Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fortitude: Do Hard Things

This article recently appeared in the The Dove, the weekly newsletter of the Alleluia Community:

Mr. Hinton, our next door neighbor, is now ninety. Over the years, he has told us stories of the Great Depression and World War II. Since the end of World War II, Americans as a whole have known unprecedented peace and prosperity. While I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and remember hanging out in the bomb shelter in my friend’s basement, for the most part, I am a child of peace and prosperity.

And what a blessing that is!

Make no mistake about it: I have no desire to go to war to toughen up my kids or to face widespread economic collapse so we can all better appreciate the value of a dollar. But with these blessings can come a softness and, if I’m perfectly honest, a sense of entitlement. My generation, perhaps more than any other, needs to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of fortitude, the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that gives us strength over time, courage under duress, stick-to-it-ness in the face of unpleasant or even dangerous tasks.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of fortitude:

The virtue of fortitude has two components – endurance and enterprise.

Endurance helps us to keep going when we are fatigued, suffering, weak, exhausted, or facing discouragement. Enterprise helps us to undertake great deeds while withstanding hardship. Enterprise requires initiative to see a need and take on the responsibility to carry out a plan for the good of others.

Our teenage son is reading Do Hard Things. "Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility," says the Do Hard Things website, "the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact."
Fortitude helps us do hard things.
Several months back I conferred with a friend about why it's all sometimes so hard -- harder than it should be, it seems to me. I know that part of my struggle is that I've bought into the myth that life should be easy. At a certain basic level, I don't want to die to myself, to grow in fortitude, to do hard things.

The rub is that when I overcome my weak will, when I fully embrace my life, when I stop cutting corners, when I put off petty feelings of resentment, in short, when I truly love -- the result is joy.

We, like the Israelites before us, tend to murmur. God delivers us from slavery, parts the Red Sea, provides manna in the desert. We shrug our shoulders and ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

When I’m confronted with bad news, I tend to react as though the sky were falling. Despair would probably be too strong of a word, but I fall apart more easily than I should. Having been a charismatic Christian for thirty years, you’d think my first response would be to pray. No, step one is panic. Step two is buy a book. I log on to Amazon and find some handy how-to manual about the problem at hand. (Look at my Amazon history and you’ll find that my last three purchases were Mommy, Teach Me to Read, Parenting Your Teen with Love and Logic, and The Fulfillment of All Desire. You can probably guess the issues we’ve been facing.) Steps 3-5 vary and include, but are not limited to: crying, pouring a glass of wine, and consuming large quantities of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Sometimes simultaneously.

I forget, if only temporarily, all that God has done for me.

Last week I arrived at our support group potluck, and someone mentioned that we had a visitor who had been part of University Christian Outreach in Ann Arbor while I was a student at the University of Michigan. Mike Shaughnessy recognized me right away, although I haven’t seen him in 27 years.

The first time I met Mike was a true turning point in my life. I was twenty-one and miserable. One night I decided to attend a prayer meeting.

I’ll show up, I told myself, and then leave right afterwards.

Before I could beat a hasty retreat, Mike came over to me and asked, “Could I pray with you?” Mike and another leader, a woman named Rosemary, spent several hours praying with me that night. Their prayers changed the course of my life.

Seeing Mike 800 miles away, twenty seven years later really rocked me. Since then I have thought long and hard about God’s provision in my life. At twenty-one I was miserable, and my misery was purely of my own making. Yet God intervened.

A friend of mine recently shared an image God revealed to him in prayer. Chuck recalled different glimmers of God he had seen in beauty, in humor, in tenderness, in sacrifice, in joy. And then God led him to observe a granite stone in the backyard. It is awesome, unyielding, whole, solid, unchanging. These, too, are attributes of God.

The morning after I saw Mike, I prayed about the nature of God and about the specific ways God has carried me throughout my life. I was overwhelmed with God’s great and personal love for me. When I was at my weakest, God touched me profoundly. When I am next confronted by faults and failures that are an inevitable part of life on planet Earth, I hope I will have the fortitude to dwell on the nature of this all-knowing and all-loving God I serve.

As we were finishing a few afternoon chores the other day, Kolbe fed me one of his favorite Calvin and Hobbes lines. Calvin, imitating his father, yells, “Calvin go do something you hate. Being miserable builds character!”

Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to be miserable. But He does call us to be strong. When we find ourselves weak, we can ask Him to send us the gift of fortitude.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Throwing in the Trowel

The weather has turned, and we've been spending lots of time outside. Bonfires, pecan picking, yard work -- these are fall staples, listed in descending order of preference. I stopped by Lowe's for painting supplies the other day and picked up five pots of ground cover.

I used to be an enthusiastic gardener. I had a large and moderately successful vegetable garden. I planted a perennial border that ran nearly the length of the house. In its prime, it was lovely. I nursed a patch of Zinnias each year, a flowering window box out front, various pots scattered around.

The vegetable patch is now officially Lawn. The Zinnias didn't even make it into the ground this year. And the ground cover is the beginning of the end of the perennial flower bed.

Five years ago it all looked so different.

So what happened?

1. The small shrubs I planted behind the perennial border grew and grew and now block out most of the sunlight (which is essential for perennials).

2. I held on to one humble patch, determined to keep it pretty when a neighborhood cat decided to turn it into a litter box and killed every last bedding plant three years running.

3. I birthed John and Ainsley. Growing people leaves less time for growing plants.

As I planted those five pots of ground cover, a wistful feeling briefly overcame me. I loved my perennial garden -- Daffodils and Phlox, Purple Coneflowers and Yarrow. And just as suddenly as that wave of nostalgia came, it left. I felt peaceful and -- does this sound melodramatic? -- free. I thought to myself, "I think I'll pop by Lowe's and grab another ten of these."

What was once an enjoyable pastime had become pure chore, and here's the heart of the matter: I don't need another chore. I can't keep up, and it's depressing to be reminded of that fact every time I walk into the backyard.

So I'm throwing in the trowel.

As I hop around my little corner of the blogosphere, I find women in a variety of walks of life making hard choices about where their time is best spent. Many -- most -- of them are grappling with far, far more serious issues than whether or not to garden. But the common denominator is the same: We have a finite amount of time and energy. How are these best spent for God and the people God has put into our lives?

Dwija tackles this issue head on in a recent post titled "The Tyranny of Something Extra." Dwija is an upbeat, funny lady, and she lives in Michigan, so you gotta love her even more. She writes:

I sit down at the end of the day, kick off my paint-splattered Dansko clogs and sigh. Deeply. And I say to myself "Why am I so tired? I didn't even do anything today!"

Do anything. A thing.

This crippling idea that unless I do at least one "thing" every day, something special and different...something EXTRA, that I can point to and say "look! this is interesting!", I don't deserve to feel tired or take a few moments to relax, is an absolute joy-suck
She concludes:

Friends, I am done with the tyranny of "something extra". The things I have to do (all this mothering business) and the things I want to do (this blog, that writing work)...those are real things! They take time and energy and effort. They are good and helpful. And just because I haven't managed to take people on a tour of a local dairy farm or sewn valances for my kitchen windows doesn't mean I'm not worthy of a little rest at the end of my day.

These regular things . . . they can be enough.

Christine was the first true friend I made through blogging. She is one of the most positive people you'll encounter and is facing some daunting trials right now as her daughter faces a difficult illness. Christine writes:

I’ve already cut back my hours at work . . . and after Christmas I will be taking six months’ unpaid leave. I think it’s very unlikely I will be able to return. However, although I’m a bit sad about both these changes, at this point I’m very relieved to be able to devote myself solely to looking after the Dafter [her daughter] – and myself. It’s not that I’m a martyr, or that I will be with her every single minute of every day. It just means that the very small amounts of time when I can get away, I’ll really be able to relax and do things for myself. As my job entails helping people, and doing a lot of listening, it is very tiring and I come home just beat these days.

As I contemplated the demise of my once flourishing perennial border, I reminded myself that Not Today does not translate into Not Tomorrow; it certainly doesn't mean Never Again.

For a variety of reasons, this year will be an intense one for us. Like Dwija, I am turning away from the tyranny of something extra.

(And I'm sure Christine would appreciate prayers for her daughter's complete recovery).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Drama at the Drive Through

As we pull into the McDonald's drive through . . .

"Mama!" Ainsley wails in her most melodramatic tone, "The last time we go did to McDonald's, I wouldn't go on the playground. I was scary!"

"Ainsley, " I say, feigning patience I had lost amidst the early morning brawling in our house. "you're whining. Please stop."

"I'll talk like a big girl," she says with perfect composure.

"Mama!" Ainsley wails in her most melodramatic tone, completely unchanged from the first go around. "The last time we go did to McDonald's, I wouldn't go on the playground. I was scary!"

Just hand her the Oscar.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


My friend Rachel over at Testosterhome made me laugh with this little piece that summarizes why I blog: It's cathartic.

As to the Oh! No! moment that inspired her post, all I can say is Been There, Done That. Many times over, unfortunately.

I gave a talk a year or two ago, a talk focusing on humility. Humility, we all know, is the mother of all virtues. While I certainly have a ways to go in growing in true humility, thanks to my kids, I'm a tad further along than I once was.

A few specifics:

The kids were all getting dental check-ups. Our ever-helpful dentist gave my son a lengthy and detailed demonstration on how to best floss his teeth. The boy - we'll call him Anonymous -- looked at the dentist and said, "I've never flossed my teeth in my life."

Why? Why, I ask you. Why?

On the way home we had a little chat about edifying speech. Before speaking, I instructed Anonymous, ask yourself three questions: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

Unsolicited and overly honest comments to the dentist, comments that cast your mother is a very dubious light, well, these are clearly covered by the necessary clause.

Then there was the day way back when John was teeny tiny. It had been six years since I had had a newborn in the house. While I adjusted to the middle of the night feedings and the constant diaper changing, my forty-three-year-old body positively rebelled when confronted with that instrument of torture known as the infant carrier. Women -- young or old -- who are five-two really can't carry them at all.

Out went my back.

We were in the middle of a bedroom shuffle. Mattresses and bed frames were strewn around. I hobbled as quickly as I could manage down the hall, hit a slippery patch of something or other, flew into my bedroom, hopped over a bed frame, and nearly clocked my head on the window sill.

I let fly a rather choice word, probably the same word Rachel did, you know, the one that rhymes with Mitt.

And my bedroom window was wide open. And not five feet away a gang of innocent middle school boys was shooting hoops. I'm sure I only imagined the silence that instantly fell over the court as the boys took in the language used by their middle-aged neighbor.

And then there is my coup de gras.

One afternoon found me ranting and raving at the older boys about the state of their room. Oh, the socks! Oh, the Legos! I was in rare form, chewing them up one side and down the other when I noticed that one son -- we'll call him Incognito -- had a phone in his hand.

"Why, Incognito, why are you holding the phone," I asked in a carefully measured tone.

"Oh!" he replied, handing me the phone. "It's Uncle Nick. He's calling about Cub Scouts."

All this should go far in explaining my reputation with the local dental establishment, the basketball crowd, and the Boy Scouts of America.

And somehow, someway writing about the whole sordid mess really is quite therapeutic.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Saint Marianne

Two Americans have joined the ranks of Catholic saints. Yesterday Pope Benedict canonized Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Marianne Cope.

Of Mother Marianne, CNN reports this:

On the island, Father Damien DeVeuster, whom the Catholic Church named a saint in 2009, had established a medical facility known as the Apostle of the Lepers. By the time Mother Marianne arrived, he was dying from Hansen's disease.
At his request, she told him she would care for his patients. Upon his death, she took over his facility that cared for men and boys and established a separate enterprise to treat girls and women. Saint Damien of Molokai's patients had been living in rudimentary huts. They dressed in rags. Mother Marianne wanted to improve their lives.
She raised money and started programs that gave the ill population a much more dignified life. She set up classes for patients. She worked to beautify the environment with gardens and landscaping. Patients got proper clothes, music and religious counseling. She couldn't cure them, but she could make their lives better.
Mother Marianne died on August 9, 1918, at the age of 80. Incredibly, to this day none of the Franciscan sisters have ever contracted Hansen's disease.

As we attempted to study church history through videos last summer, we watched Molokai: The Story of Father Damien. It briefly covers the work of Mother, now Saint, Marianne and her sisters.

Today I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the many, many sisters I have known and worked with. The vast majority will never be canonized, but their unselfish devotion to the forgotten continues.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. Still splinching . . .

I owe everyone but Ainsley money. Yes, three of my children are now insolvent thanks to me. So I hit the ATM to nab a thick wad of cash only to have the machine kick my card right back at me with a terse message: invalid PIN. I rifled through my purse in search of a second card when from the deep recesses of my mind came the thought that this was the new card and that somewhere, sometime I had received a new PIN. And then bam! I suddenly remembered my PIN and recalled that the new card had arrived around January of 2011.

Not so new. And a little worrying.

2. Still laughing . . .

At Ainsley who likes to block doorways and growl, "I'm a grumpy old troll, and you can't get across my bridge."

3. Still watching . . .

Revolution. It's Lost without the supernatural phenomenon. In fact, several of the actors are from Lost. A tad trite and predictable, as one of my friends pointed out, but a good watch nonetheless.

4. Still Loving It . . .

Watching John learn to read. He      L-O-V-E-S school! After a rocky start with the old ABC's, he seems to be finding his stride.

Yesterday he tackled the word         T-R-E-E.

"Tuh, Ruh, EEEEEE," he sounded and blended with great concentration. "Turkey!"

Oh, yeah!

5. Still Wondering . . .

When you end a sentence with an abbreviation that requires a period, do you add a second period?

ex. I like that new show on T.V..

Makes sense, but looks odd.

6. Still Looking for it . . .

Midwife or Midwives. It's running on PBS. I read the book about six months ago, and absolutely loved it. Jenny is a midwife in the East End of London in the post-World War II era. Beautiful, surprising, even shocking, and a long lesson in why I am so very grateful for running water, washing machines, antibiotics, and epidurals.

I have not quite figured out when the show airs, but that's the beauty of the Internet.

7. So John looked at the picture in the previous post and said, "That's me sleeping on Auntie Kate's couch. I peed on it." I guess he was taking to heart Saint Teresa's words: Let nothing disturb you.

(In light on my post on manners, I reminded John to say wet instead of the P word).

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saint Teresa of Avila

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing;

God only is changeless.

Patience gains all things.

Who has God wants nothing.

God alone suffices.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Approve This Message

November can't come soon enough for me.

Don't you love glancing at a headline or logging on to Facebook and hearing a rant that begins, "You bigoted, narrow minded, brain-washed puppet of the (fill in the blank with Right! or Left!)."

When I read screeds like this, gosh, I truly see the light and surely plan to reverse course and vote for your candidate.

A few months back I wrote an unpublished piece that started:
I look forward to election years if only to get a concise and up-to-date list of all the people I hate. Because, of course, hate is the only possible motive one can have for holding this position or supporting that candidate. Infantile, you ask? Really, my five-year-old possesses reasoning skills superior to those on display in the heat of campaign.

Dave read what I had written and commented that I really did not want to be that kind of writer. And he was right.

I don't know Tom Bissel over at Yahoonews. Before last week, I am fairly certain I had never read a word he has penned. But he captured one of the few cogent points made in this eighteen month acid bath we call an election year. (Yeah, the election year, sadly, doesn't last just a year). Here's what he wrote:

I’m almost 40 years old, and one life truism I’ve discovered is that it’s virtually impossible to hate someone you bother to get to know well. Our national discourse would be far better off if we made an honest effort to think of our politicians as men and women with verifiable histories and complicated humanness rather than as phantasms of ideologies we hate. Doing so might also make us more willing to see the best in one another, which would be nice, seeing that habitually assuming the worst in others remains a fine way to ruin what’s best in oneself.

I'm sick of the sound-bytes. I'm sick of the nasty-grams posted to Facebook. I'm sick of the headlines. If I ever actually watched television, I'd be sick of the ads.

I'm a conservative. On some issues I'm a staunch conservative. On other issues, I'd call myself a liberal. I could pen posts full of venom and vitriol demonizing all those Horrid, Horrid Liberals. But you know what? I'm related to half of them.  And you know what else? They are motivated by many factors, and I don't think hate is among them. As long as they're well-caffeinated and not stuck in traffic, these liberal relatives of mine are nearly always generous, giving, self-sacrificing, and kind.

They will likely be voting for President Obama. I will not. But I once again I agree with Tom who said:

Even if you don’t agree with his policies or politics, looking at President Obama as a hateful creature fished from the ponds of a global Islamist-Marxist conspiracy probably suggests more about your basic goodness and humanity than his.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

At Our Favorite Mexican Restuarant

John: What language is everyone saying?

Me: Many of the people are Mexican, so they're using Spanish words.

Ainsley: Yeah, like lasagna.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ten Minute Tuesday

Rachel over at Testosterhome is sponsoring Ten Minute Tuesday. Visit her, write for ten minutes, and leave a link in her combox.

I came home a little after nine after attending a women's meeting. I nearly texted Dave telling him not to put the little people to bed until I was home. I put the littles to bed six nights out of seven. Multiply that by their average age (which would be four) and that number by fifty-two weeks and you end up with a lot of diaper changing and tooth brushing, alot of Curious George and Caps For Sale and Bible Stories for Little Children, a lot of "God bless the whole crew" and a lot of Hail Marys.

But it doesn't matter if I've done it for years or that I do it all the time. I still like to do it.

The meeting got busy. I wasn't able to text Dave, but I arrived home and found the little people in bed, but still awake.

"Mama," Ainsley squealed.

Dave was sitting her bed. "Do you want Mama or Daddy," he asked her.

"Mama," she said emphatically, throwing back the covers. "Here's your spot."

And so I laid down next to her for a few minutes.

Over at In the Heart of My Home, Elizabeth is talking about motherhood. Readers are comparing life with older children to life with the little ones. It makes for good reading.

We have a bit of a split family. Tim and Kolbe, 15 and 11, make up the older set, and John and Ainsley, 5 and 3, are the littles. It should come as no surprise to me or to anyone else on planet Earth that teenagers bring a few challenging behaviors into the house. Along with the deeper voice and the occasional breakout come attitudes and agendas, boatloads of homework and interesting weekend plans, new tastes in music and and colorful words that may or may not be to your liking.

And suddenly you think back to the day you had all littles, and you remember all those more expereinced mothers who said, "These are the easy years!" Though you in your sleep-deprived state might have bristled at her words, you now think she may have had a point.

I certainly am far more aware of how fast it all goes. John jumped out of the van the other day and stopped in his tracks to watch an ant carrying a crumb over a blade of grass. He was mesmerized.

I love this.

I watched him dress in a Batman cape and go out to tthe sand box and to build something or other.

I love this.

Ainsley threw back her covers last night and said, "Here's your spot."

I love this.

I, of course, love my big boys. I appreciating their budding intellects. I enjoy watching the way they care for their little brother and sister. I am sometimes caught off guard by the big questions they're pondering.

So that's a tad more than ten minutes and wholly unedited (though I'm going to add a link to Elizabeth's site so that you can catch what other mothers are thinking and saying).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Damn

My morning surf this week garnered thought provoking commentaries on dress and manners and -- to highlight a word that's fallen into disuse -- charm. Writers are looking at the externals -- what we wear and how we present are ourselves -- and pondering what the externals say about the internals.

We live in a crass world. As we drive to church on Sundays, we pass two billboards bearing anti-meth messages. They are graphic. They are in your face; I'm waiting for the day John asks, "What's virginity and why would you lose it in a bathroom?" These ads, rather obviously, are meant to shock.

Along with the rude, the crude, the unattractive, there is the sloppy.Years ago the Women's Olympic Soccer Team celebrated their gold medal with a visit to the White House. Talking heads immediately picked up on the fact that nearly every player wore flip flops to meet the president. Now, all flip flops are not created equal. There's the rubber variety that are basically shower shoes you wear to the Y to fend off foot issues. And then there are blinged out but still sporty sandals that are appropriate at a dressier event.

But to the White House? Hmmm. Do we dress up to meet the president? Or do we give a damn?

It's interesting to me that the question was even raised. Our culture has brought casual to new heights (or lows?). Apparently it is now perfectly acceptable to wear jammies everywhere from college lectures to Walmart. I tend to make excuses for the people at the pharmacy in their flannel sleep pants and scuffs. They're sick, after all. But college classes? When I was in college, yes, sweats were perfectly acceptable duds to sport to class; PJs were not.

A while back, Jen Fullwiler wrote about  our contemporary trend toward casual dress:

I think there's simply not that much that's important to us anymore. I wore faded jeans and a t-shirt the last time I went out to dinner, because it wasn't a big deal to me. As much as I hate to admit it, I wasn't that grateful to be able to be served dinner in a restaurant; it felt more like a right than an honor. However, if I got an invitation from Queen Elizabeth to join her at Buckingham Palace for tea tomorrow, you can bet that that outfit would be the furthest thing from my mind. We still dress up when we feel that an activity is an honor or a privilege.

(

Civility is a related topic. Once a week or so, I head up the street to our neighborhood Kroger. If Betty is working, I head for her check out line. Betty is an older woman with the smile of an angel and a cheerful word for every shopper and child. Her life has not been easy. She recently lost her husband after a long bout of poor health. She has a demanding job. She's on her feet all day. She deals with rude customers. She is invariably kind.

What the world would be like with a few more Bettys in it.

At the hardware store a while back, I questioned an item that scanned at the wrong price. I quickly learned that the old adage The Customer Is Always Right no longer applies. I was shuffled from the check out line over to customer service where a bevy of irritable employees stood ready and willing to avoid helping me. Twenty minutes later, the associate who had been strong armed into doing the price check ambled back to the desk -- in no hurry whatsoever -- to let me know that, yes, I was right.

Naturally, he didn't actually say I was right. In fact, this associate addressed the other employees, not me. No I'm sorry for the inconvenience; No Here's our policy on scanning errors. His entire affect screamed I don't give a damn. Once ounce of Betty would have gone a long way here. A simple Sorry about the hassle and I would have left satisfied.

Wasn't happening.

As Dave Barry once so eloquently put it, "Anger ultimately benefits no one. You'll end up a mean, resentful person working in customer service."

We work hard on manners around here - please and thank you, excuse me and yes, Mama. What's the point of all this?

Wikipedia says of manners: In sociology, manners are the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, caring, non-grouchy, polite, and refined.

Refined. I like refined.

Refined is an interesting adjective to consider in a household of kids, most of them boys, all of them fourteen and under.

Does it matter that the three-year-old says, "Mama, I need to pee" versus "Mama, I need to go potty"? It does to this Mama. Some of the best parenting advice I've ever received was a single line: Begin as you mean to go on. And so we begin the long and circuitous route of training children to open doors, to push in chairs, to notice others, to make eye contact.

It isn't easy even when you do give a damn.

Years and years ago a friend and I got into it about about letting our kids watch The Rugrats Movies. My take is this: Why let your kids spend ninety minutes hearing language you know you're going to correct them for saying? I'm no purist in all this, believe me. In a moment of weakness this time last year, I mumbled "whatever" when the kids begged and begged to watch Shrek II. Blame it on the heat or on Dave's relentless work schedule; I simply caved.

And did we pay the price for that moment of surrender! John spent months -- months! -- repeating every off-color phrase all while singing "I'm too sexy for this ..."

Jesus enjoins us to love our neighbor. How effortless it is to love the faceless, anonymous "neighbor" living half a globe away who has never once left a wet towel on the bathroom floor, scarfed down the last bite of Moosetracks, or parked behind you when you were in a hurry.

Move closer to home and I start to squirm. Why is it I can be civil, even kind, to cashiers and waiters, pharmacists and receptionists, but get snarly with these precious souls who live under my own roof? A friend posted a pity remark to Facebook: Patience is what mothers display when other people are around. My response? Too funny and too true.

And in those all too frequent moments when I lack refinement and civility, when I fail to be either polite or caring, my children learn yet another tenet of civil society: the way to make amends, the way to ask forgiveness, the way to say I do give a damn, and I'm so sorry I hurt you.

As We're Picking Pecans

John: Mama, do you need a lot of pecans to make a pumpkin pie?

Me: No.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Seven Things I've Learned

1. If the printer isn't printing, smashing the enter button a little harder doesn't really solve the problem. And repeating the same non-working keystrokes over and over again? Sorry. Swearing? Nah.

2. If you don't regularly check your calendar, you may not realize that your sweet mother-in-law is having a birthday in three days. When this fact does dawn on you, you will be thrilled to remember an item she mentioned she would like. When you go on to Amazon to buy it, you will thank God that Amazon has free two day shipping. When you place the order, you just might want to double check that shipping address because the package might just arrive a day before Grandma's birthday, but at your house instead of her house, and no matter how frustrated you are,  Amazon will not repackage the gift and redirect it to Michigan anywhere near in time for her birthday.


3. Without a list, I am lost. L-O-S-T! With a list, I am better. It helps to read the list.

4. Scholastic book orders? I loved them in the second grade. I them still.

5. There is nothing like the excitement of a freshly minted kindergartner looking at a cereal box and yelling, "Mom, it's A! That says A!"

6. If you join Weight Watchers, your loving husband just might come through the door with five boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Never mind that Girl Scout cookie season was six months ago. You will be forced against your will to consume two boxes of Thin Mints and then subsist on rice cakes until weigh in.

7. Prayer moves mountains. As I type this, my friend is facing a mountain. He has voluntarily re-entered rehab and could use all the prayer we could send his way.

Head over to Jen's to add you Quick Takes.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Reasons I just May Have To Buy a Real Phone

1. I am being slowly dragged into the world of texting . . . and it really is useful.

2. Former English teachers like to use punctuation marks.

3. My name is Kelly not Jelly, but sometimes fixing an error requires too much effort.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Making Room at the Inn

We moved a treadmill into our bedroom on Friday.

Let me tell you something: A baby takes up less room than a treadmill.

At least in the short run.


To make room for the treadmill, I had to vacate what I have dubbed "the corner of shame." What a colossal mess. It's an ever changing mess, a mess for all seasons. It holds Scout gear and birthday presents, miscellaneous junk related to the fish tank and boxes of hand me downs. When the kids were younger and not so adept at snooping, it held all our Christmas gifts.

This time last year I cleaned out the corner of shame in record time. My parents were on their way to Florida and planned a brief layover at my house. Mom was not doing well. She had just been released from a rehab facility following a serious fracture. I knew she had been in a wheelchair. An hour or two before their arrival, my dad informed me that Mom was entirely wheelchair bound. Furthermore, the wheelchair was too wide for a standard bathroom door. She would need to get into our house through a door blocked by the pile 'o shame.

Necessity can indeed be my friend. In the span of an hour or two, the pile was gone, the door was accessible, and a portable toilet stood ready and waiting. I made a space for my mother.

I think the pile reappeared forty-eight hours after their departure.

Friday I tackled it anew, and we now have a treadmill in its place.

Kolbe wants to start running, and he asked if we could find a treadmill. We found one -- a space saving, portable, foldable model -- and it was free! Now don't let the terms space-saving, portable, or foldable fool you. This thing is huge.

As I cleaned and sorted, dusted and donated, I thought of the skill set that motherhood demands. An important element of that skill set is the ability to make a place.

Last week I gathered with a group of women in our community to discuss ways we could do a better job of making other women feel welcome. How do make a place for new people, for older people, for single people, for all people?

The discussion left me thinking about the many ways women make a space for people. Sometimes it's a physical space. Do you have a seat? There's one right here. Sometimes it's emotional space. How are you doing? Can I pop by? Sometimes its material space. I'm running to the grocery store. Can I pick anything up for you?

Making a space is an important job and a huge part of motherhood.

When I was expecting Tim, I spent hours and hours designing his nursery. How fun was that! Four years later, Kolbe moved into the nursery, and I transformed the guest room into a space room for Tim who, at age four, planned to be the first American on Mars.

A  l-o-n-g  six years after Kolbe, John came along, and so did our first set of bunk beds. Nesting with your third is very different from nesting with your first. Having had two babies, I had a clear idea of what was worth taking up real estate, what was completely unnecessary, what I could borrow rather than buy, etc.

I made a space for dear, sweet John. It was a special space, a smaller space, but still a special space. I bought John diapers, wipes, a few sleepers, and a box of Dreft.  I've written before about the years of loss that preceded John's birth. Nesting (even though it was really micro-nesting) was pure unadulterated joy.With each baby I've bought one box of Dreft. I launder and fold all the onesies and sleepers. It's so fun, so, so fun! I must have oxytocin positively oozing from my pores as I fold.

And then Ainsley was on the way. Suddenly the three bedroom house seemed a tight fit. We borrowed a bassinet and purchased an armoire. I bought new onesies and my trusty box of Dreft. In a moment of wild abandon, I bought a set of pink sleepers.

If Ainsley didn't get much space in our house, she got an enormous chunk of our hearts (and, truth be told, she commandeered a substantial part of our closets as the avalanche of pink came in).

Mothers cull through the too-small clothes and sort through the news ones. They box up the Little People and make a space for Legos. The Hardy Boys move out, and J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling move in. They buy Scouting equipment and basketball shoes, bicycles and tiny kitchens with red gingham curtains.

I have a son who loves messy, messy crafts and another son who plays the guitar and the piano. We make a place in our house, in our budget, and our schedule for these things to happen. Mothers make a place.They may grumble and kvetch, wring their hands over the cost, pray for logistical miracles to get everyone where they need to be. But they make a place.

Can I tell you a secret? I don't want a treadmill in my bedroom. I like my room. It's yellow and red and filled with dark wood and Mother's Day gifts from the kids and my bridal bouquet and my grandmother's picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus . . . and a big, hulking treadmill.

I don't want a treadmill in my room, but I want room for my son to grow and develop. I want him to  know deep within his heart that his mother was always willing to make a place for him.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Seven Late Takes

1. So after fourteen years of carting little boys to pre-school, I now have two little girls in tow and, let me tell you, it's another world entirely. Love those boys. Love 'em. love 'em, love 'em. But the boys never gave me flowers when I pulled up. The boys never asked, "Aunt Kelly, can we take off our shoes?" I never heard a sweet little voice whisper excitedly, "I know! Let's dance!"

Girls prattle. Day one of the carpool brought non-stop chatter. On day two they went mute on me. I leaned back and asked if they were okay. Everybody got a pulse back there?



On day one last year, I got a phone call and a rather colorful account of the language skills John had demonstrated during the fifteen drive. Two words capture it all: Shrek Two. Note to self: If you don't want you're four-year-old singing "I'm too sexy for this shirt", don't let Shrek cross the threshold.

2. After I bobbed Ainsley's hair, and we watched To Kill a Mockingbird, Dave began calling her Scout and told me I should put her in overalls.

She doesn't like being called Scout, but she loves her "olivers," as she calls them.

"Do you like my olivers," she asked the boys.

"They're not ollivers," Tim told her. "They're called Jerry Germanns."

We laughed hard. Jerry Germann is a dear friend who is helping the ninth graders learn to garden as part of an amazing class called Life Skills. Jerry likes to wear olivers.

3. Ainsley has discovered the thrill of talkie walkies, as the little people call them. "Hello, hello," I hear her say. "Can you coffee me? Can you coffee me?"

4. My friend is trying hard to make me love Costco. I've got to say they have awfully nice produce, their meat prices are very competitive, and I love, love, love those samples.

But massive boxes of cereal? It really doesn't matter how cheap it is. It just won't fit. This reminds me of a time about twenty years ago when my friend put a college-aged guy in charge of buying food for a two day retreat. He went to Sam's Club, and my friend, I believe, is still using the mustard he purchased.

A friend suggested I take my double box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, put it in the middle of the kitchen, and call it an island.

It's about the right size.

5. I baked pumpkin muffins for a birthday party this morning. Ainsley spotted a muffin and asked, "Are we going to pat it and mark it with an A?"

6. A visit to the library is long overdue (or at least the books are). Gosh, I hope they don't name a wing after me.

We just read Did the Greeks Really Use a Trojan Horse? The answer? Maybe. This led to a lengthy discussion concerning the Titans and the Olympians. Tim regaled us with the story of Cronus marrying Rhea and then eating each of their children shortly after birth so that none of them could fulfill the prophecy that said the children would one day overthrow their father.

Rhea, clever woman, offered Cronos a rock rather than their youngest son, Zeus. Zeus eventually fed his father wine mixed with mustard, and dear old Dad vomited up the rest of the fam who were all remarkably well for having spent two decades swimming in Dad's stomach acid. Zeus, a chip off the old block, swallowed his wife for the same reason his father swallowed the kids.

Kolbe, mesmerized by the whole tawdry affair, yelled, "Hey Bill, have you seen my sandwich?"

"Son, I am your sandwich."


You endure knock knock jokes and  potty humor ad nauseam, and one day they're making literary jokes that really are clever.

7. "Tim," John asks in his most pathetic voice, "would you punch Kolbe for me?" Sadly, Tim complied.

Hurry over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes.