Saturday, March 31, 2012

Be Not Afraid

Tim's preparing a presentation on torture in the Middle Ages, so I've been thinking about fear. Medieval punishment was very painful and very public. The idea was that you could kill many birds with one stone -- dispatch the guilty (?) party and give onlookers big incentive to toe the line as well.

Fear can be powerful.

I remember the morning I was heading off to the doctor after John had battled croup all night. Hours of crying, wheezing, praying, everything but sleeping -- all mixed in with a marathon of Thomas and the Magic Railway that began somewhere around 2:00 a.m. and continued into the wee hours.

John heard the word doctor and launched into a dramatic meltdown. He whined. He pouted. He kicked things.

I continued making my way toward the door. Where's Ainsley's cup? Check her diaper. Is the coffee ready? Grab the keys.

And John's angst reached a fever pitch that could no longer be ignored.

While every part of my sleep-deprived, under-caffeinated self wanted to bark, "Get in the van already!", I found myself saying, "John, why are you so upset?"

"Shots," he wailed. And I mean wailed. He howled with all the gusto his four-year-old self could muster. Oh. My. Goodness.

His last appointment with the doctor had been his four year check and had included four immunizations. John was afraid. To look at his behavior that morning, you might have thought he was rebellious, undisciplined, or just plain obnoxious. On any given day, John can be all those things. But that morning, he was driven by nothing but raw fear, and so he acted out.

"Fear," says Saint Teresa of Avilla, "is the chief activator of all our faults."

Have you ever lied in a moment of panic? Most of us did this as children. I managed to do it as an adult and -- get this -- to a priest no less.

Father John, an old and dear friend of mine, went on a tour of West Africa. He knew I was teaching world history, so he gave me a copy of his videos to show my class. Months later, I ran into Father John right before Mass.

"How did the class like the video, " he asked as he was gathering his vestments.

"Oh, ah, it was great, just great. They loved it," I answered.

Truth was, they never watched it! I had put it on a shelf planning to show it and forgot all about it. Father John asked me about it, and I panicked. In my embarrassment and vanity, I lied.

To a priest! Minutes before Mass!

Good gravy, I was aghast! I told my friend Katharina, and she absolutely busted a gut laughing. Right after Mass, I found Father John and 'fessed up. He laughed even  harder than Katharina.

Oh, the things we do!

I've been in a few deep conversations trying to crack the code on why it can be such a struggle to think, to say, to do the right thing.  Why do mothers invest so much energy in comparing themselves to other mothers? Why did we so often find ourselves -- in our professional lives, in raising children, in our marriages -- on an endless pendulum that swings between judging other women and condemning ourselves?

Mary Lane over at has a great post  called "How to Be Happy for Other People in Four Easy Steps."  She grapples with that green-eyed monster we call envy. One of her key tips for combating envy is to recognize the underlying source. Oftentimes that underlying source is fear.

Mary writes:

Another person’s happiness takes nothing from you

At its core, I think this tendency to comparison and to envy is rooted in fear. We’re afraid that, if good things happen to our friends, there won’t be enough good to go around for us. As a result, it’s hard to be happy for our friends’ good fortune because a small part of us fears that this means there is less left for us. But all we need to do is realize this one simple truth: One person’s happiness truly takes nothing from you.

Long about five and a half years ago, I found myself in a sad, sad place. Dave and I were the parents of two beautiful boys -- Tim and Kolbe. We wanted another child and, instead, experienced miscarriage after miscarriage. In November of 2006, I had just lost my sixth baby. Our doctors had no answers, and I had little hope.

I woke up one morning, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat at the computer to catch up on my favorite blogs. I clicked over to Testosterhome, my friend Rachel's blog, and found a sonogram photo with the headline "Tiny little rice-sized bundle of joy." My friend was expecting her fifth baby.

And do you know what? I grieved. I grieved. I rejoiced for her, but I grieved for me. I processed every thought a person processes when faced with the reality The Rolling Stones captured in their classic tune "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

We can't always get what we want. We want a trip to the park, and we end up in the doctor's office getting four shots. We want a good night's sleep, and we get croup and nebulizer treatments. We want a baby, and we wind up with pain and loss.

It takes an act of faith -- an exercise of hope -- to look beyond the present and embrace Mary's pearl of wisdom: All we need to do is realize this one simple truth: One person’s happiness truly takes nothing from you.

That day I chose to be happy for Rachel. I posted my congratulations on her blog:

Happy news, Rachel! I’m praying that you will have a great pregnancy. It will be neat to see how much the boys enjoy a baby now that they are all a little older.


I meant it. It was hard to write, but I meant it. It was an act of the will. Adults -- usually better than children -- can choose to do the right thing, can choose to say the right thing, and with herculean effort can even choose to think the right thing.

About two weeks later I found out that I was pregnant. In fact, I was early, early pregnant when I posted that comment. Eight months later, Rachel's Henry and my John were born just a week apart.  Over the next thirty months, Rachel and I both welcomed our first daughters into these families full of boys.

Rachel's happiness took nothing from me.

Mary's advice on being happy for others continues with a quote from Cicero who wrote,"Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” 

This is so true of my friendship with Rachel. Her family, her friendship -- they have added to my joy and divided my grief and given me a lot of laughs in between.

Fear has its uses. That state trooper positioned on the median prompts me to slow down and probably saves lives. One frightening encounter with a rip tide instilled in me a healthy fear of the ocean. I want my children to understand that streets and drugs and strangers can be dangerous.

But when fear paralyzes us, when it leads chronic discontentment, when we can no longer rejoice with others, when we lie to a priest!  -- well, then it really can become the chief activator of all our faults.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

What a week!

1. I've all but abandoned my "no bail out" policy where kids and forgotten items are concerned. For years I've steadfastly refused to take the quick jaunt up the road to deliver the forgotten lunch or the P.E. clothes left behind. I've just returned from delivering two wooden guns, one sling shot, a three cornered hat, and a few dozen chocolate coins.  I even ran to the store to buy the coins. Why am I caving? House guests, an ever-changing soccer schedule, late hours spent tackling loads of homework -- I am suddenly a model of sympathy, particularly for my hard-working eight grader. I still didn't deliver the forgotten P.E. clothes, but, Tim, my friend, I bailed you out on the gold coins.

2. It's going to be 89 degrees today. I am choosing not to dwell on this fact.

3. I'm fairly certain this has the busiest week of our year -- even, I think, considering the week with eight Christmas events in seven days. It reached a crescendo yesterday as soccer, piano lessons, mountains of laundry, and the finals edits of a research paper all collided with illness that,believe me, had not been pencilled into my day timer. This may explain why I have been eating Nutty Bars with little regard for the calories or the liturgical season. The pace will grind to a halt today long about 5:00. Easter vacation is upon us.

4. John to me: You know, Mama. Bubbles would really give me happiness.

5. John to Ainsley: Sorry, Ainsley. You have to be fourteen to use the bubbles.

6. Ainsley to John: Waaaaaahhhhhh!

7. Mama to the Nutty Bars: you are my friends.

Head over to Jen's to add your Seven Quick Takes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our House in the Middle of Our Street

Note to my house guests:

Please look around quickly and take in the details. My house is clean, mostly clean.  In five minutes, we may find crayon on that gleaming floor or smell a ripe diaper instead of Pine sol and bleach. But for the moment, my house is mostly clean.

Thanks to you I finished painting the hallway. Well, almost finished. I pulled off the tape and realized I have a few touch ups to do. How about that color? Pecan is much brighter than Denim!

We mowed the lawn, and I planted a few flowers. I bought a lovely, colorful pot of blooms for the front steps. Two days later, they’re still lovely, but not quite as colorful. Every time Ainsley walks past the pot, she plucks a red blossom to give to me. I consoled myself that there was one large, red blossom still intact. As I walked to the van this morning, I saw Kolbe giving it to Ainsley.  Argh! But how mad can you get when your ten-year-old gives his two-year-old sister flowers?

I’ve scrubbed both toilets not once but twice. Lots of boys here, you know. The sparkling porcelain may not completely obscure the fact that the bathroom we were renovating the last two times you visited is . . .  still being renovated. On the bright side, the floor is finished!  Finishing the floor required addressing some plumbing issues which required removing two bushes and a tree and, well, you get the idea. And yes, we could have outsourced the whole job, but then we would have missed the sight of John and his Dad in their matching headlamps spelunking through the crawl space under the house. Tim and Kolbe have spent a whole lot of Saturdays under the house hanging with their Dad, learning how to push through. That you can’t outsource.

Oh, yeah . . . please do not pull back the shower curtain. That’s where I’m hiding all the stuff that’s headed for the community swap on Saturday. Feel free to take anything you want.

Look at the molding in the dining room! I painted it just for you. I erased the scrawl Ainsley left on the door jamb, but John begged me to leave his signature intact, and so I did.

As you can see I’ve redecorated the babies’ room. As for the odor in there, well, despite encasing both mattresses in plastic, we had a leaky accident the other day. I blotted; I scrubbed; I Febreezed. I had two fans running to dry everything out. I finally just flipped the mattress. It still retains that “eau de toddler boy.”  Sorry about that. That’s why I’m putting you on the bottom bunk.

Just for you, I dusted the living room for the first time in eons and even bleached the cushion covers on the ugly couch. Sadly the arm rests are not removable. They could stand a stiff encounter with some bleach as well. The thing about the ugly couch is this: I’m a much nicer mother because my kids have a place to make forts, enjoy milkshakes and a movie, recuperate from stomach problems. The ugly couch serves a useful purpose. I’ll understand if you pull up a chair.

Then there’s the good couch. Not looking quite so good these days. And the nice chairs? Please ignore the frayed fabric. They’re on the To Do List, really they are.

As for the study, well, we don’t call it the den of iniquity for nothing. That room has a door. We keep it closed.

Our house in the middle of our street.

 As I’ve said before, we live in the living room, we dine in the dining room, we do all the usual things and then some in the bathroom. Martha Stewart won’t be coming by for a photo shoot anytime soon.   

We’ve made two decisions that make our house in the middle of our street a little different than most. First, we joined Alleluia Community and moved into a converted duplex in what was once a drug and crime infested neighborhood. Today it is filled with joggers and kids on bikes. It is not a gated development or a leafy suburb with well- appointed lawns. There is loveliness, to be sure, and there’s a deeper beauty if you look closely and notice the smiles and the waves, the people going into and out of each other’s homes. The love and commitment we share make this neighborhood one of a kind.

Second, we added two babies in our mid to late forties (I was mid; Dave was late). What can I say about that? I’ll take the smelly mattress if it comes with the brown-eyed rapscallion we call John.  I’ll touch up the molding and the door jambs if I get to keep the blond-haired, blue-eyed sweetie who  likes to run around the house yelling, “Happy! Happy!”

As I browsed my photo archives, I came across the one pictured right. A friend of mine has adopted a healthy adage when it comes to her house. “Can you see it on a speeding horse,” she asks herself. Translation: Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you get on your hands and knees, when you’re bleaching and scrubbing and painting, every last flaw is glaring. But when you step back, add a little filter, dim the lights, the whole looks better than the sum of the parts.

Welcome to our house.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Swear I'm Not Making This Up

Nameless four-year-old to his nameless four-year-old friend: Ainsley just threw up. Let's go look at it.

And off they ran.

I Don't Wanna Go There

Sunday Mass . . . Getting ready, driving there, corralling toddlers, driving home. It is not for the faint of heart, and this morning was no exception.

First, I wake up John.

 "Am I going to school today," he asks.

"No, today is Sunday, and we're going to church school and then Mass," I tell him, fully anticipating his response.

"I don't wanna go to church." With John, this sounds more like "I don't wanna go to turch!" If nothing else, John has cute going for him. Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. I move on to wake up the older boys.

"You'd think we could have one morning to sleep in." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Now Ainsley, she's cheerful if only because she's wearing her brown velvet dress with leopard trim and coordinating leopard shoes. Nothing like a good outfit to start the day off right.

"I a princess," she sings. "Mama, do the princess dance with me."

We do the princess dance, and that at least gets the rest of curmudgeons laughing.

Mass goes well. How can food for the soul fail to go well? Never mind; I know in colorful detail just how it can fail to go well. Toward the end of Mass, Dave leans over to me and says, "How about no donuts today? It's Lent." I concur with one caveat: Dave gets to break the news to John.

You've probably heard of The Donut Man. Rob Evans is his name, and he produces first-rate children's  music. He even visited our parish in person a few years back, and Kolbe got to sing with him on stage.

Well, our parish has its own Donut Man. He's a friend of ours who hands out donuts to all the kids after 10:30 Mass. John is fixated on donuts. I leaned over to John one Sunday and encouraged him to think about Jesus. "Well, I'm thinking about donuts," he told me.

It's all about the donuts.

Here let me insert a brief aside exploring the nature of habits and traditions. Good habits are formed at about the same speed that tectonic plates shift in the Pacific Rim. You persevere, persevere, press on, and persevere some more. You see incremental progress.

Bad habits cement overnight.

As for tradition, this refers to any positive event -- preferably one involving sugar -- that your family does approximately 1.5 times in a row, a row being any span of time ranging from five minutes to five years.


I've heard, "We always go to Disney world in October!" Um, no. We've gone to Disney World in October precisely once unless you count that we entered the parks three times in one week -- and trust me the kids are taking all that into account. It's tradition!

Break one of these long-standing "traditions," and you might as well drive to Orlando, pull up to the gates of The Magic Kingdom, and announce, "Gee, kids, someone poisoned Pluto."

Donuts after Mass have become a tradition with a capital T.

Dave breaks the news to John. John turns all sullen and briefly hides in a bush. Ainsley gets wind of the news, and you can forget all about the thrill of the princess dress. "I wannna a donut!  I wannna a donut!  IIIIIIIIIII wannnnnnnna a dooooooooonut!"

Her plaintive wails are so pathetic, the older boys have no choice but to begin relentlessly mocking her. Oh, Tim briefly tries to cheer her up."It's Lent, Ainsey," he tells her. "We have to make a little sacrifice."

Her response? I don't wanna go there.

Classic, simply classic. Sacrifice? I don't wanna go there. Lent? I don't wanna go there. Out of the mouth of a two-year-old.

Tim and Kolbe begin repeating lines from Veggie Tales: I wanna Buzz Saw Louie! I want ten buzz saw Louies 'cuz that's the true meaning of Christmas. Wahhhhhh!

Ainsley joins right in demanding ten Buzz Saw Wouies 'cuz that's the true meaning of Cwistmas! Wahhhhh!

And eventually I recall a line from that Jimmy Buffet classic: If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Seven Slow Takes

My thoughts for the week:

1. If you write a post about nurturing and brain development, if you illustrate with a few examples of your own positive mothering, if you close with a great quote by Chesterton that captures just how vital mothers are -- well, I warn you, you are probably headed for an epic meltdown. Not that this happened to me or anything.

2. The only thing cuter than a two-year-old playing in the mud(pictured right) is a naked two-year-old playing in the mud (unpictured).

3. The lesson we have reiterated over and over again: We draw on paper. We draw on paper. We draw on paper. All together now. . .

4. You spend a few weeks virtually single-parenting. Your husband finally gets the smallest respite from the job that never ends. He goes online and orders tickets to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games and makes your teenage son's day. And once again you are reminded that the man just rocks.

6. Seems the little man with the jackhammer exited my left sinus cavity only to enter Ainsley's. When I dwell on how my head throbbed for seven days straight, I have a little more sympathy for the nastiness which has been non-stop today.

En route to the pharmacy, John and Ainsley fought for twenty minutes over a dog's leash. We don't even own a dog, but somehow we own two leashes and a dog collar.

"The blue one's mine," John shouted.

"It's mine," Ainsley wailed. "Mine, m-i-n-e, M-I-N-E!"

Lord, deliver me or at least let these drugs work and fast.

6. Kolbe as Duke Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on!

Add grimace and expression of pure distaste.

7. From my friend Father Tim McKeown: There is the Lent you plan out and there is the Lent God gives you. Very often the greater challenge is faithfully living the latter.


Head over to Jen's to add your takes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Practicing His Penmanship

The Leg

The Wall

If you should find a lost leg, check to see if it's John's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Parts of Speech

John's adorable lisp is disappearing quickly, but his funny quips and overall versatility with language continue to entertain us all.

1. John's playing with his Lego mini-figures, and apparently one of the Star Wars' storm troopers is really acting out. John issues the ultimate threat: Tonight you're sleeping in your bed all night long.

2. John has a secret. "Let me whisper in your ear, Mama," John tells me. I don't lean quite far enough. "Downer!" he says.

3. "Can I have a cracker," John asks. "I can get it." Though he does his best Curious George imitation climbing up the pantry shelves, the box remains out of reach. "It's too back," he tells me.

4. John's looking for a stick to turn into a wand. When I hand him a ruler, he says, "No, Mama. That's not a wand; that's an incher."

5. John draws a heart and "writes" a note to Auntie Kate. He sees me folding it up and putting it in an envelope. "Oh," he says, "are you going to letter that?"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

To moms everywhere:

Maybe you, like me, had a four-year-old come running with a grisly tale of an overflowing toilet. Upon investigating, you found that this boy with a flair for the dramatic wasn't exaggerating one little bit.

Maybe you, like me, sat in the backyard wondering why oh why your phone was ringing off the hook. When you finally answered it, you found that your assistant catechist, a mother, and your entire class were all waiting at the atrium for a session scheduled to start fifteen minutes earlier.

Maybe you, like me, let your adorable toddler try on her Easter dress for just a minute and then found that this darling frock -- lovely, smocked, purchased by Grandma -- had had an unfortunate encounter with an uncapped Sharpie.

Maybe you, like me, have been wringing your hands, questioning your purpose, pouring yourself glass of wine. If so, I suggest reading this article on the impact of nurturing mothers.

It seems the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world, or as the author puts it, "One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world."

Here's a summary of the study:

Researchers brought the kids and parents into a lab and videotaped them as the parents, almost always mothers, tried to help their children cope with a mildly stressful task that was designed to approximate the stress of daily parenting . . . Ratings of parental ability to nurture their children were done by study personnel who watched the videos. . .

Several years later, on average, the children had the size of a brain area called the hippocampus measured . . .  The researchers found that children with especially nurturing, caring mothers, based on their behavior during the laboratory stressor, had significantly larger hippocampi (plural of hippocampus - you’ve got one on each side of the brain) than kids with mothers who were average or poor nurturers.

Why is the hippocampus so crucial?

Because more than any place else in the brain, when it comes to the hippocampus, size matters. Other things being equal, having small hippocampi increases your risk for all sorts of troubles, from depression and post traumatic stress disorder to Alzheimer’s disease. 

In addition to protecting us against brain illnesses, we all need big hippocampi because this brain area, while not much bigger than your little finger, plays a disproportionately large role in how you will be able to handle the stresses and strains of your life, and how you will remember your life when it’s all said and done. (Emphasis mine).


It's a rainy day today, and my van is in the shop. We enjoyed a slow, lazy morning full of coloring books and Legos. John grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote a bunch of random letters on it.

"I wrote a note to Auntie Kate," he told me, holding up his paper. "It says, 'Dear Auntie Kate, I love you.'"

With Valentine's Day still fresh in his mind, John colored a heart for her. I gave him little scissors and encouraged him to cut it out.

"I can't do it," he said. "I don't know how."

I demonstrated and told him to give it a try. He was thrilled to see that he could cut out a heart. This was very much the kind of mildly stressful task these researchers studied with children. These challenges arise a hundred times a day. A child struggles to tie a shoe or manage that last button or get that Transformer to transform. And there's Mom. Is she helpful or encouraging or comforting? Is she cranky or distracted or cheerful?  Is she blogging or texting or chatting on the phone?

I can be all of these things depending on the week, the day, the hour.

Today I folded John's note and the heart and put them in an envelope to mail to Auntie Kate. "Are you going to letter it," John asked. "How do you do that?"

I showed him how to "letter it." He carefully wrote J-O-H-N in brown crayon in the upper left hand corner. He put the envelope in the mail box and raised the red flag. Lettered!

I remember a day years and years ago when much  a younger Tim fell apart during piano practice. He hit a tricky measure and no amount of repetition or counting could help him get it straight. I had just plunked an enormous quantity of unfolded laundry onto the couch. I looked at Tim's obvious frustration and said, "You know, Tim, this laundry is overwhelming. I can't do it all, but I can fold one shirt."

We both persevered.

It is constant, this life-long gig we call motherhood. I find it helpful to keep my eyes on the prize, to read articles like this, not so that I can become undone by the enormity of it all, but so that I can once more be inspired by the greatness of this vocation.

No one has expressed this better than G.K. Chesterton who once said this about motherhood:

I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

That hand that rocks the cradle? It really does rule the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
Happy Weekend to you and yours!

See Soulemama to play along.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

If You Hand Your Kid Some Cash

If you love going to yard sales, chances are one of your beloved offspring will turn into a second hand junkie just like you.

If you give this boy a little cash and drop him off at a rummage sale, you may be unpleasantly surprised at just how far five bucks can stretch.

If this boy happens to love his little sister, you may find her cuddling a new Winnie the Pooh and chortling in her sweetest two-year-old voice, "willy nilly silly old bear."

As she's singing to Pooh, you may notice your rough and tumble four-year-old is now the proud owner of a pair of boxing gloves.

As you entertain a worried thought or two about the boxing gloves, you may notice a Spiderman glove, but only one of those.

If you look closely, you may realize that it's part of a Spiderman web shooter that has everything but the substance that produces the web.

If you were mathematically inclined, you might ponder the fact that the substance that produces the web probably costs a tidy sum more than $5.00 and most likely isn't even sold anymore.

Before you can get too worried about Spiderman and his inability to shoot a web, you may notice that a four foot long stuffed amphibian has entered your home.

This four foot long stuffed amphibian just may remind you of a five foot long shark that previously hung suspended from your sons' bedroom ceiling.

Thinking about the shark, you may recall with happy nostalgia that blessed, blessed day you donated the over-sized shark to another rummage sale.

As you think about that other rummage sale, chances are you'll vaguely remember handing the same boy some money.

And if you hand a yard sale junkie some cash, you just might be unpleasantly surprised at how far a few bucks can stretch.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Know It's Been a Long Day If This Makes You Laugh

If pi is 3.14, what is cake?

(Lifted from "The Stupid Test 5", which my children, not surprisingly, are familiar with.)

Book Review - The Hunger Games

Adults and teenagers alike have been devouring The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay , all  written by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games will be coming to the big screen shortly, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on these books.

This review contains spoilers, so consider yourself forewarned.

The Hunger Games follows the life of a fifteen year old girl, Katniss Everdeen. She lives in a post-apocalyptic version of North America, in a new country called Panem. Katniss lives in District 12, a coal mining region of the Appalachian Mountains. Panem was formed when The Capital subdued twelve outlying districts and obliterated a thirteenth one.  As punishment for the rebellion, the districts are required to send two tributes to fight to the death in an annual event known as The Hunger Games. The clincher is that the tributes are children -- ages twelve to eighteen -- who are selected from a lottery.

The Games take place in The Capitol itself, a futuristic blend of maybe Hollywood and ancient Rome. Panem means Bread, and the residents are well-fed to the point of satiation. They are a jaded people always seeking a new excitement or novelty. They wear outrageous clothes, sport outrageous tattoos, and dye their skin shades of neon. They turn to the bloodbath of the arena for entertainment  because they thirst for titillation, for a new thrill.

The Hunger Games is a well-written story, which is more than can be said about most adolescent fiction. The novel is suspenseful and captivating, a real page turner. Author Suzanne Collins pitched it to a young adult audience. The book deals with serious issues, and its tone is best described as grim. Even before Katniss enters the arena, we learn about her hand to mouth existence in an impoverished area known as The Seam. After Katniss’ father dies in a coal mining accident, her mother falls into a deep depression. Katniss and her sister are on the brink of starvation when Katniss begins hunting to save her family.

The Hunger Games is full of heroism. When the lottery to select the tributes takes place, Katniss’ twelve-year-old sister, Prim, is first selected.  Katniss immediately offers to take her sister’s place in the arena. Peeta, the second tribute from District Twelve, is another heroic character. He is a strong, gentle, thoughtful person by nature. He is thrust into an arena and forced to kill or be killed. On the eve of the Hunger Games, Katniss’ chief concern is surviving so that she can return home to care for her family. Peeta’s chief concern is remaining true to himself.  When faced with evil, he wants to remain unchanged even more than he wants to survive.

The book certainly contains violent images, although, written with an adolescent audience in mind, it is much less graphic than a similar story in adult fiction might be.  Collins tends to write, “This happened” as opposed to detailing precisely what “This” was. It seemed to me that the violence became more specific as the book moved on and, especially, as the series moved on.

The Hunger Games raises moral and ethical questions to discuss with a teenage reader. When faced with evil alternatives, how should people of faith respond? Is it licit to take your own life? What about mercy killing? Is it ethical to assassinate a ruthless leader?

For our family, The Hunger Games has provided plenty of food for thought. Discussing this book with our fourteen-year-old son has led to intense  discussions about moral courage, about the saints and martyrs. I’ve pointed out that throughout hundreds of pages of peril and suffering, no one prays. Hopelessness is pervasive, particularly in the third book of the series.  Prisoners show signs of being tortured.  Katniss and Peeta turn to one another for comfort and eventually begin sleeping in the same bed (although Collins leaves the issue of a sexual relationship unclear).

All of these issues point out that this series is not for young readers and not something a parent should hand off without discussion. Our son read The Hunger Games when he was thirteen and in the seventh grade.  By the time I read the first book, he had already plowed through the third. I would recommend this series for high school students and older, and, again, with the caveat that parents should be prepared to read it and unpack it with their teenagers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Are We All Springing Forward?

Coffee's coming, Dolly. Coffee's coming.
It's time for my semi-annual rant against Benjamin Franklin, the great mind behind Daylight Savings Time.

Note to the long-deceased Ben: Mothers of toddlers don't want to save daylight; we want our kids to s-l-e-e-p!

Without fail, Daylight Savings hits just after I've found a happy place with the little ones and routinely have them reading stories around 7:00 and peacefully slumbering the night away by 7:30. Enter Daylight Savings Time. They stay up later and -- gets this, Ben! --  they wake up earlier. And they're really, really mean.

So my friend Christine mailed me a copy of  the happiest mom. I pull it out thinking I'll enjoy a chapter or two over my morning Joe when I'm interrupted by a chorus of whining.

John, emerging with circles under his eyes: I can't find my m-i-l-k! Where's my m-i-l-k!

Ainsley, bight-eyed and bushy-tailed, but just as cranky: I wanna brush ma t-e-e-t-h! I wanna brush ma t-e-e-t-h! I wanna brush ma t-e-e-t-h!

Me, clinging to my coffee: You need to go back to b-e-d! You need to go back to b-e-d!

For the moment, I'm not the happiest mom, and -- believe me -- they're not the happiest kids.

Meanwhile, the older two will want to sleep until noon.  No rhyme or reason to this madness. And they'll wake up nasty, too! Go figure.

In partial defense of Ben, he also invented bifocals. For this I'm grateful.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. As I was prepping the hallway yesterday, I stumbled on this:

 . . . because everyone stores her toothbrush on top of the carbon monoxide detector.

2. And then I spied this:

. . . because everyone has a decapitated Buzz in the hallway.

3. I turned on my camera and found this:

. . .  which just perfectly captures the sinus situation under our roof. Thankfully, most of us are on the mend.

4. And then I found this:

. . .  because during Lent, we are all about media that edifies.

5. And then I see this:

. . . which just captures why --  two and a half years after birthing my daughter --  I still have moments, lots of moments, when I am overwhelmed by how much I love, love, love having a girl.

6. And then we pull into a restaurant, and John asks, "Who's going to dinner us?" And I reflect on how much I love, love, love having these boys.

7. And then Ainsley throws her arms around my leg and says, "Mama, I love, love, love you. You are the best!" And I realize it's all mutual.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

My Own Worst Enemy

So I wage non-stop guerilla warfare against clutter . . . but I love yard sales. Why? Because I find this:

for the low, low price of $1.oo. Of course, I didn't stop there.

Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit - $4.00.

Bad pictures, cute dress -- $1.00.

The price tag says $2.00, but we all know that John is priceless (and looking just a touch like Megamind from this angle).

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

House Beautiful

I am buying paint this morning!

I love to paint. I used to do quite a bit of painting. The arrival of John and Ainsley slowed down my House Beautiful efforts, and, not surprisingly, as these little cherubs have grown, they have aided and abetted in the rapid demise of walls, floors, and baseboards.

The undeniable truth? Every room in this house could use a face lift, some rooms pretty badly.

I've learned a lot about House Beautiful projects in my fifteen years as a home owner. I have shared my thoughts on Do It Yourself projects and their uncanny ability to foment marital discord  sharpen communication skills and increase sales at the local florist help couples practice conflict resolution.

But Dave and I, well, we're above all that petty bickering.

Anyways . . . Here's what I've learned about paint:

1. Yellow Banana -- as pretty as it may look on a chip -- will wind up being just as gaudy as it sounds.

2. Antique White and Dover White -- though they appear identical on paper -- look glaringly different in the light of day.

3. One coat coverage is an urban legend.

4. With paint brushes, you absolutely get what you pay for.

5. Doing a shock and awe paint job while a toddler is napping is a recipe for frustration and flaring tempers.

6. It is sad but true that you can't really tell how a color will look until you've added the second coat.

7. That being said, you can write off a large measure of dissatisfaction by just finishing the job.   I have a friend who routinely starts from scratch if the result is less than ideal. Me? I firmly embrace, "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." That red that is a touch too purple? The Yellow Banana that's too yellow? In the words of Lady Macbeth, "What's done is done."

8. In the dining room, hallway, bathroom -- well, in  pretty much any room a child enters -- buying washable paint is worth the extra bucks. You can wash cheap paint . . . and wash it right off the wall.

9. Be bold; be adventurous. Paint is cheaper and less risky than dyeing your hair. Most of my walls are green, my kitchen cabinets are fire engine red, and my bedroom is -- drum roll, please - Yellow Banana.

Paint - fairly cheap, fairly easy transformation. Love it. Can't wait to see the hallway transformed.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Ainsley comes charging in while I'm, ahem, in the bathroom.

"Close the door," I say. "Mama needs her privacy."

Ainsley immediately steps inside and closes the door. She runs to the map of the world shower curtain and asks, "Where I live, Mama?"

Instead of ordering her little caboose right out of the bathroom, I point to southeastern North America. She says, "That's my 'Gusta, Georgia. Where Timmy live?"

We go through Daddy, Kolbe, John, and Mama. She nods and says, "That's my 'Gusta, Georgia. Can I fwush the toilet?'

If you follow the Wall Street Journal, you may be aware that a year ago, Chinese mothers were declared superior. They set the bar high, demanding straight A's, excellence in music, and beautifully appointed homemade birthday cards. We sorry, western mothers hung our heads in collective shame. This year the Journal says top marks go to the French.

If I had to summarize the Chinese approach it would be high standards. The French approach seems to to rest on clear boundaries. The incident with Ainsley in the bathroom made me stop and ponder the issue of boundaries. What boundaries have we set for our children? Where, besides the restroom, do we lack clear boundaries?

The Journal article discussed the French tendency to have set meal times with little or no snacking in between. The author cited an example of a young child (maybe four?) who made pastries with his  mother but knew there was no tasting until it was snack time.

Where's the fun in that, I'd like to know. But, I have to say, reading this heightened my awareness of how much grazing we do as a family, of how few boundaries we have in the area of food. My older children attend school, so they have set meal times, but my younger ones seem to nibble all day long. They are hunter-gatherers of the highest order. Food, glorious food -- whatever, whenever, wherever! Yesterday, as I was visiting with a friend, John pushed a step stool across the kitchen, climbed on the counter, and helped himself to a few cookies. I intervened and was met with an epic fit.

John and the kitchen? Clear boundaries needed.

I delved into a little deep cleaning the other day and reflected on how so much of the mess in our house is related to boundaries. I should not need to clean up cereal in the living room. Popcorn after a movie night? Not a problem. But cereal, empty drink boxes, and Valentines candy? No.

I have a friend who is so diligent about enforcing a one toy at a time rule. The kids have free access to all their toys, but the key is that they clean up one item before moving to another. They have boundaries. The children have boundaries because the mom is self-disciplined.

Children are entitled to certain things without conditions or limitations -- love, protection, respect, clothing, adequate food. But in other areas -- principally in the material realm -- our generosity, our largess, can send a message we really never intended to send: You are entitled to this, we seem to say even when we don't intend to say that. Kids grow up thinking: I am entitled to a cell phone, a ticket to every new release, clothes at least as nice as the neighbor's, a college education, highlights, fill in the blank.

I love to buy books for my kids. Snacks, toys, anything electronic,  more plastic c-r-a-p that will all too soon be abandoned -- in these departments, my kids  know their mother is nothing but miserly. But bring home that Scholastic book order? I pull out the checkbook. Do they appreciate this or expect this? Can they both expect this and appreciate this?

At the moment Dave and I feel we have just run a marathon -- Dave's 50th birthday, my visit to Florida, demands at work, the Pinewood Derby, the Boy Scout camping trip, the diorama, and -- my personal favorite -- the Science Fair -- good gravy, we are ready to crack. Is it the stress or the lack of sleep that's making all us hack and ache and sneeze? In a few moments I'm heading to the doctor with high hopes of evicting the little man with the sledge hammer who has taken up residence in my left sinus cavity.

What does this have to do with entitlement? Oh yeah . . . I collapsed into bed late, late, late and woke up around 7:00 to find my sweet Ainsey curled up next to me, and John cozily ensconced in his favorite spot at the foot of our bed. I have a vague memory from about 4:00 a.m. of John telling me, "Mama, I'm wet."

He got out of his soggy clothes, and we found him a drier spot. As I settled him back in, He said, "Mama, your breath is on my face. Can you please move it?"

Okay, whose bed is this anyway, buster? Free free to mosey on back to your own bed and leave me and my morning breath alone!

A friend shared struggles she has with a particularly trying child. The child's father told her something, and the girl -- a ten-year-old -- told him to shut up. Shut up, Daddy! Truly I cannot conceive of telling my father to shut up when I was ten or sixteen or forty-seven. And it wasn't because my father was  mean. But we had boundaries. We were on one side of the boundaries and, believe me, the words Shut Up were clearly on the other side.

Few of us consciously choose to raise kids without boundaries. We don't shout, "Smorgasbord, kids! The fridge is all yours!" We don't suggest the pre-schoolers trash the house. We don't encourage our teenagers to set their father straight.

But we (or me) can be inconsistent or distracted or blind or just plain lazy. When I'm helping Tim and Kolbe get out the door for school, it's both easy and lazy to hand John and Ainsley something to nibble on and not insist that they eat at the table. When I find the remnants on the piano bench or in my bed or in the fish tank, should I really be surprised?

We will continue to bake lots of cookies around here, and we'll continue to gobble up lots of batter as we go. But I am taking a fresh look at some of the boundaries we have set . . . and some of the ones we clearly haven't.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. Sweet, but I'm already taken --

Ainsley : When I grow up, I'm going to marriage you, Mama!
2. And now for the rest of the story --

John: I stayed in my bed all the night.

Me: No, John. You started in your bed, came into mine, wet the bed, and went back to yours.

John: Oh.

3. On the mend, sort of -- The man with the pick ax has been evicted from my sinuses, but he left behind an unwelcome gift: hives. Back to the doctor I go.

4. I watch my daughter dancing around wearing angel wings --
Ainsey: I have wings, but I still can't fly yet!

5. On the weather -- It would appear that Spring has sprung. I am trying hard not to contemplate what a winter this warm could mean for, say, August. This time of year, John and I have a tradition of walking around the neighborhood looking for birds' nests that are so visible before the foliage hides them. Good times.

6. Kolbe is Duke Orsino in Twelth Night. If he can get past the fact that he has to marry one of his classmates, I think he'll be great. He finds this all a tad overwhelming right now. The upside is that they hug -- not kiss -- during the wedding.

7.  I'm asking for prayers for a special intention involving our family. We are under the gun on a number of fronts best left unspecified. I'll pray for you -- you pray for me!

Head over to Jen's to add your Seven Quick Takes.