Sunday, November 25, 2012

Audrey: An Update

 She's a teense on stilts.  Her legs parade around as a 5T, but her waist is holding steady at a 2.  You might say, she's only growing up.  But, in spite of what her waist might lead you to believe, part of her is ever-expanding.  This one has a brain that just won't quit.  

Her creativity: it's stretching.  Her stories may not be long.  They may not follow a pattern.  They might not make much sense.  But, they are always, always entertaining.  A short sampling:

"That was the story of the beautiful butterfly who had lots of kids, but one died.  But, she had many more and then the one came back to life.  Created by Audrey Paige.  She is five."

(Describing a Lego creation) "It's a bird: a toucan who lives in the jungle.  In Alaska!"

She might not always get the words right:

(Singing) "I rebeat (repeat) the sounding joy."

(Attempting to "rebeat" her father's singing) "G.I. Joe, great American in the road!" (For the record, Jason's version ended with "hero".)

She hasn't learned the nuance of every word:

"Can we have a movie night?" she asked.

"I don't know.  I'm going to have to run out," I said.

"Run out of what?"

Other words, she knows all too well:

"You can play with your princesses during quiet time," I said.

"You can't call it 'princesses' when there's only one," she corrected.

 She's grown to see the world through a unique lens:

"It's our last day for Peter Pan," she said.  "We read two chapters on football day."

"On football day?"

"Yeah.  Dad watched football all day after church."

Audrey recognized a neighbor, but couldn't remember her name.  I told her the girl's name.  Audrey asked how I knew.  "I know her mom," I said.

"Is her mom your friend?"

"Well, she just moved here, but we're becoming friends."

"Is she becoming your best friend?" she asked.  

"I don't think my best friend, but a friend."

"You never know what can happen, Mom!" she said, running outside to play with her brothers.  

One Friday, Audrey asked when Emmy (our dog) will die.  She then described her burial plans for our sweet Em, which included putting the dog in a box and surrounding her with "things", before decorating the box and writing Emmy's name on it so we'd know it was her.  (This leads me to wonder how many things she plans to bury in our backyard.)

Audrey made huge strides in her swimming abilities this summer with the help of her teacher, Valerie.  "It's some kids' worse thing when she lets go of them to have them try by themselves," she said after a lesson.  "It's my happiest thing."

Jason holds the title of family jokester and magician.  Audrey is still trying to figure out how he was able to make a (murphy) bed appear and disappear while on vacation a couple years ago.  One afternoon, I handed her a duck-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Failing to see the avian cookie cutter hiding on the counter, she asked me how I had made it.  "Mama magic," I said.  Later, upon finding the cookie cutter, she asked if I had "joked" her.  

"Mom, I didn't know you joke sometimes.  You decided to try it today?"

 Jason and Audrey seem to be developing a comedy routine all their own:

Jason brought a set of chopsticks home from Japan for each member of our family.  He took them out of the bag, spread them across the center of the table and asked, "What are these for?"

"Knitting," said Audrey.

Some typical Audrey/Jason dinner banter:

"Audrey, you're doing such a good job reading, next year you'll be reading Harry Potter," Jason said.

"What are you meaning?" she asked.

"Audrey, is the answer A, B, C, or D?"


"No, C.  The answer is always C."

"What is the riddle?"

"What did angels wear?" Jason asked.

"White shirts and skirts," said Audrey.

"Were there boy angels?"

"Well, Gabriel was a boy, so I imagine there are boy angels, Daddy."

One day, I read Audrey a library book about an octopus who searches for the perfect crag in a rock to hide and lay her eggs.  The book accurately portrayed the life of a mother octopus, who dies shortly after her eggs hatch.  "I know another whose lives are like octopuses," she told her father at dinner.  "We are."

"That's right," he agreed.  "You guys hatched and mama's life was over," he laughed.  

One afternoon, Jason brought up the idea of cleaning out the garage while the kids rode bikes in the driveway and cul de sac.  "We could kill two birds with one stone," he said.

"I want to kill a bird," said Audrey.

Audrey crawled into our bed early one morning.  When Jason roused himself for the day, he found Audrey between us.  "I thought you were Nate," he said.  "I thought you were bigger than that."

"Surprise!" she said.

I sneezed.  Jason said, in a sing-song way, "God bless you!"  

Audrey responded, "God messed you up!"

One afternoon, Jason prepared to go till the garden (having not done much physical activity in the months prior).  "I hope I don't have a heart attack," he joked on his way out.

"What's a heart attack?" Audrey asked.

Jason explained how the heart works and what happens when someone experiences a heart attack.  He then explained that he was joking and would be fine.  Then, he walked out the door.  "There's something crazy about him," Audrey said, heading to the closet and grabbing her shoes.  "I better go check on him."

Of course, if the comedy routine falls through with her father, Nathan's becoming quite a good stand-in:

Audrey: (as Nate refused to help her pick up) You're mean.

Nathan: No, I Nate.

Audrey: You're Nate, but you're being mean.  

Audrey: You're a mammal.

Nathan: No, I Nate.

Audrey: You are called Nate.  Mom is a mammal and we were born from her, so we are mammals.

Nathan: No.  I Nate.  

One night at dinner, the kids wanted yogurt.  I told them they needed to eat the rest of their meal first.  Nate motioned to the plate he was diligently emptying forkful by forkful, and reiterated my rule.  

"Nate is very sensible," Audrey said.

"Yeah, and I have all my hair," he said.  

Close to bedtime one night, I asked Audrey to run outside to find a stray container.  Nathan ran to the back door.  "I'll get it!"

Audrey tore after him.  "No, I'll get it!"

A few minutes later, I heard her yell again.  "I win!"

"I lose!" Nate yelled, just as loud and proud.  (Ironically, no one brought in the container.)

Audrey asked if she could ride the penny-a-ride horse at Meijer, following a successful shopping spree.  I agreed.  She mounted the plastic steed, put her penny in the slot, and waited.  The horse sputtered, but never left the gate.  

"I'll help!" Nate said.  He walked to the front of the horse and gave the animal's front hooves a good yank.  It sprang to life, suddenly moving up and down.

"Impressive!" Audrey yelled from her perch atop the saddle.

Of course, what's a growing five (six, now that I'm typing this all out)-year-old without a growing attitude?

An original song:

"I've always been a little bit right.  Yes, I've always been a little right."

Another original song:

"Okay, okay, okay, okay, let's go because it's a nice day (repeat).  
Okay, okay, just leave the dishes in the sink and come on over.  
Okay, okay, okay, okay, leave the dishes in the sink until it gets deep.
Just jump on the stage.  Just jump on the stage.
Come on over.
(Nathan followed her instructions and jumped on the stage.  He was promptly pushed off.)

One night, after patiently waiting for me to finish a story, Audrey glanced over and said, "Now can you zip your mouth, please, so I can tell you something?"

One afternoon as Audrey was hanging "decorations" through the house for a make-believe party, she asked, "Will friends come for Nathan's birthday?"  

I explained that since Nate was little, we'd probably just celebrate as a family.  "I want people to come admire it," she said.  "Did friends come admire me after I was born?"

(Audrey got temporary tattoos at a pirate-themed birthday party.  
                    She asked if she could put one on.  I agreed, as long as she didn't put it on 
                   her face.  She listened.  She came out of the bathroom with that skull and 
crossbones slapped perfectly-centered across her windpipe.)

One afternoon, after pulling off a feat of kindergarten-genius in front of Nathan, Audrey threw her hands up and said, "Yes, I know.  I'm a rocket star!"

And she is.  She's our "rocket" star, ready to launch whether we're ready or not.  She is knows-no-bounds energy, with a hunger for discovery.  She is effervescent, and moving at the speed of light.  We are just the launch pad, left to watch, praying that she stays in orbit.  

I would not mind stalling the journey, collecting the moments to lock them - frozen - in an Audrey-at-five time capsule.  But five does not stand still:

"Prince Eric is my favorite prince," she said after watching The Little Mermaid.

"Why?" I asked.

"I like the look of him."

"You have a make-up lesson today," I told her one evening after we had just gotten out of the car from a day-long visit with relatives from out-of-town.  "Do you want to go?"

Audrey's eyes widened.  "Yes!  What am I going to learn?"

"You'll probably work on the same things you've been doing: bobbing up an down, backstroke, scissor kicks, frog kicks."

Suddenly, she seemed a little crest-fallen as she realized that I was talking about a make-up swim lesson and not a tutorial on mascara application.  

And, just like that, five became six.  

No, this is one launch for which we're completely unprepared.  But it's coming, ready or not.  After all, she's only growing up. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stuck in the Middle, and Two

I have been lax in my posting. So, rather than attempt a typical Week in Review, I thought I'd do a little update on each child and who he/she is right now - beginning with Nathan. Because, sometimes, you just have to begin in the middle.

Nathan rang in the end of 2011 by turning two, landing him squarely in the phase I refer to as "Game On!" (No. No, I do not really say this out loud in the presence of others. I say it in my head, which makes me appear much saner.) If Nate joined an Indian tribe, his name would be Boy With Many Hands Who Moves Silent like the Night. If he were a movie title, it would be Chaos Unleashed. If he were in prison, he'd be kept in "the hole" to keep the other inmates from getting any ideas. If he were in the circus, he'd be a star.

You see, the boy knows tricks. But, more importantly, he knows how to set a scene. It's dramatic to break down the baby gate guarding one's bedroom door. But, it's much more dramatic (and devious and beneficial to further schemes) to break down one's baby gate while one's father (and baby gate ninja-master) is in Japan, leaving your baby gate-handicapped mother at a disadvantage. Said gate-challenged mother might attempt to fix the disassembled gate before deciding to rectify the Babies Gone Wild situation by other means, namely, a filing cabinet and night stand pushed flush with the door. This will work. For one night, after which, the smarter-than-his-mother two-year-old will teach himself to climb over the makeshift baby gate. His mother will discover this the next morning when she is awaken by a thud downstairs - where no one sleeps and, therefore, no one should be. Luckily, God will give her the good sense to recognize the sound as thump of milk jug against hardwood before she scrambles under the bed for the mammoth walking stick (a.k.a. club) her husband purchased from a Jamaican artisan on their honeymoon, and tries to get her jiu jitsu on.

That's how my little man likes to begin his days, with a nice dose of dairy: two-percent, minus a crazy stick-toting mama.

Other things he enjoys right now:

Rearranging the contents of the refrigerator. Particularly the condiments.

Taunting his mother by running through the kitchen with raw eggs (collected during food stuffs reorganization sprees). And, on one occasion, biting into the Nate-napped egg in a last ditch effort to keep it from his mother's hands. (The egg carton has been permanently relocated to the refrigerator's top shelf.)

Creating artwork (on the walls, the chairs, the tub and tile) with the fallen wax soldiers his big sister leaves behind. (The crayons have also been moved to a high shelf, and all but the dry-erase ones replaced with more just-in-case-Jack-eats-one friendlier soy ones.)

Climbing into Jack's exersaucer and bouncing joyously up and down, until he realizes he can't get himself out.

Unrolling the entire roll of toilet paper in an attempt to stuff the porcelain bowl before being interrupted by his mother.

Using clean dish towels and shoving the dirty ones back into the drawer.

Houdining his way beyond the baby gates and deadbolt and out into the neighborhood, preferably to any yard with a swing set. (The front door is now equipped with the mother-of-all childproof locks. Now, no one can get out. Or in.)

Climbing the grape trellis and flinging himself over the five-foot fence to escape to the neighborhood common area. (We no longer have a trellis. Or a grapevine.)

Building Lego towers with his sister and knocking them down before she's ready, affording him an eighty-percent chance of getting beaten up before noon. (Audrey has been reminded - again - of the rule that she may not hit her brother. No matter how misguided his taste in architecture may be.)

(photo by Audrey)

Creating his own take on the English language. Nate has dubbed mandarin oranges "Nemos", and seems to have no problem devouring them, despite his passion for a certain short-finned fish. His father, displaying the power of a Transformer to shift his persona, is now "Babby" (Buddy + Daddy).

The power of a "magic" kiss. This one believes, I tell you. Down deep. I have woken to a wailing boy passing an injured index finger through the bars of his baby gate (how he injured a finger in his sleep he has yet to reveal) at 4 a.m., begging a kiss. One kiss and the boy turned around and put himself back to sleep. Really. What about those instances when a parent can't be reached quickly enough for a magic kiss? Nate's not above kissing his own knee or foot. I've seen it. He's self-sufficient, this one. And flexible.

Covered arms. Nate has a casual style that matches his easy-going attitude, with the exception of one thing: his sleeves, which must remain down at all times (while washing his hands, while eating spaghetti, while painting).

Sleeping in his closet. Nathan has developed a fear of what may be just outside his window. We had a few stormy nights, and the wind played against his walls like a battering ram. He began to panic at bedtime. We would find him wearing his sheets tight against his head like a shroud, always pointing to the window when we unwound him. Jason covered his blinds with a dark sheet, hoping to blot out the monster behind the pane. But minutes later, I found him crouched on top of the windowsill, nose against the glass, sobbing. We tried to let him sleep in Audrey's room - to the detriment of her bathroom (and the waterlogged baseboards). We tried to move Jack into the same room as Nate - to the detriment of Jack (who did not expect a crib hijacking midway through the night). We hoped the return of nice weather would ease his mind. But when we checked on him, we couldn't find him - until we opened the closet. We moved him back to his bed. We found him back in the closet. The closet is now outfitted with pillows and blankets. He prefers to sleep there with the door closed. Lights out. I can't say I blame him. I tried it out once. It's cozy. And has great acoustics.

Two is a little like that. It's about cozying-up to your new-found abilities and trying them on for size. It's finding your place and leaving a dent (or red crayon mark). It's noise and devious silence. It's two hands (refusing to roll up their sleeves) introducing themselves to the dirt and showing him they've come out to play. Game on.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thirty-five (and Ten)

(picture by Jason, taken in front of the Colosseum
during a 10-year-anniversary trip to Rome)

We have been teaching Audrey to count: by ones, by fives, by tens. We count by fingers, by seashells, by stacks of pennies, by chocolate chips. Our methods teach the concrete - items absolute. What we haven't taught Audrey about numbers is that the those little devils are tricky, sliding right through your fingers if you don't keep a tight grip and careful count.

Jason made up a hand-clap game as an easy way to give Audrey practice counting by fives and tens. He calls out a number. She has to give him enough "high tens" and high fives to add up to the number. Last week, he turned three high tens and a high five. I still remember him two high tens and a couple of fingers ago, when Madonna was queen and Hammer pants were king (Although, I don't remember ever seeing Jason in a pair. As for myself, I'm pleading The Fifth). Back then, the numbers came in pre-assembled equations with some of the variables missing. We were expected to fill in the blanks. But, we were just learning the answers.

Math class does not teach you how a boy can appear one day and magically begin multiplying his way into your life. None of the geometry theorems I puzzled through warned that someone could happen across me at ten, introduce himself at eleven, and make it his business to study my face, my moods, and the way I take my turkey sandwich. And, while math wasn't the most adept subject at holding my attention, I'm pretty sure that none of the postulates I studied warned that this sort of multiplication could extend beyond my life and right into the faces and tendencies of my children (in one's irises, and one's smile, and one's dogged persistence). But, regardless of what the textbooks tell you, this math exists. Granted, it doesn't always follow the rules. Somehow, over the span of 24 years, you might just find that one plus one has found a way to equal five. And that boy, the one who used to smuggle packs of gum into middle school, selling the individual pieces for twenty-five cents a piece in an attempt to earn enough extra cash by lunchtime for an extra Little Debbie? As of last count, he adds up to a whole lot of high fives.

So, how did the birthday boy celebrate his latest hand jive?

With a few of these:

An afternoon of this:

And a really big one of these:

That adds up to one sweet day, no matter how you count it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not to be Left Out

I know that "less is more," but I completely ignored that philosophical nugget when I uploaded the pictures for this post. You're about to be bombarded. Forgive me. (Don't say I didn't warn you).

It's hard to be five. It's rough to sit around and watch your parents play with heavy machinery while they hand you a book, most likely with the pictures already drawn for you inside, and a box of crayons.

It's tough. Your mother is busy pounding away on something that looks like it has an accelerator and you've got a box of colored wax. Life. What are you gonna do?

Beg. Plead, if you have to. Take a knee (or two). Repeat yourself, over and over and over and over and over and over again. Please, please, please. Can I? Repeat.

Hop into her chair as soon as she gets up to grab some new fabric or the scissors she doesn't remember that she's left on the ironing board (again). Show some initiative.

Remind her, you are five. In some cultures, girls are practically married by the time they're five. Remind her that last week, when you told her it was your wedding day and asked if you could marry Daddy, your brother, your cousin, or your uncle, she said no until you finally settled on the neighbor boy, and then she said okay, but not yet, right now it's illegal. Tell her, you never let me do anything I want to do.

Shed a few (buckets of) tears, preferably over something of which water could ruin the finish. Time these tears to coincide with those of your baby brother.

Promise her. That you won't run over your fingers with the needle. That you will pay attention. That you won't drop pins on the floor. That you will only cut the fabric with the scissors. That you will clean your room. And your brothers'. That you will wait until you are six to marry the neighbor boy.

Smile at her. Remind her of the girl she used to be (the one who took apart her own mother's sewing machine in an attempt to figure out how the bobbin worked, unbeknownst to her mother). Smile, because now you've got her.

Audrey's first sewing project: a set of finger puppets. I showed her how a finger puppet was constructed by helping her make the little red-headed man. Then she sketched pictures of the other puppets she wanted to create - a butterfly, and (of course) a jellyfish. She gave them to Nathan for his second birthday.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Holiday Handmades: Part 1

I was a bit lackadaisical in my blog posting last year (shh...we're not going to talk about this year's efforts yet). I'm blaming this:

That's right. I'm blaming the graham crackers. (Go ahead, take a second look. I won't tell.) I have higher hopes for my efforts this year: that those graham crackers will stay in their pantry and sleep through the night, and get on a daily organized schedule that includes the slightest snippet of time (unbeknownst to busy graham crackers) for mama to sneak in some tiny tidbits of writing. But, before I go gangbusters on the writing of the new year, I feel the need to digress and catch up on some meant-to-write posts of the happenings last year - starting with the holiday handmades. I like to tuck a little something mama-made under the tree each year. This year, I found my I-must-make-for-the-children gift on the cover of Joelle Hoverson's More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. It's her pointy elf hat. The moment I saw it, I knew we had to have a set. After all, what everyone really wants from Santa is their very own life-sized yard gnomes:

I made five, one for each child and nephew. We attempted a photo shoot at our holiday gathering with four toddlers/preschoolers sitting in a tree and one babe at the base of the trunk. Yes, it went just as you imagined it. Gotta love talking, walking, hanging, swinging, laughing yard art.

The hats are made from Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick & Quick Yarn (I forget the color).

The Holiday Handmades: Part 2

This year, I received an early Christmas present. It came in the form of a phone call from my little sister saying, do you know what you're getting Mom and Dad for Christmas, because I have an idea. Her idea was simple, sentimental, and perfect for all the grandparents on our Christmas list. It was practically wrapped in a shiny red bow. I performed a happy dance (well, in my head I performed a happy dance, being too exhausted or busy pulling jumping children off of couches or both to physically muster said happy dance). Then, I crossed "fretting" off my to-do list and replaced it with "make garden pavers". Then I did nothing, for weeks, until Jason finished up his traveling for the year and took a two-week vacation, at which time I began frantically searching the internet for DIY garden paver tutorials. I found this. I prayed it would be as simple and straightforward as the directions made it look, because our margin for error was narrow. I could count the days until Christmas on one hand. I tell you, the man's a genius. Here's the process, in a very condensed nutshell:

First, we put poster paint on each child's right hand and made a print on the back of a cardboard cereal box. This is brilliant - 1) it takes the stress out of worrying if the child is going to scrunch his fingers into a ball in the concrete rather than make a flat handprint, and 2) you can do this with multiple children in rounds (we did Audrey's while the boys slept, then each boy on his own after he woke up) and then get your concrete mixed and poured all at once (after the children are in bed!!).

Second, you line the bottom of a cake pan (we had a few slightly rusty ones, just waiting for such a project, on hand and then bought a few more for a couple bucks) with a piece of paper. Ours is taped down with double-sided tape. On top, tape or glue down the handprint (that you've cut out of the cardboard) and any names or dates you want to include, assembled in a backward-fashion so that it appears the right direction when viewed in a mirror. Brush the whole shebang liberally with vegetable oil.

Next, mix and pour your concrete into the cake pans. Let them set at least overnight (possibly two days if you don't procrastinate and wait until the last possible second to attempt DIY projects for your relatives at Christmastime). Take the hardened pavers out of the pans. Peel any cardboard pieces from the concrete that might have stuck during the drying process (note: ours had most of the cardboard pieces still in the pavers when we took them out, but they were easy to remove). High five your spouse with exuberant disbelief at how well they turned out.

Finally, paint them with an outdoor patio paint and (after that dries) seal them with a coat or two of poly urethane. Marvel at your children's odd handprints. Stack the pavers up with a circle of felt in between each, wrap a pretty bow around them, and lug them to your family's Christmas celebration. Promise that you'll make a set of your own when it's warmer outside and you've had more sleep and you've figured out what you're doing with your backyard. High five your spouse some more, just because it feels good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 124

photo from recent visit to the Indianapolis Art Museum

Friday, before going to bed, Audrey asked that I keep the doors unlocked - just in case Peter Pan stopped by. She had tucked Peter Pan into her library tote during our last visit, and she and Jason spent several toasty nights curled into a nest of pillows and blankets by the fire reading the chapters before he left for a week in Brazil, requesting that we not finish the book while he was gone.

By Friday, Audrey was sure Peter would make a house call. I fielded questions regarding Lost Boys and the degree to which they were lost and the nature of jealousy in women, particularly mermaids and fairies. I couldn't help but feel stung by irony as my little ones begged for more chapters (against their father's will) about children clinging double-fisted to their youth as mine proved daily how hell-bent they are to grow-up (dragging me, clutching their suddenly-too-short pant legs, in their wake). Irony is ageless. My little ones, however, are leaving Neverland behind.

Our stories from the week past:

Nate is growing his vocabulary. His latest additions include "Love, love, love" and "moose" - so far, not used together. But regardless of any verbal limitations, he seems to get his point across just fine. Early this week I was awaken by the little man standing by my bedside. He was playing his castanet. I opened my eyes. He handed me my cell phone (my version of a watch) and my glasses. Point made.

Tuesday night, I set the security alarm. Wednesday morning, Audrey beat me downstairs. The alarm was bleating a siren's yell before I hit the bottom step.

"Who was trying to go outside?" I asked after disarming the alarm.

"I wasn't trying to go outside," Audrey said. "I was just letting a bug out. I didn't kill it. It was just a baby bug and I was wanting it to have a little of a life."

Thursday, I came downstairs from putting Nate down for a nap to find Audrey playing dead.

"When you came down, I was pretending I was dead," she said.

"That's not very nice," I said.


"Because if you were dead, I wouldn't be able to play with you or hug you again."

"You could still hug me," she said. "I just wouldn't hug you back."

Friday morning, Audrey (once again) put her boots on the wrong feet.

"Your boots are on the wrong feet," I said.

"I always put them on the wrong feet," she said, sighing audibly.

"And someday, you'll always put them on the right feet."

"And then I'll get tired of that?" she asked.

Jack, for his part, tries to sneak out the baby gate; if successful, tries to sneak up the stairs; tries to sneak his brother's sippy cup and the crumbs that drop from the table; and is sneaking closer to being a boy and less of a baby every day. It's troublesome. It leaves me itching for some pixie dust - and a visit from Peter Pan.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For Posterity's Sake: Week (Humor Me) in Review 123

Well, crap. Audrey said something funny last night, but dinner was being brought to the table and I forgot to write it down. I remember Jason and I laughing and exchanging glances in a we-must-control-ourselves sort of way, which leads me to believe she attempted to say something quite grown-up, quite wrong. Now, the moment has passed me by.

I have begun this post several times, but in an attempt to not let Christmas, or Jason's vacation, pass me by, I've yet to get it all down. Now, back to an ordinary Tuesday, I feel a heft upon me that I imagine the local librarians must feel after returning from Christmas break to find the return chute jammed and the book carts teeming. The awaiting material is immense and Dewey hasn't laid my groundwork. So let's get down to the stacks, so we can move on at a more reasonable clip, shall we? The post, how it began the first time:

This summer, Jason grew red chili peppers. He mentioned drying them. After noting how they were strung from the doorways of shops in Rome, I came home, threaded a needle through the stems of our crop, and dangled the spicy necklace from a hook I attached to the window frame above the kitchen sink. Audrey told me it was cool.

Yesterday, she nearly smacked into me, breathless. "Mom, the peppers are ruined! You let them get ruined."

"Is that what Dad said?" I asked.

"No," she said. "You know how my sheets get wrinkled and I have to fix them and make my bed?" I nodded, confused. "The peppers are like my sheets. They're wrinkled. They aren't good anymore. You let them get wrinkled."

I should have told her the peppers were okay. I meant to. I might have. I don't remember. What I do remember are images of one of the strangest metaphors I've ever heard turning themselves over in my mind: shriveled red chili peppers and a little girl's wrinkled lavender sheets.

I remembered those two non-like things clumped together later as I dashed off to run errands. The last of the Thanksgiving dishes were finally washed and stowed, the holiday (and Jason's vacation days) were coming to a close, and I couldn't help but think ahead. If a to-do list could make a person itch, mine was crawling with bugs. Jason said he'd take the older kids to the neighborhood playground if I took Jack with me to run errands. I agreed. I packaged a gift for delivery, wrote a card, slipped a hat and blanket on a sleeping Jack, and restocked the diaper bag. By the time I pulled out of the driveway, Jason was waving to me from the backyard, just back from the playground. My cell rang five minutes later. "You forgot something important," he said. I checked my loaded passenger seat: package to be mailed, gift to be dropped off at a friend's, bags for grocery shopping, coupons.

"What did I forget?" I asked.
"Jack. He's in his car seat on the floor."

Sometimes, the holidays are like that: a juxtaposition of objects that don't go together - time meant for family and a to-do list that leaves them behind, even when I don't intend to.

I pulled into my subdivision two-and-a-half hours later, greeted by the newly strung Christmas lights of my neighbors. My first thought was that hanging lights might not get crossed off the list this year. But as I watched the lights play across their new landscape, I thought of the first lights: torches and lanterns used to guide one's steps, allowing a person to see clearly only what was before him. The narrow scope of those first lights would have forced the bearer to focus only on those objects directly in front of him - a fact I couldn't help but recall as I lit the candle that sits in the middle of our kitchen table and sat down with my family for dinner, focusing on those illuminated before me.

Our moments from the last two months:

Every child-rearing adult has their own method for convincing the kids around their dinner table to finish the food on their plates. My mother liked to employ the "eat three more bites" technique. At my neighbor's house, we strove to be members of the "clean plate club." Jason uses a tactic I call storytelling. One night, he tried to convince Audrey to eat her corn by informing her that if she ate it, she would see it again the next morning. She cleaned her plate. The next morning she walked out of the bathroom clearly disappointed by her lack of performance. "I wanted to see that corn!" she said.

Last week, she was asking Jason questions about Aladdin at dinner. "Why did he have to steal to eat?" she asked.

"Sometimes, kids don't eat all their pizza and talk through dinner, instead, so their parents kick them out on the street and they have to find their own food," he said.

"Oh. That's weird," she said. "So, how did he live without his parents?"

"He was raised by the monkey."

"Why did the genius (genie) make the tower fall down?" she asked.

"He was a mad genius," Jason said.

As always, when it comes to stories (or thoughts) on her mother, Audrey always has her own take:

One afternoon as Jason was watching college football, I was feeding Jack on the couch. A commercial for Xbox Yourself Fitness came on. "Isn't that what you used to do in Herrin?" he asked.

"I think so. I'm not gonna lie; it was a good workout," I said.

"I know. You did it all the time," he said.

"She lied all the time?" Audrey asked.

"Mom, you're clever," Audrey said randomly, sitting at the kitchen table. "What does that even mean? All I can think it means is smart."

One Saturday, Jason noticed some dirt stuck in the grooves of the sliding door. "We're disgusting," he said.

"Disgusting isn't a nice word," Audrey said.

"It's not nice to call someone else. It's okay if you say it about yourself."

"She is not yourself!"

The first time we took Audrey to the beach, I was stung by a jellyfish. While some stories bounce off the ears like rubber balls to cement, to Audrey, the jellyfish story bears frequent repeating. And question and answer sessions. She asked for one more rendition in November. I will spare you most of the stinging details and tell you this: we had been warned. The purple flag was hoisted above the sand. Friends had told us that the jellyfish were plentiful. They didn't tell us the waves had fingers. Jason had just run back to shore to take a turn watching Audrey so I could get into the water. I planned to stick to the shallow water when a sneaky wisp of a wave untied the top of my suit. I slid a little deeper into the waves, collecting the bikini strings in my hands. I had just finished knotting the back when I felt a searing hug from behind.

Per her request, we told Audrey the story again. As always, she asked more questions. I explained that I had gone too deep into the ocean while the purple flag was out. Jason explained that I had needed privacy to fix my swimsuit. Somewhere, Audrey got muddled. "What?" she asked, "her private joy?"

She also has thoughts about her father:

Audrey came into the kitchen one afternoon with her father's button-down shirt hanging loosely from her small frame. She grabbed his capped Mountain Dew and pretended to take a swig. "Look, Mom; I'm Daddy."

On Nathan's birthday, Audrey asked, "Is great-grandpa a dad?"

Jason explained before asking, "Do you think I'll be a cool Papaw?"

"No, not cool, but smart and a Papaw that knows stuff."

Jason made a trip to London in November. We picked him up from the airport.

"I'm so happy to be home," he said.

"Well, you're not home yet. You're at the airport," she said.

Other people and things, she's still trying to figure out:

"So Mom, I know Beth is my fairy Godmother, but what's the other name for Boo?"

"You have such pretty hair, you know it?" Grammy said while visiting one afternoon.


"You're supposed to say 'thank you,'" Grammy said.

"Oh. I still have a lot to learn," said Audrey.

One afternoon, Audrey brought her Bible to me. "I want the one with the three Americans, but I can't find it," she said.

"Honey, I don't think I'm going to be able to find it, either," I said. After a thorough questioning as to the plot of the story, I realized she wanted to hear the parable of The Good Samaritan.

Christmas, of course, brings its own opportunities for joy:

My parents gave each child a copy of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with a sound recording of them telling the story. At the end, my mom says "Goodnight (name of child), Mamaw and Papaw love you."

Audrey listened to her book. At her grandmother's closing remarks, she responded, "Goodnight. Thank you." She listened to the story two more times. Each time, as the recording came to a close, she replied, "Goodnight. Thank you." After the third time, she looked at me. "Why aren't they talking back to me?"

Nathan also listened to his book repeatedly. At the end of each reading, he would cry upon hearing his grandmother tell him goodnight. He seemed to think his grandparents were stuck in the book, and for those first few days, no amount of talking to Mamaw on the telephone would convince him otherwise.

This year, Audrey participated in the Children's Sunday School Christmas Program. Nathan, too young to attend Sunday school, did not. Audrey played a shepherd. "Nate should be in the Christmas program," she told me.

"He's too young," I said.

"He could be a sheep," she said. "They just crawl around and stuff."

Audrey's part in the program required that she pass out props to the other shepherds. The props included a wooden spoon, dish cloth, Frisbee, and lampshade. One afternoon, we were going over her part. "What do you give each kid?" I asked.

"My friend Nolan gets a wooden spoon. My friend Anna gets a dish towel and Frisbee, and my friend Christopher gets a broken lamp."

The program's dress rehearsal was on a Saturday. Jason had returned from Paris the day before. In a rockstar dad move, he had let me sleep in while he got Audrey ready. I came downstairs to drive her to rehearsal. She was ready and waiting. "Mom, you're like Ariel when the shell opens and she's not there and she's always late, and I'm like the big sister - the one that says 'Ariel's in love.'"

The kids received an art easel from Santa and stockings filled with art supplies. Bright and early on the 26th, Audrey asked, "Mom, can I do anything on the weasel?"

These days, the boys can hold their own in the entertainment arena:

Nathan has decided to talk, after all. Sentences. Short and crisp. They began when he handed me a memory card featuring a beach ball. "It's a beach ball," I said.

"It's a beach ball," he said.

I screamed. I cheered. Clapping was involved. Nathan began randomly shouting out "beach ball" for days just to see what his crazy mother might do.

Now, his most common phrase is "Hi, Mama," most often said as we descend the stairs in the morning or pass in the hallway. I still can't get over the sound, small and clear and bigger than he knows.

A few of his more memorable phrases:

Audrey: Nate, say Audrey before you leave.
Nate: No, Ah-Dee.

One morning, Nate's shirt got stuck as I tried to pull it over his head. To keep him calm, I pretended we were playing a game (as I yanked and pulled and prayed I wouldn't have to cut him loose). "Where's Nathan? Where did he go?" I asked over and over to my silent, hidden boy. Finally, the shirt popped over his head. "Hello!" he said.

One night at dinner, Jason asked Nate if he could say "amen."

Jason: Say ah.
Nate: Ah.
Jason: Say men.
Nate: Me.
Jason: Say amen.
Nate: Oh jeez.

Jack, on the other hand, has spoken complete monologues since birth. We just don't know what he's saying. But a couple things are crystal clear: when in distress, he can yell "mama" as plain and loud as any eighteen-year-old, and this one has no plans of pacing himself. Two teeth, crawling, and pulling up on furniture under his belt, when we stand this little man up and give him two hands with which to steady himself, he bends a knee and lifts a foot as if he plans to walk on out of here. Regardless of lacking the appropriate vocabulary, this one makes his point known.

While Jason was in Europe, Jack woke up (after a long night for mama) at 6 a.m. The other kids were still sleeping. I tucked Jack in close to my side, attempting to convince him to join them. He spit out his pacifier and bit my nose.

Later that day, Audrey brought Jack's pacifier into the bathroom. "I need to wash this off," she said. "I used it to smash a bug. It was a fly. I thought it wasn't dead, but it already was!" Karma, Jack. Karma.

Dear son, I'm not sure what karma has in store for you for only sleeping a couple hours at a time and waking your exhausted parents with your awe-inspiring, wall-piercing moaning during the hours in which you do sleep. But when he or she arrives in thirty years bearing your sweet mischievous grin and insane ability to subsist solely on catnaps, call me. Just not at 4 a.m.

The holidays are over. The Christmas tree and lights, which Jason surprised Audrey and I with one day when we arrived home from a birthday party to Christmas carols playing and house aglow, have been returned to their boxes. Earlier that week, as I tried to compose an ambitious Christmas plan-of-attack, Audrey sat at the kitchen table, making her friend a birthday card. She oohed and aahed over its loveliness as she filled it chock a-block full of stickers. "I'm giving her my joy," she told me, happily. I decided to take her lead. I bowed out of several of the typical holiday traditions this year. Instead, I focused on a select few: the ones that brought me joy. I kept my focus narrow, a light cast directly in front of me, so I might have some joy to pass on in the every day - time for bedtime stories or one more game of memory or five more minutes of daydreaming with my little ones of the magic to come. Happy 2012, everyone.