The Calendar Flip

Blog Pause Day 12:  This post is an especially appropriate ending to the year being that we're not just on the verge of flipping a single page, but rather on the cusp of an entirely new calendar.  Bring it on, 2012, bring it on.

Originally posted October 1, 2010

Before I went to bed last night, I stood at our refrigerator and took one last good look.  This morning, I returned to the same spot and proceeded with a small ritual: the calendar flip. 

Turning over a new page on a calendar is one of those simple life pleasures.  A wide open expanse lies ahead.  Even though these next weeks promise to be full, the calendar page is orderly.  No days have been crossed off yet.  It's a clean slate.

Contrast this with the calendar page from last month.  It's messy, much like life.  Appointments and obligations that were once pressing are now past.  Moments that I would have forgotten altogether are immortalized by my handwriting in a square inch box.  Each completed day has a slash marking the bottom right corner -- a single line that signifies that an entire day has been lived.

I used to carpool to my last job.  As I drove home one afternoon, my carpool partner pulled her planner from her bag and realized that she hadn't been keeping up.  She crossed out an entire week happily, and then commented, "I don't think I should be taking this much pleasure from scratching out these days.  This is my life!  I'm crossing out my life!"

Sometimes I feel like this.  I love crossing off days.  I look forward to the next thing, and I strain toward the next goal.  I think about selling outgrown baby gear at the next garage sale.  I envision having my toddler pottytrained.  I imagine going places without a diaper bag.  I look forward to a day when my kids can unfasten their own seat belts, take their own baths, and tie their own shoes.

While it's not bad to look forward to the future, I want to make sure that I'm not crossing out days before I even live them.

One evening this summer we had a few students over for dinner.  To be exact, they were three football players in the midst of a grueling practice schedule, and they were hungry.  At the end of the meal, I served dessert -- generously-sized, still a tad warm, perfectly chewy brownies.  Before I could blink, I looked at one boy's plate and the brownie was gone.  I glanced up.  He wasn't even still chewing.

"Want another?"  I asked.

"Yes, please."  He replied as I handed over a huge square on a napkin.  "I think I just swallowed that last one whole.  I didn't even taste it!"

I've done this before -- and not just with food.  I've devoured without savoring.  I've swallowed without tasting.  In the end, it's disappointing.  You're in such a rush that you miss all the pleasure.

Contrast this with one of my friends who visited our house the very next day.  I served her one of the few remaining brownies.  She took one bite and said, "This is Duncan Hines Milk Chocolate, isn't it?"  (I had  no clue, but I checked the trash can for the empty box.  She was spot on.)

How did she know this?

She savored, not devoured.  She paid attention to the flavor.  This girl knows her chocolate. 

And then, if I recall, she ate another.

I want to live life this way.  I want to taste each day as it comes, to pinpoint its unique flavor.  Even if it's a nothing-special, mix-from-a-box type of a day, I want to savor.

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I hope that you've enjoyed revisiting these posts during my end-of-the-year Blog Pause.  As always, thank you for reading and voting with just one click.

New posts are coming!

Grass Stains

Blog Pause Day 11: My oldest daughter is hoping for snow on a daily basis.  So far, she's been sorely disappointed.  But after living in this town for fifteen years I'm aware that a long winter is ahead.  January and February -- and sometimes even March -- are the months when the snow will come.  Oh, it'll come.  

With the occasional hefty snowfalls, we'll also have our fair share of bitter cold, negative degree wind-chill, non-snowy days that seem to serve no weather purpose other than making you truly grateful for spring.  At that point we'll be clawing at the walls to get back outside. 

Today's recycled post is one that harkens back to the end of a long winter on an unusually warm March day.  I hope that you enjoy revisiting it as much as I did.

Originally posted March 18, 2011

Kerrington, today I took you outside and set you on the grass. You've been outside before, of course, but you've always been carried -- a bundled little entity, one swaddled or wrapped or hung in the crook of my elbow in your increasingly-weighty car seat carrier. Today, however, you were set directly on the grass that prickled your fingers in its still winter-rough, dormant state.

You immediately set off exploring. You wrapped your fingers around a fallen leaf and, as is your style, tried to eat it. Brooke yelled. I reached my fingers into your mouth, pulled out the soggy clump, and flicked it aside.

Undeterred, you crawled to the side yard directly for the rocks.

Grabbing one rock in each hand, you sat up and tapped them together. You concentrated intently for several moments, banging them against each other with greater force as if you were trying to start a fire by hammering flint.

No sparks appeared. You reverted to your old habits and drew the rock to your mouth.

I don't think you enjoyed it as much as the leaf.

My little one, you got your first grass stains on your knees today.

When you confidence increased and you ventured farther away, you reached a slight hill. Your hands slipped from underneath you and your head dipped into the grass face-first. You rolled and then regained your position, stretching your arms and legs out like a person seeking safety on thin ice.

You've never navigated uneven terrain before. It won't be the last time, and you handled yourself well today.

When we returned inside after playtime, I propped you on my hip and carried you upstairs for your nap. You smiled at me. I removed the wood chip that you had so cleverly hidden underneath your tongue, held you close, and then set you down, my little grass-stained baby.

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Blink. Gone.

Blog Pause Day 10:  Here's another post from the past year, one that makes me sigh and smile simultaneously.

Originally posted March 30, 2011

Last week I spent many late-night hours sorting through outgrown baby clothes and paraphernalia to sell at a local children's resale event. Each item of clothing was sorted and hung (hangers facing left). Each printed price tag was safety-pinned in the upper right corner (pins inserted right to left, fingers pricked on multiple occasions).

The bins of baby girl clothing that I had packed and repacked these last few years as my daughters have grown were emptied for the final time. A tottering stack of baby clothes was piled on the bed, ready to leave our house for good.

Although I wrote this post a month ago, I found my heart sink in my chest as I drove to drop my items off. When I arrived, smarter women than I were transporting their items easily in laundry baskets or cleverly wheeling them on strollers. I carried brimming arm fulls, hugging them close to my chest. With each trip back to the car I reconsidered entering the sale in the first place.

Especially when I saw a volunteer grab a stack of my clothes and hang them up on the racks.

Suddenly, this little blue dress -- the blue dress that a dear friend of mine, whom I've known since nursery school, gave to my firstborn daughter, the blue dress that my daughter wore when she met Joel's grandfather and fell asleep in the crook of his arm -- was on a sales rack.

The yellow outfit that my second daughter wore in her surrender sleep,

and the lavender onesie that my littlest daughter wore as she lay on her tummy, her bottom tipped upward toward the sky, were now dangling on cheap plastic hangers.

As my eyes locked onto that sale rack, I -- a woman who organizes with abandon, a woman who detests clutter, a woman who constantly sorts and repurposes unnecessary things, a woman who wants to minimize, minimize, minimize -- suddenly understood hoarders.

Hoarders can't separate the memories from the objects. To keep the memories, they hold onto the objects.

For one moment, I thought I'd grab the items off the rack and bring them back home, but I left the rack and walked away. And blink, just like that, my children's baby clothes were gone.

In a week or so, they'll be replaced with a check indicating my sale tallies. Some other mother will dress her little baby girl in the clothes, creating an entirely new set of memories, which I pray are just as wonderful as mine have been.

But this one piece,

this newborn pink sleeper that already seems so small, will be tucked away in one of my drawers.

I had to keep just one thing.

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Taking Things Literally

Blog Pause Day 9: Why is this post worth revisiting?  Simple.  It's short.  It's sweet.  It's one of the favorite things any of my children have said.  Ever.

Originally posted April 23, 2011

Brooke lies on the floor, lost in imagination as she hums and flies a Strawberry Shortcake figurine through the air in front of her.  She doesn't see it coming.  No one does.  Kerrington, the baby who has committed no wrong up to this point except for diaper explosions, crawls toward her and performs her first act of violence.

She lifts her still-pudgy baby hand and whacks Brooke's forehead surprisingly hard.

They look at each other, stunned.  Brooke yelps, sits up, clenches her jaw, and lifts both arms in protest. 

I quickly touch her arm in restraint.  "Brooke," I remind.  "Don't hit her back."

She looks at me for one moment.  "What about hitting her head?"

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Confessions of a Non-Foodie

Blog Pause Day 8: If you're like us, a substantial portion of your last few days have revolved around food -- preparing it, cleaning up after it, and, of course, eating it.  While I would like to report that I have grown into a gourmet chef during the last fifteen months, this isn't the case.  The contents of this post regarding the day-to-day nature of food preparations are still true.

Originally posted September 23, 2010
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 small members of our family declare that they don't like what I’ve prepared for dinner even before I’ve 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 always is a solution that everyone agrees upon.

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Not So Long Ago

Blog Pause Day 7: Happy day after Christmas!  I hope that you had a wonderful day with loved ones.  Today's post is from roughly one year ago, and it remains one of my absolute favorites.  

Originally posted December 13, 2010

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 in order to peek into the dollar bins and announce 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 that 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.

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Not Silent, but Holy

Blog Pause Day 6: Merry Christmas to you!  May your day be merry and bright.

Originally posted December 25, 2010

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.

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An Unlikely Treasure

Blog Pause Day 5: Sometimes the best gifts aren't things, and this experience truly was a gift.  I can still envision the scene clearly.

Originally posted October 31, 2010

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.

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The Glaring Gap in My Daughter's Education

Blog Pause Day 4: Now that Reese has slightly moved up the educational totem pole as a first grader, we can reflect on her kindergarten year as a thing of the distant past.  Here's a snapshot into that former world.

Originally posted November 15, 2010

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.

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I Invoke the Right

Blog Pause Day 3: This was an easy selection for reposting.  He really is a hero.

Originally posted December 14, 2010

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 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, such as spectacular wealth or success.)

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

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Day Dreaming and Bottle Holding

Blog Pause Day 2:  I was cleaning our cabinets and realized that we still had some baby bottles perched on one of our highest shelves.  With ceremony, I tossed them away, knowing that the era of bottle holding has passed.  Such sweet memories.

Originally posted on January 22, 2011

When I feed Kerrington her nighttime bottle, I always hold it for her.  She's perfectly capable of wrapping those little hands of hers around it now that she's a mature eight-month-old, but then I'd miss watching her arms.

When she's drinking a bottle, Kerrington's arms have a life of their own.  They lift to the sky haphazardly like she's in a zero-gravitational zone.  Her fingers clench into fists and then unfold to reveal open palms.  Like undulating grass in the wind, her arms move as if they are swayed by some erratic breeze.

This evening by the time she had drained the last ounce, she had tucked each of her hands behind her head while she leaned back into me, as if she were a sunbather relaxing on the beach, or an unaffected daydreamer lying in the grass under the open sky trying to make out shapes in the clouds.

She'll learn to hold that bottle eventually.  For now, though, I'll keep that as my job.

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I Love You (despite the snot)

Have I mentioned that I love blogging?  I love blogging.  This is why I'll temporarily be pausing Pink Dryer Lint for the remainder of this calendar year.  Now, now -- don't cry.  It won't be that long.  Since the end of the year provides an appropriate time of reflection, I thought that I'd do just that: reflect.

Considering that I, as the author, have entirely forgotten about multiple posts buried in the Pink Dryer Lint archives, I'm guessing that you, as the reader, have as well.  Or, perhaps you're new and never had the chance to read the original postings.

So, I'll air them out, dust them off, and revisit some of my favorites.  One old blog entry will be resposted each day until we reach 2012.

In the meantime, new ideas are percolating.  They'll be ready when I return.  Thank you so much for reading along; I'm so humbled and grateful!

Blog Pause Day 1: Of all my posts, this is one that I'd truly love for all of my readers to know.

Originally posted February 4, 2011

Whenever I've lifted Kerrington from her crib after her naps this week, the first thing I've noticed is the snot.  She's sick and cutting her first tooth, leaving the dear baby caked with snot.  It seeps from her nose to her upper lip.  As she nuzzles her head into her crib sheet, she streaks her face and hair until it dries, crusted and yellowed.

Her skin, normally fair, has chapped.  Her eyes, normally vibrant, show weariness.

I love this child despite the snot.  I pick her up, hold her close, and let her rest her head on my shoulder.  I listen to the sound of her congested breathing and run my hand up and down her back.  All the while I let her nuzzle into me, conforming her small body into my own, and together, we sit.

She doesn't resist me.  As I draw her close, I know that I'm inviting mess into my arms.  I do it willingly, without judgment.

Kerrington doesn't have to clean herself up before I hold her.  She doesn't need to wash her own face before I can see its beauty.  She's welcome in my arms, no matter what state she's in.

Thankfully, God feels the same way about us.

I have moments when I'm rather snotty.  Moments when my heart harbors frustration and I speak sharply to my kids, moments when I lose my patience.  It's unattractive, and yet, whenever I come to God and present myself caked with ugliness, he extends his arms to draw me close again.  Willingly.  Without judgment.

I shouldn't resist him.  He's not repelling me.  But he does want to clean me up.

Although I accept Kerrington snotty, I prefer her clean.  I wet a washcloth and dab her face, gently softening and wiping away the crustiness.  I soothe her chapped skin with mild lotion.  This cleaning process -- this process of getting things right -- is what she'll resist.  She flails her head and arches her back, but I gently proceed, knowing how much better she'll feel when it's done.

I don't tell her, "Kid, you got yourself into this mess, so you can get yourself out of it."  I don't let her wallow in it.  No parent does this, and God, as a good parent, does the same.  He dabs at the ugliness, the impatience, the striving in my heart.  Sometimes I flail, arching my back and resisting the change, but we both know that I'll feel better when I'm clean.

I love my kids despite their snot.

God loves his kids despite our snot.  And just loves us too much to leave us that way.

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Distance Brings Clarity

Occasionally watching your children from afar allows you to view them with greater clarity.  Like holding someone at arms length before drawing them nearer for an embrace, you get the chance to regard them more fully -- perhaps, more accurately -- than when they're too close.  The distance brings clarity.

When you have young children, the lens of observation always feels close.  Supervision is constant, engagement is incessant, guidance is ongoing.

Stepping back, as I did this weekend when my oldest daughter performed in a dance recital and a church Christmas pageant, afforded moments to observe her from a distance.  Not from my typically close vantage point -- the view so close that it magnifies the small blemishes in her behavior or temperament -- but the vantage point that gives her space, that lets her grow, that sees her for who she is becoming.

Look at that child out there -- that girl!  Look at that poise, that bravery, those abilities.  She's out there for everyone to see, and I see her.  I really see her.

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Matter of Perspective

When your three-and-a-half year old commandeers the camera, it's fascinating to download your next batch of pictures.  We found one photo of a suspicious little sister.

Thirty close-up shots of a Tinkerbell backpack.  (I'll spare you the other twenty-nine.)

Her limited backseat view, which mostly constitutes of my right elbow.

Her shoe.  It sparkles, she reminds us on a regular basis.  Obviously she's preserving this for posterity.

And sundry other photos of the ceiling, the floor, the steps, close-ups of what I think is our screen door, and this fluffy item, which resembles her stuffed puppy.

It's all in the eye of the beholder.

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Baby Jesus Action Figure

"Brooke, look here."  I gesture to a small wooden nativity scene, and Brooke hunches down for a better view.  "This is a manger scene showing where Jesus was born."

Brooke picks up the camel figurine in her small hand and closely inspects it.  Within moments, she makes it gallop in front of the manger.  Over the manger.  On top of the manger.  She clusters the wise men, engaging them in conversation about the donkey.  Next, given her swift hands, a swaddled baby Jesus is running.

I have to draw the line somewhere. "Okay, Brooke, baby Jesus is just a baby.  Babies can't run.  Babies can't even crawl.  They're just swaddled; they just lay there."

She glances up at me, her eyes wide.  "Little babies can't run," I repeat, somehow thinking that this will induce her to reverently return Jesus to his manger.

Instead, her arm shoots into the air with Jesus clutched in her fingers.  "Okay.  I'll make him fly, then."

And that is how Baby Jesus the Action Figure was born.

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Where Do You Keep the Fish Poison?

During high school and my first year in college I worked as a cashier in a large discount drug store called Phar-Mor.  (Think: contents of a CVS or Rite Aid in the size of a Wal-Mart.)  I quickly learned one thing:

While walking to the back of the store while on break, always take off your red Phar-Mor vest.

The reason?  If I didn't, inevitably I'd be stopped by a customer and asked the location of random merchandise that I wouldn't know.  Where do you have your door stoppers?  What about wooden clothespins -- not the kind that you pinch with the metal coil, but the kind that is one piece?  A Neti-Pot?  How about an orthopedic occupational wrist support?

Suffice to say, I would have been a mess if I had faced these guys:

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I Have Talents

Title:  I Have Talents

Subtitle:  Unfortunately, gift wrapping is not among them.

Letting Me Slump

"Robin, come here for a second."

From where I stood at the kitchen sink, I put the final dish away, dried my hands on a dish towel, and came into the family room.

"Look at her," Joel said, gesturing to Kerrington. "She's slumped into me."

And she was. Now, Kerrington does many things -- she runs, she clomps around while wearing her older sisters' shoes, she shimmies up and down our steps at an alarming rate, and when she's tired, she snuggles. But, she doesn't often slump.  One deep look into her eyes and you could see it:

The poor peanut wasn't feeling well.

Moments later her slump upgraded into an outright sprawl, and she dozed on Joel's chest, her small body rising up and down with each congested breath, relegating Joel to this exact position for nearly an hour until he got a crick in his back for remaining still for so long.

Loving arms are a safe place to be when you're not feeling well.

Days later I had finished my grading for the night and was folding clothes in the bedroom when Joel came home from campus.  It was late.  The girls already had been asleep for several hours.  Although the quietness over the house should have been calming, I was unsettled, agitated, wound tightly, spent.

I stacked the clothes into the basket, we sat down together, and I talked.  I talked about the pressures of juggling the demands of work, the constancy of kids, the encroaching writing deadlines that keep getting put on the back burner, the incessant cleaning and laundry and clutter, and the other miscellany life stuff that always crops up.

My talking was disjointed, punctuated by moments when I interrupted myself with a new tangent, marked by tears, and entirely emotional, but it revolved around one central theme: I can't do this all. Joel simply listened and then prayed for me, letting me lean my head into his chest, letting my tears make a wet spot on his shirt.

He let me slump.

Loving arms are a safe place to be when you're not feeling well.

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How To Decorate a Window for the Holidays

There's something especially comforting about a house that's decorated for Christmas.  My youngest is in the stage where she must touch most everything that is shiny or colorful or not nailed down, which is why the Christmas tree possesses such magnetic appeal for her.

She hangs out behind it like it's suddenly cool to be standing in the corner behind an artificial six-foot tree because to her, it's entirely cool to be standing in the corner behind an artificial six-foot tree.  So much to look at.  So much to touch!

Altitude is the only factor working in my favor.  Although they will try, her little hands can't reach decorations that are strategically placed high enough.  Give this, one simple way to decorate in an out-of-reach fashion is to not deck the halls, but to deck a window.

To achieve this, I mount a tension-spring rod across the top of the window frame, cut ribbon at varying lengths, attach bulbs, and then let the bulbs dangle.

Simple, festive, and most importantly, out of reach.

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The Ugly Side of White Elephant Gift Exchanges

See this dog?

While cloaked in wrapping paper, he entered our house last weekend during a (nearly) end-of-the-semester Christmas banquet for the college students from our campus fellowship.  Then he found his way into my daughter's possession when she randomly selected him -- out of over 40 potential packages -- from under the tree during a white elephant gift exchange.

She tore open the wrapping paper, gasped in delight, and lifted him high for everyone to see.

At this point, I took little notice of the dog, except that he wagged his tail when his paw was pressed and by the way Brooke carried him in the crook of her arm for the duration of the evening, she already seemed attached.

It was the following morning when I noticed another detail.  A crucial detail.  In addition to wagging his tail, this dog sings when you press his paw.  (Apparently, it takes the volume of 40+ people conversing to fully drown him out.)

Since that evening, Brooke has listened to his barking, howling version of Jingle Bells more times than is humane.  She often starts by 7 in the morning.  Either the dog must go, or we need to invite large groups of people to our house more frequently this holiday season.

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Thirteen Point One Reasons (Part Five: Redemption)

There's a half-marathon that is described in this fashion: two tough uphills after mile 9 and 10; and a final, soul-crushing climb to finish the race where the steepest third of a mile is a 5% climb. This is where the praying starts.

A previous runner of the race had this to say: "It's a very tough course, especially after about mile 7. The last mile is designed to make you see God."

One year's final male finisher added one more thought: "I was looking for God during the last mile, but I didn't see him. I guess he finished ahead of me, too."

I opted to run this half-marathon as redemption.  For those of you who've followed along with me for a while, you might recall that my first experience with a half-marathon ended with uncharacteristic abruptness that ought not to be duplicated, even though it yielded a heck of a blog post.  (Anything for the blog, I say.  Anything for the blog.)

In a nutshell, if this diagram is true (and I'm prone to believe that it is),


then my initial race can be chalked up to that squiggly section.

Despite nursing the tail end of a head cold that required nose spray all week and resulted in an unappealing fist-sized wad of soggy Kleenex being tucked into my pants as I ran, today's experience was a significant improvement.  I finished on my feet two hours and two minutes after the starting gun rather than on a gurney in an ambulance.

There's just so much room for improvement when you start at rock bottom.

During the last mile (where praying starts, indeed), a man I know came alongside me.  He's a personal trainer who can run backward circles around me.  He was on the course for moral support of others, not completion himself, and as such he coached me for a segment on the final hill.  "Get control of your breathing.... You've got this.... You're almost there.   Doing great... This isn't a hill, this is just a little bump... This is yours to take... "

While I appreciated the pep talk, I suspect that if I had been able to respond more than mono-syllabic nonsense I would have asked him to quiet down and just let me die on the side of the road, please, which was pretty much my same mental response to Joel when he offered encouraging one-liners while I was in labor with our three daughters.

With the finish in sight, I made one final push which, to onlookers, probably resembled a very tired woman slodging through peanut butter.

Then I crossed the line, blew my nose one last time for good measure, and basked in that upward arrow of success.

Image compliments of Calvin Mackie

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