Addressing the “State of the Marriage”

During the holidays, most communication in our home went something like this:

“Can you pick up Mike from the airport?”

“Matt is driving home sometime today; is his car going to make it?”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Mike needs a car to get to a job. Can you drive the kids to school and I’ll pick them up?”

“WHERE ARE THE CAR KEYS????”

“There’s a choir concert on Tuesday night. Abby needs to go to the doctor for a sinus infection and Peter lost his dress shoes.”

“Mom, the zipper broke on my dress and I need to leave in five minutes”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Dad, my car is making a really weird noise”

“Can the guys come over tonight?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Can Katie and I make Christmas cookies? Do we have any baking stuff?”

“Who made this mess???”

“Why does he have to leave his gross boxers in the bathroom?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Her gross stuff is all over the bathroom and it’s covered in hairspray”

“Why is the dog in the neighbor’s yard?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

For the last 24 years, my husband and I have been feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after kids, shuttling kids around, watching kids perform, helping kids with insane school assignments, feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after….

In the crush of years and kid-directed activity, I occasionally catch a glimpse of my husband/college sweetheart and think,

“Who is this guy?”

The School of Raising Children transformed two crazy-in-love kids into unrecognizable working drones, living in the same dorm.

This year, my dashing husband took charge. Instead of spending the last week of the year wallowing on the couch in a pile of Christmas cookies and wrapping paper, he booked a hotel room in the city. We packed our bags, donned some stylish clothes and abandoned the whole sorry mess.  With this act alone, he earned a hero’s cape, but he wasn’t finished.  As we sipped trendy cocktails in a restaurant devoid of college and high school kids, he whipped out a list of very purposeful questions.  They were as follows:

What is going well for us?

What three things can WE do better?

What three things can I do better?

What would we like to see happen for the kids in 2013?

How do we go about participating in this?

Where do we see God leading us in 2013?

And that folks, is why I married this guy. We spent the next two days evaluating, planning and talking. We also laughed, tried new restaurants and enjoyed each other’s company.  Instead of starting this year with tired resolutions, we have a written plan of action for 2013.  We will take some time in the summer and evaluate our progress.

The annual “State of the Marriage” address is our new holiday tradition.

champagne flutes touching

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Life, Love and Death

ImageThis week, my friend Mary buried her husband Steve.  From a back pew, I watched as she walked up the aisle, followed by her six children to sit in the front row.  There were tears, but they held their heads high.

Steve didn’t have a lot of money, stuff, a fancy house or a fast car. Truly, he wasn’t spectacular by the world’s standards.  But, he had everything.

His wife, my friend, loved him.  She glowed as his friends and family spoke of Steve’s impact in their lives.  There was a moment when she dropped her head as a slide show flashed pictures of their lives together –  a young and handsome groom carrying his bride across a threshold, a glowing new mother and father holding a tiny infant.  He loved her so much. What does it take to get a life like that?

I’m sure with six kids, job issues, moves, college, life was hard for Steve and Mary.  My own life is similar to Mary’s in many ways. With so many marriages failing across the country, I have learned that it takes a commitment to something more than the other person to make a marriage work.  For us, it takes a commitment to God.  I promised God that I would love and honor my husband even when he is not lovable.  It takes two people to do that.  There is such pain when one person in the marriage refuses to keep their commitment. I’ve seen that pain and the following devastation in so many of my friend’s lives. I can’t make John love and cherish me.  There are days when I am profoundly unlovable.  John loves God more than he loves me and he trusts God to give him the strength and ability to love me.  That commitment to God first, and then to me, overflows to our children.  That’s a guy I want to love forever. I saw that in my friend, Mary.  No regrets, Mary and Steve finished well.

Our friend Steve left his children with a precious gift – his unwavering love. He loved God faithfully to the end, despite a terrible, debilitating illness.  They saw him live and die well, with love and thankfulness to God for his life. His sons are fine upright young men following their dad’s example  and starting their own families.  His beautiful daughters know their value.  They watched their dad cherish their mother. He loved them well.

Steve didn’t choose to leave his family, as so many men do.  Steve’s family will display his fingerprint of love and faith.  They will miss him, but his legacy will last through their lifetimes.

In this picture, Steve and his daughter Anna are in the middle.  My husband and daughter are directly to their left.  Our girls were in 8th grade. They are twenty-four now.  We called this event the Father/Daughter.  I’ll write on that next time.  For now, I am very thankful for what I have.

“I’m Bored”

They’re coming…

With summer looming, here are 10 free, kids tested activities I used to keep my kids occupied. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, they worked for me.

HINT: I outlawed TV and the computer during summer daylight hours.  I found my kids to be more content when they didn’t have a screen competing for their attention.  They were “totally bored” for a few days, but boredom breeds creativity. Try it!

1. Frisbee Golf.  Stick up a bunch of numbered paper plates around the yard and you’ve got a course. Make sure you’ve included a couple of “around the tree and under the picnic table” type shots to make it challenging.

2.  Make Butter.  Put some whipping cream and a marble in a clean jar and let them shake it.  Eventually, the cream will separate and there will be a small quantity of butter. This is a good time to talk about the “olden days”.

3. Bug Safari.  I saved peanut butter jars for bugs and other critters. They are light weight and don’t break when dropped.  To put air holes in the lid – heat a length of wire (clothes hangers work well, make it long enough so you don’t burn yourself) over the stove burner and melt it through the lid.

4. Public Library. I pay kids to read. OK, so this one is not free, but it’s money well spent.  Bribery has it’s place, people.

5. Timed Races. Get out the stop watch and time your kids running around the house.  This can be accomplished while sitting in a lawn chair.  Write down their baseline time and challenge them to break it.  Occasionally, I let them time me so they could marvel (laugh) at my athleticism (lack of).

6. Twig Furniture.  I bought a book, Making Twig Garden Furniture, by Abby Ruoff, and put my thirteen-year old son on the task.  If you don’t have access to twigs, you probably know someone who would be thrilled for your kid to come cut and haul some from their yard. My son got so good at furniture making, he actually sold a few pieces to neighbors and local garden shops. The book, or one like it is probably available at the public library.

7. Corn Starch.  Mix a very small amount of water into 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, just until it liquifies and let the kids play with it. Is it a liquid or is it a solid?  I did this outside so I didn’t have to clean up.

8. Car Wash.  Great fun on a hot summer day.  Get out the hose, some sponges and  bucket of soapy water and call the neighbors. Who knows, maybe they’ll make some tip money!

9. Four Square.  The concrete on our driveway is conveniently divided into squares, but chalk or some string will make lines.  All you need is a bouncy ball and lot’s of rules. The more rules the better.  Does a liner count?  Ankle shots?  Back stops?  We sometimes played word four-square.  Say a different state, fruit, boy’s name etc. each time you hit the ball.  If you repeat, your out.

10. Paper Mache.  Another outside activity.   Here’ a link for  home made Paper Mache paste. We used balloons and painted them when they dried out. If you’re really nice and want to buy a bag of candy, you can make a pinata, giving you yet another day’s fun.

Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #5

This incident involves all five children in a craven act of destruction and sibling solidarity.  It also involves me and the telephone – a bad combination when paired with parenting.

It was an ordinary day.  I sent the children to the basement to play while I cleaned up lunch. Sometimes it’s lonely in Mommy Land so I decided to call my friend for a few minutes of adult conversation.  I guess I lost track of time.  It was getting along towards nap time and I hadn’t seen or heard a kid for a while. Better check on them.  With my friend still on the line, I went down the basement stairs and landed in three inches of standing water.  I’m not sure, but I think my friend heard my scream without the aid of the telephone.

The children, squealing with glee, didn’t even see me. Two were having a water fight with bathroom cups. One lay with her arms and legs in the water doing the elementary back stroke.  One ran in from the other room, flying feet first through the air and landing with a splash on his butt.  And the final insult … one was sailing a boat.

The bathroom faucet was running full throttle with a sock plugging the drain.  Water spilled over the counter and into the hall.  Splash and play time! Who needs a water park when you can make one in your own in your basement?

Thankfully, their beds were above the water mark and they spent the afternoon on high ground.

Motherhood is filled with life lessons.  That day, I learned to use a shop-vac.

Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #2

Syringe 5 with drops.

This one’s a doozy.

One morning, I returned home after a PRAYER MEETING (this fact gains significance after you hear what my kid did) to find my ten year-old daughter sitting on the couch.

“Where’s your brother?” I ask

“He’s out riding his scooter” she replies

I think this a bit strange as it was 40 degrees out and not the best scooter riding weather, but whatever… he’s a kid right?  So I go into the kitchen to do a little cleaning.  As I am taking out the trash, I see the scooter leaning against the wall in the garage.  Hmm.  I go back to the couch-sitting daughter.

“When did you last see your brother?” I ask

“I don’t know.”

Detective Mom springs into action. Let’s see, I left for my meeting at 8:30am, it was now 10:30am. That means he had been MIA for 2 hours.  I started to feel a little nervous and called the neighbors to see if he was there.  Nope.  I rode my bike around the neighborhood calling his name.  Nothing.  I called Hubby at the office.  After some heated deliberation, (my crying, him saying “he’ll turn up”) we decided to call the sheriff.

The deputy took a full description and requested a recent picture of our son. They instructed me to stay at home by the phone.  My neighbors and their kids took to their bikes scouring the neighborhood and nearby library.  My husband, dressed in his suit, walked the small paths in the woods as the police cruiser drove up through fields and open areas.

I sat on our front step, praying, trying not to imagine the worst.  In 1989, Jacob Wetterling was abducted while riding his bike in a town just north of us.  He was never found.  Jacob was eleven, our son had just turned twelve.  I felt a rising panic.  I didn’t want to become a news story.  After an agonizing two hours, the sheriff called.  They had spotted our son walking along the highway near our neighborhood.  He was on his way home. I cried with relief as the police car pulled into our driveway with our son in the back seat.

The story he gave us was that he had decided to go for a hike.  He planned ahead and packed his school back-pack full of water bottles. Hydration is important, right? After a stern lecture from the cop, yelling from Mom and Dad, laughter from the neighbors, and sneering from his sister, we resumed our daily life.

I returned to the kitchen and noticed my calendar, open on the counter. A large SHOTS with the perp’s initials was clearly written in for 1:00pm.  It was now 12:45pm and we could just make it.  As I mentioned this fact, the perp went ballistic.

“NO, NO!!! I DON’T WANT SHOTS!!! NOOOOOOOO”

Ah, now it all made sense.  He had hatched this diabolical, yet poorly executed plan to avoid getting his shots. Well, not on my watch, Mister.

I hauled his sorry little butt to the car and turned up the radio to drown out his cries. I dragged him through the lobby of the clinic and into the exam room, ignoring the wide-eyed stares of the other mothers.  I sat, reading a magazine, as he quivered and pleaded for mercy. Innocently, I asked if they had a few more shots they could give him.  Unfortunately, the perp was up to date.  Too bad.

This incident inspired me to form a new calendar code system.  Now, no one knows what’s about to happen but me.  It’s better this way.

Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #1

The perpetrators in these stories will remain nameless.

I had almost finished loading the car for a two week vacation in California.  We were flying instead of driving so timing was important.  My husband was at the office handling some last minute details while I packed for him and the five kids, loaded the car, made sandwiches, checked-in for our flights, made sure every one had something to entertain themselves, arranged for the pets and the yard and cleaned the house. Get the picture? We had five minutes before we needed be in the car and make the one hour drive to the airport. The kids were wild so I banned them to the back yard and and told them not to show their faces until Dad was in the driveway.  Mother of the year.

Hubby screeched in with three minutes to spare.  I greeted him in the driveway.  We locked eyes.  I think I saw him shudder as he pulled past me and parked his car in the garage.

I fumed by the car as he rushed in to change his clothes. It was then that I heard the pandemonium erupt in the backyard.

Four kids barreled around the side of the house, a churning mass of shouts and pointing fingers.  A fifth child came more slowly, dripping, shoes squishing, hair sopping, algae clinging to his clothes.  His older sibling had shoved him headlong into the pond.  We had one minute.

After a moment of stunned shock, I sprung to action. My husband herded the dry kids into the car while I stripped the wet one.  I bagged his shoes, wiped the pond scum off his head and hung over the back seat, digging for some dry clothes as we rocketed down the highway.  We made it.  Barely.  Frazzled mothers should be upgraded to first-class and given complimentary cocktails.  I also recommend a special section in the back, by the bathrooms, for procrastinating fathers and unruly children. Just sayin’.

The perp in this case just got married.  I’m still not over it.

Nap Time – One Mother’s Story of Survival

Study of a Sleeping Child

It's a beautiful thing

I had five children in less than eight years.  That’s over four years of being pregnant. That’s one or two in diapers for 10 years.  I used to joke that if you were born into my family, you took a daily nap from 1:00-3:00pm.  I really wasn’t joking – the nap was my life line.

Parents often comment that their little darling gave up their nap when they were two.

I usually smile sweetly and think, “That’s when you gave up their nap… not them.”

I have yet to meet a two-year-old who isn’t much improved by a daily nap.  Try this sociological study.  Take a trip to the local shopping mall any day at 2:00 in the afternoon.  I guarantee you will see at least one glassy-eyed screaming toddler accompanied by an exhausted and frustrated mother. Every one of my two or three-year-old kiddos bucked the nap rule at least once.  One little guy, my chief testing engineer, got up to wander the house every day for a week; needing a snack, a drink, to see what I was doing, etc… Don’t be fooled parents! They still need a nap.  Outlast them.  It’s for their benefit, not just your own.  It’s really good for a child to learn early that “just ’cause they feel it, don’t make it so.”   An excellent life lesson – easily taught when they are knee-high.  Not so easy when they are teens.

I had some selfish reasons for wanting this nap.  I was TIRED!! It’s hard work parenting little people, especially when pregnant.  Some days my date with the couch lasted 2 straight hours.

By the time the older ones really outgrew their naps, around five, they were in such a daily habit that we transitioned from sleeping to “alone reading” or art time, while the younger ones slept.   My kids shared rooms; three boys in one room and two girls in the other. Trying to entice your brother to join you in your “alone” time was not included in the rules.  You can guess who tested this rule … many times.

The best benefit of nap time?  My children had a happy mother for the other eleven hours of their day.