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Cap and Gown?

Dear Erma,

When I was in college, I was a political science and theology major.  That means everything was about thinking of theories, pondering the big questions in life, reading Locke, Augustine, and C.S. Lewis.  Now, 15 years later, I ponder even more deep questions.

“How does Larry the Cucumber play the tuba when he doesn’t have any arms?”

“What does Thomas the Tank Engine like to eat?”

That’s right, gone are my days of thinking about the Federalist Papers and The Screwtape Letters.  I need to tell a 3-year-old how Larry plays the tuba!  I once heard it said that a mother’s education is never wasted, even if she doesn’t work in a traditional career, because she influences her children with her vast knowledge on a daily basis.  In theory this is very true, and I think everybody who wants to should learn everything they can.  But when I really am honest about what I talk to my kids about when it’s just Mom duty, it has very little to do with anything I learned past the 3rd grade.

Can I read the Dr. Seuss book?  Can I work a DVD player?  Tie shoes?  Use the measuring cups to make Mac and Cheese from a box?  Ok, I’m good.

I am sure this phenomenon is happening in households all over America.  Heck, my husband has degrees in business and music–he is not singing Handel and calculating profit and loss with the kids, either.  Moms and Dads use their educations to provide for the kids, but unless they studied early childhood development or are pediatricians, I doubt that the average parent pulls out their diploma to get the kids to cooperate most days.

The closest I have come so far in imparting my educational knowledge to my kids is explaining to them that going to vote is not “going on a boat, “ and what I mean when I say that it is against the law for me to let JB drive the car.

Someday JB Sr. and I will use our college educations to help with homework, or give the kids advice on their own choices of college major, but for now…how DOES Larry play that tuba with no arms?

Your preschool-minded protégé,




Dear Erma,

I am incredibly blessed in the Grandmother department.  I grew up with close connections to both of mine.  They both taught me a lot of lessons in life that I think about and use every day.

My Grandma W. lived on a farm and was the world’s greatest hostess.  I have a love for cooking and guests that I am certain came from her.  I cannot think of a time I was ever at her house even for a short hour when another visitor or family member didn’t stop by.  Her house was a hub of familial celebration and energy.  Grandma was from an era in which women were primarily housewives and moms, but she always was most encouraging of my educational accomplishments and efforts.   She always said there was no rush to get married, go to school.  She wasn’t anti-marriage, she was pro education.  I was touched to learn this past year that she was a college student herself in the 1940’s before she married my grandpa.  She was a smart, quick-witted woman who loved books and puzzles and games.  She was also very involved in her community with the library and working the polls on Election day.  Everyone in the county knew who she was and respected her. 

I saw her less often, but Granny R. is a huge influence on me, too.  She was widowed fairly young, and faced some challenges that were not easy. She overcame them with a lot of grace.  When I think of her, I think of her as adventurous, interested in everything, and a woman who has incredibly deep faith.  Her faith is something I admire so much.  She really faces things with God by her side and that is something I try to do, too.  Granny is someone who I know walks the walk in her daily life.  Recently I read about Jesus saying, “Let your yes be yes and your no, no.”  I think that is very true of Granny.  She is straight-forward, honest, and direct.  You know exactly where you stand with her, and there’s no beating around the bush.  She is quick with an “I love you,” affection, and a good listening ear.  Now that I’m in my 30s, I find myself talking to her woman-to-woman more and more and it is so special that my lifelong love for her has adapted into an adult friendship as well as a grandmother/granddaughter relationship.

Grandma W. went to heaven last February, so I don’t get to call her up anymore or go visit her. I miss her a lot and think of her frequently.  But losing Grandma in my life, as well as her declining memory prior to her death, made me appreciate my time with Granny even more. 

Granny is still very vivid and strong and that’s a blessing that I do not take for granted for one minute.  I lived out of Kansas for 14 years so I didn’t get to visit Granny in person much during that time.  But now that we’re only 5 hours away, I make a bigger effort to visit her and make sure my kids know her.  In the past few months we’ve spent two weekends with her and I am so happy my children now have a relationship with her as well.  Granny R. collects giraffes and the other day JB was playing animal hunt outside with EB.  I asked him what animal he should hunt for next and he said: “I’m going to catch a giraffe for Great Granny!”


Your blessed-by-family protégé,


Pretend with Me

Dear Erma,

My kids have suddenly become the world’s best entertainment.  Who needs cable or streaming movies or satellite radio when you have a 3 and a 4-year-old who are best friends living in your house?  They have the most vivid, imaginative play I’ve ever seen.  And to make it even more awesome, they have a bizarre habit of instructing each other’s lines. 

I know some kids will direct pretend time with: “you be the cowboy and I’ll be the outlaw” or “I’m the mommy and you’re the daddy.”  But my little buddies script each other. 

EB: Say “I’m going on a tiger hunt!”

JB: I’m on a tiger hunt!  Say “You found a big orange tiger!”

EB: You found a big orange tiger.  Say “Don’t eat me, tiger!”

And on and on.  It’s hilarious.  I work in the upstairs of my house where the kids have a free reign in a wide hallway in between their 2 bedrooms.  My door is shut, but when my speakers are off, I can hear every enthusiastic word.  It’s precious.  I sit here and laugh and wipe away tears some mornings at the complex stories they tell each other.  In stereo.

There was a time when having kids 16 months apart was brutal.  I often say I cannot remember EB’s first year of life, I was so exhausted and sleep-deprived.  But the tight bond of friendship and companionship these two siblings have now is worth not knowing what I did in 2008 for Thanksgiving.  Sure, they squabble and brawl from time to time, but they also just adore each other and that’s a beautiful thing.  I get a little sad when one’s at school and the other’s at home, they just wander around lost until their pal gets back.  Or they pester us to say things.  “Say that Percy and Thomas are going to Misty Island, Daddy,” or “Say the pink dragon is hungry, Mommy.”  So Mom and Dad kick in to make up for the missing partner.  Maybe we should have made sure EB had afternoon school like JB??

Your highly amused protégé,


Life Gets in the Way

Dear Erma,

Did you ever have a time where life got in your way?  The past 2 months have been INSANE for me.  We had the flurry of school starting in August and again in September for both kids this year.  Outfits to buy, backpacks to find, open houses, etc.  We had a great trip to visit with my grandmother, a weekend DAR trip, oh, and my stupid computer got a virus and I had to work on a really slow one for weeks.  And weeks.  Sigh.

But here it is October and life is settling into the new normal (and the slow computer is no longer on my desk.)

It really is a silly phrase, “Life gets in the way.”  Life IS what life got in the way of, right?  That doesn’t even make sense.  Life just kept chugging along and changing, always with the changes!

EB is a grown up 3-year-old preschooler all of a sudden!  She marches into the classroom like she owns the place.  No tears at a single drop off in over a month.  While I’m thrilled she’s so happy about it all, it did make me feel pretty sad the day I took her the first time and she didn’t even care that I was leaving!  I got over it quick and counted my blessings, though.  I’m proud that she’s so happy there, she loves school.

JB is happy that he’s in the same classroom, same bus, and same teacher at his preschool.  He is NOT a fan of change.  He had some challenging days getting used to school again, but his teacher is a Godsend and she has devised several brilliant strategies to help him re-adjust and they’re all working better and better every day.  She figured out a way to incorporate the beloved Thomas Trains into a reward system!  She also made him a super cute book about how JB is a big boy who loves school, full of photos of his school activities to have at home to incorporate into his routine while he waits for the bus.  And he’s been bringing home some writing worksheets and that child LOVES homework time!  I think I need to take a video recording of his homework enthusiasm in case 5 or 10 years from now he feels differently about it.

JB Sr and I have been crazy busy with our jobs, but we were just talking yesterday about how we are so appreciative to have jobs that need us so much they make him work on Saturdays and I’ve got a to-do list 50 miles long.  We are acutely aware of just how blessed we are.

The air is cooler and our thoughts are turning toward the next life activities–holidays!  We’ve got lots of ideas and plans for JB Sr’s birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, JB’s 5th birthday, and our 7th wedding anniversary cooking up!

Your lively life owning protegé,



Oh, those Little Engines

Dear Erma,

I know that when you were raising kids, it was in the olden days of TV where there were like 4 channels and only kids’ programming certain times and days.  Well in our enlightened and tech-savvy household, we’ve got lots of screens and modes of kid programming delivery at our fingertips.

But when you combine easy and constant access to entertainment, heat advisories for the past month, and no school with JB’s ASD tenacity for choosing one favorite thing and grabbing tight–you get the Thomas Onslaught.

JB used to like a variety of shows.  He loved Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Elmo,  Bubble Guppies, Dino Dan, and lots of different movies on DVD.  They are all pretty annoying for adults, but at least we had a variety of annoying and he wasn’t obsessed too deeply with any of them.  But then he somehow latched onto Thomas the Tank Engine.  Oh that pesky little blue train.  Now he is obsessed with collecting Thomas and his friends toys, watching it, singing the songs, checking out Thomas books at the library, and reciting entire episodes during story-telling times.  He is constantly telling me, JB Sr., EB, the nannies, and even my dad that we are “Gordon,” “Percy,” “Peter Sam,” “Sir Handel,” Bill,” and a myriad of other characters from the dull, boring, and lifeless tales of trains.

I cannot figure out what is so attractive about the show to him.  I figure if I can decipher the draw, maybe I can find other replacements?  The stories are not remotely compelling that I can figure, EB doesn’t take much pleasure in them, she’ll tolerate Thomas occasionally but prefers to continue to sample a variety of options.  My only guess, knowing JB’s proclivities in the past, is that he loves the very fact that there are so many different characters and names to file away in his mental encyclopedia.  And as a visual person primarily like all his ASD kin, maybe the fact that all the Thomas episodes look the same if they’re muted is comforting?  There isn’t an over-stimulation factor–no flashy graphics, loud sound effects, and sotto voce narration?  He can talk endlessly about the dozens of characters on the show just like he used to like to discuss species of eagles or types of mammals he memorized in previous favorite books?

Not sure.  But this craze has gone on the longest of any favorite show and the fact that it has spread to books, songs, and toys, makes me think that JB has found his own personal Star Trek.  When I saw Temple Grandin last fall she mentioned that lots of people she knows with autism are Trekkers because they enjoy the detailed world in the plotlines and identify strongly with the unemotional Spock.    It’s also common for ASD folk to like Star Wars, and other sci-fi/fantasy.  The world of Thomas and friends on the Isle of Sodor may have that same draw.  There are locations, every moving part has a face on it and goes by a name, and there are seemingly endless episodes and licensed products available as well.

Whatever the cause of the boy’s unmatched adoration for Thomas and friends, I know I’ll be checking out eBay, Craig’s List, and sale fliers this fall for economical ways to make it a Very Merry Thomas Christmas and birthday for our little man!

Your sick-to-death-of-Sodor protegé,


Working At Home

Dear Erma,

For 9 years I did my job in an office.  It was great.  I had all these incredible friendships around the lunch table; I had black and white publicity shots from old TV stars on my cubicle walls, inside jokes with folks in the hallways, etc.  I had a blast.  I had a 45 minute commute, sometimes on buses and trains, sometimes by car, too.  Then I had JB and EB was on her way, and work was still fine, but I found that I was working more to get home than before.

When I got the opportunity to begin to work at home instead of in an office a few weeks before EB arrived, I was thrilled.  How perfect!  I had my exact same job and duties, just at a different desk.  JB Sr. was still officially a stay at home Dad, so I wasn’t trying to take over his duties in addition to my paid work, but I had a 10 stride hallway commute at the end of the work day instead of a 45 minute drive.  Win!

I have been at home now for 3 years and I’ve moved the home office from the big city to my Midwestern hometown, only pausing for the cable and internet to be hooked up after the trek cross country.  Recently, my sister did the exact same thing, leaving her office on the East Coast, moving here to our old stomping ground, and hooking up technology to keep her same career as well.  I imagine this is going to become more and more common in our modern age.

As a seasoned veteran of working from home, there are a few vital things I have learned about it, and rules I’ve created for myself as a result.

Get Dressed Every Day:  This sounds silly and obvious, but my first months of working at home I was 9 months pregnant and then I was in c-section recovery hell for 2 months.  So I was in the habit of wearing robes and jammies and nursing gowns most of the time for the first several months.  Nobody saw me, I don’t Skype, I conference call, so it was like, roll out of bed, hit the desk.  After a few months of that I was like, whoa, this is too depressing.  I felt so blah.  So now, the rule is, get up, and put on something different every day.  I’m not talking about fancy outfits, but a different tee and sweats/shorts/jeans every day.

Somebody else is in charge of the kids.  For me, this is crucial.  It was a very easy transition for JB Sr. and me because he’d been home alone all day with JB since JB was 6 weeks old.  They had their routines, their system, and they were doing great.  So it was simple for me to shut the door to my office area and say, “Mom’s going to work.”  When EB was born, she did spend a lot of time in my office sleeping in her swing or pack and play, and since I nursed her something like every 90 minutes for a good 9 months, she was handy to have around.  But as soon as she was mobile and into things, she was out in the rest of the home with JB and Daddy 90% of the time.  Work time has to be sacred—I owe it to my employers who trust me and my co-workers who all work in the office.  I’m very strict about this.  When we moved to Kansas and JB Sr. started working his new job, we immediately hired nannies to care for the kids during the time that he and I overlapped our work days.  We got some excellent girls who work for us and 49 days out of 50 I’d say I don’t see hide nor hair of nannies or kids during that time.

Maintain a Social Life This is the hardest.  Office settings have natural social dynamics.  You might not love everybody, but you chit chat, you make eye contact, you hear about people’s weekends and vacations, wedding plans, etc.  I miss that most of all.  As I said before, I worked with some friends who were more than co-workers and we were tight.  When we still lived near my old office, I made a point to still see those friends and when we moved, I have tried to make sure I have social outlets in my life.  I go out to lunch a couple times a month with friends; I joined a service club and got involved, I am on committees at church.  It’s a must.  I do speak to my colleagues and boss on the phone and email people during the work day, but it is crucial to have face time with friends outside the walls of our house.

Overall, I’d say that this has been the best thing for me and our family that I work at home.  We have formed very tight bonds with each other—even though I don’t welcome a lot of interruption, I still get to remain in communication with JB Sr. and the kids.  I know everything that is going on, the time I don’t spend commuting in traffic is replaced with quality time.  JB doesn’t remember when Mommy didn’t work at home, and I am glad that I have always been just behind the door and accessible in a pinch.

Your protégé and beneficiary of modern technology,


JB’s New Buddy

Dear Erma,

We’re halfway through VBS now, and I have to say, JB is a handful.  He’s wiggly, he talks incessantly, he has the attention span of a gnat, and he has a hard time with waiting and transition, both!  That makes him especially challenging at VBS.  Anticipating all of that, I tried a few techniques to make JB’s VBS more enjoyable for him and less stressful for the adults around him.  One of those things is his picture schedule.  It’s a laminated card that has 8 clip art shots of the different activities and stations that JB goes to each night.  This calms him enormously when he wants to know when he gets to play outside, eat a snack, or go home.  He accepts schedules well and loves them.  He has it on a lanyard and he wears it around his neck.  It’s pretty cute.

Last night, though, JB was not my handful.  JB has a new church best friend in Mr. Mark.  Mr. Mark is a sweet, quiet guy whose sons were toddlers many years ago.  He’s one of the teachers in JB’s class of TWENTY FOUR 4’s and 5’s.  That is a lot of Pre-K and K kids, right?  I’d die if I were in that class.  Just die.  That is not my forte AT ALL.  But Mr. Mark has taken JB under his wing.  I deeply appreciate this kind-hearted guy taking my little man and helping him enjoy VBS.  I’ve observed Mr. Mark holding JB in his lap, his head bent over JB’s in prayer, holding his hand as the group walks around in line, helping JB remember not to run around and try to climb onto the platform during Bible story time, and even wearing the schedule around his own neck and helping JB remember that he will get to say hi to me in the Snack Room.

Mr. Mark may not have anticipated being JB’s special friend during VBS when he signed up to help, but he has been a wonderful asset this week.  I had hoped and prayed that this would be the year JB finally got into VBS and enjoyed it and caught the excitement that I have seen in other kids.  It has come to pass!  Every night my dad drives the kids and I home from the church because JB Sr. has our car at work and I’ve seen my dad grinning as he listens to JB in the backseat chattering happily and in a great mood.  Mr. Mark may not have the biggest or most glamorous job at VBS 2011, but for our family, it’s the most important and we appreciate him completely!

Your grateful protegé,