How Big is Liam?

At two o'clock he met a gorilla.
"Hey you," said the grouchy ladybug. "Want to fight?"
"If you insist," said the gorilla, beating its chest.
"Oh, you're not big enough," said the grouchy ladybug and flew off.
--from The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle


"Mom, look, I'm big," Liam said, making an argument for why he should be allowed to go outside by himself like the other kids.

"No, Liam, you are still little. You may not go outside without me," I told him.

"No, I not little," he replied.

"Yes, actually you are," I said.

"No, I big like you," he said, coming over to me and standing on his tippy toes. He walked over to where Solomon was sitting in his highchair. "Solly, I'm big, right?"

"NyyyyyyyyOOOOO!" Solomon replied. (Because that is what he says to everything asked of him.)

"Well, I don't like you," Liam blurted back defiantly. (I couldn't help but think: At 3 o'clock, he met a Solomonkey. "Hey you, want to fight?"....."Oh, you're not big enough and he flew off.....)

The next morning, Liam asked for milk. I poured him a cup of milk.

"Nooooo! I need it in a sippy cup!" Liam exclaimed, pushing away the big-kid cup I had placed in front of him.

 "Liam, you are 4. Big boys don't use sippy cups and you are a big boy now," I told him.

"No, I'm no-ot. See? I little!" he said, scrunching down in his seat with his hand on top of his head.

(At six o'clock the grouchy ladybug arrived right back where it had started from.)

This growing up thing....it's complicated.


The Three Little Pigs, a video

Liam's speech therapist told me recently that a stranger should be able to understand 100% of what a 4 year old child says, except when that child is excited.

Which leads to our problem: What about the child who is ALWAYS excited?

On Liam's 4th birthday, he was eagerly telling us about his day, or so I thought. After a while, I realized I had no idea what he was saying. I asked Kurt if he knew what Liam was talking about. Aidan spoke up, and translated: "He's telling the story of the Three Pigs." Apparently, Liam had taken the liberty of changing the Big Bad Wolf into a Fox.

This went on for about five minutes before I thought to video it. We were all laughing so hard by the time I got around to recording that Liam was in full performance mode and was getting ready to start again for probably the 5th time, this time with props that Lily had given him. He seemed to be in his element though because the story seemed to flow much more clearly.

At any rate, I just thought I would share with you as this gives us great hope, especially since this time last year he was still speaking mostly in sign-language.


For Becca, For Us All

"It happened one afternoon in AD 34, when Jesus died on the cross."--Karl Barth, in answer to the question, "When were you saved?"


"Do you think she went to heaven?" a friend asked me the other day when I told her of my husband's 20 year old cousin who had died unexpectedly.

I'm not sure if I hid very well the mixture of shock and revulsion that took over me when she asked it but I about choked on my coffee. (I don't know this friend well but we had a standing coffee date set up and I wanted her to know why I had to make it quick. My in-laws were in town, this tragic thing had happened and they had to get back to Pittsburgh. Kurt would be traveling along with them so there was a lot to get done before I was left alone with the kids.) As I stumbled for anything to say in my surprise, she went on to clarify that when her 26-year old sister-in-law had died a few years back from bulimia and addiction, they were comforted by the knowledge that she was in heaven. 

I don't think she meant the question to sound as it did. Still, I am fairly certain not even I would ask such a question, with all its implications, to someone whose family had experienced loss and I have certainly been known to say the most ridiculous things in tough circumstances. I am also fairly certain that nothing short of having Becca back would comfort her grieving family right now.

At any rate, it did give me great pause. I have many friends whose biggest concern would be the question of theirs or their beloved's salvation. I know many whose churches would tell them that someone like Becca, whose life knew plenty of troubles, may not have gone to heaven because "perhaps she was too removed from her faith journey. Perhaps her sins were too great and she hadn't repented. Perhaps she was never truly saved...." 

I have a word or two (or five) for them however: ALL OF US FALL SHORT! 

That is the point. One of the things Jesus came to tell us was that all of our you-know-what smells, not just those more obvious of trespasses. He made it clear that he did not come to call the righteous, he came for the sinners. And guess what? That includes ALL OF US! He mocked the so-called righteous of the time and exposed them for what they were: kidding themselves. Must we continue to miss the mark so terribly?

I must admit, I burn with frustration over how frequently Christians so overly focus on other people's salvation. As Karl Barth so eloquently stated: "It happened one afternoon in AD 34....." Move on, people. You don't own it, you did not do it, it is only yours by way of a gift from God.

Because if you can honestly tell me that God is not big enough to offer this salvation to even the most broken of people or to those who die perhaps without having made amends, or having said their last confession, or having repented recently for being so darn human, well, that is not the loving and merciful God I know. And you had better hope you are wrong because chances are you won't be "perfect" when you take your dying breath either. Just a hunch. 

Becca's passing leaves a huge, sorrowful hole in the heart of her family and friends. Perhaps that is where the focus needs to go: on those who mourn her loss. On all those who mourn. Perhaps instead of worrying about where she is now, we need to pull together to minister to those still here. To all those who suffer. Perhaps Jesus's intention was not for us to get so caught up in the nitty gritty details of the "thereafter" and instead, put the emphasis on the right syllable: to focus on doing God's will by responding in love through service to others; to focus on loving one another, here and now.

Becca was a beautiful girl who, like so many of us, struggled in this life and like many, didn't intend to go when she did. And whether or not she said a final prayer in her last breath, I do not know, nor do I believe God's love is so shallow as to exclude her from His everlasting peace and presence. As humans, we are that shallow apparently, but God? No, God is not. 

So to answer the question adequately: yes, Becca is with God, whatever that may mean. She may or may not have found peace in this world, but with God, all things are possible. God's love is big enough. God's peace is big enough. And while for me personally she will forever be that sweet, little flower girl, with her sweet, crooked smile; with God, she is made whole again and surrounded by everlasting love. I only wish we could have seen her life unfold more fully and shine more brightly while she was here among us. 

Rest in peace, Becca. 

Becca, with her brother Dillon, July 2000.


What Not to Do (No Matter What the Excuse!)

Dear Slightly Creepy Older Gentleman,

While I realize I am a bit younger and do not yet know all the ways of the world, I am fairly certain that continuing to run into my shopping cart, over and over again, because it got a pleasant reaction from my baby the first time you did it, well, it's not what most people would consider appropriate.

You see, when I looked up the first time you accidentally drove your cart into mine, I was mostly checking to see that you didn't hurt my child sitting in front. When you apologized, I assumed the exchange was over and, no harm, no foul, I went back to the task of self-check out. (Take note, this is where most people, intrigued by the giggling baby, would begin a quiet round of Peek-a-Boo, or "Gimme 5," or perhaps Pat-a-Cake, This Little Piggy, Where is Thumbkin....or anything else!)

I must admit, I was a little surprised when you once again bumped into my cart. I politely ignored the second, third, fourth, fifth......tenth time you hit my cart in hopes of eliciting that same fun reaction from my child. If you did not notice, I had to jam my foot under the cart's front wheel so that it didn't keep moving forward, away from where I needed it, and I was only able to proceed with my check-out process because I am used to having to do things with minor irritations swarming all around me.

I must admit, when I finally stopped and looked at you, trying to catch a glimpse of understanding, I was a little taken aback that not only had you been ramming into my cart this whole time, but you had done so while opting not to go complete your own self-check out in one of the two other lanes that had opened up. In response to my quizzical look, you explained that my child liked it.

Really? Well, you know what else he likes? He likes to poop in the tub. And he finds it quite funny when I dump water over his brother's head while bathing. Yes, he gets a good kick out of that. Maybe next time, you'd like it if I poured my water bottle over your head while you are trying to scan and bag your groceries.

Yes sir, that would be a riot and I am certain the baby would laugh. But if he didn't laugh after that first time, I would be happy to repeat the process over and over and over again to see if maybe the dozenth time he chuckles. Let's make a date of it, shall we?

Sincerely (amazed),
The Most Graceful Chicken


Introducing a New Breed

Mongooses (Herpestidae) are a family of 33[2] living species of small carnivorans from southern Eurasia and mainland Africa. Four additional species from Madagascar in the subfamily Galidiinae, which were previously classified in this family, are also referred to as "mongooses" or "mongoose-like"......Some species can learn simple tricks. They can be domesticated and are kept as pets to control vermin. However, they can be more destructive than desired: when imported into the West Indies to kill rats and snakes, they destroyed most of the small, ground-based fauna. For this reason, it is illegal to import most species of mongoose into the United States,[10] Australia, and other countries. --- Wikipedia (emphasis mine)

I would now like to introduce you to the newest species of mongooses: The Solomongoose

Today, I got the kids ready for school and out the door and then came back to the kitchen to assess the damage. (A dear friend of mine calls it "the aftermath" of the morning routine.)

While cleaning up the aftermath here is what happened in another corner of the house:

The West Indies fauna has nothing on a house full of cards! 
I decided to deem it a disaster zone created by a Solomongoose fighting off some dreaded venomous vermin and rendered it untouchable for the time being; choosing, instead, to sit down for my breakfast while reminiscing about Mr. Coffee and wishing the Solomongoose wasn't so very darn thorough in his destructiveness.

But, apparently, the Solomongoose hadn't had enough to eat because fairly soon, I saw him walk through the room holding this:

And it wasn't exactly difficult to figure out what had become of that marker tip as the Solomongoose is not adept at hiding his guilt:

What marker?
Oooooh, you mean THAT blue marker!

And that is when he landed himself back into Solly-tary confinement:

Ok, Illegal Imported Pet police.....Come and get him!
Liam and his favorite pet...

The Solomongoose


What Not to Say....(Even if you really want to)

Story 3: 

Lily has a fear of using her school bathroom. Her teacher recently wrote to me of her concern that Lily was not using the toilet at school and wondered if I might talk to her about it. 

"Lily, your teacher told me you don't like using the bathroom at school," I said to her later that day.

"Well, I don't really have to go," she said, dismissively.

"Is it because they are dirty or messy?" I asked, then telling her that I too didn't like to use the bathroom at school when I was her age because the toilets were always so gross.

"No, it's just that one of the toilets overflows sometimes," she said, acknowledging her fear. 

"Oh, well, that happens. So what you can do is, use the bathroom, get yourself all put back together, pants up and such, and then after you flush, run really fast out of the stall," I told her.

"KAREN!" Kurt said in dismay. "No, Lily, that is not what you do. What you do is, after you finish going, flush the toilet and stay and watch and if the water starts coming up just calmly go out and tell your teacher." (It would happen just like that I am sure.)

So, the other day, during conferences, we took Lily with us so that I could take her into the bathroom and help her get over her fear. She took me into the stall that has the moody toilet and I helped her with the process. When it was time to flush she explained that this was the toilet that overflowed once. 

And you will be happy to know that I refrained from telling her, "Oh, that's nothing. ALL our toilets at home do that sometimes, too" thus leaving her forever afraid of going to the bathroom EVERYWHERE. 


What Not to Say, (But you did anyway)

Alektorophobia- The extreme fear of chickens. (While I suppose anything is possible, I am still trying to figure out why you'd be afraid of a chicken.)

Anthropophobia- The fear of people (This one I entirely understand! We can be quite a scary species....especially if you are a chicken!) 

Story 2:

A few weeks back, we went to check out another local congregation. It was a small church housed in a very small building, one where the nursery also acted as the resource room, Sunday school room, storage room, hallway into the Fellowship room, and probably a bunch of other things come to think of it. Anyway, it was really quaint and we more than doubled the size of their kid population.  

After meeting the Minister on our way in, he introduced us to the woman who was in charge of their rather meager children's ministry. She explained that the older kids would stay with us in church until after the sermon when she would get them so that they could do some kid activities during the remainder of the service. Thinking this strange, (because if my kids are going to be taken out of the church, certainly it should be before the sermon so that I can listen, no?) we nodded that we understood, leaving Solly and Liam in the nursery and then made our way into the little sanctuary. It was no bigger than a tiny chapel at most churches, complete with a dozen or so wooden pews, a pulpit in the left hand corner and an organ in the right. The alter was so plain, I do not even recall seeing it, though I do think there was one under the cross on the wall. 

At any rate, the preacher was a fairly docile yet dynamic man who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. many long moons ago. Improvising at one point in the service, he called the children forward (I got the distinct impression that that wasn't usually done at this church) and then he asked if they knew what a "leper" was. None of them did. So he explained leprosy to the children and then walked to the back of the room and yelled out (not that he would have had to do so since it was only a hop, skip and jump away) "If you were a leper, you'd have to stay this far away from everyone and if you came through a crowd you had to call out at the top of your voice: UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!" 

The kids were wide-eyed and fully attentive. He sent them back to their seats and began his sermon. 

His sermon began with a poem that seemed to me slightly ill-suited for young children, to say the least. Something about who the lepers are today but with vivid words about drug addicts who are better off dead and the like. He then spoke about modern day lepers, using Whitney Houston as an example; someone who was haunted by her multiple addictions and a sense of isolation.

And then he went to tell this story:

What he actually said: "Others are people of infamy. Like the psychotic mother who took the life of her son when the voices told her to kill him. As we often did at the legal rights center when I was there, we took her case. Not because she was innocent, she was not. But because it was the right thing to do. She was a human being. The most obvious of lepers: a decrepit sinner, who had stabbed her son more than one hundred times."*

What I heard: And the psychotic mother, having gone off her meds, brutally murdered her son when the voices in her head told her to kill him. And she took a knife, a machete perhaps, and stabbed him, over and over, 100 times, watching the warm blood slowing oozing from his body......(etc etc, you get my point.)

What Aidan heard: Your parents have voices in their heads, Aidan. Evil voices that tell them to do bad things. I am one of them and I am telling them to get rid of you. Yes, YOU! Whatever you do, do NOT EVER. GO. TO. SLEEP. AGAIN!  BWAH HA HA HA HA!

Aidan anxiously looked up at Kurt, now wide-eyed and mouth dropping open with worry. And I stopped listening and began tickling Lily in hopes that she would not hear what was being said. (She creates her own fears and anxieties at this point and we certainly do not need help creating more for her!)

After we got home, Aidan came to me terrified and spoke of his concern about the story he heard during church. He asked if it were true, had that mom really done that?

"Yes, Aidan, it was true. But you do not need to worry. Dad and I are not going to kill you.....we put in far too much time, effort and energy raising you to do something like that," I said, teasingly, trying to make light of it.

"But why did she do it?" he wanted to know, ignoring my ridiculous attempt at humor. So what did I do? I immediately took a different approach at comforting him by launching into a ten minute lesson on the nature of Schizophrenia. You know, to my nine year old....(Seriously, who DOES that?)

"Well, do you and dad have that?" he asked, horrified.

"No, no one in our immediate family has it, Aidan," I reassured him. 

"Well, how do you know?" he asked. 

"Because we just do. It would have presented itself by now and none of us have the symptoms. Well, obviously Solomon is not old enough to diagnosis it but I am fairly confident he won't have it either," I told him, digging myself a little deeper.

"Well, what if he does?" he asked, now worried again.

"He doesn't," I said. "And even if he did, he can't get out of his crib yet so you have nothing to worry about right now." I realized at this point that this was not going very well, so in attempt to make it better I went on to say, in a less than shining moment, "Aidan, you don't need to worry about it. As a matter of fact, you actually know people who have it and they haven't ever hurt you.....but I am not going to tell you who, because I don't want you to worry about it." 

That's great, Karen, really. Now he'll be forever afraid OF EVERYONE.

*The entirety of the sermon quoted above can be viewed here. (Pastor Gordon Stewart, Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church, Chaska, MN.....Which, in their defense, is a lovely congregation with just a few minor details that need to be worked out for younger families to truly feel at ease....)


What Not to Say (Unless you are old and can get away with it)

This week's series is dedicated to all of us out there who sometimes forget their filter.....or simply don't care enough to use one.....like the other day when I was teaching the kids about humility and Lily said, "It can be hard to be humble can't it, Mom? (Yes) But you are good at being humble, aren't you?"

I laughed and told her, "Actually I have to work hard at it too Lily because it is really tough when you are so darn awesome!" (hee hee hee, I believe Aidan might have picked up the humor anyway.)

Story One:
Have I ever mentioned how much I love old(er) people? Well, I do. I especially love how they just throw the you-know-what to the wind and tell you what they think, no filters necessary.

So, last week I played two pieces for the special music and offering at our church: an arrangement of "Borning Cry" as well as "The Lord's Prayer." 

After the service, I beelined for the coffee (I don't drink anything caffeinated before I play in church as I see it as totally sinful.....Just kidding. Actually, it just makes me too shaky and who needs to shake when they are playing totally exposed violin solos? My vibrato doesn't need to sound like a hummingbird on cocaine!) 

Anyway, as I was standing there with Kurt and several kids hanging off me, this older gentleman comes up and the conversation went something along these lines:

"I really enjoyed your music today," he said.

"Oh, thank you," I responded.

"I've never seen anyone count the music with their feet like that before....." he went on.

"Well, um, you aren't supposed to tap your feet while you play, of course," I assured him, as I choked on my coffee.

He was almost snickering at this point. "Well you sure had that foot tapping thing down," he said enthusiastically, as if this were some hard fought for skill. "It was quite amusing. I've never seen that before. Tapping your toes to the beat. They were really going, weren't they?"

Hello? I get the point. It was distracting and something we musicians try hard NOT to do, but guess what? I DID IT! 

"Well sir, you see, we pulled out the music to that piece just yesterday and during rehearsal I was so focused on the notes I forgot to count at all so I figured it was better to keep time with my foot than to be completely off with the piano," I quickly explained. (I had originally thought I would just wing it on Borning Cry, improv here and there, it was an easy enough piece after all. But when I got to the rehearsal Saturday the pianist pulled out an arrangement meant for solo voice that modulates through three different keys and is full of filler, extra measures and other such loveliness. I found that I was having a hard time paying attention to the counting since I was having to pay attention to the actual notes, thus began the toe tapping.....bad excuse but it beat having to practice an extra few hours.)

"Ahhh, well, it wasn't bad, that toe tapping, just interesting to watch," he said.

"Hopefully it didn't take away from the music too much," I replied patiently.

"Oh no. I enjoyed it," he said. "But then, I am mostly tone deaf so it all sounds good to me."

Uh, thanks, I think.

Church can be very good for practicing ones humility.



What You Might Learn

...From running 17 miles in the cold.....

You might learn that, once you figure out how to spot and dodge the sheets of ice, it actually isn't that bad running in 20 degree weather after you've run that first four miles, and when the sun comes out briefly right as you find yourself behind a wall that blocks the wind.

You might learn as you pass by other runners out there braving the cold that they aren't that crazy after all. But you will be wrong. Because they are.

You might learn that cars do not believe they ever have to give up the right of way to a person running, even when that runner is in the middle of the crosswalk and the car has a red light....and you might learn that it is in your best interest to give them the right of way, every, single, time. Because you are small. And they are big. And they could squash you.

You might learn that the gym you go to regularly is up a hill.....a long, long way.....and that running back from it is far more fun than running to it. Except when you have to use the bathroom.

You might learn that the seemingly soft and perfect snowball in the middle of the sidewalk is NOT. YOUR. FRIEND. Do not kick it. It will hurt....because it is actually 40 pounds and made of lead! And kicking it is like riding a bike into a boulder at full speed. Only you are not wearing a helmet. And you will land on ice, because of course that is what it will be sitting on. So, be prepared to slide. And to give the drivers watching you something to chuckle about.

You might learn that it is so cold outside that your body is actually numb and you do not feel the entire effect of the "friendly" snow ice ball until much later.

You might learn, when you see your family drive by at mile 16, honking merrily at you, that it seems like a good idea to start waving frantically and leaping into the air over and over like a Graceful Chicken ballerina. But.... IT. IS. NOT. (Especially if your foot has already met Mr. SnowBall.) Beware. This one can trick you every time.

And finally, you might learn, that the daydream of your family happily working away to get the warm house clean and tidy again, so that you all might celebrate another successful long run, is just the effect of a brain-numbing chill. When you thaw back out and that delirium lifts, you will soon realize that YOU are in fact Snow White and the dwarfs you live with have not yet figured out how to clean up after themselves without you. And although you just ran 17 miles, uphill, in the snow and ice, with a full bladder, you will have to clean it up in preparation for them coming home again. And your knees will not appreciate holding your weight while you scrub the glue off the floor where your 4 year old tried to glue his picture to the hard wood. Perhaps those apples don't look so bad after-all.

You might just learn that.....if you ever run 17 miles in the cold.