Meet Rita Buettner:

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” After struggling with infertility, my husband and I were blessed to adopt our two sons from China. I’m a working mother who writes about family fun and faith. Oh, and I own hundreds of flyswatters. Join me on Twitter, say hello at openwindowcr@gmail.com, or follow me on Facebook

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Thank you, Chere! It really caught me off guard. I'm wondering whether she was just having an awful day.

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Oh my! This is a new one for me too. I have five, four of whom are boys. My hands are certainly full but how anyone could see overflowing life as a punishment....wow. I love reading about life with your boys.

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Open Window

7 Quick Takes Friday: Our sons’ career plans, being Catholic, a beach weekend, and the joy of coming home to a dry basement


~1~

Our sons have decided they are going to open a gas station together. Their only disagreement is over which one of them will get to do the best job in the world—which is, of course, this.



I suggested maybe they could take turns.

~2~

The other day when only Leo was with me, I picked up a free giveaway item and handed it to him.

“What about one for my brother?” he said.

“Um, well....” I hesitated. As surprising as this might be to you, we don’t really need more junk around the house.

“But Mama,” Leo said. “You’re Catholic!”

Expectations for thoughtfulness and generosity around here are apparently high. We took another home.

~3~

Our official summer vacation, the one that comes with cousins, aunts, uncles, and Grandma and Grandpa, is still on the horizon. But last weekend a friend offered to let us stay in her beach place, so we headed down for the weekend.



We have never vacationed just as a family of four because when we do travel, it’s usually to visit out-of-town family. We even had the chance to visit with John’s godmother, who lives in the town where we stayed and is such fun. She just got pulled over for speeding for the first time in her 80-some years of life. (Don’t worry. She talked her way out of the ticket.)

~4~

While we were at the beach, we went to Frontier Town, which is near Assateague, Md. When we got there, Leo spotted a ropes course. You had to be 7 to climb it. Perfect. Leo is 7.

But 7-year-olds could only climb it with a responsible adult. Hmm. Yeah. Not happening with the responsible adults who are in our family.

To be clear, I would run through fire for our children. I would rescue them from a lion’s jaws. But neither John nor I can climb a ropes course.

It is so, so hard to have to disappoint your child. But sometimes you have no choice.

Luckily there was a miniature golf course there too, and our sons have fallen in love with mini golf. What a perfect solution!

“It’s unlimited play,” said the girl at the desk. No wonder. It was the most difficult course we have ever played. We were stuck behind a group of 10 people, none of whom were able to get the ball in without hitting it a dozen times. And we could understand why they were challenged. Some of the holes were so impossible we just gave up.



By the third hole, John and I were exchanging when-will-this-ever-end looks. Still, even though Daniel lost his ball in the water halfway through, our sons loved every minute.

And I have no doubt it was more fun than the ropes course.

~5~

Because the weather wasn’t great, we only went to the actual beach—the sand and the ocean—once on our weekend trip. But we took with us the Great Wall of China sand molds my sister Treasa and her family gave us.


They are so cool. We are going to have a great time with these when we go back to the beach with the cousins. 


Despite my attempts to convince our children that claw machines are a rip-off, we will probably also still find some fun there.



And here.



And we are hoping the only sharks we see are these.



~6~

John’s godmother told us that the pastor of the parish closest to where we were staying was not tolerant with noise from children during Mass. So we drove to the next closest parish. Our boys are reasonably well-behaved, but we were on vacation and they were tired from our weekend of fun. I didn’t want to go to a church where we knew the priest might criticize their behavior.

At the church, we found some kind women running a Catholic gift shop in the narthex. Each of the boys picked out a medal for one of our cars. They (the boys, not the cars) are so proud of them.



~7~

On Saturday afternoon of our long weekend we started hearing word of torrential rain and flooding around Baltimore. We went online to look to see whether our house had power, and we could see that outages had been reported for houses on our street. The scary outage triangle was right in front of our house.

We figured our basement was flooded because the pump in the exterior stairwell is electric. After Mass on Sunday, we headed home to what was sure to be a water-logged basement.

When we arrived, though, we discovered we had never lost power. The pump was working, and the basement was completely dry. We were stunned—in a good way, of course.

That night I was asking everyone about their favorite parts of our trip. They talked about miniature golf and playing in the sand and going to the Boardwalk. John’s favorite part? Coming home to a dry basement. That was mine too. We are such grown-ups.

~Bonus Take~

Earlier this week I had the honor of being on my friend Elizabeth Reardon’s radio show on Real Life Radio. Writing is much more my thing than speaking, but it was fun to be part of her show. You can hear it here. 

Read more quick takes on Kelly’s blog. Have a wonderful Independence Day!


July 03, 2015 01:08
By Rita Buettner


Q&A with a master gardener: Caring for Monarch butterflies


When we were raising our caterpillars and waiting for them to become butterflies, I accidentally identified them as Monarch caterpillars. They were, in fact, Painted Ladies.

The first person to point out my mistake was Chris Drees, a master gardener who wrote to tell me that our caterpillars didn’t look like Monarchs. She would know. She raises Monarchs in Orange County, Calif.

As we exchanged emails, I realized how interesting it could be to learn about Monarch butterflies. I asked her to answer a few questions about her work for Monarchs, and she was so generous with her time. She sent me her replies as well as these beautiful photos.



How and when did you get involved in raising Monarchs? 

A couple of years ago a fellow master gardener reached out to the membership asking if anyone wanted to help her with the abundance of Monarch caterpillars she had in her yard. I thought it would be a fun project so volunteered to take a few home with me. From there they multiplied and I was hooked.

Why do you do it?

I started doing it simply because I thought all butterflies and particularly Monarchs were so beautiful and I wanted some fluttering in my backyard. After doing some research, it became apparent to me that beyond being beautiful, they need the help of all of us to survive. It is fulfilling to know that even in a very small way, I am helping to increase the dramatically declining number of Monarchs.

What are some of the challenges Monarchs face today?

There are more challenges facing Monarchs that I ever imagined. They can contract a number of infections—a protozoan parasite known as O.E. is particularly prevalent—but one of the greatest challenges is the loss of habitat due to the eradication of milkweed through the use of pesticides (the only plant on which Monarchs will lay eggs and which caterpillars will eat) and the illegal logging in Mexico where Monarchs migrate to each winter. There is considerable debate and controversy over the impact the use of certain pesticides has on the Monarch population and it is worth researching to learn more about this subject if one has the time and interest in protecting all the creatures on our planet including us humans.



What can we do to help the Monarchs?

Everyone can do just a little to increase the declining numbers and help save this magnificent being. It is as simple as planting milkweed in your backyard so Monarchs can lay their eggs and feed the caterpillars and to have nectar plants for the emerging butterflies to feed upon. For enthusiasts such as myself, one can collect the eggs from the plants to keep them from natural predators, keeping them in enclosures and releasing them when finally they emerge as butterflies. There are numerous sites on the web that discuss the do’s and don’ts of becoming involved.

Is caring for the caterpillars a big commitment?

It depends upon the level of commitment one wants to make. As I mentioned, it can simply be planting the milkweed and letting nature take its course. If raising them, it does take the commitment to ensure they have enough food and that whatever habitat is used to contain them is kept clean and sanitary.



How many do you care for at a time?

That depends upon how many Monarchs are fluttering around my yard and laying eggs on the milkweed. Recently I was caring for about 25 caterpillars and waiting for about another 25 eggs to hatch.  Usually I have a “batch” of Monarchs in the egg stage, another batch in the caterpillar stage, and then still another in chrysalis. Then along come more Monarchs in the yard, fluttering about and laying more eggs, so it’s an ongoing process.

Where you live, can you release them year-round?

In Southern California where the climate is warm they can be released year-round. I have found, however that I see a very few, if any, during the winter months. I see them again in my yard in the spring. I have friends who do see them all year.

What advice would you offer someone who wanted to get involved in raising Monarchs?

I would advise doing the research to learn about the life cycle of Monarchs, their needs during their life stages, the health challenges they face and how to avoid or minimize the various unfortunate viruses and parasites they can encounter along the way. One wonderful resource in learning more about Monarchs is monarchwatch.org, but there are also many other resources available.

What has been most surprising to you about caring for the Monarchs?

How much the Monarch caterpillar can eat! Shortly before they are ready to go into the chrysalis phase, one Monarch caterpillar can strip an entire milkweed plant in no time! The plants regrow fairly quickly but I also find myself running to the nursery for more plants. Which reminds me to mention that when one buys milkweed, they should ask the nursery about their policy in the use of pesticides on their milkweed.

How many do you think you have raised?

I honestly have not kept count. Over a hundred easily. 



Do you have a background in biology or ecology?

No background in either. I have educated myself in the subject because it is one for which I reap great rewards when seeing each emerging butterfly take flight and in knowing that in a very small way, I am making a difference. I still do lots of research and learn more with each “crop” of Monarchs I raise.

Do you ever care for other butterflies?

So far I have not been able to attract other butterflies in my yard even though I have planted nectar flowers specific to certain types of butterflies. I see an occasional Mourning Cloak, Painted Lady, or Sulfur but they are just passing through. A friend gave me a few Swallowtail caterpillars. They went into chrysalis but never made it to the butterfly stage. I don’t know why. Giant Swallowtail caterpillars are some of the ugliest creatures you’ll ever see but oh, what magnificent butterflies they become!

I’m not sure why more are not coming but I will keep trying. My main focus, however, is the Monarchs as they are specifically threatened. In the past 20 years, the population of Monarch butterflies has decreased by 90 percent. The government is making attempts to help with the survival not only of Monarchs but bees and other pollinators but we can all join in and do our part to make a difference and ensure their future.

July 02, 2015 11:13
By Rita Buettner


Apparently being a mother of two makes me a "glutton for punishment"


At the end of a library trip, our two sons and I carried a stack of books to the circulation desk and slid them onto the counter.

As I fumbled in my purse for my library card, the boys worked to turn the books over, jostling each other to try to help get the books ready for scanning.

“How old are they?” the woman behind the desk asked.

“5 and 7,” I said, pulling out my card as our boys wriggled with excitement about the books we were taking home.

She looked down at them and frowned.

“Glutton for punishment,” she said.

Her words stopped me cold. What she said went right past our sons, who were still happily waiting for her to scan their books. But her outspoken criticism of our family hit me hard.



In the heat of the moment, I didn’t respond. I was so flustered that I just wanted to get to the car and go home. But, if I could go back in time, this is what I would say:

I wish you knew how overjoyed I am to be the mother of these little boys.

You see them as a nuisance and a burden. I recognize them as gifts from God who will, we hope, grow up to be men who serve and lead and love.

Is every day as their mother a breeze? Of course not. But I remember life before motherhood, and I’d happily take the hardest days as a parent over the easiest days before I become their Mama.

That journey to parenthood wasn’t easy. For years my husband and I hoped and prayed and worked to become parents. We were fingerprinted and fingerprinted again. We went through interviews, a home inspection, and piles and piles of paperwork. It was worth it.

When we first saw their pictures, we cried. We looked at those photos for months before we flew to the other side of the world to hold them for the first time.

Every single day since then we have stopped to thank God for bringing these children into our lives, for allowing us to be their parents.

They are active and excited and curious and loving.

They see the world through eyes of faith, and they challenge us in our beliefs, as well.

They greet new experiences with compassionate hearts and minds open to the possibilities each day brings.

They are individuals with their own concerns and questions and aspirations for the future.

They are best friends. They wrestle and act out imaginary scenes and stay up late swapping jokes and giggling into the covers.

They are our sons. They are our world. We are honored, humbled, and so very blessed to be their parents.

If being the mother of these two extraordinary children makes me a glutton for punishment, I’ll take it—with pleasure.

I just hope someday you discover for yourself how much joy this kind of “punishment” can be.



June 29, 2015 11:26
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: Why Father's Day was a blast, a snowball summer, misheard conversations, lasagna at last, a Chinese dragon boat, and a summer reading victory


~1~

For Father’s Day our sons were so busy not telling their father what his gift was that of course he figured it out.



"It's not an Estes rocket, Baba."

"Did he just tell Baba a lie, Mama?"

We had to get John an Estes rocket, and when we saw that they made one called Big Daddy, our search was definitely over.



On Father’s Day evening we took two rockets—not the Big Daddy because John will have to build it first—to a park and launched them.



This whole rocket thing is so new to me and I still can’t believe we are doing it. But it’s also wonderfully fun.

~2~

After rocket launching, we were all hot so we went to a local snowball stand for a treat. Snowballs are a Baltimore delicacy. They’re not snocones or shaved ice or water ice. They’re small but chunky pieces of ice—not smooth at all—and then the flavor goes on top of the ice.

This is going to get me in hot water, but I actually don’t care for snowballs. I don’t even usually get one, but we were dripping with sweat, so I ordered a chocolate pudding flavor one. It was surprisingly good. I still don’t know why.


Anyway, we were sitting there eating our snowballs and the boys were intentionally dripping flavoring on the table to attract ants. I was sitting there thinking how great summertime is, and how happy I was that all I had to think about was how I’d wipe the table off when we were done, when all of a sudden I remembered that I was supposed to pick my sister up from the train station—and I had to take my family home first.

I made it, and with minutes to spare. I was so thankful that the train was late.

~3~

As I was waiting for my sister to come out of the train station, I kept scanning the crowd watching for her. I enjoyed seeing the hugs and warm greetings as the other people came out, but really I was just looking for my sister.

I found myself thinking of how at the Catholic Women Bloggers Network conference I went to in May, my new friend Abigail was talking about how she’s God’s “It girl,” and how she knows how special she is to Him. It made me think of how I was looking only for my sister in the crowd, just as God is looking for me. Of course, He cares about every single other person there, but He loves me enough to seek me out specifically.

And He loves each of us that way. Isn't that wonderful?


~4~

The other day I was having lunch with a friend whose son is also adopted from China. The day before we saw them was his “Gotcha Day.” At one point I said to her, “So did you do anything special for Gotcha Day?”

She gave me a really strange look, sort of surprised, and sort of unsure how to answer.

It turned out that she thought I had said, “Did you do anything special for God today?”

That is a different question. I don’t often ask that one in conversation, though perhaps I should ask it of myself more frequently.

~5~

Leo is really into Garfield right now, so he has been asking me to make lasagna. Since I have been off this week, it seemed like a perfect time to make it—except that we have an electric stove and we haven’t had reliable electricity this week.

So my sister and brother-in-law invited us over and made lasagna for us.



Yum.

I even got to play peek-a-boo with my niece.



~6~

When I saw this Chinese dragon boat puzzle, I knew Leo would love it—and he did. He punched out the pieces and asked me where the instructions were.

I showed him.



Luckily he didn’t have any trouble putting it together.




~7~

Our boys scored their first summer reading prize!

Daniel landed a superhero rubber ducky and Leo got a superhero mask that took 30 seconds to assemble and came with more instructions than the Chinese dragon boat.

Then we went and found some books of Garfield comics and he has been reading them ever since. I’m not sure Garfield is the morally upright character I’d like him to be, but I do love to see our children becoming enthusiastic readers.



I also don’t mind that our son keeps asking for more lasagna.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog.


June 25, 2015 11:27
By Rita Buettner


Water, water everywhere, so grab a bucket!


The thunder was already rumbling when I put a pot of water on the stove and slipped some leftover stuffed peppers into the oven for dinner.

As I worked in the kitchen, the storm was getting fiercer and closer. Then the power went out and the boys were scared. Dinner didn't matter anymore. We grabbed a flashlight and some books and huddled together on the couch to read.

When John made it home, his first thought was the electric pump that keeps water from flooding into the exterior stairwell to our basement. He was right to be worried. Minutes later, he and I had become a bucket brigade, working furiously to empty the stairwell as muddy water started coming over the threshold into the basement.

Even though we wanted the boys out of the way, they were too scared to be anywhere else. So we sent them running for towels and then made them sit on the carpeted steps inside the basement where they could shine flashlights on us and ask a string of questions—some of which we answered and some of which I missed while lugging buckets of water to the utility tub.

I did pause for long enough to explain that the whole house was not going to end up underwater, that we were all safe, that we were lucky Baba was home, and to ask them to say a prayer.

“I already did, Mama.” Of course he did. A child who prays before each game on the iPad probably prays when his house is flooding.

Eventually the torrential rain subsided and we were able to stop. The power was still out, though, and John’s idea of dinner after all that excitement was not sitting in a dark kitchen with a plate of bananas, cheese, and crackers.

And the storm was over. So we locked the door, climbed into the car, and headed to a restaurant.



We were sharing our war stories as our waitress arrived with our food, and Leo said to me, “Mama, why didn’t we make lasagna for dinner?”

I started to explain about the leftover peppers in the oven and stopped. I suddenly realized I had left the stovetop on. If the power came on while we were out, all the water could boil away, and it could start a fire.

I grabbed my purse and ran, leaving my family behind.

I raced home—luckily not far. As I turned onto our street, I could see that the power was back on. In the kitchen the water was boiling, but there was still plenty of water. I made it in time.

I turned everything off and headed back to the restaurant, where our boys happily ate my shrimp scampi since I was still shaky at the idea of what might have happened.

This was last night. Since then we have lost power two more times (so far?), John has mountains of dirty towels to wash, and we are debating what to do to prevent future flooding, but we know we are very fortunate. We have friends nearby who sustained much worse damage from huge pieces of hail and the deluge of rain. We are all safe. That's what really matters.

And now you know why we didn’t make lasagna for dinner.


June 24, 2015 02:28
By Rita Buettner


Visiting the Liberty Bell on one of the hottest days of the year (because that's what parents do)


On one of the hottest days of the summer our sons and I drove up to see two of their cousins, who live outside Philadelphia.



We rode the SEPTA commuter train into the city, got off, and walked for hours and hours in the blazing heat, sweat dripping from us, nothing to drink in sight, and all to see some old bell with a crack in it.



If our sons were writing this blog, that’s what they might say. In reality, though, we walked a few blocks, had lunch, walked less than a block to see the Liberty Bell, took a short walk to Independence Hall, posed for a few photos, walked back to the train, and rode it back to their cousins’ house.



We didn’t wait more than two minutes for either train. Everyone was well-hydrated. There were lots of laughs and smiles—and even ice cream cones.

It truly was a fantastic day. But there was some whining (though not on the air-conditioned train on the way to the city).




I found myself remembering some of the hot, sweaty summer trips where my parents took us to historic spots around Boston—particularly the trip we took to the Concord Bridge, where the infamous story of the Last Sprite lives on in our memories, at least.

I think my brother, sister-in-law, and I incorporated just enough sweat and heat and tired feet so that the kids will know that one day when they become parents, they need to inflict the same kind of experience on their children.



And look at all they learned! This morning Daniel came to me and said, “Was that really the biggest bell in the whole entire universe?”

Um, well, no. So maybe next time, even if people are whining about how much their feet hurt, we should read the information in the exhibit.



Or maybe I should throw them in the car and take them back today. I hear we’re going to hit 105 degrees. What a perfect day to learn a little American history!


June 23, 2015 02:12
By Rita Buettner


7 Quick Takes Friday: Our new favorite game, how preschool graduation went, encyclical poetry, Father's Day celebrations, losing Monopoly, and our trip to Dutch Wonderland


~1~

Our sons have a new favorite game. Almost every night at dinner they want to be Mama and Baba. And Mama and Baba become the sons.

It’s hilarious. They are almost too good at being the parents—and specifically us.

In the middle of dinner, “Baba” leaps out of his seat. “Honey, I’m going to go do some laundry.”

“OK, dear,” comes the response in a high-pitched Mama voice. “And I’ll wash some dishes.”

They talk about their work days—and the descriptions of what they do are wonderful. Then John and I fumble through trying to describe their days. When we make mistakes, we are corrected, with loud whispers in our ears. I’ve actually learned more than I usually do about what happens in first grade.

We’re having fun with this concept. I just want to know when they will start doing the dishes and laundry for real.

~2~

On the last day of school Leo’s class served in a variety of ways during the end-of-year school Mass. When I asked Leo whether he had a role, his face lit up and he said, “I’m bringing up the Eucharist!”

I went to the Mass and watched as he and two of his friends carried the bread and wine up and handed them to the priest.


Then he turned to go bounding back to his seat, and he was absolutely beaming. When you get to bring up the gifts, there’s nothing ordinary about ordinary time.

~3~

The baby of the family is now a Pre-K graduate. The ceremony was wonderful—all 26 minutes of it. They sang songs and our not-so-little boy grinned and giggled and exchanged joking glancing blows with the boys on either side of him. He had told me the hand signals were “silly,” but you never would have known that to see him in action. We sat in the pews trying not to laugh, and failing.



Each child was given a superlative by the teachers, such as “Best at Cleaning Up,” “Future Teacher,” “Fastest Eater.” I was so surprised and moved when Daniel got “Best Artist.”

After the graduation, I went to thank the minister who has a session in the chapel with the children once a week. They sing a song, talk about a Bible story, and apparently have some great conversation. The children have great questions, he said, but our son? He has all the answers.

“I hope they’re orthodox,” John said.”

The minister smiled. “I wouldn’t know what to do if they were.”

Then we celebrated with a picnic with his grandparents, and his baby cousin and her parents, under gray, but not rainy, skies.



There were cupcakes (not baked by me), Chinese food (not made by me), and lots of running and climbing and jumping and swinging.



Picnics are the best.

~4~

Have you read the pope’s encyclical? I haven't. I will. I started it and realized it was way too long for one sitting—and I wasn’t actually sitting when I read it.

But not having read it doesn’t stop me from writing limericks about it. I mean, doesn’t the word encyclical just invite poetic genius? Here are two limericks:

Now encyclical starts with an E.

And it's written for you and for me.

Though its message is strong,

It is really quite long,

But I'll read it when I have a week free.

 

Now what is this thing...an encyclical?

It doesn't sound like something mythical,

Full of words from the pope,

Have we read it all? Nope.

But it's probably good stuff, though not quick-ical.

Is it time for another poetry contest? Oh, don’t twist my arm.

~5~

Every year for Father’s Day we take John to Matthew’s Pizza in Baltimore. He loves their pizza, and it’s just far enough out of our way that we don’t get there frequently.

This year we were heading downtown to register for summer reading at the Pratt Library, so we went a week early.

I didn’t photograph John’s pizza because I was too busy eating my own—well, the parts of my own that our children didn’t eat. Crab on a pizza. Yum.



Then we headed to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, which is another favorite spot we don’t visit as much as we should.



Whenever we go, we have a wonderful time. The volunteers there always treat us like honored guests, and we love riding the streetcars.



Now our dilemma is what to do for actual Father’s Day. As long as Baba gets a nap this weekend, I think we’re golden.



~6~

Why do children love Monopoly? Is it because it takes so long that their parents get bored with the game and let them win? Or is it the most amazing game and I just don’t understand how wonderful it is?

My brother-in-law loves it, so it must be great. But I love the idea of it more than the hours and hours of play that follow.

The other day Leo and I played, and he managed to buy both Boardwalk and Park Place and put hotels on them.




I was so happy to go bankrupt so we could end the game.

~7~

I had tried to create a list of things we wanted to do this summer, but all the boys wanted to put on the list was “The Beach.”

Then I reminded them that we had to go back to Dutch WonderlandIt’s always good to have at least two items on your list.



We had designated yesterday as the day to go, but we woke up to rain.

Hmm.



John and I deliberated briefly and decided to go anyway. It’s hard to find a workday we can both take, and we like to go mid-week to avoid some crowds.

So we went, and it rained most of the way there.



When we were about five minutes from the park, it was definitely still raining, and John and I exchanged glances. He broke the news that we might have to change our plans and do something else in Lancaster County.



The boys took it well, but they were obviously very disappointed. We agreed to go. We hoped it wouldn't be raining when we got there—but it didn’t look good.



Yet somehow when we pulled into the parking lot, the third car on the lot, the rain had stopped.

“I knew it would stop,” Leo said.



I had a sudden realization. “Did you pray?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

Simple as that.



It was a fantastic day. The children rode rides I would never have the courage to try, and Leo discovered the joy of growing into rides and the agony of outgrowing one.



These boys. They are so determined to grow up. And John and I are so blessed to be along for that ride, one we'll never outgrow.


P.S. Happy anniversary to my parents! Apparently the gift for 44 years of marriage is groceries, so now I know exactly where to buy their gift!


Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog.


June 19, 2015 04:09
By Rita Buettner


Saying goodbye to preschool


Today our younger son graduates from preschool.

It’s really not a big deal.

I mean, it’s preschool.

He’s learned his letters and his numbers. He can draw a fantastic truck. He is a master pumper on those swings. And he knows every school rule—and sometimes follows them.



Preschool is preschool. It’s a starting point. Every preschooler graduates eventually.

Besides, our little guy is ready for kindergarten. He’s going to his brother’s school next year, and he is excited—and maybe a little nervous.

He doesn’t want to leave his friends, though they are leaving too. We talk about all the new friends he’ll have in his new school.

“I’m not going to make any new friends,” he tells me adamantly. So we talk about how hard it is to leave friends behind—but how we can stay in touch. He’s not so sure. Neither am I.



Because the truth is that while he may be uncertain, I know I am not ready to leave his school behind. His teachers are my friends, friends I have seen every day for more than three years. They know our family intimately. Our little guy tells them everything, and what he doesn’t say, I share myself during hasty drop-offs and pick-ups that turn into much longer conversations.

People talk about not wanting strangers to raise their children—and I used to think that too—but the teachers at our son's daycare are not strangers. They are more like extended family. They are educators who love our children. They adore them. They celebrate their successes. They know how to talk us through the challenges.

Maybe they can talk me through this one. The challenge in saying goodbye to our preschool family.

Or maybe they can help me with what I really need, coming to grips with the fact that our baby boy is growing up. And one day he’ll be graduating from something much bigger, much more significant.



Not like today. This is just preschool graduation.

It’s really not a big deal.

Really, it’s not.

I’d better pack some tissues.


June 16, 2015 11:07
By Rita Buettner


Summer reading: No more pencils, lots more books...

It’s summertime! Summer around here means snowballs, lots of talk about going to the beach, and signing up for summer reading.

Our boys have an aunt who is a librarian for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, so we always register for their summer reading program—which our sons insist has the best prizes.



So this weekend we headed down to the Pratt’s Central Branch. If you are anywhere near Baltimore and you haven’t been to that library, you should drop everything and go. The building is absolutely gorgeous, dripping in history, full of friendly faces, and packed with books.

Our boys have been going there since they were toddlers, and Leo knows some back ways. He headed straight for an employee-only door inside, and I stopped him before he could barge through.

We gave our favorite librarian a big hug.



Then we headed to the children’s department.

We could spend all day there.



They have toys. They have fish. They have librarians who are prepared to go back in the stacks to dig up apparently-ancient books I remember from my childhood. Who doesn’t love Nate the Great and his passion for pancakes?

The children can even check out the books themselves.



And we registered for summer reading—which is free and gets us all excited to read many, many books this summer. Each of the boys picked out a free book to keep just for registering, and now we are marking down each day of reading as we work toward prizes, including my favorite, the T-shirt. At the end of it all, if we do well, we can win a trip to the Aquarium.

The only way you can top a trip to the Aquarium is by playing chess on the enormous chess board on the library’s first floor.

So we did.



Leo played both sides and let his brother make a few great moves. But big brother won in the end. It was fun to watch, especially since John and I don't know how to play.

Then we headed home to read about submarines and the biggest vehicles ever and the sun and Nate the Great and Wonder Woman and a whole pile of other characters we are just meeting for the first time.

Ah, summer reading. It might just be my favorite part of summer—well, after the beach.


June 14, 2015 11:26
By Rita Buettner


Let them go, let them go: Setting our flying friends free with a butterfly release party


From the time we met our five tiny caterpillars, we knew we would have to let them go eventually. You could do that in many ways, but I thought we should mark the occasion with a butterfly release party.



The guest list? Four humans and five butterflies.

The menu? Steamed (not butterfly) shrimp, butterfly-shaped crackers, and a butterfly cake.



The time? Early evening when there would be enough light for us to see them off.

Because we wanted our sons to feel somewhat in control of the situation, we let them decide that we would eat first and then have cake after the release.

What I didn’t realize was that the release would take time. I imagined us opening the netted butterfly habitat—OK, so it’s a cage—and watching all five butterflies fly off into the sunset.

I thought it would be like butterfly releases at weddings, with them sailing up into the sky.



Instead, we opened the cage and waited for them to figure out that the roof had a huge gap. One found its way out fairly quickly. Then a while later, another discovered the gap. Then another. And finally another.

There was no mad dash for the exit.



It might have taken a half-hour for the first four butterflies to leave. It was exciting to watch them go, but it also demonstrated to me—yet again—that I am not a patient person.

We waited and waited for the fifth butterfly to go, but it showed no interest in leaving.



Finally we cut the cake and ate it near the butterfly, talking to it, telling it that it could fly away.

Then the boys decided maybe the butterfly would stay with us forever.

“Can we keep it, Mama?”

Ah, those magic words.

No, no, I said. The butterfly needs to go free. The butterfly wants to go free. Think of how far it will fly and all it will do. What fun it will have!

The boys—and the butterfly—seemed unconvinced.



All evening, even after the boys had gone to bed, I checked and checked and checked the cage and the butterfly was still there.

The next morning it was still inside the open cage. I had promised the boys we would give it some food if it hadn’t flown away by morning—that had seemed like an easy promise to make—so we did. And it stayed all morning. We left the house at mid-day, and when we came home a few hours later, it was finally gone.

I was a little sad to see it go, but mostly I was relieved. I was starting to worry that the butterfly wasn’t able to leave us or that it was planning to lay hundreds of eggs that would become hundreds of caterpillars we would need to raise.



Raising five butterflies has been an absolute joy, but the reason we were successful—if you could call us successful—is that the instructions were so specific. This process really was fool-proof.

Here’s the kit we used. My only advice is to make sure you do it at a time of year when it is warm enough to release the butterflies; make sure you will be home for a few weeks before you order the caterpillars, and prepare your children for their departure at the end.

Our butterflies have gone off into the world to spread pollen and explore and maybe even create more butterflies. Their time with us is complete. They are off to do what butterflies do best.


That orange to the right is a butterfly blur.


On the evening of the party we sat at the dining room table and each of the boys spoke sweetly and seriously about how they would be sad to see the butterflies go.

They were sad, but there were no tears. It really was exciting to watch the butterflies—our butterflies—take this next step and head out into the wide world.

I haven’t learned much about patience through this process. But maybe, just maybe, I can hold onto that idea next week as I watch our little guy graduate from preschool.



You might also enjoy:

Waiting for our butterflies to emerge

It's a...butterfly!

Hellos and goodbyes and other thoughts inspired by butterflies




June 13, 2015 10:29
By Rita Buettner

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