Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Insight from Hannah on how men lead to trouble

Hannah was unusually quiet at lunch today. I should have known something profound was brewing. Looking up sweetly into my eyes she enlightened me, "Do you want to hear my nursery rhyme? It goes like this: from men to trouble, because men remind me of boys, and boys remind me of daddies, and daddies remind me of computers, and computers remind me of buttons, and buttons remind me of Toby, and Toby reminds me of trouble!"

Yes, an airtight syllogism to prove that men lead to trouble. Even my four year old can see it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

All that remains

Matt and I traveled last night a seven hour drive to visit my family. We planned the trip, though money was short. I worked for a week pre-baking and freezing gfcf meals though time was overbooked. And just as my energy and faith were waning, as so often happens, God sent refreshment. Two hours before we left for the trip a Christmas card arrived from a friend with a check large enough to more than cover our travel expenses.

After a few potty stops and one discipline stop (Ok, that's it! I'm pulling the car over...), the children finally drifted to sleep. Matt and I were left driving in the beautiful snowy silence. "I found my old Rich Mullins tape," he mentioned. "I don't even know if it will work anymore."

"I don't think we've ever even used the tape player in this van," I replied, "but we can give it a try." I had to draw a deep, slow breath as the familiar opening notes to one of my long-ago favorite songs filled our van. Matt and I both smiled as the day's tension melted. We had listened to that tape a thousand times before and after we were married, but it had been at least six years since we'd played it. The song transported me back before Toby, and Emma, and Hannah, and Naomi...before losing our jobs...before Cono...before Wheaton College and a never ending PhD that wasn't to be...back to the shores of North New England, back to carefree newly-wed life, back to playing Chess on the ocean lawn and watching amazing double rainbows over the Atlantic Ocean, back to chasing each other, laughing, through the endless halls of a nearly-haunted mansion where Matt workd as a security guard, back to when whole-hearted trust in God was so much simpler, so much less painful.

It strengthend me to remember, and to hear Matt singing with all his bruised heart as Rich sang:

I see the morning moving over the hills
I can see the shadows on the western side
And all those illusions that I had
They just vanish in your light

Though the chill of the night still hangs in the air
I can feel the warmth of morning on my face
Though the storm had tossed me
'till I thought I'd nearly lost my way...

...and everything that could be shaken was shaken
and all that remains is all I ever really had

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can't let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to you
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

The pain and the homelessness we face here keep us longing for our home. Our weakness keeps us trusting Christ for each step we take. I am continually amazed at his provision, at his gentle way of encouraging our spirits. "For when I am weak, then I am strong." It is a good place to be on Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 17, 2010

All They Need for Christmas

It catches me off guard when people ask me what I'm getting my kids for Christmas. I don't have firm convictions about not getting my children presents. Honestly, I haven't really given it much thought, but I don't plan on buying them anything for Christmas.

Maybe it's because we don't have any money, or maybe it's because we already live in a house that is so overstuffed with toys that there's hardly any room for the people to exist. Both of these would be good reasons, but as I think about it more I think the real reason is that I know that presents would not make my children one eensy bit happier. In fact, I run the risk of teaching them the exact opposite. By spending lots of money, wrapping up big gifts, hyping up the moment when they will open them, oohing and ahhing, and taking pictures when they do, am I not teaching them that they should derive their happiness from material things? Don't I run the risk of teaching them discontentment, selfishness, and materialism?

Don't get me wrong, my children will be opening plenty of packages in the next two weeks. They have lots of family members who will spoil them. I will smile and make sure they thank the giver and hope that they enjoy what they are given, but for my part, I refrain from giving them presents. Instead I will recount for them, once again, the story of the missions trip I took to Guatemala when I was 16 years old. I will tell them about the little children I saw who lived in the Guatemala City dump in huts made from garbage, eating rotten food, with vultures circling overhead. I don't tell them this story to steal their happiness, I tell it to them to give them happiness. This experience was one of the best presents I could have received as a 16 year old. It taught me thankfulness and contentment, and I want my children to share in that present too. I will recount for them every way in which God has blessed us and provided our every need. I will remind them about how we live in a family where we love each other and care for each other, something many children do not share. I will be sure that my children know that this is what makes Mommy and Daddy happy, and that presents are only the tiny sprinkles on our cake of joy.

What do I want to give my children for Christmas? Christmas day is too small to hold all that I want to give them. I want to give them a childhood filled with unconditional love and acceptance. I want to teach them about the God who made them and who can give them hearts that love him and love others. I want to give them hugs and kisses and tell them I love them at least once each day. I want to give them the opportunity to let their minds develop creativity, logical thinking skills, and normal attention spans, free from the mind numbing chaos of television, noise, and over activity that permeates each corner of our culture.

I want to give them a worldview that can understand and even appreciate their medical challenges as gifts from God that make them uniquely beautiful, and present them with the opportunity to show the world what contentment, trust, and reliance on God's strength look like. I want to give them gluten-free, casein-free sugar cookies to take to school (even if I have to stay up all night making them) so they can eat them with their friends at the Christmas party and see that medical limitations are what you make of them.

I want to give them the opportunity to clean up their own messes and learn responsibility, to share in the chores and learn that work can be fun, to make mistakes and learn to apologize and be reconciled. I want to give them a chance to hear, "sure, go ahead and try, you can do it," instead of "stay out of my way, you're going to mess it up," to hear, "good job, I'm really proud of you," or, "Mommy and Daddy will always love you no matter what you do, but it makes us feel especially proud when we see you making right choices." I want to give them open arms and a kiss to run to when they are hurt, but loving hands that will set them back on their feet and tell them to try again. I want to give them the chance to meet someone else's need and feel the joy that comes from helping others.

I want to give my children a truly joyful childhood. I often fail, I lose my temper, I yell, I send them away when I'm busy. I am not a perfect mother, but these are the things I will strive to give them, and I am not so blind as to think that packages under a tree will replace the real joys that Matt and I have the responsibility to give our children. In fact, I have the responsibility to counteract all the selfishness, discontentment, and materialism that would be so easy for them to absorb this time of year. Sometimes this leads me to refuse things that well meaning people want to give my children. When the well-meaner counters that my children would "like it," I have a hard time finding the words to tell that person gently that just because a child "likes" something does not mean it is good for that child or that it will ultimately bring them joy. How do I explain to them that their obnoxiously loud toy will only slow down the brainwaves of my previously thinking child, and distract my child from the relationships and activities that would bring them real joy? Yes, it might entertain my child, but entertainment is often unhealthy and leaves one more stupid and feeling more empty than before, even though you mean well.

Strangely enough, my children do not feel deprived. Just ask the nurses who care for them, who remark that my children are some of the most calm, happy, thankful children they've ever seen pre-surgery. When they ask Naomi what she wants for Christmas, and she has to pause for a few minutes because she hadn't even thought about Christmas presents, then tells them that she'd like, "a couple new outfits," I think that speaks for itself. Outfits are needs, and they would be nice, but she's really looking forward to spending time with family, singing Christmas carols together, and maybe baking some more cookies. Which is great, because that's exactly what I intend to give her.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Surgery Schmergery

It was difficult to detect any apprehension on Naomi's face as we walked into the hospital from the cold, crisp morning air. She commented on the glittery presents hanging on the Christmas tree in the lobby and listened a moment to the player piano. We chatted about how the kids in her class were probably jealous of her because they had to go to school. She didn't seem to be bothered much at all by the fact that a doctor was about to cut her tummy open.

We were heading for a simple surgery really, just an inch-and-a-half incision in the middle of her abdomen to sew closed a hernia that Naomi had had since childhood. She'd been under anesthesia four times before (for an eye surgery, two MRIs, and the endoscopy in September), and remembered all of those procedures. This was old hat to her. My parents had come to visit for a few days and were able to stay with the other kids, freeing Matt up to come along as well. When she was changed and settled in bed the nurse turned on Mickey's Playhouse, and Naomi was soon giggling at Donald Duck's antics.

I'm thankful she was oblivious as I discussed her entire medical history with the nurse. It's such a long list that I'd rather Naomi not have to hear it repeated all that often. When I do talk about these things with her I downplay their significance and chat lightheartedly about how everybody has differences, because that's all she needs to know for now. But facing abdominal surgery I wanted to stress the significance of these issues with the doctors, not downplay them. The nurse listened intently and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, flipping through some more pages, she looked up surprised. "Oh, she has congestive heart failure?"

I raised an eyebrow and shook my head slowly, "Nooooo...why would it say that?" Then I realized their mistake and laughed a little. "No, she has Congenital Hepatic Fibrosis, not Congestive Heart Failure--same acronym, very different meaning!" The nurse was relieved to hear that, as was the anesthesiologist. He was also concerned about Naomi's heart murmur, but I calmly pulled out the report from her echo cardiogram in 2008, and he was much impressed. "I learned to carry the medical file," I explained.

Our pastor showed up just in time to pray with us. Then we gave Naomi some quick hugs and they wheeled her away. We chatted with our pastor and a few others in the waiting area, and I tried not to think much about what was happening in the operating room. One hour later the doctor came to tell us that the surgery had gone well. Surprisingly, though the bulge on Naomi's abdomen was nearly an inch in diameter, the actual opening in the muscles was only 2mm big. Some fatty tissue had been squeezed through the hole and become trapped there, causing Naomi's discomfort. He said he just trimmed the tissue off and closed the hole in the muscles with a single stitch. The chances of the hernia re-opening are very slim and Naomi's recovery will consist mainly of the surface discomfort from the incision.

Given such a simple surgery, I was surprised to find my daughter looking like a raccoon with tiny purple dots all around her eyes. The marks were petechiae, tiny burst blood vessels, which Naomi will sometimes get with an extreme temper tantrum, but I've never seen so pronounced before. The doctor then explained that she had coughed and gagged quite a bit while they were intubating her and he thought that the pressure from coughing had caused the petechiae. Naomi had a sore throat, but was in good spirits. She was interested in the orange coating on her belly and the large bandage taped over the incision. A grape Popsicle and some cartoons kept her satisfied until we were discharged just one hour later.

We indulged all the girls in an afternoon of television watching while Toby slept and my Mom and I ran out to pick up the Tylenol with codeine that had been prescribed for Naomi. Unfortunately Naomi's mood had turned sour by the time we came home. Exhaustion and a low-grade fever (which is apparently common after surgery) brought on a mood swing, and I ended up with cherry flavored Tylenol syrup spit back out on me. Instinctive as it was to punish this behavior, I refrained, cleaned it up, and held Naomi and rocked her as she cried. After about half-an-hour she did let me take her temperature, only 99.5, and accepted some regular Tylenol with a more tolerable taste.

I asked her if she'd be ready to go back to school the next day as I tucked her in bed. "I think so," she answered, "and, Mommy, do you have my sugar cookies ready for the Christmas stations tomorrow?" My weary heart sank. "I'll bake them right now," I assured her. Once upstairs I dug out the gluten-free sugar cookie mix in my pantry, at least I was prepared. Unfortunately, the mix called for one cup of gfcf margarine, which I had run out of the day before. Matt and I made a late-night trek to the grocery store and ended up filling two shopping carts. I like to stock-up when I go. Two hours later I returned to the sugar cookies, which instructed me to refrigerate the dough "at least one hour."  Nearly midnight, I decided to refrigerate the dough while I slept and finish the dumb cookies in the morning.

This morning Naomi was in a little more pain. She requested the Tylenol with codeine and actually drank it down. She was also anxious to remove the large bandage, and felt much better after a shower. I kept her home for the morning since I wasn't sure how she would react to the codeine and also to help with the cookies. Other than being utterly chaotic and exhausting, the cookie baking was fun and very tasty. As we packed up her special cookies and decorations I explained that Daddy would come with her to help her at the party since she needed extra help. "Yeah," she nodded, "I have a lot of special needs, but that's OK, because that just makes me more special." I had to agree.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bracing for Busy

Strangely enough, though my children have been cute as usual, nothing all that funny or exciting has happened in the Eby household lately. Toby did randomly wake in the middle of the night last night, but Naomi sang him a little song and he actually settled. It was pretty sweet hearing my six-year old sing a song to my 22 month old in the middle of the night to soothe him.

I also made another of my famous random doctor visits this week. Hannah's been having some sort of allergic reaction that made her eyes all puffy with dark circles, she complained about it for two days and begged to go to the doctor so I gave in and took her on the third day. Emma had a new mole that I discovered beneath her hair and needed that flu shot she had missed the day she puked all over. So I figured with three good reasons to go in I didn't need to feel so sheepish about showing my face in the office yet again.

It is only the calm before the winter storm though. The upcoming weeks are filled with activity. My parents are swinging by for a three day visit next week (yay!), and Naomi is actually scheduled for surgery on Wednesday. She's had a small abdominal hernia since birth that we knew would need to be fixed one day. It hadn't caused any problems before, but has begun to get bigger and sore now, so we went ahead and scheduled the surgery. It's supposed to be a minor, outpatient procedure with a small incision and few stitches to pull the muscles together. She'll be allowed to return to school the next day if she's up to it. I hope she is because her class is having a big Christmas party that day.

Then the following week will begin all the family celebrations and planning a trip across two states to see my family. A week away from home is significantly more challenging now that I have to plan special gluten free, casein free meals for my family. So I may not be as active with the blog for the next few weeks, but I'm sure you all are probably going to be too busy to read it. Of course, if anything too exciting or funny happens, I'll be sure to let you know. I have a hard time keeping anything to myself. Merry Christmas! 

Emma with her great-grandma Eby
Hannah with her great-grandpa Eby

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No, After You, I Insist

Each night after the bedtime story has been read we send the girls for one last potty stop, and almost every night it creates a fight. Suddenly each girl is in a crisis situation and will undoubtedly wet her pants if not allowed to use the potty first. I have very little patience for the leg-crossing, potty-dancing, and occasional shoves and screams of selfishness that ensue. We have talked extensively to the girls about thinking about the needs and wants of others before themselves, but I guess at the ages of six, four, and three we may be aiming a bit high.

Tonight I was dumbfounded to find the potty fight taking on a whole new form. "No, I said you go first!" Hannah yelled angrily at Naomi, "I'm already sitting here on the stool waiting for you to go!"

"No, Hannah!" Naomi insisted, "I don't even have to go yet, and I said that you go first tonight!" To my disbelief the fight escalated until the girls were nearly in a wrestling match attempting to put the other girl on the toilet. It clearly wasn't a sudden heart change to utter unselfishness for either girl.

I had to intervene to deescalate the situation. "You girls are being ridiculous!" I scolded. "Listen to you fighting in here. If either one of you would just go potty first the fight would be over. You're both only thinking of yourselves. I've told you before that if each of you would think about the other person before yourself there wouldn't be anymore fights."

"But I am thinking of the other person," Hannah insisted, "and I think she needs to go first!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pajama Drive

After dinner we put the kids in their PJs and loaded them into the van for some Christmas light viewing delight. The kids were hyped, and, though we didn't see too many especially dazzling houses, they reveled in each twinkling bush and gaudy reindeer.

"Oh, beautiful beauties!" Hannah exclaimed.

"Oh, look at those blue icicle lights," Naomi narrated, "it looks as if they're dancing."

"Wuh goes bwoo wigh! Gay ga-ee! (Look those blue lights! They dancing!)" Emma echoed.

"Yights!" Toby added.

We sang a few songs, marveled over tall lighted trees, and tucked some slightly cranky and overtired children in bed--slightly cranky, but fulfilled. Hopefully we created some happy memories.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Toby's To-Do List 12/6/10

For those of you who feel overwhelmed by the pressures of the season, I present to you the accomplishments of a 21 month old overachiever. Read on and feel inspired to do more than is humanly possible in one day.

Toby's To-Do:

1.) Wake the household by repeating "Mo-mmy! Da-ddy! Mo-mmy! DAAAA-DDDDYYY!" for at least five minutes or until my presence is acknowledged, and I am removed from this cage. (Tried removing myself from it once--didn't go so well--sticking to parent removal on demand for now)

2.) Demand to accompany Mom to bus stop with Naomi in middle of blizzard. Throw enormous tantrum and refuse to eat cereal set before me when strapped to booster seat instead. Let Mom come in to find cereal all over the floor as payment for her insensitivity. Pay no attention to discipline.

3.) Follow Mom around as she attempts to do laundry, clean the kitchen, or plan meals. Demand to read "Book!" over and over again. (Preferably the same book, 15 times in a row.)

4.) Settle for reading book with Daddy. Point to pictures of rocks, ladders, TVs, computers, tables, and chairs, naming them all as, "NO, NO!" Repeat solemnly the new name that Daddy gives the computer, "Spank."

5.) Observe Emma's frustration when trying to build a block tower. Observe quietly as Mom comforts her and helps her to succeed. Knock tower down! Observe innocently as Emma cries.

6.) Climb onto kitchen chair, slip, fall backwards and knock head against counter on the way down to the floor. Scream like I have a concussion so Mom will take me under the bright lights in the bathroom and sit me on the counter to look me over. Recover completely from head trauma and dive to grab as many toothbrushes as I can while they're in my reach.

7.) Climb onto kitchen chair and pick up each item Mom is attempting to use to prepare lunch. Repeat, "Yunch! Mmmmm!" over and over as I steal the ham, the cheese, and the butter knife out from under her. Drag kitchen chair over to stove so I can place my hand as close to fire as possible while Mom attempts to grill the sandwiches. Scream, kick, and pout when she straps me into my booster seat and sets the booster seat in the middle of the living room, entirely out of reach of anything.

8.) Participate with enthusiasm in lunch conversation, even though I have no clue what they're talking about.

9.) Wake up from nap to find Mom making meatloaf. Hand each egg to Mom, announcing, "Ball!"

10.) Demand to accompany Mom to bus stop to pick-up Naomi. Scream and refuse to eat a snack when strapped to booster seat instead. This is sooo infuriating, how do these strap things work, anyway?!

11.) Insist on going outside in blizzard with sisters. Force Mom to suspend the meatloaf recipe and spend 15 minutes cramming my feet into boots and my fingers into mittens. Wail in horror when first snowflake touches my face. What the heck?!?! That stuff is cold! And wet! And it's on all my toys! OK, it is really cool when Mom makes a snowball. Hey, this stuff has potential...another day. Demand to be taken back inside immediately.

12.) Refuse to put any of that brownish lumpy stuff in my mouth at dinner, even though it's covered in ketchup. Throw head back, cough and gag when Mom sneaks some in my mouth. Throw the poisonous garbage to the floor in protest. Watch Mom carefully until she looks away. Shove handfuls of meatloaf in my mouth while she's not paying attention. It isn't half-bad after all.

13.) Remark, "Eww! Gohhhsss!" while Mom changes my diaper. Listen intently while Mom and Emma discuss how big Emma is since she uses the potty. Announce, "Nee pah-ee! Have pee!" Run to bathroom. Repeat, "Nee pah-ee! Have pee!" with enthusiasm until Mom removes my diaper and places me on the toilet. Sense chasm of watery death beneath me. Scream, throw arms around Mom's neck, and plead for rescue. Reconsider and repeat, "Nee pah-ee! Have pee!" Repeat dance of death when placed back on toilet. Pick up diaper and hand it to mom. Pee in diaper less than one minute later.

14.) Give flight and run ragged through the house while Mom attempts to put my pajamas on.

15.) Climb onto bathroom counter via bathroom stool. Put each adult's toothbrush in my mouth and point to night-light announcing, "HOT!" when Mom comes in to retrieve me.

16.) Stand in crib jabbering, giggling, and generally yucking it up long after sisters have fallen asleep. But I should get some rest, it's going to be a big day tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blankie, Boo, Sheepy too

Hannah's been a blanket dragger since she was ten months old. It was a fuzzy pink blanket with a picture of Piglet sewn on the bottom. Piglet is still there, but the blankie is more of a dingy grey now. Surprisingly, it is not missing any pieces. Considering the number of places that blanket has been dragged and the number of nights it's been cuddled, it's amazingly durable. I have been pushing Hannah toward daytime separation from her most prized possession--just baby steps, like leaving it in the car instead of dragging it into the store with us, then leaving it at home all together--but it has been a rough separation.

My gradual weaning plan may have backfired on me. Recently I overheard Hannah whispering, "I love you, Blankie. I love you so much. I love you more than anyone else. You'll never leave me." And worse, two new friends joined Blankie this fall to form an inseparable foursome. First came the doggie pillow Hannah was rewarded with after her biopsy. On the way home she informed me, "His name is Boo. It's short for Boot. I love him so much!" Then came the adorable sheep-headed, silk-lined fleece blanket that Prenatal Partners for Life sent for each of my children. Naomi, Emma, and Toby like their sheep, but Hannah's has become entwined as the newest member of the love quartet.

"Hey, Mama," she announced, "It rhymes: I love Blankie, Boo, and Sheepy too!" And so it remains. If she discovers one to be absent during the bedtime story, the story must wait while a state of emergency is declared and all parties are consumed with the search. If one is pushed under the depths of the covers by a careless, sleeping foot, and Hannah should awaken to take roll and find him missing, Mama must be awoken and a flashlight brought in to retrieve the lost friend. Toby has caught on, and if he should find one lying around the house, he will yell, "a-nana!" and run the helpless fellow to his owner as if there's not a moment to loose. So when I enroll her in kindergarten next summer do you suppose I'll be allowed to enroll Blankie, Boo, and Sheepy too?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sipping the Past to Savor the Present

Our church offered free childcare today to give busy parents a chance to cross a few things off of their December "to-do" lists. My kids were ecstatic when I announced this morning that they would be heading to the church for a kids' activity day. Toby had no idea what I said, but hey, excitement is catching. With a small church, the place and faces were familiar to the kids, so Matt and I were at ease dropping them off and enjoying some time to ourselves--that's high on my "to-do" list.

We had a quiet, leisurely lunch at home, then sat at Starbucks where I enjoyed a warm peppermint Mocha. The Starbucks atmosphere took me right back to downtown Chicago ten years ago, when my roommate and I would study for hours at there. And to the few times that Matt flew back in from Seminary and joined me at a Starbucks to help me with my Greek homework. It will be ten years ago this coming New Years Day that Matt and I were engaged, and our ninth wedding anniversary on January 5th. Today helped me to "zoom out" from the daily details of diaper duty and job hunting. It was fresher air and a much prettier view looking at the whole of the last ten years. It gave me a bit more energy to tackle the tasks at hand when we crashed back into kid-world a few hours later.

Our life was beautiful ten years ago, and it is beautiful now, just very different. It was a pleasant dip into the past, but returning to the present to hear Toby squealing, "Mom-my!" and see the button-decorated ornaments the girls made was far better.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Frown that Looked Like a Smile

Around four this morning (yes, that seems to be the witching hour) Hannah joined me in bed. "I'm just having a rough night," she explained. "I got up to go potty, and my knee started hurting." I let her snuggle for a while, but she voluntarily returned to bed.

The morning was off with a bang, which is usually how it goes when I opt to hit snooze, especially on Fridays. Emma goes to speech preschool on Friday mornings, which happens to coincide exactly with the time Naomi's bus arrives. Naomi was in a funk because her jeans wouldn't fit inside her snow boots. I left Matt to deal with her and dashed out the door with Emma at 8:25. She arrived at preschool just as they were opening the door at 8:30, but was upset to discover that we had left her backpack at home. I promised to bring it back for her. At 8:34 I pulled back in our driveway just as Naomi's bus was coming down the street. I jumped from the van, ran inside and nearly dragged her out to the bus as it pulled up in front of our house. As she climbed on the bus I realized she wasn't wearing a hat. "Just get on the bus," I urged, "I'll bring your hat to school." At least I had two good reasons to go back to the school now. Emma's teacher was relieved when I arrived with the backpack. "Oh good," she sighed, "That'll make her happy." Naomi was equally relieved to see her hat.

When I flopped back on the couch after my one-hour dash, Hannah strolled up beside me with her pajamas still on and tussled hair. "Mommy," she frowned, "my knee still hurts." (Actually, she has trouble with 'r' so it sounded more like "huwts".)

"Does it really?" I probed, scrutinizing her body language for any real sign of pain--none was detected.

"Yes! It really does. It really hurts a lot!" she insisted. I gave her knee a kiss and gave her a pep-talk about not making big deals out of little ones, but she wasn't giving up this opportunity for attention.

"Don't worry about it, Hannah, it will heal up," I assured her. "Do you want some breakfast?"

"Well...," she thought, "I'm just gonna eat breakfast and worry about my knee."

One bowl of cereal later she called from the kitchen, "Mommy, I want more...or maybe my knee is my tummy and I shouldn't eat because my knee hurts." When I asked her to get dressed later she replied, "No! I need to worry about my knee!" Lying down on the floor she remarked, "I obeyed myself, and now I'm worrying about it." When I refused her further attention and left to take care of work, she shadowed me saying, "I have to follow my mommy wherever she goes because my knee hurts."

I turned to her in cynicism, "Honey, if your knee hurts so much, why are you smiling?"

"Well, I just had a frown that you thought was a smile," came the innocent response.

She noticed that the envelope that I was jotting her phrases down on was filling up. "I'll get you another paper," she offered, "in case I be more funny." When I laughed openly at that she grinned and danced about the room for a moment, then stopped. "Oh! I forgot I'm sad!" she quipped as she fell to the floor in mock pain, kissing her knee. "Oh! Twenty kisses won't help this time! Oh!"

You'll be happy to know she made a full recovery shortly after I announced we would be cleaning out the minivan together. Stranger things have happened in the Eby household.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Snow Show

I loaded three children into the minivan first thing this morning to take them for their annual flu shots. Emma vomited herself out of her flu shot last night and won the envied spot on the couch watching movies with Daddy. Jealous of Emma though they were, Naomi, Toby, and Hannah were herded out the door while Emma grinned.

The frigid white wind that met me outside was nearly as welcome to me as another vomit covered child, but it instantly brightened Hannah's mood. "It's snowing!" she announced, and she heralded the glad tidings all the way to the doctor's office. "I can't believe it's actually snowing! Finally, finally! I love the snow! It's not quite covering the grass yet, Mama, but it will 'cause it just keeps snowing and snowing!"

"It's still snowing!" Hannah discovered as we emerged from the office after the shots. At home she pulled back the curtains on the patio doors and planted a chair in front of the wide-screen snow show. "Look, Mama, it's all white outside!" she reminded me. "The grass is white and the chairs are white, and the toys are white, and... Hey, there's a man who sings about a white Christmas, and he's sad. He sings sad 'cause he lives so far north that he doesn't have any snow. I'd be sad too if I didn't have any snow. Oh, who says it's not Christmas? It is Christmas! Be...cause...it's...snowing! It really is, Mama."

"Is it really?" I asked dryly, chopping some celery for our crock-pot dinner. "Toby, get your fingers back!"

"I just like the snow so much that I'm going to stay here all day," Hannah sighed. "No matter how long, I'll still, still, still look out this window. I'll look out for the whole Christmas until the snow stops snowing and it's spring again. And at bedtime I'll refuse to go to bed! I just like snow, you know? That rhymes. Are you writing down what I say, Mama?"

"No, sweetie, this is a recipe," I lied.

Hannah was disappointed, "You should write it down. It would be sad if you don't remember how cute I am."

Toby pulled a kitchen chair up by the hot crockpot on the counter to inspect the contents. "No, Toby!" I yelled. He startled and fell backwards off the chair onto the kitchen floor. I scolded him, "That's HOT! Toby, it will BURN you!" Ah, yes, burn. He seemed to remember that and opted to relocate his chair to beneath a shelf of breakable Christmas decorations.

"Toby's so naughty," Hannah commented, "but he got a sticker from the doctor today even though he wasn't brave."

"No, Toby!" I yelled again as he stretched to reach a dangling evergreen swag, but he didn't heed my warning. His little toes lost their grip on the edge of the seat and he toppled off the chair. I showed no sympathy.

"Next time we go back outside to play I'll be wearing snow pants!" Hannah continued unfazed. I did my best to tune her out as I fried a pan of bacon. A moment later the living room lights dimmed, then glowed bright again, then dimmed. I left the bacon to find Toby teetering on the arm of the recliner and running the light dimmer up and down. "Bright!" he announced cheerily. "I think it's about time for lunch," I lied again, strapping Toby into his booster seat.

"Mommy," Hannah chided, reading my emotions, "you're supposed to love your enemies."

I love him. I just love him better in his booster seat. And I love Hannah, but sometimes a small piece of duct tape is tempting, just until it stops snowing.

Things that go "blurp" in the night

Emma volunteered to put herself to bed last night. She slept restlessly, tossing and turning, and occasionally moaning. Around 4:00am I was startled awake by a sudden blurping sound. "Mommy, come!" Emma croaked. More blurping followed as I lept out of bed. By the time I reached Emma she and her bed were covered in gluten-free Hawaiian pizza vomit. "Oh, honey, it's OK," I assured her as she sat shaking, "wait here, don't move."

I jerked Matt from bed, wrapped Emma in her comforter and handed her over to Matt, "You bathe her, I'll clean up the bed." I turned on a lamp in the corner, which pleased Toby very much, "Bright!" he chirped. Unfortunately, Emma likes to sleep with a menagerie of coverings and furry friends. A sheet, a mattress pad, a fuzzy blanket, a handmade quilt, a silk "lovey," and a couple furry friends went into plastic bags for cleaning.

"Mommy," Naomi whined, "can you turn that light off? It's bothering me."

"Sorry, Naomi," I apologized, "I can't clean throw-up in the dark."

"Bright!" Toby added helpfully.

I remade Emma's bed with fresh bedding, and brought some clean pajamas up for Emma. Matt was gagging as he rinsed Emma off in the bath tub. After an hour of bathing, rinsing, stain removing, laundry washing, and bathroom disinfecting we finally all found our way back to bed around 5:30am. Toby did his best to talk himself to the sunrise, but he eventually succumbed to sleep as well.

Today Emma is perky as usual, though she didn't object to being treated to a special bed on the couch and a movie this morning. She's drinking and eating and acting as if nothing had happened at all. I, on the other hand, am a bit sleepy. Want to place bets for who will throw up tonight?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Improper Burial

Toby's frantic quest to dismantle the house stopped abruptly this morning while I was washing some dishes. I turned to find him lying on the floor behind me poking at a nondescript dark speck. I finished rinsing the pan and dried my hands just as Toby brought his prize to me. He stood grinning with the speck pinched between his thumb and finger. "Af wada gee," he chirped happily, offering me his treasure. I pinched the speck in my own fingers, then wrinkled my nose at the grotesque remains of mangled spider stuck to my finger. I quickly flung them in the garbage.

Toby was shocked. He ran to the can and peered in sadly while I washed my hands. Then he repeated in a quiet, mournful tone, "Af wada gee...all gone...bye bye."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Water or Whine?

I needed to run to Wal-Mart today, just a short little jog for some essentials. So while Toby was napping, with Matt working at home, I hearded Hannah and Emma toward the front door. On the way out the door I reached for the diaper bag then thought to myself, "No..they're both potty trained! But what about the sippy cups we drag everywhere we go lest someone should suddenly become dehydrated? No! It's a twenty minute trip and for once in my life I'm going to go shopping with a purse, not a diaper bag." I redirected the girls for a last potty stop and water drink while I proudly placed my wallet in a purse and slung it over my shoulder.

Unfortunately we'd only loaded one item into the Wal-Mart cart before Hannah noticed something missing. "Hey, Mama, where's my cup?" she asked, "I'm thirsty."

"Yeah I ir ee ooh, (Yeah, I thirsty too)" Emma echoed.

"Mommy didn't bring the cups this time," I answered, "and you will be fine. We'll be home in a few minutes." But my speech was less than convincing to Hannah. Suddenly she was trapped under the blazing Wal-Mart lights, and with no oasis in sight, her throat became more parched by the minute.

"I want to go now," she sulked, "I'm so thirsty. I just need a drink right now." I'm not accustomed to whining children. Generally they're thrilled to get out of the house, and I fully expected Hannah to be enraptured by the beautiful Christmas decorations surrounding us, but today her melodrama turned an entirely sour direction. I reminded her that it was her choice to come. I threatened to let her take a nap with Toby the next time, but the whining would not subside. "When can we go home?" she persisted as I placed our items on the check-out belt a full five minutes later, "I don't think you're ever ever ever going to take us home. You never will!"

Much to Hannah's dismay, I announced that we had to make another quick stop at a nearby craft store for some embroidery floss that Wal-Mart suddenly no longer carried. She sulked in the car, stomped into the store, and whined all the way to the embroidery floss. I quickly picked out the three I needed then turned to Hannah with a touch of sarcasm, "What? You're still alive? Well good, now we can go home and you can drink all the water in the world."

"I nee go pah-ee!" Emma announced. I really didn't want to delay our return, especially after promising Hannah we were on our way home. I glanced Emma over: no dancing, no look of urgency; then I factored in that she hadn't had one accident in the three weeks she'd been wearing underwear, and I decided to call her bluff. "You can wait, Emma, we're leaving."

By the time we made it to the parking lot Hannah was in a parched frenzy of dehydrated delirium. "Mommy, I'm going to die of thirst! I'm going to die right here in the parking lot! And the cars will run me over! I just can't keep waiting all day, and you're never going to take me home!" At this point I wasn't answering. Just survive, just survive.

When we arrived home Hannah bolted into the house and ran to her water cup with little dramatic sobs, like the marathon runner urging himself toward the finish line just ahead. She took two swallows, set the cup down with a huge, "Ahhhh!" and happily skipped to the Little People toys she had left an hour earlier. I had to remind Emma to use the potty.

Maybe the diaper bag wouldn't be so bad after all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rising and Falling

Thankfully, the nausea subsided and I was able to hear that sermon Matt preached this morning. It did, of course, turn out fine despite the previous day of kiddie madness.

In other news, I heard a frightful cry through the floorboards tonight as Matt was tucking the kids in bed. This was followed by Matt's cry of, "Oh NO!" I briefly pictured someone flinging Matt's computer to the floor, but decided that the cry wasn't nearly distressed enough for that, so I ran down the stairs to see.

"He fell out of his crib," Matt said, astonished. "I think he hit his head on the garbage can."

Toby lay shuddering in his crib. "Fall!" he whimpered, "head!"

"Well," I sighed, "maybe if he had a bad experience the first time, that'll keep him from trying again."

"Not likely," Matt smirked, and unfortunately I think he's probably right.

Anyone have a spare crib tent?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Sick Day

Matt and I were up late visiting friends last night. Around 12:30a.m. I began to feel queasy, and around 1:00am I nearly drug Matt out the door still talking as he went. I thought  I was just overtired, but when I woke with nausea and a stomachache at four a.m. I knew there was more troubling me.

Matt got up with the kids, and I tossed and turned miserably 'till 10:00a.m. Tired of being miserable by myself, I stumbled up the swirling stairs and collapsed on the couch. Toby ran to tackle me, but when his head touched mine he recoiled with a puzzled look. He reached tentatively to touch my head, then quickly withdrew his hand, "Hot!"

The fever and nausea have persisted all day.  With the exception of a few bathroom trips (one of which ended up with me lying on the bathroom floor), I've spent the day lying miserably on the couch or trying futilely to sleep in bed. This has put Matt and my mother-in-law on emergency kid duty. Unfortunately, Matt is supposed to preach at our church tomorrow, and the children have been less than cooperative with his preparation efforts. Apparently my absence makes the perfect occasion for spills, messes, fights, coloring on non-washable surfaces, and misbehavior of various other dramatic varieties. When I mused about dealing with our kids like the old woman who lived in the shoe Hannah commented, "Well, if her children had Celiac it was good that she didn't give them any bread, so maybe she was a good mama." And all these years we've wrongfully scorned her.

So I lie on the couch, pecking at the keyboard with one hand, truly unable to help my dear husband put the children to bed. Somehow I'm confident that the kids will soon be asleep, and Matt's sermon will turn out fine tomorrow, though I don't think I'll be there to see it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jail Meltdown

Well, Thanksgiving Day was busy and stressful, but I think it came out OK. The girls sat glued to the Macy's Parade for three hours straight. Naomi bopped up and down to the Radio City Rockettes, and they oohed and aahed over all the clowns, costumes, and huge balloons. The kids weren't too impressed with the traditional turkey dinner, but thankfully my self-esteem doesn't hang on their opinion. Toby was "dall done" about 30 seconds into the dinner, then crawled up on my lap and ate from my plate. At least they were impressed with the pumpkin pie.

Today the usual mound of laundry awaits me and the kids are back to their TV-free play. Currently, they are trying to find a suitable jail for Little People Bad Man. "I know," Hannah pipes up, "let's put him in the microwave jail! He won't be able to get out and he'll just have to ride around and around forever!" A scene from The Wizard of Oz comes to mind when I picture that, "I'm melting! Mellllllltiiiiiiing!" I better go intervene, I think that qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rich Rewards

Tonight I am drop-dead tired. My feet are sore, but my heart is full, and my stove top looks soooo yummy. I spent the afternoon (during Toby's nap) baking from-scratch gluten-free casein-free bread for tomorrow's stuffing with my three girls. Naomi was proud to read the recipe, and Hannah washed the dishes while Emma dried. Then we made some dinner and I actually took all four kids to the grocery store (in freezing drizzle) by myself for a few last-minute ingredients. It went miraculously well. We topped off the evening by making two from-scratch gfcf pumpkins pies, a little bonus apple pie from crust scraps, and a pan of gfcf brownies.

As I was praising the girls for their good behavior on the way home from the store, Naomi pointed out that there had not been need for a single time-out the whole day. I scanned the day in memory and realized, to my astonishment, that she was right. All four children had been home all day long, and there had not been need of any discipline whatsoever (well, except for Toby Trouble, of course). The girls had helped pick up toys, helped fold laundry, helped bake and wash dishes and grocery shop. Apparently they were so busy being helpful they had no time to be naughty. I felt very proud to be their mother at that moment, and told them so, but I felt a bit remorseful. Is this what my days would be like if I took more time to cook with my kids and include them in the chores instead of just hoping they will stay out of the way?

If this streak of good behavior holds, tomorrow promises to be a very pleasant turkey-stuffing, sweet-potato chopping, parade watching day with the worlds cutest helpers by my side. Either way I have much to be thankful for.

Hannah-Happy Holidays

There's a lot of excitement growing at my house. When is there not? When the announcement of an upcoming doctor's appointment induces rounds of cheers, imagine the giddy jubilation at the revelation that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and after that the Christmas season begins.

Hannah's excitement is contagious, especially amongst her siblings. And despite my much more rational outlook on life, I find myself wanting to indulge her fancies. My mother-in-law made some phone calls and located a turkey that wasn't injected with gluten-filled broth. I don't know if Hannah has any clue what turkey tastes like, but when I carried the huge red bag in the front door and made room for it in our refrigerator, she squealed like I had just carried a big new red bicycle through the door. The mere sight of it whenever she opens the fridge is enough to make her burst.

"Emma! There's a big gluten-free tuw-key in the fridge!" She yells, "It's a big one! A big gluten-fwee tuw-key! And we're going to cook it in two more days!" This apparently cues the music in her head, and she begins to leap about the room singing:

I just can't wait
For that big big fate
I just can't wait for that biiiiiig
cheer (that means happiness)

I just can't wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas
I just can't wait for Christmas trees
and Thankssssssssgivings
Yea tomorrow, Yea today, yea for every holiday

Pretty soon we'll have toooooo
put on our snowsuuuuiiiiits
To go outside
Right? That's the end of my song

I generally don't allow my kids to watch TV, but tomorrow we're going to watch the whole Macy's Parade and the girls can't stop talking about it. Then this weekend comes putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, the return of Christmas music, and some gluten-free sugar cookie baking fun. The Christmas wish-lists are beginning to grow too, with Hannah hoping for some Hello Kitty band-aids like Emma got for her birthday, and Toby putting in an early bid for "doggie."

Today is cleaning, meal-planning, and pre-baking day (like the two loaves of gf bread for tomorrow's stuffing), but I'm almost looking forward to it. With a musical introduction like that, who couldn't be excited for the season?

Monday, November 22, 2010


I made myself a cup of hot raspberry tea to soothe my sore throat this morning, and left it to steep on the kitchen counter. Ten minutes later, as I made lunch at the stove, Toby stood on his tip-toes, reached his little fingers as far as they would stretch, and managed to snag the handle of the tea cup, pulling it over, and dumping hot tea all down the right side of his face and body. I had turned just in time to see it happen and yell, "No!" but I couldn't stop it.

Toby screamed, and stood frozen in place. I swooped him up and held him in a the kitchen sink, splashing cold water on his face while I yelled for Matt. He came and used the sink hose to spray cold water all down Toby's head and cheek. Then I asked Matt to feel the temperature of the tea that was left in the cup, fortunately it wasn't hot enough to scald, and Toby is just fine. He was happy to get out of the sink and receive a dry change of clothes. I scolded him and tried to explain to him what had happened, hoping he would learn from his mistake. He listened intently and repeated, "Hot! Burn!"

But I'm not sure how much the lesson stuck. Only a few minutes later he came to inspect a mug sitting on the table beside me. "Hot!" he said cheerfully. I glared at him and gave him a stern, "No, no, it's hot!" He grinned at me and chirped back, "Burn!" then attempted to grab the mug. Yep, he's been burned before, and he's not afraid to do it again.

Something Right

This morning I have a cold. I am tired and achy and cranky. I am behind on chores. Naomi forgot to grab her backpack as we dashed to the bus in the cold rain, and I had to drive it to school for her. A hot bath only made me more sleepy. I came upstairs to find a cereal bowl spilled all over the floor and my children fighting about who did it. I had very little patience. These are the days I feel like I have nothing right.

Then, after the cereal had been swept, Hannah and Emma set up a pretend picnic with their babies. They set each plastic plate with a variety of plastic foods, set their babies at their places and began to sing. My heart was warmed as their sweet little voices praised God, and as they made each of their babies thank God for the food they were about to enjoy. It is only habit to them, but if it is their habit to praise God and show thankfulness, I guess that means I've done something right.

Hannah, of course, was delighted to repeat the show after I got my camera, and Emma, of course, was delighted to follow her lead. Perhaps it will warm your heart as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Can Read! (and you're going to hear about it)

Hannah can't wait to read like Naomi. Maybe because she sees how much Naomi enjoys it. Maybe just because she wants to be older and more mature. She wants it so badly, but those tedious little details like learning which letters are what, and what sound each letter makes are so boring. She is making progress, though she frequently laments how slow it is. She has seen Naomi jump from the airplane of phonics with the parachute of hard work and sail delightfully to the ground of reading-land, and Hannah's eager to jump too. She just doesn't want to strap on that pesky parachute. Today she picked up an "Early Reader" book with a few short, repetitive sentences and begged to read it, so I helped her work her way through it.

"What's this letter again, Mama?" she asked.

"That's the letter 'e'," I answered for the fifteenth time.

"What sound does it make, Mama?" She questioned, wrinkling up her nose and eyes at me. "I just forget."

"In this word it is a long 'e' and says 'ee.' 'H' 'e' says 'He'," I replied, mustering patience from the depths of my being.

"He!" Hannah laughed, "I'm reading!"

After about an hour, we reached the end of the tenth simple sentence. Hannah had grown in her letter and sound recognition some, but her conclusion, "I read that whole book!" was a bit optimistic. I congratulated her and told her I needed to take my shower now. As I headed into the bathroom I heard Hannah leaping about the living room, singing from the depths of her cheerful soul. I wish I could record the tune for you, but here are the words:

Yay, yay, yay!
Today I can read
I can re-ee-eed!
Today I can read

Yay, today, today!
Yay, today I kick my foot up
I don't care about playing with toys
I just care about I can read
'Cause I'm so haaaa-ppyy!
'Cause I love to read books!

I chuckled and turned on the shower. To my amazement, when I turned the shower off fifteen minutes later she was still singing the same song at the top of her lungs.

I can read, jump!
I can read, jump!
Jump, jump, jump, dance
When I dance this fast my head shakes
And when I shake, my head breaks
I might get a cut on my head
or my hand, or my belly, or my kidney

When I spin this fast I can't see myself in the mirror
I shake my head, fast, fast, fast
But when I shake my head I can't read
'Cause I think I broke my head
So I'm gonna stop

I can read, yay, yay, yay!
I can read all the way
I can read everyday
I can read everything!
This is the end

I didn't get to see the bow, I think it was made to the full-length mirror in the hallway, but it made me wish I had heard the middle fifteen minutes of the song. That may be the longest her mind has focused on one idea, with a slight dancing digression in the middle, of course.

A bit later Hannah was sentenced to a time-out in the recliner for blatantly disregarding a rule. She went happily there and began chatting, "I love my Mommy 'cause I'm so funny--hey that rhymes. Don't forget that I can read, Mommy. Don't forget my reading!" How could I forget? When I gave her a narrow-eyed glare she said, "Whatever, I'm making myself some fun, 'cause I can read! Whenever I walk across a bridge I just take a book from the other side of the bridge and read! I can read the best when my Mama comes with me. Can you come with me, Mama, next time we go? Don't forget about the bridge, Mama. I'll remind you. Do you want to tape my mouth shut? I should talk, 'cause I want to talk about my reading skills. Guess what? When I grow up I'm not gonna have a baby in my tummy, I'm going to have a book, 'cause I can READ!..."

There'll be no punishing her now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now We Need More Pickles

When I ducked downstairs to deliver a message to Matt, Emma was jumping up and down in front of the garage door, attempting to stick a magnet on the bottom of a picture hung just out of her reach. When I resurfaced a few moments later I heard her screaming in the garage, "Mo-mmy, come! Mo-mmy, come!" I raced to the door and found her standing, petrified, holding a gallon of milk and a bottle of chocolate syrup, staring at the open refrigerator door. (Yes, our refrigerator is in the garage, we live with our in-laws.)

"Do you need help closing the fridge?" I asked, confused. "No, woouh, bih-oouh (No, look, pickles)," she replied, still shaking. On the cement floor, in front of the open refrigerator, lay the shattered remains of a sweet pickle jar, a two-foot wide puddle of green juice, and four mortally-wounded pickles covered in glass shrapnel. "Oh, honey," I sighed, "are you OK? Did you touch any glass?"

I relieved her of the milk gallon and checked her over, she was fine. Then I surveyed the damage, trying to decide how best to decontaminate the six-foot radius of glass slivers. Emma watched sadly as I scooped up the broken jar and placed it in several layers of shopping bags. Her lip quivered as I walked past her to the garbage. "It's OK, Emma," I reassured her, "You're not hurt, and Mommy will clean it up."

"Oh no," she whined hopelessly, "now we nee moh bi-oouh (now we need more pickles)."

It's strange that a glass jar shatters--risking her injury and leaving me with twenty-minutes of dangerous clean-up--and somehow I had forgotten to mourn with Emma over the loss of the four sweet pickles. My words of comfort meant nothing to her until I wrote "sweet pickles" on the grocery list, showed it to her, and promised I would buy more at the next shopping trip. They can never replace the ones she dropped, but it's the best I can do.

From the Mouth of Hannah

Well, the ratings are in, and the readers say "we want more Hannah." So for those of you who enjoy the fresh and zany perspective that Hannah brings to life, here are a few little gems from the mouth of Hannah in the last 24 hours:

At dinner last night we were discussing how Matt seems to be feeling better on the gluten-free diet, and how when he broke the diet to have a bite of communion bread last week he had some real intestinal repercussions. "So girls," I said, "It looks like Daddy's the one who gave you Celiac disease." Hannah gazed up into her Daddy's eyes and grinned, "Thank you, Daddy. I love you because you gave me Celiac, and I love this gluten-free food. You share good things with me."

This morning Hannah cut out a heart shaped piece of green construction paper, scotch-taped it to a purple piece of construction paper and proudly presented me with card saying, "Mommy, I love you; that's why I gave you this card." I smiled and thanked her and gave her a quick kiss on the head, but was in a hurry to finish cleaning up the table. Hannah continued, "I love you so much, you don't know how many loves I have in me. I have one-hundred-and-fifty loves!" I laughed and thanked her again, then whisked some dishes away to the sink. "Don't run away from your heart, Mommy!" Hannah called after me, "It reminds you that I love you!"

At lunch she was feeling a bit less energized. She scoffed at the left-over gluten-free pancakes, took a few bites, then remarked with an enormous sigh, "I'm so tired! I'm so tired I can't even eat my lunch! I'm too tired to even eat anything. I just feel tired, tired, tired!" Growing weary of her incessant babble I responded, "It's strange that you're not too tired to talk." "Well," Hannah replied, not missing a beat, "I'm talking in my sleep. People can do that, you know, but I can't eat in my sleep." It took some effort for me to hide my laughter, but I recovered and countered, "Then I guess you're too tired to eat a snack this afternoon." Hannah paused a moment, considering, then tried a new approach, "Actually I was kidding, I just don't want to eat my lunch, but I have enough energy for snack."

Yes, her beguiling ways are cute now, but I'm scared to see what she'll be capable of when she's 16!

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Pillar of Fire by Night

If you know our story, you know it is one of surrender to Christ, of living for him and being led by him through dark, painful paths as well as indescribable beauty. The Eby family's story is full of baffling roadblocks, torturous detours, and some of the most amazing answers to prayer that one could witness (boy, can we tell you stories!). As long as I have sensed God leading us, as long as I've seen his hand prepare the way, I've been willing to follow. It has only been recently that the paralyzing fear that we have been abandoned occasionally pushes it's way into my mind.

I know that we have not been. I know that the God who called Matt's heart and mine to himself and then brought us together will bring us to the end of the path he's set us on. I know that our continued faithfulness to him even when we are weak and he is hidden only brings him more glory. But there are moments, when the children are quietly sleeping, and Matt and I are praying for a job and a house for the millionth time, when I just feel abandoned.

Lately Matt and I have taken comfort, ironically, in just how awful some circumstances have been. Last week Matt actually had a job offer over the phone, and we told the kids that Daddy had a job, and their little eyes glowed, and we celebrated! But several hours later the company had to renege because, though they were well aware that Matt's dad worked at the same place, they weren't aware that their company's hiring policy forbid them to hire two family members. "Well," Matt said, "only God could orchestrate something that awful." And, though we're not exactly sure what God was trying to work in that situation, it gave us a strange sense of comfort to know he's doing something in our lives.

If you know our story, you know that sometimes when God has felt furthest from us, in his mercy, he has sent a small reminder of his presence to strengthen us, a little light to make the dark path less lonely: a random e-mail asking if I would nanny for a new baby the day after Matt and I had prayed that God would give me a job, or a minivan given to us just after I learned I was expecting my third child. Do you remember the comforters he sent our way this August? (For that full story click here then scroll down to 8/10/10 "Comfort".) When I began baking our own gluten-free bread this fall I realized that I would need a better bread pan, and the next day I went to a gluten-free expo at our hospital and happened to win a door prize: a Pampered Chef bread pan. In those moments I am ashamed that I ever doubted his care for us, the path is still every bit as thorny, but I feel much less pain just knowing he's walking it with me. Tonight was one of those moments.

Matt and I decided to put the kids in their pajamas, put them in the strollers, and soak up the last of the warmer cool fall air as we walked a nearly mile-long circle around our neighborhood in the black night. Naomi decided to count the stars. Leaning her head back in the double stroller, she made it to twenty before Matt broke in to remind her not to count the blinking ones, because they're airplanes. I added, "or the streaking ones because those are shooting stars..." Naomi sat up and interrupted me, "Yeah, and shooting stars aren't really stars. They're rocks falling to earth and burning up as they fall."

"Did you know Daddy and I once saw a shooting star?" I asked the girls. They listened eagerly as we walked on through the dark, quiet streets. "We were just married when..."

"Were we married?" Matt interrupted, "I think that was before we were married."

"Anyway," I continued, "and we were laying on the grass on the soccer field..."

"No," Matt shook his head, "we were sitting on the hill."

"OK...we were outside," I muttered, "but I said...or was that you who said it?" I asked Matt.

"It was me," he said sternly, looking at me as if I was hopeless.

"So we were outside together, at night," I recapped, "when Daddy said, 'wouldn't it be amazing if we saw a shooting star?' and right then, right in front of us a star streaked all the way across the sky!" I waved my hand across the sky dramatically as I finished the story. Naomi and Hannah grinned, but Emma had fallen asleep. "It was really beautiful, girls," I added, "Maybe you'll see one, one day." I looked up at the bare tree branches outlined by the moonlight as we walked, and the beautiful black expanse beyond them, as I have on a thousand late-night walks with Matt since that night: no shooting stars. A familiar longing panged my heart, God doesn't show himself to us that way anymore, he is hidden now.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, than the sky lit with a solitary fireball streak, blazing down to earth directly in front of us. In a split second, it was gone. Matt and I both stopped, stunned. "Oh, wow!" Matt said, "Did you see that, Kathy?!" I had seen it.

It really doesn't matter to me whether it's a minivan just when we'd outgrown our sedan, comforters just when my girls' feet had outstretched their toddler-bed blankets, a bread pan just when our new diet called for homemade bread, or rock falling to earth just as I'd longed for it--I know it isn't coincidence. He knows my weakness, he strengthens my feet, he lightens the load and bids me to go on, and I'm happy to go on, as long as he's leading us.

Nothing Extraordinary

Nothing extraordinary has happened today. The fridge-fungus has been obliterated, there are no pressing medical issues, the laundry is done, and the house is relatively clean. But it struck me just now, as I was wondering what to do with my free five minutes, that that particular combination of nothingness is quite extraordinary for me. It's like the stars that only align "just so" once a year.

It isn't often that the temperature climbs to 70 degrees on November 12th. Or that I can watch my children play in the backyard and just leave the door wide-open because all the bugs have been obliterated by the previous frosty days. It isn't everyday that I can join Naomi for lunch at school and witness the miracle of other children begging to be the "one" that Naomi picks to eat lunch with us at the special "parents only" tables. Or the miracle of seeing a girl walk by us and say, "Hi, Naomi!" and hear Naomi answer just as friendly and naturally as ever, "Hi, Allison!" (Is that my daughter beside me?) It isn't everyday that I peel Toby's diaper off of him and hear him remark, "Eeeew! Gohsss!" and realize that he's really growing up. My gosh, he's talking like crazy now, he's nearly two, what happened to my baby?

Tomorrow promises to be crazy again: Naomi's kidney doctor has ordered a 24 hour urine collection, which will be great fun, but today is just about perfect. The air is clear, warm, and bright; my children are cheerful and suddenly much older than they were yesterday; and I have a free five minutes all to myself. If only I could find my camera and preserve this moment. OK, Toby, what did you do with Mommy's camera? I guess my five minutes are up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Smell a Rat

"Matt, have you smelled the garage this morning?" I called down the stairs. "Yeah," he yelled back, "it smells like something died. I think it's in the fridge."

Since we live with our in-laws, our refrigerator and pantry are in the garage, just off the kitchen. Matt and I had just unloaded a van-full of groceries into the garage last night and hadn't smelled anything then. "How can something die in our fridge?" I asked, "and how can it smell like that after only eight hours?" Matt only shrugged his shoulders, so I was left to brave the unknown fast-decaying dead entity alone.

Toby attempted to follow me into the garage and screamed in protest as I slammed the door on him. I sniffed the air. There was a faint dead-thing smell. I opened the fridge and sniffed--strong dead-thing smell. I furrowed my brow and scanned the fridge contents--jars and bottles of stuff, cheese, yogurt, meats, eggs...produce. I hadn't really cleaned out the produce cubby lately. Our fridge is missing one of the bottom crisper drawers and I've taken to shoving all my produce in the resulting cubby hole down there. In fact, last night, in my rush to shelve all the groceries and get to bed, I had shoved another bag of lettuce and a stalk of celery in with hardly a glance to the previous contents.

I leaned down and cautiously sniffed--WHOA! Dead thing in there! It was hard to work up the courage to remove the lettuce and celery, but when I did I quickly realized the source of the odor. You see, in my attempt to become a gluten-free gourmet chef, I had scanned some recipes about three weeks back and gone out and bought all the odd ingredients I would need to prepare these masterful dinners. Then I had prepared them, much to my family's delight, all but one...the one that had called for the fresh mushrooms.

I stared at the menacing black foamboard that had been the bottom of the mushroom package, tipped on it's side, no doubt, from the shove of a celery stalk last night. Foul brown goop ran out of a corner of the cellophane wrapping, over some carrots, a red pepper, and a cucumber, all of which lay slain in a pool of dead-mushroom blood.

Half a roll of paper-towels, half-a-dozen Lysol wipes, one box of baking soda, one cucumber, one red-pepper, and several innocent baby carrots all lost their lives in that bacteria-laden cesspool of mushroom slop. And you know, I have a can of mushrooms in my pantry. It's been there at least a year and hasn't harmed anybody. No more fresh portabellas. They sound fancy, but they don't smell all that good when they're alive, and believe me, you don't want to smell them after they've passed on. Their memory will continue to haunt me--every time I open the fridge I am greeted by the stench of the Ghost of Mushrooms Past. Canned only, please, I have enough bacteria-laden brown messes to clean up in this house already.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Count Down to Fatigue

My day in numerical count-down fashion, not chronological, some reconstruction of events may be necessary.

1,000--Times I told Toby "No!, Don't touch!, "Put that back!, Get back here!, or Stop!" while waiting in CVS (If I've told that kid once...)

1,000--Number of times I wanted to swat Toby's bottom but refrained, since we were in public

100--Number of times Toby remarked, "Mmmmmmmm!" while walking down CVS candy aisle

40--Minutes driving to the home medical supply store to pick up the glucometer order and then hand deliver it to CVS (no I don't trust anyone to fax it to the right place today)

20--Minutes trying to keep Toby occupied while waiting in CVS for the pharmcy tech to fill Naomi's glucometer order

9--Gallons of distilled water Toby pulled down from CVS shelves

8--Hot dogs for lunch

7--Toby diapers to change

6--Number of days I've waited to get a glucometer since the doctor informed me that Naomi had had a dangerously low blood-sugar level (47mg/dl) on her last routine blood-work and would need to check her blood sugar regularly at home for a few weeks to see if there are any abnormalities

6--Bacon Egg and Cheese gluten-free bagels for dinner

6--Loads of laundry folded and put away

5--Bottles of CVS-brand Pepto-Bismol that Toby removed from shelves

4--Loads of laundry washed and dried

3--Number of little girls Matt agreed to watch if I would only take Toby with me to CVS (and who do you think got the better end of that deal?)

3--Calls to the Dr.'s office to get them to send the order for Naomi's glucometer to the home medical supply place

3--Calls to the home medical supply place to see if they had gotten the order yet

3--Sticks to Naomi's finger to get a decent blood sample and valid blood sugar reading since she was fighting like the Tasmanian Devil (Sugar was fine).

2--Pee-smelling toddler beds stripped and changed

2--Emma pee accidents to clean up (both on bathroom floor, thank goodness)

2--Gallons of distilled water that Toby could carry at the same time down the aisles of CVS (heeee-avvve, ho!)

1--Call from home medical supply store telling me that they finally got the order for the glucometer, but I would have to go to CVS for it, since they don't accept our insurance

1--Run that I made down CVS aisle while attempting to speak to the pharmacist after he remarked, "I think you've got a runaway there."

1--bottle of Tea Tree Oil that Toby attempted to fit entirely inside of his mouth while in CVS (I wiped it off and put it back, hope the security cameras didn't catch that)

1--Dishwasher loaded and run

1--Note to Naomi's teacher explaining why she has burst blood vessels all over her face and asking the nurse to please check her blood sugar at 10:00am (good luck with that!)

1--tired Mama

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Bundle

My sister-in-law had a new baby on Friday (no, not me, you can all breathe again). Yesterday we took the kids up to the hospital to meet their new, and ninth, boy cousin (they only have one girl cousin). Naomi created her own gift-bag from construction paper and scotch tape, then decorated it with her own stickers. It was a beautiful bag, but when we placed the baby gifts inside we discovered that scotch tape doesn't bond too well with the fuzz on the construction paper. I advised her to carry it by the bottom, and off we marched to the maternity ward.

The girls were spellbound by little Aiden's tiny eyes and tiny squawks. Toby was spell-bound by the bathroom faucet, the rolling stool, and the glowing nurse call-light; but that little baby-thing was OK too. He was quick to label the body parts he recognized on Aiden, poking Aiden's nose and his eye and tugging on his ear, "Eeee-arrrrr!" When Aiden cried in protest and I scolded him, Toby melted and sought to reconcile with his cousin by hugging him long and hard. Matt distracted Toby while each girl took her turn holding her tiniest cousin. They glowed with pride, and I have to admit that holding a tiny baby again brought strange, familiar feelings back for me. I tried to banish them, but they persisted. "Stop," I told myself, "you know what these things bring: painfully delirious nights, fast-paced agitated days...warm bundles, sweet smells...nasty smells, more laundry...tiny hiccups, sleepy smiles..." Then, with Toby attempting to break into a tub of post-delivery witch-hazel wipes, and the girls up past their bedtime, I returned the deceitful little bundle to his rightful owner and led my over-grown bundles back to the parking garage.

Oh, they start off so innocent, then you bring them home from the hospital. I'm not falling for that again, no way...but he was awfully sweet.

Friday, November 5, 2010

We'll get back to you on that...

"Kitty!" Toby announced, holding up a stuffed cat by the scruff of the neck, but it wasn't so much the kitty that caught my attention as my toddler's neon pink mouth. I inquired of Matt and my daughters, but no one had any idea what Toby had ingested. I pried his mouth open for a better look--the entire insides were neon pink with the dye highlighting all the plaque I had missed at Toby's last tooth-brushing. I tried to brush his teeth but had to rinse the brush twenty or thirty times as it filled with dye. I searched the house for the culprit and finally found a small dolphin stamp that had been given to us at a recent birthday party lying under the kitchen table with the lid off. I tried the stamp on a piece of paper, it was exceedingly wet, but had little ink left in it.  After I located the lid I saw that it had "orientaltrading.com" printed on the inside.

I wasn't too worried for Toby's safety since the stamps are marketed to children, but just to set my mind at ease I searched for stamps on the website and found the Sea Animal set. There was a choking warning, but no statement assuring me that they were non-toxic, and no ingredient list. I called the customer service number and was greeted by a man who gave his name and asked, "How can we add more fun to your day?" Oh, dear sir, you've already done that. I explained the situation and he pulled up the same listing I already had open on my computer, "Um...there isn't any warning about them being toxic," he informed me. "Yes, I see that," I answered, "but there's also no statement that they're non-toxic. Do you have a list of ingredients or something?" "No, mam," he replied, "but I can put in a request for more detailed information from our supplier and they will get back to you within three business days." I couldn't keep myself from laughing at that point, and I felt compelled to enlighten him, "Unfortunately, if they are toxic, it won't help me much to know three days from now!" The gravity of this still seemed to elude him as he asked if there was anything else he could do. "No," I replied, "at this point I don't believe there is." "Well, OK mam, you have a good day now!" he concluded. I laughed again in utter disbelief and decided to place a call to poison control instead.

Poison control assured me that all ink pads, even business kinds are non-toxic and that Toby would have to drink an entire bottle of ink to be harmed, though I might be enjoying Toby's neon-pink smile for a day or two. At least I had more fun added to my day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Notes to Self: Some Days

Some days you have everything under control: you wake up early, clean the kitchen, get dinner in the crockpot, and run two loads of laundry. But then your three year old says, "I boo ih my uh-weah," which means, "I pooped in my underwear,' and you know this is not a good sign. Your four-year-old then boycotts getting dressed and having her hair brushed. She by-passes the consequence you've given her, "no breakfast until you obey," by serving herself fruit snacks when you're not looking. Your toddler suddenly reveals a supernatural ability to move at the speed of light by turning off the lights while you are in the laundry room, pulling his sisters' bunk-bed ladder over on himself, and playing his father's guitar, all in the span of 15 seconds. When you drive twenty minutes to the hospital to pick up a copy of the medical reports from your toddler's recent battery of tests, every printer in the hospital will be simultaneously unable to print until further notice. Some days you have everything under control, until you realize that you have very little under control.

But, on your way home from the futile trip to the hospital, you will happen to drive by your oldest daughter's  elementary school just in time to see four-hundred elementary students release red helium balloons into the unending sky. Your four-year-old will comment, glowing with awe, "Wow! That was amazing!" You suddenly remember that you had intended to put this event on your calendar, and you had intended to bring your daughters along to see it, but had completely forgotten to do so. You then realize that everything from the poopy underwear to the off-line printers contributed to the perfect timing of this moment. Some days you will be reminded that you are glad someone else is in control.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Tale of the Lame Fairy, Bouncing Ballerina, Timid Princess, and Greedy Tiger

Why do I feel compelled to dress my children in costumes and drag them around the block, collecting bags of candy, each fall. Is it just that it's a cultural norm? Is it because they look so cute in those costumes? Is it because I have happy memories of dressing up and hording candy as a child? Is it because the neighbors invited us to go with them, and my children and Matt and I all need the socialization? Or is it that I feel my children are already deprived of so much that is "normal" in childhood because of their health conditions, so I want to give them any of the experiences that their peers have if I possibly can. They do need to have happy memories of more than doctors and ultrasounds and biopsies. Or maybe I just like raiding the candy stash afterward.

I do not like the roots of the "Halloween" celebration. I do not agree with the celebration of that which is evil, grotesque, and morbid, but I know that for the vast majority of families out there it is simply a night to dress children in cute costumes and hand out candy. So, probably for some combination of the above reasons, I spent yesterday helping the girls go through our dress-up clothes and pick out suitable costumes. We enjoyed a dinner with the neighbors (with our own gluten-free food of course) then began pulling on layers of tights and shirts and sparkly skirts. Just after 5:00 we headed down the street in the amazingly mild fall sunshine.

Our neighborhood must be the favored trick-or-treating neighborhood for the entire county. The streets were filled with a menagerie of ballerinas and lady-bugs, goblins and ghouls, all frantically hurrying from house to house. The neighbor kids we were following were older and faster than mine. Naomi and Hannah ran after them giggling, but Emma resisted being rushed, and Toby had much more to explore than the next house's front-door. Matt carried Toby from house to house as I pulled Emma's arm. She stared wide-eyed at the freakish faces passing us, and whined at having to walk so quickly.

"Now just take one,"a kind, naive lady sweetly advised Toby, holding out a large bowl of candy. Toby took one, placed it in his bag, then took another and reached for a third. "Mommy," Naomi whined, half-way down our street, "my knee's hurting. Can you carry me?" Most of Naomi's joint pain has vanished since going gluten-free, but it occasionally resurfaces, and it struck her nearly lame last night. I ended up carrying Toby and dragging Emma while Matt carried Naomi. "Why didn't we bring the wagon?" Matt called back to me over the crowd. "I don't know, remind me next year," I yelled back, nearly panting for breath. We decided that one trip up and down the street was more than enough this year.

Today I set up the "Candy Trade-in Shop" and went through all the kids' candy piece-by-piece, searching for gluten and dairy. Any piece found to contain gluten went into a pile to donate to Uncle Phil. Any piece containing dairy Naomi and Toby had to trade in, but Hannah and Emma could keep. I had a stash of gluten-free, dairy free candy that the kids chose from each time I confiscated one of their hard-earned treasures. In the end, each child has a Ziploc bag full diet-approved treats and, hopefully, a mind full of happy memories. They better.