The wild coastal ragweed grows among the fading berries

Here’s the song reference.

As she does every few weeks, Grandma made the tree hour trek to our little town to spend time with us and the grandbabies.  The days we have long awaited have finally arrived, as all of the tiny people are now able to enjoy day trips that occasionally involve missing nap time.  We had planned, for this visit, a trip to a berry farm about an hour’s drive from our house, as Grandma enjoys country drives and country stores, and the midget mob loves to pick berries.

Grandma, remembering that ragweed season reaches its peak down here a little earlier than it does in her neck of the woods, had wisely taken her allergy medicine before she left home in the wee hours of yesterday morning.  Manie and I, amidst the chaos of preparing four small children and a largish van for a trip, had forgotten ours, and as we drove, we commented on the smoky purple clouds of ragweed that rose along the roadsides and medians, sneezing heartily as we talked.  Between having to referee a back seat riot involving Beanie, Bugaboo, and Mr. Man en route, our streaming eyes and noses, and the unwelcome news that there were, in fact, no berries to pick that day, we were not in the most festive of moods as we unloaded our vehicle at the farm.

Gravel crunched beneath our feet as the seven of us trudged towards the little market and eatery that serve as the information station for the farm.  Over the sound of rattling pebbles, we heard Baby Guy delightedly exclaim, “Car cars!” as he noticed the miniature wooden horse carts beside the walkway. His excitement quickly infected his siblings, and the last of their grouchiness started to evaporate.  We adults, however, were still a little out of sorts, as we had envisioned an outing full of high adventure and berries for the kids, and were disappointed that the plans we’d laid were not coming, as it were, to fruition.

Having confirmed the unavailability of any type of pick-your-own fruit with the very pleasant staff of the shop, we herded the little ones out the open back of the building, and emerged onto a pleasant porch covered in picnic tables and rocking chairs, overlooking the farm’s fields.  Grandma stopped and sighed, then quietly commented, “I think I could just sit in one of those rocking chairs and look at that vista forever.  It’s beautiful.”

We agreed.

Our quiet moment of reverie passed quickly, as Mr. Man noticed the children’s playground near the porch.  He zoomed off, squealing, “There’s a SLIDE!  There’s TWO slides!”  Baby Guy tumbled after him; Bugaboo and Beanie would have immediately followed,  had we not detoured them to the restroom first. By the time the girls emerged from the potty, Baby Guy had discovered the goats, and was cheerfully walking up and down the side of the goat pen, greeting each beastie with a cheerful, “Hi, goat!  How you, goat?”

What followed was a merry chaos, with four little kids running from swings to slides, from goat petting pen to the overhead goat catwalk (where I had to caution them NOT to stand directly underneath with mouths agape), from the picnic table to the country store, and all around the open field between.  We ate our sandwiches, indulged in fresh ice cream, and took a million pictures of children reveling in a late summer day in the country.

After three hours of rollicking fun that involved picking no fruit other than a half-dozen honeycrisp apples from a barrel in the country store, we loaded the van and headed for home, no longer disappointed that our trip had not gone according to plan.

Today’s prayer:

Lord, thank You for the reminder that You respond to prayers in one of three ways, “yes,” “wait,” and “I have something better in mind.”  We have tried so hard, Lord, to teach Your blessings to rejoice in the days You have made, even when plans are cancelled or go awry, and our actions contradicted our words on our Saturday trip.  Thank You for the wisdom to recognize that we were teaching the wrong lesson, and for the joyful cavorting of Your blessings that showed us the real blessing of a day spent enjoying Your creation and all the delicious things human hands create and harvest from Your bounty.  Please keep us mindful that You promise to give us, each day, our daily bread, and grant us the grace to recognize that the meals You plan for us often feed more than our bodies.  Inflame our hearts with a deep gratitude for what You provide, deliver us from the temptation to anger or disappointment over what earthly delights we do not have, and infuse our souls with a desire to bring our wills into union with Yours.

All you zombies playing golf

Here’s the song reference.

When each member of the tribe was a wee baby, being fed with bottles, Manie used to take charge of the dark-hour feedings.  His solicitude had two motives, he explained; first, he got to spend a little extra time with our children while they were really tiny, and second, I would then not feel a need to stay up around the clock trying to keep said babies from awakening their father.

During these late night feeding sessions, he would frequently fire up the Xbox and mow down a few zombies.  As the tiny people have grown, he’s had to pare down his Bruce Campbell time quite a bit.  For a time, we had a running joke that at least our daughters would know that should there ever be a zombie apocalypse, they would at least know to either shoot for the head or grab a chainsaw, but when Beanie started having nightmares about zombies chasing her, we had to end the practice of letting the girls hang around while Daddy saved the world on a video game console.

Yesterday evening found us over at Deedaw’s for dinner and to meet with the basement waterproofing contractor, to see what needs to be done to render the basement suitable for a playroom for the tribe and work spaces for Manie and me.  Bugaboo, Beanie and Mr. Man were absolute troopers about playing outside while we talked to the gentleman, and even Baby Guy hung tough, only wandering inside with wailing pleas for cookies four or five times in an hour.  Since dinner was running slightly behind schedule, he got them.

Once we had concluded our business with the contractor, we all sat down to a rather late dinner at around 8:30.  Since Mr. Man and Baby Guy’s usual bedtime is 8:00, and Beanie and Bugaboo’s is 8:30, we were relatively unsurprised when all the tiny people were a little giddy at the table.  We decided to go with smaller dinner portions and, perhaps, to allow a bit of overindulgence at dessert.  This worked well; Baby Guy’s cookie capers had left him with a smaller appetite than usual, but even he managed to eat an acceptable amount of healthy food.

In the end, we were left with Bugaboo and her desperate attempt to find somewhere to hide her potatoes; to her Irish-ancestored mother’s despair, she will only eat the tasty tubers willingly if they are mashed, or sliced into sticks and fried.  Given the lateness of the hour, we coaxed and cajoled, encouraged her to eat smaller pieces or pair them with mushrooms, anything we could devise that would make the potatoes more palatable.

Bugaboo slowly consumed the offending starch, chattering in between bites about the wild adventures she and her siblings had created in the back yard, from bat hunting to  creating obstacle courses.  Of course, we also received a full report on the transgressions of her siblings, including Mr. Man’s continued obsession with turning the knobs on the gas grill (which is an improvement, believe it or not, over climbing the counters in pursuit of quality time with the very sharp knives).

Finally, she was down to a couple of small morsels of potato.  Still happy to have an interested audience, she continued her enthusiastic prattle about all things outdoors.  “And, Deedaw, do you know, I found a little toy golf ball outside?”

“Did you, now?” replied Deedaw.  “And what did you do with it?”

“I put it in the little clubhouse under the slide, because a golf ball is an outside toy.”

Since Deedaw was trying very hard to suppress a chuckle, I assured our oldest daughter, “That was definitely the right thing to do.”

“Uh-huh.”  Her voice became softer and more serious, assuming the reassuring, shoulder-patting, confidential tone she’s heard a little too often at funerals and wakes over the past year as she looked back at Deedaw.  “And I’m sure that Nonno is playing golf with all the other zombies at the cemetery tonight.

It is a singular mercy that not one of us was taking a drink at that moment.

Can’t laugh, not funny . . .

Not this time.  Deedaw and I made the mistake of making eye contact with each other, just as Manie was trying to stifle an irrepressible snort of laughter. I think the expression on my face must have reflected Deedaw’s, which was one of stunned surprise, and we exploded with big, hearty laughs, the kind that shake your body all the way to your toes.

Bugaboo surveyed all this with some confusion, although not unhappy that she’d gotten everyone to laugh.  “What?  Nonno liked to golf.  What else would they do all night?”

I managed to gasp, “That’s not exactly how it works, honey.”

september 2013 051

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the grace of pointing out our need to teach Your blessings the difference between video games and the Resurrection with great good humor, and for the wisdom to recognize the lesson immediately.  We are raising them in a culture that frequently denies and derides You, and Your guidance, given with laughter, is indispensable.  Please help us instruct them gently in the beauty of Your promise of the resurrection of the body, while nurturing their childish understanding of Heaven, which is now composed of golf, unlimited supplies of Snickers bars, and more bubbles than they can fathom.  Thank you for days filled with joyful noise and hope, the days that remind us You will always provide us with the strength we need during times where are trials are more obvious and painful.  Please keep us mindful that Your blessings will sometimes make connections that are slightly askew, and grant us always the grace to correct them with love, hugs, and good humor.

And Lord, please help us choose our entertainments wisely!

Little miss, little miss, little miss can’t be wrong

Here’s the song reference.

Bugaboo, bless her heart, is acutely conscious of the fact that she is the eldest of four siblings.  We do our level best to ensure that she is accorded privileges that correspond with the responsibilities that attend her place in the birth order, and try just as hard to ensure that the privileges only come when she demonstrates appropriate responsibility.

Of late, Bugaboo has developed a tremendously irritating habit of trying to order her younger siblings around, sometimes contradicting what Manie or I just finished telling said siblings to do.  It’s rude to her siblings and disrespectful to her parents, and she nearly gave poor Deedaw a stroke Sunday night when she told her little brothers to go outside after, with Bugaboo standing there, I had told Mr. Man and Baby Guy that the mosquitoes were too thick for them to play outside any more that evening.

Bugaboo and I had a quiet little conversation this afternoon about what my job is and what her job is.  I explained to her that my job is to make sure that everyone gets along with each other, that the house doesn’t get condemned by the health department, that everyone learns those things that are needful to know, and that there are never shortages of hugs, kisses, prayers, or stories in our family.  I also explained to her that her job is to learn, to treat everyone the way she wants to be treated, and to set a good example in such things as proper mealtime behavior, decorum in church, and doing chores without an overabundance of complaints.  After answering a round of sour-faced objections from Bugaboo, I reminded her of the prayer she has heard me utter aloud a thousand times, usually when dealing with some incident of familial foolishness that has caused me to plead for God’s peace and mercy, to wit:  “Lord, help me remember that I do not want Your job.”  I explained to her that, in the fullness of time, she will likely have charge of a household, a budget, a career either at home or outside it, perhaps children of her own, and that when that day came, she would wish for the responsibilities of a six-year-old girl again.

I hate it when I sound like my mother.  It seems to happen with increasing frequency.

The rest of our afternoon was cheerful and peaceful; we sang a little bit, read a really good book about the Anasazi, and folded a couple of loads of laundry before the tribe decided Smudgie really needed to chase a tennis ball around the yard for a while.  While I worked on dinner for the tribe, Deedaw and I talked on the phone; our conversation turned to Bugaboo, her bossiness, the manner in which she barks her orders, and how frustrating it is for us to constantly have to correct her.  In her gentle but direct way, Deedaw pointed me to one of the roots of the problem, “Please don’t be upset with me, but she sounds a lot like you.”

I may have mentioned before our family has been graced with elders who possess extraordinary wisdom.

Deedaw is one of them.

Life has had a higher-than-usual insanity quotient in our family over the past several months, and, if I spent a few minutes at the keyboard, I could generate thousands of words’ worth of excuses for why I’ve not guarded my tongue more carefully with the tiny people, why I’ve too often spoken to them in a tone more suited to a drill sergeant badgering a group of recalcitrant recruits, why I’ve neglected to take the time to model the Golden Rule with them.  All the verbiage in the world, though, would still be an attempt to weasel around the fact that I’ve been less than gentle with the tribe, and thus has set a poor example that my most priceless mirror has reflected back at me.

Deedaw and I talked a little longer, and I thanked her for loving me enough to point out my error, and for giving me the example of how to do it gently.  She thanked me for loving her enough to see the love behind the correction, and for listening the first time the correction was given.  As we ended our conversation, Bugaboo wandered into the kitchen, lured by the aromas of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pineapple, to see if anything tasty might be in the offing yet.

“Something smells pretty yummy in here, Mommy.  When’s dinner?” inquired my eldest, as she blocked my path from the sink to the stove.

I started to bark at her to get out of the way so I could drain the potatoes.  Before I opened my mouth, I heard Deedaw’s wise counsel in my head.

“Dinner is just about ready; I just have to drain the potatoes and get the chicken out of the oven.  It would be a big help if you could let Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy know we’re almost ready to eat and everyone should get washed up.  Could you do that, and use your nice voice, please?”

Bugaboo plowed into my legs and hugged me hard.  “Sure, Mommy!”

I returned her embrace, kissed her head, and said, “Thanks, Bugaboo, that’s a big help.  By the time you all get here, dinner will be on the table.”  She skipped off, happy in the difference between a departure and a curt dismissal.

Later that evening, the tiny people assembled in the boys’ room, as we do nightly, for a round of stories, songs, and prayers.  While Baby Guy still requires major assistance with pajamas (and, of course, cannot change his own diaper effectively), Mr. Man is generally capable of dressing and undressing himself.  The big fellow had managed to jig his way into his pull-up, but was experiencing technical difficulties with his pajama top, the neckline of which flatly refused to let go of the bottom hem.  Mr. Man started pulling at the unruly shirt in various places, his voice becoming increasingly shrill as the fabric refused to obey his commands.  I listened to him whining orders at his pajamas, and heard my own voice again.  Instead of shrilling back at my whining son, I soothed, “Hold on, buddy, I’ll help you as soon as I have Baby Guy down from the changing table. You’re okay, and you did a good job getting that over your head.”

Bugaboo approached him, looked up at me, and inquired, “Mommy, is it okay for me to help him?”

“Absolutely, Bugaboo, please be careful so you don’t hurt each other.”

Very gently, Bugaboo put a hand on her little brother’s shoulder.  “Hey, Mr. Man, I can help you get that unstuck.  It’s okay, I used to get my jammies stuck sometimes, too.  See, here’s the bottom of your shirt, I’ll help you get the back of it rolled down, see, now your belly will be all warm.  All better?” As she talked, she had fixed the uncooperative top.  Mr. Man smiled at her and answered, “Uh-huh.  That’s better.  Thanks, Bugaboo.”

I greatly preferred that reflection to the ones I’ve been seeing.

august 2013 003 august 2013 013

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the four little blessings with whom You have graced our marriage, and for the wisdom of older family members who, instead of helping me make excuses for my shortcomings, gently point them out and continue to love me in spite of them.  Thank You for the reminder that however we train up our children is the way they will go when they are grown, and that You charge us with being constant teachers when You gift us with children.  Please send me the grace to teach them that gentle words turn away wrath, and that the wise listen to good counsel when it is offered.  Help me show them that allowing someone to persist in error instead of offering gentle and loving correction is no love at all, but an indifference that offers insult to Your commandment that we love one another.

Just call her angel of the morning

Here’s the song reference.

I had advised the tribe on Thursday night that I intended to make an early morning, light-speed grocery run at about 6 a.m. on Friday, and that should anyway be awakened by the sound of the front door closing, the correct course of action would be to nestle more comfortably into their pillows and blankets and resume sleep operations, and that under no circumstances was anyone to go into Mommy and Daddy’s room, or wake Daddy.

At 5:49 a.m. yesterday morning, as I was working on the blog post, I heard Bugaboo’s characteristic “I’m going to get away with something” tiptoeing sprint down the short hallway and into the bathroom, then the soft sound of our bedroom door opening and closing.  Bugaboo is a pillow thief, and mine is her target of choice.  If it happens to be unoccupied, and she thinks she can manage to not get in trouble for it, she will immediately climb into our bed and wrap herself around it.

On very rare occasions, she even goes back to sleep.

You may have already surmised that yesterday morning was not one of those rare occasions.  I did not make the pre-dawn grocery run for fear of waking the rest of the tribe.

When I shuffled into the bathroom around 7:00 to shower, my saggy-eyed husband was tying his shoes and Bugaboo, dressed in her Thor costume, was merrily chattering, and bouncing on her Tinkerbell pillow.  I rather gruffly informed her that I was highly displeased that she had chosen to disregard the previous night’s instructions, and asked her if she remembered what I had told her the night before.  With some trepidation, she replied that she did remember she wasn’t supposed to wake Daddy, but that when she came in to give him a hug after she used the potty, he was already awake, so she stayed around.

“I tried to go back to sleep, Mommy, but I really wasn’t sleepy, and I have my Thor girl costume on, and . . .”

“So you did remember what the right thing to do was, and you deliberately chose not to do it?”

“Well, kind of.”

I breathed in, ready to deliver quite the lecture about how Daddy works very hard for us and it’s important for us to let him get his sleep, about how deliberate disobedience is a poor way to say “I love you.”  Manie quietly said, “I was awake.  She’s okay.”

Great, I thought, now he’s ENCOURAGING her to be disobedient.  I scowled and prepared to include my husband in the lecture.

Ordinarily, I try to listen for “the still, small voice” that, when I listen to it, tends to guide me in the right direction. The Lord, in His omniscience, understands that the coffee doesn’t fully kick in until after I’ve showered, so the intracranial voice of wisdom boomed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

I paused and exhaled.  Then I thought about the time and energy we have spent teaching our children to love people and not things.  I thought about the nights I have consoled a tired Manie when he feels wretched that his work schedule keeps him from spending as much time with the tiny people as he’d like.  I thought about all the times I’ve remonstrated with Bugaboo for pouting because she had to spend time with family instead of going on a shopping trip.  I realized that Manie had not sent her back to her room.  And I realized that I was angry with a six-year-old girl because she wanted to spend an extra hour with her Daddy, and with a father for wanting to spend time with his daughter.

And I saw the look of trepidation on Bugaboo’s face, wondering if Mommy was going to hold this against her and be angry all day.

I hugged her, and kissed her, and said, “Love you, big girl.”

august 2013 001

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for understanding that I am thick-headed, and loving me anyway.  Many times in the past year, You have given me the opportunity to learn that we are not given to know the length of our lives, and we therefore should spend every possible moment loving one another as You have loved us.  Many times, I have explained to Your blessings that we must value the needs of others above our own selfish desires.  Lord, I am sorry for being angry with Your blessings for heeding the lesson.  Please change my heart; please fill me with Your grace so that Your blessings may learn from me sometimes, instead of the other way around.  Thank You for blessing me with so many and such wonderful teachers, and help us all, together, seek to serve You instead of ourselves in all things.

Putting out fire with gasoline

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“James 3

New International Version (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

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

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

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

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

Two Kinds of Wisdom

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

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

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

If I had a photograph of you

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure you don’t need a hand?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The night the music died

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

To our tremendous surprise, Bugaboo completely lost it.

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

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

No response.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

To them, life is a great big bang up

Here’s the song reference.

Thank you to everyone who offered prayers for our family.  Everyone we know made it through Hurricane Sandy unscathed, and for that we are grateful to all of you and to our merciful Lord.

Our daughters learned the meaning of “head-on collision” this evening.  Daddy was on his way home from work, which sent Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man scampering to pick up toys so Daddy wouldn’t come home to a humongous mess.  Baby Guy was cheerfully wrestling his way through a diaper change when he realized that his sippy cup was nowhere within reach, most distressing to a toddler who finds himself in sudden, urgent need of a swig of milk.  I quickly dispatched Beanie to the living room to retrieve the missing beverage, and she sped out of the girls’ room at top speed to oblige.  Unfortunately, Bugaboo happened to be entering through the same door Beanie was exiting at that moment, also at top speed, with a handful of fairies.

Just as the weeping, wailing, and blaming of siblings began, Daddy came through the front door.  He paused to listen to the commotion for a moment before commenting, “Gee, if you’re that happy to see me, I’ll just go back to work,” then running up the steps to see what had transpired.  I was still wrangling a thoroughly uncooperative Baby Guy into a clean diaper and pleading with the kids for an explanation of what had happened in a big kid voice with big kid words.  Mr. Man helpfully piped up, “Dey go BOOM!” as Bugaboo wailed that Beanie had hit her and Beanie wailed that Bugaboo had hit her.

Eventually we got it all sorted out, and two dish towels full of ice were applied to two goose-egg-sprouting foreheads.  We have concluded that Beanie’s head is harder than Bugaboo’s, which will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog.  Twenty minutes later, after we had tucked two protesting little boys into their cozy beds, two much-recovered  little girls were ensconced at the kitchen table, coloring fuzzy Halloween stickers for a banner project tomorrow.  If you’re curious, our schoolwork tomorrow will consist of roasting pumpkin seeds, measuring by quarter-cups so they can be put in snack sized bags, making a giant door decoration to welcome trick-or-treaters, and finishing the illustrated classics version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I’ll sneak in a little penmanship on the door decoration.

Shortly before the collision, the tribe and I were snuggled up in the living room for story time.  Bugaboo found Mr. Man’s copy of “The Amazing Spider-Man (World of Reading Level 1 edition),” much to everyone’s delight.  As I started to read it, it struck me that Peter Parker lived in Queens, a part of New York that I’ve read was hit fairly hard by last night’s storm.  That got me thinking about all the political ads I’ve seen during this election cycle, each of which attempts to divide people into groups and present a given candidate as some sort of superhero to that group, usually by “standing up” to some other group.

You know, I never heard of Spider-Man asking someone about ethnic background, religious affiliation, economic status, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or political party.  Something tells me that the emergency responders in New England aren’t asking about those things, either.  They see someone in danger, in trouble, in pain, and offer what help they have to give.  There’s no blaming someone else for the problem, there’s no waiting to see if there’s some other program or agency that could solve the person’s problem — there is a simple recognition of, and response to, a human need.

Frankly, when it comes to who I want my children to look to as examples, I’d rather they saw Spider-Man, firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and members of all the other emergency response agencies, real and fictional, as their role models than almost anyone running for office this year.  Those people’s faces look more like Jesus to me than any of the political leaders I’ve seen giving speeches on the news.  You see, they’re asking the right question, which is “what help do you need that I can give,” not “how can I pit you against your brother so I can gain power?”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the thick skulls that You, in Your wisdom, gave Your little blessings, and thank You for ice and the wisdom to use it to good effect to soothe injuries.  Thank You for all those men and women who help without questioning what they have in common with the helped, for these beautiful reflections of Your face You have placed in our midst.  Thank You for the generous friend who, though he is horrified by so many things I believe, was Your face this morning when he called and offered help to my family.  Please help me teach Your blessings that the things that divide us are of our own making, and that when a call for help goes out, You bless those who answer that call without inquiring what they have in common with the caller.  Help me teach them that You alone are perfect, and that the rest of us need to help each other along the way in order to find You.  We who believe in You must live what we believe, and You will bear us up and give us the grace we need.  Please kindle in the hearts of my family and my readers a steadfast love for Your law, and for our neighbors.

This is the day that never ends

Here’s the song reference.

Whether I woke up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday or had my peace disturbed by two wee girls whining at everyone before 7 a.m. I could not say, but we had an epidemic of crankiness around here yesterday.  I really wanted to do some major housecleaning yesterday, but it did not happen because every time I stood for a moment to think about what needed to be done, one or another of our little blessings emitted a shriek of a pitch and volume that indicated a possible injury.  This makes it hard for me to concentrate and to remain calm.

By around 9:30, I was snarking at all four of them.  My usual fail-safe, sending them all into the backyard for a scavenger hunt or soccer game, didn’t work.  Bugaboo stayed outside for roughly ninety seconds before returning to where I was trying to clean the kitchen counters while providing a standing support for Baby Guy, whining wretchedly that there were bugs in the yard, it was hot, there wasn’t a flat place where she could ride her scooter, it was humid, a bee had buzzed at her, and the dew on the grass had gotten her shoes wet.

I resorted to Netflix.  We have about a dozen “vintage” animated series in our queue, and I declared a day of watching one episode of each show, then pretending to be someone from the show.  The only flaw in my otherwise awesome plan for keeping the kids occupied and entertained was that Bugaboo was the only child who was even remotely interested in watching a video screen yesterday — and she wasn’t interested in doing anything but watching the video screen.  Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy are more or less indifferent to television and movies, although Beanie likes to watch hockey, football, and judo.  Ironically, she is the same child who loves Hello Kitty, My Little Pony, and all things pink.

Rather than describe the frustration of the day in minute detail, suffice it to say that very little cleaning got done, I spent entirely too much time and energy hollering at the tiny people, and they responded in kind.  The alacrity with which they follow whatever example I set for them is a little chilling sometimes.  It’s a rare day when not even storytime can settle us all down, but Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man whined and complained through each other’s chosen stories, which definitely takes the fun out of that pastime.

Near the end of the day, Bugaboo was curled up watching Dumbo, which was airing on one of the Disney channels last night, Beanie was happily playing with Polly Pockets in the girls’ room, Baby Guy was playing with Daddy in our room, and Mr. Man was bringing me his books to read, one after another, all his favorite rhythmic stories from Dr. Seuss and Bill Martin.  I paused in the middle of Green Eggs and Ham, realizing that no one was complaining about anything, and smiled.  Mr. Man looked up to see why I had stopped, patted my shoulder, and said, “Mama smile.  Nice Mama.”

There’s really nothing quite like being convicted by a two year old.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for a home to clean, and for Your four blessings who help make the messes.  Thank You for the moments when their quiet joy reminds me that I have allowed anger to take root where love should live.  Please help me remember that I teach them in every moment, whether or not any school books are present, and that the lessons they learn may take Your own grace to undo.  Please grant me a gentle tongue, and remind me to pause before I use it.  Before I sharply send them away so that I can do something that seems important at the moment, please remind me that You Yourself instructed Your disciples to let the children come to you, and that the tenor of my rebuke can distance them from You.  Grant me the grace of recalling Your words before I utter my own.