Tag Archives: children

Teaching Kids about Trump, Canada, and the End of the World

So we just finished with an election which proved to be very historic but not for the reason everyone had originally supposed. You know the details.

My husband and I (dyed-in-the-wool Republicans but not Trump fans) were stunned when we started to see what was happening on the screen as Donald Trump’s numbers went up. As our reactions became more and more flabbergasted, so did the panic level in my kids. And why were they panicking? Because we had been telling them all along that if Donald Trump won it would basically mean the End of the World. But that had been just a joke, because someone as brash as Donald Trump would never win!

But now he was winning, and each time a new red state popped up on the screen my son went to his knees saying, “Hurry, Jesus!”

When we discovered in the morning that it was really, truly so–that Trump really was going to be the new president–we had to regroup. Instead of making jokes about bunkers and moving to Canada we told our kids what we should have been teaching them all along. Specifically, that

  1. There are three branches of the government. The president is only one branch.
  2. There are checks and balances.
  3. A president can’t even be the president for more than 8 years…and if he does a really lousy job he’ll only be president for half of that time, and if he breaks the law than he will be president for even less time than that. It is called impeachment.
  4. America has survived many presidents. Some of them were not so great. Some of them turned out better than expected.
  5. The president should be treated with respect, no matter who he or she is.
  6. The president does not have as much power to make a difference in your world as you do.

When a very young child falls and scrapes their knee they will first look for the reaction in their parent’s face. What they want to know is “Should I cry?” If the parent is fearful the child will react with tears. If the parent is encouraging, the child will stand up, give a shaky laugh, and move on.

After school my kids came home and one of my daughters said, “I’m glad Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Because now I can become the first female president!”

I was proud of her. But there are a zillion other ways she can make an impact on the world that are more powerful than being the President of the United States.

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Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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To the Mother of Young Children

Part 1

You have only so much love

In your cup.

Most of it goes to your children all day

but you share some with neighbors

and their children.

Sometimes you save some love for yourself

but not very much, because you’ll need love for

older parents

teachers

friends

strangers

and the family dog.

By the time your husband comes home

you only have a little love left.

You could drink the last bit up yourself or

you could give it to him.

Of course you give it to him

because that is the kind of person you are, and

you know that there will always be more in the morning.

Sure enough, when you wake,

your cup is full again and

you pour out your love again

to all those thirsty people around you.

 

Part 2

One day

you use up all your love

for the people around you and

when your husband comes home

there is no love left in your cup

for him.

So instead you go to sleep

because you know

there will be more in the morning.

And there is.

And as long as your cup is full every morning

you know you’ll find a way to make it last.

 

Part 3

Then one morning you wake to find

that your cup is empty.

The children clamor for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your husband yearns for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your friends and neighbors and teachers and

strangers and family dog need your love.

But you are empty, empty, empty, empty.

Everyone depends on you.

Everyone is thirsty.

You want to say, I need a vacation!

But everyone knows there is no such thing

as a vacation for mothers.

This is a problem.

So you try to fill up your cup with your tears

but that is hard

and besides, no one wants to drink

your tears.

 

Part 4

This is when

you come and find Me

and hold out your cup.

(Please be sure it is not upside down.)

I will then fill it with My Love.

And when you know your cup is filled

with Love from Me

it will fill your heart

and your heart

will become a fountain.

And then you will not need a cup

anymore.

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Shovel Your Way To Washington, D.C.

Usually when we have a snow day it is really exciting and there is cheering, cartwheels and confetti throwing. But when you have snow day after snow day after snow day . . .

By the eighth snow day my kids’ brains were beginning to atrophy. They were counting bricks in the dining room (there aren’t any) and chasing each other with kitchen utensils, while I was curled up in a little ball in my closet nibbling frantically on chocolate.

We had planned a trip to DC planned this weekend, but because of the snow we didn’t think we’d even be able to get our mini van out of our cul-de-sac. You see, we live at the bottom of a hill where even snowplows dare not go (at least for the fist two days after a storm . . . sometimes more) and we were stuck. Scott would still be going to DC (because he was going for business) in his 4×4 truck, but we would be stuck at home.

Stuck. At. Home.

To humor us Scott tried four times to get the van up the hill to prove that it was hopeless. “There is just too much ice on the road,” he said.

But Sophie was determined. She rounded up her sisters and they all took shovels to the top of the hill. And for the better part of an hour they cleared two tire tracks in the snow.

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Five hours later we arrived in Washington, D.C.

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We saw the White House. (Free)

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The Museum of Natural Science. (Free)

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The Library of Congress (Free)

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We surreptitiously ended up at Ford’s Theater. Not part of the original plan, but a great bonus. (Also free) IMG_4873IMG_4868

The International Spy Museum (A great hit, but not free.)

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And The Red Velvet Cupcakery (Not free but worth it.)

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To end our whirlwind 2-day trip we stopped off at the temple.

We saw the model:

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And the real thing:

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“Did you learn as much as you would have if you had gone to school for those two weeks?” I asked the kids as we drove home.

“More!” They said.

All because a girl and her sisters were willing to shovel.

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Thanks, Sophie!

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Teaching Children to Be Believers

The first thing you might notice about a Mormon sacrament meeting is the noise.

In almost every Mormon congregation (besides college wards and nursing home wards) there will be a moderate-to-loud roar of children. Children crying, children asking, children chewing, children humming, children making car noises, or if you were near my pew today, children burping.

But now imagine you are a four-year-old boy.

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You have to sit still for an hour and ten minutes.  You are scrunched between three sisters, a mom and a baby while you listen to people give sermons using words which you don’t understand.  You are told you are not to make noise unless you are singing hymns from a hymnbook that you can’t yet read. And when you feel the urge to kick or run or jump or yell your mother hands you crayons and expects you to draw. For my 4-year-old who can’t even stand to wear shoes on his feet, I would have better luck making him eat the crayons than use them.

There are strategies I’ve used over the years. I’ve brought food, bottles, blankets, books, notebooks, markers, pens, magnets, toy cars, silly putty, flannel toys and truckfulls of Cheerios. I’ve drawn things for him, read things to him, explained things to him, colored pictures of him, spelled words for him, folded origami for him, created pipe cleaner animals for him.

But there comes a time when the child can no longer stand the monotony of the meeting, and no pipe cleaner animal or origami creation or cheerio will suffice. If he does not get to beat his chest and howl or toss his shoe three pews back he will explode. And since you are not allowed to howl or throw your shoes at church, that is exactly what he does.

When this happens he must be taken out.

They say the most effective way to correct an unruly child at church is to take him to an empty classroom where there are no treats, no snacks, no toys to play with and they can sit there and calm down. The theory here is that he will see that it is more “fun” to come back to the pew than be in a toyless, sugarless room.

Once I took my misbehaving 4-year-old into a deserted room to let his temper tantrum run its course. He yelled and screamed and pounded the wall. I told him we would stay in there until he calmed down. My plan backfired on me, though, when a man who was teaching a class on the other side of the wall my son was pounding on opened the door and  asked if everything was alright. We had to leave, of course and go some place else.  But the other classrooms were full and it was raining icicles outside. So we went back to the pew. Child 10 points, Mom 0.

Another time I took him to a deserted room and turned off the lights, hoping that a toyless, sugarless, lightless room would do the trick. I didn’t leave him in there alone, of course. I stood next to the door, frightening the next three adults who unsuspectingly opened the door to see my face staring at them from the darkness.

And then there was the time that he was being good. I remember it very clearly: he was sitting with his hands folded, swinging his feet and making soft buzzing sounds with his lips. Ahhhh . . . I thought . . . this is great. This is nice. He is calm and quiet. And just as I was basking in those thoughts the woman in front of me turns around and asks, “Do you want me to take your son out?”

After which I promptly burst into tears and had to walk around the parking lot by myself for 15 minutes.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves and our children through this mutual torture session? Why? Is anybody getting anything out of this? Is it worth it?!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

We Mormons are pretty over the top when it comes to teaching our kids about religion. We bring them to three hours of meetings on Sunday. We give them another devotional on Monday night. We read scriptures as a family every day. Teenage boys pass the sacrament and hold the priesthood. Teenage girls can preach from the pulpit. Children of every age take the sacrament (our communion).  Youth give lessons, participate in leadership meetings and sing in choir (the choir pianist just got his driver’s license last year!). At 6:00 am every weekday morning they take seminary classes where they memorize scriptures from the New Testament, Old Testament and Book of Mormon. They are expected to dress modestly, act modestly, they have a pamphlet of standards they carry around with them. They don’t have sex. Once a month they fast. They go on missions.

Who does this anymore?

I’ve heard some people say we brainwash our kids into believing the doctrines of our church. But that is not brainwashing. I’ll tell you what brainwashing is, but we have to switch into a darker gear.

The Dark Side of Teaching Children

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State.  In it they interviewed children that escaped Islamic State military training camps where children as young as 8 regularly witness beheadings. Where children are gathered, school-field trip style, and given candy as they watch executions. There are many more graphic details that I can’t go into on this blog because my children read it. But suffice it to say that Islamic State knows how to do a few things really well. And one of them is to raise a generation of devout believers.

In his book Acts of Faith Eboo Patel wrote:

“Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

Are we Christians doing our part provide today’s youth with “a clear identity to make a powerful impact”? Americans in particular have set aside many rituals that once gave children purpose and destiny: prayer, baptism, repentance, chastity. So how do we expect children to make good decisions when they have no moral foundation? Many parents seem to have no problem releasing their children into an immoral world without giving them a spiritual direction. Instead we arm our kids with phones so that they can get answers to their problems from Google instead of God.

I even have Mormon friends who do not want to “indoctrinate” their own children with Mormon beliefs so that they can be “open-minded” and make decisions for themselves.   This is crazy!  Children come to earth with minds like open buckets. If parents do not fill that bucket someone else will.

But how do you know what you are filling their bucket with Truth?

I don’t know if I’m filling my kids with Truth or not, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truest thing I have found, since it has already brought a lot of happiness to my own life. My aim is to give them the hope that there is so much more to this sad, earth; that there is a greater Plan, a greater Designer and greater Hope, and that death is not the end, but just graduation. I am teaching them that no matter what horrible mistake they make they have a Savior who has died for them and will forgive them if they repent.  I teach them to not forget they are children of God, and not to forget that everyone else is, too. I can’t prove to them that God exists, but no one can prove that He doesn’t.

“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” We unapologetically flood our children with this knowledge.

We can’t be ambivalent about our children’s spiritual education when there are people on the other side of the world teaching their children there is value and honor in intimidation and killing. We must match their increasing darkness with our increasing light.

Children need a moral education that goes beyond teaching them to recycle, wash their hands, play by the rules, and don’t do things that will get them in jail. They need to have a spiritual identity. And with that spiritual identity will come an inner voice that will guide them to make choices consistent with their beliefs.

Humans are born hungry to believe in something. If we neglect our children spiritually they will find other places to fill that void. Science can prove a lot, but one thing that science will never be able to tell is us what happens to us after we die. Only faith can claim that prize. And why not choose a faith that in the process will make you into the best possible person you can be?

Last Sunday I watched my son, now 5,  get ready for church without prodding and without complaint. He sat in the pew reverently and thoughtfully, cradling scriptures he brought himself. This lasted for a record 20 minutes before he finally stood on the pew and tried to swipe the scriptures from the girl in front of him. Hopefully this trend can keep improving, and by the time he is a young adult he will have the power and knowledge to make an impact on the world because he will have a gained personal testimony. He will choose light instead of darkness, he will choose to spread the Good News instead of spreading hatred, and he will choose to ignite hope instead of instilling fear . . . or worse, indifference.

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Eight

There is something magical about turning eight years old.

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You can think for yourself. You can ride a bike, swim, do math, read, make goals and most most importantly, have self-control. You are practically a grown up, except that you haven’t yet forgotten how to have fun.

In the scriptures the number 8 symbolizes new beginnings. Think about it . . . Jewish babies were circumcised at 8 days, there were 8 people on the ark, and there were 8 Jaredite barges that travelled a new land in the Americas. (If you are unfamiliar with that Bible story, don’t worry. There are a lot more where that one came from.)

So in the Mormon church we believe 8 is the age when a child can make decisions for herself. She has faith in Jesus Christ. She understands how to repent. With this knowledge she is ready to be baptized.

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We do not baptize infants because infants they are too young to be accountable for the things they do. Small children are innocent and guiltless, and there is no need for baptism, for their salvation has already been paid for by the Savior’s atonement.

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After she is baptized with water she will be baptized with fire. That is, she will be given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If she keeps herself clean and worthy the Holy Ghost will be a constant companion and friend who will teach her the truth of all things. Did you catch that? I said: The Truth of All Things.

Baptisms are significant. They are a “saving” ordinance, meaning you cannot be saved without it.  Many people come to watch this great event in your life. Grandparents travel across continents and you get to invite your best friends.

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Even your little brother gets all dressed up . . .

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. . . for a little while, at least.

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(By the way, the tie has been found, and the reward will be given.)

Grown-ups get a little excited about baptisms and they do all kinds of nice things for you. Like your mom might ask all your aunts and uncles and cousins to send you their testimonies.

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So thanks for being born, Naomi. And thanks for turning 8. We are proud of you.

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Now you can stop growing up, okay?

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I Just Wanted You To Know

Today I woke up to the sound of a trumpet, a violin, a clarinet and a piano playing a version of Happy Birthday that also could have doubled as a Halloween movie theme song. It was all to celebrate my freshly-turned-five-year-old boy.

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There was a from-scratch breakfast to make, presents to open, a diaper to change, a puppy to let out in to the backyard, a cat to feed. Daddy is 2000 miles away, bringing home the bacon. But even though he’s gone we still read our scriptures and say our morning prayer (offered by Dan whom I promised could say all the prayers today because it is his birthday). We have our normal scoldings (“You are not done practicing the piano yet, young lady!”) and as usual it takes us fifteen minutes to get from the door to the car since the cat always finds a way to slink into the house and someone always forgets a lunch or a coat or an instrument. Once we are in the car everyone fights like tigers about who is getting in the back seat, even though we made a van seating chart called “The Great Van of Happiness” which doesn’t seem to be working.

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One of Levi’s favorite things to do. Sit at a little table reading a little book.

I take them to school, say I love yous and come home to find the dog piddled in his crate. Then I have breakfast to clean up, a shower to take (“Dan, make sure Levi doesn’t get into the knives, play with plastic bags, drink clorox, open the front door or put anything small in his mouth. I’ll be out in ten minutes”). Once I am clean I spend time with Dan, mounting his new license plate and discussing the other license plates he has on his wall. He asks me what it says on every one. When we get to the Idaho plate I tell him that it says “Famous Potatoes.” He gets a funny look on his face and starts laughing. He doesn’t stop laughing for five full minutes.

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We call Grammie to thank her for the gift she sent. Dan talks her ear off telling her about every second of his day so far. Then it is time for Levi to go down. We play peek-a-boo for a minute so we can leave him happy in his bed. Then Dan goes in front of the t.v. and it is MY TIME.

I write my nanowrimo novel.

It is a ghost story.

Before I know it Levi is awake. It is time for lunch with my boys. After lunch we wrestle. Actually Levi doesn’t wrestle, he just lays on you and rolls around like a walrus. This is pretty much the best part of the day.

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Then it is time to pick up the girls. I pack their piano bags (3 note books and 10 other music books) and dozen chocolate chunk bran refrigerator muffins that I baked during the wrestling match. I get to the threshold of the door and find out I need to change a diaper at the exact moment the cat slithers passed me and Dan is demanding that I bring him a snack for the road.

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The dog is whining in his crate so I take him out again just before we go. Fifteen minutes later we are in the car.

I want to listen to NPR but Danny wants to listen to an extremely annoying CD of scripture songs set to rock and roll music. We listen to that because, after all, it is his birthday. Tomorrow it will be back to NPR.

We pick up the girls at two different schools. This takes an hour, so in between we make a run to the library and check out a few books. Books about cars, of course.

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We pick up the girls. We ask them about their day. They munch on the muffins. Then we drop them off at piano.  (The girls, not the muffins.) We go to a park and play a game called “Don’t Touch Blue” which Danny thinks it is hilarious. We make up more rules to make it even more hilarious. We leave the park smiling.

We go to the grocery store. I let Dan get a book with mazes since it is his birthday and since he is aMAZEing. By the time we are done shopping it is dark outside and Levi is crying. He is ready for bed. We pick up the girls. We come home. The dog piddled in his crate again. Boo hoo.

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Naomi’s hair on her baptism day.

I make dinner. Pizza for me and Dan (a birthday promise) and mac and cheese for everyone else. No surprise there. Grandma calls. Daddy calls. Then it is homework and bed. There are arguments, as always. Naomi is mad at Dan who is mad at Sophie who is mad at the world. There are last minute stomach aches and headaches. Dan gets five extra kisses cause he’s five: one on his nose, one one his forehead two on his cheeks and one on his neck to make him laugh. Will you let me do this when you are sixteen? I ask. Yes, he says. Now it’s my turn to laugh. Syrena gets a reminder about practicing piano in the morning. Tears are wiped. More kisses given. Lights out.

Dog needs my attention. Curse you, dog. Where is your master?

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Against my will I play with the dog and teach it to fetch his toy.

I tidy the house. It is my turn for Joyschool in the morning. It will be another wild day.

I write this post. As I write I can hear the baby in the room above me. He is waking up for some reason. I cross my fingers that he will go back to sleep soon, but I will probably have to go up and change his diaper and give him another bottle.

I still have to take out the dog one last time. Is that rain I hear?

This is my day. No one took a photo of me. No one patted me on the back. No one gave me an A or a medal or handshake or money. I got paid in kisses and hugs, and I got lots–and I mean LOTS–of attention. And all throughout my day I thought about how much I love doing this. I LOVE it. I love being a mom. Motherhood is so hard and it is so not glamorous, but it is the greatest job in the world.

I just wanted you to know that.

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