Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This Could Mean Trouble

I just started reading Julia Child's My Life in France, and this clearly spells DANGER. With a capital "Duh."
My Life in France
I'm only on page 13, and I'm already wanting, craving, yearning to go to France and eat my way into a coma. Specifically, to return to Paris. Two days is not long enough to explore this beautiful city, especially when you have a jetlagged toddler in tow. (However, Ian did fall completely in love with the Eiffel Tower for the next six months of his life.) (True story: I have a photo of Ian sitting in his stroller in the Louvre museum, within spitting distance of the Mona Lisa. Is he gazing into the inscrutable face of La Giaconda? Is he noticing the swarm of Japanese tourists who are -- no lie -- videotaping the painting? No. He is fully absorbed in his giant board book of bulldozers and earthmovers.)

Did you see Julie & Julia ? Did you love it? (I pretty much did.) From what I've read so far, this book is way more fraught with peril. Don't read it if you're trying to: 1)slim down or 2) curb your travel cravings.

My problem is more the latter. Please send tickets to Paris or professional help.

(Send the help engraved on the newest model of a iRobot 530 Roomba Vacuuming Robot. You know, one of those nifty vacuuming gadgets that just works its way around your floor under its own power.)

Thank you.

Monday, September 27, 2010


For guidance in our history explorations this year, we're trying out a freely downloaded sample curriculum from Pandia Press. So far, so good. Remember, I use any and all curriculum as a guide. A suggestion. We keep our relationship strictly casual.

We're into monks, monasteries, and illuminated manuscripts these days.  Y'all, are you familiar? These manuscripts are just so breathtaking that you can't believe some poor monks spent hours hunched over tables in the scriptorium, probably losing their eyesight as they painstakingly formed these amazing letters.

Here's an example from

The book Bibles and Bestiaries: A Guide to Illuminated Manuscripts has some great examples as well. I threw informational and inspirational nuggets from it out at the kids as they were toiling in our own scriptorium this morning. I got some vellum and shiny pens and dug out some calligraphy books and let them go to town making their own illuminated manuscripts.

(Why are they called "illuminated"? Because the embellishments were often gold-plated, so they shone luminously when any light hit them.) 




Don't you love the profound thought expressed in his manuscript? While true, I do wonder whether the Benedictine monks might look askance at it.

I was really surprised that Ian took to this project. He doesn't always join in the crafty endeavors, but he got into this one. Using the calligraphy book as a guide, he labored over his fancy letters -- and this is a boy who has always disliked handwriting.

But isn't that the nature of this parenting adventure? We keep thinking maybe we have our kids figured out (MAYBE), and then whoosh! They surprise us. They refuse to be pigeonholed. They bring hidden parts of themselves to the light, and we can't help but marvel at how luminously they shine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why I Have Gray Hairs

This note made its way into my hands when I returned from an errand yesterday:

So sweet, no? Then I opened it up:

(Dear Mom, I love Truman. Could I marry Truman when I'm 16?)

Practically anyone who's spent any time with our family knows that my four year old has a mad crush on her older brother's best friend. And friends, this is not a passing fancy. Truman has been the apple of this girl's eye for the past nine months or so, which, when you're four, represents a significant percentage of your lifespan.

I'm not exactly sure whence the charm. The boy is sweet, pleasantly goofy, and good-natured -- indeed, tolerates her declarations of affection with patience and an occasional head-pat -- but not exactly tall, dark and handsome. Not to mention hunky and mysterious. However, he does play in a band. (Guess who made an electric guitar out of tinfoil recently?) And has lately taken to wearing a fedora.

She writes him love notes, and mails them once in a while, sometimes with a piece of candy tucked inside. She draws pictures of their wedding. She makes declarations like this one: "Mom, I found out there's another girl who loves Truman. But I will WIN HIM."

These are the moments when I would dearly love a child psychiatrist on speed-dial. Do I even need to tell you that neither of her older siblings has EVER expressed interest in ANYONE of the opposite sex?

But instead, I draw a deep breath and remind myself to keep the big picture in mind here, which of course, is my relationship with the small being in my household who knows her own mind, brims with unabashed feeling, and trusts me to hold her heart in my hands.

It's small stuff. And I won't sweat it. But I reserve the right to roll my eyes and throw my hands desperately in the air when the occasion demands it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

House Beautiful? We're Getting There

Big doings at our house today.

Remember the flood? Well, three weeks later, we have new floors! This means that in a matter of days, the Professor and I can stop sleeping on the pull-out couch in our Ugly Room (a.k.a. the Bonus Room, a.k.a. the converted garage) and move back into the master suite. Remember to interpret the term "master suite" generously. Remember that this house was built before the term "master suite" was birthed into the English language family. Like, when my dad was sporting long sideburns and wide fluorescent ties, if you can imagine that.

Our hallway at 8:15 a.m. today:

Our hallway and bedroom at 1:15 p.m., after the children and I spent the morning as refugees at the library ("I cannot IMAGINE how those flooring guys do their job without wearing earplugs," Ian remarked somewhat bitterly.)

It turns out, our entire room has to be re-painted. There's even a possibility that our entire bathroom will need re-tiling, because, oh so sad, one of the amazingly beautiful seafoam green floor tiles that you ONLY WISH you had in your own bathroom, broke during the drying process. And you cannot retile the floor without retiling the seafoam green walls and seafoam green shower surround. It simply cannot be done. (Or so says the contractor sent to us by our insurance, and who am I to argue? In fact who am I not to bake him a plate of exceptionally fudgy brownies?)

Here was my thought when I heard, "The whole room will be need to be repainted": "Hmmmmm ... we have made no noticeable renovations to this house in the past five years. Maybe this is my chance for a little change? Maybe I should go look at paint swatches? Maybe I should browse home-decorating websites for some inspiration? Maybe a new bedding piece or two is in order? Maybe I could paint a piece of furniture or two? Maybe our room will somehow become a lovely sanctuary?"

Here is what the Professor said when I broached the subject of new paint. Obviously, I didn't fling all those ideas at him, because he has a Y chromosome. Just the paint color issue.

"Why? I like the paint color the way it is."


That was the sound of my decorating frenzy hitting the new wood-laminate floor.

But I'm happy to report that this floor is resilient, and my idea bounced. It refused to stay splayed out on the floor. It has returned for another dance in my brain. Because I have two X chromosomes, and that's the way it is.

I'll let you know how things play out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

She Farms

Remember my friend Nicole, the one you all wanted me to clone for your personal friending pleasure?

(I'm sorry, but I saw her first.)

Like me, Nicole lives in the city (5 minutes from me) and owns chickens. But the similarities end there.

Me: Co-owns seven chickens. Still cannot remember exactly which varieties they all are and what the difference is between Star and Night.  Birds tend to have names that are either very birdy -- Feather, Cluck, the like -- or very descriptive -- Midnight, Twilight.

Nicole: Owns fifteen chickens, I think? Always names them in pairs. For example: Coal and Oil. Orange and Tangerine. Purplehead and NonPurplehead. Knows exactly who is whom instead of leaving that job to the kids.

Me: Reads books in spare time.

Nicole: Rides horse, teaches riding lessons, and does other horsewomanlike stuff several times a week. Mucks out stable with baby in backpack. Was actually kicked in the head by her own horse as a teenager and had to miss weeks of school. Still rides. Even when pregnant. Even when it's Texas in the summertime.

Me: Has thought about getting a dog.

Nicole: As of last week, OWNS A PIG. An absolutely darling little piglet who lives in her backyard and whom SHE IS PLANNING TO SLAUGHTER when Wilbur, I mean the pig, named Pecanderosa, reaches his or her full 250-pound potential. Look at that widdow face!

Let's face the cold, hard facts. In an Urban Farmer smackdown, I wouldn't have a fighting chance. Nicole would take me every single time. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

What We're Reading

Let's hit the highlights, shall we?

But first, let's digress. Check out this very cool list of 105 Ways to Give a Book! I nearly always give books as gifts, including at kids' birthday parties where I'm fully aware they won't be the most thrilling item in the pile. What about you?

OK, back to the topic at hand.

Read-Alouds (mostly to the girls):
Knights of the Round Table (A Stepping Stone Book) - Read this to the kids last week, and they loved it. I wasn't dazzled by the writing style -- I'm not big on sentence fragments[edited to add: IN PUBLISHED CHILDREN's BOOKS], but these weren't egregious -- but when the kids clamor for another chapter, and we can have talks afterward about the qualities of honor, etc., I call it a winner.
Galileo's Leaning Tower Experiment - Nice cross between fiction and nonfiction, making a scientific concept simple, clear and engaging. We liked it.

Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) - The boy's certainly not old enough for The Hunger Games and its sequels, but I had to introduce him to Suzanne Collins. He was reluctant at first but ended up reading this for three hours straight one morning and is on the lookout for the rest of the series.
His Majesty's Elephant - Too soon to tell. This novel takes place in the time of Charlemagne, and so far Ian isn't sure why there's so much Arabic influence on the setting. I may need to read it myself so we can discuss.
Famous Men of the Middle Ages (Greenleaf Press) - The spine of his history study right now, this is constructed as a series of in-depth vignettes about ... see if you can guess ... famous men of the  Middle Ages! We're both liking it -- history's always most interesting when told as people's stories, IMO.

Belong to Me. Y'all. I practically inhaled this over the weekend. If I liked the original, Love Walked In, (which I recommend reading first), I LOVED this book. It's unusual in that it's told from several points of view, including both first person and third person narrators. That way, you get to walk through each character's story along with him or her, but also see how the OTHER characters perceive them, and how that perception changes.

 I think one reason I loved the story, besides the fact that the writing is funny, poetic, beautiful and moving, is that this theme -- people are always more than they seem -- really resonates with me. It's something I've learned and continue to learn, often through mistakes, in my own life. In fact, the first story I ever sold owed its existence to that very lesson, learned most poignantly when listening to another mother's story blew my superficial concepts about her out of the water.

 Superficial concepts get shattered left and right in this book, and come to think of it, in that particular way it reminded me of The Help. There's a fantastic quote from the latter book that sums things up nicely, about how deep inside, we're all just folks who want to be understood, but since the flood, our house is in more chaos than usual and I can't find the notebook where I write down fantastic quotes. Sorry.

Later this week, I have a bit to say about favorite audiobooks, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, I'm off to dispense stories and goodnight kisses.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Scene: Craft-o-line has spent her Quiet Time making, among other things, imitation cowhide from pink and brown construction paper. Now, after suggesting that the cow may be sunburned, I'm helping cut out spots for her to staple on.

"Mom, in our next house, can we have cows? Two reasons: Number One, I want to slaughter one so I have a real cowhide nightgown. Number Two, fresh milk."

And she calls herself an animal lover. Impostor!

Weekend Field Trip: Living History

Dear Fellow Central Texas Parents:

Soon and very soon, please do yourself and your kids a favor and take the whole caboodle to the Sauer Beckmann Farmstead. It's out west a bit (which being translated means: a beautiful Hill Country Drive, even without the wildflowers).

You can do the LBJ Ranch National Park and LBJ State Park if you so choose. That is, if you can tear the young 'uns away from the farmstead.

You will have the opportunity to purchase sunbonnets at the nearby State Park visitor center, so your girls can looks like Laura and Mary Ingalls. If you do, they may think you are the Best Mom Ever. (For now.) Can't beat the feeling!

You can laugh at the largest pig you've ever seen or chase sheep around or, if you time it right, gather eggs from the henhouse.

You can go crazy photographing all the very-early-1900's memorabilia inside the house. It may remind you of reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate or even Farmer Boy. Pig bladder canteen, anyone?

Your kids will fall right in love with history, because for a couple hours, they're living in it. They may discover that before, there was the Sears-Roebuck catalog.

And aside from sunbonnets and snacks and the gas to get there, you need not spend a red cent.

Happy travels!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One Neighborhood; Two Clubs

These three girls are the charter members of the very prestigious Longhorn Allegiance Club. You only wish you had an invitation. 

Abby, our neighbor, spends hours every week at our house. Apparently, this is where it's at. So recently, she and my girls dreamed up this club. You know you're dying to see the club's weekly agenda. It's posted in our hallway. Here goes, as written: 

1. Arts and Crafts
2. Free Play
3. Snack Brack [break]
4. Bilding time
5. Reading time
6. Free Play
7. Dress up time
8. Doll time
9. Medatating [my favorite!]
10. Danceing time
11. Music time
12. Tea party
13. Sewing time
14. Nitaing [knitting] time
15. Work time [can't wait to see this]
16. Snack brack
17. Go home

Remember, this is the agenda for EACH MEETING. No wonder I haven't seen any meetings being convened lately. (And meanwhile, the boys rampage around with their Nerf guns.)

The neighborhood group is starting to snowball with the addition of two more girls last week. I admit that by late Saturday, I was a little tired of having so many extra kids in the house, and a little unsure of what my role should be, especially with the newer kids. I also knew that these kids need to be  not just in my home, but also in my heart. 

So after doing the dinner dishes, amidst a mild case of the restless blues, I decided to round everyone up right then and there. To make some magic instead of excuses. We went from house to house (among our friends) gathering eleven kids on scooters. The Professor was co-opted to  help me supervise. Off we rolled to the park, where they made tons of noise playing Statues in the Park until it was too dark to see each other. 

Then we gathered them up, clutching our two flashlights, and formed them into a straight line of eleven. One dad came by to follow us with his pickup truck headlights. They all yammered and squealed to each other, and when I'd turn my head and see this gaggly line of eleven, I felt like Mrs. Mallard from Make Way For Ducklings

The kids peeled off as we reached each of their houses, with goodbyes and pleas to do it again ringing into the night. They've dubbed themselves the Saturday Night Gaggle. Fortunately, this club has a two-item agenda: 1. Make Noise. 2. Have Fun. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to ...

Monsignor Roald Dahl!

Actually, it was yesterday, September 13. And how cool is this? On Sunday, doing a little research for a Geography Club project, I thought I'd look up Mr. Dahl in Wikipedia and see when he was born. LO AND BEHOLD, the date was September 13 -- the VERY NEXT DAY!

I call that serendipity. I also call it an excuse for a party.

So we celebrated by dragging out a bunch of his beloved books and reading a sampling of first chapters. The kids even twisted my arm into reading two short chapters of The Twits, which they love because reading it aloud totally nauseates me and I usually refuse.

We talked about how Mr. Dahl makes liberal use of exaggeration, especially when it comes to his characters' misfortunes. He paints in broad, exuberant, and often dark brushstrokes. And unlike most other authors, he inserts himself a bit into the narration, addressing the reader as "you" and generally making you feel as if you're sitting at his feet as he spins you a crazy yarn.

Name me one child who doesn't love the works of Roald Dahl.

We also ate some chocolate for lunch -- an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and learned a bit about Mr. Dahl's rather colorful life from his Wikipedia entry. And the girls strung up balloons and streamers, which they will do at the slightest provocation.

We were going to watch Matilda that night, but Ian thought it might be too scary for his sisters and so the Professor and I agreed to pre-screen it. Glad someone in this family is responsible! We decided that it was indeed too scary in places, and too kid-versus-adult.

Here's a list of author birthdays, in case you'd like to do something like this with your own young readers. And keep it simple! Fun trumps perfection, every time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Run, Perchance to Dream

(That is not me, by the way.)

Way back in May, on my birthday, I started on a Life List of 100 Goals. I got to 16. Pretty ambitious, we are. 

One of the goals was to run a 5K this year, specifically to do Race for the Cure in honor of my sister. I have never run a 5K. I'm not a distance runner by any stretch of the imagination. 

An acquaintance told me, a few weeks ago, about how she trained for marathons with Austin Fit, a very supportive and relatively inexpensive training group that meets (egads!) at 7:00 on Saturday mornings downtown. 

Their website informed me that training would begin in two weeks. It felt like the brass ring I needed to grab. I needed to challenge myself to do something I hadn't ever thought possible. And I needed it to have nothing whatsoever to do with my kids, because I needed to have control over the effort-outcome equation and see reliable, visible results. :-) 

So now I'm training for the Live Strong half-marathon which takes place in February. It still seems nuts to me. As I said, I'm not a distance runner. I told my brother and sister about it on the first day and it took me three days to peel them off the floor with a spatula. Also, when it's still dark on a Saturday morning and I'm awake and driving downtown, I think What, for the love of all things holy, have I gotten myself into? Every. Single. Week. 

But then I get there and the folks are friendly and supportive, and I've found a running buddy in my pace group, and there are other crazy folks running in hordes around Lady Bird Lake, and the lake glimmers with early morning promise and possibility. 

And then it doesn't feel quite so crazy anymore. It just feels good.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Few Things

Just a quick post to alert folks to a few cool things we've discovered lately.

- Classics for Kids has short, entertaining and informative podcasts about classical composers, which you can download to your iPod, MP3 player that's not an iPod, or computer. Also on the website: printable activity sheets for each composer. Eliza loves the podcasts. Ian likes some of them. Caroline is grumpy and mercurial on the subject.

- Joe's Goals is a free website that will help you track your goals, whatever they may be. It's helping motivate me to do things I get lazy about, like running (more on that later), doing pushups, or reading spiritual books. Super easy to use. Check it out.

The Gollywhopper Games- Ian just finished devouring a book called The Gollywhopper Games. Seriously, I hadn't seen him that into a book in ... well ... distressingly long. As in, he read it until late at night and then before he got out of bed in the morning. Now's he agreed to give me his take on it, but only if I read it first. Parents of middle grade readers, you're welcome.

- Knowing the library waitlist would be insane, I procured my own copy of Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) at Costco last week (ach, it's cheaper at Amazon). Devoured it. Has anyone else read it yet? If not, you need to read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) first. But then, you can finish the trilogy and your brain will buzz. Please do so so we can discuss, you and I.  But it's not for the faint of heart. Or the faint of stomach. Which basically describes me, so why am I reading these books? (Seriously, after reading that and A Tale of Two Cities, I'm up for something pleasant and heartwarming. Paging Jan Karon!)

The True Adventure of Daniel Hall (Picture Puffins)- I love Diane Stanley. She writes these amazing nonfiction picture books about historical heroes, famous or otherwise. Like this one, which we read last week: The True Adventure of Daniel Hall. It's a fine art, making biographies accessible to ages 4-8 or so. Maybe 6-10. Oh my gosh! Just noticed on Amazon that she's written one about Charles Dickens! Book budget? What book budget?

- Is it a bad thing if your child's preferred method of learning science is to watch episodes of Mythbusters? I'm not always crazy about their language, but along the same lines, my friend Laura highly recommends the show "Crash, Bang, Splat" from Discovery Kids. We don't have cable, so I'm hoping Netflix will soon take up their responsibility.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

House of Many Waters

Stop me if you've heard this before.

About six years ago, we were living in South Carolina, in a lovely two-story home in which we were the first owners ever. Our home occupied about 2700 square feet and was nicely decorated. Huge south-facing windows offered an unobstructed view of the woods that grew over about 1/3 of our almost-a-full-acre property. Yes, times have changed.

Anyway. One rainy day, we'd whiled away the afternoon playing on the Chick-Fil-A playscape with some friends and then browsing at the library. We returned home at the exact moment that the Professor pulled into the driveway in his sporty red Toyota Celica. Emerging from the van with my two bambinos, I heard the sound of our smoke alarms blaring from inside the house, but saw no signs of fire.

There was no fire. Oh, no, my friends. No fire at all.

There was water.

We walked into our home to find water pouring from every orifice in our ceiling. Pouring onto the carpet of our family room. Pouring into the kitchen and breakfast room, soaking furniture, books, and toys. Pouring down the wood stairs. It was as if the roof had vanished and the afternoon rain had simply helped itself to the interior of our home.

Launching into full-on panic mode, I grabbed the kids and ran them down the hill, unceremoniously depositing them with my neighbor, Holly, and racing back up to our house. The Professor had sprinted up the stairs to locate the source of the catastrophe: the hand-held shower device attached to our toilet that we used for cleaning the yucks from cloth diapers. (I know. Crunchy.) Water pressure had built up and the little hose had popped off the toilet tank. It had probably been spewing water for a good two hours or more. 

Three weeks, multiple trips from Servicemaster with huge, loud drying machines, and many thousands of State Farm dollars later, we had a dry house and brand new hardwoods in the family room. Oh, and new carpeting upstairs. And Scarlett O'Hara-like resolve: "As God is our witness, we'll never be flooded again!"

Then we had Caroline. And moved to Austin. And bought another shower thingy, but this time one with a shut-off valve, which we used AT ALL TIMES. It functioned beautifully until she was whatever age she was when she stopped using diapers, and I stopped needing to clean them. Then I forgot all about it. 

But the Professor, unbeknownst to me, still used the thing occasionally to clean the toilet. (At this point you all know way more about our toilet-related habits than I ever thought I'd share.) And apparently, on Sunday last, he forgot to flip the shut-off valve. 

So Sunday evening, we spent a merry evening at the Dell Diamond, cheering on our minor league baseball team with our kids and three of their friends. It was everything a summer evening at the ballpark should be if one cannot be at Fenway Park. Beautiful sunset, a nailbiter of a ninth inning, bungee jumping for the kids, fireworks afterward. 

We came home. 

The Professor preceded us into the master suite. (And when I say "master suite," please interpret the term generously.) From the kitchen, I heard yelling. Then silence. Sure that the Boogeyman had my husband in his clutches, I nervously called out to him, edging toward the bedroom and wishing I'd borrowed a baseball bat from the home team. 

Instead, I found a boiling mad spouse. And a soaking wet floor. Revenge of the Mini Shower! 

Let's just say that the Professor and I did not spend the midnight hour congratulating ourselves on giving our kids and their friends a magical all-American experience. Neither did we snuggle up to watch the episode of "Top Chef" that had vaguely figured in my plans. Instead, we ripped up soggy carpet and nastified chunks of carpet padding from our bedroom, hallway, and two closets. We moved furniture, shoes, hampers, boxes, anything on the floor into the family room. We rubbed our bleary eyes. We muttered some prayers. We were too tired even to post our misfortunes to Facebook. 

(Until the following morning, of course.)

Things to be thankful for: 

1. We live in a small house where water cannot pour from upstairs to downstairs, because there is no upstairs. Or downstairs. 

2. It was water, not fire. 

3. This time, nobody's baby book was ruined. 

4. Servicemaster came back with their huge, loud drying machines. 

5. The drying should only take 2-3 days this time, not three weeks. 

6. Maybe it's our chance to install less-allergenic flooring. Suggestions?

7. State Farm promises to hunt down the maker of the sprayer thingy and get us some of our deductible back. Godspeed, Oh State Farm lawyers!

Friday, September 3, 2010

And Around We Go

Huh. How do I sum up a week like this?

If I could distill it, it might be in the following form: On Wednesday, my best friend from college, the person who would be Ian's godmother if he had one, gave birth to her second child, a baby sister for my friend's firstborn boy. Hooray for a brand new life, so full of promise and hope. P.S., my friend had a VBAC. Hooray for her!

Also on Wednesday, a dad from our homeschool co-op passed away from renal cancer. He was diagnosed in June, had surgery in July, discovered in late August that that ugly monster had spread much faster than they thought, entered hospice care last week, and died a week later. He leaves his sweet wife and their teenaged son, who has Asperger's Syndrome. They were older parents and were devoted to their son, working together to homeschool him. I still remember his first visit to a homeschool support group and the bewilderment he expressed about homeschooling. He became a valued member of our co-op, always with a smile and a kind word to everyone, without partiality or cliquishness. He taught Ian's bowling class and jokingly forbade me to discuss chicken-raising with his wife, who had that gleam in her eye.

So, on one day: New birth and early death. A life begun; a life cut short. A parent's joy; a wife and son's grief. I wonder whether the two souls passed each other at the door. I wondered the same over seven years ago when an elderly woman in our church, a quiet ministering angel, left this world on the day Eliza entered it.

It all makes my own trials and triumphs seem rather muted, if I can just slip on the right glasses. But this week in my own house and soul has seemed similarly up and down. It's felt like a roller coaster ride between hope and discouragement, thankfulness and self-pity, especially when I'm walking by sight and not by faith.

 We may berate ourselves for worrying when others have much bigger problems, but the fact is, everyone has their struggles, and the ride we're on seems the most immediate and real to us at the moment. Sure, my sense of success while taking the kids for frozen yogurt after a good first day of "school" is not the elation of a parent holding her healthy newborn. My feeling of inadequacy at not being able to meet one child's craving for artistic instruction and another child's need for just the right amount of structure, whatever that mysterious amount is, is not the grief of a bereft widow. My minor complaints about Caroline's large hospital bills and my relief at still having her here may be tempered at stories like this, so similar but for ending.

"If we walk in the light as He is in the light ..." began the verse I most enjoyed this week -- and friends, it turns out that's a big "IF." Darkness is insidious, as if it wants to crawl inside our very skin sometimes. It helps to remember that walking and being where HE is, is often just the smallest of turns toward the Light.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Only Look at ME, Mommy

Sometimes, I'm a little slow. A little dense. A little thick in the head.

(But only sometimes. The rest of the time, I'm positively catatonic.)

Recently I spent weeks alternating between wringing my hands over my middle child's behavior and wanting drop-kick her to the moon at certain moments -- figuratively speaking, of course. It seemed like her chief form of recreation was to go out of her way to irritate her little sister, who consistently rewarded her with some juicy shrieks and angry tears.

I know you don't believe me. No one believes me. People who don't live at our ranch are totally convinced that this child is sweet and mild-mannered ALL THE TIME.


Anyway, we had conversation after conversation along these lines: "Eliza, what do you get out of provoking your sister?" "Ummmmm ... it's fun." "Well, please find some way to have fun that doesn't beat our family sanity to a pulp." But we weren't really getting anywhere. And the wee one, she don't take nuthin' lyin' down.

A couple weeks ago we went down to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to see our friend Bethany receive a Life-Saving Award from the City for saving Caroline's life. Of course, the very nice folks there also made much over our little miracle child and her big brother, The Hero.

A suspicion began nagging at me. You know the whole Middle Child Syndrome thing? I started to wonder how it might feel to be sandwiched between the Miracle Child and the Hero. And what if the Miracle Child also spent hours every day creating artistic masterpieces and reaping appropriate amounts of attention for it? And what if the Hero also had a dominant personality? Hmmmm.

I shared my thoughts with a group of friends and they suggested I do a little investigation. So, that very evening, my girl and I went for a walk. And we talked, about whatever she wanted to discuss. And somewhere on the next street over, I asked her the whole drowning crisis had been for her. The conversation lasted about two minutes and featured the words, "Well, from my perspective ..." coming out of her mouth. And I kept a straight face when that happened. And then reminded her how special and important she was to us. And that was that.

It's funny how, when kids challenge our patience, sometimes the thing they need most (time alone with us) is what we least feel like offering. But y'all, I am here to bear witness. For the entire week after that little walkie-talkie, my child sprouted angelic wings. Fairy dust practically sprinkled her path. Harmony reigned in our home, as if a tropical weather front had blown in. Maybe it was the conversation. Maybe it was the one-on-one time. Whatever it is, I'm ready to make this a tradition.

Long live the Sunday evening walk!