Wednesday, June 30, 2010

dates with mama

The bambini and I function as a unit most of the time.  By this I mean we are usually in the same area of the house together, sometimes doing things each on our own (lads playing trucks or dinosaurs while I unload the dishwasher and the lass unloads the contents of the plasticware drawer) or sometimes doing things together like reading or playing.  I usually take them all with me to the grocery store or on errands (and because of that have curbed the number of errands I run).

Our daily structure is one of togetherness, and that's the way it has to be.  None of them is old enough to be left unsupervised for much time at all, and they all still seek out my attention and interaction.   It's not that I am here to entertain them all day, but there is a lot of Mama-directed activity.  I hope to foster within them the imagination and drive to cultivate their own interests, but these things take time.

Each child needs and deserves attention, though, and lately I've been able to take each one on a "date" or two, just that child and me.  For the elder lad, it's been to doctor's appointments for such things as eye exams, allergic reactions, and check-ups.  Such appointments hardly constitute what I would consider *fun* times, but I've tried to make them so by afterward taking him to lunch or to a store he enjoys visiting because of the sweet rocket ship shopping carts this particular store has.  He gets to choose the music as we drive in the Bambini Ride, and he has a captive audience for claiming all the neat-looking trucks he sees. 

The younger lad was my date to the tag agency to renew my driver's license.  He didn't really care where we went, I don't think.  He just wanted to go with me.  That was just fine with me.  He also had a running commentary going the entire drive, but I had more difficulty hearing his soft voice from the way back of the Bambini Ride over the din of the air conditioner.   Nonetheless, his presence made the experience far more pleasant.  I welcomed the time with him.  His cheerful companionship more than makes up for the unfortunate picture on the license.

While I might frame an outing as a date with me, if it's grocery shopping, I think the lass would probably rather pass.  She's not so keen on the whole sitting in the shopping cart for a while thing.  I know this from times I've asked "want to go shopping with Mama?" and her response is "no."  'scuze me?  Let's try this again...  The lass and I do seem to have a little more time together regularly since the lads often want to do things with their daddy on the weekends such as check on the garden or go places in his "big truck".

I am so grateful for the help I've had caring for my other bambini while I've had this one-on-one time.  I've relished these dates as much as they seem to, so whenever opportunities present themselves in the future for such occasions, I'll do my best to capitalize upon them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

tiny bubbles

We're still trying to figure out what is causing the elder lad to have these flare ups of itchiness.  We don't think it's peanut butter (thankfully).  While it might be owing to something food-related, it just might be having to do with the laundry detergent we've been using lately. 

We've long used a "free and clear" brand, but I haven't been able to find it in the concentration we need for our front-loader washer (persnickety thing that it is).  I switched to another brand a few weeks ago -- one labeled as "all natural", free and clear, and all that, and that's about the time he started having these episodes. Maybe there's something to that.

Yesterday I was able to find the other detergent and am going to revert back to it for a few weeks to see if that helps.  If it does, we might just order it by the case.  That kinda takes laundry to a whole new level, doesn't it? 

At the rate we do laundry around here, I can only imagine how quickly we will go through such a staggering amount of detergent.  With multiple young children, it's just another fact of life -- like running the dishwasher increasingly more often. If we're considering ordering it by the case, why not have it trucked in by tanker and held for use in a re-purposed propane tank or something?   The lads would flip.out. 

I am grateful for these homekeeping realities because they speak to the life of this growing family, where each person is uniquely precious.  Here's hoping the laundry detergent switcheroo does the trick for the itchiness. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

pop quiz

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" the younger lad wants to know.
"What are you thinking about?"  I answer back.

nope.  That wasn't what I was thinking about.

"a big blue fish."
Still no.  But now I am.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

grace to go on

So often now I struggle with the sheer physical demands upon me, carrying a near full-term baby within me and often schlepping a 20+ pound toddler.  I try to meet the lass's repeated and insistent requests to "hold me" as much as I can, as well as those of the younger lad, who has been asking me hold him a lot too.  I can't really carry him very far, but I do try to oblige his need for closeness by sitting and reading with him or something along those lines.  The elder lad now sets up his car mat and cars on the dining room table (such as it is -- two folding tables pushed together to form a near square) so I can sit and play more easily with him.  He doesn't ask me to carry him, but when I sit down next to him to read or watch TV, he lays his head on my shoulder and snuggles close. It seems they all sense Quattro's imminent arrival and are bulking up on the "mama lovin'".

Sometimes I feel so weak under the literal and figurative weight.  This frustrates me, and I am inclined to be irritated about it.  While I make it a point never to pray for patience (as the only way one develops patience is by practice -- know what I'm sayin'? -- and I already get a lot of that), I *do* pray -- a lot -- for wisdom, fortitude, understanding, compassion, and help in guarding against irritability.

Here's the amazing thing: just when I doubt if I will pass this endurance test, the grace to go on is there.  Just when everyone starts to melt down (including me), I am given the means to filter through any whining or fussing and the vision to see the various needs that are presenting themselves.  If such fussing is coming from one of the bambini, I ask for the need to be stated simply and respectfully (and in an age-appropriate manner) and then promptly meet the need as best I can.  If it's coming from me, I try to identify its cause and address that so I can get back to attending to everything else.  While it doesn't always go quite this well, it has been happening enough for me to recognize what is actually at work here (and it's not my doing):

Grace (big G).

My fervent and frequent prayer is for the Grace to do right by these children, my beloved, and all the people in my midst.  I'm not able to do that all on my own.  I can sense the prayers being offered for me and us, and I know they are heard -- and answered.

Thank you for yours.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

the soundtrack of our lives

Happily, my collection of classical music has met its match in my beloved's collection of jazz and classic rock.  In our five years of parenthood, we've ventured into a new genre: kids' music.  As with any other genre, there's a lot of not-so-good stuff that is either mind-numbingly boring or simply insulting to the intelligence of any listener regardless of age.  But there's also a lot of really great kids' music being produced which appeals to the entire family.

Innumerable hours spent in a practice room hashing through one bar of music at a time yield a certain tolerance to hearing the same tune over and over again.  This comes in handy around here, when we get stuck on a certain favorite song and field requests for repeated playings.  (That said, I do have my limits.)  Fortunately, we've amassed a broad spectrum of favorite music, with a few key players on the most-oft-asked-for list.

Dan Zanes and Friends produce an eclectic kind of music that I can (and do) listen to for hours on end -- even if I'm the only one within earshot (not that I spend hours on end by myself, mind you; minute increments are more like it).  We have several most of their albums.  An informal poll of the five current family members ranks "Hello," "Smile, Smile, Smile," "Chi Chi Buddo," "I Can Do That" (from A Chorus Line), "Mango Walk," "Strike the Bell," "Daniel in the Den," "The Fine Friends Are Here," "A Place for Us," "I Don't Need Anything But You" (from Annie), and "Flying Machine" among the favorites, though their output is on the whole appealing to all ages.  We also have the two concert DVDs, and they're lots of fun.  Should DZ and friends ever play a venue nearby, we are *so* there.

A review I once read of Justin Roberts's output described him as "channeling his inner eight-year-old".  His usually funny, often insightful, sometimes touching, and in a few cases, water-works inspiring view of the various experiences of childhood, from the first day of school ("Giant Sized Butterflies" -- the one that spurred the water works for me when the elder lad was headed to preschool), to learning to "Tie Your Shoe," to planting a garden ("Little Raindrop"), to various aspects of sibling relationships ("My Brother Did It," "Meltdown") ring true so many ways.  The lads' current favorite is "New Haircut," from the latest album Jungle Gym, followed closely by "Obsessed by Trucks,"on the same album.  Other family favorites include "Not Naptime," "98.8," "Pop Fly," "She's A Yellow Reflector," "Yellow Bus," "From Scratch," and "Stay-at-Home Dad."  Here again, should he ever stop here on a concert tour, Mama will do her utmost to procure tickets for all of us.

Way before I even met my beloved, the two endlessly fun and funny ladies with whom I toiled in the trenches of orchestra lackey-ness and I happened upon Harry Connick Jr.'s Songs I Heard.  Harry puts his signature spin on familiar tunes from the Broadway and movie musicals Annie, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Our favorites are "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Do-Re-Mi," and "The Merry Land of Oz."

My Chicago aunties are ever-dependable sources of good ideas (and encouragement), and the music of Harry Belafonte is one such example.  Several summers ago we listened to "Day-O" and "Jump in the Line" (the one from Beetlejuice) over and over again when my soon-to-be high school freshman cousin was a wee lad.  Now these two tunes are in our "favorites" playlist on the iPod, along with "Matilda."

We like several of the songs by They Might Be Giants, mostly from their recent release Here Comes Science, especially "I'm A Paleontologist," "Meet the Elements," and "How Many Planets?"  "Electric Car" is catchy and tends to get stuck on repeat in my head.  We also like "Alphabet of Nations" from Here Come the ABCs.  The videos of these songs are fun every once in a while.  Most of them are available on YouTube for those of us who don't own the CD/DVD recordings (which we don't; what we have in our library is from iTunes). 

New on our radar screen is a band of three teachers from Seattle who call themselves Recess Monkey.  We haven't heard most of their output, though what we have heard is pretty fun.   Our favorites are "Knocktopus" and "Sack Lunch."  The lads also like "Centipede Pirate," "Ice Pack," and "Secret Agent Watch," all from the album Field Trip.

Then there are the classic rock singles that hold pride of place.  These include "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen, several songs from The Blues Brothers, "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel, "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins, "Volcano" by Jimmy Buffett, and many by the Beatles. 

While we queue up a diverse array of offerings from several genres, the soundtrack to accompany this season of our family life is comprised of the work of some talented, creative, and imaginative musicians able to speak to children (and parents) in a fun, compelling way.  Surely, this sets the stage for a life-long love for and interest in music, and who knows what good might come of that...

Friday, June 25, 2010

on 3

I had to renew my driver's license today. For mega-pregnant mamas melting in the 100 degree heat, there should be some sort of sticker or endorsement visible to everyone who will have reason to see the license that speaks to this "delicate condition" as an explanation for the puffy face and unfortunate timing for renewal of the license.

On the bright side, though, I had a cute date to the tag agency in the person of my three-year-old younger lad (the other two bambini were cavorting in the shaded sandbox at my beloved's parents' house), *and* thanks to the Edward Ardizzone books, I heard on more than one occasion today in response to a request I made, "aye, aye, Cap'm."

you got some 'splainin' to do

As part of the library system's summer reading program festivities, we went to a Latin drumming concert yesterday afternoon.  In case one (reasonably) wonders how a library can host a drumming concert of all things, it was actually in a theater adjacent to the library. 

The lads took it all in with keen interest, as both these boys love to drum on anything and everything with whatever implement is handy.  While I felt like I could've been in an episode of I Love Lucy with all the Latin-flavored dances they played, I thought the three-person ensemble did a great job of instructing a little about the instruments (bongos, timbales, and a synthesizer) and interacting with the crowd.  The lass seemed mildly interested in the music, but snuggled close to me the entire time.

One of our longtime favorite books from the elder lad's earliest days is Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins (illustrated by Eric Gurney).  We have the (abridged) board book edition.  Silly illustrations and rhythmic text make this one a read-over-and-over kind of book.  Our copy shows lots of love through the years of "dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dums", as the refrain goes.

I will not be surprised to find the lads with a renewed interest in drumming in the near future. They've got excellent rhythm...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

say it: crayon

My Fair Lady is one of my favorite movies, partly because of the diction lessons Professor Higgins gives Eliza Doolittle as he endeavors to transform her, a commoner, into a lady of refinement such as those who work in "flow'r" shops.

Maybe it's owing to the countless hours I spent accompanying voice lessons in college, picking up lots of diction instruction over the years, or maybe it's having grown up in a region of the country known for its distinctive dialect. At any rate, I find it fascinating.

Case in point: the younger lad pronounces the word "crayon" almost like "crown."  Mister Rogers pronounces it (or did, I guess I should say) "CRAY-en", and I say it "CRAY-on."

How do you say it?

locked out

On one of the last morning drives to preschool, the iPod I received for my birthday a few years ago that has somehow become a staple for road trips of any distance or duration turned up locked.  It was insistent upon having a code entered.  None of my guesses passed muster, and that was the end of that. 

"Mom, when I get home from school, I'll take the case off and check on the pistons," the elder lad promised.

Grateful for the offer but not quite ready to take such drastic measures, I tried a few things to get it working again (plugging it into the charger for the baby monitor wasn't one of them), but to no avail.  So it sat for a month or so.  The younger lad would periodically ask, "is the iPod still locked?"

Alas, "yes," I'd have to answer.   In a last ditch effort, I decided to charge it up and try using it again before "restoring" it to its original condition and starting from scratch.  It worked!

With great glee I held it up in the car one day as we drove and said to the younger lad, "look what I have!"

"Is it working?!"  he asked, eyes wide with wonder and disbelief.
"Yes!  Any requests?"

"You fixed it, Mama!  You did it!"
'T wasn't me -- it was the pistons.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

is this a compliment?

"Mom, this pasta isn't good *or* bad.  It's just right."
-- elder lad

Um... thank you?

Monday, June 21, 2010

it's what's for dinner

By now loyal readers are familiar with the various idiosyncrasies of the collective bambini palate here.  As a refresher, the lads are carbivores.  How they do love their baked goods.  They do like bacon (and, ahem, chicken McNuggets, once in a blue moon), but other than that, it's slim pickins for protein diversity in their respective cases.  We do try to use as much whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and flax seed meal as we can in our baking to up the protein content.  We keep offering a variety of healthy foods.  It's up to them to eat it, though. 

The younger lad loves his "ma-muh", the drinkable yogurt we blend up almost daily, so I take some solace in knowing that it's rich in protein in the form of milk and yogurt (sometimes even Greek yogurt) and contains minimal sugar to make it a fairly decent source of nutrition for him (and the lass, who calls it "go-gur").  He is also a fruit lover.

The elder lad's primary source of protein is peanut butter (we get the natural kind).  He will have nothing to do with the yogurt homebrew.  Trouble is, he's been having an intermittent but persistent (thankfully not emergent, though, at least so far) allergic reaction to *something*.  We're not sure if it's environmental, has something to do with shampoo or laundry detergent, or food-related; in case it's the last of those, we've been trying to ferret out the source by eliminating certain potentially allergenic foods such as the berries he has only recently began trying in the form of some flavored organic yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit in smoothies -- and his trusty peanut butter.

A few days into this exercise, we're still seeing symptoms and he's still very itchy.  I'm not sure how long the body takes to rid itself of proteins from peanut butter and berries (if that's even the cause); I know it takes a couple of weeks to eliminate dairy proteins from one's system when one is on that course (which we're not -- yet). 

So if peanut butter is off the menu, what will he eat?   Good question.  Please keep him in your prayers as we try to figure out what's causing him such obvious discomfort.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

on Father's Day

If we form our image of God largely by our father's influence on our lives, then the one I have is of a strong, gentle, wise, loving, merciful, generous, benevolent creator and caretaker quick to respond to pleas for help and stability in the face of adversity.  Thank you, Dad.

Our bambini are blessed to have a father who considers their needs, feelings, and the formation of their eternal souls in his decisions on their behalf and that of our family.  He is quick to hug, reticent to criticize, happy to provide some comic relief -- and able to discern the need for each of these in real time.  Thank you, my beloved.

The delight our bambini display each time my father-in-law appears speaks volumes about his influence on their lives and mine.  He brings joy, shares wisdom, and models devotion in his radiant smile and talent for merriment.  I am thankful to be his daughter-in-law -- one of his girls along with the lass and my lovely sister-in-law.

These hard-working men learned these fathering skills from men singularly devoted to them and their own families.  I am profoundly grateful for the gifts and sacrifices of self these men and their brothers in both familial relation and friendship make every day in service to their children, grandchildren, and spouses. 

May the prayers of Good Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and guardian of the Holy Family, remain with each of you, and may his example always be a source of inspiration and strength.

In a special way I pray for those without such fathers to depend upon by whatever circumstance.  In this absence, may God draw ever closer by the care of others who might serve as father figures in one way or another, revealing his tenderness to those who so desperately need it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Edward Ardizzone's Little Tim books

For his fifth birthday, the elder lad has received a deluge of "little Legos" to his great delight.  From us he also received two books by Edward Ardizzone: Tim All Alone and Johnny the Clockmaker.  We'd found a few of the "Little Tim" books at the library and went looking for more when the lad's birthday appeared on the horizon.  The stories center on Tim, a young boy who dutifully completes his studies and says his prayers -- and goes out to sea.  He is a hard-working, brave, helpful, considerate lad who befriends gnarled sea captains, orphaned boys, privileged but sweet little girls curious about the world outside their nurseries, and skittish little cats aboard the various sailing ships Tim boards.

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, the first of the Little Tim books, was published in the mid 1930s, with several more following over the next twenty or so years.  With just the right amount of suspense and a quest for adventure, charming watercolor and pen and ink illustrations, and a host of compelling characters, these books have secured their place among our lads' favorites.

In Johnny the Clockmaker the titular lad builds his own grandfather clock in spite of the skepticism he encounters (regrettably) from his parents, teachers, and friends.  While we aren't so keen on the rough treatment the lad endures, we love the determination, creativity, and use of his time and abilities to build something constructive rather than live up (or down) to the insulting barbs he bears from the people around him.  In a nod to the cruelty children can sometimes show to one another, Johnny is called a "baby bunting" by some of the other kids on the playground.  Our lads think this is the funniest moniker and have applied it to not only each other (which is probably better than telling one or the other to go to Dallas) but also various stuffed animal friends around the house.  They mean it in the nicest way possible, I'm sure. 

Much like Esther Averill's books, we find these by Edward Ardizzone to be delightful forays into storytelling of an earlier era and style.  We like the throwback to a simpler and more straightforward depiction of right and wrong, and the lads like the adventure, colorful characters, and fodder for the imagination these books provide so handily.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

five (going on 25)

Our elder lad is five years old today.

our family birthday banner: hung for each person's special day
I've been thinking of him as five for a while, but it's now official now.  He seems five.  He's capable of doing so many things for himself and for his family, and he's taking on so many new abilities, interests, and characteristics.  He remains an intense, thoughtful, intelligent, stoic, analytical, fairly reserved lad, but he's growing in generosity and consideration of others as well as independence and self-sufficiency.

Yesterday he was counting by and adding tens and fives as he and his grandmother had an impromptu and informal session of school.  He spelled his brother's name.  He's taken charge of the unloading of groceries when he goes with me, he (usually) listens attentively to the readings at Mass and participates in the songs and prayers as he is able, and I suspect he can read far more than he lets on.

Our little boy is growing up.

That is what he's supposed to do.  My mission is raising him to become the man God calls him to be.  One day he may set out on the open road in the Mack truck he insists he will one day drive, so until then I will cherish every spontaneous hug and beaming smile he bestows upon me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

keep me

When I was a little girl, my massively tall grandpa (the one married to my diminutive grandmother) would often tease me by saying "what am I going to do with you?!"

"Keep me!" I'd always answer.

So now, of course, I've made this my own.  And tonight, the younger lad turned the tables on me:
"Know what I'm going to do, Mama?"
"What?" (I truly had no idea what to guess.)

"What?"  I asked again.

"I'm going to keep you!" he gleefully declared.
"Thank you.  Please do."

Monday, June 14, 2010

construction zone

Wooden blocks are out.  "Let's build something," I say.

Elder lad: "You're the mom.  You get to decide."
me (wishing to record those words for posterity and precedent):  "How about a house to fit my family?  Soon my husband and I will have four children."

him: "so you'll need four, five downstairs and one upstairs."
me:  "bedrooms?"
him: "yes."
me: "yes -- a guest room would be nice.  We might not need quite that many bedrooms, though.  We can share."

me to younger lad: "what do you want to do for the house?"
him: "bake muffins."

That's an idea I can get behind, but he soon abandons the oven he's constructing in favor of building a bank with a drive-through lane, then later swiping all the cars and tucking them into the box the blocks came in and covering them with pillows.

Check this out:
Notice the sweet vintage Chevelle station wagon.  That's a gift from my dad, as is the flame-bedecked Nomad.  Those are the family vehicles.  The brother pick up trucks parked one in front of the other are for the lads.   The Citroen, Alfa Romeo, and Charger (below) are Date Night cars.

The back view shows the elder lad's fleet of service vehicles: firetruck, the fire "jeef"'s SUV, his Mack truck ready for dispatch to the grocery store, and the dump truck for trips to Sam's.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

nesting: the fourth time around

The two-year anniversary of our moving to this house happens to coincide with Quattro's expected arrival window in late July.  When we moved in around the beginning of August, I was about halfway through my pregnancy with the lass.  I wasn't really in a position to be schlepping boxes around, and most of the grunt work was handled by my beloved and other family members (with our deepest gratitude).

Being as we are in the "life with young children" mode, our decorating scheme could easily be described as, um, sparse, and we still have lots of unfurnished space. It actually works out well for children moving at full tilt.  While I would love to hang pictures and adorn our living space, I consider these bambini the most interesting and compelling artwork we could behold and have fewer worries about things getting broken or banged up.   

Having said that, there are some things around here that I want to get done before Quattro arrives -- things that might qualify as "nesting", but aren't as interesting or creative as decorating a room.  It's more like culling through clutter, trying to deal with things that have accumulated, making room for the next chapter of babyhood by putting away or getting rid of things that aren't being used, and addressing such things as school supplies and uniforms that will be needed shortly after Quattro's arrival.  It's not the cute side of nesting -- but it's necessary.  I figure if I do a little bit each day (or as I can), I'll call that progress...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

books to fuel the imagination

Have I mentioned how much my lads love trucks?  Maybe it was obvious from their trip to the car show yesterday.  Not a bambini ride passes without several exclamations of "that's my dually/Mack truck/lawn care truck/cement mixer, Mom!"  At times there is dispute as to ownership, but the rule is if we're *imagining* a truck is ours anyway, then it can belong to both lads.   Girls can drive trucks just like boys can, so now the lads declare the occasional purple or rare pink truck as their sister's.  We stand for gender equality here (but I'm not sure where the whole pink and purple being "girl colors" came from).

We have a cache of vintage Reading Rainbow episodes, including one featuring the book Tooth-gnasher Super Flash by Daniel Pinkwater.  As fun as that book is -- and it is -- two of the books the kid reviewers at the end recommend are among our most-oft requested books from the library.

We can scarcely get through Truck Song by Diane Siebert (pictures by Byron Barton) for all the "that's my ____!" claims on the semis and other trucks that fill the pages.  The rhyming text and colorful graphics make it appealing for younger gearheads, and the variety of trucks (not to mention the subject matter) keep it interesting for those well-versed in the lingo of "rigs" and such.

Fill It Up: All about Service Stations by Gail Gibbons conjures up memories of the small town gas stations of my small hometown that are not so common anymore.  Depicting a fictitious full-service station from the day shift to the night shift, the station offers not only gasoline but also towing and auto repair services.

The lads relish these books each time we check them out as though they've never read them before.  I myself am so accustomed to truck-spotting as I drive that it is my default mode to point them out.  When I'm driving somewhere with just the lass in the car, sometimes I catch myself wondering whether to draw her attention to that sweet-looking dump truck or not.  On a recent outing, though, the lads got all excited about a purple Mack truck, deeming it to be hers.  She was quick to turn her head in the direction they were pointing.  I guess that's my answer...

Friday, June 11, 2010

mustang sally

Five years ago right about now I was due with our elder lad.  Looking for some diversion and exercise in an attempt to encourage the babe (whose gender we did not yet know; we haven't found out genders in advance of any of our children's births) to come out and meet us, we accepted an invitation from my dad to go to a car auction.  Having never been to anything of the sort, our curiosity was piqued.

It was a world entirely foreign to anything I'd experienced.  Most of the cars would merit a "vintage" label of one kind or another.  Some were souped-up hot rods or trucks. Others were classic cars from the mid-century years.  There were even some antiques -- as in, Model T's and those of that era.  There were a few late model cars, but the main offerings were of the collectible, tinker-around-in-the-garage kind.

The people-watching opportunities were vast and varied, and the auctioneer and his assistants highly entertaining. He'd say such things as "You're buyin' it today," or "here's a great daily driver!" or "this one's in mint condition."  The air in the exhibition hall in which the auction took place was heavy with exhaust in spite of all the doors and big wall vents being fully open.

The lad didn't make his entrance into the world for several more days (time enough to clear all the exhaust I'd breathed in).  His brother and sister have been similarly tardy.  We'll see if Bambino #4 (a.k.a. "Quattro") follows suit.

Last year my dad and my beloved took the lads to the car auction.  They had a great time looking at all the cars.  The noise was a bit much for them, though, and their interest waned after a little while (before Dad's and my beloved's had).

This year was a different story.  The lads remembered the auction from last year and thus had an idea of what to expect.  Dad and my beloved procured kid-sized ear plugs on the way to the car show.  We planned to meet for lunch and me bring the lads home for siesta time in case the adult gearheads wanted to look around some more.  I came home with a worn-out younger lad and the lass, but the elder lad returned to the car show with his dad and grandfather.  It might've been the most walking he's done in his entire life.

With stories of a "blueish-orange" truck, one painted with flames, and lots of interesting classic cars, the lads were happy to tell of their adventure.  When I asked them if there were any Bambini Rides like ours, they said no.  "Most of them," the younger lad told me, "were from the Ancient Sixties."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

happy family fun time

Both of my beloved's brothers have been in town recently.  My brother-in-law and his wife -- graduate students in architecture -- are visiting for the week after a semester abroad, allowing our bambini ample opportunity to renew acquaintances with them.  For the lass, it has been a chance to really develop her sense of who they are in her life, since she has little recollection of them from their last visit at Christmas time.  In the past week or so, she has gone from giving her aunt and uncle her signature skeptical sizing-up stare to playing happily on the floor with them and even trying to say their names.  We've been celebrating this brother-in-law's birthday today.  It's been great good fun.  My other brother-in-law was here one evening late  last week before flying overseas for work, and the lads had great good fun crawling all over him and investigating the name badge his company requires him to wear.  The lass now says his name, too, and points out both her uncles and aunt in pictures.

Seeing the bambini with their uncles and aunt and the relationships that are developing among them is so neat.  My beloved often speaks of the fun he had playing with his uncles when he was a child, and the value he places on the relationships he has with them today.  Our younger lad has been processing the various family relationships and noting similarities such as the red hair he and one of his uncles both have.

This past Sunday afternoon most of the in-town members of my beloved's extended family (and there are many of us -- with many more in far-flung places around the country) gathered for some "happy family fun time" -- a phrase coined long ago to describe the scene when so many generations are gathered in one place.  On this particular day that meant swimming, grilling, swinging, visiting, and laughing together, all within the context of the lovingly and skillfully crafted home and outdoor living spaces constructed by the family members themselves.

Gatherings with the larger clan are always lively and energizing.  We are richly blessed to count among us four generations of family, many examples of sacramental marriage, and a shared Catholic faith that binds us together in our sense of being and purpose. 

Just as I am grateful for the opportunities my bambini have to cultivate their relationships with my parents and sister, so too I am for the many chances they have to know the family from whom their dad hails -- dear people who have become my family as well.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

the final frontier

Winding down at bedtime from a day that included a game of "jungle" with two lads in the guise of cheetahs ending in one such lad-as-cheetah taking an unfortunate but not surprising (or serious) tumble from his -- ahem -- tree limb, I sing "You Are My Sunshine" to the younger lad and lass  (the elder lad has already zonked out).   As is our tradition, after I sing the last line "please don't take my sunshine away", he says "I won't."

Then he says, "but Mama, the sun went down."

"I know," I say.  "The earth turned, so now the sun is shining on another part of the world. It'll come back up tomorrow when the earth turns so that we're facing the sun."  This is about the extent of my capacity for scientific explanation after such a wild day.

"Is the sun in outer space?"  he now wants to know.

"We're not in outer space.  We're in our beds."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

living up to the compliment (trying to, anyway)

"You're my best mama ever," my affectionate three-year-old has been telling me these past few days.

As much as I love hearing that and as good as it makes me feel, I'm not so sure I've earned such a compliment.  Into my third trimester now, I'm big, hot, tired, and simply shorter on valuable resources like patience, creativity, and humor that help us navigate our days together.

I pray to be that mama for him and his siblings, today and every day.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

kissy face

The lass and I were in the kitchen and heard the washer making a racket.  Upon investigation, we found the window of the front loader completely white with bubbles and the load inside off balance enough make the entire rig shake -- down to the door.  I thought for sure we were going to have a similar scene in our laundry room to that from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Gene Wilder drives his tour guests in that funny vehicle through the car wash of sorts and they're all covered with bubbles.

That's when the lass said, "Mommy!  Kiss!"

All better. 

Epilogue: the bubbles receded without incident after a few rinse cycles, but not before the lads -- just home from Target with their daddy -- had a chance to see them in all their foamy glory...

Friday, June 04, 2010

going batty

younger lad: "Mama, are you a fire bat?"
me: "no."

him: "Are you my mama?"
me: "yes."

him: "Will you protect me?"
me: "Yes I will.  That's part of my job."

elder lad: "I don't know what a fire bat is.  I only know regular bats and fruit bats."
regular bats?

younger lad: "Are there any bats in our house?"
me: "No.  Just people."

elder lad again: "We saw some fireflies on the drive home [from my beloved's parents' house] tonight."

Suddenly things make a lot more sense.  

(As for the bat thing, maybe the younger lad's thinking of Janell Cannon's picture book Stellaluna.  The title character is a little fruit bat.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

sour grapes

I ought to let the younger lad select grapes each time I buy them.  The black seedless ones he chose a few weeks ago were winners, taste-wise, which made up for the challenge they posed to Mama in the laundry room.  The laundry-friendly green ones I chose this past trip are über sour. 

A certain deeply cherished matriarch of my oft-referred-to family-of-origin from the Big City who shall remain nameless has been known to sample the grapes at the grocery store before making her final selection. Doing this would've saved us all from a sack of sour grapes.  Admittedly, the practice is controversial. As to whether I may have employed it for previous grape selections, I remain mum.

There is the related conundrum of banana selection.  What is the protocol when one wants only a certain number of bananas and finds no hands of that number available -- only larger hands?  Since they are sold by the pound, is it alright to break apart the hands of bananas in order to purchase only the number one expects to consume between this shopping trip and the next?

My beloved worked in a grocery store when he was in high school.  He sometimes makes reference to memorizing all the four-digit produce cash register codes (no stickers on each individual piece of fruit back then), unloading and displaying the produce, stocking, and the arduous task of "facing the shelves" -- the practice of tidying up the shelves by making sure all the product labels were facing outward.  Fun times.  He has remained silent on the grape-tasting controversy.

These are the questions that weigh heavily upon me sometimes -- and make for lively dinner conversation with the gathered clan.  What does one do with an entire bowl of sour grapes anyway?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

garden-themed picture books

Our back yard garden is flourishing thanks to the careful tending of my beloved and lads.  This brings to mind some of our favorite garden-themed books:

The Gardener, written by Sarah Stewart and awarded a Caldecott medal to illustrator David Small (Stewart's husband), is a visually lovely book to behold.  Set in the Great Depression, young Lydia Grace is sent to live with her uncle and work in his big-city bakery (presumably to make money for her family, as her father has lost his job).  The story of her learning to bake, and by turns endearing herself to the staff of the bakery and teaching them about gardening, unfolds by way of letters she writes back home to her parents and grandmother.   Stewart and Small have collaborated on a number of other equally compelling books, including The Friend and The Journey.

Silvia Long's illustrations for Dianna Hutts Aston's A Seed is Sleepy are simply exquisite.  These two also collaborated on An Egg is Quiet, which is equally captivating.  The poetic text of each book dreamily teaches science, while the illustrations are detailed, delicate, varied, and realistic.  These and the Sarah Stewart/David Small books are among the most beautifully illustrated children's books I've seen.

Eric Carle is one of our favorites (as I've written before). His The Tiny Seed follows a handful of seeds as they float on the wind and land in various places -- some to meet their demise and some to grow into flowering plants that then themselves release seeds and repeat the cycle.  We have many Eric Carle books in our home library; the illustrations are always vibrant and engaging, and the stories appealing to young and old.

We received Mortimer's First Garden by Karma Wilson (illustrated by Dan Andreasen) from my beloved's parents for our younger lad's second birthday.  It's a fun and faith-based story of a little mouse clutching a few sunflower seeds, which he sees as food.  Lamenting all the brown around him, he observes a family planting seeds in the springtime.  Reluctantly, he plants his few seeds, waters them, grows impatient after a few days with nothing to show for his efforts, considers digging up the seeds and eating them, then delights in the new growth he sees sprouting.  Pretty soon he has both something lovely to behold in the sunflowers that bloom from his seeds *and* more sunflower seeds to eat.

The veggie garden has been a daily delight for our family these past few months.  These garden-themed books and others like them keep the wonder alive year-round.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

keeping up appearances

Here's another story beginning with "on a recent trip to Target..."  I need to find a new opener.

Nonetheless, on a recent trip to Target with all three bambini (back in the brother cart -- faring far better this time), we were making good time and progress through the store and everyone was reasonably content.  As often happens on shopping trips, I passed the same woman a few times among the aisles and eventually took notice that each time she saw us, there was a look on her face that I would be described as "concerned" -- not quite alarmed, but in that general milieu.  The look seemed to flash across her face when she saw us.  Maybe the image of three children under age five being pushed around by a mega-pregnant mama was unsettling to her for whatever reason.  Or maybe -- and probably more likely -- she couldn't have cared less about us (except to hope that we wouldn't crash into her with our behemoth cart, which is perfectly understandable) and was thinking about something else.

At any rate, it brought to mind the reality that we are somewhat conspicuous when we're out and about, not because we are raising a ruckus (though we do have our moments), but simply because of these three close-in-age cuties and the big baby belly.  We attract attention.  Because we are a sight to be seen, I am keenly aware of how we look -- not so much from a standpoint of vanity, but from one of living out our vocation faithfully.

I like to look my best presentable whenever I am out and about, and for me this means a little bit of make-up, my watch, an outfit that is put-together but practical (i.e. washable and comfortable -- at much as maternity wear can be, anyway), and hair that might not be "fixed" per se but has been attended to somehow (a laughable concept, given my unruly curls).  Earrings are nice if I think I can manage them without my babe in arms ripping them out of my ears.

I have a built-in safeguard against vanity in the form of three young bambini starting the day at the same time I am, so I am able to take only a few minutes to put myself together (in snatches, if necessary).  It does wonders for my sense of self to have attended to these personal matters however briefly, and I think it conveys a message to other people -- some of whom are looking very closely to see how I manage this tricky business of mothering multiple young children.

It is this latter aspect about which I am most concerned -- the idea that there might be some young woman yet to have children or one expecting her first child or even a mom with however many children who sees me with mine and wonders how I do it.  I might (and sometimes do) feel entirely disheveled, exhausted, and frazzled -- every mom does at times.  Sometimes it's important for us to own that in front of other people just as a reassurance to them that they're not the only ones who feel that way.  But it's also important for others to see that it *can* be done -- done well, even (by God's grace), with Mama and bambini interacting positively, accomplishing things together for the good of their family and household.

This morning we made another trip to Target.  I saw -- as I usually do -- several mamas (and grandmas) with multiple young children managing to avoid crashing their behemoth sibling carts into fixed objects and people.  From the looks of things, we're not such an anomaly after all.
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