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.

A Brief History of Football and Offspring.

My husband has had the same Alabama football season tickets since he was a wee lad of 13, making this his 25th anniversary to sit his butt in that same spot on that same bench every fall. It became a necessary relational hurdle for me to learn to enjoy/tolerate (depending on the day) the sport and the all-day affair that was tailgating in order for our romance to blossom. I became his football companion when he was 23 and I was 17, making this year my butt’s 15th anniversary on my spot on the bench, so apparently I passed the test.

And I remember that test well.

It was The Iron Bowl of 2000, shortly after Chris and I got engaged. It had been a particularly frigid November, and Saturday’s forecast was a mix of rain and sleet.

It was the first Iron Bowl I had attended (Alabama versus Auburn and THE most important game of the year, for those of you not from around here), and the game was at night.

The temperature creeped above freezing half an hour before the game, allowing it to dump a good bit of nearly frozen rain on us, soaking our clothing beyond repair. I get cold if I get rained on in a 90-degreed-July day, so getting doused in 33 degree precipitation was something I didn’t even know I could live through.

Then the temperature dropped below freezing again and the sleet began to coat over our dripping clothes, adding a crunchy texture to the already-torturous situation.

I assumed that surely we would not sit through a game in such untenable conditions. Surely we would leave early. Surely they would cancel the game. Surely there was some sort of multi-million dollar retractable stadium roof for such a hell as this.

But no. It was The Iron Bowl, and one does not leave The Iron Bowl. We sat, wet and icicled, and endured the torment of being sleeted upon.

I hunched my back as far as it would go, looked down the entire game, and nearly died that night.

Did I mention that we lost? NINE TO ZERO.

Because there’s nothing that can improve the mood of the frozen fan like a bone-crushing defeat.

I was entirely angry at my normally above-average sweet-and-doting fiancé, but it was an important lesson in expectations with regards to the realm of football. A lesson from which our marriage certainly benefited.

I married that guy anyway, and six years later, we had a kid.

We realized quickly that infants are complicated enough on their own merit, so Ali’s introduction to the family tradition didn’t happen until 2008, at the ripe age of 20 months.

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It was even more challenging that we expected.

There are naps. Feedings. Dirty Diapers. A constant need for entertainment and protection from running into the street. A vigilant eye so as to not get lost in the more than 100,000 people all dressed in exactly the same colors – trying to spot anyone on gameday in Tuscaloosa is like Where’s Waldo for Mensa members.

In 2009, at the mature age of two and a half, it was better.

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She was a little more self-sustaining, although the need for entertainment was still ever-present, and I fought hard to make naptime happen – even while tailgating.

After all, naptimes are for Mommies.

(If I ever write a book, that will be the title.)

It should also be noted that things you would think would be thrilling for a nearly three year old are actually terrifying.

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(Which makes them kinda more fun for parents.)

In 2010 we had an almost-four year old. She could go without naps if needed (although Mommies never quit needing naptime – there’s my sequel), and was much more self-entertaining, considering she had to hang out all day long under a football tent.

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…but by then, another addition was imminent. You can’t see him in this picture, but he was there. Waiting for football season to end so that he could make his appearance.

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Which brings us to 2011.

Ali was fully and beautifully self-propelled by then – an expert nut-collector,

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Dirt-Stirrer,

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Dirt-Wearer,

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And literary British-Waif wannabe.

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But the addition.

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Oh, the addition. We were back to the need for naps, nursing, poop disposal systems, and motherly exhaustion. And by this time, my quiet-room-naptime-options had been stripped from me due to a need for greater campus security, thanks to dishonorable and perhaps not-so-sober tailgaters.

I did miss naptime. Tremendously. But I tried my best to hide it for photographs, anyway.

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In 2012, we upgraded “High-Maintenance Baby” to “Nearly Two-Year-Old Boy Who Made us Jettison our Morals and Buy a Leash to Keep From Losing Him in the Throngs of Identically Dressed Fans.”

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And naptime was…still a need. For everyone.

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(Except Ali, who had by now mastered the art of Dirt Bathing.)

With 2013 came even older children,

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With slightly more concentration – both pre-game and in the game.

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…But we still smiled with relief when we left the children behind and attended a game on our own.

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The 2014 football season has now arrived. And with it, we have an almost eight-year-old and an almost four-year-old.

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THEY’RE HUGE.

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They’re self-entertained.

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They spend their tailgating day making dirt piles,

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Then turning them into haboobs,

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Digging for breathtaking and one-of-a-kind buried treasure,

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And if they get tired, they simply lie down.

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Whether in tailgate or in bleachers.

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They even pose for selfies. VOLUNTARILY.

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But you’ll always be able to find it in my eyes after a long day of tailgating and football – Mommies never quit needing naptimes.

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The Profit of a Yard.

The best thing we did in 2013 was get sod in our front yard.

Previously, our slightly sloped yard was nothing but dirt – with a few weeds, a bunch of gumballs (or pricklies, as we call them at our house), and plenty of tree roots. It was a shame, as most yards in our neighborhood are too sloped to be properly utilized. And then there was our yard – not a bad plot at all – yet a wasteland of uninhabitable negligence.

We’re not much for big investments or big renovation-like projects, but even we could see that something needed to be done. So we got our yard guys to quote it, were surprised that it wasn’t as much as we feared, and within a few weeks, actually had….a yard.

My kids actually began playing in the yard nearly daily,

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We accessorized our yard with nostalgic items such as Slip n’ Slides,

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And it became so popular that odd traffic jams began occurring.

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Our yard became a gathering place, where Ali basked in the privilege of hostessing/bossing/organizing neighborhood friends to properly enjoy her domain.

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Although we have several neighbor families that we love to play with (one of which you heard about last week because apparently it’s Neighbor Month around here), our across-the-street neighbors became our most common guests, with playtimes and picnics occurring at least twice a week all Spring and Summer.

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Lachlan would drive over,

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Bringing his older sister Olivia, who is a few months younger than Noah.

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Ali and Olivia were tight from the beginning, as Olivia was more welcoming to Ali’s organizational bossing than Noah.

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Olivia played the part of the adorable younger sister that Ali always wanted,

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and Ali was a seven-year-old superhero to Olivia.

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But then, as the summer wore on, Olivia began to notice the other superhero in the family.

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And a new friendship began to develop.

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Noah had always been too busy avoiding the Realm of Girlishness to realize how fantastically awesome Olivia was, until all of a sudden, they were sneaking off for long conversations and impish giggles on the porch.

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There might have been one occasion where Noah and Olivia snuck inside, upstairs, and into his toddler bed to “Play Nap.”

He wanted to show her his blankets, he explained.

She liked his noisemaker’s music, she explained.

Their appreciation for each other’s company grew,

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And Olivia had to start diplomatically splitting her time between Ali’s maniacally organized activities and Noah’s casual conversations.

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The pinnacle of the summer occurred on the occasion of Olivia turning three.

She had a birthday party with a water slide and bounce house, and, to cut down on toddler bashfulness, there were only two non-adult guests – Ali and Noah.

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So basically the best thing that ever happened to my kids.

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And Noah paid her back well, becoming The World’s Best Birthday Party Guest.

He jumped and bounced and jumped and bounced and ate cake and jumped and bounced some more.

Then, when it was time for presents, he sat a respectful distance away from the gifting area, joyfully wearing his assigned Princess Party Hat, and made unpresumptuous recommendations as to which presents she should open next.

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At each present opening, he awarded the crowd with a creepy way-too-loud-and-excited laugh, thereby fully demonstrating glee on Olivia’s behalf.

And even when he realized that she’d gotten a Barbie Motorhome and she wasn’t opening it quickly enough for his boyish needs, still he sat, dutifully holding his balloon.

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He inched closer as the motorhome was assembled, still being somewhat thoughtful of her Birthday Personal Space.

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Until finally, he found his opportunity to participate.

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Noah.

He might be a player, but he’s not afraid of some pink.