Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stars and Stripes

I attended a small parochial school from preschool through sixth grade.  Among other things, this school was big on Responsibility.  The students in every grade had certain Responsibilities, which changed and accumulated as you moved up through the different grade levels.  Even our reward system was designed to teach Responsibility:  I remember being praised (along with a classmate) for something or other in third grade, and as our reward, we got to go outside and beat the chalkboard erasers against the pavement, cleaning them out (yippee!).  The fact that we were delighted to do so speaks more to the deft maneuvering of the teachers than the actual joy of the task.

By the time we reached sixth grade, I (along with all seven of my fellow classmates) had various Responsibilities, which we rotated through each week.  One week I would be in charge of devotions at the start of the day, the next I was helping serve lunch, then I was bringing milk to the little kids for their morning snack.

One such Responsibility with which we were entrusted was that of Flag Duty.  Working in pairs, we would take the American flag, unfold it, hook it up to the flag pole, and hoist it up at the beginning of the day.  At the day's end, we would reverse the whole process, carefully folding it and putting it away when finished.  When you were on Flag Duty, you had to keep a careful eye on the windows of your classroom, because if rain threatened, it was you and your partner's Responsibility to hustle outside and bring the flag down.

Part of Flag Duty included specific instructions given at the beginning of the year on how to take care of the flag; also known as Respecting the Flag.  Respect for the flag included folding it in a very specific and precise manner, not allowing it to get wet or tattered in any way, and never ever ever allowing it to touch the ground.

Now, being snotty eleven- and twelve-year-olds, we naturally had to question what the big deal was with the flag and the ground- although never in the presence of any kind of authority figure (read: teacher, principal, pastor, janitor, etc).  Being relatively compliant little Lutherans, we never actually let the flag come in contact with the ground, but we questioned and joked about it frequently:  What would actually happen if it did slip and fall?  Spontaneous combustion?  An earthquake splitting the ground and swallowing the offending cloth whole?  And what if one of us had a seizure or a heart attack or something, and then dropped it?  Was that still considered Disrespect?  At eleven years old, I had a pretty firm theoretical grasp on the whole Respecting the Flag concept, but little real world knowledge.

I was reminded of my elementary school naivete yesterday, while watching war veterans handle an American flag.  Derek's grandpa passed away last week.  A World War II veteran, his funeral service included a gun salute, the playing of Taps, and of course, the American flag.

I watched those two men fold that flag in precise triangles, ending with only the white stars on a field of blue visible.  As they carefully handled it, never letting it fall, it occurred to me that Respecting the Flag isn't really about the flag at all:  it's about all that it represents.  Right then, it was a symbol of the gratitude and appreciation for the wartime service of one man.  It was acknowledgment and it was thanks for his bravery and courage.  It was Respect for a person.

It's only taken me 17 years, but I think I finally get it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

Last Sunday was beautiful here.  The high temp for the day was in the 60's, unseasonably warm. 

Caedmon and I went out back to enjoy what was probably one of our last warm days of the year.  He headed straight for the plastic golf club lying the grass, and really seemed to revel in the fact that for once, he didn't have to share it with anybody.

He talked to it.

They rolled around in the grass together.

Then he abandoned it when he caught sight of me with that camera that he's not allowed to touch.

He showed off a bit for the camera:  First his tongue...

...Then his tongue and his dimple.

About that time, the sound of Derek yelling at the Vikings game drifted out the back door to us.  Caedmon said, "HEY!  My favorite person is here and I'm not right next to him!"  and raced for the deck.

Actually what he did was yell, "DA-DA!", but he's pretty good at packing a lot of meaning into two syllables. 

I was left abandoned in the backyard, trying to figure out what I could do to push Adelaide's buttons today...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Button Pusher

Yesterday morning, our family attended church, as we do every other Sunday.  The service was so good- great worship time, a thoughtful, moving message, friendly people.  When it was over, I caught up to a friend of mine as we made our way to the children's area.  We chatted, walking to the Kindergarten room where both our girls awaited.  Upon arriving at their classroom, her daughter exited the room first, and immediately displayed a small stone with the name "Isaiah" written on it.  Isaiah is her younger brother's name, and she explained that on the stones they had written the name of a person that really "pushes our buttons and bothers us."  Seems logical enough; that's what little brothers are for, right?

Adelaide came out a few seconds later, saying that today in class they had talked about self control.  She also used the phrase "pushes our buttons," and showed me her stone.

Guess what it said?

That's right.  She wrote my name, her own Mommy Dearest.  Apparently I'm quite the button pusher.

Derek and I shared a good laugh when I related to him what had happened.  I think he laughed a little harder than I did, though.  After all, it wasn't his name written on a rock.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I think we all know that we shouldn't compare ourselves to others.  The longer we live, the more we learn that there will always be someone smarter, funnier, more creative, more patient, prettier, thinner, more successful-basically more everything- than we are.  Making these comparisons will only make you unhappy and leave you unfulfilled. 

You get to explore more avenues of the twisted comparison road when you become a parent.  Moms and dads are always comparing their kids to others- to their friends' kids, to the other kids in the classroom, even one kid of their own against the other, pitting sister against brother.

I don't like it.  But I do it, too.

Yesterday, Derek and I took the boys to their respective three- and one-year-old check-ups at the doctor's office.  When the nurses were weighing each boy, while we were waiting for the doctor to make her entrance, and when she was poking and looking over each boy, my mind kept drifting to Adelaide's three-year-old doctor's visit.  I was struck again and again by the differences. 

I remember the nurse holding up the chart with different little pictures on it, testing Adelaide's vision, and wondering why they were using this chart, when she had known all her letters for almost a year now.  Just use the regular chart, already!  I remember going over the developmental milestones checklist, and marveling at the items I was checking off.  Had they accidentally given me the form for two-year-olds?  Of course she could draw stick figures and circles.  What did they mean, "Is your child easy for most people to understand?"  Don't most three-year-olds speak like really short adults (albeit adults that are obsessed with pink and shiny things)?  What a joke!

Fast-forward two years, where I am yet again at a doctor's office, watching Atticus go through this same vision test.  He's having trouble focusing, what with Daddy covering one of his eyes, and all the interesting and distractable new objects around him.  He also can't seem to decide what some of the items are:  "A house.  No, a barn!"  What Adelaide had flown through, Atticus has to be patiently coaxed, and all I can think is, "Thank goodness they have a different chart for kids."  The only letters Atticus can identify with any regularity are O and X.  If I ever had to confront my past self, I would want to punch her in her smug (if baffled) face.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I'm writing up a summary of the boys' height and weight stats to email to family members.  Even here, I'm making comparisons.  "Caedmon has gained two pounds in four months.  He's one pound lighter than Atticus was at this age, and two pounds lighter than Adelaide was."   Does it really matter that Caedmon is smaller than his siblings were?  Because you know I've been worrying about this boy, our Spud, who is such a joy to our family.  I get concerned that he's going to be the small one.  Who cares?

Then we go out to play in the backyard.  Adelaide wants to play frisbee, and I mentally groan, because I know one of us is going to get hurt.  Sure enough, she performs some strange, spastic movement, the frisbee flies two feet straight into the air, and back down onto her head.  She runs to me and cries into my shirt.  Atticus picks up the abandoned frisbee, carefully winds up the way he's seen his Daddy do it, and lets it fly.  Perfect form, and it travels several feet before coming to rest gently in the grass.  It would be difficult not to compare these two physical performances, and it occurs to me that maybe the problem isn't in the comparison itself:  It's in that second step.  Comparing first, then finding one or the other lacking in some way.

So fine, maybe Adelaide doesn't have the natural physical abilities of her brother.  Again:  Who cares?  Maybe watching her play sports is like watching a highlight reel of all those humiliating PE classes I was subjected to as a child and adolescent.  So what?  The girl was practically born reading, and I have more interesting conversations with her than I do with half the adults I know.

Maybe Atticus doesn't find flashcards and quiet, educational activities as interesting as Adelaide does.  The boy is so much fun.  He can hit a golf ball further than I can, and lives to play sports with Derek.  Unlike me, who's fair share of hand-eye coordination seems to have been given to someone else (I suspect Derek, and God brought us together to help keep me humble), Atticus has a natural ability to play golf, soccer, football, frisbee.  He's also very creative.

Perhaps Caedmon is smaller than his older brother and sister.  He smiles and waves at everyone.  The older kids at the bus stop crowd around him every morning, speaking in high, squeaky voices, making him laugh and clap.  He often has the same effect on adults.  They don't care if he's one-point-two-inches shorter than Adelaide was at twelve months.  And neither should I.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Killing Frost

We're supposed to get a hard frost tonight.

You know what that means:

Good-bye, Impatiens.

Good-bye, already-getting-pretty-scraggly-looking flower baskets.

Good-bye, Mums-that-have-swallowed-our-solar-light.

Good-bye, any and all color and life in our landscape.

Is anyone else depressed?

Monday, October 17, 2011


As I was standing at the bottom of the stairs one day last week during naptime, I heard Atticus talking in his room.  It sounded like he was having a conversation with someone. 

He's just starting to get more heavily into make-believe, and it's not unusual to come across him creating various scenarios (usually with his cars, rather than dolls like Adelaide did), complete with differing characters.  This sounded like one of those times, and I paused to listen to what he was saying.  Oddly, all I could hear was a one-sided conversation:  Atticus, speaking in his normal voice, addressing someone named Linda.

After naptime, I asked him, "Hey, Bud- who's Linda?"

"She's my friend."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," he confirmed.

"Do you like playing together with Linda?"

"Yeah.  She's so silly."

"Linda's silly?"


I was pretty intrigued:  Atticus had an imaginary friend!  I never had an imaginary friend when I was a kid, nor did any of my sisters.  Everything I've read talks about how children with these friends are creative and awesome and stuff.  And here was Atticus with his very own Linda.

Over the course of the next couple days, I learned more about Linda, either via Atticus volunteering information:  "Linda doesn't like Cheerios," "Linda's favorite color is pink,"; or when I asked him questions:  "What does Linda want for lunch, Bud?"  "Probably grilled cheese."  "So why do you like playing with Linda?"  "'Cuz she's pretty."

That last answer gave me some pause.  If Atticus thinks Linda is pretty, then he must have a pretty clear image in his mind as to what she looks like.  What constitutes "pretty" in the mind of a three-year-old boy?  And should I be worried that the reason he likes playing with this "friend" is because she's attractive?

I didn't have much time to mull it over or worry it to death (as I am wont to do), because the next day, as Atticus and I are picking up his room, I move several items onto his bed so that I can vacuum, and Atticus protests, "Mommy, be careful!  Linda might fall!"

"Oh, is she on the bed, too?" I ask.

He looks at me like I'm stupid, and points, saying, "Mommy, she's right there."

Oh, where are my manners?  Everyone, this is Linda.

Linda, this is everyone.

Linda likes grilled cheese sandwiches, she doesn't like Cheerios, and her favorite color is pink (for obvious reasons).


Oh, and she's a rocking horse.  A rocking unicorn.  Whatever.
And while "pretty" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when I gaze upon Linda, I realize maybe Atticus does know what he's talking about- after all, linda does mean "pretty" in Spanish.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mass Quantities

One day last week, while shopping at Aldi, I ran into a lady I know from church.  We chatted for a few moments, exchanging pleasantries, and she mentioned all the food she was buying for her two older children, who are approaching their teenage years.  I told her I was pretty scared at the thought of feeding our three children at that age, and the grocery bills that are sure to come.

Her reply?  "You should be."

This sober response did little to quell my fears, although she did follow this comment up with a smile.  Not a "Just kidding!" kind of smile; more like a "I would feel sorry for you, but I'm too busy feeling sorry for me," kind. 

This little conversation has been replaying in my head at odd times- or maybe not so odd, as it's usually when I'm feeding the kiddos.  Especially Caedmon, who just shovels food into his mouth, and has started saying, "Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah..." with increasing urgency anytime someone walks past his highchair with food. 

At around 4:30 today, I took a look around the house and realized it was a disaster.  (It had been a wild and raucous afternoon of playing.)  So I began assigning tasks to Atticus and Adelaide to help me get things put back in order before Derek got home.  They're usually pretty good about this, and today was no different.  They were so efficient and I was so pleased, I decided to make apple cinnamon waffles for supper.  (Plus I didn't feel like preparing an actual meal, but that's beside the point.)  It took me about two seconds to decide that I should double the recipe; even with three diced apples added, one batch of waffles is barely enough to feed Derek alone.  

So I'm dicing and mixing and getting the batter ready, and there's so much of it that it fills one of my larger mixing bowls.  Nothing unusual there.  Then the herd gathers at the table while I man (woman?) the waffle iron, cooking waffle after waffle after waffle.  Every time I thought I was actually going to get to eat one, one of the A's would pipe up, "May I have another waffle, please?" or Caedmon would start making his "FEED ME!" sounds.  I finally did get a waffle of my very own, but it was close.  Our family chowed their way through two batches of waffles in short order, and it hit me:  the time is not so distant when I'm going to have to start tripling recipes.  As in, making three times as many as the recipe calls for. 

Three times the enchiladas.  Three times the pasta salad.  Three times the EVERYTHING. 

This makes me a little scared of how much I'm going to have to make in about ten years, and the grocery bills to come. 

But apparently I should be. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Good Walk Spoiled

Two days ago, Atticus turned three.

Derek loves to golf.

These two statements- seemingly unrelated- pretty much sum up the past week, and have become inextricably linked in my mind. 

Wednesday, October 5th:  Our friendly mailman knocks on the door, bearing a tall, thin box.  This box contains a set of child-size golfclubs; a birthday present from Atticus's grandparents.  The box sits in the corner of the front room for one night.

Thursday, October 6th:  Having left them alone for a full 24 hours, Derek can bear it no longer:  he opens the box.  When I ask him what he's doing, his excuse is that he wants the golf bag, clubs, glove, etc to be ready for play as soon as our son opens the box.

Friday, October 7th:  Atticus, as usual, begs Derek to play golf as soon as he walks in the door.  We hold him off until after supper, when we all adjourn to the backyard, Derek with a real club and golf balls, Atticus with one of his plastic clubs and practice balls. 

Saturday morning, October 8th:  Although it is not yet his birthday, Derek suggests we go ahead and let Atticus open one of his presents.  I firmly respond that it is not, in fact, his birthday yet, and we should wait until tomorrow. 

Saturday late afternoon, October 8th:  After the third or fourth time of hearing Derek hint that we should really let Atticus open this particular gift today, I relent.  I'm not sure who is more excited, Derek or his (still two-year-old) son.  Scratch that:  I do know who is more excited.  His name starts with a D and ends with an -erek.

Atticus opens the box.  Once he finally figures out that these clubs are for him, not Daddy,  he cries, "Cool!" and starts testing his new gift.

Sunday afternoon, October 9th:  The birthday boy goes golfing for the first time with Daddy and Papa (that would be Derek's Dad).  He's incredibly excited, and has talked about little else for the past day or so.


Sunday evening, October 9th:  The golfing trio return home.  All are still in good spirits; the trip was a success.  Derek tells me Atticus had a great time, although on the first couple holes, when Derek would climb into the golf cart, Atticus would immediately drop his club and ball and dash for the cart, afraid of being left behind.  He eventually got the hang of things. 

When I asked our three-year-old boy how it went, he said, "I wike to golf."  He also told me he got chocolate milk. 

He has asked to go back to the golf course with Daddy no less than six times a day, every day since.

I'm afraid we've created a scary golf monster.  Derek couldn't be more pleased.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Lately, our kiddos seem to have been progressing and maturing at warp speed.  I think it's about time for another update.

Adelaide is still enjoying school.  She does not like getting up early in the morning, but then, neither do I.  Besides, I'm an old pro at handling homicidal grumps first thing in the morning.  At least Adelaide has never tried to stab me with her toothbrush or screamed incoherent rants in my direction before school like my sister used to.  Thanks for the perspective, Kelli!

Our daughter is also very industrious- but in odd ways.  She'll sit down at the desk when we get home in the afternoons, lay paper and crayons out in front of her, and color for 30-45 minutes at a stretch.  Or she'll go out back to this little patch of dirt, bowl and trowel in hand, and move dirt back and forth from the ground to the container.  She's usually talking to herself while she does it (or telling Atticus precisely what needs to be done), engaged in some sort of imaginary game.  Except it's not a game to her.  Whether coloring, scooping dirt, or moving leaves around the backyard, she seems to set mental deadlines for herself, and when I interrupt her chosen task to get her to put the clean silverware away or set the table, she moans and mutters about how much work she still has to get done and how she's going to run out of time before she finishes everything she needs to do. 

Here she is, all flushed and sweaty after picking beans back in August.

Atticus is becoming more verbal and independent.  He seems very interested in the time, and asks periodically throughout the day, "What time it is?"  When we get back from walking Adelaide to the bus stop, he always asks, "What seven is it?" because he seems to know it's always 7:34 or 7:41 or sometime in the seven o'clock hour when we return home. 

He also likes to tell us that he likes us- but he loves food and toys.  He frequently approaches another member of the family, and says, "I like you, Dad," or "I like you, Adelaidey."  (That's what we often call Adelaide around the house, pronounced A-duh-way-dee by Atticus.  He even calls her that when he's mad at her:  "BAD Adelaidey!  Don't do that to me, Adelaidey!")  Then he turns right around and emphatically states, "I wuv Cheerios!" or "I wuv dis book!"  We'll get it all turned around eventually. 

I think his favorite thing to do at this point is play outside, preferably with Derek.  He loves to play golf in the backyard, play frisbee, soccer, whatever, as long as it involves his Daddy.  His birthday is this weekend, and when asked where he wanted to go for his birthday, his reply was, "Hickory Park, the Bandshell, and golfing with Daddy."  That's a restaurant, a park/playground, and... golfing with Daddy. 

And here's Atticus with Grandpa Von Soosten at Hickory Park.

Caedmon is becoming more interactive and destructive.  His favorite places to play are the kitchen trash can and the toilets in the bathroom.  His favorite things to play with, aside from the aforementioned, are cabinets, drawers, and whatever else he can open and empty.  He's saying Mmma-ma-ma and Da-da-da-da, and will sometimes repeat a garbled version of "Please."  More than anything, he says, "Yeah."  Ask him just about any question, and his response will be, "Yeah."  "Hey, Caedmon, do you want to go outside?"  "Yeah."  "Do you want some more to eat?"  "Yeah."  "Do you want to juggle these steak knives?"  "Yeah." 

He's still not walking without our assistance, but neither of our older two walked until about thirteen months, either.  Less work for me!  He finally has some teeth- all four front ones have been coming in over the past few weeks.  He's handling teething okay; he's a little fussy, and clingier than usual, but he's been sleeping really well at night and naptime, so I feel like I can't complain.  He eats like a champ, especially any kind of meat.  Anytime he's been apart from Derek, he lets out a shriek of joy when he spots his missing father, and does kind of a whole-body wiggle before either launching himself out of my arms or crawling as fast as he can to Daddy's feet.  He also loves music, especially anything with a strong beat.  His current version of dancing is to ball his fists and shake his arms up and down when he's really feeling the music.

Here's Caedmon showing Daddy how he can dance on his birthday.

I guess change can be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Verb Tense

You don't have a soul.
You are a Soul.
You have a body.

-C.S. Lewis

Can you think of anyone you feel like you've known your whole life?  Not neccessarily a parent or sibling; just someone who is a constant in your life and you can't remember not knowing.

That is what Teresa is to me.  I don't know how my mom met her.  Probably through work; she's a surgeon, and my mom a nurse.  They became friends, and it feels like she was just always... there.  Not really like a second mother; Teresa's not really a kid person.  Not in a way where she lures small children into her gingerbread house- more that she's never really seemed as comfortable around small humans as the bigger and supposedly more mature ones.  So not a parental figure, but more like extended family:  someone who occupies a continuous and influential space within my little bubble. 

Do you have anyone like that?  I hope you do.

If you do, I'm sure you have all kinds of memories of them stored up:

I remember Teresa bringing over her chocolate chip cookies that are more chocolate than cookie.

I remember her bringing my sisters and I the New Kids On The Block Christmas CD. (First of all, it was a freaking CD and not just a tape, and it was NKOTB:  Score!)

I remember her being at our house for my eighth birthday, watching me open a birthday present.  I had not quite finished ripping off the paper when my four-year-old sister got too excited and yelled, "IT'S A LOCKET!" effectively ruining the surprise.  I burst into tears.  Poor Teresa looked completely bewildered.  No wonder she isn't big on kids.

I remember Teresa talking to me like a was a real person when I was young, like she was genuinely interested in what I thought and had to say about things. 

I remember when Teresa married Dan, widely known to be the nicest man.

I remember how much she loved to run, and seeing her run in races alone and with one of her beloved golden retrievers. 

I remember when Dan died of cancer.

I remember finally growing big enough that those beloved dogs of hers didn't knock me flat every time I walked into her house.

I remember Teresa going on a trip to the Grand Canyon, after Dan passed away.

I remember finding out Teresa had fallen while hiking in the Canyon.  Not like, Whoops, she tripped, but Leaning-over-to-take-a-picture-of-a-bird-the-ground-crumbling-beneath-her-and-falling-80-feet.

I remember finding out she was paralyzed from the diaphragm down.

I remember all the times we've talked about books. 

I remember her dogs knocking me down, even now that I'm all grown up. 

I remember being pregnant with Caedmon, and comparing notes on heartburn.  She had recently begun to experience that fun sensation, due to all the fluid and swelling in her abdomen.  She joked that we had matching bellies.  I don't recall what all the fluid was from- probably related to the ovarian cancer riddling her body.

I remember when Teresa died, just about a year ago.

You know what I really love about the above quote from C.S. Lewis?  It allows me to talk about Teresa in the present tense.  Not Teresa was, but is.

Teresa is.

Like so much of my family and friends, it was with grief mingled with relief that we bid farewell to Teresa last year.  Grief because we'll all selfishly miss her until reunited.  

Relief that she had finally shed that broken-down old body of hers. 

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.
-Isaiah 40:31