Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Half Dozen?

The other day, as I sat curled up cat-like on The Big Chair sipping my tea, I thought, "Yes, another would be nice . . . ." I was reading Cheaper by the Dozen, the entertaining account of the Gilbreth family who raised twelve children during the first decades of the twentieth century. I pictured them at their music lessons, the older ones tending the younger ones . . . . I pictured them at their studies, chanting along with the German and French records while bathing or dressing -- impressive multi-taskers (their father was an efficiency expert) -- and it seemed a very charming picture indeed.

We had also recently watched The Sound of Music. A family of singers! In matching costumes, no less . . . . The harmonies we could produce! And I'm sure Jamie would enjoy being called Captain . . . . I could get him a whistle.

So there I sat, the warm glow of the tree lights dancing across the pages of my book, the fragrant tea cupped in my hands, my arms eager to cradle a little one. Maybe just a half dozen . . . .

Enter Little Miss Avery Kate. "Mama! Watch this!" her wee voice bellowed (oh yes, it's quite possible for a very small set of vocal chords to produce an unearthly sound). She proceeded to soar through the air from her perch atop the arm of the couch and land in a pile of cushions. I calmly began the explanation that she knew was coming.

"Darling, we don't jump on the couch -- "

Enter Bethie at the piano. Very eager to work on her newly acquired piece, Carol of the Bells. (Perhaps you've seen It's a Wonderful Life. You know the scene where George comes home and his house is fairly erupting? Tommy needs help spelling frankincense, Zuzu's petals need pasting, and Janie is pounding away at the keys. Well, this scene frequently comes to mind when certain people in this family approach the piano bench.)

So, as I said, sister started in at the piano.

"That's coming along nicely, dear -- "

SMACK. Enter Aidan. "Mama! This is so awesome!" And his new remote-controlled helicopter veered first into the tree, then into his little sister's hair, the rotors winding tightly around her lengthy tresses.

Of course, the scene would be incomplete without me mentioning that Drew was (as usual) in the background, shouting out basketball plays like a seasoned announcer. It might have been an actual game. I'm not sure. But whatever it was, the play-by-play was very . . . intense.

After extricating Miss Kate's hair from the rotors, I returned to my tea and tried to focus on the last chapter of my book. So maybe the Gilbreths could raise a dozen. And perhaps seven was just right for the Von Trapp family. But as I attempted to tune out the fierce play-by-play, the shrieking ballerina, the caroling of bells, and the wiz of the chopper, my quiver -- strangely enough -- felt nice and full. Maybe we'll just stick with our plan to get a dog.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pixie Brain

Have you ever wished you could take a peek into your child's brain? Kind of like that special glimpse you get while spying, unnoticed, into a Sunday school class -- the sweet little pixie doesn't know that she's being watched by her mama. You see how she interacts with others. You see the sweet smiles, the dimpled nod, the bashful sway and you think . . . who on earth is that?

Yesterday we played Bananagrams. Jamie was rather entertained just watching me play. When it comes to word games, I tend to be a tad . . . focused. I wasn't about to let Aidan and Avery distract me from finding every letter for the word "religion" among my tiles. I frantically searched for more words, only vaguely aware that these small people were slowly piecing together their own three letter words.

For a minute I snapped out of it when I realized that Avery was asking for my help. "Mommy? How do you spell badger?" How cute. I glanced over at her tiles. And I got a peek into that little pixie brain. Except for a bit of spelling assistance, this is primarily her work:

Heaven help us.

P.S. I think the accompanying discarded, chewed up piece of gum (a frequent, post Christmas stocking occurrence of late) is the least of my worries.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Promise

The words of Isaiah have brought tears to my eyes and swelling to my heart this season. Words dripping with promise, with hope, with triumph. Isn't this what we've all been waiting for?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . . . He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

May the Prince of Peace dwell fully enthroned on our hearts -- not only this Christmas weekend, but for all eternity -- and may the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplish much through lives fully given unto Him. Many, many blessings to you, my dear readers!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Lavender Lullaby -- It Works!

When Drew was a newborn, my friend Mary introduced me to infant massage. She held a class for those interested, and while most students brought a doll to "massage," I got to bring my new baby boy. As I practiced the techniques at home, this shared time with my son turned into a very tender, special routine. My boy grew and wiggled and eventually toddled away, and the massages went by the wayside. The practice was revived briefly with Bethie upon her arrival, and I probably gave Aidan a token rub or two. I'm drawing a complete blank when it comes to Little Miss Avery Kate. That's how it is.

A few years slipped by, and I found myself frustrated with the bedtime routine in our home. I wanted it to be a calm, peaceful hour, but it was more often a frazzled, whining mess. Not at all conducive to pleasant dreams. I stumbled upon the idea of spraying a light, fragrant mist on the kids' pillows (I think this was my sister's suggestion), in hopes of adding a calming element to the evening. It worked for a while, and then we moved, the mist was misplaced, and I forgot about it. (Have you detected a pattern here? I have a terrible memory.)

Recently, Little Miss Avery Kate has struggled at bedtime. I recalled the fragrant spray idea, but all I could find in the house was my perfume. I lightly misted her pillow for several nights, and she enjoyed the sensation that mama was right there with her. It didn't take long for me to realize, however, that this would end up being a rather costly way to scent the pillow of a five-year-old.

A few weeks ago, as I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe's, I noticed that they carry lavender oil. When I saw that it came in a spray bottle, I figured that I just might have stumbled upon the perfect solution.

I brought the oil home, and that night told Miss Kate that I had a special treat for her. Because it was an oil and not just a fragrance, I figured that I probably shouldn't squirt it all over the place. And then I remembered the infant massage. Avery's "special treat" evolved into a cozy, lavender back massage. We chatted, prayed and giggled. She felt my touch, heard my voice. And we knew we had discovered a beautiful new evening ritual.

Before long, the back massage wasn't enough. It became necessary to include the arms, legs, tummy and face as well. Word got out, and soon Aidan was begging for the special treatment. So I made my rounds, rubbing little backs, whispering gentle prayers. Bethie jumped on the bandwagon, and finally Drew hinted, "Maybe you could do my back?"

My heart found delight in discovering something so simple (we're talking five minutes here, folks) that spoke volumes to my children. I marveled over how special this time was for each of them, and then I realized why it worked so well for their varied personalities.

Do you remember the love languages that Dr. Gary Chapman wrote about several years ago? Basically, he states that we express and respond to love in five different ways. Most people fall primarily into one category or a combination of the following: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

My children represent each one of these "languages" in their own unique ways. And this simple little lavender rub happens to fall into each category -- physical touch is obvious. But also the time I spend with each one, the gift of the massage, the service of working out little tension spots in a child's back, and the affirming words spoken as we spend time together. So no matter how they respond to love, they are sure to feel that their mama cares very deeply about them.

Bedtime is slowly but surely transitioning into a more peaceful hour around here. I've definitely noticed a difference in the younger two. They are more inclined to stay in bed and tend to fall asleep more easily, too. This is especially the case when we have a calm, predictable routine involving a decent bedtime, a story or two, prayer, and plenty of hugs and kisses. And knowing that they can now have a longer massage if they're in their beds on time? Well, it works!

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith 1908
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lessons Learned from a Yellow Bowl

We were just finishing up the last of the Saturday house cleaning when I heard a crash. Taking a deep breath (I knew composure would be ideal come what may), I headed into the kitchen. My yellow bowl, my yellow vintage Pyrex, lay shattered among the popcorn remnants it once held. Little Miss Avery Kate looked up with big eyes. "It just slipped, Mommy." I quickly assessed the situation. "Are you okay, Sweetie?" She nodded. The others were drawn to the scene and looked on. Remarkably, I was at peace. I swept the scattered shards, keeping up a casual conversation so that Avery, too, would sense the peace. It was okay. Bethie sighed and commented, "Looks like you're going to have to find another one."

Yes, I'll have to find another one. I had started a collection in hopes of matching the set my grandmother once used. This was my first. The yellow mixing bowl. Somewhere out there I would also find the green, the blue, the red. Some estate sale, some Goodwill outing, they would be there. Now I'll have to be on the lookout for the yellow one again, too. But that's okay.

I seem to have a thing for bowls. I also seem to have a thing for breaking them. When Jamie and I were engaged, we went to a bridal show. At the end of the event, prizes were given to a number of couples. We won a beautiful blue and white Portmeirion bowl. It was soon christened "The Blue Bowl." It held crisp salads and whipped potatoes for a few years until that fateful day when I tried to juggle too many dishes at once. It shattered. I mourned for my Blue Bowl. It was a sad, sad day.

The following Christmas, my parents presented Jamie and me with a box. From England. Its contents? A new Blue Bowl. Apparently, it had become quite difficult to track down by that time, but my blessed ma-MA (please accent so as to sound British) phoned her way until she found the Blue Bowl. It now resides loftily on display above my kitchen cabinets. I love my Blue Bowl.

As much as I love these simple little treasures, I know that my reactions to accidents are even more crucial. It was actually quite uncharacteristic of me to be so composed during the Yellow Bowl Incident of 2010. But I was, and I know that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that enabled me to respond with composure. His word, just recently nestled in my heart, determined the outcome: Let us pursue the things which make for peace . . . . Indeed, I felt whole and complete -- even among the brokenness. When God's children allow the Spirit to manifest the fruit instead of trying to force it on their own, I'm convinced that they will experience a startlingly abundant life, no matter how trivial the situation may seem.

I fully intend to be on the lookout for another yellow bowl. The hunt is part of the fun. I know it's out there somewhere. And as soon as it's nestled safely in my cupboard, my new Yellow Bowl will become a quiet reminder of that blessed peace that even a "hopelessly flawed" mama can attain.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Slow to Speak

As I busily scrubbed the last of the dishes, his little hand reached toward the stack of scratch paper on the counter. He was delighted to find a pad of post-it notes nestled among the pile. I immediately envisioned them being peeled away with reckless abandon, meaningless scribble defacing the once-perfect yellow squares.

It's happened before. Like the time I came downstairs to find that the children were planning to go on strike. An oatmeal strike. The post-it notes were plastered all over the kitchen cabinets and appliances, warning me that a certain breakfast was not welcome. (I, of course, warned them that an oatmeal breakfast was better than no breakfast. They quickly agreed. I added a heaping spoonful of brown sugar to each bowl. They smiled. End strike.)

Back to the post-it notes. We had plenty of other little pieces of note paper, and I figured they were probably just as well suited to his needs. So as I continued to load the dishwasher, I requested that he use the scratch paper instead. He happily obliged.

He stayed at the counter and slowly worked through the letters. With his unique left-handed slant, my boy took his time, eager to perfect his new cursive skills. He finished and smiled his broad, big-boy-tooth smile, "It's for you!" I took the paper and melted over its message: "I love you!!!"

And I was worried about wasting post-it notes. I hugged my beamish boy, and he placed his note on the ledge above the kitchen sink.

I inwardly grimaced once again as I noticed that he happened to place it on top of three popsicle sticks. Another reminder of my shortcomings . . . . I had attempted a room-cleaning system where the kids each got three popsicle sticks. If they stayed on task, they got to keep their sticks. If I found them neglecting their work, I took a stick. Should I gain possession of all three sticks, they would have an earlier bedtime that night. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I wasn't so sure when I saw his three sticks sitting there under his love note, as though I was somehow trying to keep . . . a record of wrong.

There are many pauses along life's journey where a mama must think about what she's done, what she's said. This was such a pause. I felt the weight of desiring perfection and order in my home. These things can certainly have their place. But are there times when this striving squeezes out opportunities to receive my child's affection? Are there times when this striving inhibits growth and creativity?

During this striving, the Lord gently reminds me: Slow to speak, dear one, slow to speak. I'm learning that this applies not only in situations where anger may threaten to rule (as we often consider in the passage from James), but also in situations where my fear of losing control may threaten to rule. This is a big one. I have much to say to my children. I have grand plans for making order out of chaos. And slowing down is rarely on my to-do list. But I choose to press on . . . slowly . . . knowing that I'd much rather have a house full of Aidan's post-it notes than just about anything else in this world.
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas

'Twas two weeks before Christmas
And although it was late,
Up in the wee hours
Was Miss Avery Kate.

The others were tucked
In their beds with great care,
But Little Miss Muffet
Chose not to be there.

Perhaps 'twas the chocolate,
Or maybe the tea,
That kept our sweet pixie
From where she should be.

For into our room
With scarcely a clatter,
Tiptoed the baby;
We thought, "What's the matter?"

Her reason was simple --
She just needed to be
With her two favorite people:
Daddy and me.

I kissed her round cheeks,
And squeezed that girl tight,
Heard peaceful breathing,
And knew all was right.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010


Sisters, sisters,

There were never such devoted sisters . . .

Caring, sharing,

Every little thing that we are wearing . . .

Irving Berlin
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Am I Getting Ready For?

After making sure that I wasn't over the 20 grocery limit, I hurriedly emptied the contents of my cart onto the quick check-out counter. The checker went through the usual greetings and questions.

"Washington resident?" she began.


"How are you?" she continued.

"I'm well, thank you," I answered, glancing at my watch. Ten minutes and I needed to be home.

"Did you find everything you were looking for?"

"Yes, I did," was my reply (even though the selection of white tights for my girls was lacking -- I knew I didn't have time to explain it all).

Silence. I'm terrible at small talk. Another glance at the watch.

"Are you ready for the holidays?" she started up again.

My mind raced. I searched and faltered, "I'm getting there. I was able to do a bunch of shopping yesterday . . . and we got our tree up last week . . . ." I hesitated as if there should be more.

Again, silence. I felt like there was more to say. But how to summarize?

Her mind looped to the beginning of her check-out questions. "Did you find everything you were looking for?"

I pretended like it was the first time she had asked. "Yes, thank you."

And my groceries were bagged. We said goodbye. I left.

I wheeled that cart into the parking lot and felt a knot in my stomach as a gust of icy wind forced its way around my chilled body. What on earth was I thinking? Shopping? The tree?

And I realized that's just it -- I was thinking about . . . earth. I was thinking about man's version of "the holidays." Based on our five minute conversation, that woman had no idea that my preparations would involve -- or should involve -- anything more than presents and decorations.

Why should they?

Is that really all that I'm getting ready for? If that's on the top of my mind when someone asks about my holidays -- no matter how rushed I am -- it causes me to wonder.

And I grieve. Here we are, over a week into the advent season. Our family has so enjoyed our evening Jesse Tree devotions. I love it when we light the candles. I love it when my little ones read the Word. I've even seen a change in their demeanor as we work to memorize a passage that our pastor shared on Sunday:

So then let us pursue the things which
make for peace and the building up of one another.

But these preparations can't stay at home. I can memorize verses, I can light the candles, I can pray to be more patient with my children. But if it all stays shut up within these walls, then what's the point?

I want another chance. A do-over. I want to tell her that I am preparing for the holidays every single day. I am anticipating the celebration of Christ's birth. I am anticipating His triumphant return. And I am decorating and giving because I am filled to the brim with His love. That's what I'm getting ready for.

Scripture: Romans 14:19. Illustration by Tasha Tudor.
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Friday, December 3, 2010

This Glow

How we prize the fire just now! How pleasant is its cheerful glow!
Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing.

~C.H. Spurgeon~

We're only a few days in, but I'm loving the rhythm of advent. I love this setting aside of time, this purposeful moment each evening to share, think, celebrate, anticipate.

The leaves stir restlessly beyond the windows. The wind chimes send mournful wails out into vast darkness. The chill forces us to prefer the comfort of home. So we watch the fire, we light the candles, and we're warmed. We prize this cheerful glow, this glow that brings even more life to each rosy little cheek huddled 'round the nativity. This glow of anticipation. This glow of believing. This glow of knowing. He's coming! Let us draw nigh.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oh, Aidan. Continued.

You've heard it before. He makes me laugh. There was a dry spell for a while and I thought, "Oh well. Guess he's done being weird."

And then tonight I peek into the bathroom just to make sure he's actually in the tub, scrubbing the bod. He's in the tub, alright. Upside-down, feet in the air. Head submerged, blowing bubbles like crazy. A perfect 10 headstand, just like his Noni taught him.

So the update, just in case you're wondering: He's totally not done being weird.

P.S. There's no picture to verify this behavior. You'll have to take my word for it. Please accept the charming shot above instead.

P.P.S. I'm pretty sure that Noni had nothing to do with him attempting this maneuver while submerged.
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