Monthly Archives: December 2013

What Does the Doc Say?

There were sick grandmothers, cardboard pancakes, and stuffed puppies.  There were long nights at the hospital.  There was mud, blood, ice, tears, a great lack of rest and a good deal of grace.  And pizza.  This is life.

Ben was scheduled for a shunt revision on Friday.  We spent Wednesday making messes for Christmas, Thursday cleaning up after Christmas, and Friday came before any of us really wanted it to.  Grandma arrived bright and early, and sick with a worthy head cold.  With a wan smile and a will, she gathered up the three oldest boys for an overnight at her house (which didn’t have power after the recent ice storms).  The two youngest got strapped into car seats and headed a few hours south to the hospital with Mom and Dad.

“I’m getting a new shunt!” Ben announced proudly to his grandfather when we met him in the waiting room.  He seemed blithely unaware of what was ahead, and busied himself rearranging icons on Grampy’s smartphone while we waited.  (Kids who haven’t eaten all day because they’re headed for brain surgery get to do these things.)

He got a little worried when we traded his camouflage pants for a colorful johnny, and cried when the nurse offered him liquid medicine to drink.  But as it kicked in and he relaxed into jello, he seemed only concerned that the doctors had drawn on his sheets with markers.  “You can do that at the hospital,” the nurse told him as she marked his length out on the bed with a pen.  “It’s different than at home.”  No kidding.

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jello boy

Then the horrible moment came.  I handed him over to complete strangers.  The possible surgical complications flashed through my brain.  All the promises I made to him before he was even born felt jeopardized and hollow.  I felt like I was sending him to battle when he didn’t even know there was a war going on.  I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, but I hate that part.

We settled into the waiting room to wait.  My husband squeezed my hand; I squeezed the baby tighter.  Napless and fidgety, he squealed and spit milk seeds on my shirt. (The baby, not my husband…)  I realized I hadn’t eaten much that day since the two year old couldn’t, but the nursing baby certainly wasn’t observing a fast.  An hour trudged soddenly by.  This is what Purgatory feels like.

Finally, the neurosurgeon appeared.  It was done.  There was a new catheter in my son’s brain, a new hole in his head.  A new haircut.  We went to him.  His eyes were closed, a single tear staining the cheek beside his lashes.  He was silent till I picked him up, gingerly, amidst the tangle of wires and tubes.  Then his stoicism melted into tears.  We had to stay in the recovery room until he could hold down some liquid.  He doggedly refused until someone offered him a popsicle.

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He chose red, which I don’t think I’ve ever given him, to match the monitor light taped on his finger.  “Like ET.”  He held it up, brightening as the sugar quickened his awareness.  “Can we go home now?”

“No, we will stay here tonight.” I answered, wishing myself that we could be in our cozy little house without buzzing florescent lights and beeping and wires.  He snuggled closer.  I could smell the disinfectant plastered all over his head.  Praying was difficult; I was distracted, I couldn’t form cohesive thoughts.  But I knew others were covering him in prayer.  It was a great comfort.

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Grampy got him a toy puppy.  His new favorite.

Finally they wheeled him up to his room on the Children’s floor.  It took a bit of configuring, but we finagled spots for all four of us to sleep.  “Sleep” is of course a relative term in hospitals.  But Ben is of the age where Mommy is a necessity when you’re hurt or sick, and Finlay is of the age where Mommy is a necessity when you’re hungry.  And Daddy is a necessity because Mommy doesn’t have four arms.

Disclaimer* Hospital recliners are approved by fire codes but not by Serta.
Disclaimer* Hospital recliners are approved by fire codes but not by Serta.  Or by moms.

We had just discovered that the bag of clothes I had packed for Ben was still sitting on the sofa (2 and 1/2 hours away), when, by chance or divine intervention, a friend dropped in to visit.  She brought hot pizza.  God bless that woman.  She made the impending night seem less dark.  It was still a long one, though both boys slept through most of the nurses’ visits.  At five a.m., they came to take Ben down for another CT scan of his head.  When he came back freshly radiated, the baby woke and it was time to start the our day.

Good morning, sunshine.
Good morning, sunshine.

I went to the hospital for my son’s brain surgery, but I didn’t know it was I who’d be getting a facelift.  As we looked out at the cold dawning day over the rooftops, Psalm 121 drifted though my foggy head.  In more lucid moments, I whispered the words.  I lift up my eyes to the hills– from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.  I could only see the tops of buildings from our vantage point, but I decided not to interpret “hills” too literally.   

He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  Even in those dark hours, He kept vigil beside the IV pump.  I felt comforted knowing He was attentive though my incoherent hours.
My two year old gazed across the rooftops with me.  “Birds!” He whispered, enraptured.  I saw a seagull glide over the spires around us.  Snow reflected the first golden rays of the sun off the shingles.  The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade at your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  I snuggled him close in the alcove by the window.  The sterile world around us faded from my thoughts.  For a moment, anyway.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in, from this time forth, and even forevermore.  I looked up, across the roofs at the pure cold dawn.  I breathed out thanks and breathed in renewal.

We stumbled though cardboard-like pancakes and sugar-flavored maple syrup and eventually got the OK to go home.  It was good to be back in our less-antiseptic but well-used house full of brothers and leftover Christmas decorations.

Yesterday, before I managed to post this, Ben woke from his after lunch nap with a fever.  As it continued to climb, I got worried.  After a long round of phone tag with the pediatrician and neurosurgeon, I figured I’d better take him into the emergency room.

My only experience with the ER previously was nearly three years ago, when Ben was two weeks old.  Spinal fluid started dripping out of the incision on his back (from surgery at birth to close the bubble that contained his spinal cord).  That visit resulted in surgery to get his shunt installed to manage the overload of cerebral spinal fluid.

But again, I braved the crowds of feverish infants, delirious diabetics who hadn’t eaten that day and suddenly found themselves cranky, and loud-mannered teenagers complaining of nausea.  I had to check my pocketknife at the door.  Ben sat silent, white, thin-lipped, and hot, on my lap for three hours before they got us in to see a doctor.  He ordered rounds of tests to rule  out reasons for infection, and spent a good deal of time consulting with neurosurgeons both at the local hospital and the southern group who had just revised his shunt.  We paced the cubicle.  Grandma put the older boys to bed so Daddy could bring the baby to nurse.  No one seemed to know what to do.  We left around midnight.

This morning, we spent more hours talking to nurses around the state.  They finally convinced us to come down to see the neurosurgeon who had done Ben’s brain surgery on Friday.  We scrambled, throwing clothes and toiletries into bags, not knowing if the doctors would keep us there, or for how long.  Josh ran the older boys to Grandma’s again.  I sprinted to the grocery store with the youngest; I was overdue to go, the fridge felt bare.  We trucked down the highway.

Finally, after a long wait, the doctor poked his head in the door of the cubicle we were starting to call home.  “He’s fine.”  The surgeon announced.  “High fevers mean it’s viral.  Nothing to do with the shunt.  You can go home.  It’s OK.”

So we did.

I am glad to be home tonight.  I hear fireworks in the distance, marking the end of the year.  The Lord has preserved our going in and coming out.  Tote bags are scattered around the house, laundry is piling, toys rule the corners of the living room, my kids haven’t eaten enough veggies in the past week.  I will probably step on a lego tonight.  Or a pretzel.  Maybe simultaneously.

But we have been preserved.

From this time forth, even forevermore.

Tales of Woe and Gingerbread

I’ve decided I’m not cut out to make gingerbread men.

Small house; small kitchen.

Small children; male, not-dainty, bulldozer-type children.

Sugar; red dye and sprinkles; and corn syrup.  And children who’ve been cloistered in the house for days.  DAYS.

Gingerbread is a recipe for trouble.

I tried to break out, briefly, in a desperate run to Walmart when grandma stopped by to watch the little ones.  The parking lot was full; the isles packed.  I made it as far as toothbrushes before my cell phone buzzed.  Grandma had gotten called in to work.  I left.  That was Saturday.  It is now Tuesday.  Christmas Eve.  It has been over a week since most of my children have been beyond the snowbanks around the house.  Ice-laden branches hang low.  The ground sparkles; white, pure, and deadly slick.  Looking through the clear cold morning; there are dark spots in the city around me.  No power.  No escaping.

That is, unless you work in retail.  My husband didn’t get any snow days, though his store lost power briefly yesterday too.  On a rare Daddy moment when he got home before the kids went to bed, the two year old asked him, “Daddy, do you live here?”

So as ice pelted down out side, the boys asked if we could make gingerbread men.  I did what any stressed, logical stay-at-home mom of boys two days before Christmas would do.  I said no.  We’re making gingerbread ninjas instead.

We pulled out the bowl and started to mix ingredients.  I dug around for the extra bag of flour and realized there wasn’t one.  We called grandma.  Yes, she was working nearby, but could run to the store quickly and grab a bag.  She arrived; the boys tore open the paper packaging to dump it into the big container as I cooked supper.  “Don’t play in the flour bucket!”  I hollered.  Too late.  Sigh.  It turned out to be bath night.

The next morning, I scrubbed oatmeal off the counter to make a space to roll out dough.  “Rolling pins make good weapons,” my seven year old commented mildly, wielding the wooden cylinder by its loose handle.  “Too bad we only have one.”

“Isn’t it, though.”  I responded.  We smoothed the dough.  The two year old begged to help from his disadvantaged point on the floor.  I alternated holding him with floury hands and letting him fuss, dejected, on the linoleum.  The four year old jumped up on the stool and smacked down cookie cutters in the center of the dough.  “No more room,” he announced.  “I’ll eat the edges.”  The six year old offered to help him.

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After a dozen, the baby woke, hungry.  I nursed him while the boys jockeyed for position on the stool.  A fine layer of flour made the kitchen almost as treacherous as the ice world outside.  “Look, Mom, I cut out some shapes with a knife!” the four year old announced.  The seven year old was schooling his little brother in the finer points of knife use.  I stopped nursing.

We ran into lunch time.  I slapped sandwiches together amidst the aroma of cinnamon and cloves.  The baby fussed.  My sister called to say she’d just gotten a new puppy and could they come by to introduce him to the boys?  My kids were ecstatic.  I scraped dried dough off the counter and dumped dishes in the sink.  Somewhere around the 10th cleanup of little puppy’s excitement on the rug, I decided we’d wait till the next day to attempt decorating.

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The next day, I took a deep breath, and pulled out the sprinkles.  The boys sat in earnest anticipation around the table.  They grabbed ginger ninjas, spooned on icing, and decorated with the gusto of a young boy.  Stuck inside.  For days.

“I know what happens when you get a lollipop near your eyelash,” my four year old announced.  “The same thing with frosting.”  He knows these things. I watched him lick his fingers, eyes closed, enraptured by the sugar.  Crash.  He fell off the chair.  I picked him up while he blubbered.  The two year old took the opportunity to dump all the red sprinkles on his plate.  There may have been a cookie underneath.  He didn’t seem too bothered by such details.

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The sugar started to kick in after a couple dozen, and interest waned.  The cookie ninjas were suddenly more occupied with fighting each other than being frosted.  The two year old got washed off and went to play legos with red-stained hands.  The four year old fell off his chair.  Again.  We discussed the rules of gravity and keeping your eyes open when licking cookies (yes, I had that conversation), and I made the official decision to dispense with gingerbread cookie making for the rest of the year.  Or maybe the rest of my life.  Either way.

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ninjabread cookie

Maybe next year, we’ll plan cookies without sprinkles.  There’s a thought.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

God Bless Us, Every One

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“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.  Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard.  He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.

from The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. 

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I sat by the computer Sunday as the first snowstorm covered my little world, and read an update from a missionary friend in faraway hot India.  Friends had just asked her help with a three day old baby in a nearby village.  He was born without lower arms or lower legs.  He is the fifth child in the family and they aren’t sure they will keep him.

My emotions swirled like the snow outside the window.  My older children played busily around me as I nursed the baby.  The two year old drove matchbox cars over my shoulder.  The house was a mess, true, but air warmed by the wood stove carried the scent of roasting chicken.  My husband was at work, but he would be home to say goodnight after earning his paycheck.  Coats and mittens dripped steamily by the fire, adding moisture to the air and giving reason for the rosy cheeks bent over Legos nearby.  Christmas cards and a list of cookies to bake were scattered across the table among flash cards.

That old adage tapped gently at my memory, “I felt sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”  We have our struggles, but the road even my young son must walk so falteringly in his braces is easy compared to the uphill battle that little infant almost-orphan on the other side of the world will face.

And I asked Him, not for the first time, or even the hundredth, “Why?”

Why would You have this baby be born in a third world country?”

Why to parents who might not keep him?”

Why would You make him be born like this at all?”

Why would You make a baby born to be ridiculed, rejected, misunderstood… Why would you make a baby born to hurt or even born to die?”

The baby on my own lap stirred and snuggled deeper.  The two year old  next to me picked up one of his feelingless feet with both hands to move it away from the baby’s head.  He reached over and silently patted his little brother’s ear.   A tear sprang to my eye at a sudden realization.  It was love.

That Love had already sent a Baby born to die.  He’d sent His only Son, His beloved, perfect Son, to a stark, cold, heartless world to have a body broken.  He’d given him a body born to bear the full brunt of the ravages of sin.  This one, this Lamb slain from the foundations of the world, was born to show his Father’s love to sin-damaged humanity.  Nails sliced through his own arms and legs, forcing his body hard against the rough cross.  And Love held him there.

Will this little baby boy, born so far from me but for whom I ache, know that he bears in his own body the marks of the Lord Jesus Himself?  Will he learn that someday he can be given a new body, hale and whole, to run and clap and dance, for all eternity long?  Will he boast that he is one of the few chosen to bear from birth the mark of his Savior?  Will he find the answer to his question, why?

I think about these babies often.  Physically crippled; is it so that their souls will be more whole?  Or mine?  Will I remember, on Christmas Day, WHO made lame beggars walk and blind men see?  And will I trust that He will do it again someday?

Someday I, too, will understand why He would show His love by sending these Tiny Tims among us.  Like Mr. Dickens said, it’ll be as good as gold – and better.

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Driving in a Winter Wonderland

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  Two year old’s selfie

Just a quick update.  Surgery has been moved to the 27th of December.  After Christmas.  Though we had scrambled to prepare for surgery today, I am glad to wait a couple weeks.  Rushing into brain surgery was giving me a headache.

Before we had made plans for an operation, we had planned to go to the Spina Bifida clinic today to see all the specialist doctors who deal with the issues that Ben physically faces.  Since they postponed surgery, we were able to attend this fun-filled office visit as originally scheduled.  So we ended up going to the big city on this snowy day, and after driving for a few hours and finally getting there and unpacking the baby and 2 year old and wheelchair and diaper bags and finding out we had gone to the wrong building and repacking and driving down the road and repeating the process with protesting back seat drivers, we eventually saw lots of people in white coats.  It was a long day trading two year old for baby from my lap to Daddy’s in a small exam room for hours.  Hours.  But we survived.

Trying out big brother's wheelchair while waiting for doctors to drop in… It's legit; really, the four month old can't walk either!
Trying out big brother’s wheelchair while waiting for doctors to drop in… (It’s legit; really, the four month old doesn’t know how to walk either!)

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After a long time at the doctors’ office, and a shorter visit at the hospital where we met a new beautiful baby recently born with Spina Bifida (and where we’ll stay ourselves in a couple weeks for Ben’s surgery), we had some well-deserved mac and cheese at a restaurant.  Then we changed diapers in the car and drove out of the twinkly snow-kissed lights of the city.  We are home now.  Days like this sure do make our little house feel pretty appealing.  We’ll keep you posted.

 

"Why is Santa's deer sticking his head in the wall?"
“Why is Santa’s deer sticking his head in the wall?”

 

Oh Shunt.

Today I went to Walmart three weeks before Christmas with my five children and a wheelchair.  It was a little bit tough.  Then, for perspective, I set up brain surgery for my two year old son.  For next week.  That was a little bit tougher.

This is shaping up to be one humdinger of a December.

Ever have those days when you really need good chocolate and all you have is a twice-melted cheap bar from Halloween?  From last year?  This month might be one of those days for me.

A diagnosis needing brain surgery doesn’t really surprise me.  It’s par for the course with a kid born with Spina Bifida, unfortunately.  Because their spinal column never fused closed in the early weeks of gestation, the spinal cord didn’t form in the right way and spinal fluid doesn’t stay in a closed system and can build up at the top or bottom.  Ben had a shunt put in about two weeks after he was born.  This tube diverts the excess fluid from putting pressure on his brain, and it can last for years with no problem.  But if the shunt stops working, and the neurosurgeon thinks it has, then the brain can be damaged.  We don’t want that.  So, brain surgery Tuesday.  A new shunt.  Yay.

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seriously?

In my more positive moments, there are good aspects.  For one thing, I’m a retail widow from November to the new year.  Few things can pull my husband away from managing the store during the busiest season of the year.  But brain surgery is one of those.  So, we’ll have some “quality” time together.  Also, it does make a lot of the frivolous parts of Christmas seem, well, frivolous.  “What, you didn’t make a tree skirt from scratch this year or crochet everyone a new stocking?!?”  “Yeah, I was too busy caring for my son during his brain surgery.”  Nobody argues with you.  And to top it all off, he needed a haircut anyway.

But in the darker, starker times, it is a little scary.  It is, after all, brain surgery.  A man I’ve spoken to twice in my life is going to get intimately familiar with the deep recesses of my precious son’s brain, an organ he admits we still don’t know much about.  And I’m supposed to let him.  The first time Ben got a shunt was one of the lowest points of my life.  It was emergency surgery.  I remember the terrible anguished cry my baby made when he woke up from sedation afterward.  It still makes me well up with tears.  My husband got so sick the night we went to the ER with the baby that as soon as I got home from the hospital with my convalescing infant, I turned around and took my husband to the ER for dehydration.  It was a tough moment in history.  And you know how history has a tendency to repeat itself.

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It’s not making Christmas easier.  I have shopping to do, gifts to make, cookies to bake, a house to make pinteresting (snort.)  I have homeschooling and mostly-single-parenting to soldier through until after the holidays calm down.  This is not all twinkly lights and mistletoe and breathy caroling.

But Christmas wasn’t designed to be easy.  It was designed to be significant.

God came down to Earth to an unwed teenage mother.  He didn’t have health insurance or food stamps.  He had a foster dad.  The stable wasn’t warm or smelling of cinnamon and pine needles.  It wasn’t sanitary; nobody washed their hands to cut his cord.  Blood stained the dirt floor.  Mary groaned, Baby squalled, Joseph probably freaked out and sheep nonchalantly did their business in the middle of the floor.  He came in the midst of political turmoil and governmental corruption.  He came to be hungry, dirty, and cold.  He came to be hurt, to be snubbed, to be misunderstood.

He came to be Immanuel.  God with us.

When Gabriel came to tell Mary to take a pregnancy test, he said, and I paraphrase, “Congratulations.  You are blessed among all women with a surprise pregnancy… Don’t be afraid.”

This blessing, this Christmas present for Mary, was going to be tough.  Super tough.  A blessing in the raw.  A gift with hard, sharp edges and no crinkly paper or soft bows.

But all she said was, “Ok.  This doesn’t make sense, but I’ll assume You’ve got this, Lord.  So we’re good.”

And He did, and the rest is history.  (Well, it’s also present and future, since that Baby is still alive and the part where He’s king forever hasn’t happened because forever takes a long time.)

Living these historic moments of my life is not easy.  They are raw and real.  They are on a whole different level than fun with gingerbread and sprinkles which I’ll have to vacuum into oblivion the next day anyway.  But these moments are necessary.  These moments are significant.

I guess Mary has the right idea.  “Ok, I don’t really get it, but I’ll assume you’ve got this God.  So we’re good.”

And having a husband who comes home with a box of fresh chocolates after his wife’s had a long December day isn’t a bad deal either.

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We appreciate your prayers.

The Grinch List

I have more children than money.  Their wants are grand, but their honest needs are few.  It’s the annual Christmas conundrum; get the kids something they will appreciate, use, and enjoy without breaking the bank or the overflowing toy cupboard.  My boys are still young, but there are a bunch of them now, so I’m beginning to see trends.  If you’re in a crunch like me, maybe these will help.  Honestly, a few of these probably will be under the tree at our house this year.

  • Bubble wrap.  This has got to be near the top of any list.  Instant gratification, the joy of destruction, minimal mess to clean afterward.  This is always a fought-over commodity in our house, usually of greater interest than the object it briefly protected within its voluptuous folds.
  • Ice.  This one never ceases to amaze me.  An ice cube will keep my kids busy for, well, minutes at least.  I just found Buzz Lightyear suspended, not unlike Han Solo in carbonite, in a block of it in my freezer.  When I showed the kids their forgotten prisoner, they delightedly spent the next 20 minutes chopping him free with a butter knife and distributing the cold pieces amongst each other like candy.  Icicles in winter, a chunk of it in a bowl in the summer, it’s even been known to float in the bathtub for a few minutes of terrorizing siblings, ice can’t be beat for price or cleanability.  A clear favorite.  Hehe.

    Ice. Ice, baby.
    Ice. Ice, baby.
  • Toilet paper tubes.  What’s better than this?  Having more than one, maybe.  A dozen salvaged from the recycling box will set my crew’s creative juices flowing.  Binoculars, telescopes, swords, matchbox car tunnels, puppets… And that’s just with the empty ones.  Ask any 18 month old what the most fun room of the house is, and he probably won’t tell you.  But actions speak louder than words.  In one corner, the flushable porcelain bowl beckons, simply reaching for the plunger sends mom into spasms which prove how precious that jewel must be, lots of sprayable bottles hide under the sink, and finally there’s that ultimate marvel of engineering enticingly suspended almost within reach – the toilet paper roll.  You don’t have to be potty trained to appreciate toilet paper.  A “double roll” can completely bury a persistent toddler if he works hard enough.  Or be used to measure the length of the house.  Or sop up a puddle (how did that get there, anyway?).  Or be a pillow.  Or blanket.  Or clothing.  Endless possibilities.                                                       IMG_1862
  • Boxes.  Akin to the tubes mentioned above, boxes can morph into dozens of props.  Refrigerator or washing machine boxes are of course just plain awesome.  But if mom doesn’t seem to want an elephant in the room, even a tissue box can be something.  They have been garages, monster feet (with or without tissues removed), treasure boxes, pet bug homes (even more rewarding if mom doesn’t know when she reaches in, expecting an innocuous tissue), tool chests, building blocks if you save enough, even bowls for cereal (hopefully without milk).                                                     IMG_1389
  • Magnets.  These are so much more than simply tools to hold artwork on the fridge.  In the first place, they can also hold things on the dishwasher, stove, washing machine, file cabinet, car, or assorted power tools left within reach.  A small one on either side of the ear is a quick and painless earring.  Taped onto matchbox cars, they are can drive up refrigerators.  A collection of them on a cookie sheet at the table, especially with a paper that has spaces to put them to count things, is great clean busywork for a toddler.  My two year old uses them during homeschool lessons regularly.  They are good fishing “hooks” for homemade indoor fishing trips off the side of the bunk beds (assuming you’re fishing for paper clip-clad fish).  There are probably endless uses for more creative people than me.  Take that as a challenge.
  • Pipe cleaners.  We don’t have pipes around the house, but we do have cleaners.  Wires are useful and great raw material for creating.  Cover them in fuzzy bright colors, and they’re suddenly kid attractors.  We make glasses, hooks, stick figure animals and people, and Christmas ornaments.  Watch the poky end, but other wise these keep my older guys engrossed for whole minutes of independent construction.
  • Sand/mud.  I personally prefer to keep this outside in the sand box, or better yet, at the beach, but my boys are not naturally respecters of such inhibiting boundaries.  Unless you’re far, far south of me, this probably wouldn’t be a good Christmas gift (unless you’re a far, far more relaxed and patient mother than I am).  With a good vacuum.  Obviously castles, moats, and mud pie come to mind, but good ole fashioned sand can also be used for construction sites, small fort building material, ammo when it isn’t snowball season, hands-on science, apparently even a public restroom for the local fauna.  Our sand box and adjoining mud pit get a lot of use.  Daily.  IMG_0278IMG_0292
  • Flour.  This also applies to rice, laundry soap, and anything in the kitchen that would leave a hand print.  I think the unconscious reason my two year old likes to “help” me in the kitchen is to utilize another outlet for mess.  He loves measuring cups of flour for bread.  He giggles with (manly, of course) glee when we pour a new bag of rice into the big container where I keep it.  He stirs the muffin batter with determination.  He has spent almost half an hour sifting though our homemade laundry mix (and came away from that mess with cleaner hands than before.  Not too shabby.)  He mixes with sheer abandon.  It’s pretty cute.  Older kids can often be coerced into kitchen work too, under the guise of messy play.  Try it.  You’ll like it.           IMG_1747
  • Spray bottles.  After they (ok, you) sweep up from the rice and flour, the fun doesn’t have to end.  My older kids have caught on to this, and can actually earn a quarter or two if they grab a spray bottle full of white vinegar and start swabbing down windows.  But my smaller, less monetarily-driven, guys still do it for free, usually just with water.  And if a spray bottle fight breaks out (as it is wont to do), then your floors, walls, and kids will be cleaner too.  In theory.
  • A baby brother.  I guess a sister might work too, though I’ve never tried it.  My kids have learned that a new little sibling can actually be fun.  Ok, not always, granted.  And they’re really not cheap playthings.  Ok, not at all.  But in our house, they come with the territory.  So my kids have learned to roll with it.  Babies make inappropriate sounds and get away with it, which always sends my kids into paroxysms of laughter.  They bubble, drool and spit.  Boys find that hilarious.  In public, big brothers get to show off baby brothers to doting strangers.  Once they get a few months old, babies smile at any brother who gets close enough to focus on.  It’s very rewarding.  They are often available to snuggle, to keep quiet company, or to draw out the mother hen instinct of a boy growing strong enough not just to destroy but to protect.  It’s quite beautiful.  Not something a toy from any store can really reveal.

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  • A puppy.  Hahahahahahahaha. Ha. No.  (Seriously.  We’re good.)