Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Big Tray of Christmas Cookies

This blog is going to be chock full of holiday goodness I guess. It's OK though because I'm sure in January there will be long stretches of time when I could be writing, but really it would just be a repetition of "Stayed indoors. Didn't get out of our pajamas until 10. Made Mr. Putter and Tabby out of modelling clay. Ate mac-n-cheese. Went to bed." So I'll try to get lots of things down now so I can indulge in winter doldrums later on.

Since we've moved to this neighborhood, one of the best parts of the holidays is getting the tray of homemade Christmas cookies from our neighbor Jan. And when I say tray, I mean big TV-sized tray, not a little holiday plate. Last year I came home from the hospital, walked up the back steps, and the tray was waiting for us. I had just spent an emotional morning, folding up the tiny coming home outfit I had had so much fun picking out for Elaine, packing it back in my overnight bag, and leaving her behind in the NICU. That night, after Lucy was in bed and Darren was out on an errand, I sat watching TV and a Pampers commercial came on. It consisted of a woman softly singing "Silent Night" and lots of beautiful photographs of sleeping babies. I bawled and ate the ENTIRE tray of cookies. I think Darren and Lucy might have each gotten one.

A weekend or so ago, the tray arrived on the backporch again. Ahh, I'm in a much better frame of mind now. Darren took Lucy down to his parents' to see Megan's Christmas program. I stayed home with Elaine, and then we were snowed in. It was a real blizzard, and we were just stuck here. Fortunately we had plenty of food and heat (and cookies), so we spent lots of time playing on the floor together and sitting around reading. While she was napping, I took out some of the Christmas decorations--wreaths and garlands, nativity scenes and candles. I want to put out enough to look festive but not so much that I dread the hours it will take me to put it away.

When Lucy got home at the end of the weekend, she was overjoyed. She ran around the house looking at everything and was especially enamored with a little Christmas pillow I had hung on the front door handle. A night or so later, after I put her in bed, I came downstairs and saw, sticking out from behind the shutters in the dining room, a burgundy ribbon. I opened the shutters and the Christmas pillow fell out, its ribbon torn.

I went back upstairs into her room and held out the pillow. Her already enormous dark eyes got even bigger and she gave a half-sob and said, "I'm sorry, Mom! I broke your pillow!" I asked, "And then what did you do?" "I hid it!" she cried, "I was pulling on it, Mommy. I'm so sorry." And in the spirit of confession, she continued on with other things she knew she had done that she shouldn't such as "And I got up in Elaine's face!" These are the moments where, as a parent, you're just not sure what to do. Partly because, it was just so funny in a way. But I said, "Lucy, it's not so bad that you broke it, even though you know you shouldn't have been pulling on it. It's that you hid it. That's like telling a lie. And for that, I have to give you a spanking." Of course that made her cry even harder (even though Daniels spankings are two handswats on the sitter with clothing and diaper intact). After that I rocked her for a long time and we talked about how, even if she does something bad and gets afraid, she should come tell Daddy and me so that we can help her with it. Then I said, "It's time to get back in bed again. What story do you want to listen to?" and she said solemnly, "When Adam and Eve disobeyed and lied. Just like I did."

Oh my goodness. I'm never sure whether to laugh or cry. So I went downstairs and ate a lot of Jan's cookies.

Green eyes and random musings

I've sadly neglected this blog. I should have anticipated this at holiday time, but too much good stuff is happening and I need to get at least some of it down.

In short, living with Elaine is like living with Tigger. Bouncy, but tiring. Living with Lucy, is like living with a tempermental opera singer. Extreme high notes of happiness along with dramatic bouts of weeping. And a lot of dress-up and make-believe in between.

This is the first year she is really enjoying Christmas. The other day, we decorated the tree together. Last year we didn't put ornaments on the tree because I was having Elaine. We just put lights and then forgot to water the tree during the week of her birth, so when we got home it was a stick with lights--a genuine Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But this year I dragged out the boxes of ornaments, and Lucy was thrilled. She exclaimed over each one and distributed them all on the bottom branches of the tree (of course control freak Mama rehung them all during naptime, but she never knew the difference). She asked me to sit in a chair by the tree with Elaine and then said, "Mom, please say, 'Elaine, what is Lucy doing?' Then tell her, 'Decorating the tree, Elaine! Did you not know that she could do that? Doesn't it look so wonderful?'" [A side note: later on during snacktime, she decided to also decorate the tree in various places with...shredded mozerella. And yes, if you were wondering, it was lots of fun to clean up. Then we learned that if we have what we think is a fabulous idea, we should run it by Mama before executing our plans.]

After she was finished decorating, she gave a deep sigh of satisfaction and said, "We need to sing some Christmas carols now" and proceeded to give us her renditions of "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Once in Royal David's City," and "Jingle Bells." She informed us that Daddy had told her, "It's 'Oh what FUN, Lucy' because I was singing 'Oh what FARM.'"

We've been trying a new church, and she is practicing in the Christmas program. They've even given her her own line "...and the baby lying in a manger!" She marches around the house saying, "Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come!" and singing a mixture of carols. We're reading the book "Room for a Little One" where a Kind Ox invites each different animal in the stable and tells them "Come inside--there's always room for a little one here." Each night before bed, she stands before our nativity scene in her little footie pajamas and puts a different figure inside. Then she whispers, "Come inside! There's always room for a little one here!"

In case your teeth are aching from all this sweetness though, rest assured that just as all good operas have their tragedy scenes, so does our house--at least three or four a day. Yesterday was particularly trying. I should have been prepared that Elaine's birthday was going to be hard. We're always reading "A Birthday For Frances" where Frances the badger has such difficulty coming to terms with the fact that it's her little sister Gloria's birthday. "That's the way it is--your birthday is always the one that is not NOW!"

Maybe I should have prepared her more. But she seemed so excited beforehand and picked out a ball and some rubber ducks to give Elaine. She bounced out of bed in the morning and said, "Is it Smoochie's birthday today?" It was all downhill from there. By the time of the party, she was doing that thing that drives both Darren and me completely nuts where she acts as though each tiny sliver of food we've asked her to ingest is being shoveled in by a frontloader. She crumbles everything up and pushes it around and scatters in on the floor. I finally took her in the other room to have a little talk, and I asked her, "Are you having a hard time because we're having a party for Smoochie?" "YES" she wailed at the highest octave anyone's ears could possibly tolerate. "And I don't want to eat any of HER birthday cake!!! Waaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!"

She rallied of course for the cake and the ice cream, but the presents. Oh the presents. Elaine got clothes, a blanket, and her personalized book quilt. Boring. Then she got her own Groovy Girl. Then she got a dollhouse. Whatever Elaine got, Lucy wanted. Elaine can't snatch, but she can hang on with all her might. By the end of the evening, both girls were weeping copiously. Brenda Lee didn't sing, "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To" for nothing.

After everyone had left and I was getting Lucy ready for bed, she was holding on to the new Groovy Girl for dear life. I said, "Lucy, you remember that that Groovy Girl is Elaine's, right? When are you going to let her play with her?" "Not tonight, Mom. She's not ready to play with her. Besides," she continued as she danced the doll around, "this doll says, 'I don't like Smoochie, I don't like Smoochie."


But this morning they are happy together again. They're laughing and kissing each other. Elaine is playing with her new ducks and rubber ball, and Lucy is rerererearranging the furniture in the new dollhouse and undressing the new Groovy Girl, and all is well. For now.

Happy Birthday

Dear Elaine,

As I write this, you are looking over at me with your big grin, jumping up and down as high as you can go in your doorway jumper. You're making fierce growling noises, and we are laughing with you. What a difference from one year ago! On this morning a year ago, the morning after you were born, your ICU doctor came to my room to talk to me. I had seen you only briefly before they took you away because you weren't breathing right. I tried to keep the shaking out of my voice as I asked him if you were going to be OK. If you could breathe. If you had an increased risk of dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. After talking with me, a smile crossed his warm brown face and he said, "A picture is worth a thousand words. You need to go see your daughter!"

Your daddy took me to the neonatal ICU--he was a pro there by now. We scrubbed our hands and arms with this industrial strength soap that dried out our skin so much it almost bled. We put on clean hospital gowns, and Daddy took me back to where your crib was. I was worried that in the midst of all those babies, I wouldn't know which one was you. But then I saw you. You had a lot of tubes and wires connected to you and to a machine that monitored the oxygen in your blood. But you looked just like us! Unmistakable!

I spent those first days in the hospital with you--safely cocooned in our own little world of the NICU--rocking you and listening to the Christmas music the nurses had playing. Then came the terrifying first weeks and months you were home with us. You would choke and stop breathing and turn blue. You slept in your carseat and I slept by your side for the first three months. All through the night, I would reach my hand down and touch you to make sure you were still breathing.

And then, all of a sudden, we began to see your two dimples. A lot. You started out with a smile, quickly progressed to a giggle, and now our house is filled with your frequent belly laughs. Your blond hair began to grow, and now it's a rakish little mohawk. The last time I took you to the dr., he walked in and said, "Oh, someone's having a bad hair day today!" I was a little insulted on your behalf because that's what it looks like all the time. You've kept your bright blue eyes--you look like a little Nichols.

Let's see--in this year we've learned some things that you like: being rocked, smiling, a warm bottle in the morning, Spot the Dog books, the bathtub spout, swinging as high as you can in your swing and squealing, your big sister, being tickled, bouncing on the bed, giggling, blowing raspberries, a warm bottle before your nap in the afternoon, Lucy's Groovy Girl doll, rubber ducks, jumping as high as you can in your doorway jumper, African music, rocking back and forth in your highchair, sitting on Daddy's lap, a warm bottle before bedtime, laughing, your stuffed lambs, bouncing up and down in your exersaucer, Packa's plastic birds, your Winnie-the-Pooh tree, singing "Pop Goes the Weasel," dancing around the kitchen with Mama, being bounced on one of our laps, and a warm bottle in the middle of the night if you can convince one of us to give you one.

Some things you don't like: having your diaper changed, carrots, being buckled into your highchair, getting your tights put on, getting your shoes put on, being buckled into your carseat, having anyone hold your hands, not being allowed to watch TV, not being allowed to play with Packa's plastic birds, being put down for a nap, and finishing your bottle.

Last night we celebrated your birthday. You wore a green velvet and taffeta party dress, your patent leather shoes, and a little bow in your mohawk. You were mesmerized by the lights on the Christmas tree, and Mimi insists that you said "tree" not once but twice. You stood alone for the first time! Mimi said, "The only reason your Mommy and Daddy were so calm at this time last year was because they were in shock. We were all terrified!" and the rest of your grandparents agreed. We all talked about what a change it was from last year. We're all so thankful that that tiny little baby wrapped in tubes and wires has changed into the bouncy, ecstatic little girl we have here today. We sat around the table and toasted your good health.

I brought in your snowman cake and watched your little eyes illuminated by the light of one candle. Everyone encouraged you to blow it out, and Lucy helped you. I'm not sure what you wished for, my sweet little girl, but I thanked God for your good health; your joyful, exuberant spirit, and your sweet good nature. Then I wished you as much happiness in your whole lifetime as you've brought us in your first 365 days.

Happy birthday, dear Smoochie!

I love you.


Friday, October 27, 2006

First Word!

Elaine said her first word. ELAINE SAID HER FIRST WORD! Oh Elaine. I've been meaning to write a whole entry about her anyway. Lucy gets lots of press, but you know, it's harder to write about a baby because they don't talk. At least, mine didn't. But now she does. Did I mention that? Elaine said her first word.

She loves for me to sing "Pop Goes the Weasel" to her. I hold her and we slightly bounce until we get to "Pop!" then we do a big jump, and she laughs and loves it. Well, last night Elaine was in her holding pen aka the crib, while I bathed Lucy. She stands up now too, did I mention it? and is all blase about that. She stands in her crib and does a little dance or pounds on the wall, and when you come in the room, she loves for you to say, "WHAT are you doing?" because she's ever so proud of her newfound standing ability. Anyway, while Lucy was in the bath, I started to sing, "All around the cobbler's bench, the monkey chased the weasel, the monkey thought 'twas all in fun....POP! goes the weasel!" and from the bedroom I heard a joyous little "Pop!" Then I sang, "A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a nee-dle, that's the way the money goes, POP! goes the weasel!" and I heard another little "Pop!" from the crib.

I ran into her room and sang it again, and each time she said "Pop!" at just the right second! (To be scrupulously honest, it does sound more like "Pah!" than a word with two p's in it. But, it's definitely still her first word.) Darren got home about the same moment, and I told him all about it and tried to demonstrate (but of course she wouldn't do it then) and he got on the phone to his mom and my mom to tell them all about it (I just love that about him). The grandmas were suitably impressed. Then I tried it again with her, and she did it! She seems so happy with herself and thrilled that I'm singing Pop Goes the Weasel and jumping pretty much nonstop for her.

Darren claims that she's really already said her first word: Mama, but she really says mamamamamamama. She does know that it's me, but still...I can't really count that. Though I will say, the other day I went into her room about 4:45 a.m. to get my clothes for work--she was breathing those deep breaths of sleep, and I didn't make a single solitary sound. Nevertheless, in about 15 seconds, I could see a little person in polar bear pajamas, sitting up in her crib in the dark, whispering, "Mamamamama?" (It was the whispering part that just killed me.)

Regardless, whatever she's doing, she's beginning to communicate verbally with us. And pretty soon this blog will be filled with all sorts of her witty bon mots. Soon we will have not one, but two talkers in this house. In fact, I can hear her up in her crib right now. So, I'm off for another chorus of Pop Goes the Weasel.

For Moali

About a year ago, I heard a sermon at church by a guest speaker. The title of the sermon was "Will You Give Jesus Your Lunch?" which sounds sort of funny. The premise though was the story in the Bible when Jesus fed the 5,000. He had been teaching a large crowd (and actually, 5,000 was the count for the men there. Probably, including women and children, it was closer to 20,000), and it had come time for food to be passed around--to feed all these hungry people. But there wasn't any food. The 12 disciples got together and tried to brainstorm, but all they came up with was a little boy who offered up his lunch--5 little loaves of bread and 2 fish. That tiny amount wouldn't have made much of a snack for the disciples alone, let alone 20,000 people. But Jesus blessed it, and everyone had as much as they wanted to eat, plus twelve baskets left over. The point of the sermon was that, with regard to world needs, we may feel like we have nothing to give. But if we place what little we have in God's hands, He will be able to do mighty things with it, things we could never dream of. At the end of the sermon, the speaker asked us, if we were willing, to hold out our hands, palms up, in a symbolic gesture that we are giving our time, prayer, resources, whatever little bit that we have. Well, even though we're in an EV Free church, I'm still a Presbyterian at heart, and we *don't* raise our hands. But...I kept turning the ideas over in my head long after we left.

A few weeks later, I was sitting at our kitchen island, reading the Chicago Tribune. There was a feature story on AIDS orphans in Africa. Ever since I volunteered teaching ESL to refugee pre-schoolers with World Relief, African children have been in my heart. I've actually read quite a few articles about the epidemic in Africa and have seen a number of news pieces. This one was different. This told the story of a 13-year-old South African girl named Moali Mthombeni. She had been orphaned as a toddler; her parents dead from AIDS. She had been living in various foster care situations. Her uncle had begun raping her when she was 10. Honestly, on the surface, as sad as that story is, there are thousands, millions, just like hers. But the article went on. At school, the other children laughed at Moali and wouldn't play with her because she wasn't a virgin anymore. I think it was at that point that I put my head down on the counter and started to cry. The rest of the piece said that she had been asked to leave school because she did not have the fees for her uniform, and at the end she said simply, "I have no one to help me."

I have no one to help me.

I sat at the counter with the tears flowing and I felt my hands kind of open up involuntarily and I said, "I don't really have much. I'm a mom in Rockford, Illinois. We don't have a lot of extra money. I'm pregnant. I'm totally overwhelmed. But Jesus, I give you my lunch. You are welcome to do with it what you will."

There was a picture of Moali accompanying the article. I cut it out, and it's been on our refrigerator ever since. Every time I open the door, I see her. I touch her sweet face. I say a prayer that she'll be protected from violence, that she'll be kept safe, that she will not get AIDS, that she will live without fear.

I've tried to find her. I've searched and searched and searched. And then I've searched some more. I've contacted world organizations and Oprah and anyone I can think of. Needle in a haystack doesn't even begin to describe it. She's one of millions and millions and millions of orphans in this world.

We have adopted her, in our hearts for the time being, as a family. Darren prays for her and Lucy, sweet little Lucy, prays for her "that she won't be sad anymore because she doesn't have a mommy and a daddy" and I pray for her without ceasing. I wish we could adopt her and bring her to live with us and be a part of our family. I'd like to make sure she gets an education. I'd like to buy her clothes and feed her and tuck her in bed at night. I'd like to talk to her and listen to her.

Right now I feel like we've done everything we can. I don't feel like it's enough, but it's our little lunch; we've offered it up, and so be it. God's ways are not our ways. There are lots of great organizations out there, and many that are helping orphans of AIDS in Africa. Every time I see an African child I think of "our" African child. We try to send money whenever we can, and any little bit that we can help one child is good, I guess. We do for Moali's sake. We do it for Jesus' sake.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


One morning in August, I heard ear-splitting screams outside the house. I had that automatic panic-stricken feeling "A child has been hurt." I raced to the window, only to see our 5-year-old next door neighbor, Bridget, walking down the street. Her shrieks were deafening. She walked on, the noise shattering glass in people's windows, setting off car alarms, and causing neighborhood dogs to bark. Her mother walked wearily behind, saying to onlookers, "It's her first day of kindergarten. She doesn't want to go to school. She doesn't want to ride the bus, even though her grandpa drives the bus. Bridget doesn't like change."

More and more I feel like Bridget, and I think, for better or worse, I've passed this along to both my girls. When Lucy was 14 months old, we took her on our first official family vacation to the beach at Saugatuck. She loathed every minute, other than the part where Darren swung with her in a hammock. The whole place was like a picture postcard: a lovely golden beach, gentle lapping water, striped beach umbrellas, happy families splashing in the lake. Lucy hated it. She cried when Darren tried to take her into the water. She cried if I sprinkled the tiniest bit of sand on her piggies. She cried when we took a walk. She cried when we tried to give her a bath in the bathtub at the cabin. Mostly what I remember about that vacation is being awakened every morning by her little hands grasping the soles of my feet--the cabin bedroom was so small, her portable crib was pressed up against the bottom of our bed. She was so relieved to go home to everything familiar.

Elaine seems to have the same dislike of change. When she was born, unless we were holding her, she never wanted to leave her carseat. I think it reminded her of being in the womb. A lot of it was understandable: she had reflux and would vomit if she laid flat on her back. She was premature and quite small, so the closeness of the carseat made her feel more secure. I tried to get her acclimated to her crib, but she hated it. I guiltily let her sleep in every night. I would lie in the big guestroom bed beside her, with her carseat on the floor so I could reach down randomly every few minutes throughout the night and check to see if she was breathing. This went on for almost four months. I began to have visions of her being 3 years old, still sitting in her infant carseat with great, long legs dangling over the sides. (These are similar to the visions I have now of having to pack a bottle in her lunchbox or Lucy having to go to kindergarten in Depends fastened with duct tape.)

Like I said, I'm not much different myself though. Maybe I am getting melancholy because fall has come, but it's such a bittersweet thing to watch my little girls and to just want to preserve these moments in amber so I can keep them and relive them whenever I want. Maybe that's why I write this journal. Like the way Elaine is playing on the rug now and she does a move that can only be described as yoga's "downward facing dog." Or how her blond hair sticks up in a little mohawk. The other night I was undressing her for her bath, she was scrambling around naked on the bed, and Lucy exclaimed, "Elaine! You look like a wild mouse!" And that's what we call her now; it fits so well, our little Wild Mouse. But someday she'll be a little girl with hair that lies flat, and we won't call her that at all--I'm already missing her wild mouse days and they're not even over.

And Lucy herself. I can't say I wish that all of age 3 would stay with us, but I want to keep forever moments like the other day when she and I took a walk around the neighborhood, hand in hand, savoring the crisp fall air and the changing colors. She said excitedly, "Mama! Look at the squirrel running and swooping up that tree!" When we neared home she said, "Can we get some apple slices and milk and sit out on the front porch together and sing?" So we did--several rounds of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, plus one she had composed herself (along with a dance), which consisted of numerous verses such as "I'm a little cherry/pear/almond, etc." She stood on the front porch, petted one of the stone lions, sang and danced completely unself-consciously, and I thought, "Now. Right now. I want to keep this forever and ever and ever."

Any sort of change makes me feel trepidatious and a little panicky. The night before we brought Elaine home from the NICU, I rocked Lucy on my lap in the dark and sang along with the lullaby CD that she has listened to before bed ever since she was an infant. We rocked and rocked and sang and sang and I kept thinking, "This is it. This is the last time I'll have only this little one in the dark with me. Starting tomorrow, everything will change. For better or worse, we'll be a family of four" until she finally looked up at me and whispered, "Mama? Can I get in bed now?"

Of course, most of the time, the change in my life and theirs is for the better. I know I would be sad if they didn't learn and grow. But sometimes, like this week when I had to put away Elaine's tiny baby outfits and buy her some new 12-month clothes, it almost becomes too much for me. I kept her in size 2 diapers for so long until Darren finally said gently, "Babe, she really does need size 3," and I wailed, "But if I do that, pretty soon she'll be going to seventh grade!" I was only half kidding.

One of the songs on the lullaby CD is called "Seasons," and (surprise, surprise!) it makes me teary every time I hear it, which is often because now Elaine goes to sleep every night with it. I guess it's how I really feel about change, even though I'm always fighting it. I sing it to my two babies and hope to gently guide them through this constantly changing world with its sentiment:

Seasons come and seasons go
Things will change and this I know
But these remain as always true:
God is good, and I love you.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Vacation and the Aftermath

Last week we took a long weekend and went to St. Louis. Darren's brother, his wife, their two boys, and soon-to-be due baby just moved there from Boston. I like St. Louis as long as it's not summer. We got down there late Friday night and went to their fabulous free zoo the next day. Our two nephews, Drew and Ryne, are delightful. I'm really glad both girls are going to get to grow up near their cousins. Drew is shy and quiet and smart. He loves babies. Ryne is....well, he's kind of a combination of Curious George and Animal from the Muppets. He and Lucy are inseparable.

I overhear them having long conversations, introducing Lucy to their Star Wars action figures ("dolls" as she calls them. She picks one up and asks, "Is this Jesus?" and Ryne says, "No, that's Hans Solo." "Well, it looks like Jesus," she asserts doggedly.) They take her by the hand throughout the zoo and sing Wheels on the Bus. I see passersby looking at them and smiling. We eat hot dogs and ride the train and go to the small petting zoo and brush the goats (Smoochie is in heaven). At night we have a fire and make s'mores.

The next day we visit their church, and Ryne takes Lucy by the hand and tells the teacher importantly, "This is my cousin Lucy. I'm going to take care of her." ("I'm sure that puts everyone's mind at ease" mutters my brother-in-law.) After church we head back to Peoria to spend a couple of days with Mimi and Papa.

After four days of non-stop fun and no naps, it's taking some time to bring Lucy back to earth. The first day back, I'm downstairs in the basement emailing some pictures of the trip to Darren. I know she's eaten a sucker (leftover parade candy) and I yell up the stairs, "Lucy, do NOT go near Elaine with that sucker stick!" "OK, Mom!" she bellows back. Seconds later, I hear Elaine crying, and it's NOT a good cry. I run upstairs and Lucy is standing in very close proximity to her, stick in hand. Upon questioning, she reveals that not only was she playing by Elaine with the stick, but she stuck it in her ear. Two swats to the bottom later, she's sitting on a chair. I calm Elaine and check her ears. I ask Lucy, "Which ear did you put the stick in?" "Both," she replies.

After giving an impromptu hearing test to Elaine (who, of course, is smiling by now), I call Lucy in. I tell her that I love her, but that is the naughtiest thing she has ever done. The consequences are no more treats the rest of the day. No parade candy, no candy corn. Her mouth starts to quiver. Then I say that after lunch we won't be reading books and she won't be listening to CDs during naptime. "But...I want Henry Huggins," she quavers. I go on: she'll be sleeping on Darren's and my bed with no distractions Rabbie. Then she begins to cry. I talk to her about how she could have permanently damaged Elaine. I know that makes no sense, so maybe she'll remember a Rabbie-less day.

I let her cry it out, and we go upstairs to get ready for the day. A few minutes later I'm in the bathroom getting ready, and I hear a tell-tale sound. I go to the door of her room. She has her back to me, jumping on the bed (this is not allowed). As soon as she sees me, she plops down instantly. I say, "What are you doing?" A split second. "Trying to make my dolls laugh, Mama." I say, "What am I going to do with you, Lucy? You've already gotten into more trouble than you ever have in your lifetime. You already don't get Rabbie today. What should be your punishment?" The corners of her mouth turn down, her lip quivers, and she says in a half sob, "I just don't know! I'll obey you! Mama, I'll give you my life!" I have no idea where she got that phrase, but it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I end simply with "Get off the bed" and go take my shower.

Lucy took all of her punishment the rest of the day without complaining or fussing. During naptime, I gave Rabbie a bath, and she was thrilled to have him at bedtime. When I tucked her in bed, she looked up at me with those huge brown eyes and said, "Mom, do you still love me when I'm naughty? Do you still love me when I put a stick in Smoochie's ears? Is she not deaf anymore?"

In concert

I wish I could like, blog in real time. Something great happens and I need to write it down right away, rather than weeks later when the momentum is lost. This is particularly the case with the concert we went to a couple of Fridays ago. Lucy is in love with this group: I periodically check their website to see if they're in concert, and lo and behold they were scheduled to be at Moody. I haven't been back since I graduated actually. I got tickets, and against our better judgment we took our 3-year-old to a concert that started at 8:00 p.m. In Chicago. We left our house at 4:00 p.m. and planned to eat near my work at Dave & Busters so we could play some games and kill some time before the concert. About the time we reached Schaumburg, the heavens opened and the worst storm I have ever been out in commenced. The works: green sky, wind, crashing thunder, streaking lightning, rain falling sideways, hail battering the car (don't think I didn't hope for just a little bit of hail damage seeing as we got $3,000 for such about three years ago). We inched along with our hazards on. We finally decided it would be more expedient to just go through the drivethrough--so we did, with an umbrella up and still got soaked. Lucy asked, "Where's the part where we play games?"

We got to Moody Church and in our seats at 7:40. Not bad. Because the concert was being broadcast on the radio, we got to practice our reaction and cheering before it even started, which was fun. Selah came out, we cheered for real, and they started with Lucy's two favorites. The whole thing was wonderful from start to finish. Great music, great group of people, no shame in singing along. Lucy sang loudly with everything she knew, some she didn't, and forgot she was a Presbyterian and even raised her hands.

Todd taught us all to sing in African, which was a highlight. Our whole family is touched by the situation in Africa; this is one of the major things that attracts us to this group in the first place. It was phenomenal to sing in their language and feel connected to people all the way across the world.

One of the highlights for me was one of their new songs "Follow Jesus." This is written for the particular section of the Congo where Todd is from. Their only claim to fame is that they are the most populous area. Todd's father (current missionary) wants their claim to be "Bandandu: people of the Bible." The most powerful part of the song is the middle where Todd calls out each province and people group, so that they know, when hearing the song, that they have not been forgotten.

The song is my prayer for my own girls and also the little African girl, Moali Mthombeni, who we've adopted in our hearts (more on her at a later date).

Anyway, the whole experience was transforming, and we left with Lucy saying, "Can we go to that concert again?"

My parents stayed overnight and took care of Elaine. My mom asked Lucy the next morning how the concert was and she said, "Good. I had chicken nuggets in a bag in my carseat."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Two Little Pumpkins

This past weekend was the annual Morton, Illinois, Pumpkin Festival and Parade. We go every year. Last year was the first time Lucy was actually aware that a parade could have meaning in her life: total strangers walk down the street and throw candy to her! She's been talking about it all year. Last year I was about six months pregnant and wondering who my little 8-month old baby would be the next time we went.

Fortunately, this year Darren's aunt Bonnie, aunt Madge, cousins Rachel and Jeana, and Jeana's absolutely wonderful three kids came as well. Lucy took about thirty seconds to warm up to Hallie, Jessie, and Noah. They played all afternoon, and for some reason, Hallie, the 8-year-old, and Lucy became devoted friends. At one point I heard Lucy yelling, "C'mon ol' Hal! Come play!" We took the kids to Ackerman's Farm where there are a lot of kittens and cats roaming around. We played with and petted those, as well as seeing peacocks, turkeys, goats that were only four days old, and a pony named Bucky.

The next day was the parade. Lucy had new jeans and an orange t-shirt, and I dressed Elaine in her pumpkin onesie and Halloween pants (they say "Once upon a boo, there was a cat, a bat, and a witch's hat). She rode around in the front carrier all day, and with her outfit, her round little moon face, and her gappy front teeth, she looked like a little jack o' lantern herself.

The parade is pretty lame, I must be honest.'s still really fun. It's just a bunch of high school bands and local politicians and community groups, riding through, throwing sweet-tarts and tootsie rolls. The kids filled bags with candy, and we all got sunburned (despite our late application of sunblock). We ate hotdogs and nachos and pumpkin ice cream, and to top the day off, went to an apple orchard. This had a playground, a train (Lucy was in heaven), and more goats.

This time I took little Smoochie to see the goats alone while the other kids played. They ran right up to her and put their cold noses on her. She laughed her squeaky mouse laugh over and over. I love that laugh. I love that there are things now that tickle her funnybone, such as baby goats. She's becoming her own little person. A little person who I like a lot.

We rode home and talked about it all and ate some more tootsie rolls on the way. All in all, a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Imagine that...

One of the best parts about being a mom, for me, is getting to share all the books I loved when I was little with my girls. For a long time now, it's been picture books, but with Lucy we've been reading chapter books lately. I'm trying to find ones that are both easy enough yet challenging and interesting for her. I pulled down my "Little House" series not so long ago. I think she's too young for these yet, but I made a marvelous discovery on amazon. There is a series called "My First Little House" books--and they're lovely picture books with little vignettes lifted from the novels. She has taken to these like a duck to water. Each one starts out the same way, "Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Laura who lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. She lived with her Pa, her Ma, her big sister Mary, her baby sister Carrie, and their good old bulldog, Jack." Lucy always adds now, "And their cat, Black Susan!" They're simple, sweet stories about their winter or summer days, Laura's 5th birthday, a dance at Grandpa's house, and--the latest one we checked out at the library--Christmas.

I yearn, YEARN for a Christmas like that! Here's what the children got in their stockings--a stick of peppermint candy and a pair of mittens. And they were speechless with delight! It's September, and if I think about Christmas I already start to hyperventilate because of the sheer volume of stuff that will make its way into our house and I'll have to figure out what to do with it. How much better just to have one or two things, a big meal, and time spent with family. But I digress.

The other day we were playing over at my parents' house, and my mom had a hair appointment. Lucy sat at the desk and carefully wrote two "notes." "What do your notes say?" I asked. "This one says 'I love you.' And this one says 'I hope you have a good haircut, Manga.'" Then she got wrapping paper out of "her" desk drawer and wrapped each note carefully and drew a bow on each. Then she hid them under the desk. Then she took off her sock and hung it on the doorknob to the patio. She said, "Mom, I'm making Christmas for Manga! There are her presents that I hid and I hung up her stocking!" I said, "Let's put some candy in her stocking; I know where there is some!" So, we put a couple of Sparkle peppermints in the sock and hung it back up. She was so excited when my mom came in--to show her the "Christmas" she had made for her.

That night, after I had bathed both girls and put them in their pajamas, I took them on a walk in the bike buggy/jogger stroller, which is now christened the wagon. I tucked blankets around them, just like Pa did for his girls, and we strolled around the neighborhood. Lucy told our neighbor that she was Laura, Elaine was baby Carrie, her daddy was Pa, I was Ma, Rabbie is the good old bulldog Jack, and Elaine's indeterminate stuffed toy (dog? rabbit?) is their cat, Black Susan.

So, the books are a hit. I'm excited to read the real novels with her in a year or so too, and also to maybe try out some of the activities and recipes, like molasses syrup candy that you pour into pans of snow. Laura Ingalls wrote the books with her daughter, Rose. I think her daughter had more to do with the shaping them and making them the works of art they are today. I read once that Laura relayed an incident to Rose about her cousin trying to molest her and her fending him off with Pa's shotgun. Rose wisely said, "If you put that in, it's no longer a children's book." She didn't shy away from hard times or reality though. They're probably the best look at pioneer life that we have. [One comment in "The First Four Years" that I absolutely love--she wonders why she's been feeling so awful and eventually discovers she is pregnant with Rose. Her internal dialog is, "If you dance, you have to pay the fiddler."]

When Darren was little, he and his brother and sister watched the dreadful travesty that is the TV show. He gets incensed when I say that. He says, "'s so wholesome. It's family!" I say, "It's a ridiculous, saccharine bastardization of a timeless and award-winning set of memoirs. It's rubbish! All they did was borrow the names of real people and write schmaltzy '70s storylines for them!" Every once in awhile, we'll come across it on TV, and he'll leave it on just to bug me. He'll say, "Look at that. Isn't it so nice? Look at Pa and Half-Pint." I've gotten to the point where I don't even look up from what I'm reading. I just say, "Didn't happen. Nope. Diiiiiidn't happen." It annoys him, which is really fun.

So far I've protected Lucy from the TV series. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sitting Up

Yesterday I picked the girls up from daycare. I went into Elaine's room first. Usually she's sitting in her swing or rolling around on the mats on the floor. Today she was sitting up at the table. The table is specially made for infants--there are little built-in seats within the table--so the babies can sit up and eat. And there she was, holding some plastic keys (she loves keys), kicking her little legs and smiling. Her teacher said, "She was lying on the floor, but then two big boys came and stood right by her head. She let out a big, scared squeal so I brought her up here with me. She likes sitting by the teacher, don't you, Elaine? Oh, and then we painted some." I walked over to her and she gave me her big 4-tooth grin, and I could see the remnants of the paint on her fat little index finger.

My Smoochie! She hardly even has hair, and she's sitting up, painting!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mirror, mirror

Her little face is all over the magazine covers again. I hate to see it; I hate it. She looks so empty and soulless and lifeless, and it’s unbelievable that she has been dead for ten whole years. I hate even typing her name, JonBenet, like it’s giving the whole issue more press than ever when all I wish for that little girl is that she be able to rest in peace. At this point of course it matters if, in fact, her killer has been found. But so much of the damage was done before her little life was ever taken. The makeup, the teased hair, the adult clothing…what are people thinking? And of course hers are not the only parents who’ve done this to their little girls. There was a spate of special reports at the time, “Baby Beauty Queens” and the like, and we were all exposed to this bizarre phenomenon of taking your little girls and making them look like grown women, well, kind of like grown women—though most grown women look nothing like that. The saddest picture ever, to me, of JonBenet, was a candid Christmas photo that made it into some magazine, People probably, and she was finally dressed like a little girl—in a red velvet dress with white tights and Mary Janes. Her hair was straight, not teased into a bouffant. But her roots were showing. Plain brown roots, at least an inch before the platinum blond started. And I thought, “What kind of people make their child feel that her ordinary hair color isn’t good enough? At 5 years old?”

With the reopening of her case, there are more talk shows and moms interviewed who insist their daughters love being in beauty pageants. One mother (though I’m sure there are many) puts elaborate extensions in her daughter’s hair and false teeth. To cover over her wonderful, gapped, slightly crooked 8-year-old teeth. And the result is some sort of creepy fembot. A fembot who wins lots of awards for her beauty.

I think about this a lot as the mother of two girls. Before either of them were born, Darren and I confessed shamefacedly to each other, “I hope our baby is cute. I just don’t want an ugly baby!” Each of them—we were thrilled. They were so beautiful, Lucy like a gorgeous baby doll lifted down off a Christmas tree and petite Elaine, her little moon face with the dimples and the bright blue eyes. What a relief.

I don’t tell them this though. I don’t tell them how cute and beautiful they are. What an aesthetic treat for our eyes. I tell them how gentle they are, how generous, how funny, how good at hopping, singing, pulling their socks off, whatever. Anything but how pretty they are. They get it though. From well meaning friends and relatives and grandparents. And Lucy stands in front of her full length mirror sometimes after getting dressed for the day and asks me, “Mom, am I so, so pretty?” This is what I tell her, “Better than being pretty in the mirror, you’re so kind. You love your sister. You’re pretty on the inside.” She says again, “But do I look so pretty in this beautiful dress?”

I hope eventually she hears me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

For the love of John...

Music has always been one of my best friends. You know, Julie, Anna, Lori, and...Music. A friend of mine once gave me a cartoon that showed a gathering of people in evening wear, all wearing Walkmans. At the bottom she penned in her own caption "Alice's idea of a party." My taste is wide and varied and goes according to mood.

Of course when I found out I was pregnant the first time, I thought, "This baby will be exposed to nothing but the finest, most beautiful music. I will be the most serene expectant mother, piping Haydn and Brahams and Bach's cello concertos to my child in utero, and she will come out expectantly waiting for me to turn on La Traviata." So for the first four and a half months I played and played and played and played music. All the baby books said that the child would begin to respond to the music and move. Not mine. I played it a little louder. Nothing. I got out the Beethoven and tried to blast her into action with some overtures. Nothing.

Secretly, I became bored. I love classical music, but you know. The violins and the cellos and the flutes and the on and on and on. I secretly missed my driving music. And obviously this baby was immune to music. I would sneak it into the CD player. She would never know. I put in John Mellencamp's "The Best That I Could Do." Someday I'll devote an entire entry to my love of this man and how he is a Midwestern poet and his music forms the soundtrack of my life. There is only one person whom I would completely lose my chili if I ever met them, and it is him. Ahem. Moving along, I popped the CD in, and within the first couple of beats of "Hurts So Good," the baby began to kick. Fluke? I switched to "Jack and Diane." More movement, this time almost rhythmically. By the time we got to the "Authority Song" she was full out dancing. No lie. It got so that if I ever worried that she hadn't moved much that day, all I had to do was put on John Mellencamp, and she'd began to dance. She even got so that she could distinguish his songs from everything else that was on the radio.

During one of our many OB visits, Darren asked the doctor, "How can we know, how can we really know, even if our test results are negative, that the baby will be healthy and won't have Down's or spina bifida?" and she said, "You can't. The only time you know is when you're holding the baby in your arms." The she added, "I don't have too many worries about a baby who can dance to Mellencamp already though."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fiftieth Anniversary

This weekend we celebrated my Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My mom had originally planned on having a big family party with all the relatives and it lasting the weekend. Instead it evolved into dinner in the private room of a restaurant with our family and Bob’s brother Donald. The party was to be Saturday night in Fennimore, Wisconsin, so my parents rented us a room at the Governor Dodge Hotel in Platteville. I haven’t been to Platteville in a long time. It brings back a lot of growing up memories. This southwestern part of Wisconsin is filled with rolling hills. The drive there looks like a child’s drawing: emerald green grass, lazy black and white cows, puffy white clouds, brilliant red barns. We get to the hotel a few hours early, and we’ve promised Lucy that we’ll take her swimming. She immediately strips off her clothes and begins jumping on the bed naked (or “mekkid” as she pronounces it). When I was about her age, my Aunt Nan took me here on a little getaway. I remember doing the exact same thing and I somehow remember her calling my parents to tell them we had gotten there OK. They must have asked what I was doing because she said in her dry way, “Well, right now we are cavorting about in the nude.” It’s so funny to bring my own daughter here to these same rooms and watch her do the same thing.

The pool was a success, and I love to watch her and Darren together—she’s getting so brave after her swimming lessons, with her “Supermans” and her “Ice Cream Scoops” and jumping off the side of the pool into his waiting arms like a big kid. She wants to be with me, so we trade off, Darren with Elaine and Lucy and I, and I swirl her through the water on her back and tell her that she’s a mermaid and that Smoochie is a merbaby. This is entertaining for a few minutes, but she realizes Dad is more fun in the swimming pool than Mom. I take Elaine back and gently bounce her through the water.

We get ready for the party, and Darren realizes he hasn’t packed any toiletries whatsoever. Or rather he realizes I haven’t packed any for him (apparently my words, “I packed all of our stuff; now you’ll need to do yours” mean something different to him than they do to me) so he goes to Wal-Mart. I put the girls in their lavender party dresses, and I curl Lucy’s hair especially. Then I put on my own “party dress”—my vintage black with lace across the yoke—that makes me feel better than any dress I’ve owned.

The restaurant and room for the party are much nicer than I imagined. There are fairy lights everywhere and little bridges over fountains. Lucy is entranced. My mom takes Elaine because she is dying to show off her new baby. They are there already—Aunt Alice and Uncle Bob and Donald. I watch my aunt especially to see how she is, to see how much more the Alzheimer’s has eroded her as my mom says it is doing. She seems sweet and a little lost. She recognizes us and is thrilled with the baby. She admires Lucy’s party dress and is charmed by Elaine’s chubby plum cheeks and little bare feet. It is one of those parties that is awkward and hard to get going. Chuck and Rome arrive with a beautiful bouquet of roses from all of us. The party begins to get going as Lucy passes out the favors. I made these—gold-wrapped truffles in gold tulle with ribbon and vellum tags with the anniversary couple’s name. It was also my job to pick up the cake, and of course I’ve misunderstood and haven’t picked it up at all. It’s 40 minutes away by the hotel. In an unexplained and serendipitous move, the waitress comes out of nowhere with a cake lit with candles and chocolate covered strawberries. Lucy begins to charm everyone by climbing up on Aunt Alice’s lap and talking to Alice and Bob. It’s her usual three-year-old stream of consciousness; I hear her describing how her piggies are painted as she crams chocolate strawberries in her mouth., but it is wonderful for them. I love her for this. She is so like Darren, so warm and loving and approaches the world with open arms. I remember being so timid and shy at that age, at any age really, and I see how this little girl’s prattle warms them.

She takes Uncle Bob by the hand and asks him to take her to see the fountain, talking energetically the whole way. I follow them to take some pictures—I think of my parents, so full and loved and surrounded with children and grandchildren, and I think for a few moments it is lovely for this elderly man to walk with this little girl through the restaurant. As soon as they return, she runs to Donald to ask him to view the fountain too, but he and Bob have found a better idea—we’ll all go to the attached “saloon” and play the player piano. Donald tells me, “We’re going to play the piano for the little girls!” and he adds with a rueful grin, “And for the big boys too!” The piano plays, and my mom dances with Lucy, and we all leave the restaurant on a high note.

At their home, my mom rummages around and brings down a small green album with their wedding pictures. Their sister, Pearl, fancied herself a photographer at one point, and as none of the sisters had any money, Pearl took all the wedding pictures. These are actually beautiful. We women crowd on the sofa and exclaim over the 50s fashions, and my mom tells Rome and me that Alice bought the lovely, pale pink full-skirted wedding dress (she bought it in pink instead of white so she could wear it again)—one of her first and only store-bought dresses. She was a beautiful seamstress, and she made my mother’s green satin bridesmaid dress, but hers was special for this day—a boughten dress. We laugh and tease Uncle Bob—he looks so nervous in the pictures, was he nervous? “Aw, I didn’t care a thing about it!” he laughs, and young—“You look like a little boy here!” my mom cries. “He WAS just a little boy!” Aunt Alice exclaims earnestly and we laugh, and he looks over at her fondly. She’s sitting on the arm of the sofa, looking at herself in her beautiful pink wedding dress, in the pink dress my mother has bought her for her fiftieth anniversary. Pink is her color. Mom gave her the dress the day before, and Alice doesn’t remember that it’s for a party. She keeps asking, “What do I have do to do to this dress?” and Mom patiently explains time and again that she’s bought it especially for her, a size 4 petite, it will fit her exactly. Other than her wedding dress, she’s never owned a dress that she hasn’t had to tailor or alter or make from scratch.

We leave to go back to the hotel, and Lucy hugs and kisses them and says “Congratulations!” in her earnest little way. They love her, and they touch Elaine’s baby face and arms and legs one last time as if they can’t get enough of her. We drive away in the starlight, and we’re playing Marc Cohn’s first album in the car. We tell Lucy that this was what we always listened to the first summer that we met, and we look over at each other and smile and hold hands, remembering that summer. It takes me back—the night and the stars spinning in the universe and driving to music—our own song “Perfect Love” with James Taylor harmonizing in the background. I’m filled with nostalgia, and I miss those days. I look in the back and see the little girls, so like their dad, and I fall in love with him and them and the night all over again. Today is even better than then.

The next song comes on, “True Companion,” and it’s one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. It got played a lot at weddings around that time, but of course in the summer of ’91 we thought it was just for us: “Baby, I’ve been searchin’ like everybody else, can’t say nothin’ different about myself; sometimes I’m an angel and sometimes I’m cruel, but when it comes to love I’m just another fool. I will climb that mountain and I’ll swim the sea…my arms are reaching out across this canyon: I’m asking you to be my true companion…”

Then I think of the lovely young couple—the young man so nervous and the beautiful brunette in the pink dress, smiling into the unknown future.

When the years have done irreparable harm
I can see us walking slowly, arm in arm
Just like that couple on the corner do
‘Cause girl, I will always be in love with you
When I look in your eyes I still see that spark
When the shadow falls and the room grows dark
And when I leave this earth
I’ll be with the angels standin’
I’ll be out there waiting for my true companion

You are my true companion.

Frog & Toad

On our long drive home, I continually hear the request: “Can we listen to Frog and Toad”? Are you familiar with Frog and Toad? Frog and Toad are best friends, created by Arnold Lobel. They’re sweet and kind and gently funny and have a wonderful friendship. Arnold Lobel himself reads them on audiobook, and it makes you feel happy, like you’re having a big glass of milk and a warm chocolate chip cookie, just to listen to him. Of course on the way home I just want to hear music. I’d love to hear Lucy ask, “Mom, can we listen to Fleetwood Mac?” just ONCE. But…Frog and Toad it is. Lucy settles down in her carseat with Rabbie and her thumb firmly in her mouth, sort of like me putting on Darren’s basketball shorts and my favorite extra large-dark-green-but-it’s-been-washed-so-many-times-that-it’s-grey t-shirt with holes in it, emblazoned with “Arizona State University,” putting a Twizzler in my mouth, and settling down with my feet up to watch “Bridezillas.” (No one knows the origin of this t-shirt. Neither of us nor anyone we know has connections to Arizona State. It’s a mystery.)

Anyway, back to Frog and Toad. The more I analyze these stories, I think that I am like Frog and Darren is like Toad. Frog is basically a glass half full kind of guy while Toad is glass half empty. Frog is so optimistic and cheerful and always thinking something wonderful will happen, like when he hears spring is just around the corner, he actually goes around corners hoping to find it there. Plus, he’s an early riser and would like Toad to be as well. Toad says things like, “Blah. I’m down in the dumps” and “Wake me up when it’s May.” He worries that all the other animals will laugh at him in his bathing suit. He obsesses because he loses his to-do list or his button off his jacket. (Needless to say, Darren was not particularly flattered by my parallel of us as Toad and Frog. “Sure, you get to be the cheerful, fun one!”) However, Toad is intensely loyal and a fantastic friend. When Frog wants to be alone on an island so he can just sit and be thankful for Toad, Toad worries that he’s done something to offend him and packs a picnic basket with iced tea and sandwiches and canoes out to Frog to beg his pardon. He goes to extreme limits to protect Frog. When Frog is late coming over for Christmas Eve dinner, Toad imagines him lost in a ditch or being chased by a wild animal, and he rummages around finding a rope to pull him out of the ditch and a frying pan to knock all the wild animal’s teeth out. (Frog’s just late because he was wrapping Toad’s Christmas present and is obliviously unaware of the consternation he’s caused.)

Darren’s just one of those lovely worriers, but he’s so funny about it at the same time; it’s utterly endearing. (For example, Lucy’s great Constipation Plague of ’06 when he said, “I just don’t want her to die like that guy from the BeeGees!”) The other night he was talking about a little incident that had happened during her swimming class. He was recounting everything in detail, he said, “She’s so innocent. She’s just having fun at swimming. She’s not even aware that someone might not want to sit by her. It’s killing me. And do I make her aware of it? Do I let her know how people can be in this world? How will I be able to handle when someone is really mean to her and tells her they don’t want to play with her? She’s just a little girl. Should I just have kept my mouth shut?” I look at him and listen to him—loving our daughter and struggling with what I’m sure most parents do—how to protect them and also let them develop fortitude, how painful it is to watch that little person take any kind of hurt.

And I want to tell him that being like Toad is a pretty good way to be.