On Saturday night after the kids went to bed Joel and I rented Inception.  It was a movie that played with you, one that drew you along, upset your perception of reality, and left you hanging.  It isn't the type of movie to watch when you're mentally sluggish, which was the state we both happened to be in when we viewed it.

The cinematography was fascinating and the ending ambiguous, but when the credits rolled we simply got up from the couch, looked at each other, asked if the other was going to bed, gave perfunctory nods, and put the movie's four-leveled-dream behind us without any discussion. 

Last night I watched a few minutes of the Academy Awards.  Given that Inception was the only movie I had seen from the best picture lineup, listening the categories and nominees made me feel as if I had entered a conversation midstream, unaware and uninformed.  Who's that?  I'd think.  Who cares?

But today I've been mulling over things more.  If inception were possible -- if I could plant an idea into someone's mind -- clearly, I'd start with my kids.  I'd plant one essential idea: the idea that 6:20 a.m. is not an acceptable wake-up time.

I know, I know.  A decade from now these same crack-of-dawn risers will have morphed into teens who are hard-wired to sleep until noon, and the patter of morning feet will no longer be a sound heard in our household. 

For now, I will cling to the dream of luxuriously waking up on my own accord.  One day it will become reality.

Short and Sweet: Escape Artist

A blossoming talent in 100 or fewer words:

Kerrington is turning into quite an escape artist.  When I put her on the changing table for a fresh diaper or a new outfit, this baby girl will not lie still.

She's a wrestler, lithely arching her back to avoid being pinned.  She's an alligator, spinning her body in a death roll.  She's a slinky, flopping this way and that.  She refuses to be contained.

It causes a diaper change to take a bit longer, but I think I like this about her.  This baby's got grit.

Knowing When You're Done

My dear friend had a baby this week.  As we spoke on the phone this morning, I learned the details -- when her water broke, the length of labor, how the little one was taking to nursing, and how my friend's recovery was progressing.

Like any parent with a newborn, her life is in upheaval.  There's nothing typical or routine about coming home with a new baby, even if you've done it before.  They're in the throes of blurred days and nights.  Guests stop by with meals and well-wishes.  Cards and gifts arrive in the mail.  Thank you notes must be written.  Nursing bras get broken in.  A burp cloth is perpetually draped over a shoulder.  Standing and sitting are done gingerly, and trips up and down the stairs are limited.

It's a whirlwind, punctuated with extensive picture-taking, emotional surges, and interrupted sleep.  It's simultaneously awe-inspiring and exhausting.

As I imagined everything that my friend must be going through, I realized one thing with utter clarity and peace: I'm fine being past that stage in life.

This wasn't a quick realization for me.  I love babies, and nostalgia has tugged as I've begun sorting our baby items to donate or sell.  There are stories behind those newborn onesies.  There are memories embedded within those leaving-the-hospital outfits.  There are mental snapshots conjured when I run my hand over the bodice of a tiny dress.  Even though my three children are still so young in the scheme of things, I can't help but catch my breath at how quickly it's already passing.

I remind myself that the stories, memories, and mental snapshots will continue, even if the clothes that my children wear now are bigger and marred with ketchup and grass stains, rather than with spit-up.

My heart knows.  I'm okay with being done.

Know Who You Are. Know What You Need.

The students in the group communication course that I teach recently completed a personality assessment.  I took it, too, and my results weren't surprising.  Although I enjoy (yes, enjoy) public speaking and engaging audiences, I'm an introvert at heart.

Introversion can be misunderstood.  Being introverted doesn't necessarily mean that you're shy.  (I'm not.)  Nor does it mean that you don't like people.   (I do.)

One basic way to differentiate introverts and extroverts is understanding how people recharge and where they draw their strength.  Extroverts are restored and invigorated by engaging with people.  Introverts, on the other hand, find quiet time as a restorative balm and an opportunity to mentally regroup. 

The results also confirmed that I'm task and detail-oriented, something that I know too well when I veer into OCD tendencies and must fight the urge to sort my daughters' toys into categories -- the My Little Ponies shouldn't merge with Littlest Pet Shop, and can we please just keep Polly Pockets to themselves?

Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses.  Being task-oriented is useful.  It enables me to get to business once I tuck the girls into bed, and it keeps me disciplined when I use the nighttime hours to grade and prepare for my classes.  Sometimes, though, this intensity has drawbacks.  You simply cannot operate at full-throttle all the time.  (Well, perhaps you can.  I sure know I can't.)

So, on Wednesday night I let myself crash.  I had grading to complete, but once the girls were asleep I planted myself on the couch with chips and salsa and watched Survivor for one gloriously mindless hour.  Then I went to bed promptly at 9:00.

It will all get done, I reminded myself as I set my head on my pillow and, as reported by my husband the next morning, proceeded to take up much more than my half of the bed as I drifted into delicious sleep.

On Thursday, I was a new woman.  Plus, I was right: it all got done -- and it got done more easily than if I had ignored my body's legitimate need to rest.

Moms, recharge yourselves at some point this weekend.  Tap into what restores you.  You'll be better for it.

Lingering Winter

Less than one week ago it was sixty-four degrees.  As I trudged through slush this morning, I could only think, Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Yesterday school was canceled for inclement weather.  This morning another snowstorm caused a a two-hour delay.

After being cooped up all winter, snow days are no longer welcome.  They result in kids who burn off energy through behaviors like this:

The cape is optional, but it adds a nice touch, doesn't it?

The good news is that yesterday our neighbor still trucked through the snow to deliver the three boxes of Girl Scout cookies that we had purchased.  The bad news is that we've collectively gained 17 pounds as a family.

The other good news is that today's sunshine is brilliant.  If I would talk to my parents, who happen to be vacationing in Florida as I type, I could join in their conversation -- not regarding shady lanais, impressive alligators, emerging tan lines, or the ibis that just flew past -- but rather of our collective need to wear sunglasses.

Granted, my sunglasses are preventing blindness as the sun reflects off of an expanse of white snow, but I'll take it.  Come, spring, come.

Teach Kids How to Apologize

While I'd love to report that harmony reigns in our household at all times, this isn't the case.  On occasion, the kids fight.  I use the phrase "on occasion" liberally here.  I could use it to imply occasionally, as in "On occasion, I order shrimp scampi when I dine out," but this isn't my intention.  I'm inferring a more inclusive, frequent application of the phrase, as in "On occasion, I breathe."

There's some regularity to it.

The girls have established a pecking order by age.  Reese targets Brooke.  Brooke targets Kerrington.  Kerrington just bides her time, baby style, waiting for the day when she'll make her presence known, most likely in the form of her little emergent teeth and some low-to-the-ground exposed body part belonging to an unsuspecting older sibling that's ripe for biting.

Of course, we encourage good behavior, the consideration of others, and the use of words, not fists or teeth.  We share with each girl that God created her and her sisters, and that we are to love and treat one another with kindness.  When wrongs have been committed, we're working on apologizing properly.

As adults, we intuitively know that there's a wrong way to apologize.  Tone of voice plays a role in this, as does eye contact.  An under-the-breath mumble is not as convincing as an "I'm sorry" that's clearly articulated.  Whining diminishes the sincerity.  Eye rolling kills it entirely.  We're teaching the girls that there's an anatomy to an apology.

Part One: the admission.  Here is where the words "I'm sorry" must be said clearly, without the previously mentioned nonverbal elements that would suggest the opposite.

Part Two: the specifics.  This is when the child must name the action for which she's sorry.  "I'm sorry for yelling at you and throwing a tantrum when you asked me to wash my hands" would be a good one.  "I'm sorry for hitting you when you took my Polly Pocket" also would suffice.  "I'm sorry you're stupid" would not.

Part Three: the transaction.  The apology concludes with the most challenging portion, one that our society often omits, when we have our children ask for forgiveness.  "Would you please forgive me?"

As adults, we rarely take an apology this far.  When we say we're sorry, I think we internally want the offended party to say, "It's okay" so we can dust off our hands and move on with life.  But when we've hurt or offended someone, it's not okay.  When we ask for forgiveness, uncomfortable as it may be, we're putting ourselves on the line as having done something wrong that needs to be made right.  It's transactional.

It's easy to say, "Well, I'm sorry you took that the wrong way."  The blame doesn't reside on us for having said something hurtful, but on the other person for having the nerve to feel hurt.  It's much harder to admit, "I'm sorry that my words so sharp.  I wasn't being considerate.  Would you forgive me?"

I've had to apologize to my daughters, and I follow the same protocol.  "Reese, I'm sorry that I lost my temper and yelled earlier.  Would you please forgive me?"

It's humbling, of course, but that's a good thing.

Since I'm a glass-half-full kind of girl, I'll look at our frequent application of good apologizing techniques as learning opportunities, rather than to assume that my children will grow up to be serial offenders.  One day, we'll get so good that we can bypass the apologies altogether by just behaving nicely.

An unneeded apology is the best apology of all.
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The Saga of Brown Bear

When our oldest daughter, Reese, was just a baby, she received a plush brown bear as a present.  The bear, who soon settled into the accurate although uncreative name Brown Bear, wore a pink outfit with bunny ears that seemed superfluous.  A bear?  A bunny?  Are we trying to give this little fellow (who, despite the pink, really seemed like a "he") an identity crisis?

We shed the outfit and tossed it, rarely thinking of the confused origins concerning his stuffed animal identity again. 

That is, we didn't think of it again until Brown Bear, who undoubtedly had risen to the illustrious status of Reese's favorite plush toy of all time, was lost on a shopping expedition four years later.

We traced over our steps.  I called stores.  My husband talked to managers in person and sifted through the forgotten umbrellas and overlooked mateless gloves that had been tossed into lost-and-found bins under the customer service counter.  The result was the same each time.  No Brown Bear.

Bedtime was rough that night.

Within days we had googled "bear wearing bunny costume" (really, there are more results to this search than there ought to be) until we found the one.  An image of Reese's little brown bear in the original pink bunny outfit was on the screen, for the taking, once we paid full shipping on Amazon, of course.

A few weeks later a package arrived on our doorstep.

Brown Bear had come home.

Joel and I tore into the box, lifted the replacement bear from the styrofoam peanuts, and immediately realized something was wrong.  This brown bear's bunny costume wasn't removable.  This poor guy was stitched into a pink sleeper with bunny ears.

To eBay we would turn.  Lo and behold, some woman in Washington or Oregon (I forget which) just happened to be selling a "brown bear in removable bunny costume," and gladly shipped our second replacement bear across the country.  The reunion was sweet indeed.

And that is the long-winded explanation of why we have two brown bears -- one of which permanently wears a pink bunny costume.

But that's not what this post is about.  I provided the background so I could tell you this:

Due to excessive stretching by certain little hands, Brown Bear recently suffered an injury to his neck that required surgery, and when you've invested as much into a brown bear as we have with ours, you take surgery very seriously.

 You select thread judiciously.

You hold a paw for comfort.

And although you possess precious little skill in sewing, you stitch with care, knowing that little hands will continue to not-so-gently tug on this arm.

Long live Reese's Brown Bear.  And long live Reese's Pink Brown Bear.  (I told you that we had creativity issues while naming stuffed animals.  Thankfully, this isn't true for babies or our children would be Baby Girl, Second Baby Girl, and Baby Girl Who-Looks-Just-Like-Her-Two-Older-Sisters-and-Will-Inevitably-Be-Called-By-Their-Names-Multiple-Times-Daily.)

Brown Bear, we hope that you are with our family for a long, long time.  Please don't get lost.  We really don't want to have to buy you again.

Short and Sweet: Sixty-Four Degrees

Today's pressing question in 100 or fewer words:

According to the thermometer on my car's dashboard, it reached 64 degrees today.  This bears repeating:  Sixty-four degrees.  In February! 

Pedestrians sauntered.  Joggers hustled past in shorts and tee-shirts.  Students played frisbee, neighbors took walks, and above all, people smiled like we've emerged from a deep, dark cave and been reintroduced to the finer sensory details of birds chirping, a pleasant breeze, and the lilt of overheard, meandering conversation.

It made me wonder:  Do we really look this alive and vibrant for the duration of spring and summer, or is this reserved for those rare sixty-four degree days in February?

Work and Holidays

For the first time in over seven years, I missed a day of work today due the flu.  We're six weeks into the semester, and even before this illness hit, I've been tired.  I often feel as if I'm being pulled in too many directions and treading hard to keep my head above water -- even though I try to make it appear effortless.

To quote a line from from The Lord of the Rings, "I feel thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.  I need a  holiday.  A very long holiday."

A holiday sounds nice.

When you have children, holidays are few and far between.  Kids are still there when you're tired.  They're still there when you're sick.  Kids are little syringes, sucking your attention and time.  There's nothing wrong with this, of course; it's inherent in their nature.  Like stocking shelves in retail or sorting mail in the post office, kids are constant.  They keep coming at you.  It's what they do.

This is why holidays are essential.  Although I didn't know it when we were making our weekend plans, going roller skating as a family on Friday night was a holiday for me.  It was an entire evening when parenting was pure fun, not work.

On Sunday when the two little girls napped, I took Reese on a date.  Just the two of us.  We sipped hot cocoa at a local cafe.  We drove to her school and walked the perimeter, hand in hand.  She told me about the school's library and how she likes getting bookmarks.  We peered into her classroom's window and she pointed out her seat at Table 4.

A simple statement: "Show me what you do at recess," led to nearly an hour's worth of play for the two of us.  In our boots, we walked across the snow-covered playground and field.  We swung on the swings, feeling the cold air against our faces.  We climbed the jungle gym, dangling our feet beneath us before we slid down the center pole into the slush below.  We tossed and kicked the partially deflated soccer ball we found abandoned on the sidewalk.  She showed me the hill -- undoubtedly large in her perception, but tiny in mine -- where she and  her classmates sled ride.  We raced.  She told stories, her cheeks flushed pink from the cold and exertion.

We walked across the field where large balls of snow had been rolled.  There they sat, singular and oddly placed Stonehenge-like testimonies to recesses past.

"Are these the snowmen that you've told me about?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Did they get knocked over?"

"No, we just don't know how to get one ball on top of another."

I nodded my understanding.  That would be a hard task for a group of kindergartners.

When I tucked her into bed that night, she thanked me for our special date.  We had created a little holiday, one right in our own snowy neighborhood.

Like I've written in the past, I want to parent intentionally.  Perhaps part of this is learning to change my mindset when parenting frequently falls into an unhealthy pattern of feeling like work to be done, rather than a pleasure to embrace.  My kids aren't little hurdles to overcome, and although some days it feels like it, their bedtime isn't the finish line where I can finally tune into "my" life.

These kids, these little people God has entrusted me with, are my life, and during this particular stage when they're so young -- when they can't cut their own meat and fold their own laundry and wipe their own bottoms -- that life is going to be tiring at times.

It's the perfect reason to search for and seize holidays in whatever form I can find them.

 Image compliments of Tanjila (

Want a Bite?

Title:  Want a Bite?

Subtitle:  The next time I ask my child if she'd like a bite of American cheese, I'll remember that she'll accept this as a literal invitation to gnaw at the entire 1/4 pound stack from the deli counter.

Rolling Right Along

My Friday night was made infinitely better by these eight words: black light, disco ball, eighties music, and roller skates.

You simply cannot get much better than this.

From five to seven o'clock on Friday nights, anything on wheels -- strollers, bicycles, tricycles, roller blades, roller skates, Big Wheels, you name it -- is permitted at our local rink.  As I sat on the floor lacing up my skates and breathing in the faint odor of feet and popcorn, I thanked God for the good fortune of having these three wonderful children who provide me with a legitimate reason to go roller skating at age thirty-two.

I was fifteen years old the last time I roller skated.  I was twelve when I had a birthday party at Spinning Wheels off of Route 88 in Pittsburgh.  I was seven when I won my first roller skating limbo contest. 

I love roller skating.

I can't quite adequately express how excited I was to be a parent tonight.

Clutching my outstretched hands, Reese and Brooke flanked me on either side and together the three of us rolled onto the slick, painted floors.  The staff member at the counter had tightened the wheels on their skates for safety, causing the girls to lift their heavy feet and clomp, rather than to glide, along the rink.  The girls clutched the wall, periodically stumbling and flailing their arms to regain lost balance.

We completed our first lap in glacial pace. Older kids whirled past us on roller blades.  When the girls eventually traded in their skates for their bikes, I could finally pick up some speed

Joel watched me and questioned, "So, what other secret talents have you been hiding?  Are you going to tell me that you were on the Junior National skating team?  That you were the Michelle Kwan of roller skating?"  (Clearly, he was proud.)

Of course, I entered the limbo contest.  I was bested by a child who was three-and-a-half feet tall, but she completely deserved the voucher for a free slushy, so I'm okay with this.

In seventeen years, not much has changed in the roller skating realm.  Billy Jean and Love Shack still were blared over the speakers.  During an extended remix of Funky Town, an announcer still asked us to skate in the opposite direction, as if we could unravel the dizziness of our typical orbit.  When you put on your regular shoes at the night's end, the first few skateless steps still felt clunky and awkward.  It was still challenging to use the restroom while on roller skates, even more so when you're helping your little ones use the restroom while they're on roller skates.  (I'll think that through much better next time.)

And there certainly will be a next time.  I really want that slushy voucher.

Soap for the Weary

I stayed up too late last night.  I wandered straight past tired, hung a right, staggered a bit, and arrived at delirium.  When I finally crawled into bed and pulled the covers up, I was spent.

As is their custom, the kids climbed into our bed early this morning.  I'm pretty sure the first words out of my mouth were, "You have got to be kidding me."

Even now, hours later, a sleep-deprived haziness clouds my thoughts.

I noticed this when I attempted to wash my hands at the kitchen sink.  At Christmas my mother-in-law gave me a newfangled soap dispenser, one that contains a motion detector and automatically pumps a generous dollop of soap into your outstretched hand.  It's pretty neat.

Each time it dispenses soap, it makes a whiling sound that causes everyone in the kitchen to cock their heads to the side and ask, "What was that?"

So, I approached the dispenser, extended my hands underneath, caught the soap in my upturned palms, and then moved my hands under the faucet.

I waited.

I swept my hands side to side to trigger the motion detector.  The motion detector that automatically turns my faucet on and doesn't exist.

I'd like to report that I was quick to notice and correct this mistake, but that wasn't quite the case.  Obviously, at my house we have soap -- but no sink -- for the weary.

Short and Sweet: Inaccurate Rendering

Today's favorite inaccurate rendering of an event in 100 or fewer words:

The temperature rose into the low 40's today, making the day pleasantly balmy.  My daughter's school capitalized on this and practiced a fire drill.  Obviously it was a highlight of her day since she immediately talked about it when stepped off the bus.

"Mom, today we had a fire drill and everyone went outside without any clothes!"  She kicked a melting pile of crusted snow, chipping at it with her boot.

"Honey, do you mean that you went outside without any jackets?"

"Oh, yeah.  Without jackets."

I'm happy for the clarification.  It's a pretty important distinction.

Theory Busted

My theory is busted, but at least my baby is cute.  Sigh.

Stairway to Seven?

Although I don't currently live there, I was born in raised in Pittsburgh.  People from Pittsburgh take their football seriously.  If you need proof of this, know that one hospital there has been swaddling its newborns in Terrible Towels.  We start 'em young.  Read about it here -- it's entirely worth a minute.

Our family has enjoyed an impressive connection with Steelers football, too.  So far we're two for two, meaning that each year we've had a baby, the Steelers have won the Super Bowl.  (I'm patting myself on the back right now.  Clearly, my husband and I have had a lot to do with their success.)

No pressure here, but tonight will make or break my theory that when my babies wear jerseys, our team gets a ring.  One for the thumb = Reese, and the six pack = Brooke.  Tonight we'll see if the Stairway to Seven = Kerrington.

If so, the Steelers might want to consider wiring us a lucrative bonus.  I'm only partially joking.

Image compliments of

This I Believe: Believing in Time Outs

I've read through two stacks of student "This I Believe" essays this past week, often smiling at their observations and insights.  They've believed in the power of the black dress, the comfort of family breakfast on Sunday morning, and the importance of handwritten letters.  They've believed in insomnia, baking, and bromance.

As I left small notes in the margins and concluding feedback and grades on the last pages, I thought of my own beliefs.

I believe in wrestling and playing with my kids on the floor.  I believe in saying no at the grocery store check-out line.  I believe in open laps onto which the girls can climb and read.  I believe in slipping into the girls' darkened rooms at night and kissing the top of their heads while they sleep.  I believe in impromptu dance competitions where, undoubtedly, I will bust out the running man and my kids, who are still blissfully naive, will think it's cool.  I believe in hand-me-downs, arts and crafts, and not feeling badly if we eat pizza for dinner (again).

I believe in amusement parks, discretely disposing the majority of wrinkled worksheets brought home from kindergarten, and letting my kids clomp around the house in my shoes.  I believe in apologizing to my children when I'm wrong.  I believe in bedtime by 8:00, no exceptions.  Except when there's a really good exception.

I believe in sleeping in, but my children don't believe this.  At least not yet.  They'll catch onto that and sleep into noon eventually.

I believe in organized bookshelves, and my children don't believe in this either.  They believe in strewing things about, in taking off the couch cushions, eating the age-undermined food crumbs they find underneath, and building forts that will inevitably fall over and require our help to set them aright.

I believe in making beds.  My children believe in jumping on them.

I believe in vacuuming floors.  My children believe in wrestling on them.

I believe that when the winter chill finally breaks and we can play outside, there's a new lease on life.  I believe in finishing our puzzles, reading through chapter books aloud, and trying to clean up one game before we pull out another.  I believe in letting some messes go untouched and without comment, turning my head, and knowing that it won't be this sticky or chaotic forever.

And, with deep sincerity, I believe in time outs.  It's unfortunate because nobody ever seems to send me to one, but I still believe.  Oh, I believe.

I Love You (despite the snot)

When 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, yet when I approach 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 resists.  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.  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, thankfully, he loves us too much to leave us that way.


A Phone Conversation of Sorts

This evening I had a phone conversation with my father.  It lasted roughly three minutes.  I use the word conversation especially lightly because our talk mostly consisted of me asking him to repeat himself and my interjections to the girls as I extended the phone away from my mouth:  No, you can't eat pepperoni for a bedtime snack.  Don't touch her.  Let go of the puzzle, let go, let -- stop pulling all the pieces apart!  I just told you, do NOT touch her.

Then, drawing the receiver closer, the apologetic, "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

After I hung up, I settled my gaze firmly on them.  "Girls, you need to remember your manners and be respectful when I'm on the phone.  You were acting pretty crazy there.  Do you really want to be little crazy people?"

Ever candid, Reese answered, "Well, sort of."

I need to phrase my questions better.
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