Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer School

Am I the only crazy, kill-joy, Tiger Mother wannabe who likes summer homework? I'm sure there are a few more outliers somewhere in the universe.

Why, oh why, am I so very, very happy school is ending in under 24 hours (yes, I'm counting) but ready to start it all again for the summer?

1. Some of my kids have a hard time in school and can't handle a multi-month break from reading and math.

2. The heat forces us indoors a good portion of the summer, and I can't deal with non-stop TV and video games. Can. Not. Deal. We need purposeful activity. Not tons. Not so much that summer is just as scheduled as school. No, no. But a little structure goes a long, long way in bringing happiness and harmony our way.

3. Much of it is fun, and I'm not even making that up.  I don't think fun and educational have to be mutually exclusive.

Thanks be to God and the fine administrators at the boys' school, I have a little help in this bold endeavor. The kids are assigned summer homework, and by "homework," I mean more than the standard "Read these two books, and we'll talk about them in September." They get for real work, and so I have an ally in my humble attempts to keep the academic fires burning during June, July, and August. And even if I don't need an ally, occasionally it's helpful to have a target (as in, "Sorry, kids. It's a school requirement") to do something I would require of my kids anyway.

Here's what works for us:

1.  Ask the Kids

Years ago I attended a talk at our parish about planning for a good summer. The speaker, my friend Ellen, suggested setting three goals with your kids: a spiritual goal, a fun goal, a practical goal.

Spiritual goals typically have been reading a chapter of scripture every morning, going to weekday Mass once a week, having a short morning prayer time. The simpler we keep them, the more likely they are to actually happen. Ex. We pray a litany of the saints on the way to swim practice. Five minutes. We're not turning summer into Lent, but using the relaxed pace to turn our hearts toward God.

The fun goals have included guitar lessons, swimming, movie making, science camp, Lego camp. Again, the kids choose what they want to do, and the relaxed schedule gives us time to pursue interests hard to tackle during the school year.

The practical goals are usually age-related and set or highly encouraged by me. Some years, potty training ranked high on the list. Other ideas: Basic Cooking, Typing, Laundry 101, Basic Lawn Maintenance. This summer John's going to learn to load the dishwasher (He thinks it's fun. Please don't enlighten him!). Driving is on top of Tim's list.

2. Use the Internet

It's amazing how much more motivating typing practice can be when it involves a program similar to Centipede. For math, we are big believers in Khan Academy (free and the kids love it!) and Aleks (costs money but worth it).

3. Keep Stuff In One Binder

Math drill sheets, handwriting exercises, and other worksheets go in one binder with dividers for each child because, if I've learned anything about teaching these kids of mine, it's this:

Half the problem with getting the kids to do anything is finding the stuff. 

One binder -- easy, portable, goes with us on vacation, done.

4. Use Pinterest

Little girl hairstyles
Dizzy just looking at this.
Pinterest gets such a bad rap because loony tunes mothers with deep-seated insecurities fashion cupcakes into mermaids with movable fins and then feel compelled to show up the rest of us slackards.  But, really, it's a treasure trove of free printable worksheets and neat hands-on activities. Have a child who struggles to count by fives, to tell time, to calculate money? Pinterest is the place to go. Want a list of books for adolescent boys? Pinterest. Gardening with kids? They've got it. Seriously, I searched "connect the dots by fives" and found exactly what I needed. (And then I perused the loony tunes hairstyles for little girls. Whoa.)

5. Poll Your Home-schooling Friends

Mary at Better Than Eden gave me the idea to buy history CDs to play on the wayhome from the pool this summer. Better than arguing and just slightly more edifying than Weird Al. VOX sells music appreciation CDs that we've listened to for years. They run a penny plus shipping on Amazon (and if you go through Mary's site, she gets a kickback, I think).

6. Netflix

Used strategically, TV, just like the computer, can be our ally as well as our adversary. Netflix has a ton of interesting documentaries and about a zillion saint videos. We currently subscribe to Amazon, but I think Netflix outdoes Amazon in the educational department. Bottom line: We are going to watch TV, so it's good to have alternative to endless hours of Curious George and Phineas and Ferb.

7. Reading Time

For various reasons, we have never had a scheduled reading time. I've read about other families having "Quiet Time" in the afternoon, and it always sounds so blissful and so, well, quiet. This may be the year. John is now an independent reader, and Ainsley is sounding out words and loves to color and write "letters" to everyone, everywhere. We're going to give it a try.

I've read approximately a zillion books about parenting, and I think the single most valuable technique I have learned is Kevin Leman's "First this, then this."

You can do the typing game when your room is clean.  We'll leave for the pool when the living room and dining room are straightened.  We'll watch that show after reading time. 

Summer tests my level of self-discipline as much as the kids'.  I hope I'm up to the task!

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer Is Coming And I Must Have A Plan

May brings with it a few givens . . . Mother's Day, our first heat wave, and one really awful, not so good, very bad day.

A typical scenario: Dave is out of town, the high hits 98, a child prone to procrastination has a research paper due, the Internet goes down.

Or an alternative scenario: Dave is working on a Sunday, it's rained for three days straight, the television remote has gone missing, a nameless child is patrol leader in charge of the Webelos' cross-over that happens to be tonight, in the rain, and, oh, that nameless someone forgot that I'm supposed to supply chocolate chip cookies, and, wouldn't you know, some other unidentified someone has managed to consume the entire secret stash of chocolate chips.

There are about twelve variations on the theme typically involving smashed eyeglasses, lost permission slips, sudden onset of vomiting, a freezer door left open and Moose Tracks ice cream melting over the kitchen floor, name your calamity.

The results are predictable: Tensions run high.

So it was with John and his recent bout of croup. John's fever hit 104, the fish tank began to leak, John began to wheeze, and certain nameless members of the household who may or may not be related to me began a loud and persistent fight . . .  over screen time. Yes, screen time. A brother's airway was constricting, and we were squabbling over Mind-craft.

Important life skill: If your brother's airway appears to be obstructed, best you not bring up inequities (gross though they may be) in the distribution of game time.


But it's not wholly their fault. It's May, and this happens in May. Every May. Right before summer break. Things dissemble, and they dissemble badly. I get a quick glimpse of the monotony, the cabin fever, the complicated interpersonal dynamics that tend to occur when we are  under house arrest spending a full day together at home. Of course, tensions run high once in a while throughout the year, but in May they come with an ominous thought that germinates in the back of my mind and works its way forward: All summer is going to be like this.

I panic, and then I begin to plan.

Summer requires A Plan. The Plan need not be perfect. I reserve the right to modify, edit, yea, even to scrap The Plan in its entirety, for good reasons or for no reason whatsoever. Regardless, it is essential to my mental health to begin the summer with A Plan.

After John's fever broke and his wheezing subsided, I headed to the archives to peruse Previous Plans, and I stumbled on a post that began like this:

The Day of the Black Sharpie demonstrated with stark clarity that I need a plan for the summer, and it needs to be a good one. Year ago I pondered ideas to get summer off to a positive start. Today I have been revisiting a few of those thoughts.

I can't remember the details surrounding "The Day of the Black Sharpie," but I'm guessing it's some variation of what I've described above. There's nothing new under sun, not really.

Here's the rest of the post:

As a mother, I head into summer with a mix of feelings. First, there is the excitement of having vacation stretching before us with promises of swimming, trips to the zoo, long-awaited guitar lessons, Boy Scout camp, lazy afternoons playing cards, our annual trek to Michigan. All good, very good.

But second, there is the inevitable adjustment period wherein I assert with an unblinking resolve that would impress Joseph Stalin himself two basic premises: one, your brothers are fellow members of the human race and will be treated accordingly; and two, summer doesn't equate to a non-stop orgy of electronic overload.

This year, I am forced to add a third premise: I alone am Master of the Refrigerator. My friend Rachel has mentioned a refrigerator lock, and honestly, I'm intrigued. When I view the vast quantities of food flying out of my kitchen, I fear for both our budget and our collective body mass index.

In all my ruminations about summer, I have made a few significant resolutions:

1. Prayer - We will start and finish with it. Without God, we are sunk, sunk, sunk.

2. Water, the drink - We'll be consuming lots of it. Water that is free. Water that does not stain when it spills. Water that does not ensnare the newspaper nor the cover of my new book when it dries all over the dining room table. Water!

3. Water, the pool - We will spend as much time as possible in it and under it.

4. Consistency - We will eat in the dining room! We will put away what we use! We will do our little chores promptly and cheerfully! A mother can dream, can't she? Don't rain on my parade!

5. Variety - We will leave the house as often as possible. Leave the mess somewhere else - that's my new motto!

6. Order - In my latest attempt to wrest some order from this maelstrom of clutter, I am labeling everything that clear packing tape can adhere to. So, the tourist to the upper left is soon to be taped to the bin that will hold her, the flight attendants, the pilot, and the luggage.

And finally ...

7. Gratitude - Our days with all the Dolins under one roof are not limitless. Tim, Kolbe, John, and Ainsey Boo - precious, irreplaceable gifts from God, one and all. I get a brief season with the full complement, and for that I am grateful.

No doubt I will be tempted to waver on these points sometime around Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. when we are but 36 hours into this grand adventure we call summer. We will regroup and once again forge ahead.

Happy summer to you!

Not a bad list, and one that should get Summer 2014 off to a good start. Item #7 tugged at my heartstrings as Tim will be working out of town for a good chunk of the summer -- proof positive that our days under one roof are not limitless.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reacquainted with Croup

John's on his sixth birthday looking very much like he looks right now.
So it's been a few years since croup last visited our house. None of what I wrote a few years back has changed much (but I should be thankful it struck on Wednesday morning rather than Saturday night).

From the archives:

What can I say about croup?

1. Croup is frightening.

2. Croup works the night shift. Croup owns a trusty alarm clock. It's usually set for 1:00 a.m..

3. Croup prefers the weekends; holiday weekends are even better.

4. John has croup.

5. Thanks to croup, Mom has circles under her eyes. We've watched Wallace and Grommet at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday and Kung Fu Panda 2 at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday.

6. Thanks to croup, Mom has a back in spasm and a neck on fire. We've "slept" propped up on the couch for two nights.

7. Thanks to croup, Mom has spent lots of time reading to John, watching movies with John, rubbing John's head, praying for John, thanking God for giving her this firecracker of a four-year-old.

Even croup isn't all bad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Little Marriage Advice . . .

Danielle Bean is over at Catholic Match offering an honest reflection on struggles in marriage. Read the rest here. I'll leave you with the words of Pope Francis as quoted by Danielle:
There is no need to call in the United Nations peacekeepers. A little gesture is enough: a caress, see you tomorrow, and tomorrow we start afresh. This is life, and we must face it in this way, with the courage of living it together.

A little gesture is enough.

When I find thirty minutes to write, I'll share about the morning I brought Dave a cup of coffee and explain my firmly held belief that this will go down as the most heroic act of love I've accomplished to date.  

And in my inbox, I found another bit of encouragement courtesy of Danielle and Pope Francis. Here is his prayer for the family:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust.Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families toomay be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospeland small domestic Churches.Holy Family of Nazareth,may families never again experience violence, rejection and division:may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishopsmake us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,and its beauty in God’s plan. 
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Brought to You by Rhett and Link

Kolbe is a huge fan of Rhett and Link, and, you know, I'd provide a link, but I'm not 100% sure it's all Kosher, so we'll forego that step.

And at this point, I'm sure there are dutiful mothers out there shaking their heads in disbelief, saying, "What? You don't know if this material's fit for your kids?!?"

To these conscientious mothers I say, "Enjoy that one three-year-old of yours."

No more disclaimers . . . We were driving to school, and before we could begin the simple prayers we offer each morning, Tim and Kolbe launched into Rhett and Link's Famous Last Words. Here I offer sampling:

Unrelated picture of John.
1. Let's leave this food out. The bears will see us as friends.

2. Sharks don't attack people in t-shirts.

3. The fire extinguisher's empty. Get the hairspray!

4. No, don't apply pressure to the wound. Just fan it!

5. It's called rat poison, not human poison.

6. We didn't wear helmets when I was a kid!

7. So I put this end on my finger and then I grab the battery?

One of Kolbe's main missions in life is to keep me laughing. May he brighten your day as well. And hop over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God Sent Them Babies of all Combinations to Teach Them To Love and To Light Up the Nations

Five Favorites - The Mother's Day Edition

1. Ainsley

Ainsley came home with a Mother's Day card that documented my age (31), my favorite dish (spaghetti), and my favorite thing to say (Ainsley , you have to do something).

She later came to me with a correction saying, "I know what your favorite thing to say is. How did I get a daughter as pretty as you?"

How did I?


2. John

We're attending a piano recital that begins with praise music. As we sing, "All the weak find their strength at the sound of your great name," John turns to me and asks why we're singing about grenades.

He's a six-year-old boy who's watched Frozen one time too many and goes around singing, "Do you want to build a snowman? And chop his head off in the hall?"

And when he's not exhibiting persistent, anti-social behaviors, he is a sweet, cuddly, nature-loving kid.


3. Kolbe

We're spending Mother's Day on the couch with milkshakes and popcorn watching Mary Poppins croon, "Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag."

"Sleep well," Kolbe whispers, doing his best Julie Andrews, "Video games and energy drinks in the morning."

The kids were a tad confused that the cook is simply referred to as Cook. Kolbe called her Bake and then pointed out that she bears an amazing resemblance to Jay Leno.

I think he has a point.


4. Tim

My Tim . . . sixteen and thinking deep thoughts, plotting big plans, mostly kind, very funny, the best big brother ever, a great conversationalist.


5. Dave

The man who made it all happen. If I was an old mother, he was an older father. I will be forever grateful that he has embraced the call to build our family with openness and trust. It is a grand adventure that we are on. I'm glad we're in this together.

Head over to Hallie's to add your Five Favorites!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Throwback Tuesday

Scrolling through my archives, I came across this. To mothers of all littles: It gets easier! It gets so much easier! But I would be remiss if I didn't add a caution: You will miss your babies more than you can fathom.

Our church no longer has a cry room: it's the Training Room, thank you very much. But let me tell you, the scene in the Training Room this morning was enough to make a saint cry.

Our day began auspiciously enough. Tim was serving Mass, and we were - drum roll, please - early! Ainsley had just fallen asleep as we arrived. I figured she was out for an hour or more. Throwing caution to the wind, we passed up the nursery and took John into the big church with assurances that he could be quiet.

That lasted about as long as the processional hymn.

John squirmed and squawked, eventually loudly enough that he woke up slumbering Ainsley who decided it was high time for a bite to eat. I exited stage right and headed for the training room.

Not much training going on in there, let me tell you.

Now, the babies were just being babies, and the toddlers were just being toddlers. There was also an older man with his disabled adult daughter. I have seen this gentleman around for many years. He's a daily communicant, and I think recently widowed. His daughter is probably thirty or forty and has profound physical and emotional disabilities. If she's having a good day, she and her father sit in the back of the church. On rough mornings, he retreats to the training room.

The problems didn't stem from any of the above, but from two mothers who began talking in normal conversational tones and would not stop. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. And then more yak.

The dad and I strained to hear through the mediocre sound system and above the din of the endless chatter. We joined in the communal prayer for vocations and gradually I found us praying louder and louder.

Nothing stopped these two.

Finally the man leaned over and asked them to stop talking. They responded kindly and did in fact button it.

A few minutes later John joined Ainsley and me. Dave had been recruited to usher and there was no leaving energetic John in Kolbe's tender care.

Eventually, behavior was such that we washed out of the training room. Not ready for prime time on any front! Out to the narthex we went. I gently cajoled, I hissed a threat or two, all to no avail. Apparently John missed the memo that clearly explained: You are no longer two! Shape up! There was no shaping up to be done this morning.

Suddenly we three Dolins were joined in the narthex by - guess who? - Chatty Cathy and companion. And what do you think they started doing? Chatting! Non-stop.

Kids clothes, what so and so said to so and so, shoe sizes. I promise you, they never paused for a breath. The consecration went on and so did they. I finally leaned over and said, "I'm sorry, but it's really hard to hear."

Usually this kind of thing can get me angry, but I found myself very sad instead. These mothers made the effort to get everyone dressed and transported to Mass and to what end? To converse just as if they were at the pool or the bowling alley? Bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, and they chattered about everything and nothing, perfectly oblivious.

Rather than getting upset, I turned to reflect on my own lack of interior recollection.

While I don't engage in the nonstop banter I witnessed this morning, I often let my mind drift to earthly concerns on par with what these women discussed - What's for dinner? Did I call so and so back? Ohh, cute shoes! Boy, it's hot in here.

No doubt my haphazard thoughts can be as noisy to God as these conversations were to me.

My favorite priest and spiritual mentor, the late Father Edward Randall, had a sign in his vesting room that read, "Priest of God, Say this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass."

I am going to take this to heart.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

For Mothers Everywhere

I am passionate about breastfeeding. I mean, really, in another era, I could have been a wet nurse. To me it's one of the easiest parts of those early months -- free, neat, portable, healthy!

Love it, love it, love it.

So when I do my morning perusal of the headlines and spot Does Breastfeeding Cause Divorce?I, of course, feel compelled to stop. The provocative headline was written to lure readers like me, but I found the author's premise much deeper (and darker) than just another round of ammo in the Mommy Wars. Author Molly Baker begins with government statistics on the potential benefits of extended breastfeeding:

The recent study said that the lives of 900 babies could be saved, along with billions of dollars in lost employee wages, if 90% of American women breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months. I am not sure which part of that goal stuns me more – the 90%, the six months or the “exclusively.”. . .

But what they haven’t looked at is what these “suboptimal” rates have prevented or gained for American women, children and families. Where are the statistics on how many marriages have been saved by limiting breastfeeding? Or simply what postpartum independence has meant for women’s mental health, and their confidence and trust in their relevance outside the domestic sphere? . . .

In a word, be careful what you wish for. Blue-ribbon breastfeeding goals could -- in the extreme -- lead to increased divorce, depression, and long-term damage to the delicate ecosystem of gender roles in our families, workplaces and society. At the very least, the effort sanctions the message to women that their children and domestic duties come first. For women and researchers for whom long-term breastfeeding is the answer, the question certainly needs to be asked: at what cost?

To any woman entering motherhood with such a cost-benefit analysis at the front on her mind, I say this: You are in for a rude awakening. The author is worried about the cost, and so she should be, because the cost is high, high indeed. Forget about the hours you will spend nursing and wiping poopy bottoms and laundering little sleepers. Forget about the figures news outlets publish citing the cost of raising a child to age eighteen.

Let's just cut to the chase: Motherhood will cost you everything. Yes, everything.

Let me cite the single best analogy I have heard for motherhood: It's a tattoo on your face.

Baker states, “I do resent the expectation that after carrying a baby for nine months, American women should surrender control for six more months.”

Why do I find that line so shocking, so completely out of step with my expectations of motherhood?

Fifteen years ago we announced the pending arrival of our first child, our son, Timothy. My mother-in-law sent me a breastfeeding manual. In it she had written: You've now given permission for your heart to reside outside your body. This may seem like a saccharine sweet endearment dreamt up by Hallmark. Mothers know how true to life it really is.

You don’t surrender control for nine months or another six months or eighteen years; it’s gone, baby, gone and gone for good.

When I began labeling my archived writing, I was a tad surprised that most of my writing falls into the category of Real Life. I talk about the struggles and the spilt milk, sibling rivalry and interrupted sleep. I have invested an inordinate amount of words discussing vomit (click here to read Gross) and potty training (colorful details here and here).

I have written fairly transparently about my own struggles ( Losing the bite) and about bad days (So many reasons to have kids). In that piece I wrote:

I wanted this life. I wanted these kids. I prayed and fasted for them. I took fertility drugs! In the face of all that, motherhood remains the hardest thing I've ever done.
By far.

Now, I don't have eight or ten kids, I have never had multiples, and we have not faced physical  disabilities. I wake up every morning to the run-of-the-mill start the laundry, sling some hash, load up the van, off to the pool, umpire the shouting match, change the diaper, kiss the boo-boo, read the story, et cetera, et cetera. It is typically exhausting, sometimes mind-numbingly boring, always constant.

Let me say unequivocally that motherhood is also teeming with moments of grace.

Cuddling a nursing baby. Placing my hand on Ainsley's cheek and feeling her tiny hand rest on mine.

Hearing my two-year-old come up to me and say, "I have a secret," and then lean into my ear and lisp, "I wove you!"

Opening my eight-year-old's writing journal and finding he has written "I love my Mom and Dad" on the inside cover.

Watching my twelve-year-old play with his baby brother and sister and then tell me he hopes we have another one.

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ended. John came into our bed in the middle of the night. I rubbed his soft cheek and felt the warmth of a brewing fever. He cried and then said in his sweet toddler voice, "Dwy ma tears, Mama."

Yes, it can be exhausting, boring, and constant. In its own imperfect way, it is also joyful, enriching, and blessed.

I write this from the perspective of a woman with relatively young children. We deal with the trivial hurts that don't always seem so trivial: watching a son come in dead last in every heat in the Pinewod Derby, seeing another son being the only player who rode the bench for every minute of the soccer tournament, commiserating when a child has missed first honors by 0.3.

Yes, our oldest is just fourteen and to date our frustrations have been mere irritants in the grand scheme of things. But I was once a teenager and one of four teenagers in my home. As children begin to cut the apron strings and venture out into the wider world, the stakes are higher. Teenagers text and speed simultaneously. They spend 6.5 years working hard on that elusive bachelor's degree. They dump the nice girl and take up with the hot girl.

I have watched friends struggle as their adult child made poor choices. It's the unplanned pregnancy or the hint of casual drug use. It's watching a once fervent faith wane and materialism take hold. Other times, adult children face hurdles beyond their control -- cancer or depression or divorce.

You fervently love, but you cannot control. You desperately fear, but you can no longer protect. You persevere in hope and never cease to pray. You ship care packages full of chocolate chip cookies and socks and underwear.

Your heart resides outside your body.

If  we're going to count the cost, let's count the whole count. It will take all of you. It will take all of me.

Friday, May 09, 2014


1. The Big Dance

So Tim had his big dance Saturday, and this is about the best of sorry shots I managed to get. (His back is to the camera; his partner is wearing green). Oh, there's a perfectly clear shot of me and Tim in which I look like I've gained twenty-two pounds rather than the mere fifteen I've actually gained. (It made an appearance on Facebook, but won't be showing up here anytime soon).

2. The Big Race

 In an inexplicable turn of events, I came in second in the my age group in the Glory Run. If truth be told, the reason is not so inexplicable. Apparently ours was one of many 5K runs that day. Most of my close friends in  my age group didn't run at all or opted for the 1 mile race. The sweet smiling, first-place finisher pictured here walked the course and still beat me.

But I finished, by golly! I earned that medal!

3. Pre-Race Jitters 

Ainsley, I was feeling your pain.

4. Mom Finished Second? Time to don a rubber nose and a silly hat!


5. The Post Race Party

6. Door Prizes Galore!

In addition to my stellar finish, three of us won door prizes. Six sandwiches from Chik-Fil-a, four dinners from Taco Bell -- we should undo all our fitness in no time flat.

7. Bad Analogy!

The day before the race, my sister Facebooked me to say: You can do this. You've birthed four children. 

Sadly, a few of the hills  were all too reminiscent of some of my bleaker moments in childbirth. But rather than saying Never Again!, I immediately began thinking through how I'll be better prepared for next year. (If I can get this knee of mine back in working order. Which at the moment is debatable).

As the pre-school pack crosses the finish line in the Tot Trot, every child gets a medal and a gift bag.

Ainsley thinks she won the whole thing. Not just thinks; no, she's just sure of it.

We've quit trying to convince her otherwise.

And the winner is . . . 

Head over to Jen's, order her book, and add your Quick Takes.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Things Fall Apart

My friend Christine writes, "I tell my daughter always to speak nicely to appliances, computers and cars. Because we don't want to anger them when they wield so much power."

Yes, yes, yes.

I'm now convinced that whiny, sniveling posts about appliance malfunctions and computer glitches simply -- inexorably -- invite more of the same. I had no sooner hit "publish" on my last whiny piece when things went south on Tim's computer project. He was finished. The thing was done. And not just done, but really, really neat. I should have come up to him softly and said in a calm sort of voice, "Okay, Tim. It's time to save it in the three different formats and then back slowly away."

But no.

He went to do a final tweak, and every last photo on his website was gone, baby, gone including the collage he had labored over for who knows how long.


I prayed. I secretly cried. I made the sign of the cross with holy water.

He started over.

At 2:00 -- that would be 2:00 a.m. -- he finished. For the second time.


Then there's the van. I love my van. My kids roll their eyes, make subtle gagging noises when I say this. But precisely how many car payments have they made? Hmmmm? That would be none. I, however, have made a few car payments in my day. And when you have, you appreciate a sturdy, reliable, boring vehicle that starts every single day and gets you and your young ones safely from point A to point B.

Yes, it's boring. No, it's not exactly a chick magnet. Yes, it has a wide variety of scratches and dents.

A friend once asked, "Oh, what happened to the van? You've got a dent."

"To which dent are you referring," I asked.

Let's see ... Dent number one appeared when I kissed another car in the bank parking lot. Dent number two? I brushed up against a truck in the grocery store parking lot. There's the dent with just a hint of red that matches the giant red ball in front of Target. My favorite is the dent on the left rear bumper brought to you by the tree in the piano teacher's yard. We had just a tiny collision as I attempted to referee a mammoth brawl while simultaneously backing up.

But every single month I don't pay for it, I love my van just a little more.

Well, it's having issues. Not major ones, no. The driver's side window is making alarming noises. The power locks have essentially no power. The headliner is floppy. A small crack appeared in the windshield during the ice storm, and on the next cold day, we watched the crack grow from about three inches to about three feet in the span of ten minutes.


Let's move on to appliances. Suddenly the refrigerator wouldn't close. And we're Googling "Kitchen-aide door gaskets" and pondering ways to remove the faulty gasket and to think a few days ago I didn't really know what a gasket was.

And then we have a plumbing problem. This is probably most alarming as it likely originates somewhere in the backyard which tells me it will be 1) difficult and 2) time consuming which added together will lead to 3) pricey.

Add to this a bum knee, a sore throat, a runny nose, and another round of Pink Eye.


I have not been known for my ability to take these things in stride. I think I've shared my simple five step strategy for dealing with stress. To review: Step 1: Panic. Step 2: Buy a book. Steps 3-5 vary and include but are not limited to: crying, pouring a glass of wine, and consuming gluttonous quantities of chocolate (I recommend Reese's Peanut Butter Cups).

Just the other day I had a mini-breakthrough. I got news that quickly brought me to Step 1: Panic. I then jumped right to Step 3 and cried. But instead of heading to Amazon to buy a book and then pilfering through the top of the now-broken fridge in search of stale Easter candy, I did something else entirely.

I thought about God's love for me. I considered God's love for the other person involved. I reflected on my favorite scripture:

I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you a future, plans to give you hope. 

And I calmed down without benefit of wine or chocolate. Panic subsided.

And then, in an odd, inexplicable twist, the disturbing news I heard turned out to be completely wrong.

We've attended two funeral in a week's time. An older neighbor died after a brief illness, and a young mother died after a long illness. In the face of such grief and loss  -- seeing a ten-year-old girl who no longer has a mother -- well, you can't dwell too long on the broken refrigerator, the computer project, the dented van. Although the daily demands certainly have to be attended to, this is not all there is.

This is not all there is.

It is a daily, hourly, minute by minute challenge to keep our eyes on the prize, the final prize, the eternal prize.

I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you a future, plans to give you hope. 

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Throwback Tuesday - In the Merry Month of May

May . . . it's here!

Brace yourself.

I've often pondered the many, many real life lessons a truly useful book on mothering would include. I'm not talking about standard fare -- potty training, vaccinations, pacifiers and that lot. No, my chapters would include real life issues. Sharpies: Keep Them Far, Far Away. Fat Cheeks: Kiss Them Often -- They Disappear Way Too Fast. Nerds and Fun Dip: Which Is the Veritable Spawn of Satan? Gift Bags and Other Horrors.

There would be a long, long chapter on the merry month of May.

See, no one warns mothers about May. We all know December is busy. It's busy if you're single, married, a mother, not a mother, home-schooler, school-schooler.

But May catches us unaware.

And actually I believe May starts around April 15th. If you have a child receiving a sacrament, just back it all up to April 1st.

Tim came home the other day and announced he has Senioritus. Let the record reflect that he is a sophomore. We are entering the homestretch. Parents and kids alike need a dose of grace, an extra measure of fortitude, and that all important sense of humor to cross the finish line.

Here is an almost-end-of-the year pondering from a few years back.

School is grinding to a halt.

In a discussion board recently, a mother was weighing the pro’s and con’s of homeschooling. A wise woman gave her this advice: Don’t evaluate anything at the end of the year.

So true!

School’s almost out for summer. The students are done; the teachers are done; the parents are done. Homeschoolers are ready to abandon ship and -- you know what?  -- school- schoolers are in the same boat.

It is with a heart full of gratitude and tongue firmly planted in cheek that I offer the following  Really Compelling Reasons to Homeschool:

1.       You need never dash to the Dollar Store at 10:00 to pick up poster board.

2.       Permission slips? Unnecessary.

3.       Two words: Spirit Week.

4.       Two more words: group projects.

5.       You never get the dreaded note from the teacher.

6.       Two tone shoes? Not a problem!

7.    You never have to break the news that, no, a Great Pyramid built from brownies probably won't garner any extra credit points.

8.      You’ll never be seen using a brown Sharpie to camouflage the contrasting stitching on your son’s new oxfords.

9.       Half birthday celebrations? Your call.

10.  You never hear, “But all the other kids get Hot Pockets, Lunchables, filet mignon with hollandaise sauce, fill in the blank.”

11.   You never run the risk of a stress-induced stroke as you attempt to transform the diorama of Picket’s Charge into a model of the Gobi Desert.

12.   If your kid’s haircut reminds you of Davy Jones or Peter Tork or any of the Monkees, hey, hey, that’s your affair.

13.   No need to ponder the pivotal question: 
Was that the first bell or the second?

Happy, safe, and blessed summer to home-schoolers and school-schoolers alike! Extra blessings to teachers everywhere.

Monday, May 05, 2014


Would you trust this kid?

John, to Ainsley and her pal, Hope: Okay, ladies. Just give your valuables to Doctor John.