Big Boy – My Baby is Four!

-from my 11/6/14 article for Lake County Today.

My baby boy turns four this week.
FOUR.
I’m not quite ready for it. Four doesn’t seem very much like a baby, does it? And I’m not ready to not have a “baby.”
He’s my youngest child, and though I don’t think he’s a big boy, he insists that he is.
When he’s sleepy, he still sucks on his two fingers and rolls his “fuzzy” (a little piece of fuzz he pulled off from his blue blanket) back and forth between his fingers, looking like the baby he is – to me, anyway. When he’s asleep (usually on the couch), his long eyelashes seem to almost touch his little cherub-cheeks. He throws his arms up over his head or curls up in a ball on his side, one arm around Dino or Mousie. His blankets are always tangled and one little foot is always sticking out.
He’s an early riser. Nearly every morning, he pads into my bedroom on bare feet and stage whispers, “Hey Mom! Can I snuggle wif you?” Then he climbs in and sticks his cold feet on my legs and scooches down next to me. He pats my cheek and plays with my hair, I rub his little head and say, “You’re my favorite little boy in the whole world.” “Uh-uh,” he says, pulling his fingers from his mouth with a soft pop. “Uh-uh, I am not a widdle boy. I am a BIG boy.”
Well. He’s still my little boy – for now, anyway. Here is a compilation of some of his wonderful-ness as he begins his 4th year.
If you ask him something that he thinks is obvious, he responds with “Why wouldya say so?” e.g.,“Jed, would you like a popsicle?” “Uh, YEAH! Why wouldya say so?”

He likes to play with his “golfing cwubs.” He says, “Hey, do you wanna watch me pway golfing?” He loves going to play Putt-Putt and he’s a great encourager: “Dat was so close, Dad! You almost got it, Dad!”

He likes playing basketball. He shoots and tries to get it in what he calls his “basketball hook.” “Hey, Dad! Hey, watch dis! I got it in da basketball hook! Dat was a good hook! Good score! Boo ya!” Sometimes he plays basketball with his sister Adelaide. She throws it as hard as her little 6-year-old arms can and it bounces off the rim and hits her in the face. Jed says, “Owie! Gimme a dang it five!”

He likes throwing footballs, playing catch with his “baseball mitten,” running full speed wherever he goes, and constantly hitting things with sticks. He likes dirt, worms, dinosaurs, and cows. He loves playing with his three older sisters, which he refers to collectively as The Sisters, e.g., “Whure are Da Sisters?”

He likes to work on stuff. One day he was in his room for the longest time, just working away at the little tool bench his grandma got him for Christmas. As he walked into the kitchen, I said, “Whatcha been doing?” With his little thumb, he motioned behind him toward his room, then hitched up his pants and sauntered over to get a drink. He said, in a low, “manly” voice: “Oh, I was in dere doing some work. Working on stuff. You know, just finishing up some stuff.”

He doesn’t understand time yet. He thinks that anything in the future is going to happen on Tuesday. “Can we go on Tuesday? How about on Tuesday? Are we going to the park? Maybe you can tink about it? You know, on Tuesday?”

Anything in the past, however, is on Monday. Jed told his papaw: “It was on Monday dat I caught a fish. And we went to da zoo on Monday. And also to da beach on Monday.” Then Jed asked Papaw, “When can I swim in da pool at your house? Maybe on Tuesday?”

In his own words: “I wike twactors. I wike pickup twucks and I want a pink one when I gwow up. I wuv worgurt. And going at da Flo-Yo. My favowite is vee-nella.”

He informed his grammie that he is less than impressed with my cooking skills. She asked him, “What does your mom cook that you like to eat?” He said, “Nuffin’! It is dee-scusting. But my dad cooks and dat is dee-wicious.”

He points at things with his middle finger (much to my dismay) and he answers the phone “Who it is?” When he has a bad day he groans and says: “Uuuuuurh! I don’t like ANYBODY!”

After I tucked him into bed tonight while I was typing this up, I heard his little voice outside my bedroom door:

“Mom? I wuv you.
“And Mom? I will be your little boy for a long, long time.”

Me: “Are you sure?”

“Uh, YEAH, Mom! Why wouldya say so?”

A (Great) Great-Grandma

-from my 5/13/15 article for Lake County Today.

My 82-year-old grandmother is a world-traveler.

Well, not exactly a world-traveler, but she’s traveled farther (from the mountains of North Carolina all the way to Northeast Ohio) in her 8th decade of life than she ever has before.

She has 3 children (including my mom), 5 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and a multitude of people who think of her as their mom or grandma. (Most of my friends grew up calling her Grandma, too.)

She’s here in Ohio for the time being, and over Mother’s Day weekend it suddenly hit me: I am so very blessed that my children not only were able to meet their great-grandmother, but that they have actually gotten to know her.

Not many children have that opportunity.

My grandma has been a constant fixture in my life. Until I was an adult, she never lived more than 5 minutes away. I used to stop by her house after school for a glass of cornbread and milk and to chat with her and my grandpa, her husband of 53 years.

There are so many things I love about that woman: her little hands, wrinkled with the wear of living for 82 years, yet still so soft and smooth. She’s always quick to mend a tear with her needle and thread (kept conveniently in a blue cookie tin along with her aqua-colored “clips,” as she calls her scissors.) She’s always made do with whatever she had and though she’s never had much money, she’s always been content with her modest possessions. She’s a pro at peeling apples for any waiting child (using a dull knife that has to be at LEAST 38 years old, since it’s been in her kitchen drawer since before I was born.)

She fusses about:

  • Kids’ hair (“Honey, get that hair out of your eyes! I can’t see your pretty face!”)
  • Lack of slips – the only proper undergarment for a southern church-going young lady (“Gracious sakes, where is your slip? I can see straight through that skirt!”)
  • Incompetence at dish-washing (“Well, I might as well just do it myself.”)
  • Clutter placed just so (“There’s a place for everything and a thing forevery place, you know.”)
  • Half-hearted dusting of furniture (“If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll just have to do it again!”)

But any time I can’t sleep because I’m anxious or nervous, other words of hers somehow always pop into my head. It’s been 12 years since my grandpa died and she recently told me that for a long time, it’s just been her and the Lord. She said that He’s always been there for her and that He’s always been her best friend.

And even when she’s far away, I can close my eyes and see her sitting there in her chair with her glass of water (no ice), her cup of coffee (black, please) and her big Bible on her lap. She says, “Dear child, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” I’ve never known her to be worried or hopeless. Even when my grandpa died, she was one of those people who said, “Trust in the good Lord, and lean not on your own understanding.”

She’s lived through so much. The Great Depression (I’m pretty sure this is why she saves EVERYTHING – she has a collection of Tupperware that would blow your mind), World War II, growing up poor, floods, raising 7 younger siblings when her mama died… more than 8 decades of changes and births and deaths and happiness and heartache and life.

She’s the kind of grandma who invites strangers over for Sunday dinner after church and feeds them copious amounts of pinto beans, biscuits, and chicken and dumplings. Who, when you’re trying to leave, chases you out to your car with a paper bag full of fried squash and barbeque chicken in case you might need a snack later. Who says, “Y’all come on in here and gitcha somethin’ to eat. And here’s some bread. Can’t eat without bread, you know!”

She’s the kind of grandma who makes you go outside and break your own switch for her to swat you with when you’ve been sassy. The kind who – horror of horrors! – makes you sit on the couch holding hands with the cousin you’ve just had a fight with until you hug and make up.

Oh, and she’s also the kind of grandma who always buys you and your cousins underwear for Christmas.

She’s the kind of grandma who can’t sit down, can’t be still, and she always has to be busy doing something: picking up dirt off the floor (dirt that’s invisible to the naked eye), messing with her plants, cooking, writing, watering her flowers, reading, looking at pictures of her grandchildren, rearranging things, re-washing dishes, re-making beds (because you didn’t do it exactly right the first time).

Between what she taught me – and what she taught my mom – I’ve learned so much:

Have a good work ethic. Be faithful. Go to church. “Do” for your family. Love your sweetheart. Don’t let anyone go hungry. Trust. Do things right the first time, but give second chances. Be kind to everyone – even invite them over for dinner.

She trusts in the Lord with all her heart – and I so hope that one day I’ll be able to say that I’ve followed in her footsteps.

No, she’s never had much money – but the legacy she’ll leave behind her one day is worth more than gold.

Holding On

My whole life is about holding on.

To you.

Holding on until you were born – then holding you in my arms.

Holding on just one more night with no sleep.

Holding on until your dad or grandma finally came as my back-up so I could take a shower.

Holding on to your stroller as we looked for birds and dogs at the park.

Holding on to your little hand as your took your first little stumbling steps…

Then I let go and you ran.

Holding your hand in the parking lot, and when we crossed the street.

Holding on to the swing, waiting at the bottom of the slide, holding your legs when you tried the monkey bars.

Holding on to your tricycle, your scooter, your bike with the training wheels…

Then your “big kid” bike.

I cried when you took off on your own.

My life is holding your head when you’re sick.

Holding your little sad body when you’re crying –

Your squirmy legs when you’re supposed to be sitting down.

It’s holding on to your popsicle-smeared smiles –

To your arms when we twirl for a dance –

To your “I love yous” in your little elf-y voice.

And you’re growing up. You’re different every day. Beautiful. Confident. Smart. Caring.

And you don’t really need me quite as much as you used to.

But you are my baby, and I’ve held on to you for so long that I will never stop.

So just know that I will be holding on to you in my mind –

In my prayers –

In my heart.

Forever.IMG_1365

What I Like About You (and You, and You, and You)

There are lots of things I like about my kids.

Since they change so fast – daily, it seems – I decided to make up a little inventory list of what I like about them right now.

Sadie, age 10. She takes over and gives orders… and she says she LIKES giving orders. She likes peacock feathers and all things glittery and sparkly and shiny and sequin-y. She wears all the jewelry she can possibly put on and she fixes her hair just right (with double clips on the left side.) She always needs her purse and she over-packs no matter where she goes just so she’ll be prepared. I like how she loses herself in a book and thinks deeply about things and asks tough questions. How she likes to feel smart and has a great belly laugh and a goofy grin and an outrageous sense of humor that’s developing more every day. She likes to pray, she always needs a trip to the library “to get a new series,” and she loves digging in the dirt and growing things. She likes being the leader when she’s in a group of kids, gymnastics, freeze tag, and making up her own dances. She has the uncanny ability to repeat – verbatim – all kinds of stories and quotes from her favorite books and movies. She knows what she likes and she doesn’t care who else likes it or if it’s deemed “age appropriate” or not – she still gets excited over new Lisa Frank coloring books and clothes for her doll. She loves board games, Betta fish, making goofy faces, wearing fake glasses, building tree forts and spending time with her dorky old mom.

Josie, age 9. She wants world peace and says, “Can’t someone really cute, like me for example, just go explain to people that they just need to stop fighting because it’s BAD?!” She has a wild and crazy giggle and she runs so funny, with her arms and legs like little pistons flying (just like her little brother.) She loves all kinds of music and she says whenever she’s sad it makes her feel all better. She knows we can hear her singing when she has her earbuds in, but she doesn’t care one bit. She likes paper dolls, comic books, bows and arrows, and “adventures.” She likes to make up games outside like Pirate Ship (on the big swing) and she will spend hours in the toy room with her dinosaurs and Polly Pockets. She always needs a hug and she doesn’t mind telling you. I like her freckles, her mischievous elf-y giggle, her passionate love for all living things, and her easy way of making new best friends everywhere she goes. She loves to sit down and get all her schoolwork done at once, she wants to do everything in order, and she adores little babies. She loves dot-to-dot books and hidden picture puzzles, giant burritos and mango smoothies. She’s funny without meaning to be: “Mom, just let Sadie baby-sit us. The only thing bad she will do is let us eat marshmallows and watch lots of TV. Oh no! I’ve said too much.”

Adelaide, age 6.  She is incredibly sweet one minute and then crazy mean the next. She is loving and cuddly and has beautiful golden olive skin. She’s constantly asking to borrow my clippers, my scissors, or a pen. She likes to “read” magazines and circle the things in them that she wants. I like how she always wants to sit next to me or on my lap, how she sneakily wipes her mouth on me, how she smacks her lips and holds up her index finger with squinty eyes when she wants to say something, how she always wants to be included, how she brushes her hair whenever she’s “bored and has nothing else to do,” and how she always wants to know if her hair looks crazy. She rides her bike like a whirlwind and she likes when I sing the Wicked Witch song when she speeds past me. I like how she says “I want to KNOW how to read but I don’t want to LEARN.” She loves painting, crayons, clay, play-doh, colored pencils, markers, and all things artsy. She loves staying in the bathtub for hours and quoting her favorite cartoons out of the blue: “Oh, my bay-bee, you set my soul on fi-yah.…”

Jed, age 4.  He gets so excited over cows and bulldozers and “workers.” He says “how many days-es?” and likes to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, can I call someone? Maybe China?” He turns every stick-like object into a weapon and does ninja moves with them. He makes up his own crazy dance moves in the middle of Chili’s – and yells “EVER-BODY dance now!” and he doesn’t care who’s watching him. He makes up nicknames like Hans-y Boy and Sean-y Boy and Big Sis, and he yells “ADAWADE!” at his sister. I like how he says “sure!” and “yes, ma’am” and “will you show me?” by fingers how many minutes are left to play and he says, “Hey, THANKS!” when it’s more than 5. He loves dinosaurs, shovels, all sports, putting on his dad’s shoes, worms, “the sisters,” and The Lone Ranger. He squeezes himself into empty cardboard boxes – no matter how small they are – and he jumps all over the place, including the furniture. I like how he says “absolutely” instead of “accidentally” (I absolutely did smack her in da face!”) and how he can make anything positive. “Jed, you are the world’s worst guesser.” Jed: “Yeah, I am the BEST at not being able to guess!”

Yep, I think they are all pretty amazing.

I’m so lucky.

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Winter Fun

I grew up in western North Carolina. In the winter, ice storms were fairly frequent in our part of the foothills of the Appalachians. An inch of snow, though – for kids, that was like a dusting of pure gold.

Here in Northeastern Ohio, my kids have never known a winter without snow. FEET and FEET of snow. PILES of it. Crazy drifts and swirling clouds and frozen mountains of snow.

And they love it.

They were disappointed when we didn’t have a white Christmas, but now they are making up for it. My role is to help them locate snow gloves, scarves, hats, mittens, boots, earmuffs, snow pants (something I didn’t even know existed until I became a “northern parent”), and their giant poofy coats. Then I help put ON all of the aforementioned equipment. This activity does allow me frequent opportunity to use one of my favorite jokes:

“Mom, will you put on my coat?”
“Nope, sorry, it’s way too small for me.”
“Mo-ooooom!”

As you can imagine, all of this locating and snapping and zipping and shoving and pulling takes quite a while when multiplied by four kids. Most parents know about the maddening “inside-the-glove-search-for-finger-holes” so common with 3, 4, and 5-year-olds. It’s driven me nuts for years now. “Just stick your fingers in the holes! You have 5 fingers, there are 5 holes in there! I promise! Hold them straight! Stop bending! Arrrgh! This is why they created mittens!”

Once they’re trussed up like Ralphie’s brother Randy from A Christmas Story, (“I can’t put my arms down!”) they head out into the cold and (usually) gray day.

They slide around on the ice and stomp it with their boots, breaking it into thousands of glassy shards. They tromp back to the pond in our backyard and ice skate in their snow boots. The girls pull each other by the hand and sling-shot their their giggling little brother across the ice.

They hunt for deer and raccoon and rabbit tracks. They spy on squirrels and the birds that visit our church-shaped bird feeder. They hang up pinecone feeders that they made with stale cereal.

From the garage attic, they haul out their sleds. Since our yard is flat, they have to make do with the big pile of snow the plow left on the side of our driveway. They take turns climbing up the 5-foot pile of snow and zooming down it. Last week as I watched them, I eventually took pity. We packed up and headed over to the city’s Sledding Hill – I love the fact that our city has a designated hill JUST for sledding.

We were the only people there. They trudged up the giant hill, towing their sleds behind them. 10-year-old Sadie held her little brother’s hand and matched her steps to his while Josie (9) and Adelaide (6) raced each other to the top. 4-year-old Jed was super excited to test out the penguin sled he got for Christmas, even though he’d never been sledding (without a grownup on the sled) before.

I kept watch and yelled some safety reminders. The first time down, Sadie held her brother in front of her and they went down together. I love how she takes care of him and the look of determination and exhilaration on her little face. Josie went down next. She zoomed straight down, flipped over face down at the bottom, and jumped up and shouted “Woohoo!” Adelaide, not to be outdone, raced down the hill – a blur of purple in her one-piece zip-up snowsuit. She hit a bump and even got a little bit of air.

Then I saw Jed at the top of the slope, and before I knew it, he jumped on his penguin and started down all by himself. He zoomed down, arms straight out in front of him like Superman. He screamed a bloodcurdling scream the entire way down:

“AAAAAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” I expected him to burst into tears as soon as his sled stopped, so I took off running across the snow-covered field. Instead, he jumped up and hollered, “Hey, dat was so awesome!” then he grabbed his penguin and headed back up.

On the way home, I heard these post-sledding remarks from my wet, cold children:

Jed: “I am speed.”

Josie: “I love sledding and we are Americans and I love the USA!”

Sadie: “Mom, I refuse to wear a helmet. You’re the only mother in the world who would even think of that.”

Adelaide: “I think I have frostbite on my right foot. And you know that the right foot is the most popular foot.”

Yep, my kids love winter (well, except for that whole right foot thing).

This hill is a little better than the driveway.

This hill is a little better than the driveway.

And since in Ohio winter lasts for 6 months, I guess it’s a good thing they do.

County Fair

On Thursday my kids and I went with my mom to the fair and my evening prayer went like this:

Dear God, thank You for cool, cloudy summer days and for county fairs. For American traditions and the smells of wood smoke, kettle corn, cotton candy, and sawdust. For the sounds of kids laughing and tractors running and horses whickering. For old farm buildings draped with American flags and labeled with hand-painted “Agriculture” signs.

get-attachment.aspxThank you for decorated veterans proudly manning VFW cables and for strong young soldiers manning recruitment tents. For your creations: donkeys and giant cows and ducks and pigs and crazy-looking chickens with fluff balls of white feathers on their heads. For a 3-year-old who has to pet every sow’s ear that’s sticking out of a pen. For a daughter who observes the turkeys and says, “Take a look at the snood on that one!”

Thank you for excited children and little sticky hands in mine and little boys excited to ride on Kubota tractors and for the world’s biggest pumpkin. For blue-ribbon Gladiolas and peanut butter cookies and for little old ladies who sit by and guard their crocheted entries in the fine arts building. For friends to laugh with and the sun on our faces and beneath us, the grass trampled down from hundreds of passing-by human and animal feet.

For 4-H projects and kids who work so hard to make them. For the men and women and boys and girls who try to make this world a better place. For volunteers who are teaching children to follow along behind them. For policeman and deputies maintaining a presence to make us feel safe. For community heroes – firemen and EMTs, clergy, the people who just want to be helpers.

"Look at the snood on that one!"

“Look at the snood on that one!”

For eyes to see the collections of Elvis memorabilia, handmade artwork, prize-winning jams and jellies, salt-and-pepper shakers, ceramic roosters, and fairy dish gardens. For my mom and my children, all in good health and walking along beside me.

For the farmers who grow food for the world, for the land that they’re tied to, for the enduring path they lead their children and their grandchildren. For strong boys in mud-splattered jeans and work boots and John Deere caps. For little girls with sun-kissed skin in tank tops and Justin boots leading their prize-winning sheep around on a rope.

Thank you God for cooler days, for memories of times past and remembered fairs in far-away places. For enduring traditions and for people who still believe in You and in the American way.

God, I knew that You were everywhere, but this morning when I woke up, I never dreamed that I would run into You at The County Fair.

Magic is in the Air

Magic Shop,” read the faded sign over the door.  

It was nothing fancy: storefront glass smudged by a thousand kids’ fingerprints as they passed by outside, rickety floors, paint peeling off the door. It was just an old corner store on the downtown strip of busy little summer lake-town. Somehow still it beckoned to us.

We ventured inside and met a local legend.

His name was Whip.

Whip (whose given name is Bill) and his sister Pat and their brother (who is now passed away) have run this place together since 1977.

My kids don’t notice the dust, the musty smell, or the run down look of the place. Once inside, they pay no attention to the sounds of the motorcycles roaring past or the laughter of the ice-cream cone eaters strolling up and down the sidewalks outside.

Once inside, they only have eyes for Whip and his magic.

It’s like a place right out of an old movie. There are glass cases and showcases full of every trick in the book. Cup-and-ball tricks, loaded dice, mental projection boards, fake blood, finger-severing-guillotines, vanishing tricks. There’s a “baby alien” inside a jar of some mysterious liquid. There are fireworks, too, like Cobra Black Snakes and Morning Glories – and a free pack of sparklers with every $2 purchase.

Basically, it’s a dream come true for kids. They have everything in there – books about Houdini, vampire teeth, fake dog poop, everything you ever needed to know about juggling, stink bombs, you name it.

“There’s a lot of ‘F’ words in here,” Josie whispers to me. I look around and she’s right, there are a lot of ‘F’ words – there’s Fart Powder, Fart Cushions, and Fart Alarms, just to name a few.

Sadie, who considers herself a magician-in-training, can’t believe how lucky she is to have stumbled upon such a place. She takes it all in and asks Whip all kinds of questions. He is kind, personable (as all good magicians are), talented, and patient. He refuses to let her waste money on tricks he deems “not up to par” for aspiring young magicians. Instead, he takes the time to send everyone else away to the opposite side of the store while he shows her the secret of “Two-Card Monte.” She ends up spending her own money on several new things to add to her own “box of tricks” including some cards and a Disappearing Drawer.

Josie was more interested in learning about The Spiked Coin trick (which Whip also showed her how to do) and Adelaide couldn’t wait to get her hands on her very own magical coloring book which she spotted in one of the big glass cases. She spent the rest of the evening trying it out on her little brother.

What caught my interest was a smoking dog. I hadn’t seen one of those things since I was probably six years old and I was so excited when I saw it there on the shelf! I remember when my daddy and my grandpa showed one to me – they thought it was the funniest thing ever and I remember being completely mesmerized by it. Of course, now that I see it with my grown-up eyes it seems a lot less mystical and a lot more plastic and cheesy, but still – it’s a memory that I cherish. I even bought a second one for my daddy. I wish my Grandpa were still around and I would share “a cigarette” with him and his dog too.

Speaking of cigarettes, against my better judgment, my husband bought the girls some fake smoking cigarettes. Even though it makes ME feel sick to see them puffing away on what I know is a FAKE cigarette, they can barely contain their excitement to try them out and hopefully fool their cousins.

Sadie summed it up perfectly as we walked back out into the summer night – back out to the modern world of streetlights, lemonade and fresh donuts. “This place is amazing!” Looking back over her shoulder, she added, “Next year, I want to come back to see Whip and I’m going to spend EVERY CENT of my birthday money in here!”

If you’re ever out in Geneva-on-the-Lake, you should stop by and meet Whip and his sister. Go back in time and buy some old tricks you’ve forgotten about or even a new one – amaze your friends! Our new favorite magician will show you everything you need to know… and hey, you might even get yourself some free sparklers.

Whip, our new favorite magician, teaches the kids a new trick

Whip, our new favorite magician, teaches the kids a new trick