Sunday, February 26, 2006

School Daze

First off, my apologies for the lack of new posts! As with most any project, I start off strong, get distracted by the "must dos" of day to day life, and then find a balance. Hopefully that balance will include more posts than this past week!

We're in a season of decisions....private kindergarten? Public kindergarten with after care at a new day care? Public kindergarten in a district school (not our home school) with in-school after care? The words and options all begin to run together and my mind slowly but surely shuts down after only a few minutes of the conversation. Unfortunately, money is a consideration. We have struggled with the day care costs for two children, dipping monthly into our savings account to ensure our bills are paid. While we want to ensure we begin to stabilize a bit more with Kyra in kindergarten, we don't want to make a poor choice based on our well-known cheapness!

Last night Matt and I attended a function at the college where we're both employed and received the full court press to consider sending Kyra to a small, private K-5 school in close proximity to campus. The school was founded by the former spouse of a campus faculty member, and the principles upon which the school was created seem a good match for Kyra's personality. We believe in the value of their education; we just don't believe in its cost.... After a few minutes of listening to one colleague criticize some parents' unwillingness to invest adequately in their children's education, I wanted to say, "We are the happy, successful, intelligent products of public schools! And since when is the only investment monetary?" I firmly believe we will be volunteers in our children's schools, we will provide feedback and stay connected to their experiences, and I personally want to start with the "norm" and then modify our plans if the situation is not meeting our expectations. I'm not intending to criticize those parents who select and sacrifice for private education. I simply believe I should not somehow be "less than" because I'm not eager to go there. I still want my kids to have vacations, to see their family across the States, and to have educational experiences within the context of family--none of which we would have if paying for this particular private school.

The other dynamic in all of this is our desire that our children be educated in a classroom with children of different colors, faiths, socioeconomic circumstances, etc.--and this is lacking in some of the more prestigious private schools. While my priorities are for my kids to be safe and feel whole wherever they are, I want them to be as much in the world as they can be. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune come September, but this is where I'm leaning right now. (We'll see where I stand if I actually dare to attend an open house at this infamous campus-neighbor school!)

In the meantime, Kyra's day care owner/operator is starting a new optional homework club. Homework for four year olds? Honestly, this child could not live in a more language-rich environment and be more naturally curious about words and the letters that form them. But peer pressure (because let's face it, Kyra's friends will be participating!), and the promise of a single ice cream at Friendly's after 27 weeks of participation (no kidding!), have me feeling compelled to give this a try. Is anyone else interested in American students' declining abilities in relation to compulsory test-based learning? But don't get me started....

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bragging rights

Imagine my surprise when this morning's "interview" was actually a phone conversation to inform me I am one of the candidates invited to the campus of unnamed prestigious university for unnamed prestigious position. I keep measuring the energy moving through me (I always believe I find the "truth" in my body somewhere, somehow.), and it is only rising as the process moves forward. While the position is by no means mine, I love the invitation to go further. Matt suggested over a celebratory lunch that this interview is significant enough, I should add the interview invitation to my resume whether or not I am offered the position! Now wouldn't that make an interesting new section?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Our weekend in Lincoln, NE

Oh, did I fail to mention we were traveling to Nebraska this weekend? Just a little spontaneous excursion to visit my aunt and uncle, try out some Omaha steaks, and swing by a convenience mart to buy a Powerball ticket. Though we are hardly big gamblers and almost never play the lottery, we just couldn't resist! We haven't checked those numbers yet. Hmmm....wonder if someone won big!

OK, truth time--we DID buy a Powerball ticket, but we did so in Rhode Island. And of our two "quick pick" draws, we only had one number TOTAL. What did those two dollars buy us, then? Entertainment, focus and perspective. Let me explain how.

Thanks to a very agreeable Auntie Heather, Matt and I had Saturday afternoon and evening completely to ourselves to spend as we wished. We went to "Ye Old Grist Mill" for lunch (a local restaurant built, you guessed it, in the frame of an old mill!), saw "Match Point" (clever, we're both in love with Scarlett Johannsen, but I could do without the proximity of the film's themes to so much of what we read day in day out in the news headlines), and then went out to dinner at another favorite local pub. Bite after delicious bite, we entertained ourselves by contemplating just how we would spend our winnings. This July marks our tenth anniversary, and we planned an elaborate celebration to which you are all invited....or at least you would have been if we had indeed been in Lincoln, NE this weekend. In our imagination we rented out the entire Otesaga Resort Hotel. We married in Cooperstown, after all, and it remains our favorite place on earth--seems appropriate to celebrate our union with a return trip. Your options for entertainment? The golfers amongst us might enjoy a round at the Leatherstocking Golf Course right on Lake Otsego. If baseball is more your game, try a day's pass at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Museums are your fancy? Never fear--Cooperstown has plenty! Try the Farmer's Museum if you have kids; it's always a favorite with young and old alike. If art is your passion, check out the Fenimore Art Museum. OK, enough links already! Can you sense how we feel about this town? In our dream anniversary celebration, we had dozens of musical artists performing nightly on the lake, three consecutive nights of fireworks, picnics catered by our favorite barbecue joints in central New York, day-long waterski adventures on the lake. I could go on and on....the dream of the celebration was nearly as pleasureable as the real one might have been--or more, considering it was a lot less work (and only $2!).

Our daydreams shifted from celebrations to how we might engage in the real work of the world. Of course we would establish a charitable foundation, inviting a few close friends, family and associates to join us in this venture! We discussed at length the core issues that hold the most meaning for us. The empowerment of women and girls tops both our lists, but what particular angle should we take? I'm passionate about dialogue across differences and would want to support the work of an organization like The Public Conversations Project. We would make a significant gift to our church, and we'd love to buy a local lot used only occasionally by a utility company to make a park and basketball court for our neighborhood, where too many children use the streets as their playground in the absence of grass and yards. Where to next? Would we establish a summer camp and retreat center for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth and their allies? Would we support college scholarships for a particular population? Gosh, what should we give to our current college employer, and how long must we appropriately stay before slipping out for world travel and foundation work? Without "need" for work, our desire to continue engaging in meaningful work in the world certainly brought focus to how we want to spend our time in the here and now.

And the perspective we gained? At the conclusion of our brownie sundae, hours into the imaginary spending of this mass fortune, we realized that some of our deepest, most present challenges would persist in the face of great wealth, and we would gain new challenges we can't currently foresee. We would still struggle to love who we are, to really be where we are, to accept our present circumstances always while working toward a brighter future, and so on. Would I trade places with this anonymous NE resident or visitor to Lincoln? Not for an instant, but my dear partner is likely another story!

And speaking of stories from this partner, eventually they will come. I have mentioned to him that we are likely giving you an accurate sense of the extravert/introvert balance as it plays out in communication in our home!

Friday, February 17, 2006

The all-call for comments!

Many thanks to my fine grandparents, Nana and Father, for venturing to comment on the blog. Much confusion abounds, and I thought I could clarify. My fine blogging friends obviously have the knack--interactivity is the name of the game. So, if you read something that makes you laugh, makes you think, makes you say, "Gosh, I wish I spent more time with Jennifer and Matt (or gave them more of a life by claiming their children for an hour or week....)," you can leave a comment. For those of you who aren't members of Blogger and have no interest in being so (can't blame you--I'm not much of a joiner these days myself!), you can post as anonymous. Just sign your name so WE know who you are. Great work, Nana and Father--you did it all just right!

In other news, we are experiencing that bizarre weather system that dropped the western New York temperature 30 degrees overnight....we'll be needing our mittens come morning. Still looking for my missing gloves! The kids had poor (Lucas) or no (Kyra) naps this afternoon and we're all a bit grouchy. 'Tis one of those afternoons when I imagine my dear children would be much better served by their fine father. We continue to look at positions that would put me in the full-time earning seat while he could enjoy some extra days at home. My phone interview mentioned below (feeling too grouchy and lazy even to link to the original blog post!) is coming up this week, so we should know fairly soon if this particular position is even something I will want to pursue. In the meantime, my dear ones are stuck with their mom. Let's see if I can go create a plan to rescue our grumpy afternoon!

Looking forward to your comments. Be brave! Share your thoughts not just with my email, but with the world. :) Because really, we have like 10 people total who read this thing. :)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Welcome to the lucky 13!

Overlook for a moment the busy background of afghans and blankets, as well as the two tired little ones with their long, drawn faces. Focus instead on the beautiful girl on the right. Those dark eyes and subtle smile belong to Megan--daughter, sister, niece, cousin, granddaughter, friend...and today, birthday celebrant. Welcome, Megan, to the lucky year of being a magical 13 years old! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Your special day is meaningful to us because your birth and your life bring us such joy.

I (Aunt Jen) first had the opportunity to see you when you were 10 days old, and being with you while Uncle Matt was caring for you was yet another confirmation for me that he was someone I could love for a lifetime. In watching you and Kirsten grow and learn and change and become more of who you are today, we both learned about how deeply we could love. Without you, I don't know that we could have ever anticipated the joy we would find with Kyra and Lucas. Loving you gave us a little bit of courage that we could somehow find a way to love our own children someday, and one of our favorite parts of having them is watching how you now love and care for them.

We wish we were closer. Sometimes across the country feels as though it might as well be across the world. Birthdays are one of those days... So know, from afar, that we are thinking of you from the moment we got up (and lucky for you decided not to wake your entire family at 3am!) until tonight when we finally go to sleep. Eat a piece of cake for us and take pictures, too! Happy 13th birthday, Meg! We love you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Of meditation and mantras

In the spirit of the World Community of Christian Meditation our pastor holds meditation practice twice monthly. While intended to be group reinforcement of our daily individual practice, for me, more typically, it is the sum total of my practice in any given week or month. Our ritual is simple and comfortable--we listen to talks given by the founders of this particular meditation community, meditate for 25 minutes and then share our questions and reactions with each other. The actual meditation practice for me is typically a mix of nodding off (my first still, silent moments in the entire day!), reviewing my "to do" list, contemplating whatever issue in life is ripe for therapy, and trying to breathe in synch with my oft-forgotten mantra.... Ma-ra (inhale) na-tha (exhale). (Maranatha is Aramaic for "Come, Lord Jesus." I suspect my staggered drift from and return to the mantra is translated more as "Come, phonecalltotheENTpickupLucasprescription, Lord, women'sprogramemailnotsentisthereablogpostinthis, Jesus.")

In a first encounter with Zen meditation I was encouraged by the teacher to let all thoughts other than the mantra pass before me much as a train passes through a station--no anticipation of its coming, no following its course. This image returns to me regularly; our church sanctuary, where we practice, is beside the train station. The rumbling return of the evening commuters is, at minimum, a prompt to set aside my "to do" list and return to the mantra. And so again I begin.... Ma-ra (inhale) na-tha (exhale)

When our pastor realized a planned trip home to England conflicted with our scheduled meditation practice, he asked if I would consider facilitating the group. (He is British, after all, and stands on ritual and tradition! The practice must continue!) Matt jokingly suggested to the kids that I was somehow a star or stand-out to be invited to lead. He and I both know the truth--I was invited because I show up....every single time. And given that leading the group involves playing a CD, ringing a bell, keeping an eye on a watch and ringing the bell again, I suppose the person who shows up every single time is as worthy a candidate as any other!

And so last night, at our appointed time and place, I showed up. I played the CD, I rang the bell, I stumbled through my own attempts to place the mantra at my center, I rang the bell again, and I went home. So, too, with my life--I show up. I wake to the kids, I find my way to the shower, I empty the dishwasher, I pack lunches, I drive to work, and so on, all the while attempting to live somehow with my center firmly in place. Call her God, call her Spirit, call her Love--over and over I try to return to this space of being firmly, fully in my body, rooted in truth. Ma-ra (inhale) na-tha (exhale). Over and over, again and again. Practice, practice, practice.

My life, primetime

As I was watching the Olympics last night, I began to contemplate what my life would look like if telecast much as these current winter games. What if all the highlights--the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat--were held for primetime, while the less watched events like laundry, dishwashing, work (curling--could someone explain that to me???) were relegated to some off-beat cable station we don't subscribe to anyway. Would I enjoy watching a life without traffic, waiting or boredom? I can do without commercials, but I would love the quick resolution aspect of it all--the sense that I could flip to a 24 hour news station or check to learn the outcome if the suspense became too much. Some days I just want to know how it's all going to turn out.

In the meantime, from some off-beat cable station somewhere, here are a few glimpses into our ordinary, every day life.

I wouldn't miss these smiles for all the highlight clips in the world....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The picture of empathy

We have long been aware of Kyra's sensitivity. From the time she was a young toddler, she immediately zeroed in on the child in the room who was crying or somehow distraught and would stare with wide eyes until the situation was appropriately resolved. When she developed words, endless questions would accompany the stares--"Why is she crying? Why is she sad? What is going to make her not feel sad any more?" and so on. But more on this in a moment....

Tonight was a rocky bedtime--Lucas is still a bit distraught after last night's traumatic night, and Kyra is needier than ever. After she and I clashed for a time over how long I needed to stay in her room to get her comfortably settled, Matt had to go up to smooth the rough waters. She was seemingly quiet (asleep? nah, couldn't be!), but I realized when I was climbing the stairs to begin the night of Lucas visitation hours that Kyra was crying as well. I went in to calm her and, through hiccups and tears, she said something (I thought) about "Miss Shannon." There are two Miss Shannons affiliated with the kids' day care. One is the director and one has returned to school and is on-site only occasionally. I thought somehow she was upset about the latter Miss Shannon not being around often, but this seemed out of context from anything that happened today. Because I couldn't assure or soothe her without truly understanding what she was saying, I asked her a few times to try to quiet her tears long enough to repeat her feelings to me. Eventually I heard, "I'm sad because Shannon isn't going back to the Super Bowl." Translation--"I'm sad because Michelle Kwan isn't going back to the Olympics." So, together we said a prayer for Michelle, thanking God for giving her all these good years of skating and encouraging Emily to do her best in Michelle's place. The prompt for these tears? A five minute glimpse of Michelle Kwan's press conference relating her disappointing decision to withdraw from the games. It stayed with my girl the entire day. Now that is a child with a wide open heart.

Whether we're up to the challenge or not....

The "blizzard" has arrived and we are surrounded by a true winter wonderland. Spirits and energy are relatively low, however, after a truly awful night with Lucas. He's had his share of sleepless nights (and consequently so have we), but last night was unique. He was thrashing and writhing around, screaming and working himself into such a fit he would cough and choke until it seemed he would vomit. (Wondering yet why you are continuing to read our blog??) Given the occasional "toots" we would hear, there was clearly a gassy belly going on, but he also seemed to be rubbing at his ears. Only yesterday I had commented that he hadn't developed an ear infection with his most recent cold--a first for him, and a first I was crediting to our giving up the pacifier. I hoped the ear rubbing was his simply being tired, and when he wasn't tugging at them this morning, I presumed this conclusion was correct.



At one point this morning I lifted Lucas into my arms and glanced into his right ear. It looked like a lava flow of wax had emerged out his ear and was slowly hardening around the entrance to the ear canal. Mother's instinct kicked in and I knew this wasn't wax--he had burst his ear drum. Matt, the more comfortable snow driver, took him to see the doctor on call who confirmed my hunch. Of course I cried--how could I have missed yet another infection? How can we not even know what is going on inside his little body? Lately I feel poorly equipped to manage the barrage of relatively minor illnesses this little guy contracts. Whether discovering we've been unnecessarily treating a cough as asthma, or finding that little cough we've been ignoring is an all-out wheeze worthy of round-the-clock nebulizer treatments, I always feel off the mark. I'm a remarkably intelligent woman and can navigate any number of challenging circumstances, but I feel completely vexed by some of the symptoms or lack thereof presenting for Lucas. If only medical school held some kind of draw for me--but that is one future path I feel comfortable ruling out!

There's no stepping out of the responsibility, even if we don't feel up to the challenge. Scary as it sounds some days, we're the best this little guy's got. Let's hope that's enough....

Friday, February 10, 2006

What are the chances....

....that Matt and I would gain potential access to our dream jobs on the same day? I learned just this morning via email that prestigious university (which shall not be named) has chosen to conduct a phone interview with me for prestigious position (which shall not be named), after I had of course let go of any hope or dream that I would be contacted! I'm floating through the usual list of affirmations--I can do this job; it's an honor simply to be "nominated" (my Oscar imitation...); I don't care if I even make it past this cut; I have no outfit worthy of an on-campus interview anyway, so let's hope this is where it ends--that sort of thing. Anyway, as the process moves forward, I'll be certain to share more. Suffice it to say, were I to remain in the field of Higher Education, this is just the sort of position I would want.

And Matt's dream job? Well this one is a sure thing....for one week and $5 compensation. You guessed it--we're a Nielsen family! You can learn more about this exciting new venture by visiting Nielsen Media. With luck, they have found us in an Olympics stretch, one of the only times you will actually find the old-fashioned television turned on around this place. And the best part about it? They approached US! No resumes, no interviews, no nothing. Now that's the way it should always happen!

Happy weekend--we'll be shoveling our way through the New England winter that finally decided to arrive. Wish us luck!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

14 things to be happy about--on my way to 14,000!

When I was in college, my first year roommate had the book 14,000 Things to be Happy About. We delighted ourselves hour after hour with reading the random accounting of pleasures in Barbara Ann Kipfer's life. We began to grab some of our favorites and post them on our door; floormates would watch for the weekly installment. Eventually our fascination moved to journaling in our own "happy books." My writing journal in that same period is an accounting of a confusing time--feeling out of place at the college, distressed about some home life events, wishing for that "special someone" who alludes most everyone at the time they are seeking it, and wondering ad nauseum what my purpose is in life. (For those of you who are interested, this particular quest continues!) In contrast, my "happy book" is filled with moments of simple pleasures, and I suppose tuning my eye to a night when the stars were particularly bright, or a suitemate laughed with gusto, or a particular piece of music moved something inside of me, somehow created balance in that disorienting period of time.

My life right now is no less place, new faces around me, but many of the same questions. I am definitely needing to refocus my eye on those momentary glimpses of joy. Though I haven't the stamina or time for 14,000, why don't I aim for 14:

1. the dragon fly lightset that brightens our garden window at night

2. a steaming hot cup of coffee (about to make one now!)

3. how the pleasure of a clean home always convinces me that a few minutes of simple effort can buy me hours--even days!-- of satisfaction

4. the robin's egg blue of the sky on this exceptionally sunny February day

5. working on homemade Valentine's Day cards with Kyra

6. a relatively sleep-filled night as Lucas exits one of his bad phases and seems to be more himself

7. days like yesterday when day care provides lunch--pure bliss to not have that extra night before task!

8. hearing my own voice over the monitor in Kyra's room--she listens as she sleeps to a CD I recorded for a family Christmas biggest fan!

9. the feeling of warmth I get inside when I see my incredible partner walking from a distance at the campus we share--his form and his gait still draw something out of me every time

10. the many wonderful years I will celebrate bring married to this exceptional partner come July

11. Carr's whole wheat crackers--a cookie that I can call a cracker!

12. playing my guitar, and having the blisters/callouses to prove it

13. our bird feeder

14. writing this blog!

What would you put on your list? What is making you happy today?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ready for the "rough" team?

Matt is inclined to a slightly "heavier" kind of music than I, it is safe to say. While Kyra acquaints herself on my driving days with women folk artists like Lori McKenna, when Matt is at the wheel, Kyra and her dad enjoy something more along the lines of Audioslave. When we were driving to the infamous Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, Kyra requested that I turn to a radio station more to her liking--"some of that 'rough' music Daddy and I listen to." She proceeded to share that the world is divided into teams--she and Matt are on the "rough" team. They like heavy music, and they enjoy what we have come to call "tackling." This is the nightly game of, well, tackling. Kyra and Lucas attack while Matt defends his person as best he can on the family room floor. While Lucas is clearly a bench player on the rough team--not quite to full varsity status--it appears I am fully out. I had the opportunity tonight to see the acapella gospel performers Take 6 at the college, and I'm still walking on air. Though I might not have made the cut for the home team, I'll gladly take these visitors. We'll see what Kyra thinks when I take the wheel tomorrow morning....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Child development 101

Matt and I work at a liberal arts college with an outstanding, reputable nursery school program. Though adding nursery school to Kyra's schedule meant having her out of the house five mornings a week, we decided the added benefit of some developmentally-focused one on one time between Mommy and Lucas on those two extra mornings would make it all worthwhile. Would you call today's activity gross motor development? Or perhaps fine, if he pauses to stoop and use his pincer grasp to pick up the little flecks of paper passed over by our oh-so-costly vacuum cleaner? Whoever said child development couldn't have a positive impact on the whole family?

So, who won?

We set up a pizza/wings/carrots/dip picnic on the floor last evening so we could yet again introduce the kids to this cultural rite of passage, the Super Bowl. You should imagine mild comedy in this scene, as we don't have cable and barely have reception for ABC. If we hadn't known what we were watching, I'm not sure we could have easily figured it out! Picnics for the four year old are great fun, but typically spell disaster for the one year old. While a few stray carrots and apple slices were strewn across our picnic blanket and he only stayed seated for a minute or two of actual eating, this was fairly tame. The real disaster came in the kitchen moments later when Kyra was pouring milk to take her vitamin--a little spill from her then led to a much more significant spill from her little brother. Suffice it to say, I was a bit frustrated by this point with being down on the floor cleaning spilled milk while Matt was calmly peering through the static to watch the game. I took the kids up to bed and stayed there myself.

There was a bit of a passive-aggressive message to be sent, of course. While Matt and I rarely communicate our expectations for events like the Super Bowl, we can both predict how it will go--he'll feel more invested and actually pay attention, because I am not invested I'll be paying attention to the kids, I'll resent that I don't even have the option of being invested in a game I'm not terribly interested in, and I'll probably express this with silence rather than words, simply because he's engrossed in the game! All this is to say, I walked up the stairs a bit annoyed. My outlook quickly improved, however, as I really enjoyed reading to Lucas and starting a bedtime puzzle with Kyra....and then quick redemption for Matt--he appeared upstairs to get Kyra into bed and offered me the chance to watch the halftime show or otherwise skirt bedtime duty. I chose a book and my bed and felt truly liberated.

For a few years now I have been freeing myself from all those "should," "must" cultural experiences. I no longer watch any televised anything on New Year's Eve, and rarely do I even set out to go to bed after the new year has arrived. Significant sporting events are now chosen for the interest they hold for me (Olympics, here I come!) rather than the compelling sense that "everyone else is watching it...." It only took thirty some odd years, but I believe I am finally living the life I want to live rather than the one I'm supposed to.

So, who won? Best commercials? I suppose I will learn in due time. For now, I'm enjoying having captured a few minutes with a good book and some much-needed sleep before Lucas's usual middle of the night waking. (Hence the middle of the night post!)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weather wiles

Surviving a New England winter typically entails comparing snow totals (in feet, not inches!), contemplating just how much deodorant is needed under the layers of clothing required to get from house to car, and enduring a few consecutive days of air so cold your nose hairs freeze when you breathe in. How is it, then, that I just took a walk in February with only a sweater for warmth, and I have yet to truly miss the gloves I lost weeks ago? After frantic worry about the cost of home heating oil, we replaced the windows in our 1910 home. Between our newly-insulated look and feel and the higher than normal temperatures, we might save money this year over last! Can't wait for the kids to wake from their naps so we can go outdoors and play. Kyra asked earlier if it was warm enough to wear shorts and flip flops. She's our summer girl, but today a light jacket will have to do. I know deep down global warming is a bad, bad thing....but a little local warming feels great right about now!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Birthday party mayhem

For more than a year Matt and I have contemplated starting a blog. With two young children and only one nearby relative, we are forever feeling guilty for not sharing the daily joys and challenges of our home. We were always looking for the perfect day to start (Christmas? New Years Day? the kids' birthdays?), and of course the perfect title. After being reminded last night while scrapbooking that ideally we all just hop in wherever we other words, there is no perfect feels like the day! An overcrowded Chuck E. Cheese birthday party on this rainy Saturday afternoon provided the perfect title, but more on that in a minute. (It doesn't hurt that the title is also borrowed from a program I facilitate at the college where I work!)

We always struggle to decide who attends birthday parties with Kyra, our four and a half year old. With twenty plus kids in her day care classroom, there are plenty there for the taking. I'm more extraverted than Matt and actually have moments of real pleasure talking with parent friends while the kids enjoy one another. Pleasure is not a word Matt would associate with random adult mingling, but he is willing to participate in our continuing attempts to show some measure of equality to our kids. Matt took Kyra to the last party when I was away for the weekend, so today was my turn (despite that Kyra announced when we began our drive to Chuck E. Cheese that she had wanted her dad to go!). I should have known to turn around when the entire Chuck E. Cheese parking lot was FULL, but Kyra was excited and I wasn't wise enough to come up with a reasonable excuse, so I pulled into the mini-mall parking lot next door and we hiked our way over. To say the place was packed is an understatement. I was yet again grateful to have a slightly shy child who sticks close by in crowds.

After an hour or so of pizza (Kyra doesn't like it!), dancing with Chuck E. and fellow employees (I'm not sure you could pay me enough!) and saying, "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me," over and over as we all tried to navigate too little space for too many people, the kids were set free to hit the toys and games. A couple of Kyra's friends were heading for the tunnels, suspended high overhead; hoards of kids were pouring in and out of the slide and climbing structure leading up to the maze of tubes. Kyra looked up for a moment, but quickly decided to try one of the "hit a duck on the head" kinds of games off to the side. She continued to glance back, however, and it wasn't long before she decided to join the throngs of kids. As she climbed skyward, she occasionally glanced back and waved. I cringed as I watched one of her friends get kicked in the face by another child; I was certain Kyra would be next!

When Kyra reached the tubes, she turned right, entering the maze rather than taking the "easy out" of the slide right in front of her. I gathered our belongings and prepared to follow her from the ground, but I quickly lost sight of her shadow and just stood off to the side contemplating how long I needed to calmly wait for her reappearance. After a few minutes of no sightings, I began to scan the room for one of her day care friends to send in after her. Suddenly I saw her, face pressed up against one of the clear plastic windows, hands banging for my attention. Tears were streaming down her face and, though I couldn't hear her, I could read her lips as she cried, "MOMMY....MOMMY....MOMMY!" over and over again. I waved my arms wildly, using all body language dialects to direct her toward the giant "steps" she had used to climb into the tunnels. Behind her was a larger, rougher (I presumed!) boy, and I was eager to get her away from all those gigantic kids.

She slowly, tearfully made her way down to me, and I hugged her tight as I wondered whether this was a "get back on the horse" moment, or whether we should head for the door. We compromised with a decision to stay at the restaurant, but head for a quieter play area (is there such a thing on a rainy Saturday?). When I was convinced she wouldn't burst into tears at the mere mention of the tunnel, I asked her what had happened. She explained that she had been unable to find the slide, and that the "big boy" (her words!) had seen her crying and asked if she wanted him to lead her back down. I wanted to find him, hug him and ask to meet his mom. How wrong those first impressions can be....

So now we arrive back where we started--at the christening of this new blog with a fitting title. We continue to be amazed at what we learn about ourselves, each other and the world around us. Stick around, read and comment, and be amazed yourselves, as we look beyond first impressions.