My Three Little Hearts

Mr. Ornery comes by his nickname very respectfully. He earns it almost every day. You might even call him Mr. Mischievous. Mr. Where Did You Say the Line was Drawn? Mr. Rascall. He drives me absolutely nuts. He’s gorgeous with tight brown ringlets. His lower lip is slightly fuller than his upper and curls into a delicious smile. His body is toned and athletic. He giggles when you tickle him.

And he talks back. He loves to throw rocks. He barrels down hillsides on a flimsy plastic Big Wheeler. He jumps the speed bump on his Razor scooter. He is a daredevil. He attacks life and attacks it hard.

And I worry about him. We drove home the other night from Super Tall Guy’s baseball game and reviewed the preceding couple hours in which I had to curb Mr. Ornery’s behaviors several times. We got to the topic of misbehaving so much that other people, complete strangers, start to tell you to stop doing whatever you’re doing. I start down the thread of if you’re not listening to your Mom, then other people will step in. Super Tall Guy brings up that eventually “the police will come and take you to jail.”

Of all three of my boys, the middle one, Mr. Ornery, carries that highest risk. And it pains me.

After they crashed from their “I’m so tired, I’m obnoxious” highs into snoring slumbers, I sat down to catch up a little on the last season of Scandal. That was probably not a good idea as the episode was about a teenager shot by police. A brown body in the streets guarded fiercely by a grieving father. And the love of this father and all that the father had done to protect his son touched my soul…. and yet there he was…gone. I wept.

When they are born, you carry them and cuddle them. You meet their every need and you think this little bundle is perfection. You think about how this angel will grow and live and change the world someday. You delight in the dreams and the potential. You burst with pride and inexplicable love. You don’t realize at that moment that one day they will throw rocks at the neighbor’s lawn chairs just for fun.zoo

You can’t imagine them turning to drugs or alcohol and dropping out of college to go to rehab. You can’t even imagine them locked behind bars. You never dream of them dead.

When your heart and your soul are walking around in some other little being, you fear the decisions they might make, and you weep.

Each and every day, I say to these boys: My job is to love you and protect you. And every decision I make, whether you like it or not, is based on those two principals. Always and forever and no matter what, I will love and protect.

My three little hearts

Come closer

Stay nearer

Listen and learn

My little men.

Your Mama loves you so

Be good to my heart.


Baked Goods and Boys’ Behavior (and a recipe)

Tonight I made cookies again. Even though I didn’t really feel like it. I just made a batch of chocolate-chip cookies yesterday for my friend and her husband’s 40th birthday party cookie table. Several neighbors were delighted to receive the “spare” cookies yesterday and the boys nibbled on quite a few.

cookiesTomorrow a new neighbor will be receiving a plate of cookies. I never met him before, but we all did this evening. Apparently at least two out of four of the “older boys” thought it would be a good idea to “annoy the old man” and ring his doorbell and run away.  I turned to look down the street of the townhome community to see him emerge from his house and exchange words with the boys that I couldn’t hear. As he turned to come my way, yelling “whose kids are these?” I jumped up to claim them. “Well, they need to stop ringing my doorbell when I’m trying to eat. It’s annoying.” “Yes,” I agreed, “that would be.”

My sister left with her kids and I sent mine to their rooms. It is a bit difficult to get the “real story” out of them, especially when Mr. Ornery challenges me with “Well, if you’re asking for a story, Mom, then a story is not real, is it?” Sigh….

Then brilliance hit me. When you do something “mean” to someone, one of your consequences is to be “nice” to that person. (We’ve tried this a bit between brothers, but it got hard to keep finding “nice things” they needed to do.) I informed them that they would be taking a plate of cookies to said neighbor and apologize to him. They will be squirming. They hate to be embarrassed. “Super Tall Guy has to carry the plate,” says Mr. Ornery as he settles into bed. Yet, they will learn and grow. For simply “talking” to them isn’t enough. “Grounding” them isn’t powerful enough (yet, that is, when they don’t have enough to miss out on). We’ll see how it unfolds tomorrow. There could be a lot of cookies leaving our house over the next few months or maybe, hopefully, only when I feel like baking!

I was planning to post tonight about baking anyway. I asked Mr. Ornery if he wanted me to make chocolate chip cookies or Crazy Good Brownies for the neighbor. We love Crazy Good Brownies. A friend in medical school made them for me several times and I just had to have the recipe. They are delicious in batter form (especially if you lick both the chocolate batter and the cream cheese spoons at the same time!). They are incredible right out of the oven in moist, gooey chocolate-chip melting form. And they are awesome once cool (even directly from the freezer where they will stay until needed for the last-minute-what-am-I-going-to-take-into-work moments).

People love it when I bring them Crazy Good Brownies. I made them frequently for my colleagues in residency. I make them for just about every party that I’m assigned “dessert.” I make them for staff at work. I make them for game night with the cousins! I love sharing the brownies and the recipe because it’s so good to make a person smile. This contrasts one of my graduate school classmates who would not share her “secret family” recipe (can’t even remember what it was for), but really – unless you’re making millions on it in the food industry, spread a little joy!

So here’s how to make Crazy Good Brownies: (btw, my chocolate chip cookies come from the back of the Nestle chip bag with only Giant Eagle margarine and removing them from the oven just before they seem done ….though I haven’t figured out the baking quirks of this new home’s oven yet!).

Crazy Good Brownies

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease (with cooking spray) a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.


  1. Melt 2 sticks (1 cup) margarine (microwave 1 minute).
  2. Place margarine in mixer and add:
    1. 2 cups sugar
    2. 2 tsp vanilla
  3. Add 3 eggs and mix
  4. Mix in ¾ cups of baking cocoa
  5. Then add:
    1. 1 ¼ cup flour
    2. ½ tsp baking powder
    3. ¼ tsp salt
  6. Mix in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  7. Pour most of brownie mix into pan, saving out about 1 cup.

Cream Cheese Topping

  1. Whip 8 oz cream cheese in mixer.
  2. Add ¼ cup sugar.
  3. Add 1 egg and a dash of salt.
  4. Stir in ¾ cup mini chocolate chips.

Spread cream cheese topping over brownie mix. Glop spoonfuls of set-aside brownie mix onto the cream cheese topping.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (until cream cheese topping turns light brown).






Parenting Boys (and girls) 102: Starting School

Dear Mr/Mrs Teacher,

I truly expected to get this year off to a more organized start. Apparently not (and apparently I forgot to read last year’s post about how I was most certainly going to be better this year!).  Despite how it might appear, I want you to know that I highly value education for my child. After all, I am personally a “highly educated” individual with a BS in elementary education (no less) and a MS degree and a PhD and even an MD degree. Yet, despite all those initials trailing my name, I am unable to remember to check the homework folder on a daily basis. It’s a character flaw.

In the spirit of true confessions, I’m sorry to say that I have also not yet cut apart those addition and subtraction “flashcards” to begin practicing. I’m pretty sure that someday that card stock paper and a pair of scissors will be in the same vicinity and I’ll get to it. It just hasn’t been today or yesterday or the day before….

Also, we read for about 10 minutes every night (I mean, most nights, well, I mean on those nights that I’m not already falling asleep reading to the other brothers) and as it always feels like 20 minutes, I’m hoping that counts for our “daily” reading time.

I would also like some clarification of the terms “homework” and “please practice” that you clearly have ink stamps to use on their papers. “Homework,” I take it, is something that you definitely expect to be completed and returned the next day…in the ideal world. On the other hand, the “please practice” pages are something that can go into the ‘papers that I intend to deal with at some later point that is not tonight because the kid is already asleep‘ stack. Is that accurate?

In the same vein, is it okay to skip the night’s homework assignment if the 6-year-oldcrumpled is in the “I-will-crush-and-crumble-all-paper-in-my-sight” kind of mood? I doubt the morning will be any better, but I’ll try to get him reading Nan the Cat as soon as possible!

Just a couple more questions. When my son is on the list for “Star Student of the Week” for January 11th, is that something you expect me to keep track of or will you be providing some kind of reminder system post holiday chaos so that the poor guy isn’t identified as having “Loser Mother of the Year” for the week?

Also, I hope that you got the “mystery student” paper bag with 5 tiny objects that are somehow reflective of my son that I dropped off around lunch time on the day it was due? Maybe you might have given him a chance to show his bag that afternoon so he wouldn’t feel left out. (Oh, I guess that would defeat the purpose of guessing who it belonged to. Huh, just thought of that. Nevermind. On the other hand, will we get that bag back soon? We could use the hockey puck this weekend and I’m worried the crab leg to signify having been to the beach might increase in stench intensity soon. Just wondering.)

And finally, that Class Dojo app that now beeps incessantly on my smartphone dojo to inform me that the kiddo has yet again received a “ -1 for talking to neighbors” – will you be continuing that all year or is this just a first-month fad that we’re all going to get tired of PDQ? (My gram liked to use that for Pretty Darn Quick. I’m thinking Positively Definitely Quitting!).

I think that sums up my apologies and questions for now, day 10 of the new school year. It’s likely some continuing confusion might linger, but once I get the house unpacked and the kids’ sports schedules imprinted, we should start on a better trajectory.

Thank you for your patience and even more importantly, thank you for loving “education” so much that you passionately teach at least 20 energetic kids every day and gracefully cope with many more quirky parents. It’s a challenging job and a huge responsibility and I’m thankful that you are there to give my kid a hug when he needs it, a pat on the back when deserved, and a push in the right direction when necessary.

Please let me know if I can help in any way (other than the obvious stuff that I clearly should be doing and haven’t yet).

Yours gratefully,








Parenting Boys 101: The Cup

“You are going to wear a cup.”

His eyes went wide as his brain tried to figure out how a drinking cup was going to go on his body. We stood in the “baseball” section of Dicks Sporting Goods. His younger brothers raced around the aisles and in and out of the baseball pants neatly organized on baseball
circular hangers. They each held a $19.99 pair of red baseball gloves that they were sure Mom was going to purchase for them as soon as she finished some eye-to-eye conversation with Super Tall Guy.

“It’s called a cup. It’s protection for your balls.”

Blank stare as he contemplated how a baseball had anything to do with this and needed to be on his body.

“Super Tall Guy,” I whispered, “boys wear these shorts when they play baseball. There is a hard piece of plastic called a cup which is to protect their private area from getting hit with a ball.”

I’m NOT wearing that!” he stressed.

“Oh yes, you are.”

No way – it will make me look big down there. I don’t want to be big. People will notice.”

I laughed inwardly, “Honey, apparently guys want to be big down there” :)

“Now into the fitting room.”

I’m NOT trying that on.”

“Oh yes, you are. And hurry up, we’re going to be late for your second practice.”

Tell them to get out of the room.”

Right – you want me tell wild, maniac 4- and 6-year-old dudes to sit quietly outside the fitting room door (without peeking under the door)?!?  “Okay, Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy, sit here while Mom helps Super Tall Guy.”

“Now, honey…quick….put this on.”

His dark brown skin turned a nice shade of pink.

It was Friday evening, the first day of baseball practice. Shelley, the assistant coach, was taking a break and we stood together at the fence talking about boys. She has three as well, though her youngest is eleven. We commiserated a bit before I asked her what my son will “need” for baseball (and what items are “nice” but not essential for the burgeoning kid-sport budget).
  1. Cleats – right….because those are different than soccer cleats (which we have) and football cleats (so that parents can spend a fortune if kids play different sports!)
  2. Baseball pants – huh, don’t have any of those yet…
  3. Glove – got that! (birthday gift this year just for fun)
  4. Bat is not essential but most boys bring their own – got that! (from the birthday. It’s metal, it’s dangerous and has sat in a closet for months to avoid concussing other children)
  5. She didn’t mention ball cap, but from the look of the field, Super Tall Guy is the only one who’s mother can’t remember to grab one from the house!
  6. And cup. “Okay, tell me honestly about that,” I said. “Because I’m clueless.”  She laughed, “I was too.”

I love parents. I love parents of boys, especially of just boys, because they get it!  They know that the kids are dusty because they just somersaulted down the hill. They know that I just opened the minivan door in the parking lot and found the younger two buck naked in there! They know that we spent the entire beach vacation arguing over who was sitting beside whom. They know that I search for a Mute button while pointing a remote at the boys. They know that the couch pillows are torn and duct-taped together from pillow fights and couch trampoline events. They just know. And I know to turn to them and start the conversation because sometimes I need to be reminded that yes, the boys are “normal” and “going to be okay” and will “eventually grow up.”

My job is to love and encourage and protect (every inch of them) along the way!

Near Death Experiences Really Should be Teachable Moments

It’s crazy how insane the past couple weeks have been. The movers handled the large items and friends carried loads of boxes, but our new townhome sat piled ceiling-high with boxes for a week as we spent time outside with the neighbors and packed up for a beach vacation.

Sand is always good. Sand that has been dredged from the bottom of the ocean is near perfection. There’s not a sharp sea shell in it. You can dig and dig and dig out a hole large enough for boys to jump in and be completely hidden from sight. You can drizzle it into the forest where the trolls live while waiting to save Princess Ana from the accidental strokes of Elsa. You can mold a horse to be galloped upon. You can mold sandballs of wet sand dabbed in hot fine sand to threaten siblings with. You can rest.

There are few things more relaxing than sun and sand and the lap of waves. There are also few things more terrifying than the power and pull of water.

The warm sun was coaxing my eyes to close as I sat upon a boogie board and watched the three boys jump in the surf. After each wave, I would identify them – The First One shakes his head to get the water out of his ears. Super Tall Guy wipes the water from the top of his head to his chin. Mr. Ornery bounces and bounces and bounces. He comes up from under a wave and bounces as he awaits the next. His ringlets bounce. His body bounces. His arms bounce.

And suddenly there was no bounce. I looked again. There was his head very close to Super Tall Guy, but there was no bounce. They were too far out. They were too far out to see their faces, but I was on my feet and headed out there. A glance at the lifeguards on their stand showed that they were not going to be of any help. The panic started to rise as each wave pushed me back from my singular goal – to reach my boys who were being swept out to sea. But I wasn’t getting there fast enough. Do I scream? Yell? The three adults near them were close enough though. One man reached for Mr. Ornery and pushed into shore. One man grabbed Super Tall Guy and guided him in. I watched The First One start to swim.

Mr. Ornery wrapped his arms and legs around me as he clung sobbing in my arms. I tearfully thanked the Helpers. I praised Super Tall Guy for clear attempts to save his younger brother and keep him afloat. Suddenly I panicked again looking for The First One. Where was he? Mom, where is he? Super Tall Guy, where is he? I rushed to the lifeguards and then turned and found him. He had swum beside the current and then into shore. We all hugged.

“Look for the helpers,” I reminded the boys as Mr. Fred Rogers so eloquently stated. Rogers HelpersWhen you are in trouble, look for the helpers. They will be there.

Ask Mr. Ornery how his vacation was and he’ll say “I was almost dead.” We had to talk a lot about it that night. We talked about safety. We talked about the power of water. We talked about the helpers. We talked over and over about how you “NEVER go out past your waist” and you “NEVER swim alone.” We talked about going back in again.

And he did. Right back into the water the next day. I watched much more intensely. And I watched the new day’s lifeguard splash over to him and remind him in words and body language – “NEVER go out past your waist.”

And yet he did. Bouncing along right into the deep. This boy is going to require a whole lot of “teachable moments.” And he’s going to need a whole lot of Helpers!

But I, for one, would like to skip the “near death” moments the next time he needs to learn a lesson.

Moving Day

“Okay, go!” I said to Super Tall Guy as we backed out of the driveway of the townhouse. “3 minutes, 21 seconds and 59 milliseconds,” he said as we pulled into the driveway of my sister’s new house.

One weekend. Two moves. Two sets of movers. Countless loads of boxes via theboxes2 minivans. Strong cousin. Saintly mother. Spackling father. Lamps. TV. Shoes. Books. Headache. Couches. Beds. Clothes. Numerous trips to Target. But no toothbrushes. No toothpaste. No toiletries. None. The boys rejoiced!

It’s been twelve years in an old Victorian house with stained glass windows, built-in wooden bookcases, three floors, and a hidden back staircase. It’s been the only home the boys have known. It’s been the place everyone called “home” until we moved for school and the extended family split up a bit to diminish the chaos and to stretch out a little.

I meant to get all sentimental about leaving “home” – but the stress of a quick move left the heart door closed. In fact 36 hours after dropping the last box packed for “moving day” onto the townhome floor, I actually texted my mom to say I like the space better than I thought I would. It’s small, clean and manageable (or it will be once all the boxes are emptied and flattened or donated to the lady next door who remarked she was moving soon too).

Somehow the boys seem to have forgotten to be sentimental too. They seem to be enamored by the chance to ride bikes and scooters up and down the street, bumping over the speed bump. They seem to appreciate the new neighbors — a 12-year-old and 7-year-old boy who pop out of their house the moment my car engine stops with a soccer ball in hand and eager faces! They seem to be enthralled by the closeness to “Auntie,” or maybe it’s the community pool that’s two houses away from Auntie’s house and has diving board!  Maybe they are managing this chaos better than I.

They are less excited about the New House, New Rules reality though:

  • See this – it’s a sink. Take your plate to the kitchen, rinse it in the sink, and….put it in the dishwasher!
  • These clothes? They’re yours. Sort them into three piles and each of you take them upstairs. And those things are called drawers – that’s where the clothes go! Not the floor!
  • And this new bunk bed? Yes, you may sleep on top…but the new rule is that you will stay in your own bed – all night! No more climbing into Mom’s bed between 1 and 3 am!  (Oh my goodness…3 days in and this rule is actually working!!)

There’s a whole lot of things still back at the “old” house. I had to stop there on the way to work yesterday to grab a pair of shoes for work. There’s tons of dust bunnies where the beds once sat. Empty candy wrappers line the edge of the wall having been dropped behind the couch. The closet is full of items that will move to the front yard for a yard sale in a few weeks (if it didn’t move to the town house in the first couple days as “essential,” then it actually isn’t essential!). The tall-ceiling rooms are eerily empty and echoes abound. The windows are closed. The doors are locked. But hopefully soon it will be filled again with love and joy and laughter as a new family finds their “home.”



What Single Parents Dream Of

Every year my sister takes her kids on a “Single Parents Weekend Retreat.” This year my kids begged me to go too with stories of zip lines and giant swings and swimming pools. The place on Lake Erie was packed with kids and many many parents, most of us women. The main speaker was to talk on passing on the “legacy of love” but she was neither a single parent, nor was she even a parent. My mind drifted to wondering how these parents all got to this place.

Did they make a conscious choice to parent through private or foster care adoption? Had they been in relationships that ended with tragedy or separation? Were they stressed by their current situation or had they come to grips with single parenting? Was this just a “phase” of their life with them constantly seeking something different or did they plan to remain a “single parent”?

Most days I realize that I don’t identify myself strongly as a “single parent,” I’m just parenting. And I am thankful every day to have the privilege to be a part of these boys’ lives (even on the days that Mr. Ornery suggests that I go find a new family to join!). I love each boy. I love being a parent in so many ways, but every once in a while I dream of:

  • Someone to jump in at the end of a long day and volunteer to put the kids to bed! Oh, that would be heaven on earth. What would I do with the gift of two free hours that usually entail repetitious phrases such as “pee, wash hands, brush teeth,” “pick 3 books (and not that one again!),” “lay down and go to sleep.” Lay down and go to sleep. Huh – I could probably read a book. I mean, an adult book!
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while going out with friends, or on a run or doing errands without having to beg my mother or pay a babysitter to keep the kids alive.
  • Knowing there’s another adult in the house who could find a baseball bat and creak downstairs when you hear a noise.
  • Someone who would share in cleaning a few rooms in the house, or take out the trash, or help in shoveling the snow from the driveway.
  • Really just someone who would pack up the car for the road trip and then complete the dreaded unpacking at the end of vacation. Slugging around suitcases is really not my favorite thing at all.
  • An extra chauffeur for the soccer Saturdays when one kid is at one field at 10:00 and the “travel team” boy needs to be 45 minutes away for a 10:30 game. Let’s throw in gymnastics, basketball, flag football, inline hockey….it’s only getting worse. Hence, the poor Little Guy won’t be starting sports until he’s 25!
  • The comfort of knowing that in an emergency, there would be an extra hand or someone to stay home with a couple boys while I ran one of them to the doctor for stitches or a cast! There was a close call when Little Guy sprayed Deet in his eyes, but we survived that one.
  • Having a partner in making a whole host of decisions from where to buy a house for the “right” school district to what to make for dinner (because asking the boys has only resulted in “mac and cheese” and “chicken nuggets” as less-than-desirable answers).
  • Riding in the passenger seat of the car so that I’m not breaking up fights or switching DVDs or handing out food to quiet the backseat wolves at the same time as trying not to run off the road or into another moving target.
  • Someone to pamper and take care of me. I spend all day giving of myself to others at work and then at home, constantly making sure the kids are safe and relatively comfortable. I spend more time on their social life than I do my own. I worry more about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling than I think about myself. It sure would be nice to have someone pay attention to me (other than to ask for a glass of cold water!).
  • A nice warm stretch of sand without a single human being under the age of 24 in sight and a cool drink in one hand and a mindless novel in the other. That’s what single parents dream of!beach footprints