out by herself. Suddenly she's way over ponytails and only likes hairbands. Blue jeans? Nope. Leggings, yes. I know her well enough to recognize when she's feeling shy, timid or when her feelings are hurt, but she's stoic and tough and will never admit it. Like her first day of school -- her body language gently registered nerves, but she insisted she was not afraid. My mom used to always tell me to fake it 'til you make it. Madeline seems to already have mastered that at just five years old...what a life skill! I've learned at those times to wrap her up in big, long hugs if she'll let me. We usually don't say a word.

She's old enough that she enjoys big girl playdates, where she goes to someone else's house without me. This summer, she felt so cool going to vacation bible school every day at the Methodist Church by our house. She loves her ballet class on Thursdays, and is kind of kicking the boys butts in flag football. Of course, every now and then she'll break into cartwheels and the coach will bring her back. Last month, she played soccer and was pretty darn good by the end of the season! She scored three goals in their last game! And Rob recently took her to a Marquette University volleyball game (our neighbor is the head coach) where Madeline was the youngest participant of a 100 in a clinic after the match.

My favorite time of the day with her is bedtime. Every night when the boys are packed in, I climb under the covers of her twin bed to hear about her day. It's when she lowers her guard and cuddles. She's asks question after question, like, "Mommy, why are big boys so rough when they play?" and "What were you for Halloween when you were little?" Then I remember how young she still really is. I sing her a lullaby, just like when she was an infant, then we say our prayers and blow our nightly kisses.

Seeing how fast she's growing is a daily reminder of how I must treasure these everyday moments. And I truly do. Love you, sweet girl!
Flag football. She didn't care that she was the only girl.
Last man standing! She's fast.
The last 20 minutes of every soccer practice was a scrimmage.
I love how the college athletes behind her think she's awesome!
She's a monkey. We have to get her in gymnastics!
Getting a mani/pedi with Ning and Mommy!
She loves the baby Gigi gave her when she was born.

Charlie's Three and a Half....and a Laugh a Minute!

At 3 1/2, Charlie is a perfect balance of two extremes -- he's 100,000% boy (explosions!, ninjas!, firefighters!, monster trucks!, Super Heros!, football! car crashes!...all punctuated with lots of sound effects). And at the same time, he's one of the most affectionate, imaginative, animated, sweet and sensitive children I've ever met. He's a pint-sized romantic, and though I know I'm flashing forward a couple of decades, he'll make a wonderful husband one day. During our bedtime tuck-in the other night, he caught a whiff of my perfume and told me I was "beautiful smelly."

The kid cracks people up, no one more than us; he's seriously hilarious. He likes wearing his clip-on ties, and recently wore one to Target with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat -- he told me he wanted to look handsome. Dressing up as a firefighter or Spiderman is as much part of our every day as eating breakfast. He even wore his costume to the first day of preschool! He tapes flashlights to his firefighter helmet and saves me from morning till night. I've said it before, but I love this age when their imagination is totally unchecked by inhibition.
Superman at the Fall Frolic
I have pictures spanning two years of Charlie making himself ketchup sandwiches. I took video of him looking for Diego (a cartoon charater who saves animals) in a rain gutter...."Diego! Diego? Are you down there? If you're down there, answer me!!!" He got confused once when I told him he had "sleep marks" and now asks me if he has "sleepy arms" every time he wakes up from his nap. At night if he's having trouble falling asleep, he tells me he going to "watch his dreams." And at 6am every morning, when Charlie's alarm clock tells him he can leave his room, he taps Rob's arm in the dark and whispers, "Daddy, can we watch sports?" They tiptoe downstairs to watch ESPN Sportscenter.

Diego, are you down there? Answer me!
Charlie tells all his friends he loves them. Even new friends he's only known a few minutes. Or he'll say, "Dad, you're the BEST!" Nancy came up with Madeline's nickname, Mimi, and Charlie gave it wings when he couldn't pronounce her full name. We love how he calls her "Meems" and "Meemers"; now we all do. And he has a special talent that I truly do not possess. He can listen to a song on the radio or hear a new song at school and sing it word for word! He regularly corrects me on Taylor Swift or Miranda Lambert's lyrics. He once sang the entire theme song to Lots and Lots of Firetrucks (accidentally spitting while he imitated percussion) for a girlfriend of mine during a playdate.

All summer, we had "Football Training Camp" in our front yard. He called me coach and we did drills. He would put on Madeline's outgrown soccer cleats and pretend to jump through tires. I even told him to "take a knee" when we were done. He loved it! So you can imagine how much he loves his real flag football class at the Rec Center. Madeline asked if she could take the class too! So Charlie's the youngest by two years (his class was cancelled and he was bumped up with the older kids) and Madeline's the only girl. During the first practice, Madeline got so excited she gave her brother a swift, tight hug. Charlie said, "Mimi!! There's no hugging on the field!"

The last few months have been big ones in his little world. This summer, he potty trained successfully. And this fall, he started school. Now he's pretty much dropping his afternoon nap. He's such a big boy in many ways, and still so very little at the same time. It's a joy (and a million laughs) to watch him grow up. We love you, Charlie! 

Saving a kitty cat.
Lots of firefighter action. Lots of nose picking.
Yum. Another ketchup sandwich.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John John's 16 Months!

John is 16 months. I don't know how it happened, but he's a full fledged toddler. An actual little boy! He runs to get places now. And pointing and grunting are giving way to words -- his favorite is football. I hear it all day long -- only he can't say the "f" or the "l" so it sounds like "ootbaw." When Maple is under his high chair, he says, "go!" (certainly because he's heard me say that his whole life!) He thinks it's fascinating to pull fistfulls of Madeline and Charlie's hair, so after weeks of teaching him to touch gently, now he pats their heads instead and says "nice." He makes animal sounds galore. Just thinking about the sound of his voice -- sweet and high, but distinctly masculine -- as I write this post actually makes me outwardly smile. God, he's adorable.

He imitates everything -- watering the plants, talking on the phone, putting on shoes, blowing kisses, throwing the ootbaw, and anything -- anything at all -- that his brother and sister happen to be doing. He erupts into peals of hysterical laughter if people around him laugh, and he chatters like a little chipmunk; Madeline can do a perfect imitation. One of John's favorite activities is to collect things and deposit them randomly. He hid my cell phone for three days in a file cabinet (it was on silent). I found my J Crew necklace in the toilet. Madeline's school folder was in the Tupperware drawer. The best part is, if you ask him for what he's hidden, he'll actually lead you right to it. Tonight, he refused to sit in his high chair at a Panera so I barricaded him with the stroller and he happily sat in the booth, eating his entire dinner just like a big kid.

Even though he has strong opinions (and gets pretty mad! It's so darn cute!), he's still the easy kid he's been since the day he was born. I recently weaned him and he never even whimpered, much less cried, even once. Madeline and Charlie love him. They beg for "one more hug!" from John before they'll go to sleep.

I simply didn't know someone so little could be so charming and hilarious. John, you add so much to our family and to each of our lives. We adore you!
Charlie put a sticker on his head for "being good"
The joy of jumping in Fall leaves!
Helping me garden. He's always in the mix!

Little Girl in the Big City!

Getting ready to board the train!
One of the most memorable mother-daughter weekends I've ever had started with a slumber party on a Friday night at my dad and Ning's apartment. Madeline put on her pink tutu swimsuit and took a giant bubble bath in their jacuzzi, then quietly worked on art projects (without little brother's swiping her markers). My dad read her a few chapters from her American Girl books and put her to bed while Nancy and I went out to dinner with my former boss and family friend, whose daughter just started at Marquette University. I loved waking up next to Madeline, ready to start one of the biggest adventures of her young life.

We caught the 8am Amtrack from Milwaukee to Chicago -- Madeline was in awe -- shy and excited! We pulled into Union Station 90 minutes later;  she had her first lesson in flagging down a cab. I loved pointing things out to her as we whipped through the streets of downtown Chicago where Rob and I lived for four years and began our married life.

We hopped out at the American Girl store on Michigan Avenue, beating the crowd and absorbing the two-levels at our own pace before the throngs of 10-year old girls made it hard to move. Ning pulled Mimi aside, and in a very special moment, told her that she would like Madeline to pick out a doll to bring home. Madeline was not expecting this and literally leapt into her arms!

Then with determination and decisiveness that I wish was mine, she bee-lined straight to the front of the store for McKenna, a gymnast who is the 2012 Doll of the Year. A personal shopper lead us into our own private hot-pink room and fitted Madeline with an outfit to perfectly match her doll. Afterwards, we celebrated with a fancy lunch at the American Girl Cafe -- the grown ups even had  a glass of wine! Madeline's eyes were twinkling and she was lit up from within -- she was in little girl heaven!
What happened next begins what Ning says could be the first sentence of Madeline's future autobiography. "I was 5 years old the first time Ning took me to Chanel." Well of course, she took her to Louis Vuitton too...

We got back on the train for our ride home, happily munching on caramel popcorn from Nuts on Clark, a Chicago classic. Now that we're home, Madeline dresses McKenna for school every day and puts her in pajamas every night. She made a bed out of a cardboard box, and I tuck both girls in. We watch the McKenna video for our family movie nights (Charlie asked me why "the girl in the stripes fell off that branch" referring to McKenna's character on the balance beam) and we read from her chapter book almost every single day. McKenna is the newest family member.

Not only was it a magical weekend for Madeline, but it truly was for me too! We are so grateful to Ning for creating such a special memory.