wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Essentials for Parents

When I was expecting our first baby, I got a free subscription to a couple of those baby/parent magazines. Nearly every issue had lists of essentials: Things to Buy Before Baby Comes. They included the obvious, like diapers and wipes, but there were also lists of gear, the best gear for the job. There were clothing lists: 10 onesies, 7 pairs of socks, 14 bibs, 5 blankets, etc.

By the time my fifth child was imminent, I just chucked the magazines into the trash can as soon as they came in the mail. It wasn’t all pish-posh, but most of the advice and current parenting trends just didn’t seem relevant at all to the lady who already had 14 bibs and rarely used them. I didn’t need pacifier sanitizing wash or enormous exercise saucers that would fill all the space in my living room where we usually walk. Please, don’t even get me started on the advice for parents when the child is angry/pitching a fit/making needs known. And those gorgeous pictures of model babies wearing designer clothes…hello! Who spends 70 dollars on a jumper for a 10 month old?

If I were to make a list for the baby mag, it would look more like this:

  • Sense of Humor. You will need it every single day. Just last week, my 2 year old dropped a small deposit out of her undies onto the floor of the library. She is supposed to be potty trained, but still in that stage where squatting down to look at shelves of books tends to complicate things. You simply cannot make up the stuff that happens with small children around. You might as well laugh. I often feel like I live in The Family Circus.  Hey, it is funny!family-circus-0011
  • Grace for the times that aren’t funny. When I feel like shaking and scolding, it is good to remember how graciously I have been dealt with in my failures and idiosyncrasies. Instead of saying, “You LOST YOUR SHOES AGAIN?” I might remember how often the whole crew looks for my lost cell phone. “Okay, sonny, they can’t walk off by themselves. Where did you last wear them?” Did you know grace doesn’t roll eyes at her children, either?
  • Persistence. Parenting is another word for repeating. You know the verses in Isaiah 28:10 where he is talking about teaching knowledge, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” It really is that way. Sometimes it feels like the things I am trying to teach my children are dotted lines, and the children are not connecting the dots. They just never are going to get it. But they do! They grow, they learn, and eventually they get it! It just blesses my soul when my child takes the smaller piece of cake and lets a sibling have the one with more icing surface area.
  • A pen and paper. This comes in really handy when you are having one of those dotted line struggles where you feel like you will never connect. Keep a private journal of the joys as well as of the issues you are facing. One day you will be heartened when you look back at what you wrote and realize that you have indeed passed that milepost.  My mom kept a baby book for each of us, even though she also had a cow to milk and hens to feed and innumerable duties on the farm, not to mention raising 4 kids born in 5 years. We always cherished those books, laughing about our first words, comparing our records to see who walked first, and who hated eating peas, etc. Pen and paper doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has an amazing way of making a child feel celebrated. “Mom noticed me!” A friend of mine makes quick notes on her calendar when something noteworthy happens with the children. You might think you will never forget that hilarious thing the 3 year old said, but it could be gone by supper time if you don’t jot it down.
  • Flexibility, sometimes a complete U-turn. Also known as humility, this is an essential that is sometimes so hard to come by. You can get so invested in winning every battle, being the authority, having the answers, that  you forget all about the little person you are dealing with. We have always had a strict bedtime policy. Once you are in bed, you don’t get out unless you are about to wet the bed, or maybe if the house is on fire. 🙂 It took a bit of training for the toddlers, but they caught on. This last toddler, however, still has not gotten the memo, even though we have been working on this since spring. She comes crying, wanting a drink, a vitamin, a different blanket, a story. It is too dark, too light, she fell out of her toddler bed. For the first few months, we steadfastly clung to our usual training routine, and much as I dislike saying this, it didn’t work. It didn’t work ten times a night. I began praying for enlightenment. Finally we decided that she simply wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep at the usual bedtime, so we let her stay up an extra hour or two. She sits on the couch and looks at books, then we have a little cuddle and off she goes! The little offspring of the bedtime absolutists has taught them a bit about flexibility. I would like to assure you earnest young parents out there that needing to change your mind on an issue is not a sign of weakness. We all need to grow, not just the children.
  • Wisdom. Pray for it. God has promised to give it…liberally! Don’t knuckle under when the problems seem too daunting. I think back to a contrary streak one of my sons went through. To be honest, there were days when I just wanted to give him away, let someone else raise him for a while. I felt so totally unprepared for this task.  One day I was dumping out my questions to God, and He clearly showed me that I needed to first get rid of my own bad attitude. “This is your job. You were given this child because you are supposed to be his parent. Embrace it, even when it is hard. I will give you the wisdom you need.” Things went quite a bit better when I got my own sinful attitude cleansed. Wisdom, I might add, is not a fail proof system that you use to ensure good outcomes. Wisdom is a relationship with the One who knows all the facts and guides the person who seeks to walk His ways.

While not essential in the strictest sense, this list is Frivolous Things Every Parent May Need.

  • Chocolate. Really good chocolate, hidden for quiet moments alone in the bedroom. Just don’t hide it so hard that you can’t remember where you put it when you really need it!
  • Lysol wipes. Children is another word for messes. It is supposed to be that way. The wipes just make a lot of cleanup so much easier. And they smell nice.
  • Audiobooks. Books are gateways out of our little worlds and worries. They help us to soar serenely above the mundane. 🙂 Any parent knows that after you read The Curious Little Kitten, The Biggest Bear, and Fox in Socks for the 40th time, you don’t have an abundance of time to read your own level. (Unless, of course, you barricade yourself in the bathroom and ignore all sounds of disaster outside the door.) This is where audiobooks are so helpful. You can listen to them while you cook, while you drive to the dentist, while you fold laundry. Bonus points go to the audios that capture your children’s attention, too. We are currently on the umpteenth listening of God’s Smuggler.
  • Band aids. Lots of them. They make everything better.
  • Friends. It is nice if some of your friends also have drool on their shoulders and cheerios on the floor of their mini vans. I have been so blessed with beautiful friends who have my back. We do not walk alone, thank God!

I am sure I missed some essentials, especially frivolous essentials. I would love to hear what yours are.

Edit: how in the world did friends get put on the frivolous list? Just so you know, it is in the wrong place up there.

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Interior Monologue at Two AM

Smiley Flower Happy!

In the past week I lost at least three blog posts to the shadows of the night, because I was too lazy to get up  needed to sleep. I don’t know why it is that sometimes the writing flows and other times it gets stopped up. Neither do I understand why I think up long, interesting bits about life at 2 AM and then cannot remember more than shreds of it at 7 AM. I should probably do what some bloggers do, give myself a deadline. You can expect a fresh post every Tuesday and Friday morning at seven, sharp. (That was a joke, because where would be the fun in that?)

Last night we went to bed early, and here I am, all chipper and feeling like I already slept enough.

The new family vehicle started hiccuping on us last weekend. Some stabilitrak system or other was kicking on and off without provocation. OH, NO. Service stabilitrak soon. It is a little hard to ignore when the lights flash and blink on the dash. We needed an inspection anyway, but the title transfer wasn’t done yet. So we decided to get a tune up, see what we are up against. Halfway to the garage, a distance of seven miles, I noticed that the warning light was off, the vehicle no longer hiccuping at all. Thank the Lord for large mercies!

Driving a Suburban is a little like navigating a smallish whale, although I have to say, this one is smoother than the old van was, by a long shot. And do you have any idea how much cargo room these guys have? It is amazing.

Gabe convinced me to go to our local outfitter’s store last Saturday when they were having a summer blowout sale. He brought me a helmet when he got off work Friday night and told me to go get a bike to wear with it. Something like that. Again, he was working, so I loaded up the little guys and off we went, bike shopping. I haven’t owned a bike for at least 10 years, although I occasionally took his for a spin. Did you ever ride a men’s bike with a really high bar? In a skirt? Awkward. Whoa, I really hope I don’t have to stop until I get back home to the mounting block.

He had preselected what he thought was the one I would like, so I browsed for “a bike with vine decals and a nice seat, but not a granny seat”. There were two with vine decals. Me being me, I got the cheaper one. Gabe being Gabe, he had the other one in mind, the one with the shock on the front tire. However, I can’t see myself doing extreme trails anytime soon, so this is fine. It is really fun to go buzzing around the back roads with my boys. We have no arrangement for the little girls to ride along, so Gabe and I haven’t biked together yet. All in good time.

I cleaned out my garden this week, all but the fall stuff. I feel cleansed. No more blighted tomatoes and unhappy watermelons. No more weeds on steroids. Just their babies. I can now look out my kitchen window without feeling the failure of neglected plants. And those grapes that we were fondly anticipating? It puzzled me to find that all the ripe ones kept getting neatly picked off their bunches, the green ones left behind by some fastidious critter until they were ripe, when they would also be neatly picked off. I myself ate maybe 5 grapes, total. Rita solemnly insisted that she did not touch the grapes. The thing was, there were no deer tracks. Then the children told me they kept seeing the cats in the grape vine. I suppose for the cats, those 65 dollars we spent to get them spayed is pretty good insurance. (We are now responsible pet owners.)

We took a ride up to the ski slopes last evening, looking out over the vista of mountains to the west, the glorious sunset highlighting  the shapes of scores of windmills in the distance. Gabe thinks they look clean and green. I think they are just a little annoying when I am trying to see the scenery. On our way home we stopped at a local ice cream place where you can get 5 kid cones and 1 medium for $4.25. It was dark and cold and shivery for ice cream eating, but when has a child ever objected to that?

I recently read a thought that impressed me. “When it comes to child training, you decide how you want it, then you make it that way.” (Elisabeth Elliot, who else?) Maybe that is a little overly simplistic, but it is pretty true. When your children are allowed to whine, grab, belch at the table, disobey Mom when they feel like it, and other such socially unacceptable behaviors, it is because you have decided it is too much work to train them otherwise.

We are starting a new initiative this week: The Annual No Complaining About the Food Act. Every so often I notice that my children have fallen into a bad habit of grumbling about what is for dinner. Not everybody dislikes the same food, but with 5 children, there is a good chance that at least one person will not be impressed with the fare. All you need is one person turning up his/her nose for the chorus to begin. “Not beans again! Couldn’t we have spaghetti and meatballs?” Addy: “Have getti and meatballs!” Next meal: “I wish you would make rice instead of quinoa.” Addy: “I wants rice!” Random other child: “No, no, I don’t like rice!”

Mine all like broccoli, by the way, which makes it a bit puzzling when someone chokes about chicken noodle or fried potatoes. Some of them love oatmeal and others prefer eggs, while still others just wish they could have a bagel. And of all things, the kid who hates mayo loves mustard! It sounds like I really have a lot of children, doesn’t it? 😉 I don’t mind preferences. It makes birthday meals fun when you know what they love to eat. But you can’t always have what you prefer. Deal with it. I got tired of displeased sighs at meal time. It’s time to decide how we want it and make it that way.

Last year I purposely made foods they didn’t enjoy until they quit complaining. This year I amped up the stakes. We are having dessert every night this week. Gasp! If you forget and grouse just one time about the food you are served, you get halfsies on dessert. If you grouse more than once, you don’t get any. Fortunately, a jar of peaches counts as dessert for our children. Or a piece of Dove chocolate. Ask Rita how big a half piece of dove chocolate is.

Last night, sort of by accident, I made a total fail of a meal. It was edible, but it wasn’t good. We excused Addy for saying, “It’s yucky.” The rest deserved their ice cream cones.

I just read Code Name Verity, which is actually considered a young adult book, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It made me cry. While I could never be a spy, I love reading spy stories. (I don’t know if it is some housewife thing… me, in my safe little world, reading about the intrigue and unbelievable duplicity of the CIA or Mossad.) I wondered if I could be that brave if I were being interrogated concerning my faith in Jesus and my fellow believers like so many Christians are today.

All right, I will spare you more stream of consciousness and go back to bed.

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Favorite Things

Sometimes my children really surprise me. Most days they make me laugh a good belly laugh at least once. And occasionally the surprise and laugh are together, like the day I was reading Gregory’s writing assignment titled, “All About Me”. He began with the usual 3rd grade stats about size, age, and looks, then: “My favorite food is cellry.” This from the child who has only recently been able to eat salad without gagging. Who loves all things pale and pasta but struggles mightily with beans and broccoli… who mostly likes peanut butter in his celery. I don’t know if he was trying to impress the teacher or if it was just another of his little jokes, but I did enjoy the moment.

If I were to ask Rita which are her favorite clothes, she would probably give me a blank look, indicating that she has no time for such frivolous questions. She does, however, come up with some eye-bending combinations. You can see one of them in the previous post… the teal shirt and the light green skirt. She had another set that seemed to make her feel especially elegant. The skirt was rust colored with golden brown embroidery and trim. I thought it was kind of cute, but she consistently wore it with a purple plaid shirt. The effect was unbelievable. Her feelings were rather wounded when I just couldn’t stand it and made her go change. One day Gabe kindly informed me that he never really liked that skirt, so I dropped it into the trash can in a private moment. I don’t make a big deal out of mismatched stuff for play clothes, but I have decided that there is no point in hanging onto ugly stuff just because… 🙂

We finally found a suitable upgrade for the family Caravan. We prayed that it would keep running at least until Gabe was done with school, and it was still going strong, just rather rusty and repeatedly needing power steering fluid. Oh, yes, the AC hasn’t worked for years, one of the windows wouldn’t close, the cruise wasn’t dependable, and the exhaust system needed to be replaced. And it was due to be inspected in September. Last Saturday Gabe traded it in for a Suburban. I had made an appointment a month earlier to take the kittens to a pet shop in hopes that customers would want to adopt them, so I couldn’t go along on the vehicle swap down VA way. Instead, Greg and Livvy went along. As Gabe was filling out paperwork, he noticed that our tender hearted little girl was suddenly catching the drift that they were going to leave the van. They had to take a little walk and get ahold of the sobs. That tickled me and touched me both. There is no accounting for taste when it comes to favorites.

Addy has caught onto the thing of laying claim to certain toys or books and guarding them diligently from the clutches of any other child. I never can understand how a doll can lay unclothed and uncared for for days, and then suddenly it becomes the very most precious, sought after toy to fight about and defend and sob about at night when another child has it in their bed. She has a “peshial” book, blanket, doll, even “peshial” shoes and jacket. Don’t get me started on the rose fork and the pointy spoon and the pink bowl!

My own favorite thing right now is fresh tomatoes, sun warmed and mellow.  I like to imitate Gordon Ramsey and tell the children to go out to the garden to find me “one. stunning. organic. beeeautiful. tomato.” for my salad. 🙂

This next bit is more like unfavorite stuff, but I need to tell you the latest kitten story. We had that appointment at the pet shop. We got there early, but sorry, someone else already had a litter there and they only take one litter at a time and they don’t have my name anywhere despite the fact that one month earlier the girl on the phone clearly reserved this spot for me. So I didn’t ride along to VA with my husband on his day off… all for nothing? I guess the pet shop lady felt a little sorry for me, since she told me that I can bring the kittens again on Labor Day. Sigh. Okay. The good news is, one got adopted. If you wanted the pretty orange one, sorry, but you missed your chance.

I have now suffered the ultimate humiliation in finding homes for these kittens. On Labor Day afternoon we loaded up the crate at the pet shop with 6 kittens still very much homeless. Something desperate in me snapped. Why not try cold calling? Okay, kids, we are gonna stop at all the farms and see if we can find someone who has a spot for them. By the fifth farm I was so traumatized by rejection that I was going to drive right past, but Alex begged me to let him try. He started out by saying, “My mom is too embarrassed to ask you this, but we have some kitties…”

(I will never be unkind to the steak salesman again.)

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In Which We Break Out

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I would so prefer outdoor stuff to the indoor grind. This past week I convinced the boys that they would probably rather clean the house than mow the lawn. So we switched. I trundled happily after the mower for about an hour. It was loud, blocked out all noise, and I just thought stuff to myself for the whole time. Well, every time I emptied the clippings bag, I could hear that the people inside the house were alive. There were some loud “discussions” about the proper way to clean a bathroom, and no, Gregory did not nail it quite. But I pulled weeds on the walkway and out beside the picket fence and just let them work it out. Then I put away all the garden tools and a bunch of stakes that had a brief life as spears in a throwing contest. When the lawn was all nice and neat, I checked up on their work and was thrilled to see that all the biggest messes were cleaned up, floors cleaned (after a fashion…. seeing as Greg used hand soap out of the dispenser to wash them) etc. etc.

I called everybody outside just to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon. Since school started two weeks ago, it has been noses to the textbooks, labored cursive, practice with forgotten math facts, and a few other not so fun things. Then the afternoons we tried hard to catch up with our regular chores. It made me cross and bothered. Ask Gabe. 🙂 I felt like Jack, the dull boy. And I know that I resembled the mother cat in Milo and Otis, who keeps resolving never to yell at her childr… “Milo! Get back here right now!” Why does that part in the movie always make my children snicker?

Anyway, on this particular afternoon, I was trying to think of something off-the-wall that we could do all together, since Gabe was working that night. The little guys were all climbing around in their favorite  Monkey Tree, fashioning make shift platform houses. It was approaching supper time and I had no idea what to feed the crew when I had a happy thought. “Hey, how would you guys like to eat supper in the Monkey Tree?” Oh, yeah, just like that I had my cool-mom status back.  🙂 I am a little embarrassed to admit that “supper” was Cocoa Pebbles served with milk in mugs. Like Alex observed, “At least they are made with real cocoa.” Wanna see?

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I thought it was funny that we only had one spill in the tree, and who knows how many we would have had at the table, sitting properly with bowls?

We also had watermelon for dessert. I dared to pick the one in the garden. It was luscious. Just ask Addy.

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