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Ancient History

A Helpful Heart is It’s Own Reward, Unless You’re Five

There was a dog food disaster in the kitchen. Ollie dumped out the dogs’ dinner all over the kitchen floor. The mess was everywhere. Archie, a boy who appreciates tidiness, clucked his disapproval and told me he would fetch the broom. He took it one step further though. I thought he was going to bring the broom to me. Instead, he crisply told me he would take care of the situation. He reached under the table, into the corners, along the bottom cabinets and got every last petrified meaty kernal gathered into a pile. Then, he swept everything into the dustpan. Archie did a remarkable job.

I said thank you and told him what a great job he did.

“I know! What’s my reward?”

“Uh. Nothing? I’m glad you helped and am proud you did such a good job.”

“So, you’re saying I don’t get a reward?”

“No reward. Did you do it just to get a reward?”

He nodded. “I thought you’d give me something.”

“Sometimes, people do things just because they have kind hearts and know they are helping others. That makes them feel good, which is a reward, right?”

He looked really skeptical, so I decided to try to twist it back to a recent example where someone helped him. “Do you remember when Sam helped you with your homework? Did you give him a reward or tell him thank you? He did it because he loves you.”

Archie’s face lit up. I thought I had made a breakthrough as I watched him run into the kitchen and stop in front of the refrigerator. “Sam!’ he shouted. ‘What is your favorite kind of ice cream?” Sam, who was sitting at the computer doing homework in the next room looked confused. “Vanilla?”

I asked Archie if he was rewarding his brother with ice cream, right before dinner, without asking. “Yep.”

“Sam can’t have ice cream now! Giving him something that isn’t your right to give or doesn’t belong to you is not a reward. All you have to do is tell him thank you!”

“Ugh. Okay.” Archie closed the freezer door but brightened immediately.

“I’ll give him Aidan’s Rainbow Twizzlers! Sam! What’s your favorite color?”



It was getting worse, careening away from the tender, noble lesson I thought I had stumbled upon. Parenting experts claim the best chances to teach your children are often small, unexpected moment—like a dog food explosion and subsequent cleanup. I guess maybe Archie did learn a lesson? Hand the broom to mommy. I’ll sweep and thank myself later with a bowl of chocolate.

Sheer Lunacy: Getting Up With Children to Watch an Eclipse

In the tender hours of today, I hoisted my head off a downy pillow, threw off warmed blankets, and sat up. What was I thinking? Why do I make difficult promises to keep?

Today’s promise was to wake certain kids so they could go outside to witness the total lunar eclipse and ensuing blood moon. It was the second major lunar event of four. We watched the eclipse and blood moon back in April, too. Smartypants folk are calling it a Tetrad, which means group of four. I would call it a Quartet if I were in charge of such things. Tetrad seems more dramatic, with an ominous tinge. Fantasy novels often have titles with words like Tetrad. I can make up a few easily:

Winged Lords of the Tetrad Doom

Revenge of the Tetrad Sword

Riders of the Flaming Tetrad Suns

Are You There God, It’s Me, Tetrad?

Archie had a rough night with incessant coughing. I got him up to give him honey and warm water, thinking he’d relax downstairs on the couch and fall asleep while the other kids went outside to moon-watch. I got him settled around 3:45 and went to wake older kids, who went to bed early in anticipation. The only ones who wanted nothing to do with it were the two oldest. This proves two things. With age, comes sense. With age, comes a lack of wonder.

Sam, Tommy, Joel, and Beatrix were happy and excited as they hunted for shoes in the dark. I had been outside on a short mission to determine the best location to watch the eclipse. I didn’t think it was cold. It felt exhilarating, in fact. I told the kids they probably wouldn’t need jackets and the poor kids believed me. We all forgot I’m a middle-aged woman and we overheat. The best viewing spot turned out to be at the end of our driveway, surrounded by the dark houses of neighbors. Before I opened the front door, I warned them all to be very, very quiet.

That’s when Archie began to howl indignantly. He wanted in on the blood moon action, too. I debated whether or not to let him join us. But, I remembered one of the treatments for croup coughs is cold night air. It could help his non-croupy cough, too, I reasoned. He found his shoes and we traipsed outside whispering.

At that point, the moon was about 50% obscured and not yet red. We traded Sam’s binoculars around as silently as possible, nudging each other. I helped Archie find the moon on his first turn. He gasped a “Wow!” and that set off a small coughing fit.

“Ssssshhhhhhhhh!” the kids hissed. I thought about certain busybody neighbors waking to the sound of a small child hacking outside at 4:00am and calling the cops to cry neglect. “It’s okay,” I told them. Their shushing was more annoying.

One by one, they returned to the house to put on jackets. Joel wrapped a blanket around his waist, too, which everyone said was a skirt. That nearly set him off until he saw my glowing laser beam eyes in the dark warning him any outburst would mean a one-way trip back to bed. The six of us watched the moon grow darker and darker. Archie coughed. Nobody dropped the binoculars. We talked more, but always in a whisper. They noticed the stars growing brighter as moonlight dimmed, identifying basic constellations. At one point, we heard someone down the street cough and then a flash go off. Appreciators of the wonders of astronomy, unite.

Somehow, I managed to keep the high spirits to a whisper as the moon grew rusty red. That lasted until one of the kids, who will remain anonymous, farted multiple times in rapid-fire succession. They burst out laughing, which killed the serenity of the majesty of the moment. Lunacy, indeed.

Because school was looming in a few short hours, I herded them back inside and had them return to bed for a bit more sleep. They protested they couldn’t possibly sleep. I could. I did, and well.

The last two dates of the Tetrad are April 4, 2015 and September 28, 2015. We plan to get up for those, too. I will remember to not make chili the meal before.

Today's lunch of leftover Ranch Chicken Chili was last night's pre-eclipse dinner.

Today’s lunch of leftover Ranch Chicken Chili was last night’s pre-eclipse dinner.

What Do You Do With a Big Blue Two?

Ollie’s second birthday theme was Thomas the Tank Engine, who is a cheery shade of bright blue. The cake was blue velvet and the plates were blue. When I looked at the birthday candle selection, a blue “2″ caught my eye. I didn’t think about the size in relation to the cake until it was party time. I took it out of the little box and laughed. It was gigantic.


After blowing out his candle like a very big boy, I removed it and the rest of the cake toppers. I put it by the sink and had a brief flashback to another “2″ candle. That candle was a symbol of loss and sorrow. The new big blue two was simply a marker on a happy road, proof of life’s little surprises.

Later, while cleaning up, I wondered what to do with the big blue two. It was still in good shape because it had only been lit for the span of Happy Birthday. It’s not warped or misshapen in any way, so it seemed like a waste to throw it out. I put it in the kitchen odds and ends drawer to live with plastic cutlery, twist ties, rubber bands, and sneaky crumbs. Will the “2″ ever find itself wearing a flaming cap again? Probably not. Ollie is our last baby.

I feel a bit sorry for it in the same way I once felt achingly sorry for the Lowercase N, standing on a hill. The wind was very still. It was lonely and cold and it was known the Lowercase N would cry out now and then. I hope the big blue candle doesn’t share this fate because the remedy is a rocket ship to deposit another “2″ at our house. I don’t need that landscaping headache or media circus. Plus, we are about five years away from a 22nd birthday. I will lose patience with the junk drawer way before then.

Silliness aside, I’m humbled we’ve had four more second birthdays since that painful day in the kitchen nine years ago. The simple chunk of shaped wax gutted me, which seems bizarre and overwrought years later—almost embarrassing. But sorrow and repeated kicks in the gut can transform the most mundane objects or events into arrows. I’ll never forget how it felt to be reminded of loss when I least expected it. I’ll never forget about the foolishness of making assumptions. Eleven months later, Beatrix was born.

I don’t know what happened to Joel’s second birthday candle. Did I toss it out in a fit of junk drawer purging? Did some small child sneak off with it? Did aliens abduct it to take it to a lonely “2″ on a far off planet?

Of course they did.