The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 
II 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 
III 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.
by Edward Lear: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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My Dad loved this poem (loves it still), and when I think of it, I think of him: grinning from ear to ear and dancing around the kitchen: “the moon, the moon, they danced by the light of the moon.” In fact, “you elegant fowl” is still a compliment trotted out on formal occasions.

I need to learn this poem by heart, and dance around the kitchen as I recite it to my kids, for I would love them to have such a sweet memory, too.

Your Laughter (Pablo Neruda)

Your Laughter Pablo Neruda

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Illustration by Corrie Haffly || Made with Paper/fiftythree.com

************

How have I never read Pablo Neruda before? I don’t even know.

But this poem—Oh this poem!—undid me as I read it and I wasn’t half way through before I had a lump in my throat and tears welling. For it reminded me of a time, years ago, when I walked into a coffee shop tucked away next to our bible-college-on-sea, and tucked myself away in a corner: a cove within a cove. Usually I came with a friend, but on that day I was alone. Someone new came over and welcomed me as a first-timer. Just then, the older waiter called over: “oh, she’s a regular. She’s the one who laughs.”

The thought that this wild, untamed, often-inappropriate laughing habit of mine could be not just a hallmark, but a beloved one, leaves me breathless.

Ugh. All TMI. You see what reading poetry is doing to me, friends? I’m a WRECK.

Three Words To Sum It All Up: Lessons from a 3000 Mile Roadtrip

We took a 3,000 mile road-trip this summer. We packed camping gear and snacks and clothes and kids into the back of our minivan, and headed towards Yellowstone: the oldest and most prestigious of America’s National Parks.

We saw dinosaur bones, and glaciers, and sharp jagged teeth of mountains jutting into the air.

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We saw sulphuric pits spewing dragon’s breath, and colossal geysers.

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We skipped stones and paddled canoes, we huddled against each other as it hailed. We took photos of all things brights and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

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We paddled on the most tranquil of waters, and picked our way through intricate subterranean lava caverns.

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We laughed with friends old and new, and collected family stories which we will tell, and retell, and retell.

At the end of our trip, I collated our photos and uploaded some of them onto Facebook so our far-flung family could share in the sights of a land they’ve not seen. And of course: put like that, in a photo album, it looks like the trip of a lifetime. And, perhaps it was.

But really, that’s not the whole story. I joked with a friend a while ago that if I were to start this blog again, perhaps I would call it “Not Pictured”. Because not pictured in that photo album were the many hours we spent driving. And driving. And driving. And how we had to stop every thirty minutes because Mommy, I need to pee.

Not pictured were the tantrums. Or the whining faces of Are we there yet? Not pictured was the sweat of pitching and striking a tent every one to two days, while we swatted away kids and mosquitos to get the work done faster. Not pictured were the potty accidents. Or the hours we spent in dingy laundromats on the road, having rooted around in our bags to find the least stinky items of clothing to wear during the wash.

Not pictured were the bouts of anxiety our eldest struggled with as we moved through campsites with bears and thunderstorms and hail, culminating in her asking one morning with tears brimming: “Mommy, did you know there would be storms out here?” I told her we didn’t know exactly what the weather would be like, but that we had prepared for a number of possibilities. She was having none of it. “Didn’t you think of the children at all when you planned this trip?” she accused. Also not pictured: me sniggering instead of comforting my tearful daughter.

And so, when we returned home, people said: “How was your trip? Your pictures were amazing!”

And truthfully, I had to answer: “It was great. Except for the parts that were boring or terrible.”

In the weeks since we returned home, our days have fallen the routine of the school year. We have sourced shoes one size bigger, figured out the car pool, and developed a rhythm for the various activities that have been dropped into our calendar like tetris time capsules. We have first-day-of-school pictures and slowly-growing art folders to prove it. And now that we are settling in, people are asking: “How are you guys doing? How’s the school year?”

And truthfully, the answer is the same: “It’s great. Except for the parts that are boring or terrible.”

I’m thinking that maybe these are the three words that are true for all of life, pictured or not. The blessed life is one which is “great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.” For none of us, no matter what story that pictures tell us, are exempt from suffering, and none of us lives a life which doesn’t have stretches of the just-plain-boring. There is nothing exciting about loading and unloading a dishwasher. Or learning your times tables. Or flossing your teeth. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t as great as it can be.

One day, of course, our firm hope is that we will be with God, and the “boring parts” will all be rest, and the “terrible parts”  will all have been wiped away as tears from our eyes. When we see him face to face, it will be great all the time.

But until then: this is how it is, and really this is the most this one blessed life could hope to be: Great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.

The Joy of Cousins

The Joy of Cousins

Planning vacations has always been an optimization exercise of some sort: how can you see the most places on a modest budget? Is the extra cost of flying pay worth it for the extra time you might have spent driving? Which route will allow you to see the most National Parks/countries/restaurants with Michelin-stars? Dozens of hours and hundreds of internet searches are devoted to discerning the good from the best.

These days, I have a new criterion in planning holidays: which option will give us the most time with cousins? Because, dear friends, more and more I’m appreciating that cousins can be solid gold in the treasure bank of childhood memories.

Since they share a common ancestor, cousins are close enough to share some common stories, common interests, and (quite possibly) some common eccentricities (You can also curl your tongue? Cool! Your mother also makes you drink kefir? Awesome! You also know the words to going-gang-goolly-goolly-goolly-whatsit-ging-gang-goo? I thought that was my Dad’s own personal cup of crazy.)

But, unlike a sibling who shares all these things, a cousin is also far enough removed to have the thrill of some novelty: know a game you haven’t learned, go to a school you don’t go to, or—in our case—be able to sing Happy Birthday in a different language. Cousins, at their best, are an exquisite blend of both familiar and exotic.

Cousins can be a tribe you belong to without having had to try out.

Cousins nestle in that space where they can be both family and friends.

And cousins come attached to grown-ups: aunts and uncles (or cousins once-removed), who know all about your parents’ crazy quirks, and have a built-in love for you already. Aunts and uncles can often tell you silly story about what your mom or dad were like when they were a kid: blowing holes in that serious-parent guise that moms and dads sometimes like to hide behind. Aunts and uncles remember your parents as children, and tell fantastical stories about that time Daddy got a carrot stuck up his nose, and Mommy went up and down the street selling raffle tickets to the neighbors with her sisters’ birthday gifts as the prizes (true story).

And of course, this mommy has her own set of stories to tell the cousins about their parents as revenge.

Our kids have no cousins nearby: in fact, they have no cousins on the same continent. But every now and then, a family wedding or a big birthday will allow us a couple of days with cousins. The days are hectic and loud and meal times are crazy: too many food preferences and not enough chairs. Travel is exhausting and sleeping arrangements are always cramped. All of this is…. less than optimal.

But, no matter where we are in the world, I need only look up to see a herd of children—a clutch of cousins—running laps in the yard, planning mayhem or trading secrets and finding the best hiding spots, and it is all worth it.

And so we sit, with our calendars open, and dream of vacations in the years to come: places we’d like to go, things we’d like to do. We wonder when we should go, and how we should budget for it. And, as the years go by, we find ourselves asking one extra question: will there be cousins?

 

 

In defiance of the muffin top


Have you ever deleted a photo of a happy occasion because you didn't like how you looked in it? I have. But I want to defy that...

 

We hosted a barbecue for some friends and co-workers today. It was a festive, delicious, happy affair: the lawn freshly mown, kids jumping on the trampoline, and stories shared over a potluck feast.

My husband and I had been happily hosting: each attending to kids and guests and let-me-show-you-to-the-restroom. We crossed paths while lunch was being served, and I leaned in to hug my partner and love. We stood there a minute, enjoying the scene of people feeling at home and savoring the buzz of happy chatting.

Our son was underfoot: taking his new LEGO creation on a maiden voyage. We scooped him into our arms, asking him if he would like to be the peanut butter in our parent-sandwich. He giggled and told us he couldn’t be peanut butter because he had a rocket in his hand, and my hubby and I joked that maybe we should change to being a roast beef sandwich, because beef goes well with rocket (hardy har har – I’m lame like that). Our boy snuggled and giggled and pressed in close… while unbeknownst to us, a friend saw our montage and snapped a photo, melting over the cuteness of the moment.

She sent it to me later.

muffintop2I nearly deleted it on the spot.

Confession: I was horrified to see what a pronounced muffin top was showing over the top of my jeans. My outfit had passed the once-over test in the mirror this morning, but I had no idea I looked like that in action, and I was ashamed. The ten or so pounds which have been sneaking up on me stared accusingly at my from the photo, and my finger trembled over the delete button.

But then I looked at the photo and saw a glimpse of what my friend had seen: not a photo to shame me, but a moment she was celebrating for its love, joy, and rightness…. and I realized I was missing it: I was blinded by an extra inch of muffin top.

In truth, this photo is all sweetness. My boy will one day be too big to pick up and press into a sandwich, and we will look back on these days with misty eyes and hearts swollen to bursting with remembrance. Of all the things that are significant about this time: surely my waistline should not factor into my reckoning?

I looked at the photo several times during the afternoon; trying hard to quash the accusatory thoughts and to focus on the good ones. It is hard, repetitive work this: this teaching myself to be kind to myself and my body. I struggled with me all afternoon.

The guests were gone and we were chatting with our kids before bed time. Our youngest asked for music (“Pandowa?”), and the eldest quickly rallied: “Dance Party!” I considered the moment. The last thing I felt like doing was shimmying my fat, but  recalling that I was trying to mark the day with mommy-win-moments rather than mommy-shame-moments, I jumped up and joined her as we let Miley and Beyonce and Maroon 5 belt out tune after tune.  We twirled and jumped and kicked our legs high, and then I scooped the boy child into my arms and twirled him until he giggled drunkenly.

Mid jig(gle), I looked up and spotted a dozen or so flies on the ceiling, miscreants who had obviously sneaked during the earlier festivities. “We have to interrupt our dance party and get those flies!” I yelled to the kids. “Yeah! We’re a SWAT TEAM!” shouted my son, and I belly-laughed at the awesomeness of his pun. Armed with fly swatters and rolled up dish towels, our Swat Team of 5 launched a full-scale attack on our little winged enemies.

Our youngest began to get frustrated that he couldn’t reach, so after a while I offered to be his portable crane truck. He swatted haphazardly, chortling with joy all the way. Again, a photo was snapped.

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Again, I noticed the muffin top. But this time, I also noticed the smiles, felt the joy, savored the moment.

I post these photos and write these words in defiance of the muffin top. We moms need to do a better job of staying in the picture, literally. The photos of my children’s childhoods should not just be documenting their joy and smiles, but who they were joyful with (me!) and who they were smiling with (me!) These are photos of triumph, not shame. No one else is looking at my waist. 

I dare you. Post a photo in defiance of the muffin top. Because really, it’s the least important thing in that picture.

The Sniff Test

Who knew parenting would smell so bad?

Of all the indignities which are visited on us by motherhood, I vote that the sniff test is the worst.

You know: that horrid and humiliating practice we moms have of putting our noses way up close to the most gut-lurchingly awful things in order to correctly diagnose a predicament.

I have become one of those people. 

I remember being pregnant with my eldest and attending a baby shower where one of the ice-breaker games involved a number of diapers with various types of chocolate smeared inside them. Bending low, we took deep sniffs and giggled as we scribbled: “milky way”, “reeses”, “junior mints”. Imagine eating that, we thought. Hardy har har.

My newborn smelled nothing like that chocolatey mess. Her head was pure heaven: baby and angel and natural and breathtaking. I sniffed her head like a hormone-addled addict. I tried not to think about where she’d just come from and why she might smell so good… but there was just nothing like the smell of her newborn head.

Input leads to output, as the lactation consultant euphemistically quipped, and pretty soon our sweet-smelling newborn was producing plenty of regular ‘output’. I took mental notes watching my adept-with-infants mom whose babies had all used cloth diapers: to check if a baby was wet, she would hold the baby up to her chest and gently feel inside the leg hold of the diaper to check the moisture level. Was baby wet? Yes? Grandma was quick to supply a dry outfit.

I followed my mom’s trick once, twice, three times. With the “stay dry” diaper technology, my baby always seemed dry enough. And then there was that paradigm-shifting fourth time – when I reached my finger into her little diaper to check for wetness, and was met with an immediate and sickening squelch. I pulled a bright yellow finger out, yowling for SOMEBODY TO GET ME A WIPE!

That was the day I started the sniff test.

It was cumbersome to get a winter-born baby sufficiently unbundled to see what was happening in their diaper, and far too dangerous to feel  what was going on down there – so I became one of those people I had always silently judged for their Public Acts of Grossness. When I suspected that there was some output activity (<— see how tactful that was?), I would lift my baby high in the air and press my nose to her cushy tush. Relying on the science of olfactory sensitivity – it never took long to diagnose disaster.

Quick. Clean. Efficient. And still: totally gross.

I think what surprises me, though, is that seven years later, I am still doing the sniff test, and it just gets grosser. 

Has this shirt been worn? (Let me smell)

Have these underpants been worn? (Let me smell)

What are you drinking? (Let me smell)

Did you make it to the potty on time or did you drip just enough to make you smell like a truckstop urinal? (Let me smell)

How long have you had milk in that cup? (Let me smell)

“Oh…. that’s what that smell is. Let Mommy get that moldy apple/old yogurt/soiled pair of shorts/dead mouse out of here…”

Ew. ew. ew.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. A friend and I were lamenting recently that we preferred the old Bible translations renditions of ‘patience’ as ‘long-suffering’ – because at least the latter admitted that what we were enduring was both suffering, and it was taking loooong. Parenting requires long-suffering. And encouragement. And a sense of humor. And lots of deep breaths.

Just don’t make them too deep.

 

48 Tips from the World’s Worst Potty Trainer (A Cautionary Tale)

pottytraining

Did you know I am the Worst Potty Trainer In The World? With an average toilet training time of 22 months/child, I dare you to challenge my title. I’m a firm believer of learning from others’ mistakes, so as someone who has made every possible mistake in potty training, I thought I’d share them with you as a cautionary tale.

Follow closely. Each step is important.

  1. Read widely before you begin. Create a Pinterest board and title it “Potty Training Tips”. Knowledge of the options is crucial for success.  
  2. Start when they are infants – practice ‘elimination communication’, whereby you learn to read (and anticipate) your kid’s body cues. (I was dead in the water on this one, since I never even managed to tell the difference between a tired cry or a hungry cry. It all just sounded like crying to me.)
  3. Start with they are 18 months: walking, communicating, and showing an interest in imitating you. Do not wait: it will be harder later.
  4. Start with they are 2 1/2, when they have better language and body awareness. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  5. Start with they are 3 1/2, when they can remove their own shorts and the threat of never being able to go to preschool forces you into panic. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  6. Take your cue from your child. They will tell you when they are ready.
  7. Post your decision on when to potty train on Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions.
  8. You can potty train in one day if you do it right (notice: it’s all on you.) Prepare for the day with books, training DVDs and lots of exaggerated facial movements about the thrills of going potty. Have them train their teddy bear first. Then, on one day: banish the underwear and hold potty boot camp. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the day…. if you did it right.
  9. Potty train in three days. Choose a weekend when you are not distracted and have your kiddo be nakey nakey all weekend. Involve all the stuffed animals and siblings in the Great Weekend of Potty Training. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the weekend… if you did it right.
  10. Potty train when they’re ready. You’ll know when they’re ready because it will work. This makes complete sense… if you read the literature right.
  11. Let them run wild and free while training.
  12. Have them wear pull-ups while training.
  13. Let the diapers continue while training.
  14. Big-kid underwear from the get-go! The pride of getting it right as a “big kid” is a powerful motivator!
  15. Don’t be afraid to let them go back into diapers: what’s another couple hundred of trees in the landfill?
  16. Be persistent! Once you’re doing this, you’re doing this! If you communicate that regression is an option, your kid will turn it into power play.
  17. Be flexible! If your kid isn’t ready, listen and try again later.
  18. Bribery is brilliant: offer a treat for each successful tinkle. If you’re feeling extra motivated, offer two treats for number twos. The logic is lost on kids, but makes total sense to the one who has to wash out soiled underwear.
  19. Avoid bribery: it will be hard to undo the sugar-reward habit later.
  20. Use stickers instead.
  21. Don’t use stickers – they stick them on furniture.
  22. Star charts are awesome motivators.
  23. Except when they aren’t. For us, this is about day 3.
  24. Do whatever it takes: read books or sing songs or let them play with the iPad to keep them on there long enough for a “win” while they’re busy.
  25. Beware: kids are smart. All of mine figured out how to turn “I need to go potty” into a gratuitous story-reading time, without ever producing the “deliverables”.
  26. Let them watch potty training DVD’s. This does not count as ‘screen time’ because #educational.
  27. Make up a potty cheer. “Happy pee on the potty to you” (to the tone of ‘Happy Birthday’) is good in a pinch.
  28. Be prepared to have to sing your cheer of choice, at volume, in public places. Prepare to have to sing it more than once.
  29. Post your decisions on how to potty train to Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions. As an Imgurian over 30 this is how I feel when I read
  30. Start potty training in the summer, so they can practice outside.
  31. Start potty training in the winter, when you’re cooped up anyway.
  32. Important: start potty training when YOU are ready to tackle it.
  33. MOST important: start potty training when your CHILD is ready to tackle it.
  34. Invest in a potty chair, and think carefully about what kind of ceremonial ritual you will devise to celebrate its arrival in1B5548278-tdy-130116-ipotty-1.blocks_desktop_smallto your house. If the literature is to be believed, the success of potty training is causally related to how much hoopla you can raise about a kid getting their VERY OWN mini-throne. If you get one with a built in DVD, all the more power to you (see #26).
  35. Don’t bother with a potty chair: invest in a step stool and have them sit on the main throne. They will feel more grown-up and it will make it easier to transition to public restrooms.
  36. Teach boys to pee sitting down: so much less mess.
  37. Teach boys to pee standing up: aiming for cheerios is such a great incentive.
  38. Figure out as a couple whether you are going for sitting-down or standing-up before you engage in Operation Potty Train. In my experience, those who have to clean the bathroom usually opt for #36. Dads usually opt for #37. (Because it’s so much fun to demo. And apparently some things never get old.)
  39. Make potty training fun! Hype it up as a coming of age thing!
  40. Make potty training just “one of the things you learn to do” – the less hype there is, the less pressure there is on the kid to perform, and the less power play leverage you give them.
  41. If things aren’t going well: keep reading widely and pinning madly to research other best methods. Pin this. You may need it if all the other advice from those who succeeded doesnt pan out and you need to know that you weren’t the worst potty trainer in the world.
  42. If someone says their method worked for them, it must have some merit to it. Keep a tally of how guilty you feel each time there’s an accident: that accident probably means you were doing it wrong.
  43. Try not to feel guilty, though. It’s not about you.
  44. If your plan isn’t working: try something new, or try some other time.
  45. But WHATEVER YOU DO: be consistent!
  46. No matter what kind of diapers you chose, for potty training make sure you invest in 3-fold cloth diapers: they are by FAR the most absorbent cloths for cleaning up spills. There is no paper towel which is worthy for this trial. None. Bounty, be gone.
  47. Ask for hugs. For you, not your kid. Potty training is hard and demoralizing and sometimes makes you feel you have an angry, panicked, crazy person living in your head.
  48. Ignore all this advice, except for #46 and #47.

Trust me.

And now, I’m going to print out my list and study it closely (see tip #1), because it seems to me my third kid is about ready to jump onto the potty training wagon, which means I’m bracing myself for another 22 months of insanity…