Under Lock and Key.

Ali spent an entire Saturday morning planning and creating an extraordinarily intricate blanket fort.

Like Fort Knox itself, her construction boasted of all of the necessary building components to create the highest security possible – chairs, every blanket in the house, random objects like hammocks and toys to fill in the gaps left by the blankets, and a road rug. So that if you try to crash your car into the fort, you’ll just drive up that rug road and off to the right. A perfect deterrent.

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There was even a watering can in case of emergency flower moisture needs.

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I was allowed inside the fort on a heavily curated tour once and only once – to survey the fine architecture and high security measures housed therein.

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Deep within the bowels of the fort, there was a Guard Rabbit, armed with a mighty light and aided by a Teddy Deputy. They were responsible for carefully hiding and protecting the entrance to The Vault.

To get to this most important secondary room, both guards, a pillow, and two backpacks had to be moved in just the right order so as not to set off any Indiana-Jones-style snares or trap doors into a room full of snakes (I’m assuming – although Ali has never seen Indiana Jones to glean from their wisdom.)

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Carefully, Ali moved them to allow me to visit The Sacred Vault. To feast my eyes on what lay beneath.

The most guarded and precious room in the fort was a treasure indeed.

It was a library.

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As it should be.

Have a nice weekend curled up in a fort vault somewhere.

Summers are For Kids.

Our summer thus far has been the most fascinating family paradox. While Chris and I have been wrestling with it in a most epic fashion, the kids have literally had The Best Summer Of Their Lives.

  • I had surgery = The kids got ten days of fabulous playdates with different friends every. single. day. Then got to eat the remains of my tonsillectomy spread of ice creams.
  • Our house flooded and we had to move out = the kids got to live in a fancy hotel for five days with their own pool and breakfast buffet and dreams come true.
  • We’ve had workmen in our house for days at a time = The kids got to spend every day being chauffeured by me to fun activities and interesting surprise ways to spend our days.
  • Noah got bit by a spider = Okay that one wasn’t fun for anyone.

But you get the point. Things have been solidly going their way – summer camps and pool days and being on billboards and visiting TV stations and waterslides. They’ve been very aware of their fortunes and fairly thankful for them, as kids go. At least once a day, Ali has reminded me that “This is THE BEST SUMMER EVER!!!!”, which has helped me find solace in her exuberance…and prove that summers truly are for kids.

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As such, Noah had yet another fantastic summer surprise last week.

It never hurts to have dreams. To be a person with vision. And to communicate that vision clearly to the people around you.

Especially if you’re four and endearing.

A few weeks ago, I discovered The Ideal Bribe to get Noah to be the perfect four-year-old that has been in my personal dreams – and that bribe was a favorite shirt from his favorite store, Alabama Outdoors.

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But in that process, Noah expressed his vision for how things should be.

He needed the Big Tree on the front of the shirt.

I mean – if that tree is a beacon of everything you love, then you want to be able to see that tree, blown up, as big as your chest, without having to screw your head around backwards. A completely reasonable observation.

IMG_8265I told you the shirt was bright. I’m pretty sure the whole city can see him.

Alabama Outdoors took note of Noah’s vision, and Tyler and Evan specially designed and printed just such a T-Shirt for him, even in his favorite colors.

His Big Tree on Front bliss was palpable.

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This made for a very smug four-year-old. One that will probably begin to have many more visions for the way things should be.

But the question that Noah hadn’t considered was: what do you put on the back of a shirt when you move the big tree to the front?

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Apparently Alabama Outdoor’s design theory is to fully solidify my son’s Diva Status and Summer of Dreams.

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I’m pretty sure this makes Noah The Official Alabama Outdoors Mascot. Or an Indentured Future Employee. One or the other.

As a bonus, Noah got a lesson in exactly how rock climbing works, including adding new rocks to the wall,

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and learning how to belay, using The Lovely Silver Lady.

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When Tyler brought Silver Lady over for the demonstration, Noah immediately asked, “Did you stuff her after she died?”

I’m not sure what the alternative answers to this question were in Noah’s mind…

“No – we stuffed her before she died.”

“No – she died but we didn’t bother stuffing her.”

“No – her skin tone is naturally that lovely matte silver.”

“She’s not dead yet – just mostly dead.”

But if she wasn’t dead before, she was certainly dead after Noah finished with her.

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After which he laughed mightily at her ungraceful descent. As one does when one is having The Best Summer Ever.

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(Free Tip: Don’t have Noah belay your rock climbing adventures.)

That evening, Noah was sitting on our front porch admiring his shirt, then trying to screw his head around to see the back.

“You know what? NOW what I want is a shirt that says ‘Noah’ on the front.”

And this is why, along with teaching our kids to dream big, we must also teach them other important philosophical concepts, such as this one.

Even in The Best Summer Ever, you can’t always get what you want. But if you’re a kid, you get pretty dang close.

On Fighting Weather Fears.

In April, we experienced some pretty strong and unexpected straight-line winds in our neighborhood. Ali and I actually saw the storm in all its intensity, which was over by the time we ran down to the basement. But the memory has stuck with Ali. IMG_3588

She’s an unemotional and severely logical kid, which is extraordinarily nice for an eight-year-old girl – the drama in our house comes from her little brother, to which she rolls her eyes at his unnecessary emotions.

But.

The problem with logical people is that when they logically convince themselves that they should be afraid, that fear is extremely well-rooted and difficult to reason away.

After seeing the storm and resulting neighborhood damage, she paid close attention to the conversations surrounding it. And she didn’t forget that we talked about the fact that there were no NWS watches or warnings for our area. Nor did she forget the story that one of our neighbors told about driving home (in the sunshine), unaware of the microscopic storm’s approach, reaching our neighborhood at the exact wrong moment, and almost getting hit by a falling tree as they were driving up our street.

As such, Ali’s fear of storms, which was previously nonexistent, has been growing every time it rains. And growing exponentially every time she sees lightning or hears thunder. Or a dump truck that sounds like thunder. Or a headlight that looks like lightning.

Alabama is a very thunderstorm-prone place (I hear that not all states are like that), especially in the summer, so Ali has had no chance to escape her fears.

A couple of weeks ago, we reached a point where I realized that her fear problem was getting out of hand. We had a very loud morning storm – the kind where the thunder sounds nearly continuous. She ran into my room and clung to me, trembling and crying until the storm passed. No matter how much logic I presented, she presented her own logic back to me.

“But that other storm had no watches and warnings…”

“But two people almost died…”

“But how do you KNOW the lightning won’t hit our house…”

And I realized it was time for some advice.

So I emailed our favorite meteorologist, James Spann (who is also largely responsible for the crazy idea that I had to start Picture Birmingham), and asked for wisdom. After all, he regularly teaches kids at church and schools – he should have, at some point, run into a kid or two that had a fear of storms, right?

He replied and said that talking to kids about storm fears was his specialty, and to bring her to the TV station to have a chat.

I told Ali our plans, and she was immediately relieved. She’s met Mr. Spann a few times and just knew he could help her. She wrote him a note stating her confidence in him,

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and last Friday afternoon, we took her to ABC 33/40 for a session of Meteorological Counseling.

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We didn’t realize we’d get a bonus tour, too, but we were met by one of the other Meteorologists, Meaghan Thomas, who took us through the newsroom, the sports department, and then to the control rooms, explaining what everyone did and how they did it.

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…which, of course, meant that this day totally went on my summer school spreadsheet to count toward next school year.

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After that, Meaghan led us to the studio, where they were currently filming the news, and told us to be very, very quiet.

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I had not prepared myself or Noah for newsroom-quietness and they didn’t have any duct tape available to fix this lack of preparation, so I feared very much what was about to happen. I didn’t want to get those awkward texts from friends saying “I just heard a kid that sounded just like Noah in the background of the news loudly saying that James Spann was wearing tennishoes. Weird huh?”

But I couldn’t back down now. I simply had to pray for a miracle and for the immediate maturing of my son.

And also squeeze him very close to my chest to compress his lung capacity.

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While amusing his sister with selfies.

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God answered my prayers and Noah did surprisingly well, considering that we watched the news for about 45 minutes. The commercial breaks were an opportunity for him to release his pent-up noise requirements, and they were the most fun part of our visit, as well. There were “Anchorman” references and an unnamed male anchor tripping and falling off the set…entertainment abounded for everyone.

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Noah also enjoyed watching the robot cameras move around the studio, and Chris kept pictures of cars up on his phone for pinch-zooming anytime Noah began to falter in his forced-resolve of silence.

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Ali, however, was completely plugged in.

She gasped at the news story about shark attacks, got wide-eyed at the one about the alligator attack, and looked horrified when they shared the disturbing new trend of cell phone cases shaped like handguns.

And, as every kid should be, she was fascinated by the green screen.

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After the news, Mr. Spann brought over a chair and had a chat with Ali. He gave her statistics to logically convince her that her fears were unnecessary, explained that she was safe from lightning as long as she was indoors, and had her saying “Storms are….good…kinda…” by the end of the talk.

After they finished chatting, we got a picture together in the best lighting on the planet – if I could live under those studio lights I am convinced that I would feel a decade younger.

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Ali was as pleased with herself as she looks in that picture. With new resolve, we left the studio, ready to tackle the next storm.

As we were leaving, Meaghan offered to let the kids come back on a weekend to hang out anytime. As the door closed, Chris said, “Did she just offer to babysit? Because I think she just offered to babysit. And on a weekend!” Ali chimed in and said, “I like her A LOT.”

A news station with benefits – who doesn’t need that?

Ali spent all evening talking herself through everything they’d discussed, repeating her logic over and over at dinner, and assuring us (and mostly herself) that there was nothing to be afraid of, just like Mr. Spann told her. And her new resolve lasted forever, and we all lived happily ever after.

…until 3:30am, when the next thunderstorm arrived.

But her reaction was a little less fearful than last time, and dump trucks have ceased freaking her out. So progress has been made.