A Dose of Perspective

By the end of this 16-week semester, I will have taught 135 class sessions.  I'll have graded 142 exams, read 355 homework assignments, and evaluated 213 student speeches.  If I maintain my current emailing pace, I will have sent over 500 work-related messages.

By the end of this 16-week semester, Kerrington will have more than doubled her life span.

She wins.  This is so much more impressive than what I'll accomplish.  It would take me another 32 years to duplicate this feat. 

Grow, little baby, grow.

My Sidewalk

Title:  My Sidewalk

Subtitle:  My kids don't need an aisle to decorate, just a sidewalk.

Away from the Watchful Eye

One morning about a year ago, I woke to find my daughter, Reese, sitting downstairs on the couch wearing only her underwear, eating chocolate pudding, and watching Sports Center.  It was quarter to seven in the morning.

Are you kidding me?  How long has this kid been awake, anyway?  What else had been slipping under my parental radar?

Probably a decent amount.

I'm finding that even the most diligent parents can't supervise their child's every action.  One day I'll have my head turned and I'll miss when one of them decides to eat dirt at the playground.  I won't be there to see all the wipe outs on their bikes.  I won't witness every skirmish between siblings, and they'll have to sort things out themselves.

My kids will eventually become people who are independent of me, people who will have lives of their own.  They'll have to learn and grow outside of my watchful eye, just as they learn and grow under it.  I'll have to trust that they'll be able to apply the instruction that they've received even when I'm not there.

For some of you (myself included), this feels like a distant goal.  We're mothering children who are still so young, still so needy.  Hourly, we're called to change diapers, cut food into manageable bites, unsnap seat belts, tie shoes, and brush hair.  We hoist car seats.  We feed mashed bananas and rice cereal.  We wear burp cloths over our shoulders like it's a new fashion trend.  We make sure that babies don't crawl toward unsafe areas and that toddlers don't stick forks in outlets.  When our children are this tiny, our moment-by-moment lives are immensely intertwined with theirs.  There's not much that we don't supervise, and there's not much that we miss.

But they grow quickly, and one day they'll be able to fix themselves breakfast (even if it's chocolate pudding) and give you an update on last night's football scores from what they learned on Sports Center.

My watchful eye never saw that one coming.

Confessions of a Non-Foodie

Does anyone else find the hour before dinner the most challenging hour of the day?  I barely know what to do with myself.   

It’s a vacuous span of time -- too late for children to be napping, too early to congratulate myself for getting everyone safely to bedtime.  It’s the hour when my two-year-old is most apt to secretly raid the spice rack and shake the contents of a half-full cinnamon container into the drawer where we keep our silverware.

It’s the hour when my five-year-old is most likely to spill the tub of glow beads, all 6,000 of them, onto the kitchen table and floor.

It’s when my kids watch me handle raw chicken, poke at it with their tiny index fingers, and before I can shout "Lysol," unconsciously bring their hands to their mouths.

Some people may revel in this hour.  They build their entire day around it.  These are the people who love to cook.  Food is their art.  Recipes are their narratives.

I am not one of these people. 

I belong to a different group, a group of people who cook because eating is necessary to sustain life.  One of my college roommates once confessed, “I sometimes pray that my other roommates don’t come home while I’m cooking and laugh.”  I understood that.

There are two ironies with this.  One is that I love to host and feed large groups of people on special occasions.  During these days, my entire purpose is to cook.  Cooking is no longer a chore that fit in or multitask around; it’s what the day is made for.  The entire day builds up to that one meal, that special event.  I can handle that.

Two, I’m fascinated by food.  While pregnant with Kerrington, I watched Top Chef Masters with awe, not sure what half of the ingredients were, but loving the process, the creativity, and the insight into a realm where I clearly don’t belong.

It’s just the day-to-day routine of cooking that wears me down.  It’s repetitive.  It’s mundane.  On occasions when a small member of our family declares that she doesn’t like what I’ve prepared for dinner before I’ve even announced what dinner will be, the whole experience feels downright accusatory.

Some days I bump dinner earlier, as if I’m trying to trick everyone – myself included – by attempting the impossible task of filling the hour before dinner with the actual dinner hour.  This obviously doesn’t work.  You can’t fill an hour with another hour and use up two hours that way.  (At least we can’t.  If you’ve figured out quantum time theory, let me know.)

Plus, when I bump dinner earlier I risk prematurely aging our family into one who eats according to a blue-plate, early-bird schedule: lunch at 11, dinner at 4:30.  It’s no good.

So, I do what I can to make things easier.  I attempt to plan menus for the week in advance.  I intend to get good mileage out of my crock-pot.  I brainstorm meals that won’t cause mutiny among the ranks of the little people in our house.

And when all else fails, pizza is always a solution that everyone agrees upon.

Now in Technicolor

Even if I have no intentions of doing any painting, each time I'm in a home improvement store I gravitate toward the paint chips.  I wonder who gets to name the paint colors because I think I'd like their job.  (If I weren't busy being a mother of three and teaching, I'd also like to have the job of writing the daily specials in restaurants on their menu chalkboards. I doubt that this would be a full-time gig, of course, but a girl can dream.)

But back to those paint chips. Suede. Cloudy MorningDelancy GreenNatural TaupeSage Smoke.  These are the colors that make up the palette of my house.

On close inspection, you'll realize that all of the adult areas of the house -- the kitchen, the living room, the powder room, the hallways, and our bedroom -- are neutral.  They're more eggshell than extreme, more subtle than sensational.

This is until you visit the girls' rooms: one is awash in a fresh periwinkle entitled Surrender; the other blooms in the hue Lilac Willow.

There's nothing beige about childhood. Very little is halfhearted.  I've watched one of my children cry with abandon when she broke a beaded necklace bought at a garage sale for twenty-five cents.  It was an absolute overreaction, but it revealed something.  Kids are fully invested, fully aware.

The life of a child is more technicolor than neutral.

Case in point, my five-year-old lives without fashion constraints.  She never worries about clashing patterns or coordinating colors.  Last week, she pulled together this outfit:

Her backpack, which is nearly her own size, is so bright that it may well glow in the dark:

And when she first ran upstairs to try on her soccer cleats and shin guards to practice with Joel in the backyard, she emerged from her room wearing this:

I hope that she never loses this vibrancy. 

And if I ever get to name paint colors (Benjamin Moore, are you hiring?), I know who to take with me.

Leprechaun Catcher

Title: Leprechaun Catcher

Subtitle:  And you thought it was just an empty Wheat Thins box decorated with a straw, piece of yarn, paper plate, toothpick, and cupcake wrapper, but no, it's a Leprechaun Catcher.  In September.  (We may be waiting a while to capture one of these little guys...)

Heavy Briefcases

Something sad happened this morning.  I rarely cry in front of my children, but this morning I did.  Brooke looked at me in earnest two-year-old concern, asked Mommy sad? and then nodded when I answered Yes, mommy is sad.  Reese reached out and touched my face.  It was such a sensitive gesture that I teared up again.

I always want to be strong for my children.  I want to be the one to wipe their tears and hold their hands and offer them comfort.  How beautiful and humbling it is when the comforting comes from them, when one of their little hands rubs my back, when one of their little voices assures me that everything is going to be okay.

I once heard a story where a young child asked his troubled father what was the matter.  The father answered that some burdens were just meant for the shoulders of fathers.  The father pointed to his heavy briefcase and asked his son to lift it.  Despite straining, the boy was unable to do so.  The father gently unwrapped his son's fingers from the handle and lifted the briefcase himself, assuring his son that although his burdens may be heavy, he was strong enough to lift them and he never wanted his son to feel like he had to carry them for him.

I've always loved that story.  I think of myself like the son and God as the father -- a Father who is perfectly able to carry the heavy burdens and concerns that I struggle and strain to lift, a Father who is just waiting for me to unwrap my tired fingers and let His strong hand take their place.

This morning, I felt better after crying a little.  I hugged my girls, tousled their hair, and let them know that they never need to worry about me.  Their mommy is in good hands.

Live and Active

I have an aversion to yogurt.  I know, I know.  It's chock full of calcium and protein and low-fat goodness, but I can barely bring myself to look at the stuff.  I blame this entirely on the live active cultures.  Cultures?  I don't even like the sound of that word.

Of course, my children love yogurt.  It's a staple in their lunch menu.

Most days, I can grit my teeth and bear this, but not yesterday.  Brooke knocked over her newly-opened container -- an innocent accident, of course, but one that sent yogurt shockwaves over the floor, the wall, the chairs, and the legs of table.  A forensics team could have discerned exactly how the container hit the floor based on the ample evidence.  Case closed.

My skin crawled.  I shuddered.  I did an internal eebey-jeebey dance.  And then, like a good mother, I gave Brooke a new container of yogurt and got onto my hands and knees beside where she sat so I could clean the mess.

As I wiped the yogurt and silently hyperventilated, I had two fleeting thoughts: 1) Perhaps now is not the best time to mop considering that she's still eating, and 2) Oh man, I'm directly in the line of fire if she would...

And that's when I heard her sweet voice say, uh-oh, and felt the cold sensation of yogurt oozing down my neck.

Live active cultures were dripping down my back.  Saturating my shirt!  Contaminating my hair!

I'm still not quite over this.

Parenthood is not a clean experience.  Before having children, getting dirty was relatively controlled.  I’d put on old clothes to do yard work.  I’d shower directly after exercising.  Contrast this with the yogurt experience, or the fact that two minutes before I left for work yesterday morning, Kerrington spit on me with such enthusiasm (gallons, I think) that I had to change my entire outfit -- including socks.

Still, these messes let us tap into bravery and patience that we may not have known we possessed.  Afraid of spiders?  You'll still go after one if your child is scared.  Sensitive to smells?  You still survive the worst diaper changes.  A lover of fashion?  You still feel sympathy for your sick child when he wipes his snotty nose on your pants leg.

Motherhood is live and active, just like that yogurt.  Here's to a good, clean day.

Slowing Down (oxygen masks for moms)

When life gets busy, I occasionally find a little luxury, some insignificant, superfluous activity, and slow down long enough to complete it.  Today I took ten minutes to paint my toenails.  Fickle, perhaps, but it made me feel polished (pun intended), and I haven't been feeling exceptionally polished lately.  The practice reminded me that it's okay to be still, that it's alright not to be productive every waking minute.

I enjoy productivity, mind you.  I always want to be crossing an item off of my to-do list.  Our society worships productivity.  Although we don't come out and say it in quite these terms, if someone is not over-extended, under-rested, and ultra-busy, then they must be lazy.  If we admit that we're comfortable with our work load, that we're content with our level of responsibility, and that we wake up refreshed, then we probably aren't a contributing member of society.  Do more.  Do more.  Do more.

I'm tired of that.

It's good to rest.  It's necessary to take time to unplug, be still, and tap into those things that quench our drained spirits and refresh our tired bodies.

Anybody who's ever flown knows that one aspect of flight safety is to put on your own oxygen mask during an emergency before helping others put on theirs.  The rationale behind this translates well into regular life.  You can't help others effectively if you're depleted of the essential elements that you need to help yourself.

For me, writing is down time.  It helps me to process my thoughts, work through my emotions, and make sense of my world.  Writing helps me to tap into myself.  It reminds me that I'm more than mommy, and when I remember that I'm more than a mother, I am a better mother.

Discover what little luxury, what insignificant, nice thing that you can do for yourself today.  Maybe take a half hour to enjoy an autumn evening walk.  Maybe turn off the television when you're tired and go to bed early instead of staying up an extra hour flipping channels.

Find what works for you.  Doing less is sometimes more.

Surprisingly Similar Success Tips

Last week I took a few minutes during the end of one class and shared a few tips for college success with my students, all of whom are freshmen.  We've spent three weeks together at this point, so they know a little about my intentions and, hopefully, recognize that I have their best interests in mind -- both inside and outside of my class.  Here's what I shared:

1) Wash your hands.  The easiest way to prevent sickness is to wash your hand properly and avoid touching your face.  (I'm amazed at how many of them were sitting at their desks touching their faces right as I said this -- and how quickly they dropped their hands by their sides when they realized the same thing.)  Illness spreads quickly on campus thanks to inadequate rest, close living quarters, and untested immune systems.  The plague will hit your dorm floor by week three, I joke with some seriousness, and they reply that it already has.  If you're battling sickness, you won't perform to the best of your ability or enjoy yourself, so take care of yourself.  Wash your hands.

2) Show respect.  When emailing a professor, write grammatically.  Include a brief salutation rather than jumping directly into your request.  Avoid text lingo.  It's proper elsewhere and fine for other audiences, but when writing to someone in authority, consider your own credibility.  Thank them when they help you.  Outside of the classroom, demonstrate this same type of respect for those who serve you.  Thank the bus drivers who drop you off, the custodians who clean your bathrooms, and food service workers who serve your meals.  Honoring others is a diminishing practice.  Stand out by showing respect.

3) Choose companions with care.  Everything about college is new for freshmen,  including their friends.  It's a unique opportunity to make a new life for themselves, to shrug off the inevitable labels -- whether bad or good -- that they had been branded with during high school.  What an opportunity!  What a responsibility.  One crucial factor that shapes or limits this process is the people who surround them.  It's for this reason that I encouraged them to consider character.  Since people gradually take on the traits of those closest to them, it's worthwhile to check if those values and behaviors are ones they want to emulate, especially during a time when everyone is searching to discover where they fit socially in this vast campus.  Choosing excellent companions helps you to be excellent.

Later that same day I smiled as I prompted my daughters to wash their hands.  I reflected on how we teach them to say please and thank you, and how we're so grateful for the kind friends who are appearing in their young lives. 

Regardless of the different ages and experiences, the tips for success are surprisingly similar.  Choose companions with care.  Show respect.  And, bottom line, wash those hands.


Title: Jackpot

Subtitle: The kind of money I now find wedged between couch cushions.

We're Rolling Now

Yesterday Kerrington rolled over.  A few weeks ago we suspected that she might have rolled while playing on her blanket, but there were two strikes against marking it as official: 1) no eye witnesses, and 2) neither Joel nor I could definitively remember if we had placed her on her back or on her belly when we originally set her down to play.  That didn't help matters.

Yesterday there was no doubt.  That baby rolled. 

She rolled so much that she ended each of her naps prematurely, as if she was surprised to find herself suddenly on her belly and not entirely pleased with her inability to revert to her original position. 

Oh, the struggles of infancy. 

One of my older children, who will remain nameless, woke herself -- and us -- so frequently with her nighttime one-way rolling antics that I was not above thinking about duct taping her to the crib.  (You get a little desperate at 4:00 in the morning.)  Hopefully, Kerrington will not follow in these footsteps.

At any rate, to commemorate yesterday's milestone I thought it would be nice to document a few observations about Kerrington's childhood, now that she's a mature baby who rolls and all.

She's not much of a spitter, but what she lacks in frequency, she makes up in stealth.  You never see it coming, and then bam, you've been hit, like an unassuming swimmer gets slammed with a rogue wave.  She's a very sneaky baby.

I can't get enough of her expressions, especially right when I'm about to feed her.  She gets that wide-mouthed, head-wagging, oh-I-am-so-looking-forward-to-this toothless smile that reminds me of a little bird.  It's quite endearing.

As much to be expected for a person who spends nearly all of her time lying down, she's gaining greater control of her body.  Her arms still drift upward in haphazard, erratic fashions as if they were being jerked by invisible marionette strings, but this is becoming less common.  However, just this afternoon I did see her whack herself in the forehead with a rattle, temporarily frozen in astonishment by her own assault, so she obviously still has her work cut out for her in terms of coordination.

She is mesmerized by her own hands.  Sometimes I watch her inspecting them -- grabbing her own fingers, opening and closing them into fists, finding ways to fit her entire fist into her mouth -- and wish that I could be that excited by my own body parts.  A finger!  Would you look at that?

She looks uncannily similar to our other girls when they were infants.  Years from now when I stumble upon loose photographs, I'll likely have to use contextual clues to discern which one she is.  She's version 3.0, and she's a keeper.

Oh, Kerrington, you are our little baby who rolls.

When Words Fail

We had just finished our grocery shopping, and I wheeled the shopping cart out of the store into the parking lot. We heard it before we saw it: the distinct exhaust note of a muscle car.  The girls love all things loud and shiny, and for the brief moment while it passed they remained surprisingly still, with the exception of Brooke who raised her hand in greeting as if it were a parade vehicle.

When we continued walking, Reese looked at her and said, “That’s wasn’t just any loud car, Brooke. That was a mustache.”

Mustache.  Mustang.  What’s the difference?  To Reese, not very much.

She’s a master of malapropisms.  I so enjoy listening to her.

Yesterday, for instance, she sat at the kitchen table eating her after-school snack and explained that she was learning sign language to accompany a song about a squirrel.  She then sang something about a fluffy tail and collecting nuts while flailing her arms indistinctly.

“That’s the sign language?” I questioned.

“Yeah. You know about sign language, Mom.  It’s the stuff that you do with your hands to help out blind people.”

Of course.  Sign language for blind people.  I should have known.

Learning from The Princess Bride

The other day I folded clothes in my laundry room and reminisced about The Princess Bride.  It's a ridiculous and charming movie rolled into one, an iconic product of the 1980's.  I must have watched it over a dozen times growing up, creating a vast repertoire of quotes to draw upon in the off-chance that I ever go head-to-head in a battle of wits against a Sicilian when death is on the line.  I occasionally condense a long-winded story with the wise, "Let me explain.  No, there is no time.  Let me sum up," and I can't help but to think, "I do not think it means what you think it means," each time I hear the word inconceivable.

Did I mention that I loved this movie as a kid?  That I went to the library to check out the novel it was based upon after my first viewing?  That I spent hours learning how to hunt and peck out the melody of its theme song ("Storybook Love") on my Casio keyboard? 

Yes, really.

And this past week I found myself whipping out another quote from the movie, one that I've never used before.  There is a scene where the man in black scales the Cliffs of Insanity and, upon reaching the top, begins to dual with the master fencer Inigo Montoya.  Partially through the dual, a clearly-impressed Inigo questions the man in black, "Who are you? ... I must know."

The man in black's response is a simple one: "Get used to disappointment."

I love that line.  And it is exactly what I told Reese while I was folding laundry. 

She had been pleading for something -- I can't recall what -- that was impossible.  Or inconvenient.  Probably both, when I think of it.

By nature, children are bottomless wells of needs and wants.  As any parent knows, there are times when you cannot -- or simply don't want to -- suspend everything that you're doing in order to fulfill those needs and wants immediately.  In an effort to ensure that our children feel loved and special (which is important), our culture dips its toes and wades into the philosophy of child-centeredness.  The result?  It's easy to forget that saying no to your child not only is okay at points, but that it's necessary.  That it's good.

If children grow up under the loose authority of adults who capitulate to their every request, they'll grow into adults who aren't prepared to cope with legitimate setbacks, adults who feel entitled to have things their way regardless of the cost to others.

I don't want this for my girls. 

I want to teach them how to handle disappointment when they're young.  I want them to understand that the world doesn't revolve around them.  At their ages, this starts with simple and firm no's that are spoken in laundry rooms, at bedtimes, at the kitchen table, and in the remarkably tantalizing candy section at the grocery store's check out.

I suspect that this will be an ugly and lengthy process, one involving ample frustration, rolled eyes, wailing, and gnashing of teeth -- and that's just on my part.  My kids probably won't like it either.  But we're all going to get used to disappointment.

(Image compliments of Rick, Flickr.com.)

Three Days Down

I love the simplicity of kids.  At this point, Reese has now spent three full days in kindergarten.  Even though we don't want to bombard her with questions once she steps off the bus, I love hearing about what she considers important in her day. 

How was riding on the bus?  Very wobbly.  (A legitimate literal answer, no?)

Did you get to make any new friends?  Yeah, but I don't really know their names.  It's a long day.  It's pretty easy for a kid to get confused.

How was recess?  Good. Did you know that a girl was on the monkey bars and she could hang upside down without using her hands?  And that her shoes fell off?  And that she couldn't get down because she didn't have her shoes?  And that I picked them up for her?

Which, of course, I didn't, so I listened as she filled me in on essential details like the type of shoes the girl wore, the location of the monkey bars, and who she thought the girl looked like even though it really wasn't that girl, just someone who looked like that girl, especially when she was hanging upside down.  Have I mentioned recently that our conversations are not very streamlined?

So, we've survived the first week.  We've started the habit of laying out clothes for the next day.  I've sifted through most of the literature from the Parent Teacher Organization, amazed that I've come to the point in life where I'm included in this demographic and slightly terrified by the sheer number of opportunities for volunteerism.  Seventeen different ways to serve?  Really?  (I am so unprepared for this aspect of parenthood.)

Brooke, who carried a lunch box to the bus stop and then broke down as the school bus pulled away, came to me later and shared, "Reesie go to school now.  I cry a lot."  Her little world has changed, too.  Just like all other families with a member who newly has joined the ranks of school, we're adjusting.

And considering that there are just three days down, I'd say we're adjusting well.
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