Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Boy (and Girl!)

My kids recognize a Starbucks emblem as readily as I identified the McDonald's arches when I was a kid.  It's a sign of our generation.  I don't mind, I suppose.  Given the choice, I'd rather they grow up drinking three dollar coffees than eating thousand calorie meals.  Still, it cracks me up when we pull into a parking lot and Abby says, "Thehr's Stahr-bucks!" like she's hit the jackpot, as she did this afternoon after lunch.

We unloaded to walk in, and Ben, who has a renewed interest in his little wallet full of allowance money, asked if he could please pay for their "special milk."

Who am I to argue with that?

So when we approached the counter inside, he walked up and, after asking me for a reminder of how to order their drink, said confidently, "Can I please have a grande milk with one pump of raspberry syrup?"  Though she could barely hear him, the lady behind the counter smiled her encouragement and passed his order on to the barista.

"One dollar and nineteen cents," she informed him, and with a little coaching from me, he carefully identified the requisite dollar bill and two dimes, handed them over the counter with pride, and received his penny in change.  "You're a big boy now, aren't you?" she said, still smiling at his sweet independence.

As if on cue, Little Miss Sunshine next to me chimed in a voice audible to the whole shop, "Ih'm gwow-ing, tooh!" as she bounced up and down.

My soul bounced all the way home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Riddle Solved

Why did Ben and Abby cut Abby's hair at Puppy Kindergarten?

"Because we thought I would get a doughnut," says Abby.

Of course.  Ben and Josh's post-haircut ritual is to get a doughnut.

You can't make this stuff up.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Our limiting factors are changing: from two little people we call Ben & Abby to things like time, other responsibilities, and garages that need cleaning out.  It's glorious.

On Saturday, we biked dozens of miles with the kids in trailers, and for the first time, we wore out before their attention spans.   On Sunday, we managed to walk all the way around Evergreen Lake at their request without multiple "rests," tears, or other complaints.  Even Merlot managed to use her nose with moderation, and while she was happy to greet any party willing to say hi, she was also able to walk by when necessary.   All five of us enjoyed our time from start to finish.  Monumental.

I hope I'm not speaking prematurely when I say it feels like we've arrived.  Or, at the very least, are arriving.  We're getting to do things together as a family without the sense that we're racing some invisible clock of the kids' interest or energy.  It seems we're on the cusp of a golden era in childhood (and canine ownership).

Maturity is the word of the moment.  The kids are maturing.  (Merlot is maturing).  I can see it grow and develop by the day.  More confidence.  Less dependence.  More patience.  Less immediate need.  More awareness of both self and others.  Less blind demand.  More appreciation for the adventure of time together.  More trust of us and our ability to craft fun.  More interest in the world around them and in developing their ability to navigate it.

As we reached the end of our walk, I said, "Ben, you're getting stronger!  You've made it all the way around the lake without needing any breaks!"

"Yeah.  Last time when we walked with Rebecca, I had to stop a lot, but I'm getting stronger.  I've been exercising."

Later, he told Josh he wanted to walk around the lake three times next time.

Confidence.  Growth.

And maturity.

Oh, the visions of summer fun floating through my mind.  


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Abby's New 'Do

Abby's first haircut did not occur at a salon, or a barber, or even at home under the careful eye of her mother.  No, Abby's first haircut occurred at Puppy Kindergarten this evening, a creative masterpiece of the preschool variety.

The kids had to come with me tonight because Josh was out for the evening.  The plan was for them to bring coloring supplies, and they could spend their time either creating works of art or watching the puppies from the blue benches lining the wall in class.

This was the plan.  As most parents know, however, there can be great disparity between the plan and reality.

Before we left the house, both kids took great care in selecting exactly which coloring books and materials they'd bring.  They even grabbed the place mats we use anytime we're coloring in the house to protect the table surface from errant coloring strokes.

Ben told me he had decided to bring his little safety scissors and cutting workbook so if he got bored coloring, he could do some cutting, and then if he got bored with that, he could go back to coloring.  I hesitated when he mentioned this plan, but he's always been duly responsible with his scissors, so I conceded.  He has been completely engrossed in his little workbook of increasingly difficult cutting patterns lately, and I appreciated his logic and forethought.

Then Abby mentioned she was bringing markers, and I hesitated again.  I suggested we just bring crayons, but she asked with her nicest manners in her sweetest voice if she could please bring her markers, so I conceded again, wanting to reward her polite petitioning in addition to recognizing that she far prefers her markers to her crayons.

Besides, I reasoned, the afternoon had been so delightful, I felt justified pushing my usual play-it-safe mentality aside, choosing instead to trust them.  They rounded up their materials and packed them carefully into their respective backpacks, taking their responsibility to provide their own entertainment with great seriousness and a palpable sense of duty.  Buzzing from laundry room to cupboard to kitchen with importance, they nearly glowed with pride in their independence and self-sufficiency.

And I, too, glowed--basking in their maturity and accomplishment with an almost smugness.  In my mind, I watched the three of us walk into class with Merlot in tow, the kids wearing their self-packed backpacks.  I saw Ben and Abby sitting quietly on the bench, happily whiling away the time in the usual fog of focus that comes over them when they're engrossed in a task.   I practically envisioned the other puppy owners looking on in fond respect of my well-groomed and beautifully-behaved progeny.  I was proud of my darlings.

But you know what they say about pride and where it goeth.  Before the fall--of Abby's lovely golden locks, apparently.

Far from the quiet and focused angels I had envisioned, they--with the aid of another child from class--made enough ruckus in the first ten minutes to merit three visits from me.  Each time I left the group to shush them, Merlot strained with her full weight against the instructor holding her leash in maddening attempts to follow me.  By the time I arrived at the bench the third time, Ben had marker on his forehead and mouth, Abby was coloring on the placemat while her coloring book sat undisturbed just inches away, and the contents of the art box were strewn across the floor from end to end of the bench.

Exemplary mother and puppy owner I was not.  Yet somehow, this public display of imperfection made me smile inside, almost laugh.  I was too crazy to have time for embarrassment.  Maybe I'm finally learning to accept the areas where I don't have control.

Which I now know includes puppy kindergarten.

So by the end of class, when the same instructor who wrangled Merlot's leash so I could quiet the peanut gallery stepped outside to the puppy potty place to inform me, with blond hair in hand, that Abby's tresses had met with scissors, I felt only amusement.  And wonder at how an afternoon that had started so beautifully could end so badly.

"I wanted to let you know before you went back in so you'd have a chance to collect yourself," she said kindly.  "I don't know who did it.  They were going to throw the hair away, but I thought you might want it."

"Okay," I said in a vaguely optimistic lilt and took the hair from between her fingers, trying not to think about the fact that my own fingers were greasy from the summer sausage I used to win Merlot's cooperation in class.  And so I walked inside to collect my less-than-perfect progeny and their once-thoughtfully-packed belongings--Merlot's leash in one hand, Abby's hair in the other.

As we left, the instructor was nice enough to share that when her daughter cut her own mane, it was the week before she had to be the flower girl in a wedding, and her coiffure involved chopping the hair right above her forehead down to the roots.  Then this instructor/mother smiled encouragingly before turning to the next group of puppies and students.

She's been there.  She knows.  She doesn't judge.

As we drove home, the kids and I talked calmly about what went wrong.  "Why don't you tell me all the ways you broke Mommy's trust tonight," I prompted.  And one by one, they rattled off their offenses.  Both confessed to participating in the haircut.

"What do you think Mommy expected when we went in?" I asked.

"To sit quietly and color," Ben answered.

"I'll have to think about what to do about this," I said.

Eventually, the conversation veered into other territory before circling back to the idea of building versus breaking trust in the context of Merlot.

"Why did Merlot run so fast to us when we called her?"  Ben asked as the highway began to ascend the mountain.

"Well, because we're teaching her that good things happen when she comes to us," I explained.

"Why does she need to come to us?" Ben continued.

"We need to know she'll come when we call so that we can give her more freedom.  When we trust she'll always come to us, we can let her off her leash in the yard or on hikes or when we're out playing at the park.  The more we trust her, the more freedom we can give her."  I hoped the parallel wouldn't be lost on him.  I'm beginning to realize how much of the relationship between parent and child depends on trust.  And I think Ben gets it, to an extent.  He sees that, now, he will have to begin building trust again before I risk giving him the freedom I did earlier.

It turns out the damage is not too bad.  Fortunately, they only made a couple snips to the hair nearest her face, and the shortest "layer" is still close to chin length.  I think a good stylist will be able to camouflage the amateur styling while maintaining most of her length.  And at the rate her hair grows, even the shortest layers will be grown out by the time she heads to preschool in the fall.

In the morning, I will ask the kids to gather all their markers and scissors to put in a bag that will go into timeout for a while.  At some point, I'll give them the opportunity to earn them back with chores.  We'll need to get Abby's hair cut by a professional, and I think I'll have the kids "pay" for it.  Ben can contribute some of the allowance money he's saved up, and Abby, who doesn't yet receive an allowance, can contribute some of her toys toward remedying their mistake.

A few weeks ago I was told that the key to surviving puppyhood is to remember that the good days are the glimpses of who Merlot will be when she's grown.  The good days show us who she is becoming in the midst of the days when all seems for nought.

I hope this principle is true of childhood, too.  Ben and Abby really were amazing as we got ready to leave the house.  And they really were fountains of immaturity at puppy kindergarten.  This does not make them good kids or bad but, rather, little people with their own jumble of virtue and vice still in process.  Small wonders--yes.  Small tornadoes--yes.  But it helps me to think the shining moments are the ones we'll be seeing more and more of as they grow.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

For Here, Please

The beauty of Saturday morning is embodied in the "for here" cup.

Around here, we have approximately nine of the original dozen coffee cups we received at our wedding nine years ago and a collection of tumblers we've accumulated over the years.  During the week, those tumblers get all the action.  I fill my "to go" cup first thing and then cart it all over town through the morning--to school, to the rec center, to the store, to gymnastics.  It's an emblem of our full but generally fun mornings of activity, keeping me buzzing as we buzz around town.

On Saturday morning, however, I choose the "for here" option: a huge yellow mug that fits perfectly in two cupped hands.  I hold it carefully in front of me while I fold myself into the couch, and here the warm porcelain sits undisturbed in my palms for a few precious minutes.  The first sips are the best, enjoyed in the company of Josh in the quiet morning before the kids come down and turn the house on with their boisterous energy.  We sit together in our pajamas and talk, enjoying a few stolen moments alone before the day begins.

When the darlings arrive, we both set down our cups to give hugs and snuggles and make breakfast and walk Merlot and read books and build legos and tidy the looming mess.  I return to it between demands, sipping the lukewarm coffee out of principle.  The "to go" tumbler actually makes more sense on Saturday mornings--would be less prone to spill, would stay warmer longer, would be easier to carry from room to room.  But I can't bring myself to give up this relic of unhurried mornings and the freedom to sit and be without the pressures of the clock.

It's pure symbol, but its nod to timelessness is priceless.  It makes me believe, whatever season of life we're in, we can and should steal a few moments to linger over a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday morning, even if the definition of "lazy" is revised over the years to mean a few minutes of lingering rather than a few hours.

"'For here' or 'to go'?" Josh asks me from the kitchen, the man of my dreams serving up our favorite morning ritual.

"For here," I say.

It's my line in the sand, my insistence that, kids or puppy or not, there is something special about Saturday morning, something slow and simple and worth savoring.  We're not rushing anywhere today.  We're just existing, here.    

Monday, May 10, 2010

Abby Sunshine

“Is that her name?  Sunshine?” The Cat Lady asked me.

“No,” I said, smiling as I thought of this very un-me, hippy-evoking name. “Her name is Abby—Abigail.  I just call her that sometimes.  I have lots of nicknames,” I explained.

Abby and I were in the cat room established by our local pet rescue at the pet store.  This day, there were 18 cats there, some perched on the many shelves hung for that very purpose, others curled up in the various kitty beds and baskets, a few strutting purposefully through the kitty jungle gyms.  One greeted us at the door, rubbing her cheek against our legs as we squeezed through the door so as not to give the escape artists opportunity to get out.

Abby loves coming to this room.  She exclaims over the different cats in their various sleeping positions.  She recognizes a few that have been there a while and calls them by name.  She squeals when one approaches to say hello.  “Put your hand out and let them pet you,” I advise her in an attempt to prevent her from greeting one that would rather be left alone.  She stands still, doing her very best to be patient, until finally one steps closer and lifts its head to her hand.  “She peht me, Mama!” Abby announces.

We stayed for about twenty minutes this particular day, talking with the kind old woman who comes throughout the week to clean the room and fill the food bowls and refresh the water and give the cats a bit of love.  We’ve met other volunteers, too, but she has been there the most.  This time, she told us she would be out of town for the next two weeks because she was going to volunteer at an animal rescue in Texas she’s worked at for several years.  “With the pigs this time!  I’ve never worked with the pigs before,” she informed me. 

As we talked, Abby walked around carefully, talking to this cat, laughing at another.  She reached her hand out to pet a tabby on a low shelf.  The cat was amenable at first but then squirmed out of reach.  “I think she’s all done, Abby,” I said, and Abby took a step back and put her hand out, waiting--hoping this less-intimidating invitation would be received.  The cat hung back but then slowly stepped over to offer its head.  “Gooooohd kitty,” Abby crooned in the same sweet voice she uses with Merlot.  “Whah uh niiiiice kitty.”

The woman commented on what a smart girl Abby is, how kind.  “She really is sunshine,” she said.  “How old is she?” 

“Two and a half,” I said, and then the Cat Lady resumed her description of this animal rescue, of how being there restores her faith in humanity.

When it was time for us to leave, we thanked the woman and wished her well on her travels.  “Can you say good-bye, Abby?”

“Gooh-bye,” Abby said, hopping out the door.

“Bye, Sunshine!” The Cat Lady said.  “Bye Abby Sunshine!”


It seems that with each day, Abby comes into more and more of herself.  Her person is emerging with its distinct personality and likes and dislikes and quirks.  She loves animals.  She loves to color, disappearing into a world of still and quiet for hours sometimes, her hand moving steadily back and forth with her crayon or marker, her head bent over her masterpiece, her face serious, focused.  When she plays, she laughs freely, smiles coyly, tosses her hair like a grown woman.  She asks Ben about his day at school as we drive home.  She rests her blondie head on my arm as I sit next to her at the table, coloring with her.  “I yuhv you, Mama,” she says quietly.
Abby brings a levity to our home, a buoyancy.  While Josh and Ben and I tend toward the more introverted, introspective side, Abby is pure charisma and charm and fun.  She draws us all out, especially her brother, whom she adores.  They are good for each other, bringing balance to each other’s extremes.  He provides structure where she is lacking (picking up toys comes to mind).  She offers affection and compassion when he is in a funk.  “Whah’s wrong, Behn?” she asks in her sweetest, most concerned voice, and he responds to her, comes out of himself and his moody place to be with her.

And lest you think she is all party and pretty girl, I must state for the record that she is smart, articulate-- picking up turns of phrase from our conversations, counting everything in sight, asking me how to write letters, pretending to read books.  And somehow, she is learning to control her seemingly endless energy.  After church yesterday, her teacher told us that Abby was great in class: “She sat still and listened all through the story, even when the other kids were squirming and wiggling around.”  Josh and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised.  Our Abby? we both thought.  Indeed. 

She is her own creature, no doubt given to our family to balance our analytical, type-A, engineering, structured tendencies with some exuberance, some joy.  Everyone sees it, her brightness and light.  Everyone comments on her physical beauty, which is made all the more striking by her internal delight in the world.  

Sometimes I worry about what we’ll face when she reaches adolescence with her beauty and confidence and easy charm.  But then I watch her put Ben in her place, insist that Merlot “siht” or “yeev it,” pester Josh and I incessantly for this or that, or retreat into her own soul as she colors, and I know she will hold her own in this world.  I know she will be the one calling the shots in her own kind, self-assured way. 

She really is pure sunshine: Abby Sunshine.    

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dear Blog,

I am woefully remiss in tending to you with my usual diligence.  A busy schedule complicated by an unwelcome attack of the viral nature has left me void of writing time (though not musings).  Please do not despair; this hiatus will soon end, aided by the welcome arrival of Grandma and Papa.  Perhaps to a local establishment of the caffeine-peddling variety I can steal away for some much-needed mental unloading.

In the meantime, thank you for understanding.  I look forward to reacquainting shortly--

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