Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Helmets Vs. Doormats

Our friends moved in next door.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “kiss that friendship goodbye”, but it has actually been fine. There are some things that a person hopefully learns by the time she is wearing big girl panties, and one of them is a lovely thing we all call boundaries.  Tessa's began to show themselves this week.

I would like to explain myself, but that will require a story. 
Go get some popcorn.  I'll wait.

Tessa is getting the idea of how to take care of herself at her sapling age, and I’d like to fool myself into thinking I had something to do with it. I try to explain to my kids that if you lay on the ground, people are bound to wipe their feet on you. If that happens, don’t come crying to me. I have a strict no-doormat policy. If you are standing upright, it’s really hard for someone to swing their feet up there for a good wipe. If some fool manages to swing a foot that high, I am always available for tear wiping.  Now, if for some reason you feel that the view from down there on the ground is one you simply can’t miss, well, that’s your choice, but for heaven’s sake, cover yourself up so you don’t get hurt and muddied.

Our neighborhood is slim-pickins' for playmates, and our other kids don’t get home from school till nearly four. Tessa has taken to playing with the two year old next door. He is rough and tumble, all boy, and all “two”. His favorite toys are balls (he recently berated his mother on the evening of the full moon because she wouldn’t get the big “ball” out of the sky for him to play with) which he throws, along with everything else, with the force of a major-leaguer . When Tessa goes over to play, she often comes home in tears. I comfort her and then explain again that she is choosing to play with him, and she knows he gets rough. Then I let her choose what she will do next. She usually stays home for a while for a snuggle, but eventually goes back.

The other day when Tessa came home, she went straight into the garage. She came back moments later with her bike helmet and asked for help with the buckle.

“Are you going to ride your bike?’

“No, I’m gonna go back to play at Maxie’s with my helmet
cuz’ so Maxie won’t hurt me, cuz’ he’s frowing stuff at my head.”

“Good thinking!” came my reply.

She smiled confidently and marched out the door.

Talk to the hand. 
This child ain't no body's doormat.

("No more pit'chers mom!")

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thought #1

I spent the morning (well the awake parts) laying in bed with my Jonah boy.  The house, save the two of us, is so quiet that you can hear the fridge hum.  A stroke of bad luck manifesting in the form of stomach flu has left me weak and quiet.  I haven't the motivation to deal with the sink full of dishes, nor the mental fortitude to kick myself about it.  It is a nice break from the judgemental chatter that stays at volume 9 in my head most days.  So while the family is at church, I have spent the morning stroking Jonah's face, trading coos and kisses, protecting him from tumbling off of the edge of the bed, and laughing when his face brushed my squishy belly and, assuming it was time for a mid-morning snack, he tried to latch on to my spare tire.  He and I sang to each other, and the minutes and hours blurred into what I may look back on as 'a moment' in my mothering journey.  There was effortlessness in loving him, and simplicity as I gave him the only thing he required; me.  My time, my touch, my milk, my voice, my rhythm, my smiles. 

It is so easy to be his mother.

For now.

I will certainly complicate it later.


I picked up a book the other day  by Tom Sturges called "Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Children" for a screamin' $4.95.  I love it when booksellers clearance diamonds for the price of costume jewelry.  This little book has opened a gentle door in my mind to the room where I keep my Mama Hopes.  This is the room where the fabric for pink flowered curtains I will make for the girls is laid beside the books I will read to my darlings.  It is the room where a soft chair waits for me to hold a crying child and bikes and picnic baskets wait to be taken on adventures.  As you look around this room you will find no dirty dishes or phones, no homework or report cards.  In the corner under a bright window there are five empty frames that wait to hold the pictures of five happy, well adjusted adults with smiling faces.  Their smiles will say, "I had a blessed and happy childhood".

As I read in this book and picture myself being the kind of mother it asks me to be, I swoop and dodge the judgements that my inner Critic hurls at me.  "You have already screwed up too much.  There is no going back."  "You are not consistent enough to be this kind of mom." 

The Critic is not allowed into my room of Mama Hopes.  So I hide out there all morning with Jonah, and revel in the idea, the possibility, that I do have it in me to be that mama.  Not only that, I can add a few to Mr. Sturges 75 fabulous ideas.  I have been a mother for 14 years, and I have picked up a few things along the way.  Out of shame I have tucked them into the bureau drawers in my room of Mama Hopes.  Shame, because I have been under the misconception that I have to be perfect at everything before I can share the fact that I am pretty good at somethings.  What a silly notion!  Who is perfect at anything? If that were the criteria, even the experts would be demoted.

So here is one of my ideas, or thoughts, rather.  We will call it Thought #1.

One of my saddest moments as a mother was the day I overheard Adam telling Ethan, "Hey, Ethan, do you remember the time we almost got to take Karate lessons?  That was cool, huh?"  By almost, he was remembering the time his mother was sucked in to one of those "Free Lessons" offered by a Karate studio.  It ended up being an hour long commercial that dangled the carrot of a free uniform and earning your first belt by the end of the first week.  The kicker came when they said it was $100 a month.  Per child.  The boys left excited, and I left devastated.  There are some things that I cannot offer my children, despite my marvelous intentions.

But on another day, as the boys sat at the table munching on small watermelon chunks, I heard this: "Hey Ethan, do you remember the time that mom was cutting watermelon, and she cut those big giant slices and let us each eat the whole thing?!  That was awesome."  I had given them each a Norman Rockwell looking slice, bigger than their chests, two-fisters, if you know what I mean.  I don't even know why I had done it, accept maybe I thought they would think it was funny.  Or maybe I was being sadly-practical and thinking that they would each eat four or five slices anyway, why not get it over with with fewer servings (Oh, Practical Mom.  She means well, doesn't she?).

So here it is, Thought #1:  When you are serving watermelon, every once in a while (or maybe twice in a while), serve 'em the giant slices.  Why not every time?  Well, because then it's not special anymore.  It's not outrageous and unexpected.  Kids love it when mama seems wild and unpredictable, but they don't want unpredictable all of the time (wouldn't that be predictable?).  Deep in their hearts they prefer dependable and secure, and when they get plenty of that, it keeps 'wild and unpredictable' in the fun zone and prevents it from stepping over the guardrail into Mommy-Dearest territory.  The Watermelon Principle works for other things too, like letting them chose loud paint colors for their rooms, serving donuts for dinner, or suddenly joining them on the trampoline. 

Give Practical Mom the night off.  It's hard work being that uptight.  She looks exhausted.

Watermelon Photo by Adam

Friday, May 27, 2011

and two more... and one more...

Kathy comes to my house almost every morning.  We get out weights, turn on crazy-frog music, and pop in the 30 Day Shred DVD.  Jillian is a task master, but just when I am about to die, the work out is over and I am contentedly sweating and sipping water in a lovely static position (on my butt).  We have been doing this for about two months now, and
 I am seeing changes here and there. 
It hurts here and its sore there.

And though my body is changing, somehow it feels like only my clothes are (clothes shrink and expand, you know), because my mind hasn't figured it all out yet. 
First off, there is the matter of chocolate. 
In my opinion, there will never be enough of the stuff, and like a good tan, the darker the better.  Then there is that small matter of the mind-body connection; when ever my mind stumbles into hurt feelings or sad and lonely thoughts, my body walks into the kitchen and finds the previously mentioned chocolate. 

All my life, I thought I would be able to eat whatever as long as I was exercising.  Well, since I have never gotten past the first few days of pain in exercising, I have never tested my theory.  It turns out I have been given some bad intel, because the only thing this regimine has done for me is to place a fabulous layer of muscle under my fluffy outer layer.  I have a six pack under my padded suit.  If you punch me in the stomach you can feel my phenomenal rock hard abs, but you won't hurt your hand.  Bonus.

Who would have thought that regular exercise would turn out to be the easy part?  Oh, but wait...

It is and it isn't.  As long as I have Kathy by my side, I am fine, but on the days that she can't come, suddenly the messy house looms and the tender muscles cry out and, um, well, I don't end up getting around to it.

So I am trying to go brain dead. 
Thinking is just getting me into trouble. 
When I am helping a mama in labor and she starts to give away her strength by thinking about the contractions that lay in wait, I call her back. 
Be.  Here.  Now.
You are doing this.  This is all you have to do for now.  This moment.  Right now.
So I am turning off my brain.
I get up.
Kathy comes.
We work out.

That's all for now.

(except that every once in a while, I poke my finger into my squishy belly
and feel my really cool muscles there, and smile)

You can't see it yet, but things are starting to change.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Patty-cake, patty-cake, Baker's Man

Guy went to the store today to buy the fixings for fudge.  The clerk, he tells me, eyed his purchases and then asked what he was making.  I could buy two-by-fours, nails and a how-to book and never get asked what I am making.  Chicks think a man who cooks is hot. 

Well, he is, dimples and all, but that's not my point.
What is my point?
I don't remember.

Oh, yes, baking.  I have been baking lately.  It doesn't make me hot, but it has made an impression on the small humans that inhabit this place. 

Last week's rainy day met them at the door with the warm aromas of homemade chocolate cranberry cookies.  One (child, not cookie) asked, "Are these for somebody else?"

"No, these are for my children."  I smiled.
The smile bounced back like one of the 15 bouncy balls that is stuck under my fridge.  I guess I have been baking and cleaning and doing for other people's small humans more than my own.  Sad times indeed when your kids have to hold up a cardboard sign on a street corner to get noticed.
"Will work for cookies
intended for someone else's kids".

So I have made cookies for my children four times in the past two weeks, which may very well be more than in the past year, all told.  I burned out my mixer a while back, so I pulled out my big antique wooden spoon, and as I stirred, I imagined the pioneer woman it might have belonged to, and she helped me stir with her strong arms and pioneer fortitude.  She told me that people need for us to feed them.  She explained that the first thing our babes ever had in their mouths was our honey-sweet milk, and that if God hadn't meant us to make snickerdoodles, he wouldn't have invented cinnamon.  And when I said, but there isn't time to bake all the time, what with laundry and homework-helping and diapers, she said
 Don't give me that pig slop, you make time!
and I knew she was right.

While we waited for the cookies to come out of the oven she explained that when a soul is weary, food can bring comfort when not much else will, and when there is something warm waiting when a person walks through the door, it tells them you were thinking of 'em before they even got home.  She said memories are rolled and pressed and baked at 350, and that there's no better way to patch up a hurtin' heart than to let a little person lick the spoon.

I am lucky to have a husband who cooks, and bakes and makes fudge (particularly that last one).  It is hot, actually, and I can't blame women for flirting with him a bit.  But with a little help from a pioneer woman and her sturdy spoon, I am working on becoming a little more of the family baker.

That would make me the Baker and my hubby the Baker's Man.


1 1/2 bags chocolate chips (we use dark)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla (or orange flavoring or some other flavoring)
other yummy add-ins

Melt chips, milk and mallows in a pot on the stove, then add what ever flavorings and tid-bits you enjoy.  It's like making a pizza, add what you like: peppermint, crushed candies, cinnamon, lemon zest... you get the idea.  Dump it into a plastic wrap lined pan and chill till firm.  Cut and serve.  Yum and yum.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Ethan, Age 7

Last night, as I kissed the kids goodnight, I eyed the clock.  "I had been in labor with you for seventeen hours by now," I announced to Ethan as he pecked my cheek (we are no longer permitted a smootch on the lips.  Apparently, that is "just wrong".).  He didn't seem impressed by my long-labor update.  For emphasis, I told him that he hadn't been born until the next morning. 

"Dude."  He replied, low and long, as though he somehow understood what that day meant to me. 

It was the day I became a mother.  It was the day that a part of my identity disappeared, and a new one emerged, tender and raw, from that pregnant cocoon.  It was the day that, without even saying goodbye, that naiive young woman I once was slipped out of the door, and walked down the hospital corridor, never to return.  That day opened a chapter of one of the most trying times in my life, punctuated with breastfeeding challenges, a year and a half of severe post partum depression, and the early hints that our first born son would face a life of difficulties because of his complicated nervous system. 

That was fourteen years ago for me (though it seems like oh-so-much less); for him it was a lifetime ago.  When I was fourteen I thought of myself as fully formed.  And in a lot of ways I was.  My heart and temperament have not changed much since then.  I look at Ethan now and can see both the little boy he once was and the man he will someday become, all crammed into a swiftly sprouting 14 year old frame. 

Ethan is so smart and talented.  So impulsive.  So emotional.  So complex. 

I only have a few years left with this young man before he steps out into the world on his own.  There is not much time to teach him all that he needs to know.  I guess instead of not wanting him to make any mistakes, I should pray for them - the kind of simple, not-too-scary mistakes that teach fabulous grown-up life lessons at a kid price.  But I am sure they will come all on their own, so I am not praying for them.  Growing up is plenty hard enough, thank you.  And we are just at the beginning of doing teenagers.


Monday, May 16, 2011


Jonah crawled today.  He suddenly just did it, and when we saw we all cheered and whooped and hollered.  It was tentative; just little creeping movements forward to get to his goal, but it looked like he somehow knew what he was supposed to do.

Guy was asked to serve as the second counselor to our congregation's bishop at church.  In a church where all of the work is done on a volunteer basis, it is a blessing and a sacrifice to take on a task like this one.  He will be asked to help with many things that will take him away from home.  He will be helping other families, spending evenings doing visits and going to meetings.  As he stood today to walk to the front of the chapel and take his place next to our good and kind bishop, I felt a little pang knowing he would not be sitting next to me and holding my hand on Sundays anymore, for a while anyway.  Some weeks are a little less than a cake-walk with five kids on one church pew, even for two of us.

I know Guy is up to the task.  Already, though he started out with great hesitation, his movements by the end of the day seemed more sure.  He is nervous, because he wants to do what is right but he knows he will sometimes make mistakes.  I feel a little nervous, too.  I know Guy will be fine, but I feel a little unsure.  I am kind of a goof ball, with a slightly off sense of humor and one too many opinions.  I am bound to stick my foot in my mouth and wiggle my toes around in there from time to time.  It didn't seem to matter as much before as it does now.

I guess we will figure it out as we go along.  I will get used to flying without my wing-man.  Guy and I will each gain confidence as we move ahead.

Jonah's timid and jittery crawl will be strong and sure in no time, and so will ours.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Talents and First Kisses

I have some very talented friends.

Robin is one of them. 

Robin is a busy homeschool mama who knows the staff at the local ER on a first name basis because of the health challenges of one of her children, but she still finds time for little ol' me and my bubba.

I have, since my first babe, had a baby portrait done of each child at about 6 months old with the baby blanket that my mother gave to Ethan when he was born.  Mom is gone, but her gift keeps giving, and the warmth of her blanket comforts babies she never got to hold.

Life is busy with five kiddos, what with all the nose wiping and trip-slip-form signing.  Six months came and went, and tomorrow Jonah boy will be 9 months old.  When it dawned on me that I had not had his portrait done, I panicked.  I could see us in therapy with him at age 16 as he told his therapist, "I wore hand-me-downs from the 90's and I didn't even get a baby picture!"

The thought of dragging all of the kids to the photo studio at the mall to attempt to get one remotely decent picture of this boy was overwhelming.  So I contacted Robin and well, the rest is magical history. 
So, thank you, Robin.  The pictures are amazing and we love them.  You are so talented, giving, loving and kind.  You pack a lot of love into an hour or two.  I don't know how I got to be blessed with friends that are not only warm and generous, but also so very talented. 

Cute baby.  Awesome friend.

What can I say?  I am blessed!

My boy gave me a real kiss yesterday.  As he bounced on my lap and played, I turned him to me and said "Kisses?" He froze, smiled, and gently leaned in and placed his mouth on my lips with a yummy "ahhhh".  Then he pulled back and began bouncing again.  He did it 3 more times, and then once for papa.  Oh, I wish I could share with the world the feeling of that first baby kiss.  Wars would cease, road rage would stop and  all the mean people at Walmart would suddenly start acting nice.  

The love of the universe is contained in just one baby kiss.   

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The day I waited for

"I have waited for today!"  I cheered and clapped, when, as my heart had predicted he would (though at the time I didn't even know he was a "he"), Jonah scootched (yes, that is a word.  Don't look it up, just trust me) over to the antique wooden bowl that sits on the floor in my living room and reached inside to pull out the woollen balls that I made for him when I was pregnant with him (I don't know if that was one whole sentence, or a flock of baby ones, but you get the idea!).  As I worked on them, I was trying to picture him here, in our lives, safe and sound, rolling on his yummy fat little belly. (that post here
And now, here he is. 
Playing with his balls (are you smiling, Steph?).

 Today I dozed on the couch and when I opened my eyes, he had put the balls into the bowl and would tip the bowl to make the balls roll around inside.  He would watch them roll in circles until they stopped, and then do it again.  It was wonderful. 
He is wonderful.

He is more wonderful than my finite flea-sized imagination could have conjured. I love his slobbery mouth, and the funny pucker-face he makes when he eats cold food.  I love the way he bellows in rhythm to the rocking chair
 as we rock when he is tired.  Oh, I-love-'im I-love-'im I-love-'im!

What a joy to be a mother!  What a gift to welcome giant spirits in tiny bodies, to share our bodies and our lives and our hearts with.  What miracle is this, that we are trusted with wee-human souls to teach and love, comfort and inspire? 

In the past, I have ached as each baby-day of my children's babyhoods sped by.  But I find myself, of late, far too overjoyed with him to feel the sting of the passing of days.  As I write this, he is gleefully slapping his reflection in the mirror
and laying big wet-ones on the baby face he sees there. 

And when I look beyond his reflection in the mirror,
I see my own
and I am smiling.

Friday, May 6, 2011

All things being equal...

I have never understood that saying, because they never are. 

This week, after long deliberation, we have decided to move Ethan out of the room he shares with Adam.  We happen to have a play room, more like an enclosed patio, that is 10 feet wide and 28 feet long, that hasn't gotten much play over the past couple of years.  The boys have out grown little toys and opt for bikes and skateboards most of the time, while the girls would rather play (read here: make messes) in their room.  So we are turning half of the space into a room for Ethan. 

I always thought that I would want my children to share rooms until they left our home.  I don't know if it is the fact that as kids we always did, and I used to think that a kid with his or her own room was a spoiled rich kid, or if it is because of my fundamental belief that people need each other and should be together.  What ever the reason, it seemed strange to consider the separation, but I am learning to see my children as individuals, and as such, it is becoming clear that Adam needs some peace.  Ethan's exuberance and down-right noisiness had been stealing sleep from Adam (among other things), and his mess has enveloped the entire room.  Adam is not tidy but not a slob, and definitely a morning person.  Ethan on the other hand is usually up until midnight or later, listening to music and "doing stuff" that makes it hard for Adam to sleep.  There are other reasons, but if I boil them all down, this is what I come to:  All things are not equal.  Adam and Ethan have different needs.  Those different needs are not being met by them being in a room together. 

This is going to be tricky.  We have to build a temporary wall.  We will have to make needed repairs to the leaky ceiling and adjust to being able to see his room through our living room window.  I am hoping it will help Ethan to work on being tidier.  I know Adam is going to love getting more sleep, and having his space and possessions respected more.  I imagine they will still spend time together in each other's spaces, but it will be interesting to watch the adjustment as it unfolds.

This week is phase one, move Ethan.  Next week will be phase two; move the girls to the big bedroom and move Adam to their smaller one.  And after we finally got the boys room painted!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


When Heidi was pregnant with Eli, I was pregnant, but not with Jonah.  Then, when the baby I carried was miscarried, I watched her continue to grow.  Her belly got bigger, and mine got smaller.  I got pregnant again after a while, and though I didn't know it at the time, the little one I carried would stay, and grow, and become the fat little baby that I love so much.  But I didn't know it then.  Then, the grief seemed interminable.

Not long ago, I went to Heidi's house, and we visited while Eli and Jonah played on the floor.  Though there are several months between them, Jonah has caught up with Eli size-wise.  I thought of the first time Heidi and I stood side by side at a church dinner, babes in arms, and I realized that even though my pain had seemed to go on forever when Guy and I were in our season of losses, there I stood, peace in my heart, and joy incarnate bundled in my arms.  I rejoiced and marveled that Heidi and I now stood side by side, bouncing fussy, sleepy babies in our arms.  In that moment, I thought of Ruth.

Ruth has a whole chamber of my heart that belongs just to her.  She is a fixture in my prayers, and when I love on my Jonah-boy, I think of her Rhys.  I know her empty arms still long for a little one to fill them.  I know her heart aches.  There are days that sneak up on her and ambush her with no warning.  The days and weeks and months blur together behind eyes misty with tears, while she smiles them away so that she can focus her sight on her children who need her.  She is brave and humble and patient in her trial.

Standing there beside Heidi, our babies drifting to sleep in our arms, I imagined someday.  Someday, when Ruth and I would stand, rocking side-to-side with our children in our arms.  I don't know exactly when that day will be, but I know it will come sooner than we can imagine.  Someday her pain will fade a little, and joy will light up the corners of her heart that have been darkened for a time.

I look forward to someday.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


A few weeks ago the sisters did a getting to know you game at the church.  We were put in two concentric circles and in pairs.  Like a roulette wheel, we moved and stopped, and then told the woman facing us what our name was and one household chore we "didn't mind doing".  At one point I stood across from a woman who flatly stated "I like doing dishes."  "Oh," I replied with a smile, "Then you should come to my house, my dish washer has been broken since October."  She raised one eyebrow and with more than a hint of disgust said, "I have never owned a dishwasher."

Well, I am not pioneer stock!  I MIND doing dishes.  Trust me when I say that the mighty pioneer women didn't like doing dishes either.  They simply had no choice!  If I weren't such a tree hugger we would eat on paper plates 6 nights a week.  I don't like being chained to the kitchen sink, knuckles dry and chapped, dropping and chipping plates constantly.  Did I mention I am not so great at going dishes by hand?  The ones that survive the process are clean, but we have lost more glassware in the last six months than in the last six years combined.

So this week when our tax return came through, I was giddy when Guy walked through the door and announced he had bought me a dishwasher.  He got a screamin' deal by combining a $50-off coupon and a 35%-off sale at the outlet store.  I got a dishwasher.  I am in heaven.

I swooned as my hubby installed the new machine.  He read the directions first, something I try to avoid until I have made a total debauchery of things.  A man with an instruction book in his hands is so sexy.  I ran my first load, and we all gathered round to listen to it hum.  Even the kids were impressed and grateful.

Then yesterday I was chatting with a friend who recently returned from a mission in Uruguay.  He talked about how every where they went they always saw women out scrubbing clothes by hand.  We live in a time and place where we have been so blessed by modern appliances.  I thought back to my own mission, and having to buy my perishable food one day at a time because we didn't have refrigeration.  Going without a dishwasher for six months was less an inconvenience and more of a little reality check.  It has reminded me to be grateful for the time saving devices that fill my life, allowing me to decide what I want to do with my days.  I can read to my children, garden, exercise with friends and create art (or even ugly Easter eggs!). 

I hope I really learned my lesson so that I don't have to suffer the loss of another one of my appliances.  It's true that dishes take a long time by hand, but laundry takes longer!