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Bang your head


Here’s the song reference.

Our kitchen is slightly less orderly than usual at the moment, perhaps because our dishwasher decided to resign a bare two months before we’re supposed to be moving.  I have no particular objection to washing dishes by hand; truth be told, I have many vivid and cheerful memories of drying dishes in Granny’s kitchen, and am somewhat looking forward to passing that experience along to my own children.  Even Baby Guy can dry and stow the spoons.  However, it does disrupt our morning timing somewhat, and while the tiny people are not exactly enslaved to their routine, they will take advantage of distractions and diversions to skitter off to Lego-land instead of working on their morning seatwork.

Nonetheless, we headed for the park to take advantage of a warm, sunny day, the second-to-last Wednesday of summer, and a day on which the less time I spend in front of any electronic media, the happier our entire household is.  Since we were running low on what we call “portable food,” and because we are trying not to generate more dishes than are necessary, we stopped at the nearby grocery store to acquire grapes, cheese, and carrots to eat for lunch.  Augmented by the blueberry biscuits I’d found in the pantry, we had the makings of a warm day’s feast.

As I was loading Baby Guy into the shopping cart seat, and his siblings were scrambling into their accustomed positions around the cart, our youngest set up a pitiable cry of, “Cuppy!  Cuppy! Where cuppy?”

I had asked Beanie to locate and carry Baby Guy’s sippy cup.  Mr. Man clung to his blankie, Bugaboo carried a stuffed penguin whithersoever she went, and had her pancake bunny when they still had to have a security object in their travels, but for Baby Guy, it has been a sippy cup since he learned to use one.  Fortunately, the color and style of sippy cup matter not to him, as long as he has one.  “Hey, Beanie, do you remember where you put Baby Guy’s cuppy?”

“I think I forgot it.”

Those who have raised toddlers just winced a little.

After a quick reminder to Beanie that Baby Guy was likely to be quite unhappy for the duration of our trip to the store, I mentally added a cup for the little fellow to our shopping list.  Baby Guy continued wailing unhappily about the absence of Cuppy, and I exhorted the tribe to set as brisk a pace as possible without running, which would be unseemly and unsafe in a grocery store.  Shepherding the older children as we trotted, I awkwardly rubbed Baby Guy’s back while pushing the cart upon which he sat and trying to murmur soothing words in between reminders to Beanie and Mr. Man that trying to step on the backs of one another’s shoes is not an approved game.

Few other customers were in the store at the time of our arrival, so we were able to acquire our few items largely unimpeded.  With four small children, I’ve developed a knack for snagging and carting things in stores without breaking stride.  When we arrived at the baby supplies aisle, however, I had to come to a full stop to select an appropriate cup.  The price of sippy cups at a grocery store has become genuinely ridiculous, and I was taken aback at the thought of spending seven dollars on a single drinking vessel.

We’d been meaning to transition Baby Guy from sippy cups to straw cups anyway, so I tossed a package of them into the cart and headed for the checkout.  To Baby Guy’s very great delight, these particular cups featured characters from the movie Cars.  He’s never seen the movie, but he loves cars.  He did not, however, love that the cups were in the cart instead of his hands, and proceeded to express his displeasure the way all of his siblings did at the same age, to wit: by pounding his head vigorously upon the nearest available surface, which in this instance happened to be the handle of the shopping cart.

We made our way back to the van without serious damage to Baby Guy’s cranium (my pediatrician’s advice has been to ignore this behavior strenuously, and only give reinforcement of any kind when the behavior changes to something that does not involve head-banging, and he’s been right so far – this stage only lasts a couple of weeks if the child doesn’t get what she or he wants from it, because it really doesn’t feel very good).  After a light-speed load-in, I reassured Baby Guy that upon our arrival at the park, he would be presented with a snazzy new cup full of his beverage of choice (he’s a milk junkie).  That changed his wail from one desirous of a cup to one pleading for the playground, which I counted as progress as we hit the road.

Once I’d settled our cooler on our base of operations, a picnic table in the shade of the pavilion next to the playground and helped Baby Guy drink deeply from his new cup, the tiny people scattered in all directions to swing, slide, climb, and make friends with the other children cavorting through the play equipment.  I stayed by the cooler to hand out drinks and food, as Mr. Man is in the habit of staging raids which result in edibles flying in all directions as he seeks his snack of choice.  Baby Guy, while somewhat put out by my denial of his request to carry his new “Cuppy” around the playground with him, was quickly lost in his quest to see exactly how fast he can descend a sliding board.  Bugaboo and Beanie cheerfully set about making friends with the other homeschooled kids who were already there, and I introduced myself to the ladies at the other table, who were meeting there to talk about setting up a new American Heritage Girls troop.  After sharing our overabundance of grapes with them, since they were the mothers of the rest of the children at the playground, I retired to our base camp to continue my rolling head count of my own crew.

We passed a pleasant hour at the park, with the tribe careening between the cooler and the playground.  Once Mr. Man and Beanie started a mulch-throwing party, however, it was time for us to depart.  The day was hot; all four children were red-faced and sweaty, so it seemed an opportune time to head home, get Baby Guy a nap, do a little schoolwork, and maybe catch an episode of “How It’s Made,” which is Bugaboo’s current obsession.

I called to the tiny people, “Bugaboo!  Beanie!  Mr. Man!  Baby Guy!  It’s time to go now!”

The predictable protest ensued.  Baby Guy attempted to flee up the steps of one of the slides, having not yet watched enough horror movies to know that when one is being pursued, one should never run up the stairs.  I tucked him onto my hip and waded back through the playground, trailing a line of little kids, each of whom had his or her own reason why we should stay at the park for ten more minutes, or even another hour.  Bugaboo and Beanie quickly remembered that Mommy is something of a Borg about park departure times; resistance is futile, and possibly counterproductive.  Mr. Man, however, would live at the playground if we would allow it.

Our three-year-old son, ruddy-faced from the heat and exertion, stomped and shuffled his way across the playground to the pavilion where I was retrieving our cooler, whining as he went, paying far more attention to his lament than he was to the tree roots that protruded from the ground.  With the grace typical for his age, he tripped over a tree root and landed, forehead first, on the corner of the concrete pad that forms the floor of the pavilion.

With Baby Guy still riding on my hip, I ran and scooped up my wailing child in my free arm.  The sound of a full-throated scream from a child who has just hit his head with a great deal of force is authentically beautiful – it means he’s conscious. As I clutched him to my chest and made my way to a bench to survey the damage, I suddenly found myself surrounded by the ladies who had been meeting at the other table.

“Is he okay?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I think he’s okay, but there’s a lot of dirt on his forehead, do any of you happen to have a wipe I could use, please?”

One lady produced a wipe, another grabbed a ziplock bag and an ice cube from her cooler.  After we had applied both to Mr. Man’s head, we discovered that while he had an impressive goose egg and abrasion, the swelling was all directed outwards.  I thanked the ladies profusely, and in response to their inquiry regarding whether we needed any further assistance, I replied, “Let me see.  Mr. Man, will you be okay if we can get home and find you some chocolate?”

“Ye- (hiccup) e- (hiccup) e- (hiccup) sh.  I need some chocolate for medicine, and chocolate will make me feel all better.”

We four moms chuckled discreetly.  Having calmed both boys (Baby Guy cries when Mr. Man does), I explained the story of a high school friend’s father’s method of determining the severity of his many children’s claimed illnesses and injuries.  If a child complained of being sick or hurt, he would produce a bowl of ice cream, give it to the complaining child, and watch for results.  If the child was still sick or hurt after eating the ice cream, a trip to the doctor was probably warranted; if not, the child was sent off to school.

For the record, Mr. Man is in fine fettle this morning, and currently quite put out that Mommy is focusing on her laptop instead of her son.

september 2013 003 september 2013 008

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for reminding me that the thick skulls You gave Your blessings are a gift; I forget that sometimes.  Thank You for the kindness of strangers, for the love they showed Your blessings and I at the park yesterday, for the reminder that sometimes “I love you” is said best by having the humility to accept assistance from people we don’t know.  Thank You for enough grapes to share, and for a bright, peaceful, and sunny day, where the only heat we encountered was from the late summer sun.  Please help us teach Your blessings to love without fear; empty me of my doubts and suspicions, and fill that space with trust in Your providence.  We would raise children who live in joyful anticipation of Your kingdom, and who see a glimmer of You in every face, even if that face is twisted with rage, or malice, or a pain we cannot fathom.  Grant us the grace of hearts that do what You made them to do, which is to love and serve You by loving and serving all of our neighbors, and by humbly thanking You for blessing us with them.

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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.

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.

april 2013 002

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.

Little boy, don’t you think it’s time you were in bed


Here’s the song reference.

The saga of getting Mr. Man to stay in his bed at night continues.  Wednesday night, Manie and I resorted to putting a baby gate across the door to the boys’ room, which worked well.  It probably helped that he hadn’t taken a nap and was completely exhausted when Manie tucked him in an hour past his usual bedtime.

Yesterday, a beautiful friend, B, gave me the gift of her day, bringing her daughter over to spend time with the tribe so I could give Deedaw unlimited time to run errands.  She remains determined to spoil her grandchildren this Christmas; it’s the little piece of normal life that is her best distraction right now.  B did such a stellar job that Mr. Man actually took a nap for the first time in several days, although he did give her a moment of heart failure when she went to check on him and Baby Guy and did not see him in his bed.  He had curled up behind the rocking chair, on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, and fallen asleep clutching his blankies.

At bedtime last night, three out of four tiny people fell asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows (or, in Baby Guy’s case, his bear).  It may have helped that I told the girls that Frisbee (our elf on the shelf, so named because he flies back and forth between our house and Santa’s) and I had some urgent matters to discuss, and any delay in their going to sleep would delay our conversation — which would probably displease us both.  That roughly translates to me having an urgent need to get their Christmas presents wrapped before they figure out where the loot is stashed, but telling them THAT would have guaranteed me a steady stream of little taps on our bedroom door.  Sometimes, metaphor and euphemism are potent tools.

Mr. Man was completely unimpressed by my need to have a private conversation with Frisbee.  I had no sooner turned off Bugaboo and Beanie’s light and closed their door, with a last blown kiss and “Love you, beautiful girls,” than I heard the door to the boys’ room snick open.  The gate was up, and I could hear Mr. Man experimentally tapping against the gate with different toys to see if any of them would result in the gate falling.  Since I had to go retrieve the box of presents from downstairs anyway, I stopped by to kiss him on the head and gently remind him that once the lights go out, it’s time to be in bed, and stay in bed until he can see daylight.  With a somber, “Okay, Mommy,” he trudged back to his bed.  I whispered, “I love you,” and quietly closed his door.

I think I had started taking the second footstep towards the utility room before I heard the door open again.

Sighing, I turned around and said, “Okay, big guy.  I love you too, but it’s bedtime.  Night-night, Mr. Man.  You need to sleep now.”

The door closed.

I fished out the box of toys.

The door opened.

“Close the door, Mr. Man.”

The door closed.

I started up the stairs and made it about halfway before I heard the door open again.

“Good NIGHT, Mr. Man.”

The door closed.

I made a quick round of phone calls to update Grandma, Grandpa, and a couple other family members on Nonno, and to kibitz with Manie, who stayed the night with Nonno and Deedaw last night, before starting in on the wrapping.  Throughout the hour or so I spent on the phone, Mr. Man kept opening and closing his door, playing with his toys (he and Alphie had a lovely long conversation about letters and numbers), and trying unsuccessfully to get Baby Guy to awaken and join in the fun.  Thinking that, perhaps, this might be one of those times where if I kept going down and giving him more attention for doing something he shouldn’t, I decided to let him wear himself out for a bit while I talked to everyone.

That tactic seemed to be working; the noise level decreased, and while I was talking with Grandma, I thought he had actually gone to sleep, perhaps just leaving his door open so the ambient noise of the house would soothe him.  When I heard the thud and the wail, I realized my theory was incorrect, so I bid a quick farewell to Grandma and hurried down the stairs.

Mr. Man had, apparently, been pushing different toys and objects over to the gate to see if he could find something he could climb that would get him high enough to scramble over the gate.  His final attempt involved pushing Baby Guy’s music table against the gate and attempting to scale it.  However, he has the balance one might expect of a sleepy two-year-old, and the table tipped over when he tried to stand on it, spilling him onto the floor.

After ascertaining that he had done himself no injury that would require immediate medical attention, I removed the guilty table from the boys’ room and stowed it safely in a bathroom for the night, then sternly explained to a throughly unrepentant Mr. Man that once the lights are turned out, he is to remain in his bed, with his blankies and all his stuffed friends, close his eyes, and remain quiet.  Should he do those things, I clarified, sleep would find him and he would be a happy and well-rested little dude the following morning, with a happy and well-rested mommy.

He didn’t seem terribly impressed by my logic, but he did stay in his bed after that.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the many ways in which You protect Your little blessings, from the kindhearted friends You send to help care for them to the soft landings on well-padded body parts our less graceful blessings always seem to have.  Please help us teach them that what they are seeing from their friends and family this Christmas is love at its brightest and truest, the sacrificial gift of self that all six of us have given to bring Nonno and Deedaw what comfort and joy we have to offer, and the sacrificial gifts of time and talent offered to us by more friends and relatives than we realized we have.  Thank You for each of them, and for each moment they have been Your loving and compassionate face to us and to Your little blessings.  Please also grant me the grace and wisdom to keep returning Mr. Man to his bed gently, and remind me that while “I love you” sometimes sounds an awful lot like “no,” little boys whose worlds are being upended sometimes need some extra hugs and kisses.

Lord, Deedaw and Bugaboo are praying for one more Christmas with Nonno.  Thy will be done, Lord.  Please give us the meekness of heart to rejoice in whatever Your will may be.  Thank you for the nurses who have taken such good care of Nonno and comforted Deedaw, and for the medications that ease Nonno’s suffering. Please let these days be a reminder to us that suffering is sometimes the best lesson in how we are called to love, and teach us to show mercy to each other.

They wanted pink slippers with pink pancakes


Here’s the song reference.

All four members of the tribe have had to learn a little more patience than I’d like lately, as I’ve needed to be on the phone for extended periods of time with Deedaw, Grandma, and the many friends who have humbled me with their generous offers of assistance with munchkin-minding and meals.  Bugaboo and Beanie have risen to the occasion in grand and lovely style, and have started to show much more responsibility for their playthings and the house in general.  It’s been far less of a war getting them to pick up their toys, even when Baby Guy cheerily dumps their ponies, Transformers, dolls and Care Bears out of their bins and throws them around randomly until he finds something that makes noise, and they have been very generous with their hugs and “I love yous” to every member of the family.

As for Manie and I, we have worried over balancing the lessons they’re learning from these past couple of months, and from what they will learn in the days and months to come.  It’s important to us that they understand that this is what love looks like when the people who brought us into this world are near the end of their earthly days, but it’s equally important that they not develop the impression that they, themselves, are an inconvenience during such times as these, but great and beautiful blessings (even when they insist on having train-whistle concerts while I’m on the phone).  We’ve made an extra effort to praise every small good deed, from Beanie remembering to tear the toilet paper off the roll before she uses it, to Mr. Man drinking his milk from a straw cup without launching any of it onto the ceiling, to Bugaboo remembering to ask before she takes things off the kitchen counter, even to Baby Guy putting stray blocks back in their bag without being asked.

I’ve been trying to grant Bugaboo and Beanie some small extra privileges, since they’ve taken on more responsibilities.  It’s tough to keep those privileges age-appropriate and meaningful at the same time, and I had to draw the line at either of them doing crafts involving scissors without an adult being physically in the vicinity, but they’ve enjoyed being able to take showers instead of baths, lead prayers at mealtimes, and go into the pantry to select their own snacks (although they have lamented that the really good stuff is out of their reach).

One privilege both girls have long sought is being allowed to wear a particular kind of slipper, called Stompeez.  Regular readers of this blog are aware that we have a very large dog who hasn’t quite left his puppyhood behind (in addition to our sweet and elderly Bo, who’s no slouch in the size department himself).  Until recently, Bugaboo and Beanie had been pretty slack about making sure their toys were secured behind their closed bedroom door before we head off for whatever adventure a day may hold, with the result that more than a few ponies, bears, dolls, and stuffed animals became Smudgie’s toys, to the often tearful dismay of our daughters.  In a quiet moment, I realized that I haven’t had to remind them to get their playthings out of the living room in a couple of weeks.  A couple of hours later, I was picking up a few things at a local pharmacy when I saw two pairs of the sought-after footgear, both in the girls’ size, in the sale bin.

We gave them quite the heartfelt speech about how proud we are of how responsible they’ve become when we gave the slippers to them on Monday night, clarifying that these were not a Christmas present, but a privilege they’d earned by their conduct.  The speech in no way diminished their utter delight at having “real big girl slippers,” which they carefully stow inside their closet any time they’re not wearing them.

While I was on the phone for an extended round of calls yesterday morning, the girls entertained Mr. Man and Baby Guy by parading around their house in their Stompeez, delighting Baby Guy in particular when the puppies played peekaboo with him (if you don’t know what Stompeez are, do click the link above, but don’t let your kids see or you’ll never hear the end of it).  I took a purposeful break from the telephone around 9:00; no one had eaten a proper breakfast yet and I needed a break, since I’d been running since a little past 5 a.m.  Upon hearing the sound of the kitchen phone being returned to its cradle, Bugaboo and Beanie piled into the kitchen to see what might be coming next in our morning.

I inquired, “What would you like for breakfast this morning, ladies?  Thank you for being so kind and helpful while I was on the phone.”

The girls looked at each other for a moment, then Bugaboo piped up, “I want pancakes!’

That sounded pretty reasonable to me.  “Okay, pancakes it shall be, then.”

Beanie had a further suggestion.  “I want PINK pancakes!”

Bugaboo heartily agreed, “Yeah, pink pancakes, pink pancakes!”

Mr. Man and Baby Guy heard the commotion and came in to investigate its source, and in short order, I had three small people gleefully jumping up and down chanting, “pink pancakes,” two of them with pink puppy ears popping around their ankles, and a fourth clapping his hands and shrieking to his siblings’ rhythm.  Laughing, I pulled the makings of pancakes from the pantry, retrieved the pink icing tint from the spice cupboard, and set about pancakery.  A good breakfast was had by all.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for our full pantry and our full hearts.  Thank You for little blessings who have the usual number of feet and hands, and who delight in being children.  Thank You for the grace and wisdom to know the needs of their little hearts and souls, even as we look through the dark glass of our own trials, and for the many friends through whom You have shown us Your comforting face.  Please keep our hearts soft and open to them and to the grace You send us through them, and grant that we may not forget that Your first and greatest commandment is to love You with all our heart, soul, and strength.  In our moments of weakness, when we are tempted to surrender to anger and despair, let us turn to You and accept the help You send with grateful and humble hearts.

Mumps will make you lumpy


Here’s the song reference.

Mr. Man was the first to emerge from slumber yesterday morning, as has become his wont since he started sleeping in a bed instead of a crib.  Mercifully, the hour of his rising was around 7:00 a.m., instead of 1 a.m., then 4 a.m., then 6 a.m. . . . you get the picture.  He toddled into the kitchen looking to see what might be available in the way of breakfast.

After the manner of many two-year-olds, I suspect, Mr. Man has something of a different concept of what constitutes acceptable breakfast food than his parents.  We favor oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, toast, and the like, while his taste runs more to candy, cookies, and cake of the non-pan variety.  This is usually the topic of animated debates in the morning, and it has been a source of some frustration to Mr. Man that he never seems to emerge with a winning argument.

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He changed his strategy yesterday morning, as the debate over acceptable morning fare raged, offers and counteroffers flying through the kitchen (Cookies?  No, how about some grapes?  No grapes, want cupcake?  No cupcakes, how about some cereal?  No cereal, want candy.), by falling silent, walking purposefully to the pantry, and opening the door to peruse its contents.  Since most of what is at his eye level is fruit cups, granola bars, and cereal, Manie and I felt safe enough to take our eyes off him long enough to talk about a few things we needed to do over the next couple of days.  We kept talking, not really taking notice of what Mr. Man might have secreted in his little hand until we caught the flash of colored foil.

Grandma had given each child a little tin of foil-wrapped chocolates in honor of St. Nicholas day, and I had forgotten the bag containing said tins was on the floor of the pantry.  Mr. Man had not forgotten, and had retrieved a tasty Reese’s bell from the stash and unwrapped it with blazing speed.  He gently placed the foil on the table, laid the candy upon it, flung wide his arms and crowed triumphantly.

“I gotta mump!”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, who are creative and resourceful, and remind me daily that you did not put us here to be miserable and wretched.  As we prepare to celebrate Your arrival as a helpless human infant, please remind us to see both the Advent season and the little trials of everyday life through their eyes, that we may gentle our hearts and our tongues as we give instruction with our words, in what we do and what we fail to do.

Lord, please send special comfort to Your tender servants, Peggy and Kevin, whose foster son took his own life yesterday, ten years after the children they bore were killed in a plane crash.  Please grant that the coming days and weeks will soften every heart towards your grieving children, helping us to love them as You loved us so that their own hearts may not harden into impenetrable scars as they heal.  Please have mercy on River’s soul, and St. Dymphna, please comfort all those who have lost people they love to mental illness.

In the shape of a heart


Here’s the song reference.

Not long after I settled the girls in at the kitchen table, Bugaboo with her morning waffle and Beanie with her morning milk, I had to go downstairs to let Smudgie out.  Hoping to get a little laundry folded, I asked the girls to please eat and drink quietly until I returned.  Of course, a piercing Beanie wail shook the house as I took the second shirt out of the dryer.

At the top of the stairs, I  met Beanie’s tear-filled eyes and asked her to go sit on her bed and take a few deep breaths, so she would be able to use her big-girl words and big-girl voice to explain the problem to me.  As she watched her sister exit the kitchen, Bugaboo held up her hands innocently and said, “I don’t know what got into her!”

As I entered the girls’ room, I took a deep breath myself.  Beanie has a notoriously short fuse and a bit of a penchant for melodrama. We are thankful that as she’s gotten older, her expression of temper has gone from physicial aggression to tears and screaming, which are far less injurious to her siblings and her environment.  I knelt down beside her bed and held her little hand.

“Okay, Beanie, what happened?”

“J-J-J-J-JACK-K-K-K-K-KIE Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-YELLED AT M-M-M-M-M-E!”

“Okay, what did she yell at you, and can you answer with your big-girl voice, please?”

“She yelled at me to drink my milk and pick out something for breakfast and give her my toys and she tried to take my toys away and she said I was a bad sister.”

Now, this is a tough one.  Getting Beanie to ingest anything in the morning is often a struggle, and one I’ve been trying not to push overmuch, preferring to let her start her day, then have her breakfast after she’s been awake for a while.  It took a while for me to get to that point, since I have a thing for structure and doing things as a family unit, but we had hit a point where half the morning was taken up butting heads with Beanie over eating breakfast.  I backed off, she eats something reasonable when she’s ready.  Since I usually have to be awake for a couple of hours before I can stand to eat, it seemed a reasonable accommodation.  If it had just been a question of Bugaboo fussing at Beanie for not eating, all that would have been required would have been a gentle reminder to Bugaboo that Beanie’s breakfast habits are just another example of how God made each of us just a little different.

The issue of Bugaboo’s acquisitiveness, however, is a little more serious.  We’ve had an ongoing problem with our eldest daughter appropriating her siblings’ playthings, and, while there are occasions when said siblings simply leave things near Bugaboo’s storage drawer and she just puts them away at toy pick-up time, it’s more common that she gets it into her head that she has a better use for their toys than they do, and tussles ensue over her desire to “borrow” this or that.  Calling Beanie a “bad sister” was just out of line.

“Beanie, what did you do to Bugaboo?”

“I screamed at her when she called me a bad sister.  Sh-sh-sh-she was being MEAN!”

“Okay, Beanie.”  I pulled her off the bed and into my lap.  “Can we remember to save the screaming for bleeding, broken bones, and somebody trying to take you away?”

“Oooooooooookaaaaaaaaaay.  I guess.”

“Did anything else happen while I was downstairs?  Is there any other reason Bugaboo might have yelled at you?”

“Nooooooooooooooooo.”

“Is Bugaboo going to tell me about some other reason she might have yelled at you?”  This usually works at getting untold bits of story.

“Nope.”  Calmer now.  Hugs can work wonders.

“Okay, then.  You are not a bad sister.  You’re a very good little sister, and a very good Beanie.  It’s kind to share your toys, but since we’re not supposed to have toys at the breakfast table, you were right not to share just then.  Did you have the toy with you?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, then.  Go back in the kitchen and finish your milk.  Are you better now?”

“Yeah.”  She skipped back off to the kitchen, and I followed with a slightly less springy gait.  Bugaboo sat in her chair, munching on a piece of waffle and studying an ink spot on the table fascinatedly.

“Hey, Bugaboo, can you tell me what happened there?”

“It looks like somebody missed their paper with a marker and got the table instead.”

“It does, doesn’t it?  But I meant what happened with the Beanie.”

“Oh.  I don’t know.  I was sitting here eating my waffle and being quiet and all of a sudden she just started yelling for no reason.”

As I took another deep breath, looked at the ceiling, and started to pray silently, Beanie piped up, “That’s not true!  You lied to Mommy!”

I looked back at Bugaboo, who had suddenly discovered something terribly interesting on the floor.

“Well, Bugaboo? Beanie says you yelled at her and told her she was a bad sister.  Is she telling me the truth?”

“A little.”

“Did you tell a lie?”

“A little.”

I sat down at the table, and Bugaboo confessed.  We talked about how lying hurts people just as much as calling them ugly things does, and that both are things that sadden Jesus, who wants us to be kind and gentle with one another.  I gently worked in the word “betrayal” after remembering what some of the day’s homeschool lesson plans held, and reminded them that Jesus also calls us, in love, to forgive all hurts as we wish to be forgiven by Him.  After a few minutes of discussion, Bugaboo apologized to Beanie, Beanie forgave Bugaboo, and it was time to get on with our school day.

Beanie’s school day started with a reading and coloring page about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.  Both girls colored while I read the story, first from the picture Bible, then from a more mature edition that included how Peter severed the servant’s ear, which earned him a rebuke from Jesus.  I pointed out that even in the face of His betrayal, Jesus didn’t hit or scream at anyone, and He even forgave the people who came to arrest Him, taking the time both to heal the servant’s ear and to remind His disciples that their weapons were of faith, not of iron.

Later in the day, we read the story of Pocahontas.  I pointed out to the girls the Pocahontas was betrayed by one of her friends, and asked them if they knew of anyone else who was betrayed.  Beanie and Bugaboo both, with wide eyes, breathed, “Jesus was, ” which prompted me to remind them that one of the reasons we study history is so that we can learn to see the patterns in the way people act and how those patterns can help us predict what the consequences of decisions will be. We talked a little more about what it means to be a good friend, and a good neighbor, and repaying kindness with kindness.

After we’d read all the books and finished all the written work for the day, Bugaboo and Beanie helped clear the table for their favorite part of the day, which is whatever art or craft project we have on tap to reinforce some lesson from the day.  As the girls put away their pencils, they peeked over their shoulders to watch me draw big hearts on two pieces of red construction paper.

“Do we get to cut those out?”

“Yep.”

“Can we keep them and hang them in our room?”

“Once we’re done with them, you may do that if you like.”

They bustled excitedly to the drawer where their scissors live, returned to their seats, and looked up at me expectantly.  I handed each of them a heart and instructed them to cut carefully and slowly, showing our loving Lord that love and hearts are important.  As they worked, I got out a couple of pieces of regular paper and a roll of tape.

“Are we going to tape the hearts to the paper, Mommy?”

“Eventually.  We have to do something else with them first.  You both did a very good job cutting them out.”

Two very round pairs of eyes, one hazel, one deep brown, stared expectantly at me.

“Okay, tear them in half.”

“Rip them up?!?!?!?”

“Yes, rip them in half.”

They did, half confused, half intrigued, then looked back to me expectantly.

“Tear them again.”

I had to stop Beanie from turning hers into heart confetti as I tore of pieces of tape and stuck them to the edge of the table.

“Okay, now take the white paper and try to put your hearts back together.”

They looked at me, flabbergasted.  Why had I told them to tear up perfectly good construction paper hearts and tape them back together?  Had Mommy slipped a gear?  As they worked, uttering little exclamations of frustration at the impossibility of getting them to go back together just exactly right, I explained.

“You see, when we lie, when we take things that aren’t ours, when we betray each other and God, we hurt both another person’s heart and God’s heart.  We do everything we can to fix what we’ve done, but that heart is never quite the same, is it?”

“No.  It doesn’t go back together right.”

“Exactly.  We’re only human, ladies.  We still apologize, to each other and to God, but we can never totally make it right on our own.  Can a broken heart be made whole again, ever?”

“Maybe?”

“Yes.  If we ask Jesus, He can heal a broken heart.  So when we do the wrong thing, when we hurt somebody, we ask to be forgiven, and we also ask God to heal the other person’s heart, and our own hearts.  It hurts us when we do hurtful things, too, and we want God heal our hearts so they want to love instead of being mean.”

“Oh.”  Bugaboo paused for a minute.  “That makes sense.  He’s God.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who understand that You can heal broken hearts.  Help me teach them to always turn to You when they are downcast either because of an injury caused by another or committed by themselves, and that You call us to forgive as we wish You to forgive us.  Please burn into our hearts and minds that forgiveness and the need for it are not a cause for guilt, but for rejoicing, and that the more we forgive, the more we grow in the love You taught.  While we sin through our own free choice, Your love and mercy are boundless, and You will grant us infinite grace and help to avoid it if we ask You with humble hearts.