Contractions, kindergarten, middle school and tomorrow

IMG_7276My material is growing up. It’s going to middle school tomorrow. And 3rd grade. On Wednesday, kindergarten. Pretty soon, their stories will be their own—not mine to tell.

I’m sitting here with two glasses of wine and a glowing candle. When it goes out, I’ll stop writing and go to bed. For now, it is suspending me between summer vacation and children who grow up too fast. I had a toast with the 2nd glass, poured for my husband who can’t stop folding laundry. He also did some chores tonight that he’s had in the works for years. We have different suspension systems.

Tomorrow when I wake up I have to pack lunches and deliver my babies. It doesn’t feel that different than impending births. They still kick me in the ribs–especially my youngest. In utero, he once kicked me so hard it knocked me off course, foreshadowing the kid to come. At nine months, he climbed out of the crib, de-diapered, crawled down the stairs, ascended our countertop, removed a bottle of children’s IB profen from the cupboard and finished it as I rounded the corner after finding his crib empty.

Whenever I speak sternly with him, he responds, “Geez, Shawna,” as if we should be working things out woman to man. He is enterprising and canny and luckily, cute.

I am hoping his kindergarten teacher sees him that way too.

Speaking of small men, my oldest has turned twelve. I anticipate I will soon have a bearded transportation engineer on my hands and it will be time to retire to the lake and start selecting a nursing home. My rational self reminds me he still plays with toy trains.

I shared with my husband last week, “After they grow up, it seems like life will just be hard.” He reminded me that life with little ones is actually really, really hard. And no, we should not adopt a baby girl now.

I don’t actually want more babies. I want to know today who I will be with no babies in my house, the same way I anticipated who I would be once motherhood began.

Yesterday I ran 9 miles. Today, I walked the dog, hiked with the family, swam with my middle son and did some stairs. I have no babies to rock all night and toddlers to chase all day. I may break up more arguments, clean more wounds and talk through more hurts, but I feel a bit like a stretched out balloon that now takes more air to refill. For the first time in a long time, I have both a capacity I did not realize before parenting and time to fill it with a few more things for me.

Or so I think today. I am also still in transition to full time work outside of the bouncy castle that is our home. So far, though far busier, it feels less hard on my body. Sometimes, I speak in paragraphs and finish cups of coffee. But I am entering the unknown and nervous. Reprieves have tended to come and go like contractions over the past thirteen years.

I remember when my oldest was crying in my arms at the JCC when he was about a year old. A beautiful older woman who spoke very little English walked up to us and started to gently rub his brow. He fell asleep. She said, “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems,” and walked away.

At this moment, I feel ill prepared for the heartaches of big children. I have worked in teen health since 1996, but it is so different with my own. Puberty, acne, choices, disappointments, bullies, grades, first loves, stress, insecurities, hormones…all lay ahead. I am more nervous for me than I am for my middle schooler because I am equally excited for him and self-discoveries ahead. How in the world could I stretch this balloon any thinner? What will it feel like for me when their lives feel hard to them and I can’t fix it?

My kindergartner is excited for school. My 3rd grader whimpered as I held him tonight, “I don’t want to grow up,” and “Do I have to go to school?” He is my tender-hearted, wispy-haired artist. I tell him I have a good feeling about this year for him. I swallow my own tears. The kicking of ribs and contractions have yet to cease.

We did not know how hard childbirth would be. Yet the babies arrived. Why fear what lies ahead when it seems we never knew our capacity to begin with?

The candle is flinching. It’s time to let tomorrow come.

Aliens are eating the moon

11707549_10153466072893762_5651498996068497509_n6:30 in the morning: The room is dark. I attempt to fish earrings out of my jewelry (and miscellaneous junk) box. I get one on and the other’s backing will not take hold. I peek at it in the light of the glowing alarm. It’s not an earring backing. It is someone’s baby tooth.

Parenthood is so weird.

At a recent interview: My interviewer, a pregnant thirty-something in a nice maternity suit, asks me about the “five year blank” in my resume. I tell her I was home full time with my kids, but as she can see, I chaired committees, fundraised thousands of dollars, spoke professionally at hearings and rallies, wrote a blog, coached, managed, scheduled, entertained, taught, multi-tasked, created, evaluated, led and negotiated like a boss during that time. She responds, “It’s not that I don’t respect what you were doing, it’s that while you had the privilege of taking time off, other people were working hard.”

Parenthood is so easy.

An hour into my workday: My boys’ school calls me to retrieve my sick son. Two of three have thrown up in the past week–it is his destiny. We make it home. He has the best aim of all of them–I am weary of scrubbing and grateful he is last. We read some Magic Treehouse. I snuggle kids with sore throats and fevers. I do not snuggle pukers. I make up for it with Sprite on crushed ice and a straw, popsicles, saltines and unlimited screen time. Until he actually felt sick, I am pretty sure this kid was jealous of sick 1 and sick 2. He’s attempted fake-sick everyday since I first made jello. We get a nice rotation going of couch, porcelain, shower, couch. After a long rest and two vomit-free hours, my husband takes over while I go for a run. Upon my return, he is quite proud of getting a full glass of water into the child. Post run and shower, I approach the bed to check my cutie-pie’s temp. He projectile voms a full glass of water and orange jello straight onto my chest and down to my feet.

Parenthood is a puke train.

I am singing my favorite song. My youngest starts to sing along with me. “Mom, do you want to be a rocket star when you grow up?” I say, “Yes–of course.” He inhales sharply, “You can sing and play your guitar and I can play my…” he trails off and returns strumming his ukulele. We sing. He stops thoughtfully and looks at me; “Wait but mom you already growed up and you are not a rocket star.” He suggests that if I make my hair crazier, perhaps I could still be a rocket star. He asks, “what are you then?” I say, “I sing in a choir. I am a mom. I write and I work for schools.” He says, “That is so sad.”

Parenthood–damn. I’m doing my best here, small man.

After a long week home with sick kids, I take the dog for a walk. I generally follow the rules but it is about as good a day for bending them as I’ve had in awhile. No one is around–I let her off leash. She runs toward the willow fort the neighborhood daycare kids built. She poops just outside the door. I realize I’ve forgotten a bag so I pick it up with two large leaves. Even green leaves crumble in the fall. Dangit. It is then I realize two things. One, I do have a bag. And two, she pooped on a dead squirrel. What the hell? Unfortunately, I care about the daycare kids. Dangit dangit. The thing has adhered to the ground in some sections so I have to dig a little with a stick. I first decapitate it (not my intention). Bit by bit I bag the squirrel. I have not flinched nor faltered. The doorway of the willow fort is clear.

Parenthood is so rewarding.

The school district sends home a letter: “If your child misses three more days of school this semester…asking you to be responsible…could result in a hearing…your child’s education is important to us.”

Parenthood is gratifying.

I wake up to my eleven-year-old making pancakes before school this morning. He tells a joke I genuinely get and we laugh. Later, his best friend stops by while biking home (alone) from the library–wait–didn’t I just pull you two there in a wagon last week? I can’t keep up. I secretly liked it when my son was sick and we watched big-kid movies and played monopoly all day. He now smirks during movies when there are scenes with girls. We’ve talked about “stuff” including whether he relates to those moments? Yes, he says, but it seems unrealistic that boys in movies never have boyfriends and girls in movies never have girlfriends. How would someone feel? Whoa–empathy–didn’t you just learn to share toys?

Parenthood is ephemeral.

We are outside under an eclipsing moon. As it grows darker my “baby,” age four, reaches up as far as he can stretch. “Pickle me up” he says because he knows I cannot resist. When I situate him about my waist, he has to stretch himself down to my shoulder to rest his head. I hold him a little lower. I think, trying not to think, I can barely hold him. Arms shaking slightly as we stand very still, I ask him what he thinks of the eclipse. He says, “aliens are eating the moon. Let’s go inside.”

Parenthood is heavy.

A friend shares with me decisions she’s untangling about her career and upcoming changes. She exhales and gestures toward her daughter who is laughing with her friends one hundred feet away. “You know, at the center of so many choices I make is something that is constantly changing and will someday, “poof,” leave my home forever. It goes faster than I ever expected.” I relate. “Poof:” it will feel like a fleeting shadow to have woven an entire career, lifestyle, finances, emotions and even our physical space around. If I am the moon, they are the aliens.

Parenthood is being eaten alive.

Our children come along and make everything look as different as night and day. But they never stand still. In practically the same moment we are eclipsed, we reappear.

Parenthood is knowing the moon will survive.

Eleven Years of Tennyson

Last week I asked my oldest son to complete a chore with me. As he jumped from foot to foot on hot concrete, flies swarmed around us. He offered, “it’s stinky over here,” and “perhaps what you need, mom, is a kitchen shears instead of garden pruners.” But he stayed with me, humming, hopping and smiling. We finished the project, high fived and walked into the shade. He put his arm around me and said, “That was fun.” I laughed as tears rose in my eyes. He noticed, “Mom—how could that possibly choke you up?”

I have witnessed him accomplish remarkable things in eleven years that made me feel proud: piano recitals, choir performances, artwork, inventions, brotherly kindness, acts of compassion. But, I have never felt more optimistic a great future lies before him than when we cut the ropes off our old baby swing together next to the stinky garbage can on a simmering summer day.

Tenny is bright and likable. He has a winsome smile and an easy way with people. He excels in school and inventing things. He is a creative and quick learner. But resilience and willingness to face adversity will do more for him than any talent born or nurtured. I summed up my tears; “I am just so happy for you.”

Which, of course, made him giggle all the more. His giggle renders me weak at the knees with love and adoration. One of my favorite advances in our relationship this year is laughing together. We suddenly seem to crack each other up. Raising Tenny has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I was prepared to miss each stage as he grew (ok not all of them). What I was not prepared for was how much more interesting, fun and unpredictable he is at every age.

Furthermore, how could there be a pre-teen living in my house? How could he know more than me about computers? And pancake batter? Solar power? How could this be the same little guy who could not sleep anywhere but attached to his parents his first eighteen months? How could he so surprise me? I once knew him better than he knew himself. Everyday, Tenny is less and less kid and more and more his unique self.

IMG_7824We have engaged a tradition for our boys called the “Ten Year Trip.” Instead of a birthday party or gift, they will each choose (within reason) a destination. Tennyson’s selection was an overnight Amtrak trip with mom. He did not care about the destination; only that we slept at least two nights on the train. It speaks volumes of him that he selected a timeworn journey with a balance of exploration and quiet. We had a remarkably good time on our ramble from Seattle to St. Paul, he in awe of the train itself and me in awe of my companion.

This is what the five of us had to share about Tenny at his eleventh birthday dinner:

“He is a great brother.”

“He makes me feel special.”

“He is adventurous.”

“He is confident.”

“He gives great hugs.”

As he said to me earlier this year, “Do you know what I try to do? I try to be optimistic. Just let it roll. Don’t fight the current.” After eleven years of Tennyson, I am certain of one thing. No matter where or how he lands, Tenny will find adventure and purpose in every leap forward.

Season of believing…

santaphotoI am not “ready” for Christmas. On my commute this week, I imagined what it would be like to arrive at Christmas Day with no gifts. My feet lifted off the ground and for a moment I was suspended above the great Mississippi River bluffs. Woozily, my senses grabbed hold of my boots just in time and I settled back into planning who will get what.

My kids, well beyond the years when many give up the dream, wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus. So we welcome him into our home for the entire month of December.

And that man has some serious baggage.

My husband and I both have great childhood memories of cutting out pictures of toys from the JCPenny catalogue and dropping thick, pasty letters into the red mailbox at the mall. My brother and I would endure sitting on Santa’s “helper’s” lap to tell him what we wanted for Christmas, despite his cigarette breath.

Our kids are much more choosy about lapping men in red suits. They have a list of Santas they suspect are “real,” including the one we saw hopping on the Amtrak at the historic train station in Red Wing, the one that helped us strap our Christmas tree to our car, or the guy with the white beard walking down our street in suspenders THE DAY of the first snow – they were suspiciously magical beings. The ones that invite them to their laps – nope/never/no way/utterly destructive to the reputation of Mr. AwesomeClaus. I am glad they are choosy.IMG_9038

As new parents, we started simply – a tree, cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve and one present. By two kids, we wrote letters to the North Pole and allowed one request of Santa. By three kids, we had engaged the myth he was watching them for good behavior. And suddenly this year, all our halls are decked, the elf makes daily appearances, an advent calendar marks the days, the Polar Express is real (and costs $80) and St. Nick has to find a way to live up to the puppy he left in my kid’s boot last year.

And there is no going back.

My youngest son, being new (in his limited memory) to advent calendars, found the thing stuffed with exceptionally difficult to find itty-bitty toys and candies and little tiny notes from mom and dad, and must have thought this was the craziest, coolest THING upon which he had ever stumbled. Being the 3rd, I realized in retrospect that he never got the one-per-day and oooooaaaaaahhh this is such a cool thing it should be respected talk (as if that would have helped—whom am I kidding?) Poor thing gave into his urges, ate every bit of candy, lost, destroyed or claimed every toy, and for some reason (omg) sunk every little note in his cup of milk. It’s done for the season. His big brothers were so horrified they weren’t even mad I basemented it instead of refilling it. Its like we decided collectively we couldn’t go through that again.

Now let’s talk about the Elf. My kids received Elf on the Shelf as a gift. I think the gifters might even find it funny how undone we’ve been by him. If you don’t know this homely creature’s story, the rules are 1) he moves DAILY, 2) he must never be touched (his magical powers at stake) and 3) he sends messages to Santa about the kids in the house (I lobbied for husbands too but the husband didn’t buy it). You might think one could bend the rules, but no, he comes with a storybook, which amounts to a contract for all parents who have naively welcomed elves into their homes.

This is a lot of work for parents: manic morning elfscapades, midnight fights over elf-relocation, the transcription of children’s letters-of-complaint to Santa (like when he is “lazy” and does not move). I fully planned to ditch the elf this year. Then mom upon mom recounted their kids’ sweet morning discoveries, my children started asking about Marlog (our elf), and I caved. His first morning was magical – there he appeared, riding the Swedish reindeer decoration. By morning two, I had forgotten, the kids were disappointed, and I stepped into my familiar role of writing new rules (excuses) for Marlog’s poor behavior. “Oh he only moves after all the kids in the house have seen him and since your brother had a sleepover last night, he’s stuck there awhile.”

Hook. Line. Sinker. My neighbor’s kid had his doubts about the gluey-eared “elf” who gave him a legit PRESENT at a Christmas party. But the Elf on the Shelf seems to beg no uncertainty, which is even wilder if you’ve seen the thing.

Melfphotoarlog has skinny legs, a cherubic face, a jester’s collar and no feet. He had hands but the puppy from St. Nick chewed them off. One evening last year we were eating dinner and our “cute” elf was catapulted to the salad from his spot in the light fixture above. I went to pick him up and my oldest yelled, “No – you can’t touch him – he will lose his magic!” My kindergartner wailed, “Marlog is dead!” Time stood still long enough for me to imagine the merits of this option: an elf funeral could put an end to this nonsense.

But I couldn’t do it. I picked up Marlog and put him in the crèche scene with the angels and the wise men. My children bemoaned me until I explained, “Spending a little time here will bring back any special powers I stole by touching him.”

Speaking of the manger, this season I’ve heard some colorful commentary on this old story. For instance, Nadia Boltz Weber, an amazing minister, author and as it applies, veteran of childbirth, wondered if the little drummer boy was really a “gift” to Mary? Did Mary honestly give a dam that the 9-year-old banging his drum throughout her barnyard labor with a bunch of strange men and stock animals was “playing his best for her?”

And one of our favorite local musicians, John Munson, recently reflected on Joseph. Imagine the love and trust it took for Joseph to look at his beautiful, young, virgin wife and say, “An angel said, WHA?” and believe her.

Christmas is entirely about believing. First Jesus, angels on high, then Santa, also St. Nick, the Christmas Spider, the Polar Express, Rudolf, the peppermint pig, talking snowmen and now, ubiquitously, Elves on Shelves. Unfortunately, children’s wonderment is particularly marketable. We’ve put incredible pressure on families to buy dreams-come-true for their kids. But Amazon and Walmart and Macy’s don’t make decisions for us. They offer stuff (too much stuff). We are still in charge of the limits and the magic.

The stuff in Santa’s baggage can’t hold a candle to the magic–we can’t get enough of it! Take it from someone who sustains elfscapading against her better judgment, who once stayed up until 4am to guard a discontinued electric train on Ebay auction, and who rigged a system for placing Christmas presents under the tree invisibly in order to evade her son’s video surveillance system. I know someday Santa’s fairytale will crumble and we are bound for a little disappointment. But so far, there seems to be very little harm, and a good deal of humor, in believing.

I will raise white allies

Being “speechless,” though a tempting option, seems wimpy today. I’m afraid to stick my head out from under my awning and into the storm.

Facebook is ripe with “I am a white ally” status updates. Why am I (secretly) judging it? If racism is everywhere, won’t any expression of solidarity help?

I am the mother of three boys that are five generations out from Civil War soldiers who fought to end slavery, four generations after World War II soldiers who fought against the Nazis, and two generations past Civil Rights Movement protestors. Generations of bloodshed.

Yet today, I’m watching Lesley McSpadden weep for the lack of justice shown to her son. And not only that, for the fear it sounds like she lived with for years that this very thing would happen to her son.

And here I am, standing under my awning, irritated, and trying to make sense of myself.

I can repost the news reports and editorials. I will attend a meeting on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. I don’t mind calling my Congressperson. I can go to more workshops on Race. Protest. I can give money, vote for black leaders, get behind the right Legislation, stand in the street and raise my arms up, criticize the news and expand my media outlets. That is easy —  in fact, its trending among pro athletes and rock stars and editorialists and politicians and bloggers.

So what the hell is bothering me?

We will watch this trend die too, just like the generations of slaves and soldiers and black boys with Doritos in their pockets and frightening looks on their faces.

We talk about black people living up to their stereotypes and how they should change that. We don’t talk much about how white men are living up to their reputations of killing unarmed black boys, and how they should probably change that. Until someone dies. Or burns down a mall. Then its all over Facebook.

We’ve tried War, protest, movement and law: big, broad and bloody gestures at change that appear to take steps forward while incessantly falling backward. Instead, we begrudgingly progress over the generations, evolving at the molecular level. So I find myself irritated by our minuscule attempts at change today that will quietly go away when the stars move on.

Then again…racism and protest and anger and rage and disgust are trending today.

And, let’s face it, the broad and obvious steps have not delivered on change.

Perhaps taking the tiny step of posting about how we feel about it on Facebook is a catalyst for change at the molecular level: where change has always been occurring, though depressingly invisible to the naked eye. Isn’t this also where racism is stuck? Under the flesh? In the cells? In the places we can’t see except under the microscope, of say, a murder trial?

Perhaps if we can change ourselves molecule by molecule, we will evolve as a Family.

Once I saw a young, new teacher call out a black child in my son’s class for the exact same behavior my white child had just exhibited. She saw them both act. She chose one child to punish. I don’t know if it was racism that drove her, but probably, neither did she. I ignored it.

When my child brought home happy stories of Martin Luther King and said, “We’re celebrating because the dream he had came true,” I applauded his learning.

When the black college student said at my conference insisted, “as a white organization, partnering with black organizations does not increase your diversity–its racist,” I didn’t ask questions.

I can ally better. I can ask “Why?” “What about now?” And, “Then what do we do?” And I will keep doing it when the stars go back to rocking out, and the microscopes are turned off.

As a mother raising 3 boys, I need a reason to keep my head out from under my awning (its white), step into the storm and risk saying the wrong things. Be honest; we of white privilege need to find our reasons from within. Here is mine:

flagMy three boy’s lives were once threatened by an assailant that was never identified. For about a year, I lived in fear. Weeks of relocation, months of self-defense classes, years of therapy, private investigators, forensic psychologists, alarm systems, supportive neighbors, sheltering friends, a gun in our closet and an escape route planned, we started to feel better. I still wake up every morning afraid and have to remind myself we are ok. Our health changed. Our family changed. Everything changed. I do not remember most of the two years afterward. I imagine living like that everyday of my life, and at the same time fearing the very force weaponized to protect us, and I cannot call that LIFE. I would be angry. I would have a frightening look on my face. I would teach my children to run from police. I would pass down my anger.

If this is all we can offer the mothers of black boys, we are still at War, with unarmed soldiers, and a powerful resistance.

I will raise white allies.

Such a fine line

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Today I was late to a meeting because I got my pen tangled in my hair.

I was reminded of the time my son went walleye fishing with an earthworm in my hair.

My family and I once got snowed into a friend’s cabin the same night the pipes burst and water poured through the ceiling. Hours later, my husband admitted he could neither confirm nor deny the presence of raw sewage in my hair.

I often find food and snot of unknown sources in my hair.

We recently established a rule that when I am reading to my sons, no one is allowed to wrap their fingers or toes in my hair.

But today, I was alone. Shampooed. I put my hair in a bun and stuck my pen through it to hold it in place while I drove. I had it under control.

Ready for the world–until I attempted to step into it. Anxious, I pulled the pen too hard, too quickly, and unraveled my morning instead of my bun. Twelve precious minutes–the difference between timely and tardy–lost.

Such a fine line persists between control and chaos.

My Best Ideas of 2013

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Summer-Bag; in the back of the van and always ready for the park, beach or pool. Ingredients: towels, suits, swim shirts, sunscreen, sun hats, buckets and shovels, goggles and a bottle of saline solution. Why saline? Best ever solution to sand-in-the-eye!

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Caboose Game; marbles are moved from the red jar to the caboose as the kids’ good deeds accumulate. Ready for school without nagging? Share something with your brother? Say kind words to someone who needs them? I reward both good behavior and positive character. When the caboose is filled, they get a train-related outing of their choice.  Our last one was a trip to Jackson Street Roundhouse Museum.  ChooChoo!

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One-on-one time SCHEDULED with each child monthly.

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Art therapy; my kids and I made these the day our Gebo passed away. We keep his tags in the clay cup.

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Character stones; one might be asked to carry this around in his pocket after he, for instance, screams “I HATE YOU” upon being denied a popsicle.  The best part is you can make new stones as the needs arise!

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Character stones; one might be asked to carry this around in his pocket for awhile after after he, for instance, does not put his shoes on after being asked FOUR TIMES!

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Swimming in waterfalls is just a deeply good idea.

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B is for Beethoven. I made a baby books for newly arrived friends and family members with snapshots of loved ones taken at baby showers.

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K is for kiss!

Best term: Blizzard Brain This is my term to describe the mental affects of surviving the Polar Vortex: the fog rendered by rescheduling due to snow days (no matter how we love them), the adrenaline pumped by white-knuckle driving (it rattles the best of us), the head spinning attempts to keep body parts warm, and the net-effect of months spent largely indoors.

Best case: The Missing Goldfish  We lost our goldfish. I interrogated the children. I pried open the pump and the filter. The fish has fled the household. The children interrogated our babysitters. They searched water glasses, flower vases and floors. The case was stamped “unsolved.”  The investigators are taking new cases.

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Holiday cards bring us peace. They also bring us a conundrum. What do we do with all these adorable pictures come Spring?  We cut them up and made a poster we enjoyed all year round.

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Embrace the catastrophe!  Yes–that is a baby pool sandbox in our basement.  50 days below zero, people.  50!

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It started innocently, and grew…

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DIY colorful race for outdoor birthday party inspired by the “Color Run” and India’s Holi Festival. We used cheese powder (not kidding), turmeric, and powdered blue and green food dyes mixed with rice floor. Biodegradable and fantastically silly. Yes; it stains by design.

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We asked our neighbor who owns a landscaping and plowing company to show our youngest his trucks for his 3rd birthday. He outdid our request by taking him plowing. DREAM COME TRUE.

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Our Thanksgiving centerpiece was made by our tableful of guests. When they arrived, an object of nature was on their plate. Each person said what they were thankful for and placed it in the centerpiece. It gave us the opportunity to hear from everyone in a year that we all needed each other.

Best capture: calendar quotes I keep my kids’ quotes on my calendar and write them down in a book every few months.  Easy.

Best recovery: bowling night  In one solitary weekend, I neglected to register for my yearly 1/2 marathon, I forgot to go to a class I’d been looking forward to for months, I went to a voice lesson and my teacher wasn’t there, I went to a meeting at the wrong time, I toured 3 senior homes that had no openings for my parents, I dragged my kids to 2 stores for mittens that didn’t sell mittens, and I took them for consolatory cocoa at a coffee shop that was closed. I just kept walking down the street to the next door and it turned out to be the magical gateway to an awesome evening; a bowling alley. Now when anyone complains of having a bad day, the kids yell, “let’s bowl!”

DIY Christmas balls; purchase wool, felted wool balls, and plastic ornament from Michaels.  Include items from nature.  Lovely grandparent gifts.

DIY Christmas balls; purchase wool, felted wool balls, and plastic ornament from Michaels. Include items from nature. Lovely grandparent gifts.

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DIY lego kits

Homemade ice cream cakes; freeze for 1/2 hour between each layer.  Cookie and butter crust crunch crust, fudge sauce, ice cream slightly melted poured on top, frost with whipped cream and cocoa powder (frosting won't stick to ice cream), and then decorate on top of the frozen whipped cream.  Voila!

Homemade ice cream cakes; freeze for 1/2 hour between each layer. Cookie and butter crust crunch crust, fudge sauce, ice cream slightly melted poured on top, frost with whipped cream and cocoa powder (frosting won’t stick to ice cream), and then decorate on top of the frozen whipped cream. Voila!

…shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs.

IMG_1479My 3 boys all had the same first word; “uh oh.” This says a lot about us.  Soon after, the two oldest acquired, “what the?”  I distinctly remember my now-nine-year-old saying it for the first time at age three as we wandered upon a slimy dead fish on a walking path quite far from water. My five-year-old has been saying “whad da huck?” since age two. Perhaps we are less colletively shocked by life these days, however, because my youngest son’s utterance of the phrase is still pending at three. I find it rolls off my oldest boys’ tongues as easily as “no nap” and “hold me,” I assume because shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs. Daily, I am wonderstruck by the strange things I am forced to do in the care of my children.

Sometimes its messy:

photo-22This is a cup in a shower surrounded by toys.  As all wise mother’s do upon locating mysterious substances near places previously occupied by children, I sniffed it. Pee. It’s a cup of pee.  The funnel was also implicated.

My oldest also once helped his bestie construct a waterfall down a carpeted staircase. My youngest once emptied a gallon of green paint on the kitchen table while I searched for a tool to open it.

These incidents pale in comparison to the time I was presented a rhythm stick while eating dinner with friends. Immediately apparent, the stick had been stuck into poop and withdrawn. We were not picnicking on a lawn or some other such forgivable location, nor were we with company good for poop on a stick at the dinner table. What ensued was a long search for the origin of said poop, never to be found. We call it “the poop stick incident.”

Sometimes it’s dangerous:

When our middle son, Wilder, was 12 months old, I came downstairs in the morning to a naked baby standing on the counter rifling through medicine bottles. He didn’t know how to walk, much less climb. He had never before exited his crib independently, nor removed his diaper. He had had an inspired morning. My youngest, Wes, bested him at eighteen months by forcing us to replace our three foot fence with a six footer because of his escape artistry. And then there was the fire he once started in the rice cooker as I stood two feet away from him, frying tilapia.

Impossible:

One day of summer “vacation,” before 9am, my boys showed me a movie they had made on my phone while I changed Wes’s diaper; a spectacular vantage of their bottoms, followed by full frontal nudity.  While we were discussing why we call private parts “private,” Wes flooded the bathroom, “washed” the kitchen sink with a toilet brush, and threw a plate on the floor with such force it set off the house alarm.

Embarrassing:

My youngest does not say “truck” politely. He once pointed to a truck in the window of the library and ran screaming his lewd version clear to the opposite side.  I was 2% horrified, 98% entertained by the mixed responses of librarians, parents, elders and teenagers. But it gets better/worse. A naughty neighbor recently goaded him, “say truck,” over and over. I did not squelch it soon enough. Next thing I know my little man is transferring his lesson to the five-year-old’s two-year-old little brother. Their conversation went like this: “Say “f*#!,” “F*#!, louder and louder until I regained my capacity to parent.

Funny;

Wilder and I took a special trip to the mall one day when he was three; just us. At the time, he had had very limited experience with mannequins and cousins. I opened the door to Nordstroms, he walked in, threw his arms around the well-groomed men’s department mannequins and exclaimed, “oh, my cousins. I’ve been looking for you for so long!”

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By age four, he was excelling at the comedic role of straight-man; our own mini Jason Bateman. For instance, while reading through a new stack of library books, my oldest, Tennyson, bragged, “I am reading in my head.” Wilder responded, deadpan, “I am reading in my elbow.” This same kid replied to a guy on the chairlift who queried of Wilder’s age, “I’m turning 40. I’m gonna have a weally big party.”

I can’t always keep up:

We chose to inform our oldest, then five, he was going to be a big brother (again) before we planned how we would explain this phenomenon to our eighteen-month old. As soon as we finished the phrase “we are having a baby,” he had located his brother and explained, “mama has a baby factory inside her.  That’s where she made you and she made me. Now she’s making another baby. The baby factory is called her uterus.” Then he jumped on his bike, raised his first, and exclaimed, “To the uterus, and beyond!”

And these: I didn’t know our oldest could draw shapes until he whipped up a highly detailed war ship. I did not know our middle kid could count to ten until I overheard him count to 100.  I did not know our youngest knew about letters until he sang me the ABC’s. Upon my third son turning four, I had still not finished the book, “Your Three Year Old.”

At times, they are wise beyond their years:

I recently sat in tears, writing my wonderful uncle’s eulogy. My tender eldest son rested his little hand on my typing fingers, gently smiling with a vulnerable heart and saying quite perfectly, absolutely nothing.

BobandGeboA week later our five-year-old drew this picture.  He said, “It’s Uncle Bob throwing a ball to Gebo in Heaven’s House.” When he gave it to me, Tennyson said, “Mom, don’t hold back your tears.”

On a totally different note, when Wilder triumphantly exclaimed one day, “I am the King of all Pagina!!” his thoughtful big brother retorted, “You can’t walk into a castle or the White House and just say that. You have to wear really shiny leather shoes, comb your hair, and bring a nice gift. Then they might believe you.”

They are quite emotional:

I did not know little kids had such big feelings until I lived with them. These creatures’ elbows barely reach their earlobes when raised overhead. Resting atop their shrimpy bodies are immense heads powered by adult-sized frustration, grief, will and glee. My cousin once told me a story of when her three-year-old daughter had a breakdown, crying “I want, I want, I want…” Moments like this, I’ve come to find, are generally not about the object of desire–it’s about learning to get what you want.

For example, I was recently informed that  if I did not comply with my son’s wishes, “your hair will fall out and your clothes won’t fit and you will grow a penis. Seriously.” He had found my weak spots and wasted no time using them against me!

It’s always an internal endeavor:

After 10 years of parenthood I no longer crave sleep.  I have adjusted to a simpler vocabulary, lower level of articulation, lack of alertness and wavering faith that rest will come. My standards are lower. I buy patterned shirts because you can’t see the kid-snot on my shoulders. I exercise when it’s feasible. I live with the fact I may have microbes of poop on my sleeves. Speaking of poop (again, and again, and again) I interact with it, discuss it, think about it, more than I ever thought tolerable. I do not know what to do with myself when my arms are empty. I have stopped keeping lists because they generally just make me feel bad about myself. I find I am happier if I count on the important things to rising up inside of me and the others not truly being important. Shockingly, this system rarely fails! I do keep a calendar, on which the days click by faster everyday.

“Notice the details,” my dad always says, “and time will slow down.” Beyond the calamity and hilarity, when time does slow down and I am in the moment, the biggest surprise of all is that I still have reserves. I had no idea what I was capable of feeling, accomplishing, tolerating, negotiating, surviving, and creating before my children arrived.

Occasionally, there will be victories;

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I participated in a ski race this morning.  My children sent me on my way, saying, “I hope you win!” I am not a winner of races. I was humbled and winded when I reached the final stretch and saw them perched on a hay bale, their beautiful faces smiling and cow bells ringing. As I raced toward the glowing display of love and support, the thought rose inside of me, “Criminy, Wes is supposed to be at a birthday party!” But I charged on, as parents do, and was greeted at the end with ebullient hugs and exclamations, “you have a medal mama! You won, mama!!!” Someday I will tell them about finishers’ medals. But today, I’m happy to be a winner in their eyes.

Response to Matt Walsh on Sex Ed

photo-18I have been a fan of yours for awhile, Matt Walsh; a big fan.  Before becoming a full-time stay at home parent I was a health educator in the public schools.  I wish I thought your perceptions of comprehensive sex education were accurate, but I respectfully do not.  I would like to believe that parents who are incapable of teaching their children healthy, universal lessons about human sexuality are an “aberration,” but research shows we have not yet evolved to that level of competence as a society.  Since your arguments are not actually based in research or evidence, allow me to speak from the heart as you do.  In my experience, and I know that you are speaking from your experience, I believe comprehensive sex education in schools saves/improves/protects lives.  This is what I have witnessed:  1) Human sexuality is a part of biological science, which is taught in schools.  We do not restrict information about other sciences based upon the cultural beliefs of students.  We give them the facts.  2) What we teach in schools does not restrict what parents can teach kids at home.  If they are capable, loving parents, lessons from home will be primary, not secondary, to lessons learned at school.  3) You suggest we have a case of parentphobia.  Please consider whether you have a case of teacherphobia.  Health educators are professionals, and “most of them are…capable.  Most [teachers] love their [students].  Most [teachers] would do anything for their [students]. Most [teachers] know what’s best for their [classrooms].”  Teachers aren’t the government…I encourage you to have a little faith in them.  In fact, perhaps you still have some things to learn from teachers that will help you navigate the parenting “minefield” of which you speak.  Sometimes we need expert guidance from people who are trained professionals.   4)  One of our biggest failures as a society is our tendency to trust our assertion that “I can look around me” and see everything that’s going on out there. We need to doubt our beliefs about “most of us” because that is usually biased by what we see.  When we make decisions about the needs of our society as a whole, we have to remember, respectfully, that “most of us” don’t interact daily with a representative sample of the population.  Matt, we need to doubt ourselves every time we use the phrase “most of us.”  Herein lies the intended and constructive purpose of statistics; science and research that can help us make decisions about what kids as a population need.  “Most” researchers are good, smart people that have the very best for young people at heart.  As parents, we cringe at the idea of our kids rendered to numbers, but these numbers have the ability to remove our blinders when all we can see is what is around us.  The evidence, in this case, suggests that comprehensive sex education in schools has reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  As a health educator, I can tell you that everyday I had that job, I went home feeling like I improved the outcome of someone’s life that day.  As a citizen, when I send my kids to public school I choose to be willing to have my children educated in such a way that is best for the common good.  And as a parent, I welcome the challenge to teach my kids what I want them to know about their sexuality in the context of what they learn in school, on the playground, and in conversation with other kids and adults.  I encourage you to broaden your view, doubt your assertions, and then tell us all what you think is best for our children.  Here are some resources:

One of the Great Ones

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My dog died.  Gebo died.  That still sounds strange.  It’s not yet real.  Two days after he died we hosted a lively and fun, touching Thanksgiving full of goodness.  Our eldest generation shared beautiful, heart-warming prayers of gratitude before dinner.  After dinner, pie and gingerbread houses, I was packing up tableware lent from my parents.  I struggled with a small white box, not able to open it and unsure what it was.  On the bottom I found a label and read, “Gebo.”  I put it down, not breathing, and walked directly into the arms of a cousin who would understand such things.  My dad had kindly picked up his remains on the way over, but had not yet found the right time to present us with our beloved pet.  Though perhaps not the best delivery, a day of thanksgiving was the right day.  Experiencing tough moments sometimes helps us realize what will give us strength in future hard times.

Sad-sweet nostalgia surfaced over the ensuing days.  I called his name to clean up dinner scraps a few times, and our 2-year-old asked a dozen times of his whereabouts.  Then my mom went into the hospital with more health issues (she is ok), and I longed for his soft scruff to catch some worried tears.  I’ve done some weird things, like sitting on a dock at sunset, letting my hand pet the air where he would have sat beside me.  My husband admits he has reached out to pet him in the empty passenger seat of his truck too.  I started writing this a week ago.  Today I started editing and realized I had to change every verb to the past tense.  His goneness settles in more everyday.

At the same time, I don’t always miss him because I forget he’s gone.  I mistook a pile of dark laundry for him last week.  His picture is in my phone, and I talk to it.  This would have been appeared weird a few years ago but these days I can get away with it.  I saw a coyote near my yard today and I am pretty sure he was checking on us for Gebo.  See, its a mix of intentionally forgetting he’s gone and loftily believing he’s still around.  I had my weeks of endless tears.  Now I soothe myself by forgetting somedays, and remembering others.

When I do remember he died, I sweat; a surge of hurt.  I can level the thermostat as long as I keep believing he’s in my phone, or in the coyote; anywhere but that white container.  As long as I avoid a few thoughts, most Christmas specials, and that dam song on the radio about the kid who wants to buy his mom shoes before she dies, I live peacefully with his memories and his presence.  I’ll accept his passing enough by spring to memorialize him; spread his ashes in favorite places, tell stories with the kids, plant a tree and float some lanterns to heaven.

My oldest son once told me, “having Gebo makes me feel like maybe we’re special, because WE got the greatest dog ever.”  Even our vet said the last time he saw him, “he is one of the Great Ones.”  I agree.  I miss not only my dog, but one of my favorite parts of being me.  I miss the me that had a close friend that was an animal.  I miss the me that picked him out at the farmer’s market in Bozeman, Montana.  The ranchers who sold us Geebs said he would be so loyal, we had to promise to shoot him instead if we ever had to give him away someday.  No need.  I miss the me that swam and skied with him.  I miss the me that heard him shake with excitement when we turned down gravel roads.  I miss the me that parented with a canine assistant.  He not only changed my life, he changed me.

I don’t know myself without him.  I miss his outrageous greetings, his lush ears, and his noises; the jingle of his tags, the groan when he stretched out on his bed, the high-pitched yalp at the end of his yawn, the snorty sneezes that meant he wanted to play, and the soft exhale in his bed I was just barely conscious of hearing.  Though it drove me crazy until a few months ago, I now miss how after 14 years he decided to forgo the rules.  He sniffed out stuffed animals from toy bins, holding them under his chin with the white rims of his black irises showing so sweetly we couldn’t say “no.”  I miss how he and I walked the boys to the bus stop together everyday.  The day I tried to leave before the boys were aboard, he refused my tugs at his leash.  He rolled over on his back, never severing his gaze from the smallest of his herd until both were safely seated.  I miss the gentle way he took treats from the kids’ fingers and his popcorn-scented paws.  I miss him following the kids around, eager to be in the thick of childhood.

I felt honored to be there for Gebo in his old age.  I could see trust in his cloudy eyes, and bewilderment at legs gone weak and tummy gone sour.  I am so grateful for the sense of safety he brought me for 15 years.  He saw me through every transition from single woman in the mountains to mother of three in the plains.  I am grateful to him for staying off the couch, leaving food on the coffee table, always returning to the front stoop, and tolerating a leash, though we both knew he never planned to leave my side.

Gebo, I wish you high mountain vistas and sun-soaked fur.  I wish you rock-catching in streams.  I wish you the perfect snatch of a frisbee in the air.  I wish you the agility of your youth, and long games of chew-face.  You have prepared us well for the end of our era together with at least three practice runs at death.  Well played for a protective guy; you were every bit as loyal as they said.  Though I long for your companionship, I feel grateful and optimistic; perhaps because I was once the recipient of a magical being.  You are my Pete’s Dragon, my first young, and my wise old man.  From our adventures in the mountains, my years in young love, the formation of this family, and our life by Minnehaha Creek, you followed me and loved everyone I ever asked you to love.  Thank you for sixteen years of loyal service to your herd.FamwGebs