Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top 10 Family Vacations

Our family loves to travel together more than anything else in the world. We spend a great deal of our conversations talking about trips we have already taken, trips we would like to take, or trips we are currently planning. I am writing this less than a week after our family returned from our first cruise and only a couple of months after we traveled to Yellowstone. I sat wondering, why is it that our family travels so often, where others do not? Then, I realized that we make traveling one of our top priorities. We don't have tons of money, but what we DO have, we basically spend on travel. We have never felt it really important to give our kids lots of "things", but instead choose to give our children our time and new experiences. Although we would love to have it, we do not have new cars, four wheelers, boats, or other luxury items. Almost every item of clothing we own comes from the thrift store and we rarely ever go out to eat. We typically travel in a camper and eat our own groceries, although a couple of our favorite trips, did not involve a camper. We use our tax money, gift money, overtime money, and any change we can dig out of the couch to put toward our next trip. Our love for travel is top on our list for how we spend our money. I have never regretted any of the money we spent of a vacation.
The idea of this "Top 10 Vacations" came about while traveling, of course. That is when our family has our best and most meaningful conversations. We were coming home from our cruise and we were discussing with the boys which trips they liked the best out of all the trips we had taken. We were interested to hear that we all were picking basically the same trips as our favorites and least favorites. We decided to make a list of all of the trips we had taken as a family and each rank them from 1-10. We then compiled our list and made our overall family list. The following is a list of our current "Top 10 Family Vacations". It will be interesting to see in the future, which vacations nudge out those that are already on the list.

#10 - Atlanta (Coca-Cola Factory and Aquarium)

#9 Dauphin Island, AL

#8 - Jekyll Island, GA

#7 - Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

#5 - Panama City Beach, FL

#4 - Cruise to Cozumel, Mexico

#3 - San Antonio, Texas

#2 - Disney Fort Wilderness Resort Campground
#1 - Yellowstone National Park

(Grand Tetons, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave)

#6 - Disney World Resort - Port Orleans

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I can't believe he packed up his blankie

I have always been observant of small children. Noticing how they act, what they wear, their smile, their eyes, the likeness they are to their parents, their activity level, and their security items. I have seen kids with special dolls, pillows, blankets, diaper cloths, their mother's slips, beanie babies, and on and on. I never really quite understood why some kids wagged around some ratty old item with them wherever they went. That is, until I had children of my own. I am the mother of three perfectly well adjusted, secure boys who all three have had an attachment to a "security item." Tucker, being my oldest, was attached first to a small pillow. It was placed in his crib as an infant, mostly just because it was cute. It was covered in yellow John Deere fabric and was floppy and soft. He always slept with it in his crib and it didn't take long for the attachment to it to begin. I remember the first time as a young infant that I noticed he was using it as a "security blanket". I picked him up from his crib and he lurched toward his bed. I thought he was falling or playing a game, but he was reaching for his pillow. From that point on, everywhere Tucker went, his pillow was sure to be with him. In his cute "toddler talk" he named his pillow "Paa-buh". As preschool days approached, we had to make a rule that the pillow had to start staying at home. I convinced Tucker that if his pillow went to school with him, that he may lose it or his friends might love it and want to keep it. He was not a fan of the idea of sharing his pillow, so he agreed to leave it at home. After that, the pillow became his bed buddy. It stayed in his bed until time to go to sleep. As Tucker got older, the pillow kind of just became another pillow in his bed, until one day, he didn't need his pillow at all. Tucker put the pillow safely in our hope chest, where we keep special things, and told me that he didn't really want it anymore. He was in the third grade. I still remember the sinking feeling in my chest.

Sawyer was born just before Tucker's 4th birthday. I never thought about Sawyer becoming attached to special item like Tucker was. It wasn't long, though before Sawyer too became attached. As a very small baby, Sawyer liked to play with the strings and tags on his blankets, wrapping his fingers around the fringe of carpets and lacing his fingers through frayed towels. He started showing a huge preference to this huge blanket that we kept on our couch that had fringed edges. He wanted to drag it around the house and take it with him when we left the house. Seeing his attachment to the fringed blanket grow, I realized quickly that the gigantic blanket would become burdensome because of it's size. I enlisted Nana to create a baby blanket sized one for Sawyer that would be more portable. Nana was happy to make this creation for Sawyer, so off we went to the fabric store. Knowing that Sawyer specifically loved to play with the fringe on the big blanket, but not knowing exactly which fringe he liked the best, we carried him to let him pick out his own.

   Sawyer was still less than a year old, so we were just looking for something that might spark a reaction or that he may seem excited about. The fabric store had a full section with rows of fringe. Oh, we got a reaction alright! He was in fringe loving heaven! We couldn't decide which fringe he liked the most. The end result was a soft green baby blanket, cut in half, edged in a variety of different styles of fringe. This blanket immediately became Sawyer's favorite treasure.
His blanket was in his hands everywhere he went. The blanket went on vacation with us to Disney World, Texas, Kentucky, and Ohio. It has been tucked into suitcases. It has been stuffed next to Sawyer in strollers. The blanket has gone to restaurants and movies. It has been left in the back of the Cozy Coupe Car, fallen behind the bed frame, tucked into a toybox, and left in a wagon only to finally be discovered after hours of searching. It has been patched up, resewn, and washed countless times. A normal bath for the blanket occurred when Sawyer was occupied with another activity and it could be snuck into the washing machine without him noticing. Many, many times Sawyer could be found in front of the dryer door waiting for the dryer to buzz alerting him that his blanket was all clean and ready. Some evenings, the blanket would get forgotten in the washing machine and put into the dryer too late. Bedtime would come and the blanket would still be wet. The tears would flow until the blanket was lovingly tucked into Sawyer's arms again. I recall on more than one occasion racing Bradley to the dryer when we heard the buzzing sound because we both wanted the satisfaction of giving Sawyer back his clean blanket and seing the happy smile on his face. He would pour out love and hugs to whomever gave him back his favorite blanket.
During a prenatal Dr's visit when I was pregnant with Carter, Sawyer was tagging along carrying his beloved blanket. The blanket accidentally got left at the doctor's office. The office was called trying to retrieve it. Also contacted was the cleaning staff, the head office, patient information and any other person we might could speak with. The blanket was never recovered. Two very sad days followed until Nana created an exact replica of the blanket. You have never witnessed such a joyful toddler! For weeks after that, the blanket could not be pryed from his hands. I even carried him to a monogram shop to have his name put on it, in case he ever lost it again, it would be easier to reclaim it. The owner of the shop insisted that it would take her overnight to add his name, until she too witnessed the attachment. She promptly turned his nameless blanket to a blanket proudly displaying the name "Sawyer" on it. She couldn't bear to make him wait.

During Sawyer's baby and toddler years, his blanket became an extention of him. It was just a part of him. Preschool days were lurking during the summer Sawyer was 3. I knew that I would have to explain to Sawyer that his blanket couldn't go with him to preschool. I envisioned this conversation being infinitely more difficult for Sawyer than it was for Tucker. At first, the rule was a little more lax than with Tucker. The blanket just couldn't go to preschool. It was still allowed to travel in the car, go to Nana's, and be played anywhere else he liked. The transition wasn't too bad. He too was convinced by the idea that he might have to share it if he carried to to preschool.
As time passed by, the blanket began to be left in the bed more often than not. It was always there when he got ready to go to sleep, but by the time he started big school, he no longer played with it or needed it outside of night time. He spent the night with his friends a couple of times, and he still packed up his little blanket into his suitcase so that he could get it out at bedtime, until this last time. I wish I had known when I tucked him in the bed that night that it would be the last night he spent snuggled up with his blanket. I would have soaked it all in. I would have watched him sleep and watched his fingers wrap around the fringe for the last time. I would have grasped onto the last moment of his babyhood. Instead, the night passed like any other. I gave him a goodnight kiss and tucked in his covers with his little blanket by his side. The next morning the two of us worked together to pack his suitcase to go to his friends house. He excitedly chose his pajamas and clothes and tucked them into their place in the suitcase. I grabbed his blanket and pitched it in on top of his other things, as I have done other times before. He nonchalantly picked his blanket up and said, as if it were no bid deal, "I don't need this anymore. I'm gonna put it in that special box." And off he went, leaving me standing with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes, stading in a wake of emotions. It has been a week since the blanket was tucked into the box. I half hoped he would go get it back out later. I still can't believe he packed up his blankie. I guess at this point, I need his security blanket more than he did.
The chest is now closed with the pillow and blanket inside. One day Carter too will tuck his blanket inside and not only will the chest be closed, but another phase in their life will too be closed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Birthday Bonanza!

The boys are at such a fun age these days, but birthdays kind of make me cringe. Each year, I dread seeing that number go up on the count of years in the boys lives. It seems to be going too fast! The boys are growing and getting older and each birthday is a reminder that those dreaded teenage years are coming! Tucker is now a "tween", since he turned 11 this year. Sawyer is now 7, which is still a fun age. Carter turned 5 this year, which was a hard age for me to accept. I think perhaps because I know he is my last one, and 5 is certainly no longer a baby. When his birthday rolled around this year, I had a very difficult time. I found myself staring at him while he was playing and gazing at him while he slept sucking his thumb. I held him in my lap longer than usual and snuggled in my big chair with him more often. I felt like I was grasping the last moments of his babyhood into my heart. Despite the fact that birthdays are a little stab into a mother's heart, they are still fun and memorable. We celebrated three birthdays this year in three very different ways. Each party with its own challenges, laughs, and memories. Here is a little look into each one.

Tucker's 11th Birthday
Since football is Tucker's new sport, he wanted a cake with a football on it with #34. Inside was red velvet, his favorite! Tucker's party this year was a "coed" one. He invited 6 of his guy friends and 5 of his gal friends. They had a ton of fun. We started the night with cake and gifts and singing "Happy Birthday." He got lots of cards with money, an UnderArmor shirt, and the ever popular talking toilet paper dispenser. The things 5th graders come up with to buy! After cake we divided into teams, girls vs. boys, and had a sports scavenger hunts. The kids had to take pictures of themselves doing various things. On the list were: a pyramid on the football field, the group on first base of the baseball field, the group doing the batter's stance in the bread aisle in We-Tote-Em, the groupd doing a 3 point stance on aisle 3 at Lucky's, pictures of former and present baseball, basketball, football, softball players and coaches, a picture in the dugout, a picture with Mr. Arnold and Mrs. Austin, a photo on the playground slide in reverse alphabetical order, and several others. The kids (and parents) had a blast getting those items. In the end, it was a tie between the girls and boys, 23 to 23. The winners (which was everyone) got silly string to shoot. The girls left at about 10:00pm and the boys began a Nerf gun war. Bradley and I were in the middle of the war and I was probably shot more than anyone else. My knees were actuually sore the next day from falling so many times. I guess I was going for a realistic Nerf death. We had a great time with all the kids at our house and went to bed exhausted, but blessed that our kids have such great friends.A silly string battle was a blast!Photo on the slide in reverse alphabetical order, from the scavenger hunt.A pyramid on the football field from the scavenger hunt.The whole gang at Tucker's party
Carter's 5th Birthday
These days Carter wants to be a "fighter fighter". I wasn't surprised when he chose this theme for his 5th birthday party. He is absolutely certain that he will become one when he grows up. He dresses up like one and puts out imaginary fires in the house, he was a firefighter for halloween, and he talks about what he will have to do as a "fighter fighter" when he grows up. He even told me today that when he grows up, he will have to be on TV. When I questioned him about why, he told me that fighter fighters who help really sick or hurt people get on tv and he was going to have to do that. I am not exactly what tv show he is talking about, but one thing is certain. Carter has faith that he will become what he wants to become...a fighter fighter. I hope he keeps that self-confidence and assurance! Playing a game with the water blasters where you earn points for putting out fires.Carter and his buddies out by the pool. (Maggie, Caden, Jaxon, and Carter)As if Carter turning 5 wasn't enough for my emotions to handle, Sawyer lost his first tooth on his birthday,too!This sweet picture of Carter was taken on his 5th birthday.
I had to get some extra love from Carter on his birthday!

Sawyer's 7th Birthday
Every Mom has to experience a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party at least once. It is an official rite of passage for all mothers. I have now completed this taks as a mother. Sawyer started talking about having his next birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese last year. Of course, I was sure he would change his mind within the year. A year is a long time for a child to keep the same plans. But of course, he didn't sway in his decision. He wanted to carry his friends to Chuck-E-Cheese and then have a spend the night party after. I dutifully carried 4 of Sawyer's friends, my 3 boys, and a neice and nephew even came along. I have to say Mr. Chuck has quite a great gig going. He has this wonderland of arcade games set up to spit out one or two tickets for winning and he serves mediocre food. In any other place, this business scheme would not work, but Chuck knows that he has the kids hooked. There were literally drones of kids running around that place! I think there were like 12 birthday parties going on at the same time as Sawyer's. The madhouse can be totally overwhelming to a paretn, but the kids were in heaven. Every child in our group was beaming as they spent their tokens to play the games. They gobbled up their pizza like it was the greatest meal on earth. And they treasured their prizes that they won with their tickets. (I could write an entire blog devoted only to the gig Chuck has going with those prizes and tickets!) But the kids loved it! It was one of the best birthday parties we have had. Nerf war! It got wild at our house for a little while!
Popcorn and a movie before bed.
Sawyer with his winning tickets at Chuck-E-Cheese and me with my adorable 7 year old. 7 is going to be a great age. I can tell.