Project Life 365 – Day 113 – Hands

The hardest part of going back to work after being a work-at-home mom for the last 3 years was trying to wrap my head around leaving my little girl in someone else’s care for the majority of the day. Well, that and actually have to get up, change out of my pajamas, and be both sociable and productive before 8:00 a.m.. Productive? Sure, I can handle that. No biggie. But being sociable in the morning, five days a week, before the caffeine has kicked in? You’re pushing your luck, friend.

Luckily for us, the transtion from two-day-a-week morning preschool to full-time preschool was pretty painless. Sure the first couple weeks we were all worn out, and Steven and I spent some time harassing each other about the lack of hot water for whomever was last to shower.

But overall, we really can’t conplain, because just three and a half weeks into our new lives, we’re getting the kinks worked out and we’re all feeling pretty satisfied.

And, best of all, it’s clear that we made the right decision for Cadence. She hops out of bed every morning ready to start the day, and comes home each afternoon excited to share all the new things she learned in school. And tonight, as I sit, listening to my baby girl giving her Daddy and me a lesson on the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes, I know, without a doubt, that my girl is in very good hands.

PL365Day113Handswm

God bless the beautiful souls that take such great care of her while we’re away.

Elf on the Shelf – Day 1

Last night, just as the sun was setting, the doorbell rang. Steven had just gotten home from work, and Cadence had followed him upstairs to horse around and jump on the bed while he changed out of his work clothes. When I opened the door, there was no one to be seen. There was just a package, with a handwritten note, for Cadence. I called up and told her she better hurry down to see what it was…

Cadence recognized her name immediately, and when we told her the package was from Santa, she cried, “Santa! He’s here! At Cadence’s house?” and tore into the box.

She wasn’t quite sure what to think about the little elf she found inside. Thinking that perhaps Santa was lying in wait, laden with more presents, she hurried to the window to look outside.

“Santa? He’s here? Where’s Santa?”

Steven and I laughed, and then explained that Santa had just sent the package, but that he wouldn’t be arriving until Christmas, which was still several weeks away. It took a good amount of persuading to convince Cadence that Santa wasn’t hiding in the bushes, and that he wanted her to read the book he sent her. We settled in on the floor for the story…

For those of you who haven’t already heard, Santa sometimes needs a little help keeping an eye on all the little boys and girls in the world. So, he likes to send one of his elves to help out. Cadence’s Nonna Dawn and Poppa Mark told Santa where to send his little helper, and Cadence’s own personal elf arrived just in time to make sure she does her best to be good in these final few weeks before Christmas.

And for those of you who have witnessed any of Cadence’s Terrible Two-style temper tantrums lately, you know that Santa sent this elf just in time to save Cadence from a stocking full of coal. Don’t believe our adorable little Batgirl has a naughty bone in her body? You better go back and read about Dinner War 2012.

Now, adopting one of Santa’s elves into the family is serious business. You have to give your elf a name and make sure you register him/her with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. By day, your elf keeps an eye on you and takes careful notes. Then, as soon as you fall asleep, he/she flies off to the North Pole to report to the Big Boss himself. Santa files away all of the reports, and uses them to decide whether your name appears on the Naughty List or the Nice List come Christmas.

As we read all of this to Cadence, she considered it carefully, all the time keeping a wary eye on the little female elf she’d pulled from Santa’s box. After much deliberation, she decided to name her elf Cosette, and we gave her a seat of honor in the window as we settled in for dinner.

A few hours later, Cadence told Cosette good night, and then headed to bed, knowing that Santa was going to get a very good report.

Funny thing about elves, they’re a mischievous lot, which we found out when we woke this morning. When I brought Cadence downstairs to have a little breakfast before heading to school, this is what we found…

Seems Cosette had a little fun playing with Cadence’s blocks after she returned from the North Pole. Cadence got a big kick out of Cosette’s tower-building skills, and headed off to school with a smile on her face. I reminded her to be good, so she could tell Cosette all about it when she got home.

And she did.

I couldn’t help but smile when I heard Cadence telling Cosette all about her day at school…

“I go to school with Ms. Becky. Played with Carter and Jacob and Levi. I went pee pee on the potty and played hot potato and ate a cookie snack. And no timeouts.”

I peeked around the corner and managed to get a couple photos of Cadence reporting to Cosette before it was time for lunch and a nap.

So, even though the day has not quite ended, I have a feeling that Cosette will be flying to the North Pole with another good report on Cadence for Santa Claus. Too bad our little elf can’t hang around all year long! But I guess we’ll just enjoy it while it lasts. 🙂

School Days

Since Cadence started school in August, I’ve been itching to get into the classroom and take some photos of her. The first couple weeks, drop-offs were rough. She was anxious and unsure, clinging to me and crying when I hugged her and said goodbye. Since her birth, we’d never been apart for more than an hour or two at a time, and even then, she was either with her Daddy or a grandparent or someone else she knew well enough to no be afraid. I knew it wouldn’t take her long to come around though, my inquisitive little girl. I knew that once she settle in, made friends, began to trust her teacher Mrs. Becky that she would love school and learning, and begin to shine.

It was around the time I realized that Cadence loved school so much and was so comfortable there that she didn’t even want to hold my hand walking in the door or hug and kiss me goodbye anymore that I figured I could probably get away with taking a few photos of her in the classroom without causing too much of a clingy ruckus. And hell, if she was embarrassed by me just walking in the room and saying goodbye to her, I might as well just go whole hog and go all paparazzi on her and her little friends and show her what real embarrassment is all about.

Poor girl, she’s got a whooooooooole lot of uncomfortable years ahead of her living with Steven and me.

So, last week when I picked Cadence up from school, I asked Mrs. Becky if it would be okay for me to come in one day and take some pictures of Cadence in the classroom. I mentioned that I’m a photographer, so if she ever wanted photos of a class activity or anything, to just let me know and I would be more than happy to help out. She said yes immediately, and mentioned that the class would be carving pumpkins, since they’d been learning about them all week. I was ecstatic! We missed out on the pumpkin-carving fun last year because Cadence wanted absolutely nothing to do with pumpkin-picking or pumpkins.

Apple-picking? Absolutely. She loved every minute of it, and talked about it for weeks afterward.

Pumpkin-picking and maybe a photo op in the pumpkin patch? She threw an all-out, fall-to-the-ground, kicking, screaming, whining, crocodile tear fit right there in the pumpkin patch. Thankfully we got it on video. We’re planning to show it to the first boy she brings home when she’s a teenager.

I made sure I told Cadence that I would be coming into her classroom to take pictures of her and Mrs. Becky and her friends. Even so, when we arrived and I unpacked the camera from my bag, I still got a “What the heck are you doing, Mom? Put that thing away! I’m at school!” look of annoyance.

But as soon as her friends started gathering around her Momma and begging for their pictures to be taken, Cadence seemed to change her mind about how uncool it was to have a photographer for a Mom.

I stayed for a little over an hour, snapping photos of all the adorable little munchkins in Mrs. Becky’s class as they went about their daily routine. I watched my daughter, awestruck at the amazing little person she’s already become–playing with her friends, taking turns, listening to Mrs. Becky’s songs and instructions (and sometimes choosing to selectively hear them).

I even watched her creep in close and examine the honorary class pet (well, at least until next week’s spider unit is finished), and then turn on her soap opera-style acting skills and pretend to be scared.

The pumpkin-carving was a success. Cadence and her classmates had a blast scooping out the seeds and feeling all the “squishy stuff” inside, and I got a ton of great pictures. For my blog though, I’m only going to share pictures of my little one.

And then, after a quick clean up, it was time for the kiddos to get their wiggles out and do a little singing and dancing  before snack. Some of you probably know, Miss Cadence got her name partly because both Steven and I are drummers and music lovers, and partly because the minute we saw her bouncing around non-stop on the first sonogram, we knew immediately that this little girl likely had music in her bones. I can’t even really explain what music does to this child, but here are a few photos to illustrate. In the words of Gloria Estefan, “The rhythm is gonna get ya…”

And then, it was time to line up, sanitize the little hands, and head off for snack.

I said goodbye to my feisty little girl and thanked Mrs. Becky again for letting me share an hour of her day. God bless the teachers that take such good care of our kids. I can tell you absolute certainty that our little Cadence is in very good hands.

Take Cadence Picture

Many photographers joke around that their kids suffer from PKS–Photographer’s Kid Syndrome. Sure, all kids go through phases when they hate standing still for the camera, but I have to say, I do believe that photographers’ kids often taken their camera loathing to a whole new level. For the longest time, trying to get a decent picture of Cadence was one part comedy routine, two parts acrobatics. I’d chase after her, sing songs, repeat lines from her favorite movies, make fart noises, climb park benches and playground equipment, dive in front of her in the grass–anything I could think of to make her stop and look at me long enough to fire off a couple of shots. Sometimes they were blurry. Sometimes her eyes were half-closed, or half of her face was out of frame. But sometimes, it was magic.

These days, I’m happy to say, that things have taken a turn to my advantage. Suddenly, instead of constantly running and trying to hide from my camera, Cadence seems to have taken a keen interest in Mommy’s work. She likes playing with her toy camera, and sometimes even picks up a random object (like my old voice recorder) and pretends it’s a camera and walks around the house taking pictures of things. Even better, she loves, LOVES, having her picture taken. Anytime I pull my camera out, she immediately starts chirping, “Take Cadence picture? Mommy? You take a picture of Cadence?”

Who can say no to that?

It’s funny though, as a lifestyle photographer, I never tell my clients to “Say cheese.” Instead, I do what I can to capture natural expressions in my work. And Cadence seems to have picked up on this the few times she’s been with me when I’m on a job, because she never pulls out the cheesy smile in front of the camera. In fact, I’m not sure she even knows what a cheesy smile is. I love it because I get to snap photos of my favorite girl exactly as she is, and exactly how I’ll always remember her. The poor folks from Lifetouch who took her pictures at preschool though, they didn’t quite know what to do with my sweet girl who won’t smile on command.

Here are a few of my girl I snapped back in August when we were in Colorado taking my sister Whitney’s senior pictures…

Having fun and getting dirty playing ball with Granny and Uncle Collin
Collecting pretty rocks, just like her Momma loves to do
She’s gotta get her picture taken everywhere Aunt Whitney does
Love that face!
My baby looking like such a big girl
Climbing the mountain with Uncle Collin
Take Cadence picture, Mommy
My little nature girl

Happy Birthday to Me

I’m back. Yeah, I know, I’ve said that before, but this time it’s for real. The craziness of the summer is finally over. No more vacations. No more flights. No more weddings. No more funerals (we hope). It’s time to get back to some sort of routine around here. It’s time, and boy are we ready!

Tomorrow Cadence starts preschool. We’ve been talking to her about it for weeks now, trying to prepare her to begin this new chapter in her life. We can tell she’s excited. She talks about all the things she’s going to do in school–numbers, ABC’s, playing with kids, etc.–but I can also see her trepidation. Every time we mention school, her little brow furrows for a moment and she says, “I no cry” before going on to talk about all the fun things she’ll do there. Maybe she’s trying to reassure us. But I think maybe she’s trying to talk herself into being brave. Pretty mature thinking for a two-and-a-half year old if you ask me. But then again, I think we’ve all done some growing up this summer. It’s been a hard one around here.

So today, we spent celebrating my 32nd birthday, and enjoying a quiet day together as a family. It’s been waaaaaaay too long since we’ve had one of those, and boy did we have fun! My amazing husband surprised me with a sweet card and two tickets to see Chicago in October. A date night. I can’t wait! 🙂 Then, we spend our day together, enjoying the late summer sunshine at Martin’s Hillside Orchard picking apples. We had dinner at Lazlo’s in the Haymarket, then back home to spend a lazy evening watching movies while I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

All in all, I’d say it was a perfect day. 🙂

The Art of Raising a 2-year-old (and Surviving)

I think one of the biggest childrearing myths is what people refer to as the “Terrible Twos”.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the word “terrible” just doesn’t quite cover it.

Sure, it’s an extremely challenging age and the temper tantrums  can drive you to the very brink of insanity, but there are also moments of pure joy, lots of laughter, and days that I would like to freeze in time and replay over and over and over again.

Living with a 2-year-old is not terrible…well, not all the time. It’s sort of like finding an absolutely perfect little chunk of land–beautiful scenery, amazing neighbors, close to all of your favorite restaurants and entertainment–and then discovering that you just built your dream house on top of an active volcano. You have to be constantly on guard. There are always little fires to put out and, even on a good day, there is always the threat of danger lurking just beneath the surface.

See, the thing about 2-year-olds is that, at any other age, they would indisputably be diagnosed as suffering from a severe combination of multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder, hyperactivity, narcolepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, anger issues, and narcissistic personality disorder. Hell, at any other age they would likely just be considered a danger to themselves and society and be locked up. They are little ticking emotional time bombs. One minute they’re bubbly and smiling and charming every person in the room with their sweetness. The next minute you’re wondering if you need to call a priest to perform an exorcism before the screaming little banshee who is now foaming at the mouth and writhing on the floor in front of you manages to scare any other shoppers out of the cereal aisle.

And all you can hope is that the employees watching it all unfold on the security cameras are having a good laugh at your expense.

Yet, in spite of the tantrums and the sudden emergence of the word “No!” at the top of my own personal Things That Piss Me Off the Most list, I have to say, 2 is a pretty cool age.

At this point, Cadence’s personality is absolutely her own, and it’s fun to watch her already beginning to carve her own little place in the world. She loves movies and can recite lines from her favorites. She loves baseball–watching the Mets at home with her Daddy and going to Husker games with her Grandma Jayne and Papa Duane. She’s fearless, spunky, and wickedly funny. Her Daddy taught her to fart and then point at someone else and say “You fart!” which she thinks is hilarious. And we think it’s hilarious that it’s now become “You stinky fart! Ewww!”

We can’t wait for the call we’re inevitably going to get from her preschool teacher for that one.

She’s also wickedly smart, which can be both a good and a bad thing since she’s still at an age where she lives purely by impulse instead of reason. She loves music and art. She loves to color and draw, and carries a notebook around with her to write in. She loves playing the piano and Daddy’s new practice drum kit. And she sings along to dozens of different songs. No Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Itsy Bitsy Spider for Cadence. She likes Sugarland’s Stuck Like Glue and Karmin’s Brokenhearted and the Family Guy theme instead. And these days, she’s got some pretty sweet dance moves these days, courtesy of watching Dancing with the Stars on Monday nights with her Momma and Daddy.

I’m slowly learning that this volatile stage of development  is just as important for parents as it is for the 2-year-olds themselves. See, it’s this point, during these Terrible Twos, that you are really molded into the type of parent you’re likely to be for the rest of your life. Are you going to pick your battles, or insist on always being right and having the last word? Are you going to let your children explore and fall down and learn from their experiences, or are you going to constantly hover and shelter them and tell them no. Are you going to worry and fret that the house isn’t spotless, or are you going to get down on the floor and play and make a few messes yourself? Are you going to let yourself get caught up in the tantrums and scream back louder, or are you going to take a deep breath, wait for the storm to pass, and help your children understand their sometimes overwhelming emotions? Are you going to hug and kiss and tell your children that you love them and that you’re proud of them every chance you get, or are you going to just assume that they know?

Parenting is trial and error. No one has the perfect answer. There is no handbook, no instruction manual, no magical formula that can guarantee you will all come out of it unscathed. But you can try. You can do your best. You can learn from the mistakes, and show your children that life is not about perfection. It’s about finding the beauty in the imperfections, and finding your own way in the chaos.

Here are just a few recent photos of my own little chaos maker…

Playing in the birdbath and helping Momma water flowers
Hiding from Momma’s camera and doing a little mowing.
Running! Running! Running!
Telling stories.