Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Circular Reasoning

Really, honestly, and to the deep places in my soul, I am fascinated by my children.  It never occurred to me why other people -- blinded parents -- were so in awe of their absolutely regular offspring, but now, as a parent myself, with eyes wide open, I understand. 

I am fascinated by my children because they are fascinating.

Do you see how the long bone of her leg is now longer than her entire body was at birth?  Do you notice the way she crooks her hand backwards while she's speaking, trying to illustrate an important point?  Did you ever stop to think about how many connections were made in her brain as an infant that have painted her into this picture of uniquely formed ideas and hopes?  Have you wondered why she has dark hair, and her sister's is blonde, even though they were made from the same combination of DNA?  Do you see that her laugh goes silent when she's laughing at her hardest? 

And do you notice that each moment is a new chance to SEE?  Each second is another opportunity to learn about this person you think you know...but who will surprise you at every turn?

Yes, I'm fascinated by my children. 

Because, after all, they are fascinating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Don't Care How Absence Makes The Heart Behave -- I Prefer Presence

Though he was only gone for two and a half days, it turns out that we ladies are allergic to Justin's absence.

He spent this weekend in Texas, pushing his bike-riding limits at a big, hot event, while we became sicker and sicker.  Lauren woke up with a head-to-toe rash, bright and flaming on her sweet cheeks, trickling down her belly and legs, but causing her no apparent irritation.  Mia bloomed with fevers, complaining of headaches and sleeping more than usual.  And I, his resilient, capable wife, floundered. 

I was bored.

I was lonely.

I missed him to the point that I couldn't sleep and had no desire to anyway, without him beside me.  It's been so long since he's spent any time away from home that I'd forgotten how much I dislike it. The dullness of it.  The unbroken hours.  The quiet.  (Conversely, the noisiness of a house settling at midnight evoking images of burglars and unseen creatures...)  But also the busyness that comes from being the only one caring for things. 

While I stay at home with the kids all day, it's different: he might feed the cat in the morning or check the mail at night.  He takes the pressure off of me for bath and bed time rituals.  He'll stop in for lunch midday, showering us with kisses before rushing away again.  He's present.  The promise of him is enough to keep me going when the afternoons become long and tiring. 

And without him, it's all me.  Every chore, task, ritual, and moment is mine.  I do them -- and I do them just fine.  I'm not incapable of anything (save mowing the lawn and wrestling....). 

But I'd rather depend on him.  I'd rather let him tease me for forgetting to give the cat water.  I'd rather gaze out the kitchen window as I make dinner, waiting for his car to arrive.  I'd rather flip through a magazine while he rough-houses with the girls.  I'd rather have him by my side in every activity and place. 

The old adage is true.

My heart does grow fonder.

But I didn't like the absence one bit. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekly Column: Your Words Are Truth

Looking at me through the corner of her eye, my daughter was defiant.

She’d just committed an act so grievous, so outlawed, that I knew she fully expected an immediate reaction: she’d spoken rudely to me.

As much as I wish it weren’t, this is one of our most common battles. The rude tone, the hateful attitude, and the careless rebuttals creep into our days more often than I’d like. I welcome her honest thoughts as long as they’re spoken respectfully, but after a day of moody arguments, it was hard to keep my cool.

Breathing deeply, I went over my options.

I could lose my temper and growl out my true feelings (‘Why do you sound so hateful?!’), but those would hardly help her learn how to control her temper. And more importantly, I thought, the words I would use to tell her how she was behaving would be nasty words. Words I don’t want her to associate with herself.

The other option, the harder option, was to sit down quietly and tell her why the words she’d used were unacceptable. And to do this while teaching her a better alternative (‘You need to speak kindly.’). I needed to teach her that words and attitudes can hurt people – that words carry power and she needs to learn how to use that power with kindness.

And this is a lesson that I try to remind myself of daily. Our words are powerful. Since I never want to use them in ways that will hurt my kids, I try to weave respect and kindness into every encounter, even – especially – the negative encounters. This becomes more and more difficult as their defiance and boundary-testing ways grow, but that’s also why it’s more important: the way we respond to our kids at this age can set the tone for what they believe about themselves in the future.

If my toddler is being crazily rambunctious all day or if my preschooler is being bossy and demanding, I’m tempted to call their behavior ‘irritating,’ ‘naughty,’ or just flat out ‘terrible’. But to say those words to her in a fit of frustration, I think it’s possible that I’d be placing that descriptor around her neck like a yoke: something she’ll grow into until eventually, she doesn’t give it a second thought. Until it becomes something she just accepts about herself.

It’s not easy to separate that behavior from the child who is only going through an expected developmental stage. It can be difficult not to break her down by telling her all the ways she’s misbehaving, but constantly reminding her of her ‘terrible’ attitude, or her ‘ugly’ behavior raises the chance that I could be creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of behavioral standards. She’ll internalize my words as truth, and expect nothing more of herself than what I’ve already given her as a label.

At the same time, it’s important to strive for giving good descriptors for her to grow into. When my children behave with kindness or generosity or thoughtfulness, I want to help them recognize and love that about themselves. I’d rather build them up with positive truths than tear them down with negativity.

That’s not to say I won’t be honest with my children about the ways they behave wrongly. If I want them to know the pitfalls and avoid them, I have to help them see where to step. But I have to do it respectfully. I have to do it without breaking them down.

I have to do it knowing that the words I choose to teach them with are powerful.

[Online version here.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday, #77: A List of Lists

1. Odd discovery of the week: I am the only person in my house who likes Froot Loops.  Huh.

2. We visited my friend's new house last weekend, and besides being a lovely place full of space and giant wall-covering windows, it also came with this gorgeous tree.  It's a Ginkgo tree, and fairly rare for this area of the world for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it (the breed, not this particular specimen) is one of the only leftovers from, like, the Jurassic period or something crazy like that. 

With all its wandering, cradling branches, Justin had to climb it.

3. Which leads me to the conclusion that Justin needs a son, don't you think?

4. A conversation:

Mia: A royal princess is at your castle, mama.
Me: Oh!  Why, I've never had the pleasure of hosting a royal princess before! I'm so glad you came!  How was your journey?
Mia: *sigh* It was very good. 
Me: Did you happen to encounter any danger along the way?
Mia: Well, no...but there was once that I saw a pair of scary eyes in the forest, that happened to just be a friendly deer after all.
Me: Oh, my!  Well that's good.  And how was the weather?
Mia: It was...*sigh*...springtime.  And when we got to the jumping off part, it was cold!  So we just held hands and jumped together. *laughing*
Me: I see! Well it's been so nice having you visit here, royal princess.  Where will you go from here?
Mia: Wichita.

5.  How Lauren eats pancakes:
- Picks tiny balls of powdered sugar from the top of the pancake.  Licks fingers enthusiasticallly.
- Scrapes peanut butter from top of pancake.  Licks fingers enthusiastically.
- Refuses pancake.
- Takes grudging bites when mom cuts pancake into tiny squares.
- Demands a bowl of pure maple syrup in which to dip her pancake squares.
- Conducts a scientific experiment by means of dropping a pancake square into the bowl of syrup, hoping it'll disintegrate.
- Takes a hearty swig of maple syrup by drinking from the side of the bowl.
- Coughs and displays her distaste of maple syrup by calling it "Really Yucky."
- Signals the end of the meal by pushing away her plate of uneaten pancake squares -- useless now that they're devoid of peanut butter and powdered sugar.

6.  How Mia eats pancakes:
- Bites face first into the center of the pancake, only penetrating through the top layer of peanut butter/powdered sugar coating.
- Licks fallen powdered sugar from fingers, plate, table, and lips.
- Demands a new pancake, one with an in-tact top.
- Bites face first into the center of a blueberry pancake.
- Gets squirted by a too-juicy berry, makes a sour face, and squeals in disfavor.
- Demands a new pancake, one with no blueberries.
- Bites face first into the center of a plain pancake.
- Signals the end of the meal by looking through the hole she's bitten in the pancake -- using it as a monocle instead of a food item.

7.  In response to yesterday's admission that I've been burying my nose in books lately, I got several requests to spill the beans on what I've been reading.  I didn't love everything I read -- and I don't promise that these are all treasures of literary genius -- but here are a few I did enjoy:

Peony In Love by Lisa See
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor
Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (yes, it's true -- I am not ashamed)
Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

I hope you all have wonderful weekends planned, full of the things that make you happy!  Stop by Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes -- which always make me happy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bigger Picture Moment: My Simple Joy

Welcome to Bigger Picture Moments, a weekly writing event sponsored by Bigger Picture Blogs. We welcome you to join us in finding the Bigger Picture amidst the hectic, everyday craziness in your week.

I seem to be in the middle of a reading jag right now.

Every spare moment -- and even in moments which should not be spared -- I find myself clutching my newest book, scowling or smiling at the pages in turn.  My evenings are full of laid back reading, my naptimes are consumed by hoarded moments of book-love. 

And deep down, I feel guilty for this pleasure. 

Life hasn't come to a complete halt since I've been immersed in the imaginary world of stories, but it's come close.  Dinners are late, laundry is backed up, writing is slowed.  The most glaring lack of attention, though, is in the direction of my blog. 

It feels neglected around here, but I can't bring myself to remedy that with hours of writing and creating.  As much as I thrive on interaction with blog friends, I feel completely comfortable in slowing down.  Not backing away, but giving myself permission to be absent more than once or twice a week.

In the beginning, this wasn't so.  I felt compelled to post something new daily.  I'd love to, but -- it's not the most important thing. 

And neither is reading, for that matter.

But sometimes it's okay (as I'm reminding myself right now).

To indulge in the simple satisfactions.

In whatever shape they take.

And right now that shape is rectangular, filled with smooth pages, wafting the scents of ink and binding glue, resting by my hands to fill me with simple joy.  Sometimes in order to love life, it IS valuable to cling to those moments of simplicity, even at the risk of blowing off a few things that can wait until tomorrow.

What are your simple joys right now?

Head over to Maegan's to join in, share your link and spread the love by viewing and commenting on other Bigger Picture Moments. Next week Hyacynth will be hosting, and we hope you'll join us again!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Snapshot: Lunchtime

It's turned into a warmishly uncomfortable day, but it started off cool and fresh.  Windows that were open to catch the breeze are now closed to the pressing heat.  The wind is still blowing softly, though, and the sound makes me think of fall.  Rustling, shaking, swooshing.  It feels like there's autumn gathering its courage out there, somewhere in the woods.

But inside, we're still in the grip of summer.  Lauren's wearing her citrus-covered 'orange' dress -- it's yellow.  Mia picked out a yellow and purple skirt this morning, added a brown shirt for seriousness, red socks for hilarity, and golden shoes for practicality: you can't be a princess without golden shoes.  They sit at the table -- covered with coloring implements and scribbled papers -- eating their lunches with more playfulness than intent to ingest.  Still, their plates are emptying well enough.  Peppers and carrots are inexplicably dipped in a pile of peanut butter, sandwiches are peeled apart and put back together, fingers are played with....anything to avoid finishing quickly. 

Good thing we don't need to finish quickly today.  It's a nothing day.  A day that began with a trip to the library and the paying of overdue fees.  A day that's continued with slow movement and begrudged errands.  A day that will be moving towards naptime soon, thankfully.

In the meantime, though, we're enjoying our lunch.  We're playing spelling games:

Mama, what does e-l-e-l-e-l-e-l-e spell? 

Mama, what does f-r-t-g-j-r-e spell?

And when I pronounce whatever nonsense she's just created, Mia roars with laughter.  Lauren giggles, not quite sure she's getting the joke, but happily playing along. 

In the middle of typing, I look up to see that my toddler has covered with peanut butter the palm and fingertips on one splayed hand.  It's time to go.

What does your snapshot look like today?

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Cried Me A River

For a Sunday morning, our day was beginning in an incredibly lazy fashion. 

Our Saturday had been spent out of town with friends.  We'd gotten home so late that we'd denied bathtime in favor of bedtime, so washing hair and scrubbing fingernails was at the top of our list for pre-church necessities.  But so far, the morning wasn't following my plan.

I'd woken up reluctantly, hitting the snooze button several times.  When Lauren started talking and singing in her bed earlier than she should have, I wished for a toddler-wired snooze button as well.  Barring that, I granted myself the inevitability of a day beginning earlier than I'd hoped for.  And really, they all begin that way, don't they?

Breakfast was slow and indecisively chosen.  We were out of strawberries and bananas.  The correct bowls and spoons were in the dirty dishwasher.  It was a morning not to be prolonged, and yet...prolonged it was.

Bath time finally arrived, and with it, a sense of adventure.  Our baths are always at night, so bathing in the middle of the morning was nothing but silly.  The girls hopped in before the tub had been filled all the way, and they played in the waterfall from the spout while I gathered towels.  They splashed and swam in tiny circles (rectangles, actually) while I continued with the lazy morning's precedent. 

I leaned against the counter and dallied with a dusty picture frame, paying no attention to the bathtub at all. 

Which was when the morning suddenly turned un-lazy with a warm blast water pummeling my face.

You know in those tv-shows when a bumbling, good-natured character is trying to fix the plumbing and it bursts in his face, and you think, 'Get out of the way, idiot!' but he just stands there shielding his face with his flapping hands while water floods the room? 

Yeah.  That's a pretty good approximation of what happened in my bathroom. 

Water was spraying me and the entire bathroom, splashing across the mirror and countertops, puddling on the floor and rug, while I screamed helpless whoops! of astonishment.  And I had no idea what to do. 

Where is it coming from?  How can I stop it?  Why am I not moving?  These things crossed my mind, but it took a minute of agonizing muddle-headedness before I darted away from the water plume.  Slip-sliding on the floor, I wiped my eyes and looked toward the source:

The bathtub.

More specifically, the shower. 

I pounded the handle down, shutting off the water and gathering my wits.

In the tub, the girls were wide-eyed and giddy.  Mia's staccato laughter began quietly, building into uncontrollable hoots while Lauren stayed in more of a shocked state of disbelief.  She finally giggled and scrunched up her nose.  "Is that funny, mama?" she wondered hopefully. 

It was absolutely NOT funny.  It was NOT funny that Justin had left the shower hose dangling sideways from its perch...it was NOT funny that he'd forgotten to place the plastic froggy spout-protector back on the spout....it was NOT funny that Lauren had curiously pulled the tiny metal button up, forcing the running water into the sideways-facing shower head.  None of it was funny, in the least. 

I looked around the drenched bathroom, shaking my head at the mess.  My lazy morning went up in a spray of water. 

And okay.

Maybe it was a little bit funny.

But only in retrospect.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekly Column: When Messes Become Masterpieces

My poor toddler often gets left out of the most entertaining activities.

She’s too little to swing on the big swing, too sneaky to color with markers, and too sleepy to stay up past bedtime. And until recently, she’s also been too dangerously messy to paint. At least, in this sleep-deprived, always-cleaning mama’s eyes. She’s painted a few times, but the resulting disasters have made me wary of too many repeats.

While shopping for school supplies, we came across a row of paints among the treasures at the store. She was so excited at the idea of having her own box of paints that I’m sure she could have propelled us down the aisle with her enthusiastically waving arms.

“Paint, mama!” she yelled. “I can paint!”

Thinking it was time to give painting another try, I handed her a paint box. She cradled it lovingly for the rest of the shopping trip. At home, she clambered up to the kitchen table and pried the box open, immediately claiming ownership of the yellow paint brush. I filled a cup with water, placed a mat under her paper, laid a napkin nearby, and stepped back to watch the fun unfold.

Or, I tried to step back.

Each time I started to leave her alone with the paint, I’d remember one more thing she needed to know.

“You have to dip the brush in the water first,” I began, “then tap-tap it on the napkin before dipping it in the paint.” I held her paintbrush-laden hand for her, guiding her through the motions. “Then you can put it on your paper. See?”

She jabbed the brush at the paper with reckless abandon before aiming it at a new color of paint.

“Oh, wait!” I ordered. “Rinse it off first, so the colors don’t get all mixed!”

She dipped the brush in water, then put it straight back to the paper, leaving a watery trace of blue. Frustrated, she looked at the brush like she was a queen and the brush had failed to serve her royal purposes. Before she could behead it – or toss it across the room – I told her not to forget to dip the brush in paint first.

We went through the motions a few more times while I chanted a helpful reminder: Water, tap, paint, paper. Water, tap, paint, paper. When it seemed like she finally had the process down, I backed away again, intent upon letting her do it herself. Only…she started to get the chanted instructions mixed up, and before I knew it, nothing was going right.

Her paper was sodden and messy, her paints were mixed into awful shades of brown, and she’d leaned her arm across the tray of muddy paints. I sighed. This just wasn’t working.

Except – it was. She was so involved with creating her masterpiece that she didn’t care about the (washable!) paint smeared across her forearm. She didn’t care about the soggy paper or the terrible mess of muddy colors in her paint tray. She certainly didn’t care about my helpful chant. She was painting! She was imagining! She was having FUN in her mess, and I was learning from her joy.

I finally let her do as she wished. The finished artwork wasn’t the point here: the fun process was. As a mom who is uncomfortable with messes (which is strange since our place is always messy…) it felt good to let my two-year-old revel in her art. It felt good to let her run away with her imagination, and it REALLY felt good to smile while she enjoyed her paints.

[Online version here.]

Friday, August 20, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday, #76

1. It's been a loooong week.  Here are some reasons why:

2. Mia and Lauren started preschool and Kid's Day Out.  The effort of getting back into the swing of a routine has been cumbersome but satisfying.  And only a little sad.

3. I was rejected from the Drivers' License Bureau for not having proper identification to renew my driver's license.  After all, it's not like they could look at the picture on my license to see who I was.  No, a passport or birth certificate could do that better.  And you know I always have those with me.  (Yes, I should have read the renewal mailer's instructions better, but...meh.)

4. Lauren found the pile of almost disintegrated bananas I was saving for banana bread -- but which needed to be thrown away because they were even past the point of bread-magic-salvation -- and tore into them, eating half a mush-bomb before I could stop her. 

5. Mia, upon seeing me exit the shower, needed sudden and particular details of female anatomy and why I look 'like that' and would she look like that when she grows up to be a princess? 

6. I just sent my toddler to her naptime with no lunch, because she chose to throw it all over the table and shove it away instead of eat it.  I feel bad about her probably hungry stomach, but justified because she fell asleep immediately meaning her bad behavior can reasonably be blamed on tiredness. 

7. But the week should end on a high note because tonight I'm going to see Dracula performed by our regional ballet company, and I'm more excited than the situation probably warrants.  (Have you seen the Dracula ballet before?)  And tomorrow, we're making a trip to spend the day with my best friend and her family with whom I plan to talk and relax and swim and laugh all the live-long day. 

What are you up to this weekend?  Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it thoroughly!  Be sure to stop by Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bigger Picture Moment: Wide Open Paths

Welcome to Bigger Picture Moments, a weekly writing event sponsored by Bigger Picture Blogs. We welcome you to join us in finding the Bigger Picture amidst the hectic, everyday craziness in your week.

Together, we stood in front of her illuminated closet, searching for the perfect back-to-school outfit.  Mia was fresh from the bathtub, warm and sweet in her nightgown, and she knew exactly what she wanted to wear the following day: a soft denim dress that cast a silvery sheen in the half-light of the bedroom. 

She laughed in a quick, tinkling way, laying the dress out -- just so -- before deciding on the perfect shoes and ruffled socks.  She was ready.

I headed to the other bedroom with Lauren, knowing exactly what to expect: she'd undoubtedly pick the frilliest dress she could find.  Something cool and light, colorful and bouncy.  I steered her towards a new dress I'd been saving for just this occasion.  Its pink and cream checks and ruffled A-line waist would satisfy her pretty-girl needs, and the fact that it was new was sure to be in its favor.  Strangely, she pushed it aside. 

Having my plans and expectations thwarted didn't bother me, I just dreaded the undoubtedly long search we'd now have for the right dress.  For I knew it would be a dress.  No question -- she's been demanding dresses for months now.  And I knew it would also be a hard-won find, because as a full-fledged 2-year-old, Lauren's indecisiveness is abundant.

But for the second time that night, I was wrong.  On both counts. 

1. She immediately chose, and

2. She immediately chose a non-dress item.

"Mama," she squealed, "I wanna wear my jumper!" 

My mouth dropped open.  This jumper -- it's the most darling thing she owns.  A blue and white denim stripe reminiscent of traditional train-conductor overalls, cut down to the sweetest one-piece romper you've ever laid eyes on.  The waist is gathered with a tiny white bow and the top is adorned with a row of ruffles over a line of chunky, round buttons.  My heart skipped a beat the first time she wore it, but her own reaction was altogether opposite.  That day in May, shortly after I'd found the jumper (romper, whatever), I forced her into it against her dress-loving will.  She tore at the straps, tugged at the waist, picked at the legs, and hated it.  I assumed that one day was all I was to be allowed with this darling outfit, and sighed each time she refused it for the rest of the summer.

Because believe me: I offered it at least 4 times a week.  Hoping she'd wear it again before it became too small. 

You can imagine my confusion when against all my expectations, she finally decided to wear it.  This shorts-bottomed one-piece.  This non-swirling one-piece. 

I quickly rearranged my face into the picture of nonchalance.  "Alright sweetie," I muttered.  "I'll lay it right here so it'll be ready for the morning."  Above all, I didn't want to break the spell and have her change her mind.

She bounded off to bed, as pleased as I'd ever seen her. 

It hit me, then: my expectations are not the end-all of childhood happiness.  The paths I choose for my daughters might actually limit them, while the paths they carve for themselves are bound to be creative and interesting.  Today, it's my assumption that she'll wear a dress, but tomorrow....maybe it's my assumption that she'll be a reader instead of an athlete.  A wall-flower instead of a butterfly.  Highly ambitious instead of quietly content.  Whatever path I think they'll take, they have the power to surprise me, to delight me, and to grow into their own selves.

And I just hope it's always as easy for me to love their choices as it was this time. 

Head over to Melissa's to join in, share your link and spread the love by viewing and commenting on other Bigger Picture Moments. Next week Maegan will be hosting, and we hope you'll join us again!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Review

This would have been a few, short paragraphs, but after I wrote it, I realized that a Summer Review isn't a Summer Review until its littered with photos.  Happy Summer to you!

At the beginning of the summer, I was nervous. 

After having spent so much time alone with my girls as babies and toddlers, it was strange to have them go to their preschool and kid's day out programs.  I didn't know what to do without them, and I felt bad about letting others take care of them.

Then, during the school year, we figured out a rhythm of work and play that made sense for our days. I had gotten used to having time to myself a couple of mornings a week, and the girls loved the activities and friends at school.

So when summer loomed before us with nothing but unstructured weeks of long days during which I would be expected to occupy the kids by myself, I started to worry. 

Would I be able to keep them busy enough?  Engaged and entertained and active?

And I wondered when this shift from wanting NObody else to spend time with my kids turned into me wanting MORE people to help me fill my kids' days. 

I felt guilty that I was suddenly anxious about having no time to myself. 

But more practically, I worried about errands and grocery shopping and housecleaning. 

Those few hours meant a lot of easy work would suddenly become more difficult. 

Basically, I was dubious that we'd have an enjoyable summer together. 

I didn't trust myself to know what to do with my own kids, full time. 

Even though they'd only been gone for a few hours a week during the school year, the change seemed monumental.

Now, we're at the end of the summer. 

I'm happy -- so happy -- to report that it was fun

I actually can't remember another summer that I've enjoyed so fully. 

I didn't feel burdened by the constant presence of my rambunctious girls, which was a relief. 

I'm glad to know I wasn't capable of those feelings towards them, and glad to know that I CAN still be a full-time mom, even after being spoiled by the luxury of early preschool programs.

And at the same time, I'm ready to embrace again the routine of the school year. 

Our unstructured summer has been lovely, but I always had the promise of preschool's approach to help me get through our lazy days.

I'm rambling, I know.  I'll stop soon. 

But thanks for sticking with me as I remembered this summer -- so I can hold on to why I've loved it so much.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekly Column: Hurrying Will Get You Nowhere

Everything was going smoothly.

It was a school day, a day to be ready on time and out the door without hiccups, and we were all in good moods. Breakfasts were finished, clothes were on, and sack-lunches were ready. I wandered around the kitchen, putting dishes away in between checking emails and adding items to the grocery list. I got caught up in an online article (probably something about how to manage your time more effectively…) while the girls played, and before I knew it, it was time to go.

Only, we definitely weren’t ready any more.

My two-year-old had become displeased with her outfit and stripped herself out of it. My four-year-old was focused on a coloring page, still with peanut butter and honey smeared across her cheeks. My purse was missing and after a quick search, I found it upside down – emptied – on the living room floor. We were a collective disaster and we were now, officially, late.

Switching into high-gear, I hollered out orders and gathered spilled items along the way. I expected shoes found, faces wiped, dresses donned, and I expected it NOW.

As soon as a girl was found dawdling or being sidetracked by the fascinating world of dusty lint behind the rocking chair, she was hauled up and pointed onward. And as I would have foreseen had I been in a non-rushed state of mind, they rebelled. The coloring page was declared to be of highest importance, and the unwanted dress was dashed away into another room by a streaking toddler. My heart rate rose as the minutes clicked on and we became later and later.

I had to stop myself. Rushing my little ones usually gets me nowhere. Or, stated more truthfully, it usually moves me backwards. Two and four-year-olds are dawdlers by nature, and it’s appropriate – necessary, even – for them to be allowed more time than I think it takes to complete a task. To keep myself occupied up until the very last minute is fine, but they need plenty of time to transition from one activity to the next. How else will they be able to notice their surroundings fully enough to question the shape of a leaf? The color of a bug? The sound of a dog barking? The world is meant to be experienced, and to stop a little one from doing that by rushing them all over the place is to do them a disservice.

But at the same time, we needed to GO! It was fine to promise myself to be better prepared the next morning, but what could be done about this morning?

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and thought about what exactly needed to be done. One thing at a time.

My big girl was told that she could either put her coloring away and finish it after school, or have it taken away to the trash can. She chose wisely.

My toddler was wrangled into her dress with the promise of a wardrobe change after school and she agreed, telling me exactly which dress she wanted.

Shoes were found, faces were wiped, and school was starting in 5 minutes. We would have to do better tomorrow: I had a plan to be completely ready 20 minutes early, and the rest would naturally fall into place.

We had almost made our getaway when my toddler declared, “Mama, I’m poopy!”

I clenched my jaw and revised my next-morning plan to allow 30 minutes of leeway. With these girls – and this scatterbrained-mama – time is SO easily lost in the shuffle.

[Online version here.]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Meet The Lame-O's

Dinner last night was...okay. 

We got to the restaurant early, parked right by the front doors, and avoided a long walk in the blazing heat.  The girls were well-behaved around their grandparents, if a little loud at times, and we all enjoyed the time together.  But it would have been much better if our food had also been good.  I don't know what's coming over me, but I'm suddenly very picky with restaurant food.  I want it to be as good as something made in my own kitchen -- not that I'm a fantastic cook, but I do like what I make. 

As it was, Lauren refused her quesadilla and my own pasta was watery and nearly flavorless.  So we switched.  She made a mess of herself with long, dripping rows of pasta, and I ate a child's size portion.  Probably for the best.

Feeling guilty about the uneaten mass of food on my plate, we loaded it into a to-go box, and headed out the door.  We said goodbye to the generous grandparents and carted the girls and the leftover food to the car.  Buckling them into car seats was an ordeal of its own, because the car -- sitting in direct sun in the 104 degree early evening -- had turned into a formidable opponent.  Buckles burned, air vents blew hot air, and sunshine glared until we finally got on the road.

Pulling out of the parking lot, we passed a small group of teenagers, talking and laughing by their vehicle.  I was struck by how crazy they were to be standing in the full heat and sun, and still have smiles on their faces.  Justin was struck by something else: the lone guy in the group was waving his arms around, pointing at us and dancing around.  Being goofy. 

"What's that guy doing?" I asked. 

Justin squinted at the teenager while I navigated traffic.  "I have no idea," he snorted.  "He's just...being an idiot for those girls."

"What were you like in high school?" I asked.  We wonder about these things often -- how we would have viewed our lovable spouse if we'd seen them in all their adolescent glory.

Justin's expression turned suave and sophisticated.  "I was cool," he said.  "Mature.  Quiet and enigmatic.  Everything that guy's not.  But he'll grow up some day."

I laughed and played along, sure that Justin was exactly as he'd stated. 


It seems like all of our time spent as a couple lately is busy

We're doing things with our daughters, doing things with our families, keeping up with our personal hobbies -- cycling for him, writing and reading for me -- and the time for conversation has become limited.  If we try to have a real conversation in the middle of dinner, we're bound to get waylaid by chattering, messy girls.  If one of us tries to discuss something while the other is heavily invested in some personal business, we become frustrated with the distraction. 

So it doesn't surprise me that the only time we do get to talk is late at night.  Between the hours of ten and midnight, we seem to untap our voices and unleash our thoughts.  And it's glorious.  It's like a slumber party with your best friend, where you just can't seem to stop talking long enough to actually fall asleep.  Even though we both have to get up the next morning, we'll talk in bed for so long that each others' hushed voices are what sends us into dreamland. 

It was like this last night after our dinner out.  We closed down the house from the movie and lights to the computers and baby monitors, thinking sleep was imminent.  But as soon as our heads hit the pillow, we were off.  So many things to talk about, so little time.

As a short-lived storm rolled across the sky, lightning flashing, we talked and laughed and planned.  Upcoming trips, long term ideas, discipline problems with the kids, dreams, hopes, worries -- all with our feet and legs intertwined, voices lazy with drowsiness.

We were so close to sleep that the pauses between each response had grown deep and quiet.  One last thought popped into my pre-dreaming mind: the leftovers from dinner.  If they'd been left in the hot car, in the hot garage, we'd be greeted with a stinky mess the next morning.

"Babe?" I whispered.  "Did you put the to-go box in the fridge?"


He shifted, but the silence continued for so long that I wondered if he was already sleeping.  And then...

"I just had a revelation." His voice wasn't as sleepy as it had been a minute before.  "That guy at the restaurant wasn't just being an idiot."

I was completely confused by the shift.

He went on.  "He was yelling about the take-out container I left on top of the car."

Our laughter started low and disbelieving, and rose to snorts and honks so loud we worried about waking the kids. Our pillows became spotted with hilarious tears.  We had to turn the fan up to cool ourselves down.  Not only was the young guy at the restaurant not being an idiot (at least not at that precise moment), he probably thought the old-marrieds driving with food on their roof were a bunch of lame-o's. 

But I hope he someday gets lucky enough to realize how much fun it is being married to a co-conspirator in lameness.

Friday, August 13, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday, #75

1. I knew this day would come: Mia wants a new mom.

In the midst of being denied something fundamentally necessary, like a second popsicle in 20 minutes, she was mad at me.  "I just don't want to stay here ANY. MORE," she sulked.  "I'm going to have a DIFFERENT mom."  Her arms were crossed and her lips were pursed.

With less emotion than I thought I'd feel at a moment like this, I said "I hope you can find one who gives you as many good hugs and kisses as I do, or who makes your favorite sweet chicken like I do, or who loves to tell you stories like I do...and I sure would miss having you around..."  I peeked sideways at her disgruntled figure, hoping to have shaken her anger.

Still scowling, she backtracked.  "Well, I just still want YOU, but I need another mama too.  One who lets me do whatever I want."


2. I've had a couple of discussions with acquaintances lately that have left me feeling awkward.  A few times, we've been talking about raising kids and the conversation has turned to the little newspaper column I've been writing.  Sometimes it includes stories of our difficult days or mishaps, and I write it all in the hopes that it'll be helpful to anyone else. 

But in these recent encounters, the response people have to my kids is this: "You're SO patient!"   A compliment, right?  But my mind twists it into something not so complimentary.  It makes me wonder if my kids seem so terribly behaved that anyone else would pull their hair out and run, screaming, from their presence.  But since I'm so very patient, I handle their supposed awfulness better?  Am I looking too deeply into this seemingly harmless compliment?  I'm sure I am, but...would anybody else take it that way?

3. This summer has been a terrible meal-planning phase for me.  I have no idea what's for dinner from one day (week...) to the next, and it's stressing me out!  But at the same time, I've been falling back on quick, simple meals to spare myself a lot of work.  With temps in the triple digits for days on end, cooking isn't my favorite activity. 

But also, I like to plead helplessness to my husband.  And go out to eat at a restaurant more than we usually do.  I'm so sneaky.

4. Last night was one of our emergency restaurant nights.  I'd counted on eating leftovers, but those turned out to be growing something inedible on their refrigerated surface so we had to make quick alternative plans.  Mia picked the restaurant -- a Mississippi style barbecue joint -- and we were off.   

Before our food arrived, Mia and I snuck away to the restroom.  The speakers were loud in the small, enclosed room, so jazzy blues filled the bathroom and bounced off the tile walls.  It was too much: we had to dance.  Hoping no other patrons needed to visit the wash room, we simpered for the mirrors, spun, and wiggled.  We boogied and shook and skittered across the bathroom floor, losing our breath and laughing until tears came to our eyes.   

Restroom dance parties are way cool.

5. I scream...

6. You scream...

7. We all scream....

For ice cream!

Have a relaxing summer weekend, and visit Betty Beguiles (our gracious, temporary hostess)  for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bigger Picture Moment: Careful What You Wish For

Welcome to Bigger Picture Moments, a weekly writing event sponsored by Bigger Picture Blogs. We welcome you to join us in finding the Bigger Picture amidst the hectic, everyday craziness in your week.

Melissa is hosting our link-up next week, so keep your heart open to the bigger picture and come back to participate again or for the first time. All are welcome!

Browsing the aisles for back-to-school gear had my brain buzzing.

Posters colored in school-bus yellow and chalkboard green towered above the bins of supplies, and the atmosphere was charged with excitement: the smell of school was in the air.  Moms and students darted in and out of the rows, checking things off lists and discussing necessity versus desire. 

My girls and I watched from a few paces back, wondering at the how-to's of this new thing called 'school shopping.' 

Because while I've done back-to-school shopping for ages, it's pretty new that we're shopping for my little one.  Mia -- a preschooler.  Her needs are basic and fun: crayons, markers, glue, kleenex.  And even though we don't need piles of products like we will when she starts kindergarten next year (choke), we still needed enough new things that it felt like a party.  A back-to-school shopping party.

At home that night, we regaled daddy with stories of choosing just the right markers and how the new binder is PINK!  He listened with perfect attention and enthusiasm, and then turned to me with a wistful look on his face.  "You know," he said, "it won't be long now before it's time to think about Halloween costumes.  Thanksgiving.  And then Christmas.  The school year starts and it all rolls right along, doesn't it?"

I smiled and agreed.  It just keeps going.  One minute it's back-to-school, the next it's trick-or-treating.


At 6-months old, Mia was crying.  She wasn't sleeping when I thought she should be, she was still exclusively breastfed, and I was tired.  In body and in spirit.  Motherhood had slapped me around, shifted my life-goals, and frightened me.  I was completely convinced that I was no good at it.  Being a mother didn't come naturally to me. 

I vividly remember one June afternoon.  A Saturday.  Blue, sunny, mild, perfect.  Outside, that is.  Indoors, I was not doing well.  It was nap time but the baby was having none of it.  Screaming and wailing in her bed, she refused to sleep.  And it was making me crazy.  The books I'd read seemed to promise evenly scheduled days, naps, and meals, but it hadn't worked for me and I couldn't figure out why.  (It was as if my baby needed something from me other than forced naps and scheduled feedings...but that's too sticky of an admission for me to approach yet.) 

Leaving my crying baby in her room, I stormed out of the house.  I rushed past my yard-working husband, sank down to the porch steps, held my head in my hands, and cried.  Nothing was as it should be.  I didn't know what I was doing, and I had a screaming infant to prove it.  Calming my insecurities and frustrations took several minutes.  And it didn't erase them, it merely tamped them back into their container, waiting to pop up like a jack-in-the-box next time things went wrong.

Breathing a sigh of submission -- I'd have to go back in there soon -- I stared out over our neighborhood.  Next door, two young kids were playing.  The boy was kicking a soccer ball around while the little girl and her mother took off for a bike ride around the block.  I watched them playing, laughing, talking, living, for several minutes. 

It struck me.  It startled me.  It gave me hope. 

Those kids -- those happy, playing kids -- had been babies once.  They'd cried and not slept.  They'd confused and worried their parents.  Or, I could imagine that they had.  And yet, here they were.  Moving forward.  Growing up. 

Every day wouldn't be this day, I realized.  We wouldn't be stuck in this pattern of sleepless crying and confused schedules forever.  I would feel more even-footed someday.  My baby would grow up.  She would move forward.  Just like the kids next door.


And now she's beyond those days.  She doesn't cry at nap times anymore -- in fact, she barely even naps anymore.  My wish has been granted. 

One minute she's a crying baby, the next she's picking out school supplies.

It just keeps going.

**Link up your Bigger Picture Moment below! Please make sure to use the link that will take us directly to your BPM post, linking back to us within your post, or your link will need to be deleted. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If I'm A Good Mother

It's only because of....

Air conditioning
Nap time
My husband
Blog friends
Date night
Early bed times
Friends (as in Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Joey, and Phoebe)
My mom
Out-of-season fruit, paid for with top dollar
Hose water
Pizza on a weekly rotation
My grandma's influence
Betty Crocker
Curious George
Black-out window shades
What things -- whether simple or profound -- help you to be a better parent, just by helping you get through the days?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesdays Around The World: Today

Today, we're excited to go play with sweet Evie:

Because she's a bundle of fun...

A barrel of laughs...

And she knows it!

What's going on in your part of the world today?  Visit Communal Global for more Tuesdays Around the World!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear August

Oh, August -

I have to be honest with you, August: we used to have something special.  Do you remember those long days of happiness we shared?  They were magical.  You were my favorite time of year not so very long ago, but...but...I don't know.  It seems like a distant dream now. 

I'll tell you what happened, and try to not interject your feelings before I'm done speaking, okay?  (You always were overtly domineering...)

You and I, August, were destined to be together.  Really, I know that sounds trite, but it was true with us.  As my birthday month, I always had a crush on you, even as a young girl.  We'd start our summer mornings together, wandering freely at my parents' house while they were gone to work.  Hah.  Such a time of exploration and freedom we enjoyed then, you know?  You taught me things, showed me bright sunniness in the middle of trying times. Adolescence was rough -- but you remember that well.  You've a mind like a steel trap, August, I'll give you that much.  You surely have no trouble recalling my gangly, angly figure while my childhood friends developed and sprouted before your eyes.  And as much as you must have wished that I was also as alluring and plump in my early teen years, you stuck by my late-developing side.  For that, I'll always love you. 

Well, part of me will always love you.  Part of me will always savor the feel of your heat on my skin as I read novels in the shade of our back yard.  Part of me will always listen for the drone of crickets and bugs and frogs which make up your sunset symphony.  Part of me will always wonder...what might have happened if we hadn't grown apart?

But we can't change the past, August. 

The circumstances of our love has been changed...shattered.  Where you once coccooned me with lazy days and sultry nights, now you stifle me.  I can hardly walk across the yard to play with my girls before your oppressive heat drives me away.  If there was one thing I always knew about you, August, it was that your love could turn from decadent to crushing at the drop of a minute, but you've proven it to me in the past few years in ways of which I didn't even know you were capable.

You burn me.

You melt me.

You hinder my movements as if you want to keep me locked in my cool house for days and weeks on end.  But August, I'm not your prisoner.  You can't stop me.  I'm going to take my precious daughters -- the daughters of Spring and Winter -- to the pool, and I'm going to slather us all in sunscreen to block out your damaging glare.  I'm going to turn on the hose and soak the innocent dogwood I planted in the Spring.  The tree you've done nothing but wilt and steal moisture from since you learned of her growth.  I'm going to thrive despite your torment, despite your best attempts to make me miserable.

August, I just...I wish it could have been different between us.  Perhaps if you tone it down a notch, I'll grow to love you again, but differently.  I now owe my loyalties to the milder seasons.  The meek, quiet months.  The ones which still know how to caress and sigh. 

Try to keep your distance from me, my dear, dear friend.  For that is all we can ever be, now.  And only when you've had some time to cool down.

Thanks for the memories, August.

Sarah the Heavenly

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Weekly Column: Reading Tips For Toddlers

Toddlers are good at many things -- screaming loudly, running wildly, and kissing sloppily, to give a few examples. But they’re not usually good at sitting still to read a book, at least not without some practice. So how can we foster a love of reading without strapping our toddlers to our laps for story time? Lots of ways!

Follow Their Lead
My 2-year-old is the fastest page-turner in Southwest Missouri, which makes it frustrating when she wants to turn and turn and turn….while I’m still trying to read an entire page. But that’s okay! She’s experiencing the book and she’s enjoying it. She’ll show an interest in plots eventually, and that’s when we’ll slow down. For now though, we’re just lucky to know there’s a beginning, middle, and end. Pages come and go, but the joy of speed-flipping through a book will stick with her so she’ll keep coming back for more.

Slow Down
On the flip side of a speedy page-turner is the toddler who asks questions about every single detail. Pictures need identifying, words need to be silly-ed up, and accompanying facial expressions must be repeated – and that’s just on the first page! If you’re only trying to finish the book quickly, your toddler’s antics might seem irritating. But they’re so very important. She’s making connections with the book’s meaning. She’s expressing moods in silly faces. She’s trying to understand the illustrations. She’s learning reading comprehension, at the ripe old age of 2. So slow down and let her point out each detail of a page, and just get comfortable. You may be there for awhile, so you’d better make the best of it!

Be Flexible
No really, be flexible. Toddlers are active and squirmy, so a story session may end up with you on the receiving side of restless reader’s kicks and shoves. Loosen your grip, shuffle around when needed, and let your toddler get comfortable. Even if that means he needs to bound across the room occasionally. If your little one is just not interested in reading that day, don’t force him to sit still. Even if he’s building a tower while you’re reading a silly rhyme, he’s still participating. To become a good reader, he’ll need to actually enjoy reading – and he can’t do that if reading becomes a mandatory chore.

Have Fun
Remember that reading a book together should be FUN! Never dreaded or forced. It might help make your story-telling voice more interesting to listen to by dramatizing your inflections or popping off with a few sound effects. Embarrass yourself! Try to let your toddler enjoy a book, in every way possible. It’s okay if he wants to see how a board book tastes. It’s okay if he wants to skip pages and miss entire segments of storyline. It’s okay if he decides to skip the book altogether in favor of a teddy bear across the room.

If you let your toddler’s unique approach to books – however fleeting or distractable – set the tone for all of your story-times, you’re going a long way towards raising a life-long reader.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Evening Blog Post, #7

Oh, happy Saturday, your presence is joyfully accepted at Heavenly House.  Even more so because you're the first Saturday of the month, which means it's time for Elizabeth Esther's monthly carnival!  The Saturday Evening Blog Post is a place where bloggers can gather and show off their favorite post from the previous month for all the world to see.  All the blog-world, anyway. 

For July, I chose An Interview with Justin as my favorite post, but Shiny Happy Baby Curls came in a close second.  What about you?  What's your favorite post from July?  Link up at Elizabeth Esther's place today, and peek around at some other favorites.

Happy Saturday Evening!

Friday, August 6, 2010


I can't wrap my head around the idea that I'm not doing Quick Takes today....it's odd.  It's...weird.  But with the busy-ness of summer combined with the laziness of August, I ran out of both time and desire to post 7 random thoughts. 

Instead, I only have one, and it's a doozy:

It's fun being married to this guy:

Have a good weekend, my friends!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bigger Picture Moment: The Secret Of Beautiful

Welcome to Bigger Picture Moments, a weekly writing event sponsored by Bigger Picture Blogs. We welcome you to join us in finding the Bigger Picture amidst the hectic, everyday craziness in your week.
I've been thinking a lot lately about image -- perceptions of self and how true they may or may not be.  See, I've never considered myself to be classically beautiful, and it's troubled me.  I've pined for beauty.  Longed for it and studied it, but in the end, had no idea how to achieve it.  Although I understand that beauty is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, I've still managed to worry, fret, and fuss until I decide I'm hideous.  Memories surface of awkward years and private embarrassments, and they're hard for me to let loose.  The way those years of painful self-consciousness formed how I see myself, even as an adult, is nonsensical.  But those things are over now, and it's long past time for me to recognize Who I Am.  So I've been looking inside myself and coming to some conclusions.  I've realized some truths.

Truth Number One: I Am Beautiful

It doesn't matter that my cheeks are round, my skin is pink, my hair is messy.  There are gray hairs shining through the simple brown, blemishes on my imperfect skin, brows that haven't been plucked in weeks.  I have crooked teeth, crooked, untrimmed bangs, a crooked back.  My belly is soft, my legs are white, my toenails are unpainted.  And all of that is okay.  More than okay.  Because behind my smile -- another crooked part of me -- there is joy. 

Truth Number Two: Joy Is Beauty

There are things about myself I can't change.  The pink skin, for example.  There are things about myself I could change if I had enough willpower.  The soft belly, for example.  There are things about myself I don't want to change because they make me happy.  The white legs, for example.  But no matter what I look like, no matter how my body ages and changes in ways that surprise or disappoint me, the one thing I can hold tight to, is my happiness.  Nobody can change that about me, unless I let them.  And I don't plan on letting them.  The joy in my smile -- crooked as it is -- makes me more lovely than any brooding beauty.  I am happy, and I will be happy, and I can be happy.  It's my choice, and my decision.

I choose to claim beauty, by cultivating my joy. 

What makes you feel beautiful?  An emotion?  A place?  A memory?  A relationship?  Whatever it is, cling to it and nourish it.  YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.  Believe it.

Hyacynth at Undercover Mother is hosting Bigger Picture Moments this week; link up and share your moment with us! All are welcome! And come back next week, when I'll be hosting!