Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Amazing Grace"

Lately the kids have been singing "Amazing Grace" to Mudpupp -- don't ask me how this started, I'm sure I have no idea. In any case, he really likes it, and demands that they sing by repeating, "Song! Song!" until they do.

Stranger still, he has started learning the song himself. A few times now, he's sung the entire first verse all the way through -- although only when we're not paying direct attention. If we ask him to sing, he just looks at us silently, smiling. His pronunciation lacks a great deal, but he gets the basic shape of the words, as well as the melody: "Amazin' 'ace, sweet ah sound, ah save ah wretch lie me!" and so on, all the way down to: "...was los', now ah see!" It gave me goosebumps the first time he did it -- while I was changing him!

Mudpuppy likes to swing on the big-kid swings

Picking pumpkins last weekend - he was a little intimidated
at first by all the pumpkins, but enjoyed seeing a real cat
close up.

Helping with the pizza dough. He believes in being VERY liberal
with the spices!

Mouse and Jaybird carving their own pumpkins. Bear is
"too old" for such things.

Grandma hanging out with the kids on a sunny fall day by the lake.
This afternoon we were prepping the kids for our All Saints party at church -- Bear went as Paul Miki, Mouse as Elizabeth of Portugal, and Jaybird as J8ulia Billiart. We helped them find symbols of their saints to use as hints in the "guess the saint" game. At one point, I asked Jaybird to pick something up in the bathroom, and as she did, she cheerfully said, "Well, I am going to be a saint someday."

"You think so, huh?"

"Yeah, 'cause a saint is just someone who loves God a real lot and is dead. And I think I will love God a real lot when I am grown up!"

That's the hard part, isn't it -- the loving. The dead part, not so much.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Barn dance

So, the Winona Catholic Worker held a barn dance as a fundraiser last night...we had only light turnout, but the people who came had a great time. Perhaps none more than Mouse, however, who had an absolute blast. Here are excerpts from just one dance:

She had so much fun, she'd like to go again. I danced several dances with her (Starling was home with a fever, watching Mudpuppy) -- and she was smiling like this the whole time.

We were lucky to have great live music. These sorts of old-fashioned dances are so much fun, partly because everyone gets to participate. Jaybird came, too, and danced off to the side with a friend her age (they also ran around the church hall and ate bags and bags of popcorn). Bear came along, reluctantly, and found a friend from school; they sat talking on the sidelines until I harassed him into joining a circle dance. I think he may have enjoyed it -- but only secretly!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mudpuppy at ECFE

Here are some random shots of Mudpuppy at Early Childhood Family Education:

Playing in the sand table.

And so absorbed in his book at the end of class that he
doesn't even notice it's time to go home!

No child's career in our family is complete without this classic shot!

A magnificent fall

This autumn has been pretty magnificent, if you ignore the rather cold and dreary weeks we had in the middle of September. Some highlights:

This afternoon we got out and raked leaves. It's a bit weird to be throwing
leaves into the compost while we're still harvesting basil and tomatoes,
but there you go.

The littlest kids enjoy being pulled to the compost pile in back. Their job is
to keep the leaves from blowing away en route. Jaybird is ready to roll in
the wheelbarrow (background); she enjoys being dumped in the growing
pile of leaves at the end.

Here's where all those leaves come from. They glow on the trees on sunny days.
Every noon, before his nap, Mudpuppy insists on going on a walk by the lake.
This is his favorite park bench (actually a bench swing).
We've taken quite a few fall color walks as a family lately. Last weekend,
we walked along the creek at Moyer Park in Bloomington. Here's Jaybird.
"Uncle Andy" on the same walk.
And the kids on a walk in the bluffs the week before that.
And today we went to the Bluffview Fall Festival, which was held on a farm.
See Jaybird (Dalmation cape) on the hayride?

Meanwhile, the older kids spent most of the time jumping around the haystacks
piled up to the rafters in the barn.

And besides the fall color, we've also been enjoying a profusion of Morning Glories--finally!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mudpuppy's birthday!

Mudpuppy had a great birthday last Friday! Of course, he was mostly oblivious to what was going on, but everyone enjoyed the festivities on his behalf. Starling came home from work early, and then we all went on a walk in the bluffs--the fall has been gorgeous, very unlike what the weather was two years ago after bringing the baby home.

Mudpuppy is ALMOST big enough to keep up on these long walks...he still
gets to be carried part of the way, though!

C'mon, give us that famous smile! Okay, a smirk will have to do.

He tolerated the Birthday Hat, unlike his older sibs, but didn't want to blow out
the candle!

Mudpuppy needs no persuasion in the chocolate cake dept.

Among his favorite gifts: One of those push-popper things
(the kind with the annoying balls that pop around in a bubble),
this little racetrack, some nesting boxes, and a wood puzzle.

Stacking the nesting boxes is fun--but not as much as knocking
them down!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Mudpuppy turns two!

Mudpuppy had a fine, fine birthday today -- despite not having a clue about what was going on. Next week, I will post some funny pictures of his bewildered looks. Until then, you can go read "Almost two...but not quite" now that I have added the second half of the story of his typical day.

Why I hate protests...and why I go anyway

October is Respect Life month, and today is the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. So last Sunday when it was announced in church that the annual Life Chain protest would be held that afternoon a block from our house, I rounded up the kids and out we went.

As a person who hates confrontation and likes to be liked, I don't enjoy protests one bit. Way too public. You stand there watching thousands of cars going by in an hour, wondering exactly how many friends and acquaintances you're losing by speaking out. Which is one very good reason for doing it -- practicing the virtue of humility, and also the virtue of honesty. It's not much good having friends and acquaintances if you have to hide your beliefs from them. For that matter, it's not much good being friends with someone if you're not willing to speak hard truths to them once in a while.

Another reason why I don't like protests is because I think they're usually pretty ineffective. You stand there carrying a sign that people may or may not be able to read. You get maybe five or six words, max. It's worse than Twitter. And usually, if it's worth protesting, the issue is probably complex, full of misunderstanding, and highly emotionally charged. I personally doubt whether anyone's mind has been changed on an issue by a sign at a protest -- although I know that it can and does happen, especially if the sign is thought-provoking, and reaches someone at the right moment.

But beyond being a very inefficient way of promoting change, the other thing I don't like about protests is the way they set up an us-vs.-them division that almost immediately shuts down any possibility for conversation. People drive by, see your sign, and then they're gone. If they agree with you, they feel affirmed in their beliefs; if not, they dismiss you as an extremist wacko. End of conversation. Moving closer to a resolution on these important issues requires something more: an in-depth, ongoing conversation, ideally within the context of a relationship in which both sides feel safe. Where can those kinds of conversations happen anymore? I have no idea. Part of the reason we're so divided and angry as a nation, I think, is the lack of opportunities to really discuss our differences in an intelligent manner.

Another reservation I have about protests is more pastoral. What effect does my anti-war sign have on a veteran who is recently back from the war? What effect does my anti-abortion sign have on the many women who have had abortions? In both cases, I think there is a great risk in poking a stick at someone's rawest, most intimate, most vulnerable places, stirring up all those emotions without any followup. "Violence is always wrong, but none of us are perfect and I respect your intrinsic dignity no matter what mistakes you may have made" just doesn't fit on a sign, and wouldn't really be sufficient even if it did. When I was at the University of Minnesota, our pro-life group did lots of demonstrations on the sidewalks on campus, or in the student union. (We mostly had information and displays.) There was a lot more opportunity for interaction, including some very enlightening discussions with women who had had abortions. Some of these discussions went on for a long time, like an hour or more. As we talked, we generally moved from her anger and rage to a somewhat calmer discussion that usually revealed a great deal of pain and hurt. (One young woman finally revealed that her own mother frequently told her that she wished she had aborted her. Wow.) You can't have those kinds of discussions when people are driving by in their car, looking at the six words on your sign.

Yet despite all this,I went to the protest anyway. And took my kids.

The only thing worse than that kind of protest is silence, and today there is a great conspiracy of silence around publicly sanctioned violence of all kinds. We simply do not want to talk about it; it's too divisive and uncomfortable, But as painful and inconvenient as it is, we have to talk about these issues, because the worst thing about publicly sanctioned violence is what it does to us as people, and as a society. It kills us just as surely as it kills the people it's directed against...the one type of death just takes longer, is all.

I recently finished reading In the Garden of the Beasts, the true story of William Dodd, ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. Dodd was slow to realize the threat of Nazism, in part because of his own prejudices; but once he did, he did what he could to resist it, and he spoke out vigorously warning the United States and the western powers of the threat. He was not just ignored; people in the press and the State Department actively campaigned against him because of his outspokenness.

Such situations have repeated themselves throughout the history of civilization. Another fine example would be the persistence of slavery in the American south. What is amazing about it is that when you read the accounts of the people who were in power at the time, many acknowledged the evil of slavery, and the corrosive effect it had on the nation. "But what can be done?" they asked. Raising the issue in polite society in certain circles was just as likely to rupture relationships and kill a dinner party as raising the issue of abortion is today.

The only redeeming quality of protests, I think, is that they break the silence. They say: "All is not well...we need to talk." Perhaps they prick the conscience, even just a little. And if nothing else, they leave a record for future generations that not all were silent in the face of evil.

And so we went out. We brought our own signs, because I don't like the ones they provide at these events. One said: "SAY NO TO VIOLENCE / ABORTION - WAR - DEATH PENALTY"; another said: "SAY YES TO LIFE AND PEACE / FRIENDSHIP + ADOPTION"; the third, which we made for Jaybird, read: "I (heart) life!" She had fun painting the letters each in a different color. I like the "Say no to violence" sign the best because I think pointing out that both abortion and war are, at their root, acts of violence may be thought provoking to people on all points of the political spectrum. (So many are opposed to one but not really the other.)

Several hundred people attended the protest, lining the street for about a mile. We stood at the very end, at the busy intersection near our house. The kids came voluntarily and stayed for half an hour; just as we were leaving, a woman drove up and started yelling a string of profanities out the window -- she was truly furious. Fortunately, she was a little difficult to hear, and Jaybird interpreted her rant as being about the Vikings. (The woman used the F word repeatedly.)

Many people question the wisdom of bringing kids to a protest. To them I would answer that yes, it is good to use prudent caution when deciding whether kids should be involved or not. But if their physical safety is not at risk, then I believe that such experiences have some value in helping kids become responsible adults who do not stand by quietly as others are being systematically denied basic human rights, or even the right to life itself. In another time, another place, I would hope that my grown children would be among the brave few who publicly rejected Nazism. In another time, another place, I would hope that my grown children would be among the brave few to work for the abolition of slavery and segregation.

We have been reading the lives of the saints this summer. After reading the story of St. Terese of the Child Jesus (the one who called herself "the little flower"), the kids were particularly impressed. "Maybe we could become saints, too," Bear suggested. "Maybe we all could."

Standing on a street corner with a sign doesn't make one a saint. But being brave enough to stand up and speak out when the most vulnerable members of society are being harmed...that's a good place to start, I guess.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Almost two...but not quite

Recently, Mudpuppy has decided that it's fun to climb into the play fort on his own...
even if he can't quite get down by himself yet.

It's time for a Mudpuppy update! Here's his typical day, now that the kids are in school:

Normally, he sleeps through the night -- although we just realized (about a week ago) that he has the same cyclic vomitting issue that Mouse developed at that age, so once in a while, he wakes up earlier because of nausea. When he wakes up, he sits up and looks around; sometimes he will come to the gate at the bedroom doorway and look out and shout, "Hi!" Eventually someone (usually Starling) comes in to change him. He's very enthusiastic about greeting everyone in the morning!

Then it's downstairs for breakfast -- typically a sliced-up apple with peanut butter, a banana, or maybe some cereal and milk. He can say "cereal," "banana," and "drink," but beyond that he typically just watches the other kids, occasionally supplying an interjection or exclamation to the conversation. This morning, he actually started pointing at the people sitting around the table and naming them. He does “Mama,” “Dada,” and the oldest kids’ names pretty well, but he hasn’t quite got the hang of Jaybird’s name yet. He sits there pointing at her and staring, like it’s going to come to him any minute now.

Breakfast ends when he starts saying "Down" or when he starts throwing his food, or dumping it out all over the place.

Then it's into the car to take the other kids to school. "Car!" he announces, over and over again. "Car! Car! Car!" He points to the back door and leads the charge.

In his car seat, he likes to read the morning paper (just kidding) or a book that one of the kids has left around. He’s actually very interested in books, probably because he sees all of the “big” people around the house reading them. He "talks" with the other kids, sometimes. If music has been playing and a song finishes, he will sometimes say, "Yay!" and clap his hands.
In fact, he will say “Yay!” for anything that he is excited about now. Announce a snack and he’ll clap his hands (or raise them in the air) and exclaim, “Yay!” with that trademark grin on his face.

As the kids leave the car, he may wave goodbye to them and say, “Bye-bye!” He does that a lot now, especially to store clerks. If he sees a bus drive away, he will say, “Bye-bye bus!”

Then it’s usually off to run errands. If we go to the store, he will tolerate sitting in the cart for only so long before pointing down and saying, “Down! Down!” I usually let him down, if possible, on the theory that the more stimulation and exercise he gets, the sooner he will go down for his nap. (My motives are pure, I tell you.) I am trying to teach him not to touch, but it’s hard when you’re dealing with a young toddler who has very little impulse control, in an environment that is constantly presenting new and interesting things, and on top of that, every single adult in the store is picking things up off the shelves. Toddlers really do want to do whatever the big people are doing; I think it’s a hard-wired survival instinct (“Learn as fast as you can!”). He walks through any store like he owns the place, bustling along, head down or swinging side to side. As he goes along, he says “Hi!” to absolutely everyone he meets, raising a hand in a casual greeting. He turns heads, as you can imagine.

He occasionally stops and tries to take things off the shelves; I tell him not to touch, and then eventually he ends up back in the cart, begging to get down again, which I may let him after a few minutes.

At the checkout, his job is to help me empty the cart, a task he performs with relish. A few items tend to sail overboard every time.

If we’re not shopping, we’re probably going to a class somewhere. These days I’m swimming at the YMCA on Mondays and Wednesdays to get in shape, so he stays at the Kids Corner childcare room for an hour or so while I do that. (I’m taking adult swim lessons in the early evening on Fridays.) He has not been liking that one bit, but he only fusses a little bit; then he’s fine, and he always seems happy when I come back. On Tuesdays we go to Parenting with the Spirit at church; for some reason, he seems to be better about staying in the childcare room there, maybe because he is so familiar with it by this point. On Thursday mornings, we go to Early Childhood Family Education classes. When it’s time to separate, he goes toddling off after the other kids into the Zoom Room with nary a backwards glance. I think he’s okay with it because I spent the last half of last year staying with him in the kids’ room for half the class; he knows the routine. (See the picture below of him painting at ECFE!)

If we end up staying home to do chores, he is my shadow, generally undoing whatever I am trying to do. Or making a new mess somewhere else. The other day I finally tackled cleaning out the refrigerator; with a chore like that, my choices are to either 1) strap him into a high chair for an hour, or 2) try to integrate him into the job and just minimize the damage as much as possible. In the case of the refrigerator, he had a blast pulling bottles and containers out and putting them on the floor, in cabinets, on the table, etc., and then putting them back into the refrigerator, haphazardly. He looks so proud of himself!

I need to stop here in order to head to bed, but I will try to post part two later this week.

(Part two follows below the pictures.)
He insisted on riding the saddle swings, just like his big sister.

Ah, yes...the venerable wooden toy train set, now being
enjoyed by a fourth generation of small hands.

One of his first paintings at ECFE.
Part 2

Lunchtime comes around 11, sometimes earlier. He adores apples, which he will eat whole or halved; potato chips (none of the other kids got potato chips at his age, but he sees his sibs with them, and they like to share!); and—ketchup! He really likes ketchup. If the refrigerator door is open, he will take it out, hold it up, and say, “Yum!” He likes ketchup with his French fries or with hot dogs. He will also eat grapes and bananas and pears and other fruit. When he’s full, or if he can’t swallow something (apple peels), he spits out whatever is in his mouth.

By 12:30, it’s time for “night night.” I have three strategies for trying to get him to sleep. One is to take him on a walk in the stroller; that works sometimes, but not usually. Still, the weather has been so beautiful in the last week or so (highs in the 80s every day!), we’ve been taking a lot of walks by the lake. He REALLY loves that. If we’re in the garage, he will pull out the stroller and beg to “walk, walk!” He likes looking at the passing scenery. We have our own park bench—a swinging one, near where our street runs into the park—and we sit there and watch the ducks and the passersby. He comments on every dog that passes: “Dog! Woof! Woof!” (He learned this from a Sandra Boynton book.)

A second strategy is to take him somewhere in the car and hope he falls asleep on the way home—tricky, because sometimes he falls asleep on the way to wherever you’re going. If he does fall asleep in the car, I can pick him up and move him to his bed without him waking up, which is a new experience for us.

A third strategy is to simply put him in his bed, read him a few stories, and lie down with him until he goes to sleep. I use this option when I need a little nap myself. He is possibly the only one of our kids who doesn’t resist taking a nap; he is enthusiastic about getting into bed. He likes flopping backward on the bed. He likes reading the stories (lots of simple board books). And he likes tickling. Lately, I have occasionally put him to bed, kissed him good night, and then closed the door and walked away. I know, this is not novel to you guys who have been doing the same thing since your kids were babies, but it’s breaking new ground in our house.

Once he is asleep, he’s down for at least an hour. During that time, I can talk, walk past his bedroom, vacuum, run heavy machinery, blast rock, etc. with no effect on his nap. After that initial period, I do try to be more quiet. He generally sleeps for a couple of hours, getting up at about 3.

At that point, Starling takes over. She changes him, feeds him a snack, and generally tries to keep him out of trouble while simultaneously preparing dinner and managing the other three kids, which I DEEPLY appreciate! (No, I do not feel the least bit guilty, since that has been—and will be—my job when she’s teaching. A year off from the afternoon grind every ten years or so is not too much to ask, is it?)

Sometimes in the late afternoons he will go outside with the other kids. He climbs up on the play equipment—which is pretty high for a kid his age, and probably not safe, so we try to spot him. He can climb up but he can’t get down by himself. He will slide down the slide (saying, “Whee!”) if someone spots him. He also likes swinging in his swing very much; he can do that for half an hour, if he has someone with that kind of patience to push him.

Another thing he does outside is play with a basin of water that we set out on the picnic table (which is on the deck). He likes using buckets and cups to pour water back and forth, and works very intently for a long time. Sometimes we will give him the hose, which we turn on just enough so that it drips. He ends up completely soaked most of the time, but when it’s warm out, who cares? It’s the one thing that keeps him occupied for any serious length of time.

Another thing he likes to do is to load and unload the dishwasher, which is one reason why we now let the dishes pile up until he’s not around. He also likes to drag out all the pots and pans, and the kitchen utensils, and pretend to cook. The funniest thing he does is to take the oven mitts out of the drawer, put them on, and stand by the oven door, pointing at it with his oversized hands. “Hot,” he says, very seriously. “Hot!” He knows not to touch it now.

Suppertime is generally a disaster. He’s usually not hungry, so he picks at his food, or throws it, or is constantly demanding things he can’t have. A little later in the evening, we have family prayer, which lasts about half an hour. He tears around the living room playing with the loudest toys possible, climbing on people’s laps, kicking them (accidentally), talking, singing, taking things out of the desk drawers, etc., until I pick him up and hold him on my lap, over his protests. On the up side, he REALLY enjoys singing, and will try to join in when we sing a song together. He also follows along with all the major prayers; he can’t say the words, of course, but he mumbles a decent approximation, and says “Amen!” loudly and enthusiastically at all the right places. At church, too, he seems more intent on what is happening up front than any of our other children at this age.

Bedtime is a long, drawn-out routine. Starling usually lies down with him. She reads him three or four books, sometimes more than once. Then she sings songs to him, which he enjoys greatly, smiling and saying, “Again!” And then he spends about half an hour tossing and turning before he falls asleep for good.

And that is a good thumbnail sketch of Matthew at age two!

When he's ready to go to bed, he says, "Nye, nye!" before embarking on an
elaborate bedtime routine that involves several stories, three songs, and an adult
(usually Starling) staying with him until he falls asleep.