Thursday, December 15, 2016

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, it's Christmas season again! I have to say, this year has been my favorite. I think I wrote that last year too...but this year is even greater. Last year we had the excitement, joy, and magic of Christmas which made it so special. This year we still have that, PLUS a new maturity of understanding that it's not just about getting things, but the real meaning of Christmas and also about giving to others.
I had a really proud mom moment when we went to see Santa. All on her own, Ashley decided that since Santa is always generous and giving to others, that she wanted to give back to him and make him a gift. So she worked hard and cut out paper snowflakes, and put them in a pretty bag to give him. Santa was so taken aback by her thoughtfulness that he said he wanted to cry, and that he would hang them up on his walls at the North Pole.
Emily's teacher also informed me that, when asked what she wanted for Christmas this year, the only thing that Emily said she wanted was a doll for her sister Ashley so she could have the same as her. She cared more about getting something for her than for herself.
Chippy, our Elf on the Shelf, is also quite the hit again this year. Ashley just LOVES Chippy. Our elf has really strong powers so we can touch and hold him. She would carry him around everywhere and would want to take him places. He helped us get our Christmas tree again this year. Ashley loves Chippy so much that her #1 Christmas gift request was a matching Elf outfit so that she could match Chippy. Because Santa was so pleased with her kind gesture, and because he wanted the girls to enjoy their elf clothing for the whole holiday season, Santa sent Chippy back with them early (as well as nightgowns with Chippy all over it).
We also had Emily's Christmas concert yesterday. I just love watching all the kids singing. Emily always does such a nice job. We still have Christmas parties coming up too!
I will definitely look back on this time with such warm, fond memories. Trying to capture and enjoy it all while I can.

Now for a quick update.
I'll start with Ashley. All I can say is wow. I am not going to lie, ages 3 and 4 (and even a little of 5) had some very challenging moments with her. There was a lot of strong willed behavior, and even arguing and opposition at times. She definitely gave me a run for my money. I don't know what happened, but recently it's like a switch went off with her. Maybe it's her age, or maybe it's starting kindergarten and having such a nice teacher and more responsibilities...but I have noticed some really incredible changes with her within the past few months. She still has her moments, like all children/humans do, but I have watched her really mature and blossom. She has really become very kind, thoughtful/considerate, more respectful to myself and to others, polite and helpful. She's at an age where you can now discuss things and reason with her. I have been so incredibly proud of her.
She has already received two notices about "being caught being respectful" at school. And just the other day she was nominated for the Pillar of Character: Responsibility. This is a special honor, where a few children are chosen from throughout the whole school to be recognized for their great character/behaviors. Their name is called over the loudspeaker, they hang her picture up in the hallway, and send home a small gift. Very proud mom (parents) here!
Ashley really has loved and thrived in kindergarten, just as I knew she would. She has a passion for learning, and school channels this for her. She is the most advanced reading level, to the point where her teacher said she doesn't want to put her too far ahead, because she doesn't want her to feel left out. She is very bright and a hard worker, although she does have a tendency to have some perfectionism at times. So both at school and at home, we encourage "good enough is good enough"--appreciating her hard work and efforts, but allowing for human error and mistakes too. And trying anyway, even if we may not be the best at something.
The only con side to kindergarten has been the adjustment to the long days. Their schedule is jam packed, with little breaks. And going from a few half days of preschool to a long, full week has been hard. Sometimes around Thursday or Friday, we tend to have a "crash"/meltdown time. So we have refrained from after school activities for now (other than Daisies girl scouts which is only 1x/month) and playdates (which I am now trying to avoid at the end of the week).
Ashley has really gotten into art. She has always enjoyed her coloring, painting and crafts. But she continues to have a passion for it. At the end of her school day, there are different stations that the kids can pick. Ashley almost always chooses painting, and comes home with these big beautiful paintings that she's made. She also enjoys beading now. In addition to art, she has enjoyed practicing writing and spelling. When the weather is decent, she also enjoys the playground and playing with friends after school as well.
Now onto Emily. She is officially 4 now! Time, please slow down! I remember when Ashley was four, and now my last "baby" is 4. We had a nice celebration--we do a family celebration on Thanksgiving, then we went to a Hibachi restaurant on her actual birthday, then we had a joint birthday celebration for her and Ashley over the weekend. Because of Emily's maturity, she and Ashley really do have the same friends. Emily keeps up and plays well with kids Ashley's age (moreso than when she plays with kids her age or younger). So the joint party works, because we'd be inviting the same set of friends twice if we kept seperate. (Plus they both get two other seperate/individual celebrations for just them). This year we stuck to the YMCA party, but we did a cupcake decorating theme. The girls loved it. They got to color their own apron and chef hat (which they got to keep), and then decorate 3 different cupcakes to take home. We had pizza, and a fun dance party. It was a good time. Our amount of friends has practically doubled since last year. We had 25 kids there (and 2 more were supposed to come).
Emily has really grown--literally. She is really tall. Last year when she turned 3, I remember needing to switch her to 4t pants because the 3s were too short. Same for this year, she turned 4 but is in 5t pants--only one pant size different from Ashley despite the 2 year age different. They are also only 1 shoe size apart. Even though I am the oldest, I am the shortest. I have a feeling this may be the case for Ashley and Emily someday. I sometimes have people ask me if they are twins even, between them being so close in size, looking similar, and again Emily keeps up/acts much older at times.
Ashley and Emily definitely have their own unique interests and personalities. For instance, Ashley loves all the art activities. Emily wants nothing to do with it. Her teacher even said she had a hard time having Emily sit down to color at first. Emily would rather be up moving and bouncing off of things (sometimes literally, haha).
Emily really enjoys dressing up (Ashley too). Emily goes back and forth from things like Spiderman, to this year wanting to be a Ninja turtle, to supeheroes, to the opposite extreme of frilly fancy dresses. She's a good balance ;)  . She loves the dresses, and heels, etc. They love to put on 6 diffent costumes at once.
Emily is also into dressing up as a ballerina and dancing. So much so that I'd like to sign her up for a dance class sometime in near future, just waiting until we acclimate to the schedule a little more. Emily enjoys physical, likes to play on scooter, play outside when weather cooperates. Although she will sit and play play-doh.
Emily also got a great report from school. She is right where she should be academically, socially, she gets along well with others and is very sweet with the teachers. She loves going to school, and always loves to give her teacher extra hugs before we leave. She also greets me by running into my arms and giving me a big hug every day which is so sweet.
She is still a momma's girl, but is also becoming a daddy's girl, always saying that she misses daddy when he's working.
My only complaint, although totally normal and probably lifelong (at least until teenage years), is the bickering between the girls at times. Half the time they are SOOOO sweet together. They think of each other when not together. The look out of each other--for instance, one time they were watching a kid show with a "scary" part. They were sitting together, and Ashley had her arm around Emily and said "don't worry mommy, I'm going to cover Emily's heart so that I can protect her heart so she won't be scared". So sweet. Then they next minute they can be fighting. Typically it's Emily istigating with Ashley, because she knows that she can get a reaction from her (Ashley goes from zero to 100 in seconds and always overreacts). But like I said, typical siblign stuff.

But life contiunes to be wonderful...and exhausting...and maddening at times...but really great and wouldn't-change-it-for-the-world kinda stuff....

Monday, September 12, 2016

1st Day of School

So I am a few days behind in posting, but wanted to share the first day of school pics and updates.

Ashley has started KINDERGARTEN!!! Her first day went very well. Due to being jet lagged and readjusting to the time change after being in Italy, I woke up very early for a few days (I.e. 3:30 am, 4:30 a.m, etc.) The one perk to that was that everything was done and ready with PLENTY of time, so there was no rushing around. It was a nice relaxed morning. We even had time to play duck duck goose a few times before leaving. Daddy started work a little later so that he could bring Ashley to school as well for her first day of kindergarten.
When we dropped her off, there were no tears for anyone (as I expected). Ashley had been slightly nervous beforehand, but the day of she reported that she was "just excited". We ran into several of her friends--some from preschool, and a couple who were already at Manito Elementary School. Her friend Amanda had Ashley's teacher (Mrs. Woodward) last year, so she came up and reassured Ashley that her teacher was so nice. Her other older friend, Morgan, gave her a big hug. Lots of smiles and excitement the morning of. Ashley's friend, Gianna (our neighbor) is in Ashley's class. She struggles with anxiety and was crying, and Ashley was actually talking to her and trying to comfort her. It was sweet. Anyway, we did our hugs and kisses goodbye, packed her a special note for her first day, and left.
I didn't cry or get emotional either. There is a little intimidation about her entering the "real school" with bigger kids, more exposure to hearing and seeing things. Having to let go of that protection and innocence bubble she's been in. But I think that is where the God piece comes in, and knowing God's got this. And I also one who believes in having open and honest conversations with kids (in an age-appropriate way), and I already told Ashley that if she hears or sees anything that she's not sure about, that I'm always here to talk about it with her. I also encouraged her to listen to her intuition, that God connection, and listen to that wise voice within that tells her right from wrong. So I feel pretty ok with the letting go piece.
Also, Ashley is just plain ready. She has been ready for a long time. She is very bright. She loves and thrives on learning new things. She's ready for more--longer days and more information. She is ready for a little distance from her mom and sister so much. So I was excited for this new chapter for her.

Emily had a great first day of preschool at OLPH (3's class) too. I was a little more nervous for her, only because we had been away for 10 days on our Italy trip, and only saw her the day before school started. The day before, I took her to the meet and greet visit at school where she could meet her new teachers (Mrs. Pfeiffer and aid) and see her new classroom. Due to me being away, Emily was pretty clingy to me and didn't even want to say hello to the teacher. She was also really sad because she wanted her old teachers Mrs. Ham and Mrs. Kant back.
However, Emily had a great first day. Her teacher said she was happy, followed directions and played nicely. She even said that her friend Sammy was having a sad first day, and Emily cheered him up. Emily was also giving her teacher a hug by the end, and told me that she was nice and liked her.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Girls

Wow! I just looked back and saw that I haven't had a "girls" update post since Christmas!!! It's now July!!! Yikes. So much has obviously happened over the past several months. I'll try to write about the latest happenings and then try to play catch up....

We'll start with Ashley. Well, she has officially "graduated" preschool at OLPH! She is moving on to KINDERGARTEN! That is crazy. She had a great year. Her teacher, Mrs. Connolly, had nothing but nice things to say about Ashley--from how sweet she is, to how well she plays with others, to how bright she is and such a hard worker, etc. Ashley can officially read, and has been able to for a while now. She started off earlier in the school year reading site word books, where the teacher would send home books that connected stories to the pictures and used site words. Now, she can basically read any beginning reader's book. She still needs help sounding out some words, but can get most. She can also count well beyond 100, she can do sequential adding (5's, 10's, etc). She is a smart cookie!

OLPH had a nice graduation for the kids, including a real cap and gown, and diplomas. It was really sweet to watch. It'll be her HS graduation before we know it, sniff sniff!  In May we visited Manito Elementary School (where she will be going), toured the classrooms and met the potential teachers. She is excited (and a little nervous) to start....but she will do great, she is so ready for full time school and learning.

On April 7th, Ashley lost her very first tooth! It was her middle bottom left (if looking at her). Within three or four weeks, she lost her second one, the middle bottom right. For the first tooth, the tooth fairy brought her a Silver dollar.

Hmm...what else? She has totally mastered riding on her scooter. She whips and zips all around, does circles around you (literally). She's getting pretty good with her bike too, and will probably be riding a two wheeler soon.

Ashley has gotten much braver with age too. She used to be more cautious like me, but now she takes more risks. I.e. we went to the beach recently, and she was letting Matt lift her up into big crashing waves.

She has also learned how to do the monkey bars. She swims pretty good too.

Ashley loves rainbow everything. All her pictures and drawings always include rainbows.  She and Emily still love to play dress up, and dress up almost every day.  Or make believe, setting up tea parties or restaurants for her dolls or us.

Cousin Robby was born a few months ago. Ashley is so sweet with him, as well as other friends babies. She can be very loud and has a strong personality, yet around babies she is very sweet, gentle and loving. It almost makes me sad that we won't be having any more kids, since she would be real sweet with them. But at least she has cousins ;)

In addition to lots of go go go summer fun with small trips, playdates, etc, Ashley has also been having fun with some camps. Her elementary school offered and encouraged the kids to go to a 2 week program, Safety Town. Now she is signed up for Oakland Rec camp for a few weeks, which goes from 9-3 in order to prepare her for longer days of school hours since she has been used to just a few half days. It's been a blast.

Now onto Emily. Emily has gotten so big. My friend (who has known her for a while) just commented the other day on how big she was, a real big girl and no trace of baby left in her. I have friends whose kids are 3--granted, they are on the younger end of 3, while Emily is 3 1/2 now--but Emily seems so much older than they do. I think because she and Ashley are so close, Emily tries so hard to be a big girl like her, and they have the same mutual (sometimes older) friends, it really has made Emily seem so much older too. She really doesn't have a hard time keeping up with the big kids at all. In fact, she even surpasses them in some activities!

She talks quite well and has an extensive vocabulary for her age. She does still make some slips, which happen to be adorable, like saying "her is _____", vs. "she is _____". (She mixes up he/she for him/her). I've corrected it more than I can count, but she still says is. One day I'll miss it.

Emily continues to be very athletic. She doesn't play soccer, but she could...she's got great eye/hand or foot/hand coordination. We also like to play kickball in our yard, and she's great at that too. She loves to be moving and doing. For the summer, we attached our large kiddie pool to our swings slide, and turned it into a water slide which she absolutely loves.

Emily is also a smart cookie. Had everything checked off on her list for preschool expectations. Can count, do ABCs, can spell her name, etc.

Both she and Ashley love to help. We have a morning/night routine, and a couple little chores throughout the day. In addition to that, they love to help cook or bake, they like to help with dishwasher, etc.

As big as Emily has gotten, and as independent as she is most of the time, she continues to be a momma's girl, and still asks me to hold her a good bit. Sometimes I get discouraged because she begs me, saying "hold me momma" when I'm in the middle of stuff and super busy....but most times I love it, and try to savor it since I know I won't be holding her much longer. I love that we still rock together in her rocking chair at night, and I will continue to do so as long as she asks and wants to.

I don't know if I ever mentioned it in a previous post, but Emily is absolutely OBSESSED with SpiderMan. It all started last Halloween. She randomly picked SpiderMan out on a website of kids costumes and has been obsessed ever since. It's calmed down a bit recently, but she was wearing her SpiderMan costume every single day, in addition to Spider Man pajamas and clothes, and bath towels, and toys, etc. It was so cute. I think I will forever associate anything SpiderMan to her, even long after the phase has ended.

As active as a kid as she is, Emily is also a TV fanatic, and would watch it for hours if I let her (which I don't). Ashley will be coloring (she LOVES to), and Emily will be begging to watch TV.

Unfortunately, Emily had to miss out on camp this year. I had signed her up for VBS again since she LOVED it so much last year...She went the first day, but ended up getting sick that night. She was throwing up, followed by a high fever that lasted for like 5 days. Poor thing. I hated seeing her that sick. I also hated that she had to miss VBS. Hopefully next year will work out. But, we have been having nice bonding time while Ashley is at camp.

We have also been having an incredibly fun, fun, busy, exhausting summer. Back in May, before school was even out, we took a weekend trip to the Poconos with Matt's parents to do some biking, pedal boating, beach and pool. June was busy with Emily's school concert, end of the year party, trips to the YMCA lake, Ashley's graduation, trip to movie theater, Oakland carnival with friends, 2 trips to NY to see Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandpa (Aunt Kristyn and Uncle Brian were in town from Italy so we jam packed fun activities in), extended family. We took a trip down to South Jersey one weekend to visit Jayne, Ed and fav cousin Ethan, another trip down to LBI/beach to visit our neighbors and friends, Becky, Seth, Tyler and Colin while they were staying with Seth's parents. We did a trip to the Bronx Zoo (Emily stayed with Grandmom and Grandpop and went to the movie theaters with them since she was just over her sickness), then they took a trip to the Pocono house with Grandmom and Grandpop since our friends Matt and Christi Wagner came to visit from SC, and we were showing them around NYC and going to a Coldplay concert.

It's really been a whirlwind. In addition to all of those trips, we've been doing the day to day playdates with friends, day trips, etc.

Lastly, Matt and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary while we were up in NY visiting. We had an awesome time. I totally surprised him. A while back, I had seen this video where a wife totally surprised her husband for their anniversary by wearing her wedding gown, being all dressed up, and had their wedding song playing. He came in and almost started crying, then they danced together. I thought it was so sweet, and stored it in the back of my memory for special occasion. When we first decided to go up to NY during our anniversary date, I was bummed because I didn't think I could swing it. But then Kristyn and Brian said that they wanted to treat Matt to a round of golf for a belated birthday gift, so it was perfect. I informed them of my plan, and got them in on it by having Brian text us when they were about a half hour from home so I could be all ready. I'm a horrible liar usually, but I managed to be convincing and told Matt that the extra big suitcase (which had my wedding gown in it) had special surprise things that mom asked me to bring up for Kristyn's 30th (we were celebrating our anniv, Kristyn's early 30th, and bon voyage party all at once).

It was great. When the got back, I was in my gown, all dressed up. We had it decorated, had fake rose petals that my "flower girls" put down for us, and had our wedding songs playing (the one I walked down the aisle to followed by our 1st dance). Matt was totally surprised and loved it. We danced together. Ashley even got in on it. Great moment.
The girls loved it too, especially Ashley. A while back she had watched our wedding video with me and was bummed that she couldn't be there. So when I told her what I was doing, she said "I'm so happy and excited that I could cry". She was also excited that they were my new "flower girls". It made it extra special.

Anyway, that is all for now. Hope I got everything!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Delayed Verdict

I wanted to update on our visit to Florida, and the decision Matt and I made....

Matt and I went down to visit Florida and saw the new office location and area. Although I love Florida, this location is not for us. Amelia Island was beautiful and everything my friend Jen said it was, however it did still seem more like a touristy beach vacation place vs. a real place to live. And although some people are starting to move there year round, it appeared to be mostly very wealthy (and probably retired) people living there. There also wasn't a whole lot going on directly outside of that area.
The other area that was within close proximity of the office and had better school ratings was very rural. They are working on growing, putting in new restaurants and stores, and I'm sure in another 10-20 years from now it will be a great place to live. But in the meantime, it's very rural with lots of run down trailers and/or low income housing, with pockets of these beautiful developments with picturesque homes and neighborhoods throughout. The schools, although rated well, were actually kind of scary looking with barbed wire all around them. Matt and I both agreed that this was not a place we'd want to uproot our lives to move to.
We did find a really nice area, Julington Creek/Ponte Vedra area which was on the Southside of Jacksonville. This was perfect--beautiful, picturesque neighborhoods with nice "happy medium" lifestyle--not super rich like our current surrounding towns, but also not the other extreme like the other area of Florida either. Much more established neighborhoods, safe/nice looking schools that are actually top rated for the entire state, and is even following the curriculum that they follow here. It looks like a town that I could totally see us enjoying. However, this area is about 50 minutes away from the new office location (without traffic) which isn't ideal, and even if Matt were to commute, I don't see him being happy with the mixed clientele he would be working with. I don't think it would work if he wasn't happy in his job setting. Another really big drawback is that this area is an additional half hour from Jen and Jim, which is a big draw back for me. They hoped to get a vacation place in Amelia Island, which would mean we would be seeing them frequently in that area. Here, although they do visit often as well, is not an area they plan to frequent as much. Half the point was to see them and have them in our lives regularly. Also, even though it's only an extra half hour, they are also our "safety net"/comfort in case of emergencies, and an hour and a half just feels a lot further and makes me more nervous being all alone down there.

So, although there is rumor of something opening in that area as well, we told the bosses no thank you to the new office location, didn't push on the other area, and told them we're going to stick it out in NJ for another year or two. Then, as they continue to grow and expand throughout the state of Florida, we can revisit the idea in another year or two. In the meantime, our plan is to stay here and keep tackling some of our challenges we are currently facing.

First, come the fall, once Ashley is in Kindergarten and Emily is back to preschool, I plan to pick up another full day at work, or find something part time elsewhere so Matt doesn't have to work as much. As upsetting as this idea is to me, and not the "plan" we had had, this way is currently not working for any of us. Matt is working like a dog at work, I'm working like a dog at home and working pt. He really misses us, and we really miss him. Hopefully this plan will balance things out a little more, while still tackling the financial hardship we are in.

Although I'm still not particularly fond of this area as a whole, in the last few months I have been establishing more friendships and have met several nice people in that church group. So that has given me a lot of hope about making it work here. The counselor also reassured me that my kids will tend to gravitate toward the types of people we surround them with and promote throughout these early years, so I don't have to worry too much about the hard/bad influences.

Also, I know I've complained a lot about how much I hate the cold. Our plan is to take a trip someplace warm during the winter to get a break from the awful weather, as well as visit Greenville more often than we have and see if these things help in the next winter or two. However, if I continue to go through depression for months and months at a time despite these efforts, we will be moving at the end of that time. It is not good for me, my marriage, or my children to have a miserable and depressed person for 6 months out of the year.

So, we are going to give it our best shot to work on things here since we do love having our family around and in our lives on a regular basis. We will see how things go, then revisit the possibility of moving down south in a couple years. IF we did end up moving down south at that time, we'd now be 2 years closer to retirement for grandparents (mom may even be retired by then), we will be more caught up financially (and have more equity on our home for reselling purposes). Just a better time overall.

Matt and I are both completely on the same page about everything, and I do feel 100% ok with this decision. As I mentioned in a previous post, the possibility of moving made me see things through the eyes of potential loss and has given me a deeper appreciate for some of the good things/people here, I'm more hopeful with newfound friendships, and I have an "I can always change my mind later" in the back of my head if I need to. In the meantime, we will take things one day at a time, enjoy the good things here, leave it up to God and see what happens....

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Quick Florida Update

So....I don't have a lot of time, but wanted to throw out a quick update.

Matt and I leave to go to Florida for the weekend to check out the area in order to help us make a decision about whether to stay or leave. Matt was told the official site of the new office, so now we know the exact location and can narrow down potential areas and search. We are meeting with someone who works for his company (and lives down there), and she will take us around certain areas. Then we get to visit with Jen and Jim again (yay!!!) and they will show us around as well.

I'm excited and also nervous. Part of me feels like it'll just further complicate things because I KNOW that look wise and weather wise it'll totally be up my alley. But part of me feels conflicted about leaving still.

At first everything was happening so fast like a whirlwind, then we've had a good month of nothing to really think about the pros and cons. There is a part of me that wants to get the heck out of here. I hate hate hate the weather as you know. I'm not a huge fan of the people here as a whole, their mentality or their values. However, I have met some more nice people over the last couple of months, and am developing nice friendships in addition to a couple really nice ones I've developed. So that has really given me hope about if we stayed here. The thought of leaving has had me/us see things through the eyes of loss, and what we'd be leaving behind. There are people I'd really miss, both for myself, Matt, and our girls.
Part of me is still really sad about the idea of leaving our families. Cousin Robby was born, so now there's another cousin to leave. Matt's mom has also made it clear that she has no intention of living down in Florida, even part time. This really was upsetting to hear because they'd be a great loss to us and the girls. I didn't expect them to move--they've had their lives up here. They have their other son, grandchildren, family and friends. I would never ask them to leave all of that behind. But I did really hope that they'd be open to at least coming down for a few months throughout the year once they retire.
Spring is finally here, things are blooming, flowering and looking alive again, which makes me enjoy it here. For instance, my backyard is a love-hate thing. I HATE the winter here, however I LOVE our backyard in the spring and summer--it's absolutely beautiful and so peaceful to sit out there when it's warm enough.

So, needless to say, Matt and I are both conflicted. The thing is, the weather is never going to change. I probably will never adjust to the months of cold, dark, dreary months and months. I've tried everything I could to curb the depressed feelings I've had to no avail. But again, now that I've been making additional friendships, maybe that will help alleviate the negatives? Not sure...
I have made nice friends with more budding. However, I still worry that even if we surround ourselves and kids with nice, kind people, we are still going to be exposed to the larger population of negative, harder, cynical and materialistic people in the area and school. And even if I surround us with that, there will come a day when my influence will become less and less, and the girls peers will become more and more. And that still worries me.
The financial issue and stress is getting worked out. Next year Ashley will be in Kindergarten which will cut the preschool cost in half. We're on track to get out of some debts, so Matt will be able to cut back on extra work. Once girls are both in school I'll bring in more income if we hang on that will get better too...but it's still the "in between time" of hanging on that's long and hard and taxing on both the girls and on us.

But...we have family. We have more time together than we would. It's a tough decision....I'm sad and scared to leave, but I'm also sad and scared not to.....

Hopefully the Florida trip will help bring us some clarity. Will keep you posted on our decision.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bittersweet Moment

Had a bittersweet moment. We got rid of all of our baby clothes and most of our baby items this week. I had held onto EVERYTHING we owned JUST IN CASE we decided to have another baby. We were pretty set on 2 children from the get go, but I wanted to hold onto the stuff just in case we had a change of heart over time. But, we have officially closed that door. We decided that our hearts are full and our family is complete. So now that it's official, we decided to do some purging since the baby items were taking up 70% of our basement storage.
In one way, clearing out all the space felt great! A daunting chore was finally done. On the other hand, very sad to give up our things. Although they are just things, and we can't take any of it with us when we die, these things connected me to their babyhood, and wonderful memories. Given the sentimental person that I am, I did allow myself to keep one big bin of combined baby clothes from newborn up to almost 2T. That way I can reminisce over them, let the girls see some of their stuff and how little they once were, and if by any chance they want any of it for their own children someday, they can have it or turn into a quilt or something.
I gave a ton of clothes to my good friend Jodi. (I checked with siblings first with items). I've known her since the 5th grade. She has twins, one boy and one girl. I gave her 12 month-2T. The nice part about her having them is that I can see her little girl wearing them, and again reflect back on when my babies were in those outfits, which is really nice. I donated the other half to Good Will. I was blessed to have wonderful friends who happily shared/passed down or loaned me tons of baby clothes, so I thought it would be nice to return the good gestures, to help out a friend and others in need. Then I sold some items such as strollers, pack and plays, etc.

On to the next chapter of our lives.... Florida updates because there hasn't been any yet....Matt is meeting with his bosses on Monday to discuss all details, and we'll know a lot more after we've had questions answered. Will keep posted.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Happy Parents or Happy Grandparents?

So...the title of this blog is where I'm at in life. Anyone whose read my blog, or really knows me, knows where I stand and how I feel about my current living situation. It's gotten to the point where I finally decided to go talk to a counselor to help me figure out my life. As a counselor myself, I know how helpful a counselor can be. They can give you unbiased opinions, ask good questions that family and friends may not ask, they don't give you unsolicited advice, they just help you seek out your path, etc. I also know to take care of myself, and when to know when to seek help. Honestly, it should have been sooner, but didn't have good insurance until recently.

Anyway, I went to her about the living situation/dilemma. I'm not sure how biased/unbiased she is considering she is an older woman living in New Jersey herself, but I did share all of my feelings, opinions, and experiences of North Jersey. I did not mince words, and basically said that with the exception of having family close and a couple of good friends I've made here, I hate the rest of it.

In the last few weeks, things have kind of transpired. Well, I was skyping with one of my best friends Jen. She and her husband Jim lived in SC with us. After we had grown so close, she ended up leaving to move back to be closer to family after she had kids. We'd take turns visiting each other, and have remained very close over the years. Anyway....she and I were chatting. She was joking/half joking/half serious telling about this place in Florida called Amelia Island that she thought we should move to. She and Jim have been talking about wanting to live there themselves for several years now, and have hopes to either move there or at least get a weekend house there within the next year. After hearing all about it, it sounded really amazing and right up my alley. So I was telling Matt, really joking, about how Jen was trying to get us to move down and we should. Matt responded with a serious answer and was like, "let's go". His eagerness and willingness totally caught me off guard, especially since I had been kidding.

So, since I've been unhappy here, we both started really looking at the area online, just to dream at first. It really does look and sound fantastic. We both researched the schools, demographics of the area--population, crime rates, statistics, etc. The weather sounds phenomenal....It's actually one of the least likely places in Florida to get hit with hurricanes. It does have a "cold month" where it drops down to 50s during the day and even freezing temps at night...which honestly, I wouldn't mind "cooling down" from hot Florida weather, but it's still totally mild and NOTHING compared to long, cold months here. It also doesn't get too too hot (not above mid 90s, give or take). It has lots of beach and ocean which we both love, allows for boating which we enjoy doing as a couple and family--Jen already said Jim would split a boat with us. It has tons of golf courses and football--college and pro, which Matt likes. It's got a small town feel with enough to do, and then bigger city Jacksonville is 20 minutes away. Jen also said that it's similar to Greenville in all the ways I liked--like Greenville, it's a bit of a melting pot, where some people are originally from there, while others have moved from all over. So they are eager and willing to make new friends, people are very friendly like I loved and miss, and we're in the south which means lots of churches to choose from with people with similar values/attitudes toward life. I love being out in nature, ESPECIALLY coastal nature, and I could really do that all year long. Even during the couple of hot months, it's still cooler in the morning and evenings, and there are pools and ocean to cool down in. Granted, we have to see it in person to really know, but sounds amazing.
Anyway, the more we looked the more and more we got intrigued by the idea. Then, out of the blue, Matt's boss comes in. His job has tons of offices in NJ, and a couple random ones in Florida. Well he comes in and tells Matt that they are opening up a new office in Florida. And guess where? Right by Amelia Island. He also (without Matt having mentioned anything about how we've been looking at the area), says to Matt, "you really should consider going down there". What are the odds????
That made the idea seem REALLY intriguing. To go down there, where the cost of living is a lot less, still getting his northern pay would be amazing. We could get a house twice our current size, in an amazing area, for 100,000 less and 1/3 of the taxes. Matt could totally afford to only work one job again, even with me doing the one day a week of work. And in a few years when I pick up another day or so, we'd be doing quite well. And Matt, being the go-getter that he is, has already looked into transferring our licenses and it would be pretty easy for both of us to do. (Who knows, maybe his boss would even pay for the moving expenses if they really wanted him down there).
So, that throws another wrench into ideas and plans and dreams.

So I've had an unbiased person helping me figure things out. We have talked about options:

One is to stay here. She told me, which I already know about myself and have been saying forever, is that I am a "feeler". I get a lot of my feelings and energies from my environment. For instance, when people are fighting and angry, I pick up and absorb the energy and it makes me feel anxious or stressed. So environment affects me a lot. When I live in a place that is sunny and warm, where there are flowers and cheerful things around me all the time, I feel happy and cheerful. When I am in a place that is cold, gloomy, dark, things are dead for months at a time, that makes me feel miserable. Combine that with the people in the environment...where down south people were kind, friendly, helpful, having beliefs and conversations about God....that was great. When people here are more negative, cynical, hard, less willing to open up, materialistic, I feel that in a negative way. So you take those things, and combine them with having walked away from my "dream" of living down south, walking away from so many people, places and things that I loved so much, and you have one miserable person.

If I didn't have Matt and the girls to consider, I wouldn't even be up here again in the first place. I'd be living "happily ever after" down south, loving it. But I do have Matt and the girls, and I want us ALL to be happy. I have grandparents who LOVE us so much, and get so much joy out of having us close. We have siblings and now nieces and nephews. I told the counselor that if I were to move away, I'd have tremendous guilt and feel horrible for having brought us back up here, having them enjoy and love this time, then taking them away again.

But the counselor asked me a good question. What is better for your family (husband and kids): happy parents or happy grandparents? Yes everyone is so happy you're here, but if mom is depressed and miserable for 6 months out of the year, and dad is overworked and never home, IS THAT really best for your kids? That resonated with me.

We explored the reasons we moved here/are currently are here.
1. Having family more involved. One thing I will say for sure that is a blessing being here is that it has shown both of us how much we really do love and value the grandparents in our girls lives. First, having lived with Lisa and Bruce when we first moved up here really brought us closer, especially me with them. I feel like we got to know each other better than we ever have, we had good talks and good times, I enjoyed watching them with our kids because they truly are wonderful grandparents.
Prior to living here, I had gotten so used to being on our own and being independent that I loved our family, but I was neutral on the decision. I was ok if they were involved on a regular basis, but I was also ok if they weren't because I was just used to it. That has changed. I desperately want the grandparents involved in my girls lives. All of them bring gifts, qualities and wonderful things into the girls lives, and also into ours. I had a very close relationship with my grandparents growing up, and I want the girls to have that as well. I just wish it could be somewhere else.
I moved here to be closer to our extended family. I love my extended family and have so many wonderful memories growing up with them, wonderful holiday memories, etc. However, that hasn't panned out quite as I had hoped. I'm still just a little too far away. I'm not close enough to just "pop over", or have a random visit with them. A lot of times when I go up to visit, it's for a shorter time now that the girls go to school (weekends visits), so I don't always get the chance to get away and go see them. When we lived far away, I typically saw them 1x/year during the holidays. Now that I'm "close", it's probably only 1-2x more if I'm lucky (for both mine and Matt's.  And if we do see more, it tends to be Matt's side). Also, the wonderful memories of holidays together has changed. People have kind of split off and are doing their own things vs the big get togethers.
I also moved here hoping it'd give me more one-on-one time/visits with siblings/niece and nephews. That hasn't quite panned out either. In Cheryl's case, she and Billy don't have reliable vehicles and I think she feels a little anxious driving long distance on her own. So she makes the trip with mom, and it's still always visiting in a group setting. And quite honestly, it's not that enjoyable. Mom stresses Cheryl out, Cheryl stresses mom out. So there's passive aggressive comments or tension sometimes, which takes away from our visits. Andrew and Lauren are working full time, Matt's working like a dog to afford living in Nj, so we don't really get to see them as much. A lot of times that leave us getting together as groups, which also leads to more tension and arguments than when we hang out one on one for some reason. So in reality, we probably only see them once every-other month or so, and not in the ideal ways like I/we had hoped when moving back.
I have made a couple of really good friends here, but it isn't always enough to make up for the parts I hate about here, the people as a whole, etc.

The only other reasons I'm currently here is out of guilt and fear, and everyone else's feelings.  Honestly. As I said, tremendous guilt of taking the girls away from everyone again. Fear of the what if's. What happens if there is an emergency and we're far away? What if someone needs us and we can't just jump in the car and be there?

The therapist helped me work through the questions and fear.

As far as the guilt thing, there was that question she presented to me that I mentioned. What is better for your kids, happy parents or happy grandparents? Gods honest answer is that I have been trying so hard to make this work. I really really want it to because it makes the most sense on paper. We are "close to family" (moreso Matt's, but driving distance to mine). Honestly though, I don't see this being a long term place. I don't see it being where I want to stay and retire. This area does not reflect who I am, what I like, or my values at all. Also, living down south changed me. I don't think I can go back and unknow what I know. Or unwant something that I saw made me so happy.
Aside from the environmental factors that I dislike, it's just too darn expensive. Yes, I get that we live close to NYC and that's nice, but in my eyes, I just don't see what makes this place worth the expenses. Currently, Matt is back to working 2nd, and even third job for the time being. He works 5 days a week, from breakfast time (early) until right around bedtime for girls. 8/8:30--50% of the time seeing them, 50% not. Plus now he works Saturdays for most of the day. We literally have one day with him. That SUCKS. Granted, part of it is so that we can save for our Italy trip and not go further in the hole, but trip or no trip we just cannot afford to have him or myself not work more. We already went $11,000 backwards (just on living expenses, not on wasting away on luxury) during the time Matt went back to 1 job. And that is with me working a full day again, plus additional day with group and phone sessions other days. And yes, I could work more days. But I bring in more money in 1 1/2 days of working that some people do in working 4-5 days/week. And more importantly, I have wanted to be a stay at home mom for forever (at least until they are in kindergarten). That is something Matt and I discussed, both wanted and value, and planned to do from before we even got married. I feel like by moving up here, I walked away from most of my hopes and dreams. This is the last little piece I still have, and to give that up too, just to live in a place that I don't even like, would be the straw that broke the camels back, especially since I know there are a million other places I could easily live (and like more than here) where I wouldn't have to work extra right now. But at the same time, I'm honestly not even enjoying "my dream" of being home with the girls, because it's really hard with Matt being gone working all day. I feel like a single mom 6 days out of the week. I'm burnt out, he's burnt out. And because I am, I'm not being as good of a mom (or wife) as I normally am. I'm tired, stressed, crankier, etc. So it sucks. It's taking a toll on our children and our marriage.

Anyway, getting back to the guilt thing, the counselor said that if we were to move away, we could easily afford to down south and make it work with our family. First off, since we both DO want our family around, we would get a place that would accommodate them and allow for them to come and stay as long as they would like (especially grandparents after they retire). The one bonus to Florida is that a lot of people tend to move to Florida to retire, so many homes are set up with either an in-law suite with a  2nd master bedroom and private bathroom, or even in some cases a totally separate living space on the same property, with their own kitchen and living space. Ideally, I'd prefer the latter, just so we all have some personal space and time, while still enjoying each other a lot of the time. If we had that, we'd welcome and encourage family/friends to come down for as long as they'd like, and hope that the grandparents would take turns coming down for months at a time (maybe even 6 months each or something). Even in that best scenario, we wouldn't see them all year though..but at least it'd be a good part of the year, and some grandparent would hopefully be around all or most of the year. The only negative is that there's still a few years until retirement. Mom only has 1-3 (at most), but Lisa and Bruce feel they need to work another 6 years. So that is rough because we want them there now. Lol.
The counselor also pointed out that given the cheaper cost of living, we could use my salary to put away to use for travels--so we can come visit, so we can help others afford to visit us, so we can hop on a plane if there is an emergency, etc. But...realistically, it's still not as ideal as right now as far as family. But it is do-able. I think it grandparents were able/ready to retire right now, it'd be a no-brainer. As far as siblings/niece/nephews, as she put it, it's not like we're seeing them every weekend now anyway. It's every other month or so. Yes, it'd be less, but again we can help them fly down financially, or make the most of it when we see them. And there's Skype, and social media. Although I still feel guilty because I know how much the cousins love each other. Although the counselor did also say, as the kids get older, they are going to become more and more involved in school and extracurricular activities, and even less likely to get together during weekends and stuff. So then it makes me think, then what is the point of living here as long as we've got the grandparents with us for part of the year? As you can see, I'm so back and forth. Haha.

The other thing is that I'm afraid to make an emotional decision. I feel like that's how I got into this mess in the first place. In all honesty, I think a big reason I made the decision to move back north was because I had experienced the postpartum after Emily was born. My hormones were completely out of whack, I was emotional and freaked out. I wanted my mommy or Matt's mommy. I felt trapped and alone (which was far from the truth). So I made a knee-jerk reaction to move. And by the time my hormones were normalizing and life was settling down, we had already gotten the ball rolling to move, had our house on the market, was making the preparations to move. As a counselor I would have told my clients to wait 6 months after a major life change to make any other major life decisions, but I wasn't in a good/clear place at the time. I don't want to make another decision based off of emotion when I'm sad...although, deep down I know it's not the same. I haven't been happy since I moved here, and the growing sadness is because of that. But fear makes me second guess it....

I also made the decision for Matt and the girls. Even though I knew it wasn't ideal for me up north, I knew Matt went back and forth about living in SC. He'd say he felt "bipolar"--he loved it at times, enjoyed our friendships, lifestyle, weather, but he missed his parents and wasn't thrilled with work options and school ratings. I didn't want him to live in a place where he was unhappy, where he would end up resenting me for staying. I also wanted the girls to have grandparents involved in their lives. So I put their feelings and needs above my own. Now it's flipped where I'm less than thrilled here, feeling sad and angry about my lost hopes, dreams and loves. Trying to find a solution where we can ALL be happy. Not sure if there is one....

So anyway, here are our choices....

Stay here. Do nothing. Keep trying to make it work. Try to make the most of it. Try to focus on the positives (which there are some) and let go of other stuff. See if the financial burdens lessen as the girls go to school--no cost of preschool, me working some more....Take anti depressants for 6 months to get me through the rough months...haha. Although I'm only half joking, it may come down to that to get me through.....

Leave here, but move to someplace still close to family, although still not sure where that is. Honestly, neither of us want to move to upsate NY. I'd love to be closer to my family, but that'd be going even more backwards. It's usually even colder than here, and they have an extra two weeks before and after us of colder weather, and I can barely stand the long length now. And I had outgrown that area a long time ago. Yes it would give me nicer people and more affordability, but it's really not ideal.

We talked about moving to south Jersey again. Both of us liked it there, it's got our roots where we first met and got engaged, it's slightly warmer with less snow than north Jersey. But it's still Jersey, and quite frankly Jersey has left a bad taste in my mouth. It's also still colder than I desire. And quite frankly, it totally defeats the purpose of "living close to family" when we are now a couple hours from Matt's parents, and like 5 hours from my family. Now it's even further, more of an inconvenience. If I'm going to make an annoying long car ride, I may as well live in a place I/we really like.

There's the option of trying to find another state or place within a couple hours distance of both families, but that's kind of grasping at straws to move where there is no one we know.....

There's still Greenville, SC. Which to me, I LOVED and could/would live there in a heartbeat again. But, I don't think Matt would be as happy there. He totally jumped on the idea of Florida because he and I have always both loved Florida and atmosphere and what it has to offer....but he'd be more hesitant going there (Greenville). He'd go because he knows how much I loved it, but I'd wonder if he'd be happy or if he'd resent me for doing it. He also had exhausted all options for the good paying jobs there, and didn't really like anything there work-wise since it was so corporate. He also doesn't like the really bad school ratings. We both have said that we don't expect or want our kids to try to be Einstein, but we do want them to get a good education. He also thinks if we are going to take the plunge and be away from family, why not live in a totally ideal area. The only reason I'm more inclined to Greenville is that we have everything there. We have amazing friendships establishes there already, it has the church and community, the neighbors, the familiarity, the "home", the start of our family and where our children were born (although sadly, my home is gone)....we'd have a safety net, which is comforting being so far away from family (at least for part of the time).

Then there's Florida. I'm not going to lie, weather wise and environment wise, I love the idea of Florida even more than Greenville. After the winters here, I'm good with not having winters ever again. LOL. Greenville still had one, it was just shorter and less intense. 50's for a daytime low, beaches and palm trees sound very very very good. I love that Florida has more housing to accommodate family moreso than Greenville/very appealing styles of homes too. I love that even though I wouldn't have all of my Greenville best friends there, I'd have one of the most important ones that I had made there with me. And, although Greenville is still 6 hours from there, it's still better than 14. I could go for a weekend or longer weekend, and visit much more often than I can now. Florida also has a big airport within a half hour for cheaper/frequent flights. And it's actually just 2.5 hours further than Greenville was to drive since Greenville was so far west. It has the churches/lots of options and the friendly people from the south that I miss. It also has closer cities and things to do, whereas after you leave Greenville, you have a good hour before you get to another "hot spot".
Cons are that Jen and Jim could leave, then we'd have no one (although I'm sure we'd establish other good friends and develop a network and support, but something to consider especially after having had a hard time building up friendships here). It's still less ideal family situation, and it's uprooting our family/families in order to take a risk that we could either potentially love, or potentially regret).

I think the hardest piece is that it's not just me. If it were just me, I already know what I'd do, no questions asked. But it's not just me. I worry about what is best for Matt, what is best for our marriage, what is best for my children, what is best for the grandparents, cousins, siblings. I think about our friends....and I even think about some of my clients who are very attached to me. So it's so hard.

I told the counselor that I wish there was a physical sign, with an arrow pointing and saying "go here, this is the right choice for you". She did say, with all of the things that have transpired about the Florida thing/especially given the job thing, maybe we just got that sign.

I don't know. Needless to say, I've been praying and praying about it. Researching. Talking to others. Nothing needs to be decided one way or another until God makes it clear to us. If anyone reading this has any feedback, I'm always open to it.