It’s much too soon to be thinking about sending our baby boy to kindergarten. But Leo’s school had their open house this week, so I took Daniel to take a look. I may be in denial, but Daniel will likely be starting there next fall.
Daniel loved everything—the balloons, the munchkins, the fact that everyone knew his name, and the middle school girls who thought he was so cute.
They catered to his every whim, opening their lockers for him, letting him play on an iPad and a computer, and pointing out everything they knew he would like.
They knew what I wanted to see, too—all the crucifixes, statues of the Blessed Mother, and the religious quotes everywhere. And, when I walked into a classroom and saw a student diagramming sentences on a smart board, I practically swooned. When is the last time you diagrammed a sentence?
When the principal greeted the group of prospective parents and students, she said, "It's so wonderful to see the shy kindergarteners who won't even look at you become the eighth graders winning an oratorical contest."
I looked at our child happily skipping over to the treats table for another donut hole. Shy? He thinks he owns the school.
Daniel and I bumped into his big brother twice, and each time Leo came running over to give me a hug. In the morning before we headed to school and the open house, our boys had a sweet moment when they talked about how much fun it will be to go to school together.
Then Leo told his brother firmly not to set foot on the school playground until he’s 5—a rule we have paid no attention to whatsoever.
You're probably thinking that I am such a rebel, but just for the record, Daniel turns 5 in about six weeks.
At dinnertime, with our tour behind us, we were talking about kindergarten. I asked Leo, our experienced first-grader, whether he had any advice for his little brother.
“This is what you need to do in kindergarten,” he said. “One, raise your hand to talk. Two, you can't be as funny as you are. And three, you have to listen.”
By “funny” Leo means always laughing and making other people laugh.
Hmm. I’m not sure Daniel will be able to set that aside. But two out of three isn’t bad, right? And at least he’ll be old enough for the playground.
October 28, 2014 11:34
By Rita Buettner
When the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Family Life office invited me to speak after a Mass for couples experiencing infertility, I was so honored that I said yes immediately.
I prayed about what to say, and wrote and rewrote and rewrote. This weekend John and I went to the Mass and prayed with the small group of couples who were there. Then I shared my remarks at a reception afterward.
I was a little sad that the group wasn't larger. Infertility is still a taboo subject. There's so much the Church can offer to couples facing infertility, and this Mass was a beautiful sign of that. But I absolutely recognize that it takes courage to be open about infertility.
I also believe that having the Mass was important even to--and maybe especially to--those who didn't attend.
I was nervous walking into the church. Then I looked up at a stained glass window and saw St. Rita.
She's the one on the left. St. Therese is on the right.
The patron saint of the impossible and my namesake? In a stained glass window right by our pew? How could I fail?
Then Fr. Jim Sorra, the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea, gave the most beautiful homily, touching on everything so perfectly, and truly demonstrating that he understands the challenges couples are experiencing. I didn't give him a standing ovation, but I wanted to.
And John even made a few comments during and after my talk. His comments were, of course, fantastic and to the point. I wish I had a copy of what he said, but he spoke off the cuff.
Here is what I said:
Six or seven years ago if you had told me I’d be standing here speaking about infertility, I would never have believed it. The truth is that it took me a long time—and, actually, a few years of parenthood—to be able to talk about our infertility.
I have been thinking about what I could share with you today, and I realized my message is actually quite simple: What I would like to offer you is hope.
Not false hope. I’m not going to be one of those well-intentioned people who says, “Don’t worry! You’ll have a baby when you stop trying!” Or “Don’t worry! You just need to try a little harder!”
That’s not the kind of hope I mean. The hope I want to share with you is wrapped up in our story, a story that—like any couple’s infertility story—involves grief. But our story also involves learning to trust, relying on God, and being open to His plan.
The hope I want to share with you today is what Pope John XXIII was talking about when he said, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
And there is so much that is still possible for each of us, no matter which doors have been slammed shut in our life journey. I write a blog for The Catholic Review called “Open Window”, and I took the name from that line in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews says, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”
Today I want to tell you about the window God opened for us, and how we climbed through and became parents.
Every couple here has a story, and the story John and I have is nothing extraordinary. 11 years ago I was looking to connect with other Catholic singles, and I signed up for a Catholic dating site.
One of the first profiles I saw was of a man who lived on the Eastern shore of Maryland. He and I both had the same job description—doing media relations for a small college. I sent him a message, and he wrote back quickly.
A month later we had our first date, meeting on the steps of St. Mark’s Church in Catonsville for Saturday evening Mass. The reading that night was Ephesians 5—the one that says women, be submissive to your husbands; men, love your wives as Christ loves his church. That’s not much to discuss on a first date, is it? Afterward, we went to dinner in downtown Ellicott City, and he took me out for a root beer float.
Even before we were engaged, we talked about having children. John is the youngest of seven children and I’m the third of six, and we wanted very much to be parents. Even though we had no reason to believe we would have fertility problems, we talked more than once about adopting if God didn’t send us children by birth.
But I think we both assumed, as many couples do, that we would be more likely to have several children rather than having trouble conceiving. Either way, we knew it would be helpful to know natural family planning, so we took classes together and I started charting my cycles.
We were married in September 2004, and we assumed we’d have a child fairly quickly. But I didn’t get pregnant. And as time went on, John and I realized it wasn’t likely to happen.
We found jobs closer to my family and bought a house, always preparing our lives for the children we believed we would raise. I thought maybe God was putting the puzzle pieces together before he sent us a child, but even once everything seemed to be in place, we were still childless.
We owned a house with two empty bedrooms, located in a neighborhood full of children, and yet still had no child of our own.
I wondered what purpose God had in mind for me. I wanted so much to be a mother. Didn’t He want me to be one, too? Wasn’t that why he had called me to marriage? And John was so obviously designed for fatherhood. What did God have planned for us?
And, of course, everyone everywhere was pregnant. We couldn’t go to Mass or the grocery store or out to eat without seeing a pregnant woman, or a father carrying a new baby.
My friends were all pregnant, and I was constantly throwing and attending showers—smiling through them and then crying on the way home.
My parents were gaining grandchildren one after another. I threw a baby shower for one sister-in-law, and minutes after the guests were gone, my other sister-in-law announced she was expecting. And I was happy for everyone—truly happy. But it was also painful. I didn’t want to be jealous, and I don’t think jealousy describes what I was feeling. I just couldn’t understand why it seemed to be so easy for other people to become parents, and it was so difficult for us.
But I also found moments of hope.
One day at a friend’s baby shower, one of her older relatives had actually put her hand on my stomach and said, “So when will it happen for you?” I laughed it off in the moment, but I was angry and sad and confused.
I had a long drive home that day, and I laid it all out there for God. He didn’t answer with words, but when I finally stopped talking, I came to a red light and looked at the sky, and I felt this moment of absolute peace. I realized more than a year later that our older son was already alive—in utero—at that moment.
I also found hope in unexpected places. Even though learning of others’ pregnancies was so difficult, I was surprised to find that when the babies were born, and I was holding them in my arms, I didn’t feel jealousy.
Holding my new nephews and niece, I felt only excitement and love. Somehow looking at them, marveling at the perfection of these new little lives, I recognized them as not being the children we were waiting for. They were wonderful, and I was proud to be their aunt, but they were not my children.
As I look back on that time, I realize what a gift God gave me to allow me to see that these children were not ours, but that they could bring joy to our lives—and that we could bring joy to theirs.
During that time, John and I also went to visit our friend, Fr. Tom, a Franciscan priest at a retreat center in Wilmington, Del.
Fr. Tom was always full of advice that was rooted in simple love. We didn’t need to tell him we wanted to become parents. He knew our hearts well enough to know that we had been trying. He acknowledged that we must want to have a family.
He simply smiled and said, “I will pray for you.” He talked about God’s sense of time, and how different it is from ours. Then he introduced me to a group of women there who were making a retreat through Project Rachel that weekend. He said to them, “Rita is hoping to have a baby.”
And they smiled and nodded and said they would pray. It was the first time I had heard those words said out loud, and it was strangely reassuring.
Today when friends tell me they are trying to conceive, the only thing I say is the only thing I ever found to be helpful. I tell them that I will pray for them.
There are, of course, all kinds of medical options available—some of which are options to faithful Catholics. My Ob-Gyn quickly suggested IVF, but we had left our family in God’s hands from the day we had said our vows.
We had entrusted Him with sending us children. To us, extreme medical intervention felt as if we would be saying to God, “Look, we trusted you when we got married, and we know you are the third person in our marriage, but this is going on too long. We’re taking control now.”
I absolutely understand how someone’s heart can be burning to become a mother. Trust me, many times I wished we could flip a switch or write a check to change everything. But the creation of our future family was too precious to attempt without God, and we were very cautious with medical intervention.
I am so grateful that John and I were always on the same page with how far we would go, and no farther. We both felt that if God wanted to give us a child, He would. We had to believe that. He had sent a child—His Son—to a virgin in Nazareth. He could make us parents if that was His will. We had to trust and pray and hope.
Even though it felt we might be letting another door close on our chance to be parents, John and I knew medical intervention wasn’t for us. We turned away from medicine and tried to trust in God.
Through this journey we always had a glimmer of hope, that idea we had discussed years earlier, even before we were married.
And as time went on, and it became clear to us that our hearts were feeling a tug toward a child—and not necessarily one who was biologically ours—we started to talk seriously about adoption.
At first it was just an idea. And then we started asking questions. I read a line somewhere that said, “When I was thinking about adoption, I found myself asking whether I wanted to be pregnant, or whether I wanted to be a mother.”
There was no question in my mind that what I wanted was motherhood. I didn’t need pregnancy to make that happen.
But we had many questions, and we didn’t know many families formed through adoption. It was definitely stepping out into the unknown. We went to an information session about adoption at Catholic Charities in Baltimore, squirmed on uncomfortable chairs, and listened to a whirlwind of information about domestic and international adoption.
We were already fairly sure we weren’t going to adopt domestically, and that session just further confirmed that that path wasn’t right for us.
As I listened to the descriptions of the international programs, I felt drawn to two countries—China and the Philippines. But I was sure that John would want to adopt from Korea, mainly because at the time you could have your child escorted to you. You didn’t have to travel. John does not like flying, and we had never actually flown together.
But I sat there listening to the description of the Korea program—a perfectly wonderful program, mind you—and I didn’t feel any connection. And when the social worker said, “If you don’t adopt a child from a Korea, that child will be adopted by another family,” I just didn’t think that was for us. Adopting is not an act of charity and saving a child, but if we could bring home a child who might not otherwise be placed, why wouldn’t we?
Would God lead us down this path to adopt a child everyone else wanted to adopt, too? That just didn’t feel like part of the plan.
When the session ended, our heads were spinning. Who knew adoption involved so many medical, emotional, financial, and governmental issues? Maybe John would balk at the whole idea.
As we walked out, I turned to John and said, “What did you think?”
And he said, “I’m thinking either China or the Philippines.”
I almost fell over.
If I had been waiting for a sign that we were on the right path, there it was.
Still, we had so much to consider. We started more research into adopting from China and the Philippines.
We talked with parents who had adopted from both countries. It was all so incredible and new and different, way outside our comfort zone.
But China quickly rose to the top. John can give you a powerful, logical explanation of why we went to China. For me, China just felt right. And we both had a sense that there was a little one in China who was waiting to become our child.
So we started on our adoption journey. There was paperwork and more paperwork. We were fingerprinted and then fingerprinted again. There were interviews and inspections.
Some adoptive parents complain about the process. I loved it. For the first time I felt I was doing something productive, getting a step closer to a child—our child. And there were constant indications that showed us that God was with us every step along the way.
We finished our home study, the first big step in the process, and one day after Christmas my mother and I went to visit the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg. Meeting our child might be a year or more away, but I felt excited and yet at peace. So did John.
I had just started a new job and John was just about to start one himself. The wait would give us time to save up leave for the trip, time to save the money toward our adoption expenses, and time to get our house ready. For the first time we weren’t feeling rushed to become parents. We knew we were on our way.
And then just four days later, on Jan. 4, 2009, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day, the phone rang.
It was our social worker. We had been matched! We were shocked—I actually told our social worker that she was wrong, that this couldn’t be happening so soon. Then she started describing the child.
He was a little boy, 13 months old, living in Hunan Province. I scribbled down a few details and hung up. John and I just stared at each other.
You would think that a couple who had been trying to become parents for nearly five years would have been ready for this moment. Instead we were in shock. We finally found the courage to open the PDF with the little boy’s file. When it finally opened, we saw a tiny black-and-white photo of this little boy—our son—for the first time.
Adoptive parents had told me, “You fall in love with a picture.”
I never knew what they meant until that moment. We couldn’t read the details. We could barely breathe. We just sat and drank him in, his little black fuzz on the top of his head, his open lips, his worried eyes, his little ears. He was gorgeous. And the little boy in this 1-inch wide photo could be our son.
We finally did read through the details—his favorite foods, his medical history, how he was growing. Then we realized there were large, full-color photos at the end. We could not get enough.
Eleven long months later we boarded a plane together for our first airplane flight as a couple—a flight to Beijing. We stood in a dimly lit government office as our little boy—who had just turned 2—walked into the room, into our lives, and into our hearts forever. It was scary, beautiful, emotional, and wonderful. He became part of our family as if he had always been our son.
We knew we wanted to go back to China at least once more to give our son a sibling, and because we were so in love with being parents. So a little less than two years later John and I met our second son in yet another government office in China.
It was similar but different, so incredibly special, and yet again we cried as we held our son for the first time. That was three years ago.
I could go on and on and on about falling in love with China and the people there, and how you find yourself wanting to adopt again and again and again.
I could talk for hours about how I love being a mother—how fulfilling and challenging and wonderful and hard and amazing it is to be the mother of these two little boys.
What I really want to share with you, though, is how becoming parents through adoption changed how we viewed our infertility. This probably sounds crazy, but John and I actually now see our infertility as a blessing. Now that we are the parents of these two magnificent boys who were born on the other side of the world, we can’t imagine our lives without them.
And it’s humbling to think that if we had given birth to children, we might never have met these two extraordinary boys who are our sons. I look back on our struggles and our wait to become parents, and I feel God was preparing us for this chapter of our lives.
I am not going to promise that one day you too will feel your infertility is a blessing. I am not sure that everyone reaches that point. Each of us comes to terms with the crosses we bear in different ways. What I will say is what Fr. Tom told me years ago: I will keep you in my prayers. Whatever comes, I pray you will find strength, comfort, peace, hope—and parenthood.
God’s plans are not always ours. Being open to the possibilities He has in store for us is not always easy, especially when we feel He is calling us in a particular way.
There is a lovely Chinese proverb: “Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps the singing bird will come.”
I pray that even during the most difficult, darkest times, you will be able to keep that green tree blooming in your heart. I pray you will know you are not alone on this journey. I pray that even in the darkest moments you will be able to hope. And I pray that soon you will find reason for great joy.
This is just my story—our story. Each of you will experience your own unique story. Maybe you won't be led to adoption, but no matter what path you take, your journey can be extraordinary.
I am here merely to witness to the fact that, when you trust God, wonderful things can happen. They might not be the things that you envisioned for yourself, but maybe—just maybe—they'll be even more amazing.
You might be going through a dark and difficult time now, but I pray that you will always be able to find hope.
Thank you again for having me here today, and please believe me that I will keep you in my prayers.
October 26, 2014 10:46
By Rita Buettner
My sister and brother-in-law welcomed a baby girl this week, and we are all just so excited. She has full, rosy cheeks, the sweetest little pink lips, hair that I think might be reddish, long fingers, and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents who are totally in love with her.
She also has the most beautiful girl’s name you can imagine. Now, because I don’t use our boys’ real names here, this little one will have to have a pseudonym too. Treasa and George said I can call her what I’d like here. Anyone want to suggest a blog name for this snuggly bundle of cuteness?
Daniel and I didn’t want his new cousin's big brother, Georgie, to feel forgotten. So the day after she was born, we headed to the store and picked out flowers and a balloon to take to Georgie’s grave at the cemetery.
Daniel called it "the Bigfoot balloon"
Georgie went to heaven on Halloween last year. It doesn’t feel coincidental that his baby sister arrived just before that anniversary.
We miss Georgie. We are so happy to have both Georgie and his little sister in our lives.
I walked into the boys’ bedroom the other day and saw this.
It’s terrible to have clothes on the floor. It should upset me.
But that pile of discarded clothes made me smile.
Maybe it’s because there have been times our boys haven’t wanted to remove their shoes and coats in unfamiliar places.
Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my own brothers, and their constant wardrobe changes between school and sports.
Mostly, though, I just love that our children feel so at home.
In their defense, they do like to use the hampers sometimes. See?
My father celebrated his birthday this week, so we went out for an adult dinner at Tio Pepe’s.
It was fun to have adult conversation with my parents and two of my sisters and my brother-in-law.
It was also fun to have swordfish.
While we were out, my cousin’s daughter was babysitting the boys. She brought with her some Lego sets her brother used to play with. The sets were carefully organized, and replacement pieces had been ordered so that the sets were intact.
Leo was beside himself. He has had the best week building Lego sets.
How can Christmas morning ever compete?
Daniel has started referring to these gray flip-flops as “Baba’s silver sandals.” I find this much more amusing than it probably is.
John was busy last Saturday, and I had a funeral to attend, so the boys and I went without him. They behaved exceptionally well, all things considered.
I mean, it was outrageous that on a Saturday morning I expected them to put on shirts and ties and leave the house. And to go to church?
But it was a new church to all of us, so we each got three wishes. One of my wishes was that we would make it through Mass. And we did.
It made me realize how far we have come with our Mass behavior. We still have work to do, but I do think that relaxing and not noticing as many problems has helped make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Now that I have said this, I may have guaranteed that Sunday’s Mass won’t be as successful.
Treasa and George sent away to the Vatican for a blessing for our 10th wedding anniversary.
Isn’t it impressive?
This Sunday I’m giving a talk after a Mass for couples experiencing infertility. The Mass is at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s in Overlea (Baltimore). If you know someone who would like to attend, please pass the information along. And, if you think of it, say a prayer for the couples who are there—and maybe a tiny one for me that I will find the right words to share our story.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
October 23, 2014 11:40
By Rita Buettner
Back when my parents were newlyweds, my mother baked a batch of cookies.
“These are good,” my father said, “but not as good as the ones my mother makes.”
“That’s fine,” she told him. “You can make all the cookies from now on.”
So, when I was growing up, my father baked all the cookies. At some point he found this recipe for pumpkin cookies, and they became a family favorite. If you like pumpkin anything, you will love these.
I made these the other night after the boys were asleep, and the next morning I said to them, “Who wants a pumpkin cookie?”
Daniel came running to the kitchen to get one.
“Maybe I’ll have one,” Leo said. He’s not a baked goods fan, so I was a little surprised. Then he came into the kitchen and peered at the cookies.
“Mama,” he said, “are they really made out of dumplings?”
Ah. Not dumpling cookies, I said. Pumpkin cookies.
“They don’t look like pumpkins,” he said.
So just so you aren't disappointed, these cookies will not be shaped like pumpkins. They are made of pumpkin. And they are quite good—unless you’re looking for cookies made of Chinese dumplings. Then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
½ cup butter
1 cup canned pumpkin (if you double the recipe, you can just use a standard 15 oz. can)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
The dough may not look like much, but the cookies are worth it.
Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg, pumpkin, and vanilla. Stir in all dry ingredients except flour. Then add flour and mix well. Add chocolate chips, if you'd like. Drop by teaspoonsful onto well-greased cookie sheet. (I use parchment paper and it works beautifully.)
Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or a little longer if they are larger. You want to take them out of the oven before they are fully firm, but not gooey. Cool on wire rack.
Eat them hot or eat them after they cool. Just eat them. Or inhale them. The aroma while they are baking is incredible.
October 21, 2014 10:38
By Rita Buettner
When we dropped Leo off at school the other morning, I rolled down Daniel’s window so he could yell goodbye. You may have heard him. He has quite a voice.
As we were driving away, the fall air was coming into the car, and Daniel was smiling.
“Mama,” he said, “I love the whole earth.”
“You do,” I said.
“Yes, and all the animals and everything,” he said.
I hope you can find a fresh autumn breeze somewhere today.
Today we are having a race to raise money for Leo’s school. Two of my friends and I have been the main people coordinating these efforts. I can’t even begin to tell you how challenging and rewarding it is to be involved in a school fundraiser.
The other day when I found out that a friend is expecting her first baby, I may or may not have given as my one piece of parenting advice: “Think twice before you volunteer to run a school fundraiser.”
I truly believe it is going to be a wonderful day. If you think of it, please say a quick prayer for our student runners, their marvelous teachers and staff, and all the people who gave to support the race.
Our boys love Macaroni Grill, and I know it’s not because of the food—even though the food is good. It’s because they cover the tables with paper and let you color all over them.
So the other night for dinner at home, I taped pieces of paper together and put a pile of crayons on the table. You would think I was the coolest mom ever. The boys sat down and colored and colored and colored. And no one writhed on the kitchen floor, groaning, “I am soooooo hungry.”
We won’t do it every night. But maybe we’ll do it once every few weeks. It was so simple and yet so special.
"My name is Mama," I told my customers, writing my name on the paper. "If you've been here before, you're familiar with our menu. I pick the menu, and you eat what I serve."
And they did. The service wasn't stellar, but neither were the tips. The drawings on the tablecloth were a lot of fun, though.
I went to get Daniel from school one day and he ran into my arms for a big hug. Then he said, “I wanted Baba to pick me up because I like him the best.”
“That’s nice,” I said. Sometimes it’s better not to argue with a 4-year-old.
“Yes,” he said, “because it was just Baba’s birthday. So when it’s your birthday, I’ll like you the best, and when it’s my brother’s birthday, I’ll like him the best, and when it’s my birthday, I’ll like me the best!”
So now we know.
I went to my 20-year high school reunion last weekend, and I had the best time.
As I was driving there, I was feeling a bit ambivalent. I was thinking about the fact that we graduated from high school 20 years ago. And I was wondering what I thought I would achieve in 20 years. Shouldn’t I have published a few books, won a Pulitzer, or at least know how to pick a decent bottle of wine to bring to a potluck with my classmates?
Then I got there and fell into conversation with my friends. We talked some about the past and some about the future, but mostly about now. And I realized, just as I do whenever I run into one of my 53 high school classmates, that some friendships only improve with time.
We have more to talk about and more in common than we did 20 years ago. We have less angst, more confidence, better senses of humor, and richer perspectives.
And, when someone announced it was time for us to sing the school song, I still knew how to sing my part. That may have been the biggest surprise of all.
A few days before going to my reunion, I had a sudden realization.
I was thinking about how John and I had gone together to our 15-year reunion, and I was trying to remember whether we had hired a sitter.
Then it occurred to me. We didn’t have any children yet. We adopted Leo in December 2009, and we went back to China for Daniel almost two years later.
What a difference five years makes.
Leo loves mazes. So when we mentioned the corn maze idea, he couldn’t wait to go.
We headed over to Fresh McKenzie Farm in Baldwin, Md., where the corn maze this year is Charlotte’s Web-themed. Does it get any better than that?
We all went in together, map in hand, compass at the ready, and with more confidence than fits in most corn fields.
We had 10 clues to find. If we found them and answered correctly, we could unscramble the letters into a word and enter to win a Christmas tree. What could possibly be better than winning a Christmas tree?
We ran into that field. This is what I learned during our trek:
1. All corn stalks look the same.
2. I’m a little claustrophobic.
3. When your son says, “I sense we should go this way,” you are just as likely to end up in a dead end as on the right path.
4. There is no better time to make new friends than when you are lost in a corn maze. They helped us find clues, and it was just nice to see other people as we wandered through the corn.
5. In a corn maze a compass is even more worthless than a map.
6. A 4-year-old does not have the attention span that a 6-year-old has.
7. Some children refuse to let their parents cheat or leave the maze without completing it.
8. Mazes are easier to solve on paper.
9. Doing a maze in person makes me feel like Harry Potter, but without the wand.
10. It was worth it even if we don’t win the Christmas tree.
I can’t believe I am mentioning Christmas trees in an October post. I hope you’ll forgive me.
October 17, 2014 12:01
By Rita Buettner
Last week the link to sign up for parent-teacher conferences went live while I was in the middle of a work meeting. By the time I had escaped, all the slots were full.
Unbelievable. So I emailed the teacher and she invited me to come one morning before school.
The teacher's aide set Leo up with a game in one classroom, and his first-grade teacher and I sat down on undersized chairs in another.
I can never imagine what we'll discuss in these conferences. It's first grade. Sometimes I wonder whether I should carve out the time for them. But John and I get very few reports from our first grader, and our boy comes home tired but apparently content. Something must be happening in that classroom.
So I sat down and listened. And right away I realized that this teacher knew our little boy.
She talked about how he was doing socially. She named his closest friends, and she told me about their creative play.
She described the craft projects he creates for himself, cutting intricate characters out of paper.
And she talked about how quiet he is. Quiet, hmm? She should see him yelling with his brother at home. But I'm sure he is quiet at school.
I don't know why, but I find parent-teacher conferences to be very moving. In fact, I started tearing up a bit. The truth is that these teachers are so invested in our children's lives. Even though Leo is just one child in her class, this teacher's understanding of who our little boy is, after just six weeks, was spot on.
And I am sure she can speak with equal knowledge and understanding of every single one of his classmates.
We also talked about academics, but that's not really my concern. I just want to make sure everything is generally going well for our son socially, that he's behaving himself, and that there's no big family tree project right around the corner.
As I was getting ready to leave, the teacher said, "He's such a dear little boy. When he comes to me with something to say, I know it's going to be interesting."
That's when I realized why our son is so happy in school.
He's not just supported.
And he's valued.
How is he doing with his sight words? Is his handwriting up to par? Should he be reading chapter books? I haven't a clue.
His teacher knows who he is, and she likes to listen to him.
And that's all I really needed to know.
October 14, 2014 10:31
By Rita Buettner
Daniel has started wearing two different shoes. I mean, I realize that doesn’t sound unusual. I wear two different shoes, and I bet you do, too. But he wears two that don’t match. One is a sneaker and one is his brother’s handed-down school shoe.
Maybe he’ll start a trend.
Somehow someone talked me into buying him a glow stick yesterday.
We always have problems with glow sticks. They leak and the liquid goes everywhere. And, even though I don’t insist on buying organic everything, I can’t see how a liquid that can glow in the dark is good to ingest or even touch.
Maybe I should research before I panic, but when you open the glow stick outside the store, it’s so much easier to panic, throw the glow stick away, and grumble all the way home.
Our sons were so excited about John’s birthday last weekend. Apparently Daniel explained to his whole pre-K class that his Baba’s birthday was coming, and Leo had the whole first grade sign a card he made for Baba.
Envelope by Daniel (but I helped with the R)
Then on the morning of the big day, Daniel said to me, “Mama, when is everyone getting here for Baba’s birthday party?” That’s when I realized that I had perhaps not kept expectations low enough.
Still, we found ways to celebrate, and the boys and I set out to make a cake together. We couldn’t agree on which kind to make, so we made two cakes. Then my helpers were being so helpful that we managed to botch the cake batter and we had to throw it all out and make an emergency trip to the grocery store.
In the end we had our UFO cake for Baba, and everyone was happy.
We made our first trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry over the weekend.
The best parts:
Children under 7 are free. And we have two children under 7 for a few more weeks.
There was so much to see. There were old cars, a gas lamp, and a linotype machine. Oh, and there was a blacksmith shop.
A tour guide was assigned just to our family, and she was kind and understood our boys weren't going to want to discuss the history of oyster canning. She really catered to their interests, setting things on fire, pointing out what they could touch, and describing them as "spirited." I need to remember that word.
We know we want to go back as the boys get older because some of it was too much for their attention spans. But it was a lot of fun. Even though Leo believes we should spend our weekends at home, he enjoyed it.
Leo just loves being home. And when I read this quote attributed to Mother Teresa in this post, I thought of him:
“Try to put in the hearts of your children a love for home. Make them long to be with their families. So much sin could be avoided if our people really loved their homes.”
So maybe it’s a really good thing that our bigger boy loves to be home.
The best part of all was that when we left the museum, we noticed a farmers’ market. You have to stop when you see a farmers' market. And there was a pickle booth. In fact, it was run by Pat Fitzgibbon, the King of Pickles. And we have three pickle enthusiasts in our family.
So we bought pickles and sat by the water, looking out at the boats and the Domino Sugar factory, and ate pickles.
Then we walked back so John could tell the King of Pickles how good his product was, and he said to John, "Send your princes over here." And he gave them each a free pickle to chew on in the car on the way home.
I have no doubt that that the pickle-eating (or, in my case, the watching the pickle-eating) will be the memory we’ll all hold onto from that day.
We moved into our house last October. I keep meaning to post photos to give you a glimpse into this house that has become our home. Then I glance around and think maybe I’ll wait until the house is clean or we figure out where to put the sofa or we get a sofa that matches the other things we have. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon.
The other day, though, Leo surprised us by cleaning up the toy room, on his own and unprompted. So here it is.
He also made me a bracelet on his own and unprompted. He said other students in his aftercare program were making them with their names on them. He made “I love you” bracelets for me, his brother, and his father.
Leo also wrote a story this week in school. It’s a fable telling the story of a horse and a pig. The horse steps on the pig, and that doesn’t go over well.
At the end Leo wrote, “The lesson was you cannot step on people.”
It’s a great lesson.
I have my 20th high school reunion this weekend. What are your plans? I hope you have great plans--and maybe great seats for the Orioles game, even if they are in your living room.
October 09, 2014 11:33
By Rita Buettner
For weeks Daniel has been talking about his field trip, how he would ride a real school bus to a farm. And he knew Mama or Baba would go.
You are allowed to send your preschooler on a field trip without a parent attending, but I have never risked it. Maybe they don’t place a black mark in your parenting file if you miss one, but who wants to take the chance?
Besides, these moments are so brief. So off we went, boarding the school bus to head off to the farm.
We had a wonderful time.
The farmer told us all about the land, the produce, and how their crops are used.
Farmer Wayne at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture
The children rolled off of the straw bales they were supposed to be sitting on, poked each other with pieces of straw, and asked to go to the bathroom--one child twice in five minutes.
The parents took a million pictures and took in all the information the farmer shared.
Tonight at dinner I said, “We learned something really interesting about cauliflower today.” The farmer had described how white cauliflower would turn yellow if the farmers didn't tie the leaves over it as it grows.
“Yes!” Daniel said, and I was shocked to think he had heard and remembered that fact. “Cauliflower grows on a farm.”
See. He was paying attention.
We petted animals and climbed on an enormous tractor--truly a dream come true--and picked pumpkins to take home.
We also enjoyed a picnic lunch. And Daniel, in a beautiful moment of generosity, decided to share his M&Ms with his friends. He walked from person to person giving each one an M&M.
As he returned to his bench, he looked sadly at the four or five M&Ms left in his bag.
“Now I don’t have much left,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “you were so kind to share. I’ll give you some more when we get home.”
Then off we went, back to school. Then I headed off to work for the rest of the day. When I picked Daniel up at the end of the afternoon, he climbed in the car, and we started driving and talking about the field trip.
“What was the best part?” I said. I was sure he’d mention petting a pony, or climbing on the tractor, or meeting a real, live farmer.
We drove all the way to a farm, walked right up to stalks of corn, listened to a honking goose up close, climbed on farm equipment, and saw his teacher dress up as a beekeeper.
What would he name as his favorite moment?
“The part when you said I could have more M&Ms when I got home,” he said.
Wow. Well, we could have skipped the field trip and just had M&Ms. I'm comforting myself with the reminder that if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't be part of his favorite field trip memory.
October 07, 2014 10:40
By Rita Buettner
How 'bout dem O's?
It's a great year to be an Orioles fan. O, how I do love Baltimore.
Besides, we have enough drama here without worrying about the baseball playoffs. The other day Daniel was trying to load blocks into a toy truck, and they kept slipping out. I let him do it for a while, and I pretended not to notice that he was getting more and more frustrated.
Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“You’re getting upset because that’s not working,” I said. “Maybe you should play with something else.”
He let out a sigh.
“Mama,” he said, “this is my destiny!”
We ordered a bed at the Pennsylvania Dutch Market, where the market was coincidentally also celebrating its 10th anniversary.
We shopped for shoes. We looked at couches. We shopped for mattresses.
We ate lunch at a place without a children’s menu.
It was all kind of crazy. We missed having our little guys with us, but we chose things they wouldn't have liked--or not liked much.
Oh, and my sister and brother-in-law went to the trouble to ask the Vatican to send us a blessing on our anniversary. When it comes, I’ll have to share it with you. The Archdiocese of Baltimore sent us a lovely certificate, too.
On Friday night I announced we were going to go apple picking on Saturday--as long as the weather cooperated.
“Then I hope it rains or snows,” said Leo. He loves being home so much, and I always feel a little guilty taking him away from his favorite place on earth.
Then we pulled into Baugher’s Orchards and he realized they had a playground and a jack-o-lantern moonbounce. And he loved the actual picking.
Daniel enjoys almost every experience, and apple picking was basically a dream come true.
There was even a tractor.
We filled four bags of apples and brought them home.
I made apple tarts and apple pie.
The pie was great, but the tarts...oh, the tarts. They vanished.
I have to make them again because they were so popular and so I can pay more attention to how much of everything I used and share the recipe with you. They were two bites each and they were delicious.
And we have plenty of apples, so I have no excuse for not baking more.
Leo is a morning person, and he almost always wakes me up. The other morning he came into my bedroom and climbed onto our bed.
“Mama,” he said, “I wish there were no bad in the world...only in movies.”
I think I mumbled, “So do I.” It was only later that it hit me how much I wish that, too.
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi! This has been such a wonderful week for feast days.
As if that weren’t exciting enough, this weekend is also John’s birthday weekend. Baba’s birthday is one of our favorite events of the year. All week the boys have been whispering secrets about Baba’s birthday planning to each other. I will never be able to create the cakes they have described in serious whisperings into my ear, but it has been fun to hear what they have in mind.
And by now the only gifts Baba hasn’t heard about are the ones his 4-year-old son doesn’t know about.
How will we celebrate? I have no idea. But everyone else has plenty of thoughts on the planning. It will be fun to see what happens.
I carved my first pumpkin of the year this week, and it was for a work project. I thought it would be fun to create some Loyola University Maryland-themed pumpkins and encourage our social media followers to do the same.
My colleagues and I had a great time. Mine turned out OK, but some of them were wonderful!
It's a Greyhound head--and clearly not by me.
It was interesting to see the different approaches to carving. One we all noted was that people felt passionately about cutting off the top vs. the bottom. I grew up in a family where we cut the top off and used it as a lid, but while John and Leo were on a field trip to a farm a few years ago the farmer explained the benefits to cutting the bottom off instead. The carved pumpkin lasts longer, and you can insert the candle easily.
Some traditions you carry on from your childhood, and others you create on your own. Do you have any fun Halloween tips or traditions?
October 02, 2014 11:02
By Rita Buettner
As I was dropping Daniel off at preschool this morning, I noticed a note hanging on his cubby.
One of his teachers had left. It was sudden and there was no explanation.
I was immediately upset. And my first thought was our son. Did he know?
So I asked the other teachers. Yes, they had told him yesterday. I wanted to know what exactly the children had been told, and how they had reacted to the news. I listened. Then I reached down and hugged Daniel.
"You didn't tell me Ms. Teacher wasn't going to be at school anymore," I said. He didn't say anything, just squirmed happily in my arms.
As I waved goodbye to head to work, I was worried. This teacher is so warm and sweet. She calls Daniel "my little shadow" and I know he confides in her and follows her around the room. He has an open, loving heart and he loves other teachers there, too, but I know he loves her.
And now she was gone. He hadn't had a chance to say goodbye. I know that can't always happen, but especially for our children, who have had to say some significant goodbyes, I always hope they have a chance to talk and process and understand.
So off I went to work, sad and concerned and confused. And as the day went on, I realized I wasn't just upset because of Daniel's loss. I was upset because of mine.
Before we enrolled Leo in preschool, I was terrified to consider a formal daycare setting. Then I went to look at schools, and I was even more unsure. They were academically rigorous, sleek and modern, and they felt high-pressure and unwelcoming.
I still remember how one director told me the children played on the playground so they would develop fine motor skills so they could learn to write their ABCs. Couldn't they just play to play?
Then I walked into what would become our sons' preschool. The facilities weren't the fanciest. They didn't have rubber mulch or high-tech everything.
It felt comfortable, homey, and warm. The teachers were smiling. The children were smiling. It was small and inviting. There was no marketing spiel or 10-page curriculum. It just felt right.
Very quickly, and to my surprise, I realized the teachers aren't strangers who are taking care of our children. They are our partners in helping our children grow into all they could be. They genuinely care for them. They tell us stories about the cute things our children do. They celebrate their victories. They marvel at their abilities--whatever they may be. They are like our extended family.
So when we lose a teacher, the loss isn't just Daniel's. It's ours, too.
When I picked Daniel up, I said, "So I guess Ms. Teacher wasn't here today."
"No, Mama," he said. "She's not coming anymore."
"I miss her," I said. And I do. This is a teacher who would often greet me with a hug, who laughed with me many times, who cried when I told her about the loss of our nephew, and who could probably write our family Christmas letter--if we had one.
"Mama," he said, "now Ms. Other Teacher is with us all day! And I really like her."
That's our boy. Living on his silver-lined cloud.
"Yes, you do like her a lot," I said.
"Mama, do you know what snacks we have at school?" he said. "We have chicken nuggets and apples and cheese and soup and...."
The world keeps turning for our little guy. And it will keep turning for me, of course. But I am really going to miss his teacher.
September 30, 2014 11:03
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By Rita Buettner