Stand and Deliver (You Never Know Until You Ask)

Stand and deliver.  The premise is simple.  To begin each class, I ask a question and my students, one by one, stand to their feet and answer.  What would you request for your last meal?  If you could have written and performed any one song throughout history, what song would you choose?  What was the last thing you Googled?  If you could have one talent or skill that you don't currently possess, what would it be?

I've learned so much from their answers.

Yesterday was our final class session of the semester, and the students turned the tables.  One by one, they posed the questions.  I stood and delivered.

What's your most irrational fear?  (Driving up a hill so steep that my car tips upside down.)  If you had three sons instead of three daughters, what would you have named them? (Adam, Chase, and Jackson.)  Who's your man crush.  (My husband.  They hated this answer.  I stood by it, adding that his eyes crinkle in the most endearing way when he smiles.  A few girls got all "awwww" and let me off the hook.)

Our answers reveal aspects of ourselves that we otherwise wouldn't have shared.

We're nuanced.  I take an inordinately long time to fall asleep at night, I am unable to put in eye drops without opening my mouth, and I hang shirts in my closet by sleeve length and color.  I'm plugging away on my first manuscript about motherhood, taking an entire summer off from teaching, and am inexplicably drawn to the show Survivor.  Against my better judgment, I cry at viral YouTube videos of flash mobs that dance and sing.

And now my students know.

At dinner, it only seemed fitting to extend the conversation to my family.  We're so familiar with each other that I'm often lulled to believe that I've learned everything about them, which isn't the case.

So, I asked.  Would you tell me something that I don't know about you?

My oldest daughter likes monkeys just as much as she likes elephants.  She's learned to dangle upside-down, no hands, on the jungle gym at school.  Her current favorite colors are red and blue and pink and purple, as opposed to her old favorites, which had been just pink and purple, and her really old favorites, which had been yellow and green.  And then, the clincher: now that she's six, she's decided that she's old enough to sleep with just her two Brown Bears and put the other stuffed animals away.

I never would have known.

It never hurts to ask.

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Warning Labels

Zhu-Zhu pets have warning labels advising that you keep them away from your hair.  Point duly noted.  None of my children have ever put a moving Zhu-Zhu pet on top of their heads.  (Not yet.)

However, as of tonight, this isn't the case with the motorized Thomas the Tank Engine that we own.

Brooke emerged from her bedroom with Thomas dangling from the side of her head.  Always a very useful engine, he was still chug-chug-chugging away -- winding her hair into his wheels in one tangled mass.

Scissors were required.

Bad Thomas.

The scene reminded me of a moment in my earlier years when my brother's curiosity got the better of him.  He had been wondering what would happen if he put the Dirt Devil on my head while I was innocently curled up in a chair.  I'm still unsure why he hadn't been able to reason through this in advance.

It's a vacuum.  It would suck up hair.  It would tangle that hair around its bristled coils.  It would render me helpless, lying on my back on the floor with a hand-held vacuum cleaner attached to my head.  Really, now, what did he think it would do?

So, in light of Brooke's little situation, all I have to say is this:

At least she was both the victim and the perpetrator.  It's just easier that way.

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Headache Remedy

I returned from work this morning and found my daughter looking like this:

Considering that she wears band-aids as accessories, I was rather confident that the one plastered across her forehead was just for show, not to cover a legitimate injury.  Or, she had a headache.  Either way, the placebo effect works.

The best part is that three years ago, a certain big sister of hers had the same idea:

You could never discern that these two are related, could you?

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Just One of Many Phases

Reese asks a lot of questions.  A lot.  It's not unusual for her to string three or four together, rapid-fire, until you find yourself dizzy, not knowing which one to attempt to answer first.

"Are all doorknobs on all doors everywhere the same size?  What would happen if a doorknob was the size of a door?  How would people manage to get into a room if a doorknob was that big?  Wouldn't that be crazy?"

And I nod and confirm, "Yes, yes it would be crazy," while I wonder, "How on earth are you this curious about everything?"

I attempted to find out by using the same technique.  "Why do you ask so many questions?"

She has an answer, of course.  It's because she wants to learn a lot, and that she knows she can learn by asking questions.  After all, she adds, she's seen this done on Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid.  "Don't you think that it's a good idea to ask lots of questions?"

And I have to nod and confirm, "Yes, yes, I do," while I want to add, "Just please, please don't start at 6:30 in the morning as you're apt to do."

These questions are a phase, and phases ebb and flow in the lives of children.

We've witnessed phases when a child has an innate desire to tape things to the walls.  Phases when shoes are always worn on the wrong feet.  Phases when drawers are systematically emptied again (and again).

I've been wistful at the passage of some, like when Brooke finally learned how to pronounce "elbow" properly instead of pointing to the crook of her arm and sweetly calling it her "elmo."

Kerrington's phase of staccato laughing -- an adorable "eh-eh-eh" that somehow always reminded me of Burt from Sesame Street -- is already winding to a close.

So, what's phasing in your household now?

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Taking Things Literally

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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The Good in Good Friday

Growing up, I never liked the idea of Good Friday.  Perhaps it was due to the name, which didn't seem accurate.  What could be good about nail pierced hands, a crown of thorns, and a cross?  Was it even permissible to be happy on a day that commemorates a crucifixion?

I think about this day differently now.

Within the last 24 hours, Brooke colored on the kitchen table with a pen, leaving behind permanent scribble.  Reese's carelessness resulted in a Google search on how to remove gum from a microfiber couch and berber carpeting.  They've nagged.  They've bickered.  They've gotten under my skin.

Yet, even during their most annoying moments -- those moments when their behaviors are unacceptable and their attitudes are deplorable, those moments when they're deliberately disobeying, I wouldn't need to think twice if they were put in harm's way.  I'd step in willfully.  I'd risk my own well-being to save them from harm.

As a parent, you know this.  Deep in your heart, you've looked at your children and felt the brunt of this sobering realization: you'd die for them.

That's the heart of God.

Despite our unacceptable behaviors, deplorable attitudes, and outright disobedience, God knew that we were in harm's way.  Our sin had separated us from him, and he willingly risked his own well-being.  Knowing that the cross would serve as the bridge to connect us again with God, he chose death.

This is good news.  It's not pretty.  It's not budding tulips, fluffy chicks, and pastel eggs as we are apt to distill Easter, but it's good in every sense of the word.  A holy good.

Yes, the day is named accurately.


What to Do When There's Too Much to Do

As I scrutinized the pile of dishes at the kitchen sink, a brief wave of panic washed over me.  It wasn't the dishes, per se, but what they represented -- another task that I needed to accomplish.

With under three weeks left in the semester, I'm feeling the crunch acutely.  The sheer amount of grading is a rough mountain to scale, one that looms like the threat of a blustery storm.  This evening I sat down to work after my children were tucked into bed, and I spent thirty minutes mindlessly sorting papers, accomplishing little but making a grand mess.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pile of birthday thank-you notes that I need to help Reese write and put in the mail.  I glanced toward the calendar and realized that I was scheduled to prepare a meal tomorrow for a family in our church who just had a baby -- and that I still need to buy groceries.  My inbox is filled with messages awaiting responses.  Two stacks of essays add weight to my work bag.  An upcoming speaking engagement requires preparation.  A committee at work requested my service.

And, given all this, those dishes downright sneered at me.

My reaction, briefly, was utter paralysis.  Individually, these are all manageable tasks -- beneficial endeavors, really -- but combined, it simply felt like too much.  Brain synapses fired.  Fuses blew.  My left eye twitched.  My shoulders froze into a tense knot.   How can I tackle this many jobs?  I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender, wave the white flag, call in sick.

Instead, I attempted to breathe deeply, organize my thoughts, prioritize, and work to cross one thing off the list.  Just one thing.

When Reese appears to be overwhelmed with a task, I remind her that big projects are completed one small step at a time.  I coach her to set incremental goals.

It's no different for me.  I'll grade one essay, then the next, and I'll get to the bottom of the stack that way.  I'll wash one dish, then the next, and I'll get to the bottom of the sink that way.

And when my head settles into the pillow (much later than it ought, as will be the case tonight), hopefully I can rest contentedly.  After all, tomorrow will bring another opportunity to do dishes.

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Short and Sweet: Cha-Cha-Cha

A probing question in 100 or fewer words:

If you host a birthday party at your house, are you utterly depleted when it's finished?  (Perhaps the "at your house" description is unnecessary.  I'll open the question to all children's birthday parties, regardless of location.)

Our weekend had been a whirlwind even before the party, so by the time Happy Birthday (cha-cha-cha) was sung and the candles were extinguished I was poised to curl up on the couch and call it a night.

In contrast, my daughter was poised for action -- or, more aptly, for destruction.  Her comment when handed the bat: "I’m so ready to whack this thing."

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Oh, Happy Day

Do you see this baby?  This eyes-still-scrunched, face-still pink, fists-still-balled six pounds, one ounce baby girl?

She grew into a one-year-old who lunged face-first for her first slice of birthday cake,

turned into a two-year-old who discovered how to smear diaper cream over her face while quietly playing in her room,

developed into a three-year-old who learned to embrace her new role as as a big sister,

matured into a four-year-old who couldn't ever explore and question enough,

and became a five-year-old with a flair for performing.  And random costumes.

She's six today.

You think you couldn't possibly love them any more, and then you do.

Happy birthday, Reese.  You are a wonder.

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Why We Work Together So Well

We both know it.  Joel has this habit of going to the grocery store with a list and coming home with the wrong items.  Let me clarify.  He comes how with a very close approximation of the right item, but still manages to be wrong.  Instead of two cans of corn, he'll accidentally buy two cans of creamed corn.  Instead of buying chopped green chilies, he'll buy whole green chilies.

It's part of his charm.

When he does the shopping, I write very detailed grocery lists to ward off potential misunderstanding, yet those unwanted-but-closely-related items still manage to find their way into our cupboards regularly.

This is why I had a valid excuse when Joel noticed that I had bought the wrong brand of toilet paper -- the flimsiest, roughest, most awful toilet paper that you could accidentally buy.  I told him the truth: I had meant to grab the extra soft but instead grabbed the regular.  The explanation made perfect sense to him.

The only difference between us is that when Joel accidentally buys the wrong item, he is smart enough not to do it in bulk.  I, on the other hand, thanks to a good sale and a stack of coupons, was enticed to stock up and ended up wheeling four twelve-roll packages of the wrong toilet paper out of the store.

The good news is this:

One, it was cheap.

Two, we only have 47 more rolls to go.

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Kitchen Helpers

Just an observation, but when you're baking a pie and you have a helper like this:

you tend to end up with a pie that looks like this:

This is an impressively ugly pie crust.  But, my oh my, it tastes really good.

Must be the exceptional kitchen helper.

The Bunny Dress

My daughter Brooke has a particular piece of clothing that she loves: the bunny dress.  It's nothing special to look it, but its significance lies in how often she chooses to wear it.  She's gotten mileage out of this dress.

The only time she doesn't request the bunny dress is when it's in the wash.  She's been known to pull it out of her dirty clothes basket.  It's too short, stained with marker, and showing signs of wear.  She notices none of this.

Some mornings I gently coax her to wear a different outfit, and it rarely works.  Perhaps I'm projecting my desires onto her.  I'm bored with my winter wardrobe.  I long for the lingering chill to formally lift so I can tuck my sweaters into the back of the closet once for all and break out different, lighter, more colorful clothes.

I want change.  Brooke just wants the bunny dress.

There is only a small window in life when you can wear the same outfit four or five times per week and get away with it, so we're letting her capitalize on it.

Long live the bunny dress.

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Hunger and Thirst

My oldest daughter rarely is thirsty.  This starkly contrasts with our middle child, who, camel-like, can drink impressively large quantities and then ask for a refill.  But not our oldest.  She'll come home from school, ask for a snack, and barely touch the cup of water or juice that I poured for her unless prodded.

I know the half-pint of milk during lunch or the morning trip to the water fountain really can't be enough to hydrate her.

Yet, she doesn't feel thirsty.  She's content to feed her thirst.  I must remind her to drink.

You would think that we would have a better grasp of this basic physical need, but many of us confuse the cues for thirst with the cues for hunger.  We eat when we should drink.  We feed ourselves when we should hydrate ourselves.

I suspect that this is true beyond the physical realm.

I recognize my need to be spiritually restored and refreshed on a regular basis, but I often don't feel thirsty.  I sense a gap, a hole, an unsettled check in my spirit, but instead of coming to God and drinking, I feed that gap with other means -- staying up late into the night in an attempt to grasp the elusive sensation of being caught up with work, crashing on the couch in front of the TV for mindless downtime on nights when I simply cannot work any more.

It's not satisfying.  When your body needs a glass of water, eating a brownie, however enticing, won't do the trick.  You may be fooled for a moment as you're chewing and swallowing, but it won't fulfill your actual need.  The same principle goes for when your spirit needs to be refreshed.  You need to drink living water, not to binge on distractions.

I need to remind myself to drink, especially when I don't feel thirsty.  Jesus reminds us, "If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink" (John 7:37).

That's where real refreshment is found.

Photo compliments of Angus (

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I can't help but overhear our five-year-old questioning our two-year-old.  "Brooke, did you move the ceramic nest that I brought home from school?  I made it in art class.  It's very special, and I had it right here.  Did you move it?"

Brooke says no.

"But you must have moved it.  It was here and now it's gone.  Tell me, did you move the nest?"


"Come on, Brooke.  I know you moved the nest.  Now tell me, did you move it?" 


Reese is getting more agitated.  "You moved the nest.  I know you moved the nest.  Tell me, where is the nest?"

The only things preventing this from being a full-blown interrogation is the lack of a locked-down room with a table, an uncomfortably bright low-hanging light fixture, and a one-way window with a sampling of intelligence experts watching from the outside while scribbling furitive notes on clipboards and making cryptic remarks to one another.

"I don't have the nest!"  Brooke's voice rises.

"Where is the nest?  Tell me.  Did you take the nest?"

Brooke cracks.  "Yes."

"I knew it!  Now tell me where you put it."

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know where you put it?"

Brooke pauses for just one moment.  "Because I didn't take it."

I'm not sure what to make of this exchange.  Either I have a daughter whose budding interrogation skills cause the innocent to admit to wrongdoings that they didn't commit, or I have a daughter who could (nearly) dodge a lie-detector test.

We've still haven't found the nest.

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