Friday, April 24, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: HIDE.

Today's Five-Minute Friday is HIDE. You can join us in our quest to write freely for five minutes (without over-editing or backtracking) and share in the community at Kate's. Everyone is welcome.

"Why is is that we all think we're the only ones feeling like this?"

It was typed into a message box on facebook, because it's easier to have these conversations where we can't see each other's eyes...on the phone, texting, or hiding behind our sunglasses on the days we manage to drag ourselves out to a park playdate.

Why, indeed. Why are we hiding from each other? Why is it so important that we always seem to have ourselves together? Why can't we admit to each other how hard this mothering gig is sometimes?

God didn't make mothers for solitary confinement. Even Jesus had twelve people around him. Twelve! There are days when even one close confidant would make a huge difference for most of us.  In those moments when I'm standing over my kids with clenched teeth and fighting back tears at how hard this all is, I can imagine the relief it would be to tell someone that I'm struggling...that sometimes I don't know how I'm going to make it until dinner time...that sometimes at nap time I eat more than one handful of chocolate chips.

The thing is, we can choose to stop hiding. We can do the minimum that it takes to get ourselves out of the house even on the worst days. We can take off our sunglasses, look at each other's eyes, really see what's there, and accept the grace extended to us by another mother who has been right where we are, right now. And we should. Maybe accepting grace from someone else will help us extend it to ourselves. We are loved. We are worthy. Our work is hard, and we are doing a good job.

We don't have to go it alone. Let's reach out and help each other.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Five Favorites: spring books we are loving

We are right in the middle of the #365picturebooks challenge dreamed up by StrongHaven (just finished number 125/365). Somehow, it was easier to devour piles of books when the weather was chilly and unpleasant for playing outside. Now that spring seems to be here in earnest, we are outside most of the day, and I'm having to work harder to keep our read-aloud streak going.

It's one of those things- as soon as we find a time slot for reading aloud that seems to work perfectly, something changes, and we have to renegotiate. I haven't found the perfect spot in our day for reading aloud now that everyone wants to run outside as soon as they finish breakfast (and sometimes even before...Sam has been taking his breakfast out onto the deck if the temperature is above 45 degrees).

We can do the before bedtime slot, but I sometimes miss that because of putting the baby down to sleep, so George gets all the fun. I might try reading while they eat breakfast today.

One of my favorite things about this challenge has been finding new books at our library. We have a large collection, but there are not enough to add up to 365 picture books, even if we read every single one we own. Today, I wanted to share some new picture books we have discovered. While I always go back to read our perennial favorites over and over again, we have been enjoying some new finds from the library that are so seasonally appropriate, I just have to share them with you (in case you haven't run across them yet).

Heads up, local friends- I'm running these back to the library this week, so if you hurry, you can be the next to grab them!


If You Hold A Seed by Elly Mackay is the story of a child who plants a tree and watches it grow throughout his life. He dreams of the day he will be able to sit in the tree, and his dreams finally come true. I don't know how she did the pictures, but Elly Mackay's illustrations are the most interesting, multi-textured, marvelous pictures I've seen in a long time. The light glows off the page so that I almost feel it on my face. My little budding artist daughter pointed at the pages as soon as I started reading and said, "Those are definitely mixed media." (Yes!)


and then it's spring by Julie Fogliano is the story of waiting for things to be green. It is so beautifully written and illustrated (by Erin E. Stead, who is wonderful at capturing the essence of what it feels like to be a little kid) that it is nearly perfect. There is nothing more to say. You have to read it, and I need to buy it, because I never want to return it to the library.


My Garden by Kevin Henkes is a new favorite around here. It is exactly as it should be. A child helps her mother in the garden and dreams of the garden she would create if she could grow anything she wanted. This has led to some interesting discussions here and drawings of gardens growing light sabers and ice cream cones. I'm planning to use the concept as a writing prompt for the kids in the next couple of weeks as we work on our own garden.


Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett is an odd, funny story of two boys who dig a giant hole, just miss lots of almost amazing things, and then have an inexplicable experience after which things are almost exactly the way they were before...but not quite. The pictures are by Jon Klassen, and they are priceless. It's the kind of book that makes everyone in our family want to go and dig a hole, which is perfect for this time of year. (I'm hoping I can limit their hole-digging enthusiasm to carefully chosen parts of our yard.)


Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies is a new collection of original poetry for the seasons. There are poems and gorgeous illustrations for every season of the year, so it isn't (strictly speaking) just a spring book. Maybe it was the cover that pulled us in (since Lucy is currently fascinated by birds)- I'm not sure- but I am so glad we brought this one home from the library. The poems are simple, lovely and relatable- if you are intimidated by reading poetry with your kids, this book makes it easy. This would be a good choice to add to your family library and keep out all year long...but since spring is the first season of the year, now is a perfect time to start! I now have it in my Amazon cart and am just waiting for the right moment to buy it.

What's your favorite springtime book? (And what's your favorite time of day to read aloud with your kids?)

Linking up today with Rachel for Five Favorites, because sometimes good things come in fives.

Those are all Amazon links, so if you click through and end up purchasing any of these, your purchase helps support this blog (at no extra cost to you). Thanks for those of you that do that sometimes! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Tomorrow.

I can hear the opening notes if I try- it started low, on middle C, with a nice friendly open fifth on the low F, full of something I didn't yet know how to name. I'd stand at the end of the piano near the highest notes and watch her fingers. Sometimes she sang, but usually she just played it, the keys smooth under her hands, the instrument shining, almost smiling, basking in the gentle warm light on its shoulders from the brass lamp perched above the music rack.

"The sun'll come out...tomorrow..."

Funny, how dark it the shadows started lengthening so early in the long the nights when we finally got to where morning should have been, it seemed sometimes that the sun wasn't going to come up at all. How long can a sky seem about turn a lighter shade of grey? A week? A month? An entire Alaskan winter? Sometimes, you have to wait until July to find out whether the sun is ever going to shine again. And when the phone call comes saying the plane was found and he's not going to come back, ever, then you realize you're alone. Not just alone in the dark for the night, but alone for good.

And your six year old daughter is watching you, waiting to see what is going to happen next.

I think my mom did the best she could- and what else is there to do, really, other than your best? She played the song. When it ended, she played it again if I asked her to. And when she didn't sing, I did, matching my little girl voice to the music coming from her hands and her heart. Together, surrounded by the little circle of light from the piano lamp, we pushed the darkness back just a little bit.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate Motaung's blog.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Happy Easter! {new playlist}

Happy Easter, everyone! We survived Lent! Hooray! I know several of you have been having a rough time during Lent this year, and I hope that Easter and the promise of better weather will help brighten your days and lift your spirits. I know I'm feeling better about most things just because there is abundant sunshine and warmer temperatures here. We actually went to Mass yesterday without coats, and it felt like everything was easier simply because we didn't have to figure out where to put all those coats in our pew.

Yay! No coats! And baby legs on display!

Nora keeps walking into the kitchen, throwing her hands into the air, and proclaiming, "It's STILL Easter!" I've learned that Nora is the kind of girl who just wants things to continue. Whatever's happening is fine, as long as it doesn't stop. So yes, Nora (who is still wearing her Easter dress, by the way), it's still Easter. 1 day down, 49 more to go!

Headbands come off, but Easter dresses are forever. 

I'm so glad Easter is a season and not just a day. It makes me feel less guilty about not finding time to dye our eggs on Saturday. I did boil them, and they're waiting in the refrigerator for that magical moment when we find time to do them and I have enough patience to supervise the process.

The process. That's the thing, isn't it? I know process art is the way to do things with little people. The point of making art is to enjoy the act of making art, not to reach some predetermined standard of rightness and make a perfect product. Crafts are fun and fine and well, but art...well, that's different stuff. Art is for its own sake. It is all about the process.

Somehow, though, when I think of the process of being around the kitchen table with my three walking children, balancing the baby on one hip and trying to manage six grabby, snatchy hands that are all trying to get as many eggs as possible for themselves and throw them into all the egg dye before anyone else can get the best colors, I feel a little panicky. If I could dye eggs with each one of them individually, it would be fun. Even two of them at once would be great. But all three of them at the same time makes me tired in advance.

It was easy then, except it wasn't, because he was still 3.
Maybe we'll just wait for an evening when George is home. Or for my oldest kid to turn 8. Or something.

I saw someplace that you can use a whisk to help toddlers avoid dropping the eggs- has anyone done that? You put the egg inside the whisk and dip it in the dye. It seems like it would work better than those little wire spoon things that come with the egg dyeing kit.

OK. Enough about the eggs. We might do it. I'll post some pictures if we do. And if you try the whisk thing before I do, let me know how it goes, okay?

Does it feel like a real challenge to you to keep the Easter celebration up for fifty whole days? That's a long time...even longer than Lent, which always feels long by the end. I feel like I don't usually do a great job after the first week or so. This year, I'm trying two things to help continue the celebration.

First, I'm going to keep fresh flowers on the table and on our little prayer table all Easter season. We had a blend of silk and fresh flowers for our Easter feast on Sunday. I'm planning to change out the live flowers each week and replace them with ones we pick on our walks or buy at the grocery store. I think this will help things feel special and remind me that we're still celebrating. (Let's be honest- the physical reminders are mostly for me, so I can keep everyone else going.)

Second, I made an Alleluia playlist for Easter. We don't listen to it all the time, but it's nice to start the day out remembering that Christ is risen. (Alleluia!) It's a collaborative playlist, which means other people can add songs. I want to invite you to add your own alleluias to it. If you have a favorite Easter-y song that isn't on the list, feel free to go on and add it. It will be fun to see how the list changes with your additions. If you add something, I'd love to know! If you want to contribute but don't have time to add your song yourself, leave me a note in the comments, and I'll be sure it gets added.

Do you do anything special to keep up the celebration of Easter until Pentecost? I could use some more ideas!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Extra hands

This is me.

(Well, it's not, of course. It's Nora.)

But it could be me this week...bedhead, still in her pajamas, a child on each hip with another one clinging dangerously to her ankle and about to be stepped on, holding the phone and frantically trying to return a call while the fourth child drapes himself over the furniture, about to pass out from hunger because he's had to wait so long for his snack. And just look at the mess!

This week feels a little like climbing, hand over hand, out of a well, without the use of my legs. The rocks are slick, and as soon as I get a little way up, I slip back down a few feet. My arms and fingers are cramping. I can see the light at the top, and I know I'll eventually get there, but climbing is hard, and I'm tired.

The problem with getting sick as a mother is that the mothering doesn't stop. People still need to be fed, dressed, wiped, read to, and generally loved as much as possible. It doesn't matter how much sleep I didn't get or how whiny and self-pitying I am feeling. When the morning peeks through the blinds and announces herself, my children will be in the hallway for only a second before bursting in and announcing themselves, and breakfast has to show up shortly thereafter. It's the way of things. This rhythm of mothering flows on, winding through the day, soothing and holding and cleaning and carrying, all the way until bedtime...sometimes through the night, too...and again the next day.

The further down we mamas get, the harder we have to work to get ourselves together. People are depending on us. They don't stop needing just because we are worn out. I know this. My patience, though, is very thin despite my best efforts. I snap at them, say things in the worst possible ways (did I really ask her why she ruins everything? how could I? how much psychological damage did I just cause back there?) It's hard not to yell at them to play more quietly, even though I know their volume would seem fine to me if my head weren't aching. Headache or not, we have to keep on keeping on. There is always work to do.

But this martyrdom thing...this dragging our weary bodies around when all they need is rest? This is no way to care for anyone. This is not what I want my daughters to do when they are mothers. How can I drag myself back and forth in front of them, sighing heavily, pained grimace all over my face as if it is just what's necessary when I know they are watching, taking it all in?

There are two lessons here I wish I could learn for next time. Or the time after that. Or hey, maybe I will spend my whole entire life trying to learn these lessons (but that's another post for another day):

One: It will not kill me to lower my standards. Yes, it's good to keep the house tidy. Yes, it's good to get our schoolwork done. Yes, it's good to serve nutritious, home-cooked meals with lots of different colored vegetables. But frozen pizza will not kill us if we eat it sometimes. And watching a movie instead of doing math will not make everyone's brains rot instantly and drain out their ears. And leaving the lunch crumbs on the living room floor today during nap time so I can rest on the couch will not cause the Earth to stop spinning on its axis. It will be okay. Whatever I need to do to get by, it will be okay. I can stand to stop trying so hard all the time and let a few things slide for now.

Two: It will not kill me to ask for help. I am not SuperMama. You are not WonderMother. We are just doing the best we can, and sometimes, it's not quite enough. No matter what the voices in my head tell us, that is okay. In these moments, what we really need is an extra set of hands...someone to fold a load of laundry, or clean the bathroom, or bring by some chicken broth when there's none in the house. Another pair of willing hands to hold a child, read a story, wipe a nose, sweep a floor.

I can call my husband and tell him I'm at the end of my rope, and it doesn't mean I'm weak or inept or failing at being a mother. I can call a friend and ask for a broth delivery, and it doesn't mean I'm not doing a good job at managing this whole thing. It's a lot to manage. Friends are made to help in time of need, after all.

I know I'm blessed among women to have such friends- friends who will encourage me to rest, who will offer to lighten the load, who will show up and ask what they can do. It is no small thing to have their hands to help me. And it is a gift to be able to offer my hands to them, too...somehow, bearing one another's burdens is how we mothers make the whole load feel lighter.

I've heard it said many times that we are Christ's hands in this world, put here to serve one another as we would serve Him, as He would serve us- to wash one another's feet and one another's dishes- and I believe it.

But when we serve one another like this- with food and warmth and holding and comfort- I think we are also the hands of Mary. When we nourish, soothe and encourage each other, we are mothering each other for Christ's sake. 

We can and should do this for one another. Let's not allow our ideas of self-sufficiency or our own impossible standards keep us from offering this gift to each other...or from accepting it when we need it.

with deep gratitude to George and Cori/Jason for being my extra hands today

Friday, March 20, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Real.

Some of you are new around here, and that's such a humbling and wonderful thing. Welcome. I'm so glad to have you. On Fridays, I often participate in Five-Minute Friday. It's a free write...a chance for us to empty our heads and hearts by writing for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt. More importantly, Five-Minute Friday is a community of writers supporting each other for love of the process. We don't worry about making things perfect on Fridays. We just write because we're writers, and we encourage each other because we're friends.

Want to join in? Visit Kate's blog for more information and to link up your own post (or to write in the comments if you don't have a blog).

And now, my thoughts on REAL.

There are lots of different kinds of friends- the church ones, the ones I used to see at work, the ones who frequent the same parks or story times that I do. There's the man who drives the garbage truck that always waves when he picks up our can- we made cookies for him one day, and he beeps the horn at us if we stand on the porch when he goes by. There are the friends from high school, whose children I see and admire on social media, the people whose birthdays I know because Facebook tells me when they are. I can line up all of their faces in my head- the people who make up my days, weeks, months and years, forming a sort of cloud around my life, overlapping and intersecting with each other, knowing me a little bit and letting me know them.

But then there are the friends who know me now. The ones whom I have never met in person, but whose blogs and conversation and notes and long-distance hugs are solidarity and strength. The ones who bring over the bits and pieces from their fridges, combining with mine to feed a dozen in a loaves and fishes moment. The ones who crowd around our table with their families, not minding that it wasn't designed to hold that many. The ones for whom I don't need to vacuum, whose children's forgotten socks mingle with mine in the laundry, who think nothing of dumping that laundry out and folding it with me when they're here. The ones whose laps my kids will agree to climb into for a story. The ones who sneak quietly in the front door during nap time to visit me, because that's the only time I can have an uninterrupted adult conversation (maybe). The ones who read my writing and honestly tell me what they think. The ones who come over to talk about grownup books and drink tea and remember with me that mothers are people who sometimes think about things other than children. The ones who remind me every day that I have the strength to get through, no matter what happens...and that part of my strength comes from loving and being loved by you.

When I think of you, all of you, I can only be grateful for all the people who share my life and whose stories overlap with mine.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog, Heading Home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Desperate times...and flying by the seat of my parenting pants.

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, you know? Although I'd love to be one of those mamas (I'm sure you know some, or at least one) who never seems desperate, sometimes I am. just. that. Desperate.

Yesterday, I startled awake with a set of slimy, chubby baby fingers working their way into my mouth. The next thing I noticed was the ambient sounds of Disastrously Rude Children, already hating on each other first thing in the morning.

"You will NOT play with my things, Lucy!!"
"Oh, yes, I WILL!"
"You smell like POOP!"
"Well, you are STEW, Sammy!"

"Stew" is what they say now. They say it because they think I don't know that it's a stand-in for "stupid," which we don't allow them to call each other. I definitely know this. It's just that I usually let it slide. We can't actually control what they say, and they always find another way to be unkind when they really need to be.

It is still so weird to me that I'm on the other side of this, that I'm the parent and not the child who is trying to figure out how to score the most mean points and do the most damage to her brother without her parents knowing what she's doing.

(Aside, to Abram: I have no defense. I'm sorry. I was horrid at least 63% of the time.)

When I went to check on them, they wore three of the grumpiest, most unpleasant expressions I have ever seen. I encouraged kindness. Remember our "be kind" rule? Well, you're all acting like you might need a reminder about that. Remember how we treat each other with love and kindness? Ok? There is NO HITTING. We do not use our bodies to control or hurt other people. Yes? Yes. Ok. They looked unconvinced, but at least no one was screaming or smacking anyone else in the face with an empty coffee can from the recycling bin.

The uneasy ceasefire lasted approximately until I crossed the hallway and went back into my bedroom.

After I took a shower and had half a cup of coffee, I suggested they all go back to bed for five minutes so I could come wake them up again and let them start the day over.

As if their footie pajamas had cinder blocks in them, they trudged off to their rooms. I followed, Felix on my hip, pulling open the curtains, singing loudly the way my grandma always did when we spent the night at her house. Good morning to you! Good morning to you! Good morning, good morning..." I adopted a low, rumbly voice, moved Felix's arms and pretended he was singing the end with silly, operatic style. Goooood morrrrnnnning...tooooo...YOOOOOU! They giggled.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for this total morning rescue (good job! You were silly! You didn't yell! It's all better!), Sam smacked Lucy in the back of the head with his beanbag chair for trying to play with one of his stuffed planets. She screamed like a hyena who has just witnessed its hyena best friend being flattened by a speeding garbage truck and bit him hard in the shoulder.

We had not yet even made it to breakfast. The baby was crying. I felt like crying. The situation was officially desperate.

Enter the strangest parenting decision I've ever made in desperation.

Enter The Manners Wolf.

Sam's stuffed wolf, Akela, was lying in the hallway. Scooping him up with my foot, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper- where on earth do these ideas come from?- and hastily wrote his name on the front.

Sam read it, intrigued. "Manners Wolf. What does he do?"

I had no idea.

"He watches you," I told them. "He is an observer. He is looking for signs of good manners and kindness."

"Well, what do we get if we do a good job?"

I looked straight at him. "I don't know, Sam- I have no idea. I've never met a Manners Wolf before. You'll have to ask him."

Sam looked fascinated. Unbelievable. Isn't he too smart for this kind of stuff? I knew the whole idea was completely ridiculous.

To my complete amazement, this completely ridiculous idea ACTUALLY WORKED.

They stopped being rude.
They started being overly polite and helpful instead.
They were positively deferential to the stuffed wolf.
And, every few minutes, I'd say something like, "Oh, the Manners Wolf notices that people are sharing the rest of the apples!" Or "The Manners Wolf sees that Lucy got a towel to help clean up Nora's spill."

He never praised or corrected them. He didn't really pass judgment at all. He didn't do anything but sit on the table all day with his sign...the sign bearing his totally uninspiring name...and watch us, but he completely changed the climate in our house. People spoke kindly to each other. People were more patient. People helped and shared and volunteered for things that weren't their usual jobs.

There's no way to know if this can ever be replicated. I have no idea if it will work again. But on this day, in this place, doing something completely ridiculous totally saved the day. I didn't yell, not once. There were no rewards or bribes. Just the Manners Wolf, sitting on the table all day long, watching us.

I hope he comes back tomorrow.