Fly me to the moon

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Black vultures, if you please

Here’s the song reference.

One of our favorite features of homeschooling is the freedom to go wherever the tribe’s curiosity takes us, insofar as learning is concerned.  While we have a daily requirement of English, math and religious studies lessons, it’s not uncommon for the day’s planned science or history lesson to be set aside in favor of exploring some question one of the tiny people has posed, particularly when it’s one to which I don’t have an immediate answer.

Yesterday, while she was working on her arithmetic, Bugaboo heard a bird crying in the skies outside, and excitedly declared, “I think I hear a vulture!”

“Hmm. I don’t think so, Bugaboo, that sounded more like a crow to me.”

“What sound do vultures make, Mommy?”

“I’m not exactly sure, honestly.  Tell you what.  You finish your math, there, and Beanie, you finish yours, while I get the computer and see what I can find.”

“Okay! Maybe we can learn how to talk to them!”

We live in a semi-rural area, where wildlife populations are robust.  Because the automobile population is also robust, Bugaboo and her siblings are accustomed to seeing vultures on the side of the road, cleaning up the inevitable results of encounters between the two populations.  I believe her first inquiry about the big carrion birds came when she was about three, at which time I explained to her that every creature the Lord created has some purpose, and vultures are God’s garbagemen, eating up the dead things so they don’t stink for a long time.  Seconds later, I had to further explain that no, vultures would not make good pets, in spite of the amount of garbage we might be able to generate.

I still haven’t come up with an explanation for the purpose of mosquitoes, unless they’re meant to be a reminder that the smallest things can cause the biggest trouble.

Grinning as I recalled that conversation, I fetched the laptop from its table and started searching for vulture calls online.  The first interesting result didn’t have any actual vulture speech, but was a nifty two-minute short about the black vulture.

“Hey, Bugaboo, hey, Beanie, take a little break.”  I turned the screen so it faced Bugaboo’s chair.  “This doesn’t have their actual calls, but it’s interesting anyway.”  Beanie scrambled out of her chair and tucked in beside her sister, and the two of them raptly watched a nature center’s introduction to one of its avian inhabitants.

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“That was neat, Mommy, can we watch it again?”

“Sure, why not?  Then you can finish up your math while I look for some more, and hopefully I’ll be able to find one with the actual sounds vultures make.”

Bugaboo hurriedly recommenced solving equations, while Beanie dawdled her way back to her chair.  Vultures were significantly more interesting than practicing sums.  A few minutes later, I located a page with audio clips of the various sounds turkey vultures make, cranked up the volume, and played the sounds for the girls.  “Mommy, they sounds like they’re snoring!” exclaimed Bugaboo excitedly.

“They do, don’t they?  And listen to this – when a young turkey vulture thinks it’s in danger, it hisses like a cat.”


After all the math and reading were done, the girls headed off to play while I looked for documentaries about vultures on Netflix and Fios.  My lesson for yesterday was that if one searches with the string “movies about vultures,” one will get a large number of search results that have absolutely nothing to do with wildlife.  While I didn’t succeed in finding anything vulture-specific, I was able to add Sir David Attenborough’s excellent Life of Birds series to our queue, along with Wild Kratts (am I the only one who misses Zoboomafoo?) and a quirky little animated series called Oscar’s Oasis, which features a vulture as one of the recurring villainous characters.

By the time I finished my searching, Baby Guy and Mr. Man had finished their breakfasts and begun making merry mayhem in their sisters’ room.  If I’m not mistaken, Legos were being used as missiles, and I think it was Baby Guy who pulled Beanie’s Wall Tracks off of the wall . . . again.  With a sigh and a bit of an eyeroll, I waded into the battle zone to deliver the news that suitably education viewing materials had, in fact, been located, and that should the room be rendered navigable again, we could watch them over sandwiches on the couch.

We watched the Attenborough episode about carnivorous birds, after which Baby Guy decided he was ready for a nap.  I decided Bugaboo, Beanie, Mr. Man and I could use a little rest, too, so I came back upstairs from tucking Baby Guy in with Mr. Man’s blankies and pillow, then advised all and sundry that we could have a little movie if everyone could rest quietly while we did so.  Since Joseph, King of Dreams happens to have vultures in it, that seemed like a good viewing choice, and gave me a good opportunity to talk with the tribe about the importance of forgiveness (a particularly relevant lesson, given what we commemorate today), we watched that, each of us in repose in our comfy spot of choice in the living room.

Before we left for Deedaw’s in the late afternoon, we had also caught an episode of Oscar’s Oasis, and talked about references to vultures in the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Revelations, as well as the Gospels of Mark and Luke.  We read up on carrion birds in our wildlife folio collection, and talked about avian life cycles and anatomy.  My one regret is that we didn’t have time to turn our newfound knowledge into a craft project of some kind, but I suspect we’ll devise one today.

Our drive over to Deedaw’s house was punctuated by joyful exclamations from Bugaboo, Beanie, and Mr. Man whenever they spotted vultures circling overheard.  As we drove past a car dealership, Bugaboo explained to Mr. Man, “Look, there are lots of vultures flying over that car store.  That means there’s probably something tasty there, probably in the back, and it’s probably stinky, too.  There’s lots of cars at a car store, so maybe somebody ran something over, and the vultures are waiting for it to be safe for them to go eat it.  Then it won’t be stinky anymore, it will just be food in the vulture’s tummy.”

They also made a project of teaching Baby Guy to say, “Booteeful vuchuz!”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the eyes of Your blessings, so eager to find the beauty in every living thing You created.  Thank You for the ability to read, and the joy of passing that skill along to the tiny people You have entrusted to my care.  Thank You for reminding me, through them, how full of wonder the world is, and to contemplate how all the things in it work together for Your glory.

Lord, on this day when the minds of so many will be occupied with remembrances of a day filled with evil, fill my heart with awe and joy.  Help me teach Your blessings to seek Your face on dark days, to find that glimmer of You in every other person, and to respond to each of them as You would have, with gentleness even in reproof, by sharing whatever nourishment those other souls may need.  Please guard our hearts and tongues from wrath, and help us remember to seek justice instead of vengeance in all things.

Doctor, doctor, gimme the news

Here’s the song reference.

Yesterday brought annual checkups for the tribe; we are blessed with a wonderful pediatrician who is sympathetic to our desire to only have to make one appointment, and thus allows us to bring all the kids in at the same time, usually first thing in the morning.  Because Bugaboo, Beanie, Mr. Man and Baby Guy have been blessed with such good overall health, we had not seen the good doctor since the last round of annual checkups in late July of 2012; it does, however, bear mentioning that said doctor is wonderfully reliable about returning phone calls and answering questions about routine, minor afflictions by telephone.  His theory is that he doesn’t want a child whose immune system is busy fighting a simple cold exposed to a child who has something more severe.  In case you hadn’t already guessed, we adore him and his entire staff, who are unfailingly kind and good-humored in their dealings with our family.

We had a merry time getting all four kids weighed and measured before the girls went in to the hallway, separately, for their eye tests.  Bugaboo “forgot” the alphabet in her excitement over being at the doctor’s office, and thus was given the eye chart with symbols on it for her examination (which she passed with flying colors).  The same chart, clearly emblazoned with the label “Kindergarten Eye Chart” remained on the wall when Beanie danced out for her own exam, and she glowered at it as the nurse and I cajoled her to tell us the names of the different shapes printed thereupon.

Beanie’s vision tested at about 20/100, which would indicate an urgent need for corrective lenses.

We finished all the little tests and questions with the nurse, who struggled to keep from laughing at the silly antics of Mr. Man and Baby Guy, then bundled four children into little gowns and waited for the doctor, who we already knew had two urgent sick cases that morning (because we had seen them in the “sick child” section of the waiting room).  We’d brought our usual assortment of spiffy reading materials for the tribe, along with the song catalogs we carry in our heads, and were able to distract everyone, at least temporarily, from the fun of climbing onto the exam table with its crinkly paper and sliding back off, only to quickly scamper back up the foam steps for another go.  Gowns were tied and re-tied several times, and Baby Guy discovered his size relative to the gown was sufficiently small to allow him to cover his feet with its hem, facilitating a sort of skating on the linoleum floor.

Miraculously, the good doctor had no x-rays to order when he arrived in the room.  Mr. Man met him at the door; actually, to be more accurate, Mr. Man positioned himself at the opening of the door as soon as he saw the handle start to turn.  Being a pediatrician, Doc is in the habit of looking down and around the corner before fully opening doors or stepping into the room, and thus saw a somber-faced three-year-old boy staring up at him.

“Well, good morning!  May I come in, please?”

Mr. Man grabbed the edge of the door and opened it to allow Doc entry.  “Yesh.  You can come in now.”

How that poor man keeps his composure around our tribe as well as he does will always be a mystery to me.  He generally ends up laughing uncontrollably at least twice during any of our well-child visits, which generally last about an hour.  It’s definitely a mutual admiration society.  After checking all four of them from stem to stern, he pronounced all four healthy, hearty, and hilarious, assuring Manie and I that the only cause for watchfulness we should have is the tendency of youthful imaginations to fail to understand the physics of flight – in other words, watch out, because sooner or later one of them will decide to play a flying superhero in spite of his or her lack of actual superpowers.

As he looked over the nurse’s notes, he frowned when he came to the results of Beanie’s eye test, and commented to us, “She needs to go see the eye . . .” before trailing off as he heard her reading aloud from her Avengers storybook.  With a genuinely puzzled look on his face, he looked at the notes, then at the typeface in the book she was reading, then at me.

“Yeah, Doctor, about that.  Can we step into the hall for just a moment?”


“Hey, Beanie, come with us for a sec, please.”

After fending off a determined effort by Mr. Man to join his big sister, Mommy, and the doctor in the hallway, I asked Doc, “Could you put her where she should stand for the eye test, please?”

His countenance remained slightly confused as he guided Beanie to the appropriate spot.

I walked over to the eye chart and switched the eye charts, removing the one with the offending “Kindergarten” designation and replacing it with the regular eye chart.  With my back to my daughter (because I did not think I would be able to keep a straight ace in a matter of seconds), I pointed to the next-to-last line on the chart and called over my shoulder, “Okay, Beanie, can you tell Doc what these letters are?”

Without hesitation, she read the entire line, then read the one below it without being asked.

I heard a muffled snort emanating from the general direction of our pediatrician, then a slightly strangled, “Good job, Beanie, why don’t you go back in with Daddy and your brothers and sister and get dressed?”

“Okay!”  I heard the exam room door slam, then turned around to chat with the good doctor, who was clearly stifling a laugh as he inquired, “I’m pretty sure you can explain what just happened.”

“I sure can.  She read the word, ‘kindergarten’ on the other eye chart.”

“And she’s very proud of being in first grade, isn’t . . .” He couldn’t finish the sentence, as he was doubled over, elbows on his knees, laughing so hard no sound could emerge.  The nurse, having overheard this exchange, starting giggling at her desk.

When he finally recovered the power of speech, Doc clapped me on the shoulder and exclaimed, “Good luck and God bless you!  I love starting a day with all of you!”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for healthy, happy little blessings, and for access to a doctor who helps us keep them that way.  Please bless his hands and heart with gentleness, and favor him with kindness from all those his compassion touches.  As we train up Your blessings, grant us all eyes to see those whom You have blessed differently, and the grace of hearts that yearn to offer authentic help and friendship to all of them.  We would teach them, Lord, not to mock or abuse the gifts You have given them by pretending they do not exist because they feel they’ve been offered an insult, but at all times and in all ways to offer You thanks by using those gifts for Your purpose.

Ain’t it funny how time slips away

Here’s the song reference.

After the girls finished their English and math lessons Tuesday, we all headed over to Deedaw’s to sneak in a little play time with Nephew.  The morning was warm, sunny, and beautiful, tailor-made for five small children to cavort in the yard and make their own fun for a couple of hours.

We had to give the midget mob a bit of encouragement to play outside, though, since tiny people kept straying back inside to inquire about the possibility of television, snacks, and sweet drinks.  At last, Deedaw and I shooed them all outside with a reminder that fall is coming, and with it an increasing scarcity of days holding the potential for unlimited outdoor play time.  There was a minor bribe involving Oreos involved.

While five tiny people cavorted in the back yard, Deedaw and I talked about the physical and emotional logistics of our impending household merge.  There is an enormous amount of stuff in both houses that needs to be re-homed, and quite a bit of that stuff has some heavy emotional significance for one or more of us.  In addition to the need to downsize our treasure hoards, though, all of us are attempting to reduce our own egos, to have the humility and grace to defer our own wants to each other’s needs.  The challenge is formidable.  We love each other enough to face it prayerfully and together.

Part of our conversation ranged into the area of what each family member’s actual needs are.  Deedaw was concerned that our household might end up with a net loss of space and privacy, and that a perception might be created among the extended family that she needs help.  Insofar as the latter is concerned, I bluntly told her that the only help she appears to need is someone to talk to after the sun goes down, and an occasional tall person to reach something off a high shelf (which, given her physical stature, has been the case for the entire decade I’ve known her).  There’s certainly nothing amiss with her mental faculties, and she quite emphatically does not need to be told what to do.  Anyone who thinks Deedaw should be, or can be, controlled or managed does both of them a grave and unloving disservice.  We had a good laugh over that.

When we turned back the topic of stuff and privacy, our tone was not so lighthearted.  We talked about the years that had passed, when life had happened and both of us had overlooked, or willingly passed up, so many opportunities to spend time together during Nonno’s final half-decade.  Minutes become hours, which become days, which become months, which become years, and before we knew it, Nonno was gone, and there was no more, “we’ll have time to do more when things settle down.”  It has been a terrible lesson for all of us, learned at an incalculable price.  I told her of our determination not to allow that to happen again, regardless of any inconvenience, and that since she and we prefer that we combine households eventually anyway, we are willing to sacrifice material goods and some of our privacy to make it happen before there is a crisis, while she is still in full command of her faculties, so that we do not lose any more pearls of great price.

Deedaw agreed.  We shed a few tears together over the years that could have been, and a few more because we missed Nonno.

It’s been a tough year.  Deedaw’s been tougher than the year, having borne everyone’s burdens on her broad shoulders.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, before I complain that something has been taken from me, let me first consider whether I have thrown it away willingly in pursuit of something I thought was better.  Please help us teach Your blessings that we are to love one another more than our possessions, more than getting our own way, more than money, more than unrestricted gratification of our desires.  Please grace our hearts with the humility to see the wisdom in eyes that have been open longer than our own, and to recognize just criticisms of our words and deeds instead of using the cop-out that people are judging our hearts when they point out a problem with our behavior.  We would train up Your blessings, Lord, to understand love, compassion, and self-control, and You have granted us many opportunities to do so. Please bless us with the wisdom to use those opportunities as You taught, seeking to gain no advantage for ourselves, but to show Your blessings Your face.

The rubber band band starts to jam

Here’s the song reference.

Manie had a rare day off yesterday, as his employer closed in observance of Labor Day, and an even rarer opportunity to sleep until 9 a.m., as the boys also decided to sleep in.  Bugaboo and Beanie chose quiet pursuits, doing a little bit of school work, building a little Lego oasis, reading a couple of books, and I was able to keep the noise I made doing some light cleaning and packing to a minimum.  When the head of our family awoke to the smell of pancakes and bacon cooking, he was ready for some fun with the tiny people.

Over our morning meal, I tantalized the tribe with the promise of a craft involving the many shoeboxes I’d unearthed while cleaning and packing.  The promise of any art project occasions great jubilation among the midget mob; plates were cleaned with lightning speed, although I’m pretty sure Smudgie scored more than his fair share of pancakes amidst the tumult.  As I was washing the breakfast dishes, Bugaboo and Beanie grabbed pencils and textbooks and set quickly about their work, the sooner to be able to delve into whatever crafty wonder awaited.

After breakfast, the girls finished their lessons while the boys tried to outdo each other in both the volume and odoriferousness of diapers filled; even Smudgie fled their presence at one point.  While Bugaboo solved her last few equations and Beanie noodled out her last phonics exercise, I rounded up the half-dozen or so shoeboxes scattered throughout the house, piling them on the table along with rubber bands, waxed paper, and aluminum foil.

Our round-eyed children began filtering into chairs around the kitchen table, curious about the implications attached to such a hoard of treasure.  Mr. Man inquired wonderingly, “What’s that, Mommy?”

“We’re going to make instruments, buddy.”

After a few false starts (silly me, I tried to read them all a saint story while there were interesting things piled on the table), Manie and I managed to get four kids seated and quiet enough to hear directions.  With a flourish, I tore open the bag of rubber bands and announced we would be making guitars, while Manie quietly retrieved a pair of kitchen shears and began cutting a circular hole in a box lid.  Our children are quick studies generally, and after a few rubbery stretches, Baby Guy held the first creation of the day in his little hands, along with an extra rubber band so he could add another string to his instrument if he so chose.

It was a joyful noise, indeed, although we had to referee a couple of ownership disputes over the rarer brightly-colored bands, and after a great deal of experimentation, we ended up with several box guitars, one box bass, a waxed paper-covered comb, and a couple of cardboard kazoos.  Armed with implements of melodiousness, four children and their father tumbled into the living room, led by Bugaboo, who excitedly crowed, “We can make our own band!”

As lunchtime was fast approaching, I enjoyed the art of noise coming from the living room while I tried to restore a semblance of order to the kitchen and turn the ball of pizza dough I’d started, before activities of mass construction had commenced, into a pizza crust.  However, the sounds were so hilarious I felt the need to grab the camera and attempt to record our silliness for posterity.  When there is a two-year-old in your family, keeping some semblance of a meal schedule is essential to maintaining one’s sanity, so I reluctantly had to forego the opportunity to jam with the rubber band band.  Recording the moment for posterity, however, should have been easy.

Once again, I underestimated the force of Bugaboo’s desire to have me participate in playtime.  As I tried to record the hijinks of four kids and their Daddy pretending to be rock stars, Bugaboo, with great persistence, tried to thrust a box guitar at me.  Because I had a bowl of dough in one hand and a camera in the other, I was unable to take what she offered, and tried to wave her off with a smile and a shake of my head, nodding in the direction of her siblings to indicate she should keep playing and having fun with the rest of the family.

She didn’t take the hint, and continued thrusting the guitar at me with increasing force.  Her forehead developed the “I want” groove that is all too familiar.  Her demeanor had escalated from, “please play with me, Mommy,” to “you’re going to do what I want and I’m going to make you” rather quickly.  I stopped the camera before quietly explaining that I was not able to play at that moment because I had some work that needed to be done so everyone could eat, that I had simply been trying to capture a snippet of the fun she and her siblings had been creating, and that I most emphatically did not appreciate having anything pushed at me after I had clearly said, “no.”

Had Bugaboo given any evidence that she was feeling rejected, I probably would have given her a hug and a box guitar a quick strum before returning to lunchtime preparations.  When, instead, she stomped her feet and insisted, “Mommy, you need to do what I tell you,” while continuing to shove the instrument at my midriff, I shook my head and frowned.

“Bugaboo, I’m going to explain something to you.  It is probably the most important thing you will learn today.  When people tells you no, especially if they’re telling you no about something that involves things touching their bodies, you listen, and you stop.  Immediately.  No questions.  Unless you are pulling someone out of a rushing river or a burning building, if someone tells you not to touch them or to get something away from her body, or his body, you stop.  No means no.  Period.  No exceptions.”

She glared at me.

I asked her, “Bugaboo, think about this for a minute.  When someone grabs you, or shoves things at you, and it makes you uncomfortable, even if it just isn’t what you want to do right then, does it make you feel happy?”

The glare metamorphosed into an angry glower.  “No.  And I want them to stop doing it.”

“Right.  Now, think again.  Do you want to play with people who keep doing things like that after you’ve told them to stop?”

The realization crept over her face like cobwebs in a crypt.  “No,” she whispered.

“Then what makes you think that someone would want to play with you when you do it?  Remember, we treat other people the way we want to be treated.  Do you want me to shove things at your tummy when you’re trying to do something else, or do you want me to listen when you say no?”

Softer still came her reply, “I want you to listen.”

“I thought so.  Bugaboo, I really want to play with you guys, but right now, I can’t.  I need to get a pizza in the oven.  And instead of everyone having a good time doing what they were doing, now nobody is playing, partly because instead of doing the fun thing with everyone else, you kind of made it all about you and what you wanted.  That’s not a very good way to say I love you.”

I went back to the kitchen and finished assembling the pizza.  As I worked, I could hear Bugaboo crying, and Manie gently reinforcing the concepts that no, we don’t push things at people and yes, we do stop to consider other people’s needs and feelings, especially when we’re trying to do something with a group.

Once the pizza was assembled, I joined the rest of the band in the living room.  Bugaboo was snuggled on Manie’s lap, strumming a box bass, while Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy sat scattered around the room, seeing what sounds they could charm from their respective instruments.  Surreptitiously, I recorded a few seconds of video, then complimented Bugaboo on the deep, resonant sounds she was drawing from a shoebox strung with colorful rubber bands.

“Thanks, Mommy.  I like this project.  Do you want to play?”

“Absolutely!  Thank you for offering.”  I reached over and plucked the bands, laughing with her at the silly twanging sound my awkward fingers made.  “And thank you for understanding that I had to get lunch ready for all of us before I could play.  Better now?”

“Better now.  What kind of pizza are we having?”

“Ingredients pizza, with green peppers and ham and mushrooms, but I made sure there would be a few slices of just plain cheese.  Does that sound good?”

“That sounds GREAT!  Hey, are there any slices with just cheese that might have some mushrooms on them?”

“Not at this moment, but I’ll bet I could arrange that.”

“Thanks, Mom!”

I leaned down and kissed her head.  “Love you, Bugaboo.  Bunches and bunches.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, please keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth, and grant me the wisdom to understand what can wait and what cannot.  There are times, Lord, when I must instruct or correct Your blessings, especially when it comes to matters of accepting another’s right to be secure in his or her person, but Lord, help me keep a sense of proportion and context, and not let a child’s desire to include me in her play become a reflection of the worldly issues of the day.  Grant us all the grace of understanding that one who makes music, prays twice, and let that desire to prayerfully rejoice override and infuse all of those tasks that must be done.  And please, Lord, keep me mindful that You have entrusted them to our care for a relatively short time, and they will learn every lesson we teach.  Grant me the humility of heart to seek forgiveness even from my children when I am in error, for they will learn this from us, as well.

The final countdown

Here’s the song reference.

The tribe slept in a little yesterday morning, which I attribute to the later sunrise times of late August.  Mr. Man was, once again, the last one to the kitchen for breakfast; by the time he arrived on the scene, Baby Guy had already hauled a fire truck onto the kitchen table, and Beanie and Bugaboo were just about done with their seatwork for the morning.  Beanie, for the record, is setting the world of first-grade math afire, and is on track to start second-grade math before the end of September.  Bugaboo has finally gotten it through her head that she, too, can let her natural math aptitude run wild, and is now racing to catch up with Beanie.  My criterion is strict; they must get at least 90% of any given exercise right on the first attempt, and be able to correct it to 100% accuracy.  If they’re going to accelerate, I cannot have any margin for error when it comes to assessing their skills – but I digress.

Upon his arrival into the kitchen, Mr. Man tugged open the refrigerator door that generally holds his cup of milk (I fill four cups before any of them awaken, so if I’m otherwise occupied, each child can at least sit down with a cup of milk until I can get food that constitutes acceptable breakfast fare in front of him or her), fumbled his cup out of the caddy, then turned to me with a hopeful grin.

“Mommy, I see biscuits.  Can I cook some biscuits, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?”

Every so often, I’ll buy a can of refrigerated biscuits – the really cheap kind.  They’re sort of my emergency lunch plan, since I can throw just about anything on top of or in the middle of a little biscuit and have it deemed positively ambrosial by the tiny people; while I prefer to bake my own, there are those days when time is short and appetites are large.  It doesn’t hurt that I happen to like them, too.

“Sure, why not, Mr. Man.  You get the can out and put it on the table.  Make sure you don’t put it down near Baby Guy, please.”

As Mr. Man clapped and chortled over his gastronomic victory, I got down the faithful ceramic pie plate, incubator of many a batch of canned biscuits, and turned on the oven.  Turning from those tasks, I turned to see a grinning Mr. Man waving the blue cardboard tube triumphantly.  “I got da biscuits out now, Mommy!  Now YOU have to make it go POP!”

I do believe that one of the kids’ favorite things about canned biscuits is the little explosion when the tube is breached.  Mr. Man joined me in a shouted countdown before the biscuits made their obligatory racket, then settled into his chair to arrange the biscuit dough in the pan.  As he worked, he glanced at the stove, where the timer was counting down the minutes and seconds until the appliance finished preheating.

Mr. Man loves numbers and counting, and he will count any object or read any number in sight.  The sight of the numbers ticking slowly backwards was irresistible to him, and he turned his gaze to me, eyes full of wonder, and inquired, “What’s that, Mommy?  Is not a timer, biscuits are still here, not in the oven.”

“Actually, big dude, that is a timer.  It’s the timer that tells us when the oven will be hot enough to cook the biscuits.”  As I offered my explanation, the time remaining crossed into “under a minute” territory.  “When the third number goes away, it means there’s less than a minute left, and we can count down the seconds until the oven is ready to bake.  See?  Fifty-four, fifty-three, fifty-two . . .”

Mr. Man was awestruck by this new discovery, and joined in the countdown.  “Fifty, forty-nine, forty-eight . . .”

It’s not that I didn’t have a thousand things to do yesterday morning, but I don’t know that any of them would have given me the joy that counting down forty-eight seconds of a day with Mr. Man did.  At around the twenty second mark, Bugaboo and Beanie joined in what had become a singsong chant of backwards counting.  I was almost sorry when the stove beeped to signal the end of the preheat cycle.

“Timer dinged, Mommy, you set the timer and it’s done now, can we cook the biscuits now, the oven is ready!”

“Well, we could, but we were having so much fun counting we forgot to finish putting the biscuits in the pan!  Here, let me help you.  Remember, we make a circle with them, with two in the middle, and make sure they’re all touching so they can snuggle up to each other while they bake.”


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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for reminding me seconds of time matter, and an instant can loom large in the eyes of a child. Thank you for the opportunity to teach Your blessings time can pass joyfully, and even waiting can be a happy task if we choose to make it so.  Please grant us the wisdom to recognize that while we know neither the hour or the day, You call us to rejoice in each moment of each day You grant us, and the grace to never become so busy we are unable to recognize the small miracles of children learning.

Ice, ice, baby

Here’s the song reference.

Our plans for yesterday became somewhat scrambled when the entire tribe opted to sleep in.  This is a rare and unpredictable happenstance, and as much as I frequently lament that none of our children seem capable of sleeping past 7:30 a.m., it always surprises me how much I miss them when they do.  Bugaboo was the first to emerge at around 7:40, just in time to kiss Manie good-bye before he left for work; by the time Beanie shuffled into the kitchen at 8:30, she’d finished half of her seatwork for the day.  Before Bugaboo started her grammar assignment at around 9:30, I asked her to go down to the boys’ room and open the door a crack, as I was getting a little concerned that we hadn’t heard anything from the Y chromosome contingent.

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A couple of minutes later, Baby Guy meandered into the kitchen to see what his sisters were doing.  Bugaboo finished her assignment a couple of minutes after that, and condescended to grant Baby Guy the privilege of playing Legos with her in the girls’ room once he’d devoured his sausage biscuit.  Beanie was able to finish her math mostly in peace, and with a little extra attention from me, since her siblings were all otherwise occupied.  Mr. Man finally grouched his way upstairs, trailing a blankie, around 10:15; around mouthfuls of sausage biscuit, he brought himself to full wakefulness by snarling at anything that moved.

Beanie finished her morning seatwork at about the same time Mr. Man finished his breakfast, and the two of them decided to join the Lego party in the girls’ room.  This, I assumed, gave me an opportunity to fold the load of laundry that was cooling into wrinkles in the dryer.  Four shirts in, I heard Bugaboo howling, “MO-O-O-O-M!  MR. MAN STOLE THE BOX OF POPSICLES OUT OF THE FREEZER!”

I should probably mention that Mr. Man and Baby Guy share a fascination with the freezer, along with everything that resides in it.  While it’s awfully cute to watch their antics as they try to access ice cubes, ice cream, frozen waffles, or any of the other delights, replacements of and repairs to major appliances are rather expensive, so we have to discourage the boys from opening the big drawer that holds the frozen foods.  We must also frequently remind them that the drawer handle is neither a monkey bar nor a stepladder.

Abandoning the laundry, I raced up the stairs, to be greeted by a weeping Mr. Man.  Both of his hands were thrust behind his back, and he greeted me with a desperate, “No, Mommy, you don’t come upstairs, you said you needed to fold the laundry, no, Mommy, you go back downstairs.”

“Dude.  Seriously.  Were you in the freezer again?  Bugaboo says you took something out of the freezer.”

“I want a popsicle, Mommy, I really want a popsicle, I NEED a popsicle, popsicles were in the freezer!”

“Right, buddy, I know popsicles were in the freezer.  What are you supposed to do if you want a popsicle?”

“I want a popsicle, I need a popsicle, I supposed to ask Mommy may I have a popsicle please?”

He’d been holding the box of freezer pops behind his back long enough at that point that his fingers were too cold to hold on any longer, so he thrust the box at me with a plaintive, “Mommy, may I have a popsicle please and would you use the very sharp scissors to open the popsicles please and can I have a red one?”

Decisions, decisions.  Mr. Man’s initial tone and actions required redress, but he was now asking properly, and we’ve been trying very hard to give him lots of positive reinforcement when he chooses to ask properly.

“Tell you what.  It’s eleven o’clock, and you’re still in your jammies.  If you get dressed first, I think we could arrange a popsicle.  I’ll help you get some clothes.”

“But I want a popsicle NOW!”  His chest started heaving, and the beginnings of tears threatened to overspill his improbably long lashes.

“I understand that you want a popsicle, but you NEED to get dressed.  I’m going to put these back in the freezer now, and once you’re dressed, you can practice asking for them properly, and then you may have one.  Okay?  Let’s go!”

With the anguished wails from Mr. Man as he trailed down the stairs for a soundtrack, I replaced the box in the freezer, then met him on the landing to accompany our elder son to his room for clothing selection.  After helping him find a clean pull-up and a shirt and pants that wouldn’t constitute an ocular assault when combined, I went back upstairs to clear the remains of the morning’s schoolwork off the table.  Bugaboo, Beanie, and Baby Guy met me at the top of the stairs.

Spokeswoman Bugaboo inquired brightly, “Mommy, are there really popsicles?”

“Yes, Bugaboo, there are really popsicles.”

“Are we getting popsicles?”

Baby Guy stomp-ran to the kitchen and began tugging on the freezer drawer crowing, “Possicles, possicles, possicles!”

I sighed.  “Everyone will get popsicles when Mr. Man comes back upstairs.  Are you done playing Legos for now?  If you are, this would be a good time to put them back in their bucket, while we’re waiting for Mr. Man.”

Bugaboo and Beanie headed for their room at a run, nearly crashing into the wall in their haste.  Baby Guy continued his assault on the freezer.  As I peeled our youngest child’s hands from the drawer handle, I heard the pitter-patter of Mr. Man’s feet on the stairs, then on the wood of the upstairs hallway.  “Hey, buddy, are you all dressed and ready for popsicles?”

I turned, with Baby Guy snuggled against my hip to prevent further attempts at a freezer incursion, to see Mr. Man standing in the kitchen doorway, stark naked, and with a jubilant smile on his face.  He had apparently overheard my conversation with his siblings.

“I back upstairs now, Mommy, may I have a popsicle now please, I really need a popsicle now, you told Bugaboo if Mr. Man came up we could have popsicles, here I am, may I have a popsicle now please?”

As I frequently assert on this blog – can’t laugh, not funny.

“Mr. Man.  I told you that you needed to get dressed before you have a popsicle.  You are definitely not dressed.  Please go back downstairs and get dressed.  You did ask properly, but you are still not dressed, and I cannot let you eat popsicles with no clothes on.”

I have to admit that I briefly considered that it would be much easier to clean him up if he DID get the popsicle before he garbed himself.

“But . . .”

“No but.  You know what comes out of butts.  Get dressed now, please.”

I could hear him grumbling quietly about the injustice of it all throughout his entire descent back to his room.  A couple of minutes later, he came back into the kitchen, fully dressed, albeit with his shirt on backwards.  I decided we’d fought enough battles for one morning.

“Okay, buddy, what can I do for you?”

He gazed at me soulfully.  “Mommy, may I please have a popsicle please a red one please?”

“That was wonderful asking.  Yes, you may.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the opportunity to remember You have granted my petition for patience, just as You granted our prayer for children.  Please help me teach them the difference between a need and a want, and that we should do the things we must before the things we like, when they differ.  Thank you for the people who invented the appliances that free up so much of our time to work on non-manual tasks, and grant us of the grace of hearts that long to use those extra hours to serve You instead of ourselves.

Love the one you’re with

Here’s the song reference.

Sunday morning brought a little, pleasant surprise.  Bugaboo generally attends Mass with Manie and Deedaw on Saturday evening, and I usually take Beanie to the early Mass on Sunday with me.  We’re still working on Mr. Man and Baby Guy.  Since Saturday had been a very busy day with a very late night for the tribe, I had decided not to awaken Beanie at 6:30 on Sunday morning, as a sleep-deprived Beanie is a cranky Beanie, and usually a disruptive-at-Mass Beanie.

To my joy, Beanie shambled out of the girls’ room of her own accord at about a quarter to seven, flumped down in her chair at the kitchen table, and asked if she has awoken too late for Mass.  She favored me with a brilliant smile when I replied that she did, in fact, have time to eat breakfast and dress for church.  Thirty-five minutes later, we were out the door, Beanie clutching the children’s Bible she always carries to church with her.  She has discovered that, if she gets fidgety during Mass, she can read the Bible to give herself something to do, and she will generally be favored with lots of smiles and praise from the parishioners seated nearby for doing so.

We arrived a minute into Mass, and thus sat very near the front of the church.  I’ll never understand why those seats are the last to fill.  Beanie did a stellar job of following along with the Mass, joining in the prayers she knew, giving me big, happy hugs during the ones she didn’t, and she only needed a spare handful of reminders to keep her eyes on the altar.  Finally, the moment came for Beanie’s absolute favorite part of the Mass, to wit:  the exchanging of the sign of peace.

During the sign of peace, Beanie is absolutely free to be the loving, affectionate child she is.  Anyone and everyone near our pew is eligible for handshakes, gigantic grins, and, occasionally, enthusiastic hugs.  As it happened, the lady and gentleman seated next to us had offered our cheerful Beanie a warm, albeit silent, greeting when they joined us in the pew, and she had clearly been waiting for the moment when she could return the favor with all the love in her five-year-old heart.  The gentleman was somewhat surprised when Beanie hurled herself at his legs and graced him with her warmest embrace, but quickly recovered, and, with a kindhearted laugh, hugged her back gently.

I started to apologize for the force of her greeting, but both husband and wife chuckled and waved me off.  Beanie resumed her spot next to me, and she followed the rest of the Mass with her face aglow from the love she’d given and received.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Beanie, who reminds me what love without reservations looks like.  Please help me nurture her loving heart and grant me wisdom so, while I am teaching her about safety, purity, and the right of bodily integrity, I do not squash this precious gift of boundless love with which You have favored her.  Please pour Your grace into our hearts as we teach her that sometimes physical contact, however well-intended, is not the best way to express our love for our neighbors, but that we should still love exuberantly and wholeheartedly, as You love us.


Here’s the song reference.

Our house was filled with the sound of sirens yesterday morning.  All of our little blessings have a great love for cars and trucks, but none more so than Baby Guy, who is at his happiest when surrounded by toy rescue vehicles.  Any car trip he takes is punctuated by little exclamations of “Fiwe twuck!” and “Poweeeeeese caa!”  There are days when his passion for said toys exceeds his desire to eat, and Monday was one of them.  I was a simmering, grey-haired cauldron of frustration at my absolute inability to get our youngest child to sit decently in a chair and eat a waffle and grapes.

Initially, it didn’t help when a large plastic fire truck, sirens wailing, collided painfully with my talus.  I whirled around, wincing, to excoriate the little offender, but stilled my tongue when I saw Baby Guy standing there with his arms spread wide and his face consumed by a huge and hopeful grin.

“Fiwe twuck, Mommy?”

I sighed and cast a rueful glance at the plate containing his nearly untouched breakfast before bending down, reversing the little truck’s direction, and giving it a gentle push back towards the waiting Baby Guy.  He chortled and clapped his wee hands merrily as the fire truck came to rest an inch from his little toes, then pushed it back to me.  We passed about five minutes playing fire truck catch, and his complete, delighted absorption in our game dissipated my frustration.  I laughed along with him, forgetting about the stickiness of the kitchen floor, the uneaten breakfast, the pile of books awaiting inclusion in lesson plans, the dog hair bunnies infesting the areas under the living room furniture.


As I reluctantly turned from our game to start the morning chores, I heard Sunday’s homily ringing through my head.  A piece of advice – bookmark that link, and the next time you’re angry because you feel like everyone else is doing something fun or interesting and you’re stuck doing all the scutwork, listen to it.  Twice.  Once again, I’d been schooled by a two-year-old.  I’d forgotten to rejoice in the day because I was so caught up in mundane minutiae, and instead of radiating love and offering the best work of my hands to the Lord, I was permeating the air around me with sourness and anger.  In that moment, my calling was to play fire trucks with a little boy, not to scrub the floor. My calling was to make sure that Baby Guy knew that he was more important than waffles, papers, books, and dirt.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, who frequently remind me of what really matters, that we are to love one another instead of fretting over things.  Thank You for the joyful moments that sound like toy fire truck sirens and toddler giggles.  Please, Lord, help me teach Your blessings that it’s not the books, the dirt, or the breakfast that matter most to You, but the gifts of self we freely give.

And please, Lord, if today is the day You call Your faithful canine servant Bo to you, let his passing be gentle for both him and Your blessings.

He sees skies of blue

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see white!  I see white!”

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

Our trip home was pretty peaceful, actually.

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