Little Ditty about Charles and Kathleen.

Meet Charles and Kathleen.

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They live in bowl wrapped in a Kid’s Menu. Luxurious by snail standards.

Charles was the second new member of our household (pictured on the stick-like object). He joined our family in the early summer, when he was found washed up on the sidewalk after a recent downpour. The adoption of Charles happened immediately following the sad passing of Slimy the Slug, who had been Ali’s previous love.

(Turns out, grossness isn’t a factor in Ali’s choice of pets – it’s all about speed. As long as a pet is slow enough that he/she can never sneak up on her and surprise her, it’s perfect.)

Slimy the Slug met an untimely death. His autopsy (i.e. casual glance) indicated dehydration and possibly starvation. I’m sure I heard her ask me to please Google what she should feed Slimy. And I’m sure I murmured mm hmm in her general direction. But I may or may not have gotten back to her with the answers before Slimy suffered from the Unfortunate Drying Out Incident.

But snails.

Snails, y’all, are resilient.

Let me tell you about the resilience of The Common Alabama Yard Snail.

Ali was determined to take better care of Charles than Slimy, especially in the relationship category. Assuming that Charles’ Love Language was quality time, she carried him around the house with her in his tiny Rubbermaid container that I sincerely hope doesn’t get put back in my cabinet upon his death.

(“No that’s okay, honey – his home can double as his coffin, too. Why don’t you go ahead and bury him in that thing.”)

I often found that little bowl in the bathroom (if left behind after a joint trip because girls always go together and maybe Charles is a girl?), on the porch, in Ali’s bedroom, and, yes, on my kitchen counter.

I have declared more than once that a kitchen is no place for snails, but alas – Charles needs to be stimulated by different environments, you know?

In that vein, Ali began sneaking Charles out of the house – to see the world, to experience life, to sow his tiny little wild snail oats far and wide.

One such outing occurred on an especially hot summer Sunday. She put him and his container (no water included at the time, thank goodness) in her bible bag and took Charles to Sunday School and Kid’s Church.

Snails need The Gospel too, y’all.

She gave a few of her friends peeks at Charles and I’m sure wasn’t at all distracting from The Word being preached.

I, of course, knew none of this until she slipped up and mentioned Charles’ visit to church while we were on our way to lunch.

“Wait. You took your snail to Church??”

“Yes! And I need to take him into lunch, too, so he doesn’t get too hot in the car.”

“I’m pretty sure that restaurants don’t allow snails as patrons. See that sign? No Shirt, No Shoes, No Snails, No Business.”

But as she was peeking into her bible bag to check in on Charles and explain to him the harsh realities of this anti-snail world, she discovered that he was no longer in his Rubbermaid home.

Panic. Despair. Misery. Depression.

Throughout lunch, she fretted as to the whereabouts of Charles. Had he run away from his home, throwing off the warm, tender care of his eight-year-old master? Had he been stolen by a jealous Churchgoer, who had always dreamed of a snail for himself? Had he gotten lost in the crowd, confused and turned around by the various hallways and vestibules? WHERE WAS CHARLES.

After a long lunch (also known as three and a half lifetimes in Snail Years), we went back to the car. Ali flung her bible bag at me and begged me to dig through it and find Charles.

“I don’t know, honey…even if I do find Charles, he’s been in this bag in the 150 degree car for two hours…he’s most likely dead.”

“Charles isn’t dead! I’m sure of it! Please find him!”

I removed her bible…her various information sheets…her smuggled toys and jewelry. I dumped the dust particles out of the bottom of the bag. And there, the last remaining anything in the corner of her bible bag, was Charles.

His shell felt dry and as if it had been heated in a pizza oven. I saw no slimy traces of his head. I handed him to Ali to put back in what I was sure would be his coffin now, and told her sadly that Charles had died.

“He’s not dead! He just needs some water. He will be fine.”

“Okay honey…”

I contemplated the fact that my daughter was just the type of kid to happily have a dead pet for days or even weeks (they’re even slower when they’re dead), and that The Dearly Departed Charles was most likely in our lives to stay – at least for a while.

We got home and Ali quickly poured some cool water in the bottom of his home, then gave him some shrubbery to eat and a stick to crawl on. Then she left him in the bathroom for some much-needed alone time.

A few hours later, Ali called me into the bathroom.

“See, Mom? Charles is fine! I told you he wasn’t dead!”

Charles was happily (can snails be happy?) perched on his stick, antennas alert and looking as if he’d never experienced an Alabama car in the middle of August.

The next day, all of Charles’ dreams came true when, after a summer rainstorm that brings life and happiness, Ali found him his soul mate, Kathleen. Charles and Kathleen plan on raising their family in a cozy little Rubbermaid bowl and hope to travel the world together – because after all, they’re a sturdy breed of snail.

The Fabric of America.

Ali asked me to play with her the other day.

I agreed, as I was feeling a moment of Mommy Guilt over the fact that I am not the best playing-Mommy that ever was (actually I’m terrible at just sitting down and playing with my kids – I much prefer cuddling or reading or hiking or exploring.) So I vowed to play whatever she wanted.

She ran off to get set up, and when I entered the room, she announced that we would be playing crafts.

Crafts I can do. How did I know playing could be a potentially therapeutic type of activity? I expected us to be battling through another epically soul-sucking game of Chutes and Ladders. I should play more often!

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Ali is overrun with craft supplies in need of using, as she discovered a few weeks ago that one of the art galleries I have Picture Birmingham products in, Naked Art Gallery, has a bin of “free art supplies” for the taking. She and Noah have since become that bin’s biggest customers. We had dropped by the day before and they had picked out a load of fabric scraps and other miscellaneous items, such as the ziploc bag full of beer bottle caps and wine corks that I didn’t know they’d snagged until after they had thoroughly handled and sorted each one without washing them first.

(Although now that I’m pondering it, I suppose beer bottle caps aren’t that germy.)

(Except for the ones opened with the consumer’s teeth.)

(#MommyFail.)

Anyway.

We started out making a mosaic – I cut the fabric into random chunks, then she glued them onto a piece of paper.

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But then – I realized. We could really take this craft up a notch.

Because we do love a good geography game in our house.

One of our favorite things to do at Mexican restaurants is create the United States out of tortilla chips (did you know that tortilla chips almost always break in the shape of one of the fifty states? It’s a true fact), so why couldn’t we do it with fabric swatches?

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But then I remembered that I had a fantastic pad of blank United States maps (one of the most useful homeschooling extras I’ve ever bought), and realized they’d make a perfect template for my cutting – in case creating random swatches of fabric isn’t quite as serendipitous as breaking tortilla chips.

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And so I began butchering the nation, one region at a time, and using each state as a pattern to then cut it out of the fabric I had been given.

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I cut,

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and Ali glued.

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It was perfect for both of us – I find cutting out detailed patterns highly therapeutic, and what kid doesn’t find glue just as pleasurable? Plus, planning out the pattern to not let the same color touch each other too often as well as changing up the direction of the fabric was quite enjoyable for both of us.

We started at Florida, worked our way west, then headed to the midwest, and saved the worst for last – the northeast.

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WHY do you guys have to have such ridiculously tiny states??

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But, after two sessions of cutting and gluing and covering my living room floor with shards of fabric that will be present for at least nine days, we finished our precious map.

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Ali wanted to make Alabama look special, so it was the only state we did in the floral print. Unfortunately, it looks a bit bloody. But it’ll do.

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Later, because every craft is just an excuse to use Mod Podge, I brushed over it to give it a nice sheen, and to make sure no states escaped (although New Jersey made a valiant effort.)

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So. If you need a fun craft to discuss geography while getting some therapy in the form of cutting or gluing, this project is for you. And it is five stays in hell less painful than a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Arranged Marriage By Stealth.

We’re not monsters – we aren’t picking our kid’s spouses for them. We actually have several potential options for each child.

(But we want them to stay within those possibilities we’ve picked out for them. Which is completely reasonable.)

In fact, so reasonable that Ali has agreed with us on the Number One pick we’ve offered Noah: Tessa. Because it would secure her some sort of sister-in-law-half-removed status with her best friend (and Tessa’s older sister) AJ.

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A little history: Ali and AJ have been best friends since birth – or at least since Ali’s birth, as AJ is three and a half months older. Ashley, AJ’s mother, and I began having weekly lunches with our infants toted along in their pumpkin seats. I remember our very first date – it was at Guthrie’s, and I poured out all my fears and horrified feelings of new motherhood over our chicken fingers and fries. Ashley assured me that she had felt all the same things and more, and I relaxed in relief that I wasn’t unfit for motherhood.

(Maybe.)

As the girls began to age, AJ hit every stage just before Ali, and Ashley was able to warn me what was coming. Or encourage me with what was coming, whichever it was for that particular stage.

Our mantra was “It’s only a phase. Good or bad. Everything is just a phase.”

She and I both struggled through those first few months (okay maybe a year) of parenthood, and both had fears about starting all over with another screaming, non-responsive infant. But we settled into our life with our only toddlers who looked oddly alike, and continued our weekly meetings.

By the time the girls were a year old, they were magnetized to each other in a bond that we ourselves didn’t realize the rarity – usually one-year-olds don’t have best friends. But these two didn’t know any better.

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Their friendship only grew as Ali (finally) learned to walk, and they began to be able to converse with each other.

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Then, AJ got a little sister: Tessa.

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Ali was there to support her friend in the waiting room,

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Despite the early hour,

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And even shared AJ’s first glimpse of her new baby sister.

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Once again, Ashley was in the position of bringing relief to my fears about having a second child. It’s so much easier, the transition isn’t nearly as traumatic, everything is less stressful and anxiety-inducing – her assurances actually were the catalyst that Chris and I needed to begin talks about having a second child.

It took us a year to get pregnant with Noah, and meanwhile, Ali and AJ just got tighter in their adorable friendship,

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And Tessa just got cuter.

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But all of Ashley’s insights again proved true for me – the second baby was so much easier.

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(But not so much for her, since Noah thoroughly peed on her upon their first meeting at the hospital.)

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Our playdates became even more fun as Noah grew old enough to play with Tessa. They didn’t notice their age difference at first, and it seemed to help that there wasn’t much of a size difference.

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It didn’t take us long to all agree that the two of them should definitely be on each other’s short list for future spouses.

But as Tessa grew more aware that she was 18 months older than Noah, she began to feel the pull to play with the two older girls. Our playdates began to have angst and sorrow, as Tessa would join successfully, but Noah wasn’t quite old enough to not be a complete bother to the mature play of eight-year-olds.

I couldn’t blame Tessa – there is a big difference between a six year old girl and a four and a half year old boy. I wanted to assure her that their age difference wouldn’t matter at all when she was 22 and he was 20 and a half – or better yet when she was 27 and he was 25 and a half. Just don’t write him off, girl – the future has so much potential.

Then this week happened. We had our last playdate before school started. A fun day by the Cahaba River, followed by lunch.

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The older girls, scheming for more time together as they always do, proposed a Kid Swap, and begged us to make it happen. Their plan was that for the rest of the day, Ali would go with AJ, and Tessa would come home with Noah.

We discussed the plan – but ultimately, we had to check with Tessa.

After all – we knew Ali and AJ wanted to be together, and I knew Noah would adore the opportunity to have Tessa to himself. But what about Tessa? Was she good spending the afternoon playing with a younger man?

She readily agreed that Kid Swap sounded like the best of ideas, and that sealed the deal. If Tessa was on board, we were on board.

I drove away with Noah beaming and Tessa adorable.

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From the beginning of their conversations, I knew the afternoon was going to be a delight. And furthermore, that this was the key to stealthily arranging their marriage: quality time with no older siblings around to complicate relationships.

Noah: “My Gramamma stitches – she fixes all our toys.”
Tessa: “My Mom can actually stitch pretty good. She just can’t stitch people.”
Noah: “I bet she can’t stitch a kite, either.”
Tessa: “No, she can’t stitch a kite. One time we bought two kites that were just alike and NEITHER of them would work!”
Noah: “Wow, that’s too bad.”

Noah, watching Tessa file her nails for the tenth time that day: “I’m not allowed to have fingernail problems in Daddy’s new car.”
Tessa: “Try my file. It’s what princesses use. Their maids come in when they’re in the bath and carve down their fingernails with a file.”
Noah: “Sure. Let me try that.”

Yes, this Happily Ever After was right on track.

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We arrived back home and they quickly settled into a game of make-believe. An extraordinarily detailed game of make-believe. One so intricate that I couldn’t follow it, even when I was listening to every word.

Yet both of them seemed to understand exactly what was going on in their soap opera of bad guys, volcanoes, injuries, speeding tickets, wrecks, parking garages, and naps.

At one point, I heard Noah assure Tessa in an even voice, “Okay girl, don’t worry. The ambulance is on the way.”

She replied back, “Thanks, Dad!”

At another point, he successfully cast her broken leg with a dollhouse blanket and a hair tie.

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The game lasted three hours.

Three glorious hours of bonding, as future spouses should do. And I’m convinced the game would have kept going until they were old enough to say “I Do” if I hadn’t had to, with much regret, interrupt it to take Tessa home.