Thursday, November 10, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Catching Up (Week In Review 122)

As a kid, I loved the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was taken from the moment Lucy pushed through the fur coats of the wardrobe and felt the bristle of pine needles from a forest unknown brush her face. Stepping through a door into a world all my own - one of adventure, popping with magic - was a secret I wanted in on. Not knowing of any such door, I created what secret spaces I could (a library under the frame of my bed, a second on the top shelf of my closet), places requiring a flashlight, stack of fiction, and tolerance for cramped quarters.

The first week of September, Audrey and I were attending a meeting at church when she had to use the bathroom. Drying her hands, she asked, "where does that door go?" Before I could answer, she opened the closet door reflected in the bathroom mirror, a door that I must have looked at a hundred times without ever seeing. We didn't delve into the closet to explore what hid behind the hanging clothes, but as has happened countless times the past five years, I left with my eyes opened wider and my imagination tripped. The past several months have reminded me of the magic in plain sight as our family has taken on new adventures at home and an ocean away. Jason and I ventured to Rome for a belated ten-year anniversary celebration; our family ventured with some of our closest friends to Disney World; and at home, we ventured into homeschooling (more on that later). As I finally buckle down to the job of "getting back on track" (uploading pictures that date back to summer, clearing away the remnants of a recent fifth birthday celebration, and wiping down the fifth chair in the kitchen that designates Jack's new place at the dinner table), I can't help but feel the sensation of something small, yet real, prickling around me - pine needles against cheeks. I think we may have just walked through a door.

But before we address the magic of the days at hand, a quick look back to magic past:

Jack's eyes are the shade of Becoming. They are not the Ball jar blue of his siblings, reflecting the light of fireflies, making it their own. His are embers of flint, slowly burning their own fire, shape and path unknown. While the rest of us wonder who he will become, he seems to know himself just fine, speaking (or screaming) his mind and threatening to crawl at any moment. The only sure fact, as a smile sends sparks to his eyes, is that his fire is catching.

Nate still prefers to let his actions do the talking as he catapults himself from the rocking chair into his brother's crib (with Jack in the crib, usually asleep), or soothes Jack's cries by picking up a bottle (and the slack) when he notices my hands are busy, or balances said bottle on Jack's head as if it's his latest party trick. He refuses to say "please," but can be coerced into saying "ooh la la" when receiving a meal, and says "elbow" just because he can. Of course, who needs words, when plugging your fingers in your ears and laughing when your sister begins to sing gets your point across just fine.

Audrey, as always, speaks for herself.

On her mother:

"I love you so much that if I woke up and you were dead, I'd cry." Thanks, honey. That's sweet. And morbid.

One Sunday I was sick in bed with a stomach bug. Audrey brought me up a glass of water and placed it on the nightstand. I asked if she could hand it to me. "I don't know if we're allowed to drink in bed," she said with a sly smile.

On her father:
"Why are you so competitive?" she asked while trying to win an argument during an international phone call.

"I'm kind of a big deal," Jason said, attempting to keep a straight face at dinner one night.

"You're just a box with old numbers in it," said Audrey.

On faith:
While at my parents' house during a visit from my little sister, Audrey informed her aunt that when she's afraid, she just puts her trust in God. Later, she asked me to push her on a decades-old swing hung from a tree branch. After checking out the rusted chains, she said, "I'm a little afraid that branch might fall down, but I'm putting my trust in God." I warned God that He'd have a real uphill battle on His hands if that branch gave way.

On attitude:

I was attempting to change one of the boys' diapers so we could leave to meet my sister. Audrey kept jumping in the way. "Audrey, I need you to move so we can go see Aunt Ashley. Can you choose to be crazy another day?" I asked.

"Okay," she said, "I choose tomorrow."

On her brothers:

One Friday morning, I sat Jack down in my closet to roll around while I got ready, thinking I had saved him from possible roughhousing by his siblings. Audrey, not realizing he was in there, dashed through the door looking for me, stepping on her brother's face. Jack cried, but quickly recovered. Audrey shrieked inconsolably, flailing her arms and pointing at something on the carpet. Finally, I saw the twig she was motioning to, which she had mistaken for something that had once been a part of her brother's face. (What's that you say? You don't all have random twigs hiding in your closets waiting to be mistaken for body parts?)

Nate likes to wipe up the table after he's eaten. One afternoon after lunch, I noticed a washcloth on the floor and handed it back to him. As I handed it over, I heard Audrey say "no." She was sitting to his left. I was trying to keep Nate occupied while I finished the dishes and told her it was fine. "No it's not. He threw it at me twice," she said.

"Audrey, you're sitting over there now. He can't reach you. It's fine."

"How would you like it if he threw it at you twice?" she asked.

A couple weeks later, I found Nate dressed in a blue dress while Audrey played princess and referred to him as "stepsister".

On exercise:

"Do you want to see my sports' run?"

"There's a difference?" I asked.

"Yes. You have to hold your powerhouse in. Wanna see?"

(Apparently, the three times I've convinced her to do my Pilates DVD with me, were three too many. She also enjoys instructing me to "squeeze my tushie" - while we shop for groceries.)

On women:
One afternoon, I overheard Audrey teaching Nate about women. I'm not sure what secrets she revealed, other than "look at my pretty shoes."

On things that may or may not exist:

"You know that Humpty Dumpty? I don't think he's in real life."

One night, Jason and Audrey were talking about a crab that Jason had made up (during a previous dinner) and tried to convince Audrey was real, but too fast for her to see. Audrey was revisiting the topic, asking if the crab really existed, her expression doubtful.

"You've never met my dad, but it doesn't mean I don't have one," Jason argued.

"Your dad is a crab?"

On escape plans:

As I made dinner one day, Audrey asked me about fires and how we would exit the house from every room were a fire to start. After covering the plan room-by-room, she said, "If there's a fire, I'm grabbing that, that, that (pointing to the last three Lowe's Build and Grow clinic models she had made) and the chocolate bon bons."

On housework:
"I put Jack's clothes on top of his dresser. I was going to put them away, but I didn't understand it." (Referring to my organization of the drawers.)

On having too few or too many:

One weekend, while shopping for groceries, Audrey wanted to ask the cashier for stickers. She forgot. She remembered while leaving the store. Jason told her to not worry about it this time, and maybe she could ask for double next time.

"What's double?" she asked.

We tried to explain that it was twice the amount. After a few failed attempts on my part, Jason said, "it's a lot."

Later, Audrey wanted her drink at dinner. Jason told her to eat more, first. "I've already eaten two (noodles)," she said.

"Eat double that and you can have your milk," he said. "Do you remember what double is?"

Audrey sighed. "A lot."

While doing puzzles with her Uncle Boo, Audrey lost one of the pieces.

"You have to find that missing piece," I said.

"It's MIA," said Boo.

"Don't worry. It's in his A," Audrey said.

On school:

This summer, we thought we might be moving to England for a few months. The children got passports. Jason and I discussed school options and that we thought it might be harder for Audrey to transition abroad if she had started, and been pulled out of, preschool. We waited to hear if we would move. We heard nothing. Tuition came due. A choice had to be made. I chose to homeschool this year and called the preschool to say Audrey wouldn't be attending. We got the call saying the move had been approved, but by the time Jason's work visa could be acquired, he might be finished with the majority of his work in Europe and onto Brazil. We stayed in the Midwest, but decided with Jason's travel schedule to move forward with plans to homeschool.

I broke the news to Audrey while driving in the car. I tried to win her over with the positives (lunches with Daddy when he's able to work from home or we're able to travel to his office, the ability to study subjects in which she's interested, and lots of field trips). She asked what I wanted to do during school this year. "I want to take field trips," I said.

"Okay, mama. But where is a field?"

One day, after reading a story, Audrey decided to copy some of the words she saw printed on the book's pages to practice her handwriting. After a few minutes she asked, "Mom, can you get me a drink, because writing a story does make us thirsty."

We've been reading BOB pre-reader books to practice reading skills. Some of the books feature characters who look like shapes and do various activities that highlight shapes. After reading one such book, I asked, "What shape is Seth hiding in?"

"A rectangle."


"A square."

"What makes it a square?"

"I don't know. God?"

One afternoon, she was completing a worksheet with a picture of a frog on top. I asked her to name the animal at the top of the page. She studied the frog for a minute before nodding her head decisively. "Cathy," she said.

On aging:

"Mom, how big am I?"

"Pretty big."

"I know. Thanks for the opportunity."

"Mom, it's my birthday!"

"I know."

"No you don't."

"Honey, I was there when you were born."


I was there the day Audrey and each of her brothers were born. While I knew on those days that they had begun for us a world anew, I could not see past the tight grip of their fingers or wrinkled brows, past a set of toes and fingers longer than I had expected, or the cry that subsided as long as I was willing to snuggle. I could not see this day, begun with two big kids climbing into bed to stretch and yawn the day into being, the oldest now five, teaching me to learn all over again, the youngest ignoring my requests to stop growing and pace himself, for his mother's sake. The middle one, content to move at his own perfect pace, taking time to beat his imaginary drum at all music he hears, reminds me: be still and watch, the magic is here - no flashlights or wardrobes necessary.

Monday, August 15, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week (Ahem) in Review 121

One Sunday, while riding home from the library, Audrey said, "If I were big, I could pick up houses." After thinking out loud about how she would move houses around if she were to find herself suddenly being of Herculean proportions (and abilities), she asked, "What would you do if you were big?"

"If I were a giant, I would wade across the ocean," I said, surprised at how quickly the words came. Beyond attending an elementary school with a giant as its mascot, I'd never contemplated living that large. "I would walk across the parts of the ocean where I normally can't touch," I said. Then, being neither within spitting distance of the ocean, or possessing boats as feet, I drove home and made dinner like everyone else.

"It's been six weeks since you've blogged," Jason said a few days later. "If you don't blog soon, people will start to worry that something is wrong." That was at least two weeks ago.

All I can say is this: I have average feet. I can't transverse the ocean in mere strides. And that's fine. In fact, I have a feeling that had I the ability to rise up out of the water, I'd miss being in neck-deep. There's so much goodness to get swept up in here.

Since I can't remember everything in order from the last couple of months, this "Week" in Review is going to take a different form. Here, from our experiences of the last couple months are the things I know for sure:

Four-year-olds don't care what size their shoes are. Kids see themselves as one-size-fits-all, and that size is Bigger Than They Are.

I believe Audrey thinks herself ready to take over for me at any moment, should I be deemed unfit. Thursday, I heard Jack gag and turned from doing dishes to find her sticking one of Nathan's spoons in Jack's mouth. When I told her Jack was still too young for spoons, she insisted, "He has to learn." (Apparently, very concerned for her brother's education, she only relented from the exercise when I removed the spoon from her hand). Last month, she asked to give Jack his bottle. A few minutes into the feeding, she positioned his hands together at his chest, propped the bottle on top, and clapped at his ability to hold his own bottle. When she sees me feeding him now, she often reminds me that he can do it himself.

On Tuesday, Audrey asked if she and Nathan could play upstairs while I cleaned up the kitchen. I agreed. After a while, it was quiet. I yelled for her. She came downstairs. "Where's Nathan?" I asked.

"I put him down for a nap."

"Where?" I asked, envisioning her attempting to hoist him (a mere 10 pounds lighter than she) into his crib.

"In my room," she answered. "I scooted him to the end of my bed, put my covers on him, and told him it was nap time."

I went upstairs to investigate. I found a green-and-white-polka-dotted mound at the edge of her bed. Carefully, I pulled up the quilt. Sure enough, there he was, sandwiched between layers of covers, fast asleep, a pacifier between his lips.

Audrey attended Vacation Bible School for the first time this summer. "What will I do at VBS?" she asked a few days before the program started. I told her it would be a lot like Sunday School, but she'd do even more fun stuff. I told her they would sing songs and do crafts and learn about God. "Will they teach me to drive a car?" she asked. I told her she might be disappointed with VBS after all.

The next week she informed me, "I think I know how to drive a car because I rode on the lawn mower with Papaw." (I've been keeping my car keys on a very high hook, just in case she decides to attempt cutting the grass with the SUV).

When it's 85 degrees inside, air conditioning is nice. Having the resources to fix the air conditioning is a blessed thing. But shade trees and friends who distract you when your air conditioning is broken are luxuries no one should be without.

The strong silent types are apt to break your heart, or every bone in their bodies.

Nathan is a boy of few words. I know he knows some. Last month he brought a shoe to me, said "shoe" perfectly and walked away. I'd never heard him say it before, and I haven't heard it since.

I haven't heard much out of him at all, which is troublesome, because in those moments of quiet, every other part of him is busy.

Nate has been trying to jump from a standing position for a month. He can manage to get one leg off the floor, but unbalances himself too much to get airborne with the second. He has, however, figured out how to pull himself up onto the coffee table and jump onto the couch from that vantage point.

Last week, I walked into the office to find him sitting on top of the desk. I had moved the chair away from the desk earlier in the day thinking I'd eliminated that ability. I put him on the floor and asked him how he'd gotten up there. I meant it rhetorically. He answered me anyway. He pulled open the bottom drawer (initially intended to hold a typewriter), used it as a step, and pulled himself onto the desk.

Yesterday, he discovered that if he gets into the coat closet, overturns his sister's basket (dumping out her bicycle helmet, scarf, hats and mittens, and sunglasses) he can use the basket as a stool to reach anything on the kitchen island he desires. I need to put bells on his shoes, because it seems the only person he wants to make noise for is the little boy reflected from the stove front who dances just like him.

Sometimes, the deepest kind of gratitude can be found in the discovery of the simplest facts. For example, Nathan is not allergic to bees - something I discovered after he overturned a buried hive in some mulch, receiving seven stings before I could reach him and pull him away. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude.

Those rumors about apples and trees? They just might be on to something.

I bought some peaches last month. When I got them home, I grabbed a stoneware bowl, filled it with the peaches, and placed it on the counter. Then, I watched as Audrey put a place mat in the center of the kitchen table and grabbed an empty colander from a cabinet that she placed on top, before dumping our newly purchased bunch of bananas inside.

Jason has been trying to break himself of saying I thought in my head, since, well, where else do your thoughts come from? Last month (and tonight) I overheard Audrey begin her sentence, "We'll have to think in our mind..."

This month, Audrey returned from a birthday party to find me watching the food network. I asked if she wanted to come outside to play while I did yard work. "Only if you record this so I can watch it later," she said.

Baby smiles are contagious, and their kisses therapeutic. (Lately, I've been the lucky recipient of both).

Sometimes, the littlest among us leave the biggest footprints.

Lately, I've been calling the baby Chief, as in Commander-in-Chief, because I find myself to be constantly in the act of moving him to a more secure location to save him from mass destruction. And somehow, as we all fawn over him (Jack accepting this fate with the widest of grins) the name fits.

One never outgrows the magic of fireflies. Or S'mores. Or reading books by flashlight.

If wonder is the default state of childhood, then the default state of parenthood is shock and awe.

The first day of July, the older kids ran upstairs while I was busy feeding Jack. After several minutes of quiet, I yelled up, "Audrey, what are you guys doing?"

"We're up to something!" she said.

Ten days later, Audrey was sent to her room within ten minutes of getting up for the day. I sent her back to her room for a timeout. When I went to get her, I found her dressed, her bed made, and the clean clothes that had been stacked on a chair put away in her dresser. I sat down to "talk to her" about why she had been sent to her room. I was really steadying myself to keep from passing out from the shock.

One rare morning last month, when Audrey was allowed to begin her day by watching something on television, she became disgruntled with the sun coming through some curtain-less windows (above our standard windows) creating a glare. "Mom, the sun!" she complained.

"Honey, I can't do anything about the sun."

"You could put pillows in the windows," she said.

One afternoon in late July, Audrey found a fly swatter in our basement. A few minutes later, I heard her say, "Nate, you're a fly. Run!" (A few minutes after that, I saw him biting her toes).

We made a trip to Camp Tecumseh last week to visit with friends. As with all car rides, as soon as I put the car in motion, Audrey asked that I tell her a story. She typically gives me guidelines as to what the story should be about (for example, on the Fourth of July, she asked that I tell her a story in which Dora and Boots build a house, after which, Boots eats a piece of bacon only to find that he's allergic). As we drove down the highway, she said, "But this time, the characters will be Dora and Boots" (lately we've been on a baby dragon kick, in which the baby dragon is always discovered hatching from an egg by a little girl named Sweetheart).

"Character?" I said. "You know the word character?"

After a thorough quizzing, during which, I determined that she did, indeed, know the definition of character and that inanimate objects don't count, I did what any, ahem, fanatical English major would and asked, "Do you know what 'setting' is?"

I then explained what the setting of a story is, followed by a brief quiz of the settings of all the Dr. Seuss books we had read that week, before settling into the requested Dora and Boots story, the plot of which I can't remember, only that Audrey did not approve of the outcome, to which I responded, if she didn't like the ending, she could make up her own stories.

Summer is as fleeting as popsicle drips.

The world has its own set of checks and balances to keep you grounded. They are called preschoolers.

When Jason travels, I try to keep the kids busy with special outings and play dates with friends. Upon meeting up with some good friends recently, their mother relayed a little story. Her daughters had recently watched The Incredibles. When she later told them that they were going to see baby Jack, they couldn't contain their excitement, assuming it was Jack-Jack from the movie (a seemingly ordinary baby until he suddenly harnesses the ability to burst into a flaming fireball at the end of the movie). As apt as our family is to All Hail the Chief, I think the girls were slightly disappointed that Jack's only real talent thus far seems to involve projectile spitting and not the ability to instantaneously combust. Although, he has figured out how to light up his mother.

As impressed as I might be when Jason calls and describes his ventures abroad (this summer he's had to make a trip to England and one to Barcelona), Audrey isn't as easily dazzled. During a phone call from London, she asked what he'd been doing and eating (she has a tendency to ask what he's eaten when he's away). "I've been eating in really old buildings," he told her.

"Ah, poor Daddy," she said.

Before Jason left for Barcelona, Audrey drew him a picture of a train. Jason had set the picture on a table just long enough for Nathan to find it. Audrey came across her artwork a little worse for wear. She brought it to her father.

"You need to move your picture so it doesn't get crinkled," she said. "Did you want it crinkled?"

"No," he said.

"Well, it's crinkled."

One night after studying her father at dinner, Audrey said, "Daddy, God forgot to give you hair."

"God didn't forget. I just lost it," he said.

She turned to me. "So Mama, did you see where he put his hair?"

With kids like these, you don't have to be a giant to live large. You just have to remind yourself to sit back every once in a while and take it all in. Until next time...

Friday, June 17, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 120

Audrey just propositioned me for a monkey. But Mom, our house would be its cage. But Mom, it could play with my toys. But Mom, a monkey would be excellent! These conversations lead to bargains. Let's buy an elephant. How about a giraffe? We could keep it in the backyard. A hippopotamus? A sheep? A horse? A pig? These negotiations lead to talks about the Home Owners' Association. I explain that while she sees our house as the perfect "cage" for a monkey and our backyard as suitable living quarters for (at the very least) a pig, others do not view the world through her lens. There's a lot of that going around. Audrey is developing a "world" view of her own. It may not seem cohesive to the rest of us. On any given Wednesday, it might include a pair of flowered shorts being the perfect hat for a sunny day and the branch of a pear tree acting as an acceptable umbrella holder. It's not always ideal. It may not make sense to the masses. But, it's always original, delivered with the kind of pluck that only a four-year-old can muster. And (luckily), she's more than willing to share it with the rest of us. Our moments, from the last few weeks:

The first week of June:

I try to keep the television off while the kids are awake. But, there is something about the nonstop feeding of a newborn that draws me to the couch - and the remote, especially on weekends. I think that Jason has the other kids occupied. I tell myself they aren't paying attention. I turn on HGTV and watch marathon episodes of House Hunters. Audrey plays between the kitchen and the family room, wrestling with Jason, clobbering any available brother, and creating chaos from everyday home furnishings. Midway through my second or third House Hunter's episode one day, she asks, "Why do they let people sneak in the houses?"

Later that week, I was putting Audrey to bed. Like always, we said a prayer. Unlike always, Audrey insisted that we pray for rhyming things. We thanked God for our nose and toes, dogs and frogs and polliwogs (okay, not really for polliwogs, but you get the idea). We try to take a little time to learn a verse or two at night as well. Apparently, Audrey thought she could put her own spin on the verses. That night, she thought she would just create her own. According to Audrey, John 14:6 says, And He will tickle us.

On Saturday, I was clipping coupons. Audrey wanted in on the action. She cut out coupons and any pictures that interested her. She found an ad with a picture of the world. "Mama, it's the whirled! It's the whirled! I want to cut out the whirled!"

Second week of June:

On Monday, I think Nathan wanted to show that he's taking in a little bit more of the world (or whirled, if you prefer) around him, too, as he sat a book, opened to a picture of a bird, in my lap and said what sounded like a Nate-version of "bird". He hasn't said it since, but "ball" has become a vocabulary mainstay for our little guy.

Tuesday, after making a comment that proved Jason wrong, Audrey said, "I got you with that one."

The following day, she and I were building houses with Legos. After showing me her technique, she asked, "Now do you know the proper way to make a house?"

Saturday, while eating lunch, I was telling Jason about running into a friend who, seeing Nate for the first time, said, "Well, you can definitely tell who his daddy is."

"Really? Do you see it?" he asked.

I looked at Nate. He turned in my direction, smiled, and made a monkey face.

"Yes," I said.

Third week of June:

Monday morning, I caught Nate unwinding a skein of garden twine through the office and into the dining room. I told Nate "no." "It's okay," Audrey said as Nathan stomped exuberantly on the twine. "He's just making it pretty and clean."

Tuesday morning, Audrey and I were playing dress up. She placed a red wig on my head, along with my sister's wedding veil. Then, she tried to slide elbow-length child-sized gloves up my arms. "You're the God fairy," she said. "You're the Godfather." I believe I was supposed to be the fairy Godmother, but you can call me The Don.

We typically light a candle at dinner as something that sets that time apart as special family time. Tuesday, the older kids were having a sleepover at Grammy's, so Audrey wanted to light a candle at lunch before she left for the night. We had finished lunch and the candle was blown out. Audrey noticed the melted wax surrounding the wick. "What is the water?" she asked. I explained that when wax melts, it becomes liquid. "Oh! Liquid is inside of toads!"

Toads contain liquid that may or may not be related to wax. Scarface wears elbow-length pink satin gloves. Nate's newly acquired longer reach has him sneaking his fingers into the kitchen drawers and running through the house brandishing a turkey baster. When he stomps on things, they magically become clean. Jack is looking less like a baby and more like the boy he's about to become (and teasing us with the occasional smile). I haven't seen the tops of my counters in weeks. And this house, well, it might just be the perfect home for a monkey.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 119 and then some

This week, I tried to revamp my to-do list method. In the midst of major life changes, I get antsy. Those with sage advice (or just plain common sense) would tell me to simply get a hold of myself, to self-swaddle and reign in my flailing arms that can't keep up with demand - to wait for the pace to settle down around me rather than try to lasso the moving parts into submission. But I can't help myself. When my world kicks up the momentum, my instinct is to grab a rope and pretend I can tie a good knot. Or, at the very list, make a to-do list.

So, I've been making to-do lists: lists void of those refreshing dark black slash marks that acknowledge accomplishment. When life kicks things up a notch, nothing is more depressing than a list void of those black slash marks. After reading this post, I decided some to-do list editing was in order. I added my own twist. I started by making a list of my important life categories: faith, family, health, creativity, and educational activities for the kids (yes, friends also made this list, but time constraints being as they are right now, I decided my friends were realistic and would realize that they aren't going to be seeing me or getting phone calls/emails for a couple weeks). Then, I came up with small (in some cases, minuscule) tasks for each category. My first new to-do list day looked something like this:

Print off chronological Bible reading list.
Make pizza dough with Audrey for family pizza night.
Take a walk.
Blog for 15 minutes.
Make list of daily, weekly, monthly, annual cleaning tasks for 2 rooms (yes, I realize this seems as if it has nothing to do with kids' educational activities, but I've decided that we need to get organized so I can locate the necessary materials to do the educational activities first).

I felt instantly rejuvenated. I had a plan, one that looked simple. I could do this. The day ended. Three of my five simple tasks were crossed off. I laughed at myself.

Last night, my mother-in-law kindly volunteered to come over and make us dinner. Dinner and dishes off of my plate, I had the kids bathed early. All three were in bed by 8:30. Jason had plans, so I had a couple hours to myself. This is typically the time I would blog, or knit, or do something really crazy like wipe the hand prints off the refrigerator door. But my eyelids, of which I'm not typically aware, had a definite weight to them. As I sat on the couch, finishing a row of knitting and trying to will myself to turn on the computer to write, I heard Nate crying. He has four teeth coming in this week (I believe "teething machine" is the term you're searching for) and has had a bit of trouble settling himself into naps and sleep. I left my knitting and pulled him from his crib. We nestled into my bed, and at nine o' clock (a time that my head hasn't seen my pillow since I was a preteen or harboring a fever) we both found sleep - it only took Nathan draping himself across my head, which one would imagine would make it impossible for me to fall asleep, but sadly, it didn't. Waking for a two a.m. feeding session more awake than I've felt in days, I decided that to-do lists were overrated - not that I won't be making one later this afternoon.

To-do list or not, there are a few items I can't help but feel called to do, like write down a few moments from our weeks past, the ones I would hate to forget. So, without further adieu, here is a rather belated, rather simplified, Week in Review for that past few weeks - a highlight reel, if you will.

From the week leading up to Jack's birth:

Monday night, Jason's arm was draped across my belly. Jack kicked a roundhouse that shifted my entire abdomen. "Holy! Did you feel -," Jason broke off laughing, "of course you felt that." Jason rested, his arm up against me for a few minutes before turning to face the other direction. "I don't think I can fall asleep if I keep my arm there feeling that all night." Welcome to pregnancy, honey.

Tuesday night at dinner, Audrey wanted to tell us the creation story. After she finished, Jason asked her what happened to Adam and Eve. "They had to leave the beautiful garden," she said.

Jason explained consequences and that they were asked to leave the garden as a consequence of disobeying. "How would you like that?" he asked. "How would you like if Mommy and Daddy threw you out of the house every time you disobeyed?"

"You couldn't do that," she said, "the porch is hard."

Wednesday, while Grammy was visiting, Nathan began throwing his food from the table to the floor. Grammy told him he was being bad. Audrey, ever the diplomat, said, "He's not a bad boy. He's just making a bad choice."

Thursday, I asked her what she had done at school. "I thought about what I could do for my tea party while I worked on other things," she said.

"What did you think of?"

"Running through sprinklers. Making mud puddles. Going on a flower hunt. Taking leaves off trees." This isn't going to be your run-0f-the-mill tea party.

We had Jack the next morning. Below, a few of my favorite moments and one-liners from our hospital stay:

Friday evening, a lactation consultant made a visit. Before leaving she informed us that the nurse assigned to our room that evening was one of the best. "So you're good until 7," she said.

"What happens at seven?" Jason asked. "Do they bring on the B team?"

Saturday morning I managed to catch the hospital table on wheels (holding a pitcher of water, a folder full of papers, and a slew of medical supplies) on the rail of the bed as I was attempting to reposition the bed. The table flipped over, creating a shower of water and medical supplies. Jason refused to let me help clean it up. I apologized for creating the mess. "It was a freak accident," he said, mopping up the floor with a towel. "You're the freak."

Sunday, our nurse came in for a quick check. "What is your pain level?" she asked me.

"I'm at about a five," said Jason.

The first week of May Jason stayed home from work to assist with the day-to-day household functions and help us make a smoother transition into family-of-five status. He took on the role of chauffeuring Audrey to and from preschool. En route on Tuesday, she asked if they were going to be late. He informed her that they should be on time (they were, in fact, several minutes early). She told him that she liked him taking her to school. "Mommy bees (is) late all the time."

The following week, I took advantage of the warm weather and sent Audrey on backyard expeditions while I was busy with her brothers inside. Monday, she asked if she could take a beach towel and a snack outside to have a picnic. I agreed. I noticed she pitched her beach towel right next to the fence where our neighbor was tilling his garden. When she ran back to the door to ask for seconds, I told her to let our neighbor finish his work. "I am," she said, "I'm just talking to him so he doesn't get lonely or bored."

Last week, Nathan attempted to mimic his sister and hop through the kitchen. He would have pulled it off, if he could have gotten his legs underneath himself rather than stumbling back onto his thickly diapered bum. He also decided that silverware (which he had been trying use consistently) was overrated, adopting a vacuum technique of putting his open mouth to plate and "hoovering" his food inside.

That Friday, as we did dishes, Jason and I were remembering how rough our first five months of parenting were and contemplating how different they might have been had we realized that Audrey wasn't getting enough breast milk sooner (something we discovered when she nose-dived off the growth charts at six months old). "But, we're stronger for it," I concluded.

"You're stronger. I'm still weak," Jason said.

"You're not weak," said Audrey, who had wandered into the kitchen.

"Thanks, Audrey."

"You just look weak," she said.

Now, Jack is one month old. He's contemplating longer stretches of sleep, but still weighing his options. Nathan has begun saying "hello," always accompanied by a hand (or stolen cell phone) raised to his ear. Yesterday, after inviting Nathan into the cave she'd just constructed from the kitchen bill-payers' desk and draped receiving blankets, Audrey finished schooling her brother on some topic by stating, "Just check on Facebook and you'll learn all about it." Suffice it to say, time marches quickly and no to-do list (no matter how well constructed) can contain it.

But that doesn't mean we quit trying. Until next time...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Boy Named Jack

One morning in late April, I woke before the sun, street lights humming, my duffel bag packed with essentials. Street lamps cover only the area in need: one might do well to follow suite when preparing for a short trip. But I find, when about to embark on a life-changing adventure, I like to arm myself with the things that nourish me, regardless of practicality or good sense. Somewhere between grabbing a few bites of oatmeal and my knitting-in-progress, I made a quick pass by the office bookcases, scanning the shelves for something I'd yet to read. My fingers settled on Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, pulling it from the shelf and tucking it into one more small canvas bag for the hospital. It was five o' clock in the morning. I was leaving the house to go have a baby. No where did reading fall into my weekend plans. I have a tendency to over pack.

I did crack open the spine of the book toward the beginning of our stay. I made it just past the epigraph, a couple paragraphs into the first page before the events of real life pulled me away. I hadn't yet read the book jacket before opening the book that morning, so I found the epigraph ironically fitting for the day:

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.

- Vida Winter, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation (fictional author from the book)

The only person who mythologizes a child's birth more than the child is, perhaps, the child's mother. So let me tell you a story, about the day a boy named Jack was born.

I find the coming of every child to be different. The day we went to the hospital to have Audrey, I knew she was coming. "Something feels different," I told Jason when I woke that morning.

"No," the doctor said, examining me later that day, "let's go ahead and schedule an appointment for you the week after your due date." Sure enough, by ten o' clock that night, I was in labor. Audrey, always one to do things her own way and keep them interesting, was almost delivered with her water sac intact. But what I remember most from that day was locking eyes with her for the first time, knowing that in an instant she had changed who I was.

I thought Nate was coming for weeks. He wasn't. I was in the doctor's office the day of his due date, hooked up to a monitor for a stress test. "You're having contractions six to seven minutes apart," the nurse said, "you're just not feeling them." The doctor suggested we go out to eat while she booked us a room at the hospital for later that evening. While last-minute Christmas shoppers filled the parking lot of the mall nearby, Jason and I went on a date to P.F. Chang's. We took our time, speculating what this little guy would be like and enjoying one last evening out for a while. When Nate did decide to come, he came like a sudden driving downpour, beating our doctor or anything resembling a real set of pushes. But, in spite of his dramatic entrance, Nate brought a sense of calm to a hectic season - our sweet boy, slow to cry and quick to cuddle for whose carefree spirit I have felt a swell of gratitude since the moment I laid eyes on him.

Jack, I believe you wanted to be born in May. If you felt rushed, I apologize. If you were hoping for the attention and quiet that come with being an only child, again, I apologize. By the time you came around, we were quite the packaged deal. Packaged deals require certain provisions - like childcare while Mama and Daddy are at the hospital. So after a week of irregular contraction teases and back pain and steadily making our way to three centimeters, we decided to make an appointment to meet you, a few days early, on a Friday that worked well for everyone involved. Luckily, you took to the plan. You arrived in less than three hours. While your birth was quicker than your brother's, yours was somehow more methodical - paced. After I give birth, I have a tendency to shake - violently. I don't know why. It worried my OB-GYN the first time she saw it. I imagine it worried your father even more. After your brother and sister were born, he made quick trips between me and each baby, not wanting to leave me in that condition for long. But with you, Jack, the tremors held off for a good twenty minutes and I was able to witness your father cut the umbilical cord and hold you for the first time, carrying you around the room; standing next to you taking videos as the nurse checked you out and commented on your tight hand grip; petitioning, once again, for the name he thought would fit you best (he was right). Audrey made me a mother, shifting my priorities and opening untapped dreams. Nathan drew us to bring our focus home, to seek and feel gratitude for the calm there, regardless of the whirlwind just outside the door. And you, Jack, gave me the gift of falling in love with your dad falling in love with you. You have already changed the world as we knew it, and we're so glad you're here.

Jack Hudson
7 lbs. 7 oz. and 19 1/4 in. long
With dark hair, pianist's fingers, and a tight grip on our hearts.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Weeks in Review 117 and 118

I listen to the radio twice a week as I drive home from dropping Audrey off at preschool, switching the radio back to whatever our CD of choice is (lately it's been Dr. Jean songs, remakes of childhood favorites like "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" transformed to "We've Got the Whole Globe in Our Hands" to teach the names of the continents, etc.) when I pick her up. Last week, driving home, the deejay was relaying a story about a nine-year-old hero. While visiting their grandmother, the boy's two-year-old sister had fallen into the pool. She was discovered and pulled out by her mother, but was no longer breathing. The brother performed CPR, resuscitating his sister. When asked where he had learned CPR, the boy replied, "from watching TV."

It's the sort of story that makes my heart stop as I imagine the panicked mother and grandmother. It's also the sort of story that reminds me of the qualities of childhood I love and admire. Only a child would leap to act saying, "stand back, I saw this on Nickelodeon,"* without hesitating to second-guess his abilities. As adults we plan, we fret, we take classes that provide certificates to prove our competence. Then we act.

Two weeks have slipped by here without a Week in Review. The last, especially, has been a week of fretting and attempts to plan as we thought we might be meeting our little guy waiting in the wings. Wednesday morning brought with it back pains and labored breathing, followed by an evening of an often-contracted (although, without pain) stomach. Wednesday night, "just to be safe," we sent the kids to visit their grandparents. Thursday, a stress test confirmed that my contractions were 7-8 minutes apart, where they seem to be happy staying. Now (kids back at home), we wait (with mama trying not to fret about the possible logistics of days to come). There's one thing we've come to learn about kids: they don't come with a plan; they simply act.

The actions, and thoughts, witnessed around here the past two weeks:
(April 10-16)

Lately, we've been meeting up with some close friends on the weekends. With the exception of a two-year-old, Audrey is the only girl. Monday, at dinner, she was talking about our recent get-together and wanting to have more friends over.

"I want to have a lot of friend boys over," she said.

"I don't think I like you having a lot of friend boys over," Jason said.

"I won't have a lot. I'll just have a little."

Wednesday, while playing outside, Audrey got a splinter. It was still in her hand when Jason got home. "This is very disappointing to me," she said as she showed it to him.

While outside, she had created a batch of "dandelion soup," which had apparently gone missing. She wondered aloud what happened to it.

"Maybe dragons ate it," Jason said.

"There aren't any dragons in this whole world (pronounced whirl - Ed)."

Later, at dinner, she turned to Jason. "Daddy, you have a sweet voice."

"I do?"

"Yeah. Today."

Thursday, Nathan moved one step closer to boyhood as he laughed at the sounds of his own farts.

Friday morning, Audrey sent the following text to Jason:

Dear Daddy,
Audrey has sent a lovely message for you. Help Daddy to be welcome for the message. Help him to be the papa. Help him to take his phone to work and help him to bop-a (she paused her dictation to laugh and tell me, "that's silly"). Help him to work and eat his food. And help him to take a bear to work.

Jason's response to me: Darn, I forgot the bear.

Jason's text to Audrey:

Daddy loves his pancake. Help her play with her friends. Help her have a good lunch. Help her earn a sticker. Help her to bop-a! Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side, silly! Roses are red and violets are blue!!!!!

After I finished reading the message, Audrey began to laugh. "Silly-headed put two jokes (pronounced joke - ez) on it."

(April 17-23)

Saturday, I bought an end table at a garage sale to use as a night stand in Nathan's new room. The table has a small pull-out drawer and a door on the front that opens to reveal a storage space big enough to fit a dainty preschooler once the drawer has been removed (creating the perfect peep hole). It was $5 of weekend-long entertainment as the kids took turns crawling inside and laughing at each other peeking out of the drawer hole. Monday, Nate found a new use for the end table. He moved a stool to the right side, positioned himself on the stool crouched on his knees and proceeded to use the table as a block-building desk.

Tuesday morning, Audrey came into my room saying me her stomach hurt. She crawled into bed next to me and pointed at her stomach. "This belly."

As I worked at the kitchen table that morning during a rain storm, Nathan rolled around on the rug underneath, acting like he wanted a nap. Unable to get comfortable, he raised his hands to be put on my lap. He quickly changed his mind, finding my belly not to be the soft pillow it looks to be, and wiggled back to the rug where he attempted to burrow his head into Emmy's backside. Emmy obliged for a few moments before deciding she was better off braving the storm alone rather than serving as a toddler's pillow.

The most anticipated event of Audrey's week was scheduled for Wednesday, the day I woke up feeling as if early signs of labor were underway.

"Is it your birthday today?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Yea! The Easter egg hunt is today!" (Our church was hosting an Easter egg hunt that evening.).

I told Audrey that we might not get to go if I had to go to the hospital.

"That's okay. The Easter egg hunt is at night. You can go to the hospital during the day."

Later that day (as she does most days), she asked if anyone was coming over. I told her that her Papaw might if I went to the hospital.

"No," she said. "I have to go to MOPS (the group hosting the Easter egg hunt). He doesn't know where the church is."

As we prepare for Easter morning, and what I am sure will be one more day filled with requests for egg hunts, I'm reminded of the unexpected: the concealed goodies inside of colorful eggs; well-intentioned women with thought-out plans arriving at their destination to find it abandoned; and unlikely heroes, willing to act. Wishing you a happy Easter, and the joy of being surrounded by little ones adamant to make you celebrate, regardless of your plans.

*This quote is a complete dramatization. I have no idea what the child was actually watching or really said during his heroics.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

For G on His Birthday

Not all the projects around here have been of the practical sort. Some are soft on the hands and warm up the heart like this little crown, made for a dimple-cheeked boy quick to walk and easy to hug, who knows his way around a hearty laugh. These are the projects that you can't help but smile while making because while you wish you could be there to squeeze the intended recipient on his special day, you know that at least this little felt hat will be hugging his head. This, hat (ahem, "modeled" by Nate) made a trip cross-country to help my nephew, Greyson, celebrate his first birthday. Greyson, we couldn't have imagined you any better. And, one year later, we can't imagine this world without you. Happy birthday, sweet boy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Name is Kristin

and I might have a problem. I have yet to search the web to discover if a clinical term exists for my condition, or if quirky suffices. What I can tell you is this - I've developed a bit of a habit. The first time, the incident occurred innocently enough. I was pregnant with Audrey, somewhere between second-trimester carefree and get-your-bags-packed-Junior-is-on-her-way, when Jason informed me he had to leave for a business meeting. At a ski resort. In the mountains. With little chance of cell coverage. I was a first-time mother and one of my mother's three preemies, all determined to surprise the world and our relatives by arriving 5-6 weeks early. I had heard metaphors about apples and trees. I knew approximately 7 people (two of which had drivers licenses) in our then hometown outside of Richmond, Virginia. While there seemed to be plenty of time and odds were surely in our favor, I was varying shades of nervous, and in absolute need of distraction. And, we had an untouched guest room.

After Jason's car pulled away from our townhouse headed toward the mountains, I hopped in mine and drove to the hardware store. I bought two cans of paint in similar hues, a mask, and some blue tape. Once home, I pulled out our stud finder/level with a red laser and penciled a horizontal line midway down the guestroom wall (for those of you wondering how someone with only two hands tackles such a feat, the answer is simple - secure the stud finder with duct tape) and began a three day project of two-tone painting our guest room wall. I remember pulling my mask from my face long enough to assure my mother (as I stood atop a folding chair, roller in hand) that, of course, I was taking it easy. Three days later, Audrey was still right where I'd left her and Jason came home to a new room.

I'm not really sure at what point something outgrows quirky and turns to down-right addiction. What I do know is that each time I'm pregnant and Jason's car steers him toward a mountain or airport, my car finds itself in the hardware store parking lot. So, it should come as no surprise that this January, as Jason embarked on his first transatlantic trip, I embarked on an adventure of my own. It began at Home Depot. While Jason boarded a plane wearing a just-purchased winter coat for the damp London weather, I had another article of clothing on my mind - a little sweater we bought for Nate
the night we found out that he'd be having a little brother. It was striped. It had tiny brown buttons. Its bottom edge and sleeves rolled in the teeniest bit. The only thing that made it more perfect was Nate wearing it. Then, one day, I found myself looking at the sweater thinking, maybe this sweater is actually a bedroom. And so it began, at a Home Depot with two buckets of Freshaire paint in Organic Garden. The color is a gray with the perfect hint of blue, the kind of shade that makes me slow down for just a minute every time I open the door to Nate's new bedroom.

I would love to say that Jason came home from a week in England to a freshly painted bedroom. But circumstances have changed since my first foray in pregnancy-induced painting five years ago. The days of painting two-toned rooms uninterrupted are gone. Now, my painting consists of forty minute pockets of time as long as the nap is holding. So, a mere two months after I began, this project was complete (at least that's what I'm calling it, I ran out of paint regardless of what imperfections might stand). Nate has moved into his new bedroom. I daydream of curtains, bedding, art, and a few little boy touches that remind me of my sweet little man in his striped knit. But we've reached that in between time, the would-be calm before the storm, if the time before a new baby's birth were ever calm. More precisely, it's the debate-from-within time when I try to decide the best use of what time I have left before sleep deprivation and lack of free hands hits an all-time high. I would love to say that personalizing curtains or creating artwork are on my list of "will-get-dones" before the next little mister arrives. But they're not. However, a few more moments of slow, taking in my little guy's new backdrop and those first moments of his days and last snuggles of his nights - those are definitely on my list. And, that seems to suit us both just fine.

*I think this post is going to appear two-toned, just like my old guest room. That was unintentional. Before posting, I noticed an italicized "i" at the start of the post. Upon erasing it, I turned part of the post a different color. Go figure. It seems like every space has its own idea as to what it should be...

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 116

Last week, Audrey donned her safety goggles before heading out the door to draw pictures with chalk. Safety first. She never told me why she felt she needed the goggles, but I suppose we each prepare in our own ways. This morning, I prepared for the day by retrieving the calendar from a desk drawer to double-check our schedule. What happened next was atypical at best. I began counting days - the number we have left until our due date, to be precise. I don't know what got into me. I won't post the number here. Denial is a procrastinator's best friend. A more practical person might have marched herself straight to the garage to clean out the car and see if that third car seat will indeed fit across the back row (okay, a more practical person would have probably done that months ago). I loaded the kids up and went to the gym, instead. Like I said, we all prepare in our own ways. I do have a mental running list of tasks to accomplish this week - preparations for the events to come. But, what I've found is this: no matter how much we prepare, each of us comes into being and learns to be in his or her own perfect time.

Our cases in point, from the week past:

(I apologize in advance for including this first story. All I can say in defense of myself is that it made me laugh). On Monday, the kids and I were gathered inside and just outside of my bathroom in varying states of readiness. Audrey had popped into the water closet and shut the door. A few minutes later, I hear, "Eww, I smell poop!" As the mom of two little ones and a dog, my first thought was, great, where? As if reading my mind, she responded, "From me, going in the potty." I breathed a sigh of relief. Nathan, playing right outside the bathroom with his sister's dollhouse (a gift from her Grammy, complete with buttons that make noises like a doorbell, washing machine, and toilet) had other ideas in mind. He followed her comment with a toilet flush as if indicating that, perhaps, a courtesy flush were in order to protect the noses of the rest of us.

Tuesday, Audrey was continuing work on an elephant picture she'd been drawing for a couple days. Its details were extensive: a spray of water coming out of the elephant's trunk, a source of water from which the elephant had drawn the water being sprayed, grass, and clouds. She added some worms, rain, a butterfly, and a baby elephant. Then, she pointed to a small pink outline drawn in the grass, "and here is a dead foot. Are you surprised?"

"Where is the rest of the body?" I asked.

"God already took it up." (Naturally).

Wednesday morning, Audrey asked for toast. The toaster's lever sprang up with a bing. "It hatched!" she said.

That afternoon during lunch, Nathan kept trying to pull his bib off. Unable to master the task, he began laughing at himself and his failed efforts. I just love a baby who has mastered self-deprecating humor.

Preschool mornings are always a bit rushed at our house. The kids wake up wanting to play with one another rather than get dressed. Audrey wants to talk or work on projects rather than eat. Thursday was no exception. In a feeble attempt to get Audrey, who was more interested in telling me a story, to eat breakfast, I said, "I'm not talking to you anymore until you're finished eating and we're in the car."

"Okay. I still love you, though."

Thursday evening, Jason was getting Nathan ready for bed. I told Audrey where to find a diaper and pajamas and asked her to take them upstairs to her dad. "Thank you, big girl helper," I said.

"Thank you, big mama helper for trying to tell me what to do."

Friday morning, Audrey asked if she could help get Nate ready. I told her she could try to take his pajamas off of him. She began with the shirt. She kept pushing his sleeves up toward his elbows rather than pulling them down and off. Realizing her tactic wasn't working, she stopped to regroup. She paused for a minute, in thought. Then, she began pulling at her own shirt as she would to take it off, realized her mistake and used her newly-gained knowledge to get her brother's shirt off.

A few minutes later, she told me she wanted two Audreys. She's mentioned wanting a sister several times since discovering she's having another brother. I assumed this was another attempt at telling me how much she wished for a sister. "Do you want a sister or another Audrey?"

"Another Audrey."

"Would she be a baby or be four."

"Four." Upon further questioning, I discovered that she would also look and act just like Audrey. This could be one interesting play date.

Nathan had a new skill of his own to show off Friday evening. As it turns out, he can now blow his nose, which he demonstrated by pulling out and blowing his nose into each bib in the kitchen bib drawer.

Oh yes, each little one comes into his own or learns to be in her own good time. And no amount of time, no matter how well-prepared she might think (or hope) she is, is enough to prepare a mama to watch it all unfold before her, which might just be one of adulthood's great gifts. That, and a self-cleaning car. Where do I get my hands on one of those?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Practical Stitches

This space has been a little sparse in the project department lately. It's not that projects aren't in progress, I just haven't had much time to record them. But, like most things of the last month, these projects lend themselves towards the practical. My knitting needles were feeling a bit rusty last week. I was about to hop into the passenger seat for a fifteen minute ride with my hands empty when a household need (and project that's been on my get-around-to list) popped in my head. I grabbed a couple needles and a ball of garden twine and hustled to the car. Several months ago, I ran across this blog post giving instructions on how to knit a dish scrubber using garden twine. Our dish scrubber had seen better days. We had garden twine (okay, I had just purchased garden twine a month ago with spring and this little project in mind). I had a weekend with a couple of car rides in the passenger seat and a few spare moments at the kitchen table with the kids. I had idle hands but a mind too busy to focus on a project of much complexity. All told, I had the makings of a perfect rustic rectangle - and it is: rough around the edges, glitz-free, but getting the job done. It's a little like us right now. I kind of like it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 115

Do you remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian finds herself staring down a plate of escargot and a line-up of forks that seem completely inappropriate for the task?

"Where's the salad?" she asks.
"Uh, the salad comes at the end of the meal."
"But, that's the fork I knew."

Some days, I worry that I've set Audrey up for such a scene, she desperately counting tines, trying to remember what their numbers mean. It's not that we're an etiquette-free house. I'm simply partial to the salad fork. It feels better in my hand (for those of you picturing me with dainty, smaller-than-average hands, you'd be mistaken), or perhaps, I like that due to its shorter length, I have the illusion that the food has a shorter distance to travel before reaching my mouth. Touch or semblance aside, when Audrey sets the table, I ask for a salad fork. Every time. Our table is a mish-mash of cutlery, toddler-sized forks for the kids, a salad fork for me, and your standard dinner fork for Jason. Audrey doesn't stand a chance.

I could make this simple and change my fork. But sometimes, regardless of etiquette or principle or want, you use the fork that fits. Those have been our weeks of late. As I have spent my sleeping hours up with a teething toddler and my waking hours trying to prepare for the next baby (or recovering from missed sleeping hours) this space has been a quiet one, lying fallow until energy returns and this ground is ready for a fresh turn of the fork.

In the meantime, here are our moments to savor from last week, the ones that filled us up, no utensils required:

Sunday morning, Audrey was running around the family room with a ball "doing tricks" to make Nate laugh. With each new laugh, her tricks became more elaborate. "When he laughs, his face is brand new," she said.

Nate likes to play peek-a-boo. Sunday, he added a little twist to the game, covering his nose with his hands rather than his eyes and smelling his fingers before tossing both arms out in a "ta-da" gesture.

As I'm able, I try to make it to the gym for a workout, which at this point involves pushing Nate around an indoor track in a stroller while Audrey plays or does crafts in the children's area. A couple months ago, no one took note (at least verbally) of my belly, perhaps thinking I simply hadn't lost the baby weight from Nathan. Now, well into my third trimester, note has been taken. On Monday, a man stopped me. "Is that what you call walking for three?" he asked. I believe this same man asked me a little over a month ago, "Is that what you call walking for two?" That day, I almost answered that I was actually walking for three. When I relayed the story to Jason, he informed me that no, when I'm walking to take care of myself, I'm really walking for five.

Tuesday evening I had plans to meet up with two of my favorite ladies. Both celebrate their birthdays in February, but we were finally able to coordinate schedules to honor the occasion in March. Audrey saw me preparing a couple little gifts Tuesday afternoon. She wanted to include a little something of her own and asked me for a couple of blank cards that she could decorate. I struck up a deal. I opened the kitchen cabinet that serves as her art storage. A ream of loose-leaf paper fell at my ankles. "Pick out ten sheets of paper for me to recycle and I'll give you two cards," I said. Audrey agreed. She picked out six. She began bawling. She asked me to photograph one picture for posterity's sake. I snapped a shot and told her she had four more papers to go. "I want my Daddy!" she said.

Wednesday afternoon, Audrey came to me carrying a big plastic pig. "Mama pig has a big snot," she said, pointing at the pig's nose.
"Snout," I said.

That night, Nate and I had a bit of a late night party when he awoke at 4 am, crying inconsolably. I brought him downstairs and spent two hours trying everything I could think of (changing him, feeding him, giving him Tylenol) to calm him down, until he passed out at 6 am and began laughing in his sleep.

Of course, the Law of Averages states that if your youngest child stays up well into the night whittling away at your energy, your oldest will awaken bright and early with energy to spare (okay, the Law of Averages states something entirely different, but in my very scientific study, n=1, the outcome is completely accurate). Audrey began Thursday morning by asking, "Mom, are there fish farmers?"
"Can you teach me about them?"

We spent the morning perusing the Internet, looking at pictures of shrimp farms and catfish tanks and learning what tilapia eat (for those of you wondering, tilapia eat ANYTHING).

"Can we build a fish farm in our backyard?"
"No, honey," I said (followed by a brief explanation of what an HOA is and that our particular one would most definitely not allow a fish farm in our backyard).

By complete happenstance, twenty minutes later a couple of our neighbors walked past our fence carrying fishing poles toward the retention pond. Audrey raced outside to badger them with fishing questions. I saw it as the perfect window of opportunity to sneak Nate upstairs for a nap. Unfortunately, the window wasn't wide enough. Audrey came inside, and unable to find me, began shouting through the house, waking her brother. Wide awake, he skipped his nap until late afternoon, right as we pulled into the grocery store parking lot. As I carefully maneuvered him out of his car seat, Audrey discovered a spare handmade Valentine tucked under one of the seats. She carried it into the store. Hoping to give Nate a much-needed nap, I carried him through the store, maneuvering my cart with my spare hand and asking Audrey to walk right beside me. Five minutes into our trip, she brushed past a potted orchid, knocking it to the ground. As I turned to pick it up, a store employee stopped me and said she'd take care of it. We walked away and I leaned down to Audrey, "I know it was an accident, but can you go tell the lady you're sorry?" I asked. Audrey headed back, talked briefly to the woman, and then bent down placing the Valentine on the ground next to the overturned flower. "I gave her my Valentine," she said, "because she told me it was okay."

Back at home, Nate still safely strapped in his seat sleeping in the garage, Audrey ran upstairs to change into some dress-up clothes. She came down wearing a pair of clown pants - and nothing else.
"Why don't you go put a shirt on under that?" I asked.
"No, my dance group told me this was one without shirts."
Just as I began wondering how she'd gained admission to a topless club at age four, she criss-crossed her straps in front of her, creating a zig-zag pattern and began performing superhero poses.
"I'm a superhero clown!"

Rested, and ready to show off some super moves of his own, Nate practiced spin moves against me, lowering his right arm to the side as he does when dancing, to juke away from the Tylenol dropper - my weapon of choice for lowering his fever.

Saturday morning, Jason had planned to play an online video game against a friend. I was hoping to keep the kids at bay long enough to let him finish uninterrupted. I hoped Audrey would forget it was the weekend and would assume he was already at work. But, she raced downstairs asking where he was. "I want to look for him," she said, pausing by the basement door. "I heard 'ding it!' (dang it) so I think he's downstairs."

I don't remember the last time I wore a cocktail dress to dinner. I've never learned to drive anything other than an automatic, and know about as much about a car "cornering like it's on rails" as I do about aquaculture (actually, after last week, I know more about aquaculture). But Vivian and I both know something about dealing with a week of unlikely circumstances. Sometimes, you just have to stick with the fork you know. Or, when all else fails (or life throws you a plate of "slippery little suckers") just dig in with both hands. And enjoy the ride.

Monday, March 28, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 114

Sunday, the family was loaded into the car, headed to spend an evening with friends. I was telling Jason a story from the passenger seat when a voice piped in from the back, "Mom, don't talk forever. I have something to say."

We laughed. I finished my story. Audrey took her turn. I was reminded of just how much four-year-olds do have to say. And how much they know, especially about themselves:

Monday, Audrey came inside from a successful bug hunt. She placed her captive on the kitchen floor to observe what he would do. Unaware of her plan, Gomer* came by and stepped on the bug, killing it in front of her. Audrey cried the rest of the evening, wailed over her plate of dinner unable to eat, and finally stopped at bedtime long enough to say a prayer for the bug.

The next day, her school received a "Silly Safari" visit. A man came with his bunny (Foo Foo), skunk, baby crocodile, turtle (who wore a diaper), bag of fleas, and bird (who pooped on the floor). The bugs (that Audrey said were fleas) the man pulled out of his lunchbox. They were in a ziplock bag that the man told the class had contained his sandwich for lunch. Audrey found the sandwich-eating bugs rather funny and told me they were her favorite. She then proceeded to tell me that the bird had pooped on the floor and that was her favorite part about the bird.

"Audrey, I think you could be a zookeeper," I said.
She thought this was a good idea and asked just how she'd go about becoming a zookeeper. "I want to be a zookeeper, a farmer, and a mother," she said. "Can I do all that?"
"Audrey, if you want to do all that, I think you will find a way," I said.

Audrey also had an opinion about the things the adults had to say last week. Saturday, Jason and I were talking about Butler's latest win. "I think you should stop talking about that," said Audrey, who is not allowed to use the word "butt". "It sounds like a bad word."

I'm what you'd call an indecisive adult. But, I don't think I was always this way. As a first grader, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. (I don't remember who posed the question, but I believe it was my teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, who never scolded me for doodling in the margins of my worksheets, but wrote comments about how pretty the pictures were, instead). I replied without hesitation, "a writer and a mother." Time passed, and by fifth grade my answer to this question changed as I gained new interests and discovered my friends' interests and heard the suggestions of adults. I was going to be a figure skater, then a friend and I were going to open an optometry clinic, followed by my claim that I planned to become an architect. I entered college with every intention of following the path to become a counseling psychologist.

Within three years, I had all the credits I needed to graduate with a psychology degree. But I stayed in school one more year, racking up English courses and sneaking in a couple creative writing classes for good measure, leaving college with the academic mark of an indecisive woman - a double major in English and Psychology. I meant to attend a graduate clinical psych program, really I did. I had excellent grades and recommendation letters and horrible GRE scores. The handful of programs I applied to rejected me. Then, this boy I knew, asked me to marry him and I found myself, once again, answering a question without hesitation. We moved to a small town near a college campus where I took a job to take advantage of the employee benefit of free college courses, and snuck into as many graduate creative writing courses as I could (where the legitimate MFA students wondered who I was). Four years later, the day before packing our car to move to Virginia, I told Jason he was going to be a father.

Today, I am a mother. Every day, Audrey asks me to make up stories as we travel in the car or eat breakfast. Every once in a while, I check into this space to record pieces of our days. And, while I wouldn't call myself a writer, I will tell you that I've never met an indecisive four-year-old, or first grader. When one tells me she wants to be a mother and a farmer (I won't hold her to the zookeeper since I brought that one up), I'm not surprised that she seems to know herself so well. Those four-year-olds have a lot to say, if we only silence ourselves long enough to listen.

*Some names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent.

As for Nate, our man of precisely a few words, he seems to communicate just fine, pointing to the refrigerator when he wants some milk, shaking his head to let us know what he doesn't want, and jabbering like a talk show host rescued from a deserted island at his last doctor's appointment when he realized that talkative sister of his was nowhere to be found.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Feels Like Spring - at Least on the Inside

According to the latest weather report, spring is taking her sweet time. I can sympathize with her drip-like-molasses nature. But the children of this house are springing forward, with or without the weather's blessing.

Yesterday, we grabbed spring by her indecisive bootstraps and pulled her inside. We began our little planting project outdoors (mama thinking this would be the cleaner option), but the wind felt like puffing his chest and warning everyone about the coming storm. Dirt was in the air and our eyes. So after filling our little toilet paper tubes with seed-starting soil, we took our project indoors where Audrey added a couple broccoli seeds to each tube (and accidentally showered the rest of the miniature peppercorn-looking seeds across the brown rug).

A sprinkle of water and one labeled tongue depressor later, and our makeshift seed-starting cells were set - for whatever spring has in store (or at least for the laundry room counter).

*I found the directions for the toilet paper roll seed-starting cells in Gayla Trail's Grow Great Grub.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

While We Could

We ignored the list of indoor projects (and mama's need for a shower) and set out on a little adventure today, while the sun was shining enough to warm our faces. Audrey stopped along our bike route to collect a handful of sticks. When I told her I thought she would have to leave them behind, she insisted otherwise. These sticks were for a project (what that project is she didn't say). While I had my doubts, I've learned to never underestimate the willpower (or abilities) of a four-year-old. And, never take a sunny day for granted (did I mention it's now hailing outside).

*The sticks, the bicycle, and the four-year-old all made it back to the car safely, where the sticks still sit, piled on the floorboards of the backseat.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 113

Last week was a week of goodness. The week began with goodness - the sigh of relief kind - when word was received that friends, who I'd lost track of after their move home, were safe and doing okay in Japan. Much time was spent sending and receiving emails from other concerned friends as we tried to find out if this family might still be in need of some support, because one imagines that "safe" and "okay" be rather relative terms when watching your direct neighbors experience absolute devastation. Goodness continued - the planned kind - as I made preparations for a breakfast pitch-in I had volunteered to host for my mom's group on Friday. This was followed by goodness of the impromptu kind, when I received a message that my best friend could come up to spend the day Friday and ten minutes later got a text from Jason that his best friend and son would be coming up to spend the weekend. And so, frenzied cleaning (of everything down to the basement - where I've stashed all of my former craft room supplies as it becomes Nate's room - once a guy's game night got scheduled for Saturday) ensued. The weekend was spent with friends and food and nonstop activities from which I'm still catching my breath and hoping to (someday) catch up on sleep. But for today, I will simply catch up on the events of last week - our rather tardy Week in Review, and let those of you wondering just where we've been that we are all safe and okay, in the very best possible way.

Our moments from last week:

Okay, this first one is actually from the Thursday prior (I know, I know) but somehow it got lost until now. Audrey had just injured herself for the third time in an hour (I can no longer remember the injuries, but all were your run-of-the-mill preschooler specialties).

"Audrey, what's the matter? You keep getting hurt," I said.

"I don't know. I think I'm falling apart."

Monday morning, Audrey found Jason's lost house key. Upon retrieving it from the back of the coat closet she said, "It's a pleasure! I'm going to find more pleasures (treasures) and then you'll be excited when I give them to you."

During lunch, she asked me to tell her about Tarzan. I told her he could climb trees really well.

"I remember he could swing from branches. I can't do that," she said.

"Me, either."

"How cool is that?"

"It's pretty cool," I said.

Apparently, I wasn't enthusiastic enough. "No, how cool is that, seriously?"

That evening at dinner, Audrey was discussing the size of dinosaurs with Jason. She was telling him about one in particular.

"Was that the one whose head was as big as a surfboard?" he asked. "Is your head as big as a surfboard?"

"Hm, we'd have to measure that," she said.

Monday, before bedtime, Jason and Audrey invented a new game - an investigation game. He would pose a question such as "where are elephant and giraffe?" Audrey would then ask questions to different witnesses (in this case other jungle animals) and collect clues until she could guess what had happened to elephant and giraffe. Upon questioning a worm, she might find out that he had been scooting through the jungle toward the river until he fell into a big hole shaped like a foot. A monkey might tell her that he was showered with water while playing in a tree near the river even though it wasn't raining, etc.

Tuesday, she suddenly asked, "Mom, what happened to the broken bridge?"

"It broke."

"No, we're playing the game like Daddy last night. You have to ask questions."

I asked questions. I discovered that one animal found a white and black spot; that according to the monkey, it was snowing; that according to another animal (I think it was a sheep) it was actually sunny and the monkey, who likes to joke, was an unreliable witness; that one animal smelled something purple and another smelled salad. So, who broke the bridge?

A shark.

Nate and I clocked several late hours together last week as he cut another tooth. Tuesday night, as I tried to snuggle him to sleep and recover from the day, I turned on the television to find an episode of "What Not to Wear." I thought Nate would lose interest and close his eyes. I didn't think about the show's end-of-the-episode big reveals. Nate heard the friends and family members of the newly-made-over woman screaming and clapping and began to clap and cheer with them.

Wednesday, Audrey began a serious conversation. "We're going to be serious after the baby is born. You, me, Nate, and the baby will all be serious, and we can move the world!"

Nate laughed. "You'll know what it means when you grow up, Nate," she said.

While in the car, I play age-appropriate CDs for the kids. A couple weeks ago, Audrey asked Jason and I what the word "mossy" meant. We told her. When we asked where she had heard "mossy," she said it was in one of the songs. We couldn't think of a song on the CD where mossy would make sense.

Wednesday, while driving to the gym, Audrey yelled from the backseat. "Mom, did you hear them say "mossy?'"

"Honey, they said, 'beautiful one my soul must see,' but yes, it does sound like 'mossy.'" I found myself trying to explain the concept of enunciation to my four-year-old, while thinking of another song, one sung by Leann Rimes in which she means to ask, "How do I live without you?" But, what she really asks is, "How do I live without chew?" (Which I imagine would involve nicotine patches or some sort of 12-step program).

Later, Audrey asked me to play a rhyming game with her in the car. I gave her the words "truck" and "can" and asked her to find rhyming words. She gave me "Harriet" and "mailbox." Ahem. (In case you're wondering, I came up with "chariot" and "cell blocks," and was more than slightly thankful when she didn't ask me what a cell block was).

Last week, Jason introduced the children to some of his favorite Weird Al songs, including one in which a family loads up into their decal-covered car and heads off on an adventure to see the "Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota." Wednesday evening, Audrey asked me where I would like to go if I could go "anywhere in the whole wide world." I told her that I would like to take her dad to Italy or Switzerland since he's never been there before, or I might like to go to Australia and see some of the places her Aunt Ashley has visited. "Where would you like to go if you could go anywhere in the whole wide world?" I asked.

"The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota."

Thursday afternoon, I thought I had Nate down for a nap. He was snuggled against me at the kitchen table, his eyes closed as I perused some library books. Just as I thought about standing up to take him to his crib, he opened his eyes, sat up and started clapping. Then he put his head back down and closed his eyes. He was still a moment. Then he opened his eyes and gave me a wave. He put his head back down and closed his eyes. Once again he bolted up, this time performing the ultimate sign of Nathan affection - vigorously rubbing his forehead against mine. I gave up.

We don't watch much television at our house. I think boredom is creativity's greatest gift (and, while I haven't read any biographies and have absolutely no proof to back this up, in my mind I envision Einstein the child at home bored out of his mind, sketching inventions and such, while his neighborhood chums played with their version of that day's iPad). In order to watch television, Audrey has to do chores (acts of service as we call them) to rack up enough stickers (5) on a chart to get a family movie night. She averages about a movie a week. Having said that, I've been wanting her to watch Leap Frog's Letter Factory DVD because Audrey learns easily through songs and I was hoping it would help her with her letter sounds. Thursday, she asked "Mom, can I watch a movie today?"

(There were three stickers on her chart). "Actually, today you can. I've been wanting you to watch the Letter Factory movie to help you with sounds, so you can watch it."

"I can? Why am I getting a movie! Why am I getting a movie!"

I may have just ruined the sticker chart.

The weekend is over and we're slowly shifting back to our normal routines, thankful for being blessed with an abundance of goodness and thankful, too, for the quiet that follows. A quiet during which I must go hunt down the microwave user manual. It seems one can't have too much goodness without her microwave going bust. After all, it's all about balance, isn't it?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 112

For me, things happen one small fragment at a time. The laundry gets done in partial, interrupted cycles, my train of thought lulled away by requests for sippy cups or a make-it-up-as-Audrey-goes game involving "abc" flashcards at the kitchen table as the dryer buzzes (resulting in extremely wrinkled clothes and Jason's dress pants crumpled in a corner to be washed again). From the passenger seat, a design on the latest craft project comes to be, a stitch at a time, the car arriving in a parking lot or driveway before I can get the current row finished. Books are read a paragraph at a time (several with a notebook and pen close by with the hope that I if I take a few notes, I might just remember what I've read). And, ironically, for every task I complete, the to-do list seems to grow by two.

My children are different. For them, things happen in bounds. Something clicks - a letter finally pairing with a sound - and suddenly words come alive to Audrey as if she has swallowed a magic pill sending her down the vocabulary rabbit hole, leaving her brain ten inches taller. A father-son game of "catch" inspires Nate to stretch his muscles and I find myself with a new pastime of pulling him down from the couch and the stool his big sister uses to help me cook. The children move about their days, laughing and running, masquerading their lessons as play, until I find myself caught off-guard by the words sounded out, written with magnets on a cookie sheet, and the ball that lands by my feet, kicked by this little man who seems less baby and more toddler at every glance. They like to pack a punch, double-teaming me with these milestones, growing by twos.

Luckily, laundry (and most any mundane task) goes down better with a little shock and awe (not to mention laughter) to keep you company. Here are the moments of childhood wonder that kept us company this week:

Audrey began Tuesday morning by telling me she wished to call her father to tell him something (he had already left for work before she woke up). I knew he had a morning conference call scheduled, but told her she could send him a text message. She agreed, and promptly dictated the following:

I hope you'll be here for my tea party. I hope you won't have to go to work. I love you, too. And listen to your boss. Listen to all your bosses and do what they tell you to do and just do it if you care. You really have to listen to your bosses. And eat all your food. And I love you.

Tuesday afternoon we were in the car when she informed me, "I already named the baby."

"Our baby?"


"What did you name him?"


Tuesday night, while eating, she saw Jason put his piece of garlic bread back on a plate sitting in the middle of the table rather than in his bowl. She asked him why he did it. "I don't have room on my bowl, so I put it back on the plate," he said.

"That doesn't make sense," she said.

"Honey, sometimes, little girls don't get everything," he answered.

"No, I get it. You don't have room in your bowl and you don't have another plate, so you put it back on that plate."

"If you get it, then why did you say it doesn't make sense?" he asked.

"That's just something I said."

Jason has been packing Girl Scout cookies in his lunch this week. Tuesday night, Audrey drew him a picture of cookies and left it on the counter to remind him not to forget to take them. The next morning she asked me if he had remembered. "I'm sure he did," I said.

"He's only allowed to take two," she said.

Wednesday morning, I read Audrey the story of Zaccheus out of her illustrated children's Bible. Later, while running an errand, I asked her what she had learned from the story.

"If you climb a tree and there was a mama bird and a baby bird in a nest, you might scare them," she said. (Oh the power of illustrations).

Thursday, Audrey began her morning in song. And dance. She crafted lyrics, swaying her hands in the air, occasionally turning in circles. Her brother watched, a couple feet away. Audrey paused, "Your turn, Nate," she said. He bounced up and down and suddenly began singing in nonsense syllables, matching her volume. Then he stopped and she picked up the tune, again pausing to tell him it was his turn, to which he began to bounce and sing.

Friday, I was trying to get everyone ready to attend a meeting of my mom's club. I had five minutes to get the breakfast dishes cleared, Audrey's teeth brushed, both kids into shoes and coats and car seats, and the car loaded to make it on time. Odds weren't good. Audrey watched me as I helped her brush her teeth. "Mom, are you mad?"


"You look like you have a mad face," she said.

"Honey, I'm not mad. I'm just focused. I'm trying to get us there on time."

We finished brushing her teeth. As she fumbled with her coat and shoes, I finished getting her brother ready and into the car. Then I went to strap her into her car seat. "How long are you going to have a mad face?" she asked.

Each of us gets twenty-four hours a day. What we do with them is up to us. I spend mine growing a to-do list - one that will probably never be completely crossed off. It's not that I want to procrastinate on everything, or that I don't wish the house were a little cleaner or a few more rooms were painted. But the simple truth is this: I have better things to do. I have wonders to witness and impromptu concerts to attend. (Not to mention, a new face to grow.) And, at the rate these two are growing, if I spend too many moments hidden in the laundry room, they just might pass me by - by next week.

*The bottom two photos were taken by Jason on Saturday at a Lowe's Build & Grow workshop where Audrey completed her first woodworking project. She spent the rest of the afternoon telling me about all the projects she intended to hammer.