Sunday, April 19, 2015

Happy 9th Birthday, Elaina!

April 19th, 2015

Dear Elaina,

Today you turn nine years old, and just like it happens at each birthday I’m left wondering again how this is even possible.  How can it be that my baby is nine?  I was looking through old pictures the other day, and I found myself repeatedly shaking my head thinking, “There is no way Elaina is going to be nine.  She was just a newborn!  We were just bringing her home from the hospital!  It is impossible that she’s almost a fourth grader!”.  I keep telling myself these things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are growing up right before my very eyes.  

You, unlike me, don’t seem to possess any kind of trepidation or hesitation with the fact that you are getting older.  I’m pretty sure you embrace it.  I can safely say that you are nine going on nineteen at this point in your life.  You are changing and evolving in many ways, but there are parts of you that continue to run as a recurring theme.  First of all, you continue to love fashion and have declared for over a year now that your future profession will likely be that of a fashion designer.  You have started a portfolio of design ideas and you enjoy creating pieces that range from eclectic casual to gaudy elegance.  I’ve caught you on more than one occasion trying to apply makeup before school and you have escaped the house en route to shopping excursions with a full face applied numerous times.  Your love of shoes, especially those with a heel, continues to burn with passionate fury and the day we had to throw out your Anna boots (the heel was literally falling off posing a serious safety hazard) was a dark, dark day. You love jewelry, pink, glitter, and anything that sparkles and gravitate toward it like a moth to a flame.  There is very little about you that is understated which remains yet another constant in your life.  


You have always moved your body in a way that directly mirrors your mood.  When you are happy you have a bounce in your step that is impossible to ignore.  When you are sad your body moves like it’s trudging through quicksand - head down, limbs hanging, slowly and methodically moving forward or quietly sinking in a stationary position.  When you are angry or frustrated there is stomping and flailing with matching verbal explosions that makes it clear that you are probably in need of some intervention before you or someone or thing around you ends up injured.  When you are nervous I can safely bet any dollar amount that you are biting your nails, sitting very still other than a slight side-to-side swaying motion with your eyes darting back and forth assessing the situation.  And when you are excited your enthusiasm is difficult to contain.  The volume and pitch of your voice increases noticeably, your face lights up like the sun, and your body is more certainly dancing, twirling, high kicking, or bouncing.  

I watch you in all of these moments and wonder if there is a soundtrack playing in your head throughout the day that only you can hear and that varies given the situation and your emotional reaction at that time. I can imagine you hear a deep, heavy, dark classical piece playing in your moments of sadness.  When you are happy it’s probably something mainstream and current like “Updown Funk,” your jam of the moment.  A screaming heavy metal number comes to mind with your anger, and maybe the frantic “Flight of the Bumblebees” best matches your mood when you are excited.  You have music in your sole and a song in your heart at all times, and it pours out of you anytime a tune starts to play.

Last year a significant portion of my letter to you was all about staying true to yourself, and I think my wish for you has taken root over the last 365 days.  I was talking to one of your teachers a couple of weeks ago, a teacher who knows both you and McKenna well, and she shared some pretty wonderful words about you in our conversation.  In addition to complimenting what a fun, entertaining, and sweet kid you are, she also mentioned that she really has seen your personality evolve into something pretty remarkable since the start of 2nd grade.  What she has observed is that you seem more comfortable in your own skin and that you are moving out of your sister’s shadow and into your own light.  I had to pause to think about that for a minute because I’ve never really considered you to be a person who shied away from the spotlight, but as we continued to talk I started to understand what she was saying.  There’s a natural phenomenon that happens when you are the younger sibling. Even with the best intentions to avoid it you will inevitably be compared to McKenna, especially by people who knew her first.  I think it happens to all sibling pairs at some time or another.  What I loved about what Ms. B said to me is that even though you might be compared to your sister, you in no way feel compelled to be like her and you are carving your own path in this life of yours.  I love that so much.  I love that you are finding your own voice and presenting yourself authentically, and even more so that others around you recognize that.  I have always loved that you know what you want and are persistent in doing whatever you can to get it.  You are maturing in so many ways, and I think following your own wishes and desires in spite of what others might say or expect as part of a preconceived idea is a big part of that maturity.

That being said, in group situations it never fails that at some point you can be found sulking quietly because the others don’t want to do what you are proposing. We've had many talks about this and you've made a lot of progress dealing with this particular situation, but man does it make you mad when everyone else picks the idea of someone else over yours. I've tried to teach you that in that situation you have two choices: join your friends doing what THEY want to do or do what YOU want to do by yourself with the hope that maybe others will join you eventually. Do you like those two options? Oh no, you do not. The biggest hurdle for you with this scenario is the fact that I also remind you that you have to be okay with whichever choice you make. Making the choice isn't all that difficult, but being happy with it is a whole other story. What I'm trying to gently teach you in those moments is this: life is full of choices, but rarely are those options both desirable. In fact a majority of the time both choices probably kind of stink. However, even in those moments where we are faced with deciding between the lesser of two evils, it's important to know that we have the power to do what we think is best for us. We act on it, and we find quiet confidence in the choices we made.

You have always been one though to separate from the crowd when things get a little too overwhelming for you.  I don't even know if you realize that you do it.  You claim to hate being alone.  Anytime McKenna is at a friend's house you follow me around like you're lost and proclaim, "I just don't like feeling lonely".  It's funny though because you seem most content when you are quietly working in your own space doing your own thing.  Art projects, puzzles, lego sets, reading...these are all activities that you use to retreat into a place of calm. Of course you love action and the company of others immensely, but even though you fight it when it's not your idea, you need that time to yourself.  It centers you.  I don't think you've consciously realized that yet, but you'll soon figure it out and knowing this about yourself will be a powerful tool.

I don't remember when it started, but apparently in the last year or so you were having some pretty vivid dreams nearly every night, and your report of these dreams were not lovely images.  Huge attacking spiders, people trying to climb in through your window in the middle of the night, your skin melting off your body...frankly the dreams (nightmares?) you described were pretty gruesome and a bit worrisome too.  You have a confidence and swagger about you in most situations, but you also harbor some anxiety that isn't always at the forefront and is harder to see unless the person knows you really well.  You can be pretty hard on yourself and you get easily frustrated when things don't come easily and automatically.  I wondered if these bad dreams were a manifestation of the things that you quietly worry about.  You aren't quick to share what's troubling you and honestly I'm not sure you can even pin point those things that are causing you stress.  You know when you feel uncomfortable or frustrated, but it's still hard for you to definitively say what is prompting these emotions.  Dad and I both talked to you about these dreams and shared some techniques that might work for easing your mind at bedtime so that you could have a peaceful slumber. 

Somewhere along the way you learned about dream catchers and expressed how you wish you had one to help you with your bad dreams.  As if your wish caught flight on the wind, a few days later we received in the mail a package from a Native American tribe drumming up donations.  That package included complimentary items like stationary, address labels, stickers, a book of Native American poems, and a dream catcher.  You could hardly believe it when I showed you what have arrived in the mail that day.  Immediately claiming it as your own, you placed it on the shelf just over your head and the next day woke up beaming and reported that the dream catcher had worked.  From that night on, I'm not sure you've ever had anything but sweet dreams.  That dream catcher has become a vital part of your sleep routine - it travels with you if you sleep outside of your own bed, and you believe in its powers to block the bad completely.

It's a pretty amazing phenomenon, really.  Your dad and I were just talking about it the other night as we were putting the final touches on your new "diva room".  Dad mentioned that he'd like to find a permanent, prominent place for your dream catcher in your new surroundings, and then we talked about the difference this piece has had in your life.  Does this dream catcher have magical powers?  I don't know about that.  What it has proven to me though is that your subconscious is a powerful weapon.  You believe in the dream catcher's capabilities to bring the good into your life while filtering the evil.  You believe that this object sent randomly to our home from a charity that I have never heard of before or since mere days after mention of your desire for something to help you sleep better has done exactly that.  And because you believe it, it is so.  I think it's a pretty powerful indicator for what you can accomplish in this life of yours so long as you believe.  If you believe good will come, it will happen.  If you believe that you are capable, the task you are attempting will be completed with great success.  If you believe that you can accomplish great things, the world is yours to take.  If you only believe in yourself as much as you believe in your dream catcher, all your most wonderful dreams will come true.  You will soar.

We have shared some alone time in the last couple of days, and I was astounded by the moments we had together.  Caught up in the routine of day to day life, I find that I often miss the subtle changes that take place in your appearance and personality now that you're older and these changes aren't so in-your-face like they were when you were an infant, toddler, or even preschooler.  It's most often in those moments where we are one-on-one that I get lost in your mannerisms and your words.  When did this child start using expressions that are so grown up?  When did this little girl turn into a young lady?  I see it happening in small parts all the time I guess, but I've just been hit with it especially hard in the last few days and it's a bit jarring.  It's incredible to watch unfold, but it's frightening at the same time because I feel like I'm going to blink my eyes and you're going to be on your own.  Time is moving so fast.

Still, the passage of time in any increment will never change the fact that you are one of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor of having a part of my life.  You continue to fill my life with immeasurable joy and endless laughter.  You are an incredible human being with a beautiful spirit, and you bring happiness to so many.  You are smart and witty and imaginative.  You are considerate and grateful and loving.  You are helpful and kind and generous.  It is such a joy to watch you continue to grow into this multi-layered individual. I am so lucky to have you in my life to teach me and challenge me, to have you to love and to receive your love in return.  You are a huge part of my heart, and I would be lost without you.

Happy birthday, my sweet Elaina Rae.  I love you so very much.

All of my love,


Monday, April 13, 2015

Older But Still Unintentionally Funny

One of the things that I'm not used to yet now that the girls are older is that when we are at one of their doctor's visits and the doctor or nurse begins taking their medical history and current complaints, the medical professionals immediately turn to the girls for the report.  I'm still on standby to fill in specific details, but for the most part it's a conversation that I'm not a major part of.  It feels weird every time it happens, and I have to remind myself to let the girls take the lead and sit quietly until I'm asked any direct questions.

This afternoon, McKenna had a dermatologist appointment for a lingering cracked/peeling skin issue on her finger and foot.  I've always felt like eczema was the culprit and the pediatrician confirmed that diagnosis, but I thought an expert's opinion was probably for the best especially since it hasn't cleared up completely after months of treatment.  The nurse began taking McKenna's history, and I was determined to sit quietly as McKenna took control of her medical history.

Nurse:  So McKenna, what brings you in today?
McKenna:  (looking up at the ceiling with a look of mild uncertainty) Well . . . I think that I might have emphysema.
Nurse:  *laughing* Emphysema?  Oh, that's funny.
Me:  McKenna, if you have emphysema then we are at the wrong specialist.
McKenna:  Well, I thought that's what it was called!
Me:  It's called eczema.  Emphysema is a chronic lung condition caused by smoking.
McKenna:  (looking alarmed and very embarrassed) Oh, yeah.  I don't have that.

The story was repeated when the dermatologist came in, and she acted like that was the cutest thing she's ever heard in her office. 

So, in summary, here are a few things I learned from today's visit:
  1. McKenna does, in fact, have eczema and her skin care routine just got a lot more high maintenance and more expensive.
  2. The mole she was born with is one of the "good guys" and can stay.
  3. She's growing up, but she's not quite ready to independently take the reins of her medical care just yet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Through The Eyes Of My Girls

Deep in the misery of winter (also known as the middle of February), I decided to couldn't handle it anymore.  I was sick of the cold and gloom, and I needed an escape or at least the promise of an escape.  Weeklong tropical getaways were not in the cards, but I thought that a short weekend trip to a somewhat nearby destination would be enough to get me out of the funk of an Illinois winter.  So, with the support of The General, I began planning a trip to St. Louis for the last weekend of spring break.

Met with eager anticipation by one and moderate disinterest from another, I began researching places to visit on the girls' first trip to The Lou.  A ride to the top of the Arch was a must of course, and it quickly became obvious that a visit to the City Museum was also necessary.  Anyone who knows me well knows that the planning of a trip is almost as much fun for me as the actual trip itself.  I love to research local attractions, scour websites for restaurant reviews, and take time to carefully pour over all the hotel choices before deciding on the perfect place to lay our heads at the end of our fun filled days.  While this personality trait is something that makes me a desirable travel partner for many of my friends (I'm basically the mom of the group and have learned that a core group of my friends are basically unable to function without my many lists and spreadsheets), there's one significant downside to this planning and preparation:  it can often lead to major disappointment and frustration when things don't go exactly as I've planned them in my mind.

Things started to unravel the day before we were set to leave.  Some lingering congestion and a cough that seemed to be intensifying led to a prompt care visit for Elaina which then led to a nasal swab resulting in a positive result for Influenza B.  The doctor said as long as she remained fever free and didn't have any unpleasant digestive issues in the 24 hours before we left she was safe to go.  Flu Watch: Spring Break Edition went into full effect, and Elaina was checking her temperature on the hour.  When, at 7 pm, the reading presented a normal temp, Elaina ran into my bedroom brandishing the thermometer as proof and shouted, "Start packing!".  I told her we'd make a final decision sometime Friday afternoon just to be safe.

By Friday at noon she was puke, fever, and diarrhea free so I made the executive decision to forge ahead with our plans.  We left around 5 pm after The General returned home from work, suffered through a near blinding gradual sunset through four counties, waited and ate then waited some more at the world's slowest Steak & Shake in Lincoln, then finally hit the road again well after that menacing ball of flame and fury had disappeared for the night.  Just after 9:30 pm despite some sketchy Google Map directions we finally pulled up to the front of our hotel.

I had made reservations weeks ago and received confirmation that a standard room with two queen beds would be ready for us at check-in.  Such was not the case.  Apparently the Drury Plaza has a policy of overbooking rooms.  Better to have people without rooms than rooms without people is their business motto, I guess.  The front desk receptionist was lovely, apologetic, and very accommodating and got us booked into two comped rooms with one king sized bed each with the promise of a complimentary upgrade to a suite the following night.  Still, that didn't damper my annoyance.  Did I picture the four of us split between rooms, even if those rooms were next door to each other?  No, I did not, and this caused me great frustration.

The following morning we headed down for the complimentary breakfast.  It was packed; there were no tables accommodating four people, and so The General and I stood while eating lukewarm pancakes sans syrup with our hands while trying to stay out of the way of all the other patrons.  Fast forward a couple of hours and we were all packed up again ready to move our belongings to our new room.  The manager personally met us at our suite but breezed out of the room before we realized that the bedroom was equipped with only one bed.  By the time we got back to the lobby I was discouraged to the point of anger simmering just below the surface.  We were promised that by the time we got back from our day's activities all of our bags would be moved into proper accommodations with their sincerest apologies for the mistake.

None of this was how I had envisioned this trip, and it was making me very upset.  Then, with the innocence only a child possesses, I heard the girls talking about how this was the nicest hotel they had ever been in.  It's so fancy. The fountains are so cool.  The pool and hot tub were so fun.  I love it here.

Those tiny remarks were exactly the reality check I needed to break me out of my funk.

Food taking forever to arrive was a non-issue because in the end we all walked out with chocolate shakes.  They weren't going to let an almost impossible to navigate parking garage bring them down.  Not having the room that was originally planned just meant a little one-to-one snuggle time with one parent in a giant bed.  The faint smell of a baby's diaper in one room wasn't a big deal because we were leaving the room again to go for a late night walk to the Arch.  The scrambled eggs were barely cooked but that didn't matter because breakfast was free and some of their other favorite foods were available in bulk.  Repacking and carry our bags AGAIN wasn't a big deal because it meant we got an even bigger room with an extra TV AND we got to watch Elaina fall backwards out of an elevator which was pretty hysterical.  The lines to go to the top of the Arch were long and the crowd at the City Museum was initially a little overwhelming, but who can focus on that when there's all that giggling in the tram ride to the top and countless mazes and incredible architecture to explore?

One of my favorite bloggers took a spring break vacation with her daughters this year, and she mentioned a comment that one of her readers left on an Instagram picture that she posted from that trip:

"We see stuff when we are ready, and it's usually through the eyes of our kids."

It's like this person was speaking to me personally.  That sentiment exactly was what turned last weekend's trip around for me.  When I shifted my focus from everything that was going wrong according to my arbitrary plan and instead focused on what the girls were experiencing through their unclouded and nonjudgemental eyes it made everything so much better.  Clearer.  Less complicated and a lot more fun.

The icing on the cake?  As we were filling up the car at our last stop before finishing the last 90 minutes of the drive home, the girls turned to me and said, "Thanks for everything you did for us this weekend".  I didn't quite know how to explain to them that they have done more for me than I could have ever given them over those three days.

(P.S. By Saturday night, when The General was finally in a mental space that allowed him to speak to the staff at our hotel without fear of saying something he'd regret, he went down to pick up our pizza and stopped to thank the front desk staff for the being so kind and accommodating through all our ups and downs.  Their immediate response was, "Oh, are you Mrs. P*****'s husband?  Yeah, you've had a lot of issues".  It's always a good sign when the staff of a hotel of almost 400 rooms knows you by name.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Driving between buildings this afternoon, I got stuck behind an older model Chevy S-10 pickup.  Feeling rushed to get to my next group of students, I suddenly found myself pushing down very impatient thoughts and actions toward what was clearly an older gentleman behind the wheel. Honestly, as I sat just behind him at a stop sign, I watched in a mixed of wonderment and bewilderment as I observed just how long this man took to make a right hand turn.  Seriously, it was at least a 90 second process before he had his vehicle’s tires facing straight ahead.  Trying not to seethe at this event in my rush-rush-rush mode, I suddenly was overcome in a flash of nostalgia of my Grandpa, and the memories haven’t stopped flooding my brain since.

My Grandpa was a notoriously slow driver.  If we were spending a Saturday night at their house, two things were certain.  One, I would lie awake at some point in the middle of the night struggling to fall back asleep thanks to the thunderous snoring of my grandparents.  Secondly, we would have a fried chicken dinner at the VFW with my great aunts and uncles and several of my grandparents’ close friends.  Coming home smelling like grease and stale cigarette smoke was worth it for a night at the VFW.  The only downside was that the not even 10 mile drive from Odell to Pontiac would take at least 30 minutes thanks to Grandpa’s leisurely pace.  I swear, that man was NEVER in a hurry.  I’m pretty sure he never even knew of the term “schedule”.  For my Grandpa, it seemed like he was only ever in the moment, very rarely planning ahead and always enjoying where he was at in that second and not considering what was going to happen next.  Life would play out as the opportunities presented themselves, not as the clock dictated.  

Thinking about my Grandpa’s slow driving naturally set off another immediate memory, this one of his trusty white Nova.  That car was something else.  Built like a tank with an interior incredibly spacious for what back then was considered a “compact car”, I sat in my vehicle today and could remember so vividly the smell of that car that it’s like I was surrounded by it.  I closed my eyes for just a second and could picture the oil change sticker in the top corner of the windshield (the kind with the small piece of paper that the mechanic would write in the next oil change in pen), the stick on calendar on the dashboard, and the push button radio presets.  But it was the memory of a scent that washed over me so vividly, so close it’s like I was five years old again.

The memory of that scent brought to mind another that makes me instantly think of my Grandpa.  Grandpa wore Old Spice always and forever, or at least as long as I was alive.  He often smelled like grease thanks to time spent in his unorganized labyrinth of a tractor shed, or the mixed combination of dirt, fresh air and sweat (a byproduct of being a lifelong farmer), but it’s the distinct smell Old Spice that I think of first when I remember Grandpa.  Fresh from a bath, Grandpa liked to give “whisker kisses” to his grandkids leaving the scent of his after shave all over our faces.  We pretended to hate it; I’d give anything for just one more round of whisker kisses from that ornery old man.

I wasn’t expecting a walk down memory lane today.  I certainly wasn’t expecting to become overwhelmed with my grandfather’s absence fourteen years since he passed away.  I miss all of my grandparents that have passed, each in very different ways.  I miss my Grandma Bolen’s quiet strength.  I miss watching her craft her latest project, and I miss being able to talk to her about gardening and flowers.  I miss watching her sit on her porch as she looks out on her own garden.  I miss my Grapa Pokarney, especially his laugh.  I miss his stories and talking to him about school, and I miss watching him roll his eyes at something ridiculous Grama or I would share.  I miss his hugs and I miss the way he used to take the girls downstairs to play.

But my Grandpa Bolen.  The thing I miss the most about him is something I never got to witness.  He died months before I was married, years before I became a mom.  So many times I have wished that he could have lived long enough to meet the girls.  He was a stubborn, strong willed, bull headed man, but oh how he loved little kids.  I can picture him laughing as he watched the girls and then sharing stories with whoever would listen about what funny things his great granddaughters had done or said, chuckling again as he relived it.  I can see McKenna giggling nervously at him, not quite sure if he might do something silly or scary (e.g., popping his false teeth out of his mouth as a joke).  I know Elaina would be equal parts in love with him as her captive audience and totally infuriated with his poor hearing and his teasing.  He would have loved having those girls in his life.

My grandpa was a simple man, and maybe that’s why such a simple, ordinary moment in the middle of an otherwise mundane activity brought back such intense memories. Maybe today was his way of reminding me to focus on what’s important in those moments when things aren’t going the way I’ve planned.  Thanks for the reminder, Grandpa.  And thanks for the memories.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Making A Liar Out Of Myself

You guys know I'm all talk and little action at this point, right?

Remember how I so boldly announced back in December that I missed blogging and that I was making a comeback?  That I was going to revisit this page and regularly update all of you patient people who are still visiting this dusty little corner of the internet?  You are all so sweet to hold on to the chance that I might actually make good on that promise so first let me say thank you for believing in me.  And secondly, you're all fools for thinking I was actually going to follow through.

But here I am three months later, with very little to say sadly.  I'm trying to make sense as to why blogging is so much harder than it used to be.  Is it lack of motivation?  The absence of free time?  A depletion of "blog worthy" moments in our lives?  An attempt to protect the privacy of our daughters now that they're old enough to read and comprehend all that I put online for the world to see?  An ongoing Netflix addiction from one full series to the next?  It's probably a combination of all the above plus some.  Almost eight years of doing anything can lead to burnout, and although in many ways we have more free time now that we did when the girls were little, I'll admit that having The General at home with us at night (as opposed to his work schedule when I first started blogging) definitely cut into my prime blogging time.  The girls staying up later at night is also a major culprit.    I have a hard time getting into the flow with the Full House theme song blaring in the background.  Man, do I miss those 7:30 pm bedtimes!  There are certainly still ridiculous things done and said in our home, but maybe the frequency is less and those moments are a slightly less hilarious and a lot more eye roll worthy now that the girls are older.  As for Netflix, while I won't apologize for any of it, clearly our binge watching of Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, New Girl, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and all the other network television series currently waiting on our DVR does not help the creative writing process.

I think the biggest issue for me has been a subtle attempt to protect the girls now that they are older.  What was funny once is still funny today, but their responses to hearing that it has been shared with a wide (humor me) audience come with some mixed reactions.  I've thrown around the idea of making this space private for this very reason.  I have used - and loved - this blog as a journal for their lives, and I don't want to lose that outlet.  I want to remember the details of conversations I have with the girls to relive with them years from now (see:  THE Talk, a story which will remain private for now but trust me had its very hilarious and cringe worthy moments that blog readers would revel in), and for me this is one of the greatest spaces for doing just that.  On top of this privacy issue, the retellings of some of these events are so much more complicated than they used to be.  A conversation with a three year old is a much different experience than a conversation with a ten year old and sometimes it just doesn't translate as well.  Facebook is probably a little bit to blame too.  Little snippets or cute pictures that I would have run to this space to share now get thrown up in seconds via my Facebook Machine (or iPhone, depending on whether or not you're asking The General) to one of a variety of my social media outlets.

Anyway, I'm realizing now that this post really has no purpose other than to alert you that I am indeed still alive, that I am harboring a significant amount of guilt for not making good on my promise, and that I still have all the best intentions to use this space as a diary of my life - past, present and future.  I tried this before and if I didn't have the last two episodes of Dexter to watch tonight I might make the effort to search for it, but let's just start fresh here.  Give me a theme. Pose a question.  Provide me with a jumping off point.  What should I write about?  What should I share?  Where should I take you with my words?  This rusty blogger needs some inspiration!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pictoral Year In Review














May you all have a safe and very happy New Year, and may the good fortunes of 2014 continue into 2015!


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