Ordinary

You get to experience several mountaintop days in your life. The day you get married, the days your kids are born, when you move into your first house, when you get that big promotion, finally go on that long-awaited adventure or complete a goal years in the making. Those days are fantastic, and we should celebrate every one.

But you know what most of life is? It’s the hike through the valleys between those mountaintops. Not that all of life is depressing – far from it. But it ain’t always exciting. In fact, most of it is downright ordinary.

The eye doctor appointment for one kid the day after the asthma doctor appointment (that you forgot about) for another kid. The third trip to the grocery store – in one day. The baby who just will. not. go. to. sleep. Sweeping the floor for the 17th time today. Laundry without end. Sweeping the floor again. Getting the oil changed. Calling about that bill. Cooking dinner after you finally figure out what you’re having. Going to church.

We do much of the same thing over and over, and we get tired. So tired. But those moments are what make us. It’s not the mountaintops – it’s the getting there. I don’t want to be the guy who only shows up on the great days. I want to be the guy who’s there every day, even when it’s dark and rainy and all you can think about is burying your head under the covers. Even when the sink is clogged and you know it’s going to be all kinds of nasty in the drainpipe, but you gotta clean it anyway because the water backs up when the kids brush their teeth. Even when you get interrupted every three seconds when you’re trying to talk to your spouse. Even when you’re not sure how the money’s going to stretch as far as it needs to go. Even when you just told your kid for the third time in the last five minutes to change his attitude and he’s not getting it and you’re frustrated, but you know you have to dig deeper. These are the moments when your character shows. 

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop by the Ritz-Carlton on how to provide excellent and memorable customer service. The company is legendary for how they treat their guests. You know what they tell you their secret is? They consistently do the ordinary, extraordinarily well. The infernal wake-up call is a great example. At most hotels, you get an automated call at the appointed hour. Not at the Ritz. You get a real, live person calling you cheerfully, asking if they can bring you coffee or a paper or whatever you need. They even offer to call back in 15 minutes – a human snooze button!

You know what that is? Doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.

You get a few mountaintop days in your life – it’s not hard to find joy there. Finding joy in the mundane, however, is much harder. But it’s worth it. Do the little things well, and you’ll have a deep, abiding joy. In the midst of the busyness and fatigue and overwhelm, keep your head. Show up. Be there. Do the next right thing. That’s what God calls us to do – and what he gives us grace to do. Take your ordinary day, and be consistently extraordinary.

I cannot give an answer

As many times as I’ve sung “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” I had a new thought as we sang it recently at church. We got to the line that says, “Why should I gain from his reward? / I cannot give an answer” and here’s what struck me:

There are people in this world who must have an answer for everything. If there’s not a rational explanation for something, they refuse to believe in it or think it is acceptable. Their own intellect is their highest authority.

As Christians, we subscribe to a coherent system of beliefs. Yes, we think there is evidence to support our beliefs, but at the foundational level, we have faith in things unseen.

That’s actually the case for any belief system, even a system of no beliefs. If you’re a Christian, you believe in God. If you’re an atheist, you believe there is no God. You believe either way – your belief just focuses on different objects.

Some discount Christianity because they don’t understand how a good God could allow bad things to happen. They think there is no possible answer to the questions of why children die or why cancer strikes or why terrible car accidents occur. I don’t claim to have solutions for those difficult problems except to say that bigger purposes exist that we can possibly understand. I’m 40. God is eternal. He has a better perspective than I do.

I really can’t give an answer for why God would sacrifice his only Son to save me, his sworn enemy. It makes no sense. It’s not conceivable by any human framework. But that’s the thing – it’s not my framework. It’s God’s, and it’s infinitely better than anything I could conceive.

I am fascinated by how things work. I just finished reading about how the Wright Brothers discovered the secret of flight, and now I’m reading about the founding of Twitter. I love knowing the process Wilbur and Orville went through to build their planes. I’m riveted by the personalities of the guys who started Twitter and how they were their own worst enemies despite their fantastic invention. I want to explain to my kids how everything around them works.

But despite that interest, I am also okay knowing there are things I don’t know. On days when the world seems to turn upside down, we hurt and we cry, but in the end, we trust a God who laid the foundations of that world. I’m glad he’s deeper and more mysterious than I can ever figure out. Otherwise, what’s the point of believing in him?

Without that, we should all quit right now. But if there’s something bigger and better that we can be part of? Well, that’s a reason to get up every day.

I cannot give an answer why God sent his Son on a rescue mission, other than his deep love for us and his own good pleasure. I can’t explain it, but I can rejoice in it. Join me.

Our Baby, Planned Parenthood and Christmas

The news of the year in our house is that we are pregnant with kid number six, which means we’ll add a third girl to this circus in early March, giving us a nice round total of three boys and three girls. (Side note: I’m hoping for a February 29 birth date – how cool would it be to have that birthday?! My wife thinks I’m nuts.)

Six is a lot of kids and while we have (mostly) adjusted to that reality, it still overwhelms at times. A lot of times. But it’s also amazing, in the true sense of that word. Right now, as you read this, a real, live baby is inside my wife’s womb. I can see her kicking every night, my wife’s stomach bouncing in and out, a thin layer of skin all that separates us from the newest combination of our DNA.

Two baby-related stories are juxtaposed against my daughter’s kicking feet right now: Planned Parenthood and Christmas. First, PP. For the past few months, video evidence and testimony from former workers has shown Planned Parenthood clinics across the country operate as barbaric torture chambers where doctors rip unborn babies apart. The fact of abortion isn’t really news, but actually hearing and seeing it discussed in such stark terms makes it more immediate and disturbing.

Whether the practices of killing babies and distributing their body parts are legal is beside the point. They are immoral from a Biblical worldview. As a nation, we are murdering hundreds of thousands of children, and our new baby could have been one of them if we so chose. There would be no more nightly kicking, no more doctor visits, no more baby-related purchases and baby-induced house rearrangements. There would be no hopes and dreams, and no life. Not that abortion was ever an option for us, but somehow just being pregnant and knowing it could be an option is unsettling and makes me feel hollow.

As for Christmas, this is December, when we traditionally celebrate the coming of Christ into the world. As we contemplate daily Advent readings designed to point our minds to the mystery of the incarnation, the fact that God chose to come to Earth in the fullness of time as a tiny baby instead of a conquering king is more real than ever to me.

A young virgin named Mary once laid awake at night and watched her stomach bounce in and out. This baby had already turned her life upside down and he wasn’t even out of the womb yet. So much more would come – so much fear turned into joy, so much hope fulfilled, so much life turned into death and then, astonishingly, back to life, the power of death undone.

Yes, the power of death was undone. Millions of actual, real lives have been lost because of abortion in the United States, but ultimate power does not lie with their killers because a little baby from 2,000 years ago grew up to lay his own life down. Man may kill the body, but the souls belong to God.

Claim that abortion is not murder all you want, claim that women have the right to their own bodies all you want, claim whatever you like. Your claims will one day pale in the face of true justice made possible only because a little baby came from heaven to earth.

My daughter is alive and well and kicking, and I can’t wait to meet her. Jesus is alive and well too, and while we celebrate his birth this month, don’t forget that he was born to die that we might live.

“I Will Find You”

It all started innocently enough. We were eating dinner – spaghetti, which if you’re counting is approximately the 7,345th time we have served this delicacy since children entered our lives, yet somehow they still don’t realize it’s not a finger food – when the topic of the girls’ gymnastics class came up. Last week, their behavior had been less than stellar and in fact had included direct disobedience of the teacher in full view of mom.

Mom remembered this at dinner before she took the girls to class. We were already a little on edge because of the aforementioned lack of knowledge of how to eat spaghetti and the messes that had been generated. Her reminder was to the point:

“Girls, you know how important it is to obey in class. You have to listen to what the teacher says. You will do what she says. You will not jump when she says to stop jumping. You will not run when she says not to run. You will obey.”

She was intense. Kids gradually quit chewing as her words sank in. Quiet descended on the previously rowdy kitchen.

“Remember, I can see everything that happens during class. I am watching. I am listening. If you disobey, I will see it. I will hear it. And I will find you.”

The silence was complete. Even the boys were chastened. There would be no disobedience.

All I could think of was this (minus his last line):

Don’t mess with Mom.

Who Needs an Appendix, Anyway?

Quick summary of events: after a week of vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, our 7-year old son Taylor had surgery at 3 a.m. last Thursday to remove his ruptured appendix. I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow account, but the whole experience was fairly traumatic. He came home after four full days in the hospital and is well on his way to recovery. A few random thoughts in the wake of a rough week:

1. The human body is incredibly designed. It tells you when things are broken, although it sometimes takes a while to figure out the exact message. I know God has a purpose for the appendix. Maybe someday in eternity, we’ll find out what it is. 

2. It’s very hard to watch your child in pain when you don’t know what’s causing it.

3. When their children are threatened or in pain (see number 2), Mama Bears will do what is necessary to protect their children. I’m very thankful for a wife who cares more about her kids than herself.

4. There’s a big difference in how you feel when you don’t know what’s causing a physical problem and how you feel when you figure out the reason. Before, your mind runs wild and you contemplate all sorts of avenues for action without really know what the best course is. After, you can focus on a specific plan. You know the problem and you know the solution – you just have to make it happen.

5. A corollary to number 4: there’s a big difference in the way men and women process events like this. While I see my son in pain, I’m focused on how to fix it. Once the problem is solved, I’m good. While my wife also wants to fix it, she has a more difficult time because her baby is hurting. Once the problem is solved, she can’t just turn off the emotional distress. 

6. After multiple viewings of A Dolphin’s Tale 2 in the hospital room, I feel well-qualified to make this statement: Harry Connick Jr. is a much better singer than he is an actor.

7. I’m impressed with my son’s independence, stubbornness and resolve. The nurse would tell him how to move to keep from hurting himself, and we would try to help him. He’d hold his hand up and say he wanted to do it himself, and he would. These are qualities that will serve him well in life, and I’m glad he’s developing them now.

8. The body of Christ is a beautiful thing when it moves into action. Hundreds of people prayed for our son. Dozens asked about him, called, texted, stopped by the hospital. Our church family brought meals (FYI – food is always welcome when you’re stuck in a hospital), friends sent gifts to cheer Taylor up and his class all chipped in to buy him a big Lego set. When a friend is having a hard time, they do want to hear from you. They may not be able to respond right away, but it helps to know you care.

By the way, Facebook is a fantastic tool for times like this. As Taylor went into surgery in the middle of the night, I posted a status asking for prayer. Several people immediately commented, and hundreds more followed over the next few days as they tracked his progress. 

9. There were many moments over the last week and a half that we held our son while he cried, his face a mask of unrelenting pain. In those minutes, we would have done anything to trade places with him and ease his agony. God the Father faced just such a moment with his Son more than 2,000 years ago, and he did what is unthinkable to any parent: he turned his face away. The pain and heartache the Father and Son felt was real, but it had a purpose – to bring sinful man back to holy God. That kind of sacrifice demands our soul, our life, our all.

10. The truest sign your child is recovering from a major illness: the sassiness returns.

11. The best kind of laughter is when you want to laugh at something you find hilarious, but your stomach really hurts when you laugh, so you hold your belly and try to keep the laughter inside, but you can’t fight the grin working its way out and your mouth curls up and and your body shakes and your eyes light up and you’re just so happy to be happy. That’s what I saw in my son in the days after surgery, and I loved every second of it.

12. We got the initial call with bad news, but good news followed soon after. Four days in the hospital seemed like forever, but we’re home now and it’s mostly over. Many people don’t get good news. They live with chronic illnesses in their children or they lose their children forever. My heart goes out to them, and I want to remember them because their hurt doesn’t stop. The outpouring of support we received was incredible, but it was for a short time. They need that same kind of support every week

13. Taylor is pretty much back to his normal self now, although his scrawny body still needs to recover some weight. For a while, his happy grin was far away, and the night was dark. We knew morning would come, but it was hard to see when or where. Into that darkness, we said, “O Lord, be gracious to us, we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in time of trouble.” (Is. 33:2). He heard our prayer. Joy comes in the morning, and so did Taylor’s smile.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There’s a blogger I read frequently who posts all kinds of interesting links each day. He linked to a story a while back about a man whose wife dies a slow, painful death from cancer. Their best friend moves in to help the family through the ordeal. It’s an emotional story, and here was his conclusion after posting it:

I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? … this is way too much for a Monday.

I thought about this off and on before realizing why it bothered me so much: his framework on life gives him no perspective in which to put the big things like death, suffering, parenting, being better, trying and failing, wrestling with the tough questions.

We all struggle with this – I wonder all the time how my kids are going to turn out and why am I not doing more to make them wonderful human beings and what can I do better and oh man, am I failing miserably at this? His worldview, though, doesn’t give him a place to take those doubts. He’s very man-centered – he posts about what man can do and about what science shows us, but that’s as far as his faith goes.

His faith is in things around him. I don’t want that. I want faith in something infinite, something deeper and wiser and better than anything I could dream up, something big enough for all my doubts and fears.

So here’s where I put my faith:

I believe God created the world to work in a specific way that leads to his glory and our joy. The best way for us to be truly satisfied – to fill that deep longing within us – is to live according to God’s design.

The problem, though, is that we thought we knew better. Sin entered the world and corrupted God’s good design. This world and the people in it are broken, and we see the consequences of this every day: shootings, death, poverty, accidents, arguments, fears, evil, pride and so much more. We are all broken. We can’t get better no matter how hard we try.

The only way to become whole is to trade our brokenness for Christ’s perfection. He lived a perfect life because he knew we wouldn’t. His death on the cross is his payment for our debt. He trades his righteousness for our sin. The freedom that comes with this great exchange is life-giving and empowering. We can live as God intended, and as we follow him, he leads us into fullness of joy. Struggles and doubts still come, but underneath them is a foundation of grace.

Now here’s one way that gospel truth helps in parenting:

I don’t have to depend on “I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with.” That’s a hopeless place to be. I make it there pretty quickly, but then I lay that best shot at Jesus’ feet and tell my kids to look to Him for the good parts, not to me. And those bad parts I’m passing on? Jesus already paid for them, so he’s got those covered too.

There is freedom in the releasing of this burden. We all want our kids to turn out better than we did, but it doesn’t depend on us – it depends on the God who said, “Let there be light,” the God who inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, the God who marked out the foundations of the earth. I would much rather trust him than me.

Yes, we should do all we can to pour ourselves into our kids. We should plan and educate and work and love and pray, but we do so with hope, not despair, with faith, not doubt. Our kids will get the good, the bad and the ugly from us no matter what we do, so we point them to the ultimate Good and trust that he will take care of them.

That’s good news any day of the week.

To: All Moms, Re: The Guilt

Hey moms, though I’m under no illusions that one blog post is going to change the way you have operated since time immemorial, I have a message for you:

The guilt has to stop.

You know what I’m talking about. The guilt that you’re not doing enough. The fear that you’re messing your kids up. The haunting feeling that you’re not good enough. The pit that drops the bottom out of your stomach when you look at her kids, her kitchen, her clothes, her kids’ clothes, her kids’ hair, her kids’ lunches, her picture-perfect dates with her picture-perfect husband, her hair, her waistline, her seemingly effortless existence.

The thoughts that keep you awake at night, tossing and turning, twisting the sheets into a tangled mess. The voice that says you’ll never do enough. The critic who takes that beautiful family moment – when everything else seemed to fade away and you felt like for just a second, you had done something well – and deflates it: yeah, but you could have made part this just a little better

The constant hammering that doesn’t let you enjoy your kids, your family, your husband. The fear that you didn’t check the labels correctly, the food’s not as nutritious as it could be, the one time you forgot sunscreen will scar them – literally – for life.

You didn’t play with your kids enough today, you haven’t taught them enough Bible verses, you can’t afford to take them to Disney World, their table manners are atrocious, your boys have potty mouths, your girls are catty, you don’t remember the last time you sat down uninterrupted with a Bible, you’re fat, you’re grumpy, and you feel bad because it would feel so good to get away from it all.

Guess what? Your guilt is there for a reason. It whispers truth: what you do will never be enough. All your striving, all your planning, all your research, all your designs and schemes and work: It’s. Not. Enough. There will always – always – be someone better, someone more, someone to compare yourself to and be found wanting.

That’s depressing, but it’s true. You can’t do it all. You’re not enough.

Only one Person in history has ever been enough.

See, this is where the hope comes in. Trust that one Person. Believe that his enough covers your not-nearly-enough. Give your real guilt for your real failures to him. He will cover it with his perfection. He will wipe it away. It will be gone. Grace will cleanse you.

And your self-inflicted guilt that surfaces day after day after day? It’s not from God. He’s not condemning you. And if God is for you, well, don’t be against yourself. Instead, talk to yourself (HT: Martin Lloyd-Jones). Remind yourself: there’s no condemnation. Preach this to yourself (yes, women preachers are great). Rest in his grace. Direct your effort not towards beating yourself up, but to believing that the unbelievable is true and so you can go be a great mom to the glory of God.

You can plan terrific outings for your kids, you can dress them fashionably, you can post that fun picture on Facebook, you can teach them all the Bible verses. Those things are great and wonderful and you should do them. You are called to pour effort into living with passion and purpose the way God wants you to live.

Just don’t worry endlessly when someone else does more, does better, does it all. Forgiveness covers your actual failures and your real guilt. For your imagined failures and your self-inflicted guilt, remember:

God gave your kids the exact mother they need. They don’t need any other mom, no matter how amazing that mom seems. They need you. Be there for them – without the guilt.

Savoring the Moments

As parents of young children, we get this advice all the time: enjoy the moments now, because they will be gone before you know it (the moments and the kids). We already know the truth of this – our oldest is 10 (what?!) and our youngest is four. We’re out of the baby stage and the very young child stage, and I’m not sure how that happened. Must have blinked.

There’s a sadness when you’re finished with a stage. Middle-of-the-night feedings wreak havoc on you, and I still contend there’s no tiredness like the weariness of sleep deprivation brought on by a new baby. Sometimes your eyes just will not open. But you know what? There’s also no sweetness quite like the sweetness of holding a baby by yourself in the middle of the night, the two of you the only ones awake, life’s possibilities before you, his softness snuggling into you, the only sound the swallow of a little throat sucking down that precious bottle. The tiny hands, the chubby legs and cheeks, the eyes that flutter open, the smile that curls up at you. Melts your heart.

I miss that. But I don’t want to miss it so much I miss right now either. I think overall most of us do a pretty good job of savoring the moments. For all the angst that Facebook brings, it’s a really easy way to remember a lot of moments – just scan your timeline or check TimeHop. Pictures are easier to take than ever because we all have a camera all the time. (Developing them is another story. You should see my hard drive. Anybody got any free photo print codes you want to donate to the cause?) You can record funny or poignant anecdotes with words or video in seconds. We’re doing okay at this.

And here’s the other thing – there’s good stuff coming. Just because one great stage is through doesn’t mean all the ones to come will be duds. There’s more fun coming – we’re just shifting the way that fun is delivered. For example, our 10-year old is developing an adult sense of humor. He says things that are legitimately funny, not just little kid cute. He gives me a sly grin when I crack a joke that sails over the younger kids’ heads. He has taken my sports interest and expanded it by a ton – I’m pretty sure he knows more than I do about Kentucky basketball now. I just took him and our 7-year old to Rupp Arena to watch UK play and the look on their faces when they entered the cathedral of college basketball – well, that’s as good a memory as feeding them in the middle of the night a few years ago.

I guess my point is this – like most things in life, it’s a balance. Miss previous stages, sure, but do it with a smile, not with grief. Look forward to the next stage, yes, but do it with anticipation, not with impatience. Most of all, appreciate now, but do it with joy, not with guilt for not doing it enough. Enjoy the already. Look forward to the not yet. You’re here now. Your kids know that. They love you.

We had one of those moments the other night at the dinner table. Just our family, eating, when our five-year old – Mr. Class Clown – decided to eat his french fry in way not approved by Miss Manners. The kids cracked up, my wife and I laughed till we cried and I looked around, thinking, this is one of those moments to savor. I love when the kids’ faces are filled with delight and the pure, unfiltered joy of the innocent. One kid who thrives on making people laugh, his whole body smiling, his dimple a cuteness you can’t resist. The other four, who couldn’t help but laugh at his antics. I love to watch them all. I want this moment forever.

And now that it’s written down and I have a picture in my head – wish you could see it – it’ll be there when I need it.

Adoption

So, we have daughters now. Two wonderful little girls who once upon a time were not part of our family, but now enjoy all the rights and privileges that come with our last name (such as they are – if they understood more, the girls might want to back out of this deal).

We have spent two and a half years aiming toward this goal, not knowing if it would ever come about, wondering if we would ever feel like they were our kids. Because in a lot of ways, we’ve just been babysitting. Yes, they were part of our family. Yes, we loved them. But the reality is they weren’t our kids.

Now they are. And while we haven’t switched out of foster mode overnight, things are starting to feel different. How could it not, when you stand in front of a judge, raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth and then, after a few basic questions, the lawyer hits you with: “Do you understand that this adoption means that these girls will have your last name? Do you understand they will have all the rights and privileges of your natural-born children? Do you understand that under the law, there is no difference in any of your children? Are you ready to claim them as your own? Are you willing and able to take care of them? Are you ready for them to be part of your family?”

With tears in our eyes and hope in our hearts, yes.

Because it’s a little surreal that this actually happened (adoption is something OTHER people do, right?), I think we’re seeing the whole experience through the eyes of others. The eyes of 50 of our family and friends who sacrificed time and money and convenience and vacations to join us in a courtroom on October 1 to witness the final adoption ceremony. The eyes of the court workers which got bigger every time the elevator doors revealed another crowd of supporters. The eyes of the social workers who cried their way through the ceremony because not all cases end up like this.

A huge shout out to our family and friends who supported us for so long. Fostering is hard. You can’t do it on your own. You need people to give you breaks, to make you meals, to help you talk things out, to ride the roller coaster with you, to host a fantastic open house so everyone can come celebrate. You did all of that and more for us – thank you.

Because we’ve already had the girls in our home for two and a half years, our day-to-day lives won’t change. We’re already used to wrangling five kids every day (and yes, wrangling is the correct technical term). Legally, though, everything has changed. Their last name is now our last name. They are considered natural born children to us. The state is not taking them out of our home. Their biological parents are not coming to get them. Our boys have sisters. Our girls have brothers.

So this, the final adoption, is both the end of nothing and the beginning of everything.

There’s talk in Christian circles about how extraordinary our lives should be. We need to move to Africa to make our lives count. We need to start an orphanage. We need to live in the inner city. We need to leave a legacy that ordinary people can’t match. We need to accomplish great things. We’re failures if we just go to work, know our neighbors, take our kids to school, go to church.

My theory: many extraordinary things happen simply through the accumulated weight of ordinary details. Uncountable loads of laundry. Thousands of meals. Bedtimes every night. Car rides every morning. One diaper at a time, one day at a time, one girl at a time. The story of our lives does not play out mostly in the big moments – our legacies are written in the millions of small decisions that reveal our character each day. How we speak to our kids. How we prioritize our time. Our faithfulness to our church. The phone calls with our parents. The texts to our friends. Our consistency in loving our neighbors.

Some of us are truly called to “big” things. But get the mundane, ordinary things right first – that’s extraordinary in itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything has?” Fostering and adopting has been like that for us. In some ways it felt like a big thing (try taking five little kids to a restaurant), but much of the time, it was dealing with the unending details that make up our lives. Add in the issues of fostering – emotional, physical, social, mental – multiply it all by five kids and it feels more crazy and exhausting than extraordinary. Months went by with no daily difference. But add up 30 of those months and everything changed.

Many people tell us how amazing we are, what a wonderful thing we’re doing, how lucky the girls are to have us, how extraordinary this is. And I get it. In a general sense, they’re right and they’re just expressing their joy. But we’re not amazing. This isn’t extraordinary, not for those to whom Adoption already means so much. All we’re really doing is living each day in light of the glorious gospel of grace. It’s only possible because Jesus was adopted so long ago by two young people who weren’t quite sure what was happening, but took it a day at a time until the stone rolled away.

We have daughters. Our world has changed. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Evil Genius of Build-a-Bear

My parents have a fun tradition to buy each of their grandkids a Build-a-Bear animal for their fourth or fifth birthday. We all go to the store, the birthday kid picks out a bear and its outfit, hat and shoes, we eat somewhere and a good time is had by all.

The grandparents have completed this process seven times – four for my brother and three for us. Every time the honored child has been a boy because Hoaks can’t seem to produce females.

Now that we’re grafting in girls from the outside, things are, uh, different. I’m still not entirely sure what transpired when we walked in that den of childhood bliss to celebrate the girls’ fourth and fifth birthdays with two grandparents, two parents, three boys and two girls, but we left carrying a whole lot more than we entered with.

First, bears are not enough. The good business people who run Build-a-Bear wisely decided at some point not to be constrained by their name. Not only can you stuff and dress your own bear, you can now choose a cat, a dog, a pony, a ninja turtle and much more. I know this because an orange and white doggy with mega-eyelashes (Lucy) and a purple pony with wings (Sparkle) now reside at my house.

Once the girls saw the pony and the dog, they could not be talked into anything else. They were laser-focused. Which is totally fine. If they want a dog instead of a bear, more power to them.

Until you realize that a dog and a pony have four feet rather than a bear’s traditional two feet. And it’s 99 percent impossible to walk out of Build-a-Pony/Dog without also buying footwear for said animal. Only now you’re buying twice as much. Plus roller skates. More on this in a minute.

This is especially where the evil genius kicks in. One of the salesladies had very thoughtfully dressed a stuffed dog in every accessory possible and placed the dog front and center so that when my daughter entered the store, she would be overcome with joy, point at the dog and say, “I want this one! I love its roller skates and its dress and its crown and collar and its sparkly leash!”

The saleslady of course hears this and says to her partner in crime, “She wants one just like this.” Those are the words she said out loud. I broke her code, though. What she really meant was this: “Hahahaha, these people are major suckers!!!!! Let’s pile on every accessory we can find. If they say no to even one item, their whiny little kid is gonna throw a major temper tantrum. Grab double of everything for the feet. Yes!! I love how easy it is to swindle families!!!!” The speed with with the second saleslady responded was astounding.

We now have a dog and its frilly pastel tutu dress, a winged pony and its robe and hat, two glittery leashes, a crown, a collar and two birth certificates. Oh yes, and eight shoes and eight roller skates. Let me digress — roller skates for a dog are about the dumbest thing I can imagine. And yet, that’s what makes the girls excited, so roller skates it is. And here’s the rub: at least 90 percent of the time, those shoes and skates will not reside on animal feet where they belong, but in random locations where we can trip over them. There may or may not be inappropriate yelling when this occurs. Okay, digression over.

With all the accessories, we kicked in a little to cover the added costs brought about as a result of the extra x chromosomes. Build-a-Bear has quite a scheme going. I applaud their marketing department. I also would like to rain down calamity upon their heads.

I’m pretty positive this is only the beginning of the accessory parade that will march through our house over the next decade. And you know what? They’re happy, so it’s all good. Evil, but good.