Monday, July 15, 2013

...And That's Why Aunt Mary Ellen Became a Nun far behind in posting. I wrote this a few weeks ago while we were in the Poconos but never hit the published button. This past weekend we celebrated Aunt Mary Ellen's 25th year of being a nun, so many stories and so much fun! Pictures to follow tomorrow, hopefully.

It is nearly midnight and I have spent the evening listening to all the Nealon family adventures from when they were kids. Chris is the youngest of six kids, five boys and one sister. Chris' dad was a college professor and had the summer off so every year they would pack up the station wagon with six kids, the dog, swing by Springfield, Illinois, because that's just around the corner from Long Island and tour the country. Every year his dad would research and plan out that year's summer trip. He kept everything in a log book with all of their plans of where they would be going and what they would be seeing. 

Being a part of the Nealon family for 20+ years now, I have heard the Nealon stories a hundred times. Every Christmas and every Poconos trip, the Nealon brothers retell these stories. The next generation now knows these stories by heart and can tell them as if they are their own memories. Tonight, I kept hearing my kids, and my nieces and nephews ask, "Tell the story when..." And the story would get told and we would laugh, big hearty laughs. These stories have become a bit exaggerated over the years and have turned into tall tales. The alligators that almost ate their dog has gotten bigger, the number of times Chris almost died has gotten greater, the man that held Chris upside down by his feet at the top of a water tower has gotten crazier...well, that still is crazy no matter how exaggerated that one gets. 

But tonight I sat and listened to these families stories once again and I just watched the next generation soak in all these stories. I have told Chris that someday he should write them all down, that there is the possibility of a pretty good book. What was funny tonight was that many of the retelling of these stories ended with, "And that's reason 423 why Aunt Mary Ellen became a nun." You see, Chris's one sister is a nun. She grew up in a fun and crazy house with five brothers. Many of these childhood stories involved their poor sister.  There was the time they were driving across country and somehow her suitcase that was on the roof of the car was not zipped all the way and her clothes started to fly out one by one onto the road, a t-shirt, underwear, a pair of shorts, but her brothers who noticed this didn't say a word because earlier in the day they had gotten in trouble for fighting and weren't allowed to say one more word for the rest of the trip, so they didn't...and that's why Aunt Mary Ellen became a nun. There was the time Chris broke all of her fingers because she was in the garage doing chin-ups on the garage door track and Chris came along and opened the garage door right over all her fingers...and that's why Aunt Mary Ellen became a nun. There was the time they were staying in a hotel that didn't allow dogs. Mary Ellen was holding their nippy, vicious, poodle Pierre. One of the brothers thought she should put him down and let him walk. Well, Pierre bolted, ran into a room that had its door ajar and hid under the bed. Meanwhile, there was someone in the shower in the room and Mary Ellen panicked and didn't know how she was going to get their dog out from under the bed before the person got out of the shower...and that is why Aunt Mary Ellen is a nun. So you see, I think we found a title for the Nealon memoirs. 

A few months back, I came across an article in the NY Times called The Stories That Bind Us, a very interesting read. It says research shows that, "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative." The study showed that, "The ones that knew the most about their families tend to do better when they face challenges," because they had a sense of belonging to a bigger family.

So tonight, might have looked like an ordinary night in the Poconos for the Nealons, the kids might of thought they were just hearing stories, that their uncles were just reminiscing, that we were all just having a good time laughing at their funny adventures many years ago, but now I know better. This next generation of Nealons is going to be stronger and face challenges with confidence all because of nights like tonight...and also because they now know the real reason Aunt Mary Ellen became a nun.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Children are Gremlins...Maybe Not

We have been on the go all summer. The most that we have been home at once was 10 days in a row. We just got back from visiting with family in Boston to celebrate Chris's sister's 25th jubilee of taking her vows to become a nun. This week I only have two kids. Timmy is on Cape Cod with his friend and Shannon stayed in New York. Molly this week is in camp and so I will only have Ryan. In between doing some fun stuff one-on-one with him, I'm going to try to get caught up with documenting our adventures. I wrote this blog last week but never posted it...Part II of our Disney trip.

After our last day of Disney, Chris flew back home to go to work and my mom flew in to do the second part of our trip down south. On our first day, we traveled to Jekyll Island, Georgia. I had read that there was a sea turtle rescue center there and I knew we would need some beach time after days of walking at Disney parks. It was the perfect day. The sun was shining, it wasn't too hot for Georgia in June and the ocean was just what we needed. You see, if you remember from my last post, my kids were driving me crazy in Disney, but the second half of our trip was a bit better, not much, but I'm trying to stay positive here. Well, after we went to the turtle center and then had lunch, we went to the beach. The water always seems to calm my kids. 

Our room wasn't ready yet, but I had pulled the kids' bathing suits and towels aside so that when we arrived, we would be able to get to the beach right away. I know you can't see them in this picture, but they are there, swimming far enough away so that I can pretend that they are all getting along with one another or at the very least, I can't hear them bickering over the crashing of the waves of the ocean. 

After three hours of none stop swimming, they finally came out to play in the sand...nicely, calmly, together. While I was sitting in my chair watching them, the thought of that 1980's movie Gremlins came to mind. Do you remember the rules? Don't feed it after midnight, no bright lights, and never get it wet. If you did any of these things, your cute little creature turned into a monster. I thought of my kids and how water seems to have the opposite effect on them. It really does seem to calm them down.

The next day, we drove for about 6 hours northwest. Our destination was the Biltmore Estate in western North Carolina. We didn't arrive there until about 4:00. We found out that if you enter the property after 4:30, you can use your tickets the next day. It was another perfect day. We walked around the property, explored, walked some trails, and had some dinner.

Timmy just taking in the scenery...look how calm he is looking at the pond.

Where we ate dinner.

Look again, the magical power that water has over my children...all four of them sitting quietly.

 Day three...we woke up early and did the tour of the house and gardens.

Shannon found a little frog.

After a day at the Biltmore Estate, we worked our way west, through the Smoky Mountains and to Tennessee.

After we made it into Tennessee, we went to Wilderness Resort in the Smokies, an indoor water park very much like Great Wolf Lodge. Again, water seems to calm my kids and the bickering seems to subside a bit.

The next morning, the kids went down a few more slides while I packed the car. Once we were ready to go, we headed back into the Smokies for a little more exploring before the long ride home to Virginia. 

So there you have it...part two of the Nealon adventures this summer. We still have 50 days left of summer, anything can still happen.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Super Maternal Volcanic Eruption the Summer of 2013

I am going to try to write an honest post about our Disney trip. I am not going to give a moment by moment detailed account of what we did or which rides to go on or how Disney is such a magical place. Truth is, my kids were driving me crazy on this trip. The last time we went to Disney was six years ago. Shannon was 9, Timmy was 7, Ryan was 5, and Molly was 3. I really wanted to get back there since Molly was so little the last time and I wasn't sure how much she really remembered from six years ago. So after Molly and I got back from New York after seeing Matilda, we picked up the boys from basketball camp and then kept driving toward Florida. 

As far as Disney trips go, I was late to the planning of this trip. Even though I planned it months in advance, to get good dinner reservations, Disney lets you books reservations 180 days before the day you are there. Talk to any Disney representative and they can tell you exactly when you can start booking. But for us, it was a last minute kind of plan. I was looking at the calendar one day knowing that we were getting out of school this year especially early. I thought we could squeeze this trip in after basketball camp but before our annual family Poconos trip. I wanted to go before it got crazy hot in July or August. The thought of being in Florida then just didn't appeal to me. So the planning started and I was so looking forward to this trip and truly expected to get the Best Mom in the Whole Wide World Award. Why wouldn't I? I spent hours on the computer planning this trip figuring out which day to go to which park, making reservations at different restaurants, asking facebook friends Disney questions, giving the kids first pick to what parks they wanted to go to, coordinating and packing for Molly's and my New York trip, the boys basketball camp, and then our Disney trip as well as our road trip after we left Disney. I'm thinking my kids are going to love me, my kids are so lucky to have a mom do all this work to give them memories, my kids are going to really appreciate all the time it took to plan out this trip...ahem...not exactly.

It started out great, the weather was perfect for Florida in June. Could not ask for better weather and was hoping that would keep my kids from getting too grumpy. The first picture I took was of Chris and Ryan at Dumbo. Chris flew in the night before. There were terrible storms and Chris' flight was delayed. He didn't get in until 2:30 am. Our alarm went off at 6:30 so we could be at the gate for opening. He still has a smile on his face.

So as the days went by, I posted pictures to facebook of the kids in front of different places in the parks. One of my neighbors commented that she was jealous that I could get so many pictures of my kids together. Little did she know, how much they were driving me crazy. See, even though I have all these great pictures of them, they were bickering and fighting, and making sarcastic remarks to one another, and giving each other "the look," and touching one another and really anything that they could think of to annoy the other, they did!

So here we are, as far as any one else knows, we're a nice, normal family. I've read that on a plaque and been meaning to get one.

This one cracks me up because look at the lady photo bombing...she kind of scares me. But even though we have all these great pics...I also have pics like this one. This one about sums up how I was feeling as well.

And this one, these three completely not enjoying the moment, disengaged with the rest of us and really didn't want to be where we were...sigh.

Now, I'm not saying that it was all bad, we did have our fun moments...

But then you have these completely innocent looking pictures like this one...

But if you look more closely you can see Ryan's hand barely touching Timmy's leg...yeah, big screaming match of "STOP TOUCHING ME!!!" right before this picture.

I took this picture of Chris' back after Ryan decided to slap him on the back with a wet, muddy hand. Why he did this, I have no idea.

"Ryan, come over here and take a picture with Molly," in his head means; hold the door closed so Molly can't get out.

Outside one of the Toy Story rides I asked, "Timmy, come over and take a picture with Molly," not for this too cool now teenager.

This is the picture I took of him inside the ride.

 "Shannon, smile," is interpreted as stick my food out of my mouth at mom.

 Hoola Hooping on the way out of Hollywood Studios, what could go wrong? Well, two minutes after this picture was taken, one of them banged into the other and of course the hoola hoop fell and that started the,"YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!!!!" fight. Which then lead to the others taking sides which then lead to all four of them fighting.

Now, my kids for the most part are really good kids. They pick good friends and respect their elders at school and work hard on their school work and are well rounded enjoyable kids. But parenting is hard sometimes, really hard. For most of this trip, I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath and tried to defuse their squabbles. Again and again I tried to be the good mom that doesn't lose her cool, that talks in a quiet voice, that offers solutions to their arguments and ask, "Now, what could you have done differently to avoided getting your sister, your brother upset." But after doing that 3,589 times, at some point you are going to explode.

This past year, Ryan had to do a number of presentations in science. They could be on any topic in science of his choice. So one of his presentations was on the super volcanoes that are under Yellowstone National Park, not just volcanoes, but super volcanoes. Yellowstone Park is on our bucket list of places to visit. I have heard from people that have been there that there is no other place like it and it is breathtakingly beautiful. But underneath, a super volcano that has been dormant for millions of years can blow at any moment. 

That was me, a super volcano, a good mom on the outside trying to do all the right things, but on the inside I was ready to blow at any moment. My jaw hurt from gritting my teeth, my neck was sore from the building tension, my wrinkles grew larger on my forehead as I looked at my children sternly. What happened to my Mom of the Year Award?!?! Why were we not the happy family that we see in all the TV commercials?

We left Disney and started our four day road trip and the bickering continued. We returned to Virginia for one day, to do laundry and repack for the Poconos, that is where I exploded. The kids had seen the signs, they felt my heat a few times, I'm pretty sure they might have seen the steam coming from my ears, but the big eruption, the explosion, didn't occur until the Poconos. We were on the beach at the lake, I don't remember all the details but someone was bothering someone else, and all you could here was the,"STOP IT!" fight. I'm sure the people sitting on their decks on the other side of the lake heard it. We packed up and we went to the car and that was when I blew. I waited until they were all in, the doors closed, the windows were up...a false sense of security that no one will hear me screaming at my kids...I know, but I yelled any way. I yelled about every little thing they did over the last two weeks and how lucky they were and how they should be so grateful for the things that they have and that their father was at work at this very moment so that we could be here enjoying ourselves and on and on and on...But I wasn't done, I resorted to "they had one strike left," I was desperate, one strike for all four of them and if I heard one more fight, argument, disagreement, "stop it" that we were packing up and going home. Of course, they needed clarity on the one strike, and I told them that they already had about 5,237 strikes on them so it didn't matter who got the next strike, we were all going home, just like baseball, it doesn't matter who gets the last strike, the whole team is out. 

And that was it, I never heard another word from any of them. There was one little flair up, but for the most part, I heard and saw them trying to make peace. I witnessed them being kind to one another and solving problems without me. They were doing what I knew they had in them all along but why does it take a super maternal volcanic explosion to get them to behave? I have not figured that one out yet.

Recently, I was sharing with a fellow mama about how my kids were driving me crazy on this trip with all their bickering. I didn't go on and on about it, but was just being truthful. Her response was, "Yeah, that's all kids," as if to say, "What's your problem, you're no different than anyone else so don't complain about it," and then the subject changed. I know all kids bicker and my family is just like the next family, but I think when one mama is having a hard time, the other mamas need to stop and listen. I think we all want to hear, "I know exactly how you feel, my kids drive me crazy too!" We may not be looking for solutions at that very moment, but we may be just looking for an open heart that says, "I hear ya, parenting is hard!!!"

So there you go...I am done complaining, errr, I mean explaining about our Disney adventures. I know we will look back on this trip with fond memories one day...and even laugh about the bickering and the super maternal volcanic eruption the summer of 2013.

Now I think I'm going to order this plaque.