Monday, October 31, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

Today, I am thankful for my friend Maryellen Kenney. M’el and I became friends about ten years ago, when we were in a performance of “42nd Street” together. The director wanted the authentic look of seamed stockings on the showgirls (of which I was one), but didn’t want the seams to get crooked with our many quick costume changes, so we had to draw the seams on with eyeliner. M’el volunteered to help me with mine, not realizing quite how far up the seams needed to go. You can’t not become friends after that kind of experience together.

In the past ten years, we’ve seen each other through the losses of parents and friends and friendships and boyfriends and jobs, and through life changes and health changes of every imaginable kind. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, and we’ve called each other in the middle of the night to laugh or cry. I know I can call her any time, day or night, and talk to her about anything, and she knows the same about me.

Everyone needs a friend like that, and I am so thankful that Maryellen is one of mine!

And after this weekend’s crazy October snowstorm, three things that I am thankful for today are heat, electricity, and no damage to our property! I am sending out prayers for those who are not as fortunate.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

Today, I am thankful for everyone who is a part of my church family at Belmont United Methodist Church. When Herb and I got married, we started looking for a church we could both be comfortable in – not an easy task, given my Baptist background and his Episcopal upbringing. We agreed that we needed a church with solid Biblical teaching and theology, a strong music program, and an open, welcoming congregation with a varied demographic including families with young children. And after visiting a number of churches in the area, we found what we were looking for at BUMC.

From the very beginning, the people in the church went out of their way to make us feel welcome and included. The music director recruited us to sing in the choir, the pastor invited us to serve on various boards and committees, the worship coordinator asked us to sign up as scripture readers. When I was pregnant with my son, a fellow parishioner generously offered me her old maternity clothes. The ladies (and some of the men) of the church often asked how I was feeling, and offered both sympathy and wise advice. When Ryan was born, he (and our whole family) was immediately embraced and adored by the entire congregation. And when Katie was born, she was as well. Several families gave us gifts when each of the kids was born, and many people sent us cards. And when Herb’s brother and later, my mom, passed away, we received dozens of personal condolences and cards offering love and support.

The expression “church family” truly applies to this congregation. I have always felt loved, embraced, supported, and appreciated by everyone at BUMC. My thankfulness is expressed best in the words of Paul and Timothy in their letter to the Philippians (Phil. 1:3-6):

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

The three things that I’m thankful for today are: the love of God that is shown to me through others, the opportunities I have to show the love of God to others, and the Word of God that teaches me how to both give and receive the love of God.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

Today, I am thankful for my neighbor Roberta. She was already a good friend of the family when Herb and I got married, but she embraced and accepted me as soon as I came on the scene. As soon as we both discovered Facebook, we friended each other. In fact, Roberta also friended my mom on Facebook as soon as they met. I think that’s one of the reasons she and I click so well: she’s a kindred spirit to my mom.

Roberta has a beautiful, sunny outlook on life that never fails to boost my spirits. She is always posting cheerful, inspirational posters, quotes, and Bible verses. Even when she admits she’s having a rough day, her sweet spirit shines through with a positive outlook and assurance that things will get better.

She gave us lovely, thoughtful presents when each of my kids was born. She openly adores them and loves when we come over to visit. What better way to a mom’s heart is there?

She is a faithful reader of this blog and often comments on how much she enjoys reading it. That appreciation means a lot to me, and I don’t know that I’ve ever told her that. So Roberta, if you’re reading this (and I know you are!), thanks for your support! I’m thankful that you’re my neighbor, and I’m even more thankful that you’re also my friend.

The three things that I’m thankful for today are: the smell of the first fire in the fireplace of the season, the taste of a perfectly cooked steak right off the grill, and the sight of the first snowflakes of the year silently drifting past my window. I thank God for all the beauty in the world around!

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Friday, October 28, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

Today’s entry on thankfulness is a little different. One year ago tonight, my husband Herb and I were out to dinner with a friend, and when we arrived home there was a garbled message on the answering machine from my brother-in-law’s phone number. It was an unfamiliar voice, and the words we could pick out were “Glen” (my brother-in-law), “heart attack”, and “hospital”. Herb immediately called back and the phone was answered by Glen’s work colleague, Rob, who sadly informed us that Glen had suffered a sudden heart attack and had passed away minutes before. I will never forget my husband’s voice as he hung up the phone, turned to me, and said, “Tell me that did not just happen.” It was the most horrible and stunning thing that has ever happened to me.

So how can I be thankful on such a sad anniversary? How can I look at the faces of Glen’s wife and daughters and be thankful?

I can be thankful that Glen was a devoted husband, father, son, brother, and uncle. I can be thankful that he raised his daughters to be strong and independent enough to weather such a hard blow at such a young age. I can be thankful that his wife was and is strong enough to take charge of her family, to lean on the support of her extended family, and to be brave enough to start fresh in a new place.

I can be thankful for the few years I had to know him. I can be thankful that I heard him laugh, and sing, and play the guitar. I enjoyed the hospitality of his home, and he enjoyed the hospitality of mine. I had the joy of watching him play with my son. I had the pleasure of benefitting and learning from his gourmet taste in food and wine. And I had the pleasure of knowing that he recognized how much I loved his brother, and that he appreciated it.

So as much as my heart breaks that he was taken away so young, I will be thankful for the life he lived, and for the legacy that he leaves in the form of his two beautiful daughters.

And so the three “things” that I am thankful for today are not things, but people: Glen’s family, his wife Pauline and his daughters Valentine and Emma. I am thankful that they are happy and well. I am thankful that they are part of my family, although they are far away. And I am thankful that they are, and always will be, part of Glen.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

Today, I am thankful for my sister-in-law, Holly. Holly and I first met when Herb volunteered me to help out with her Halloween haunted house. Herb and I were performing as a demented knife-thrower and his assistant, and I think I gained her respect by “dying” on her brick porch several dozen times that night. I think she realized that anyone crazy and devoted enough to do that was just crazy and devoted enough to be her brother’s perfect match.

But beyond accepting (and celebrating) me as her brother’s wife, we’ve also become friends. She volunteers to babysit on a regular basis, invites me to join her for lunch or a show or a movie. She’s gotten me involved in helping out with her studio’s website, marketing, and public relations. She shares her family’s adventures with me, and I share mine with her.

Just like with my mother- and father-in-law, my sister-in-law is a wonderful fringe benefit of marrying Herb.

As I thought of the three things I would be thankful for today, the first thing I thought of was Miss Clairol. (I’m sure that some of you will be shocked to learn that I color my hair. I’ll wait while you regain consciousness.) And then I wondered, is it “okay” to be thankful for something like that? But then I figured that God made red hair, even though he didn’t make my hair red. And having red hair doesn’t hurt anyone, and it makes me happy. (It also makes my husband happy.) So I’ll go on being thankful for the little boost that being a redhead gives me. And I’ll be thankful for the bath salts and bubble bath that make me relaxed and happy. And lastly, I’ll be thankful for brownies, that also make me relaxed and happy. As much as the big things like food, clothes, and shelter are important to that, and as thankful as I am that God provides them for me, I am thankful that He also provides me with the small touches that make life not just bearable, but pleasant. And among those things are hair color, bubble bath, and brownies.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 3

1. Find a person/cause to be thankful for and thank them in person and/or in writing.

Today, I am thankful for Herb’s daughter, Rosemary. She arrived in Massachusetts the same day that Katie made her appearance, and has been a big help with both kids ever since her arrival. She uncomplainingly babysits so Herb and I can have a night out, or go to a doctor’s appointment. She takes Ryan on walks to visit the construction equipment that has been up and down the street all fall. She brings the kids to the playground. She takes Ryan to gymnastics class. She keeps an eye on one kid while I’m busy managing the other. She adores her little brother and her little sister. And I am so thankful that she is getting this opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them.

2. Find 3 things for which you are thankful to God and post them where you can see.

Today, I am thankful for comfortable shoes (I have weird-shaped feet, arthritis, and terrible bunions, so this is more of a big deal than one might think). I am thankful for pleasant neighbors. And I am thankful for washable crayons (for exactly the reason you suspect).

3. Keep a daily journal of your thanksgiving including situations where you are challenged to be thankful.

This is only day 3 of the 30-day challenge, and already I am spending several minutes thinking of three things to be thankful for. I came up with some rather trite things and feel like I’m copping out, but then I thought, aren’t we supposed to be grateful for the small things? God made ladybugs as well as giraffes, and intended both for our enjoyment. Washable crayons might seem like a dumb thing to be thankful for, but they’re saved my furniture on numerous occasions, not to mention clothes, rugs, and paint. Small things can be more significant than they seem! So I’ll keep being thankful for the small things.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2

1. Find a person/cause to be thankful for and thank them in person and/or in writing.

Today, I am thankful for my mother- and father-in-law. They have accepted, loved, and treated me like a daughter since they first met me. They have gone far and above the call of duty in not only babysitting whenever we ask, but in offering when we don’t, just to encourage Herb and I to have a date night, or to give me some free time to run errands, take a shower, or go out for coffee away from the kids. They’re also big supporters of Herb and me whenever we perform, and rarely miss a show or concert.

2. Find 3 things for which you are thankful to God and post them where you can see.

Today, I am thankful for my minivan, which is comfortable and reliable. I am thankful for Internet recipe sites that make last-minute meal planning easy. And I am thankful for warm, cozy clothing.

3. Keep a daily journal of your thanksgiving including situations where you are challenged to be thankful.

Parenting is always a thankfulness challenge for me. I struggled with thankfulness today as I was in a long line with two fussy children. I distracted Ryan by finding letters that he recognized in the signs around the store, and in practicing naming the colors of fabric and thread, so although it was frustrating, I was thankful for time to spend teaching him.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1

Today is the first day of my 30-day Thanksgiving challenge. As outlined in my previous post, the daily challenge has three parts: 1) Find a person/cause to be thankful for and thank them in person and/or in writing; 2) Find 3 things for which you are thankful to God and post them where you can see; and 3) Keep a daily journal of your thanksgiving including situations where you are challenged to be thankful. So here goes today’s round.

1. Find a person/cause to be thankful for and thank them in person and/or in writing.

The person in my life for whom I am most thankful is my wonderful husband. Those who know me know that I was married later in life, at age 39, and I had reached the age where I wondered if I would ever be married. I had passed through various stages of my life where I had accepted that likelihood, where I had despaired over that likelihood, and where I had been completely puzzled by that likelihood. I had spent countless hours in prayer on the subject without receiving a clear answer from God. (I suspect this was due to a defect in my receiver, rather than one in God’s transmitter.) I finally realized, at age 37, that I had been waiting for God to drop Prince Charming into my lap, when God had given me the tools to go find him myself. And so I did. And here is my open letter of thanks to him.

My dearest sweetheart,

For the past four years, you have been a constant source of inspiration and support to me. As you promised me in our wedding vows, you have stood by me and loved me for better and for worse and in sickness and in health. You have been my cheering squad when I was laid off. You have been my shoulder to cry on and my pillar of strength through my mother’s long illness and her death. You have been my patient companion through two difficult pregnancies and a chronic illness. You love and accept me despite my many faults. I am so thankful that you are a part of my life.

I am grateful for all the things, large and small, that you do to make me happy. I am thankful for all the times you’ve gotten up to feed a baby in the middle of the night so I can get some sleep. I am thankful for all the times that you brought me a coffee or a pastry on your way home from running errands. I am thankful for all the times you stayed home with the kids so I could go get a haircut, or a massage, or just go shopping unencumbered.

Most of all, I am thankful for your endless, patient love for me. I love you.

All my love,
Your Sandy

2. Find 3 things for which you are thankful to God and post them where you can see.

Today, I am thankful to God for the blessing of a loving and supportive extended family. I am thankful for the beauty of autumn in New England. And I am thankful for two children napping at the same time!

3. Keep a daily journal of your thanksgiving including situations where you are challenged to be thankful.

Today’s greatest thankfulness challenge is simply the exhaustion of parenthood. I am thankful that I am able to stay home and take care of my children, but some days they try my patience and my thankfulness. But I am trying very hard to be thankful that it’s MY patience that they’re trying, and not a paid stranger.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Thanksgiving Experiment

Yesterday I received an invitation from my pastor to participate in a program called “30 Days of Thanksgiving”. The challenge invites the participants “to make a covenant with God and with those who are participating three promises to keep during each day of these 30 days.

• Find a person/cause to express thankfulness in person and/or with writings. Tell them reasons for your thanksgiving.

• Write 3 things for which we are thankful to God. Post this on places where you can see.

• Keep a daily journal of thanksgiving. This can be a short reflection/prayer. Write not only your thanksgiving but also places/circumstances in which you were challenged to be thankful.”

Looks pretty easy at first glance, right? Tell someone that you’re thankful for them, think of three things you’re thankful for, and reflect on giving thanks and its challenges. Piece of cake.

Piece of cake for the first few days, anyway. Maybe even for the first week. But think about the numbers as you get toward day 30. Thirty different people or causes that you’re thankful for. NINETY things that you’re thankful for. Writing down what you’re thankful for every day for thirty days. That’s a lot!

And yet, aren’t Christians called to be thankful every day? How many of us are really, truly, consciously thankful each and every day? I’ll step up and admit that I’m not. I’ve got an awful lot to be thankful for – a wonderful family, a comfortable home, a loving husband, good health, financial stability – and yet there are days when I go to bed feeling decidedly unthankful. So I’m grateful for this little kick in the pants to refocus my thinking in the direction of thankfulness.

So, starting on Monday, I will be using my blog to fulfill this challenge. I am charging you, my readers, to keep me accountable. It won’t be easy for me to find time to complete the challenge each and every day, but I am publicly committing to do it. For the next thirty days, I will be writing a daily blog entry fulfilling the three challenges outlined above. I have no doubt that the challenge will grow more and more difficult as the time goes by, both in terms of finding subjects and in terms of finding time. But I believe it is a worthwhile challenge, and I look forward to fulfilling it. Come along with me – it should be an interesting month!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cut Your Toenails, Grandma

The title of this blog entry is from a song my mother used to sing to me. The lyrics, in their entirety, are: “Cut your toenails, Grandma, you’re ripping up the sheets.” I have no idea if she made up the song herself, if she learned it from one of her parents who made it up, or if it’s an actual song that other people know. What I do know is that I found it absolutely hysterical as a child, and I find it absolutely hysterical now. And it’s time for my son to discover its hilarity.

Ryan has gross toenails. He has since he was a baby. They’re lumpy and striated and constantly ragged. But it’s getting easier to take care of them now that I don’t have to do stealth clipping while he’s asleep. Not only is he cooperative, at least once a day he climbs onto my lap when I’m at my desk where the nail clippers are, solemnly offers me his foot, and politely requests, “ Nip it pease, Mamma.” (Translation: “Snip it please, Mamma.” He has trouble with diphthongs.)

He’s reaching that age of independence (and boundless energy) when he rarely wants to sit still long enough to snuggle, so I love this daily pedicure moment. I’ll admit that I even milk it so he’ll sit on my lap for a few more precious moments. While I clip, I marvel at how much those feet have grown over the past two years. I wonder at how quickly this child transformed from an adorable but uncommunicative blob into an independent, free-thinking, verbally expressive human being. While he immerses himself in the fascination that is toenail clipping, I immerse myself in the fascination that is a child growing up.

I just hope he never grows up so much that he forgets the hilarity of Grandma’s toenails ripping up the sheets.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Ate a Bug and I Liked It

Yesterday evening Ryan saw an ant climbing the wall behind his toy box and excitedly announced, “I see a BUG!” Daddy told him to catch it, and he did – by squashing it with his hand, of course. He carefully examined the tiny corpse in his palm and brought it to each of us in turn, proudly informing us, “I caughted the bug.” (He hasn’t quite mastered the art of the past tense yet.) And then, almost too fast for the human eye to see, he pinched it between his fingers and popped it in his mouth. And grinned. Yes, my son has eaten his first (but probably not his last) bug.

Being the mother of a boy, I suppose I should be prepared for such things. Let’s be honest: little boys are gross. They are fascinated by their own bodily functions. Their favorite pets are slimy instead of fuzzy. They live for snot and farts and poop jokes. They’re just gross in a way that little girls rarely are. And if you’re the mother of one, you need to accept that grossness will be part of your life for a number of years to come.

I’m pretty sure I can survive a fair amount of grossness, though. I already do things I thought (and in some cases, SWORE) I would never do, like eating off Ryan’s silverware and finishing his leftover (and often somewhat mangled) lunches and dinners, not to mention changing some pretty nasty diapers, wiping some really disgusting noses, and cleaning up various bodily fluids. The grossness is part and parcel of parenthood. And if eating bugs is as gross as it gets, I think I can live with that. I just really hope that he doesn’t ever decide to adopt a pet centipede!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Toddlers and Trade-Offs

Being a parent means often accepting periods of extreme difficulty in exchange for periods of reward. Sometimes the difficult periods are pretty even exchanges with the rewarding periods. For example, I regularly have a one- to two-hour battle of the wills with my 2-year-old at the beginning of nap time, but then I get a two-hour respite while he sleeps. In other words, it’s a fairly even exchange.

Sometimes the difficult periods are considerably longer than the periods of reward, but the rewards are more intense. For example, when my two-month-old wakes up at 3am and wants to play after she eats, but she gives me that heart-melting grin while I dandle her on my knee. That gummy grin is easily worth the lost hour of sleep. Again, it’s a fairly even exchange despite the disparity of time.

But sometimes the difficult period is short and the reward is long, and those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. This morning I took my son to his gymnastics class, and the first five minutes or so of class were an absolute disaster. He was wailing and squirming, shouting over the teacher, running amok through the gym, knocking other children out of his way as I chased after him. But once I caught him and forced him to sit and watch the teacher and the other children, he calmed down, and the rest of the 45-minute class was pure pleasure for both of us. He paid attention as the teacher walked through each obstacle course. He tried hard to do all the activities. He waited his turn (most of the time) and didn’t push any of the other kids (intentionally, at least). At one point, after mastering a difficult apparatus, he even called over to the teacher, “Hey, Adrian! I did it!” He did such a good job that after class I let him explore the collection of construction trucks in the parking lot. He stood in the bucket of the diggers, clambered a few steps up the ladders to the cabs, poked his fingers in the sand stuck in the buckets, and patted the giant tires and treads. And when I told him it was time to go home, he obediently held my hand and trotted over to the car. It was a rich reward for both of us.

I’ve only been a parent for two years, but I suspect that all of parenting consists of this kind of trade-off. No doubt there will be many battles over doing homework that are rewarded by good grades. There will be battles over chores and rewards of responsibility. There will be battles over clothes and manners and friends and activities, and there will be rewards of good taste, good manners, good friends, and good choices. There will be battles over bad behavior, and rewards of good character.

When my children are grown, I plan to look back over my parenting journey and be able to say, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have remained faithful.” (Timothy 4:7) It is a good fight, it is worth finishing the race, and the faithfulness is what makes it all worthwhile.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Of Literature and Love

I’ve always been a reader, and at least as an adult I’ve always been a fan of great literature. My favorite book is Jane Eyre, with books like Little Women, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Jungle Book close behind on the “favorites” list. So this past weekend, when I got the opportunity to see some friends perform in a production of the musical “Little Women”, I jumped at it. And it was wonderful.

“Little Women” is delightful to me, not so much because of a fascinating plot or even a particularly eloquent writing style, but because of the love story. Most people don’t think of it as a romance, but to me, the love story between Jo March and Professor Bhaer is just about as romantic as it gets. Maybe it’s because I see so much of myself in Jo: a late bloomer with a love for writing and a temper that gets the better of her. Like me, Jo watched those around her marry and begin families, with (in her mind, at least) no prospect for the same. Words were her love and her stories were her children. But just as she had resigned herself to spinsterhood and begun to achieve real success with her writing, love came into her life in the form of Professor Bhaer.

Another reason that I love the love story of “Little Women” is that Professor Bhaer is not a typical romantic hero. He is, in Jo’s words, “old” and gray-haired. He is no dashing rake, but instead dresses neatly but shabbily. He woos Jo not with his words but with his wisdom. She falls in love with his sweet gentleness, his love for children, his admiration of culture and the arts. He offers her not a splendid castle full of servants, but a school full of students. I, like Jo, would much prefer the latter.

I think I also love the romance in this story at this point in my life because I see so much of my husband and I in both Jo and the Professor, and I see so much of our relationship mirrored in theirs. Like Professor Bhaer, my husband is older, more worldly, more cultured, and more experienced. He opens my eyes to new thoughts and new experiences. And like Jo, I am impetuous and unguarded in a way that allows him to be spontaneous and to occasionally act without thinking. Like Jo and Bhaer, we are alike in terms of our character and moral backgrounds, but sometimes vastly different in our ways of thinking – but in a completely complementary way.

So reading (or watching) “Little Women” is like seeing my own love story. What’s not to love about that?

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Sandy and the Bee

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were flipping through the channels and stumbled across a charming movie called “Akeelah and the Bee”, about a young inner city girl who competes in the National Spelling Bee. She has a spelling coach who notices that every time she spells a word, she slaps her hand rhythmically against her leg with each letter. He realizes that the rhythm and pattern help her learn the words, so he teaches her new words while she jumps rope, one letter for each jump. And at the pivotal final scene, where the last word will determine whether she wins or loses, she begins to spell the word, then falters, then we see a quick flashback to her learning to spell that very word as she jumps rope. She smiles and confidently jumps with an imaginary jump rope as she correctly spells the word to win the bee.

I particularly appreciate this movie at the moment because I’ve just reached the Spelling Stage of motherhood. And the main reason I’ve reached it is that my son has reached a milestone in his development: the Instant Gratification Stage. He doesn’t deal well with not getting what he wants RIGHT THIS SECOND. He has no concept of “soon” or “after” or “later”. He wants what he wants and he wants it NOW. And heaven forbid that I put an idea into his head of something that he might want, because there will be a meltdown if he doesn’t get it immediately. And so enter the magic trick of spelling things.

Yesterday we were celebrating my sister’s birthday at my grandmother’s house, and I had offered to bring the cake. So before we left the house, there was a large chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen table. Naturally, as soon as Ryan saw it, he demanded “CAKE!” And when I told him it was for later, he hurled himself on the floor and sobbed. When we were ready to leave and I put him in the car, he saw the cake in the front seat and again pleaded, “CAKE!” and when I told him we’d have some after dinner, he sobbed again. By the time we arrived at the party, he was happy again and I wanted to keep him that way, so I carefully told my husband, “I’ll bring in the baby and you bring in the C-A-K-E, then I’ll come back for him.”

Now, “cake” is not such a difficult word to spell, but there are other trigger words that are a bit tougher. “Playground”, for example. It’s not that complicated a word, and I’m a pretty good speller, but I have a very hard time spelling words out loud. If I can write a word down, I’m fine. But if I have to spell out loud without paper and pencil in front of me, I struggle. So it’s no surprise that I recently asked my husband, as we were on the way home from running errands with the kids in tow, “Do we have time to stop at the P-L-A-Y-G…uh…blah blah blah?”

I guess I’ll have to work on my verbal spelling skills. So if you see me out and about with my son and I suddenly start pantomiming jumping rope, you’ll know why.

My son with three of his favorite things: M-I-L-K, C-A-K-E, and a T-R-U-C-K.

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