Off to the Races.

“Hey Eli, would you like for me to tell you where to stick it?”

These are the jewels that you hear when you travel with a three-year-old and a six-year-old boy.

(No, Noah had no idea what he was saying. Yes, he said it in the kindest, sweetest little boy voice ever. Yes, I laughed heartily.)

So. Boys.

If you take them to a Mexican restaurant, there will likely be double dipping.

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If you let them loose in a double hotel room with a balloon, it will assuredly feel like you’re trapped in a two-foot box with 563 espresso-hyped hamsters.

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But then, if their granddad shows up, they will miraculously become still, tiny little angels.

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My sister-in-law Lindsay and I ditched our three daughters and took our two sons to the races in Atlanta. My Dad is a Tech Inspector (i.e. he takes the cars apart before and after the race to check for cheaters) for a series of races formerly known as American Le Mans but recently purchased by NASCAR and given the unfortunate name of Tudor. Unfortunate when two small boys are involved, anyway.

“HA! TOOOOOTER!!”

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But regardless of unfortunate naming choices, our sons experienced ecstasy that day.

They got to walk through Pit Row with my Dad,

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Where racing teams told them secrets,

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Taught them how to cut zip ties,

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And in general enthusiastically entertained our children.

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There were cars to BEND OVER and look into (you really don’t realize how small race cars are until you see them next to a three and six year old),

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Lifts to ride up and down,

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Selfies to photo-bomb,

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Other people’s selfies to watch happen,

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And drivers to avoid.

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Dad yanked this driver(?) out and said “stand here with my grandsons.”

Driver(?): “But I’m not important!”

Dad: “I know that, but they don’t know that!”

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Poor driver(?). I think he’s important, too.

Noah remembered from last year where our team allegiances lie, though. He even remembered how to copy my sing-song fan-girl voice really well, going super high at the end of, “We’re going to go see Patrick Dempseeeeey!!!”

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But, alas. Another year, another lack of Dempsey in our lives. He was there somewhere, though. Just not there with us.

Meanwhile, back at home, Chris was convincing Ali to go running with him on the coldest day of the year so far,

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And my brother JC was attempting to figure out how to manage curly hair.

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We had the better end of the deal.

We found a place by the fence to sit for a while,

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Which really ended up in us doing everything we could to contain our sons.

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And get their eyes to rest on the racetrack for at least two seconds together.

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Thankfully, there was a bounce-house at which we ended our day.

Which, by the way, my experience at the bounce-house was a highly improved activity with earplugs.

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Correction: ALL of life with boys is highly improved with earplugs.

The Tearing of the Veil.

If you ask Ali what she’s going to be when she grows up, she’ll tell you that she’s going to own a bakery (and that she’s an artist). The bakery is a big deal to her, and we have many urgent conversations as to the particulars of running the business, as she’s deeply consumed with the looming responsibilities.

They happen randomly, in a moment of silence in the car, right before bed, or during dinner.

“Mom, how do I know how much to pay my employees?”

“Well, you research the market, you see what other people are paying bakery employees, and you decide if you want to save money and pay people less but have less loyal employees, or spend more money and pay people more and have more loyal employees.”

“I think I definitely want to pay people more.”

Another day,

“Hey Mom, when are we going to Gramamma and Pop’s house?”

“I’m not sure. Why?”

“Well, I need to talk to Pop about building some of the things I’ll need for my bakery. Like the cases for the cakes and the tables and chairs.”

She’s lucky to have an accountant for a mother, as she’s started discussions about profit and loss, variable and fixed expenses, whether or not she’ll need her Fireman-Aspiring-Brother’s services (hopefully not), what we should name the restaurant (She wanted to go with “Ali’s”, but there’s a bar downtown that we pass regularly that is called “Al’s”, and with the apostrophe it looks a lot like “Alis” and she doesn’t want to copycat so she might go with “Alana’s” instead), how she can incorporate her role as an artist into her bakery, and the fact that she definitely wants to work the cash register and hire people to do the actual baking.

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Chris is all in on the bakery plans. We were running down Morris Avenue a couple of weeks ago and he pointed out a beautiful vintage two-story building for sale.

“We could go ahead and buy this for Ali, live in the upstairs, and rent out the downstairs until she’s ready to open her bakery. Morris Avenue is going to be THE place to be in Birmingham in 15 years. Mark my words.”

He’s also trying to convince me that if she keeps on this path, we should sign the kid up for some college business classes in high school (the perks of homeschooling) and then use her college fund to launch her bakery career.

That’s all good and wonderful but I think they’ve both got it wrong.

She’s a writer.

Greatly inspired by reading the series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, her own personal diary, stuffed with illustrations and great emotion, is truly a work of art. I adore getting caught up on it to see how she decided to portray the events of our lives.

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(That scribbly pile of crap is definitely an accurate portrayal of “before” in her room.)

Also, she gets really excited when our English book gives tips on story creation, such as when we learned how to make a word web, she insisted on me giving her a new notebook just so she could create word webs every day before composing her version of family happenings in her beloved diary.

Writing is a lovely and flexible thing, though, and can often be done alongside or even about one’s main career. Ask me how I know. So maybe she will own that bakery and maybe she’ll write the stories of interactions with the public, since she’ll be running the cash register. But I am confident that somehow, she’s going to be writing voluminously.

Which is why, when we got to the section in her English book about the process of writing, I told her that I used this very process every day. Then I, for the first time ever, read aloud a blog post to my daughter.

It was so strange since the post was partially about her, and she wasn’t portrayed completely innocently (it was The Runaway Incident, and I didn’t sugarcoat nor did she deny her tattle-taleing tendencies.)

She was, for the first time in a while, really excited by something I had done. She forgot that she was supposed to have an air of unimpressedness when it came to her mother’s ideas, and begged me to start reading her more stories that I’ve written about her.

I agreed – as soon as we finish reading The Last Battle, our next read-aloud “book” will be…my blog.

She was thrilled.

And now I find myself, as if I’m about to read to The Queen of England, under a lot of pressure.

I mean, I knew she would eventually read my blog – I always have. But I unreasonably assumed that it would be after she had kids of her own and therefore could read through the context of motherhood. Instead, I guess she’s going to get a crash-course in motherhood-reality from me.

Then there were other issues.

How many stories should I skip? What am I going to read to her that I don’t even remember writing? Will I have to censor myself to read myself to my daughter? Is there anything I’ve written that she’s going to get mad or embarrassed about the fact that I published it? Will she understand my sarcastic style or hear it as complaining about motherhood?

Should I start in 2008, when my writing was crappy and my stories were poorly thought-out and edited, but I had adorable toddler-Ali stories that she will love? My orderly brain really wants to start at the beginning, but this is an exercise in teaching Ali how to write well.

But the most pressing question is: will she like how I’ve portrayed her childhood?

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One positive, though, is that I’m really excited about the opportunity to read my blog aloud with the inflections and tone in which I wrote it. Because who knows what tone you guys are reading it in – maybe you think I’m a motherhood-whiner. And who knows what tone Ali would read it in if I left her to discover it on her own in her angsty tween years when she’s already convinced that I’m the enemy.

It will be an experiment. And it will be interesting to see how long it takes her to get bored with me…and therefore, herself.

One way or the other, we’re going to learn a lot about each other…and ourselves.

The Runaway Incident.

My parents have what we often refer to as Grandkid Heaven.

Right around the time that Chris and I started dating, they went in with three other families and bought 70 acres of land 20 minutes out of town. It was the cheapest land anyone could buy, because it was completely unreachable – a mountain on one side, and a creek on the other three sides.

My dad, however, is quite handy. So he and the other neighbors built a bridge. A bridge sturdy enough for every piece of construction machinery that needed passage to build three houses. A bridge that is still in beautiful working condition fifteen years later.

We the children rewarded their hard work by giving them five grandchildren who think their Grandparent’s house is the stuff dreams are made of.

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They’re not wrong.

My parents have antique cars and chickens and bees and a creek and a sandbox and rocks to paint with chalk and blueberries and blackberries to pick and a garden full of vegetables and eggs to collect from the chicken houses and flowers to gather into bouquets…

it couldn’t possibly get any better, except for once a year when our entire extended family comes out,

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And the party gets real.

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There are tire swings to catapult through the air and horseshoes with which to nearly decapitate your cousins.

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There are even hamster wheels – which surveys show are approved of by nine out of ten kids.

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Much more frequently than the annual family extravaganza, my parents have their five grandkids over at the same time to foster relationships and childhood magic.

IMG_6281Eli – 6 years old, Ali – 7 years old, Andi – 3 years old, Noah – 3 years old, Tessa – 5 years old, Model T Ford, 100 years old.

That would be my two kids and my older brother’s three kids – all delightfully attached to each other.

Despite the obvious positives, though, we the four parents are always a tiny bit worried.

“Are you sure you can handle all five? They’re a LOT…”

But Mom always assures us that it’s no problem at all and she lives for this kind of thing (while my Dad looks at her like she’s full of hippy dippy baloney).

Until…The Last Time.

Mom had all five completely to herself, as my dad and little brother were out of town.

They all sat off on a nature walk. It was a lovely day, and there’s nothing my Mom loves more than educating children on the wonders of nature. She knows to whom every leaf, bark, and bird chirp belongs, and can tell the children about them with such wonder that they actually care.

(This is a magic that only a grandparent possesses. I say, “Listen! There’s a Mockingbird!”, and Ali says “So? Why are you telling me that?!”)

The kids were in the mood for a butterfly hunt, and Eli spotted one first. His butterfly led him and the other children running after him and my Mom running after them to the creek. The creek was immediately deemed more fun than catching butterflies, so the chase was cancelled and all five kids began wading in the water.

Besides his butterfly chasing skills, Eli is freakishly adept at climbing trees, and superhuman in his ascent speed.

Which explains how he managed to climb a tree in the middle of the creek before my Mom realized his feet had left the ground.

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And, for some reason, that was the day that he decided to get stuck.

So my mom quickly got the other four kids to shore and waded through the creek to answer his plea for help.

While Mom was busy, Tessa decided that it would be a grand opportunity to throw sand in the other three kid’s faces.

That’s what cousins are supposed to do, right?

She did not, apparently, expect the other three to begin screaming as if someone had thrown sand in their faces.

Ali worked up her most self-righteous oldest-kid voice and told Tessa that she was going to be in big trouble, then started yelling, “Graaaaaaaaammmaaaaammmmmaaa!!! Tessa threw sand!!!”

Which made Tessa flee the scene.

Mom had completed her rescue of Eli, who was not at all grateful for her services and was arguing his case for re-climbing the same tree again as she was trying to get back across the creek to remove sand from six little eyes belonging to three little screaming mouths.

Which is when she discovered that she was once again down one kid.

Mom called for Tessa, but Tessa wasn’t returning calls. Thanks to Ali’s proclamations, she thought she was in trouble so she was keeping a low profile, erroneously thinking as kids often do that time heals all wounds.

Mom hurried three kids up to the house (Ali, Noah and Andi), told Ali she was in charge, and kept Eli with her for his eagle eyes to help in The Tessa Hunt.

She set off, calling for Tessa and completely freaking out on the inside.

Which is when Noah began screaming as if his life was over.

Mom rushed back to the house to find out which tragedy had befallen her next.

Noah wanted to play with the blocks. ALL the blocks. And Ali had a couple of blocks that he wanted.

In a desperate state of being, My Mom told Ali, “Give him whatever he wants. Whatever it takes to make him not scream.”

(She never told my brother to do that for me growing up. We should have run away more often.)

Then she ran out of the house again to search for the missing child.

“Tessa!! TESSA!!! TESSSSSSA!!!”

Runaways don’t answer.

Eli was much too busy chasing bugs and butterflies to look for his missing sister, therefore tying Mom up with keeping him from also disappearing.

Worried that Tessa was wandering further and further away, mom decided that it was time for more power and control in her situation. So she put Eli on the golf cart and took off, even searching across the creek and onto the next road.

On her way back over the creek, as I’m positive her heart rate was reaching dangerous levels, Mom finally spotted Tessa, darting from one hiding place to another. She was taken into custody and what was left of my mother was finally able to return to the house, all five grandchildren in her possession, and holding Tessa especially close.

When he returned home, my Dad forbade her from keeping all five by herself ever again. And we all said a very hearty Amen.

…Except for Mom, who still regularly says, “Oh it will be fine!! They’re no problem at all!”, prompting Dad to start calling around for openings at nearby mental institutions.