Carry me back, carry me back, carry me back

Here’s the song reference.

Mr. Man has realized that the big upside to having an open sided bed is that he can get up and wander out of his room if he’s so inclined.  At nap time yesterday, he again crept up the stairs with his blankies to snuggle up with me on the couch, and proceeded to sleep so deeply that even his sisters’ fairly animated discussion about whose art supply box was whose failed to rouse him.

Last night, at bedtime, I snuggled Baby Guy into his crib, then turned so I could pick up Mr. Man and tuck him into his blankies.  Much to my surprise, he was already sitting in his bed, blankies in a pile at his feet.  While I was a little sad to see that he no longer wanted to be carried and swung into his bed, I figured that this was another one of those growing up things, and perhaps even one of those differences between boys and girls (Bugaboo and Beanie STILL like to be carried to their beds), so I smoothed his blankets over him, ruffled his hair, kissed him goodnight, and headed upstairs to watch “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” with Beanie.

I had no sooner settled down with Beanie than I heard first the boys’ door, then the family room door open, followed by the sound of the Christmas carols one set of our Christmas tree lights plays.  Mr. Man loves lights and switches, and the tree is an endless source of fascination for him, especially since we have strings of lights that change their flash pattern at intervals.  Down the stairs I went, and, sure enough, there sat Mr. Man on the big beanbag chair, munching pumpkin seeds from the bowl I’d absent-mindedly left on the desk and staring at the lights.  After I smiled and shook my head, I admonished, “Okay, buddy, it’s time to go to sleep now.  Put the pumpkin seeds down, swallow what you have in your mouth, and go back to bed, please.”

Still chewing, he wandered back into his room and closed the door.  I retrieved the bowl of pumpkin seeds, turned off the tree lights, and locked the family room door behind me, so that the entire house would not be awakened in the wee hours of the morning if Mr. Man awoke bored. I settled back in with Beanie, who was riveted by the introduction to “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”  Our whole family loves that one, and everyone but Baby Guy sings along with the Miser Brothers (if you’ve never seen it, you should grab a sandwich and click the link; the video runs about 50 minutes).

This time, Mr. Man came upstairs, without his blankies. Sighing, I told him he could watch the show with us until Daddy and Bugaboo came home from fencing practice, but only if he sat quietly on the couch.  He cuddled up between Beanie and I, stuck his thumb in his mouth, and stared wearily at the television for about two minutes.  After finding that none of his favorite characters appeared in the movie, he slid off the couch and meandered into the kitchen, looking for something to do or something to eat.

“Uh-uh, Mr. Man — the deal was that you could sit on the couch and watch the movie with us, or you’d have to go back to bed.  What’s it going to be, big guy?”

Beanie chimed in, “I think he should go back to bed.”  Beanie zealously guards her Monday night hour of “mommy all to herself” time.

“I can’t want watch that movie.  I want watch Thomas.”

“Sorry, Mr. Man, no Thomas.  It’s past your bedtime.  This is a special movie that only comes on near Christmas, so I’ll let you stay up late if you want to watch it, but I’m not putting on a Thomas movie for you.”

“I go bed.  I wanna sleep.”

“Okay, buddy.  Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I go bed all by self.” With that, he slowly padded down the stairs.

“Okay, Mr. Man.  I love you.”

Those of you who have spent time in a house with a small person who has just been released from the confines of a crib will be utterly unsurprised that this sequence played out four more times over the next twenty minutes.  When Manie and Bugaboo came home, they were greeted by a grinning Mr. Man.  His grin dimmed a little bit when Daddy also sent him back to his cozy bed, albeit with lots of hugs and kisses and plenty of praise for his big achievement of the day (going pee-pee in the potty — maybe we’re on the road to only having one in diapers!).

After the show ended, we tucked the girls into their beds.  They took a cue from Mr. Man’s antics and came back into the living room a few times each, so for about half an hour, Manie and my conversation was punctuated by regular interjections of “Back to bed, Bugaboo/Beanie/Mr.Man!”  After we had finished our dinner and Bo and Smudgie had finished theirs, I headed downstairs to let the dogs out.  I thought I heard the boys’ door crack open as I passed by, but, seeing no sleepy face, I kept going.

When I came back inside, I definitely heard the door opening, even over the minor thunder of the dogs’ paws on the stairs.  When I turned, I saw Mr. Man peering sadly around the edge.  “What’s up, sweetheart? It’s almost ten o’clock, and you really should be asleep.”

He stretched his slender arms towards me and whispered, with his lower lip trembling, “Mama carry me?”

You bet, big man.  We didn’t hear another peep out of him after that.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the healthy arms of Your little blessings, that wind around our necks, and for their healthy little legs that carry them to us whenever they are exultant, excited, trepidatious, or sad.  Thank You for their range of emotions and their constant desire to share their discoveries and their love with us.  Please help me remember how frightening change can be for small children, and help me reassure them that even though a piece of furniture has changed, they are still safe and secure under our protection and Yours.  Please grant us the grace to teach them to discern which changes are necessary and beneficial and which are simply passing fancies with destructive consequences, Lord, and to welcome the former with joy and the latter with Your wisdom.

No crib for a bed

Here’s the song reference.

While I was cooking breakfast yesterday morning, Manie went downstairs to spring the boys from their cribs.  We’ve known for some time that Mr. Man is able to climb out of his when he’s so inclined, because morning’s light (as well as post-afternoon-nap’s light) often reveals an assortment of toys and books in his crib that he could not have procured without an escape.  Because of this, we’ve been saying to each other for a couple of months that we really need to get around to converting his crib into a big-guy bed.  However, out of consideration for Baby Guy, with whom Mr. Man shares a room, we kept coming up with excellent reasons to let our elder son sleep in a crib for just a little while longer.

I could hear Manie’s laugh and his attempted admonition over the crackling of the bacon in the big skillet, and wondered what mischief has been wrought on this particular Sabbath morning.  A few minutes later, as I was scooping the last omelet onto its waiting plate, Manie and the boys arrived in the kitchen, Manie still grinning broadly as he informed me that Mr. Man was now the proud owner of a big-guy bed.  You see, among Mr. Man’s many talents is an uncanny ability to loosen and remove almost any bolt or screw without the assistance of what adults recognize as tools.  He is also a master at hiding whatever fastener he’s removed in such a manner as to render it invisible to adult eyes, and he had done exactly that with one of the bolts that attached the outer side of his crib.  Bowing to necessity, Manie good-humoredly converted the crib, and we had a good laugh over having our hand forced to do something we should have done months ago.

Big guy bed

Around noon, Manie and Bugaboo decamped to meet Nonno and Deedaw for Mass, while Beanie, Mr. Man, Baby Guy and I had lunch before the boys’ nap time.  Saturday had been such a busy and tiring day that I was hoping to sneak in a bit of shut-eye myself, so, before I escorted the boys downstairs, I tossed my pillow onto the living room couch and advised a happy Beanie that she was welcome to curl up thither with me to watch the football pre-game show and snooze.

Balancing Baby Guy on my hip, I escorted Mr. Man downstairs to tuck him in for his very first nap in his big-boy bed.  Baby Guy was feeling playful, and, as I complimented Mr. Man on being such a big fellow that he could now get into and out of his own bed without mortal peril, the little guy bounced up and down on his own bed, chortling gleefully and pointing at the now-open side of his big brother’s bed.  Mr. Man did not share Baby Guy’s enthusiasm for the change. “Mama fix my bed?  Mama, bed is broken.”

“No, Mr. Man, it’s not broken.  It was broken, but that’s because we tried to keep you in a baby crib for too long.  Now it’s fixed, Daddy fixed it so that you would have a big kid bed like Beanie and Bugaboo, because you are a big boy now.  Remember the Elmo story?  This is a big boy bed.  I promise it’s not broken.”

I tucked his blankies around him and reminded him that it being nap time, I expected him to stay in the bed, and cautioned him against bothering Baby Guy while he was trying to get to sleep.  Then I kissed both boys, closed their door gently behind me, and locked every single door in the downstairs that bears a locking mechanism.  Manie had put up our Christmas tree before he left, and it occurred to me that a flavor of mayhem I would not like would be Mr. Man and Smudgie playing with the Christmas tree while I was napping.

Beanie and I settled into a cozy pile on the couch.

It took about 15 minutes for Mr. Man to come upstairs.  “Mama, please fix my bed!”

“Buddy, I swear it’s not broken.  You can still sleep in it.  I’ll tell you what.  It sounds like Baby Guy is sleeping, and we don’t want to wake him, so why don’t you bring your blankies and pillow up here and you can do real big-guy nap time in the living room with Mommy and Beanie.”

“I go get blankies.”  Down the stairs he trooped, returning a few minutes later with his blankies and his penguin pillow.

“Okay, honey.  You can either snuggle up on the loveseat or on the floor next to the couch.”

“No, I want snuggle Mama.”

“Okay, we can try that, but I’m not sure there’s enough room.”  Beanie’s wary-eyed eyed popped up from the other end of the couch.  “It’s okay, Beanie, he’ll be up on this end.”  Mr. Man made a determined effort to shoehorn his pillow, his blankies, and himself into the little space by my chest and belly before realizing that he was not only to big for a crib, but he was also too tall to fit into that little hollow any longer, and that Beanie was occupying the “Mommy nest” behind my legs.  Somewhat disconsolate, he placed his pillow on the floor next to the couch and held his blankies out to me.

“Mama tuckit me please?”

“Okay, sweetie.  You lay down, put your head on your pillow, and I’ll tuckit you.”  I covered him with his blankies, ruffled his hair, and tried to close my eyes.

“Mr. Man, please get out of the toy bin.”  I may be hearing impaired, but I’m not completely deaf, and I did not need to open my eyes to hear the rattling right beside my head.  The sequence of covering Mr. Man with his blankets, closing my eyes, then explaining the difference between nap time and play time played out about half a dozen more times over the following half an hour.

Finally I said, “Okay, big guy.  You lay down, and I’ll hold your hand until you fall asleep.” Beanie was already softly snoring at the other end of the couch.  I reached my arm down and felt Mr. Man’s little hand wrap around my index finger.  A few minutes later, his grip loosened, and I peered over the edge of the couch to find him peacefully sleeping in a pile of blankies and pillows.

Sleep in Heavenly peace

After about a twenty-minute nap, I carefully extricated myself from the sleeping pile, which had since been joined by one very large dog, quietly retrieved the camera, and captured the moment before tiptoeing around the house to take care of a few chores that wouldn’t make a great deal of noise.  Naturally, the phone rang about an hour later, which roused the Beanie and caused Mr. Man to stir just long enough to steal my pillow from the couch and add it to his nest.  He finally awoke — disoriented — about two hours after that.

The best nest

I am delighted to report that, as of this writing, Mr. Man has slept the entire night through in his new bed.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the priceless gift of watching Your blessings grow.  Please grant us the grace of recognizing that they are growing up, and the wisdom to allow them to do it.  Even as we teach them those things that will increase both their knowledge and their wisdom, Lord, please bless their hearts with the sure knowledge that if they reach out for a hand to hold, ours will be there for them as Yours ever is for all of us.

Three bags of coins in a window

Here’s the song reference.

Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day, a holiday made dear to my heart by my Pop-Pop, who was of German extraction.  Bugaboo is just barely old enough to remember Pop-Pop’s last St. Nicholas Day, when he gave us the gift of his last harmonica performance before emphysema stole the breath he needed to play the melodies he’d puffed out since his own childhood.  I can still smell the sandwiches that lay untouched on his table and hear the strains of tunes whose names I never knew, see the fascination in Bugaboo and Beanie’s eyes, feel my mother’s trembling shoulder under my hand.

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We celebrate the saint’s memorial with bags of gold-wrapped chocolate coins and stories about St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and acts of charity by lesser known persons, some real, some fictional.  The story of the widow with her two copper coins is always part of our festivities.  As the girls enjoyed their little candy treats yesterday morning, waiting for Mr. Man and Baby Guy to awaken, we talked about how important it is to share our blessings, and after we read the short biography of St. Nicholas in their children’s book of saints, we also talked about how something that is relatively little to us can mean salvation for someone who has been otherwise blessed.  Three bags of gold were not a large amount of money to Nicholas of Myra, but to the three young women whose father lacked the funds to pay their dowries, it was the difference between being sold as prostitutes and being able to live as free women with husbands and children.  Rightly did both father and daughters praise the saint for his charity, for his recognition that what was of small value to him was a lifeline to them, for his desire to give his gift in secret.

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After we had read a half-dozen or so stories, the boys began to stir, and I busied myself filling sippy cups with milk and putting bread in the toaster for their breakfast.  As I worked, Bugaboo quietly asked, “Mommy, when we put coins in the basket at church or in buckets at the store, are we being like St. Nicholas?”

“Yes.  That’s why we do it.  People like St. Nicholas remind us that it always matters when we share our blessings.”

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Beanie piped up, “Is that why we give the old toys and coats and blankets away?”

“Yes.  It’s also why we don’t give our name when we do it.  We want to give our gifts in secret, for the joy of giving them, not so anyone can tell us we’re doing a good thing.  Jesus tells us we’re doing a good thing.  It doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks.”

Both girls were quiet for a moment, then Bugaboo added, “I have one chocolate coin left.  I’m going to put it here for Mr. Man, but don’t tell him it’s mine, okay?”

“Okay, Bugaboo.  That’s very generous of you.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your friend Nicholas, the patron saint of children, Russia, and sailors.  Thank You for the lips that passed his history down through the ages, and for the hands that committed the stories to paper.  Help us teach Your blessings that You sent these stalwart defenders and examples of our faith that we might learn from their lives and acts.  Please fill our hearts with humility so that when we share Your largesse, we do so for love of You, and not for love of the adulation of other people, and let every coin we give bear Your image to the person whose need is met by it.

Well, there’s a telegraph line

Here’s the song reference.

We are a family of science nerds; the Lord’s creation is vast and fascinating, and every nook and cranny of it holds some wonder, some miracle, at which we can marvel if we take the time to do so.  I’ve had a friend or two express surprise that our family, where faith in Jesus Christ is the center of our life, spends so much time studying the sciences, and I have to admit their bewilderment is confusing to me.  If anyone can explain to me, logically, why Christians would not enjoy biology, chemistry, physics, or any other scientific discipline, I’d appreciate it.

At any rate, we keep a pretty decent variety of science books on hand, from leveled readers about topics like honeybees and lightning to actual texts from Seton’s and Abeka’s science series, and whenever we happen upon a used book sale, we dive into the piles looking to augment our library.  The world is an interesting place — just ask a little kid.

A Beka Exploring God's World

We’ve just started Abeka’s third grade science text, Exploring God’s World, the first chapter of which deals with the workings of the human body.  Bugaboo and Beanie view the workings of their bodies with awe and wonder, and they are intensely curious about such things as why sugar tastes sweet, why it’s difficult to see in a darkened room, and why some people can run faster than others.  The chapter begins with an explanation of the nervous system, and how the five senses work in terms of the nervous system.  This is neat stuff, and lends itself to all sorts of excuses to bounce around the kitchen touching things, knocking on our heads to see how securely our skulls protect our brains, and tracing our backbones to figure out how long our spinal cords are.

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Dover Publications puts out a really cool anatomy coloring book, so, armed with copies of the section on the nervous system, Bugaboo and I set about looking at a cutaway view of a human body and picking out the brain, organs controlled by the autonomic nervous system (she is terribly proud of herself for being able to pronounce “autonomic”), and muscles.  She particularly likes that each page comes with a color key, so she can work on her understanding of anatomy and expand her vocabulary of anatomical terms at the same time.  The Latin words fascinate her, so we’re glad we decided to start having the girls study elementary Latin after the first of the year.  One of the really cool fruits of our scientific labors is that the girls (and probably Mr. Man, too, since he tends to hang around and offer his input during seatwork time) already understand that there are many different languages, and each of those languages has a different phonetic and syntactic system.  They don’t know those exact terms, but they do understand that when they come to a word that’s really unfamiliar, it’s frequently productive to inquire whether the word is in English or some other tongue.

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After we finished up our work on the nervous system, I grinningly mentioned to Bugaboo and Beanie that a 70 degree December day was a perfect opportunity to explore their five senses and the workings of their autonomic nervous systems by running amok in the back yard.  My instructions to them were to run as fast as they could for as long as they could, and notice how the ANS caused them to breathe faster in response to exertion.  Ten minutes later, two panting little girls pounded up the steps to breathlessly inform me that they were, in fact, breathing faster, and how cool it was that God made their bodies work like that automatically.  I had them put their hands over their hearts, too, and they were both quite excited to note that their heartbeats, like their breathing, were faster.  After a drink of water and a reiteration to Beanie that the autonomic nervous system would also tell her body to make pee, so she needed to remember to use the potty, we re-read the snippet of Psalm 139 that began the chapter before the girls zoomed back out into the yard to show Baby Guy how to make leaf piles and jump in them.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, Your blessings are learning about what You have made with great wonder and awe.  Please help us nurture their curiosity about how things work, and help us guide their explorations by the principle that You, Who are the author of all things, have created each human person, and by Your hand we are wonderfully made.  As they explore the mysteries of how You created their bodies to work, help us tenderly teach them that You created each of us in Your image, and that every human life You have designed is precious and deserving of respect and dignity.  Kindle in our hearts, Lord, a flame of faith that will lead us to defend and succor those who are weak, poor, defenseless, and forgotten, and use us as Your instruments of blessing to them.

Putting out fire with gasoline

Here’s the song reference.

The fire reference in the title of this post is strictly metaphorical.  I scared the daylights out of some readers with a headline several months back, so I thought I’d clarify that.

Yesterday was not full of entries for the Big Book of Harmonious Homeschooling, to put it mildly.  I had taken Bugaboo and Beanie out on Sunday night, after Mr. Man and Baby Guy were abed, to peruse the offerings a local craft store.  We were running a little low on the foam craft kits they love, and with my educator’s discount on top of the sale, such could be had for about $0.45 each.  A chance meeting with a friend at the end of our shopping led to a lengthy conversation, which resulted in the girls not getting to bed until after 10 p.m.  Their regular bedtime, for reference purposes, is 8:00.

I was therefore surprised (and not pleasantly) when Bugaboo grouched her way down the hallway at 7:00 yesterday morning, voicing a litany of complaints about everything from the hue of the sunlight to the family policy of not turning on the television on weekday mornings.  Beanie followed her a couple of minutes later, and when I did not immediately drop the books I was shelving to wrap her up in a hug and cover her face with kisses, she set up a shrill shrieking, which resumed at the least provocation for the next four hours.

The less said about our lessons, the better, although we did manage to work in some extra story time.  We’ve retrieved all of the Christmas stories from their hiding places on various bookshelves, and while the girls were concocting reasons not to do their assignments, the five of us enjoyed some good literature, including several stories from the Book of Genesis, which will hopefully give rise to some art projects today.  Yesterday, there was no way anyone was going to be trusted with a pair of scissors.

I finally lost my cool at around 10:30, after Bugaboo told me she didn’t know what numbers were, and joined in the screaming for a few moments before calling my ever-patient husband, who admonished everyone, including me, about not settling our differences with raised voices.  After that, we cleared the books off the table, had a little lunch, and four tiny people were marched off to their cozy beds for a nap.

We normally separate Bugaboo and Beanie for nap time, as they tend to play with each other instead of taking actual naps; Bugaboo generally enjoys crashing on the loveseat in the living room, while Beanie cannot be without her giant Hello Kitty and Funshine, so she sticks to her own bed for naps.  Yesterday, nary a sound was heard from the girls’ room for just over 2 1/2 hours.  When I woke them so we could be about an errand that absolutely had to be run, they bore a much stronger resemblance to our beautiful daughters instead of banshees with toothaches.

As we drove to our afternoon destination, I talked with the girls over the chattering and chortling of Mr. Man and Baby Guy.  The exact conversation would be tough to reproduce here (five people, one of whom doesn’t know many actual words, talking at once) in its entirety, but the upshot of it was that while the correct response to being tired is to go back to sleep instead of spending the morning shrieking, defying, crying, and complaining, that my response to their behavior had been a bad example.  We all apologized to each other, and the girls and I took turns explaining what we could have done differently.  Mine included cutting the previous night’s conversation short in order to get the girls to bed at a reasonable hour.  They can’t drive themselves home, and I’m supposed to be the adult in the room.

For a day on which the school books were largely set dressing for a bad melodrama, we did okay in the important lessons arena.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the little blessings You have entrusted to my care.  Please keep me mindful that they will learn many lessons from me, and that I must guard my mind, heart, and tongue carefully so that they will learn to show love and kindness to all Your children.  If I speak with a haughty and angry mouth, then praise You sweetly, I am teaching them hypocrisy instead of love and humility.  Please engrave the words of Your servant, James, on my heart:

“James 3

New International Version (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Lord, please guide my sowing, so that my harvest may be that which is pleasing to You.

The milkman of human cuteness

Here’s the song reference.  This one may be obscure, but if you could use a smile in your morning, do click the link.

Mr. Man has always had a particular fondness for plastic gallon milk jugs — they’re large, they make great sounds when you bang them against other objects, and, of course, they usually contain milk, which is his beverage of choice.  Our household timing is usually such that a jug is generally emptied right at Mr. Man’s bedtime, so he rarely has leisure to enjoy this prize of prizes, since he’s on his way to the boys’ room for lullabies and prayers.

Lately, however, our schedule has been shifting, and the last two gallon milk jugs have been emptied in the morning, during breakfast (if you are curious, we average one gallon of milk per day, and yes, I have considered buying a cow).  Mr. Man has been very much enjoying this turn of events, and as soon as the jug is emptied, he seizes it.  His first order of business is to ensure that there is, in fact, not a single drop of milk remaining in the jug (video evidence here), and to drink it if he should happen to find a stray dram.

Once he has consumed the very last drop of milk in the jug, he proceeds to make a round of the kitchen, making music by crashing the hollow plastic into cupboard doors, dog dishes, appliances, body parts (usually his own), Baby Guy’s high chair tray, and anything else that looks like it has the potential to make an interesting sound.  He bangs it around with the cap on and with the cap off, having discovered that an open jug makes a different sound than a closed one.  He generally prefers the cap-off sounds, as they are significantly louder.  All the while, he blesses us with a steady stream of giggles and face-splitting smiles; those of you who have spent significant amounts of time around toddlers understand that this is the reason we are loath to remove the jug from his curious hands.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who greet Your creation with enthusiastic curiosity about every nook and cranny thereof, and with a heart’s desire to explore every thing mankind has made with the resources You provide it.  Thank You for their budding awareness that we are to be wise stewards of the bounty You have given, wasting nothing, and rejoicing in even the smallest drop of milk.  Please kindle in our hearts a deep gratitude for Your abundance, the unconditional love to share what You provide with our brothers and sisters whom You have blessed in other ways, and the humility to accept Your gifts when others freely share them with us.

Ears to you, my little loves

Here’s the song reference.

One of the highlights of the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which includes the season of Advent, from the tribe’s perspective, is the collection of Christmas DVDs that magically appears in Fran the Van after the turkey has been eaten.  At our house, we are big fans of the old animated specials dating from the 1970s, and because we are a family who celebrates the birth of Christ, we tend to focus on those films and specials that tell stories relating to the Nativity.  We enjoy the tales of Frosty, and Rudolph, and Santa, too, but during Advent, we try to keep the tiny people’s focus on love and humility.

It’s a great blessing to me that one of my favorite Christmas stories is also beloved by the tribe, particularly Bugaboo and Beanie.  If you are unfamiliar with Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, I highly recommend grabbing a cup of coffee and a sandwich, clicking the link, and relaxing with a classic bit of animation for the next 24 minutes or so.  To my delight, I was able to acquire a copy of it on DVD about a month ago, and I’d been eagerly anticipating surprising the kids with it.  When we first played it in the van during our travels last week, the girls made me promise that I would only put it in on trips where they could watch the entire program from beginning to end.  I’ve learned a number of circuitous routes to nearby destinations since then.

As it happened, Bugaboo sadly trudged into the kitchen yesterday morning, bearing in her wee hands a Polly Pocket doll with a missing leg.  She is, as a general rule, pretty generous about sharing her toys with her sister and brothers, but the boys don’t always play nicely with them, with the occasional severed toy limb being one of the consequences.

“Mommy, Polly lost her leg again.  I don’t think the glue worked.  I guess I have to throw her away.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  You don’t have to throw her away, though.”

“But she’s broken.  Even you and Daddy couldn’t fix her.”

“Come sit with me.”  She climbed up into my lap.  “You actually have quite a gift there.”

“Really?  Why is a broken toy a gift?”

“Bugaboo, remember how we talked about how God makes every person just a little bit different?  How people come in different colors, sizes, and shapes?”


“Well, now one of your dolls has a little different shape than the others.  Even though she only has one leg, she’s still beautiful.  Remember the lady soldier we met at the fair who only had one leg?”

“Yeah, I remember her!  She was really nice.”

“And now you have a Polly Pocket who reminds you of her.”

She thought about that for a minute before breaking into a wide smile.  “I have a very brave Polly!  She can be the Polly who works with the Rescue Bots to save the other people when they’re in trouble!”  With that, she sprinted back to her room.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for creating each one of Your blessings to be just a little different from each other one.  Please help me teach Your little blessings to keep their hearts and minds open to Your face in every person they meet, to see that no matter what their physical appearance may be, all of them are created in Your image and likeness, to receive those differences with love instead of scornful mockery.  Grant us the wisdom to see that every human being has merit and a soul that yearns to reflect You, and has a heart to love and to hurt as Yours does.  Please guard our hearts closely against falling into the trap of judging people only on worldly standards of physical attraction and earning potential, and keep ever in our thoughts the sure knowledge that every life created by You is precious, and should never be discarded because of some perceived defect or imperfection.  Help us lead souls to You by our example of agape love towards all Your children.

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.

Living in a material world

Here’s the song reference.

We ended up scrapping yesterday’s book work lesson plans in favor of more practical lessons in technology, deportment, and budgeting.  In other words, the day began with a telephone problem that resulted in me having to spend a lot of time in online chat with the phone company, move furniture to disconnect and reconnect everything, and for the grand finale, climbing a ladder to disassemble the FiOS battery backup box to do a hard reset on the entire system.  Bugaboo and Beanie were hugely impressed, and, blessedly, Mr. Man and Baby Guy managed to sleep through most of the amateur theatrics.

Once the telephony problem had been resolved, the girls settled in for some fine motor skills work (in other words, they wanted to color, which sounded like a grand idea to me), and the boys woke up in the mood for a hearty breakfast.  They were ready for lunch an hour after breakfast, then for a nap.  By 11:30, the entire tribe had eaten two meals and gone back to sleep. I even caught a bit of a nap myself!

Early nap times lead to early waking times, which left us with an unexpectedly large expanse of afternoon to fill.  I briefly considered breaking out either the school books or the story books, then decided that such a lovely sunny day would be better spent running the errands that had gotten a little backed up this week.  When I asked the tribe if they’d like to visit the craft store to pick up a few supplies for projects they could do with their cousins while the Thanksgiving turkey cooks on Thursday, three little kids started jumping up and down and chanting, “Craft store, craft store, we love the craft store!”  while Baby Guy chortled and clapped his little hands.

Well, the long and short of it is that I left a large quantity of supplies on the counter.  The kids were actually pretty good until we got to the checkout line, but after 10 minutes of not being acknowledged by the cashier, who could not seem to process our payment or make eye contact without interrupting her description of her entertainment plans, Beanie and Mr. Man started to pick at each other, which led to Bugaboo trying to separate the combatants, which led to more and louder unpleasantness, and to me asking the manager to please void the sale and return my rewards voucher to me.  I will spare you the account of that particular conversation.  Suffice it to say that the kid volume continued to escalate while the manager tried to convince me to hang out for another 15 minutes so she could call the help desk and straighten out their computer problem and thus be able to process everyone in the (now considerable) line behind us’s payments.

Um, no thanks.

As I shepherded the now-sobbing tribe out to the van, I pointed out to them that if everyone had been able to use good manners in the store, we might  have been able to wait out the computer problem and thus return to base with our collection of foam sheets, glue dots, and brightly colored feathers, but since there had been screaming, lying on the floor, and too much grabbing of both people and things, we couldn’t stay in the store long enough to complete our purchase.  Once everyone was loaded into the van, we continued that conversation, which was at first punctuated by several reminders to Beanie to take a couple of deep breaths, as she is nearly impossible to understand when she is wailing.

Twenty minutes later, we’d had a thorough debriefing.  Bugaboo and Beanie pleaded to be allowed another chance to show they could behave properly, even in such an exciting place as a craft store.  We talked about the logistics of who would hold the stroller in which location to minimize conflicts, and decided that Beanie would walk by the back seat with Baby Guy, while Bugaboo would take point by Mr. Man, and clarified that the first wail or scream would abruptly end our outing.

Off to another craft store we drove.  Any errands that involves the mall must be completed within the next four days, as I refuse to venture anywhere near the place from the day before Thanksgiving to until after New Year’s Day, and our second attempt at acquiring craft supplies happens to be located in the front of our local retail palazzo.  I was tremendously pleased with the tribe’s good conduct on this stop; Mr. Man actually sat patiently in the stroller, and the girls graciously said their “excuse mes” every time we passed another shopper.  For their efforts, the girls each got to select a new coloring book, Baby Guy scored a koosh ball, and Mr. Man chose a flashing red reindeer nose, which he wore happily for the rest of the day.

On the way back to the van, Bugaboo helpfully pointed out that we were at the mall, and that the mall not only has a play park, but also features a number of places with highly desirable dinner options.  I heaved a very deep sigh and asked her to give me a moment to think about it.  As I considered my mental to-do list, I remembered that it included getting the girls’ hair cut, and possibly Mr. Man’s as well.  The mall has one particular establishment that goes nearly overboard in accommodating our tribe, and food was starting to sound like a pretty good idea.

After fueling ourselves with chicken nuggets, milk, and fruit, we headed for the haircut place, which was, to my relief, empty of other clients.  The stylists all waved and smiled as we walked through their door, and Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man were quickly and simultaneously swathed in zoo animal aprons.  There are exactly two places in town where I’ll take the tribe for haircuts, and both earned our business for that kind of service!  Twenty minutes later, three kids were shaking hands with the hairdressers and thanking them for the nice haircuts, while Baby Guy was soaking up the adoration of the stylists and a couple of ladies who had come in to get their own haircuts.  Lollipops were handed around, and we were off to the play park, where the kids desported themselves until Daddy arrived about an hour later.

Upon his arrival at the playpark, Manie advised me that there was absolutely no one in line to see Santa Claus, and that we had four children with clean faces, three of whom had fresh haircuts.  After we quickly changed the boys into clean shirts, we all headed towards Santa’s little habitat, so named after Beanie informed us last year that the mall has a “pet Santa”.

After our visit, and now that Manie had arrived to help with the cat-herding involved with four kids under the age of six, I had a moment to look around, and noticed, to my horror, that the entire mall is opening at midnight on Black Friday, the day that traditionally heralds the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  I was appalled.  As much as we enjoy our little shopping outings, there’s no sale in the world that’s worth dragging all those people away from their families on Thanksgiving night so the bargain hunters can trample each other.  It’s bad enough that the retail world barely pauses to acknowledge Thanksgiving — and, in some cases, Halloween — any longer before the Christmas lights, merchandise and popular music take over the stores.  I’m glad we caught all of the Christmas lights at the mall last night, because we won’t be returning to the mall until well after the holidays.  Monday’s writing project may include a letter to the mall’s management about the importance of family and rest, both of which should take priority over doorbuster deals.  I know economic times are tough, but that’s ridiculous and, to my mind, mean.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings to guide and teach, and for their hearts which are open to lessons of kindness and love.  Thank You for Bugaboo’s understanding that Christmas is Your birthday, and that while Saint Nicholas is a friend of Yours, You are the reason for all the pretty lights, for the presents we exchange in remembrance of Your matchless gift.  Please help me keep uppermost in their minds and mine that there is no material good that exceeds the value of Your law and Your love, and help me teach them to share those truths lovingly and gracefully.

The night the music died

Here’s the song reference.

Every night since Bugaboo was born, we have had the same bedtime ritual with our children — stories, then evening prayers, then lullabies.  For the last five-and-one-half years, their days have ended with “Irish Lullaby,” then a little song we made up to the tune of “O Tannenbaum,”  then two verses of “Taps.”

For the past several months, lullaby time has evolved into less of an opportunity for all of us to snuggle up and wind down together and more of a free-for-all.  This may have something to do with the boys’ bedtime being an hour earlier than the girls’, so it’s possible that Bugaboo and Beanie just aren’t quite ready for that moment of peace at 7:30.  Nonetheless, the lesson of respectful listening is forgotten after prayers have been prayed, and when the girls start bouncing around merrily after prayers, the boys follow their lead, no matter how many imprecations for calm are issued.  This is highly counterproductive to the cause of getting the boys to go to bed calmly.

This has become a big point of frustration for Manie and I, but last night, as I was trying to sing the second song over a hullabaloo, I simply stopped.  None of them noticed, and none of them asked for the rest of their songs.  It’s entirely possible that they’ve reached a point where the lullabies are more important to the parents than to our children, I thought.  After Manie and I exchanged sad and wistful glances, he announced that the boys’ bedtime had come, and that it was time for hugs, kisses, and the ouster of all those who sleep not there.  He also mentioned that since nobody was listening to or singing along with songs anymore, I probably wouldn’t sing them anymore, and perhaps we could have an extra story or some extra prayers instead.

To our tremendous surprise, Bugaboo completely lost it.

When I say, “completely lost it,” I do not mean she shed a couple of tears and whined a little.  I mean her face became a stunning shade of scarlet and she emitted a Vader-worthy bellow of, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”  She cried until she was hyperventilating, and every now and again choked out a word to eventually form the sentence, “You . . . can’t . . . stop . . . songs . . . we . . . always . . . have . . . songs . . . and  . . . I . . . still . . . want . . . songs!”

After we had calmed her down, Manie said simply, “Okay, I understand.  But I have a question for you.  What song was Mommy singing when she stopped?”

No response.

“Bugaboo, we love you.  We don’t want you to be sad.  But Mommy sings to you and with you all day.  If nobody’s going to listen when Mommy sings you guys off to bed at night, it makes her sad, and we don’t want Mommy to be sad either.  Plus, with you and Beanie jumping all over the room, it gets Mr. Man and Baby Guy all worked up and then they can’t get to sleep.  It’s not fair to anybody.”

I added, “And it’s okay if you’ve all outgrown songs at night.  It’s something I do for you, not to you, and if it’s not something you all enjoy anymore, if it’s not something that helps you relax and get ready for bed, then it’s time for it to end and for us to find something else to do that will help everybody unwind.”

Manie continued, “This is supposed to be quiet family time, not everybody jumping around the room time.”

Meanwhile, Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy were quietly but intently observing the conversation.

I offered, “I’ll tell you what.  Maybe tonight is just a rough night because we’ve had such a busy day and ran so many errands.  We’ll try again tomorrow, okay, when maybe we can all remember how quiet time is supposed to look.  Okay?”


“No, Bugaboo.  Not tonight.  I tried to sing them to you for fifteen minutes, and the songs only take about four minutes total to sing.  My voice is tired now, and so is the rest of me.  We’ll try again tomorrow.”

And that was the end of that.  We hugged and kissed the boys and tucked them in with only minor protestations and no stuffed-animal-missile hurling.  Nothing else was said about the lullabies that night, even when we tucked in the girls about an hour later.

Honestly, I hope Bugaboo and Beanie, whose eyes were suspiciously bright during the exchange in her brothers’ room, really do still want the lullabies.  I’m not ready to stop singing them yet — and I don’t think I ever really will be.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the gift of music, and for strong voices we can raise in song.  Thank You for the years of peaceful moments we have had with Your little blessings sharing songs at the end of the day.  Please help me gently teach them that if we fail to recognize the beauty in the gift of music, or in any other thing, we will miss it when we can no longer enjoy it.  Kindle in me a spirit that will allow me to instruct Your blessings in the importance of quiet listening, and will quiet my own lips by way of example to them.  My gifts to them can never equal Yours, Lord, but please help me teach Your blessings to accept what they are given with grateful hearts, and teach me to be at peace when what I have tried to share is not what they need.