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.