Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nocturnal Twins and Other Blurbs

Normally I get asked if my boy/girl twins are fraternal or identical. Yes. True story. But today, I had my favorite twin moment (possibly ever) when I got asked if the twins are nocturnal.


Why, yes. Yes, they are.


You know that wonderful moment when you slip between smooth, cool sheets at the end of a long day? I get that moment multiple times a night! So does the Man! It's super fun.


Okay, that was a slight exaggeration. Things on the sleep front are improving (you really want to know this, don't you?), and we have even had two dinners in a row where everyone ate well, there was no screaming involved, and the Man and I were actually able to have an adult conversation. It was a minor miracle!


In all that, I've just been having some great moments with the kids lately, and I wanted to share a few of them with their adoring public. 
  • Tiny and Littles love the trash truck. We did hardly any Christmas baking this year, but the trash guys got a loaf of pumpkin bread. That says about everything you need to know. But this morning I found Tiny in his room carrying on a full conversation with the trash truck, not the trash guys but the actual truck, who is evidently now called, wait for it, "Trashy". 
  • The twins wore long-sleeved white t-shirts today. Then I fed them strawberries for breakfast. And pizza for lunch. And hamburger pot pie for dinner. And by the end of the day they could've doubled for Jackson Pollock paintings.
  • Yesterday I came downstairs after tucking in Bruiser for naps to find Bee playing gleefully in the middle of a sizable puddle while Tiny cheerily chucked cupfuls of water from the sink in a creative attempt to turn our dining room into a water park. The peals of laughter pouring out of Littles stopped abruptly so that he could professionally lay blame on Tiny. My kids could write the book on birth order.
  • Me: Tiny, you have Littles' helmet on backwards. Tiny: I can do what I want. Me, internally: yup, sounds about right.
  • Littles told me the other day that the honey dripping down the side of the honey bottle looked like the sun setting into the bay. I'm going to keep that kid.

    Aren't kids great? At the very least I think mine are. And sometimes I even think that at other times during the day than just after they've fallen asleep. I'm sure the harbor seals think their new pups are just as awesome, but they are wrong. Although the way they inchworm their blubbery bodies up on land is super adorable. I wonder if I could teach that to the twins?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Book-Fountain of Youth

A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.
-C. S. Lewis


The Man caught me reading Gordan Korman's The Zucchini Warriors this weekend, and he may or may not have made some teasing comments about adults who read children's books. Amen to that. I love reading children's books, and I plan to continue doing so for the rest of my life. Right now I get to enjoy reading them to my own kids, but I've been haunting the children's book section of libraries and bookstores for years and anticipate doing so for many more years.

Let's talk about why. Why do I read children's books? and why do you (ostensibly) read children's books too? I'm obviously capable of reading and appreciating more adult fare. Last week I got my Hemingway on quite adequately. I even finished reading The Sun Also Rises en route to the library while carrying on a somewhat comprehensible conversation with the Man (he was driving, luckily for everyone else on the road). Still, three out of the five books I got for myself in this library batch would be termed as children's lit. Why?


I read children's books because I love them. They remind me of so many beautiful things we grasp as kids that get swept under the rug as adults, although I do admit that there are beautiful things I grasp as an adult that my kids miss. Sleep comes to mind. And coffee. Anyway, I'm reading The Little Prince right now with Littles and Tiny. We're only four chapters in, but I'm already thinking about what kind of an adult I've become. Would I see a hat or a boa constrictor digesting an elephant? I'm also thinking about tiny sheep and whether or not numbers are very important. These are beautiful thoughts to challenge my mind and heart.


I read children's books because they make me laugh and do so without any other agenda. There's nothing like a good old Macdonald Hall riot complete with Miss Scrimmage accidentally shooting something while protecting her "innocent" girls from the shenanigans of Bruno and Boots. Zucchini sticks and Manchurian bush hamsters! Everyone needs more of that in their life. Thanks, Gordan Korman for years of fun reading about a Canadian boarding school.


I read children's books because I like strong heroines (or heroes) and poignant story lines, and the best children's books include these. I reread Susan Fletcher's Shadow Spinner this weekend and slipped back into the world of Shahrazad, where words hold the difference between life and death and forgiveness costs something. True children's literature can and should portray clear cut right and wrong without becoming a morality tale. Too much of our "adult literature" these days has lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. We think ourselves too complex for such simplicity. Children know better. They know the importance of a good guy and a good ending.


I read children's books because I want to understand my kids better, but here's the thing: children's books are written by adults trying to remember what it was like to be a kid. So I read slowly and try to pay attention, and when I'm reading out loud to my kids, I do my best to listen to what is resonating with them, what makes them laugh, what makes them want to keep reading. Although sometimes they just want me to keep reading so they don't have to go to bed.


I read children's books because they're fun and sometimes terribly strange (I just finished reading Mary Poppins to the boys), and we all need a little fun in our lives and we definitely need a little strangeness to wake us up from the stupor of normality.

There are so many wonderful reasons to dip into children's literature and so many great books to explore once we're there. I'm sure you have your favourite children's books and your reasons why you love them too, and that's important. That matters. As long as we maintain some ability to pinpoint what it was we loved as a child and why, we can maintain that aspect of ourselves in some small way. Think of it, perhaps, as a fountain of youth. You may end up with a few more laugh lines, but your soul will still remember how it felt to be five and reading about the mysterious Mary Poppins for the first time, eight and discovering the Little Prince, ten and spinning tales with Shahrazad and Marjan, twelve and laughing until you cried with Bruno and Boots.

So: hi, my name is Marian, and I read children's books.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Birthday Message

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite people in the world: my middle sister, Amanda. It's not her birthday any more on her side of the world, and it's barely her birthday on this side, and since the day's not getting any younger, I'm going to keep this short and simple, a few birthday wishes and some pictures of the kids. And for those of you wondering, I'm putting this on the blog instead of just in a private email because I'm too lazy to upload the photos twice, and I know everyone needs a little cuteness in their lives.


Amanda, thanks for passing on your dreamboat eyelashes to your Smig. I love that when I look at them, they remind me of you.


This is what Tiny thinks about you not sharing your birthday cake. Me too. I'm pretty sure you taught him this face, by the way.


The Little Man brought you a birthday flower. He's sad he can't deliver it in person.


Bee was working on a smile, but really, her look of consternation is more appropriate: Auntie! Why did you leave me!


Bruiser (and all his bruises) misses you and sends you lots of birthday love. Accompanied by loud shrieking.


{Even the dog says happy birthday.}


Bee wanted to show Auntie her new walking skills and also that she is now as awesome as the big boys because she can lug a metal bat around and get it in and out of the stroller basket with aplomb. Also, and you can't tell here, but she's wearing overalls under her jacket. That was just for you. And then I ruined it with the jacket. I'm SORRY!


And Littles wanted you to see him riding his bike like a boss. He did this just for your birthday. Think of it as a present you get nothing out of but that he can really enjoy.


And lastly, Tiny, making yet another face. He loves you. 

Me too, Amanda. Me too. Happy birthday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seasonal Sleeplessness

I got an email this week from a friend asking me for some advice on getting her baby to sleep. It was hard not to laugh hysterically.

Let's put it this way: Bee has been having an hour or two of middle of the night wake time almost every night lately; Bruiser woke up at 430 this morning...and never went back to sleep; I found Tiny in the kitchen at 5am yesterday painting with food coloring (no lie: all we have left now is yellow); and Littles was up coughing 5 consecutive nights last week. And if it's not one of the kids, Oswald has somehow gotten ahold of a plastic straw from pizza-smoothie-and-a-movie night, carried it upstairs, and proceeded to play with it all night long on our bedroom floor. For once, Trigger is the only one behaving himself.

I love my children. And the pets...for the most part. But I dream about what it would be like to crawl in between clean, cool sheets and stay there all night, waking up with time for a cup of coffee, a shower, and the chance to blink the sleep out of my eyes before our typical mass chaos ensues.

It's hard, sometimes, to not wish the sleepless nights away. It's hard to understand what the point is. It's hard not to get frustrated: at the twins for not sleeping the way I think they should, at the boys for being loud and waking the twins up, even sometimes at God for not making this all a little bit easier. I'm grateful that He's gracious with my whining.

I remind myself that it's a season, but sometimes seasons last a long time. Well, I suppose "long" is relative. I'll get back to that later.

Then this week, the Little Man learned how to ride his bike without training wheels. I don't feel old enough for that. I stood on the porch watching him pedal furiously down the sidewalk while the Man ran beside him, and I realized that he can now tie his shoes, read (for the most part), make his own bed and his own lunch, go to the bathroom without help, and provide his own form of transportation. All the Man and I have left to do is teach him how to do laundry, help him find a job, and kick him out of the house.

This is the flip side of that whole seasonal thing. We want to put the brakes on one aspect of life and fast forward through others. Why doesn't it work that way?

The challenge for me is to open my hand and relinquish control. No... I never really had much control. Maybe what I need to let go of is the idea that control is an option at all. The kids are going to grow up: nothing I can do about that. And if I could, I probably wouldn't really want to. Probably. The kids are going to sleep or not sleep: again, nothing I can do about that...except possibly take out stock in coffee, because I am going to need it.

Perhaps the whole seasonal thing and the whole lack of control thing go hand in hand.

I didn't grow up with seasons in the traditional sense. We had rainy season and dry season. Most of the time, the months that had the letter R in them meant rainy season. Nothing too exciting there.

But the seasons in the U.S. help me learn the fun of anticipation coupled by the need to enjoy the present. No matter how much we look forward to spring, we can still enjoy the beauty of the last snowfall of winter. And no matter how sick we are of frigid winds and frostbitten cheeks, we can't make spring come any more quickly.

Sometimes when well meaning people inform me that "it's a season", I just want to kick them in the face. Of course it's a season! Could you say anything more obvious?

But my babies are all gangly legs and well-executed eye rolls and independence, and I haven't slept in days (okay, that's an exaggeration: I do get the occasional decent night of sleep, and the Man covered things for me today so I could take a nap), and I can't decide if things need to speed up or slow down...

...and that's okay.

That's the beauty of letting go of the illusion of control. The God who grants sleep to those He loves (and grants lots of middle of the night, groggy baby snuggles as well) is the same God to whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. So yeah, it's a season to Him too.

We hang in there together. I do my best to enjoy every moment, or at the very least grudgingly tolerate the ones I could do without, knowing that I'm going to miss those pudgy baby cheeks and the way the boys want me to watch every single thing they do, knowing that there are things I can change (like my attitude) and things that I can't (like, well, pretty much everything else), knowing that "it only lasts so long" can be both a promise and a reminder.

Anyway, one more thing I'm putting in the seasonal category: having people compliment me on my four boys. One day, Bee will have hair, and we can put that one to rest. In the meantime, hello? She's wearing a dress, people!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Throw Pillows, Jeans, and Spiritual Disciplines

Last week I read a post by Emily Freeman over at Chatting at the Sky about the spiritual discipline of wearing pants that actually fit. She wrote about how she realized that wearing ill fitting pants made her grouchy and prone to negativity, while simply putting on better pants helped her be kinder, both to others and to herself.

The Man and I made Vietnamese spring rolls for our date night last week.
Good company and good food.

Naturally, I immediately decided that I may need to practice the spiritual discipline of just going to the bathroom when I need to.

You guys, the struggle is real. But I also know that the longer I put off that little trip, the harder it is to respond with patience and love to myself and to those around me. Especially when my bladder is being sat on by at least one child at all times. Let's be honest: there's only so much of me to go around.

They slay me.

Then on Monday I decided that I was going to practice the spiritual disciplines of using my birthday gift cards and buying things that make me happy and getting rid of things that make my skin crawl (you didn't know all these things were spiritual disciplines, did you?), so I went to World Market and finally replaced the ugly, brown, fringed throw pillows that I have hated with every fiber of my being for the last 3.5 years that they have taken up residence in my home.


There is a lot of blue, green, and grey happiness on my couches now. Sarah (she who was both Plain and Tall) would approve.

I approve that I'm no longer chasing down loose pieces of fringe everywhere.

How did this happen?
My kids aren't old enough for this!

Then my hard drive decided to die on my laptop (which is why your life was without the meaning and purpose my blog provides), so I had to schedule a late evening appointment at the Genius Bar, and when I was finished, I decided to go shopping without the kids (which was amazing). And lo and behold, my conscience said unto me, "Marian, you too need to practice the spiritual discipline of better pants."

Which is true, because I've been wearing the same pair of jeans since September and making due with the occasional dress and tights combo when they're in the wash. Not only that but said jeans have gotten awfully loose in the waist, which I blame on this great thing called "dog corseting", which is where you tie your dog's leash around your waist so you have enough hands to push swings and hold babies and throw footballs while out with your abundance of children, and then the dog (who can't heel to save his life) yanks the leash emphatically, tightening it until you can't breathe but can finally simulate some kind of a waist in your body, which may or may not have all the curves of a cardboard refrigerator box.

You should know that when I was growing up, I used to practice "pencil dimpling" while I read. For the amount of time I spent reading as a child, you would think that the pencil would have done a better job of fixing my dimple-less cheeks. So far, "dog corseting" is working much better for me.

I made a super cool tent for the kids.
It was the high point of an epically awful day of screaming.
Teething sucks. Tents are awesome.

Anyway, I listened to my conscience (and the Man who has been reminding me lovingly that woman cannot live with one pair of jeans alone) and went shopping, and my life may never be the same again. It's amazing how much better jeans fit when you actually spend real money on them! Thankfully there was a sale and I put the Man's military discount to good use because otherwise I'm not sure my frugal side could've stomached the intense shelling out of money that had to happen in order for me to have jeans that didn't leave a good inch or so of ankle exposed.

I'm waiting to see if wearing better jeans (and not having to pull jeans out of the dryer while they are still damp just so that I have something to wear) will help me in my spiritual walk, but at the very least, I can say that my ankles are nice and warm.

Did I mention how terrifying it is that these twins are getting so big?

I know that jeans and throw pillows may not cure cancer or solve world hunger, but I'm learning that there is some merit in doing the small things, whether that's taking the bag of dirty diapers downstairs or finishing the email you've been procrastinating on or making a little space for beauty in your home (and your closet).

Those things that we've been putting off? Maybe tackling just one item will get the ball rolling so we can knock off a few more. And maybe (I said maybe) changing out the throw pillows you hate will end with a creative solution for world peace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Biscotti in my Nightstand

After I shared my last post, a friend asked me when I find the time to read. Well…in all honesty, my sanity depends upon me finding the time to read.

This kid: so proud of himself.
He owned that PBJ.

Today, for instance, I spent the afternoon reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I'd read a few pages, break up a fight between the boys. Read with my book in one hand, stack some blocks for the twins with the other. Read with my book propped on the table, shovel some cheerios in the general direction of one or more gaping mouths.

"Rock climbing" keeps us all on our toes.

I'm not excusing or encouraging my behavior. I'm just stating it like it is. Because some days I need a little break from being myself (and potentially the four sweet faces that terrorize me). And you know what? After I finished my book, I cooked a healthy dinner for my family, tag teamed with the Man to get the kids ready for bed, and had meaningful conversation with all four kids that included eye contact and snuggles. I think they will survive.

I love this terrifying tornado.

And I will too. Partially because instead of forcing myself to be my version of a "good mom" (and probably end up doing so grumpily), I let myself be me today. Sure, tomorrow I'm hoping I'll actually get laundry done and knock out some school work with Littles, but for today, everyone survived and at the end of the day, everyone knew they were loved. That'll do.

Dueting. I really hope that this will be more melodious in a few more years.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about those little things that we do to keep ourselves sane. For instance, I hid a slice of biscotti in my nightstand the other day. It's sealed in plastic, so it's safe from the ants, hopefully, but it's my own secret stash. Even if all the chocolate in the house fails me, I know that biscotti has my back. There's something comforting about its presence among the random pens and pill bottles and chapsticks and hair ties.

Bee does not discriminate based on lack of twin-liness.
But she will scream at you until you push her high chair up to the piano.

I also may or may not be hiding half a bag of chocolate kisses somewhere in the house. I'm just telling it like it is. With four kids, five and under, all gunning for me, it's good to have a significant stockpile of caffeine and/or sugar available at a moment's notice.

Picture blurry and my hand still in evidence
but proof that at some point there was a hairband on her head
…for all of the two seconds it took to take this photo.

And in case you think this is an over reaction, I will just say that the other morning, Bruiser was having eggs for breakfast and mid-bite he decided to spray overly masticated yellow slime all over the entire dining room, the dog (who was filching bacon bits), and me. Shudder.

Perhaps a more positive regrouping choice than escapism or over-caffeination.

Also, Bee took her first steps today, and if Bruiser decides to follow suit, I'm really going to need to get creative on the sanity-sustaining front.

He conquered the monkey bars.
Tiny, don't get any ideas.

So let me know if you have any other suggestions for ways to keep from losing my mind other than novel-reading escapism and squirreled away chocolate. I'm always looking for new ideas. Oh! Coffee! I also do that a lot. But it's hard to determine if that makes me more or less crazy. How many cups have I had today…?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Why Behind Reading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea that why we read may matter just as much as what we read.

There are so many reasons to pick up a book.

Maybe you want to look intellectual.

Maybe you want to escape for a while.

Maybe someone has you held at gunpoint and they're forcing you to. People are awful like that. Although, really, sometimes I wish that would happen to me. "I'm sorry, honey. You have no clean pants to wear today because yesterday, seriously, all day, babe, this masked man FORCED me to read my novel. He wouldn't even let me put it down to go to eat!"

Maybe you don't want to just look intellectual, but you want to actually be intellectual.

Maybe you're trying to set a good example for your kids.

Maybe your wifi isn't working, and your cable is on the fritz, and housework sounds like a really boring option.

Maybe you want to be armed with a deadlier weapon than your smart phone in case you get attacked by muggers. War and Peace, keep it on your person at all times. But do consider registering it with your local police department.

Alternatively, maybe you want to make sure you have something edible on hand in case you get stranded somewhere without food available. Again, your smart phone won't help you with that.

Maybe your reason for reading one book is not the same as the reason you have for reading another. And maybe the reason you start a book is not the reason you finish it.

Her reason for reading?
It makes her look cool while she hangs out on the stairs.
She likes to live on the edge.

So I've been asking myself why I read. And the answer is legion. Consequently, I thought I'd share with you a few of the books I've been reading lately, and the whys behind them.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle: I'm delving into travel writing these days. Mostly because traveling  past driving distance when you have four kids is neither cheap nor stress free. So, while we've been exploring the mess out of our little corner of California, France, for instance, is a little out of our league. That's okay. I can read about the food and the culture and the people, and while it's not quite the same, it's close enough. Plus, I can have a great time doing so because Peter Mayle is a fantastic writer, funny and descriptive and informative all at the same time.

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Timothy Keller: Tim Keller has been on my To Read list for quite some time, mostly because a handful of friends that I really respect keep posting Tim Keller quotes as Facebook statuses. Then, last week the kids and I decided to brave a Bible study for the first time since September (now that the twins have consolidated their nap), and lo and behold, they were studying a Tim Keller book. So now I'm reading it because I want to learn something and because I want the community. And also, possibly, because I want cooler Facebook statuses.

Harold's Fairy Tale by Crockett Johnson: Did you know there were more Harold and the Purple Crayon books? I didn't. I adore Harold. If I had to sell one of my children and replace them with another kid, I'd replace with Harold. But only if I had to. That's not a "why" though; that's a rabbit trail. Why? Because I like my kids to read books I actually enjoy reading out loud to them. And I want my kids to be exposed to books that foster their creativity. And Harold fits the bill.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner: Ditto the travel writing comment from above, but I've also been really interested in the study of happiness lately (I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin around the time we were moving). It was fun sifting through some very fascinating and different ideas about what happiness is and how it is achieved (and where it makes its home). I wrote down more than a few quotations and roped an unsuspecting Man into several book discussions that he lovingly tolerated. He makes me happy in that way. (You liked that, didn't you?)

The Blood of Olympians by Rick Riordan: First, I finally learned how to pronounce that last name (thanks, Blue Bloods!). Second, I admit this book was January's guilty pleasure. I don't allow myself to read novels too often because I get sucked in and don't resurface until the last page has been read. Somehow this is bad for my parenting and housework and marriage and, you know, other things that might actually matter. But I've diligently read almost every single book Rick Riordan's ever written, and when he comes out with his series on Norse mythology, I'm sure I will continue my downward spiral into oblivion. Yay for keeping in touch with my 13 year old self!

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose: True confession, I have no idea why I put this one on hold at the library (some book list, somewhere, I'm sure), but I loved it. It's always fascinating dipping into other forms of writing (May B. is written in blank verse). It gave me some ideas for stuff of my own and that's always a good thing. Also, the Little House books have made that time period so familiar (when we're talking about children's literature, especially) that it was great to see a different take on the Westward Expansion.

George and Martha by James Marshall: George and Martha's quirky friendship was an instant hit with our kids. I read them the entire collection of stories without a second thought. Why? Because Tiny's giggle is the best. And because anything other than Thomas is a joy to my soul.

A little corner of happiness.

Anyway, the point being (once again) that I love books. I love how they stretch and change us. Once I've read a book, it's part of who I am, which is probably why I'm picky about what I read. So if, at the end of the day, my over arching goal is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself, then I should want to read books that deepen my heart, strengthen my soul, broaden my mind, build up my strength, and help me better understand and love my neighbor.

On the other hand, my neighbor may not be a Greek demigod--although you never know--but my neighbor's potential pre-teen daughter and I can now carry on in-depth conversations about our mutual obsession with anything written by Rick Riordan. Because we all know that fan-girling makes friends.