Sunday, November 25, 2007

The...Nativity Story...or something like that

As the Christmas season approaches, I've been taking advantage of quiet evenings to tell my kids the original Christmas story. They've known bits and pieces of it all along, but I realized this year that they probably weren't too familiar with the actual chronological chain of events.

After several nights of telling and retelling I assumed they were familiar with the gist of the story...

Last night the kids were oohing and aahing at Christmas lights as we drove through town. Mia saw a particularly notable creche scene. She shrieked, "Oh WOW! Oh awesome! Mommy, look! It's some shepherds and some angels having a baby together!"

Yeah, something like that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Tale of Two Mommies

Today we got a phone call that turned our household up end in a very exciting way. Could we take a little baby through foster care for a couple of weeks? Since Grace has been bugging me lately about having another baby, I said yes, thinking the reality of a baby will cure her of those quasi-maternal urges. I knew it would cure me :).

We ran through the house and did a checklist of which baby things were stored in the garage, what needed to be replaced (bottles, diapers, formula), and what small changes would need to be made in our household to accomodate one more (surprisingly little).

Then we had great fun heading to Babies-R-Us and jointly choosing new baby bottles, binkies, and a couple safety things that our *big* kids don't need anymore.

The girls' enthusiasm was contagious, and even though I knew this was a very temporary foster care placement--and I was glad it was!--I found myself getting excited about having a baby around the house again. Lately Mercie has taken to pointing at herself and then at me, nodding her head and saying wisely, "Mercie, Momma, grownups." She and Eric are still so much my babies that I sometimes have to force myself to step back and realize they are, in fact, quite grownup. We were an enthusiastic group preparing to welcome this little one to his temporary home.

As we loaded bags and kids into the car, I listened to Grace singing, "a wonderful, wonderful thing--we're going to have a baby today!" And suddenly the other side of the story hit me smack in the figurative face.

While we were waiting anxiously, excitedly for the call telling us that a baby was on his way to our house, another mom was saying a heartbreaking goodbye to him. While we danced and sang for sheer joy of sharing him for a little while, another mom was surrendering custody in the company of law enforcement officers and social workers. As we cleared our calendar and adjusted our schedule to accomodate a busy baby, another mom faced a lonely night, waking up to a lonely day, and an uncertain road back to her baby.

Should it happen? It's a no-brainer. We're not the most experienced foster parents on the planet, but we have an incredible child protection system here, and I've learned to respect and trust the workers, court officers, and support people. They don't remove kids on a whim, and their top goal is to bring families back together. If they saw reasons to remove this child, or any child, I'd put money on those reasons being valid.

Is it fair? Of course not. Is it the right thing? I'm betting so. Does that make it any easier, for the baby who cried himself to sleep tonight in my lap, or the momma who is probably doing the same in her too-quiet home? Nope.

All I can do is my tiny part in all of this--love this little baby for the time he's mine. And love his momma, from a distance, even if it's nothing more than my prayers that she'll do what it takes to bring momma and baby both back where they belong.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Most Exciting Job

Yesterday we ended up having an impromptou party on the lawn. Friends down the street brought cookies and joined us for lemonade, much to the delight of my kids.

As we sat under a tree together, three-year old Adalyn announced that her daddy had a very boring job. Wondering what a three-year old classifies as boring, I asked what her daddy does at work. "He makes movies," she said with a sigh. Holy cow, sounds pretty exciting to me!

That made me wonder what on earth she thought classified as an exciting job, if making movies was "very boring." So I asked. Her eyes lit up as she replied without hesitation, "Being a mommy is a VERY exciting job!"

I spent the rest of the day looking quite differently at my "VERY exciting job."

A Story of Mommies and Daddies

This morning Grace explained a great, fundamental, four-year old truth to me, in such earnestness that it positively charmed my socks off:

"If a girl has stories in her life, the mommy tells pretty stories. That's what mommies do. Daddies tell stinky stories."

I'm assuming this is because Daddy's latest bedtime effort is about a beautiful princess who accidentally poops in her panties, much to the hilarity of our junior princesses. But I think Grace is onto something.

We all need stories. We live on stories, our own and so many others. We desparately need pretty stories, so we don't lose sight of hope, so we can be reminded of a better, finer side of life. We need pretty stories to offset some of the ugly realities that surround us.

But you know, we also need stinky stories. We need stories that deal with some of the messy, yucky parts of life and make them bearable--maybe even laughable. We need stories that give us back our power over the darker, less predictable parts of life by consigning them to non-threatening places with humor. We need stinky stories to poke little pinpricks in our sophisticated human egos, and remind us that we are, after all, human.

I think Grace is absolutely right. Every girl should have stories in her life--and someone to tell her the pretty ones and the stinky ones.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mia Brain vs. Mommy Brain

A few nights ago the kids were in their typical bedtime madness of running around the living room like screaming banshees. As Grace danced madly through the room she semi-accidentally kicked Mercie in the face.

Mercie wasn't hurt, but since I'd been warning Grace to settle down, I told her she needed to have a timeout on the couch so she could calm down. Mia wasn't very happy about losing her partner in chaos, so she tried to sit down on the couch with Grace. I firmly picked her up and moved her off the sofa, telling her that timeout means sitting ALONE.

Mia glared at me. Then she stood there and thought for a minute. Making sure that I was watching, she walked over to Mercie and kicked her in the face. Luckily Mia is a lousy shot, and the kick glanced off. Mercie looked very confused, but not hurt.

Mia, however, was even more confused as her bright little plan unravelled when Mommy put her in the garage for her timeout. Poor Mia. It's good to be smart--it's better to be good.

Why Children Need a Muzzle in Church

Today during the Sacrament Grace was doing some deep thinking. For those unfamiliar with the LDS faith, the Sacrament is typically the most quiet time of the worship service, as no one is speaking and young men are silently passing bread and water among the congregation.

Grace was studying pictures in her scriptures with great intent. Finally she looked up with a furrowed brow and said, "Mommy, is Jesus a boy?"

Motioning her to whisper, I mouthed back, "Yes."

In a delighted tone that most definitely was not a whisper, Grace applied her newfound knowledge of physiology. "That means Jesus has a penis!"

The people in front of and behind us were immediately seized with some kind of choking, red-faced problem that neccessitated putting their heads down on their knees.

Ahh...the joys of preschool theology.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder

A couple of days ago I had an appointment with a new doctor. Apparently he didn't look closely enough at my chart, where my birthday is listed, because toward the end of the consultation he made the offhanded comment,"You'll want be careful with this medicine around grandkids, that kind of thing." Seeing the look on my face he quickly tried to save it: "Not that you have grandkids, because you're obviously way too young..." Yeah. Sometimes the foot just gets jammed too far back in the mouth to extricate.

My poor husband had to spend the evening reassuring me that there was no way I could possibly look old enough to be a grandparent, and the doctor clearly needed new glasses...blah, blah, blah. He's a good husband--he knows the rules.

This is especially annoying because my friend Diana is actually about to become a grandma, and if you were going off looks, you'd have to assume that she had her first child at age 3. We're talking, so young that high school bag boys still hit on her at the grocery store, and waiters assume her husband is her grandpa. Ugh.

Today I took my girls to dance class. Posted on the bulletin board were photos from a recent awards banquet their instructor attended. Now, there is NO WAY anyone will ever think their dance instructor is a grandma, not even when her kids are having grandkids. This woman is drop-dead gorgeous and in superb shape--in fact, she recently won the swimsuit competition at the Mrs. USA pagaent. In the photos, she's decked out in evening dress, long blond hair shimmering, perfect pearly whites flashing.

Mia looked up at the center photo, of her beloved Miss Jennie in a standing pose and exclaimed delightedly, "Mommy! That looks just like you!"

You could argue that Mia is the one who needs glasses, or that a 3-year olds perception is notoriously unreliable. But beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, and as I frequently tell Mia, she's got some excellent 'looking eyes.'

While I do know that I'm not a petite, blond ballerina-pagaent-winner, I'm going with Mia on this one. Who do I believe--a rushed doctor who spent a few minutes with me, one of many patients for the day, whose primary interest (appropriately) was diagnosing and treating rather than really 'seeing' me? Or a little girl who sees my face every day, up close and personal, who looks into my eyes and presses her face to mine, who knows that this is a face that loves her unconditionally? And if she chooses to blur my image together with that of her much-loved--and breathtakingly beautiful--dance teacher, who can say she's wrong? Yep, I'm sticking with Mia's assessment. She sees with her eyes AND with her (delusional) little heart.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It Must Be Love

Our new son has been home just barely over a month. It feels like so much longer. From the first moment in the airport it's seemed like he was just always here, always part of our family. Adored by his big sisters, tolerated by his "twin," incredibly loved by his mommy and daddy, Eric unquestionably belongs.

His transition into our home has been so easy. Not easy as in "no problems," just easy as in "natural." It's a tough thing for a barely-22 month old baby boy to leave the only home he's ever known and travel half way around the world to a new culture, new language, new environment, new family, and new life. It's a hard thing for three little girls to adjust to a new sibling who shares the limited attention they get from Dad and Mom, and who needs some extra help making a transition into this life. And yes, it's hard for Mom and Dad--hard to help each child through this transition, hard to handle the inevitable sleep disruptions and meltdowns, to accomodate new quantities of laundry and meal preparation, and keep the family running smoothly with new dynamics.
We've been through this before. While our girls were each adopted as newborns, we've done foster care, and we've had failed adoptive placements of children who we took in and loved but ultimately couldn't keep. Having been through it before, we knew that the transition into a new family is a process, sometimes lengthy. We knew it wasn't always easy or pleasant. We had steeled ourselves to make it through whatever rough stuff came our way.

We knew there would be rocky times; we weren't expecting so many happy ones so soon. Eric is happy baby. He fits in perfectly with the rest of our happy babies. He's a resilient child. He's open to love. Last week he started giving me kisses, and he hasn't stopped. He grins ear to ear when one of his older sisters wraps him in a bear hug. His favorite time of day is when Daddy comes home. One of neighbors said, "If you want to see what heaven must look like, just watch Eric's face as he runs across the lawn when his daddy gets home. That's love for you."
Before Eric came home I was nervous. I was worried that he might have a hard time bonding with us, but I was terrified that I might not bond well enough with him. I had my girls from day one. We had lots of late nights and colic and rocking and pacing the floors to bond over. With each of our failed adoptions, although there were external factors that lead to the disruptions each time, I also experienced a nagging sense that this wasn't really my child each time. It was a voice I tried to shove into the farthest recesses of my mind, but beneath the love and affection I genuinely felt for every child who has been in our home, there was this niggling doubt about whether I was truly their mother, and they were truly my children.
A couple of weeks after Eric arrived home I was rocking him at bedtime in his darkened room. Taking advantage of our new ritual, Eric was touching my face tentatively with his fingers, sometimes giggling if I made a silly face at him, sometimes smiling back at me as I whispered to him how much I loved him.
And it suddenly hit me. I'd throw myself in front of a bus for this kid. Oh yeah. He's mine. He's as much a part of me as each of my other children. I'm going to be around when he's choosing college majors and bringing home special girlfriends, and I'm g0ing to be the lucky grandma to his babies someday. Because I WANT to. Because I chose to. Because there wasn't really an alternative to falling head over heels for this boy.
The doubt seems so silly. This is my son. Call it the red thread, call it fate, call it Divine Intervention, call it random coincidence. From where I'm sitting, with the cutest boy in the universe on my lap, I just call it love.

Monday, April 09, 2007

To My Little Genius

Three years ago today we brought home a teeny little 6 pound 3 ounce baby girl from the hospital. Her hair was bigger than she was. For a tiny one she had a huge appetite, and she didn't stay tiny for long. Her older sister was all of ten months old, and so never really had much of an adjustment or sibling rivalry, because her world was still so young and new that change was a matter of course.

We named her Miriam Valency--lots of syllables for such a little thing--but Gracie couldn't pronounce Miriam. She christened her Miam, which stuck. A few months later Grace shortened it to Mia, which stuck for good. This was my secret delight, as I'd proposed the name Mia earlier only to have it vetoed by Jim. Thanks to Grace, I got my Mia after all.

Now Mia is three years old, and she's amazing. I love this little girl. She was born with a mother's heart. She tenderly takes care of anything smaller or younger or more vulnerable than she is--which is quite a lot, since she's extremely tall and almost freakishly strong. She also mothers her mommy, telling me to "lay your head on my lap, Mom, so I can hold you and snuggle you." She'll pat my head and stroke my hair, and press preschooler kisses on my forehead while she sings me lullabies. Her poor younger siblings are mothered whether they like it or not.

From the time she could talk Mia's claim to fame has been an unbelievable vocabulary for someone so small. Her diction and pronounciation are far beyond any other three-year old I know--in fact, most of the time her speech is more clear and her vocabulary more expansive than that of her older sister. She doesn't just tell me I'm "beautiful;" she tells me that I'm "stunningly beautiful." (See why I love this kid?). She doesn't announce that she's "mad;" she's "exasperated", or "incredibly frustrated."

Today she and her sister poked around in Mommy's room and unearthed some old binkies that had fallen under the bed. Delighted with their finds, Mia proclaimed, "Gracie, you are a total genius!"

That's my little girl. Always quick to give the credit and praise to others, even when her own ability is shining right through. If you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she responds with complete confidence, "Cinderella." If you ask her what job she wants to have she'll say that she plans to build houses like Bob the Builder.

I have no doubt that she'll succeed admirably in balancing her tiara and her toolbelt.

It's my privilege and gift to be along for the ride. Happy Birthday Princess Mia!

The Gender Gap

Grace: “Mommy, today I saw a boy kitty outside.”

Me: “Really? How did you know it was a boy kitty?”

Grace: “Because it had a really dirty face.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thinking of Joseph Tonight

Today is our wedding anniversary, and for the first time since we married, we spent it apart. Not just mildly apart, either, but half a world apart, as my darling husband is on the other side of the globe completing the adoption process to bring our first son home. I can't think of any better reason to miss our anniversary.

Still, when we received our travel dates, it was a bittersweet realization to know that at long-last we could bring our son home, but it would mean being apart not only for two weeks--longer than we've ever been apart before--and also at a time of year that we normally celebrate our togetherness.

Before marrying I was quite the independent single woman. I couldn't believe how quickly I became addicted to having my husband nearby. Suddenly things that seemed like no big deal before marriage were now a huge trial. I volunteered to spend a week at camp with our church youth group one year. I made it through one night, packed up my sleeping bag at 6:00am and headed home. When I was looking at graduate programs the primary consideration was how much time I'd need to spend away from Jim. We've considered moving several times in our married life, but one of the best things about our home is that it's five minutes from work to home for Jim, and we can have lunch together every day.

I am blessed to have a husband who likes to come home, who likes to be with his family. I recognize that our relationship, our marriage and our family life are wonderful blessings, and I am deeply grateful.

Given the unique circumstances in which we're celebrating our anniversary this year, I've found myself thinking frequently of Joseph, husband to Mary, and earthly father to Jesus Christ. I suspect that many adoptive dads can relate to his situation. He didn't exactly seek out the honor and burden of parenting a young Savior of the world, and accepting the responsibility meant no small amount of sacrifice, inconvenience and hardship.

But he did it. He packed everything up on the donkey and he went where he had to go. He did the best job he could with a stable and a manger, and he was there for Mary and the baby when they needed him. When the Lord twice called him in a dream he woke up and did what the Lord asked. He left his livelihood and his community and lived a nomadic life in Egypt for a few years in order to protect his young family. Quite possibly he endured raised eyebrows and snide whispers from gossipy people who counted months on their fingers and wondered at a more rushed wedding when Mary found herself unexpectedly expecting. Along Mary's side, he searched for the young Jesus when he stayed to talk with the elders in the temple, and while the scriptures reference Mary's maternal remonstration, we only know from her that Joseph likewise "sought [him] sorrowing." The frantic worry underlying her words, and her reference to Joseph as Jesus' father, suggest that while Jesus undoubtedly knew of His divine lineage, within the confines of His family He knew Joseph as His father, and the relationship was one of love.

During our engagement I told Jim that while I didn't know why, I did know that I was going to adopt at least some of my children. I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd said no! Thankfully he just nodded his head and said that it sounded like a good idea.

Over $80,000 and lots of heartbreak later I'm not sure if he still thinks it was a good idea. Then again, he's an awful lot like Joseph. Sacrifice, worry, inconvenience, and hardship kind of pale in comparison to the light shining in a little boy's eyes when he looks at his dad.

Jim calls almost every night from his hotel in China. He has to wait until Eric is sleeping, and he talks quietly so he won't wake our tired, disoriented new son. He says Eric wakes up throughout the night, checking to see if Jim is still there. When he sees that he is, Eric lays back down and goes back to sleep.

That's what the Josephs of the world do. Those good daddies, and faithful husbands are just quite simply, quite magnificently, THERE. A hotel room in China, an emergency room in Utah, a pink bedroom full of scary monsters, or wherever else love and duty call them--they are there.

And so in spite of missing him terribly, and hoping for his safe return immediately, I'm so very glad to be married to a man who is where he needs to be--and right now, it's over there.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

O is Me

This afternoon the girls were playing amazingly well in the front room while I sat on the couch and read a book (I know, moments like these are extremely rare for mommies of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. For those of you who aren't mommies of babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, think Hailey's-Comet-rare, or parting-the-Red-Sea rare).

Grace was busy "writing" on a magnetic doodle pad. Noticing that she was very intent, I asked her what she was writing. Without looking up she responded in a bored tone, "my name." Looking more closely, I saw a row of neat O's across the board.

"Grace, those look like O's," said the most-observant-mother-of-the-year.

"Yep, they are," replied my three-year old master of the obvious.

"Um, I don't think the name 'Grace' has any O's in it," I tried to tactfully interject.

Grace looked at me like I was a complete idiot. "Yes, my name DOES have an 'O' in it."

"Sweetie, I really don't think it does. Sound out the letters, G-R-A-C-E. I don't hear an 'O' sound."

In that special tone of voice reserved for the most dense adults, my pint-sized princess sighed.

"Yes, my name does have an 'O' in it. You say it all the time-- 'Oh Gracie!'"

I stand corrected.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Marriage, Mountains, and Misperceptions

Part of the doctrine of our religious beliefs is that marriages should be conducted in a holy temple, by someone with priesthood authority to seal, or bind, the marriage together eternally. Because admission to temples requires living a certain standard of worthiness, we teach our children from the time they are young to keep themselves pure and worthy to be married in the temple. the moment I have two little girls who are completely obsessed with getting married. Thanks to the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella, starring Brandy in the lead role ("Mom! That Cinderella looks like ME!"), my girls are convinced that a handsome, Asian-looking Prince is going to sweep them off their feet into a life of beautiful ballgowns, endless dancing, and romantic *married* kisses. (The kissing has been demonstrated on me so that I know exactly how the Prince will kiss my dimpled darlings on that magical day). No detail of planning their weddings has escaped my almost-three and almost-four year old princess wannabes.

Luckily for me, they also love the temple. They love to visit the temple, they love to talk about the temple, they love to walk around the grounds at the temple, and they especially love the idea that when that magical day arrives that they marry their own Prince Charmings, they can do it at the temple.

Several days ago we were curled up on my bed talking and I saw the opportunity for a brainwashing--er, I mean, teaching--moment.

"Mia, what if you meet a wonderful, handsome Prince and he says, 'Mia, oh Mia, I love you so much! I want to marry you. Will you please marry me--but not in the temple. I'd rather get married in our backyard.' What would you say, Mia?"

Mia looked confused, so I prompted her a little bit.

"Do you love the temple, Mia?" A vigorous headshake up and down. "Do you want to be married in the temple when you are a grown up lady?" Mia grinned and nodded. "Well then, if your handsome prince wants to get married somewhere else, you just shake your finger like this and say, 'No, no, no mister! I'm only getting married in the temple, mister, because I'm a REAL princess, and real princesses get married in the temple.' "

Both girls were instantly enthralled with this new role-playing exercise Mommy came up with. What's not to like about scolding an imaginary Prince and yanking your husband-to-be back onto the path of truth and right? Apparently even preschool age princesses enjoy bossing their someday-Princes around.

We played out every scenario that my tired Mommy brain could invent. What if the Prince wants to get married at church? What if he wants to get married on a boat? Or on an airplane? Each one made them giggle harder and shout louder, "No, no, no mister! I'm only getting married in the temple, mister!"

The last scenario I had was for Grace. "What if your Prince says, 'Grace, you are the most beautiful princess in the entire world. I love you and want to marry you. I want to be your husband and you will be my wife, and we will have a family. But I only want to get married on a mountain, not in the temple. Please, will you marry me on a mountain?' "

Grace's jaw dropped open. The giggling stopped. Her eyes were huge. She looked completely horrified.

"Oh NO! I cannot get married on a mountain! I would fall off and get hurt very badly!"

Time will tell if this teaching moment has lasting impact. I'm guessing by the time the girls are old enough to receive marriage proposals they'll probably find more tactful responses than, "No, no mister!" But heaven help the poor man who asks Grace to marry him on a mountain.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Don't Hate Me Because My Child Is So Brilliant

Last week was a moment I'd been dreading somewhat. Earlier this fall Grace's dance teacher asked us if Grace could move up to the next-older class. Grace absolutely adores dance, and she worships the ground her teacher walks on, so she rather understandably does extremely well in dance class (incredible genetics help a lot, I'm sure).

Since Grace was already one of the younger students in her age group, we decided not to move her up. She's so young, and has so many years of dance ahead of her, why rush? She's having a good time, so why mess things up?

A couple of months later her teacher called us at home. After some discussion and persuading, we agreed that come January, Grace could move to the older class. We still had some reservations, and hoped that it would end up being a good thing for her, but we decided to trust the teacher's instincts on this, as the entire reason we enrolled Grace with her in the first place was that we trusted and respected her ability as both dancer and teacher.

In the back of my mind throughout the month of December was a nagging dread of January's first dance class day. It wasn't Grace I was worried about, or Mia, who had permission to officially start dance class a couple of months early, taking Grace's former spot in the younger class. I wasn't even worried about entertaining Mercie for an entire morning of back to back dance classes. Nope. What I persistently wanted to avoid was the inevitable moment when the other moms realized that my daughter had just moved up, while their darlings were still in the beginning class. I was secretly hoping that one or two of the other children had also been moved up, if for no other reason than to deflect attention away from Grace.

I'm obsessively proud of my kids. They are the most frequent topic of conversation that comes out of my mouth. I'm convinced that by far, my kids are the absolute BEST kids possible--the most charming, beautiful, intelligent, funny, creative, talented, and capable children on the planet. But having three of them very close together has taught me how ridiculous it is to compare one perfect child to another. And yet as parents, that's what we constantly, chronically do. From the minute the baby appears, it's a barrage of comparisons. How long was your labor? How big was your baby? When did he first smile? Cut his first tooth? Take his first steps? And heaven help poor parents when it comes to things that seem related to parental involvement. Your child took first in his school at the science fair? My child took first at State in spelling. And so it goes.

I know this because I spent the first little while doing it, and still have to fight the urge sometimes. Watching three distinct personalities emerge has been a large cure for me. It's one thing to know intellectually that children develop at different times and ways--it's another to see it play out right in front of you.

But I've also learned it because I started off my parenting journey with the wrong analogy in mind. I didn't think it in such concrete terms, but if someone would have asked, as I basked in my first days of parenting, I would have said that parenting is a lot like baking bread. If you follow the recipe and do everything right, you get the end result you want.

Now this presupposes that children are the inert ingredients that make up bread, and it also presumes that parents have an awful lot of power in managing the lives of children. I've been proved sorely wrong on both of those innaccurate assumptions. My children are living, breathing, dynamic and very much mindful participants in my parenting experiments. I may have the illusion of power in our relationships, but as they frequently remind me, it's mostly because they humor me enough to allow me to parent them. Just try telling a teething toddler that under no circumstances is he allowed to wake up crying one more time and you'll quickly recognize where true power lies.

Now I'm not a gardener by any stretch, but it seems to me that a better analogy for parenting might be planting seeds. Seeds have a tendency of growing no matter what. Some make it through in the most dire circumstances--rocky, clay-baked soil, no nurturing, pruning or feeding. Some survive excessive watering and press on in spite of injurious and overdone pruning. Even in ideal circumstances, under the watchful eye of a good gardener, some seeds don't fulfill their potential, or their bloom is delayed beyond what the gardener thinks is 'normal.' Factors beyond the control of either seed or gardener can seriously hamper and impair the plant--frost, disease, rot, predators.

As a parent, I just do what I can to help my little seedlings grow and flourish. I can't turn an oak seedling into a strawberry plant, or a rose bush into green beans. All I can do is nurture, protect, encourage, and sit back to enjoy the show. Nagging isn't going to help a seedling grow faster or stronger, and listing all the ways she's not a lilac isn't going to help her be the best possible eggplant.

In spite of my sometimes over-controlling and sometimes unintentional neglect, my girls are growing. They are blossoming in ways I never could have imagined back in the days when I was writing subconsious plans for how they would turn out. They are a source of constant delight, never-ending wonder, and unparalleled joy. Daily I see that it's a very good thing that they weren't passive ingredients waiting for me to work my parental magic on them and turn them into something else. I like the seedlings that they are ever so much better, and I can't wait to watch them bloom.

Heaven on Earth

For some reason I can't remember, recently the topic of heaven came up at our house. "Heaven" is a somewhat fuzzy, abstract concept for most of us adults, who, let's face it, haven't personally been there in this lifetime. So explaining it to small children was a bit daunting.

Gamely I started in, trying to paint a picture of heaven as something that would seem overwhelmingly positive, figuring that the girls have the rest of their lives to fear the process of death that will get them there.

"It's a very beautiful, happy place, where we get to be with people we love, like Mom & Dad, and sisters, and Grandpa, and cousins," I began. "We'll see Jesus again and He'll be so happy to see us. He will hug us and tell us He loves us. And we'll feel peaceful and happy in our hearts when we are in heaven. We will want to stay there forever and ever, because it's such a happy place."

No response. The girls just looked at me quizzically. Mia climbed off my lap and asked if it was snack time yet. Mercie started pulling at my leg and grunting. Grace had a confused look on her face, like she was trying to process this new idea, but wasn't quite sure how it fit.

Sighing, I figured at least I got brownie points for trying, and now that the concept of heaven wasn't new to them, maybe as they got older we could revisit the topic and it would make more sense to them.

Then I saw the lightbulb go off in Grace's face. Eyes sparkling, she said, "OH! It's just like our home!"

I am surely the most blessed mommy ever.