Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Prepare, Anticipate, Wait, Hope, Believe... the verbs that bring us ever closer to Christmas.

For many years, one favorite part about preparing for Christmas was decorating the tree. Sometimes, I've managed to whip up a fresh batch of cookies alongside a hot mug of cocoa just before tree trimming began. We'd have the Christmas carols already queued up on the CD player with a fire crackling gently in the background. We'd take our sweet time unwrapping each ornament, reveling in the memory of where it came from or when we got it, joking about where to put THAT ORNAMENT - you know, that hideous one that you keep hoping will break-- yet every year, it remains indestructible. We'd stop to admire our work, munch on some cookies, sip our cocoa, perhaps pause for a lovely photo shoot, carefully framing one child or another in a worth-a-thousand-words picture.

This year? Yeah, not so much. No photographic proof of this year's decorating, please. It was Frantic. Crazed. Loud. Crying and fighting over the ridiculous possessiveness of inanimate objects quickly ensued. We had a mute two year old who would get frustrated, then start slinging and hurling ornaments at us when he didn't get what he wanted. Aidan (whom I dubbed "Tree Nazi" under my breath) was ordering Leo not to touch ANY ornament that wasn't his, then gloating over all the ornaments that he (Aidan) had made or had been given. I desperately searched through box after box (while dodging Pax's pitches) to find ONE ornament that had Leo's name on it, but could only unearth more of Firstborn's. (I had a sudden flashback to my own "unfair" childhood of having a brother 7 years my senior with four sets of doting grandparents and great-grandparents whose tradition was shower him with ornaments.... that tradition lost its luster by the time I came along. I spent my childhood trying to catch up.) Jeff was inexplicably occupied with... I have no idea what. Something, in another room.

We had eaten all the snickerdoodles the day before, so we didn't have any cookies to nosh on. It was 60 degrees and sunny, ruling out the hot cocoa and crackling fire. And our recently-replaced ipod didn't have Christmas songs on it; our new laptop doesn't have itunes yet. With cacophonous and loud voices, Aidan and Leo sang "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..." until in total desperation I went old-school and scrounged up the *actual* CD from whence all this music originated (... and played it on the DVD player, because who even has CD players anymore?)

But the music did little to cover up the wails and whines of the natives. We got approximately 1/8 of the ornaments hung up when I called it quits. "That's it!" I shouted in exasperation. "We're finished. I'm not doing this any more." I was really, really annoyed that these children were ruining my favorite part of decorating.

I pouted for awhile. No one noticed, no one else seemed disappointed.... except for me. I brooded over this for awhile, until I eventually realized - this year, prepare, anticipate, wait, hope, believe wouldn't include lovely memories of tree trimming - but it would include other things, instead. (Like me, finishing the decorating by myself, wine in hand and Harry Connick, Jr. crooning in the background.) And that's okay.

Prepare: the kids were dead-set on making gifts for each other again this year, even though I offered to take them shopping, individually, for gifts for each other. I love this. The hand-made's tale is working; the kids balked at store-bought gifts. Aidan already knew exactly what he wanted to make for each of his brothers, and my heart swelled with the warmth of his kindness.

Anticipate: Leo can't stop talking about being the Angel Gabriel in this year's Christmas Pageant. He loves what message Gabriel brings to Mary. "You know what that angel, you know what he said to that girl who had Jesus? He said Do not be afraid."

Wait: for new memories to be made, for new traditions to cherish.

Hope: that our service projects turn out as well as we've planned them to be. That we earn enough money to buy our goat for a family in Africa, that Jeff's patients will enjoy homemade cookies, that our church is well-fed with the communion bread we'll bake. That Jeff and I will choose a woman who will prosper through the help of our microloan. (Elaboration required in a future post).

Believe: in Santa. (Again- another future post to come.) Believe in the good news that comes with the celebration of Jesus' birth. Believe in kindness and goodness and generosity and compassion and love that is most evidenced this time of year.

...and know, with certainty, that tree trimming will become a lovely, calm, cherished tradition again. And in the meantime, I will love the chaos and the cacophony, and the children who make it so.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This Thanksgiving, our tree of thanks was filled with many of the same things we filled it with last year - in short, health and happiness, a wealth of love and friendship. I'm grateful, then, that so little has changed in this past year, that I still have so much to be thankful for: a healthy, happy family. Loving and supportive parents. Wonderful friends. I still have our beloved church family. The pursuit of my higher education. I still know how very lucky I am - for a home; for a husband with a good, stable job; for health insurance and working vehicles and money for food and shelter and clothing and some extras, too. For our happy kids. For our happy couple-ness.

And therefore, when so much remains the same, what is different this year? Stepping outside my comfortable and cozy surroundings, I'm so grateful for the courage I see in others. I know one really courageous kid who is putting up a mighty fight against the cancer that has invaded her body. A friend's mother who is waging her own terrific war against her cancer. I know a kid who is dealing with the death of her sister and her best friend, all in a span of two years. So many more people who have been forced to battle hardships and devastation and loss - and do so with great courage.

Last week while we were on the Downtown Mall, I saw, for the first time, the hundred or so people camped out as part of the "Occupy" movement. I was struck by their courage, their commitment, their dedication to the cause and the desire to be the change in this world. I'm grateful for the strong community they have developed, and grateful for how this movement has included - and benefitted - many homeless men and women. In my fussy church clothes, I felt overdressed and embarrassed to share the sidewalk with them, especially as my heart swelled with pride and gratitude for what they were doing for ME - just one of the 99%.

I just finished reading an Important Book. Written by a husband-and-wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning couple, Half the Sky details the marginalization of women across the globe, and describes what, exactly, we might do about it. Passionate, full of empathy, dedicated to recording the hard truths, this book is difficult to read, because of its content, yet demands the reader's undivided attention, because of the change that might result if we pay attention. I'm so grateful for this book, the people in this book, the groups and the individuals who try so hard to make life better. I'm grateful because this book is quietly working its way into my life. I'm grateful for new contexts, new perspectives, and new possibilities this book has forced me to consider.

I remain forever grateful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mostly Boy

Before I married Jeff, I spent much of my time chasing after cute boys, trying to gain their attention and earn their affection. Somehow, life isn't much different these days - except that my life is richer and fuller than I could have ever hoped it to be, with four adoring males in my life. How did this girl get so lucky?

I suppose this is the lighthearted way of easing in to what continues to trouble me. It's my Achilles heel of parenting, I suppose. Some complain of the Mommy Wars; I don't much care what other moms are doing and not doing. Me, I have an issue with the Gender Wars.

"You need a girl."

"Are you going to try again for a girl?"

"Three boys?! Poor Mommy!"

"You wouldn't understand about the pink hearts on her shirt, because you don't have girls."

I seethe when I hear comments like these. How often do you hear the opposite? How often do you hear these comments made about boys? While I understand that most who say these things aren't trying to be hurtful, the bottom line is the same: what you have isn't good enough.

"You need one with blonde hair."

"Are you going to try for one that's not deaf?"

"Your son is gay? Poor Daddy!"

You wouldn't understand that gender doesn't matter.

Sometimes I hear people say, "Oh, he's all boy." And while this one doesn't make me angry as much as the others, it does make me wonder. What does that mean, exactly, to be all boy? I believe what they mean is a short-hand version of "Oh, that child is so full of energy! He's on the go, and no one better stand in his way, or he might get aggressive. He is definitely assertive about what he wants. He pushes and shoves and only runs, never walks. He is loud and exuberant and fills up all the space in this room. He loves cars and trucks and and sports and blue stuff."

But when someone describes a child as being all boy, it leaves room for little else. It crowds out the space for what else that child is, or what he could grow to be: sensitive, kind, compassionate, empathetic, tender, gentle, loving.

(In the same vein, saying that a child is "all girl" (do people say that?) leaves little space for what else they can be: strong, assertive, independent, powerful. I'm pretty sure no one ever described me as "all girl.")

I was smitten with Jeff long before I got his attention and earned his affection. We were very close friends, however, and I suffered through watching him court other girls. One day in his dorm room, he showed me a list he'd created. It was labeled "How to Be a Boy." It detailed a great number of ways he thought he needed to change in order to be more like a boy, things like "Don't call her back right away. Make her wait." and "Don't write any more poetry for her." The list was a contradiction to the qualities I adored most about Jeff - all the things that made him "mostly" boy. Qualities like his expressive poetry, his kind and gentle actions, his sensitive and caring words and his sweet perspective on life.

Luckily, the list didn't work. The girl moved on from him, and Jeff (eventually) moved on to me. Where I continue to adore and appreciate how "Mostly Boy" he continues to be.

So when people make these comments to me, I bite my tongue. I mentally retort with a snarky comment or a question that makes them equally uncomfortable. But it hurts my feelings. It makes me angry.

Still, these comments make me stand taller and prouder than ever of my Mostly Boys. Who are loud and exuberant, who fill up the space of a room, who like to wrestle and have boundless energy. Who write poetry and weave wall hangings and sew gifts for each other and wear pink shirts. And to ease the hurt, I remind myself of the kindest, most affirming thing anyone has ever said to me when she found out I was having another boy. "Oh Anne, I am so glad. We need more women like you raising boys."

So that's what I'm doing. I'm raising Mostly boys.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gem Collector

I collect these little gems, to enjoy their sparkle on a grayer day.....
The kids have not adapted well to the time change. They never do! Despite keeping them up an hour later on the night daylight savings ended, they were still up before the crack of dawn. The next morning, a school morning, it was the same deal. (The irony here was that last week, I fussed at the boys a lot one morning after we had to chase the bus down, since they had dragged their feet so much in getting ready. Their solution? Get up half an hour earlier. Um, no?) The third morning of early waking, Aidan came into my room, abruptly woke me and announced, "Leo turned his light on, and he is playing with his slinky under the covers." He promptly turned around and walked out, leaving me half-awake and completely disoriented, trying to work out the meaning. Was this a clever euphemism, I wondered? Nah, I realized. Leo really does have a slinky that he's been playing with.

This weekend, Aidan and I enjoyed a rare treat: a just-the-two-of-us date. I took him to lunch and we shopped for supplies he needs for the Christmas gifts he's making for his brothers. As we sat down at the table in the cozy, sun-light, warm room in a corner of Bodo's, he looked straight at me and asked with urgency, "Mom, do birds have eyelashes?" I loved this. I absolutely love how his mind works, how important it was to him to know the answer, how he'd clearly been trying to work it out for himself. I don't think that question has ever crossed my mind, not once. I wonder, then, how it came to him. I love that he catches me off guard, asks me something that really forces me to think. I love, too, that these are questions I can eventually answer (thanks, google), unlike the hard ones for which I still don't know quite what to say: What should I do when she is so mean to me? Why did he say that to me on the bus? Why did my fish have to die?

In case you're still wondering, eyelashes are usually found only on mammals, although the occasional rare bird is known to have them as well. Kind of like my rare bird, who asks such important questions.
I'll never tire of the literary gems my children offer. Aidan's teacher told me about this awesome website,, where people of all ages can create stories in a very user-friendly format, with clever artwork. One quiet afternoon before Halloween, Aidan dictated a creative story to me about a haunted house. I swooned when he delivered the following line: "The skeleton went back to the graveyard and said a poem that summoned his friends up from under the ground." Summoned? Said a poem??? Literary genius, this one is!!
Leo is having a bit of a tough time right now. After all, he's the dreaded F word- FOUR. Luckily, things aren't quite as painful for me on the parenting end as they were at this same time with Aidan. So in moments of frustration and angst, I remind myself of some of Leo's very best qualities.

I've alluded this in previous posts, but Leo is having a bit of trouble with one particular boy at his school - whom I've called Mean Boy. He has tried "inoring" him (silent g in Leo's pronunciation). He has tried avoiding him. He has tried distracting him with strange diversions, like telling him jokes that couldn't possibly make sense, even to four-year-olds. (Mom, why did the cat cross the street? Because she was eating bananas, ha ha ha! Get it?)

But the most tender and kindest attempt at making Mean Boy have a change of heart about teasing and tormenting Leo is one that Leo devised all on his own. He decided to draw Mean Boy a card. And he did, and it was beautiful. He even included a "symbol salad" across the bottom (a sequence of random letters) in the hopes that he had written something. He was so proud, and so happy to deliver his card to Mean Boy. And while the long-term effect remains to be seen, it certainly appears that Leo's kind gesture was well-received. Again, I am humbled by the open, loving, and forgiving hearts of small children.
I've saved the biggest gem for last. Although even as I prepare to write it, I know that not even a highly skilled writer (unlike me) could truly do justice to the gestures and facial expressions that would make this story scintillate.

As I've mentioned before, Pax has almost no expressive language. (speech therapy starts Thursday - hooray!!) And so he relies heavily on his expressive gestures and facial expressions to communicate his wants and needs. Dinner prep at our house is a rather torturous time of day. Pax, in particular, whines and fusses and pulls at my pants and begs to be picked up and fed. I try hard to resist his pleas, though, because pre-dinner snacks - no matter how healthy -ruin his appetite.

He's also a picky eater, so I give him small portions of everything that I'm offering, never sure what - if any of it - will make it to his belly. Last night, I served him one quarter of a veggie burger on a bun. He took one big bite out of it before we'd even said grace, then handed the rest of it to me as soon as we finished praying. I figured he didn't like it, so I put it off to the side of my plate. I took one bite of my own burger, with its melty cheese, toasted bun, and the perfect amount of each condiment - but barely had time to chew that bite before Pax was pointing and grunting that he wanted something different. Puzzled, I showed him that he had all the same things on his plate that were on my plate. I offered him more potatoes, more macaroni, more salad. No, no, and no. He abandoned the pointing and started army-crawling across the table to me. He pointed right at the burger in my hand. I shrugged and handed it to him, thinking he'd give it right back once he saw it was the same.

In a made-for-a-McDonald's-commercial gesture, he made "big eyes" as he held the burger out far from his mouth, then brought it in close, then back out again, practically salivating like Pavlov's dogs. He took one big bite. Then another. Then another, until I was begging for him to give it back. He paused, looked me straight in the eye, then pointed to the small bit of leftovers he'd handed to me earlier in the meal with a look as if to say, "See? There's yours." He continued to eat and eat and eat, shooting furtive glances at me whenever he thought I was giving up my fight. Finally, he put down the last bit of the sandwich on his napkin. I reached over to retrieve it but his ketchup-covered fist got to it first. He protectively pushed his hand down on top of the bun and glared at me with a look that said "Don't you dare touch this burger!"

I told Jeff that tonight, we're switching places at the dinner table.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Fearless, Brave, and Ready for Action: SuperAidan and his trusty sidekick, Batman!
Our resident Vampire Pax: because he bites and keeps terrible night hours.
Yahoo!! Trick or Treat time!!

Another Halloween for the books!! What great fun we had. The costumes came together so well - I don't know why I always doubt that they will, but I do - thanks to Jeff for the design of much of the costuming, and to my mom for sewing the beautiful capes for each boy!

At first, I thought it was a little silly that Aidan chose to be SuperAidan. A little humility, perhaps? But the more I thought about it, and reflected on what school-aged kids deal with on a daily basis, the more I decided it was a wonderful choice, that he was so "full of awesome" about himself. I love his superhero stance - deliberate, strong, convincing - and I loved how much he enjoyed being himself this Halloween.

Admittedly, I was just a teeny bit disappointed when Leo chose to be Batman. Last year's choice was so creative - Superwhy - and I was hoping for something equally cool - and literary-themed. But I should never have doubted his choice; the boy is made for tight tights and short shorts, and his heart-shaped Batman mask was as endearing to me this year as his glasses were last year.

Pax was in his element this year as a trick-or-treater. I've never seen a cuter nor more convincing vampire, and I loved watching him walk confidently up to each house and hold out his bag with a grunt. I loved watching him chase his brothers and swing his cape around. Pax the Vampire: charming, handsome, wicked. Our neighbors, who are so sweet to our boys, had bought them each a special marker-and-felt coloring set, in addition to the candy they gave them. When Greg held out the coloring set to Pax, he took one look at it, shook his head, and pointed to the candy instead.