TWO HUNDRED FORTY ONE…6 year assessment

Cecilia Rae

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 It took me forty years to make it to Alaska and just a few weeks ago we celebrated Cecilia’s 6th birthday in Fairbanks.

For her birthday we took her to the kid friendly Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. We spent a couple of hours watching her run around enticing her sisters to chase her up the stairs, down the slide, and through the small plastic tunnels. We pushed her on the toddler swings and she jumped over cracks in the sidewalk until she finally sauntered over to us and asked for, “Book time mommy?” which is CC talk for “I’m ready for a nap now”. For dinner, we let the girls do CC’s favorite activity of making pizza bagels for dinner, followed by cupcakes, ice cream, and of course presents. Just a typical birthday.

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I’ve been taking stock of our lives lately and trying to really absorb who we all are in this time in our life. We are closing in on the end of yet another year. Once we pass July 29th, her birthday, we round the corner to all the holidays and birthdays that follow. It’s inevitable decent on our roller coaster-like existence.

As of today, Tuesday the 7th of August 2017, this is where Cecilia is in her life…

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She wears her heart on her sleeve. When it’s raining outside and we are playing alligator in the RV AND I’m on the floor growling and acting like a wild…alligator, she backs herself into a corner and begins to cry. On a normal day if we make a ‘mean’ or ‘scary’ face in her general direction, it automatically brings tears to her eyes. Of course, we all immediately stop what we’re doing and come to her rescue.

But that’s not to say she is sweet and sensitive all the time. She most definitely has her days and issues just like any toddler. If you’re sitting near her during mealtime and attempt to swipe a cracker or other form of carbohydrate, prepare yourself for both a verbal and physical assault. And let me tell you, for a six-year-old, her slaps will leave a mark.

With that being said, if she hurts you on accident, be ready for some serious hug time and a good fifteen minute period of her looking into your eyes, while holding your face in her tiny little hands, and a litany of apologetic, “I’m so sorry Mommy…are you ok…I love you mommy, I’m so sorry…my poor sweetie, you didn’t deserve that” rhetoric. She embodies sincerity and empathy. If I didn’t know and wanted to learn how to issue an authentic apology, I would observe Cecilia for a day.

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She will follow you around just waiting for you to bestow a “job” on her and when she completes the job, will bask in the glory if you brag about how well she did. And when she calls attention to others in the room so they can observe her hard work in action, the smile it brings her when you notice, is worth everything.

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She loves reading books with someone who appreciates a good cuddle. And if you’re laying down with her and you see her little hand stretching out to touch your eye, just allow her to run her forefinger on your lashes. She won’t poke you in the eye, she just wants to touch your lashes.

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She listens better and follows direction better if it’s given outside among the grass, trees, wind, and clouds. She loves loves loves to swim.

As soon as she opens her eyes in the morning, she hops out of bed with a happy heart ready to bestow kisses on the first person she sees. She thrives on routine. If she sees you crying, she will part the ocean to come and give you comfort. If she feels she is competing for your attention, she will up the cuteness factor tenfold. When she dances she loves to swing her little hips back and forth. When it’s nighttime before we put her pajamas on, she does this thing where she grabs the strands of hair that have fallen in the front with both hands and tosses them behind her back. Totally cute. And she does it every time. Such a girly girl.

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She loves to play with play-doh. Her favorite thing to eat for breakfast is cinnamon raisin bagels. Her favorite lunch is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And don’t even think about skipping Friday night pizza time where she competes with her sisters for winning one of the coveted three categories for best pizza: 1. most creative pizza 2. most yummiest pizza 3. funniest looking pizza. She needed help with her pizza in the beginning, but will swipe your hand away if you come anywhere near her pizza today. She is perfecting her pizza-making craft and she doesn’t want any help from those who don’t share her vision.

 She wants to be independent in the grocery store and walk alongside the cart, but she will just up and wander away if you aren’t paying attention.

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She gives two physical signs when she’s tired. The first of which involves putting her thumb in her mouth and raising her other hand to her face so she can touch her eyelashes. The second is when she clicks her jaw open and makes a yawning sound. If we’re in public it’s particularly intriguing to strangers who will openly stare at her and then turn to me with a look of, “why are you taking her out of the house?” To which I smile at them and give her a kiss and engage her in conversation.

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You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Cecilia does. She makes use of that phrase when asking for…damn near anything. If you’re not on her timeline be  prepared for, “Mommy, I want ice water please…Ice water please, Mommy…Mommy, water with ice please…Mommy…Mommy, please ice water…Can I have water with ice please” and on and on it goes until she has her plastic cup with lid and straw in her little hands. She will check to make sure the ice is in there as well….so if you think you might get something past her watchful eye, think again.

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Her baby years are long gone. With all of our children, I cherished those years where our days were filled with cuddling, nursing, staring into each others eyes, and celebrating the tiniest of milestones. My words cannot pay homage to the absolute joy I feel as a mother. It is without a doubt the hardest job I’ve ever had: meal planning, clothes washing, house cleaning, school prep, are they getting enough sleep questions, when was the last time one of them had a good bowel movement, the constant worry deep within about whether I am good enough, am I doing enough, will they be happy and productive members of society, do they feel good about themselves, are they kind to others, are they getting enough outside time, how much is this lifestyle choice going to cost them in therapy bills when they reach adulthood, are they polite, are Abby and Phoebe getting enough one on one time with me or their daddy, do I spend too much time with Cecilia, have they all bathed, do they feel safe, do they know they are loved…the list goes on.

On the other hand, it is without a doubt the best most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

My mom asked me one time when I was pregnant with Phoebe, “Are you ever afraid that you won’t love the second one as much as the first one?” I didn’t even think about it…the answer was as clear to me then as it is today, “I have so much love to give…I love being a mother and I can’t wait to have more babies.”

Of course that goes back to the time when we were convinced we would have around five kids. Even though we face tough days and have days where we are constantly looking at the clock only to find three minutes has crawled by, I wouldn’t change our lives for anything. There’s no one else I want to be, there’s no place else I want to be, and there’s no one else I would want to be with. I feel so happy, thankful, and overwhelmed with gratitude.

241 b.jpgUsually around this time of year, right before our roller coaster reaches the summit and inches over the little hill for the final descent to the new year, I become a gooey mess. It all starts with this little girls birthday.

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TWO HUNDRED THIRTY NINE…buffalo, moose, and bears oh my

1,390 miles

14 hours per day

For 96 hours (a total of 4 days in case your like me and suck at math)

On Highway 2

That’s right friends we made it

A L A S K A

The final frontier

If you want to go back and re-read the introduction from beginning to end with your best Will Arnett vocal impersonation I encourage you to do so. I just did it in my head and I must say, It sounded amazing. And one more thing, when you read the line “The final frontier” make sure to use your lower register and move your eyebrows up and down in a really sinister way… just try it. It really helps in getting the message across.

Hmm where to begin. Do I start with the 4 days driving on half gravelled/half paved spine crushing roads. Should I open with a bragadocious piece of information about my finishing 3 audible thrillers within four days. Maybe I should begin with how overly enthusiastic we were when the trip began and how our attitudes for adventure quickly waned by the end of the second day. Or maybe, just maybe, I start with the end of the story where we were all willing to give Cecilia her own Tobagon complete with a group of Alaskan Huskies so that when she yelled, her directions would not only be welcome, but expected.

I guess it doesn’t really matter where I begin, as long as I accurately convey that 1,390 miles of half paved/half gravelled spine crushing roads will test the patience of even the most enthusiastic of road trippers and potentially jam your vertebrae together to pinch a large collection of nerves. We put in 12 sometimes 14 hour days on highway number 2 and it was every bit as treacherous and beautiful as they say.

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Along the way we had lessons in Science everywhere we looked, with all the wildlife roaming free around this vast landscape. We saw moose, buffalo, and many many bears. It was something to see these animals up close. It was intimidating to see how big they were and we were in an RV…which sits up pretty high.  The girls were enamoured with the animals facial expressions. We thoroughly entertained ourselves with made-up inner dialogues of each group:

Abby suggested the moose needed to cross the road to meet up with other moose peeps for their journey to camp…moose guarding camp of course.

Groups of buffalo looking to change-up their scenery would begrudgingly follow the leader of the pack. According to both Phoebe and Abby their dialogue went as follows:

Buffalo number 24 says to Buffalo Number 25 all the way in the back of the pack, “Do you know why Fred is going back this way?”

Buffalo Number 25 answers, “Fred pooped his pants and needs new underwear.” But it doesn’t end there, continue to repeat the poop line six or seven times and with every proclamation as if on cue, high-pitched giggling ensues.

We ran into some luck and actually saw a buffalo pooping on the side of the road, so that was the highlight of the day. Who am I kidding, it was the highlight of the entire trip…for the girls.

Both girls agreed the buffalo were heading to the nearest mall…for the Buffalo underwear…don’t want to be caught with turtle tracks in your undies!! The conversation went on for a lot longer than I care to record here. You should feel secure in knowing hours of “belly gas”  conversation which led to both topics of  belching and the always popular farting were discussed at length. Or more like ad nauseam. I hope with all of the “issues” those poor buffalo were afflicted with, they have finally recouped from their flatulent bellies. Fingers crossed on that one folks. Fingers crossed!

Of course all along our journey we saw several families of mamma bears and their baby cubs going scavenging and foraging for the upcoming school year. “They are hoping to find new satchels, computers, and shoes” that was my contribution. Not quite as exciting and scandalous as gaseous buffalo and camp-bound moose, but by the fourth day I wasn’t overly concerned about my creative responses. I just wanted to get the BLEEP out of the asylum on wheels.

Greg even swears he saw a reindeer with big fuzzy antlers which my friend Elena and I have named Boots. Unfortunately my friend Elena isn’t with us on our journey, but I pretend she is by texting her every five minutes to give her updates on our tremendously exciting lives. She’s super jealous.

Just kidding. She’s not jealous.

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For the first two days of our journey Thursday and Friday, I drove the entire time just because it was a workday for the hubs. So he used one of his many audible tokens to give me a 13.5 hour audio crime thriller by Author Gillian Flynn called Dark Places. This is the same author who wrote Gone Girl.

From the moment the book began to four hours later, I took my first bathroom break, which is unheard of for me. I’m usually an every two-hour potty break kind of girl. I drink a lot of water.

A LOT OF WATER.

Needless to say, I finished the 13 hour book just as we were pulling into our first stop-over on our very first day. I was dumbfounded for an hour or so, still completely enveloped in the world created by the author. I then promptly begged Greg to get the authors third book Sharp Edges.

The next day, Friday, 9 hours came and went and just like that. All the characters I had become so invested in, were gone. Poof. Into thin air. Never to materialize into the film going on in my mind. I had to shake these characters off. I was too tightly wrapped up in their world. I was too affected. Too emotionally involved. Attached. Invested.

It was time for a third crime book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The summer of 1999, after graduating from my undergrad program, I moved to New York. I was terribly lonely and subletting a room with fellow classmates from previous years. I stole In Cold Blood from my roommate Jonathan, and read it on my subway commute to midtown everyday…because reading crime novels is a great way to lift your spirits. I wanted another book like Gillian Flynn’s previous two. So this is the book I picked. Let me just say, it was creepy in the summer of 99 and it was creepy this past Sunday when I finished the 14 hour book in one day.

In between listening to books, Greg and I would pause to solve all of the worlds problems and try our very best to ignore the screaming, whining, crying jags from the girls.

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After the first 14 hours of driving on Thursday Cecilia was over all the cool coloring books, crafting supplies, small fun little toys, and little books we had bought specifically for this trip.

Abby and Phoebe are old enough to switch from one activity to another but Cecilia really likes it when I am at her beck and call sit with and show her how to use the stickers and color in her coloring books, when I read books to her, and finally when I play with her.

I love getting her started on all activities…but then I am ready to let her play/practice on her own. She was not down with that philosophy…at all…and would frequently yell loudly voice her protestations.

And after the second day of her declarations, we were all over it. Honestly, I am surprised I still have hair. BUT, we made it.

We are in ALASKA.

I’ve waited my whole young adult life to visit this land. I keep pinching myself, it’s so hard to believe. I’ve built it up so much in my mind…what the trees would look like, the crisp weather, the fresh smell of that crisp cool weather, the sound of nature, miles upon miles of untouched non-homogenized lands, and of course the people who call this unspoiled state home.

As soon as my spine heals, I am going to soak up everything Alaska has to offer. I want to experience everything. But not if it’s dangerous. No danger here folks. If the bears, buffalo, and Moose could just sort of…I don’t know…maybe hang out around the perimeter while the Spranger’s are here…that would be great. Totally awesome. Seriously, completely awesome.

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TWO HUNDRED NINE…you had me at “bookstore”

209 j (1 of 1).jpgI am watching my children tickle one another on the floor while my ears are covered with Greg’s massive headphones. I’m lost in the rhythms and lyrics of ‘Breathless’ by Small Black. So I cannot hear them as they giggle, squeal, and protest one another.

It is lovely.

This morning Abby said she wanted a new book. She’s double digits now and conscious of everything I am into. I know she is aware of my affections for aimlessly wandering around bookstores. I am guessing she is beginning to suspect I have a unique borderline unhealthy relationship with them.

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I wonder around bookstores the way most people wander around department or clothing stores. And if you were to see the way I dress, it would all make sense. The way some people touch the fabrics to feel the weight or softness of the material trying to decide if it is something they might like to have against their skin, is the way I touch new books hoping to feel the connection to its weight and softness shiny smooth paperback flesh or am I going to go for its cold coarse hard cover counterpart?

The reasons some people read the fabric’s care instructions, are the same reasons I read the reviews: I want to know how much work is involved, is it an easy read or will I have to re-read paragraphs,  will it sustain my interest or will my mind wander, will I be able to put it down for months at a time or have a week of sleepless nights because I cannot imagine putting it down?

The assessment of the garments style, I would argue is my way of accessing whether or not I am in the correct mindset to take on the book in question. For years after grad school, I was only able to read resource books. I couldn’t get enough of them. Since my focus was in early childhood development, I couldn’t walk into a bookstore and not pick up and eventually purchase a new theorist’s take on brain-based learning. If I was on the verge of finishing a knitting project, I needed a new knitting book for my next project. “Doh, Phoebe is a right-brained learner? Well, let’s get a book on the best way to teach those who are…you guessed it, right-brained learners.”

Having a child with Down syndrome, definitely took my love of resource books to a new level and eventually I hit some sort of resource book wall. I began and finished my first book of fiction within a weeks time over the summer. And not-so-patiently waited for the movie release. It was a cathartic experience. And in my interim for finding my next work of fiction, I am once again reading 3 resource books. So I guess my resource book wall is not as high as I thought.

 So when Abby tells me of her desires for a new book, she’s tapping into an addiction I try to keep beneath the surface. I haven’t been to a bookstore in almost a month. Actually if I retrace my location by weeks, I didn’t visit a bookstore in Chowchilla, CA…we were in Pismo (for 3 weeks) and I walked by a Barnes n Nobles 2/3 times but it was Halloween and why would I go in a bookstore on Halloween with kids that would make me super selfish, I’m selfish for sure, but I don’t know if I’m super selfish…before Pismo we were in the unmentionable town for a week and there was definitely not a bookstore nearby…Idaho, once again walked by a Barnes N Nobles but I was late for my movie so I couldn’t go in then…again, we were there for a week…Mount Shasta, CA I didn’t visit a bookstore then either and that was 3 weeks…Oregon for 4 weeks and definitely no bookstores there. Oh man, I haven’t been to a bookstore in over two months.

Well, it was certainly time. Abby scratched an itch…so we drove 90 minutes in the jeep, on the highway, with the tops off, going 75 with a surf rack on top. We couldn’t hear a damn thing, but who cares? We were going to a bookstore.

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“I want one of those really old classical books from like 1980’s, where there hard covered and really long” she confessed. “Oh wow, 1980’s? Do you think you’ll be able to read and understand the language of that really old-time” I asked dripping with sarcasm. Of course it went right over her head…as I hoped it would to which she responded, “Yes, I think I will understand it…I just want to read something old”. “Yes, you said that already” I reminded her. “What are you hoping to read about” I asked her trying to see if I could point her in the right direction…

…and she thoughtfully replied “Oh just something really…”.

“Old” I replied?

“Yes” she boasted.

I could tell she knew, I knew what she was talking about.

“I have just the thing” I told her.

I had been holding off on my childhood favorite ‘Anne of Green Gables’ hoping for this very moment.

When we walked into Barnes N Nobles in Nevada, a full 90 minutes later with our wind-blown hair, we made a B-line right for the children’s section and there it was, basking in a the brightest spotlight shining on its light mauve hardcover color complete with gold lettering, attached satin bookmark holder, and gold trimmed pages. It was small and perfect.

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I reached for it and grabbed it with my all-too enthusiastic hands. I was too excited. I turned the book over and read the synopsis…handed it to her or more like shoved it in her face and more or less said, “Here, this is what you’re looking for” with utter confidence.

Looking back I now see how that definitely could have been a turn off. I went for the one I wanted first. I should have gone with ’20 thousand leagues under the sea’ first or ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ first although it would have been my second choice. Both Anne of Green Gables and The Swiss Family Robinson were smaller hard copies. “A manageable read” I thought.

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Annoyed with my over-excited aggressive omniscient attitude, she put both of them back on the shelf. “Oh rats balls, I’ve just lost her…she’s going to go for Peter Pan or something else…but I really want her to choose Anne of Green Gables…should I push her, give her an ultimatum or just get her the book I want her to get and completely ignore/discount her feelings” went through my mind in a split second.

She bent down, picked up The Tales of Peter Rabbit which for the record, was twice as thick, twice as heavy and of course, twice the price of my pick.

She’s gone through her chapter books, graphic novels, and series books, Harry Potter and Roald Dahl phases. The classics are of interest to her now. But I really wanted to read Anne of Green Gables with her…and then Greg’s voice popped into my head with his, “Why does she have to go with your pick? Peter Rabbit is just as much of a classic if not more than Anne? If she picks yours and doesn’t finish will you blame her or yourself? If she picks Peter Rabbit and doesn’t finish will you blame yourself or her? She can always read Anne of Green Gables next can’t she? Or is it out of print and this is the last copy anyone will ever see?”

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“Ugh, shut up. Even when you’re not with me, you’re in my head…rationalizing and weighing out the pros and cons” I argue with myself. Ultimately I have those “What would Greg say” moments when I have this nagging feeling I might be imposing my desires for my children on my children rather than allowing them to forge their own path. “FINE” I quietly concede defeat to my husband in our imaginary argument, “You’ve won again…are you happy now?” I just had to get that last dig in after allowing him to gain the upper hand.

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“That’s a great choice Abby, I just want to make sure you feel confident about taking on a book this large. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed and not finish” I explained. “I love Peter Rabbit!” she gloated. “Peter Rabbit it is then” I took the book from her hands and put it with the books I had picked out for Cecilia. I then allowed Phoebe to pick out some of her own graphic novels and chapter books.

On our 90 mile drive back to the RV through the desert, she read a quarter of the mammoth book. If she keeps this up, we might be going back this weekend to pick up Anne of Green Gables after all. Two visits to a bookstore in one week…is it my birthday?

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TWO HUNDRED…what the what?

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Sanity has come back to the Beaver! Hip Hip! Everyone, grab their favorite beverage and join me on the playground!! Continue reading