Monday, June 26, 2017

My (Temporarily) Only Child

A few years into writing Chasing Roots, the lines between "life in Texas" and "life with kids" began to blur. I had a difficult time determining where certain posts should go - on my Texas blog or my family blog - so I decided to stop worrying about which blog, and focus on one blog. Once my family fit in here in Texas, it felt like my family's lives should fit into my Texas blog.

That being said, every few weeks I write a post about one of my kids or my family that has only a weak connection - if any connection at all - to Texas. When that happens, I feel like I need to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the post. So here it is: today's post is about Hallie. 

Will spent last week at the Lone Star Leadership Academy summer camp in Dallas/Fort Worth. He left at 10:30am on Sunday morning and arrived home on Friday evening, which meant that for six full days, Hallie lived the life of an only child.

I have of course spent time with Hallie on her own. Though we didn't have the same two-and-a-half years I had with Will, Hallie and I had two years of an hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, and all day on Fridays. After both kids headed to elementary school that time disappeared, but we found - and continue to find - smaller windows during which to connect as mother and daughter. I had never, however, experienced Hallie-as-a-only-child for such an extended period.

We have described Hallie as "spicy" since the moment she made her entrance into the world. Upon exiting the womb, she cried angry tears for what felt like FOREVER (even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with her) and the nurse in the recovery room told Tom and me that she'd never seen a baby madder to have been born. In hindsight, this birth meltdown supports our theory that Hallie came by her intense and heightened emotions honestly and naturally and her personality was in place before she ever met her brother.

Her brother, however, brings out those intense and heightened emotions like no one else on earth. And without him around, I had the opportunity to experience a new side of Hallie.

For most of the week, the two of us were on our own. We went for walks just to get our exercise (as opposed to walking to a destination) and Hallie commented multiple times about how, even though it was too hot out for walking (a statement with which I agreed every single time she said it), she loved getting to talk to me about "her life and my life". We sat quietly and read books, watched episodes of Full House, and put together a kitten puzzle that her brother never would have agreed to assemble. We created masterpieces at the paint-your-own pottery studio, indulged in ice cream for lunch (at the ice cream shop Will can't visit because of his peanut allergy), and painted our toenails. I taught her how to make chili and grill beer brats (my Wisconsin is showing), and we baked a Georgia peach bundt cake for Tom. She helped me pack for our trip, and she tidied up after herself, helped me unload the dishwasher, and went to bed without complaining.
Painting her ice cream cone box. I finished my vase a full hour
before she finished putting all of the detailing her piece required. 
"These are the cutest kittens I've ever seen, Mama! Do
you think they got into those bowls on their own?"  
Georgia Peach Bundt Cake
We read independently but together for more than an hour - a first for us!
Hallie was pleasant, thoughtful, cooperative, and calm (by Hallie standards). She still flashed her spicy badge from time to time, but it became clear that she saves the majority of her spice for her big brother.

Will and Hallie have what I would consider a "normal" sibling relationship. He pushes her buttons and she pushes his. They argue and make-up, fight and apologize, play together and play separately, pick on each other and stand up for one another. Sometimes it's hard though, in the middle of all of that chaos and noise, to figure out who each child is on their own. Without Will around to light my little firecracker's fuse, she and I got to know each other better and I am tremendously grateful for that opportunity.

I am also tremendously grateful that within 17 minutes of Will arriving home, Will and Hallie's relationship - and the chaos and noise levels in my house - had returned to normal.

Friday, June 23, 2017

High Five for Friday (6.23.17)

1. My boy comes home from camp today! Though I've missed him terribly, I am so proud of Will for taking advantage of this opportunity*. Never in a million years could I have gone away to camp not knowing a single person - he's so brave!

* A few months ago Will's fourth grade teacher nominated him - and he was selected, based on "academic success, demonstrated leadership ability, and involvement in school and community activities" - to attend the Education in Action's Lone Star Leadership Academy summer camp. While developing their leadership skills, campers are taught about the state of Texas and its leaders by visiting a number of significant sites (U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas Civil War Museum, For Worth Stockyards National Historic District, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, Cowboys Stadium, and Rangers Ballpark) in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We're so proud of him, and we can't wait to hear about his adventures!

2. Speaking of missing Will, Hallie wrote these notes and asked me to sneak them into Will's suitcase. Insert all the heart-eyes emojis here...
"Roses are red, violets are blue.
Come back to me because I love you!"
"Work hard, be kind, and be sweet. And play soccer. I love you.
P.S. Eat your breakfast to get energy."
They DO listen to me! 
"I love you, Will. I hope you are having so much fun. I really
miss you."
That's her crying in the bottom lefthand corner and
Will with braces on (?!) in the upper righthand corner.
3. Thanks to the generosity of a student of Tom's and a friend of mine, I stepped up my beverage game this week: coffee from Columbia and wine from Napa. Yum!

4. I finally captured Hallie's last-day-of-school pictures! I took Will's pictures a day early because I wanted to use them for the blog post about the end of elementary school, and then I accidentally forgot to take Hallie's...oops!
5. Happiness Highlights:
She always stops to smell the flowers. She also goes
for walks wearing just her swimsuit and athletic shoes.
Over the weekend I introduced Will and Hallie
to the world of swim caps. Without "boy" hair Will
looks an awful lot like his mother at 10 years old...
Not Hallie tho - she looks more like her daddy.
After two weeks of swimming lessons, these two
besties ended up with coordinating swimmers ear
infections to go with their coordinating swimsuits. 
A mama bird built her nest above our front porch. She's very
nervous when we approach the front door, which makes me think
she actually has eggs or babies in there - we can't wait to find out!
It's so hot in Texas that Will has to play soccer with the sprinklers
on. As I'm sure you can imagine, this situation turned into a
hysterical slip-and-slip game rather than a soccer practice.
Already long enough for braided pigtails! Sort of...

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:
  Cup

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Like a Sister

I have a sister. I write about her periodically so many of you know her name is Sara, she's two years younger than me, she lives outside of Peoria, Illinois with her husband and two kids, she's a (incredible) teacher, and she has an infectious smile. It was just her and me...until she started kindergarten and met Chelse.

Sara and Chelse quickly became best friends, and within a couple of years I had gained another sister.  Chelse spent afternoons and weekends at our house. She had a spot at our family dinner table and a toothbrush in our bathroom. She came to my soccer games and I went to her musicals. She came with our family to Jamaica, accompanied my mom, my dad, and Sara when they dropped me off for my freshman year of college, and sang in my wedding. She was - and still is, 31 years later - Sara's best friend, but she has a tremendously special place in my heart as well.
Paul and his girls: my mom, Sara, my dad, me (super
pregnant with Will), and Chelse at Sara's wedding. 
Last week life dealt her a really crappy hand. And is often the case in situations like these, there isn't a heck of a lot family members and friends can do to improve that colossally bad hand...except stand up and say I love you, I'm here for you, and I have faith in your strength to overcome.

Life is tough, my darling, but so are you.

~ Stephanie Bennett Henry

So to my Chelse, and to all/any of you fighting battles that seems heavier and more painful that you can bear, please know I am thinking about and praying for you. Life is tough, but I know - I KNOW - you are tougher.
One to make you laugh...
Chelse, Sara, and me circa 1996.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Defense of Howdy

A born-and-raised Midwestern friend of ours came to visit us in College Station. During his stay, Tom gave him a tour of his office and lab, and then while up on campus, we walked around some of TAMU's more interesting academic buildings and outdoor spaces.

I have touched on the topic of Aggieland/College Station/Texas/Southern vernacular in the past, so many of you reading today already know that “Howdy” is the official TAMU greeting. Current students, alumni, administrators, and faculty and staff members use the phrase regularly while walking around campus and at the start of almost every class and meeting, making TAMU – at least according to anyone affiliated with the University – the “friendliest campus in the world”.

TAMU etiquette suggests (in a politest way possible) that if someone greets you with “howdy”, you should respond in the same manner. Tom and I likely (unintentionally) offended a few locals when we arrived in College Station; at first we didn't know the protocol, and then for a while we didn't feel comfortable using the phrase. Now, however, we say it loudly and proudly.

Tom in particular, because he spends every day on campus, throws "howdy" out into the world like candy during a parade, and his willingness to do so while walking campus with our Midwestern friend left him somewhat dismayed. Perhaps he felt Tom had abandoned his linguistic roots, or that Tom had made himself too comfortable in a region of the country he always expected we would call home only temporarily. Whatever the case, when he commented on Tom's choice of words, Tom - much to his surprise - found himself defending "howdy".

"It's both polite and comfortable, and it's considered acceptable in formal and informal situations alike. It's friendly and efficient, and I think it unifies our students, administrators, faculty, and staff. What's not to like?!" 

Don't get me wrong - there remain a number of things about Texas I won't support or defend. (You will never hear me supporting the summer weather or defending the lizards, for example.) But when we weren't paying attention, both Tom and I started standing up for little - and then bigger - pieces of our lives in Texas we had no plans to ever embrace.

Six years gone in the blink of an eye...

Friday, June 16, 2017

High Five for Fathers

This guy:

He would do anything for any one of us, and I wouldn't want to travel the rewarding, challenging, joyful, heartbreaking, exhilarating, and exhausting journey called "parenthood" with anyone else by my side.

Here are a few of my favorite videos of Tom "dadding". As you can see and hear, he has always been a fun parent - one who makes every effort to meet the kids where they are and learn to love what they love...even when it's a little inappropriate (see the second video below).







Happy Father's Day to my right-hand man, to these two awesome dads and grandpas, and to all the men out there who are "dadding" in one way or another.


Side note: did you notice whose letter jacket Tom is wearing in the first photo? 😂

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Few Words Wednesday: Youth

Youth

I want to see you game, boys. I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender.

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.

Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life.

Character in the long run is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.

~ Theodore Roosevelt

On Sunday my boy embarks on his first overnight camp experience. I hope and pray for his safety, health, and happiness first, but my next hope and prayer are that when he finds himself without extended parental or grandparental guidance for the first time, he remembers all we've taught him.

Remember who you are, Will. Even when I'm not there to remind you, remember to be strong and brave AND gentle and tender. Remember to be practical and generous. Remember to dream big but to ground those dreams in reality. Remember to do the right thing even when you're scared, work hard, make good choices, and be a good person.

Oh, and remember that your mama loves you. I don't think Teddy would mind me throwing that one in there at the end.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Cavalry is Coming (Plus a Giveaway!)

After Tom finished his PhD at the University of Michigan, his job offers meant we had to choose between four different cities in which to live: Washington D.C.; Rockville, MD; Buffalo, NY; and College Station, TX. We chose College Stations for a number of reasons, however "fun and interesting stuff to do" was not one of them.

With a population of approximately 100,000 people, College Station is relatively small. (With a combined population of 185,000, College Station and sister city Bryan combine to form a slighter bigger - but not "large" - metropolitan area.) And while College Station is situated reasonably close to Houston, Austin, and Dallas, when we first moved here neither Tom or I had any interest in driving 3+ hours round trip for a concert, shopping trip, or meal. I almost never had to leave my city in search of entertainment, goods, or food growing up, so I found it crazy that College Station residents drove more than an hour for a show, to grocery shop, or for BBQ ribs. After a couple of years here, however, we came to understand College Station's lack of certain activities and amenities...and now we too will drive an hour to shop at Trader Joe's or for a good disc golf course. (That one's Tom, of course.)

All that said, things "'round these here parts" have begun to change. For the last decade the College Station population has grown at a record pace, and now the rest of College Station has begun to catch up. We've added restaurants of all kinds, quite a few boutique shopping options, and a handful of youth (and adult) entertainment venues. We're still missing a few of my favorites - Trader Joe's, Rocky Rococo's Pizza, Bruegger's Bagels, Loft, Home Goods, a second-run movie theater, a zoo, a miniature golf course, safer and more interesting biking trails, and an indoor soccer facility - but since we moved here 6+ years ago, College Station has gradually become a much more fun and intersting place to live.

While reading over my shoulder, Will asked me to add that he desperately wants a Denny's.

Speaking of soccer and on the topic of new, fun, and interesting in College Station, earlier this month the Brazos Valley became home to a Professional Development League (PDL) soccer team. The Brazos Valley Cavalry FC - which funnels up to the Houston Dynamo Major League Soccer team - arrived and brought with it a commitment to and an excitement surrounding soccer that we haven't previously seen in our small corner of Texas. The PDL team plays its home games locally, in the newly-renovated Nutrabolt stadium (also home to the Brazos Valley Bombers minor league baseball team and now updated to accommodate soccer games as well). For (three of) the four Ferri, a PDL soccer team makes our community an even better place to live, especially considering that this fall, Will will play for the brand new competitive youth soccer club supported by the larger Cavalry FC.
Hallie and Friday the Horse. 
Her goal is to take a picture with him at every
game she attends. Thus far we're two for two!
Soccer under the lights! (For those of you having trouble visualizing how
a soccer field fits on a baseball field, one soccer end line and goal are along
the baseball third base line and the other end line and goal are in right field.)
Will "working" ball crew on opening night. He took his job very
seriously, was extremely enthusiastic and encouraging to the players, and
celebrated like he was watching the Olympics when the Cavalry scored. 
Soaking wet and exhilarated after a rainy first game.
Lately Will hasn't given me real smiles in pictures.
These soccer games and this new club have brought
out such joy in him and you can see it on his face.
Heading onto the field for halftime announcements.
That smile...makes my mama heart happy.
Waiting to welcome the team back to the field. 
Post game group photo: Cavalry FC PDL players and Cavalry
FC Youth players. (Will's front left in ball crew orange.)
In certain circumstances, community growth can bring challenges: more traffic, less parking, an increased cost of living, an increase in crime, and a loss of the hospitality and close-knit relationships often associated with small towns. But community growth can also bring benefits: more job opportunities, more academic and athletic opportunities, increased diversity, improved health care, more parks and improved outdoor spaces, and, in this case, more and improved opportunities for good, clean, family fun.

Our area's growth - and the Cavalry's arrival - has made the Brazos Valley an even more desirable place for us to live. Looks like we're sticking around...

I'm giving away three sets of two tickets to July Cavalry FC games! Comment here or on Facebook  - under one of the feeds associated with this post - to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be chosen on Friday, June 16th and notified on Saturday, June 17th. (I will do my very best to pair winners with tickets that work with their schedules.)

If you live in the Brazos Valley area and would like to join the four Ferri at a June Cavalry game, email me at erin@chasingroots.com!