Rainy Nights and Family Games

We’re only a month into summer break here, although it seems like it’s been much longer.  That’s the sign of a good summer vacation, though, right? When it lasts forever and you can barely remember the last day of school anymore, you’re doing it right.

We’ve been busy and not busy, here and there, and filling up evenings with some funny new activities- including teaching the children to gamble.  That seems like an important skill to learn when there’s no actual money at stake, and so Matt and I have convinced ourselves that it’s actually quite good parenting.

So far we’ve taught the kids Blackjack and Texas Hold ’em and Matt and I watch with amusement and sideways glances as each child catches on to the games at different points and suddenly the betting changes drastically.  We have some cautious betters and some ALL-IN betters in this house and the contrast is clear when we play.  Poker seems as good a way as any to gain insight into your kids’ inner workings.

We also started playing RISK, one of those long-drawn out games like Monopoly that spread out over several nights in a row.  Like poker, Risk throws into sharp relief the different personalities at play: which kids are more strategic thinkers, which kids are willing to throw caution to the wind and which kids are decidedly not, and which kid is six moves ahead in his mind, but therefore cannot fully see the move he’s actually on. 

Funnily enough, in both games we’ve played out to the bitter end, Gabe has ended up achieving world domination.  If you’d have asked me before we ever played if he would be the one who took over the planet, I would have said no flat out.  But it turns out he’s really good at looking at the map and seeing where he should strengthen his forces and how he can move across the space.  He knows when to stop attacking and when to shore up, he is patient, and he is quite pleased with himself.  This makes his siblings crazy.

Owen is way too risky – he cannot see when it’s time to stop battling and he gets his armies spread too thin in his quest to take over the world all at once on every turn.  Then he gets crushed on the next time around the board.  Bridget is afraid to commit fully to any battle and as soon as she starts losing armies, she backs off and won’t risk losing so she never actually wins.  And Quinn doesn’t quite see the strategy yet – he doesn’t see where he’s strong near someone else who is weak, so he sort of haphazardly chooses his battles and just likes to roll the dice and hope for the best. 

We’ve had arguments, allegiances, laughter, and some choked back tears if the truth be told.  We’ve let the kids stay up way too late some nights and paid for it in spades the next day.  As this chilly, drizzly England summer rolls on we’re making memories  that I only hope my children will treasure the way I know I will.  I’m hoping for another summer ten years down the line when we all laugh about that rainy July in England when Gabe took over the world. 

Long live summer.

In My Garden

On the other side of the old stone wall that surrounds my yard stands a 13th century church with massive arched windows and a clock tower that chimes every hour.  While I wash dishes in the sink, my gaze falls on eight hundred year old stone walls and wooden doors reminiscent of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, ornate with iron scroll work and the dusty green patina that only comes with time.

I will never have another garden like this.

My children have named the trees.  The graceful weeping willow with her branches sweeping the grass and rustling in the constant breeze is McGonagall, of course.  The 400-year old elm tree, protected by the county as one of the few remaining ancient elms that survived some barely-remembered spate of Dutch Elm disease in the 1800s, is Dumbledore.  Standing next to him is an equally massive redwood with a trunk we could barely reach around if all six of us joined hands, with gnarled branches and tangled needles, its trunk covered in creeping ivy.  He is called Hagrid.  And the skinny tree with brambles at the bottom?  That is Voldemort.

Flowers grow in my garden bed that the property manager informed me only grow in very, very old, well-established gardens.  Roses creep up the side of the slightly tilted brick garden shed attached to the side of the house, mostly inhabited by spiders. 

Apples, pears, and plums are ripening on the branches of the trees in our “orchard” in the way back half of the yard, next to the church path.

With only a year left here in this magical place, I’m trying to remind myself to appreciate it while I can.  I’m making a daily walk through the garden, rain or shine in true British fashion.  I’m soaking it all in.

This is a garden for dreaming. To take it for granted would be a crime. 

Family Trip to Ireland, Part Two: Killarney & Connemara

For the second half of our Ireland trip back in March, we rented a 9-passenger van and drove west from Dublin to see Killarney, Galway, and Connemara.  It was a great way to travel across Ireland — we purposely mapped our trip away from motorways where possible, so while it took a little longer, we saw much prettier scenery.  Because it’s a small country, we drove from the east coast to the west coast in about three hours, a fact that seems sort of unbelievable when you consider our D.C.-to-Boston road trips that took at least ten hours and only covered about 1/3 of the east coast of the U.S.

I drove and Matt navigated, which is our standard plan.  I am garbage at reading maps and Matt used to teach land navigation in the Army, so he’s pretty awesome at it.  I prefer driving while Matt tends to get super sleepy when he’s behind the wheel for too long, which is, you know, insanely dangerous.  So we have our roles and we stick to them.  My kids and my parents played games and read books and passed around snacks.  It was a really good road trip!  And driving on the insanely narrow country roads in England prepared me well for the insanely narrow country roads in Ireland, so driving that big van was no problem at all.

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Sleeping In

When you have little kids, sleeping in becomes a distant memory, a dream but almost never a reality.  My kids are all early risers and I spent a decade waking up well before 7AM most days, grumpy and disheveled, clutching my coffee for dear life as I muddled my way through breakfast.

Now, though, my youngest child is seven.  All of my kids are more than capable of making themselves breakfast – in fact, they generally make themselves a better breakfast than I would make, because mornings are not the time I am at my personal best – and they can read a book, watch a show, play a game without any guidance or assistance.

And so now, I sleep.  And it. is. glorious.

These days, the kids get up by 7AM and I can hear them pattering down the stairs outside my door.  Matt gets up shortly after that to get ready for work, and I hear him turn on the shower, get clothes out of the closet.  Then he leaves the room to iron his shirt, get his breakfast, and he hangs out with the kids in the kitchen.

And I roll over in the silence and sleep.  I stretch out across the king size bed, and I sleep for thirty blissful minutes more.

Matt wakes me up when he leaves for work at 8AM and I lie there for another few moments, gathering my motivation.  I’m up by 8:10AM, so it’s not like I’m lying in bed all day.  But it feels so luxurious to stay there for a little while when everyone else is up and going.  It feels like a treat. 

The baby years were physically hard but so much fun and I’m sad when I think about the fact that there are no chubby funny lovey babies around here anymore.  But then I remember that I didn’t sleep through the night for probably eight straight years and I never got to stay in bed until 8AM while everyone else got themselves breakfast.  And then I don’t miss those baby years quite as much.

Every stage of motherhood brings challenges and charms. That this stage comes with an 8AM wake-up call makes it pretty sweet.

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