Two Sides of the Same Coin

Most of our friends have children. Such is the lot of parents: so much of your life centers around those children that your friends tend to be the people you hang out with on the soccer sidelines or in the auditorium as your child warms up for a recital. They are also the ones that don’t roll their eyes and try to back away as you regale them with your latest potty training trials and tribulations.

We do, however, have a few childless friends. They are younger than us by a fair piece and may indeed join the parenting ranks at some point in the future. That is, if our children do not persuade them through their antics that the DINK (double income, no kids) lifestyle really is the more attractive option.

I was speaking with the male half of one of these couples on Saturday. His girlfriend works in my husband’s studio and he had accompanied her for the day. Since the studio is at our house, they both see a lot of our children. They even babysit for us at times. They come over for game nights and hang out at kiln firings. You could almost call them family.

Hal had just done his unintentional Tasmanian Devil imitation as he spun through the studio and back out on his energetic run through the land of make-believe. I was preparing to wake Jane up so I could drop her off at softball and then pick up Daryl from his Destination Imagination practice. Our friend commented, “Yes, I’m pretty sure we will only have one child.”

I looked up at him as he continued, referring to his girlfriend, “She’s not as patient as you are.”

There are many adjectives that people have used to describe me over the years. Patient is not one of them and I told him so. “I’m not exactly known for my patience.”

“Well, you put on a good show then.”

It occurred to me as I pondered his statement over the following couple of days that it could be taken several different ways. He could have simply been commenting on his girlfriend’s extreme lack of patience, not on my abundance of it. It could be that he would view the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland to be in possession of a higher quantity of patience than her. She doesn’t strike me as particularly impatient though, so I don’t think this explanation fits.

It could be that he finds my children obnoxious and exhausting and completely out-of-control. The fact that they are still alive and I am still standing a testament to my good patience. There might be some truth to this but even my pessimistic personality won’t accept that my children are horribly more difficult than a standard collection of three young, intelligent, happy children.

That leaves the interpretation that I assumed the moment he spoke the words. He actually believes I exhibit motherly patience to a degree that impresses him. This stunned me. I think I pulled together enough wits to say thank you. I hope I did. I doubt he understands the power of his words.

Every mother loses her cool. Every mother explodes at one too many whines from a tired child or yet another neglectful performance of chores. It’s easy for me to dwell in those moments, to remember the monster from within bursting forth to scare my children.

His words reminded me that there are times that I take a deep breath and handle a crisis calmly. There are times when I listen attentively to a laundry list of Pokemon characters and their defining traits. Well, ok, there are times when I put on a good show of listening attentively to the laundry list. There are times when I handle a discipline situation from a controlled and reasoned point of view. There are times when I stand in the eye of the tornado and wring order out of chaos.

And best of all, these times happen in front of other people. They see it and they believe it’s the real me. And they are impressed. Of course, it is the real me, just as the monster is too. Two sides of the same coin. Perhaps realizing that people have noticed my patience, thin though it might have felt to me, will motivate me to flip to that side of the coin more often.

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Mom, the Lego Mechanic

After Daddy took Daryl to Boy Scouts and we dropped Jane off at volleyball practice, Hal and I found ourselves at home alone. The living room is a disaster and we have company coming Friday so I began to pick up.

I found Hal’s Battat airplane and cordless drill toy but it was missing a screw. There was no way to reattach the propeller. I picked up the parts and searched for the screw. I didn’t find it but I did find a Hot Wheels car and a handful of Lego’s. Gathering up my finds, I headed to the boys’ bedroom.

Once there, I deposited the Lego’s and car in their appropriate tubs and then placed the airplane in its designated spot, which was right next to Daryl’s Lego X-Wing Fighter. That’s when I noticed that the X-Wing had a sagging wing and was missing three of its wingtip lasers.

I found one of the lasers and a few loose parts nearby, so I sat on the end of Hal’s bed and began the important task of reconstruction. I had just identified that other parts were truly missing and begun to dig through one of the Lego boxes when I was called.

“I’m done!!”

Every parent loves those words. Duty called and I placed the X-Wing Fighter carefully on the bed and headed to the bathroom, my mind still on how easy or hard it might be to find the missing parts and whether I wanted to find them in the right color.

Absentmindedly, I wiped Hal’s bottom, announced “there you go!”, and then flushed the toilet. As I rinsed the soap from my hands, I heard a splash and a groan from Hal.

Turning back to the toilet, I saw him sitting on the floor with a shocked look on his face. He was holding his right arm in the air over the toilet and it was wet. Water was all over the seat and the lid.

“What happened?!”

“You didn’t put the lid down!!” he wailed.

“No, I didn’t, honey. You should look before you try to put your hand on the lid. Well, you are going to have to take a shower now.”

I was as unhappy as Hal since this further delayed my mechanic duties in the bedroom. Then, inspiration hit. As I helped him undress, I asked, “Would you rather take a bath instead?”

“Yes!”

Before I knew it, he was happily splashing in bubbles and I was happily digging through the Lego bins. It took awhile, but eventually I found all missing parts, in the right colors, and even found the three missing lasers, still intact.

I have such a sense of accomplishment. My husband might come home wondering why I didn’t get more done in the living room, but, hey! Things come up! The Rebel Alliance can’t possibly fight against the Empire with their fighters in such a state of disrepair!

Bells, Balls, and Bites

Sometimes my children forget how to get along. Actually, they seem to forget so often that I wonder if they actually know how. Maybe those times of tender sibling love were just serendipitous accidents that I am destined to never see again.

This week, while my husband and I joyfully practiced ringing bells at the church, the older two roamed the building unsupervised. They each have a same-aged companion, siblings whose mother is also in the bell choir. They are allowed to roam rather than stay in the nursery with Hal because, in theory, they are old enough for the responsibility.

The dispute concerned possession of a certain mid-sized purple bouncy ball. Daryl had grabbed the ball from the communal toy chest and brought it with him from home, thus believing this gave him at least temporary ownership of the ball. He and his friend played with it for quite awhile.

Unfortunately, Jane remembered that she had earned that ball by redeeming reading points at school two or three years earlier. It was her ball. It was supposed to reside behind her door in her room, but apparently Hal had taken it and it had eventually ended up in the toy chest. As the boys played, I can only assume that the desire to assert her rightful ownership of the ball simply became too strong. When the opportunity presented itself, she snagged the ball.

This resulted, predictably, in protests from the boys. They demanded its return. She insisted the ball belonged to her. Daryl insisted that it was his to play with because he had brought it. She refused to return it and, with the benefit of greater height, was easily able to keep it from his reach.

Daryl became frustrated and began slapping at her arm. Such inappropriate behavior! He can’t slap her arm. So, she took the next reasonable step, as she saw it. She grabbed his wrist to stop the slapping.

He wanted to get away but she wouldn’t let go of his arm. He was trapped! She has no right to restrain him. He yelled for her to let him go. She refused. So he took the next reasonable step, as he saw it. He bit her arm.

An outrage! She dropped his wrist. It was obviously time to get the parents involved. She stormed off to inform us of her brother’s great sin. We were cornered as we helped put the bells away. She gave her tale and showed the bite marks on her arm.

Her tale, not surprisingly, left out a few details. We were told that Daryl tried to take something that was hers and when she wouldn’t give it to him, he bit her. That didn’t sound quite right.

“How do we know you didn’t just bite yourself and claim he did it?”

“Why would I do that?!”

“Well, you’ve done it before. Back in Kindergarten, you made it a habit to bite yourself and blame your little brother. You even once tried it at school, blaming a boy in line. The teacher called us very concerned.”

She thought I was crazy, but I actually had her bite her arm around the existing bite marks to prove that her mouth was too big for the marks on her arm. Then we went in search of Daryl. And the truth.

Daryl tried to deny biting his sister. We showed the bite marks. He said he hadn’t bitten her that hard. We showed him the bite marks. He insisted that he had only bitten her because she was holding his wrist and wouldn’t let go.

That provoked us to ask Jane why she held his arm, which exposed the slapping. Asking Daryl why he slapped exposed the ball snagging. And so on.

Children have a habit of only sharing the part of the story that makes themselves look good and their nemesis bad. Sometimes you have to take multiple accounts or play them off of each other to get the full picture. Even then, it is next to impossible to get them to see their own personal role in the disaster.

Jane actually tried to tell us that while she might not have handled it well and might have lost her cool, there wouldn’t have been a problem if the boys had just left them alone. Her father responded that there also wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t come to church.

The truly humorous part in all this is that at one point earlier in the afternoon, I saw some kids trot past the bell choir room while we were playing. I had one of those heart-swelling moments that made me tear up. They are making memories, I thought. You shape your kids’ lives in part by where your activities place them. They are here at church playing with friends and hearing beautiful music and witnessing their parents in something bigger than themselves. This seems like simple day-to-day stuff but no telling what impact this will have on them. I even planned to blog about that. And then an indignant sixth grader approached me with Exhibit A on her wrist.

Smart Mouths

Daryl and his friend were hanging out in my Sunday School classroom Sunday morning before classes began. The teacher suggested that perhaps they should stay because “we are going to talk about watching your mouth.” Daryl twisted his face as if trying to look at his mouth and said, “I can’t watch my mouth.”

He was telling the truth in the figurative as well as literal sense. He has a sharp wit and a sense of comedic timing. He rarely watches his tongue but throws out a sarcastic barb or a perfect pun with ease.

Actually, all of our children are decent at delivering one liners. Different families cherish certain qualities more than others. In our household, a brilliant riposte is worth gold.

Sunday evening, our church had a Valentine’s dinner. The program included “The Not-So-Newlywed Game”, in which my husband and I were contestants. We lost the game by half a point, he pointing out that we would have won if I had simply understood that our truck was rear wheel drive, not all wheel drive. Nevermind that he considered lipstick to be a wardrobe item. But I digress…

While we were waiting for the men from the two tying first-place teams to return from their sequester, the host asked Jane to hand out participation prizes to the couples.

She started at the other end and handed a heart shaped box of chocolates to the pastor and his wife, who thanked her. Then to the judge’s wife. Then she stopped in front of us and began to pull the next box out of the bag. I reached to receive it and just before the box touched my fingers, she pulled it away, stepped to the wife of the final couple, and handed it to her.

I expressed shock and the crowd laughed as she then handed me the last box. As she returned to her seat, the host said, “Now, Jane. The Bible says to be nice to your parents.”

Without missing a beat, she smiled and said, “It says to obey them. It doesn’t say anything at all about being nice to them.” The congregation roared with laughter.

I tried to prove her wrong. “Actually,” I called out, “the Ten Commandments tell you that you should honor your mother and father.”

“I did honor you. I saved the best for last, didn’t I?”

I was losing the verbal battle with my twelve year old daughter and doing so in front of a crowd. I didn’t mind. She did me proud.

A Hal to Standard English Translation

As I have said before, Hal is a very amusing child to listen to. Here are some of his best or more common phrases, along with my translations for the uninitiated.

“I want to go to the popcorn place.” – I want to go to the movie theater.

“I want to go to the soup place.” – I want to go to the Chinese restaurant.

“I am going to hop like a broken kangaroo.” – I am going to hop on one leg.

“I am hungry for some apples.” – I would like an apple, preferably sliced.

“I want a bacon nugget cheese biscuit.” – I want a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. Translation credit for this one goes to Daryl.

“I need a new whistle in my mouth because mine is broken. The one in my mouth is.” – I don’t know how to whistle.

“My tummy is thirsty for some sweet tea.” – I want some sweet tea but I think you will tell me no so I am hoping to convince you that it is what my body needs.

“My tummy is telling me that I really need a drink of water.” – I am bored in the worship service but you’ve rejected my claim of being thirsty as a valid reason to leave so I am hoping that you will listen to my tummy.

Living Arrangements

During a recent drive home, Hal and I discussed our living arrangements. We have some of our most interesting conversations while driving home from preschool, just the two of us.

“Mommy, when is our house going to get a fire?”

“Oh, I hope it never gets a fire! Why?”

“Because then the firemans would come and put it out.”

“But then our house would be all burned up. We wouldn’t want that.”

“Well, we could move into a different house that no one else is living in.”

“I think I’d rather stay in the house we are in. Besides, we wouldn’t want to lose all our stuff that’s in the house.”

“Well, we could take it with us.”

“Not if it got burned up in the fire. Don’t you want to keep Mr. Fuzzy and your sleep bee and all those cool clothes from cousin Nicholas?”

“Well, we could just take that stuff.”

“Not if it burned up. When would we take it? Before the fire came?”

“Yes. We could just take it all with us. Before.”

“But how do we know the fire is coming?”

He didn’t have a good answer for that so we drove in silence for all of about two blocks.

“I want to live in a tree house. With you and Daddy and Bubba and Sissy.”

“That would have to be a pretty big tree house. What about Rose?”

“She can live there too.”

“But she’s a dog. She can’t climb ladders.”

“Well, you can pick her up and then Daddy can pick you up and then you guys can climb the ladder. What do you think of that?”

“That sounds complicated.”

“What if someone tried to knock our tree house down? That would make me very angry. I would growl at them. Like this. {growl}.”

“Do you think that would work? Growling like that?”

“Yes. I don’t want anyone to hurt my tree house. I’d climb down and punch them in the face. If they tried to knock down my tree house.”

“Hmm.”

“I want to invite all the people in the world to come to our tree house.”

“That would have to be a really big tree house to hold that many people.”

“I know, but we can make lots of beds for them.”

“Ok.”

“I want one of those special beds. The kind with a bed on the bottom and a bed on the top. I love those kinds of beds. Bubba could sleep on the bottom and I could sleep on the top. I wouldn’t be able to touch anything. Not the door or climb down or anything. Bubba would have to help me get down. We’d use a workerman’s ladder.”

Interestingly enough, a week or so later, I picked him up and said we had a surprise for him. We were going to go look at something.

“Is it a bunk bed?!”

I just love it when they take all the steam out of your exciting announcement…

Lady in Red

A dear friend of mine has a delightful blog that you can read here. Being a person in the same stage of life as me and blessed with quirky children, same as me, her blog has a similar flavor to mine. I highly recommend it. One of my favorite styles she employs is her open letter to a person she encounters on an average day. Her letters showcase her ironic wit quite nicely. I encountered such a person recently and as I contemplated how to tell her story, Roshaunda’s open letters kept coming to mind. So here’s my open letter and I trust that my friend will remember that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

Dear Lady in Red,

I know why you are here. It’s the same reason I am. We are both wearing red and that is what allows us to be in this little room with the mood lighting and all the free stuff. Actually, I bet they’d let us in here even if we weren’t wearing red, but wearing red was the key to getting the free stuff. And you are definitely here for the free stuff. I can see the mad glint in your eye as you rush from item to item, stuffing it into your bag.

Now, I can understand why you would hurry to grab one of those heart-shaped stress balls. Everyone needs one of those and with only a hundred or so in the box, I can see why you might be concerned about them running out. Especially since there is a herd of… 2 or 3 people rapidly approaching the room. And the Dove dark chocolate, of course. Quite tasty and I am sure that the ones scattered across the table are all they have. They surely wouldn’t have any more bags behind the table to replenish the supply. I even understand grabbing all the pamphlets. They are kind of the point anyway and I’m sure you plan to study the information very closely when you get home.

No, I understand the value in acquiring all of those things. What I don’t understand is why you were so interested in possessing one of the vials of yellow fake-fat goo. I was comparing a couple of them from the display when you came up beside me. I was shocked to discover that a McDonald’s sausage biscuit has the same amount of fat as the infamous Big Mac. Before I had a chance to put them back and look at another, you walked up and asked what they were.

“Oh,” I said, “These are just vials showing us the relative amounts of fat in various foods we eat.”

You shocked me even more than the sausage biscuit when you grunted an “oh” and then grabbed a vial and dropped it in your bag. You were already turning to head to the ice chest with the mini bottles of water when I came to.

“No, wait. Those aren’t for us to take. They are just for us to look at.”

Another “oh” and you fished out the vial and returned it to the display. I’m wondering what you planned to do with the vial. Were you going to lay it on your kitchen windowsill? Or maybe give it a place of prominence at the center of your dining room table, informing all of your guests about the amount of fat in a Krispy Kreme doughnut?

No, I suppose you were grabbing it just because it was free. As a recovering pack rat, I find your free frenzy quite close to insane. But if “free” is that important to you, I set out a ton of free stuff every Monday morning. It’s even already in a large black bag for you. You’ll just have to make sure you get here before the garbage man arrives. He likes free stuff too.

Sincerely,

Another Woman in Red