Birthday Round-Up

This year we opted to celebrate the boys’ birthdays a week or so early by taking them and a few of their best friends to a soccer game at Yankee Stadium. New York City FC played Chicago Fire, including the beloved Bastian Schweinsteiger, which led to the awkward situation of bringing five little New Yorkers to Yankee Stadium who end up cheering “Chica-GO, Chica-GO!” for the duration of the game. Also: Five boys is…well…a handful.

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I was supposed to run the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia the day after Julian’s actual birthday, so we didn’t do the big party thing this year. Of course, as life would have it, I had some health issues that prevented me from running (or moving much at all) for about 10 days, so the race was out of the question. It rained all day that day anyway.

Instead, we celebrated Julian’s special day at home with pancakes and candles, lunch at Brooklyn Crab and mini golf at Shipwrecked and cake, more candles and some soccer to end the day. It was lovely, and Julian felt celebrated.

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It’s just unfortunate that, as it turns out, our child who is naturally good at everything, is quite unintuitive when it comes to mini golf and in fact hated it with a passion.

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Other than that Julian’s birthday was a success.

Arthur’s birthday fell on a Tuesday, so he spent most of his day in school. According to his wish, I dropped him off and picked him up – no annoying school bus on your birthday. I get it, kid.

After school, as we were waiting for Julian to get out, Arthur was bouncing up and down the sidewalk, collecting hugs and high-fives from all the moms, all the while beaming and declaring, “It’s my birthday today!” He was so happy and felt so special all day. It was adorable.

We celebrated with cake at home and had a major Lego-building session, before taking out his new skateboard for a spin. True to his nature, Arthur seems naturally good at skateboarding.

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I’m always so amazed how easily this kid conquers any and all active/sporty stuff, but standing still or simply walking down the sidewalk or stairs without tripping or falling seems incredibly challenging to him still.

Either way, he loves his new skateboard, and we’ve basically been eating cake for two weeks. I always think I could bring some cake into work, but then we just eat it all ourselves.

The other highlight of birthday week was the Walkman. Both boys got an old-school Walkman for their birthdays, complete with mix tapes that Jeff lovingly created. The two favorites are a mix of AC/DC and Van Halen and an 80s Hair Metal tape. They listen to these tapes all day long, for as much as they can, and Julian falls asleep with his headphones on every night. It’s sort of amazing to see your kids discover music.

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This brings us to today. Well, almost.

We celebrated our nephew’s communion on Saturday and the boys’ good friends’ birthday and communion on Sunday. The latter was an epic party with wild animals, a life-sized chess set, DJ, indoor fireworks, a sit-down dinner, massage section, and chocolate fountain. It was so much fun. Clearly, we know how to party.

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Arthur is 6!

Happy Birthday, baby! Today you are six!

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You’ve been counting down until your birthday for a long time, and now the day is finally here.

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This year has had its fair share of challenges for you, but also very many beautiful moments. You had one anaphylactic reaction this year which sent you to the emergency room. Yet another trip to the ER last summer with a bad skin infection on your arm. Your latest addition to an array of health matters is an apparent intolerance to dairy. You are very aware of your food allergies and are always careful. You ask about ingredients and if things are safe for you to eat, and while I’m blown away by how responsible you are, it also makes me sad that this is a part of your life.

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You are working so hard at speech three times a week as well as occupational therapy twice a week in the hope that you will soon be able to conquer all the sounds and be able to walk down a sidewalk without crashing into people or stand in line with your school friends without pushing into your neighbor. It’s hard work, and I never take your efforts for granted. You are exceptional. You are braver than anyone I know.

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The other day we were watching a movie you and Julian had made together, where you were doing the voices of the little people. When you heard yourself on video, you sounded defeated when you said, “Everyone will know I’m just a kid because I can’t talk good.” Julian, Papa, and I immediately realized what was at stake and jumped in to give you a boost, and I hope you felt it.

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The thing is this: Despite everything you have going on, or possibly because of it all, you are the freest, most uninhibited, unafraid person I know. I wish I had your ease and confidence. You are you, no apologies needed. You go through life knowing exactly what you want and what you don’t want. And what you want right now is rock ‘n’ roll.

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Papa has introduced you to music, and it has been an amazing discovery for you. You idolize Eddie van Halen, love KISS, Twisted Sister, AC/DC, and most of all you love strumming on the guitar Papa passed on down to you. You are so proud to be the owner of a guitar, and I love sitting next to you watching you discover its sounds, its power.

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The other day we were looking at a music book together, and one of the artists was trashing his guitar. I said something to the effect of, “Well, that’s a silly thing to do!” You looked at me, dumbfounded, and replied, “Mama, you just don’t understand rock & roll.”

You wear your love for me on your sleeve, and it is often expressed at 3 in the morning when you crawl into bed and curl up beside me. You are the snuggliest creature, and I hope this never changes. Many mornings you will jump up into my arms, rest your head on my shoulder and stay there until you are fully awake. All the while I make coffee and smell your hair, marveling at the fact that you still fit in my arms so perfectly as the six year old, 53+ pound kid that you are.

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You started Kindergarten this year! Finally you are with the big kids where you belong. You are doing so well in all your subjects and have started to read and write, and your spelling makes me smile every day. I can’t wait to see what drawings you bring home from school each day. Your sense of creativity is beyond anything I ever had. You enjoy going to school, love your teachers, and we are so happy that you have found a place where you feel comfortable.

You excel at all sports, but soccer is still your favorite. After one after-school lesson with the Kindergarten group at the beginning of the school year, your coach moved you into the group of first to third graders. You are the only Kindergartener there, and you know it. The other day, I overheard you telling a random kid you were playing soccer with, “I’m only in Kindergarten but I play soccer at after-school with all the bigger kids every week!” The boy you were talking to was unimpressed, but I am impressed by you always.

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This weekend you and Julian played soccer with a boy you’d never met before at Cadman Plaza. He was nine and at one point said to you, “Arthur! You’re an amazing soccer player!” You responded, “I know!” We clearly don’t need to work on your confidence, but possibly on your humility.

You don’t make our lives always easy, but you make every day interesting. Life is never boring with you. Your imagination and free spirit make our lives richer, while your wildness and disobedience can be challenging and frustrating. But we adore you just the way you are. We love you so much, Arthur, you perfect, marvelous, extraordinary creature. Never change. Keep working and playing hard; I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for you. You make us so proud and happy every day. Happy birthday, my wild child!

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Julian is 8!

I’m not sure how this happened, but today I am the mother of an eight year old. Julian, my sweet boy, you are eight!

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A few weeks ago, you confessed to me that you are not ready to turn eight. It’s the first time I’ve heard you express some sort of desire to slow down the growing-up process. While I am also not quite ready (I never am), no one handles growing up better than you do.

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You are such an exceptionally bright kid. Your biggest accomplishment and source of great joy in the last year has been taking piano lessons. You look forward to your lesson every week, and you practice diligently each day, sometimes more.

You are growing in confidence. You really look like you belong with the piano. Your posture is perfect, your composure is calm and collected, and yet it is very obvious to anyone who hears you play that you love what you are doing at that very moment.

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At home you delight us with compositions of your own. You have also written several short books this year as well as a collection of amazing poetry that you worked on in school. Some of the poems are so honest, so spot-on. I sometimes can’t believe I had a part in creating you.

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You want to be an inventor or a scientist. You love designing things: city plans, details of a houseboat or the new the train line you have been dreaming up for about a year now which will connect New York, New Jersey and Delaware with a high-speed train network. I have no doubt you will accomplish anything you set your mind to, and I can’t wait to go on a ride on your train when it is completed.

You and I play lots of cards together. You play chess with Papa. You play soccer with Arthur. You still read a lot, and I can never get enough books for you from the library.

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Arthur and you have both developed more independently from each other this year, more so than ever before. Your interests are quite different, but you meet right in the middle when it comes to soccer, baseball, music, and building things. You two are also the best at pretending and will often run down the sidewalk in an invisible dragon fight.

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You’ve lost three more teeth this year, and the one that you knocked out when you were a baby is finally growing in, giving your sweet face a much more big boy look.

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Julian, you are eight. This means you are not too old to cuddle, not embarrassed to hold my hand in front of your friends or give me hugs and kisses. Part of me hopes it will always stay this way.

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You are adored by everyone you meet. At school your teachers delight in you, your friends love playing and talking with you, your brother idolizes and loves you more than humanly possible (although he sometimes gets on your nerves), and of course there is also me, your Mama.

You make me happy every day, you fill my heart up to the top, and just by making me a mother you have made my biggest wish come true. To see how you are growing each year, to talk to you every day, listen to your stories and songs, laugh at your jokes, get lost with you in your imagination — it’s all so much better than I could have ever imagined. You are making me the happiest person on the planet, just by being you.

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Happy Birthday, my wonderful, creative, smart, sensitive, stubborn, ambitious son. You are loved beyond measure.

Gazing

Snakes! Dark Rooms! Soy Ice Cream!

This week has me trying really hard to stay above water. We spent our weekend at our friends’ farm in New Jersey, which was a glorious, nature-filled break.

But now we’re back to our city life, and my mind is in a million different places at once.

Some highlights:

Arthur seems to have developed an intolerance to most dairy products. So we have been thrown into the world of vegan cheese, oat milk yogurts, almond milk, and soy everything. What an … adventure?

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Part of me is embracing the challenge, and the other 80% of me just wants to take my kids out for a damn ice cream cone. Because worrying about nuts wasn’t enough.

Next: Arthur has developed some intense fears of inexplicable things (e.g. “the dark”, “snakes”, “being by himself”). Snakes are easy to avoid in Brooklyn, but the rest, well, not so much. I try to be compassionate and understanding (because clearly something else is going on here BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SNAKES IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS!), but it’s wearing me down. One of the things I love most about the boys’ age right now is that they are so reasonable. You can talk to them, like real people! No more crazy meltdowns in the grocery store isle. Enter: Unreasonable fears of everything. Just keeping things fresh, Arthur, I get it.

Next next: This morning I had Arthur’s annual IESP meeting. IESP stands for “Individualized Education Services Plan” and is something all students have who are eligible for special education services. Arthur has been receiving speech and occupational therapy for four years; he currently has five therapy sessions per week.  This kid works really hard.

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I don’t talk about Arthur’s struggles often because most of it is difficult to put down on paper/hard to put into words. It’s easy for those who love Arthur to see him for all the amazing things that he is and to be blown away by how far he has come. But the point of an IESP meeting is to highlight all the areas in which he needs help so that he can continue to receive services, and that’s always very hard to hear. Three out of five people present in the meeting cried. Because we all want what’s best for Arthur. I am very lucky to feel so supported by his teachers and know that they really care about our kid.

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Aside from all this, there is life stuff. Work, no work, the ongoing concern about our living situation (our building was recently sold), school, projects, tests, field trips, sleepovers, birthdays, anniversaries!

11 years ago today Jeff and I went on our first date; 3 years (plus 1 day because April 17, 2011 was a Sunday) later we got hitched. 8 years after that brings us to today: to our imperfect perfect life. There’s no one I’d rather navigate through life with than Jeff. We might go crazy and celebrate with some coconut-based ice cream tonight!

Rockaway and Astoria Park

It’s spring. Like, really.

This weekend was picture perfect. As in: perfect in pictures, and fine in real life.

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We spent Saturday at the beach in Rockaway. The beach is definitely our happy place, and we all had fun. The boys and I dipped our toes into the freezing water and played in the sand. Lots of soccer and volcano/sand castle building.

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Jeff and the boys climbed on the rocks leading into the ocean, but that sort of thing scares me.

We rode our bikes, had a picnic; Jeff and I both took naps by the ocean. Why does the sound of waves make me so tired?

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We brought our teenager along for the day.

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After the beach we had an early dinner at a seafood shack by the water. Lots of fried shrimp, fish tacos and cold beer, and that’s always a winner with my family.

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It was a good day. With some very sweet moments, and some very frustrating moments. Such is life. But these happy faces, well, they’re everything.

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This morning we woke up and watched yesterday’s very important soccer game. The boys’ favorite team won 5-0, so they were in a cloud of red all day long.

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We spent the morning cleaning, playing, and listening to music and then took our bikes on the ferry to Queens. We spent the afternoon at Astoria Park, playing soccer and frisbee.

A guy was playing baseball near us and gave the boys a ‘thumbs up’ as we left, saying, “5-0! Great game!” I love New York.

Arthur colored his hair and nails red for the occasion. If only Bayern Munich knew that some of their biggest fans are right here in Brooklyn.

Also, this is what taking pictures with my kids is really like. Julian: very focused. Perfect photo smile. Arthur: I don’t even know. Being Arthur.

You’re enough.

Hey Mama.

Yes, you. Are you stressed, stretched and full of self-doubt? Tired, over-worked and yet feeling as if you’re not doing enough? Are you constantly under pressure, and is most of that pressure of your own creation?

In talking to my friends and listening to myself, I have learned that the answer for many of us is “yes” to all of the above. We’re always hustling. Working, planning, shopping, cooking, making lunches, taking kids to play dates and appointments, attending meetings at school, overseeing homework, practicing for tests, advocating for our kids with special needs – the list never ends. And those are just the basics. Then there is the mediating of fights, helping to navigate friendships, listening, showing interest, being patient and supportive, reading stories, building legos, nursing bruised knees and egos, and of course the immense responsibility of somehow raising our kids to be awesome, kind, well-rounded, happy human beings – or at least not messing them up completely.

All the while we are doing all of those things, there is the nagging feeling in the back of our heads that what we’re doing is not enough. We could take more time to play with our kids, have more energy to join a soccer game rather than watch from the bench, bake muffins rather than buy them, be more patient, be more present, be more, do more.

Guess what?

Showing up is enough. You are enough. What you’re doing is enough. You are here, every day. You listen. You hug. You love your kids beyond measure. That is enough. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

Here is my wish, my hope: May we all feel more comfortable in our own skin, more confident in our parenting abilities, more willing to carve out time for ourselves, less judgmental and more forgiving with ourselves and others, and more content in the moment. I promise the kids don’t care if the muffins came out of a box or out of the oven, they will understand if you talk to them and tell them you are too tired for one more story tonight, but how about a cuddle instead?

What matters in the end is that we are here, that we show up, and that we show kindness to those we love. Including ourselves.

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New York in Spring – Corona Park

What’s been going on? When Julian was asked to sum up his last week for his piano teacher, he said, “Well, I pulled out another tooth, and I found 6 dollars on the stairs at school!” So there.

The boys had their spring performance at school. They danced and sang and displayed their artwork and poems. All was “freedom” themed, and this poem here made me particularly proud.

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Also, lots of bike riding, friends’ parties, dress-up, and other shenanigans. Can we talk about my little Pippi Longstocking?!

 

So finally it’s spring, we’ve made it through the winter. Each year come springtime I am ready to fall in love with New York City all over again. I think all New Yorkers feel the same. Best city on earth, right? And New York in spring? Heaven.

This week I went on two 10-mile runs. The first took me from work on East 23rd Street down the Westside and around the tip of the island, and home to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge.

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On my second 10-miler I ran to Coney Island! It wasn’t the nicest day for it, but a walk on the beach and a hot dog afterwards were a nice treat.

 

On Saturday we went on a big adventure and discovered something we hadn’t seen before: Corona Park and the old grounds of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fair. We rode 12 miles each way – Jeff with both boys on the back. It was a good work-out, and a beautiful day for it.

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Corona Park was fascinating! It’s a beautiful park with lots of grass to run around and play soccer, but interspersed with old relics from the fairs. There is also the Queens Museum, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Zoo.

 

We had lunch and watched a pick-up soccer game, and of course played some soccer.

 

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Then we went to the zoo. It’s a sweet, small zoo, and it was nice to just take our time and walk around. The boys bought these stuffed animal bald eagles with their own money, and they are so in love.

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We made it home in time for dinner and an early bedtime for all. Rosy cheeks included.

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Almost Spring

The boys are such interesting creatures. Sometimes they are amazing together, and other times I want to put a restraining order on one of them to keep them apart.

On Friday afternoon Arthur had a play date at a friend’s house. When he got off the bus after school, he informed me that he had changed his mind and wanted to come home instead. I told him he had to stick to his word and that his friend was waiting for him, but since she lives just right down the street I would be able to pick him up as soon as he was done playing. That sounded reasonable to Arthur, and an hour later I was summoned to pick him up.

He told me that all he wanted was to come home and play with his brother. That’s all. And so they did.

On Saturday, however, they spent the day apart. Julian was invited to a birthday party, and Jeff had made plans to take Arthur to Gulliver’s Gate, where Julian had been to for another friend’s birthday. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since. Arthur and Jeff both loved it as well. Afterwards they went to Guitar Center, which is pretty much their happy place.

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Meanwhile Julian was playing with his friends in Prospect Park, and I had time to myself to go for a run through the park and treat myself to brunch afterwards. This week I ran 20 miles total – a new record for me.

Today we got our bikes out of storage. It wasn’t too warm today, but we were all happy to be back on our wheels. Man, it just changes everything.

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We rode around for a bit and went out for brunch.

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Then we rode to Fort Greene Park, where the boys basically rode around in circles, just happy to be on their bikes and outside. Arthur dressed to match his bike, coincidentally.

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We played and played, and damn, bring it, spring! We are ready.

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Silvermine Lake Hike

“Well, those were two hours out of my day I am never going to get back”, said my seven year old son during a low point on what was a beautiful adventure on snow-covered trails.

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But let’s backtrack.

Friday night we were hit with the notion of taking the family out on a hike. The next morning, bright and early-ish, we met Uncle Brian and were headed to Silvermine Lake in Harriman State Park, just west of the Hudson.

Just about an hour north of New York City, we found ourselves in the midst of absolutely stunning, snowy bliss. Hey! It’s a snowman on a lake!

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We hiked for about three hours, some of it uphill, and the boys alternated between elation and utter despair. Sort of like ordinary life on any given day. In one such moment, and after we had walked in the wrong direction for a not insignificant amount of time, Julian uttered the above quote. All of a sudden I was hiking with a grumpy old man/part-time model.

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In another moment of much frustration, when Arthur felt unfairly scolded, tired, and at the brink of giving up, he said (to Jeff), “I am not your kid anymore.” Boom.

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He has since come around and is his kid again. Until further notice. The giant post-hike burger and fries seemed to help.

All around, it was a beautiful day! … Despite what some of us may think.

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Luckiest Kid in Town

That’s me.

I’m still on a weekend high. This weekend I got to see and spend time with one of my favorite people on the planet, one of my best friends, and a constant force in my life since 1999, when I chatted her up at the Frankfurt airport as we were both about to embark on our year-long adventure as au pairs in the beautiful, frigid state of Minnesota.

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Nicky was in town for a long weekend with her lovely new boyfriend, Thomas. We were so happy they were here!

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I think my kids sense right away when someone is very meaningful to me, because they were completely in love with both of them from the very moment the boys got off the school bus on Friday.

 

I mean. Look at those faces.

We had the two over for dinner on Friday and Saturday (homemade pizza and spaghetti & meatballs, respectively), and loved wandering around our city together.

 

Now these two lovebirds are home safely in Germany, reunited with Nicky’s three kids, one of them my goddaughter. We miss them already.

On Sunday I went for my morning run. Have I mentioned that I’m training for the 10 mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia? I’m doing a couple of shorter runs here in the city prior to the Broad Street Run, and I am really excited for all of them. Having a goal to run towards is very motivating.

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The weekend had a soft landing with an outrageous snow day on Monday. Outrageous mostly because we hardly got any snow at all. Yet, schools remained closed, and my kids seemed content to roll around in the mud/snow.

 

At our friends’ house yesterday, where we all ordered pizza and ran around like wild, rabid monkeys, the boys discovered hair chalk pens. And of course the trusty face paint. Fantastic, no?

 

My kids are so much cooler than I ever was.

And here we go, off into another week!