This past weekend marked the beginning of our month-long celebration for the birth of Jesus.

Task #1: Decorate the tree. The kids had been begging me. Coveting the trees and pretty lights around town. Keith and I had the same attitude: Ahh, do we have to? Seeing how it’s the boys’ first American Christmas…and because we’re not completely horrible parents…we caved.

So, Keith’s absurd idea was to just let them decorate it. Throw out the ornaments as if you would seed for a bird with the kids decorating only what their tinny nubs could reach. The bottom half. Gasp! Not if I have anything to do with it! When the tree was completed to meet my standard, the kids were a bit confused. One by one they went to the tree to proudly point out to Keith or me ornaments they’d hung. Gasp! It’s not there. Why, of course I moved it! I’m a control freak whose desire for perfection is all but debilitating. I was only pretending to let you decorate, Silly.

What began as kids excitedly pulling shimmery and sparkly ornaments from boxes ended with a tangled ball of hooks intertwined in my favorite Sunday “nap blanket.” Oh, yes. Each family member has a nap blanket. Even Keith. Especially Keith. Several times I have shopped specifically for one to suit his needs. Problem is that it’s either a twin-sized throw (um, way too short for him) or a queen/king-sized blanket (which is basically just too cumbersome for his side of the couch). Enter: Miss Barb, Andy’s mom, who after having made blankets for all the kids saw how Keith envied them and made one just his size. Now Goldilocks can finally get cozy for a rest.

Task #2: Put out the remainder, though minimal, of the Christmas d├ęcor. I didn’t so much as have the stockings and beaded garland out of the boxes before I faced a barrage of requests: “Yay, Mommy, I wanna wear this one tomorrow” (holding up a giant stocking). Then when I said no, he asked if I was saving it for a dinosaur. “Ooh, these look yummy. Can I have some?” (pointing to the delicious looking icy holly berries that surround a candle display). Any scrap that had the faintest Christmas-y appearance was to be hung or displayed somewhere. Um, no. Do I dare continue the gingerbread house tradition? It is destined to be eaten or destroyed before assembly.

With the utterance of traditions, I had to dig up some pics of Christmas past. The camera battery was dead when I pulled it out to capture the mayhem this year. I know. I should be shot.

Sweet, huh. Back to my story-telling.

The nativity scene stays up all year…partly because I like it…and also because it’s Jesus. I’m just not sure I want to put him in a box for 11 months out of the year. However, with it continuously on display, the boys continuously ask to play with the figurines. I will have to give them credit in that they ask instead of just taking the little sheep and running them around like they do their plastic horses. I do not know what draw Baby Jesus has, but he is the most requested of all the pieces.

Task #3: Explain why the tree and pretty lights. We kicked off Christmas 101 by introducing the boys to the beloved Miss Patty Cake and the somewhat annoying Boz the Bear. Keith despises both of these characters equally by the way. Miss PC is all about Jesus, but Boz intertwines Jesus, the commercialization of Christmas, and general benevolence all into one pretty package. Ugh! Shortly after viewing these movies I heard a familiar tune from Garrison, with not-so-familiar words. “Tinkerbells Tinkerbells, Tinker all the way…” Per Keith’s request…so that our boys aren’t merrily singing a song about fairies…I have now added Christmas carols to the top of my list of instruction. They ‘ve almost got “Away in a Manger” down, and next is “Silent Night.” We may skip “Jingle Bells” altogether though.

Note to families with small children: If you do not know Miss Patty Cake, look her up. And, if you’re in my vicinity, borrow one of our Miss PC DVDs.

With the season and small children, especially new small children, comes the question about jolly ole St. Nick. “Do you do Santa?” they ask. Meaning, do you pretend Santa Claus is real? It is sad to me that he is unavoidable, but the answer is yes, we do pretend there is a Santa. We pretend about Santa in the same way Avery pretends to have conversations with her stuffed animals, in the same way we pretend to have these conversations. I am often left to babysit one of those little guys while she goes off to play with her brothers, and she’s one of those moms who hovers too long and returns several times to make sure her baby is eating or napping when she should be or is swaddled properly. Those moms are so annoying! I wonder where she gets it. Anyway, Avery knows Santa isn’t real, but that it’s fun to pretend.

Here’s why we decided not to encourage her to believe in that fur-trimmed red suit. So, Santa’s this guy we talk about at Christmas. You never get to see him, but we tell you he’s real. He lives at the North Pole and makes all the presents. Everyone loves him and he gives you lots of good things. Sometimes he has a problem with performance-based acceptance: only the “good” kids get presents under the tree.

And then there’s another guy we talk about at Christmas named Jesus. You never get to see him, but we tell you he’s real. He lives in heaven and has made everything you see. Everyone loves him and he does lots of good things. Even though Jesus loves you no matter what bad things you do, we want you to be good for him too, but we’re going to use the word “obey.”

Kids, we’re asking you to believe in both of these good men. Then, in a few years we’re going to break your fragile hearts and tell you one of them isn’t real. We were just pretending because it was fun and everyone else was doing it. Oh, you want to know if the other guy is pretend, too? Well, no, he is real. I promise. Keep believing in him, just not the other guy.

This decision was made based on conversations and advice from a few respected friends. They had each been told to believe in Santa and Jesus. Then, upon finding out that the reindeer, sleigh and bearded man do not exist, they questioned the validity of the stories they’d heard about Jesus. The miracles of his birth, life and resurrection are more unbelievable than a super nice guy who gives out presents and oh, some magic dust to make him fly.

We still do all the fun things for Santa at Christmas, besides sit on his lap. That’s just weird. Maybe if I could see a background check and proof that he’s not on the sex offenders’ registry. Maybe. The kids and I will go to the library to borrow various Christmas books. I found one last year with a great story of the kind, charitable bishop, Saint Nicholas. The night before we are going to open presents, we will make a special card and cookies for “Santa.” Although speaking of cards, we’ve been making them during craft time, and no one recognized the foam Santa head. Avery held it upside down and showed the boys that it was a baby wrapped in a blanket. Correcting her would have begun the questions I am still not ready to answer.

So far this year there has been no allusion to anything “up on the rooftop.” Christmas will be a nice surprise for them. Avery hasn’t even mentioned opening presents. She’s just excited to see some grandparents and cousins. Okay, one thing they are excited about: when talking about Jesus’ birthday, they asked if we were going to have “cupcake.” And, it will likely have icing made with artificial food coloring, which I may or may not scrape off before allowing.


That Darn Napkin!

We returned from holiday traveling on Tuesday at midnight to a house with no food and a thermostat reading 56 degrees. After our world tour and 40 hours in the mini, I have no funny, exciting or disgusting stories to tell. I am just thankful for a trip during which no one projectile vomited from across the vehicle into my bag, that we didn’t blow a trailer tire first on a bridge and then on the exit ramp, that my driving shift occurred during a section with no construction (meaning we didn’t get lost), and, for the first time, I am thankful for boys who poop a lot, which meant more than one potty break in a 12-hour stretch and stops that gave Avery and me a chance to consume a meal in the comfort of a Chick-Fil-A rather than from a moving vehicle.

While in my hometown, I attended the funeral of my ex-brother-in-law. Adding to the tragedy and sorrow of the family and friends was that he committed suicide, leaving no explanation. As I sat behind his mom, brother, daughter and ex-wife, I listened as the pastor attempted to release any person of the guilt imposed by such a death. He explained that in this young man’s case, as is the case with many suicides, there was something evil inside of him…that had eaten away at him for a long time. And, even though Jesus saved him 18 months prior, this evil had such a hold on him that it finally took his life.

On our 12-hour drive home, Keith and I listened to a sermon during which Matt Chandler of the Village Church spoke of a staff member who had recently committed suicide. We didn’t purposefully put it on. That’s just what we do: listen to sermons and books and have some good discussion afterwards. This topic just happened to come up. Anyway, a couple of things Chandler said really stuck out for me: 1) Jesus died on the cross to cover all sins: past, present and future, which includes suicide. 2) If you’re sick, get help. People run to doctors all the time for physical ailments. Why is there such a stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness? If you suspected a broken foot, would you let shame (or whatever) keep you from seeing a doctor? If so, it will never stop hurting and those crutches are going to slow you down quite a bit, keeping you from much of your everyday activity. Why would you go through life suffering from the crazies when there is help available? Whether it’s a minor broken bone or a few irrational thoughts, get help.

I will admit that even I have sought professional help for my mental wellbeing. No, I don’t suffer from depression. My issues stem from anxiety. I know you’re just shocked to learn that. When I first told Keith that I was “getting help,” he begged me not to. He said my neuroses were one of the reasons he fell in love with me. My response: I don’t want to feel like a crazy person anymore. It’s exhausting living life on the brink of insanity, just waiting for some tiny, inconsequential thing (like a napkin left on the ottoman overnight) to send me over a bridge.

On that note, I’m not suicidal either. Right now that bridge is merely metaphorical. However, there was a time when I was young…very young…and probably all the way through high school that I suppose you could call a good portion of my thought life suicidal. During those years I never would have admitted, and honestly didn’t believe, that I would ever follow through with it. But I devoted much of my mental energy on just how I would do “it.” All the different methods, which is the least painful, which is easiest to get, which would make the biggest statement, which would cause my family the least amount of suffering, would I leave a note, if so to whom. The list goes on. Even now I can’t believe how morbid this all sounds! And I was in elementary school when it began for crying out loud! Seriously, what kind of child, or person, thinks like that? A seemingly normal, stable person. That’s who! I mean, do I look like a crazy, suicidal gal to you? Don’t answer that.

This kind of thinking is not “normal.” Normal would mean it’s just fine and dandy. Like Christmas candy. But it probably is more common than anyone thinks. Bottom line, get help if you need it. Even if you think you don’t need it.

I definitely don’t mean to be Debbie Downer. So, here are a few more things for which I am thankful:

  • A God who chose me and loved me enough to send his only Son so that I could live and have fellowship with Him.
  • Jesus who died on the cross to cover my sins. All of them.
  • A magnificent husband who is gifted in countless ways and who I believe could do ANYTHING. Marrying that boy has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
  • Three disobedient children whom God uses daily to remind me of His love, mercy and grace.

If you are getting used to and possibly looking forward to pictures at the end of each post, I regretfully end this one with none. The only pictures I took over Thanksgiving were with other people’s cameras, and most of them included the kids with their extended canine family members. Still, adorable. Perhaps I will acquire them for a future post.


Who Is Bumblebee?

We tried teaching the boys about Halloween...well, the costume and candy side of it...they're perhaps a little young and lacking in the ole English to understand Reformation Day. Avery got them psyched about getting loads of candy. And instead of letting them watch their current favorite movie, Joseph King of Dreams, I forced them to watch Sid the Science Kid's Halloween episode, which was all about dressing up and NOT looking scary.

We had gone to a Trunk or Treat, a.k.a. Fall Festival, on Sunday as a practice run.

We've got Bumblebee, Ariel, and the untamed dinosaur rider. I say "untamed" because the little dino kept attacking anything that got close to it. The seat in front of him in the van, siblings, the ground, passersby.

It was during the second, last, and lamest game that Ivan won a tiny orange Bible. Like a child on Christmas morning with a favorite new toy, he turned from the prize bin and ran back to me before stuffing it in his pumpkin. That little Bible became the hit of the evening, Ivan's obsession over the next several days, and perhaps the most coveted item among the siblings. Even Garris picked a book resembling a Bible at the library, saying he wanted to take it to church. And, Avery has been tucking in one of her Bibles along with her animals when she makes her bed in the morning.

That girl is so like her momma. Quirky and relentless. Her questions about this utmost important occasion started as soon as the store displays changed from summer to fall. Oh, and of course the racks of costumes helped as well. The daily question: "When do we get to go to Halloween?" I showed her on the calendar that it was still pretty far away, but she just wouldn't give up.

After the...umm...interesting Jesus skit during which we saw him crucified, buried and raised from the dead (all silhouetted behind a white sheet), Garrison was perplexed and deeply concerned about the well-being of both Jesus and God. But the loot he quickly collected helped to assuage his anxiety as he turned to me in amazement after each vehicle to show me what had been dropped into his bucket. Candy!

How innocently it all began.

Then came Halloween night. Dun. Dun. Dun.

I mean, look at that sweetness. All lined up with some friends. Micah, Avery, Ivan, Garris, Wyatt, Bennett, Lilly. Innocent.

They knew their parts: say, "Trick or treat;" hold out the bucket; then say, "Thank you." Easy stuff. And really all you have to do is do what your friends do. Go with the flow. Follow the leader, right? We set out on this festive evening with some nearby friends, hoping their kiddos would be the leaders instead of our hooligans. Well, nothing prepared us for what happened at the first house. Nothing too terrible. Nope. Just embarrassing. The boys, the first timers, plowed through the toddlers struggling in their costumes and walked right in. Yes, into the house. Past the negligent woman who reached for her candy bowl AFTER opening the door. From the sidewalk where we stood, I yelled in shocked awe and Keith took off so he could collect our kids as the homeowner politely shooed them out.

That poor woman. Was this her first Halloween experience? Don't you know to answer the door with candy bowl in hand? Or better yet, intercept the candy-crazed children from the porch. Yes, don't even give them the chance to ring the doorbell.

Back at home, by shoving them through a crack in the door, I let the kids take turns greeting and giving out candy.

Little did they know that Mom was switching out the candy from their buckets with the "safe" candy she purchased...then putting the discarded candy into a special candy bowl not meant for them but for the trick or treaters. What constitutes unsafe candy? Homemade treats from strangers? Nope. Anything unsealed or opened? That's okay, too. Candy that could slide down a toilet paper tube or sucked down a windpipe? Go for it. I know the Heimlich.

Outlawed substances include anything laden with artificial color. Suckers, Skittles, Laffy Taffy, Butterfinger, Nerds. You know the culprits. Yellow #5, Red #40 are just a few. I'd like to throw out artificial preservatives, but they're not as easy to spot.

Some of this exchange went on behind their backs, but I did let them participate and do a little bartering.

When finished with all trades, their buckets were full of acceptable treats. The good stuff. Chocolate. Ahh. Twix, Reese cups, Hershey bars, Snickers.

I let them eat their candy. Don't be shocked. I allowed it at designated times, usually just before they were to brush their teeth. One morning I set the timer and let them eat as much as they could when they finished breakfast. I figure if you eat one piece, you may as well eat a dozen. Right?

A few more pics from the festival:

Decorating their tiny pumpkins: Notice the tools, courtesy of Daddy.

The finished products:

These next two pics are a bit random but too cute to resist sharing. Found them on my phone with the Halloween pics.

No explanation needed on the first one, but the kids and I were dumbfounded by how cute Simon was all snuggled in my favorite blanket and chair. He worked his way into the blanket like that all on his own. A little gift he has.

That's Keith on the left in the pants and me on the right in the skirt and cute belt. Why am I much, much larger than Keith? Avery said I have a giant head and a giant tummy because I'm pregnant. Like the women at church she said. Not true, but there are usually very elaborate stories behind her artwork. Cracks me up that girl. And, to clarify, the prego women we know do not have giant heads, just normal sized bellies.

A few more shots from Halloween night. There is no order to this post.

First stop, Liz and Jonathan's house. I wish I had taken a better picture to include all the decor. It was so cute. The boys are way too interested in their bags of goodies to acknowledge the camera. Notice the difference in how Avery and Garrison are sitting.

The kids did not get the chance to select their Halloween costumes. I know...I'm horrible. I purchased the boys' at the after sale last year. I had no idea what the yellow costume was until Garris was greeted as Bumblebee when receiving some candy. They are not Transformers fans. Haven't even seen the movie. It was the right size and the right price. So it came down to who fits into which costume. And Avery's I found at a consignment sale. It worked out great when I saved it as a birthday present. She just happened to pick Ariel as her theme. Ta da!
We were able to round up another set of hands to help out. A little man-on-man defense. The kids' favorite plaything: Andy.

Even more photos of our fun times this fall. Lilly's pumpkin patch birthday party. It also happened to be a costume party, as usual, but I forgot that detail until I pulled the invitation out of my bag for directions on the drive there. Oops.

Three of the kids favorite people in the world. Miss Courtney and her firefighters Wyatt and Micah.


Let the Spankings Commence

Around here, the spankings usually begin around 6:30 P.M. Keith typically gets home between 5:30 and 6:00. The first order of business each evening, after doling out some much needed affection first, is taking care of business. Doling out the remaining consequences for the day's infractions. I deal with disobedience as I encounter it all the livelong day, but sometimes one still needs a heart to heart with Daddy or another Time Out. Then it's "To the table!"

After we've all had dinner together as one big happy family, Keith and I take turns tag teaming the kitchen and the kids. The one thing I ask during these times, as well as when I'm cooking, is that the kids stay out of the kitchen. Out! Out! Out! If not, here's what happens: kids get stepped on (Oops!), I get burned (Dang!), my foot is impaled by teeny tiny lego structures (Ouch!), my toes are involved in a collision with trains (Seriously?!!!), the mess continues to grow faster than I can clean it up (Sheesh!).

It is during this activity that I see a little something in my peripheral vision, dancing on the edge of the kitchen. I know what he wants. You know what he wants. We've all seen kids who just beg for spankings, right? Well, if I don't respond to the dance, he will continue the episode by throwing various limbs or his entire body across the "boundary line." That's it! Time for a spanking. Before I know it, the other two are asking for one. Shoving a booty at me or pointing to it as if I need assistance in locating the thing. Soon my hand isn't enough and someone, usually Ivan, asks for the spoon. Where is Keith during this madness? Right there in the middle of it, going at them as well. The kids aren't the only ones getting spanked. That wouldn't be fair now. We are outnumbered and, therefore, easily ambushed. Two nights ago Keith had bent over to retrieve an item from the floor and got a good one. From me. With the wooden spoon. The only family member who escapes this charade of corporal punishment is Simon, although I do chase him with the spoon and give him a nudge if ever close enough.

These episodes, full of piercing screams, laughter and other types of affection, remind me of when Avery would beg: "Please, don't eat me!" Oh, those arms were so squishy and delicious. She would giggle and squeal as I devoured her. See post: Man Eater.

I had mentally prepared myself for 6 months of hell while adjusting to life with the changes in our family with not 1 but 2 additions of not babies but children with personalities and strong wills. And, God could have given me more sweet demur girls, but He instead chose boys...loud, quick, active boys. Apparently that's just what we needed around here. Go figure. God works for our best. Plus, it's only been 5 months and look how super positive I am. Yes, there are days. No more days like Memorial Day 2011, but definitely days. About 10 days ago I believe all 3 kids secretly conspired in the hallway during the middle of the night to declare a slow and steady ambush on Mom the following day. I survived. I'm not even sure I broke a sweat, although I did want to cuss. Cuss, cuss, cuss. I didn't just want to scream these obscenities, I wanted to hurl them at my children. All of them. But, you know me. I refrained.

It's times like this one that I need my high school friend Kristi to verbalize this frustration for me...via profanity. What? You see, Kristi would help me vent those emotions, whether angry, upset or mad, by picking just the right expletive when the situation called for one. That's right. If she knew something made me mad, she would cuss for me. Such a good friend.

There aren't many days I need Kristi. For those of you who have made adjustments to life with a newborn, you know there are certain milestones. Points at which some glorious advance was made, like sleeping 12 hours at night. Praise God! Other points weren't necessarily marked by anything in particular, but there was an unmistakable improvement from previous months.

That's kind of how it's gone around here. One day I realized I could take them into public by myself, unafraid. And the next time I thought about it, I no longer needed restraints on a daily basis, or even the belt in the car. Forget keeping a child in a carseat. I don't even want it as a tool for spanking.

Besides, my kids beg for the wooden spoon.

Kids practicing gymnastics. The boys joined Avery's class last month. They are obviously naturals.

Here we are at the courthouse, getting the boys' names legally changed. Remember that fancy shmancy document I threw in "the trash"? See Dumpster Diving for a refresher. That was about an hour after this photo was taken.

Awaiting our turn. Luckily, someone had the forethought to pack activities to busy mischievous hands and unruly feet.

Our first family vaca.

They are all so proud to have their own suitcases. And, since I am learning to let them have some control, I let them do most of the packing. Yay, me!

We met Keith's parents at a KOA, a.k.a. a fancy campground, near Nashville for Labor Day weekend. The boys think this campground is where they live...and that it's the best place on earth.

Ivan wanted to clip his toenails, so I let him make an attempt. He later asked me to correct the jagged mess he left behind.

Calvin took Ivan on a walk to a nearby play area in attempt to wear him out. There is no such thing as wearing this one out, and I'm pretty certain all such endeavors have the opposite effect.

Ahh, giant rocks. What more could little boys ask for?

Apparently it can get better, for them. And, worse for me. A dirt covered jumpy thing surrounded by sand and dirt. Do boys like to get dirty? Hmm, I hadn't noticed.

Avery, who never wants to be left out, has foregone her standard of cleanliness for only the 2nd time in 4 and a half years. My little Snow White was the same color as her brothers before I started the scrub down for all 3.

The 7 of us went to a children's museum in Nashville. Lots of fun but not as much as all the hype promised.

We wasted far too much time on this craft.

But look at their masterpieces!

Movie time in the "theater" Avery set up. The seat next to hers was reserved for that stuffed fox. It was quite an ordeal, trying to convince Ivan the seat was taken and that the one next to it was just as good.

I sometimes take pictures of these extravagant structures so that the kids aren't distraught over having it torn down for someone else to play with.

More artwork.

We are not even going to discuss why Ivan is wearing Avery's tunic dress.

Avery and I aren't the only ones with drastic new styles. Keith took the boys for their first hair cuts since coming home. I have to say I loved their little fros but now hope to never let them get that out of control again.