Archive | April 2012

Good will hunting

I had a tough time getting myself together to make it to Mass yesterday morning; my head was a little foggy from Saturday, and I was grateful for my husband’s gentle prodding to get in the shower and dressed.  He took on the challenge of waking Mr. Man, dressing him, and jollying him into enough civility to give us, as it were, a prayer of making it through Mass.  It’s a good thing my best friend was able to shepherd us all towards the van; he remembered what I had forgotten, that it was our parish moms’ group’s turn to serve the donuts after the 9:30 celebration.  I had forgotten it so completely that I had not notified the other moms, so it would have been rather bad if I had not made it to Mass myself.  Luckily, we share our duty with the Secular Franciscans group, and when I explained my situation to their lovely leader, she responded by embracing me warmly and assuring me that she would lift up our family in prayer.

The tribe was exceptionally well-behaved at this particular Mass, and my husband and I were actually able to hear Father Hudgins’s homily this week.  This Sunday’s Gospel was the passage about Christ as the Good Shepherd, Whose sheep know His voice and answer His call, no matter how lost they may be.  Bugaboo listened quietly throughout most of Father’s teaching, and I’m planning to replay part of it for them when we continue talking about the parable of the Prodigal Son this week.  It occurred to me that I am thankful for a husband who shepherds our family into Godly pastures, even as Christ tends his flocks and leads them to the best of lands when they heed His call.

My biggest lesson from Mass, however, was something I’ve heard at every Mass since last year.  Some readers may be aware that the language of the order of Mass was changed to a more accurate translation late last year.  As part of those changes, the Gloria is now sung, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”  To me, that may be the most important prayer in the entire Mass at this time; I pray that the Lord will create me as a woman of good will, and help me raise our tribe as people of good will.

We are trying to create a household where our children recognize the rightness of kindness and humility.  A fellow blogger wrote a terrific post the other day about creating a 93% chance of a successful marriage just by managing the ratio of kind words to critical ones (5 to 1 is the target).  If we can set an example of that for our children, we will foster good will in our domestic church, and while we do not want our children to be fools, neither do we want them to grow into the kind of adults who immediately leap to criticize, to tear down, to find reasons to dislike.  Perhaps teaching them to see the beauty first, to see the work of the Lord first, and to spend five minutes admiring it before spending that one discordant minute, will have the effect of arming them against the temptation to petty divisions.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You call us to gather together in Your name on the Sabbath, to worship You as a community of believers.  When we gather, we see Your love in action through our brothers and sisters in faith, praying and singing together.  Thank You for a loving parish community in which to raise Your blessings, and for the many brethren who model Your exhortation to charity to them.   Please keep my tongue gentle, even when I must correct, and help me show always my love for Your blessings in the way I raise them.  They will treat each other the way they see me treat those around me, and if my mouth is filled with spiteful words and anger, they will learn it from me.  Please grant me the grace of a heart filled with mercy, and a direct line from that heart to my mouth.  Teach me to celebrate life and give thanks to You with every thought, word, and deed.

Serenity prayer

There is a prayer, popularly known as the serenity prayer, that goes, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I’ll be teaching that particular devotion to the tribe early and often.

My mother has one sister, who is married and has one child.  I had not seen any of them since my Granny left us in 1990, because of a disagreement between my mom and my aunt.  Because the disagreement escalated to a point where Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin have little to no contact with Mom’s side of the family, they hadn’t had any word of me since the early 2000s.

When Pop-Pop went to join Granny in 2009, I finally learned their last name.

After a modest amount of Internet sleuthing, I located a young man who I believed to be Cousin.  Since I wasn’t completely sure it was he, and wasn’t sure he, Uncle, or Aunt would welcome contact from me, I set a couple of bookmarks so I could contact him later if it seemed advisable.

Last weekend, I happened across a post by him on a website I read periodically, indicating Aunt was in the final stage of a fatal illness.  The advisability of attempting to contact Cousin was no longer debatable.  I posted a quick summary of the situation on Facebook and asked my friends for help in finding good, current contact information for Cousin.

The Lord is good, and sometimes tells me His will by what help He sends.  I contacted Cousin through an online messaging service he uses. He was quite surprised that I had managed to find him, although not displeased, and invited me to visit.  As it happens, they live less than an hour from us.  Cousin and I agreed that whatever else happens, the feud between our mothers will remain between our mothers henceforth.

We visited them yesterday.  Uncle and Cousin assure me that Aunt knew we were there. Cousin conveyed Aunt’s request that Mom not visit her.  My husband and I agreed to honor Aunt’s wishes. We have not yet told Mom of Aunt’s condition.

I hope there will be time for me to visit Aunt again in this world.  We will make the time for Uncle and Cousin.

As it happens, Uncle and I share a profession; we are both educators, although he teaches at the college level.  Cousin shares all of our love of music, my husband’s predilection for video games, and our daughters’ enjoyment of My Little Pony.

I held Aunt’s hand, and kissed her cheek, and told her I was sorry it had taken so much and so long for me to come see her and her family.

When I went to bed last night, and when I arose this morning, I couldn’t shake the thoughts of what might have been, how destructive resentments, grudges, and pride can be.  I have an uncle with stories to share who I’ve met, now, a total of three times.  I have a bright and interesting cousin who I’ve now met twice.  I have an aunt about whom I know next to nothing who is no longer able to tell me her story, and who the tribe won’t remember.  This estrangement has been for my entire adult life.  Has been.  It’s done.

I believe that I had to live every moment of my life exactly as I lived it in order to be who, what, and where I am today.  There have been times where the price has been terrible for my daily joy.  This is one of those times.  If I can go where the Lord leads me through this trial, I know my joy will increase, but I will have to listen more carefully than usual for His voice, because my memory of a grudge with foundations that are unclear to me will be trying to shout Him down.

Please forgive this unusually terse and inelegant post.  And please read Matthew 18.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for my cousin’s post on a message board that led me back to a part of our family I had given up.  Thank You for giving them enough mercy and love to invite us to visit.

Lord, please forgive me for my unloving thoughts, words, and actions over the past two decades.  Please help me teach Your blessings that there has never been a grudge among two people that has come from You.  Wrath is among the deadly sins for a reason; it cuts off a part of my heart from reaching out in love, and instead allows a hellish brew of anger and resentment to fester where love and forgiveness should be.  Help me teach Your blessings to stand firmly with You when asked to be a part of someone else’s grudge, and when I am tempted not to forgive, or am tempted to bear ill-will because of a wrong alleged by another, please show me my aunt’s face.  When I choose anger, I am spurning Your gifts.  Kindle in me a grateful heart, Lord, one that is open that what blessings You send.  Please grant me, and help me teach Your blessings, a spirit of genuine and generous repentance, instead of useless and selfish guilt.

Growing pains

Yesterday morning, we finished up our coloring books about the parable of the prodigal son.  As the last crayon strokes were being applied, I asked Beanie and Bugaboo what they thought made the father in the story so happy.  Both of them replied the father had thought his younger son was dead, but when he showed up alive, he was so happy he threw a huge party to celebrate. Their wee brows furrowed as I explained to them the father was certainly relieved to see his younger son safely home, but his real joy was in the young man’s loving repentance, and realization that his pursuit of all earthly delights had led him to ruin.  The father, I went on to explain, was wild with joy that his son had returned with a wish to work hard and live uprightly.

Since they continued staring at me in puzzlement, I asked them to think about times they’ve been sent to their rooms with instructions to sit quietly on their beds until they can explain why they were sent thither and show some remorse for whatever caused the sending, then asked them what I usually do when they emerge.  Both quickly replied that I greet them with hugs and kisses, just as the young man’s father did.  “That’s absolutely right,” I told my daughters, “and, while I’m always happy to see your adorable little faces, I’m even happier that you’ve decided you want to do good things instead of unkind ones.”

It was a pretty rocky morning; no one had slept well the night before, and Baby Guy was ready for his nap before 10:30.  Mr. Man made it two more hours after that, then fell asleep with his face planted firmly his peanut butter sandwich.  Since the boys were snoozing, the girls and I decided it was a Strawberry Shortcake kind of day; after handing off some baby gear to a friend for transport to a family in need of same, I curled up on the couch with Beanie and Bugaboo for a little rest.   The boys were still sleeping when the pair of shows ended, and I needed a little more horizontal time myself, so I conceded the point and closed my eyes while the girls enjoyed an episode of Pound Puppies.  As it happened, the episode was about learning to love creatures we initially think are obnoxious, so it turned out to be a nice little heart’s lesson for them and a badly-needed extra nap for me.

While I could cheerfully have sacked out on the couch for the rest of the afternoon with my snuggly little daughters, it’s unwise to let them vegetate in front of the television for extended periods, so I hauled myself aloft and asked if either of them would like to do a craft.  I believe they may have actually teleported into their chairs at the kitchen table, which I took as an affirmative answer, and quickly assembled a few oddments I had handy.  We decided to make angels, since I had a few yards of white tulle, some fluff that looked cloudlike, and oodles of construction paper.

The house is now adorned with their creations.

By the time we had decked the doors with celestial beings, Bugaboo and Beanie were tiring of quiet time, so I gave them leave to put on shoes and head for the back yard.  I had to call a couple of admonitions out the window to Bugaboo about the tone of voice she was using with her sister, and reminders to both that neither of them has exclusive rights to anything in the back yard.  The racket woke the boys, who decided to play together in the living room with a big bag of blocks while I assembled dinner.

Of course, I was slicing a loaf of crusty bread with a very sharp knife when I heard the blood-curdling shriek from Bugaboo.  Hurling the knife into the sink, I spun around to the back window of the kitchen, whereupon I spied Bugaboo perched precariously on Beanie’s preferred swing.  The precariousness of her perch was caused by the hands, belonging to said Beanie, which were twined in her hair in an effort to pull her off the swing at the center of the apparent controversy.

There are moments when I really, truly, do not care what my neighbors think.  That happened to be one of them.  I’m pretty sure they heard me at least two streets over.

Two wailing, crying little girls bolted into the house and up the stairs, Bugaboo bemoaning the (understandable!) pain from her head, Beanie complaining, “She took my swing!”  I shushed Beanie very firmly and informed her of her options — either sit silently at the table and eat her dinner, or go to her room.  While she was tearfully deciding, I checked Bugaboo and determined that there was no real damage done, although I am positive her scalp was smarting (having had my hair used as a rope ladder by all four of my children, I can attest that having one’s hair pulled really hurts), gave her hugs, kisses, and a cup of water, then settled her in at the table for dinner.  Beanie did tell Bugaboo she was sorry, and apologized to me, too.

Dinner was a bit of a struggle as well; the only child who actually enjoyed our Friday soup (split pea with ham) was Baby Guy.  By the time Bugaboo finished hers, I had already given Mr. Man and Baby Guy their baths; by the time Beanie finished hers, Bugaboo and Mr. Man had picked up all the toys in the living room and the girls’ room.

When Daddy came home, the girls were in the bathtub.  They wash each other’s hair and check each other’s faces for dirt spots.  Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to invent bathtub games that result in a lot of water being deposited on the floor of the upstairs bathroom (repainting the downstairs and installing new shelves is a very high priority, so the kids can have their own bathroom and we don’t have to worry about the upstairs fixtures suddenly landing in the downstairs facilities).   My husband, after a quick evaluation of my facial expression, sent me off to take a break and informed our daughters it was time to dry off and get ready for bed.  I took the opportunity to read some stories to Mr. Man and Baby Guy; when the girls and Daddy joined us in the living room, we prayed our bedtime prayers and sang lullabies.

After we tucked the boys into their beds, I let the dogs out.  As I came back up the stairs, I heard Beanie campaigning for some dessert, and firmly said, “No way.”  That brought a wail from our younger daughter.  ” BUT I’M SORRY!”

My husband called her over to where he was sitting on the couch and settled her on his lap.

“Why are you sorry?”
“I’m sorry because Mommy’s ticked off at me!”
“Do you know why Mommy is ticked off at you?”
“I did some bad things.”
“What bad things did you do?”
“I whined.”
“You always do that.  What did you do that ticked Mommy off?”
“I tried to pull Bugaboo off the swing.  I pulled her by the hair.  It didn’t work.”

At that point, Bugaboo chimed in, “Yeah, she tried to pull me off the swing by my hair.  I could have hit my head on the ground and died.”  Thankfully, I was in the girls’ room making sure there were no cups of milk hiding under beds, and thus could chuckle quietly.

“That’s pretty bad.  Did you apologize and give her a hug and a kiss?”
“I’m sorrrrry.”  Hug, kiss.

Daddy then proceeded to have the most gentle discussion possible of how important they could be to each other, and reminded them that each of them had been given, by God, exactly one sister on this earth.  I teared up when I heard him explain that if they let the petty things fester, they could end up like someone very dear to us and her sister, who haven’t exchanged a civil word in twenty-two years, or spoken at all in the last ten.

After that, Daddy and I snuggled the two of them between us on the couch while we read a few extra stories.  When the stories were finished, he picked up Bugaboo, I picked up Beanie, and we carried them down to their room just to get the extra hugs in.  Once inside their door, we hugged the two of them between the two of us, which the girls refer to as a “family hug sandwich,” and were rewarded by Beanie cheerfully crowing, “I’m a baby pickle!”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, only You can form a conscience in an instant.  It will take me a lifetime to help shape the consciences of Your blessings so that they choose to regret unkind actions, instead of just being upset by the consequences of their actions.  Please grant me patience and the abundant grace I will need to set a good example for them at all times.  Thank You for their willingness to forgive, and their nascent understanding that You rejoice whenever one of Your children turns from self-serving thoughts and deeds in a spirit of loving repentance.  You forgive us freely, without holding our transgressions over our heads or carrying grudges, and we would follow You.  Please teach us to speak, think, and act with the mercy we would have shown to us.

By the numbers

Yesterday, as I was finishing up my morning phone calls, I called to the tribe to start putting away the playthings scattered about the girls’ room and the living room so we could be on time for playgroup.  A few moments later, I heard Bugaboo exhorting Beanie and Mr. Man, “Come on, guys, we have to get this cleaned up.  There’s a nine on the clock, and that means it’s almost time to leave.  You don’t want to miss playing with all our friends, do you?”  This was followed by a cacophony of wood and plastic gewgaws being flung into boxes and bins and a scurry of little feet running all through the upstairs looking for shoes.

As I was hanging up the phone, a woebegone Mr. Man toddled over to me, a little black croc in one hand; he shrugged his shoulders, held out the lonely footgear, and inquired, “Where shoe?  Help?” He knows that since he has two feet, he needs two shoes, and was having trouble locating the second one.  We had a little game of crawling around to find it (under the living room end table, which seems to be the preferred hiding place of his right shoe),  followed by a chortling Baby Guy, who found it rather amusing that all the people who could walk were choosing to go about on hands and knees instead.

Having gathered all the necessities for our playdate, I shepherded the tribe out the door, calling out my usual patter of reminders that the drill is to get in the van and start buckling seatbelts, no dandelions in the van, no pushing buttons in the van, no eating things we find on the floor of the van, no whining, and no diverting to chase the neighborhood cats.  It was a blessedly smooth load-in, for once, except when Mr. Man wanted the toy phone he spied on the floor near Baby Guy’s seat. Actually, his spying the phone wasn’t the problem; his being half buckled in to his car seat and trying to use my arm as a stepladder to get out of the car seat and retrieve the desired toy while bellowing, “PHONE!  PHONE!  PUSH BUTTONS!”, however, caused a bit of a complication.  After wrestling him into the seat, handing him the phone in response to his plaintive, “Phone peeease?” and closing all the van doors, I headed around to the driver’s side rubbing the sore spots on my arm, only to have my minor grumpiness relieved by hearing Bugaboo’s sing-song, “Okay, heeeeeead count!  One, two, three, four, and Mommy makes five!  All present and accounted for!”

Playgroup was a blast, although Mr. Man has hit that phase of the terrible twos where his response to another child wanting to share his space or his toy is to push him or throw something at him.  It is actually possible to put a two-year old boy in time out in a folding chair in a room full of other children.  After one time out for shoving his friend L (who wanted to play in the table fort he’d made) and another for throwing a toy at a different friend (which caught the hapless Baby Guy squarely in the cheek, to his very vocal dismay but no apparent injury), he figured out that playing nicely was probably a better idea.  Now, if I can just convince him that playing in front of the swinging doors to the restrooms is unwise, we’ll have it made.

At the end of playgroup, Bugaboo and Beanie passed the moments, while we waited for one of the lovely parish office ladies to lock up, by skipping around the room belting out, “One, Two, Buckle my Shoe” at full volume.  As we headed home, the CD in the van stereo played, “The Five Finger Jive,” and my rear-view mirror was filled with flailing fingers.  I laughed.  Yes, I know the slang meaning.  It’s a children’s counting song.  If you’re not familiar with it, listen to the sample; I’ll try to get the tribe to sing it and post a video.

When Mr. Man started counting the plates I was flinging upon the table for lunch, it became apparent it was a numbers kind of day.  There’s nothing wrong with those; there are many good reasons to count things, and many things to count.  As we were finishing lunch, Bugaboo chimed in, “It must nap time for Mr. Man and Baby Guy.  They’re cranky, and the clock says it’s after twelve.”

Two diaper changes, two little boys in their cribs, two dogs let out to answer calls of nature, two little girls ensconced on the couch with two cups of milk, one pillow retrieved from our bed and one television tuned to channel 257 for a little Tom and Jerry break later, we all settled in for a little midday rest.  I have discovered that 45 is a “magic” number for me; if I’m able to be horizontal for that many minutes in the middle of the day, my mood is significantly improved.

Since yesterday was a playgroup day, our schoolwork time was in the afternoon.  I believe the girls prefer doing their assignments while their brothers are asleep; the house is quieter, and Mr. Man does not attempt to climb onto their chairs with them to observe their progress.  We breezed through the coloring pages and talked about the Prodigal Son parable some more; Bugaboo managed to figure out that the cause of the father’s great rejoicing was not the son’s mere physical return, but his repentance and changed heart (more on this tomorrow), then moved on to her math assignments.  She identified all of the numbers up to 100 and finished her place value exercises without any help from me, and was literally jumping in her chair with the joy of her achievements.

Beanie definitely responds to the sticker workbook as an incentive to finish her coloring pages.  I also discovered that it’s helpful to ask her, when she gets distracted, “What color will you use now?  What will you color with that?”  She flashes a big smile and gets back to her work quickly.  Since her math assignment yesterday featured a relatively complex color by numbers picture, and she really dislikes being told HOW to color, I had no small amount of trepidation about the length of time it might take to get her to complete her work, but she did quite well; actually, she surprised me when I opened her book to the color by numbers exercise and she looked at it, looked up at me, and told me what colors of crayons she would need for each number.  Granted, it’s not that hard to decipher, but I usually have to get her to focus on the page first.  Yesterday, she leaned over as soon as I opened the book and explained to me what her assignment would be, instead of the other way around.

By the time Mr. Man and Baby Guy awoke from their naps, the girls were already outside playing.  While yesterday started out rainy and cool, the midafternoon hours brought increasing sunlight and a notable lack of wet stuff falling from the sky.  Mr. Man decided to stay inside so he could supervise my dinner preparations and see how many toys he and Baby Guy could fit on the living room rug, instead of joining his sisters outside.  When I sat down on the loveseat to catch up on Words With Friends, he sidled up to me, pointed at the tiles, and advised me of the point value of each.  “Thas a E.  Thas a one.  Thas a N.  Thas a two.”  Suddenly, figuring out what word I would play next wasn’t nearly as interesting as seeing Mr. Man puzzle his way through each letter and number.  He also helpfully informed me, with regard to the shape of the tiles, “Thas square!”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, Your blessings enjoy quantifying the world around them, and they are learning to use numbers to determine how much, which is more, and which is less.  The older one already know that You are One God in Three Persons, that You gave us ten rules, and that You had twelve best friends, one of whom turned out not to be such a good friend after all.  Thank You for their intelligence and fascination with learning new things.  Please help me teach them wisdom, and that the greatest wonders are innumerable and unquantifiable.

Moments matter

There was no single “blog moment” yesterday, primarily because it was one of those days filled with small delights.  It wasn’t that nobody whined and everyone ate meals without complaints or food-throwing, it was just that I took my own advice and decided to answer the small, everyday transgressions with a song instead of a stout voice.

It may help that I’m spending two weeks on the parable of the prodigal son with my daughters.  We’d been having some problems with petty squabbles and resentments, so it seemed like it might be helpful to spend a little extra time talking about Christ’s infinite mercy, and the joy we should feel when someone seeks to atone for wrongs committed.  This took on a little extra poignancy over the weekend, when I received the news that my estranged aunt is dying from stage four lung cancer with brain metastases.  Tidings like those tend to make all the reasons I find to hold onto anger and grudges seem even more foolish than they usually do.

We were talking today about how the father in the parable greeted his returning son with great joy, and threw a party to celebrate his safe return — and his change of heart.  The task of showing them that remorse isn’t just mouthing a few syllables, but an actual change of heart, will continue for many years, but it made a big impression on the girls that the son was reduced to wishing he could eat the pigs’ food.  There are opportunities for lessons in stewardship here, too. It’s such a great parable for teaching so many foundational concepts that I’m beginning to think we may have to return to it every six months or so, as they grow and mature and the boys start to join in the actual instruction.

This is Beanie’s newest workbook.  For weeks, I have struggled to find a way around her mulish resistance to coloring her assigned coloring pages.  We are talking about a girl who colored every single page in a 288 page Hello Kitty coloring book in a single day (and colored them well, I might add) when left to her own devices, but flatly refuses to complete a single assigned age of coloring.  Saying this is frustrating would be a grievous understatement.  At any rate, I remembered that the only thing Beanie loves more than coloring is stickers, and happened upon this book in our little stockpile.  Since she is still working on some of the basic skills, she and I made a deal — if she colors her assigned pages within a reasonable amount of time (say, 30 minutes), she gets to do ONE page in this book.  I let her do a page today just so she could see how much she would enjoy it, and immediately found myself with a lap-full of not quite four  year old jubilantly exclaiming, “Mommy that is the best schoolbook ever can I have ‘nother page I really like the stickers and did you see it was three different fishies and one of them was yellow and yellow is my favorite color . . .”

If you’ve ever read Roger Hargreaves’ Little Miss Chatterbox, you have read a reasonably accurate description of an excited Beanie.  Hopefully, this will result in less mayhem at lesson time tomorrow.

Later in the day, while Mr. Man and Baby Guy were napping, Beanie had wandered off to see if she could build a cave for her Care Bears with her Lincoln Logs, and Bugaboo was slumped on the couch, pouting a little because I would not let her go back outside to play until her brothers awoke.  Wanting to avoid a mutiny that would wake the wee guys anyway, I asked her if she would like to do a craft.  Thanks to Grandma, we have a ridiculously large supply of foam craft kits in the house, and Bugaboo loves to assemble the little projects.  For the record, glue dots are the greatest innovation in the history of children’s crafts.  Thoughtful girl that she is, she decided not to use the magnets that came with the kit; after scrutinizing their size, she advised me, “No, Mommy, I don’t think those magnets are a good idea.  Mr. Man likes to pick those off, and they look small enough for Baby Guy to swallow.  Can we save them for something we’re going to give to Grandma or Grandpa?  I want to keep these to play with my Strawberry Shortcakes.”

Not long after Bugaboo finished her project, Beanie ambled out of the girls’ room, having tired of both solitude and Lincoln Logs, and decided to brush Smudgie and read a couple of board books on the couch.  I love that she reads to Smudgie.  Bugaboo disappeared and, after a quick stop to make sure she hadn’t fallen into the commode again, I poked my head into the girls’ room to  see if she was, perhaps, napping, as the house was unnervingly quiet, even taking into account the sleeping boys.  There sat our oldest daughter, playing with her sister’s dinosaurs and her own Strawberry Shortcake cafe, pretending a family of giant lizards had dropped by for cakes and milkshakes.  I believe Orange Blossom (bottom left) probably fainted from fright.

After a dinner that actually was eaten without any complaints about the quality, quantity, or preparation of the food, the three ambulatory members of the tribe skittered back out into the yard to run off their meal and desserts.  Baby Guy decided to check out the toys that reside in the bottom of the entertainment center, and happened upon the toy that has been all four of their favorite at the age of ten months –the animal wheel.  He was smiling and laughing, spinning the wheel as fast as it would go, then stopping it himself to see what animal noise would issue forth, even trying to imitate some of them. While his siblings were exploring a world with broader boundaries than his, he seized the opportunity to investigate the possibilities of one single toy, without worrying that anyone would try to “help” him with it.  He passed a very giggly half hour indeed, and I laughed right along with him — and imitated the animal sounds, too.  The Lord God made them all, you know, and it’s fun to spend a little time appreciating His handiwork with a baby.

When the animal wheel lost its allure, he crawled across the living room and checked out Beanie’s drum and its stick.  It did not take Baby Guy long to determine that the sounds the stick made when rapped smartly against the wood floor or pounded against the couch were significantly more interesting than the noise produced by hitting the drum. Another half hour passed while I watched our youngest son explore how many sounds he could make, by himself, with a wooden stick.

Around the time Baby Guy tired of experimenting with the drum stick, Mr. Man wandered in with his newest rock.  I believe I’ve mentioned before that he loves rocks, and can be counted upon to bring me several specimens whenever he ventures into the yard.  After I captured him and his treasure on camera, he proceeded to show Baby Guy that you can make even MORE noises by banging rocks on things than you can by banging a stick on things.  Some of those noises come from Mommy, who is several feet away from the rock in question.  The boys found this pastime particularly hilarious.

In the meantime, the girls were busily swinging and singing, “One, two, buckle my shoe” at the tops of their lungs.

In the midst of the rock-banging and counting song-singing, my husband came home.  We changed the boys into their pajamas and settled in for prayers and lullabyes.  It’s rare that I’m able to get a shot of all five of my brightest blessings together.  From left to right:  Mr. Man, Beanie, Daddy, Baby Guy, and Bugaboo.

We had a full and wonderful day.  Smudgie, however, was exhausted from running to and fro, watching over and playing with all his tiny people.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for a day of simple pleasures with Your blessings.  Thank You for the grace of a heart open to wonder and arms open to comfort.  Your Scripture warns us of times when people will turn their face from You and become “lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, irreligious (2 Tim 2),” and we would raise Your blessings to honor You above all things, to praise You for your glory and the beauty of Your creation always.  Please grant us the grace to teach them to delight in every small moment of joy, for every second in which we are happy in Your love and each other’s company, and teach us to pray for those whose hearts are hardened against an appreciation of Your people, Your law, and Your works.

This is a remarkable insight from another blogger’s son. I hope my tribe will be so farsighted.

Refusing to Tiptoe

As we were leaving the Chimpanzee movie last week, I expressed to Caleb my frustration with the bad guys (or evil chimps) in the movie. 

Caleb paused. 

Then, using his gift of goodness, he gently corrected his mother.

You’re only seeing what the producer of the movie wanted you to see and the way he wanted you to see it.

Allowing the truth to soak in briefly, Caleb explained.

Scar and his guys were hungry, too.

But, the movie didn’t show us that part.

He was right.  I’d taken the bait.  Hook, line and sinker.  I was mad at Scar and his gnarly chimps for attacking Freddy’s troop.  (Because that’s where cute Oscar lived.) 

I’d only looked at the surface of what the film had provided. 

coins 1 by derbeth via flickr

Caleb, on the flip side, perceived the other group of chimps in a different light.  Realizing they were hungry, he had compassion for them.  Even when…

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Raised voices

There are several video links in this post; each one will open in a new window.

Music is a big part of our lives; there’s usually a CD going in the kitchen, and if the TV is on, there’s a decent chance that it’s tuned to one of the Music Choice stations.  Worship songs, kids’ tunes, blues, jazz, 80’s pop, hair bands, Motown, beach music, classical, opera, big band, and occasionally some early rap or old country songs form an eclectic soundtrack for our days.

Usually, someone is singing.  Last night, we all were, though not necessarily at the same time, and I had the good fortune to capture some of it on video.  Beanie belted out “Jesus Loves Me,” although it took two tries to get that on video, while Bugaboo warbled, “Do, Lord.”  Even Baby Guy got into the act while I was singing the nightly lullabies in a vain attempt to calm the tribe before they went to bed and I went to run a couple of errands.  I regret to report that I was unable to record Mr. Man’s version of “ABC.”

We did notice, during our impromptu evening concert that featured such golden hits as, “The Billboard Song,” “Down by the Station,” and “The Battle of New Orleans,” Beanie and Bugaboo need a little practice with listening respectfully to each other.  I had noticed that each tended to interrupt the other’s hearing her instructions while doing schoolwork, but chalked that up more to poor lesson sequencing on my part. Luckily, that’s an easy one to remedy, and we can probably make up a song about it as we go.  Come to think of it, all four of the tiny people’s response to music is such that I should probably try raising my voice in song instead of a shout when I need to redirect them.  It’s worth a try, and will certainly be easier on my throat.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, it was said by Your servant Augustine that when we sing, we pray twice.  Thank You for voices we can lift in song and prayer, and for the ability to make our song understood.  Your blessings understand that the angels sing Your praises, as song is mentioned over a thousand times in Your love letters to us.  Please help us remember that music can lift our souls and strengthen us, can bring us closer to You, and help us learn faith along with history, letters, and numbers, but that we can also pollute the minds You have given us by taking pleasure from music that sullies the dignity of Your children.  Help us choose our songs wisely and lovingly.

Gershon Kingsley, eat your heart out

Yesterday seemed made for a certain Seussian feline, as the weather was entirely too cold and rainy for even my little tribe of stalwart mud fanatics to spend an appreciable amount of time outdoors.  Fortunately, we are blessed with an abundance of books and art supplies, and the makings of both chicken soup and spaghetti with meat sauce, both of which are foul-weather favorites around here.  Baby Guy followed his usual rainy day custom of taking his nap at ten in the morning and sleeping until sometime after two in the afternoon, while Mr. Man was permitted to opt out of his nap and join his sisters and I in our hour of quiet time after lunch.

Among the titles in our collection is this little gem from Tomie de Paola; it gives the history of popcorn, along with a host of fascinating popcorn facts, in the context of two brothers making popcorn on their stove.  This is yet another book I recommend highly.  At any rate, while we did not read The Popcorn Book today, the kids ate dinner at a sufficiently early hour to justify a snack during our evening Spider-Man social.  While Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man were busily putting toys back in boxes, bins, and cupboards, and Baby Guy was cheerfully crawling back and forth in pursuit of Smudgie’s wagging tail, I decided to make a quick batch of stove-top popcorn.

I’ve never actually made popcorn in a pan on the stove before, mind you, but I’d seen it done by older relatives over thirty years ago.  We always had popcorn machines as a child, then a microwave, and I’ve used a very noisy air popper for the last couple of years.  However, since we’ve read about the old-fashioned way, it seemed worthwhile to show the midget mob that the method of which they had read was, in fact, possible.  I heated the oil, melted a little real, unsalted butter (the kind that has cream as its sole ingredient) in a saucepan, then tossed a test kernel into the hot oil.

Thankfully, I managed to duck out of the way of the flying popcorn before it smacked me in the eye.

After I located the lid for the relevant pan, I poured in the rest of the kernels and gently shook the pan until a fluffy mass quietly billowed forth; half a cup of popcorn kernels yielded just enough popcorn to fill my handled mixing bowl.  By the time I sprinkled over a fingertip pinch of salt and tossed in the butter, our three oldest children had assembled on the living room couch and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  I put Bugaboo in charge of the bowl, helping myself to a handful of warm popcorn while reminding her to keep hold of the handle.

If you know anyone who would like an air popper, he or she can have mine.  That’s the best popcorn I’ve ever eaten, and the tribe agrees.  After the tribe was abed, I made another batch to share with my husband, and we have added him to the list of old-school popcorn devotees.

From a stewardship perspective, there were exactly six unpopped kernels out of a half cup of corn, which meant significantly less waste than any other method I’ve used.  It’s fluffier and sweeter, too.  Once the tiny people had finished watching their show and demolishing the popcorn, I asked them what they thought the popcorn did in the pan.  Bugaboo and Beanie responded by gleefully jumping up and down and making popping noises; after a moment’s skeptical observation, Mr. Man decided to join in the fun, while Baby Guy watched, smiling and laughing at his siblings’ silliness.

In The Popcorn Book, Mr. de Paola mentions that early European settlers ate popped corn with cream for breakfast.  Bugaboo remembered this as she was helping herself to another handful, and asked if we could have that for breakfast tomorrow.  I replied that while we don’t have any cream, we have whole milk, which should work just as well.  I’d rather have them eat that than most breakfast cereals!  It will be a good opportunity to teach them about this gift the native Americans gave to the Europeans, and to talk about how food brings people of all backgrounds together.

For those mystified by the title of this post, this may be helpful (link will open in a new window).

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the simple gift of popcorn to share with Your blessings, with the laughter and happiness it brought.  Some of Your greatest miracles involved food and drink, from the wedding at Cana to the loaves and fishes; You remain with us in bread and wine at every Mass.  Please help me teach Your blessings that sharing a meal, or even a snack, brings us closer together, and to praise You always for the bounty You provide for us to eat.  Please remind us to share that bounty with our neighbors who are hungry, and help us teach the lesson of Your friend Martha, that preparing food can be a ministry if it is done in Your service.  As we prepare our meals today, Lord, remind us as you reminded Martha that the food is less important than the love it fuels our bodies to share, and let us serve in all ways with glad hearts.

Seek and you shall find

It was a raw and rainy day hereabouts, the sort of day that begs for big mugs of hot cocoa and lots and lots of stories.

Once the ladies had colored all the pictures they could stand, and everyone had a decent nap, we opted for an afternoon story marathon, which began before the boys were done snoozing.  I’ve mentioned before that reading is a favorite pastime at our house, and we have a formidable library of children’s books.  I’ve also noted that we read a wide variety of materials, and that we’ve been able to find Christ in whatever we read.  For today’s post, I’ll share the books we read and how we saw the Lord in each one.  For those who just want to know what books we read, I’ll begin with a gallery view.

For the books that are specifically about faith, I’ll assume you can figure out how Jesus was included, but if there’s one about which you would like specific information, please ask in the comments or in an email, and I’ll be happy to answer you.

We are huge Tomie de Paola fans around here.  Fin M’Coul is a retelling of an ancient Irish legend, and in it, the wife of the giant loves him enough to use all her wit and talent to save her husband from a horrible beating at the hands of a bully giant.  It’s sort of like Samson and Delilah, except in this case, Delilah saves Samson.  We found Jesus’s teaching to the Pharisees from Matthew 19 here, about how the Lord created male and female, and the two become one flesh forever.

This one is easy.  It begins with Psalm 139:14 — “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Yes.  Every new life is.

I’ve loved this book since I was tiny.  By reading it, we are reminded that while we may receive a mild rebuke for straying, the good shepherd always welcomes the lost member of his flock.

These are pretty self-explanatory!

My Big Book of Opposites reminds us that the Lord made all creatures, great and small.  It’s Time to Play gives a little lesson on stewardship, that we are to clean up the messes we make, and that even putting our toys away can be a happy task.

Brave Butterfly reminds us that we can do things we think are impossible if we have faith.  Peekaboo Fun reminds us that the Lord made every living and non-living thing, and He made them in an infinite number of shapes, sizes, and colors.

It’s Great to be an Engine reminds us that we are to make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

Jesus wanted the little children to come to Him, so we have special books to help bring them closer!

Can you tell these two have been well-loved?  The Belly Button Book reminds us that we all are born of women, as Jesus was, and Doggies reminds us that the Lord created some animals to be our friends, playmates, and protectors.

Pooh’s 1-2-3 reminds us that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is, and that each of us has something we can share.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat calls to mind Noah and his ark, and, of course, Christ calling the fishermen.

Psalm 139 again!

While this book is more about snow and baking cookies, it’s also a good reminder that we share the fruits of our labors with our neighbors — and, of course, we give gifts to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

The wonders of Creation can be explored and investigated, but not always fully explained.  We thank the Lord for the mysteries he’s given us.

In the Fairy Berry Bake-Off, we learn that arrogance leads to unloving behavior, wastefulness, and destruction, but that we always have the opportunity to reconcile and be forgiven.  In Beck’s Bunny Secret, we learn that telling a lie leads to unhappiness and mistrust among friends, but, again, there is the opportunity for repentance and redemption.

The Strawberry Shortcake stories remind us of the value of friendship as defined in Sirach 6.

In the “Little Miss” books, we are reminded that He has given each of us particular talents, but that it sometimes takes us a while to figure out how to put those talents to their best use.

The Wind in the Willows reminds us that friends who lead us down the paths of wisdom are priceless, and that love sometimes means saying “no.”

In Bossy Bee, we remember that Jesus, the great leader and teacher, wasn’t rude or bossy, but gentle and humble.

The Foot Bookcalls to mind Christ washing the feet of His disciples.

We love Arch books.

If you have never read this book, go directly to your library or bookstore and get it.  Each of us has a gift to offer, and if we offer it freely and with love, even the most seemingly strange offering is pleasing to Him.  I have had this particular copy since I was five years old.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, we can see Your face anywhere we seek You.  Thank You for your constant presence, and help me teach Your blessings to recognize You and Your wisdom in books that don’t mention Your name.  Please grant us the wisdom to see Your triumph and grace in all things, that we may use every word we read, song we sing, and show we watch to draw nearer to you.

Rolling, rolling, rolling

Yesterday brought a flurry of fun to our humble abode, as Beanie had a soccer game and Bugaboo had a Daddy date at the roller rink.  Since neither of these events required a departure time before 10 a.m., it seemed like a good morning to make pancakes and sausage for breakfast; while I was cooking, the girls decided they needed to phone a couple of relatives and invite them to join their adventures.  Beanie called Nonno and Deedaw, and was delighted to learn that they would, in fact, be attending her game, which would give her a five-person cheering section, since Baby Guy and Mr. Man were in our traveling contingent.  Bugaboo had to leave a message for the uncle she tried to reach, but in all honesty, she didn’t seem all that disappointed that she would get Daddy all to herself.

After breakfast was eaten and appropriate attire was donned, Beanie, the boys and I headed off to the local high school where a saintly woman teaches tiny people the fundamentals of soccer.  The sky was clear, the sun was warm, we had a double stroller, crackers, and water bottles, and were ready for a morning of fresh air.  When I left, my husband was cleaning off the rollerblades he hasn’t used since at least 2002 while Bugaboo helpfully dusted his knee pads and chattered excitedly about learning to skate.  It took me a minute to get her attention so I could give her a kiss goodbye.

Mr. Man was far more enthusiastic about exploring all the leafy green growing things in our front yard than getting into the van so we could get Beanie to her game on time, so by the time he was buckled into his car seat with a very stern admonition not to ever push the button that closes the van door when Mommy’s body is blocking the door, we were running tight on time.  Thankfully, traffic was light, but we still had a bit of a dash to get to the field, me sprinting with a double stroller filled with squirmy little boys, Beanie clinging to the side of said stroller and trying to keep up a stream of chatter about everything she saw while running.  We got to the field with about ninety seconds to spare, and I had a little pep talk with Beanie while Mr. Man and Baby Guy raided the diaper bag for snacks and toys.  It went a little something like this:

“Are we going to keep our eyes on Coach Jackie and the big girls today?”
“Are we going to do what Coach Jackie and the big girls ask us today?”
“Are we going to have fun with our teammates?”
“Are we going to stay on the field?”

This picture is from her first game.

Beanie has a great love for the giant orange watercooler the coach and her assistants bring to the games.  She likes to hug it, and finds the little pushbutton tap fascinating.

“Are we going to use our water bottle instead of hanging out with the watercooler?”
“Yay, Beanie!  Look, there’s your team with Coach Jackie!  Run run run run run!”

After a quick hug and kiss, thirty-eight inches of high explosive sprinted off to join her teammates.  She overshot them by about fifty feet, being caught up in the utter joy of a full-bore sprint on a sunny day.  Luckily, she remembered what she was supposed to be doing, and hurried back.  For the first half of practice, she did a stellar job of following instructions and staying with her team.  After the mid-practice water break, though, she had a little trouble sticking with the program, and I was grateful for Nonno and Deedaw’s arrival so I could herd her back into the field of play a couple of times.  She did manage to kick a goal, and to kick a ball out of the goal, but she wore out with about five minutes of soccer time to go, and decided to play at being Spider-Man on the goal netting instead.  Since Beanie has two months to go before she turns four, I count that a success.

In the meantime, we had borrowed a full-sized ball from the hoard in the middle of the field, and Mr. Man had a gigglingly good time playing a little soccer with Nonno — who coached my husband’s soccer teams back in the day.  Deedaw sat neat the stroller and Baby Guy, laughing at Beanie’s enthusiastic efforts and Baby Guy’s intense interest in the grass.  By the end of practice, grandparents and grandchildren were pretty tired, so we shared a round of hugs and kisses, then parted ways.  After a quick stop for lunch, we headed home to get the boys a much-needed nap and await the return of Bugaboo and Daddy.

Beanie was pretty tuckered out, too, so we piled a couple of pillows on the couch and snuggled up to watch the season finale of My Little Pony.  She curled up behind my legs, hugged my calves, and whispered, “I love you, Mommy.  I’m glad I get you all to myself,” before sighing happily and hugging her pillow while she watched Twilight Sparkle save Canterlot.

About an hour and a half later, Bugaboo and Daddy returned home, bearing a week’s supply of milk (four gallons, if you were wondering), a container of my favorite Wegmans sushi, our one working camera, a blue glow stick, and gigantic, if tired, smiles.  Bugaboo burbled on about her great skating adventure while I mouthed to my husband, “Did she actually skate?”  He nodded yes, I did a quick visual check to make sure there were no bandages or plaster casts on either of them, then settled in to hear the account of Bugaboo’s day out.

Apparently, I had no sooner left with the rest of the tribe than Bugaboo informed Daddy it was time for them to leave as well.  She has picked up my tendency to want to be five minutes early for arrival or opening times, so we don’t miss anything and have time for disaster management if needed.  Off they went to the skating rink, where my husband discovered he was the only Dad on rollerblades, but far from the only Dad accompanying his little girl on her very first roller skating outing (he also shared the useful information that during the little-kid open skate, adults can be on the skating floor in their socks to help little wobblers along, which bodes well for Mr. Man’s chances of learning to skate soon).  The Saturday morning skate is a Disney-themed event, with the result that the attendees are mostly within a couple of years of Bugaboo’s age.

Having acquired a pair of rental skates for Bugaboo, Daddy proceeded to switch out Tink sneakers for boots with wheels, and helped our oldest daughter carefully walk across the carpeted walkway around the skating rink itself.  She figured out pretty quickly that all she had to do was walk on these strange contraptions, and she would move forward.  While she is still a little shaky about the idea that she will keep moving even if she doesn’t immediately take another step, she definitely had a good time, managing a couple of complete circuits of the rink.  She even managed to use the potty without removing her skates.  Not too shabby for a not-quite-five-year old.  My husband apologizes for the lack of pictures of Bugaboo actually skating, but he was busy holding her hands.  He has his priorities in the proper order, methinks.

At any rate, after an hour or so of learning to skate, Bugaboo complained the rental skates were tight on her feet (she inherited wide feet from both of her parents), and asked if she could take her skates off and go to the play zone.  Since Daddy did not realize there is a separate charge for the play zone, he helped her off with her skates and sent her off to play.  She merrily climbed, slid, and bounced until another little girl stopped her with the admonition, “You’re not supposed to be in here.  You don’t have a wristband.”  A third youngster took the admonisher to task, “Hey, that’s not very nice.”  Bugaboo, however, seeing the wristbands on her two playmates’ forearms and noting the lack of one on her own, came down from the netting into Daddy’s waiting arms.  He hugged her and told her he was proud of her for following the rules when told about them, and apologized to her for not knowing she needed a wristband.

After that, they headed for the snack bar to get a little lunch.  Bugaboo opted for a slice of pizza and a small bottle of water, while Daddy had a hot dog and a big bottle of water.  Apparently, while Bugaboo was in the play zone, Daddy reacquainted himself with the joy of rollerblading, and had managed to work up quite a sweat.   Since Bugaboo was tired of skating and Daddy wasn’t sure how to get a wristband for the play zone, they decided to head out in search of further adventures once they’d eaten their lunches.  My husband asked our eldest what she would like to do next, and, without hesitation, she replied, “We could go to Toys ‘R’ Us and I could point out what I’d like for my birthday.”

That’s actually kind of a ritual around here.  While our kids don’t watch a lot of TV, they do watch enough that they see ads for lots of toys.  We’ve taken the time to explain to them that advertisements are designed to make people want to buy things, and that what you see on TV isn’t necessarily real.  I actually did a “proof of concept” them on this about a year ago — they saw an ad for those “Sham-Wow” things and thought they looked like a lot of fun, and since they kept insisting they HAD to have them, I ordered a set.  Reality quickly dawned on them, and they haven’t really trusted commercials since. If one of them sees a toy she thinks looks like fun, she’ll usually ask for a trip to the store to inspect it and see what it actually does.

Off to the toy store they went, Bugaboo explaining to Daddy that she understood no purchases would be made that day.  We now know what her little heart’s desires are, and, as usual, it’s an interesting mix, with everything from a Strawberry Shortcake scooter to an Optimus Prime helmet making the list.  After the toy store, father and daughter went to Wegmans to restock our milk supply, pick up a surprise for Mommy (the aforementioned sushi), and get a small container of macaroni and cheese for Bugaboo, who was hungry again.

The boys were still sacked when the traveling party came home, so after we had shared stories of our respective adventures, we decided to read stories to the girls with the Capitals game on, muted, in the background.  By the time the boys awoke, I had started dinner and Daddy, exhausted, was napping on the couch.  After a hearty dinner where everyone, including Baby Guy, had seconds of something (he is developing a serious addiction to spinach with ricotta), the ambulatory members of the tribe boiled out the back door for a post-meal romp in the back yard.  Baby Guy, in the meantime, decided to play tug with Smudgie (thankfully, he is the gentlest of giants), since Bo was on guard duty with the other three tiny people.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, in the very beginning of the book of Your love letters to us, we read of the vastness and majesty of Your creation.  Your blessings explored as many parts of it as possible today, from the sun and wind to the beasts and plants You created to feed us to the simple joy of a canine companion.  You called the little children to come to You, and we are trying to teach them that whenever they pause to greet another person, admire the brightness of a sunny day, or appreciate the taste of their food, they are approaching You with a prayer of thanksgiving for Your great bounty.  Thank you for these days of wonder You have granted us with Your blessings, and for allowing us to recall the simple faith and joy of our youth through their eyes.  Please help us teach them that when the world is too complex, returning to the simple things created by You brings us closer to each other and You, and You will fill our hearts with happiness when we love You and each other.