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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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?

It’s Breakfast Time!

I’ve never been a morning person.

Left to my own devices (this never happens), I could easily sleep until 9:30 or 10:00am on any given day.

Since neither my plans nor preferences matter very much to the small people currently inhabiting my home, these days I’m usually up around 7:00am. I’m up, but I’m definitely not “at ‘em.”

Usually 3-year-old Jed sneaks in first. He throws one leg up on my bed and then uses the comforter to pull himself up the rest of the way. He whispers (it’s more of a stage whisper, which you are very familiar with if you’ve ever tried to keep a 3-year-old quiet): “HEY! MOM! I CAN SNUGGLE WIF YOU?” Then he nestles in next to me with his head on my pillow, his hand on my arm, and his freezing cold feet thawing out on my legs. It’s always a rude (yet cute) awakening.Image

As we snuggle (usually he has his two fingers in his mouth, slurping, so I don’t go back to sleep), I hear the pitter-patter of little bare feet running down the hall, down the stairs, and sneaking into my room. It’s always 5-year-old Adelaide, and she is always hungry. “Mama? What’s for bref-tast? I am staarrrvvvving!” she exaggerates. Then she scootches her brother over and squeezes in under the covers with us.

She tells me about her dreams (recently she’s had a series of them about our family going to the grocery store and meeting other people that have our names) then she reiterates her “starvingness.”

I start breakfast while she and her brother snuggle, look at books, and watch Peter Rabbit cartoons. Sometimes they come and help with breakfast (they’re especially fond of cracking eggs) or they let the dog out and scout for birds at the bird feeder.

Their older sisters, just-turned-10 Sadie and 8-year-old Josie, almost always sleep late. They both like to stay up late reading, so unless we have to be somewhere early or it happens to be their turn to make breakfast, I don’t wake them until after breakfast is ready.

When Sadie comes down, she’s usually dressed and already has her nose in a book.

Josie, on the other hand, is usually wrapped up in her fuchsia bathrobe with her “Crunchy” fuzzy blanket around her neck like a scarf. She almost always has an amazing case of bedhead.

Sleepy-eyed, they give me hugs and sit down at the table. We say a morning prayer and read a devotion or some Bible verses (one of my favorites is Lamentations 3:22-23: “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”)

Then I might read a chapter or two from whatever our current read-aloud is (right now we are working on two: Mary Poppins Comes Back and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)

They love real bacon (except Josie, who says she can only eat turkey bacon because real bacon tastes like PIG) baked in the oven. They love turkey sausage and corned beef hash. They love pancakes and waffles (Adelaide always gets those two mixed up) covered with whipped cream (sometimes called “sour cream” by Adelaide and her brother). When we are in NC visiting family, they love fried livermush and gravy. Adelaide and Jed love eggs – any kind. Sadie will almost always opt for an English muffin with butter and jam. Josie asks for orange juice or chocolate milk (which is a rare treat at this house!) Everyone tries to steal a sip of my coffee (and Jed will chug the whole bottle of French Vanilla creamer if he isn’t intercepted first!)

Adelaide cleans her plate (and sometimes finishes everyone else’s, too). Jed runs away before he’s finished. Someone spills something. There’s a fight about who gets to take Dad’s breakfast to his home office. It’s all a daily ritual.

Nope, I’m not really a morning person, but breakfast together is almost always our starting-off point for the entire day. I feel blessed to be able to have this time together with my children –

But another forty winks still wouldn’t hurt.

Stuck in a Rut

We watched a lot of the Winter Olympics at our house.

One of my favorites was the Nordic Combined Ski Jump. You know, the giant terrifying mountain of snow that skiers hurtle down at breathtaking speeds? They go faster and faster and faster until all of a sudden they are at the bottom of the jump and then WHOOSH! Out they go. Launched into outer space with nothing under them but air, skis and hard-packed snow.

I noticed that their skis are locked into ruts until they get to the bottom of the hill. 

Hmmm. I suddenly realized that I have something in common with Olympians! No, it’s not the spandex bodysuits. And it’s definitely not the “fantastic athlete” part.   

It’s the rut part. Sometimes it seems like I’ve fallen into the world’s biggest rut.

I am constantly doing the same things over and over (and over) again. Wash the laundry. Dry the laundry. Fold the laundry. Change the sheets. Give the baths. Make the breakfast. Wash the breakfast dishes. Make the lunch. Wash the lunch dishes. Make the dinner. Wash the dinner dishes. Sweep the kitchen floor. Mop the kitchen floor. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Change the diapers. You know how it is.

Life is going by faster and faster and there is absolutely nothing that I can do to stop it or control it. The gate has been lifted and I am GOING.

(Also, sometimes I feel like a guy in a cartoon that flies smack into a tree.)

I don’t know about you, but I live for the moments when I hit the end of those ruts and am propelled forward out into weightlessness. Those moments – when I twirl my children around in the air as we dance to “Circle of Life” or “Tiny Dancer,” cranked way up high. The spontaneous fits of laughter when someone says something funny, like “Do I need to go get my chop-chop?” Or making up our own song parodies – “If I die young, bury me in breakfast, lay me down on a bed of pancakes…”

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I think I got one!

Or a perfect moment full of nothing more than the sight and sound of a belly-laughing, front-toothless 5-year-old.

Or running through the cold February afternoon, chasing snowflakes with our mouths open and our tongues sticking out. Or when a little body hurtles through the air only to throw tiny warm arms around my neck and giggle slobbery kisses onto my cheek.

Those moments happen when I’m not rushing, when I’m not speeding around like a crazy person, trying to get everything done that needs to be done (and a lot of things that really don’t) – in other words, when I’m not in a rut.

I’m not an Olympian. Far from it.

But sometimes, like when we’re twirling around, it almost feels like I can fly.

Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf?

There’s something about being woken up at 4am by a 3-year-old screaming “Help! HELP! It’s da BIG BAD WOLF!” as he runs into your bedroom that really gets your adrenalin flowing.

In hindsight, maybe The Three Little Pigs wasn’t the best bedtime reading for my little guy. I certainly didn’t mean to scare him. But then again, it’s not like my kids never scare me.

Most of the time they scare me without even trying:

They eat weird things. They pick things up off the floor (wherever we are) and pop them into their mouths.

They stick things up their noses. Peas. Pieces of fuzz. Pebbles. Cotton candy. Things of that nature.  

They run with sticks. They run with scissors. They run through parking lots.

They get high fevers. They get awful coughs. They get choked. They get pneumonia.

They go too close to the fire-pit. They hold sparklers too close to their faces.

They jump too high on the trampoline. They swing like they are aiming for outer space on Killer Death Swings.

They break collar bones. They get weird rashes. They fall flat on their faces and smack their teeth on the floor.

They accidentally poke each other in the eye with drinking straws.

They climb to the tip top of very tall, very wobbly pine trees.

They sled at high speeds. Backwards.

They sit too close to the edge of the lion enclosure at the zoo.

They go entirely too fast on anything that has wheels. And then they fall off –  usually on pavement or near some large, sharp rocks.

They are entirely too willing to explore ominous places in the woods (and turn over logs to pick up any creepy crawlies that they might find there.)

They disappear by the candy machine at the mall.

They twist their little arms behind their backs (Adelaide is double-jointed and can contort herself into some pretty freaky looking positions. When she was a baby her tiny thumb bent completely backwards and I thought it was broken, but pop! she moved it right back the way it was supposed to be.) 

They jump up and down in the wet, slippery bathtub.

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This is creepy. I don’t care if it is Cinderella.

They thump so loudly upstairs that I can hear them through the ceiling. They rattle the light fixtures. They fall out of bed. They hit their heads on the ceiling fan. They miss rungs on the bunk bed ladder and crash to the floor.

And then, sometimes, they do it on purpose:

They are entirely too convincing when they tell me that there’s a monster in their room. Just to be on the safe side, I usually close their door, lock it, and take them to my room where it’s clearly less dangerous. Their dad can deal with the monster later.

They hide behind doors just so they can jump out and yell “Boogity-boogity!” at me. They get me about 90% of the time.

And is there anything creepier than seeing the outline of a 3-foot tall, dark shadow with big eyes staring at you from the darkened hallway? Maybe one thing: waking up with a jolt to a face two inches from your own, STARING silently at you while you sleep.

Or they engage in psychological warfare by walking around completely draped in blankets (firmly ingrained ideas of what a ghost supposedly looks like die hard) or in uber-creepy Cinderella masks that show nothing but their creepy little eyeballs.

Once, 9-year-old Sadie stayed quiet and out of sight for 45 whole minutes, patiently waiting for me to get her little brother ready for bed, just so she could REACH OUT FROM UNDER HIS CRIB AND GRAB MY ANKLES. I am still not over it.

And 5-year-old Adelaide’s explanation of a bad dream she’d had: “Mommy, I dreamed that somebody died. I’m not telling who. But just stay in here. Seriously.”

So… who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Well, Jed is, for one.

And I may also be scared of him, though I will never admit that to Jed.

But honestly, I think my kids might be scarier.

Reading the “Hard Stuff”

I love a good movie.

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Sisters reading together

My kids do, too. They love marathon nights of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or any super hero movie that they are allowed to watch (they think Iron Man is hilarious. I’m pretty sure it’s because of his ridiculously sarcastic sense of humor – which happens to be exactly like their dad’s.)

But this post isn’t about movies.

In today’s fast-paced world (complete with amazing special effects), sometimes it might

seem like plain old black-and-white books are downright boring.

But they aren’t.

Every few years I re-read one of my favorites – Wuthering Heights,

Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Tom Sawyer. A couple of years ago, on a whim, I read part of Tom Sawyer to them. They adored him (now whenever someone tattles in our house, they get called Sid), so we followed it up with Huckleberry Finn. I’ve realized that they aren’t big fans of Bible story books – they’d rather hear the real thing from the New International or the King James versions. So now I’ve started reading “hard” literature to my little kids. We read other great books out loud, too – The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (my all-time favorite.)

We all have a lot to do – life is busy. Life is hectic. Life is hard.

But let me encourage you to take a few nights this week to read aloud to your family – it doesn’t matter how old they are. A story – a real story can bring your family together like nothing else can. Even if you read something that you think might be too hard for them, they might surprise you – last year we read The Odyssey. I hesitated to even start it – after all, it was The Odyssey, for Pete’s sake. And my oldest kid was 8 then! Much to my surprise, they loved it – the heroes, the adventures, the monsters, the battles – and they understood a lot more of it than I thought they would. What they didn’t understand turned into a great learning experience as we figured it out together.

Last week we finished reading a book called Sounder that won the 1970

Newbery Award. It’s a 44-year-old, dusty old paperback that has few chapters and fewer pictures. And consider yourself forewarned: don’t read it if you’re looking for something light-hearted and funny. But wow, did it tell a story.

No, it’s not a feel-good book – not at all. But let me tell you, when you have three little girls sitting spellbound at the kitchen table and all four of you have to put your heads in your hands and cry… well, THAT, my friend, is the power of the written word.

Reading a great book together is a shared experience of the mind and of the heart. Maybe you won’t remember all of the characters’ names or your favorite quote, but one thing is for sure:

You will never forget the way it made you feel – and

neither will your children.