Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fairy Godmother-in-Law

I never REALLY get the mother-in-law jokes. I mean, I get that in some sort of Cinderella stepmotherish way, mothers-in-law are supposed to be (and stereotypically are) these women who are out to get their daughters- or sons-in law, foiling every desperate attempt of said victims to do their duties in the world.


But I don't REALLY get the jokes. I can't identify at all. My mother-in-law is nothing like this. She is more like the fairy godmother, bibbity-bobbity-booing her way through my house, making everything look, sound, smell, taste, and feel better than it did before. And she does all of this without making me feel inferior for not having things look, sound, smell, taste, and feel as good as she has.


She's beautiful. We once got into a Williamsburg exhibit for free because the tour "guard" couldn't stop flirting with her. She has beautiful Swedish blue eyes (which four of my children have inherited, thank you very much!) and an incredible smile that is so calming and comforting. She always smells wonderful... not chocolate-chip-cookie wonderful but indescribably wonderful. It's like a mix of hope and excitement. My kids love opening cards from her because they can't wait to sniff the envelopes (it's true!).


She has this knack for giving presents. I can pretty much guarantee that if you like what I have on, she gave it to me. If you like what my kids are playing with, she gave it to them. If you don't even know her but will be with us for Christmas when she is, she'll get you something you never knew existed but instantly love.


We don't get to see her very often . She lives in Alaska and we live...Outside. The times we are together are magical -- even for me. I wait for my husband to return from the airport with "Grandma" with as much breathless anticipation and jittery excitement as the kids. Even with our crowd of a family, she manages to make every one of us feel special and appreciated individually.


I cherish our times together. She has excellent wisdom, an experienced shoulder, and a great sense of humor. Once when I groaned in exasperation to my then-6 week old, "Miriam Marlys!" my mother-in-law said, "Oh, no! I'm a middle name!" Get her started on a story about driving to Anchorage with her late husband and their near-blind friends, and you will have her laughing in tears as she describes the officer's face at the visually impaired driver pretending to be drunk after being pulled over for less-than-perfect driving. Get her started on forgetting her children at the grocery store, and she and my husband will have tears literally leaping out of their eyes as they recall her singing, "Oh, where, oh, where can Jamie be? Oh, where, oh, where is Michelle?" when she thought they were just hiding in the back of the station wagon.


We love my mother-in-law. The only jokes we can honestly tell about her are ones she has told us. She has made my house more beautiful, my children happier, and me more blessed. And she made one doozy of a fine son.


Happy birthday, Mom!


Her children rise up and call her blessed;
   her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
   but you surpass them all."
(Prov. 31:28-29)

Monday, July 23, 2007


23 inches. According to the time-honored "one knuckle is an inch" method, this is how far my arm can reach down the floor register trying to retrieve my long-lost silverware from the air duct.


24 inches. According to my ability to make the spoons clink but my inability to actually grab them, this is my estimated guess at how far down the air duct the silverware is.


32 inches and 35 inches. According to the hasty, "stand still while I flip the ruler" method, these are the heights of the perpetrators.




Friday, July 13, 2007


I do believe I’ve just had an epiphany.


I often find myself on the tail end of a discussion about grandparents. Many of my friends have complained about the time they have to spend re-training their children after an extended visit with Nanny and Pop-pop, the Mee-maw- and Gramps-induced sugar highs (and lows) they end up dealing with because the children were laden with candy and sodas right before being picked up by Mom and Dad, and the noisy toys requiring 18 AAA batteries that are gifts from … you guessed it … Grandpa and Grandma.


“I don’t think they understand that not following the way we discipline sends mixed messages to my son and makes it harder when we get him home.” OR “I think they just must not remember what it is like to parent. They have forgotten what it’s like to deal with little children after sugar.” OR “Times have changed. They just don’t seem to know how to pick a decent toy that won’t give me a headache or run out after an hour of play.”


I used to commiserate and nod along with their suppositions about why grandparents are the way they are.


But today I had an epiphany.


It came during a day of cleaning up messes in order to make room for more messes, children refusing to nap because they don’t want to miss out an any mess-making (yes, I put them in their beds but you can rip a book into a thousand pieces rather silently and Mommy won’t hear and will not want to check on you because you are being so quiet and she thinks you are sleeping), and my five-year old responding to my groan after discovering said awake children and torn book, “Well, Mom, life is hard.” (!!!)


When my repeated calls upstairs to Miriam were met with silence, I found her applying toothpaste to her face, her hands, her brother’s face (who went to investigate when she wouldn’t answer), and the child’s table in their room. As I was scrubbing at her face, hands, brother’s face, and table, my one thought was, “I can’t wait until I’m baby-sitting your little girl and I will TEACH her to make messes so that YOU can clean them up!”


At which point came afore-mentioned epiphany. Our parents are not in the early stages of Alzheimer’s nor confused by modern times.


They remember perfectly.


Every lemon drop, every Dr. Pepper, every drop of caffeine and injection of sugar, every beeping toy requiring a zillion batteries, every second-guess of your method of discipline, ALL OF THEM, are calculated moves that have been at least 20 years in the making.


It’s not senility. It’s revenge.


But I’m on to them…


Menus 4 Moms


Have you seen this? For no charge, Menus 4 Moms will send you a weekly email with 5-days' worth of dinner menus and recipes, complete with side dishes ("MOM! Who's coming for dinner?") and a shopping list with estimated prices. (You can also look at the menus/shopping list at the site.) The meals feed 6 people (generously), but you can always double or halve (or freeze or gift the extra). Check this site out -- there are lots of goodies here!


The meals have been delicious, nutritious, and reasonably priced. My days just got a LOT easier!



Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pollyanna and Poppycock

One of Lily's (3) morning chores is to make Abraham's and Miriam's (2) beds. This morning she came skipping down the stairs singing, "Mommy, come look! Mommy, come look! I made Miriam's bed a SPECIAL way!"

"Just a minute!" I yelled and finished chopping the red pepper for tonight's salad. A long minute later (no wonder my kids' sense of time is so warped), after chopping the pepper, leaving a message for Mom on her voicemail, and washing up the breakfast dishes, I took my hands out of the dishwater, dried them on my pants, and headed up the stairs to see this newest masterpiece.  

A 3-yr. old's definition of "special" differs drastically from ...well ... mine, so I glanced in the room, gave what I hoped was a convincing "Wowww..." to Lily who was putting toothbrushes away in the bathroom, and turned to take the vacuum downstairs. 

Lily went into her room to re-gaze upon her work, but the shriek that followed let me know she was no longer in awe. "WHO MESSED IT UP? WHO MESSED IT UP?" she started yelling. "I DID A BOOTIFUL JOB, AND SOMEBODY MESSED IT UP! NOW I HAVE TO DO IT ALL OVER!!" 

I gave my best Haley Mills smile and said, "I'm sorry someone messed it up. I'm sure it was beautiful. But you can do it again. Think of it this way: now you have a chance to practice making it your special way. And you can do it a different special way, if you like! You can be glad that you get another chance to do something you're good at!" 

I smiled as I headed back down the stairs. And why shouldn't I? The salad for tonight was ready, my phone call made, the breakfast dishes done, the laundry hung... 

The laundry. I looked outside to re-gaze upon my work, and a snapped clothesline full of wet clothes lying in the grass is what met my eyes. "Ugggggh," I groaned as I slammed the vacuum down. Grabbing the laundry basket, I fiercely swung the door open and stomped out to face my chore with grit. Trying to stifle the rising anger, I attempted to go into automatic mode and just get the clothes into the basket. But with each grasshopper, spider, mosquito, and fly, not to mention (OK, yes to mention) the sweltering wet heat, I found myself getting angrier and angrier. And unlike Lily, I didn't even have anyone to blame, which was more frustrating. 

The closest I could come to a scapegoat was stinkin' Pollyanna. My own words echoed in my head: "You can do it again. Think of it this way: now you have a chance to practice drying them your special way. And you can do it a different special way, if you like! You can be glad that you get another chance to do something you're good at!"

Please. It's not like it's rocket science. It's drying the clothes, for crying out loud. There's no art to it. Practice won't make perfection, it merely makes another load dry -- if you're lucky, that is.  

Pollyanna can mind her own business and start shaking out some clothes. I don't need the Glad Game; I need to not have my day interrupted by wasted time. I'll see your Pollyanna and raise you an Erma Bombeck. 

But even as I mentally raged, I could see the futility of my anger. It wasn't getting any more clothes picked up, it wasn't bringing glory to God, and doggone it, it wasn't even making me feel any better. I grew (slightly) pensive. Ethan and I had been talking about having that heavenly perspective, that view that as believers, eternity has already started. What was this job doing for eternity? Well, absolutely nothing on its own. Having to gather the clothes to re-dry them is not going to mold the future into anything. Then what on earth good is it? It is even lower on the totem pole (to use a thoroughly syncretistic metaphor) than other daily drudgeries; because not only is it something that is just going to have to be done again (like washing dishes and making beds and changing diapers and brushing teeth), it is something that I had already done for this moment in time. I had already hung these clothes to dry! I should not have ever had to gather them to be re-dried! 

But even the phrasing of my question: What on earth good is it? led me to a revealing question. Who cares what good it is on earth? How could it be something good for heaven? The answers that I came up with were not profound or earth- (or heaven-) shaking, but they did give me cause for thought.

First, the very pondering of what possible good this was doing for heaven had already made me think more about heaven than I had this morning.

Second, it was a chance for practice. Not practice at gathering clothes, but practice at cheerfully doing the task set before me (and from the looks of it, I really do need the practice). 

Third, as with most unpleasant jobs, it gave me cause to reflect on the fact that heaven will not be like earth (amen!). Heaven will not have wasted time. The time there will be endless, but it will not by any means be wasteful or wasted. 

Fourth, I could rejoice that this was my worst problem of the day. This is almost reason to be giddy. Nobody's life is endangered, nobody's relationship is severed, nobody's family is compromised because I have to pick up wet clothes. 

Fifth, my Robes with a capital "R" are the kind that never ever ever have to be re-washed or re-dried. I can do NOTHING to dirty these clothes. No Spray-n-Wash or Oxi Clean or hydrogen peroxide will wash out the blood of the Lamb. And, ironically, His blood has made my Robes white.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
   and serve him day and night in his temple;
   and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
   the sun shall not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of living water,
   and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  (Rev. 7:13-17)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fourth of July

I am always slightly irritated by the Fourth of July. I think a lot of it has to do with trying to find 1) something that makes it worth being out in the heat that 2) small children will enjoy but 3) without a long wait. We have a hate-hate relationship with humid heat. Ethan's Alaskan blood and my ... well, heat-induced crabbiness tend to embrace winter holidays but sprawl in the air conditioning during the summer ones. Fireworks are always iffy -- they start much later than my children's bedtime, and the majority of my kids spend the time with their hands over their ears saying, "Too loud! Too loud!" (violating limitation #2). Plus, the fireworks in this area are frankly rather puny (violating limitation #1), but to go where they are spectacular in the mountains involves a 1 1/2 hour drive (violating limitation #3). 


The past few years we've abandoned fireworks altogether and bought a package of firecrackers (and here in Virginia, you're pretty much just paying for birthday candles on steroids) and sparklers to do in the front yard. The kids have been duly impressed, but we were itchin' to do something a little different.


In order to ensure a perfect Fourth, we planned. Absolutely nothing. Well, we planned to plan, but somehow the Fourth came and we had ... no idea what we were doing with it (and to state the obvious, five kids in five years shows that we have never been strong in the planning department).


So when Ethan came downstairs yesterday morning and said, "What are we going to do?" I scrambled to think. The only thing I could come up with was a weak, "Ferry Farm is having a free thing today."


"Great! Let's go." FREE is one of our favorite words, but we understand that you sometimes get what you pay for. So I went into this with low expectations, thinking that it was only a 15-minute drive if things went haywire.


But I have to say that this was my favorite Fourth with kids so far. (My favorite Fourth sans kids was the year after we were married and we went to Seward, Alaska, and watched the fireworks over the water and then camped and watched the Mt. Marathon race and the mini-Mt. Marathon, but that is a rabbit [moose?] trail that I won't follow here.) SOMEBODY had done their planning, and the Ferry Farm activities were perfect! There were free cupcakes and crafts, demonstrations and games. Lily made a corn-husk doll with her squaw instructor while Benjamin and Abraham checked out the deer, fox, raccoon, and otter pelts a painted Indian was displaying. Benjamin made a beeswax candle, joining a circle of children who dipped their wicks rhythmically in a bucket of wax, then a bucket of water, then a bucket of wax, then a bucket of water, bending almost in time with the musician playing the penny whistle. At the crafts table, we made tri-corn hats for the boys out of construction paper, feathers, staples, and glue; and the girls wore mop caps made from coffee filters with ribbons laced through holes punched around the edge. There were all sorts of colonial games -- bocce, lawn bowling, burlap sack racing, toss the oh-so-colonial inflatable beach ball on the oh-so-colonial parachute, hoop-and-stick, bean bag toss, etc., etc., etc. They signed their names with a quill pen to the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin practiced carrying a musket around. A gunsmith showed the boys how they used to make bullets (it must have improved your aim dramatically to have to make your own bullets!).


It was fantastic. We left, wandered around the newly-renovated mall (my favorite part is the huge family bathroom -- I can change diapers and have the olders use the restroom without having to work shifts!), and came home to prepare some red-and-blue treats.


And in a few minutes, I'm off to gather some corn husks from the field next door to whip up another doll to replace the one that is now guarding that family bathroom at the newly-renovated mall.


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