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.