Welcome to Chickadee Junction

Welcome to Chickadee Junction

I have birdfeeders outside of my office window. My office is in my home, up on a hill, surrounded by trees. The most frequent avian visitors are the chickadees. When the feeders are empty, they come to the window and let me know. They seem to converge here, and draw my attention out...

I wrote a column about life with children for six years. Now I am the grandmother, and I would like to repost those stories. I will also be adding thoughts and reflections, and if inspired - stories from the now.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Who wants to help me paint?"

"I do!"..."I do!"..."I do!"  The Swedish Mafia is unanimous.  How unusual.

With baby firmly perched on my back, we bravely approach the barren walls and sanded woodwork.

The youngest, brandishing the largest paintbrush is ready.  Now.  "Where's the paint?"  He does his Erroll Flynn impression - fencing a la Robin Hood.

"We have to tape the windows.  Look how we place the edge of the tape right where the glass meets the wood.  See?  Who wants to try?"

"We want to paint...This is too boring...It's too hard..."

At length, finally, at long last, it's time to open the paint.  If, and when, we can find a screwdriver.  For five frenzied minutes the gang wanders around, glazed stares in place chanting,  "We can't find it, but we saw it yesterday."

I am a mom with years of experience.  I know how to wing it.  And I know the butter knives we inherited from great-grandma have the sturdiest blades.

A few flicks of the silver and we pry the lid loose, exposing a gallon of glistening white primer.

"Me first!"  That from the kid wielding the biggest brush.

"Oh no.  You've got to listen first.  Look how we dip the very tip of the brush into the paint.  See?"


"After you get just a little paint, you get to do along the floor.  See?"


"I only want you to paint up and down.  Like this.  See?"


"There can't be any drips."


"OK.  Try it."

He plunged the brush into the paint, submerging bristles right up to the handle.  Then he walked away, hand cupped beneath the drips, leaving an artistic dribbley trail in his wake.

His brother managed to smear every window, reaching far beyond the taped border.  And his brother, after experimenting with the edger, dropped it into the paint.  I retrieved it just as the last bubbles rose to the surface.

"How come I can't use the roller?  I'm done now."

"Put the brush on the shelf, so I can wash it.  Do you hear me?"


"Mom, this paint spilled here."

As I went to salvage the situation I stepped on the biggest brush, bristles still laden with paint.

Mima's Notes:

I allowed my children to help with pretty much everything I did.  It made my life slow and messy - absolutely perfect.  Although the house was seldom perfect, or sometimes even presentable.

Now, the two youngest members of the SM are timber framers.  They design and construct amazing buildings.  They are attentive to detail and careful about being very neat.  Who could have imagined?
AT&T is pushing pictophones - the newest gotta-have appliance.  They must be kidding.  The last thing I need or want is for everyone, or anyone, to see me at my most natural.

A pictophone would exposed me at 10 am, hair still uncombed.  Could any information exchange be enhanced by that?

When I'm using the telephone, the anonymity of all but voice allows me to glare at my children, snack, wash dishes, all while "Mm-hmmmmm-ming" at the appropriate time.  In good voice.

If you could see me, you'd catch the Mom-glare, that look which ices any child's heart.  I would not be able to do my frantic pointing dance as I silently order small people to practice Kung Fu elsewhere.

Not only would casual callers know we live in chaos, but any salesperson who chooses to call couldn't miss the chin high laundry pile I'm planning to fold.  The same salesperson would see my exasperated expressions elicited by their spiel.  Having to listen to them is bad enough.  Having to appear polite and interested - no way!

And what about that reliable dinner-interrupting call?  One must choose between eating cold food later, chewing casually or asking them to call back.  If it is a sales pitch (and we are talking dinner-time here) who wants to brush them off twice?  Since it is often impossible to get a word in edgewise, I attempt to eat inconspicuously.  I am suddenly aware of each crunch, slurp, swallow.  Try this on pictophone.

Now imagine that mid-shower call.  Or the, "Did I wake you?"  I can't see the pictophone catching on.  At least not in this house.

Mima's Notes:
I've always marched to a different drummer.  I was wrong.  Skype is the latest version of the pictophone, and is popular.  When I wrote this, almost 20 years ago, I had a phone on the kitchen wall.  It had a very long cord, so I could wander around the kitchen, or go sit in the living room.  My neighbor had the latest thing.  He had this big apparatus in the front seat of his truck.  It had a phone receiver hung on it.  He could get phone calls in the truck.  It was - weird.  Who wanted to get calls while they were out driving. 

I mentioned that I march to my own drummer, right?  Now we have cell phones.  Okay, you all have cell phones.  I am holding out.  I don't want to have a cell phone.  I don't want to be available 24/7.  Everyone worries - what if I have a problem with the car?  What happens is what has always happened.  Someone stops to ask if I am okay.  With cell phones, we are losing this personal connecton.  Some people have stopped worrying about strangers.  If we can call someone we know, we don't have to step into uncomfortable contact.

And Skype...it's great if I want to see my grandson, something we have not managed to organize yet, but I work on the phone.  I start at 5 am.  You know that puffy face, squinty eye look at 5 am?  No way! No one needs to see that!

I feel so old when I think about party lines when I was young compared to cell phones now.  I can easily fall into the grandma, "In my day..." speech.  But I wonder what the next 20 years will bring.  I am sure Skype will be outdated and so unbelievably elementary.
When the youngest member of the Swedish Mafia was just under a year old, I developed a theoretical, semi-mathematical explanation for a thrice daily procedure.  It was known as the Splash Quotient.  In order for the Splash Quotient to become part of the routine, the young scientist must have been started on solid foods for sufficient time that many textures, colors and flavors are included in each meal.

I've watched other mother's feeding techniques.  One sister-in-law crouched before her son, spoon constantly loaded.  The second her son paused for a breath, mom reloaded his mouth and had the spoon filled and waiting.  She was equally aghast at my toss-some-stuff-on-the-tray, if he's hungry he'll eat approach.

My kids handled their food, therefore experimentation occurred.  Once belly was full, and since vocabulary was too small to participate in dinner conversation, finger painting began.  A stroke of mashed potatoes, border with peas, maybe a touch of squash.  Well, maybe not.  Shove that out of the way.  Try broccoli.  No, just not getting the right feel.  A good, flat hand slap took care of that.

He noted how the potato clung tenuously, yet gracefully, to Mommy's sweater.  And joy of joys, despite lack of verbal prowess, everyone at the table had been rendered speechless by the show.  No matter what the endeavor, older brothers were always ready to render encouragement.  And they offered the best possible - the giggled, pointed, and laughed.

From that point on, Young Einstein was relentless.  Mashed potatoes rated a 9 out of a possible 10.  The perfect 10 was applesauce.  Unfortunately, Mom kept control of that and occasionally offered a spoonful.  Casseroles rated approximately a 7 or 8.  Anything with macaroni - above a 5.  Rating was based on size of projectiles (smaller = better) and how well they adhered to surrounding surfaces (especially Mom).

Our new resident scientist has foregone the already developed Splash Quotient in favor of her very own Smear Quotient.  Once bored by eating, she intently scoured her hand back and forth through the scraps, checks patterns, projectiles, and how many cats have shown up, then repeats...until Mom attacks with a wet wash cloth.

Mima Notes - For some reason moms always think they know best about feeding.  And it's the one subject mima's bite their tongue about most.  As a nursing mother's counselor for many years, this especially means this mima!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

So, what did you get for Christmas?  We got the flu.  Suddenly I see the wisdom of installing seven bathrooms for a family of seven.

Once we have been exposed, and it becomes apparent that we can not avoid affliction, I immediately arm everyone with a mixing bowl.  Each has custody of a specific bowl and must be able to prove at all times that their bowl is at hand.  Explicit instructions accompany the dispersal of equipment.  "If you gotta throw up, make sure you hit the bowl.  Always head for the bathroom, since the toilet is your primary objective.  But if for any reason it looks (or feels) as though you won't reach your target, for heaven's sake - get it in the bowl."

Unfortunately, flu can not always be solved by the bowl.  Sometimes we all line up outside the bathroom door.  Whoever gets there first gets to listen to the pleas.  This flu inspired a waltz - "Oh please let me in, right now, right now..."  and a tango - "I...want in...want in right now...I've got...to go...to go right now..."  and one shrieked a hard rock rendition "I gotta go right now!"  All three performances, despite the difference in tempos, met at the same chorus of "Mo-o-o-o-o-mmmmmmm, make 'em get out of there.  I gotta go.  Me next!"

We Wish You a Merry Christmas would have been a much nicer chorale.

So as families gathered around the Christmas tree, shared eggnog and family stories, and played with newly opened gifts, we huddled under blankets with chills and fevers.  We compared notes, deciding who really was the sickest  We gathered around the bathroom door and tried not to think of eggnog or fruit cake.  Jello and ginger ale comprised our holiday fare.  And even they weren't overly appetizing.

But, as all things must pass, so did our queasiness and we were able to feast on noodle soup and dry toast.  We're better now.  We've even been able to play with our new toys.  And we have a new story to add to our family lore repeated each Christmas.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Full Moons and...

As we approach the holidays, hearts and thoughts turn to family...

My side of the family recently held a family reunion.  Twenty-one kids, aged six weeks to eleven years, and twenty-one adults, spent two days in the woods.  All together.

My parents borrowed a huge cabin in a clearing.  We descended and surrounded it with campers and tents.  Inside the cabin were two bedrooms, one with a big bed, the other with bunks.

As twilight encroached and marshmallow torches lit the evening sky, my siblings regressed and we fought for dibs on the double bed.  Two of my sisters won.  Their husbands slept out, but one pregnant belly and one small baby kept my sisters in.  Dad and I won the consolation prize - the pull out couch in the living room.

The eight to eleven year old crowd decided to sleep out.  The girls unfurled sleeping bags in the mesh tent/mess hall.  Two boys made their nests right outside - not close enough to be with the girls, just close enough to harass.

Contingency plans were issued:

Boys, if you change your mind, you will go to the camper with Aunt Ginger.  Do you understand? (Aunt Ginger did agree to this.  We did not coerce, force or bribe her in any way!)

Girls, you will go to the bunk beds.  If you are going to talk, keep it down.  And no scary stories.

I finally eased my youngest boys into slumber on couches, then prepared my bed.  The sleeper sofa, when pulled out, took up the entire living room.  An adult could sidle to the room my sisters claimed.  If anyone tried to walk past the bottom of the mattress, bruised shins attested to the presence of a coffee table.  Once settled, everyone was pretty much confined to where they were.

Ah, sleep at last.  For about an hour...when we were shocked from oblivion by five shrieking children.  The boys headed straight for the bunks to secure them before the girls could.  A coffee table attack on the knees set up a howl which woke the dead - me, and my baby.

"To the camper!  Go to the camper!"  I thought I was shouting.  But the boys fought off the coffee table in a frenzied battle and made it to the bunkroom.  There they loudly discussed who should get the top bunk.

Mommy wisdom sprung from my brain and out of my mouth.  "Both of you get the top!  Go to bed.  Be quiet."

While the boys were settling, the girls were trying to find a place to camp.  They found it.  They lined up across the kitchen floor.  Knowing what that would add to morning chaos, I decided not to care.

I had finally come to enough to sit up and demand,  "What are you doing in here?  You all wanted to sleep out.  It's gonna be fun.  Remember?"

"Full moon...monster man...full moon...chopped to bits...and it's a full moon out there!"

"No scary stories.  Don't you remember the rule?  Who is making this stuff up?"

"He is!"  Three accusing fingers pointed at a very sheepish Dad.  Hope he enjoyed the full moon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Our baby is not quite two months old, as I write this, and what she's learned is phenomenal.  It took her less than an hour to figure out food and fist don't fit in the same mouth at the same time.

She's learned that if she toughs it out until her siblings go to bed, she gets Mommy 100% to herself.  Silence, to her, means wake up and be cute.

Right from the start she recognized my voice.  I could soothe her immediately.  But even if I was holding her, she didn't seem to know that I was right there.  I would move my face in front of hers and she'd always be pleasantly shocked..."Oh, there you are."  Now, in the past week or so, she's learned to look for me, or for whoever is directing noise toward her.  And not only can she find me, she can keep me by following with her eyes.

Cooing, gurgling, smiling, singing - she can stop the Earth's rotation.  And she knows it.  Doing something sweet results in all of those big faces staring down in awe.  So she practices, and she's good.

I love this time with her.  She's just the most perfect infant on this planet.  Yet I'm looking forward to her independence.  Two months of baby worship have led to a completely disheveled house.

After being through "independence" four times, I realize I'm wishing for a creature who routinely unloads cupboards, dumps cat food, strews laundry, yanks table cloths and pulls every cushion off the couch.  So in other words, baby independence leads to a completely disheveled house.

And come to think of it, my oldest still undresses as she goes - leaving clothes, books, pens, papers in her wake.  We've not lived in tidiness since...And come to think of it Dad undresses as he gets home from work - leaving boots, sweat socks, jacket, tools in his wake.

And if I honestly consider my own habits, there's no hope.  Welcome, baby, you picked the right family!

Mima's Notes:
I spent the day with my grandson today.  He is close to walking, and closer to talking everyday.  I was singing his uncle's favorite song, and my grandson shocked me by swaying and singing the "Bye-Bye" lyrics with me.  Then I came home, and relived this moment, and it feels like the past and present are colliding in my consciousness.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sleepovers and Negotiations

My daughter had a friend sleep over.  Which means, in order for the girls to have to desired amount of privacy and control of the house, the rest of us must cease to exist.  I looked at the girls.  I looked at my three sons.  I bowed out with the words,  "Make a deal."  The deal was that the boys would go to bed early and let the girls watch a movie.  Then later in the week big sister would go to her room early and let the boys control the VCR.

It worked.  The boys went upstairs and stayed there.  None of the routine bickering involved going downstairs.  For once.

The girls put on their make up.  Heavily.  The bathroom counter is still ready for a night on the bad side of town.  The girls raided the refrigerator.  Heavily.  They scoured the shelves looking for something to make.  They did each other's hair.  They were ready.

The boys did their nightly repeat performance of..."those are my pajamas...he's touching my pillow..." followed by "No!" which brings..."ouch...get away...Mo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-mmmmmmmmm."  So I chime in with,  "If you don't stop now, you will go to bed early tomorrow night."  I have my part down pat.  I can do it without a thought.  This ritual must be celebrated every night to ensure the sleep of the angels.  Going in to check them after they're asleep proves it.  They are gorgeous, perfectly heavenly specimens when they're not fighting, house dismantling or mud wallowing.

Last night the deal was complete.  The boys were totally engrossed in their movie.  Almost.  Big sister slipped down to use the bathroom and,  "You're not allowed down here.  It's our movie.  We stayed upstairs.  Next time we'll come down, too!" was sung in three part harmony.  It reverberated all the way to my room.  I put my head under the pillow.

When the movie was over they trooped upstairs.  It was at least an hour after their normal bedtime.  Instead of being tired and zonking right out, they performed the Bicker Ritual for Proper Sleep with unusual vigor.  I put my head under the pillow.

Mima's Notes:
Stating the obvious, "Time flies." is inadequate.  The baby is going through the process of applying to colleges now.  VCRs are completely outdated.  Now we use Netflix or DVDs.  I wonder if my kids feel the rush of technology change through their short lives.

And, on another note, the two young women mentioned in this column live far apart now, but they are still the closest of friends!  This girl was a child of my heart, one of the kids who became part of the family.  And she still is.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Motherhood Has Frustrating Moments

I'm so tired of being the mom.  I'm tired of being the walking target of venom spitting children who resent washing dishes.

Hoping to slow the flow of snake spit, I asked,  "When was the last time you helped with the dishes.?"

"Last week!"

We're all indignant and equally sure of our stance that once a week is too/is not enough.  So they are firing looks that could kill and I feel myself hardening around the edges.

Neither of us is going to let the other "walk all over me."

I want to be the nice mommy, the glowing, smiling, soft-spoken lady escorting perfectly coiffed, immaculately dressed, disgustingly polite children through the art museum.  I want to bake cookies in a sterile kitchen and have no dirty bowls when I am done.  I want a picture perfect house and garden that are always photographer ready.

Instead I am raising kids who hate bathing, unless it's in the creek.  Who host, and win, belching contests.  Who can be persuaded to change clothes every three days...or so.  They do love art museums, though.  When I bake, I usually have to search for baking supplies.  But the bowl is licked clean before the cookies are done.  Often before I'm done spooning the dough out.

And, you know, I'd rather live than wait for a photographer to validate our existence.  I guess motherhood is not as bad as it seems some days.  I just need a little cooperation when it comes time to wash the dishes.

Mima's Notes:
This battle never ended.  No one has ever willingly done dishes at my house.  But the teenaged years did hit, and attitudes toward grooming changed without my persistent nagging.

More from October

Rain!  It finally rained.  And the garden soaked up as much moisture as it could.  The creek is running again.  But most importantly, the puddles are full.  We have three good sized puddles in the driveway, to which our shock absorbers can attest.  They are known as Lake Muddy, Lake Muddier and our all-time favorite, Lake Muddiest.

The two youngest members of the Swedish Mafia love to spend hours at Resort Lake Muddiest.  They experiment with mud textures...the drier it is, the more likely to keep its shape...mud balls being a favorite shape.  Mud balls bounce, almost, off your brother.  But beware, that is the best way to get Mom involved, then Resort L.M. is off limits until she gets busy elsewhere.

The boys don't go outside with the direct intention of visiting these muddy shores.  Something in the water lures them.  They can be halfway across the yard when a stone will ripple the placid surface, or a butterfly will land there, or someone will walk by, or...

Approaches vary by mood.  There's the march right through, splashing as much as possible method.  An almost necessary option is to stop in the middle and feel the ooze between toes.  There is the nonchalant, stroll by and poke around with a stick with more and more interest approach.  Or when bored on a hot summer afternoon, a child will sit next to the puddle, and inch by inch the water woos until the fabric is wicking muddy water higher and higher.

One kid in the puddle means all kids in the puddle.  And no matter what the approach, the end result is a bunch of scary looking creatures traipsing splat-monster footprints across the kitchen floor.  It means a mud encrusted tub, a hamper full of disgusting laundry, and every towel in the house grayly decorating the bathroom floor.  And a Mom who is wondering,  "Who are these cruddy imps?  They can't be mine!"

Mima's Notes:
When I recopy these columns, hand typing into this blog, for just a moment the kids are young and the house is in a flurry once more.  I loved the chaos of having lots of kids in my house.  Now, when the floor is muddy, it's because it's April, it's mud season again, and the dogs have been in and out.  And in.  Then out.

Halloween Reflections

My mother took pictures of all her grandchildren to work.  Every single co-worker identified the youngest member of the Swedish Mafia as the "handful."  He's the kid with the gleam of mischief in his eye.  And looks, in this case, do not betray.  He'll be an angel for Halloween.  The halo atop that grin is a perfect combination.

Sometimes the right costume happens.  The baby, for instance, is at the stage where she wants to stand on laps rather than be cuddled.  She's wearing out everyone's shoulder muscles as we take turns supporting her while she bounces on our bellies.  As she stands,. she has developed the habit of of supporting herself with her right leg and exploring her surroundings with her left foot.  Since she's always in pink, she'll be a flamingo!  All my babes wore blanket sleepers with an appropriate headpiece for their first Halloween.

The older kids get to pick.  The oldest has announced that she intends to do everything herself and it's not necessary for me to know what she's doing since she can handle it all and she does know what she's doing.  Middle son wants to be an unmutant turtle - a snapper with a fierce head.  The remaining child has not made a formal announcement at the time of this writing.  I am waiting with bated breath.  He usually chooses something elaborate, and decides at the last minute.  Keeps Mom's life exciting.  Last year he was a crusading knight.  We had to make a helmet and tunic and shield and mail and weapons and...he looked great.

When I was nearing the end of my trick-or-treat career I decided to be a mermaid.  An old, strapless green formal covered in yards of tulle - an aunt's discarded prom dress, maybe - was the vital part of our dress up box.  I talked Mom into cutting it so the skirt was real tight, all the way to my ankles.  Mom suggested a slit, but a glimpse of leg would not have been authentic and I wanted it my way.  She covered two coat hangers for fins to cover my feet.  I looked great.  As long as I stood still.  I had to hop to get anywhere.  Suddenly the mermaid wasn't as graceful or beautiful as I'd imagined.  I did win a prize, most creative or something.  Probably the most unusual for the mermaid doing the bunny hop!

Mima's Notes:
Both of my grandmothers were first generation Americans, born of Swedish immigrants.  Our family looks Swedish, and I christened my three sons The Swedish Mafia at a very early age.  The three of them were tough and daring and would try anything.  It was like having a litter of puppies in the house for about a decade. 

From what I understand, the title has stuck.  Even now, I occasionally hear the title - The Swedish Mafia.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Very First Momily - I think...

We recently had a new baby.  Preparation for delivery always requires the ongoing name 'discussion.'  The baby needs a unique, flowing, beautiful name that Mom and Dad both like.  The last part is the tough part.

When I was fourteen I found a name in a novel.  It was a name I had never heard before...a name that reflected our cultural heritage...the name.  I decided then and there that my first child would be a girl, and she would bear this name.

Fortunately for me, Dad did not want to talk about girls' names. (He was equally sure I was bearing a son.)  And somewhat fortunately for me, Dad stayed by my side all through a very long labor.  Once I'd delivered a daughter, I hit him fast while sympathy was running high.  I asked, suggested, stated the name.  How could he refuse?  He spent the next two days asking,  "How do you say it?  How is it spelled?"

Second time we searched through the Bible and all the baby name books for names.  We had lists of names.  Two days before delivery Dad announced,  "I know what his name is."  Of course I asked and he told me that after what I did the first time, he had no intention of telling me until after the birth.  I had a quick, easy time, so no sympathy this time.  We had a strong son with a Dad-chosen name.  It wasn't what I expected, but I liked it.

By the third time we both learned we better talk if we both wanted to be involved in the process.  The result?  We drove home with an unnamed child, throwing names back and forth the whole way.  By the time we reached home we had decided on a strong, one-of-a-kind name for our boy child.

So, why am I off on this tangent?  (Aside from an odd desire to expose our foibles?)  Sometimes as I'm dealing with my kids, a rational part of my brain observes my craziness, and horrible truths hit home.  I spent so much time and thought choosing flowing, favored, beautiful names for my children, so I could shriek and scream and utter them in my angriest voice.  Suddenly I am using the name that I have treasured as a warning siren.  The name is to be used as a caress or in humor, calmly...

In reality, these carefully chosen names bellow from my throat.  Middle name added means,  "You are really in hot water now!"  Kids begin to cringe at the sound of their own name, rather than bear them proudly.

We need to listen to ourselves, to each other.  But not too closely, and with love.  Because when you are in the grocery store and you see a mom with a handful of kids and a mouthful of,  "Bobby, stay right here where I can see you...Bobby, keep your hands off the shelf...Bobby, we do not need any more tuna..."  that's me.  Be kind.

Mima notes:
I was christened Mima by my oldest grandson.  I love the beautiful, flowing name he gave me.

I had two more babies and they each had their naming story.

My youngest son was a surprise.  I thought I was having a girl.  I was sure I was having a girl,  I only had a girls' name ready.  But there was a name - we had chosen a boys' name during my first pregnancy.  That name was one of the last three we were throwing around in the car for my second son.  It was a name we liked.  I looked at my new baby and announced, "This must be him!"

My last child was a girl.  I was thinking about girls' names...a lot.  Then I had three dreams.  In the first dream, I had a baby.  In the second dream, we knew it was a girl-baby.  In the third dream, she was called by name.  And so that is her name.

I continue to observe the phenomena of screeching names...of lovers and of children.  We still need to be compassionate and listen to ourselves.  I often asked my children,  "Who do you want to be?"  Then you know how to behave!