Archive | November 2012

Y-M-C-A


Here’s the song reference.

We joined our local YMCA over the summer, probably for the same reasons most families join the Y; there are a lot of fitness programs and a good gym available, and there’s a swimming pool.  Our Y also offers a huge variety of children’s activities and something that had always borne the potential for saving my sanity . . . a nursery where the youngest children can play while their parents have a swim or a workout.

Granted, I love my job; this is my third career, and it’s far and away the best.  It does not, however, come with breaks, and there are times when I need to be able to go for a run or a swim by myself, for reasons of both mental and physical health.  It’s also good to know that on days when the tribe’s friends are otherwise occupied, there’s always a place they can go to meet some new people and learn a new game or skill.

We had started our Y adventures with one of its greatest offerings, which is a physical education class for homeschoolers.  Unfortunately., the class meets during the heart of Mr. Man and Baby Guy’s naptimes, and after a month of disastrous attempts, we had to give up on that idea for this year.  There was also a contributing factor insofar as Beanie was actually invited not to return to the PE class; there is a certain maturity required of participants, and as wonderful a wee girl as she is, listening to instructions in a room full of sports equipment and children is not, shall we say, one of her strengths.  I’m not sure whether it was taking off her clothes because she felt too warm or scaling the bleachers and jumping from their top (repeatedly) that finally wore out her welcome, but the instructor who pulled me aside was most gentle in her recommendation that Beanie wait another year to join the class.  She is, after all, only four years old.

In addition to the PE problem, we had another, slightly more serious, challenge to enjoying our Y membership.  Mr. Man is a very devoted Mama’s boy, and he freaks out when he sees me walk away.  I love my babies, and part of my expression of that love is raising them to be secure and as independent as is appropriate for their ages.  That said, it half kills me to see them crying for a reason that is completely within my control.  My reluctance to deliberately undertake an action that I know will drive our oldest son into screaming hysterics is part of the reason that I don’t get breaks; we had a non-grandparent sitter for the first time ever (that’s five and one half years, if you’re interested) in late September.  Fortunately, Mr. Man has a toddler crush on the young lady who has become our favorite midget minder, and he’s happy to see her in any context.  Baby Guy tends to take his cues from Mr. Man; if big brother finds something upsetting, it must be awful and worthy of shrieks and tears, while if the older guy finds something (that does not result in a plaything being removed from the younger) enjoyable, it must be pretty cool.

That said, I tried to gentle the boys into their stays at Kids’ Corner, the genuinely delightful nursery at the Y.  Baby Guy was generally pretty happy to meander off and investigate all the cool toys and cooler tiny people, but Mr. Man resisted all efforts by what I can only describe as an incredibly talented and patient nursery staff to show him that KC is designed to be a place where the smallest people can desport themselves while their parents are catching their breath and their exercise.  Twenty minutes of hysterical screaming was all the staff and I could take; Mr. Man was actually audible all the way to both the pool and the gym, and Baby Guy toddled along behind him, wailing at a slightly lower volume and pitch.  That factored heavily into the tapering off of our visits to the Y.

Over the past month, we’ve been handling some sad circumstances within the near extended family, and our schedule has been, to an extent, turned upside down so that we can provide help when it’s needed and maximize the time we spend with the extended family in question.  Not every lesson comes from a book, and the tribe is, at the moment, getting a lesson in what love looks like when there are no shiny presents or exciting outings.  Frankly, I’d hoped to put that lesson off for a while longer.  However, the Lord has His own time for every person and every thing, so we’re changing the lesson plans accordingly.

Earlier in the week, Manie and I reviewed what we’d been doing with the tiny people, and what outlets we were providing for them to holler and run.  There are an increasing number of times and places where they can do neither, and we wanted to be sure that, no matter what else happens, they have the chance to play like the little kids they are.  We talked about the Y, and the Kids’ Gym program, and Kids’ Corner, and swimming lessons, and the Y membership that had been money unwell spent for a couple of months, and decided that it was time to try again, particularly in light of the increasing probability that Mr. Man and Baby Guy may have to spend some time with our lovely sitter in the coming months for logistical reasons.

We went on Wednesday morning, with Beanie and Bugaboo somewhat heroically volunteering to stay in Kids’ Corner with their little brothers instead of participating in the merry mayhem that is Kids’ Gym.  Perhaps, I thought, having his big sisters around will convince Mr. Man that Kids’ Corner is an okay place to be.  The staff remembered us, and greeted Mr. Man, very lovingly, by name.  After a round of hugs, kisses, and quick whispers of thanks for their kindness to the girls and the nursery staff, I headed for the adults’ gym to blow off some steam on a treadmill.

Twenty minutes later, I heard the page on the public address system.  I didn’t really need it, as I’d heard Mr. Man wailing the entire time.  After a quick stop in the locker room to retrieve my backpack, I scooted over to Kids’ Corner, where I was met by the empathetic smiles of the lovely ladies in the nursery and two purple-faced little boys.  Bugaboo and Beanie were cheerfully giving a “cooking” demonstration to a horde of giggling toddlers who were clustered around them by the play kitchen.

“Mama, please keep bringing them back. The little one was actually starting to have a snack until Mr. Man came over and hollered at him not to have a snack.”

“We’ll keep trying.  Thank you so much for your patience, and for your help.”

“It’s not a problem.  We’re here to help strengthen bodies, minds, and souls — yours and theirs.”

“I appreciate it.  It’s tough to teach this little dude that it’s okay for him to do things on his own, and that this is a safe place.”  I explained the family situation, and the need for Mr. Man to be able to cope when Mommy has to be somewhere else.

“We’re glad to help.  We’ll try for 25 minutes tomorrow.  Sooner or later, he’ll figure out that you always come back.  I’m glad we could give you a break, and I’ll pray for your family.”

I bundled the tribe into their coats, spent a few minutes in the hall drying tears and hugging little blessings, two of whom were somewhat distraught over having to leave off their playing, then brought the brood home.

Yesterday morning, Bugaboo and Beanie marched into the kitchen and declared that they would like to go back to the Y.  I agreed this would be a good idea, and asked them both to go to the more age-appropriate Kids’ Gym instead of the nursery.  Both girls readily agreed.  Mr. Man and Baby Guy awoke shortly thereafter, and I advised them that after the girls finished their core schoolwork for the day, we would be headed thither.  Mr. Man eyed me warily, and, thinking quickly, I advised him that he could take a couple of Zizi’s cookies for a snack.  That suggestion earned me a cautious smile.

The girls and I dropped off Baby Guy and Mr. Man — who declined to remove his coat and clung desperately to his blankie as he cried — then headed back to the gymnasium where Kids’ Gym was in full swing.  It was Tricycle Thursday, and the instructor barely had time to clap identification stickers on the girls before they took off at full speed.  I laughed as I signed them in, then, with a little sigh, headed down the hallway to drop my backpack in the locker room.

About ten feet down the hallway, I realized that all I heard was the normal ambient noise of the Y, devoid of traumatized screams.

I stowed my backpack and came back out in the hallway, headed for the weight room.

There was still no screaming.

I ran five miles on the treadmill and read about fifty pages of Butler’s Lives of the Saints over the course of the next hour, jumping a little every time an announcement came over the public address system.  There were no calls asking me to come to the nursery.

After I changed clothes and re-packed the bag, I headed back out into the hallway, ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in nine years, and proceeded to have a fifteen minute conversation that ended with a promise to meet regularly in the weight room– and arrange for our husbands to do likewise in the evenings.

Still no page over the public address system.

I walked down to the gymnasium to retrieve the girls, who were cheerfully drag racing trikes across the room.  Beanie was quite vocal in her desire to remain in the gym riding all the nifty bikes, and was only grudgingly pacified by my promise that she could return the next day to play some more.  She still felt a need to inform me, as we walked towards the nursery, that I had “ruined all the fun.”  No, I don’t worry about her having any difficulty developing independence.

As we rounded the last bend in the hallway, I heard my name on the PA.  I smiled and waved at the friendly lady who stood by the door, and we shared a laugh at the “rapid response.”

“Mr. Man has been having a good time today, but we think he might be stinky.  He won’t let us get close enough to check, though.”

“That’s fine, we were getting ready to leave anyway.  I see he’s ready to go.”  Mr. Man was wearing his coat, zipped up to his chin.

“You know, he was so sweet and so cute about that.  Every few minutes, one of us would ask him if he was ready to take his coat off, and he just shook his head and said, “No thank you,” just as nice as you please.  He has beautiful manners for such a little boy.”

Talk about a way to make my mother’s heart sing.  “Thank you so much.  Where’s Baby Guy?”

“He’s over at the table having a snack.  Some of the other kids went over there to have goldfish, and he followed them over and sat right down in a chair, happy as could be, and said, “cracker cookie cracker.”  He decided to have one of his cookies and a couple of goldfish.  Mr. Man had a cookie, too.”

“You guys are miracle workers.  Thank you so much.”  That last was said over an impatient wail from Mr. Man and a wail of protest from Baby Guy, who was most displeased at being picked up from the snack table.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings to love, and who love us back just as fiercely.  Help us teach them it is good to explore the world beyond our family’s back yards, and that wherever they go, there are friends to meet, love to share, and joy in which to revel; grant that we may show them that exploring and enjoying the wonders of Your world and Your people are a prayer of thanksgiving to You, and that You will guide and protect them wherever they go.  Thank You for the kindness of the ladies at the YMCA, and for the Y itself, for the means to purchase a membership there and a van that can carry our family there, so that we may strengthen the bodies with which You have blessed us.  Please help us remember to pray for those whom You have blessed differently, and to seek out ways in which we can be Your face to them.

Cat’s on the jammies and she lifts the gloom


Here’s the song reference.

Beanie is a devoted fan of Hello Kitty.  She’s been in a bit of a funk lately, and while part of the reason for it is completely beyond our control, it hasn’t stopped Manie and I from making a concerted effort to jolly her out of it.

When I opened my pajama drawer on Tuesday night, my Hello Kitty pajamas (a gift from Beanie via the good offices of Grandpa) stared sweetly up at me.  I grinned, and decided to put them on so when Beanie shambled into the kitchen Wednesday morning, the first thing that would meet her bleary eyes would be Hello Kitty.  That, I thought, would at least start her morning on a high note.

Sure enough, she stumbled into the kitchen and flumped against me for hugs and kisses, then leaned back and surveyed my attire.  A tiny smile twinkled around her little mouth as she carefully beeped the nose of each little kitty face.

“You’re wearing Hello Kitty.  She’s happy to be snuggling you.”

“She looks that way, doesn’t she?  I thought maybe seeing Hello Kitty first thing in the morning might make your morning a happier place.”

“It does.  I love Hello Kitty.  She’s nice to everybody.  You’re a nice Mommy.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who see and rejoice in small acts of kindness.  Help me remember that a moment of kindness can soften a heart and make a person, old or young, more ready to welcome You.  As we enter the season of Advent, please bless us with the grace to recognize the needs of little hearts and souls that are far more important than their wish lists of toys.  Help me listen for and understand the many ways in which Your blessings tell me of their need for comforting.

In the morning when we rise


Here’s the song reference.

The girls are generally up before the boys in the morning, which works out well from a homeschooling perspective.  By the time Mr. Man and Baby Guy rise from slumber, Bugaboo and Beanie have eaten breakfast, dressed, performed their morning ablutions, and are back in the kitchen working on whatever seatwork is in the lesson plans for the day.  I usually read to them while the girls work and the boys eat.

Yesterday, Mr. Man managed to unearth one of his favorite books, which had been missing for some time and which I had frankly despaired of finding.  I’m not sure where he had it cached, but it’s not the first time he’s managed to stash something in a place known only to him.  The volume in question is The Cheerios Counting Book.

Mr. Man was quite the Cheerios enthusiast when he was first eating solid food, as were his brother and his sisters.  Their love for actually eating the cereal has waned as the months and years have passed, but the sight of the bright yellow boxes on a grocery store shelf still makes all of them smile and clap.  Yesterday, as it happened, I had not a single Cheerio in the house when Mr. Man arrived in the kitchen, trailing his book and looking for breakfast.

“Mama, you read Cheewio book now, pwease?”

“Let’s get you and Baby Guy some breakfast first.”  The littlest guy was already banging the tray in his booster and becoming increasingly impatient with the non-appearance of a waffle or banana.  “I have waffles for both of you, and we have a couple of bananas left, too.”

“No, I can’t want waffle today.  I wanna yogut.”

Beanie smiled at her little brother over the rim of the cup of yogurt she was savoring while she did her math assignment.  “I’m not sharing my yogurt with Mr. Man.  I don’t want brother germs in my food.”

“Beanie, you don’t have to share your yogurt, but that was an unkind thing to say.  Okay, Mr. Man, yogurt you shall have.  Climb up in a chair while I cut up Baby Guy’s waffle for him.”

“I wanna waffle wif my yogut.”

“What’s the magic word?”

“Pwease.”

“Okay then, coming right up.”

I took a moment, once both boys were settled in with their breakfasts, to savor the sight of our kitchen in the morning, with four little blessings seated around a kitchen table that once seemed large, learning their lessons from books, from us, and from each other.  It may not be peaceful, or even quiet, or laden with fabulous goods and awe-inspiring travel, but I would not trade a morning in our kitchen for the world.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for another morning where all of us awoke from our slumbers and were blessed with sound bodies and minds.  Thank You for the kitchen table around which we all gather daily, and for the food we have to share upon it.  We begin each of our days by praising You, Lord, and asking You to guide us through whatever Your new day has in store for us.  Please remind us to greet each sunrise with joy and to praise Your goodness by taking the time to savor each moment You give us, and to pray constantly for those whose downcast eyes do not see the glory of Your dawn.

Cookie, cookie, cookie


Here’s the song reference.

Zizi Carmela was in town over the weekend, along with several other members of Nonno’s side of the extended family, to celebrate a second Thanksgiving and visit with all of us here in Virginia.  It always brings us joy to see her, and it seems to bring her an equal amount of joy to see all the tiny people and how they’ve grown since her last visit.  We’re optimistic that, in the spring or summer, we’ll finally be able to pack up the tribe and take the whole crew up to visit her.

Whenever Zizi visits, she always, always, always brings homemade biscotti, in quantities that are staggering and warmly welcomed. In her lexicon, these are simply known as “cookies,” and her explanation for their bountiful appearance is that kids need some good cookies to grow up big and strong and to know that Zizi loves them.  If you haven’t guessed this already, we simply adore her.

Given all the time we spent at Nonno and Deedaw’s over the long holiday weekend, I had a daunting to-do list staring me in the face yesterday morning.  The morning’s marvel of mercy was that the tribe woke up singly, which gave me the opportunity to greet each tiny person individually and ensure that each one of them had something desirable and halfway healthy for breakfast.  Mr. Man was the last child to rise, and as soon as he exploded into the kitchen in search of food, he spied the box of cookies.

“I have cookie for bweakfast, pwease?”

“No, no cookie for breakfast. How about some yogurt?”

“No, I can’t want yoguht.  I want sit Daddy’s chair an’ have cookie for bweakfast.”

Right about then, Baby Guy, having heard one of the magic words, entered the kitchen with the pounding stagger-run that indicates he is terribly excited about something.  His vocabulary is not particularly large, but he’s very good at uttering those words that describe things that qualify as urgent priorities for him.

“Cookie?”

The girls caromed into the kitchen.  “Are there cookies, Mommy?”

I sighed.  “Yes, there are cookies.  Zizi Carmela brought us a big box of them.  She made them herself so you would remember she loves you even when she’s not here.”

I should point out that the box of cookies was, quite literally, a three-pound garden salad container.  That is a LOT of biscotti.

There are moments when I simply surrender to the likelihood of joyful noise and multiple tooth-brushings in a morning.  This was one of them.

“Okay, everyone into their chairs.  Let’s have cookies and thank God for Zizi Carmela.”

Three pairs of feet did not hit the floor between the kitchen doorway and their chairs.  The fourth pair of feet stomped bow-leggedly over to the booster chair and complained loudly until the toddler who owns them was placed therein and his tray secured.  I opened the cookie box, grabbed one for myself, then stood back and watched the merry chaos of four small children exulting in their great-aunt’s baking.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for granting so many members of our extended family length of years, such length as made it possible for Your little blessings to know them and learn from them.  Please help me recognize those little moments when we can bask in their little acts of love for us, and celebrate them with abandon instead of worrying about whether the time is right.

Purple rain


Here’s the song reference.

Beanie is an adventurous eater.  She was the first one to try sushi with actual raw fish, the first one to determine that not sauce is not necessarily a bad thing, the first one to decide that grapefruit is a foodstuff and not a projectile.  One of her favorite things about the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the availability of what is affectionately known as “cranberry goo,” the canned, jellied cranberry sauce that can be cut into slices.  She and Manie share a predilection for the purple stuff, but Beanie’s love for it approaches mania status.

Since we celebrated Thanksgiving at Nonno and Deedaw’s this year, the cranberry goo stayed at our house; Grandma makes a cranberry-orange relish from scratch that is one of Deedaw’s favorite things, and since she generously made two quarts of it to share, we took that in lieu of the tin can.  While yesterday’s breakfast biscuits were baking, I rummaged through the fridge for leftovers that could be eaten with biscuits; tucked neatly between the turkey and the ham stood the beloved can.  Biscuits were therefore served with a platter bearing sliced ham, sliced turkey, butter, and thick, purple slices of cranberry sauce.

Having smelled biscuits, Bugaboo had been lingering in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the moment when they were declared cool enough to eat.  Beanie, who is not a fan of staches of any kind, was busy in the girls’ room making a corral for her ponies out of a toy baby cradle and string.  When we called the girls to the breakfast table, Bugaboo assumed her seat before the word “breakfast” had cleared my lips, while Beanie did the slow amble down the hallway that is her standard wordless commentary on meals she doesn’t expect to enjoy.

I exhorted her, “Come on, Beanie, there’s a special surprise on the table for you.”

That, at least, got her feet moving a little faster.  She didn’t look up at the table until she got to her seat, and the first thing she spied was the stick of butter.  Beanie LOVES butter.

“You’re going to let me eat the butter?”

“Um, not so much, but you can have some on a biscuit if you want.  Look again.”

“CRANBERRY GOO JELLO!”

She started bouncing in her chair with such abandon that I thought she might either tip it over sideways or punch a hole in the kitchen floor with it.  Laughing, I cubed a couple of slices onto her plate.  She built little forts and box trains with the cubic jewels  of cranberry goo as she ate them, narrating as she went.  When Baby Guy came to the table a few minutes later, she generously offered him a chunk.  He smiled warily at her (Beanie’s gifts have been known to be less than wonderful to Baby Guy’s way of thinking), then took a little nibble.  Seconds later, he was lurching forward in his booster chair in an attempt to grab the rest of the reddish-purple circles.

“Look, Mommy.  Baby Guy likes cranberry goo jello, too.  Can we get some more?”

“I think maybe Santa needs to leave a case of it under our Christmas tree.”

“DO YOU THINK HE COULD REALLY DO THAT?!?!?!?”

I think a phone call to our local grocer is in order.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the abundant food with which you have blessed us.  Our pantry and refrigerator are full, with enough to share with those whom You have blessed differently.  Thank You for the endless variety of edible berries You created, which so delight Your blessings and us all year, for the bees and birds which pollinate them, for the rich earth that nourishes them, for the farmers that grow and tend them, for the people who work in the stores where we buy them.  Thank You for little blessings who tend our berries in the summer, and for their nimble hands and eyes that so deftly distinguish the good fruit from the bad.  Please help me teach Your blessings that all good gifts from You touch more lives than we can see, to give thanks to You for the uniqueness of each berry and each person, and to share the harvests You give with all those who need them — and thank You, Lord, for little blessings who see the blessing in a small thing like a can of jellied cranberry sauce.

If I had a photograph of you


Here’s the song reference.

Because pictures of the tiny people make distant relatives smile, we make an annual trip to a local portrait studio to have professional photographs of our tribe made.  We have been patronizing the same company since Bugaboo was a year old, which means that when I call and request the earliest possible appointment, the kind people who work there remember our name and accommodate us, sometimes to the point of creating an appointment slot before the studio is technically open.  Those of you who have ever cooled your heels waiting for any practitioner of any discipline who has fallen behind schedule, while trying to maintain order among four very young children, understand what a tremendous kindness this is.

Manie made the loving sacrifice of rousing Mr. Man and Baby Guy, neither of whom are cheerful early risers, out of their cribs and upstairs while I showered; by the time he left for work, the girls were getting washed up and dressed, and the boys were arguing with their waffles over whether or not the hour was too early for breakfast, much less anything even remotely approximating civilized behavior.  Mind you, they were not arguing with each other using the waffles as weapons; they were actually arguing with the waffles.  Mr. Man, in particular, informed his breakfast in no uncertain terms that he did not like it, or the fork he had been given with which to eat it, or the plate on which it awaited his eating pleasure, or the morning generally.

In a testament to the power of a mother’s prayer, we were all in the van by 8 a.m., and the tiny people were actually in a photogenic state insofar as their hair and attire were concerned.  Mr. Man’s face, however, somewhat resembled a constipated thundercloud, and he continued to voice his displeasure with all things morning for the entire fifteen minute ride to the photographer’s.  When he saw me unloading the stroller (which does multiple duties as a portable coat rack/shoe holder/sippy cup repository/sliding door), he redoubled the pitch, volume, and tempo of his complaints.

For non-regular readers of this blog, Mr. Man is two years old.  Some stereotypes are justified.

In any event, I suppose the two gentlemen who were awaiting the emergence of two ladies from the nearby Yankee Candle store really couldn’t help but notice the commotion emanating from the general area of our van, but the girls and I thanked them profusely when they came over and held the door to the studio for us and wished God’s blessings upon us.  Baby Guy, fully awake by then, favored them with a broad grin and a giggle from his perch in the back seat of the stroller.  One of the gentlemen even took the moment to tell me that while he had seen me press the button to lock the van, he had not heard the horn beep.  As it happened, I had pressed the wrong button and the van was not locked.

Once the tribe was safely inside the studio, the young lady who was staffing the front desk greeted me with a bright smile and thanked us for coming back and for the business of several friends we’d referred there over the past year, then took the time to great each of the tiny people and compliment each of them — she praised Bugaboo’s calm, Beanie’s shining hair, Baby Guy’s smile, and Mr. Man’s Spider-Man sneakers.  Mr. Man, still in full roar, received a few sharp words from me after he returned the lady’s compliment by shrieking at her that those were HIS Spidey sneakies, she could NOT have them, he would NOT take them off . . . you get the idea.

At precisely the time fixed for our appointment, the photographer and her assistant waved us into the Christmas-themed room I’d requested for the annual photo shoot.  You may be wondering why, at this point, I did not simply reschedule for another day or time, and the reason’s actually fairly simple – grandparents wat the pictures early so they can have the pride of having THEIR grandbabies’ pictures be the first ones to arrive in the mailboxes of friends and family.  If we can make our parents happy by a minor inconvenience to ourselves, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice of time and sanity.

As we paraded back to the room, with its gaily decorated tree and backdrop, I was shucking coats off kids and plying the hairbrush.  It will come as no surprise to any of you that Mr. Man also did not want to part with his parka, and was nearly inconsolable when said parka was tucked neatly into the cargo compartment beneath the stroller.  I will be forever grateful for the sympathetic smiles bestowed upon me by every other patron and the entire staff of the studio as we made our way back, as I alternated between issuing instructions and reassurances to the tribe and apologies and thanks to every other human being in the place.

Mr. Man, of course, was in no mood to cooperate with the photographer and her assistant, who conferred quickly with me about how we should proceed.  Our consensus was that if we could get all four kids into something approximating a photographable configuration, she would simply start shooting so we wouldn’t miss the “one good shot” that this particular studio always manages to obtain.  Not wanting to sound like a drill sergeant in the studio, I started out attempting every bit of calm and soothing cajolery I could muster to obtain Mr. Man’s cooperation, or at least get him to stop doing his best banshee imitation.  In the end, however, I reduced the studio to silence when I had to break out THE MOMMY VOICE so as not to be “that family” that made the whole studio run behind schedule.

“Now look, Mr. Man.  I have given you back your Spidey sneakies.  You have had hugs and kisses and songs.  I’ve used the nice voice and the nice words you like, but enough is enough.  You WILL sit in that chair, you WILL smile for the nice lady, you WILL stop screaming, and you WILL say, “I’m sorry Ma’am” to the nice ladies.  NOW!”

One little bum hit the seat of one little chair with alacrity, and two tear-swollen brown eyes looked pathetically at the photographer and her assistant, both of whom seemed to have developed sudden, but mild, cases of bronchitis.  Our corner of the studio was sufficiently quiet at that point that, although he whispered it, Mr. Man’s quavering, “I’m sorry, ma’am,” was clearly audible.

As we waited for the images to load onto the studio computer, I commended all four of the tiny people, some more richly than others, on following the photographer’s instructions and on their patience in waiting.  Snacks and cups of milk were passed around to refresh my weary little crew, and I tried not to make eye contact with the other patrons who were awaiting their turns in the studio, being somewhat embarrassed by both Mr. Man’s conduct and my own eventual raised voice.  My attempt was unsuccessful.  Nearly every person in the place made it a point to come over and offer a little kindness, or sympathy, or compliment.  The volume of small acts of compassion nearly overwhelmed me.  A gentleman retrieved the sippy cup Baby Guy playfully hurled in the direction of the changing rooms, an elderly lady came over to pat me gently on the shoulder and tell me that when her own quartet was small, she required at least eight adults to keep them in order for photographs, a teenaged boy picked up Bugaboo’s coat that had fallen on the floor as I was attempting to pass shoes and outerwear to their owners, and gently helped her on with it.  The sales lady, when she sat down with us, told me that she remembered me, and instead of delivering the lengthy spiel about the available portrait packages, simply asked which kinds of pictures I wanted more of and which kinds less, and laughed with me over the outrageous faces Mr. Man was making in the majority of the shots.  Five minutes later, I’d made the relevant selections and was headed for the front desk to pay for this year’s portraits, where a young man with a calm voice and a patient smile took my card and advised me that the pictures should be ready in about half an hour.

That seemed like a reasonable time frame, so I piled the tribe into the van and headed across the way to Chick-Fil-A for a bit of brunch for all of us.  After some miniature chicken biscuits and hash browns, we returned to the studio.  The front desk lady saw me pulling in and ran out to the parking lot to meet me, a slightly panicked look on her face.

“I am SO sorry.  Our printer has broken, and your pictures aren’t ready.  I don’t know when the repairman will be here.  I’m SO sorry, I know you need to get these to people out-of-town, and I promise I will call you as soon as I get a call back from the repairman and find out when the machine will be fixed.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Really, things break sometimes.  It’s okay.  Just call me when they’re ready.”

I thought she was going to cry.  “Oh, my God, thank you so much for being so patient.  Thank you for understanding.”

“Hey, I should be thanking you again for being so patient and understanding with my crew here.  We certainly gave your morning a crazy start.  I’m going to be running around a bit today, so I’ll give you a call this afternoon to check in.  Don’t worry about us, we’ll still be back.  Technology breakdowns happen, right?”

“Right.  Thank you so much for being so patient and, and, and so NICE about it!”

“No problem.  I hope they get to you soon and that everyone else is nice to you today, too.”

We exchanged waves as I re-started the van, the girls adding their own waves from the back and Baby Guy crowing a cheery, “Ciao!” at his recent peek-a-boo buddy as we drove away.

Unsurprisingly, all five of us took early and long naps.  For the record, the printer was still not fixed as of 6 p.m. yesterday, and that’s still okay.

Later in the afternoon, I was talking on the phone with Manie, who had called to let me know his boss  had decided to shut up shop a couple of hours early to give the staff some extra time to spend with family and friends.  As we talked, I walked up the hill to unload a few items from the van that I’d forgotten to bring in Thanksgiving night, since I would need the passenger seat for my wonderful husband’s derriere when we headed over to Nonno and Deedaw’s upon his return.  I had just opened the door when a FedEx Ground truck pulled up at the end of our driveway, and a gentleman emerged bearing a very large and cumbersome box containing a play kitchen that will be a Christmas gift for the entire tribe to enjoy together.  The delivery man smiled, waved, and waited for me to finish my conversation.

“You need a hand with those bags, miss?  They look a little heavy.”

“No, thank you, I’ve got this.  Would you mind bringing that box down the hill and putting it by the front door, though?  I don’t think I can wrangle that and these bags down the hill at the same time.”

“No trouble at all.”  He looked up, saw two little girls peeping out the front window, and quickly hid the picture side of the box behind the open passenger door. “Tell you what, you want to run those bags in and shut those blinds so Santa doesn’t get his surprise ruined?”

“Are you sure you don’t mind waiting?”

“No, I don’t mind at all.  I’ve got kids too.  I know how it goes.”

Wow.  “Thank you so much!  I’ll be right back!”

I sprinted up the stairs with the bags, quickly turned the television on to Sprout, and drew the shades before running back outside, calling strict instructions to stay away from the windows to children who were already happily absorbed in “Super Why.”

The delivery man was still hiding the box behind the van door, and he smiled at me when I ran back up the hill.  “No rush, ma’am, really.  Where do you want me to put this?  I can put it behind your fence so the kids won’t see it if you don’t want to put it on your front porch right now.”

“No, that’s very kind of you to offer, but the front porch is fine.  I can cover it up before they see it, and my husband will be home in a few minutes.  He’ll stash it in our secret alcove.”

He laughed.  “Yeah, I think everyone who has kids has one of those spots.  Just so you know, there’s pictures on all four sides.”

“Thanks for the warning,” I chuckled back.  “I think I’ll grab some paper and tape and do a quick front porch wrapping job.”

“Sure you don’t need a hand?”

“No, I’ve held you up long enough.  I know you guys are busy this time of year.”

“Yeah, that’s true.  I try not to get too busy to remember that other people are busy too, though.”

“God bless you, sir.  Thank you for all your help and your kindness.  I hope it all comes back to you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You have a merry Christmas, now.”

And with that, he lumbered back up the hill to his truck and sped off.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for showing me Your face in the eyes of so many strangers today.  At every moment when I needed a reminder of what love looks like, You put one in my path and opened my eyes to see him or her.  Thank You for the guest instructors who taught Your blessings so beautifully today how You call us to share Your hospitality and Your gifts with one another, and who reminded me that even in their most trying moments, Your blessings are exactly that.

We are family


Here’s the song reference.

We gathered at Nonno and Deedaw’s for Thanksgiving yesterday; the girls came over with me early in the morning to handle turkey detail, and the boys followed, after their naps, with Manie.  Niece and Nephew arrived with Frank and Megan just before lunchtime, at almost the exact moment Bugaboo and Beanie tired of watching the parade.

After a day of crafts, stories, outdoor hijinks, and the smells of everyone’s favorite foods wafting through the house, we settled in at the dining room table for a ridiculously large meal, which Deedaw would have expanded further had there not been a near-unanimous revolt from our generation.  Once we had calmed the smallest five hungry people with plates of food, we went around the table, offering those things for which we wished to thank our bountiful and merciful Lord.

I could reprint them all here, but the common thread among all eleven of us who gave voice to our gratitude was family.  We have traveled a difficult and contentious road together, and this is the first time in ten years that all of us have gathered around Nonno and Deedaw’s table for Thanksgiving.  It is quite likely that the same dozen will not be around the table next Thanksgiving, because one will be feasting at a Heavenely table instead.

Not all the food the Lord provides is for the stomach.  Peace be with you.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the grace You poured out into the hearts of our family yesterday, for a day of love and fellowship, of joy and forgiveness.  Thank You for the joy of three generations breaking bread and celebrating Your bounty together.  Please help us teach Your blessings that You feed all our hungers, but we must reach out our own hands to take what You give us.

I want you to want me


Here’s the song reference.

In addition to being our resident daredevil, Beanie is also our resident philosopher in training.  This stands to reason somewhat; Manie has a degree in philosophy, and there are more than a few conversations around our house of an abstract bent.  At any rate, yesterday was something of a whirlwind of bread-baking and phone calls, with the unfortunate effect that the tribe spent a little more time watching TV and being shooed outside to play than usual.

During one of the few moments when I sat on the couch to relax and regroup, Beanie climbed up onto the couch and snuggled up next to me, then looked up at me with her wide, serious, brown eyes.  “Mommy?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Did you want me?”

“Even before I knew you, I wanted you.  Daddy and I both wanted all of you, and we’re very grateful that all of you are here.”

“Did you want to have a daughter just like me?”

“You mean one who is smart and imaginative and full of energy and beautiful?  You bet.”

“I’m glad.  That makes me happy.  I love you, Mommy.  I’m glad God gave me you for a Mommy and not somebody else.  Am I yours?”

“Yes, and I’m yours.  I love you, too, Beanie.  You’re awesome.”

I hugged her tightly and kissed her before she squirmed free to chase the last of the falling leaves out back.

Today’s prayer:  Thank You, Lord, for Beanie and Bugaboo, for Baby Guy and Mr. Man, for the love with which they shower us in spite of our many failings as parents and people.  Please keep always in my heart that in order to show them Your face, I should always welcome them and not hinder them, and make sure that no loaf of bread takes priority over them.  Help me find ways to include them in complicated tasks on hectic days and remind me that every day with them is a gift from You.  Remind us to give thanks to You always for the gift of our family.

They are the dancing queens


Here’s the song reference.

After the great grocery caper yesterday morning, we passed most of the day either reading stories together or with the kids catching a little extra TV time while I caught up on phone calls, bills, and organizing the kitchen for a pumpkin pie baking marathon with my husband.  Once we had nestled the boys snugly into their beds, Manie and I gently advised the girls that for the next half hour or so, they needed to pick up the disaster area they call a room while he and I ate dinner and talked over some of the news of the day, and that if they finished, they could play quietly until we came to join them.

It actually worked reasonably well.  We had one minor interruption to our dinner conversation when Beanie sashayed into the kitchen to announced that she and Bugaboo had been practicing their dances and were ready to show them to us.  Both of us grinned, and sent her back to her room to play with a promise that as soon as the last bite of sausage and peppers had been consumed, we would be in to marvel at their artistry.

Once we had talked through all the things that absolutely could not wait, we stacked the dishes in the sink for later washing and trooped down the hall to fulfill the much more entertaining duty of serving as the audience for the world’s smallest dance troupe.  The girls, clad in the most billow-skirted nightgowns they could scrounge from their dresses, were waiting and whispering, and their faces glowed with happiness when we arranged ourselves on their bedroom floor to observe their performance without impeding their movement.

Beanie chirruped, “Okay, are you ready for your dances now?”

“You betcha.  We were so excited we hurried through dinner so we wouldn’t miss a minute.”

That was all the invitation and encouragement Beanie and Bugaboo needed.  For the next fifteen minutes, our little sylphs capered and pirouetted, leaped and swayed around their room, sometimes pausing momentarily to meet my gaze or Manie’s and exchange smiles, or to bow for around of applause.  Beanie danced a circle of jumps and spins around Bugaboo, and Bugaboo tried not to trip her as she spun in the middle of Beanie’s circular route.  They were so gloriously gleeful that we let them go on for several minutes past their bedtime, as we basked in their radiant happiness and they soaked up the joy they brought us at day’s end.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who greet nearly all of the days You grant us with singing and dancing.  Please help us all remember that even on days that groan under the weight of earthly cares, we can rejoice in Your steadfast love for us, and grow in us the faith that while there may be moments we spend mourning and weeping, You promise us an eternity of joy by Your side if we follow You.  Remind me, when a day seems impossible full of cares and tasks, to take the moment to sing and dance in thanksgiving for Your boundless blessings.

Push it


Here’s the song reference.

This is a rare intermediate post, but we had an adventure in grocery shopping that I thought I would share on the blog as well as with Facebook.

Should you be in need of a practical method of strength training, I humbly offer the following:  Secure four children, weighing a total of at least 130 pounds, into a bench-seat cart at Wegmans, then proceed to push said cart (which itself weight about 40 pounds, I’d guess) up and down every aisle of the store while adding groceries thereto, until another 100 pounds or so has been added.  I should point out that these carts corner poorly, necessitating the actual lifting of the back end of the cart (which holds the aforementioned midget mob) to facilitate a pivot on a single front wheel of the conveyance.  Proceed through a checkout line with the now-laden cart, unload it with one hand while intervening in several fisticuff incidents, then push it a couple hundred yards across a parking lot and unload again.  Remember to put the children in the car.

I guarantee you will discover muscles in your back, legs, and shoulders of which you had been previously unaware.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for blessing me with a strong body.  Please keep me mindful that I should include taking proper care of that body as part of my thanks to You for it, and that I must teach Your blessings to do likewise.