Shrimp-tutionalized

Knowing that I just moved to the area and am searching for kid friendly ways to Get Out Of The House, a friend told me about a local swim class she attends with her two little ones. If I remember correctly, the conversation went something like this:

“You know, there’s this great swim class we take the kids to—“

“Did you say swim class?”

“Yeah, it isn’t far, and it’s relatively inexp—“

“I HATE swim classes for kids. They are TORTURE. Let me tell you….”

I went on from there, probably for a good thirty minutes, disparaging every swim class between here and Berkeley.

I’m sure I appeared both selfish (or at least a bad listener) and crazy (or at least slightly obsessed), but being selfish and/or crazy doesn’t make it any less true that my experience with kids’ swim classes is one of misery.

In the funny way life has of being weird and coincidental, shortly after that heated one-way exchange, I was searching for an old email and accidentally stumbled instead upon an email I sent Andy in 2010, detailing every painful moment of one of Rachel’s first forays into Shrimp-dom:

Today’s Shrimp class was soooo not worth it. You know how it starts at 10am, ends at 10:30am, and then it takes until approximately 11:45am to get both of Rachel and me dried off, showered, dried off again, and re-dressed? Well today I had a definite plan for how I was going to reduce that time to about 20 minutes. Seriously. Of course, I failed miserably, and I ended up driving home in my wet swimsuit.

The five other moms and babies in class seem to have it all figured out. The moms put the younger babies (6-8 months) on towels on the changing benches, and the moms with older babies stand them up in the little closed off area the benches make. One mom even gets her seven-month-old to sit on a towel the whole time. Amazing. When I try any of these things, Rachel: 

  1.  falls down
  2.  crawls on the icky floor
  3.  cries
  4.  all of the above

The mom with the seven-month-old who sits on a towel without moving saw me struggling to keep Rachel from crawling away and said, “does she know the word ‘stop?’”

“No.”

 “Oh. Well what about ‘Red Light?”

Uh, no. She’s seven months old. She thinks ‘no’ is the funniest word she’s ever heard and has not a freaking clue what a red light is. I told the women this and she smiled like she felt really sorry for me and my obvious incompetence.

This was when I decided to wear wet clothes home.

I put Rachel in the stroller and she immediately started crying and reaching up for me. Okay. Rachel out and gym bag, diaper bag, and purse in. I pushed the stroller to the elevator with one hand. This did not go well. You know how the stroller alignment is all screwed up? Well, there’s an old-person class right after the Shrimp class, and I was forced to dodge canes and walkers lest I take some old lady down. I got a lot of glares. That was especially true when I couldn’t figure out how to push the stroller with one hand while carrying Rachel and her Froggie blanket through the swinging gate to leave. The gate swings IN, which is just plain stupid, but everyone looked at me like I was the stupid one.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disorganized: no makeup, hair half wet/half in a ponytail/half in a bun, wet swim suit soaking my clothes, one hand busy knocking down old people with my run-away-stroller, the other hand struggling to carry a grumpy baby and her Froggie blanket, all while wearing disgusting, soggy sweats as I walked the two blocks to the parking garage where I was parked on the sixth floor. Rachel freaked out as soon as I put her in the car seat, so I had to drive all the way home with my left hand while my right hand was twisted behind me holding a bottle for Rachel. I could see a mom in a minivan behind me laughing as I drove down the garage ramp.

I’ll admit that one reason I felt so incompetent is because I’m used to being the one who has it all together. I certainly did with Collin. Collin thinks things are different with Rachel because I’m “old” now. I think it’s because I don’t co-sleep with her like I did with Collin so I get up every two hours between midnight and 6am and am too damn tired to do something like change a wet, squirming baby with one hand while sitting on a cramped, stinky pool locker room floor with five other moms and their kiddos watching me, waiting to see if I’ll screw up.

Anyway, finally Rachel fell asleep in the car. Yay! We were almost home and since it wasn’t yet 1pm, Collin would be asleep, too. I figured I’d get something hot to eat, maybe write you an email about today’s Shrimp fiasco, and then take a long hot shower.

Uh, no.

Rachel did stay asleep, but as soon as I got home Collin let Bella-dog out of his room, so she started barking and whining and Winston-dog started trying to rough house with her, then Collin turned his techno music &!*$ up really loud and the bass started thumping the half of the house I wanted to relax in. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my hot food and drink, so I went straight to the shower, desperate to get in there before Collin came upstairs and started running his day’s plans by me, such as, “can I experiment with smoking tree bark today? Can I drive the minivan to Taco Bell? Can I go to a girl’s house while her parents aren’t home and she’s having a pillow-fight-pajama party?” Honestly though, at this point I would have said yes to all those things just to get some peace and quiet in the house while Rachel was still sleeping.

Anyway, I finally managed to shower. Ready to recover from my horrible morning, I sat down at the computer with coffee and homemade blueberries muffins slathered with butter. Of course, that’s when Collin walked in and said, “Andy wants me to check my email right now.” Crap, crap, crap. So I turned on Martha Stewart, which I almost never watch, and guess what? It was one I had already seen.

Maybe someday I’ll re-write this to make it touching or funny or something more than what it is, but for right now, I just needed to get this off my chest.

Shrimp class sucks.

Author’s notes: if the person who advised me on a great local swim class is reading this (and I assume she is because I’m going to tag her on FB), now you know I am neither selfish nor crazy. I am, quite simply, still in Shrimp-covery.

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Why He Should Get Up With the Baby While I Sleep

One of the things I’m most grateful for in the parenting arrangement my husband and I have worked out is that he’s the one who gets up with the baby. There are several reasons for this (such as the fact that I usually can’t fall back asleep for hours), but the primary reason is because I stay home with the kids.

I know this arrangement may seem counterintuitive and maybe even a little unfair: He has to put on dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes and interact with actual human beings all day, whereas I can wear PJs from start to finish while eating lots of chocolate and fatty foods to get myself through until bedtime (yes, yes. I KNOW that’s a bad idea). I can usually put my paid work off until a better day, and things like laundry and dishes are done on a self-imposed deadline. But really, it makes a lot of sense and is more “fair” overall for everyone involved (because let’s be honest: so much of marriage comes down to discussions over what’s “fair” or not. It’s like a never-ending kindergarten battle over who had what toy first.)

Why is it more fair?

Because if the parent who stays home with the kids doesn’t sleep (be it the mom or the dad), multiple family members pay the cost:

  • The kids may get put in front of the TV too much, which will lead to brain rot and keep them from someday joining the ranks of contributing members of society (otherwise known as “Really Useful Engines”);
  • The kids may get disciplined instead of redirected, which will lead to absurdly high therapy bills, both for us and for their future families. Reducing tax-deductible medical costs is good both for our checkbook as well as for the national debt;
  • The kids may get snapped—or even yelled at—for minor, un-snap, un-yell worthy things (see above);
  • Etc.

All that said, there are many reasons to let the work-outside-the-home parent sleep:

  • If s/he is an attorney or judge with a trial the next day;
  • If s/he operates motor vehicles or carnival rides for a living;
  • If s/he works at a daycare;
  • If s/he works at a nuclear power plant or the Pentagon;
  • Etc.

Before you go thinking how lucky I am, I should point out that I often get up at 4am, which is when the little guy wakes up. So oddly, although my husband’s sleep is broken into chunks (a MISERABLE way to sleep), he frequently gets more sleep than me, especially on weekends.

(Ha! Equal points, people, equal points!)

There’s also the option of switching off, which can be a great way to go since it’s “fair” for both parents and reduces (or evens out) score keeping. It tends not to work for us, but, you know, once Andy starts hallucinating, I figure it’s time I step up a bit.

I recently decided to take New Year’s resolutions a bit more seriously than in the past (I mean really? Wait until 1/1/xx to start bettering ones self? Makes no sense to me, but this year I’m giving it a go), and I’m going to try the same with Valentine’s Day. With nine days to go until the big to-do, I’m racking my brain for things I love about my husband (okay, it really isn’t THAT hard). With three kids and lots of marriage under our belts, this list has turned away from things like:

What gorgeous eyes!

He’s best writer I know!

Check out those calves!

To:

He doesn’t mind unloading the dishwasher!

He gets up with the baby!

He likes to run errands!

It’s funny how things change with a bit more of life in the (I’ll-get-to-it-someday) scrapbook. The jury’s still out, but I’m pretty sure I’ll take night wakings and unloaded silverware baskets over gorgeous eyes and a well-turned phrase any day.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

Sometimes Love Looks Like a Poop-Filled Bag and Half-Eaten Burger

Marriage necessitates so much giving up of one’s self. I’m not very comfortable with that because I kind of like all my parts and want to keep them. I like the part of me that often wants to  be alone. I like the part of me that wants calm, cleanliness, and order at all costs. I like the part of me that wants to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it.

But I’m finding that these parts don’t fit too well in the machine of marriage.

Instead I have to think about him and his needs, which, unfortunately, don’t always match up with mine. It’s easier to think about the kids’ needs; I’ve been putting kids first since I was fifteen. (Fifteen I tell you! Can you even imagine?) I can also do this for people to whom I am not related or married. But putting the needs of my spouse first? That is where I draw the line.

I promise you, and him, and our offspring, that I am indeed trying. I don’t take this marriage thing lightly. I mean, if I’m going to give up that expensive law degree and my girlish figure and all my wonderful, fantastic, perfect alone time with cocoa and a book, this marriage thing better work out. Because I’ll be damned if after all this sacrifice I end up changing my own diapers some day.

Today I even offered to split my bacon cheeseburger and fries right down the middle with my husband, and I hate sharing food. This bit of selfless giving on my part came about because I thought my husband didn’t want fast food, but that was only because I only gave him about six seconds to respond to my text asking if he wanted fast food, and by the time second seven came around I’d already ordered and gotten my burger from under the heat lamp.

I felt bad.

I kind of also felt unhealthy and fat even though I’m trying to gain weight right now. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. My husband, home sick watching The Hobbit at top volume while I worked my fingers to the bone and he pretended not to notice, declined my offer.

No matter. Now I had a point to put up on the little chalkboard in my mind. Jamie 1, Andy 827. He’d better watch out—I’m on his heels! Somewhere after my kindly act and his utter disregard, I got really snappy. I think it’s because he wanted to borrow my computer, but he has his own darn computer. He’s been saying for months now he’s going to ask his boss about getting a new one, but has he done it? Nooooo. (Note that this brings Andy down to a lowly 826 points) So this means he has to borrow my computer. The one he gave me as a gift and cost about as much as a used car. The one I pour my heart and soul into and leave my email up on, and have goofy Facebook talks with my bloggy friends on. Reminds me of my dad going through my poetry and cassette tapes, asking just what exactly it means, this album called Songs of Faith and Devotion? Faith in what? Devotion to whom? And why is that song by the Violent somethingorothers entitled Gone Daddy Gone? What does this mean, Jamie?

Bless him and his helping heart.

So anyway, Andy used it, and I gave myself half a point since I did, after all, loan it to him. I did angry, slammy things the whole time he used it maybe, or maybe I picked up poop in the backyard since it’s going to snow tomorrow and who wants to pick up half frozen/half smushy poop? And I think I seethed the whole time about how poop pick up is his job, not mine. A battle raged within me:

Yes, but he has a cold, Jamie.”

“He’s had that cold for two weeks now. One should not malinger! I gave birth with a cold! I bleach the bathtub and pre-treat whites with a cold!” And the clincher: “I cleaned the baby’s vomit as I was vomiting.” Boo yah!

But then:

You just lost a client; you have plenty of time on your hands to pick up poop.”

“You wanna’ ask me why I lost a client? Because I have to cram 26 hours of work into two-hour naps! Andy’s side of the bed is messier than mine and takes ten seconds longer to make! I do everything around here!”

Only one poop pile left now, Jamie, so you’re going to have to get over it.”

Eventually I lost to myself, and gave myself another half point, which brought the score up to a strong 826 to 2, I think.

It’s a bit after 5pm now and my tea’s gone cold. I know that Andy and the kids are almost home—picking the kids up from preschool scores Andy a whopping 200 points per child—and I’m thinking of dinner, and backpacks, and lunch box cleaning, and papers, so many papers, scattered all over my just-cleaned kitchen. And then the dishes and counters and trash, maybe the floors if I’m feeling domestic, and then the scramble to get the kiddos to bed before our backs give out.

And I’m thinking that I’m thankful, oh so thankful, that I don’t have to do all of that alone.

There’s Sick, and then there’s Homesick

When I was somewhere around 19 years old, I was the assistant manager of a wallpaper store. Wallpaper 4 Less, it was called, and I was proud of my title of “manager,” even if preceded by the word “assistant.” Truth be told, there were only two of us: the manager and me, so really, it wasn’t so impressive after all.

As assistant manager, I learned how to use a ten-key, an old school credit card machine, take inventory, deal with finicky customers, and certainly more about wallpaper than I ever thought I’d know. And I like wallpaper to a certain extent. I like paint better, but wallpaper really isn’t as bad as HGTV may tell you.

In fact, I’m wondering if I should once again make wallpaper my go-to cosmetic upgrade, and forever shun paint and it’s lustrous beauty and wide array of possible colors.

Once again, we are painting. I wrote a post back in the summer about our Berkeley painting adventures as we prepared to sell our house. Now here we are, working in reverse and making the home we just bought truly ours. Three to four guys have been here every day this week (and will be here tomorrow as well) to paint most of our main level as well as Rachel’s room.

I planned it perfectly.

Andy and Rachel would be out of town, and Aaron would go to preschool every day but Monday. That way we could avoid the chaos of our last painting experience. I made a DMV appointment and scheduled a haircut, which would get me out of the way, too. The rest of the time I would sit nice and quiet in my lovely, underused office working on interviews and writing a new pitch I have high hopes for.

Yeah, right. Best laid plans and all that jazz.

Rachel and Andy left Friday. It was bliss. Quiet, tidy, calm. Aaron ate like a gentleman and behaved nicely. All was going according to plan. For about 24 hours, anyway.

Saturday afternoon the projectile vomiting began, and it didn’t end until Wednesday. No fever or other symptoms, just throwing up. Lots and lots of it. By Monday, the day the painting began, the doctor’s office had called twice to urge me to take Aaron to the ER.

“Let him sleep for about two hours, then take him in.”

One hour and 50 minutes passed and the office called back: “Have you left yet?”

I hadn’t, because it hadn’t been two hours.

“Right,” she said. “Ten more minutes then go. But try water first, just in case. 5mls.”

Sick baby

Sick baby

So while Aaron sat in my arms, weak and lethargic, I syringed 3mls into the corner of his mouth. He gulped greedily and it stayed down. I tried 5mls more. It stayed down. This wasn’t the end of his sickness—not by a long shot—but we were out of the ER woods.

Then… I got sick. And when I say sick, I mean sick. So sick, in fact, that Andy (who was still in California) called my mom in Arkansas, and asked if she could come.

Of course,” she said.

Sixteen hours later she arrived to find me delirious and weak, with Aaron not faring much better.

And still, the men painted.

From 8am to 6pm every day, they painted. Amid delirium, vomit, crying, threatened ER trips in ice storms, and one very opinionated retired general contractor who had come to stay a while, they painted.

Still today, they paint.

And let me tell you, it looks great.

For a while, my mom and I mostly talked paint colors, but as time passed and I began to emerge from my virus-induced near death, Nana asked an essential question: “Isn’t there anyone here you could call? Not that I mind coming, but… isn’t there anyone?”

Well, no.

We’ve lived in this town since October. We’ve had folks over, and are having more next week. We know our neighbors, and some even came to Rachel’s birthday party. But who do you call for Pedialyte and Gatorade during an ice storm? When you desperately need help scrubbing the carpet before it stains and forever stinks? When your baby has gotten sick over and over again for days, but you yourself are too sick to bathe him, because who knows if you’ll pass out while he’s in the water?

That’s just a lot to ask.

“You know,” my mom said thoughtfully, “I tend to avoid the stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood.” She went on to explain, “I guess I’m afraid they’ll want to stop by and have coffee and talk, and I just don’t have time.”

“Mom,” I stared hard. “They are stay-at-home moms. THEY don’t have time.”

“True. But I’m also afraid they’ll ask me to babysit.” (in case it isn’t clear at this point, my mom is a very, very good babysitter.)

“I could see that.”

(But note: she flew from Arkansas to Maryland for a less-than-48-hour “visit” with two very sick people).

I know what she means. Sometimes I won’t even go check my mail because I’m scared I might get caught in a conversation that I’m “too busy” for. Yet… when that happens, it’s often quite enjoyable and even makes my day better. And sometimes, that little bit of conversation is just what my soul needs.

Andy and Rachel returned home last night. Andy brought me fries from my favorite California-only gourmet burger place (Barney’s, the home of our first date), and Rachel brought me lots of handmade presents and excited chatter. She and Nana stayed up past midnight doing only God knows what, and today Nana woke at 4am to fly back home, where she will spend the next few days babysitting for my sister and brother-in-law while they travel to Oklahoma for work.

After we finally shuttled everyone to their rooms for the night, I lay in bed, struggling against hunger and memories, unable to fall asleep: I miss Barney’s. I miss my in-laws so very much. The Facebook and texted pictures Andy sent this last week from their kitchen, from the Lawrence Hall whale, from Gordo’s, ran through my head, along with memories of our home, especially the Bay view we had from our deck.IMG_1763

I spent every moment possible on that deck, soaking up warm January sun and cold July fog, looking at the Oakland cranes to the left, San Francisco skyscapers to the right, and the Giants stadium in the middle. Come April (and maybe even October), I will so miss seeing their fireworks cut through night fog, not quite bright and brilliant, but beautiful. So beautiful.

I thought of these things and of my mom flying here to care for us. Of how much we love our new incredibly spacious and comfy home. I thought of my mom’s words: “isn’t there anyone here you could call?”

And just like that, I became officially homesick.

But I’ll keep waiting and watching and hoping and praying and writing of all these things in an up again/down again bloggy way, and someday it will all click perfectly into place. I know it will.

As for the paint, Andy and Rachel were both surprised and happy, because it really does look lovely. But I still wonder if next time maybe I shouldn’t try wallpaper.

Feeling better

Feeling better

2014: The Year That Really, Really Sucked.

2014 has been the worst year of my life. No really, it has been.

“Life,” of course, is lived more in stages and vignettes than in a totality of lived days. So when I say 2014 has been the worst year of my life, I don’t mean it’s been worse than the year my son passed away, or the times from my life I was completely destitute, or any other terrible year from a prior life of mine. I mean instead that 2014 has been the worst year in this stage of life—the stage in which I’m in my thirties, married with (what to me is) lots of kids, and have lived out one career and am in the early days of another.

But to be honest, 2014 is the only year that has been so consistently bad from start to finish. Rather than a series of vignettes, 2014 has been a 1.2-million-word Mission Earth kind of year.

“Why,” you may ask, “has this year been so bad?”

To which I respond, “it’s complicated.”

Complications aside, the simplistic glory of a bad year is how the good times shine all the brighter through the dark and mired days, such as:

–joyfully celebrating a fairly stress-free Christmas.

–seeing my oldest walk towards me, suitcase in hand, smiling and ready to stay a while.

–finding four walls to call home.

–witnessing a four-year-old’s first snow.

What I mostly see as I look for the constellation of pinpoints from 2014 is family. Lots and lots of family. Family gathering at the dinner table (always my favorite thing), singing in the van, packing boxes, and, yes, even saying goodbye.

Instead of a dearth of community, I see within those shining lights a husband and wife determined to make a go of it, walking hand in hand into new churches, a new neighborhood, a new town.

Instead of a lost career I see an exciting opportunity to be more, live more, create more.

Instead of children separated by miles, I see joy-filled, tear-filled reunions, brimming with tickles and stories and glitter and Elsa… so much Elsa.

Instead of overwhelming sadness, I see through always-threatening tears a friend’s newfound dedication to living a lovehard life, searching for her own pinpoint-constellation in this darkest of years.

Although I’ve always made them, I’ve never really believed in New Year’s Resolutions. If you have a goal, why wait for January 1? Why not start now? But this year I’m convinced that January 1, 2015 will start something new. Something wonderful, full of laughter and friendships and loving hard. A year in which I fail at times to exhibit patience and grace, but will succeed in forgiving myself, determined to try again. A year in which goal setting is less important than life living, and playing trains and creating crafts become my be all and end all.

Today isn’t the day to start. I have a cold. I’m tired and I’m cranky and the kids’ schools have been closed for what seems an eternity. But in these last two days, whether my family believes it or not, I will be working on building up a reserve of all the things I know I’ll need in the year to come. Should you have any of these things to spare—love, patience, grace, serenity, humor, wisdom—please feel free to send them my way. Your kindness may just help me close out 2014 with a happy bang, and usher in 2015 with the strength of community—virtual or otherwise—propelling me forward into my fresh start in a new place, shaking off the vestiges of west coast living to embrace fully this new chapter of east coast life.

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Why the Lutherans Won’t Have Us

“There is no way to capture the hilarity of what happened,” Andy said. “It simply isn’t possible.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Yesterday we attended a Lutheran church near our home. We aren’t Lutheran, but the church is close and it has the only service that will fit with Aaron’s nap schedule. Besides, having never been to a Lutheran church and being very much a fan of the ELCA, Andy has always wondered if perhaps there isn’t a raging Lutheran inside of him. I’ve tried to explain that there isn’t a raging Lutheran anywhere, let alone in him, but he won’t listen.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by warm air, the smell of chili, and Usher Darrel.

“Is there childcare?”

“Childcare? Um, let me check.”

When an elderly usher who has likely attended the same church since the 1950s doesn’t know if the church has childcare or not, it’s a sure sign it doesn’t.

“Should we just leave?”

“No, I’ll walk around with him.”

So there we were, one child happy to sit at the coloring table in the back of the (very staid) sanctuary, the other child happy to terrorize all present in the narthex.

Rachel and I sat side by side, neither of us listening but each happy in our own way: Rachel because she loves to color, and me because anything is better than sitting at home all day being terrorized into playing trains. I flipped through the bulletin and saw that there was indeed a Kids Time that the bigger children are escorted to right before the sermon starts. Score!

When the time came, I walked out with Rachel to introduce myself to the teacher. As I started to head back to the sanctuary, Rachel begged:

“Stay with me, Mama! Stay with me!”

Sure, why not? Like I said, anything beats all-day train attacks.

Even though Aaron is too young for Kid Time, he and Andy followed us down the hall. And what did we find? That the kids were going to watch VeggieTales! Merry Larry to be exact, and boy were they excited.

But no one was excited as Aaron. Aaron’s current obsession is trains, but it’s followed closely by his love of “BobMato.” Aaron’s eyes grew large when he saw what was on the screen and he struggled to get out of Andy’s arms. Andy let him. After all, surely Aaron would just sit and watch the movie. You know…. Like the 15 other kids there.

Uh, no.

Aaron went right to the TV and stood directly in front of it.

“Hey, I can’t see!” A chorus of protests rang out and the teacher kindly moved Aaron to the side. Andy ran to the teacher, arms waving frantically.

“He’s going to turn it off. He’s going to turn it off!”

“Oh, he likes buttons does he? Don’t worry. It’s fine.”

And it was.

For about 30 seconds.

The theme song kicked on and Andy and I exchanged looks. We knew what was coming.

Still at the front of the room, only slightly not in front of the TV, Aaron began to dance. And I don’t just mean dance. I mean dance. Like American Bandstand, Soul-Train-on-steroids dance. The kids snickered, but not meanly, and Rachel, poor sweet Rachel, didn’t even think to be embarrassed. This was, simply, Aaron.

For those who are unfamiliar with the VeggieTales theme song, it has a couple of drawn out notes that the fruits and vegetables are especially enthusiastic about singing. Aaron likes those parts the best. The first long note came…. “If you like to waltz with potatoes, up and down the produce AISLLLLEEEE…” Aaron howled. And danced. And howled some more. I smacked my forehead and turned around to avoid the teacher’s eyes. At this point the kids were way more into watching Aaron than the show.

The second long note came: “…It’s time for VeggieTales,UHALES,UHALES, UHALES,UHALES!” Aaron howled again. The cucumber fell, the tuba bleated, and the song ended. “Yayayayayayay,” Aaron clapped and shouted his thrilled endorsement.

Then turned off the DVD player.

I walked away.

Thankfully, the movie started right back up. Andy and I grabbed Aaron and for the next 30 minutes chased him up and down the hall. At one point, Aaron began climbing the steps to the chancel. Right before Aaron entered the spotlight, Andy realized what was going on and snatched him away. Oh. Dear. God.

The teacher approached me and I felt I had to explain.

“He’s really a good kid. He’s just… energetic.”

“It’s fine,” she said. “At least he’s joyful.” Yes! That’s it! We are successful parents because when all signs say otherwise, our kids are joyful. The thought buoyed me for at least five minutes.

Eventually we had to head back to grownup church and I begged Rachel to leave now. To get while the getting was good.

“No! I want to go to church!”

Well, crap. I couldn’t very well say no to that.

Darrel, oh-so-helpful-and-kindly Darrel, explained we hadn’t yet missed communion. “Take the kids up front! They’ll pat their heads and give them a blessing.”

Our youngest walks straight into koi ponds, ladies’ restrooms, and traffic. Only my good manners kept me from laughing.

“Now, Rachel. NOW,” I hissed once we were out of Darrel’s hearing range (which, frankly, wasn’t very far.)

We headed back out into the cold and found Andy and Aaron already in the van, Aaron in the driver’s seat, Andy sitting balanced on the edge of Aaron’s car seat. An apt scene, I thought.

Driving home we discussed what had happened.

“It’s close to home, but there’s no childcare.”

“That’s okay. Maybe I’m not a Lutheran after all.”

Sigh.

“So can we go to a Presbyterian church for service and the Lutheran church for the chili?”

Sure, why not. They already think we’re pretty terrible anyway.

(Seriously, this doesn’t even begin to capture what happened yesterday. He’s being, like, a gazillion times calmer. But do watch to the end; it’s pretty darn cute.)

(PS – if you know of any parents who have a similarly “joyful” child, please share this with them. I’d love to provide them with the virtual support of knowing they aren’t alone!)

(featured image courtesy of bible.ca)

A Dish Best Served

A couple of years before my oldest was set to graduate from high school and set off for college, I began putting kitchen and household items away for his future use. Little did I know that he would attend school 3000 miles away from home and would get there by plane. It’s a bit difficult to ship (or travel with) old plates, mismatched saucers, and the chipped Christmas mug from which I envisioned him sipping cocoa, head bent over widespread textbooks, hair shining under a hot-burning lamp.

This box of would-be hand-me-downs made it’s way to Maryland with us when we moved. In the flurry of moving day, boxes presented to me every few minutes for appointment to their proper home, I glanced and saw my son’s name on brown masking tape: the downstairs bedroom, I said, already turning my attention to the next box. And so there it sat, placed by movers, unremarkable, unassuming, among all the other boxes.

So I was surprised when in the midst of unpacking concert flyers, baseball paraphernalia, and things indicative of college-shenanigans, I found a box of my old dishes, languishing unused in already-yellowed newspaper.

Deciding that they would not get the collegiate use I had hoped for, I moved them to our basement kitchenette for easy snacking during family movie night, pool hustling the neighbors, and playing seemingly endless games of Chutes and Ladders.

As I unwrapped each dish one-by-one, I was struck by nostalgia. By the memories of friends gathered around my table, eating off plates collected from a variety of sources: Factory 2 U, a storage shed my restaurant-owner landlord forgot about, Goodwill, family hand-me-downs.

My collection of plates used to stack so high that my mother, at every visit, would ask why I didn’t pare it down. “It’s just you and Collin,” she’d say. “Why do you need so many plates?”

And I kept telling her: because you never know.

You never know when you will decide to host, for years on end, college (and later law school) classmates who can’t make it home for their too-short Thanksgiving break. Or when Easter will call for gathering friends, atheists and Christians alike, to stuff plastic eggs with coins for a little boy in a cowboy hat to hunt for among the devil-heads in your West Texas yard.

You never know when someone will knock on your door, and the smell of fried chicken and scalloped potatoes will convince them to stay.

My dishes now are from a wedding registry years’ past. I still have a towering stack of them—I’m too used to hosting not to—but I find these days that half the stack sits sad and surly, and the ten chairs around my dining table (and the eight in my kitchen) get a little too dusty between use.

Back in the day I used to fuss: I’d clean, scrub, tidy. Beg Collin to do the same. That’s not different today, yet my fussing goes unnoticed and my plates remain a tower.

The other day some men were working in my back yard. It was cold: in the 20s, and with the wind, the mid-teens.

“Do you want coffee?” I asked.

Oh yes, yes, yes. All three of them would love a cup.

Inside my warm house, I brewed a pot. Set mugs on a serving tray along with scalloped spoons, lidded sugar bowl, and a tiny pitcher of milk. I carried the tray to the back and set it on the patio table. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, I couldn’t help but see these men through my kitchen window, just moments before working in freezing weather, now leaning against the deck rail enjoying the warmth of ceramic against their hands. One or two of them removed their gloves and picked up the dainty spoons to stir in a bit of sugar, a little milk. They laughed and talked and I rejoiced in their comfort.

All that day I wondered: why don’t I serve more? I finally got nice plates to serve from, forks and knives for any number of guests. And yet… more guests arrived when my towering plates were a rainbow of colors, my stemware non-existent, my “good” spoons so weak one once bent in half over a half-gallon of ice cream.

More kids, more dogs, more obligations. I’m not busier these days, but the type of “busy” is different. The torture of nap- and bedtime loom large, and most of my work must be done in the wee hours of the morning and the witching hours of night.

Things change, time passes, and this week I will host only family. Husband, kids, and Mom, we will enjoy our time together, and I will stress less without the pressure of “guests.” I will also miss those guests, both of recent years and of years past. I will think often of the discard dishes now housed downstairs, waiting patiently for popcorn and potato chips, and wonder if perhaps I should run down when no one is looking and say a quick hello to the memories of having time to spare and friends to spend it with.

This week when we share with one another over Thanksgiving dinner what we are thankful for, I will say that I am thankful for our new home, this new place, the looking-forward opportunity to turn towering plates to rubble, to run out of saucers and cups and have to ask someone else to watch the baby while I go fast to the basement to grab a handful of Factory 2 U and landlord-discarded dinnerware. I will be thankful for finding forgotten dishes among a heap of mess and for remembering that hospitality is a dish best served. Hot or cold, messy or pristine, mismatched or Martha Stewart, it simply must be served.

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