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The girl with the broken smile


Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

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

wedding day with nikki

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

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

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

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

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

We were bound by a love born of brokenness.

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

Things did not go according to plan.

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

Wildling left this world yesterday, in the early afternoon.

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

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

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

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

Peace be with you.

mail

 

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


Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

We have chosen differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throwing roses at her feet


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

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

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

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

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

rainbow roses

Photo credit:  100roses.com

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

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

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

may 2013 003

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

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

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

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

may 2013 004

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

If you want to, you can cream on me


Here’s the (utterly inappropriate) song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

april 2013 003

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

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

april 2013 007

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

A love supreme


Here’s the song reference.

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

“Wait until you see what Bugaboo just did.”

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

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

april 2013 012

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

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

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

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

S-O-D-A, soooda


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yesh, Mommy.”

“Mr. Man, did you open the sodas?”

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

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

Your darling little prince wants to grind, grind, grind


Here’s the (completely inappropriate and rather obscene, really) song reference.

Deedaw was in the mood for the chaos of our companionship yesterday.  After the girls had finished the bulk of their schoolwork, the tribe and I bustled out to the van to meet her at Toys R Us, to spend the rewards dollars that were about to expire (there is a certain pleasure in walking out of the store with new easel pads without unlimbering my wallet) and help her find a suitable birthday gift for Nephew, who will be two years old next week.  Beanie and Mr. Man helpfullly demonstrated nearly any toy that could be demonstrated for their paternal grandmother, and Bugaboo willingly offered her best advice on what might delight a two-year old boy.

We separated for a short time; Deedaw headed for the grocery store to procure a gallon of milk and some cookies, while we braved a drive-through window for some unhealthy, but no less welcome, lunch selections from the kids’ second-favorite fast food establishment, Big Yellow M.  After gathering around Deedaw’s dining room table for chicken nuggets, fries, and burgers, Baby Guy took a nap, Bugaboo and Beanie set about finishing the rest of their schoolwork, and Mr. Man careened from room to room, unable to decide whether he wanted to snuggle into his sleeping bag for a nap or have a tea party without his sisters.  Once the girls had finished the last of their math drills, the three of them headed outside to play.  It’s been a remarkably mild winter so far, and the gift of a sixty-degree January day was one our three eldest intended to fully enjoy.

While the tribe swung on swings, made forts under bushes, and played hide and seek among the trees, Deedaw and I restored a little order to the kitchen table, then set up a pair of paper shredders.  She had a number of boxes of old documents that needed to be shredded, and figured the work would go a little faster with two pairs of hands and some conversation.  Since Deedaw and I share a love of old-school singers like Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, I added a Pandora station created just for the two of us to the mix, and we passed a few hours shredding old papers, talking, periodically bursting into song, occasionally bursting into tears as we shared memories of Nonno, and plying the occasional curious small person with heart-shaped cookies. Baby Guy awoke a couple of hours in to our task, and, after he satisfied his curiosity about these strange black machines that had the magical power of making paper disappear with a clatter, joined his siblings for a romp in the yard.

As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the tribe returned to the great indoors, one by one.  Since they had been rather good about following instructions and helping when asked without overmuch grumbling, Deedaw and I decided to grant them TV privileges, and turned on Sprout for their viewing pleasure.  We probably should not have been surprised when they all found the paper shredders to be far more interesting than television, and we found ourselves surrounded by four very eager assistants.  After a quick discussion, we decided that in the interests of not burning out the shredder motors, we could only handle one little helper at a time, plus Baby Guy to jump up and down and clap his wee hands every time a sheet disappeared into the wastebasket.

Every so often, I had to break from shredding detail to tend to dinner; during one of those intervals, Mr. Man was assisting Deedaw by feeding papers into one of the shredders.  He was, by far, our most enthusiastic helper, and the best at redirecting Baby Guy’s hands from the power cords without causing him to wail.  As I stirred the ziti, I heard Deedaw admonish her oldest grandson, “Wait a minute, Mr. Man, we don’t grind everything up.  That’s something Deedaw needs to save.  You have to let me look at the papers before you grind them.”

Those who have known me best and longest know that there is a perpetual soundtrack running through my head, usually involving popular music from the 1980s.  Random words will trigger memories of random songs, and her reference to shredding as grinding produced one that was utterly, completely, horribly inappropriate to the situation.  I couldn’t stop the laughter that bent me double and made me grasp the kitchen counter to keep from falling over.  Baby Guy had no idea what had struck me funny, but he decided that if I was laughing, he should laugh, too; Deedaw and Mr. Man smiled somewhat puzzled smiles at the two of us, and I gaspingly explained to Deedaw that I’d had sudden recollection of an album that had completely horrified my parents when I was a teenager.

We all returned to our work, Bugaboo and Beanie periodically wandering in to relieve Mr. Man, until it was time to put dinner on the table.  As has become our custom, we remembered Nonno in our grace before the meal.

After we had eaten and dealt with the majority of the dinner dishes, we gathered in the kitchen to see if there was any other help we could offer Deedaw.  All of the tiny people were pleading to be allowed to run just one more sheet through a shredder.

The Pandora station was still playing, and a song came on that made Deedaw fall silent for a moment, then softly remark, “That was our song.  That was Nonno and my song.”

At that, Bugaboo burst into noisy tears, sobbing, “I miss Nonno!”

I gathered her to me and cried my own tears into her hair before releasing her to Deedaw, who had been gently exhorting her to come over for a hug.  Beanie, round-eyed and solemn, looked up at me and mumbled, “I miss Nonno, too,” collecting a hug of her own before wandering off into the family room to look at the old pictures; Mr. Man stood close by Manie, and Baby Guy clambered up into my lap, touching my tears with his little fingers and snuggling close, as he always does when someone is sad.

Deedaw, for her part, held Bugaboo close, smoothing her hair and drying her tears, and whispered to her how precious she had been to Nonno, how much he had loved her, how much he had loved all of us, and how terribly we all missed having him here with us.  We grieved together, the seven of us, but even in our tears, we remarked how blessed we all had been to be loved by a good and gentle man.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the family You have built among us, and for the wise counsel of Nonno, who sought always to teach and do what was right and good in Your eyes, who sorrowed when those for whom he had the care chose to disregard You and rejoiced when they returned to Your ways.  Thank You for the soft hearts of Your little blessings, who saw You in Nonno’s face and in both his playfulness and his correction, for their burgeoning understanding that the way to You is through simple acts of love and sharing.  Lord, please help us teach them that the way we are to love one another is to share the very best of the undeserved blessings which You have given us, even if the best we have to share on a given day is but the honest sorrow of a grieving heart, nimble fingers to feed papers into a shredder, or a reminder that You promise eternity with You to those who live in Your friendship.  Please help us remind them that showing love to one another more often looks like the small, everyday things done with great joy and care than the grand gesture, and that authentic love does not need to aggrandize itself, but reflects glory and honor back to You.

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


Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door closed.

I fished out the box of toys.

The door opened.

“Close the door, Mr. Man.”

The door closed.

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

“Good NIGHT, Mr. Man.”

The door closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They wanted pink slippers with pink pancakes


Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mumps will make you lumpy


Here’s the song reference.

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

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

december 2012 002

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

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

“I gotta mump!”

december 2012 001

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

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