Nora, parenting

Angus.

When we look back on it, I think we will say that Nora’s first love was a horse named Angus.

He has been sitting in our backyard for several years, ever since some older friends outgrew him and he needed a new home. As the youngest in a chain of families, our children often receive special things that other kids no longer want to keep but also don’t want to give away completely. If things live at our house, the thinking goes, the bigger kids might be able to come visit them sometimes.

They almost never actually do need to come visit their old things, but I think it makes it easier to rehome them if the possibility exists- we can see them again if we need to!

Angus has been occasionally ridden by many people, but he truly began to live a couple of weeks ago when Nora suddenly adopted him. After checking out every book on horse care from our little local library, she relocated him from his square of dead grass near the sand table to a space she cleared out under our play structure, which she now calls “Angus’s stable.” She put down a bed of straw and grass from the field for him, which she cleans out every day and replaces with new grass. She brings him water and “oats” (a mixture of sand and clover and crushed sea shells) in a bucket every day. She takes him out to the field, dragging the heavy metal frame with its springs behind her, and “trains” him, then carefully reinstalls him in his stable and rubs him down with a cloth before covering him with his “horse blanket” – an old towel we use when we occasionally decide to wash our van.

She does all of these things in all kinds of weather, wearing her flowered “horse working” boots.

Her devotion is inspiring and a little puzzling. I’ve never seen her take care of anything with such joy or dedication. She throws on her coat and mittens after breakfast, pulls on her boots, and heads out the back door, calling, “Gotta go do my horse chores now!” before skipping off to rub noses with Angus.

She and I have struggled together lately to do things with a cheerful heart. It’s hard sometimes to help her navigate through the bumps of her day when she just wants to sit down and complain about the parts she doesn’t like…and for my part, it’s hard for me to admit that God didn’t create her strong will for me to control! It’s amazing how this self-assigned plastic horse has given her such purpose. It’s amazing how Angus has easily created a rhythm in her morning that has nothing to do with me. It’s amazing how willingly she does her other chores in the morning so that she’ll have time to take care of Angus before our morning meeting. It’s amazing, because I couldn’t have come up with this as a Nora management strategy, and it’s amazing because she didn’t need me to come up with it at all.

She did it all by herself.

Sometimes, parenting is hard…but sometimes, we make it harder than it is. Sometimes, our kids know exactly what they need. Sometimes, we just need to trust them to figure it out.

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birthday, Nora

For Twin B, on the eve of her 5th birthday

You were born early in the morning on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, forty minutes after your sister. I had never thought too much about this feast, and it seemed an odd match. The day dawned bright and sunny in a string of bright and sunny days, the way Septembers in Virginia so often are, with clear blue skies and smatterings of wispy white clouds.

Now you are (both) five.

You wrote yourself a birthday card today, decorated with hearts and smiley faces and flowers. You slid it into an envelope and placed it carefully on top of the piano. “I’m planning to forget all about it so that I can surprise myself with it tomorrow,” you furtively whispered, hiding it behind a hymnal.

By the time you came back to the table, your sister was making a card for herself, too.

I have sisters, too, you know. I know how it is to love fiercely and envy fiercely and feel devotion and competition all rolled up into one confusing ball of emotion. Still, I was unprepared this morning when you told me that you wished you weren’t a twin.

“If I wasn’t a twin,” you said through gritted teeth, eyeing your sister while she pretended to be busy coloring her card, “I’d never have to share my things. And you, Mama. You would be ALL MINE.”

I guess that is how we’re most different. I had three years with my parents before I had a sister, and you’ve never had a moment without one in your whole existence. Even in the womb, you were shoving each other constantly, competing for space. As toddlers, you bit and pulled each other’s hair. Now you fight over the pinkest cup, the favorite spoon, the last cheese stick, the princess dress without the snag in the skirt.

When you hold hands, I hold my breath- in an instant, it seems, you’ll be rolling on the floor trying to pluck out each other’s eyebrows with your fingernails. The sisterly sweetness is so very sweet and so very short-lived.

It doesn’t help, I’m sure, that you’re so different from each other- one pragmatic action-taker forced into partnership with one dreamy wanderer. It doesn’t help that people want to categorize you constantly- the friendly one, the shy one, the clever one, the athletic one. I try not to let them, but people draw their own conclusions based on what they see.

You have big feelings, I know. I know they fill up your throat and make you twitch. I see that you need me to know just how big they are, need me to see that they are overflowing and overtaking and overshadowing and overwhelming. Language is inadequate. A box of crayons hurled across the room, though? A pencil bitten in half? That’s just right.

You’d help yourself, you know, if you were less like me.

And maybe this is where Our Lady of Sorrows comes in?

I clearly remember my mother standing in the kitchen of our house, my pre-teenaged face gripped tightly in her hands, hissing what I came to think of as her motherly prophecy for my own mothering:

“One day, you will have a daughter…and she will be just…like…you!”

So you see, my dear, if you’ve inherited my less endearing traits, it isn’t actually my fault. Call your grandmother and ask her about it.

I bet she will have lots of stories to tell you.

Happy birthday, my darling. I think you are wonderful exactly the way you are. Even when your big feelings trigger big feelings in me and I’m not sure whether to laugh, sob, or scream, I will always love you. One day, you may have a daughter, too, and I will remind you that you are an excellent mother. And if she happens to be just…like…you, I will smile quietly and send you some flowers and an encouraging note.

I have no doubt that you will change the world, my dear. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings for you…not just as half of a twinship, but as your very own self.

Love always,
your Mama

#HolyLens, Advent, Nora

Theme Thursday: Advent, Week 3

This long blogging silence has been brought to you by copious list-making, cookie baking, crafting, reading, sewing, decorating and laundering. I’ve been really productive, just not in publishable ways. More on that some other time.

Today, I had the gift of time to spend a few minutes wrapping gifts with Nora. Of all my children, she’s the most likely to be a successful present wrapper. I’ve been waiting for a moment when the other two big kids were busy and the littler one was sleeping, and today, I got it.

We knelt together on the kitchen floor. I showed her how to measure the paper, tape the box, fold and crease the ends neatly, just the way my Gram and my mother taught me. By the time we got to the second gift, she was flying solo except for the cutting. I was so proud- she measured, she trimmed, she folded and creased like a pro. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth just like mine does when I’m concentrating. Her cheeks flushed pink as she chose just the right bow and tag for each gift. Her enjoyment was all over her face.

On the fifth package, Nora cut before she was ready, and the paper was a bit too short. We turned it both ways and couldn’t quite make it fit. Dismayed, she bit her nails, wondering what I would say about the waste of paper.

I hate that she has reason to wonder if I’ll be upset about something like that.

I’ve always loved wrapping gifts, partly because it rewards perfectionism. My sister and I used to do all of them for Gram at family birthdays and Christmas. That feels so long ago- those hours we shared in Gram’s back bedroom, piles of boxes and tape and rolls of paper scattered around the room, giggling as we worked together, setting up “assembly lines,” feeling important to be the guardians of Big Important Secrets until Christmas Day.

Sharing this time with my daughter today was more than just a sweet reminder of days past. It felt like the handing on of a shared knowledge from generation to generation. “It’s worth doing it right,” Gram used to tell me as she held the end closed for me to place the tape. “Measure twice, cut once.”

It is worth doing things right, but people’s feelings are always more important than perfect packages. Because of Gram, I know just how to line up the paper to camouflage a seam if I forget her advice and cut before I’ve measured carefully enough.

Now Nora knows, too. As we piled the packages under the tree, she smoothed out some bows and breathed, “They look almost wonderful.”

Squeezing her with both arms, I told her they were my favorite packages ever…and I meant it.

Linking up with Micaela at California to Korea for Advent, Week 3.

7 quick takes, Halloween, Nora

7 Quick Takes: Halloween, The Art Department, and the Quotable Nora Edition

In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the final dressing up choices of everyone this Halloween, here is the official Halloween photo dump:

Felix as Bacchus, the Roman god who knows how to party
Lucy as A Princess, But Not A Disney One

Sam as Scipio Africanus: “Carthago Delenda Est!”

Nora as Laura Ingalls (without braids)

Obligatory Group Photo

I’ve been overcoming my inborn fear of art-related mess for years now, but finger paint still gives me pause. It seems like just asking for trouble. This week, when the girls asked to finger paint, I took a deep breath and said “yes.” Here are the results:

“Felix thinks it’s a bird, but it is NOT.” by Lucy, age 4
“It’s a dragon. But it doesn’t eat people.” by Nora, age 4

They moved on quickly to watercolor. Turns out part of the allure of finger paint is that mama usually tries to talk them out of it.

Also art-related: Nora drew a real face! With eyes and everything! It was a first.

She’s been drawing people’s bodies with arms, legs and torsos for quite a while now, but their heads never had faces. I’m not used to that progression- most kids I know do the big heads with smiles and then start adding arms and legs coming directly out of the heads. Nora is on her own track, art-wise, as she is with most other things.

Speaking of Nora, she’s been so quotable lately that I often find myself turning my head so she won’t catch me laughing. It’s worse when George is here- I have to tell myself not to look at him because I know we’ll both dissolve into laughter, which would definitely hurt Nora’s feelings. She’s a serious girl, that one, and she does not mean to be so funny.

This morning, she turned up at my side in her Laura Ingalls costume (her uniform since the middle of last week). I greeted her with a little hug and she tossed her baby doll onto the counter, saying casually, “Well, I’ve got my kids today. My wife’s a ninja, but she doesn’t stay here.”

Then, over her cheesy grits at breakfast, she announced, “Hey, I guess you’re in charge, Mama, ‘cuz Pater Noster’s at work.”

I die. I just hope it doesn’t show on my face. (I know. I know it does. I can’t help it.)

My first-ever retraction…I’ve written lots of contractions, some against the better advice of my inner English teacher, Ms. Raines, who always stands inside my head and dispenses advice in her red Reebok hightops. She’s never wrong, and yet I persist in my wayward writing ways. Contractions are friendly space savers. I like them.

As far as retractions, though, I haven’t had to write one before (that I remember). This is a first.
I must tell you that my reporting of the Time Change-Induced Behavior Episode Involving K’nex and a Certain Boys’ Bedroom Ceiling was apparently inaccurate. The child in question did not actually put holes in the ceiling. He removed all the sticky putty from the backs of his posters, smooshed it onto the ceiling in tiny bits, and used it to suspend said K’nex pieces so that they looked like they had been poked into the ceiling…as if some crazy multi-colored porcupine had moved into the attic and fallen asleep with his poky side down.

Let the record stand corrected.

Because some children are harder to live with than others (ahem), there’s this amazing reflection by Susan Barico on her blog. You should read it. If not now, later. Say you will- then we can talk about it, okay? I have lots of thoughts.

I have the self-imposed deadline of Martinmas (November 11) in my head as the time by which closets should be ready for fall. That’s partially because of Molly at Molly Makes Do (who gives hand-knit things to her family for Martinmas gifts) and partially because of something Kendra at Catholic All Year wrote about extra coats and St. Basil. Basically, it comes down to this- some people don’t have enough. We almost always have more than enough. We especially have more than enough size 3T snow pants- they seem to have been procreating in our closet since last winter. It’s time to pass some things on.

In my cleaning out, I noticed that my favorite long red coat has once again been a snack for a new crop of carpet beetles. I am beyond sad about this. Those guys were in that closet when we moved into the house, and I’ve eradicated them four times. They just keep coming back.

I hate carpet beetles. I don’t know why God created them. I do not wish for them to be the recipients of our Martinmas sharing of coats. Any ideas?

To wrap things up, here’s a picture of the most amazing Friday afternoon surprise from the most amazing mother-in-law I’ve ever had. Sandra, you really put a big smile on my face!

It’s been a pretty difficult week, but how can anyone be frowny with a basket like that on the table?

Happy weekending, all. Now you’re all caught up.
For more Quick Takes, go visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!
five minute Friday, Nora

Five-Minute Friday: Notice

You’re in your blue period now, we say, by which we mean you’ll methodically cover almost the whole paper with all the different shades of ocean, turquoise, cornflower and navy you can find, leaving a deliberate white border around the sides.

Your outfits always begin with your socks- usually the yellow striped ones, if they’re clean (usually a tantrum, if they’re not). It’s hard to change your mind once you’ve made it up. You always make your choices on purpose, and you can’t be hurried. You know what you want, and you move toward it with the determined, plodding focus of a marathoner at mile 24 of a race…never rushing and unwilling to be distracted by anything.

Sometimes, I want nothing more than to push you out the door in my overwhelming desire to get us someplace less than 15 minutes late, but you are solid, sister. You take your time, carefully putting on your purple sparkly sneakers and your striped mittens and your red-white-and-blue star-shaped sunglasses. And just when I think I can’t wait one more second, you pause, lifting your head with a curious, delighted look on your face, cocking your ear toward the lilac bush.

“Mama! That’s a chickadee!” Your chuckle crinkles the corners of your eyes as the black-capped bird takes flight.

I never would have noticed.

I have to kiss your head, sweet girl, and remind myself to move over into the slow lane with you. You’re on the scenic route, and I don’t want to miss any more of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate’s blog.