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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Wrong…is having to explain this spectacle to four young and curiously bemused boys in the back seat.

I had a particularly difficult time explaining why the vehicle owner chose to sport the state’s “God Bless” license plates which tend to be favored by Christians, in addition to the other adornments.

Oh, to borrow little David’s sling shot for just one traffic light, to tackle this testicular testimony…this Goliath of hypocrisy!

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Boredom simply cannot co-exist in a place like this:

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We are fully one week into summer vacation, and already we have tackled some of the most daunting of educational tasks set forth for parents – tasks not otherwise taught in the classroom, such as:

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Always a step ahead, I posted this on the fridge shortly after school dismissed. Just in case.

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A couple of trips to our fave local swimming hole have highlighted our first week of summer vacation. The pretty pink and green and peach beach bungalows line the street to the right and face the beach, and a short walk under the bridge toward the dunes takes you to the sea. Everyone’s so busy looking seaward, they often don’t see this little gem with clear waters and a swift current in the middle, but calm enough near the shore for children to play without worry. Tourists cannot be found here, but the best shells can, which get cast aside by the current along with fun fish and marine life to swim with. It is known as “the lagoon” to all but our three-year old, who begs daily to “go to the ‘goon.”

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We go back and forth between the sea and the goon in any given day. There was some nice surfing and boogie boarding to be had yesterday. I was going to post some of these yesterday for the Weekly Photo Challenge (theme: Today), but once we got home, we had four children to de-sand and we were exhausted. Phoo. I’ll have to find another picture for the Today theme. In the meantime, here’s my “Yesterday” theme:

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As a child therapist, I recommend children have no more than two hours per day of “screen time,” defined as any electronic activity, including video games, television, movies, computer, etc. “Educational” screen time is included in this limit. Excessive screen time changes the neurological pathways developed in children’s brains and inhibits their ability to master critical tasks such as delayed gratification, independent thinking, imagination and creative problem-solving. It also invites symptoms along the lines of ADHD, traumatic stress, anxiety, oppositional-defiance and various unwanted house guests.

Here is a picture of what our screen-deprived 13-year-old did with his free time his first week of summer vacation. He was reading a book about local edible plants over one of his uncountable bowls of cereal (he’s at that age, y’know), and rode his bike around looking to harvest elderberry, understanding that only the berries and flowers are non-toxic. He soaked the flowers and concocted a very yummy drink, and took the stalk and hollowed it out and made this, with the intention of making more and selling them at an outdoor market or crafts fair:

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Here I was, afraid he was going to saw off his arm when he took off out of the house with a sharp implement. And then he brings this beautiful instrument to me, concerned because he accidentally made the hole at the right too big and unsuccessfully tried to cover it with Scotch tape to make it sound right. It didn’t work. So off he went on his bike with the saw again, and this time came back with a big harvest of bamboo. Maybe that will work better than elderberry.

I’m curious how he hollowed it out, but I’m afraid to ask and just grateful he has all 10 fingers, got a good grade in algebra last week and that his garden is yielding awesome produce for us to enjoy. I will remember those things when he comes to ask me why his baseball jersey is not clean in time for the Monday night game when he forgot it was crumpled in a heap on the floor of his bedroom instead of tossed in the laundry basket….I will remember, having one math geek, one science geek, one special needs and one with a major-not-yet-declared, that some of the best learning happens hands-on and outside the classroom.

God, thanks for summer vacation, for creative pursuits and thinking outside the box. Thank You for children and the beach and “alternative education.” Help us to savor the days….God, thank You for teaching us all in Your own ways, for showing us that learning happens in a variety of ways and places and formats, not just where we expect it. Thank You for allowing us to transition from homeschooling to regular schooling and, for the summers, back to homeschooling. Thank You, God, that education is a lifelong process, no matter how old we are.

Oh, yeah…I was supposed to return to the small campus of a women’s university in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains this weekend for my 25th college reunion. Was it worth instead being at the goon and engaging my children in non-classroom educational activities? Heck, yeah!!! (Who else would have assigned the 9-year-old sentences for making oral fart noises?!). Priorities…

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4:34: Awoke at normal-ish time, but remembered it was Saturday; realized I had at least one more hour to sleep.

6:32 – Whoops! Overslept!

7:18 – 3 minutes late leaving if I was going to break the speed limits; 8 minutes late if I was to obey the limits, to take #3 to pre-game practice.

7:35 – Called #1 to make sure he actually got OUT of bed when told to get up, to remind him to wear khakis/polo to band ensemble audition two towns north.

8:00 – Took these pictures and realized I no longer had time to take a morning run along the water, but would have to go back to the ball park, park car and make my route consist of running from ball park to waterfront and back to be at game on time.

Birds, boats and bay

Dewy roses

8:30 – Game started, I arrive looking like hell, all sweaty and scary hair thanks to humidity which is not clearing out on the same schedule the weathermen predicted. Shoulda worn hat, but, oh well.

9:00 – Discover via friendly bleachers-chit-chat I am conversing with a publisher; immediately neglect to notice when my kid is up to bat and take copious mental notes of everything she is telling me about how to get my dusty manuscripts published.

9:14 – Still yakking in bleachers. Super-Duh: By default from someone else’s mom calling out my kid’s name, I realize my kid is again up to bat and join in on cheering him on.

9:25 – Game interference caused by seagull dive-bombing pitcher on mound. Seagull mistook baseball for food.

9:40 – Thanking the Lord I live here, where even trash is beautiful:

10:00 – Congratulating the team for finishing the season 13-1, mentally preparing for tournament season.

10:09 – Texting family closest to ice cream sale to make sure to pick up half-gallon of Chocolate Trinity for near-future consumption.

10:30 – Home for dishes, laundry, accounting and brunch (al fresco) with goodies like cheese grits and Cajun sausage. More laundry. More dishes. Realizing I could permanently station myself at either post and remain gainfully occupied.

11:15 – Put the baby down for nap and catch up on online stuff.

12:00 – Overcome by sleep – take nap, too.

1:38 – Report from unsolicited onlooker that light snore was in progress. Register official embarrassment and return to slumber.

2:55 – Startle from scary dream about eccentric neighbor with unruly chickens.

3:08 – Toddler toddles in chirping about going to beach. Other children noted in background to be emptying beach towels, toys and other nautical-themed paraphernalia out of bathroom and hall closets. I am cheerfully railroaded into compliance.

3:10 – Grog-fall out of bed and mechanically put on swimsuit and flip-flops.

3:30 – Finagle 10-inch hanging pot out of nursery down the road on way to beach, as storm 2 days ago caused one pot to fall, crack, and flowers quickly dying…nursery forked over spare pot that was otherwise doing nothing but taking up space out back. Front porch soon to be restored to symmetricality.

3:40 – At beach initially planned to visit; set up beach chair, get crucial belongings positioned on nearby log (phone, drink). Ahhhhhh…

3:41 – 2 out of 4 kids chime, “Hey, look! Maggots all over the place!” Aaagghhh!

3:42 – 4-foot fish noted to be rotting nearby. Abrupt change of plans.

3:50 – 1/2 mile down the road claiming a small, private stretch of beach shared only by pelicans overhead:

A dozen pelicans

Sunblinded Flight

5:00 – Visitors show up with 2-year-old grandchild. Get to talking and inform them of stuff they never knew about their second-home’s environs, such as shipwreck location, manatees upriver at spot where Yankees came ashore to sneak up to last Civil War battle after treaty already signed at Appomattox, and best places to find thus-n-such.

5:23 – Mercy granted for their allegiance to rival college football team.

5:52 – Refrain from inquiry regarding contents of their blue Solo cups and vice versa in our water bottles, as conversation grows more friendly and animated. Simultaneously, this driftwood starts looking more and more like a beached dolphin or shark:

What do you see?

6:30 – Sandy children strapped in car, brought home and deposited directly into various and sundry hose-down areas.

7:15 – Munching pizza on front porch, little bunny hops across street and is shortly thereafter eating baby carrot out of my hand, much to children’s delight.

7:20 – Children locate cage and entrap little bunny. #4 decides he now likes to eat carrots, too (whatever works!).

7:51 – Kids in bed, us on front porch swing, enjoying fireflies and kitty’s reaction to caged bunny.

8:00 – Long awaited shower.

8:49 – Chocolate Trinity, small serving due to recent discovery that regular servings may be responsible for restless sleep due to triple chocolate/caffeine effect. Consider it for breakfast, instead.

9:40 – Tune in for weather, to hear what we already know: perfect, perfect, perfect.

10:something – Contented collapse.

Thanks, God, for granting us the ability to willfully ignore the underlying stressors of life, if only for one Saturday. Thank You for the fun days to counterbalance the days of hardships – past/present/future – and for giving us sweet memories to soothe in times of distress. Without suffering, there would be little perspective. Without joy, there would be little hope. Thank You for both joy and suffering. Thank You for One Saturday.

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Okay, so maybe I should have chosen something easier to give up for Lent like, um, “Driving over 80 mph,” or “Not listening to another tired Kardashian joke,” or “Cranking out another poorly edited blog.”

But, I didn’t. So you are stuck with me in the middle of 40 days of self-imposed hell. No, the church didn’t impose this on me – I take full responsibility. I am a glutton for punishment, and I like to experiment with stretching my limits. Plus it’s not a bad way to get a smidgen of a taste of the point of Lent, at the very least. How many Christians can really put their money where their mouth is, anyway? Not that any of us could, fallible as we are. I like to believe self-sacrifice makes us stronger in the long run.

In the meantime, I’m antsy as all get-out, and fit to be tied. Saturday’s 10K was a wonderful way to distract and run myself ragged. In the spirit of sacrifice, I went as far as to run (actually RUN) the first two miles, in full, with my iPod OFF. I learned something new, that I could search for meaning and purpose in my exertion by losing myself in other things, such as the laughing seagulls overhead (although they were probably laughing at who was going to nail their next target with the thousands of silly humans running amok). Then came the hills, the bluffs. Ouchie-youchie. My quads are still admonishing me. So to distract myself again today, I conquered the Big Knoll, three times over, with added speed, just to give them something to cry about.

Pleased with my time after the race, I was able to hoof it up the big bluff to get back to the start line to meet two of my offspring, who ran the 2-mile fun run. I ran with the younger one, who bested me when the finish line appeared. Never did see the eldest – he’s at the age where he was more into his friends (and girls), and would have died had I ran with him. Casanova was casually hobnobbing at the bananas-and-oranges table, sipping a Gatorade, by the time I flew through the chute.

This was followed by a glorious day at a community event, the biggest in our town each year, where you see things like the best creative things brought in from all over the nation; a little girl hula-hooping while eating a waffle cone; eating alligator bites (like popcorn chicken, except real alligator) with Cajun spices and hush puppies; the bubble machine blowing bubbles aloft outside the little-town toy store that sells old-fashioned educational toys in spite of the cross-town Wal-Mart that one landowner sold out to, and friendly dogs on leashes that don’t mind their tail being yanked by our little one.

He saw the array of sample funnel cakes outside a food vendor’s set-up. A small crowd gathered as the little boy got closer and closer to the delectable delights with great curiosity, waiting to see if he would snatch a piece to taste. He carefully extended an index finger toward each one, a hair away from swiping a finger off the powdered sugar and fruit toppings. But he didn’t, and when he suddenly turned to see where Mommy was, he spotted the delighted crowd watching him, and he shyly ran between mother’s legs to hide, while the crowd roared with amusement to behold the little child resisting temptation.

If only we all could be like that!

Later that evening, hours after I crossed the finish line, I received word I had crossed a professional finish line on a national level that  I’d been training for for a long time. Unexpected and spontaneous celebration ensued, and now I need a weekend after this weekend.

But I’d promised you, dear reader, to cover a few other things: The National Junior Dishonor Society. I endured attended last year’s ceremony at the middle school, and it was a solemn but entertaining event then. This year it was downright alarming. The girls’ skirts were shamefully short – I mean, near-cheeks showing as they paraded up the aisle to the stage in shoes they could barely totter forth in. The boys were stiff as glue, probably due to age-related gawkiness. It was painful to watch them during the procession. Even the president of the group blew it off for another event that day. The worst part was seeing all my child’s best friends up there, his name in the program, and his mysteriously not being part of the procession.

At the end of the ceremony, after openly sharing my panic, I was asked questions in the office like, “Are you SURE you dropped him off this morning? you SAW him go into the school?” “Did he go to the city with the Scholar’s Bowl team instead, and maybe he forgot about the ceremony?” They did an “all-call” throughout the school, and he sheepishly appeared in the office 5 minutes later. His excuse? “Well, my friends all said they go by weekly GPA to figure if you qualify, and I didn’t want to tell you about the D I got on one algebra assignment a few weeks ago, so I assumed I got kicked out. I was in class.”

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!

So his homeroom teacher and I sat on the now-empty stage with him and explained that they average by the semester, not the week, and that one lousy grade on one lousy homework assignment does not doom you for life. Then came the conjoint lectures about being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, asking an adult if you’re not sure and not going by your friends’ consensus, and finally, after careful mutual eye contact between teacher and parent, a parent-led lecture on what the rest of his weekend would look like, given his self-imposed absence and ensuing school-wide panic after the ceremony. Not to mention his not mentioning the D.

I admit I caved in halfway through the weekend, after considering that he is the youngest in his class, taking a high school credit course. And the fact that he did all the leaf-blowing after the race Saturday, dishes and other mundane chores to repent. He convinced me he had to break in his new hiking boots before camp in the Appalachians next week, so off he went squirrel hunting Sunday afternoon. Mothers, have mercy on your babies…

Also promised: The Great Potty Crisis at Special Olympics. We were proud of our disabled child participating and ought to devote a blog to it, but few pictures were taken this year. Next year, you’re on. It’s a tear-jerker, ‘specially the torch. I highly recommend your attending your local event. It was our 3-year-old, though, with the crisis. He was used to Mommy taking him into the ladies’ room at the park, and he pitched a fit because he had to go, Mommy was at the Dishonor Ceremony and hadn’t gotten to the Olympics yet, and Daddy had to take him to the men’s room. He is terrified of urinals, and squawked with great fervor, refusing to go in the men’s room.

What’s a dad to do? The guy thing, of course! So he hauls our tyke off to the woods beside the park and instructs him to do the wild thang, with great abandon. Tyke hesitated at first, convinced Mommy would pop out from behind a tree and shame him for not properly using a potty. But once he got going, he really got into it. Report has it that not only did he finally relieve himself, he discovered, with tremendous pleasure, that he could make his urine arc high into the air by squeezing his…okay, nevermind, I’m getting too graphic, sorry. Anyway, he was initiated into natural manhood that day by marking his territory in the city park woods. Hurrah. Yes, I gave them both a (light but) appropriate scolding upon Daddy’s big, smirking boasting about the event. I am outnumbered, 5 to 1.

And…what happens when you swallow a battery or other object (teaser from previous blog)? Plenty, if I am your therapist, you did it on purpose, and you’re in a hospital setting. You will wish you were back in the ER. Unable to elaborate on this one… Suffice it to say that a combination of humor, reverse psychology and a weekend of consequences for safety’s sake, adds up to one great brief therapy intervention and fosters a hasty recovery, and an even hastier advance toward one’s treatment goals. Never mind the jokes about “batteries running out” which are virtually unavoidable.

Some day, I will learn to write shorter blogs.

Thanks, God, for life’s distractions which take the edge off of life’s pains. Thanks for having a “Hold on my Heart” and getting me through Lent. Thanks for His sacrifice. And thanks for a wild, full week.

When, O Lord, shall I rest?!

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Play Ball!

Nothing says “welcome to spring!” quite like Opening Day for Little League, especially on Daylight Savings weekend.  Today we were blessed with playing the very first game at 0830 sharp. While we clutched our toasty tumblers of coffee in the crisp, early morning air, we also got first dibs on parking, seating, concessions, and even the sun. By the third inning, sweatshirts were being peeled off and slung on the backs of chairs, and coffee gave way to cool Co-cola.

Like any other American rite, opening day is full of things that make a community home. Old and new friends, old and new memories, old and new experiences. The actual game of baseball is core, of course, but it’s about way more than that. The sights, sounds and smells of opening day are woven into our minds and hearts, and then into the greater tapestry of community.

Our eight year old bit his lip with fond anticipation as we approached his field. There in front of us was something different from what he’d practiced on the past month. Seeing it anew, the field was a rich green surrounded by red clay dirt, outlined perfectly with bright white chalk, punctuated by brand, spanking new bases. It was almost a shame to see it mussed up by the first few players, but even after the game, it bravely clung to its dignity:

Home Plate

Most ball parks have sponsors’ banners lining the fence with names of businesses most people recognize. What makes this home is our backdrop of banners which advertise businesses unique to what we call home: maritime services, offshore deep-sea fishing charters, local resorts, and the always-practical hurricane shutter business. And this year a new one, an in-memory-of banner in honor of two beloved members of our community who perished at sea last year while out fishing one day.

It’s hard to beat the smell of freshly cut grass, but I think this one had it beat: The aroma of the giant grill cooking fresh hamburgers and hot dogs, which wafted all over the park and was carried aloft by the salty breeze off the nearby beaches:

Da Big Grill

The auditory hodgepodge was a mix of sizzling meat, the crack of the bat, and the occasional errant seagull crying when he realized he’d been duped, that the airborne baseball is not bread. You also hear lots of applause and encouragement. In the South, you won’t hear direct instructions being given to the little men in uniform, like, “Run hard, guys, RUN!” No, this morning’s sideline shrieks were more along the lines of, “UNHOOK THE U-HAUL, Y’ALL!” The names on the backs of the jerseys were not your standard names, either – here it is common for the names to start with a La-something or a Du-something, or end in -eaux. Or all of the above. The French roots live on.

Other savory sights included seeing the first slushies served of the season, with children running amok with berry-blue lips which extended ear to ear; swatting the first horse fly of the season; hearing many of the teams pray together before they hit the field; and little monkeys in precious smocking, hanging off the lower limbs of the giant, old oak tree which shades a strategically placed picnic table, suitable for reaching that lowest branch. How many monkeys can you count? One, two, three, four…no, there were at least eight children playing in the tree.

No one cracked their coconut open falling out of the tree, and no one filed any lawsuits against the park citing it as a liability. Yes, this is the park you can spank your unruly toddler in public while the other parents look on with approval. Heck, this is the park where other parents parent each others’ children. Raising our future is a community effort, especially on opening day when things can be a little hectic. I was overseeing the concession line at one point, ensuring nobody cut:

Concession Line

And nobody did.

I think about the only thing missing was some good ol’ American apple pie. A la mode. This should be a staple at every ball park, right along with peanuts and sunflower seeds. Now there’s a potential business! Speaking of which, I am looking forward to the rest of the season and perfecting my sunflower-seed-husk-spitting skills. (But only when the other moms aren’t watching).

What tells YOU that you’ve sprung forward into spring?

Thanks, God, for baseball and boys and bbq and bats and balls. Thanks for cultural pastimes and community fellowship. And thanks for helping our boys unhook their U-Hauls and pull ahead to win at the last nail-biting second. Yeeee-haaaw! Er, I mean, amen.

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For my new followers from the last post, welcome – and allow me to confess that the heart-wrenching style with which that post (and several preceding it) was written, is only half of me. The other half is the ghost of Erma Bombeck, albeit merely a wish for a sliver of her master wit. Like the big, red clown nose one of our nurses wears on the children’s unit, humor is one sure way to counterbalance what otherwise would be very difficult profession for one’s heart to manage.

And I have not been very funny lately, since about Labor Day weekend – come to think of it, those were the last funny post out of my fingertips – because there was nothing all that funny while I was furthering my education and cramming for a national exam during the past three months. A grim undertaking at best, it is over. It was about as much fun as untangling my bra straps fresh out of the dryer.

I am beyond happy to report that I passed, have achieved a new and improved professional stature which only my colleagues give a rip about because few others can recognize the futile, haughty jumble of alphabet soup behind our names, anyway. Doesn’t really matter…I never hang my credentials in my office anyhoo…one, who cares, as long as you get the job done, and two, it’d be just my luck to hang ’em and have some kid go into an aggressive rage and break one the day after they were hung.

At any rate, I am finally starting to regain feeling in parts of my numb skull (no comment), which was due in full to said academic undertaking. I am vaguely aware that I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award, for which I am most honorably flabbergasted, but I will not be able to fully acknowledge nor make good on my responsibilities for this until I altogether come to. This acknowledgment shall be forthcoming, I promise.

Besides, I have yet to sit down and master the fine art of linking in text here. I suck at reading directions. And I’ve limited patience for fiddling. Yes, I’m the one who’ll be responsible for the off-balance, cockeyed tyke bike under the tree Christmas morning, the one with the handlebars coming out of the side of seat and the horn attached to the spokes of the wheel. And hauling my bleeding kidlet to the ER shortly thereafter.

That is, if it weren’t for my left-brained, instructions-guru husband, who tirelessly crouches and grouches over the assembly-required items at 11pm on Christmas Eve, while I innocently sip hot cider in bed playing online Scrabble. Rest assured our respective roles in this matter were decidedly determined after our first child’s Christmas, when we battled it out for which way was right, Cog A into Slightly-Off-Center-Grommet-B (“damn the manufacturers, gimme the drill”). No, sweetheart, go to sleep…that wasn’t Daddy and Mommy, just Santa’s reindeer on the roof. After that first Christmas, our roles were clearly defined in this department. Bless this one-flesh of mine…he has mastered the assembly details to where he now comes to bed within 30 minutes of the young masses falling asleep. Cool.

As I rub and blink my weary eyes and insert myself back into my life as I knew it in September, I have awoken to the results of the sole female in a house of six, turning her attention elsewhere for a season. I have opened my eyes and behold, entered the season of destruction. Season’s greetings, ya slackin’ mama! Thankfully, the Christmas tree and accompanying decorations have managed to materialize. The children made it through another semester, husband has been sufficiently trained not to expect me to cook for him anymore, and the houseplants resemble a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but alive – nothing a little Miracle Gro can’t help.

On the flip side, the pantry is filled with man-snacks, as though I have irreverently entered a remote hunting camp, minus the skinned and hanging deer. I am being asked to believe that the floor was just swept two days ago when dust bunnies the size of Texas loom underneath the buffet. And the teenager responsible for doing the dishes has managed to chip every last bowl, plate and saucer in the cabinet. Evidently, hollering out from behind my book in the bedroom clear down to the kitchen, “I SHOULDN’T BE HEARING ANYTHING CLINK WHEN YOU EMPTY THE DISHWASHER!!!” wasn’t enough.

During my mental hiatus, I am quasi-aware of some less-than-intelligent conversations which took place. Monday afternoons found me chauffeuring the children to piano lessons, which take place in the town’s most upscale subdivision where lonely, looming Munster-like but manicured mansions abound. You rarely see people in them because they are elsewhere, off fetching the salaries they need to pay for the homes they barely get to enjoy. Except, that is, for our piano teacher, who has cleverly set up shop in her parlor.

Each Monday I recall being talked into letting them roll the windows down while we waited for the last one to finish his lesson, and each Monday I recall having to shush all of them getting verbally rambunctious, their playful shrieks from the backseat echoing off the stately homes surrounding us. One Monday I wised up and the windows remained up. But last Monday, it was unseasonably warm, so down came the windows to enjoy the sweet breeze. Within moments, they were back to their shrieking shenanigans, and I absent-mindedly joined them: “Y’ALL STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF HOODLUMS IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD…WAIT’LL WE GET HOME, OKAY?!”

Driving off after the lesson was over, I found myself wondering just what I meant by that.

Another intelligent conversation transpired yesterday while I held my 13-year-old captive on a drive to and from a nearby island:

Me: “So what else do you want besides an Xpensive Box?”

Him: “Well, I know what I want.”

Me: “Well, what do you want?”

Him: “I’m not sure.”

Brilliance. I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

In other waking observations, I see the three-year old has not been adequately disciplined to date. I submit to you Exhibits A, B and C:

Broken beads, balls & Buzz

Exhibit A: Freud missed a stage; the proper stages should have been Oral, Anal, Nasal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. Here is the Mardi Gras bead (from the string he broke) which he inserted into his nose last night, another bead he was ABOUT to insert into his other nostril, and the crude but useful implement Daddy fashioned in order to extricate the offending orb Made In China. We escaped an ER copay and the child escaped Daddy’s operating expertise, when a small miracle (the forceful snort the child emitted when we had him pinned to the bed to examine the problem) caused the bead to descend on its own out of his nostril. I do believe Daddy and Mommy were more concerned, because as we frantically considered our options, Snuffy, bead up nose, nonchalantly asked for an animal cracker.

Exhibit B: Behold the multitude of broken Christmas items. Each child is allowed to pick a new ornament each year. The little one took it upon himself to locate each and every shiny, red icicle, the ones chosen by eldest brother, and snapped them all into at least two pieces. See the shards of the remains of another brother’s hand-painted (glass) ornament. And somewhere in that melee of mess is a lone jingle bell without its ribbon. We thought we could get away with not having to put all the ornaments halfway up the tree out of reach this year. Apparently not. He may have a future in advertising when the guy in the Allstate commercials retires.

Exhibit C: The top off a Matchbox race car. No clue how he pried it off so clean – he’s going to make a fabulous burglar someday. The little duckies from the farm set – baby duck ripped from its family, mother duck absent altogether, no telling where he put her. He probably ate her. And last but not least, Buzz Lightyear. Note the dangerously exposed wires where his left hand used to be. Left hand is now unceremoniously filed in the kitchen tool drawer of no return – you know, the one that has no actual tools in it, but instead has scores of broken household parts we mean to get to “some day.” Buzz’s amputated hand now holds the spring which held his hand in place where the wires now dangle. He still talks with authority when you press his buttons; he’s just not as believable anymore. Maybe the mishap occurred when he crash-landed by mistake, that’s what we’ll tell ’em.

Of unrelated interest is the distressed coffee table on which the exhibits lie. It did not become distressed until we first became distressed and gave up trying to keep the kidlets from playing on it “to keep it nice” (for what?! coffee?! made a much better surface for wood-scratching toys like Legos and cars). Luck of all luck, the “distressed look” came into vogue right about the time I was about get a new coffee table. Always me, fashionable by default, like the boots I bought in 1984 which came in handy 20 years later. I suppose I will postpone the purchase of a new coffee table until  (lessee, 18 minus 3…) um, 15 years from now.

As if these gems weren’t enough to collect in one day, I present to you Exhibit D:

Crunchy Christmas

It is our custom to decorate the children’s bedrooms with Christmas lights each Christmas. We had just put him down to sleep last night, and within 20 minutes, we heard an unearthly choke followed by a blood-curdling wail. Running in the room, he was spewing red and orange glass from the Christmas lights he tried to eat, all over his jammies and the floor. He had inquired as to their taste earlier in the season, and we lectured him thoroughly on the dangers of consuming Christmas lights. He stayed away from the lights the rest of the time, and we’d had them hung high on the top bunk and near the ceiling, not anticipating Curious George to climb up, pull them down and chomp on one. No, not one, but two. I wonder if he liked the taste of the red one so much he had to try the orange. The happy news is, no implements or ER trip necessary, once again everything came out just fine on its own fairly quickly. Lesson learned. Lights removed. We’ll try again next year.

Lastly, I submit Exhibit E:

Christmas Cow-Tipping

Yes, the naughty little shaver had to go and mess with baby Jesus after breaking his brother’s nutcracker, placing the head where the star should be on the manger scene, and tipping over the cow for good measure.

It’s a wonder we haven’t had a third incident involving the septic tank this year, as busy as he’s been. I guess he’s gone from putting things down the toilet to putting things down his hatch, breaking big things like plumbing systems to breaking small things. I will consider this a blessing, and progress.

The only thing keeping him from getting a lump of coal in his stocking was what he urgently said today as he noticed all the leaves had fallen off the maple tree out front: “We need to get more leaves for the tree for Christmas!”

Ah, the season of destruction just may yet yield to the season of giving!

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~Diaper-changing exacerbates any early-onset arthritis you may be in the process of acquiring.

~The Jehovah’s Witness that comes to the door and wakes everybody up at naptime comments, “I see you have a lovely grandchild!”

~Grabbing the child by the back of the OshKosh overalls while they’re attempting to escape, causes a pulled muscle underneath your rib cage. For eight days.

~You look forward to their nap time not so you can get the dishes and laundry done, but so that you can nap too, to gas up for the next round of their shenanigans.

~Your back goes out while bending over to pick up toys.

~You are eternally grateful to Pixar for making movies that you probably appreciate more than the child, since most the humor goes over their head.

~You’re rather appreciative of their willingness to pick up and eat dropped Cheerios off the floor; one less thing to have to sweep up.

~The only things you bother to discipline are the big ticket-things: non-flushable items flushed down the toilet, jumping on private parts and locking you out of the house or car.

~Make and stay friends with a nurse. It’ll save you hundreds in copays.

~There is no guilty conscience whatsoever in donating toys which require batteries, make noise or otherwise interfere with your increasingly-slowing thought process.

~They can actually outrun you now. And you just watch them recklessly fly down the street, as you rock in the rocking chair on the front porch. We’ll hook up sooner or later….

~They learn to be more creative and just as smart since you don’t have the energy to shove all manner of trendy sensory input down their throat. The metal spoon whacked against the pot makes just as fine (if not better) a drum, than the latest retail electronic Fisher-Price equivalent with all the bells and whistles. And the pot drives everybody just a hair crazier anyhow.

~No pants, no shirt, no problem: toilet training made easier…

~You are grateful he learned the hard way (but not too hard!) about why you kept telling him not to touch the stove…one less thing to have to harp on. He gets it now.

~You know the ropes, so you have 5 full years to prepare your argument to the school district as to why your child, born just two days after the cutoff, should be allowed to enter Kindergarten earlier than according to the letter of the law. Besides, it wasn’t your fault…the induction date was a hotly debated issue of negotiation due to an approaching hurricane at the time. Aw, c’mon…

~The line between naughty behavior and experiential learning has become more profoundly blurred.

~It is easier to appreciate the preoperational line of thinking: you understand that the act of charging Daddy unexpectedly from behind with the toilet plunger is an act of securing love, not a derelict violation of household protocol. After you holler at him.

~Maybe french fries in the car seat and animal crackers in bed ain’t so bad after all…they love running the vacuum “all by myself,” anyway.

~Accidentally dumped kitty’s water all over the kitchen floor? Needed mopping anyway. Thanks, kid!

~What goes in, must and will come out, by hook or by crook.

~No one can really tell which side of the debate one’s parents were on when it came to issues like co-sleeping, diapering or pacifiers…we all wind up being a little neurotic anyway.

~You hope they never notice that theirs is the only baby book of all the siblings that only had the first few pages filled out and everything else haphazardly jammed in the front flap, with no pictures because by the time they turned 1 everything was on memory stick anyway.

~Whoops! Who let him out to ride on his Very Noisy Little Tykes Motorcycle at 6 am after the neighbors kept everyone awake till 3 am with their too-loud party?

~You recognize the value of using the baby as a key accessory in the embarrassment of his middle school brother when warranted, until the middle school brother recognizes that the baby can be used as a chick magnet.

~Screen saver pictures at work effectively serve to elevate your status as a Wise Elder, since no one else can claim parenthood at such an old age, and you and your body have endured something they won’t. (Insert audio of Toy Story aliens: “Ooooooooh!”)

~Neither you nor child are quite of the age to really give a rip about too much. Let’s just see how things turn out…

~People are divided into 2 camps: those who assume, and those who can tell but don’t dare to ask.

~You are more inclined to let the crayon scribbles on the wall remain as a sentimental memento, so you can show his future spouse when you are introduced. Besides, the house would be so terribly dull and lifeless if every wall was perfectly maintained…

~All you can do is helplessly turn away and laugh instead of registering appropriate horror when the baby tries his hand at doing what his disabled brother was just admonished for doing in rapid succession at the Fall Festival: coming up behind women with disproportionately and outrageously gargantuan back porches, and losing his hand somewhere in their butt by trying to pat it, angelic smile upward when they generate an updraft by whirling around in shock to see who dared. Let ’em wonder which one in the crowd is the urchin’s mama…

~Beautiful women strike up conversations with Daddy in the grocery store, after cooing over the small, human lure strapped into the buggy.

~It is equally risky to use paid time off for anything but infirmity, since your body has entered its second childhood, and either of you are at risk of requiring sudden medical attention at any given moment. Falling out of a tree is about as easy as dislocating a hip by landing wrong on a meandering Lego.

~You’re the perfect cross between Willy Wonka and Andy Rooney.

Thank you God, for Your perfect timing in all things, for perspective and love. Do we keep You on Your toes, too, God?

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Once upon a very long time ago, I lived in the middle of Nowhere. I’m talking four rambling, adventurous hours away from the nearest Victoria’s Secret, folks. I was carefree and young, my whole life ahead of me, my education behind me (so I thought then), and I was surrounded by miles of rugged vastness, where the most entertaining thing to do was to go cow-tipping at night.

There were only two roads to choose from to get in or out of this place, and half of the time they were either buried under snowdrifts or cluttered with cattle drives. This was indeed the very place in the world where a tree would fall in the forest, and could not be heard. Here, we had to adjust our recipes due to the altitude, and hope for the best. There was no McDonald’s, or, for that matter, anyplace with a drive-thru. You had to know what to do when tumbleweed got caught up under your axles. You had to know how to chop wood to avoid freezing. You had to know how administer first aid because you may or may not be able to get to the nearest hospital before you keeled over. You had to know how to fend off packs of wild animals or the occasional escaped bull trying to break into your bedroom window during a blizzard at night. This was where you could test the limits of your car, and see if it really could go as fast as the speedometer claimed. Yes, this is where I learned to shoot various types of guns, out of necessity and survival, as a young, single lady. This was a different sort of education altogether, one my formal degrees had certainly not prepared me for.

Some people lived here because they either had lived there all their lives and had little desire to know about the rest of the world. Some came and stayed to escape common society, hoping to be left alone. Some followed others, but didn’t last long. And some were there because nobody else was willing to be there.

There, I learned to make do with little, and to be happy with it that way. The sun always rose again, even if I had to wait a week to get to town to get a staple. It was very simple and peaceful. It was easier to appreciate both little and big things, and easier to take care of what I had. I didn’t make much, but I didn’t spend much, either, and life was good that way. I was rich in being able to spend time with things that were far more important, anyway.

I was surrounded by like-minded simplicity: the one outpost “grocery store” was small and well-organized. The church had four pews on either side of the aisle (both collection plate and communion rites were 60-second affairs or less, done deal). The one lady in town who ran a small restaurant could only do so much herself, so the menu was the same throughout the day, and would change tomorrow according to what she had left on hand. We ate a lot of venison there. I learned right away I was not very welcome early in the morning in there, when the elder men of the community gathered for their daily coffee and contemplations. Things kind of got real quiet when I walked in…even the social culture was organized there, making it easy to know your place. And easy to want to stay in your place.

I liked that kind of order and peace.

Fast-forward decades later, living so very far away from that experience: House, spouse, multiple offspring, demands, obligations, not enough hours in the day, the dog, the cat, the endless supply of Small Toy Parts which get sandwiched firmly between brick and bare foot, uncannily most often when the first cup of coffee has been poured at 0445, all is dark, all others slumber, and I am en route to the table. And he wonders how I manage to regularly burn my lower extremities with coffee. I am navigating my path and must endure the melting skin like the Wicked Witch of the West but with no vocalizations, lest I awake the rest of the house and get the party started during what is supposed to be my solo quiet time, my only time of introverted bliss to charge me up for the next 18 hours.

I fantasize about throwing it all away. Why do I put these Small Toy Parts back in the toy box, which have spawned two wicker baskets, one in the den and one in another bedroom? Why didn’t I get rid of more toys? We taught the children to be charitable, and had them donate old toys to make room for new ones, each year. The last time I remember doing that was about eight years ago. The children kept coming, and so did the toys, and somehow we got to a point of realizing how donating one thing (say, the crib and all its linens), was like a jinx, and *boom* another child came along shortly thereafter. So eventually, we started hanging on to stuff – all kinds of stuff – and I got suckered right into his We-Might-Need-This-Someday mentality.

I thought we had settled this early on in the marriage when, much to his chagrin, he soon discovered that he had gained a wife but was losing his marbles, as Things and doo-dads he was sure he thought he had on hand, were mysteriously disappearing with increasing regularity. At first I was truthful and admitted to donating or throwing “useless” things away. Then came the dreaded Turkey Roaster Lecture. Fed up with my fastidiousness, he finally sat me down one day and asked how I’d like it if he tossed my turkey roasting pan, something I only use once or twice a year, but that occupies an obnoxiously large section of kitchen cabinet. Okay, point well-taken.

So I respected his stuff for a while. For quite a few years, actually, until the stuff he had once begged me or even threatened me with dire consequences if I ever threw THAT out, began to  multiply into many things like it, which went untouched, unused, forgotten and buried alive.

Then one day I awoke buried alive, surrounded by clutter. Half of it was the children’s, half of it was his. I was so disturbed, I engaged in vigorous self-harm practices. This soon proved to be futile, and did nothing to alleviate the clutter.

Then I got to work. I alternated between selectively, gradually, making some things quietly disappear after he left for work on garbage day (I write this at my own peril, as this will surely reopen old wounds), and throwing guilt-inducing, mild tantrums to shame him into dumping his own stuff himself. I marveled at how mighty proud he was to excavate six dusty magazines the first time I pulled this, his hands shaking as he threw them away, pausing to consider how he may be parting with the ONE article that may prove the key to saving the world in that fictitious future when the sky is going to fall. He only reclaimed two of them from the trash at the 11th hour, sprinting toward the trash can at the curb as the garbage truck rumbled down the block. He thought it was a big help, four magazines. My idea was a little different; I was thinking about four CRATES of magazines.

Since I can’t give away his stuff overtly (We Might Need This Someday always prevails) or covertly (I suck at lying), I now instead give generously to our local volunteer fire department. I am convinced they will someday be paying us a visit when our attic spontaneously combusts. Perhaps I should also consider paying it forward to the contractor whom we will be calling, should our ceiling cave in prior to combustion.

The problem is, in the years of our marriage, once in a while, the sky DOES fall, and he has squirreled away just the right knick-knack to fix it. Never mind that it takes him damn near a week to find it. Nevertheless, he has saved the day enough times that, like the devil injecting just enough shards of truth into a blatant lie to make it entirely shiny and believable, I am forced to admit that yes, dear, you were right…it was good I didn’t throw that away after all. It really did wind up coming in so very handy, I gush! It hurts to find bad habits actually useful. Back in the day, I would have merrily tossed the broken gizmo and probably not missed it, or would have been more than happy to save for an updated model.

This morning I went on a rampage after all the Small Toy Parts. The children thought I had either lost it or was very close to losing it, the way I determinedly scurried about putting any and every stray Thing in my line of vision in every room, barking orders for each child to take responsibility for handfuls of Things, too.

Among the claimed items tossed back into the toy box and baskets: plastic 1-inch machine gun, fourteen missing puzzle pieces, 17 toy cars, 4 pieces of railroad track,  2 noise-making stuffed animals (one of which has low batteries and emits a very ominous noise that would make Chuckie shudder), a naked baby doll, headless GI Joe, 2 broken Happy Meal toys, long-lost Gumby, the Wii remote we all thought the dog ran away with and buried, a very tangled slinky (why are we keeping this, I ask?! answer: we might untangle it someday…put it in the bathroom, I’ll work on it next time I go), a well-scratched unidentifiable DVD, 7 magnetic refrigerator alphabet letters, the tangled string that keeps coming off the Playskool Snoopy dog that yelps when you pull him along behind you, enough Monopoly money to pay the mafia to off the relatives who keep plying our children with noisy gifts to drive us crazy at every occasion, 3 mystery Things no one could say with any assurance what on earth they went to… and a partridge in a pear tree. There was more, I promise you. Much more. I am blocking out the rest; it is far too painful.

And this is just the inside of the house. Sometimes I think more is less, less is blessed. I am not ungrateful for what we have been blessed with, just overwhelmed. Perhaps this is the unavoidable result of having teenagers through toddlers.  I have made a mental date with the year the youngest turns of age, to return to simplicity. No, it will start long before then: I shall begin to purge the toddler toys in the next couple of years, and work my way up as he works his way up. I will keep all the crap nicely organized – baskets for this crap, boxes for that crap. Hopefully I won’t have to have a skin graft for any more coffee spilled in the dark of the wee hours stepping on yet another Lego.

Thus, as of yesterday morning, I was forbidden to throw away a broken folding chair; never mind that I have determined that throwing things away – no, decluttering – is an act of mental wellness for me. Nosireebob, that canvas, I was urgently informed, can be removed from the metal and “we” can sew it into bags to be used for camping and such. Yeah, right…just after the last child leaves for college and the canvas is growing spores. Then we’ll have time for more camping, too. Perfect. We’ll just toss the ol’ broken chair onto the top of the heap in the attic, no problem. Reminds me of that old sticks-and-marble game, Kerplunk!

(I sure hope somebody else sees the humor in all this, because he may not so easily, and I may be in for an icy week ahead.)

In the meantime, I think I hear the producers of “Hoarders” knocking. I reckon now is a good time to go vacation at my old stomping grounds in the middle of Nowhere while they tape this segment.

On the other hand, maybe I should just stay put…now that I think of it, there’s not a lot of difference between being stuck in the cattle drive and having to wait for it to pass there, and the cattle drive going on here, except this one smells better most of the time, and the cattle stampeding through my house have more fun.

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The utterance out of the innocent mouth of the three-year old babe back in the booster seat was clear as day, as we whizzed (no pun intended) south through the fields along the country roads toward home in the hazy, humid afternoon.

“Penis, mama, penis.”

(uncontrollable giggles from three older siblings)

“That’s not nice, baby, don’t talk like that.”

(nervous glance in rear view mirror)

“Yes, ma’am.”

(Kings of Leon, “Back Down South,” permeating the airwaves for the next mile or two, interspersed with how-was-your-day-chat)

“Penis!!!”

(more poorly subdued tittering)

“All right, y’all knock it off…y’all are encouraging him. Quit laughing. Just ignore it, okay? Teach him to count instead, or something, k?”

“Yes, ma’am,” came the respectful chorus, quieting back down.

“Wuuun, shoo, fwee, foh, fahv, say-ben, nahn, yay-yen!!!”

“Very good!!!”

“COTn,” said the child with Down syndrome.

“That’s right, baby, there’s a field of cotton! See the pretty cotton?”

Thus was the daily commuting conversation, every day for the past two months. Until today.

Today, as the town disappeared behind us on our trek home south, the little one suddenly acquired a new letter in his communicative repertoire. That letter happened to be a ‘T.’

Through the fields we went, as usual. His counting has improved a bit now.

“One, twooo, treee, fo’, fahv, see-ix, sebun, ahhight, nahhhn, tay-en. Yay!!!”

“That’s right, baby, you’re counting’! Good counting.”

(general applause and loving adoration from his older brothers)

“COTn,” said the Downs child. “Yes, cotton!” we confirmed, pointing to the robust plants, nearly ready for harvest.

Shortly down the road, the little one piped up, “Peanuts!” Look, peanuts!”

There, past the COTn, were fields of peanuTs, also robust and nearly ready for harvest.

Sho’ ’nuff, baby!

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