Quicker Than I Can Say 'Cat Cookies'

I scooted over to Trader Joe's this morning with the kids in tow. Apparently, my little ones hadn't run enough (make that any) laps in Sunday school. (What gives? The least you could do is spin them in circles for a while after you're done telling the story about Jesus and the "de-stiples".)

So my kids still had quite a bit of--what shall we call it--spunk. Not to mention boundless energy, the likes of which is highly incompatible with narrow produce aisles and the subtle cart-to-cart combat that transpires among otherwise docile sunday shoppers.

In my quest to be the fun and creative mom instead of the yelly and screamy and don't-touch-that!, don't-touch-each-other!, would-you-just-stop-touching-and-talking-and-generally-being-crazy!! mom, I made up a little game. It seemed brilliant at the time.

Super Spies!

Their mission? To be invisible. The closer they stayed to the cart, the more invisible they became. And as long as they stayed near the cart and didn't make a sound, no one would discover them and foil the mission! A successful mission would culminate in none other than--a beloved fruit bar snack.

See? Brilliant, right?


It was Lisa the check out lady who noticed my crazed behavior first--how I was turning in circles and repeating things like "where is she?" and "where on earth did she go?"

"What are you missing?" she asked.

"My daughter," I said, panic rising. So this must be what it's like to be the Man with the Yellow Hat. I swear George Dani was just right here!

So much for not being the yelly mom. "Dani! Dani! Come back here!" Yeah, I yelled it.

She scampered around the corner, three check-out lines away, giggling her way toward me.

"Dani, hon, what were you thinking? You are NEVER to run off by yourself!"

"But I was finding the secret passageway!" she explained. "For the super 'py game!"

Lessons learned?

1) Dani can disappear quicker than I can say Cat Cookies.
2) I should probably take a hiatus from creative-game-maker-upper mom and stick to the tried and true don't-you-dare-touch-anything approach.
3) Even if it means waiting more than a month to make it back to Trader Joe's, next time, I will GO ALONE.

The end.


Five Minute Friday: Five Years Ago

On Fridays at Lisa Jo's place, she hosts a little tradition. She invites us to throw caution (editing, revising, and worrying) to the winds and just write. For five minutes flat. Today's prompt is "Five Years Ago." Ready? Here we go:

We were on our way home. I wrestled his car seat into the window seat, his pudgy 17-month old legs kicking against me in the Bjorn while I squeezed myself and a well-stocked diaper bag into the plane's cramped quarters. It was late, at least by a 1 year old's standards, and I was hoping my little boy would fall asleep.

He didn't.

Instead, we played a rousing ten rounds of "Toss the Pacifier." I lost all ten rounds and all six (yes SIX!) pacifiers somewhere in the recesses of the aircraft. When we dwindled down to paci #5, not knowing I'd actually mean it, I threatened, "Buddy, you throw your paci down one more time, and that means no more pacis for you. You're done. For good."

He threw it down.

And in a rare moment of parental follow-through, I brought the Pacifier Era to an end.


A bit of background I couldn't fit in my five minutes...

 We were on our way home to DC from Seattle where my sister Robin lived at the time. Robin's oldest girl was two years old, and her second little girl was only a few weeks old. My sister Michelle flew up from southern California with her youngest--then just shy of two years old--to meet us there for a bit of a girl's reunion. Caed was severely outnumbered.

What kills me is how five years can transform these little ones:

Into This:


Also, I'm no longer entertaining the delusion that I have enough discipline (and time) to commit to hosting a regular series around here. So I won't be bringing back Flashback Friday on a regular basis. That said, I just discovered that Mocha with Linda is hosting (much more reliably) a similar meme. So if you must have that Flashback Friday fix, head on over to her place.

Happy weekend, my friends!


Everything Under the Gaping-Mouthed Moon

I line up with the others, take my place in the horseshoe formation of motors humming, heaters cranking. I wait my turn to open a door, to point to a booster and say "hop in." I spot him while I'm still five cars away, the canvas backpack still half as big as he is. I swallow back un-articulated angst, press harder on the brake, needlessly.

I'm still in park.

I fight the urge to droop my shoulders and beat my head against the horn, knowing I can't get away with that brand of crazy, at least not in the carpool line.

Ten minutes of NPR can do this to a person.

Everything under the gaping-mouthed moon seems to grow heavier, darker by the day. Except of course my tiny little life--my cocooned suburban existence. It stays bright, healthy, fed, warm, alive, well.

But what about the little boy in my son's class whose loved one never showed up for "Lunch with a Loved One"? And what about the little girl in the second grade who watched a coffin lower into ground last week, her mother's? And what about the four year old halfway around the world, still far too young to protest, but shot anyway, as he stood on a balcony? And what about the earth shaking tremors taking lives and crumbling homes? And what about the girls sold every second into slavery? I'm halfway through my obnoxious what about the list, all these reasons for fists to shake at sky, when I pull up to the curb.

"Hey big guy! How was school?" And back I snap into my sing-song life. Like a good little ostrich, while the world swirls faster and faster down the drain, I sit in the freakin' carpool line, thumb through his take-home folder, spout off the snack options.

While children starve in North Korea, I barter with mine about dessert.

The moon gapes, having seen too much. And I, though I've seen little and heard but a fraction, what with my head so buried in the beautiful sand, I find myself breaking out of the after-school auto-pilot long enough to feel the downward pull of generic tears.

But I don't actually cry. I just mince garlic and slice onions and chop parsley and shout for the kids to stop wielding the inflatable swords, favors from last weekend's birthday party. And then I agree with that famous equation involving ignorance and bliss.

It is timely then, that I pick up Ann Voskamp's book hours later while the children sleep and the dishes soak, that I read her answer to the question I still can't phrase:

I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks....
Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. -Ann Voskamp, excerpt from One Thousand Gifts
I gulp down this cocktail of conviction, relief, and "Aha!". For too long I have nursed guilt over the way others suffer and I don't. For too long I have added my voice to the anger and the outrage, added my fist to the masses that clench and shake. And I've had it wrong, all wrong.

Ann isn't first to exhort me to focus on "whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable", or to instruct "if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." But she is the first to help me see how this practice of tuning into beauty can become an antidote to suffering, how gratitude can soothe soul sickness--mine, the world's.

I look out, see how even at half full, a moon sheds light enough for ice to glisten. I give thanks, throw my faint glimmer in with the moon and marvel at how even the tiniest light trounces the dark.


I have no weapon against worry, except thanks

The truth is, the children haven't been up an hour and already I've mediated four arguments, all of them foolish.

The truth is, I woke up in panic last night, asking what if? about his drive home from work on black ice in black morning.

The truth is, I woke up in worry this morning, over electricity and how long it would take to come back.

I have no weapon against worry, except thanks. I stand no chance against what if until I give thanks for what is. Ann writes in her book about nail driving out nail--replacing old habit with new. So I wake, and continue the gratitude list:

#39 Caed, persuading his classmate that a little sister is just as awesome as a little brother. "Sisters are so fun, especially when they're like 3 or 4. They're just hilarious!"

#40 Dani, insisting she go everywhere with her brother, even turning down an offer for her very first pedicure, saying she'd rather wait to do that until "Caed is abailable to go witd me."

#41 Finding the camera I thought I'd lost at the ice rink (sighs of relief)

#42 Watching her wobble, first time on skates

#43 Her daddy, always there to catch

#44 And before long, she's ready for 70s style ice dancing

#45 His growing confidence on ice

#46 Wearing puffy vest handed down from hero cousins

#47 The snow, then ice, stretching again like clean white sheets over the ugly bloomless thaw

#48 The tiny flicker of her nightlight from across the hall, signaling return of electricity against all odds and ice

#49 Warmth, coffee, internet, hot showers--morning gifts courtesy of resilient power lines

#50 Her polka-dotted fleece jammies

#51 His grown-out buzz cut, adding straight-up inches to his frame and messy boyishness to his look

#52 Morning hugs

#53 Husband sliding home from work safely in dark morning, midst of storm


Flashback Friday: This Is It

Her name is Judy. His is Bob. We've talked only minutes and already I'm smitten. I see how in 25 years my eyes might twinkle the same way when I reminisce about how my children grew up skiing, about the August island hopping, the downeast eden only sails can show you.

I swirl red around the glass, listen as they list long the must go and must see of their charming little town. At least three times in these short hours, an old friend happens by and interrupts our table of seven. Bob and Judy put hands on our shoulders, my husband and I, explain we're considering a move. And each time, the friends rave about how long they've loved it here--whether for five or fifty years. They hope we will come, they all say. I feel certain they mean it.

We drive home the next day after the long tour of must go and must see, piles of glossy-paged enticements on my lap and by my feet. It all sounds amazing, perfect, idyllic, from the town to the job to the people. Finally alone, we give voice to our traded glances of the past two days. I try to block the hope bubbling, but it foams through my hands and down the glass like root beer zealous for air.

He sees it.

"Don't get me wrong," he starts. "I can see us happy here. I know I'd enjoy working with the group. And the kids would love it here. But..."

He trails off, searches for words to match the uneasy feeling.

"It's hard to articulate," he admits. "I just don't think this is it."

"I desperately want it to be. I want this to be it, but.." Now I trail off too. In the deep pit of stomach where anxiety crouches, dormant, I already know. One deep honest breath will bring to the top the reason why the highly rated schools and the picturesque harbor and the amazing library are not enough.

Everything on paper says "happily ever after." We could stretch roots deep in this coastal soil. He could be home every night for dinner. We could build the gourmet kitchen, buy the Viking stove, dip our first boat into the bay, all with space for guilt-easing generosity on-the-side.

But everything on paper burns. In the weeks that follow, we hold the paper against the smallest tugging of heart. And the flame licks, consumes all doubt. This isn't it.

But if this isn't it, what is?

It is a year later before I know. 

It is a year later, today in fact, before I understand that we are living what is. That three more years of residency--the low pay and long hours--is it. That moving to a smaller, older, quirkier house is it. That signing on to serve again where the only thing certain is deployment is it. That moving every few years, accumulating experiences instead of wealth, is it.

On paper, life reads anything but "happily ever after."
But I've discovered how little paper means, how quickly it burns in the wick of heart-led life. 
My heart and hope finally agree. Indeed, this is it.


I know it's been forever since I've spoken of Flashback Friday, but on a whim, I'm bringing it back. Because this is a flashback, and today is Friday. So why not? Would you like to join me? I'll add a place to link below, and you're welcome to add something you've written long ago, or to write something fresh. Whatever suits you. If you decide to join in, grab the button code on the sidebar and link back here.


When My Sister Says Drive, I Say "How Far" (And Then I Check the Weather)

Only after we made it, safely seated in the airy food court with our five children and seven sandwiches, did my sister and I joke about whose idea it was to meet up in Rochester in the middle of winter. It was hers, in case you're wondering.

With her husband still deployed (and her birthday and anniversary looming), I wasn't surprised when I asked how I could help, what she wanted, and she said,  "A distraction."

So she drove west, and I drove east, both toward reunion, both along the highway stretching lake to lake. Interstate 90, the great gray line of American gloom.  We've learned, in this snow belt existence, never to underestimate the usefulness of knowing where the road is, particularly as it pertains to ditch avoidance. And so we sat thankful for seeing the road for at least most of the trip, for making it to this anti-climatic scene of promising the kids sun chips in exchange for two more bites of turkey.

We spent the whole of the afternoon at the National Museum of Play. I can't begin to say how much we enjoyed it. And after four hours of fervent playing, I also can't begin to say how much I wanted to curl up in a ball on the Bernstein Bear's bed and hibernate for an hour or twelve.

I see how in just a weekend, the list can grow, and with it, this feeling of gratitude:

#17 Ditch avoidance
#18 Dani dancing and/or skipping everywhere for the first three hours of our museum visit
#19 Cousins getting lost in play together

#20 Castles and theater and dress up and tea parties

#21 Tinker toys and science and secret rooms with secret treasures

#22 Shopping and scanning and printing a real receipt, and oh, the looks on those faces

#23 Adjoining hotel rooms in which to crash, worth way more than the bargain price we paid

#24 Dani and Glory snuggling in matching jammies, listening to stories

#25 Purple boots and pink snowpants handed down, exactly the right size

#26 Talking with my sis for those precious few hours after the kids finally fell asleep

#27 And for the Sunday morning that came too quickly....a drive-through Starbucks

#28 Did I mention the drive-through Starbucks? Well, it won't hurt to count it twice. It was a double shot, after all.

#29 Joining Larry's extended family (uncle, aunt, cousins) for worship in a sweet, vibrant church

#30 A lovely Sunday afternoon meal--one I didn't have to cook!--with loved ones

#31 The kindness Larry's cousins (much closer in age to our children than to Larry) showed toward Caed and Dani, how my kids begged to stay and hated to leave

#32 A safe, snowless drive home

#33 Having just enough butter to make the snickerdoodles I'd promised for Valentine's Day

#34 Having just enough bubblegum flavored Motrin to get my now feverish girl through the night

#35 The faint sound of spring in the wind, the way 45 degrees feels blooming warm

#36 The icicles shedding winter in drips, agreeing with the groundhog, at least for today

#37 Oh, and just now, right as I was going to hit publish, as a test no doubt of my gratitudinal (yes, I made that word up) fortitude, my little girl covered her sheets with the dinner from four hours back. So let's make #37 gratitude for washing machines, and

#38 For a husband on his way home from work with a fresh bottle of children's tylenol...


She is the Sane One Who Chooses to Skip

I scowl against the phone, threaten his answering machine, idly, because what leverage do I really have in February when the plowing bill's paid but the plow won't show? I have a too long drive and a too slow shovel, and he has a truck--and my money. I hang up, heart beating fast and angry at the driveway covered in three day old snow, at the undelivered mail, at the dark basement and the landlord who still hasn't called the electrician.

He bounds by in a blur, my son, skipping the route that's bound to crack a head. Or two. Because there goes the little sister, and I doubt you could call what she's doing skipping. But there they are, circling wild and wide, as if they've just been told an extraordinary piece of good news.

The next time round the couch Caed shares his secret, breathless. "You know what my favorite thing is? Skipping! I skip everywhere!"

Pausing, panting, he turns to me and waves arms wide. "Sometimes, when I'm sad, I just skip and it makes me happy. It's like joy, like you know, how you choose it!" He lifts up elbows and skips away.


So. If you see an old lady skipping, red hair flying, waste to ankle in chocolate brown corduroy, bright striped scarf flapping rebellion against winter's earthen pallet. If you see her and wonder whether the world's gone mad, then wonder no more.

It has.

But she is the sane one, who chooses to skip, chooses the ridiculous and exaggerated celebration of nothing in particular. Who chooses joy.

Who chooses to be mad--not at the plow guy--but with wonder.

I'm not there yet. Not yet the sane one. But so help me I'll get there if it's the last place I ever skip....


Linking with Emily today for Imperfect Prose.


On Gloves and Gratitude

I lost it. Over a lost glove. (A glove, lost and found and lost and found and lost and found and lost and found, and now, again, the day before skiing, lost).

"Zip your coat back up." I snarled at my first grader. "We're going back inside."

"I just don't understand, Caed. Help me understand. How did you lose it again?" Dangerously close to yelling, it wasn't a question as much as an accusation. I unstrapped Dani, still puffy eyed in her post-nap stupor, and stomped my way up the walk like the mad mother duck, my two trailing behind as we passed the last bus loading.

"It was in my backpack, I know it, Mom," he came up beside. "I don't know how it got lost again."

I started to soften as we opened the door and headed for the lost and found. "I'm just disappointed, Bud. I really wanted you to be able to go to your last ski lesson. And it's like we told you, if you lose another pair of snow gloves--and we can't find them before your lesson tomorrow--you can't go skiing."

We sorted through mittens and hats and jackets of every size and color. No dice. (No gloves either).
We rounded the corner toward his classroom. Caed's teacher looked up from her desk and smiled. "Oh no. What did we lose this time?"

"One of his gloves," I said cheerfully, on my best behavior now, what, with the teacher watching.

"All I found is this one." She reached over and held up a black snow glove. "But I think it's Tommy's?"

"Oh yes, that's it--that's Caed's! Thank goodness!" I squealed, so relieved that he will make it to his last ski lesson after all. How I had dreaded the promised consequence.

Caed cracked a smile for the first time since his backpack came up one glove short of a full pair. We walked back to the car with hearts lightening, backpacks one glove heavier.

I asked forgiveness, of him, of Him, for losing it over a lost glove.
My little one smiled, nodded, hugged.
My God spilled grace like a rolled up river, untied.


Friends, I may not write them all down here, but I will write them all down, one thousand gifts and maybe beyond.

#1 A glove found six times over, and always in the nick of time

#2 A forgiving hug, a tender smile

#3 Skiing, father and son

#4 A six year old who has finally learned to control his speed on the blue slopes

#5 A six year old who may have learned to control his speed, but still chooses not to

#6 The story he wrote at school, "My favorit thing to do in the snow is to sky. I even have a sky lesson. I get to go on the rope, and my dad has no work so he can be with me."

#7 A Dad with "no work" on a snowy Saturday morning

#8 Fresh snow falling

#9 Dani and Caed, transforming the snow plow mounds into sledding hills and forts and secret passageways

#10 A crackling fire and a working furnace

#11 Hot cocoa and marshmallows, every day for three days and counting

#12 An outdoor run on a trail I can love year round

#13 How 30 degrees feels warm after a while

#14 Ibuprofin, after that 10 mile run caught up with me

#15 A failed first attempt at homemade ravioli, made good by the successful attempt at homemade chocolate chip cookies (Desert for dinner, anyone?)

#16 For grace like a rolled up river, untied.


Joining the counting, and sharing with the gratitude community.



I interrupt your lovely Saturday afternoon for a bit of shameless self promotion. BlogHer picked up one of my posts for syndication, and it's running over there today.

In other news, Dani is still the reigning champion in Wii boxing. And my back is still arguing with my brain about whether I am, in fact, an 80 year old woman. Good times.

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com


Brain Freeze (AKA This Is My Brain On Winter)

I am up to my mailbox in snow, up to my nose in tax forms, up to my waste in winter weight yoga pants.
I am low on vitamin D and sometimes life, low on word counts and will power to turn off the TV.

The gas bill terrifies me. The laundry hill taunts me.

I clean like a madwoman in advance of a play date, only to discover via a concerned phone call that the play date wasn't scheduled to be at my house. And now we're a half hour late to the correct play date location.

Last night, I burned the rice. Yes. BURNED the rice. Seriously, who does that?

This is my brain.
This is my brain on winter.

Also? I have 10 miles to run this weekend if I aim to stay on track to run the half marathon (which I signed up for when it was still fall and gorgeous running weather--another wicked smart move on my part). And so I'm going to run outside, in below freezing temps, on packed snow, and one way or another--be it from the cold or from fatigue--my legs are going to feel like they might fall off. And that is when I'll ask the question. "Um, what exactly was I thinking?"

And the answer?
I wasn't.
Like I said.
This is my brain on winter.


Linked up to The Gypsy Mama's Five-Minute Friday. Her prompt today was "mail". And you can see how very beautifully I followed directions. I had good intentions starting out--what, with the word "mailbox" appearing in the very first sentence. And then did you see what my winter brain did from there? I know. It's scary.


p.s. Does anyone else have winter brain? Or am I the only one burning rice and missing play dates? Please just tell me something ridiculous you did recently, so I don't feel like the only one with intellectual hypothermia.


I Wish The Universe Would Stop Using My Husband To Tell Me Things

The tacos were long gone, and the kids were counting cat cookies by the time I picked up my phone and started skimming.

Dinner was technically over. I'd already endured a 20 minute chorus of nonsense, which is to say, I chatted with my six and four year old in between bites of guacamole. I figured I'd earned at least a few moments to read three dozen status updates, of which 80% combined words like "snow" and "ice" with ample sarcasm. (My favorite--a friend who announced she was "expecting again!!", and then in the fine print, told us the expectation involved 6-9 inches of snow and not 40 weeks of gestation. But I digress.)

Larry arrived for dinner just as the guacamole dwindled to dangerous levels, catching me phone-handed. But it didn't even occur to me to put the phone away. Instead, I read him a few updates, a quote from a blog post, and the weather report. Which looking back, I realize was enormously helpful in sealing my fate for the intervention that followed.

When the Eternal Quest to Put the Kids to Bed was finally behind us, he started the spiel. Distracted, disengaged, and this is a problem--how do you not see it? I didn't like the spiel. At all. I tried defensiveness, deflection, and I might have tried a bit of sarcasm (which works so well in Facebook, why not real life?)

But guess what. That cussity-cuss-cuss spiel was accurate. He was right. (There. I said it. HAPPY now, Dear? ) By the end of the evening, I understood and agreed. This hyper-connected, email and internet obsessed mother can do better. I need to do better.

This morning, he emailed me this WP article. (Yes. Emailed. Oh the irony.)

And then it was clear that the universe was trying to tell me something.
(I just wish the universe would stop using my husband to tell me things. It's getting annoying.)

I live distracted at baseline, and the ridiculous lengths to which I take multitasking are not doing me or my tasks any favors. 

I'll give you an example if you promise not to judge: updating TurboTax while on the phone with doctor's office while overseeing homework while preparing dinner. But so you don't think I'm totally crazy, I had a good 8 minutes to kill while the pasta was boiling.

I know I need to make some concrete changes, specific resolutions on which I can feasibly follow through. I'm comfortable with the amount of "focused" time I spend online--that's at least one area where it's not excessive. Where I am faltering is in how distractable I am, how I reach for the phone way too often, how I skim and glance and check instead of giving one thing my full attention.

And so (again in a stroke of ironic genius--or oxymoronic behavior--you choose), I turn to the internet to help me figure this out.

What should I do differently, give up, do less of? What boundaries have you set to instill balance in your use of technology? Has it worked? Is it safe to assume I'm not getting an iPhone 4 for Valentine's Day? (Wait. Don't answer that one.)

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