Things To Let Go in 2011

Tell me I'm not the only one for whom lists of things to start doing or to do better is extremely overwhelming.  However, as daunting as it feels, I still have quite an urgent desire to reflect and examine, and then to go forth in new and better ways.  So, I give you my top five

"Things to Let Go in 2011"

1.  Documentation.  I don't have to take pictures or video of my child every day.  Or even every week.  Spencer will still feel loved.  He might even get more face time.

2.  Expecting others to be what I expect them to be.  I'm not the boss of them (even though maybe I should be...)  See?  It leads to erroneous thinking.

3.  My own timelines regarding childbearing, home improvement, or self-improvement.  The more I know myself, the more I'm amazed at all of my expectations.  Wow.  Just wow.  I have thousands of expectations that I didn't even know I had.  Just ask my husband.    And, no, expectations are not necessarily bad or wrong (though many of mine probably are), but when things don't happen that way, it sets in motion quite a treading of water to try to get it all "under control."  How long can you tread water?  Not nearly as long as a lifetime.

4.  The idea that I need to get finished with something quickly and efficiently so that I can move on to the next thing.  That thing I'm in the middle of, it's my life.  I hurry through it all the time.  I already feel as if I've neglected to "live" much of my life.  I am so blessed to be doing exactly what I've always wanted to do--being a wife and a mother--so dishes, and laundry, and sick days, and tantrums are life.  Those things are not something to be hurried through or wished away.  How much could I teach Spencer by example through embracing each and every day in all its imperfections and disappointments?  I'm still his mom, I still love him--throwing up or throwing a tantrum.  I'm to treat him with love and respect and to train him to love God and others with all that he is.  Every day.  No matter what.

5.  Anger that crops up when real life is lived--more on that later.  But I want to let it go every day.  It definitely holds me back and threatens to intrude on all the joy and wonder that exists for me to experience.

That's not an overwhelming list of things not to do, right?  My hope for this coming year might best be summed up with this picture.

I'm striving for that sort of run-giggling-with-your-eyes-closed approach to life.  Care to join me?


Decorative Cupcake Liners' Precarious Existence

Helpful tip if you're planning an upcoming birthday party or other festivity at which you plan on using cute-sey cupcake liners:

Light-colored cake

(unless you think it's cool that the design "disappears" when you use a dark-colored option).

Just lookin' out for y'all.


Coat Refusal in 40 Degrees

Or, "For the Love of Dirt"

"Here's some dirt, Mom."

"It's for you."

"Take it!"

"It's nice, right?"

"Ah, here's some more dirt."

"Hang onto it for me, ok?"  

"Oh, man!  It's all over my hands!"

"Get it off!"

"Fine.  I'll wipe it in my hair."

"Now, let's play some football."


A Louisiana Christmas

This weekend we made the trek to Natchitoches, Louisiana.  And by "we," I (unfortunately) don't mean Jonathan.  He had to stay behind for a youth lock-in.  My aunt and her family have lived in Natchitoches for seven years, and this year she hosted the Richardson Family Christmas!  We dined on meat pies, scalloped greens, gumbo, fruit salad, and Boulevard Bread rolls (imported from Little Rock).  Then, we threw caution to the wind and topped it all off with bread pudding and German chocolate cake.  It was delicious.  I can say that with integrity because Spencer was asleep for the first ten minutes of the meal, so I really did get to eat--and even taste--quite a bit!  I was literally the first person in line and the first person to start eating.  I have no shame.

In fact, the food was so remarkable that when I had to abruptly leave the table to tend to my cranky, half-napped two-year old, my sister and father divvied up the remainder of my meat pie and roll!  Imagine my disappointment when after ten or fifteen minutes of cuddling and coddling, I manage to walk by the chair where once was my food, only to realize my plate was completely empty.  You know food is outstanding when people are willing to eat after the mother of an often-disease-afflicted toddler.

The company and the food were definitely the highlights of the trip.  The traveling itself went very well but not without exhausting everyone involved.  I won't bore you with all of the details--just most of them.  On the way down, we realized Spencer had a dirty diaper, but we were on a stretch lacking good stopping spots.  We pulled over into a church parking lot, but we really didn't want to get out of the car, because once you get out you have to get Spencer back in.  And that's not fun for anyone.  Toddlers are strong.  If he doesn't want to be put into his car seat, it's basically impossible to get him into it.  So, I got him out of his car seat, but only to put him in the front seat.  Then, I got in the floor of the front seat while my mom held his portable dvd player at an angle pleasing to His Highness.  We managed to get him changed and back into his car seat lickety split, all the while, singing along with the Wonder Pets who were saving the nutcracker.  It was a magical time.

Dining out with the fam' and getting checked in to the hotel did not go as smoothly as far as Spencer was concerned.  He's never been a fan of dining out, and he was apparently very distraught that Jonathan wasn't meeting us at the restaurant.  He insisted on standing at the door screaming and crying for "Ga Ga" (which, unfortunately, still means "Dada").   Well-meaing family members kept offering him pieces of food, thinking that it would distract and delight.  After he threw two of those love-offerings across the restaurant they began to get the bigger picture.  Disdain for food and lust for cold, dark parking lots--that's who we're dealing with here.

We didn't arrive at the hotel until 8:45 p.m.  We'd left home at half past noon, hoping to encourage as much napping as possible (with only minimal returns, might I add), and that night at 9:00 p.m., I realized that I hadn't gone to the bathroom since.  As my sister said, "That can't be good for you."

Spencer took a long time to fall asleep, but he was really good while he did it.  I've never experienced anything like it from him.  He laid by me in the bed.  This was the first time he had ever slept in a bed with me.  He hates it.  I really don't care for it either, but alas, the Pack and Play is now analogous to a vestigial organ.  He laid in the bed, on his back, moving occasionally, jabbering every now and then for over an hour and then finally drifted off to sleep.  All I can say--'tis the season for Christmas miracles.  One time he sat up, just once, and I said, "It's time to go to sleep.  Can you lay your head back down?"  And immediately, he did.

I, on the other hand, was apparently suffering from some ridiculous, repressed jealously that Jonathan was going to be up all night, because my psyche or my hormones or the elevator bell kept me up ALL NIGHT LONG.  I saw the clock hit every hour but five a.m.  I would fall asleep an hour before my child wakes up.  It resembled an act out of an absurdist play:  crazy-active, out-of-his-element toddler, sleeping soundly, still, not kicking, not talking, not waking restlessly throughout the night; exhausted mother who, for an "easy" day requires eight plus hours of sleep--probably got a combined two and a half hours.  Thankfully my sister drove the whole way back.  I really do feel like I should go by her an extra Christmas gift...

While much of the next morning made it look as if I don't try hard enough to "distract" my toddler as opposed to saying plain old "no" and facing the imminent, screaming situation head-on, it again became increasingly clear to all who dared offer to lend a hand--a kind, sweet, naive hand--that attempts to "distract" Spencer from things he can't do by showing him fun things he could do instead just don't work.   No less than three different family members concluded their particular interaction with some version of "Well, he's very focused!" (insert Spencer crying in the background).

Spencer takes a while to warm up to people, and, unfortunately, we didn't have a while.  So, he didn't really embrace his fan club in the manner I'd hoped he would.  That kid has a lot of love being offered to him, I hope it isn't too much longer before he'll be able to get in there and receive some of it.  There were some smiles here and there, and lots of love for the people he already knows well.  He did manage to settle in a little towards the end of the afternoon.  He was playing happily in my cousin Sam's closet, enamored with the toy cash register and the cow and the horse that came out of the Lincoln Logs box.  

Part of his issue that day could be attributed, at least in part, to the neglect and resulting abuse he'd experience that morning in the hotel room.  After a leisurely time of cartoon-viewing with Hillary and then with Gigi and Papa Kurt, he had to accompany his mother back to their boring room.  Not all of us get out of bed looking as cute as Spencer.  We made it through quite a few hurdles, but then I made the fateful decision to go for the gold and apply some eye make-up.  It takes concentration, time, limited range of motion.  It renders you vulnerable to Spencer's shenanigans.

I looked over to see him standing on top of the toilet tank--not the toilet seat.  It was a big, tall hotel room toilet.  He was only a yard or so away from me.  I looked at him.  His eyes twinkled.  I said something having to do with "No" and "Be careful" or "Get down."  And, then, in slow motion, he started jumping up and down--one of his signature moves when he knows he's doing something he shouldn't be doing and he's getting called out for it.  Jumping up and down.  He jumped for what felt like an eternity.  And then, one last time, just down.  I think he did a sort of front flip.  I think his face hit the toilet seat and then also the floor.  It all happened so fast, and in addition to bruising and abrading a good deal of his face, it must have scared him, because he was hysterical.  He falls a lot, and he gets hurt a lot.  And he doesn't get that upset very often. And there I'd been so proud of myself for not letting him get his tooth brush into the toilet even one time.  Yeah, that would'a been dangerous.

After that little adventure, he was wounded, body and spirit.  Thankfully, a little fresh air did us all a world of good.  We strolled through downtown, my once stroller-hating infant, now tolerates it fairly well, especially if you keep it moving at a nice brisk pace.  He wasn't in the mood for a lot of browsing, but I was.  And in a family, we all have to make sacrifices.  Don't worry.  His sacrifice was certainly not too great.   He also got to romp around outside with Sam's dog Butter, which was probably the highlight of Spencer's Louisiana Christmas.

I had brought the video camera to capture Spencer playing with my cousin Sam (who is seven).  I had even charged the battery and made sure all of the settings were right.  I so wanted to look back some day and watch footage of Spencer interacting playfully with my aunts and uncles, all who had lovingly entertained and endured me when they were the age I am now.  I had visions.  They were not realized.  And, that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about.  While Spencer has spunk and drive and passion rivaling that of his mother's, he is not me.  Deep, isn't it?

Sometimes it's really difficult for me to watch him refuse to jump in and play and interact with people.  I'm just thinking, "It's so fun!  What is wrong?  Don't fuss and look away and squirm when someone (who is not creepy!) smiles at you and speaks to you kindly!!!"  But a lesson I'm having to learn, especially around the holidays, is that Spencer is not comfortable with that.  And just because I was / am does not make me right.  And it does not make him wrong.  It makes us different.  It makes me a little crazy.  Ha!  But it makes him special.  And it certainly makes his smiles and interactions more valuable, at least according to the law of scarcity.

And, so eventually we packed it all back up, approximately twenty nine hours later, and headed home.  Spencer, again, did amazing well in the car (much better than he did on the trip as a whole).  And, as testimony to his enduring spirit, he stayed awake the WHOLE drive home.  We rolled in at 10:00 p.m., with a wide awake toddler who saved all of his screaming for the moment I attempted to get him out of the car.  I won't say it to him, but I'll say it to you--Weirdo!

P.S.  Clearly, my time to take pictures was severely limited.  A big shout out to *Holly for a couple of these gems.  Including this fabulous one of her hubby.

*A nickname created by me for my sister Hillary.  The evolution of the various sister nicknames is a whole 'nother blog post.


Music Appreciation

Spencer has it.  He brought out his instruments this morning, and wanted to play with them with me.    He conducted most of the songs showcased in "The Wonder Pets Save the Bengal Tiger." 

 I asked him to stand by his instruments and "look at Mommy," so he giggled uncontrollably and ran towards me.  Then, I'd put him back next to his instruments and repeat the command.  Again, explosions of giggles, as he ran at me as fast as he could.  You can see, I managed to get one (poor) shot.  He was pretty proud of himself.

The drum stick has been given new life as a conducting baton, as seen in--you guessed it--"Little Einsteins."  Below, you can see him conducting with his left hand, while making his (own personal) sign for the word "help" with his right hand.  He signed "help" the exact time they said the word on the movie.  He also said it.  It doesn't sound like "help."  It sounds like "he--ump."  And it's staccato.

Also fascinating this morning was the tambourine made to resemble a caterpillar.  When I told him it was a tambourine he corrected me repeatedly with his own version of the word caterpillar.  So, we decided to go with that.  He had initially dragged all his instruments into the kitchen, presumably because that's where I was stationed at the time.  He put the caterpillar tambourine on his head and balanced it perfectly for about ten seconds.  I cheered and rooted for him, and told him, "Wow, that's hard work!"  He was extremely proud of himself and handed the tambourine to me.

In retrospect, I realize that he wanted me to balance it on my head; however, at the time I concluded that he OBVIOUSLY wanted me to play a little something for him to show him the "right" way to use it.  So, I broke out my own personal version of "Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" that I have vague memories of watching a hippie sing on a Nick at Nite commercial many moons ago.  Spencer was mildly amused but asked for it back in the middle of my rendition.  No applause.

It quickly became apparent that we'd veered from his agenda.  He brought me into my room (where he prefers to watch movies these days), and then he climbed on my bed and asked for me to do the same.  Then, he came over and balanced the caterpillar on my head.  Oh, clearly!  What's the fun in playing the tambourine when you can make your mom balance it on her head?

I did pretty well if I do say so myself.  It slipped every now and then, but he was always right there to assist me in returning it to its rightful spot.  

He would walk over and check on me every now and then when he wasn't singing with the Wonder Pets, conducting with his baton, or throwing himself into my pillows.  Taking pictures of it all was harder that you'd think.

So much to say behind that paci and those sparkling blue eyes.  



Someday, Spencer, someone is going to ask me what you were like as a toddler.  It probably won't be you because most boys I know aren't very interested in that sort of thing as it pertains to themselves.  However, IF you happen to be the exception to the rule or IF, more likely, you have a sweet wife who has a little toddler and is puzzled as to his or her unique behavior, I will have this to pass along.

As an "almost" and "just-turned" two year old, you have some favorite activities that include throwing all the pillows off of my bed or off of the bench by the bed or off of the stool in the corner of the room--anything that involves heaving them off of something onto the floor.  We do tell you not to do this.  It seems to fuel your resolve to do it more often and more vigorously.

You also love to run behind, between, and beneath all of the large loropetalum bushes in the flower bed. You love to pull of your socks and any and all sofa cushions.  You LOVE to be chased.  You love it so much that I frequently feel guilty for not chasing you more.  You recently started playing with some Mega Bloks, and you love to stack them up.  You hate it if all of their corners and edges are not in perfect alignment.

"Don't think of it as having my feet on the table.  Think of it as me taking off my socks.  That was just the only way to do  it."
"What?  It's not hard to eat like this!"
You love music.  You sing as much as you are able with any and all of your movies.  That's the number one motivator for you as far as trying to say new words goes.  You add a few "song" words every week.  For a couple of months, you'd sing along with the WonderPets song whenever they'd say "Team work!"  You'd say, "Teeee."  But, last week you decided to add a second syllable.  Now it's more like, "Teee (long pause) mock!"  It's also comforting to me that you do in fact hear the difference between the noises you are making and the actual correct pronunciation of a word.  Sometimes I start to wonder...

Not only do you show off your language skills when there's music (WITH big-eyed cartoon characters singing, dancing, and zooming to it), you are fascinated and delighted with the concept of pitch.  It's hilarious.  Many "Little Einstein's" episodes and some "Dora"'s elaborate on whether a note is high or low.  You are captivated by the discussion.  You grin so big and usually burst into giggles at some point of the discourse.  You love it when they say, "HIGH HIGH, low low..." and so forth.  We play high and low C's on the piano sometimes and you think that's really fun.  We're all very interested to see if this is something that's fun for now or something that will actually keep your attention for later.  You just might be a music lover.

One night after your Papa Kurt witnessed your affinity for all things music, he texted me that he thought you were going to be a musical prodigy.  I read the text to your father, and his exact words were, "Yeah, that or a professional wrestler."  That's how bouncing off the walls, tossing yourself off of furniture, dive-bombing anyone and anything you can be these days.  We'll see who's right.  Someday.

A doctor lover, you are not.  And, to be completely honest, no one blames you right now.  We haven't told you that Papa Kurt is a doctor.  Better that you find out later after you've gained some perspective.  Even lower on your list of "fav's" are nurses--and, again, you've never seen your Gigi in her scrubs and we plan on keeping it that way, at least for now.  And at the complete bottom of the totem pole would be the lab people, aka, blood drawers.  To be fair, from any sampling of adults, you'd get only sympathetic responses with your current stance on blood work.  All in all we are fervently praying that after ten more days on a very strong, side-effect-laden, horrible tasting, but completely invaluable antibiotic, you'll be all better.  Maybe even in time for Christmas.  We miss your fun-loving personality.  It comes out every now and then; but I can tell you don't feel great.  You point to your eyes and tell me about them hurting--you do the same thing with your head.  You're fatigued BUT gaining weight.  We're so hoping for the best possible outcome.

Above all else, you probably have no greater love than that which you feel for your pacifier.  At your 2 year old "well-visit" (for which you were not "well"), the pediatrician said we needed to get rid of it.  I told her that I will not be taking it away from you when you feel horrible.  She seemed ok with that, but pushed me to commit to taking it away once you are feeling better.  If you're totally well in the near-future, we'll work on it.  That just feels like a really big "If."  So, if it ever comes up in counseling--your rigid, perfectionistic mother, stealing your ONLY attachment object at the ripe old age of two--just know that the doctor made me do it.

Eating Cheezits in Sunday School whilst holding your "pass."
Also know that you are one of God's greatest blessings in my life to date.  I love you so much, and I show it so imperfectly most days.  Thanks for hanging in there with me--unfortunately I know all too well that "that's what first-borns are for"--you're doing a great job.


Happy Birthday, Spencer!

Dear Older, Stronger, Louder, Heavier Spencer,

Your daddy and I (and quite a few other people) love you so much.  You are sweet and adamant and sensory seeking.  You give hugs and open mouth kisses one minute and throw yourself into backwards ariels on the bed the next.  As your little personality blossoms and your language helps us understand more and more of who you are, I'm shocked by the amazing continuity I've observed.  So much of who you are has not changed one iota since the day I met you.  You've always had a flare for the dramatic and a fairly short fuse--I have no idea from whom you inherited either of those traits.

You kept us on our toes the day of your birth.  You decided to pull some sort of physical gymnastics when it was time for me to deliver you, and as a result, your heart rate plummeted (perhaps gymnastics are best reserved for the days you are not full-term and tethered to an umbilical cord).  All sorts of machines beeped, and people ran in, others were told to leave the room, they flipped me over, stuck an oxygen mask on me, and I thought, "Well, this is it.  They're going to cut me open right here and yank that baby out."  Thankfully, they got you back to where you needed to be.  Interestingly, this was just the first of many physical maneuvers by you that has scared the living daylights out of all those around to observe your antics.

After letting you "rest" for a while in utero, we tried again to deliver you safely.  You didn't want to rotate around so that your head would face a favorable direction for being born, and you won.  The doctor (and probably God) finally succeeded in convincing you to rotate halfway around, and we all had to agree to disagree and just get you "born!"  To this day, I'm in awe at the poetic foreshadowing in the commentary by the obstetrician in response to your refusal to rotate.  I will never forget when he looked at me and said, "He's certainly going to have his own perspective on life."  

It was quite disturbing for a me, a woman with some child-care experience to speak of, to watch my baby scream himself purple because he was having his diaper changed, or being bathed, or being put in clean clothing, or being held by his father.  A. little. dramatic.   Truly, to this day I feel like not much has changed.  But really everything has.  In twenty four months you've gone from a completely helpless newborn to a little boy who runs and talks and loves and sings.

You had fun at your second birthday party.  Unlike last year, when playing with toys was very low on the list compared to taking over the world via gross motor acceleration, you've truly spent hours playing with your new toys.  Your favorite new toy of the day is Backpack.  You opened it early on in the process and held onto it tightly no matter what else you unwrapped.  You've been playing with all of your new things, but it's obvious there is a special place in your heart for Backpack.

One of the cutest things I've seen you do to date happened the morning after your birthday.  I walked in to see you helping one of your new "dog dogs" play your new piano.

You really enjoy seeing what components of each toy are compatible with each other and with other toys.  You are convinced the stop light from your Little People car wash is the perfect size to sit on top of the mechanic's head.  And, apparently, you're right.

Just like last year, every toy you opened had to be opened all the way.  Someday you'll understand how inconvenient this is.  Unlike last year, when you were running laps around the room showing everyone each newly opened gift, you sat fairly still, much more focused on the actual toy and what it could do for you.   Not that the running has come to an end!  You had engaged in plenty of running and bouncing outside at the beginning of your party--maybe that was the difference.

Unlike last year, when you refused to even be served a piece of cake, you ate a little bit of lunch and then answered, "'Kay," to my inquiry of whether you'd like a cupcake.  Unlike last year, when you preferred to be held by your Mommy in a room full of loving relatives, you happily sat in your chair and worked on your lunch and cupcake for a good seven minutes.

Unlike last year, we were unable to trick you into wearing any sort of headdress.  You didn't care if this was your birthday or that I'd bought adorable dog-ears to go along with your dog-themed party.  You were NOT wearing them.  I didn't particularly blame you, because headbands give me a headache.  But your Nana did try a few more times on her own--to no avail.

Just like last year, we have no idea what new adventures the next twelve months will bring; but your dad and I are so humbled that God chose us to be with you along the way.