Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jewels

Look what my boys are doing right now.
I'm hearing things like, "Mom, can you come inspect my work?" and "Can I unload the dishwasher?" and "Did someone already take out the garbage?" and "It looks like the kitchen laundry really needs to be folded."

I haven't asked anyone to do anything. I haven't even made lists. Instead I've done basically what it says in an article from Family Fun magazine.

I made a list of every job around the house I could think of. From basics like "put away your clean laundry" to deep-cleaning items like "wash the inside windows of a car." I alotted each job one to six points.

Roscoe and I went shopping for jars, stickers, and vase fillers. Now each child has their own jar. When they do a job, they get that many "jewels," and when the jar is full they get a reward.
~ I thought this would be a nice system for summer since it gives the kids more leeway. If they want to skip chores for the day, they can. But I am promoting a bit of competition on how fast kids can fill their jars.

~ The idea is "see a need, fill a need." So you can't get jewels for doing a job that didn't really need to be done (like taking out a mostly empty trash can)...

~ ...conversely, if a job that needs to be done is ignored, I'll ask someone to do it. But then they only get half the jewels.

~ Last night I ended up setting the dinner table, which I never do. But since busy bees were working on other jobs all over the house, I didn't mind one bit. Sometimes it's just fun to do someone else's work.

~ There are certain members of the family whose progress throughout the day can be tracked by the trail of messes they leave behind. Jewels will be deducted from those who leave messes.

~ Jewels will also be deducted for half-way jobs, which I abhor.

~ If a little kid wants to do a job that's a bit out of their league (like trimming a bush), they can ask an older kid to be their mentor. The two work together, then both kids get jewels.

~ Roscoe and I worked to get our jar-to-jewel ratio so that it would take about a month of work to fill the jar.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Deflated

No baby.

We set up the cradle, talked with the caseworker a few times, bought pink onesies, and just generally got excited. At the last minute they called to say that the baby's grandma had pushed through her background check and would be taking the baby straight from the hospital. Sounds like good news for the family. Was very deflating for us.

Poor, tenderhearted Jesse suffered the most. He came in to show me a toy that he wanted to share with the baby. I broke the news that no baby was coming. He dropped his head and groaned, "Awwww." Then his sadness grew so great it turned to anger and he said, "I'm going to call them and say mean words." He threw the toy across the room and burst into tears. For the next hour or so, he slunk around with a sad face. Finally, he told me that the baby would come to our house after she was done at her grandma's house, and I let that fantasy stand uncontested. Then later in the afternoon he agreed to a therapeutic trip to see a newborn friend in our neighborhood.

This is the kind of roller coaster we signed up for. Roscoe took the cradle back apart, and it's in a sad heap in the corner of my bedroom. It's fine. We're just, you know, babyless.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Born Yesterday

Last night Mark and I went to a concert at the Utah Arts Festival--Michelle Shocked and the Cowboy Junkies--with some of our old college friends. Michelle Shocked sang her classic "Anchorage," and on the line where an old friend tells her to "keep on rockin'" she ad-libbed, "I will if you will." So our group, aging fast, some of us suburbanites with kids, kept on rockin.

The concert ended late and we lingered catching up with our old friends. By the time we caught our train home it was past midnight. And by the time the train dropped us off at our connecting station, there were no more trains. So that's how we ended up lounging at an abandoned train station waiting for friends to come pick us up. I stretched out on a bench. Mark got comfy on the sidewalk beside me. Light glowed from the windows of the hospital across the parking lot. We gazed at the stars.

Turns out, that very day, a baby was born in that very hospital. And tomorrow, that baby is coming to our house.

You know the drill: Who knows what will happen. Maybe she'll go to her grandma's house in a few days. Maybe she'll stay with us forever. But either way, we like how the stars aligned so that we were nearby on the day she was born.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Salad Days

Ever wonder where this expression came from? Ol' Will himself coined it when his Cleopatra referred to her youth as "My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood." It's taking on a new meaning for us. Our clunky but trusty swamp cooler--a Utah icon that lets you cool the dry air just by running it through a wet pad--died when we tried to turn it on a few weeks ago. Then followed research, debate, and visits from HVAC contractors. We've talked ourselves into getting central A/C, plus a whole new furnace. But the workers can't come until next week. In the meantime, we open windows to cool things off at night and slowly watch the temperature creep up all day. Last night's dinner was
  • pasta salad
  • spinach salad
  • ice water
Today the temperature will hit the nineties. Haven't yet devised a dinner plan. Maybe popsicles?

Here's our recipe for a truly scrumptious, almost decadent salad from my BFF cousin:

Allison's Yummy Salad

diced strawberries
fresh spinach
1/2 c mayo
2 T vinegar
1/3 c sugar
1/4 c milk
2 T poppy seeds (I never have these)

Mix dressing and chill ahead of time. Toss all at last minute.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Random Shots

Someone to Look Up To
With his feet flat on the floor, Levi can barely reach his hand to curl around the shoulder of his big brother.


Eternal
The happy scene that greets me on Monday mornings. Those baskets were empty on Friday afternoon. And it all stinks like the Father & Sons campout.
Gotcha
Evidence that someone has been tampering with my camera.
Secret* to Getting Your Kids to Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Put something like this on your counter and leave it there as you're making dinner.
* That's for you, Jen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What does reading mean to you?

I'm reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is really about how reading changes people.

For Mark, reading is a tool to slowly accumulate the full universe of information. Mark believes that it all can be known, and that one day, over the rainbow and in the eternities, he'll capture it all. He reads very slowly, mentally cataloging each morsel of knowledge.

For me, reading is an education in art and relationship. I often can't manage non-fiction because (on the opposite pole from my husband) I don't really care what happened, I just want to know how people felt about it.

For Roscoe, reading is an escape to the world he loves best--the one in his mind. Reading is a portal that takes him there and lets him retreat from the chaos of life and the hassle of communicating with others.

For Logan, reading is something that can be listened to. He has listened to hours upon hours of audio books. He's been through the entire Narnia series multiple times. It's reading surfer style. Because when you listen to an audiobook, you don't read the words, the words come to you.

For Levi, reading is a gateway to the world of his big brothers. He sees all the trail markers: he's got to read all the Magic Treehouse books, and then one day he'll be ready for Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and Artemus Fowl and The Lord of the Rings.

For Haley, reading is a bright spot in her life where she is above average, successful with no worry or strain. She doesn't know that for her reading is also a catch-up tool, giving her little insights into things like where apples come from and why Amelia Bedelia was wrong to dust the living room and how Angelina loves ballet.

For Jesse, reading is a shining doorway. He's just barely beginning to see its glow, to register the importance of reading and the delight everyone else takes from it. Usually he can't be quiet long enough to hear someone read all the words on a page. But every once in a while I hear him use a storybook line or make an allusion. And woe to her who tries to hustle him to bed without his bedtime story.

What is reading to you?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cheese Touch

Today I went on a field trip with Levi's second grade class. I very seldom show up at daytime school events--too hard to shuffle little kids and resume schedules--but today Roscoe was willing to hold down the fort at home, so onto the bus I climbed with Levi and 50 of his best friends.

If there are any holdouts on the idea that boys and girls are about the same, I invite you to try such a bus ride. With very few exceptions, boys sat in the back and girls sat in the front. Boys bounced, jostled, piled five to a seat, and stuck their arms out the windows. Girls sat in the conventional fashion--you know, pockets on the seat, feet on the floor, heads to the front.

One boy hollered, "Boys sit in the back and girls sit in the front, because we like danger!"

Another boy chimed in, "We like danger because we want to get hurt!" Which, if true, would explain a lot about boys' behavior.

As we drove, the boys played some game wherein your neighbor pokes, pinches, or otherwise attempts to injure you until you say, "Stop." In a cunning strategic twist, your attacker can at any time deem that you must instead say, "Cut it out." (I'm not being figurative here. That really was the game. So Boy 1 would say, "Stop!" and Boy 2 would say, "No, you have to say 'cut it out.'")

Much discussion was held over the purpose and rules for "Cheese Touch." No consensus was reached. Which did not stop the boys from constantly poking each other and yelling, "Cheese Touch!" I think we don't want to know what it really means.

On our return trip, the back-of-the-bus boys treated us to a rousing rendition of the song "A-B-C-D-E-F-G Barney is my enemy," which ends with the line, "Now this song is rated R."

When the bus came to a stop, the boys immediately jumped into the aisle and pushed toward the front. Creating a jostling, poking traffic jam. The girls, wisely waiting in their seats, watched with an air of ennui.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Invictus

Sorry for leaving that downer hanging for so long. Here's something more uplifting. Roscoe, Mark, and I just watched Invictus and loved it (of course). Here's the poem Mandela references as guiding his vision and keeping him afloat during his long imprisonment:
Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~ William Ernest Henley
How often do we let "circumstance" and "chance" (and puppy puddles and bills and burned dinners and rude receptionists) dictate the level of our honor? I love (but cannot live) the idea that we can show strength, virtue, and love no matter looming horrors or black nights.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wagging the Dog

Much of what I do is unrecognized or unappreciated. Discipline is never welcomed in the moment. The clean clothes I produce day after day hardly register until something goes missing. I clean the kitchen three or four times a day, but at any given moment it’s a mess. No one knows how I organize each day around others’ needs.

I don’t do it for kudos or recognition. I don’t need to be thanked for driving to a friend’s house or making a healthy dinner or procuring sports equipment. But I guess I do want to feel I’ve earned an overall vibe of respect. It gets me down when I’m treated like a demanding nag. When I labor all day on Sisyphean tasks and receive complaints when I assign a small job. When kids roll their eyes at a small oversight. When I’m criticized for not meeting someone’s demands. When I return soft words and kindness to complaint after argument and then am condemned for a moment of impatience.

Much of what I do feels like wagging the dog. Creating peace and positivity against a tide of contention. It’s my job to absorb whatever frustrations and shortcomings the kids display and help them turn it around into Christlike love. It’s my job to always model the higher road. I believe with all my heart in Christ’s mission to return love to all, that true love “seeketh not her own.” But sometimes I feel I can’t absorb a teaspoon more of another person’s sadness or desires. When it feels I myself receive only negativity, it’s hard to radiate enough love to overcome all the tantrums and disobedience.

Sometimes, I guess, my well runs dry.

And that’s why I drink too much Diet Coke.

Monday, June 7, 2010

You know, stuff

Roscoe is out of school, which you might think would be helpful and in many ways is, but which also requires me to constantly be doing things like picking him up from cross-country runs that start at 6:30 in the blessed morning and buying him supplies for the pioneer trek he's doing in a couple days. Also trying to buy him a suit that fits his long, skinny self, which turned out to be much, much more complicated than forecast. Oh, and buying him new running shoes for said cross-country.

After a long, chilly spring, it's hot. And our swamp cooler doesn't work. Meaning that we have no cooling of any sort at all. Unless I conscript children to fan me with palm fronds.

A certain little chicita has been so terribly, uncharacteristically naughty that Mark and I are befuddled. So last night I crawled into her bed and we made a list of all the good things that happen to good children, like cookies and wii and bike riding and friends. Then I told her that she had none of those privileges. They were all gone. But that I would be watching her to find opportunities to grant her happy consequences when I saw good behavior. Strangely, this is working. Instead of taking things away bit by bit, I'm giving them back, which means I'm commenting on the good and ignoring the bad. Boffo but effective.

Can I give a shout-out to public school teachers. Here in Utah we're famous for achieving pretty good educational results while paying our teachers pennies. What this mean is that our teachers do it all out of little more than their own love and goodness. Including this cross-country coach who meets his team every morning all summer. And the seminary teacher who built his own little Army of Helaman. And the poor teachers that moved all their stuff to a neighboring school so our school could get retrofitted over the short summer break. My children have been so blessed by their enthusiastic, dedicated, caring teachers. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Number Three

According to my mother, all that's really wrong in the world today is that not enough families have three or more children. Because, she says, Number Three is where the magic starts. Where parents stop fretting about developmental milestones and discipline strategies and inadequacies and start just enjoying each child.

My golden boy Levi does a fine job proving her point. Today he turns eight, and for us it's been eight years of happiness and enjoyment. Levi has taken both the doting and the torment of his older siblings and leveraged them into confidence, strength, and compassion.
Levi forfeited his biannual friends party so he could instead take the family to Golden Corral for dinner. Do they have these where you live? They're heaven for kids. Gleaming banks of meat and fries and potatoes. Nary a tofu cube in the whole place. And a dessert bar with soft-serve ice cream, sprinkles, and gummy bears.
There's some metaphor there on the buffet line. Kids taking turns serving up small helpings of whatever they fancy. Then homing in on their special favorites. Plenty of everything they need. Plus plenty of the trimmings. While Mom and Dad watch the piles of greasy dishes and soiled napkins mount higher.

I'm very sad to think of Levi growing out of his boy years. But I bet there will be plenty to love about Levi in his next round at the buffet line.