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The girl with the broken smile


Here’s the song reference.

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Back in the brave year 1982, my Dad was living with one of my cousins and her husband after my parents’ divorce.  Cousin had, at the time, a seriously adorable redheaded toddler, who we’ll call Wildling, because it fits.  Wildling loved me.  I was all of eleven at the time, but, as is sometimes the case with eleven year old girls, I was a bit self-absorbed and quite convinced that I was too old to play with little kids.  That said, the hero-worship was kind of nice, though, coming as it did at a time in my life when pretty much everything was awful and terrifying.  Dad had weekend visitation with me back then, so I stayed with him at Cousin’s house, with her husband and Wildling.

I awoke rather ill one Monday, and Dad, after consulting with Mom, didn’t think it was a good idea for me to go to school that day.  Since Dad and Mom both worked, Cousin said I could stay with her and Wildling, and they’d figure out later how to get me back to Mom.  Sick as I was, I was quietly delighted with this turn of events, as Cousin had this remarkable luxury called “cable television,” with a really stupendous channel known as “Home Box Office.”  I might be sick, but I would at least get to watch shows I never knew existed, which, to eleven year old me, sounded like a perfectly fine tradeoff.

Wildling, of course, was quite pleased to find that I was still there when she awoke and finished her breakfast that morning.  Two year olds don’t really understand the concept of “leave the sick person alone” terribly well, so she spent most of the day bringing me toys and treasures, trying desperately to pry my attention away from the screen that held me transfixed.  For my part, I was completely absorbed in a documentary about the tragic fire at the Cocoanut Grove (I’ve always been kind of a nerd), and thus failed to appreciate the lengths to which my sweet little ginger cousin was willing to go to get my attention.

She stepped – stomped, really – between me and the television, holding something I couldn’t quite identify in her wee hands.  “Kewwy?  Kewwy?”  she inquired.

“KEWWY!” she yelled – and threw the object in her hand directly at my face.

As it happened, it was a glass piggy bank, a possession of which she was quite proud, and simply wanted me to notice and appreciate.  I absolutely did notice it at that point.  Unfortunately, I also noticed that its impact with my face had broken off a substantial chunk of one of my top front teeth.  I screamed, she screamed, and for a while, it seemed like pretty much everyone in the house with the breath to do so was screaming.

I’m not entirely certain of the sequence of events after that, but eventually, everyone did stop screaming, and Mom took me to the dentist to have a crown made.  People were kind enough to patiently explain to me, over and over, that Wildling hadn’t acted maliciously, and that this was the sort of thing that two year olds simply DO when they’re ignored long enough.  Plus, Wildling still loved me, and that meant more thank I thought it would.  My smile had always been a little snaggly anyway; a little more unevenness from the crown didn’t really make much of a difference.

I grew up, and Wildling grew up, and both of us dealt with the fallout and anger and loneliness from our parents’ divorces.  We’d see each other at family reunions and family Christmas parties and family weddings and family funerals.  She was always the first person I looked for when I arrived, and she would always come and find me.  She was usually muddy, even after she grew up, and if there was a dare being made, she’d take it.  And when we saw each other, after she’d grown up, we’d stand off to the side and I would tell her about some of the remarkably bad choices I was making.  I didn’t realize they were bad choices at the time – they seemed very progressive and cutting edge to me, then – and she always had the same response.  “Love you, you crazy woman you.”

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

Social media came along, and I could stay in touch with her more easily.  She met the man of her dreams and married him a couple of years after she was a bridesmaid in my wedding – really, I could not imagine having the most important day of my life without her and Cousin there.

wedding day with nikki

Wildling is rolling her eyes at me on the far right, wondering when we will stop all the kissy stuff so we can get to the party, already.

I’ve never been able to decide if Cousin is warning her oldest daughter to behave or joining her in wishing we would get out of the church and off to the reception, here.

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

And that love would endure.  She forgave me my moments of inattention, even when I had to miss her wedding.  I cheered her on through all her adventures, from afar, for I’d moved to another state and didn’t make it back for reunions and Christmas parties too much anymore.  We saw each other mostly at funerals over the last decade or so.  But when I found out she was expecting her first daughter, Beauty, I sent the only shower gift I possibly could – a glass piggy bank.  We were pregnant together four times, and it was glorious.  It got to be a bit of a joke between us that if one got pregnant, the other had best watch out.

We had both found that no matter how angry we’d been at God as children, He had always been waiting for us, with open arms, ready to welcome us as His beloved, just as we had always been willing to welcome each other.  We shared Scripture, and prayer requests, and an exuberant faith rich in mercy and resounding with joy.  And we found that our brokenness did not diminish the beauty He saw in us.  The crown on my tooth gradually chipped away from age, and I decided to leave it as it was – because when I looked in the mirror, I saw love.

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

Several months ago, Wildling had some bitter news.  She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer, and her prognosis was grim – two years, tops, if everything went according to plan.

Things did not go according to plan.

Six days ago, I received a text from Cousin asking me to call her.  Cousin knew how long and how well Wildling and I loved each other, and she gently told me that if I was going to come, it needed to be very soon.  The next morning, I was on the road before sunrise, for all the times I had not come before.  She woke, and recognized me, and I received the exquisite gifts of being able to tell her I loved her and give her a kiss.  I loved her in her brokenness as she had always loved me in mine, and her beauty was undimmed by her exhaustion.  The old fire, however, was gone, replaced by weariness.

Wildling left this world yesterday, in the early afternoon.

I have many regrets – times when I should have made time to answer a message, drive a couple of hours, write a letter.  But as I sit here staring at yet another screen tonight, reflecting on how the Lord worked through her to make so many places more joyful, to remind so many people to love the person who stands before you, however broken that person may be, I’m thankful.  I am thankful for the brokenness I have from her, for the brokenness I shared with her.

She’ll be with me, and live through me, every time I smile, though.

I think that when the day some that my teeth finally fail and I need dentures, I will ask the mold maker to make them just exactly as they are now.  Because there is a deep and wild beauty that can only be found in brokenness, and I would not part with it.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank you for the moments where I have been so broken that all I could do was turn to You.  Thank you for using my brokenness to teach me the infinite value of a child’s love, and that authentic love truly does bear, and forgive, all things.

Peace be with you.

mail

 

Oh, ho, what I want to know, is are you kind


Here’s the song reference.

While I have not posted any additional lesson plans (yet), rest assured that lesson planning for the new school year continues at a frenetic pace.  The “First Americans” unit of this year’s study of American history has taken on a life of its own, and may well encompass an entire year of study by the time we’re done; Bugaboo and Beanie keep finding new and fascinating nuggets in the books I’ve checked out from the library, which has led to more field trips being added, more projects being planned, and . . . well, you get the idea.

I am mindful, however, that our children learn from us whether school is officially in session or not.  One lesson my husband and I have endeavored to teach our children is that when there are terrible things in the news, it is better to simply turn off the television, the radio, and the computer, and go find something constructive to do.  It is rarely useful to sit around, gawking, while people who have more opinions than facts attempt to increase advertising revenues for their stations or sites by provoking responses of intense anger or fear.

There was a recent decision by a certain jury in a certain criminal trial in a certain city in the state of Florida that has greatly upset, according to all media reports and my Facebook news feed, quite a number of people.  It seems as though the overwhelming response to the verdict is to look for someone to blame, someone to accuse, someone to find loathsome or frightening or hateful.

We have chosen differently.

This morning, as on many summer mornings, we headed to the park with a cooler full of snacks and water, hoping to meet our usual group of friends in spite of the oppressive heat and humidity.  While we did not see any of “our crowd” there, we did meet up with a group of gentlemen who live in a group home for people with intellectual disabilities, a lady training a puppy, and about a dozen children (with their mothers) whom we had not previously met.  There were also a couple of fellows who work for the Parks and Recreation department taking care of some playground maintenance.  We had plenty of company, in other words, of all ages, abilities, and skin tones.

Our cooler was full of snacks and water, as I mentioned before, and the gentlemen from the group home were sitting, along with their assistants, a couple of tables away from our base camp.  As members of my tribe returned to the table for something to eat or drink, I asked them if they would like to share anything from our cooler with the other occupants of the picnic shelter.  Bugaboo offered water to the girls with whom she’d been playing tag, Mr. Man offered marshmallows to the Parks and Recreation employees, and Baby Guy scrunched up his face and hollered, “NO!  MY SNACK! MY CUPPY! NO!”

We’re still working on that one.  Hey, he just turned two, after all.

After a moment of sober consideration, Beanie took the bag of pretzel Goldfish from our cooler and walked over to the other group occupying the shelter.  She looked up into the face of the first man she came to, smiled, and inquired, “Would you like to share my snack?  I have plenty, and it’s really yummy.”  The fellow beamed, and eagerly reached for the bag.  One of the assistants with the group quickly offered a cup to hold some of the little crackers, then started laughing when he realized that Beanie intended to go around to each and every member of the group, offering to share her bag of fishies.  She also offered them to the aides, and told them, “You were so kind to give everybody cups for their snacks.  Wouldn’t you like to have a snack, too?”

We smiled together.  We ate pretzel goldfish under a picnic shelter together, while some of the other moms at the park looked on incredulously.  Mr. Man came back, helped himself to a couple of the remaining crackers, and sat down amongst the men, introducing himself and asking if their favorite snack was fishies.  When we left for the library about a quarter of an hour later, we exchanged farewells and hopes we would meet again with our new friends.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that sharing pretzel goldfish at the park will solve any of the world’s problems.

I do have faith enough to teach my children that if we seek common ground with everyone we meet, even if it’s something as simple as the need for shade on a hot day, and practice kindness with everyone we meet, and share the gifts we have to give freely, without conditions, categories, or condescension, then we will be following the Great Commandment:  “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul, and all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the kindness of the people who accepted the small gift offered by a little girl and the companionship of a little boy, without hesitation or fear.  Thank You for Your little blessings who see Your face in every person they meet, and for always putting people in our path with whom we can share Your bountiful gifts.  Please, Lord, keep my heart simple, that I may recognize Your image and likeness in every human being and offer to them the love I bear towards You, and grant me the grace to train up the children with whose care You have entrusted me that this is the way they should go, that when they are grown, they shall not depart from it.  Please infuse our every thought, word, and deed with such love that we shall be a beacon to all people, pointing them to You and away from all divisions sown by Your adversary.

They blinded me with science


Here’s the song reference.

I could relate a thousand pieces of news about the recent adventures of our little tribe, but for now, let me assure all of you that they are all well and happy.  Beanie turns five tomorrow, which should not surprise me nearly as much as it does, and Baby Guy will be two on Saturday.  For obvious reasons, life is a little hectic right now.

My husband and I recently made the momentous (for us) decision to forego the boxed curriculum approach to homeschooling for the upcoming school year.  Because of this, I am busily engaged in lesson and unit planning.  For the next couple of weeks, at the request of a couple of friends (one of whom is not a homeschooler but is intensely curious about exactly what it is that we do), I’ll be posting those lesson and unit plans.  Comments and suggestions are, as always, welcomed; there is great love in pointing our error before it becomes disastrous!

At the enthusiastic request of Bugaboo and Beanie, I started my unit planning with science.  Both girls (and Mr. Man, for that matter) are possessed of an intense and joyful curiosity about the world around them, how things work, and why things are.  It is my great privilege to provide them with enough answers that they know how to ask more probing questions, and to look for their own answers both in books and in experimentation, the latter where appropriate for their ages.  In our family, we instruct always in the context of fostering a sense of awe and wonder at the boundlessness of the Lord’s creation, and with an eye towards Christian stewardship of that creation, including stewardship of our own bodies.  Please pray for us as we create the structure within which we will train up our children!

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You have favored us with a bounty of blessings, including four who are flatly refusing to sleep at the moment because they are too excited about tomorrow’s birthday celebration.  Please grant us the grace and wisdom to regard even the smallest moments as miracles, worthy of joy, and deserving of a prayer of thanksgiving to You.  As we plan for a new school year, Lord, with new knowledge and experiences, please help us keep love for You foremost in our hearts, and grant that we may teach Your blessings truly always and in all things.

Throwing roses at her feet


Here’s the song reference.  The lyrics to this particular tune become particularly poignant when you consider the context.  Many of the songs I post only have one line that’s actually relevant to the post, but this one made me cry when I stopped to consider it in its entirety.

Beanie has an uncommon, for her age, understanding of certain social customs, one of which is the bringing of flowers to funeral homes.  She was very affected by this when Nonno died in December; she and Bugaboo both insisted on bringing their own flower arrangements, both of which were lovingly dried and preserved by Deedaw.

Wednesday, as I was busily packing for our trip to Pittsburgh for Great-Grandma’s funeral, a solemn Beanie approached and advised me, “Mommy, I need to get a flower for Great-Grandma.  She gave me my name.  She gave me my Deedaw.  I want to bring her the prettiest flower in the whole world.”

Beanie is, in fact, named for Great-Grandma.  I had to take a very deep breath before I answered her.  “Okay, Beanie.  What flower would you like to bring her?”

She replied, “I want to bring her rainbow flowers.”

rainbow roses

Photo credit:  100roses.com

Beanie discovered rainbow roses at Wegmans, and has long since decided that they are the most gorgeous things in the world.  I liked the idea of roses that bear the symbol of God’s promises, and, of course, I would have moved mountains to honor her request, coming as it did from the little one who reminded me that we should be happy for Great-Grandma because she went to Heaven.

Thursday morning, on our way out of town, we stopped for Beanie’s flowers.  I have prayed for many blessings upon the kind ladies in the flower shop at Wegmans, because they noted out attire, inquired as to the occasion, and promptly offered to trim the roses and put water tubes on them for Beanie, so her flowers would be beautiful.

When we arrived at the funeral home, Beanie was her usual exuberant self, and I helped her put her flowers in the casket with Great-Grandma, at her feet, along with a little paper heart she had cut and inscribed, “LOVE DOTS,” before she headed off to have something to eat and play with a horde of cousins she seldom sees.

may 2013 003

The next day, we all gathered again at the funeral home before heading to the church for Great-Grandma’s funeral Mass.  After the priest had led us all in prayer, everyone had the opportunity to see Great-Grandma and offer a last goodbye before her casket was closed.  Once the room had cleared except for Deedaw and her brother and sister, I settled Beanie on my hip so we could say goodbye and offer a prayer together.

We did pray a traditional prayer, and, before we left, I related to Beanie the tale of the last time Manie and I stayed at Great-Grandma’s house.  Great-Grandma had quite the sweet tooth, although she denied it, and Manie and I had a stash of Snickers bars in our gear.  We were staying with her on the occasion of the marriage of two dear friends (who happen to be Mr. Man’s godparents, and who had so much love in their hearts that they invited Great-Grandma to their wedding – in person – on the spur of the moment), and when we returned from the wedding, our Snickers bars had gone missing.  Manie and I had a good laugh over it.  After I related the tale to Beanie, I said to her, “Now let’s offer a special prayer that Jesus will help Great-Grandma find the Snickers bars.”

“Jesus, please help Great-Grandma find the Snickers bars.  She likes them a lot.”

At the church, the priest offered a homily that perfectly explained why Great-Grandma is one of the most important people any of us will ever know.  There were no reporters covering her funeral, no news obituary trumpeting her impact on national or international affairs, but there was a large gathering of family, of the people she had fed and clothed, loved and prayed for, encouraged and, yes, disciplined.  There is great nobility in a life devoted to building and maintaining a family that is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, in offering prayers of thanksgiving for those who have chosen His path, in offering prayers of intercession for those who have gone astray.  Great-Grandma’s life was a life spent in love, a life spent as an anchor for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, an example of how we are to love and serve one another — an example, that, in the end, that same family needed so that they could love and serve her when her physical and mental faculties withered away, so that we would know that while authentic love doesn’t always look pretty,  it is real, and true, and of God.

may 2013 004

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Great-Grandma, without whom there would have been no Deedaw, no Manie, no Beanie.  Thank You for the lesson You taught through her life, that every vocation lived truly is holy and worthy of respect, whether this world lauds it or not.  Thank You for Your promise that those who earnestly live according to Your Word will be raised up to a joyful eternity with You, and thank You for the rainbow that reminds us of Your vow that You will save.  Please help us teach Your blessings, Lord, that whatever profession they choose, if they offer each day, each little act, to You, the world’s opinion of them will not matter, because You will be their reward.  And thank You, Lord, for a little Beanie who has the wisdom to answer beauty with beauty, and to appreciate Your most priceless gifts.

Singing in the shower


Here’s the song reference.  You should listen to it.  It’s funny.

Today was something of a blur, and the less said about much of it, the better.  Bugaboo and Manie are away for Great-Grandma’s funeral, and Beanie, Mr. Man, Baby Guy and I will join them later in the week.  Getting everything and everyone together for travel is something of an undertaking, and nothing is ever as simple as it should be.

Nonetheless, the boys were bathed and tucked happily (for once!) into their beds just before 8, and Beanie, having been my “big girl big helper” all day, was allowed a few extra minutes to have an undisturbed portion of tropical Lemonheads before her shower.  Since no one in this house EVER gets to eat a snack undisturbed, particularly a snack that involves candy of any kind, this was a rare privilege indeed!

She was smiling as she headed for the bathroom to shower, a little skip in her step, and I grinned as I tidied up a few things in Manie and my bedroom, which adjoins the bathroom.  After a few minutes, I heard the distinct sound of a warbling Beanie, so I stopped what I was doing to listen.

Sure enough, I could clearly make out the strains of “Jesus Loves Me,” the first song she ever learned to sing, and still a favorite of all the tiny people.  She was still singing as I tiptoed out of the bathroom to go find the camera, because there are some moments that you just have to capture on video, even if the only image on the video is the flowers on the shower curtain.  I came back in as she was finishing the last couple of words, and, after praising her for the lovely song, asked her if she would be willing to sing it again.  As it happened, she was, and so I have a sweet memory on the SD card.  That’s a gift.

may 2013 003

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank you for the quiet moments when I can hear small voices raised in song.  Help me to seize upon those moments as Your gifts, Your reminders of what matters, when I am tempted to wrath because of someone else’s disgraceful behavior.  Make me an example to Your blessings of, instead of fury directed towards fools, prayer and charity towards all.  Help me recall the words of Your servant Francis, who begged that he might be made a channel of Your peace, and fill my heart with the desire to serve You as You commanded.

If you want to, you can cream on me


Here’s the (utterly inappropriate) song reference.

Whipped cream, the kind that comes in a can, is a very big deal to the kids on my husband’s side of the family.  I remember one of the first family dinners I attended featured a dessert that involved the yummy stuff, and Niece, who was not quite four years old at the time, rushed over to Zio to get a little “spruff” (Italian for froth) sprayed directly into her mouth.  Having received the coveted treat, she scampered off, giggling, only to return for another helping a few minutes later.

Niece was greatly delighted when Bugaboo reached an age where she was permitted to have a little whipped cream of her own.  Whenever there is dinner at Deedaw’s, and whipped cream is present, there appears a line of little opened mouths (and one no longer so little, as Niece is now thirteen), anxiously awaiting their spray.  The smaller they are, the messier this enterprise becomes, but it is always conducted with great good humor and no small amount of laughter from the children and adults alike.

Deedaw decided to come over to our house for dinner this evening, and, in spite of my usual insistence that she didn’t need to bring anything but her beautiful self, she arrived bearing a bag with the makings of strawberry shortcakes.  We had a chuckle as we realized that, given the family sweet tooth, there was a pretty strong possibility that all four members of the tribe would find some way to finagle not only one of the chocolate-filled, chocolate-frosted cupcakes we’d baked that afternoon, but also a decent helping of sugared strawberries and spruff.

It was one of those rare and blessed evenings where not one child decided to argue about the necessity of eating everything on his or her plate, and thus, when the dishes were cleared away, everyone was deemed eligible for dessert.  Out came the pan of cupcakes, the angel food cake, the tub of sugared strawberries, and, wonder of wonders, the tall metal can of whipped cream.  Before Manie could even get the cap off the can, he was surrounded by what looked like a convention of the world’s largest, featherless baby birds, all vocalizing wordlessly their desires for the contents of said can.

In deference to Deedaw, we did make an effort to ascertain who wanted which type of dessert before we went wild with the spruff.  Since Deedaw had expressed a preference for strawberry shortcake, we made sure she had a plate properly piled with cake, berries, and whipped cream before we risked touching the nozzle to any tiny mouths.  As they waited, Baby Guy, Mr. Man, and Beanie tucked into cupcakes, while Bugaboo daintily nibbled at some berries and cake.

Baby Guy’s manual dexterity still has considerable room for improvement, but, at almost 22 months of age, he has concluded that the absolute best part of any cake is the frosting.  If there is frosting inside and outside (as is the case with filled cupcakes), so much the better, and every fleck of frosting must needs be enjoyed by as many of his five senses as possible.

april 2013 003

And why, yes, we did have spaghetti for dinner.

He also managed to score a couple of strawberries to accompany his chocolate, all the while madly flailing his chubby little arms, trying to attract the attention of the holder of the whipped cream can — in this instance, Manie.  He finally succeeding in convincing Manie to circumnavigate the kitchen table (no mean feat when there are seven people seated thereat), and opened his mouth wide in anticipation.  He actually got a couple of mouthfuls, because we were trying to get a good picture.  Fortunate son.  Of course, Manie being the fair-minded Dad that he is, he made it a point to even up the whipped cream distribution after the camera had been put away.

april 2013 007

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who derive great joy from the simplest of things when delivered by loving hearts and loving hands.  Thank You for the opportunity for Manie to bottle the very last batch of Nonno’s wine with Bugaboo, just as he and his brother bottled it with Nonno when they were little children.  Please help us teach Your blessings that Your bounty is endless, and that it is far better to exult in a can of whipped cream and the company of family than to complain about those worldly goods or experiences we wish we had.  We would show them the joy in our humble, everyday life, Lord; please inflame our hearts with the grace to revel in Your bounty, instead of wishing we had the bounty of another.  Grant, we pray, that we may always find joy and a stronger faith in the little things.

She can see clearly now


Here’s the song reference.

pittsburgh june 2012 073

Very early this morning, our phone rang with sad, although not unexpected, news.  Great-Grandma, after 97 years on this earth, had left us, and there was an urgent need for someone to get over to Deedaw’s house, so that she would not be alone when her sister called with the sorrowful tidings.  Manie quickly bolted out of bed and threw on the nearest available clothes.  While he was washing his face, a sleepy-eyed Bugaboo wandered out into the hallway to ascertain the cause of the commotion.  Upon being informed, she declared that she would like to help comfort her Deedaw, and actually managed to get dressed while Manie was still tying his shoes.

I made a couple of phone calls in the short interlude before the rest of the tribe awoke.  Beanie was our next riser; she shambled out to the kitchen and inquired as to the availability of hard-boiled eggs.  While the eggs were cooking, and after she had consumed enough juice to brighten her eyes a bit, I snuggled her in my lap and told her Great-Grandma was gone.

Beanie blinked slowly, then cocked her head to the side before slowly asking, “So that means Deedaw lost her husband AND her mommy?”

“Yes, sweetheart.  And she’s sad.”

“I would be sad.  I am sad for Deedaw.  I love Deedaw.”

“I know you do, noodle.  Daddy and Bugaboo and Zio and Nephew are with her now to make sure she has lots of hugs and kisses.  We’ll go over there, too, but a little later.”

“Okay.”

april 2013 001

I called Deedaw a few minutes later, just to say, “I love you,” and see if there was anything I could do from across the river.  She demurred, but said she’d be very happy to see the rest of the tribe once everyone was feeling civilized.  As we were saying goodbye, Beanie stretched out her hand for the phone, and I asked Deedaw if she had a quick moment to talk to her youngest granddaughter.

Beanie took the phone and said her good mornings, then calmly stated, “You lost your mommy.”

Deedaw said that indeed, she had, and that Great-Grandma had gone to Heaven.

Beanie replied.  “Yes.  I’m happy for her.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the blessing of Your faithful servant, Dorothy, without whom our little family would not exist.  Thank You for welcoming her to a joyful eternity and a beautiful reunion with her husband, Daniel, and for releasing her from all suffering and pain.  Thank You for the quiet childish wisdom of her namesake, Beanie, who so perfectly clarified our faith when she explained that she was sad for her Deedaw and happy for her Great-Grandma.  As we bear each other’s burdens in the days and months to come, please grant us the grace to see Your love in all the gifts You send, and to recognize them AS gifts, even when it’s hard to see them through worldly eyes.  Please, Lord, bestow upon us the wisdom to use this time to teach Your blessings how to persevere, how to show compassion, how to say “I love you” without using those words or giving material goods.  Keep us mindful of Your assurance that those who mourn are blessed, and let us love one another as You have loved us.

Giving the best of his love


Here’s the song reference.

When we were expecting Bugaboo, we received a great deal of advice from many corners regarding Bo, who is now the elder canine statesman of the house.  Bo was almost insanely protective of me for quite a long time, and, while he had mellowed significantly by the time we were planning our eldest daughter’s arrival (he was 6 1/2 at that time), there was concern from most of the family that he would be displeased about, and perhaps aggressive towards, a new baby person.  I must confess that while we gently dismissed those concerns, Manie and I were just a smidge worried about Bo’s reaction.  Sheila (a border collie/schnauzer mix who left us at the ripe old age of 15 1/2 two days before Christmas of 2008) and Gretchen (a thoroughly enormous Plott hound who died shortly before her 8th birthday in 2011) had always been the very pictures of gentleness towards children, but Bo had a history of being skittish around them.

I don’t think we’d been home from the hospital more than ten minutes before we were able to discern what Bo and Jackie’s relationship would be.  She had managed to poop on the car ride home, so I whisked her into her new bedroom and set about changing her diaper.  Bo bolted past Manie, put his front feet up on the changing table, and, after giving her tiny toes a very gentle sniff, proceeded to bestow upon said toes the tiniest, most delicate puppy kisses I have ever seen a 75 pound dog give.   He has been her constant companion and guardian since that moment.

Bo has had a couple of strokes in the past year, and, at nearly 12 1/2, he walks gingerly and slowly.  He’s relinquished watchdog duties to the younger (and twice as big) Smudgie, although he still makes it a point to let Smudgie know who the alpha dog is from time to time.  He sleeps heavily, and has so few teeth left that we had to switch him over to soft food about a year ago.

Nonetheless, Bugaboo faithfully makes time to pet her oldest friend every day, to sit by him and speak gently to him.  She and Beanie actually have had many altercations over whose turn it is to feed him his “crinkly bags” in the evening, and he knows that if he’s prowling for table scraps, the best seat in the house, for him, is under Bugaboo’s chair.  He doesn’t play much these days, but he sighs contentedly when she brings out handfuls of Transformers, fairies, and toy animals and plays sitting next to him on the floor, and grouches at Mr. Man and Baby Guy if they try to make off with any of her toys.

One of the daily rituals at our house is the afternoon nap.  I am generally awake at 5:00 a.m., and generally don’t get to sleep until sometime after 11:00 p.m., so after lunch, I desperately need to lay down for half an hour (or an hour, or on some blessed and wonderful days, an hour and a half) so I can finish the rest of the day upright.  The boys sleep in their cribs, I stretch out on the living room sofa, and the girls have a daily dispute over which of them will get to sleep on the loveseat.  If there’s something intriguing on television, whoever doesn’t end up on the loveseat usually curls up with pillows and blankets on the floor.  On those days, Bo usually sleeps on the floor of the girls room, which has very soft carpet, while Smudgie sprawls between the floor-sleeper and the loveseat-lounger.

Today, Maryland was playing in the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament, an event I deemed worthy of a little extra TV time.  Bugaboo lost the loveseat lottery today, and thus was, somewhat unhappily, piled up with her stuffed penguins, pillow, and blankets in the middle of the living room rug.  Beanie quickly fell asleep while I was still explaining to Bugaboo that if she found her accommodations unsatisfactory, she has a perfectly good bed in which she could nap.  Finally, she settled in, and Smudgie deemed it safe to stretch out between the couch and Bugaboo’s head, where he stood a decent chance of getting his paws patted.

I thought I heard Bo’s heavy, halting tread coming up the stairs as I drifted off to my own nap, and figured that when I awoke, he’d be sawing logs in the girls’ bedroom.  When I awoke, this is what I saw.

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There are moments when the tears fall before I realize they’re there, and it took me a moment to comprehend that there was nothing wrong with the camera’s focus.  I watched them silently for about fifteen minutes before Bugaboo awoke, pausing to hug Bo before she headed for the bathroom.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for blessing our family with furry members, who have loved us as tenderly as we have loved them, sometimes more so.  Thank You for the many lessons You have taught us through their lives, from the wonder of watching puppies grow to the devotion of caring for a dog who has grown frail with age or illness.  Please help us teach Your blessings that while You created mankind to rule over the beasts, we are to do so with great gentleness and love, and recall that You made Your covenant with all living creatures after the Flood.  We would keep ourselves, and Your blessings, ever mindful that the trust our dogs place in us must be met with the love You show us, that we should look to You as the example of a good and loving master, Who safeguards His charges faithfully and with tenderness meets all our needs.  Please grant that we may love as unreservedly and forgive as readily as the dogs You have sent to guard and teach us.

A love supreme


Here’s the song reference.

Bugaboo awoke while I was in the shower this morning.  When I emerged from our bedroom, still shaking a couple of stray drops of water from my ears, Manie greeted me with somewhat of a mysterious smile.

“Wait until you see what Bugaboo just did.”

Our oldest daughter sprinted down the short hallway towards me, clutching a piece of newsprint handwriting paper in her wee hand.  She thrust it at me with a gigantic grin, exclaiming as she did so, “Look, Mommy, I did this all by myself!  I just wanted to write something, so I wrote this!”

There, glowing blue against the grey paper, were the words to the Sign of the Cross prayer.

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I should point out that penmanship lessons with Bugaboo have been compared to wrestling greased anacondas in the Amazon River.  For several seconds, my jaw opened and closed, but my vocal cords were unable to cooperate with its motion.  Bugaboo stood there, the joy on her face starting to fade to uncertainty, so I resorted to the simple expedient of sweeping her and her paper up in my arms and hugging her tightly.  When I regained the ability to speak, I whispered into her hair, “I am so, so proud of you, sweetheart, and God is too, because you thought of Him.”

She has never before asked for a piece of paper and a writing instrument to simply write down what was on her mind.  Manie confirmed that this was, in fact, what had happened, and that he had not helped her in any way — he thought she was writing one of her pretend letters, which are generally composed of wavy lines running across the page, narrated as she scrawls.   He was as thunderstruck as I was when he saw what she had done.

Manie left for work, and we passed a pleasant hour before the rest of the tribe awoke.  I praised her more for deciding to create her own handwriting practice, and then yet more for choosing a prayer for her practice passage.  As she left the table to tiptoe into her room for a fairy doll retrieval mission, she casually said, “You keep telling me that if we put God first, everything else will fall into place.  So I had God be the first thing I did this morning, and now I’m happy. I should do something for God first every morning so all my mornings will be happy.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for blessing us with Bugaboo, who sees through all the complexities adults try to impose on faith and reduces it to what it true, right, and simple:  that You commanded us to first love You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we begin each day with You, Lord, the day’s petty annoyances and even heavy trials are bearable, because we have started by remembering that You are with us always and in all things.  Please, Lord, grant me the grace of a prayerful heart, and as we train up Your blessings in the ways they should go, keep us ever mindful that if we put love for You first, while we may be odd in the eyes of the world, we will be doing Your work whithersoever we go.

S-O-D-A, soooda


Here’s the song reference.  If you’re not familiar with Weird Al Yankovic’s work, you might want to give it a listen.

I keep a very small stock of diet soda downstairs for when Grandma visits; she enjoys a properly iced glass of the stuff with her dinner, and I enjoy taking care of those small things that make my mother smile.  The cans stay in their little box in the basement until the night before her arrival, at which time a suitable quantity of fizzy beverage is placed in the upstairs refrigerator.  After Grandma’s last visit, we procured a new box, and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it waited near the stack of boxes of old books, quietly gathering the yellow-green pollen that invariably accumulates on everything in the basement when the tribe forgets to shut the door.

After a quick foray to the park this morning, we came home to make puppy puppets out of discarded oven mitts; our theme for this week is dogs, which has led to many Clifford stories being read and many dog-related art projects being concocted (incidentally, if you are a FiOS subscriber, there is a lovely little short about guide dogs on MagRack).  While the glue was drying on their masterpieces, Bugaboo and Beanie decided that a little more time exploring the great outdoors was in order, and that playing with Smudgie would be a good pastime for “dog week.”  Mr. Man and Baby Guy quickly followed heir big sisters, which gave me a chance to scrub the stray glue off the table and put some cheese rolls in the oven for lunch.

Once the kitchen table no longer presented a health hazard and the oven timer shrilled its cranky tones at me, I called out the kitchen window that there was, in fact, food to be had, and that wise children would quickly come devour it.  Bugaboo and Beanie raced each other up the steps, alternating complaints about who might have made physical contact with whom on their way up.  Mr. Man followed a moment later, his eyes brightening when he saw the big bowl of sliced apples next to the platter of cheese rolls.  As our three eldest impatiently surveyed the luncheon offerings, I inquired of them, “Where’s Baby Guy?”

“He’s still outside.  At least, I think he is, ” Bugaboo offered helpfully.

“Yeah, he’s ousside, ” confirmed Mr. Man.  Beanie was too enthralled by the mere presence of food to respond.

“Okay, guys.  You know the deal.  We eat together, so I need you to wait while I go get Baby Guy.”

Beanie’s wordless wail of protest followed me down the stairs and out the back door.  Sure enough, there was Baby Guy, hands covered in the potting soil from the pots on the patio table where the girls are trying to grow beets.  Laughing, I scooped him up with a quick, “Food, dude!” and headed back to the house.  As he nestled his head against my shoulder, as he is wont to do, I caught a whiff of something sweet — just as I tripped over the empty soda can.

Once inside, I looked for the box of diet sodas.  Sure enough, the tab on the end had been ripped open, and the box now stood empty, the pollen from the flap collecting in a grimly green blob next to it.  Sighing, I carried Baby Guy into the bathroom to wash his wee hands, managed to avoid looking like a refugee from a wet t-shirt contest, then tickled him upstairs and into his high chair.

We prayed grace over our lunch, and I held my curiosity until the last morsel had been eaten.  My working theory was that Mr. Man, who is fascinated by canned sodas and takes particular pride in presenting them to anyone who visits our home, had probably emptied out the box and put most of the soda in the downstairs refrigerator.  He’s done such things before.  What he had never done was actually open one of the cans.

As the three non-highchair-dwellers were putting their dishes in the sink, I inquired, “Mr. Man, did you take Grandma’s sodas out of the box?”

“Yesh, Mommy.”

“Mr. Man, did you open the sodas?”

He looked aghast at the very suggestion, and Bugaboo helpfully volunteered, “No, Mommy, I did that. I wanted to give the beets a drink of soda.  Beets are sweet and so is soda, so I thought they might enjoy some.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your blessings, who revel in all the wonders of Your creation.  Thank You for their loving hearts that cherish all life, for their tender care of our beloved Bo in what are likely his last weeks, for their fervent desire to bring forth new life from dirt and seeds.  Help me, Lord, to nurture their love of the truth, that willingness to admit their own fault even when it would be expedient to let another take the blame.  Please grant me the wisdom to teach them the right way to make connections – that while two things may be sweet individually, combining them leads to a big mess and a dead seed.  We would raise Your blessings to be good stewards of Your creation, Lord, and to worship You through their care for it.