Kisses In The Outfield (Photo Friday)

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Monday night, when the coach dismissed the boys from their last (praise God!) baseball game of the season, he followed it up with, “Let’s get together for a parents-vs-kids game on Wednesday!”

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Nicholas sent a good line drive out there, and he hasn’t even been playing baseball this year.

I clamped down on the biggest “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” ever heard in the history of humankind. (Yes, I too can do idiotic superlatives that bear no resemblance to reality, thank you very much.)

I started praying on the spot for the grace to take this calmly and not gripe about yet another night’s worth of commitments. I told myself the boys were incredibly excited about this game and it wasn’t fair for me to ruin their enjoyment. And maybe it would even turn out to be something I’d enjoy.

Which it did. We all played, even Julianna.

Baseball is much more fun to play than it is to watch. And how can you not enjoy having a 5-year-old shadow in left field with you, leaping into your arms and slathering you with kisses every time you look at him?

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Different game. Same adorability.

Besides. I got a hit. Oh yes, I did. 🙂

In Which I Win “THE VOICE”: Van edition (and other Friday Funnies)

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fridayfunniesMichael, holding a paper back mouse with whiskers on one side:

“I’m naming my mouse ABCMouse.com!”

Me: “I’m definitely raising 21st century children.”

Julianna, holding a baby doll:

“Mom, my baby name, is, Dzustin…Bieber!”

Me: speechless.

Nicholas, at prayer time following an ice storm:

“I pray for good roads and a lot of snow.”

Me: “You do realize those two prayers are completely at odds with each other.”

Alex: “No they aren’t! I don’t want ice, I just want a lot of…well…I don’t care if it’s on the SIDEWALKS, I just want it not on the STREET!”

Christian: “Alex wants twenty inches of snow to fall only on the yard.”

Our Advent season car soundtrack:

Michael: “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLEE BLEE BLEE!”

Nicholas and Julianna: “You’re a grand old flag! If you like to talk to tomatoes….Veggie ta-a-ales, veggie ta-a-ales, there’s never ever ever ever (ever ever…ever…ever) been a show like…”

Alex: “NO, NOT AGAIN!

Nicholas and Julianna: “Fine. O SAY CAN YOU SEE?”

Alex: “Aaagh!”

Me: “Alex, you should start singing the theme to the Flash. You’ve got to fight back!”

Alex: “But they LIKE the theme to the flash.”

Me: “You’re thinking about this all wrong. You’re not trying to find something they don’t like. You’re trying to find something YOU DO. Like…like this.”

Me:

In the car:

Dead silence.

Ha-ha! I won!

 

What An Ice “Storm” Reminded Me About Family

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Photo by Lina, via Flickr

Photo by Lina, via Flickr

This past Friday, it rained some trace amount that couldn’t be measured, and my entire city went berserk.

All weekend, the weather, the accidents, and how long it took to get home were the only topics of conversation. Hours. We spent hours talking about it.

It caught everybody off guard. See, it was supposed to warm up Friday afternoon and melt everything before school let out, but it didn’t. So as the day went on the chorus of “oh crap, the world is a sheet of ice!” grew steadily more pervasive until all else in my Facebook feed disappeared entirely. Teachers and administrators stayed at schools until seven, eight, nine at night, waiting for busses to arrive. One principal got on the last bus of the night, to make sure the kids got home safely. Some kids didn’t make it home until one in the morning. Around town, busses were crashing into mailboxes and Jeeps. Cars were crashing into each other. A pileup shut down the interstate, and in town a drive of twenty minutes took three hours. I heard that Carl Edwards brought out his tractor and started pulling people out of ditches, trying to clear the road so people could get home.

I was supposed to have carpool duty on Friday. But the other mother was already on that side of town, and she said, “It doesn’t make sense for us both to be out. Do you mind if I pick up your kids early?” I opened up Google maps and ran the routes for her to figure out the best path home.

I didn’t know Google maps had a “burgundy.” But there it was, interspersed with bright red, right along the route from school to home.

It took them well over an hour to make a drive that usually takes 8 minutes. And then we began waiting for Julianna’s bus.

And we waited…and waited…and waited.

An hour after dismissal time, I managed to get hold of to the school. Only one bus had arrived yet. “Oh!” I said. “I’ll come over and get Julianna, then.” I mean, it’s only about a mile and a quarter from our house.

Well…a mile and a quarter that includes a steep dip into a ravine and back up the far side. We live at the bottom of a much more gradual hill, and by the time the van and I had slipped and slid past about six houses, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

I went back home and called the school back.

Between then and 5:45, when Julianna got home, I spent a lot of time fretting and anxious. It’s bad enough to have your kids caught out in bad weather. It’s worse when you aren’t with them and you realize you have absolutely zero control over their safety.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to leave me alone. I can’t work when it’s noisy. I can’t think. And this year, with Michael home in the mornings and bored out of his ever-loving skull, I am really, really short on work time. I dream of the day they all go to school all day.

And yet every so often…like, when my daughter’s safety is outside my control…I find myself imagining a world in which they don’t exist at all. A world in which I am alone—a situation one of my short story characters found herself in. (As a matter of fact, it’s the situation faced by my newest novel character, too.)

Whenever I contemplate this world, I think of the freedom I would have, the luxury of spending as much time devoted to work as I wanted, the ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted—and I shudder. I shudder deeply and shut my brain off, because the emptiness of that world is more than I can bear to think about. What would be the point of all that freedom and potential for productivity, if I didn’t have this gang of destructicons? Even an introvert draws her strength from the presence of those she loves.

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A good realization to ponder on the cusp of Christmas break.

Kid Moments, To Brighten Your Day

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Pinkeye, Xbox remote, blue-blooded ghost, and Tinker Bell

Alex, 11, as we pull in the driveway after school: “You guys used 30 pronouns in the time between the stop sign by the pool and here.”

Me: “Were you counting?”

Alex: “Yes, and that was another one.”

**

Julianna, 9, in the van, listening to Puff the Magic Dragon on the beat-up Peter, Paul & Mommy CD: “…AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”

Me, because there are way too many words that, in the mouth of a child with speech problems, turn into the F-bomb: “Julianna. Frrrrrrrrrollllllllicked.”

Julianna: “Frrrrrrooooccc—frrrrroolllllllick.”

Me: “That’s it! Good!”

Julianna: “PUFF THE MADZIC DRAGON LIVE BY DA SEA AND FOCKUS IN DEE AUTUMN MIST…”

Me: (Face palm.)

**

Nicholas, 7, making his breakfast the day after throwing up.

Me: “Nicholas, have you had any funny moments lately?”

Nicholas: “No.”

Well, there you go.

**

Michael, 4 11/12, on Halloween, wearing a sloppily-cut sheet spattered with blue paint, made by Mom, who is not the whiz of Halloween costuming in the house. He is tripping over his hem, and the sheet keeps getting pulled sideways, so the eye holes are nowhere near his eyes.

Michael: “It’s HARD to be a ghost!”

And finally…this year, it’s official: We’ve had Christmas carols for 12 months straight. They never stopped singing them the entire year.

Parenthood. A nonstop adventure.

Ten Simple Ways To Model Mercy For Your Kids

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cedar-berriesAs the Year of Mercy winds down, I thought I’d bring things down to a practical level. As parents, we have primary responsibility for forming our kids’ view of and approach to the world. Providing a good example alone isn’t enough—we do have to teach—but it’s a darned good start. Here are ten simple ways to model mercy in the mist of your everyday life.

1. Take a deep breath and say a prayer before reacting to whining, breakage, spillage, or fighting. It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly eloquent. I think the most fervent prayer I ever pray is: “Lord, help!” (I use that one a lot. Ahem.)

2. Measure your words when discussing political candidates, work associates, and others who upset you. For many of us, speech is where mercy disappears first.

3. Lead the way in mending hurts. You may have to send your kid to his room when he’s behaving badly, but go in and offer love—cuddles for little ones, gentle words for older ones—as soon as you’ve calmed down.

4. Banish “It’s okay” from conflict resolution—because if there truly was an offense, then it isn’t okay. Instead, take a deep breath and embrace the difficult words “I forgive you.”

5. Instead of trying to resell your kids’ outgrown clothes (or yours, for that matter), donate them. School nurses always need clothes. So do shelters for abused kids and battered women. There’s also Goodwill, and USAgain bins (for usable clothing) and PlanetAid (for holey socks and threadbare shirts).

6. Keep protein bars, water bottles, or jars of peanut butter and sleeves of crackers in the car so you have something nonperishable to give to the homeless who beg at major intersections.

7. Make a family charity jar. Give your kids the chance to do small chores, and afterward let them put $.25-.50 in the jar. When it’s full, choose a charity as a family.

8. Donate blood. (You don’t even have to take your kids along. Because you know if they see the tape around your arm they’ll ask about it!)

9. Help with funerals in your local community.

10. Offer child care, kid transportation, adult transportation, grocery shopping services, or lawn care to an individual or family facing illness.

Practicing mercy doesn’t have to be dramatic or time-consuming. Small, simple, and realistic beats grand gestures every time.

How do you model mercy in your home?

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Related Posts:

Mercy On A Monday

The Incredible Sick

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Image by Sky Noir, via Flickr

Every superhero movie these days involves a mind-blowing escalation of the final battle. You know. The Avengers are fighting creepy mechanical creatures that fly around knocking New York City to pieces. You think it can’t get any worse, and then it does: there’s a lull in the action, a low-pitched roar, and my kids start singing, “The FISH thing! The FISH thing! The GIant GIant FISH thing!”

 

Sometimes life feels just like that.

Every two or three years, in the early fall we have an epic, extended Battle of the Ick. (In case you haven’t intuited it? We’re in one.) This year it got an early start with a dry, hacking cough around the 20th of August. I remember that because I saw my 90+ year old grandmother on the 26th and I was afraid to kiss her because I thought I was probably incubating the boys’ bug.

A month later, we’re all still coughing. And before anyone invokes the almighty doctor, we’ve been to urgent care twice and the regular doctor once, each for a different person. So far in the month of September, we have spent $200 on copays.

It’s not a bad illness, but it wears on you after a while. Nicholas is dramatic by nature, but when he gets sick, he’s even dramatic in his sleep. His coughing can keep the entire house awake, because he sounds like he’s choking. Mama Kate hasn’t been sleeping much the last month, and most of the time it’s not because of a full brain. It’s because I’m getting up and rolling over sixty-pound kids, smearing them with Vix, re-dosing them with Triaminic or Dimetapp, and the like.

In the past three days, I finally feel like we finally started getting a handle on it.

But now we’re staring down the barrel of one of Those Weeks: upcoming deadlines; catching up from a weekend trip to Illinois that set me back by five days; the need to grocery shop on a Monday because a bunch of the weekly staples are flat out gone; the lawn that is threatening to turn into a set for the Jungle Book (see: out of town over the weekend); an NFP class to teach; a massage for which I’ve been waiting for over a month, to fix the burning tendons in my feet; a flute lesson; a DS group plotting session…

And that’s just Monday!

And on the eve of That Week, we came upstairs at bedtime to discover…well, I’ll spare you the details.

So here’s the thing: there’s this little set of instructions for Christian living called the works of mercy. And one of them is “visit the sick.”

But in the past eleven years I’ve had ample opportunity to beat my head against the fact that nobody wants to visit the sick, because nobody wants to GET sick. In fact, as a mother I’ve often felt that the time I most need support is the time the support completely evaporates.

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Photo by muscalwds, via Flickr

It got me to thinking that we take these works of mercy too literally. The thing is, when you have a sick kid, the rest of your life doesn’t stop. The deadlines are still there, the family still needs to eat, the lawn still has to be cut, and the other kids still have to do their homework. Some things can be rescheduled. Many can’t.

I realized this weekend that we need to rethink the meaning of “visit the sick”. There are ways to help a family overwhelmed by illness—even the petty kind that lasts a month and doesn’t threaten anyone’s life–without exposing yourself to the same illness. Mow their lawn. Rake their leaves. Bring the un-sick family members a meal, or just pick up a handful of groceries and drop them off. Help transport the un-sick kids. Supervise them outside, where carriers will be less likely to share their germs, so they don’t have to tag along while parents drive the sick kid all over creation to see doctors who have oh-so-thoughtfully decided to move their practice to the OPPOSITE END OF TOWN.

Do the things the parents can’t do, because they’re too darned busy taking care of the stuff that can’t be put off.

And when it’s all over at last, help them catch up with everything they had to let slide in the interim.

We’ve got to stop putting mercy in a box. Mercy wants out. Mercy means finding a way.

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Note: this is not a thinly-disguised plea for help. God willing by the time this posts, I’ll have the lawn mostly mowed. I’m just realizing we’ve got to quit thinking two-dimensionally and give mercy a place in real life.

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I Give My Kids Experiences

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It turns out that physical things don’t buy as much happiness as experiences. It’s experiencing things together that binds us. This makes sense to me. My kids want an Xbox. We’ll let them earn money to buy it themselves, but we’re not buying it ourselves. We don’t have room in our living room for any more crap, and anyway there’s too much useless screen time in our house as it is.

Besides, it may pacify them in the moment they’re actually using it, but if psychology is right, and I think it is, a few years from now they’ll get much more emotional satisfaction out of remembering the cool things we did together.

Like staying at a cool historic hotel (this one, review to come later on Pit Stops For Kids), high on character…

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…with a bowling alley in the basement!

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Or like walking 1.5 miles each way to visit a 2300-foot-long rail-to-trail bridge.

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Or getting this close to a wind turbine…

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…on the way to the wedding of Mom and Dad’s friends:

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…who managed to do the impossible and have AMAZING food (Ecuadorian!) for a whole lot of people at quite possibly the coolest reception venue ever:

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Oh yes, and don’t forget the thoroughbred horse racing we squeezed in between Mass and wedding on Sunday.

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It was a pretty intense weekend. We filled just about every moment, because whenever we tried to settle down at the hotel, the littler boys turned on the “stir crazy” gene.

We have two more travel writing trips this summer. In the preparation stages I almost always go through an introvert’s panic attack feeling of being overwhelmed by the desire to stay home and keep things simple hesitation. But I always take a deep breath and push through, knowing that the experience is worth the effort.

 

Why, Hello, Summer.

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It seems that lately, most of the people I talk to about summer plans say, “We have no plans. We go to the pool every day!” Speaking for myself, I might not mind going to the pool every day under two conditions: 1) the water is warm; 2) there’s plenty of shade. But since those two conditions don’t really exist where I live (especially in conjunction with each other!), the pool feels more like a chore to me than a pleasure. I really, really, really, really hate sunscreen. (Really.) And squinting. And when you have four kids who are only so-so swimmers, taking kids to the pool involves being at maximum mental capacity from the time you enter the enclosure until the time you leave it. This will be the first year I feel like I can take them by myself at all.

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Summer break, day one: helping Grandma rid her flower bed of rocks.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how to spend these summer months wisely. Field trips are good. I do like the fact that the kids get to sleep in, because it means I have more than 45 minutes of work time at 5:30 a.m., which is hands down my best brain time of the day. I like having evenings open, where we aren’t in a high-stress, get-out-the-door mode.

But unstructured doesn’t seem to work for us. My kids fight a lot. And they get bored easily. And while I could stupefy them with screen time, they always fight more afterward. And it’s really hard to concentrate on, say, novel plotting, while Julianna is reading Sophia, the Little Mermaid, or Anna and Elsa in her compressed, monotone (read that: loud) voice and Alex is practicing piano and the other two are fighting over Lego, or light sabers, or who gets to go first at Gobblet. It’s hard even to concentrate enough to write this blog post.

Since it’s so hard, I tend to problem solve it a lot. And the result is that last summer, I was so focused on creating productive time, I felt like I kind of cheated my kids.

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But we’re leaving behind the jawbones and other skeletal remains of the hogs that were composted in this sawdust. I’m quite sure every child in my kids’ schools envisions spending Day One of summer break doing just such archaeological excavations.

So this year, I’m committed to doing a better job of splitting the difference. To that end, I’m setting some general guidelines along the lines of New Years Resolutions. Because I know I will make time to write, I’m not even talking about that.

1. Pool twice a week.

2. Practice my flute half an hour a day, five days a week. Well, four at a minimum. (How far I’ve fallen from the years when I walked through a blizzard to practice four hours every single day!)

3. “Homework” time—a single worksheet or flash cards for the three younger ones, at least twice a week once summer school lets out. That may seem cruel and unusual, but the teachers have asked for it.

4. Field trips. I did the prep work, so we already are committed to two multi-day trips and one day excursion for Pit Stops For Kids. And if last summer taught me anything, it is that the distance between the end of summer school and the start of the fall semester isn’t as great as it seems, so I’m only listing three more “must-do” field trips, two of which are local.

5. I’ve promised Alex I will make time from my Womens Fiction Writers Association challenge to read a series of books that he loves, called the Unwanteds. I’m on book two.

What about you? Do you make plans for the summer? Or does unstructured really work for your families?

The Problem(s) With Mother’s Day

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How Motherhood is Supposed To Look

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How motherhood ACTUALLY looks today. Photo by Sangudo, via Flickr

The problems with Mothers Day are legion.

1. It’s not fair to the dads. Mother’s day is way, way, way bigger a deal than Father’s Day, and that’s just not okay.

2. Everybody wants to give mom gifts for one day, make these adorable crafts that you’re expected to keep for all time, and it often seems to me that we’d rather substitute sentiment for actual, you know, LOVE. Like, recognizing that what Mom really needs is help ALL THE TIME, not some craft that just adds to the mess and only honors you one day a year anyway!

3. While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about lightsabers, books, individual LEGO pieces, Captain America Shields, bookbags, knot rosaries, school crafts, school papers, Wii remotes, DVDs no one has watched, scrapbooks, candy wrappers, pencils, erasers, crayons, play doh, soccer balls, bouncy balls, basketballs, crappy party-favor pinball mazes (do you get the idea?) left lying wherever you lost interest in them, cluttering up the world. And yet if i throw anything away, woe to me!

3a. While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about “Put away your clothes,” and how that translates to “I’m going to read a book/build a marble run/stuff them in a wad under the closet rod/ignore you completely” the first FIVE TIMES I SAY IT.

4. Nor does it matter how many times we teach, discuss, or give consequences. Nor does it matter how many attempts at organizational systems we put together.

5. And then there’s the outcry and protest whenever I assign jobs: “I did that last week!” and “no fair, he never has to!…”

6. And then there’s the inevitable annual inner conflict between “I am a mother” and “I HAVE a mother.” How do you balance being the recipient of all this attention with giving it appropriately to the one who gave you life? And then of course, your husband has a mother, too. It’s like you have to choose who gets your attention, and then even if the other one (or more, depending on if you have broken families) doesn’t feel hurt, you inevitably are aware that you’re prioritizing one over another. When I start griping about the way a holiday is celebrated, one of my sisters always gives me grief about it (“is there any holiday you DO like?” she’s asked me), but this is why: I don’t see how we can possibly honor our mothers as we’re supposed to on this day and at the same time accept that honor ourselves. It’s like the system is stacked against us.

7. Yes, I know. This is what parenthood is: assuming heroic, even foolhardy, responsibility for other human beings. To burn away their innate selfishness and teach them to be Good People is not just a job. It’s not even just a vocation. It’s something that is way, way bigger than any of us. And when I think about how much time I spend worrying about whether someone’s going to call DFS because I let my kid climb a tree or because he fell down and skinned his knee and is screaming as if he’s had his leg torn off by a shark…well, I get kind of pissy. And when the kids fall to demanding, whining, and being lazy/disobedient despite the fact that they really aren’t being asked to do all that much, and they’re given way more privileges than I ever got growing up? Then I have a Mommy Meltdown. And we start making new lists to hang on the pantry door.

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Yeah, Happy Mothers Day to you, too.

Love, Kate

Linking to 7 Quick Takes, because I’m sure they’re all talking about motherhood today, too. Although probably with less angst.

Playing Favorites

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Image by Rusty Ross, via Flickr

I can’t be the only parent who lives in dread of playing favorites.

Especially of having a “favorite child.”

The online “soundtrack” of parenting reflections has presented me more than once with the theory that you butt heads with the child who resembles you most. But I think this is only true for certain personality types. If you are a strong-willed individual, committed to your own opinions above the approval of others, whose vision of the world is so clear that you can’t always put yourself in others’ shoes—if you have a child who mirrors you in these attributes, yes, you are almost certain to butt heads.

But if you are an introverted, deeply analytical puzzler who is very sensitive to the approval and opinions of others, and who values getting along more than getting your own way? If you have a child who mirrors you in these attributes, you’re not going to butt heads. You’re going to recognize each other as kindred spirits.

And if you have one child who completely befuddles you, because none of their choices make any sense to you as a person who values cooperation and compromise, you are going to struggle more to show that child love in the way he or she will recognize it.

I do not accept, however, that this constitutes playing favorites. Having such a child requires a parent to expend far more mental, emotional and spiritual energy trying to work out the puzzle that is that child, to figure out how to speak to and guide that child’s soul, and help them feel that they are loved. Far more than the children you just “get” instinctively. It’s way more work, and you might not always do it well, but the commitment is real and so is the love behind it.