Saturday, June 26, 2010

Of Dreams and High Finance

We placed an important phone call this morning. It seems that Kolbe and his good buddy back in Georgia had Urgent Spy Matters to attend to.

Listening in on half the conversation proved both entertaining and enlightening.

I've said before that eight is a sweet, sweet age. Kolbe has a dozen passions - and spying is one of them. Several years ago I stumbled upon a rough spy manual he had penned. Among the instructions:

1. Dress in black.

2. Find a clue.

3. Find a ihding (sic) place.

4. Check if the coast is clear.

5. Run!

6. Use your binoculars.

Kolbe is a visionary, a dreamer, a schemer, a planner. Two summers ago he was bent on making a movie. He is perpetually in the middle of writing a new book. In May he began construction on a castle.

Like visionaries through the ages - from Christopher Columbus to Henry Ford - Kolbe keeps hitting one perpetual roadblock: financing.

So it is with the spy gear. Kolbe and his buddy discuss the merits of laser guided trip wires and sunglasses with hidden cameras. And then the conversation turns to dollars and cents.

They discuss pooling their paltry allowances, having a lemonade stand, or waiting until the fall to offer leaf raking services. The lemonade stand seems the most promising option. They begin debating whether to have one or two stands. Kolbe is obviously in favor of a single supplier.

"People wouldn't know which stand to go to," I hear him share. "Then there would be a price war."

They discuss prices with all the moxie of oil sheiks fixing the price of a barrel of crude. This lemonade cartel is destined for greatness.

"I've got a brilliant idea," Kolbe modestly shares.

I continue to listen as they dream and scheme with the unbridled joy and excitement that is age eight. I love this age, and I love my one-of-a-kind Kolbe.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chow, Chow, Chow!

Ainsley goes for the cat's dish, and I run for the camera. Crazy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pax, West Virginia

We made it to Michigan in record time - fourteen hours, thirty minutes, I think. It only felt like twenty-two. The kids traveled great, in part because they slept through the last seven hours or so. This happens when you arrive at your destination at 4:30 a.m..

My dear Dad was giving me a hard time about driving straight through.

"You should have stopped!" he barked.

My father is a worrier of the highest order, a man who has elevated normal parental concern to an art form. He is all about life jackets and weather reports, swimming lessons and warm clothing. Whenever my sister makes a random, slightly neurotic comment about a safety issue, her husband says, "Yes, Keith."

Keith is my father's first name. Worry is his middle name.

So we would have been safer if we had stopped, according to Dad. I felt compelled to take us on a trip down memory lane thirty-five years ago. Mom and Dad loaded up the woody station wagon and headed for I-75 en route from Michigan to Florida. Twenty-four hours start to finish, without a DVD player and without a stop.

I don't think my parents drove twenty-four hours straight for the sheer joy of watching the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains. No, I think they had a basic survival strategy on their minds. Traveling with four kids is much more pleasant when they are all a-snoozing.

Despite our exhaustion the trip was a safe one and, for the most part, a peaceful one. But as we passed the half-way point in West Virginia, Dave and I found ourselves getting a little snippy with each other.

We rarely argue about big issues. Truth be told, we are of one mind on all of the really big issues and many of the fairly big ones. We would be reduced to squabbling over trivial items like toilet seats left up or toothpaste caps unscrewed but one of the two of us (that would be Dave) is far too tidy to even think of such slovenly behavior.

But then there are driving styles. Ours are different, and those differences seemed to magnify as the hour grew late and the number on the odometer crept up.

Dave got snippy, and I responded in kind. The hour grew later, and the odometer continue its climb.

We passed a sign that read "Pax, West Virginia."

"Let's call it Pax!" Dave said. I was enjoying my stew far too much to grasp this olive branch. Mostly I was thinking about the Reeces Peanut Butter cups I had so carefully snuck into the car past the eagle eyes of our fledgling chocoholics. One for me, one for Dave, I had thought. But that was before his comment about my driving. All for me now!

"Tim, get the GPS" Dave directed. "Search for 'Angst.' Is there an Angst, West Virginia?"

Dave rubbed my arm , and I relented. I passed his share of the peanut butter cups. The van continued its ramble north.

Lost in Translation

Me: Tim, ask Grandma if you can help her with the dishes. When she says no, tell her you would really like to help.

Tim: Grandma, can I wash the dishes against my will?

Friday, June 18, 2010

We Have Arrived

Bleary-eyed and beyond fatigued, we arrived at Grandma and Papa's at 4:30 this morning. A safe and peaceful trip, all things considered. Thanks to all who kept us in prayer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Heart

Dave and I enjoyed our weekend getaway.

Through Dave's savvy use of Priceline, we snatched up a gorgeous hotel room for less than usually pay for a dive off I-77. We are more accustomed to big rigs and bad coffee than waterfalls and sleek furniture. This was very nice.

Now at these nicer hotels there are these really helpful folks called bell-hops who handle your luggage for you. Who would know? The bell-hop and I were putting our smaller bags on a cart as Dave pulled the larger cases out of the trunk.

We had stopped for dinner shortly before our arrival. Ainsley had been getting cold, so I had opened my bag to grab a blanket. I failed to zip the bag shut.

Cue ominous music.

So there's Dave pulling out my suitcase. And there are all my personal effects scattering across the streets of downtown Tampa. I didn't take a close look because, I ask you, did I really want to see my unmentionables lying on the asphalt for all the world to see? Not so much.

Humiliation complete and personal effects retrieved, we tipped the good bell-hop and settled into our comfy room and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

On Sunday we walked a few blocks to a beautiful church for Mass. Friday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the parish happened to be the Church of the Sacred Heart. Call it the catechist in me, but things like this make my day.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates back to the mid 1600s when a French nun, now known as Saint Margaret Mary, had a series of visions revealing the nature of Christ's heart and His deep love for us. I have a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung in my grandmother's house throughout my childhood.

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd we explore why God presents some of the same lessons over and over again. Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis? Why are there four Gospels? Why did Jesus present parable after parable?

Each one, we learn, reflects a slightly different face of God.

So, too, it is with the saints. Saint Francis presents a vision of simplicity, detachment, and love. Saint Teresa of Avila calls us to the heights of contemplative prayer. Saint Faustina helps us understand the limitless expanse of Christ's mercy.

Saint Margaret Mary came to a unique awareness of the nature of Christ's heart. It is this heart that I pray will reshape what is lacking in my own.

The path to wholeness and holiness is not always a simple one. I've heard the saying "Act as if it all depends on you. Pray as if it all depends on God." Sometimes we ask God to do a work in us that we cannot do for ourselves.

In my early twenties I returned to the church of my early childhood. I embraced with a joyful heart so much of what the Catholic Church teaches. There were, however, a few lingering questions and theological issues that I gnawed on for a few years. I developed a habit of receiving communion and praying, "Jesus, I believe in you; help my unbelief." While there was no 180 degree shift, one day I simply found myself at peace.

Sometimes I am confronted anew with the limits of my heart, with my stunted ability to love. I judge others. I am impatient or dismissive with my children. I avoid certain people.

I don't want to be this way. I want the heart of Jesus.

So as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I continue to seek His heart. As I pass my grandmother's image of the Sacred Heart that now sits on our prayer table, I pray, "Jesus, meek and mild, make my heart as unto thine own."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Briefing

As Dave and I prepare for a weekend getaway, I brief the older boys on our expectations that our friend, their caretaker, will meet with nothing but helpful attitudes.

Tim: So the enforcer is changed, but the rules are the same?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life Skills

A few years ago I attended a women's workshop on Planning a Successful Summer. Two wonderful moms from my parish shared their pearls of wisdom. I lapped it up despite being a tad intimidated because these ladies are high energy, very creative women with seven and six children.

Two of their suggestions have stood the test of time.

First, they suggest having two cleaning times: early morning and right before dinner. For mom it's easier to tolerate mess when you know it won't be around forever. For kids having set times frees them from feeling that summer is one non-stop chore list.

Second, they suggest setting goals with the kids in three areas: the spiritual life, practical life skills, and fun.

My friends strongly encourage the kids' involvement in setting these goals, so I gamely presented the idea just before school got out.

"What practical life skills do you want to develop?" I asked as we were driving one day. I'm thinking basic cooking and sight typing, laundry and maybe a new swim stroke.

"Welll," Kolbe said after a long pause. "I can't really think of anything I need to learn, but I'd like to get better at Mario Kart."

Now there's a life skill, a real resume padder if there ever was one.

Civics 101

Tim is attempting to move up of the ranks of Boy Scouts prior to summer camp...

Me: So, what do you have left to finish for First Class?

Tim: I have to talk to a public official about my constitutional rights.

Me: What are your constitutional rights?

Tim: I have no idea.

We headed to the library and checked out a DVD cleverly titled The Constitution. It is informative and surprisingly entertaining.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Small Scuccesses


The zinnias are blooming. For $1.00 invested in seeds, these babies will flower all summer. Love them! Meanwhile the expensive flowers have died. Every last one of them fell victim, I think, to gifts from a neighborhood cat.

When I discovered this (crumpled bread and a quarter cup of sugar) deposited in my toaster, I didn't blow a gasket. I pretty much met my gasket-blowing quota for the week during Sunday's debacle. Nowhere to go but up!

We weathered another fever episode with our precious John. Temperature-wise, nowhere to go but down!

Head over to Faith and Family to encourage other mothers.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

So Many Reasons to Have Kids

I've followed Karen Edmisten's blog for several years. I find her funny, upbeat, and real.

Quite a while back Karen posted "Forty Reasons to Have Kids," a light-hearted response to a book articulating forty reasons not to have kids. Karen's reasons ranged from the delights of baby toes to the thrill of childbirth. I found the pointed and on-going stream of comments to her piece illuminating. Many people, of course, concurred with her assessment of motherhood; while without a doubt challenging, motherhood is chock full of delights both expected and surprising. Karen's detractors did not surprise me in their vehemence, but did surprise me in that many (though certainly not all) rallied around a single criticism: Motherhood is inherently selfish.

Interesting thought, that.

I fully intended to pen a post full of poignant memories and pithy quotes relating all the joys of motherhood. At this precise moment, however, I've got nothing.

It's been a trying week for a number of reasons.

While I love, love, love summer vacation, it takes a week of adjustment to establish two essential principles that make for a peaceful summer. First, summer does not mean 104 days of electronics from dawn until dusk. Second, your brother is a member of the human race and will be treated as such.

We're also adjusting to the heat. It's been unseasonably hot. Yes, I live in Georgia. A typical high in early June is 88 degrees; We've been hovering around 95.

We've encountered an unrelated series of unfortunate events that are simply part and parcel of life with kids. Dave fixed the oft broken screened door. As he was screwing it back in place, Dave asked Kolbe to hold the frame steady. Kolbe missed the frame by an inch or so and - you guessed it - put his hand right through the new screen.

After a fun day at the pool, we were about to sit down to a late dinner. Kolbe and Tim were scrounging for silverware and napkins. I turned to answer the phone. John, who instinctively knows when he is unsupervised, dumped milk into everyone's spaghetti. Not one to be wasteful, what he couldn't fit into the bowls, he sent cascading onto the floor. I would relate my response to this event, but it would require excessive use of the shift key and the special characters on the top row. I'm just not that nimble a typist.

Sunday was The Perfect Storm. Dave had to go into work unexpectedly. John resisted his nap with such vehemence that I finally said uncle. I dabbled with a new and tricky software package that cooperated little better John. In the middle of this, the phone rang. A neighbor was calling to ask Tim to return a Boy Scout merit badge handbook he had borrowed. Not a problem, I assured our neighbor. I had seen Tim reading it earlier in the day. Tim threw on his shoes and was going to grab the handbook. It was nowhere to be found.

We looked in the usual places and then moved to the unexpected places. No luck. We moved furniture, rifled through bookshelves, sifted through the recycling, and searched the van. No book.

I found my frustration and blood pressure mounting with each cushion we overturned and each drawer we searched. In the blink of an eye, this was no longer about a missing handbook. The whole event came to symbolize a life out of control. We searched for an hour to no avail. The book's absence somehow screamed: You are one disorganized, unreliable mess.

I found myself bawling.

This was not a first edition of Gone With the Wind, overdue tax forms, or a missing term paper. It was a $3.95 pamphlet that could be replaced by the following morning. Logic and reason had no place in my fit.

Eventually baseball practice was upon us, so we abandoned the fruitless search and off we went. I stopped by Sonic to load up on malts and slushies as a peace offering to my poor kids who had to witness their mother dissemble into a raging maniac.

Later, as I was putting something in John's closet, I looked down and there was the elusive handbook.

I would love to insert a meaningful conclusion at this point, a kernel of wisdom that puts these trials in perspective. At the moment, that's beyond me.

All of the above might just reinforce the strongly held beliefs of those who choose to be child-free. That may be a good thing because indeed this vocation is not for the faint of heart.

I wanted this life. I wanted these kids. I prayed and fasted for them. I took fertility drugs! In the face of all that, motherhood remains the hardest thing I've ever done. By far.

Now, I don't have eight or ten kids, I have never had multiples, and, by God's grace, we have not faced physical disabilities. I wake up every morning to the run-of-the-mill start the laundry, sling some hash, load up the van, off to the pool, umpire the shouting match, change the diaper, kiss the boo-boo, read the story, et cetera, et cetera. It is typically exhausting, sometimes mind-numbingly boring, always constant. Inherently selfish? Not from my vantage point.

Let me say unequivocally that motherhood is also all those things that Karen articulated so beautifully. Just as daily life around here is full of messes and irritations, it is also teeming with moments of grace.

Cuddling a nursing baby. Placing my hand on Ainsley's cheek and feeling her tiny hand rest on mine.

Hearing my two-year-old come up to me and say, "I have a secret," and then lean into my ear and lisp, "I wove you!"

Opening my eight-year-old's writing journal and finding he has written "I love my Mom and Dad" on the inside cover.

Watching my twelve-year-old play with his baby brother and sister and then tell me he hopes we have another one.

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ended. John came into our bed in the middle of the night. I rubbed his soft cheek and felt the warmth of a brewing fever. He cried and then said in his sweet toddler voice, "Dwy ma tears, Mama."

Yes, it can be exhausting, boring, and constant. In its own imperfect way, it is also joyful, enriching, and blessed.

With coffee in hand and Tylenol at the ready, I move forward to embrace another day of it.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Small Successes


Danielle Bean encourages all of us in the trenches of motherhood to encourage each other. Here are a few highlights of my week:

1. John is potty trained! Yes, I shared this last week, but I'm still on cloud nine. Let's just say my previous two forays into this arena were l-o-n-g and y-u-c-k-y. This was amazingly quick and not too yucky at all.

2. Ainsey can clap! She also likes to dance when she hears loud music. As we left Kolbe's baseball game Tuesday, a marching band was practicing. Ainsey went wild!

3. We enjoyed an afternoon at the pool yesterday. I was apprehensive about handling two non-swimmers, but all went well thanks in part to my many friends who offered to hold Ainsey. John loved the water! He didn't love leaving, but, hey, we're focusing on the positive here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

That would be my house.

I returned from a brief Kroger blitz to find John waiting for me by the door.

"I was wild, Mama" he shared with complete candor.

And complete accuracy judging from the condition of my house. I'm talking human cyclone.

We are just a few days into summer break, and I am enjoying so much of it. But the state of the house? Grim. Really, really grim.

Feeding Frenzy

When I enlist the help of the big boys in feeding the Ainsey-girl, I expect a mess.

It's Not Perfect

We have a small prayer table in our living room. The colors of the tablecloths reflect the current liturgical season. This morning we took off the red cloth signifying Pentecost and replaced it with green for the growing time, more commonly known as Ordinary Time.

John offered to help, but couldn't get the cloth unfolded. He surprised me with a comment I've never heard him say before: It's not perfect.

Of course, I assured him he had done a great job. Then I began to reflect on how appropriate his comment was. Ordinary Time, the growing time, constitutes thirty-three Sundays of the liturgical year. It's not a time of preparation and fasting and penance; it's not a time of great celebrations and presents and elaborate decorations. It's the Ordinary Time of ups and downs, minor celebrations, set backs and triumphs, and, most importantly, growing closer to the Lord.

We need - or more to the point, I need - thirty-three weeks of Ordinary Time because, to paraphrase John this morning, I'm not perfect.

From now until the first Sunday in Advent we have our biggest stretch of the growing season. May it bear much fruit.