We are very blessed when it comes to family. I was surprised, when I reached my twenties, to find very few sibling bonds like the one that I have with my sister Stephanie. We are seven years apart and closer than best friends could be. We used to think that our similarities were what created such closeness, but I no longer think that's it. We have a lot in common... a lot. But we are different in just as many ways. I am more of an open book, she holds her cards to her chest. I am always trying to maintain a million friendships, and she has more of a small, but enduring inner circle. She takes her time deciding who makes it there, and those that do tend to stay close to her for a long long time. When a relationship falls apart it's extra hard. I have learned to let people go through lots of practice, and some of the mistakes I have made in the past created a lot of unnecessary drama (think Dawson's Creek, haha). Trial by fire. My sister has a smoother social history, and has made infinitely more mature decisions both personally and professionally than I ever could have at twenty-two. She has more self confidence and ambition than I do. As open and friendly and sweet as she is, she packs a ton of mystery and power in her presence when she enters a room. It is subtle, but genuine. My entrance into a room has more in common with a golden retriever puppy.
I think our bond originates from a few sources. Our mom put a lot of effort into fostering our relationship, and giving me shared responsibility for her. I got so used to watching out for her that I can even remember the telltale sign that I needed to take her to the potty. When she was a toddler and just freshly out of diapers, she would do that ants-in-the-pants dance and I would have to rush her away fast before things got dicey. That habit took years to shake. I still find myself noticing a tapping foot or something and wanting to ask her if we should find a bathroom. Steph finds this hilarious.
We have leaned on each other from the beginning, and understood each other easily. Mom and Dad also used to take us on isolated vacations with no televisions or phones, so we bonded a lot over toys like yo-yos, and trying to boogie board on a lake. (Which you really can't, by the way, you just have competitions to see who can balance on the board the longest). We had each other, and that was perfect.
She has no idea how many opportunities await her, nor how beautiful she really is. I am so lucky to have not only such a close adult relationship with her, but all of these memories of her childhood- teaching her to walk, write, ride a bike. Her importance to me is so immense it is impossible to fathom.
She is also a wonderful aunt to Ben. She walks into a room and is instantly one of the major players. No matter how long it has been since she last saw him, he melts into her and within moments she is jumping in to change diapers and make him laugh. Our nuclear family is truly the four of us- when she is gone we feel her absence. But I know she is out there building a vibrant life, and that makes me happy.
The Bonds You Build
I am a big believer in Family, with a capital F, the one that you form and grow and breathe life into. We are very blessed with our family tree as well, but this weekend we spent time with our extended Family. Emily and Stephanie have been friends since early high school, and met Kirby in high school, too. Now that Steph has moved down to San Diego to join them, they have picked up like only family could. We love spending time with them, and Emily's parents, and they are so wonderful with Ben. Kirby was the first to make Ben laugh when he was just three months old, and he has fallen asleep blissfully in Emily's arms many times.
Scott Schmalbach, "Smalls", as we lovingly call him, met Scott in their fraternity during college. They became roommates and best friends. He and Heather got together early on (a fun and notable story for another time), and were married just months before I met Scott in 2003.
I met them even before I met his parents, and I think I was even more nervous! They were easy to be around and we had a wonderful time together. At the end of the weekend, I was just starting to relax, thinking I had made the best impression I could. We were all watching TV and I was on my way out the front door to grab something from the car when I snapped the doorknob clean off, effectively locking us all inside! I had one of those complete panicked moments where I was actually trying to figure out how to will it away with my mind. It seemed like the longest time before I finally had to turn to Heather and explain that I had literally torn the knob off of their front door! Classic.
In the years since, Heather has become another sister to me, and the four of us have created a tight family unit that fits together perfectly. Their daughter Sydney was the absolute center of the universe when she arrived three years ago. And then the most amazing miracle happened this past year- after two years of infertility and a miscarriage, Scott and I finally conceived. Heather was one of my very first calls (we had just gotten home from visiting them) and she told me she was also pregnant! We were due just a day apart and we didn't know if they would have a girl or a boy, but Dean surprised us all with his early arrival. I will never forget, at nearly nine months pregnant, running upstairs and jumping into Scott's arms to tell him about Dean's birth. A boy! Beyond our wildest, craziest dreams, we now have two little boys- miniature, chubby, carbon copies of their Dads, growing up side by side just three weeks apart. .
Here we are, our new group of seven.
So this is our home away from home, in San Diego, where we pretty much move in with our family and pretend that we live together all the time. You should see the guys, they are pretty stoic about it, but in their minds they may as well be running toward each other, arms outstretched, through a field of flowers, in slow motion. Sappy music playing. It's like that everytime. They grin for no reason for the first hour we are together. Heather and I never cease finding this hilarious and touching. Probably because we are the same. The guys have an ancient fantasy about buying a compound with two homes on it. Not one for the Schmalbachs and one for the Thomas', but actually one for the guys and one for the girls. Nice. Glad we know where we stand.
So Easter this year was extra special. It was the boy's first, and it was Sydney's third birthday! Heather and I were super nervous about trying to sleep three excitable young kids under one roof, but it worked out better than we thought! There was a little less sleep to go around, and we each had our rough night, but over the course of four nights, it actually went pretty smoothly. The Dads had no such fears of course.
On Friday morning I got up early to feed Ben and then rolled him under the covers with his Daddy and jetted off to State to sit in on two of Steph's classes. As a teaching assistant, she leads discussion sections for a massive Sociology 101 course. It was really fun, and great to see her doing her thing. I get so excited talking about Sociology, I was doing all I could not to completely jump off my chair with enthusiasm. She showed me around campus, and then we had lunch out together. It's so strange to have an entire meal without Ben, not to mention an entire morning. When we got back, we all just relaxed into a normal routine, playing with the kids and catching up.
On Saturday we all went out to an Easter fair, with huge egg hunts for every age group, bounce houses, and crafts. We put the kids in the wagon and wheeled them around to each of Sydney's activities. They were happy to just be together, although they did get to rifle through Easter grass for plastic eggs.
We were pretty exhausted after all that was said and done. The guys went off to spend some time together and Heather not only baked a cake, but we managed to wrap presents and grill up some burgers for dinner! We all crashed early in anticipation of the huge Easter extravaganza that was planned for Sunday.
First thing in the morning, when Syd came padding into the kitchen in her footie pajamas, her Mama caught her up in a big hug and was the first to wish her a very sweet happy birthday, like only a mom can. Syd looked surprised and it took us a few hours to convince her that this was the day she was really "three on Easter" like she had been chanting all week long. We piled into cars and went to church after a quick breakfast. It was a wonderful mass and the kids were so good. When we got back we took some family photos (like posted above) and then the grown-ups changed into some more comfy clothes. Kirby, Emily and Steph arrived and the kids got their Easter baskets. The boys seemed legitimately thrilled with the idea of toys arriving in baskets out of nowhere. Great tradition, they are for it. Heather managed to put that together during a very busy week, she is amazing.
- Sydney decided that rocks and leaves are excellent prizes to find inside an egg.
- When she forgot Kirby's name she substituted the following: Charlie, Curly, and finally, Tommy.
- Kirby's completely serious attitude when it came to following the rules. Whatever Syd decided that they were, of course.
- Kirby asking, "So where did you hide it?" in the hopes that Syd would just give up the location.
- Sydney replying dramatically, "I hid it where you'll never ever find it!"
The next day we had a nice long morning. The boys played together in their jammies. Check out the adorableness.
Eventually the guys went golfing, and the moms and kids took off for the Wild Animal Park, now known as some other name. Something about making it clear that it belongs to the San Diego Zoo. Its a thing. I prefer to just continue calling it the Wild Animal Park. They were having a butterfly exhibit that was going to be ending soon, and so we hauled the kids around and filed into this jungle of a place where humongous butterflies fluttered everywhere and were kind enough to land on Sydney and pretty much make her little three year old dreams come true. Thank you, butterflies. We spent the ride home talking about what colors they were and that they were called Blue Morphos butterflies. Ben and Dean just took it all in with huge wide eyes, which was also great. The mamas scored big.
When we got home, Steph and her friend Amy came by and we watched Tinkerbell (surprisingly entertaining). Poor Heather had seen it about twenty times, but Steph, Amy and I made excited comments on gender roles and the story arc through the entire movie while Dean napped in her arms. We also pulled out all of Syd's birthday gifts and played with them.
One of the favorites was the tea pot that came with a set from Emily and Kirby. It made the required boiling water noises, but also sang some songs, including "I'm a Little Tea Pot"... natch. Here is the cutie pie singing along happily with her new friend. Complete with hand motions. She is adorable. Oh yes, and she had to wear one of her butterfly shirts (pictured) to visit the butterflies. Of course.
When the guys came home, the Smalls kids flocked happily around their Dad, and before we left that night we got to see some high quality Dada time. Oh the love.
So, that was our better-than-best trip down south to see the Fam. On the way back things returned to normal. We both needed a snack, but while Scott is inside waiting for our order to be up, Ben wakes up and starts screaming, and won't quiet down until the car is finally going again. Only then we realize Scott forgot to get drinks, so we have to stop again, and Ben continues to wake up in intervals to cry, so I manage to score two pacifiers so that I will always be able to pop one in his mouth before I go hunting for the one he just spit out. Ya, not such a smooth return trip, but definitely a classic entry in the parenting book. The next morning we realize he is not only working on one top tooth, but two, and the second is just white and visible under a thin layer of red and puffy skin. Poor kid.
So, it's been a couple of days and I'm ready to go back to San Diego now, haha! Hope you all had the fun Easter that we did! Love to all!