Christmas and New Year

Christmas has come and gone, the New Year has come – and well…it’s still here. Happy 2019, everyone.

The boys were off for two and a half weeks this winter, which was really long and also really nice because it allowed for ample hours of laziness and play. Our new favorite: Clue.

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We took two quick trips: The first to New Jersey and Delaware, where the boys got to play and have a sleepover with their cousins. Also, their Grammy invited everyone to a performance of the Nutcracker at the First State Ballett in Delaware, of which she is also the President. We started with a tea party and open candy bar, followed by hot chocolate,  Nutella sandwiches and frosted cupcakes, followed by the assumption that children would sit still for two hours of ballet.

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Julian was really mesmerized and enjoyed it a lot. Arthur was…well…sort of into it? After intermission he was over it, but once he realized that he could cheer loudly during moments of enthusiastic applause, he got a second wind.

Then came Christmas. The boys got cookies and carrots ready for Santa and his reindeer, and Arthur drew this amazing picture. Julian wrote a heartfelt note to Santa. He was pretty convinced that he was on the naughty list this year.

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The next morning the boys woke up to exactly what they had wished for. Santa came through.

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The rest of winter break was spent building legos, playing soccer, making movies, reading Harry Potter, and just being together.

New Year’s the boys stayed up past midnight; I couldn’t believe it. They hung in there. It was nice to greet the new year with my favorite people.

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We ended the holidays with a quick trip to Kalahari waterpark in the Poconos – a Christmas present from Opa and Oma. We had the best time! The first day we spent seven hours splashing, sliding, and swimming. The boys didn’t even seem to want to stop for food, which is sort of unusual. Jeff and I had a blast, too. As my friend Amanda said: Coney Island people = waterpark people. It’s so true.

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For dinner and lunch we left the resort (because food = meh), but other than that we enjoyed the waterpark to the max and played many games in the arcade. Julian is completely fearless and even went down the scariest slides without thinking twice. One time I had to walk all the way back down because I became scared and had to send my seven year old up to ride down with Papa. Arthur was half and inch too short to be allowed onto every ride, but he got to do most.

As for me? I’m happy that I got to take a nap with Arthur, something that almost never happens anymore, as well as some decent snuggles with Jules. So no complaints for 2019 so far; we’re off to a strong start.

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Ups and Downs and In-Betweens

This week has not been the easiest. Today marks one year since Jeff lost his Dad, and it’s almost been a year since Jeff lost his job. And while there have been some freelance gigs since, we are really feeling the burden of not knowing when something more permanent will come along. It’s safe to say that this has been the hardest year we’ve shared together.

But there is light.

I have taken some time for myself and have started running again. This week alone I have gone on three runs for about 16 miles total, taking me through White Clay Creek State Park in Delaware (where we were for Thanksgiving), around the tip of Manhattan and over the bridge (Manhattan, not Brooklyn) and all through Brooklyn Bridge Park. I’ve enjoyed getting out and breathing the cold air, listening to music and feeling accomplished afterwards.

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Arthur has started to read! One night this week, at bedtime, he asked me if I wanted to read one last book with him. Jeff had already read a chapter of Harry Potter, but I said “yes” anyway. Arthur then proceeded to read this entire book to me, front to back, by himself all the while beaming with pride. After each page he stopped and gave me a kiss. Since then he’s been reading us a book each night, filling us all with joy and pride. Julian proclaimed, “You’re the smartest 5 1/2 year old I know!” Also, when Arthur sounds out unknown words, he sounds very much like Dory speaking “Whale.”

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The one thing Arthur wanted to accomplish this year was to learn how to read, and ta-da! It’s November and I guess summer break can come early. We’re done for the year.

Julian is loving his piano lessons so much. He practices each day, without a reminder from us. He is so ambitious and cheerful in his work, and he looks forward to seeing his teacher every week. They have such a sweet bond, and I feel lucky that we found him (and that the piano studio is right across the street from our house).

Also, Jeff finally has a bandmate under his roof. Now we just have to get Arthur that drum set…

Sometimes the days are long, the weeks even longer, but the months and years just fly by. I am reminded every day by how fleeting this time is, by how quickly the boys grow.

This year definitely brought us down, but I try to see the light in the small things and of course in my three guys. Onward!

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My quick tour of Germany

I’m home, back in my nest, after an all around wonderful week in Germany.

Here are some key take-aways:

  • Germany is lightyears ahead of the US when it comes to the environment. Wind turbines and solar panels cover vast stretches of the countryside. Plastic or paper bags aren’t offered anywhere – whether you buy groceries, books, or a new sweater.
  • Taxis have integrated children’s booster seats that just fold down from the back seat. Amazing!
  • Outdoor public pools are covered by insulated blow-up roofs and thus enable swimming even in the winer. What!? Come on, NYC, we can do this!
  • Germans are nice. We get a bad rap as a nation of stuck-up grumps with no sense of humor, but this trip proved that we are a bunch of likable, chatty people who will humor you if you’re just a tiny little bit friendly yourself.

But now back to my trip: I had a mostly sleepless flight to Frankfurt. I was seated next to a rather large man who wasn’t shy about the space he was using or tapping me on the shoulder to ask me to get up in reliable intervals. Anyway. I arrived safely in Frankfurt on Monday morning and took the ICE train to Stuttgart, all the while taking as many photos of trains and soccer advertisements in the airport as possible – for the boys, of course.

In Stuttgart I spent two full days in the office. I got to meet everyone I had gotten to know only via phone or email, and we had a really great exchange. I left feeling energized and completely exhausted at the same time. Tuesday night my dad met me in Stuttgart, and we had dinner together. One of the best things about my dad and me is that no matter how much time has passed since we last saw each other, we always pick up right where we left off.

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Over the next three days my dad would drive me half-way across Germany. First stop: Bamberg.

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I went to university in this picturesque, incredibly beautiful Bavarian town where I not only earned a degree, I most importantly made some of the best friends I’ll ever have. I met up with my friend Karolin right away, and when we ran towards each other and hugged, all we could do was cry and laugh and hug some more.

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To say we had missed each other would be an understatement. We had coffee at the café we spent hours upon hours in our 20s. I got to meet her adorable daughters. We strolled around Bamberg.

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For dinner that night my dad and I met up with another old friend of mine, Nora, and caught up over steak and lots of red wine.

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Our next stop was Neuwied, a small town by the Rhine River, where my parents made their new home about a year ago. We ate lots of cake and pasta and drank wine and watched soccer. All good, solid German fun.

The next morning my dad and I drove to Cologne.

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We did some shopping for the boys (soccer stuff, books) and met with my friend Nicky and her daughter Johanna (my goddaughter) for lunch at a brewery near the Dom. Nicky and I have been friends for almost 20 years, ever since we departed together for a year as au pairs in Minnesota, and through a stroke of luck lived near each other in that mostly frozen state – and we’ve been friends ever since with now five kids of our own between us.

Our last leg of the Germany tour took us to Düsseldorf, where we visited my sister, her husband, and my three adorable nieces. I just couldn’t believe how much they had grown; it had been three years since we last saw each other. They were so excited, so cute – I was head over heels.

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We went to a restaurant around the corner, where about 10 minutes after our arrival my littlest niece Pippa lost her balance and smashed her face into her sister’s chair. We pretty quickly realized it was more than a bloody lip; her two upper front teeth had taken the brunt of the fall and had been pushed back. So off we went to the ER. Because no trip is complete without checking out the local medical facilities. Kids, man. But Pippa and I really bonded over this tragedy. She sat on my lap and let me comfort her, and even fell asleep as we waited.

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The emergency dentist pushed the teeth back in, and many tears later we went home. My sister and I ate cold Greek take-out, too indifferent to really care, shared a beer, and also a bit of a laugh – because during my quick visit three years ago, my middle niece broke her foot pretty much right after we had arrived. I am not sure why my nieces are hurting themselves when I’m around, but I hope that unfortunate run ends here. I have one more niece who so far seems unaffected by my presence. [Spoiler alert: One of the teeth had to be pulled on Monday; there is still hope for the second tooth. Now Pippa looks like her older cousin, Julian, who knocked his front tooth out at the age of 14 months.]

Speaking of Julian. And Arthur. And Jeff. How did they manage without me? Totally fine, it turns out. Maybe I’ll let Jeff write about his week here at some point, but from what I can tell everyone was fine and well fed and had amazing lunch boxes for school and all their school work done and enough sleep and opportunities to play soccer. Arthur did accidentally eat half a pecan one day, so there was the potential for lots of drama, but it’s one of his lower allergens, and he was fine.

The boys picked me up at Newark Airport, sign in hand with German-flag-colored balloons. As soon as I saw my family, I had tears in my eyes. I had missed them, very obviously, but I had also had such a full and love-filled week that it made missing my boys more bearable. But now that I am back home I can’t stop hugging them, and I’ve made sure to give them enough kisses to make up for the ones I missed out on.

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Halloween and Soccer

A lot’s been going on, but mostly just life. As it should be, I suppose.

Halloween, other than Christmas and birthdays, is easily the boys’ favorite day of the year and was highly anticipated. Leading up to the Big Day, Jeff and Julian spent every free minute editing hours of shaky footage taken and “directed” by Julian, filming his aspiring actor friends. The result was “The Death of Halloween” – a soon-to-be box office hit, I’m sure. Julian and his friends had the opportunity to show the movie to the entire second grade as well as Kindergarten class; they were so proud.

Since our Halloween party last year was so much fun, we decided to make it an annual affair. This year we hosted 15 giddy, costumed, sugar-hungry kids, and we had a blast.

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We showed the movie, danced, played games, and ate lots of snacks.

Halloween itself was fun and overwhelming. It gets so crowded here in our neighborhood; it’s almost too much.

Even though Arthur had chosen to be a knight and we had his costume ready, he decided to be what he likes best in life: a soccer player. Julian was a referee.

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We scored way too much candy and have been eating way too much of it since Halloween. The night of Halloween, we gave the boys a set amount of candy they could eat while trick-or-treating (to prevent the constant begging for more candy), and Arthur had eaten his allotment within the first two blocks. Julian saved all of his candy for until after dinner. I think this right there perfectly sums up my boys’ personalities.

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Other than that we’ve been busy playing with friends, enjoying the gorgeous fall weather, riding our bikes, and reading Harry Potter.

Arthur was moved up in school to play soccer with the bigger kids (in Julian’s group), because his play was “dominating the Kindergarteners” (his coach’s words). Arthur was sort of sad not be playing with his buddies anymore, so I organized a weekend play date in Prospect Park with his friends. (I am secretly relieved because it means one less pick-up, and I also know that Arthur can easily keep up with the bigger kids. He’s been doing it all his life. Also, he still gets to play soccer with his classmates every single day when they go to the park during recess, so I don’t feel too bad.)

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I have a hard time putting into words how happy I am that Arthur has had such an easy time making friends at school. I always worry about his speech delay holding him back, or worse: other kids making fun of him, but I should have more faith in our Arthur. His funny, charming, easy-going nature is paving him the way.

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Yesterday we watched the marathon runners and cheered on our friends. What an inspiring event and one of the best days to be a New Yorker, no?

Next weekend I am packing my bags for a work trip to Germany, combined with a few days with family and friends. WITHOUT MY BOYS! This is the first time I will be away from them for more than a night…

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Another Day, another ER

What can I say? Yesterday started out really strong with a lovely morning with my boys, shopping for Halloween decorations and roaming around Brooklyn. Our night ended with an ER visit in Sleepy Hollow, NY.

We were invited to one of Jeff’s friend’s annual Oktoberfest parties upstate. Arthur and Julian made some very good choices regarding their outfits, and we were ready to party.

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We had lots of fun, ate lots of food, and the boys played lots of soccer. Then out of nowhere Arthur plopped himself into my lap, said his throat hurt, his belly hurt, and I noticed he couldn’t stop coughing. I took him into another room to look at him in better light, and he had hives all over his super red face. More hives on his back and chest. I knew I had to inject the EPI pen right away, and when I told him about what would happen, he said, “Yes, please give it to me!” I mean, what 5 year old asks for a shot in the leg? He was feeling horrible.

Within minutes of the EPI pen injection his symptoms improved. A friend drove us to a nearby ER, where we’d spend the next 4 hours observing Arthur and watching episodes of Scooby Doo.

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My poor baby.

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We took a late-night train back into the city with our sleepy babes.

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We were in bed by 1am, and of course no one slept in. Because why would we?

Arthur is fine today. He is back to being himself, but I am still shaken up. This is the second time he’s had an anaphylactic reaction within 6 months. At least last time I was fairly certain why it had happened: he had eaten a piece of a nut that was on a table at the cafe where we had a snack.

But I have no idea what the cause was yesterday, and that is the most terrifying thing of all. Arthur said he started feeling bad after he had eaten a hamburger, so it could have been anything. The bun, an ingredient in the burger, who knows? There were no nuts at the party, and he hadn’t eaten any baked goods. There is no way for me to keep him safe, to prevent this from happening at all. And that scares me to death. The unfairness of it all drives me up the wall, too. The fact that this happy-go-lucky boy has to deal with this terrible condition that makes his throat tighten seemingly out of nowhere. It just isn’t right. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

We’ll be ok.

So today. Today was not perfect. Here is what went wrong:

The children were horrible. And I mean: horrible. They didn’t listen (at all), they were loud, they were obnoxious, they were testing our patience left and right, and we were failing that test completely.

The weather was cloudy. Which is fine, generally, especially for October, but we wanted to spend the day at the beach and were hoping to see at least a tiny bit of sun.

Kavanaugh. I don’t think I need to add anything.

General (work-related) stress levels in our house are sky high.

When we arrived at Rockaway Beach, I cried. It was 11am, and I was exhausted. I was pretty much done with the day.

But then. Then I smelled the ocean. It’s an instant mood-shifter for me. Also, we were on our bikes. And how can I not feel an inkling of happiness with an ocean breeze in my face? With a bike underneath me and my family beside me (as annoying as they can be at times)?

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We had a picnic and rode around, exploring.

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These were the faces of today:

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None of these people are perfect, and that includes this person whose pants were not rolled up high enough…

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But we all work together, and we’re bound together, even when nothing else seems to work.

There was this moment, and you would have never guessed it was happening, but it was a moment nonetheless. I was resting on our picnic blanket, a beer in my hand, George Strait playing on the speaker, the boys playing in the sand, and I was watching the ocean. The waves were breaking and forming and breaking again. There was something so peaceful and so powerful in that moment, and I felt that everything would be ok.

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I know our days are long and the times we’re living can make us feel defeated. This latest act of political horrificness has the potential to make us feel powerless. No matter how much we march, how many people we call, who speaks up, who fights, and who shows courage – there are always others who will push you down with the flick of their big white thumbs. I am so over it.

But this is not the end, and we will come out on top.

In the meantime, after we’d stopped for coffee, cookies, and a game of “Exploding Kittens” at a local Rockaway bagel shop, killing time until our return ferry left, we noticed two groups of protesters. On the left side of the road people were shouting “No hate, no Trump” and so forth. Across the street others were holding “Trump 2020” signs. We slowly rode our bikes past this latter group and gave them the evil eye. Then we turned around, and high-fived the anti Trump crowd on the left while riding our bikes past them as they cheered. It made me sad and happy at the same time.

So yes. There will always be people who don’t get it, children who act annoying, and clouds on what could have been a sunny day. But there will also always be people who do get it; kids at some point snap out of being annoying; and yes, there will always be another sunny day.

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Probably tomorrow.

Growing Up

I’ve been thinking lately about my boys and how they have grown. It’s becoming more difficult to comfortably share things about them, because these things no longer focus on interrupted sleep, temper tantrums, and diapers. I am now dealing with very real, very powerful feelings, at all times, and lots of them. The boys see themselves now as part of a group, they evaluate their abilities based on the abilities of their peers, they have insecurities.

My academically strong, ever succeeding, super intelligent first born seems to struggle occasionally with his place in the world. Everything comes so easy to him, but soccer – the thing he loves the most – does not. Or at least he sees it that way. Perhaps he takes after his athletically challenged mother, or perhaps his expectations are too high. But it’s hard for him. He compares himself to other boys his age, boys who play soccer “professionally” and competitively in leagues and practice three to four times a week. He told me the other day that he always gets teamed up with the “bad players, because I’m a bad player, too.” It broke my heart a little. (Teamed up at recess in the park by the other kids, not by teachers, by the way.) For Halloween he wants to be a referee.

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But this is a lesson he has to learn. We’ve all learned it. You cannot be the best at everything. Some people aren’t the best at anything, and that’s fine, too. But Julian is so used to succeeding at everything that this, I think, is really getting to him. And I can’t fix it. This is something he has to figure out on his own.

The other day, while Arthur had after-school soccer, I took Julian out for a coffee and some pastries. I was reminded of how important this one-on-one time is with each of our kids. It really matters. We don’t always have the time, but it’s a really different dynamic when there’s only one kid to one parent. No distraction of a sibling, no boring talk between adults. Our last date in Chinatown was forever ago, and we’re due for another one. But first, I owe my little guy a date. We’re going out on Friday.

Arthur, meanwhile, my happy-go-lucky firecracker of a son, who is steadily accumulating medical expenses for trips to the ER, who still struggles with speech significantly, seems to have no fear.

There were some incidents on the school bus last week. Kids testing, enjoying an hour of unsupervised time with peers, figuring out what to do with themselves. There was some kicking by Arthur against the seat in front of him and some mean words spoken by older kids. Julian was super upset by it all. He said he didn’t want to take the bus anymore. Arthur, however, seemed unfazed. He is the toughest kid I know, and also the funniest. Lately, he’s been into dressing up, so some nights at around dinner time, he’ll put on a tie and a blazer as he pretends he’s the Papa. Which is funny because his actual Papa wears no ties and 80s band shirts.

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Last night, at way past bedtime, Julian snuck out of his room and told us his tooth was almost loose enough to fall out. So we took him to the bathroom, and Jeff showed him how to pull it out himself, and he did it. Here is his new sweet smile.

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He woke up to a new book, a note and some cash from the tooth fairy, and even though there have been some doubts, he still believes. Which reminds me that he is still little. Arthur told us proudly that he heard the tooth fairy fly into their room in the night.

Magic is everywhere.

End of Summer Fun

Right before school started, we managed to squeeze in some more “end of summer fun.” One morning, we met with Julian’s bestie from school and went climbing. The boys are fearless!

Afterwards we all had lunch together, before Julian left to hang out at his friend’s house, while I treated Arthur to an ice cream date.

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On Saturday we took the train up to the Bronx and spent the day at the Zoo. It was perfect, not too hot, and we walked around until our legs fell off. This picture was taken right before that happened.

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The next day we returned to the Bronx for what turned out to be one of my favorite adventures of late. We took our bikes on the subway and rode it to the end of the line to explore Pelham Bay Park, New York City’s biggest park. It’s more than three times the size of Central Park!

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We rode our bikes around and checked out the bay…

While riding around the park I’d smell wild lavender just randomly growing all around us. It was lovely!

We rode past the stables, and Arthur wanted to go on a pony ride! Here he is with his pony, Romeo.

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Then we rode over to Orchard Beach, which was just amazing. There was a stage and live music and tons of people eating, partying, and dancing to Puerto Rican tunes. It was so much fun!

We had some snacks and changed into our swim suits to take a dip in the ocean. It was perfect! Small waves, warm water, lots of fun. Being in the water with these guys is my all time favorite.

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Afterwards we met up with Brian and Katherine, who had rented bikes to join us for our adventure.

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We rode over to City Island, where Jeff and I hadn’t been since before the kids. We rode to a seafood restaurant at the end of the island and had ourselves some fried.

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We were all tired on the way home, but so, so happy. Here is Jeff, guardian of the bikes.

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Avalon, Round 4

Well, that’s a wrap. Summer is officially over, Labor Day has passed, and I am up early with the back to school/back to work nerves. So nothing better than reminiscing about our end of summer family vacation, right?

Last year we took a break from our annual trip to Avalon and spent a week in the Poconos, but this year we were back in full swing.

We rented a great house right by the beach (well, technically the second house from the beach) with a pool and five cousins who had the time of their lives.

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We all just had a blast. The ocean was awesome, the waves were not small, the pool was wonderful, and we spent a week just hanging out, playing, and eating a lot.

We spent evenings in town getting ice cream…

…and went on bike rides…

…and played games at the arcade.

Jeff and I got to spend some time together, which is always lovely. We went for a walk on the beach, for a bike ride, and one morning we got up early to watch the sun rise.

The kids were self sufficient. As much as I occasionally mourn the baby days of the past, I don’t miss sandy diapers or nap schedules or tantrums.

Anyway, the kids all had the best time. Julian and his cousin Ben (born 9 hours apart) spent hours jumping in the waves…

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I love that these kids are growing up with these annual trips with their cousins. How lucky we all are.

One night we went to Wildwood, ate hot dogs and hit all the rides. This picture of Arthur sums up how we feel about Wildwood.

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For reference, baby Arthur felt the same…

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It was nice to be so close to the beach and to have the pool as well. We just sort of went back and forth and basically spent the entire week in the water. Just the way I like it.

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Avalon, we adore you! And I hope that we will see you again next year. Until then!

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Kid A, Kid B

I’m sure most parents with more than one offspring will agree: It is a puzzling mystery that two kids with a similar genetic make-up and growing up under similar circumstances can be such wildly different creatures.

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Take Kid A: He is the spitting image of his father, but his mind resembles mine the most. He is a bookworm (40+ books on his reading log so far this summer!), studious, and focused. He is stubborn as all hell but also a little insecure. He is quiet, kind and caring but can explode when his feelings overwhelm him. He needs to win, pretty much all of the time, and given his older brother status, he usually does. We all suffer when he doesn’t. Also, he is a bit of a loner, just like his mama. At camp just around pick-up time, all the kids are sitting together, chatting, and eating their snacks. Julian sits by himself at a separate desk far away from the group, reading. I asked him why he doesn’t sit with the other kids, and he just said he wants to be alone to read. It’s not that he is unpopular; he is well liked by the other kids. They call his name across the schoolyard, wave to him, and give him little toys “for being one of the nicest kids in camp.” But it seems like he needs the solitude, and boy, can I relate. In that he is just like me. He also has my sense of rhythm (i.e. none) and my inability to tell a lie. I see myself in him so much, and it hurts a little bit to think that he isn’t heading down the easy, carefree road, but rather a road paved with insecurity and self-doubt and a sprinkle of loneliness. He’s been very emotional this summer and acting out more than usual, and I know it is because he is working through a lot. I’m excited for him that school will begin soon and he will be back in his element. School, books, and soccer – these are Julian’s favorites.

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Then there is Kid B. This guy resembles me a bit more with the same light blond hair I used to have, similar features, and the fact that he is ridiculously tall. But that’s where the similarities end. He has his father’s creative spirit and wit. He is carefree, sweet, and funny. He plays with Julian for hours and is (almost) never upset for being slower or for shooting less goals. At camp, Arthur walks down the halls, and random counselors – people I have never met before – walk up to him and give him a hug or a high five. He bounces up and down each day at pick-up, excited to tell me about his adventures. After dinner he puts on dance performances for us. At first it was Drake’s summer hit “In My Feelings”, and now he is amusing us with his moves to “The Middle” by Zedd. I can’t stop smiling when I see him dance. He has the spring in his step I never had in my entire life. The ability to dance as if no one is watching – even though everyone is watching. He has an enormous amount of confidence about him, which is even more impressive to me because he is still so very speech delayed. It just can’t stop him. He amazes me every day, and I admit: he’s a bit of a wildcard in my life. I can’t wait to see how he’ll do in school come September. He’s excited at the prospect of school, but then there are very few things in life he is not excited about.

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This summer has been such a learning curve for all of us, but mostly for the boys who had to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. I learned so much about them just by observing. They are both so unique and different from each other, and yet the strongest bond they have is the one they share with each other. They spend all their free time together: playing, plotting, driving us crazy and making our hearts burst all at the same time. We are the luckiest to have these creatures in our lives.