Friday, July 01, 2011

Lana's Year 4 Photo Book

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

18 month update

Dear Samantha,

Yesterday you turned 18 months old. It’s amazing to think that you’ve only been part of our family for a year and a half, because already I find it hard to remember life without you. It’s hard to recall how different our family dynamic was back when Lana played subdued games of hide and seek with the adults in the house and took splash-free baths all by herself. Or to remember how we went out to dinner and everyone remained at our table throughout the meal without getting up to make friends with all the other diners. Is it even possible that we once averaged only a couple of bodily injuries per week? You’ve brought excitement to our lives!

All kidding aside, it’s been a delight to watch your lovely personality grow and develop new dimensions with each and every passing day. You have such a kind heart and like everyone you meet as soon as you meet them. Unlike your sister at this age, you have no intrinsic fear of strangers and are more than happy to be picked up by the kindly mother in the booth behind us at dinner so you can get a better look at her baby. This obviously means I have to worry about you a bit more than Lana, but I like the way you show no fear in new situations and assume that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

You don’t limit your friends to humans, either. You are a natural animal lover and enjoy nothing more than encountering a dog while on a walk or at the playground. Your father has developed a new interest in fish over the past couple months, so we’ve spent a lot of time at pet stores looking around while he buys fish and then again when he returns them after they die. One day we arrived as the store employees were setting up for pet adoptions and found a couple of tiny kittens in a carrier. Lana zeroed in on the kittens immediately, but you were distracted by the fish and joined us after a few minutes. When you finally wandered over and peered down into the carrier, one of the kittens looked up at you and meowed in his tiny little kitten voice. You snapped your head back to me with a look of utter amazement and said to me, “MEOW!” in the cutest way imaginable. It was so cute that you actually out-cuted a kitten, so that’s really saying something.

It turns out that animals don’t even have to be cute for you to like them. You show just as much interest in the creepy crawly variety and don’t seem to understand why those aren’t welcome in our home. One day your Granny caught a spider in our house and transported it to the nearest toilet. You followed merrily along saying, “Hi!” to the spider and “Bye!” once it began the ride down the drain. And then the realization hit that the spider was GONE and you cried like you’d lost your best friend.

You are talking more and more every day now, and by talking I mostly mean barking out one word commands: “GO! MAMA! JUICE! CHEESE! GOLF CART! SHOES! LANA!” and the like. (That’s right, “golf cart” is one of the first things you’ve learned to say. We are SO Peachtree City.) Your favorite television show right now is a Nickelodeon program called Bubble Guppies. It’s about a bunch of singing mermaids (merkids?) that explore new things like camping, sports, space, and marching bands. When you’re in the mood to watch, you grab the remote and wave it around while yelling “BUBBLE!!!” at the top of your lungs. With your sister, we tried very hard to avoid all television until she was two years old. That’s proving to be harder with you for a couple of reasons. First off, you want to do whatever your sister is doing, and sometimes that’s watching shows like Bubble Guppies. Secondly, you spend a big part of the day careening through the house looking for the most dangerous activities you can find, so a few minutes in front of the television feels like welcome relief. Besides, Lana has learned all about the solar system and air travel from Bubble Guppies, so it can’t be that bad!

We concluded the month with a trip to your pediatrician for your 18 month checkup. Dr. Leard asked me if you were having any problems, but I didn’t mention the fact that I can’t open the dishwasher without you getting your hands on a steak knife or how you try to climb on everything in our house, including the dog. Instead I said, “Samantha is absolutely perfect and I’m totally, head-over-heals in love with her.” Because I really am, my beautiful baby girl.



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Remembering Kacky

Kathleen Upchurch, my great aunt, passed away on Sunday, December 11, 2010, at the age of 91. Below is the eulogy I was prepared to deliver at her funeral service but did not get a chance to, because the minister either forgot to call my name of just didn’t like the look of me.

My name is Jennifer Mayes. I’m the daughter of Teresa Mashburn Hanson, and the great niece of Kathleen Upchurch. Unlike most of my extended family, I did not grow up here in Carrollton. So the visits I made here were always very special. And no visit ever felt complete unless I had time to visit with my Great Aunt Kacky.

As a child, I spent time each summer with Kat and Hoss at their house out in the country. The time I spent with them felt magical, like I was stepping back in time. Kat and Hoss went about their lives in a way that seemed so strange and wonderful to me. They would step out into their backyard garden to pluck out fresh vegetables and produce for meals, and they would go to sleep at night without worrying about locking (or even closing) every door in the house. Their home was full of interesting and strange things, like the homemade checkerboard set we played on each night after dinner and the frozen turtle out in the carport refrigerator. Come to think of it, I’m still not really sure what was going on with that turtle… but that’s probably for the best.

Life moved at a different pace out there, but it was never dull. Kacky always had fun activities planned for me and she had a knack for taking simple things and making them amazing. She would take Styrofoam cups and turn them upside down in the oven until they melted into the shape of little hats. Then she’d pull out ribbon, flowers, and paint and we’d spend hours decorating those little hats until they looked fit for a queen. She’d offer up plain white pillow cases and help me paint them with stencils and monograms. She’d take me treasure hunting at the local salvage store. After every visit, I could hardly wait to bring my masterpieces and purchases home to show my parents.

Kacky would also wake up with me at 4am on the mornings that Hoss would take me fishing. She’d stand in the kitchen stirring a pot of warm milk to make homemade hot chocolate. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her do that, how utterly confused I was. I tried to delicately explain to her that hot chocolate actually comes in little packets full of powder, but Kacky assured me that her way would work to. And darned if that wasn’t the best hot chocolate I ever had.

At least once a day during my visits, Kacky would hand over the keys to her old Ford sedan and allow me to drive in endless loops around the circular driveway to the dirt road and back. I probably put a lot of miles on that car driving in circles, but Kacky was endlessly patient. She’d just stick her head out the door every now and then and call out, “You’re doing great, Jenni!” and allow me to decide when it was time to pull the car back into its parking spot.

As I grew older, I found less opportunities to spend that kind of time with Kacky. I finally turned 16 and got my license, headed off to college, started a career, and got married. Eventually I found myself pregnant with a baby girl and discussing with my husband the women in our lives we might honor with our name selection. For me, three amazing women immediately came to mind. My mom, Teresa; my grandmother, Dorothy; and my great aunt, Kathleen. We eventually settled on the name Lana Kathleen, though we told no one until the day of her birth. My mom was the first to hear the baby’s name and she couldn’t wait to share the news with Kacky. She later told me that, upon hearing the news, Kacky said something like, “Well that’s awfully nice. But I never really thought Kathleen was a pretty name.”

Now I guess I could have been offended by someone calling my new baby’s name “not pretty”, even if it was her namesake. But I knew Kacky well and I knew that comment was just so very Kacky. You see, Kacky never had a high opinion of herself, never thought she was anything out of the ordinary, despite the amazing things she accomplished in her life and the obstacles she overcame. But this is one thing she was wrong about. Kathleen Upchurch was a truly extraordinary lady and I, for one, am a better person for having known her.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Closing Time

Dear House,

You may have noticed that life on Ember Court has been crazy for the past few months, what with us leaving you every weekend to visit another house (the scandal!) and then abruptly packing up most of our stuff and leaving you all alone. We’ve been back to visit the last few weekends to remove the rest of our junk and get you cleaned to a shine, but now our time together is at an end.

It may seem silly to some that I’m writing a letter to what is essentially a pile of bricks and drywall, carpet and tiles. But you feel like so much more than that to me. You were the second home that John and I purchased, but the first one that we poured our blood, sweat, and tears into. During our time together, we learned how to plant a beautiful landscape around you, how to paint your rooms like professionals, and how to hire real pros for the projects we were too clueless to tackle. It was within your walls that some of the most wonderful and amazing moments in our lives took place – learning we were pregnant with each of our girls, going into labor both times, and finally bringing our babies home to you. For eight years you kept us safe from harm and warm/cool (and I’m giving you a pass on my sauna-like bonus room office).

I will never forget sitting in your empty shell eight years ago and marveling at your size. Imagining how we would try to decorate and furnish your rooms and sure that we’d never fill all the space. Now, after more than a month spent moving the things we accumulated that filled your every nook and cranny, your empty space seems so much smaller. Maybe it’s because I know just how much stuff a family of four can require, or maybe it’s because we filled your space with so many wonderful memories.

I am very happy to report that you will soon be home to a new family, a family that also happens to have a little girl to run through your hallways and fill your rooms with laughter. I hope they will love and care for you as we did and that you will, in turn, take good care of them.

Thank you for sheltering my precious family. You will always hold a special place in my heart.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Ten Month Update

Dear Samantha,

You experienced some big changes in the past month, not the least of which was turning 10 months old in a new house. If it sounds sudden, well it kind of was. You see, in mid-June your father and I went out with my second cousin and local real estate guru to casually scout out homes and neighborhoods in Peachtree City. We checked out three houses that ran the spectrum from sort of gross to not bad and then, BAM! We walked into the fourth house and instantly fell in love. It was a house that had everything we wanted and then some. A house that we could see you and your sister growing up in. A house that had just been listed at a bargain foreclosure price and, even in this terrible market, was sure to sell quickly. So, your father and I did something that was kind of crazy for us. We made an offer before even putting our old house on the market. Then we made another offer when a bidding war ensued. And we walked away with the keys to the house of our dreams.

I’m still not sure how things worked out so perfectly, but we sold our old house in record time, managed to paint the bedrooms in the new house (with help from Poppy!) over the course of a couple weekends, and found ourselves packing a moving truck by early August. We sent you to Granny and Poppy’s house the night before the big move so we could disassemble your crib and keep you out of the moving day chaos. Lana, on the other hand, remained at home so she could witness the move. She had lots of questions for us and the movers, like what kind of foods do the movers eat to get so big and strong? The answer? Vegetables, of course! She was also more than happy to help unpack all the toys in our brand new playroom.

By the time you arrived to the new house in the late afternoon, we had all the furniture in the house setup and the upstairs rooms all ready for you and Lana. The very first move you made was toward the stairs, of course. You climbed straight up them like an old pro and then crawled as fast as you could to the playroom. I wish now that I had videotaped the look on your face when you entered the room with all your toys, many of which had been boxed up due to a lack of space at our old house, spread out around you. Your squeal of delight made all the stress and turmoil of the preceding months completely worthwhile.

It took us no time at all to feel at home in our new place and, for you, that meant spending a LOT of time climbing the stairs. You were really great at going up the stairs and I’m sure you could have gone down even faster, but my strong desire to keep you in one piece forced me to gate them off as much as possible. This just forced you to seek out other sources of danger, though. You became increasingly fascinated with the toilets in the house. The little stools positioned in front of each one (for big sister) made them far too accessible. One day I caught you standing on top of a stool with your head half way in the toilet bowl, just centimeters from touching gross toilet water. Did I mention that your sister is also not the most reliable flusher? Such a bad combination!

Since I kept foiling your attempts to play in the toilet, you tried very hard to make the most out of your baths each night. You splashed until every surface in the bathroom was soaked and you made a game out of repeatedly standing up and sitting back down very quickly to make even more bathtub waves. During one round of this, you managed to lurch forward and catch the corner of a bath toy directly with your face. It left an instant black eye and slowed you down for almost an entire minute. Then it was right back to splashing.

Your black eye lasted for almost a week and was far more traumatic for me than for you. Every time I took you to the store I feared judgment and accusatory looks, but apparently many of the kind folks of Peachtree City have similar experiences with kamikaze babies. I got lots of sympathy and “been there, done that” stories from other parents and grandparents. Days went by and the Department of Family and Child Services did not come knocking on our door. So I was feeling pretty good as we finished settling into the house and began preparing Lana for the start of Pre-K. One of our assignments was to record her responses to a questionnaire about her likes and dislikes. When I asked her to respond to the statement, “I feel sad when…” she looked me square in the face and responded, “I feel sad when no one will give me anything to eat.” NO SHE DIDN’T. Your ridiculously skinny sister, who would probably be the only kid starting Pre-K at barely 30 lbs, was asking me to write down on a school form that no one would feed her. My head swiveled from her skinny frame to your shiny black eye and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I did not spend the last three years begging Lana to eat, the last three months moving you kids to a house in a good school district, and the last month rescuing you from the toilet to have you become wards of the state. So we wrote that she feels sad when we won’t let her watch television. Because that thing will rot your brain and we never allow it unless Shrek, Tinkerbell, Yo Gabba Gabba, Monster’s Inc., Madagascar, Word Girl, or one of those awesomely bad Barbie movies is on.

This will have to go down as one of the craziest months in the Mayes family history, but we survived it (mostly) intact and ended up settled in a home that we can enjoy and grow in for many, many years to come. Just keep your head out of the toilets, my sweet baby girl.



Monday, July 26, 2010

Nine Month Update

Dear Samantha,

Nine months old already! Once again, I’m amazed at how quickly nine months goes by when you’re not pregnant. Nine months as an uncomfortable, enormous pregnant lady seems like an eternity, but nine months as the mother to a baby as precious as you can never last long enough.

You spent the last month following in the footsteps of your favorite character, Dora the Explorer. You explored every inch of our house, mostly by crawling to and fro shoving everything you could find into your mouth. I don’t even want to think about how much BPA you ingested from the enormous amounts of plastic toys and packaging that you gnawed on. Or, what kinds of grossness might have been on the shoes I was constantly prying out of your mouth. You loved, in particular, shoe laces. Untying, twisting, pulling, and sucking on them -- it was all good as far as you were concerned.

The one thing you did not stick in your mouth last month was a blankie. THANK YOU FOR THAT. I spent at least three years of my life cleaning disgusting, germ laden bunny blankies soaked wet from your sister stuffing them in her mouth, so it was a huge relief to me that you did not begin sucking on cloth to soothe yourself. For your money, nothing was better than your left thumb. And why not? It was just the right size and it never ended up dropped on the side of the road or left behind at a wildlife refuge with free-roaming Llamas. Or left under a table at a restaurant. Or in a cubby at school. Oh, the drama we endured with sister’s bunnies… but I digress. Where were we then? Oh yes, thumbs. They rock. Your thumb-sucking habit was nice not only because your thumb never got lost and was easy to clean, but also because it was a reliable indicator for when you were tired or hungry. If the thumb was in your mouth, it was time to eat or time to sleep. Everything in life should be so simple.

To distract you from the many delicious shoes and plastic bits around the house, we took you to our neighborhood pool for the first time. Walking through the gate, I was immediately reminded of the first time we brought Lana to the pool three years earlier, and not just because you wore the same bathing suit. Your reactions really could not have been more different, though. My 10 month old Lana took in that enormous body of blue water and looked at me like, “That can’t possibly be safe. Are you sure that water is properly cleaned and those lifeguards are adequately trained?” And you, my dear, looked at me like, "HELLS YEAH! Let's do this thing!” Lana couldn’t be forced into the water and you couldn’t get in fast enough. Your big sister eventually grew to love the pool, but it took multiple trips and many baby steps to get her comfortable in the water. You, on the other hand, just jumped right in and splashed until I thought your little arms would fall off.

I’m sorry to hijack your update with another comparison to your sister, but I’m constantly amazed by the dramatic differences in your personalities. You are both very much your own people, even at this young age -- a fact that both amuses and thrills me. Before you were born I envisioned raising a little Lana clone, which makes you quite a surprise. A wonderful, fearless, adorable surprise. I love both you and your sister dearly for the different people you are and can’t wait to see what you do next.

All my love,


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eight Month Update

Dear Samantha,

Your eighth month went by in a blur – a blur of arms and legs, knees and hands. You learned to crawl this month and took off with the enthusiasm of a teenager who had just received her driver’s license. The freedom! The need for speed! The look of terror on Mom’s face!

You crawled from room to room as fast as your little limbs would take you, exploring and doing your best to keep up with big sister. Unfortunately, like a teenage driver, you were also prone to accidents and experienced more than your share of face plants and wipeouts. The spills were not enough to temper your enthusiasm for crawling, though. After the harder falls, you would pick yourself up and crawl over to me crying or chanting “Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma.” I would hold you and let you nuzzle into my neck and in no time you were hurling yourself back down to the floor to start going again.

You were in such a hurry to get moving that you began to sit in a sort of ready position, with one leg extended in front of you and the other folded back like a sprinter stretching her quad out before a big race. From that position you could sit and play with a toy or whatever random thing you uncovered that you really shouldn’t have and then launch into a crawl in an instant. It was rare to find you sitting any way other than this. Come to think of it, it was rare to find you sitting at all this month.

You began pulling yourself up to a standing position within days of learning to crawl. Your dad found you standing up in your crib for the first time when he went to check in on you after putting you down for a nap. You were so angry that you should be expected to spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon napping that you literally stood up to protest. And so it began.

With your newfound mobility came an intense distaste for anything that required you to hold still. That included diaper changes, nail clippings, naps, and changes of clothing. I would often break a sweat after baths in the evening while struggling to get you dressed. You would flip and roll and generally refuse to remain stationary long enough for me to close the exasperating snaps on your favorite pajamas. On one particularly challenging evening, I handed you off to your father and told him I’d rather try to put pajamas on a feral cat. At least then the scratches would be easy to explain.

You may have developed a wild streak, my darling, but you we no less loveable or squeezable because of it. In fact, with you on the go so much, the cuddles and hugs we shared were all the more precious.