Bearing Witness

Dec 31 2010

“Marriage isn’t about romantic love.  It’s about bearing witness to someone else’s life.”

I was listening this week to a radio broadcast with Brian Doyle, author of The Wet Engine.  He credited his wife with that statement about marriage.

Bearing witness; it’s a thought that has come back to me over and over during the past few days because it strikes me as profoundly true.

It makes me think about bearing witness as a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a mother.

Marriage isn’t about what I get out of it.  It’s about bearing witness to my husband’s life.

Parenting isn’t about what I get out of it.  It’s about bearing witness to my children’s lives.

Friendship… well, you get the idea.

Namaste, a common greeting in India, is sometimes interpreted to mean, “That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.”  And, although I haven’t had time to see the movie, I keep hearing stories about Avatar, in which they greet each other by saying, “I see you.”

I find myself wondering… as I’m caught up in my daily minutia, how well am I seeing the people who are my life?  How well am I identifying pieces of God in them?

My son, Ian, is 11 years old.  We’ve been his parents for 7 1/2.

Ian has special needs.  His expressive language is severely delayed, and this year I watched his 4 year old brothers surpass his speech ability.  I don’t know yet how to express how that makes me feel.

Every day of Ian’s life, he struggles.  He fights to be understood.  What’s fairly easy for you and me — putting three or four words together and asking for what we need — is a puzzle for Ian.  Our neural pathways are direct; we think a thought, we say it aloud.  (Or sometimes, we think a thought and work hard not to say it aloud.)  Ian has to route his thoughts over the mountains and through the woods of his brain to have it come out garbled and often unintelligible.

Ian is my hero.  You know why?  Because he keeps on trying.

In Brian Doyle’s interview, he said that we tend to mistakenly think that life is about being strong.  It isn’t.  There are things that happen to us and to those we love that no amount of strength will overcome.  Instead, we endure.  We bear.  We last.

I suspect that one of the triumphs of life is in the endurance of it.

And that a triumph of relationships is in the privilege of bearing witness.

I’m not a huge advocate for New Year’s resolutions.  I don’t have anything against them.  I just rarely think I’ll have time to follow through on new and grand plans.  I mean, seriously folks, sometimes I don’t have time to bathe.  That should come first.

But tomorrow begins a new year.  It’s a natural time to reflect on the past and to think about what the future may bring.  Some moments will be fun.  Some will be funny.  Some will break my heart.  Of course they will.  I’m a mother.

Maybe I’ll give this whole resolution idea a go.  I’ll be honest; lack of time never really stopped me from doing anything else.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions, written as a letter to my children:

Dear Abby, Ian, Aden, Cai and Cael,

That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.

As we enter a new year again together, I want you to know that:

I resolve to see you.

I resolve to bear witness to your amazing and crazy lives.

I resolve to endure with you.

And I love you.  No resolution required.

Mom

Wishing you and yours a Very Happy New Year,

Beth

Hope Beckons

Dec 29 2010

We get flu shots in our family.

We do it despite the fact that there are about 47 million reasons not to do this.  If you don’t believe me, just google “reasons not to get flu shots.” When you look at the results, remember that everything you see on the internet is true.

There’s one compelling reason we practically knock down our doctor’s door to get flu shots every fall.

Nope, it’s not ’cause the Center for Disease Control recommends flu shots.

Nope, it’s not ’cause our pediatrician said it’s a good idea.

Nope, it’s not ’cause I love torturing my kids with shots.

Nope, it’s not even ’cause it works.  Like last year… it didn’t work for us at all.

Here it is, the only reason to get my family flu shots:

Because it might work.

And might makes right!  Yeah, yeah, I know that “Might Makes Right” is supposed to refer to strength and force — but I like that I can hijack the phrase to mean possibilities.  To mean hope.

If you’ve ever:

  • gone to bed early on Christmas night because you’re a touch under the weather
  • only to get up 15 minutes later to take your kid to the emergency room because she has strep throat and needs antibiotics
  • and spent 3 hours waiting for help because Christmas night is a terrible time to go to the emergency room
  • and two nights later spent time pacing the hallway waiting for your husband to give birth to a kidney stone
  • and tried to decide whether or not to force your husband to do an encore at the emergency room whether he agrees to go or not
  • and then received a message from your friend who normally watches your kids while you work saying that she’s spent the last two days sanitizing her daughter’s vomit-laden bedding and clothes
  • and then been in the middle of editing a blog post on illness, the flu, the holiday season and vomiting (and I mean right in the middle — like right now, for example) and had one of your kids start vomiting in the bathroom
  • and had to take a break from typing about vomiting to go take care of actual, real vomiting

then you, too, might adopt a Might Means Right philosophy of life.

As I send this off into the internet ether, I cling to hope. The hope that this year’s flu shots worked.  The hope that tonight is not the night that I have to use the washer’s Sanitize cycle on six sets of bed linens.  The hope that the New Year will begin with fireworks and not with explosions.

Oh, I realize I should be hoping for things that are more profound.  And I do.  Somewhere deep down inside, I hope for things that are more meaningful.

But right at this moment, I hope no one else starts puking.

Thank you, Flu Shot, for making my hope possible.

A Lesson in Christmas Baking

Dec 26 2010

Today I learned a valuable lesson in Christmas baking.  Namely, it’s never too late!

I realize it’s the day after Christmas.  I’m a little behind.

I’m perpetually a little behind.

Somehow, my kids didn’t care that it’s too late.  Kids are really good that way.  Too late for Christmas baking?  Not on their watch.

I have two main, often competing, goals when I bake.  They are:

  1. Easy
  2. Impressive

Those aren’t necessarily listed in order of importance.  When I look at recipes, I’m always judging the time vs. wow factors.

Can I get this recipe done while monitoring the activities of 5 kids?  Can kids help?  Is it even within the realm of possibility to have a clean kitchen when the project is over?

If I can answer two of those questions affirmatively, I’ll probably go for it.

Now, every once in a while, that most illusive of all recipes comes along.  The Super Uber Cheater Pants Recipe.  The recipe that’s so easy, you can actually make it while monitoring the activities of 5 kids, and also so impressive that you can… gasp… feed it to guests, sell it at bake sales, or take it to the office Christmas goody exchange.

Since Super Uber Cheater Pants is kind of a mouthful, I’m referring to these kinds of recipes as GENIUS from here on out. Because that’s what they are.  Genius.

Today’s project was…

…drum roll please…

Cake Mix Cookies

My mother-in-law let me in on this secret a few years ago.  OK, OK.  I know I might be the last person on the planet to hear about cake mix cookies, but I’m telling you, they changed my large-family life.  Here’s the recipe:

  • Mix together one box of cake mix, two eggs, 1/2 cup oil, and — here’s the key — other stuff
  • Roll into 1 inch balls, and bake cookies in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes

The key to making this recipe impressive, referred to above as “other stuff,” is in your own cake mix creativity.  For example, you can make:

  • Eggnog Cookies (spice cake mix drizzled with melted white chocolate chips and sprinkled with nutmeg)
  • Red Velvet Cookies (red velvet cake mix with marscapone cream cheese icing and a silver dragee on top)
  • Snickerdoodles (add cinnamon to yellow or white cake mix and roll balls in cinnamon sugar)
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies (chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips)

We made today’s cookies with chocolate cake mix and white chocolate chips.

I made these cookies with 6 kids in the house: one child in our room with Strep Throat (diagnosed Christmas night after 3 hours in the emergency room… which makes our Christmas sound pitiful, when in fact it was delightful right until the trip to the hospital), one child playing Wii while listening to We Will Rock You 3500 times on his new MP3 player with blessed (blessed!) headphones, and the remaining four children helping with the cookies.

It took:

  • 3 children to pour cake mix into the bowl
  • 4 children to crack eggs
  • 1 child to pour oil in the bowl
  • 1 child to drip oil all over the floor
  • 3 children to individually push chocolate chips into the cookies (my most brilliant “involve the children” move of the day)

I only got distracted once.  I don’t remember why, but I do know it was right in the middle of setting my oven timer for 10 minutes.  FYI, I timed myself later, and it only takes 4 seconds to set my oven timer.  So somewhere in that 4 seconds, I got distracted and set the timer for less than 10 minutes.

When you don’t cook cookies long enough, they don’t set up right on the cooling rack.   (That comment brought to you by “um, duh.”)  And, if you don’t cook cookies long enough, chocolate chips might fall through the rack and leave holes in your cookies.

That’s not a brown chocolate chip.  That’s my table.  You can see it through the hole in the cookie.

That white pointy thing under the cookie rack is the escapee chip.  No worries – I took care of that bad boy.

I also learned today that you can rebake Cake Mix Cookies if you somehow manage to mess up your oven timer.  Three more minutes in the oven did the trick.  No one even noticed.

Especially not Emerson, our house guest for the afternoon.

(See?  I really can feed these to guests!)

Emerson’s a good egg.  Cai and Aden got right in on the action.

In fact, everyone loved them.  Except my oldest son Ian.  The one who’s enamored with meat.

And if my son prefers tacos?

So be it.

Maybe I’ll work on a cake mix cookie recipe that incorporates bacon. (UPDATED: I did. Here’s the link to Bacon and Toffee Cake Mix Cookies.)

Actually, that sounds pretty darn good.  Dare I say GENIUS?

…..

Please do feel free to share your own GENIUS recipes with me!  I can always use more.

Christmas Greetings

Dec 25 2010

Our twin four-year-olds dressed themselves for Christmas.

Nicely done, gentlemen.  You make a mama proud.  In the interest of full disclosure, you can plan to see this photo again as part of your wedding rehearsal montages.

Merry Christmas to all our friends,

Beth

Cocky or Confident?

Dec 22 2010

This is a picture of my brother:

I’m using it without permission.  I stole it off of his gmail status.

It’s not a very good picture.  (Why are you using this picture, Jeff?  You look like you’re being successfully hypnotized.)

I’m just calling it right now – I’ve already managed to make my mom really mad.  What do you mean by ‘It’s not a very good picture?,’ she’s thinking.  It’s a lovely picture.  He looks like a Hollywood star.

My mother is delusional in all the very best ways.  We had an argument a few years ago about this very topic.  My brother mentioned that a friend of his secured a modeling deal with Nike.  My mother chimed in that she thought Jeff should apply.

I love my brother.  He’s funny as heck.  He knows how to dress.  He has excellent hygiene.  (Something that should not be underrated.)  He’s fit.  He’s employed.  He can shoot a basketball; sometimes into a hoop.  And he’s not a model.

We all laughed at my mom.  Especially my brother.  He suggested that perhaps he could secure a modeling contract as a Scottish cowherd.  I looked for pictures of Scottish cowherds.  All I found were pictures of Scottish cows.

Turns out, that works, too.  Do you see the resemblance?

I thought so.

Anyway, my mom is delusional in all the very best ways.  She really, truly believes that her children can do anything.  Neither of us has secured a modeling contract or become President or pursued medicine or law because we choose not to do so… certainly not for lack of qualifications.

Growing up with a mom like mine resulted in two cocky children.  We kind of think we’re awesome.  Well, we do think we’re awesome, but I had to put “kind of” in there because it’s more socially appropriate.

At some point in adulthood, my brother and I figured out that we’re cocky and that, sadly, it’s not always justified.  We started playing a game with each other called “Cocky or Confident.”  It goes like this:

  1. Someone asks us to do something we’re not qualified to do.  This includes everything from our current forms of employment to cutting hair.
  2. We agree to do it.
  3. We call each other on the phone.  “Um… Jeff?”  “Yes, Beth?”  “I just agreed to plan a high-profile event for 150 people I don’t know.  Was I Cocky or Confident?”  “Cocky, Beth – you were Cocky.  When do you want me to cut your hair?”  “Tonight would be great.  Thanks.”

Here’s a picture of my husband and me with my hair after my brother cut it:

That was 4 years ago, so ignore any fashion implications, please.

Was Jeff Cocky or Confident?  I’m going to go with Confident.  I mean, I think we both know it’s not the best haircut ever, but I had just delivered twins two months before this photo was taken.  I needed a haircut in the worst (the WORST) way.  I called my brother because, of all the insane people in the world, I knew my brother would be all “of course I can cut your hair.”  He googled How to Cut Hair.  And then he cut it.  And then we took family photos.  It was awesome.  Like my brother and me.  That awesome.

The time my brother dyed his wife Kim’s hair?  Well, Jeff, that was Cocky.  You should never do that again.

I’ve often felt bad for my children that their mother isn’t the same bastion of endless adoration as mine.

After a recent dance competition in which my eldest daughter Abby performed, I told her what an amazing job she did.  She’s an incredibly talented technical dancer.  She’s athletic and graceful and her body just intuitively understands how to move.  She’s also very shy and pretty much paralyzed when she has to perform, so we work on encouraging expression and strength of movement.  Her dance instructors have been fabulous, always thinking of new tricks to teach her confidence.

I did tell her how amazing she was.  I really did.  You were great, I said.  Your movements are so fluid, and you hit every move.  You were beautiful.  Your memory for dancing in incredible. I went on and on and on.

And then Abby said, What can I do better next time?

Just so you know, when a 12-year-old asks you this, the correct answer is, Oh, nothing, sweetheart.  You can’t possibly do any better than you did.  You were just wonderful!

And then you should shut up.

Seriously.

Shut.

Up.

Do not, under any circumstances, say something along the lines of: Well, maybe you could smile a little bit.

Or: It would be fun to see bigger movements.

Or, really, really don’t say something comparative, like: Your techniques were much better than the other groups, but their expression really made their dances interesting.

Saying those things would be dumb.

Saying those things would imply that you think that your daughter’s dance was boring.

Saying those things would probably make her cry and make you feel bad and undermine all of the good things you just said.

When I was younger, I was afraid I would grow up to be like my mother.

Now, I’m afraid I won’t.

The good news is, my friends’ daughter, little miss one-year-old Leigh, is showing some serious potential to fill the void I’ve created.

I was copied on an email message to my husband Greg last week, along with this photo:

The message read:

Greg, I thought you should know that when we were at the store the other night, Leigh kept pointing to this picture and saying “Geg, Geg.”  That’s you.  Congratulations!

Cocky or Confident? Get it?  (Sorry, y’all.)

So the next time Abby asks me “What can I do better next time?”, I’m sending in the big guns.

Mom and Baby Leigh, start your engines.  You’re going to be on duty for the next, oh, 25 years or so.

Raising the next generation of Cocky kids with a little help from my family and friends,

Beth

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Dec 20 2010

If you haven’t ever read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, I highly recommend it.

It starts: “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.”

For the record, my kids are not the worst kids in the history of the world.  They have never, to my knowledge, smoked cigars.

However, sometimes, in my darkest moments of child-rearing, I’m afraid that I’m raising the Herdmans.  Like last year, when Ian and Aden got themselves kicked out of the Christmas program at church.  Or last month, when Aden played with matches in her room.  Or the time that Ian stole BBQ ribs from our daycare provider (the kid has his priorities).  Or last summer, when Abby, Ian and Aden decided to host a neighborhood swim party by filling our backyard playhouse with water (they were very successful, with 2 feet of water before we caught them).

As an update for the people who’ve asked, Ian and Aden successfully participated in the church Christmas program last night.  They were invited by Mrs. M, the same volunteer music teacher who had to kick them out last year because they left her no alternative.  Mrs. M is like Jesus because she’ll just keep taking people back no matter how naughty they used to be.

This was also the first year that my 4-year-old twins, Cai and Cael, participated in the program.

The program included 4 costume changes: Angels, Animals, Hats and Scarves.  I was afraid I was going to screw it up, so I kept maniacally chanting “angels, animals, hats and scarves… angels, animals, hats and scarves…” under my breath.  Fortunately, Miss Grace, who’s probably about 7 years old, noticed my distress and cued me every time I needed to change my kids.  Thank God for Grace.

There were two moments that made the entire program for me — and for my mom and mother-in-law whom I caught crying together at least twice.

The first moment was from Cael, who recently found his middle fingers.

A few nights ago, Cael introduced me to his special digits by holding them boldly upright and telling me they’re “the fingerth for putting on our ringth.”  I quickly showed him the correct ring fingers.  Then we named all of our fingers; Pinky, Ring, Middle, Pointer, and Thumb.

Cael told me that Pinky is for sticking up when you drink tea.  He said he learned that from Tinkerbell.  I’m not sure when he was drinking tea with Tinkerbell, but I figure there are some things parents have no right to know.

Cai wanted me to name his fingers next.  He was a little bit upset to discover that all of his fingers have the same names as Cael’s.  Cai showed Pointer to Daddy and named it.  Greg misheard Cai and thought he called his pointer finger Frank.  I’m not sure how you get Frank from Pointer, but there it is.  Cai liked Frank WAY, WAY better.

Cael thought Frank the Finger was the coolest thing he’d ever heard.  He figured that since Cai had copied his fingers’ names earlier, Cael should get to copy Frank.

Cael named all of his fingers Frank.  (Oh yeah, Cai?  You have a finger named Frank?  Well, I have TEN fingers named Frank!)

That’s how Frank the Fingers joined our family.

My finger-naming intentions had clearly gone horribly awry, so you won’t be surprised to learn that Cael’s finger fascination intensified.  In recent days, we’ve had many appearances from Frank and Frank, the double-fingered flip-off… and many comments from my punny husband along the lines of “Let me be Frank with you,” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a…” you get the idea.

All of which has led to our conundrum.  How do you get your kid to stop flipping you off without making a big deal about it?

I don’t know.  We keep trying to give equal time to all the fingers hoping that will deemphasize the importance of the middle ones.

This is how well it’s working:

Remember, before I took you on our epic tour of finger naming, how we were talking about the Christmas program?  And the two moments that made the entire program for me?  And how I was sharing the first of those moments?

The first moment was from Cael, who brought Frank and Frank to the Christmas program.

During an entire song, Cael brought Frank and Frank out to play.  Now, to be fair to Cael, he clearly didn’t mean for Frank and Frank to join us; he didn’t even seem to notice they’d arrived.  But despite Cael’s intentions, Frank and Frank danced around and enjoyed the program.  They kept time to the music and picked at Cael’s pants.  And they never let the other fingers join in any reindeer fun.

Fortunately for our rapidly deteriorating reputation as parents, Cael had managed to place himself behind two rows of big kids.  Our section of the church was the only side that saw the Franks’ performance debut.

Still, our parents were sitting in our section, which meant they had front-row seats to watch the Franks.  Our dads laughed.  Greg laughed.  Our moms laughed until they cried.  And so did I.

The second moment of the Best Christmas Pagaent Ever is brought to you by Cai.

Cai wasn’t totally sure he wanted to perform.  By the second costume change, Animals, Cai dutifully donned his camel head and climbed onto the stage with the other kids.

A few seconds later, he was back with me in the pew, saying he didn’t want to do it.

I said that was fine.  He could sit with me.  After all, I didn’t want to be Distracting Stage Mom, shoving her unwilling kid up front.

But the next thing I knew, Cai was wiggling to get down so he could go back on stage.  I also didn’t want to be the mom with the undisciplined and unruly kid who kept running back and forth, stage to pew and pew to stage for the duration of the song.

So I told Cai, “That’s fine.  You can go on stage one more time.  But if you go up there this time, you have to stay there.”

Cai (pictured on the left with Cael on the right) went up on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage for the whole song.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage even when he got a little bored and his eyes started to glaze.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

He stayed on stage even though he started to look around and wonder when it might be over.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

And he stayed on stage when the song ended and all the other kids left.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

I stage whispered, “You can come down now, Cai.”

Cai stayed on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

Mrs. M waved him off and told him he could go sit with his Mom and Dad.

Cai stayed on stage.

Photo courtesy of Mike McConaughey

Eventually, I had to go on stage to rescue my child.

Photo courtesty of Mike McConaughey

I explained to the audience, “I told him if he came back up here, he had to stay.”

The audience laughed.  Our dads laughed.  Greg laughed.  Our moms laughed until they cried.

And so did I.

It was the Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Proudly,

The Herdmans

We have a winner!

Dec 20 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My sincere thanks for your entries in the Overwhelmedness Contest last week.  You made my first contest an overwhelming success, and I’m grateful for your honesty, your willingness to laugh in the face of crazy, and your bravery in sharing your stories with my little corner of the world.

I’m better for your sharing, and I hope you were encouraged by the stories, as well… even if it’s just to feel a touch more normal and a bit less alone.  Thank you for being a terrific community to me and each other this week and for making me regret my embarrassing disclosures a little less than usual.

Sally writes:

We do, in fact, have a winner in the contest.

So after developing a detailed tallying system, countless minutes reading, assessing and reassessing, Kim and I came to the conclusion that it was only fair to narrow it down to the most harrowing stories and tales and have Spencer pull the winning name out of a hat (or rather a red preschool bucket).

The $20 Starbucks gift card goes to… (drum roll, please)… Leslie! Between car accidents, office floodings, and general craziness at church (not to mention jet lag), we crown Leslie the overwhelmedness Queen.

AND the $1.55 goes to… (drum roll, please)… Dave Woolsey! Because if anything is more frustrating than being 75 feet from the Coffee Cottage, it’s a $1.55 gift card which we all know will buy nothing at Starbucks.

Dave, when finding yourself that close to the Coffee Cottage, the answer is always YES!  There.  I solved all your life problems.  You’re welcome.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Sally

Congratulations, Leslie!  And Dave? 😉

My sincere thanks, Kim and Sally.  I’m exceedingly glad that I didn’t have to judge.  The fact that you both did it graciously while parenting your small children, preparing for Christmas, and having illness in your homes to boot… well, those things just show how very, very qualified you were for your roles.

I’ll join Kim and Sally in saying,

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Beth