Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birthday Season Begins for the Grahams

One or more birthdays each month from February through August...we take a breather in April to celebrate Easter ;)

Bryn surrounded by her posse; 20 polite and very energetic 7th graders crowd in at the Spruces to celebrate her Day.

'Chinese New Year' was our Party theme; John and I played chef creating chow mein and fried rice with (costo supplied) egg rolls and lots of edamame (yes, I know that is not Chinese...)

The Winterized version of a Pinata Party; Pinata in the shape of a DRAGON is KICKED to pieces by above posse

Bryn's Birthday requests were for a 'good' baseball mitt and her own Nerf gun. Wishes granted.

Madi is next
followed by Lucy
then Mason
John and Katie
and finally,

it is a fun time of year to plan parties and purchase gifts, and it keeps us hoppin' around our house!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Valentine's Day at the Spruces..

enjoying as much mileage as possible from winter decor designed by my sister Jess.

Very determined to make a Valentine Box that looked like the Wii, Porter was our most excited and avid 'Valentine-er' this year. He had his Valentines addressed and treats ready days before he was to share them with his classmates

Madi had the best 'Valentine outfit'. Pink jeans, a red sweater, darling heart shoelaces, sweet red floral headband. And her Valentine box employed the most creative use of Duct Tape! The white bow on the box? Duct Tape. Plaid pattern? Duct Tape!

This year we tried something new, a Valentine Sweetheart dinner. Cheese and Chocolate Fondu, elaborately decorated table, entire family and our dear friend Cathy all gathered around for a very lovely, very long evening. We each shared what we love about the other, and I got to share with Cathy why each of our kids is unique and special. I loved having us all gathered there around the table for more than an hour; I think that is a Graham record. Thanks to friend Chelsea for holding my hand through my first fondu attempt!

Our long standing Valentine tradition; the huge heart shaped Love Note in the big window of our home. Each year the Valentine is re-made, sometimes its red, sometimes pink. Sometimes it says "Luv U" other years "Be Mine" ; you get the picture.
This is my yearly tradition just from me to the family I love. It goes in the window on Valentine's Day in time for the kids to walk home from school and see it. I asked Bryn this year if it means anything to her. She replied "it will, when I'm gone". Good enough reason to continue the tradition that began almost 7 years ago.

Not pictured? The heart shaped cookies from Great Harvest bakery that are usually wrapped and set out for our kids to enjoy for Valentine's day BREAKFAST.

Also, the very sleek and stylish black boots that John gifted to me on this lover's holiday. Nor do you see the '12 days of Valentines' thoughts and gifts that were placed on John's pillow each day before he came home from work.

Happy Hearts Day...hope yours was as lovely as mine!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Very Big Weekend followed closely by a Very Big Week

Our Big Weekend actually started on Thursday night, when Mason-whose rugby season starts in 3 weeks, sprained his ankle in a BIG way playing basketball with church friends. So, Friday was spent (at the insistence of EVERY MOTHER I KNOW) at an emergency room having his leg x-rayed....instead of home getting ready for Brynley's VERY BIG BIRTHDAY BASH. More pictures and photos of the bash to follow, but suffice it to say we had 20 teenage girls, spray paint, food, melted chocolate and cupcakes in our house from 7:30-midnight. BIG. Saturday John took me on a BIG DATE to celebrate Valentines Day. Sunday we had Family for dessert; not so big, just nice and laid back. Monday was spent preparing for a BIG DINNER in honor of Valentines. This dinner involved fondue, family and friends. It was big but it was FUN....

The rest of the week is BIG as well; Mason is awarded his Eagle Scout tomorrow, I stand in lines tonight and Thursday at parent teacher conference, Brynley's BIG BIRTHDAY is Thursday (13!) and Friday is a BIG SKI DAY as the kids are out of school.

The weeks that are BIG and full are not so many as you'd think with all the people who I nurture, but when they come they come with force, and they remind me that our family is BIG, my responsibilities in raising them are BIG and the rewards for doing so are BIG as well.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Wednesdays are spent here...

fingerprinting to learn about law enforcement

At Wheeler Farm to learn about a local historic landmark

The weeks are always busy. You know, getting one to swim team, another to ballet, helping the kids cook, assisting with their homework, piano and blah blah goes on. We all have busy lives and these times, even with pinched check books and expensive gasoline, is filled with carting our kids.

But our Wednesdays are spent, frantically, with cub scouts in the house. I was asked by our church leaders to help a group of boys grow from Wolf scouts to Bear Scouts this year. One major incentive for accepting? Porter is one of said scouts. And I want Porter to have scouts.

I've come to believe in scouting.

It has been a long journey, from jealous sister (why do my brothers get to go on week long camp outs and back packing trips and river runs and I have to stay home!) to clueless mother (Mason journeyed from wolf to Webelo without my assistance, practically). Then I was asked to be a leader. I had no boys in the program. All the training I got was 'here is the scout book, just follow it and you'll be fine'.

I limped along with those boys for 2 long years.

But I loved them.

And they needed scouting-to bring them together, to help them have common ground, to help them see that the world is about being civic, being kind, being GOOD.

And scouting teaches that.

Its been 3 years since I led that little troop. And this time its going to be different.

I'm not going to limp. I'm learning to stride.
I'm going to teach them by being a leader, not just a mother.
And I'll love these boys just as much as my other little troop-and I'll love ONE of them even more ('cause he's mine).

So amid the busy week, thrown in with other things, I'll save Wednesdays to spend with the scouts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Retiring Heroes

John made a trip to the attic for me, to store some of my favorite toys from our boys 'younger childhood'.

Mason was the first child and our first boy. I was not into having toys around that taught our kid to shoot (see here). But I wanted to provide "boy toys" for Mason, so he could develop his male identity-but with a decidedly altruistic/community servant kind of bent. I looked for toys that taught our kid to 'help'.

The Rescue Heroes hit the spot.

They had cool uniforms, awesome "tools" that looked like weapons created for good, and they were always the good guys. I was a relieved mother that I could encourage any kind of product for my son to enjoy his childhood. Mason partnered with them to put out fires, stop earth quakes, save children and animals from danger and repair damages to the ocean floor. His imagination was sufficiently stimulated, my conscience was sufficiently at peace.

As time passed, the heroes passed from Mason on to his brother. Porter continued to rescue kids from cliffs and figure out ways of lessening the damage of impending typhoons. He could travel to space with these heroes to fix damaged satellites. He rescued and I reveled in the good 'win win' kind of products that I had found in these heroes.

Now, Porter has grown up (a little). The Rescue Heroes (which were enjoyed by my girls as well, by the way) have been collecting dust and losing important rescue equipment hidden under Porter's bed. I've had to come to face facts;

I've put the heroes in the attic to retire.

I couldn't bare to part with them, I wanted to save them for grand kids. So last Saturday John hauled all that blessed plastic into the attic to rest.

Until my posterity need toys to imagine with.

I'm thankful for those toys. They rescued me from bored afternoons. They've opened my boys' minds to the idea that 'we use our minds and our hands to help, never ever to hurt'. That has been my mantra as a mother-even now when the kids curl their fists up at each other I remind them 'we help, we don't hurt'-those toys made it easy for me to spread that message...and now they will wait for another generation who will need to learn the same.

Thanks Rescue heroes, I"ll miss you!

Friday, February 04, 2011


mid fit, Molly shakes herself back and forth as we drive home from the grocery store. She is MAD!

Sadly, some of every day is spent with our darling in tears...

This is how I live about 45 minutes of every single day...with Molly screaming and shaking. The scream is usually formed in the word "NO". The shaking can sometimes be accompanied with the throwing of objects and the squeezing of fists. Often we also have running away from parents, and occassionally we have the destruction of something; the cutting of a drape, the scratching of fingernails on the leather couch-you get the picture-

and the picture isn't pretty.

Molly is unique in that she still throws these fits and she is 6 years old. She is also unique in that these fits are rarely shared with friends or teachers.

They are her gifts to me, her mother.

For the longest time I just didn't understand why she would blow up about the most random things. Then I learned a bit about a child's attachment, how it is formed, and how it is strengthened. Sadly, for her first few months Molly was not a part of our family, she was not given good opportunity to feel attached to her parents. For whatever reason that most important bonding experience was not what it needed to be.

Enter us; the family who received her at only 5 months old. Though we have loved her as our own from the start, Molly spent years in our home without being 'official'. It was only a formality of course; we've loved her as a daughter and felt attached to her from moment number ONE. But these things are vital in the emotional growth of our souls, and some scars remain for our little brown eyed wonder to tend to and to heal.

Its only a part of the days that we see the 'dark side' of Molly come through. Most all the other minutes we see the truly happy, wonderful, smart, unique, special and secure angel that will someday feel whole and complete. She yells because something is missing; she isn't sure what it is, and she doesn't know how to fix it. It will fix over time, I know it. She feels loved and knows that she belongs. She wants to be a "good Graham" and loves to be in our family. Her prayers include words of "we thank thee that we have each other."

"We thank thee that we LOVE each other."

She hugs and she kisses. She cuddles and she's cute. She's just learning what her feelings are and how she needs to deal with them.

And I am learning myself. Step one is to teach that she is responsible for her choices. That her power comes from making good decisions-and that she has NO power over the consequences of her actions. She can't erase consequences, she can't wish them away, she can't scream them away and she can't hide from them. This is a daily, hourly, minute by minute lesson that Molly is learning well and working to understand completely.

Step two? It is for ME to not throw fits of my own. I've had to learn to actively behave in a calm manner. To state my love for Molly even in the process of her tantrums, and to carefully and quietly administer fair consequences that do not harm my precious girl, but which connect and are naturally related to the choices she makes.

Not throwing fits of my own is taking time for me to learn. I'd become used to being pushed to a point where I would react to her disruptions-sometimes I'd yell back, or try to reason, or become upset because her fits were inconvenient to my schedule. But I am learning, and though it is hard I can feel an inner strength coming that I am very grateful for. A gift of calm in the chaos. An ability to keep the voice low and the gestures small. I determination to behave in a manner that communicates love and yet LOGIC. A demeanor of being in control of myself and setting a pattern of acting with deliberate calm when the situation doesn't suit me.

I hesitate to write it all out for you here, because I don't want to jinx the lucky streak I've been having, and because I don't want to point blame-ful fingers and birth parents nor do I want you to believe that our Molly is anything but wonderful, but it is a real, daily part of my current mothering experience. And now I can see a clear connection between how I react and how Molly chooses to behave the next time a fit is in the Que. She is still throwing them. They are still loud, and difficult and hair raising. Her scream still hurts my ears. But I believe with all my heart that we can make progress, turn the corner-so to speak-and let the angry, sad, frustrated Molly rest while the vibrant happy Graham-loving Molly comes forward in all her peaceful glory.

Here's to fewer fits, both for Molly AND for her mom. And for a daily feeling and rejoicing that we are -all 8 of us-Grahams together.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Faces to the Sun

The other day Lucy had a play date. She had a fever, but her best friend, V, hadn't been over in quite a long time. V's mom and I conferenced, she decided she'd take the risk so the girls could get together.

The sun has been so bright these last few days, yet the temperatures outside are frigid. Reminds me of our Chicago days; when winter looks bright from inside your apartment and feels cold to the bone deadly from the sidewalk....

Still, the sun is such a blessing, and I couldn't bear to see the girls spend the morning in the basement. I hauled up the toy kitchen and parked it in front of the back yard window. The girls rolled the grocery cart underfoot while I wiped the real kitchen down with clorox and soft scrub.

After a while V showed Lucy how she could draw on the window, by just 'blowing smoke' onto the glass. The girls fogged and drew, fogged and drew and giggle and giggled and giggled. Their faces to the sunny back yard-it made me smile to see them 'making happy' together.

These winter days are dreary for me. Lucy's fever is just one of many of our chidrens' ailments this year; strep, flu, walking pneumonia and the viral fever that lasts 5 days (no name for that one) have kept me in and feeling blue. It was so nice to see these children turn toward light to make themselves merry.

I thought about turning toward the light in order to feel more happy. I went in my room while the kids giggled and drew and knelt down on the ground.

I turned toward the Light myself, and the rest of my day was made happier.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What I wore to the Gunshop

For Christmas my teenage son gave me a unique gift. On an appointed day I would go to the local gun store, learn how to load a gun, and shoot at a target down in their gun range. He thought it was the coolest gift he could give me. I thought I was cool to not refuse the gift. I deliberately planned my clothing to include a strand of pearls. A kind of June Cleaver nod as I step into modern motherhood. Showing my teenage son that I'm not too scared for bullets while maintaining my feminine edge. A checkered shirt shouts "outdoorsman" while satin bow screams "JCrew cool". I left the house, tongue firmly in my cheek, to show my men how man I am.

John wants to own a gun. He spent his teenage years shooting trap with his father and squirrels with his buddies. They feel natural to him, and he wants to enjoy the same 'fun' he had when he was a kid.

Guns were not a part of my family culture. The only gun story in my growing up years was told by my dad. It involved him-as a teenager growing up in Australia-and a poor kangaroo who got the bullet my dad shot from his 'little 22'. The height of the kangaroo's jump, the sound of its scream, the way that it died after a second bullet was employed, the hot tears running down my teenage father's face are all part of that story. We never had guns in our house.

But I want to be open minded. So I went to shoot a gun at the gun shop.

The culture of a gun shop is very interesting. I walk inside to see ammunition and firearms from floor to ceiling, and several proud shop workers greet me with smiles all around. I feel shy and stupid, naive and ill prepared. After others who have come for their shooting debut have gathered in the belly of the store we all ascend to an upper room. A single classroom with some folding chairs and bright white painted walls awaits us. Tupperware boxes of firearms sit beside the instructor. He passes around papers that ask 'have you taken illicit drugs in the past 24 hours?' and 'are you mentally sound?' and asks us to answer honestly. The hair underneath my satin bow begins to stand on end. At this moment I realize that I am playing with something that can kill me. The smirk I've been wearing since I dressed this morning leaves my face for good.

We are shown how to hold a gun, how to load a gun, how to unlock the safety of a gun, how to aim a gun, and how to shoot the gun all in a matter of 15 minutes. The rest of the instruction time is taken up with questions asked by all the other students. The instructor, who actually teaches 'guns' at the University, fields these queries with ease. I had no idea the others in the class actually came because they had an interest in guns. I just had an interest in looking cool for my kid and impressing my husband.

We descend from the upper room, down a narrow staircase, and are outfitted with eye protection (science class eye shields) and ear phones (1980's head phones for your boom box) and are shown the 'pieces' we will shoot. Wisely, GunMaster Teacher has laid out the guns we will use to shoot targets in different stalls of the shop's gun range. Instead of standing still at a shooting stall and passing the guns around, we will rotate from one stall to another-so no one is carrying a gun. I guess he'd had some experience with shooters who've had 15-20 minutes of gun toting instruction.

As we enter the range our teacher hands us a bag of bullets. Shells, he calls them. This is the second time I realize I am playing with something that can kill me. I begin to look around at the other people I am with. My observation makes the hair on my arms stand on end.

To my right, my left, behind me and in front of me are all standing people with firearms. They are not part of the class-they have come as they do every Saturday. To shoot their guns at targets. Some are obviously policemen or military men. Others look more like the guns they have shot release pixels and not bullets, and their time aside from Saturday morning gun practice is spent in front of a video game. I realize that others are playing with something that can kill me. My eyebrows raise, and are stuck, high up on my forehead, until I leave the gun shop.

These others go eagerly into the gun range, and set up their targets and guns. I watch as paper photos of Osama or Military looking madmen are clipped to a moving wire, then scrolled back to the back of the gun range. Bullets are loaded, safeties released and guns are raised to the shoulders of several men and women. I look in front of me. A small pistol with pink camouflage all over it is staring me in the face. Its barrel is empty and opened, for me to load and close. My fingers become jello. I move in slow motion.

And then the shooting begins.

The others, the ones who knew how to load their weapons, have begun pelting their human form targets. The sound causes me to jump. My hands shake a little, and I realize that I am in a place where I could definitely become DEAD. There is no more hair to stand up anywhere. My option is to leave, or to shoot the bullets given me and then go.

I decide to man up. I load the bullets. I ask for help to unlock the safety (15 minutes was not enough instruction for me) and I try to hit my target. The sound of my gun releasing its ammunition makes me jump at myself. My bullets go high, they hit but not dead on. The instructor comes over to calm me.

"You don't need to fear the gun. You just need to respect it".

I look at the others. I think I understand what my teacher has said to me, but, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one.

After what seemed like eternity, I had used up all my bullets. In that length of time I shot 3 hand guns and 2 rifles. The rifles felt most comfortable. Something about them being the size of the guns that shot animals for food and kept people safe "out on the prairie" seemed most legitimate for me to be shooting. The handguns felt illegal. Their purpose seems only to inflict pain on other humans. That's not 'authentic Katie' for sure.

I shook the hand of my instructor, and left the gun range before my fellow classmates. They were taking photos of themselves with the guns and the targets and the eye protection and the ear phones. I wanted to leave. I felt glad I followed through, and I asked for a target to keep. I wanted my men to see that I had done what they sent me to do. I'm not exactly sure that I could do it again.

As I drove home I passed the the Sweet Tooth Fairy, and stopped without even knowing it. Chocolate or vanilla, sprinkles or frosting seemed to so much better suit me over rifle or handgun. How many cakes to take home to my kids a much more adequate question than whether I preferred semi automatic or full. My satin ribbon in place, my pearls and my checkered shirt-

what I wore to the gun shop looked a lot more fitting for the bakery.