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.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Please Pray

A dear family member of ours is very, very ill. I would appreciate your prayers.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Not So Dry Run: Potty Training Edition

Friend me on Facebook and you can read riveting updates such as the following:

Three hours ago: Potty training! I'd rather be in the dentist's chair. We're going nowhere fast.

One hour ago: I quit. We'll call this a dry run (figuratively speaking; there was nothing dry about it). Ainsley just pooped in front of the Fed Ex man.

(All of this reminds me of Betty White's comment from a while back: "You know, I have so many people to thank for being here, but I really have to thank Facebook. When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host Saturday Night Live I didn't know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time."

Betty, you may have a point.)

But back to the fascinating topic of potty training . . .

I could rattle off a dozen reasons why this is Not The Time to potty train: I am dealing with a few  medical issues, we are going out of town shortly, Dave is under the gun at work, Ainsley just turned two, and the list goes on to include issues both trivial and quite serious.

I can think of just one reason to Seize The Day: I returned home from the atrium yesterday to find Ainsley standing in the dining room wearing black patent leather shoes. And nothing else.

This, sadly, was not an isolated event. The Lady Godiva number has been going on for quite some time now. I haven't resorted to the duct tape special, but I did briefly put Ainsley in a bathing suit hoping that would keep her dressed for the duration of dinner. She's connected all the dots, I think. She'll remove a yucky diaper, dump the contents, flush it, and resume play. She can clearly articulate, "I poopy. It's yucky. Where are the wipes?" All this seems to spell “Forge ahead!”

This morning I bravely put on my game face and enthusiastically presented the grand plan.

Me: Ainsley, if you go pee pee on the potty, I'll give you chocolate.

Ainsley: No way!

Yes, she's two and suddenly she's quite good at it. Articulate and decisive!

Well, it proved to be one damp and noxious day. Ainsley made two deposits in the potty: her Rosary case and a load of her brother's Legos. For good measure, John wet his pants.

Much has been written about “readiness”-- on the part of the child, that is. Well, I’m skeptical, if not cynical on this topic. The only person who needs to be ready is the one who will be disinfecting the house from one end to the other in the wake of non-stop accidents. This would be the same one who purchases a large supply of Bob the Builder underwear and chocolate, who rolls up all area rugs, who ensures that both washer and dryer are in excellent repair, and who somehow manages to press forward when all hints of progress have come to a screeching halt.

My previous three experiences have taught me that you can't be lukewarm about the whole affair. It's all or nothing. No retreat! Cheer every small success and try hard to ignore the setbacks. Try to smile. Try really hard.

All of this reminds me of why many people boycott “mommy blogs,” obsessed as they are with bodily functions.

A point well taken.

 P.S. Ainsley really did poop in front of the Fed Ex man.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Grandma's Birthday

Two-year-old Tim sat at the dining room table perusing the massive tome Toys R Us issues each Christmas season. Wow! Was my boy impressed!

He looked up with his big brown eyes shining. "Let's call Grandma!"

Grandma is celebrating a birthday today. How we wish we were there or you were here! Happy birthday!

What can I say to the mother of the man who is the love of my life? To the woman who has doted on my children as if they were each the first grandchild rather than numbers six through nine?  To a Grandma who has never missed a birthday, a first communion, or Christmas despite the fact that we live 800 miles away? To a woman who has welcomed our late in life babies with unbridled joy and would probably be thrilled if we managed to pull off number five?

What can I say? I'll start with this:

- In the midst of energetic de-cluttering sprees, Grandma has declared certain toys sacrosanct. My boys will forever remember the magic of "Grandma's Basement." There they have whiled away hours playing trains and building with Legos.

- When we visit, Grandma makes sure Papa cleans the baby pool and replenishes the sandbox.

- Grandma has rarely been known to run out of chocolate syrup.

- Grandma is the best cook ever. Beanie wienies? Tim's favorite. Potato salad? Dave's favorite. Everything else she makes? My favorites.

- Grandma never fails to pick up a pint of Greek chicken salad just because she knows I love it.

- My husband sleeps more peacefully in his childhood home than anywhere else on planet Earth, no exaggeration. That says a lot.

- We visit often and typically arrive with four children and twenty-two bags, move into my in-laws' bedroom, stay up late, get up early, and never, ever feel that we are imposing.

- My children have innumerable memories of the polar bears at the zoo, putt-putt, the arcade parlor, the Henry Ford Museum, the bowling alley, Imax movies, dinosaur bones, and the list goes on -- all with Grandma and Papa.

Right before Dave and I married, Grandma took me aside and said, "You can call me Janet, or you can call me Mom, but Mrs. Dolin has got to go." I have felt like a family member ever since.

Shortly after Ainsley's birth, we met Grandma and Papa at Hilton Head. I watched Grandma ride the waves with Tim and Kolbe. Really, how many Grandmas can manage that? She is nothing if not game. (At that moment, I briefly reflected on the fact that when Ainsley is the age Dave was then, I will be ninety years old. I doubt I'll be riding the waves with her children!)

Grandma has ridden every wave of family life with a gusto I hope I can one day match.

She is funny and smart, both thoughtful and faithful. She has been steadfast and generous to aging friends and dying neighbors. She has confronted sorrows head-on, including one that hit us just last week. Life has a way of testing your mettle in ways that sear your heart. Grandma has shown me the value of family, the need for perseverance, the worth of prayer. 

I would love to transfuse her graciousness into my veins and her largess into my heart. For today I simply say we love you and we wish you an extra jolt of joy and grace on your birthday.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Warms My heart

Highs hovering at or below eighty, lows in the forties -- we have been delivered of the heat that has shattered hundred-year-old records. This morning found Tim scrounging for his school sweater and John wearing a hoodie while huddling under a flannel quilt.

"There's nothing cold about you, Mom," my shivering four-year-old shared. "I love you!"

It's going to be a good day.