Thursday, February 26, 2009

Amazing Grace

I'll admit it. I've been putting this off. I'm a sentimental ninny, so writing these birthday tributes is always a bit intense, emotionally speaking. Just sorting through pictures and memories of the people I love turns my insides to goo. The nostalgia gets so thick in the air it makes my eyes water. I'm not saying this is unpleasant; it's just that I have to be in the right mindset. For my own kids, though, the mental preparation is even harder. Not only do I have to comb through the archives of adorableness, but I have to come to grips with the fact that my kids -- my own flesh and blood! -- are growing up. With or without my permission.

I didn't realize the true depth of my denial until yesterday, when my friend Natalie playfully (and accurately) observed that Gracie was getting a little big to be called a baby. Now, you should know that I love Natalie's guts, and I'd gladly change a stinky blowout take a bullet for her. But just then I wanted to throw her into a chokehold and keep her down until she took it back. I didn't though, because deep down I knew that she was right.

At two years, two weeks and two days old, Grace has quite thoroughly shed her baby ways, and is a full-fledged little girl. You can see it all right there: The flowing locks, the impish grin, that self-satisfied awareness that the camera is aimed at her. And it's not just that she's lost her baby look. She runs, climbs, jumps, steals, teases and copies Sam's every move. Her facial expressions betray complex thoughts like "I wonder if I can get that apart" and "my mom's an idiot." She's a formidable tantrum thrower. She has her own favorite licensed characters. Perhaps most impressive, she asks for what she wants with words, with new ones arriving every day.

But with a kid like Grace, you can't say it all with words. You need pictures.

Luckily, we have hundreds and hundreds saved on our hard drive. And as I sorted through them, I was struck at how well her personality can be captured on (digital) film.

Look here, for example.
Grace loves animals. With exuberance. Malcom is her most frequent target, but she'll gladly harass anything with fur. Or feathers. Just before Halloween we went to a local farm with a small petting zoo. There were the usual animals, plus those vending machines full of pellets to feed them. Gracie quickly used up every last one of her pellets, and then Sam's. And then she scrounged some off the ground. When those were gone, she took apple slices from her own lunch, and the apple peels discarded from Sam's and fed those to the animals. I was a little worried that she'd get nipped through the fence. But all she got was a huge grin on her face every time a furry friend came near. In the end I had promise her a cookie to get her away from the goats. (And even then, she probably only came because the thought she'd have a chance to sneak back and give the goats half.)

She's good at sharing. But she'd even better at eating. Cookies, of course, but pretty much everything else too.
Unlike some other children I know, she'll cheerfully eat anything I put before her. And while her cohort is busy complaining that his meal is too spicy/mushy/sour/orange, she's cleaned her plate and wants "moey." She's such a good eater, in fact, that I had trouble coming up with a menu for her special birthday dinner a couple weeks ago. She just likes everything. I rattled off a list of options (pizza, spaghetti, broccoli, chicken, corn, peaches, applesauce), and she said yes to every one of them. I finally settled on home-made mac & cheese, steamed broccoli, applesauce, and juice boxes. I must have guessed right, because when Grace came to the table she literally cheered. At that moment, I would have given her anything she asked for.

And what did she ask for?

One of her favorite activities is to stand on a chair next to me while I work in the kitchen. She helps me roll out dough, sampling unbaked wads when she can. She adds ingredients, stirs pots, and (of course) licks spoons.

Here she is helping me clean up after a baking extravaganza. With every lick of the bowl she yelled "mmmmm," even though the residue was just cream of chicken soup. (This series of photos is best appreciated when flipped through quickly in a photo viewer, but maybe if you move your eyes really fast you can get the same effect.)

This willingness to clean up occasionally puts us at odds with each other. Like the time last week at McDonalds, when some innocent jostling overturned her bottle of chocolate milk. Not one to cry at such tragedies, Grace simply climbed under the booth and began slurping up the puddle. The good news is she inadvertently mopped most of the mess up with her shirt before she even got her mouth into position. But she did get in a couple good gulps before I swooped in with the extra napkins. Eventually I persuaded her to use those (not her tongue) to help me clean the mess up.

So, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty. Or her face. Or her hair. Or her clothes. Or her digestive tract. Makes you want to just snuggle right up to her, doesn't it?

And here's where the misty eyes and guts-of-goo come in. Because no matter how sticky those fingers get, no matter how many tantrums the day may bring, she's still as affectionate and cuddly as, well, as a baby. And even though she's all grown up now, nearly every night stillends like this:
And it doesn't get any better than that.

Happy birthday, sweet Gracie-Ku. I love you!

Grace's words at two

uh oh
tv (tt)
Sam (Nam)
monkey (ooo ooo oooh!)
sore (zoey)
more (moey)
where go (dere dough?)
what's that (da dat?)
drink ("d" with baby sign)
ding dong
pacifier (wubby)
ta daa!
choo choo

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My funny valentine

When Sam was just a couple months old we took a family trip to Chicago. He saw most of the city from his Bjorn, and hardly complained at all when strangers gooed and cooed and pinched his adorable little baby face. (Look at that face. Can you blame them?)

There was one woman in particular who really got Sam grinning. She worked for a company that runs tour boats along the Chicago River. As we purchased our tickets, she fussed and flirted. As we waited for departure, she flirted and fussed. As we boarded the boat, she fussed and flirted, all the while proclaiming, "Oooh, this boy likes the wimmens!"

We didn't know then how right she was. Sam's what you might call a ladies man; his best friends have always been girls (or, if you're Sam "garrils").

It all began with MJ. She was cute and coy, and she laughed at all his jokes.

Unfortunately, she was also his first cousin. And she lived hundreds of miles away. So there wasn't much of a future there, despite those dazzling golden curls.

So Sam moved on to Ella. We met Ella's family soon after we moved to Ohio, and we all became fast friends. But I didn't realize the extent of Sam's devotion until our ward Halloween party. They were inseparable.
In fact, at the end of the evening, when everyone was heading to their cars, the two of them stood at the top of the stairs that led to the parking lot unwilling to move. They'd have to separate to get down the stairs (Ella was wearing wooden shoes, so walking solo was awkward enough!), but Sam did not want to let of of Ella's hand.

It was hard to leave Ella (and the rest of her family) behind when we moved to Buffalo.

But before long, Sam found Alli. (He called her "the new Ella" at first). Since then, we've had lots of fun play dates with Alli and her family, including one to the Buffalo Botanical Garden, where this three-year-old duo got "married." I think the wedding was Allison's idea, but Sam certainly did not object, especially since the ceremony consisted mostly of running around the gardens hand-in-hand.

Oh, and also a little mid-winter dip in the fountain. Splish splash!

But sooner or later, three-year-olds turn four. And that meant Sam was off to school, where he met a little girl named Claire. Her name came up often, and she seemed to be at the center of all his classroom interactions. I'd ask, "Did you make any new friends at school today?" And he'd answer "No. I just like Claire."

A couple months into the school year his teacher, Mrs. S, told me that he told her he was "in love with Claire." Mrs. S told Sam that people usually wait until they're a little older to fall in love, but Sam insisted. "She's the prettiest girl in the class!" he said. Mrs. S couldn't argue with that, so she let the subject drop.

One subject that is not likely to drop anytime soon is that Sam does not see enough of his current flame, Abygail. No party is fun, no gathering is complete, no outing is satisfactory without sweet, spunky Abygail. More than once he's told me, "Mom, I really love Abygail." And I believe him. He makes up stories about her. He draws pictures for her. He sets aside his favorite clothes to wear on days that he plays with her. His great scheme is for Abygail (and her family) to move into our guest room so that he can play with her EVERY DAY.

(I extended the invitation, but Abygail's mom said no thanks. 100 square feet isn't enough room for six people? Whatever!)

So Sam may "love the wimmens," but day-to-day, I guess Sam is just stuck with me. And to tell you the truth, that's kind of how I like it: my funny little man, all to myself.

To all the girls I've loved before

Happy Valentine's Day

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Because she can't let Sam get all the photographic attention

Grace wanted in on it too.

PS: When Sam saw Grace's dress, he declared it "the most beautiful dress in the world." I disagreed: Not until we get those tacky bows off.
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Friday, February 06, 2009

Because he heard Abercrombie was on the search for pre-k models

Sam demanded a photo shoot in his new Easter suit.

Credits: Wardrobe by JC Penney. Wardrobe styling by Sam. Fuzziness by Malcom. Photography by Coach.

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