There would be no snow in March, surely. Surely it was a practical joke by someone on Twitter, by those incompetent weathermen, by God. No snow in March in our sweet Virginia, state of lovers and geriatric little mountains and hardly anything deadly. I'd already seen a butterfly, for crying out loud.
There was snow in March.
Our Alaskan friends let us know how very much warmer and unsnowy it was up there.
It came, like the White Witch nobody invited to spring's birthday party, and it went like it realized that it was not welcome. It ghosted with no follow-up refreeze and ice, for once.
But then, spring: spring's fury. It's not a furious season, is it? Maybe it's we that are furiously, dog-at-a-hose drinking it. Suddenly all is life and carousels and daffodils and flip-flops and cherry blossoms and walks and tulips and skirts, oh, and the smell of fertilizer and pesticide in mulch.
I hunt it with my lenses; formerly elusive prey now preens in front of me and taunts me by jumping out of the way with a breeze at the last minute. We plaster the internet with spring; it becomes a shrine to hope, or to plant propagation, or whatever you make of it.
The crowds descended upon the city for peak bloom--such a doomsday name, such an enthusiastic crowd. We all got on trains and highways and rushed headlong into sweaty human gridlock. Cameras outstretched, selfies happening, picnics being spread, branches being shaken because kids cannot resist the mesmerizing petal rain. (And thankfully there were volunteers to stop that.) Rugby players gathered to do jovial violence to one another; ultimate frisbee players--skinny and nimble and sober--have taken over their spot on the National Mall.
I got a sunburn.
We have petals in our hair, between our toes, in our pockets and the cracks of our books. Our parking lot is drowning in them, a swirling sea of pink and white. The kids dive their fingers in, amazed at all the life where there was death just last week. They toss them into the air, because they cannot resist the mesmerizing petal rain. I sit on the curb to watch, and we actually see our neighbors for once.
My girl picks me flower after flower. She hears a motorcycle roar by and asks if it's a lion. My boy brings me bouquets of rocks and poisoned mulch, "Dee-oo-doh Mama!". They go to bed exhausted and sweaty and dirty--sometimes baths and sheet-washing have to wait for the morning. We have our priorities here, after all.
The naked trees put on their pearls, then their pink dresses and then their green boas, and we start thinking about settling in for the long, sweet Virginia summer.
This is a boring hi-we're-really-still-here post.
It's March. March, I tell you. And we're still slogging through ice and snow and reading weather predictions for ice pellets (didn't pan out, thankfully). At least our first winter back from Okinawa was a good, solid one, with lots of coats and boots and snow-eating and just enough days with frostbite warnings. But I can't keep enough lotion on these hands and pretty soon my finger tips are just going to up and fall off so we're kind of ready to move on, too. Evangeline has moved from "When is it going to snow??" to "Why is winter soooo looooong?" so yeah. And I've obtained a hobby of losing my chapstick and making the Paterfamilias buy me more and more and more. I just feel like we're ready to put a check next to winter.
I had a minor existential crisis the other day when I realized that I'm hitting the big 3-0 this year and, more importantly, my baby girl is turning FIVE. I may or may not have teared up in the middle of choir practice when I realized that.
I've been reading Afghan Post by Adrian Bonenberger, and though to be honest my main motivations for picking it up were obligation (since we know him, and I feel obligated to read books by people we know) and curiosity, I am finding it really interesting and even enlightening, since he had some very similar experiences to my husband. More on this one later. The other book that recently arrived in my life that I'm excited about: Sally Patrick Johnson's A Book of Princesses, which is going to keep both mom and princess-daughter happy.
On the menu: slightly less coffee. Yes, in this house! Thanks to a family-wide bout of the stomach bug followed by a parent-wide nasty sore throat, we've taken our consumption down from two French presses per day (and more) to one, and I'm feeling much healthier.
Speaking of healthier: I just joined the local Masters Swim team and it feels ridiculously good to be back in the pool. Even if 5 AM and freezing freezing weather on my way to the pool does not feel good. I'm already wondering if they have it in Belgium. (Every time I say something about "in Belgium" I have to consciously un-Doctor-Evil my speech pattern.)
Eva and I have officially started homeschoolingish. She's four and a half and we're starting in on an easy kindergarten curriculum. With our next 8 months of life really up in the air (and the possibility of putting her in Belgian school looming) it felt like the right time for some consistent book-learnin', and she is eating it up. Now I finally have an answer for all the DC metro-area moms that ask "But isn't she in school yet??"
We've been doing the "Sonship" study with our church, and let me say this: if you have the chance, do it. (I guess it's a Presbyterian/PCA thing, but at least our church will let you come if you don't attend.) I've been lulled into complacency with many of the studies I've traipsed through in groups recently, but this one gets to the heart of so many matters. The main focus is on grasping what it means to truly be adopted by God.
In the CD player: The Great God and His Big Story by Brook Hills Music. Kids' music, but I love almost all of the tracks (and Eva has assured me that she loves *all* of them.)
The fact that we're leaving in a few months is really starting to set in, and we're hoping to pack in some local sight seeing and history learning and family visiting. And yes, the sadness is setting in too.
Oz is completely obsessed with animals. Bao Bao was what got it started, but now he's into "borillas" and chimps and giraffes and horses (we encountered a mounted policeman at the Lincoln Memorial the other week and Oliver asks to see the picture of him with them all the time). We've realized he probably thinks his stuffed cow that he adores so much is a panda, and I dread the day he realizes it's not the same way I dread the day Eva realizes that "The Fox" is a satirical song.
And finally: we've spent many hours trying to track down the snowy owls that settled down locally as part of this year's irruption. I got a couple of glimpses but nothing to post pictures of. It was exciting and frustrating.
Shock and disappointment that we are not chasing down this horse.
Because it's been far, far too long without an update on her hilarity, hmm? She never stops being awesome, of course, but I suppose that the way her body and brain grow in different little fits and bursts does result in some slight lulls in the Eva-isms. Just kidding, it's probably just me not paying attention all the time.
Several of our discussions have been about the presidency. Having the Washington Monument just a few miles from our house and so regularly visible, and being season pass holders to Mount Vernon, we've certainly discussed George Washington a bit. And then because she was starting to grasp that, I tried to teach her the name of our current president (mostly for the reasons that you bundle your kid up in coats even when they don't really need them but when everyone else is doing it: so you're not shamed in public.). Because when I started teaching her presidents' names I felt a strong urge to also teach her about Congress and the Supreme Court, and quite frankly that just sounds exhausting and I don't just want to say "he's kind of like a king", even if it may be true to an increasing extent.
But I digress. So she knows about George Washington and Barack Obama. So of course she started referring to President Obama as "the second President!". And, due to a little word confusion, she's been known to refer to George Washington as "the first prisoner!!"
One morning recently at some hour before 6 am she came flouncing into my room and queried, "Can we go to Washington D.C. today?? The little house with the little animals was so fun." (Those things are actually in the museum at Mount Vernon.)
Occasionally I'll have to disavow her of some dearly held notion because she's gotten confused (see above references to the second president and the first prisoner) and sometimes that's how I explain it: you got confused, honey. So one day she asked, "Mommy, what do YOU get confused about?" It was one of those special 4-year-old questions that I find quite...confusing...so I answered, "Um...I don't know." She looked at me knowingly and asserted: "Daddy knows."
Warning: this one is not funny and I nearly cried. We've been discussing our upcoming move, mainly because she's starting to learn French. (We're supposedly moving to Belgium some time this year, btw. Neither orders nor RFO are in hand, however.) So she knows we're moving to another country. One day out of the blue she asked, "After we move, are my Gammi an' Pawpaw an' my Gramma an' Grampa still gonna be MY Gammi an' Pawpaw an' Gramma an' Grampa?"
And because we're grouping all the heart-tuggers together: "I still love you, even if you're frustrated at me."
Mom's Choice Award: One night we were having soup and she would not touch the solid bits, only the broth: because it was "beautifuller, golden." As she gazed into its shimmering depths and brandished her spoon she spoke to it, and it spoke back: "OK, who's next? Meee! In the deep end!"
While engaging in some kind of silliness: "SO MUCH LAUGHNESS!!!"
A little while back she got into the idea of numbers and measurements. Immediately after Christmas she started asking how long until her birthday (yeeaahhh....) I actually kind of counted up the days and told her, and she started re-asking every day. She is fixated on the idea of 11 being the ultimate, highest number. So when I told her "more than 200" days til her birthday, she crowed, "200 days is 11!!"
Asking about some animal's speed: "Is he four feet fast? Ten feet fast??"
Talking about music: "Mommy this is 11 FEET loud!"
"I wish I was a bird and I could stay underwater. But if I was in a bird movie I would talk."
Reflecting on her past (she and Oz share a room in this house): "When I was free an' Oliver wasn' in my room I was SO alone an' I was SO afraid of the dark."
Out of the blue: "Mommy when people are alive it's more fun to have a tongue. It helps me swallow my food in my mouth." Well, I can't say no to any of that.
After learning that a piece of chicken was called a drumstick: "A DRUMSTICK?! I will bang the table like a serious man!!"
"The mailman came!" Goes to pick up the junk mail and sort it. "Oh, that's interesting."
Those bangs? Currently getting grown out. She wants "to look like old Eva."
At 3 am, from the midst of our bed: "Do you renember the movie called Dinosaur Train?"
At the Paterfamilias: "Your ears are so fuzzy!! I can feel the fuzz!"
Seeing the columns outside the National Gallery of Art: "I like those sticks!"
Having recently been corrected: "Netflix. Not Nutflix. Because it's on the In-ter-net."
Searching for some toy: "What in da hey in da world where is it?
She still narrates her life, but now it's more like dispatches from Neverland. Things like, as she chooses a marker: "She picked out a color called cotton candy." Or, just going about her business: "It was a wintry day..." They then trail off into mumbling so I can't hear, but oh. The story does go on.
In the pool locker room shower: "This is the warmest water I never ever saw but this is the first time I saw it! ...gotta get my armpit... [spots me snorting] What are you laughing at, silly billy?"
We are grateful to be with family so much this year. I'm also grateful I picked up these hats at the 100 yen store last year. Almost all of these are taken in my parents' lovely house. (Read: my mom gets credit for the decorating!) If you're wondering what the aforementioned "Good Christians" thing is, read to the end. Or just read the end and don't pretend, it's OK.
We've been engaging in the usual: silly hat wearing, church-disrupting, Catchphrase-playing, playground-dominating, Crèche-set-upping, dog-cuddling, hymn-singing.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Also, making up for past and future lost time. With two Army guys in the family, we can't count on Christmases together.
I didn't realize how fun it is to be the one stuffing the stockings. And I got a good reminder that Christmas isn't the big test on whether you've been successfully not spoiling your child; it's just another teaching day, one with a large load of expectations, competing motives, emotional rollercoastering, missed naps, and sugar--even if you're a kid! A couple of days ago, the GNG was saying that Christmas was all about presents. Today she cupped my face in her hands and said, "Christmas is all about love." Progress, people. Christmas: all the love in the world and outside of it bundled into flesh and bones.
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
And why, yes, we have been mulling some wine.
It is so easy to idolize the moment. The hot drink in your hand, an old running joke, friendships among siblings and cousins, the restaurant-worthy meal, the unpredicted snowflakes. The girl with a loving man willing to father a boy who isn't his, the serendipitous stable, the angel choir, the newborn calm. Hail, hail! The Word made flesh.
But always, there are the quiet sadnesses and worries, the weight of the year: habits unkicked and wrongs not righted, the unrelenting pressure of the daily grind, the smashed hopes, the illnesses and fears, the deployed husband, the money that isn't there, lost grandparents and parents and friends and babies. The terrible: the six from the helicopter--their families expected this Christmas without them--but every Christmas? The catastrophic: your brothers and sisters blown up while leaving church.
That girl in the stable, I'm sure she had some perfect moments, but her heart (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) would be lifted and broken by her baby boy. Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. The extraordinary child, the miracles, the thousands upon thousands watching and following. The arrest, public torture and execution.Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. We Americans, we do adore a good rise-and-fall story, especially if it comes with a side of outrage. How much richer is this rising story: a humbled God, a voluntary sentence-taking, a final unimaginable resolution. The great outrageous mending, uncheapened. The scars on his risen body showing the cost.
This "good Christian" we sing of isn't firstly good at all, but is one who listens with awe to this Word which pleads not to us but for us. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace. The man who got it all exactly right still knew pain unimaginable, and by his wounds we are healed.
For God so loved the world.
Yes, Eva: Christmas is all about love. It's dirtier and bloodier and harder than you think, but at the heart it is love, pure and simple.
In our family, months 7 - 12 generally consist of a lot less snapping and a lot more chasing. Dark corners, don't-touch-thats, what's-in-his-mouths, and THERE-HE-GOES!es get in the way of the camera's view. Never fear, I still had too many to choose from.
In the summer, he got to meet his great-grandparents and great aunt and uncle, and of course go to his first airshow. He was...well...sort of a champ on the drive to upstate New York. He and the GNG made sure we found some beautiful roadside parks to stop at in Pennsylvania. 7 months was also the age at which he took on a lovey. Eva generously and permanently gave him Copper, the chosen doggie, because he was one of her zillions of stuffed animals
Geneseo, New York
He's had a love affair with ceiling fans, lights, vacuum cleaners, and any sort of large machinery since he was old enough to notice them. He's much more interested in stuff than his sister was. He loves objects first and pointing them out to you second, but she has always been all about relating to people first and using objects to that purpose second.
By eight months, he had eight teeth, then he finally took a breather for a little while. At that age he also learned how to throw a ball. His cheeks...oh, his cheeks:
His senses of humor, adventure, and mischief are unrivaled. His determined brow somehow manages to get a certain twinkle to it when he's got something up his sleeve.
Somewhere around 10 months he started pulling up on furniture and diving from the standing position into a waiting person's arms...usually. He also started nodding for yes and shaking his head for no, hilariously slowly and deliberately but always accurately. I was convinced he was a genius. Then he quit. Now a head shake could mean anything, but usually "yes".
He took his first steps at 11 months, and took the next month uncharacteristically slowly and cautiously. But by 12, he was walking. It was the exact same timing as Eva's, except he then proceded to learn to dribble. (That's soccer dribbling, not basketball, but if I have to clarify that for you don't even know us.) He was an amazing mimic for a couple of months. He could repeat any word you said back to you. Then, once he was walking and figured he could just grab whatever he wanted, he quit that as well.
Now he has a rather wide vocabulary, consisting of: Nn? Nn! Nn. Nnnnn...... Dada! (Daddy.) DAduh! (Doggie.) Ah!! (with wide open mouth, if he wants the food you have in your hand.) Actually, his grunts are remarkably intelligible. The other day he was doing his usual point-plus-"Uh-duh!" which, of course, translates to "Dearest Mummy, may I have indicated object, please?" And Eva said, "He said "uh duh! He was saying 'un deux trois'!" Um, you go ahead and think that, sweet girl.
Dam Neck, Virginia
His birthday happened to fall on a Saturday, and much of the gang was able to make it up for pizza (his favorite food since he was 7 months old...should I admit that in a public forum?) and cake pops (he viewed them with suspicion). How spoiled are we? An Army brat, spending the very day of his first birthday with both sets of grandparents, all his cousins, and an aunt and uncle. It was sunny and warmer than it had been, but cool enough for him to wear the brand new monkey hat his sister picked out for him. It was a good day.
All second babies get their first-birthday-blog-posts after they're at least 13.5 months old, right? Wait, since when is the birthday-blog-post a thing? Apparently it's not for Eva, at least not this year. Big whoop, girl, you're four. Now do something with your life and impress me! (Just kidding.) I know, you all are not here to read me havering. I'll get on to the good stuff.
I'm just going to try a bit of a recap, because this guy--as babes are wont to do--has had a big year. First, he was a monster when he was born (hence one nickname: Ozmonster). Must have been the 11 months he spent in the womb. Actual true fact and mini-birth story: induced at 41 weeks, pitocin worked like magic and epidural worked hardly at all, 4 hour labor and 10 minutes of pushing, and while I felt guilty at the time for not eking out another week of waiting, after his bulk was revealed I felt not an ounce of guilt. Like everything I bake, he was a little overdone.
Camp Lester, Okinawa
He got to meet his Gammi & Pawpaw right away, and his sister could not have adored his "widdoh tiny hands" and "widoh tiny feet" any more.
At two weeks, he had a bit of a misadventure. By the grace of God and some good doctoring, he got better. He got to meet his Grandma and Grandpa soon after. He had a subtropical first Christmas, at home in Yomitan. His eyes turned from deep, deep blue to light brown.
He got his first two teeth--center bottom--at three months. He was good at hiding them.
Hotel on Kadena Air Base, waiting to PCS from Okinawa
He did not spend all of his time in Exersaucers--they just showed off his lovely legs so nicely that I had to include them! Oh yeah, and at almost five months he was party to an international move. Back home in Virginia he met the rest of his aunts and uncles and cousins and great-grandparents.
At six months, he had six teeth. As you can tell from the legs, we had a successful nursing adventure this go-round. He utterly refused baby food, so we did Baby Led Weaning by default. (I don't think I'll go back to mush again, but kids have a way of messing with your expectations!) At six months, he also developed a mean low crawl. He's a boy with places to go.
He's a ridiculously good-natured baby. His world revolves around his big sister, and he's highly motivated to emulate her. He is not into admitting it when he's felt pain--sucks it up and moves on!
To be continued.
NB: I saw plenty of adults without kids here having fun as well. I would have. Cheap date night!
Having the ::cue accent:: Smithsonian National Zoological Park ::end accent:: at our fingertips is obviously a real perk to living here. (Especially having moved from a place where the zoo conditions ranged from fair/middlin' to actually deplorable.) We're Friends of the Zoo (FONZ) members, thanks to a tip from a friend who pointed out that if you go four times in one year and park there*, it more than pays for itself. And, people, my rug rats do like a good gander at things like giant jumping rats, so it's worth it. More on that another day. This post is about putting the "zoo" back in "Christmas."
A friend mentioned intending to go to Zoo Lights at the beginning of the month, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. I then got buried under life and forgot said conversation with said friend, and when we made plans to go I didn't bring it up again because coordinating our family with other families is just so hard now that we have two kids, let alone at the witching hour between dinner and bedtime. So I'm sorry, friend, but I suspect it was for the best. But: all credit for this idea goes to you.
Zoo Lights runs from 5pm - 9pm every night through January 1 (barring December 24, 25, and 31). We left our house in Alexandria around 5:30 and I hoped against hope that traffic would be going the other direction, but alas. No. It was gruesome. My only advice is to go to the vicinity of the zoo earlier in the day, eat dinner out or picnic, and don't mess with rush hour. (I don't know if you can stay in the zoo from its regular opening hours into Zoo Lights, but I think it's worth checking on.) But it was nice to drive through D.C. at night, which I never do:
But what is Zoo Lights? I hear you cry. It's Christmas lights. In the zoo. Very pretty ones. There were many and varied displays, including one mesmerizing snow-dropping one that made me feel like I was in Avatar's world without James Cameron there to mess it up. There were animals and shows coordinated with music and a "flying" bald eagle. The GNG and Oz were transported with delight. Wonders around every corner. It was quite impressive. (And I'm not just saying that because I went to the Okinawa Zoo's light show last year...or maybe I am.) There were also a couple of very large slides which Eva and I went down, and if you're really into that kind of thing I filmed my trip and very embarassing noises and put it on Instagram (@OurGypsyCamp) because apparently I'm into public humiliation. In my defense, my posterior did not fit into the tube that time and I thought I was going to go bouncing out of it. Eva loved it. There is also a train that goes through the kid part of the zoo, but we didn't make it to that.
Expect a lot of walking, as always at this zoo. We parked at the bottom entrance near the kid area, which is where the slides also were, and walked uphill as far as we could. There were light displays all along. It is not a good time to see outdoor animal exhibits (the elephants and pandas were closed), but the animal houses were open for visitors. The carousel was open. We made a beeline for the small mammals house, as we knew there would be some nocturnal action, and lo and behold, in the small mammals house, we found some burrowing owls:
...an utterly frantic armadillo, and several other little guys out in plain sight. It was enough to satisfy Eva.
Zoo Lights, just as the zoo is usually, is free. Parking is $20 for non-FONZ-members and $10 for FONZ members (there was a free week for members earlier in the month). It was plenty crowded on this Thursday night, but in a reasonable way. I didn't panic once, and the lines were all manageable; I always felt like there was an escape route from the scrum. There were also treats like kettle corn, cotton candy, cider and hot chocolate on offer. I would definitely recommend this outing.
*In this family, we've decided after a couple of incidents that the Metro is for young, healthy, robust people travelling alone or in very small groups. I.e. Not most of us most of the time. However, I just noticed on the Zoo Lights website that there is a shuttle from the Woodley Park station to the zoo on Friday and Saturday nights.
For other Washington, D.C. adventures with kids:
An update on the Good News Girl, and some pictures from the trusty phone.
This girl. We found a tree by the river the other day. Apparently it was cold. No, I'm sure if I'd asked "Oh, is that tree cold?" she would have said "No! I'm just making it pretty!"
She got a long-overdue haircut the other day: her first bangs. I finally know what it's like to really feel like she looks like me. Maybe one day I'll find a picture of little me with bangs to prove it to you. Don't worry though, Auntie T, she is still very much your twin.
She's gotten a little bit more into crafts recently. Or maybe I've gotten a little bit more into providing crafts. I'll get us all set up to do it, and her imagination will catch fire and she'll just go bonkers playing with the craft supplies. And goal-oriented me is all, "We WILL glue the puffy thingies onto the paper!!" and she's all "But first they have to take a nap and go into this cave and get bitten by this crocodile and this one is disobeying his mommy and they need a snack and PIXIE DUST and..." And then I take a deep breath and remember that if she's entertained and using her gray matter, that was my whole goal to begin with.
She puts her own twist on everything. I'd say she marches to the beat of her own drum, but it's more like she flounces to the beat of her own imaginary flautist.
She adores her combination ballet-tap-gymnastics class, and she is still all about fancy fancy princess things, and she loves her swim class while steadfastly refusing to let her face get besmirched with water. Many of her playmates right now are a little younger, and she is so sweet and maternal with them. Whenever Oz has been asleep they act like their reunion has been years in the making. Such joy! Such peals of laughter! Such rapid-fire cheek kissing! (On her part. You're still as likely to get a bite as a kiss from him.)
Today she was thinking about one of her favorite songs, "Five Little Ducks" off of the Wee Sing Animals CD (you know it, right?...) The ducks keep going out to play, and one refuses to come back every time until none come back. And the mother quack-shouts at them, and they all come back. She said, "At the end, it's funny AND sad. It's bofe. It's bofe funny and sad." Four years old and she already knows the secret of life.
Over dinner when I was laughing at something she said she got all crazy-eyed and tight-fisted in fake exasperation and exclaimed, "WHY AM I BEING SO FUNNY THIS AFTERNOON?!"
She says "betend" instead of "pretend". I realized during a very strange disagreement the other day that she thinks that a flock of geese is a "Canad of geese." She still says "lellow" instead of "yellow", and her lisp is hanging on by a thread. I don't want those things to go.