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Gearing up for VBS

Dear Erma,

Tomorrow is the start of VBS at our church.  This is going to be our 3rd year here, going to the 5 night extravaganza.

Year one, JB was 2 and EB was barely 1.  It was kind of a mess.  The nursery worker was new to EB so she cried.  A lot.  JB’s tiny kids class met inside a tent.  Which produced major sensory overload for the poor kid, so he trailed around after  me and my 6th graders I was assigned to help lead.  So that was a too-young-to-go -to-VBS scenario.

Last year, the kids were older but we moved into a new house 2 days into the process.  So I went to VBS 2 nights that year and then gave up and stayed home with my boxes. 

This is going to be our year!  No moving, no more babies, both kids are ready to go.  JB has been to preschool for a year, so he understands all the crucial kid things like lining up and listening and doing activities.  EB is about to start preschool so I think she will benefit greatly from being in a class, and being in a different one than her brother.  Since the kids go to different schools, it’ll be good for her to be on her own.

I get to do object lessons and interact with each class when they come to the snack room.  I think this will be really fun.  I remember 2 years ago they had snack set up this way and I loved taking my class there because the lady in charge did a fantastic job.  She’s my co-lesson leader this year, so I think we’ll have a great time.  She’s an incredible mom with kids who I enjoy working with in other church activities and I am excited to get to know her a little better.

I love the energy of VBS, the excitement the offering contests brings, the fun songs we learn every year that get the kids amped up, the memory verses, all of it.  I am glad that in the past 2 years I introduced the process to the kids even though they weren’t really old enough to grasp it all at the time.  I think it is a kid rite of passage to go to VBS in the summer and I remember my classes, how I met some of my best friends in 3rd grade at our church, working as a helper when I was in jr. high and high school, too.  It’s a great way that a church family can pull together and have something really special to give our kids.  It’s a ton of work, especially for the Children’s pastor and other people at church who are in charge, but I think they would tell you it is worth it.

Your protegé ready to embark on VBS,



He’s not 5, yet!

Dear Erma,

When JB Sr. and I were home for Christmas in 2005, two of my cousins were pregnant.  It was the first time that I got the twinge of, hey, I wish I was in that club!  Fast forward to April—I found out I was pregnant within days of one of those cousins giving birth.  The other one had her baby in July.  JB of course came along in December, 367 days after that little thought started my biological clock.

JB and his two cousins live in different cities, but they’ve hung out on a few occasions and get along nicely.  It’s been great to talk motherhood with A and S, and watch our kiddos go through things at relatively the same time.  But this summer, I feel really glad I wasn’t in the club in 05 with the girls.  Because their 2006 babies are both 5 now.  FIVE. 

To me, 5 is a benchmark that means big kid status—school, first peewee sports teams, play dates, birthday parties where the moms just do a drop off, etc.  I am so not ready for 5.  I want my little buddy to stay little.  JB is my little man.  I naturally fell in love with him at the hospital when he was born; he was just so stinking cute.

I had to share him with the world’s most doting Daddy, but JB was my little pal, too.  Bald till he was almost 2, he had a little old man wise face from early on.  He was a quiet baby, always looking and watching.  Then he abruptly started walking, then running within 3 days of the first steps.  Then he was Mr. Busy.  One of his all time favorite things to do was empty all his drawers of their clothes in his room and then stroll out into the living room and grin and say: “Dumped the drawers!” 

Ducks also come to mind—JB loved ducks beyond all reason till he was about 2 1/2 years old.  Rubber ones were his favorites and every night before he went to bed, he would sit in my lap and drink a last bottle and snuggle with me.  He would bring his ducks to the coffee table by the chair we sat in.  He had Duck, Hat Duck (a duck in a Santa suit), Tiny Duck (a really small one), Red Duck, Blue Duck, and Baby Duck (smaller than Duck, bigger than Tiny Duck.)  They would all get lined up perfectly in a row on the table and he wouldn’t accept the milk till they were just so.  Then when he was ready to walk to his bed, he’d gather them in his chubby little hands, trying to juggle the entire pile as he walked to his room.  In snapshots of JB from that summer and fall, there’s a little duck peeking out of a fist in most of them.

Since the Duck Craze 07 and 08, we have been crazy for the United States Book (he knew every state by their shape when he was 2), my cook books (Sandra Lee’s crock pot one is a favorite), wild animal flashcards, and lately, Thomas the Train. 

Whatever his interests, I try not to say, “He’ll be a geography teacher! A chef!  A veterinarian!”  Because I don’t want him to grow up yet or too soon.  Yes, I want him to develop and be all he can be, obviously, I’m not trying to raise Peter Pan, but I’m cool with 4 ½.  It works just fine for me.  5 will come, probably way faster than I like, but I am no longer trying to catch up with anyone.  The bald head is now covered in wild blond curls (that I resolutely refuse to cut on most occasions) he’s taller than some 1st graders, has the vocabulary of a 3rd grader, but he’s not 5!

Your protégé with a 4 ½ year old son,


Easy Does It

Dear Erma,

If I read the Facebook statuses (statii??) of my friends with kids, there are constant references to cool things they do with their families:  travel, sports, concerts, educational things, projects, lessons, camps, etc.  It is amazing and overwhelming  to have so many options as a mom.  There is also that ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ aspect to it all as well.  Am I giving my kids enough pre-school prep?  Are their horizons wide enough?  Do I optimize every moment with stimulating, educational, wholesome activities?  Ahhhh!

I do try to infuse my kids with new experiences and activities, as well as help them with ABC’s and 123’s.  I feel it is important.  But it is also exhausting, and sometimes expensive.  I am more than happy to invest time and money into their development and I enjoy the things we’ve tried.  But there is also a lot of pleasure in the simplest activity.

We do a (very cheesily named thing) called “Special Mommy Time” some nights before I put JB and EB to bed.  All I need is time and imagination.  First we all pile into my bed, EB in the middle.  We cuddle up and take turns picking songs to sing.  We did this the first time the week of Christmas last winter, so we could sing carols, and the kids loved it so much we kept it going.  Which means when we take turns picking songs, ”Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and” Jingle Bells” are always on the list.  Also popular with the B kids are “Thumbkin,” Yankee Doodle,” “Down by the Station,” and “Old McDonald.”  It should be said that I have a terrible singing voice.  I can’t sing in tune to save my life.  But JB and EB don’t care; they just like the fun we have.  And as long as my room isn’t bugged, we’re cool!

After we run out of animals that make sounds on Old Donald’s (TM EB) farm, we take turns telling stories. 

Story examples:

Me—lesson tales with themes like: “Once upon a time there was a little boy named JB and a little girl named EB and they tried vegetables and it made them superheroes!”  Or “They cleaned their rooms and made their Daddy so proud.”  See how I do that?  I’m sneaky!

JB—word for word verbatim recitations of his favorite episodes of Thomas and Friends, Veggie Tales, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  I’m not kidding; his stories are about 20 minutes long.

EB has the simplest stories—“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named EB.  She was pretty and cute and had pink shoes.  She wore lovely dresses, had pretty hair and was very, very fancy and that’s the end.”

We even each other out that way, if JB takes 20 minutes telling Dave and the Giant Pickle, EB takes 20 seconds with her tale of self beauty and exceptional fashion sense.

These cuddle festivals of Special Mommy Time are always so fun.  I know the time could be used for flashcards, teaching them to play the violin, or translate nursery rhymes into Mandarin, which would make me look awesome on Facebook, but the joy level beats the educational enrichment level every time.  There is purity in just hanging out with lots of laughter and attention.  And, we do this right before bed and it really settles everyone down.  More than once EB has conked out with her head on my shoulder and all I have to do is carry her to bed!

Your protégé who knows all the verses to “Coming Around the Mountain,”


Worthwhile Kind of Busy

Dear Erma,

What is the one word women use most?  Busy!  Close second?  Tired.  Cause and effect, surely.  Whenever I say I’m busy, what do I mean?  I thought about that for a few moments recently and what the root causes are.  I’m busy with my job, busy with my family obligations, and with volunteer activities.  The job is necessary and the family is number one, but I also really love what I do with my volunteering.

It goes without saying that the causes a person volunteers for are important—for me my time goes mostly to my church’s efforts and serving my immediate community through a service club I joined 2 years ago.  The obvious and most important benefit of course is the help, education, and awareness my projects produce. 

But as a busy mom, I find it hugely important that I do a thing that not only contributes to society, but gives me a break from everyday things.  I am never going to be a spa person, or a person who would feel good about lots of scheduled “me time.”  The guilt is too high to spend money or time on things just for me.  But when I work on a volunteer project, I have noticed that it gives me an outlet to have a break with a good cause behind it.  When I work on a newsletter for my service club, or prepare a lesson for VBS, or even just go to meetings, I get to do something different from the usual and get outside myself.

The meetings are one of my favorite things!  I love going to a meeting and not talking about potty training, preschool, what I’m doing for my job, or back to school shopping.  I have met amazing, wonderful people, even made some friends!  There are a lot of really smart and resourceful people in my town that I probably would never have met without my volunteering.  I have been inspired in big and small ways numerous times in the past two years. 

One lady I go to meetings with has a husband with a recent cancer diagnosis.  Her positive attitude and belief that he’ll prevail has been an excellent example to me.  Another woman I met is hilarious!  She’s so funny, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life as when she stopped over at my house last week just to discuss a brochure we are writing for our club.  Another lady has an elderly husband with some infirmities and limitations.  We recently gathered at a cancer walk and I was so moved to see her pushing his wheelchair and making sure that he was comfortable, introduced to everyone, and involved.  I was touched that although her 50+ year marriage to this man has changed with his health problems, she still sees him as her partner in life and doesn’t just give up and stay home when things are more challenging during this season in their life.

My natural tendency toward guilt has to be in check when I end up having a great time volunteering and working for these groups and projects—I start to wonder if my motives are in the wrong place because I’m having so much fun.  But I think I will just enjoy the ride and get excited about the upcoming projects and events instead!

Your purposefully busy protégé,


Owning It

Dear Erma,

Once every couple of weeks I am supposed to do announcements at church.  I think it is fun.  I don’t get nervous because our church is relatively small and I enjoy making eye contact with my friends and rattling off the dates and times of upcoming events.  But yesterday was one of those mom moments that make me really panic.  As I was walking up to the microphone on the platform, EB started to pitch a fit.

Time stopped.  It was like those slow-mo moments in a kung fu movie.  I saw her arch her back, kick her legs out, and her mouth open to shriek.  I could feel sweat popping up on my forehead and my heart start to race.

I set this up very, very badly.  She’s too young for Children’s church that takes place before the main service, so I put her in the nursery for that hour.  Then I went and picked her up and she was really happy to be sitting on my lap.  Then I had to scoot her off me to go do the announcements.  Did not plan this well!

My mind started to race.  JB Sr. already had a cranky JB in his lap, who was squirming around and asking to leave the service to get a drink of water.  (In his defense, JB had just been to Children’s Church and been kept quiet and still for the hour prior.)  Clearly it was stupid of me to assume Miss EB would willingly just sit there.

As I started to pull the mic out of the little stand hook thing, EB was shrieking good and loud.  The sanctuary is large with a really high ceiling and people were still chit-chatting before I spoke, so I doubt she was coming across quite as loud as I was hearing her, and there were other toddlers in the room making toddler-like sounds.

At that moment, I had 2 choices.  I could start glaring at JB Sr. and sending him angry “GET HER OUT OF HERE!” ESP messages he probably wouldn’t be able to really hear, and let that rattle me to the point of not remembering to tell the congregation about the VBS teacher’s meeting. Or I could just own it.  So as I called the service to order with a greeting, I just angled my head toward my wiggly, noisy little family and said, “Oh yeah, that one is mine!”  Everybody cracked up.  It broke the ice.  And JB Sr. did have the sense to make a little water fountain visit.  (Obviously, super Dad doesn’t need my ESP or my glares!!)

I bet if I poll the membership today, most wouldn’t remember a specific child who was having a toddler moment at the very beginning of the service.  If they did remember a small disturbance, they probably would tell you that they didn’t care and it didn’t cause them to quit our church and renounce the true faith.  Little kids are going to be little kids.  Our children’s pastor has told me that God didn’t make 3 year olds with a capacity to sit still and silent.  Our head pastor has said from the pulpit that our church is for families and when he sees or hears a little child during church, he loves it.

So why should I let my daughter being upset cause everything to come to a screeching halt and make a federal case out of it?  I am not advocating an anything goes approach to parenting and I do make a point to try to train my children how to behave in church and not disturb others.  But in past occurrences of unexpected outbursts and noise, I’ve over-reacted and made a fool of myself.  I’ve gotten angry or blown it out of proportion and only succeeded in picking a fight with my husband and embarrassing us far more than a noisy 3 year old could.  So just owning it in the immediate moment seems to be a more relaxing and productive move.  I think as parents we often feel all eyes on us when our children act like…children.  But the vast majority of people in this world has had a 3 year old in their company at one point or another and knows just how unexpected things can get.  As long as they see parents who are trying to manage the situation, they will grant some grace.

After I sat down with JB Sr. and the kids, EB wrapped her arms and legs around me and kissed me soundly on the face.  She wasn’t trying to be an embarrassment or ruin church, she just needed her mommy.  Next time, Mommy needs to plan ahead better on announcement day.  And I will own that responsibility, too.

Your protégé whose 3 year old doesn’t act perfect at all times,



Dear Erma Bombeck,

Did you date Bill when your kids were little?  Or is that a post 80s kind of thing for parents to say about going out alone?  I know it isn’t totally unique because my mom has stories about my grandparents going to card parties or other social events with the kids left at home in the 50s and 60s. I also remember when my parents would get sitters for me and my sister, so I do know that parents in the modern age feel compelled to get out of the house as a couple when there’s a chance.  I’m really big on the date night myself.  I figure I have 3 times the normal mother’s reason to go out because aside from the whole having kids I need someone else to deal with a few hours a week, I also work opposite hours of my husband 5-6 days a week, AND I work at home so I need dates to get out of the house longer than it takes to get JB off the bus or drive 1/2 mile to pick up the nanny in the afternoon.

I’ve found that there are a few different types of dates that all fulfill the need for grown up time.

Type one is the Econo-date.  (Also known as the Exhausted Date.)  We want to do something out of the ordinary and special, but we’re either at the tail end of the budget or worn out, so going out for three or four hours and paying a sitter and tipping a waitress is more than we have resources or energy for in reserve.  So we do the At Home Date.  The A-game At Home Night would involve a DVD rental of a movie we have been anxious to see and maybe take out from a local restaurant that is at least a step above a place with a drive through window.  Or it might be wine coolers and steak from the grocery store with a DVR full of shows we both like but haven’t had a second to watch together.  The main point is nobody messes with a phone/computer/crossword puzzle book/knitting and we actually engage each other, and treat it like a treat.

Type two is the Pretend We Don’t Have Kids For A Few Hours Date.  Before JB and EB arrived, JB Sr. and I went out a lot.  Wednesday nights were restaurant nights.  We saw a movie and ate out every weekend, sometimes twice!  So now, it’s more like every 2-3 weeks, but it is old-school Aubree and JB Sr. time to go to a matinée movie with a purse full of contraband soda (purchased at a humane price somewhere other than the theater concessions stand) and dinner out.  We are realistic enough to know we’re going to talk about the kids during dinner, but at least we aren’t buying them things off the kids’ menu and asking the waiter for a high chair before we sit down!

Type Three is the It’s a Date to Us Date.  This is the date where it’s not overtly planned as a romantic evening, but it can become one due to the overall kidlessness of the occasion.  For example, a wedding.  We get a sitter, we get dressed up.  Yeah, we’re in a church instead of a movie theater and we might be sitting at a table full of someone’s aunts and uncles we don’t know, but we’re getting a night out with a decent meal and the kids are asleep when we get home, so it’s a winner for us!  All for the low, low price of a gift registry present for someone we like already and honestly do wish well.  People who want a wedding to be celebratory and full of smiling, relaxed guests should really pad their guest lists with couples who will be getting babysitters for the occasion.  They’ll be the happiest, most beaming well wishers!

There is a 4th kind of date, but I’ve only heard of it in the abstract from other people who know of this elusive wonder–The Overnight Date.  This is a date where you and your spouse actually sleep in a location that is at least not in the same neighborhood as your children and quite possibly (so I’ve heard) different zip codes and even (for insanely lucky people) time zones.  The Overnight Date can go for longer than 24 hours and become a 2nd Honeymoon!  I do dream that one day, I too will see this unicorn of Married Parents Dates…the night away from the kids date.  A girl can dream, yes she can.

This weekend JB Sr. worked a day shift and had Saturday off, so  we got 2 Econo Dates and 1 Pretend We Don’t Have Kids Movie Date.  Batteries charged, full speed ahead!

Your humble protegé with restored sanity,


Shopping Cart Zen

Dear Erma Bombeck,

I know that for the full-time mom, grocery shopping is mostly another chore, but to the working mom, who gets to go alone, it’s better than a day at the spa!

Where to park?  If I’ve got a kid or two with me, there’s all kinds of strategy involving weather, positioning of the cart return, etc.  Alone?  First available or drive a few laps if the song on the radio is particularly awesome, I’ve got nobody in the backseat yelling things at me or each other.

Choosing the cart.  Nobody to debate whether the grey or yellow handle one is better.  Nobody to pull off the seats of the motorized wheelchair cart things.  Just grab one.  And I get to put my purse in that little front thingy instead of cramming toddler legs into it while trying to explain that shoes don’t need to come off to do so.

The shopping itself is blissful, too.  Nobody asking for Oreos or putting surprises in my cart I don’t need.  If I run into a nice seasoned citizen lady I like from church, pause in a polite spot in the aisle and ask all about her granddaughter’s church camp experiences.  If I am buying some healthy choice entrees to eat for lunch, I can actually read the boxes and get food that will be palatable later in the week.  Today I saved probably 2 bucks in the meat section because I could look at the stickers on all 8 pork roasts and found the cheapest one instead of the one on top!

Long line at the check out?  Cool!  I can read headlines on the tabloids or mentally plan my work to-do list for Monday because nobody is trying to get their hands on the M&M’s–or worse, drop one of those $50 gift cards for stores and restaurants they have near the checkout onto the conveyor belt.  (I think the sneaky Grocery Store People put them there because a kid can knock one onto the line and some unsuspecting, distracted mom sets a loaf of bread on it?)

You can also estimate the cost of the groceries while shopping, doing all the math in your head if you are alone.  Today’s bill was $70 on the dot, and I predicted $71 to the checkout girl.  She told me that was a win in Price as Right Rules. 

Overall, grocery shopping alone, for me, is a win.  I can be more discerning on labels, prices, quality, and quantity if I’m not completely harried and nervous from keeping everybody quiet and behaving sanely.

Best part?  You get credit for doing a household chore in the process!

Your happy protegé with stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer,


P.S. Less anyone think I’m a selfish soul who makes JB Sr. always take the kids, just this week I let him leave the kids home with me and he shopped alone on Monday.  Turnabout is fair play.