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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

 

Fly me to the moon


Here’s the song reference.

First, let me share my customary Father’s Day greeting, to wit:

To all the fathers who hold their children in their arms, to all the fathers who hold their children only in their hearts, to all the fathers-in-waiting, to all the men who have lovingly given of themselves to act as a father to other men’s children, to all those who would give much to be able to call their fathers just one more time – happy Father’s Day. May we remain ever thankful for dads and their love!

We have a few Father’s Day and Mother’s Day customs in our family, most of which revolve around things we do not do.  Neither Manie nor I enjoy either pushy crowds or big fusses, so we eschew going out to eat.  We always start those days with Mass, to give proper thanks for each other and for the parents and grandparents who trained us up to be the parents we’ve become – and, of course, for the children we hold both in our arms and in our hearts.

Insofar as gifts and other tangible expressions of appreciation go, we also tend towards the nontraditional.  Our budget doesn’t allow for expensive presents, and even if it did, we frequently laugh that it’s such a bother to find places to store things, and then to have to clean them, so we’d rather have simple things we can enjoy together.  Sometimes that “thing” is a nap, or a movie in the playroom with lots of popcorn, or time spent tooling around the neighborhood on bikes and scooters.

That said, Manie and I love the gifts our tribe makes and selects for us.  One of the traditions the midget mob and I  have developed over the years is hoarding Walgreens rewards points for Daddy’s birthday and Father’s Day.  He loves toys, you see, and none more so than toys that give him the chance to make a little mayhem with the minions.  Walgreens in summer is a virtual treasure trove of such delights, and all four of them mark the days until we make those two shopping trips to fill a cart with things that will make Daddy smile and laugh.

Manie was awakened this morning by a small parade of small people bringing him their treasures, their biggest hugs, and their best kisses.  Nestled among the bag of beef jerky, the giant package of Cracker Jacks, and a plethora of peanut butter cups, he found a water balloon launcher (Baby Guy does not yet realize his selection is a little more than a giant box of balloons, but it’s going to be a riot when he finds out), a balloon animal kit, and, wonder of wonders, a rubber band rocket.  A great deal of the morning, both before and after Mass, was comprised of Daddy laughingly and lovingly crafting a small army of balloon dachshunds.  We fully expect to hear these popping the middle of the night, as all four of the small people insisted on taking their inflatable pets to bed with them.

It was the afternoon, however, that brought the great hilarity of the Mega Rocket.  You see, some weeks ago, Manie procured one of those little plastic rockets that launches with water.  Unfortunately, he managed to land it into one of the roof vents on his third flight, and has been earthbound, from a toy perspective, ever since.  When Mr. Man espied the Mega Rocket hanging from its peg in the store, he seized it and crowed, “Mommy!  Daddy needs a brand new rocket!  It’s a BIG rocket!  Daddy can fly this rocket all the way to the moon!  I want to get this rocket for Daddy!  He will be so happy to have a rocket again!”

As it happened, Daddy was quite happy to have a rocket again, especially when he discovered that its advertised flight of 250 feet was not, in fact, an exaggeration.  For hours, our front lawn rang with laughter from father and children, along with several neighbor dads who had to come over to see what was causing such cheerful commotion.  One of them beckoned me aside and said, “So, did Manie get anything, you know, good for Father’s Day?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “The kids gave him exactly what he wanted – a bag full of toys of his own and his favorite snacks, an afternoon bike ride, and eating anything Daddy wanted to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for a husband who thanks You for our four little blessings by rejoicing in every opportunity to laugh and play with them.  Thank You for Bugaboo, Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy, and for their six siblings whose faces we will see when we meet You at the end of our days on earth.  Thank You for our fathers, for our grandfathers, for our godfathers, and all the other good and Godly men who have loved us throughout our lives and shown us what beauty there is in fatherhood.

Lord, thank You also for simple pleasures.  We like a great many of our treasures here, Lord, from guitars to books to computers to pretty clothes, but please help us be mindful that all those things will pass away.  Please burn it into our hearts that to loving one another is not measured by the amount of money we spend, but by the love we pour out upon one another, as You poured Yours out upon us.

 

These shall not be forgotten years


Here’s the song reference.

After a chaotic weekend, it’s always a pleasure to have a mellow day on Monday, with no plans that involve dashing hither and yon.  Yesterday was such a day; although even Mr. Man and Baby Guy were awake and rambunctious before 7:30 a.m., no one was advocating for any trips involving distances beyond our back yard.  There were, however, quite a few requests for movies; the frequency and plaintiveness of those inquiries, combined with the still-prominent grey circles under four lovely pairs of eyes, told me we had one tuckered-out tribe.  Naps would be taken.  Huzzah!

Bugaboo and Beanie practiced their addition with regrouping and sentence structure, and colored some lovely pictures of the Blessed Mother. Baby Guy and Mr. Man ambled in while the girls were working and requested “schoolwork” of their own, and were rewarded with coloring pages;  Baby Guy is getting much better at consuming crayons by using them to color instead of to eat. While Mr. Man’s interest in writing letters and numbers is intensifying, he still likes to color, especially if his sisters are coloring, and it’s almost a certainty that our elder son is left-handed.  It runs in the family.

After that little bit of table work, the tiny people ran off to play with Legos, soccer balls, Smudgie, a katydid they found in the yard, and each other.  In between folding laundry and packing donation boxes for this morning’s veterans pickup, I read them stories, kissed a few boo-boos, and offered several gentle reminders that if you wouldn’t want someone to do something to you, you probably ought not do it to him or her. I spend a great deal of time doing that.  Incidentally, some of that time is spent explaining to a child snuggled into my lap why I should not have chosen to react harshly to some actual or perceived behavioral infraction.  If we want our children to learn humility and forgiveness, we have to show them what it looks like.  One of my more obscure blessings is that I screw up with enough frequency that I have lots of opportunities to model that on a regular basis.

Yesterday being the memorial of St. Peter Claver, we spent some time reading and talking not only about the good saint and his ministry, but also about Moses and the enslavement of the Israelites.  We ran back and forth between the couch, where we cuddle up to read, and the map on the hallway wall, to find the different places these people had lived and answered the Lord’s call.  Bugaboo and Beanie were both appalled by the concept that people had ever been viewed as property, to be bought, sold, and disposed of as another person pleased, and utterly horrified that the practice still exists.  We prayed together for both the liberation of those held in bondage and for the Lord’s grace in changing the hearts of those who use people as things.

Later in the day, when even solid naps had not ameliorated the fatigue of four small children who had a very busy weekend, I finally acceded to their earlier requests for some screen time, on the conditions that we would watch show episodes only, and that in between shows we would do something else.  The “something elses” ranged from drawing pictures of things they recalled from the shows (their renderings of Chuck the Truck were pretty darned cute), to putting away specified categories of toys in their rooms, to eating dinner, to practicing our best Woody Woodpecker laughs (click the link, they’re funny).  I had to deliver a couple of “time-outs” for jumping on the couch (behind which is a ten foot drop to the foyer floor), and one for wanton whackings with a Tonka fire truck (Baby Guy got his diaper in a dither because Beanie wouldn’t surrender her watching spot on the couch), but there was a great deal of giggling and general silliness in the latter part of the day.

While Manie and I occasionally differ over child-rearing minutiae, such as how many Oreos constitutes an acceptable dessert serving for a preschooler, the one guiding principle upon which we have agreed since (literally) our first date is that we want our children to have a childhood, and we want them to remember it as a time when they were innocent, when their responsibilities involved keeping their rooms in some semblance of order, collecting food for the food bank, and learning how to play with others with civility and respect.  We revel in these years where a big night out involves Chuck E Cheese or Joe’s Crab Shack (which, for the record, has an *awesome* outdoor playground to go with its tasty seafood fare).  Do we miss restaurants with fancy china and crystal and establishments where live rock music is played?  Sometimes, yes, and once or twice a year we engage the services of a babysitter and enjoy a couple of hours in the world where only adults tread.

In one of the books Mr. Man asked me to read to him yesterday afternoon, I found the following little prayer:  “Lord, You are good to me.  Thank You for my family.  Watch me closely while I play.  Help my friends throughout the day.”

When they are grown, we want our kids to thank God for parents who let them be children, parents who never considered them fashion accessories or trinkets to be trotted out for the admiration of others, but loved them as the small people in need of nurturing and protection they are.  We want them to remember that while yeah, Mommy sometimes let them watch an Avengers episode just so she could make a phone call in peace, our time with them was more important than anything else.

Maybe we’re not the cool parents who think it’s so cute to let toddlers dance on a bar at night, or teach their preschoolers how to be sexy, or give second graders unrestricted cell phone and internet service, or take girls who are still figuring out how to detangle their own hair for a spa day.  That’s okay.  We know how to throw gummy bears in the air and catch them on our tongues, how to laugh like Woody Woodpecker, and how to say, “no,” in such a way that it sounds like, “I love you.”

Today’s prayer:

Lord, when Manie and I married, we asked You to bless our marriage with children.  Thank You for answering our prayer with great abundance, and for the trust You have placed in us with Your answer.  We try to thank You by giving them an example of how we honor You in our thoughts, words, and deeds, how we humble ourselves when we err, and how we savor the days of childhood without polluting them by forcing small children into adult environments and situations.  Thank You for “off” buttons, for books, for mud, and for little chocolate-covered fingers.  And Lord, please don’t ever let us get so busy pursuing our own entertainment that we either shove Your blessings off in a corner or take them places children should not go.  They will encounter the adult world soon enough.  Please help us provide them with the tools they will need to beautify it with Your light, Lord, because there is an overabundance of dark corners in it.  Let us teach them that love without sacrifice is not worthy of the name.

And, Lord, when I am tempted to push my children aside because there’s something I’d rather do, help me remember the six children who went straight to Your arms.  Give me whatever I will need to raise the four siblings who run to mine so that all ten of them will gather together in Your presence at the end of time.

Go hug Alice, I think she’ll glow


Here’s the song reference.

At Mass yesterday morning, Beanie and I sat near the elderly lady who so enjoyed our younger daughter’s quiet rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” a couple of weeks ago; we frequently choose a pew near her, as her regular spot is close to the door leading to the restroom. While Beanie rarely needs to get up in the middle of Mass for a potty break these days, it does happen on occasion, and it’s better not to disturb too many of our fellow parishioners.

The lady in question is beautiful.  Her face is carved with lines that seem to form a roadmap of a joyous life, because when she smiles, the lines converge into a mask of radiant happiness.  It is the kind of face I hope to have when I am old and frail, so everyone that sees m might know that infirmity of body in no wise lessens the love with which the Lord has infused my soul.  She has a particular affection for Beanie, and the feeling is mutual; during the sign of peace, if the lady is nearby, Beanie makes a beeline for her, then delivers her gentlest hug and a whispered, “Peace be with you.”

As we were exiting the pew at the end of Mass, our friend favored Beanie with one of her radiant smiles, and Beanie danced over to her to say, “good morning.”  Since we were in no particular hurry yesterday morning, I crossed the aisle to add my greeting and simply enjoy the blessing of a gentle lady’s companionship for a few moments.

She greeted us in return.  “Good morning!  You know, I so enjoy seeing you and your little girl at Mass.  She is so sweet.”

“Thank you, ma’am.  We are always happy to see you here, too.  I really appreciate how kind you are to her.”

“Oh, that’s my pleasure.”  She turned to Beanie.  “How are you this morning, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine, thank you.  I read my Bible during Mass today.”

“I saw you reading so nicely.  You must be very smart.”  Turning back to me, our venerable friend inquired, “Wherever did you find that?  I could see the pages, and that’s really a beautiful book.”

Smiling, I replied, “I actually bought it at Burlington almost seven years ago, when we were expecting our oldest daughter.  It is beautiful, and tough, too – can you believe it’s stood up to four little children?”

“My goodness.  You have four children?”

“Yes, ma’am.  Beanie here is the second in the series, and the only one who wakes up early enough on Sunday mornings to come to Mass with me.  It’s our special time.”

“That is just wonderful.”  She turned back to Beanie, who was tap-dancing a bit and watching the acolytes extinguish the candles on the altar.  “Do you enjoy reading your book during Mass?”

“I do, I like my Bibles very much, and Mommy says it’s okay for me to read it, because I’m still thinking about Jesus during Mass.”

“Can you read the words?”

“Ye-e-es!”  Beanie opened her book randomly and began to read aloud.

“Goodness, you are a bright girl!  What is your name, dear?  My name is Alice.”

“I like your name,” replied Beanie, before answering with her unabbreviated name, which happens to be quite a mouthful.

“That is a beautiful name, and you are a beautiful girl.  It is very nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Miss Alice,” replied Beanie with a hug, “and I think YOU are beautiful.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the company of people You have blessed with long years and joyful souls.  Thank You for Your little blessings whose eyes see the proof of joy in their lined faces, and whose arms to embrace them gently as a reminder that hearts still have room for them.  As we raise them, Lord, please grant us the grace to teach them that loving our neighbors when they become elderly or frail is not a burden, but a singular privilege You grant us, as You once granted Your disciple the privilege of caring for Your mother.  Please grant us enough wisdom to respond to the needs of those men and women You have crowned with halos of white hair with cheerful countenances and gentle tongues, and enough strength to answer Your call to serve them.

Paradise by the front turn lights


Here’s the song reference.

Yesterday was one of those days where very little was accomplished, but we were busy from waking to retiring; the morning featured our SHARE pickup (if you are unfamiliar with the organization, do click the link and learn about an extraordinary program), along with a whirlwind of attempted cleaning.  Our weekends contain a higher-than normal insanity quotient at the moment, as we are preparing two houses for a move that appears ready to happen in mid-to-late November. While it’s a great opportunity to bless a lot of people with the abundance we’ve been given, it also involves a lot of running, occasional bouts of tears, and a whole lot of sorting, stacking, and boxing of the non-recreational variety.

Manie and Bugaboo decamped for Mass with Deedaw in late afternoon, leaving me with Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy, and a dinner to prepare at Deedaw’s.  It was a great mercy that the day was mild and sunny, and exerted a siren’s call over our three youngest children to come play in the yard; truly, it is a beautiful thing to be able to peel potatoes and slice onions without having to tap-dance around the little feet of curious little ones!

Dinner featured Bugaboo pretending to eat her steak, German potato salad, regular salad, and fresh figs, while actually dropping them onto the dining room floor under her chair.  We think she forgot that Smudgie doesn’t live at Deedaw’s yet.

An hour or so after dinner, it was time to get the kids home to bed, as Baby Guy was making a valiant effort to fall asleep on the floor.  Manie and Deedaw helped me bundle the tribe into their car seats, and stood watching in the driveway as I backed out, heading for our house.  I thought I noticed Manie pointing at the front of Fran the van as we departed, and remembered that my left front turn signal bulb had burnt out a few days earlier.  I’d need to be careful making left turns, I thought, and a stop at the auto parts store for a replacement on the way home from Mass Sunday morning might not be a bad idea.

After prayers were prayed and lullabies sung, four little angels snuggled sleepily under their covers and were not heard from again.  I found myself with some unexpected quiet time.  Half an hour or so into my reveling in silence, I thought I heard Manie pull into the driveway, but since I heard no subsequent key in the lock, figured he was still working on things over at Deedaw’s.  Shortly after 9:30, I did hear his key in the lock, and turned to greet my husband, so we could enjoy what remained of Saturday night together.  He’d been running since 8:00 in the morning.

He was covered in sweat, dirt, gravel, and grease.

My jaw dropped, and I started to ask what misadventure had befallen him.

He spoke before I could panic further, “Hey, hon, your left headlight was out, too.  I stopped and got bulbs and changed all of them out, just to be safe; they’re all about the same age, so if two of them are out, the other ones are probably on their last legs.”  Pausing to survey his appearance, he grinned at me and added, “I’m kind of a mess now, so I think I’ll go take a shower.  Love you!”

Best.  Husband.  Ever.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You so much for Manie, the miracle I never expected and would not have known to ask You for.  Thank You for saving Your greatest blessings for the moments I don’t expect them.  Thank You for the wonderful children with whom You have blessed our marriage, for joining two lives and souls into one.  Thank You for giving him the wisdom to know that I don’t need flowers, jewelry, or anything else fancy as proofs of his love.  Please, Lord, let me never take him for granted, and grant us the grace to teach Your blessings about marriage the way Nonno and Deedaw taught him – by example.  Thank You for this man, who has dedicated his time, talent, and treasure to serving You and us, who works fifty hour weeks to keep us fed, clothed, and sheltered, and whose only wish in his off hours is to find ways to rejoice with the family You have helped us build.

I can’t say it enough – thank You, God, for my Manie, Your proof to me that You give greater blessings than I could ever merit or imagine.

Finally, you come along


Here’s the song reference.

Last weekend, we celebrated Deedaw’s 75th birthday.  To her delight, her sister, one of her nieces, and our beloved Zizi Carmela all made the trip down from Pittsburgh to rejoice with us that the Lord saw fit to grant us another year with a great lady.

The tiny people were all terribly excited about the prospect of a party, and Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man were all particularly happy to learn that three of their favorite relatives would be attending.  Deedaw’s sister and the niece who came are wonderfully fun grown-ups who make time to play trucks, and dolls, and hairstylist, and superheroes, while Zizi Carmela, in addition to having an endless supply of kisses, has the love and the patience to sit for as long as they want, listening to whatever they want to tell her, even if she doesn’t have the vaguest idea what they’re actually saying. Since Mr. Man tends to start a conversation with one person in one room and finish it with someone else in another, that last is not an infrequent occurrence, and Baby Guy is a little tough to understand for those unaccustomed to his two-year-old vocabulary and diction.

Zizi has a soft spot for Baby Guy, who is named for her late husband.  Regular readers of this blog know that we have a soft spot for Zizi.  Baby Guy, however, being a highly mobile and curious toddler, has not really had the patience to sit nicely in Zizi’s lap for over a year now, and while she still adores him (and the rest of the tribe), she’s been a little hurt that the little fellow simply refuses to be held.  Manie and I, figuring this would probably be the case again, spent no small amount of time and effort ensuring that he could, at least, bubble out, “Hi, Zizi,” and utter a couple of words in Italian (ciao, buona notte, and arrivederci, for the curious – and there’s not much cuter than Baby Guy trying to sputter out “arrivederci!”).

Happily, our youngest did, in fact, manage to greet his great-aunt by name, and greet her with a hearty, “Ciao, Zissy,” which made her smile and laugh, before zooming off to see what his cousin and siblings were doing with the sidewalk chalk on the back porch.  On the first day of Zizi’s visit, Baby Guy did deign, several times, to approach close enough to allow Zizi to give him some hugs and kisses and tell him what a big boy he’s getting to be, and even showed her where her nose was once or twice.

On the second day of the visit, we rushed through schoolwork and headed over to have another visit with the Pittsburgh relatives before they headed home, zipped home for naps, then returned to Deedaw’s for dinner with them.  We don’t get to see the Pennsylvania branches of the family very often, and they’re such wonderful company that we don’t like to squander the opportunities we’re given.  The whole tribe was a little crazy for the morning half of our visit, but settled down to a relatively civilized level after a decent nap.  In the afternoon, Deedaw’s sister and niece were kind enough to monitor some bike-riding time in front of the house so we could get dinner started; it was a short-lived adventure, as the weather was sufficiently hot and humid to spark altercations amongst the little ones regarding whose bike, trike, or scooter was whose.

After dinner, Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man headed outside to further decorate the back porch with sidewalk chalk, while Baby Guy remained indoors, busily searching for cookies.  He was quite delighted when he discovered that there was plenty of “Happy You You” cake left, and that everyone at the table was more than happy to indulge his love of frosting and whipped cream (which is known as “foof” in Baby Guy parlance).

Having scammed at least a mouthful of sugary goodness from each and every adult at the table, Baby Guy circumnavigated the table, looking to see who might be willing to play with him.  Manie and I watched hopefully as he approached Zizi’s chair . . .

. . . and could not hold back the smiles when he clambered up into her lap, where he remained for about ten minutes.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for family members willing to travel hundreds of miles to rejoice with us, and thank You for their safe travels.  You have blessed us with so many of Your best people, and blessed them with length of years.  Thank You for their love and their wisdom, which they freely share with us, and for their nearly endless patience with Your littlest blessings.  Help us teach Your blessings that among Your greatest gifts to us are the members of their grandparents’ generation, who imbue everyday tasks with holiness by the love with which they perform them.  Help us teach them that the years when those elders’ bodies weaken and memories fail are our opportunity to show them that we learned well the lessons in love You taught us through their ministry to our family, and let us never consider their frailties an inconvenience to us, but a chance to give back to them the pieces of their beautiful hearts they freely left with us.

He sees skies of blue


Here’s the song reference.

I went to early Mass yesterday, then scooted home to gather up Mr. Man and Baby Guy, who would be accompanying me on a short trip with Deedaw while Bugaboo and Beanie went to 9:30 Mass with Manie.  You see, yesterday marked exactly 7 months since Nonno left, and Deedaw wanted to take her best guy some flowers.  After a bit of circular driving to purchase flowers and locate Deedaw’s cane, we headed northward to the cemetery where Nonno’s remains rest.

This particular July in Virginia has been very hot and very sticky; walking through the rows of headstones to get to Nonno’s grave somewhat resembled a walk through a vat of unfinished taffy.  Baby Guy was cranky from  being in his car seat and thus unable to run; while he was able to walk around the cemetery, the number of visitors and the overall solemnity of the place precluded his really being able to bust loose in ebullient two-year-old fashion.  He contented himself with helping Mr. Man clean tombstones with the bag of baby wipes that always accompanies us on these trips for a few minutes before pelting off down the row.

Mr. Man stayed devotedly by his Deedaw while I chased down his errant little brother, alternating between patting her shoulder and patting Nonno’s stone.  When Baby Guy and I returned, the four of us joined in a last prayer for the living and the dead, Baby Guy squirming and complaining in my lap all the while, before we started the sweaty walk back to the van.

On that walk, Mr. Man stopped to get a wipe from our stash, and turned briefly aside to help a widow, a stranger to us, clean her husband’s gravestone.  He patted her arm, too, when he noticed she was crying.  We all stopped to offer her our comfort and understanding, and to assure her of our prayers, before continuing back across the grass.

Baby Guy is still working on the concept of holding hands when he’s let down to walk, so our progress was punctuated by me diverting off to one side or the other to catch him after he slipped his hand free of mine and took off to see the many flowers that decorated graves in that section of the cemetery.  Eventually, I had to scoop him up and carry him, kicking and screaming, back to the van.  The heat and humidity of the day were simply too much for Deedaw, and I fretted that Baby Guy, if he continued sprinting amongst the stones, would either draw the ire of other visitors or drop from heat exhaustion.

As I belted my struggling son back into his car seat, I sighed between his cries, thinking the twenty-five mile ride home was going to be rather a long one.  Deedaw shot me a sympathetic glance, and wordlessly produced a bag of veggie fries from among her belongings.  That seemed to calm our youngest a bit; it’s always struck me as a great mercy that all of our children have responded well to a little snack when they’re grouchy.  After a quick stop at the trash can to dispose of used wipes and water bottles, we headed southwards, intermittent complaints from Baby Guy still punctuating the audio from the movie the boys were watching.

As we drove the curving ramp onto the interstate, Baby Guy’s irritated ejaculations turned to sounds of wonder and happiness, and we heard him repeating, over and over, “I see blue!  I see blue!”  A quick peek into the rear-view mirror showed me that he was pointing out the van window at the sky.

“Yeah, big guy, you see skies of blue, don’t you?  Do you see the clouds of white, too?”

“I see white!  I see white!”

Deedaw gave me a wry smile.  We’d both been so caught up in our sadness, in our missing Nonno, that we’d forgotten the majesty of the heavens, the beauty of a blue sky adorned with billows of puffy cloud.

Our trip home was pretty peaceful, actually.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the reminder from the mouth of Your little blessing that when the cares of this life grieve us sorely, we need but look to You and Your promises to find comfort and peace.  Thank You for the opportunity You provided to comfort a mourning stranger, and for the means You have given us to get to the places where strangers need comforting.  Please guard my mind and heart from anxiety over our daily cares, and help me teach Your blessings that You will provide what we need for the day.  We will not be without discomforts, but if we bear in mind that Your service is our priority, we will be able to bear those small crosses joyfully.

Daddy’s hands


Here’s the song reference.

An aside – no, I do not still call my father “Daddy.”  We prefer “Dad” or “Grandpa” these days.

Grandpa – my Dad – will be 68 in a couple of days.  I’m always at a loss for what to do for his birthday, because there really aren’t many material things he needs or wants.  In recent years, we’ve settled on giving him shirts lovingly handprinted by the grandchildren, a couple of books he really wanted, a homemade pizza, things like that.  He delights in our simple gifts.

This year, as it happened, one of his all-time favorite country singers gave a concert here in our little town.  When I saw the concert announcement, I called and asked him if he would like to go to the show for his birthday this year, since the date was only three days off.  He enthusiastically agreed that this would be a wonderful gift indeed.  Plans were made, tickets purchased, and the countdown to the big day began.  We decided that, since Manie loathes country music, and there’s not a single member of the tribe that could handle the heat and experiences that attend a Hank Williams, Jr. concert in Virginia in July, this would be a straight-up father-daughter outing.

He could not, however, resist being Grandpa, and insisted on treating the tribe to a snack at Big Yellow M before the show.  No visit here would be complete for him without hugs from the grandkids, with perhaps a touch of grandparental spoiling thrown in for good measure.

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After our snack, Manie took the tribe over to hang out with Deedaw, while Grandpa and I headed for the concert.  As it happened, the promoters were a little optimistic in their estimation of what time the show would start, so we found ourselves with some time to wander around the grounds and see the vendors and exhibitors who had set up pavilions around the lawn seating area.  After checking out the various food and beverage offerings, we chanced upon a pavilion manned by some fine young members of the United States Marines.

There was a pull-up bar in front of the tent, and a strategically placed placard advertised little prizes to any man who could do certain numbers of pull-ups, or women who could pull-up and do the bent-arm bar hang, chin above the bar, for certain numbers of seconds.  Grandpa eyed the bars speculatively, whereupon the young men began gently teasing him.

“Come on, give it a try, if you can do just one I’ll give you a lanyard!”

Grandpa gave the young fellow the “you gotta be kidding me look” that I have known well for 42 years, confidently approached the apparatus, and climbed up.

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The young men were grinning, somewhat incredulously, and while their words were encouraging, they seemed to doubt his prospects.

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They’ve never met my Dad before.  Their facial expressions were quite different a moment later.

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Alas, I lack the photographic evidence that I earned my own lanyard.  I guess I always have been kind of a Daddy’s girl.

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My Dad taught me the same lesson he has taught, consistently and gently, for all forty-two years of my life, in a time of my life when I needed the reminder that along with the science, math, and English lesson plans, there’s something my kids need to know that they’ll learn from my life, not from their textbooks.  Sometimes, things are hard.  Sometimes, people will laugh at you, either to your face or behind your back, at even daring to try.  But you do try.  You take the challenge in your hands, hold fast and hold tight, call on the Lord to help you, and use every ounce of strength you’ve been given.  Sometimes you fall flat on your backside, as Grandpa did on his first attempt at the pull-up.  Instead of sitting around complaining about how the bar is too high or the people around you aren’t responding the way you think they ought, you get up, brush the dirt off your pants, and try it again.  If you make it, you make it.  If you don’t, at least you know you gave it everything you had, and you walk away with your head held high and a prayer in your heart that you will listen to the Lord  when He leads you where He wanted you to go in the first place.  You don’t blame the people who scoffed, you don’t blame the bar, you don’t blame the ground – really, you don’t blame anyone or anything.  You either do it, or you don’t, and you keep living and eagerly anticipating the next opportunity you’ll have to accomplish something.  You choose joy.

Today’s prayer:

Lord, thank You for my Dad, who even in his darkest hours, has loved me.  Thank You for using him as Your instrument to teach me that I am nobody’s victim, that I am beloved by You even when the world ridicules or despises me.  Thank You for the young men whose faces reminded me that I should approach the worthy endeavors of others, no matter how trivial or foolish they may seem at the moment, with an encouraging word and, perhaps, a silent prayer to You.  Please help me teach Your blessings that You are our strength and our hope, and that when some worldly endeavor ends badly, we should take the time to listen for Your wisdom, and that instead of clinging bitterly to past slights, injuries, and failures, Your will for us is that we move forward, shining Your joyful light upon whatever we do.

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.