Funny/Not Funny



Michael fell asleep on the way to piano lessons yesterday, and when I roused him to go inside, he said, “I just want to snuggle with you the whole time while you’re working.”

The trouble was, he was so cuddly—for a child who employs love with such ferocity it approaches the level of violence, he can be unbelievably cuddly—that I just didn’t have much interest in working. We were both getting sleepier and sleepier, but I kept kissing his cheek and then his head would pop up and he’d kiss mine. (Little boy kisses=heaven.) Finally he said, “Every time you kiss me, I just feel like I have to kiss you too.”

“Well,” I said, “every time you kiss me, I feel like I have to kiss you!” I raised my eyebrows at him. “We could do this all day!”

He giggled. “But Mom, we need some sleep!”

Not funny:

We went hiking with some friends on Sunday, and even before we started Christian was telling me that the scientists he works with had been warning that it’s a particularly bad tick year. We wore jeans and we sprayed our shoes and socks and lower legs. And arms. And necks. Except for Alex. Alex missed the memo somehow. And then he went deep into the wild blackberry bushes along the path, in search of the first few ripe berries.

He spent the entire one-hour drive back home finding ticks and throwing them out the van window. The other kids found some, too, so we left the van in the driveway for 24 hours and closed all the windows so it would get good and hot in there and hopefully kill those suckers.

Because if you’re anything like me, right about now you need a beautiful picture of water droplets on an iris to remind you that nature includes heart-stopping beauty and not just nightmares.

But that didn’t help him. By bedtime that night he’d found eleven. By the next morning he told us he was up to sixteen. And when, at dinner on Wednesday, another one crawled down his neck—despite my having checked his head two days prior—he went into complete trauma mode. We realized that not only did he not wear insect repellent while he was foraging, he also didn’t bring his clothes upstairs and throw them in the washing machine with everyone else’s, so they’d been wandering around his room for two or three days. And we found out the ticks he’d found overnight had actually been attached, and he didn’t have any idea if he’d gotten the whole thing or just the bodies when he pulled them out himself. (He tries so hard not to be a bother to anyone.

He and Christian pulled out every piece of clothing, and his sheets, and his blankets, and found another dozen ticks, dead and alive. He’s slept on the couch for two nights and he’s desperately afraid of his room.

I have realized in recent months that Nicholas has definitely inherited Christian’s and my tendencies toward anxiety issues, but I thought in Alex they were more muted and under control. In the last twenty-four hours, I have learned otherwise. 😦

How my 12 year old watches a concert


St. Cecilia and all my pastoral music friends…pray for us.

concert 1

concert 3

(And if anyone caught the misspelling of Cecilia before I fixed it…it’s not because I’m a know-nothing! It’s because my sister spells her name the way I originally wrote it!)

Glimpsing The Future

Alex with Michael newborn

Older images, same sentiment

Two sixth graders in black T-shirts, in a garage on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon. Their friends and their mothers (except for me, because every time I sit up I feel like throwing up) are out in the driveway, cutting and Gorilla gluing and holding pieces of cardboard together until the glue sets, to make a boat for the Food Bank race in two weeks.


But these two boys, in their slim black jeans and their black t-shirts advertising basketball and Marvel heroes, the utterly ordinary stuff that preoccupies preteens, have been called into the shady, cool garage by a single noise from the 6-month-old baby sister of Alex’s friend. She’s in a bouncer amusing herself while the crowd works.

Alex goes down on his knees and starts going, “Hi! Hi!” with a big smile. The baby stares at him–let’s face it, probably his glasses. Alex glances up as his friend comes in and tries to wave him off. “I got this,” he says.

“No you don’t!” says Big Brother. “I’ve been dealing with this for, like, ten months!” And because unlike Alex, he has no fear of looking like a fool, he makes truly crazy faces and noises, and thus wins the Make The Baby Smile Challenge.

Two preteen boys, on their hands and knees on a concrete floor, utterly powerless against the charms of a baby.

Alex with Michael changing table

Despite my general not-feeling-good, I enjoy a private chuckle and a big warm fuzzy, and I think, I am glimpsing the distant future.

And it is beautiful.

The Hazards of Living In A Musical Family, and other Updates on my Babies



Alex Blog 1After the LEGO movie a couple of years ago, Alex started singing “Everything is awesome” all.the.time. Woe was me. Then, knowing I loathed the song even more than I loathed the movie, he started teasing me by singing “Percy Jackson ro-ocks!” on the same tune. Then he got tired of Julianna’s obsession with Frozen, and he converted “Let it go” to “Let it blow, let it blow, and frozen goes kaboom!” Funny guy.

Last night, I decided two can play this game. I was washing dishes, he was watching Star Wars, and I heard Luke say, “I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, like my father.”

I went into the living room and leaned down. “Hey, Alex,” I said, and started singing to the tune of “Do you want to build a snowman”: “Do you want to be a Jedi? Come on, let’s learn the Force!”


Glamourazzi blog 3I had Julianna’s IEP meeting yesterday. Apparently a lot of people dread IEP meetings (individualized educational program, for the inquiring mind). Well, I dread them too, but not for the same reason. Conventional wisdom is “never go by yourself. It’s overwhelming, all those people in the room.” I have no doubt that many people have found their opinions overwhelmed, but I’ve never had a bad experience at an IEP meeting. I’ve been very happy with Julianna’s team and I’ve always thought we’re on the same page. I just dread them because it’s yet another appointment for which I have to figure out logistics.

On the other hand, it’s a good check-in on her academic performance, because Heaven knows we never get any sense from her about what she’s learning in school. The news is that she’s still reading at grade level, even with comprehension factored in, although her ability to read words is much higher. But her math assessments show zero improvement. Interesting, because we’re still doing the regular homework all the other second graders are. The difference is that in order for Julianna to do that homework, I have to sit at the table with her and take her step by step through it.


Nicholas blog 2You know those family stories? The ones everybody knows, even if they were too young to remember them? One of those stories in our house is about Nicholas. He was three, and I decided it would be a special mommy-little boy memory if we went to Kohl’s to pick out Jerry Garcia ties for Christmas for his daddy. “These are a surprise,” I said. “These are Christmas gifts. We don’t tell Daddy about them.”

When Christian walked in that night, Nicholas went running toward him. “Daddy, Daddy, guess what? We got you TIES!”

I turned around from the stove and said, “Nicholas, you are FIRED!”

Last night, I took Nicholas—now 6 1/2, shopping for a new (that is, “gently used”) coat. In the bins at Once Upon A Time I saw a bunch of boots and sparkly shoes that I thought might make good Christmas gifts for Julianna. “Now, Nicholas,” I said, “this is a *secret. Because it’s probably for Christmas gifts. So you do NOT go home and tell Julianna.”

“The way I told Daddy about the ties?” he said, giggling.


“But I can tell her we have a Christmas present, right?”

“No, you may not. You have been entrusted with a secret. That is a responsibility. That means you don’t tell anybody.”

We came home and found Alex in the kitchen while the others were upstairs taking baths. “Alex! Guess what!” Nicholas yelled. “I have a SECRET!”

(Face palm.)


Michael Blog 3Michael came down from his bath while I was doing dishes and asked me to button his snowman PJs. I told him the price was nibbling on his belly, and he giggled a little and said okay. He was so darned cute. I mean, He generally is cute, but it was particularly concentrated cuteness last night. I sat down on the floor and buttoned his shirt, and he started to run away. “Wait a minute!” I said. “Get back here!”

He careened to a stop. “But I want to watch Star Wars!”

I gave him the over-dramatic sigh. “Oh, all right. But first give me a kiss.”

So he did. I lllllllloooooove little boy kisses, so I always make a big deal of it and act like his kisses knock me over. It makes him giggle, but last night he was in too big a hurry. He kissed and ran, and didn’t even notice my big dramatic flop on the floor. I called after him. “You’ve SLAIN me, Michael!”

Blue PJs paused. You could practically see his heart torn. Then he came padding back in, giggling, to kiss me on the other cheek. It was so sweet, I took mercy on him after that and let him go watch Darth Vader.

Obligatory paragraph about my Book Baby

Book Baby is misbehaving. I got a pretty rough critique a couple of weeks ago, and I lost all will to live for a while. But I think Book Baby and I came to a tentative understanding the other day and I can move forward. However, I now have a month full of weekly columns and two religious education presentations at the top of my docket, so my blissful weeks of no deadlines have passed, and now I re-enter the real world of slicing bits of time out of everything else to write a novel. I had hoped to be querying by the first of the year. One of my critique partners counseled me to let it take the time it needs.

Halloween this weekend. This year we get to trick or treat with cousins! Photos next week. Alex outdid himself again this year.

My Tween: The Adventure Begins


PitcherHe wants to grow his hair out.

His hair is exactly like mine—ridiculously thick, unruly, and curly—and for years I’ve been mussing his head and telling him if he grew it out we could have the same hair style.

He’s never liked having his hair cut. He’d come inside on hot summer days, with sweat pouring down his face, matting the curls into tight, fat ringlets that stuck to his forehead, and we’d say, “Oh, Alex, you need a haircut.”

“Nooooooo!” he would cry. But we always made him do it anyway. Those hairline curls drive Christian crazy. They just won’t lie evenly, and it makes Alex look like the haircut is crooked. Christian used to go after them with a scissors, which made Alex even more unhappy, because then it just looked weird. Finally Christian decided there was nothing to be done about it except cut all the hair really, really, really short.

Many times, as I trimmed, I would think wistfully of the little boys in his class whose hair fell in nice, fine ringlets–or at least, had hair straight enough to hang beside the face to a length of, you know. An inch and a half. But I knew what would happen if we let Alex follow suit.

Last week, Christian said, “I need a haircut.”

Everyone knows what that means. Haircut for Dad equals haircut for everyone. We do it assembly-line style on the deck, because life is too chaotic to keep track of who had a haircut when. Alex groaned. “I don’t want my hair cut!” he protested.

And I thought, He’s reaching that age. If this is how he wants to express his individuality, I’m okay with that. There are far worse things he could ask for.

So I said, “You want to grow your hair out?”

When he realized I meant it as an option, his eyes lit up. “Yes!”

“Okay,” I said.

And Alex did not get a haircut.

Alex beachThere’s a certain wistfulness in reaching this point, but mostly what I feel is wonder. Wonder, and tremendous pride. He’s moody and self-conscious, tweening two years before I expected it, and yet it’s thrilling to see him stretching his wing muscles, testing them out, learning who he is and who he’s called to be. He’s always been the child of my heart, the one who is most like me in temperament, and every day I see more of myself coming out. Now that he’s sleeping in the basement, he’s up ridiculously early—dressed and upstairs by 5:15, this morning!—and he’s a compulsive know-it-all. (I’m trying to work on that one with him, but you know. Pot and kettle, and all that.) He asks deep questions about the news and about right and wrong, and I wish he needed more help with his homework, because I actually enjoy having to think through his homework. It’s not paralyzingly boring, like first grade homework, nor is it overwhelming to problem solve how to help make the leaps in cognition, the way it is when I have to help Julianna.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with author/speaker Lisa Popcak last year, because it encapsulates how I feel about my oldest child right now:

“This is where the adventure begins!”

Family Business, Part 1


Every so often, a girl’s just got to share the collected gems that don’t warrant a post all their own. So while Christian and I are off enjoying our weekend away, I’m going to take advantage of the down time. Today in the spotlight: Christian and Alex.


A couple of weeks ago we found this school paper in one of the boxes in the basement:

Christian 80 percent not necessary

“Child! 80% of this work was NOT necessary.”

We got a good laugh out of that teacher’s comment.

Possibly my favorite solo shot of Christian of all time.

Possibly my favorite solo shot of Christian of all time.

Christian came upstairs from finishing the basement cleanout project yesterday and said, “It’s funny, the personalities just don’t change. Look at this comment.” He showed me a teacher’s note on a project: NOT ACCEPTABLE. “I went, (gasp) What’s wrong with that?”

Neither one of us could figure out what was wrong with what he’d done, but Christian was just shaking his head because even as an adult, he reacted with gut-wrenching horror to seeing that comment on his work. “Some things just don’t change,” he said.

Which made me view my struggles with one particular child with an internal whimper.


Christian went to the eye doctor today and was handed an ultimatum: Bifocals. They gave him a year to get used to the idea.

This is so weird. We still have people rolling their eyes because we’re so “young,” and yet the signs of age are ever-present. I always thought the twenties were weird because you were grown up but no one treated you that way…but I think the forties are weirder, when you’re clearly middle-aged and you get mocked for trying to admit it.



Who knew? My kid’s been a fair pitcher this year.

Alex is getting ready to move to the basement. He’s painted his own chest of drawers as LEGO blocks. It’s not a professional paint job by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s his and he owns it. It’s taken him a long time to get comfortable with the idea of being on a different floor than the rest of the family at night, but the level of bickering between Child #1 and Child #3 has gotten to the point where I think even he is looking forward to a separation. (He is sitting next to me as I write, beside the pool, and saying, “Yes, I am!” He also took great exception to the comment about the paint job.)

He has spent this summer trying to rise to his grandpa’s challenge to use every LEGO block in his big tub. Grandpa intended him to make one humongous creation, but instead he’s making a fleet of ships. He doesn’t talk much about it, but from the way he goes downstairs and starts to work, it’s clear to me that there’s some overarching plan. It’s purposeful, the way he sets to work.

That’s a wrap for today. I’ll share other stories on Monday.

Of Walking Bean Fields And Mowing Lawns, and Teaching Kids A Work Ethic


Photo by infomatique, via Flickr

There’s a repertoire of “farm kid” stories that country kids have to have: loading, unloading and stacking straw and hay bales is on the list (check), and some great animal stories that are not universally appropriate to share (check). For a lot of people, detassling corn is one of Those Stories. I never did that, although I heard about it a lot.

We did, however, walk bean fields. You don’t walk just any bean field. We walked bean fields because my parents were growing soybeans for seed, and the seed companies wanted the product much cleaner—i.e.., weed-free—than the average. The row cultivator helps, and so do the herbicides, but sometimes there’s nothing to do but pound the dirt.

My parents hired us—actually, “hired” is probably not entirely accurate, as we were not given a choice in the matter; on the other hand, they did pay us—to go out on hot summer evenings and spread out, each of us covering three to five rows, depending on the density of the weeds, and pull weeds. Our main enemies were cottonweed, cuckleburr, and shattercane.

Oh, that shattercane. Shattercane is like dandelions, only with a slower life cycle and a whole lot bigger. And it looks a lot like corn. Let one plant go and next year you have hundreds. Sometimes we had to abandon our own rows and go help someone else who had a patch. Some days the ground was wet, other days it was really dry. Sometimes things uprooted easily, sometimes they didn’t.

I complained a lot. In my head, I complained almost nonstop.

I remembered this on Friday evening because Alex had to mow a neighbor’s yard. You would think, based on his reaction, that he’d been sentenced to life in prison. We didn’t give him a choice; a job is a job is a job, and we had a break in the rain. And to his credit, once he got that initial “tween” reaction out of the way, he didn’t complain out loud. But I could see the complaints in his head. They were voluminous.

It got me to thinking that when we’re kids we always think we’re being better behaved than we really are. I figured my parents didn’t know how bad my attitude was while walking beans, because I was hiding it out of respect. But on the other side of the parenting coin I am certain that they knew very well how bad my attitude was.

In any case, I’m grateful to my parents for the early lessons in work ethic, because they’ve served me well, however much I loathed them at the time. (Gardening, canning, processing chickens, loading hay, weeding garden, mowing lawn…) Now the trick is, to find the opportunities for my own city-dwelling kids…

The Courage Not To Hide His Smile


Swallowed smileHe hides his smiles.

Or at least, he tries.

He can’t say for sure why he does it. But at some deep level in my soul I think I understand, because he is so much like me. He’s self-conscious, and he’s trying to be humble. Always, one or both of those things comes into play.

I remember being a kid who craved encouragement. I longed to be reassured that I was good enough, that I was worth spending time and energy on. And so I try to let him know that even though he’s “the good kid” in the house, the one we know we can count on and don’t really have to worry about, that still I notice him, still I treasure moments and expressions and the gifts that make him unique.

Sometimes I tease him. He always swallows his smiles then.

Praise makes it happen, too. Last night his piano teacher told him she’s never assigned a student this young to learn his black-key scales. He looked at the floor and squirmed, and hid his smile. He did it again when we got back to the car and I called him on it.

When I interviewed author Lisa Popcak a couple of weeks ago, she talked about how the later years of parenthood are a great adventure, because you and your child get to discover together who they are and who they are called to be. I see that manifesting most clearly in Alex, here on the cusp of ten. He’s an old soul, quietly driven to seek, to learn, to ponder, to grow. But the juxtaposition of that old soul upon a child whose current craze is Lego Star Wars and Star Wars origami just makes me smile. He’s all about figuring out how to fold index cards into new shapes (“Awe-SOME!” he shouted from the back seat on the way to Iowa. “I just made a TIE FIGHTER!”), and he still plays ULD (Ultimate Light Saber Duels) with the unselfconsciousness of early childhood.

He’s an introvert, naturally cautious about baring his soul. But once he’s in familiar, or shall I say trusted, company, he’s got the same capacity for giddy craziness that my sisters and I, at least at the best of times, shared around the supper table, shouting and laughing until I cried. I always point to playing the lead in the play my junior year of high school for changing my life. That was when I learned to shout in public. Before that, peer interactions were painful. In many ways they remained painful afterward, too (wait…did I put that in the past tense?), but that was a watershed moment.

Every child is sensitive in some way, but because Alex’s sensitivities are so familiar to me, they evoke a tenderness in me that the other kids’ don’t. I would like to help him crack through that shell a little earlier than I did. I would like to help him achieve that final virtue he identified on his shield: self-confidence. To help him see the beautiful soul I see, and not be afraid to show it to others.

To help him have the courage not to hide his smiles.

Alex smile