Anatomy of a Snow Day

It’s cold—6 degrees F, not counting the wind chill. Snow is churning. The winds are howling. Highways are closed due to low visibility and slick roads.

At supper tonight, Ace begrudged this waste of a storm, coming as it did on a Saturday. “On a regular day, this would have been a snow day.”

Sonny agreed. “I could use a day off from school.”

(No, today did not count as a day off from school. I know because I asked.)

I understand the appeal of snow days, but my kids are not deprived, having enjoyed one only last week. A good, typical snow day, it progressed like this:

The day before:

4:20 p.m.: A storm is brewing. The weather forecast suggests that it will not subside until 6:00 tomorrow morning. Will tomorrow be a snow day? Maybe it will.

8:13: Ponder whether to pack lunches. They might not be needed. But packing them unnecessarily beats throwing them together in a rush tomorrow morning if school is not canceled. Besides, Sonny and Ace can eat them at home. I assemble sandwiches and peel carrots.

9:07: The school Facebook parent page begins to light up with speculation on the possibility of a snow day.

10:46: Go to bed.

The day itself:

5:20: Wake up. Strain my ears to listen for snow. How silly. Forgive me, but it’s early.

5:30: The school-closing e-mail arrives. I turn off the alarm.

5:31: Numerous parents visit the school Facebook parent page, noting that school is closed.

5:38: I congratulate myself on having laid in a melty bead craft for such a day as this. Oh, and also for having lunch ready.

5:42: I can’t fall back to sleep. Oh well. I console myself with how nice it will be not having to drag groggy, protesting Sonny and Ace out of bed at 6:30 today. They can sleep in! How grateful they will be.

6:07: Ace gets up.

6:11: Sonny gets up.

6:12: I wallow in the uncanniness of it all. How do they do this? Every time, they do this.

7:00: J goes outside to snow blow the driveway. Sonny and Ace follow him with shovels.

7:46: J decides to brave the roads rather than work at home. He suspects it will be quieter at the office. Chances are he is right.

9:07: Sonny and Ace eat breakfast.

9:16: I head upstairs for a shower.

10:00: Sonny and Ace negotiate which game to play. Connect Four.

10:06: Unabashed ovations from the winner of Connect Four.

10:07: Dark accusations of cheating and other treachery from the loser of Connect Four.

10:29: Sonny and Ace decide to talk like Yoda for the rest of the day.

10:31: Sonny asks Ace if playing outside he would like. Ace replies that sledding fun to him sounds.

10:36: Sonny and Ace head out the door, bearing much resemblance to Ralphie of The Christmas Story.

10:49: The kids come back inside, announcing that cold they are, and inquiring whether hot chocolate may they have.

10:50: I assent and go to prepare hot chocolate. Alas, though: we seem to be out of cocoa. Oops. I surreptitiously scrape elderly chocolate fondue from a container in the fridge and plop some into each mug, stirring vigorously, hoping it will dissolve. It does, kind of. Well, sort of. I conceal the still-pale milk with marshmallows.

10:58: Both kids notice a chocolately lump on the bottom of their mugs and wonder what it is. I cast it as a surprise treat. Yum! They eat it with spoons.

12:00: Ace announces that hungry he is. Lunchtime! Lunch is already made; how convenient. I open the lunch boxes. Empty. It seems that Sonny and Ace ate their contents for a second breakfast while I was in the shower. I make more lunch.

12:12: Sonny and Ace ask if screen time they may have. I remind them to clean their room and practice their instruments first.

12:13: Sonny practices his guitar. (“There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o . . .”)

12:28: Ace practices his violin. (“Lightly row, lightly row, O’er the glassy waves we go . . .”)

12:43: Sonny and Ace clean their room, deliberating over each toy, book, and clothing item. Who is picking up more? Who is not doing his share? Who picked up whose sock—a stinky sock, no less? I eavesdrop and note that either by forgetfulness or design, my kids have ceased to talk like Yoda. Bless.

12:59: Sonny and Ace run to the basement, eager for an hour of Netflix.

1:59: Laughter and the sounds of air hockey float up the stairs.

2:48: I find Ace in the kitchen, inhaling pepper, hoping to sneeze out his loose tooth.

3:14: Sonny and Ace liberally dip into the cologne set that Ace bought J for Christmas from the school Holiday Shop.

3:16: Sonny and Ace ask to read together. We settle on the couch.

3:16: Wow. That cologne is strong. Cough-inducing strong. I have flashbacks to the high school bus.

3:17: Ace takes a bath in the elephant bathroom.

3:17: Sonny takes a shower in the master bathroom.

3:28: We settle back on the couch, breathing fresh air, and read a couple chapters of Journey from Peppermint Street.

4:12: Sonny and Ace declare boredom.

4:15: I start making supper while Sonny and Ace plan for the snow day that they are sure will come tomorrow. They fervently hope so, anyway, their boredom notwithstanding.

5:35 Sonny and Ace dance wildly in the hall to the strains of ABBA. They invite me to join them. Sure, why not? Only one of the three of us is a good dancer, but who cares?

5:36: J comes home and notes that he’s never before seen anyone do-si-do to ABBA.

5:45: We turn off ABBA and sit down for supper.

5:47: J asks what we did on our show day. Sonny says we didn’t do anything. Ace reports that we watched Netflix all day.

8:00: Sonny and Ace go to bed. In his prayer, Sonny gives thanks for the snow day.

8:03: Ace proposes that tomorrow, on their snow day, they talk like Yoda all day. Sonny agrees.

8:22: Sonny and Ace are asleep.

8:23: I remember the melty bead craft.

8:56: I pack lunches, quite sure that they will be needed tomorrow. I am both glad and regretful for this.

10:48: I go to bed and set the alarm, quite sure that it will be needed tomorrow. Still glad and still regretful.

10:49: In my prayer, I give thanks for the snow day.

10:59: With ABBA in my head, I wait to fall asleep.

Stay warm. May your snow days be good ones.

Roll Down Like Waters

Last January Sonny burst through the door after a day of kindergarten and cornered me in the hall. “Did you know,” he asked. “Did you know that there used to be laws that said kids with black skin could not go to school with kids with white skin?” He rattled off the names of several classmates. “They wouldn’t have been able to go to our school! And their school wouldn’t even have been very good!”

Sonny was agitated. He stared me down, wide-eyed and waiting. Waiting for disbelief, for shock, for indignation that matched his own.

I hope he always becomes incensed upon reports of injustice. I hope that he always expects the same reaction of others.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

Last month Sonny, Ace, and I were reading a story about Jackie Robinson and the abuse he endured upon joining major league baseball as the first African American to play Major League baseball: taunts, hate mail, racial slurs, physical attacks, threats to his life. Midway through the story I heard low growls beside me: Ace, who was flopping around on the couch, plainly uncomfortable.

“Don’t you want to hear the story?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “But this story hurts my feelings.”

I hope that stories of injustice always hurt his feelings.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel

Sonny and Ace belong to a demographic that doesn’t experience racism. We in this demographic can too easily be oblivious to racism—the subtle kind and even the not-so-subtle variety. We can secretly, or unsecretly, believe that the Civil Rights Movement mostly eradicated racism and that any “vestiges” of it might best be quietly endured because, really, haven’t we come a long way? We in this demographic can easily be tempted to cherry-pick examples of stories that suggest claims of racism are fabricated or exaggerated.

I don’t want Sonny and Ace to ease into these traps, to remain sheltered from the reality of injustices, to become impatient or bored at the mere topic of racism. Not when this kind of thing is still going on. I want them to be outraged despite being unaffected. What can I do to help ensure this? Any ideas?

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:24

Death of a Goldfish

Sunday afternoon I wandered down to the basement to feign some interest in the football game that the rest of my family was watching. On the way back upstairs, I passed the fish bowl and did a double take: Did we now have half as many goldfish as we’d had only hours before? Yes, it seemed that we did, if we define “goldfish” specifically as live goldfish.

Fireman Fish had shuffled off this mortal coil and was doing the back float.

Fireman Fish and his bowlmate had joined our household in the fall of 2011, compliments of the fish pond (okay, plastic wading pool) at the harvest festival on the library lawn. The enthusiastic fish-pond director cheered and coached Sonny and Ace on to victory: “Keep trying! Here, go for that slow one. I’ll block him for you,” said she, obviously determined not to be saddled with leftovers. Upon their success she presented them each with an occupied plastic bag. “Enjoy!” she said. And they did.

Sonny named his goldfish Fireman Fish after his heroes. Ace named his goldfish Otto after the fish in A Fish Out of Water.

(Confession: The deceased may not actually be Fireman Fish. It may be Otto. Because Otto was originally brown, I could once easily distinguish between him and his companion, but then he inconveniently and inexplicably turned orange, confusing me henceforth.)

Would Sonny and Ace be upset? I didn’t know, and I wondered how to break the news to them. But they fortuitously paved the way with a discussion about pets. Maybe they could get one, they thought. A hamster, perhaps, or an emu. Maybe a proboscis monkey, or cats like Aunt Sara’s. Then it occurred to them:

“But we have pets! We have fish!”

“But you can’t pet fish. Petting would hurt them because it would rub their scales off.”

“Maybe when they die we could pet them.”

I know a cue when I hear one.

“Um, guys? I have some bad news. Fireman Fish died.”

They looked stricken.

Ace: “Can we still keep him for a decoration?”

Sonny: “Do we have a waterproof marker?”

Me, envisioning my organized seven-year-old attempting to write directly on the carcass to label it for posterity: “Why?”

Sonny: “So we can write ‘Here lies Fireman Fish’ on a little stone when we bury him. And it’s not fair, because now I don’t have a fish and Ace still does.”

Ace nodded sympathetically. After a brief conference they decided to share the survivor. He would need a new name, though, to reflect the new ownership arrangement. They settled on Lloyd as a good new name for Otto.

Sonny remembered how excited he had been to finally scoop a fish out of the little pool. Ace remembered the little TV he had made from aluminum foil and sunk into the bowl for Fireman Fish and Otto to watch a few months ago. They agreed that they would miss Fireman Fish but were glad that they still had Otto . . . er, Lloyd.

I probably won’t miss Fireman Fish himself, but I’m surprised to be feeling a little wistful. Maybe because his name was a vestige of Sonny’s devotion to firefighters, before his interest in lesser superheroes such as Batman set in. Maybe because my erstwhile preschooler and toddler displayed a level of excitement over the acquisition of Fireman Fish and Otto that they will probably never again exhibit over pets as mundane as goldfish. Maybe because Fireman Fish’s survivor looks a little lonely now.

I’m glad we still have Otto . . . er, Lloyd . . . too. Maybe we’ll read A Fish Out of Water tomorrow night, just because.

R.I.P., Fireman Fish (or Otto, maybe). Thanks for being our pet.

Here There Be Glow Sticks: The Teal Pumpkin Project

Sonny and Ace have been planning for Halloween for weeks. Maybe even months. Possibly since last November 1. It’s probably time for me to start paying attention to their plans—especially since none of Google’s results for “easy porcupine costume” look sufficiently easy. I foresee toothpicks and a hot glue gun in my very near future.

And candy. I foresee lots of candy, as over the last few decades people have grown generous with their offerings. While back in the day my sisters and I were generally issued one Tootsie Roll midge or hard pink bubble gum pellet per house, Sonny and Ace often score a multiple candy bars or a handful of Skittles packets with each ring of the doorbell. On the one hand, the plethora of sugar and food dye makes me cringe; on the other hand, without it how would I be able to surreptitiously pillage my sons’ treat bags for Milk Duds?

Fondness of Milk Duds notwithstanding, I consider it good news that FARE (Food Allergy Research and Communication) has launched a new tradition this year: The Teal Pumpkin Project. Participants in this campaign will display a teal-painted pumpkin or sign (download and print one here) to indicate the availability of non-edible treats. This helps kids with allergies, intolerances, diabetes, and other dietary restrictions to fully and safely participate in the evening’s fun.

The Halloween purists have popped up, however, questioning the distribution of anything other than sugary treasure on October 31. Common comments and questions about the idea include the following:

  1. Kids will resent being given a pencil or sticker instead of candy. Some will. But tastes vary. Some kids resent being given M&Ms. Some kids resent being given candy corn. Most kids resent being given those black licorice taffies or Necco. (Just being honest here.) And I recall resenting a certain mysterious rectangular confection apparently composed of nougat and birdseed. But that’s okay. Win a few, lose a few.
  2. Kids with allergies have to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Oh, they’ve learned that already. They’ve learned that from foregoing cake at birthday parties. They’ve learned from ordering salad while their friends order pizza. They’ve learned from sprouting rashes after consuming even a smidgen of food dye. They’ve learned from sitting at isolated lunch tables so that peanuty air wafting from someone else’s sandwich won’t cut off their air supply. So, rest easy: receiving a glow stick or a spider ring instead of a Kit-Kat bar won’t catapult them into a life of egocentricity.
  3. If they can’t eat candy, they should just stay home. Really? Trick-or-treating is about wearing costumes and having fun in one’s neighborhood. Why should they skip an evening of laughter and running house to house—remember how much fun that was? These kids will have a good time even if some, most, or all candy is off-limits to them. (But being offered a pencil or a glow stick would be a bonus, don’t you think?)
  4. Why are these kids (or their parents) acting so entitled? Nobody is demanding anything. Nobody is acting entitled. Teal pumpkins simply serve as a signal that non-candy treats are being offered. Voluntarily offered. (Actually, isn’t the expectation that one should receive candy instead of bookmarks or little containers of PlayDoh in itself somewhat entitled?)
  5. Aren’t trinkets more expensive than candy? Not necessarily. This depends on the particular trinkets and the particular candy, of course. I spent only about five dollars for about 75 non-edible treats—spider rings, stickers, and Halloween erasers—from the dollar store.
  6. That plastic junk won’t last long. No, probably not. Spider rings break and tattoos rub off. Glow sticks fade within hours. But Milk Duds (just for example) don’t last long, either. (Not that I would know anything about that.)
  7. Won’t this stuff eventually end up in the landfills? Some of it will—along with all of those candy wrappers and possibly much candy itself. (Especially that composed of nougat and birdseed.) But some non-edible treats, such as pencils and erasers, can be used up instead of thrown away.
  8. Why must Halloween become so complicated? Is it complicated, or is it progress? Is it complicated, or is it thoughtfulness? It’s no more complicated to buy Halloween pencils than it is to buy Nerds; painting a pumpkin teal—or printing out a sheet, coloring the pumpkin with a teal crayon, and taping it to your front window—is no more complicated than preparing any other Halloween decoration.
  9. If I hand out trinkets, can I still hand out candy, too? Yes. It’s helpful to offer them in separate bowls to avoid the risk of contamination.
  10. Halloween is about candy! Non-candy treats takes the fun out of everything. Actually, they add to the fun for those who can’t eat candy. And at the risk of using the word voluntary too many times in one post— this gesture is voluntary. If handing out spider rings would ruin your fun, then don’t do it!
  11. Do I really have to do this in order to be considered a good neighbor? No. Nobody will point and tsk at you you if you hand out candy. (I recommend Milk Duds.)

Thanks for considering this. A safe and happy Halloween to all.

 

Weird Things I Once Believed

When I was very young I thought that the tails side of a penny featured the trolley from the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

tailpenny     rogerstrolley_437x220

When I was very young I thought that monkeys imprisoned in off-site towers operated the traffic lights. Someone had to control them, after all, and flipping switches at set intervals all day, every day would be too boring of a job for people, so: monkeys. Obviously.

When I was very young I thought that a bear lived in the cedar closet at the bottom of our staircase. My dad asked me once why I always ran up the stairs instead of walked. “I don’t know,” I answered, but I was thinking, “Well, because of the bear. Obviously.”

When I was very young I thought that old folks were wrinkled because everyone grows an additional layer of skin every year. Can eighty layers of skin lie smooth? Of course not. They naturally bunch up, creating wrinkles.

When I was young I thought that quicksand was an omnipresent danger. Every sand pile and patch of dirt was suspect. Keep to the sidewalk everybody, lest you sink helplessly into the ground!

When I was young I thought that nothing of inferior literary quality could be published. When I’d try to read a stilted or plotless book, I’d slow down or re-read parts, searching for hidden meaning or cleverly understated character development. Surely I must be missing something, because nobody would publish a poorly-written book. (Right?)

When I was young I thought that adults could be trusted to have kids’ best interests at heart. And that adults were never petty. And that adults always knew exactly what to do.

When I was young I thought that the sovereignty inherent in adulthood (the freedom to choose what to eat, for example, or to rent unlimited VHS tapes from Blockbuster, or to skip one’s chores if one felt like it) would eclipse any day-to-day adult hardships—assuming such hardships even existed.

I once thought that any baby could be easily trained to sleep through the night. (Certain books really ought to come with disclaimers; that’s all I have to say about that.)

I once thought that any child whose whining was not accommodated would quickly cease to whine. (I know, I know. Go ahead—point and laugh!)

I once thought that only someone who had been sappy since birth would tear up at her child singing “Away in a Manger” at the Christmas program, or bounding into school on his first day, or offering her a dandelion or tulip head picked “just for you, Mommy!”

And I once thought that I would be upset if my child beheaded the only surviving tulip in the yard.

As it turns out, I’ve often been wrong. And I still am. I still find myself on the trolley headed toward the Neighborhood of Make Believe once in a while. (The trolley that, in case you are wondering, I realize is not the subject of a penny’s tail.) To wit:

Expecting that late-onset elegance will wash over me any day now.

Believing that it’s okay to pass judgment on others.

Supposing that one of these days, my house will become perfectly (or even mostly) organized.

Thinking that extra patience will descend on me so that, with no effort on my own part, I will always speak calmly to Sonny and Ace.

Presuming that lecturing and nagging my kids will in any way be fruitful. (Doesn’t everyone just love to be lectured?)

Assuming that there will always be some other day for me to let people dear to me know how much I care about them.

I’ve come a long way since fearing a bear in the cedar closet, but I guess I still believe some pretty weird things.

What weird things have you believed?

On Batman, Ancient Flutes, and Paint

Last Sunday Sonny ascended a stage at his first guitar recital and carefully plucked out the Batman theme song, an accomplishment weeks in the making. His serious expression transformed to one of obvious delight upon reaching the final note, confirming that the practice sessions had been worth it. “I felt kind of embarrassed,” he explained later, “but it was fun. I love to make music.”

So does nearly every child on the planet. Even those who do not beg for violin lessons at age 3 or sing with perfect pitch at age 4 or play concertos at age 5 love to make music. Sonny and Ace’s vocal repertoires are extensive and spirited, if slightly off-key and rife with mondegreens. They puff cheerfully on recorders and harmonicas and kazoos and train whistles, gifts from people who do not live in this house. And almost nothing is disqualified as a possible percussion instrument: oatmeal canisters, rubber bands, forks, books, tongues against teeth—you name it, and it can be an agent of whatever rhythm is currently occupying their imagination.

Paleolithic children, too, probably wandered the forests singing ancient versions of “Let It Go,” humming into auroch tusks, shaking pebbles in a seashell, tapping rhythms with a rock, whistling, crooning “Your toes are stinky, stinky, stinky” melodically into their brother’s ear. These children would get along well with today’s children. They’d squawk on a grass blade and become instant friends.

And then, perhaps inspired by blowing through a hollow stem, one of these children eventually fashioned a device solely for music-making purposes. Flutes made of vulture bone were discovered in Germany in 2009. The world’s oldest known instruments, they were made by an inventive music lover who lived 40,000 years ago.

Of course brilliant artistic minds existed in the Paleolithic age. Why wouldn’t they? But 40,000 years ago, surviving was a full-time endeavor. One might predict that this genius would remain latent in deference to gathering berries, chipping an axe blade out of stone, slaughtering the wild boar, fashioning crude clothing from animal skins. But it didn’t. Ancient musical instruments and cave drawings and even specially painted concert halls show that music prevailed despite life-threatening lifestyles. This probably would not have been the case were artistic expression not such a vital part of being human. It matters.

(I wonder what Paleolithic folk, who managed to create music and art even while evading the saber-tooth tiger, would think of their descendants, some of whom, despite their comparatively cushy lives, cannot rustle up the wherewithal to preserve music and art classes for schoolchildren. Not to digress here. Just wondering.)

Recognizing this essential nature of musical expression should help answer the lingering question, “Why can’t I go anywhere without hearing the nearest kid sing ‘Let It Go’?” It should help us better appreciate the enthusiastic strumming on the ukulele and the intrepid attempts to pick out “This Land Is Your Land” on the nearest piano and see beyond the challenges inherent in guitar practice with a six-year-old.

So play on, kids. Paint on. Sing on. Don’t ever let it go.

On Finger Flippers and Connect Four

I point Ace’s face toward the sketchy pencil marks on the bathroom wall. “What is that?” I demand. He brightens. “A rhino!”

Sonny’s guitar practice sessions often involve more drama than guitar.

The person who is supposed to provide information for an article is not getting back to me.

It’s officially spring, but this morning’s wind chill was 2° F. This winter season will overlap with next winter; I just know it.

When I cook, I prefer to be unobstructed. This scenario almost never happens.

I’ve been on hold for 26 minutes, being periodically (seven times so far) instructed to stay on the line because my call is very important.

Yesterday, after I had to stop suddenly to avoid hitting another car in a parking lot, the driver of the car behind me leaned on the horn and prominently wagged her middle fingers (plural—what was she driving with, anyway; her feet?) at me. (“It’s okay, Mommy!” said Sonny, picking up on a few warning signs. “Just take deep breaths!” “And count backward from ten,” advised Ace. “Shall we do it together?”)

Patience. I need it—badly, sometimes. And when my (frequent) advice on practicing it is handed back to me, it suddenly seems not quite as easy as all that.

But meanwhile . . .

J is neat and organized, but IImage? Not so much. The state of the house usually reflects my habits.

An hour has passed since I told Sonny that I’d play Connect Four with him in a few minutes.

Occasionally Ace confesses that it upsets him when I raise my voice, and I promise to try not to do that anymore. But I keep doing it.

The bulletin board that Sonny and Ace are waiting to have hung on their bedroom has been leaning against the wall for about three weeks.

I have put off responding to a certain e-mail.

My resolution to be cheerful and lighthearted early as the boys get ready for school has not yet come to complete fruition. (Do cheerfully worded comments count as cheerful if they are delivered through gritted teeth?)

Patience. I demand it of others. Sometimes acknowledging this is my fastest route to offering patience to others.

“Love is patient,” says 1 Corinthians 13, and of course this is true. Why is it so hard to be patient to people we love?

“Patience is a virtue,” says common wisdom, and of course this is true. Why does proving ourselves to Crazed  Finger-Flipping Parking Lot Driver sometimes seem more appealing than virtue?

“Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod,” says William Shakespeare, via Nym in Henry V. Why is patience so tired? I don’t know. She’s lazy? She’s overworked? She’s underfed?  What matters is that she plods on regardless.

Patience: may she plod on beside you this week, both coming and going.

Don’t Just Ask

Image

It’s rumored on the Internet that the average four-year-old asks 437 questions per day. I have a four-year-old, and that number seemed low to me, so I decided to count for myself. The other day as we pulled out of the garage, I took note of the time and started counting.

Why do pigs eat slop?

How does coldness turn water into ice?

Can we get an iguana?

Why not?

Does heaven have air?

Do harpoon makers make small harpoons for kids?

What are those red things on top of chickens’ heads and under their chins for?

Why does the word carpet have a car and a pet in it?

Are there bilge ducks, too, or just bilge rats?

Can God see inside and outside buildings at the same time?

How do T. Rex’s tails help them balance?

Thirteen minutes and 27 questions later we had arrived at our destination. I’ll let you do the math on that one, but it’s probably safe to say that at that, yes, he probably asks 437 questions a day.

And he expects an answer—a satisfying one—to each one.  He relentlessly hounds whomever he is questioning until one is delivered. “Well, can you find out? I need to know! Can we ask an expert?”

This little experiment made me wonder: Do adults have as many questions as four-year-olds? For the rest of the day I was keenly aware of my own questions—mostly unvoiced, but questions nonetheless.

Where did I put the field trip permission slip?

Why can I remember the lyrics to the songs from my fourth-grade musical (“It isn’t hot in the furnace, man, that furnace is cool, cool, cool!”) but not where I put the field trip permission slip?

Why don’t Honest Kids drink pouches have a hole for the straw?

Whose turn is it to set the table?

Did the words “Please take your sock off the toilet flusher” really just leave my mouth?

What is a more helpful response to someone’s crisis than “Let me know if I can do anything”?

How can I best help my kids learn gratitude?

Where is the unceasing public outrage for human trafficking?

Why does mercy triumphing over judgment look like? And why does mercy too often unsettle us more than judgment does?

Evidently I have just as many questions as my four-year-old. The difference: he pursues answers even to the trivial ones, and I too seldom pursue answers even to the non-trivial ones. They are transitory, too quickly fading away as I turn my attention to less important matters.

That’s not good.

What important questions do you have?

Let’s go find some answers.

Clutter and Peace

Clutter. It’s the bane of my desk. And kitchen. And hall. And minivan. And purse.

School papers, receipts, bits of modeling clay, socks (mateless and otherwise), wrappers, notes, crackers, colorful pipe cleaners, jars, oatmeal canisters, coupons. This morning I even found a banana in my purse.

You get the idea.

Occasionally something (such as a banana in my purse) tells me that the clutter is a tad out of control, and in a burst of optimism (or denial; you decide) I determine that it would take but a  little effort to eradicate it. My attempts look something like this:

I carefully sort through the pile of junk mail, keeping a couple flyers and recycling the rest.  Sonny and Ace follow my instructions to transfer any clothes that are lying around to the laundry room.

Next up: recycling. Out go the notes, receipts, most of the junk mail, and oatmeal canister. Out goes the months-old cardstock “armor of God” craft from VBS.

Ahhh, looks better already.

J comes in with the mail. He starts a new pile of flyers.

I schlepp a large shopping bag through the house, filling it with various and sundry items. A broken robot.  Mateless socks. The infernal Superman book that I can’t stand to read even one more time. An outgrown  shirt. The monkey puzzle with a missing piece. I park the bag in the mudroom and, recognizing that anything destined for Goodwill is automatically pronounced a cherished favorite, cleverly conceal it with an old blue pillowcase.

Sonny comes inside and carefully sheds his wet socks, leaving them under the bench in the hall.

I collect a pile of magazines, make a mental note to bring them to the preschool, and stack them by the back door.

“Here comes suuuuuuuuuuuuper dinosaur rescuer guy!” Ace zooms past, sporting a cape fashioned from an old blue pillowcase. Meanwhile, burrowing noises from the mudroom. It’s Sonny: “Hey, this is my favorite shirt! And my favorite robot! And my favorite puzzle! Why is all this stuff in here? Can we read the Superman book?”

I read the Superman book through gritted teeth and follow the trail of puzzle pieces to The Bag, stuffing the rejects back into it.

Ace is dumpster diving. “Mom! You can’t throw away Sonny’s breastplate of righteousness!” (Well, no, not when you put it that way.) “And I can make an invention with this oatmeal box!” He marches into the kitchen, possessively clutching the oatmeal canister, and dumps it in the vicinity of the other craft materials.

Meanwhile, I reconsider getting rid of those magazines. I haven’t even read all of them yet . . .

It’s not tidying up; it’s Whac-a-Mole. Evidently I lose at decluttering.

So it also goes in my head. Last Sunday began the week of Advent that focuses on peace. I determined that it would take but a little effort to shed any mental clutter that obstructs peace.  But then:

I check an acquaintance’s CarePage, and the news is bleak.

The recently-cleaned house is suddenly not clean. At all.

I hear an ambulance stop nearby.

Why is he having stomach aches again?

I am worried about a friend.

Why is the dryer making that noise?

Did I say the wrong thing? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did.

I miss my grandpa.

I can’t sleep lately, so I am tired, so I am crabby.

My Christmas to-list is nagging at me.

And so on.

Some of these are not insignificant matters, but many are. And despite my resolve to shed this mental clutter, I can’t seem to do so. Even when one piece is quelled, another pops up.

Evidently I lose at achieving peace.

J turns on Handel’s Messiah. “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

I may lose at achieving peace, but that’s okay, because it’s not up to me.

May you find peace this season—clutter and all.

The World Needs More Artists

“Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Kids love to be artists. For a kid, creating something is about the process, not the product, even though Pinterest, with its showcase of perfect products perfectly photographed, would have us think otherwise. And, in fact, the siren song of my “Crafts with Kids” Pinterest board has lured me more than once to transpose the process vs. progress hierarchy, and I park my kids at the kitchen table to fashion, for example, snowy owls out of pinecones and cotton balls.

“Here,” I say enthusiastically. “Start by pulling apart the cotton balls.”

No argument there. Pulling anything apart is fun.

“Now squirt some glue onto these paper plates.”

Squirting glue: also fun.

“Now dip the pieces into the glue—no, not that much; dip it, don’t drag it—and poke it into the spaces in the pinecone.”

Here’s where my plans for Perfect Snowy Owls Made of Pinecones begin to wobble.

“I want to pull apart more cotton balls.”

“I want to squirt more glue.”

“Let’s have a cotton ball snowball fight!”

“Can we put on the googly eyes now? My owl is going to have ten eyes. And I don’t want to glue cotton balls, so he won’t be white and fluffy. He’ll be brown and not fluffy.”

What was I thinking? Making snowy owls was my idea, not theirs; they want to create, not copy. I cobble together a somewhat rumpled snowy owl and let them do their own thing, which they entirely prefer anyway. They paint the cotton balls and glue them on paper. When they run out of cotton balls, they indulge in a few paintings.

Ace paints a volcano: “Here’s the lava flowing, and here are the rocks.”

Sonny: “Is that a tree growing out of the volcano?”

Ace: “Nooo . . . I changed my mind. It’s not a volcano; it’s a dinosaur. That’s its tail.”

And before he finishes, it’s back to being a volcano. Image

Volcano. Dinosaur. Whichever.

Do kids really make those perfect crafts on Pinterest anyway? Ever notice how some of the kids holding up the perfectly crafted item don’t even have paint or marker on their hand or clothing? I’m pretty sure that in some cases—not all, but some—the mom makes a few prototypes of the DYI Stepping Stone or the String Bowl or the Hula Hoop Weaving Loom and then bribes her kid with M&Ms to pose with the best one for a photo.

(Disclaimer: Following a list of instructions to complete a project and taking pride and satisfaction in the product is a good thing. But when kids want to create, they want to create.)

The Torrance Test is a system to test for creativity. For example, the subjects might be given a short amount of time to turn a series of incomplete line drawings into pictures.  Those who score the highest are not necessarily the best artists; they are the ones whose ideas are the most original and elaborate, the ones whose images tell a story, express emotion, present things from a different angle, and convey a sense of motion.

(Try it out at RaiseCreativeKidz. Find some kids and have them try, too. Make up your own incomplete figures for each other to complete. It’s fun!)

E. Paul Torrance, the creator of this test, wanted to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence—in every field, not just the arts. But researchers who have used this and similar tests have found that elementary school kids score better on the tests than high school kids do. Overall scores have been decreasing since 1990.

This is obviously a problem.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”—Maya Angelou

So go paint a picture, transform an incomplete doodle into a vibrant picture, write a song, make up a story, or invent a secret language.

And have your kids do the same.

The world needs more artists.