Surviving the Siblings

Sibling relationships are complex. Sometimes I watch the kids play outside from a window, sipping my coffee and reveling in their obvious enjoyment of each other, even tearing up at the beauty of it all. And now, I don’t even have to be out there to supervise! They are all getting so mature. Then I notice the Deuce’s hands around CoCo’s neck.

Huh. Is that in fun? Nope. It’s not fun. Coffee spills as I hastily set it down and run outside to referee. After disentangling, scolding, and soothing, I retreat. The children initiate a race: fifty times around the house! I smile at the boundless energy. They never really seem to get bored with each other.

Ah, look. CoCo is pushing the Eldest on the swing, how sweet! Oh….wait. He’s violently yanking the swing in a circle, in an attempt to unseat his brother so he can get on. In retaliation, the Eldest is stabbing a thick, sharp twig in the general direction of CoCo’s eyes.

“Stop it!” I shout from the porch, hopping on one foot to get my shoe on. “Everyone gets a turn, except you won’t get one if you’re going to push him like that!” and to the Eldest, “Also, you’re going to poke his eyes out with that stick – do you want to blind your brother!?” Both boys hang their heads. The Daughter jumps gleefully onto the swing, oblivious to CoCo’s scarlet look of death as he realizes he’s lost his place in line. I reorder everyone and step back.

Moments later they are all climbing in the big sycamore tree, fellow pirates sailing the high seas, the Deuce boosting the Daughter from behind, taking turns walking the plank and sliding into the ocean of dandelions below.

“Ahoy, mateys!”

“Avast, ye scallywags!”

“I’m a big, skewy piwate!” hollers the Daughter, who’s R’s are always W’s, until one sad day when they suddenly won’t be.

They are just so, so cute. Oh my goodness, they play so well together. Sometimes I marvel at their made-up adventures. The imaginative role play! The sense of partnership! But then abruptly, a clash of wills erupts.

I am the captain!”

No. Never. You are the first mate. I AM THE CAPTAIN!”

“And you are a mermaid, since you’re a girl.”

The Daughter sends a wail skyward. “I am NOT A MERMAAAAIIIID! I’m in charge of everyone!”

I keep silent, swigging my coffee, now from the position of my lawn chair. Smugly, I muse about the fact that I have been a parent for over 12 years, and I know a thing or two. I’ll encourage them to work it out among themselves. And after some squabbling, they do all calm down. The older ones wisely work out some compromises and a bargain or two, so that everyone is happy with their role in the pirate scenario. In an extraordinarily complicated system, swords are exchanged for light sabers, the Daughter is given the captain’s hat without the actual title, etc., etc. Congratulations, Mom. You are a pro.

Faster than you can say, “Pride goes before destruction,” someone is smacked in the cheek by the broad side of a sword, and the captain’s hat is stomped into the gravel. One child stands aside stone-faced after vowing that they are never playing with the Deuce again. Finally, an ear-splitting, hair-raising scream (which can only be likened to the siren call of a deadly mermaid) hitches a ride with the wind. I am sure, five miles away, horses rear in their stables, dogs hide under decks, and tornado shelters are flung open.

“Okay! The pirate game is over!” I march over and confiscate the swords and hats. “Everyone inside!” I am wary of neighbors staring across the way in alarm. “We all need a break from each other. Everyone go sit on their own beds for a few minutes.” They trudge inside, some simply whimpering in misery, others slyly attempting to trip or jab an elbow into their brother. I turn the offending party around to face me and glare severely at him. He nods in defeat and trudges to his room.

I pour another rather large cup of coffee, sit at the dining table, and pray. For patience, for compassion, for wisdom. After a few minutes of blessed silence, I wander into a bedroom to behold a most unexpected sight. All four children are squeezed onto the Eldest’s twin bunk, looking thick as thieves (or thick as a pirate crew, to be more accurate). Chins rest on shoulders and arms link. They swap jokes, look at each other’s minecraft worlds, and belly laugh, without even a glance at me as I snap a picture.

These are the moments a parent lives for, are they not? I don’t want to ever, ever, ever forget.

A short while later, I hear a roar from the bedroom, followed by three loud thuds. “That’s it! GET OFF MY BUNK!”

Well. They are mere moments, and a moment cannot last forever. But at least I have the photo.

 

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Traveling With Six Bodies

The prospect of a little vacation is always exciting. Let’s get away. It’ll be so fun to take a break from our everyday routine – just think of all the relaxing we can do!

C’mon! We’ll load up the four kids, all their clothes, toiletries, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, electronic devices, and that complicated lego spider trap that CoCo constructed yesterday in between bouts of anguished and enraged howls over trying to get it to look exactly how he imaginated it (which he fully expects to stay intact during the 6 hour minivan trip). Anything else you can stuff into your respective princess or camouflage backpacks, kids? Light sabers, a batman costume, your diary, action figures, a plastic tool set? Sure! Bring it!

And let’s toss in the laptop, the various commentaries that the Husband needs in order to work on his sermon while we’re away, all the extra tennis shoes and jackets we might use if we went on a hike or something, a cooler for food, water bottles, sleeping bags, and our road-trip bingo game. I’m sure I’ll have time to read these six novels while I’m lounging around on vacation, so I’d better cram them into the glove box. This will be a breeze!

Locked and loaded, we head down the driveway. If you were watching from the house, you would hear a muted shriek from inside the car, see us stop, back up to the house, and let one kid out to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, I run in and frantically look for my cell phone and travel mug that I know I set somewhere while helping the Daughter strap on her sandals, but forgot to grab on the way out the door the first time.

Locked and loaded again, we take off again, and the gravel that spews up from the tires demonstrates the Husband’s nearness to the end of his rope. “Can we stop at Starbucks?” I ask hopefully.

“Sure, Sweetie,” he answers through gritted teeth. And so it goes – through town, the Starbucks drive-thru, traffic lights and morning rush, and onto the freeway.

We inch down the road. I say inch, because we all know that is the perceived progress of your vehicle when people lob are-we-almost-there-yets from the back seat with the alarming speed and frequency of a little league pitching machine. “NO,” the Husband and I shout in unison over the Spongebob movie on the DVD player.

After an age of driving and stopping for various coffees, bathrooms, and what I will vaguely term ‘disciplinary situations’, we arrive at the outskirts of Portland. It’s been at least 45 minutes since the most recent heckling from the back seat. Sun rays gleam into the car, reflecting off the Daughter’s sparkling blue eyes, and we feel the need to provide the magical experience of the zoo for these super cute kids. Veer off onto the proper exit, and promptly cue standstill traffic conditions.

Breathe. We’ll be fine. We’re not on a schedule, right? The loved ones we’re visiting won’t be expecting us for a few more hours.

But traffic jams make children ravenously hungry. It goes like this. The visual stimulus of all those red brake lights triggers a chemical reaction in their hypothalamus, which in turn sends an internal lightening bolt from the brain downwards, and that bolt transforms their tummies into a pride of lions who haven’t eaten in days. Lions’ roars rise up in their throats and out into the enclosed and cramped space of a suddenly blazing hot car. This is the scientific process described in our homeschool biology book, anyway.

In the zoo parking lot, we realize that every other parent in the state of Oregon also saw the sunlight reflected in their adorable child’s eyes that morning, and were thus inspired to show them elephants and penguins. We discuss the state of affairs at hand, a line of would-be parkers forming behind us.

“We can’t go back on the zoo.”

“No, of course not. They’d flip out.”

“Would they though? Maybe we should test the waters.” And then, “Kids? The zoo is just soooo crowded. It’ll be hard to even see the animals. And I know everyone is hungry, so we are thinking we’ll skip it and just go to an early lunch.”

They all nod, completely undisturbed, with one exception: our naturalist. CoCo’s mouth turns down, eyebrows drawing together in an expression I know all too well. “You can have a milkshake at Chick-fil-A,” I placate, hoping the ferociousness of the stomach-lions outweighs the lure of the zoo-lions. The sad face disappears instantly. Stomach-lions for the win.

In Chick-fil-A, the Daughter hugs herself and looks forlorn as our food arrives at the table. “I feel sick,” she declares.

“What?! Are you going to THROW UP?” I realize too late how loudly I have said it, as a family two tables down stares in alarm. She nods. I give her a bag, and she lowers her entire face into it, groaning. Oh. No. No, no, no, no, no. The nearby family shifts down another table. I agonize. Is this real? Is she faking? Maybe she’s just too hungry and she has that sick feeling you get when your stomach is empty; the lions have turned on each other. She looks up at me, face pale, strands of hair clinging to her mouth, which hangs open. She looks awful. This is happening. I load up her nuggets and my sandwich, grab my purse, and herd her out to the van.

We sit in air-conditioned silence, watching the boys eat through the restaurant window. I briefly ponder all the times I’ve had to sit in the car with a child during a meal out in the last 12 years of parenting. I make a mental note to put it in The Job Description. (The Job Description is a rather long manifesto I am constantly tweaking, which I plan to present to our kids when they themselves become parents.)

“Mommy? Can I have my food now?” I hand a nugget back to her. She chomps. Color returns to her cheeks, and with it, impishness. “And where’s my barbecue sauce?”

“We had to leave that behind, because I thought you were going to barf,” I say with a sigh.

“I’m feeling better. Just go in and get it for me.”

“If you were feeling barfy, it’s better to eat your food plain anyway.”

The boys come bouncing out, wiping ketchup with their sleeves and slurping leftover lemonade. They cheer good-naturedly as their sister announces, “I didn’t have to throw up after all!”

The Husband eases into the car with an exhausted, “OOOOOkay,” at the exact same time I say a weary, “Woooooow, what a trip so far.”

I smile over at him. We are in perfect sync. A thought occurs to me, spoken in a particular inner voice that I like to pretend is Ms. Sensible, but actually might be Ms. Lazy. “Maybe we just shouldn’t be traveling much with the kids in this stage of life,” I say, at the exact same time the Husband utters, “We need to be getting these kids out more.” Not so much in sync. But he’s right, of course. I guess.

 

 

Running A Simple Errand

I am in Costco on a grocery run with the tiny Daughter when my phone rings. My older brother is a farmer by trade, operating several hours away from The Big City, and has called to cajole a favor out of me.

But the first five minutes are spent with him pretending to be an Australian tourist who has dialed the wrong number (this is a long-time favorite gag of the Older Brother, and the introduction of any phone call from him to me). Finally he gets down to business.

“Just drive to ______ Shipping, Inc. and see if anyone’s around on a Saturday morning. Find out if the chemicals I ordered are sitting on a pallet somewhere. You know, see if maybe you can just put them in your minivan and take them. Tell them you’re my sister, and it’ll be fine.”

Um. What. “What? Well, what chemicals are these again? They’re going in my van? And don’t I need a tracking number or order number or something? I just don’t know about this,” I say, inserting a whiny quality into my voice. I’m doing my best to hint to the Older Brother that I really don’t want to do this thing.

“It’s the potassium blah blah blah, that I mix with the methyl blah blah blah silicate blah blah blah. You know, I have to spray it on that hay like, yesterday! We’ve got rain coming and I need that stuff. I’ll text you the tracking number.” Now, of course he didn’t say ‘blah blah blah’, but I am not a chemist or a farmer, and I’m on my cell phone in Costco at 9 AM on a Saturday. The inevitable crowd surging around me at the meat counter is peppered with people casting sympathetic and knowing glances in my direction. Poor lady. Her brother or somebody is trying to get her to run this really weird farming-related errand. Either that or this woman is planning out an illegal drug run right in front of all of us!! I force a reassuring wink at the onlookers.

“Oooookay, I’ll go see what I can find out.” I weave my cart through the horde to the checkout and make my way to the van, loading groceries and the Daughter. “We’ll just go do one quick thing and then home for lunch,” I tell her.

Sighing as I get into the car, I pull up directions on my GPS. As usual, when a farmer’s crop depends on a shipment of bulk chemicals – and rain is on the horizon – that shipment is languishing indefinitely on a pallet somewhere in The Big City. Eastern Oregon problems, people. I tell ya.

I close my eyes, recalling what the Older Brother had described as a ‘mom-and-pop’ shipping company. I picture a small rundown operation with pallets sitting under an awning. Tumbleweed blows through here and there, clinging to white plastic bags of potassium blah blah blah. Will anyone even be there? I imagine a kind-looking grandpa in coveralls emerging from underneath a delivery truck engine, wiping grease from his hands to help me load the Older Brother’s lost shipment into my trunk. His eyes crinkle cheerfully as he waves me off in a cloud of dust. I can almost hear the Older Brother’s elation on the other end of the phone when I call to inform him, “I got it!”

Okay. This is going to be fine.

Following my phone’s instructions, I head to the outskirts of town. I pass an old gas station, a closed diner, then cow pastures. Reassuringly, there are even tumbleweeds out here.

Abruptly, the road turns to smooth and freshly painted new pavement. A high chain link fence, topped with razor wire, springs up on the left. Huh. Is there a prison or something out here? 

“You have arrived at your destination,” chirps my phone. I slow to a stop in front of a remotely controlled double gate adjacent to a security guard-house. The grounds on the other side of the fence are abuzz with employees marching purposely from an office complex to various warehouses and back. Forklifts and trucks zoom around doing what forklifts and trucks do. A thin strip of manicured lawn in front of the fence boasts a very official sign, “_______ Shipping, Inc.” Mom-and-pop?

This is not a prison. This is where I try to get my hands on some chemicals.

A uniformed guard eases out of a lawn chair in front of the gate and saunters over to my car window. “Ma’am? Are you lost?”

“Hello-my-brother-is-a-farmer-and-he-ordered-some-chemicals-for-his-crop-and-they-seem-to-be-stuck-here-and-I-was-wondering-well-he-was-wondering-if-I-could-possibly-just-pick-them-up-here-as-he-really-needs-them!” I spurt out, all in one breath. He tips his head and looks hard at my face. Squirming in my seat, I swallow a large lump in my throat and muster a wide and innocent smile. I consider adding, for credibility, “I’m a pastor’s wife,” but wisely refrain.

“Uh, no. No you may not. Who did you say you are?” He squints into the car, noticing the Daughter, who stares wide-eyed from the back seat. We must look like criminals. I give him my name, my brother’s name, and the tracking number. “There’s just no way this is happening,” he responds.

“Can I talk to someone in there?” Where is the kind grandpa with crinkly eyes emerging from under a lone delivery truck? I crane my neck to get a better view of the main office.

“No. You are not getting in there.” He steps in front of my gaze, hand on the radio at his hip. I sigh. The Daughter sighs. A flash of inspiration hits me.

“What if I work for my brother? What if I am his employee?” I say this with the conviction that the Older Brother would certainly put me on his payroll (at least temporarily) if it meant picking up the potassium blah blah blah. But then I am convicted that this might actually be a white lie, and I am sure the security guard is watching the pulse in my neck like a trained CIA operative. “Well, what I mean is, what if I have worked for him in the past?” Now this is absolutely true. Oh, wait. Is it? I search my memory. “Or actually, I used to work for the business that he now runs, but he didn’t when I worked there. It’s complicated. You know, family stuff,” I trail off.  The guard simply blinks at me, and shakes his head.

“Ma’am, for the last time, NO. You have no business here,” he says with finality.

I accept defeat, turn the car around, and pull out onto the highway. In the gas station parking lot down the road, my brother guffaws on the other end of the phone when I call and explain what happened, accusing him of trying to get me arrested. He admits it was a long shot.

The next time he calls me, it is to pretend to be a private security firm that is following up on criminal activity near their client’s shipping terminal. So I guess I really did do him a favor. The Older Brother loves nothing more than new material.

 

 

 

 

Courting Disaster With Hair

I have a deep dark secret that I need to bring out into the light. Ready? Here goes: I cut my own hair. Gasp! It’s like courting disaster, isn’t it? With the exception of a birthday appointment at a salon from the Husband last year, I have been DIY-ing it for years now.

No, I am not a professional hair stylist. No, I do not have an innate gift with a pair of shears. I am clumsy. I don’t know what I’m doing. I am left-handed – which is my excuse for all kinds of personal failings. “Why are these tomatoes sliced so funny?” says my mom. “Because I’m left-haaaanded,” I wail. Why can’t I figure out how to crochet? Why are my kids so confused when I try to show them how to tie shoes? What is up with my ironing skills? Why is it so much harder to put mascara on my right eye? Yep, I’m left-handed. Feel sorry for me.

Forever and an age ago, I had a new baby and a lot of sweatpants and a husband in seminary and I was tired and couldn’t focus on what day it was and I ran a household of six people around feedings, diaper changes, tantrums (okay, some of those were my own), and mini-naps. And yes, beloved grammarians, I needed a run-on sentence to accurately portray my state of being at the time. Make an appointment? Leave myself some time to rethink the impulse to completely chop everything off? Nah. It’ll be fine.

So. I was googling things like ‘cute haircut at home’ and ‘DIY messy layered bob’, and happened upon some video tutorials that I have never been able to find again. Maybe I dreamed it. But anyway, I did watch those videos. Were they sufficient training for cutting my own hair? Hmmmm. They were at least sufficient enough to convince me to cut off the ponytail that I carefully combed to the top of my head.

Yikes. The result was what can only be described as a classic mullet. Observing my new look, complete with stained shirt and worn out sweats, I took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm my racing heart. I said a prayer, repenting of my impulsive behavior and asking God for mercy. Finally, I gathered my courage and my hair into another ponytail at the base of my neck, and chopped again. Whew. A little better. Using what can only be described as guesswork and luck, I continued to cut sections that looked wrong. And if that didn’t make them right, I cut a little more. Unbelievably, a shape started to emerge: the messy layered bob! Well, maybe messy is a bit generous. ‘Sloppy’ might be a better descriptor.

I fed the Daughter, put her down for a nap, and washed my new hair. A little product and voila! I had a decent DIY shlob. (Yes, naysayer, The Shlob Haircut is a real thing. Google it.) I have been repeating this process a couple of times a year ever since.

Now, it bears mentioning, it doesn’t always turn out so well. There was the time I called my mom in tears to come and straighten out the back and we had to shave my neck, which is a practice I abhor. My mother agrees that neck shaving is a tragic state of affairs. There was the other time when I begged the Husband to help me even out the sides and we just kept cutting one side and then the other in a horrible and vicious cycle. And I can never get my bangs right.

In case you’re wondering, yes I do realize I’m crazy. There are many wonderful and talented professional stylists out there who, if I called them, could perfectly execute a layered bob in a much less stressful fashion. But….but…I’m free! I am no slave to a hair appointment!

One day, I will change. I do believe personal growth in this area is possible. One day I will call a salon and book myself in. That day is coming. I’ll get there, folks, I promise. Perhaps it will be a particularly dull pair of scissors that will put me over the edge. Or maybe the four-inch diameter hand mirror that I use to see the back of my hair will finally seem too small. It is possible I will accidentally leave a long thin rat-tail in that blind spot, and the Husband won’t notice, but it will be very visible to everyone sitting behind me in church. It is almost inevitable. But for now, I court disaster with hair.

 

 

Our Secret Fix-it Method

We have discovered an amazing secret to fixing just about anything. It really is unparalleled in its breadth of scope; it works on all sorts of issues that you might otherwise want to call a professional to fix. Here are some scenarios to which this seemingly magical method might apply:

Is your dishwasher not draining, and as a result, filling up your sink with gross, dirty water, which sometimes even spills onto the counter?

Does your television act up, freezing, or muting, or turning off at unpredictable intervals?

Is there a strange whine, followed by a knocking in your car engine? And possibly(?) related, is there green mold growing in your car’s interior? Is that too specific?

Does your ceiling fan shake precariously while spinning, and make you worry that it will actually come loose and fly out at you in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping? Which, by the way, is a perfectly reasonable concern, because it’s actually happened to me before.

Does your front door not have a strong enough latch to stay closed on a windy day, or actually windy night, letting in stray cats that come and YOWL at your bedside at 3 AM? Again, this could seem a little too specific as an example, but I may be speaking from personal experience.

Do you have a hose that won’t disconnect from the garden spigot? A leak in your roof? A dead weed eater? A strange smell under your house? Was there a loud POP in your oven and now it won’t turn on anymore?

These are just a few issues that you may have encountered in the adventure that is Adult Life. Our method can help. Well, it may help. It’s been known to help, at least. It involves seven easy steps. Here’s what you do, in this order:

  1. Nothing.
  2. Wait.
  3. Do some more of nothing.
  4.  Simply wish the matter would resolve itself.
  5. (optional) Kick or bang on the broken thing, preferably with a rubber mallet or a hammer – I have actually witnessed the miraculous results of this with my own eyes many times.
  6. Wait some more.
  7. Give it a few months and see if the matter resolves itself.

I can almost guarantee, this method will produce some degree of a result. Since we have adopted this 7-step process*, just about any household problem that presents itself simply melts away. Even though we should know better by now, we are still quite often surprised by the results that we do get.

Suddenly the TV turns on! After we’ve been playing board games for a week while we implement The Method!

One time our car started running just fine again, at least for a few more months before the noise came back even worse, but still!

The Husband has actually started the weed eater after letting it sit all winter, retrieved from a hopeless little pile of things that need to go to the dump, but never will (saving that for another blog post).

The ceiling fan might still kill us, but it hasn’t yet! The Method is working.

And that smell? It really did go away…after a while.

I’ll tell you what really worked for the door that blew open in a strong wind. We moved. So, there’s always that. We call that The Method 2.0.

*Disclaimer: This was not the case for the dishwasher, which had a toothpick dam in the drain hose, and needed the attention of a professional. But it was worth a try. Just kidding, it wasn’t.

 

 

The Husband Turns 40

I am a year younger than the Husband, so I will enjoy many more months of over-the-hill jokes. However, a blog post full of corny quips would probably be more of a present for me, not him. So instead, to celebrate the birthday of my favorite person in the world, I’d like to share a bit about the formation of this old, old man (sorry, last joke – now to get serious).

The Husband is not perfect by any means, he would want me to assure you, as he is not quite who he is supposed to be. Yet, by God’s grace, he is not who he was.

He was, of course, the man I fell in love with. I was crazy in love when we got married. And yet, as special as it was then, I see now that I was given something far more valuable than I realized on my wedding day. I was given a husband who would one day be transformed into who he is at forty.

He has always been a likeable person – funny, and intelligent, the driving force behind the laughter in our home. He is still those things. Though he is now, in some very important ways, a much different man than the person I used to know. It happened gradually, and over years of marriage, career changes and moves, education, children, loss and grief, good churches, and friendships. What I mean to say is, God caused it through those means.

dax3What does a successful 40-year-old man look like? We often assign financial gain, position, and status as hallmarks of a successful life; hopefully he’s made something of himself by 40!

But Sacrifice? Humility and submission? A call to ministry? Dying to self? How did this happen? He would want me to give credit where credit is due.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ got a hold of him, that’s what happened. He came to the shocking realization that he (a great guy! a successful person!) was a sinner in need of God’s grace. That he was broken, and could not fix himself. That he would never – could never – do enough, or achieve enough to make himself right. And that it is Jesus who achieves our forgiveness on the cross – who saves, redeems, and heals. My husband’s greatest desire is to hear that message preached, and to see those around him changed by it.

dax2

In recent years, I have watched him embrace his role as the servant leader of both our family and our church. I think his persona at home is most accurately portrayed in his treatment of our little daughter: compassionate, gentle, guiding, and protective. In the church, I see him strive daily for a sacred balance between the strength needed to shepherd a flock, and the wise restraint required to avoid overbearing leadership.

These are the kind of jobs that can only be done well when submitting to the Spirit. There must be prayer, and an intense love and study of Scripture. A God-instilled fidelity to his church and family also help to ease his burden. But what really drives this man is a deep and enduring love for his Savior. He is devoted to the One who called him, who leads him still.

There is a passage in Philippians that always reminds me of the Husband. From prison, the apostle Paul wrote of his own personal success, listing his accomplishments and credentials. In many ways, the world diagnosed a successful man then in much the same way as we do now. Yet Paul, like the Husband, had been taught humility. He had been given eyes to see our true Treasure, in this life and the next. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  This is my husband.

It’s a thing of immense beauty to see someone give his life to the Lord, to understand his right standing with God because of the cross of Christ, and to fall under the control of the Holy Spirit. I will spend a large portion of eternity praising and thanking my Father for allowing me to witness this process, up close and personal.

The Husband, at 40? He’s pretty great. In fact, he is a gift.

Ukulele Hymn Study

I love the ukulele. If a whimsical ukulele song comes on the radio, I automatically become a beautiful, slender, windswept, and pink-cheeked young woman in a peasant dress, staring bemusedly at the sunset on a coastal cliff.

The Husband has observed this phenomenon over the years. One day, he chose to make me the happiest of girls by surprising me with – you guessed it – a ukulele! I immediately got to work studying and plucking through a beginner’s tutorial. But the songs were not my cup of tea. Oh Susannah? Strawberry Roan? I wanted Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I wanted whimsical. And I wanted, most of all, to lead my family in our favorite hymns around the fire pit on a summer evening, with twinkle lights and Japanese lanterns hanging from the trees. I ask you, where is the tutorial for that? Someone could be making a killing.

I spent many evenings sitting in the shade, laboring over painful chords and singing along in snippets when I had enough leftover brain power after managing the chords. The Husband sat with me often, reading a book and looking up sporadically to guess what I played.

“Is that Mary Had a Little Lamb?”

“No. You Are My Sunshine. But I think I’m getting better!”

“Yep. Definitely. Your pauses between chords are only a few seconds now.”

“Did you hear the strumming pattern? I learned a strumming pattern!”

“It’s fantastic.”

This must be true love; there’s no other explanation.

The addition of a ukulele in our home coincided with my decision to start a hymn study with the children. Pure coincidence, really! It was perfect. An old hymn, God-glorifying poetry, young people’s sweet voices, and a ukulele. I just needed that peasant dress. We began with I Sing the Mighty Power of God. It’s a wonderful song, and I felt sure that I could suss out the tune on my trusty instrument.

Amazingly, I did seem to find enough chords to accompany the song, except I couldn’t name all the chords, or even tell you if they were indeed actual chords. This was fine, as we all know true artists don’t worry about technicalities. Sitting out in an adirondack in the driveway the night before hymn study began, I sang and played through the song several times. To my own ears, it sounded great, and if not perfect, totally good enough for homeschool. I had learned a hymn! On my ukulele! And would teach the children!

Morning dawned, and after the usual household bustle, we sat down for school. I read through the lyrics of the hymn’s first verse several times, teaching the kids and having them hum along the tune with me. Then I went to the bedroom to retrieve the ukulele. I strummed the first chord. Something was off.

“Tune it, Mom! It sounds funny!” I sat down, attaching my little tuner, plucking and tightening strings. The kids stifled giggles, kicking each other under the table. The Daughter yawned and shifted over to a patch of sunlight, pulling out two plastic dinosaurs to play with. I made haste, knowing I was losing them.

“Okay, Okay! I’ve got it. Let’s do this!”

“I sing the migh-ty pow’r of God, who ma-ade the mountains riiiiiise,” we all warbled the first line while the ukulele doggedly struggled to keep up. The word rise in this song hits a long and high note, which is not actually helped by several vain attempts at a correctly played ukulele chord. We continued through the first verse in stops and starts – an immense accomplishment for me, and quite enough for one day.

“That was great, guys! Isn’t this fun?”

They were silent for a beat. “Mom? I don’t want to do it with the ukulele next time,” said Deuce. “It’s just so….so….embarrassing. I feel so awkward when you’re playing it.”

Keep in mind, this is just us, at home.

“It’s the stopping. You have to stop so much during the song to move your fingers. I feel so bad for you.”

“You’re quite good, Mom,” the Eldest placated. “It’s just…it’s hard to follow along because the ukulele is loud. But you’re doing great.”

Could it be possible? Was I really that bad? Looking at their earnest and pained little faces, I realized…I was pretty bad. I laughed, breaking the tension. The kids laughed. We kept laughing.

And so I learned I am not a natural on the ukulele. Until the children can compliment me with honesty, it is reserved for my own solitary amusement. But writing this makes me want to dig it out tonight, and plod through How Great Thou Art.

In my room, with the door closed.

The Magic Bullet

There is a super nerdy fad gaining traction out there called The Bullet Journal. And of course, I can only resist a nerdy fad for so long.

“It will revolutionize the way you get things done!”

“Get your life together with the analog solution for the digital age!”

And so on. What is a bullet journal, you ask? I pity you for not being in the know, so let me explain. It’s all of your information in your phone, written down on paper for your redundancy…ahem, convenience.

Wait, wait. Just listen.

It has a calendar like your phone, except it must be hand drawn in a way that is completely different from the traditional calendar you’ve been staring at your entire life, because that has not been working for you, has it? Instead of a baffling 4-rows-of-7-days grid, a bullet journal calendar might be a meandering path of days, with woodland creatures drawn in the margins, or thirty-one sunburst rays in random order.

Let me break it down.

It’s your brain on paper. You buy a little notebook, and you write down everything in your head. But only if the notebook is artisanal – preferably leather-bound and sold on Etsy, and only if your utensil is a fountain pen, or better yet, a quill. And you need a tiny ruler to draw straight lines. And special paperclips and stickers and stencils and washi tape.

I am not explaining this right.

There are Collections. These are really just lists, but not boring lists. For instance, if you have books that are on your to-read list, you look carefully at your bookshelf, and draw an exact replica of the actual bookshelf in your bullet journal, including book titles and authors. This is scientifically proven to make you read more. Oops. I think I might be describing Trackers instead of Collections.

But that’s not all.

The best part of a bullet journal is the Daily Log. You make a list of all the stuff that needs to get done for that day. Or any appointments. And major life events, feelings, water intake, weather, self-care, prayer requests, and flashes of inspiration. Oh, and don’t forget to log your gratitude. Everything is done in a bullet list fashion, with its own bullet point. Except sometimes it’s a hollow circle, or an eyeball, or an exclamation point. Or a heart – that’s such a good one for logging gratitude – or a little frying pan for your meal plan collection. If you don’t get some of your bullet points done, don’t worry. You can migrate them. Let me say very sternly: this is NOT procrastination! This is migration and it’s TOTALLY different. I’m serious – just picture my stern face right now.

What I am saying is that I invite you to embrace a trend that will cut down on the clutter of your computer passwords, clothes dryer heating element specs, phone numbers, birthdays, and chore charts scrawled on random post-its, because it will all go into one beautiful little book. A book you will carry everywhere you go. In fact, one day you will lose it while on a grocery run, and you will sprint around the store backtracking your shopping route with a burning panic rising in your throat. You will arrive breathless at the customer service desk, and they will take one look at your wild eyes and hair, and wordlessly hand you your sleek, gray Analog Solution. How did they know?

And you will cry tears of joy.

 

Skunk Sightings

“Skuuuunk! There’s a skunk outside!” The cry came from my bedroom, which overlooks a park-like area of our property containing trees, a dry creek bed, and little walking trail. Surely not, I think. These kids are always Seeing Things. Yet, recalling that we almost didn’t take them seriously when they spotted a neighbor’s chimney fire, I stroll over to the window. Sure enough, a very large skunk is ambling through the park, sniffing at possible burrows. I am absolutely sure he lifts his head and looks directly at us in the window as we all converge and cry out at once, “skuuunk!”

THERE’S A SKUNK IN THE PARK, I text the Husband.

“Get a picture!” he answers. “Get out there!”

Now, I know that he is teasing. He is saying the opposite of what he means, because I know my sweet husband would not want me to get sprayed. However, there is a part of me that does want to get out there and get a picture of this thing. For proof. And to see if perhaps this is a skunk mother with skunk babies living in our woodpile, because if that’s true…well, I don’t know what to do with that. But I need to know. So I go out there.

I start by tiptoeing around the shop, where we had last seen it from the bedroom window. But then I realize: I do not want to surprise this skunk. So I stomp. I hum. I toss a few rocks. Turning the corner, all is quiet and still – no skunk to be seen. I backtrack around the other way, and still nothing. Maybe the skunk was just visiting briefly, and has already moved on?

And now is the time for me to explain an idiosyncrasy of Coco’s. Every Christmas and Birthday, CoCo (who is at heart a naturalist) asks for increasingly weird stuffed animals. He has a badger, a coyote, a large and creepy garden spider. An 8 foot boa constrictor! All stuffed. We have yet to track down his requested anteater and wasp. But what have we found for him? Yep. A stuffed skunk.

So while I am outside, alternating anxiously between stealth and scare tactics with the real skunk, phone camera at the ready, CoCo is expertly placing his stuffed skunk at the base of a tree near the back porch.

I finally decide it is not really a bad thing to fail at finding a skunk/skunk family, and turn back toward the house. As I trudge up the driveway, I see it. How did it get over there? CoCo sits a mere few yards away on the patio, presumably unaware. My heart does a flip flop. “CoCo!” I stage whisper. “Get in the house! NOW!” He hightails it. I debate with myself whether I can make it to the back door or if I should run around the house to the front.

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Oh, my camera! I quickly zoom in and snap some photos, even a little video. Yes, I did it, I have proof! I am breathing hard, and I can feel my heart pounding all the way up in my brain. Can I get to the door in time? This might really be it. I might get sprayed. As I approach, I notice something. The skunk has not moved a muscle. It must really be scared, I think. That’s not good. But actually, where is that incredible amount of fluff in its tail that we marveled at earlier? And why does it look so clean and perfect? Almost like a…a stuffed version…of the real thing.

I am an idiot. I am officially an easy target for a 7-year-old. “CoCo, is that your stuffed skunk?” He bursts out onto the patio, immensely proud of himself, his siblings guffawing behind him.

“Did I get you? Did I really get you this time, Mom?”

“You sure did!”

It’s not until later, while eating lunch around the table, that I remember. The real skunk is still out there.

Shopping With Six Bodies

We are out of food. Well, let me clarify. We are out of food that people want to eat.

The best course of action to take when you need to make a large grocery run, as everyone knows, is to load up the entire family and head to town. On the 30 minute drive to The Big City, hymns play softly on the stereo, kids giggle in the back seat, Mom and Dad pleasantly discuss all manner of things.

“Do you have your list?”

“Yes Dear, I have my list.” And so on. The sun shines and the day is young.

When we arrive at the Winco parking lot, the first sign that things are not so idyllic is my indecision over taking my purse into the store. It’s safer on my person rather than left in the car, right? On the other hand, it’s ever so much nicer to walk through the aisles slinging bananas and bulk pasta into the cart unencumbered by a giant purse. Take it out, put it back, take it out again. The Husband is very patient about this sort of thing.

Upon entering the store, I attempt to immediately get down to business bundling lettuce and weighing apples. That would be great. However, every single child must suddenly use the bathroom. False start.

When we all reassemble and begin to herd ourselves through the produce section – and I have doubled back twice towards the bulk M&Ms – the Husband hastens the settling of reality by commenting on the state of our situation.

“This is a lot.”

“What is?”

“Shopping with six bodies. Look at us. Trying to move through this crowded store.”

I glance at the kids. The Eldest has snagged my list, counting up how many items are on it. Long ago, he devised a complicated algorithm that tells him how much time he will have to drag himself around this store. Nose in the paper, he repeatedly bumps into displays and neighboring carts while calculating. Our second son, who we affectionately call the Deuce, is lobbing I Spy questions in increasing difficulty towards number three, who we call CoCo (again, affectionately). Every time CoCo guesses wrong, Deuce crows, and CoCo punches, and Deuce, in turn punches back. The punches themselves start out casual, but will assuredly escalate to Ali vs. Foreman. The Daughter, being four and still able to squeeze into the child seat, has draped herself over the handle of the cart and chants a low but constant, “I’m so thiiiiiiirsty. I’m so thiiiiiiiirsty.”

The punching handled, and the walking around with nose in paper curbed, we forge on. Thirst will have to wait.

We move en masse through the aisles, stopping occasionally to soothe a toe stubbed on the cart, calm a sudden burst of hyperactivity, or for me to peer at a price per ounce.

“Wow, what a deal on…on…” As I drop handfuls of 48 cent tuna into the cart, I notice a jumbo pack of s’more poptarts. “What’s this doing in here?” Husband and children are a unified front of shrugging shoulders, hands in pockets, shuffling feet. A couple of them look up at the ceiling and whistle. “Huh.” Oh well.

We reach the deli section. The refrigeration sends all four kids’ arms retracting into their shirts like skinny turtles. Teeth chattering, backs hunched. Until Deuce realizes how delightful it is to twist side to side and whip his sleeves around, winging an unsuspecting middle-aged man picking out salami.

“Stop that. Put your shirt back on normal. Don’t you know you hit that man?” It is a proven fact that any time we say, “Stop that,” to a child, the next youngest will always do the exact thing that we are reproving the older one for. So, you guessed it. CoCo hits the same man in the same manner.

We trek through dairy and frozen foods to the more tropical climate of the bread aisle, however people begin to feel the effects of the journey.

“My legs hurt. I can’t walk any more.”

“My side hurts, and I can barely swallow, my throat is so dry!”

“We’ve been here forever! I’m so starving!” (Okay that last one is me.)

In the checkout, we let the boys sit on a bench by the drinking fountain. I watch them take turns putting each other in a headlock. Hey, at least they’re taking turns. A grandmother in line behind us attempts to chat up the Daughter, but she shakes her head and buries it in our pile of coats. This is a step forward from the karate chopping motion and the “Uh uh uh uh” sound she used to make at people. The grandmother returns my apologetic smile for an understanding one.

The Husband sends me a look that says, “We are on borrowed time.” I return the look with a silent, “Let’s do this.” We bag, load, and pay like a well-oiled machine, and call the boys from their wrestle-bench. Car loaded, seat-belts fastened, we pull away with sighs of relief. We did it. I deflate slightly at the thought of unloading when we get home.

“Now. Milkshakes!” shouts the Husband. The kids cheer mightily.

And my heart swells with even more love for him than I felt on our wedding day.