Monday, September 30, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

1. Last night's exchange:
 Me: John, time for dinner!
John: Is it sausage, spaghetti, or ribs?

2. I woke up the other night and do you know how I felt? Cold. Blessedly, wonderfully, refreshingly cold! I want to stand in the middle of my backyard and shiver. Not at the moment because I think it's about 81, but in an hour or two? Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

3. So we're at about step thirteen of the big room reshuffle. On Tuesday, as I winded my way through boxes, I said to my husband, "This better be worth it."

On Wednesday, I could do no more than stare vacantly at boxes that assuredly were not going to unload themselves on account of my staring contest. And had I averted my gaze for just a split second, I'm convinced the buggers would have multiplied with abandon.

On Thursday, I declared that God is a God of order, and this effort was in dire need of divine intervention. You know what? I made a dent. A fairly big dent. The dent would have been even bigger had I not looked at two giant boxes and thought that John and Ainsley would have a ball making airplanes out of them.
Spy Kids

4. Once school starts you forget summer ever was. Weird, but true. It's all going swell. My least favorite aspect is making lunches. Yesterday the boys came home with eight grade lunch slips, and I swear I would have paid $12.99 per person for hot dogs and chips as long as I wasn't the poor soul who had to pack them.

5. We have embarked on a new wake-up procedure for the unidentified boy who requires a crowbar and a foghorn to rouse him from his beauty sleep. I come in the room, say good morning, and turn on a fairly dim light. They have requested that I not sing --  seems Good Morning, Starshine from Hair just wasn't speaking their love language. I have complied. No singing. Fifteen minutes later I come in and say, "It's time to get up." That's it. We leave at 8:15, ready or not. On Wednesday I think unidentified child assumed a vertical posture at 7:59. Darned if that boy wasn't in the car by 8:15. (And I found that supremely annoying, for some reason.)

6. So we did have one bad morning. If I were to translate this into a percentage, I think we're heading for first honors. To make amends, I ran to Checkers and bought the boy some greasy concoction topped with bacon. This, as I've mentioned before, is unquestionably speaking his love language. He may develop cholesterol problems, but at least he'll know his Mama loves him.

7. My friend Rachel doesn't shop at Goodwill for fear that she will bring home something she has previously worked hard to get out of her house. I see her point. I had lugged away a ton of stuff we are donating to our Fall Fare. The very next day Dave and John headed to the Fall Fare storage unit to do a little work. Home again, home again John came with my previously (and deviously) donated junk.

Today I popped by our community clothing closet to find a few uniform items for the boys. I coaxed the guys into trying things on and immediately returned the ones that didn't fit because, I promise you, all button-down shirts look alike, and I would have ended up repeatedly washing, drying, and folding items that never fit to begin with and were never once worn.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is Out. Here's our favorite place to go out, especially after rainy days like yesterday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

We're getting in the van at 8:15 on Monday morning.

Hurry! We don't want to be late.

We arrive at the grocery store at 2:00.

Hurry! Get in the cart.

We arrive at church on Sunday morning.

Hurry! Class is starting in a second.

So much of our life seems to be hurry, hurry, hurry.

Last Thursday I spent three hours in the atrium with my fellow catechists. As we are beginning our new year, we decided to revisit a few basics to make sure we're showing the children a consistent way to perform ordinary atrium tasks -- cutting, pasting, pouring, polishing.

When you want to polish silver, first you find a work space.
Then you you place your mat on the table.
You unfold it and smooth out the wrinkles.
You get the basket of materials and walk slowly back to your work space.

My first introduction to the Montessori way of moving -- slowly, deliberately, methodically, doing each task step by step -- left me frustrated. Chaffing, really. I mean , no one moves like that. Least of all me.

Take out your materials. Place them carefully on the mat. Slowly. Left to right.

No one moves like that.

It's true, our lead catechist told us. No one moves like that. And that's why it's important to give our children a place of quiet, a place of thoughtful movement, a place of peace.

Somehow this clicked with me in a way it hasn't in the eight or ten years I've been doing this work. Maybe it was because I had become so aware of how often I tell my sweet four-year-old hurry, hurry, hurry! Right then and there, I planned to spend a slow, quiet afternoon with Ainsley.

We came home, and I pulled out a few vases. We walked to our patch of Zinnias. I held the stems as Ainsley snipped them. The vases were dusty, and instead of washing them myself -- quickly, efficiently -- I asked Ainsley to get the stool. She stood at the sink and scrubbed them clean.

We decided the short flowers should go in the short vase and the tall flowers should go in the tall vase. Ainsley sorted the flowers into two piles. We noticed that the pink flowers tended to be tall , and the yellow flowers tended to be short.

Ainsley put the short vase on her tea table.

Over the previous few days, I had been working on completing the Level II Maxims. These are twelve sayings of Jesus that the children reflect on as they prepare for First Communion. We print these on mottled parchment paper using a pretty script and then burn the edges of the paper and decoupage them onto tablets.

John took one look at the tablets and totally wanted a treasure map. I googled Pirate Treasure Map and clicked Images. He stood at my left, spotted the screen full of treasure maps, and started laughing with a glee unique to six-year-old boys. He spent the afternoon drawing his own pirate map and came to find me when he had finished.

"Come on, Mama," he said. "We're going to go on a Quest!"

(A Quest! Can I bottle him up and sell his zeal and vim, his unbridled fire and his boundless exhilaration?)

I peered at the map and recognized the over-sized climbing tires in the huge backyard we share with a dozen other families. There was a trail to follow, and, as every good pirate knows, X marked the spot. I was heading out the door to a neighbor's house, so big brother Tim graciously stepped in, and the Quest was on!

Yesterday I toured the atrium with a mom who is new to this approach to catechesis.  I explained the parables that are pivotal works for the youngest children and those that speak to the older ones. We pulled out the pouring materials in the practical life section. We begin with dry spooning, move on to dry pouring, and then advance to wet pouring. Slowly, carefully, left to right.

As we toured the Level II atrium, we noticed Ainsley had discovered our last supper figures. They are beautiful, colorfully painted figures. Ainsley moved down the line of apostles offering each one the patin and the chalice.

Christy commented that any child would be drawn to use materials like that.

It's true.

We talked briefly about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in the home. While I have brought a few materials into my home, I've never attempted to recreate the atrium under our own roof. I'm fairly certain I have neither the space nor the finances to accomplish that feat.

Sometimes I find this frustrating.

I spent many a summer working with the Missionaries of Charity. And if they had a motto, it would be Pray hard; work hard. Many of us left our weeks with the sisters disappointed that we were unable to incorporate three to four hours of prayer, Mass, and adoration into our ordinary lives. Nearly all of us eventually stumbled on a spiritual director wise enough to point out a simple truth: God will meet you within the unique blessings and demands of your life. Translation: You're not a Missionary of Charity.

And I don't live in an atrium.

I do attempt to pull aspects of order, pieces of beauty, and moments of quiet into our regular lives.

But I don't live in an atrium.

Parents who are intentional about family life can be tempted to look with disdain on the Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! aspect of our lives. I would be the very first person to say that our activities -- all of them --require discernment and that an eye toward simplicity is an essential part of this evaluation.

But, in truth, a large part of Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! is simply an unavoidable by-product of a full life, really of a blessed life, a life I waited for, a life I prayed for, a life I do not want to pass by too quickly.

And when it gets to be too, too much -- as it inevitably does from time to time -- I need to work hard to apply the brakes.

I can make treasure maps with John.

I can cut flowers with Ainsley.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is Store.

Store, the verb, and not Store, the noun.

Since we're in the middle of this epic household restructure, I've been thinking a whole lot about storage -- how to do, where to do it, whether or not to do it. Purge, purge, purge has been my mantra. I attacked the little kids' closet and came upon Mousetrap. Who doesn't love Mousetrap? Me, for one. We cracked a single piece of Mousetrap and haven't played the game since. But I couldn't throw it away because, heck, we were only missing only piece. I don't like games that can't happen for lack of a single piece. 

While the kids were safely out of sight, I boldly began to walk Mousetrap to the trash can. 
Usually I do this under cover of darkness, double bag the items to be pitched, and deposit them by agreement in my neighbor's can. 

No kidding.

After one mega-purge, my kids were in the backyard playing hide and seek and one of them hid in the trash can full of items purloined from over-stuffed closets and toy boxes. I learned my lesson. Dump it off site.

On my way to the neighbor's trash can, I noticed that the Mousetrap box was unusually large and really quite sturdy (unlike most game or puzzle boxes). I dumped the pieces and kept the box and -- get this 
-- fit about ten board games inside of one single box.


Yahtzee is one cup, five dice, and some score cards. No need for a box. Twister? Tiny, really.

Head over to Cari's, check out her cool, retro finds, and congratulate her on her upcoming book.


I thought the hardest part of this room shuffle would be moving the behemoth of a desk. And, believe me, that wasn't easy. But I've spent the past two days boxing up bookshelves, dusting, washing, prepping, mulling over paint samples all the while taking care of the kids, planning a new year of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, organizing a Fall Festival, and having a tooth crowned.

This morning I had it together.

Ainsley at pre-school - check.

Blue paint and rollers purchased - check.

Coffee brewing - check.

The Priests belting out Panis Angelicus on the CD player - check.

I dropped some mail off at our community office and told my friend Anna about my big day dedicated to transforming Sage Green walls to Wedgewood Blue. She made an oblique comment about blue being a tricky color. Nah, I counted blithely. I have always been of the mindset that once a can of paint is purchased and in my van, oddities of color, a hue that's a tad off, well, I tend to dismiss those problems with a quick shrug. And if the paint has actually made it onto the walls, I am quick to declare victory.

One in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that, you know.

This approach is not infallible. When painting my kitchen cabinets -- a job that is not for the faint of heart -- I was aiming for fire engine red and ended up with raspberry. No dice. Back to the store I went. Some things I can't live with and raspberry cabinets assuredly made the list.

Many moons ago I painted my bedroom and -- with the help of a decorator no less -- honed in on a shade that had the misfortune of going by the name Yellow Banana. Friends, do not paint your bedroom Yellow Banana. Housing an Orangutan? Opening a day care center? Yellow Banana is just your shade.  I room you plan to live in, sleep in? No, just no. But the tricky part, see, is that you can't fully appreciate how paint will turn out until you finish the second coat. Horrible and inconvenient but so true, so painfully true. I cut in and rolled one coat of Yellow Banana and then was paralyzed. What to do? What to do? The furniture's all pulled out. I'm dodging piles left and right.  I'm harried with keeping the little people out of the bedroom. I wasn't enthusiastic about Yellow Banana, but I was even less enthusiastic about starting over.

So I did nothing.

For a year, I did nothing. Oh, I put the furniture back, let the kids back into the room, but I didn't finish for a year. When I finally put on that second coat of Yellow Banana, the room definitely looked better but, hello!, Yellow Banana!

So The Priests moved on to their glorious Ave Maria, and I was painting, painting, painting and called Anna to report the sad and indisputable truth: The boys' room was purple.

Not Wedgewood Blue as the paint sample claimed. Purple. Bordering on Lavender.

But here's the crazy thing: I kept right on painting. And as the light shifted around the room, purple became blue, a nice blue. I'm sure the music helped. As I moved into the evening, I'm sure the glass of Chardonnay helped. But this morning, even by dawn's harsh early light, I think it's going to be okay.

But then again, the hardest part is over, so my judgment may be seriously compromised.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Leave No Flat Surface Behind

As I’ve mentioned before, my kids are forever informing me that I’m OCD about the house.

My invariable response? If I’m OCD, I’m really bad at it.

Oh, I’d like to be OCD.  No, no, no, not the for real version. But I wish a few areas of my house and yard were just so. I like things just so. Trouble is, even if I can get them just so, that don’t remain that way for long.

Kids have an insatiable desire to touch anything and everything. I just howled when I heard the tale of my dear mother-in-law and her tribe of boys in Kmart long about four decades ago. She turned her back on the older three boys while they were in the diaper aisle. Those rascals got their hands on the shrink-wrapped packages of Pampers, stuck their fingers in the eyeballs of those adorable model babies, and stretched the wrappers until the babies’ eyes were all distorted and scary looking.

They just couldn’t help themselves.

I love the idea of warm, decorative touches strewn  throughout the house – a pillow here, a nubby throw there. They never, never, never, ever, ever,ever stay where they’re put.


Whoever dubbed a throw a throw named it well.

But the biggest culprit in my house ? The biggest contender against all that is orderly and just so? The flat surface.

Flat surfaces invite libary books and stray tools. Flat Surfaces say "Sit here!" to pink, plastic cell phones and Tonka trucks, to the fourth grader's diorama of a swamp and to the fourteen pages of coloring sheets the pre-schooler brought home from Sunday school. They beckon "Come hither" to the Cub Scout manual and the neighbor's casserole dish, to the DVD that's due back to Red Box and the pink sock you daughter's friend left under the bed. 

This weekend we took an enormous first step in what will likely be a twenty-nine step process of re-vamping and re-locating sleeping space.  What have I learned in the past forty-eight hours?

1. My husband is one talented guy who can figure out how to make things work.

2. He's doing an excellent job of passing this on to our boys. They might not thank him now, but their wives one day will!

3. We have too much stuff.

Dave and I met and married in our early to mid thirties (me: early, Dave: mid). We owned two of everything: couches, beds, microwaves, stereos. He owned two cars! We moved into a four bedroom house and filled it up.

When I say "filled it up", that is not precisely true. Full, I now realize, is a relative term. Our house was Full when those four bedrooms consisted of our bedroom, Tim's bedroom, a study, and a guest room. Our house was Really Full when we had our room, Tim's room, Kolbe's room, a study, and no guest room. It moved up to Packed when we erected bunk beds for Tim and Kolbe and moved John into the nursery. And as for Ainsley, well, she's lucky she didn't sleep in a drawer (although we did have a trundle bed for a while).

You think you're Full until you achieve Packed to the Gills and even then I don't have to look far to see that, relatively speaking, our accommodations border on spacious.

If there is a secret to household management, a single pearl of wisdom helpful to people of different ages and personalities, to women with varying amounts of energy and disparate approaches to housekeeping, it would be this: Pack lightly.

Last spring I was driven to distraction by Ainsley's endless adventures in changing clothes. Three, four, twelve times a day -- gone was the pink shirt and khaki capris, on came the Easter dress and then the swimsuit and then the Christmas dress from two years ago and then the tutu. I grabbed her clothes (and John's as well) and culled down to the items that fit well and were in season. The rest of their usable clothing I stored out of reach. While a typical cull and reorganize might reduce the stock by 25%, this purge was probably close to 75%.

I can not overstate how much peace this has brought us. Ainsley still changes clothes faster than a model on the runways of Milan. But even if she tried on 80% of her clothes everyday, it's 80% of a much lower number. Then there's John and his Matchbox cars. He likes to dump the whole collection nearly every day. If the collection is twenty cars and not seventy-two, well, it's better all around -- easier to clean up, less to store. This sort of organizational math works with coffee mugs and dish towels, with highlighters and gym socks.

As I sorted school supplies early this month, I was astonished at the stash I have collected. I have colored pencils galore, so many Pink Pearl erasers I ought to sell in them bulk on Ebay, and one impressive stack of notebooks that were something like twelve cents each.


Even when it's cheap, it still costs us something.

In this room switcheroo, I've attacked not toys and clothing, but papers, papers, papers. And two things have made this go around far more successful than before: Dave and I are doing this together and God's grace.

Once in a while a ponder the human cost of dealing with all our stuff. I would hate to consider the cumulative years I have spent shuffling papers and toting plastic toys from room to room, up and down the attic stairs.

And I could get all maudlin about the whole affair, but then there's this: People use stuff. We've invested a small fortune in Legos. Tim reads non-stop. I give Kolbe lots of space to indulge his creative juices. I like buying clothes and books for my daughter. I let John collect bottle caps and all sorts of other items I would deem junk, but he deems cool. (Although I nearly croaked when I found a razor blade among his finds. That cool item was carefully bagged up and tossed. Blech!)

I've always admired from afar La Leche League's motto: People before things. In reality, people need things. When the things begin to encroach on living life, it's time to watch an episode or two of Hoarders: Buried Alive and attack the nearest flat surface.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is text.

Nothing new around here, but pulling from the archives, I came up with John's first sentence:

Translation: The cat kan jump to the other cat.

And this early one is even better:

But my favorite pic involving text comes from an epic drive we took in 2012. It felt like we were twenty-seven hours into a thirty hour trip. In fact, we were ten hours into a twelve hour drive, but we had driven all day the previous day and I had a constipated three-year-old and I was driving solo. So, epic! 

My husband's name is Dave Lyle. Every time we pass Charlotte, North Carolina, we notice Dave Lyle Boulevard. Well, last year I was flying down I-77 South and spotted a flash of green on the side of the road. Setting aside common sense, exhaustion, and constipation, I took the next exit, drove five or six miles north, and hopped back on I-77 South in search of the flash of green. And there it was -- a little banged up -- but my very own Dave Lyle Boulevard sign. How cool is that?

My boys were scandalized -- shocked, shocked, shocked -- absolutely certain their mother would wind up facing hard time in the state pen for nicking the sign. I'm happy to report no legal troubles to date.

Head over to Clan Donaldson to add your pics.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good Hair Days

I write so much about Ainsley and her girlish ways, I wonder if readers wonder if she's all fluff and no substance. And I then remember I have roughly twenty-five subscribers and realize I'm not quite rocking the world. And I remember my nieces who were as girly as girly could be and then went on to develop unique, diverse styles, some the adult version of girly and some not.

Mostly I remember just how fun it all is, and who cares what anyone else thinks anyway?

I like having a girl.

Having a girl is full of iconic moments -- her first doll, her first doll house, her first tights. The other day Ainsley's pal Isabel, Rachel's little girl, climbed into our van in her new ballet get-up. Oh. My. Goodness. The slippers, the leotard, the tiny skirt! I just may have to take a second glance at the Augusta Ballet website and see if the Dolin schedule and budget can handle dance some time soon.

And I'm still looking forward to that Easy Bake Oven.

Back in the day when boys ruled, and there wasn't a single girl to drool, I swore I'd do two things if I happened to bring forth a girl child:

1. I would sew.

2. I would do hair.

Sewing is on the back burner for now, maybe not for long, but for now. As for hair, this I confront on a daily basis.

As Ainsley's hair grew, oh, how delighted was her mother! So cute and blonde to boot. Blonde! How did I end up with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter? All too soon, though, I learned that the whole hair thing is fraught with troubles. First, there's bed head. Boys, too, deal with bed head, but there are two quick and easy solutions to this: spray bottles and haircuts. I certainly pull out not just the spray bottle but the de-tangler with Ainsley, but there's no cutting to be done. I learned this early on.

I was reading Rachel's blog one day when Dave glanced my way and caught sight of a picture of Isabel.

"Why is her hair longer than Ainsley's?" His tone was equal parts surprise and concern.

I cracked up.

See, mothers aren't the only ones with visions of life with daughter.

A little over a year ago, I grew tired of fighting the bow and barrette battle every day, so I had Ainsley's hair cut into a tidy bob -- not especially short, but a cleaner, fuller look that worked even went she opted out of hair accessories.

Daddy was not pleased. Oh, he wasn't mad mad, but it appears he, too, had ideas of how his daughter would look, and long hair made the list.

(For the record, we don't wear ankle length skirts, and I don't sport a bun unless I've skipped my shower).

So her hair is getting longer and a tad scraggly and with all the pool and lake goings on this summer, I didn't fight the good fight except for church and other outings.

While visiting Dave's parents, we frequent several nifty nearby parks. I love John and Ainsley's ability to hop into a crowd of kids they don't know and just make friends. Most of Ainsley's new-found pals were African American. Two little girls sported braids -- long, beautiful braids with -- and here's the kicker -- beads, beads!

Ainsley was captivated. Mesmerized. Covetous, even.

Oh, how she talked about those girls and their braids.

Now I've heard enough from black friends to know these do's are a) expensive and b) really time consuming. And let me tell you something about my sweet Ainsley: No way, no how would she survive what it takes for braids and beads. She's the girl who regularly falls apart each morning as I attempt a minor de-tangle.

"You comb my hair Every! Single! Day!" she wailed one particularly knotty day.

Yes, folks, except for a few bohemian weeks on Pelee Island when a) I was tired of fighting it and b) I ran out of elastics, I do, indeed, comb her hair every single day. Most days this summer she looked like the picture to the left, and the boys took to calling her Cosette for her waifish appearance.

And then my sister came to the rescue. She arrived back on the Island with a container of elastics that don't pull. Ainsley will wear them nearly all day long.  So now we see this:

Which, admittedly, is not quite this:

But not as bad as this:


(Although this is charming in its own sweet way.)

Friday, September 06, 2013

An Update on the Missing Eyebrow

Seven Quick Takes

1. I'm sure all of you have been on pins and needles -- waiting with baited breath, no doubt -- to hear the fate of my half-shorn eyebrow. First of all, let me state for the record that my friend Patti claimed it was not nearly as dramatic as reported. I beg to differ, but then I spotted it through a magnifying mirror. Anyway . . . it was all coming back nicely and then suddenly I had one stray hair jutting out perpendicular to my face -- a wild hair as it were. An interesting term that. I googled Wild Hair, wondering if it were Wild Hair or Wild Hare. I can imagine a Wild Hare, but, it turns out, Wild Hair is actually Wild Hair, and, oddly enough, it often times refers to a Wild Hair up one's, ummm, euphemism. I would make some flippant comment about how, exactly, this happens, but, you know, the more I strike a pose of revulsion and alarm, the more likely the object of my shock and  horror is to come home to roost. Mostly I'm thinking about things in relation to my children, but still. A Wild Hair? I'd rather have a Wild Hare.

2. And what, precisely, does baited breath mean? I'm almost afraid to google that one.

3. So when we returned from Michigan, and I came to the realization that a) we had five (count 'em FIVE!) swim team free weeks of summer vacation looming before us and that b) Tim's lone prospect for late summer employment had turned to naught, well, I confess, I was more than a little worried. Five weeks later, it looks like we made it. And except for two particularly gruesome afternoons, it's been good. (You can say that when it's about to come to a screeching halt within forty-eight hours.)

4. I have one pair of shoes and a few boxes of Kleenex to round out the back-to-school shopping. My good friend Laurie generously offered to hem Kolbe's pants. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

5. So, we're in the midst of a room switcheroo that will take about two months to complete. That may be optimistic. I opened three boxes of books that have remained nearly untouched since our wedding, lo, almost seventeen years ago. Time has a wonderful way of winnowing the chaff from the wheat. I whittled three boxes down to one, and, in the process, found a pristine copy of The Screwtape Letters as well as a book by Saint Therese I was ready to order from Amazon. I sold one box at 2nd and Charles and, to my credit, left the store with just two small items -- far, far less than I brought in. Victory! We dropped a second box at Goodwill. While paring down and culling is an ongoing, job -- really, just part of household management -- I've sensed a unique grace on us this go around. Dave and I are both ready to purge, baby, purge. That's been nice.

6. I would love to hear from other mothers (of teenagers, especially) to learn what tricks they have for keeping food in the house. Tim eats like there's no tomorrow. I just hit the grocery store two days ago. I opened the fridge this afternoon to find . . . nothing, practically nothing. I think part of the secret is to buy really mediocre food and buy it in bulk. Forget the Taquitos and Hershey's Syrup. It's gone before you can say Bob's Your Uncle. I think I'll focus on sliced turkey, peanut butter, fruit, and maybe a few items that take a little effort to prepare. Or maybe I'll haul my footlocker down from the attic and keep it all under lock and key.

7. Why is it that forts are so fun at 10:00 in the morning and so overwhelming at 6:00 in the evening? That, friends, is the question. And the answer is one small glass of wine and then lights out early for the Dolin crew.

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Let Her Be Three

We are on one of our long road trips, and three-year-old Ainsley begins prattling on about -- oh, I don't remember what -- Angelina Ballerina or Eeyore, Olivia the Pig or Elmo. These are her people. Naturally Tim, her fifteen-year-old brother, feels positively compelled to tease her.

It's gentle teasing, the variety that stems from deep affection and a twelve year age gap.

I turned to Tim and softly asked, "Can't we just let her be three?" 

Wasn't it just yesterday that Tim was three? When he was about the age Ainsley is now, a neighbor popped by with a few Barney tapes that needed a new home. My friend's youngest child was not much older than Tim. Through the wise counsel of her older brother and sister, she had learned young that Barney is uncool, way uncool.

Older siblings are helpful like that.

I recently posted White and Nerdy in which I mentioned complications that arise when a family has a wide span of ages. At the crux of the matter lies this simple truth: You can't replicate the protective bubble your oldest children are born into. Oh, how I remember being the mother of one and then two children and finding myself absolutely mystified by some of the challenges faced by larger families. Baby proofing and media selections, household maintenance and clothing -- really, these things seemed not so difficult when I had all littles. 

Now I'm trying to stop Ainsley from teaching the moves to Gangnam Style to her pre-school pals.

Eleven-year-old Kolbe recently asked the meaning of the line "For Mature Audiences Only." I explained a few issues of language and theme and then we discussed how some movies (or games or songs) labelled "M" are not "For Mature Audiences Only"; they aren't appropriate for any audiences at all. Vulgarity, nudity, gratuitous violence -- there's nothing mature about much of what goes into many films rated "R" or games rated "M."

But other issues clearly are appropriate for an older audience. Glory, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ -- these are among films that I certainly did not enjoy in the typical sense of the word, but they are great films that employ disturbing images to an appropriate end -- depicting somber events in a realistic manner. They are suitable for mature audiences.

And just as there is a time to introduce older children to more serious media, to more sobering themes, there is a time to make every effort to keep our little people little, to protect their minds and imaginations, their hearts and their souls, from the bigger, often darker world.

A time to let Ainsley be three. 

A time to let John be six.

Soon enough they'll be twelve and seventeen and twenty-one.

I laughed as Ainsley squealed with delight over our friend's very impressive collection of heels. That's one life's many joys that three-year-old girls flat love. They love butterflies and unicorns, dress up clothes and most anything that sparkles.

John, at six, is at an age of wonder. He finds unbridled excitement in a wide array of creation -- bird's eggs and horse shoes crabs, lizards and turtles. He has a need -- and, truly, I believe it is a need -- to shout as he discovers treasures and then -- and I think this is equally as important -- to share them with the people he loves.

"Come see my fort, Mama!" he yells. "Come see my fort!"

"Mama! I'm a mummy wrapped up in a blanket," he shouts. "Come see!"

His Godmother called a few weeks back. She had found baby birds nesting in the cup holder of her exercise bike on the back porch. Did John want to come see them? We drove out to their house and spent the afternoon watching the birds and eating good food. For John's birthday, Kathy bought him a dinosaur egg that you immerse in water and watch as it hatches.

Every morning John was out of bed like a shot.

"Mama, let's check out my egg," he'd yell, his voice revealing just the faintest trace of his pre-school lisp, his bite still just a touch sideways.

To John's delight, the egg did indeed hatch, and we are now the proud owners of a six inch long stegosaurus.

In my Montessori training, we learned about "the absorbent mind" Maria Montessori found in young children who take in the world like a sponge  We learned about "sensitive periods" -- times during which children learn skills, most notably language, with little effort. Beyond those "sensitive periods" children can still learn, of course, but that learning is more conscious, requires more exertion, and may not reach the heights possible during the sensitive periods. In the atrium, children will return to the same work over and over again. My own children have begged for the same stories so often I could recite Caps For Sale in my sleep.

We've recently embarked on an overhaul of several rooms. As I waded through a daunting stack of papers, I found a letter a much younger Tim had written to Neil Armstrong:

Dear Mr. Armstrong. My name is Timmy. I am seven years old. When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. What was it like on the moon?

When you look at a nearly grown child, a child who no longer calls you to share his every excitement, one who just might -- only occasionally -- answer in monosyllables and/or grunts, well, it's easy to question what exactly happened to all that wonder.

This was a boy whose art papers depicted rockets and space suits, a boy who went to bed every night with My Big Book about Space, a boy who regularly prayed for Alan Shepard, a boy I once heard say, "Houston, Tranquility Base. We've skipped the moon, and we're headed for Mars!"

Where does the awe and wonder go?

But then we spent a week touring the Smithsonians, and I listened to Tim answering the docent's questions and exchanging arcane facts concerning space travel. And then I spotted a list on the printer tray and found that it outlined NASA's requirements for becoming an astronaut. And I watched Tim spend the summer devouring C.S. Lewis' space trilogy. 

No, I don't think it's inevitable that wonder should die. My twelve- and fifteen-year-old sons no longer come running when they spot the trash truck rumbling down the street. And, really, isn't that a good thing? 

But wonder doesn't die. 

It seems to go slightly dormant. 

But it doesn't die.

And I'm convinced a large part of letting kids grow into the people God intends for them to be lies in letting little people be little.

So we're going to let the three-year-old be three.

(She actually just turned four!)

And we'll let the six-year-old be six.

He'll carry around his stegosaurus and his rock collection. She'll carry around Madeline and Raggedy Ann.

She'll dream big dreams of growing up to be -- in her words -- "a  princess in a not-itchy dress." He'll continue to insist that one day he'll be a monster truck driver.

Together they'll build impressive forts and stomp in huge puddles.

And we'll enjoy their antics, gently roll our eyes at their dramatics, and exert the extra effort it takes to keep their little worlds little.

On a note that has nothing but somehow everything to do my subject matter here, Elizabeth Foss recently posted this piece on children leaving the nest. Motherhood, Elizabeth reminds us, is not a job; it's a vocation. Helping our children -- through training, through encouragement, through prayer -- become the people God intends for them to be. As Maria Montessori might say, "It's a big work."