Brooklyn

A Super Birthday Party

It began last March-ish. Maybe slightly earlier. I actually think the superhero obsession began right around the time of their birthday party last year. I remember thinking that it was too late to change the theme. Gifts and decorations and cakes had already been bought.

“We can do a superhero party for your birthday next year,” I remember saying. In March. And in May. And in June, July and August. And in November. And now, here we are.

If you still like superheroes, I would think. It was the asterisk, the subtext of my promise to throw them a superhero party. However the kids who planned out their Halloween costumes seven months in advance without ever once deviating (as superheroes, of course) didn’t let me down.

It’s official. They got their superhero party. And I see no end in sight to this particular obsession…

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Cupcake sprinkles.

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Superhero clipart. Decorative fans. Batman garland (an ode to the superhero who started all this.)

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Superhero birthday shirts.

My “sheroes” sweatshirt, now officially my new favorite piece of clothing.

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The price of admission this year was a present. “Did you bring us presents?” was how they greeted everyone at the door. I’ve said it before, but just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet please remember that subtlety is not their specialty.

It was the first year in the past five where I didn’t have to watch the cake table like a hawk the entire time (though Nolan got a few frosting swipes and sprinkle steals in). They kind of ran around and did their own thing and opened presents and ate cake like it was their jam. And, at five and three, I guess it is.

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It’s officially birthday week in the Williamses house! And as hard as it is to believe we’re quickly leaving behind the years of toddlerhood, it’s also makes perfect sense as I see how far we’ve come. Here’s to three of the craziest, most loving, most talkative, smartest, most adventurous, and least subtle (almost) three and five-year olds around.

Breakfast Scene

I flip on one light after another as I come downstairs. Another cloudy morning makes it feel more like 5 am than 7. I open the wooden blinds — the bane of my existence, the way they collect dust — but they do little to add light to my space this morning. The smell of coffee, already made and waiting in the pot, helps slightly. I grab my favorite rusty-orange mug and fill it up, then take a lap around the island, making pit stops to add a little sugar and a swirl of heavy cream.

Oatmeal awaits me on the stove, this overnight oat recipe one of my favorite life hacks to cut down on busy mornings. A little olive oil, a scoop of steel-cut oats, toast it all up before adding some water, bring to a rolling boil, cover and switch off the burner. In the morning all that’s needed is to heat it up and — voila! — breakfast. I switch on the gas burner and give it a stir, adding a little whole milk to the mix. The kids have been begging for oatmeal for days, weeks. I’ve always had an excuse; it’s too hot, we don’t have any, or (most often) I forgot the night before. That’s when I hear six little feet thundering towards the kitchen through the mudroom, home from their morning walk with daddy.

“Oatmeal! Yummy yum! Yay!” Nolan screams as he runs in and sees me, complete with exaggerated lip-licking, mouth-smacking, and dancing. He never has been my subtle child.

Brooklyn and Caden trail behind. Brooklyn huddles close to my legs, smiling, her blue eyes gleaming up at me as she asks, “Did you really make oatmeal mommy?”

I show her the full bronze pot in response. I’d doubled the recipe last night, remembering how last winter we could go through a single pot before everyone was full. I smile, glorying in a proud mom moment as I scoop globs of oatmeal into colorful bowls and top them each with dried cranberries, ask if they want cinnamon.

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Nolan takes one bite, “Yum!” Then, because he’s two, changes his mind. “I no like the oatmeal.” He pushes it away and asks for Cheerios instead.

Caden this morning has been uninterested in the oatmeal from the start. “I just want Golden Grahams and strawberries,” he says.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yup,” he replies with a furled brow. I sigh but don’t argue. I choose my battles and this morning this isn’t it.

Brooklyn is my last remaining hope. She takes a few bites (“I want to put the cranberries on myself.”), then pushes it away, declaring herself “not really hungry”.

Huh. Well then. So much for life hacks.

Once they’re settled with their assorted food items, I grab two bowls and scoop generous portions. I slice bananas and arrange them on top, scatter dried cranberries, add lines of chia seeds, top it all off with cinnamon sugar. I grab two spoons and pass one to Tyson, along with a bowl. An Instagram-worthy bowl. Someone is going to eat this long-awaited oatmeal around here. And it’s going to be damn good.

Always Twins

I sat on the side of the pool during Caden and Brooklyn’s swim lesson, trying to avoid their inevitable splashes. It was the end of summer and we’d taken advantage of the break in our schedule (and the break in pricing) to do a two-week swim camp. Every morning at 8:45, swimsuits and goggles on, the two-year old occupied in the nearby movie room so I could watch the big kids do tiger paddles, pancake floats, and cannonballs.

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Brooklyn is a fish in the water. No, a mermaid. Graceful and sure. If they made instructional videos starring students for each skill, she would be the one on-screen for Level Two, every time. Perfect.

Caden, usually the daredevil of the twins, isn’t quite as sure in the water. Used to the control he has on dry land, the water requires more trust, a letting go. He loves the water, but being asked to lay his head back calmly, without thrashing, is a bit much for him. He had made a lot of progress in the past week, with dramatic improvement in most of his swimming skills. But as the day for level recommendations approached, I had a sinking feeling about his back floats and pancake flips. (No pun intended.)

I warned them both the day before testing that they might not move up to Level Three together. I wanted to prepare them so it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise if Caden had to repeat.

“Mommy,” Brooklyn asked, “Will we still be twins even if we’re not in the same class?”

I was completely caught off-guard. My heart did that contradictory thing it does so often in motherhood, where it both breaks and swells at the same time. Tears sprang into my eyes, surprising me. She had asked it as most four-year-old’s ask questions, detached of any emotion, full of nothing but pure curiosity.

“Of course you’ll still be twins!” I told them, “You’ll always, always, always be twins, and nothing can ever, ever change that.”

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I’d been expecting something like this to happen eventually, one twin left behind. I’ve been dreading it for years now, my heart already breaking for the first year they’re split up at school or in different friend groups. I’ve been anticipating the day — in middle school, maybe — when one is placed in the advanced math class while the other struggles, where one has a full social calendar while the other is left out. What I will do, what I will say. Planning for the moment there is a break in their relationship, in theirs, the strongest of twin bonds.

This one caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it so soon, at just four and a half. They’ve done everything together, mastered skills from rolling over to walking within just days or even minutes of each other. Parent-child classes and storytimes and play dates and gymnastics and dance class and preschool. And swim lessons. Until now.

At least for now they’re essentially devoid of emotion. While Caden understands he didn’t move up a level, he’s also excited to take swim lessons again by himself this fall, in the hope that he can move up and join Brooklyn again in the spring. Brooklyn is too young to be full of herself and her own mastery of swimming skills. “I moved up but Caden didn’t” is something she says more factually than pridefully.

It’s a delicate balance: how do I praise Brooklyn for her ability while not making Caden feel bad or like he’s done something wrong? How do I encourage Caden to try again, to work hard while also not comparing him to Brooklyn?

My own doubts, anxieties, and perfectionism creep in. All the things I don’t want to pass on to them. I choose my words carefully, praise Brooklyn when Caden isn’t around, assure Caden that repeating a level is perfectly fine.

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While they’re each their own people — I am very cautious of using the phrase “the twins” to describe them — it also breaks my heart to think of them separately. They are so close. That stereotypical twin bond is a real thing in this house. While they do tend to be comfortable without each other, there’s also something special about their friendship and the ease in which they play together. (Well...most of the time.) “I miss Brooklyn,” Caden said repeatedly during a recent weekend Brooklyn spent at my parent’s house, even while he had plenty of fun without her.

They have their own fascinations, desires, and ambitions. Where Caden is a Batman superfan and a daredevil on the playground, we haven’t really discovered his hidden passion yet (besides anything related to the Dark Knight). Brooklyn likes superheroes mostly because her brother does, but glories in dance class and her artistic talents. I see where they’ve begun to diverge already and can only guess how that gap will grow over time.

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Preschool has started up again for the year. (Finally. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it for awhile there.) Same classroom, same teachers. New friends. The ones from last year are a bit scattered. Except for each other. It reassures me that they still have each other. I think of Nolan entering the preschool world — all by his own little self — next year and the thought terrifies me a little. I realize this is the norm for almost every other kid ever. I’m too used to having built-in BFFs navigate the waters of life together.

We take pictures before the first day and they clasp hands, automatically. It would be almost easy to miss, they do it so often. But I notice today.

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After school, they chatter away. Finish each other’s sentences, fight when the other talks over them, show me the pictures they drew (Caden drew Batman just in case you were wondering). They’re still here, together. They still have each other, despite what class or level or grade or friends or interests they do or don’t have. They’ll always be twins. And nothing can ever, ever, ever change that.

Life Lately

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Important Update:

IT'S WARM! 

The last time I posted a Life Lately update, we were literally days away from a blizzard to end all blizzards, one that buried us under (almost) two feet of snow. IN FREAKING APRIL. I'm happy to report that the sun is out, the birds are singing, and the only thing we're digging ourselves out of right now is the sandbox. 

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And not a moment too soon since preschool officially ended last week. As far as I'm concerned it's the first of two Terrible Awful Times of Year until the summer activities begin. (The other being the month of August, after all the summer activities end but before the school year ones begin.) Our calendar is a lot emptier now that preschool, dance, and swimming lessons are all coming to a close. I'm not going to argue with a bit more flexibility but the end of all that structure always feels a bit abrupt. 

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These two look like they grew about a foot since September. It's like I sent babies off to preschool and they returned as Big Kids. I'm sure next year will leave me an emotional puddle on the floor what with Kindergarten looming over us and all, but for now we're looking forward to the summer ahead of us before returning in the fall to the same building, the same classroom, and the same teachers, the only change being three mornings each week instead of two.

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In other News I'm Not Quite As Excited About, Nolan leveled up to a toddler bed.

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If you can't tell from the grin, he's a lot more excited about this new development than either Tyson and I are. 

People have told me I'm "brave" for making the switch and I'm here to set the record straight: NOPE. No bravery here. As IF this were my choice. I would have kept this over-active boy stay in a crib until he graduated high school if it were possible, but he up and went and figured out how to climb out of the dang thing. At the age of two plus a few months he lasted longer than Caden and Brooklyn did, though still not long enough for my taste.

It's actually going pretty well, and in fact much smoother than the twins' transition did, but of course it's not as convenient as dumping him in a crib knowing that he's unable to get out or bother us and would eventually fall asleep. Instead of being miserable about it, I've been claiming the time as my own, sitting in the hallway outside his bedroom with my phone, a book, or my laptop, catching up on messages, reading, writing, or some good old-fashioned online shopping for the hour or so it takes him to settle down and fall asleep.

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In other Nolan news, you may see him around wearing an eye patch. Nothing major, just a little lazy eye we're working to fix. He's only wearing it for an hour a day right now and we'll re-evaluate with the optometrist in September. I should say he's SUPPOSED to be wearing it an hour a day, and while we've had a few good days we've also had some terrible ones. He's not super fond of the thing and waits for the moment I walk or look away to rip it off. I'm thinking of getting some fun patches like these but I don't think even that's going to make him care very much. I've tried decorating his eye patch with stickers and all he wants to do is rip the patch off to see them, and besides sitting in front of a mirror for an hour I'm running out of ideas. 

It WOULD all be good if just kept your freaking eye patch on.

It WOULD all be good if just kept your freaking eye patch on.

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In house news: I stained our deck! With my own two hands! By myself! Somehow it was really important for me to tackle this project on my own. Partly because this is our third summer in the house and we have yet to buy adult-sized patio furniture. (Of course the kids are taken care of.) Staining our desperately beat-up deck was motivation for that purchase. I guess what works to motivate my kids is also what works to motivate me right now, "If you do X then you get candy!" Except instead of candy it's a set of patio furniture. And I totally rewarded myself with candy, anyway.

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Caden and Brooklyn not only celebrated the end of preschool, but also had their first dance recital this past weekend.

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Preschool didn't do it to me this year, but dance sure did. Being backstage and then watching their show, with their little costumes and the makeup and that HAIR and those grins and all those little attempts at dancing DID ME IN. ALL the feels, that's for sure.

I'm not sure how to explain it exactly, besides this that I jotted down as part of a writing exercise yesterday:

It's strange to be the one behind the curtain. Tears spring to my eyes. They're equal parts sad and happy; both mourning that my time is over (does that sound selfish?) while also feeling so full that my proud mama heart could burst. Wasn't I the one out there just yesterday? And yet look at them, these babies, in their tutus and their bowties and their makeup. It's the beginning of the story for them. They're ready for the magic and the beauty of it all.

I take out my phone from my back pocket as they watch the dancers before them, captivated. I take a few photos and pray one turns out in the dim light. A behind-the-scenes photo of the next generation. Maybe they'll be the ones backstage with tears in their eyes someday.

As of now, Caden isn't sure he wants to continue next year. He loved the costumes and the stage but hasn't been too fond of the actual classes the past few months. He's thrown out trying everything from hockey to gymnastics to focusing on swimming next year. Then he caught my attention yesterday morning when he said that maybe he does want to dance next year, after all.

Of course, I kind of hope he does. If nothing else, Brooklyn will continue on, and I'm so glad we had at least one recital with them together.

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A Dinosaur Princess Birthday Party

You know I can't resist posting about the kids' birthday party each year. My inner creative goes nuts as I research everything that has to do with anything connected to the party theme. And I think this every year, but this time, I mean it: This was my favorite birthday party yet!

The theme? A dinosaur princess one, of course.

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Brooklyn's dress. Tiara headbands.

I'll say it was easier to come up with dinosaur-themed things than princess ones. Taking to Google for a "princess party" search ends up with a billion results featuring Disney princesses, but what if you just want a generic princess theme? I settled on lots of gold, sparkles, and crowns, and hoped the shiny dinosaurs were enough. (According to the two birthday kids above, they were.)

Stomp, sparkle, roar, we're turning two and four! Clever...right?

Stomp, sparkle, roar, we're turning two and four! Clever...right?

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Cupcake  wrappers . Pearlized  dinosaurs . Gold  dinosaurs . Dinosaur  sprinkles .

Cupcake wrappers. Pearlized dinosaurs. Gold dinosaurs. Dinosaur sprinkles.

I praised myself last year for the genius move of ordering out for all the cakes. This year? Well, it got away from me. I lost January to guests, work travel for Tyson, and family travel for us all. By the time I was thinking - really thinking -- about all things dinosaur and princess and party it was really too late to order anything from a bakery. I tackled all three cakes and 36 cupcakes the day before the party. My cake decorating skills may be mediocre, but it was nothing some sparkles, sprinkles, and gold dinosaurs couldn't save.

(And if you're interested: Layer cake recipe. Buttercream frosting recipe. Chocolate cupcake recipe. Apple spice cupcake recipe. Cream cheese frosting recipe. Everything turned out yummy and I will be using all of these recipes again and again. Especially that chocolate cupcake one - yum!)

Definitely my favorite one. That   pterodactylis giving me life.

Definitely my favorite one. That pterodactylis giving me life.

I create a photo banner every year with pictures from the past twelve months. It's one of my favorite (and most difficult) tasks. We leave it to hang for a few weeks even once the birthday festivities are over, and then I tuck the photos away in a box upstairs. It guarantees that I've at least printed out some photos each year instead of leaving them all to the digital confines of my computer.

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Dinosaur  banners . Gold  balloons .

Dinosaur banners. Gold balloons.

Mostly, it was dinosaurs, dinosaurs everywhere.

Literally everywhere.

Dinosaur  necklace .

Dinosaur necklace.

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Brooklyn is shaking her groove thing with one of these dinosaur tails. Foam crown craft. Ginormous giraffe courtesy of my brother. That's what uncles are for, right?

This was also probably the most relaxing birthday party we've ever had. I toned down the guest list to a more manageable size this year and the kids were all old enough to fend for themselves. I didn't have to worry about nursing a baby or hovering over six tiny hands trying to reach the cupcakes. (Only two tiny hands... *cough* Nolan *cough*) 

Everyone had fun with all things "dine-a-sord" (that's a Nolan-ism) and princess. Caden asked me if we can have another party after quiet time today. I'm enjoying the last few chocolate cupcakes. Also prepping for actual birthdays around here on Tuesday (the twins') and Thursday (Nolan's). There's a chance that our current snowstorm may be keeping us snowed-in tomorrow, but at least our house is decorated appropriately.

If you're interested:

Candy first and third birthday party
Barnyard second birthday party
Ties and Tutus first birthday party