One morning this week my husband went to an ATM to withdraw what seems like a large amount of money to us: $300. The machine didn’t give him the cash, but gave him a receipt saying it had. And the money disappeared from our account.
The employees of the bank attached to the machine, which is not our bank, refused to help him. Our bank has promised to “investigate,” but there is no guarantee we will get the money back, and it will take six weeks or more. The investigation apparently involves looking at the records of that machine. It’s hard to trust the records of a machine that thinks it gave us money when it didn’t.
I’m not sure what the lesson is. Never use ATMs? Never use cash? Tweet at the bank to complain and see what happens?
I don’t know how it will end. But I keep thinking of the bank where it happened, and I now have this song running through my head. So you might as well join me. Because we can all use a little Music Man in our lives.
Leo came home from school the other day with a picture he had drawn of his baptism.
“You and Baba aren’t in it,” he said. Two of his cousins are standing there instead.
It’s actually quite a good representation of the day, including the rectangular windows in the baptistry at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
And have you ever seen a baby who was so happy about his baptism?
As Thanksgiving approaches, every preschool teacher in the U.S. must sit down and ask children to share what they are grateful for. Daniel’s did, too.
When I was dropping him off at school yesterday, I looked at the feathers on his classmates’ turkeys.
“My dog Emily,” read one.
“My mommy,” said another.
I scanned the display to find Daniel’s. What would he say he was grateful for?
"Chickens,” said one feather. “Turkey,” said another. The third? “Ducks.”
His teacher and I exchanged a smile. “He kept going, too,” she said. “He was thinking of birds that day.”
Well, aren't we all thinking of birds as Thanksgiving draws near?
John and I take turns drawing notes for the boys’ lunches, and we always write a message. But this week was the first week we received a message back. As I was unpacking Leo’s lunch, I came across this note.
After Leo was in bed, I showed it to John, and we were both a bit teary. It was so touching.
Then the next night I was unpacking Leo’s lunch and found this note.
Translation: “Mama, from now on can you please send me something else that is not chips.”
Isn’t it wonderful? I love watching him learn to spell and communicate.
And I can take a hint. So I packed him something else that was not chips.
Leo’s birthday celebrations are behind us, so now he needs to write his thank you notes.
Last year, when he turned 6, I wrote all the notes and had him sign them. This year I think he’s old enough to fill in the blank on notes and sign them and address them. Maybe my expectations are too high. All I know is it has taken us all week and he has completed one.
It’s really not his fault. We have very little down time at home, and I just can’t see forcing him to spend his whole evening on thank you notes. But I think we’ll have a busy note-writing weekend. We have to get these finished before Christmas.
How do you handle thank you notes with your children?
On Sunday evening I realized I was the mystery reader in Leo’s classroom on Tuesday. I started scrambling, trying to find good book recommendations, and my friends offered some amazing ones.
Then I realized I had no time to go to a library or take a chance on an order with two-day shipping.
So I started combing our shelves. We have quite a few books, but I wanted to choose books that would work for both genders, that would keep everyone’s interest—including mine—and I wanted at least one that rhymed.
As I walked into the classroom, the children all supposedly had their eyes closed, but they started calling out whose mom it was right away. Only Leo kept his eyes covered, but I knew he was peeking. He walked up to me laughing with his eyes still covered. Then he looked through my pile of books and chose the reading order.
I think the reading went well. The children were curious about the Devil’s appearance in the St. Christopher book, but they also liked how big and strong St. Christopher was and how Jesus is a child.
I picked In the Leaves because I thought it would be new to the children—except Leo—and because I like that it teaches some Chinese in a fun way. They were actually very interested in the Chinese characters.
No Hugs Till Saturday is just a good read with an easy story.
And The Bike Lesson is one of my favorite Berenstain Bears books ever. I know Papa Bear doesn’t come across as a brilliant dad, but it’s hilarious and we laugh our way through every time.
The teacher seemed surprised that I finished reading at the exact time I was supposed to stop. So I may have forgotten that I was reading this week, but I do know how to stick to a schedule.
When we traveled to China five years ago to adopt Leo, we made some wonderful friends. You can’t really become parents on the other side of the world without bonding with some of the other adoptive families, but the people we have met on both our trips are extraordinarily special to us.
Yesterday I received a surprise package in the mail from my dear, dear friend I met in China almost exactly five years ago.
She made me a red infinity scarf. It’s so thoughtful and beautiful and soft.
I haven’t seen my friend since we said goodbye in Chicago five years ago. We were stranded by a snowstorm. She was exhausted and on her way home with her family. We said goodbye knowing that of course we would see each other again soon. But we haven't been together in five years. And now I have this lovely gift.
Daniel is grateful for ducks. I am grateful for friendship. And I am grateful for the community of people I have encountered through this blog. Hoping you have much more than turkey to be grateful for this Thanksgiving!
Read more quick takes at Kelly's blog.
November 20, 2014 11:50
By Rita Buettner
I'm blogging every day this week for the Week In My Life link-up hosted by Kathryn of Team Whitaker. Today is the final day!
A purple and black Transformer lands on my pillow, and the day begins.
John tells me to stay in bed and he’ll get up. It sounds lovely, but after about 10 minutes I’m up, heating up the breakfast soup and staring at my second cup of coffee and the remnants of a 7th birthday party.
I can’t believe how exhausted I feel from our day of partying. And yet I can. I also seem to have a cold. Normally we go to the 10:30 Mass, but early on John points out that noon is probably our best option. He’s right, but it takes me until 9:55 to realize that.
We give the boys a nice snack before Mass in hopes it will help them sit still and make it through.
We almost always sit separately at church, and today is Daniel’s turn with me. He and I head inside with a baby bottle full of coins. We filled one bottle for the local pregnancy center and turned it in last week. Daniel has been adding change to a second one all week, and he wants to put the coins in the poor box.
They clatter all the way to the bottom. As my father says, “Nothing is louder than the sound of a penny going into the poor box.”
We find a seat near friends. Daniel is happy and wiggly and opinionated, though mostly in whispers.
He looks at the Bible. He loves tracing the paths on the maps inside.
He plays with the empty baby bottle, my bracelet, my hair, and my pin—before I realize he has it.
Then Daniel does an amazing impression of someone who has his foot stuck under the kneeler. His foot is not stuck, but you would never know that to see how he’s standing there. I wonder what the people behind me think.
He's actually very well-behaved, and it’s a beautiful Mass. I manage to hear the readings and most of the homily. After Mass ends, we reunite with John and Leo.
As we are walking out the church door, a boy—maybe 9 or 10—comes over and asks, “Hey! Did you adopt them?”
“Yes, we did,” I say.
“’Cause they look alike,” he says.
“Well...they are both from China,” I say. I always wonder whether I could give better answers.
We pick up a church bulletin, walk to the car, and head to the store.
Leo received one duplicate gift this year, and today we are learning about returning items to the store. He handles it himself, handing it to a lady in customer service, and she gives him a gift card with store credit. It is magical.
Leo has also brought his new wallet, a birthday gift from Grandma and Grandpa containing $7.77—the perfect amount for a seventh birthday.
I add the gift card and the amount in his wallet and tell him how much he has to spend. We head straight for the Pokemon aisle.
It’s hard to believe that a few months ago I didn’t even know there was a Pokemon aisle.
An hour later we have groceries, an amazing Pokemon item I never knew we needed, a pack of Pokemon cards for Daniel, and two tired, hungry boys. Leo pays for his item himself. He is proud and pleased.
On our drive home Daniel has an announcement to make.
“I don’t want a Frozen party for my birthday. I want a Pokemon party.”
Yay? I think? I guess that’s how you know your party was a success.
Back at home we eat a late lunch and have a lazy afternoon, just what we need after yesterday. Leo and John start working on a Mars Rover Lego set handed down from my cousin’s son.
We play Battleship, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, and games I can’t even explain.
John tells me to take a nap. I tell him to take one. Neither one of us naps.
Leo has been practicing on the piano almost every day, but not for long. I tell him he can earn iPad time by practicing on the piano. He sits and plays. Every 30 seconds he asks how long it has been. He actually does enjoy it. It's getting him onto the piano bench that is hard.
Then it’s time for dinner, and I say I’d better go start cooking.
“Mama, you are going to make dinner tonight?” Daniel asks. Clearly I have not been coming through as the household chef. I take the leftover veggies from the Pokeball veggie tray and make a beef stir fry with rice. While I’m cooking, Leo comes in and says, “Yummy, yummy, yummy!” and Daniel comes in and says, “This will be a feast!”
I really need to step up my game.
After an argument over who gets to sit in the special chair—the answer turns out to be Mama since we aren’t supposed to argue about that anymore—I try to start a dinner conversation.
“Guess what holiday is coming up not this week, but next week. It’s not Christmas.”
“Valentine’s Day?” asks Daniel.
“No,” I say.
“Thanksgiving!” says Leo.
Daniel gets upset. He wants to keep guessing.
“OK, let’s rewind,” I say. “Guess what holiday is coming up next week.”
“Valentine’s Day?” says Daniel, grinning.
“Um...no,” I say. “Wow, we really did rewind. Guess again.”
“Turkey Valentine’s Day?” Daniel says, and he laughs. We all do.
After dinner, I give the boys a double bath, with both in the tub together.
Often that is a mistake, but tonight they have fun, the bathroom remains intact, and they play with a submarine toy set that is powered with baking powder.
I got it as an extra prize for the party yesterday, and I don’t think it actually works, but the boys disagree and assure me that it does. It doesn’t matter. They have fun. They get clean.
We read Star Wars and VeggieTales books and tuck them into bed. Daniel is sleeping on the trundle in their room tonight, which is sort of like going to Disney World only much more exciting. But I really want them to sleep, so I tell them no talking tonight or Daniel loses his chance on the trundle.
Five minutes later the room is silent. Both boys are asleep.
You can call it a miracle. It might be. But it has been a big weekend, and they are both exhausted.
November 16, 2014 11:36
By Rita Buettner
Both boys come running into our bedroom this morning. They are so excited. It’s the day of Leo’s birthday party, and we still have many, many things to do before the party begins.
While I am making breakfast, I realize that everyone is so wound-up that I can’t get anything done. So I start assigning jobs.
You go watch TV. You go watch TV, too.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Leo and Daniel are happy to cut out the paper Pokemon figures we are going to hide in the backyard for our guests to find.
I’m a little nervous they might make a mistake, but it seems to go fairly well, although John rescues one of the figures from the recycling bin just before the guests arrive.
Daniel sharpens the pencils we need for the hunt.
He helps me clean a tray for the veggies and dip, which I have decided to make in a Pokeball design.
Leo comes to ask me what the schedule is for the party.
“The schedule?” I say. “Um...oh yes.”
We sit down and list the activities.
Then I get back to cleaning the house, frosting the cupcakes, and creating extra Pokeballs for the Pin-the-Pokeball-on-the-Charizard game.
As lunchtime nears, it occurs to me that I should make lunch, but I can’t figure out what or when. John, who has been getting the yard ready and cleaning all morning, seems to be aware that he and I never ate breakfast and might not get lunch, so he offers to go pick up a pizza.
When he gets home, he also has a bag of chips, as if somehow he just knew I was worrying I didn’t have chips for the party. “I thought they would go well with that dip,” he says. Thank goodness for our psychic connection.
After lunch I know I need less help from the boys, rather than more, so I hand them an iPad and tell them not to leave our bedroom.
“You can play with the iPad as long as I don’t hear any arguing,” I say. When I go to check on them a few minutes later, they have created a tent so they can play in their own little space.
We have asked Daniel’s preschool teacher to come help with the party, and she and her boyfriend are the first to arrive. Daniel has to show off immediately by putting his coat on backwards and running outside.
The guests almost all arrive at 2 on the dot, and the house is as ready as it will ever be.
One of the moms comes to tell me that when she was telling her son that she was leaving and would be back, Daniel came up to her and said, “Don’t worry. My mommy and daddy will take good care of him.”
I send all the boys into the backyard for the Pokemon hunt.
The characters are everywhere, thanks to John.
We printed out characters to hide and then a page with all of them on it.
No reading is involved, and the hunt is a success. The boys help one another and then all of them come to collect their prizes, Fruit-by-the-Foots. I know, I know, but they’re easy and fun. What do other people give as prizes? Lavender sachets? Packets of oatmeal? I have no idea.
No time to contemplate, however, because we are on to the next game, the Pin the Pokeball on the Charizard. Leo goes first and places his Pokeball way off the mark.
As the line moves along, we notice children either land far from the mark or right on the mark as if a magnet is guiding their hands. It’s clear that some of the children can see through the mask. I award no prize because it seems easier not to. Life goes on.
Besides, the boys have all started running around the yard with light sabers and plastic swords and—goodness gracious—a broom. Whose child is that swinging that broom around? Oh, of course. He’s mine.
I confiscate the broom and a few minutes later we head over to attack the piñata.
In my memory, breaking a piñata was hard and it took many hits to get it to burst. This one breaks after four or five hits, and the children dive onto the ground to get the candy.
We head inside. I look at my watch and realize we’ve completed most of our activities in 35 minutes. Fortunately I told parents the party ended after 90 minutes, so we will probably be fine.
I spread a red sheet on the living room floor—my picnic blanket, I call it—and the boys sit in what you could loosely call a circle for “Pass the Present.” They pass and tear and pass and tear, each taking off a layer. We're all wondering where the gift will stop when Daniel takes off the last layer and wins the first prize. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but I let it go.
Then he wins the second one, too. I make him give that one to the boy next to him.
Daniel marches over to me. “Mama, you’re not nice.”
“Those are the rules,” I say.
The prize he gets to keep is a package of grow capsules. He wants to start growing them immediately, so I give him a bowl of water.
We have four presents to pass and unwrap as a group, and the boys get really into it. Then we bring them over to the dining room table to sing, and we send them back to the red sheet to eat their cupcakes and string cheese and whatever else.
Then it’s time for “free time,” which to me means sending everyone back outside for the last 15 minutes of the party. And it’s there that their parents pick them up, and they gather their goody bags, and their piñata candy, and Leo says goodbye to them.
Leo opens his presents and talks about how much fun his party was.
Dinner is leftover everything—pizza and party food—and no one complains. We’re all too tired.
During dinner the boys want to play name that tune, but they want to sing songs they are making up in their heads. They have silly titles like "The Mushroom Man" and "Smack Your Face Baby."
At one point John starts doing trivia instead. He says, "What is the bigger number...?" and Daniel says, "Seven," without waiting for the full question. It is a happy, giddy dinner.
We watch a family movie together and then tuck the boys in for the night. They talk for more than an hour, giggling and playing. It’s sweet, but when it gets to be almost 10 p.m., I remind them that we are going to Mass in the morning, and they need to sleep. So finally they do.
And if the Pokeball veggie tray doesn't turn into Charizard and knock over the computer so I can't write another blog, tomorrow I’ll tell you all about what we did on Sunday. (Any other Uncle Wiggily fans out there?)
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 15, 2014 11:20
By Rita Buettner
The morning starts as mornings often do, with our sweet 4-year-old alarm clock crawling into bed next to me.
“Mama, can you move over to Baba’s side?" he whispers.
I can move, just barely, but it’s clear I’m not getting any more sleep today—and neither is our alarm clock. We get up and head to the kitchen to make our daily breakfast soup. This morning the boys also want cereal, which is fine.
Cold weather is here, and John manages to find the boys’ gloves somewhere. Our van’s sliding doors are frozen shut, so Leo has to climb in from the front and buckle himself—all things our new 7-year-old can do. John takes Daniel to school while I take Leo, who jumps out, gives me a kiss, and never looks back.
Another day has begun.
Because we have plans this evening, I run to the grocery store during my lunch hour and shop for Leo’s birthday party tomorrow. I had planned to buy cupcakes and stick Pokemon rings on them, but all the cupcakes are fall colors. Orange and brown doesn’t seem right, so I decide I’ll just make my own using a mix.
As I’m waiting in the checkout line, I glance at my email and see a message from Leo’s teacher. Apparently someone bumped into him and his chin hit the school building’s wall, and he has a small cut. The teacher says Leo told her he didn’t want to go to the nurse because he was allergic to the nurse’s office and the nurse’s clothes.
I am baffled. I pay for the groceries and head out to the car. Then, as I’m loading them into the car, I realize I know why Leo said that. One day he spilled milk on his shirt and the teacher sent him to the nurse’s office. She let him borrow a uniform shirt. That night we noticed a rash on his face—and blamed the detergent they used to wash the shirt.
When I arrive at school at the end of the day, Leo shows me his chin. He describes what happened, but what he really wants to talk about is how soon we will get to Loyola’s Fitness & Aquatic Center, where we are attending a Family Fun Night for employees and their families. They hold them once or twice a year, and we always try to go.
We stop to get Daniel, and then we’re off for our night of family fun.
It’s awesome. There are plasma cars to ride, a spider moon bounce, and a parachute. There’s candy—and, of course, we can never get enough candy this time of year.
There’s a pool, and John and the boys try to swim, but they are freezing, so we change and look for other fun.
That's when we see the rock climbing wall, which we have never tried. You have to be at least 7 years old to climb it, and we have only had a 7-year-old for four days. I don’t even think he’ll want to try, but I am wrong.
He steps up and lets the student employees put his harness on and listens to their explanation of how to climb. Then he waits his turn while Daniel and our friends who joined us for the evening get ready to watch the climb.
“I’m going to go all the way to the top,” Leo says.
“Maybe you shouldn’t go the whole way,” John says. I look up and I know I can’t bear for Leo to go to the top. But I also know he will never climb to the top. So I tell him to climb as far as he wants to.
He climbs and climbs and climbs.
He doesn’t make it to the top.
He probably gets about 15 or 20 feet up. I have no idea. It seemed high to me.
He’s like Spider-Man, pressing his body to the wall, choosing his footholds carefully, and working his way up the wall.
When he can’t find a good place for his foot, he gives the student holding the ropes a thumb’s down, and he brings Leo safely to the ground.
Then Daniel runs over and gives Leo a hug.
We play for a while longer, pour glue over a haunted house craft, and collect a few Halloween tattoos, and then we head to the car.
Driving home, I ask what their favorite part of the night was.
“The best part was the bounce house,” Leo says. “The worst part was having to eat pizza. The scariest part was climbing the rock wall.”
“Were you scared before you started or after you were climbing?” I ask.
“I knew it would be scary,” he says. “But I wanted to do it.”
We talk about being brave for a while.
Then Daniel says, “When I am big enough, I won’t be scared! I will climb all the way to the top! I mean, I don’t think I’ll be scared.”
“Maybe one day you can both climb together,” I say. We talk about what fun that would be—more for them than for a nervous mother on the ground, but I don’t mention that. And then I start writing a silly poem out loud.
“There once were two brothers who climbed
Up a mountain, and at the same time.
They went up so fast,
They almost went past...” and I stop because I don’t know how to end it.
Then I hear Leo’s voice from the backseat: “And now this whole thing is a rhyme.”
Back at home, we have a party to plan for, so Daniel and I make chocolate cupcakes and I do a little more wrapping for “Pass the Present.”
We have plenty of work to do tomorrow, but we also have comfortable beds calling our names. The boys are asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow, and we won’t last much longer ourselves.
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 15, 2014 12:35
By Rita Buettner
I’m blogging our daily life this week, so these will be the quickest seven takes I have ever written. I love blogging about the ordinary moments in our lives, and this week has been fun. If I were to do it again, I might try to do it during a week where I am not planning a birthday party at the same time. Of course, what would be the fun in blogging when you have nothing to say?
Cleaning your house before a children’s birthday party makes as much sense as raking leaves before a hurricane. But I’m going to do it anyway. And, just in case it's not clear from my birthday party talk, we are all incredibly excited about this party.
Our new baby niece was baptized last weekend. For this blog we’re going to call her Katy, and thank you to all of you who submitted such wonderful ideas for her blog name!
The baptism, which was at the Baltimore Basilica, was absolutely lovely, and Katy managed to entice all her cousins to come to town for the event.
Leo and I were talking beforehand and he told me he remembers his baptism, and how he was worried about the priest pouring water on his head. And he remembers his brother’s baptism, when he and the cousins wore Chinese outfits.
I’m never sure what our children remember from real life and what they remember from photos and stories, but it seems possible to me that Leo could remember his baptism. He had turned 2 and it was a pivotal time in his life since he had just met us.
Whether or not he recalls his own baptism, he’ll definitely remember his baby cousin’s. And Daniel probably will, too.
What our sons won’t recall, however, is the veggie platter I designed for the occasion.
When we were celebrating Leo’s seventh birthday on Monday, I realized I know what I have done that day every year except for the year he was born.
Six years ago that day I started working at my job.
Five years ago that day we had been matched with Leo and were preparing to travel to meet him for the first time.
Four years ago that day we celebrated Leo’s first birthday as a family; he and I went to Strasburg with my sister-in-law and two of his cousins.
Three years ago Daniel had a doctor’s appointment that day, and I felt sad about leaving Leo for a little while on his birthday—though he didn’t care. He got a brand-new sled from his Aunt Treasa that day.
I don't think I can do that with any other date.
The other day I started using a new paper towel roll, and every time I used one, I smiled.
But Leo tells me they are definitely not flyswatters.
A couple months ago I bought an umbrella for my mother for her birthday. It broke the first time she used it. So I did what anyone else would do. I left negative feedback.
The seller contacted me and asked me to remove the negative feedback. If I did, the seller said, he or she would send a new umbrella.
It felt like a bribe. It felt dishonest. And I wasn’t comfortable with it. I went back and forth on what to do. Then I wrote back and said that I felt I was being asked to be dishonest. I said, if you send me a new umbrella, I will see how it works, and if it works well, then I will change the review.
So that’s what I did. And so far, so good.
Read more quick takes at Kelly's blog. Thank you for hosting, Kelly!
November 14, 2014 12:43
By Rita Buettner
For days Daniel has been asking when we are going to put candy in the piñata for his brother's birthday party.
So it’s no surprise that I wake up to a little boy crawling into my bed and whispering, “Mama, when can we put candy in the piñata?”
The Pokemon party is happening on Saturday, and I have run out of reasons to procrastinate. I get up, hand the boys the piñata and some candy, and let them get to work. I'm surprised that no one even tries to sneak a piece of candy.
So now I have one thing ready for Leo’s birthday party.
On Thursdays we give one of our neighbors a ride to school with Leo, and the boys always show off in the car. They are boisterous...er...well, spirited is the word I am using lately. I finally threaten to take away Leo’s Pokemon cards and Daniel’s stuffed wolf. Losing your Pokemon cards would be a terrible fate, so they settle down.
Once Leo and our neighbor have jumped out of the car, Daniel and I can head off to preschool. He loves taking different roads, so we turn down one we haven’t tried and find our way through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Just when I’m thinking of pulling over to turn on the GPS, I see a road I know.
At school there is tremendous excitement because the classroom has a brand-new hermit crab! Daniel peers into the tank with his classmates.
Then he finds a large plastic truck, gives me kisses and kisses and kisses, and we say goodbye.
At the office I have another busy, but good, day, and I manage to slip away at lunchtime to go to the dollar store. I need plates, another prize, and wrapping paper so we can wrap our “Pass the Present” gifts a few dozen more times.
As I walk out of the store carrying five rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, it occurs to me that people seeing me must think I’m such a planner, already finished with my Christmas shopping. Instead, here I am, scrambling to plan a Pokemon party in the next 48 hours.
After work, I go to pick up Daniel, and his teacher tells me he hasn’t been listening well. I do a lot of listening myself and I promise to talk with Daniel. He is typically very well-behaved in school, so I am fairly sure this is tied to his brother’s birthday excitement. But it’s still not OK, of course, so Daniel and I talk about it for a while on the way to pick up Leo.
It has started raining, but the rain is changing to snow, and as the three of us walk out of Leo’s school, we stop to look at it.
“Can we get out the sleds?” Leo asks. We talk about what they love to do in the snow. I am actually wishing the snow would wait just a little longer. Didn’t winter just end a few weeks ago? But our boys are ready for some winter fun.
On our drive home we cut through a store parking lot and Daniel yells, “Did you see that big banana wearing a Christmas hat?” We think he’s joking and we laugh, but hours later he is still claiming that he saw it. Maybe it was just outside the store and Leo and I missed it.
Then, out of nowhere, Leo asks, “Mama, does the Devil live on earth?”
“Well, not really,” I say. “Why do you ask?”
“My friend was talking about it at school today, and he said that the Devil has a lair underground.”
“Um...well, I don’t know a lot about this, but I’m pretty sure the Devil lives somewhere else.”
“Yes,” Leo says, “he lives in hell and he can’t come to earth, but he can make us think of bad things to do.”
“That’s probably true,” I say, “but he can’t make us do anything. We each get to choose. That’s why we try to make good choices all the time. But even when we choose to do something bad, we can still tell God we’re sorry.”
“Yes, and that’s forgiveness!” Leo says. “Can I watch a movie when we get home?”
Naturally, I say yes. I’m so relieved to have made it through a conversation about the Devil. And these conversations aren’t going to get any easier.
John had offered to pick up dinner for us on his way home, and when we get home, he pretends to take a chicken out of the oven.
“Is that a real chicken?” Leo asks doubtfully.
Indeed, it is. And dinner tastes great, as any dinner does when you haven't had to cook it. After dinner, the boys build another project out of the circuits Leo received for his birthday, and we watch them shining in the dark. A piece even flies up into the air and sails back down, but I wasn't able to capture that.
Then they turn out all the lights, except in the kitchen, and we stumble through the house together in the dark.
A dark house reminds us that we haven’t played hide-and-seek in a while, so the boys hide and I seek. Can you guess where they’re hiding?
I have so many things left to do for the party, but our boys want to help, so we hang some Pokemon decorations.
We have a piñata, decorations, and two excited boys. With a party line-up like that, who needs to vacuum or prepare food?
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 13, 2014 11:09
By Rita Buettner
Another day, another can of soup for breakfast, and everyone’s happy—except that this morning the boys are also asking for bologna. Bologna for breakfast. It sounds like the title of a children’s picture book, and probably one in the 70-percent-off pile.
The best thing about bologna, as it turns out, is biting it into shapes.
Daniel makes his into a star.
Leo makes his into...well...let’s assume it’s the state of Florida. But you and I know he wasn’t using it to teach his brother a geography lesson. And there's nothing that says, "I'm a great mom," like turning around and seeing that your son is pretending to shoot a piece of bologna.
It still looks like Florida to me.
I take both boys to school on Wednesday morning, so we head for the car, and then the Buettner Bus is on its way.
Except it's not. Even before I start the car, something has fallen on the floor and the boys are trying to pick it up. If only we cared about picking up the living room floor this much!
As we pull into Leo’s school parking lot, I’m feeling great about being on time. That’s when I hear Leo say to his brother, “Do you have a nosebleed?”
The answer, of course, is yes. And suddenly we are holding up the entire line of cars dropping off children for school. I have to get our car out of the way, so I make sure the nosebleed is under control, hand Daniel a wad of tissues, and we head to his school.
By the time we get there, his nose seems to be fine, so we go inside. Daniel puts his lunchbox on the cart, and he makes sure he puts it right next to his favorite teacher’s lunchbox. I tell her and she smiles. “He always does that,” she says.
A few hugs and kisses—and an attempt by Daniel to sneak out behind me, giggling the whole time—and we say goodbye. He runs back into his classroom, and I am off to the office for another full day.
My plan is to run lunchtime errands for Leo’s Pokemon birthday party, but somehow lunch comes and goes and I never get away from the office. The work day flies by and soon it’s time to leave to pick up our boys.
When I reach Daniel’s school, he is busy creating a picture of our house on fire and firefighters putting it out. It’s rather dark, but also exciting, and I do love his imagination. I ask where we are in the picture, and he draws us safely in the corner of the paper, far from the burning house.
Then we’re off to get Leo—one of Daniel’s favorite parts of the day. He loves Leo’s afterschool program, and the teachers there treat him like a guest of honor. And they always have something to tell me about Leo.
“Did you know he’s really good at chess?” one of them asks. “He is trying to play the other kids, and no one can do it.”
“I actually can’t play him in chess,” I admit. “I don’t know how to play.”
It’s one of the reasons I like his after-school program. He learns so much from the older students.
The boys want to play on the school playground, and I have to explain that it is dark outside. That silly time change.
As we drive home, Daniel is starving. “Mama, I am so hungry I am going to die,” he says. “I am going to die when I reach 10. 1...2...3....” He makes it to 10 and closes his eyes, giggling the whole time. It’s not very convincing.
I mention that I am going to go out for a little while during the evening, and the boys are appalled.
“No!” Daniel says. “Why do you have to go somewhere?”
“You can go for two minutes,” Leo tells me. “OK, three minutes. Then you have to come home.”
I explain that sometimes parents need to go out and do things. I happen to be going out with two friends—something I rarely ever do, especially because I work full-time, but tonight we have a special reason to celebrate. We planned a fundraiser at Leo’s school and it was successful, or at least it’s over, and we are having a moms’ night out.
Back at home, we notice a ladybug on the kitchen table.
"Can we keep it as a pet?" Daniel asks. It seems safe enough. His father finds a container for it, and puts air holes in the top. Daniel asks me what the bug wants to eat.
"Go find the L encyclopedia," I say, and he runs off. He comes back with the right one, and we look up ladybugs. We don't have any aphids, so we drop a piece of rice into the container.
I heat up leftover Chinese food and John announces that they will watch something educational on the iPad during dinner. So they do. And when it’s time for me to leave, I get kisses and everyone is content.
On the way to meet my friends, I turn on talk radio. A few minutes into the news segment, it still isn’t making sense to me. Suddenly I realize they aren’t discussing “delinquent minds,” but rather “delinquent mines.” No wonder I never listen to talk radio.
Dinner is wonderful, full of conversation and guacamole. Yum.
We have a lot of stories to share and much to catch up on. And what better way to do it than at our local Mexican restaurant. There are many ways to celebrate, but I don’t know that you can do better than with a plate of fish tacos.
I look at my watch and realize it’s almost 10 p.m. The restaurant is closing down. All the chairs are on the tables and we are the last people there. Have I ever closed down a restaurant before? I doubt it. But that was our day. And to think...it started with bologna for breakfast.
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 12, 2014 11:56
By Rita Buettner
It’s the day after Leo’s birthday, and so today still feels a little exciting. Leo’s first-grade class is going on a field trip today, but we decided to have him skip it and spend the day at Grandma’s house instead—and he is over the moon.
He is taking his favorite presents to Grandma’s house, and he’ll be opening three new presents there. After a day of excitement and stimulation, our 7-year-old is looking forward to a quiet day with Grandma and his birthday gifts.
After the boys enjoy soup for breakfast, John leaves with Leo to go to Grandma’s house, and Daniel and I get ready to go to his preschool. On the way out the door, however, I realize we never drew him a note to put inside his lunchbox. It doesn’t seem fair for him to miss out on it, so I draw it quickly as he waits in the doorway.
And then we’re off.
“Turn on the heat, silly!” Daniel sings out as I start to drive. I remind him that we don’t talk that way. Then I realize that he is right about how cold it is.
As we walk into school, we see a sign reminding us that today is Brown Day—a day to wear brown, pack something brown in your lunch, and bring something brown. Naturally I have forgotten completely.
“Isn’t it good you wore your brown shoes?” I say. “And you have brown eyes, and you brought your brown horse!”
Daniel doesn’t seem to care. He starts playing with his friends, so I say goodbye and walk to the car, passing this spectacular tree.
It was even prettier last week, but it's still lovely, isn't it?
On my way to the office, I stop at the grocery store, and I see this sign.
It sounds like a great goal. But what does it mean? Fewer bags than what? Than last year? Than projected for this year? Than in the past five years? Than paper bags? Than I use at home? I head into the store.
I pick up a few groceries to take to the office and a much-needed and almost-overdue birthday card for my father-in-law, and then I stop in the seasonal aisle. There waiting for me are shelves of half-price candy, just what I need to fill our Pokemon piñata for Leo’s party with his friends.
I have a great day at work, especially when I get out of my office. I walk across our campus (at Loyola University Maryland) just when the last of the sunlight is setting the trees on fire.
So I have to take a few photos.
Then I’m off to pick Leo up from my mother’s house, where he has been playing with a circuit toy she and my father gave him for his birthday.
He has been so focused that he forgot to eat his afternoon popsicle—ah, the joys of Grandma’s house—so my mother gives it to him to eat on the way home.
“How was your day?” I ask, as we drive off to pick up Daniel. “Was it as much fun as a field trip?”
“It was so much better than a field trip,” Leo says. “I got to play with Aunt Shai!”
I’m sure the field trip was terrific, but I feel certain I guessed right on what our boy needed today.
At Daniel's preschool, Leo runs and I walk inside to pick our preschooler up, and we see our favorite substitute teacher, who always makes Leo feel grown-up and important. We find Daniel playing hangman with his teacher and another friend. Leo asks for a turn with the hangman board and picks the hardest word he can think of—“would”—which none of us guess.
On the drive home, Daniel says, "Mama, I know what a gentleman is now."
"A gentleman is someone who lets a lady go first," he said. "And he's nice to a lady."
And here I thought they were going to learn the color brown.
Back at home, we have leftovers for dinner—my favorite. We talk about soldiers and war and John asks questions about World War II. Leo and Daniel love being quizzed at dinnertime.
At one point I start telling a story of the Silverware Monster who creeps up behind children who don’t use their forks and spoons, but Daniel is so upset he is climbing into his father’s lap, so we go back to discussing war, which is apparently less frightening.
After dessert (Halloween candy) the boys try on the blindfold for our pin the Pokeball onto some Pokemon character game, and they stumble around the house. Somehow they do this with ease, so I think it is probably a very poor blindfold.
Then they want to help me wrap the prizes for “Pass the Present,” which we will play at Leo’s party on Saturday. Each prize has to be wrapped many, many times, and then the children will unwrap it layer by layer as they sit in a circle, so we will keep wrapping through the week. Everyone except one guest can come, and Leo is thrilled.
At bedtime I hear two voices yelling not to come in the bathroom, which means that minutes later I am invited in so I can be astounded at their clean teeth. Then we read a story about the Fantastic Four and The Bike Lesson, which is one of the best Berenstain Bears books ever.
We argue about who had the giant stuffed Pikachu in bed last night, and then it’s lights out and our sons fall immediately asleep. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 11, 2014 11:27
By Rita Buettner
There are Mondays. Then there are Mondays when your son is turning 7. Our day starts bright and early with our boys crawling into bed, one on each side of us.
That lasts about three minutes. Then everyone—or at least the new 7-year-old—wants to get up and start the celebration.
“I want to open my presents,” Leo announces.
“Maybe just one or two?” his father says.
But you know what they say: you can’t stop a moving train or an excited birthday boy.
Moments later everything is unwrapped.
And the party is well underway—or as much of a party as you can have in the brief time before leaving for school.
Our boys enjoy their daily chicken noodle soup (with ice to cool it off) for breakfast and I overhear the “Well, it is my birthday” mantra a few times.
Hmm. That might not go over well, but I’m not worried. Daniel is no pushover. He needs just a little extra attention from me. It can be hard to be the brother of the birthday boy. So we play briefly with a butterfly net and his stuffed animals.
I give Leo seven birthday kisses and one to grow on. Daniel gets kisses too, but they are not birthday kisses. Later they get special hugs from Baba.
After breakfast, while the boys are playing with Leo’s gifts, I pack Leo’s snack in a new Pokemon container he hasn’t seen yet. This birthday is all about Pokemon.
John takes Daniel to school so Leo and I can stop to get his birthday treat for his friends. He’s not a fan of most baked goods, but he likes munchkins. We order 25 chocolate and 25 honey glazed—and a coffee for me. Then we’re off to school, where he proudly carries the box of donuts inside. I can see his classmates hurrying to greet him—and not just because he has donuts.
Then I’m off to work, where I get to proof our magazine and do many other projects that have nothing to do with Leo’s birthday or donuts or Pokemon.
In the back of my mind I am remembering that I am throwing a birthday party for Leo this weekend. He is so excited. So am I, but I am also nervous about getting everything ready, especially now that I realize we are having at least a dozen of his friends.
Is there any point in cleaning the house when we still have days before the party? And doesn't it look clean to you?
When I pick Leo up from school—a little late because of traffic—we head to the store to buy the gift his aunt and uncle are giving him. They just gave birth to a baby girl, so they get bonus points for even remembering that he has a birthday. Of course, they were married on his fifth birthday, so it might be hard for them to forget. Either way, Leo is thrilled to pick out his very own Pokemon cards at the store.
Are you sensing that this birthday has a theme?
We look for leftover Halloween candy for our Pokemon piñata, and all we see is Christmas candy. I feel more strongly than Leo does that that isn’t an option.
When we go to pick up Daniel from preschool, Leo runs to the door.
Then he bounces through the halls.
Back at home we wait for Leo’s birthday dinner to be delivered. We almost always celebrate family occasions with Chinese food, and tonight it’s Leo’s choice.
One day I am going to say, “You can pick any dinner you’d like for your birthday,” and one of the children will say, “I’d like a homemade chicken pot pie.” But it has never happened yet, and we all love Chinese food. Who doesn’t?
After Grace, we pray briefly for Leo. And, of course, we pray for all those in China who love our growing boy.
In between the series of birthday calls from the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, we manage to slip in the birthday song and we cut the chocolate-chocolate cake Leo requested. It’s a new recipe, and instead of frosting, I was supposed to drop chocolate chips on top of the hot cake and let them melt.
The boys and I had a great time spreading them over the cake last night. But the frosting set hard, like a candy bar, and it’s not as appealing today.
Of course, our boys are just eating the M&Ms off the top, so the cake might as well be Styrofoam—and John seems to think Styrofoam might be almost as tasty.
And Leo has made his wish, after much thought and even more secrecy, so the cake is irrelevant.
Before we can eat it, Leo has us go around the table and guess which Pokemon’s silhouette is on the cake. I made the cake and John knows who it is, too, but we each dutifully guess a different character. Leo, of course, gets it right. Do you know who it is?
Toward the end of the evening Daniel marches into the kitchen and says, “I’m selling all my money to the poor, except the dollars.” It’s a beautiful gesture, even though I believe he means “giving” instead of “selling."
After much Pokemon play—even though I’m not sure what the game is or how it works, and it seems to involve more math than I can do easily—John reads Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss to the boys and they’re off to bed.
Then they don’t fall asleep for more than an hour. They are playing, even though they are in separate beds, and their game seems to involve their flashlight key chains, stuffed animals sailing through the air between the beds, and raucous laughter.
I try to tell myself this has nothing to do with the orange soda I let them have since it was a "special day."
Eventually Leo falls asleep and Daniel lies in there singing the Pokemon theme song over and over and over and over again.
“It’s not always black and white, but your heart always knows what’s right," he sings. "It’s not about win or lose. It’s the path you choose. Let the journey begin. Pokemon!”
Profound thoughts for our 4-year-old non-birthday-boy. And then he’s off to sleep, too.
And join in this week on social media with #WeekInMyLife14.
November 10, 2014 11:23
By Rita Buettner
How was your Halloween? After much deliberation about costumes, our boys decided to stick with their original plan. Optimus Prime and the red Power Ranger enjoyed a fantastic night of trick-or-treating.
Again this year we left a bowl of treats on our front porch when we went out, but this year I put more thought into my note. I wrote, “Please help yourself to a piece of candy (or 2 or 3).” Leo suggested the “or 2 or 3” after we discussed how much candy each child needs. Later I realized why it was such a great idea.
See, if someone tells you that you can have 1, 2, or 3 pieces of candy, you will take 3, of course. But you won’t take more than 3.
It’s empowering. And yet it is limiting the number of pieces people will take. What greedy clod would take more than 3 when some people (at least in theory) are selflessly only taking 1?
I need to remember that for next year.
Sitting in the doctor's waiting room
Yesterday when Daniel was at a doctor’s appointment, the doctor said to him, “What do you like to play at school?”
"Going outside,” he said.
“And what do you do outside?” she asked.
“I dig for gold and subway cars.”
Wait...what? “You dig for subway cars?” I said.
“I dig for the tops of them,” he said. "How far down are they? I think I need a metal shovel."
How have I never heard about this? Clearly I am not asking the right questions.
Leo turns 7 next week. When John and I were thinking ahead to Leo’s birthday, I had an idea.
Instead of throwing a birthday party, which Leo never seems to enjoy, we would offer him a $50 trip to the toy store. Financially we would come out ahead, he would feel he had hit the lottery, and we wouldn’t need to vacuum the house or find a place to hang a piñata.
Leo loved the idea. For weeks I have been patting myself on the back.
Then a few days ago Leo came to me. He didn’t want the $50. He wanted a birthday party—specifically a Pokemon party.
Now, I could have said no. And I did try to weasel out of it. But in the end we agreed and decided to limit it to the boys in his class. That’s a decent crowd and it should be a fun group.
Meanwhile, if you are an expert in throwing Pokemon birthday parties, I would be most grateful to hear from you. This is stretching my creative abilities a bit. Good thing I love a challenge.
Meanwhile, Daniel, who turns 5 next month, came home and announced that two of the girls in his class were coming to his birthday party.
“Um...your birthday party?” I asked, speaking as someone with no plans to throw even one birthday party in the next month. “We haven’t really talked about that.” Last year we had a birthday party for Daniel, but it was really a gathering for a few friends we enjoy that we labeled as his party.
“Yes, they are coming, Mama,” he said, “and I told them it’s a Frozen party.”
“Oh! A Frozen party!” I said, thinking of the soldiers he had lined up across our living room to reenact the Battle of Normandy. I thought he'd be wanting a Great Escape party. “If we invite those two friends, then we probably have to invite the whole class.”
“No,” he said, “you can just invite the girls.”
Hmm. I am no Miss Manners, but I am fairly sure that doesn’t work, especially in Pre-K.
Leo gets to dress as a saint for school today! We had fun putting together his St. Louis costume, especially once a friend offered to lend us a sword and shield.
Just in case you’re wondering, he’ll also be wearing long pants and shoes, and he won’t have his brother hiding behind the shield with him.
November is National Adoption Month, and I have so many things I would like to say. Is there anything you’d particularly like to hear?
Our agency, Holt International, which matched us with both of our sons, posted this piece: 10 myths about adopting from China. If you are at all curious about adoption from China, I recommend taking a look.
Meanwhile, if you have a question about adoption, or something you'd like to see me share, please let me know!
A few favorite moments from the week:
On Saturday morning Daniel announced he would be washing the kitchen chairs for us. Where does he get these ideas? Not from me.
Leo wrote his cousin Georgie’s name in the All Souls book after Mass on Sunday.
And Daniel spotted this in the sky the other day and yelled, “Look, Mama! A cross for Jesus!”
Last fall I participated in the Week In My Life blogging link-up, which Kathryn is hosting this year. I’m planning to try it again next week, and I hope you'll stop by!
As always, find more quick takes at Jen's blog.
November 07, 2014 06:35
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By Rita Buettner