Wednesday, August 17, 2016

As Summer Winds Down But Temperatures Continue to Soar . . .

True Devotion.
Ainsley and her three BFFs named themselves The Fantastic Four.

John and his buddy very thoughtfully renamed them The Fartastic Four.

Predictably, Ainsley cried.

Unpredictably, Ainsley's mother laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed some more.

In fact she laughed until she was crying right along with Ainsley.

Because we are just half-way through August.

And it's blistering hot.

And the pool hours have been cut back because the rest of humanity is back in school.

But we're not.

And I'm mostly glad.

But it's still blistering hot.

So we gotta laugh.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

As John Turns Nine

In light of John's ninth birthday, I pull this from the archives:

As John Turns Seven . . .

The day before his birthday, John rolled over in bed and posed an important question, "Is today tomorrow?"

"No," I sadly informed him, "Tomorrow is tomorrow."

Ainsley could sympathize. "There's so many tomorrows, so many tomorrows," she lamented.

Kids and time. Such interesting perspectives.

When Tim was still Timmy, Tomorrow was The Next Day To This Day and Yesterday was The Last Day To This Day. Kind of makes sense. Ainsley will ask when we're going to the zoo. I'll say, "next Thursday," and she'll then wake up everyday asking, "Is today next Thursday?"

Love that.

Well, eventually today became tomorrow and even John realized that the big day had at long last dawned. So instead of asking if today were tomorrow, he leaned over and said, "Presents?"

Love my John.

Love, love, love my seven-year-old, adventure-loving boy.

I love his laugh, his enjoyment of sea glass and stars, of bike riding and dead snakes.

Pelee Island is full of snakes. How these things can remain on the endangered species list defies evidence I viewed with my own two eyes and nearly stepped on at least twice. Every bike ride to the bakery garnered a few specimen dead in the road. I passed one freshly smushed snake and looked behind me to see if John would respond in predictable fashion. The boy does not disappoint. No, true to form, he screeched to halt, checked out the carcass . . . and ran it over a few more times with his bike.

{Insert head bang.}

I found one long dead reptile flattened and stiff. John carried it around for days until I found it hanging from my parents' door knob. He came out of the house sporting a blank, innocent expression and with a tone intentionally casual asked, "Has anyone seen anything near the door knob?"

You know, I should have screamed. Really, I should have produced the complete and proper scene John was looking for.

I was filling out a form for John's annual physical. "What are your interests," I asked him.

"Guns," he replied.

"Books," wrote his mother.

"What else," I asked.

"Computer games," he replied.

"Swimming," wrote his mother.

But really John reminds me of his grandfather in that he is a boy of many passions -- Legos and astronomy, spy gear and Batman, and, as he was quick to add, "money, presents, Auntie Kate, and all my cousins."

We walked down the shore of Lake Erie late one night, and John was astonished at the number and clarity of the stars. He slipped his hand in mine out of companionship, not fright, and pointed them all out to me.

I love all my kids. (Of course I do). But I look at each one through the unique lens surrounding their birth. Tim, our first, was born of youth and optimism. We wanted a baby; we had Tim. Kolbe came to us after four years of waiting and six rounds of fertility drugs. It's altogether fitting that he is persevering in nature. The month before John came to be, I endured my sixth miscarriage in as many years. For reasons emotional and physical, I had begun voicing thoughts about not pursuing that course of action any longer.

And then John.

I will always remember those first weeks of nausea and appetite swings that were followed closely by a week of feeling absolutely normal. Internally I mourned even as externally I continued to pray, continued to exercise the virtue of hope until there was no reason to hope.

And my boy held on.

I will always remember the night I spent in the hospital dealing with pre-term labor. Hooked up to monitor, breathene coursing through my veins, I took in the sights and sounds of the delivery room and was most struck by the pink and blue blankets stacked neatly by the bassinet.

I'm having a baby. I'm really having a baby this time.

He's the baby born of hope and healing.

Love my John, the boy who was just overheard saying, "Ainsley, do you want to see me put Pooh Bear on the fan?"

That's my boy.

Motherhood can bring its share of regrets, no doubt about it. I wish I had worried less and relaxed more, overlooked this issue and focused a little more on that one. But I realize that I'll look back on John age 5, John age 6 and know that I enjoyed nearly every minute of it, that I fully drank in and appreciated his liveliness, his humor, his energy. Even the challenges -- recurrent fevers, reading, math -- have led me to invest lots of one on one time with this boy of mine, so I can't regret those either.

One day John will no longer reach for my hand as we walk down the beach. One day his interest in bugs will give way to an interest in girls or cars or computers. One day Mama will morph into Mom.

But that day is not today.

And I'm glad.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'll begin with a beautiful introduction to my current read:

We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
but our worst crime is abandoning the children,
     neglecting the fountain of life.
Many things can wait. Children cannot.
Right now their bones are being formed,
      their blood is being made,
      and their senses are being developed.
To them we cannot answer, "Tomorrow."
     Their name is today.
 Gabriela Mistral

Their Name Is Today is a book that encourages parents to reclaim childhood, to build margins into family life, to give children unstructured down time. Beautiful, poignant, true -- and seemingly out of step on a day when the six Dolins are headed in five directions, in a week that sees swim team wrap up in a flurry of activities that includes a final dual meet, a divisional meet, an all star meet, and a team party.

Friday morning Dave and Kolbe and half our worldly possessions headed out for a weekend camping trip. As every scouting mother knows, prep involves rounding up a vast array of gear from various closets, attics, and sheds, inventorying the pile, drafting an exhaustive shopping list to cover missing items, and then heading out to Walmart armed with an American Express Card with a generous credit limit.

Meanwhile Tim headed off to Atlanta to visit a friend at Georgia Tech.

With Dave, Tim, and Kolbe gone, I headed into the final leg of swim team solo. So you can go ahead and queue the ominous music already.

Saturday was the divisional meet. Let's capitalize that. If an average meet is epic, The Divisional Meet is epic on steroids with a side of Monster.

The night before, I fully intended to get everyone bedded down at a reasonable hour, and I mostly succeeded. I was awakened around 5:30 to odd noises coming from downstairs. I ambled into the family room to find John watching Home Alone 3 . John is not an early riser. In point of fact, I'm 0 and 4 for early risers among these offspring of mine. My friend across the street routinely deals with disappointed boys who pop by our house at 9:20 to nab John only to hear he's still sawing logs. How do you do this, Sarah has frequently texted me. That's just the way it is -- except the morning of The Divisional Swim Meet.

As we packed up, John began saying he felt funny. Nerves, I said. As we pulled into a remarkably awesome parking space, I glanced at John in the rear view mirror. Not nerves, I thought. I put my hand on his forehead and detected warmth.

Readers of this blog will remember John and his fevers. John has run sky-high fevers regularly for years and years and years. Nearly eight years. Come this Friday John would have been 365 days fever free.  They suddenly stopped -- until the morning of The Divisional Swim Meet.

I pulled out some Advil and got him to swallow one and chew (ugh!) the other. And he was good. Cheerful. Energetic. Goofing off with his buddies.

(And not contagious! I always feel horribly judged about John and his fevers. He has an auto-immune problem that -- unlike Lice and Chicken Pox and Flu -- doesn't travel from kid to kid. He's fine. He's miserable. He's fine again. We've learned to live with this.)

Meanwhile I was shepherding the little girls I'm used to shepherding, the little boys I kind of know, and a group of older girls I hardly know at all. All this took place on a pool deck that was a sea of sweaty humanity with hardly a foot to move. To top it off, I was wearing a polyester team shirt that made this 52 year-old- woman feel like she might as well have been on that 101 degree camping trip roasting a marshmallow in the noonday sun.

Sultry, muggy, dank --words fail to capture it adequately.

I passed the time closely examining which women had hair that frizzed and which women didn't and wondering how the non-frizzy women pulled this off in the sauna that was the aquatics center.

And then John who had been cheerful and energetic suddenly was neither. He was wrapped in a towel and trying to go to sleep. I zipped across the street to buy liquid Tylenol and chocolate milk. Pain relief and comfort.

My shepherding duties were winding down. John had three more races, including the Ten and Under IM. He's eight. A demanding race against older swimmers and he was feeling horrible. I decided to give the Tylenol fifteen minutes before throwing in the sweaty towel and heading home early.

John rallied. In a move that shocked both me and Coach Ian, my girl Ainsley competed in backstroke and made it across the pool unassisted. Different kids, different goals -- one of the things I love about swimming is that you can celebrate all of it.

We drove home and collapsed, Ainsley and I figuratively, John literally. He woke up in the middle of the night scorching hot and vomiting. As John got older, his fevers were lower (102 instead of 104.5) but invariably he would vomit off and on for hours. He dealt with this every three weeks throughout second grade. It was terrible. Unpredictable for us, misery for him. When they appeared to cease a year ago, we were so happy for John.

Today he's fine with nothing but circles under his eyes to show for his troubles. Ainsley, meanwhile, sounds croupy. Isn't Croup a winter problem?

All Stars tonight.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why I Love Language

Because you could write:

Our story begins in Great Britain, an island twenty-one miles west of continental Europe. Its location and geographical features have made it prone to invasion.

Or -- if you're Winston Churchill -- you might try this:

Our story centres in an island, not widely sundered from the Continent, and so tilted that its mountains lie all to the west and the north, while south and east is a gently undulating landscape of wooded valley, open downs, and slow rivers. It is a very accessible to the invader,whether he comes in peace or war, as pirate or merchant, conqueror or missionary.
And now I'm off to transfer the laundry, gently undulating in the washer, into the dryer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Her, O Lord

And may perpetual light shine upon her.

May all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Travelling Underpants

John came to me in a state of deep indignation one day. "I'm wearing Calvin's underwear," he informed me, clearly distressed about this state of affairs.

"John," I calmly informed him, "Calvin Klein is a clothing designer. Some people like his stuff."

"No," he told me, "This is Calvin's underwear."

He pulled down the waistband far enough for me to see Calvin C______ written in black Sharpie, clear as could be.

It was, indeed, Calvin's underwear -- Calvin, our friend from down the beach at Pelee Island, not to be confused with Calvin, the designer.

To add insult to injury, those undies had traveled from our friend Calvin to Nathan, John's cousin, and then quite possibly to George, John's next cousin down the line, before landing in John's collection of intimate apparel.

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants. Believe me, John was less than thrilled to be a member.

Now I am a firm believer in thrift stores and consignment sales and hand-me-downs. I have a few scruples in this regard, and if truth be known underwear generally doesn't make the cut of what I'll buy used. Sippy cups and bike helmets and underwear -- we generally bite the bullet and pay retail for these goodies.  I am part of a vast, complicated network of hand-me-downs which results in notes in our community newsletter that might read something like this: Lost: Lands End school sweater size 8. Name tag reads Sterett. Please return to the Johnson family.

Mostly I'm cheap. But, really, I'm just cheap about some things. I think that's true of most people. You splurge on a pedicure; I might splurge on dinner out. You want a new car; I want a nice vacation.

An unidentified child of mine lodged a complaint about his cleats. Not the size or the fit or the general condition of the cleats. No, no, no. Dissatisfaction stemmed from the lame, lame, mega lame brand of cleats I had chosen to purchase. At the risk of offending my beloved offspring, let me just put it out there that the Dolins, as a rule, don't make the starting line up, and so I am not inclined to purchase those $100 basketball shoes, those $95 cleats.

"Look at the label on the piano," I gently told said offspring.

We seem to produce better pianists than soccer players, and, thanks to Grandma who just plain rocks, we now have a  n-i-c-e  piano. (But cheap soccer cleats).

A new babysitter once asked if my kids were allowed to play outside.

When, slightly confused, I said yes, sure, of course, she asked if the kids should change clothes before exiting the premises. I was baffled that kids should change out of play clothes to go out and, umm, play, but this sweet babysitter had been burned by a mom who had positively lost her marbles when her children actually dared to play in their play clothes.

I get it.

Ainsley had a pre-school classmate who routinely showed up on the playground in slightly bizarre designer outfits that topped a hundred bucks easy.

As for me, my heart swells when I see sights like this:

And this:

All that being said, I admit to minor heart palpitations upon seeing Ainsley's ruffly, new, white t-shirt from Gymboree looking as though it had taken a trip through the sewers that backed up last week. If she had to demolish one of her new tees, I'm thankful she chose the white one. Bleach and a little elbow grease might revive it.

I have my moments.

I may or may not have birthed a hapless child who takes freshly laundered dress clothes -- clothes that have been on a warm body for the whopping ninety minutes it takes us to drive to Mass, attend Mass, and return home -- and deposits these clothes in a hamper designed for dirty clothes. You can imagine my reaction.

Gruesome, I tell you, gruesome.

Yes, I have my moments. But going postal over clothing is not my modus operandi. At the end of the day, I realize these little people of mine will not be six and eight forever.

No, they won't.

While I certainly appreciate cute, I really want them to be kids.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seven Quick Takes

1. My mom has had a bad week. A really bad week. She stumbled and broke her foot.The first set of x-rays showed a minor fracture in the side of her right foot. A follow-up x-ray indicated a fracture in her heel. The doctor then noticed redness in her left foot, i.e. the non-injured foot, i.e the foot that allows her to pivot as she moves from wheelchair to bed, from wheelchair to bathroom, etc. A third x-ray indicated two breaks below her middle toes on the "good" foot.

Please pray that we can sort out the logistics of getting Mom from South Florida to Detroit without outright purchasing American Airlines.

And pray for pain relief and protection from further breaks.

And pray for my dad, a stalwart caregiver if ever there was one.

2. And on the brighter topics . . .  Ainsley comes to me and asks me to spell the name of a show so she can search for it on Amazon. Today is was Jack and the Bean Stalking which made me laugh and conjured up all manner of bizarre images. Love my girl!

3. John's Batman tennies went missing, so I texted my neighbor across the street.

Me: Can you keep a look out for John's Batman tennies in the yard?
Friend: You know I've never actually seen John wearing shoes.

True that.

4. So losing things seems to be a regular staple of life. John's glasses go missing, and I flat scour his room to no avail. I pat myself on the back that I have borrowed cowboy boots a full month before John appears in Pecos Bill, the third grade play . . . but the day the costume's supposed to head off to school, said boots are nowhere to be found. I spend the morning scouring the front door before painting it . . . but can't find the sander when I need it.

Ah, life.

Things have a way of turning up.That's what I keep telling myself.

5. While we're on the thrilling subject of my front door, I have to tell this tale. So the middle schoolers are in the big thick midst of Science Fair, and Kolbe and his buds are working at out house. A dad drops off his son and as he's leaving, he notices out front door is sticking, or more accurately, is entirely stuck. A talented carpenter, our friend David zips home and returns with saw horses, a sander, a drill, some sort of planer, and primer. While Dave and the boys talk data and bar charts, the other David completely fixes our door, sands down a rough area, primes the sanded bits, replaces the hardware, hangs the door.


6. And the above anecdote reminds me of the other day when I went in search of Ainsley. You know we moved a year ago. But we moved just around the corner. If I crane my neck, I can look out my new back door and see my old front door.

But the move has been huge for our kids.

We had the best neighbors ever for 18 years. The. best. ever. Almost no one had little kids. We moved  around the corner and suddenly my kids have 23 friends to play with on a regular basis.

I don't think I'm exaggerating.

Four behind us. Two next door. Ten spread between the two houses across the street. And a whole bunch more in the adjoining houses.

My goal of having free range kids is (partially) being realized.

So I went in search of Ainsley the other day and found her with her two BFFs wearing shorts and playing with water on a chilly day. "What are you doing, girls" I wondered. "Playing Lavabo Bowl," they told me.

They poured water over each others' hands as they recited the words from Psalm 51 that the priest says before the consecration: Wash me from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sins.

Playing Lavabo Bowl. I'll take that. Even on a chilly day, I'll take that.

7. And then there's John. The block across the street is shaped like the letter K and called -- no surprise here -- K Block.

We say that John doesn't play in K Block; he plays under K Block.

And if you were to go explore the underground bunker he and his friends have fashioned, you'd understand what I mean. No scrap of wood lying out by the street on trash day is too small to be incorporated into "The Safe House" as they have dubbed the bunker. Recycle! Repurpose! Pray there's no exposed nails!

Of late, the boys have abandoned Safe House in favor of epic Nerf wars that involve every last one of the aforementioned 23 kids plus a few others from surrounding streets. They're serious about these Nerf wars. Oh, yes they are. John returned home one night  -- shoe-less, of course -- with all exposed skin camouflaged with -- brace yourselves, now -- soot. Yes, soot. Left over from a fire pit. Soot.

Thank the good Lord for running water and up-to-date Tetanus shots. And free-range kids. Does this tomboy's heart good.

My life in Seven Quick Takes. Head over to the other Kelly's to add your update.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Wish Every Home Had an Eight-year-old Boy

They're the best.

Yes, they are.

They are mischievous and funny (even if their humor relies heavily on fart jokes). They are forgiving and kind (except when encountering their sisters' Barbies. Too, too tempting). They have a dozen passions that are relatively cheap (Legos and Nerf guns, bikes and scooters).

They love their Mamas.

Yes, they do.

They love their Mamas.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, they have their moments, these eight-year-old boys.  I find John's socks everywhere. Everywhere. The idea that they can be deposited in a single place that never, ever changes, a place that ensures they will one day be returned (clean! fresh!) to be worn again -- well, this concept is wholly lost on eight-year-old boys.

They breeze through snack food like ants at a picnic. In a moment of candor, John looked at me and said, "Look, Mama, You really need to find a better hiding place for the cookies."

"Or we could all develop a bit of self-control," I countered.

No one can match John when it comes to an expression of shock and disbelief, of incredulity and stupefaction. I'm pretty sure he's triple-jointed and can raise one eyebrow so fast and so high, I'm surprised it doesn't land on the wall behind him. Develop a bit of self-control? Surely you jest.

And speaking of walls . . . John admitted to me that when he dons his bathing suit for swim team three times a week, he tends to fling his underwear. That just might explain this:

Here's the zoom:

But he loves his Mama.

We spent some time in the yard yesterday afternoon mowing this and raking that. I gave the kids advance warning. I assured them we wouldn't be out there for hours. When the time to work drew nigh, the conversation went something like this:

What I said: Okay, let's go tackle a little yard work before dinner!

What they heard: Down in the mines for the lot a ya.

As I dealt with deep sighs and dragging feet, mild irritation morphed into anger. I chewed the lot of them out, set down my rake, and went into the house to grab something. I glanced at the To Do List sitting on the desk. Earlier in the day, I had a reality check when it said this:

When I came in from the yard, it said this:

i love you mom 

My first note in cursive (or as John used to call them "curse words").

His socks may doubt the existence of a hamper; his underwear may be hanging from the chandelier; he may be one highly unenthusiastic yardman.

But he loves his Mama.

Yes, he does.

I think of my my mother-in-law -- she who birthed four sons who went on to father eight grandsons in a row before Ainsley added a jolt of estrogen to the gene pool. She once shared story about her youngest son, Dave's brother Jeff.

She looked over at him at age ten and fervently wished time would just. stand. still.

She knew the storm that was lying dormant, that under that pleasant face was fomenting a toxic combination of hormones and attitude, that late nights and charming facial expressions were coming her way. Been there done that three times, she had. And, of course, she was right.

As for me, when John sprouts his first pimple or whisker, I intend to drape the house in black crepe and invite my Jewish relatives over to sit shiva with me.

It will be a dark day indeed.

As for today, I plan to savor this:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Mother's Too Busy and She Sleeps All the Time . . .

And other lessons in humility.

1. So John's in Pecos Bill, the play the third grade traditionally stages. And he's struggling with some of his lines. And his teacher asks him to spend some time with Mom practicing. And he responds, "My mother's too busy, and she sleeps all the time."

Now, I could be terribly offended by that line.

Or I could point out the rather obvious fallacy in the statement -- namely, that it's hard to be too busy AND sleeping all the time.

Or I could play the sympathy card and report that I have a raging sinus infection and while reading the daily stack of school papers dozed off in the recliner from approximately 3:51 until 4:07 when two  kids presented me with electronic devices and insisted that I sign them, declared that their entire academic was at stake, thus putting an abrupt end to the nap that brought me the title "sleeps all the time."

I am laughing this one off.

2. And that's all better than my dear friend Anna whose father forgot to pick up his suits at the dry cleaners one Friday afternoon which led his darling daughter to report, "Daddy's not in church because he doesn't have any clothes to wear." Concerned church members arrived at her parents' house with a basket of donated clothing.


3. Kids. A never-ending adventure. I cleaned out John's book bag the other day and found a hot dog at the bottom. Yes, I did. While I'm grateful it wasn't rank, I briefly worried that if John had discovered this non-rank frankfurter, he just might have taken a few bites no matter the length of time it had festered in the bottom of a backpack. It's a wonder we're as healthy as we are.

4. After the nineteenth time Ainsley left the back door open, I decided to assess a penalty. The exchange went something like this:

Me, sternly: Ainsley, you're writing sentences.
Ainsley, cheerfully gathering her supplies: I'd better get started!

Have to rethink this. #OneofTheseThingsIsNotLiketheOthers

5. So Ainsley has penned her first novel:

I laughed until I cried.

6. Tim is in the final stages of college and scholarship applications, a process right up there with buying a house and far, far different than it was thirty-four years ago when I went through it. I console myself with the fact it will all be easier with Kolbe, learning curve and all that. Gracious me.

7. Cleaning up the desk the other day, I found Ainsley's letter to Santa which reads:

To Santa
From Ainsley Dolin
I would like a pack of  dres up klos. Look on the back.
I would like a tiara and a wand. Look on the back.
I like a Winnie the Pooh costume, size six. Look on the back.
I would like an Elsa backpack and little girl ereings. A pack of them.  

And I realize that what I wrote above is, in fact, untrue. Kids are not a never-ending adventure. They're a finite, fleeting adventure and one I wish I could bottle and portion out slowly and savor joyfully

(Except for the college applications.)

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day

Augustans approach prospective snows days with great anticipation, near reverence, in fact. A friend mentioned that Saturday's forecast included a snowflake. Yes, it did. I clicked on the ten day forecast and then clicked on the hourly forecast and then scrolled down to 2:00 a.m.

There was indeed a single snowflake.

I began compulsively checking the weather for 2:00 a.m. on Saturday. Eventually, one snowflake turned into three snowflakes. Snow, it seemed, would be coming our way at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 a.m. Pam Tucker, our local emergency preparedness coordinator, issued an ominous warning on social media: Wintry mix expected. Roads and bridges will be icy. Her paragraph long advisory concluded with these chilling words: Anticipated accumulation - a quarter inch.

A quarter inch.

Naturally we were all:

Love this!

Dave takes our community prayer watch at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday. He promised to wake up John and Kolbe if he spotted the elusive quarter inch of snow falling, and sure enough, flakes were in the air. Dave informed the boys. Kolbe rolled over and went back to sleep. John catapulted out of bed, dressed in a jiffy, and built a miniature snowman that Dave found when he returned home at 5:00.

Turns out Pam Tucker was wrong. I'm guessing we had a solid three-quarters of inch of snow. Maybe even seven-eighths of an inch.

It was beautiful.
Our house - 364 days after the move.
And so, so much fun.

John got together with friends Henry and Silas and rolled a laundry basket full of snowballs. Dave offered to drive them around in the pick up truck pelting people. So John ran in the house and asked for Ainsley's Dora tent.

"Why do you need it," I wondered.

"We'll put in the back of the truck. Everyone will thinks it's a bunch of girls."

He always has an angle, that child of mine. He is so boy, so eight, so full of exuberance he makes my heart burst.

Off they went in a blaze of snowballs.

Our last good snowfall - 2014.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Papa, We Will Miss You

We will remember December 8, 2015 for three reasons.

First, it was the Feast of Immaculate Conception.

Second, it was the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena. She had overheard me praying my first Saint Andrew Novena. What's a novena, she wanted to know. It's a kind of soaking prayer, I told her, a time when we pray with persistence. Catholics traditionally pray for nine days. Novena means nine, and it represents the nine days between the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and Pentecost.

Ainsley wanted to join in. And she offered up her first ever Novena for Grandma and Papa and Grandpa and Oney. Only, in true Ainsley form, it was forGrandmasandpapandgrandpaandOney run together and said very, very fast.

And that leads to the third point . . . On the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena, Papa died.

We were sitting in the fourth pew on the right at Mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, all of us reeling from the news of Papa's death, minds swirling with To Do Lists and travel plans, hearts grieving, John crying.

Father Jacek began his homily and shared that Pope Francis had initiated the Year of Mercy that very morning by symbolically opening a door -- a door of grace, of healing, of forgiveness, of love, of mercy. And I suddenly became aware that Papa had died around 4:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time at possibly the same time and certainly the same day that Ainsley had finished her first Novena, the same day that the Pope had ushered in a Year of Mercy.

Nothing is lost.

There are no coincidences.

There are no accidents.

From the archives, here's a piece a wrote about the kind, funny, giving man who was Dad to my husband and Papa to my children:

Papa turned seventy-something this week. From the Deep South, we send a heartfelt Happy Birthday!

Papa is a beloved father, father-in-law, and grandfather to the mass of Dolin males and to the tiny female exclamation point at the end of the line. Ainsley fell in love with Papa on this latest trip and enjoyed nothing more than sitting on his lap playing with a stuffed Charlie Brown. She would alternate between feeding a baby bottle to Charlie Brown and pretending to squeeze hand soap into his mouth. (Note: She did not learn this from me!) Ainsey would erupt in laughter and never tired of it. If Papa tired of it, he kept his game face on. He's nothing if not a good sport.

Papa spent hours watching Ainsley and John jump between the sandbox and the wading pool. He delighted John by catching fireflies with him.

No one gardens like Papa gardens. His tomatoes prompted a friend of mine to comment, "He makes me proud to call myself a Midwesterner!" We brought home a coolerful, and they are absolutely to die for. Papa calls all the grandchildren Punkin. When Tim and Kolbe were small, Papa added pumpkins to his garden and carved the boys' names in them. The names grew as the punkins did.

Papa has a dry wit that keeps me laughing. He has a host of quips. If Dave fails to use a turn signal, I invariably quote Papa: Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em guessing.

Both of  my in-laws have a remarkable grace to absorb our four children, an astonishing amount of noise, and the seventy-two or so bags we inevitably bring along with us. They are, without fail, patient and generous.

I remember a family trip to northern Michigan. Then seven months pregnant with Kolbe, I looked forward to a week-long break from the Georgia heat. It was not to be. Hale, Michigan, must have set a record as the mercury hit well above 100 degrees. While we struggled to stay cool, I spotted Papa dashing off with a Tom Clancy novel and a cup of coffee to get a moment's peace behind the garage. He caught my eye and said, "You know, we run the risk of this becoming an annual event."

Papa loves to entertain us with stories of his early years in the hollows of West Virginia. His uncle, the bus driver, would give him a nickel if was so bad at school that his aunt, the teacher, spanked him. Tim and Kolbe find this tale flat out hilarious.

Papa talks about alternating between a two-room school house in a rural area and a big city high school in Charleston. He learned to read the F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E box that patched the hole in the roof, and remembers delivering blocks of ice when a refrigerator really was an ice box.

Whether it's reading Harvey's Hideout -- a Dolin family classic -- or rocking the littlest punkin in the Dolin patch, Papa is reliable and kind. I am grateful to call him a second Dad and blessed that my children call him Papa.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Somewhere along the way, pediatricians stop asking Mom about the child's health and start asking the child directly. And so we end up with dialogue such as the following:

Do you wear a bike helmet when you ride your bike? No
What chores do you do around the house? Whatever my mom tells me to do.
How do you get along with your family members? My sister is completely annoying.
Has anyone ever touched you in a way that made you uncomfortable? WellJonah tried to give me a wedgie.

There you have it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Epiphany - Return by a Different Way

I love Epiphany, sometimes called Little Christmas.

I always struggle with just a touch of melancholy as Santa 104.7 returns to pop music, as the twinkle lights slowly disappear, as the decorative touches get packed up, as routine life resumes once again.

I love that Epiphany gives us one last chance to celebrate.

I love the three layer chocolate cake I baked Sunday night. (I may love it a little more than usual as there will be precious little indulgence in the near future if my Epiphany resolution comes to pass.)

I love this ornament of the wise men, a gift from my dear friend, Anna.

I love nearly every version of We Three Kings and have been pressing Tim to learn it on the piano.

The wise men sought truth, encountered Christ, and returned by a different way. 

I love that expression returned by a different way.

An encounter with Emmanuel -- God with us -- should involve something different.

So what is different? Exhaustion? Weight gain? Credit card debt? Downton Abbey Season 4?

Good memories?  A renewed sense that God came to Earth? A deeper thirst to abide in His love? A desire to be like Mary, to ponder these things in my heart?

Here is something I wrote several years ago:

As Epiphany Meets Ordinary Time
In the Atrium we are getting ready to transition from the Christmas season back into Ordinary Time.

We just celebrated Epiphany. We pondered the long journey of the wise men; we talked about the fact that they fell prostrate in the presence of their savior; we read about how they returned to their country by a different way.

They returned to their country by a different way.

They had had an epiphany. We said the word. We defined it -- a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something,"according to

As I looked at the faces of these six sweet children who come week after week, I thought about epiphany. As we move out of Christmas and move into Ordinary Time, I thought it was time we revisited the essential meaning of our faith. I looked over to our sheepfold and thought we would go back to The Good Shepherd and The Found Sheep. I began to pray that as we ponder these foundational parables, the children would experience their own epiphany.

Sofia Cavalletti, the founder of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,  took the educational methods of Maria Montessori and applied them to religious formation in children. Through decades of observation, she found that the very youngest children are drawn to the parables of Jesus, most especially to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd cares for His sheep, knows them, calls them by name. They, in turn, stay close to Him. They won't follow a stranger, but the Good Shepherd alone because they know His voice. The Found Sheep is especially near to a child's heart, as it touches on that universal experience of being lost and then found.

I remember so well my first day of first grade. I stood by the parking lot of Saint Bede's School watching the big, yellow buses pull up. Out of my left eye, I could see my third grade sister Kathy in her brown striped coat. My right eye was trained on Keith, my fifth grade brother, in his blue jacket standing with the "big" kids. Throngs of girls in plaid jumpers and boys in navy pants milled about. I kept my eyes on my brother and sister. Left, right, Kathy, Keith.

Suddenly they were gone. I panicked, eyes darting through the crowd, searching for a brown striped coat or a blue jacket. Kids began pouring onto the buses. I hadn't a clue which one to board. The crowd thinned. No Kathy, no Keith!

I walked to a bus and got on.

The next few moments are a blur, but I eventually started bawling my little eyes out. I was lost! The next thing I remember is sitting on the lap of a long-suffering and very kind bus driver who drove the streets of Southfield, Michigan, asking, "Is this your street, honey?"

Somehow one of the kids (yes, the bus was completely full) told the bus driver that my mother was in the car behind the bus. How exactly this transpired, I will never know. I hopped off the bus and jumped in our red sedan so happy to be with my family once again.

As a mother now, I can well imagine my mother's reaction when her two oldest arrived home from school minus one brand new first grader. I have lost kids, and there are few more frightening experiences. John has proven particularly adept at disappearing as I found out late in my pregnancy with Ainsley.

I was up in Michigan enjoying a little R and R at my sister's house. It's a treat to have so many helpers late in pregnancy, but it's especially easy to lose a toddler because you think someone else has him.  John was outside playing with everyone. And then he wasn't.

We called. We searched. We panicked. We prayed. The search expanded to the next street. I incoherently begged the help of some construction workers. I told my sister to call 911.

And then my niece's voice yelling, "I found him!"

Oh, the relief! Oh, the agonizing "What if? What if?" Parenting is not for the weak-kneed. Toddlers are not for the distracted.

I have been the found sheep, and I have searched for the lost one. How well I can understand the joy of the Shepherd when the stray sheep is recovered. How I can appreciate the celebration that ensues. His desire is that not one be lost. What parent can fail to understand that? Which one of our children would we deem expendable?

In The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we use the word "essential" a lot. We try to focus on the essential. The Christian faith is about essential relationships; it's about the deep, abiding love we have for God and He for us. We can know the whats of our faith, but it's so much more essential to know the who.

The Good Shepherd and The Found Sheep focus on the infinite value God sees in us. Our Good Shepherd is a source of sustenance, of security, of love. These can remain stories we've heard over and over in church, about as meaningful as a coloring sheet we remember from Sunday school. Or they can become an essential reality, an abiding love, an epiphany.

We will soon begin taking down Christmas decorations, boxing up the glitter that has brightened our world these past weeks. We will embrace Ordinary Time - the largest chunk of our church year - with its cycle of minor feasts and continuous growth in the Lord. But in my heart, in my home, and in my atrium, I hope to hold onto the spirit of Epiphany. I’ll return to Ordinary Time by a different way.