Friday, June 27, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Lost

There is desperation in his eyes. 

"I know they must be under the seat in the van," he says. "I've looked everywhere else."  The tiny sword, quiver and belt he's been missing are critical to Erik the Red's mission, and without them, Sam simply cannot go on. "They have to be there. I just know it."

The search for the little figure's weapons has been relentless and unending. Every day begins with conversation about where they could be. Every night ends with musings about where they might have gone. How could they have disappeared? Did they slip between the cracks in the van seat? Did he leave them in the backyard after an adventure to be run over by the riding lawn mower? Could his sisters have eaten them?

It's hard to resist the temptation to be irritated by his singleminded focus, but I'm impressed by Sam's persistence. This is a boy who does not give up easily. He knows the name and location of every piece of Playmobil weaponry and armor his collection contains, and he will not rest until Erik's rightful pieces have been returned to him.

There's a lesson here for me, too, I, the mother who finds myself inconsistently bumbling through certain days, tired and losing sight of my mission, snapping at my kids, forgetting to start the rice in the rice cooker for dinner (multiple days in a row!) and hitting one of our family's parked cars with the other one in a parking lot. I sometimes feel a little lost, like I'm losing my bearings and letting down the people I care about most in the world.

But Sam reminds me, with his five-year-old tenacity, that God does not give up on us easily. For all my wandering off the path, I'm not really lost as long as someone is still looking for me...and so I keep trying to make my way back.

"Do not fear. The poorer you are, the more Jesus will love you. He will go far, very far in search of you if at times you wander off a little."

 - - St. Therese of Liseux

For more Five-MInute Friday, visit Lisa-Jo Baker.

Five Minute Friday

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

to my lost girl on her feast day

Dear Verity,

It's the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and you won't be born today.

Most babies don't show up on their due dates, it's true...but you won't be born any other day this week or next week, because you were born into Heaven many months ago.

And I still miss you.

I'm not going to wrap you in a swaddling blanket or put tiny clothes on you. We're not going to marvel at how long your fingers are or how your chin looks just like your dad's. We won't be waiting to see if your eyes will stay blue like your sisters' or change to a rich chocolate like your brother's.

I didn't even knit you a hat.

(Oh, how I wish I had done that.)

Instead, Baby Girl, there's a space- a not-quite-empty space you occupy, a space where you are still (somehow, mysteriously) part of our family...a space that isn't here or there but is somewhere in between, where our spirits still touch and where someday, somehow we'll see you and hold you and know exactly who you are and that you are ours.

In that space, we belong to each other, and you are always my child.

Until then, I'm holding you in my heart.

Until then, I'm always going to miss you in my here-and-now- at our breakfast table, in our minivan, in the bathtub with your brother and sisters.

Until then, we will celebrate your tiny life- today, with pools and splashing and water balloons and popsicles and all the summer chaos we can manage with all the kids we can find- because all life, no matter how small, deserves a party.

Until then, we love you.

Your Mama

Friday, June 20, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Release

It's Five-Minute Friday again. Five minutes isn't very long, but it's long enough to catch your breath. Today's prompt is Release. Why not take five minutes and see what comes out? Not perfect writing, not writing without any mistakes...just the kind of writing that lets some of the pressure off our souls.


The walk to the mailbox isn't very far, but on a day like this, I can make it last just long enough.

The children are settled with their lunches at the table, the girls buckled safely into boosters with trays attached, their brother perched on his stool with one leg tucked under him. The noise is unbearable. I tell them I'm going to the mailbox and slip out the front door.

My feet instinctively pull away from the hot pavement on the driveway, sun-baked already by lunchtime, but I refuse to move over to the grass. I need to feel everything- to notice the haze hanging over the mountain to my right, which I can see again now that the neighbor has moved his new RV around to the side yard. My face feels tight and my lungs feel small as I try to draw deeper and deeper breaths, listening for the buzz of bees in the clover at my feet as I open the black plastic box.

It's like a doorway to someplace else, a place where things just show up...things that change just enough each day to make things different. Yesterday, some new books for homeschooling this coming year and a bill from the cable company. Today, a mortgage statement and a massive box of baby formula samples.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and I probably won't need this midday walk to keep my head from exploding. Today, though, I pause for a minute and soak in the sunshine, squinting at the horizon and trying to guess if we'll have enough of a thunderstorm later that I can skip watering the tomatoes. One more deep breath, and then I make my way back, not quite retracing my steps as I cut through the grass to give my soles a break.

Stepping onto the porch, I glimpse them through the window, clustered at the table, laughing at each other. The scene (on mute) makes me pause and smile with my hand on the doorknob, and I go back in to be among them again.

Five Minute Friday

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa-Jo Baker's blog.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Start running toward us!" (Theme Thursday: Sports)

Our family has a lukewarm relationship with sports.

I wouldn't say we dislike sports. George and I have a small obsession with the Olympics (and may or may not have subscribed to cable just for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi). We are not-especially-fast runners of middle and long distances. I played defense on my high school field hockey team for a year and on my church youth group's softball team for several years (mostly in positions where I wouldn't encounter the ball too often). George was on various sports teams as a child, frequently as the kid that picks buttercups over in the outfield.

Our kids seem to be following in our footsteps. They enjoy being active and playing ball in the yard. Sam even survived one season of micro league soccer. I wouldn't describe any of them as particularly athletic, but they get around fine.

Where my offspring really seem to excel, though, is in inventing their own sports.

Take, for example, the recent development of the game "Start Running Toward Us."

It started last month. From the kitchen, I overheard shrieking followed by the thudthudthud of three pairs of feet thundering down the hall, then hysterical laughter. When I stepped out to see what was happening, they were standing at opposite ends of the hallway, running toward each other as fast as they could, and crashing in the middle.

The game evolved, as such games do, and is currently known as Joust Practice.

The participating knights lie down on the couch and pretend to sleep. One of them makes a beeping noise like an alarm clock, then sits bolt upright and calls out, "Oh, man! It's time for Joust Practice!" All three kids grab pillows from the sofa and take positions at opposite ends of the hallway. The Lead Knight yells out, "Start Running Toward Us!" and they take off, as fast as their short legs can go, colliding in the middle with their pillow "shields" raised for protection.

No actual jousting is involved...yet.

I was fortunate to capture some of their practice this afternoon. I offer it to you for today's Theme Thursday at Clan Donaldson: Sports.

For some more takes on the theme today, visit Cari and the other photographers at Clan Donaldson.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TwinsDay Wednesday: The Pacifier Fallout

Happily, there wasn't all that much fallout when we got rid of the pacifiers. The girls excitedly traded their beloved "passas" for new stuffed animals. Nora got Baby Joy and Lucy chose Giant, a bear that is as big as she is. The first night, when they asked for their passas, we reminded them that they had traded them in. Nora said, "For Baby Joy! Yay!" and crawled into bed. Lucy cried a little, but snuggled up with Giant and went to sleep.

Unfortunately, that was the last night they went to sleep at bed time.

Since then, we have had a developing situation in which increasingly bad choices are made every night. It's been steadily escalating.

So far, the girls have:

  • Figured out how to stand on their soft chairs to turn on all their lights.  
(Loving Parent Response: take the chairs out of the room.)
  • Repeatedly taken off their pajamas and diapers, used the bathroom on the floor, and smeared the walls/beds/furniture/toys with special "art." 
(Frazzled/Disgusted Parent Response: put them in onesies, bleach wipe every.single.thing, strip the beds and change the sheets, replace their discarded cute self-selected favorite jammies with brown ones that they hate, secure their diapers with duct tape. Just kidding. We didn't do that last one. We did confiscate all the stuffed animals that might have been implicated in the floor-as-bathroom incident, saying they needed to be checked and cleaned. I haven't found the time yet to do that particular chore.)
  • Pulled out the vent covers and dropped all manner of things down the vents into the ductwork, including clothing, toys and hair bows. 
(Baffled Parent Response: rearrange the furniture to cover the air vents, then screw the vents to the floor out of desperation.)
  • Dumped the contents of the dresser newly filled with baby clothes for their baby brother, due to arrive in about 6 weeks. 
(Frustrated Parent Response: turn the dresser to face the wall and put it in the closet so they can't open the drawers.)
  • Figured out (in the absence of their soft chairs) how to stack books up so that they can reach the light switch and, once again, turn on all the lights. 
(Incredulous Parent Response: take all the books out of the room at bedtime. Also, in a moment of being proactive, take the wagon and the toy strollers they use for their dolls, in case they try to stand in those, which they inevitably would.)
  • Broken off all the slats of their mini-blinds to let in the light and then complained that it is too bright to sleep. 
(Totally Annoyed Parent Response: pull completely destroyed mini-blinds to the halfway point so they are out of reach and won't look as awful from the street, pull the blackout curtains over the window and secure them with clothespins.)
  • Eaten the clothespins while laughing raucously and singing gospel songs loudly to each other. 
(Bewildered Parent Response: take away wet, chewed clothespin pieces, shake head in despair, and give up.)

As I write this, it is after 10pm, and the girls are still awake. They are reciting Calef Brown's poetry from this book to each other and yelling "aaaaah! say the abc song to me now!" to each other in turn. Nora is yelling, "Good night, Lucy!" and Lucy is responding, "NO! Not YET! I have to get in my BED!"

I'm sitting in the living room, too tired to go see what they are actually doing now.

I'm beginning to believe that God made two-year-olds so irresistibly cute because they are driven to do the worst possible thing at all times. It is impossible to guess what they might do next. When I see their sweet, dimpled faces smiling at me in the morning, though, I'm glad they exist, no matter how badly their room has been destroyed. I try to remind myself that this is a phase that will pass. I pray every night that we will never, never again face a situation like the floor-as-bathroom incident...and I steel myself for exactly that scene (or something worse) every time I open their door.

Also, I look at their five-year-old brother with renewed appreciation, because he's not two anymore, and there is only ever going to be one of him.

Somehow, this is comforting.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Celebrating Baptism Day

Last night, we celebrated the baptism day of our three children.

We meant to do this last year, but the day was sandwiched between Father's Day and my birthday, so it came and went without much notice.

The desire to do more to strengthen our family's prayer life and to follow the seasons of the liturgical year can feel like a stumbling block. If we get too caught up in the details of the various days and feasts we'd like to celebrate, we can get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. The important thing about the cycle of the liturgical year (and about praying together as a family) is that it is a cycle. It repeats. We have chance after chance to try things out, see what works for us, and take notes for next year. Doing something to mark time and to notice the holy days that matter to our family is better than doing nothing, even if our celebrations end up being less than Pinterest-worthy.

This year, we decided a simple celebration was better than no celebration at all. Here's what we did:

  • The children chose a special dinner.

Sam asked for cheeseburgers and tater tots (and achieved consensus with the Sisters), so that's what we had.  I made a large chocolate chip cookie for dessert and decorated it with a white icing cross and the children's initials. The (store-bought) icing immediately ran everywhere. I did not photograph this for you, so you'll have to take my word for it. The cookie was delicious- no one complained about the runny decorating job.

  • We pulled out their baptismal candles and lit them one at a time. George read the baptismal promises to each child. Each one answered the questions seriously- Sam with a quiet "yes," Lucy with an emphatic "I do!" and Nora with a forceful nod of her head.

We found a small liturgy for this purpose here. It was fun to hear them gleefully renouncing Satan and all his empty promises. I enjoyed seeing how much they have changed since they were baptized...on that day, we answered the questions on their behalf, and now they can speak for themselves. I know they don't fully understand everything now (do any of us, really?), but they recognized the phrases we say in the Creed each week during Mass. It felt good to see how their understanding has grown in just two short we're doing some things right. After the day we'd had around here, this was a wonderful moment for me as a parent.

  • We blessed each child with some of our Easter holy water by making a cross on his or her forehead.

  • We read a special prayer together as a family to close our celebration.  
Blessed are you, Loving Father, Ruler of the Universe. 
You have given us your Son,
And have made us temples of your Holy Spirit.
Fill our family with your light and peace.
Have mercy on all who suffer,
And bring us to everlasting joy with you, Father.
We bless your name forever and ever. Amen.

The prayer is a traditional family prayer and is included in our children's Bible (we have this one, which contains some prayers, notes from the Catechism and other suggestions for incorporating liturgy at home). I hadn't seen this prayer before. Lucy found it yesterday and liked the accompanying picture so much that she asked me to read it to her several times. It fit perfectly with our little service of celebration.

Afterward, we looked at pictures from the day of the children's baptism. I never managed to get any of those pictures printed. As we crowded around the screen of the iPad trying to see them, we decided we should make a photo book so the kids could look at them more often. They all enjoyed seeing the much younger versions of themselves (they change so quickly at this stage!), commenting on how Lucy had no hair and George still had some, and noticing the differences in the baptismal font, which our parish recently replaced with a new one.

A friend of mine has a family saying: "If you do something once and you like it, it's a tradition. If you do it twice, it's a tradition whether you like it or not." Based on the giggles, smiles and warm feelings this evening, I think this particular tradition is one we'll be intentionally keeping for a long time.

Do you celebrate baptismal days in your family? What traditions do you have for marking this occasion?

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Messenger

Five-Minute Friday is a group writing party hosted by Lisa-Jo at her blog. Everyone writes for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt without worrying or overediting. We then share our words with the community so we can encourage each other. It's not about being perfect- it's about loving words and sharing the fruit of that love with others. 


We started it because he always woke up so, so the first chink of light peeking in from behind his blackout curtains, he was wide awake and ready to go. He's always been like that...ahead of us, somehow- hard to predict and a challenge to keep up with. 

We started leaving him messages.
He was an early reader, self-taught, blazing through books and words the way he blazes through life in general, a seven-books-before-breakfast kind of kid. We'd write to him, draw him pictures, leave them taped to the wall outside his room.

"When the big hand is on the 7, come and get us and we will have breakfast. Please play quietly in your room until then."

"Good morning! Today is Sunday! Please choose what shirt you want to wear to church and then you can use the Legos in the living room until we get up."

"At 7:00, you can come get Daddy's iPod and play a game while we get ready to go to the store. Please don't wake up the Sisters."

It became our ritual...something he looked for every morning, something we did every night. Sometimes the messages had themes that went on for weeks...mythological creatures, numbers made of Legos, drawings of little Playmobil characters, Vikings, an animal for every letter of the alphabet. The messages communicated something so much bigger than information. They told him he mattered, that his interests mattered, that we cared that he was up before the crack of dawn and wanted to connect with us.

Then, one day, the messages started to appear in our room. They were slipped under the door or taped crookedly to the wall by the dresser, complete with illustrations and creative spelling. They told us he was excited about breakfast or that there were only three more days until the weekend. They told us stories about knights and what it would be like if the planets in the solar system had a sleepover. Most importantly, they told us he loved us. 

The Chick-fil-a cow as a knight and my very own golden ticket
Sloth. Self-explanatory.

Mama and Daddy, dressed as knights with our own heraldry.

No matter how hard I might find it sometimes to understand this boy, there is one thing I know. He and I speak the same language - we feel love in the written word. His writing wraps around me like a big hug from his increasingly lanky arms. With stacks of his messages everywhere, I can't bring myself to throw any of them away yet. He's piled his heart up in my bedroom, one sheet of paper at a time.

As long as I can write to him and he to me, I know we will be able to handle whatever challenges arise. 

For more Five-Minute Friday reflections on "messenger," visit Lisa-Jo Baker's blog.

Five Minute Friday


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Theme Thursday: Old-fashioned

Our internet connection was out this afternoon, so I was forced to pursue more old-fashioned amusements. This was fine with me, since I've been busy doing anything but blogging baseboards, filing papers, sewing, reading, weeding the flowerbeds. I just have more time when I'm not online. Life has a way of expanding to fill the available space, and I've been finding no shortage of things to do. Today, when nap time finally arrived, I was torn. I wanted to work on a knitting project for my sister's baby (due a month after mine and in need of a hat!) and to catch up on my reading. There isn't a good way to do those things at the same least, not an old-fashioned way.

There are plenty of things around here that are modern(ish). We have smartphones and laptops and watch stuff on Netflix. We help Sam google the answers instantly to his many questions because we don't own a set of encyclopedias. We reserve and renew our library books online. We buy bookshelves and glasses from IKEA (is there anything more modern than IKEA?) and microwave our leftovers.

Mostly, I'm thankful for modern conveniences, but there are certain things I do the old way on purpose. I like to sew dresses for my girls. We still invite people over to sing and play music for entertainment. We use cloth diapers and dry them on the line when it's sunny. We make our biscuits, cakes and muffins from scratch. We have a tiny backyard vegetable garden. I still like to read "real" books (although I do sometimes use an e-reader) and I like to knit and quilt.

How do the rest of you modern people decide which conveniences to use and which ones to pass up? It's complicated. For me, it has been a process of figuring out which tasks feel creative, have the potential to bring a sense of joy (!), or save money. Since I don't bring in much (if any) of our regular income, I try to find ways to help stretch our budget...and sometimes, saving money means doing things the old-fashioned way.

Modern is usually good. I'm grateful we have options...that there are streamlined, efficient ways to do certain jobs that make our lives easier, but that we also have the choice to work with our hands and do things the way our grandparents did. Work can be holy- it can be a form of prayer, a path to purification, a way to sanctify the everyday tasks that shape our days, weeks and years.

I'm so glad to be linking up with the resurrected Theme Thursday (thanks to Madeline at A Dash of Snark). It's not because I think I'm a great photographer. These weekly photo prompts have been opportunities to find something beautiful, meaningful or funny about the ordinary, everyday tasks and sights that make up my days. Being a stay-at-home parent is drudgery sometimes...especially when it is time to unload the dishwasher or rinse out a dirty diaper or sweep the floor for what feels like the hundredth time.

Sometimes, though, it's all in the angle. The light hits the laundry just right, and I'm suddenly aware of what all those mismatched socks in a range of sizes mean: that I am blessed to live in the company of this group of people with variously-sized feet. Suddenly, I'm grateful. Suddenly, those chores are opportunities for thanksgiving. Suddenly, they aren't just drudgery. They're a path to holiness.

And sometimes, framing this ordinary stuff through the lens of a camera at those moments means stepping back, reframing my everything and seeing that all of it, all the boring, repetitive, mundane details, are sacred. They're life. They're art.

So thanks, Madeline, and thanks, Cari...and please go check out the modern-old-fashioned Theme Thursday...complete with cat fishing (instead of fisher cat).

As for my dilemma about how to spend nap time today- I knitted two short row sections of my nephew's hat, read a whole eight pages of Brideshead Revisited, and then fell asleep...perhaps the most time-honored, old-fashioned way to spend a quiet, rainy afternoon.