A Random Sampling of the Wanton Destruction Unleashed by Boys

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Kids make messes. They destroy things. I know this. I’ve been around the parenting block a few times now.

But sometimes, when I look around my house, I still don’t understand the sheer destructive power.

How, for instance, is it possible to crack a countertop using only a TOOTHBRUSH?

cracked-counter

How can the need to move fast and hard be so overwhelming that you RIP THE FRONT OFF A DRAWER?

broken-drawer

Why is there this inborn need to bang forks on the table, leaving hundreds of dents in the extremely high-quality oak table we invested in to accommodate large gatherings?

Why is it that after being told sixty-five times, “Put your shoes in the cubbies!” and getting in trouble seventy-three more because you can’t find the shoes you *didn’t put in the cubbies, you STILL TAKE THEM OFF AND DROP THEM WHEREVER YOU ARE?

And what in the name of all that is holy is the deal with ripping holes in knees??????????

(Why, yes, in fact I do consider the multiple punctuation justified.)

Bleach spots on the wall!

bleached-wall

Sharpie on the kitchen table!

Marker on my computer chair!

Marker on the basement carpet!

Paint on the basement carpet!

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DVDs snapped in half! (Have you ever *tried to break a DVD? It’s next to impossible!

Chips in the piano keys!

chipped-keys

Drumsticks. That’s how.

Pee everywhere EXCEPT in the toilet bowl!

Clothing that has a food stain on it five minutes—literally—after it gets put on the body!

The same food smudge across the right cheek that has been there for FOUR YEARS!

Yeah. What dirt.

Yeah. What dirt.

I do not understand this. I know I’m a girl and all, and that I grew up in a house full of girls, but we were not particularly girly girls. I mean, we played on tractors and jumped off hay bales, and we *still didn’t get as dirty and break as many things as my boys do on a regular basis.

Most of the time I am pretty philosophical about it all, but every once in a while it occurs to me that it would be nice to have a house that looked, you know…nice. And it’s an almost daily occurrence for me to send my kids out into the world with a mental groan, thinking of all those parents who manage to get their kids to school with their backpacks neat, their clothes intact, and no black jelly smudges across their right cheek.

It must be my fault, because I’m the mom. And I routinely (read that: virtually always) forget the a) canned good for charity, b) dress-down day, c) stuffed animal for school reward day, d) pajama day.

But I am not, nor do I have any interest in being, a helicopter parent. I’m pretty sure when I was a kid, I was expected to be on top of my own special-dress days. And of course, we didn’t have things like stuffed animal parties and pajama days at all.

And so I continue to navigate an uneasy truce between taking care of my kids and expecting them to take responsibility for themselves.

Besides, I figure I can always pull the “I have kids in three different schools” card. And I do so without apology. Regularly.

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In Which I See My Daughter Changing

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bubbles

She couldn’t do this even six months ago. I’d given up hope of her ever learning.

Julianna has been changing lately. It started a year or so ago, when we realized she had lost that wispy, delicate feel. She’s still tiny and I can still pick her up and carry her, but it’s no longer easy. She feels solid now, rather than fragile, her physical frame finally catching up with her indomitable spirit.

But the change is more than physical. This school year, she can participate in table discussions about what she did at school today. For the first time, we can trust her to remember and be able to tell us what special they had and a little bit about what they did in it. We’re no longer hearing about fire drills every night, whether they had one or not. She’s beginning to develop a more complex interaction with the world, and it shows in what she’s able to process in her school work. She can get on the computer now and navigate independently…at least, enough to get to Sofia the First.

She’s still very far behind, of course. Even in reading, her classmates have finally overtaken her, because her ability to process and retell what she’s reading still lags far behind her ability to decode words—which, truthfully, has always been a little astonishing. And her teachers (bless them!) set a goal of her doing her homework independently, which means when she gets on her math app she is working on the kindergarten level. She’s a little over halfway through it. And she’s in the third grade.

All the cognitive changes were gratifying…or perhaps I should say satisfying…until I realized her deviousness has taken a flying leap to match. Remember how, a year ago, when we were talking about going to confession, we couldn’t come up with anything she needed to confess? Because she didn’t really sin?

We don’t have that problem anymore.

She’s selectively deaf. She is not above telling a blatant falsehood in order to get what she wants, and she is very good at recognizing how to play a busy mom. To wit: last week we were sitting at piano lessons. Tuesdays are not “movie days” in our house, but she does her homework on the iPad. I was very specific: “ST Math and MyOn only. Do you understand?” Yes, she understood. She sat on the other couch working, while I worked on my computer and listened to the boys’ lessons. My mother’s instinct started blinking when she got quiet, got up and headed for the stairwell…and closed the door. It took a minute or two for my conscious brain to catch up. I realized she had gone out into the stairwell to watch Netflix. She figured I was too preoccupied to notice.

Devious, I tell you. We have had to have conversations about dishonesty and disobedience lately.

dental-health

Some things, of course, never change. I can just imagine how this went. I have never told dentist stories on the blog, but virtually everyone who knows me in real life has heard about the drama associated with those visits.

Her hold on her fan club is less secure, too. We still have those moments—like the day we went for parent-teacher conference, and Julianna was crying, “Oh, hi, girl!” to a little kindergartener—maybe first grader—who was waiting in the hallway. “Wha-wha-wha—whass your name? My name—is—Julianna!” (It comes out Dzuuy—ANNA, which causes almost everyone to repeat, “Anna?”). This girl got a strange little smile on her face. “I know who you are,” she said.

Yup, that’s my girl.

But kids are starting to be more cognizant of her differences and, if not judgmental, at least less tolerant of them. I noticed it first among the kids at church and even the extended family—a look on the face, a stiffness in accepting hugs, and so on. And just as I began shaking my head at the fact that the Catholic kids were being less Christlike than the public school kids, I got a contact from school asking us to come and talk to the class about Down syndrome, because a handful of kids are starting to say…well, I don’t know exactly what, because it was left intentionally vague. And that’s okay. Better not to know.

So, as I’ve said before, things, they are a-changing. All change brings with it good and bad. We process, we adjust, we reset, and we go on.

Such is the life of Julianna, a little under two months shy of hitting her double digits.

I. Hate. Waiting.

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Cover artI had this blinding revelation a couple of days ago: I loathe waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting in doctors’ offices, waiting for people who are habitually late, waiting for a check, waiting for my star to ignite.

I keep paper and a pen in my coat pocket so if I get stuck in line at Aldi, I can brainstorm songs or problem solve plot and character motivation. (Although it mostly just lives there, because lately I’m doing all my grocery shopping with a preschooler, and when a preschooler is crawling under the cart and running up and down the aisles pretending to be Superman, you just can’t retreat into your head. Recently I went to a consignment store and tried on some clothes, and the clerk asked me if I wanted the big room so I could bring Michael in with me, or if I wanted him to wait outside. She thought he might run off if he stayed outside. I said, “I’m more worried about your store.” But I digress.) I take my computer almost everywhere, because I live in dread of having to wait fifteen minutes with nothing at all to do. Because, you know, no smart phone. Besides, writing is a much better use of time.

But this year in particular, waiting is really sticking in my craw. Which is ironic, given that I wrote a whole book about how great an experience the waiting associated with Advent can be. And also ironic, given that I consider self-discipline and delayed self-gratification some of my strongest personality traits.

I don’t like feeling helpless. I don’t like wondering why, when I work so hard, certain goals seem so very elusive. I don’t like frustration—and there is a lot of frustration in waiting. Especially open-ended waiting. The kind experienced by writers in the querying process, for instance. And oh, the second-guessing. The reading into the silence. The internal conflict when your friends’ numbers come up and they get called out of this purgatory, and you’re still stuck here.

I try to pray my way through it, to see it as an answer to a different prayer—“Lord, help me to be humble.” Because waiting definitely humbles a soul. It’s a reminder that an awful lot of things are completely outside my control. That truism about “work as if it all depends on you, but pray as if it all depends on God” got its popularity fair and square.

I try to be philosophical, in other words—but sometimes it’s so hard. I keep thinking, as hard as I work, certain things should have happened by now—unless I’m doing something wrong. And then I wrap myself in knots, trying to figure out what that “something” is.

There is no solution to this conundrum. Sometimes you really have no choice but to wait…and wait…and wait. Sometimes I am able to be reasonably peaceful about it. More often, my brain clings fast to the frustration and gnaws on it in the background of everything I’m doing. But I can at least appreciate, if not always find comfort, in seeing the spiritual connection between my ordinary life and the spiritual season I’m walking through, as we embark upon this second week of Advent.

How To Have A Family Game Night WITHOUT Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, or Chutes And Ladders

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Better a day late than never. Sometimes even a blogger forgets her Thursday morning job…so here we are, on Friday morning. And as promised, I have some games to share with you today.

Photo by Crosswinds Community, via Flickr

Photo by Crosswinds Community, via Flickr

For years, we heard people extol the virtues of Family Game Night. And in theory, we agreed. There’s too much staring at screens, too much exposure to loud, obnoxious commercials. Plus, games exercise the brain in any number of ways, and you can sneak in important lessons about planning and strategizing.

But the idea of playing one more game of Chutes and Ladders made me want to whimper, and Monopoly? I mean, we all know how long it takes to play that. That’s not family game “night,” it’s family game “month.”

Plus, how do you play games together when you have both preschoolers and preteens?

Fortunately, one of our extended family members loves games, and she introduced us to quite a few that we would never have tried otherwise. We’ve also done some trial and error, so here you go: the Basi Family’s recommendations for Family Game Night:

Games That Work With Little Ones

1. Yahtzee. Kids love to roll dice, no matter what age they are. And parents can help guide the kids through their choices. Plus, you can play “teams” with the littlest ones, whose job is to roll your dice for you.

2. Tell Tale. This game consists of two-sided round cards with nothing but images on them. There are many ways to play, but basically you build a story one person at a time, based on the images. This can be hysterically funny. We have always just used it as a storytelling game, never a competitive one.

3. Spot It: another “round card” game, which is harder than it seems. Everyone receives a card with a number of different small pictures on it. Another one card is turned face up in the middle. There is always one, and only one, overlap between the pictures on your card and those on the card in the middle. Whoever “spots it” first wins that card and thus the round.

4. Disney’s Eye Spy. The goal is to get everyone from the bottom to the top of the board before the clock reaches midnight. You get to search the intricate worlds of Aladdin, Pooh, Little Mermaid, and Pirates of the Caribbean for items—the more you find, the faster you move. But if you spin a “clock,” the clock moves ahead.

Cooperative Games

Sometimes the most daunting thing about game night is teaching everyone to lose (or win) gracefully. One of the greatest things we’ve discovered recently is cooperative games. Like Eye Spy, the idea is everyone wins or no one does, and thus you work together. This lets you teach strategy, because you’re all discussing what to do and why. Here are a couple we enjoy:

5. Flash Point. The “house” (a game board) is on fire, and there are people in different rooms who need to be rescued. But everybody only gets so many actions per turn, so everyone plans who’s going to do what in order to rescue enough people before the house collapses.

6. Forbidden Island. The island, home to four treasures, is sinking, and different tiles are constantly being flooded, shored up, or lost altogether. You never know when the waters are going to rise, so everyone has to work together to figure out how to retrieve the treasures and get everyone off the island.

The “as long as I can be competitive I don’t mind losing” games

I don’t like playing chess, because I’m so bad at it, it isn’t enjoyable. But there are games where the mental challenge, or winning a single round, can be so satisfying that it doesn’t sting if you don’t actually win the game.

7. Blueprints. You build a structure out of 6 dice, everyone pulling from the same pool in the middle of the game area. Different dice are scored differently—some based on the face, others by how many of one color you use, and so on. You earn one kind of bonus for building the structure exactly as your blueprint directs, but sometimes you can get a higher point total by playing to the scoring parameters of the different die colors. We played it straight a few times to learn the scoring rules, but now it’s a stimulating mental challenge to figure out how to win, not just the round, but the prize cards that eventually determine the overall winner. Blueprints says it’s for 8 and up, but Nicholas, who is 7 1/2, is holding his own on this one.

8 (bonus 1) Monsters and Maidens. We had to play a couple times to get comfortable with the rules, but this turns out to be a fun, low-strategy, dice-based game in which “knights” try to “rescue” a given number of “maidens” from the “monsters.” I know, it’s not politically correct. So sue me. It’s fun.

9 (bonus 2): Ten Days In the USA. Build an itinerary for yourself according to specific rules about linking states of different colors. Actually, it’s perhaps disingenuous to put this in the category of games you don’t mind losing, because I happen to be very good at this game. I haven’t lost yet. 🙂

A lot of games—like #s 4, 6 and 7 on this list—have a basic set of rules, and a “more complex” set. This gives them more flexibility to be played with older vs. younger players. They’re a lot more fun with the more complex rules, but you start out with the basic rules while everybody learns the rules of the world.

These are just a few of the games we’ve explored as a family. There are many, many more. This Christmas, do some exploring and get yourselves some games to make Family Game Night a fun reality for your family. You won’t be sorry.

What games do you enjoy playing as a family?

Of Christmas Decs, My Witty Husband, and Impossible Christmas Lists

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My husband likes white lights. I grew up turning up my nose at white lights and in love with the gingerbread house look, but for the first sixteen Christmases, he prevailed. This year, though, the kids asked for colors, and he gave in.

house-lights

As close as you’re going to get to a gingerbread house with a roof pitch this steep and a 3-story drop in the back.

Christian rethought our entire schematic for Christmas decorations this year. After all, things are very different in our house this Christmas. Not just colored lights. For the first time in almost ten years, we are using our gas fireplace. For most of those years, the gas valve has been shut off and the vents stuffed with as many plastic shopping and trash bags as we could possibly stuff in, a (failed) attempt to block the draft. Why did we have to go through this? Because some genius builder thought it would be a good idea to put the on-off switch 2 1/2 feet off the floor —at eye level for little ones with an obsession with flipping switches. (Do builders not have kids? Sometimes, looking around this house, I just have to wonder.)

Michael Mayhem turns 5 this week, so we decided to pull the fireplace out of mothballs. But of course, this means there are hot spots in the living room now, so Christian re-envisioned our entire Christmas setup, and came up with a way to use a few of the baubles we’ve accumulated over the years.

baubles

Simple as it is, when he was finished, it stopped me in my tracks. I stared at it and went, “Wow, honey…that looks…really, really good.”

“I can do these things,” he said modestly.

“It would…not have looked that good if I’d done it,” I said.

Christian rolled his eyes. “I know,” he said. “That’s why our house looks the way it does.”

I threw up my hands. “But you know what?” I said. “I may not be artistic with a house, but darn it, I CAN COOK!”

We’re feeling anxious to finish up the Christmas shopping, so we had the kids write letters to Santa tonight. Christian’s reaction:

santa-letters

Then, of course, there was Julianna’s letter:

julianna-letter

In case you didn’t catch that, she wants a trampoline, a snowman (a real one; I asked), to learn to do a star gazer spin (it took a while to pry this explanation out of her), and snow. As in, white stuff falling from the sky.

Envision Santa beating her head on the computer desk right now. Santa’s feeling grateful that all evidence to the contrary, Miss Julianna actually isn’t all that picky, and that she will love, love, loves boots with fringes. Because that whole snow thing? Santa’s magic ain’t that good, folks.

Later this week I’m going to share some really good games for Family Game Night that we’ve discovered in the past year. Stay tuned!

What if Thanksgiving Wasn’t Just One Day?

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I took some heat last spring after I published my rant on the topic of Mothers Day. But in the months since, I’ve come to realize what was bothering me was the question of gratitude, and what precisely that means.

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Image by KateWares, via Flickr

As mothers (and fathers!), we do a lot for our kids. We give and give and give until we’re worn out. And the thing is, we don’t really need to be told “thank you.” Right? Wouldn’t we all rather our kids show us their appreciation every day, rather than getting cards and crafts and/or a fancy dinner one day a year?

If your answer to that question is “no,” this post probably isn’t for you.

But if your heart lit up, going “Yes, yes yes!”, then it’s worth thinking about Thanksgiving as if we were the kids in that equation, rather than the parents.

In other words: Does God (or the great nation of America, if you’re not the believing type) want/need our “I’m grateful for” lists on this on one day, only to have us revert to business as usual the following day? Or would the world–and not coincidentally, we–be better off if we showed our gratitude in our actions on Thanksgiving Day and every other day, too?

(In case you’re wondering, that’s what you call a rhetorical question.)

My point is this:

If I am grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my table, the best way to show it is to do something to ease the suffering of those who don’t have the same benefits.

If I am grateful for my spouse and children, the way to show it is not to focus on what annoys me about him/her/them, but on what makes them such a gift in the first place.

And if I am grateful for the gift of free speech, I should not abuse it by hurling insults, invectives, half-truths, false news stories and outright lies at anyone, no matter how high the stakes.

In other words, the best way to honor Thanksgiving is by living out mercy.

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Image by peregrine blue, via Flickr

 

Cover artIf you use Joy to the World: Advent Activities For Your Family during Advent, I’d like to suggest that the Advent Calendar is a really good way to put this idea into practice. Why? It offers a structure, and structure can make the difference between lasting change and a quick reversion to “business as usual.” Here are a few ideas to stuff your Advent calendar with mercy in motion:

  • Pull a page (or a few!) from the Random Act of Kindness calendar
  • Make dinner and take it to a homeless shelter. (Make it communal by asking for help from friends on Facebook.)
  • Ring the Salvation Army Bell.
  • Go Christmas caroling and collect canned goods for the local food bank.
  • Choose a charity and let the kids donate from their piggy banks, or do chores to earn money to contribute.
  • Make gift bags with cereal packets, water bottles, gloves & scarves for homeless people.
  • Have the kids help pick out Christmas gifts for families in need, via giving trees or Toys for Tots.

What other kid-friendly ways have you found to teach the practice of mercy?

And with this post, and the last week of the Church year, we farewell Mercy on a Monday. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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My Life With Down Syndrome

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My life as a parent of a child with Down syndrome involves…

1. Hilarious, irrational leaps. Take this, the opinion paper she wrote for school this week.

monkey-bars

“I like the monkey bars because I fall down and I got hurt and my heel get big” ….um…I’m not sure I know what that last line actually says. But hey. There’s a period at the end and spaces between the words. That’s a very big deal. ***Note***: a helpful commenter says, “My heel got bloody.” Which, in case anyone is wondering…it didn’t. Hence, “irrational leaps of logic.”

2. A compartmentalization of things that other kids do in an integrated way. For instance: writing. In elementary school, writing is practiced in tandem with things like opinion papers and spelling. But in talking to Julianna’s teacher at her parent-teacher conference, I realized that when they really need to test her knowledge, the adults act as her scribe, because—as you saw above—writing for this nine-year-old girl is a challenge all its own.

3. A certain difficulty in pinning down “age-appropriate.” When Alex was her age, he was treated much differently. Actually, her 7-year-old brother has more responsibility and expectations placed upon him than she does at age nine. I’m constantly trying to discern what’s appropriate to ask of her and what is the appropriate way to treat her. She doesn’t understand as much—but I often suspect that she understands more than she wants us to think she does. The thing about having a high EQ and a low IQ is that you know how to manipulate without even realizing you are doing it.

For instance: is it age appropriate to carry around a 9 year old, just because you still can?

For instance: is it age appropriate to carry around a 9 year old, just because you still can?

4. A bigger difficulty in pinning down “socially appropriate.” Julianna has a gift for love, and many, many people respond to her with joy. She can brighten people’s days. We like to give her as much freedom as we can, because she is such a great ambassador for Down syndrome. She’s high functioning and cute and enthusiastic about, well, everything.

But it’s not universal. She lights up whenever she sees babies or girls her size, and she wants to be friends. But not all mamas are okay with random girls coming over and loving on their babies. And not all little girls want to be attached to by a child with a disability. Not long ago I witnessed a girl close to her own age—someone who knows her well—react to having to stand beside Julianna and hold her hand with the classic “Ugh, I don’t LIKE her” look that all of us seem to know instinctively. I wanted to cry.

5. Having to keep a close eye on her. As hard as it is for her to get around, and as many $4500 inserts and 7-and-counting orthotist appointments as it takes to get her mobile, she can be freakishly easy to misplace! This past weekend, for instance, we went to a display of gingerbread houses, and when it was time to go, I had a lot of trouble separating her from the “friend” she had attached herself to. I did that before rounding up the boys, both because I knew it would take some time, and I didn’t need Michael Mayhem running around while I was doing so. So once I had Julianna, we went to get the boys. But Nicholas was stubbornly insisting he had to finish coloring this one craft. And by the time I got him convinced that it was time to go—even though it took only about 2 minutes—Julianna was gone. I did a quick sweep of the room and then went out in the hotel lobby and asked the staff if they’d seen her. Because she’s kind of distinctive, you know. Nobody had seen her.

Pretty soon we had four staff members searching the hotel bathrooms and the larger premises, while I went around the displays again in earnest. And then, having eliminated the indoors, we headed outside, where we found a staff member coming back with Julianna—who, knowing it was time to go—had simply gone by herself out to the van!

6. Hearing a lot about fire drills. Drills of any kind, actually. She’s rather obsessed with them, in fact. We’re not sure if it’s fear of the noise, or just one of those things.

7. A very streamlined view of life. She loves music, books, babies, and people. And Sofia the First. And she’s starting to get computer literate enough that I keep coming to the computer and finding the search “Swofia hte frist,” with the distinctive purple-gowned little girl.screen-shot-sofia

That’s a sliver of what my life is like with Down syndrome. Are there other DS parents who’d like to share what your “slivers” look like?