One month ago Elisabeth made her own count-down calendar on which she counted the days left until we set up our Dickens Village. Our Dickens Village was a gift to us from our dear neighbors Bob and Kathy. Bob and Kathy lovingly collected all fifty seven pieces (plus shrubs, hedges, and trees of the forest) over a period of thirty years and then, of all things, gave the entire collection to us!
Last year was our first year to enjoy our miniature village. We set it up in the dining room, but arranging and rearranging the little scenes proved to be so distracting for me (at its peak causing a grease fire on the unattended stove) that I decided to move it upstairs where it twinkles merrily on our bookshelf in the hall.
At long last, Thanksgiving arrived and after breakfast Dan began toting in the large tupperwares that house the 57+ boxes that house the 57+ pieces. Setting up the little village with all it’s cords, light bulbs, street lamps, figurines, skaters, carolers, and trees of the forest is a little like giving birth. When it finally ends you swear you will never do it again. But by next year you have forgotten all the pain, and the prospect of a hallway full of twinkling lights greeting you when you get up to go to the bathroom in the night, spurs you to open 57+ boxes and start the whole process over.
It was a good thing I wasn’t planning on any serious Thanksgiving cooking since the majority of the day was spent setting up the village. We decided not to roast a turkey this year for two reasons. A. Mrs. Watkins is allergic to turkey, and we desired neither to taunt nor sicken her with the smell of the roasting bird. And B. None of the children like turkey, nor do I. Dan is the only one who likes turkey (but not a lot) and that is a lot of meat for one man who doesn’t like turkey very much. What a relief to be released from turkey roasting and instead chained to a flank steak on the grill for a mere twelve minutes per side.
I say the children don’t like turkey because that is what they told me last year when I roasted a turkey. Only today when I didn’t roast a turkey they suddenly experienced a burning love for turkey. Fortunately, Patty has not been released from turkey as I have, and so I sent the girls down the block after their steak dinner. They came back with little turkey “to go” plates. Which they enjoyed very much.
We have a lot of meat confusion generally. Not just remembering what kind of meat we like but also what kind of meat we are currently eating. I was mortified this summer when we invited Charlie’s first grade teacher and his wife for a fine teacher appreciation dinner, and Miss P asked very seriously with a mouth full of steak, “Is this really meat from a monkey’s bottom?” Apparently, her nice sirloin steak resembled something she had seen that day at the zoo. When I assured her it was not, she held out her plate and said, “Well then gimme some more of that good chicken!”
Prompting Charlie to correct her, “Miss P, steak is not chicken…it’s pork.”
The confusion extends to other food groups. Yesterday, after a big lunch, the kids went poking around the kitchen looking for something to eat (NOTHING makes them as hungry as a big meal), and found grapefruit.
Miss P: “What is grapefruit?”
Charlie: “Miss P, you don’t know about grapefruit? It’s the most AWESOME vegetable!”
I would tend to agree with Charlie. It is the most awesome vegetable.
Below: Miss P identifies with another carnivore.
By age seven, I think most children have realized that their teacher doesn’t live at school. It comes as a shock. Do you know what is more shocking than learning your teacher goes home at night? Learning that your teacher will be coming home to your house.
That is exactly the shock young Charlie received in September when I told him the news: Mr. and Mrs. Watkins, Charlie’s new second grade teacher, and Elisabeth’s former first grade teacher, would be moving in with us. Not moving into our basement, but moving right into the bedroom down the hall. Charlie took the news in stride. He had just one question, “Will Mr. Watkins be riding home from school in our van?” When I told him he would not, Charlie became very flustered, “Then HOW will he get home?”
Another shock: teachers not only go home at night, they have their own cars, and drive them.
Well let me tell you it is handy to have your teacher right down the hall. If Charlie begins to panic because he is unsure about his homework, I just remind him he can ask his teacher who is pouring himself a cup of coffee just a few feet away. Handy!
The Watkins moved in rather suddenly, when they discovered mold in their apartment* and reported it to their landlord who very abruptly decided to terminate their lease rather than remediate the mold. We had only a week to convert the girls’s bedroom (a little suite really) to a mini-apartment of sorts for the Watkins, where they will live until next summer when they look forward to moving into a condo they are in the process of purchasing.
When I say we converted the room, I mean “we” in the loosest sense of the word. It was actually a rather large posse of Hope Academy teachers who moved all the girls belongings into Charlie’s room, then made the cutest tiny bedrooms for Elisabeth and Miss P each in their own walk-in closet, set Annie and Charlie up in bunk-beds, re-organized all the clothes, toys, furniture, books. Then, they stripped the carpet from the old room, painted the room, and meanwhile, babysat all four children for a whole weekend so I could preside over the process from a comfortable chair.
This is why I can never leave Hope Academy. Who would care for me in my hour of need? If I ever fall gravely ill, there is no doubt in my mind these people will have my back. I have seen it with my own eyes, as they have risen up to support Mr. Watkins with food, and prayers, and donated vacation time, as he supports Mrs. Watkins who is battling a terrible disease (with grace and courage).
Dan and I were reminiscing the other night about the many unusual people who have lived with us and started making a list of names which totaled exactly thirty. It has been so valuable for our children to grow up with such a diverse group of people to love them. But I think this may be the greatest privilege of all: to do life with someone who is living joyfully, without fear, in spite of great suffering and uncertainty. Those Watkins, they laugh in the face of danger.* And they live and believe, right in front of our children, that we already know the end of the story. “If the Resurrection is true…then everything sad is going to come untrue!” -quote from Tim Keller, who was quoting Lewis, who was quoting Tolkien. What more could I want for my children?
*One symptom of her disease is respiratory distress which was exacerbated by mold in the old apartment. Although Mrs. Watkins has confessed to me in confidence that shortness of breath may be due not to her lung disease but to the handsomeness of Mr. Watkins!
Each of the girls have been monitored by our pediatric ophthalmologist, because Charlie’s little vision issue (eyes crossing) is often hereditary. Much to my surprise, Annie was diagnosed with her own vision problem this summer. I had no reason to suspect she was having trouble seeing. It has always been her hearing that is in question due to her remarkably loud voice!
Dr. Pribila broached the subject of Annie’s need for glasses with a very extensive introduction and explanation of the situation ending in the phrase, “So I think she needs glasses.” Which he said very quickly and quietly while wincing like I was going to hit him!
He was visibly relieved when I clapped my hands and exclaimed how cute she was going to be. (I feel a little guilty about that).
He was understandably nervous that he might get whacked with my purse due to our rocky past relationship. When we first noticed Charlie’s eye crossing he had just turned two. I remembered that newborn baby eyes cross, and assumed that it was not a worry in a toddler. When Dr. Pribila not only told me it was a worry, but that we were going to have to patch his eye for four hours a day, I confess I burst into tears and stormed out and I think he might have heard me say: “I wish we had never come even come here. We were doing just fine until we met you!” It does not excuse my behavior but I had been wrangling three toddlers two and under for two hours in the doctor’s office and was pregnant and everything seemed overwhelming at the time including eye patching an active two year old.
Due to his level of concern we saw him every few weeks for a year or so and I did apologize and he and I have laughed about it since. I have not even considered whacking Dr. Pribila with my purse for many years. And how could I not feel so fond of anyone who considers my children’s beautiful eyes as fascinating as I do. So he had no need to fear breaking the news about Annie’s glasses, but I understand it was probably a little PTSD.
And the glasses are every bit as cute as I knew they would be. There is something about them that gives her the effect of a very squatty lady. Yesterday a stranger commented, “Oh she looks like an adult in a little tiny body.” Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love her more, she goes and gets glasses! Dan and I can just hardly keep from swallowing her whole.
I decided this fall to use one of my free mornings while Annie is in preschool to volunteer an hour in Elisabeth, Charlie, and Miss P’s classes. When I initially mentioned my Monday morning availability to the teachers, Charlie’s teacher cautioned me that Monday’s the students are very busy with classwork and if I was hoping to do some tutoring and connect with a needy child,as most volunteers are, that would not be a good block of time to do so. I quickly set the record straight. I have no desire to connect with a needy child! I just want to drink coffee and cut with scissors and stare at Charlie for an hour.
I love being a volunteer. I love it more than any job I’ve ever had. I love it so much that I now have Annie’s carpool drop her off at Hope after preschool so I can stay and keep on cutting and glueing and staring at my children. It’s so relaxing!
Annie usually moseys in about the time I get to Elisabeth’s class. For a while I was stashing her under the teachers desk with a stack of picture books, but the teacher noticed and invited Annie to pull up a chair and join Elisabeth at her desk. Annie blended right in, scribbling diligently away on a little notebook. She was such a good second grader, that she was invited to come to second grade any time. It has become a favorite haunt of hers. She only betrays her age (3) when I tell her it is time to go home. Yesterday she hung onto the doorframe screaming, “NOOOO I don’t wanna go! I don’t wanna go!” while the students politely look away.
Yesterday I discovered the laminator. I may never go home.
And not to brag, but when Charlie’s teacher saw how many math bingo cards I laminated and cut in one day he declared me a “Beast”. I have arrived.
Below: Annie goes to second grade.
Miss P is officially a kindergartner. She is known to her schoolmates at Mary. She loves school and is off to a great start. Her only disappointment was that she didn’t learn to read on the first day. She is enjoying writing her full name now on all of her drawings at home and school. She could use a little work on her “Y” to avoid the “Marv Olson” effect, but I rather like it.
I remember just two things from Miss P’s ultrasound. I remember the technician commenting, “Ooo the baby has long hair….oh….but only in the back.” and “It’s sucking its thumb!” He was right about the hair. For a good two years she had long golden hair….but only in the back. This unfortunate hair growth pattern happened to one of my nephews, and Dan’s sister, Sara, referred to it as his proceeding hairline.
The thumb, however, turned out not to be a thumb but three fingers on the left hand, that Miss P not only enjoyed sucking in utero, but has enjoyed sucking every day and night of her young life.
She refers to the three special fingers as her sucking fingers, or more accurately as her “thucking fingerths”. She is very protective of her sucking fingers, and will not let anyone hold her left hand, not even her own mother, because she says, doesn’t want to pick up anybody else’s flavor. She is careful never to get the sucking fingers involved in messy activities such as rolling out pie dough, or painting with finger paints. When we decided to start violin lessons her first question was, “Will the teacher touch my thucking fingerths?”
To be honest, for the first few years I was more concerned about Miss P’s proceeding hairline than I was about her sucking habit. In fact, I considered it a real gift when she popped them in her own mouth on day one, being right in the middle of pacifier issues with Elisabeth at the time.
But as the years have crawled slowly by, Miss P’s two front teeth remain suspiciously shorter than the others and she has required quite a bit of speech therapy for her perthithtent lithp, the finger sucking has developed in my mind into a little black cloud over her otherwise healthy childhood (barring that little incident with the intestinal polyp of course). And while her proceeding hairline has taken care of itself, the finger sucking has not.
The worrying has been mostly mine. Dan is not generally a worried person. I have tried to impress upon him the seriousness of the finger sucking situation, telling him it comes up every time she sees the pediatrician. To that he calmly asked, “Who brings it up?” And while I am, in fact, the one who brings it up, it is still very worrying.
Which is why when I answered my cell phone from atop a double decker bus crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on a tenth anniversary weekend away, and I heard Mary Olson tell me that Miss P had fallen from the monkey bars and Phil believed her left arm to be broken, with my mouth I said, “Oh no!” but in my heart I said, “Yessssss!” What a lucky break!
I can say it was lucky because Miss P was really in very little pain and had not the eagle eye of Doctor Phil perceived the broken bone (actually two broken bones), we would not have suspected a serious injury at all.
Although she is reported to have cried when she first fell, she didn’t make a peep in the emergency room and insisted her arm did not hurt at all. She didn’t even make a sound as her arm was being splinted and wrapped, but big tears rolled down her cheeks and she whispered, “I am just thinking about my thucking fingerths.” Sure enough, her arm was immobilized to the shoulder and she couldn’t bend her elbow to reach those special special fingers. Just as I had hoped!
To my horror, when we went back to the orthopedic surgeon on day 5, he explained that it was such a simple break that it could be managed with a short splint below the elbow that left the sucking fingers wiggling in the breeze.
I caught him in the hall and explained that this might well be the only chance Miss P would ever have to break the sucking fingers habit, and if she returned to the sucking now she would probably never break the habit….or graduate from high school….or drive a car….and her life would be so very limited!
Unlike Dan, he understood the gravity of the situation immediately, and in the blink of an eye the nurse was right back in wrapping the arm, the splint, the hand, and the fingers in a very generous hot pink adhesive bandage. She gave us more rolls of hot pink and bright purple bandage to continue mittening the fingers for the next six weeks. Miss P’s assumption of course was that this was all part of the “cast” and having a real eye for fashion she was quite relieved that the black splint was now shrouded in pink and purple.
Things have been rolling right along with my poultry farm. The hens are laying 40-50 eggs a week, and in addition to providing eggs for our family and our near neighbors, I have been able to do some bartering for butter and cheese. Plus, it feels good knowing I am doing my part to address the egg shortage in Minnesota. I double checked the regulations in Minneapolis to make sure my nine laying hens aren’t too many and found, to my delight, that we are permitted sixty!
A few weeks ago my next door neighbor and I had a great idea. There is a long, skinny unused strip of yard between our fence and their fence just begging to be called a chicken run. Dan agreed to help* us frame the area with chicken wire and attach it to the existing coop so the chickens could frolic in this shady, buggy area during the day. While helping* me finish the run, a monsoon came upon us, so Dan propped the last panel closed, to be secured after the monsoon passed over. We should have known better. We both forgot about it, and the next day a crazy dog that has been menacing our neighborhood for weeks took advantage of our forgetfulness and murdered Sweet Alice, the silver-laced Brahma**.
My neighbor and I had been planning to have Dan help* us trap this crazy dog by luring him into our fence with meat and then calling Animal Control, but hadn’t gotten a chance to execute the plan. And now…too late…a tragedy! But, for the first time, we glimpsed the dogs owner who pulled up in a car in the middle of the attack, grabbed the dog and sped off. My neighbor, who used to be a security guard, had the presence of mind to jot down her license plate number.
Of course I called Animal Control and was told an officer would be right out.
A little while later, the doorbell rang. I don’t know how you picture the dog-catcher, but to my surprise, the officer turned out to be Dog-Catcher Barbie, in a crisp Dog-Catcher uniform with a walkie-talkie and everything. She was only missing a big net in her hand, but I’m guessing that was out in her Dog-Catcher Barbie van. She took a detailed report which included:
Name: Sweet Alice
Age: 6 months
Next, she asked to be taken to the crime scene. She walked around the yard with her notepad and camera taking pictures of feathers on the ground, jotting copious notes. Although I a never miss an episode of SVU, and am something of a self-trained detective, I have never participated in an actual investigation like this and it was all quite exciting. She informed me that, because this was a fatality, she had traced the license plate number and would be proceeding to the home of the dog owner. If they failed to respond to the doorbell, she would obtain a warrant and break down the door (presumably with her Barbie battering ram), and confiscate the offending dog. If the owner objected to having her dog confiscated, I would be invited to testify at a hearing.
Before leaving she inquired gently, “Would you be willing to surrender Sweet Alice to us for autopsy.” Would I ever! An autopsy at Animal Control….what a distinguished finish for Sweet Alice who came from such humble beginnings and was named after an industrial park***.
The next day, Dog-Catcher Barbie’s tiny assistant, who looked exactly like Skipper, arrived, clipboard in hand, to get a witness statement from my next door neighbor, and take some more photos of the crime scene.
All this for a chicken. It was very moving. I am proud to call myself a tax-payer in the great city of MInneapolis.
*Dan’s “help” consists of doing the physical work while I lend him my mind and circle around him making helpful suggestions.
**If you are unfamiliar with the Brahma, it is a hen known for its extraordinarily large bottom. She was an impulse buy.
***You may recall the Sweet Alice industrial park on Highway 119 in Shelby County Alabama.