Cheeky.

Hanging in my laundry room, next to the door that is the traffic center of the universe our house, there hangs a white board for writing notes to each other.

Adam–take lunch money.

Change oil.

Sometimes entire conversations take place.

Hubs u r hot. I like u.

(Babe, so r u.)

(Mom and dad u r gross.)

Occasionally I use the space to write a pithy little quote I've found, one that will, I'm sure, plant gentle seeds of truth and wisdom in the hearts of my children and grow forever and ever, amen. (Do not disdain the use of pithy little quotes as an important
parenting tool. After all, not a single one of us ever jumped off a
cliff when our friend did, nor did we count our chickens before they
were hatched, so there you go.)

I posted this one a few days ago:

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The twelve-year-old, (he of the endless eating of protein), had a response:

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(Yes, it's changing the subject and it's cheeky, but a boy can get away with a lot when he has the good sense to employ parallel sentence structure.)

Kind Of Like the Griswolds, Except With Snow

There's plenty that's unpleasant about being a grown up. Income taxes and colonoscopies come to mind.

But adulthood has its benefits, too. Chief among them being no more recess and PE. I spent the first 17 years of my life trying to figure out creative ways to avoid showing my peers that I have the coordination of a drunk hippo on stilts. If it involves climbing, I will fall. If it involves water, I will sink. If it involves a ball, I will not only miss it, but I will position myself perfectly so that it smacks me in the forehead.

It's okay. I know this about myself. I faked it when I had to as a kid–just ask my dad about the Great Basketball Experiment of 1983. I still run into doorways and trip over grocery carts more than the average bear, but as a grown up, I've managed to tuck away my former humiliation quite neatly, thanks.

Until my athletic husband decided to plan a ski trip for the holidays. He's been talking about it for years–he loved to ski in college, and he had such a nice vision of our entire family shooshing happily down the slopes, eyes bright and faces flushed with joy. My vision of a ski trip involves ambulances, but I decided to be a good sport. 

We left Christmas morning, in the aftermath of a blizzard (the universe was trying to give me a hint). We made it safely to a small resort about an hour from Denver, checked in, unpacked, and began organizing a dizzying assortment of ski gear and supplies. (Including, by the way, the stuff you smear inside your goggles to keep them from fogging–it's called, to the  great joy of my sons, Cat Crap.)

The next morning, after my breakfast of oatmeal sprinkled with Aleve, we dropped off our happy, agile children at the kids' ski school. Hubs shooshed and I lumbered out to the place where our class would begin.  

A friendly older man with silver hair shooshed up and introduced himself as our instructor. He lined up our class and asked us to introduce ourselves by explaining what kind of athletic experience we have.

(Great.)

When it was my turn, I mumbled a response that had something to do with stairs and laundry baskets.

(Somebody get me out of here, please.)

When the introductions of all my fellow (athletic) classmates were over, the instructor went on to explain that he's a retired high school principal, so if we don't do what he says, we're going to detention.

(No, I'm serious, somebody get me out of here right now.)

He began by explaining the basics, and he said the key not to falling is knowing how to turn.

(Really? Because I think the key to not falling is staying in the lodge, but what do I know?)

It's simple, he said, just lean here and push there and tilt this but don't tilt that and keep your chin up and put your arms out there and then lean here again. 

Alrighty.

We got started on a hill with the incline of a pimple. Our whole class gently coasted where they were supposed to coast. Well, almost the whole class. I made my first run down the pimple, and I stayed vertical for a solid seven seconds. Aaaaand then I fell. So I tried a second time. Aaaaand then I fell. Same with efforts number three and four. And five and six.

Fighting back tears of utter humiliation, I kept at it. The instructor explained that I probably wasn't cut out for this particular turning technique, so he was just going to advance me on to the next one, because he just knew it was perfect for me.

(Oh, don't you try your high-school-principal-self-esteem-inducing mind games with me, fella.)

Not surprisingly, the new and improved trick didn't work for me. The only stopping/turning technique that did work was the one I believe they call Hurling Your Body To The Ground. After two hours of falling every time I tried, I stopped to catch my breath at the bottom of the pimple. I thought about giving up. I looked over to where the kids were in ski school, and I could see my children actually beginning to shoosh with confidence and grace. I was so proud of them, and I thought some very lofty thoughts about perseverance and humility. I climbed back up for one last try.

Aaaaand then I fell–spectacularly, this time, with a flying ski pole involved. I muttered something under my breath that may or may not have been worse than "Cat Crap".

I told the instructor that some people just weren't meant to ski, and his mouth said "No, you can do it, just keep trying," but his eyes said, "Yes ma'am, you're more sit-by-the-fireplace material."

So I headed inside and I did sit by the fireplace, all week long. I had a giant stack of books and a huge bag of crochet supplies. I was a happy pack mule for the endless pile of ski gear (Colorado families, how do you do that all winter long?). I baked cookies and made cheese dip, and we played games and watched movies by the fireplace all evening, every night. It was our best vacation ever, in fact–I don't know when we've laughed together so much. 

The moral of the story? If at first you don't succeed, be sure you've packed a good book and some comfortable shoes, and once you've worked through your adolescent insecurities it'll all work out beautifully in the end.

Especially if there's cheese dip.

The end.

If I Don’t Write It Down I’ll Forget

I'm trying to grease up these rusty brain cells of mine and get back to writing the occasional blog post–not a bad thing to do when one has, you know, a blog. I've been working on a post documenting the vacation we took over the holidays, but as the story involves abject humiliation, I've been understandably reluctant. (More on that later. Maybe.) Instead, here's a few random questions, comments, and general wondering-ments.

1. My daughter got a Puff the Magic Dragon book for Christmas, including a sing-along CD. And never mind that I am 37 years old with a mortgage and four children and a PTA membership card–I am unable to listen to that song without blubbering over my lost childhood and bereft dragons. But what in the heck is sealing wax? (Also, please do not tell me that song is actually about drugs. I-have-my-fingers-in-my-ears-and-I-can't-hear-you-la-la-la.)

2. Thanks to my patient and crafty sister-in-law, I'm learning how to crochet. I can't get enough of it! I'm not exactly good at it yet, but I can stitch the heck out of a rectangle. If you know me in real life, congratulations–you're probably getting a scarf this year. Please act happy.

3. Over the holidays I've been plowing through my reading list. This and this were both outstanding, and this was really good, too. This was a fascinating concept, but I thought it came up short at the very end–it's so disappointing when that happens. I'm reading this now, and this is next on the list. What's on yours?

4. American Idol is back underway, and can I just tell you how much I love the "Pants On the Ground" guy from the Atlanta auditions? Here's a great post about him, including his history marching with Dr. King in the '60's. (On the occasion that A Particular Son Of Mine Who Shall Remain Unnamed thinks it might be funny to try the whole droopy-pants thing, I remind him that I have a staple gun in the garage and I'm not afraid to use it.)

5. Does anyone reading this know anything about chronic headaches (possibly migraines) in children? One of my kiddos is struggling with this, but I'm not finding a ton of resources online.

6. Please remember to consider Compassion when you plan your giving for the Haiti crisis. Follow their Twitter feed for helpful updates. While you're at it, see Ree's great giveaway to help raise some more Haiti funds. Another great effort to raise funds is underway here.  Whatever you do, please give.

Have a good weekend, and remember to keep praying for our friends in Haiti.

Oink.

My two youngest children have the swine flu. They're doing alright, though, hanging in there with the help of ibuprofen, DVR'd episodes of the Duggars, and lots of fluids.

(This momma is hanging in there with the help of all the Halloween candy I bought earlier in the week and then attempted to hide–from myself–in the garage. I rationalize by telling myself that when the flu finally hits me–as it surely will–I'll be so hopped up on the sugar I won't care.)

(Speaking of sugar-induced irrationality, can I just tell you that I crack up everytime I hear someone mispronounce Tamiflu? I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be TAM-uh-flu, but around here, I hear a lot of TAM-ee-flu. Tammy Flue. It sounds like a character on the Andy Griffith Show.)

My oldest patient, eight-year-old Joseph, has asthma, so I'm watching him especially closely. It occurred to me today how this is just like the old days, back when he was a newborn. Last night he slept in my room, and I concentrated on his breathing, certain that if I stopped concentrating, he would stop breathing–just like the baby days.

Just like the baby days, I stumbled through the kitchen in the middle of the night, when he needed a drink.

And just like the baby days, I cuddled him back to sleep, except these days his 72 pounds of boyishness fill up my arms a lot more substantially than the eight pounds of baby once did.

It occurred to me this morning that I'll probably never lose that sense of protective worry. When I'm in my 90's, and he's in 70's, I think a part me will still be tempted to place my hand on his back, to make sure he's still breathing as he sleeps. 

We'd surely appreciate your prayers for rest and healing.

Blech.

Every year, my children ask if we can carve a jack-o-lantern (or a "punk-o-lantern", as the four-year-old calls it).

And every year, I say "Yes, but I'm not cleaning out the pumpkin guts–you have to do it yourselves."

And every year, they say "Sure thing, mom!"

And every year, I open up the top of the pumpkin, they get a good look at the guts, and then they run for the hills.

And every year, I am left to finish the job, because I paid $3.98 for that pumpkin and I should be a good steward. (Also, because I am a pushover.)

But not this year–for real. When the kids asked for a punk-o-lantern last week, I told them yes, but then I gave  an Oscar-worthy speech about how they are growing and maturing and they should be able to handle pumpkin guts, and how the fact that God gave me three strapping sons is surely a sign that He never intends for me to kill another bug, move another piece of furniture, or clean out another pumpkin for as long as I live, The End.

They agreed, and when I finished the carving, they took a deep, courageous breath and looked into the bowels of the pumpkin.

They gave me a look.

I gave them A Look.

And in a moment of creative, problem-solving energy, they decided to minimize their contact with the guts by involving those guts in the final design. They took spoons and pulled the innards out through the mouth, leaving them in a small pile. Internet, meet the end result: Jerry the Barfing Pumpkin.

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The fact that they are less grossed-out by barf than by pumpkin innards just goes to show how much I still have to learn.

Dear People With Grown Sons: PLEASE HELP

Many years ago I was the mother of three preschool boys, a fact which sometimes necessitated that I take all three of them to the grocery store. As surely as I sit here typing this, I could guarantee you that each of my boy-laden grocery trips would draw out comments from observers. The comments were usually pretty predictable:

1. "You certainly have your hands full."

2. "So, are you trying for a girl?"

3. [On the occasional good day.] "Your boys are so well-behaved."

4. [On the more typical day.] "Ma'am, did you know that your son is whacking your baby with a package of hot dog buns?"

5. "Wow, I can't imagine your grocery bill when they're all teenagers."

That last one always just made me smile and shrug. Sure, I know growing boys eat a lot, but how bad could it be, really? I mean, they're probably hungry after school, so you fix them a hot dog, right? No big challenge for a frugal-minded shopper. 

Well.

Let's just add this one to the (growing) list of challenges I didn't see coming. Because these sons of mine are bottomless pits of extraordinarily high metabolisms. Kind of like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, except not green. And no cocoon. And I can't put them on a bookshelf when they're done. So, not at all like The Very Hungry Caterpillar actually, except, my stars, they're HUNGRY.

Case in point: my eldest son (who is verrry tall and verrry skinny) can polish off a gallon–a gallon--of whole milk in a day and a half. At this rate, I'm wondering if we should just get a cow. My youngest son (who, at the tender age of eight and a half, is already built like an imposing linebacker) ate an entire jar of pickles the other day. An entire jar. In a day.

We haven't cut out sugar altogether (because really, why would such a life be worth the living?), but I do try to offer them primarily high-protein snacks (eggs, nuts, cheese, peanut butter, etc.) that will sit in their bellies awhile. And yes, they're eating complete and (mostly) healthful meals. No, they're not filling up on sodas or juices. And no, nobody is anywhere in the vicinity of being overweight.

They're just stinkin' hungry.

I'm left standing here holding the proverbial grocery bag, wondering how we're going to afford both college and all the pickles. As the one who has been genetically (and happily, and expensively) appointed to feed them, I'm trying to do it sensibly (and this book is helping). But high-protein foods tend to be more expensive foods, don't they?

This leads me to my point, which is to ask anyone who is reading this, especially anyone who has raised multiple sons without going through grocery-induced bankruptcy, how did you do it? What are the best kind of snacks for growing adolescent boys? (Preferably snacks that are easy and cheap and leap into the dishwasher when done. I'm all about the realistic expectations.) Please share with me any suggestions you may have, and if you know of a dairy and pickle farm for sale.

You See What I’m Up Against

I sat down just now to pay the kids their weekly allowance, but my mind was only halfway there. The kids get half their age (in dollars) per week, but simultaneously remembering the ages of four children and then dividing by two was simply too much math at the end of this long day.

Me: Stephen, remind me, what's your allowance?

Stephen: [Eyebrows raised in great hope, and not a moment's hesitation.] $520.

Me: Oh really?

Stephen: Yep, $520.

Me: Per week?

Stephen: Yes. You see, there's this new, um, metric system. And…um…well, $100 is the new $1, so if you convert it over, it means that $5 really equals $520. Except really it's $500, but I'm just throwing in a little tax.

Big points for creativity, anyway. (But still only $5 for allowance).

Repurposing

Last week we took down our swingset.

It feels like I should play a little funeral dirge behind that sentence. No swingset, after 12 years of living in a home with a swingset. Ours is gone.

I watched the disassembling from my perch on the back patio (where I sat wearing a JACKET in late August, by the way–if this is climate change, it's working for me just fine). I watched the boys handing tools to Hubs, while Corrie sang them show tunes (it was immensely helpful to them), and I coached myself: do not get sentimental, do not get sentimental. It's just a rusty old death trap that needed to come down before someone got launched over the neighbor's fence. Anyway, it would be nice for some grass to grow over there. This is purely practical–it is not some climactic harbinger of my sad, empty nest.

But because I find myself squarely in a midlife crisis at the moment, realizing that I'm just this close to not having a preschooler for the first time in 13 years–well, my raw emotions are turning non-events into events, every single day. Hubs knew this, and he called over his shoulder as he worked: "You sure you don't want to take a picture?"

"NO!" I yelled back, in all caps, "NO, BECAUSE THIS IS JUST NO BIG DEAL. REALLY. I MEAN, NO BIG DEAL AT ALL."

And then I think I may have stomped my foot.

But just before I let myself descend–yet again–into my swirly pot of self-pity that my babies are growing, I caught a look at my 8 year old, attempting to use one of the old swingset bars as a javolin. At the same time, the twelve year old was drawing up blueprints on how he could incorporate the swingset wreckage into a fort. The 10 year old picked up a garden house and started watering down the tiny sprigs of grass underneath where the swingset once lived.

They were moving on to better things. Repurposing.

It is precisely what they should do, just as it is precisely what I should do. The times, they are a-changin', and I can mourn their passing (and thus miss their passing), or I can look at what is to come. Even as I leave behind the Season Of the Swingset, I'm greeting a new season in its place. It's a season of deep conversations and belly laughs and hair gel and healthy grass and every member of my family cutting his own meat.

We're moving on to better things. Repurposing.

And I like it.

Is This Thing On?

Hi, blog friends. I'm back. Or at least back-ish. It's been a long and strange several weeks: the normal madhouse of back-to-school chaos (including our first year of middle school), plus the frantic pace of a book deadline, plus the sudden death of my father-in-law. (And by the way, many thanks to those of you who sent such kind expressions of prayer and sympathy–that meant more than you know.) I'm not sure I've ever been sprinting in so many directions at once.

Case in point: I went to curriculum night at my kids' school a couple last week, dashing out the door after a full day of writing and a thrown-together meal of macaroni and cheese. I talked with all the teachers, and I had a nice chat with the PTA president and principal and several other parents. As I was leaving the school, I looked down to see that the entire evening I'd been wearing a giant, streaky blob of macaroni and cheese stuck to the front of my shirt.

NICE.

While I'm quick to kick myself for letting things get so chaotic, I don't want to miss the lessons in the mayhem. Times like this have a way of forcing me to focus on what's important: Turn off the computer and enjoy the cool evening. Love my husband. Check my shirt for wayward pasta. Live and learn.

The good news is that the book is going very well. We're almost to the halfway point, and we're so proud of what we've done so far. You TypePad users already know how many changes are taking place as the new version continue to get up and running, and we're writing this book to the new version of TypePad, not the old one. This has meant many, many hours of poking around in my dashboard, learning the new lay of the land (and, by the way, loving it. I don't always love change, but this new TypePad design has really grown on me.) If you're a new TypePad user (or you're an old one who is still getting up to speed on all the changes), I really think this book is going to be a great help. Sit tight–I'll tell you more about it soon.

In the meantime, I'll continue to be in and out here at my blog, until we hit our final deadline later this fall. OH, the irony that spending many hours a day writing a book on blogging doesn't leave any time for…um, blogging. Also, a quick note–I'm using my personal blog as a guinea pig for implementing some of the TypePad features I'm writing about. Hopefully the changes will be (mostly) unnoticeable to you, but if anything seems wonky, now you know why.

Enough about that. What's new with you?