Of Vienna Sausages, Cuties and Waffles

I hear Jack and Maggie whispering in the hallway. 

It’s just the five of us at home. Me and the four kiddos. Severe thunderstorms over the past couple days have my lineman husband pulling eighteen hour shifts with the power company. It’s hard when he’s gone. We rely on him. I rely on him! 

And, today is my third child Caleb’s fifth birthday. He hasn’t seen his Dad in forty eight hours. 

Caleb asked all day when Daddy will be home. And when will have cake at Papa and Grammy’s house. “Sorry, K-Cat, Daddy is working late. And we aren’t going to Grammy’s until tomorrow night, remember?” I explained. My mother was sick again this week so we put off our family birthday dinner until the weekend. 

Throughout the day I tried creating special moments for him. Dozens of balloons were scattered all over the room. We played games. And he got to watch anything he wanted on TV – which meant a full day of YouTubers cracking open egg surprises, beating minion apps, and talking over Angry Birds Go. 

“When will Daddy be home?” he asked again during school carline. As Maggie and Jack scrambled into the car, bookbags falling to the floor, Caleb, seated in the third row, shared his excitement about family birthday dinner tomorrow night at Grammy and Papa’s house.  

“But I wished it was tonight,” he said sadly. 

And now here it is 5:15 pm. 

Caleb picked dinner so I’m making waffles with hot fudge and nut topping for everyone. Oh, and buttered popcorn. I may him drink from the two liter Cherry Pepsi bottle too. He always laughs so hard when he gets to do that. 

And now I hear Maggie and Jack whispering in the hall. They’ve disappeared together five minutes ago. I wonder what they’re up to?

Silence. And then….

They both yelled excitedly, in sync, “Caleb come here!!”

Caleb hopped off the couch where he had been stationed in front of another Egg Surprise YouTube video, ran through the living room, down the long hall, and found them in den. 

“Surprise!” I heard them cheer. 

And then they sang Happy Birthday to Caleb. 

I peeped in the den just in time to see them present him with a plate full of Vienna Sausages and Cuties oranges. 

“It’s your favorite treats ever!” Maggie said in her animated six year old way. “It’s not as good as Papa’s house but we can pretend!”

And then he smiled at them. And grabbed them both in a group hug. They were giggling as I snuck away unnoticed. After all, I had waffles and hot fudge to tend. 

Echoes of Innocence

The clock read 6:11 pm.

We were propped up on the pillows of our king sized bed.
Just Maggie and I.
We were eating bacon cheeseburgers her daddy grilled. And she was reading Charlotte’s Web aloud. I love being read to and never thought I’d be so fascinated listening to my six year old daughter’s hilarious fluency in relaying the antics of Fern and her beloved runt of a pig! I hear my mother in her voice. It’s soft. And loving. Echoes of innocence from my own childhood.
A few pages into the next chapter, she paused between paragraphs and looked up.

“Mommy? You remember the time it was just me and you and we talked all about our bodies? That was fun!”
“Yes, baby. Do you have more questions?”
“Yes.”
“Ok. When we wash your hair in a little bit we can do that again. And as you grow, I hope you will always feel good about asking mommy anything. I promise to always listen to you.”
“Oh boy! I can’t wait! And we can sing our special songs together too!” She snuggled in closer to me, looked back at her page and returned to the world of Wilbur and Charlotte.

Before bed, we had our promised bath time.
Just Maggie and I.
As I suds up her hair we sung “The Maggie Song” as we call it.
And her brothers songs too.
She even made one up for her daddy.
About how good he is.
And how he cooks us food.
She asked how did people come into existence.
And were dinosaurs real.
She asked of God and evolution.
And what do I believe.
About things long long ago.
She asked why do we feel pain.
And why do we have blood.

And after her questions were exhausted, I soaped up her back and wrote a note on her skin, a game my own mother use to play with me.

I told her to guess each letter as it was traced.

I. L. O. V. E. M. A. G. G. I. E.

And she did.

The Turquoise Shirt

“Are ALL of these my size, mama?” Maggie squealed, running towards an aisle thick with sparkly shirts in rainbow sorted order.
“Yes, babe. Look up,” I replied, pointing to the pink 8-10 GIRLS sign above her head. “Those signs tell us what sizes are on each row. And you wear size 8-10!”

I normally detest taking the children shopping with me. But now that I have Saturdays off, we’ve been catching up on lost time and cramming in as much family time as possible.
All six of us.
Together.

Like today….
Thrift store browsing for mid-century modern furniture for our 1950’s living room.
Fresh new spring haircuts for everyone.
A leisurely drive through town complete with story telling and radio sing alongs.
A picnic of cold pizza and giggles in the car.
Grocery shopping for life necessities such as Cadbury chocolate fruit bars and cold Pepsi.
A visit to Five Below where two 14′ jump ropes landed in my shopping cart, convincing me that I must teach my kids to double dutch.

And a stop at Once Upon a Child.

That’s where we were when Maggie spied the sheer turquoise modern, draping button down blouse peeking out from the green section of the 8-10 GIRLS aisle. It’s sleeves were softly clipped up to 3/4th length. Small ruffles ran the length of the collar area.
“Oh wow, that’s gorgeous!” I catch myself saying to my almost 7 year old daughter, running my fingers down the material. I pictured it with leggings. Boots. A long necklace.
Maggie drew in a breath. Her eyes widened. “Oh mama! It’s SO so beautiful!” She pulled it out for a better look.
“I’d love to get that for myself!” I whispered to her.
“Me too. I want it too. It would be so great for both of us! We can share it!” Maggie said innocently.

Then she hung it back up, turned and hugged me tightly.
I ran my hands down the back of her head until her freshly cut chin length bob reminded me that she had no more hair to pet. This haircut matured her by at least three years since this morning! She’s talking more lately too. Her hour of nightly reading seems to be affecting her vocabulary and language output. But right now she’s silent as she continues to squeeze my waist.

“I love you, mommy.”
“I love you too, JojoBird.”

In the end, books were the only things we purchased. Jack chose Magic Tree House #1, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Chu Ju’s House. Maggie chose Charlotte’s Web and three Junie B Jones books.

We are all sitting together on our long living room couch now. Kevin is grilling chicken. The boys are watching Angry Birds Go on TV’s YouTube app. Juli is eating a plate of pasta and Texas Toast at the coffee table. Maggie is reading Junie B Jones to me. With excitement. And expression. And her extraneous commentary on characters is making us both laugh.

She’s already halfway done with Junie B Jones, First Grader. Just like she herself is halfway done with first grade.

And the turquoise blouse is still on its hanger in the green section of the 8-10 GIRLS aisle in a small store out on Harbison Boulevard.

Unrecorded Tickmarks of Life

Kevin is always gone by 6:30 am, so I’m “the morning person” as the kids say. 

It’s been this way since the day Jack was born nearly nine years ago. I do the wake up calls, get the four kids up, dressed, brushed, packed, ready for the day and driven to school. It’s a daily routine that lasts roughly one and a half hours from start to finish. Just 1.5 hours. 

90 minutes. 

5 times per week. 

A very short time, really. 

We all pass through a full 1,440 minutes every day of our life. 86,400 seconds in every 24 hours, the clock forever eating away at our human experience. 

Sure, there’s a photo-snap here. 

A quick status there. 

A vivid experience jotted down in a small journal from time to time. 

Yet most of those tick marks of life go unrecorded. 

Unappreciated. 

Undocumented. 

Most movements, words relayed, and interactions with others are auto-categorized as trivial. Unimportant. 

And they’re quickly forgotten. 

The brain makes fools of us all, constantly eroding older memories to make room for new thoughts, new experiences, new connections.

Yet our lifelong individual identity is forged from those millions of forgotten steel iron moments. 

For small children, these millions of forgotten moments are even more potent in developing identity because their interactions are guided by the adults they are dependent on. 

One such moment in twenty eight month old Juli-Anna’s life occurs around 6:45 am every weekday. 

It’s February now. 

The year, 2017. 

Her crib is still in our room. 

She just fully weaned from nursing three months ago. 

She no longer co-sleeps with us. 

She’s transitioning from baby habits into small child habits. 

Her life is progressing. 

And every morning now, she wakes up smiling as soon as she hears me stir. 

Standing at the end of her crib, peeping over the rails, hair tasseled, she giggles and calls out: 

“Hi!”

“Hi, my sweet darling! Good morning!” I always say back to her. The room is dim and colorless, morning sun fighting to break through from behind the curtains. 

“Hi!” she says again. It’s all she can say right now. She doesn’t talk other than a handful of favorite names and a few foods. 

Then she reaches her arms out to me, not realizing I have the option to refuse her request to be held. She trusts me. 

“Hi!” I reply once more, scooting off the bed and walking to her crib. 

She starts jumping as I approach, arms still held high. 

And then I pick her up. 
In the still, quiet of the morning, before the other three children awaken, she wraps herself around me and clings tightly, burrowing her face into my neck. 

And I twirl her around. 

And sit down on our bed. 

And cling back. 

And I sing her song to her…the silly, sweet family song I made up for her the first time I held her in my arms seconds after birth. 

“Juli-Anna, fresh as a daisy

Everybody’s crazy ’bout you you you!

Juli-Anna, we don’t mean maybe,

Everybody’s crazy ’bout tiny little you!”

And it all takes place within a few eternal soon-to-be-forgotten minutes.