Saturday, September 29, 2012

walking on eggshells

The elder lass went rummaging through the fridge for some sustenance while I was helping her baby sister "freshen up," so to speak. Upon finding some hard-boiled eggs, the three-and-a-half year old lass came running to tell me of her discovery. Then she ran back to the kitchen, fetched a spoon, and began trying to peel the egg herself.

When the younger lass and I arrived in the kitchen, we found lots of egg shell bits on the table, as the lass who was doing her best to help herself was chipping away at the shell with her spoon on the bare table. After I helped her finish peeling the egg (and retrieved a bowl from which she could eat it), we used the spoon to break the egg up into bites. Observing aloud the white and the yolk, she then asked, "is there yolk in every egg in the world?"

"Pretty much," I told her, allowing for anomalies.

After a couple of bites, she declared she didn't like it and was finished. Figures. She'll hold out for a yolkless anomaly.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

temperamental, are we?

Navigating the murky waters of mothering four young, distinctive souls, I learned ago that no one method of approach works for every child. This is largely because every child is different, as nearly any parent of more than one child would acknowledge. Each child is unique and special, and each one is "wired" a little differently. This is the Lord's doing, as he has a specific plan and purpose for every life he wills into being.

With that in mind, I have been doing some reading (and re-reading) about the four classical temperaments and how to discern the defining characteristics of these temperaments in ourselves and those we know and love. I was first introduced to this idea which has its roots in ancient Greek medicine by a book called The Temperament God Gave You by Art Bennett and his wife Laraine. They've since authored The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse and The Temperament God Gave Your Kids. What I like most about these books is how the Bennetts take an ancient yet (one that many other researchers and theorists still utilize in their own work) and draw upon the writings of more recent sources as well as modern research in their application of Church teaching and the quest for virtue as a part of the Christian's journey toward heaven. 

Temperament is not the same things as personality.  Temperament is one of the factors in one's personality. Each of the four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic) has distinctive markers. Most people are a blend of one or two of the temperaments with one being predominant, but we can have characteristics of all the temperaments or cultivate skills that are inherent in a temperament other than our own.

Through the lens of faith we can think of these temperamental characteristics as the ways in which God crafted each of us in order to fulfill the purpose he has for our lives. We are not locked into the confines of our temperament's parameters; many other factors can influence our behavior. Our temperaments are simply how we feel about and react to people and situations by default. We can choose to behave differently, however, and sometimes we should.  Understanding these various factors is immensely helpful when it comes to tending to the temporal and spiritual needs of those entrusted to our care.

In a family, it's likely there are different temperaments interacting with each other.  God does this intentionally to help each member of the family, each with his or her own God-given identity and temperament, grow in virtue by strengthening both the things that come easily and those that do not. We are called to be patient with each other even as we challenge each other to overcome the weaknesses that are the flip side to our many positive traits, always mindful of the presence of Christ in each of us.

Each of us is a creation unique and precious to the Lord. We are not meant to all be the same, to handle things in the same way or experience life exactly as another person does. When I take the time to know myself better through prayer and discernment, including studying such time-tested ideas as the four temperaments in a faith-informed way, I am better able to be live each day as my true self, the one God created and calls me to be.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

keep walking...

Now that the three digit temperatures have thankfully given way, we've been taking advantage of a welcome opportunity to get outside after dinner for family walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes this means one child (guess who) claiming driving privileges of the sit and stand stroller that two of the other bambini want to ride in, leaving the one who probably ought to be in the stroller out to fend for herself -- just the way she likes it. Tonight, though, we left the stroller at home, which meant that the brothers were free to take their positions at imaginary starting blocks for a series of sprints that were punctuated by shrieks of laughter, pounding of feet, and the flailing of limbs and hair.

These family walks have been such a hit that they've even made it into the daily reality check as the highlight of one or more family member's days (along with PE, coming home from school, "nothing" -- meaning it was all good all day, and staying home with Mama.). Even with the requisite "hold hands or I'll hold you" admonition to the one with the shortest, if spritely, legs of us and the stop and go nature of a walk with four curious children, I'd have to say these foot tours around the neighborhood rate pretty high on my day's list, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

humble pie

A few days ago a woman walked into the coffee shop where my mother, sister, lassies, and I were snagging some liquid propulsion before picking up the lads from school. The woman had a much deeper than expected voice and asked for a cup of water, which the barista brought out to her.

After flopping down in the easy chair next to me, she said, "I'm giving free manicures today.". I thanked her but told her truthfully that we would be leaving in a few minutes. She took the disappointment in stride and began to rummage through the few plastic shopping sacks she had brought in with her. She offered me a bottle of nail polish from one of the sacks, "for the road," she said. It was then that I noticed the polish on her own nails, done not quite exactly within the usual boundaries. She went on to give me another bottle of (green) nail polish and two mint candies. I thanked her again and bid her farewell, as it was time for us to get going.

During this encounter, while truthfully a little uneasy near this woman who seemed maybe a little off somehow, I had the strongest sense that I was to show her the utmost kindness and respect, including receiving the items she so generously offered me and thanking her for doing so.

How difficult is it for us to accept the generosity of others? Sometimes very much so. Whether it's the offer of a homemade meal during a time of crisis, illness, or happy upheaval such as following the birth of a baby, or help tending to or transporting children from time to time, or some other sort of non-monetary aid given freely, something trips us up in accepting such things.

For some people, it is so much easier to be the giver rather than the receiver of these types of gifts. We are happy to do so and truly want to help others in need, be they friends, relatives, or strangers. For people of faith, we see it as part of living out our Baptismal vows or at least being Christ-like in giving generously of our time and talent in the service of others.

This is all well and good, but when others attempt to do the same for us, some of us (I include myself in this and know and love several other people who would fit this bill, but I won't name names or point fingers.) are quick to say, "thanks, but I'll do it myself," or "no thank you, we're managing just fine.". We politely decline maybe because we don't want to impose on anyone or add to anyone else's already full plates, but in turning down such offers we deny our well-intentioned friends and loved ones (or even perfect strangers) the opportunities to be conduits of Christ's grace and mercy to us, which can be a source of blessing not only to us but to those who wish to serve us as well.

People who volunteer in various service roles often say they "get more out it" than the people they serve. Framing it this way might make it a little easier to allow someone else to help us once in a while or show us extraordinary generosity beyond what we think we deserve.

We may think we're slacking off or mooching or being lazy or somehow otherwise not taking care of our own responsibilities, but somewhere in there is a tinge of pride, where it's all about me.

It's *not* all about me.

I may have a lot to manage, and through continual discernment and in faith I trust that it is God's will for me to have a lot to manage, but he doesn't expect me to have it all figured out all at once or even to do it all by myself. Although it is humbling to accept assistance from someone else, there is grace in such humility, and more grace where that comes from for the asking.

When we allow people to help lighten our loads, we cooperate with Christ in the bestowing of grace upon those who are serving us. Just as I desire to be a reflection of Christ's light and love to the people he places in my midst, there are others who are similarly motivated. Let us not be hasty to close the door in Christ's face when he wishes to bless both us and someone else with a chance to be his hands, feet, and beautiful face.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Our kind-hearted Kindergartner the younger lad tossed this bombshell my direction in his usual nonchalant way: "A lot of girls have been noticing me, Mommy."

me: "Who?  Where?"

him: "In the cafeteria.  They asked me my name."

The elder lad suspects they were sixth grade girls, as if that helps.

Monday, September 17, 2012

city slickers

Maybe someday soon the lads and my beloved will embark upon the fantastic journey that is The Chronicles of Narnia for their bedtime reading, but for now they are reading -- for the most part -- lighter (while still adventurous) fare. The Little House books weren't without suspense, sorrow, or drama, but that was about as much of any of those things the lads are up for at bedtime.

My beloved remembers reading adventure stories of the vintage variety by an author named Troy Nesbit. The Diamond Cave Mystery was my beloved's favorite, so when a search at our local library turned up nothing, I bought a used copy from that purveyor of any and all things (that would be Amazon Marketplace, which is a bit like rifling through untold numbers of garage sales for that which has been cast off but is still of some use to someone else) for Christmas two years ago I found it for him to share with the boys. They ate it up. According to the elder lad, "two boys find diamonds in a cave, and they try to find out who [the diamonds] belong to."
younger lass holding Troy Nesbit's Diamond Cave Mystery
The younger lass is a willing book model, even if she doesn't read the tome herself -- yet.
 Given the younger lad's continuing fascination with horses and cowboys, I was thrilled to find another novel by Nesbit called The Sand Dune Pony. That's the current bedtime read, and from all accounts it's as good as the Diamond Cave Mystery (and not too soon for the younger lad, who had had enough of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books).  In this story a boy catches and "gentles" a wild horse. For these suburban lads who dream of the day they might live on "some land," this book is perfect.

Troy Nesbit's Sand Dune Pony

These classic adventures are in the same echelon of heroic stories as the Billy and Blaze books by C. W. Anderson and the Little Tim books by Edward Ardizzone.  As we strive to steer our young squires on the right side of the high road, characters like those in Troy Nesbit novels are welcome passengers.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

identity crisis (not quite)

Every time I interview the bambini, I find myself stewing about some of their responses.  I know I know: I invite this by posing the questions to begin with, and I know that their responses might be different if I were to query the bambini again tomorrow in a different context.  All that aside, I basically borrowed the question Jesus poses to his disciples in today's Gospel reading by asking them "who do *you* say that I am?"   Some of the answers from this latest round are cute and funny -- and true: I'm not good at crawling around on the floor like a horse. I stand a little taller than feet off the ground (but not much), and I definitely prefer smiling faces to screaming voices. I'm actually a pretty good dancer, thank you very much, having taken ballet from the time I was three until I was 17.  And while I do eat a lot of salad, why did none of the bambini name coffee or chocolate as my favorite foods?  Hello?

Those pale comparison with the deeper questions of what my job is and how I convey my love for them in terms they understand. Yes, I do clean house when they're not around (but not as much as they seem to think. Let's keep that between us.), and yes I spend a considerable amount of time supervising our bambini. But is that my job? If it's as the elder lad eventually said "teaching us things" and "loving us," as the younger lad said, then I'd agree. There are, however, aspects of the day-to-day to-do list that are definitely mundane (such as cleaning up other people's messes and so forth). That's true of any job and part of every life.  There is honor in that work, even if it's not glamorous.  There is also a lot of joy in the work I do, knowing it is serving God by serving the people he has placed in my midst in this time and place.

In today's Gospel, Peter answers correctly that Jesus is "the Christ", but even if he had answered differently, Jesus would still be the Christ.  I am many things including a wife, daughter, sister, mother, cousin, and friend, but primarily I am committed to being the person God created and calls me to be every day.   I struggle with the bambini not reporting a greater awareness of the musical side of me, but that's not their fault.  They do know it's a part of me, but contrary to how I imagined things, it hasn't been a large one in their existence.  That's probably as it should be.  Their view of me will change as time marches on, but God willing they will always know that I'm their mom who loves them unconditionally and that I am here for them, and that's all that matters.

Friday, September 14, 2012

twenty questions, volume three

"snowy volcano cake" (otherwise known as [near] flourless chocolate cake) made by my beloved and the younger lass.  I'm a lucky girl.
I am hellbent adamant about recording the collective memory of our bambini via interviews taken informally around birthdays.  Two years ago I launched this interviewing initiative (with some borrowed questions) on the occasion of my birthday.  Last year's birthday interview was about six months late, so it's only been half a year or so since I polled the bambini about their scatter-brained if well-intentioned mother.  I gave myself a little assessment yesterday.  Today it's their turn to weigh in on what Mama does best, what they seem to remember hearing me say, and the legacy I am leaving for them...

While I attempted to interview the two-year-old younger lass, it became obvious very quickly that doing so would be an exercise in futility.  Maybe next year.

1. What is something Mama often says to you?
7 year old elder lad: I love you.
5 year old younger lad: I love you.
3.5 year old elder lass: I love you.
2 year old younger lass: I sew.

2. What makes Mama happy?
elder lad: I love you.
younger lad: when [we're] not fighting
elder lass: when I smile

3. What makes Mama sad?
elder lad: I hate you. [I'm guessing he means the verbalization of these fighting words.]
younger lad: when [we're all] fighting
elder lass: when I scream

4. What does Mama do that makes you laugh?
elder lad: tickle me
younger lad: tickle me
elder lass: tell funny stories

5. What was Mama like as a little girl?
elder lad: I don't know
younger lad: I don't know
elder lass: I don't know

6. How old is Mama?
elder lad: 34
younger lad: 34
elder lass: ummm.... 33

34th birthday cookie cake
cookie cake made by my dear dad, as has long been tradition,
with six happy little music notes for the six of us in my little family
and one grand piano with precisely-placed chocolate sprinkle keys.  I'm such a lucky girl.

7. How tall is Mama?
elder lad:  let's say about five feet tall
younger lad: eight feet high... [but] that would be taller than Dad!  Dad's six feet high.  Maybe... aha! You're five feet high!  You're a little bit shorter than Dad [demonstrates with his hand].
elder lass: We'll have to measure you again!

8. What is Mama's favorite thing to do?
elder lad: sew
younger lad: sew
elder lass: sew

9. What does Mama do when you're not around?
elder lad: clean house
younger lad: love me still
elder lass: sew

10.  If Mama were famous, what would it be for?
elder lad: her love
younger lad: loving us
elder lass: I don't know.

11.What is Mama good at?
elder lad: cooking
younger lad: sewing
elder lass: sewing

12. What is Mama *not* good at?
elder lad: crawling on the floor like a horse
younger lad: dancing?
elder lass: she's not good at..... [looks sideways at me] I don't know.

13. What is Mama's job?
elder lad: to watch [my sisters]... and me and [my brother]... to teach us things... to watch us so that we get along............taking care of us
younger lad: to take care of us
elder lass: to sew

14. What is Mama's favorite food?
elder lad: potato soup
younger lad: salad! [points upward victoriously]
elder lass: salad!

15. What makes you proud of Mama?
elder lad: [thinking long and hard on this one] I don't know.  (then later) I said I don't know what makes me proud because you do all kinds of stuff that makes me proud but I just couldn't say it.  I don't know.  ["so you're proud of me, but you're not sure why?"] yeah.
younger lad:  that she snuggles me
elder lass: 'cause she snuggles me

16. What is something we do together?
elder lad: bake
younger lad: sew
elder lass: sew 

17. How are you and I the same?
elder lad: We both have dark hair.
younger lad: We both are humans.
elder lass: We both have black hair. [Actually, we both have brown hair.]

18. How are you and I different?
elder lad: You're a girl and I'm a boy.
younger lad: You have long hair and I have short hair.
elder lass: We don't have the same color skin.  [This elicits my quizzical face, as we are both fair-skinned.]

19. Where is Mama's favorite place to go?
elder lad: Missouri
younger lad: [a local pizza franchise based in the town where I went to college, answering again with the victorious hand gesture]
elder lass: [a locally-owned purveyor of "crispy bite-size chicken"]

20.  How do you know that Mama loves you?
elder lad: 'cause she says so
younger lad: because she tells me that.  Am I done now?
elder lass: because she tells me that.  Am I done now? [yes, they both answered exactly the same in separate interviews}

I'll save the analysis and my response for another time.  For now I'll just say that I think I may have hit upon the way to conduct these interviews successfully -- that would be by parking them in the glider we've had since the elder lad was a newborn.  That way they can rock and fidget and gesture and wiggle around, thus allowing the answers to come freely and resulting in a quick and relatively painless interview that serves as a gift of sorts to Mama and fodder for much navel gazing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


My birthday was last Saturday.  Judging by the mountain of clean but unfolded laundry, someone seems to think she's still the Birthday Girl with a "get out of folding laundry because it's your birthday" pass.  Today is my lovely friend Katie's birthday as well as that of my beloved's grandfather and our cousin.  Another cousin's birthday earlier was this week, so I'm thinking the laundry folding can wait another day in honor of all the festivities.

Birthdays have a way of serving as a checkpoint or annual review of sorts.  Here's mine in a nutshell, with plenty left out but enough both to work at and build upon...

Things I thought I would be better at by now:
  • getting kids to sleep 
  • staying calm in the face of a temper tantrum or prolonged fussing
  • going to bed
Things I'm pretty good at (surprisingly):
  • using silliness or humor to convey instructions or cut through kvetching 
  • laundry stain-fighting (knock on wood)
Things I am getting better at:
  • getting things done -- not everything and not all the time, but more often, even if I have to chip away at whatever it is a little bit at a time
  • winnowing down the number of things at which I am multitasking so that I can complete at least some of them before starting new ones
  • getting dinner on the table
  • staying on top of the laundry (sort of) 
  • estimating the amount of time tasks actually take to accomplish
  • arriving some place on time (or at least closer to it)
    Things I'm not so good at (still):

    For my birthday buddies and me I pray that by God's grace, the year ahead may bring continued growth and understanding, peace and fortitude for the journey still to come, and laughter to bridge the expanse between expectations and reality.   Sleep would be good, too.

    Thursday, September 06, 2012


    Polling the school-going bambini for lunch box requests, there seems to be a theme going in spite of their vastly different tastes: they all want a note in their lunch box.

    I've been tucking notes into lunch boxes here and there (not every day) for as long as I've been packing lunches for people. I didn't realize how much the notes meant to the people opening the lunch boxes until a couple of recent occasions when I didn't stick a note in. That was the first thing I heard about when we were reunited. I have learned my lesson.

    It's nothing fancy, usually just a plain square of white paper with a short, not too mushy sentiment such as "I love you!" or "I hope you're having a great day!" or "see you soon!". Sometimes I'll throw in a joke, though:

    I can't take credit for this clever joke.  I found it online. 
    I don't know if the jokes are read to friends at the lunch table.  I hope they are. 
    I try to write as legibly as I can for the new and emerging readers among us, especially considering my standard quirky handwriting is a mix of cursive, printing, upper and lower case. 

    If the most important thing in the lunch box is a note from Mom (or Dad), does it even matter what else I pack?  The answer is a resounding *yes*, but it's gratifying to know how something that seems like a little thing to me is of such significance to my little loves -- at least for now.

    Tuesday, September 04, 2012

    hit or miss

    the game of Battleship
    man your positions...
    On our recent Labor Day weekend getaway to my parents' house, my sister introduced the lads to Battleship, the maritime warship game.  They were familiar with Battleship via the Wii, but the younger lad was fascinated with the version that he could hold in his hands and position the ships and pegs just so.  He grew so attached to the game that my dad let the lad bring it home with him.  After Mass on Sunday, the lad set up the consoles to play with his dad and brother, team-style.  Later in the day the consoles became laptop computers for the younger lad and elder lass to pretend they were typing on. The younger lass is our "grease man," able to retrieve pegs that fall into the hinge part of the game console when it's open with her tiny little fingers.

    The more I think about it, the game of Battleship and its hit-or-miss song and dance routine are the perfect analogy for daily life with young children.  One minute they're planning something spectacular, the next they're quarreling.  Sometimes there are warning volleys.  Sometimes not.  If only I had a radar screen to steer clear of troubled waters.  At least I have a life jacket.

    Saturday, September 01, 2012

    cold-brewed coffee

    Any time I can work in a reference to the movie Steel Magnolias, I try to do so.  I've done it again talking about cold-brewed coffee over at Foodie Proclivities today.  Have a look-see and try it! 
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