Tuesday, May 29, 2012

{The Speech}

Apparently I tend to get a tad high strung during school hours. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I have four children in four different grades and I like things to be perfect. But I could be wrong about that.

When they were younger it was necessary to supervise every child during every minute of school lest writing somehow morph into wrestling. As they've gotten older, however, I've noticed that I now have the luxury of actually leaving the room from time to time to tend to other pressing needs around the house. Like facebook.

Ever in need of control, I've developed a habit of preparing my children with very thorough instructions when I know that I will be out of the room for a few minutes. Even if it's only to use the bathroom. It goes something like this:

"Avery? Mommy has to go potty. I'll only be gone for a few minutes. So while I'm gone, you must stay in your seat and work diligently on your math page. Let's see if you can finish this row and this row before I get back. Do you understand? What did Mommy say?"

She repeats.

"Very good. Now, Aidan. I have to go to the bathroom. No guns. No Star Wars. Yes, you can still be Han Solo. But be a diligent Han Solo. Stay focused. I'd like you to be done with problem five when I get back."

The child nods.

(A brief word here about the phrase, "Work diligently." My children have heard me say this so many times that they are fully aware of its magical powers. My pixie has been know to croon, "Mommy? If I work very diligently while cleaning my room, may I please stay up a little bit past my bedtime?" Of course, my love. Diligence above all else.)

Well, this morning, after chugging my way through another glass of water, it became necessary for me to leave the room. I delivered my room-vacating speech with eloquence and clarity, convinced that everyone would be able to independently follow instructions for two-and-a-half minutes. (I've timed it.)

Upon my return, however, I did not find Miss Kate working diligently on her math page. I didn't even find Miss Kate. But I did find her math page. And across the top, a note hastily written above warped polygons:

Please stay calm. She's pooping.

Apparently children need to use the bathroom from time to time, too. This child anticipated my reaction and in a fit of desperation scrawled the excuse for her absence. One shouldn't be expected to draw polygons when experiencing uncomfortable pressure.

I was tactfully confronted with my tendency to run a very tight ship. So in an attempt to ease up on my burdened children, I've decided that I shall henceforth deliver a revised exit speech. A pooping clause is definitely in order.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

{Other People}

The sun was out so I figured that we should be, too. I suggested a bike ride and quickly did a mental scan of the area to determine which route we should take. Then I remembered a nearby trail which wound its way through the park and back up into our community. Seemed like a good idea, so I printed up the map and figured that we could easily handle a few miles.

The kids were game and quickly donned helmets. When they saw that I was putting together a backpack with snacks and water, they too put together backpacks with snacks and water. Which meant that I no longer needed an entire backpack for snacks and water. I wasn't going to complain one bit about that arrangement and reduced my load to a small bag which would nestle quite nicely in my bike basket. Just like Toto heading to Oz. 

We hit the road. The trail head was about a mile from our house so of course we biked that part, too. So far, so good. We found the trail rather easily and with shouts of glee the kids veered off the main road and careened into the wooded path. I thought it would be a rather paved sort of trail, but it turned out to be a rather not paved sort of trail. They careened and I wobbled and prayed. They screamed and I wobbled and prayed.

Toto remained strapped in place and we safely made our way through the forest, the boys taking the lead and shouting, "Watch out for that switchback!" when appropriate.

We found a trail marker which tempted us with a park only 1.8 miles away. No sweat. We'd come this far, why not add on a couple more miles? I raised my eyebrows and grinned at the panting children. "There's a park up ahead! Let's go!" They pedaled wildly.

After a number of steep switchbacks and several moments where the trail seemed to disappear altogether, we finally found the park. It was another one of those "coming home" moments, for this was the park that always hosted our church events when I was growing up.

I became all nostalgic and pointed to the field where my dad had played softball, the covered area where we ate jello salads and various mystery casseroles, and the slide which was especially slidey when wax paper was involved.

The children were happy to romp where I once romped, and I was happy to watch them do it.

We ate our snacks and played for a bit, and I turned my attention to the trail map. I used the very exact method of measuring the trail with my finger and realized that it would probably be more efficient to continue our loop and head home rather than turn around and back track.

For some reason the children looked dubious, but I convinced them that loops are more rewarding than going back. They finally agreed and we pedaled on.

The trail took an interesting turn when I saw that there was construction up ahead on the main road. Not quite sure what to do about it, we decided to charge on ahead and see what would come of it. By this time the sun was getting hotter and our legs were definitely lacking in enthusiasm. There was a large hill up ahead, so we dismounted and walked our bikes until we could pedal again.

It was about this time that Miss Kate began the glaring. Glaring of the "Why on earth are you doing this to me?" variety. I assured her that we really only had one more hill to go and the rest was easy-peasy.

Unfortunately, that last hill was rather long. We dismounted yet again and began the ascent. At this point we were on the main road, so the climbing was accompanied by my frequent hysteric shouts to, "Stay right! The cars are coming!" They were probably only coming at 25 miles per hour, but when they're coming near your babies, much shouting is in order.

The glaring continued along with frequent moans. "I can't do this, Mommy." Glare. Groan.

"Yes you can, honey! You're doing an amazing job! Look at how far you've come already!" It really was remarkable. Her little legs on that little bike, pedaling all afternoon.

More glaring. More moaning. And then she thought to level me with the insult, "This is the kind of thing that happens to other people. Not us." I'm not sure who "other people" are, but apparently they're the people who abuse their children by making them bike up horrific hills.

At this blessed moment I was inspired. "You know what's at the top of this hill, Avery?"

"What?" She moaned.

"The Donut Nook." I waited.

All four children whipped their heads around at the magic words and chorused, "Can we go?" I said yes. Their rubber legs miraculously gained momentum.

We finally arrived at The Donut Nook where the children collapsed at a booth after ordering their treats. They didn't have much to say. When they weren't eating they were still panting from the torture which only "other people" should be forced to endure.

When I asked them if they were ready to go home they mutely nodded and I encouraged them with the helpful fact that it was only about mile away.

Like cows sensing the barn they trudged onward. The boys suddenly raced ahead, invigorated by the maple bars, and we girls faithfully brought up the rear with a substantial amount of moaning and panting.

The barn finally achieved, my livestock collapsed. They were absolutely silent. They barely mustered enough energy to find a spot on the couch, grab a book and disappear into various other worlds. Worlds where "other people" do things, but certainly not us.

I took another look at the map. The trail looked so tiny on that page. I had forgotten to factor in the miles that it took us to actually bike to and from the trail. I was just looking at the trail itself. Turns out we did about seven miles that afternoon. Not bad. I looked at my sprawled children and felt something akin to pride.

I'm still not sure what "other people" do, but if we did it that day, then hey -- I'll take it.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

{Passing By}

My mom, sister and I compared emotions and goosebumps on Saturday and it was unanimous: Parades are so great. And downright emotional, too.

The ceremony, the precision, the patriotism.

Uniforms, rhythm, flash and sparkle. What's not to love?

(If you ask Miss Kate, she'd say that clowns are not to love. "Noni? Please warn me if a clown comes to talk to me." Noni warned.)

For six years I was in marching band, so I was especially goosebumpy when the schools marched by. Plumed hats at attention, white shoes gliding along the pavement, instruments catching the flash of sunlight overhead.

But the most exciting part about this year's parade is that my Bethie took part.

Her gymnastics team sparkled, twirled and tumbled down the main drag, and it was beautiful. She looked so tall and stately. So confident and poised. My girl.

We screamed and waved. She beamed and waved back.

She continued down the avenue and I wanted to follow. I wanted to walk with her for the rest of the route, watching her sparkle and shine. Watching others watch her.

But that wouldn't do. I knew there would be other friends and family members along the route to cheer her on. She could do this one without me.

So I let her pass by. I reveled in the moment, hastily wiped a tear and returned to the other children. Children who had blue popsicle tongues and sticky hands and bags full of candy.

They, too, will have their moments to sparkle and shine.

Moments where I'll watch and let them pass me by. I won't be able to follow.

But that doesn't mean that I can't scream and cheer, wipe the mascara-streaked tears from my face, and revel in the beauty of a child becoming, a child growing up.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

{How to Be Perfect}

There was much racing and shouting followed by the inevitable, "Last one there is a rotten egg!"  I have no idea what game they were playing, but it was loud.

Miss Kate was soon calling the shots, and the taunt quickly took an unexpected turn. Upon realizing that she would be the "last one there," she blurted out, "Last one there is . . . perfect!"

And that sealed the fate of her siblings. She was the perfect one.

I laughed and scribbled yet another Avery quote in my journal.

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize how right she actually is.

The concept is certainly not new. If you've flipped through the New Testament lately, you'll see that it's a rather prominent topic. Prominent and, at times, hard to swallow.

The last shall be first. 

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Humble yourself as a child.  

Deny yourself.

The greatest example of this is Jesus Christ. He proved that the last One, the true Servant, is the perfect One. The One who served until death. The One who even begged His Father for a way out . . . but only if it was the best way.

Turns out it wasn't the best way. The best way was straight through hell. So he went.

He sacrificed all. Putting the greatest need of humanity before his own rights, He became last. And in so doing, He was raised victorious. He conquered all. And remained perfect

Perfectly obedient, perfectly good, perfectly wise, perfectly God.

We, His creatures, frequently don't know what to do with this. We don't like to be last. It's not in our nature to serve. (Or if we do serve, it's hard to do so with the purest humility.) This service system is counter-intuitive and, frankly, a bit too risky. We might lose something. Or not be noticed. Heaven forbid.

As I find my children growing older and more capable, I realize that the opportunities for service in my home are changing. I have to consciously remind myself to continue to cultivate the heart of a servant. They don't need my help in the bathroom anymore. (Glory be.) They don't need help getting ready for bed or getting dressed.

So I no longer serve by the daily dressing and bathing of my children. Tasks which, at one time, I thought would never end.

Lately, I've even been able to walk away from the school room to attend to other responsibilities, knowing that (at least for a time) they will stay focused on their work. It is quite likely that I could sit with a cup of tea and read all day long and they would be just fine. (Messy, but fine.) These people are gaining independence, and they like it.

I like it, too. But it puts me in a new position of awareness. Because it is crucial that they still learn how to serve. How to be last.

I have a chicken roasting in the oven. As soon as my children became aware of the menu, certain members immediately started arguing over the drumsticks. Hot commodities, those puppies. Yes, they still need to learn. Deny yourself.

This means that now, more than ever, I need to model service. These children still need to see their mama in action. They need to see that the only way through this game is by choosing to be last. By thinking of others. By serving, serving, serving.

It's so unnatural. But it's not impossible. We have a perfect example. And He loves us. He desires us.

Which means that now, more than ever, I need to be spending my time with Him. In Him. Abiding. I need to listen to the rhythm of His heart which beats with passionate love for His children. I need to bathe my thoughts in His Word and really learn the rules of this game.

Not because I want to win, but because He already has. I want to live in His victory.

It's true that I'm still a bit of a rotten egg -- at least for now. I kind of stink at this whole serving thing. But I'm continuing to train under the best. And I do believe there's hope for me yet.
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Monday, May 14, 2012

{Sun Kissed}

When the forecast is sunny, sunny, sunny, we are happy, happy, happy. I pull out the lawn quilt, stack the books and suggest to Miss Kate that we do outdoor school today.

It doesn't take much arm twisting.

She snuggles into my arm and leans her head against my shoulder. Seemingly small signs, but for my little firecracker this shouts, "I love you, Mommy. And I'm perfectly content right now."

I'm not going to rush this. Not one bit.

We turn the pages. I read, she reads.

I kiss the top of her head, smell the smell that's her, and I'm grateful for the now we are sharing.

She says, "Pretend I'm sleeping," and I take the picture.

She rolls back onto her tummy, flips through the poetry book and asks me to read the one about the kittens.

We read some more. We read about Laura and Mary and how proud they are of their beautiful mother, all dressed up for the dance at Grandpa's. She giggles over the corset tightening and I put my hands around her waist and say that women's waists were supposed to be SO small back then!

We're relieved that we don't have to wear corsets.

School ends and in a flash she's changed into her swim suit. Big brother sets up the sprinkler. I lather on the sunblock and we smile over the smell. It's been a long time since we've smelled summer.

The ice cubes clink in the glass of sweetened sun tea.

She splashes and squeals, sips and sunbathes.

Because when it's sunny, sunny, sunny, we are happy, happy, happy.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

{Time Travel}

It happened again. You know, that thing where I turn into my mother.

We've been living in my "growing up house" for over a month now, and whenever someone asks, "Isn't it weird?" I say, "Yes . . . and no."

It is weird to be "the mom" in this home, and it is weird to feel like I'm living in a land where time warps and plays tricks on me. I'm young and old and in between all at once.

But it's not weird like creepy weird. It's more like a feeling of awe. And gratitude.

* * * * * 

I rest on the lawn with my book and every other page or so I'm compelled to gaze up at the trio of birch trees towering over the house. The trees that my dad planted when I was Aidan's age. Their silvery leaves shimmer in the afternoon sun, a foil against the blue sky beyond. I'm almost certain that if I look closely enough I'll catch a glimpse of the fairies darting from limb to limb.

A hummingbird startles me. She's found the new feeder. I welcome our new guest and return to Dickens.

I wonder who's practicing the cello and inwardly congratulate the diligent young student who keeps at it, even on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And then I realize it's a bullfrog, his sonorous song carried across the marsh. I laugh.

* * * * *

My mother heard these sounds, gazed at those leaves (or, at least the ancestor leaves), and marveled at the same blue expanse.

But the thing that most startled me in this maternal transformation happened yesterday. The kids, hot and excited, jumped up and down shouting, "Can we go to the ice cream shop? We'll ride our bikes!" They've discovered the thrill of having quaint convenience stores and shops withing walking distance, just as my sister, brother and I did.

I agreed that it was a good day to pedal and happily joined them. On my mother's bike. She and Dad went for the more modern mountain bikes several years ago, so I happily inherited the vintage Schwinn (with a seat to die for).

If ever I've felt like my mother it was at that moment. The moment when I trailed in back of three children and followed that same route. The route that we used to take every summer for two weeks to Vacation Bible School.

Equally sentimental is the fact that Bethie has inherited my old bike, lovingly restored by Papa. She pedaled ahead with Aidan and Avery, just as I had pedaled along with Johnny and Krista.

We arrived at our destination and the kids made their selections. There was no hurry, no reason to rush. We sat down and rested in the warm sun, enjoying the dripping cones and neighborhood hum. I waited and let the children make the request to head home.

I suggested that we swing through the old church parking lot, the place where we had lined up for Vacation Bible School and, years later, the place where Jamie proposed to me. For it was there that we met. The children were properly awed, yet eager to get home.

We followed the road toward the birches and bullfrogs until we approached The Hill. I couldn't resist the temptation to zip down that hill. It's a great zipping hill. Once upon a time we had races to see how far we could coast before stopping. It's in my blood. I followed the urge, unleashed, and flew down that hill. I was eight and ten and fifteen and thirty-six all at once. Free, fully me. 

Into the driveway we soared: home. The home where I get to play house -- for real -- and be the mom. A mom who is daily filled with gratitude for the woman who taught her to be one.
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Friday, May 11, 2012

{A la Dr. Seuss}

Books are here and books are there.

We would read them anywhere.

We would read them in a group.

We would read them with our soup.

 We would read them in a box.

We would read them in our socks.

On the floor or in a chair,

Books are with us everywhere.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

{Homeschooling During a Family Move}

Our family has moved a number of times over the past several years, and without fail the moving day usually lands right in the middle of our school year. As with any other big change in a family, moving tends to be pretty stressful. And we all know that stress in the home equals stress in the home . . . school.

It’s hard to pack up a school room. There’s always the nagging fear that the kids will fall behind or that it will take a really long time to get back into a good routine. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, I’ve learned that moving can actually be a great learning experience for our children.

Here are a few things that a family on the move can keep in mind while homeschooling:

Join me over at The Homeschool Classroom to continue reading.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

{Aerobic Glow}

I was holding my plank position when the voice jumped into my head, as bubbly as ever. "Hi! I'm Vickie! Let's take on the fitness challenge today and glorify God through body, mind and spirit! Come on! Let's go!"

I was whisked back to the 80s, and I was no longer the one doing exercises in that living room. It was my mother.

She had donned the sweats and cranked up the ol' victrola. (Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite as old as that. But it was definitely the contraption known as a record player.)

Onto the turntable went the workout disc, Aerobic Glow. And the instructor? Vickie. Beautiful Vickie with her purple striped leotard, permed hair, and super shimmery makeup. Super shimmery.

I joined my mother from time to time, contorting myself into "The Pretzel" and working up a sweat as we performed the "Jog . . . Star Stretch!" and "Knee lifts!" Eventually, my sister and I made up our own workout video with Vickie's instructions guiding us along the way. "Stretch and Twist!" It was truly a thing to behold.

It was inspiring to watch my mom work out in the living room. Of course I didn't think much of it at the time, but looking back I realize that she wisely used the time and resources that were available to her. No club memberships or fancy equipment. Just a record and a will.

* * * * *

My arms and abs burn as I release the plank. I glance back up at the iPad for my next instruction, not from Vickie, but from Ellen. Same house, same room. But a few things have changed.

I'm the mom now. The record player has morphed into the iPad which streams my Pilates video. Maizy attacks my face and I beg Miss Kate to distract her. Push ups are hard enough without Corgi lips getting in the way. I think of how grateful I am for my mom. For her strength, determination and will.

And then I think, deep down, that I still kind of want a purple leotard.
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Sunday, May 6, 2012


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Which words would you use to capture this one? It's just begging for a caption. Don't you think?
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Friday, May 4, 2012

{On the Set}

One of the perks of my husband's job is that I get to laugh a lot. He owns a video production company, and he and his crew are witty, entertaining and downright funny. Every once in a while home and work collide, and we get front row seats on all the action.

I love those days.

This week we not only had front row seats, but we got to be part of the cast and crew as well. Along with three dogs and two cats.

Now, if you've had any experience in the industry (or if you simply have an ounce of imagination), you know that working with untrained animals and children on a set can be . . . challenging.

This day proved to be just that.

Kittens do not stay put. Children who are allergic to them tend to sneeze and wipe their faces and turn red.

Dogs whine. So do children.

And so went the day.

We were shooting at my sister's house while she and her husband were out of town. My parents, who were house sitting for them, were relegated to the loft with my two-year-old niece. Who was coming down with a fever. And a cough. (Yes, the camera audio picks up coughs.)

The audio also picks up clicking sounds. Jamie had announced "Quiet on the set!" The children were obediently hushed as I sternly gazed at them with my serious mother eyes.

Yet still there was a distinct clicking sound. Likely one of the dogs was scurrying across the hardwood floor. We did a quick head count. No scurrying dogs.

The clicking continued. Jamie had an epiphany and called up to my loft-bound mother. "Um, Diane? Are you . . . typing?"

Diane stopped typing. "No . . . not anymore . . . ."

No more clicking.

And action.

My dad had to run to the store to get Tylenol for the feverish Clara. Maizy, our Corgi, was driven to distraction by the furry creatures surrounding her. Clara coughed. Avery whined. The light smoked. I touched up Jamie's makeup and brushed back Avery's pig tails. The kittens disappeared under the couch. Aidan sneezed.

And so on.

Needless to say, when we finished that final scene there was a general sense of relief in the air. We quickly pulled the house back into order, thankful that poor Clara could finally rest and snuggle with her Papa while watching Shaun the Sheep.

Into the van we piled: three adults, four children, two cats, one dog and a hefty amount of video equipment. Yes, it smelled.

But you know what? I still laughed. Because even when it's stinky and tiring and inconvenient, I love my husband's job.

 And I'm pretty sure that he does, too.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The calendar tells me it's already May. I'm having a hard time believing it. The sun is elusive and I keep turning up the heat.

But I've seen glimpses of that golden orb in the sky.

I know it's there.

 It would just be kinda nice if it would stick around for a while.

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