Five – A Hero’s Day

Now that it’s nearly August, I figured I should finally get Hadley’s birthday documented!

Another birthday has come and gone for our firstborn. We felt that this one – the big 5 – was a big one, for come fall he’ll be starting his academic journey, taking his first real steps towards independence, and truly be considered a little boy (no longer toddler, preschooler, our baby).

I’m not crying. You are.

So, we wanted to make it special. I mean, we want to make them all special for ALL the kiddos, but before too long the celebrations will simplify to just family or just a couple of friends for pizza or whatever. Hence, special was the order of the day – and, thank God, after an absurd amount of hours of work, we succeeded. I mean REALLY succeeded. A family + friends (preschool kids are THE BEST) + superheroes galore party.

Starting a week (or more, really) in advance, Dave’s parents helped us set up our new play set (and his mom helped me do way more weeding than my pregnant body could handle, woohoo!) so that *if* the “outside” part of the shindig worked, the kids could use it.

I had a list a mile long for readying the house (and food). Fixing a door I broke in the basement to contain the cats (ahem…I blame Winston, but that’s another story), cleaning, purging, making games and a photo backdrop, doling out food responsibilities, asking Dave for a million favors (which he excitedly executed – he wins MVP for this one!)…and keep the kids alive in the meantime.

On Hadley’s actual birthday, I tried to think of something fun but easy-ish to do. So, we hit up our closest library to get his first library card and I broke his heart that we couldn’t stay for the puppet show. He did stock up on books, though, so he was pretty jazzed.

Instead of the puppet show, he was introduced to his first Billy Beez experience. I played with Harper in the toddler area (where he also made some friends) before letting him explore independently. Here, we had lunch and played more, although Harper decided she wanted to do the bigger slides. Let’s just say it proved a challenge since I tried ONE toddler slide out that had me a bit concerned about the baby. No big slides for Mama, no big slides for Harper. Commence meltdown.

Hadley had a BLAST and still talks about it, though. He also still regales us with the story of how he got “lost” (I knew where he was but I don’t think he knew that I knew…?) and asked adults for help. The things they remember.

After a nap, he picked a restaurant to go to so that Daddy could celebrate with us, too (Uno’s, of course), then opened the rest of his gifts. It was pretty darn near perfect. Anything after that would be icing on the cake.

 

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The day before the party, my mother came over to help me work in the garage to get it as orderly and emptied as possible for a possible Plan B in case of rain. My MIL graciously took the kids (plus her other grandson) for the day to let me prep, I brought my husband lunch (he had to unexpectedly work the whole day), and got back to the cooking.

On the morning of the party, we STILL didn’t know what the weather was up to. It’d rain a bit, then get sunny, then rain…all making us think of what a crappy job our yard does draining and drying out. Seriously, it’s been the summer of “A River Runs Through It” (although it’s also been an abnormally wet one). We finally decided on using mostly the garage and got setting up with the help of our parents and my sister.

Long story slightly shorter: It was exciting to see people show up since Hadley only had a slight idea of what family members (and MAYBE which school friends) would show up. Even a couple of the parents and I found ourselves tearing up when the kids were so ecstatic to see each other. We really couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids. So fun, so grateful, so sweet – and so fun!

We invited everyone to partake in the food. The main event – huge sheet pizzas and “batwings” (boneless chicken tenders with dipping sauces since we didn’t want real wings to be a choking disaster) was picked up at our local pizza joint (we’re officially locals) but we assembled and asked family to put together other foods.

Like “Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter” and “Flash’s Fast Fruit”…

Or Thor’s hammers (pretzel sticks stuck into cheese rectangles), Captain America Shields (round pretzels with white chocolate and red, white and blue M&Ms), and Kryptonite Bars (Rice Krispy treats drizzled in white chocolate and sparkly green sprinkles).

Oh, and before lunch the kids crowded around a table to color some printouts of various superheroes that my husband picked up, then after eating we broke out some superhero masks and, since the sun was cooperating, we let them hit the backyard if they were brave about the slightly damp ground. The most entertaining part of the whole thing? A worm the kids found under the play set.

The things kids remember.

Then, we had cupcakes (my MIL graciously made those, and I made Hadman his requested fruit-covered Superman cake) and Hadley opened every present with a politeness and excitement only a 5-year-old can muster. His friends kept crowding around him, they were so happy to give their own gifts! So, so sweet.

We handed out goodie bags (with TONS of superhero paraphernalia – yeah, we went overboard, needed to cut it back by half…or more) and a big surprise for Hadley. Dave had made a Super Hadley comic book – like, he wrote, sketched, had his friend ink and color, then had it professionally printed as a gift to the kids and, most importantly, a surprise to Hadley. The kid’s mind was blown and Dave was ecstatic.


I pulled out some more crafts (I painted old toilet paper tubes they could decorate for superhero cuffs and there were make-your-own masks…among many other things I had prepped). Our “Gotham City backdrop” kept falling over in the breeze, but I think one or two kids used it, anyway, and I pulled out a toss game I had whipped up after many of the kids had left for the remaining few to try out.


Overall, the day was beyond delightful. Honestly, the grown-ups had fun, the kids had a blast, and Hadley said it was the best. Day. Ever.

He definitely wasn’t wrong.  

WHAT WE’D DO IF WE HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN – I like to figure out what worked well and what we should pare back for other parties. Especially since, without telling this stuff to the world (and Future Meg – hey, Future Meg!), I’ll totally forget. It might also help you guys with any party planning you’re doing, of course!

Perfect timing. The party went from 12 noon – 2pm, just in time for the younger siblings’ naps and it left very little room for meltdowns. Not too long, not too short – juuuuuust right! (Parents even commented on it.)

Appreciate others’ help but take control. Definitely delegate some of the duties, especially if you have people who ASK to help (like our parents and my sister, who were integral to the day’s success). But, make sure to know exactly what you need done and when, and let them know. Tell everyone an exact time to come if you expect help with setup. Sometimes my husband and I have a hard time making up our minds, but there are times in life when you just have to decide and relay the decision, y’know?

Remember to leave time for independent play. We ended up being pretty go-with-the-flow and I’m glad I planned LOTS of activities but I ended up skipping most of them. And don’t forget that kids enjoy hanging out and playing independently (but having a set schedule, too, so things don’t get out-of-control).

– Think about what will be most stressful and skip it. While they were cute ideas, I could’ve skipped a couple of things and the party would’ve been just as fun for the kids (and less stressful for me). And never underestimate simple fun – like free coloring sheets!

– Take the reigns. In the future, we’ll do one cake or tons of cupcakes…Had doesn’t need his own. I asked him in advance what kind of cake he wanted, but I meant, like, chocolate or vanilla with blah-blah frosting. Instead, he went into a detailed description of the Superman logo. Ugh. So, yeah…I don’t need to ask and I’m pretty sure he’ll be happy with whatever’s made.

– Make those darn “Captain America Shields” again. My kids were in LOVE with the pretzels I had drizzled with melted white chocolate then topped with an M&M (I couldn’t find the white chocolate discs, which are supposed to melt if you put them in the oven at a low temp before placing the M&Ms). And they were apparently a hit with the other partygoers, too, so Future Meg? Dip pretzels in all sorts of chocolate, and maybe toss some candy on it. It’s a people pleaser!

Our now 5-year-old still has some inexplicable meltdowns and seems to still have these crazy phases that make us raise our eyebrows (or pull our hair out!), but overall he’s such a joy. A kind, thoughtful, super smart, highly verbal cutie who responds best to hugs and laughter. We’re so proud of the boy he is – and admittedly a bit frightened of whether school might dim his bright, energetic, trusting light.

With Kids Like These, How Can Summer NOT Be Fun?

It’s only May (albeit late May). We still have another month before summer officially hits our house. Recently, I found myself in the midst of a crazy schedule of house duties – Dave was mowing the lawn (which, at our new house after a week+ of non-stop rain, is a monumental task) so I was playing with the kids, cooking, and throwing them in the tub for a quick early bath so that Dave could rinse off after his chores. Even amid this chaotic scene, I found myself full of joy and appreciation, and truly looking forward to the time ahead this summer with them.

These are crazy ages.

Harper’s officially a year and a half. She’s still a little peanut, but her personality (when she pushes the “stranger danger” shyness aside) is beyond unforgettable. When she runs, she puts both her hands behind her back (either she’s a superhero or it cuts down on friction, whatev). She’s STUBBORNNESS personified – ahem, like her mom – but I’m learning that if you give her a task she’s *sometimes* easily diverted. Just until recently, she hadn’t taken to drinking regular milk yet but recently seemed to give up her bottle of pumped milk a day (woohoo, although I’m somehow nervous not lugging my pump in and out of work!) but she still nurses a couple times a night. She pets and snuggles her kitties with a relatively gentle touch. She thinks she’s older and demands to be treated as such. She’s part fashion plate, part Punky Brewster; possibly a tomboy. She adores me (for some strange reason), sometimes throws Dave a bone with a rare hug, and always dotes on her big brother.

Her brother.

Hadley’s going to be 5 in less than 2 months, guys. Let me get my bearings on that one. *sniff, sniff* Watching the passage of time through his demeanor and growth – still with the occasional behavior slip or meltdown, but noticeably fewer for the most part – is humbling. He’s as kind as they come with a huge heart that gets hurt when kids, well, are kids. He uses big (like, big…adult big) words. He’s inquisitive and precocious – but not overtly annoying. He has a hard time controlling himself at times but is, at heart, a people-pleaser. When he’s about to get hurt, he’s already apologizing before he hits the ground. Poor kid comes by it honestly from both parents.

After teaching hundreds of kids over the years (the perks of teaching library – you meet ALL THE KIDS), I had reached a disciplinary style that, I felt, saw the uniqueness in all the children but tried to accept the fact that they should all still be held accountable for their actions and choices. Strict, I would say, which is something often lacking in the home, but with a touch of trust and humor. So, I took this home to Hadley.

Now that preschool teachers and the teachers who have met him for kindergarten have stated and reiterated that, yup, there’s something different about him, my thinking’s shifting a bit. There are some areas that still drive me crazy (“pinch the pencil, bud” and God help you if you hand him an ice cream cone to eat solo), but I’m starting to accept that he deserves more from me, particularly nurturing. I won’t say “us” here because my husband has always been the most sweet, supportive father on the planet.

Let’s just say that I’ve seen what kindness does to him. It opens him up like a flower. He’s more attentive and eager to please when he’s not going to be struck down (figuratively!!!) for doing something wrong. It’s amazing, and I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to find this willingness to pick only the important battles and give him more breathing room far sooner.

As far as he’s grown and developed, it’s clear that we ALL can find some growth and new awareness at any age. Even parents. (Okay, ESPECIALLY parents.)

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So, that’s where our kiddos are. Simply fun, simply goofballs, simply smart, simply amazing.

I’d like to be able to give them a summer that’s all those things: fun, goofy, brain-building, amazing…and, yes, simple (since, y’know, that whole “relaxation” thing sounds great to my pregnant mind). In the vein of simplicity, I’ve turned to general ideas that we can kind of “fill in the blanks” later to give us a guide of fun summer activities without the self-imposed “we have to do #allthethings” stress.

A science museum – Last year, we built our entire getaway on heading to a kid-friendly, interactive museum and while the museum itself was amazing, the rest of the trip kinda wasn’t. So, this year I’m eyeing a spot much more local to us and even got to scope it out on a recent field trip at school. I think Hadman will LOVE it and there are even some cool things for Harper to mess around with.

Zoos! – Any chance to fit in a trip to the zoo, whether it’s our favorite local spot or a larger one while traveling, is a great idea for our kiddos. They LOVE animals, so a day at a zoo is ideal, and now that Hadley’s much more into coloring and drawing, we can base some simple activities off of what he sees. We also want to start chatting with the kids (well, Hadman) about animal conservation and the environment more, so hopefully this will be a good jumping off point. Wild Kratts helps give a bit of a foundation, but seeing the animals brings it home.

Head outside – This could mean a bunch of things, from going on more walks to actually enjoying our backyard more to finding spots while vacationing that we can get some fresh air, going to the playground to eating in the backyard as a family. I like to keep things open – again, simple and less stress – so it all depends on schedule and weather.

Fresh, easy meals – Speaking of eating outside, our family has gotten into a rut. While we still don’t eat certain things (fast food comes to mind), we’ve been relying on restaurants and local pizza joints more than our fair share ever since the move (and if I’m honest, it’s been about for the past year or so). I’m hoping to push fruit and veggie snacks more this summer (on EVERYONE, not just the kiddos) and some real food meals. I’ve started this already, but with the summer farmers’ markets coming up, I’m excited to see what goodies they have to offer. * Our ultimate goal is to reach an 80/20 ratio of good, real-food choices to “real world/real life” options (ie a pizza or meal out from time to time).

Now, if only Harper wasn’t showing signs of a berry allergy. Grr.

Treats are OK! – Don’t get me wrong with my last point – we’ll still savor our ice cream and popsicles. I’m also hoping to avoid getting too hyped up about how messy they tend to be. 😉 We also have a new fire pit, so you KNOW s’mores are in the mix. (Now, if only we could find some organic marshmallows…)

Getting away. – This is a tough one to figure out for some reason. We were hoping to get away for a quiet, as-relaxing-as-possible-with-two-young-kids vacation but can’t settle on a where and when. We also make a trip to our “it’s tradition!” spots, like Western Mass and Old Forge, so I just don’t know. Gah. This may just be the year we fly by the seat of our pants.

So, there we are! I have a HUGE job to get inventory done and ALL of the books packed away for construction this summer, so I can’t wish the days away…but let’s just say I’ll be glad to have it all done and behind me to enjoy these munchkins (and my super cool husband, of course) this summer.

Anyone have some awesome plans they want to share? Or suggestions for a fun-yet-peaceful trip/vacation that won’t break the bank? I’d love to hear in the comments!