Our sons are too big to carry. I know it. They know it. Anyone who sees their gangly legs dangling from my hips knows it.
But, even though they are 6 and 8—and approaching 7 and 9—I can’t seem to stop.
The truth is someday very soon I won’t be able to lift them. I can barely do it now.
Still, I can still manage it when someone is hurt or upset.
And when they were getting tired of walking in the heat this weekend, and one of them showed me a blister on his heel, I managed a few piggyback rides. And I noticed something.
When a child is on your back, the world is entirely new—to you and to him.
He sees from a new height. He also has so much to say—about everything. So he runs through topic after topic, discussing everything that’s on his mind. He talks about games and characters and family and what he wants to do today and tomorrow...on and on and on.
I treasure those conversations.
Piggyback riding reminds me of when I have our sons in the back seat of the car. Somehow everything comes up in the car, maybe because we aren’t looking at one another, and because the world is slipping past us.
The conversations as we walk might be even more wonderful. After all, walking together we aren’t getting anywhere fast. And the child on my back knows I’m not worried about red lights or cars cutting me off; he has my full attention.
He feels so special to be on my back and have my ear—inches away from his face.
Besides, with an extra 50-plus pounds on my back, I’m doing much less talking and much more listening.
The floor is his.
So I walk and he rides.
I listen and he talks.
And instead of wondering how much longer I’ll be able to do this for and with him, I just feel grateful for the now.
July 25, 2016 08:05
By Rita Buettner
The “no-sugary snack” rule
I saw in our summer camp instructions should have been a sign that this camp wasn’t going to be a good fit. It did not go well. In fact, we didn’t make it through the week.
In the end it wasn’t the debates over the Oreo cookies that did me in. It was the fact that the other students were hitting and pushing my children, and the camp counselors didn’t take appropriate action in response. By mid-week, we were done.
We pulled the children out. Luckily I was counting on that camp for only one other week this summer, and we are able to piece things together. But this is not how I was hoping this camp experience would go.
I probably should have known when I picked up our boys on Monday, and our very social 6-year-old who adores group settings said to me, “It was 100 percent terrible.”
There aren't enough Oreos in the world to solve that.
Every time we go for snowballs, the boys try to talk me into a larger size than they can eat. Snowballs are not my favorite treat, so I can barely get through a kiddie size. But they really believe they can devour a jumbo.
It must be wonderful to have such confidence. And there’s something about those cups all lined up at the top of the snowball stand. The smaller cups look so small. The large cups don’t look all that large.
This week I said I’d buy them mediums. They didn’t finish them. So next time they have to go back to the smalls.
Some days I am like a child at a snowball stand. I think I know how much I can handle, but I really have no idea. And I take on much more than I should. I should at least make sure it is covered with marshmallow topping.
Earlier this week I was trying to decide whether to take our older son with me to a funeral, when I realized our younger son was upset that he wasn’t invited. I reminded him that he had his reading program to attend.
“Mama,” he said firmly. “Mass is more important.”
Who can argue that?
So we skipped his reading program and went to the funeral together.
Our neighborhood started its own Little Free Library
. We have seen them in other places, but there is something magical about going for a walk and coming across one not far from our home.
We borrowed a Magic Treehouse book, and we are planning to take a book back to leave for someone else soon.
Our Little Free Library even has a container of dog biscuits inside.
One wonderful side effect of playing Pokemon Go: When we are home and I call for my children, they come running thinking there’s a Pokemon to catch. And sometimes there is one—like a rat in the kitchen. Shiver.
Last weekend we went to the park to launch rockets. John builds Estes rockets, and then we go launch them. When I say “we,” I mean that John launches them while I take photos and videos and point to where they came down.
While we were there, we met a friendly man who came over to tell us about the rockets he built when he was younger. As we launched the rockets, we heard a bagpiper practicing on another one of the fields.
As it turns out, there’s something exhilarating about launching rockets to bagpipe music.
My birthday is next week, and a few of my friends have already kicked off the celebrations. One of my close friends from college happens to be in the area right now, and she took me out for a fondue dinner. She gave me a tiara with a “40” on it because…well, I’m turning 40. I'll have to get a good photo of it next week. But here's the tray of items to dip into the chocolate fondue.
Then last night I took our boys to their swim lesson and decided to stop into a store nearby for a few minutes.
There I found this wonderful hat. Who doesn’t need a hat? And it is my birthday—or practically my birthday. So I bought it for myself.
Then I recited the "Do you like my hat?" lines from "Go, Dog, Go" for part of the evening.
How do I feel about turning 40? I won't know exactly until I write about it. So I'll do that soon—probably while I’m still 39.
July 22, 2016 12:30
By Rita Buettner
The night before our children start a new summer camp, I look at the instructions.
Bring a towel, swimsuit, water bottle, and lunch. Don’t pack any sugary snacks.
Immediately my hackles go up.
Here’s the thing. I am absolutely on board with ensuring the health and safety of the other campers by keeping common allergens out of our lunchboxes. No peanuts? You’ve got it. No tree nuts? Done. Food allergies are a matter of life or death. Without question, we will be as careful as possible with that.
But the “no sugary snack” rule for a summer camp? That’s just someone trying to tell me how to feed my children. That I don’t know best how to meet my child’s needs. And that’s not OK.
The rest of the day of camp? Swimming and playground time and crafts and songs and whatever else? That’s for the camp leaders to plan. I entrust that to their care.
But the lunchbox contents? That’s my turf. If I want to slip a sweet dessert into the mix for my child, I will. In fact, now that I’ve seen the rule, I’m determined to. Seeing that proclamation in the information packet makes me want to pack a whole sleeve of Chips Ahoy. Or maybe two or three.
Don’t worry. I always make sure our boys have protein and fruit and plenty of good food to pick from. They take smoked salmon and edamame and cold noodles and hard-boiled eggs and berries and grapes and apple slices. I also give them something crunchy and something sweet.
They eat good food.
They also enjoy their treats.
They are thriving.
And I am their mother. No camp rules are getting in the way of my methods for filling the lunchbox.
For a split second, I think maybe the camp is concerned about my children’s health. Then I turn to the next page of camp info and see that the snowball truck is stopping at the camp the next day. Our children love snowballs. But I’m not sure there’s a more sugary snack on the market today—except maybe sugar.
So, as I thought, the camp isn’t worried about my child’s nutrition. They just don’t want me making these decisions for my child.
So before our children head out to camp, I slip a handful of Oreos into each lunchbox. Then I add some chocolate-covered breakfast bars. Because who even knows what a sugary snack is? How is that defined? Doesn’t an apple have sugar in it?
There once was a mother who packed
Her child a sweet sugary snack.
Though his camp was chagrined,
Her child giggled and grinned,
For his lunch was an M&M sack.
July 20, 2016 12:03
By Rita Buettner
My sons and I can’t get enough of Pokemon Go. We have had such fun discovering Pokemon and capturing them and talking about which ones we hope we can catch next. It has become a wonderful mother-son activity, and we are happily becoming experts in Pokemon.
At Sunday Mass our pastor gave a terrific homily, and he talked about how people are so distracted by Pokemon Go that they are seeing less of the world around them. It’s a totally legitimate point.
But it made me think. Maybe instead of seeing Pokemon Go as a distraction from what really matters, I should reevaluate how I could be using this experience to consider what actually does matter.
- We get so excited about capturing a Jigglypuff. Shouldn’t we feel that same excitement—and even more—whenever we pass a Catholic church? Jesus is inside those churches in the tabernacle! His very body is there! Waiting for us to bring Him into ourselves! If ever there were a time we should be falling off cliffs or trespassing, it would be to encounter Jesus in that way.
- We should recognize that just as you need to go to the Pokestops to continue to catch the Pokemon, there are times when you need to refuel in your faith journey, as well. So you might go to Mass or on retreat or designate extra prayer time with friends or at home.
- While walking with my sons, we have fallen into conversation with many people, and the boys always think that people with phones are also playing Pokemon Go. What if we assumed that other people are also searching for Christ in their lives? What if we stopped to ask them? Maybe we could connect with them more easily than we imagine. After all, aren’t most people searching for something—something besides rare evolved forms of Eevee?
- In Pokemon Go, you can use a “lure” to encourage more Pokemon creatures to come to a Pokestop—not just for you, but for others. What could I be doing in my life that would not just help me in my faith, but help others grow in their faith, too?
- When the phone buzzes, we all jump wondering which Pokemon we might see. What little reminders can we find throughout the day to reconnect with our Lord more intimately? We pray when we hear a siren, but maybe we should pray whenever we pass a church? What other prompts could we embrace to make us connect more deeply with God on our faith journey?
- One of the reasons I like Pokemon Go is that it gives me and my children a common vocabulary and a common goal. Our Pokemon conversations remind me that I need to make sure I listen when they are talking about what matters to them so that we can have the important conversations, too. I also keep thinking that I need to find more and better ways to communicate with them about what really matters—and that maybe listening and letting them lead the conversation is the key.
I’m not ditching Pokemon Go by any means. I just think there are some lessons here that I could apply to other aspects of my life. And then maybe I could power up or evolve into a better version of the person God wants me to be.
You might also be interested in:
Pokemon Go craze catches local churches by surprise
Pokemon Go, we choose you: Or why we're having a little too much fun with the latest augmented reality game
July 18, 2016 01:29
By Rita Buettner
I mean, we aren’t walking into walls and off cliffs
. But we are stalking Pokemon in the library.
And we are still taking pictures of the cool ones.
Last night when we were walking through the neighborhood, we saw two bigger boys riding their skateboards down the street.
“Are you all playing Pokemon Go?” one of them said. “So are we!”
“Do you have a Staryu?” our 6-year-old asked.
“Let me check,” said the boy. “Yes, I do! This is the best game ever!”
No argument from here. Now if we could just get my hands on more Pokeballs….
We are looking forward to our trip to the beach, and I usually take some ramen noodles for an easy breakfast. I realize that ramen is not the best breakfast, but neither are donuts, which many people have at the beach. I've conducted a nutritional analysis of both, and the results show that breakfasts while on vacation are all just fine.
To get us primed for our trip, we bought four different flavors of ramen and I gave our sons a taste test.
The results are in. In order of preference they like:
- Oriental flavor
- Shrimp flavor
- Chicken flavor
- Beef flavor
See? It hasn’t been a wasted week.
What do you bring as a bread-and-butter gift when you go to a home for dinner? My 20-month-old niece brought us an onion.
We love our school. I mean, we really, really do love our school. But this week they emailed us our school supply list. They also reminded us that since we are halfway through the summer, we should be halfway through the summer assignments. Ugh. I'm not in a hurry to do summer homework. And I'm in no rush to get to the end of the summer.
I think we’ll go back to counting Pokemon. Honestly if we can learn to spell some of these names, we should get some extra credit somewhere.
Maybe we'll just count the stars as they pop out on a summer evening. Or maybe we won't count at all. Let's just have summer.
We have cousins visiting again this week! One of the best things about living near my parents is that we rarely need to go to the cousins because they all come to see my parents, and we can get in on the action.
And there is always action to get in on.
Sometimes it involves light sabers, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Because four of our cousins are in town, we packed a picnic lunch and went to Fort McHenry.
I’ve certainly said it before
, but it’s worth repeating: Fort McHenry is a fantastic picnic spot. There’s history and water and industry to admire.
There are even cannons lit from time to time. And we got to see one on this trip, along with many other historic items.
We might have even tried to lift a cannon ourselves with the strongest cousin we could find.
But just in case there wasn’t anything being launched, we also brought our stomp rockets.
You aren’t allowed to fly kites or UFO balloons
, but we’ve never had any of the kind park rangers there ask us to stop stomping our rockets.
Earlier this week I met a friend for lunch, and she was running a few minutes late. When the waitress stopped by the table to take my order, I said, “I’m waiting for a friend.”
Then I thought, what if she thinks I’m one of those crazy people who's actually waiting for a Pokemon to show up! And then my phone buzzed, and I caught one...
...and I realized, wait…I sort of am.
July 14, 2016 11:09
By Rita Buettner
When I saw all the excitement around this new game called Pokemon Go
, I was determined not to download it to my phone. If there’s anything I don’t need, it’s another reason to use a mobile device—or introduce my children to yet another game.
But I am intrigued by augmented reality
, and I finally decided I had professional reasons at least to give it a whirl.
And it’s free. I’m big on free.
So I downloaded it and started hunting for Pokemon. And let’s just say I now understand why this craze is sweeping the nation—or at least the nation of children living in my house.
Basically, your phone tells you when a Pokemon is nearby, and you can try to capture it virtually on your phone screen by throwing an image of a Pokeball at the image of the Pokemon. And I really don't know why that is so much fun, but it is.
By the time I got home from work, I had found a few Pokemon characters without trying very hard. I mentioned the game casually to our sons, who used to be huge Pokemon fans
. They told me they had already been Pokemon hunting while walking to the playground with our sitter. As is so often the case with any game—card, board, or electronic—they were experts.
We went walking this evening to capture some, sticking very carefully to sidewalks as we explored our neighborhood.
Here’s what we have enjoyed so far:
- When you find a Pokemon, it looks like this little creature is right next to you—and you can jump into a picture with it. This is especially exciting for me because my children don’t always want to pose for pictures. So maybe we have our Christmas card photo?
- We found a Pokemon egg, but we have to walk 5 kilometers to see it hatch. We have a long way to go, but we are determined to get there.
- We even found a few Pokemon characters without leaving our house—but that didn’t help us with getting that egg hatched.
- We enjoyed a beautiful summer evening outside in our neighborhood, waving to neighbors and wondering when we would find our next Pokemon.
Toward the end of our evening Pokemon search, my younger son and I were walking home, and it was getting dark. We hadn’t seen a Pokemon in a while, so we were just walking and talking. Our little boy spotted a black cat, then a bunny, and then he saw a firefly.
He sprang to action, chasing it across the grass, scooping it into his hands, and trying to hold it gently. But it escaped. So he went after another. And then another.
Each time the firefly escaped. But he kept at it, even once we arrived home, dancing through our yard, hands held up to the sky, trying to reach the magical little fireflies. He never tired of catching them and watching them light up in his hands—then fly off into the dusk.
This Pokemon Go game is fun, and I know we’re going to enjoy it for a while longer before the novelty wears off.
But that firefly game? The one God created and children have enjoyed for centuries? That one is here to stay.
Pokemon GO craze catches local churches by surprise
July 11, 2016 11:00
By Rita Buettner
What a troubling time. So much violence. So much anger. I went to a vigil today
because I felt it was the right thing to do. I didn’t think I was going for myself. But I came away with a sense of peace and gratitude for my community.
I was thinking about whether I should write my usual somewhat pithy quick takes even after a week of such violence. Then I remembered this quote from writer and historian William J. Durant:
“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”
So here’s the view from our riverbank.
When we went to our neighborhood bicycle parade on the Fourth of July, Daniel and I took a walkie talkie and left one at home with his brother.
We had a great time with them, reporting back on what we were seeing and fielding questions. We’re thinking of taking them on our family trip to the beach later this summer. The only hard part is that everyone wants to talk. No one wants to listen.
Our 6-year-old loves surprising me. He pops out of corners and jumps into doorways and says, “Boo!” I’m hardly ever surprised. But every now and then he gets me.
One day this week I came out of the bathroom and was walking through my bedroom. Just as I passed our hamper, the top flew up, and Daniel jumped out of it like a jack-in-the-box with a loud, “Boo!”
I may have actually screamed.
Our boys and I went miniature golfing with a few friends this week. I had been a little pessimistic before our trip. Miniature golfing with children can be stressful, especially if the people behind you play more quickly than you do—which is always the case—and if it can take 13 hits to get a ball into a hole.
But my friend assured me that this course wouldn’t be crowded, and she was right. We had the place to ourselves until the 17th hole. It was hot, and there was some whining about the heat, but otherwise the outing was stress-free—and our younger son got a hole-in-one.
If I tell you where it was, will you promise not to go play there when I’m playing? Or at least to be patient when we are taking forever? OK, don't tell anyone, but here it is
My sister-in-law came to town this week with her two children—who are the same ages as ours—to take care of our children for the two days we had a gap in our child care plan.
I won’t say she’s the best sister-in-law ever because that could get me in hot water right before our vacation with extended family. I’ll just let you decide:
- She turned our over-ripe bananas into mini banana muffins.
- She used a hairdryer to fill our inflatable pool with air.
- She brought glow balls the children played with in the evening.
- She kept our children happy and safe.
The first day Daniel handed his aunt a map he had drawn showing her how to get to McDonald’s for lunch.
Of course, the biggest surprise for our 6-year-old was that when I made the beds before their arrival, he discovered that sometimes sheets and pillowcases match.
I never said I was a housekeeper.
One of our favorite games to play in restaurants is “I Spy.” Lately Leo, who is 8, has really been stepping up his game. The other night he said he spied something clear-ish and small. It was a bubble in my glass of iced tea. But you could have guessed that.
The other night Daniel woke up from a nightmare, but instead of coming to find us, he talked to God. He told us that he asked God whether monsters were real, and God said no, they aren’t, but UFOs are.
Then he went back to sleep.
July 08, 2016 11:01
By Rita Buettner
You can sing the National Anthem as you stand by the American flag on your front porch.
You can take your son to the neighborhood’s Fourth of July bicycle parade, counting the American flags along the way and singing, “My Country Tis of Thee” and “God Bless America."
But when you’re shucking corn together that afternoon and you say to your 6-year-old, “Do you know why we celebrate the Fourth of July?” his answer might still surprise you.
“To get ready for St. Patrick’s Day?”
Hmm. Well…not exactly. But how would he know that wearing red, white, and blue, eating hamburgers, and watching fireworks could have anything to do with celebrating our independence?
You might remind him gently that you’ve talked about how special the United States of America is, how we have so much freedom as Americans—we can vote for our leaders, we can go to church and pray. You might even start singing “No More Kings”
from Schoolhouse Rock before you decide you’re getting way too complicated for a 6-year-old.
This little boy loves his country. He puts his hand over his heart as he says the pledge of allegiance. He salutes the American flag. He loves the military, and he’s proud to be an American. He just doesn’t happen to know why we celebrate Independence Day. And he has corn to shuck.
Besides, when you stop to think, you realize he’s probably right. It’s never too early to start getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day.
July 05, 2016 09:57
By Rita Buettner
You know those little packets of soy sauce? The ones that come with Chinese take-out? The ones that are nearly impossible to open?
We have dozens of them. I keep them in the cupboard, and they pile up for months until one day we need soy sauce and realize we are out. Yesterday I pulled out a few of those packets for the boys to use for lunch.
I left the room for a moment and as I walked back in, our 6-year-old was opening the soy sauce packet, and it exploded. Soy sauce went everywhere.
His face was drenched, and his shirt was soaked through. The sauce splattered all over the table, the dining room chairs, the carpet, his brother, and me. I have never seen so much soy sauce in one place.
When I looked in our son’s hands, I realized that half of the packet was still full.
I couldn’t believe it. When you look at those packets, you think they barely have anything in there—maybe a tablespoon of sauce? But if you had seen our dining room today, you would realize that there must be gallons of sauce inside.
Afterward, because I love metaphors, I was thinking about how life is like a packet of soy sauce. How, you ask?
- It’s pretty tasty no matter what you pair it with.
- You might think it will be be easy to manage, but it can be one huge mess.
- Even when you think you have everything under control, one little thing can change your day.
- The craziest problems can bring the biggest laugh.
- You can talk on and on about the advantages of using low-sodium soy sauce. In the end, when it’s in every nook and cranny of the room, soy sauce is soy sauce.
Come to think of it, maybe life is more like a packet of duck sauce: it tastes so good you could practically eat it alone...or if you're a member of my household, you already do.
Oh, and after my trip to the store, I realized we did have another bottle of soy sauce awaiting us in the pantry. But now at least we have another family story: The Day the Soy Sauce Packet Exploded. So it was worth it.
And now I really could go for some Chinese food.
July 03, 2016 04:04
By Rita Buettner
It’s July! This is my favorite month of the year, and it’s not a coincidence that it happens to be the month I was born. Summer is my favorite season, July is my favorite month, and…well…who doesn’t love celebrating birthdays? Especially when you’re turning 40. But I still have 25 days. Let's not rush this.
I rarely travel for work, but this week I went on an overnight business trip to Richmond.
It is absolutely gorgeous.
And the food...the food. Grilled peaches with goat cheese and prosciutto? Why don't I make that at home?
We took the train down and back, and I think I might have spent more time on the train—and waiting for delayed trains on both ends—than in my hotel room. But it was a great trip, even though I realized I just don’t enjoy having a hotel room to myself. It was quiet and relaxing, but a little lonely. My boys would have loved swinging from the hotel room chandelier. And they would have enjoyed the views from the train, especially if the ride had been shorter.
I love traveling, but what I love best of all is coming home.
Our children went on a field trip to the zoo with their camp, and when they came home, they were all excited.
“Mama, did you know you can adopt a cheetah from the zoo?”
Life doesn’t get much better than that, especially for children whose parents say no to owning cats and dogs.
I explained that you can adopt a cheetah, but that it’s not adopting as we know it. The cheetah still lives at the zoo. You just send money to pay for them to take care of the cheetah.
The boys were disgusted.
“That’s called double-crossing someone,” our older son said.
They’re back to trying to catch a bunny in the yard.
Last weekend we went to buy a minivan. I’ve had a minivan, and it is my dream car. I know we only have two children, but we often have friends or cousins or grandparents or aunts who need a ride, and the minivan offers all the space we want.
Besides, how do you pack for the beach without a minivan—especially when you’re the one bringing the crib for your niece?
So we took the boys and their booster seats and went on a test drive. I gave John the thumb’s up on the van and he liked it too. And he has done plenty of research, so we felt good about it. He offered to handle the negotiations while I took our boys home.
Because, let’s be honest, what do children do while you’re buying a car?
Besides test drive a few vehicles…
Eat dinner out of vending machines…
And watch TV.
John spent hours and hours there, and everything seemed to be coming together. But when he finally started talking money, the dealer wouldn’t come anywhere near the dealership’s Internet price for the car.
So John quoted his father and said, "You have to sell cars to make a living, but I don't have to buy them to make a living."
And he left.
He is my hero.
Then he went to another dealership to buy the same car. All I had to do was show up, sign a few forms, and we took the van home.
If you need me, I’ll be parked in that parking spot you can barely see, way out at the end of the lot.
The other night I was sitting in the kitchen when our 6-year-old walked into the room. He gave me a big smile and said, “Nothing happened,” and walked away.
This week our boys are spending time in our house with our summer sitter who is doing such fun projects with them. She baked pizza with them one day for lunch.
They go to the playground and paint and play games and have fun. It’s so special for them to get this time at home.
My friend and colleague, Fr. Tim Brown, S.J., is leading a summer book club on Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson. I found the book fascinating and discouraging in some ways, but also challenging in good ways. The author is an attorney who tells the stories of some of the people he has advocated for while working to get them off death row, or even out of prison. It’s a really powerful book—not always easy, but definitely a page-turner.
I finished reading the book this week and went to Fr. Brown’s book club conversation, which has really left me thinking about justice—not just within the justice system but more broadly, too—as well as poverty and mercy and empathy. It made me think that I could be much more merciful in my daily life, especially as a parent. So much to think about. If you’re looking for a great summer read, I recommend it.
July 01, 2016 08:12
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By Rita Buettner