‘Seen but not heard’ bested by ‘Heard by not seen’

There was once an adage that children were to be seen and not heard. Hearing them without seeing them is highly entertaining.

With five grandbabies under the age of three all in the house recently, snippets of conversation drift from one room to another seconds before laughter erupts, damage occurs or action breaks loose in another part of the house.

From the kitchen: Klink, klink, klink “Those are Grandma’s fancy dishes. Can you be very careful?” Klink, klink, klink. Pause. Crash.

From upstairs: “I went poo!”

“Yes you did, but not on the potty chair.”

From every room there seem to be a lot of don’ts:

“Don’t put that in your mouth.”

“Don’t lick the window.”

“Don’t pull the dog’s tail.” “Don’t color on the table.”

“Get out of Grandma’s cupboard now and don’t put tea lights in the toaster one more time!”

One of the most amusing snippets: “Why is John Henry wearing high heels?”

The best exchange between two adults at a meal with 14 crowded around the table:

“What’s on my foot? Is that a dog or a kid?”

“I’m not sure, but in either case, don’t make any sudden moves.”

Some were at the table, some were on the table and some were under the table. In large group situations with small children, you take what you get.

Most often repeated phrase with a variation:

“You put chap stick on your lips; you don’t eat it.”

“That’s not a chap stick, that’s a glue stick. Now look what you’ve done. Your face is all glue-y.”

“She’s either a mime or she’s got diaper paste on her face!”

She is the 2-year-old that will have high cholesterol by age 3 based on all the pastes, lotions and lip gloss she attempts to eat. Some kids crave dirt, this one craves petroleum by-products.

A recurring snippet frequently overheard:

“Somebody do a head count!”

Yes, please. The call for a head count was preceded by one adult child casually saying to a sibling, “Just saw one of yours outside. Barefoot.”

Most pathetic snippets overheard:

“Looks like her head is stuck between the sink and the wall.” “The baby has gas. Really. No, really.”

And no doubt, one of the most heartless things an adult can ever say to a small crying child that has just lost a tug of war: “Isn’t it fun to share?”

On reflection, with five little ones underfoot, it is probably best to see the children and hear the children both at the same time. If you have the strength.

It’s about time

The symbols for the New Year are bewildering. On one end of the spectrum is the New Year’s baby wearing only a diaper while on the other end is Father Time moping about in what looks like a long hospital gown. It’s a shame we can’t have a symbol without bladder control issues.

Our clichés about time are bewildering as well. Some are funny, some strange, some true, some part true and some patently false.

“I’ll be with you in just a second,” may be the most commonly told lie of our time – second only to “just a minute.” That said it is far better to be told “just a second” or “just a minute” than “just a cotton pickin’ minute.” You’re on dangerous ground once you enter cotton pickin’ minute territory.

As for “the 11th hour,” if you are ever looking for my husband, this is where you will find him. Well, he’ll either be in the 11th hour, pushing some task right up to the line, or in a used bookstore. Living in the realm of the 11th hour is a malaise common to journalists. Conditioned by endless deadlines, it becomes difficult to accomplish much in advance. If you’re still vague on the 11th hour, think tax returns and shopping for an anniversary card.

“Better late than never,” is a close-but-no-cigar cliché in my book. There are times when you only make things worse by being late; never would be preferable. One must be able to determine when the train has done left the station.

One of the best ditties about time that I know of came from members of a high school football team. Their coach taught them that “to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be forgotten.”

I tried impressing that on the husband, but he says it does not apply in the 11th hour.

I was always cautious about using the phrase, “marking time” around the kids. It conjured up images of them drawing clocks on the walls.

When John Adams was grieving the death of his beloved wife Abigail, Thomas Jefferson wrote to him in a letter: “. . . for ills so immeasurable time and silence are the only medicine.”

As for what makes the best time, that is a highly subjective call. But I can tell you when the best time is. The best time is half an hour before sunset and half an hour before sunrise. The best time is when a blanket of snow has fallen and encroaching darkness turns the world a beautiful blue.

The best time is in the country at night with a clear sky and the stars blazing.

The best time is when the door opens and someone says, “I’m home.”

The best time is when you have a full house and you manage to beat them all out of bed and have a few minutes of quiet before the day begins.

Time is a constantly changing companion. It creeps, crawls, stands still, shrinks disappears, multiplies and flies.

What can we look forward to in the way of time in the coming New Year?

Another 365 days.

Christmas ornament dangles truth

Our Christmas tree decorations have taken a hit this year. Small pudgy hands have popped a manger out of a stable and briefly separated a little white church from its steeple.

Another creative soul, with one of my old purses slung over her shoulder and tottering in her aunt’s red high heels, was caught trying to remove a strand of gold beads from the tree. Why, of course, jewelry. We grown-ups can be so shortsighted sometimes.

The more valuable decorations (and who are we kidding, they’re all expendable), have been hung above the three-foot mark. An ornament I received as a gift last year has been moved to a higher branch as part of our Christmas protection program. The ornament is made of salt dough that was rolled out, cut with a gingerbread-man mold, baked in the oven and then painted neon pink.

“I wrote your name on it,” beamed the 4-year-old boy who made it.

Sure enough, in silver paint, he had painted “Lori” although with a few minor changes. The o, r and i had been scrambled, and the back of the o was so flat it looked like an a. Picture a bright pink gingerbread man that says L-i-a-r hanging from our tree and you have my new favorite decoration.

The ornament is a keepsake because of the sweet child who made it, but also because, whether by coincidence or providence, it is a fresh reminder of the real meaning of Christmas.

Each year it is a challenge to paw through all the wrapping, glitz and glitter and hold the real meaning of Christmas. The dangling sign that says, “Peace Love and Accessories,” hanging at a popular clothing store hits two out of three. The banner at the hair salon that says, “Christmas is giving the gift of beauty” grasps an element of truth and then turns sharply to promoting gift certificates for manicures and pedicures. Then there is the sign at the mall asking, “Is it better to give or to get?”

The sights and sounds of the commercial Christmas are entertaining, mesmerizing and enjoyable, but they are cheap impostors and fleeting shadows of the real thing.

The amazing, jaw-dropping, eye-popping wonder of Christmas is that the Son of God took on the form of man and came to Earth.

I’m reminded of the little boy scared of a thunderstorm. His mother told him not to be afraid because God was always with him, to which the boy replied, “I know God is here, but I wish he had skin on.”

The true heart of Christmas is that God put on skin. Deity became flesh. In a mysterious convergence of time and space, and an intersection of the natural and supernatural, God once again extended his kind hands and strong arms to mankind. He came for the broken, hurting, can’t-seem-to-get-it-right, self-centered, proud, sad, violent, treacherous, devious and arrogant.

He came for us all, even Liars and Loris. A gingerbread man in neon pink and silver is a perfect reminder.

Roll over Rudolph, you’e been upstaged

We recently carted three of the grandchildren to a library Christmas program billed as one of Santa’s elves bringing animals from the North Pole, including a live reindeer.

A skeptic in our group voiced concern it might not be a real reindeer. Her exact harsh words were, “I didn’t buckle an infant and two toddlers in car seats to see a dog wearing antlers.” Such cynicism. At Christmas no less. And only age 29.

It was a real reindeer, a reindeer so real that it made a deposit of chocolate chips shortly after the animal handler, dressed like an elf, led it into the room. The kids were thrilled and the room was fragrant.

The reindeer was a fine creature, but it was too late. The reindeer had been upstaged. What everyone will remember was the parlor roller pigeon.

Pay attention here because, if you haven’t had the (pick one) joy, fright, or shock of witnessing a parlor roller pigeon in motion, your holidays have been incomplete. Unable to fly and bred to roll, a parlor roller pigeon transports itself by curling up like a large softball with wings and propelling forward.

As demonstrated by the elf, you take a parlor roller pigeon in hand, assume a horseshoe toss position, draw back slightly, then let ‘er roll.

The story goes that years ago, before people bonded at large family holiday gatherings by texting, tweeting, checking e-mail, gluing themselves to their cell phones and posting on Facebook, they played parlor games rolling pigeons across the floor.

So the meal is over, the dishes have been done, and Grandma and Grandpa shuffle to the parlor to push large furniture up against the walls. The roller pigeons are about to commence. The winner of the game is the parlor roller pigeon that rolls the longest distance. And to think this family pastime would one day be replaced by video games.

The elf rolled a parlor roller pigeon down the center aisle as kids and adults shrieked and screamed. Kids screamed in delight while others like myself shrieked at the thought that the agents who shut down Michael Vick would be busting through the doors of the library. I pondered the possibility of having to use booking mug shots on our family Christmas card. On the upside, it’s never been done before.

Having a rolling bird with flapping wings hurtle into your path is a different sort of holiday exhilaration that takes you beyond “Fa-la-la-la-la” and into the realm of “AIYEEEEEEEE!”

When the bird stopped rolling, it stood, then took a few staggering steps. If the pigeon had exited a car like that it would have been subjected to a breathalyzer test.

You can certainly see how parlor roller pigeons would take the edge off of the holidays. Can’t listen to Uncle Irv’s stories one more time? Why don’t we race the parlor rollers?

Those kids yelling, running and slamming doors have you wound tight? Hand them a parlor roller pigeon and send them outside.

This year, if anyone asks, “Where did Lori disappear to?” someone should listen for the sound of furniture moving in the family room.

Five home to roost

Life changes on a dime. Take this weekend, for example. We will go from being two empty nesters to a party of seven.

By my calculations our nest was empty for roughly three years, four months, two days and ten seconds. But who’s counting?

I come from a long line of women who do not suffer empty nest syndrome. My mother said if either my brother or I tried to cling to the nest, she would step on our hands. It was an amicable parting. We spread our wings and she cheered to see us fly.

As for me, I grew teary eyed each time I set one less placemat on the table, but I was no fool. I knew they still had house keys.

One day we were down to two placemats on the table and I realized I enjoyed lengthening the leash that had tethered me to the kitchen.

The only women who laugh and act like they’re having a party when they cook are the women on television. I don’t fault them. If someone cleaned up my mess and did all the dirty dishes, I’d be laughing and partying, too.

Now the woman who often has a bowl of cereal for dinner when the husband is working nights, will be cooking again. Five birds are coming home to roost. The situation is temporary and it is coincidental that they are returning at the same time.

The daughter with two-year-old twins and an infant is coming for several weeks while her husband starts a new job out east and they secure housing.

Another daughter will be married in several months and has relinquished the lease on her apartment. Potty training, baby drool and bride-to-be jitters all under one roof.

It will be a cacophony. Loud, but good. It is the unpredictability of life, with all the unexpected detours and bends in the road that make it rich.

We will have to keep the television down after 8 and schedule use of our own washer and dryer. We won’t have to check the expiration date on the milk anymore and bananas won’t turn brown as they will be eaten as fast as we can buy them.

I’ve cleaned out dresser drawers that gradually have been filled with odds and ends and jammed things in closets. Fortunately, I’ve learned from the daughter who is a teacher that you can always pack more in a fixed space by stacking things higher. If push comes to shove we may have to stack the kids.

I’ve also learned that you don’t ask a lot of questions of adult children. The inquisition years have passed. You don’t need to know what route they plan on taking, who was on the phone or precisely what time they’ll be home.

I imagine I’ll be sending myself to my room a lot, and not just for punishment for slipping and asking too many questions. I work from home and am one of those odd ducks who need quiet. Equipped with cell phone, internet and laptop, my office is portable. If it’s still too loud to work in our bedroom, maybe I can clear more space on a closet shelf.

Bring on the chaos.