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.


An Unexpected Aldi Hack (i.e.: Friday Funnies)


I stumbled across a wondrous thing yesterday: how to get through the grocery store in record time. I’m sure it’s going to be universally useful to every person who reads from the fount of world-changing information known as Kate’s Blog.

How To Get Through Aldi In Eighteen Minutes

Even the Dark Side needs motivation

That’s me in the center, on a mission. And three of my minions. The fourth one took the picture. (Real Photo credit: kennymatic, via Flickr.)

Step 1: Invite over two extra elementary school-aged boys.

Step 2: Promise them the XBox…AFTER you get done at Aldi.

Step 3: Prepare for anarchy. When they grab the list from your hand, just roll with it. When they shout, “What can I get next?” yell something. Anything. When the youngest cries because everyone else is faster than he is…ignore it.

Step 4: Let them run all over the store, collecting items. Don’t try to keep track of them. They’re like boomerangs. They always come back. The kids, that is. By all means, keep track of the list! That is, after all, the point of the visit.

Step 5: Let them find you a grocery lane. Because they can’t be any worse than you at picking the shortest line, right?

Step 6: When they go hide under the far checkout lane to do surveillance…just pretend they belong to someone else.

“Who ARE those poorly-behaved little boys?” Photo credit: ALDI security valiant aja, via Flickr.

Step 7: Let them all pack a grocery bag, and forget worrying about what goes in it. Except for the lettuce bags. Those are sacrosanct.

Step 8: Leave Aldi 18 minutes after arriving.

There, you see? I told you it was universally useful. You’re welcome.

Happy Memorial Day!


In Which A Recovering Social Loser Processes Her Kids’ Social Status (or lack thereof)


Photo by  Laura Barberis, via Flickr

Elementary school and junior high were no picnic.

I had my first breakup in the fifth grade, and it wasn’t even a romantic relationship. My best friend…okay, let’s be honest, my only friend…came over while I was sharpening my pencil by the coat rack and said, “I think we should be friends with other people.”

She used those exact words. I was too young and dumb to realize that actually meant I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.

For a year, I didn’t have any friends at all.

I was always picked last.

I never got the jokes. (Full disclosure? Sometimes I still don’t.)

I was only invited to birthday sleepovers because it was a Catholic school rule that everyone had to be invited. And people made fun of me when I was out of the room. I heard them.

High school was a fresh start for me, and three of the four years were basically good. Sophomore year was terrible, start to finish. But even during the good years, when people said, “These are the best years of your life,” I shook my head inside and chose to believe they were just being idiotic adults.

Most of the time, adults knew what they were talking about, but in this case, I’m happy to say, the teenager knew more than they did. Thank God. In college I finally found my people—the classical music crowd—but it took full-on adulthood to reach a point where I feel like I am happy with who I am and I exist in a community of people who understand me.

Frankly, I think it has a lot to do with being happily married. A child’s emotional stability, that sense of belonging, gets rocked by the onset of adolescence, and you spend the next ten to twenty years trying to find a new place where “home” means the safety you knew as a young child. Just sitting here thinking about it, I grieve for the children who never know that sense at all, and for the adults who never found it again. And, frankly, for the list of people for whom high school was the best time in their lives. Shudder. Imagine if life never got any better than that.

Why this traipse through the ghosts of angsts long past? Because now I get to experience it in a whole new way. More than one of my children is currently experiencing some variation of the not-good-enough that defined my later childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Probably it defines those parts of everybody’s lives, but in adolescence, those of us who inhabit the bottom of the social totem pole—not good at sports, not cool, viewing primping as a waste of good superhero-drawing/reading/writing/music practice time—feel that our faces are rubbed in our inadequacies quite frequently. Who knows? Maybe it’s harder to navigate those insecurities at the stratospheric end of the totem pole, because you are trying to keep up appearances when you feel like a fraud. Maybe I should be grateful for the spiritual/emotional/intellectual honesty of having had nothing to prove—both for myself and my children.

But it’s hard to see your kids suffer. As much as I value being outside the mainstream on, well, let’s face it, just about everything, I know how it hurts to be looked at like you’re somehow less valuable for it.

What I am grateful for is the fact that so far my kids want to talk to me about it. Because I’ve thought long and hard on these questions over the years, and for that reason I don’t fall back on the useless and maddening platitudes that adults used when I was a kid. Because we can use the experience as an ongoing opportunity for lessons in mercy, in recognizing how every situation is more complex than it feels, and in keeping the focus on Jesus.

And mostly, because it lets me love my kids really hard.

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.

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.

Parenthood: A Series of Un-Winnable Battles


Photo by quinn.anya, via Flickr

It’s happening more and more often these days. I find myself frustrated with something my kids are doing (or not doing), saying (or not saying), and I think: Did we act like this when I was a kid? How did my parents deal with this?

There are long stretches of life when you sort of glide through life and you feel like you’re basically doing okay. There are bumps in the road, but they’re just that. Not crises. Just little bumps.

And then there are times when you see what your kids are doing and you think, Did I cause this? Is this my fault? Am I somehow teaching them this appalling behavior without realizing it?

Those days, it’s really easy to feel like a failure as a parent, and not even really know why.

My kids fight a lot in general, but it seems much worse lately. They’re all in each other’s business. The mantra of my early-childhood-parenting years– “You take care of you” –seems to have lost its effectiveness. My entire life seems to consist of statements like, “It is NOT your business to tell your brother to eat his vegetables!” and “Did I ask you, or did I ask your sister?”

It goes without saying that they are calling out their siblings’ misdeeds while blissfully (or willfully) ignoring their own transgressions.

Worst of all is yelling at one of them for being a bossy busybody, and then having to turn to the victim of the bossing and tell them the bossy busybody was right. I mean, that’s a no-win situation! I have to choose between affirming Busybody’s busybody-ness or letting Lazy child get away with Laziness!

And it all escalates, and parental tempers short out, sometimes in public, and it’s embarrassing and potentially relationship-damaging, and I circle back to this question:

How did we get here? What did I do to make it happen? Because it surely has to be something I did!

My middle- and high-school journals are filled with the word “lecture.” As in, complaints about parental lectures. Remembering this, I’ve tried really hard to keep my own parental lectures compact. I don’t want them to tune me out; if all I’m doing is flinging verbiage at a reflective surface, I’ll only increase my own frustration.

But it’s hard, because I’m so sick of giving the same instructions over and over and over and over. How many times have I told children to flush the toilet and wash their hands? Why do they still need to be told this every time they exit the bathroom?

How many times have I said, “Put your shoes IN THE CUBBIES”? or “Put the toy/book AWAY,” and the first response is crickets, the second is to pick up said item and lay it on the stairs, the third is to carry it up or down the stairs and drop it on the floor?

I often feel like my parenting consists of a) instructions followed by b) the need for consequences. This is not okay. I mean, how many times a day can you take away screen time, which is the only thing they actually care about?

In the toilet training years, people are always saying, “Oh, don’t stress about it, no kid goes to kindergarten in diapers. It’ll happen.” I’ve always wanted to shake people for saying that, because kids don’t just magically do it on their own. They have to be taught—even Michael, who did sort of magically train himself, needed several months’ worth of parent-led practice first. If the parent has to lead, it’s the parent’s JOB to stress out about it.

That’s the way this feels, too. Part of me whispers, Chill, Kate. They’ll grow out of it. And then I think of families I know in which the adults really still don’t get along all that well, and I think, Um, I’m not so sure I can count on them“growing out of it.”

So Sunday morning, I did the only thing I could think of. I stopped everyone at breakfast before church—before anyone had a chance to get in someone else’s business, before there was time for an escalation, before there was time for a parental explosion—and I re-instituted the “screen time depends upon getting along with each other” rule.

On Monday, one child lost his privileges.

Tuesday is a no-screen-time day, anyway.

We shall see what happens today.