Bless me loud

Avery and Lily have always been talkative, with Avery the chattier of the two. Lately, however, Lily has given her sister a run for her money. We’ve had some interesting conversations.

At breakfast:
Avery: Where the almonds come from?
Me: A tree
Avery: Like the broccoli tree?
Me: Ummm, yes.
Avery: How bout the cauliflower? A tree?
Me: Sure.

Dressing the girls for school:
Avery: Mama, your feet so big! They are so big for walking on.
Me: That’s because I’m so tall and the taller you are the bigger your feet.
Avery: MY feet are TINY!

Driving around looking at Christmas lights with my brother David, a.k.a. Uncle Danny
(1st house)
Lily: Oh Wow Mama!! It so pretty! You make it for me?
Me: Yes
(2nd house)
Lily: ooooh, loooook! Mama, you make it for me?
Me: Yes
(10 houses later)
Lily: Mama! You make it for Uncle Danny?
Me: Yes
(And she just continued from house to house with the list of every person she knows. Apparently I’ve been quite busy)

Playing after school:
Avery: Mama, do you have eleven money?
Me: Yes I do.
Avery: That’s good. That’s good. I have a hundred money.
Lily: I need coins. Uncle Danny have coins.

Lily: I want my hoo hop!! (hula hoop)
Me: What’s the magic word?
Lily: Abracadabra!!

Holding my wooden Santa from Russia
Lily whispers to Santa: I want a tuba, a trumpet, a guitar, a tiger, and a witch.
Avery whispers to Santa: I want a princess with blonde hair, a pink dress. A grown up, not a baby.

Avery: I want to go to Nenna’s house. The chickens will be so excited to see me!!

Avery: Where Santa Claus live?
Lily: At Wal-Mart.

Avery: Where the gasoline go?
Me: In the tank.
Avery: Like Nemo?
Me: Exactly.

Listening to “Bad Romance” on a never ending loop
Avery: Where is the bad romance?
Me: California. Definitely California.
Lily: How bout the Bass? I want Bass on Mama’s phone. (Meaning “All About that Bass”)
Avery: I want see the Lady Gaga on Mama’s phone.
Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

During our night time prayer:
Me: Thank you God for Avery. I’m so proud of her. She’s doing great work at school, and she works so hard on her letters and numbers, and she plays so nicely with her sister
Lily: And she hit me in the face, and she need obey!
Me: Well, yes, God, please help all of us to behave ourselves.

As part of our bedtime routine, I take a turn snuggling with each of my babies. I hold her close; I sing her lullaby; I speak a blessing over her, and I give her as many kisses as she requests. We alternate who goes first from one night to the next. The blessing I say is from Numbers 6:24-26, which are the words that God instructed Moses to have the Hebrew priests speak over the people of Israel:
“The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
I bless my children in this way, not because I believe any words are magical or a good luck charm, but because these words embody my most sacred hope for them. When instructing Moses, the LORD indicated that the priests were to speak the blessing in that exact formulation, demonstrating that this blessing comes from God himself, and the priests are simply the instrument that conveys the blessing. From their earliest memory, I want my daughters to know the LORD’s gracious will towards them.
I had already snuggled Avery, sang, given her blessing, and kissed her a dozen times all over her face as she requested. By the time I had finished singing Lily’s lullaby Avery had drifted off to dream land, so I said Lily’s blessing in a whisper. When I finished and bent to kiss her good night, she exclaimed, “Bless me loud, Mama!” I suppressed a chuckle, and did just that. I blessed her loud.

Single Mom

So I’m a single mom. I find myself saying that a lot lately, like I’m trying it out to see how it sounds, to gauge the reactions on people’s faces. Frankly, avoiding that label is one big reason I stayed in an abusive marriage as long as I did. The label “single mom” conjured up images of sadness, brokenness, abandonment. I didn’t want to be a single mom, until I realized that it was the only road out of a perilous situation. So, here I am, six months into being a single mom. The best part is not feeling impending doom breathing down the back of my neck, fearing whether or not I would be able to keep my babies and me safe. The sense of freedom we all feel is palpable. My girls are growing and learning at a dizzying speed. I am blown away by them on a daily basis. They’re safe, and they know it. We just had our first Thanksgiving as our new family. We spent a week at my mother and stepfather’s idyllic, country home, complete with a barn, a pond, and autumnal trees. My amazing brother, A.K.A. Uncle Danny, was kind enough to take pictures of the girls and me for us to use on our Christmas card. I’m so happy with how they turned out that I can’t wait to share them.

Why I Stayed

I don’t think he’ll hurt us.

Those were my words, in the middle of a terrible night, eyes wide and searching, trying to see my way through the dark.

That’s what every woman says before it actually happens.

Those were words spoken by a true protector, a man who saw it all as if in the light of day, not swallowed up by the dark, holding up a light to the truth. My brother.

If he’ll do that to the wall, he’ll do that to you.

Words of a friend looking at the sheetrock, the recipient of the previous night’s rage, a friend who walked that dark road a long time before me, a friend who managed to find her way out.

Why did you stay? Why did you stay after the man who was supposed to love you called you crazy, stupid, warped, lazy, controlling, fat? Why did you stay when he used physical force against you?  Why did you stay when he put your life and Avery’s and Lily’s lives in danger?

Questions asked by many when the truth of my marriage had been revealed, after I admitted the emotional abuse, after I admitted that he’d already put hands on me in anger, after I admitted how his actions had taken me so close to losing my precious ones.  My reasons look weaker and weaker.


Marriage is hard. You have to tough it out.

He’ll change.

I love him, or at least I used to love him.

He’ll change.

It’s best for the kids, even though he treats me badly.

He’ll change.

I don’t want to have to start over. Create a whole new life.

He’ll change.

I don’t want to be labeled “divorced.” A Single Mom.

He’ll change.

Last and saddest.  But we had such a beautiful wedding. Fairy tales always have happy endings.


Those are some of the reasons I stayed with an abuser. Now I’m free. I don’t have to hide anything anymore. I don’t have to cover for him, so that we can save face. I’m not alone.


I packed up our family and wedding pictures yesterday, preparing to sell our house. I was choked with grief. Not over the end of the marriage, but because I had to admit that the story those pictures told was never real. The man who held my hand in those images was not the man in reality. Those beautiful, beautiful pictures were lies.

As Avery, Lily, and I said our nighttime prayers last night, Lily said, “Thank you God for crying.” She took my breath away. Yes Lily, I thank God for crying.  It’s the only way to begin again, washed anew.

He has Power

The truth: it sounds so definite, a circumscribed object, like a tin can on your pantry shelf that you can pick up and look at and set on your counter and say, “Yep, that’s the truth.” More often, we treat the truth like clay. You drop this gray lump on your counter, look it over, and say, “This truth is ugly. Let me mold it a bit, create a more pleasing shape, make it something more palatable than a gray lump.”  Some of you know, but many do not, that my marriage has ended. I feel like for many years, I was taking the truth and trying to shape it into a form that I could tolerate, even feel pleased about; however, as if water was constantly rushing over it, my clay would not hold its form. My pleasing figure constantly returned to the formless gray lump of the truth. No amount of kneading or pressing or holding that my hands could do would preserve the appearance. Two months ago, I released my hands, because I saw, at last, that my attempt to hold it together was putting Avery, Lily, and I at the mercy of a dangerous person. Now, we are safe and surrounded by strong, loving people who have closed ranks around us during a time of great vulnerability. The exact image of our future is yet unclear, but I know that my daughters and I will live a life filled with joy.

My girls have born up tremendously well during this turmoil. They can tell that something has changed, but they are surrounded by so much love and stability that they accept their new life. One night, Avery crawled into bed with me. I could tell she was trying to think things through.  I asked her if she knew what a shepherd is. She shook her head. Laying in the dark with her in my arms, I told her that a shepherd looks after the sheep. He cares for them, keeps them safe from harm, feeds them good food, and gives them a place to rest. Then I told her that God is our shepherd, and we are His sheep. He is always guarding us and providing for us. Avery thought for a moment and said, “But Mama, you’re my shepherd.” My bright little girl, I told her that she’s like a baby sheep, and I’m her mama sheep, and God is the shepherd of us all. I’ll always be with her, taking care of her, but God watches over us all. She accepted this answer and nestled in for the rest of the night.

I began teaching Avery and Lily the verse Psalms 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Avery says it with great care and articulates each word. Lily boldly declares, “My Lord, My Shepherd, Not Want!” I love how she gets right to the point. It’s very fun to see how the Bible lessons she gets at church each Sunday impact her. One Sunday evening, when we were saying our prayers, Lily said, “Thank you for Chwist.” Not wanting to lead her, I asked Lily to repeat what she’d just said, when Avery loudly proclaims, “She said, CHRIST.” Lily replied, “Yeah, yeah, Thank you for Christ.” Her new favorite word is Behold! Lily loves to enter a room, throw her arms wide, and declare, “Behold!”

Monday evening, we had the treat of dinner with all of my brothers and my dad. Avery and Lily got to eat loads of chips, salsa, Meximole (their word for guacamole), and ice cream. It was a great event for them, surrounded by all of their uncles and grandpa and to get all that good food. We got in the car to drive home right as one of our Texas thunderstorms had passed. As we were driving, we had the blessing of seeing a beautiful rainbow. Avery and Lily were amazed. My dad told them, “God put that rainbow in the sky.” Avery thought for a moment and said, “He has power.” I couldn’t agree more. He has power to save. He has power to deliver us when we don’t even know we need deliverance. He has power to provide a path to safety for all of His sheep. He has power. Yes, He does.


All parents yearn for bedtime. All children wage war on sleep, digging deep down into their arsenals. Avery and Lily will raise some amount of fuss over bedtime, but truly they’re not too difficult to get into bed. They cheerfully get tucked in, then when I close the door, they’re up and running. I can hear them running, jumping off the bed, kicking the walls, swinging from the curtains, etc. It’s nice to have a playmate. Unless one of them starts screaming, we do not enter the room. Once they’re soundly asleep in a pile on the floor, Noel and I place them back in bed and tuck them in again.

About a month ago, Avery went through a spell when she’d wake up five or six times a night, screaming and crying terribly. It was really disconcerting because clearly she was scared or having nightmares or something like that. My dad advised me to shake up their normal routine, break the pattern so that something different would be on their minds.  I changed up their bedtime routine. I decided to start telling them a bedtime story. Reading a book sounds easier, but what ends up happening is they get into it over who’s going to be closest to the book, who’s going to turn the page, etc. I wanted bedtime to be low stress, which all parents know is a tall order.

The whole first day that I had decided to tell a bedtime story, I kept thinking, “What am I going to say?” It’s not always easy to make these things up on the spot, especially at the end of a long day. My brain kept going back to the stories my dad told my brothers and I when we were little. As kids, we’d all pile into my double bed, the boys each had twin beds, and Dad would read aloud to us AND tell stories that he’d made up. I loved the stories about Billy, Bobby, and Betty Black and their amazing horse Thundercloud. Ironically I didn’t realize at the time that he’d chosen two boys and a girl because we were two boys and a girl! So all day, I’m thinking of Thundercloud but kept dismissing it because the Thundercloud stories had two boys and a girl. When I laid the girls down that night, I thought to heck with it, I’m changing Billy to Billie and cutting out poor old Bobby. So a new generation of Thundercloud stories were born. Avery and Lily love Thundercloud so much that they repeat the intro and ending all throughout the day. The middle is the only part that’s different from one story to another!  Every story involves Billie and Betty Black and Thundercloud saving a barnyard animal, except one time Lily asked for them to save a monkey and then Avery requested a crocodile. The stories have turned bedtime into something Avery and Lily look forward to, and Avery’s nightmares have stopped completely. It’s so precious to me, to lay with them and tell them these stories, that they recite along with me, just like my dad did for me when I was a little girl. However, my stories are much tamer than his! Nothing bad happens in my stories, but my dad was also telling these for my older brothers, so they had to be a bit more perilous in order to keep their attention.

Mine start like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful farm in the country with green, green grass and a blue pond and a stream running through it. On this farm lived the two nicest girls in the county, Billie and Betty Black. Billie had curly, brown hair that bounced when she ran, and Betty Black had shiny, brown hair that glistened in the sun. One of the special things about Billie and Betty Black was that they had an amazing horse named  . . .THUNDERCLOUD. He was named Thundercloud because he was big and strong and good (Lily’s favorite line). His coat was as black as night and when he ran, it sounded like this (that’s when I do that clappity slappity thing on my legs that sounds like a horse running). What made Thundercloud so special was that he always helped anyone who was in trouble. He’d hear the call “Help Me,” his ears would prick up, and he’d run in the direction of the call.

One sunny morning . . .”

Then the trio helps a cow stuck on barbed wire, a sheep in a river, a pig in quicksand etc.

I always end with “and Billie and Betty Black led Thundercloud back to his barn where they gave him a nice, orange, crunchy carrot.”  Avery loves that line, and it even helps me to get her to eat her carrots. Actually Thundercloud helps me get them to eat lots of stuff.

The last part of our bedtime routine is to say our prayers. Lily, in particular, is very fervent about thanking God. She thanks God for mama, dada, Nenna, Pa, Uncle Danny (their name for my brother David), Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, and Minnie. I know it sounds silly, but she ardently thanks the Lord for the entire cast of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Last night, she ended with Minnie, so I asked her why she was thankful for Minnie. I realized that was bit of a toughie, so I switched to, “What is good about Minnie?”  She was looking pensive when Avery jumped in with, “her shoes!!!” So, I just offered that maybe they are thankful for Mickey, etc because they make us happy. The girls accepted this answer. Avery’s prayers are wide ranging, but largely include food and pets that belong to other people since we have none of our own. Avery thanks God for mama, dada, Nenna, Pa, Pops (their step grandfather), chips, tacos, meximole (her word for guacamole), pizza, and the list goes on and on. Then she goes on to thank God for Daniel, Hubbell (my aunt Julie’s dogs), and Angel (Nenna’s dog).  One night when I asked Avery what she wanted to thank God for, she said Billie and Betty Black. I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside.




I lived in Belgium for about 5 years in my twenties. At 23 years old, I was offered a teaching position at SHAPE American High School in Belgium. SHAPE stands for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and is the military headquarters of NATO. It’s an international base, so it’s made up of a mixture of Americans and Europeans. The High School is run by the U. S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools, so the staff is American. It was a very cool teaching job and lots of fun. I had a great time travelling and hanging out in Europe.

Belgium is a very interesting country. People who are unfamiliar with it basically lump it in there with Germany. Let me be clear, Germany it is not. Belgium is a tiny country. Texas is 22 times as big as Belgium but nowhere near as crazy. This tiny country is divided against itself. The southern region is French-speaking, whereas the northern region is Flemish-speaking. Brussels is its own region unto itself. The northern part has that Dutch feeling of being very orderly and tidy. The southern part, where I lived, is like the Wild West. It has a lawless quality to it that I never imagined to find in Europe.

When I first arrived there in 2003, the concept of a designated driver had recently been introduced. The Belgians thought it hilarious! Most of the year, it’s cold and drizzly and icy and dark. You’d think a person would just go straight home after work. Not if you’re Belgian! Rather than driving straight home, you stop at a bar and drink beer after beer until it is pitch black outside with all kinds of invisible, black ice on the road, then you drive home! Worried about a cop pulling you over? No such thing in Belgium! The concept literally doesn’t exist. There are no police anywhere.  Occasionally they set up speed cameras, but as far as traffic stops, that doesn’t happen in Belgium. Don’t even get me started on their traffic laws and signs. They literally have a sign with a symbol on it that indicates there is an unknown danger ahead. The Belgian government didn’t want to spend money on lots of different signs, so they just stick this sign up for you to guess what hazard awaits you. The most Twilight Zone part of it all is that there are rarely any car accidents.

The teachers at SHAPE liked to frequent a bar just off the base. It looks like a farmhouse that got turned into a bar. I have no idea what the name is, because we all called it “Down the Hill” because it was down the hill from the base. The parking lot is a labyrinth of trees, ditches, and sinkholes. You walk in this place, and it’s full of dodgy-looking Belgians and smoke. Everything that enters this establishment leaves reeking of smoke. Your eyes start burning before you even open the door. If too many of us Americans showed up, the Belgians glared at us with thinly-veiled hostility. At least the proprietress was always nice. The bathroom was a nightmare. In America, we’re very standardized in our public bathrooms. There are few surprises. That is not the case in Belgium, and, well, the rest of the world. When you pass through the door into the restroom, you think you’re walking into one of those anterooms that Americans like since it buffers the restroom a bit more from the rest of the establishment. Not at Down the Hill! You walk into a room with a sink and a few urinals. So for a lady to use the restroom, she would first have to pass by the row of urinating Belgian men. My all-time favorite story from Down the Hill happened in the Spring time. We Americans were sitting in what I’d call the backyard of Down the Hill. Sitting outside was highly preferable since you could escape the smoke, but it was rarely possible because of the horrible Belgian weather. So, we’re sitting around a table, chatting with my colleague’s parents who had travelled over for a visit. Out of the blue, a pigeon descends from the sky and lands on my friend’s mother’s head! A fellow teacher forcefully knocked the intrusive bird off of her head, but the bird didn’t go far. He just stood on the ground near our table, looking quite disgusted with us. Just then the proprietress rushes out and scoops up the bird. She informed us that this bird was a homing pigeon that belonged to her friend. The bird had gotten uncalibrated or something, which is why it landed on a lady’s head rather than its intended destination. She sat the bird at the bar on a bar stool and gave it an ashtray full of water to drink while he waited for his owner to come collect him. No kidding, the bird just sat at the bar on his own stool between two Belgians as if it were totally normal for birds to patronize bars. Eventually the bird’s owner arrived and escorted the bird home for reprogramming.

Near SHAPE is this massive park/zoo called Parc Paradisio. Parc Paradisio is acres upon acres of beautiful gardens and quite a joy to frequent in the Spring and Summer. However, it’s also totally insane in there. Many animals are in enclosures, as one would expect from a zoo, yet many animals are on the loose. Kangaroo, deer, pigs, parrots, chickens, goats, peacocks, and more are running loose. Visitors are totally on their own to approach these animals. The barnyard animals are not threatening, but that kangaroo was highly ticked off all the time. The crown jewel of Parc Paradisio is Monkey Island. Monkey Island is surrounded by a man-made moat and entered by bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you are truly at the mercy of hundreds of spider monkeys. These monkeys are just running everywhere, jumping out of trees at you, screaming and all that stuff. It’s full on insane. If you’re wondering if there is some sort of zoo keeper/park employee on hand to keep things under control, the answer is no. It’s just you and the monkeys. I loved going to Parc Paradisio, but I gave Monkey Island a wide berth.

The city where I lived is called Mons, and its yearly festival is the most convoluted hodge podge of any celebration. Mons is built on a hill, with the cathedral at the top of the hill. It’s truly a beautiful Gothic cathedral. All year long, the relics or bones or what have you of Ste. Waudru lay in repose there. Ste. Waudru actually was the wife of the Count of Hainault, the region where Mons is found, back in like 500 AD; however, popular lore states that she saved the town of Mons from the plague or something along those lines. Nonetheless in May or June, depending on when Easter falls, the reliquary of Ste. Waudru is removed from the cathedral in a golden carriage, which then makes a circle around the city. Now, in order to return to the cathedral, the carriage must mount a steep hill. The legend is that if the massive horses do not reach the cathedral in a single running gallop then the city of Mons will be destroyed in the following year. In every sense, there’s a lot riding on those horses. Once Ste. Waudru is safely returned to the cathedral, it all gets even weirder. A green, wooden dragon exits the cathedral and heads downhill to the main square of the city. As it passes through a narrow, steep, cobble stone street, crowds of intoxicated people are going nuts trying to grab the dragon’s tail, which for some reason is made of horse hair, because of course this will be you good luck. When the dragon reaches the square, he is expeditiously slain by some guy dressed up like St. George. Don’t ask me how St. George got mixed up in this. To top the whole thing off, the natives call it DouDou Fest, which for an English speaker sounds awful, because it’s short for Ducasse. Mainly it boils down to a week of nonstop partying. It makes Mardi Gras seem like a reasonable event.

I wouldn’t trade my time in Belgium for anything.  I got more or less accustomed to how things worked, or didn’t work, there. I made lots of friends, travelled throughout Europe, and met Noel. It was a great way to spend my twenties. After all, how could you not like a country where it’s illegal to mow your lawn on Sunday?



Preschool Strong

Lily. feeling poorlyI thought we were strong. Noel, Avery, Lily, and me, we’re all fighters, scrappers. We’re used car dealers, the lot of us. Tough as nails! These kids were born 2 months early and have been the picture of health since they took their first breath. Noel is an Army veteran, tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was stationed in S. Korea by the DMZ. I’ve survived brain surgery and a twin pregnancy! BOOM!!

I was wrong. We’re not strong, not preschool strong. 5 days in preschool, and we’ve hit the mat. In our home right now, we’ve got pink eye, snotty noses, coughs, fevers, and vomiting. All four of us have some combo of the above symptoms. Preschool has brought us to our knees. There’s quarantine tape around our house. We’ve been to Walgreens every day this week.

I thought nothing could knock us out, but I was so, so very wrong. Preschool did it. TKO. Our gloves are still on though. Our gloves are still on.

School Days


I cannot believe that my children are in school. The whole situation snowballed so fast. We had been contentedly leaving Avery and Lily with a nanny a few days a week so that I can go to work and actually accomplish something. I was pretty thrilled with our set up. Instead of one nanny, we had a mother (around 50 years old) and her daughter (around 25 years old). They’d both come to my house, take care of the girls, clean the house, and do all of our laundry. It was pretty close to heaven, for a while.


The first hint of trouble happened around the holidays. Lidia, the mother, informed me that Avery had been cursed with the evil eye, or el ojo. The belief in the evil eye is not part of my paradigm of superstitions, but I will try to explain it as best as I understand it. Basically, a person can put sort of a curse on another person, particularly babies or kids, by staring at them out of envy. So, Avery woke up one morning, and her cheek was red. I dismissed it as her having slept on that cheek. Well, clearly I was wrong. Upon arriving home after work, Lidia cheerfully told me that Avery’s red cheek and subsequent lethargy, which I did not witness, were the result of el ojo. Better yet, she had cured Avery by rubbing an egg all over her.  To me, it all sounded very bizarre, but I try to respect others’ cultures. As long as Avery was cured of her curse, I figured no damage was done. Noel’s reaction was that they better quit wasting our eggs.


A tide of uneasiness began building when I realized that Rosa, Lidia’s daughter, was feeding the kids all day. I’m all for Avery and Lily eating as much as they need, but round the clock grazing is not my style. Plus I realized she was feeding them junk, and even polluting the healthy food I bought for them. The day I saw her pour pancake syrup into their greek yogurt, I intervened. I explained my guidelines for the girl’s diet and that it didn’t include syrup-laden yogurt. I thought I’d been clear, but then Rosa began bringing her own yogurt that was flavored with coconut and chocolate syrup! I prayed that she was the one eating it, but sadly she was shoveling it down Avery and Lily’s all too eager throats.


The situation amped up a whole order of magnitude at the end of February. Lidia has worked as a pastry chef. She’s decorated cakes for my girls’ birthdays and shown me many photos of other cakes she has done. They were all gorgeous and decorated to perfection. I asked her to decorate a cake for a baby shower that I was helping with.


Here is the photo I gave her to go by:lamb cake from pinterest



Here is what she made:LAMB CAKE


Seriously, Rosa drops this cake off at my house less than an hour before I needed to be at the shower. I kept staring at it and walking away, muttering to myself, “I cannot believe this.” Noel would circle it over and over again, trying to find some redeeming quality. Luckily, I had two cans of plain white frosting and several packages of strawberries. Noel sliced berries, while I scraped the cake clean and re-iced it. Then we spread the berries on top and were satisfied. No one at the shower was subjected to the monstrous lamb cake.


It all boiled over last Wednesday. Purely by the grace of God, my aunt Julie drove down my block right as my two year olds were being loaded into Lidia’s car, which has no car seats. When she texted me later that evening, Julie thought I must’ve known that the girls were leaving the house . Needless to say, I was shocked by the news. We had never so much as discussed the idea of my girls being taken out of the house, and clearly we would never permit them in a vehicle without car seats. It was completely unnerving, and the endless possible scenarios unfolded in our minds. To top it all off, the previous week, Rosa had made a joking comment to me that Avery is so friendly that someone is going to steal her. Obviously, we were no long able to continue in that situation.


So, last Friday morning, I called Miss Anna, the director of the Children’s Cottage. It’s a Montessori Preschool within 5 minutes from my home that has been open at least 40 years old. My older brothers and cousins were students there back in the 70s. I happened to run into a mom in the neighborhood whose little boy is currently a student, so I was glad to hear that everything is still going well there. Miss Anna cheerfully returned my call and invited me to come by for a tour that same day. As it turned out, she was the director of the school back when my brothers attended, and, even more coincidentally, she was my dad’s neighbor when he was a child! Dropping the girls off yesterday for their first day of school was harder on Noel and me than them. We’re so proud of what big girls they have become but then look around in wonder at where our babies have gone. We blinked our eyes, and they went from preemies to preschoolers. I cherish every memory of the past 26 months as much as I eagerly look forward to the future of our family.

Happy Mama

My niece and nephew were born last week. Another set of twins! I am beyond excited for my brother, his wife, and their older kids, 8 and 6 years old. I can only imagine the amazingly fun times ahead of them. My 8 year old niece is surely in heaven with these two little baby dolls at home! It’s pretty sweet to have gotten boy/girl twins, so no one is getting ganged up on! Seeing pictures of these precious little twins makes me realize just how far from babies my two babies are.

They are champions of potty training. They moved out of the church nursery into the toddler class and even bring home coloring pages from their lesson. They sit in boosters, not high chairs. They can put on their own shirts, if you give them credit for backwards or an arm out the neck hole. They can operate an iPad better than most adults. They also correct me when I use the cutesy baby word for something from when they used to mispronounce it, “No mama, waffle not faffle.”  They can tell me what they like and dislike. Well, they can tell me just about anything.

Avery is a social butterfly. To say she is talkative is not an adequate description. She talks pretty much all of the time. I already foresee the notes I’m going to get from teachers. She even managed to get a hold of my phone while I was in the kitchen and placed a call to her grandma. I heard her chatting, but she’s always chatting, so I didn’t realize she was having a conversation until I walked back in the room, and she coolly informed me, “I talking to Nenna.” Most mornings, Avery and Lily get to come snuggle in bed with us and watch some cartoons until we have to get up and get going. The other morning, after Avery finished her potty time, she walked into our bedroom with her arms spread wide, and she declared, “I like this!” I told her, “I like this too.”  While the girls were playing together and doing their own thing, Avery grabbed Lily by the shoulders, a move that caught my eye lest violence ensue, looked straight in Lily’s face, and said, “Sister, you’re the best!” Melt my heart, why don’t you?  One Sunday afternoon, all four of us were enjoying some time outside. The girls love exploring every inch of the yard, picking up every rock and stick, talking to any insect that happens to cross their paths. I was watching Noel chasing them around, just smiling to myself, and as Avery ran towards me, she said, “Mama, Mama, Happy Mama!” Yes, I am a happy Mama.

Lily is woman of fewer words. Her main topics of conversation are Mickey Mouse, the fact that her dada is at work, and Go Go GO!! For a large portion of every day, Lily runs around every inch of the house or yard or car lot, exclaiming, “Go Go GO!!” As busy as she is, nothing stops her in her tracks like the sound of her sister crying. Avery had a total DEFCON 1 meltdown over the fact that I gave her a baby bath towel to dry off with after her bath, and it didn’t fully encase her body in fluffy cuddliness like a full size towel. I walked out of the bathroom, refusing to legitimize her complaint. Lily ran to her from another room. Avery had lain her forehead on the edge of the tub and was sobbing; Lily put her head on the tub, facing Avery, and patted her back, saying, “What’s wrong, Abee? It’s okay.” Just like that, Avery popped up and went to play with her sister. What a blessing to see a small child showing compassion. Part of our bedtime routine is to say a prayer, and then I hold each girl one at a time and say a blessing over her. Lily especially loves this. She watches my lips closely as I speak the same words every night, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” She loves the Amen part best! Last month, we were riding in the car, and I heard Lily talking to herself, repeating the same syllables over and over again, going “ta tak tak, ta tak tak, Amen!” After I listened for a while, I realized she was imitating her nightly blessing. She may not have the first part yet, but she’s got Amen down pat!

These are all lovely anecdotes, and I’m glad I can record and share them. However, there are just as many, probably more, that are at the opposite end of the spectrum. As I sit at my desk writing this post, it’s got crayon scribbles all over it, because this morning Lily climbed on a chair and reached the crayons that I thought were out of her reach. I keep them out of reach because of the obvious reasons, and because Lily finds them delicious. My file cabinet key mysteriously disappeared, with all of our important documents locked up inside of it right when we needed to do our taxes, only to magically reappear in one of their caches of toys. My dad gave them a 4’ tall Mickey Mouse doll for Christmas, and by golly, the first thing they do every morning is remove his shorts. There’s just something unsettling about seeing Mickey sans pantalons. It’s embarrassing when people come over, and Mickey has no shorts on while one of the girls is pushing him around in a toy shopping cart. We have Minnie too, but she has been spared such indignity. These kids have gotten so sneaky and have figured out how to work as a team. If I leave the cable box or mote-mote, Lily’s word for remote control, unguarded for second, they will go to town on it. Both kids will have both hands pushing all of the buttons at once. When I catch them, Avery the smooth talker will tell me, “Don’t worry, Mama. I fix it.” They emptied a container of 300 baby wipes into the toilet. At least I caught that scene before they flushed the toilet; nonetheless, fishing out hundreds of wipes from the toilet was not awesome. They are horrible at sharing with each other and even worse at sharing with friends! Nothing makes you question your parenting like watching your kid snatch a toy out of another child’s hand! Inevitably, when I try to correct the situation, Avery just tells me, “Don’t worry, Mama. It’s okay.” I’m like, “No, it’s not okay that you just shoved that kid out of your way like a deranged shopper on Black Friday.” I just keep reminding myself that someday they’ll learn to share, not eat crayons, not strip off Mickey’s clothes, not steal file cabinet keys, not put things in the toilet that shouldn’t be there, and not destroy the TV. I hope.

The New Regime

We have embarked on the journey of potty training. I dreaded this step since the moment I found out I was having twins. The mere thought of potty training two kids at about the same time was enough to make me panic.Those of you who know me know that I am a Baker to the bone. When we Bakers are faced with a problem, we choose one of two paths.The first, and preferable path, is delegation. If there is anyway said problem can be farmed out to someone else to handle, then by all means we will farm it out. If delegation is not possible, we will destroy this problem. It will be the subject of an all-out, shock and awe style attack. We are the honey badgers of the human world. No trace of this obstacle will be left when we are done, regardless of the collateral damage.

So, a few months ago, I started searching for a potty trainer. I figured there had to be some sort of consultant I could hire who would come potty train my kids for me, and I was right! I found just such a person. She would spend two days with us and help train one of the girls. For two weeks after her visit, she would be available via email to answer questions and give support. For her services, she charged $1000. Now if there were some sort of guarantee that after she spent two days with us that the kid she worked with would be 100% trained, then I could see spending a cool grand. However, no such guarantee would be made. From there, I called the Motherhood Center. I’m not going to launch into a segue about the Motherhood Center. It’s just too much. It’s a place where you can take your infant for various classes, hire a doula, find a lactation consultant, or get a prenatal massage. Anyway, I called them and asked if they had a potty training consultant. Thankfully, a woman with a great deal of sense called me back and recommended a book to read and basically said you’re going to have to do this yourself. With path one eliminated, I embarked on path two and began the War Against Pee Pee.

The book I read is called Toilet Training without Tantrums by John Rosemond. Now, first off, we had lots of tantrums, so that title doesn’t apply to me. To sum up the method, you take your kid’s pants and diaper off and leave them off. You put them on the potty about every hour. Accidents are going to happen. Clean them up with little fanfare, or better yet, get the kid to clean it up. When the kid actually pees in the potty, don’t make a big deal. If they sense how desperate you are for them to pee in the potty, then they’ll realize the power they have over you! I liked this method since it’s so “all in.” I don’t dip a toe; I don’t straddle a fence; I dive in head first and hope there are no rocks on the bottom. I’m fairly certain this is how honey badgers potty train their young.

Day one, I stripped Avery and Lily naked, showed them their potty chairs, and told them there would be no more diapers. They had no idea what was going on. They peed everywhere but the potty, to include: the front porch, the couch, three area rugs, their high chairs, and their beds. However, at the very end of the day, Lily nonchalantly walked over to her potty chair, sat, and peed like it was totally natural. By day four, they were doing awesome! Avery was even telling me before she had to go! Yet, something happened that night. I’m fairly certain they conspired and decided that they weren’t down with this whole new regime. Day five dawned, and it all went out the window. No one was cooperating anymore. This coup lasted two days and was as unpleasant as it sounds. The morning of day seven showed that Lily was coming back around. She decided she didn’t like cleaning up her own pee and went back to using the potty. Alas, the evening of day seven, Avery mounted the Great Uprising. It was the first and ugliest tantrum I have ever seen by one of my kids. As stated in the book, use a baby gate to confine the defiant child to the bathroom until they use the potty. This tactic resulted in Avery’s full arsenal being deployed against us. Noel arrived home when it was in full swing, and it nearly reduced him to tears. Before it was all said and done, Avery lay face down on the bathroom floor, screaming with all her might. She finally calmed down; she cleaned up the mess she’d made, and joined us at dinner as if nothing had happened. Day eight showed us a totally compliant Avery, much to our relief. Now Lily decided to muster a similar uprising a few days later, but it was not as terrifying, probably since we’d already been through it with Avery. Thankfully by the time we got to week two, everyone was past their emotional terrorism.

Now we just have occasional accidents, meaning like once a day. Some days it’s Avery, and some days it’s Lily. I still make them clean it up to reinforce that lesson; however, I will be hiring a professional carpet cleaner in a month or so. My only problem now is that neither of my kids want to wear clothing anymore. Thankfully, we live in a warm climate.