Tuesday, April 29, 2008

for the guys reading my blog...

This is a public service announcement.

Mother’s Day is coming up. It’s less than two weeks away, and you should really start thinking about it now. Don’t panic, you still have plenty of time to create a nice day for your wife and/or Mom.

If you have young children at home, the first thing I want you to do is think about your wife. What does she like to do in her free time? Does she garden? Scrapbook? Read? Run? Go out to eat with her friends? These things will give you important clues that will help you select a nice gift.

Do not buy her a new vacuum or cleaning items of any kind unless she asks you specifically for them. Seriously. If she hasn’t asked for it, don’t buy her a new dustbuster to keep the minivan clean.

Enough said.

Does your wife like to read? How about a $5 Starbucks gift card, a new book, and a coupon for an evening off? On that evening, take care of dinner clean-up and send your wife off to Starbucks to read for as long as she’d like. Put the kids to bed and do any of the usual nighttime chores she does.

Does your wife enjoy dinner out with friends? Give her a gift card to her favorite restaurant and an evening off. Again, follow the clean-up instructions in the paragraph above. This is important. If she comes home to a messy house and frozen pizza crusts in the sink, it won’t feel like a night off.

Does she enjoy shopping? Give her a gift card to her favorite store and a Saturday off to shop and meet friends for lunch. (Some malls and shopping centers even have gift cards that are good at any store or restaurant in the whole shopping center!)

Buy her favorite flowers. If you don’t know what her favorites are, ask. It’s probably not roses. (The same rule applies to your Mom.)

Help the children cook her favorite breakfast and clean the kitchen afterwards.

Last year, my husband gave me a beautiful portrait of himself with our three boys. Somehow, he managed to get them all dressed nicely and off to get their picture done without me noticing. I love this picture of all my "boys."

Help the children make her a gift. Family Fun has some fantastic Mother’s Day craft ideas for all ages. One year for Father’s Day, I helped the noisy boys make personalized note pads. They drew their own pictures and we took them to Kinkos and had them made into notepads. It was simple and inexpensive for two four-year olds to make, and my husband loved them. Have the kids shop for a special pen for Mom, and you’ve got a fun, thoughtful gift. (You could make extras of these and give them to your own Mom if you need gift ideas for her too!)

Of course, jewelry is always nice. You know your budget constraints. If you can’t afford nice jewelry, pick something else. Just my opinion.

Whatever gift you decide on, write your wife a nice card and tell her how much you appreciate all she does as a Mom. Help your children do the same. (One of my favorite Mother’s Day cards is from Twin B. His preschool teacher promted him with “I appreciate my Mommy because she…” and he said, “helps me wipe my bottom.” I will keep this card forever.)

Now let me talk to you, Moms. Give your husband a break and tell him exactly what you want for Mother’s Day. If you’re hoping he’ll guess, let me tell you if you haven’t figured this out yet: he won’t. I don’t know your husband, but he probably wants to please you. Explicitly tell him how to do this. You’ll both be happier in the long run!

Oh, and in case I don’t say it later, Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

LLama Momma on the road...

I have a confession to make: I’m directionally challenged. In a big way.

If someone tells me to go north on such and such a street, I have no clue what they’re asking me to do. “So, left at the KFC or right?” I need to clarify, confessing my utter lack of orientation most of the time. Maps are of little help, as I often can’t find myself on them or figure out which way to travel once I’ve found myself.

People are usually surprised to know this about me. Or at least, they pretend to be surprised, which is a kindness, I suppose.

At Calvin, L.L. Barkat climbed into my mini-van, despite my warnings that I have issues in this area. She is a kind, brave soul. Having dinner with her was a highlight of the festival—she is every bit as energetic and articulate in person as she is on her blog. And, as I mentioned before, brave. She kindly describes our adventure in her post Looking for Lil. Which reminds me, I need to look up the meaning of the word “lichen.” (See? I told you she was articulate!)

I attended the festival with a poet friend, and as we drove through Indiana on our way home, well, home for me, to the airport for my friend, my driving challenges took a new twist in the form of the tollway.

I should back up here and say that I live in Illinois. I am only too familiar with the tollway. As an I-Pass user, I don’t think about it often, but the reality of tolls is always with me, hanging on my windshield.

So as I approached the toll in Indiana, I noticed the sign for I-Zoom or I-Pass. I chose that lane, noting the speed limit of 5 mph. In Illinois, the speed limit is usually 20 mph, and you just zip right through the lane.

But apparently in Indiana, they expect you to stop. Like, completely.

Too bad I didn’t.

And now I fear that my poet friend may need some kind of therapy to recover from our sweet fellowship.

You know those little bars that block some toll lanes, lifting after you pay the toll? They’re quite resilient. Should you hit them, they just spring right back into place.

Not that I would know anything about that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Uwem Akpan

Before attending the festival, I hadn't heard of Uwem Akpan. Like a child on Christmas morning, I raced from workshop to workshop, unwrapping gifts of words and ideas. Discovering the writing of this talented Nigerian, Father Akpan, endures as one of my favorites. During a workshop with Mary Karr and Franz Wright, my appetite was whet to know more about this gifted writer.

Mary Karr told a story of wandering into the hotel lobby the night before, and seeing a Jesuit priest wearing a beautiful silk robe sitting there with a huge pizza and liter of Coca-Cola. She woke her friend, Franz, and together the poets joined Uwem and spontaneously shared his pizza and a dynamic conversation from one to four in the morning. (About the baby Jesus, according to Mary. But you have to take everything Mary says with a grain of salt. She’s psycho. If you’re reading this, Mary, I love you. I use the term “psycho” in the nicest possible way.)

Listening to Father Akpan share his writing process, I was struck by his broad smile and rich laughter. I was amazed by his solid faith in God, yes, but more than that, his joy.

It took him five years to write the short story, “My Parent’s Bedroom,” in which he articulates indescribable horror in Rwanda, through the eyes of a child. Keenly sensitive to the fact that he wasn’t there, nor had he ever visited Rwanda, he wrote it and rewrote it, meticulously researching every detail to get the story exactly right.

How does one write about such things without losing hope? (The story is beautiful and powerful and horrible. It will haunt you. You can read it here.)

Akpan’s book, Say You’re One of Them, is due for release this summer.

Monday, April 21, 2008

slowing down

Basking in the afterglow of creativity that followed me home from the festival, I jumped out of bed at 4:30 this morning, eager to spend a few hours writing before the children got up. I wrote furiously as stories bubbled up for what felt like minutes, but glancing at the clock, two hours had gone by.


Time to unload the dishwasher, shower, and ease myself back into the reality of mothering three little boys.

As I showered, I determined to hold onto this creative energy. Move slower through this day, I told myself.

A lot of good that did me.

Apparently, things move fast around here.

Parenting tip for today: If your toddler comes to you looking for water to brush his teeth or soak a paper towel, give it to him. Or at the very least, close the bathroom door.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I’ve just returned from a feast.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for words and ideas until I was there, at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I walked into the Fine Arts Center on Thursday, suddenly famished as the feast was laid out. I grabbed at the food impolitely, shoveling it in as though it were my last meal.

“I can’t take another bite,” I’d think. And then I’d go to one more lecture or reading or workshop. Just. One. More.

And now I’m home again. I’m stuffed full of thoughts and ideas. As time allows, I’ll share some of these thoughts here this week.

In the meantime, I’m loving on my three boys. Well, sort of. In a stop-whacking-your-brother-and-brush-your-teeth kind of way.

It’s good to be home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

maybe I should have asked the question first

“Can we go through the car wash?” Twin A. asks.

“Please?” Twin B. agrees.

“Sure!” I respond, grabbing an old apple from the backseat of the minivan while the gas tank fills up.

As we pull into the car wash, I ask, “Has baby b. ever been in one of these before?”

“Yeah,” Twin A. responds, “he HATES it.”

Sure enough, there’s baby b. in the backseat shaking his head vigorously, his eyes wide.

“Look! Bubbles!” I try to sound cheerful.

Baby b. will have none of it. Screaming, he continues to shake his head. “No bubble, no bubble!”

Poor kid probably needs therapy. Maybe I should have asked the question before driving into the car wash.

I’m off to the Festival of Faith and Writing early tomorrow morning, so will be offline for awhile. I would covet your prayers as I consider my next step in this writing journey.

WFMW - birthday cards

Since the noisy boys started Kindergarten last fall, they get invited to their fair share of birthday parties. Early on, I thought I would just decline many of the invitations. After all, you can’t be friends with everyone.

But my perspective changed radically as I saw each of the boys struggle to find his place in his own classroom, away from his twin brother. Making friends on their own was no small thing, and I began to welcome the birthday party invitation.

I have two Kindergarteners, each in their own class with at least a dozen other boys. That’s a lot of birthday parties.

One of the ways I like to keep costs down is to have the boys make a birthday card for their friend. The noisy boys choose a card from this website, and then personalize it with their own message and coloring. They have cool themes like Spiderman and Batman, and at this stage, the boys love making something for their friend.

And the best part? It’s free! Three bucks isn’t that much money, but three bucks twenty-four times over the course of the school year is!

Making our own birthday cards works for me. Head over to Shannon’s for more great tips!

Monday, April 14, 2008

just say no to mom guilt

“Finish your waffles and get your shoes on. We’re going to the gym after breakfast.” I tell the noisy boys.

“Can we do the climbing wall?” Twin A. mumbles, his mouth full of syrupy waffles.

“Not today.”

“Aww.” Twin B. whines. “I don’t want to go to the gym. I’m cold.”

“Sorry buddy. I need to work out, and Dad took baby b. to the doctor.”

The boys whine all the way to the van. It’s raining. I feel terrible dragging them out on a day like today.

“I’ll keep it quick,” I tell the boys as I drop them off. The childcare center is packed. “Stick together!” I call out to them as they wander in to join the huge mass of children.

After ten minutes on the elliptical, I move on to the weights. I can go for a run tomorrow morning before church, but I can’t do the strength training at home. I skip the ab work. Thursday’s session with the trainer still has my abdominal region screaming in pain.

Thirty minutes later, I grab my purse from the locker room and go back to the childcare center to pick up the noisy boys.

“You're back already? Can we please stay a little longer?” Twin B. asks.

“Please?” Twin A looks hopeful.

“I thought you guys didn’t want to go to the gym today?” I ask.

“We changed our minds.” Twin A. explains.

Of course.

I head back to the workout room to finish my cardio, wondering why I bother with the whole mother-guilt thing. It’s highly overrated.

Friday, April 11, 2008

motherhood is not for wimps

They told me it would happen this way.

“It doesn’t really get easier, just different,” friends warned. Never tell a woman literally bloody from breastfeeding that parenting only gets harder. Seriously.

Nobody said parenting would be easy, and it hasn’t been. But lately I’ve been struck by how complicated things get as kids get older. The black-and-white of toddlerhood evolves into a less certain gray as children grow.

Can I allow baby b. to climb on the counter and play with knives? Of course not. But how about sending Twin A. off on a playdate with someone who may not be a good influence on him? What about encouraging Twin B. in a friendship that he’s been hurt in before? And what about sports and extracurricular activities? Do I allow them to be on the same team, knowing their tendencies to compare and compete with each other? What if separating them means one boy can't participate at all? Is that fair?

It makes the diapers and bottles seem like a piece of cake. (Notice I didn’t say breastfeeding. Nope. Breastfeeding the twins still ranks right up there as one of the most miserable pursuits of my life.)

I love my boys, all three of them. I’m thankful for the Moms who have gone before me who have offered endless wisdom for the specific issues we’re dealing with now. And, more than ever, I’m aware of how desperately I need God’s grace and wisdom for this parenting journey.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


“At least they didn’t kick us out,” Twin B. commented on our way out of the hotel. I had mentioned to the noisy boys coming in that they needed to be on their best behavior. Too much noise and the hotel manager may ask us to leave––after all, he had hundreds of guests to consider, not just us. Apparently the message stuck, since B. still remembered it four days later.

We spent the better part of our spring break in Indianapolis. The boys all loved the children’s museum and zoo, swimming at our hotel, and having breakfast in the lobby. “I’ll have two eggs over runny on top of pancakes, with bacon on the side,” Twin B. announced one morning on his way down the elevator. When you're six, just being able to order up whatever kind of breakfast you'd like is pretty exciting. Then again, it's pretty exciting at thirty-five too. Especially when I don't have to do the dishes afterwards.

And then there was the bird. Sweetie lives in the hotel lobby, and baby b. was quite taken with him. He spent many of his waking moments wanting to watch the bird. From a distance, since his loud squawk scared him to tears. But he couldn’t stay away. Even from our room he could hear the bird squawk and he always ran to the door. “Bird! Bird!” he pointed.

And when he wasn’t after the bird, he was busy trying to nuke a piece of cheese. Because, of course, the microwave and refrigerator were conveniently located at toddler level.

Why? Why do otherwise family-friendly hotels do things like this?

All in all, a great trip. We even managed to make it home in almost five hours. Which is something considering that Indianapolis is only three-and-a-half hours away.