Monday, August 22, 2011

good night already

The nightly ritual of reading, prayer, and snuggling is a precious time, except when Mama is hoping for sleep to come to overtired bambini post haste both for their sakes and so that she herself can settle in for the night.  When things don't work out as hoped (as they often don't when overtired bambini are involved), Mama can get a little antsy.

I try to spend those (hopefully) quiet moments as the bambini are drifting off to sleep in prayer.  I haven't been very diligent about this effort lately, though.  When I struggle to get into that mode like a child fighting sleep, sometimes I imagine Mary the mother of Jesus either holding my hand or sitting beside her son Jesus, just as I do with my own bambini.  It can be a conduit to the prayer that I wish to offer.

If ever I can be a model of how to handle my own anxieties and reticence to submit to sleep, prayers, or some other healthy choice, I hope it will be in this area of prayer -- to pray always, trusting the prayers are heard, and settling myself down enough to listen to the responses (and prompts). 

And with that, good night.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

letting go while holding on

Depositing the younger lad at preschool that first day last week was bittersweet for me. It was a long time coming, having debated whether to enroll him last year at age three. That wasn't the right time for him. It appears now is the right time, as he has a spring in his step and an eagerness to return. I am so grateful for his positive beginning, and I pray it continues to go so well. What a happy, fun place his preschool appears to be, staffed by people who truly care for the souls entrusted to them and skilled in the art of early childhood education, in a community of faith.

Spending time with my sister the new college freshman last week made me consider anew the prospect of someday taking my own children to college, depositing them there, and returning home without them. Children grow up to become adults -- God willing, adults who answer God's call to serve him by serving others. We as parents are here to see that process fulfilled.

I let my lad go a little that day, but not entirely. I'll never do that. The Lord may call him (and his siblings) to vocations that entail traveling both far and near or obligate the bulk of his attention to the care of others such as a wife and children or the people of God, but my love and prayers are portable enough to carry along with.

From preschool to college to beyond, parents will always be parents. The roles and responsibilities will change as the seasons of family life change, but the love of Christ that binds us together as a family will remain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

angels at work

With a healthy dose of uncertainty that didn't devolve into tears, the younger lad started preschool this morning.  He was familiar with the setting from Vacation Bible School this summer, and he was buoyed by the hope of seeing his brother the first grader on the playground.  They did in fact see each other, which was the declared highlight of their respective school days (that and lunch, according to the newly-minted preschooler). 

After school we visited my sister all moved into her spiffy dorm room.  This brought back a wealth of memories for me of her as a wee lass about the age of my preschooler visiting me in my college dorm room.  Those weekly visits she and my mom paid me were always highlights, and it's an honor to return the favor now.  We love having Babycakes so close by.

Enveloped in the grace of God and the protection of his angels and ours, we have so much to be thankful for such a relatively smooth transition to the school scene and this latest round in our Game of Life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

getting organized

School starts this week. Yesterday the elder lad started first grade.  The younger lad starts preschool tomorrow. So long as we weather the adjustment to the earlier wake-up calls, I think we're in for a good year.  I just have to get myself organized.

Along with the new school year has come the influx of handbooks, procedures, forms, and paperwork to be read, completed, signed, returned, filed, and otherwise digested. Then there are the calendars.

Snack duty * Cafeteria lunch menu * Parent volunteer schedule * School year * Birthdays

Instead of posting all the various calendars that come home in plain view, I try to glean the pertinent information from each and put it on my central calendar. Otherwise, it's apt to get overlooked as all the calendars become part of the visual landscape only to be dealt with accordingly when I just can't stand it anymore (or company's coming).

In the past I've tried several different printed calendars, but in the end I've always defaulted to a computer-based calendar and have been using Google calendar for a while.  I'd like to get back to an actual calendar, though, if only as a means of preservation.  Enter this little cutie...

 It's a simple spiral-bound calendar I can tuck in my bag meant really for students but with plenty of space to write on each day to suit my purposes. Along with my Google calendar, I intend to use this paper calendar to keep track of our family doings and developments. Wish me luck.  I've kind-of fallen off that wagon.

I like the tangible aspects of the spiral-bound calendar not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for the example it sets to the bambini -- that of writing down what's important and not relying on technology to the exclusion of everything else. The convenience of being able to access my Google calendar from my phone is huge, though, and makes it my default calendar.  Still, I endeavor to strike the proper balance between technology and posterity.

My strange fixation on calendars is becoming more evident the longer I yammer on about mine.  As for what to do with paperwork that needs my attention and response, I'm still refining my system. Generally I try to respond as quickly as possible when necessary and send it back so it's off my plate, so to speak. If I have to wait to return something, I tend to stick it on the fridge (where it is in danger of becoming, like the calendars, part of the visual landscape). Still, it's my not-so-failproof way to protect it from getting lost in the shuffle or falling victim to my deck-clearing compulsion, which seems to have intensified with each child I have borne. Hmm.

Lots of information comes home from school that I like to hang on to for future reference (including those calendars). Presently I have a three-ring notebook in which I try to file things in as I receive them. This reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent first) system is one I learned as an intern at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and I've applied it to pretty much everything I've tried to organize into notebooks, including children's health records and household paperwork. Things like school handbooks that don't easily lend themselves to being three-hole punched are tucked into a plastic envelope that itself is three-hole punched and held closed with a hook and loop closure.

I have come to realize that not every piece of schoolwork needs to be archived. For the past two years, I have collected the elder lad's work in those plastic zip-up cases that sets of sheets, curtains, or comforters come in. I slide the case under the elder lad's bed. A few times he'd trot out all the work (much to my chagrin, as it usually coincided with happy hour) and play trash truck. It finally dawned on me to have him actually sort through the work he wanted to keep, stash that back in the case, and put the rest in the household recycling sack. (I went through it myself later to save things I thought were "keepers" from the recycling bin fate).

Backpacks and lunch boxes live in a low kitchen cabinet for bambini to stow and retrieve themselves. I try to assemble as much of the next day's packed lunch after dinner is cleaned up so that there is less to fuss about in the morning when all bets are off as to my lucidity and the availability of both my hands for food preparation.  Backpacks are readied for the next day with contents like homework, school library books, things for quiet rest time, and correspondence with the teacher.

We're not to the season yet of having bambini going in opposite directions to activities, which simplifies the family calendar a lot. In trying to hone my organizational skills now, I hope to be well-poised to take on that logistical quagmire as it comes our way.

The real challenges both now and in the future will lie in
*not taking on too much,
*remembering what's most important to us as a family on the path to Heaven, and
*making the organizational system work for us -- not the other way around.

My system is working for me so far, though I know there's always room for improvement...

Monday, August 15, 2011

lost in translation

Judging by the books littering the living room floor late this afternoon, the younger lad was looking for something else to thumb through.  He settled on the foreign language dictionaries that I kept handy for translating the arias, songs, and lieder of the students whose voice lessons I accompanied when I was a piano major in college. 

"What are you reading now?" I asked him.
"It's a mystery."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

seventh anniversary

Holding a bouquet of white roses like these in one hand and with my other hand tucked inside my beloved's, I walked toward the altar of our diocesan Cathedral.  These first steps on the path of our shared vocation seem both recent and long-ago, with so many blessings,challenges, joys, and sorrows to have come our way since that morning seven years ago today.  By God's grace we are still walking hand in hand.  For this and for so many reasons to celebrate every day, I am more grateful today than ever before.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

sisterly advice

unsolicited advice to my sister starting college next week (and all those embarking on something new)...

Give it a chance.
Trust in the Lord.
Seek his will for you.
Keep the faith.
Say your prayers.
Listen for the answers.
Be the face of Christ to others.
Look for Christ in the faces of the people around you.
Take the high road.
Get some sleep.
Make your bed.
Be yourself.
Have fun.
Know you are loved!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

famous last words

The Lord has blessed our region with abundant rainfall the past few days, bringing relief to parched land (and fried senses). Temperatures in the 90s are a welcome reprieve from day after day (after day after day, and into the nighttime hours) of daytime highs upwards of 110 degrees.

With all this rain, it's mud season revisited.

Standing at the window watching the rain (for which we are so grateful), the lads can barely contain themselves and their desire to get out there and play in the rain. I can understand that. I also know, though, that the deluged planter boxes with what was our vegetable garden before the heat spell scorched it now thick with mud will prove too tempting to lads who claim they only want to go outside to wash their dirty, dusty trucks. As I was not in a position to clean up a huge muddy mess this morning, their request was denied, with empathy.

They promised they wouldn't get in the mud, which I believe was sincere. Such a promise is no match for the kind of mud we're dealing with, though. It's the stuff of mythical monster truck rallies.

Acknowledging their disappointment but holding my ground, I tried to offer some equally enticing indoor activity ideas, such as putting their clean laundry away.

(I'm a kill-joy, remember, but the elder lad at least did oblige.)

In a last-ditch effort to obtain the elusive permission by promising (again) to stay away from the mud, the elder lad made one final appeal.

"You can trust me. I'm a six-year-old."

Epilogue: The bambini reveled in the soggy sandbox at my beloved's parents' house this afternoon while I went to get a haircut.  When we got home (and with my permission), they practically ran straight from the garage to the back door to their happy little mud hole.  Just as I expected -- and just as it should be, they were soon covered in enough goo to warrant the moniker "mud bugs" when they came in.  They knew to head straight for the laundry room, then the shower. 

And every day the elder lad is growing in trustworthiness, becoming more and more of a "big kid."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

foley artists

Ours is not a quiet household.  If anything, the baseline decibel level has increased in the last few months.  (The lassies may have something to do with this.)  In a typical day, the garden variety truck zooming, space ship blasting, and animal roaring to which we've grown accustomed co-mingle with the hum of the refrigerator and whir of the washing machine.  

In the movie industry, the people who recreate natural noises to add reality and depth to the soundtrack are known as foley artists.  I know this bit of trivia because I wrote a research paper on the movie production process when I was in high school at the pinnacle of my interest in film scores.  I fancied myself a future composer.  The one composition course I took as part of my music degree in college helped me reconcile with this not being God's path for my life.

Highly imaginative and truck-obsessed though he is, the elder lad hasn't historically been given to making sound effects to accompany his maneuvers.  (This is in keeping with his somewhat reserved nature.)  The younger lad has long been more likely to provide some vrooming, zooming, honking, beeping, and clicking noises to add reality to his generally more energetic play.  (He is, generally speaking, more expressive.)  They both, however, have lately taken to replicating a type of natural sound that is categorically- and stereotypically-speaking universally funny to boys age six (or so) and under.  I'd offer three guesses, but I bet only one is necessary for most people.

I can only imagine highly successful foley artists began their careers in a similar manner, and look at them now.  Their mothers must be so proud.

Monday, August 08, 2011

school spirit

School starts next week for the lads.  The elder lad is going into first grade.  He is looking forward to having a "buddy" at school in the form of his brother, who is enrolled in preschool three days a week.

To get us in the school spirit, we've been reading some school-themed picture books...

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?  by Audrey Vernick is one of my favorites.  Its appeal lies in its wacky premise of a buffalo (of all creatures, brought to life by illustrator Daniel Jennewein) going to kindergarten and learning to interact with other kids, follow classroom procedures, and "get along without using your horns" (ahem). 

The elder lad often admits to wondering what we're doing while he's at school.  He's obviously not the only one.  Toby Forward's What Did You Do Today? follows a mother and child through their respective first days at work and school, beginning at home with them packing their lunches and getting ready.  Throughout the day each is thinking of the other while enjoying their respective environments.  When they are reunited, they are both eager to know the title question. Carol Thompson's illustrations carry the story with poignant secondary illustrations such as pictures the mother and child have of each other in their respective cubbies. 

One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Year and Beyond is the latest in the series of cookie-themed vocabulary books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, charmingly illustrated by Jane Dyer and her daughter Brooke.  Ideals like empathy, punctuality, initiative, diligence, and honesty are conveyed with the sweetness only cookies can deliver.  I've mentioned these cookie books before, but have I mentioned how addictive these whole-wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are?   

Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand is a classic in the canon of books designed to prepare kids for the experience of going to school.  Chester Raccoon is nervous about being away from his mother, expecting he will miss her.  His mother acknowledges this and has a tangible solution for those times when Chester needs some reassurance that their reunion is coming soon.  We have adapted this for our own farewells.  I daresay it really works.

Along the same lines, Llama Llama Misses Mama by Australian author/illustrator Anna Dewdney is one of several books featuring lovable Llama Llama and his loving mama.  Llama Llama is starting nursery school, and though it looks like fun, he wonders if Mama will really be back to pick him up like she has promised.  When the younger lad went to vacation bible school earlier this summer at the school that will soon be his (not just his brother's), he had fun but missed me.  I hope that experience will serve as comfort if and when the lad misses me at preschool, since he'll know I'll be back before he knows it.

In our school-readying efforts, we're also queuing up our schoolhouse rock playlist.  Still, it'll take all of us some getting used to this sight:  

All signs point to a great experience on the horizon.  Here's hoping for that and praying for the grace to allow ourselves the best possible outcome.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

in the fog

The temperatures are still sweltering, but it's almost time for school to start.  In recent days and weeks there have been dates with Mama for school supplies, highly-anticipated deliveries of school pants for certain soon-to-be preschoolers eager to try on his togs, and measurements of rapidly-growing first grade feet that no longer fit into last year's school shoes.  There is much excitement about school starting, but there's also a tinge of uncertainty about it all, and an experience-based bracing on my part for the adjustment that is soon to come to a new routine and environment. 

Last year when the elder lad started Kindergarten at a new-to-us parochial school, the younger lass was a newborn.  More than one mom I met at the school noted in recognition of my tired eyes, pale face, and obvious challenge of managing four young children that I was "in the fog."  They promised it would get better, that someday I would regain some semblance of steadiness.

They were right.

Not that things are "easy peasy lemon squeezy" now (as the elder lad has been known to parrot), but a year into life with four young children and the whole school scene has taught me a lot.  This year will bring new challenges, adventures, and (God willing -- here's hoping) allies on the journey we're on toward heaven via domestic life.

I still run a pretty steep sleep deficit and struggle with the consequent "brain fog" most of the time, but going into this new school year, I think the clouds are lifting...

Saturday, August 06, 2011


Sifting through scads of digital photos I've taken of the bambini in the past month or so (remember my strategy?), I am searching for those images that are in focus, well-lit, not too cluttered in terms of what's in the background, and interesting.  Those images that meet these criteria are added to a "favorites" folder that serves as my screen saver -- a veritable slide show of the past three or so years (the lifespan of my current computer) -- and organized into albums to share with our loved ones.

Notice I didn't include among my "favorites" criteria that bambini be looking at the camera.  I don't often ask them to do that.  Instead I try to document their doings, expressions, and interactions as they unfold in real time.   In my experience this makes for better photos -- at least the ones I end up taking. 

There are times I try to get all four bambini together for a photo to mark a certain milestone or holiday.  I don't think I've ever gotten a photograph of all four of them looking at the camera that is better than those that result from the logical progression of a "photo shoot" with four young children.  With these characters, there are plenty of goofy expressions and silliness shining through the awkwardness of being posed.   Among the candid images are usually several "outtakes", some of which may or may not end up as the favored photo for the intended purpose (such as a Christmas -- or Easter, in our case -- card).

Sometimes the best pictures aren't the posed ones.  That's not my area of expertise.  They may not be of portrait studio caliber, but their authenticity trumps the fancy factor.  The relationships among the siblings and we who love them are evident.  The accomplishments and milestones are documented as they happen, and the expressions captured for posterity are genuine.  These photos tell our story. 

Friday, August 05, 2011

drama queen

We are experiencing some unprecedented displays of emotions of late from one or both of the young lassies.  Sometimes these displays are amplified by siblings either directly affected by whatever is causing the upset in the first place or indirectly affected by the highly charged conditions that result from prolonged or impassioned protestations.

Maybe it's the heat, or the summer sniffles making the rounds through the family, not enough rest, developmental milestones, or some combination of these -- or something else entirely.  Maybe it's estrogen-related.  Whatever the explanation, it claims a huge amount of bandwidth to weather the outburst, determine the proper course of action, and try to keep from getting swept up in the furor myself. 

As the queen of my castle, my loyal (?) subjects are looking to me to make it all better.  I can't always do that -- nor should I.  Here's hoping I can respond to the bambini in their times of need while dispensing with all of the drama...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

higher math

Four-year-old younger lad: "Mama, what's four plus four?"
me: "eight"

him: "What's eight plus eight?"
me: "16"

him: "What's 16 plus 16?"
me: "32"

him: "What's 32 plus 32?"
me: "64"


him: "what's 512 plus 512?"
me: "1024?"

him: "is that how old you are?"
me: "no"

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

minor victory :: Lego edition

Here in Legoville where lads have been known to spend the better part of broiling summer days pawing through boxes of "bricks" and constructing all manner of imaginative vehicles (Honeywagon, anyone?), there is a familiar appeal that Mama has come to fear on account of her hallmark short fingernails.

To wit: "Mama, will you get these apart for me (please)?"

Separating Legos can be a painful experience for both six-year-old "Legomasters" and the responsible adult (whoever that is) supervising all this creativity whose job it becomes to pry the especially stubborn bricks apart.  Apparently I am not the first person to experience the agony of shoving Lego bricks into the quick of my nailbed, because Lego markets this tool to apparently avoid such injuries.

*or* you or your designated Lego Separator could use a staple puller like this...

... and save yourself anywhere from $3.50 to $10 on what "gastrophysicist" Alton Brown would call a "unitasker".  We've also used pliers, but those run the risk of breaking the bricks.*

*Common sense caution: Legos liberated with this handy device (especially those itsy bitsy teensy tiny lights and similar embellishments) *might* become projectiles, so take proper precautions.

I believe this might be known in modern parlance as a "hack," but I'm not certain.  Few things mortify me more than making grammatical gaffes (just kidding -- sort-of), so I will simply sidestep the lingo and share this stroke of genius from which we are all benefiting and for which I am most grateful.

Carry on and keep Lego-ing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

sanity saver: audiobooks

For his first birthday, the elder lad received a two-CD set of Dr. Suess books read by celebrities such as Kelsey Grammar, Jason Alexander, and Walter Matthau.  A second two-CD set soon followed with more stories read by more celebrities, including John Lithgow, Mercedes McCambridge (whose talent for voices is amazing), and Michael McKean. The stories made for excellent listening as we motored all over town, and they still do now five years later.  The lad will still ask for them occasionally on our drive home from school.

The latest hit in our audiobook experience is Richard Atwater's Mr. Popper's Penguins, a recommendation of one of our favorite librarians.   The hardbound edition of the book wasn't available for checkout from the library right away, so I went with the audiobook instead.  One afternoon when the lads were lobbying for some glowing screen time, I put Mr. Popper's Penguins on to listen to instead.  Initially they went about their Lego business, but slowly they started creeping toward the stereo, eventually finding positions of repose on the floor nearby.

Berenstain Bears authors Stan and Jan Berenstain narrate the popular stories they wrote on their audiobook, as does Arthur Lobel, author of the Frog and Toad series. Glynis Johns (the mother from the film version of Mary Poppins) narrates the Frances books, which rank right up there with Dr. Suess's Hop on Pop (read by David Hyde Pierce) on the after school drive request list.  Speaking of Mary Poppins, that audiobook is next in our queue.

Other favorites of ours are A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh tales (read by Jim Broadbent) and Michael Bond's Paddington stories.

In the car, during siesta time, at happy hour -- any time, really -- audiobooks can be real sanity savers.
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