My thoughts on old age spread through my consciousness like a science experiment carnation, steeping in food coloring saturated water.  My way of looking at life feels changed now, just as the white carnation morphs into a bright red one. 

I find myself looking at life now from a slightly, but importantly altered vantage point.  Now when I get motioned over by Oliver's teacher to debrief about his day (and we only debrief on those less-than-enchanting days, it seems), though my stab of annoyance with this spirited child still struggling for that elusive self-control isn't vanished entirely, I feel an awareness of his beautiful vibrance blanketing the lie he told about kicking his friends' lunch box as it sat - innocently - on the floor.  I hate that my little boy told a lie, but I'm conscious today - first - of the enormity of his joy.  I hope I don't forget anytime soon that these days are fleeting.  I hope I don't forget to see my wonderful child before I see the fib he tells.
She lies in her bed, trapped there, despite her wish to be elsewhere.  Her wig sits neatly on the pillowcase next to her and without it, she looks impossibly tiny and helpless.  The wig lends her gravitas somehow, even though the brazen, false brown of it is anything but flattering.  It somehow shouts, citizen!  community member!  contributor! in it's perch atop her head.  She looks lonely without it, and much, much older.

I ask her if she'd like a hand massage today but she can't hear.  She lifts her head and fumbles with her hearing aid, which has been giving her a lot of trouble lately.  I repeat my message with a progressively rising cadence and I can tell when understanding penetrates because she smiles.  I think, looking at her, how isolated she must feel from so much of the rest of the world.  She pushes her dry hand out to me and I cradle it, thinking how lucky I am to do so.  I haven't touched a hand that feels like this in a long time.  I feel very aware of the delicate bones just underneath its papery surface.  I rub lotion into my own hands first, trying to warm it just a bit and then begin to smooth it over the skin of hers.  There are purple blotches haphazardly spread out over this skin and tentatively, I rub them, too.  I'm relieved to see that it doesn't hurt her.  I chat inconsequentially as I rub and I can see, though she doesn't say so, that she loves it.  I don't want you to go she says and I assure her that I've got no immediate plans to do so.  Her hands are a microcosm of herself.  They are so helpless and unable to salve themselves and yet in such dire need of the very things they can't do on their own.  I feel a surge of satisfaction to smooth the unscented lotion into her dry skin and see it transformed for a time. 

I ask her about her husband, who has been gone now from her life for far too long.  Ah.  I loved him.  He was a good man.  He didn't like to talk much, though.  We were married for 34 or 43 years.  I can't remember which one.  She then proceeds to tell me about the circumstances of his death, which happened at home while he was alone with her.  Listening to her story, it occurs to me that each day with my own husband is a gift and that I'm wise to view these individual days together in that light. 

As I look on, ignorantly and from the sidelines, it seems to me that old age is largely about the looking back upon life.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of present-tense sort of existence there in the senior's home.  The happiest elderly people I encounter are the ones who have nice things to look back upon, the ones who enjoyed nice relationships with nice people, the ones who have colored their lives with more primary yellow and less depleting gray.  The ones who seem brittle and sad are the ones whose younger lives could probably have been described in the same way.  Brittle and sad.  Watching it all makes me know in my bones that I want to be one of the yellow ones.  Clearly this means that I'd better be sure to color my current life in the same way.  These are the salad days that I'll be looking back upon with fondness.  I'm going to try to make them as bright as possible, for I see now that they'll need to last me for decades.
She sat alone in her darkened room.  The curtains were nearly closed, even though it was already mid-morning.  She looked out through the gape between the folds of fabric.  I wondered what she was thinking of as I watched her.

I didn't want to interrupt her reveries.  She looked intent upon something.  But her name was on my list of ladies to visit with this morning, and she looked the very epitome of alone, sitting there in the near dark. 

I knocked and she didn't appear to hear it.  So I knocked again, loudly this time.  The noise felt jarring, more especially so because of the dark room cloaking her.  She started and looked at me.  I could see a jolt of something that looked like fear in her eyes.  Do I know you?  she asked.  Where am I supposed to be right now?  I assured her that she didn't need to be anywhere in particular just now and that I was someone new.  She relaxed visibly.  I could see that she was relieved to know that I wasn't someone she'd already met and then forgotten.  The forgetting plagues her days, my notes tell me.  My notes also remind me to never ask her or her contemporaries if they remembered me.  This question grates against an all-too-painful reality for many of them.  They don't remember anymore and they feel the gap the remembering leaves.  The indignity of it.

I asked her about her children and their children and the change of subject is welcome to her.  I tell her I'm so happy the rain has finally stopped.  She's eager to verify what I say with a look for herself and timidly hints that I might open the curtains for her.  I'm happy to do it and the ambiance of the small room instantly changes.  Yellow overtakes gray.  She has beautiful stained glass ornaments hanging from transparent thread gracing her now opened window.  There are dangling, intricate snowflakes she's crocheted herself years ago.  We talk about her penchant for craft and then just as quickly, her face changes and she tells me that she has no hobbies because she always worked so much in her life that she never had time for anything like that.  I gloss over the discrepancy and ask her about the Christmas cards tacked on her bulletin board.  She tells me that she has lots of friends and though I don't believe it, I'm happy that for this one moment, she thinks she does. 

Her pale blue eyes seem a water color replica of her real eyes.  They're pink-rimmed, as though she's been crying.  I want to weep, but I don't, because I have no right to.  I swallow back that tightening in the back of my throat because it has no place here today.  I see that life has forgotten her and that the young and the vibrant are preeminent.  I think when we value the energy of youth so highly, we forget the beauty in her aged cheeks.  These cheeks look so soft, I wish I could touch them.  The multi-colored afghan laying across her lap captures an important beauty of days gone by.   She tells me she's from Oklahoma and we talk about the circuitous journey that's led her from there to here.  Her story is full and beautiful and nuanced and full of days of bleak gray and jubilant yellow and I look forward to hearing more about it next week.
One of the JoyKids has been struggling with a relationship in his/her life of late.  O who are we kidding?  Those of you who have read for even a short time know full well which JoyKid it is who has struggled with a relationship.  We all know it's not a her and that it's not Jude.  We all know without having to be told that it is my beautiful, exhuberant, life-spilling-over Oliver.  O how I love this kid.  However, he's responsible - almost single-handedly - for each one of the great many grey hairs on my head.  He does life at full throttle, for good and for bad.

And so it all unfolds that Oliver has recently wrestled with a relationship in his seven-year-old life.  The relationship is with a little girl in his class.  You know by now that Oliver dislikes girls and more specifically, their attendant girl-hair at the best of times, but for whatever reason he's taken a particular dislike to this little girl.  I could speculate endlessly as to why this might be and the speculating might include observations about how both children were home-schooled last year and so perhaps their social skills aren't yet honed to a razor sharp edge and this type of thing.  The simple truth might just be that their personalities are just a bit repelled by one one another's.  Who knows?  As a grown-up myself, I know that sometimes in life I meet up with people that I just don't like very much.  I tell myself - and we tell Oliver - that this is normal.  We say things like: you don't have to like her, buddy, but you do have to be kind to her.  And things like: treat her the way you would want to be treated yourself.  

When he's unkind to her, we take away privileges like going to hockey games with his Daddy and the presence of his beloved Seal Family (see more on this, including photo on the entry dated 12/19/10.  O if only I knew how to link things up like the really fancy bloggers all seem to.).  As trite and cliche as it sounds, we just keep walking in the dark the way we learned how to in the light.  We're hoping at some point in the not-too-distant future he'll see that treating people he doesn't like with respect is the right thing to do.  And so we plod on.

In another effort to touch his sometimes gruff little heart, we've required that he do an act of kindness for her each school day.  We've told him that he has a lot of trust to rebuild with this little girl and so he makes her heart snowflakes and home-grown borax crystals and bakes her cookies.  Slowly, she seems to be warming towards him.  The mother called recently, just like in a story from Chicken Soup For the Soul.  Rarely do things turn out this beautifully wrapped in real life.  The mother wanted to apologize for her little girl's contributions to the breakdown of the relationship and said that her daughter had not been raised to behave in this way.  I told her - most emphatically - that she was preaching to the choir and that I, too, had been learning the dignity-defying lesson that our children aren't mere extensions of ourselves, doing exactly and only as we'd like, and that they are whole, albeit mini individuals who make icky choices of their own sometimes, despite what we may wish for them. 

It's nice, sometimes, to find out that other parents know how this feels.  So the mother and I commiserated a while longer on the phone and I felt powerfully lucky to be having this exchange with someone like her who was humble enough to see that her girl wasn't perfect and who was devoted enough to want to work with me on this to help our respective little people grow up to be beautiful adults.  And I've no doubt that they will.
Mesmerized, I watched an unexpected dynamic unfold at the senior's home.   I very nearly couldn't take my eyes off the scene.  A mean girl reigned supreme. 

It reminded me of middle schoolers, vying for social status, self-esteems too trampled to care what means they used to achieve the social significance they slavered after.  Those that hurt the most so clearly hurt the most, you know?  

We'll say that her name was Elma (it wasn't) and in describing her, we'll say that if you ignored the pinched expression on her face, she looked like someone's beloved grandma (perhaps she is).  She had sweetly curled white hair and round spectacles with pretty gold chains securing them to her person for fear, I assume, of misplacing them.  She wore a warm purple cardigan and elasticized slacks, as surely all good grandmas do at times, and she was significantly more mobile than most of the rest of the ladies I met that day.  Perhaps this no-doubt-coveted mobility was a key to her supremacy over some of the more mild-mannered ladies there.  Perhaps mobility is to life in a senior's home what name brand clothing is to life in a middle school.  Most of what you read so far is speculation.  What I can say for sure, though, is that the way she treated some of the other ladies reminded me very much of how my children act immediately prior to a time-out here at home.  Unkind is a word that springs to mind.  Bossy is another.  And tattling.

My first job of the day was to go to the laundry room and wheel a big bin of freshly washed towels and face cloths to the TV room.  When I'd sorted the laundry into manageable piles onto a table I had set up earlier, the ladies began to congregate.  I was interested to learn that they (or most of them, anyway) love to do work like this.  It's a way where they can contribute and feel useful.  As we chatted in loud voices to make ourselves heard by everyone, Elma began to critique.  She didn't like the way certain other ladies were folding.  I ignored her and chatted obliviously.  Elma then ramped her strategy up a notch and her voice raised discontentedly.  She looked at me and said She's doing it all wrong!  We don't do it that way!  It's all wrong!  I was fascinated to note that she looked to me as an authority figure of sorts, even though I was a mere volunteer, and brand new at that.  But even as a green, green rookie, I could see that she was genuinely upset and I felt a pang of remorse that I had discounted her concerns so immediately.  Her voice rose further in a plaintive helplessness and I began to see that maybe the perfect folding of the laundry helped her to carve out some meaning and some order to her existence here.  I began to see that  mean-spiritedness wasn't the only thing at work.  I comforted her in the way that I used to shush a fussy baby pressed close to my chest in a snuggly and said, It's ok, Elma.  It's ok.  Don't worry.  I'll show Margie how to do it your way.  It's ok.  My heart was touched to see that this approach seemed to connect with her and that she calmed.  Her powerlessness was palpable.

Later I served tea and coffee and Elma yelled out emphatic orders every step of the way.  The cups aren't in that cupboard.  No!  Those cups are special.  You can't use those.  She's not allowed to have two cookies.  Don't let her!  Honestly, it was all I could do not to laugh right out loud.  As they finished up with their refreshments, she announced aggressively to the other quiet ladies in the room I'm going to the chapel now.  You should too.  Bertha, are you coming?  Marta, come along!  When I told her we weren't slated to do our exercise class in the chapel for another 15 minutes, she responded that she needed to warm her chair.  I thought she was showing a promising flash of humor and immediately leapt at the chance to lighten things up a bit.  I laughed and she very scornfully lashed out I'm not kidding.  Those chairs are cold, you know! 

Ah.  It's going to be fun.  I truly can't wait.
I've mentioned to you that one of my New Year's resolutions is to volunteer in a senior's home this year.  I've now jumped through most of the myriad hoops required in order to do so.  Though the hoops are time, energy and even money consuming, I'm pleased to know that they exist.  The seniors I'll be working with are easily hurt and the  hoops are in place to insure that no one takes advantage of these lovely, lonely people.

Tomorrow, I’m to go to the senior’s home for the first time to volunteer.  I feel many things as I think about it.  First and foremost, I feel excitement as this is something I’ve wanted incorporate into my life for several years now.  Second, I feel some disappointment, as the volunteer coordinator has slotted me in a position I find to be quite ironic.  I’ll be folding laundry alongside seniors.  I practically fold laundry for a living in my current life.  A load spins comfortingly as I type.  Mostly I feel happy, though.  I’m pleased that they’ve placed me with the seniors I feel best equipped to help.  They didn’t place me with the dementia patients and they also didn’t place me with the seniors living in the assisted living apartments, who can mostly fend for themselves and who have the best rate of family involvement in their lives as it is.  I’m with those who are well aware of their faculties and surroundings and so are therefore probably most lonely. 

I felt alternating pangs of sadness and growing joy when I went in for my interview.  The sadness stemmed from seeing the advanced dementia patients sitting motionless in their wheelchairs, mouths gaping as they watched television.  Though the care workers were obviously compassionate people trying their best to enhance the lives of these people, everything felt so gray.  I looked at the half circle of wheelchairs and read their names neatly labeling the back of each chair and I felt acutely aware of the whole, once vibrant lives those inadequate white labels represented.  It felt stunningly wrong to see these mothers and fathers and husbands and wives, artists and entrepreneurs sitting so still before the daytime television that now occupied their existences in a disproportionate way.  They seemed sapped of their very selves and yet I learned that many of them have vibrant, alert minds trapped inside those motionless, dependent bodies.  Of course this saddens one further. 

The growing joy part stems from knowing that I'm taking a step - albeit an infinitesimal one - to do something to build into the lives of some lonely people.  When I reflect back on my own life, one of the more meaningful relationships I've yet been a part of was the one I shared with my Grandma Dixie.  I loved her with every ounce of my neophyte heart.  I knew as soon as I was able to process such things that my Grandma was good.  She taught me things that I've never forgotten.  It seemed to me then that wisdom practically seeped out of her pores.  She knew how to knit and crochet and make pancakes, such pancakes!  I thought back then that maybe she was God's smartest person.  As I think about her, I think about how in her later years, she was confined to a senior's home and about how unhappy that made her feel.  And naturally my thoughts turn to the countless others like her living perhaps against their will in these places.   And I want to be with them and do what I can to make them smile, even if only for a moment.

I looked at her enthralled profile, hardly recognizing her.  She was emerging from her chrysalis, right before my fascinated, devastated, admiring eyes.  We were at her first rock concert together and I keep telling myself I'm lucky because she's still happy to be in places like this with me.  The music is so loud, I can feel it pound through my body almost as much as I can hear it through my old-school - even flourescent orange  - ear plugs.

I suspect that this gauntlet is all the more difficult to cross because she's my precious first-born.  I feel so conflicted inside, wanting to stifle the all-too-fast beginnings of this burgeoning new person and at the same time admiring and respecting her so much.  She is everything I hoped she would be and then more.  I didn't know that thirteen-year olds could be so confident and insightful.  I didn't know that they could show glimmers of being so much more than their parents.  And yet, I feel only a tremendous gratefulness that she is mine, even if only for this very short time.

The music is just what she loves and her appreciation is tangible, though not in quite the same way as the three shrieking, shimmying, terribly off-key  adolescent girls directly behind us.  There has always been a dignity about my Anabel.  She's not flamboyant and she isn't all that drawn to physical touch.  Even as a infant, not yet even able to control her own neck muscles, she'd arch her little back away from our snuggles, trying to procure for herself some much valued personal space.  I'm reminded of that little newborn tonight as I watch her.  Her eyes are bright and if you look closely, you can see the joy lining her face, but she's still and quiet.  Though I don't much like the music (I've become that old woman, much to my secret mirth!), my own feet are proving to be far more active than my girls'.  She is careful to avoid touching the person next to her, for that would equal social unpleasantness to her.   I know that she'd undoubtedly be a great deal noisier and overtly 'teenager-ish' if she were here with a pack of girlfriends, but in the meantime, I just try to record all the little observations I make tonight so that I can remember her, here, right now, forever.  She represents eternity in no small way and I'm so happy to be along for the ride.
We have a little dynamic at work in our family of late.  Little Lucy has just now entered the world of online shopping and is currently experiencing the less exhilarating side of it.  She waits for her treasure to arrive.  She waits and she waits and then she waits.  And then, in a burst of flamboyant frustration, she waits some more.

Every day after school, she asks me if I've checked the mail.  Every day I tell her no.   We then proceed to our next stop and pick up our Bigs and our carpool friend.  Every day Lucy then asks me if we can check the mail.  Every day I say yes and smile and hand her the key as I pull over to the  mailboxes, her daily tormentors.  These mailboxes - they mock her.  They sadden and they grieve her.  She hates these mailboxes and then she tries a different tack.  She's cheerfully manipulative and sunnily, as she makes her way toward these witholding  metal boxes, out surely to thwart the fulfillment of her joy,  she calls over her shoulder, wish me luck!  And then she's angry again as she sorts through that day's contents only to find that all the Universe conspires against her to squash her sunshiney joy.

She's ordered an American Girl bathtub, complete with dazzling artificial pink bubbles.  Daily, she pages through the American Girl catalogue, which is dog-eared and tattered from all the loving perusal it's undergone.  She saves her allowance each week and painstakingly works her financial way toward more American Girl paraphernalia.  She hates that in its company name though, it excludes her Canadian devotedness and says so regularly.  When she's grouchy, American Girl's lack of Canadian-ness is oft lamented. 

So she's just now in that heady, unusual position of actually having ordered something from this precious catalogue of hers.  And now she waits and she decries the state of the nearby Canadian border crossing, which has almost certainly mistaken her beloved bath tub for a kilo or two of cocaine.  She's indignant to be mistaken for a drug dealer.  She wonders aloud if maybe one of these selfish border guards has taken her bath tub home for his own, undeserving little girl to play with.  She vows that she'll check it out very carefully for signs of clandestine play when it finally arrives.  I listen to her and if I'm feeling gracious, I laugh at her nine-year-old obsessiveness.  If I'm tired of hearing all these same conjectures time and time again, I don't laugh and instead, I tell her abruptly one more time about the concept of a postal tracking number.  And then I tell her not to talk about it anymore for today and a fairy-tale mother's smile does not light up my saintly face.

But really, she's so cute.  And she's learning so much.  I love her more - much more - than I love myself and I'm so pleased that it's me God has chosen to show her how to grow to be a patient shopper and so much more.  What a beautiful duty.  What a blessed woman.
It's now time to scoot the kids away from the kitchen so that I can begin  the day's dinner preparations.  The noisy, life-filled kitchen draws them, though, and scooting them is  substantially easier said than done.  They love the kitchen.  For one, the family laptop permanently resides here and for another, here is where all the people are.  My kids are not of that - to me - enigmatic ilk where they like to spend quiet time off alone in their respective bedrooms.  They like to be in the same room as the rest of the family, which while sweet and from their mother's biased perspective, endearing, is also a big pain in her blankedy-blank at times.  I love to cook, but not while eight thousand people pepper me with questions and anecdotes all at the same time.  And it frequently feels like eight thousand. 

We don't have television and contrary to what most people think when they  first hear of this oddity of ours, we didn't make that decision due to a brittle insistence on sitting on our resoundingly superior moral high horses.  Initially we were just too poor to swing cable financially and found that we really liked the resulting lifestyle that came along with no TV.  That's it.  Mind you, now that I've been without it for nearly eighteen years, I find that I'm frequently shocked at what is on television these days.   (Alotta pretty overt hoochy going on out there, I note sqeamishly.)  Anyway, it is during my daily dinner preparation times where I secretly wish for TV.  I don't say it out loud, though, because I'm loathe to create an issue where none now exists.  Not one of the kids has yet ever requested "channels," (as the Littles call it) but when  they do, we may have to reevaluate our choice then.

When our kids turn 12, they begin to prepare one dinner per week for the family, which I thought was a genius plan initially, but which has actually turned out to create a lot of upfront work for me.  I failed to factor in the fact that they were beginning with zero knowledge and that that knowledge wouldn't spring forth magically from a vacuum.  I remind them (or more accurately, just Anabel now, at this juncture) to choose their meals two weeks at a time and create the resulting grocery list, which because of their initial enthusiasm often features very exotic and difficult-to-find items.  Then of course I cook the loftily grandiose meal alongside them while showing them the different techniques.  Anabel is just now beginning to be able to do large chunks of the meal on her own.  I grit my teeth as we go and tell myself that I'm saving myself a lot of work in the long run.  I find that we make far more exotic and time-consuming meals this way because of her excitement than I'd normally be inclined to do.  Anabel makes things like Chicken in Phyllo and Gourmet Mac and Cheese (her personal favorite) and lazily perusing cookbooks has become one of her very favorite activities.  So really it's a win, albeit a very time and energy consuming one.

Most days of the week, we have evening activities.  For those of you so bored to find yourself interested, Mondays is youth group and piano lessons.  Tuesday is also youth group.  Wednesdays are guitar.  Thursdays are currently swim lessons and then there's the blessed release from the Have-To's over the weekend.  I've always been very strident about not scheduling formal children's activities over the weekend, though I know that many families do and are consequently even busier than we are.  However, our weekends are now full with sleepovers and birthday parties and Valentine's parties and Easter parties for kids.  Two of our four are now of the age where it doesn't just seem to be birthday parties anymore.  A sad new phenomenon I note in our lives is that we are often separated into divergent groups on weekends now.  I'm off doing an errand with a kid or two and JoyBoy is driving someone else to a bowling party and since there are six of us, life has shaken down where it feels a lot simpler for us to divide and conquer.  I think back fondly of the days where if one of us had something to do, the rest of us would naturally accompany.  We did family activities more, like trips to the zoo or Science World.  Now it seems that we all have impossibly full social calendars that take the emphasis off of family and on to friends.  Inevitable, I suppose, but it saddens me nonetheless.

Fewer times a week than I'd have thought proper before having these real, live, fleshy little creatures in my life, (a paltry three-ish) I bathe Oliver and Lucy.  Because we have only a single soaker tub in our house, my el-cheapo nature insists that they always be bathed in multiples of twos.  Not together any  longer, mind you, they'd never have that.  Along those lines, a refrain of Don't look at my bum! meets my amused ears tonight as I gear Oliver up for his plunge.  As hard as it may be for you to believe, I answer, looking at your bum isn't my primary goal for tonight.  Yes, it is!  Looking at my bum is your hobby!  he bellers out triumphantly in return.  He's at the age where the more frequent the references to bums, the happier his little heart feels.  He always asks for what we've come to term 'the business bath.'  This means a quick dip where one is rapidly soaped and shampooed up and then out.  I always say yes and without fail, he always changes his mind once in.  The allure of the warm, soapy water and the empty shampoo and bubble bath bottles I save to just this end are more than he can resist.   They, along with his little black motor boat sing their siren call.  I have to bring things to a close for when it is Lucy's turn.  He grouses a bit and laughs and insists again that no one look at his bum.  I clean his ears, though conventional wisdom says I should not, and in the blink of an eye, he's in his long-john-type Paul Frank pajamas that make him look younger and so cute that the image makes my eyes sting.  And then it's my Lucy-girl's turn.  She knows that she'll just love her bath because that's how Lucy approaches life.  She just knows she'll love everything.  She comes, carefully prepared and armed with her little family of mermaids.  There are two babies and a Mommy mermaid who come to chat  and swim merrily with her as she soaks her little nine-year-old body.  There are long moments of swooshing her own hair back and forth as she's magically transformed into a mermaid herself.  I know these fantasies.  I once had them too.  I remember our old blue bathtub that was perfect for transitioning from regular old life in my regular old bathroom to the translucent majesties of queenly life underwater.  I watch my little girl, swooshing obliviously, and I am so happy for her.  I delight in her carefree little mermaid life.
During the day, I putter and I putter.  The novelty of silence after nearly fourteen years of constant noise and action still hasn't worn off for me.  For the first two months of having all four kids in school for the duration of a full school day, I didn't even listen to music, so lovely to me was this near-mystic silence.  The silence seeps into my pores, it sometimes feels.  When I run, I've even taken occasionally to turning off my Ipod.  I drink in the quiet as I vacuum, as I clean the toilets.  These toilets are - thankfully - quite clean, given the fact that boys use them.   A brilliant friend and mother to four boys once told me once I'd given birth to Jude, that she taught her boys to pee sitting down from day one and highly recommended the practice.  I followed suit and have blessed her in my heart countless times since. 

Mondays are my go-hard-at-cleaning days and I enjoy these days.  Cleaning feels therapeutic to me.  The ordering of my external world allows me to rest peacefully inside my head.  This careful orchestration of the world around me allows me to knit later on after dinner.  It allows me to read for an hour or so before bed at night.  It calms me.  I do have to sometimes remind myself, though, that my children won't remember my clean floors in years to come, or if they do, it probably won't be in glowing, fond memory form.  They will, however, remember that I took them out to Starbucks for some not-oft-had one-on-one time together, or that I took 20 minutes out of my day to play Uno or Skip-Bo with them.  These are the lessons that I learn and then have to relearn over and over again because at times I am so thick.

I run or do an exercise class or even the Wii several times a week, mainly for the joy of it, but also to combat my ever-threatening-to-expand arse.  I'm not one of those girls mercifully blessed with a transcendent metabolism, but I've learned a long time ago to stop griping about it.  And so I exercise.

I meet a girlfriend for a daytime coffee or something one or two mornings a week, though I can't quite stifle a feeling of growing guilt about it.  My brain is  hard-wired to task accomplishment.  However, I know that healthy people are in relationship with lots of other healthy people and so I continue to prioritize these dates and love them.  I've been blessed with some unusually wonderful women in my life, as I think I've mentioned.

I write for an hour or two each weekday.  I entertain deeply mixed feelings about the practice.  While I enjoy it very much for the most part, there are times when I wonder if I'm wasting my time in a colossal way.  Who knows if this book will ever see the light of day?  But I press on, because I know if I don't, I'll regret it for the rest of my life.  Today I began page 81.  I feel in my bones that I'm a writer.  I feel fully me when I do it.  I feel complete and engaged in an invigorating way.  Whether or not I'm to be a published writer is the big question.  Sometimes I hate what I've written, sometimes I love what I've written.  Sometimes, for the life of me, I can't think of a single thing to write about.  Perhaps this is normal, but I guess that isn't the point.  And so I press on.

Before I know it, it's time to pick up the kids.  When I think of it, I feel a happy anticipation to see them again.  Afterschool, they are brimming over with energy.  They compete aggressively to share about their respective days.  My four little extroverts.   Each day we talk about what our day's number score is (A ten is an obviously perfect day.  Anabel's and Oliver's days are most often tens.  Lucy is usually either a nine or a ten and our Jude - ever working toward being that 'glass half full' kind of guy - is normally at a seven or an eight.). Then we talk about what our High/Low is.  This is - it probably goes without saying - the best and the worst thing that happened to us that day.  The kids eat their snack and then it's homework and musical instrument practice time (guitar for my pre-teen Adonis and piano for my little ladies).  This is my second busiest, but one of the happiest times of my day.  Their joy fuels me and gives me courage to try to be my best for them, for they surely deserve that and far more, lovely little noisy people.