December 31, 2010
Now, December 31 is a day that should be well-lived, and I'm hoping that it is. Still, a part of me rebels when this one day gets elevated to such a heightened level that it practically begs disillusionment.
I've been feeling frazzled lately, and I finally pinpointed why. I'm a person who likes to be productive, but lately I haven't accomplished much. I had intentions to plan for the new courses that I'll be teaching next semester, but my papers and books are piled in a corner, untouched and looming. I had goals to work on a writing project, but I haven't made a dent. I've been sick.
I've felt behind and out of sorts, and during all of this, three dear little people in my household still have called on me to feed them, read to them, change their diapers, cut their food, get Play-Doh out of their hair, and put the shoes back on the Polly Pockets.
Yet, from this place of depletion, I'm reminded of two invitations that are vastly comforting:
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11: 28)
My good friend, one who is finishing her PhD, runs triathlons, and once went to work in a wetsuit on a dare, once wrote to me that she had been praying that "God would still her heart." In the figurative, not the literal sense, of course. Keep that heart pumping, God, just still the chaos in it. You understand.
This is what I'm praying for this year. When the ball drops and millions are celebrating the New Year with flashy parties and loud festivities, my prayer is that my heart would be stilled. This year I want to come closer to God -- not run -- when I am weary or burdened. When I'm waiting in line, paying bills, recovering from a head cold, filling up the gas tank, folding laundry, brushing teeth, taking out the trash, answering email, putting away groceries, tucking children into bed, and grading papers -- all those moments that make up the daily grind of a year, I'm praying for my heart to be at ease.
This year, during those days when I'm pulled in too many directions and feel behind before I even get started, I want to step back, be still, and know that He is God. Sequins are great, but true rest is priceless.
Image compliments of Jazzlog (flickr.com)
December 29, 2010
When a child feels a compelling urge to immediately proclaim something to be "okay," as Brooke did in this instance, you can safely assume that something is not okay. The room was still dim from the room-darkening blinds so I ran my hands over the bed.
I found her clothes intertwined with the quilt. Not a surprise there. Then I found her pull-up and realized that she was now standing beside her bed completely naked. This isn’t quite what you’re hoping for when you’re in the midst of potty training.
I began patting the bed more quickly. It wasn’t wet, which was promising, but something was definitely off. The sheets were gritty.
I turned on the light. Sand -- lots of sand -- and the bottles that her big sister had painstakingly filled with sand art, now uncorked and mostly empty.
I'll chalk this up as a learning experience. Note to self: Do not leave sand art in a bedroom with a toddler who should be napping and has impressive finger dexterity, and always trust that mothering hunch to investigate when a child declares that something is okay.
December 28, 2010
Newspapers may be dying, but yesterday one was alive and well in our household. I hadn't been feeling well, and my selfish goal was to play with the girls in a manner that would demand very little movement. Reese is too old to be tricked by the offer to play "Close Our Eyes and Pretend We're Sleeping," so I had to get creative.
My non-movement activity turned into a game of newspaper reporter. There were many late-breaking headlines:
Mother Gets Nearly Eight Hours of Sleep, Still Wants Nap.
Family Room Floor Cleaned in Twelve Minutes, Made Messy in Thirteen Seconds.
Doctor Figurine Holds Plank Position for Impressive Six Hours without Breaking Sweat, World Record Cut Short due to Trampling by Unobservant Toddler.
But only one of these headlines developed into a full-fledged story:
Sisters Open Fairy Kitchen in Bedroom.
Reese lit up during the interview as I typed. She filled me in on hours of operation: "We have to close the restaurant when Brooke is napping." She discussed the restaurant's health code: "We make sure not to touch the food we serve too much so we don't give people germs." She described the daily specials: "Tea and special hot cocoa and cakes with whipped cream, chocolate, sprinkles, and a cherry."
Once I defined catering for her, she explained her eventual goals, "We'll serve anyone who comes, mostly you and Daddy, but we also can cater breakfasts where people want lots of cake." She aired out her concerns about being a small-business owner with a two-year-old employee, "I get 800 calls a day. It's really busy."
When we were finished, I added a picture and printed out the article. Reese held it in her hands and looked at it carefully. "This newspaper isn't real, right, Mom? Is anyone really going to read about our kitchen?"
"Well, the newspaper isn't actually real, but I do have a way for some people to read about it."
Reese liked this response. She then asked me to tell you that Reese and Brooke's Fairy Kitchen serves the best food -- fantastic food -- and that you should come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Feel free to place orders for cakes, but she must warn you, their delivery drivers do not yet have their licenses.
December 25, 2010
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.
December 23, 2010
Given this, I'm delighted to report that Nora was discharged from the hospital earlier this week. (This kid's advanced, I tell you! She's doing everything ahead of schedule. At this rate, she'll be ready to drive at 14, but that's another story.)
There is still a long road ahead as she continues to regulate her own temperature and develop physically, of course -- and we'd appreciate your continued prayers, but what a blessing that she will be home for Christmas. Very merry, indeed.
December 22, 2010
I've spared you the blurry pictures and the multiple self-portraits that provided an excellent view up her nostrils when she held the camera low and snapped upward, but these provide a respectable reflection of what captured her interest.
The kid's got a good eye, don't you think?
And now she's shifting her talent from photography to video-recording, as evidenced by what I just found on our camera this morning.
Be ye forewarned, those who experience motion sickness, that she does not have the steadiest hands, but I'll overlook the shakiness. Because, really, how often do you encounter a talking Christmas tree?
Especially one that sings in falsetto.
December 21, 2010
Yesterday was carrots. During lunch I scooped whatever dripped onto her chin and cheeks and aimed for her mouth again. (I've always remembered Anne Lamott's description in Operating Instructions: "Feeding a baby is like filling a hole with putty -- you get it in and then you sort of shave off all the excess around the hole and get it back in, like you're spackling.")
In the midst of this, I noticed what I was doing. I was sitting across from her and coaxing her to open her mouth by opening mine. Why do parents do this? Modeling good behavior? Solidarity? Unconscious motivation?
At the end of lunch it resembled a gratuitous crime scene, the victim obviously the carrots since Kerrington didn't seem to notice or mind at all that she was covered.
Feeding babies is a messy prospect.
Somehow I didn't remember this when I was cooking dinner. In one of those mommy-only-has-two-hands strokes of near-brilliance, I asked Reese to feed Kerrington. Win-win-win, right? I could cook, Reese would be occupied, and Kerrington would get fed. Simple.
A few moments later I looked up. Reese had lost interest and left her station at the high chair. Kerrington had overturned the dish of baby food. Brooke had entered and was trying to stick the spoon into Kerrington's mouth. Or her eye. I'm not sure which.
Ah, feeding time.
December 20, 2010
Apparently after holding things together for the 16-week semester, my immune system had enough.
I'm trying to sleep this sickness off, but this is easier said than done. Last night was one long attempt to breathe through my mouth because I can't breathe through my nose. I was hot, then shivering. Once I finally got positioned just so after struggling to get comfortable, I had to use the restroom. At various points throughout the night two out of our three children conspired against us and alternated crying, one simmering down and another picking up. When morning came, the floor beside my side of the bed was littered with twenty-seven used Kleenex that I had tossed over the edge in my delirium.
Still, instead of staying in my pajamas and covering myself with a pile of blankets, yesterday morning I put on real clothes, made myself as presentable as possible, and headed to church where my oldest daughter, Reese, performed in the children's Christmas musical as an angel. We arrived early so she could get fitted for her costume and have her hair sprayed with silver glitter. (I'm positive that we'll detect remnants of this until New Years. At the minimum.)
The sanctuary's windows were covered with black gauze for ambiance. The music swelled. As I sat in the second row watching her, everything -- my exhaustion, my cloudy thoughts, the atmosphere, the ridiculously cute display of off-key singing -- hit at once. I started to tear up.
Crying while you have a head cold is the kiss of death. You might as well stand on your head until your brain explodes from sinus pressure. But there I was with a camera in one hand and a Kleenex in the other, my eyes brimming over. My daughter was the smallest child in the performance, a good head shorter than most other kids in her row. Her glittered hair glinted in the overhead lights. Her white tights bunched around her knees. She swayed side to side and drew her hand to her mouth, a nervous gesture that those who know her well can identify, and sang.
Although she told me in advance that she wouldn't be allowed to wave to the audience from the stage, I couldn't help myself. I had to wave to her.
Still singing, she locked eyes with me, smiled, dropped her hand away from her mouth, and gave a quick wave.
It was joy to my world.
Then I came home and slept -- nearly in heavenly peace, except for that whole inability to breathe thing.
December 18, 2010
It's jaw-dropping. I found the performance simultaneously beautiful and subtly unnerving: how does someone move in that manner and maintain such pristine composure? Impossible. Utterly impossible. This brief video represents lifetimes of discipline to the study of dance for these performers, and here I am sitting on the couch watching it on YouTube. Something seems off.
At any rate, the next day I showed the clip to the girls. Brooke watched it, stepped into the center of the room, and twirled. Reese was more vocal. "Wow," she breathed slowly.
"Did you like it?" I asked when the video was finished.
She nodded emphatically.
Then she paused for just one moment, looked over toward Joel with her eyebrow raised in expectation, and asked, "Hey Daddy, do you think we could try that?"
December 16, 2010
Me: "Okay, here we go. Here's the first word: hello."
Reese: "Hi, Mommy."
Me: "No, sweetie, you have to say the opposite. Like day and night, or big and small. They're opposite from each other. Let's try again." (Pause.) "Hello."
Let's just say that we slid this game to the back burner for a while, but now she's quite good. Still, I wonder what she'd suggest as the opposite for buy.
Most people would automatically assume that the opposite of buy is sell. They'd be right. But then again, most people haven't been shopping with me. Reese has. Because of this, it's possible that she suspects the opposite of buy is return.
I don't know when this indecision began. What I do know is that I second guess myself with frequency. It's not that I go shopping for myself all that often, but whenever I do -- even if it's for a $6 tee shirt at Target -- I bring the item home, scrutinize it, try it on in my closet, inspect myself in the mirror, and then think, "Do I really need this? Do I really like this enough?"
I vacillate. I hold onto receipts. And then I too-frequently head to a store's customer service center, hand over the item, preemptively provide the no-there's-nothing-wrong-with-this spiel, and go through the formalities of the return.
I'm working on this.
I think that's a good gauge.
Whenever I shop, I'll try to make this my litmus test. If I don't love it, I don't need to buy it -- not even if it's on ridiculously good clearance or a steal at a resale shop. I can pass.
In Ratitoulle, the result is a restaurant critic who's thin. In shopping, the result is a wallet that's fatter, fewer returns, and a child who can quickly respond that the opposite of buy is sell.
Photo compliments of Jeff Christiansen, Flickr.com
December 15, 2010
December 14, 2010
This request shouldn't be too hard to fulfill.
He changes diapers. He plays Tickle Monster with the girls with unflagging stamina. He reads children's books with excellent character voices. (You should hear his, Oh, who will tuck me in tonight? It'll move you to tears.) He taught Kerrington to high five. He taught Reese and Brooke to wrestle. (They now tackle friends who come over for play dates and have the ability to bring down unassuming children in the church nursery.) He got up from our warm bed last night when Brooke started yelling that she needed a Kleenex, even though a box of Kleenex was perched on the dresser directly beside her bed.
He landscapes yards with the best of them. He thinks in mathematical and conceptual ways that my verbal brand of intelligence can't sustain. He plays a mean game of tennis and racquetball, and he shows college students a thing or two on the golf course.
He now remembers to return videos to the Red Box. He changes the oil in our vehicles. He dreams big plans for our family.
He's really cute, too.
But the most heroic thing of this week? He used a vocabulary word that I've never used before.
In casual conversation, he whipped out the word parlay. Come on, now. The last time I heard this word was in Pirates of the Caribbean when Elizabeth Swann, cornered in her house by intruders, announced: "I invoke the right of parlay."
But no, he used the word in an entirely un-piratey fashion.
"Really, you've never used this word?" he asked as I shook my head no, clearly enjoying the moment. This would be like me computing the tip at a restaurant more quickly than him or figuring out how to do our taxes. Trust me, I'd revel, too.
We pulled the definition up online. (In case you were wondering, parlay means to use one's money, talent, or other assets to achieve a desired objective, as spectacular wealth or success.)
Clearly, I've parlayed all my assets to achieve this desired objective, this heroic husband of mine.
December 13, 2010
Twenty-two degrees outside and the child still does not want to wear clothes.
Solo shoppers who were on a mission sidestepped us with agility and speed. I understand. Our family no longer arrives somewhere. We invade.
In the midst of this I made eye contact with a couple who seemed to be in no rush, no rush at all. They smiled. I noticed that the woman was pregnant and asked when she was due. Yesterday, she answered. They were having a girl.
I could have been witnessing their final Target trip as a couple. They were moving slowly, pausing to browse the merchandise, engaging one another in simple, uninterrupted discussion, and, undoubtedly, thinking of the future -- their lives waiting with expectation like a held breath until their little one arrived.
They might have looked at our family, unruly as it was, as a glimpse into their eventual future. I regarded them as a reminder of our not-too-distant past. We walked the store in an attempt to fill the hours until bedtime. They walked the store in an attempt to jump-start contractions. We bypassed the baby aisles, already having every pink item we could possibly need. They lingered in those aisles, feeling the soft fleece blankets and admiring the footed pajamas. We drove home, our three girls strapped into the van. Perhaps when they reached their car they glanced at the car seat base, already strapped in place, and envisioned its first use.
We were them once, not so long ago.
December 11, 2010
Typically, I'm the last person out of the classroom, but on the final day of class I leave early. The students remain and complete evaluations of the course.
Still buttoning my jacket, I exited the building and began walking back to my car in the first legitimate snow fall of the winter. Somehow it seemed appropriate to be moving forward into the fresh snow and leaving a trail of my footprints behind. Back in the classroom, students were still processing their final impressions of the course, noting the strengths to commend and weaknesses to improve.
They were identifying the residual message of the course. This is one of the concepts we discuss, and it boils down to this: after a speech is delivered, a residual message is the message that sticks with you. It's the essential point you retain after you've forgotten everything else. My job is to encourage students to make their ideas sticky. Give the audience a reason to remember you.
I think that this concept can be translate into motherhood. Clearly, my children will not remember every detail of their childhoods. (I'm grateful for this!) My oldest won't remember when I trimmed her hair, snipping from side to side in an attempt to even things out, and left her with bangs that were a centimeter long. They won't recall that I served chicken nuggets and frozen corn for dinner more often than I would have liked on busy days. They won't recollect the many times that I so cruelly said no in the grocery store check-out aisles as they pleaded for candy.
They likely won't remember that I repetitively scrubbed their yogurt off the kitchen table, or consider the nights that we changed sheets when they were sick and held them when they were feverish. When they're grown, they won't have a tally of how many diapers we changed for them, how many homework assignments we eventually assisted them with, or how often we drove them to their friends' houses before they got their licenses. They'll never know how often Joel and I tiptoed back into their rooms at night just to marvel at their slow and steady breaths, to soak up their beautiful slumber.
These specific moments make up the day-to-day workings of our household, but chances are, our girls won't remember many of them. Certain ones will stick in their collective recollections of childhood, but not all.
What they will remember is the central message of our parenting. They'll know on even those days when they're making us crazy, we're still absolutely crazy about them. They'll remember that we love them. We always have. We always will.
That's what I want to stick.
December 9, 2010
But now we're ready. The semester is nearly finished, and we'll have more time. Brooke is showing interest. The potty training stars have aligned, and I'm seizing the opportunity. There's no time like the present.
At least, that's what I thought earlier this morning. She had been carrying a walkie-talkie around the house, and I let her continue holding it while she climbed onto the potty.
As I squatted next to her on the balls of my feet and waited, a quick thought flitted across my mind, "Maybe playing with the walkie-talkie isn't such a good idea when she's in the bathroom."
I have these kinds of thoughts all the time. An urgent "Where are my car keys?" as I'm slamming the car door shut, locked. An inquisitive, "I wonder what they're up to?" as Reese and Brooke are playing silently in the bathroom and painting their faces with lip gloss as if they were Army troops decked out in full face camouflage. A pressing, "What time is it?" as I look up to the clock from a pile of grading and realize I have roughly 30 seconds to make it to the bus stop to pick up Reese.
Precisely after my cautionary thought, that's when it happened. That's when Brooke's grip slipped and our walkie-talkie boldly went where no walkie-talkie has gone before.
The walkie-talkie has now been sanitized and is drying on our bathroom sink.
Only time will tell if a fully-submerged walkie-talkie will ever function again. Actually, only time will tell if anyone would ever want to use a walkie-talkie that's been fully submerged.
As of today, the tally is clear. Potty training 1. Robin 0.
December 8, 2010
You would think that the child never has been fed before, that her body is cannibalizing itself and she's withering away into nothingness in the backseat.
I'm getting upset.
Her whining isn't acceptable. She's not being grateful. Her exaggeration trivializes the tragic reality that too many children in this world literally are starving.
As I clench my jaw and hold back the there-are-starving-children-in-China retort, I remind myself that she she is five. Although I don't condone her behavior or excuse her bad manners, the reality is that she's doing what she's programmed to do. She's a child, and she's being childish. She doesn't know. As her parents, it's our job to teach her how to express herself without whining, to encourage gratefulness, to be clear with our expectations on acceptable behavior, and to model what's right. It's our job to help her outgrown her childishness, to prevent it from taking root and blossoming from mere childishness into a more pernicious foolishness.
It's a weighty job.
God always seems to work on the character traits in me that I'm working to instill in my children, an irony that doesn't escape me when I grow angry when my children respond to one another in anger, or when I spit out the words Will-you-just-be-patient? to my children as I froth at the mouth and my own impatience flares.
The other day I was cut off in a parking lot. A woman took my parking spot. The audacity! My spot. The parking spot directly beside the shopping cart return so I could more easily corral my three kids into the store and back into our van. The parking spot that I had been waiting for with my brightly blinking turn signal for over a minute as the previous spot-holders unloaded their cart.
But since I'm not five, I have the perspective to think differently about this small slight as I circled around the parking lot again to find an open space.
Yes, I do have three children who I need to unstrap from their car seats and usher into the store on a blustery December day -- but I have three children, healthy ones. Some people do not.
Yes, I do have to walk farther than I would have walked if I had gotten the original spot -- but I have two legs, strong and able ones, that can carry me. Some people do not.
One day Reese will understand this. One day she'll be driving her well-fed children when one complains of unfathomable hunger. She'll no longer be childish, and she'll know how to respond.
December 7, 2010
Subtitle: When your child reveals a drawing that she made in school, remember that she hasn't mastered the concept of scale yet. Show restraint. Do not automatically gush, "Oh, you drew a picture of yourself riding a bike!" She will correct you matter-of-factly, "Actually, those are my feet."
December 6, 2010
I love that my daughters can experience this interaction.
At the onset of the evening, though, I kept watching the girls to make sure that they weren't getting into trouble or bothering anyone. My attention was divided between hosting and parenting. It didn't need to be.
Sometimes it's good to remember that other people genuinely enjoy my kids. Occasionally the best parenting I can do is to temporarily step out of the way.
Reese tackled one of the students, an adventure-loving senior in ROTC, and roped him into a game of hide and seek and, from what I could discern, some form of Mixed Martial Arts. (She knocked the wind out of him, he later admitted, impressed.) Later in the evening when she was more subdued before bedtime, she sat on the couch next to a well-bearded student, one who several days into December still sported the results of No-Shave November, and listened as he read story after story to her. A girl asked to hold the baby even before she removed her jacket. Another boy patiently answered "yes" each time Brooke asked if he would like to see her band aid -- easily a dozen times -- and showed genuine concern each time she pointed to where she got her shot.
That's when I eased into the night. With everyone looking after my own children, I sat down, grabbed a few cookies, and simply enjoyed the full house.
December 5, 2010
The girls got their flu shots the other morning. Typical of every doctor's visit, they are given stickers when they check out. When I return from work, Brooke tells me about the morning.
"I go to the doctor's and get a shot." She pulls up her pants leg and shows me her band aid, something she clearly is proud of. "I cried, but I was brave. I got a Cookie Monster sticker. He's a boy, but I still like him."
Then she pauses.
"Actually, I like cookies."
Two years old and she already knows her priorities.
December 4, 2010
As I've gone about my otherwise typical Saturday -- getting my girls breakfast, cleaning the house, and preparing for an event we're hosting tonight -- I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. I haven't gotten past the thought that it's likely that they haven't been able to hold their baby yet, or that it's possible the baby's first Christmas will be spent in the hospital.
Would you please say a prayer for baby Nora and her parents today? (And all the mothers and fathers who are welcoming their babies into this world earlier than expected.) Then hug your kids closely, too.
December 3, 2010
She lined them up on a shelf for display. As I passed by the shelf over the next day, every so often I noticed that the dolls were in a different configuration. Then I noticed something else. Baby Jesus was missing.
We had lost God. That's never good.
I quickly searched under the couch and sifted through piles of toys to make sure that Baby Jesus didn't become a choking hazard or accidentally get sucked up in the vacuum. He was perfectly safe when I found Him. Brooke, sweet child that she is, obviously wanted our little Jesus to have better accommodations than His original lodging in the manger.
December 2, 2010
The level of exasperation and amount of repetition made me envision Reese doing any number of things: dismantling the couches and stacking all of the cushions in the kitchen to better reach the upper cabinets, scaling the half wall that separates our kitchen from the family room and shimmying down it like a Marine in an obstacle course during basic training instead of walking around it, or attempting another unlikely jump, aspiring to leap from the end table and grab onto one of those tantalizing ceiling fan blades.
It was none of those. It was much simpler. She had been caught drinking directly from the water dispenser on our refrigerator, her head tilted back like a little gerbil, letting the water trickle into her open mouth until she pulled back, water dribbling down her chin as she unconsciously wiped her mouth with her sleeve and looked at Joel with those expressive eyes as if suggesting, "What? I was thirsty. Licking the refrigerator is a perfectly understandable method of drinking."
She's efficient, I'll give you that. The closest distance between two points is a straight line, so why bother getting a cup when you can go directly to the source?
December 1, 2010
1) I'm adding a "Best of Pink Dryer Lint" tab in the top toolbar to showcase a sampling of favorite posts. If you recall any posts that you've particularly enjoyed, drop me an email or leave a comment. I'll do my best to include them.
2) For those of you who have been voting for my blog on Top Mommy Blogs, you might have noticed a few changes with their website. They've overhauled their ranking system, and now you only need to click once on the Top Mommy Blogs icon in the right toolbar. This one click will count as a vote, no additional clicking necessary.
And thanks for the votes, by the way. As of today, Pink Dryer Lint was ranked 16th. Hot diggety dog. You are good.