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. 😦

Fragility and Indestructibility


This is a post about this boy…

…who yesterday, while I was running siblings to various lessons, punched (yes, I did say punched) the light switch in the kitchen, with this result:

But at three this morning, the cries started up in his room. I hauled myself out of bed and across the hallway to find out what was the matter, expecting a bad dream, but the choking cough alerted me that it was something more serious. My five-year-old has croup. The seal-bark cough, the stridor breathing, the absolute panic of not being able to draw breath.

As I gathered him up into my arms, it struck me how still, his little boy body fits so perfectly against me, like puzzle pieces. He’s all arms and legs now, shooting outward, just waiting for the weight gain to fill them out. But he still likes to snuggle with me—on top of me, although now when his head rests on my chest, his toes dangle past my knees. It’s about the only time of day you can get him to be still, that snuggle time.

He was wailing, panicking, and I thought of the many times we went through this with Julianna, and I felt a deep gratitude, there in the wee hours of the night, that I had those experiences, because I know not to panic. “Michael, I need you to calm down,” I said, holding him close against me. “Crying makes your body need more oxygen. You need to calm down. I’ve got you. As soon as you calm down, I’ll explain what’s happening to you.”

And he did. It took a minute, but he settled down against me, and I was able to convince him he wasn’t dying and he didn’t need to panic. It was a bit surreal, having a child with croup who was old enough to have a rational conversation about it. Even more surreal when you consider that this is the child who rips off drawer faces and considers tackles an acceptable form of greeting.

It seemed rather useless to put on the vaporizer, considering the windows are open and the humidity is already high, but I got some Vicks (well, Target generic) and smeared it all over his chest and back, and set up all his big stuffed animals with his pillow in front of them, and propped him up against it, then tucked him back in.

“What’s ‘oxygen’?” he asked sleepily.

You’ve got to love science lessons at three a.m.

After I explained oxygen and carbon dioxide, I kissed him goodnight and promised him we’d go see the doctor in the morning.

And although his breathing was still raspy, he shot upward and wrapped those long, lean, yet still so very baby-skin arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. “I love you,” he said.

These are the moments motherhood is made of.

Michael Mayhem Graduates Preschool


Michael, with his toy guitar: “This next song is called “Starlight Can Never Destroy A Death Star So I will Use My Laser.”

I went to his end-of-year celebration at his preschool yesterday, which consisted mostly of him attacking me at frequent intervals with flying leaps and fierce hugs interspersed with little girls coming around to take pictures with him.

It floors me to see how advanced academically he is. He is actually writing messages to us–all caps, no lower case, and asking us how to spell words–but writing nonetheless. Julianna does this app on the iPad for homework. It’s called ST Math. It’s graphic math, with no instructions of any kind, which has on more than one occasion made my head want to explode, but apparently the kids do pretty well with it. She’s doing the first grade curriculum and as we were trying to show her grandparents how this worked on Mother’s Day, Michael watched upside down and then started doing it for her. I had to get pretty firm with him to back off.

In part, it floors me because he’s in a special ed preschool, one where the primary focus of the instruction is the kids with developmental disabilities. We enrolled him as a “peer model” through the school district when he was three to try to develop sensitivity and awareness toward kids with disabilities–because of all our children, only Alex, who witnessed and participated in her early childhood therapies, really has an inherent awareness of and appropriate interaction with her. To her younger brothers, she’s just their sister. They don’t tolerate her desire for hugs, and their power struggles over the iPad and books and so on look like every other sibling struggle. They don’t give her one inch.

There’s great value in having that relationship–Julianna is always trying to get away with things based on her disability, whether she’s doing it consciously or instinctively–but I still wanted Michael to at least be capable of making a distinction.

When it came time to move him to a traditional preschool for his preK year, to make sure he got the needed academic preparation, we found ourselves waffling. He seemed comfortable, and the school was right here in the neighborhood. Often, we bike to and from. The kindergarten teachers at the Catholic school said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. He’ll be fine.” And so we left him in place for a second year.

His teachers at Early Childhood Special Ed have told me repeatedly how seriously he takes his job as peer model, but I always thought that was just teachers being nurturers; I didn’t take it that seriously until one day, Michael and I went out with my friend and her son, who is a couple years younger than Michael, after Jazzercise. The boys jumped around, climbing on and under things and generally being normal little boys while we talked and tried to keep their exuberance (and potential for damage) contained to one corner of the cafe. When it was time to go, Michael’s little friend did not want to go. It was like a switch flipped in Michael. His tone of voice gentled, he helped his friend put his coat on, he held his hand and led him out the door. My jaw hit the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the experience of being a peer model shapes his future character. In the meantime I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an inexpensive and extremely enriching option for preschool. Because clearly, it didn’t harm his academic potential at all.

In any case, such is the world of my littlest guy as the school year closes. I’m having so much fun with him.

Photo Friday: Sunny Oak Through The Eyes of a Five-Year-Old


Michael had the iPad last night at Julianna’s last therapeutic horseback riding lesson of the spring session. Enjoy his photos, and a couple videos at the end!


Meet Timothy the donkey. Whom Michael called a goat all night.


I never noticed that I put the stickers on my computer upside down. Face palm.


Revise, revise, revise until that novel shines…


Julianna gives Richard Horse a treat.


I did not think I would be able to share any of the videos Michael took of Julianna riding, because I don’t have permission to show the other kids. But do you know that stinker is just the right height to take a video that shows the legs but not the faces of the other kids? Who knew?

But this one is the crown jewel video of the evening. I’ve always wanted to get Michael’s giggle on video, before he outgrows it.

Mr. Strong-y Smash Man and Other Adorable Michael Moments







The youngest child is always the funniest one. It’s a rule. While I was gone for Liturgical Composers Forum, the two women who had morning duty both sent me messages to tell me things about my youngest child.

Exhibit A: 


Uh-huh. Star Wars. Avengers. Hark the Herald Angels. Oddwalk’s Gorilla song. Frosty. Rudolph. Songs of his own making. And every one of them sung


(Why yes, in fact, I am shouting. Actually, that’s not true, because currently I have no voice at all and my head feels woozy like I have a fever. I’m shouting internally.)

Exhibit B:

(An email received mid-week):

I know you keep track of funny things the kids say so I thought I’d share one I got from Michael this morning. 🙂  He was a little impatient about how long it took us to get back to my house (10 minutes) and asked a few times how many miles we had left.  A mile out from the house we came up behind a school bus that was driving pretty slowly.  He asked again how much farther.  I told him we were less than a mile from the house but we were going to have to go as slow as the school bus in front of us.  He suggested passing it but I pointed out that it wasn’t really a safe place to pass and we were only a mile out so we would just be patient.  He told me that sometimes school buses were driven by girls and he was pretty sure this one was being driven by a girl.  Presumably because they were going slowly. 🙂

Oh, Michael, Michael. Where, oh where did I go wrong?

Michael’s life philosophy seems to be threefold:

  1. Why walk when you can run?
  2. Why run when you can jump?
  3. Why hug when you can tackle?

Hence, I generally open my arms and not only brace, but wince in advance. I’m telling you, this child is going to grow up to be a stunt man in Hollywood.

To round out this week’s portrait of a preschooler who reeeeeeeaaaaallly needs to be in kindergarten, I give you: Michael’s brand new collection of superhero characters:

First there is Mr. Strong-y Smash Man (hard G. Very important.):


This is the best picture I can give you, because by the time he finished drawing all of Mr. Strong-y Smash Man’s elevators (he seems to be mostly comprised of elevators, as best I could tell), you could no longer see anything but scribbles.

Then there was Mr. Magic, who he never drew.

Mr. Magic’s friends, however, I can share with you. The explanatory writing is faithfully transcribed from Michael’s own words:


There are times when I simply can’t help grabbing up this child and trying to chew him to pieces.


Kylo Ren Presents the Screaming Flying Monkey (FF3)


To start off the expected Armageddon of ice in mid-Missouri, I give you:

Kylo Ren Presents The Screaming Flying Monkey

Starring this guy….


…who, in addition to bearing the moniker “Mayhem,” also consistently has the best head gear, to wit:


He actually wore this hat to school last week, which reduced his preschool teacher to goo. Incidentally, this hat was bought for Julianna to wear for Easter when she was about three years old, but how many times do you think she’s worn it? If you guessed zero, you would be correct. Her brothers, however, have made great use of it.

But I digress. Here we are: Kylo Ren presents the Screaming Flying Monkey.

Definitely the most memorable Christmas gift of the year. Thanks, Grandma & Grandpa S. 😉


In Which The Letter “L” is a Bittersweet Milestone


sense-of-humorWhen I think about my kids, I often have to chuckle at God’s sense of humor.

I always claimed that I would accept any child given to me, that health or disability wouldn’t matter. But I didn’t mean it. And I knew I didn’t mean it, although I never admitted it, even to myself. I started college pursuing a BM/c (bachelor of music with certification), which was more performance-heavy than a normal music ed degree, but still certified you to teach. It seemed smart, but in my sophomore year, when tendonitis & carpal tunnel threatened to end my chances of playing at all, I realized: I *hated education classes. I did NOT want to be a classroom teacher.

And then came That Class.

Special Education for Non-Special Educators.

It was a three-hour, once-a-week seminar on a Thursday afternoon, one of the few classes I had in college that fit the stereotype of a huge lecture hall and zero participation.

It was excruciating.

I found the subject matter repulsive. (Don’t judge. I’m coming clean here.)

And that was what convinced me that I had to take a leap of faith and remove the stressful, not-life-giving requirements from my college plan and focus on what I really wanted to do with my life.

In other words, I was so NOT open to children with special needs, I changed my major.

And then came Julianna.

Like I said, God has a sense of humor. No, that’s not right. God knows what we need, and facilitates our growth through experiences—and people—who challenge us to become more of what we were meant to be.

But none of that lessens the irony: that I, the woman who really wasn’t open to having *any kids with special needs, ended up with not one, but two children on IEPs.

Well, that was a tangent.

I’m thinking about this today because Michael started saying “L”s this week. He’s been capable of it for quite a while. When he turned three, he entered an early childhood special ed classroom devoted to language, including intensive speech therapy. At the end of that year he graduated with flying colors and transitioned to being a peer model in a different ECSE classroom—providing a model of appropriate behavior for kids with a number of different disabilities–but for a while they continued giving him speech therapy on site. His speech therapist there addressed the “L” right before she graduated him and he became, officially, IEP-free.

But although he *could, he *didn’t. It was still “I wuv you” and “I wike wowwipops.” In print it makes me want to roll my eyes. But oh, my heart, in real life, it was adorable. And he’s my last baby. So I didn’t push it.

And then, this week, out pops, “Mom, who are you giving the blog to?” Only it’s very self-aware, so it comes out as “Who are you giving the balog to?” and “I a-love you” and “I a-like a-lo-a-llipops!”

Not coincidentally, he’s also replaced his “f”s with “th.” So now he actually says “I think” instead of “I fink,” and “Thor” instead of “For.”

I am in mourning.

I’m glad he’s decided it’s time to talk like a big kid, but I didn’t need further proof that I’m passing out of the cuddle-snuggle-chew-kiss-raspberry stage. I’m enjoying the fact that my kids are older, that their schoolwork is no longer paralyzingly boring to supervise, that I can start to talk to them about the world and ask them to recognize patterns. I love that they (generally) sleep through the night now, and can even put themselves to bed, if things are too busy for me to get upstairs and tuck them in.

But I really love little ones. And you just can’t go around chewing on other people’s kids. Even if it was socially acceptable, it doesn’t feel right.

It’s a bittersweet milestone, the letter “L.”

On Sneaking Candy, channeling the flash, and Sucker Punches: Michael Mayhem at Four

Michael book guitar

He looks innocent when he’s “reading,” doesn’t he?

There comes an inevitable day in every parent’s life when you have to recognize that you can’t treat your baby like a baby anymore.

It’s an organic process as long as you keep having more kids, because real babyhood keeps presenting itself. But although I’ve been aware of, and even partially on top of, this transition with Michael, it’s just since school let out that I’ve realized how far past time it is.

He’s not the sweet, faultless child in every altercation anymore. In fact, as Wednesday’s post should have made clear, he’s got a pretty strong deceptive/willful/selfish side going.

He’s incredibly smart, starting to write letters although we do no such work in our family on things like that, and connecting starting sounds with letters (“S begins with STOP!” is the usual formula). He wants to do homework and have his work hung on the hutch and the deck door with everyone else’s.

He wants to be grown up. He insists upon using the “big boy” silverware (i.e. dinner fork and soup spoon), even though all his older siblings want the small ones, and he’s constantly asking me, “When will I be big enough to sit without a booster seat/play an instrument/drive a car/ride a motorcycle?”

He’s constantly taking things apart, just because he can. The words “Leave it alone! Don’t mess with things just to mess with them!” don’t seem to have any meaning.

He’s throwing and catching balls and running better than any of his siblings did at his age, or two years older than his age, for that matter.

And speaking of running. Oh, the running! He’s really into the Flash right now, and he braces and then launches himself across whatever space he has. Which is not nearly enough, I might add; stopping is almost universally a problem. Let me put it this way. When it comes time to slide into home plate, he’ll have already had lots of practice. In the meantime, he’s mostly bouncing off the walls. Literally.

And oh, that child is causing trouble in sibling land. Other people must share with him, but “that toy is MINE! You can’t play with it!” Obviously, he ate Nicholas’ special candy. I tell him to put away a toy, and not to throw it on the floor, but actually put it on the shelf. Then I go downstairs to find it on the floor anyway. That kind of stuff.

Oh yes, I forgot. The Facebook world heard this gem, but the bloggers have not. And it’s a good one.

He’s been punching lately. It’s not malicious; he’s just playing superhero-bad guy, and the bigger kids, by and large, didn’t realize what kind of monster they were creating until it was too late. Well, Nicholas knew it. But Nicholas wasn’t encouraging him the way everyone else was, either.

Michael loves to get a laugh from people, and the punching thing makes big kids laugh. Until one night at a baseball game he was punching complete stranger kids, and they realized it hurt! I had to make him sit on my lap for the last twenty minutes of the game, because he wouldn’t stop, no matter what I or anyone else said. It was deeply unpleasant for both of us. He is a wiggly, wiggly kid.

But the kicker was last week at the grocery store, when Alex and I were perusing the yogurt options, and Michael caught him completely unawares with a Flash-run and a full-power sucker punch to the sternum. Alex went down in a heap on the floor, trying to control his poor tween hormones and pride while in deep pain. I could see him trying not to wail, scream, or retaliate.

It was hard to decide whether to laugh or be furious. Either way I couldn’t punish, because we were in public. Actually, that turned out to be a positive, because by the time we got to the car I’d had a burst of inSpiration. Michael had to do one of Alex’s weekly cleaning jobs as a consequence for punching his brother. Which, I have to admit, he did with very good grace.

It’s hard not to keep a tender spot for your youngest child, but he has the potential within him to be a holy terror if I don’t rein him in. And it just about has to be me, because he’s got the mama’s boy thing honed to an art form, much more so than the other two boys. Yesterday, he would not hold his daddy’s hand. “I want to hold mommy’s hand!” he said.

“Why not? Do you like me?” Christian asked, grinning at me.


“Do you like Mommy?”


Four and a half. And still earning the nickname Mayhem.

Michael Takes A Bow


Michael 2Every so often a mama has to enshrine the kid moments, even if they’re not any more witty, hilarious, or indicative of genius than any other child in the universe. Today it’s Michael’s turn.


“Mommy, Mommy!” he cried as we turned past a convertible onto a quiet residential street the other day. “I saw a dark blue car that, that had, that WOST its TOP!”


The next day, he had his first major spill from a bicycle. Major, I label it, based solely on his reaction. Normally he shakes off all owies. Or he’ll come to me and say, “Mommy, my ____ hurts,” and I kiss it a couple of times before I go in for the chew, and he giggles and it’s done.

Not so with this. It was the most minor strawberry you can imagine, but he would not calm down. I was beginning to wonder if there might actually be some internal injury, he was so uncharacteristically hysterical–although I dismissed that possibility, because he was moving just fine, and he kept laughing when I told him not to smile.

Finally I said, “Hey! Are we going to have to go to the doctor and cut your whole leg off?”

He knows my sense of humor, so he giggled…and then returned to wailing and crying. And that was when I realized: he needed a nap. Badly.

Fast forward 24 hours. After everyone went to school I checked my calendar and realized I had (stupid unnecessary waste of time) well-child visits today. So when I picked him up from school, I told him, “Guess what? We’re going to go get the boys and go to the doctor today.”

“But I don’t WANT to go to the doctor!” yelled Michael.

Michael’s not one to panic about a doctor visit, so this gave me pause. “It’s no big deal, it’s just a ‘let’s see how you’re doing’ visit,” I said.

He spun around and got right in my face. “Are they going to cut my leg off?????”

I’m sure you will not grudge me the uncontrollable giggle I had to indulge before before I could reassure him.

Michael 1

I let the van get way, way too low on gas last week. I had the overhead display on Distance to Empty and we were all watching it jump up and down depending on whether we were coasting, sitting at a stoplight, or accelerating onto the interstate. And suddenly Michael called, “Mommy, I see thirty-six!” I was like, What? I glanced at the display, and sure enough, it said: 36.

“How do you even KNOW that number?” I said. “You are FOUR!”


Michael 3He spent the gap between lunch and nap time yesterday “helping” me with yard work. I was digging dandelions when he came running down the hill. “Mommy, I want to tell you something!”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“When we go inside, I want to snuggle with you.”

Now you know there’s no proper response to that except a good long snuggle in the long spring grass. And after that, he stuck with me. He spotted at least a dozen and a half dandelions that I would have missed. And when I had to get to work, he pushed his pop mower around the yard until he got bored, and then he climbed a tree.

There are days when motherhood is very, very sweet, even amid the madness.

I have things to say about madness, too, but this post was nearer finished, so it takes the spotlight today.

The Imaginary Life of a Preschooler


Michael Blog 1It has been a source of constant delight for me in recent months to watch Michael developing into his own little man. Well, perhaps constant is an overstatement. He has his meltdown moments, in which he knows only four-year-old wails and forgets that he has to, y’know, tell Mommy what’s bothering him.

But most of the time, I’m watching him and smiling…and trying to do so without letting him know I’m doing it, lest he get self conscious and quit.

He has a rich imaginary life, beyond anything I remember seeing before with my kids. I’ve taken him to “Kidz Court” at the mall several times lately on days when he’s not at school, so that he can play and I can work and he won’t be bored and I won’t be frustrated by lack of productivity. The ability of children to start playing together without ever having met each other before boggles my mind every time. When do people become introverts? Because these kids certainly have no problem diving in together!

Michael Blog 2“Hurry!” he cries to his new friend. “There are two hundred mean sharks, heading our way!” They leap into the play canoe and paddle furiously down a river only they can see.

At home one day, I turned around to find him wielding the light saber he got for Christmas. “Whatcha doin’, honey?”

“I am playing with my Kylo Ren wightsaber. I’m with Captain Phasma. We’re both bad guys.”


He turned to his imaginary friend. “My wight saber is bigger than your wight saber!”

His pretend play is so detailed. I’ll look up sometimes and have to stop what I’m doing as I watch the intricate manipulation of thin air. It’s clear that *he can see whatever he’s playing with, even though I can’t. I can tell he’s picking something up; occasionally I can even see what he’s doing with it.

Even when I’m yelling, “MICHAEL! I TOLD YOU TO GET YOUR SHOES ON!” he refuses to leave any action incomplete. He has to carefully set down whatever invisible item he’s playing with before dashing off to comply.

He wants to be big. He’d barely passed his fourth birthday when he started asking when he’d be five. He wants to play a “real instrument.” Like the trumpet. Hey, his big brother is doing it, why can’t he?

And yet he still comes running over to me five or six times a day just to snuggle. At bedtime every day, we have the “I don’t WIKE to go to bed!” conversation, and yet that time is a ritual of fun and tickles and giggles and cuddles. I’ll frequently threaten to kiss him again if he says “I don’t like to go to bed.” So he says it again. And again. 🙂

The beauty of the youngest child is the fact that you get to immerse yourself in the stages in a way you didn’t get to with other kids. There’s no smaller child who needs my attention more. I’m really reveling in the richness of this stage.

I still miss babies. Yesterday at Target, I think 75% of the shoppers were mothers with babies. Little tiny ones. I had that heart-breath-catch moment more times than I could count in a short jaunt to return paper plates and grab a bottle of eye drops.

But at the same time, I am grateful for the opportunity to see this preschool age in a new way. It’s a real gift.