Date Night with my Daughter

Last night my oldest daughter and I had an impromptu “date night.”

Over the past month, she read all of The Hunger Games Books (she’s 11, almost 12.) I waffled back and forth over whether or not she was “old enough” to read them, but I finally decided to let her go ahead. I read them and loved all them – I think it took me about a week to finish all three (the first one I devoured in about 24 hours.)

Anyway, her dad got the first 3 movies for her and they had a little movie marathon over the weekend, much to the dismay of my other children – I’m somewhat adamant concerning my “read the book before you watch the movie” stance.

So last night, he took over dinner and bedtime duties and sent the two of us out on a Mockingjay Date. As we drove to the theater, I explained to her that this was a big honor for her, since usually if a movie is one I really want to see, I go by myself. That way I don’t have to worry about anyone talking, asking questions or ahem, or making fun of (I’m talking to you, dear husband) the story lines, plots, special effects, etc.

She replied with, “Tell me about it! Dad talked through all three movies because he didn’t know what was going on! I had to explain everything!” I cast a sidelong glance her way. “You know why?” Simultaneously, we said, “Because HE didn’t read the books!” Then we laughed. It’s nice to share a love of reading with my girl, who is growing up at a somewhat exponential rate of speed.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to talk to her anymore and it scares me. I know she’s my same little girl in there, but she looks (and acts) so mature. She “gets” things – jokes and puns and metaphors – that a couple of years ago I would’ve had to explain to her. Heck, she “gets” more things than I do these days.

We only whispered necessary information to each other (like “What happened when I was gone to the bathroom?”) and she was a perfect “important movie” companion.

My favorite moviespart of the entire night was when she reached over to hold my hand during one of the scary parts (she knew it was coming – I’d forgotten all about it.) Later she put her head on my shoulder. Snuggling with this one is a rare occurrence… she’s got it in her head that she’s a loner, but I suspect otherwise.

On the way home, we stopped for a milkshake. She’s a Mint Chocolate Chip and Oreo kind of girl. We talked about the movie and the story line in general. We talked about possible meanings and themes and applications in our lives today. I tried to listen more than I talked. She’s such an interesting little person.

Well, not so little. She’s almost as tall as me. She’s strong, she’s thoughtful, she’s helpful, she’s kind, she’s so smart and reflective. I’m so proud that she’s mine… and that she’s her own person, too.

I have to remind myself to enjoy these moments more instead of worrying that they are going by too fast. Sometimes I ruin them by overthinking it. Live in the moment, right? Seize the day!

And also, when your almost-teenage daughter offers to hold your hand and snuggle with you, especially in public, seize that too.

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.

Long, Lazy Days

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Every year I long for them.

The long, lazy days of summer.

And now they’re finally here.

A friend asked me the other day what I remember most about summertime when I was growing up. I thought about it and it wasn’t big family vacations or camp or anything “big” like that. What I remember most is doing nothing. I mainly remember playing with my cousins, the smell of freshly-cut grass, and baking in the sun with my friend Becky. We slathered down with Hawaiian Tropic and listened to Axl F on my little purple AM/FM/cassette mini boom-box while we talked about boys.

I wonder what my kids will remember and I think it might end up being something like this:

Stopping mid-pedal on a bike ride to watch a roly poly on the sidewalk or to scrutinize “a herd of ants.” Picking a buttercup to put in your hair. Making “tree-tents” and drawing with sidewalk chalk. Making daisy chains. Pulling off the road when you spot the world’s biggest dandelion. Having a popsicle (or two. Or three). Stomping in the creek. Eating dinner outside on a blanket.

Staying up late to catch lightning bugs. Squirting each other with the hose. Sweating profusely and hoping for a breeze. Looking for butterflies. Slicing up watermelon. Looking at dinosaur-shaped clouds in the sky. Retreating to the A/C and collapsing on the cool couch with a big glass of iced tea and the latest episode of Wild Kratts. Staying up after dark. Dirty feet. Swinging on swings. Climbing trees.

And what will I remember about these days with my children?

“Mom, come and play ball with me!” – Sadie, age 10

“Mom, I need a hug from you!” – Josie, age 8

“Mom, wet’s go for a bike wide!” – Jed, age 3

CRASH*BANG!!BOOM* then: “Everything’s fine, Mom! Don’t come and check on me!” – Adelaide, age 6

These little moments, these little arms around us, these tiny dirty feet running through the summer grass. These are the moments we will remember – not the big stuff.

Or maybe we’re getting it wrong – maybe it is the big stuff.

I hope your summer days are long and lazy and full of “nothing.”

Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me?

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This past weekend I spent a LOT of time with my daughters – ie: every waking and sleeping moment, since we were traveling in Canada and staying in the same hotel room.

Believe it or not, part of the time they got on my nerves (insert sarcastic tone of voice here.)

Don’t get me wrong – I love my girls. I adore them! And as they were taking turns annoying me (that was a lucky break, since usually they plan it out and work together), I was blindsided by the terrifying and undeniable fact that the things they do that drive me nuts are:

The same things that I do myself.

For instance, 5-year-old Adelaide slept with two tiny braids in her hair. In the morning, she wanted to take them out. I warned her that if she undid the elastic bands, the braided hair would be crimped-looking and it would stick up.

She took them out. 

She spent the next FORTY-FIVE minutes wallowing in self-pity, staring at herself in the mirror with a disgusted look on her face, repeatedly brushing her hair down (in vain) with a wet hairbrush. Then she threw the hairbrush on the floor, stomped over to the hotel bed, and heaved herself face-down into a pillow.

I laughed (to myself) and tried to console her. I ended up making some pretty cute (wavy) pigtails on top of her head that she could live – and be seen in public – with.

Then I noticed that not only did I forget to pack my special curly-hair shampoo, but horror of horrors – I had NO HAIR PRODUCT AT ALL.

As someone who usually looks like I have a wild animal attached to my head, this was not a good scenario. People with naturally curly hair do not simply “comb” their hair. After 15 minutes of trying to tame the frizzy beast on my head, I was nearly in tears. I pasted it down with water and stuck in a hair clip. A llama-looking creature mocked me from the mirror. I yelled in frustration at the llama, then kicked the bathroom door. I gave up, put on a hoodie and went out to face the world. Adelaide was still sniffling on the bed. I gave her a hug because I realized that she is ME and no one should have to go through that.

And then there’s Josie. 8-year-old Josie cries at the merest provocation – for any reason and for no reason at all. Josie loves so deeply and resolutely that she is almost scary in her capacity for devotion. Josie has emotional outbursts that bring to mind a 1940s movie where someone has to smack a hysterical woman across her face and then smack her again to get her to calm down. That’s my Josie. Her unending search for her Blankie (lost yet again) and sad woe-is-me freak-outs always drive me up the wall, and this trip was no exception.

When my husband took pity on me (I need 5 minutes of alone time now and then) and took the kids to the Ferris wheel, I happened to see the new Canadian Kraft Commercial about a little girl and her bear (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SFYKzUt7Fo) and I completely LOST IT. When my husband and kids came back in, they found me in a slobbery, wailing puddle in front of the TV. So I gave Josie a hug because I realized that she is also ME and let me tell you, it is rough!

Sadie, who just turned 10, takes FOREVER to finish things. She has to have everything lined up just perfectly. She cannot possibly leave until she’s done – she has yet to learn the fine art of prioritization. I’ve tried to explain that when we are already 10 minutes late for our lunch reservations and we haven’t even left the room yet, that is NOT the perfect time to rearrange and label your extensive rock collection that you have smuggled into your luggage. She daydreams, she sorts, she organizes, she obsesses, she rearranges, she daydreams some more. This annoys me to no end.

The next day, when we were supposed to be packing up everything in the hotel so we could come home, guess what I found myself doing? That’s right: playing Bejeweled Blitz in the bathroom. Sorting out my make-up bag. Rearranging Jed’s suitcase. Cleaning out my purse. Two minutes until check-out, and I’m still looking through drawers, checking under beds, and looking for my earring back that fell off and rolled somewhere. So I gave Sadie a hug because she annoys me – only because she IS me!

I’ve always heard that if you’re too much like someone, then that person will get on your nerves. Since my weekend revelation, I guess all I can say now is:

I can be pretty darn annoying. Why didn’t someone tell me?

Purging the Junk – 40 Bags in 40 Days

My house is full of STUFF.

Even though I always have a box behind the laundry room door to toss random “Goodwill” items into as I come across them, a couple of months ago I decided that I needed to step up the “Stuff Exodus” just a little bit.

I had read an article near the beginning of Lent that talked about purging your house of unnecessary things. It was called The 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge (from whitehouseblackshutters.com) and the whole idea really appealed to me. I generally don’t give things up for Lent, but this year, I decided to give up a lot of the junk in our house. Not because having it is sinful (though it probably is), but because I felt like I wanted a new start for spring. A less-cluttered start.

I started with the kitchen cabinets. For a long time (during thousands of dishwasher loadings/unloadings) I have dreamed of scaling down and making everyone have their own plate, cup, spoon, and fork. AND NOTHING ELSE. Hey, that’s how it was for Laura Ingalls. Heck, she and her sister even had to SHARE a cup and they turned out just fine. And if it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for me, right? Plus, I was really sick and tired of getting knocked unconscious from over-stacked ceramic mug avalanches. (I did keep my Elvis ones from Graceland, though.)

In the end, I didn’t go completely overboard – we still have enough plates to host people for dinner – but my kitchen cabinets are SO much easier to deal with now. Not to mention the dreaded “Tupperware Cabinet.” Since I had a quota to meet, I gave up on saving mismatched lids and threw them all out!

And it felt good.

The kids got in on it too – they helped me clean out the toy room. With the help of some $1 plastic shoeboxes, we sorted everything out and cleared 6 bags out of there. It’s nice for them to have a place to play where they can actually move around and not be completely surrounded by toys. They even admitted that it’s nicer to have fewer ponies and Barbie dolls. That was surprising.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much unnecessary stuff we had in our house (well, we still have a lot, but not nearly as much). I took it one room at a time and I purged. I sold it. I threw it out. I passed it along. I recycled it. I donated it. I gave it away. I sat it on the curb.

Doing this challenge has given me a little bit of a new perspective. Since I included my own closet in the clean-out, now I’m really picky about what I want to put back in. I hauled out 5 garbage bags full of clothes, shoes and purses – and now I’m not about to waste money and that beautiful empty space on anything I don’t absolutely love. I’m really hoping my attitude will become contagious because I’d like for the idea of “love it or lose it” it to spill over into the rest of the house too.  

Perhaps my next challenge will be The 40 Pounds in 40 Days Challenge. Kidding! Just kidding.

But seriously – we are so blessed to live in a country of abundance… most of us have “enough.”

And I’m learning that sometimes, less really is more.

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Are these really necessary?

Passover and Butter Sheep

We aren’t Jewish.

But we did celebrate Passover this year.

I’ve always been interested in Jewish festivals and how, for Christians, the New Testament fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament. A few weeks ago I went to a class about the seven major feasts of ancient Israel. Does it sound dry and boring? Well, it wasn’t – it was fascinating!

We learned some ways to incorporate parts of these ancient feasts at home – I was super excited to try the bits and pieces that would work for our family. It just so happened that this particular Passover was on the same night as the Blood Moon. Since it was also the first time we’d ever done anything like this at home, the whole idea seemed very special.Image

As we got all of the food together (traditionally, every part of the meal has its own symbolic meaning) and spread a special tablecloth on the table, there was a definite air of excitement in our house. We read the story in Exodus – it says that “you should eat with your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste.” We all felt like we should be in a hurry!

And hurry we did.

Sadie, 10, pulled down all the shades (because we weren’t supposed to look out the window), turned off all the lights, and lit lots of candles.

Josie, who is 8, said she had goose-bumps on her arms and butterflies in her tummy. She collected robes and “staffs” for everyone (since we had a shortage of staffs, we ended up using our marshmallow-roasting sticks from the firepit.) 

Adelaide, my 5-year-old, painted a picture for decoration. She also ran around and set the table with real plates and silverware.

Then the girls and their 3-year-old brother, Jed, tried to sweep out every single bit of dirt from the kitchen floor. “This is impossible!” one of them said. “Exactly!” I told them, and then we talked about how the bad things in our lives can be like dirt.  We can try and try to get rid of it all, but it’s just impossible. That’s why we need a savior. Sigh. I love when things come together like that.  

Each child chose three favorite things that they would take with them if they had to leave home in a hurry – stuff they couldn’t bear to leave behind in “Egypt.”

Sadie chose her Snoopy, her favorite book – The Penderwicks, and her old, falling-apart quilt. Josie brought her Bear-Bear, her Wolfie, and her stuffed pink lamb. She used her Crunchy Blanket as a belt for her robe so she was able to sneak in a freebie. Adelaide chose two little stuffed doggies and a little red and white bear that Sadie gave her. Jed brought his stuffed Dino, his Mousie, and his fuzzy blanket.

If I were going to choose, I would need a wheelbarrow so I could take all of my scrapbooks with me.

Finally, the meal was ready (and no, I didn’t try to make lamb on my own – I bought gyro meat – this IS my first year, after all!). I did try to stick with what it says in Exodus, though, so we had lamb, horseradish, green onions (bitter herbs), and unleavened bread. We also had other “Bible foods” like olives, dried fruit, and almonds.

Their dad said a prayer and symbolically “killed” our butter sheep (by chopping its head off with a butter knife) and then we put red crepe paper around our doorframe outside.  I know, I know… our neighbors are gonna think we are so weird!) Then we talked some more about the story of Passover – the wicked Pharoah, the horrible plagues, the sorrow of slavery – and the joy of freedom.

To top off the night, the kids watched the movie The Prince of Egypt.

The kids liked the lamb okay – they liked the unleavened bread better, though. And they loved the movie.

And me? Well, what I liked best was bringing the meaning of the Easter season a lot closer to home.