The Button

Intercom

The door at Cooper’s preschool is guarded by a buzzer. It protects the little ones from the dangers of the world as it allows the front desk to scrutinize those outside before deciding whether or not to grant them entrance. Or at least that’s the idea.

Every morning kids race to the building – elbows out, heads down, focusing like they’ve never focused before. When the “winner” smugly presses their chubby finger to the button, the rest of the kids stamp their feet and collapse on the sidewalk in fits of tears. All the parents politely laugh, then hold the door open for each other cheerfully telling their kids, “Maybe next time” or giving mini lectures on how we don’t want to unnecessarily bother the ladies at the front desk.  A few kids are dragged in, the rest shuffle in petulantly, but by the time the classroom opens all have forgotten their disappointment.

Here’s the thing about my son, he’s obsessed with buttons and he doesn’t forget anything. I’d always rigged the game for him, surveying the parking lot and slowing or quickening my own speed sometimes taking an extra long time to unbuckle Ellen from the stroller to avoid any competition. The method was effective, but it couldn’t work forever. The day a kid snuck up on us and Cooper came in second place, I took a deep breath and prepared to teach him a hard life lesson. I used that tired line about “next time” and dragged him into the building. He summoned all the strength his four-year-old body could muster and tried to drag me back outside forlornly crying “the button, the button!” in a manner that may have been deemed appropriate for the loss of a loved one. As the other parents tried to disguise their gawking, I used my calm adult voice to explain the injustices of the preschool world.  He continued to wail as children went to class, parents left, and I sat there trying to be the sensible parent I’d seen everyone else be. The classroom teacher said to just leave him and that he’d calm down. “Lots of kids have bad days like this.” Huge tears rolled down his cheeks and he clawed her arms as she carried him to the “cozy corner” to calm down. It was raining that morning and the seat of my pants was covered in mud from sitting on my haunches so I could be on his level.  I just stood there, damp and muddy, holding my squirming two-year-old, listening to his howls turn to whimpers, and  wondering if I was unfit to be a parent. When I couldn’t hear him crying anymore, I left in embarrassment, grateful for the rain as it hid the tears that streamed the whole way home.

When I picked him up he uncharacteristically didn’t ask to bring his water bottle home, which is one of the things he’s usually very particular about. I asked him several times if he wanted to get it and told him, “Once we leave the building we can’t come back for it.” The second we left the building he said, “Water bottle!” and ran towards the buzzer. My foot grazed over the stroller brake without actually making contact and I ran towards Cooper, angry that he’d played me.  As the stroller rolled towards a mail truck and Cooper’s finger reached for the button I had one of those slow-motion-out-of-body experiences.  I saw frazzled me, upset Cooper, and endangered Ellen all playing our role in a comical disaster. This wasn’t working. The mailman intercepted the stroller inches before impact and after thanking him profusely I collected my crafty son (who was more than pleased to push the button for the mailman) and headed home.  I laughed, albeit a little crazily, the whole way.

The next morning a mom was leaving when we arrived. She held the door open wide and said, “Sorry, buddy! You don’t get to press the button today!” I gave her a look that I haven’t used since one of my high school students asked me if I was kinky  and exasperatedly said, “Please, just let him press the button.” I could tell she thought I was a terrible parent, a pushover with no sense of discipline, but I didn’t care. Cooper, oblivious, pressed the button and skipped into school.*

I’m sure I’m looking down a long road of people disapproving of my parenting. I don’t expect I’ll be winning any awards and most days I’m satisfied with survival. I do believe that Cooper should learn that he can’t get everything he wants and we really do try to teach that, but the button battle just isn’t worth it and I have to learn to pick my battles. Interestingly, since I stood up for my child’s button pressing rights, I’ve noticed a few other parents’ hearts sink as I hold the door open for them and I’ve said, “Hey, do you want me to close the door so your kid can press the button?” It’s amazing how their eyes light up, almost as much as their kids and I simply say, “I totally get it” and shut the door.

* After this incident, I actually spoke with the ladies at the front desk and they said they don’t mind if kids press the button. They actually think it’s kind of cute how much the kids all care about it. Also, I’ve softened my approach to allowing my kid  to press the button so I’m much more polite than I was in this encounter.

We got a few good pictures with the tripod.

Vacation to an Alternate Reality

We’ve grown accustom to a certain percentage of things going wrong in our lives. We could blame it on the kids, but truthfully things going less than perfect is nothing new.  We’ve learned to lower our expectations, which may sound depressing, but actually has made it easier to enjoy life. When we planned a weekend getaway to Winter Park, CO we tried to bridle our excitement since we knew getting our hopes up is always a bad idea. As the day approached we kept waiting for someone to get sick or a blizzard to hit, but surprisingly no disaster happened.

We started our vacation by driving up I-70 Friday afternoon without running into any traffic and even narrowly missed the 30 minute road closure for blasting related to an ongoing road construction project.  As we cruised right along, Noel and I both expressed amazement at how uncharacteristically lucky we were. The whole weekend continued like that, us waiting for something bad to happen and things going uncharacteristically well. Yes, our children still whined and Ellen almost got a black eye, but honestly there’s no reality in which our children don’t whine now and again and Ellen doesn’t periodically injure herself.

We rented a condo through VRBO at a really good deal since it’s the “shoulder season” (cheaper than any of the hotels and way more space and amenities).  Because it was the off-season we got to enjoy things like having the pool all to ourselves. The fall colors were gorgeous and we had amazing weather for all of our hikes. We even took some decent family photos with the aid of our tripod.

At the end of our trip, we made our way back home and got stuck in traffic (on a Monday when everyone is supposed to be at work) which seemed a fitting way to be welcomed back to our reality. It’s nice to get a break every now and then and I hope you all periodically getaway to alternate realities too!

Finished!

The Saga of the Swing Set

Way back in February we had this genius idea of getting the kids a swing set for a combined birthday present. We even proposed the idea to extended family suggesting they might contribute to the playground fund instead of sending gifts. Even though the idea was not widely adopted (it seems there is some sort of a stigma surrounding cash gifts), we had already found a great deal on a swing set and committed ourselves to building it when we gave Cooper a picture of it for his birthday in May. (Hell seriously knows no fury like an autistic child whose reality does not match up with an idea that’s gotten into their head.)

Timber

The "temporary playground."
The “temporary playground.”

Stump

Thus, we drained the fund we’d saved up to build planter boxes in the front yard (we can garden for the next 50 years, but the kids won’t always be little) and the swing set was ordered. While we waited, we took care of a few landscaping  issues. Nothing big, just chopped down a tree, dug up a few stumps, and removed a significant square footage of grass.

Special Delivery

One June afternoon, a giant pallet was finally dropped in our driveway.  The description indicated the whole thing could be assembled in about 10 hours and while we had our doubts we figured we could get the whole thing up and running with a long Saturday and perhaps a few evenings of work.

Defective Part 1

Before advancing past step number two of the assembly manual, we realized there was a problem. Really, a few problems: warped lumber, holes drilled in the wrong places and a beam with a significant amount of dry rot.

Inventory

We halted our work to do a full inventory of all the parts before contacting the company’s customer service. Fortunately, the company was really good about sending out replacement parts.

Improvised Slide

In the meantime, we improvised keeping the kids entertained.

Level

P6280078

Tower

After the new parts arrived we set to work again. It took an entire day just to lay landscaping fabric, build the main tower and get the ground underneath it level enough to please our in-house engineer.

A stepEvery Saturday we weren’t traveling we’d do a little bit more, sometimes working with headlamps after the kids went to bed. If me posing with nursing covers or taking pictures of food in the backyard hadn’t already convinced the neighbors we were a bit odd, this surely did. The next morning the kids would race outside to see what new gizmos had been added on.

Building Complete

By the time school started back up, we’d finally gotten the whole thing together and we were just waiting for a new budget to roll over so we could give it the finishing touches.

Mulch!Little Helper

Last weekend, Noel went to two different Home Depots before 7am to rent a truck. At first we weren’t even sure if they would rent it to us because they’d had a  bad experience with someone else trashing a truck when they hauled loose gravel. Luckily, the guy was nice and said, “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear what you said you were doing with it and make sure you bring it back clean.” I’m pretty sure we returned it cleaner than we got it so no harm (or fees) were done.

Finished!We carted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of mulch and hauled railroad ties from the front yard to create a border.  (Best workout ever.) Then we painted the whole thing with a clear sealant and did the hardest thing of the whole journey: kept the kids off it for two days. It only took the entire summer, but the swing set is finally done! I can only imagine what kind of a haphazard deathtrap this swing set would be if we’d put it together in only ten hours.

Noel taking the swing set we'd inherited with the house to be destroyed by a neighbor's seven children.
Noel taking the swing set we’d inherited with the house to be destroyed by a neighbor’s seven children. It’s seriously shocking we don’t look like swimsuit models after all our heavy labor ;)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All in the Name of Porter

When I was a recruiter for USU, I repeatedly told students USU was “only an eight hour drive away from home and therefore the perfect distance from family.” The eight hour buffer gives you space, but you also can make if home if something important comes up. While there is some truth to the buffer theory,  the eight hour drive is a lie and one I have been guilty of perpetuating. Sure Google maps will support the eight hour theory, but it’s only a reality if the weather is perfect, you are able to forgo food and bathroom breaks for the entire trip,  and you manage to never encounter stop lights or traffic in the Metro area.  For the average person, the drive to Utah actually takes 8 1//2 to 9 hours. For people like us whose car upholstery and mental sanity depend on frequent stops, it’s more like 10 or 11. Still, we do it several times a year so we can be part of special moments in the lives of people we love. This past weekend was one of those moments.

A few weeks ago we took the kids to Dinosaur Ridge and Noel, having done some growing up in Vernal, UT, was  pretty underwhelmed. He expressed a desire to take the kids to Dinosaur National Monument some day. It occurred to us that camping there overnight on this trip would be the perfect way to break it up so we made our reservation. We rolled into our campsite pretty late Friday night thanks to a blinding downpour and heavy holiday weekend traffic only to find that the tent hadn’t actually made it into the car. We folded down the backseat of the car and the kids and I wrestled cuddled up for the night while Noel slept in his hammock that was tied between our VW and a tree.

After a terrible night’s rest we headed to the quarry exhibit hall. The quarry is pretty cool and has around 1500 dinosaur bones.  (Really, it’s a mass grave, but let’s not think about that.) It definitely puts Dino Ridge to shame.

After getting our fill of dinosaurs, we got back in the car and finished the first half of our drive to meet up with family. The reason for our trip happened on Sunday when Porter was given a name and a blessing in our church.  Baby blessings are such sweet moments and Porter’s was especially so since he’s my nephew.
Blessed BabyThe next morning we were able to squeeze in a tour of the Ogden temple and brunch.  It was nice to end the trip with almost my entire family in such a peaceful setting. (Only my brother Spencer was missing. He’s in the middle of a two-year church mission, so he had a good excuse.) The kids were even pretty good with Ellen melting my heart when she said “I love you” right before heading into a sealing room and making me forget that she’d caused everyone to laugh irreverently when she threw a fit because we wouldn’t let her go for a swim in the baptismal font.

After that, it was back in the car for our ten hour trek back home via the badlands of Wyoming. A big thanks to all our family members who housed us, fed us, and sent us home with produce and other gifts! And of course, thank you Porter for giving us an occasion to visit!

2014-08-19 08.14.43

Second First Day of Preschool

I think preschool is really the only “grade” you don’t have to be embarrassed about doing more than once.  If anything, attending multiple years is bragworthy amongst the parents which makes for amusing chit-chat during pick-up and drop-off.

2014-08-19 08.13.03
Getting ready to head in the building.

This year Cooper is at a new school, the one within walking distance of our house. It’s definitely a different crowd from last year as we’ve swapped parents smoking in their cars for parents that camped out overnight to get their kids registered. (I wish I was joking about this. For the record, I was able to just waltz in prior to open registration since Cooper was a transfer student. There are very few things I’m willing to wait in line overnight for.)

Backpack, backpack!
Hanging up his backpack.

Cooper practically sprinted to preschool this morning, but then was his usual tentative self when we arrived.  Ellen was really sad to say goodbye to Cooper the preschool and burst into tears when we left. She wants to be a big kid so badly. Cooper gets to attend school for free due to his ASD, but I’m afraid we might need to save up or start a joy school so she can go to preschool next year. I won’t allow myself to dream about all the marvelous things I could do if they were both gone for a few hours.

Surveying
Ellen assessing the splash pad situation.

After we picked Cooper up we met up with some friends to check out a new splash pad.

Water! Water!

The kids weren’t actually interested in the water until I told them it was time to go, of course.

Hard life

On the way home both of the kids passed out. Apparently being a preschooler is exhausting.

Geocaching

Summer Lovin’

Apparently, summer is over. I’m still not sure how that happened. Three months ago when preschool ended I made a master list of things I wanted to do. I even divided it into categories and made a master schedule for what days of the week I would attack different types of goals. Then I never looked at it until yesterday. Instead of feeling bummed that I didn’t successfully micromanage our summer, I’m doing a recap of the fun things we did do (and even without careful scheduling we did manage to do a few of the things on my list).

In addition to meeting our new cousin/nephew, camping, and hosting visitors we’ve also gone to weekly summer clubhouse movies,

Movies

had weekly park days with friends,

Park Day

attended art playdates hosted by my talented friend,

Art Playdate

splashed in the pool in the backyard,

Yard Poolvisited The Splash (Cooper is a water slide addict!),

The Splash enjoyed lots of rain (it has been such a mild summer here), 
Rainjust chilled in the backyard,

Chillin'

considered starting a nudist colony repeatedly found Ellen wandering around in all sorts of outfits,  some more preferable to others,

Nudist

Puddle jumpingVisited the Botanic Gardens with our friends Russell and Jessica,

Wading Climbingfound a few geocaches (the kids love it since it’s like treasure hunting),

Geocachingeaten ice cream,

Ice creamfinally taken a ride on the 1¢ horse at the grocery store, 

all over town Ride the horsey indulged in donuts after our last summer speech session,

donuts! and found Ellen sleeping all sorts of places since she fights naps, but still needs them now and again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall, I’d say summer wasn’t too shabby. Only a whole school year before we get another shot at it.

The best picture we could get of us on our trip to the Botanic Garden.

Suddenly We’re Those People

What happens when Ellen won't settle for anything less than being held when I'm trying to make dinner.
What happens when Ellen won’t settle for anything less than being held when I’m trying to make dinner.

When we only had one kid, it was easier to hide, but now that we have two kids it’s painfully obvious. We’ve become those people. You know the people I speak of. The ones that make you want to avoid any type of free day at the museum, the ones you don’t want to sit behind in church, and definitely not the ones you want to be sitting next to on a cross country flight. This last week has been full of reminders that this is what we’ve become. A trip to the Botanic Garden spent herding kids that were unwittingly engaged in a constant game of chicken with all the other patrons. Our final summer movie where Ellen refused to sit in her seat, almost got in a brawl with a toddler that tried to steal her chair, and shouted commentary during the entire film (e.g. “Silly squirrel” followed by maniacal laugher. “It’s a dog! Woof, woof!” followed by more maniacal laughter.)  Then Saturday when we did some rare shopping, Ellen threw a huge tantrum because she’s on a nap strike and Cooper kept disappearing which had us in a perpetual clothing rack frisking frenzy.

Ellen insisting on getting her own utensils.
Ellen insisting on getting her own utensils and yes she’s not wearing pants. She rarely does these days. 

To top off the week we went to church. Our pew was sandwiched between two friends who each have a small child. As we wrestled our kids and tried to put a quiet end to their orchestration of raspberry blowing we’d exchange glances that said, “I know, sometimes I wonder why we ever come out in public too.” At the end of the meeting we all stumbled out into the hall, our arms full of discarded shoes and broken crayons. We gave each other pats on the back and politely said thank you to the widows  and women without children who told us they just love to watch our children at church.

Super Cooper eating blueberries. Or is it that he thought I wouldn't recognize him in disguise and he'd miss a lecture on not eating all the berries!
Super Cooper eating blueberries. Or is it that he thought I wouldn’t recognize him in disguise and he’d miss a lecture on not eating all the berries in one sitting!

Even though most days leave me exhausted, I’m glad I have these little people that remind me to live in the moment. There are perks to being those people after all. No one tells you you’re too big to go down the tube slide at the park or questions your sanity when you dance in the aisles of the grocery store.  Even the low expectations of strangers is kind of nice since they’ll congratulate you when your toddler only throws one fit when waiting in a long line at the post office. We weren’t always those people and from what I’m promised we won’t always be them either, but for know I’m just doing my best to hang on to the ride and not get thrown off.

The best picture we could get of us on our trip to the Botanic Garden.
The best picture we could get of us on our trip to the Botanic Garden.
The crew at Mayflower Gulch.

Annie and Greg Came to Town

Noel is pretty much the same age as all of his cousins and they’ve always been fairly close, even with him being the odd  man out. (Pun intended; they’re all girls.) It’s been fun for me to be adopted into this group since my cousins and I have a much larger age difference. Last week, Annie and her fiancé, Greg, stayed with us for a few days and we also got Jaimie and her husband, Wolfgang, who are now Denverites to join us for an evening. We showed them some of the sights, but made sure to leave some out so they’d be tempted to come back. Okay, so really we just forgot the Pro Cycling Challenge happens this time of year and would make it so Mt Evans was closed, but we’d still love for them to visit again.

PS It’s World Breastfeeding week and I am running a sale in my shop. If you or a friend are in the market for nursing covers or swaddle blankets you should check it out.

Best buds hanging out in grandma's yard.

A Few Gems of the Kids

My mom takes amazing photos. She’s beautifully documented so many important events in my life from my wedding to graduating from college to bringing home my babies.  Pretty sure I’ve been the recipient of thousands of dollars worth of free professional photography over the years. Every time we visit I usually get some awesome pictures of the kids.  Here are some gems from out most recent trip to Utah.

Ellen loved her photo shoot with grandma. Definitely not camera shy.
Ellen loved her photo shoot with grandma. Definitely not camera shy.
Ellen sweetly kissing Porter's head.
Ellen sweetly kissing Porter’s head.
Cooper lost deep in thought. That little boy sure can be pensive sometimes.
Cooper lost deep in thought. That little boy sure can be pensive sometimes.
It's sometimes hard to capture Cooper's smile on camera since he's not a poser like Ellen, but the kid has a great smile.
It’s sometimes hard to capture Cooper’s smile on camera since he’s not a poser like Ellen, but the kid has a great smile.
Even though Ellen is a girl, she's generally the wrestle instigator. Luckily Cooper's a good sport.
Even though Ellen is a girl, she’s generally the wrestle instigator. Luckily Cooper’s a good sport.
Best buds hanging out in grandma's yard.
Best buds hanging out in grandma’s yard.
Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells

Family Pic at Lake
Two years ago we went camping at Maroon Bells.  It was an enjoyable experience and we’ve been wanting to go back ever since. Campsites at Maroon Bells itself are pretty hard to come by, especially on weekends, so I had a reminder in my google calendar to make a reservation the second the sites opened up for our chosen days. Months ago that Google reminder popped up and I made a reservation hoping for a nice calm getaway, completely unaware that the trip would end up being bookended by a trip to Utah and Noel going to Scout camp.  Such is life.

Chris and Vanessa scrubbing the Volcano.
Chris and Vanessa scrubbing the Volcano.

We invited Noel’s sister, Vanessa Joy, and her husband, Chris to come with us. After a near death experience earlier this year, we figured they could use some R&R.

The whole crew at Maroon Lake.
The whole crew at Maroon Lake.

Despite the insanity surrounding the trip, we did our best to relax. Not having cell phone reception at our campground greatly aided that.

Ellen insisted on carrying her sleeping bag to our campsite.
Ellen insisted on carrying her sleeping bag to our campsite.
I loved our campground. You took a short trail to get it so it was nice and secluded.
I loved our campsite.  You took a short trail to get it so it was nice and secluded. This picture is taken from the “dining area” so the campground was also pretty spacious.
"Relaxing" in the hammock.
“Relaxing” in the hammock.

We did an ambling “hike” with everyone and Noel and I went on a hike alone while Vanessa and Chris kindly watched the kids.

Taking a break on our walk around the lake.
Taking a break on our walk around the lake.
Noel and me at Crater Lake, no not the one in Oregon.
Noel and me at Crater Lake, no not the one in Oregon.
A moose we saw at the lake.
A moose we saw at the lake.

The kids slept worse than they ever have on a camping trip and we experienced some frustrating potty training setbacks. (It seems Cooper was terrified to poop in the vault toilets . . . )

Kids messing around instead of sleeping.
Kids messing around instead of sleeping.

Somehow Vanessa and Chris still thought the kids were adorable though. Phew.

 Holding Hands
Holding hands with Uncle Chris.
Aunt Vanesa Joy feeding Ellen cake for breakfast.
Aunt Vanesa Joy feeding Ellen cake for breakfast. Best breakfast ever.

And because this is us, we also ate delicious food. Keep an eye on our food blog for all the recipes!

Dutch oven summer vegetable tian. Simply delicious.
Dutch oven summer vegetable tian. Simply delicious.

All too quickly, we had to pack up and head our separate ways.  We said our goodbyes to the beautiful scenery. When we got reception again Noel’s phone rang a million times with messages so I drove home so he could take care of scouting business.

Chris and Vanessa brought the kids Toy Story toys (and cleverly assigned three toys to each of them so they wouldn't fight.
Chris and Vanessa brought the kids Toy Story toys (and cleverly assigned three toys to each of them so they wouldn’t fight).

I’ll have to add another reminder to my google calendar so we can do this again next year, only hopefully not the day before Scout camp.

Creek