Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thanks 2014, it's been nice to know ya!

Disclaimer:  Yes, this post will serve as our family Christmas card, a much-needed blog update, and the final blog post of the year. Yes, you can call it "lame", if you'd like. I prefer "efficient". And if you're a family member looking for our Christmas card and haven't read my blog before, check out the "Cast of Characters" page down to the right. I've given the girls all pseudonyms to ensure plausible deniability when they're older. But I'm sure you can figure it out.

2014 was a year of ups and downs, as they all tend to be. We worked. We played. We traveled a bit. But we are all healthy and together at the end of the year, so I call it an overall win. We truly do have much to be thankful for. As I've written before, we are rich. No, we don't have our dream house yet. No, we haven't won the lottery. But we have a comfortable snug home with heat that we can turn up in the winter. We have warm clothes to go play outside in. We have more food than we should probably eat. We have a high-quality and safe school to send our girls to. We have loving parents and siblings that live too far away. We have a loving family of close friends that live a bit nearer. We have friends and family scattered across the nation that pray for us, cheer us on, and bring smiles to our days. We are rich.

And the rest? Well, we're working on a little concept called "contentment".

The girls are just getting bigger and better every day:

HeyMama is 6. She loves to read, loves to do math, and says she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. And no, BestestHusband didn't tell her to say that. But he might be a bit proud... She started playing the piano, and is quite diligent about practicing. She gave a short concert of Christmas music at our friends' house on Christmas Day, and is anxious for lessons to start up again in the new year. She enjoys gymnastics more than ever, and can frequently be found hanging upside down or jumping from things. And she is the most perceptive, doting, and sweet big sister a baby sister could ever hope for. And she likes to talk. A lot. I'm still trying to find a way to bottle her energy. Or just find a mute button.

MeToo is 5. She loves to do whatever her older sister is doing. So she's into reading, math, and maybe being a scientist too. Or a unicorn trainer. Or a dance teacher. We might need to start dance lessons first... She is a child of wide-eyed wonder, finding magic in the most mundane of tasks. "Mama! Come look! I pooped a 7!" And she was right, it really did look like a 7. Other letters and shapes eventually followed. MeToo will interrupt dinner with, "Guess what! I'm having a dream inside my head RIGHT NOW!" She's full of fun ideas and whimsy. She's currently lobbying us to trade her to a neighboring family so she can have a brother.

LittleDebbie morphed into HurricaneDebbie, and is typically a Category 5. At 16 months old, she is already the strongest personality in the household, and that's really saying something... She has quickly learned to communicate her wishes, and this week has decided to do that via sentences:  "I need milk!", "I need Uppa!", "I need Daddy!" She has also learned quickly how to climb up to the top bunk, rock standing in the rocking chair, retrieve things from the middle of the dining room table, let herself out the door to outside, and undo an hour's worth of cleaning and organization in 2 minutes. According to BestestHusband, she is a living example of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And she makes me want to drink. Good thing she's so dang charming and cute...

The dogs continue to add love, fur, and noise to our household. They have become skilled opportunists, seizing on the chance for a belly rub any time one of us sits or leans over to the floor. They even demand belly rubs from the girls. And you know what? It works. It's sweet to see them develop relationships with the girls, and see the girls take more responsibility in their care.

BestestHusband started a new job at a tech company downstairs from his previous job. What's a guy with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and a background in discovering oncology drugs doing working at a tech company? Something Very Different from what he did before. But he still has the same bike commute. (Some call being a one-car family being "cheap", again I like to call combining a commute and exercise as "efficient".) In his spare time he plays the role of SuperDad, stalks Boston real estate for our future house, tends a good-sized garden, makes out-of-this-world mexican sauces, and helps reign in the chaos that has become our household norm.

I'm still doing many of the same things as last year. I work per diem at local rehab hospitals a few days per week. I shepherd the girls to and from the bus stop. I try to keep up with a kamikaze toddler. I started running again this past year, mostly to improve my patience level. And I started baking sourdough bread. And at the end of the day, when the house has been destroyed by my kamikaze toddler and my patience has been destroyed by everyone else, I at least have something tasty to show for my time.

So if you're in the area, stop by for a slice of fresh bread and a glass of wine I'll be ready to pour. We have a guest bedroom, and plenty of mayhem to share. We are truly blessed by what we have, but are pretty much constantly exhausted by it. And we look forward to a new year of exhaustion, love, joy, tedium, exasperation, and blessings in 2015.

With love,
The Bundles Of Joy Family

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

P90X with a Toddler

So yesterday started off very badly. In fact, by 9:15am, I had admitted defeat and was headed back to bed. We were getting hit by a December Nor'easter (a cold-weather ocean storm, similar to a tropical storm but with cold rain or snow). Two cups of coffee just weren't kicking in. Everyone was grumpy. We got the big girls on the bus, and headed towards the gym. I was hoping an hour on the treadmill would turn things around. But the parking lot was full. As were the street spots anywhere near an entrance. Did I mention that it was raining sideways and cold? So I gave up. I admitted defeat, turned around, and went home. I put my overtired (and now I realize sick) toddler in her crib, laid down in the bed next to it, and we went to sleep. When we both woke up later, things were better. After a quick lunch and some tylenol for LittleDebbie, things were great. The day had turned around. But the babysitting room in the gym was scheduled to close in 20 minutes, and I still wanted to exercise. 

That's when I remembered the P90X DVDs that BestestHusband had borrowed from a coworker a while back. We still had them. And I wanted to try them out. 

I picked a workout that looked like it had some cardio and strength training in it. And I did it. And the day was completely salvaged. All was not lost, after all. I even FELT like I got a good workout, better than the one I would have gotten if I just went to the gym. Maybe I should just do the whole P90X program?

So this morning, after spending 30 minutes at the bus stop in the rain (yes, it's still raining. Send an Ark...), LittleDebbie and I came home to do P90X. I was motivated. I've been wanting to do strength training for a while, and I know myself well enough to know that I need to join a class to do it. And the classes offered when I'm usually at the gym are targeted to older ladies. Much older. Think Seniorcise. So maybe P90X is the answer to my prayers...

I did the first DVD, which targets arms and back, and then abs. And I learned a few things. I knew the part about my horrendously poor upper body strength. That's old news. And the part about my lazy core. I was aware of that, too. But there's a reason that the DVD shows 4 hard-bodies working out in a studio. Showing real people in their real homes would not be nearly as pretty:

"Show some intensity! Kick forward! Side! Back! Then other leg!"
Ok, don't kick the TV, don't kick the sofa, don't kick the kid. Move over to allow room to use the other leg.
"Stretch both arms high, and do big circles."
Ow! When did that light fixture start hanging so low?
"Take a few moments to get some water and be ready to bring the intensity!"
Crap. Where's LittleDebbie? I need to go find her...
"Run in place to keep your heart going, and be ready for legs!"
Where did all of the Christmas ornaments go? And where is LittleDebbie now? I need to go find her...
"Time for some jacks. Jumping jacks are great!"
Jumping jacks are not great after having 3 kids. I'll just cross my legs and jump in place, thankyouverymuch. Ok fine, I'll wave my arms around, too.
"And lunge, punch, hook! Other leg! Lunge, punch, hook!"
Lunge, oh, there's an ornament on the mat! Hey LittleDebbie, please leave my mat alone, put it down!
"30 military pushups! Here we go!"
Hey, I can barely do one pushup, even without you climbing on me. Get off my back, kid!

So I learned that I need to be more relaxed to my workout than the instructor would prefer. I don't yet have all of the equipment I need. But bungee cords from the basement meet my fitness needs for now. I need to set up the play yard for the toddler in advance. She will eventually end up in there. I no longer am interested in working out 'til I feel like puking. Exercising makes my day better. Puking does not. I'll do one only as long as it doesn't result in the other. Who am I trying to impress? The guy on the DVD? I'll stop when I feel like it. 
Doing the workout at 80% accuracy is still better than I would get at the gym. And I think I know a bit more about pelvic stability and residual diastasis than the guy in the DVD. I'll modify my abs workout as I see fit. 

Don't worry buddy, I'll still "Bring It." I'll just bring along my body that's still recovering from having 3 kids in 5 years, my 15 month old, and the limitations of a small living room in a city condo, as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why I Need to Drink After Shopping With My Kids

So, as part of our Advent preparation and focus on thinking of others, the girls will help assemble gift stockings for people in our community. We've made food bags in the past for people asking for change at street corners, and they were generally well-received. So we decided to do gift stockings for them for Christmas. The girls helped brainstorm a list of items that might be appreciated by people who spend their lives out in the cold, and our activity after school today was to go shopping for those items. Sounds good so far, right?

So I took them to Ocean State Job Lot. For those of you who don't know OSJL, don't worry. Your home area probably has something similar. It sells a hodgepodge of everything, mostly deeply-discounted closeouts. So if you need a wide assortment of practical items, you'll find them there. It's the cheapest local place to go, since I live in a city that hates Wal-Mart. (Ok, maybe the city doesn't. But you have to travel more than 30 minutes out of the city to find one.) It's a slightly overstimulating place to begin with. But I went there late on a Wednesday afternoon with 3 girls, aged 6 and under. Are you starting to feel a premonition of danger yet?

You never know what you'll find when you're there. So you can't really write a detailed shopping list and stick to it. You sketch out a broad list, and suspect you'll find maybe half of the items on your list, plus a bunch you never imagined you'd find. And you never know the price you'll pay, so you have to look at everything and consider prices when you're assembling a gift assortment. In other words, it's a constant mental juggling act. What's a better value? The leather gloves or the waterproof Thinsulate-lined? Do homeless men prefer wool socks or these thicker ones with only a small amount more artificial fibers in them after you actually read the labels on the "Marino wool socks." Hmmm, get one of those thick sweat shirts for $7, or not risk getting the wrong sizes and get other things instead that might actually fit in the stocking better? The mental juggling act is constant in OSJL, even without kids along. And of course, there are countless temptations along the way. $8 ladies leather gloves to match my new scarf? I don't mind if I do! Add the kids, and my brain explodes. 

I think it's the sheer overstimulation of my internal monologue plus the 3 overlapping conversations from my children that just causes the trouble. Have you met my children? They are all girls. They are all chatty girls. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I used to pride myself in the early and prolific speech of my children. Now I just curse myself. 

An hour later, we leave the store with 5 stockings that we will fill with hand-warmers, gloves, thick socks, first aid kits, rain ponchos, and candy canes. We also leave with some candy for one of MeToo's teachers, and a few bags of Bob's Red Mill products, because they're awesome and pretty cheap at OSJL for some reason. But I didn't leave with Vital Gluten. Because apparently they don't carry it anymore. And I looked at their BRM offerings in two different places 5 times. It should have taken me 2 minutes to do that. But instead I:
  • Convinced the 6 year old that asking me to guess about minutae from her day while trying to read package labels to find the gluten was counterproductive and would keep us from actually leaving. 
  • Found a snack to stop the toddler's shrieking, doled it out to 3 girls, and kept the open bag from being spilled on the floor. 
  • Returned the toddler to a sitting position in the cart 5 times. The seatbelt was broken. 
  • Refereed a fight between the 5 year old and 6 year old about who got to stand where on the cart. 
  • Stopped 5 and 6 year old from pushing the cart while the toddler was standing up in the seat. 
  • Investigated who was lying about who was or was not pushing that cart while the toddler was standing. 
  • Delivered a stern message about the dangers of lying to the liar, while holding toddler in her seat to keep her from hurting herself while I was trying to discipline her older sister. Tried to ignore the indignant screaming of the toddler. 
  • Tried to manage the remorseful crying of the liar. 
  • Handed out more chocolate animal crackers to all unhappy parties. 
  • Didn't ever find gluten. 

Let's not discuss how long it took to:
  • Look for sizes on the gloves and socks.
  • Try to determine which glove and sock would be warmest for those who live on the street. 
  • Compare sizes, prices, and styles of stockings. 
  • Search for candies that the girls' teachers had identified as their favorites. 
  • Convince the girls that we could only look at toys at the END of the shopping trip.

The good news it that we now have some well-stuff Christmas stockings full of practical gifts that will be supplemented with some homemade treats and hopefully a warm cup of cocoa or coffee. And hopefully I can be emboldened by my children to share a treat and a gift with some total strangers that may or may not want to be recipients of our gifts. But that's a concern and blog post for another day.
Remind me not to shop with 3 little girls again. I need a big glass of wine. Or two.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hurricane Warning

Well, time keeps marching and babies keep growing.

Our LittleDebbie started walking and is now a toddler. A true toddler. 
She is a force of nature. She blows into a room, and when she blows out again, nothing is the same. Socks are in the cabinet. Books are in the bathtub. Water has been spilled all over. A path of destruction follows her wherever she goes. And she's loud. She has an ear-splitting howl that doesn't seem to stop. 

She's very much like a tiny Hurricane. 
Her severity rating might change day to day, but she never downgrades to a tropical storm.

She also climbs whatever she can find. HeyMama is becoming adept at getting in and out of her top bunk without the ladder. The ladder is too much of a temptation for our Hurricane. She's quickly to the third rung before the bigger girls start shouting "Mama! LittleDebbie's getting into big big trouble! Come quick! Heeellllpppp!" I run in to find one or both of the girls trying to wrestle her off the ladder, while LittleDebbie shrieks and fights. 

Our house is mayhem. Adorable and fun, but mayhem. But what can you expect when you live with a Hurricane?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

War Planes

"Listen. Those are war planes."

13 years ago, I was living here in Boston. I was working in a government building. We had all been sent home early. No one knew what was going on. But we knew that innocent Americans were being targeted. We were all vulnerable. 

Commercial air traffic was shut down. The usual background drone of flights out of BOS had been silenced. There was a lot of quiet - tense, breath-holding quiet. 

But as we listened to the fighter planes patrolling overhead that night, we did know one thing. That our delusion of safety on our own soil was just that, a delusion. And that life would be different going forward. 

The skies are not blue today in Boston, as they were 13 years ago. That crystalline sky and crisp air are forever etched in my soul as "September 11th weather." It was so glorious that day, and in such sharp contrast with the horror and confusion we all felt. Of course I remember. We will never forget. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

First Day of School

Monday was a day we'd been looking forward to for a while.
HeyMama and MeToo started their respective Kindergarten classes in a wonderful little Boston Public elementary school. LittleDebbie started part-time daycare in a wonderful little home day care center in our neighborhood. All 3 girls walked in the door with a smile on their face, and all 3 had great days. 

While I was getting dressed for work, I listened to a report on NPR commemorating the 40th anniversary of forced integration, or "bussing", in Boston Public Schools. So much has changed in 40 years. 

I drove the girls to their first day of school. We parked on a street near the school and walked together; BestestHusband rode his bike and met up with us. Children and parents were milling around excitedly outside. Parents from the Parent Council wrote down our email addresses, gave us name tags, and served us coffee and treats. We introduced ourselves to parents who also looked new, and were swarmed by parents who weren't. We were from multiple neighborhoods around town, but found some families that lived a short walk from us and shared the same bus stop. The principal rang his chime, and the hubbub died down. He directed children and parents to their places for the welcoming ceremony. We formed a circle in the middle of the parking lot. The new Kindergarteners were in the middle, the bigger kids were around them, and parents were on the outside. We held hands around the circle. The principal talked about the importance of school and the values we were all to share. Everyone there was directed toward that purpose. We were supposed to be a community. 

But the audio played of the first day of school 40 years ago was quite different, and still rang in my ears. People were yelling and screaming. Glass was shattering. Police were trying to separate an angry mob from the schoolchildren they were throwing bricks at. Yes. People were throwing bricks into busses full of children. And spitting on them as they tried to get into school. 
Let me repeat that. 
People were throwing bricks at children on their way to school.

It was because the federal mandates to integrate schools were finally being enforced. Children from white neighborhoods were being put on busses to go to schools in black neighborhoods. And children in black neighborhoods were being put on busses to go to schools in white neighborhoods. And people were angry. 

It's hard to imagine this side of Boston today. Sure the neighborhoods still have old tradition, and the elderly that live there reflect the neighborhoods' pasts. Rozzie still has a lot of people of Greek origin. West Rox is still very Irish. South Boston is still very Irish, too. The North End is still very Italian. Dorchester and Mattapan still hold generations of African-American families. But they all now hold immigrants, too. And newcomers from other parts of the US, lured to Boston by universities, like us. You don't get beat up for going to the wrong neighborhood anymore. 

When I watched my girls walk into their new school, I never doubted that they'd be safe. Of course they would be. But I couldn't help but think of those parents 40 years ago, wondering if they'd made the wrong choice by making their kids go to school. Many of them weren't wealthy enough to move to the burbs. And the Catholic schools had frozen enrollment, so there was nowhere else for them to go. How do you choose between an education and safety?

As I looked at the name tags and listened to the names called during the school assembly, I saw that the forced integration had worked. My girls' classmates will have names like Molly, Jack, Brianna, Messiah, Rashan, and Athena. This would be unthinkable 40 years ago.

Yesterday, I put the girls on the bus for the first time. We watched more than a dozen busses pass before theirs arrived. Children from our neighborhood were scattering to various schools on busses that fanned out around the city. This is the ongoing process of "bussing". Neighborhoods can no longer be insular. My girls gleefully climbed the steps for their first bus ride to school. They smiled back at me, waved, and disappeared. There would be no bricks. There would be no riot police. There would just be children going to school.

We have much to be thankful for. 

PS. I don't want to sound so blithe to imply that I don't recognize that there are still serious race and class issues in the city of Boston. There are. One of the gripping articles that I read on the matter talked about the communities of S. Boston and Dorchester that first experienced bussing; it observed that it's the poorer communities that bear the brunt of the challenges and shortcomings of the public education system. This, alas, has not changed in 40 years. We talk about how, when we got seats at the girls' school, we won the school lottery. But the reality is that we had already won by having the ability to buy out to a wealthier school district.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pre-coffee Chat

MeToo:  "Hey Mama?"
Me:  "Yes ma'am?
MeToo:  "You know that place we went once? Do you know what it was called?"
Me:  "No. I need a bit more information to help you. Can you tell me more about it?"
MeToo:  "No."

Because we've only been to one or two places in her life? This question came before I had my morning coffee. And is unfortunately typical of conversations with MeToo. And is one of the reasons I ask myself at 5pm if I should drink more coffee or switch to wine. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Hoodie

So parents, back me up on this one. You have a few favorite outfits that your kids wore when they were smaller, right? Those outfits that you see in pictures and smile. And you wish your kid was smaller so they could wear that adorable thing again. Right?

So I'm packing the girls' clothes for a camping trip. And I'm looking for my favorite hoodie. It's green and turquoise, and matches a little outfit that's actually NOT made of girly colors. And it's so cute. (And rare in our world of pink and purple!) And LittleDebbie will look adorable in it. And I can't find it. I want that hoodie. I've looked everywhere. And it's nowhere to be found. And I'm going crazy. I need. That. Hoodie.

This is normal, right?

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Year

We celebrated a huge milestone yesterday.
We've survived a full year of having 3 kids. 
In other words, Happy Birthday LittleDebbie!

So much has happened in the past year:

  • I grew out of and back into my old clothes.
  • I forgot was sleep was like, then was reintroduced to it again. 
  • LittleDebbie transformed from a tiny bundle of preciousness to a smiley bundle of perpetual motion. And perpetual trouble. 
  • I learned to keep track of 3 different bodies moving in 3 different directions at 3 different speeds. 
  • I learned that I can fail at meeting my goals daily. But I still need to try again the next day. 
  • I learned to translate she-said/she-said disputes into a semi-predictable "so she did this inappropriate act, and then you did that inappropriate act" format. Is this how Judge Judy got her start?
  • I broke my addiction to sugar. And then rekindled it on vacation. I have a trip to rehab planned for my near future.
  • I put in a lot of mileage driving a little girl to and from school. 
  • I watched that little girl transform into an even bolder and brighter version of herself. And I watched her become a sensitive and doting big sister to an increasingly adoring baby sister.
  • I watched our middle child become quirkier and funnier, and watched a fire ignite that pushes her to keep up with her older sister. And a sulking stubborn streak develop. 
  • All three girls became stronger, taller, faster, and more capable at just about everything.
  • My husband became even more adoring and doting towards our little gaggle of girls. Simultaneously, he became more adorable. And sexy. (We'll see if he actually reads my blog posts and reacts to this one...)
  • I realized how much motherhood has changed me. And more recently, I realized what I want the next 6 years of motherhood to look like. 

It's been an amazing year. I can't wait to see what happens this next year! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Date

So I went on a date today. And not with my husband. He knew I was going. He even chuckled when I told him.

I was surprised when I was asked out. A little flattered, but surprised. I was momentarily creeped out. It was a clinician asking me out at the end of the appointment. I wondered if it was crossing a line somehow. HIPPA training didn't prepare me for this....

"We should get the kids together sometime. Maybe at the playground?" Our kids are different ages. It wasn't about the kids really. They were just an excuse to get together. I paused for a moment before answering.

"That sounds great! Which playground do you go to?" We frequent the same playgrounds. Surely it's innocent, right?

Yes, I was hit on for a Mommy Date. And I accepted. Yes, I have trouble seeing my existing friends as often as I'd like. But why should that stop me from meeting other mommies and making other friends? There is so much frustration and judgement in the life of a parent. And it's really hard to make new friends. I need as many familiar faces and smiles as possible as I go though my days. I'm not positive that we're a perfect match. But she's really nice, we have a lot in common, we had a nice playground outing and picnic, and I think she wants to see me again. And I want to see her again. And I think that all counts as a good date.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Checking In

We're still here. We're actually all doing quite well. We're having a great summer, and we're quite busy. I'm not the type of person who likes to keep us running all day, so this busyness is a bit exhausting and disorienting to me. And it causes me to curl up in a ball and not blog. Or make phone calls. Or emails. But really, we're fine, I promise.

We had a great vacation to see BestestHusband's extended family. The girls had a blast with their cousins. And I had some quality time with my sister-in-law comparing notes and trying to navigate the world of being married to men from BestestHusband's family. (It's a pleasure and a conundrum, all at the same time.) And we ate a lot of good food. And drank a lot of beverages. And spent a lot of time on a lake. And it was grand.

Then we came home and I got a visit from an old college friend, and got to meet her two kids. There were 5 kids aged 5 and under in the house. It was pandemonium. And a cacophony. But fun. We even made a visit to the art museum, which was a fun adventure. I mean, where else should you take 5 young children? But my girls can't wait to go back. Well, maybe HeyMama can't wait. MeToo was upset that there was no toy room like the science museum. 

Then we took the older girls to Tanglewood. There's nothing more magical than listening to the Boston Symphony play music you grew up loving and playing, while sitting under the stars and drinking wine. Unless it's doing that while snuggling a cold bored 4 year old in your lap. (As an aside, when planning a fancy picnic, read all ingredients carefully. The "fancy lemon drink" I bought for the girls was a lemon shandy. I assumed it was like a lime ricky. Shandy, ricky, whatever. I did not learn until we opened them at the picnic that a shandy has alcohol in it. Trader Joe's did not do me any favors by featuring these bright yellow cans at the end of the aisle, away from the rest of the beer. Thanks a lot, TJ's.)

Then I hosted a few friends for an evening of facials while BestestHusband and the big girls watched the Lego Movie at our local park. Now the girls want to watch it again when our friends' housing association plays it again this week. I guess at least I'll get to watch it. With great skin.

Somewhere in all of that BestestHusband and I celebrated our 9th anniversary. One night in his hometown, we actually snuck out after kid bedtime, went to a bar on the waterfront, and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation while ordering cocktails that perplexed the bartender. (Unfortunately, it wasn't that difficult. Expectations for a great evening out change after 3 kids). We discussed the next year of our marriage. I'm greatly looking forward to all that it might hold. 

And then there's the daily grind. We go to the gym. We go to playgrounds. We go to the library. We meet up with friends. We wait for the baby to finish napping. We go to the farmer's market and have everyone ask to pet the dogs. And ask if all 3 girls are mine. And ask if we're trying for a boy next. (the answer's no!) And choose produce based on color. (We got purple carrots!) And then get cookie treats and face-painting.

And somehow the summer is racing by. Wow. I'm not sure how. There's so much we still need to do!!!

So forgive me if I've been a bit distant. My goal is to blog more often, even if the posts are shorter. 

See you soon!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Realistic Expectations

If, at the end of today, I can truthfully say that I kept the baby alive, I will consider my day a resounding success. Good gracious this child is into everything!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On and off the wagon

Hi. It's been awhile. Sorry about that. I'm not sure where all of my time goes, but it obviously hasn't gone towards blogging. 
Right now my time is spent at the crib side of an overtired, fretful baby. She should have gone to sleep over an hour ago. But she's too cranky to let herself do it. So here I blog, trying to keep her from freaking out because she's fretful and alone. 

I've been asked a lot lately about how the No Sugar diet is going. As I mentioned about 3 months ago, I've cut out added sugar from my diet. Well, I've almost cut out added sugar. The problem is that it's in almost every packaged food you get at the store:  bread, tortillas, hamburger buns, chips, crackers, cereal, etc. if you notice, those are not food items known for being sweet. Those are the "bland" and sometimes "salty " items. And they all have sugar in them. Pasta sauce does, as does ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, salad dressing, and most other sauces and condiments. It's everywhere. And it's scary. 

So, unlike a friend of mine who gets joint pain when consuming sugar, I haven't managed to cut it all out. Because I don't suffer when I eat takeout pizza. And many of the store-bought staples I listed above. Because I haven't committed yet to making my own mayo and ketchup. But maybe I should...

Occasionally I'll let myself have sugar. Because occasionally I crave something desperately. Like a Klondike bar. Or a brownie. So I let myself break my sugar fast. And it tastes so good. And then I want more sugar. So I have it. And I want more and more. Some of it tastes good. Some of it's pretty awful. And I feel nauseous. And my head feels a bit funny. And the first day of re-detox is tough again. And after all of that I'm glad to return to my new lower-sugar lifestyle. I've plateaued after losing 8 lbs. I haven't counted a calorie or cut back on anything other than the sugar. I've actually piled on the fat - butter, creamy cheeses, etc. It was the sugar that kept the baby weight on.

Here's the problem with a low-sugar life. It's really hard to do. Even just logistically hard. Want a summer cookout with burgers and fries? You have to make your own buns, ketchup, mustard, mayo, fries, and dressing for the pasta salad or potato salad. Let's not even get started on no-sugar snacks or desserts. 

Do you have time to make everything for every meal? Can you afford a chef to do it for you? 
What, no? Hmmm, what to do?

I've adjusted my habits and expectations quite a bit. The girls wanted cereal bars for a snack the other day. I ate matzo crackers with parsley pesto. And it was good. I don't have jelly on my toast any more. And I don't miss it. But filling convenience foods are hard to find. And pricey. And let's face it - most of us need convenience foods and snacks from time to time. Especially if you're trying to run multiple errands with small children.

I believe that I can continue with this lifestyle, especially if I allow myself occasional lapses. I just know that I'll suffer for them later, and I'll need to make sure the sugared food is worth it. I'm trying to figure out how to wean my children off of sugar. One of my girls can take-it-or-leave-it. One of the others demonstrates addictive tendencies, like me. How do I remove more from their diet without making them aware and reacting by eating more of it when they can? This is my challenge. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Road to Sobriety

First, a disclaimer:
I'm not trying to compare my struggles to those of alcoholics or drug addicts. By no means am I trying to minimize what they go through or elevate my experiences to theirs. No, I'm just trying to highlight how dependent I became on sugar - that it was my drug of choice. And trying to break the addiction has been very hard for me. 

I've been sober for 3 weeks now. I decided that my relationship with sugar was an unhealthy one, and that I needed to part ways. I needed to give up on sweets - chocolate, baked goods, candy.  They were my crutch when I was unhappy, bored, or hungry. And I didn't want to be dependent on them anymore. So I gave up added sugar. Fruit and dairy sugars were fine. They weren't what my body craved, and they had lots of healthy things attached to them. But cane sugar? I declared it my enemy. 

The first week of detox was hard. I paced and cried. I was in serious withdrawal. My body itched for sugar. I was miserable. 

The second week was easier. I felt a little better, and was encouraged by this change. It convinced me that I was doing the right thing. 

The third week was even better. My taste buds are changing, re calibrating. Things that didn't used to taste sweet now do. Things that used to taste bland now have more flavor. I'm developing an appreciation for sourdough bread. And coffe with cream instead of milk and sugar. 

Last night I went to a grown up birthday party. (Happy Birthday Debbie!) A beautiful Oreo ice cream cake was served. Previously, I would have found a way to justify having a second piece. But now, it didn't seem as appetizing. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything by not having any. This is a huge change for me. Huge. 

So I'll keep going. 

I must admit that I haven't avoided all extra sugar. It sneaks in through odd doors: pita, crackers, veggie dip, mustard, vanilla yogurt, multigrain bread. Avoiding it completely requires that I make everything from scratch. And while I generally cook a lot, making my own ketchup and mayo are a bit further than I'd like to take this. 

But I'll keep going. At some point, I'll start eating natural sugars, such as honey and syrup. I'm not sure when. Maybe when I've stopped losing weight? I'm still 10 lbs above my ideal. And giving up sugar has reduced that from 13. Maybe by then, I will have morphed into one of my little old ladies at the hospital who bites into a piece of fruit and declares, "Ooh, too sweet!" 

One can hope. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

At the Grocery Store

A great deal of my parenting has occurred at grocery stores. This makes sense, as we shop at least weekly, and the girls generally get dragged along. There's the store far away that has a gas station, is cheap, and is our destination for stocking up on basic supplies. There's the store close by that has super-cheap produce and middle eastern baked goods, like pita and spinach triangles. Then there's the store in-between that's on the way to the gym, has some good sales, and is frequented by half of the little old ladies in Boston. 

The latter of the three is where LittleDebbie and I headed this afternoon to take advantage of a super deal on milk. The customer service is always good; the cashiers are guaranteed to make eye contact and maybe a bit of small talk. This is not something to take for granted around here. And we always need milk. Did I mention that the place is Mecca for old ladies?

LittleDebbie is old enough to sit in the cart, instead of being in the car seat in the cart. She loves sitting there. She can look around and smile at people. Occasionally she'll utter a loud and recognizable "HIIIIII!" Oh, she's a charmer, and few can resist her in your average setting. But at this grocery store, she has everyone in the palm of her tiny little hand. 

Frequently on my online mommy forum, there are discussions about strangers touching babies and giving them germs. Why on earth would a sane person touch a strange baby's face? Or hands? Those germs are going straight into that baby's mouth. They could catch a cold! Or MRSA! Or MERS!!!

Now, I realize that there is a group of immune-compromised children in this world for whom this is a serious danger. Their lives literally could depend on strange germy people keeping their hands off of them. But my child is not one of these children. She grazes the floor scraps of our house - paper, stickers, dust-bunnies - like a little catfish. And she has 2 adoring dogs that love to share "kisses" and tastes of whatever she has on her hands. And she's a third child. I generally don't worry too much about it. 

But as I was contemplating the sugar content of Boston Baked Beans vs. Original Recipe, one of the many little old ladies stopped to chat with LittleDebbie. And LittleDebbie was happy to engage. The exchange was verbal to start. But then the lady started getting a bit touchy. She touched LD's nose. Then her cheek. Then she rubbed her head. And started holding her hand. And I started getting a bit uncomfortable. Because of germs. And a strange lady was touching my baby's face. I expect a touch on the arm or the foot. But she was crossing the line. And LD was enjoying it immensely. 

"She's so so beautiful. So beautiful."
"Thank you...." (how do I politely ask her to stop touching?!)
"I love babies so much..."
(obviously! can you back off just a bit?)
"I always wanted a child. But I had 6 miscarriages. The oldest was 4 months along..."
"Oh wow, I'm so sorry." (oh. wow.)
"She's just so beautiful. Bless you child." And she made the sign of the cross over her head.
"LD, can you give her a high five?" LD giggled as I pushed her hand to touch the woman's hand. We did a long series of high and low fives. The two of them laughed with each one. And then it was time for both of us to move on.
"Bless you my dear. Enjoy your day."
"Thank you. You too."
And I heard her sigh heavily as she started her way down the aisle. I'm not sure if she had tears in her eyes, but I had tears in mine. What are a few germs in the face of such loss? I'd take my chances and let her kiss LD's face if I thought it would help. 

There are days that I wish I could have said something when I didn't. And today I'm thankful I didn't say something when I could have. Because I'm not sure if spending a few minutes with LD brought her joy, but I know that shooing her off would not have. 

A Louse-y Day

Yesterday was a louse-y day. Not a lousy day. No, it was actually pretty enjoyable. Except for the louse-y part. 

Tuesday night at bedtime, HeyMama suddenly noticed something on her pillow. "What kind of bug is this?" I pretty much knew the answer without looking, and my suspicion was verified by Dr. Google. 

Lice have been running rampant in the kindergarten classrooms for a few weeks now. HeyMama reported that 6 people were out yesterday because of them. It's a big problem. 

Are you itching yet? Just thinking about them makes me itch. But if a school full of middle and upper-middle class kids is crawling with lice, certainly they're normal. I feel no shame in admitting that they made their way into our home. And they're certainly preferable to fleas, those little nasties that jump around and make themselves at home in your household textiles. And have equal affection for the dogs' and the girls' beds. (shudder) But shameful or nasty or not, the little buggers must DIE!

So that's what we worked on yesterday. Although neither MeToo nor I had any signs of infestation, all 3 of us washed our hair in a toxic solution. Then we put on Frozen for the umpteenth time, I strapped on a headlamp, and I starting combing with our trusty flea comb. In the past, I looked at other children with thick full heads of hair a bit wistfully. But yesterday, I thanked God that my children have fine (and slightly sparse) hair. Combing was not the ordeal that some of our friends have and are enduring. But it must be done frequently. I'm happy to do it daily, if needed. The buggers must die. 

HeyMama was a bit sad that she couldn't go to school and see her friends. But now she was like her friends; she too had The Lice. She enjoyed sleeping in (so did I!!!) and snuggling on the couch. She made the best of it. I was proud of her. And today she came back from school aware that she was not the only kid out yesterday. 

We made it this long without a lice encounter. I'll consider myself lucky. And I stocked up on that expensive herbal lice-repellent conditioning spray today. Because luck only lasts for so long.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


"Wow, you have 2 shelties. They must shed a lot!"
Yes, they do. They definitely do. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I cried today. I've been pacing. I've been cranky. I've been downright miserable. I know that breaking up was the right thing to do, but it's been really really hard.  

Our relationship was not a healthy one. It's what I turned to when I was stressed, frustrated, bored, or just hungry. And it always worked for a quick pick-me-up. But I became increasingly dependent on it. I was losing the ability to be "me" in the relationship. It was only "we". We were having a lot of ups and downs. And we weren't so happy anymore. 

So on Monday I broke up with Sugar. Yes, I know that sugar is in just about everything. But it's the Added Sugar that I love so much. Fruit is not my addiction. Sweet veggies were not my problem. No, it was just Added Sugar. It has an alias, Evaporated Cane Juice. They're one and the same. ECJ just hangs out in health food stores more. They had seduced me in an unhealthy way. 

So I said goodby. They're still hanging around the house. My kids love them, but their relationship is still controllable. I found myself reaching out to them today. I had to stop myself from accidental contact. I almost licked the jelly spoon. I almost ate MeToo's jelly bean. I'm thankful that I didn't. I want their control over me to end. I want to be a healthy me again. 

It's Day 3 and it's hard. But breakups are. And all of my past breakups led to happier futures. This is what I keep telling myself. It will be worth it. If I can just stop pacing and having the urge to cry.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


I have a confession to make. I'm not trying to be funny at all. I have an addiction. To sugar. I am psychologically and physiologically addicted to sugar. Especially paired with chocolate or baked goods. Frustrated with the kids? I turn to sugar. Bored? I turn to sugar. Hungry? I turn to sugar. It works so well. And with 3 pregnancies in 5 years, I could always justify the calories. 

At this age, my body is managing it without too many ill-effects. I'm active enough not to be obese, and won the genetic lottery enough to not be diabetic. But time will change these both. Diabetes and obesity are health issues that ruin lifespan and quality of life. I've seen patients who can attribute most of their lives' problems to these diagnoses. And the bad lifestyle choices that paved the path to them. 

I talk constantly to the girls about the foods that we eat and why we eat them. Eggs and milk have protein, which makes our muscles grow. Oatmeal gives us energy and helps our body clean itself. Fruits and veggies give us vitamins which help us stay healthy. Chocolate and ice cream make our tongue happy. We should try to eat foods that help our body but also make our tongues happy. Sugar is a "sometimes food", because it only does one of those. 

So my girls eat very well. I, on the other hand, don't. Because I'm busy sneaking chocolate and sweets throughout the day. Often enough that I hide it from them. And if I'm hiding it, I must know it's wrong. 

So on Monday I will sever ties with my drug of choice. Yes, I know that natural sugars lurk everywhere. Those aren't the sugars I'm concerned with. The dairy and fruit sugars are paired with good stuff, and those aren't my addictions. I'm not sending the girls to play and chugging milk or pounding back grapes. No. It's the chocolate eggs that I'm stealing on the sly. 

I'm nervous. I think the detox will be hard. I think I'll be grumpy and yell. And cry. I'm not sure what my alternate coping mechanism will be. But I know it needs to be done. Enough of " do what I say, not what I do."  Enough of desperately wanting something that doesn't help my body. Enough of leaning on sugar to get through life. It's not my friend. 

Please pray for me. I know I'll need it. Thank you. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Did The Turkeys Cross The Road?

I wish I could answer this question. I'm just happy that I didn't hit them. 

LittleDebbie didn't sleep well last night, so neither did I. The coffee hadn't completely kicked in yet. And the two giant gobblers just came trotting across the road as I rounded a corner. 

Thank you, Lord. I really didn't want to add "clean turkey guts off front of van" to my ToDo list for today.

We Are Wealthy

I was talking to another mom at the playground after school today, and we got on the discussion of what we wanted out of schools - the non-academics that enriched our children's lives. We both agreed that we didn't want to send our kids to schools in the wealthy suburbs. She didn't want her children to be in the pressure-cooker environment - one that makes kids think that the only things that mattered in life were what college you got into and what you did for a living. I agreed with her. We both grew up in the South, and find New England's preoccupation with academic pedigree to be a bit concerning. (Of course, as I look up from my computer, it's BestestHusband's diploma from a school in TX that is larger than my other diplomas combined.)

But my greatest fear of sending my girls to an environment like that is that they'll grow up thinking they're poor. 

If we were to live in a ritzy suburb, we would be in the bottom half of incomes there. We would live in a more modest home than the girls' peers. We would drive an older car, with a less-impressive name. The girls would not have the same electronics as their peers. They would not jaunt off to tropical destinations and tour foreign countries on their Spring breaks. They would not have the same things as their wealthier classmates. And they would likely feel themselves lacking. They would likely conclude that they were unfortunate, and poor. And this is so far from the truth.

Now we are not wealthy by Boston's income standards. There is a great deal of money in this city. And if you know how to spot it, you see it everywhere. (It's not as easy to spot as it was living in Houston. But that's another post for another time.) But Boston provides a poor yard stick for measuring wealth. 

Here's how I know we are wealthy:

  • We're not one payment away from losing the roof over our heads.
  • We don't have to choose between buying food and buying medicine.
  • We don't have to choose between paying our electric bill or our phone bill.
  • When we're cold, we can turn up the heat.
  • When we're hungry, we can buy food.
  • If we lose our mittens, we can buy new ones.
  • When we outgrow snow boots, we can buy bigger ones. 
  • We can afford reliable transportation to get everyone to work and school.
  • We can afford to fill the gas tank, even as gas prices climb.
  • We can afford safe, reliable childcare for our children so we can show up for work every day. 

We may grumble about some of these costs, but it's not really a question of whether or not we can provide what our family needs. We may wish we had a bigger house with an actual garage, but that's a want, not a need. And it's a luxury. Our children don't really know what hunger is. Nor do they really know what it is to be constantly cold. The addition of one extra mouth to feed does not plunge our family into financial insecurity. 

I want my children to grow up knowing that this simple fact of having their basic needs met on a daily basis is a great blessing, and that we are part of the world's most fortunate and wealthy inhabitants. Because, regardless of what they see on TV, and regardless of hearing "we won't buy that, it's too expensive", there is nothing they really need. And that makes them wealthy.

Of course, the next thing they need to grow up understanding is that wealthy people need to help people that aren't. But that's another post for another day...

I pray that you'll recognize your own wealth, and give thanks for it as well.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Not To Do

I'm going to tell you what not to do. I know you shouldn't do it, because I just did it. You don't need to learn this first-hand, my experience should be enough. 

When your kindergartener brings home the class pet for the weekend, and has a "journaling" assignment to chronicle the fun events of the weekend, do NOT get involved. Don't agree to take pictures of all of the fun they're having. Especially if the "pet" is a stuffed animal that can go everywhere with your child. 

Don't encourage her to type her journal entry on the computer. Don't agree to create a document with the text and pictures. Because your iPhoto might be wonky and refuse to save your photos on the computer. And then you might have trouble actually inserting those carefully taken photos into a Word document. So you might need to start all over with a Powerpoint document. And then you might feel the need to crop and edit the photos so that they neatly fit on a few pages. 

Just don't do it. 

It will take up your entire night - that Sunday night that you use to catch up and prepare for the upcoming week. You need that night. Desperately. You don't need the frustration of cropping and rotating. Of copying and pasting. Of trying to reconnect with your inner Powerpoint diva.

You should follow the example of the 7th child in the class who took the "pet" home - the one who wrote her entry in "kindergarten spelling" and drew pictures instead of taking them. The one whose family printed a few photos in black and white printer ink and just pasted them on. Her journal entry was lovely and charming. It was perfect. You should do that, too. It's a wonderful idea.

Trust me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


In the car today, HeyMama announced suddenly,
"Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a scientist."
And then MeToo chimed in,
"And I want to be a mermaid!"

Everything you need to know about my older daughters is summarized by that conversation. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Girls Weekend

I'm down a child this weekend. BestestHusband left with LittleDebbie on Friday to visit his parents in MN for the weekend. So the big girls and I have a girls weekend planned. It's amazing how quickly our agenda has filled up. We have gymnastics, a birthday party, a play date, a volunteer event, church... Those are just the scheduled events. We also need to walk the dogs, watch our new Frozen video, buy new church shoes before a coupon runs out, paint toenails, make food for the firefighters... The list goes on and on. These things would be impossible with a baby around. But without her, well, it's possible. Hopefully. 

HeyMama is very motivated to make food for the firefighters. The recent tragedy has hit very close to home for some reason. Maybe it was because the fire was down the street from our church. Maybe it was because we saw it happening as we detoured repeatedly around Boston and Cambridge, trying to get to Wednesday Lenten services in the Back Bay. Maybe it is because both firefighters that died live in our side of town. And one of the funerals is down the street from us. And one was a father of 3. Whatever the reasons, we're all taking it pretty hard. 

We were living here the last time 2 firefighters died, and it was in West Roxbury, at a location we pass every day. It was tragic, but didn't feel this tragic. Perhaps this means that we're officially locals now. It feels like we lost two of "us", whatever "us" means. 

So tomorrow we'll try to bake something. And I'll get the girls to draw a picture and write a card. How exactly do you write a note to someone who lost the greatest man in their life - their husband or father? What do you say to the mother who lost her son? Especially when you've never met them, or the person they've lost? All I know is that they were aware that the job of a firefighter is to risk your life at a moment's notice to save the lives of others. And to love a firefighter is to know that any day is a day you could get an earth-shattering phone call - that the fire was too hot, too fast-moving, too uncontrollable for their loved one to escape. But that, thanks to him, the other people in the building did. 

So if you need someone to pray for, pray for firefighters, and their families. There are quite a few who could use those prayers right now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I’ve always known that I was adopted. I was told at an early age, so early that I don’t remember not knowing it. And adoption was spoken of so positively and matter-of-factly that the knowledge was never something that bothered me. I thought of it occasionally throughout the years. I’d been told that my mother was 18 when she had me. I occasionally calculated how old my birth parents would be, and occasionally looked at people the same age, wondering if I would recognize them on the street. In my self-absorbed moments of teen angst, I wondered why someone would “just give me away”. But when rational thought returned, I realized that was just silly. I had a pretty fortunate life, and I knew that I was very-much loved. My senior year, I contemplated what it would be like to be pregnant and dealing with the decision my birth mother had faced. I gained a full appreciation for it in college when classmates spoke of abortions. I was not a statistic. I was not discarded. I truly was loved.

Over the years, I’ve always spoken of my adoption openly. When someone asked if I’d ever try to find my biological parents, my answer was always, “Yes, Someday.”

I was raised by two wonderful parents. They always told me that they would support me if I tried to locate my birth parents Someday. I was a good student. I loved music and learned to play the French Horn. I played handbells at church. I was active in my church youth group. I had great friends there and at school. They knew I was adopted, but didn’t think much of it, especially since I looked and sounded so much like my adoptive parents. We spoke occasionally of what it would be like to find my birth parents Someday. But my life was pretty fine, pretty complete. There was no reason to go looking for something I didn’t miss.

I got scholarships to go off to college. I left Houston for Boston, and eventually stayed here to work. When I decided I was ready to go back to Texas, go to grad school, meet my Prince Charming, and start my “real life”, I met my reason to come back to Boston. I finished school, married BestestHusband, and started my career as a Speech Language Pathologist . We traveled. We bought a house. We got dogs. Then we got pregnant. We have 3 girls and 2 dogs. If this isn’t “real life”, I’m not sure what is!

Finding my birth parents was always something I’d do Someday. I was always too busy doing something else. I was training for a race. Or working and commuting too much. Or doing too much at church. Or not sleeping enough. Or taking care of too many babies. Or something. There was plenty of time for Someday to happen.

And then a few months ago, friends who’ve always known I was adopted started asking the same question: “Have you ever thought of finding your birth mother?” My answer was still the same, “Yes, Someday.” Having LittleDebbie brought up the issue, as well. She looks like a combo of my BestestHusband and me. HeyMama looks very much like BestestHusband's aunt. But MeToo – she didn’t really look like either of us. BestestHusband’s family is extensive. Genes surface and resurface in that gene pool across generations and time zones. MeToo does not resemble anyone in that gene pool. She favors me. But she doesn’t really look like me. She must look like the people that I come from. But who do I come from? Who do I look like? I was discussing the matter with a friend who encouraged me to reconsider the notion of Someday. Her estranged father had died suddenly the week before. She had hoped to reconcile Someday. But that door closed suddenly before she had the chance. And it can’t be re-opened. Someday doesn’t always happen.

So my Someday is now. I’m filling out the paperwork. I’m working with a social worker to start the process. I’m beginning the journey to find my birth parents. Maybe they’re fine with the door being closed. Maybe they’ve always wanted to find me Someday, too. But I’ll never know until I try to find them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Lesson in Mercy

Disclaimer:  I tell this story not to show what a good job I did, but to show how God uses children to teach us. It says in the Bible (Matthew 6, specifically) to do our good deeds quietly, in secret, so that God knows the good deeds we do, but that our right hand doesn't even know the money our left hand gives to the poor. By telling you about it, it takes away the goodness of the deed, as your regard is my reward. But I hope it inspires, as I was inspired by the original idea.

One day last week, HeyMama and I were driving home from school. At an intersection, a gentleman was holding up a sign, walking between the rows of cars waiting at the red light. It was a very cold day to be out holding a sign.
"Mama, what does that sign say?"
"It says, 'Hungry and homeless, please help'. "
"Then we should give him some money."
I spent a few moments talking about how sometimes people ask for money for food and shelter, but end up using it on alcohol and drugs instead of food. They might use our money to hurt themselves instead of helping themselves, and we'd rather donate our money to organizations that we know won't spend it on harmful things. Blah blah blah.
"But maybe he really is hungry. We should give him some food."
Yes Joy, maybe he really is hungry. Your daughter is right. Instead of trying to convince her to be as cynical as you have become, perhaps you should listen to her charitable impulses and give the man some food!
HeyMama was right. She was preaching to me the message that I would like her to carry in her heart throughout her life:  People need help, and we were put on this earth to help them.

I remembered seeing the idea of "Mercy Bags" somewhere online. They were gallon ziplock bags filled with shelf-stable foods, including apple sauce, granola bars, a bottle of water, and other assorted items of daily life. I couldn't remember the details, but I knew they weren't all food... The woman made them and carried them in her car. When she encountered people asking for money to buy food, she gave them the bag.
So I mentioned this to HeyMama. I promised her that the next time we saw him, we would bring him some food.

Today, while tucking healthy and nutritious food into the cart around the carseat of my plump and healthy baby, I remembered the Mercy Bag idea. Certainly, while buying food for my well-fed family, I could pick up a few things for others. So I did. And at the checkout, I saw little boxes of Valentine heart candies. So I grabbed one. And when I got home, I made up a few baggies with the supplies. I packed them into the van on the way to pick up HeyMama from school. And when we got in after school, I told her about them. We had a mission to complete on our way home.

It took a while. I made a wrong turn, and missed the intersection completely. It wasn't our usual route from school. I had to loop back through Brookline to find the gentleman. But there he was, in the cold January wind, holding up his sign. But this time, instead of averting my eyes when he approached my window, I rolled it down and handed him a bag.
"Hi, this is for you."
"Wow, thanks!" His eyes grew big. "Applesauce! Lip balm! Candy hearts! This is great! Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it."
"I will! My name is John."
"I'm Joy. Nice to meet you John. Have a good day."
And then the light turned green.

I'm not sure if he had a good day, but we did.
And now there's not a homeless guy at the intersection, there's a guy named John at the intersection. And we know he likes Necco candy hearts.
And we'll certainly have a snack for him the next time we're in that intersection.

So now we have a stash of food in the back of the van. Because when your 5 year old tells you to have mercy on a man standing out in the cold, you should. God has spoken through lesser messengers.

Our mercy bag.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I Know About Pastors

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of joining my parents and their congregation to celebrate my Dad's retirement from the ministry. And then I was asked to say a few words. I can't say just a few. So this is the speech I gave:

Good afternoon. My name is Joy, and as you’ve all probably figured out, I’m Pastor’s daughter. I was quite nervous when I was first asked to be a speaker this afternoon. I’ve never given a speech like this before. How am I qualified to do this?
And then I realized that I’ve known this pastor for all of my life. And I spent the first 18 years of it living with him. So I’m here to share with you what I learned from growing up with him as my dad:

#1: Pastors are people too
Let me tell you a little secret about pastors. They like BBQ. They don’t like lima beans. They like steak. They don’t like salmon patties. They like country music. And camping. And listening to the Beach Boys on long road trips. They like watching football. They like playing golf. And going hunting. And woodworking. And having a nice green lawn when they live in a place that gets more rain than San Angelo. Ok, so maybe these are all specific to my dad. But that’s just it. Pastors are all people underneath the funny white tab collar. Pastors have wives. And kids. And parents. And siblings. And friends. And neighbors. They have many people outside of the congregation who are important to them and need them and love them.
They get sad. And angry. And happy. And embarrassed. And proud. And frustrated. And overjoyed. And tired. And emotionally drained. But you’ll find many people in a church who don’t see this side of the pastor.
They see someone on Sundays who can pray really well and knows his Bible. They see a guy who may sing a little off key and a little too loud in church. They don’t see the guy who might meet his daughter’s high-school date while still in his underwear and bathrobe. You know, I’m not sure there was another date after that incident… Perhaps that was all part of the plan… They don’t see the guy who mortifies his daughter by making fart and booger jokes at the dinner table. They don’t see the guy who led the Cotton-Eyed-Joe at his daughter’s wedding reception. With a glass of wine in his hand. He didn’t spill any wine, by the way. They don’t see they guy who plays “PawPaw Monster” with his grandkids and should probably get a chiropractic adjustment after every visit with them because he spends so much time roughhousing. I have this notion that it takes him at least a week to recover from a week-long visit to Boston. Maybe even two. Can anyone comment on this? They don’t see the guy who every day checks the weather of a city 2000 miles away so he can feel a little bit closer to his girls. When you hire a pastor, you’re hiring a person. They bring a lot of personal quirks to the job.

#2:  The job is bigger than its job description
The second thing I learned is that the job of being a pastor is much bigger than any job description could ever cover. I know other pastors’ kids. We compare notes. And despite having very different congregations all across the US, the job is pretty much the same. There are the basics, of course. Pastors write sermons. Pastors lead Bible studies. Pastors lead worship services. Pastors visit the sick. Pastors visit shut-ins. Pastors visit with anyone who has a reason to need visiting. And there is a very long list of reasons that people might need to be visited! Pastors lead new-member and confirmation classes. Pastors perform weddings. And baptisms. And funerals. Pastors attend Elders meetings. Pastors attend council meetings. Pastors attend a LOT of meetings.
Rare is the person who truly believes that pastors only work on Sundays. But most people don’t stop to think of the things that happen on the other days of the week. Most Elder and Council meetings occur when the pastor’s family is eating dinner. Or when the kids are being put to bed. While pre-marital counseling can happen during office hours, weddings usually happen on Saturdays, a day that is usually considered a pastor’s day off. While most baptisms happen on Sunday mornings, emergency baptisms can’t wait to be scheduled for Sundays. Funerals can’t wait, either. A crisis can happen in the congregation at any time. Crises don’t respect office hours, vacations, or even a pastor’s basic need for sleep. Pastors’ kids all know that a 3am phone call is rarely a wrong number. And it’s never good news.
And we kids all agreed that people expect a lot from pastors. Pastors should know anything related to the Bible, liturgy, religious publications, or anything “churchy” better than anyone else in the world. Well, except for other pastors… They should be more patient than anyone else. They should be more wise than anyone else. They should sing better. They should be more friendly. Church attendance should noticeably go up when they take the reins. And weekly offerings, too. Their wives should be nicer. And their children should be better-behaved.
Pastors get called upon to help with all types of counseling. Mediation. Budgeting. Behavior management of rebellious children. Feeding and clothing the homeless. And they sometimes help fill in for absent fathers. I recall overhearing a single mother and her teen daughter approach my dad to provide his opinion on whether or not the daughter should be allowed to get additional piercings. I think it was just for extra holes in her ears… The mother and daughter agreed that his opinion would have the final say on the matter. Dad, did you ever tell them about the different piercings I got after I moved out of the house? I’m not sure if that information would have helped settle the debate or not…
And at the very least, a pastor is expected to provide a top-notch mealtime prayer on demand at any house he’s dining at. Dad, does that ever get tiring?
The job is SO big that it even expands to include the rest of the pastor’s family. Some congregations are subtle, but some will outright ask for the pastor’s wife’s qualifications. Does she play an instrument? Organ or even guitar for leading Sunday School opening would be nice… Will she cook for the homebound? Teach Sunday School? Lead the LWML? Be a one-woman Altar Guild? Sew new paraments? Run the church office? Scrub the church toilets? You know, I wish I was making that last one up, but my friend’s father’s congregation was in for a rude awakening when her mom declined the job of church janitor.
Despite the fact that she’s emotionally and physically supporting her husband as he performs his ever-expanding  job and doing the family dinners and bedtimes while he’s at evening meetings, a pastor’s wife is often expected to have her own jobs within the church. Oh, it’s ok to have a job outside of the home, like being a teacher or a nurse or secretary. Modern life often requires 2 incomes. But it shouldn’t get in the way of her job as a pastor’s wife.
Children also have a role. Those well-behaved children should be active in the youth group. They should sing in the children’s choir. Or play an instrument at services, if they can’t sing. They should have perfect attendance at Sunday School. And babysit, when they’re old enough. Ok, so maybe this one kind of worked in my favor….
Needless to say, being a pastor is NOT a 9-5 job. You can’t leave it at the office when you go home at night. It permeates the discussions at the dinner table. It provides a robust, if tame, social life.  It dictates family vacations and family routines. It is not a job. It is a calling and a lifestyle.

#3:  It might just be the best job in the world
But as an adult, I’ve learned that it might just be the best job in the world. You can’t be outsourced to India. (Although you could be sent there as a missionary if you’d like…) You can’t be replaced by a robot. While your income could be affected by the economy, people will always need your services. You’re not trying to meet monthly goals to make a lot of money for some overpaid CEO. No, your CEO is God. And you’re in the business of saving souls.
In our church, we talk a lot about our “church family”. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. But we also grow together to be an earthly family that takes care of one another. As an adult, I’ve experienced the joy that comes from the baptism of a child in this family. I’ve experienced the joy of witnessing a marriage of two people I care about. I’ve felt the grief of hugging a friend who has just lost a child.
A pastor is the leader of this large, sometimes dysfunctional, family. His job is to pray for his family, rejoice with his family, cry with his family. His job is to cheer for the church’s athletes. Get hugs from the Sunday school kids. Bless new marriages. Cradle tiny babies. Hold hands and give hugs in moments of sorrow. And sit at hospital bedsides, sharing prayers and words of encouragement. His job is to be involved in the lives of his congregations, for richer or poor, in sickness and health.
Being a pastor means that you never have to wonder if what you do matters. You shake hands and move hearts. You accompany people through their earthly lives as you guide them towards eternal life in Christ. And I can’t think of a more important job than that.

A few words of advice
As you look for a new pastor, I hope you’ll keep a few things in mind. I still have the podium here, so I’m going to dispense some unasked-for advice. I’m a mom. I’ve been working on honing this skill. Any pastor you consider is a person. He has strengths and challenges. These may or may not match up to your job description. Oh, and your job description is only a small fraction of the real job description. Don’t plan to interview the pastor’s wife unless you plan to pay her. If she wants to run the Sunday School program or lead handbells, she’ll let you know. Know that any pastor you hire is going to pray for you, each and every one of you, regularly. Know that your burdens weigh on his heart, and your joys brighten his day. Know that he needs your prayers as much as you need his. And whatever you do, don’t try to replace my Dad. He’s irreplaceable.

Thank you.