Tuesday, October 29, 2013

House rules

I like to joke with my kids and with friends that I'll know I'm doing my job as a parent when I hear my kids tell their friends that their mom is the meanest mom in the world. 

Only half joking. 

I fully subscribe to the whole "the Latin root of the word discipline means to teach." Discipline isn't mean; I see it as setting boundaries to help my kids make sense of a world that is much, much bigger than them, and if left totally open to their whims, much, much scarier than it needs to be. The thing is, it's a big world. With lots of wide open spaces. Which means as a parent, we are CON-STANT-LY setting boundaries. 

It's exhausting, isn't it?!

There are plenty of Coussoule house rules, well articulated and known by all. There are also lots of assumed rules based on articulated expectations of behavior. And then... Well, then there's the gray areas. The places where you would think the rules are clear despite never being said out loud, but strangely, appear as wide open spaces because one of the kiddos misinterpreted the boundary. 

I try to be reasonable. When a boundary is misjudged, I tend to make a correction and give a second chance. But as the kids get older, pleading ignorance to rules gets less plausible; I'm finding that they're able to set their own boundaries in some of those wide open spaces because we've been consistent with rules and expectations. 

Parent brag #1: one thing Justin and I do really, really well is consistency. Which, of course, means my kids have even less wiggle room with the "I didn't knooooooooow!!!!!" plea. 

Last night, John found himself in a bit of a pickle when he was caught red handed catapulting right over one of those boundaries. I was enjoying a rare snuggle moment as he sat on my lap watching Monday Night Football before going up to bed. After a couple of minutes, Daddy came down the stairs and walked directly over to us with his hands cupped together, full of empty candy wrappers. 

Which he had found stashed behind John's dresser in his room. 

There are so many problems with this picture. Where to begin?

1. John took candy upstairs despite knowing that was against the house rules
2. John ate the candy in his room and hid the wrappers (circumstantial evidence points to the perp knowing he was guilty)
3. When faced with evidence of the crime, his only rebuttal was a hang dog look and silence

I fully expected Daddy to launch into a cross examination complete with judgement at the end, but he took the high road. He calmly explained exactly why leaving food on the floor invites bugs and rodents, which once established, are virtually impossible to get rid of. He voiced both his displeasure and disappointment that John knowingly did something wrong and then... That was it. I was mildly in shock, because this was a clear violation of house rules. 

So I thought for a minute, and then turned to John:

Buddy, you knew that was wrong, but you did it anyway. Not only are we disappointed in you making a bad choice, but now you may not have any candy the rest of the week. 

Okay, Mommy. 

Buddy, you know what happens this week, right?

Oh, if pitiful eyes could change hearts, the world would be a peaceful place. But - but - John has the meanest mom in the world. And as his lip quivered and he pitifully half-whispered "Halloween?" I honestly had a "this hurts me more than it hurts you" parenting moment. 

And then I said, that's right, Buddy. Halloween. And you may not have any of your candy for the rest of this week. 

Parent brag #2: when Justin and I say something to the kids, whether it's a fun promise or a discipline promise, we stick to it. No matter how much it sucks for some or all of the parties involved. 

I hate that he won't be able to eat his candy on Halloween. We usually let the kids eat more than is good for them that one night, and like kids everywhere, they love it. But this year, John will have to watch from the sidelines while his sister dumps out her bag and makes her choices. 

It's a hard lesson learned, but given the disproportionate importance of Halloween in a kid's world, I think it's one that will stick with him. And when he thinks of it years from now, maybe when he's a parent, he'll understand that the meanest mom in the world loved him enough to give him boundaries as a way to prepare him for the big, scary world. 

Monday, October 28, 2013


The closing speaker at the Women's Meeting I attended last week spoke about ways to achieve your goals. Her personal method was the CRAVE method:

C  lean out the clutter
R  aise your energy
A  ffirmations
V  isualize
E  xpress thanks

With the last idea, she specifically talked about cultivating an attitude of gratitude, and outlined simple ways to do so. One of her recommendations was to keep a gratitude journal. That really spoke to me - I don't know that I can devote the time to keeping a journal, but I can at least devote a blog post to all the wonderful things in my life for which I am so grateful. 

I am grateful for my husband's never ending, never failing, never faltering love and support. He has given up multiple professional opportunities to allow me to pursue my career that means so much to me. He doesn't tolerate my (some would say) excessive running and training; he encourages me and creates conditions at home to give me the time it takes to do those things. He is an amazing father to our children. He does infinitely more to make our house a home than I do. We have a good life, because he has worked hard to make it so. 

I am grateful for my children. They love me like nobody else on Earth does simply because I am their mother. Their one and only. They may not realize how grateful I am for their love, but I cannot imagine my life without it. 

I am grateful for my family. They've known me my whole life and love me, anyway. There are too many reasons to list why I'm grateful for each of them, so I'll list one that I come back to time and time again: I am grateful that my sister and my brother are also my friends. True, honest, can't wait to spend time with them friends. 

I am grateful that I'm back to running. I hope I don't ever take my health for granted again. Slow or fast, struggling or cruising, doesn't matter. I'm running, I'm grateful. 

I am grateful that I love my job. I spend a lot of time at work. My life would be so different if I didn't look forward to being in the office.

I am grateful that I am a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. The opportunities I've been afforded; the people I've met; the places I've been; the person I've become all directly link back to those crucible four years.

I am grateful for so many things, honestly, the list could go on and on. So maybe this will become a regular(ish) thing on my blog. I certainly hope it becomes a regular thing in my daily life, telling people that I'm grateful for them and the way they touch me and my life.

How about you? What is your daily gratitude today?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's Countdown

It's nice to know, when you've been gone for six days, that you've been missed. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Trifecta weekend

I'm currently on a plane somewhere over one of the western states on the business portion of my business/personal trip this weekend. The personal part is over, and it was a great weekend - I hit the trifecta with my trip home!

Saturday: midnight yell and A&M vs. Auburn in my first game at Kyle Field in twelve years. 
Sunday: Mom's birthday. 
Sunday afternoon: my niece Claire's dedication at church. 

 All for the low low price of free. 

Why free? Because of our sweet work policy allowing us to tack on personal travel to business travel. I have a conference in Los Angeles Monday through Wednesday, a plane ticket for which the company would've paid about $900. XNA is repeatedly on the top five most expensive airports list, so you aren't getting anywhere much cheaper than that. Without a Saturday night stay, that is. 

Sometimes, things just fall into place. 

Tack on a side trip to Houston over the weekend, and suddenly the plane ticket drops to $670. Company charges you the difference on business/personal, but when it's cheaper, we all win. Boom. See? Just fell into place. Thank you, Uncle Procter and Uncle Gamble!

I got in Friday afternoon and had a couple of hours at home before we headed up to College Station. It's such a novel thing to see my family twice in a month. I honestly can't remember the last time I've seen them this much (yet another great thing about living in northwest Arkansas) so it wasn't nearly the giddy reunion it has been for so many years when I showed up. Well, except for the dogs. Roy's dog Rowdy is a total spaz, so that was quite a reunion. 

Relaxed, watched a little tv, then off to Midnight Yell, Aggieland style. Unlike the away game, this was full blown Friday night Yell Practice - the band, the Corps, the dates, KYLE FIELD. With the celebrity in the family, we got to march in with them. Pretty great stuff. I don't think it will ever get old, seeing my brother the Yell Leader.

There were plenty of Aggies there to get ready to BTHO Auburn. Including the President of A&M, humping it like any good Ag right in front of me. 
With Dr. Loftin before marching in
Next day was game day, and it dawned bright and spectacularly beautiful. I hit the Aggie bookstore for some souvenirs for the kids, Brazos Running Company in search of some new maroon and white running gear, and then it was time to get over to campus for the pregame festivities. 

Kyle Field!!
Watching warmups and the march in on the field!!
Me and Johnny Football - we're practically buddies
Wait, whaaaaat???
Lambo, the kicker - dude is HUGE
Coach Sumlin
Me and the BMOCs - Ryan, the head Yell Leader, and the Corps Commander
Somehow, some of my brother's famous luck rubbed off on me. My mom and I headed to the stadium early, but our tickets weren't together so we parted ways and I followed the signs to section 145. At least, I thought I was following the signs. Next thing I know I'm heading down a ramp with a bunch of people much more dressed up than I, walking on the track, and looking around for my entrance to the bleachers. 

And then I thought - well, why not? I hang out trying to decide if I should blend into the background or just act like I belonged there. My indecision only lasted for a few minutes, though, because here came the Yell Leaders... and with that, my implicit permission to be on the field. See? Fell into place. 

What a thrill to be up close and personal to the players and the Corps march on! Added bonus: last weekend was the Rally to the Guidons, where former Corps members come back and march in with their units, my dad included! 
Parsons Mounted Cavalry, each Corps outfit, Miss Reveille, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band: all contributing to the college football tradition that is Aggieland. 
Miss Reveille
Almost time for kickoff; national anthem and Texas Our Texas. That's right. Aggies sing the state song before games, too. God, I love Texas. 

NOW it was time for kickoff - so I hopped the wall to my front row seat that cost me... $0. Roy's comp ticket for being a Yell Leader. See again? Fell into place. Most excellent pictures all game long. 
Leading the Aggie War Hymn
The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band - the Pulse of Aggieland

The game was a nail biter, much closer than we would've liked, and unfortunately the Aggies ran out of time. Win or lose, it was a chance of a lifetime for me to be that close to the action, hang out with my brother on a beautiful day, and be a part of it all. 
After the game
Sunday was a lot more low key - I baked Mom's birthday cake in the morning, then headed down to Houston's First Baptist Church in the afternoon to join Susannah and Justin (yes, my brother in law's name is also Justin, and yes, it's confusing) at Claire's dedication. 

Oooooooohhh, I love me some sweet baby Claire!!!
So sweeeeeeet!!
Monday morning inevitably came, and that brings us full circle to me on a plane, flying over the Rockies  hurtling toward sunny California. I look forward to making the most of these two and a half days, too. Now that I'm back to running, I may get to see a little bit of L.A. in my favorite way - going about 7 mph on the Saucony express. 

I hit the trifecta last weekend, but once I roll this whole week up, I may be saying: JACKPOT!!

How California is different

1. Their taxicabs are Prius'. 
2. They have trash bins *and* recycle bins in the hotel room. 
3. At least half of the college kids on skateboards are wearing ties. I didn't get a picture; I was in the middle of my run and I would've been too much of a creeper. So here are a couple of pictures from the USC campus instead. 

4. Celebrity news is their local news, too. The big Kanye/Kim engagement was on the local morning show. Cray. 
5. The hotel elevators don't go to the second floor where all the meeting rooms are. 

Okay, that was probably just the hotel we were in. The one where 1962 called and wanted their wackadoodle architecture back. But still. 

It was a quick trip, there barely 48 hours. Long enough to see a few differences; long enough to appreciate home sweet home. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Feature: John's goals

Sometimes my son leaves me speechless. His long term goals may need some tweaking. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coussoule Day Weekend

Three and four day weekends used to be a monthly occurrence when we were in the Army, but unfortunately, the civilian world is pretty stingy with holidays like Columbus Day and Veterans' Day. My kids hit the sweet spot yesterday - Teacher Inservice Day for a three day weekend. So it was a holiday, but not a holiday. We'll just call it the Coussoule Day weekend - the Coussoule kids crowed about the extra day off as soon as school was out on Friday, brought it up again at dinner on Saturday, and gloated over it Sunday evening as they begged to stay up late.

So when you're 6 and 8, how do you fill a whole free day?

First thing in the morning, I was getting ready for work and suddenly heard loud, rhythmic piano playing directly above my head. I could tell from the volume and insistent beat it was John, so I grabbed my camera and ran upstairs to take a peek:

Naturally, early morning vacation day piano practicing should be done in your pajamas. Is there really any other way?

Caroline's bedroom door was still closed, but I knew there was no way she was asleep - she never sleeps in, and certainly not with the drumbeat of chords coming from the bonus room. More peeking, more pictures:

My little bookworm.

Off to work, no rest for the weary grown ups... but with the promise of a lunch date with my husband and kiddos, at least the morning went by pretty quickly. (And weirdly productive for a Monday, which is not relevant to the day off, but worthy of note because it's a rare occurrence.)

It wasn't just a lunch date, though - it was also HALLOWEEN COSTUME SHOPPING TRIP!!! The pop up shops have been around since Labor Day weekend, but us looking for costumes almost three weeks before Halloween? Unprecedented.

Caroline knew for sure, without a doubt, 100%, what she wanted to be: HARRY POTTER. I had tried to talk her into Hermione, or even a generic witch, but nope. That kid had her mind made up and her heart set upon The Boy Who Lived.

John was much more noncommittal - I thought Angry Birds was a big idea, but "Moooooooooooom, noooooooooooo!! It's too biiiiiiiiiiig!!" His plan: browse until struck by the perfect costume.

Front door pickup at work, and we were off to the specialty costumer shops. Where Mommy and Daddy immediately stroked out at the idea of paying $50 for a kids' costume. Puh-leeze. Not in this household. Off to Target!! Sadly, no luck. Though, if you happen to be in the market for the main character from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, you would be in luck.

Next stop, Party City - and BOOM. Pay dirt. Who knew they had two huge walls with numbered cards for about eleventy hundred costume options? Several of which were even in our stingy price range? And - when does this EVER happen - they had Harry Potter that was IN OUR PRICE RANGE. One happy kiddo, coming right up:

John browsed, and looked, and browsed, and looked, and, surprisingly, deselected mostly by himself because he's easily influenced by the phrase "that's too expensive." I had already tried a week or so ago to get a Luke and Leia thing going with them, but Caroline is o-u-t. She is neither interested in Star Wars or in doing something together with her brother. John was lukewarm (haha, see how I did that?) on the idea, too - he was Darth Vader last year, so maybe he thought he would find something better.

Like a Clone Trooper.

If he's General Grievous next year, I may start worrying about the Dark Side of the Force being strong with this one.

Then, lunch! Jason's Deli. Truth: fancy doesn't matter when it's bonus time with your family. It also doesn't matter when the restaurant has free ice cream.

They aren't complicated creatures, children.

So after a fun hour and a half of shopping and eating, the party was over, and it was back to the office for me. This is NOT what a day off looks like:

It seemed like half the office was out yesterday, for various (mostly legitimate) reasons - hence the productivity - but it also enabled me slipping out the door a little before 5PM, which has become an even rarer occasion than a productive Monday. We were supposed to have our end of season soccer party after last night's game, but the day had turned rainy and gloomy, so with soccer cancelled, I had an unexpected free night at home. I picked up my book and curled into the chair in the office while John prepared to dance with abandon to Pandora.

He used to dance with me, grooving like nobody was watching. That brief golden period is apparently over; when I went to grab the camera he adopted the self-conscious don't-take-my-picture pose, so this is as good as it gets. At least he went back to dancing when I left him alone. *sigh* My kiddo is growing up, even when I'm not watching.

Grilled cheese and soup dinner, another chapter in The Phantom Tollbooth, bedtime and Monday Night Football for Mommy. Yesterday was a day full of the small moments that fill my heart. I have a good life.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Feature: God's artwork

I don't know if it's the beautiful weather or the time of year where the sun hangs lower in the sky, but we've had some of the most remarkable sunrises and sunsets in the last week. The vivid hues in the sky were breathtaking, and I don't think there ever was or ever will be a painter that could capture the beauty in all its essence.

For today's feature, instead of highlighting something from the kids' school week, I thought I'd share the ultimate artwork from the Creator Himself.

Sunrise over Mt. Comfort Rd. 

Sunset over Mt. Comfort Rd.

Rain's coming... but it doesn't dampen the glory of the late afternoon sun

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Any time is a good time

As far as favorite ways to pass the time, reading is waaaaay up there. Top of the list in rarified company with running and watching football. Right now, I think Caroline agrees. She loves to read, and her nightly homework of fifteen minutes of reading is no problem. 

John, on the other hand, is hit or miss. Certain books he'll read over and over - the Berenstain Bears, for example. Others, it's more of a struggle. We tried Magic Tree House last summer but interest waned after about eight or nine books. We've considered and rejected Junie B. Jones a couple of times, though we did come home with a couple of those after our Sunday trip to the library. 

The main theme I've seen with John is disinterest in reading above his grade level, despite his ability to do so. Since I have no patience for lazy, I dragged him to the chapter book section of the library, but with a concession to his first grade interests - there's a whole series on Star Wars. It may be a little challenging, but at least I figured he'd be interested in the subject matter. 

Nailed it. My good morning surprise:

Truth be told, he just takes after his sister:

Reading before school under the cozy covers. What a great way to start the day. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Feature: John's love note

I frequently see a small person standing in the doorway when I pull into the garage at the end of a work day, and I'm not going to lie - it never gets old, it's way better than a dog, and it's frequently the highlight of my day. Yesterday, as I pulled in, I saw John open the door, give me a startled look (to be fair, I was home about a half hour early compared to most days recently), then quickly shut the door. A second later he reappears, sticks this to the door, and hurries back inside:

We do a lot of taping of decorations to the walls around here, and I figured it was an invitation to a party in the play room or a hint for a scavenger hunt that would end up in the bonus room. 

Upon closer inspection, though, I realized: it was a love note, from a son to his mommy.

I hope he never gets too big for these. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There's a spirit can ne'er be told

Hullabaloo, caneck, caneck!

Aggie traditions run deep, and the Aggie spirit runs deep in my family. My dad, sister and brother are all Aggies, and I could sing the Aggie War Hymn at the age of three. I was a proud member of a different Corps of Cadets, but my love for all things A&M isn't diminished by the fact that I'm not a graduate.

This past weekend, the Aggies played the University of Arkansas here in Fayetteville. The game has been circled on my calendar since the football schedule was announced, and I had hoped that my parents might make the trip up for the game, too.

Then, this past spring, my brother was elected an Aggie Yell Leader. Not cheerleader, you see - Yell Leader. I mentioned Aggie traditions run deep - and Aggie traditions are unique. As a University with a military, all-male heritage, they don't have things like cheers or fight songs. No, those are for regular, run of the mill institutions. At Texas A&M, they have yells. And a war hymn. Because, by God, A&M is Old Army.

Once he was elected as one of only five Yell Leaders, the game took on even more significance for me. The guys on the field in white are one of the enduring memories I have of watching A&M football all the way back to my first glimpse of the Aggie team on TV. For my brother to be one of those... well, it's basically having a celebrity in the family.

With my brother coming up as part of the pageantry of the game, my parents, sister-in-law and niece made the 9 hour drive to be there, too. And what a weekend we had.

Friday night, Roy and his fellow Yell Leaders came over for dinner. Caroline was a little bit star struck - she had a plan to get a picture of her with all of the Yells, get their autographs, and take it in to school to show everyone. Probably less impressive in a classroom full of kids raised on calling the Hogs, but I love her moxie to bring it in, anyway.

So the guys came over with their advisor for a big ol' cookout, courtesy of my husband who happens to be one of the great house-party-throwers of all time.

Burgers; hot dogs; brats; ribs; potato salad; pasta salad; watermelon; chips; dessert... throw in conversation with some of the nicest young men I've met since I was a college kid myself, and it was a great night. We talked football, watched a little bit of football, and of course, took pictures.

They headed out for another get together, and we got the kids down - for a nap. Because Friday night before a football game means Midnight Yell. And if you haven't been to Midnight Yell Practice... well, then you're missing out on one of the great Aggie football traditions.

Even with away games, Aggies get together at midnight before a football game and literally practice the yells. There is also some story telling; some poking fun at the other team; and in this case, some heckling from Razorbacks who showed up. By the end, even John had figured out how to hump it - and his favorite yell, of course, was: "BEAT THE HELL OUTTA ARKANSAS!" I'm conflicted about how proud I am.

We get to Saturday night, and it's time for the game - after a torrential, driving rain in the afternoon - but thankfully, most of it had moved out during the day. Mom and Caroline decided to stay home, but me, my dad, my sister-in-law, my niece, Justin and John all headed over to campus.

Roy had hooked us up with player tickets, and we were six rows off the field. Reynolds Stadium was rocking, and the Yell Leaders had the Aggie section fired up.

John's first football game, and I love that it was to see the Ags. Score was a little closer than I would've liked, but a win's a win - and seeing Johnny Football is one of things I'll be able to talk about when I'm old (okay, oldER - I get it).

Being at Midnight Yell and then the game reminded me of the love Aggies have for their school. Here we were, probably 600 miles away from College Station, at midnight in the parking lot of a high school in Springdale, Arkansas, and there were hundreds of Aggies of all ages there to practice yelling for their team. Not a football player in sight - this was about the spirit of Aggies, the love of tradition, the love of their school, and their love of other Aggies. Then in Razorback Stadium, with on and off rain (mostly on through the entire third quarter), outnumbered and outyelled by Hog fans, no Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, and still the Aggies were heard. The Yell Leaders gave us the signs, we passed them back, and we yelled ourselves hoarse. Because that's what the 12th Man does. No band, no problem - between the 3rd and 4th quarters, we still sang the War Hymn. Because that's what the 12th Man does. That is the Spirit of Aggieland.

So many great things about the weekend - seeing family, seeing my brother on the field, being in the middle of the 12th Man while the Aggies beat the hell outta Arkansas. My son is now determined to follow in his uncle's footsteps, which of course thrills me as I'm constantly trying to make sure my kids know they're at least honorary Texans. Maybe someday they'll be more than honorary - maybe someday they'll be Texas Aggies.

Gig 'em.