Monday, March 28, 2011

Everything's Going to Be Alright

About 10 days ago, I said something I really shouldn't have. I was tired and weak, and it just slipped out. Immediately, I asked for forgiveness, but I agonized and beat myself up over it for about a week. I wallowed in guilt.

Ok, switch gears.

Friday evening, my older son was messing about in the bathroom and got water everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Of course we made him clean it up, and we figured that was the end of it. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end. Saturday morning, my husband discovered that water from the bathroom had seeped down into a little used storage room in the basement. So we hurriedly began pulling everything out and cleaning up that stinky little pond.

Well, while we were busy, the boys (8 and 4) were "helping" me by vacuuming the fish tank. When I walked in the room, there was a lake of water on the floor. From what I can piece together, during the younger one's turn, the hose that drains the dirty water into a bucket had escaped its confines and was draining onto the floor. I quickly passed the little one some towels, and we got that cleaned up, too.

Then I went into the kitchen where a new surprise awaited me. The older boy had decided to make some refreshing lemonade for us all. He even tossed out the spent lemons and refilled the sugar bowl when he was done. However, in the process of prepping and "cleaning" up, the entire floor got a layer of sugar.

Surprisingly, I didn't even have an urge to shriek. I suppose 8 years of motherhood have beaten me into resignation. That's when I felt God quietly speaking to my heart.

God: What a mess, huh?
Me: Oh, yeah, you ain't kidding!
God: Are you mad?
Me (thinking about it): No, not really.
God: Why not?
Me: Their hearts were in the right place, but they're kids. They make mistakes. Besides, they just don't have the physical coordination for some things. They can't help it.
God: Do you love them any less?
Me: Of course not! They're my children!
God: So what are you going to do now?
Me: I guess I'm going to clean this mess up.
God: You know, you're my child, and I feel the same way about you. I don't love you any less when you make mistakes, and I'm there to clean it up for you.
So that was it. That whole week of guilt was a waste. But it was over.

Learning to see myself the way that God sees me has been very liberating. It means that I'm free to mess up. I'm not talking about "greasy grace" or anything, but in the course of the day, if I happen to fall flat on my face because I'm a kid, that's ok. I know I can cry for help, and my Heavenly Father will be there to pick me up, dust me off, and give me a kiss.

Romans 8:31-39

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cheers to All the Moms Out There--You're Fantastic!

"You're fantastic!" a soft French voice enthusiastically exclaimed.

I glanced sideways. A chic older woman locked her eyes with mine, but she couldn't possibly be talking to me. Hair dissheveled, bags under my eyes, baby snot on my shoulder. I think the baby had dropped crumbs in my shirt, too, because I was itching. Caffeine and adrenaline were the only things keeping me upright. Had I even bathed? I couldn't recall.

She continued. "I had only one boy, and I could barely handle him. How you manage three little ones--you're fantastic!"

She looked elderly, so maybe she was hard of hearing and blind, I thought. Otherwise, how could she miss my kids and their constant chatter up and down every aisle of Trader Joe's?

"Mom, can we get this? And this? And that? This too!"
"But it doesn't have too much sugar. Please!?!?
"I know I wouldn't eat it the last three times you bought it, but my tastes have changed. Really."
"Mom, I have to pee! Hurry, Mom! No. I can't wait!"
"When are we going home?"
"Mom, he's bothering me!"
"I'm ti-i-i-i-red!"
"Mom! Mom! Mom!"
By far the worst of the three was the 10-month old. If I put her in the cart, she screamed like she was on fire. If I held her, she wriggled, squirmed, and generally attempted to wrench my shoulders out of their sockets. If I let her walk, she rearranged the shelves by tossing their contents to the floor. It was a lose-lose-lose situation.

That morning, we'd attended a fun, but rather boisterous and spirited (i.e. ear-piercing) playgroup. Then there was the hour's drive to the dentist in traffic with a crying baby, the dentist's visit (imagine that for yourself), and then this grocery trip. I was beginning to experience parasthesias down my neck and spine, a sure sign that my nerves were breaking down.

I only wanted some cheese, crackers, and fruit. It seemed like a task that could be accomplished in under ten minutes, but the kids were making it hard to do with their constant distractions from the mission. Because I was tending to them, I barely knew what I was buying. I was just randomly throwing things into the cart and hoping that when I checked out, I'd have something to serve my company on Saturday.

Yet here was this wonderfully kind lady telling me that I was fantastic. It made me stop and think.  Maybe I was I being too impatient and hard on the kids.

Ok, Baby Walkabout really couldn't help herself. I'd be clingy and crabby, too, if I had five teeth coming in and had just been assaulted the day before with three vaccination needles. Plus, her obsession with cheese wedges was kind of adorable. The boys, too, might have been a little loud, and maybe their boy movements seemed too big for the claustrophia-inducing aisles at Trader Joe's, but they weren't misbehaving or shouting or grabbing things.

In fact, from her perspective, they might have been quite charming. My mom has dubbed my second son The Red Cross because he's always the first to volunteer when someone needs help. One of the reasons we were so slow in shopping was because The Red Cross was busy holding the door for everyone and striking up conversations. He even hugged a woman who looked like she was about 80 years old, and her face lit up like a Christmas tree. As for my older son, I don't know what I would have done without him. Actually, numerous people complimented him on how he helped take his younger brother to the restroom and on how he alternately entertained/chased down his sister.

Ultimately, I decided that my kids were behaving much better than I'd originally thought. As for me being fantastic, well... I still think that might have been excessive praise. I'm grateful, though, to her for saying it. It was heartening to have someone acknowledge that I was at least making a valiant effort with my little brood. Jeanne, wherever you are, thank you for being kind. Thank you for not judging me on a bad day. Thank you for assuring me that I'm not an abysmal failure at motherhood.

The next time I see a frazzled woman with kids in tow, I resolve to find some encouraging words to brighten her day and let her know how great she is.
 That I should know how to speak
      A word in season to him who is weary.
                                               Isaiah 50:4b

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Goldfish Tale

Last October, my younger son acquired a betta fish and a 1-gallon tank. This was the beginning of the end.

Anyone with multiple children will grasp the problem immediately. One child cannot have something without all the other kids wanting it, too. It could be a lollipop, a toy... it could be gout. The actual "thing" is irrelevant. If one child has it, they all want it.

I had my doubts about keeping fish, especially since the last betta we had perished at the hands of a rather impertinent raccoon. However, my older son prevailed upon his grandmother, who was only too happy to whisk her eldest grandson to the store for his own 1-gallon tank and two rosy reds, a type of cold freshwater fish.

I won't bore you with all the details, but three hours, several return trips to the store, and $150 later, we were swamped with fish. We had a 10-gallon tank, approximately 18 goldfish, and 2 rosy reds, not to mention various related books and supplies. (Plus the betta in a separate tank.)

The pet store clerk assured me that half of them would die off within the week. The rest would probably join Davy Jones and his locker not too long after. The point of keeping them at all, he said, was to establish a bioculture that would allow tropical freshwater fish to thrive in the tank when the goldfish were gone.

Naturally, I wanted to avoid any drama when the fish decided to journey to the Great Lake in the Sky, so I warned my son against getting attached. I too steeled myself and decided to view them as a means to an end, nothing more. Then I completely fell in love with them.

It happened like this. As I was adjusting the air hose in the tank, the goldfish clustered around my hand. Their show of curiosity intrigued me, and I stopped to watch them. At that point, the impudent little beggars actually began nipping at my fingers and arm, which both surprised and amused me greatly. I could have swallowed all of them in one gulp without so much as a chew. (As a vegetarian, I wouldn't, but I could.) However, the sheer cheekiness was so preposterous I had to laugh. I was hooked.

After that, I stopped viewing the fish as short-lived bacteria factories and started looking at them. Whereas they had been a simple collective blur before, close observation revealed physical differences around the fins, the tail, the eyes, and gills. Some of the fish even displayed distinctive "personality" traits -- for instance, some were pushier, some were quieter. 

I had to acknowledge that each individual fish was a marvel of creation. It was a graceful dart of color and light. It had curiosity, boldness, even its own sort of intelligence. I'm not sure how to express my thought here -- only that in watching them, I had the sense that they were fulfilling their purpose simply by being the best goldfish they could be under the circumstances.

The task of being a goldfish, too, was far from ordinary. On the contrary, it was quite extraordinary. I'm reminded of a scene from a Shirley Temple film.

"My chicken can do a special trick!
"And what is that?"
"She can lay an egg!"
"And what's so special about THAT?!"
Well, can YOU lay an egg?" 
At the time of this writing, it's awfully dreary outside. Watching the fish glimmer through the water, they seem more magical than any illusion I've ever seen. And it's real magic -- not the fake kind that one sees on a stage with smoke and mirrors. They have the sort of magic that comes from life itself, the kind that all the scientists in the world can't really explain or replicate. It's Aslan magic.

For $1.99, I got 18 fish -- about 10 cents a piece. The price would suggest that my fish are common and nearly worthless, yet I now know that each one of them is really something quite special, completely unique.

By the way, in case you were wondering, it turns out that we lost very few fish during the initial week. In fact, over the past six months, almost half of them have survived. This is more than we originally expected. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I'm glad of it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gak Attack!

As much as I love my children, the rugrats monkeys have been driving me bananas the last couple of days. Between the sniffles and crummy weather, they've been very crabby, which makes me very, VERY crabby.

Although I was momentarily seduced by the the thought of locking the boys in a cupboard under the stairs, I took the high road. Instead, we went shopping for a couple of ingredients so that we could make gak (and no, I'm not referring to a Klingon delicacy best served live). If you've never done this, it's a simple activity that 1) demonstrates science is cool and 2) keeps little hands occupied for awhile.

Quite simply, gak is a kind of rubbery putty made from white glue, water, and borax. Separately, these ingredients are not all that interesting. Mix them up, though, and WOWZA! (If I could make "wowza" sparkly I would because this project is just that awesome.) The borax causes the all the molecules in the solution to hook up and form long chains, turning the mix into a squishy ball of slime.

Of course, the kids couldn't care less as I tried to explain what a polymer was. They were too busy experimenting with gak's various physical properties. For instance, one of my budding scientists was hanging slime out of his nose and exclaiming, "Look, Mom! I've got the biggest booger in the history of boogers!" The other young Einstein was poking his putty and keenly observing, "Hey, my gak is FARTING!"

It occurs to me that life is a little like gak and in more ways than just the boogers and flarpy noises. As individuals, we're like glue, water, and borax. We are who we are. We do our thing. All it takes though, is one special interaction between two people to change everything. We get to be part of something more than just ourselves. We have the chance to create something special, something that's bigger than the sum of its parts.

Today, our special interaction was making gak. The kids and I had a great time and made some new bonds -- both chemical and relational. More importantly, our collective good humor has been restored, so the boys won't have to sleep under the stairs tonight.1

In case you want to make your own gak, here's the recipe. I'm also going to give you a recipe for another glue-based putty you may want to try.

--Solution 1--
  • 8 oz white glue (like Elmer's school glue)
  • Approximately 6-8 Tbsp warm water
  • Food coloring (optional)
--Solution 2--
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 - 1 tsp Borax (You can usually find this in the laundry detergent section of your grocery store.)
  1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together for Solution 1. Note: To measure the water, I fill up the empty glue bottle about 3/4 full and dump the water into the bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the ingredients for Solution 2. It's ok if you don't dissolve every single grain of borax.
  3. Pour Solution 2 into Solution 1.
  4. You'll immediately start to see the texture change. Stir the mixture until it is thick. Then use your hands to knead the putty. If you have any excess water, you can drain that off, but you probaby won't have any.

1/2 cup white glue
Food coloring (optional)
1/2 cup liquid laundry starch

Pour the glue into a bowl. If desired, mix with several drops of food coloring. Slowly add the starch while kneading the mixture with your fingers.

Notes: You can store gak and putty in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag. Also, you're going to want to keep them off any carpets.

1For any overanxious readers, the cupboard-under-the-stairs bit is a joke.  I have never locked the kids up under the stairs. I don't even have a room under the stairs. (Well, at least not one that locks.) I just want to be clear 'cause I don't want no calls from no Family Services.
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