Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An elf in the closet

I have just emerged from our cedar closet after being holed up in there for at least a couple hours. I've been feverishly wrapping the kids' Christmas presents in there with one ear on the door, praying they don't wake up and come downstairs. That's how I found out, around the age of 9, when I crept downstairs Christmas Eve night to find my father wrapping my mom's new dishwasher under the tree. Heartbreak!

Christmas 1979 with my sisters. Me in pigtails, with a beloved dollie!
It's back-breaking work you know, choosing separate wrapping for each child, being sure that anything from mommy or daddy isn't wrapped in the same paper as Santa, and that Santa's penmanship is distinctly different than mine. It's a big job to be sure all four children have just an equal amount of presents each, with comparable goodies for each stocking, too.

I think I get more of a thrill out of wrapping the kids' presents than I do when they open them. The anticipation of their faces when they creep down the steps Christmas morning, then tearing into each gift, squealing with delight at seeing something off their wish lists-- it's too much! Oh the toys and games -- Chutes and Ladders and Twister, the Care Bears (who grin at me with the same cuddly 1980s faces I remember from my childhood), the Legos (which I'd rather stay in the box) and those Barbies! I think I peed my pants when I got this year's Holiday Barbie basically for half price at Kmart. Brayden has been asking for a motorcycle/dirt bike for the past two years and this is finally the year Santa is going to deliver.

I love this time of year because it reminds me of how sweet and precious it is for a child to be a child and how happy they are to delight in simple pleasures like these. Cheap pleasures, like a $2 My Little Pony stuffed animal or a blue Barbie horse I found at a garage sale two months ago for less than a buck. For me, seeing the pure joy in my child's face at a mountain of new toys just brings back memories of those wonderful Christmas memories I had growing up, too.

They were good and simple - fun memories of being a child in late December. Memories of freezing our toes off in the blue station wagon as my dad dragged countless trees to the window for our approval; driving around the neighborhood ooh'ing and aahh'ing at the Christmas lights, hearing my sister sing Silent Night in the children's choir at midnight mass. It was a time when my grandparents were still alive. I remember the smell of fresh pine needles at my Grandpa and Grandma Miller's house, that smell of about 18 different casseroles and the roar of laughter from my aunts and uncles packed in their living room, waiting for Santa to arrive via golf cart from their back yard (apparently that was a perk to living off a golf course in South Bend -- Santa visits in style!)

I remember the beautiful sound of my Uncle Larry playing Christmas songs on Grandma Dominello's little upright piano after our Italian feast at her house each Christmas Day! I miss those little, chewy, nougat candy things she always had, I don't know what they were called, but they came in these little tiny boxes with Italian writing on them. I don't know how much those candies cost her, but she had them for us every year without fail and that memory to me today is priceless.

I hope my children will someday relish in their memories of Christmas too, of the fun they have -- with both our families, with cousins and aunts and uncles and with each other. I hope they realize how much we love them and that I view this as our most important job right now - to make this time special, fun and so wonderfully memorable.

Merry Christmas all!




Sunday, July 13, 2014

My sweet old Kentucky home

I'm busting out Kleenex tonight. Whenever I sit at my computer and it goes idle for a minute, the screen saver scrolls old pictures from my desktop. Flashes of us as newlyweds posing together on the patio, a snap of two dogs panting in front of 6-foot sunflowers, then shots of Brayden, at 6 months, naked on a picnic blanket next to the hayfields. Tears.

Next week Matthew and I will say goodbye to a little piece of our heart, our history, our first Kentucky home, as we are selling our farm a few miles away from here, in Petersburg.

It's been almost 15 years since I moved to Kentucky. That was way back when I was still dating a guy named Matthew, who I just couldn't bear to suffer in a long-distance relationship with any longer!
Brayden's first tractor ride, summer 2007
So I packed up what little I had and left South Bend, headed south over the Ohio River, my cd player blaring Toad the Wet Sprocket or some 90s groove, and landed in a tiny apartment in Covington. It wasn't the deep south - still about an hour or so from Kentucky's Lexington horse country and a couple hours from Cumberland, where the true hills and mountains and lakes dominate the landscape; but it felt worlds away from the flat corn-land views I had grown up around in northern Indiana.

The reflection of Cincinnati's skyline on the river, a stone's throw from the tree-covered hills of Northern Kentucky, was an awesome sight to me and I knew I was home.
It's weird for me now to think what "little" I had then, as a 23-year-old aspiring journalist with barely $300 in my bank account. Basically, I had a couple pieces of hand-me-down furniture, a full-sized mattress with a Wal-Mart bedspread and a handful of dollar store picture frames.

It wasn't until Matthew and I got married in late 2002, when we purchased a 55-acre farm with a two-bedroom farmhouse in Petersburg, that I really felt like I had "something." We lived the first several years of our marriage there, and despite being somewhat removed from the close proximity to the city, I loved it.

Brayden and our farm dog Kya, 2007
Matthew and I had full-time jobs, but we also tended to our little farm, planting small trees and flowers, a little garden by the garage, and we watched the deer, coyote and wild turkey out back on a regular basis. It was pretty cool to watch my "farmer" bail hay each spring and late summer (although I really didn't care for the deer ticks in his every crevice at the end of the day). We eventually got two dogs and then in another few years we had our first-born son, Brayden, all in that little white farmhouse with green shutters.

But once Brayden turned 1, I started to get antsy. I wanted him to grow up around other little kids, in a neighborhood where he could ride a bike and trick-or-treat on a sidewalk. Although it was a little heartbreaking to leave the farm, we found some renters who moved in and we bought a home in a nearby subdivision. We had more bedrooms than we knew what to do with (we soon figured out what to do with them, wink) and all the neighborhood kids we could dream of for Brayden to play with.

But boy I cried bittersweet tears leaving that first little house, thinking of all the memories (good and bad) that were made within those walls. I think of those nights on the patio looking at bright stars, (yes, before kids we could drink and watch stars!), all those newlywed fights in that tiny hallway leading up to the bedroom, ("NO, you cannot come home to a happy wife at 4 a.m. after drinking with your buddies at some bar!"), our first Christmas together under a real Douglas Fir (despite his allergy to pine and my crappy-gift giving of toothpaste or something), oh and that "fire in the basement" mishap, too (it's not a good idea to put a hot match into a garbage can, especially when your husband is a volunteer firefighter). What about all those little mice we battled with from November to March each year -- oh the sad conversations I had with them struggling in their glue traps!
Then, I think back to the January night my water broke in the living room -- our first baby was going to arrive here soon! I have such wonderful memories there of that precious boy, that stinker of a baby who had colic and reflux, who learned to talk, walk and laugh here at this farmhouse.
Since we still owned the property, we could of course come back (we really had only visited a few times), but it softened the blow of leaving just a bit.

Fast forward nearly six more years and another move to our current home, and the farmhouse memories come back again. But this time, it's really going to be goodbye.
I wonder why we have these emotions, these strong attachments to THINGS like a house or a piece of land with a bunch of grass and trees? It's strange that something so abstract can be so powerful! I'm a blubbering mess each time I drive by or see photos of us during our time there.
I think a home becomes a part of your heart because of the memories you make with the people you love -- they are your true heart!

So next week we will sign papers, we will hand over keys to a little white farmhouse, a dusty detached garage (with lots of field mice) a big blue barn and acres of beautiful land that we helped nurture the past 12 years. I will always keep memories of the farm in my heart. But I will take comfort in knowing that my true home, my heart, is with my husband and my four little people who are with me every day. Because THEY will always and forever be my sweet Kentucky home!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

20 years come and gone

I'm headed home for my high school reunion in just a few weeks. It's been 20 years since I walked the halls of St. Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind. Isn't it weird to think 1994 was that long ago? Bill Clinton was still a new president, there was a little ice skating drama between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, OJ Simpson took flight in a Ford Bronco on national television and a teenage mother in Canada just about our age gave birth to an unknown baby named Justin Bieber.

I officially feel OLD. When I told someone the other day that I was going to go, she said, "oh I'm sorry!"
My freshman photo, 1990
I've heard many people admit they go back to check everyone out, to see who's successful now, who's bald, or to see who has lived up to those senior predictions we published in the school newsletter. I was voted "Most Likely to be on Geraldo's Mudwrestling Special" so I have already failed them in one aspect.
I'm guessing it's safe to say there are quite a few people who either dread attending reunions or avoid them all together. I'm not sure where I fall here.

While I've always been an extrovert socially (read: loud), I admit I didn't have all that many friends in high school, (when I was a freshman I was angry at my parents for sending me to St. Joe when all my friends from grade school were going to a different school, so I never got over it). I keep in touch with a few people and reconnected with some at our 10-year-reunion, but otherwise, I don't really know what happened to the majority of my classmates.
Thank God the jeans weren't pegged

I hate to disappoint anyone, but I feel like I'm pretty much where I thought I'd be now, even way back when, at age 18, when I would only dream of where I'd end up in life. I knew I wanted to be a writer, I knew I wanted to have a family and I had always thought Kentucky was pretty, so here I am with at least those three check marks in life.
I looked on the back of one classmate's school picture he exchanged with me, on which he scribbled that he'd bet someday I'd be "living in Australia with 10 kids."
Well, let's see, I am married to a guy who spent a year living in Australia and we have almost half that many kids, so does that count?
I think the biggest part of me (maybe a big part of all of us) wants to go back to see those people who knew us before we were really us --before we were thrown out into the world, into the work world, the world of hardship and mortgages and debt, the world of tough marriages and for many, the world of parenthood.

Twenty years ago we were young, naive, unassuming, maybe wonderfully nonjudgemental and uncorrupted by whatever the world has since thrown at us. It's like getting to step back in time for a couple hours. It could be fun, or it could be uncomfortable. I don't know. But hey, I'm 38 and I guess I just don't care. I'm just glad noboby expects me to jump in a pool of mud and take someone down.


Monday, April 28, 2014

What I know now

Some friends of ours are expecting their first child in a couple weeks. Suckers.

Yes, I've told them quite a few times these past several months to 'enjoy this time,' that it's going to fly. That crazy, chaotic and tiresome yet awesomely rewarding thing called parenthood is just around the corner.

I am trying to recall what it was like back then, before kids. I think I smelled better, for sure.
It's been over seven years since I became a mother, but I remember like yesterday the anticipation I felt about what was to come. I thought about what I'd tell myself if I could go back... about what I know now.

Family beach pics these days - nobody looking, mismatch outfits and scrinchy faces
I wish I would have enjoyed more nights out, those "leave on a moment's notice" nights for a drink or a movie out. It would be awesome to go out at 7 p.m. for a drink and not worry about babysitters, bathtimes, temper tantrums and bedtimes in an hour. I'd love to go back to the times where I could stay out late, drink too many amaretto sours and then take a good nap the next day. Nap. Something I definitely would have done more.

I wish I would have been a regular at some coffee shop. Too many mornings I'm longing to hit Panera for a mocha or just browse a bookstore for hours without having to tote any screamie meamies along. You can't imagine the mess we leave at the floor of any restaurant we dine in (we may get banned from Skyline Chili soon). I want to be someone who strolls up to the counter and they immediately say, "mocha frapp easy on the whip" comin' right up!

Sometimes I wish I was driving any of my pre-children cars - those nice, clean cars. After college I had a little, red Nissan 240SX I'd tear around town in (now I just tear around town in a grey minivan) with spotless leather seats - clean and milk-stain free, no booger Kleenexes in the cupholders and you couldn't find a stray Cheerio or Fruit Loop stuck in the floorboards either.

I would have taken at least one more long trip somewhere. How easy it was back in those days to be able to pick up and go on a weekend trip and just pack a bathing suit, sunglasses and a book. I would rock some serious Victoria's Secret bikinis with a pre-baby body if given the chance again. And oh the heavenly plane ride to anywhere, sans poopy diapers and screams upon takeoff!

Ok, all those times were great, and I can always reminisce about those days (unless I get Alzheimers, which would really suck). But the thing is, none of it could ever amount to the time I have and the treasure I have in being a mother to four perfect little people right now. Because these days, drinking late and having a morning headache definitely doesn't beat watching Fox and the Hound on the couch in jammies with four freshly-shampooed heads under my nose.

Although each night I'm exhausted to the core by 8 p.m., just hearing a 4-year-old's rendition of "Let It Go" in the bathtub or reading "If You Give a Cat a Cupcake" for the millionth time brings more warmth than climbing under my covers and getting to bed an hour earlier. Going to Panera with the twins and having countless people comment to me on what beautiful little brown-eyed girls I've got sitting next to me with cookie on their face makes me infinitely more content than any day spent alone and unnoticed in a cafe booth.

And when Brayden's soccer ball is rolling around the minivan floor (over stale Fruit Loops, spilled juice stains and broken McDonalds Happy Meal toys) it's actually a poignant reminder that I've got an amazingly talented little athlete in the back seat who will soon be grown and driving his own car around to soccer practice and games -- leaving me home quicker than I can blink.
No doubt those much-needed date nights and (sparse) weekend vacations with just Matthew and I are wonderful, but that doesn't mean our vacations with the kids are any less priceless. Building sandcastles and digging a hole in the sand or collecting seashells with four giggling, happy kids is a lot more fun than reading a book behind some oversized sunglasses (wait, I don't think I mean that).

I won't ever get that time back, before kids, but I also won't get THIS time back -- the beautiful, crazy here-and-now time with my little ones. So to my expectant friends (and to those who haven't yet decided on kids yet), I do still advise you to enjoy this "pre-kid" time, but also, look forward to the awesome future full of children and what they bring -- fun, surprises, messes, heartache, exhaustion, satisfaction, happiness and pure love. You can at least hope one of the kids will take care of you when you are the one in diapers.



Monday, March 31, 2014

Four of the biggest priorities I'll ever have

So normally I'm pretty frazzled during the day, dealing with all kinds of messes, sassy mouths or toddler tantrums. It's usually hard for me to just "let go" and be calm or not let things bother me. But I'm just not programmed that way. I like a clean house and I like order, or I flip.
Priorities 1-3

However, for some strange reason, today I'm smiling. Dare I say calm? Despite hearing that famous bag of plastic play food being spilled all over the floor in the next room... Now all the Zingo cards are being emptied out on the table. The basement is a mess -- balls and dollies strewn all over, the Elmo potty upturned and a headless Barbie doll among other naked dolls adorn the stairs. The funk of Payton's pants lingers, since only a few minutes before she went down for a nap she destroyed her diaper down there.



But as I listen to the twins gab to each other about their tea party, the conversation abruptly switches to Play-doh and then to dessert. I'm happy thinking how lucky I am to witness this day, to be alive with these little people and to enjoy their innocence and harmless, precious play.
A little bit ago Mia asked me if she and Téa could put on their dresses (which I usually just reserve for church or special things) and I told her, 'sure' -- this is very unlike me.

Priority #4, the stinkpot
I recently read a book called, "Loving the Little Years," in which the author, Rachel Jankovic --also a mother of twins and more -- advises us frazzled mothers to just stop and relish in these little people we are put in charge of here. The author mentioned something about many parents being too organized, too regimented (I would lovingly call this 'too anal' --the definition of me), and how the children may end up neglected and hurt in the long run. This brought tears to my eyes, because this is the last thing I want to happen to my kids.


She says to "sacrifice your peace for their fun, your clean kitchen floor for their help cracking eggs, your quiet moment for their long retelling of a dream that a friend of theirs had... Prioritize your children far and away above the other work you need to get done. They are the only part of your work that really matters."
Please, Lord let me embrace this advice, as it really is hard work for me!
Yesterday, after quite a bit of yelling and frustration (drama), Mia said, "I want a new mom."
I know a lot of kids say this, but it hurts to already be hearing this at age 4. I realized I am the only mom she's going to have, and I better make this a good life for my kids.
It's sad that I have to read self-help mothering books or look for inspiring quotes on Pinterest in order to be energized for a day at home with the kids.

I need to "re-promise" myself literally every day that I will try and do better - that I will yell less, play more, love more, be present more. Asking forgiveness each night for NOT doing these things just isn't cutting it anymore and it's not helping my kids either. Time truly is running out on me, each day they get one step farther from me as they grow into these "big" people! The other day, Mia said, "Mom, if me and Téa are going to be rock stars, we're going to need some high heels." (So I guess I need to worry about shoe prices soon, too).

Téa has been doing this thing lately where she clicks her mouth and points at you, and it's really hysterical because nobody taught it to her (we think she got it from a Pixar movie), but it makes me smile, it makes me laugh. Sometimes she does it out of the blue, at an odd time, totally out of context, but it seems that it's always when I need it. When I need to step back, breathe in and relax. It really is going to be ok.

In a few weeks we are driving the kids to Florida for spring break -- this is our first road trip outside of visiting my family four hours away in South Bend -- so I'm going to need a lot of prayers (and a lot of lollipops, snacks, DVDs and video games)! I am vowing here, to do my best to "let go" and be calm. Instead of being that angry, frazzed, anal road trip mother of yesterday, I'm going to organize my priorities accordingly - Brayden, Mia, Téa and Payton!





Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Happy birthday to that guy...

So about 16 years ago I met this guy. He was basically the exact opposite of me - very introverted, reserved, very common sensical. He was so shy and I could hardly get him to talk. Such a challenge for me! But he was so cute. He was tan, had dirty blonde hair, was left-handed and had one blue eye and one green eye (he would later tell me - and remind me frequently - that only one in 8 million people have two different eye colors).
To make a long, complicated story very short - I married that cute guy several years back and we have four kids now.  

Today is his birthday, and so I spent the only spare three minutes I had this morning wondering how I got so lucky to find such a great guy to spend my life with and to call my husband.
There are many things about that guy that annoy me to death, but the list of things I love and cherish about him could go on forever. Off the top of my head...
Silly blue-eyed/green-eyed boy

* I love that no matter how 'neat' or clean I think I am, he is always just a little bit cleaner than me (his bath towels are always hung straight and perfect above mine on the floor).

* I love that he makes lists and household budgets and diagrams in this scratchy, childish, lefty writing -- and that he is more organized than any company or military leader (god forbid I pencil in an item on the grocery list that doesn't belong next to the dairy items!)

* I love that he lets me sleep in a few extra minutes Sunday morning while he gets pancakes cooking for four hungry, loud children.

* I love that he gets angry at me for packing my vacation suitcases like the Tasmanian Devil, and his are tightly packed and rolled to perfection -- and zip completely.

* I love that he can drive a boat -- probably even blindfolded.

* I love that he cares so much about the people he works with and treats them like they are family.

* I love that even though he is the president of a company and is all business at work, he can act like a silly, stupid puppet for me or the kids when he's home.

* I love that he's determined to find a solution to any problem he has at work or at home -- even during rough times in this marriage. He never gives up.

* I love that despite being a kidney transplant recipient on countless meds, he is determined to live a healthy, active life without boundaries.

* I love that he sings Itsy Bitsy Spider to the girls at night and they beg for him to scratch their backs before falling asleep.

* I love that his favorite thing to do is watch football with our son and loves reading him books before bed.

* I love that even though he always has the TV turned to those 'bang-em-up-shoot-em-up' movies, that it's not really twisting his arm to watch Steel Magnolias either.

* I love that he believes I can follow my dream to write books someday - it's his opinion I value and trust the most in life and he pushes me to think I can, too.

* I love that he loves my ice cold feet under the covers.

* I love that I'm the first one who gets to see him in the morning and the one who gets to sleep by his side at night.

I'm glad he's my challenge for the rest of my life! I couldn't dream up a more perfect person to be with.

Happy Birthday my dear Matthew, you are truly one in 8 million (at least). The kids and I are blessed to have you in our lives!



Friday, January 3, 2014

Hello to 2014

Each New Year people talk about all the things they want to do to better themselves. Some people make lists of life goals they hope to check off this year. Am I a horrible person for not making any resolutions?

Unless "stop saying shut up" or swearing under my breath in front of the kids can be valid resolutions for a grown woman? I know (you all know) I yell too much, I'm a little OCD and uptight and I may-- just a little-- get freaked out when the kids have peanut butter on their faces or powdered donut on their fingers. I worry too much about cleaning up, I get a little nuts if the kids don't have matching clothes or if their hair isn't brushed, I've got a short temper and I'm overall kind of a "glass half empty" kind of person. People tell me all the time how to 'better' myself: "pray more," "do yoga," "take meds," "let go"... I wish I could make it that easy, but I can't just switch off the switch that makes me, ME. I am not saying I'm giving up, but I'm just exhausted thinking about a change. I suppose it's easier this way.

My four little reasons for change.
I do get inspired reading other people's hopes and dreams, maybe sometimes jealous too, wishing I could have the same pure, happy and anxious heart and great expectations for who I want to 'be' this year. Each year I tell myself how badly I'd love to get back into playing the piano because, despite lessons for six years growing up, I'm not sure if I remember how to read notes. Each year I vow to get a manuscript done and sent off somewhere. I think maybe this will be the year I could have really great legs and a kickass butt -- if only I run more.
Maybe I could have a lovely complexion like Charlize Theron (who is the same age as me but looks 20 years younger than me by the way). But somewhere between my discovery of lowfat desserts on Pinterest and my vow to do the fitness magazine's 'butt blasting' workout every day is when I realize after all these years that I just may never change. Maybe some people just can't 'change.'

I'm happy that I have a husband who loves me (and stays!) despite all my failings, and somehow God blessed me with four beautiful, healthy perfect children (that I don't deserve). I look at them and I do want to be better, be happier, be healthier. I don't want to have regrets later in life that I wasn't the best mother and wife that I could be. I've got too much room for improvement. I also know that it doesn't have to take a brand new Jan. 1 to start. That no matter the date, each morning I wake up could be my fresh start. It could be the day I push myself to stick to something good -- maybe not eating a package of chocolate pretzels in one hour (oops) --- maybe letting the kids look disheveled and not freaking out when they spill chocolate milk on the table, or letting the vacuuming go for a day (ok, ok let's not get too crazy here)...

I don't know how far I'll get. It might take me a week, a month -- or who are we kidding -- probably til next Jan. 1. Where are the chocolate pretzels?