Two Handfuls

“Charlie! You are ten! Now you are TWO handfuls!”

“Mom,” he says with a smirk, “I have ALWAYS been two handfuls.”

My dearest Charlie Bird,

You have, indeed, always been two handfuls.

Over the past year you have started a new school in a new program and made lots of new friends. Other kids might be shy or afraid, but you jumped right in. The adults on your new team at school say that you are so personable–you warm right up to people–and everyone likes you so much. You are quite the charming fella, despite your challenges.

You care deeply about things that matter to you including fairness (which you sometimes confuse with things being equal), justice, and animals. While you get along great with others, you definitely get upset if you perceive that something is unfair or unjust and it can be difficult for you to hear what others have to say in those situations. But you are working on that. You are working so hard.

You have the biggest imagination of anyone I know. You can see sticks on the ground and suddenly you have a vision of some spectacular weapon design or fort or game–something no one else would see. You dream up games and make believe to play with your sister and your friends. You have a need to always be busy and/or entertained. Sitting and waiting with nothing to occupy you is your idea of a personal hell.

You love the outdoors! You went away to camp for the first time this past summer. It was so hard for me to put my little guy in a van and wave as you went all the way to New York for a week, but you did so well! You were a stinky, tired, happy mess when you came back to us. Since no one else in our family is super outdoorsy, your go-to person is Grandpa. You have helped him up north at his cabin, you’ve helped chop so many logs, you have made fires (and of course, fire food), and gone fishing–both in the summer and in the winter! Last year you and Grandpa made bird boxes that you put on the edge of our property.

You are a gamer. You love traditional “board” type games and you are deeply invested in Minecraft. Anything that works that smart brain of yours–gives you something to puzzle on. Almost every morning at school you start with a game with one of your teachers and often you choose to end the day that way as well. Some of your favorites are Rummikub, Ticket to Ride Jr., Guess Who, and Sorry!

You are a great big brother to Alice–if not sometimes a little too protective and bossy. But you care deeply about her safety. You are good at being a little brother to Eddie as well. You like to play Minecraft with him, but you also bother him greatly, which is sort of the job of a little bro! Sometimes it goes too far though since you two are so very different. You love each other, but there are many times you don’t like each other much. It’s hard for you to remember that Eddie is older and that comes with different privileges and possibilities than you have at age 10. This is where you tend to confuse “fair” and “equal”. And of course, Eddie is at the age where rather than being helpful and gentle with these things, he often huffs and puffs and rolls his eyes at you–making things worse rather than better. But in the end, you are brothers. And no one makes you laugh quite like Eddie can.

You love things to make sense. This is probably why math and science are your favorite subjects in school. You also love PE, music, and art. This year you became a reader! You have always said you hate reading–that being read to is great, but reading to yourself is so boring. And then you found the right books and had a super supportive teacher (all your teachers have been supportive, but your current teacher “gets” you, as you have told us). You found the I Survived series and a few others and you just like to read!

You are growing into such a kind, loving boy. You face enormous challenges with feeling and managing your big emotions, but you work so hard to overcome those challenges. Dad and I feel so much pride when we read your school work or watch you work hard at learning something new.

Best of all, this year you finally got the dog you have been wishing for! Well, we got a dog, but you love Ruby so much that you are totally willing to lay down by her and let her bite your hair and lick your ears all while you just giggle. She is your little buddy and you are her cuddly boy! And true to your word, you will cuddle up to her when you are feeling big feelings and she will love you without needing you to say a word.

Oh my dear boy, you are so very loved. This year of being 10 holds many more adventures and new things for you! Little League season is starting, you have another week of camp this summer, and soccer in the fall–and those are just the fun things we already know about! Who knows what else is in store!

Dad and I love you so much, Charlie Bird.

Love,

Mom Mom

Happy Seven!

Dear Alice,

I hate that what they say about your last child has proven to be true–all the things parents do for their first starts to dwindle as they have more children. I did all the things for Eddie as a little kid, some of the things for Charlie, and almost none for you. You have no baby book, no record of firsts (unless I posted them here by chance), and late birthday letters on a blog that may or may not be around much longer.

You are the one who will care the most. You are the one who asks the most questions about what you were like as a baby. You ask about your birth story and your first words and your first steps. You ask all the questions all the time.

And now you are seven! Seven is such a transition age to me. You are finishing up the Little Kid stage. You aren’t quite a middle grade kid, but you’re not a primary grade kid anymore.

This year you found the world of American Girl Dolls and have not looked back! For your 6th birthday we got you one of the Target knock-offs named Millie. We wanted to see if you really did want to do the whole doll thing before we dropped serious money on one. You loved having her ride behind you on your bike, have matching sunglasses, and dress her in the clothes that your great aunt made.

You also still love unicorns and rainbows and soft stuffy animals. They are everywhere coming out of every storage thing in your room. It’s insane and you know it, but care not. If it’s cute, you want it in your life.

You are growing up to be such a great person, my Alice Bean. Your teachers consistently tell us that you are a helper and a friend to everyone. You are always willing to be the friend someone needs. You are compassionate and sweet.

You want to play with everyone and get a little annoyed when Charlie chooses videogames or a neighborhood friend over you. Ok, you get downright whiny. But for all your whining, you are also endlessly patient with Charlie and his need to be in charge. The two of you are either the best of friends or the fiercest of enemies. There is almost no middle ground.

Charlie helps you to find your brave. He can talk you in to trying new things–like riding a camel–or get you to do the math homework you think is hard. He stands up for you on the bus (even when his methods are a bit suspect), and wants to help you learn to ride your bike on two wheels this summer.

Eddie is your helper. He reaches the cups from the shelf or gets you more milk because the gallon jug is too heavy. He babysits you (when Charlie isn’t around) and makes “the best grilled cheese ever!” He rolls his eyes at you a lot because he sees you as his “annoying little sister,” but much of what he finds annoying is what he was exactly like at your age too. It is an endless source of amusement for me to watch him grump at the way you sing talk everything when he too, went through that phase.

You have a glorious imagination and sense of style with the confidence to skip through this world. I am so happy that what other people wear or do doesn’t have as much of an influence on you as what YOU find cute and comfy. You are my fancy little scrub and it’s so fun to watch you develop your own opinions and preferences that are typically so different than my own at that age–and even now!

By the way, you are full of all the attitude. All of it. You can be the sweetest little girl that anyone has ever met, but with me (or your dad or even Ms. Carolyn), you can turn into an evil little devil. The word “no” turns you into a raving lunatic at times. And your “mad face” makes Grandma and Grandpa laugh because allegedly it reminds them of, well, me when I was seven.

Besides your “mad face,” you have many more legendary looks. You have more emotion in your facial expressions than anyone I know. It is hilarious, but it also means you can never truly hide how you feel. Speaking from experience, this means you will be vulnerable even when you don’t want to be throughout your life. Embrace it as much as you can, because if you are like me, it will contribute to your being a terrible liar (which you are already, by the way. Writing “Alice” on the wall and then demanding that you have NO idea who did that? Such a bad lie).

Having you as much daughter has been the most marvelous surprise of my life. I did not think having a little girl was going to be near the awesome that people told me it would be. Having you as my constant little buddy–and even tiny broke best friend who makes everything about herself–has been a joy that makes me smile every single day (it also has a tendency to make me question certain life choices everyday, but hey! It’s balanced!)

First grade has been the year you ask lots of questions about what other people think and do. You have asked me about families that don’t have both a mom and a dad. You’ve asked me if you have a unibrow and if you’ll have to wax it like I do (my answer was, do what you want! Also thick eyebrows are always something people envy because you can always shape them and whatnot, but you can’t grow more), and if you will get “pokey legs” like I do (not if you don’t shave, friend!). You have started asking about periods and babies. Just like the boys, I give you age-appropriate honest and truthful answers. We don’t make up stories about storks or call our body parts by weird names around here.

We talk about what healthy eating is like and what keeps our bodies healthy. I have never focused my weight loss journey on doing it for how I look–it’s always been through the lens of keeping cancer out of my body and staying as healthy as I can be, and you are here for it. You are so interested in what sorts of treats and snacks I chose and how much I have. You ask questions about “is cheese or an apple a healthier snack?” But we never talk about depriving ourselves from things we love–we just treat them as treats, not meals! Meals nourish, treats, well, they treat!

You have been the hardest to convince that not everyone or everything fits in a binary. The boys have always been super accepting that the world does not have to be divided into “boys things and girls things” that not everything is “good” or “bad”. They readily accept the both/and as well as the this, that, or beyond, or between ideas of where people and their identities and beliefs can fit. You have always given this wide open view of humanity the side-eye. But the thing is, you are always asking questions and thinking about it and then talking it over. And you are so SO willing to give every human the chance to be your friend.

You are a gift, Alice. You light up this world that is often so dark and scary. Your giggle is contagious and your joy is infectious. You are smart and silly and kind and loving.

AND this is the year you got over your complete fear of dogs and fell in love with Ruby. You may not love ALL dogs (I hear that, sister), but you love our Ruby and you are getting to be so good with her. I’m proud of you.

I’m proud that you are my Alice. My goofy side-kick in this life. I hope seven is your best year yet!

I love you to always and forever,

Momma

Ruby The Ruckus

My dad bought me this cow chew toy that looks like me.

We are two weeks into being dog owners and I am tired. This weekend, after being woken up by barking at 7am, I thought for the first time, “I wonder if we can give her back. I feel done with this.”

It’s a good thing she’s cute and that I know the puppy phase won’t last forever.

(It has taken me 15 minutes to write those three sentences because she keeps going where she is not supposed to be.)

I get the “how’s life with a puppy?” often. It’s exhausting! It’s a little like having a toddler around. Somewhere around a million times a day I say, “Ruby, no!” or “Ruby, down!” or “Ruby, Come!” to get her to stop nosing her way where she shouldn’t be or chewing on things she shouldn’t chew on. She is a very curious pup, which is good! BUT it’s a lot of work.

I can say that we are starting to learn each other now that it’s been two weeks.

She insists on being a lap dog

She is definitely a lap dog which doesn’t bode well for when she weighs 50 pounds. She will jump around barking at everyone until someone sits on the floor to play. Instead of playing, she will curl up on that person’s lap and fall asleep.

If it fits, it sits (even if it doesn’t really fits)

She will sleep from 11pm until about 5 or 6am before crawling out of her bed and going potty and poopers on her little pad. She doesn’t like being stuck in her crate with her yuckies, so she will start to whine until Cortney (or Eddie) gets her out, takes her outside to pee some more, and then stays up with her.

She is most rammy in the morning and late afternoon. Both after long sleeps. Ruby thinks she is a big dog and she is very bossy about it. She will bark at us and play tug with us and shake her squeeky stuffy toys around like she is trying to murder them. She has already demolished a Lamb Chop stuffy her breeder sent with her, and the cow that Cortney bought her this weekend is already eye-less.

She loves her little nylabones. She has a couple rope-like chew toys for tugging, but her favorite thing to play tug with is Charlie’s bathrobe and the strings on my hoodies. She is slowly learning “drop it” as a command, but she is reluctant.

Charlie loves everything about Ruby.

Charlie has been the dog walker, though she doesn’t love going up hills, and since no one is excited about all the sweaters I bought her, they claim she gets cold too fast. I bought those sweaters for an actual purpose other than how adorable she is in them, but the other humans in this house are slow to catch on.

She pees outside more than she pees inside, and has even barked at the top of our stairs a couple times to let us know she needed to pee!

This is not allowed…and yet. Spoiled dog.

Eddie is in charge of taking her out at home. Every hour that she is awake I will yell down to him to tell him to take her out. He actually likes it. Cortney takes Ruby to work in the mornings, but brings her home to her crate for the afternoons. That means when Eddie gets home from school, he takes her out and then plays with her and cuddles with her until the rest of us get home. He really likes it more than he thought he would.

Alice is not a dog person, but she wants to be.

Alice struggles the most with Ruby. Alice has never really liked dogs–she is sort of afraid of them. But she really wants to be a Ruby person. She loved Ruby since before we got her and would look at the breeder’s pictures and videos of her and just swoon. She loves how cute Ruby is and loves to watch her play, but she gets scared to walk around when Ruby is awake and feeling rowdy. She jumps onto the couch and covers her ears when Ruby barks.

But she WANTS to learn to be a Ruby person and not be afraid. Whenever Ruby is super calm, we encourage Alice to sit by her and pet her. Today she even asked to have Ruby on her lap! Babysteps.

This week Ruby had her first vet visit (other than the ones she had with the breeder for shots and such). The office swooned over her nose roll and Ruby showed out as the cutest English Bull puppy in the land. She is a healthy 12 pounds (she was 6 pounds a month ago).

It’s definitely an adjustment having this wiggly, bossy addition to our family, but I guess we still love her.

She’s lucky she’s cute.

I Guess This is a Dog Blog now

I am not a dog person.

I have said many, many, MANY times: I DO NOT WANT TO BE A DOG OWNER.

The only dogs I ever had as a kid were 1) a mutt named Pepper who was crazy weird who my parents got before I was even a twinkle in my mom’s eye. The dog was old and they hired a hitman to take her out while we were on vacation when I was little. She barked and was crazy. and 2) my dad had a beagle dog named Belle, but she lived 100% outside in a dog house/pen situation. He breeder her once and we kept one of the puppies and named him Bo. Bo and Belle both lived outside. I had nothing to do with those dogs.

Cortney has had dogs around him all his life growing up. He has loved dogs as long as I’ve known him. When we were newlyweds, we considered never having kids. Cortney thought it would be great to have dogs. I gave this extreme side-eye because I do not love dogs.

In fact, I was 100% afraid of dogs when I was a kids. Belle and Bo were outside dogs who my dad and brothers mostly cared for. I did as little with those stink-bombs as possible. My aunt had a Doberman who stayed at my grandma’s house a lot (I think maybe my aunt was also living there at the time, but honestly, I was a little kid who didn’t keep track of these things). My cousin, who loved to tell me tall tales because I always believed her, told me that Doberman’s were killing machines. They actually were born with the instinct to kill people.

So, you know, I was traumatized.

The adults in my life didn’t understand why I would cry and freak out if I was left alone with Dexter (the Doberman). But I was terrified. It didn’t help that he ripped up my grandma’s carpet and left drool all over her shag carpeting and couches. I figured if I looked at him wrong, he would bite my face off.

Eventually, my cousin and her family would get a dog. Jake was a golden retriever who loved people. I was still afraid because he had teeth and claws and I figured if I did something wrong he would kill me.

This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Jake was probably the nicest dog in the universe, but I was sure dogs were killers and I was wary of him.

I was just not a dog person.

And then I married a dog person.

I put it off as long as I could. And honestly, I probably could have put this dog thing off indefinitely if it wasn’t for Charlie.

The kids ALL wanted a pet. Eddie and Alice really were gunning for a cat–which you all know I totally could get on board with. Cortney was the one who was like, “No. No more cats in this house. Maybe in our next house.”

They all wanted a pet really badly. Eddie wrote many elementary school persuasive papers on the topic. But it wasn’t until Charlie wrote his 3rd grade persuasive essay that my icy attitude toward ever getting a dog started to thaw.

He was so SO proud of his paper, and to be 100% honest–it was maybe one of the only assignments he actually completely start to finish in 3rd grade. He even got his special education teacher to type and print it for him when he finished writing it.

He gave all the typical reasons: I will take care of it; it will teach me responsibility, etc. But then he wrote a paragraph about how he read that dogs help “kids like me stay calm” and I melted. He knew he needed a dog to listen to him and be there for him and love him no matter what. He read about how kids “like him” benefit from having a pet.

And that is when I said, “yes” to the dog.

We were thinking summer of 2022, but then friends of ours put us in touch with an English and French Bulldog breeder who was expecting a litter of English bulldogs early in December. Cortney’s dream dog was an English bulldog ever since he saw the bulldog on Looney Tunes when he was a kid. I gave the thumb’s up to reserve one of the little females from the litter.

Fast-forward to last weekend (January 29), and we are now the owners of a 9-week (as of Sunday, Feb 6) old English bulldog we have named Ruby SoHo.

We have been house shopping because our family has outgrown our 3-bedroom bi-level and we haven’t found anything yet. So you know, let’s add another living thing to this already crowded house! We are all learning how to teach her to play without biting, go potty and poopy outside (potty is going well; poopy not so much), and sleep in a crate when we are not home.

I initially said I would do what was minimally required of me, but of course…I have also fallen in love with this little goober.

I can’t stop shopping for her, and I keep reading up on English bulldogs and how to care for them and keep them healthy and happy. And despite my dislike of almost every dog on the planet, I let her lick me and cuddle up to me, and I have picked up her poop and cleaned up her pee and still maintained a love for her.

WHO AM I?

Anyway, owning a puppy is ridiculous and this is not something we should have taken on in the middle of wanting to find a new house and with all the stress of life…but here we are!

Ruby SoHo Sluiter

Maybe I will write more now that I have something to blog about…the antics of owning a dog!

A Healthier Me

In January of 2019 I was finished with chemo and radiation to hopefully zap any remaining microscopic jerks of cancer that could be lurking in my body after my lumpectomy in May of 2018. In order to hopefully stay cancer-free, my oncologist put me on tamoxifen, an estrogen receptor modulator that blocks estrogen and progesterone from feeding anymore cancer. I have to be on it for 5-10 years.

One of the side effects of tamoxifen is that it throws you into menopause if you are not already there. At age 40, I was not already there. It also causes weight gain.

I was not exactly slender when I went on tamoxifen. I was already overweight and had high cholesterol. That spring, when I was turning 41 and had my yearly physical with my primary physician, I asked about losing weight. Her response was, “I really don’t want you worrying about or focusing on that for a couple years. We need your body to adjust to the tamoxifen before we consider lifestyle changes. Tamoxifen is already a lifestyle change. Your body needs time to get used to it and to rest and heal from a year of trauma due to cancer and treatment.”

So we shelved it.

I am not a super active person (I hate sweating. HATE it. Nor do I have any kind of eye-hand coordination) and I LOVE food. That means the past two years were a whirlwind of adding an anti-depressant (since the tamoxifen made my previous one not nearly as effective) and weight gain.

By my 43rd birthday this past spring I was over it. I asked again, “Can we talk about this weight situation now? I have never ever weighed this much.”

We talked about it. She gave me some advice that I scoffed at a bit. That weekend, I found out that one of my best friends was doing the very thing my doctor suggested. “Do it with me!” she suggested.

Fine.

That was March. Now as we close out the year 9 months later, I am down almost 60 pounds.

It wasn’t easy, but what I chose with my doctor’s help and my family’s support is actually sustainable. It was a complete change in our food lifestyle, but as a family we are now healthier too!

The best part is that I actually feel great. I enjoy being in photos again. I like getting dressed because I feel cute again.

Committing to my health was the single best thing I did in 2021. And I vow to stay committed to it in 2022!

COVID Comes to Sluiter Nation

Masked up at the Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio (July 2021)

We follow the rules.

From March of 2020 until school started in September 2020, we did not interact with anyone–our extended family included–without masks and/or six feet of distance. We had ONE family in our quarantine bubble.

Once school started, we masked, washed hands, sanitized constantly. The only person from our house still going anywhere other than school/work was Cortney. We still get our groceries delivered (this isn’t even because of COVID, if I am honest. I just hate grocery shopping).

I signed up to be vaccinated in January of this year the minute the email came through saying I could. I was fully vaccinated by the beginning of February. Cortney was fully vaccinated about a month after that. Eddie happily bared his arm as soon as he turned 12 this summer.

Even going into this school year vaccinated and masked, I STILL wash and sanitize my hands between every class, before and after I eat, and before I leave the building.

And yet, I tested positive for COVID last month.

It started on a Thursday morning. We had slept with the windows open Wednesday night. I woke up on Thursday with sinuses that were under pressure. I knew having the windows open was a bad idea given the field of ragweed we had growing back there, but I did it anyway.

At some point on Thursday I realized I couldn’t smell much. My face was full and I was wearing a mask all day, so I just made a mental note, but mostly pushed it out of my mind.

I complained about it on Friday when my salad at lunch was rather bland. Then I complained some more at dinner. And after the kids went to bed. I was getting very annoying, apparently, because after assuring me for the 100th time that my sinuses were clogged and that I should just forget about it, Cortney finally said, “Then get a damn test tomorrow if you are so worried about it. Ugg!”

Fine. I made an appointment to get a test at Walgreens after Charlie’s last soccer game.

Saturday morning my face was less painfully full, but still full. I felt like maybe I didn’t need the COVID test after all, but I made the appointment, so I did it. That night we had pizza and I could clearly taste the salty olives on our half.

Sunday I had a HUGE sneezing attack, my face was suddenly not clogged, and I could taste and smell everything.

Oh. Well. No COVID, probably.

Went to school on Monday.

Monday night around 7pm I got an email from Walgreens. I assumed it was to tell me I was negative. You can imagine my shock when it said POSITIVE FOR COVID in bold letters.

Well, shit.

What do I do? I called my principal and gave him the craptacular news. He had our HR person call me and we worked out my quarantine would have to be the rest of the week. I could come back on Monday.

Cortney, in the meantime, set up COVID tests for himself and all three kids on Tuesday. I emailed the offices/teachers of all our kids to let them know they would be out on Tuesday for testing due to a close contact.

I also messaged my primary care doctor to find out what, if anything, we should do.

No one else had any symptoms, and I didn’t have any anymore either.

Tuesday morning, I got a message from my doctor saying that if no one else has symptoms, they don’t have to test or quarantine, but that I need to quarantine for 10 days since my symptoms started (which is what I was already doing per our HR requirements in my district).

Cortney went to Walgreens and got them all tested, but when he got back, I read the message from my doctor to him.

Everyone went back to work and school on Wednesday.

Until the elementary schools sent Charlie and Alice home. Because the close contact was in the home and they were not vaccinated or masked around me, they had to quarantine.

Eddie was fine because he was vaccinated. Same with Cortney.

According to our county, Alice and Charlie had to quarantine the rest of the week and all of the following week.

By the way, they still have zero symptoms.

My house, on the other hand, suffered immensely having those two home and us not being able to have much contact.

Thursday the rest of the family’s results came in: Eddie and Cortney both tested negative. Charlie was positive. Alice was inconclusive (she scrunched her nose during the test).

No one had any symptoms.

We treated both the Littles as positive cases and kept them away from everyone.

The second week of COVIDmania meant I could go back to work, but the Littles could not and we couldn’t exactly get a babysitter for them. This mean Cortney and I had to get creative with taking more time off.

We decided I would take Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings off to stay home. Cortney would move all work meetings to those three mornings, and come home in the afternoon so I could go to work. He also took all day Tuesday/Thursday off.

Working from home felt grossly like being virtual since I had to still do lessons and create instructional videos and do eight hours worth of parent/teacher conferences all from home. I felt glued to my computer all over again and it sucked.

I was very happy to walk into work at 11:15am on that Monday morning!

Just as the week began, we got the bad news that Cortney’s uncle, who had been battling the lung damage from COVID pneumonia, passed away. It was a pretty big blow to the family. Rather than taking a half day off on Friday, I took the whole day so that I could attend the funeral with Cortney in the afternoon.

The entire COVIDmania made me so crabby, but I was reminded that because of all the precautions–other than being inconvenienced–our immediate family was fine. Sure we had some positive tests, but no one got sick. At all!

We are pretty sure that I did not bring COVID into the house, I was just the first to test for it and happened to test positive. It’s more likely that it came in with Alice since they had some outbreaks at her school. She probably passed it to me and Charlie. My doctor thinks I tested positive because I was in the early group for my original vaccines.

But now Cortney and I have both had the booster, and the Littles each have dose one in their arms too!

Our house stayed healthy even with positive results because of the precautions we took and because of the vaccine.

My hope going into the holidays is that more people will get vaccinated. That is the only way we will get to be back to some semblance of normal.

The Back to School Post I Forgot About

We went back to school like…two months ago. I took pictures and had every intention of making a nice little post here for posterity.

Then my life laughed and laughed and laughed at me.

So anyway, Back to School!

There are four of us that went back to school–in four different buildings, naturally.

Alice is in 1st grade this year at Quincy. She is in the shark room and loves every minute of it. She is happy to go to school, happy to do homework, just happy happy about all things learning. She loves learning to read and going to her music special the most, although Spanish is a close second.

Charlie is in 4th grade at Lincoln. He is in their iCares program (Emotionally Impaired program). He is doing so well this school year! We have been so proud of him as he continues to learn and use strategies for managing his anxiety. He has been doing his school work regularly and earning lots of new privileges. In fact, he will get to go into the regular ed classroom routinely now since he has been so responsible and showing so much growth! We have been celebrating him a ton this fall!

Alice rides the bus in the morning from daycare and then home to our neighborhood after school. Charlie walks to school with the Walking Group in his school’s neighborhood. This has been so great for his mental health. Movement centers him, and walking each day with a group of kids and adults he can trust has been a game changer! He also rides the bus in the afternoon with Alice. They like walking from the bus stop to home so much, that this past week when I got home early and decided to wait at the bus stop for them, they said, “no thank you” to the ride!

Eddie is in 7th grade this year. The middle of middle school. He gets to use a locker this year, and I laughed so hard when I saw they assigned my 5’7″ tween a bottom locker. He thought I was ridiculous for laughing. Middle school! Ed loves school because he loves to see his friends. He also does better being able to interact with his teachers. His favorite classes this year are Band (he plays the trombone) and ELA (that’s my boy!), but he says he really likes all his classes. In 6th grade, he struggled in math class, but he is absolutely killing it this year! We are darn proud of this kid for how responsible and respectful he is too. The kids’ district has a mask mandate for K-6 graders, but Eddie wears his all the time even though he’s vaccinated because he wants to protect his younger siblings.

And of course, I also went back to school–as a teacher and as a doctoral student.

This year is my 19th year teaching in the Wyoming Public School district. Because of a major staff shake up over the summer, I am still teaching 8th grade English, but I have the honors classes now. So I have three sections of honors and two sections of team-taught 8th grade ELA (with my teaching partner who I have been with since I started at the Junior High in 2014). This has been my hardest school year yet for a number of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post. But I have been blessed with great students, supportive colleagues and administration, and awesome parents/guardians of my students.

This semester I am also taking my very last class toward my PhD–Introduction to Research in Education. I hate it, but it’s necessary and will probably help me with all the researchy technical stuff I’ll need to do for my dissertation work.

Starting in January, I will have two semesters where I do “reading hours” that help me prepare to take my Qualifying Exams next November (2022). I will have to sit for three exams: English Education General Exam, English Education Specialized Exam (still working on my specialization area, but it will probably be something with teaching Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature), and Children’s Literature (my specialized question for this exam will focus on Holocaust Literature for Children/Young Adults). I have like a million books to read before next November to prepare. Ok, maybe not a million, but it is over a hundred.

We are all doing well as far as academics, but the effects of this pandemic are really starting to show in other ways–especially in the negative impacts on my teaching job.

The little kids and I are also in the middle of a quarantine, but that is another post all together!

The Summer of “Yes”

Last summer seemed to be the summer of “nope” and the summer of “that’s cancelled” as everyone in our family committed to not leaving the house as much as was humanly possible. Cortney was the lone contact to the outside world as he went to work and ran our errands for us that we couldn’t take care of online. We had one other family in our quarantine bubble.

This summer, with 3/5 of us being vaccinated, we were [cautiously] able to say yes to many more things–especially outdoor things. Normally, I balk at keeping busy, but this summer has been so fun!

We still have had tons of fun with our “bubble” family, but we were able to also include cousins this summer. Oh how Cortney and I have missed our siblings and their kids! And how our kids missed their cousins! So much loud, giggly chaos happens when they get together.

The library is open again! We hit up the library about every other week this summer, and followed it, naturally, with donuts for lunch from the Zeeland Bakery. Alice also got her own library card this summer! Now everyone has their own card and library tote.

Swimming lessons were offered again this year, so Charlie and Alice completed those in June. Charlie is quite the little fish being in the deep end now and working on his strokes. Alice is still in the shallow and refuses to put her whole head under water or jump in. We’ll get there!

Cortney and I were able to go out on dates again! We could celebrate our anniversary over a yummy dinner and drinks in one of our favorite places, Cooper’s Hawk. AND we could leave our kids with a trusted (and vaccinated) teenage babysitter.

I was able to meet friends for coffee, shopping, lunch, cocktails…whatever! We got caught in the rain! It was so great to be with friends again. Even though this friend was in our bubble last summer, it was still so great to be able to not be at home. We could go into stores and try on clothes.

Like I said, donuts for lunch. Anyone who says kids can’t stand masks never told them, “if you wear your mask, we can go into the bakery and get donuts.” They had those masks on before I could say, “let’s go.” Plus it gave us the opportunity to walk around downtown Zeeland and get out of the house. And eat donuts.

We got ICE CREAM! Again, going out of the house and doing stuff and running errands and stopping for treats just wasn’t possible at all last summer. And the school year was so wonky and we all have such exhaustion after surviving it that the clear answer to “can we get ice cream?” was YES!

We had my parents over and we didn’t have to socially distance outside. We were able to have Grandma over for her birthday and give hugs. Yay vaccines!

More playing with cousins! Seriously, I think one of the biggest gifts to my kids this summer was that they could connect with their cousins again. Until all the adults were vaccinated, no one felt comfortable to do this mask-free, but this summer we have all been able to enjoy each other’s company again.

We met friends at the beach and…you guessed…at more ice cream! All of the kids are happy to be able to go do things again even if it means masking up in buildings and when there are a lot of people around. They don’t care because FUN is an option again.

Charlie went to camp. He traveled with our church over 12 hours away to upstate New York to go to Camp Fowler for a week. We missed him like crazy, but he had so much fun. So much that the first thing he said to me after giving me a giant hug was that he can’t wait to go back next summer. Last summer Fowler had to cancel all summer camps due to COVID. This year, with a safety precautions in place, they were able to safely offer camp again.

Eddie hosted his first sleepover while Charlie was at camp having his two BFFs overnight two nights in a row for some Marvel Movies and gaming. And, clearly, more ice cream. But also minigolf!

Eddie did a week-long day camp this summer (which was great for him) and my mom and I took these two to our local zoo. Camel rides were definitely not part of last summer, but were a big YES this summer.

I saw my college girlfriends for the first time in more than three years. We were able to meet in East Lansing (half of us live on the west side of Michigan, the other half on the east side) for a few hours to have lunch and catch up with everything that has been going on in our lives.

We took a road trip out of state! This one made me a bit nervous, but we were able to be very safe about it. We all masked in all buildings (including the hotel in areas that weren’t our room) and did lots of hand washing and sanitizing. We drove 3 hours to Toledo, Ohio for a quick weekend.

After some lunch, our first adventure was to go to the Imagination Station in downtown Toledo. It was all hands-on math and science learning for kids of all ages. We spent over two hours there. The kids LOVED it, and it was by far the one place we went with the most masking and social distancing. Go figure, people who frequent math/science centers believe…SCIENCE.

The next day we hit up the Toledo Zoo. Cortney and I had visited before we had kids and there had been a bunch of construction. Now it is absolutely beautiful. Not that the kids particularly appreciated it. Alice was mad at her shoes and walking. Charlie was hot and cranky. Eddie was sad he didn’t get a big pretzel. Maybe going to a major zoo on a busy Saturday was partly our fault. Cortney and I enjoyed the animals though.

Our last stop in Toledo was some YUMMY pizza out as a family. I cannot emphasize how great my kids were about wearing their masks when necessary. We were able to have a really fun weekend away and feel safe doing so.

I drove to Chicago and saw my best friend for the first time in two years! You know what we did besides getting manis/pedis? Nothing. We ate and drank and sat on her balcony and talked the day away and it was my favorite day of the whole summer.

We went with my parents to Silver Lake for three days. We splashed in the pool, rode bikes, went on a dune ride, ate at a drive in, saw live music, and of course…ate ice cream.

Our summer is not over yet. Yes, I go back to school on Monday and the kids go back a week after that, but summer lasts until the warm weather fizzles out and we still have fun on the calendar! We said YES this summer to safety and fun and it was SO NEEDED after the school year we finished and the uncertainty of the school year we are about to start.

A Dozen Years Old

**This post was originally published on Medium when I wasn’t sure if I would keep this space**

Dear Eddie,

You turned 12 years old this week.

This is your last year of being a tween, but you are already as tall as I am. Your feet are bigger than mine. You are showing all the physical signs of the teen years being right around the corner.

I tried not to get too emotional in front of you this week. I know it makes you a little eye-rolly and uncomfortable. But I did appreciate that you let me give you multiple hugs all day on your birthday. I honestly thought that my biggest emotion as you get older would be sadness that your babyness, toddlerhood, and little kid self fade into tweeny big kid. But the dominant emotion I feel is pride.

I am so dang proud of you, Eddie.

This school year was a real change for you. Several times you moaned, “I miss elementary school! Ugg!” But you did it! You worked SO hard and figured out how to get extra help and rework assignments and assessments that didn’t go well, and you made the honor roll all year! You learned about communicating with your teachers, checking your grades, keeping track of assignments and due dates. Things weren’t perfect, but you definitely grew this year! You are going into 7th grade with far more tools in your box for being successful than I did at that age!

You continue to have a love/hate relationship with being the oldest. The fact that you have extra responsibilities (like emptying the dishwasher, doing your own laundry, and taking out the trash) causes such extreme eyerolls, that I am concerned that your eyeballs are going to be permanently damaged. I don’t think our insurance covers eyeroll repair. But you do the things.

Your awkward sense of humor is getting weirder and more awesome by the minute. You say and do the most random things and dad looks at me like it’s my fault. It probably is somehow, least of which is that I laugh every time which only serves to encourage you. It’s so wholesomely weird though. I love it!

Your favorite activities at age twelve include: computer games, videogames (specifically Fortnite. ALL THE FORTNITE), talking about all the games, reading books with animals or kids who have challenges, thinking about videogames, watching movies (you still love movies like Luca and Soul — never too old for a good animated film!), drawing, writing, reading comics/graphic novels, hanging out with your “brethren,” Jake and Joe, making people laugh.

The adults that get to interact with you (teachers, youth group, etc.) all tell me that you are so thoughtful and inclusive. Dad and I raz you all the time about your lack of observation skills within our family/home, but I know you are really good at accepting others and not judging someone right off the bat. You aren’t afraid to tell people your beliefs and stances, but you don’t name-call or demean those who don’t agree with you.

You are always open to learning new things and listening to new ideas. It makes me so proud to know you are out there being you, being a model for what peace and love is.

And being hella weird and funny at the same time.

I love you, Eddie. So much.

You are my BEST Eddie.

Love,
Your best Mom

Sweet 16

**This post was originally published on Medium when I wasn’t sure if I would keep this blog**

We started out as two friends who knew each other as elementary kids, became best buddies in high school, and fell in love in their mid-twenties.

It was a quick courtship. We already knew the weird little things about each other. Already knew about each other’s exes and families. Already farted in front of each other. We had already said “I love you” because we had already loved each other deeply as friends for years.

When you brought up dating — or at least being interested in being more than just friends — it seemed crazy at first, but then the most natural thing in the world.

Our beginning was so sweet, so fun. I remember feeling like a cartoon with heart eyes bugging out of my skull every time we were together.

My prayer was that after years and years of marriage, it would still feel so sweet and so fun.

Now we are sixteen years into this marriage thing.

Together we have lost a parent, six grandparents, a niece, family friends, two pregnancies, a pet, an appendix, a gall bladder, a tumor, three lymph nodes, a hernia, a job, a headful (and most body) hair, relationships, our cool, our sanity, control.

Together we have gained three children, brothers and sisters-in-law, seven nephews, five nieces, a godson, life-long friends, a job, three college degrees, a company (part of one), a Nintendo Switch, a deep appreciation for how short this life is, and sore stomachs from laughing so hard — especially late into the night when we should be asleep.

Our love has grown and changed over the past sixteen years, but we still hold hands often, still say “I love you” every time one of us leaves the other, still email all day long (and text all day long when one of us travels). We still watch shows that no one else watches (lately it’s been A&E’s biographies on pro wrestlers. WHY? I have no idea) and play Animal Crossing together almost every evening. And neither of us can sleep well if the other isn’t in the bed.

Not all of the past sixteen years has been sweet, but how we love each other has only gotten better.