Thursday, August 30, 2012


Since having children, I've often wondered how mamas who sewed finished any projects. Until very recently, the last time I sewed anything was when I was expecting the younger lad (more than five years ago). I made a few baby blankets--two girly ones, because I was *sure* he was a girl (I'm so glad I was wrong and that he is who he is) and one just in case the "wee babe" (as I referred to the bambino in utero, though he was the least "wee" of the four, weighing more than nine and a half pounds at birth) was a boy.  That blue waffle-weave blanket with chocolate brown trim got a lot of use. The two floral, ruffle-edged blankets would have to wait -- not really all that long, as it turned out -- for the lasses to come along.  They still use those blankets.

In the past couple of months I've gotten the sewing machine out for some "quick" projects. It's been a lot of fun. I set up my work space near the bambini's play space, which gives me a chance to work on projects little bits at a time (which is, by the way, how I get pretty much anything done) while keeping tabs on the bambini (and receiving trays of play food tea party treats and other pretend play fun).  I've been able to carve out some longer stretches of time to work solo on these projects as well, which is a recent and still novel-to-me phenomenon.

Working at the sewing machine in the midst of the bambini does attract their interest, so I've tried to explain what the various parts of the machine and let them help me as they can. The elder lad helped his grandmother sew baby blankets when the younger lass was on the way (when we referred to her as "Quattro", since we didn't know her gender either). He's manned the foot pedal of my machine (while reading the sewing machine manual and probably imagining he's driving a Mack truck) a few times recently in the construction of some nap mat covers for his younger siblings who nap (do they?) at school. The younger lad is fascinated by the machine, especially the needle-threading mechanism and bobbin winder. He'd love to take the whole thing apart and reassemble it (into a robot, I'm sure). For now, he's happy pushing the "u-turn" button that sends the fabric back under the needle for a little back stitching to secure the stitches.

Of course, little hands in front of where I'm trying to work are not always easy to see around (or safe, for that matter, but I keep close tabs on that). Why do I let them help me? For one thing, it's something constructive to do together (and you know how I feel about that).  For another, it shows them a side of me they don't know very well.  For yet another, I'm hoping one day the elder lad will be able to sew the patches on his Scout uniform himself.  Maybe someday my machine will jam or otherwise break down.  By then the younger lad might be my go-to guy to get it up and running again. 

Yes: plenty of times I'd like to be able to just sew it myself without little hands reaching in to "help."  By taking the time to teach them certain age-appropriate aspects of the job I'm doing, I'm hoping to honor their desire to be helpful as well as a part of what I'm doing so as to help them learn an array of life skills (including patience with and a respect for their mother and her creative inclinations) with which to serve the people around them now and in the days and years to come. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

minor victories :: arachnid edition

Given my choice of greeting to come from any of my four bambini first thing in the morning, I'd nearly always decline "I need fresh clothes," or "Mom... spider."  Yet, I've heard both of these this week, and it's only Monday.

Every August it seems we find one or two of those horrible huge wolf spiders (of which I will *not* post a picture.  Inquiring minds can Google it for themselves.) that are often seen in the landscape around here -- though never welcome in our home even if they do hunt other arachnids.   According to the elder lad with  encyclopedic recall a little too handy for 6:30 a.m. and no coffee yet, "tarantulas are the least poisonous of any spider," but that does nothing to ingratiate the silver dollar-sized arachnid (which I made reference to in a similar showdown with a cricket and don't think is actually a tarantula, those close enough for me)  presently sprawled from the tile floor up the baseboard in the kitchen, seemingly awaiting a bagel with cream cheese of his own. 

I generally delegate the disposal of these ugly things to my beloved when he is on the premises, but there have been a few times when I've had to muster up every bit of bravery, channel all my mama bear protective instincts (and Ma Ingalls), and git 'er done myself.  This was one of those times.

As the four bambini sat riveted to their kitchen chairs, French toast untouched, I stood stupidly staring at the spider, hoping it would somehow spontaneously combust or otherwise evaporate into thin air.  When it didn't, I grabbed a wad of paper towels and started to lower the boom, but chickened out and left the four children at the table with the spider close by (there goes my whole mama bear protective thing) in search of a pair of shoes and something with which to whack the intruder, all the while questioning the prudence of that in the event the spider was actually a mama spider with babies on board. 

The elder lad was losing patience with my inaction thus far: "you're too scared," he said.  By the grace of God my response was not "do it yourself then" but "I'm gathering up all my courage."  Then I went for it, accomplishing the terminal goal so decisively that the younger lad, ever the diplomat and optimist, was moved to exclaim victoriously, "You tore off his leg!  Now he's really dead!" 

The elder lad looked on approvingly at the mama he'd accused of being a 'fraidy cat.  His opinion had changed by then, and he went about his breakfast business.   I didn't need any coffee for a while after that incident...

Saturday, August 25, 2012


The younger lad is just embarking on his Kindergarten year, but he and his older brother are already thinking about college:

elder lad: "When I'm in my third year of college, [my brother] will be in his first year... so we could be roommates."

younger lad: "yeah!!"

elder lad: "I'd get my own *crunchy* peanut butter."  (Some things never change, but I've never known him to opt for crunchy peanut butter over creamy; college does crazy things to some people.)

younger lad: "yeah!!"  (He doesn't even like peanut butter.  no matter.)

elder lad: "AND let's get salmon and tomatoes for sandwiches."


younger lad: "yeah!!  and we'll make baking soda and vinegar volcanoes!!"

Nefarious plans for those volcanoes and other pranks of increasing shock-value follow as their conversation gets more and more excited.  Downstairs neighbors of these two characters, be forewarned...

Friday, August 24, 2012

brown baggin'

School has started for our bambini.  The elder lad is in second grade now, the younger lad is a wide-eyed kindergartener, and the elder lass is going to preschool two days a week ('twas her idea).  So far things are going well, though I always brace for a harrowing adjustment time the first few weeks(!) of school as everyone gets used to the new reality.

Along with the earlier wake up call, school days signal a return to packing lunches.  The lads like to eat school lunch when breakfast is on the menu, but otherwise they take their lunch.  The elder lass has to take her lunch.

Albert and Frances at lunch
from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
Given my thorough treatment of picky eating preferences, I still try to keep things interesting as well as healthy and delicious in their lunchboxes. For ideas I pore over all the posts I can find on the subject, including this witty and informative post penned by my sweet friend Katie. I'm especially fascinated by the whole bento box movement, which places a premium on the presentation of food as a pathway to the food actually being eaten. I have yet to carve hot dogs into octopuses of cut out fruit in flower shapes, though. The closest I've gotten is my rainbow fruit skewer.

While some of the bambini are more open than others to variety in their lunchboxes (I won't name names), this passage from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (we are, by the way, big time Frances fans) neatly sums up the attitude of at least one of our bambini when it comes to branching out a bit:
"How do you know what you'll like 
if you won't even try anything?" asked Father.
"Well," said Frances,
 "there are many different things to eat,
and they taste many different ways.
But when I have bread and jam
I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased."

Frances may not be open to spicing things up a bit (at least not at the beginning; I won't spoil the ending), but at least she and her friend Albert take a real lunch break to enjoy their food.

Frances's lunch
from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
With the prospect of recess looming for kids who are hungry but eager to burn off some pent-up energy, lunch is less leisurely, more pit-stop-esque, there's hardly time for doilies and tiny vases of violets...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

wake up call

With both lads in elementary school this year, we decided to put an alarm clock (the one I used in my former life when it was just my enormous yellow Persian cat Baldwin the former starving stray and me) in the bedroom they share. The idea is to begin cultivating within the lads the sense of responsibility to get themselves up and going, rather than relying on us to do it for them -- or something like that.

I showed the elder lad (who can tell time pretty well) how to set both the actual time and the wake time on the alarm clock (see above about the whole cultivating responsibility thing). Off he went to make sure it worked after so long in cold storage.

The ol' alarm clock does indeed still work, as repeated tests in one- to two-minute increments show.  This surreal experience was not unlike enduring a prolonged test of the Emergency Broadcast System or what I would imagine the master alarm on a submarine or Space Shuttle would sound like.

Six days a week we are all up and at 'em, thanks to the time-tested little digital alarm clock with enough chutzpah to awaken an entire household.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

(not) helpless

A few weeks ago, wildfires blazed across a swath of land not far from my hometown.  While the town itself was not threatened, the countryside and the homes, pastures, and outbuildings dotting the land were.  Many people were evacuated when it became apparent that the fires were posing serious threats to their property (and persons).  Among the people affected were lifelong friends who are family to us.  They were notified of the danger as soon as it looked like the fires might threaten them, and they began to take precautions and make preparations to evacuate.  As the fires approached, they tried to protect their property by dousing it with water as long as electricity powered their water well.  Ultimately, their home was spared, though their neighbors were among the many who were not as fortunate.

With a decent amount of warning, those in the path of the fires worked with emergency personnel to combat the fires and try to minimize damage.  Many who were not directly affected stood at the ready, wanting to help somehow yet feeling utterly helpless in the face of convergent wildfires.  Those of us who don't live in the area anymore couldn't take in displaced homeowners or drop off provisions for firefighters or seemingly *do* anything but wait -- and pray.  We did both. 

I'm sure each of us has at one time or another felt helpless to make a positive change to a sticky or seemingly hopeless situation.  As a parent, there are plenty of times when I've felt helpless -- and I'm supposed to be the mom!  In the seven-year history of my motherhood, there have already been many times when I've felt unable to be the one to control steer a situation to a peaceful, happy ending.  This is the precipice of a slippery slope toward despair unless I channel the mounting stress and anxiety into prayer -- from basic utterances of distress and pleas for mercy to longer vigils of formal or stream-of-consciousness prayers on behalf of other people undergoing trials of whatever magnitude.  This move from figurative or literal hand-wringing to a posture of prayer is something anyone can do to help themselves or someone else. 

Senseless tragedies happen every day.  Natural disasters will have their ways.  Illnesses afflict us or our loved ones.  Things change in the blink of an eye.  We have no way of knowing what tomorrow -- or even today -- will bring.  When it seems we are helpless, may the Lord grant us clarity of mind to seek his assistance for ourselves or those around us, be they right here with us or off in some far-flung place.   The result may or may not be what we expect or desire, but with enough time, perspective, perseverance in prayer, and grace, may we eventually come to understand on some level how such dramatic events can be part of God's way of drawing us closer to him through circumstances that seem or are beyond our control.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Super Tuesday

Our eighth wedding anniversary was this past Tuesday, which was also the first day of school for the elder lad (now in second grade) and elder lass (who started preschool two days a week) with some medical- and school-related appointments for the younger lad thrown in the mix for some logistical bonus points.  (His first day of Kindergarten came two days later.)

With everything going on that busy "super Tuesday", it didn't bear much resemblance to the peaceful day my beloved and I entered into the sacrament of marriage. To celebrate this anniversary, we had gone out to dinner the previous weekend, and I made a favorite meal on our actual anniversary, but the focus of the day was not so much on the two of us as it was about the young family for whom we are now caring.  This anniversary had its roots in that wedding day, when we consented to accepting children willingly from the Lord and bringing them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. 

We are in a season of family life where the bambini are a primary focus of our efforts, attention, and energy.  As we continue to discern how best to balance their needs with our own, including the need for the two of us to stay in sync as we journey heavenward, I pray the Lord will continue to bless us with opportunities for refreshment with each other, for wisdom to know how best to care for the bambini he has seen fit to send our way (if only for a little while), for grace to see each other as Christ sees each of us and love each other accordingly, and for length of days to serve him hand in hand. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

lessons learned (eventually)

One happy day not so long ago, I slipped out for a coffee date with a friend (*thanks to our beloved husbands for making this happen).  We got to talking about all sorts of stuff, including the consequences that are natural results of our actions (or those of our children).

My beloved and I have made a long-standing practice of allowing natural consequences to help reinforce important life lessons, as well as or along with logical consequences when conditions warrant.  Many such natural consequences are effective because of the responses people around us have to our words and actions.  Mean-spirited speech or play might result in the loss of playmates -- even siblings -- who don't like being treated so poorly.  Screaming demands for drinkable yogurt or assistance in some endeavor pretty much never result in the desired dispatch of whatever was sought via such a disrespectful address.  In fact, prolonged wailings might even result in the removal of the caterwauler from the common family area because of the potential risk of hearing damage (not to mention sanity) of those in attendance.  Rude or messy behavior at the table might risk the loss of future invitations to dine with a friend who prefers neater conditions.  Backtalking or definance usually results in the loss of privileges, which is not so much a natural consequence as it is a logical one.  Violence toward a sibling or parent usually results in the natural consequence of removal from close physical proximity as well as logical consequences, especially when the violence results in injury, which is the most regrettable of natural consequences.

By allowing these consequences,  it's not that we are seeking out situations to put our bambini to shame or to book them on guilt trips or make them feel badly about themselves.  We are not.  But a significant part of loving these bambini is working to form their consciences, that internal voice of Christ speaking to each of us, helping us to navigate life's difficult choices.  So much of the early formation of conscience is teaching right from wrong, obedience to God the Father through obedience to one's parents and authority figures, and  how to treat other people (and along with that what kind of treatment to expect from other people).  One of the most effective ways of doing this is to allow the bambini to experience the effects of their actions and words, then help them to process those effects perhaps by labeling or verbalizing what those effects are.  Oftentimes this logical progression needs no explanation, although it might take a few (or several) episodes for the lesson to sink in.*
*bangs head against the wall...

Social pressure is a mighty force to be reckoned with, but it is not the end-all-be-all of our existence.  By this I mean that what other people think of us does not define us or determine our path in life or ultimately (and most importantly) our eternal destination.  Our individual identities come from our Creator.  With that in mind, he created all of us to live in harmony with each other, and in order to do that we all have to abide by some fundamental principles of behavior.  This forms the basic idea of "manners," wherein we order our actions in consideration of other people, hoping that they will extend the same courtesy to us but realizing that we can only control ourselves.*
*this also applies to mamas mortified by bambini behavior in public and private venues
in direct violation of long-standing house rules; see above head-banging reference... 

Who among us has had to learn lessons "the hard way", experiencing disappointment or embarrassment for ourselves after refusing to heed instructions from appropriate authority figures?  Personally, I try to learn from the mistakes of others so as not to endure the resulting misery, but there have been plenty of lessons I've learned through the heartache or embarrassment that have resulted from not minding instructions. As difficult as it can be to stick to one's proverbial guns and enforce the consequences of a poor choice made by one of our bambini (not piling on unnecessarily, but not mitigating to the degree that the poor behavior is seen as excused), we would be doing them no favors by not holding them accountable and expecting them to face the music, make restitution, and move on.*
*edging dangerously close to preachy now, which is not at all my intention...

It's a long, arduous process, this business of cultivating virtue by working against the vices that seem to come so much more easily because of our fallen nature.  Thankfully, God supplies sufficient grace to overcome these vices -- even the one that leads one overtired mama to resort to drill-sergeant-like repeated instructions such as "Legos!" "Shoes!" "Napkin!"  "Gentle!" (not necessarily in that order or at the same time) when the selective listening switch has been flipped.    Over the course of a childhood (or four), we realize that the process is not only refining the bambini in this household; it's also having an effect on their parents who have not yet attained sainthood, but who are striving for it every day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

starry night

Elder lad: "Mama, I love you more than all the "dually" truck tires they could make before the sun burns out in five billion years."


Saturday, August 04, 2012

fighting words

Maybe the triple digit heat with temperatures upwards of 110 degrees have something to do with it, or maybe it's a consequence of us slacking off on our agenda, but I've noticed an unwelcome increase in the amount whining, fussing, and caterwauling heard in these parts -- yes, even from me.  What's going on?   The answer is probably multi-fold, but on my part I'm sure my sleep deficit isn't helping.  I thought this braid of homegrown garlic curing in our kitchen might help ward off the crankies (just kidding), but alas it has not.

homegrown garlic braid

I am not one to criticize, blame, nag, cajole, or be passive aggressive.  When I am extraordinarily tired, however, I am far less able to take the "normal" drama and shennanigans in stride.  Instead of employing humor, goofiness, or alternatives to yelling like singing or whispering, I am far more inclined to be snarky, snippy, snide, or sarcarstic in my terse responses.  I am never proud of those pronouncements.  They are anything but constructive. I don't like to be spoken to in any of those ways, and I always feel terrible when I allow such vitriol to escape my lips. 

It is one of my highest priorities for our bambini to learn to authentically, respectfully, and honestly express whatever emotion or need they're trying to verbalize.   However will they learn to do that?  By replicating the way the adults in their lives handle themselves in times of stress and moments of need.  (That would be me, among others)

When one of our children spouts off some poorly-phrased demand request or hurtful insult, I try to respond matter-of-factly with an opportunity to restate him- or herself and a script to use in doing so.  When the insults are flying among siblings or disrespectful demands are hurtled my way, adding my own yelling voice to the equation gets us nowhere good (even if I'm trying to communicate that some things are better left unsaid).

Feelings of frustration, disappointment, hurt, and confusion are all part of the human experience.  It's important to sort them out and move on without name-calling, empty threats, or brute force, just as it's important to take ownership of the emotions we feel and take control of how we allow the treatment of others to affect us.  Similarly, we all have basic (and not-so-basic) needs for all kinds of things both tangible and intangible.  Not every need is of equal necessity, nor can every one be met *right now.*  And we can't always have everything we want -- not in this life.

We owe it to our bambini, their future spouses, ourselves, and society at large to express our own emotions, needs, and desires clearly, respectfully, and as lovingly as possible -- even when we are tired, frustrated, hungry, overheated, or otherwise vexed -- so that when our little loves go to express themselves, they will have some positive point of reference to model.  They won't always get it right, but with practice comes a greater chance of success.

On my part I have to get better about going to bed earlier so that I have easier access to the tools at my disposal.  When it comes to conflict resolution, I'm still working on developing the virtue of fortitude to speak up in a manner that honors the needs of all involved.  The best outcome of such a faithful response to conflict or insult instructs those who are watching closely to be ever mindful of the presence of Christ in every person and to be respectful of the inherent dignity in each of God's precious children, young or old, sassy or circumspect, willing or unwilling, peaceful or troubled, happy or sad, whatever and whenever.  It's how I wish to be treated, and it's how I endeavor to teach our bambini to treat others, to "do as I would be done by", and to tread lightly on the delicate ground that is the heart of the other.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

living dolls

Our newly-minted two-year-old younger lass has long loved baby dolls of all sizes and types. Presently she favors teensy tiny (or "tinsy", as the elder lad used to say) "vintage" Strawberry Shortcake figurines and other diminutive babies, but the doll my great aunt made for me holds pride of place in the girls' room as well as in their arms.

When we read Rebecca Caudill's The Best Loved Doll, all three of us females in the family were smitten. In spite of its considerable length for a picture book, the sweet story held the attention of the three-year-old elder lass as well as her not-so-baby sister. The girl in the story is invited to a party one afternoon with instructions to bring her favorite doll. Prizes will be given to dolls in three categories, any of which the girl could win with one of her many dolls. As she wrestles with which doll to take, she keeps coming back to the doll she loves the most -- but who wouldn't be a contender in any of the prize categories. Knowing this, she takes her best-loved doll anyway.

Barbara McClintock's Dahlia is the charming story of a girl named Charlotte who lives in the early Twentieth century (as in 100 years ago).  She's not a girly girl.  She loves to make mud pies, play in the the dirt with her stuffed bear Bruno, and challenge the neighborhood boys to wagon races.  When her Aunt Edme sends her a frilly-to-the-max doll, Charlotte is less than thrilled.  The tomboyish girl gives the newcomer a stern talking-to about what they do and don't do at her house, then packs up the fragile-looking doll for an initiation into Charlotte and Bruno's rough and tumble ways.  Charlotte takes notice of how good-natured the doll is about all the dirty doings, imagining her smiling through the smudges on her face and snags in her dress.  Charlotte names her Dahlia, like the flowers Charlotte's mother fancies.   When Aunt Edme comes for dinner that night, Charlotte sheepishly shows her Dahlia, who isn't exactly in mint condition.  Aunt Edme's reaction surprises Charlotte, and Dahlia's place in Charlotte's heart is secured.  McClintock's beautiful watercolor illustrations are amazing to pore over.  We also like Adele & Simon and Adele and Simon in America, two stories about a sister and her younger brother. 

From the vast treasury of Little Golden Books come Little Mommy by Sharon Kane and Doctor Dan the Bandage Man by Helen Gaspard.  In Little Mommy a young girl describes in rhyming verse her days spent caring for her three dolls (named Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny) and home.  Quite the industrious little girl, she cleans, bakes, teaches the dollies, takes them for walks, has a tea party with her neighbor, cooks dinner, and gets the dollies ready for bed, but not before calling Doctor Dan to come check on Annabelle, who gets sick with "the mumbledy bumps," according to Doctor Dan, but should be alright.

Doctor Dan the Bandage Man and Little Mommy

The Doctor Dan in Little Mommy doesn't exactly look like the title character in Doctor Dan the Bandage Man, who has red hair and a caring heart.  After his mother fixes up a scrape he earns in a "big backyard cowboy fight" with his friends, he goes on to bandage up his little sister Carly, her doll "with a rather bad bump on her head," and their father after an injury mowing the lawn with a push mower.  With the patina of prose written in a different era (the far-away fifties), these two sweet stories are perennial favorites of ours.  By the way, aren't Dan's mother's shoes flat out fabulous?  If you run across any like them, please let me know!

Doctor Dan and his mother

Our girls can be pretty girly (depending on the day) and delight in their tea parties, tutus, and dollies, but they're often found playing with Legos, trucks, and tools.  This juxtaposition of dollies and trucks in our house has become part of the usual vista, along with scenes like this one:

plastic tea cup on play tool bench

Surely Charlotte and Dahlia would approve.
Related Posts with Thumbnails