Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Weary World Rejoices

Several years ago a friend and I were two among many attendees at an appreciation dinner in mid-December. It was a lovely catered affair, a generous thanks for services offered.

My friend leaned over and uttered the words many of us felt: Can't you appreciate me in March?

This is indeed the most wonderful time of the year; it is without question the busiest time of the year. As I mentioned earlier, in a span of eight days we had eight events to attend. One day included a triple header -- a breakfast and two pageants with a three hour drive to the airport thrown in for good measure.

(Mind that whining, now! I learned my lesson this year. The morning of the triple header dawned, and John was running a fever. Sometimes the only thing more overwhelming than an over-the-top busy day is the challenge of cancelling the whole lot of it and caring for a sick one.)

As I sat at one of the eight events -- really, one of the nicest of the eight -- I sang Christmas carols and listened to the lyrics with fresh ears. As we launched into O Holy Night, I was particlularly struck by the line The Weary World Rejoices.

This was a gathering of about twenty women I dearly love. I very much look forward to this party. But -- lawdy, lawdy -- just getting there about killed me. I struck out on childcare for John and Ainsley, so I sent them to their pre-school instead -- to the tune of $40.00 out of pocket and roughly sixty minutes of driving. Ouch! Then my outfit didn't work. Then I ironed my hair into submission only to step out into a slight drizzle and see my ironing undone in a jiffy.

On top of that, we were supposed to arrive with prepared cookie dough so that we could all bake cookies together. Easy enough, right? I was missing one ingredient, so I dashed to a neighbor's to scrounge. The recipe called for butter; I substituted margarine. I didn't have raspberry preserves; strawberry would have to do. I mixed it all together and, wow, that lump of dough looked like it would produce about eight cookies.

I arrived almost on time. Hair? Frizzy. Outfit? Dull. Cookie dough? Slouching toward inadequate.

We began sining carols, and I hit the line: The weary world rejoices.

And I reflected on how the world has always been weary, most ages far, far wearier than our own. I thought of Mary -- pregnant and travelling and weary. I thought of Joseph -- burdened and worried and weary. I thought of the wise men -- weary, too.

A while back I read a post about the day after the celebration being the real celebration. The pressure's off. The deadlines have been met or missed. We stay in our jammies all day. We pull out the leftovers. We don't worry about the tablecloth or the candles. Heck, we might just eat straight from the serving dish.

The weary world rejoices.

At our house, this includes lots of hot chocolate.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Brief Exchanges That Leave Me Nervous

Me: What are you doing?

Ainsley: It's gwitter!

Me: What are you doing?

John: Nothing ...

Me: What are you doing?

Ainsley: I just cweaning up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Warm and Smushy

John: I got a donut for Ainsey and one for me, too. They're in my pocket.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Day in the Life

John comes running to tell me he stayed in his bed all night
... and I find a wet pile of jammies and undies on his floor.

We all head to confession and manage to arrive five minutes early
... and the line is so long we turn around and go home.

We manage to produce a great Christmas photo this year
... and I still spend hours wrestling with Christmas card software.

I decide to make cookies to ease a little stress
... and we're out of eggs.

We borrow two from our ever-so-generous neighbor
... and Ainsley drops one on the floor.

So we borrow a third egg
... and I sit here consuming vast amounts of batter.

Ainsley wakes up from her nap a touch out of it
... and wants nothing more than to
rest her head in my lap.

She goes from out of it to green
... and vomits all over me and the study.

She gets a clean shirt
... and then says, "I didnt mean to do that to you pants. But it's okay."

John brings in something of Kolbe's
... and says, "I swung it around and around and broke it to pieces."

Ainsley comes in the room looking a little less wan
... and tells me, "I want a candy cane."

Life ... sometimes sticky, occasionally smelly, somewhat unpredictable, teaming with brightness.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sorry - We're Fresh Out

Boy Wonder: We're supposed to wear Christmasy clothes. Do we have any antlers?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some of the Worst, Some of the Best

Maybe I wrote this last year. Or maybe I just thought about it. I love Christmas music, except for the songs I loathe.

Among the worst:

1. Last Christmas I gave You My Heart - I am sad to report that at least two new versions of this tired and ultra-schmaltzy tune have hit the air waves this year. As if the over-played original weren't painful enough! My teenage son came home from school mocking this song. Gosh, I'm proud of that boy! Just one more heartening example of how his school passes on transcendent values.

2. Christmas Shoes - So I made it to the third Sunday of Lent without hearing this one that is, without question, right off the schmaltz-o-meter. Pretty sure this is the reason the schmaltz-o-meter was invented. Doink!

3. Santa Baby - No need to elaborate.

4. Elvis' Blue Christmas - Ditto.

5. Unnamed Song -- This ghastly number starts out "Where are you Christmas? Why can't I find you?"  I don't know the title because, in truth, I have never gone beyond the opening line. Where's that seek button? Or that left-over air sickness bag?

Tunes we like:

1. The Little Drummer Boy - Strictly speaking, this, too, musters some serious schmaltz, but I just like it. David Bowie and Bing? Love it. Bob Seeger? I like this one, too. An added plus? He's a Detroiter.

2. Carol of the Bells - From Transsiberian Orchestra to Kenny Rogers, this is a fav.

3. O Holy Night -  Love Celion Dion. Josh Groban? More than I can take.

4. Anything sung by The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, or Andy Williams - Yes, some undeniable schmaltz.The Carpenters scream 1970s, but I came of age listening to their eight-track recordings. The others were childhood staples and bring back happy memories of sitting near our fireplace and watching the snow fall.

5. The Messiah - I never get tired of this.

6. Christmas Canon- Makes me want to take up piano or violin.

7. The Grinch - This one hearkens back to Christmas 1986 when I was attending my Officers' Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. What can I say about Arrrrmy training? Hour after hour of some of the most painfully boring lectures ever endured. My caffeine addiction dates back to afternoons attempting to avoid nodding off as field grade officers droned on about who knows what.

The little bit of levity was Captain Al Rommel (I'm not making this up. I trained with a Rommel and a Patton). If a lecture proved particularly heinous, Al would lean over and whisper, "stink, Stank, STUNK!"

7. Anything my kids play - Tim and Kolbe have brought the gift of music into our home, and I love it.

Googling Worst Christmas Songs Ever will produce a list far more colorful than mine. Did John Denver really sing, "Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas"? That even tops "Christmas Shoes."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Good Times at Wal-mart

Good times at Wal-mart? Too much egg nog, you're thinking. But aactually, it's true. I pulled off an epic trip to the big box, and here are the highlights:

1. I've got Dave on the cell as I hunt down an elusive item. When he suggests I ask for help, I all but guffaw. A salesperson at Wal-Mart? Really?

The scoff is no sooner out of my mouth when a man with a name tag on his polo shirt and a smile on his face asks if I need assistance. He actually locates two of the items I'm looking for.

Will wonders never cease?

2. I get to the baby aisle and start checking out the portable potty seats, obsessed as I am with all things related to toilet training. When Ainsley summed up the state of potty affairs by saying, "It's just not working," I'm not sure she wasn't referring to the fact that our current potty seat gets a tad wobbly.We've got enough challenges without Ainsley worrying that she's listing to starboard every time she sits down.

So I find a princess potty seat. The box reads -- and I'm not making this up -- Just give me a try!

Just give me a try?

I laugh out loud. I stand there by myself splitting a gut in the potty chair aisle.

If the fine folks in product design had any clue about the week we've had, no way -- noooooo way! --would they suggest writing Just give a me a try! on the box. And the fine folks at Wal-mart? They should be happy I left Ainsley at home sleeping because, trust me, she would have taken them up on their offer.

3. So then I'm checking out and purchasing not one, but two bottles of Pinot Grigio to drink in my red, plastic, gun-shaped cup. The cashier asks for i.d..

She checks the date and says, "There's no way you're that old!"

Goodness, I just want to kiss the woman!

Good times at Wal-mart!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Let's Make a Deal

So Ainsley offered me a deal the other day: If I bought her Dora panties, she'd potty train. To make a long story short, I've kept my end of the bargain.

It's been yet another damp and noxious day in my house. Ainsey has an accident, and then yells with great indignation, "I have to go potty!" Cause, don't you know, I'm holding her back!

Today -- after multiple accidents and amid a mounting pile of laundry -- I deposited her on the potty. She looked at me and said, "It's just not working." On that point, sweet pumpkin, we are in full agreement.

In my Army days, I learned that U.S. troops don't retreat; we conduct retrograde operations (a.k.a. retreat). So do we forge ahead or do we conduct retrograde operations? Did I mention it's nearing Christmas? Do I consider that we have Christmas festivities Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and two next Thursday?

(We get Wednesday off for good behavior).

 To these various gatherings, I am expected to arrive bearing several gifts, canned goods, M & M's, cookie batter, already baked cookies, hot chocolate, and four well-scrubbed children decked out in festive attire.

And a potty-training two-year-old?

Time for some egg nog, I think.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Nativity

I just gleaned some useful Christmas advice over at Faith and Family Live!. Commenter StephC was responding to a mother who is where most of us have been at one time or another: overwhelmed. Tired, out of steam, even a tad hopeless -- and riding the Polar Express full speed into That Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Steph's advice? Keep your eyes on your own nativity.

I have a dear neighbor right across the street who wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving, gathers a few capable sons, and proceeds to put up every last Christmas decoration. It's pretty; it's tasteful; most impressive of all, it's done -- all before I'm finished de-boning the turkey. Yes, I peer through my front window and see my friend moving with great purpose while I shuffle around in my slippers and nurse my second cup of coffee.

I could engage in a lot of comparisons, but I'd much rather take Steph's advice: Keep your eyes on your own nativity. Or lack thereof. Because that nativity of ours? The day after Thanksgiving, believe me, it was still sitting in the attic.

No matter what our spiritual disposition, it is an undeniable fact that Advent and Christmas bring a degree of busyness and stress. For the record, I had my first moment of pre-Christmas panic this very morning. You know, a moment of Oh My Goodness I've Barely Made a Dent in My Shopping, and I Just Bought Advent Candles Yesterday. This was quickly followed by a major reality check, a trip to confession on unrelated issues, and a lengthy venture into the attic. The nativity is now down!

This was just the first of many forays into that vast repository of stuff we call the attic. Our attic. Our attic is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's the only generous storage space in this house built in the 50s for people who must have had two kids and maybe three complete outfits of clothing. The closets are minuscule. But the attic? It's large.

Some years I take down Christmas with the same care that I put it up. I label boxes; I discard broken and unused decorations; I do a little organizing as I go. Other years, I pull down the attic stairs, do the heave ho, and slam.

Last year must have been just such a year. Why, you ask? I had no excuses whatsoever. Four of the last five Christmas seasons have found me early pregnant or nursing a newborn. Great excuses to pare back, keep it simple, even be a bit slovenly with the take down. The year I was expecting John, I crawled through the entire season  with one eye on the clock wondering when I could finagle my next nap and one eye on the bathroom door wondering how soon I'd be hurtling myself through it. Ugh! Worth every last ounce of suffering, but ugh! Somehow we managed the trek to Michigan for the holidays that year. I think my logic went something like this: I can remain in the fetal position here in Georgia and do all the shopping and cooking by myself, or I can manage to haul our sorry selves to Detroit, assume the fetal position there, and let my mother-in-law and sisters wait on me hand and foot. No brainer!

I remember the trip home was heinous with a capital H. I was throwing up before we left my sister's house. I was throwing up as we crossed the border into Ohio. We had a portable DVD player that I was known for employing with great moderation and discernment. On that trip I said, "Have at it, boys! I'll see you in Augusta!"

It was the quietest fifteen hour drive we've ever had.

God willing we will all celebrate many, many Christmases. Some years find us in fine form, ready to enter the season of preparation, and excited to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Other years find us (okay, me) scrounging for Advent candles on December 23rd and happy to come up with three burgundies and a red when purple and pink prove to be somewhat elusive. True story. While three burgundies and a red might make fine choices when buying wine, they're just a touch out of the liturgical norm when preparing for Christmas.

Oh well. Keep your eyes on your own nativity!

My dear friend went to confession one Advent. She lamented to the priest how far short she felt she was falling in pulling together a holy season of preparation. This priest is a good man, a holy man, a man who loves liturgy and the church seasons. You know what he told her? Relax and enjoy your family.

Nearly every magazine in circulation is now featuring a story on dealing with stress this holiday season. They'll print to do lists and last minute buying guides and handy calendars you can post on the fridge.To be sure, celebrations -- all of them -- require work. But Father Brett had it right -- it's also about simply enjoying your family.

For us that means lots of egg nog -- Tim's favorite drink. It means multiple viewings of Elf and The Santa Clause -- liturgically bankrupt and really very funny. It means boiled peanuts and chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and potato soup.

It means pulling out the Advent candles, even if a few days late. It means writing out cards to people I look forward to hearing from once a year. It means fun and busyness and a gentle tug back to the true meaning behind all this hurly burly.

And this year -- to increase our joy and to minimize my stress -- it means taking Steph's wise counsel and keeping my eyes on my own nativity.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Seven Quick Takes

1. It's bad enough that I'm sipping pinot grigio from a red, plastic cup shaped like a gun.

2. I glance into my vino and discover Darth Vader floating in it.

Oops! That's not Darth Vader. That's Ainsley sideways.

 That's Vader in vino.

3. Kolbe brings home a book he has written. I can't decipher the title. "It's written in shark," he informs me.

4. Ainsley removes her diaper because, well, who wants to sit in that mess? I go dashing off to get the wipes. When I return she tells me, "I cleaned my bottom with Timmy's shirt." Mission accomplished! I guess.

5. We're leaving the doctor's office this morning. Ainsley throws her hands up in the air and says, rather loudly, "Where are my panties?" I'm pretty sure Tim was fervently wishing Catholics believed in the rapture and that it had occurred at exactly that moment.

6. Dave and John made a run to their favorite hard work store - Mistah Harbor Fweight. John came home with -- are you ready for this? -- a snow shovel. Dave must have seen it and been overwhelmed with nostalgia.

7. As I was buckling John's car seat the other day, he put his hands on my face and said, "Mama, I love your fullness." My fullness? I wondered what he meant. "Of your heart," he explained.

He flat slays me, that boy.

Jen at Conversion Diary rounds up Seven Quick Takes every Friday. Some of us can't get to it until Monday.  Pop over to visit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gift of John

Dave is cruising to McDonald's with John in tow. John reaches into his pocket and pulls out ... a shock collar.

Yes, a shock collar. The kind a large dog wears. The kind that is connected to an invisible fence or a remote control held by owners hoping to keep their pet from becoming road kill. The kind that comes with a hefty price tag.

And we haven't a clue where it came from. So begins the interrogation. We have to move carefully with John. He clams up fast and no amount of cajoling or bribing or threatening will wring the truth out of him. We haven't resorted to water-boarding in the kitchen or a phenobarbital drip, but, then, he's not a teenager yet, is he?


Dave realizes the interrogation is going nowhere fast and  finally says -- very gently -- "John, did the dog take off the collar and hand it to you?"

John's eyes instantly brighten. He gives an enthusiastic nod and says, "Yes! Yes, he did!"

That's the ticket!

How do you restrain the laughter? He's lying, darn it! Stifle it, Kelly!

But I can't. Because this is John.

Last summer I walked into my sister's bathroom to find a suspicious wet trail going straight across the shower curtain. Gosh, I could write a novel about showers curtains and boys, except that it would be pure non-fiction or possibly a photographic essay with a scratch and sniff fold out.

But I digress . . .

Attempting to assume the best, I asked my sister if her dog had occasional accidents. When she said No, Jasper is fully housebroken, I moved to the next usual suspect -- our wonderful, brown-eyed bundle of vim and verve -- John.

"John, did you pee on the shower curtain," I calmly queried.

"No," he said in a solemn tone, "I peed on Jasper."

Yes, he peed on Jasper, the dog who likes to snooze next to the shower curtain. His aim being, well, not particularly precise, both Jasper and the shower curtain got the shower.

And I nearly split a gut laughing. Thankfully so did my sister. I tried to restrain mysef, really I did, but I just couldn't manage it.

So back to the shock collar . . . We gently get him to cough up the real story: He took the collar off the dog who was probably black but might possibly have been silver and it all happened yesterday or maybe not.

Helpful details, one and all.

A string of phone calls to various dog owning neighbors eventually leads us to our friends up the street who are so very grateful to get their rather pricey collar back.

Meanwhile John comes home from school and informs me that his teacher was out today.  "Miss Rebecca can break into a movie theater," John informs me. "She's really tough. Also she can sleep with the lights on."

You gotta be tough to handle a roomful of four-year-olds.

She's a good teacher, too. John seems to be picking up the alphabet nicely. "G is for grappling hook," he informs me. I swear, when I was a kid, G was for grape or girl or some other object much less thrilling than a grappling hook.

Tonight as I'm making dinner I hear Ainsley shrieking and spy John in the vicinity.  He reminds me of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes: I know nothing! I know nothing! A little prodding produces a confession.

"I gave her a hurt hug," he finally tells me.

A hurt hug. Hmmmm. Yes, she's feeling the love all right.

And we are feeling the levity, the brightness, the occasional drama, and the endless parade of surprises that come our way thanks to this one-of-a-kind little boy who has graced our family with his presence.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Igniting the Fire Within

My prayer group is reading what I believe is the best book on prayer I've ever found. From Father Dubay's Prayer Primer: Igniting the Fire Within:

If five different people pick up this book, or fall on their knees at the end of a long day, they may easily be prompted by five specifically different motives. One may be suffering and wants to find a way to cope. A second may have had a run-in with husband or wife and is hurting inside. A third is perhaps responding to an inner emptiness. A fourth is simply doing what was learned at Mom's knees. The fifth is deeply in love with God and cannot imagine beginning or ending a day without adoring and praising him - and thus loving him more and more.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Different Perspective on Black Friday

While I decry Black Friday as an insidious plot to ruin my Thanksgiving (but manage to shop just the same), here's a thoughtful post presenting an entirely different perspective.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Something Old, Something New

So I plowed through the Black Friday ads. Here's what I discovered:

1.       A New One  - Vehicles you color. These are sort of like tents in the shape of Mater, the pick-up truck, or the space shuttle. They come in black and white with a collection of markers. The amazing thing? If you believe the ad, the whole family participates, and everyone colors in the lines.

       No store hoping to hawk these jobbies would care to run a photo of what my family could do with them. Of course, one of my nameless offspring once got his hands on a Sharpie and colored his private parts Kelly green – and this the night before his three year-old check-up.

       We won't be buying one of these.

2.       An Old One – Race cars and track. As a child I spent hours and hours and hours sitting in the basement racing cars with my brother. I get all nostalgic when I see these things. The problem with revisting childhood toys is that I typically wind up disappointed. So many toys and games from my childhood are now a plastic, flimsy knock-off version of what they were forty years ago.

       We'll file this under we’ll see.

3.       A Deal – Puffer jackets for $9.99. Maglite flashlights for $15.00.

4.       Huh? – A radio-controlled Giant Flying Shark.

5.      Never Again – Microscopes and Kerplunk. Cheap microscopes? These just never really work. I think you have to get a lab quality model to inspire the oooh! And ahhh! you’re going for.  As for Kerplunk – marbles and sticks under every piece of furniture. Much flimsier than when I was a kid and much more irritating as I am now the one rounding up the scattered parts.

6.      Worth it – Etch a Sketch for $5.99! A classic that has no loose parts. Invented by a mother, no doubt.

7.       Crash and Burn – Uno Attack. Think: The Song That Never Ends.

8.      I’ll give you mine – Alphabet Pal. Just plain annoying. Voice tends to activate when you walk in the room. Fairly sure not one child learned a single letter using this.

9.      Don’t Think So – Nearly every item manufactured by some company called Just Like Home. The Deluxe Cleaning Set – broom, dust pan, mop, rubber gloves – rubber gloves!? My Cleaning Trolley – spray bottles, scrub brushes, etc. all on a moveable cart. Optional accessory: chain tying you to the kitchen sink. This from the woman who is in love with her vaccuum!

10.   Think: Kerplunk -- Play food set and dining room collection. One hundred and sevety one pieces in all. Sorry, Ainsley!  If we purchase any fake food, it will be the collection you could scan in the express aisle -- fifteen items or less.

11.   Sand Art – What mother wills to bring more sand into her house? No need to shell out bucks for this.

12.   A Better Deal Than I Wrangled – So I was thrilled a while back when I picked up a high quality mummy sleeping bag for a mere $25.00. Then I saw the Black Friday ad that showed the bag going for $9.99. Errrrr.
I'll end with true confessions: I shopped on Black Friday. Not at 4:00 a.m. and, unlike the individuals who made headlines, I chose not to pepper-spray anyone who got in my way. But I did shop.

Friday, November 25, 2011


The bird is thawed, stuffed, and roasting in the oven. The pie is made.  Matt Lauer is reporting that Sponge Bob Square Pants is floating toward Macy’s. The Nutcracker is playing in the background.

As for me – the blogger who just yesterday posted a diatribe about Excess and Gluttony and Too Much Stuff -- I am sitting here, well caffeinated and content, perusing the Black Friday sales papers.
How do you spell hypocrite?

I have many thoughts about Black Friday, few of them positive.

I love Easter and Thanksgiving because they are unique among American holidays in that the ambient culture does not push an over-the-top approach to them.  On Thanksgiving I cook, I snack, and I watch the parade with the kids. I cook some more. I dwell on the fact that I actually don’t hate cooking; I just hate cooking under pressure. But on Thanksgiving, for me, there is little pressure.
I pull out a nice tablecloth, and the decorating is done. No lights, no gifts, no pageants. No daunting expectations.

Yes, I invariably stress about whether the bird remains slightly frozen. I engage in a few bleak and colorful thoughts about botulism (or is it listeria?). This necessitates a call or two to my mother-in-law or to my dear friend Anna who patiently walk me through, once again, the steps to ensure the turkey is indeed adequately thawed. This year I call both of them. Fears of food poisoning allayed, I go back to cooking and snacking and watching the parade.

Yes, I usually run short of some needed ingredient (poultry seasoning seems my perpetual snag). This necessitates yet another call to my friend Anna. How’s my favorite grocer, I usually say. She laughs and invites me over to raid her well-stocked pantry.

I cook some more. I snack some more. I rake a few leaves. The kids run around the yard. We relax. We play cards. We watch Miracle on 34th Street. We don’t do the impossible. We don’t try to be in three places at once. Half the time we don’t even get dressed until noon.

I see Black Friday as a plot to undo all that is simple and restful about Thanksgiving. That being said, I invariably read every last sale paper as I down my second or third cup of Joe.

I won't forego pumpkin pie to get a good spot in the line at Best Buy. I won't rouse myself from bed to hit Walmart at 4:00 a.m. I have plenty of friends who love all this, and I hope they have a great time doing it and save a bundle.
If I'm inspired and the traffic's reasonable, I might even shop. But I refuse to feel to compelled to shop no matter how thick the collection of sales cirulars. When our long, restful weekend is over, I suspect there will still be Stuff out there for the buying.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just Providing the Basics

CNN reports that the cost of raising a child has risen to $226,000. They report:

The cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920 last year (not including college), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up nearly 40% -- or more than $60,000 -- from 10 years ago. Just one year of spending on a child can cost up to $13,830 in 2010, compared to $9,860 a decade ago.

Read the entire report here.

"Forget designer strollers and organic baby formula," the story reads. "Just providing a child with the basics has become more than most parents can afford."

Just providing a child with the basics . . .  Hmmmm. Here Kelly's scepticism begins to creep in. My scepticism turns to cynicism as we enter Thanksgiving week, a week during which we will eat ourselves into a stupor, a week that will be punctuated with a shopping frenzy that news outlets are predicting will be one for the record books.

Just providing a child with the basics . . .

What are these basics? Let's consider during Thanksgiving week how these basics might vary from family to family, from county to county, from country to country.

I have spent a good chunk of the last month de-cluttering our house. I have had moments during my cleaning sprees that have left me disgusted with our excess. The toys! The games! The Legos! The clothes! I am blessed to get loads of hand-me-downs for several children. My neighbor and I have had baby girls in alternating years. The clothes comes and the clothes go. They are well used. When I see baby Kaitlin in a shirt my precious Ainsey once wore, gosh, my day is made.

We embrace simplicity to some degree. But there's still so much stuff, so very much stuff. I took in a recent load of hand-me-downs determined to keep only the items we would really use. I separated everything into piles. I perused the keep pile again and weeded out still more items. When I folded and put Ainsley's clothes away, she had seventeen pairs of pants. Seventeen pairs of pants! 

And I think about that article discussing middle-class parents who are concerned about just providing the basics . . .

One of my prime motivations in this recent purge is Christmas. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I have magical memories of Christmas growing up with generous, generous parents. I want my children to know the excitement and beauty of Christmas. But Christmas means stuff and lots of it. So, practical woman that I am, I purge in preparation for the onslaught.

Sometimes I look at the bags destined for Goodwill or the landfill and wonder why we live the way we do. And I wonder what God thinks of it all.

Just  providing the basics . . .

I once went to confession after watching a documentary about starvation in Africa. To view children with swollen bellies and babies dying of diseases that five dollars worth of antibiotics would cure, well, it's more than I can take. How will I stand before God and justify this life of ease, I asked the priest. How can I live like this when a mother in Darfur lives like that?

The priest didn't shower me with platitudes or provide any tidy answers. He did point out, and rightly so, that the God of the universe ordained that I be born at this time, in this century, this gender, this race. There are many, many ways we can reach out to poor among us as well as the poor far away. It is our Gospel duty to do so.

But I can't read a report like CNN's without a jaundiced attitude.

Just providing the basics . . .

No doubt highly credentialed statisticians took a robust sampling of families, duly recorded their findings, and divided by the correct number. Few of these "middle-income, two-parent famil(ies)" have an inkling of what the basics are. I don't have an inkling of what the basics are.

I spent four summers working with the Missionaries of Charity in rural Kentucky. I remember two little sisters who would come to camp everyday. They had one pair of sneakers and a pair of patent leather dress shoes between them. They alternated who got stuck playing on the playground in dress shoes and who got the comfy tennies. One of the girls usually didn't have on underwear. We had a boy -- I think he was about twelve -- who had one pair of pants that would have fit a grown man. He would run the bases in baseball holding up his over-sized jeans.

I spent another summer with the nuns working in the Bronx and living in Harlem. As we prayed with the children one morning, a little girl -- obviously a very recent immigrant --thanked God that she and her family no longer lived in Jamaica. One day I walked her home to her apartment in the South Bronx. Graffiti covered every wall, windows were smashed, and the entire structure reeked of urine.

What was life like in Kingston? I don't have an inkling, not an inkling.

Just providing the basics . . .

Talk Around the Dinner Table

Boy 1: Mom, are you saving that turkey for Thursday?

Boy 2: Mom, there is rotten glass in dis enchilada!

Boy 3: Mom, is Thanksgiving a holy day of obligation?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Choose a Doll

Over at Faith and Family Live!, Rachel is compiling lists of toys for girls and toys for boys.

Ainsley's short life has already brought a number of iconic mother-daughter moments most of which involve buying something I've always imagined buying for a daughter -- her first tights, her first Christmas outfit, hair accessories. This time last year Grandma bought Ainsley her first doll.

American Girl must regularly hack into medical records to see who has managed to birth a baby of the female gender. I have yet to make my first American Girl purchase, but, let me tell you, we are on their radar, and they are on Ainsley's. I glanced into the living room the other day, and there she sat perusing the American Girl catalogue with keen interest.

We are all about dolls around here. Ainsley's amassed quite the collection. If you are in the market for a doll this Christmas season, here are my shopping tips:

1. See how Dolly looks disrobed. I'm dead serious and really not a sicko. Believe me, Dolly will spend more time naked than clothed. It's worth checking out what you (and your sons, should you have any) will have in view 24/7. Some dolls are, er, more anatomically correct than others. Their presence may elicit more butt jokes than you care to tolerate. These dolls are best confined to single sex households.

I have a friend who took a Sharpie and drew bras and panties on their Barbie dolls. I totally get that.

2. Consider the hair style. I think this is a case of You get what pay for. American Girl dolls are designed for girls who like to do hair. If you live in a big city, you can visit the American Girl stores and have Dolly's hair done professionally. A basic up-do will set you back about twenty bucks.

Ainsley's favorite Dolly has plastic molded hair. This is entirely washable and not prone to knotting. Her second favorite Dolly sports wavy, golden locks that are very prone to knotting. In a vain attempt to de-tangle, Dolly has lost some hair and now is dealing with some serious female pattern baldness. The long term prognosis, folically speaking, is bleak indeed.

Bottom line: If you get a Dolly with hair, spring for the American Girl.

3. Talking dolls have their drawbacks. Ainsley's favorite doll laughs, cries, and says "Mama." She has also taken one dive into a bubble bath and survived a near-swirly experience courtesy of her owner's older brother. Bad news for the voice box.

4. Washability is key. Dolly has also captured the essence of wet diaper. Maybe during the near-swirly? I've doused her with Febreeze, but she remains a tad malodorous.

5. Skip most of the accessories. If you don't like clutter, the pacifier, bottle, cell phone, hat, tiara, ruby slippers, comb, and brush may eventually fray your nerves. Some accessories don't actually work. Why have a pacie if it won't actually go in Dolly's mouth?

6. Spring for the better stroller. If your daughter's old enough to push a stroller, she'll want to ride in it as well. It won't hold her weight! Or her older brother's!

A few lessons learned. Lots of fun to watch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Bieber Fever in this House

Tim and Kolbe are adding Bieber Fever to each other's Christmas list. This book provides all the details about the teen who rocks, oops, I mean, nauseates our world.

All this reminds me of the time Amazon mixed up my order and a slew of Hannah Montana music arrived in the mail. In a houseful of boys? Just not gonna wash.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Universe Fell from His Fingertips

In our atrium, a large, hand painted treasure chest sits in the corner. The History of the Gifts is one of the major presentations in Level II of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. We open the box to find four boxes each filled with still more boxes.

Each box contains a sampling of God's gifts -- gifts from the sea, from the earth, from plants, from human and animal life. We unroll a long narrative highlighting different aspects of creation. We examine a close-up shot of an owl's eye. It looks like a butterfly. We pick up bugs and a speckled bird's egg. We crack open nutmeg and allspice. We pour over sparkling geodes and bang flint on a rock. We sniff and feel dozens of spices, stones, and herbs. Technically, we're not supposed to taste anything, but sometimes the children lick the rock salt or sample the cinnamon sticks.

Here on earth God has given us the essentials -- water, hard metals from which we fashion tools, salt, plants and animals to feed and cloth us. We then move on to ponder the unessentials -- God has given us elements that sustain our bodies, but also blessings that feed our souls. What is the point, exactly, of a dolphin or a dogwood? Why is a sunflower both edible and beautiful? Why do we have cows which many of us eat, but also dogs which we simply enjoy? What is the point of a sunset or a rainbow or a lush snowfall? Why are babies so achingly lovely?

We've recently spent a week on the coast of South Carolina. I can't look out over the Atlantic and fail to feel closer to God who, in the words of songwriter Michael Card, "made the universe fall from His fingertips." We have seen alligators and starfish, horseshoe crabs and stingrays. We have ridden the waves and biked the beach. The kids wish Live Oaks grew in our neighborhood. They have climbed and climbed through these amazing trees that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. The weather has been amazing -- warm enough to swim, cool enough to pull on a sweatshirt in the afternoon.

I write so often (too often) about the tribulations that are part and parcel of life with little children. When I added labels to my archived work, the top label wasn't Love or Family; it was Real Life -- that messy business involving spilt milk and plumbing issues and fevers and poop. During our week at the beach, I had the presence of mind to notice the many grace-filled moments -- the many gifts -- that came our way:

The leisurely lunch during which everyone downed great seafood and chatted and looked out over the harbor. Ainsley colored. John was sweet.  Dave taught Kolbe how to win at Tic Tac Toe. Tim made me laugh.

The bike ride that involved no broken chains or toddlers who refused to wear helmets, but did include beautiful scenery and a cool breeze.

The hours spent sitting in the sand while Ainsley yelled, "I dig!" John searched for crabs. The older boys rode the waves with their dad.

The morning the entire household slept until 8:45.  When did that last happen?

The afternoon I lay napping on the couch looking out through an open door at the swaying palm trees.

I often reflect that God is not a minimalist. This world of ours is full and varied and surprising. So much that I have enjoyed this week has no utilitarian value whatsoever -- except to feed my soul, which, really, is more useful than anything else.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


"ABC's," Ainsey says, spying this educational wonder. "I play with dat!"

Yes, sweetie, you can learn your ABC's with this. And your brothers have oh-so-thoughtfully provided your first vocabulary word.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tim at Fourteen

Kind brother, good son, gift from God -- we're glad you're ours!

Saturday, November 05, 2011


John, intently watching the construction crew across the street: I wish Dad was a workermon what dwives a bulldozer.

He's a workermon, sweetie. No bulldozer in his office, but he's a workermon.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

I'm Too Pretty To Do Homework

More news of young girls and fashion ... This one falls more into the category of inane, unlike the situation involving The Learning Channel which was nothing short of reprehensible. JC Penney has been taken to task for marketing a t-shirt that reads, "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me."

To make matters worse, the description of the shirt on the JC Penney website reads, "Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is."

My daughter is cute and sassy. We're not going out of our way to encourage the sassy part. It's coming along quite nicely on its own, thank you very much.  And we don't plan to tell her she's too pretty for homework.

Years ago, Mattel found itself in hot water after introducing "Teen Talk Barbie" who, among other canned phrases, would pout, "Math is tough!" I don't know how long she lasted, but Mattel had the good sense to delete one of the 270 sentences Barbie would randomly mutter and to apologize for offending the masses. (To be clear, Mattel apologized; Barbie did not).

Marketing is a fascinating field. I have pondered what goes through the minds of creatives sitting around a conference table trying to dream up the next Ferbie or Tickle Me Elmo, the next Trivial Pursuit or Twister. A while back I penned a post delving into those great minds that produced fake vomit, fart whistles, and alien test tube slime (all of which at least two of my children would flat out l-o-v-e).

Fashion is a world unto itself and teen fashion, well, I won't even go there. I gave up clothes shopping for nieces when they turned around nine and suddenly showed an aversion to Peter Pan collars and pinafores. I'd buy them jewelry or a t-shirt. They would thank me politely and, oddly enough, I would never see the item again. Can you say Goodwill? Even their mother began to strike out.

"You're clothes are cute," I remember my sister telling my oldest niece.

"I don't want to be cute," came the plaintive response. "I want to be cool."

I don't really do cool, lacking, as I have shared before, some genetic marker deemed fashionable. I strive for neat, and some days I pull it off nicely. With this wordy disclaimer, I still don't get some of what department stores throw the way of little kids. I get that increasingly younger kids are drawn to phrases that range from funny to mouthy, from edgy to lewd. But who buys these things? Presumably adults.  Parents, no less!

I took a few education courses at a local university. I was surprised at the level of angst and resentment many women felt about the opportunities they were discouraged from pursuing as elementary and high school students. They absolutely picked up a line of thought that said "Women can't do math" and "Women can't do science."

This was not my experience. Every math and science class I took in high school was taught by a woman; most were taught by nuns. Sister Helen O'Connel, Sister Evangeline Nestor, Sister Agnes Joseph Sun -- these women were smart, exacting, and every bit as formidable as their names. I came away from high school thinking that my only limitations were my own drive and initiative. Nobody told me I couldn't do math or science.

T-shirts shouldn't send this message either. And when they do, parents --drum roll, please -- shouldn't buy them. If anyone can do math, it's the accounting departments of huge retailers.

Boys' fashions are not immune to the trend. This piece on back to school t-shirts caught my eye as well. The author shares:

"I’m So Bored” spelled out the words, carefully crafted to look like the periodic table, on my son’s new t-shirt he received for his birthday. As a former chemistry teacher, I hated it —- excuse me, but a class where you have permission to light things on fire is not boring! —- but, of course, my son loved it. He giggled, “Yeah, mom, I hate school!”

For the record, he does not hate school. His teachers do an excellent job of keeping things fun and educational, yet here he was, playing into every lame stereotype. As I discovered when I went to return the t-shirt (mom’s veto privilege!), this shirt was hardly the worst example of boys t-shirts printed with obnoxious sayings. While a lot of attention has been paid to the slut-ification of little girls’ clothing, not much has been said about the dumbing down of boys' apparel.

“My brain hurts” reads one t-shirt with a picture of Bart Simpson and a math book. “Looking for trouble? You found it!” declares a shirt from Target. “If homework is work, then when do I get paid?” quips a boys t-shirt from Kohls. There's the ever popular “My favorite subjects are lunch and recess” shirt, and my personal least favorite reads “Let’s just skip school so I can start my rockstar training.” Yes, these shirts are funny, but I hate the message that t-shirts like these send to boys. School isn’t always a-laugh-a-minute, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s important that kids learn life skills, like reading and math, but equally as important that they learn they can deal with being bored sometimes and that hard things are worth doing, even if they aren’t super fun.

I agree with the writer on all but one point -- the t-shirts aren't funny; they're moronic. "My brain hurts"? Falls flat with me, anyway.

Around here we use apparel to send messages, too - "My Dad Rocks", "Daddy's Little Princess", "Michigan Wolverines".

"I'm So Bored"?  Been there, heard that, don't need the t-shirt.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Alphabet Puzzles

So I was all ready to post this picture and totally mock those quality control folks who let this slide. Then the little squiggle above the green N fell out. And I wasn't quite sure if an N with a squiggle has some meaning that I don't know. And doesn't that squiggle have some name besides squiggle? And just who's the ignoramus now, hmmmm?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Twenty-five Percent Less

So a child climbs into mom and dad's bed at oh-dark-thirty for a little company and a snuggle. Dawn breaks and it's immediately evident that the ultra-absorbent pull up has failed to do its job.

What to do?

1. Wash the sheets and bleach the mattress pad?

2. Spot clean the damp area and spray a little Febreeze around?

3. Pull back the covers and turn the ceiling fan on high?

I have been dealing with a variety of stresses of late. My usual response to this is to attempt to batten down the hatches --clean and de-clutter, reinforce chores, jump start my prayer life.  Good, useful ideas, one and all.

Lest I come off as some type A perfectionist (and nobody who either knows me IRL or reads this blog will think that for long), believe me, I know how to relax. Yesterday I was child-free and in the middle of errands on the far side of town. A friend called and asked me to lunch. Continue to run errands or enjoy soup and a sandwich with a dear friend? Errands abandoned! Off to lunch I went.

I read. I blog. I spend lots of time chatting with my sisters in Michigan. I also clean somewhat compulsively when I am stressed, and I do have a tendency to start throwing things in the Goodwill box when tensions are running high. I got rid of a load of stuff today. Order brings peace, I tell myself.

Not too long ago, while I was in the midst of an epic meltdown, a friend offered some advice for riding out the storm: Expect twenty-five percent less.

She didn't say abolish all standards and let the house go to ruin. She said dial it down a notch or two. Expect twenty-five percent less -- of yourself, of your children, of your spouse. There is a time to batten down the hatches and a time to let some things slide.

I just read Kate Wicker's comment on a piece she had written some time back on tips for children at Mass. The last thing Kate wanted to do was to burden anyone. She acknowledged that different children (and different numbers of children) require unique strategies.

From any number of angles, Dave and I parent differently with four children than we did with one or two. Adding a newborn to the mix requires a paradigm shift. God, in His great sense of humor, sometimes throws in a spicey child or two just to shake up the whole kit and kaboodle. We thought our second child brought all the zest -- then I birthed number three.

We go through varied seasons as parents. Some of us have had strongly held opinions on this issue or that. Breastfeeding! Pre-school! Nutrition! Co-sleeping! Discipline! Some of us may have been extremely vocal about these opinions. Some of us have eaten a few of those well-reasoned and articulated opinions. Believe me, I have downed my fair share. Some I have choked down in bits and pieces; some I have swallowed whole.

While pregnant with our first child, I devoured book after book on delivery, breastfeeding, and childcare. Some of these how to manuals err on the puritanical side, and they feed on the very thing that no new mother needs: fear. Fourteen years ago, while I was attempting to nurse for the first time, a well-meaning nurse put drops of sugar water on my breast. I was aghast, I mean, absolutely horrified.

 It's all over, I thought. Look what she's done!  My nursing efforts were surely doomed. In fact, I needed to resign myself to years of ear infections, obesity, and plummeting IQ scores. That's what the books so ominously warned. I had read them all and taken their counsel as though it had come down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets.

A few years later I sat on the phone listening to a mom cry as she described her painful attempts at nursing and her baby's failure to thrive. She just couldn't put her daughter on formula.

There are many ways to feed a baby, I told her. You can use formula and still rock and cuddle and mother. Do what you think is best for your baby, not what you read in a book.

I had come off my high horse on the issue of nursing. It's not because I don't retain strong feelings about nursing. Nursing is, hands down, my favorite part of having itty bitty babies. But it's One Part of the Big Picture. Just One Part.

Holding on to the Big Picture is a huge and continuous challenge for me. When we dial it down, when we expect -- in the best interests of everyone -- twenty-five percent less, we jettison some things that once mattered, maybe quite a lot.

Ainsley is a picky eater. She started attending Children's Morning Out one day a week this fall. For several weeks she wouldn't eat a bite at school. The teachers were flummoxed. I was flummoxed mostly because they were flummoxed.

I need to find something she'll like. Think: processed and palatable.

Here is the saga of getting Ainsley to consume something -- anything -- at lunch:

Week 1: I bought -- are you ready for this? -- uncrustables. Refrigerated, crust-free sandwiches on nutritionally bankrupt white bread neatly packaged for those sorry, sorry parents who can't manage to throw together a peanut and jelly sandwich. I bought 'em! She wouldn't touch them.

Week 2: I bought lunchables.  More pre-packaged and processed food marketed to other sorry parents. She wouldn't touch these either.

Week 3: I turned to an old stand by, a tried and true friend -- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Just as processed, not quite as portable, chock full of yellow dye numbers 5 and 6. Parents who buy them? Just as sorry! Ainsley gobbled it up.

Sometimes when I reflect on expecting twenty-five  percent less, I consider that in a few departments we already seem to be scraping bottom big time. I remember spying uncrustables in the grocery store one day long, long ago. Who buys this stuff, I wondered. Really, who can't slap together a simple sandwich? But it's just One Part of the Big Picture.

So I have bought uncrustables. I have attempted to coax my daughter into eating lunchables. I have turned the ceiling fan on high to avoid washing the sheets. I just returned from driving around the block for the sole purpose of putting Ainsley to sleep for her afternoon nap. I am trying -- not very successfully some days -- to expect twenty-five percent less of myself and others.

I am ignoring the One Small Part and in favor of seeing the Big Picture.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Beach

Better for my mental health to look at these pictures than to reflect on the pain of re-entry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Developmental Milestones

As we park in the driveway, John announces with great bravado, "I knew the way how to get out of my seat belt!"

Yes, sweetie, I am all too painfully aware that you have mastered this feat of fine motor skills. Suffice it to say, this is one milestone we don't appreciate. I wrote about milestones here, eighteen long months ago when Ainsley first began to explore our world.

Among our favorite milestones:

1. Sleeping through the night.

2. Putting on shoes. Gotta love that Velcro!

3. Getting dressed independently. Of course this brings with it a huge onslaught of laundry as some toddlers change outfits six times per day. It also means plaid shorts with striped shirts and muscle tees accessorized with a Thomas the Tank Engine tie.

4. Putting a straw in a drink box without power washing the floor with juice.

5. Spitting toothpaste more or less in the direction of the sink.

6. Potty training. Of course.

7. Saying please and thank you.

8. Developing a healthy respect for that concrete strip out front we call the street.

9. Coming when called.

10. Making it through Mass with a noise and restlessness factor that allows parents to maintain reasonable blood pressures and to catch a whiff of both Gospel and homily.

11. Saying "I love you."

Milestones we'd be a-okay if they mastered at twelve:

1. Opening doors. Any doors. The refrigerator is bad. The front door is worse.

2. Climbing out of the crib.

3. Taking off a diaper (unless this is accompanied by quick mastery of number 6 above).

4. Figuring out what scissors do. Figuring out what markers do. Figuring out that mom keeps the extra special markers (code word: Sharpie) on top of the refrigerator.

5. Figuring out what else mom keeps on top of the fridge. Figuring out alternative hiding places that obscure everything from snack foods to Christmas presents.

We adjust as needed for both safety and sanity. Always, always, we look for the joy amidst the challenges.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nothing Like a Sleeping Baby

As I was reading in bed the other night, I heard a Thunk! as Ainsley fell out of her bed. Thankfully her bed is very low to the ground. I soothed her bumped head and tucked her in with me. She was snugly and sweet -- patting my cheek, putting her head on chest, being, if only for a fleeting few moments, the baby she seems to have so suddenly and so completely left behind.

She's two in all its glory. While we still get hugs and kisses, she's go, go, go these days -- wholly invested in little girl activities.  Let's play dolls or build with blocks or play tea party. Being content simply being held? Not so much.

A few months back I tossed out my rocking chair -- the rocker my dad bought for me when I had my first child, the rocker in which I have spent a good chunk of my life reading Curious George and Winnie the Pooh, Mike Mulligan and The Hungry Caterpillar, the rocker that, I was forced to admit, was falling apart and beyond repair.

Some time after pitching the rocker, I realized I had all but quit reading to Ainsley. Her bed is just not conducive to a forty-seven-year-old woman reading a book, even if it's in large print and only eight pages long. I missed the reading, but I really missed the slow and snugly part of Ainsley's day. My friend Amy offered her glider rocker. We are reading and cuddling once more.

Last week Ainsley conked out in her car seat on the way to Mass. Typically this is not a good thing. A poorly timed twenty-minute snooze can leave her half-rested and cranky. On this day it worked out just fine. I carried her into church where she peacefully slumbered for forty-five minutes.

Tim was serving Mass. Kolbe and John didn't engage in any semi-overt guerrilla warfare in the pew. In the quiet presence of God, uninterrupted by phone or To Do List, I enjoyed the luxury of holding my sweet baby. I twirled her soft, blond hair and rubbed her fair, still-chubby cheeks. This was a welcome and unusual treat.

A while back it was John who went catatonic in church. During an extra-long homily, he put his head on my lap and out he went. The boy who is full-throttle from dawn to dusk, just lay there, chest rising and falling. I tousled his caramel blond hair. I noticed his shoes on the wrong feet. I rubbed his arms still bronzed from a summer at the pool and in the yard. John has a year round tan his Irish mother could only get from a bottle and then there would be an orange cast to it.  He blazes through the day with equal parts of action and mischief (with a whole lot of charm and affection thrown in). For this all-too-brief time, I enjoyed the weight of his slumbering form and drank in the cuteness that is age four.

Motherhood is a physical job from start to finish. Long before I gain my first ounce of pregnancy weight, I am overcome with fatigue and nausea. One of my babies had hiccups for hours and hours every single evening for months. With both Ainsley and John I had weeks of Braxton-Hicks contractions. With each pregnancy I had the distinct thought, "I can't get any bigger. I just can't." Somehow I did.

Infancy brings the joy and challenge of nursing. Mothers rock and hold and feed and burp, rock and hold and feed and burp. How many of us have found ourselves in a grocery line or Mass without the baby and noticed that we were doing a soothing, jiggly motion simply because it had become second nature?

Toddlers have shoes that need tying,capes that need fastening, boo boos that need kissing, hands and faces and backsides that need washing.

When I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant with Ainsley, I sat in a doctor's office with John. He had spiked a fever of over 104.5. With ears, throat, and nose clear, the doctor suspected a urinary tract infection. Getting a urine sample from a dehydrated two-year-old who was not yet potty trained proved to be a challenge. I spent hours -- hours -- sitting in a hard plastic chair with a feverish John draped over what really didn't qualify as a lap. I had little left to give.

This is motherhood. It's a physical job, a demanding job. I have sometimes felt touched-out. There wasn't enough of me to go around, or so it seemed.

But then these needy little people grow up just a bit. And a tiny part of your heart crumples. We so want them to grow and thrive and develop. We cheer their every milestone. This, of course, means they need us less or at least need us differently.

And I find myself mourning just a little bit.

We are currently at the beach enjoying bacation, as John likes to call it. Ainsley has picked up on this.

"We on 'cation," she asks me every night. "John John on 'cation? Timmy on 'cation? Daddy on 'cation?"

Yes, sweetie. We are on 'cation.

Her favorite part of 'cation is the king-sized bed that means she gets to sleep with mom and dad all night, every night (rather than clandestinely sneaking in as she likes to do at home). After our queen-sized bed, this king-sized baby feels positively cavernous. Or it would except that Ainsley has taken to pressing her squirmy little self right up to me. "Mama!" she says in her bossy voice, if I try to move an inch. She wants my arms around her and my cheek next to hers.

"She thinks she's in utero again," I commented to Dave.

For this week this suits me just fine. After all we're on 'cation, and there really is nothing like a sleeping baby.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What I Didn't Know Then

Dave and I celebrate fifteen years of marriage this week! Truly I am a different  person than I was that sunny Autumn Saturday when we exchanged our vows.

I've been dwelling on all that I didn't know then . . .

-          I didn’t know then that our shared joys as well as our sorrows would add a deep and multi-layered history on top of the love and commitment that were there right from the start (or at least growing from our third date forward).

-          I didn’t know then that some gray hair, a few pounds, and innumerable stretch marks (those would be mine) wouldn’t really matter to either of us.

-           I didn’t know then (although I suspected) that Dave would haul himself out of bed early and stay late to provide a roof over our heads, food on the table, and a stay-at-home mom for our children.

-          I didn’t know then that our journey toward the family we have today we be an uncertain, circuitous one fraught with loss, but punctuated with great surprises. Hello, John! Hello, Ainsley!

-          I didn’t know then that Dave would be an absolute rock as we faced miscarriage after miscarriage.

-          I didn’t know then that Dave would faithfully and generously respond to a son’s nightly request, “Sing Jesus songs to me, Daddy.”

-          I didn’t know then (though this, too, I suspected) that Dave would have special (not greater) love for the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who is the exclamation point at the end of our family.

-          I didn’t know then the joy my sons would find simply in being in the presence of their father – trips to Sonic, visits to the Hard Work Store, popping over to Mistah Harbor Fweight.

-          I didn’t know then how much Dave would laugh with our boys.

-          I didn’t know then the joy I would experience watching Dave share his passions with our children. I could not have envisioned the night Tim asked a simple question about chemistry, and Dave spent ninety minutes pouring over the periodic table with him. (I could have told you then that ninety minutes was approximately eighty-seven minutes and thirty seconds longer than I have spent pondering the periodic table in my entire life.)

-          I didn’t know then that we would be much better parents of four children then we ever were of one or two.

-          I didn’t know then that Dave would have the ability to speak into the limits of my love and call me to be more of the wife, mother, and friend that God wants me to be. He would say the same is true of me.

As I read blogs about marriage and family, I come across a concerned new mother who worries she’ll never reestablish her intimate life after childbirth. I meet a wife facing a trying season in her marriage, worried that this or that will never change. I would never diminish someone’s aggravation or even pain, but fifteen years does lend perspective.

In my work with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we invite the children to dwell on the great moments of creation, redemption, and parousia. We unroll a grosgrain ribbon called La Fettuccia that is 300 feet long. We unroll and unroll and unroll. Each rib represents a thousand years. When we finish unrolling the ribbon, we gaze back to get a perspective on its length and breadth. It’s a big work, we say, a very big work.

Marriage, too, is a big work.

Dave and I recently spoke at a marriage preparation class. We landed the coveted last slot of the day, the slot that also happened to fall right after lunch. God bless those couples! They so wanted to be out of there.

Marriage is a big work, I wanted to tell them. Keep it all in perspective.

When we’ve hit a gully or two, we’ve kept rolling. When life didn’t unfold exactly as we planned, we exercised the virtue of hope. We’ve called upon all the graces God promised when we exchanged vows. Believe me, we didn’t do this perfectly.  But over fifteen years, we have found ourselves overlooking a flaw here, ironing out a kink or two there, growing closer (rather than apart) through loss, and ultimately enjoying a deeper love, a love well-seasoned with a dash of maturity, a healthy sense of This Too Shall Pass, an ability to reconcile quickly, and a willingness to laugh at our own foibles.

Fifteen years ago attraction turned to love and love led to commitment. There was a spark that, in the words of Michael Card “made us shine in each other’s eyes.”

After fifteen years, I’m so very grateful for both the initial spark and for all that I didn’t know then but see so clearly now.

Happy anniversary! As you shared last night after the roses, and the cookies, and the eclairs – I’d marry you all over again.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

First Prize!

Four-year-old John comes running to me to say, "Ainsey and I just made everything normal."

Remarks like this tend to make me break out in a cold sweat.

I go to investigate what, exactly, is meant by normal and where, precisely, normal has taken place. I find that the two of them have attempted to plunge the, um, slightly challenged toilet that is awaiting Daddy's return. The bathroom floor is flooded, and -- I swear I'm not making this up -- there's a trophy sitting on the middle of the floor.

Clearly they were quite impressed with their efforts.

Later Dave returns and goes to work with a plumbing device known as a snake. In short order he retrieves one soggy baby sock and the spindle that holds the toilet paper. I've got to say that Dave is getting frightfully adept at this sort of thing. As for the snake, it is well-used and worth every penny we spent on it.