Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

I love my church. With true, honest, open hearts, the clergy set an amazing example, always striving to live as Christ did. And they make no fuss over it; they simply do it, much as thousands of men and women, selflessly and without fuss, serve America in our armed forces.

Our church always has a bulletin board outside the sanctuary displaying pictures of any service men and women connected to the parish; we always pray for our troops. And on the Fourth of July we proudly listen to a roll call of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence—men who risked everything for freedom.

Yet the Memorial Day service is always special.

This year, the cantor sang Eternal Father, Strong to Save as a prelude. A gentleman in his eighties made his way to the handicapped seat in front of me and sang along, clearly and beautifully. I knew he would stand up when the time came to recognize all those who have served.

My mind drifted to Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery’s book about life on the home front in Canada during World War I. I remembered how, when her brother’s unit sailed for Europe, Rilla couldn’t sing the words “hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea” until they heard her brother had made it safely past the U-boats. I thought about how many generations of families have had those feelings.

I thought about how many families feel that way today, as their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandchildren, lovers, spouses all serve in a conflict that seems so distant to those of us not involved.

I remember my pride in my brother’s service, but also the never-ending anxiety we all lived with when he was in harm’s way, when every phone call might herald the end of our world as we knew it. My heart used to stop every time the phone rang. For a split second I wondered if it would be my parents with the worst possible news…and then I picked it up.

This was in 2003, so troops had no established communication with home—for the most part, there were no emails, no letters, no phone calls from the troops themselves. I remember avidly following the reporter embedded with his unit, and sharing every precious scrap of information with family members. I remember my joy when his picture was in the paper, then my pause as I realized it must have been taken days ago, and who knew what had happened since then.

And I remember burying all that, and getting on with my life, because that’s what you need to do. That’s what thousands of families still do today. Sure, communications are more regular now. Think for a moment, though, what it must be like when there’s a death in your loved one’s unit. There’s a communications blackout and you wait, wondering if your world has changed forever—or your neighbor’s or your best friend’s or the family you know from school, the ones with the new baby. Then the chaplain visits, communications resume, and everyone moves on in a new reality, a new reality that includes grief and heartbreak and sorrow and emptiness for one family.

I thought of all that in church yesterday, and prayed that those who serve today will always be honored and never be forgotten. I prayed for those who were forgotten and worse, the soldiers of my parents’ generation who dared not wear their uniforms in their own country. I prayed that our country has learned to value the men and women who lay down their lives for us.

When the time came, our priest asked that all those who had served stand and be recognized. Sure enough, among all the others—mostly men and mostly in their eighties, but not all—the gentleman in front of us managed to stand, straight and tall.

My tired four-year-old son rested in my arms with his head on my shoulder. I clung to him as we sang, “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea…as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”

As we sang that song from 150 years ago—a century and a half in which nearly every generation has been called to defend freedom—I prayed that there would be no more need for such honor, such courage, such sacrifice. And I gave thanks for all who have embodied those virtues, and given their all for us.

We remember. We thank you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two Rules

I’m related to lawyers. Oh, yeah, I admit it. My father, my brother, my father-in-law, and various other folks that probably fall in to the “kissing cousins” category.

The rest of my family? They just like to argue debate so much that they don’t need to get paid for it.

Therefore, I grew up with two basic rules embedded in my psyche—two basic rules that have been a HUGE asset in parenting. So, here we go…

No Ad Personem Arguments:
Don’t be frightened—the Latin words come in peace. They mean you no harm. “Ad personem” means “to the person.” If you make a point about the person you’re arguing debating with, it doesn’t count. You need to discuss the issue at hand. We all instinctively know this, right?

“You’re a poopy butt.” (Won’t win argument.)
“You’ve had the purple crayon for five minutes. It’s my turn now.” (Score! That’s a winner.)

How does this help me?

Well, when your four-year-old is a volatile cocktail of developing self-expression, overwhelming emotions, and exploration of the power of language, a simple argument discussion about why we can’t wear the shirt that he just spilled lunch all over quickly devolves into


For the record,
  • We don’t say “hate” in our house—no idea where he got it. Well, yeah, I do know.
  • We don’t give him any attention for this behavior. This is rumored to end the behavior after three or four centuries.
  • We do offer socially acceptable alternatives for self-expression…at times when he might actually listen.
  • And I know darn well that arguments discussions with my kids are not something I need to ‘win.’

But when I hear


It feels really good to think to myself, “Oh, yeah? Well, ad personem arguments don’t count, Mr. Poopy Butt!”

The Question Rule
Don’t ask a question unless you know the answer. I know what you’re thinking: Say Whattt????

Think about it. Attorneys never want to face an unpleasant surprise in court, not if they can help it.

Parents never want to face—oh, come on, do I really need to spell it out for you? We get enough unpleasant shit (pun intended) dumped on us. Why make it worse? Don’t ask a question if you might not like the answer you get.

Here’s a perfect example.

The other day, the stars aligned, the magnetic poles reversed, and the solar eclipse shorted out somebody’s brains, because S. and A. agreed to clean up A.’s toy heap room together. They did. I complimented them. (I am a good mom, really.)

S., in that lovely penetrating voice second-grade girls use, informed me that she had really done it all because A. had only picked up W, while she had cleaned up not only X, Y, and Z, but also Q through V.

I pointed out that she and her brother were a team and the team had succeeded. And here’s where the Question Rule saved me.

I almost drew a stunningly age-appropriate and educational analogy to her kickball games at school by asking her if, when her team wins a game, the whole team wins or some people win more than others. But the Question Rule popped into my head.

I figured that the odds were about 75:1 against a thoughtful answer like, “The whole team wins, Mommy.” That left way too much room for an answer listing the “batting” averages all the kids she plays with, the fielding strengths and weaknesses of said kids, the score and stats of the latest game, and a definitive, black-and-white assessment of who could take credit for the latest win.

I didn’t ask.

The jury is still out on whether S. and Little A. take after the argue debate-for-hire side of the family or the argue debate-for-free side.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This and That

Sixteen kids and all their attendant adults came to a pizza and pool party at our house Saturday. We had a blast and I drove a couple of kids home. When I came back, the floors looked so clean that I asked my husband if he’d vacuumed. He said no. (Hello? Who turns down free housework credit?)

Twenty-four hours later, with just four people present, the floors had resumed their usual sticky, nature-strewn state. How does this happen???


To the lady who flagged me down at a stoplight to express delight in my Christmas gift: Thank you! I’m sorry my mind was 3.2 million miles away and the light changed before I could share your enthusiasm. Yes, I love it, too. My husband is a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, so I laugh every time I see my license plate frame that says, “I’m the Woman to Blame.”

Besides, can you think of a better description of motherhood?


My son explores a new career path:

“Mommy, when I grow up, I’m going to—I’m going to make, make really cool—I’m going to make really cool underpants.”


“Yeah, really cool underpants. And you know what, you know what will be really cool about the underpants?”

“No, honey, what will be really cool about them?”

“The underpants will be underdresses.”


“So girls can where them under skirts and dresses!”


S: So what do you call a dinosaur drinking Grandma’s Garden Tea?
Mom: I don’t know. What?
S: A herbivore!

[Editor’s Note: Grandma’s Garden is her favorite herb tea. She asked for some for her birthday. No kidding!]

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Love Is

A few of the millions of endings to this sentence--

Love is…channeling Martha Stewart to turn some of your husband’s cute, stripey old t-shirts with breast pockets into huggable pillows for your children.

Love is…nurturing your daughter’s insatiable passion for crafting.

Love is…expressing wonder and delight when she turns six inches of narrow ribbon into a one-inch knot called a “caterpillar.”

Love is…expressing wonder and delight over the thirty-seventh caterpillar, too.

Love is…praising her generosity when she makes some for her brother.

Love is…exclaiming over his cleverness when he tucks said caterpillars into bed in the breast pocket of the t-shirt pillows.

Love is…stripping his bed and washing EVERYTHING when the extent of his latest mishap cannot be determined.

Love is…schlepping piles of wet bedding from washer to dryer.

Love is…seeing a teeny flash of caterpillar green go by between handfuls of heavy, wet bedding.

Love is…digging back through the wet laundry for the (now half inch long) caterpillar.

Love is…watching his face as he tucks the caterpillar into the new nest his sister created for him.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Mothers' Day

bricks and mortar really haven’t changed
since umpteen-thousand b.c.
hard square things with sticky stuff between
harder and stickier now, perhaps, but they still make houses

even less mutable is our need for shelter
man is woman is child is man—
we all need it
and so: bricks, mortar, house built

modern motherhood, eternal conundrum
rears its head
knowing little of construction, I
take out a mortgage: problem solved

not quite

across the table, under our roof
my daughter caps and uncaps markers
her molecular structure stable
her physical world strong and childproofed

while I play with pieces of my puzzle
jigging and sawing the words, the phrases
the memories that will shape her life
too many ‘no’s or too few

too little praise or for the wrong thing
one veggie too many cajoled down her throat
do we laugh enough? love enough?
balance freedom and security?

oh what I would give for a blueprint!

an architect to take my order:
her eyes windows to life, health, beauty
a door in her heart for faith and love
but a custom security system (direct dial to mom)

I want her wired for fun, strong, sturdy,
eco-friendly, with a self-correcting central processor
in a good neighborhood, adjacent to other good homes
every last detail of the finest craftsmanship

oh—and where do I get really good bricks?
because, most of all, I don’t want a hole
yes, The Hole, the gaping void in me
that I fill with food or escape in books

how do I build her a whole home
experiences and skills and knowledge
strong foundation to leakless roof
to shelter her beautiful spirit, hole-free and wholly free?

Friday, May 11, 2012

More Fun With Kids

Little A: Mom, I know why my fish game needs “C” batteries.
Mom: Why’s that?
Little A: ‘Cause it’s a SEA game!

S: I need my hairbrush.
Little A.: I need my hairbrush.
S: Stop it!
Little A: Stop it!
S: Will you stop copying me?
Little A: Will you stop coffee-ing me?

Little A: I have a joke.
Mom: Okay.
Little A: What did the peach say to the watermelon?
Mom: I don’t know. What?
Little A: Actually, I have another joke.

S: If you take out his middle initial, Little A.’s initials spell ‘AC.’ Like—‘Ack!!!’

Mom: What did you do on the playground today?
Little A: (enthusiastically) My friends and I played the Potty Game!
Mom: (cautiously) What’s the Potty Game?
Little A: (beaming) Some of us are pee-pee and some of us are poopies…
Mom bites lip, waits for it in dread.
Little A: And we go to the top of the twisty slide and pretend we’re going down the pipes!
Mom breathes again.

[In the interests of full disclosure, his teacher did encourage the children to keep the potty words for the bathroom. They’re now playing ants going down the pipes.]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

By the Numbers

Well, it sure looks like this little old blog will have 1,000 hits some time soon.

I am, surprisingly, at a loss for words, so I think I’ll turn this one over to the kids. Let’s hear what they have to say about numbers.

S. developed a knack for figures early on. We took a quiz for a local magazine and one of the questions was, “How old is your mom?” She said, “I dunno. Really old. Fourteen?”

Yep, she really knows how to spin the numbers.

Little A. has a profound respect for size. Everything in his life is 100 or a million. And the only measurement of time is “for-EVer.” So I get protesting comments like
“You make me clean up my room one hundred times!”
“I can’t eat those peas. Those are a million peas!”
Not to mention
“You haven’t taken us to the library in for-EVer.”

On the bright side, we agree on one of the three—I have made him clean up his room AT LEAST one hundred times. And it’s still not sticking somehow. I’m guessing the magic number must be a million.
I’m pretty tickled about our thousand clicks together. I’m looking forward to sharing more musings with you. Thank you!