It was time to go, to have shoes on and coat zipped and seat belts strapped, headed to the last Sporties for Shorties session of the season.  But Tollie wanted to write a thank you note to Miss Ginger, to tell her he liked all the things he learned from her, and that hockey sticking was his favorite.  He wanted to stamp black spiders on white paper and he wanted the words to say "Love, Tollie."
I want good manners to be like breathing for the boys, to come naturally.  And I'm not going to argue with a kid who wants to write a thank you note.
But the fact that it would make us late for class did cross my mind.

Patience is a trait that teaching may have planted in me.  Celia’s arrival helped it grow, and the boys have certainly fertilized it Mansanto-style.  But it still doesn’t always bloom when I need it most.

I am trying to be better at letting things take a long time with him.  He is efficient in his own ways. He takes life slow, and takes fast offense to my rushing.  I am trying to add more take your times and we’re not in a hurrys to my lexicon, for my own benefit as much as for his.


my wish for them is that they wake up curious and joyful every day

more chicken lollipops
puzzles for days
salsa beats for minutes (and then we need the pots for cooking!)
His sign says "neds mony."  So he's pretending to be a bum.  I don't even know...
more music to make
silly faces
secret hiding spot
tools and teamwork
The Book with No Pictures
trapping flies
dinosaurs and fast cars
Aunt Bridget's zucchini muffins, with green icing, become cupcakes for breakfast.


all kinds

Most adults are familiar with a variety of tears.  The kind that come when you cut an onion or the ones that can't be held back when you're laughing so hard with your sister, the ones shed in pain and devastation and the sniffly, blubbering kind caused by Hallmark commercials.

I sob during hymns at church, at the arc of a good story, with the sudden sense of life's accumulating goodbyes.  I seriously burst into tears over everything and nothing.  The boys know this about me, and they know that their dad cries on occasion too.

Just this week, tears sprang when I saw the Facebook status of two ladies from Broad Street, partners for more than twenty years, wed over the weekend in NYC.  And again when I thought about Uncle John, who explained recently that he felt like he was spending all of his energy on staying alive.  Grief leaked from my eyes when I saw a redhead in a Little Orphan Annie costume, imagining all the could-have-beens, and I wept when I heard the news about a teaching friend's husband, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Last night I sniveled a little as I read Jodi Picoult's most recent novel.
While we were in Iowa, with the big kids at school and the little boys napping, Tucker got to spend the afternoon with the dads, doing guy stuff.  They went to a bar for wings and ordered Tuck a "kid beer" to go with his lunch.  The root beer arrived, huge and frosty, and he took his first sip.  His face twisted, from what I hear, his eyes welled and he whispered, "You know Dad, when something's so good it makes you cry?"

That's my favorite kind.


on trying to be easily pleased

The first time I volunteered at Tuck's school I sliced my hand with a box cutter.  I did my best to wrap it with gauze and packing tape and stayed till the bell rang and my duties had been fulfilled.  I sat on the couch that evening while Andy cleaned the wound and cried a little as he threw seven stitches in my middle finger.

When we got home from Iowa, with approximately eighty nine loads of very muddy laundry, our washing machine would not work.

I hopped in the Jeep yesterday to head to an appointment, Tolliver strapped in the back, and it would not start. Rod came over to try to help, but a quick jump did not get it running.  The garage door came off the track as it closed, leaving his vehicle stuck next to mine and rendering the opening mechanism useless.

As fast as my heart balloons with joy, with gratitude, it deflates with frustration, exhaustion, defeat.  My problems are minuscule though, my job to fix what I can and ignore what I can't.  To pay attention.  To keep coming back to the good stuff, like hot chocolate and happy boys.  I am most content when I let myself be easily pleased -- by small things, simple things, surprises.
I spent a week looking out windows -- from the car and the train and the bunkhouse -- at the changing leaves, fall's truest delight.  We shined flashlights to find deer grazing at night, multiple sets of curious, glowing eyes.  We created habitats for all sorts of insects in an empty mayonnaise jar.  We looked for turkeys and spotted hawks.  We noticed the way our friends' kids had grown in a few months and laughed at all their knock-knock jokes.
The earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention.
I spent most of the afternoon raking leaves, realizing that the colors I'd been admiring have turned to dull shades of beige.  Realizing that moments, the ones that feel good and the ones that don't, have a tendency to rearrange themselves rather quickly.

The stitches are out.  The washing machine works.  The garage door's been fixed.
The fridge is full of soup and our home is full of love.  All of my boys are well.


fall break

Traveling with kids is less fun than traveling with adults, but way more fun than staying home.  
We left town last Wednesday morning prepared to drive all day: coffee, carrots, fruit snacks, books, magnets, movies.  We drove ALL DAY, but we made it.  A few months apart cannot rub off the familiarity of a person, and once we got to Iowa our kids played together, and quarreled, like they'd just spent a week together at the beach.
The little boys built train tracks and had matchbox races while the bigger boys built trundle beds and outdoor showers.  We sliced apples and supervised various play, reheated coffee and hauled rocks, wiped drippy noses and traded shifts, all our activity tied together with a thread of overdue conversation.  We put the kids to bed and it was as if we could be people again, acting like the friends we were ten years ago and the adults we are when we're not parenting.  Stories spilled under a tapestry of bright stars at night and picked up again over fresh air and folgers as the sun rose.
It's always worth the effort, culling a tub of car activities that may only last five happy minutes, packing eight changes of clothes for one weekend at the farm.  The kids may not have gotten enough sleep or enough vegetables, but their bodies were nourished by nature and by friendship.  And they have new stories to tell, about the way pumpkins explode when they're dropped from trestles, about driving the four wheeler and jumping on the trampoline and about their pet walking stick.  Experiences worth recounting in rapturous vignettes.

We returned late last night, equal parts rested and spent, muscles sore from long car rides and heavy lifting.  And from laughing.  Soreness that feels, more than anything, like a grateful hymn.


I need to outsource some willpower here, please.

He called out at a dark and early hour.  I rubbed my eyes with the back of my wrists and wished for the ability to deliver an entire lecture with a single glance.  I might title it The Benefits of Good Sleep.

I picked him up out of bed the way I always do, hugging him close to my body.  He asked me to make pancakes.  I pointed out the window at the the moon and said that maybe when it traded places with the sun, maybe when Daddy and Tucker were up, we could cook breakfast.  I handed him milk instead, which caused him to dump a freak out on the front doorstep of my day.
He reeeeeally wanted pancakes.  With pickles.  Right now.
He eats pickles with everything.  Pancakes for breakfast?  With a pickle, please.  Peanut butter and jelly for lunch?  With a pickle.  Pizza for dinner?  A pickle, too.

He didn’t want the milk.  He didn’t want a fresh diaper.  He just wanted pancakes.  I get it - when I want pancakes, I want pancakes.  But his display of temper felt so predictable I practically yawned through it.  Maybe I did actually yawn.  He has a strong sense of entitlement, but mostly in a nice way.

Once he calmed himself down he scooted closer to me on the couch.  We begin most days together in the same spot, him with milk and me with coffee, while the rest of the world sleeps.  After some snuggling and some conversation about diggers and some Mom, I love yous he asked again: Now can we cook pancakes?  Similar to the way he’ll stand at the edge of the water and throw rock after rock after rock, I knew he was just observing his influence on the world.
It’s strong.  And I think my coffee, and my resolve, need to be stronger to compete.



After church yesterday, Tucker told me he knew lots of ways he could give God a smile, like by being kind and giving kisses.  He also told me I better not have any golden calves.
When his teacher asked the children to walk quietly, so they didn’t sound like a herd of elephants, he said he would use his best marshmallow feet.
And on the way to visit family recently, he exclaimed I am so lucky I’m rich in cousins!

Playing a board game together one rainy afternoon, he said Betzes don’t cheat. That’s what Daddy told me.
And wondering about birds flying all the way to the moon, he found my explanation of oxygen and atmosphere unsatisfactory and came to his own conclusion: That might be a good question for Daddy instead.

He repeats what I’ve said, which makes me glad in one way and guilty in another.
He tells his brother to mind his own business, and I admire the perfection of the insult even as I deplore it.
He says he thinks his sister might have wings, and I let that image rest in my imagination for awhile.


adjusting the volume

The days are long and my voice is loud.
Their voices are loud.  So LOUD.
There's a lot of noise in my head.
I am constantly counting up what's been done and what needs doing.  My mind is engrossed in a never-ending inventory of shoulds and should-haves, except when my mouth is busy asking the boys, for the third time, to sing just a little bit softer.
I find myself suffering from the kind of stress that wants me to believe everything has to happen right now, the right way.  I find myself raising my own voice to ask them to lower theirs.  And then I find myself falling prey to the idea that I can't do it all.

There are actual moments when I think that if I could just get them dressed in clean clothes and fed a decent meal, just get the dishes put away and the floors swept, just get the homework finished and the blog posted, just get the groceries shelved and the sheets changed, just get it all done, sweep the patio and plant the mums and respond to the message and stay upbeat about it all that everything would be right with the world.
And that is crazy.  Sometimes I just need to say that.  To myself.  Crazy.
It's easy to default to the detail mode of mothering, to filling out forms and folding laundry and to being measurably productive.  But the noise in my head and the motion in my hands is just a kind of a deflecting mechanism, an insurance policy against actual thoughts about reality.  Against the real job of being a mom.

It's harder to be patient, to be present, to listen to the longest story about bowling balls ever in the history of all the world or to explain why it's not a good day to go to the pool even though the sun is out, harder to help a five year old learn to tie his shoes and a two year old learn to cut paper.  Especially when the to-do list is lurking nearby, calling out.

There are no accolades for the numberless repetitions of daily care, no awards for having every single item of clothing laundered, no promotion for being especially patient.

The state of my home is not a matter for pride or shame.  The shape of my boys is not a matter for pride or shame.  Shoot, the condition of my mental health is not a matter for pride or shame.

I needn’t have an allegiance to my habits, especially when they lean bad, when they bully me into believing something is bigger than it really is.  I need to break more of the little rules I've made for myself, about mothering and making messes, about living and being lazy.  I need to doubt my doubts instead of my capabilities, to feel less guilty about all the good I did not do.  I need to know that I give them everything I have, even on days when that's not much at all.

I know just because I make the thoughts go quiet doesn't mean I've gotten rid of them.  I may need to push the crazy down a flight of stairs again tomorrow.
The days are long, but they're getting shorter.
The days are full and they fly by.  The days are, by and large, a blast.
And sometimes, when I find a safe slice of silence to stand in, I catch a whisper of a voice that’s saying “Good job.  You’re doing great.” I have to turn the volume way up to be sure I’m hearing it right.  But I think I am.


He flexed

He flexed and his sleeves fell off.



He deciphers text and his face shines like a billion suns, like the fourth of July, like neon carnival lights.  And I'm pretty sure mine beams just watching him.