Tag Archive | parenting

She will sing, sing a new song

Here’s the song reference.

We homeschool year-round, taking breaks of a week or two when they seem warranted.  Quite honestly, when we try to take longer breaks, Beanie gets weepy and starts asking when she can have her math time again. and Bugaboo develops a profound case of Notgonnadoit Syndrome with respect to pretty much everything.  We had been on a bit of a break through most of May, but in the early days of June, it became obvious that it was time to do some formal school time again.  Out came the math and penmanship books, but no more than that.  It is, after all, summer, and one of the more important lessons they’ll learn is the glory of a summer’s day, and the value of time that has only minimal limits.

I do, however, make it a point to have a few things lying around that, should any pint-sized personages complain of boredom, can be immediately placed into their waiting hands to relieve that dread malady.  Most of those things are of the printed matter variety.  As it happened, today’s selections were a book of traditional children’s games and the Wee Sing children’s songs and fingerplays songbook.  Since none of the tribe slept especially well last night, I declared universal naptime at noon, immediately following lunch, primarily to prevent bloodshed.

Beanie and Bugaboo, even on the rare days when they do nap, don’t sleep long during the day.  When they tumbled downstairs to see what wonders the latter part of the day might bring, I first offered them the opportunity to straighten up their room.  There are times when having taught these children logic works to my short-term disadvantage, as was the case when our daughters brightly informed me that the picking up and storage of Legos results in a decibel level that is nearly certain to awaken their little brothers, both of whom happen to be nursing summer colds.  To their credit, they did wash the dining room table and put the books back on the shelf in the playroom, since they agreed that a chore or two would be in order.

Since Mr. Man and Baby Guy were still sawing logs when the girls completed their labors, I handed Bugaboo the book of children’s games and Beanie the songbook, then suggested that each might choose something from her book to learn today, to teach the rest of the tribe.   Since both of them love to be placed in charge of almost anything, my recommendation was met with the quiet rush of two pairs of bare feet scampering off to preferred reading spots.

While the girls were weighing their gaming and musical options, Baby Guy shambled down the stairs, arms laden with toy cars and mumbling something about needing milk.  As I filled his cup, Beanie skidded into the kitchen, waving her songbook, and Bugaboo bellowed from the downstairs that freeze tag looked like great fun.  We play regular tag, but she had been hitherto unaware of the freeze variant.  Beanie had found a song she found enchanting, but needed some help figuring out the tune.  Off to the family room couch we four went, Baby Guy dripping cars as he walked, Bugaboo loving her baby brother by gathering them as they fell, so he would still have the full complement when we arrived.

After a moment of figuring out the melody to “Three Blue Pigeons” and a quick round of practice, Bugaboo suggested we sing and play tag outside.  Mr. Man, who has the worst of the household summer cold, was still peacefully sleeping (he ended up taking a four-hour nap).  Allowing him to continue in that state seemed advisable, so, after a quick drink of water to combat the heat of the day, we found a good singing spot in the shade of a grand magnolia.  Little pigeons flew and landed, with a madly grinning Beanie conducting our little chorus.  She tried ever so hard to convince Smudgie that he should be a pigeon, but he was far too interested in chasing us to sit nicely on a wall.

Once we’d tired of playing at being pigeons, and run out of Mo Willems references, it was time to play freeze tag.  Mr. Man was still comfortably snuggled up on Daddy’s pillow, which led Bugaboo to declare that she would give him special freeze tag lessons once he was feeling better.   A noisy, merry chase around the back yard ensued, with Smudgie being declared the winner of our game of freeze tag; any time anyone started to run, he or she was immediately tagged by a cold, wet nose.  Among our other discoveries were Sal’s excellence at sprinting off in random directions but utter inability to freeze, the blissful cool of a light breeze in the shade when we’ve been running, and the softness of grass (relative to dirt) for cushioning high-speed falls.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for summer afternoons, and for the gift of a big back yard where Your blessings can safely revel in them.  Thank you for the ability to read, for those who taught me, that I might later teach Your blessings, and for all those wonderful people who committed their childhood memories to paper that we might learn new and hilarious ways to enjoy Your creation.  When our calendar gets crowded, Lord, and I get cranky over the amount of work to be done, please keep me mindful that what I do, I do to serve You, and the greatest service I give You lies in the time I spend loving Your blessings instead of video screens and telephones.  Help me to cherish these days when playing tag and singing silly songs is my most important labor, and give me the wisdom to always teach Your blessings that we rejoice in each day You send.

I say a little prayer with you

Here’s the song reference.

All the tiny people were awake and active before Manie left for work yesterday morning, a somewhat unusual happenstance, as the boys usually sleep until around 8:00.  This posed certain logistical challenges, since I generally use the time between Manie’s departure and the boys’ awakening to make the morning phone calls in relative quiet.  I’ve never been entirely certain exactly what it is about the appearance of a telephone at the side of my head that causes the volume dial in toddlers’ heads to automatically crank up to ten, but it’s always been the case.  Perhaps one of the tiny people will become a neuroscientist and answer that one for me.

In any event, Grandma had a busy day on tap, so our call was short.  Once she and I had finished our chat, Bugaboo and Beanie were ready to start their math lesson.  Just as they settled in with their books and pencils, Deedaw called me before I could call her, as she had errands to run and wanted to get an earlier than usual start to her own day.  We had just started to discuss Manie’s building project for this weekend when Baby Guy ambled into the kitchen, arms laden with toy cars and trucks.

The little fellow climbed up into his daddy’s chair at the kitchen table, as he often does during the day, and started to arrange his load on the table.  Bugaboo and Beanie loudly complained at him, since he was shaking the table with the force of his parking the cars on the wood.  Still talking with Deedaw, I started to gather up Baby Guy’s playthings and gently return them to the living room; we discourage the playing of Demolition Derby on the kitchen table during seatwork time.  Mr. Man was having a morning romp with Smudgie in the back yard, having already devoured a waffle and about a quarter of a pound of cheese.

This turn of events greatly displeased Baby Guy, who alighted from his perch, stomped into the living room, loudly insisting upon the necessity of having toy motor vehicles in the kitchen as he went, wagging his wee finger at me and scowling as he intoned, “Babababad!”  Deedaw, being on the other end of the phone line, could laugh.  Apparently the audio of the scene made it pretty easy for her to get the visual.

We repeated our little dance, with Baby Guy slamming his toys onto the table and me gently gathering them and returning them to the other room.  His complaints finally became so loud and continuous, and were so augmented by Beanie and Bugaboo’s warranted lament that the racket made it impossible for them to concentrate on solving math problems, that Deedaw and I agreed to cut our conversation short.

After hanging up the phone, I remonstrated with Baby Guy about the principle that if books are on the table, cars and trucks should not be, gave him a kiss on the head and a cup of milk for his hand, sat down at the table between our daughters, and opened up my laptop to order American Heritage Girls uniforms for Bugaboo and Beanie, figuring we should have at least ten minutes of peace.

This being the fourth time since 2009 we’ve had a two-year-old in the house, one might think I’d know better.  However, our children come by their thick skulls honestly.  As I typed in all the shipping information, Baby Guy returned to the kitchen, fire truck in hand, and proceeded to clamber back up into Manie’s chair, gleefully shrieking, “I da FIYUH CHEEF!” as he did so.

Beanie put her head down in her math book.  Bugaboo started twirling her hair around her pencil, glowering alternately at her youngest brother and her mother.

“Baby Guy.  This is schoolwork time.  We cannot have trucks on the table during math lessons.  Take it back into the living room please.”

His wee face crumpled, his little chest heaved, and he started to cry big, fat, sad tears as he wailed, “No wivig woom!  Fiyuh cheef!  Bump twucks on tabuh!”

I picked him and his fire truck up, set them both gently on the floor, and gave him a little pat on the back to indicate that he did, indeed, need to head for the other room.  “Go on, sweetheart.  We’ll be done soon, and then we can all play fire chiefs together.”

Baby Guy collapsed on the floor in a shuddering, sobbing, heap.

His sisters stared – not at him, but at me.  No mathematical equations were being solved.  The problem at hand only tangentially had anything to do with books.

“Hey, girls, put your pencils in your books and close them for a minute.” I scooped up Baby Guy and snuggled him against my chest.  His tears made wet tracks down my shirt front as he tremblingly pushed his red face into my chest.  “I think maybe Baby Guy is sad that he missed when we did our morning prayers.  Would you mind if we did them again?”

Beanie jumped on that lifeboat with a cheerful, “That’s a great idea!  There’s no such thing as too many prayers!”

I cradled Baby Guy’s little hands between mine as we repeated our morning devotions, feeling the hitches in his breathing slowly diminish, then stop, as he calmed in my embrace.  The words of the prayers, and the promises they contained, washed over me, particularly “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  As we finished praying together, Baby Guy’s countenance having settled into a contented smile, I whispered into his hair, “I’m sorry, baby.”

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Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for the reminder that Your blessings inherited many traits from me, including the tendency to be a little thick-headed.  Please grant me the grace to have as much patience with them as You have with me.  Please open my eyes to their need for comfort and attention, and keep me mindful that however important whatever I’m ordering on the computer at that particular moment may seem to be, it pales when compared to the significance of spending that same time with one of Your little blessings.  Engrave it upon my heart, Lord, that what may appear to be an inconvenience is, in Your eyes, an opportunity for me to teach Your blessings that love means my to-do list can wait.

Compliment without caveats

The ladies over at Scary Mommy have had some remarkable postings lately.  I would strongly encourage all of you to read their latest, “About Children with Down Syndrome.”

Every life matters, friends, and most people appreciate both an honest compliment and an honest question.  The rules of etiquette teach us it is best to separate the twain.

Peace be with you,


Bang your head

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

“I think I forgot it.”

Those who have raised toddlers just winced a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he okay?  Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

These shall not be forgotten years

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s prayer:

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

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

The wild coastal ragweed grows among the fading berries

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

We agreed.

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

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

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

Today’s prayer:

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

All you zombies playing golf

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t laugh, not funny . . .

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

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

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

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

And Lord, please help us choose our entertainments wisely!

Go hug Alice, I think she’ll glow

Here’s the song reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My goodness.  You have four children?”

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

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

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

“Can you read the words?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty has her way

Here’s the song reference.

Saturday morning generally brings a cartoon marathon at our house, partly because Manie and I always spent our Saturday mornings watching cartoons when we were children, partly because it’s the only day of the week Manie has a realistic chance to sleep in, and the tribe is generally willing to quietly watch their favorite animated series for a couple of hours.  Bugaboo is generally the first to arise, and when she does, we check the program listings through 10:00 a.m. or so, set reminders for the cable box to change from one show to another at the appropriate times, and wait for her siblings to emerge.  Everyone gets to watch at least one show he or she likes, and Mommy and Daddy get to rest for a bit.

If you’re curious, yesterday’s viewing pleasures included Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Justice League, and Super Why.  While we are careful about what the tiny people watch, we do make room for programs that are just silly or entertaining, because not every moment has to be heavy with deeper meaning.  Sometimes it’s just fun to watch one cartoon character whack another with a frying pan.

As usual, Bugaboo was the first one up, and, after handing her a cup of milk, I settled in next to her on the couch to read a few articles online while she soaked up some brain candy.  Beanie followed towards the end of Strawberry Shortcake, and they giggled through Tiny Toon Adventures together.  Shortly before Mr. Man and Baby Guy started making awakening noises downstairs, Beanie finished her cup of juice and decided she’d had enough screen time.  As she rifled one of the bookcases looking for something to read, Bugaboo started bouncing up and down and proclaiming that a set of dolls in the commercial interrupting her program was SO COOL, and she’d really like to have some.  Beanie spared the screen a glance, shrugged her shoulders, and resumed perusing the bookshelf.

I looked up and cringed a little.  The toys in question had canine faces with exaggerated eyes and human female bodies, which, in the world of toys marketed to little girls, is a little unusual, but no big deal.  The outfits, though, were ridiculous, with dolls purporting to be little girls dressed in outfits more appropriate to a nightclub fishing expedition than a play date.  The clothing was, however, sparkly, ruffled, and brightly colored, which guaranteed an interested Bugaboo.  The marketers who designed that particular commercial certainly understood their target audience well.

I put an arm around our oldest daughter and kissed her head.  Bugaboo is, in her mother’s eyes, a thoroughly adorable six-year-old girl, and like many children her age, she is a bit of a magpie, drawn to things that are shiny.  “Bugaboo, what is it that you like about those dolls?”

“Their clothes are so shiny and pretty!”

“They certainly do sparkle, don’t they? What else did you notice about them?”

“Some of the dresses were really short.  You could almost see their heinies!  Do you think maybe they were going swimming in those dresses?”

“Maybe.  Did you notice anything else?”

“They were so sparkly!  I’ll bet lots of people would want to play with them.  They look like fun!”

“Is it fun to play with sparkly things?”


“What happens to the sparkles over time?”

“Well, they usually fall off and leave holes.  Especially if one of the little kids gets ahold of them.”

“Hm.  That sounds about right.  So they could become something that isn’t pretty very quickly?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  I’m guessing you don’t like those dolls.”

“I didn’t say that, but you’re right.  I like sparkles, too, though.  But I want you to think about something for a minute, about the way those dolls were dressed, and about the way the girls in the commercial were playing with them.”

“They looked like grown-up ladies who want men to pay attention to them look.  And they were really pretty.  And the girls were dressing them up in pretty outfits and the dolls were dancing and posing.”

“Very perceptive, Bugaboo.  So what kind of attention do you think you would get if you were dressed like that, or dancing and posing like that? Do you think they would want to swap knock-knock jokes or talk about cool science or art projects with you?”

“Probably not. I think they’d just want to look at me.  Because I’d be sparkly.”

“Would you like that?”

“Not if they were so busy looking they didn’t want to play tag or tell jokes.”

“Bingo.  Do you think they would pay enough attention to you to see what a good and loving girl you are?”

“Probably not.”

“But it’s okay to wear sparkles.  Now I want you to think about the boys in that other commercial, the ones who were dancing and looked like their pants were getting ready to fall off.  What did you think about them?”

“I was worried their pants were going to fall off.  I wanted to give them a belt.”

“Did you think that those boys might like to talk about books with you?”

“No, I was too worried about their pants.”


“Because some of our parts are private.”

“You’ve been listening, Bugaboo, and I’m proud of you for that.  Now think about the dolls again.”

“Those dresses would probably show a lot of private stuff, too.”

“Yep.  When we meet people, or talk to people, do we want them to think about our private parts, or do we want them to talk to us, so we can get to know who they are and they can get to know who we are?”

“I’d rather make friends than worry about someone’s private parts.”

“Right.  So maybe it’s not such a good idea for anyone to wear clothes that call attention to them.”

“Probably.  But I like sparkly dresses.”

“That’s fine.  I do, too.  But the way those dolls are dressed teaches little girls and little boys that girls should get attention by wearing clothes that show off their private parts.  Those parts, just like your whole body, are your gift from God.  We don’t want to dress in ways that call so much attention to how pretty our pieces parts are that people don’t see Jesus when they talk to us, they only see the sparkles.  We want to be whole people made in the image and likeness of God, not just pretty things.”

“But I am pretty.”

“You absolutely are, and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s fine to be pretty. But it is significantly more important that you are beautiful, which has nothing to do with your looks. Be beautiful, sweetheart, just like you are now.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for curious little blessings, who love laughter and things that sparkle.  As Your blessings play, and learn, and grow, help us teach them the twin virtues of humility and modesty, and to carry themselves not in a manner that screams for attention, but that speaks of charity towards one’s neighbor.  As we teach them,  Lord, help us to choose our words carefully, so that in teaching humility, we do not humiliate, but raise up our children and all Your other children we are called to encourage and instruct, so that we communicate to them the beauty that is their birthright from being created in Your image and likeness.  Let our actions be our most powerful form of speech as we teach.  Grant us the grace of hearts that look past immediate sensory gratification and seek authentic love, love that is modest, self-sacrificing, and chaste.

Pour some sugar on me

Here’s the song reference.

Nearly every time I set foot in the kitchen, I am immediately beset by the midget mob and their pleas to be allowed to assist with the preparation of whatever food might be on the menu for our next meal or snack.  While I try to accommodate them as often as possible, the mayhem that usually accompanies their participation, particularly the heated arguments among the tiny people over who should be permitted to do what, generally has me shooing them away from the stove and dispatching them to fold napkins or retrieve forks and spoons from the silverware drawer.

Of course, as I type this, I’m struck by the realization that I’ve been missing a wonderful opportunity to teach them patience, humility, and cooperation that has a built-in and highly desirable reinforcer.  Sometimes the efficient way isn’t the best one.

At any rate, I had thawed out a pork roast to cook for last night’s dinner, and, as I removed it from the refrigerator, it occurred to me that the preparation of that particular roast was fairly simple, and something Bugaboo could certainly do.  As I took a pie plate down from the cupboard, I called to her, “Hey, Bugaboo, do you want to help make dinner tonight?”

A faint “Wha-a-at?” wafted up the stairs at me from behind the closed door of the boys’ room, where Bugaboo was into something involving stuffed animals, action figures, and a toy picnic basket with Baby Guy.

“Do you want to help make dinner tonight?”

I heard the distinctive sound of a door crashing into a wall, then the pounding of Bugaboo feet ascending the stairs at a run.

“I can help make dinner?  Yes, I’d love to!  What are we making?”

I showed her the bag with the roast in it.  “What is this?”

“I think it’s pork. Are we making that?”

“Yup.  And you can help, if you want.  Go wash your hands.  When you think they’re really clean, wash them again.  And please don’t slam the bathroom door,” I added, as the bathroom door slammed shut behind her.

Moments later, my able and eager assistant was perched on a kitchen chair, awaiting instructions.  Her first task was to line the pie plate with foil (because Mommy hates scrubbing caramelized sugar and other burnt stuff off the dishes), and she quickly learned that it’s not as easy as it looks to get foil to conform to the contours of a round pan.  Still, she managed to do a decent job of it, and I showed her how to put a finger in the center of the foil and use her other hand to trace the outline of the pan’s bottom in the foil with her finger, which makes it lay flat.  She thought that was pretty cool.

I handed her a can of cooking spray and asked her to spray the foil, so the roast would release when it was done cooking.  She stared dubiously at the can for a few moments, and I reminded her to find the hole in the can top, and point that at the pan, but not at her face.  About a minute later, as I was assembling ingredients for her to mix the crust for the roast, I heard a sound like an angry snake, followed by a great deal of coughing.  Turning to see what had happened, I saw a puddle of pale yellow foam in the middle of the pie plate and a red-faced, coughing, six-year-old.

“You okay, Bugaboo?”

“Yeah (cough), I think (cough) so.”

I handed her a paper towel and a cup of water.  “What happened?”

“I finally got it to spray, but it sprayed at me.  I didn’t point it at my face, see, I pointed it at the pan, but it still sprayed at me.”

Managing not to chuckle, I gently reminded her (she’s used cooking spray before) that she needed to hold the can a little farther above the pan when spraying it, or the mist would ricochet off the pan and into her face.  “Are you okay? Do you want to try to finish it, or do you want me to help you?”

“Can you show me how high to hold the can?

“This, I can do.”  Holding the can about a foot above the pan, I gave the pie plate a quick spritz. “See? Like that.”

“Oh.”  Bugaboo glanced up at me sheepishly.  “I guess that was pretty silly.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.  Everybody forgets things, especially things they don’t do that often.  Ready to try again?”

“Sure.”  This time, she succeeded in coating the pan instead of herself, and went on to finish the rest of the steps to prepare the pork for roasting, while her envious sister watched.  I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but I will include the recipe after today’s prayer.

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Dinner was delicious.

Beanie extracted a promise from me that she would get to help make dinner tonight.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the abundance of nourishing food You provide for our family, for the home with its kitchen table where we all gather for meals, for a family that believes that meals should be eaten together, without distractions, for the means to pay for electricity to run the appliances to prepare them, for a place to store our daily bread safely.  Thank You for Your blessings who want to learn about and help with everything that goes into making those family dinners.  Please grant us the grace to give sincere thanks to You for all Your gifts, instead of rushing through a prayer before meals, patient hearts that yearn to teach the right lessons to Your blessings, and gentle tongues when we instruct.  Remind us, as we enjoy Your bounty, to recall and refresh Your children with whom we should share it, and inflame us with the desire to minister to them.


Pork roast even picky two-year-olds will eat:

Pork loin
1/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp (or more) ginger
salt for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking pan with foil, then oil, butter, or spray the foil.  Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt on the greased foil.  Lay the pork loin on top of the salt, fat side up.  Mix the brown sugar with the remaining seasonings (if you have maple sugar, this recipe benefits hugely from a dash of that as well) and pat it onto the pork loin, forming a crust.  Roast for 30 minutes per pound.  Slice thickly, and lay the slices in the pan juices for serving.  If you have kids, be prepared for fights to break out over pieces of the crust.