Monday, August 31, 2009

Seven Years Later...

Seven years ago today, Marcus and I were standing in the auditorium of the Downtown Church in Searcy, Arkansas, speaking our vows to each other. These past seven years have had their ups and downs, but I can honestly say that this has been the best year we've ever had. We understand each other more, enjoy each other more and work better together than ever before. A bit of that is due to a book study we've been doing with our church small group using a book entitled Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs. While the book has its logistical and stylistic weaknesses, it has been effective in highlighting some principles that are overlooked in other marriage books. One of these principles is that a man needs to feel respected by his wife even more than he needs to feel loved. So I've decided to spend my anniversary "eve" writing out ten reasons that I respect my husband.

1. I respect his patience, both with me and the boys. Many things that frustrate me do not frustrate him. I try very hard to fulfill all of the expectations that I think he has, but when I fall short, he is not critical or angry with me. Some nights dinner isn't even started when he gets home from work, and he just cheerfully plays with the boys while I get to work on it. When I am grouchy or discouraged, he is patient, waiting without judgment for me to get on top of my emotions.

2. I respect his "worldly wisdom," for lack of a better term. I tend to believe everyone and trust that other people are basically good-hearted. He is more reserved and skeptical with his trust, and that enables him to protect and guide us wisely. At the same time, he is insulating the kids and me from the uglier things in the world. I'm glad that he has a wider breadth of knowledge about what people are capable of when he is making decisions, and I'm also glad that he allows me to maintain my more trusting perspective.

3. I respect his willingness to self-analyze and hear truth. Marcus is not one of those people who refuses to take a hard look at his own flaws. When someone speaks to him or something happens to highlight an area of weakness, he spends time reflecting on it and making efforts to change. He is not easily offended; in fact he tells me often that he appreciates me speaking up when I see something in him that needs to change.

4. I respect Marcus because he is passionate about our Lord. Nothing gets him animated like dreaming up a new ministry idea or discussing a spiritual matter. He is my "Ecclesiastes Man", because his emotions are right in line with Solomon. Very few things "under the sun" excite him: not money, power, new things, etc. He can take or leave that stuff, because his treasures are in heaven. Long before I really felt this way, Marcus reminded me that death is a victory, not a tragedy, because death is how God releases his children from the burdens of the world.

5. I respect Marcus for prioritizing our relationship. Sometimes, he will put a relationship issue that we've recently discussed onto his little daily chart that is taped up in the bathroom. It might say "Pray with Rachel" or "Don't use sarcasm or mockery"with a row of little boxes beside it to check off each day. He always has a bunch of other things on the chart, too, like studying, working out, reading his Bible, etc. but I love it that improving our relationship makes the chart. In addition, he is willing to read relationship books on occasion (at my request, of course) and he is willing to talk about our relationship at length, regularly striving to understand my perspective.

6. I respect Marcus for his willingness to be vulnerable. He shares his heart with me on a regular basis, both positive and negative things. I rarely feel like I am bumping up against a brick wall when trying to find out what is bothering him. He may not realize at first why he is on edge, but when I bring it to his attention, he's willing to think about it until he figures it out. Also in the area of vulnerability, I respect his willingness to put himself out there and make friends. I think this gets tougher with each move, but he has not diminished his efforts. We see the Lord's blessing on him for this here in Birmingham as he is making some of the best friends he has had since college at Harding.

7. I think this often gets overlooked, but I want to make sure and express how much I respect Marcus's sense of responsibility. He has plugged through this long medical track without faltering. Some guys have breakdowns under the pressure of becoming a doctor, and others just throw in the towel and quit. I am so grateful that I NEVER have to wonder if Marcus is going to get up and go to work today. I never have to be concerned that he is going to blow his top with his boss and get fired. And I he has such a well-developed internal stress-temperature gauge, that I never worry that he is going to completely burn out and shut down.

8. I respect Marcus because he is an amazing father. I've said this on here before, but it never ceases to impress me so I'll say it again: when he is with the boys, he is 100% present. His mind, body and heart are all engaged in their play, and it is so beautiful for me to watch. (My father didn't really play with us when we were little, so seeing Marcus enter into their world is absolutely wonderful to me.) He is also a committed disciplinarian. He doesn't discipline instinctively like I do, but he tries hard to be consistent, and he certainly sees the importance of teaching the kids good behavior 24/7. He is great about taking advantage of the teachable moments to help the boys' see other people's perspectives. We talk frequently about how we are trying to direct our kids's characters, and what adjustments we need to make based on what we are seeing in them at the time.

9. I respect Marcus because he is considerate. Even though he accepts the responsibility as the final decision-maker in areas that we don't see eye-to-eye, he ALWAYS listens to my input, and is usually willing to talk about it for several days and weeks before he "makes the call." He never makes decisions that effect the family without getting my input first. He sees everything from taking on an extra responsibility at work to choosing his medical specialty as decisions that we make together. I really, really appreciate how he considerately solicits my perspective.

10. I respect Marcus for his integrity. This is one of the reasons I first fell in love with him: Marcus is an honorable man. Once he believes something is the right thing to do, he will do it, regardless of the cost. He is honest almost to a fault. He will tell me the truth even its ugly. There have been times in the past that I have asked him direct questions, and he knew that the answers were really going to upset me, and he still answered honestly. His honesty has consistently gotten him in trouble with those closest to him, because he hasn't always had the most tact, but I'd rather tend toward tactless truth than a lifetime of people-pleasing lies.

Marcus is quite a man, and I am humbled by how much he loves me. He is so gifted, knowledgeable and Godly. I thank God today for bringing us together, sustaining us through the storms, refining us in our weaknesses, and blessing us so abundantly through each other.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stepping Heavenward

I love to read. That might be the understatement of the century. Before I had kids, I would read for hours on end whenever I had the chance. It was not unusual for me to read 3-4 books in a week. I still read 2-3 every month, but it is much harder to carve out the time. In the course of a lifetime of imbibing many, many books, I have found hundreds that I love. But there have only been a handful that have had a significant impact on my life. In fact, the two works of fiction that have had the greatest influence on who I am are The Shack, by William Young, and Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. Most people have read or at least heard of The Shack, so I'm not going to elaborate on that one, but Stepping Heavenward is much more obscure. A friend recommended it to me, and I actually had a hard time finding a copy, even on Amazon (though it is there now). The book is written in the form of a diary. It is set in the early 1800's, and the narrator begins her story as a 16-year-old girl who is struggling to be the person that God (and her mother) want her to be. The book continues through her life, and the reader is allowed to see the gradual spiritual maturing of this girl-turning-woman.

Now, I admit that this book will likely not speak to as many people as The Shack did, but it spoke to me with unprecedented power. For me, this book infused a divine purpose into every trial and difficulty that I have faced, whether physical pain, relational frustration or more severe trials. It also brought divine purpose to every menial task and small sacrifice. I watched Katy's attitude toward serving and sacrifice change, and my own changed with it. Katy's mother teaches her that service and sacrifice is in itself an end, not just a means to the end of "sharing Christ." The service and sacrifice IS sharing Christ.

Katy's journey also, in combination with several studies from the book of Job and some long conversations with my Dad, gently brought me to the place of realizing that my children belong wholy and completely to the Lord. This book helped me move to a previously incomprehensible place in my heart...a place where I now truly believe in regard to the ones I love, "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord." I have never lost someone close to me, and I am not saying that I would handle it without becoming angry with the Lord. But in the past, there was a portion of my heart that I kept entirely locked away from the Lord. It was as if I had unconsciously put my dearest ones in a lockbox and put a sign on it saying, "If you touch this, I will no longer love you and trust you." But the Lord worked in my heart through this book and other avenues to stamp this truth on my heart: "Trust me with what is dearest to you, my child, and I will sustain you through whatever may come."

I really could write for hours about the spiritual truths the Lord used this book to teach me, but I think I'm going to stop here. I don't know if I would have taken as much from Katy's story at an earlier stage in my life. I think I would have needed more life experience, particularly that of motherhood. If you are a woman, I think that you will be, at the very least, touched by Katy's story. And, who knows, maybe God will use her story to change yours, as well.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Love Fall!

As I have written before, fall is hands-down, no-competition, my favorite season. This week the weather has been cooler in the mornings and evenings and I am getting so excited! I love that it is cooling down earlier this year and I'm hoping it means an extra-long fall :)

The boys and I took advantage of the cooler mornings yesterday and we went to the zoo for the first time since it got hot a couple of months ago. We spent 3 hours there and saw every single exhibit, even the petting farm (usually we skip some areas because it is so big). I love how inquisitive Caleb has grown about the animals. I was able to teach him all kinds of basic facts like how to differientiate between turtles and tortoises, monkeys and apes, and lions and lionesses. He can also correctly identify which animals lay eggs and which ones have babies grow inside them. His method for this is not foolproof, but it works for now: if the animal has fur or hair, it grows inside its mother, and if it does not have fur or hair, it hatches out of an egg.

Just like at the beginning of last fall, the animals were very frisky yesterday. The lions and tigers were pacing, the zebras were romping around a bit, and the monkeys were playing. Even the diamond back rattler was slithering all over its cage. I've almost never seen those giant snakes move, so that was a treat. We also met a homeschooling mother of six while we were sitting in the "Outback" kangaroo habitat. Her kids, ranging in age from 3 to 17, were very polite, happy, obedient and helpful...I was very impressed. Everytime I meet a family like that, I am determined to homeschool! But even while I'm getting excited about it, I remind myself that what works so well for many families may or may not work for mine, so we will continue to wait and watch before we make our decision.

Well, we had a very enjoyable morning at the zoo, and we're looking forward to many more such mornings this fall!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Grumps

The last couple of days, I have had trouble shaking the grumps. I know why I feel this way, but that's not making it any easier to overcome. Like a typical extrovert, I get my emotional energy by spending time with people. I love to spend long hours in the company of my husband or a friend. Participating in unhurried, adult conversation is how I work out whatever is on my mind as well as how I am challenged and inspired. A short phone conversation is helpful, but it doesn't really energize me like a face-to-face conversation. When I don't get this energizing time, I am shorter with the kids, I eat lots of junk food, and I just can't seem to shake a "down" feeling.

At the moment, my energy reserves are depleted. Marcus was at a men's retreat at church this past Friday and Saturday, so it was just me and the kids as usual this weekend. Then on Sunday, I taught Sunday school in the morning, Marcus and the boys took a long nap Sunday afternoon while I grocery-shopped, and then we went to small group where it was my turn to watch all the kids. So I didn't really talk to anyone all day Sunday either. Monday morning, which I usually begin full of energy from a weekend of companionship, started with me already feeling discouraged. But I had errands to run, so I just trudged through the day, not yet realizing why I was having a hard time adjusting my attitude. Yesterday, the friend I often get together with on Tuesdays had a doctor's appt, and then my normal Wednesday playdate canceled because of a sick child. Marcus gets home around 6:30/7:00 early in the week, but the evening hours are so wrapped up with the kids that it is impossible to have a real conversation. And by the time Caleb finally conks out around 9:30, we are both beat. So I am on day six without any unhurried adult conversation, and I may just have to go to the library tomorrow and make friends with the librarian :) (Or else Marcus will call someone to come hang out with me so he won't have to come home to Mrs. Down-in-the-Dumps any more this week :)

Yet even while I am fighting this discouraged feeling, I am grateful to the Lord for reminding me how weak I am and how dependent on His provision. And I am also grateful for the inherent reminder that it is really Him using my beloved friends to minister to me, so my gratitude belongs entirely to him. Whether emotional or physical, he is the fulfiller of my needs, and it is to Him I am looking now for the energy to be a great Mommy to my boys today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Whew...That's a Relief

One of the things that I've felt a little guilty about for the past year-and-a-half is that I did not get Caleb's speech evaluated around the time that he turned two. Although his receptive language was excellent, at 18-months he only had 12-25 words (depending on whether or not you count animal sounds). His language continued to lag behind until he was about 2 1/2, when he seemed to catch up, but it was hard for me to tell for sure. One reason is that he was our only child and it was hard for me to evaluate with nothing to compare to, and the other reason is that he is just not a talkative kid. Even now, he is not a talkative kid. He talks when he has a story he wants to tell or he thinks something is funny or he wants to do something, but he isn't a chatterbox like many 3-year-olds.

Anyway, a couple of people in our lives expressed concern over his speech delay, but because Ethan was born right when Caleb turned two and then we moved to Alabama two months later, I never got around to having him evaluated. Then we got here and it took so many months just to figure out how the health insurance and the school systems worked. But when Ethan's verbal skills began exploding, I realized how limited Caleb's had been, and I started to worry that I'd missed the speech therapy boat. So I finally jumped through all the hoops and had him evaluated by a speech therapist. The session was yesterday afternoon and it lasted for about 45 minutes. When it was over, I was very relieved to be told that the speech therapist had absolutely no concerns. She said that he is correctly articulating all of the 3-year-old sounds and almost all of the 4-year-old sounds, and doing very well with his later-developing blends, as well.

So he does not qualify for speech therapy services, for which I am very grateful. I'm glad I don't have to take him to weekly appointments, but I'm even more glad that my chaos-induced procrastination did not cost him anything developmentally. I think that he talked late for some of the same reasons that he talks less than other kids now: he's just more of an observer and a thinker, and he was not motivated to verbalize as early as other kids, much like some kids aren't motivated to move until they're over a year old. (By the way, I hope I get one of those later-moving kids next time...I'm tired of babyproofing for 6-month-old crawlers!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Caleb (Monthly Update)

Caleb is 3-years-and-5-months-old today. As always, he is very into pretending. Lately, he has been pretending to be Spiderman, The Green Goblin, Batman, a pirate, and of course, Peter Pan. Now, he has never seen any of the first three except on posters in the toy store, but he got the idea that they were very strong and impressive. I think he thinks that Spiderman and Batman actually turn other people into spiders and bats.

Caleb has also been doing very well with learning his phonics sounds. I started teaching the sounds about 3 weeks ago using and the Leapfrog Letters DVD. He now knows which sounds the first 15 letters make, and he'll probably know them all in another 2-3 weeks. I also got him his first little Kumon workbook (the capital letters one); he loves to trace and practice writing the capital letters in this book. Puzzles and coloring are two more daily favorites. I figured out that it is really easy to print out any type of coloring page from the internet, so we currently have six different pictures of Spiderman hanging in our play room. He much prefers markers to crayons right now, and has gotten considerably better lately about staying in the lines. (I have never said anything to him about it, but he just started doing it.) He is very intent and focused when coloring, and to date has never quit without completing whatever he is working on. He actually cried one day during class at church because the teacher tried to put the paints away before his picture was done. I like that he wants to finish what he starts :). The puzzles he does are mostly the 48-piece Melissa and Doug wooden ones, of which we only have four, but he just does them over and over. We also have a few 24-piece ones that he'll do when he wants something different. (I wish Melissa & Doug made something in between 48-pieces and 1oo-pieces.)

Though I admit I've had little to do with this because I haven't started teaching any math, Caleb has also gotten really good at counting lately. He can usually accurately count up to four or five items in a group in his head. I ask him how many are there, he looks at the group, and then tells me. If he gets it wrong, he can count them out loud and get the right answer the second time.

One of the cutest things about this age is his love for "impressing" and "being a hero." He is always coming up with some new jump or tumble or fighting stance, and he ALWAYS wants an audience and feedback. "Is that cool, Mama? You like that, Ethan?" is a chorus in our house right now. He is always telling us that he is so strong and showing us his muscles. Nothing exacts such instant attention and cooperation than when I start a phrase with, "Caleb, are you strong enough to... [carry this bag upstairs and put it on daddy's computer chair]?" He immediately hops up and does it, saying "Yes, I am!" He also loves to do anything that he can view as heroic. When Ethan is darting away from me at the library counter or at the park, I tell Caleb, "Go save brother! He's trying to get away!" Lickety-split, Caleb has Ethan by the hand and is leading him back to me. (It's very cute how willing Ethan is to be led by his brother...if I had tried the same thing, a fit might have ensued.) Most of his heroics have to do with saving Ethan from either running away, putting something "dangerous" in his mouth, trying to touch a bug, etc. I love that he sees himself as his brother's protector (even though I have to admit that he is also his brother's tormentor at times).

One of the difficult things about this stage is Caleb's ability to weigh consequences in his mind and go ahead with a misbehavior because he's decided that the consequence is worth it (or he hopes that he won't get caught.) That is driving me nuts. I try to motivate him in all kinds of positive ways with verbal encouragement, reminders of positive consequences, reminders about how things make other people feel, but there are still so many times that he chooses to be mischevious and has to have a negative consequence doled out. I get so tired of taking priviliges and toys away from him, but I guess that's just the way things are with a little boy.

Another challenge is his increased ability to use words to avoid the little verbal "guides" that I'm used to setting up. Like when I give him two choices of which I find both acceptable, he persistently argues for the 3rd choice of his own making, and refuses to pick one of mine. He remembers EVERYTHING now, and is always looking for logical holes in the general statements that I make. Here's an example conversation:

"Don't drop things on your brother's head, Caleb." (something he has heard literally 50+ times)
"Why not?"
"Because it might hurt him."
"But it didn't hurt him. See, he's not crying."
"Not this time, but it could next time."
"No it won't, because I'll drop it just the same. I think he likes it."
"Regardless, I do not want you to drop anything on anyone's head. That is the rule in our house and I expect you to follow it. If you do it again, you're going to have to sit in time-out."
"Okay, Mommy, I not going to do it again."

or it could be...

"Caleb, don't throw toys."
"Why not?"
"Because the toy might hit someone."
"But it didn't hit anyone."
"Yes, I know, but the next time it might."
"But it won't because I'll throw it over Ethan like I just did."
"We don't throw toys! That's the rule! Obey the rule or there will be a consequence that you don't like!"

And so it goes :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday Night Church

I love Wednesday nights at our church. When we became parents 3 1/2 years ago, we stopped coming on Wednesday nights because of bedtimes. After we moved here to Alabama, even though Caleb could stay up a little later at age two, it didn't really occur to us to come because we hadn't been in the habit for so long. But one day, almost exactly 6 months ago, a good friend was scheduled to speak to the Wednesday night ladies class, and she invited me to come hear her. I talked to Marcus and he agreed to stay home with 10-month-old Ethan (who at that time had a scheduled meltdown right around 7 pm every night, and we dared not be far from his crib when it occurred) and I would take Caleb with me to church. Caleb and I had such a great time that night that I think we've only missed one Wednesday night since then. It was good for Marcus because it gave him some quiet time in the house to study while Ethan slept, and it was great for me because that ladies' class turned out to be really special. I have not even touched the surface of the blessings that are coming out of that time of sharing and the relationships that were formed.

Then, when Ethan was about 14-months-old, we started being able to stretch his bedtime on occasion, (as long as we gave him some time to catch up with naps and an early bedtime the next day). So we all four started going to Wednesday night church. During the summer, there haven't been any classes; we all just met in the auditorium to sing and then one member shared a personal testimony of God's work in his or her life. I have been impacted by people's stories, and even more so by the worship time. There's something about the singing on Wednesday night that is different. I think it is because almost everyone who is there is there because they NEED it. There are very few (if any) "dutiful attendees" at our church on Wednesday night. Everyone who makes it there has made sacrifices to be there, whether leaving work early, fighting traffic, pushing kids' bedtimes, battling exhaustion, or missing dinner (or all of the above). But the sacrifices seem naught because we are there to pour it all out to the Lord in worship. There is a rawness in this midweek meeting that is not present at other times. We're all tired and many are frustrated, but we fight the odds to come because we know that this hour together will leave us renewed and refreshed for the rest of the week. And the amazing thing is that it always does!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mother Bear

I don't think that there is anything in the world that gets my ire up more quickly than seeing my child treated badly. We were at the science center this morning, and Caleb (age 3 1/2) was eagerly trying to join with two older boys (brothers, ages 4 and 5) in building a wooden block city. There were plenty of blocks, and he was not moving anything they had placed, just adding pieces of his own. They told him flat out that he couldn't build with them. He responded politely with, "Please, can I build with you?" They told him that he was too little to play and to go away. I saw the light go out of his eyes, and he walked over to where I was with his head down. He told me what happened (he didn't realize I'd been watching), and then he said, "That hurts my feelings." I hugged him and told him that he could go back and build, even if they didn't want him to, or he could go do something else.

He opted to go back and try again. He continued building with the blocks, this time not adding to the other boys' structure but building his own thing. Two different times, one of the other boys took a block out of Caleb's hand, rather than one of the many on the floor. When that didn't deter him, the younger boy said, "I'm four. You're only two, so you can't build with these blocks or play with us." Caleb said, "I'm not two! I'm four!" I was now sitting much closer in order to monitor the situation, and I quietly corrected Caleb, saying, "You're three, sweetheart." The other boys laughed at him and said something about him being stupid because he didn't even know how old he was. At that point, their mother came up and said, "Hey, you guys! Are you guys having fun? Are you sharing? You're doing a great job building! I'm so proud of you! Okay, I'm going to go back over there, you keep having fun!"

It was all I could do not to speak to her about the situation, but as I was watching her talk, I was able to calm myself down and remember that children do not become bullies by accident. They become bullies because no one cares enough about them to watch them, be aware of them and teach them. It was obvious to me that her even coming over to speak to them was purely out of duty and not interest in their play. She didn't pause to allow the boys to answer any of her strung-together questions or respond to her comments, and she didn't even make eye contact with them while she was talking.

The boys left a few minutes later, and in retrospect I'm glad that I didn't say anything. Yes, Caleb's feelings were hurt. Yes, those boys were behaving badly. But I'm afraid if I had spoken to either the kids or their mom, I would have been speaking out of anger and hurt rather than concern for them, and of that I would have been ashamed. And, all-in-all, I'm proud of the way Caleb handled the situation. He used words to express his feelings, he did not lash out or imitate their rudeness, and nor did he react fearfully and give up on the blocks. I would have been fine with it if he had, but I was kind of proud of him for plugging on, despite the obvious deterrent. And I was proud of myself for stifling those mother-bear instincts and resisting the urge to swoop in and "make" those boys be kind. I will not always be there, and as we get closer and closer to school age, I want him to have more and more opportunities to handle difficult situations on his own.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Care Town Meeting (or Not)

On Monday night, we took the kids to a health care town meeting here in Birmingham. At least that's what we tried to do. The town meeting was scheduled to take place at 7:00 pm, and it was located about 10 minutes from our house. We left at 6:30 pm so we could get there a little early (or so we thought). Apparently, so did every other person within a 50-mile radius of Birmingham, because traffic was stopped completely a mile-and-a-half from the meeting's location. We inched through traffic for about 30 minutes before finally deciding to abort the plan and take the kids to Chick-Fil-A instead. Right after we gave up, our friends, the Pollard's, (who had left earlier than us), called to say that the event wasn't allowing anyone else in, anyway. The Pollard's actually made it into the parking lot before they were turned away. So, we all agreed to salvage the evening by meeting at Chick-Fil-A down the road and using the free ice cream coupons we'd been carrying around for weeks. We were still stuck in traffic for another 15 minutes just trying to get to Chick-Fil-A, so they beat us there as well. My phone rang while we were still waiting in traffic. It was Quenta, who informed us that Chick-Fil-A was out of ice cream. Their truck hadn't arrived that day, for some unknown reason. At this point, we were both laughing at the consistently disappointing circumstances. Our family finally arrived at Chick-Fil-A, only to realize that Ethan is just at the age that he can climb up much farther than he can climb down on their particular playground equipment. That, combined with the lack of ice cream, convinced us to all load back up in the cars and go to McDonald's across the street. That proved to be the best move of the evening (even though it did look like it was going to pour the whole time we were out on the playground). We ended up staying for over an hour and all had a great time.

It seems like no matter how many things go wrong, when our family gets together with the Pollard's, we all refuse to let circumstances ruin our fun. This has proved true even when camping out in the pouring down rain with five preschoolers!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three-Hour Nap

It's a little after 4:00 pm and my boys have both been sleeping for 3 hours now. This has never happened to me before. We have friends who have to wake their kids up around 5:00 so they will go to bed at night, but that has never been the case for us. Our kids usually nap for about 2 hours, and are almost always up by 2:30 or 3:00.

So anyway, I'm not really sure what to do with myself. Since they went to sleep, I've done a load of laundry, written several emails, worked on a T-shirt design online, made 4 phone calls about an erroneous medical bill that we keep getting, swept all the floors, mopped the kitchen, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, repotted a tomato plant, retrieved the mail, paid the bills, emptied all the trash cans in the house, taken a shower, and dried my hair. I usually don't blog until after the kids go to bed at night, but here I am right now because I really don't know what else to do. I guess this is blogworthy, because this is the first time that I've had nothing obvious to do since before since Ethan was born.

Well, I just heard Caleb's door open, so I guess it's time to sign off and go be a Mommy :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Car Talk

One thing Marcus and I are very guilty of as parents is talking to each other like the kids aren't listening when we're in the car. We are usually playing music, and the kids are both very quiet in the car (most of the time), so we just sit and chat about everything without thinking too much about how closely they may be listening. A few days ago, we were talking about something or other and the word "sex" was used. I said it in the middle of a sentence without any pause or inflection, but Caleb still picked up on the one word spoken that he didn't already know.

"Daddy, what is 'sex'?" he piped up. I was thinking: "He's only 3! I'm not ready for this question! What can I say that is true but not too much information?" Marcus, clearly more prepared than I, recovered the situation with "Well, Caleb, it's in between 5 and 7 when you are counting: four, five, six, seven, eight." Caleb accepted that with a happy, "Oh, I see!" (and probably wondered why it took us a few long seconds to answer such a simple question). Marcus says his answer will probably buy us 6 months. I'm hoping that with a little more discretion on my part, we may have a couple of years before he throws that one at us again :)

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today, I want to spend my time online writing about my older brother, Danny, and the way that God has turned his life upside-down during this past year. But first a little background...

Danny is biologically my half-brother, the son of my father and his first wife. He is 11 years older than I am. We did not grow up together, since he lived in California with his mom and her extended family and I lived with my parents in Arkansas. He would visit in the summers when I was little, and then that stopped as well, so I went years without seeing him. During my childhood and teenage years, I held a deep love for the teenage boy who played with me when I was a preschooler. I missed him and prayed for him almost every day through my adolescent and teenage years. I can say with complete honesty that it was the longing of my heart during all of my growing-up years for this brother of mine to come to know the Lord.

When I was a teenager, I would hear tidbits from Mom & Dad's conversations that told me what Danny's life was like. I knew that he was always trying to break into the entertainment business, as a model, singer, actor, and dancer. He was successful enough to make a living, but he never got the big break he was looking for. In his late 20s, he moved on to start a web design business (back before everyone else was doing that). During these years of growing up and living as an adult in Los Angeles, Danny's life was best described by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11.

"I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun."

The summer that I was 20 and Danny was 31, I flew out to Los Angeles on my own, determined to reacquaint myself with this brother of mine. We shared a wonderful week together, during which my childhood love for him was renewed and allowed to mature. He was as fascinating and personable as I remembered, though jaded and worldly in ways I did not remember. Most painful to me was his casual dismissal of all things religious. He considered himself to be spiritual, but was very put off by the idea that there was any sort of truth to be sought out or that any one Savior could speak to all people. He believed, like most postmoderns of our generation, that truth and even reality is entirely subjective, and that the only unpardonable belief is that you are "right" and others are "wrong" (translated in postmodern jargon as "intolerance"). In some ways it was fascinating to discuss my faith with him, because he challenged me from several angles I hadn't considered before. But in other ways, it deeply grieved me, because I saw that my lifetime hope of seeing him meet the Lord was still not anywhere near.

On February 3 of this year, almost nine years after my trip out to California, I got an email from Danny saying that the Lord had taken ahold of him. At the suggestion/insistence of his brother-in-law, he had spent the previous weekend attending a Christian men's conference. He left that place a new man, convicted of his sin and saved by the grace of our Lord. Despite some very difficult and painful experiences, his fervor and commitment has not waned since that day more than six months ago. His life has literally been turned upside down, and he is praising God around every turn. He clings to his faith with a passion that leaves me in awe of our God. There are tears in my eyes as I type this: now my brother is truly my brother in every way.

For all of you out there who long for those you love to know the Lord as you do, have faith! God does not give up on any of his children, no matter where they live, what they have done, or what they currently believe. He seeks to reclaim the heart of each one of his precious ones, and his longing for reconcilition will always be stronger and greater than your own.

Danny and our dad, hiking on one of their annual trips out west.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our Little Tornado

Lately, I have felt very uncertain about Ethan's aggressiveness. He is a very physical little boy, and I feel at a loss as to the best way to deal with it. Anytime he is crossed (like when he is told "No" by an adult, a child takes a toy from him, a child touches a toy that he thinks is his, etc), he responds physically by hitting, throwing, pushing, pinching or pulling hair. When Caleb was 16-months-old (and even older), we didn't have problems with this angry aggressiveness. What I usually do with Ethan is anticipate his outbreak and physcially prevent him from doing whatever he intends. But this is only successful about 75% of the time, and the other 25% of the time ends with another child in tears (Ethan is very strong and holds nothing back). I put him in time-out sometimes, but he acts so impulsively with the aggression that I do not think the time-out is doing anything to cause him pause the next time. I feel like I have to be on top of him every second, and I wonder if this is normal. Caleb went through a hitting phase from 32-34 months (right after Ethan started crawling), but other than during that brief time period, Ethan has not been the recipient of any of this physical stuff. This indicates to me that it is more instinctive rather than learned.

I was recently talking to a good guy-friend about my concerns regarding Ethan's behavior, and he said something that really surprised me at the time. He said that he, even as an adult, thinks it would be fun to go around hitting people all the time. He said that he chooses not to do it because it's socially unacceptable and because he doesn't want to hurt people, but that it would be fun if he could. Because I do not relate to this at all as a woman, I just figured he had issues and mentally dismissed his input. (Sorry, Al :) But then I started asking other men (including my husband), and got uniformly similar responses. So now I am accepting that enjoying the act of exerting his own physical force is a natural thing for a little boy. That gives me some relief, but I still need help in teaching Ethan some impulse control, because, right now, he is a play-group terror!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Inspiring Memorial

Yesterday afternoon, a neighbor watched the boys so I could go to a memorial service for one of our church shepherds. He died very unexpectedly last Thursday night at only 49-years-old. He left a wife and two grown daughters, ages 22 and 20 (I think)...his older daughter got married just a couple of months ago. At the service, four men who knew him well spoke about the impact he had on them and others around him. They spoke the truth about him, both the positive and negative, and the truth was admirable. I think it is not too much to say that every soul in that packed auditorium was inspired by the telling of Dan Baxter's life. His priorities were right, his heart was full of Christ, and he had plenty of room in his life for others. And, despite the obvious grief and shock of the close friends and family, I was impacted by the joyful undertone of the ceremony. The songs were songs of victory, the stories were both funny and poignant, and the speakers were transparent. It truly was, as it purported to be, a celebration of Dan's life.

In some ways, a memorial like this is a more spiritual experience even than a church assembly can be. It's kind of where the rubber of our faith meets the road: do we believe that death is a victory? Do we believe that all that matters in life is being devoted to Christ and showing love to others? And most of all, do we believe that the transforming power of Christ can make each one of us into the kind of person that leaves a legacy like Dan Baxter's?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Promotion Sunday

This Sunday was "Promotion Day" for the children's ministry. All of the kids move up one class or grade and have new teachers and new classrooms. Not a big deal for the older children, but potentially catastrophic for the younger ones.

Ethan moved from the infant nursery to Toddler 1 (for one-year-olds). He has really been ready to move up since he started walking 5 months ago, but Toddler 1 was too full until the current kids moved to Toddler 2 today. The church-employed attendant in the infant nursery, Leigh-Carol, has been the only consistent caretaker in Ethan's life, and she's had him every Sunday morning since he was about 4-months-old. I had a little bit of a hard time leaving him with someone other than her, but he was actually excited to be in a new room full of new toys. He hardly noticed who the adult was in the room. He did cry when we left, but he always does that, even with Leigh-Carol. And he calmed down within a minute or two, just like always.

Caleb's transition was also a significant one. He moved from the "Baby/Toddler" side of things into the main children's ministry program. He's been in "Toddler 2" (2-year-olds) the whole year that we've been here. As a 3-year-old, he is expected to stay in church with us for the first 20-25 minutes (through singing and communion), and then leave when the kids are dismissed to children's church. We have been keeping him with us the first part of church for months now, so that part went smoothly as usual. At the appropriate time, I took him to his new 3-year-old classroom. There are very few toys in the 3-year-old room (as opposed to his old room). The 90-minutes of children's church and then Bible class is much more structured than what the mostly free play of the 2-year-old room, so I wondered how he would do. I was a little nervous to see that his classmates were mostly girls, which I thought would only highlight his rambunctious boyness. I think it actually ended up having a calming influence instead.

After the rest of church and then Bible class, I went to pick him up. I was very pleased that his teacher, Miss Julie, gave me a positive report. Since Caleb's never been in preschool and never had that much uninterrupted structure, I wasn't sure how he would do. Miss Julie told me that several others had trouble staying in their seats and paying attention, but that Caleb was great. I admit I was surprised, since he is usually pretty energetic, but very pleased as well. He came home with excited reports of what he did in his "Big Boy Class", and detailed explanations about the three crafts that he was toting. It warmed our hearts to hear him so happy about church. All in all, promotion Sunday was a sigh of relief for our little family.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nanna & Papa's Visit

Nanna (my mom) spent the last week in July with us (Papa joined us at the end of the week), and we all had a lot of fun together. We played outside in the mornings, and as you can see from the pictures, clothes were optional for Ethan. Caleb managed to find a giant branch, which the boys took turns wielding. Both boys love being outside. Ethan, especially, gets excited when we find a bug to follow around.

Thursday morning, we took Nanna to the McWane Science Center. She was very impressed with the place, and even surprised us with the gift of a membership for another year. The timing was really cool because we actually went on the day that last year's membership expired. So we are set up for another year of fun at the science center. Thanks, Nanna! Nanna also watched the boys one night so we could go on another double date, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

When Papa arrived, Caleb didn't waste any time before asking Papa to read to him. Papa and Caleb read a Curious George book together, and from that moment on, Papa had made a friend for life. Caleb asked Papa to read over and over again the whole time he was here, and Papa never turned him down. It was really special for me to see my son spending so much time on my father's lap.

It is so nice to have family visit...thanks so much for coming, Nanna & Papa!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Just Spit It Out

I'm usually a very expressive and sometimes even outspoken person, but there are times when I'm just as tongue-tied as can be. It seems like this tongue-tied state overtakes me when I have something that I really want to say, but am not confident that I will be understood. For example, there have been a number of times in my life that a person has had a significant impact on me, and I wanted that person to know how God has used them in my life, but I get all tongue-tied when I have the chance to talk about it. A couple of times, I have written a letter, but a letter seems so serious and formal, and I'm always afraid that my words will not be adequate. (I should just realize that of course they won't be adequate and get over it.) I guess the point of this blog entry is to encourage my readers (and myself) to just "spit it out" and tell the people around you how they have inspired you, even if you don't do it perfectly. (You probably shouldn't follow this advice if the person inspired you by showing you what you didn't want to be like.) Seriously, we all need to hear that the efforts we make to serve the Lord and serve each other are helpful to the people around us.

So now I'm going to follow my own advice and write about my friend, Lauren, who is one of the people who has had a significant impact on me. Lauren and I became friends when Marcus and I moved to Florida in the summer of 2003. That fall, she and I both started trying to get pregnant for the first time. It happened immediately for her and Danny, but it took us another two years, so Lauren became a mother two years before I did. My observation of her interactions with Carson as a baby and toddler laid the groundwork for the kind of mother I would become. She was extremely attentive to Carson, from infancy on. Even when spending time with friends, she made it clear by her actions that Carson's needs, physical and emotional, were a priority. I respected that because I had seen other parents consistently ignore their children in social situations. It doesn't take long for kids to pick up on that and take advantage of the "permissive window." Even when Carson was just a toddler, Lauren spoke to him as if he were a much older child, and as a result, he understood (and obeyed) more than most children his age. She took all of his little communications very seriously, from baby sign language to his first little sentences. She held a high standard for his behavior, and began teaching him about being kind to others even before he could talk. She often put aside what she was doing when a teachable moment presented itself. Until her second child was born, I never saw Lauren deny Carson a request to play with him or read to him. By her constant availability, she communicated to him that he was an extremely important and valuable part of her life...never an inconvenience. When Carson's sister, Kennedy, was born, Lauren struggled (like every young mother) with balancing the needs of two young children, but even this she weathered with grace. Now her children are ages five and three, and the she's expecting her third this fall. I have no doubt that she will continue teaching her children that they are loved, respected and cherished by her example; I also have no doubt that she will continue teaching the young mothers around her what it means to lay aside their own lives and desires to nurture love and self-control in the hearts of their children.

Thank you is insufficient for the way God used you in my life, my friend. And I know that you, like others in my life, had no idea what an impact you have made, because I was always too tongue-tied to start telling you :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good one, Daddy!

Caleb has had a few days of pushing my limits. Part of it is because Marcus has been working so many hours the past few weeks, and the other part is just being a little boy. Anyway, I have been frustrated with his nonchalant disobedience, and have been running a little low on creative and effective consequences. We do spank Caleb, but on days like we've been having, spanking for every act of disobedience or unkindness would be excessive.

At the end of this particular day, Caleb had been sent to time out multiple times, spanked and even lost the privilege of an errand he wanted to go on. When Marcus got home around 7:30 pm, I was at my limit of disciplinary resources. Caleb was trying Marcus about something, and Marcus told him, "Caleb, if you do that again, I'm not going to let you pretend to be Peter Pan anymore until tomorrow." Caleb, the child who rarely even cries when spanked, BURST into tears. He can take a lot of abuse from other kids and his own brother before he is moved to tears, but he LOST IT when Daddy threatened to take away his favorite pretending game. Since October of last year, when he first watched the animated Disney movie Peter Pan, pretending to be Peter Pan has been a daily pasttime. (In case you're not doing the math, that's a full nine months of playing Peter Pan.) The funniest part of this consequence is Caleb's complete belief in our omnipotence. It didn't even occur to him that we can't keep him from pretending whatever he wants (though I'm sure that he will eventually figure that out). Well, Daddy the genius figured out how to hit Caleb right where it hurt, and we all reaped the benefits of his much-improved attitude.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Potty Training

I just looked back at Caleb's journal to check my dates, so here's the scoop on Caleb's potty training. A year ago, when Caleb was almost 2-and-a-half-years-old, we started potty training. It started out strong. We used a potty chart with stickers and the reward for each success was five minutes with a special toy, reserved only for these occasions. (I liked this reward better than candy.) After about a month, he was down to about one accident a day.

But then we went on a long weekend trip, put him in Pull-ups for the weekend, and had a total relapse. I don't think that we could have avoided the relapse without the trip, but the trip definitely facilitated it. Caleb was getting bored with the effort required of him to consistently go in the potty, and I think that he would have relapsed trip or no trip. Regardless, from this point on, it was a slow process. It took us another four months to completely recover the ground we'd lost. But by the end of January, 2 months before his 3rd birthday and 5 months after the start of potty training, he was wearing underwear all the time (except for sleeping), and most days and even weeks were accident-free. We considered Caleb to be potty-trained at this point, though it would be several more months before he would consistently poop in the potty. The main reason for this delay was simply that he only poops once or twice a week, so he had fewer opportunities to practice, as well as to get into a routine.

At this point, almost a full year after taking-on potty training, Caleb often doesn't even tell us that he has to go. He just goes upstairs, pulls his pants down, goes, flushes, pulls his pants up, and comes down. The only reason I know that he has gone is that he asks me to button his pants when he comes back down. I never remind him to go unless we're going to be out for a while and it will be inconvenient to find a bathroom. Unless he has had a lot to drink, he can usually hold it for up to four hours during the day.

This past week, we took what we think is the final step in the potty-training process. Caleb is now napping and sleeping at night in his underwear instead of a Pull-up. Prior to the switch, he had been waking up with a dry Pull-up about half the time. I think sometimes he was wet because he knew he was wearing a Pull-up, so he chose to urinate before getting out of bed. I decided that the only thing that will stop this is actually wetting his bed a time or two, since he does not like the sensation of wet pants/bedding. It's been four days since we stopped using Pull-ups, and he is still waking up dry about half the time. Either that will improve, or I'll get tired of washing bedding and put him back in Pull-ups at night :)

The only thing that is still frustrating us is the accidents he has when we're in a hectic environment. He goes weeks and weeks without an accident, but when he does have one, it is guaranteed to be when there is a lot going on, and usually when we're out (like in the middle of a friend's living room). If any of you have an older child and you can give me an idea of when these activity-induced accidents might end, I'm all ears :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ethan (Monthly Update)

Ethan is 16-months-old today, and boy is he ever a hoot! He still loves to eat, though he is slightly more discriminating than he was a few months ago. I think this is mostly because his vocabulary and long-term memory have enlarged and so now he can remember what is in the fridge and pantry and ask for it by name. I don't give him everything he asks for, but it is harder to deny him now that he can ask specifically (with a huge smile), instead of just crying and flailing. He still refuses to say "Please" and "Thankyou", despite the fact that he has over 100 words in his vocabulary. Every time we ask him to try, all we get is a head shake and "no". It really boggles my mind. He will attempt almost any word that we suggest except these two. It's like in a weird way that he knows these words will be constantly required once he can say them. Maybe he hears us reminding Caleb all the time, and he just doesn't want to go down that road. As smart as he is, I'm not convinced that he has that much insight at this age, so I guess I'll just keep wondering why he's holding out on us.

He still tries with dogged tenacity to do EVERYTHING that Caleb is doing. And he won't consent to a parallel activity. Today, Caleb was putting together a 48-piece puzzle, and I was trying to get Ethan to do one of the baby puzzles with me, right beside Caleb's puzzle. Ethan would have none of it. He flung each baby piece I handed him across the room and used all of his strength to pull, push and wiggle past me so he could get to Caleb's puzzle. It wouldn't be so bad if he would just sit quietly holding a couple of pieces, but he wants to dominate the entire activity. He insists on sitting in the middle of the puzzle and holding at least ten pieces in his lap (that Caleb dare not touch without extracting a scream). And it's like this with any activity: if we're reading, Ethan insists on turning all of the pages, whenever he pleases, regardless of what words have been read (or not read). It would be fine if he would look at a book by himself (at his own pace) and let me read to Caleb, but if I am reading to Caleb, then that book is the book that Ethan thinks he absolutely must have. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't give into all of these demands, or even half of them, but they are present regardless, and the clamoring and protests make many preschool activities challenging. On the bright side, he is able to participate in many more activities than he was a few months ago, so play dough, coloring, sports, role-playing and music time are now enjoyable for all three of us.

Developmentally, Ethan is on track. He is stacking blocks (no more than 3), running, walking backwards, kicking and throwing balls, taking his shorts and shoes off, handling the steps on his own (up and down), using a spoon and fork well, naming or pointing at his body parts, and following all kinds of instructions (when he feels like it). He's also been making some valiant efforts to start jumping. He bends his knees and does a jumping motion, but his feet aren't leaving the ground yet. I remember Caleb doing that, so I know it won't be much longer until he gains some air. Ethan's verbal skills are in great shape. He combines two words several times a day, and he's even come up with a few 4 or 5 word sentences. This afternoon, Caleb was doing some "real cool jumps" (Caleb's description) from couch to couch, and I would tell him "Good job, Caleb!" after each jump. Next thing I know, Ethan busts out with a clear-as-day "Good job, Bubba!" (He always calls Caleb "Bubba".) Ethan often says things like "I wan dat!" and "Dat my ball!" and "Wan my mama!" If you are wondering about all the exclamation points, it's just that everything Ethan says needs an exclamation point because he says everything with intense urgency.

He's our precious little guy, and I'm glad he's getting a post all his own, because he hasn't had as many of those as Caleb has.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Girls' Night

The families in our church small group have decided to take turns having a girls' or guys' night out. For the guys night out last month, Marcus planned a full night. They met for bowling at 5:00 pm, then went to a baseball game at 7:00, and then to a late movie after the game. Marcus got home sometime after midnight (I was asleep), fully satisfied with his 7-hour guys' night out.

The first weekend in August was the girls' turn, and so we did ours this past Saturday. Unlike the guys, who had planned several activities, the five of us just wanted to talk. So we met at a Thai restaurant/sushi bar at 6:00, ate a leisurely dinner, and then went to one of the girl's houses to chat. (Her husband was very obliging and went down to the basement to play video games after he put the kids to bed.) We had a movie to watch, but we had so much fun visiting that we never put it in. I had not been to a girls' night out since we moved to Birmingham, and boy did I have fun! We played a game called "I Never...", which produced a lot of hilarious stories. We laughed so much that I'm pretty sure I burned off most of my dinner just laughing. When we were just about laughed out, the conversation turned more serious and we shared some of our struggles, fears and insecurities. There is something so cathartic about opening your heart to caring and trustworthy ears. It is encouraging to be reminded that others have walked the same path as I have at different points in their lives, and to hear how God has guided them.

I often poke fun at myself on this blog (and elsewhere) for being so emotional; but on nights like this Saturday, I'm actually grateful for my vast capacity to feel. My heart is full of love for these girls who have become so dear to me, and I'm so glad I had this opportunity to express it. We talked until we couldn't keep our eyes open, and I finally headed home a little after midnight. I think Marcus was a little surprised when I told him we hadn't done anything after dinner except talk for five hours. He probably thinks I need to get out without the kids more :)