Tuesday, November 30, 2010

We Love School Projects!

Long ago when I had one pre-schooler, I offered to host my friend’s ten-year-old while she and her husband spent a weekend away. She arrived at my house with a suitcase, a poster board, and a look of complete exasperation.

She gestured to the poster board and went on to rant and rave about school projects and pictures of wolves and glue and bibliographies and habitats and blah, blah, blah.

I confess that I found her reaction a tad over the top. It’s just a school project. What’s the big deal?

Now, if you had peered into my window this morning, you would have seen the dining room table covered with paste-ups of amphibians and birds, mammals and invertebrates. A few still-damp pieces were lying under ceiling fans set on high in hopes that the glue would dry before Ainsley woke up and shredded the whole enchilada. You might have witnessed a slight tension in the air when “Things to know about reptiles” temporarily went missing. You might have discerned a distinct drop in blood pressure as the whole kit and caboodle went Out! The! Door! at 8:10 this morning.

I now understand that chest-tightening sensation a mother feels when a special set of instructions arrives home in the backpack.

There’s the state project, the country project, the swamp diorama, and - the mother of all projects – the science fair. Oh, what memories we have made. We’ve glued maps far into the evening and assembled bibliographies at the eleventh hour.

When food is involved, the stakes are even higher. I say stakes not steaks because one thing I’ve learned after years of having school age kids: Never invest in exotic fare with kids who look at a bag of Cheetos and think they’re in high cotton.

We try to avoid the last minute - really, we do – but sometimes the unexpected occurs – a file goes missing, the playdoh lizard becomes a double amputee in the hands of the two-year-old, the map of the Gobi Desert get crumpled. So we are up late, trying hard not to take the easy path and do it ourselves, exercising great restraint as we growl, “Just hand me the darn blessed lovely iguana so I can glue it on already.”

I know I’ve matured in all of this. I got a late call from a mom trying to interpret directions. She was laughing about her oldest son getting an “E” for “Excellent” instead of an “E+” for “Exceptionally Excellent” because he had hand written his titles rather than having his mom type them.

“E” sounds great to me. I mean, “G” is for “Good” and that means, well, “Good.” Right?

She laughed and said, “This is why God gave me six kids.” I guess that’s why God gave me four. You can micromanage one or two, no sweat. Beyond two, it gets a little dicey. While not wholly detached from my kids’ grades by a long shot, I now view them as just that – their grades, not mine.

For two nights Kolbe has been sketching and labeling while I have been scrounging up construction paper and counting specimen. What could have been one painful ordeal has actually been fun due to three factors:

1. Kolbe is an awesome kid.

2. Kolbe loves to draw.

3. Mom has steadfastly refused to freak out.

I expect a round of applause for #3.

I will never forget my sister desperately trying to get her son to finish an assignment. In a moment of sheer frustration and exhaustion – and let’s face it, we’ve all been there – she finished it for him, trying very hard to imitate the penmanship of a second grader. At the next parent-teacher conference, the teacher called her on it. Busted, so totally busted. Oh, how I laughed! Nailed for failure to fake your kid’s writing. Hilarious.

Imagine my chagrin when Kolbe woke up this morning, looked at his science project, and said, “Mom, you did a great job!”

I cringed and told him he was not, under any circumstances, to repeat that at school.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What a Mother Can Offer Up

When I am overworked,
I will pray for the jobless.

When my children are demanding,
I will pray for the childless.

When I am overwhelmed with housekeeping,
I will pray for the homeless.

When I am grocery shopping,
I will pray for the hungry.

When I am running carpools,
I will pray for the homebound.

I will ask God to turn my moments of fatigue,
boredom, and frustration into times of intercession
for others and thanksgiving for the fullness of my

I will unite my sufferings with those of Christ
and pray his grace on those who are truly

Warms a Mother's Heart

Sometimes brotherly love seems in short supply around here.

Then there are times like this morning.

Tim and Kolbe dashed out the door with a grand plan to pick pecans, sell them, and drop $70.00 on a remote controlled fire truck for John.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Reasonable Explanation

Kolbe: Wampanoag children never complained. Their parents would throw them out in the snow.

Me: Well, I would never do that to you.

Kolbe: Yeah, we don't get much snow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Balm in Gilead

Ainsley's been  fighting a rash lately, so  I chucked her diaper and let her air dry.

(Let me pause to reflect on what a fifteen year-old Ainsley will think should she ever delve into the archives of her mother's blog. Sorry, Sunshine!)

Diaperless babies seem to get an extra spring their steps. "I'm freeeee!" they seem to shout. Of course the inevitable happened.  I discovered not by stepping in it or from  a report issued from a scandalized and irrate brother, but because I spotted moist footsteps running the length of the dining room table.

Where else would she choose to be wild and free?

So when I read Kate Wicker's recent post, I had to laugh. She recounts:

Imagine this: As you're in the midst of school, you hear the toilet still running so you swing open the bathroom door to find a lake on the floor and a gushing waterfall coming from the commode. Later that same day your preschool daughter who is completely potty trained but sometimes has trouble pooping in the sitting position smears not one but three pairs of panties (what is it with my children and poop?). She also poops on your kitchen floor and then insists she didn't have to poop (she was just exercising, she says; it did look like she was doing squats). This all happens after you gave her a bath. Meanwhile, your toddler, who ran away from you giggling and stark naked, has peed all over your wood floor and walked through the puddle leaving a trail of wet, pee footprints all over. Oh, and the dog is trying to lick up the pee .
I've mentioned before that I abhor that over-worked phrase LOL, but a while back when I  read Amy's post on grocery store woes, I laughed so hard I nearly cried. Here is my God son's account of what transpired:
"Okay," Aiden began, "well, first I knocked over those drinks."

"I walked by those cards and knocked them over," Dawson added.

"I ran down the opposite aisle of Mama and surprised her," he explained as he drew out the game plan on the table with a big smile erupting.

Dawson now began to giggle as he admired his brother's handy work. "I hopped down the aisle when you told me to stay by you."

"We blocked that man in the wheelchair cart from coming down the aisle because we were both laying on the floor looking at that huge crack," he giggled again nearly high-fiving Dawson.

"And when you were checking out, I ran over to the change machine instead of staying by you," Dawson remembered.

"I guess I did that too," remembered Aiden.
Hilarious in the retelling; time off of purgatory to live through. I, too, have died a thousand deaths in grocery stores. Oh, how I could feel Amy's pain.

So many of these mommy-blogs are full of colorful and smelly antics. Of course the crazy stories seem more post worthy than  the three-year-old coming up and saying "I wove you, Mama."  But in the interest of fair and balanced reporting (and in an effort to convince my single friends that motherhood isn't pure drudgery), I am happy to report that there is more love than dirty socks around our place. Well, okay, maybe at the moment this isn't strictly true. Tim and Dave did just return from a Wilderness Survival Weekend, in the North Georgia mountains where the snakes may be dormant but there are bears, yes bears!  I am happy to report that Dad and Son did survive, but their socks? Well, they didn't fare quite so well.

But back to the main point, whatever that was. Oh, yes. There's lots 'o love around here.

John loves his stories at nap and bedtime. They are such constants that he gets whiny when I suggest we read together. I am trying to convince him that an offer for a 'tory, as he calls them, doesn't always  mean he's getting shipped off to bed.

Anyway. As I start to read, I feel a tug on my right arm. When we read my right arm has to be wrapped around him. If I move it to get a second book or to turn a page, I am instantly met with a "Hey!" I like to move my arm just to have him grab it and move it back. "This is nice, " he said the other night as we read and snuggled. It is so very nice, so very sweet, and - I know all too well - so very short lived.

Suspicious footprints might litter odd surfaces, grocery shopping may require a stiff drink, and potty training might not be over even when it's over, but there is balm in Gilead - the balm of soft cheeks, squishy hands, lisping voices, full laps, arms that can't let go, and love, lots of love.

Friday, November 19, 2010

{this moment}


{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Small Successes


Earlier this week, the kind comments of readers touched my heart and added a little pep to my demeanor. Encouragement is powerful! Join the women of Faith and Family as we encourage one another. This may seem like a trivial or even self-absorbed activity, but I firmly believe in the value of cheering each other on as we continue the great and arduous job of building homes and raising children.

Here are a few highlights from our house:

1. I patched the drywall in our kitchen. Sadly, John saw the glistening spackling compound and thought it was frosting. Ran  his finger right through it! Hope he didn't eat it! I've looked at that hole for at least a year, and now it's gone. Time to paint.

2. The 13th birthday bash was so much fun - pizza, bottle rockets, hours of The Settlers of Catan, a sleepover with six middle school boys.  Amazingly everyone was asleep before 1:00. All the festivities have distracted me from fully contemplating that we now have a teenager in the house!

3.  It's pecan season here in the southeast. I'm coordinating the Boy Scouts' efforts to sell pecans to pay for summer camp. Week one netted the boys over $200! We have enjoyed spending afternoons picking pecans in the beautiful Fall sunshine.

What have you been doing?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Without the Bite

I am in Tampa. My under-caffeinated brain is trying to order my morning joe, but I can’t seem to put words around what it is I’m after.

“I’d like a cup of regular coffee, but can you make it…”

What is it I’m looking for? Not weak. I like full-bodied coffee.

“Mild?” the helpful cashier offers. Yes, mild. Full-bodied minus the bite, minus the bitterness.

Minus the bite.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bite these days.

I’ve done more than my share of biting of late. In point of fact, I am wondering if I ought to get a rabies shot, wear a collar, and post a sign that reads “Beware of Mom.”

As I sit here in the quiet morning hours, well caffeinated and typing peacefully, the object of my bite seems so, so trivial. Once again, it’s the state of my house – the spilled drinks, the stacks of papers, the unwashed dishes.

While these are pretty much constants for a family of six, in the past few weeks Ainsley has become a force to be reckoned with. She is formidable, relentless, nothing short of unstoppable.

Remember those cartoons that showed an army of ants marching into a picnic area and then marching away leaving only a tablecloth in its wake?

This is Ainsley in reverse.

She stomps through the house – you can hear her coming from three rooms away. She exits each room leaving an epic mess behind. Every item in a bathroom drawer flung in four directions. Twenty feet of aluminum foil unfurled. Trash can? Emptied! Board game? Strewn about? Clean, folded laundry? Not any more!

My tactic is to keep all doors shut and preferably locked, but I seem to be the sole member of this household who thinks this way.

My sister and I were laughing about all the cool toys from decades past that have been deemed dangerous and pulled from the market. Remember Johnny Jump Up? Walkers that actually walked?

“All those idiot mothers who left their kids in walkers next to stairways,” my sister lamented, shaking her head. I immediately came to the defense of idiot mothers everywhere. In fact they are not idiots at all – they simply have older children.

When Tim was a baby I could have invited The Today Show to shoot a segment on child-proofing your home. So uncomplicated when the ratio of adults to kids is 2:1; not so simple when the ratio is 4:2 and the older ones have free run of most of the house. For every door I shut and lock, a game gets left out, a drawer left opened, or – worst of all – a screen door left unlatched.

Yesterday was nothing spectacular, but the repetitive, seemingly pointless efforts of constantly! constantly! constantly! picking up the same messes simply got to me.

John had two near misses of the bathroom variety. Ainsley got her hot little hands on the foil – again. Our babysitter called with a conflict tomorrow. While we were talking, I noticed smoke billowing out of the oven. I doused the six inch flame with a cup of coffee. I tried to drum up a new plan for dinner.

I found Pit cards flung about the boys’ room and toothpaste and tooth brushes littering the hallway. Ainsley walked out of my bedroom carrying an IPod. I surveyed the rest of the damage. She had pilfered through my nightstand and emptied a bag or two of hand-me-downs.

As my agitation grew, I heard John playing with his drill. Rummm! Rummm! This is technically a toy drill, but it actually drills, as in it makes real holes. Dave called with Cub Scout information that required phone calls on my part. I still had no plan for dinner. Tim suddenly remembered he had an essay to write. I felt like the ball in a pinball machine.

I began to clean up and found myself stuffing drawers with angry shoves, closing them with a bang, stomping off to the next mess, slamming doors in between. In the middle of my stew, I spotted someone’s church clothes crumpled in ball on a chair.

When we arrived home, my instructions had been clear – hang up your clothes.

My slow boil instantly dialed up a notch or two. In fact, I was nothing short of enraged. The baby is the baby, but the big guys? No excuse. No quarter.

I bit – I bit hard – I bit everyone.

What followed was just as inevitable as the messes – overwhelming regret. I hate myself for being this way. I hate that I can’t seem to channel my frustration into cooperation. Most of all I hate that my children so often see my bite.

I tell myself that somehow the mess gets cleaned up everyday. I remind myself that the older boys – while not apt to take the initiative to clean up – really do everything I ask them to do and with reasonably good attitudes. I point out that Ainsley’s messy stage won’t last forever.

Somehow all this – true and reasonable though it is – never seems to stop a rant in progress.

I don’t know why tonight was different, but I said, “Enough!” I am done letting my temper get the best of me. Like a drunk who wakes up so disgusted he is motivated to quit, I am ready to be done with the chronic pain my foul temper causes me and everyone else.

I have a plan – a humble plan, but a plan nonetheless. I’ll share it later.

Most of my small readership consists of dear friends and relatives. This morning I ask for your prayers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Wishing you a lovely weekend!

*** *** ***

On the Phone with Dad

John: We are praying for you. You nice. We got oatmeal pies. Here, Mom. Take da phone.

All the important topics duly covered.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Masters of the Marketing Universe

Those folks at Fisher Price know how to market their wares.

Over the years, we have acquired a hefty load of Fisher Price toys. At one time we owned the plane, the school bus, the ark, the nativity scene, and three - yes, three! - barns.

Today I trash picked the castle.

Sometimes I amaze even myself. I have described myself as a minimalist. Truthfully, I would now count myself among the minimalist-wannabes. While I continue to fight the good fight against all things plastic, I’ve lost a lot of ground of late. My last major purge was three years ago. Oh, what a glorious day it was! If you could have witnessed the glee with which I unloaded a plethora of little used toys at the local Goodwill! Truly I felt lighter as I drove away. We got rid of an entire truckload of bikes, games, and toys, including a slew of Fisher Price items.

All of this makes my actions earlier today all the more perplexing.

The plot only thickens when I examine precisely why I ditched most of the Fisher Price collection. While I am a devotee of the "less is more" mentality, I don’t get rid of stuff we actually use. See, there’s been one consistent problem with these Fisher Price toys – my kids do not play with them.

The airplane saw more mileage than the other items. One of the boys showed a fleeting interest in the school bus. The nativity was difficult to hold together – unlike its counterparts, it’s made of cardboard and flimsy at best. The ark was so cool – so cool that it made the cut and is still safely ensconced in our attic – but in reality it sat in dry dock.

As to the story of the three farms – well, that’s a little complicated. I bought barn #1 at a yard sale. Who came up with this design, I don’t know. You could move the animals in, but you really couldn’t get them out short of picking up the whole edifice and shaking hard. So barn #1 sat. Barn # 2- different yard sale, different design. It opened! It was nifty! No one played with it! Barn #3 – a gift from a generous relative unaware of barns 1 and 2. It, too, saw very little action.

My experience with Fisher Price toys is that I spend all my time snagging stray sheep out from under the couch or pilots and passengers from under beds. Lots of picking up – little playing time. A bad ratio.

I was over at a friend’s house the other day. There I spied the Fisher Price castle. Two words for this vintage baby: Cool Ness! Oh my goodness, I wanted that castle. As for John – well, he was flat mesmerized.

This afternoon I was cruising through the neighborhood late for a very important date, and there it was on the side of the road – a Fisher Price castle! I screeched to a halt and snatched it up.

Later I got a good, hard look at it. Gently used it was not - cracked, sagging, the tower bordering on moldy, badly in need of an Extreme Makeover, Castle Edition. Alas, I pondered a little too long, and John spied the object of my affection .

“My castle,” he cried.>It is now sitting on my couch housing a brace of Lego guys.

The castle came with no figures, so the next logical step was to check Ebay for knights and dragons and horses. They have a gracious plenty, and they go for a pretty penny. The king and queen alone will set you back ten bucks plus shipping. They had a few complete sets available, and I found myself torn. Me, the minimalist!

The cheapest set went for $50.00 plus a whopping $15.00 for shipping. This for something I will be delighted to unload at Goodwill in the not too distant future?

Nothing short of a battle ensued.

Remember Madame Blueberry, I remind myself. Happiness does not wait at the Stuffmart! You really don’t need more stuff!

So cool, so very cool!

They’ll never play with it!

This time will be different!

You’re nuts!

Am not!

Are too!

Hope is triumphing over experience which is a long-winded and cliched-ridden way of saying I am a sucker! If Fisher Price can sell a zillion piece set to someone who has owned - and not enjoyed! - most of their zillion piece sets, then, truly, they could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo.

Fisher Price – Masters of the Marketing Universe.

A Sight I Don't Often See Anymore . . .

And one that I surely don't miss one little bit!

So Long Tween - Hello Teen

Tim got out of bed at midnight to mark a milestone for him and for us.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Small Successes

FaithButton Join the women of Faith and Family as we encourage one another. Here are a few highlights from our week:

1. I spent most of Tuesday night comforting a sick Ainsley. I finally crashed around 4:00 a.m. and then overslept. Waking the boys at 7:45 when they need to be out the door at 8:10 is usually a prescription for threats and yelling. Instead I turned to bribery and offered them breakfast at McDonald's if they could be ready to roll in five minutes. Mission accomplished in about seven minutes! What could have been a rotten morning was, in fact, both tasty and fun.

2. I wish I could say the same for the afternoon. A napless toddler and other kids under the weather led to meltdowns and messes and one grumpy mother. When will I ever learn to just tune it out already?

But, since we are focusing on successes, I will note that my children will never be able to say their parents didn't model how to make amends when they blew it. I apologized, and we ended the evening on a positive note. As I kissed their slumbering heads, I prayed a prayer a friend taught me: Lord, bridge the gap between what they've needed and what they've received.

3. Plans are in the works for Tim's 13th birthday bash. Lots of progress yesterday.

What about you?

Time to Wean

Ainsley and I just enjoyed what is likely to be our last nursing session. In a few minutes I will smear my nose and cheek with $400 skin cream that, God willing, will halt the growth of squamous cells. You can't be pregnant or nursing and use this medication, so another era of motherhood passes.

I rocked her, smoothed her downy blond hair, and told her how special this time has been. She's, like, "Whatever, Mama. Hand me my pacie."

I love nursing. As I woman who has a penchant for being a Martha, but an ardent desire to be a Mary, nursing has helped me to slow down and enjoy my babies. I have been blessed with four enthusiastic nursers. I hasten to add that enthusiastic has not meant problem free. With all three boys, I faced significant and excruciatingly painful hurdles, but time, perseverance, and helpful hints from other nursing moms helped us negotiate these. Problems solved, we then went on to enjoy many, many months of peaceful nursing.

One of the boys adopted Ainsley's "whatever" attitude toward weaning. In fact he weaned so fast I was unprepared. One day I realized he hadn't nursed for two or three days. Somehow it just didn't seem right to pass through this milestone without fanfare.

"We didn't have our last nurse," I remember telling my husband. While Dave probably didn't fully understand the significance of this, at that point we had been married long enough for him to say, "You're right, honey. I think you should nurse him one last time." A wise man. So we had our ceremonial nurse. He jumped up and said, "Ooohh! Twains!" or something to that effect. Onward and upward! New vistas to explore! Big deal for me; no deal for him.

Another boy would have nursed his way into elementary school, content to find a coat closet or a corner of the teachers' lounge so he could top off during recess. Weaning was slow and about as fun as a raging case of mastitis.

I weaned John around sixteen months because I was four months pregnant with Ainsley and had yet to gain ounce number one. Considering what I ended up looking like circa forty weeks - enormous would be the word - this was probably a good thing. But I worried, so I weaned. John never looked back, and neither did I, really, because it was a little much to be growing one baby and having a toddler sprawled all over me. Some women love it. Me? Not so much.

I was supposed to start this treatment almost exactly two years ago. It was a dreary day. I was battling fatigue and finally decided to head across town for a Frappuccino to perk me up. Out of the blue I had the thought: You should take a pregnancy test. Whhhattt? I was forty-four years old. It had taken six years and a load of heartache to have John. He was still nursing! No way was I pregnant.

Except that I was.

That positive pregnancy test was possibly the biggest shock of my life. (Scratch that! Hearing my niece yell, "It's a girl!" beat the pregnancy test by a long shot.)

Still reeling from the news, I went on to a dermatology appointment and explained to my doctor why I would not be starting the treatment as planned. To put it mildly, she was not terribly impressed with my announcement. In fact I felt rather like a delinquent teenager babbling some lame explanation to a skeptical principal. Responsible women don't have surprise pregnancies. Certainly not forty-four-year-old women!

I submit that my sweet Ainsey-girl is the best surprise of my life.

My heart is a bit heavy, and my eyes welled up with tears as I read this to Dave. You know, you can care for other people's babies. You can read to them and rock them and play peek-a-boo. But, wet nurses aside, nursing is strictly a mother's domain. In all likelihood, my nursing days are now over. They have been special days indeed.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Prayers for God's grace as we embark on this next season.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

On Saints and Lost Shoes

In honor of All Saints' Day, I have to offer a word of thanks to a saint all mothers seem to keep busy - Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items. This morning was a tad chilly. Getting
Ainsley to keep socks on her feet requires me to put shoes on her (otherwise she yanks the socks and tosses them). You wouldn't think this would be so tough, but she was quite the fashionista this morning in the get-up posted right.

Yes, I could find just one brown and one polka-dotted shoe until I asked Saint Anthony to intercede and immediately found the second brown one. Saint Anthony never fails to deliver when lost pacifiers threaten to make bedtime run amok or when homework vanishes.

I have often wondered about the theology and reality of this phenomenon. Here's my take. God wants to answer all of our prayers as quickly and decisively as we find that lost shoe. Of course most of our prayers involve dilemmas far more serious and complicated than a missing pacifier or sneaker. Moreover these prayer requests typically involve other people and that pesky and inviolable point of human nature known as free will. While God wants to answer our prayers, He won't violate free will to do so. Lost items typically involve no free will, and God can flex a little muscle and give us a gratuitous gift. Here! Enjoy! Problem solved!

A member of my women's prayer group recently shared what she called a "selfish prayer." She had been training for a half-marathon and simply wanted to run the race pain free. The longer I thought about her prayer, the more I thought that it wasn't selfish at all. No, leg pain is not world peace, and a half-marathon isn't cancer research. But God is a loving and generous Father. Sometimes a child needs medicine or comfort or food or something else we would deem essential. Sometimes he comes running to Dad for a cookie or a new matchbox car or a trip to the ice cream store.

Today I am grateful for my heavenly Father and for the host of saints who intercede for our needs and wants, both significant and small.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Low Expectations

Adult: The four of you will have to agree on a movie to watch.

Child: It's going to be a bloodbath.