Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Like Mother, Like Son

Mom isn't the only one who falls asleep with her face in a book.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh, Spellcheck!

This post from my internet friend Christine has an interesting discussion on language. It's a thoughtful piece that shows a love of language but avoids a ramble into snobbery.

People who love language can become purists of the highest order.

In the eight years I taught grammar and composition, I shared lots of laughs with my students. I remember studying pronouns and highlighting the mother of all agreement errors -- themself. "Them don't have a self," I'd inform my students. "The correct ending is selves."  As a transplanted Northerner, I learned that second person plural is y'all.  I now utter the occasional y'all but stop short of saying all of ya'll or, worse, all y'all's.  That's second person possessive in case you are wondering.

During the year I lived in England, my English and Irish friends regularly teased me about this or that expression. They loved to say "It was a blast!" with an affected American accent. When it comes to language, snobbery abounds North and South, East and West, here and across the pond. After twenty-five years in the Deep South, I like my tea sweet, but if I ever say fixin', please shoot me.

I love the English language and its diverse dialects. I love grammar. I love looking up words in a dictionary or a thesaurus. I love diagramming sentences!

Over time I have come to accept that this puts me in a minority with odd but passionate company. For those who fall into this unique camp, I'll mention four of my favorite books on language and writing: The Writer's Art by the late James Kilpatrick; The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way by Bill Bryson; In Love with Norma Loquendi by William Safire, and  Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.

(In the above paragraph, I originally had written "this puts me in a very small minority." Mr. Kilpatrick would have rolled over in his grave. Of course, he's now rolled over in his grave because I just typed "rolled over in his grave" not once but twice. Avoid redundancies and cliches, he tells his readers. Although I've never read his position on all of y'all, I'm confident he would declare that redundant as well.)

James Kilpatrick advises that, above all, writers should write. So I blog. I stew again and again over the length of time this simple blog sucks out of my life, but I continue to bang away at the keyboard (broken or not) because I really do love to write. (And because, once in a while, a mother will tell me that sharing about real life -- and not a glossy, picture-perfect version of that life -- consoles her that she is not alone in her struggles).

When writers write, two things happen: They make mistakes, and they become better writers. Two of my dear friends and favorite bloggers are Amy and Rachel. They are both first-rate writers and skilled editors, which, I have found, are not necessarily one and the same animal. Both of them have encouraged me in this small endeavor.

After two years of blogging, here are a few lessons learned:

1. Words I now know how to spell: whit (as opposed to wit), ad nauseam (not ad nauseum).

2. Words I bungle every time: license, refrigerator (I always think there's a D), privilege (again, isn't there a D?), niece (even with that handy I before E rule). I was excited when I nailed reminisce on the first try the other day.

3. Spelling problems that scare me: the day I debated between Aisle and Isle for a frightening length of time. Lack of caffeine, maybe? Then there was the post that referred to pop singer, Justine Bieber. I have to point out that both of these examples occurred around the time I discovered I had been drinking -- brace yourselves, please -- fat-free half and half in my coffee and had been doing so for days. Clearly, something was slipping, and I'm pretty sure it was my mind.

4. Is it hare-brained or hair-brained? Harebrained or hairbrainedBlond or blonde? Earlier I planned to write dictionaries or thesauruses, but (aside from being an earful), I wasn't sure spellcheck would catch a misspelling of the plural of thesaurus. And how do you spell misspelling? It never looks quite right to me.

5. Here's another question: Is is spellcheck or spell check? And someone please tell me why Blogger's spellcheck, however its spelled, sometimes just doesn't work.

6. Every now and then, Blogger eats a  paragraph or two. I typed and saved the same paragraph three or four times one morning -- the same morning I dumped a cup of coffee over our former keyboard. All of this brings back a memory from the years I taught basic typing. Students would make a mistake and mutter "oh, spellcheck!" or (a little more quietly) "oh, shift!" Too funny.

When I was an English teacher, I would offer my students extra credit for every error of mine they caught. Needless to say, they loved this. To readers and fellow lovers of English: Feel free to correct my grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Writers need to write, and they need the feedback of other writers.

Their are three errors in this post. Or, I should say, three errors that I intentionally left here for you to discover. Happy hunting. (In honor of James Kilpatrick, I really should end on a high note and not with a cliche.) C'est la vie!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In Adjectives

Sweet -- Spending the evening listening to two-year-old Ainsley's  non-stop chatter.

Determined -- Four-year-old John in the doctor's office: I am NOT getting a shot already.

Novel -- Waking up from a nap because an earthquake (minor, thank goodness) hit the East Coast and sent a tremor all the way to Georgia.

Pathetic -- Ainsley seeing me crying (due to a very emotional prayer time) and asking, "John hit you?"

Compassionate -- Dave letting John watch as much Bob the Builder as he wanted after enduring four shots.

Fun -- Playing cards with my favorite teenager.

Memorable -- Ainsley dancing around my bed wearing a bra.

Worrisome -- The dental work I'm having done tomorrow.

Invaluable -- Friends who pray with me and for me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Parenting - A Spectator Sport

John survived his four-year check this afternoon. Four shots plus the flu mist -- the boy worked hard for his stickers and Frosty. He was nothing short of angelic during the office visit. While John appears to have flunked both the hearing and the sight tests, he charmed the socks off the doctor and two nurses. Tho doctor made several comments about John's good behavior.

When John is being sweet, the glare from his halo could blind you.

Earlier in the day, I'm sad to report, sweet was overtaken by sassy, and John's potty mouth got the best of him. For about the ninety-seventh time this summer, I got A Bad Report about one of my children. ( Note to the reporter: Thank you! We can't address it if we don't hear about it).

So for the ninety-seventh time this summer, I found myself reflecting on the public nature of parenting. Do you ever feel that you're in the spotlight, and you'd rather avoid it? This is the story of Summer 2011. The highs (and I'm not just talking about the temperatures) have been high; the lows have scraped bottom big time.

Several years ago Elizabeth Foss shared a thoughtful piece about being on bed rest. She was expecting Sarah Annie, her ninth baby, and complications with the pregnancy left her attempting to run a house and family from the confines of her bed. Elizabeth compared bed rest to camping -- both experiences tend to expose the fault lines in relationships, to bring into sharp focus both the good and bad habits of a family. I couldn't find the column I had in mind, but, in summarizing bed rest, Elizabeth wrote:

I learned that you absolutely cannot expect your children will behave a certain way if you are not right there seeing that they do. Whether this involves how they use their time (television, computer, Xbox) or how they do (or don't do) their chores, children need close and careful supervision. Mothering in my house is a very active undertaking.

We have spent over one third of the summer out of town. What Elizabeth said of camping and bed rest,  I have found to be true of extended vacation. Want to see your every virtue and vice in living color? Try moving your family  -- an almost two-year-old, a choleric four-year-old, a mostly amiable ten-year-old, and an occasionally moody teenager -- into someone else's house for a month. Or into several different houses. Make sure dad is AWOL for at least half the trip. Choose a house on a lake and ensure that two of the kids can't swim a stroke. Double check that the place has long since ceased to be baby- or toddler-proof. Add record-breaking temperatures and biting flies. Sprinkle with a dash of marital discord. Let the whole mess ferment for approximately twenty-eight days.

Am I exaggerating? Unfortunately, not so much.

Out of our usual element, I suddenly found myself noticing habits (or lack thereof) that wouldn't have been quite so glaringly awful were they not on display in front of a live audience. Most of it caught me off guard.  Some of these were fairly minor. You think you've covered your bases,  and then you suddenly glance at a child who has just snagged one hot dog and approximately seventeen desserts at a family potluck. Haven't we been through this a few hundred times? Bahhhhhhh!

Manners and  helpfulness? Dicey, at best. Ability to stick to our family rules without a  parent within eye or ear shot? Questionable.

Hygiene? Let's not even go there.

Children thrive on routine. Routine is challenging to maintain at home and well nigh impossible to maintain when you're shuttling from house to house. Meals, nap times, bedtimes -- we did our best, which sometimes wasn't so great.

We dealt with a four-year-old who persisted in wandering off again and again and again. Our two-year-old lifted someone's lipstick and wrote all over a wall with it. I squared off with an older child who couldn't quite get the drift of  "Ask before you leave the house." One of the younger set would continuously let the dog out of her cage and then would climb in and eat the dog's food. Someone wet the bed, a bed that had no mattress pad or giant plastic Ziploc bag protecting it. A toddler repeatedly ran off with a cousin's I-Touch which precipitated meltdowns of epic proportions. Someone wrote on a piece of furniture. The lake beckoned the non-swimmers.

We spent a chunk of our vacation sharing a house with a very nice couple. The husband, however, repeatedly looked at Ainsley and said, "My, she sure is active!" This clearly wasn't a compliment. How many times do you say that before the mother (me!) wants to jump up and shout out the obvious translation: How did you manage to birth this undisciplined, tyrannical hellion? And Ainsley is, hands down, my easiest baby. Cease and desist already!

By the last day of our trip -- and this was the day the mercury hit 100, and the biting flies were merciless -- I was ready to strap the little ones into their car seats and spend the day driving around. They'd be safe; we'd all be cool; the flies couldn't devour us.

In the interest of full disclosure, we also had a ton of fun (all of which I detail here). We spent hours and hours floating in the lake. Kolbe landed a five pound Walleye! We took long, leisurely bike rides and hikes. We laughed and played cards and dug sand castles.

I also drank a glass of wine at five o'clock nearly every day.

One Sunday, while Dave was still in Georgia, I took the kids to Mass alone. They were the only children in the tiny church. The deacon smiled at us and commented how nice it was to have children in Mass. The following Sunday, we sat behind an elderly couple. They stopped us after Mass. "You have a lovely family," the wifed shared, "and they were so well behaved."

Mothers need to hear the good because, believe me, we hear the bad often enough.

Years ago, when I had one son, I watched a Christmas pageant with a friend of mine. This was my friend's moment of triumph -- her daughter had landed the role of Mary in the nativity play. Heady stuff for a Catholic mom -- I mean big, really big. And there stood her daughter -- flowing blue gown, white veil secured with bobby pins, piously gazing on the plastic baby Jesus ... and picking her nose.

My friend -- the mom of many and a seasoned veteran of foreign wars -- rolled her eyes, and we all shared a laugh.

This is motherhood at its best and at its worst. Sometimes parenting is, like it or not, a spectator sport.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From the Mouth of John

John, feeding his oldest brother a few good lines: Tim, say John John is the coolest. Tim is a nerwed!

John, demonstrating his amazing spelling skills: Mama, I want a W O S T N and that spells donut!

John at play: Mama, watch while I dwive my montster twuck over Cwifford.

John at church: I'm going to light a candle. It's for Henry.

John and his sister: Ainsey, I love you sooooo much!

Yes, age four is a mixed bag.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Driving on Fumes

Happy birthday to my sister Kate who turned 49 the other day.

I'm blessed to call Kate both sister and friend. We share a colorful history. When we're together, Kate and I inevitably end up reminiscing about the antics of our teenage and college years. While not wild by nature, we've pulled off our share of harebrained stunts. I'm glad we made it to adulthood more or less intact.

I've written before about our teenage habit of driving on fumes. Really, this was just a simple case of well-ordered priorities. If you have two bucks to spend, do you put it in the gas tank or split a milkshake and live on the edge? Sadly, life on the edge didn't always end up being life in the fast lane.

Our first tale of woe must have been when we were both still in high school. We were driving on fumes and then found ourselves grinding to a halt on a busy road in the middle of a torrential downpour. Within minutes, my father -- who happened to be driving down the same stretch at the same time -- spotted the abandoned car ... and us. He was not pleased. We were -- for at least a brief period -- highly motivated to make the heroic sacrifice and fuel the car.

Some years later, Kate and I were headed out to go shopping. Perhaps a tad more circumspect but still just as cheap, we checked the gauges of both vehicles and drove off in the one that was at least registering a whiff of gas. We left my parents to cope with the other car.

(Note to my children: Don't even think about it!)

Off we went. On the way home we spotted my parents driving the fuel-challenged vehicle in the opposite direction. We surmised that they were going out to dinner without us. What were they thinking? As we liked both free fuel and free food, we pulled a U-turn and followed the sporty Pinto wagon.

And then we saw it. On the side of the road. Presumably out of gas. And we panicked, I mean panicked. And we briefly considered driving past cuz Dad wasn't going to pleased about any part of this.

But, all things considered, we were a tad irresponsible, but not complete heathens. So we pulled over to pick up the stranded 'rental units. As Dad got out of the car, we noticed he had his arm wrapped in a towel. Seems he had walked past the pool filter in our backyard and caught his hand on a piece of raw metal. He was sporting a nasty gash.

They were not heading out for a bite to eat; they were going to the hospital to get Dad stitched up.

We were glad we stopped. And Dad didn't say a word.

At this point, I should write This kind of thing never happened again. Not quite true. A few years later, we were racing to the airport in a large vehicle with a broken gas gauge (Dad, I swear I'm not making this up). We sputtered to a halt. And guess what? We were in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. Kate and I looked at each other and laughed as hard as we have ever laughed. The pathetic part of this anecdote is that we were no longer broke teenagers. Kate was then a CPA and I was a manager with a Fortune 500 company. And we were Out! of! Gas!

Lame, lame, mega lame.

I managed to catch my flight because a sympathetic woman pulled over and offered us a lift. (Note to Dad: we never, ever would have taken a ride from a guy!) How Kate recovered the vehicle, I haven't a clue. I hope she called my brother.

We had another close shave, but this totally wasn't our fault either.

As a college graduation gift, my parents gave me a plane ticket to Europe. Kate and I rented a car in Brussels and motored down to the South of France. The roads that wind through the Alps are packed with breathtaking vistas and hairpin turns ... and absolutely void of guardrails and gas stations. As a bird flies, the trip wasn't all that far. But small rental cars don't fly, and the curvy roads made the trip at least twice as long as we planned. In the '80s we travelled without benefit of Mapquest or a GPS. We arrived in Grasse, France, -- the perfume capitol of the world -- with a sigh of relief and quickly found a gas station.

The return trip brought us through Paris. We'll skip the scenic route, we thought, and get there faster and easier. Still no gas stations! We arrived in Paris wondering when the car was going to quit on us. It was late; it was dark. We parked the car in what we hoped was a legal space and thought we'd sort out the gas issue in the light of day. In the morning we were surprised to find that the car was parked ten feet from a gas pump. French gas stations, unlike American ones, don't have fluttering flags and enormous signs that scream Shell! or Exxon! There's simply a pump on the corner. We were relieved to see that one.

Kate and I have many other stories that have absolutely nothing to do with gasoline. We have travelled a good chunk of the world together --- from Bermuda to Mexico, from Cape Cod to San Antonio, from London to what was then known as East Berlin.

Lots of laughs shared, lots of memories forged, too little fuel purchased.

Kate and her family are currently in Israel, touring the sites and commemorating my nephew's Bar Mitzvah with a visit to The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Happy birthday, Kate! Enjoy Israel. And that little device behind the steering wheel? The one with the E and the F? FYI, it's called a gas gauge.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brotherly Love

Tim is feeling lousy. He attempts to chill out with a book, but is met with a chorus of protests from the younger set.

From two-year-old Ainsley: Tim, I want a hug. Tim, I want a kiss. Tim, I want a hug! Tim, I want a kiss!

From four-year-old John: I want Tim to pway with me right this minute!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Te ood, te Bad, and te Funny

The Good

I found my mis-placed cell phone and a $20.00 bill. Nothing so fun as free money.

The Bad

I spilled coffee all over a crowded desk, and the mess leaked into our very nice keyboard. After a complete dismantle, the keyboard works just great except for the letters G and H (as evidenced by the headline).

I'm pretty sure replacing the keyboard will cost more than $20.00.

The Funny

One of the boys  spent a lengthy time trying to convince me that Elvis Presley himself  (not an impersonator) once appeared on American Idol. This boy's best friend just mentioned that his eighty-year-old grandfather was born in the sixties.

All of this makes me laugh which, in the light of the coffee and keyboard debacle, it a good thing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Beauty

Here's an interesting take on little girls, big girls, and beauty.

The writer quotes Huffington Post author Lisa Bloom, who in turn says, "ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize."

We've all read these sorts of alarming reports, and I don't think they're exaggerated. My friend's six-year-old niece asked him, "Uncle John, do you think my legs are fat?" Whatever was on my mind at age six, jiggly thighs didn't make the list. Was this because my thighs didn't jiggle back then? Or that forty years later we are more obsessed with thinness?

Both, I think.

The obvious comparisons between Marilyn Monroe and modern supermodels are a study in the changing standards of beauty. Let's all go back to the age of Rubens, I say. But, of course, we aren't headed in that direction anytime soon.

So ... Do we, as some say, ignore looks altogether? Do we refrain from saying to our little girls, "You're beautiful."

I couldn't do it if I tried.

The births of my four children produced a euphoria of such intensity, I doubt anything I do in life will quite measure up. My first thought on looking at each tiny face was simply, "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever set eyes on." Swollen faces, ski hats hiding cone heads, eyes smeared with anti-biotic cream -- none of it mattered a whit. Those babies were flat stunning.

Love does that to you.

And as they have grown, I have continued to tell them they are cute or handsome or good-looking or, in Ainsley's case, pretty.

For so-called experts to exhort mothers not to mention beauty reminds me of thoughts I have had on competition and rewards. I shared my thoughts here. Essentially, there is a modern line of reasoning that says if there are winners and losers in some element of life, you simply stop playing the game. Back then I wrote:

Sitting in a waiting room not long ago, I flipped through a popular parenting magazine. An article on encouragement caught my eye. Parents, the author advised, should avoid words that smack of judgment when looking at, for example, a child’s drawing. If your child has done a good job, you certainly shouldn’t say so. Rather, you should comment on the variety of colors chosen or the interesting subject matter.

On no account, the author gravely warned, should you use words like good, excellent, or well done.

In a similar vein, a growing number of schools have eliminated honor rolls and spelling bees because there are winners and losers.

So, too, it is with beauty. Ignore the issue entirely, and your daughter won't struggle with issues about her looks. Fat chance, I say.

I shared a laugh with a friend of mine over girls and Barbie dolls. While growing up, my friend was not allowed to play with Barbies. Anxious to promote healthy body images with her three daughters, my friend's mother had banned the leggy figures from her house. My friend's assessment of this? She still wanted to grow up to be 5'10" and 120 pounds. It's a tough, tough sell.

I love so many, many things about my kids ... including their looks.

Parents should be champions for their children. Certainly this should not be in the sense of "My baby can do no wrong." That line of thinking makes headlines in our fair city when parents attack the school and hire attorneys the second their baby gets into any trouble at school (however deserved the trouble may be).

Certainly this does not eliminate the need to correct bad behavior or to steer children in the direction of real (not imagined) talents. When I lived in England, a friend couldn't believe I didn't play basketball. I'm an American, after all!  As I pointed out to my friend, I'm also 5' 2". Imagining that I'm Shaquille O'Neal just wouldn't take me very far.

We shouldn't live in a fantasy world nor should we gloss over character flaws, but parents should communicate essential messages: You are loved. You are competent. You are capable. God has great plans for your life. I admire you.

And to our daughters, yes, I think we should add: You are beautiful.

I have a friend who has struggled with her mother's tendency to say "You look nice, but... You're paper is really well written, but..."

Let me confess right here: I suffer from the But syndrome. I am a retired teacher. How I wish that means I  am always encouraging. Too often it means I was born with red pen in hand. I tend to correct everyone's work (and manage to do a hatchet job on my own, I might add).

Unconditional love is essential; it is also very, very challenging.

To this day my father will share about my softball career or my high school grades in a way that is slightly out of touch with the facts. To hear his occasional remarks, you would think I was the Valedictorian of my class and Most Valuable Player. In fact, I was a diligent student and a fairly good softball player. But who I am to say my father shouldn't think I hung the moon? My older sister is about to start a new job as an attorney. Dad is excited and has no doubt his daughter will take the legal profession by storm.

As we were leaving church on Sunday, I looked over to see my husband, Dave, looking at our two-year-old daughter, Ainsley. She was wearing the cutest dress in the history of life. Her hair, well, these days of non-compliance with hair accessories will leave her reminding me of a song from the sixties: Long-haired, freaky people need not apply. But on Sunday her bow was in place.  Her growing blond locks were neatly pulled back. Her blue eyes were bright and sparkling.

She was beautiful. And, wow, you could see it in her father's face.

 And that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

LOL - And That's Not Hyperbole

I loath and despise the term LOL because, OMG (and G is for gosh), it's the most hungover expression of the twenty-first century.

However ... When I read Simcha Fisher, I end up laughing until tears stream down my face. If I had the time, I'd find the post in which she jokes about Padre Pio kicking a puppy. Irreverent? Yes. But real. And honest. And LOL witty.

If you want a chuckle, click here.

Other Than That

Anonymous: Dr. Who is perfectly human except that he has two hearts and a sonic screwdriver.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Pelee Island Moon

Little Voices I Hope I Bemember

Ainsley: Have some tea, Mama. It's awicious.


John: Cut off the tag, Mama. But bemember: Use the scissors and not your teeth.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My Thoughts Exactly

I read Rachel Balducci's recent thoughts on video games and thought, "amen, sistah!" Two points bear reiterating:

1. Rachel's take on Wii summarizes my view on all things electronic. She writes, "My bottom line mentality about video games is this: they are here to serve ME. Not the boys. Not their creative spirits. Not their need to  'drive' cartoon cars or 'shoot' bears or even 'scuba dive' with very life-like looking creatures."

2. Rachel highlights another point that has proven true time and again for my beloved offspring. She says, "The thing about video games is this: they bring out the absolute worst in my children. If I’m ever in the mood to see a colossal meltdown of epic proportion, I need only suggest something like 'hey I know! Let’s pull out the Wii and have some fun!' Which is code for: how long will it take until someone gets punched in the gut by someone else for playing 'not fair.'"

We just returned from an enjoyable and lengthy jaunt north. We built memories and sand castles. In the midst of it, we dealt with LOTS! of kids and plenty of HOT! weather. When the temperatures in southern Ontario exceed those of Augusta, Georgia, you feel that someone has done ya wrong.

When kids are multiplying faster than biting flies, I will be the first to admit that strategically timed doses of the electronic babysitter were a godsend.  I enjoyed leisurely bike rides thanks to Scooby-Doo. The adults had relaxing card games thanks to Sly Cooper. We survived a blistering day with a little assistance from the TV and a PS3.

Electronics served a useful purpose, and I was grateful.

I do, however, agree with Rachel: the short-term relief typically does not come without a price. We witnessed more whining, bickering, he-got-longer-than-I-did, it's-not-fair, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Ad nauseam.

I often challenge my kids with a simple line: Examine the fruit. Do these activities help you to be kind, considerate, or even just plain happy? We have gone back and forth over the issue of buying a game system. (Note: I do not think there is a single RIGHT answer to this question.) At the end of the day, we have opted not to invest in one because I don't want one more electronic gadget to manage and because history has shown they don't bring out the best in my sons.

Less all this come off as a load of holier-than-thou tripe, let me clarify two points. First, we are not purists. While we have not invested in a gaming system or hand-held games, we have our share of computer games. Second, we are far from entirely consistent even within the boundaries we have set.

When I have been flat on the couch with morning sickness, when I've been pre-occupied packing for a trip or painting the hallway, I have milked electronics for all they're worth. Do I, the former English teacher, think this is less than ideal parenting? Why yes, yes, I do. Do I think this beats shrieking at my kids or, worse, finding an unsupervised toddler in the driveway? Absolutely.

Balance. Balance. Balance. Essential for kids. Even more essential for their parents.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Running Commentary

From Green Eggs and Ham ...

Me: Would you like them in a house?

Ainsey: Yes!

Me: Would you like them with a mouse?

Ainsey, brow furrowed: Ummmm ...

Me: I do not like green eggs and ham.

Ainsey: Why?

Monday, August 01, 2011


Papa turned seventy-something this week. From the Deep South, we send a heartfelt Happy Birthday!

Papa is a beloved father, father-in-law, and grandfather to the mass of Dolin males and to the tiny female exclamation point at the end of the line. Ainsley fell in love with Papa on this latest trip and enjoyed nothing more than sitting on his lap playing with a stuffed Charlie Brown. She would alternate between feeding a baby bottle to Charlie Brown and pretending to squeeze hand soap into his mouth. (Note: She did not learn this from me!) Ainsey would erupt in laughter and never tired of it. If Papa tired of it, he kept his game face on. He's nothing if not a good sport.

Papa spent hours watching Ainsley and John jump between the sandbox and the wading pool. He delighted John by catching fireflies with him.

No one gardens like Papa gardens. His tomatoes prompted a friend of mine to comment, "He makes me proud to call myself a Midwesterner!" We brought home a coolerful, and they are absolutely to die for. Papa calls all the grandchildren Punkin. When Tim and Kolbe were small, Papa added pumpkins to his garden and carved the boys' names in them. The names grew as the punkins did.

Papa has a dry wit that keeps me laughing. He has a host of quips. If Dave fails to use a turn signal, I invariably quote Papa: Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em guessing.

Both of  my in-laws have a remarkable grace to absorb our four children, an astonishing amount of noise, and the seventy-two or so bags we inevitably bring along with us. They are, without fail, patient and generous.

I remember a family trip to northern Michigan. Then seven months pregnant with Kolbe, I looked forward to a week-long break from the Georgia heat. It was not to be. Hale, Michigan, must have set a record as the mercury hit well above 100 degrees. While we struggled to stay cool, I spotted Papa dashing off with a Tom Clancy novel and a cup of coffee to get a moment's peace behind the garage. He caught my eye and said, "You know, we run the risk of this becoming an annual event."

Papa loves to entertain us with stories of his early years in the hollows of West Virginia. His uncle, the bus driver, would give him a nickel if was so bad at school that his aunt, the teacher, spanked him. Tim and Kolbe find this tale flat out hilarious.

Papa talks about alternating between a two-room school house in a rural area and a big city high school in Charleston. He learned to read the F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E box that patched the hole in the roof, and remembers delivering blocks of ice when a refrigerator really was an ice box.

Whether it's reading Harvey's Hideout -- a Dolin family classic -- or rocking the littlest punkin in the Dolin patch, Papa is reliable and kind. I am grateful to call him a second Dad and blessed that my children call him Papa.