Monday, December 6, 2010

Please Don't Call CPS

I think I've failed as a parent. At the tender age of 2.6 years old, Ben and Emma have fallen deep into their first obsession; Nora and I have not only witnessed, but fueled, their problem. It started so innocently, as I suppose these things always do, but it's reached the point where Ben will fling himself from play structures and Emma will direct her tricycle directly into a field of rocks. I watch in horror as my toddlers fill their tiny bodies with bumps and bruises, all in the name of obtaining an an object that is literally trash within a matter of days.

Yes, I must come clean and let the world--or at least the few humans who read this blog--that my children are addicted to band-aids.

I can't place the exact day their obsession began. I do know that they've always loved stickers--the gateway to band-aids. Several months ago, after one unfortunate accident or another, a band-aid was issue; Emma may have slipped on one of Ben's cars, or Ben may have thought he had a normal sized head and scraped the bottom of the counter, like a semi truck that won't quite fit under the overpass. Either way, it was the first time that Bemma had witnessed a band-aid with a picture of one of their favorite cartoon characters; Indiana Jones had never seen such a treasure.They were hooked.

They had been living in the world of 'Toyota' band-aids, competent bandages that got the job done. With the arrival of their cartoon friends they had entered the realm of 'Lexus', where pragmatism is trumped by luxury, where the reality of having your favorite cartoon buddy accompany your healing is like having your car parallel park itself. Do you need your car to park itself? Absolutely not. But is it just about the coolest thing ever? Most definitely. In the same vein, Ben and Emma had tasted the sweet elixir of luxury and were forever altered.

It wasn't long after the first 'Lexus' band-aid that their ever-expanding cognition realized that an 'owwy' equaled a band-aid. Once that connection was made, there was no turning back. Our lives turned into an endless cycle of benign accident, band-aid, benign accident, band-aid, benign accident....

And on the occasions when they actually got hurt, oh heaven help us!

It's gotten to the point now that Emma's complaining of curious internal ailments--the kind for which Nora and I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a tangible sympton--leaving us no choice but to offer a band-aid to soothe her. I'm at a loss. My daughter is 2years old and she's playing me like I'm a cheap set of golf clubs. What am I going to do when she's 5, 8, 12, and--I can hardly think it--17!!

And Ben, while lacking his sister's subtle sophistication, is just as fierce when it comes to determination. As he's falling to the ground he'll start crying for a band-aid, and will persist--with the fury of a PETA member at a Michael Vick autograph signing party--until he's received the 2 inch adhesive from which all comfort apparently flows.

Everywhere I walk in my house, I find used band-aids. It's gross. And weird. And hilarious. I guess there could be worse obsessions, but I still need some time to process this one.

I'll leave you with two thoughts. If you see Bemma and their faces, arms, legs, elbows, stomach, and ears are covered in band-aids, please don't call CPS. We aren't throwing our children into cacti...they're doing that on their own.

And, if you want to know the perfect Christmas gift for Bemma, look no farther than the drug store, the bandage aisle, to be exact. But remember, the band-aid must have a cartoon, because Ben and Emma have tasted luxury, and they're certainly not turning back.

Friday, November 19, 2010

SAHD No More!

If you're ever tempted to take two 2.5 year olds on a 4 day car ride along America's Pacific coast, I have one piece of advice: invest in a plane ticket and show your chlildren the wonders of a pressurized cabin.

Is a plane overwhelming? Yes. Do some of the other passengers act as if your children are the latest strain of H1N1? Yes. Will you tingle with embarassment when you're daughter announces, "I GO POOOPY!"? Probably. But I contend that an airplane trip--even a miserable one--is like quickly removing a band-aid from the arm. A 4 day car trip is like developing an infection in the arm, which turns to gang green, and eventually results in a two-week hospital stay and an amputation. Either way, the band-aid is removed. And this angst is flowing from the parent that spent 90% of the trip in the U-haul...alone...with satellite radio. I'd love to hear Nora and my mom's take on the trip!

Last Wednesday Bemma, Nora, and I bid farewall to the Great Northwest and departed Washougal. 4 days later we pulled up to our new home in Phoenix, AZ to begin our new chapter of life. I'm the new preacher at Northgate Church of Christ and Nora is, once again, a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom). Since I last blogged, our life has been a rapid succession of very impactful realizations, epiphanies, opportunities and decisions that has resulted--almost exactly a year later--in us returning to our original parenting roles.

Almost as quickly as it began, my time as a SAHD has ended. I wasn't sure exactly how I'd feel when the roles reversed again, and I honestly haven't spent a lot of time examining my feelings about it all, so I guess I'll do that right now in an honest 'journaling' moment.


I loved my last few months as a SAHD. I embraced it. For the first several months of being a SAHD, I was conflicted. I was thankful to not be doing a job that felt pointless and ate my soul, but I also felt out of place. It played with my 'man pride' to be the stay at home parent, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer task of taking care of twin toddlers. There was also a palbable tension with Nora, because she didn't want to work. Not full time. Not night shift. But in the situation we found ourselves, it was the most pragmatic thing to do.

I was going to school and the goal was to switch roles again in 2-3 years, but for Nora--and me, really--2-3 years felt like a mountain of time that we would never scale. I was often irritable with my role as a SAHD, which compounded Nora's frustration, because the thing I was frustrated about was the very thing she most wanted to do with her life. Thankfully, Nora is one of the most gentle, patient, intuitive people I know, and she did not unleash the confusion or frustration my temperment must have caused in her. In an act of selflessness, she carried a load she could hardly bear so that I could pursue a career that would provide me with a sense of contentment and purpose. She gave up something precious for me. I learned a valuable truth about love from her during that time.

One way or another we slogged on through the dreary winter of 2009/10 and plodded through our roles, like kids wearing shoes on the wrong feet. I found solace in school, in pursuing something besides being a SAHD. When I look back on that time I realize that when I talked to people I would always make it very clear that yes, I was a SAHD, but I was going to school to pursue a new career. Such an act betrayed my lack of true comfort with the role.

Soon after Bemma turned 2, I went through a few liberating experiences that reframed my view of myself and brought calm to the chaos that had been my self-esteem. It was when I finally began to feel at peace with who I am that I finally began to really embrace my role as a SAHD. That is also when we began our domino decision making process that rapidly led from me pursuing a career in nursing and being a SAHD, to the realization that it is time for me embrace the job I was originally trained for, but was only now prepared for. Basically, I'm very content in my new role, as is Nora. Our shoes are on the right feet and the toes of our hearts can wiggle in comfort.

I don't miss being a SAHD, but I'm grateful I spent a year in that role. I have a relationship now with Bemma that is deep and wide and full of memories forged in the monotony of parks, nature walks, nap times, tantrums, diapers, and Barney. I have a bucket of diamonds in my heart and mind, experiences I was able to witness firsthand. For a solid year I got to experience every wonderful, awful, perfect, and chaotic moment of their life. I've never had a harder job, and I don't think I ever will. Ben and Emma are wonderful, and I will always treasure my year as their SAHD.

So now a new chapter begins, but my blog will continue. Writing about parenting has been a great avenue for me to decompress, vent, share and connect with other parents. It's a topic ripe with content, and being a dad, even one who works, is a journey that needs to be shared. To that end I will continue chronicling as the blogger formerly known as SAHD. :)

Maybe in the next blog I'll spend more time detailing our trip to Phoenix. Maybe. I'll have to interview Nora and my mom first, so I can get all the juicy details of what happened in our car while I was driving the U-Haul, lost in the adult calm of NPR's programming...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tis The Season...

The first virus of the season is packing up his things before leaving our house and moving on to the next unsuspecting family. I won't say he's been a good house guest, but compared to some of his colleagues, I guess he wasn't the worst. Don't get me wrong, I didn't appreciate his gifts of fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and earth-spinning nausea, but at least none of those gifts landed any member of my family in the hospital, like some of his peers have done.

As he zips up his suitcase, I sit with the odd realization that I've garnered a sense of respect for this particular virus, because he took it easy on the ladies and the children. Nora had to deal with some light 'symptoms' and Ben did line his bed with a lovely shade of vomit one night and had several rounds of diarrhea, but he's still been pretty playful. And Ms. Emma showed little regard for our intruder, producing nothing more than an evening's worth of fever.When he showed up, Emma sized up the virus and his threats and said, "I'll give you one night of a fever, but nothing more". And the virus, who must have had previous experience with female toddlers spun from Emma's yarn, did not argue or try to sneak in any of his other 'treats'.

As it turns out, Mr. Virus really felt bonded to Daddy. I spent yesterday and the better part of today lost in a forest of puke trees and diarrhea streams; I oscillated between clinging to the cool of our bathroom floor like a barnacle on a rock, and laying in bed, as still as possible, out of the fear that any movement might shift the contents of my GI tract, further stirring the pot of my misery. At 11:13pm last night I sat with my behind planted on the toilet, while holding a giant green bowl in my hands. Meanwhile, the kids rested peacefully and Nora respected the fact that I needed to go it alone in my dual-orifice purging adventure. As my world spun, and the color disappeared from my face, a respect for the virus grew deep in my unsettled abdomen. I thanked him for choosing me to be the main beneficiary of his visit. As a dad and husband, it's definitely easier to be the one suffering.

Looking back on the last couple of days, I'm left with a couple of reflections. First of all, 'sick season' is officially here, ending--more so than cold weather, the fall equinox, or even our ridiculous rain--the lovely season of summer. Summer is such a magical time with kids; the entire outdoors becomes a play area, the sun shines regularly, filling us all with appropriate levels of vitamin D, the days are full of light, there's plenty of fresh fruit and frozen treats, and the viruses go into relative hibernation. It seems that in the summer of 2010, I took for granted the virus hibernation, which seems crazy since one-year old Emma was ravaged by a string of viruses/asthma that made her sick for a month straight, and landed her in the hospital with dangerously low oxygen levels. Yet, a few weeks ago, when I began grieving the onset of fall, and the dark winter to come, the viruses and infections weren't at the top of my list of concerns. Our weekend house guest-virus reminded me just how long, dark, and dreary winter can really be.

My second reflection is the silver lining on this dark cloud of a blog post: sick toddlers are different than sick babies. During winters 1 and 2, when Bemma were 6-12mos and then 18-24mos, the onset of a virus or infection would take our relatively placid babies, fill them with red bull and gasoline, and then light a match. The result would be an explosion of anger, irritability, bodily fluids, and screaming that could not be soothed. Based on those experiences, I was horrified to see what effect a virus would have on my fiery, independent, strong-willed toddlers...especially Emma.

I was ecstatic to discover that this virus turned our restless, chatty, independent, strong-willed, fiery toddlers into a subdued, relaxed version of themselves. Emma even seemed slightly amused, a sweet smile on her face as she reclined, one foot crossed over the other, and 'chilled' with her fever; there have been few times I've seen her be sweeter.  Ben did become more whiny than usual, but he also slept through the night, even after vomiting in his bed. Don't get me wrong. I wish the poor guy would've given us at least a little whimper so we could change his PJs and his bedding, but that kind of stoicism seems to be more common in sick toddler Bemma, as opposed to the explosive panic sick baby Bemma exuded.

I guess it's all a part of them being bigger, stronger, more aware of their world and the things going on. Whereas last winter there was little or nothing to comfort sick Bemma, watching 'Curious George' or 'Barney' now seems to do the trick.  Plus they can talk to us about what's going on, which really is game-changer, because guessing which internal organ is causing your baby's discomfort is a nightmare. I can't count the number of times we looked at baby Bemma asking, "Does your head/ear/throat/tummy/ hurt?!" And of course they would just stare back and...CRY!

Now that our house guest has done his damage and has one foot out the door, I really hope he tells all his buddies that our house was lame. But I get the sense that those virus characters aren't too picky. They'll crash just about anywhere. So, on that note, I will officially say goodbye to summer--oh how I'll miss you!!--and then promptly make an appointment for us all to get our flu shots.

By the way, I'm totally aware that this post is a downer, but what can I do. This is my life. My life with Bemma.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star...'

Our family has a new bed time ritual. After the jammies are on, the teeth are brushed, the nightlight is plugged in, and the white noise is turned on, Nora and I each scoop up a child, sit down and sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star', 'You Are My Sunshine', and 'Rock A By Baby', usually in that order. The glowing stars that Emma and I hung on the walls glow with satisfaction while B & E let go of the day's activities, their funnel of energy dissipating into the simple serenity of their favorite lullabies.

It has become my favorite part of the day, but not in an obvious way. I seem to forget how amazing the moment is until it's upon me. In the 20 minutes leading up to bedtime I'm usually looking forward to the moments after the kids are asleep that Nora and I will have to eat, watch TV, read, and any other assortment of 'parent' activities a person might think of. It's not until Bemma's room is filled with the twinkle of the stars, and either Emma or Ben is snuggled into me, that I remember, "Oh yeah, this moment of the day is great!" About four nights ago 'great' got a major promotion to 'phenomenal', because Ben started singing along.

Since we started the ritual, Nora has encouraged the kids to sing along, but the other night Ben took her up on the offer...and I couldn't stop smiling. My sometimes reserved--and always car crazy--little boy joined in our rendition of  'Twinkle, Twinkle' with a confidence that made me wonder if he'd been signed as the 'fourth tenor'.  He didn't sing every word, but the sporadic 'Twinkle', 'Star', 'High', and 'Sky' that he did manage to sing were delivered with enthusiasm. When he first sang with us I was so caught up in how stinkin' cute he sounded, and how into it he was, that I couldn't take my eyes off of him, even though it was too dark to even see his face.

Emma hasn't joined in yet. I think she's still in shock that the brother who throws himself on the ground in tears when she steals his 'red car' has the courage to belt out his own remake of the timeless lullabies. In the darkness, I can't see her face either, but I'm pretty sure her eyes are fixed on him while he sings; she's studying him, trying to figure out how he can, at certain moments, throw caution to the wind and jump into a situation that makes her nervous. She'll spend her whole life studying him in that way, and in the process will probably learn how to overcome many of her own fears. Such is the gift of a twin, I suppose.

Once the songs are done and they're each tucked in with their multiple bed companions (at this point I think they each have 4 blankets, 4 blanket animals, 3 stuffed animals, 2 books,  1 pillow, and at least one other personal item) I float out of their room, weightless on the simple joy of listening to my 2.4 year old son sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'. At the end of a long day--when I've run the gauntlet of parenting emotion--my time singing with my kids, and especially Ben's precious voice, are the perfect nightcap. It leaves things on a high note, which helps me feel motivated to do it all again in less than 12 hours.

It sure beats the way we use to end the day when they were newborns/infants: a 45 minute bottle-feeding session in darkened silence, followed by 45 minutes of earnest hoping and praying that they would go to sleep, and stay asleep. But those memories are for a blog that's yet to be written. (In case you haven't noticed, I seem to be avoiding the 'Newborn' portion of my Timeline Series. I think those wounds are still healing...I'm joking of course...but not really.)

It's the little moments in time--like Ben's singing--that keep a parent going. My unending love for them keeps me invested and dedicated, but it is the songs of 'Twinkle, Twinkle', Emma's pleas to be tickled, Ben's infectious laugh, and a handful of other random child-parent connections that make being a parent something I look forward to. Such moments in time are like gas stations on life's road; they fill you up, give you a moment of relief, and remind you that the best moments of your trip are happening while you journey.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Heroes Wanted

Charles Barkley--the enigmatic basketball player who has become a walking fountain of alternating humorous, controversial, and wise sound bites--once said, "I'm not paid to be a role model...I'm paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court...parents should be role models."

He uttered this infamous statement in the mid 1990s at the height of his basketball fame, when he and Michael Jordan were battling not only for the NBA championship, but also the hero-worship of America's youth; turns out Sir Charles was not comfortable with being the hero of millions of children who weren't his own.

I was a member of America's youth when Barkley made the comment, and it really didn't phase me. I happily thrust all my hero-worship onto Air Jordan and Ken Griffey Jr. It is only now, as Bemma's eagle eyes and sponge brain observe and absorb every word, sight, action, emotion and nuance around them, that I have a real opinion on Barkley's comment. And I have to say, "I agree with you 100%, Chuck."

Lately Ben and Emma are looking at me in a different way. I don't mean in an emotional or nostalgic way. I mean that they are literally looking at me differently; the expressions on their face, the concentration on their brow, the width and tracking of their eye balls--you know, the physical cues of the face--are different when they look at me. It started happening a few weeks ago, and at first I wasn't sure what to make of it, so I didn't make anything of it. I figured it was a physical development thing along the lines of their soft spots closing, their bones calcifying, or their vocabulary expanding. And then the other day I realized that the facial cues, and the emotional wave they rode on, were oddly familiar. It hit me. My kids are looking at me the way I used to look at Michael Jordan!! Within seconds my realization gave way to joy; but as I replayed the video in my brain titled 'Childhood Hero Worship', panic knocked my joy right out of the ballpark; Griffey Jr. would have been proud.

I was panicked because of the pedestal on which I'd placed my childhood heroes. For all I knew as a kid, Michael Jordan was the right hand of God, placed on this earth to show kids like me how to shoot basketballs, wear shoes, and defeat animated space aliens with the help of his Looney Tune friends. My childhood naivete was blind to the gambling, ego centrism, adultery, and general lack of moral character that was Jordan's life off of the court. It frightened my adult daddy mind that my childhood psyche had placed such significance in the words and actions of a man whose life reeked of emptiness.

In my moment of panic I could no longer deny the feeling that'd been ruminating deep in my consciousness since the twins were born: I am Bemma's Hero; this is the greatest responsibility and honor that I've ever been given.

My insecurities, shame, self-loathing, and unresolved childhood insecurities had, up to that moment, stopped me from embracing the fact that my children revere me. From that place in time, however, my role as 'daddy hero' has been circulating in my mind like a lone piece of clothing in a dryer. And as the idea has made it's rotations my panic has softened, my fear has melted, and I am excited, happy to put on my daddy cape (I refuse to wear tights) and teach my kids what it means to be a human on this planet we call home.

The fact of the matter is that Bemma are going to idolize someone. It's what kids do; it's how they learn. When they study me, scrutinizing the way I speak, spread the peanut butter on their toast, respond to Nora, or interact with strangers, they are learning how to behave. And if I don't deal with my issues and fully embrace the task that has been given me, they will choose to idolize the current generation of athletes/pop stars/social icons. Such a thought is horrifying, not because those people are bad people, but because they are not Bemma's parents; they will never care a mili-fraction as much as Nora or I care. If I let my fear of being a hero to my children stand in the way, my kids will turn to someone else. I'm not okay with that.

So, fully aware of my humanity, I proclaim to anyone who cares to listen, "I'm Bemma's hero."

There will be people in the world who will capture Bemma's admiration, and I'd be a fool if I believed otherwise. But for the rest of my life I will wake up each morning and remind myself that I choose to be the one that Ben and Emma emulate. This reminder will keep me humble, and it will keep me motivated.

Sir Charles, if I ever meet you I will shake your hand and thank you for placing the burden of responsibility right back on us parents. Thank you for not letting us off the hook.

So what do you think, are you ready to be a hero? I'm done trying to figure out what being 'ready' means. All I know is that today I will love my kids with selfless, reckless abandon. And when I mess up and say a harsh word, or ignore a desperate plea, I will not be derailed or hang up my cape. Instead, I will choose again--in that raw moment--to keep loving.

Monday, September 6, 2010

'Picture in Picture'

I learned a powerful truth this weekend: my kids are always with me, even if they're 3,000 miles away.

I'm amused that as soon as I write down this revelation it sounds like an obvious statement. All parents must know this, right? The reality is that I've known this truth, but I've never been apart from Bemma long enough to feel it. This weekend I felt it.

This past Friday I embarked on a two night jaunt to visit my grandma in Ohio. Gram and I share a special bond that was forged in the furnace of my early childhood. Her love has always been true and pure, a fortress of acceptance in a world full of people trying to discourage. I don't see her often, but I felt it was time to reunite, even if only for a crayon box of hours. As always, our time was rich. I learned a long time ago with Gram what I'm now learning about Bemma: she is always with me, even when we're 3,000 miles apart.

For weeks leading up to this trip--particularly when Ben and Emma were being especially 2ish-- I've fantasized about how I'd pass my time in the airports and airplanes; I'd drift away in the excitement of how I'd soon be able to sip a beverage and read a book without having to worry if Emma had broken into the bathroom and was brushing her teeth with the toilet bowl cleaner or if Ben had hopped the toddler gate and reprogrammed our computer so that it plays an endless loop of 'Thomas and Friends' videos. I reveled in the simplicity of being able to breeze through security and stroll through the airport, responsible only for myself and my belongings, which on that day wouldn't include a pink and blue diaper bag or two tiny people in tow. I was confident that I'd observe other parents traveling with their kids, take a moment of silence to honor their bravery, and then retreat to a quiet corner, snickering all the way.

And when the trip arrived, I sipped my beverages, read my book, and breezed through with my simple belongings, all with deep satisfaction. But when I observed the brave parents and their children I didn't snicker or run away. Instead, I was frozen, mesmerized by other people's children who in no way looked like Ben or Emma, and yet somehow looked exactly like Ben and Emma.

A dad walked the terminal, toddler daughter in hand, and all I saw was Emma's tiny palm and saucer eyes reaching for me. A little boy bounded from window to window and all I could hear was Ben's jumbled exclamations as he marveled at the giant airplanes. A family of three sleeps two rows behind me, woven together like a pretzel, and all I can feel is the warmth and gentle presence of my wife as our children settle into us and our four heartbeats meld into one living family.

Now, don't get the wrong idea. I loved my freedom, savored the uninterrupted adult conversations, and drank in my book ('Running with the Buffaloes'), but, in light of my pre-trip expectations, I'm a little surprised by the vice grip my toddlers have on my consciousness. I guess I wasn't being over the top in my previous blog ('Falling in Love') when I said that Ben and Emma have wrapped their vines around my heart.

The weirdest thing is that it wasn't even like I desperately missed Bemma. I wasn't calling them every moment to hear their voice or aching inside because they weren't with me. More than anything, I realized that they are at the center of my universe. Every conversation I had, picture I saw, song I heard, or place I went invariably connected back to them. I wasn't that guy that constantly talked about his kids, but it turns out that I am that guy whose family is the sun around which his world orbits. As I explained to dozens of strangers that I was wearing Vibram Five Fingers, not socks, a deep and still part of me was wondering which part of the playground Ben was playing on, and which food item Emma would be smearing on her face and hair when she ate her next meal.

From a scientific perspective, it's kind of fascinating. It's as if my mind has created a new feature that is devoted to Bemma, kind of like using the 'picture in picture' feature on your television. Whatever is happening around me is visible on the main screen, but I've always got on eye on the little box in the corner, attune to what my kids are up to. I may have been in the Eastern Time Zone, but my heart remained faithfully on Bemma Standard Time; I'd check my watch and instead of reading 1:34 pm, I'd know it was almost nap time.

It's been an enlightening experience, and now, as I soar 30,000 feet above America's heartland, I can readily admit that I miss my kids and can't wait to kiss my wife.

Before I sign off and dive back into my book I've got to add one more thing. As a dad, I sometimes hear a social whisper telling me that I should want to get away from my family, as if my manhood might wither away under the scorching presence of my wife and kids if I don't get the relief of time spent away. And while there is wisdom in having time to recharge my batteries, I reject the idea that to fully embrace my family, and all the minutiae that entails, is to sacrifice my manhood.

I have a wife and two kids, and they are my life. The revelations from this trip have crystallized my conviction that I am a family man. And in rebuttal to the social whisper, I can honestly say that I've never felt more 'manly' than in the moments when I love my wife and children with patience, selflessness, and gentleness. Being 3,000 miles away gave me the clarity to fully embrace my role as husband and father.

And now I'll sign off because I really want to finish my book, and all of us parents know that I have a better chance of making that happen in the pressurized confines of this airplane than in the toy jungle that is my house.

Yes, I'm excited to get home, turn off 'picture in picture', and put my family back on the main screen...

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I think somebody has put toddler Miracle Gro in my kids' juice, because their physical developmental seems to have grown at an exponential rate this summer. On the outside things are about the same; they look a little older but are pretty much the same half-pint tikes they were four months ago. Yet, their physical strength and coordination, verbal skills, and sense of independence has exploded onto the scene in a way that has me scrutinizing the ingredients on their daily vitamin to make sure they're not ingesting some kind of baby steroid, which would be a disaster, because we all saw what PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) did to Barry Bonds' cranium, and I just don't think Ben's noggin could handle any kind of artificial growth enhancement.

All summer I've been noticing a slow uptick in Bemma's skills--they're running farther and faster, they're conquering new parts of the playground, Emma's putting choke holds on Ben, Ben's tackling Emma, they're jumping from higher platforms with more graceful landings, they can shoot a basketball from a few feet away, they can run and kick a soccer ball, and they can hike up to the park above our house, a trek that once seemed impossible--but this morning I took them on a 'nature walk' at Lacamas Lake and I was struck by their progression.

We haven't had many 'nature walks' this summer because of the ridiculous amount of mosquitoes that like to treat Bemma like their own personal buffet, but this past spring I took Bemma to the trail at least once a week. We watched ants, beetles, and centipedes scurry through the twigs and rocks, dodged runners, hid from the big dogs, marched with leaves and on the rare occasion we even witnessed a bunny. We'd usually make it anywhere from .5-1.0 miles round trip and the final .25 was usually the 'daddy caravan' segment of the journey when weary Bemma begged to be carried back to the car. When we began the ritual I was very pleased with how far the kids could go and was especially impressed by their running stride (they naturally have a 'barefoot stride').

It was a great time that came to a crashing halt on our first warm June day when the mosquitoes rose from the lake brush and descended upon us like an attacking horde; before we realized what was happening they were on us, and by the time we scooped Bemma up and deposited them back in the safety of our Hyundai Tucson, little red bumps were beginning to show and the torturous itch was beginning to burn. In that moment I decided the mosquitoes could have the trail for the summer and we'd find somewhere new to explore.

And that's what we did. All summer we avoided the trail, and then today, as our August 29th started off cloudy and 52 degrees--which is a travesty I won't even begin to lament--I wagered that the mosquitoes must have decreased in number and ferocity and we returned to the trail.

Bemma hit the trail running...literally. A lady was beginning her run as we were beginning our 'nature walk' and Bemma ran with her for a few yards before settling into a nice hiking rhythm. After 1.0 mile of round trip walking, hopping, running and walking-stick-gathering, I figured they'd be ready for a rest and a snack. Nope. They wanted to throw rocks into the lake like the big boy who was doing it on the trail. So we found a safe spot and they threw rocks and wood chips into the lake. Surely they were ready for a break now, right? Not quite. They wanted to go check out the Canadian Geese and then throw some more rocks into a mini-valley that ran through the grass.

At that point I coaxed them into eating a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie and drinking some water. After the quick pit stop they were throwing their water bottles into the mini-valley and then going in after them, all the while trying to avoid the thorn bush at the bottom. At that point I was more than tired and ready to go home, but I also wanted to see how much gas Bemma had left in their tank, so I directed them to the playground.

I took a seat and watched as my duo raced over the playground like the brightly colored wooden pieces kids push around the metal wires at Doctor's offices. I realized that in a little over two months my children had increased their 'playing stamina' at least three fold, probably more. This revelation filled me with wonder, thankfulness, and pride. The marathoner in me knows the joy that comes with conquering a physical obstacle that had previously seemed unattainable. As Bemma roamed, I recognized that same joy in their playful mutterings, peaceful smiles and confident movements. Where once there were babies who babbled and toddlers who toppled, there are now children, little people pushing the limits of their development each and every day, and I feel honored to facilitate and observe.

I'm hoping to do a 50k trail run in 2011. If Ben and Emma keep developing on this curve they might not only be joining me, they could be my pacers...but only if there's a chance to see bunnies and throw rocks into the lake.


BTW: The picture is from the 'blue park' and was taken by Aunt Tracy last week. I didn't have any pictures from today, but I think this one does a good job conveying the meaning.