Monday, December 12, 2011


Recently, a disturbing picture, a profoundly impacting one, popped up on my Facebook feed.  It seems to be making the rounds because I've seen it several times since.  The picture is one with a split image--on the left is a horrific image of several little ones suffering from kwashiorkor, the malnutrition disease which presents visually as children with spindly bodies and distended bellies.  These, alone, make their heads look gigantic.  The children seem to be reaching toward food, that is the implication.  On the right is the image of haggard mothers racing frantically through a department store, their carts and arms overflowing with games and toys.  These words are emblazoned on the top and bottom:  DEFINE NECESSITY.

Honestly, my very (very) first thought was:  Yeah, yeah--I know.  Trying to pull my heartstrings

This gave way to:  Well?  What am I supposed to do about it? I can't help these kids any more than I could feed those poor starving kids in China when I was little and didn't want to clean my plate.

Then:  I certainly hope this whomps some of these materialistic people in the eye!  They should take their extra and give it to hungry babies.  Why, God, if you'd give me extra this Christmas, that's what I'd do!

And finally...It is what it is, I guess.  Jesus says, "The poor will always be with us."

As I consider these thoughts and their order, I am reminded of  Kubler-Ross's model for the "stages of grief" (or death, or dying):  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  A loud, resounding YES echoes through my heart chambers!  Yes, yes, yes!  We are dying in droves, not from starvation, not from malnutrition, but from a lack of common sense.  There is not one among us who does not feel sad for these hungry children, but how many of us are still trying to manipulate our purse strings so we can fill up our own kids' stockings with the things they want?  Somehow, even the wisest of parents break at Christmas. 

What's dying here is our self-control, our wisdom, our adherence to our own words.  We can tell our kids until we're blue in the face that raking in the loot is not what Christmas is all about, but unless we show them, our words amount to nothing.    

Monday, October 24, 2011

Homeschoolers: The Educated Unsocialized. WHAT????

Homeschooling parents can tell you, without hesitation, the very first words they hear from opponents of home education:  "But what about socialization?"  That's so odd to me.  Who sends their kids to school to socialize?

 I do understand that we moved our cherubs from the sun and fun of Cape May County, NJ, to the Middle-of-Nowhere, WV, and that they need to see people other than us.  I am a social person.  But, I also assert that they do not consider each student they have run into in public school a potential friend.  I think people are naturally selective in their relationships.  I told both kids going into this wild and woolly venture that they could invite friends over any time they wanted. They don't do alot of inviting.  They have established friendships with other homeschoolers in the area and spend a fair amount of time with them.  We also take part in Fun Friday (term coined by a hokey, local, homeschooling mom) activities.  We have visited the  Frontier Culture Museum and Marker Miller Orchards.  We are headed to Mount Vernon (George Washington's homeplace) next month.  We also get together sometimes just to--dare I say it?--PLAY.

I created a Facebook page called Homebodies and encourage both parents and children to join conversations going on there.  As a group (and sometimes with others), we ground-picked a truckload of apples, made 24 gallons of applesauce, studied the Constitution and its creation, enjoyed a small, intimate dinner and sharing time with two international workers who currently serve in Indonesia, and made s'mores over a fire built and maintained by two homeschoolers.  So, you see, we are quite a social bunch.

We eat, we pray, we love.  We laugh, we learn, we socialize.  Plus, our kids' teacher loves them better than anyone else on earth and knows them inside and out.  She understands when they are frustrated and never chides them for not catching on to something right away.  She doesn't excuse bad behavior by blaming it on their classmates, and she never EVER has to shed her pajamas because she was called to school for a parent-teacher conference.  She has the time and energy to collect and grade each assignment, not just the first three to pull the week's grade out of a stack of papers.  She believes her students' time is valuable. Who could ask for more?


Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Whirlwind Of Learning--And Only One Month In!

It has been considerably longer than a few short days since my last post, and for this I humbly apologize.  We have been caught in a month-long tornado, a whirlwind of learning and it's been wonderful!  If I had realized homeschooling could be like this we would have done it this way forever ago.  But, when we last schooled at home, we were clueless.  We knew we didn't want our dearest loves in public school, and private school for four children would have majorly stretched our budget.  So we decided to make a go of it at the kitchen table.

Several factors hindered our success in those days.  First, the curriculum we chose was one being used by friends, it was self-taught and self-corrected, and super tedious.  And second, we didn't realize schooling at home did not have to look like schooling at school--public or private.  We have since wisened up and have untangled ourselves and our children from such constraining thought.  And these youngest two of our six are blossoming!  They are such problem solvers, and so intuitive!  Did any of their public school teachers ever even see this in them?

We have a schedule and all disciplines are represented.  We sit at the kitchen table most days.  So things aren't whimsical (grrr--a parent once accused me of whimsical teaching) or willy-nilly.  They are organized--and backed by sound research--but flexible.  We read and laugh together, have become Facebook friends with a favorite author, have created a loosely organized homeschooling group that (because of the Internet) extends across the country.  We have visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA, and will be spending next Friday on a colonial farm.  We have gotten chummy (in the historical sense) with our nation's founding fathers and have created and presented Fourteenth Colony projects within the the constraints of the establishment of the first thirteen.  (That is, we have no space aliens or talking animals.)  We have felt the passion of the men who lived and breathed our country's liberty and, thanks to our local Tea Party (We, The People of Hampshire County), have celebrated Constitution Week with lesson plans and a great video.  Our daughter is raising a chicken in her room and Monday marks our launch into Science experiments you can eat.  We do math from a grade-appropriate textbook every day because we must.  Mommy is not a math girl, but I am learning to enjoy how numbers work.  Before long, we will be picking the brain of a math friend for some cool projects, maybe a few old copies of Middle School Math (a magazine) will be tossed our way!

Even our neighbors are excited by our homeschooling.  One has offered First Aid classes as she is a first responder.  Another, a local (and nationally recognized!) artisan will be be teaching us basketry.  Another will be leading us through a counted cross-stitch mini-project.  We have prepped food, made tie-dye tees and have studied chromatology.  And in mid-April we are headed to DC for a very high-tech science/engineering extravaganza.

I can't wait to see what next month brings!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To School, or Not To School?

For the second or third time since becoming the mother  of a school-aged-child in 1991, we have opted to homeschool.  The very first time, our dear oldest daughter was trying out public school after several years in a private Christian school.  Her third grade year was fine--she knew a lot going in.  Fourth grade brought myriad problems as our daughter's hip, young teacher was very quick to tell her Jesus was a religious figure and ABSOLUTELY NOT a historical figure.  We fixed that.  Then I caught the teacher screaming (literally, and name-calling) at our daughter in the nurse's office--she had no idea the phone on the nurse's desk was off the cradle and I was on the other end of it.  After a very direct meeting the next morning with the teacher and her boss, we fixed that one, too.  But fifth grade was another story.  We were no longer dealing with religious issues--these people were making our daughter dumb.  And it was only the second week of school!

Somewhere along the way, our local elementary school convinced our daughter that quantity was better than quality.  The teacher reported happily that our girl was smart as a whip and completed all her work, and then some.  One day, while sifting through her Friday folder, a social studies test caught my eye.  I was thinking it was one for the refrigerator since it had a great big 100% at the top.  And then I looked closely:  Our daughter believed Pennsylvania was the capital of Philadelphia and so did her teacher.  (The converse isn't even true--it's Harrisburg!)  There were several other--five in all--equally ridiculous answers marked correct.  I ordered a fifth-grade curriculum over the weekend and she never went back to that school.  At some point, she went back to her former private school.

The next time we attempted homeschooling--about a year later--was a disaster and some of the children are still in therapy.  The baby was in the playpen; the preschooler was learning her letters; the first grader DESPISED reading; the fourth grader kept feeding his pencils to the dog; and the sixth grader (dear oldest daughter) was just trying to do the right thing.  And then I turned up pregnant.  The poor kids didn't know which way was up!  Half the time I was Mary Poppins and the other half I was Cruella de Ville.  Then, one day, my precious husband walked in early from work and after looking at his children's tragic expressions, said the most beautiful words:  "Call Cape Christian and see if they'll take all of them on Monday."  They did.

I am no longer Mary Poppins or Cruella de Ville, 11 years have flown by since then, and there's no way on earth I'm turning up pregnant again.  This brings us to our current homeschool experience, a story that will come in just a short day or so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Harder Than I Thought...

This is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought.  I don't mean having the grandboy with us; I mean, packing him to go home.  I will allow that it has been very busy at our house for the past three weeks.  His mother has been gone, and we have had to add the wants, needs and habits of a potty-training, nap-forsaking two-year-old to an already almost impossible schedule.  (Did I mention we have also agreed to adopt our daughter's six-month-old lab?)

Our grandboy spent the first week of his adventure adjusting.  He, like a tiny preschool liquid filling the spaces in an existing container, poured himself into our home and hearts.  He was compliant and pretty flexible.  He became less picky about his food, hung out with his older aunts and uncles, didn't assert himself very much and was generally well-behaved.  In short, he went with the flow. 

Then, the slippery slope, the point at which he began to create the flow.  We think he spent his first week observing our behavior and storing data.  His tendrils sought out the chinks in our armor, the weak spots in our hearts.  He is absolutely the youngest unschooled--but very accomplished--psychoanalyst we have ever met.  Bumpie and I were completely unprepared for this savvy new generation of toddler.  He became enamored of his beautiful aunts, and ran to them at even the suggestion of discipline from us.  He decided to use his little blue potty only when he wanted candy, forced the girls to stay awake with him when he couldn't sleep (once until 5:20 a.m.) and trapped Bumpie in his web of sticky fingers and cute baby words.  None of us tired of him, though; not once has he been a pain.

I thought I would be okay about packing his things.  But as I folded his tiny clothes and sorted his little wee toys, I began to long for the child who was still here.  I lingered over his sippy cups, smelled his no-tears baby soap.  Like his mother and Uncle Raymond, he hid a most odd assortment of objects in secret places.  I couldn't help smiling at their discovery.  In a compartment in his riding toy I found the dog's baby, a flat-head screwdriver, a soda bottle wrapper, purple Mardi Gras beads and a hairbrush.  In a cabinet, we found some crackers, the Wii remote, a shoe, some batteries, a comb and a fork.  I am sure there are undiscovered treasures yet to be found.

Yesterday, a few chicks hatched here.  He promptly named them after his brother, his grandfather and his aunt.  The chicks are named:  Baby Miam (Liam), Baby Bumpie and Baby Aunt Mawie (Molly). 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Importance of Being Scheduled

Having little ones on schedules is really important.  We live in a scheduled society, and unless we are fortunate enough to design our days without input from life's demands, they are good for us.  Rigidity is not good, but as our children grow, the notion that things just happen when they happen, doesn't serve them.  It hinders them.  (Refer to the beginning of sentence #2:  We live in a scheduled society.)  They become people who arrive places--like work--when they feel like it and lose entire days without accomplishing anything.  I am not opposed to losing a day here and there as a mental health fix, but if some type of order isn't followed, a day becomes several, becomes a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.

I have found that having the grandboy here helps me keep a schedule.  I don't think his mother will be very happy to know that he goes to bed much later than he's used to and, thus, sleeps much later.  You see, I am a morning person and she is a night owl.  I need the wee hours to make things happen in the house, and in my work.  That way, I belong to my family when they wake up.  We do keep regular mealtimes for both the kids and the animals here at Open Hand Farm (that's us) but most activities tend to start later and wind down later here.

In the bigger and extended-out sense, kids who don't value compartments of time, will become adults who don't value compartments of time.  I declare this entire discussion null and void as it relates to the people predisposed to completing tasks--I think they will naturally create the schedule that works for them.  I also know that if you give a baby the opportunity, he will create his own schedule and, initially, it will revolve around the basics--sleeping and eating.  (Could you see a little baby's TO DO list?  Wake up, eat, drift back off to sleep, wake up, play, poop, eat lunch, sleep, wake up, eat, play with sibs, cry while the rest of the family tries to eat supper, play with Daddy, bath, late night snack, sleep.)  My mom came from the school that told mommies to wake their babies up EVERY FOUR HOURS on the button or they would grow up to be delinquents.  Guess what?  I still grew up to be a delinquent.  (I'm much better now.  LOL)  I don't actually think the schedule had anything to do with it.  

All this to say:
1.  Schedules are good.
2.  The schedule that suits your family is the best one.
3.  Like it or not, we live in a world ordered by time and, thus, schedules.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Back To Our Senses

Phew!  I was starting not to recognize us.  We were beginning to do all the poor parenting things we used to criticize other people for.  We slipped into grandparental overindulgence and began to create a monster--but no more!  We realized our error both in our grandboy's behavior and in his lack of pooping.  He began to turn into the the yittle boss, which is funny because that's what his mother insisted she was at three years of age.  She and I were going roundy-round about one thing or another and I said to her, "YOU are NOT the boss."  (I was very emphatic.)

She puffed out her little chest and put her adorable little hands on her hips.  She furrowed her beautiful little brow and narrowed her amazing blue eyes and corrected me.  "I the YITTLE BOSS!" she said.  Her son was beginning to assert himself in similar fashion.  He was also deciding what he would and would not eat.  Bumpie and I were giving in because we wanted to be popular.  We figured out how stupid we were being when we realized our grandboy hadn't pooped in two days.  His mother did have a similar tendency, naturally, but it was an epiphany moment for us and we knew we had to be more responsible.  So...we began feeding him bananas and peaches and watermelon and eggs and LOTS of water and limited milk products and no junk cereal.  We say "no" sometimes and have even had to use the time-out chair.  It should be noted that even though the grandboy is strong-willed (like his mommy), he is also smart and has only had to sit on the time-out chair twice.  It's good when we can learn from our own mistakes, isn't it?

And guess what?  We, too, have learned from our mistakes.  We are still popular because we hug him and hold him; we tell him he is wonderful and beautiful; we take him fishing (bishin') and swimming (simmin'); we kiss his boo-boos and sing "Jesus Loves Me" with him.  We feed him chocolate chips when he uses the little potty and don't scorn him when he prefers not to.  I think too many parents and grandparents allow bad--and destructive--behavior because they want to be popular.  Don't they realize kids love to be loved and paid attention to?  Kids need parameters, and really do respond well to limits.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grandparenting: My New Frontier

Oooo!  This is fun!  Dear hubby and I became grandparents a couple years ago, but our daughter lives in NC, so we saw the baby twice when he was really wee, but then not again for two years.  Last summer he acquired a little brother.  Two weeks ago, when our daughter and her little guys invaded, we officially became Nanny and Bumpie--the most fun, junk-food-offering grandparents in the world!  We feed the grandboys cheese puffs and allow them to slurp coffee (no sugar, of course).  Our older grandboy chooses his own attire--even if it's none--and doesn't have to eat balanced meals if he doesn't want to.  We don't want to cramp his style.

We have NEVER behaved thusly with small children.  We were fun parents (I think) but we never served up snacks instead of meals and allowed people to run naked.  We followed rules, kept our young 'uns squeaky clean, and did not allow them to eat sugary cereal or drink syrupy drinks.  We did homework with them and observed an early-evening bedtime.  Teeth were brushed twice a day--scrubbed might be a better word--and they held their silverware properly by eighteen months.

Our daughter has been looking at us, like, "Whuttt?  Who are you people and what have you done with my parents?"  And this is the really funny part--guess who the tough guy is now?  Our dear daughter, that's who!  She is disciplined with the two-year-old and consistent.  She doesn't make excuses for bad behavior, and she doesn't ignore it.  She insists that he holds his fork correctly and is diligent about teeth brushing.  We just stand back--we haven't crossed the line of overt grandparental interference yet--and feel sad for the poor little guy.  He didn't mean to kick the dog.  He didn't try to spit his food on the table.  He might have screamed something that sounded like "NO!" but we aren't really sure that's what it was.

The boys' mommy has graciously allowed us to keep the two-year-old for two weeks while she travels a bit.  We are having so much fun!  But...both Bumpie and I have purposed in our hearts to try really, really hard each day to be more strict grandparents.  It's just so hard when they're so cute, when they snuggle into your arms and say, "I loves you, Nanny."  It's just so hard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Impacted by Andy...

It has taken a long time to recover from the 2010-2011 school year.  I checked back and noticed that my last blog entry here was in mid-May.  I confess that I have had no energy to write about mothering, no gumption to place any wise words before you.  I'm still not sure I'm ready. 

A month ago, I was geared up, and all set to begin our summer.  The school year had held its share of heightened joys and deep sorrows.  School was winding down and the Spring sports season was over and done with.  We attended all the awards ceremonies and met every obligation related to our son's high school graduation.  We made sure college plans were buttoned up and the Eagle Scout ceremony was at least on the to-do list.  I poured myself a long cool glass of sweet tea, closed my eyes and exhaled.  And then came the next blow.

Of the four devastating losses to hit our community over Memorial Day weekend, the third was the hardest for us to bear because it affected us personally.  There was an accident and a dear young guy from our son's graduating class was killed--Andy Sions.  In the wake of Andy's departure for Heaven, abundant grace was poured out on so many.  It was kind of like when Kevin Evans had his motorcycle accident last May--everywhere you turned there was another person with another story to tell about how they saw Jesus all over the events surrounding the accident.  It has become Kevin's testimony. 

Losing Andy has truly been Heaven's gain.  Many of our Christian teens have spent time re-examining their walks with God, they are loving on each other a little more and reminding each other to be careful before they step into their vehicles.  The biggest gain, however, is the overwhelming number of young people who gave their hearts to Jesus between Andy's funeral and his memorial service the Friday after graduation.  People who were not aware of Andy's faith and vulnerability before God were blown away by the testimonies of his family and friends.  I am hoping the message is clear--in a lot of ways Andy was an ordinary boy, an ornery and typical high school athlete, but his faith made him extraordinary.  I hope that the kids who knew him, whose lives have been impacted by losing him, will see that God takes the ordinary, the ornery and typical in all of us and makes us extraordinary in Him.  This one's for you, Andy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It Is Time To Exhale

Child of Mine 
by Paige Jansen Tighe

Child of mine,
Daughter, son,
I still feel your tiny newborn heart
Beating against my chest
As I press you into me,
Tiny legs drawn up and mouth a rosy bow.
I have one hand on your bottom,
The other protects your wobbly grapefruit
Eyes closed, I nuzzle your neck
And drink in that scent which is
Distinctly and divinely and gloriously
You are my heart.
I often thought, back then, if I inhaled
     deeply enough
I would suck you right into my soul.
Is anything more precious?

Ah, but you are big now
And cannot be sucked so easily into someone else’s soul.
Your scent is still
Distinctly and divinely and gloriously
But now it mingles with
Glue smell and baby chick,
Sweat, lunch box, fresh air and sunshine.
Hairspray, cologne.
It has come time for me to exhale,
To allow your legs to lengthen,
Your mind to explore,
And yes, I must even allow
Your tender heart to break,
So that you may
Listen in the quiet,
Smell a coming storm,
Gaze long into every day,
Tread softly upon the earth.

Taste, my precious one,
See that the Lord is good,
And may laughter be your lot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Open Door Policy

When I was a teenager--way back in dinosaur days--there were party houses, and the houses you didn't go to (because they weren't party houses).  My parents kept the door to our house open to my friends, and bought us beer.  (My poor parents didn't even drink.)  As I consider it now, though, I think that was because I was in control, not them.  I was big-mouthed, stubborn, rebellious and bold.  They were afraid I would run away if they clamped down too much.  I am not sure if I would have or not.  They figured if my friends and I were in our club basement, we would not be driving around in cars.  I understand their thinking, I would just never do anything like that.  Some of the other parents in our group did the same.  Mostly, though, those parents partied upstairs while the kids were getting looped downstairs.

This is absolutely NOT what I am referring to in the title of this blog!  Our door is open to ALL of our children's friends, no matter how old they are, and even if they are a little annoying.  If the high-schoolers come, I make a huge pot of chili, or something else you can feed an army.  I am always willing to chat, stay up late and be available to their parents if necessary.  If the group is a mix of boys and girls who are spending the night, the rules are very clear:  Girls are upstairs after one a.m. and boys are downstairs--and just to be sure, I sleep on the couch.  I know one morning I will wake up duct taped to the couch with ketchup in my hair and Sharpie marker on my face.  I sincerely hope someone gets a picture!  If the younger kids are here, I make every attempt to enforce a midnight bedtime and check a little after that to make sure everyone is where they belong.

We know our children's friends and embrace them as our own when they are under our care.  We hold very high standards in our home regarding bad language, smoking, drugs and alcohol--the highest standards.  None of those things are tolerated.  We inquire about their future plans and attempt to give wise responses to their questions.  If one of the teens showed up at our door under the influence or in need, we would do what we had to do to remain relational, keep everybody safe, love on that person and maintain our standards.  The word of God is spoken in our home and if you stay over on Saturday, make sure you bring church clothes for Sunday. 

We want our home to be a safe and dependable place where good food and kind words can be found, where everybody has a place and knows where they stand.  So far, so good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feed Your Kids, Not Your Addiction

The title of this installment of Momma To Momma may sound a little harsh but--well, it's supposed to.  Since I began my teaching career in the late 1980s, I have come across buckets of children with practicing alcoholic or drug-addicted parents.  There is no excuse.  I attended a parent conference--at a middle school in Baltimore--in which the child's mother was so drunk she fell out of her chair.  Another boy slept in a urine-drenched bed with several of his brothers and paid the electric bill on his own at twelve--his mother was a heroin addict.  A student in NJ visited my house and I refused to allow him to go home with his step-father; he smelled like a brewery.  A lot of my old friends didn't give up their wild ways when they had children--some have not even survived their children's childhoods.  Either way, their behaviors, left unchecked, do not just affect their children, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren...and so on.

When we become grown-ups, we are supposed to put away childish behavior.  Look around you:  is your life unmanageable because of drug or alcohol use?  Are your children eating warm meals at the right time of day?  Do you stay in bed while they get themselves ready for school?  Do you ever leave your children unattended so you can party?  Do you want to stop but have absolutely no idea how?

Currently, at the Romney Goodwill next to Food Lion, there are three or four copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (affectionately known within the rooms of AA as the "Big Book").  If you decide to purchase a copy of this book, tell them you read about it on this blog and the nice Goodwill ladies will not charge you.  (I've got it covered.)  If your world looks hopeless because of addiction, do something.  There is hope.  Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are great programs filled with like-minded people who will love and support you as you work to stay clean one day at a time.  I am not writing this to condemn anyone, but to offer hope.  Be blessed!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Momma-Mia Ramblings...

I've had oodles of opportunities to reflect on mothering over the last couple weeks.  I have considered my own mother, my grandmothers, my mother-in-law, my daughter as a mother, my wonderful Auntie Madge and my own mothering.  The mothers in my family have been strong and brave for generations behind me, and I carry not only their strength, but their stories, in my body.  I am glad to know these stories and to have my life intertwined with their lives.  I am proud of that heritage. 

I think, because I am a person who people assume hasn't grown all the way up, I get mothered a lot.  I welcome this behavior in some, and in others I find it maddening.  I suspect motherly types are tipped off by my absolute inability to wear grown-up-lady shoes, or have my hair cut in a way that says ADULT.  And here's the paradoxical part of this little scenario:  I also mother people.  Some welcome it; and some, I am sure, find it maddening.

I am also very selective about the people I allow to mother me, and I don't think it has anything to do with prideful behavior.  There are women in my life who could slap me down for something I did and I would learn a lesson.  And there are women I would want to slap back.  Two of the women I appreciate most, Chris Thomson (my best friend's mom) and Evangelist Boone (Christ Gospel Church/Whitesboro, New Jersey) are also spiritual mothers--they have both directed me in the ways of God and corrected me when I was wrong.  I love them for their correction.  They are women who are submitted to God in their own lives and tend not to coddle me.  I am not a person who requires coddling, just some good old-fashioned butt whuppin' once in awhile.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vacations At A Glance

Until 2003 we went on a vacation every single year.  Even if our vacation was just a five-day jaunt to a semi-local campground, we went.  And we had fun.  In fact, I don't remember a vacation that wasn't fun--it's just like that when you have a lot of kids of different ages.

When there were just two of them (the oldest two were two and four at the time), our daughter wanted to tie the baby to a tree so we'd quit having to chase him in a panic.  When she was a little older we told her the legend of the Woolly Swamp (and old Lucius Clay) while canoeing in a cedar swamp.  I don't know that she's ever revisited canoeing.  In 1998, we went to the Delaware River because that's where the three-year-old wanted to go.  Don't ask me who ever told her about the Delaware River.  We went to Niagara in late August of 2001.  (Note the date.)  What a blast!  Canada, the Maid of the Mist, Darien Lake Theme Park.  On the way home, this is is what my husband said:  "Do you want to head straight down I-81 or go east across New York and show the kids the NYC skyline?"  This is what I said:  "Oh, let's just go home.  We can show them the skyline ANY TIME."  Ouch.  In 2002, we rented somebody's camp on a lake in Down East, Maine (that's what the locals call it; we stayed on Cathance Lake near Machias).  Do you realize they have spiders in them thar parts that make noise?  I was awakened in the night by a ginormous spider scratching its feet on the lampshade next to my bed.  Thank heavens it was the lamp SHADE and not the knob I reached for to light the room.  The lobsters there are ginormous, too, so that more than makes up for the spider problem.

In 2003, our vacation was spent sprucing up the farm we bought as a second home.  In 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 we did the same thing.  By 2008, we lived on that farm and had too many animals to leave for any length of time.  So, we have not gone anywhere (far away) as a family for many years.  But, we have managed stolen weekends for camping and taken day trips to local attractions.  It is almost as if we have been prepared for a crippled economy.  I'm not sure the kids really care if we go anywhere BIG and FAR AWAY.  I know they'd like to visit cool places but their focus seems to be that we do things together.  So when we go, we do our best to leave home behind where it belongs, and focus on enjoying each other's company.  In a few weeks, we plan on pitching a tent in our very own pine thicket.  I can't wait!  We just have to all make a deal not to bring cell phones and not to go home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Children Grieve

I had the sad occasion yesterday to observe children in mourning.  Our community lost a teenager; he was a friend to many, a real character, and it is to him I dedicate this blog.  Many teens rode to the funeral together, visited the casket together, wept softly in each others' arms.  A lot left tender mementos and notes in the coffin.  Some were driven by parents, but we were not able to offer the necessary comfort.  Our kids didn't need us--they needed each other, so many of us drifted to the perimeter to reflect and to grieve in our own ways.  I think it was important for our children, whose boo-boos we've kissed with our magic lips, whose foes we've met head on with our teeth bared, to know we were there should they need us. 

Way back when I was in college, a friend was killed by a drunk driver.  Her name was Maryann and she was the oldest daughter in a family of ten.  To the younger children, she was a second mother.  It was the first time I had ever experienced such a senseless, such a devastating loss. Her younger sisters' grief was agonizing to witness.  Their cries were high-pitched, full of something without a name, something even deeper than despair.  They clung to each other; they did not seek solace in the arms of an adult.

It is important for us, as mothers, to accept that some boo-boos are not ours to kiss.  I am learning through this terrible experience, to listen instead of soothe--unless soothing is requested.  I am learning not to initiate because my well-meaning words could scrape open a wound beginning to heal.  I am learning to walk that fine line between saying too much and not saying enough. 

I stood at Kalob's coffin and longed to fix the terrible trouble--so many years were stretched out before him.  But, there is no fixing.  So, in honor of this one boy, I pledge to listen better and to say less, to love more and to fear less, to be who my children need me to be as they swim new waters, both dark and sweet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stepping Into Parenting--Part II

When other adults are speaking into the lives of  the children in the family, troubles inevitably arise.  Such was the case with us.  We went through spurts of working together with the other set of parents to raise our oldest children.  The other mother and I even shared the podium at a Mother's Day banquet on the joys of parenting together.  We took care of the other parents' infant the weekend they got married and attended the wedding to boot!  The children were happy--relieved--but things are not always as they appear in these situations.  It wasn't until long after the initial severing of the relationship between our oldest daughter and our family that I realized she was not acting alone in her desire to get away from our home.  The groundwork had been laid over a period of many years.  Again, as smart as I am, I was pretty naive.  But things happen and God knows all.

I couldn't figure out why the children never invited friends to our house on weekends.  I thought they were wallflowers; I had no idea how rich their social lives were on alternate weekends.  I didn't know they smoked and were involved in romantic relationships.  I believed them when they answered my questions about their activities at the other parents' house.  I don't blame the children; they would have had to be nearly perfect to resist such freedom.  We were strict.  I don't even totally blame the birth mother--we were raising her children and the court system allowed us to call all the shots.  I don't deny that we were to blame for making the children become chameleons.  It was safer and easier to view both homes as out of sight, out of mind.  It was certainly more peaceful for them. They should not have been put on the witness stand and grilled by each set of parents.  We should have acted with maturity and not used them as weapons.

I am confessing my imperfections as a mother because I needed to read words like these about twenty years ago, and take them to heart.  The Bible tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."  (Proverbs 22:6)  I am pleased to say that our daughter has seen her period of rebellion and has paid dearly for mistakes made outside of her training, but she is lovely--a wise mother and a seeking follower of Jesus.  Our son has become a man who thinks before he speaks and does not make rash and emotionally-charged decisions.  He is brave and strong and always willing to bow his head in prayer. 

If you are a parent or a step-parent and these words ring true on any level, STOP IT.   Children are neither weapons, witnesses nor chameleons.  If you don't stop after reading this, shame on you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stepping Into Parenting--Part I

I was married six days when I became a mother.  I thought, "Cool!  This will be like ultimate babysitting and I LOVE to babysit!"  I smile now at my naivete.  My new husband's little ones--ages 15 months and 38 months--arrived without toys, diapers or directions.    Nobody could understand the three-year-old when she talked and she thought the little one was her sole property so she wouldn't let anybody touch him.  She also thought his name was:  My Baby. The baby of reference woke up screaming, with poopie diapers, at all hours of the night--every night--and suffered from croup and chronic ear infections.  To make matters worse, I had only dated their father for four months before we got married and both of us turned up VOLATILE on a premarital personality test.

The only things we had going for us were that our mothers loved and believed in us, and our church family embraced us unconditionally.  (Certain 40s-ish couples in our church even came alongside and mentored us.)  The three-year-old was jealous of me from the start and the baby couldn't figure out what the heck was going on.  But we became a family. 

On many, many occasions I was the evil step-monster.  People thought I was mean and bossy when in fact, I generally just tried to do the right thing.  I was the parent who made the children eat right, put away their toys, do their homework,  use good manners and brush their teeth.  I was not the parent who allowed them to do as they pleased, eat junk for three days straight, grow sweaters on their teeth, carry food around the house and have romantic relationships at eleven.  I refused to be any other kind of parent.  Did I make mistakes?  Yes. A lot of them?  Yes again.  I was often harsh and I have seen the worst of me reflected in my son's eyes.  But--I loved and kissed these children.  I told them stories and helped them through tough times at school and at play.  I became an active Cub Scout mom and went on most field trips.  I infused Bible verses and principles into our lives daily.  I even homeschooled when the going got rough in the classroom.  I fell in love with them. 

It was hard and I wanted to quit a million times over but I am so glad I didn't.  These two children have grown into amazing adults.  They are well-mannered and smart.  They both brush their teeth and know how to keep themselves clean and snappy.  They are treasures and I am so proud of them both.         

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ours By Adoption

I have a couple friends, young wives and wives-to-be, who are planning their families.  Naturally, they are concerned about whether or not they will be blessed with children, if the children will be well, if they will be good mommies.  Generally, things move along as planned with babies conceived and birthed in due time.  Sometimes, things don't move along as planned and disappointment becomes worry becomes panic becomes depression.  Options are considered.  Fertility testing and drugs, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, adoption, continued childlessness.  Each option comes with its own set of considerations.

I feel compelled to write this today because it is the day we celebrate the birth of my dear neice.  She is twenty-one today--a bright, vibrant, wonderful young woman who oozes style and lives life with a passion all her own.  She is a junior in college, a strong and beautiful dancer, a comic and a devoted follower of Jesus.  Thirteen years ago, however, she was a child with little hope--orphaned, fostered, too old to be adopted by anyone looking for a baby.  She is also black.  My sister and her husband had nearly given up hope by the day they went to a picnic designed to showcase adoptable older children, but they went anyway, and it completely changed more futures than theirs.

My neice turned on her charm, flirted with the nice white couple (description hers) at the picnic and later, boasted to her friends that those people would be adopting her.  They did indeed.  They fell in love at that picnic and began the process to make this savvy little girl their own.  The morning my four children met their new cousin was amazing.  No ice to break.  No racial barriers to hurdle.  No cultural--or multicultural--awkwardness to conquer.  The five became cousins the second they laid eyes on each other.  We have been blessed beyond measure by my sister's willingness to become a mother by adoption, to join with her husband in creating an interracial family, and to embrace and honor a heritage that is not her own.  She made a decision to love unconditionally and sacrificially; that's the first act of motherhood.

Over the next couple years, we added two more children to our number.  One day I mentioned something to them about their cousin's adoption.  Both jaws went slack and they stared at me, stunned.  "What?" they asked incredulously.  "She's adopted?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tell 'em Stories

I never met either of my grandfathers.  My WV grandfather died in 1926.  The one from New York died in 1969, but I don't think he had much interest in meeting me.  An older cousin tells me he was generally drunk and not very sociable when it came to children.  I also never met a single one of my great-grand parents--neither the Scandanavian immigrants, nor the Germans.  I am most certainly not old enough to remember Jersey City in the 1920s, York, PA, in the 1940s, or what year we had the Husdon (actually there were three Hudsons). 

But, I will tell you this:

*I can hear my granddaddy Martin playing his fiddle, see his big size thirteens tapping in time to the music, catch the sparkle of his gold tooth as he tosses his head back and laughs. 

*I smell the shrimp my NY grandpa brings home and steams in the middle of the night.  I see what's behind the false front of his boat--bottle after bottle of hooch, illegal in the days of Prohibition.  I hear the those bottles clink just a little as his boat rocks in the tide. 

*I feel my great-grandmother's sorrow as immigration officials force her young husband onto a ship back to Sweden.  I feel her sorrow turn to excitement, to hope, to joy as she watches him jump ship and swim New York Harbor because of his love for her. 

*And my handsome, pouty-lipped, run-around of a German great-grandpa?  Well, I know, he left his wife and children so poor they had to walk the railroad tracks gathering coal for the cook stove while he played the dandy all over Harrisburg. 

I would not know any of these stories if my parents and grandparents did not have the good sense to tell them.  But since they did, I do.  I have a heritage, a geneaology filled with names and dates, but much more importantly, a history  filled with real flesh-and-blood people who carried deep sadnesses and dreams, who loved and sorrowed, who laughed, who killed themselves slowly.  And I am so grateful.

I think the best thing we can give our children besides siblings (if we are able), is the history of their own blood, their own bones.  Family stories die every day for lack of telling.  And usually, that lack of telling is for lack of asking.  Parents, grandparents, this is a call to you:  Tell your children their stories.  Learn them yourselves.  And children, ask.  Insist that someone tells you about the people who ran around in your family fifty or a hundred years ago, or more.  We all deserve to be talked about--one way or another.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Macro-flexitarian Momma

So, here's what we have settled on:  macro-flexitarianism.  In researching a diet that gained popularity here in the US in the 1970s, I determined that the Japanese macrobiotic diet is the one that most fits the way we desire to eat, or the way we would eat if we weren't so miserably inconsistent.  It combines a Zen Buddhist eating-for-life philosophy with a flexible form of vegetarianism in which certain meats are sometimes an option.

We are Christians, not Zen Buddhists, and don't subscribe to the philosophy of balancing our yins and yangs.  We don't give a whole lot of thought consuming an even amount of sweets, salties, bitters, sharps and sours in order to feel well. the philosophy behind this way of living, we do believe that you are what you eat, and that if you want your body to be well and work the way it's designed to work, you need to put the right stuff into it.   This macrobiotic diet includes foods that we love to eat in reasonable (and preferable) amounts:  
  • Whole grains, especially brown rice: 50%-60%
  • Vegetables (and seaweed): 25%-30%
  • Beans: 5%-10%
  • Fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, miso soup: 5%-20%
  • Soup (made from ingredients above): 1-2 cups/day
This diet also has certain rules that govern the types of foods to be consumed (essentially the most natural and least processed ones), how they should be eaten (by chewing slowly) and the ways they should be prepared.  It requires practitioners to stay away from a lot of stuff that we think is bad anyway:  refined sugar, white flour, fatty meats, caffeine, alcohol.  It prohibits the use of other foods that we feel are fine to use in moderation:  potatoes, hot spices, CHOCOLATE, poultry and zucchini.  (What the heck's wrong with zucchini?)

So, in short, here you have it: the way the inconsistent eat, in general, in our house.  Eat well, live well! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

It's Not A Fad (This Is How We Eat Now)--Part II

I was raised to chase down healthy foods and eat them for awhile.  Commitment has always been the's that eclectic living that causes me trouble every time, my parents' fault.  Ha!

Our foray into healthful eating began when dear hubby and I took a nutrition class on the Hallelujah Diet.  Our teacher, or health minister, is absolutely vegan.  That means she wouldn't touch an animal or its by-product to her lips unless threat of death was involved.  She is also 85% a raw foodist.  Our class was wonderful and we believe we were taught the absolute truth.  The problem was, we just couldn't hang--our kids begged for comfort food, we began cheating one night a week (pizza maybe), we began cheating on weekends, weekends began starting on Thursdays and lasting until Tuesdays.  We liked the beliefs, the practices and the recipes.  It was the impulsive trips to McDonalds that did us in.

Next we started thinking that meat (and eggs!) might be okay if you raised it yourself on healthy stuff, like grass, and didn't give it antibiotics.  Then we discovered sushi.  We added cooked crustaceans and bi-valved mollusks to our list of acceptable food items.  Over the years since our nutrition class, we have considered ourselves (for a spell) raw foodists, vegans, vegetarians (vegans with wiggle room), semi-vegetarians, natural foodists, fruitarians (more fruit than veggies in the vegetarian diet), pescetarians (vegetarians who will eat fish), and pollotarians (vegetarians who will eat chicken).  We like the Japanese version of the macrobiotic diet best--but that's food for the next post.

The bottom line is this:  I am very conscious of the garbage available for our consumption.  It is pretty and sparkly and delicious.  Much of it is also filled with chemicals and animal by-products that could kill us.  On top of that miserable fact, the marketing ploys for this stuff are aimed straight at seducing my children. Their bodies are growing and are super vulnerable to toxins.  So, in light of that, I read all labels, consider all warnings even if they sound a little kooky, research new products, and try to balance my family's meals and snacks.  We also eat some of this terrible stuff--knowingly and sometimes with reckless abandon--just to stay sane.    

It's Not A Fad (This Is How We Eat Now)--Part I

And on top of the quirkiness already mentioned in Clash of the Cultures (Parts I, II and III), you should know that the blending of generational behaviors is not the only place worlds became enmeshed in my home growing up.  We listened to music from every land. It was not unusual to drive by our house on West Broad in Dallastown and hear Hawaiian drumbeats, Rat Pack tunes, Gregorian Chants, Irish drinking songs, Elvis hymns, Pete Seeger folk melodies, Christmas carols, or Pavarotti emanating from our open windows.  We ate crazy foods, had nude oil paintings hanging all over our house, and practiced some manner of alternative medicine before it became popular.  One of my mom's best pals cured her daughter's cancer with green drink.  That's what she called it; we always figured she shoved all kinds of plants in a blender and turned it on for a few minutes.  (I know now they were specific plants.)  I recently found out that my grandmother's regular doctor visits in Lancaster were for colonics!  These eclectic practices extended to our kitchen, as well.

We were the first people on our block to have a microwave and use a pressure cooker.  We ate granola, yogurt, steamed vegetables, brown rice, tuna noodle casserole (My stomach still lurches.), carob, sugar substitutes, any drink with a fruit name, ice milk, and some type of terrible white stuff that masqueraded as salt.  We ate dutifully because my mother convinced us these new introductions to our diet were necessary.  But when we complained, or used the phrase food fad in her presence, she'd bellow:  "It's not a fad!  This is how we eat now!"  And that was how we ate...for a week or two.  Then, we'd be on to sweet potatoes, three-bean salad and zucchini.

Oh, my poor, dear children!  My mother and I now have an information system going, a healthy eating alliance.  Plus, it sometimes includes input from my Aunt Cora (now almost 91), the one who cured her daughter of cancer with green drink.  I interact with earthy-crunchy people who eat healthy stuff.  My mom watches The Doctors and Doctor Oz.  Together, we discuss the sorrows of the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) and the evils of prepackaged foods.  On Sunday mornings before church, Mom calls Aunt Cora and she chimes in.  We swap information we have received from other sources and form our own belief system about how all people should eat.  This belief system, however, is kind of fluid in nature.  But, that's all right because it is well-intentioned.

Stay tuned for It's Not a Fad (This is How We Eat Now)--Part II, in which I discuss the many types of eaters we have been and the ultimate reality as it presents itself in our household.   

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Clash of the Cultures--Part III

The more I think about it, the more I recognize it.  My mother was who she was.  She has always been brave and strong, but not reckless.  Daddy?  He was brave, strong and reckless.  He never would have made 83 if not for the warden (as he called my mother).  She kept him in line, yet honored him.  She monitored his spending, yet didn't embarrass him.  She got furious at him, but revered him.  She saved his life because she found him worthy.

My dad didn't have a lot to look forward to when he met my mother.  He was a 26-year-old divorced combat veteran and father of two.  His life was complicated and messy.  Even at his tender age, there was no one to fall back on, no support, no place to go with the messages life had sent his way...but the redhead in the bus station offered him a future with her.  She hung onto every word he said, loved his stories, embraced his past, accepted him where he was at and laid her entire existence before him in the form of matrimony.  It didn't hurt that she was beautiful beyond compare and made him the envy of most of the young men in York.  If you read Proverbs 31:10-31, you will see described there the virtuous wife.  My mom didn't know the words of those verses, and had no relationship in her life to use as a point of reference for marriage building.  But she seemed to know intuitively how to love a husband, how to be a virtuous wife.  My mother made everything we had and everything we did seem as if it was the best money could buy.  Entire companies went out of business due to making our cars and campers so well (bet ya didn't know that!). 

Our house was often filled, however, with anger and yelling because neither of my parents had ever been taught conflict resolution strategies.  Still, they held hands, wrote each other love notes, took vacations, didn't drink more than the occasional beer (with spaghetti) or daquiri, quit smoking, told us children they loved us, took us all to church, hugged and kissed us daily, and defended us from every mean teacher or principal we ever had.  We ate a hot meal at the right time every evening and my mom never forgot field trip days or the utter specialness of birthdays.  She and my father carried on some of the more damaging behaviors from their own families of origin, but all four of us have made decisions to break as many of these cycles as possible.  We do not have to be like our parents--any of us!  We can hold hands and refuse to carry on damaging behaviors, but for heaven's sake, let us not be so arrogant that we don't seek out and emulate the good!  We all want better for our children than we had.  My parents broke cycles they came by naturally, and they did it consciously.  Let us then make every effort to do the same! 

Clash of the Cultures--Part II

On top of the obvious cultural differences inherent in my family of origin, was the blending of wild and furious temperaments. 

My mother, a fiery redhead of German descent on both the PA Dutch and the Appalachian sides of her family, was raised by a very strong and determined widow (half Irish/half German) who was not pushed around by anybody.  Suffice it to say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My octogenarian mommy is still brave, and strong, and fearless.  She is an only child and would have been a great frontierswoman.  She still likes to camp and swims three times a week at the Wellness Center.  While she accepts her limitations and embraces her age with admirable grace, she is not a person who uses it as a crutch.  Like her own mother, she is ready to go at nearly a moment's notice and is generally out and about with some friend at some function.  She possesses an inner strength that serves her quite well now, but made for an often volatile atmosphere in our home growing up.

As a boy who practically raised himself on the streets of Jersey City and New York City, my dear, old dad bore many of the character traits my mother still carries.  He was, as stated in the previous post, a street punk of the worst kind.  He lied, and cheated, and stole.  He stowed away in a ship's cargo hold at twelve and sailed around the tip of South America; as a teen, he chased Sinatra (yes, Old Blue Eyes) all over Jersey City with murderous intent.  By his mid-teens, he had been beaten mercilessly by every adult in his immigrant (Finnish and Swedish) family, and had been signed into  military school by his own mother to keep him off the streets.  He had witnessed dozens of street killings and knew (personally) at least as many people who ended up fish food in cement shoes at the bottom of the Hudson River.

I know what you're thinking:  How do people like this stay married to each other for 54 years, and how many thousands of dollars have their children spent on therapy?  The answers are this:  God's grace, and not much.  I think it all boils down to a deep and death-defying love that manifested in passionate laughter, creative romance and regular dish throwing and door slamming.  Stay tuned for the next installment...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Clash of the Cultures--Part I

People like me are very used to being looked at funny.  It's not so much comfortable but, by the time I've passed my 48th birthday, it is quite expected.  I come from a patchwork kind of family and not one member of it has ever been considered run-of-the-mill.  Things have been going this way in my gene puddle for generations on both sides.  For instance, the most recent cultural version of oil-and-water would be my parents. 

My dad was born in Manhattan in 1920.  He was the son of a drunken tugboat captain and rum-runner (during the late, great days of Prohibition).  He was a street punk of the worst kind, had a big problem with authority, was afraid of nothing, took part in liberating two death camps during WW II, was the bravest and craziest man I have ever met, and told stories about his experiences that made you feel like you were there.  He was also brilliant.  My mother was born and raised in a small and countrified city in Pennsylvania by a widowed mother who was an amazing seamstress, a business owner, a fearless and heroic ball of fire wrapped in a busty little package under five feet tall.  My mother is similar in oh, so many ways, and for all the wild genetic input, has always been favored by most and respected by all. Also, she has always been a lady and one who still doesn't leave the house without lipstick.  My parents met in a bus station in New York City on September 2, 1946 and were married the following July.  I am not always positive they should have been allowed to reproduce--but for obvious reasons, I'm glad they did.

We were a family who stood out in Dallastown, PA; and that is a gross understatement.  Because my mother grew up in a different part of the county we were never treated as locals.  Because my dad was a big-mouthed New Yorker who didn't give a rat's patoot about what anybody thought, we were ostracized.  I think all of that would have been different if he had played the game and joined the rest of the town on Sunday mornings at Christ Lutheran Church on Main Street.  Nope.  Instead, when invited and told by Mr. Hoke that "anybody who's anybody in this town goes on up to the Lutheran church on Sunday mornings," my dad decided it would be more fun to call the poor old farmer on his snobbery.  He told Mr. Hoke flat out he "wouldn't worship with you Christian dogs," and proceeded to get on his knees and feign worship of Allah.  Lie.  We went to the regular old Protestant church my mom grew up in.

I think these crazy differences might have driven many young couples to divorce.  Not my folks.  They were in love until my dad drew his last breath on Earth and went home to Jesus.  It has not been easy to be the product of such dynamic polar opposites, but we children have benefitted in ways no one could have imagined.  Stay tuned for the next installment...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Poor Oldest Kids

One thing I know for certain is that when our two oldest kids were little, we didn't know anything.  Sometimes I think back on the things we did out of ignorance and want to smack both myself and Dear Hubby.  And sometimes, though, I want to say, "Awwww, that's so adorable." 

For instance, we did not know that people who are eighteen months old are not capable of standing in the corner for more than a minute.  (That would be one of the smacking times.)  Sometimes we sided with the babysitter and reprimanded our children for dumb little kid stuff they did at her house--dancing in the toilet, refusing to eat a ham sandwich and then spewing it across the table when forced to eat it, staring at her when she ate doughnuts in front of them.  We kept them too squeaky clean, dressed them too nicely, insisted they empty their plates, and had way too many rules.  (Sorry, my dear oldest loves.)  We used everybody else's outsides as the standard to assess our insides.  We didn't know that it would be okay if they forgot to brush their teeth for a whole minute before school, or that it's just fine to let them pick out their own outfits even if they don't match and they're going to church. They did not arrive with a manual, and as implied in an earlier post, everybody knew best how we should raise our kids.  The problems with that thinking were two-fold:  1.  They weren't their kids; and 2.  The everybodies' advice all conflicted with each other.  We tried to please so many people that we lost sight of the real reason people have children:   to cherish them.  We got better as time wore on, and we all learned together about being a family, but the going was really tough at first.

Then, there were the adorable things we did as parents, and things we were told to do but thought better of, even in the throes of ignorance.  I thought one of the children had windburn for six months; it was ringworm.  Speaking of worms, someone told us the best way to see if your children had worms--because we all know you get them from having dirty fingernails--was to put a piece of masking tape from one hiney cheek to another while they slept in a dark room, wait an hour and then check with a flashlight to see if any worms were stuck to the tape.  The theory is that if it's dark, the worms think it's safe to pop their heads out and peek.  BOOM!  They get stuck on the tape and the next day the doctor administers worm medicine.  People do this--no lie.  Once, at South of the Border, we chuckled smugly at the parents of the little boy who was under the table screaming and kicking them in the shins.  Our children would never do anything like that--and they didn't THAT DAY.

But we live!  We learn!  We love!  We loosen up!  And then we become grandparents!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's My Potty And I'll Go If I Want To

A friend shared with me a few days ago the tragic circumstances surrounding her grandson's potty training.  It should be mentioned that the grandson in question is a baby; he only just turned two.  I am not sure the words potty training should even be associated with a conversation related to such a little boy.  The baby's mother is young and he is her first child.  There are certain things she doesn't know about potty training, and I'm sure she is bombarded regularly by well-meaning advice and bossing.  (I know I was.)  This mother has tried all the tricks, is beside herself with frustration and is disciplining her little guy for his inability to stop wetting and soiling his drawers.

I, myself, was potty trained at six months old!  My mother proudly proclaims she put ALL of her babies on the potty EVERY THIRTY MINUTES.  I am asking you:  Who was trained--me or my mother?  And because she could not understand why I insisted on diapering people who were past their first birthday, I felt compelled to force the issue with my own little ones.  Like the young mother above, I tried everything.  We sang about potties and watched videos about potties.  We read books about big girls and boys who love to go on the big potty.  We took pictures of each child's first poop on the potty, fed them M&Ms for potty success (one for pee-pee and two for poopie), encouraged the boys to sink Fruit Loops by peeing on them, called every relative in the world when we heard the first tinkle-tinkle-tinkle hitting the water, and bought them trendy potty chairs that looked like zoo animals.  We slapped high-fives and drenched our little ones with hugs and kisses for even the tiniest drip-drop of pee.  But until their little bodies were physically able to control their elimination, it was an endless exercise in futility with occasional success being purely accidental.  They had rings around their bottoms and we had bags under our eyes.  We were all miserable, because also like the young mother above, we scolded and shamed our dearest loves because we thought they were just being obstinate.

If only we could go back and do it without pressure.  The oldest of our six bore the brunt of this stupidity.  As the children and I spent more time with young moms and less time with grandmoms, I loosened up and realigned my thinking.  My epiphany came the moment I realized that adult bowel and bladder control is not an issue for most of the population.  Therefore, that must mean that successful potty training happens for almost everybody sooner or later.  It also meant that making the process peaceful was a choice.  I did not have to betray the most important and trusted relationship in my children's lives; I could love and encourage them as they moved through potty training at their own pace. 

One of the boys was two-years-old and potty training when Jurassic Park came out on video.  Anybody remember the scene in which the man got eaten by a dinosaur while sitting on the toilet?  That scene launched us straight back into diapers for another year!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Talk To Me

Once, when the big teen boy was just wee (maybe around 18 months old), I took him out running errands with me.  We were in the car for several hours--me in my seat, and him behind me, in his. When all the running was through, I pulled into the driveway and announced happily, "We're home!"  I looked into the rearview mirror at my son's expressionless face and realized with horror that I had not spoken to him one time during the entire trip.  He didn't seem to mind, but I was slain by self-loathing.  I felt guilty on a multitude of levels.  Mothers should talk to their children; what if he had stopped breathing: his communication skills will be delayed; we are not really bonded; do I remember EVER talking to him in the car?  On and on and on.  I'm really good at that:  I can beat anybody up--especially me.

I made a conscious effort to talk to him all the time after that.  I especially made sure I talked to him in the car.  See?  That's part of the introvert thing--when I'm alone, I don't talk or listen to music or turn on the television for background noise.  I think things through in silence.  I love music but I never listen to it in the car.  BUT, because I am the Mommy, I adapted my behavior to suit my child's needs.  I had not been alone in the car, and just because my company was a non-verbal baby, it did not mean he should not be engaged.  A little one's receptive vocabulary develops much earlier than his expressive vocabulary.  That's why there is great wisdom in teaching babies to use basic sign language to express themselves before they can speak.  I have spent the last 16+ years talking to the children because it makes them feel like they matter, which they do.  I suppose it helps them develop communication skills, but the biggest reason is that it makes them feel worthy--worthy of their mother's attention.

I have had the occasion of late to observe dismissal--and parent pick-up--in several elementary schools.  I am really burdened by the number of parents who sign their children out and head straight for the door while their little guys are skipping along behind, chattering at their backs.  Do they not realize their children have longed for them all day, have anticipated this moment since lunchtime?  I don't blame the parents, nor do I think they're mean people--I think they are mostly busy people with alot  running through their brains.  Picking up the children becomes an item to check off the to-do list, rather than a long-anticipated moment of joy and reunion.  I try, very hard, to talk to my children about their day and their friends' days.  I take stock of the important stuff, the stuff they repeat and emphasize, and ask more about it later.  For many years, I sat all the kids down on the couch immediately after school and had each one tell me one good thing, one bad thing, and one funny thing about their day.  They all had to share and all had to listen politely to each other without interrupting.  This world tells our dear ones they're unworthy all the time; we have got to show them again and again that they are priceless to us.      

Monday, February 28, 2011

Threefold Fitness--Body, Mind and Spirit

It is vitally important for mommies to remain well. 

My harrowing assessment at Hampshire Wellness and Fitness this afternoon drove that point home in patriotic technicolor:  my face was red, my knuckles were white, and my lips were blue.  Fortunately, my intake angel was encouraging and didn't make me feel like a total loser.  I have work to do on my physical body--that much I knew.  I always feel better when I excercise regularly, eat right and keep my weight under control.  This is doable.  The aforementioned angel asked me if I wanted to set goals for the year.  The year?  I would like to make it through today without too many peanut M&Ms.  I just smiled politely at her suggestion.  Little bites (completely figurative speech).  I am happy to take baby steps as long as I make it across the floor eventually.  I look forward to hiking non-handicap accessible trails with my brother and my children next summer when we camp.  I want to play basketball with my 12-year-old and tennis with my teens.  I have to remain physically well to do that.

Those who are personally acquainted with me will not believe the next thing I'm about to say.  I am an introvert--one with highly cultivated communication skills, but an introvert nonetheless.  I recently completed a personality test for which I had to answer questions about de-stressing.  Hands down, I require solitude.  I always thought there was something wrong with me because my best friend is alive in a group of women and I'm not.  She enjoys having her friends and all of their children at her house.  I go out of my gourd in that sort of setting.  I don't understand the group dynamics involved.  I don't talk out my problems--I write my way through them.  I don't go out with my friends to get away from it all--I read.  Those are the traits of an introvert.  I mention this because I feel better knowing this about myself.  I am relieved of social guilt.  Mommies need to spend time thinking about themselves.  We need to give ourselves permission to be the people we were designed to be.  How many times have I bellowed at my dear ones:  "I was not born to serve you!  I am a person and you need to treat me like one!"  They look at me as if I've lost my mind.  Don't get me wrong; we can't abandon our families to go off on a lark in search of self.  Simply, we just can't forget to schedule ourselves into the day planner.

I also believe that we cannot neglect our spiritual selves.  I have found that if I don't chase God with my whole heart, I lose focus.  I purpose in my heart to spend quiet moments daily with the One I love best (and Who I believe loves me best).  I'm not always successful, but I always try.  I do this in any number of ways.  Sometimes I take time alone with my Bible, other times I think about the amazing way nature has been put together.  Sometimes I sing, and other times I just listen.  I am totally fascinated by the creative side of God.  I appreciate the design, so I often respond to Him by making something.  These things anchor me to a Power greater than myself.  As a person who likes to be in charge, I am comforted in knowing I might be in charge, but I am not the most powerful.   When I am on solid spiritual footing, I am a more peaceful mother.  I am better able to listen with my heart because it's well-acquainted with listening.

In a nutshell, mommies need to be well or nobody in the house will be.  We can't give our families what we don't have.  My mantra to one of my young mommy friends is this:  put your feet up, put your feet up.  That poor, tired girl just rolls her  eyes at me and says, "Yeah, right.  I wish."  I'm going to keep working on her.  And you, too.  :-)  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stop and Smell the--Shadow Animals

We were about ready to drop when we got home last evening.  It was ten-thirty; the house was trashed from our hurried 8:00 a.m departure.  The chickens needed to be locked up, the dogs and cats needed to eat, two of the six of us were over-the-top grouchy and the laundry fairy had failed to show up while we were gone.  (Again!  Grrr.)  She must have been hanging out with the dishes fairy, the dustmopping fairy and the vacuuming fairy.  I opened my handy-dandy HP Mini and pulled up my facebook account to unwind.  Always nice to spend time with my 600 most intimate and computer savvy friends at the end of a long day. 

Our youngest, who is ten, remembered the wooden toothpick he had chewed the end of after supper.  After fishing it out of his pocket with a happy, "Oh, good!  It still looks like a claw!" he asked me for a flashlight.  I probably ignored him--accidentally.  He asked louder.  Then he asked if we could turn off all the lights in the kitchen and see how the toothpick claw looked as a shadow.  Then he asked me to make shadow animals with him.  Then he catalogued the various types of shadow animals he was particularly good at making.  Then he shared which of his friends could (and could not) make which shadow animals.  I was about ready to blow a gasket.  All I wanted to do was sit down, catch up on everybody's life, and will my overstuffed body to digest the massive amounts of lasagna and garlic bread it had inhaled earlier while dining with friends.  I couldn't stand the onslaught any longer.

Reluctantly, I suggested we turn off all the lights in the laundry/utility room and see what kind of claw the frayed toothpick would cast.  I had absolutely NO INTENTION of making any manner of shadow animals with my fingers.  But, guess what?  The toothpick cast a really cool shadow; my little guy made some neat animals with his fingers and did I.  It was really fun.  We both giggled, but more importantly, I did not blow off my son.  It wasn't much, and it wasn't for long, but  I played.  And he enjoyed playing with me.

Do we play with our kids enough?  I doubt that most parents do.  I know I don't.  We drive them around an awful lot, and coach their teams, but I have never taught my kids how to play S.P.U.D. or asked them to teach me how to play Capture the Flag.  But I am committed, because of shadow animals, to make a better effort.  It matters. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Life on the Fly

As much as I love Spring--the first yellow daffies dancing around my mailbox, redbuds dotting the spotty wood, warm wind licking up out of the holler--I hate it.  I hate it because it signals schedule crunching and meals on the fly.  We had become quite comfortable with our winter schedule.  Three nights were spoken for on a weekly basis but none were etched in stone.  If we felt like staying home and watching a movie or working on a Science project, we could choose for ourselves with no threat of retaliation.  No consequences.

But today marked the first of the many zillion times the words tennis, track and baseball will be spoken in my house over the next few months.  I signed my middle-schooler out of school early today and flew her to the doctor's for a sports physical; track practice starts Monday.  My Hampshire High offspring came through the door announcing that the tennis meeting was today during school and that practice begins, yep, Monday.  Last year their practices were staggered--oh, please, not again!  And, my husband, who has committed to coaching baseball (until JULY!) will be meeting to discuss the particulars on Sunday night.  I don't know when baseball practice kicks off.  My guess?  Monday.  Our flexible relaxed life is nearly over.  Somehow, we will still make it to Scouts, church and Bible Study.  We will see each other only in the mornings on the way to the bus stop and before bed.  Weekends will be filled with laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, until they are filled with tennis, track and baseball. 

Our only hope for sanity lies in preplanning. And shopping for nutritious food items that can be tossed in to a lunch sack, food items that won't be spoiled even after a long day in a muggy locker.  Chores will be divided evenly and satisfactory completion will be mandated.  We will be scheduled to our eyeballs but we will make it work because sanity is the goal, wellness.  Each of us will take responsibility for our family's wellness.  We will pull together, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and deflect the foes of craziness and frustration.  These are great lessons for children to learn:  organization, cooperation, responsibility and loyalty.

Here's what I can do:
1.  Make reasonable chore lists.
2.  Provide healthy snack choices.
3.  Buy everybody water bottles.  I'd really like to buy stainless steel.  NO PLASTIC!
4.  Keep an accurate schedule.  Color code all activities in pencil because they seem to change...alot.
5.  Plan for family time and guard it like a momma bear.  No letting it fall off the radar screen.
6.  Watch my gang for signs of fatigue.  No sport is worth getting sick over.

So, until we resurface in the June or July, check in here often and wing up a prayer for all sporty families!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Considering Wellness

I think alot about wellness, about what makes me feel well--a hot cup of tea, a call from a good friend, snuggling up with one of my dear ones,  EXERCISE, eating the right foods for my body, singing karaoke, getting to work on time and, yes, paying the bills before the last possible minute.  I feel very well after I have learned something new or healed one of the kids' colds with herbal tea, an ear candle and some vapor rub.   

I'll tell you when I don't feel well:  when I don't patch up my own knee, when I eat like a horse after six, when my to-do list on a given day looks like War and Peace, when I don't take the time to cook a decent meal, pet the dog, smile at a stranger, or go for a walk.  The same applies to my children.  I shudder when they tell me about school lunches.  I would be remiss if I didn't give them the annoying daily lecture about our country's state of ill health.  They roll their eyes sometimes, but the proof is in the pudding.  They are well-balanced people who know how to laugh hard, work diligently, love faithfully and eat (relatively) right.  We demand good manners, encourage free thinking and recommend natural remedies, homefront healing, as a first treatment.  So far, so good--most of them hate taking any kind of pill unless they really need it. 

So, in considering wellness this afternoon, I believe that overall wellness is the only way to fly.  And the only one responsible for my overall wellness is me.  I can heal myself at home, and treat my entire person, or I can go to the doctor and get medication with a name I can't pronounce.  I'm not against doctors at all; we need them.  But we don't need to run to them with every headache.  In fact, my own doctor recommended an amazing headache cure a few years back-- sinus rinse.  (  I have since successfully cured several throbbing noggins without medication, just homemade saline solution.  I love new ideas like that--they make me feel so empowered.  And...I am always on the prowl for new ones.