Archive for April, 2009

There is a fire-prairie crabapple tree right outside my window. Tim and I planted it last summer in the same place where a similar tree had stood. Unfortunately, the past tree was caught off guard by a rare northwest wind. We were sad, but I found a smaller tree on sale and tried not to think about it too much.

We took the new tree out of the only home it had known – a brown plastic garden store pot. We planted the tree and then sunk two thick metal sticks into the earth just to the northeast and to the southwest of the tree. We wrapped straps made from the same material used to make tires around the tree trunk and tied it to the sticks. Like a boy scout, this tree would be prepared.

The tree looked beautiful, proud, and sturdy for a week. Then, it began to miss it’s pot. It had a temper tantrum and threw all it’s leaves to the ground. It was alive, but stubborn. It sulked through the summer – naked and narrow – but well staked.

When autumn arrived and the other trees dropped their leaves the little tree outside my window stopped looking so out of place. I forgot the tree’s prior bad attitude and forgave it for misbehaving. As one of my charges, I kept an eye on the tree through the winter as it slept.

Now, spring’s arrival put an end to the long nap. Last week I saw six tiny yellow finches sitting on top of each of the highest branches. Playmates. The birds swayed in circles, like heavy ornaments atop the tree’s tiny arms. Since then the tree has begun to blush the beginning of pink buds. A patient parent I am happy to see the change.  Distracted from the toy I took away, deciding to be happy in it’s new home.

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Two minutes from the school, I glace at Cole in the rear view mirror. His eyebrows are pinched together. I realize instantly that he is worried about something. I decide to start with the lighthearted approach.
“So Cole, when is the next day that you are going to smile all day? I just want to know so I can put it on my calendar.” The kids do this to me all the time. Out of nowhere, they ask when’s the next time we are going to the zoo, or a water park, or Disney—as if possess a master calendar set up with fun activities– all confirmed dates into the future. They never believe me when I say “I don’t know,” however, I thought Cole would appreciate the attempt to throw it back at him.
He wasn’t amused. I was running out of time so I went with a more direct approach. “Do you want to tell me what is going on?”
“What do you mean.”
“You look upset.”
“I do?”
“Come on Cole, just tell me. I can’t make it better if I don’t know. I got your Poke Man cards back from Truman didn’t I? See I’m full of support….”
“Stop. That’s good Mom, I know.” There is a long pause while I turn into the school parking lot. Then quietly from some far away corner of the car I hear, “I don’t want to go today.”
“What? Why?”
“Because yesterday was the worst day of my entire life, that’s why.”
I want to launch into an explanation about how if he thinks at age eight that he as any clue about the worst day of his life he is sadly mistaken. I want to say that whatever happened yesterday will in no way compare to all the hundreds of days ahead of him when he will face much worse things. What about the day your wife miscarries a baby? The day you find out your father-in-law has a brain tumor? Or when your company lays off three hundred people and you have to sit there wondering if you will be next? My mind fills with examples, but I refrain not because I am a good mom, or because I don’t want to further burden him with things he can’t control, but because we are now in the parking lot and if he doesn’t go in he will be late. I ask, “Okay, what happened yesterday that was so bad.”
“I had to go on the stage for the first time.”
My mind works fast trying to dissect the information and come up with a diagnosis, but I need more information. “The stage?” I ask.
“Yea, now you know and you think I’m the worst kid ever.” Instantly, I realize that the stage is a bad thing – I’m a theatre major, so this was not obvious at first. Also, I realize that he thinks he has confessed something.
“Did you get into trouble? What did you do?” I try not to sound surprised.
“I was S___’s partner in gym, but K___ was upset because if I was S___’s partner then K____ had to go find another partner. I felt bad for K____, but the only person left was M____.”
“Which M____?” I interrupt.
“M___ E___.” My maternal alarm goes off instantly. The M___ E___ kid is… well, he can be kind of a naughty, rule breaking, bully. But he can also has a kind, goofy, sweet side that creates a huge conflict for Cole who can’t just hate him, but can’t just trust him either.
“Are we in gym class?” The location of the stage and the business about getting partners tips me off.
“Yes.” He is frustrated with me, but I’m doing my best.
“Okay, so you were partnered with M___ E___ and what happened next?” At this point there is a story about a ball being given to M___ E___ and a direction to hold the ball being given and, no surprise, that doesn’t happen, but the gym teacher doesn’t remember who he gave the ball to, so they both get sent to sit for the entire gym class on the stage.
He is relieved for only a moment that he has confessed the sin, and then he remembers why he had held so tight to the guilt up until now. “Mom, please don’t make a big deal about it.”
“But it is a big deal. You’re upset. You don’t want to go to school. What kind of teacher gives out a ball and doesn’t remember who he gave it to? Why M___ E___? Was there no one else you could have partnered with?” I breathe and recite in my mind, “I am not going to be that parent. I am not going to be that parent. I am not going to be that parent.”
Still, it’s hard to know that your child has been punished for something that was not his fault.
If he were any other kid in the classroom, he would be upset because he missed gym class, but I know Cole and I understand the problem. A rule has been broken. When you are the smallest guy in the class you live and die by the rules. You trust that the adults are going to create rules, communicate them clearly, and inspired by a judicial gift from God, enforce them flawlessly. Cole believes that if he follows all the rules perfectly he will get through the day safely, peacefully, and with as little negative attention as possible. That is Cole’s #1 rule for life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.
“Okay, I won’t make a big deal about it. Just go to school and we will talk about it later.” I am sending my son into the “belly of the beast, the road will be rough, danger at every turn…” (The kids have been watching the Bolt movie excessively). I have no plan. Instead, I kiss Cole good-bye and realize that Anna Mae got bored with the story minutes ago and has already gone in. Cole walks like a snail to the school door, struggles to pull it open, and slides in before it closes behind him.
My friend who also has four kids and shows up about as late as I do each morning sees me. She comes over to offer Truman a ride to his school. I tell her the whole story to which she says, “Wow, that’s bad. Poor Cole. They are going to crush his spirit. What are you going to do?”
“What can I do?” I ask. “The confession took place two second before school started and he made me promise not to make a big deal about it.”
“E-mail the gym teacher.”
“And say what? Don’t make them be partners? Let K____ be partners with M___ E___? She is so tiny and shy M___ E___ would eat her alive.”
“Her mom is weird.” My friend knows this first hand. Truman walks past us and get into her car assuming what will come next. “I’m going to get them to school on time before I get in trouble again. I have five minutes to get over there.”
I smile hesitantly, get back into my car, and drive away from the school for about two minutes when I realize that my eyebrows are pinched together.

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Me: Anna Mae would you please set the table?
Anna: That’s not really my responsibility.
Me: Anna help Tru get the cars picked up so I can vacuum.
Anna: Whatever. I don’t want to do that.
Me: Let’s just stand in line for a minute so I can check out my book club book.
Anna: Come on Tru, let’s get a drink at the bubbler.
Me: What are you eating?
Anna: It was just some pretzels from my lunch bag. If you’re wondering who ate the candy it was Grace (who is napping)… I’m just throwing the wrappers away for her.
Me: Anna when you come in the door what are you supposed to do?
Anna: A bunch of slave stuff…
Me: No, Anna, try a bunch of we all have to live in this house together and I am tired of tripping over your jacket stuff…
Anna: Whatever.
Me: Tim your daughter is going to be the death of me.
Tim: I think it’s a phase – but you only have to live through it twice.
Me: Once – Grace can’t muster up being this sassy – Grace has never gotten to me the way Anna can.
Tim: So, are you making a connection here?
Me: What?
Tim: Not so easy dealing with someone a little too much like you?
Me: Whatever.

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Grace is standing on a chair that she pushed up to the kitchen counter. She found a bag of Easter Eggs that I had not yet taken back to the basement. She works quietly so that I don’t notice what she is up to. She reaches into the bag carefully choosing an egg. She shakes it, but there is no sound. Undeterred, she slowly twists it open – there is nothing in it. She sighs, drops the egg on the rug and moves on to the next. Again, she finds an egg to shake – no sound – opening it she finds there is nothing in it and the egg is again dropped on the rug. I sit down at my computer watching her – certain that as she continues her work she will not find a thing.

I am quiet — a voyeur as she works her way though each egg. Turning away, I check my e-mail keeping my ear carefully tuned into what she is doing– feeling entertained by her determination and stubborn search for the forbidden candy.

When she is done I again watch as she turns to the mess of plastic pastel egg shells littering the rug. “Oh my” she says imitating the way she has heard the phrase used on a Little Bear cartoon.

The chair is left pushed up to the counter and the bag gently falls to the floor as she walks past where I am sitting.

For a moment I am sad that a child with such spunk would not be rewarded for her disobedience. After all isn’t the birth right of the fourth child to be indulged and spoiled. Shouldn’t I, as her parent, be more relaxed and easy going by now? I begin to soften to the idea of becoming the parent that I thought mine were with my own baby sister.

At that moment I notice that Grace has turned away from me. She is hard at work trying to open a tootsie roll wrapper. Instantly, I am filled with older sister disgust – appalled by the injustice of the baby being rewarded for such naughtiness. Yet, I am unwilling to spoil her fun at having outsmarted her mother.

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It’s the end of Easter break. The kids have not gone to bed on time in over a week and Anna Mae brought me a book that was too hard for her to read. It was an American Girl book about a girl named Kit who grew up during The Depression. I piled three of the kids into my bed and told them that if we read a chapter every day we would be done by the weekend. That way we could rent the movie and watch it after the soccer games next Saturday. 

Truman listened to the first page of the book and began making car noises, “Veroooom, verooom, rrrrrrrk,” and then something that sounded like a crash. I suggested that if he wanted to he could just go to his own bed and play with his Leapster. I meant it as a threat, but he took off running. I was relieved because I didn’t feel like listening to any more noises.

Next to me Anna Mae lay on her back looking at the ceiling while I read. She wanted to be able to look over my shoulder to see if there were words she could read or in case there were any pictures. There was a small illustration of phlox and a joke about spots on phlox that she thought was funny.

I read some more as Cole flipped about at the foot of the bed. It upset me that he couldn’t sit still, I wondered if he was paying attention. I asked him what a typewriter was and he said it was like a computer that you put the paper right in – “no printer needed”. Then he added that he was trying to visualize the story while I read. I decided that I ought to not complain that he was not still because at least he was listening and I did not want to ruin a potentially great parenting moment.

Grace came in and tried to crawl into the bed. I let her slip between Anna Mae and I, but she too could not hold still. I read two more words and then I told her to go find daddy and ask him to read her a book. She crawled over me and headed down stairs. A couple minutes later I could hear Tim’s voice reading Good Night Moon to her. Cole got up to shut the door leaving Tim’s voice muffled enough that it did not distract us.

I finished the first chapter and closed the book. Anna Mae suggested that there had to be more. I showed her that the next page was a new chapter and she made me promise that we would really read again tomorrow. I promised and Cole agreed that it was not so bad for a “girl book.” He took his Magic Tree House book and his timer/bookmark and headed to his room. I asked Anna if she was going to read by herself and she yawned an answer as she rolled over and fell asleep on my pillow. I turned off the light and headed down to the basement in search of all the books I saved to read to my kids someday…

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