It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

We have no snow, nor any expectations of sleigh bells, or even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Yet, our simple tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung by the fireplace with care (we can’t claim a proper chimney), and a profusion of electric lights have been strung around the house, both inside and out. In short, and to borrow the famous phrase, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”A trimed tree

The time of giving is upon us, and Wife takes her giving very seriously. As all her gifts are purchased and tucked safely away, she turned her eye to help our children make their presents. Let the crafts begin!

At one point, Wife went where I would dare not, the paint and brushes came out. Child-safe paint though it was, it just goes to prove her bravery and devotion to the Christmas spirit. As the art supplies came out, the children flocked around her like chicks around a hen. Even #8, though he is only one year-old, rushed the table so not to be left out.

Wife laid down the news paper on the table and began the shifts. In twos and threes she set them at the table, teaching patience to those who waited. She then furthered her instructions of patience by only allowing one color of paint to a child at a time. If #1 wanted green, she could not use blue until she had finished with the green and her brush was washed. While at the same time, if #4 wanted the green, she would have to wait for #1 to finish with it. So like a little factory of “paint-by-the-numbers”, the children steadily cycled through.

The girls pained without incident. So there is no point in relating that to you.

The boys’ performance was fair. #5 could manage pretty well on his own, as long as he didn’t get too excited. Reaching across the table, he would completely ignoring whatever was between himself and the object of his desire. #6 and #7 were each given a brush, but only after Wife had dipped them herself. And #8 was set on Wife’s lap so she could control his painting, and more importantly, what he painted.

She lightly dipped the brush in the blue, and then carefully placed it into the toddler’s hand. Ready for his overflowing enthusiasm, Wife had moved everything out of arms reach from the little boy. Nothing would get knocked over if he flailed his arms around with excitement. However, instead expressing his excitement by banging on the table, in the blink of an eye, he turned the paint brush around and chomped down on the bristles.

And he's already had a mouth full.

And he’s already had a mouth full.

If I had been in Wife’s place, that would have been the end of gift making. No, that may not be true. Either I would have stopped it all out of frustration, or I would have waited to see if #8 took a second helping. Fortunately, Wife was in the Christmas spirit, and with patience unusual for this late in her pregnancy, she quickly extracted the paint brush, and then guided her baby boy until his work was finished.

So, for those who sneer at the Christmas season, who say “humbug” at the Christmas spirit, who call December a commercial endeavor; I say you are dead wrong. And to prove how Christmas inspires charity, provokes “good will toward men,” and brings out patience for all; I show you the joyful smile and blue teeth of #8, and behind him the amazingly good humor of Wife.

Merry Christmas to all!

The finished project

The finished project

Advent Anticipations


For those not in the “know,” this is how we celebrate St. Nicholas’ Feast Day… Put your shoes on the table to receive your candy and fruit.

For us Catholics, we are in the season of Advent, a season of joyful anticipation for the celebration of Christmas.  And with eight small children, it is definitely full of anticipation.

I have been asked almost every night since Thanksgiving, how many days there are until Christmas, and to the children’s relief, the numbers I give have been steadily decreasing. Lately I have been questioned less. I think the reason is a string of numbered stockings that was given to us. As they are numbered one through twenty-four, they are a kind of count-down from the beginning of December to Christmas morning. So the Baby Jesus from our Nativity set is slowly making his way from stocking to stocking until on the big day when he is placed, with all the excitement of children, in the manger.

Our Nativity... minus Baby Jesus until the 25th.

Our Nativity… minus Baby Jesus until the 25th.

Now the girls have a special kind of anticipation. All four are old enough to have been invited to help Wife wrap the gifts intended for me. So from time to time,

I am met with a giggly little girl who tells me, “Daddy, I know what we got you fo’ Christmas.”

To which I respond, “What did you get me?”

And to show their loyalty to their mother, they say back, “I’m not tellin’.”

All those gift are intended for me! I kinda feel a little guilty now, because I didn't get Wife nearly that many presents.

All those gift are intended for me! I kinda feel a little guilty now, because I didn’t get Wife nearly that many presents.

And I am left where I started, neither more informed nor more ignorant. But I’m about to make my own circle of secrecy. When I get Wife’s presents, I’ll also invite the four girls to help me wrap them. Then they will go to Wife, and with a smugness less than what they would show to me, they will inform their mother that they know what she is getting for Christmas. But unfortunately, unlike myself, Wife loves it. Come to think of it, this may backfire.

For Wife thrives during Advent. With saints, feast days, and Advent candles, she is in her element. I think she likes having a real reason to keep secrets from me. She claims they are “surprises.” A whole season totally devoted to “surprises!”

I like to claim my favorite holiday as the Thanksgiving weekend. The children’s is Christmas. But Wife has the whole Advent season. Leave it to the Catholic Church to give my Wife an entire season all to herself.

The Phantom of Our House

The evidence is piling up. No one believes me, but it has to be true. Despite all the reasoning, despite all the skepticism, there can be no other explanation. Even though Wife firmly disagrees, I must say it… there is a ghost in our house.

Awake again

Awake again

We have a poltergeist whose soul purpose is to torment first Wife, and then me. And it finds the most devilish ways to do it. Primarily, it wakes up the small children late at night. Under the guise of a nightmare, or a wet diaper, or cold feet, our phantom prods a baby or two awake, which in turn keeps Wife or myself awake. At times the fiend is so successful that it can ruin a night’s sleep for the both of us.

Yet, we have not been idle, no not in the least. We have continued to have children so to eventually overwhelm our phantom. And the fruit is beginning to ripen. Our older girls already calm down and put back to sleep the toddlers most of the time. #1 especially, takes care of her younger siblings; changing diapers and refilling bottles, she and #2 are a great help in securing their parents’ sleep. More and more often, we can sleep through the night, only disturbed by the new baby still growing within Wife.

But the phantom is not defeated. If it cannot keep us up with normal methods, it ushers in the flu, a most unkind trick. Wife, with all her motherly instincts, can not help but bring our sick, suffering children into our room. Normally, she mothers the child to sleep a couple of times a night, and always puts him to bed with us. He then, almost immediately turns and kicks me. The other night #7 fell prey to not only the flu, but also our fiend, who kept waking him up every hour, on the hour. It is not right for a father to have evil thoughts about his own son… but yes, I did. Oh so evil thoughts.

Luckily, flus and colds are seasonal. So our poltergeist has large parts of the year in which it has neither viruses nor bacteria in its bag of tricks. It then works overtime causing nightmares for our girls, especially #3. She has the unique disposition to get night-terrors after watching a lot of movies, due to her overactive imagination and I’m sure a little prodding from our fiend. There are few things that will get me out of bed quicker than her soft stumbling and shrill whimpers. Among its tricks, I find this one the cruelest.

Then the sun rises. In the bright, early rays our fiend retreats to whatever dark hole it dwells in, for it seems that even poltergeists need their sleep. Once the oppression of the phantom has lifted, spirits in our household also rise, and I am met with joyful children as if the night had never happened. Even when the children are sick, the morning brings them a special kind of rejuvenation. So as the happy noises of playing children steadily increases, I have a spiteful thought. I hope the phantom sleeps under the floorboards so our children can keep it awake, returning the favor.Morning Sky

A Christmas List Problem

Halloween has passed. For most people that means autumn leaves, baking turkeys, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. In short, it means Thanksgiving. But for us, it means infant diapers, pulling the infant’s clothes out of storage, cleaning out the baby tub, and transforming the diaper changing table from a catch-all back into a usable station. In short, it means the new baby is just around the corner. And as he is due at the beginning of December, Wife is concerned about getting the children’s Christmas gifts. She is determined to have her Christmas gifts bought, wrapped, and hidden by the week after Thanksgiving. Now, there is only one problem in accomplishing it that way, the children don’t know what they want.

A magazine inspection

A magazine inspection

But as they are good children, they bent their minds to the difficult task with a will. With paper and pencil they sat around the table, looking through toy magazines, and attempting to narrow down exactly what they want; and that is the hardest part of all.

I thought to help them by sitting down with a magazine and flipping through it with the children. As I did not pick out specific children to look through it with me, they all gathered around. In little time, I was surrounded by excited squeals, pointing fingers, and bumping heads. I was also unaware that their little bodies could block the light so effectively. By the time we finished, I was unsure as to what was in the magazine, but the little ones were all sure of what they saw, and quickly informed their mother so she could write it down.Writing Christmas lists

The older girls were having a harder time deciding. When #1 was bent over her nearly blank paper, I could almost see the battle for wants above her head. Her head would tilt up as something caught her fancy, then something more practical or skeptical inside of her would shoot it down, like a paper airplane in a thunderstorm. The last time I checked, she had two or three things written down.

#2’s trouble was different. Her list filled a page, top to bottom.  However, she was practical enough to realize she wasn’t going to get all her booty. So she leaned close, her nose nearly touching the paper, and began to insert dashes next to the items she wanted most. And when most of the items had dashes next to them, she had to revisit her list again, this time writing stars by the things she really, really wanted. And I think her list was still too long.

#3 supposedly wrote her Christmas list, but like fairies, gnomes, and President Obama’s birth certificate, no one has seen it.

Now #4 finished her list, and even showed it to me. Then she lost it, and had to start over. Then she found it. And when it was finally ready, waiting for Wife on the table, #7 discovered it, and scribbled all over it.

But in the end, the only one who truly has a say about the Christmas gifts, who truly understands the gifts, the reasons, the repercussions, is Wife. So children, be nice to you mother for the next two months.

The Different Faces of Mischief

The children all seem to pass through some mischief phase or another. With all our children, one right after the other, I would have thought that Wife and I would be able to correct any misbehavior almost before it happens. Well, it so happens that while all the children fall into the same patterns, they, very cleverly, find very different way to execute them.

One little face.

One little face.

Wife, now seven and a half months pregnant, waddled out to the porch like a penguin in high-gear. The screams that modulated between annoyance and terror, all stemming from the miniature lungs or #8, were the cause for Wife’s swift pace. And when she burst through the screen door, she was met with a sight that sent her temper up to match her quickening stride. The fourteen month-old, #8, was pinned down by his two year-old brother, #7, who was attempting to run over #8 with a big-wheel.

Another little face

Another little face

Like an avenging angel, Wife swooped in and with a blur of motion had #7 by the scruff of his shirt. He looked up with an expression of horrified amazement, as if to say, “Where on earth did you come from?” But after that he had no time for conscious thought, for he was caught in the whirlwind of his mother’s wrath; and before he knew what happened, he was whisked away in a tornado of arms and legs and left nearly spinning on his bed with the strict command to, “THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU DID!”



Wife then lifted up and comforted #8, and as he laid his head on her shoulder she turned and notice #5 and #6 for the first time. #5 piped up, “We saw him runnin’ over the baby, we saw him!” And next to his brother, #6 was nodding his head. It would have been better if he had said nothing.

Wife’s motherly instincts became indignant, and her flash-powder-temper had already been ignited. “Then why didn’t you stop HIM!”

At that point, the National Weather Service satellites recorded a second tornado blowing through my house which has taken hold of two little boys.

Here I must stop my wit for a brief moment and declare a wisdom that I had previously overlooked. The children’s bedrooms consist of bunk beds, sheets, and pillows. No toys. No books. No stuffed animals. All Wife’s design. Which means, when children are sent to bed, they have nothing to do but sit in bed… and start the crying that always accompanies discipline.

When I got home at the end of the day, all three boys were still in their beds, fast asleep, some four hours later. And bed-time-out worked. I know now #7 learned that #8 is not a speed-bump, for he has not tried to ride over him again. On the other hand, #8 keeps his distance when #7 in on his big-wheel. And #5 and #6 have learned that they are their “brothers’ keepers,” or at least they plead ignorance after the fact…

The Stubborn Tooth

The two middle girls, #2 and #3, are going through the trouble of loosing teeth. They deal with the sharp pains that come from a loose tooth sitting incorrectly. They struggle with the inconvenience of one tooth wiggling uncomfortably just as they eat. And Wife lives with the constant dread that they might swallow a tooth. The fact is, my children are falling apart.

This past week #2 lost a tooth, or rather, it was kinda, sorta, maybe, forcibly removed?

Her complaints had reached a tipping point, so Wife condescended to bend as low as she could, which at this point in her pregnancy is not very low, and then tipped back the little girls head as far as Wife felt safe. There a stubborn tooth held on by one corner, as if dangling by its hand. They decided it was time for the tooth to come out, now how to do it?

Wife is an incredible mother, changing diapers, changing nose-bleed bed sheets, cleaning up vomit, and all around take-care-of-business. However, the thought of putting her fingers into a mouth, other than a baby’s, nearly upset her stomach. She straightened, looked at our eldest, and asked, “Can you pull out your sister’s tooth?”

Both girls screamed and jumped back form one other.

That won’t work. Wife set her mind in overdrive, and walked to her womanly toolbox, the kitchen.Tools of extraction Now I would have worried, watching Wife scan her multiplicity of implements, that in an Aztec temple would have been the instruments of sacrifice and torture; but #2 simply followed her in with no idea what a mother is capable of, surrounded by the weapons of choice.A womanly took box

Wife went for the barbecue tongs.

Now the events that occurred during the actual extraction are a little fuzzy, and I suspect that everyone present may have blacked-out a little. But this is the best I could put together.

With a superhuman accuracy, Wife clamped onto the correct tooth with her tongs; while #2 strained to open her mouth wide enough to fit the tongs, so her tongued would not get pulled out at the same time as the tooth. Wife gave a gentle tug, which means she may or may not have put pressure on it. #2 whined, in anticipation of the agony to come. Then, they both gave up, as it was sure to be too difficult on all the parties involved.

Look out!

Look out!

As the tongs were withdrawn, the tooth, knowing the game was over, threw its hands up and shouted, “You got me mommy!” and because its hands were up, it tumbled head-over-heels out of the little girls mouth onto the kitchen floor. #2 squealed with joy. Wife screamed with fear, as she thought the tooth had been swallowed. But she soon saw the tooth on the floor, and quickly became sick to her stomach at the sight

So, let it not be said that Wife will shrink back from any challenge if it is for the health of her children, no matter how disgusting she finds it. Also, may it be known to teeth everywhere, you are no match for Wife, or her barbecue tongs.

The Toothpaste Fiend

Why do messy items always seem to be stored in glass jars, but the sticky stuff is kept in soft plastic tubes? These are disasters waiting to happen, believe me, as I have watched them happen with now all of my children. A dropped jar of pickles, and exploded bottles of mustard, a plastic jar of coconut oil which was dropped perfectly to crack it right down the middle, as well as other culinary losses. But the damage was limited to the children who could carry in the groceries… at least I thought so.sweet baby

The other night the children were preparing for bed while I was still up. That does not happen often as I have always been “early to bed, early to rise.” Wife on the other hand, still struggles with her old habits which are the opposite of my nature. The children, on a third hand, have quite completely hit the extremes of both their parents, and I phrase them as “late to bed, early to rise; though it grieves their mother so.” That night I decided to put the children to bed at my bedtime, to help Wife get some extra sleep that night.

The girls were busy cleaning the dinner dishes, so the boys, #5, #6, and #7, were sent to brush their teeth. The usual brushing-teeth-question was produced that night by #5, “Can we use toothpaste?”

You might think it is a strange question, and you would be right, except in this case, where you are wrong. The two younger children, and there are always two younger children, who forget from time to time that toothpaste is not to be eaten. Therefore, when a younger child is caught sucking on their brush rather than brushing with it, toothpaste gets banded from all children under a certain age of reason, and at the moment that is all the boys.

Once I assented to their request, #5 trotted out with his toothbrush in one hand and toothpaste in the other. Behind him the other too boys lined up. #8 rolled on the floor as he is too young for either toothbrush or toothpaste. I took the tube of child-toothpaste and squeezed it with the expectation of a little paste squishing out onto #5’s toothbrush. To my surprise the toothpaste did not come out of the open end of the tube, but rather out of a hole on the side of the tube, almost dead center.

I looked up to #5 and exclaimed, “What happened here?” I pointed to the undesired hole.

#5 shrugged. “It always does that.”

Really? To get to the bottom of it, I call for the one person in the house who was sure to know how long the tube had been broken. #1 trotted up to me and I extended out the toothpaste. #1 also shrugged. She said, “It’s been like that for a long while. I don’t know who did it.” #1 went back to finish loading the dishwasher with her sisters.

I looked closer at the tube. There were tooth marks! Yes, tooth marks on the toothpaste tube. Then I knew, the culprit was rolling on the carpet before me. Someone left the toothpaste down so that the little devil got hold of it… or the fiend has wings. I bent down to take a closer look.

A devil with an angel's face.

A devil with an angel’s face.

The Justice of #4

The ability to recognize that it is not a good practice to tattle on someone when you are the entire cause of the problem is not known to children naturally. They have to learn it. And we parents are to be the unwitting teachers in that endeavor. Sooner or later, the kids pick it up. However I would have thought that #4 would already be familiar with that truth. I have written about it before in the past post Discipline and Observation.

When #4 walked in hauling #5 by the arm, he looked as guilty as if he had been caught stealing cookies. #4 presented her captive to Wife as to an executioner. She announced, “He stepped on #6’s head!”

You've just been told on.

You’ve just been told on.

Wife turned to the four year-old. “Why did you step on your brother’s head?”

#5 stammered, “I… well… I didn’t… well she pushed me!” He pointed an accusing finger at #4.

She seemed to shrink into herself like a turtle as Wife rounded on her. Before Wife could unleash her reserves of discipline upon the little girl, #4 blurted out her defense as only a five year-old could. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know that if I pushed #5 he would step on #6’s head! I didn’t know!”

Needless to say, her excuse was not enough to save her from the trouble she was in.

Of course it must be mentioned that #4 is more intelligent than I would like. A stupid child might take some time to learn what is unacceptable, however once learned they simply stop. But a smart child takes longer, especially if they are obstinate like #4, for once it got through her thick head picking on her younger siblings by tattling would only get her in trouble, she quickly began to explore other avenues. So now we have to watch out for her more subtle manipulations. Let me illustrate.

#4 had been waiting for her turn with the toy that #6 had. #6 decided that he had not had enough time. #4 took matters into her own hands. “Ok,” she said, “if you don’t give it to me I’m gonna to count to ten. I’m going to count to ten and if you don’t give it to me I’m gonna tell you that your drawing, the one you drew for mommy, I gonna tell you that it is ugly. Ok. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten! Ok! Your drawing is ugly!”

The shock of all was it worked! The three year-old burst into uncontrollable weeping until his sister took the toy and then assured him that his drawing was not ugly.

Back to My Roots, Way Up High

Wife cut the children free from their home studies early one Saturday and we all wandered over to my parents. Yes, when the schooling gets behind Wife will make them study on the weekend, provided she is up to the extra work. But sometimes even Wife needs her rest. That was how we ended up sitting in my mother’s garden with my parents and several of my siblings while the children literally ran off all the pent up energy that was nearly bursting from their little bodies. Strangely, it seems to be the same kind of energy they build up when they clean the house. Huh?

Climbing trees

Climbing trees

I sat in a remarkably comfortable wire patio chair and absentmindedly rocked for the baby that I was not holding. After almost ten years of constant babies, I sometimes find myself rocking or swaying out of habit, and it can be embarrassing. However, as I was in a rocking chair, nobody noticed. As I sat and visited with my family, I just noticed out of the corner of my eye that some of the children were playing around and in the lower branches of a pine tree.

Some part of my mind woke up memories of long ago when I was nimble enough to scale the tall trees and light enough for the higher branches to hold me. I remembered looking out onto the world that spread out below. Even though I had just been among the landscape, it always seemed to fall away as I left it behind and disappeared into the green world high above. And if my mother happened to see me, which happened quite often as children like to show-off their achievements, she would usually have something close to a panic-attack when she saw me ten, twenty, or even thirty feet high, and demand that I play closer to the ground.

Two to a tree.

Two to a tree.

While I remembered and lost the thread of the conversation around me, we all heard several of my daughters squealing for our attention. After a minute of pondering what the children wanted us to see, we saw it, or rather saw them. #1 was a little way up the pine tree, but the excitement was all over #4 who had made her way up to the very top of the tree. Once their grandmother saw my daughter way up there on the thin branches she let out a squeak that brought me right back again to my childhood.

Way up high.

Way up high.

Predictably, my mother made both of the girls climb down so that she could be sure that neither would fall out. I’m glad to see that some things never change.

The Daddy Stage

#8 has entered the “daddy stage.” The phase of his life when he has the unusually strong yearning for his father’s attention; especially the kind that comes in the form of being held. Now that could be because he finds that Wife’s pregnant belly gets in his way, and I, well not nearly as soft, at least provide a flat surface. So the little boy toddles up to me and does his best to follow when I’m home. And that reminds me, I really need to fix the latch on the bathroom door.

Doors don’t stop #8, not in the least.

#8 is not a clingy child by any means. He derives attention and entertainment from his siblings in equal amounts. Stumbling along with their games, and if they laid out a board game, well then he is as quick to make a mess of it as a tornado in a trailer-park. But then he remembers that dad is home, and there he goes. If I am working on something in the front yard, he might scream at me from the porch until I acknowledge him. If I’m relaxing in the house, he’ll try to crawl into my lap. If I’m writing in my office, he’ll simply push open the door. That’s another door I need to fix.

He won’t be in this stage for very long, none of the children were. In a few months he’ll become even more mobile and able to keep up with his older siblings. Even more importantly, he’ll have a fighting chance when his brothers wrestle with him. I won’t get forgotten, but he will have much more to distract him.

Knowing that this time will fly by, I try not to get distracted myself. But at the same time, I have had the blessing of seven other children to go through the “daddy stage” with and at least one more on the way. That means that I have been able to enjoy each child without the worry that I will miss anything.

And with that is mind, I have no regrets about jamming the door shut to give myself a little quiet.

Door jamb

Door jamb