Happy 14th Birthday, Dani!

My second-born child turns 14 today (August 31).

IMG_7100
Mom and Dani on the eve of her birthday

Watching Dani grow up has helped me (somewhat) understand my sister, more. Β I always resented her desire to do the opposite (usually) of anything I did in order to distinguish herself. But Dani is always looking for a way to do the same. Sarah and Dani are such different people, but both equally awesome in their unique ways. The last few years, an undercurrent in my thoughts is how easy it could be to overlook Dani. She’s the middle of three girls. She’s not my “middle” child, as Helen fits that description in a literal sense. But being in between Sarah (my natural leader, goal-setting, Type-A personality) and Helen (my anxiety-prone-but-much-better-than-she-used-to-be child) can be a tough order for a kid who really does like some attention.

Dani has always had a stronger attraction to “the arts” be it something like drawing, painting or writing or even performing arts like choir and the musical and playing an instrument (guitar). Due to that leaning, her activities revolve more around the academic school year and now that she’s in public school, transportation and parental commitment is lower than for things like volleyball or some other sport. With that, it is less likely to see Dani’s development in her gifts grow from day to day. I simply must wait for the next performance to witness it.

During the summer, Dani chose to chop off her hair and find her style. She did a fabulous job of picking a “look” that fit her face and her personality and was able to convey what she wanted to the woman who’s been cutting/styling her hair since 4th grade. Leading up to this transformation, I learned a lot about my second daughter.

 

I learned that Dani is fearless and independent. She is self-assured and confident. She seems to have grasped early on that it really is “none of her business what other people think of her” and so she doesn’t entertain that sort of worry like most girls her age. I learned that she has the most beautiful frame in her face for a short hairstyle and she doesn’t ascribe to the notion that femininity is tied to the length of her hair.

Watching Dani adjust to life in 8th grade has also taught me quite a bit about her. She DOES care about school and wants to be organized, though it’s a struggle. She has always wanted to please teachers and parents, but I see her staying on top of her work now to please herself. She sets some goals — and they are different from the types of goals Sarah sets — and she makes a plan. She LOVES her music and drama. She joined the After School Activity of Competitive Drama and learned that they would be “trying out” a Debate team this year and she is interested in that, too!

On a more personal level, Dani understands true friendship on a level most kids her age do not. I think of an example recently where Sarah discovered an event to which Dani was not invited and Sarah (Mama-Bear she is) thought it was “rude” (Sarah’s words) that she wasn’t. My first statement to Sarah was, “You know, Dani never thinks anything of that stuff until you say something.” (And I was right about that, again in this instance.) But I did discuss it with Dani and she said, “I’m okay with it. I mean, I like one-on-one outings with people better — I don’t have to share their attention, and I feel like it’s more enjoyable.” She didn’t feel left out (as Sarah did when these sorts of things happened at this age) and she didn’t feel hurt. She understood that she doesn’t get invited to everything and she chose to focus on the fact that she often has really fun outings with friends because she usually arranges small gatherings.

 

Helping to plan Sarah’s surprise party this summer also showed me something about Dani: She is not afraid to make her desires known. As we walked through Costco and various other places the afternoon of the party, getting things bought/paid for and organized, she said, “You know, Mom, I know it won’t be this year or anything…maybe not for a few years, but I would really enjoy a party like this for my birthday.” Not only did that tell me that she could appreciate what Sarah was about to experience, but she didn’t mind telling me what she wanted. So many women today STILL have trouble vocalizing their wants, needs, desires and beliefs and here is my now-14-year-old daughter unabashedly and unapologetically telling me something she would like her family to do for her “at some point.”

Lately, I have seen that Dani likes to hang with her brothers and likes to show affection for them by picking them up, baking for them, playing games with them. Like most new teens, for awhile there, she spent quite a bit of time in solitude, but I have really seen her making an effort the last 8 months or so with her siblings. She and Helen have a close relationship that I remember witnessing in my own two younger sisters growing up.

Through all of these ways I have watched Dani grow, it’s clear she is finding her place in the world and in our family. She is growing into a lovely young lady and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things she will do as she continues to mature.

So, Happy Birthday, Dani-squirrel! I know you will work to make your dreams come true and I look forward to seeing you shine.

 

IMG_6899
Summer 2017
Advertisements

Observations

Today was the first day of the 2017-18 school year for all five kids. The past couple of weeks have been full of Schedule pick-up nights, Meet the Teacher Nights and Back-to-School nights. Over the course of these days and weeks leading up to school, I have noticed so much about each of my kids and wanted to share. Before going into details, I simply want to say that it constantly amazes me the difference in each of my children!

Sarah is beginning her Junior year of high school. This is crazy to me! She received some good news over the summer in that she earned a high enough score on the AP Psychology exam to receive college credit at universities that accept AP grades for credit. She received some not-as-good news that she needs to prep a little before trying to take the ACT again. She is playing a little varsity volleyball and some JV, too. And she has a full slate of classes. My observation of Sarah is this: She has matured into a competent, confident, beautiful, faithful and self-assured young woman. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s responsible for herself in many ways — she gets herself up in the mornings and takes herself where she is supposed to be, she has paid for half of her car and she plans to pay the ongoing cost of her insurance. And she says she will do these things as if she has always known they were expected and she figures that they are expected of everyone. I can’t wait to continue to see how her future unfolds — it’s most definitely a bright one.

IMG_7005

 

IMG_7029

Dani is beginning 8th grade. Dani has always been pretty sure about what she wants, but hasn’t always been able to vocalize it. That all changed last year. Dani learned how to stand up for herself and to ensure she was heard. For so many years Dani would remain quiet when she hadn’t been heard and just went along with it figuring there was no way anyone would hear her anyway. I think she was the opportunity last Β year, to speak up because there was no underlying assumption about what she would or wouldn’t do. Therefore, she found her voice — in more ways than one. What I see with Dani is a young lady who will listen and review the options and then make a decision about how she will spend her time and talent and resources in ways that she will enjoy. For example, she participated in a volleyball camp with Helen this summer. She thought that she might like to try volleyball this fall. But she discovered that she didn’t enjoy volleyball to the extent she needed in order to spend the time to get better at it. She also thought she would try out for Cheerleading. But she learned the requirements and decided that she wouldn’t enjoy that. Dani’s passion lies in theater and choir — performing arts. And she also enjoys reading and writing. And so, she has chosen to direct her efforts in that direction this year and I love seeing the excitement she has for it all!

IMG_7010

Helen is beginning 6th grade. When I took Helen shopping for clothes this year, it was a far different experience from last year. She is very much in that “in between” stage where she’s too big for a lot of the “Girls” clothes, but she’s not mature enough for much of what can be found in the “Juniors” section. Thankfully, she found a few things in both camps that she liked. A week before school started she was set on wearing a dress on the first day of school, but her confidence in that wavered as the days drew closer. Now, you and I (and every other kid past the 6th grade) knows that it doesn’t matter what you wear on the first day, but we can all remember worrying about it before the first day came and went. As late as last night, Helen was still undecided and was worried. I told her that no matter what she wore, she’d be comfortable because that is how she picks out her clothes — if it’s not comfy, she won’t buy it. She finally settled on athletic shorts and a t-shirt. This morning, the text came, “Mommy…what if I am the only person wearing shorts today?” To which I replied with a text: “Well, then everyone else will be hot later and you will be comfortable.” She just sent back an “I love you” text and that was all I heard. And I saw in the pictures her dad took that she had stuck with the athletic shorts and t-shirt idea. This evening as I reviewed her day with her, not one time did she mention what she or anyone else wore to school. πŸ™‚

IMG_7021

Dominic is a friendly child and loves school. He is entering the 3rd grade. He was very excited that one other boy was in his class again this year! This boy and Dominic spent a lot of time writing a “series” based on minecraft and legos last year. Dominic looks forward to resuming this important work. His teacher asked him about himself at Meet the Teacher night and I heard my little boy sound oh-so-grown up as he explained that he loves to read and draw and play minecraft. His assignment for today was to fill a brown paper bag with items that helped tell “his story” or “all about Dominic” and here are the things he put in there: Pencil (because he loves to write), a Marker (because he loves to illustrate what he writes, an Imaginator/Skylander thing (because he has a great imagination), a Lego (because he loves to creat things), and an Angry Birds Telepod (because, as he said, “they’ve been a part of my life since I was small”) Dominic is a fantastic kid. I think he’s going to be the kind of person that everyone loves to talk to at a party or meeting.

IMG_7016

Vincent is as low-key as any of my kids come. He enjoys activities and school, but he doesn’t show it the way most kids his age do. For example, he was taking swim lessons and after the first couple lessons, the instructor told me that I needed to bring Vincent to the pool outside of swim lessons so he could become more familiar with the water and lose his fear. Now, this was a surprise to me because Vincent had never been afraid of the water from what I could tell. Nevertheless, our family went swimming that weekend and he was bobbing up and down, jumping in with no one to catch and everything. I finally pointed out to him that his swim instructor was life guarding at the time and was watching all his antics in the pool! I said, “Well, now she KNOWS you aren’t afraid to put your face in the water, so you better do it during swim lessons!” No further problems with swim lessons. πŸ™‚

The other night at Meet the Teacher night, he wouldn’t smile or laugh or anything in his classroom. The teacher asked him if he liked to be called anything other than Vincent and he said — with a completely straight face — “No. Just Vincent.” The teacher asked him if he was excited to start school and he said — again with a completely straight face — “Yes.” and then a little boy walked by and he says with monotone inflection and a straight face, “Hi Slade.” I did manage to convince him to smile for his school picture (which his super-organized school manages to have taken at Meet the Teacher night every year) but other than that, Vincent really just kind of keeps a low profile, does what he should do, and coasts through life.

IMG_7018

These kids are everything to me and I love watching them all grow up and show me and the world who they are. They are awesome little people growing into really cool bigger people and I’m so proud and excited and blessed that they are mine.

It’s Not “The End.”

I remember it almost as though it were yesterday. It was six years ago, during a hot July. I was recovering from delivering Vincent and messing around online. I logged onto the Catholic school website to see if the kids’ classes had been loaded and realized they had. I clicked on each one, starting with Sarah’s. I selected 5th grade and started scrolling through the familiar names…until I found a female name that was unfamiliar. What?!? a new girl? Then I clicked on 2nd grade and started scrolling through those mostly familiar names (she had TONS of girls in her class), and what is this?? another unfamiliar female name with the same last name. Interesting.

I ended up clicking on all of them trying to see if this was another family that had just the two girls, or if there were more kids. Ultimately I noticed they had a son two grades ahead of Sarah/their daughter and it looked like a preschooler, though I couldn’t tell the age.

At the time, I coached Sarah’s grade in volleyball, so I went about trying to find out a way to reach the new family to introduce myself and let them know about volleyball and that we’d love to have their 5th grader join the team. I composed an e-mail as carefully as possible and sent it off. I was rather excited to welcome a new family to the school and to see if there were any way we had more in common than two girls who would be in the same classes that coming school year.

Little did I know then, that this family would become cherished friends to ours. It turns out that they are kind of like what I’ve termed our “twin family.” You see, outside of their oldest child, a son who is two years older than Sarah and their daughter, our children match up to each other quite well. After their oldest, they have three daughters in succession and then two sons in succession and each of their children’s birthdays are within months of each of our children’s birthdays.

From the outside looking in, the thing that Jackie and I seem to have the most in common is our family planning. While that is the most apparent, I felt drawn to build a close friendship with Jackie because at the time, I was ecstatic to welcome a large family to our Catholic school. Most of the larger families at our parish had children that were older than ours and we kind of missed the boat on getting included in social events due to the weird phenomena that seems to occur with school relationships: you make the most friends with the families in your oldest child’s grade. Maybe I’m weird, but it does seem to work that way for some other families I have known. Having another mom to work through the challenges of raising a large family in this area seemed like a dream come true. The fact that we’d be working through the same sorts of issues in the same parish environment was even better. I was eager to learn how Jackie felt about our parish, how we did things, how her family did things — all of it.

Over the years, we have shared with each other opinions and support on so many things: middle school girl drama, grade school mean-kid drama, childcare challenges, daycare provider, challenges, education, Church teaching, aging parents, miscarried babies, cheerleading for our girls, public high school and so much more. I have prayed many prayers of thanksgiving over the past six years that I have her in my life and that our children have each other in their lives.

Our friendship became one that I had always desired — one where I never worried about the state of my house when she stopped by. We grew to have the kind of friendship where she called on her way past the house to ask if I had some clothes for one of her kids to borrow as the clothes being worn were wet and they wouldn’t make it home for a bit. We grew to have the kind of friendship where we were never embarrassed that we’d said we would get together for Margaritas, but it took 3 years to make it happen. We grew to have the kind of friendship where we could rely on each other for all sorts of things, but even if we had to say no (this time! but please ask again!) there was complete understanding that life with lots of kids our kids’ ages was busy and chaotic. We shared so much of that and I am forever grateful that God placed them in our lives. It was absolutely the most obvious sign of Divine Intervention that we met six years ago, in my opinion: God knew Jackie and I would need each other. At least I like to think she needed me like I needed her. πŸ™‚ And boy did I need her — right at that time and all through these years.

And even though I’ve needed her, that was never what it was all about, of course. I love talking with her and sharing our families together. I like to think that she thinks our parallel paths is pretty cool, too.

IMG_5750

They are moving away due to a great opportunity for her husband. It’s not far — just three hours (I checked on our way to Texas this summer πŸ™‚ ) — but of course, far enough that daily life involvement will no longer be possible. When my oldest was told the news by her oldest daughter, she came to tell me. I was strong for her, I hugged her and I told her, “These days, that doesn’t mean ‘the end’ like it did when I was a kid. You all have your phones and many other ways to keep in touch easily. You have one of those friendships that last, even if she isn’t here every single day.” After I sent Sarah on to bed, I walked downstairs and asked Craig if Sarah had told him the news and he nodded yes.

And then…the tears came. I cried while he hugged me and told me that it would be all right. I told him, “I’ve never had a best friend to move away from me before. I’m so sad!”

IMG_5743

The next day, Jackie called me and we talked. She didn’t have to, of course, but she apologized for the fact that I heard it through the kids. We’ve spent the past few months trying to appease our kids’ requests for “one more thing” to do with each other. The younger three came to our house three nights in a row one week while the older family members help get the house ready for sale, and just played their hearts out with my kids. We had a nice thrown-together joint Graduation and First Communion party when Dominic and their son received First Holy Communion in May. Our oldest daughters have gone to movies and breakfast and all sorts of things to hang out. And the middle daughters have taken trips to WOF or just hang out at one or the other’s houses.

Tonight is my turn. Margaritas with Jackie and with another friend of ours, whose daughter is the third in their “three amigos” friendship.

I am going to miss Jackie and her family so much. But I know with all my heart this is not “the end.” It’s just the beginning of a new phase for us all.

IMG_5742