Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Mom

So I realized that with all that is going on I’m not going to be able to post every day with a nice story about family and friends. I’ll have to settle for every day or so. Up next is my Mom. Those of you who know my Mom know that she’s about as devoted to her kids as someone could be. She truly loves her three kids and has extended that love to her two grandkids who call her Nana.

When she was pregnant with me, she had really bad morning sickness. The problem is that she had it all day long and all the time. When she went to the doctors, and you know how much she loves them, they warned her that if she couldn’t keep something down, she was at risk for losing me. She finally found that she could keep down beer, potentially due to the hops. This meant that I was referred to as a beer baby every now and then. Knowing how much I drink nowadays, that’s pretty funny. I have another funny kid drinking story, but I’ll save that for when I get to my Grandpa Wes.

One of my favorite memories as a child was going shopping with Mom. She trained me at a very young age about finding the best deal. I would say that has translated to a much higher shopping threshold than the average male. I always refer myself to the shopper of the family because Sarah isn’t so fond about spending hours in a mall. One of our favorite shopping activities was going to the football card shows at the Holiday Inn near Fair Oaks Mall. For those of you who watch the Simpsons, imagine a whole room full of Comic Book Shop guys trying to pawn off packs of cards to throngs of little kids. Mom also loved to help us sort cards when we got back home. For awhile there she knew most of the active players in the NFL just from looking at those cards.

But probably my favorite childhood memory of my Mom is one that didn’t end up being applicable. When I was a teenager, she mentioned to me that if I discovered I was gay when I grew up, her and Dad would still love me and support me. That’s a sentiment that’s rarely heard today, and judging from some of my gay friend’s drama with their family when they came out, it would have been a welcome sentiment. It just goes to show that my Mom loves us unconditionally, regardless of what we do or become. I love you Mom!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A story a day

The combination of my sister-in-law Jessica passing away recently and the upcoming holidays, has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. My brother-in-law Jake has been posting various funny and touching stories about the two of them on their blog. This made me realize that there are many similar stories that I want to share about those close to me. So bear with me for the next couple of weeks while I spend some time recalling fond times that involve those family and friends nearest and dearest to me.

To start things off, I wanted to talk about my Dad, or Bumpa as Vanessa sometimes calls him. I’ve been very blessed to have had two parents who love each other very much and managed to stick together through the trials and tribulations of raising three crazy kids. Throughout it all, my Dad has been a constant provider, supporter, and educator. I can’t remember a single event in my childhood that he missed, whether it was watching me play soccer, watching me as a bench player in high school football, or attending any music recital or concert I had. He’s always encouraged me to learn and was always willing to drive me anywhere to see anything. Whether it was a 90 minute drive to the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, CA to see a silly wave tank or 60 minutes out to Front Royal to see some cheap giant plaster dinosaurs at a tourist trap like Dinosaur Land, he was always there for me. He’s always been there to help me move from house to house, or fix something, or offer help in any way he can.

Trying to identify just one story to focus on for him was very difficult. I instead settled on a couple of stories that highlighted his diversity and devotion. My Dad as always kept us involved with music. He plays guitar, clarinet, recorder, some piano, and sings. He even was in the University of Michigan marching band when in college. He encouraged each of us to appreciate music by constantly playing a variety of music when we were kids. He would put on the Grand Canyon Suite and tell me a story about how one could pretend that the song was about a migration of dinosaurs. Then we would listen to some Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple or put on some soundtracks like Superman or Star Wars. These were all on LP of course. ;)

I remember that when I was in 3rd grade he wrote me a song called Jake the Rattlesnake since I liked snakes so much. My mom made me a stuffed animal snake to go along with the song. I was so proud of the song that one day at school I sung it to my 3rd grade music teacher Mrs. Lunsford. She insisted that I surprise my Dad by singing it at the holiday concert that year. I told Mom, but insisted that Dad not be told until we got there. I was so proud when after singing the song Mrs. Lunsford insisted on acknowledging that the composer was in the audience. I still sing that song to Vanessa and Elizabeth all the time, though Vanessa knows it as the snake song.

Apparently Jake the Rattlesnake was pretty memorable to others at well. About two years ago we were at Fair Oaks Mall with one of Sarah’s teacher friends Bethany. Bethany mentioned she was going to meet an old friend of hers named Kelly. We were coming up the escalator to meet her and I thought to myself, wait a minute, that’s Kelly Harasek, I went to school and CCD with her. Sure enough, I get to the top of the stairs and she says “Hi James”. I asked how she remembered me and she said “How could I forget, you’re the one who sung that snake song in front of the school in 3rd grade.”

The other story I wanted to mention took place in college. I had done a lot of backstage theatre work in high school, but I had auditioned for and got cast in a production of Show Boat. This was a big deal for me from a confidence standpoint, as here I was in makeup, in costume, and singing and dancing on the main stage at William and Mary for two weeks. My family was planning on coming for the show on the weekend, but at the last minute, my Dad found out he had to go out of town on business. He surprised me by showing up for a Thursday night show instead. After the show, we went out to eat at the IHOP in Williamsburg. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but surprisingly for a college town, there are really only two places open after 11:00 PM on a weeknight in Williamsburg, IHOP and Denny’s, and both are SLOWWWWWWW. So even though he had to drive 2.5 hours back to DC that night to go to work on Friday, we just sat and talked and waited for our food to arrive. Any of you know my Dad know that his bedtime is 10:00 PM, so the fact that he was willing to go to such an effort to see my show meant the world to me.

Thanks Dad for everything. One couldn’t ask for a better example and role-model for me to emulate while trying to raise kids of my own. I love you very much!

Monday, November 24, 2008


I just wanted to post that Elizabeth discovered soccer today. I was holding her hands and helping her walk around a little when she brushed up against a ball and it rolled! Oooh, boy, she was excited! She chased that ball all around the house, moving with a sudden strength I didn't know she had. Then she ate the most I've ever seen her eat in one sitting for dinner. So I think we might have a budding soccer player in our midst.

One funny thing Vanessa said the other day was when she was trying to compare the sizes of her family members. She said "Daddy big, baby sister small, mommy dim." Haha! I'm like the medium setting on her light, I suppose. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Vanessa.

Oh, and if it wasn't confusing enough to understand what Vanessa is saying to me most of the time, now she's started making up pretend words! She'll just start saying, "Doppy, doppy, doppy." If I ask her if it's a made-up word, she'll say yes!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The end of one journey

I didn’t find what I expected to find in Texas. When I had first scheduled my trip, I had hoped to be a comfort to Jessa in whatever way I could. Soon I realized that I would be too late to do that unless I rescheduled, but I hesitated, and it quickly became too late altogether. So I came to Texas filled with a little bit of guilt for not being there for Jessa, and feeling sorry for Jessa for missing out on so much time with her family and sorry for her family missing out on so much time with Jessa.

But certain things were said at Jessa’s funeral service that changed my perspective of the situation entirely. For one thing, I realized I wouldn’t have been the one to comfort Jessa, she would have been the one comforting me. Always, always, she was more concerned about others than herself. And she had reached such a point of courage that she was unafraid of dying. What could I have said to her to comfort her?

And in fact, as speakers continued, I was reminded of the full extent of Jessa’s courage, wisdom, and selflessness. I felt so humbled. I felt so honored to have called Jessa my sister, even for a short time. And I wept tears of shame, shame for feeling sorry for her and her family – her loss was too soon, but she had been among us, she had been a glorious light in our lives. What greater honor could her children hope for? And not just honor, but an incredible legacy. Jessa had left behind her a veritable army of dedicated friends to support Jake and their children. And Jake is a fantastic father who in the past month has already shown that he can take masterful care of three children despite difficult times. I realized that pity was simply inappropriate for this remarkable family. Instead I was filled with awe and humility.

I am so glad that I was able to spend more than a week with Jake and my three nieces. What a privilege! And I was able to enjoy time with so much family, including Jessa’s wonderful extended family.

Here are some pictures of Vanessa and Elizabeth hanging about at home before our trip.

Vanessa's love of swings borders on obsession! She begs to go out on the swing in our back yard every day. As long as the weather isn't too cold, I usually indulge her.

Ah, mornings for parents come so early some days. Thank goodness our girls are such good reasons for getting out of bed.

I've really been enjoying spending time with my friend Kim and her daughter Grace. Elizabeth seems to be enjoying Kim too!

Elizabeth seems to have a natural bond with her Grampa.

Before Halloween, Vanessa tried out her Tigger costume. I don't think any of us realized how appropriate the costume would be for her -- Vanessa loved the excuse to practice her bouncing! Elizabeth tried out her duck costume ahead of time but I didn't get a picture -- I might take a picture soon and post it though, she was so cute in it!

Here Vanessa is celebrating a good bouncing on the bed (one of these days, we'll probably make a rule against it, but for now, bed-bouncing is allowed if closely supervised). She just loves this costume, and explores the ears, the tail, and the stuffed tummy that makes Vanessa pretend she's a pregnant mommy.

Our Halloween was spent traveling to Texas and attending Jessa's viewing. Here is the little dress that Vanessa wore to the funeral on the following day.

My mom and Elizabeth became great friends this trip. Ah Jessica, how many people have you brought even closer together?

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my Aunt Suzanne and Uncle Peter had come to say good-bye to Jess and lend their support to Jake and the girls. My Aunt Suzanne and her family are definitely a family I wish I could see more often!

I was also excited to learn that my Uncle Roger and cousin Molly had come. Elizabeth couldn't stop smiling at her great-uncle, and no wonder, he's a great guy! I was excited to talk to Molly -- I hadn't really had a chance to talk to her since she had become a teacher (and I enjoyed a bit of teacher talk, which I miss!).

If you're in need of someone to lighten a dark day, leave it to Heather and Vanessa.

Vanessa spent much of her trip being picked up, carried, and occasionally tossed on a bed by Jadyn! What a help Jadyn was to me this visit in keeping track of Vanessa.

Here Elizabeth meets one of Jessa's sisters, also named Elizabeth. Vanessa seems disappointed that Jadyn's lap is already occupied by another one of Jadyn's cousins, Hope's little girl Ella.

Here Vanessa's aunt Hannah helps her play with a doll house at MeeMaw's (Jessa's grandparents' house). James and I and our girls love seeing Hannah and my dad and Donna. It was nice to get some extra time to chat with Aunt Suzanne too. There were so many kids there, and Vanessa made some new friends, especially Jake's niece Kaylie (sorry if misspelled!). Jessa's extended family fed us thoroughly and made us feel so welcome.

Here's a bunch of ladies that don't get together too often: me, my aunt Suzanne, Elizabeth, Hannah, and my mom.

And though we're together a lot, we don't get too many pictures of the four of us all in one shot! Vanessa is so cute at home, every time all four of us are in the same room, she says "Family!"

If you were ever wondering what time of year might be nice to visit Texas, the answer is the beginning of November! We simply basked in the beautiful weather. At a nearby park, Aunt Heather indulges Vanessa in Vanessa's favorite activity -- swinging!

I just think this picture of my mom and Elizabeth is so sweet.

Vanessa was thoroughly spoiled by Bryn and Jadyn -- they bounced with her on the trampoline, drew pictures with her, played games with her, and generally chased her around.

And Elizabeth got her fair share of spoiling too!

Here's a picture of my parents' five grandchildren (plus me!).

And here's a picture of my mom and her four kids. We haven't been in one picture in about 15 years. Well, we might not be perfect, I guess, but you did good, Mom!

Here's Elizabeth Katelyn with the Katelyn for whom she was named. So Elizabeth Katelyn, isn't it nice to be named for someone who's beautiful, athletic, confident, and smart?

And Jadyn holding Elizabeth. Jadyn is so strong and so careful that I was very glad to have her help toting Elizabeth around. Elizabeth seems quite happy about it too!

Bryn was a great help with Elizabeth too!

Elizabeth took to her uncle Jake right away. Perhaps it was because he liked to bring her outside, which always makes her so happy!

And Vanessa, well, Vanessa positively adores her uncle Jake. Once she gave him so many big hugs that I considered rescuing him... but he emerged without being too terribly squished.

I was excited to attend one of Jadyn's soccer games (Jake coaches her team). The other team was so sweet. All the girls on the other team wore pink ribbons on their jerseys in honor of Jessica. We sat on the bleachers with Bryn and another Jessica, a very sweet friend of the family. I think Bryn looks ravishing in Jessica's cool shades.

Jake having a team meeting with the girls. Jadyn is in the jersey with the number 8.

I was truly spoiled to have Grandma around all week long to help me look after Vanessa and Elizabeth. And have I mentioned that the weather was just beautiful?

The soccer game was action-packed, full of shots-on-goal on both sides. Jadyn had some breathtaking stops as a defensive player. I took this picture just before a great offensive play on Jadyn's part.

Jadyn's team didn't win, but Vanessa gave Jadyn a congratulatory hug anyway. Good game, Jadyn!

After the game, the girls went to a carnival at the elementary school. Vanessa was exhausted, though, and fell asleep in the stroller. Later in the evening, Jake and the girls relaxed by listening to some music together.
It was definitely hard to say good-bye to my brother and my nieces. I feel almost as if we belong in the same household. I hope we can get together again soon.
One funny story as we were leaving for the airport on the following day -- as I was packing up the back of the van, I had let Vanessa play around her car seat without buckling her in just yet. She found a purple crayon that had been left there after a visit to a restaurant. And she decided to decorate the ceiling of the rental car, as far as she could reach in all directions! Jake brought some 409 and some paper towels, and everyone helped clean up, so we were still able to get to our flight with plenty of time. Vanessa so rarely draws on things she shouldn't! Ah, well, overall she was a remarkably good girl for our trip to Texas, especially considering a different sleep schedule and missing her daddy so much! (I did accidentally trigger two tantrums though, by twice flushing the potty after Vanessa used it, something Vanessa considers her solemn responsibility.)

One more funny story about Vanessa: The other day, I saw Vanessa putting one of her toy bunnies on her pillow. I've seen some of Vanessa's friends pretend in this way -- usually they say "sshh..." and try to help the doll sleep. Vanessa on the other hand shouts "AAAAAH!" and pretends to wake the bunny up!
It's been a mystery to me what Vanessa was saying to her little sister lately. She kept saying something that sounded like, "Obey, baby sister!" That couldn't be right, could it? I asked Vanessa if she was saying, "So big," "Go play," and a few other guesses. Just today I discovered she was saying, "OK, baby sister," as in, "It's OK, Elizabeth," something I suppose I say frequently. Vanessa's hard "g" and hard "c" sound are still mostly missing, so there are a few things she says that are still hard to understand!

Just a couple of developmental notes: today Vanessa learned how to make a raspberry sound, a skill she learned from listening to Elizabeth! Vanessa is definitely learning to read now. She has started pointing out words she recognizes on signs and food packages. Mostly they are words like "cat," "do," "up," or "home," some of her favorites. But if she is reading a book, memory helps her fill in the words so that she can read full sentences. Today she read aloud the book, "Have you seen my duckling?" by Nancy Tafuri. Granted, other than a refrain repeating the title question, there are only three other words, "Early one morning..." In other books, she can read sentences such as "How does a dinosaur say good night?" or "Do you want to play with me?" She has also noticed a correlation between different kinds of sequences. Today, she counted some of the letters of the alphabet that she was looking at, up to eighteen! This week I'd been trying to teach Vanessa a little about the notes on a piano. Yesterday as she was playing each note on her toy piano with keys numbered from 1 to 8, I overheard her say the correct name of each note "CDEFGABC."
Elizabeth is on the verge of crawling. She makes considerable forward progress, but in sort of a wheelbarrow fashion, with her bottom up in the air and her face down on the bed. She supports herself in a sitting position now entirely by herself -- I still spot her, but I'm finding that she's pretty good at catching herself if she falls over by accident. She's eating solids now and today she grabbed the spoon out of my hand and managed to get it into her mouth. There wasn't much chance of the spoon leaving her mouth to get any more food on it though!
Elizabeth used to like to suck her thumb, but now she seems to have completely forgotten where her thumb is. Funny, I hoped that she would one day be able to give up thumb-sucking without too much trouble, but now I'm wishing it wasn't quite so soon! Her thumb had been so effective at helping her get to sleep and stay asleep for the whole night. Ah, well, I'm sure she'll learn soon how to sleep just as effectively without her thumb. James and I were talking today about how it seems that Elizabeth is just about ready to enter one of those stages of rapid-fire changes in development. We can't wait to see what's coming next!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I love you so much!!!

It has been a very emotional week or so. Our sister-in-law Jessica Kaylor finally succumbed to her breast cancer after fighting it for almost 4 years. Sarah, Vanessa, Elizabeth and myself flew out to Dallas, TX with Sarah's mom, her sister Heather, and her brother Zak last weekend. Zak, Heather, and myself had to fly back on Monday to go back to work, but Sarah, her mom, and the munchkins stayed out to Texas to try to give her brother Jake some help and to allow Vanessa and Elizabeth some time to play with their cousins Katelyn, Jadyn, and Bryn and hopefully serve as a welcome distraction.

This has also been the longest I've gone without seeing my little girls. I really miss my daily hugs and kisses from Vanessa and seeing Elizabeth so excited and happy when I walk into a room. I've talked to Vanessa daily, though I'll admit that our conversation is pretty much "I love you so much. You make me so happy." When I talked to Sarah today, she said that Vanessa woke up saying "I love you Daddy so much" and then proceeded to do a little play about seeing me tonight. I guess Vanessa said I was a spoon and Vanessa was a fork. The fork started bouncing up and down because she was "so happy" and then the fork ran to give the spoon a big hug.

This week has served as a reminder that we never know how much time we have and what exactly the future will hold. Hopefully this blog will be just one of those many reminders to my daughters that I love them so much and that they make me so happy. :)