What would you save?

A few weeks ago we had some major storms roll through our area. When a tornado touched down and tore through a town about thirty miles away, it was time to think about taking shelter. Unfortunately, we don't have a basement, or an interior bathroom, so the best we could come up with was to haul one of the boys' mattresses into our central hallway to provide us with some protection. Thankfully, our hallway is very wide and we were able to prop the full-size mattress up on some chairs to give us a little more hunkering room.

As you can probably guess, we were not hit by any tornadoes. The worst of the weather for us was an enormous amount of rainfall, which created rushing rivers all over our property and left behind many gullies as proof.

Rivers Run Through It

Rivers Run Through It

What was really interesting about the experience was how each of the boys reacted to the possibility of a tornado hitting our house. There never was a point at which I felt doom was impending. I brought the mattress out purely as a precaution and because it seemed better to have it already in place than to try to wrestle it into position at the last minute. I never even told the boys to get under the mattress, however its presence in the hallway was enough to put the boys into survival mode. They each gathered what was important to them and headed for cover.

Michael's reaction was by far the most immediate and visceral. He quickly grabbed his most precious possessions: his stuffed elephant named, "elephant"; Curtis' Tim Raines signed baseball ("Dad would want me to save this"); our dog, Jethro, and my in-laws dog, Shelby, who we were dog-sitting; and his iPod. He also had his headlamp and his book, but that was purely to pass the time. He took all his treasures under the mattress with him as soon as it was put in place and refused to come out until the "all clear" was sounded.

WTSHTF Michael is seriously ready.

WTSHTF Michael is seriously ready.

King, on the other hand. methodically gathered his things and put them in a backpack. He was so calm and quiet about it that I didn't even realize what he was doing until he pushed his bulky load into the center of our mattress fort. I was not yet under the mattress, as there was no immediate danger, but I could see that with the two boys, the two dogs, and one huge backback there was no room left for me. From the size of King's pack, I assumed that he anticipated being under the mattress for a significant period of time and had packed a sufficient amount of supplies with which to occupy himself. I got a clue as to my error by the look on his face when I asked him to move his backpack out from under the mattress, but still within his reach, so that more living things could fit, if needed. It turned out that his backpack had his one precious item in it: his laptop computer. The bulk came from the fact that he had encased his computer in a backpack within a backpack. Additionally, like Mike, King had thought of what others might want to be saved and he had put my laptop under the cushion of the recliner in the family room. He also had his ipod in his pocket.

Precious .


I thank the Lord for keeping us safe on that day and that none of us nor our possessions were ever in danger. I am also thankful for having the opportunity to notice and appreciate the things that make my boys the unique individuals that they are.

What would your children bring with them "under the mattress"? How do they react during crises situations like this? What would you save?

Book Lover Baby Steps

Summer Reading Bookshelves.jpg

I wish my boys were avid readers. I make sure they always have a variety of quality books from which to choose. Since we started homeschooling using the Ambleside Charlotte Mason method, they are exposed to many classic living books in all their classes. They particularly love our read aloud selections (where I read and they listen), but when it comes to reading on their own, in their own free time, there are a million other things they would rather be doing than reading. [Sigh]

The only time they do read on their own is when we let them stay up a half an hour past bedtime to read. To them reading is at least better than going to sleep at bedtime, but that is not saying much. Despite all the excellent literature I have available to them, the only books I've ever seen them get really excited about are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney (Is it a coincidence that my children's favorite author is also a video game designer?), The Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Recently, however, there have been signs of hope:

King started reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, a true classic! (Shout outs go to King's grandparents, Joan-Joan and Bob-Bob, for giving him a boxed set of Tolkien books; and to New Line Cinema for making the books into movies.)

After a long whiny debate with Mike over whether we had any good books to read, he reluctantly agreed to give the book Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata a try. (Shout outs go to Mike's grandma, Mimi, for giving us this book; to Grandpa Mike for bravely serving in the Vietnam War; and to Mike himself for being an animal lover.)

They are still only reading these books at (instead of) bedtime, but I am encouraged that they are truly enjoying books that don't have pictures! King says he intends to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy next. Michael was so excited about his book that one morning he was eager to share a passage that he had read the night before. My heart swelled.

He opened his book and read a few choice lines from a scene where Cracker is being bribed with hotdogs:

He reached into his pocket and took out his secret weapon: a wiener.
"Wiener?" he said in a low voice.
"Wiener for Cracker?"
Everybody in the world seemed to know her name, even this man with a wiener.

My heart shrank a bit. Mike thought it was hilarious. At least he was excited about reading, right? Baby steps.

What books did you love as a child? What books do your children love? Please share!

[This post contains associate links. Please read my disclosure.]

You Know How Difficult Angels Can Be


Every year at Christmastime, Curtis sets up the tree, and the boys and I decorate it. I always have such idealistic expectations for this tradition: we will listen to Christmas music as we lovingly pull out ornaments and reminisce about Christmases past. Joy to the World. Peace on Earth. And all that.

Of course, this is rarely how things actually play out. Most of the time, the tree trimming session ends with me yelling at the boys because they aren't being careful with the breakable ornaments. I usually finish the job myself, after forbidding them to even look at another ornament, lest they break it. I've learned to alleviate this problem somewhat by storing the non-breakable ornaments separately and instructing the boys to pull from that box while decorating. 

This year things went surprisingly well. I remained relatively calm and there were no broken ornaments during the process, although Jethro ate a few later.

"Christmas is yummy."


After we finished putting all the ornaments on the tree, it was time for Curtis to add our Christmas angel to the top.

The boys and I crafted our angel ourselves. She is supposed to be singing,
but she looks more like someone just jammed a Christmas tree up her butt.


I gave Curtis his cue, indicating his role in our little Christmas drama was upon us,

Alright, Honey, all we need now is our angel on top.

He replied,

As I remember, that's sort of a pain in the ass.

So far this year, our pain-in-the-ass angel has yet to make it to the top of the tree.

Telling or Teaching?

Our neighbors asked Mike if he would stop in twice a day while they were out of town and take care of their pets (two cats, two turtles, three beta fish, and five goldfish). Mike agreed, and I decided the opportunity for him to have a hands-on lesson in responsibility was worth the effort on my part. Plus I really wanted to help out my neighbor. Plus plus we have our own "zoo" that will need "sitting" in a few weeks. Win, win, win.

"A little to the left... oooh, yeah, that's it."

On our twice daily trips, I referred to the list of morning and evening "to-dos", while Mike performed each task. I stepped in with words of caution ("Don't pull the turtle's leg out too far!"); reminders ("Did you turn on the light?"); and to do what he physically couldn't ("Don't climb on the turtle tank to turn out the light! Let me do it."). I was proud of Mike. He did (pretty much) all the work without complaining (much) about it. I was proud of myself too for facilitating the learning experience.

Mmmm... turtle sandwich.

About mid-week, I asked Curtis to take Mike over to do his evening chores, so I could finish making dinner. I was confident Mike knew what to do, and if not, there was always the list for reference. Curtis, like me, would be in a purely supervisory role.

Upon their return, I asked Mike how it went.

"Fine. Great."

"You gave the cats food and water?"

"Oops." [blank stare]

"What do you mean, 'oops'? Didn't you look at the list?"


Curtis interjected from across the room, "NO! Obviously, you didn't read the list! If you had, you wouldn't have forgotten to feed the cats!"

"YES! I did so read the list! It said, 'Evening: turn off the lights.'"

I explained, "Michael, that was just for the turtles, the first thing on the list. You have to read the whole list."

This big boy could stand to miss a meal, but that's not the point.

So what happened? Mike had already been through the routine several times. How could he forget such a basic and vital item like "feed the cats"? Upon reflection, I remembered something my brother told me:

Learning happens in the mind of the child, not in the mouth of the teacher.

Charlotte Mason (whose philosophy of education and method of teaching we follow in our homeschool) calls it "masterly inactivity" or "wise and purposeful letting alone". If I am always hovering, cleaning up behind, and reminding my children what to do and when to do it; all I have managed to teach them is how to be directed by a source outside of themselves. Then, when that source is no longer there, why am I surprised that they forget to "feed the cats"?

What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort.*

"Seriously, who hired this kid?"

While Michael indeed did most of the physical work, I had created a situation where it wasn't necessary for his mind to be fully engaged in the process. He didn't need to think or remember, because I was there thinking and remembering for him. Both the list and the responsibility were firmly in my hands the whole time.  

It's like being driven to a new place and then asked to navigate back to the same spot yourself the next day. After passively riding along, even two or three times, how well do you really know the way? As a passenger, you have to be quite motivated and pay close attention at every turn to be able to confidently and successfully find your way on your own. If you were an eight-year-old boy you might not care too much about where you were going, or how to get there, or doing it yourself the next time. Even if your mother had been calling out each turn as she made it, you probably still wouldn't be able to get there on your own.

Curtis had it right. (Indecently, Charlotte Mason observed that fathers tend to have an easier time with this "letting alone" than mother's do.) Curtis was present as an authority for safety and supervision, but the responsibility for the job was Mike's and Mike's alone. I had the right idea, but all my telling him what his responsibilities were did very little to actually teach him how to be responsible.

So once again, the lesson for myself is to get out of the way. My role is to guide, facilitate, support, and to create an atmosphere where my children can enter into relationships with the world and all that is in it. I can put these things before them, but they must do and learn for themselves.


*For more on "Masterly Inactivity" see School Education  by Charlotte Mason; chapters three and four.

Summer Birthdays: 12 and 8

This little guy turned twelve at the end of June. 12. Twelve. So almost 13. Aaaaaaah! King is fully embracing his twelveness, punctuated with plenty of sarcastic "SO?"s and "WHATEVER!"s. He is also in that stage of discovering his own "coolness". He has his own ideas about what is "so awesome" and "so hilarious" and sometimes I get it, but often I don't. But I'm the mom, I'm not supposed to get it. There is a lot more time spent up in his room, alone (as much as you can be alone sharing a room with your little brother), doing his own thing. I find this both endearing and terrifying at the same time.

This little guy turned eight last week. Of course, being eight and all, Michael now knows everything. This makes life with him very interesting, as well as informative. He is growing up so fast, but still has plenty of little boy left in him. Some of that we could do without, like the whining. When will the whining end? Probably when I stop giving in to him to shut him up. (Busted!)

My babies are getting so old! It scares me. Not that I'm afraid of what they are going to do, or the trouble they might get in to, because they're good kids. But when I think about them growing up (and about King being almost grown up), I get this panicked feeling. Did I do everything I was supposed to do? Did I say everything I needed to say? Because soon, if not already, they're gonna stop caring what I do and say. My window of influence is closing and I'm afraid I haven't shoved everything through before it comes slamming shut on my fingers.

Of course, this is not the way it works. Raising kids is a process and a life. It's not like feeding data into a computer. Is anyone's childhood ever perfect? I think back on mine, and truly believe that the challenges I faced were as much a part of building my character as the intentional "good" parenting of my mom and dad. Challenges make us stronger and working through them helps us grow.

Besides, a panicked mother is not a good mother. It is not helpful to sit and think about the mistakes I may have made. I must go forward and do the very best I can today and then get up and do it again tomorrow. I thank God that I can start each day with prayer and grace; hope and courage. My life is not defined by my mistakes. I don't need to face the monumental responsibility of raising boys to be men on my own. All is not lost if I didn't do everything right or say everything right.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

Deuteronomy 7:9 (ESV)

Who Invited the Bear to the Pool Party?

Don't mess with a mama bear. If she thinks you are going after her young, her first instinct will be to attack. This holds true for human mothers, as well. You can test this theory at your own risk. But is this "mama bear" response always a good thing? I had an experience recently that made me wonder.

I took Michael to a birthday pool party for a friend from school. Both of us ended up having a lovely time. But it didn't start out that way.

For one, it was raining.

Did I mention we were going to a pool party?

By the time we arrived, the storm had almost cleared. There were a bunch of kids already there, but only one was Mike's age: the birthday boy. Most of the other kids were older. I didn't know any of the parents there and was worried this was going to be one very long "party" indeed. Mike, wasn't fazed a bit. He quickly joined in the squirt gun fight while they waited for the "all clear" to go in the pool.

Once the life guards gave the go ahead, all the kids jumped in. I sat poolside to keep an eye on Mike who is a new swimmer. When in water over his head, he does the panicked-dog-paddle: lots of furious movement, very little forward motion. All the other kids seemed to be very strong swimmers and their parents were inside the air conditioned club house.

Alone, hot, and having fun.

As I was looking on, I heard one of the older kids say to Mike, "Why do you hold your nose when you go underwater?" By the way he said it, I knew it wasn't just a question. It was really a statement, like "You look stupid", or something along those lines. I felt my blood start to boil. Mama Bear was on high-alert. Mike's response was so awesome. He said, "Soooorrrrryyy!" and just kept on doing it, holding his nose closed every time he went under water.

A little more time passed and I saw the same kid wrestling Mike's squirt gun away from him. (Grrrrr.) Mike, again, shrugged it off and grabbed another gun floating by in the water. Squirt. Squirt. Squirt. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. No big deal. Not to Mike, anyway. But to me? I had this kid locked in my sights. He was messin' with my boy and I didn't like it. The mama bear in me was trying to figure out how I could get in there and stomp on the kid's foot. I fought off the urge.

Not long after that, I see Mike go for another nose-holding underwater dive. The kid is right behind him, mocking him by holding his nose and pretending he was going underwater too. Then he grabbed Mike's foot and was holding it up as Mike tried to come up for air.

I couldn't stand it anymore! I marched over to the edge of the pool, not sure what I was going to do. Did I really want to make a scene? I chose to hover by the pool's edge, staring the kid down until he could feel my stink-eye burning into him. He got the message, let go of Mike's foot, and backed off. Mike was oblivious to both the mocking and the stare-down, and wasn't bothered a bit by the foot holding.  I returned to my place on the sidelines, albeit still fuming.

A little later, one of the older kids suggested playing "sharks and minnows". I wasn't familiar with the game, but whatever it was, it was taking place in the deep end. Mike headed to the rope dividing the shallow end from the deep end. He tried to go under it. Once. Twice. But he kept getting panicked by the rope being over his head while he was underwater. He finally gave up. He stayed on the shallow side of the rope watching all the other kids playing the game.

Here's where my "mama bear" response turned from anger to sadness. My boy was left out. Watching him longingly looking over that rope was killing me. I actually started to cry. I wanted to help. I remember seeing some dive rings lying around, so I grabbed those and asked Mike if he wanted to play with them. While he closed his eyes, I threw the rings around the shallow end. He would search them out and bring them back. Kinda lame, playing with your mom at an 8-year-old's birthday party, but it was making me feel better.

Finally, one of Mike's friends from school came swimming back to the shallow end. He said to Mike, "Trust me, you do not want to go over there and play that game; it is really tiring."

Mike's friend, my hero.

They and another school friend (that had been hiding inside the club house with her mother) took up the ring game on their own and played together for the rest of the party. I found the moms of these two friends sitting on the other side of the pool at a table. We had a fabulous time talking and laughing. It was lovely. Everyone was happy.

I am so glad that I didn't let my "mama bear" fully take over, and I wonder if I should have intervened as much as  I did. My instinct was to "Protect! Protect! Protect!" But the best thing for my son was probably to back off, wait and watch. What kind of man am I trying to help this boy become? Certainly not one that looks to his mother (or anyone else) to solve his problems, or deal with his emotions, or face challenges. I'm here for him - on the sidelines (more or less) - to help him deal with the issues which are too big, or overwhelming, or dangerous for him at this point. But the fact was, he was dealing quite nicely without me, thank you very much. Not always something a mother wants to admit. As hard as it is, that's what I truly want and what is best for my boys. 

 From Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth

The Boy Who Cried Bowel

Mike is no stranger to tummy "troubles".

When he was three, he got a little constipated. Of course, it hurt when things finally worked themselves out. In Mike's little toddler brain he reasoned: pooping hurts; pooping is bad; therefore, I will avoid pooping at all costs. He would hold his bowels (up to a week one time) until he couldn't stand up straight. He would just lay on the couch, trying not to poop. There was nothing we could say that could deter him from his original theory and plan. It seriously took a whole year of high-fiber and mineral oil; literal hand holding (while he screamed on the toilet) and coaching to reprogram him into thinking "pooping is a good thing".

Then there was the time when he was four. We were out at a restaurant when he started screaming that his stomach hurt. If we touched his abdomen at all, he would shriek even louder. We rushed him to the Children's Hospital Emergency Room. I jumped out with Mike, while Curtis parked the car. When I got inside with him, he said he needed to pee. As Curtis was rushing into the waiting room, Mike was skipping out of the bathroom happy as a clam, exclaiming to his dad across the room,

It was just bad pee, Dad! It was just bad pee!

Then there were all those times recently when Mike suddenly developed a stomach ache right after he was told to clean his room or go to bed.

So when Mike woke up at 2 a.m. this morning screaming that his stomach hurt, we were not in uncharted territory. He was screaming, crying, and writhing in pain. It would stop for a little bit, we would all fall back asleep, then BAM! again with the screaming, crying, writhing. I slept on the couch with him, holding his head to comfort him. We finally did get to sleep for a stretch, but then again at about 6:30 a.m. it started all over again. I figured he had just eaten something that didn't agree with him and that it was angrily working itself out.

But what if it wasn't that? What if it really was his appendix this time and we didn't do anything and it exploded? I mean, I had to have an appendectomy and my dad had to have an appendectomy... it ran in the family. We also remembered that he had gotten hit in the abdomen with his handlebars yesterday afternoon. What if he had ruptured something and he was bleeding internally... right now!? Then there was the intensity of his reaction. He seemed like he truly was in some serious pain.

So, while he was screaming, crying, writhing on the couch, I got everything ready. I laid him in the backseat of the mini-van and we set out for the crosstown rush-hour traffic drive to the Children's Hospital Emergency Room.

Amazingly, once I got him in the car, there was no more screaming, crying or writhing. He actually fell asleep. By the time we got checked in, he was begging to play with the toys in the lobby. By the time we got into the room, he said he felt fine. His self-diagnosis this time:

It is probably just my "growth spout".
The Boy Who Cried Bowel.jpg

The doctor felt his abdomen. There was a tiny bit of pain in the center, but other than that Mike said it didn't hurt. She said she didn't think it was anything serious because his appendix wasn't tender and if he had an internal injury that occurred eighteen hours ago, he would be much sicker by now. But she would run a urine test and take an X-ray, just to be sure.

Curtis even rushed out of work to meet us at the E.R. By the time he arrived, Mike was feeling totally fine. Eventually, Mike said he needed to go to the bathroom. After an epic bowel movement, he was completely cured. The doctor made it official when she came in with the x-ray results. "I saw a bunch of air and a big poop-ball in there, ready to come out."

Nothing like paying a $100 co-pay to use the Emergency Room bathroom. (Not to mention all the bills we will get sent to us later.)

I know we made the right decision, though. Even though it was so embarrassing. I actually caught myself wishing he would start screaming, crying, and writhing, just so I could say: "See! I'm not making this up! I am not a hysterical over-reacting mother! Really!" We had to take him in because the "what ifs" were just too dangerous to risk not going. Everybody knew it: the techs, the nurses and the doctor; and we all laughed over it.

Then I went home and took a nap.