Sequins and Rest

Deep down, I think that I should feel different on December 31.  I want my internal calendar to recognize that we're on the cusp of a new year and respond by some swelling of emotion.  Something should be special about this day.  Something should feel noteworthy and important.  Shouldn't sequins and really great shoes be involved?

Now, December 31 is a day that should be well-lived, and I'm hoping that it is.  Still, a part of me rebels when this one day gets elevated to such a heightened level that it practically begs disillusionment.

I've been feeling frazzled lately, and I finally pinpointed why.  I'm a person who likes to be productive, but lately I haven't accomplished much.  I had intentions to plan for the new courses that I'll be teaching next semester, but my papers and books are piled in a corner, untouched and looming.  I had goals to work on a writing project, but I haven't made a dent.  I've been sick.

I've felt behind and out of sorts, and during all of this, three dear little people in my household still have called on me to feed them, read to them, change their diapers, cut their food, get Play-Doh out of their hair, and put the shoes back on the Polly Pockets.

I'm spent.

Yet, from this place of depletion, I'm reminded of two invitations that are vastly comforting:

Be still and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  (Matthew 11: 28)

My good friend, one who is finishing her PhD, runs triathlons, and once went to work in a wetsuit on a dare, once wrote to me that she had been praying that "God would still her heart."  In the figurative, not the literal sense, of course.  Keep that heart pumping, God, just still the chaos in it.  You understand.

This is what I'm praying for this year.  When the ball drops and millions are celebrating the New Year with flashy parties and loud festivities, my prayer is that my heart would be stilled.  This year I want to come closer to God -- not run -- when I am weary or burdened.  When I'm waiting in line, paying bills, recovering from a head cold, filling up the gas tank, folding laundry, brushing teeth, taking out the trash, answering email, putting away groceries, tucking children into bed, and grading papers -- all those moments that make up the daily grind of a year, I'm praying for my heart to be at ease.

This year, during those days when I'm pulled in too many directions and feel behind before I even get started, I want to step back, be still, and know that He is God.  Sequins are great, but true rest is priceless.

Image compliments of Jazzlog (

Not Okay

When I entered her room after her nap, the first words out of Brooke’s mouth were, "My bed is okay."

When a child feels a compelling urge to immediately proclaim something to be "okay," as Brooke did in this instance, you can safely assume that something is not okay.  The room was still dim from the room-darkening blinds so I ran my hands over the bed.

I found her clothes intertwined with the quilt.  Not a surprise there.  Then I found her pull-up and realized that she was now standing beside her bed completely naked.  This isn’t quite what you’re hoping for when you’re in the midst of potty training.

I began patting the bed more quickly.  It wasn’t wet, which was promising, but something was definitely off.  The sheets were gritty.

I turned on the light.  Sand -- lots of sand -- and the bottles that her big sister had painstakingly filled with sand art, now uncorked and mostly empty.

I'll chalk this up as a learning experience.  Note to self:  Do not leave sand art in a bedroom with a toddler who should be napping and has impressive finger dexterity, and always trust that mothering hunch to investigate when a child declares that something is okay.

Household Newspaper

Newspapers may be dying, but yesterday one was alive and well in our household.  I hadn't been feeling well, and my selfish goal was to play with the girls in a manner that would demand very little movement.  Reese is too old to be tricked by the offer to play "Close Our Eyes and Pretend We're Sleeping," so I had to get creative.

My non-movement activity turned into a game of newspaper reporter.  There were many late-breaking headlines:

Mother Gets Nearly Eight Hours of Sleep, Still Wants Nap.

Family Room Floor Cleaned in Twelve Minutes, Made Messy in Thirteen Seconds.

Doctor Figurine Holds Plank Position for Impressive Six Hours without Breaking Sweat, World Record Cut Short due to Trampling by Unobservant Toddler.

But only one of these headlines developed into a full-fledged story:

Sisters Open Fairy Kitchen in Bedroom.

Reese lit up during the interview as I typed.  She filled me in on hours of operation:  "We have to close the restaurant when Brooke is napping."  She discussed the restaurant's health code:  "We make sure not to touch the food we serve too much so we don't give people germs."  She described the daily specials:  "Tea and special hot cocoa and cakes with whipped cream, chocolate, sprinkles, and a cherry."

Once I defined catering for her, she explained her eventual goals, "We'll serve anyone who comes, mostly you and Daddy, but we also can cater breakfasts where people want lots of cake."  She aired out her concerns about being a small-business owner with a two-year-old employee, "I get 800 calls a day.  It's really busy."

When we were finished, I added a picture and printed out the article.  Reese held it in her hands and looked at it carefully.  "This newspaper isn't real, right, Mom?  Is anyone really going to read about our kitchen?"

"Well, the newspaper isn't actually real, but I do have a way for some people to read about it."

Reese liked this response.  She then asked me to tell you that Reese and Brooke's Fairy Kitchen serves the best food -- fantastic food -- and that you should come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Feel free to place orders for cakes, but she must warn you, their delivery drivers do not yet have their licenses.


Not Silent, but Holy

I have been pregnant during three of the past six Christmases that have passed.  Last year as I stood in a candlelight service singing Silent Night and feeling my baby kick, I thought of Mary and her journey into motherhood.

It would not have been a silent night.  All was not calm.  Mary and Joseph had endured long travels on rough roads, cold nights, and hot days.  Her legs cramped.  Her back ached.  Her contractions began slowly and then rose in intensity.  She began to sweat.  Fear rose within her as the pain increased.

There were no bring overhead lights, supportive nurses, ice chips to chew, or medications to take off the edge.  There were no monitors measuring the baby's heartbeat or blood pressure checks.  Nothing was sterile.

There was filthy hay, pungent odors, barn animals, and spilled blood -- and then, when it seemed unbearable -- then, there were cries.  Gurgling, screaming cries of a newborn breathing in and exhaling out his first breath; elated, exhausted cries of a mother who had just birthed her first child; overwhelmed, grateful cries of a father who had wanted to provide so much more than these lowly accommodations for the birth of his son.

That baby, that tiny child who nursed from his mother's breast and wrapped his hand around his father's finger, would be named Jesus.  He would split history into halves.  He would grow in wisdom and stature, confounding the wise, offending the religious, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and loving the outcast.

He would be loved more deeply and hated more intensely than anyone before.   He would be wrongly accused, mocked, battered, ripped, and hung on a cross to die -- bookmarking his entrance and exit into the world with blood and suffering.

But his story would not be finished.

Amazingly, over two-thousand years later, he would save me from the penalty of my sin.  He would be my Savior.  He would be my Lord.   And, perhaps even more amazingly, considering all of this grandness, he would be interested in the daily workings of my life.

Those minor problems, unspoken dreams, and routine nuances that make up my day-to-day existence -- the ones I think matter only to me -- would matter to him.

Emmanuel -- literally, God With Us -- learned to crawl, took his first tentative steps, and scraped his knees when he fell on this earth.  He knew what it was like to lose loved ones, to feel rejection, to be misunderstood, and to suffer.  He knew what it meant to be human.

And it all started when he was a baby, when he drew in his first breath of air -- the very air he had created, and clung to his mother as she rested after bringing him into this world.

Behind the Lens

When Reese was close to her fifth birthday, I found this series of photographs on our camera:

 A close-up of a punch balloon...

random toys on the floor...

the pile of stuffed animals on her bed...

a sampling of dewy-eyed wildlife that live on the table in her room...

a kid sister who wants the camera...

a fallen teddy bear...

and a horde of Play-Doh butterfly cut-outs that were left on the kitchen table and dried into an odd putty-like consistency -- not quite solid, not quite doughy.

I've spared you the blurry pictures and the multiple self-portraits that provided an excellent view up her nostrils when she held the camera low and snapped upward, but these provide a respectable reflection of what captured her interest.

The kid's got a good eye, don't you think?

And now she's shifting her talent from photography to video-recording, as evidenced by what I just found on our camera this morning.

Be ye forewarned, those who experience motion sickness, that she does not have the steadiest hands, but I'll overlook the shakiness.  Because, really, how often do you encounter a talking Christmas tree?

Especially one that sings in falsetto.


Feeding Time

Last month when we first introduced rice cereal to Kerrington, she would thrust her tongue out like a baby lizard each time the spoon approached her mouth.  Slowly, surely, she's learned to swallow solids and to expand her palate: green beans, peas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.

Yesterday was carrots.  During lunch I scooped whatever dripped onto her chin and cheeks and aimed for her mouth again.  (I've always remembered Anne Lamott's description in Operating Instructions: "Feeding a baby is like filling a hole with putty -- you get it in and then you sort of shave off all the excess around the hole and get it back in, like you're spackling.")

In the midst of this, I noticed what I was doing.  I was sitting across from her and coaxing her to open her mouth by opening mine.  Why do parents do this?  Modeling good behavior?  Solidarity?  Unconscious motivation?

At the end of lunch it resembled a gratuitous crime scene, the victim obviously the carrots since Kerrington didn't seem to notice or mind at all that she was covered.

Feeding babies is a messy prospect.

Somehow I didn't remember this when I was cooking dinner.  In one of those mommy-only-has-two-hands strokes of near-brilliance, I asked Reese to feed Kerrington.  Win-win-win, right?  I could cook, Reese would be occupied, and Kerrington would get fed.  Simple.

A few moments later I looked up.  Reese had lost interest and left her station at the high chair.  Kerrington had overturned the dish of baby food.  Brooke had entered and was trying to stick the spoon into Kerrington's mouth.  Or her eye.  I'm not sure which.

Ah, feeding time.

Nearly in Heavenly Peace

On Saturday I woke up, nursed the baby, and shuffled my way downstairs.  Joel looked at me over breakfast and suggested that I go back to bed.  (Oh, I love him.  I won't even bother to think about what I must have looked like to prompt him to make the suggestion.)  I headed back upstairs and slept until 11. 

Apparently after holding things together for the 16-week semester, my immune system had enough. 

I'm trying to sleep this sickness off, but this is easier said than done.  Last night was one long attempt to breathe through my mouth because I can't breathe through my nose.  I was hot, then shivering.  Once I finally got positioned just so after struggling to get comfortable, I had to use the restroom.  At various points throughout the night two out of our three children conspired against us and alternated crying, one simmering down and another picking up.  When morning came, the floor beside my side of the bed was littered with twenty-seven used Kleenex that I had tossed over the edge in my delirium.

Still, instead of staying in my pajamas and covering myself with a pile of blankets, yesterday morning I put on real clothes, made myself as presentable as possible, and headed to church where my oldest daughter, Reese, performed in the children's Christmas musical as an angel.  We arrived early so she could get fitted for her costume and have her hair sprayed with silver glitter.  (I'm positive that we'll detect remnants of this until New Years.  At the minimum.)

The sanctuary's windows were covered with black gauze for ambiance.  The music swelled.  As I sat in the second row watching her, everything -- my exhaustion, my cloudy thoughts, the atmosphere, the ridiculously cute display of off-key singing -- hit at once.  I started to tear up.

Crying while you have a head cold is the kiss of death.  You might as well stand on your head until your brain explodes from sinus pressure.  But there I was with a camera in one hand and a Kleenex in the other, my eyes brimming over.  My daughter was the smallest child in the performance, a good head shorter than most other kids in her row.  Her glittered hair glinted in the overhead lights.  Her white tights bunched around her knees.  She swayed side to side and drew her hand to her mouth, a nervous gesture that those who know her well can identify, and sang.

Although she told me in advance that she wouldn't be allowed to wave to the audience from the stage, I couldn't help myself.  I had to wave to her.

Still singing, she locked eyes with me, smiled, dropped her hand away from her mouth, and gave a quick wave.

It was joy to my world.

Then I came home and slept -- nearly in heavenly peace, except for that whole inability to breathe thing.

Surviving Swan Lake

My mother-in-law sent me a clip of the Great Chinese State Circus' performance of Swan Lake so I could show the girls.  (Really, you have to take a few minutes to watch the clip before you read any further.  It's worth it.)

It's jaw-dropping.  I found the performance simultaneously beautiful and subtly unnerving: how does someone move in that manner and maintain such pristine composure?  Impossible.  Utterly impossible.  This brief video represents lifetimes of discipline to the study of dance for these performers, and here I am sitting on the couch watching it on YouTube.  Something seems off.

At any rate, the next day I showed the clip to the girls.  Brooke watched it, stepped into the center of the room, and twirled.  Reese was more vocal.  "Wow," she breathed slowly. 

"Did you like it?" I asked when the video was finished.

She nodded emphatically.

Then she paused for just one moment, looked over toward Joel with her eyebrow raised in expectation, and asked, "Hey Daddy, do you think we could try that?"

The Opposite of Buy

I like to play word games with Reese. We rhyme. We create stories. Sometimes, we play opposites.  Back in the day when she wasn't the intellectually mature five-and-a-half year old that she currently is, the game went something like this:
Me: I'll give you a word, and then you'll give me the word that's the opposite. If I say wet, you say dry. Or if I say hot, you say cold. Got it?

Reese nodded.

Me: "Okay, here we go. Here's the first word: hello."

Reese: "Hi, Mommy."

Me: "No, sweetie, you have to say the opposite. Like day and night, or big and small. They're opposite from each other. Let's try again." (Pause.)  "Hello."

Reese: "Hi."

Let's just say that we slid this game to the back burner for a while, but now she's quite good.  Still, I wonder what she'd suggest as the opposite for buy.

Most people would automatically assume that the opposite of buy is sell.  They'd be right.  But then again, most people haven't been shopping with me.  Reese has.  Because of this, it's possible that she suspects the opposite of buy is return.

I don't know when this indecision began. What I do know is that I second guess myself with frequency.  It's not that I go shopping for myself all that often, but whenever I do -- even if it's for a $6 tee shirt at Target -- I bring the item home, scrutinize it, try it on in my closet, inspect myself in the mirror, and then think, "Do I really need this?  Do I really like this enough?"

I vacillate.  I hold onto receipts.  And then I too-frequently head to a store's customer service center, hand over the item, preemptively provide the no-there's-nothing-wrong-with-this spiel, and go through the formalities of the return.

I'm working on this.

A few years ago we saw the movie Ratitoulle.  I remember very little about it except that there was a rat, it was about cooking, and there was a moment when a character, an acerbic restaurant critic, declared, "I don't like food. I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow."

I think that's a good gauge. 

Whenever I shop, I'll try to make this my litmus test.  If I don't love it, I don't need to buy it -- not even if it's on ridiculously good clearance or a steal at a resale shop.  I can pass.

In Ratitoulle, the result is a restaurant critic who's thin. In shopping, the result is a wallet that's fatter, fewer returns, and a child who can quickly respond that the opposite of buy is sell.

Photo compliments of Jeff Christiansen,

Laundry Day

Title:  Laundry Day

Subtitle:  Because they're never too young to start helping with household chores.

I Invoke the Right

While we cleaned up from dinner the other evening, Joel and I talked about this little blog of mine.  He joked that I should write some more about him, providing only one stipulation: "Just make sure I'm the hero, okay?"

This request shouldn't be too hard to fulfill.

He changes diapers.  He plays Tickle Monster with the girls with unflagging stamina.  He reads children's books with excellent character voices.  (You should hear his, Oh, who will tuck me in tonight?  It'll move you to tears.)  He taught Kerrington to high five.  He taught Reese and Brooke to wrestle.  (They now tackle friends who come over for play dates and have the ability to bring down unassuming children in the church nursery.)  He got up from our warm bed last night when Brooke started yelling that she needed a Kleenex, even though a box of Kleenex was perched on the dresser directly beside her bed.

He landscapes yards with the best of them.  He thinks in mathematical and conceptual ways that my verbal brand of intelligence can't sustain.  He plays a mean game of tennis and racquetball, and he shows college students a thing or two on the golf course.

He now remembers to return videos to the Red Box.  He changes the oil in our vehicles.  He dreams big plans for our family.

He's really cute, too.

But the most heroic thing of this week?  He used a vocabulary word that I've never used before.

In casual conversation, he whipped out the word parlay.  Come on, now.  The last time I heard this word was in Pirates of the Caribbean when Elizabeth Swann, cornered in her house by intruders, announced: "I invoke the right of parlay." 

But no, he used the word in an entirely un-piratey fashion.

"Really, you've never used this word?" he asked as I shook my head no, clearly enjoying the moment.  This would be like me computing the tip at a restaurant more quickly than him or figuring out how to do our taxes.  Trust me, I'd revel, too.

We pulled the definition up online.  (In case you were wondering, parlay means to use one's money, talent, or other assets to achieve a desired objective, as spectacular wealth or success.)

Clearly, I've parlayed all my assets to achieve this desired objective, this heroic husband of mine.

Not So Long Ago

Last night we headed to Target as a family.  Kerrington was propped onto the front of the shopping cart in her car seat carrier.  Reese balanced on the outside of the cart precariously, leaning as far as she could to peek into the dollar bins and announcing with impressive vocal projection that she wanted the stickers.  And the markers.  And the fluffy little thingy.  Brooke was sitting on the floor, crying, and pulling off her boots as I coaxed her to climb onto the opposite side of the cart to counterbalance Reese's weight and prevent capsizing.  She already had stripped off her jacket. 

Twenty-two degrees outside and the child still does not want to wear clothes.

Solo shoppers who were on a mission sidestepped us with agility and speed.  I understand.  Our family no longer arrives somewhere.  We invade.

In the midst of this I made eye contact with a couple who seemed to be in no rush, no rush at all.  They smiled.  I noticed that the woman was pregnant and asked when she was due.  Yesterday, she answered.  They were having a girl. 

I could have been witnessing their final Target trip as a couple.  They were moving slowly, pausing to browse the merchandise, engaging one another in simple, uninterrupted discussion, and, undoubtedly, thinking of the future -- their lives waiting with expectation like a held breath until their little one arrived. 

They might have looked at our family, unruly as it was, as a glimpse into their eventual future.  I regarded them as a reminder of our not-too-distant past.  We walked the store in an attempt to fill the hours until bedtime.  They walked the store in an attempt to jump-start contractions.  We bypassed the baby aisles, already having every pink item we could possibly need.  They lingered in those aisles, feeling the soft fleece blankets and admiring the footed pajamas.  We drove home, our three girls strapped into the van.  Perhaps when they reached their car they glanced at the car seat base, already strapped in place, and envisioned its first use.

We were them once, not so long ago.

The Message That Sticks

Yesterday was the last day of classes for the university where I teach.  I often find the final class to be bittersweet, especially when a class is a good one.  My final class of the day happened to be a remarkable one.  I set the bar high, and they rose to the challenge and impressed me.  I'm grateful to have shared a small part of their academic careers -- a small part of their lives -- with them.

Typically, I'm the last person out of the classroom, but on the final day of class I leave early.  The students remain and complete evaluations of the course.

Still buttoning my jacket, I exited the building and began walking back to my car in the first legitimate snow fall of the winter.  Somehow it seemed appropriate to be moving forward into the fresh snow and leaving a trail of my footprints behind.  Back in the classroom, students were still processing their final impressions of the course, noting the strengths to commend and weaknesses to improve.

They were identifying the residual message of the course.  This is one of the concepts we discuss, and it boils down to this: after a speech is delivered, a residual message is the message that sticks with you.  It's the essential point you retain after you've forgotten everything else.  My job is to encourage students to make their ideas sticky.  Give the audience a reason to remember you.

I think that this concept can be translate into motherhood.  Clearly, my children will not remember every detail of their childhoods.  (I'm grateful for this!)  My oldest won't remember when I trimmed her hair, snipping from side to side in an attempt to even things out, and left her with bangs that were a centimeter long.  They won't recall that I served chicken nuggets and frozen corn for dinner more often than I would have liked on busy days.  They won't recollect the many times that I so cruelly said no in the grocery store check-out aisles as they pleaded for candy. 

They likely won't remember that I repetitively scrubbed their yogurt off the kitchen table, or consider the nights that we changed sheets when they were sick and held them when they were feverish.  When they're grown, they won't have a tally of how many diapers we changed for them, how many homework assignments we eventually assisted them with, or how often we drove them to their friends' houses before they got their licenses.  They'll never know how often Joel and I tiptoed back into their rooms at night just to marvel at their slow and steady breaths, to soak up their beautiful slumber.

These specific moments make up the day-to-day workings of our household, but chances are, our girls won't remember many of them.  Certain ones will stick in their collective recollections of childhood, but not all.

What they will remember is the central message of our parenting.  They'll know on even those days when they're making us crazy, we're still absolutely crazy about them.  They'll remember that we love them.  We always have.  We always will.

That's what I want to stick.

Today's Clear-Cut Winner: Potty Training

We're officially potty training.  Although I think Brooke's been ready, I've been hesitant to start the process during the throes of the semester when Joel and I balance childcare while the other is working on campus.  (Ever see tag-team professional wresting?  That's how we operate during the semester.  One of us enters the ring and the other leaves.  We don't high five nearly enough, though, which really is quite a shame.)  Plus, I've been a little lazy.  The thought of inserting bathroom breaks in a quick trip across town does this to you.

But now we're ready.  The semester is nearly finished, and we'll have more time.  Brooke is showing interest.  The potty training stars have aligned, and I'm seizing the opportunity.  There's no time like the present.

At least, that's what I thought earlier this morning.  She had been carrying a walkie-talkie around the house, and I let her continue holding it while she climbed onto the potty.

As I squatted next to her on the balls of my feet and waited, a quick thought flitted across my mind, "Maybe playing with the walkie-talkie isn't such a good idea when she's in the bathroom." 

I have these kinds of thoughts all the time.  An urgent "Where are my car keys?" as I'm slamming the car door shut, locked.  An inquisitive, "I wonder what they're up to?" as Reese and Brooke are playing silently in the bathroom and painting their faces with lip gloss as if they were Army troops decked out in full face camouflage.  A pressing, "What time is it?" as I look up to the clock from a pile of grading and realize I have roughly 30 seconds to make it to the bus stop to pick up Reese.

Precisely after my cautionary thought, that's when it happened.  That's when Brooke's grip slipped and our walkie-talkie boldly went where no walkie-talkie has gone before.

The walkie-talkie has now been sanitized and is drying on our bathroom sink.

Only time will tell if a fully-submerged walkie-talkie will ever function again.  Actually, only time will tell if anyone would ever want to use a walkie-talkie that's been fully submerged.

As of today, the tally is clear.  Potty training 1.  Robin 0.

Hunger Pangs

We're driving home, and Reese is making it adamantly clear that she's hungry.  Oh, how she's hungry.  It's an all-encompassing hunger.  She's too hungry to speak about anything else.  She's too hungry to be quiet.  She's too hungry to be anything but miserable, and she's too miserable to let anyone else not be miserable. 

You would think that the child never has been fed before, that her body is cannibalizing itself and she's withering away into nothingness in the backseat.

I'm getting upset.

Her whining isn't acceptable.  She's not being grateful.  Her exaggeration trivializes the tragic reality that too many children in this world literally are starving.

As I clench my jaw and hold back the there-are-starving-children-in-China retort, I remind myself that she she is five.  Although I don't condone her behavior or excuse her bad manners, the reality is that she's doing what she's programmed to do.  She's a child, and she's being childish.  She doesn't know.  As her parents, it's our job to teach her how to express herself without whining, to encourage gratefulness, to be clear with our expectations on acceptable behavior, and to model what's right.  It's our job to help her outgrown her childishness, to prevent it from taking root and blossoming from mere childishness into a more pernicious foolishness.

It's a weighty job.

God always seems to work on the character traits in me that I'm working to instill in my children, an irony that doesn't escape me when I grow angry when my children respond to one another in anger, or when I spit out the words Will-you-just-be-patient? to my children as I froth at the mouth and my own impatience flares.

The other day I was cut off in a parking lot.  A woman took my parking spot. The audacity!  My spot.  The parking spot directly beside the shopping cart return so I could more easily corral my three kids into the store and back into our van.  The parking spot that I had been waiting for with my brightly blinking turn signal for over a minute as the previous spot-holders unloaded their cart.

But since I'm not five, I have the perspective to think differently about this small slight as I circled around the parking lot again to find an open space.

Yes, I do have three children who I need to unstrap from their car seats and usher into the store on a blustery December day -- but I have three children, healthy ones.  Some people do not.

Yes, I do have to walk farther than I would have walked if I had gotten the original spot -- but I have two legs, strong and able ones, that can carry me.  Some people do not.

One day Reese will understand this.  One day she'll be driving her well-fed children when one complains of unfathomable hunger.  She'll no longer be childish, and she'll know how to respond.

Self Portrait of Girl on a Bike

Title: Self Portrait of Girl on a Bike

SubtitleWhen your child reveals a drawing that she made in school, remember that she hasn't mastered the concept of scale yet.  Show restraint.  Do not automatically gush, "Oh, you drew a picture of yourself riding a bike!" She will correct you matter-of-factly, "Actually, those are my feet."

Full House

This past Saturday evening my home was full of guests.  My husband is a campus minister, and we're accustomed to having college students in and out of our house on a regular basis.  Some have lived with us between apartment leases; many others have shared meals with us.  Rarely does anyone knock.  They enter, kick off their shoes at the door, toss their jackets onto the couch, and sidle into the kitchen like they belong, which is quite accurate: they do belong.

I love that my daughters can experience this interaction.

At the onset of the evening, though, I kept watching the girls to make sure that they weren't getting into trouble or bothering anyone.  My attention was divided between hosting and parenting.  It didn't need to be.

Sometimes it's good to remember that other people genuinely enjoy my kids.  Occasionally the best parenting I can do is to temporarily step out of the way. 

Reese tackled one of the students, an adventure-loving senior in ROTC, and roped him into a game of hide and seek and, from what I could discern, some form of Mixed Martial Arts.  (She knocked the wind out of him, he later admitted, impressed.)  Later in the evening when she was more subdued before bedtime, she sat on the couch next to a well-bearded student, one who several days into December still sported the results of No-Shave November, and listened as he read story after story to her.  A girl asked to hold the baby even before she removed her jacket.  Another boy patiently answered "yes" each time Brooke asked if he would like to see her band aid -- easily a dozen times -- and showed genuine concern each time she pointed to where she got her shot.

That's when I eased into the night.  With everyone looking after my own children, I sat down, grabbed a few cookies, and simply enjoyed the full house.

Short and Sweet: Cookies Win

Evidence that my child is not gender discriminating in 100 or fewer words:

The girls got their flu shots the other morning.  Typical of every doctor's visit, they are given stickers when they check out.  When I return from work, Brooke tells me about the morning.

"I go to the doctor's and get a shot."  She pulls up her pants leg and shows me her band aid, something she clearly is proud of.  "I cried, but I was brave.  I got a Cookie Monster sticker.  He's a boy, but I still like him."

Then she pauses.

"Actually, I like cookies."

Two years old and she already knows her priorities.

Baby Jesus is Missing

Always mesmerized by Christmas and all that it entails, my daughters have been playing with a set of nesting figurines that depict the story of the nativity.  When we opened the box of decorations, Reese carefully pulled each character out from the previous, excited when she got to the center of it all: "It's Baby Jesus!"

She lined them up on a shelf for display.  As I passed by the shelf over the next day, every so often I noticed that the dolls were in a different configuration.  Then I noticed something else.  Baby Jesus was missing. 

We had lost God.  That's never good.

I quickly searched under the couch and sifted through piles of toys to make sure that Baby Jesus didn't become a choking hazard or accidentally get sucked up in the vacuum.  He was perfectly safe when I found Him.  Brooke, sweet child that she is, obviously wanted our little Jesus to have better accommodations than His original lodging in the manger.



From the other room I overheard my husband address our five-year-old.  "Reese, stop that.  Stop it.  Just stop.  Stop it."

The level of exasperation and amount of repetition made me envision Reese doing any number of things: dismantling the couches and stacking all of the cushions in the kitchen to better reach the upper cabinets, scaling the half wall that separates our kitchen from the family room and shimmying down it like a Marine in an obstacle course during basic training instead of walking around it, or attempting another unlikely jump, aspiring to leap from the end table and grab onto one of those tantalizing ceiling fan blades. 

It was none of those.  It was much simpler.  She had been caught drinking directly from the water dispenser on our refrigerator, her head tilted back like a little gerbil, letting the water trickle into her open mouth until she pulled back, water dribbling down her chin as she unconsciously wiped her mouth with her sleeve and looked at Joel with those expressive eyes as if suggesting, "What?  I was thirsty.  Licking the refrigerator is a perfectly understandable method of drinking."

She's efficient, I'll give you that.  The closest distance between two points is a straight line, so why bother getting a cup when you can go directly to the source?

Partially Dirty is the New Clean

Right now as I'm sitting here typing, I have spit up in my hair.  Kerrington had impeccable aim and my dodging reflexes were slow.  I fed her.  She spit.  I got nailed.  Now a small section of my hair is a throwback to the 1980's scrunched and gelled style -- just a bit crispy to the touch.

Let me be perfectly clear here: I have a thing for cleanliness and order.  I thrive on organized closets and aligned contents in cupboards.  I function better when my space is structured.  Still, the perpetual quest to keep things neat and tidy can be exhausting, especially because kids live in diametric opposition to this.  Just watch a child for a moment and you'll realize that there's something freeing about embracing mess, even if it gives me a headache.  Kids will get into dirt, sit on the floor, and let the art supplies scatter across the table and roll onto the floor without ever noticing.

They're in the moment, rather than distracted by the thought of holding things together.  They're fully invested, rather than concerned about keeping up appearances.

The other day my daughters played with Play Doh.  It started on the table, but somehow they ended up on the floor.  One sat and rolled Play Doh snakes on the linoleum.  The other lay on her back, holding Play Doh shapes aloft in the air. I  scanned the floor.  The Play Doh was being dredged through typical kitchen floor grit: dried out shredded cheese that escaped my sweeping after from last night's dinner, random fuzzies, crumbs from toast, scraps of paper from the day's earlier craft project, and a few once-soggy but now shrunken Cheerios.

The girls didn't care that their clothes could get dirty or their hair would get messed up.  They were too busy living.  So, what's a mom to do?  I found myself a space on the floor and joined them.

It'll all come out in the wash.

Displaced Responsibility

Kerrington, now two weeks past the sixth-month marker, may be losing her standing as the child in the household who is never responsible for messes and problems.  She clenches hair and grabs at people's faces with those inquisitive fingers of hers, a practice that everyone in our household can tolerate with one exception.

That exception is Brooke.  At two-years-old, Brooke is observant enough to be cognizant of Kerrington's newfound baby antics, but she's not quite old enough to be gracious about them.  She's getting kind of chippy.  She's starting to blame the baby for things.

A tower of blocks gets knocked over.  Brooke is quick to identify the culprit.  Kerrington did it.  Books are scattered across the floor.  Stop it, Kerrington.  Who spilled the water on the kitchen floor?  Of course.  It was Kerrington.

In Brooke's mind, it doesn't matter that Kerrington wasn't in the room -- or even awake -- during these moments of deviance. 

I'm actually impressed.  For a baby who doesn't yet crawl, Kerrington sure does get around.

Thanksmas: Our Family Tradition

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I've never been one to set my alarm and arrive at stores when their doors open at 4 in the morning.  I'm still sleeping in a warm bed, ready to be woken up by something much more natural, as in, my kids who love to snuggle their way into our space and then promptly demand breakfast.

There's a reason why I don't need to interrupt my regular morning routine with the Black Friday rush.  By the Friday after Thanksgiving, my Christmas shopping is already done.  Presents are already wrapped.

No haters, please.

You see, the Friday after Thanksgiving is an entirely new holiday with my husband's side of the family.  Since we won't get to see each other in December, we devote the day to celebrating Christmas. 

We call the day Thanksmas.  We segue from turkey and stuffing on Thursday to leftover turkey and stuffing -- and the gift exchange -- on Friday.

It's seamless.  It's festive.  It's convenient.  And it completely messes with my internal calendar.  I return to work after Thanksgiving wearing a new sweater, receive a compliment, and say, "Thanks, I got it for Christmas," forgetting that to everyone else Christmas was eleven months ago.  I'm ready to wish people a happy New Year.  I've been thrown for a holiday loop.

When we started Thanksmas a few years ago I wondered what effect it would have on our kids.  I broached the subject with Joel, asking if he thought that they would find it strange if we celebrated Christmas twice.  He looked at me as if I had grown another head.  Strange?  What kid wouldn't love two Christmases?

He had a good point.

But what about waiting eagerly for Christmas morning?  What about the feeling you had when you went to bed on Christmas Eve as a child, knowing that Christmas was just one night's sleep away?  What about sneaking downstairs and hiding behind the couch while your parents, who knew you were there all along, went along with the game?  What about the tradition of going into your sibling's room the morning of Christmas, running down the steps together, and then dashing back upstairs to dive into your parents' bed while they burrowed under the covers just a moment longer and mumbled something about needing coffee? 

What about all that?

I mentioned this to one of my sister-in-laws, who provided me with a wise perspective.  "Your children won't have your childhood traditions.  They'll have their own."

She's exactly right.  All my recollections of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning -- how my brother and sat behind the couch each Christmas Eve, our mad dash downstairs, my father starting the coffee pot every Christmas morning -- make up the tapestry of my childhood holiday memories.  Reese, Brooke, and Kerrington will develop a set of memories from the traditions that we're setting up now.  They'll be different memories from how I experienced Christmas, but ones that are just as special, ones that are uniquely theirs.

Many years from now when my girls are grown and have husbands and little ones of their own, it's quite likely that they'll revert to celebrating only one Christmas.  They might call each other and ask, "Do you think it our kids will find it strange that we just have one Christmas?"

Hopefully, one of them will supply the others with the same good insight I was given.  Just because it's different, doesn't make it any less significant.

Giving Thanks

Title: Giving Thanks

Subtitle:  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

A Different Kind of Currency

In the past few weeks, several people have asked me to help with various projects.  Individually, each request has been relatively small, requiring just several hours of my time, but collectively the requests became overwhelming -- especially considering that my regular responsibilities of parenting and work are still ongoing.  I caved.  I had to say no to some tasks and some people even though I wanted to say yes.

Saying no isn't always easy.

Technically, I could have fit everything into my schedule.  I could have finagled child care, cut out time from my own pursuits, mulitasked while playing with my children instead of focusing on them, or deprived myself of even more sleep to get it all done.

There would have been a cost associated with this.  I would have placed myself in a pressure cooker, looking for someone to turn the release valve, ready to blow.  Joel would have regarded me warily as I paced the house, clenching my jaw and muttering abstract threats: If one more person asks me to do one more thing.  All of my ugly could have poured out on some unsuspecting soul, likely a small child who had the audacity to ask for a refill of milk in her sippy cup. 

Not good.

The worst part about it?  No one on the outside would have been the cause of my tension.  It would have been my responsibility, my own doing to myself.  I would have failed to guard my time, and by virtue of this, I would have offset my own well-being.

Of course, the demands on our time aren't always left to our own choosing.  Sometimes our phase of life means that we're in "crunch-time" all the time.  As a dear friend once said, sometimes life feels like you've been riding Space Mountain for two straight weeks, and it's simply time to get off and get a funnel cake already.

Time is a funny kind of currency.  We're given 24 hours each and every day.  Unlike money, we can't save time for later use.  We have to spend it all.  How we choose to spend it is up to us.  We can squander it, lavish it on ourselves, or donate it to others.  I want to be a wise spender of my time, and on some days, this might actually mean saying no to good things.

Psalm 90: 12 says, "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  I'd like to take this one step farther and pray this each morning:  Lord, teach me to number my hours.  Help me to plan every facet of this day so I do only what You would have me do, not get bogged down in unnecessary,  distracting pursuits. 

If I have to spend it all each day, I might as well spend it well.

Losing Sleep in the Name of Reserach

Shortly after Kerrington was born, Joel and I were invited to join a longitudinal research study that examined the sleep habits of infants and their parents.

University town.  What can I say?

It sounded interesting.  Lured by the promise of compensation and just a bit of clouded judgment due to new-baby euphoria, we signed on the dotted line.

There you had it.  Our child would aid scientific research.

It worked like this: When Kerrington reached her one-month birthday, she, Joel, and I each wore a watch that recorded our movements for one full week.  We were required to click a button on the watches whenever we went to sleep and whenever we woke up, both for nighttime sleep and any naps we took.

Apparently, the recordings would discern the restfulness of our sleep based on our level of movement.

It sounded simple enough.  That is, it sounded simple until you consider how many times a one-month-old falls asleep and wakes up over the course of a day.

Keeping track of my own sleep was more challenging than I had anticipated, too.  Each night I would settle my head on the pillow and click my watch, knowing that I'd be awake again in a few hours to nurse the baby.  Intermittently I'd steal a look at the red glow of the alarm clock, growing more alert with every glance.  Now it's 11:14.  Now it's 11:32.  Now it's 11:49.  This is not good.

Dyslexia would set in.  Oh man, it's 12:34 already.  Or was that 12:43? 

Days would blur into one another.  Last night I woke up twice.... unless that was two nights ago.

Just like focusing on blinking or breathing -- two natural activities that deteriorate into unnatural ones and spiral into hyperventilation and unsightly eye-twitching when you overthink them -- focusing on sleep exposed a latent predisposition to insomnia.

Whenever I felt cynical, I contemplated violently shaking my arm to skew the data.  Joel suggested that we ought to wear the watches on our ankles and see if we could convince anyone that we were on house arrest.

In addition the watches, we documented all naps and nighttime sleep in writing, answered demographic questionnaires, and completed a daily phone interview with the researcher.

Did you take any naps yesterday?  How long did it take for you to fall asleep?  How many times did your baby wake up last night?  How many times did you wake up?  For how long?  When you woke, how refreshed did you feel?  Could you rate the quality of your sleep?

I'm especially ill-suited to answer questions like these.  I possess no skill in pinpointing answers on sliding scales.

Strongly, moderately, slightly?  I have no idea. 

Scale of 1-7?  My mind goes blank. 

When I looked at my folder of questions, knowing that it contained hundreds of these prompts, my head spun.  My opinions disappeared like mist once the sun rises.

In hindsight, this is nothing new for me.  Even while in labor, I found myself internally wrestling over the "on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?" question.   

Eight?  Nine?  Seven?  This is pretty awful, but I could handle more, right?  So would that be a six?  And a girl's got enough to think about during labor, so come on, could you please just send in the anesthesiologist?

On the final night of the week we measured our cortisol levels by collecting saliva samples.  Not that I'm competitive, but I originally hoped that the researcher would contact me to share that I had the lowest stress levels ever recorded in the history of recording stress levels.

So far, this hasn't happened.  There's something about sticking a paper swab in your mouth for 90 seconds while watching your newborn gum hers into a mushy pulp that you'll slide into a test tube and store in a Ziploc freezer bag next to your frozen peas and chicken nuggets that doesn't aid relaxation.

At the end of the week we submitted our forms and watches.  Then we promptly forgot about the study until Kerrington turned three months and we repeated the process.  Just this past week, we completed our third week-long session to measure Kerrington's sleep at six months. 

The researchers didn't say this, but I'm pretty positive that she's blowing other six-month-olds off the charts.  To celebrate, I plan to get a good night's sleep and indulge in a nap. The best part?  No clicking necessary. 

My cortisol levels already are going down.

Short and Sweet: Unencumbered

Best explanation I've been given this week in 100 or fewer words:

Each night Brooke climbs into her bed after a long day. (She’s no longer on the floor.) She’s always dressed in pajamas – footed ones with frogs, cozy ones with ballerinas, or my favorite, cuddly fleece ones with monkeys.

Each morning she wakes up and enters our bedroom, rubbing her eyes, announcing “good morning,” and wearing her diaper.

Just her diaper. The pajamas are long gone.  Apparently she takes them off during the night. Why be encumbered?

What I like the best is her explanation: “I want to wear my belly button to sleep.”

Apparently, not much else.

Why Moms Need Inservice Days

Before I began my current job teaching college students, I taught twelfth grade English at a relatively small, rural high school.  Back then, just like now, I always loved the month of November.  It was the stealth month of days off -- Veterans Day, Thanksgiving break, the first day of buck season (I told you it was rural), and then the sweetest gift: an inservice day.

Of course, the bulk of an inservice day is devoted to seminars and meetings, but if you were lucky, there would be a portion of time built into the day where you could simply work in your classroom.  By yourself.  Without any students. 

The bells still rang according to schedule, but nobody was there to file in and out and cause commotion in the hallways.  You could arrange the desks into perfectly straight rows, organize a bookshelf, sort through piles of paperwork, update grades, and plan for upcoming lessons without interruption. 

It was glorious.  The time always was too short, but how remarkable it was to spend an hour in a studentless classroom.

On occasion, I'd like to extend this practice to my house -- to temporarily live there without kids, to marvel at the silence, to clean the kitchen table and have it remain unsplattered by yogurt, and to not wonder why the dishwasher is taped shut, how a half-eaten banana ended up in the middle of the stairs, or why a Strawberry Shortcake figurine, several crayons, and a soggy cracker are in the bathroom sink.

A mommy inservice day.  We can fit it into November, right after buck season.  And then we can send those kids back in to mess everything up again, right where they belong.

The Glaring Gap in my Daughter's Education

Reese comes home from kindergarten and dumps the contents of her backpack onto the floor.  She sorts through her papers, shows me her library book, and talks about her day -- playing at recess, getting ketchup in her hair at lunch, and sitting behind the boy who got into trouble on the bus.  Nothing strikes me as unusual until this sentence:

"I'm the only person in my class who doesn't have a brain."

Run that by me again?  Who told you that you don't have a brain?

"Look, I'll show you.  I'm the only person who didn't get a brain," she repeats as she hands me this worksheet.

She's got a point.  She has no brain.

What Pictures will Reveal

Kerrington, our little one, turned six-months old today.  Reese (who, as I mentioned last entry, is all about half-birthdays) announced that Kerrington is finally a "whole half."  Her description is one that likely would make mathematicians cringe, but I like it.

A whole half.

As I flipped through some photos this morning, that word "whole" resonated with me.  I lingered over the pictures of the girls when they had just come home from the hospital.  Their little faces, wrinkled and red, peeked out of tight swaddles.  Their hands, so fresh, balled into tight fists.  Their feet, soft and supple, rested unwalked upon.

In each of these pictures, I'm beaming.  I can't help it.

And then I spotted a picture of that revealed something.  It's a shot of Joel lying on the floor next to Kerrington, and the two older girls are climbing onto his back.  But here's the kicker: his head is buzzed -- and I'm the one who did it.

I had entirely forgotten about this haircut of his.  It had been a week or two after Kerrington's birth, and Joel needed his hair cut.  I had cut his hair numerous times before, but this day I forgot to raise the clipper length as I worked.  I buzzed his entire head without flinching.

There's an unstated rule here for husbands: namely, never let a woman who's just had a baby anywhere near your head when she's wielding a razor. 

But, to me, the picture revealed even more.  It reminded me that I've come a long way in these last six months.  Sure, I still misplace my car keys and have days when I don't know which end is up, but I'm more pulled together now than I was then.  My emotions are more stable, more whole.

My smiles in those early pictures are genuine, but if the camera had been flashing at other points, it could have captured many other facets of motherhood, too.  There would have been tears.  There would have been surges of anxiety.  There would have been times of self-doubt.  There would have been moments when I felt utterly overwhelmed.

Whatever its degree and whatever you call it -- baby blues, postpartum depression, loss of hormonal equilibrium, temporarily losing your emotional fortitude -- those early days and weeks home with a baby aren't always easy.  You're recovering.  You give all that you have during the days, and you still face long nights awake with the baby.  You're deprived of sleep.  You're hormones are surging.  And the most beautiful, precious little life you've ever seen has been entrusted into your care as you're in the midst of it all.

Admitting that the transition into motherhood (or the transition into mothering more children) is difficult does not make you less of a mother.  It does not suggest that you don't love your child.  It's doesn't mean that you're a pessimist.  It is not a sign of weakness, a lack of faith, or an indication of being unfit to parent.  Don't believe those lies.  Talk with people who can help -- friends, your spouse, your doctor, and other mothers who've been there.

Six months ago I was in a hospital bed cradling my hours-old baby, exhausted, amazed, and in love.  Today, I'm still tired, amazed, and in love -- but now I'm wearing regular clothes, running after my older girls, and playing peek-a-boo with my baby as she smiles at me.  I understand the routine and rhythm of days with three children.  The new has become normal, and the normal is very, very good.

If I were Joel, I still might be wary of handing me the hair clippers, but I can trust one thing: 

I'm whole.

A Reminder to Let Go

Today my daughter, Brooke, turned two-and-a-half.

For the record, if you are ever trapped in your house on a snowy day that also happens to be the half-birthday of your firstborn child, do not throw an impromptu half-birthday celebration as a way to entertain that child, reduce the day's tedium, and use the eggs that were due to expire to bake a cake.  Your oldest child will remember this on all subsequent half-birthdays -- both her own and those of her family members -- and will request full-blown celebrations with gifts, decorations, and party guests.  You will not have the time or the patience for this.  Just don't go there.  You will thank me.

At any rate, as of today Brooke is halfway through two.  Two is an age which gets a bad rap.  No other year in a person's life is preceded with such an unpromising description. When I exhibit a less-than-stellar attitude or behave badly, no one shrugs, sighs, and offers, "Well, Robin is in the terrible thirty-two's."

Two is an amazing age, actually.  A two-year-old's vocabulary expands exponentially.  Communication becomes easier.  You see little glimpses into personality and temperament that you hadn't noticed before, and by golly, you take a good look and realize that you've got a little person on your hands.

Our little person is now into climbing.  She pushes chairs over to our counter and climbs to open the upper kitchen cabinets.  She stands on the back of our couches.  She's always trying to go higher, higher, as if an elevated altitude is beckoning her.  And like all of her two-year-old peers, she wants to do everything herself.  She announces this with great conviction multiple times over the course of a day:

I do it myself.

The other week, I sat on the corner of Brooke's bed with Kerrington in my arms as Brooke played with her big sister's Polly Pockets.  The Polly Pocket figurines are small.  Their clothes are difficult to pull on and off.  I watched her struggle.  Her fingers weren't adept enough to easily do the task, her dexterity not developed enough to manage the small details. 

She grew more frustrated.  I asked if I could help.  Of course not.  She would do it herself.

So there I sat: perfectly capable of fixing the problem, perfectly willing to offer my skilled fingers, and perfectly aware that I could not wrestle the toy from her hands.  She would have to yield.  She would need to choose to let go.

The more she struggled, the more frustrated she got.  The more frustrated she got, the less likely it became that she would achieve her goal.  She was adamant that she would handle things, yet she was incapable of doing what I so easily could have done for her to rectify the situation. 

If only she would hand it over, I thought.  I could fix this.

At that moment, I wondered how many times God has thought the same thing as He's watched me struggle.

Just as Brooke was grappling with a physical toy, I've spent hours wrangling my thoughts, mulling over difficulties, and toiling to get a problem "dressed."  But my fingers sometimes lack the ability to make all things right.  I don't always have the power to put the pieces in the places where they belong.  I've grown frustrated, unsure why my efforts weren't getting anywhere, and yet I've continued the struggle.

I've had the same mindset:  I'll do it myself.  I've resisted God's patient invitation to hand problems over.  I've overlooked the fact that His hands are more skilled, his resources more vast, and his timing more opportune.

This never gets me very far. 

Brooke threw the Polly Pocket down, her cheeks flushed from exertion and frustration.  She had created a mess.  She knew that she was outmatched.  That's when I gently asked one more time, "Honey, would you please let me help you."

This time she yielded.  She handed over the toy and let me do the task that was beyond her ability.  She trusted that I had the power to repair the mess that she had created.

I think that God is sometimes asking us the same question:  "Would you please let me help you?"

He's able.  He's willing.  We sometimes need the reminder to let go.

Short and Sweet: Splattered

An observation on today's lunch in 100 or fewer words or less:

Kerrington is rapidly nearing six months.  Like most babies her age, she's drooly.  We think she might be teething.  On top of this, today she blew raspberries for the first time.  This newfound ability adds a heightened level of liquidity to encounters with her -- and provides a new mental picture for the phrase foaming at the mouth.

What I especially admire is that Kerrington didn't just blow raspberries.  That would be mere child's play.  She blew raspberries while eating her rice cereal.  I considered wearing a poncho.

Everything worth doing, even splattering, is worth overdoing.

Personal Space

There is very little personal space when you have small children.  Kids don't understand spatial boundaries.  They reach out and touch your face when you're talking with them, they twirl their fingers through your hair, and they open doors to occupied bathrooms.  They weasel their way onto your laps when you're typing or reading.  They sidle up beside you when you're pulling hot dishes out of the oven.  They feel compelled to be close while you're folding laundry, wriggling in ways that undo all the folding that you've just done.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Last night, Reese woke up repeatedly with pain in her legs.  She must be growing.  Joel and I alternated going into the bedroom to calm her, and on my last visit I simply laid down in bed with her.  I wrapped my arms around her and drew her close.  I put my head on her pillow and brushed her hair out of my way.

I invaded her personal space.

Within minutes I sensed her body relax.  Her breathing calmed, falling into the slower rhythm of sleep.  She's a child who is always on the move.  She jumps off furniture and tears through the house, but finally I had found a moment where I could simply hold her.  I waited until I was certain she had fallen asleep before I slipped out of her bed, tucked the covers around her, and returned to my own bed.  I could have stayed much longer.

Perhaps this is why kids invade our personal space.  They want to steal moments with us when we're not on the go, when they can simply reach out and hold us -- just like we want to hold them.

This is My Daughter's Hair

Title: This is My Daughter's Hair

SubtitleThis is my daughter's hair on static.  Any questions?  (Sponsored by Partnership for a Static-Free America.)

The Extra Hour

Although I've never been fond of the sun setting earlier, I love the day that we fall back for Daylight Savings.  It's one day during the year when you feel ahead of the game, a day when you are given the gift of an extra hour to use at your discretion.  Plus, as of today, my watch (which has been off by one hour for the past six months) is once again on time.

It's genius.  Thank you, Ben Franklin. 

The only glitch -- and it's a sizeable glitch -- is that you cannot reason with children to sleep in an extra hour.  They are perfectly content to wake at 5:30 in the morning, totally disregarding the pitch-blackness outdoors, and the bleary-eyed parents must spend the rest of the day tweaking the schedule to get everyone back on track.

Franklin proposed the idea of Daylight Savings at the age of 78, which makes sense.  By then, his children were fully grown.

On Headcolds

As a mother, I have the right to say this:

My children are currently disgusting.  They're in the throes of headcolds, or as Reese aptly put it, they're noses are leaking.  They're not feverish.  They're not sick enough to be pancaked flat on couches or take extra-long naps.  They're not achy.  They're just drippy, and they're kind of cranky about it.

This morning Kerrington sneezed on me while eating her rice cereal.  Brooke walked past and wiped her nose on my shirt sleeve.  Reese, the one who is old enough to use a Kleenex by herself, blew her nose and then set the used Kleenex on the table.  The table!  The kitchen table!  The kitchen table where we eat!

I'm trying not to think about this.

When everyone around me is sick, I don't know whether to fight with all my might -- excessively washing my hands, bathing in Lysol, chugging orange juice -- or simply to live normally and sensibly, trusting that my immune system, which has faced over 10 years of teaching and 5 years of having kids, is strong enough to avoid a simple head cold. 

It's like the difference between slowly wading into frigid water -- that torturous process that delays the inevitable -- or simply diving in and instantly immersing yourself in the coldness.  Whether I tiptoe around their germs or just embrace the kids as I normally would (snot and all), I'm going to be exposed.  Might as well dive in.

But that Kleenex on the table?  That is where I absolutely draw the line.

Exactly the Same, but Completely Different

One of my friends recently posted this status update on Facebook:

"(Insert name) has met with 50 students or so in conference so far this week and is becoming increasingly terse in her criticisms of sentences like this: 'The articles are similar and different for many reasons.'"

Roger, that.  This friend and I both teach undergrads, and our goal is to help them advance clear claims with well-supported, precise, and stylistic language.

But anyone who's ever struggled to put the right words down on a blank page or to utter coherent sentences (myself included) knows that it can be challenging to figure out what you're actually trying to say.  Even if you're a five-year-old.

Case in point:

Yesterday evening I glanced out our sliding glass door and saw a hot air balloon in the distance.  I automatically called the girls over.  Reese, who, unbeknownst to me, became an authority on all things pertaining to hot air balloons, took the opportunity to educate her younger sister.

"You know, Brooke, you have to be sixteen to ride in a hot air balloon.  That's because you have to be sixteen to drive a car, and cars are kind of like hot air balloons."

I braced myself for her comparison.

"You see, cars have wheels and drive on roads.  Hot air balloons don't have wheels so they can't really go on roads, I guess, but they do go in the sky -- and they have have baskets." 

She leaned her forehead against the window and slowly continued, "And cars don't have baskets, but they do have seats, and seats are kind of like baskets." 

Then she paused, and I wondered if she was having a hard time keeping up with her own reasoning, but she stepped away from the window and concluded her argument, "And that is why you have to be sixteen to ride a hot air balloon:  It has a basket and it moves in the sky like a car.  Unless you have to be eighteen."

Brooke seemed perfectly convinced.

Just like I thought.  Cars and hot air balloons: they're similar and different for many reasons.

What I Did This Morning

Title: What I Did This Morning

Subtitle:  Best exercise of the day.

An Unlikely Treasure

After a wearisome day of travel this past weekend, I was eager to get home as quickly as possible.  During our final rest stop, I corralled the girls into the restroom, pulled the changing table down, undressed Kerrington, and then scrounged through the diaper bag.

No diapers.  This is never good.

I reattached her dirty diaper, fastened a dozen snaps to redress her, and lugged everyone back to the car to rummage for a spare diaper.

On my second trip, three elderly women entered the restroom.  Their gates were slow; their postures hunched.  One paused when she saw Kerrington.

"My, she's a beautiful baby," she began.  She called over her two companions.  They circled around Kerrington, who was now dry and dressed but still lying on the changing table.

"Could I please pat her foot?" one asked.  Of course, I told her.  She extended her hand tentatively at first, then tickled Kerrington's foot while smiling and softly talking to her.  Kerrington returned the gesture with heartbreakingly beautiful smiles.  The deal was sealed; they were in love.

The woman -- three sisters ages 84, 81, and 79 (my girls in a mere 79 years) -- were gracious and thoughtful, and they clearly were delighted to be in the presence of a baby.  "Just five-and-a-half-months old?  Can you believe that?" one spoke to the others.

Other women, rushed and tired from their travels, entered the restroom and immediately were drawn into the scene.  As they washed and dried their hands, they slowed down to watch the sisters fawn over Kerrington and listen to Kerrington's laughs in response.

I wanted to bottle the moment up and treasure it in my heart.

Despite their gray hair and aged postures, none of the sisters seemed old as they interacted with Kerrington.  As if age disappeared entirely, I watched the four of them: my daughter who has just entered the world, and these women whose long lives had allowed them to experience so much of it.

When we parted ways, the oldest woman leaned down and kissed Kerrington on the top of her head.  The gesture seemed almost holy, as if she were passing the torch to a much younger generation.  Placing her hand on my arm, she said, "God bless this mother, and God bless her babies."

Had I been better prepared, I would have missed this moment entirely.  I've never been so thankful for an empty diaper bag.

Upon Closer Inspection

On beautiful days, it's not uncommon for the teachers at a local daycare to take their children on a walk around campus.  To keep everyone grouped safely together, each child holds onto a tag on a long rope.  You can't help but smile when you see them.  It stops traffic.  While teaching, I once glanced out the window and saw the kids-on-a-rope passing by, pointing out squirrels and toddling along at a glacial pace, and I nearly had to stop my lecture just to soak in the scene.

It made me miss my own children acutely.

And yet, when you're with your children all the time, it's easy to lose that warm and fuzzy sensation.  As precious as they are, kids can get under your skin and tap into reserves of frustration or anger that you didn't know (and wish you weren't) capable of feeling.  Kids bring out the best in you, and they also can reveal the worst.

A few weeks ago while driving along a windy country road, I saw a pair of kid's shoes sitting on a long retaining wall, perfectly positioned as if they were waiting for their owner to come back and claim them. 

Now, I see kid's shoes all the time.  I trip on piles of them when I enter and exit my front door every day.  But seeing the shoes in an unexpected place was refreshing, just like seeing the kids-on-a-rope in a setting where children are generally absent.

It's the fresh look that makes all the difference.  Those teachers walking along with the children-on-the-rope just might have been counting down the hours until they clocked-out because the kids were acting up.  Those intriguing shoes might have belonged to a child who disobeyed his parent's instructions to put them on his feet.  But to me, they were fresh.

When my children were first born, I couldn't look at them enough.  I'd study them.  Everything about them -- their satiny, wrinkly skin, their never-been-walked-upon feet, their inability to hold up their heads, their yawns, their noises -- captivated me.  Kerrington is still in this stage, and I practically want to swallow her whole, drink her in, and preserve her beautiful babyness.

Even during the most frustrating days, what if I inspected my children like I did when I first met them?  I'd examine those small dimples that appear on Reese's cheeks when she smiles her widest grins.  I'd notice the sunkissed highlights in Brooke's wild mop of hair.  I'd stand at the crib long after Kerrington had fallen asleep, marveling over her perfect profile, the pout of her lips, and how she sleeps with her knees tucked underneath her ever-so-slightly so that her bottom points toward the sky.

Maybe I'll make one of those ropes and occasionally ask my children to parade around the house.  It will be a reminder to observe them from a distance so I can better see them for who they are when they're up close.

Short and Sweet: The Kitchen Island

The best part of my day in 100 or fewer words:

While I fixed dinner today, Kerrington watched me from her high chair with focused concentration.  (I'm pretty sure with adoration, too.  She's really quite fond of me.)

I sang to her.  She smiled.  I danced for her, waving my arms in the air and twirling.  She laughed.  (This seems to be a common reaction to my dancing.)  And then I ducked behind the kitchen island and jumped up again and again until my legs began to burn from the repetition.

And here's where it gets good:

This little baby was surprised every single time.  I love this about her.

Coach Dad Rolls to Victory

My husband, Joel, has a knack for getting free tee shirts.  They accumulate in our closet and get worn when he exercises and does yard work.  They're relegated for these pastimes because there seems to be a common denominator unifying them. 

They're ugly. 

Case in point, this past summer he ran our town's Firecracker 4K race, and this is the complimentary shirt he received (one that prompted our oldest daughter, Reese, to ask, "How did you see where you were running if you had to wear those hats?")

So when Joel signed up to be a coach for Reese's U6 soccer team and attended the first meeting to pick up the team's jerseys, he took one look at the table and guessed which color would be ours.  Based on past experience he knew it wouldn't be anything classic like red, royal blue, or black, and nothing bright like yellow or kelly green. 

That's when he saw the stack of jerseys that were not quite brown, not quite orange -- a hybrid hue that would make it impossible for other coaches to quickly call out to their players, "Heads up, red's coming down the field," because what do you call that color?  Burnt sienna?  Ochre?

The team's business sponsor, Tire Town, has its logo on the back of the jersey, giving Joel a perfect opportunity to spin creative slogans.  (My favorite: Team Tire Town... Rolling to victory.)

Joel came home from the first practice excited.  He had learned all the kid's names, had staged dribbling drills, and played some form of soccer sharks and minnows.  Coach Steve, the other coach, was equally excited and had players practice throw-ins by tossing the ball at his head.  In between drills the players tackled the coaches, and during drills, they ran. 

Burning off some energy, Joel told me.

After a few weeks of practice, games officially began.  We got beat by the red team, crushed by the royal blues, and bowled over by the yellows.  Joel and Steve took turns on the field while the other remained on the sidelines with the players who sat out.  The last game I attended, I watched the kids on the sidelines playing tag, being led by Coach Steve in a rousing chorus of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and climbing onto Joel's back so that Joel always seemed to have a little boy attached to him, even if he was kneeling down and lacing up someone's cleats.

The kids were having a blast.  The soccer was secondary.  One boy took the coaching advice to take that ball down the field literally, picking up the ball in his hands and running full speed toward the opposing goal.  One goalie watched balls go between her legs.  One game our highest scorer stunned the goalkeeper with a perfect shot to the upper left corner of the goal.  (The only problem was that it happened to be our own goal.)

And that was our team.  Not quite orange, not quite brown, and based on their record, not quite rolling to victory.

But records are deceptive.  After each game when the teams shook hands, offering "good game, good game, good game" to each opponent in passing, Joel stopped to greet the other coaches.  Over the past several weeks, each opposing coach has reported that either one or a few of their players had quit over the course of the season. 

We may never have won a game yet, Joel told me last week, but we've never lost a player.

This afternoon was the final game of the season, and for once, everything gelled.  Team Tire Town beat the navy team 3-1, proving it's never too late to roll to victory.  In fact, I think they accomplished that even before they won.


Snapshot of a Rough Week

It's been a rough couple of days for my five-year-old.  As she and I went door-to-door selling cookie dough for a school fundraiser, she was licked on the hand by a neighbor's dog when she innocently pet him.  Moments later as we reached the next house and she rang the doorbell, I noticed that her hand had swollen and broken out in red blotches.  She's allergic to dog saliva.

When she came home from school the next day her new jacket -- the jacket with the puff ball at the tip of the hood -- got snagged.  The puff ball, once round and fluffy as all good puff balls should be, disintegrated into a loose pile of string that littered the school bus floor as if it had been a dandelion blown to pieces.

But at least she was home, safe and sound.  Once she mourned the puff ball, she pulled out the contents of her backpack.

That's when I saw her kindergarten school pictures, and that's when I -- her own mother, the woman who brought her into the world and loves her dearly -- stifled laughter. 

Now, school pictures are a notoriously unflattering rite of passage.  I remember some of my own unfortunate wallet-sized mug shots and the downright unlucky timing when, in seventh grade, I got my braces off the day after school pictures were taken.

Somehow I expected that her first experience with them would be a smooth one.  I was mistaken.

In the photo she's barely smiling.  Her eyes peer forlornly up from underneath her bangs.  The clincher is that she has a random green hair clip attached to the side of her head, creating a 1980's side ponytail look (which, for those of you who recall this hairstyle, was a trend that never ought to have been started.)

We didn't send her to school with a hair clip that day.  She said that she found it in her bag, and since her pink dress didn't have a pocket, she opted to put it in her own hair -- directly on the side of her head.

My husband and I both questioned why the photographer didn't notice, but we figured that he had to snap hundreds of pictures of squirmy children and had no time to waste in ensuring that each child actually smiled, had his eyes open, or was not the victim of a rogue hair clip dangling from the side of her head, protruding sideways as if a strong gust of wind was blowing.

Just to check if I was overreacting, I showed the picture to a friend who stopped by one evening, a woman who is so sweet that she makes sugar seem bitter.  She took one look, momentarily paused, and finally said, "Oh.  Well, her dress is very pretty!"

Enough said.

We'll be opting for retakes.
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