Wednesday, February 28, 2007

South Africa update

This morning I talked to Elizabeth Rapuleng in South Africa. I wanted to find out how Moali is doing. The answer was not good. Three weeks ago, Moali wanted to kill herself. She can't take it anymore, living with a woman who is so cruel and abusive to her. It doesn't sound as though her social worker is either doing or able to do much to get her into boarding school. The money that we sent to help her is tied up in South Africa's very complicated banking system, and some of it will be subtracted by them before (or even if) it ever gets to Elizabeth. The good news is that she did get the packages and letters we sent to her.

I've got to say I am so discouraged today. I'm not sure I've ever felt so powerless and helpless in my life. The girls and I went to Wal-Mart this morning and picked out some spring clothes to send to Moali. I think it was just a feeble attempt to make me feel better than at least I'm doing something.

I've spent my (brief) alone time today, alternating between tears and prayer. This is not my battle. It's God's. I'm not sure what He's doing, but I'm asking Him to hammer on my faith in order to strengthen it.

I've been listening to this too: (#2: "The Way God Works"). If anyone stumbles across this blog, with everything in me, I wish you'd click on this and listen; right now it's the only thing really keeping me hanging on, and I'm betting I'm not alone in feeling frustration, desperation, and...who knows what else with life today.

I'm keeping this record of Moali in this journal because I think of her as my third daughter. I'm keeping it to show Lucy and Elaine because I'm believing this is going to have a phenomenal ending. It's not over yet; she's still here.

It's not over.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stir Crazy

OK. I'm officially over winter. (Truth be told, I was over it on January 1st, but no matter.) Seriously, will we ever get to leave this house? I've got that feeling (and I love our house) that all the walls are closing in on me and every nook and cranny is being speedily filled with some sort of clutter--kind of like those time-lapse photos of kudzu growing or something. This is the time of year that I begin making spring cleaning lists, which project I'm going to do first. I tackled the kitchen last week and was absolutely ruthless. I ask, "Do we need it? Are we using it?" and if the answer is No, into a garbage bag it goes. I threw away 3/4 empty boxes of noodles, half-used packets of Lipton onion soup mix, packages of napkins bought for parties that have only 2 napkins left in the get the picture. I actually THREW AWAY baby bottles. (In case you're worried about Elaine, have no fear. They weren't hers. These were Lucy's. You know, from 2004.)

It feels like we're slowly being overtaken by Happy Meal toys, pieces from Polly Pocket sets, mismatched socks, receipts for pizza, and magazines with ideas for a beautiful Christmas in them. It's all going to the curb. It feels very freeing. I need to start on the girls' bedrooms next, but they need to be gone for the day--at least Lucy does. She's still cherishing some sort of broken light saber from last 4th of July.

Last weekend, a vicious February storm made its way through. (As I type this, I started writing about Friday night and was actually boring MYSELF, so I'll move this along...) Saturday night we found out that church the next day was cancelled. There was a certain amount of satisfaction going to sleep that night, hearing the sleet click against the windows and knowing we didn't have to go out the next day. In the morning, I made the girls Hello Kitty waffles. Elaine sat in her highchair, wearing her penguin pajamas and saying, "Num, num, num, num." That was the highlight of day--the rest of the time, the four of us bickered with each other.

If you can't tell already, I don't really have much to write about. I spend my free time searching the Internet for lilac bushes (I want to plant one for each girl) and carpet roses (oh, and a dress to wear to a wedding at the end of March. The social highlight of my decade it seems.) I wander around Target, looking at spring clothes for the girls. One positive sign is that Easter candy is now available. So, I can while away the time waiting for warm weather by eating chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs.

That's pretty much it. Lucy is occasionally using a British accent for no apparent reason, so that's nice. We've started reading the Betsy-Tacy books together. And while I make it a practice to stay away from most potty-training conversations and any sort of scatalogical matters in this blog (I want them to enjoy reading this when they grow up, not cringe), this one is too good to pass up. I was bagging up a load of dirty diapers from the diaper pail, and Lucy said, "I think when the garbage man sees that he'll say, 'What a lovely bag of stinko diapers. I'll take that away for your family now.'"

He'll do that while admiring our lilac bushes and carpet roses, right?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TV or Not TV

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under the age of 2 should not watch any television. I can get behind that. I loathe that glazed, spaced-out stare kids get when they're watching TV. I don't like when all imaginary play comes from characters they've seen on television. I think television shortens the attention span and stifles creativity. I really do. Lucy watched no TV until she was almost 2 1/2. Now that she is watching, we've mostly limited it to DVDs so we can monitor her viewing habits closely.

OK, all that being said? Sometimes I just love TV. I refuse to exalt it into some sort of friendly, alternate teacher. TV is what it is. It's my babysitter. Sometimes, I need to clean the kitchen or get supper ready without someone under foot, rifling through the Tupperware drawer, filling every container with water from the bathroom, then spilling it all over the floor so I can step in it in my sock feet.

A year ago, right before Elaine was born, we bought a new car. We needed a family vehicle. So we bought one of those new station wagon/SUVs (we call it "the manwagon" since it's a wagon a man would be caught dead driving in). It has a DVD player in it. I'm so embarrassed. It's like driving your living room around. Seriously. What has the world come to? know, we go on trips and have discovered that it is so incredibly nice to put in a DVD and not listen anymore to Mr. Henry CDs or Frog & Toad (sorry, Arnold Lobel) or carry on long verbose conversations about...whatever it is little kids want to talk about. We can listen to our own music and have our own conversations, while Lucy watches Strawberry Shortcake or Beauty & the Beast or, a favorite at our house, Maisy.

Do you know about Maisy? Maisy is a mouse, and her best friends are Charley the Alligator? Crocodile?, Tallulah the Chicken, Eddie the Elephant, and Cyril the Squirrel. They're simple drawings in bright, primary colors. Here's a sample of a Maisy book: "Maisy and Charley went shopping. They bought yogurt, tomatoes, bread, milk, and cheese. Good thing they brought Maisy's wagon. Now they're home and can have lunch. Yum, yum." This Lucy Cousins who writes them is laughing all the way to the bank. It's like Demerol for toddlers.

The movies are similar. The first time Darren watched one with Lucy he said, "Is there a plot to this?" I said, "Oh yes. Eddie is too big for the wading pool, and he makes a hole in it. So instead of swimming in the pool, Eddie squirts the water out of his trunk for Maisy and Tallulah, so it's like a sprinkler." " long does this last?" Darren asked.

The movies all have this faux reggae music that is absolutely impossible to get out of your head. All the characters speak in grunts and squeaks. They're actually pretty cute, with the exception of Charley, whom I have a personal bias against. He's always showing up at the last minute and getting out of all the work but still getting the treats that everyone else gets. He's like that obnoxious guy in college who never brought his own pens and paper to class and always borrowed from everyone else. Another kind of weird thing about Maisy-world is that anyone selling or dispensing a service is an ostrich. The librarian? an ostrich. The person selling balloons at the park? an ostrich. The checkout lady at the supermarket? an ostrich. It's like there's some sort of bizarre ostrich merchant class.

We still don't let Elaine watch TV. But, oh, she loves Maisy. She likes the books, and she's been in the room when Lucy is watching. She likes to dance to the fake reggae music, their language sounds exactly like hers, and she'll probably date the Charley-like guy in college since she already has such an affinity for him.

Last night on the way home from St. Louis (which is supposed to take only 5 hours, but mysteriously took us about 17 it seemed), both girls were screeching and whining and having outbursts of bad humor. So, at our final gas station stop, Darren popped in the Maisy DVD. He asked, "Which episode should I play?" and I answered, "Hit play ALL." It was magic. As soon as the Maisy music came on, everything calmed down immediately. We looked back and saw Lucy with Rabbie and her thumb in her mouth. Elaine stared, glassy-eyed and began twirling her hair (don't think this doesn't alarm us just a little bit).

But it was quiet. Blessedly quiet. I'm not thrilled that I'm medicating my kids with TV. But, it's what my friend Alysa calls, "survival mode." Sometimes you gotta do what you've gotta do.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Letter to my girls...

Dear Lucy and Elaine,

Let me tell you a not-so-well-kept secret. Your mom is afraid. I know moms and dads are supposed to be the brave ones, but sometimes we're not. And with the case of your mom, it's usually not sometimes, it's always. What are you afraid of, Mom? you ask. I could give you a long, long list, but I'll tell you the thing I'm most afraid of: that something bad will happen to you or to Daddy. That you or Daddy will get hurt. That you or Daddy will die. I'll tell you girls, and maybe when you're both moms, you'll be able to understand this and you'll be afraid too--you'll wake up at night, and the fear will clutch your heart. The darkness will surround you, and it will threaten to swallow you whole. It's like taking a deep breath to face your worst fear and finding that it's so much more hideous and frightening than you ever could have imagined. Horrible things run, unhindered, through my mind.

I've been thinking about this a lot because of some things that have happened to you lately. Dear adventurous Smoochie, you tried to pull up on a floor lamp and instead pulled it over onto the floor, shattering the glass into thousands of tiny shards. When I swooped you up off the floor, I came up with a bloody finger. Those pieces of glass, they could have cut an artery, flown in your mouth, gotten lodged in your eye. But all that happened to you was a tiny cut on your cheek.

Lucy, you tried to walk backward down our upstairs flight of steps and fell all the way to the bottom, crashing down on the hardwood floor at the bottom. I saw you land, head down. You could have broken your arms, your legs, or your neck. Then if that weren't enough, Elaine, you went headfirst down the basement steps, hitting every single one and landing at the bottom--the basement steps with a huge, gaping space between the railing and the floor below. You could have plunged 12-13 feet, straight down to the thinly covered cement floor. Both of you girls--you had some minor cuts and bruising. That's all.

You might say to me when you're moms yourselves--what should I do, Mom? I'm so afraid. What if something happens to my baby? I feel like I can't even protect my own children.

Well, girls, I've got some wonderful news for you that I was just reminded of this week. Open up your Bibles to II Timothy Chapter 1. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and of sound mind." That fear? That feeling that everything's out of control? It's not coming from God. Instead, He's given us power. He's given us love. And the best part, He's given us a sound mind. The opposite of that in the Bible is insanity or even a mind oppressed by demons (I think I know just a little bit of what that feels like). But God's given me power, love, and a sound mind to combat all that fear that comes to me.

And here's something else. I gave you girls to God. Rather, He lent you to me, and I gave you back to Him. He can take care of you so much better than I. My natural instinct is to hang on to you so tightly, but on October 12, 2003, and June 18, 2006, when each of you was baptized--I stood before Him and promised to hold you with open hands. You're His, not mine. And here's what else II Timothy says, "For I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've commited unto Him until that day."

You precious little girls have the brightest future! You belong to God Almighty! And sometimes He sends things our way, like falls down the stairs and broken glass, to remind your mom that she needs to pry her fingers off your lives and remember to Whom you belong. Even if something worse had happened to you, I still know Whom I have believed. He is able to keep you, Lucy and Elaine. No matter what.

I am not afraid, and you don't need to be either!



Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Waiting for Spring

David Benoit has a lovely CD titled "Waiting for Spring." The cover art is a winter garden with a snow-covered bench. It's so soothing and gentle as if one were just staring dreamily out the window each day at the softly falling snow, peacefully waiting for crocuses and tulips to pop out of the ground and for robins to appear. The music (also soothing, gentle, and peaceful) plays on our kitchen CD player as I pick up Cheerios from the floor, wipe two runny noses, make honey toast for breakfast for the nth day in a row...yes, indeed, we are WAITING FOR SPRING.

Don't get me wrong. Things are infinitely better this winter than last winter. I was a sleep-deprived, hormonally-challenged mess. I was up every night, all night with Elaine, then as soon as I drifted off to sleep, I would hear a small voice from the other room: "Mom! Can I get out of my bed now?" I was on maternity leave all winter. I couldn't even escape to work. I was a prisoner in my own home, my jail guarded by two tiny people in pink ruffled uniforms. I emailed a friend, "I'm entitling my life book 'The Long Winter.' Except, Laura Ingalls Wilder already wrote a book like that where she and her entire family were caught in a blizzard, then almost died of scarlet fever. So, whatever I write would not only be miserable, but anticlimactic in comparison."

Yea verily, I do get tired of static-y hair, dry skin, shocks whenever we touch anything, cold drafts, the endless donning of coats/snowpants/boots/scarves/hats/mittens, then trying to stuff each child with all that on into carseats and somehow mash the buckles down without pinching their little legs in the process (while they arch their backs and squirm and fish their well-padded arms out of the straps quicker than you can say "vacation in Barbados"). But there have been intervals of fun and enjoyment too.

Lucy wants to wear a dress every day. I like that about her; I like knowing her unique preferences. Plus it makes helping her to the potty much easier too. So, win-win. But, when it's eleventy thousand degrees below zero as it has been here, practicality requires that she wear pants. I was explaining this to her (oh, for the trillionth time) the other day. She put on her pants without a word, but as we walked down to breakfast, she was dragging her feet and had a frown on her face. I asked what was wrong and she said, "I'm sort of a little bit VERY mad right now. Because you said I couldn't wear a dress."

We enjoy baking and making things together too--that's a good indoor activity. The other day while doing a project she said to me, "Mom, you're better than big ol' Herod" (you know, King Herod of Judea fame). At least now I know what to aspire too--simply being better than a crazed, tyrannical despot. I can do that. Most days.

Then yesterday when I picked up the girls from daycare, it was so cute, I thought my heart would burst. Elaine caught sight of Lucy and began shrieking with joy and crawling as fast as she could to her. Lucy ran to her with her arms outstretched, and they had a happy reunion. It did my spirits good. (Of course, then Lucy hugged her as hard as she could until Smoochie began roaring, and Lucy said disgustedly, "Oh, simmer down, Elaine!")

Yes, overall, things are happy. We're cozy indoors, playing together, and occasionally we make half-hearted forays out into the world. And if you look in our backyard, it really does look like a lovely winter garden, and there is a snow-covered bench under a tree there too. If I had the energy, I'd put on their snowsuits, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots, and we'd go out, sit down on it, and have a little chat.