Quick note about the boss picture above. It was taken for us for FREE at the Unpolished Conference by our awesomely talented friend Jon Willis. He has this thing called the Simple Portrait Project where you can get some sweet photos like that for yourself.
Sometimes I Am 13 Years Old
When Jon and I were dating, I remember us saying that we wish we had met earlier. It would have been fun to play with each other as kids or to have done all of those absurd high school pranks together.
Now we understand that marriage actually gives us the opportunity, for better or for worse, to become very well acquainted with those younger versions of each other.
I have had conversations with five-year-old Jon. The little boy who made a paper crown for Lisa Dobbs and brought it to kindergarten only to be humiliated when she and Shelly Tsuji laughed at him. I have assured him that I am not Lisa Dobbs and I really like the stuff he makes for me.
Last Thursday, Jon got to spend a morning with 13-year-old Carrie.
On How I Hate Business Conferences
We were supposed to be at the Unpolished Conference at 9 am. Unpolished is a two-day conference on faith and entrepreneurship. I began the morning by pressing the snooze button 47 times. Then I was mad that I woke up late. Mad that I didn’t have time to run. Mad about wearing “nice” clothes and madder still that Jon was all cheerful and helpful with the kids. When he suggested that I bring my business cards to the conference, I lost it.
“An APP is NOT a BUSINESS, Jon! I don’t even know why we’re going to this STUPID conference anyway!”
I was 13. Stupid conference? My kids don’t even talk this way.
And here’s a really great thing that happened. He didn’t join me in my regression. He stayed 42. He invited me to sit down on the couch and pray. And then he told my 13-year-old-self that he thought she was valuable and talented, and that she has something inside her that the world needs. I was still kind of mad and I secretly decided that he was just making it up. I had read the explanation for this conference and it just wasn’t for me. I’m not ambitious. I’m not remarkably talented at ANYTHING. The thought that Jon wanted me to be something I’m not, terrified me.
I wanted to stay home and stay comfortable. I wanted to stay where I’m not going to fail or look like a fool. But I listened to what Jon said and then we left for the conference.
We got there two hours late, just in time to hear the end of Kirk Perry’s talk. And, dang it, he had to end with something great.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Part of why this quote struck me so powerfully was that our whole family had recently gone through what you might call a “Theodore Roosevelt Obsession”. It had started last year when our daughter was ill for several months. We learned that TR was a chronically sick child and we loved and admired his bravery in the face of it. “Teddy” became regular household conversation and we even started collecting mice that had been living in our attic. We let the girls keep them as pets just because Teddy did. I probably lost some of you right there.
So when Kirk Perry quoted a man who had become so dear to our hearts, I caved. I put up my white flag and allowed myself to be inspired, despite my lingering insecurities. I dared myself to believe that I don’t have to be the ‘cold and timid soul’. I began to think there was a place for me in the arena.
On How Maybe I Don’t Hate Business Conferences
During the afternoon, a new concept of “entrepreneur” began to emerge in my mind. I began to think of God as The Most Creative Person EVER, The First And Best Entrepreneur, The Ultimate Problem Solver. I began to see that Jon, in wanting us to make something together, was actually just joining God in what He is ALWAYS doing. I began to love (again) the thought of doing that as a family.
Then there was this motivational teacher guy, John Maxwell who talked about the qualities of an entrepreneur. As John Maxwell spoke, I began to understand some things about my husband that had never made sense to me before. Over the years, Jon has been consistently dissatisfied with what most Americans would consider a pretty great life. I’ve often resented this dissatisfaction. I’ve taken it personally or even considered it to be sin. This may sound silly because it’s so simple, but when Mr. Maxwell said “Average people want you to be average,” I was BLOWN AWAY. I began to see Jon’s ‘aversion to normalcy’ as a gift – to our family and to the world.
I started the day reluctant to even acknowledge that our company existed and 12 hours later I was our company’s evangelist for a conference pitch contest, proclaiming that RocketWagon exists to tell TRUTH to kids through stories. It was more than our attempt to win a $3000 prize. I like to think it was my step into the arena that my friend Teddy was talking about.
I think whenever I am faced with a situation that makes me feel inadequate, I shrink back down and become the girl that first felt that way. Thirteen.
I am lucky to have a man in my life who loves all of my ages. I’m grateful that he took the time to talk some sense into his adolescent wife, and I’m really glad she had just enough wisdom to listen. And to go to Unpolished. More on that later. I can’t wait to tell you about how Todd Henry WRECKED ME on Friday.
(if you are not totally satisfied with this product then just go back to LAME-O flash cards.)
My mom was over the other night and I asked her if she would mind going over flash cards with Kalley before dinner. When I came outside to grill our chicken and check on those two, my mom said that her darling granddaughter had put her out in the middle of the yard and instructed her to please pretend to be a Killer Robot. She was wondering what on earth the child was talking about.
I explained that Jon was way more fun with math (and most things actually) than normal people. Here is the Killer Robot Math Game that he made up. Here you go. Go play this!! We LOVE IT!
KILLER ROBOT MATH GAME!!!
A killer robot is coming to get you! Disable the robot with your powerful MATH HACKING SKILLZ!
The robot is the slow moving, but also terribly unstoppable, kind. You are stuck (invent a reason: leg trapped, stuck in glue, handcuffed to a chair, whatever) and the robot has spotted you! You cannot escape! However, you can hack the robot to stop it from advancing on you. With MATHS!
WHAT YOU NEED:
A deck of flashcards. Bigger flashcards work better, as the robot starts a distance away from the hacker, but any flashcards will work.
SPECIAL CARDS. These are random, non-flashcards in the deck. These could be the flashcard instructions or a piece of paper or whatever. We recommend about 3 special cards per 50 flashcards.
HOW TO PLAY:
The hacker sits at one end of the room. The robot stands at the other end. Find a good distance for this. It is nice if the hacker can see the flashcards, but not necessary as the robot will announce the math problem. So maybe 15 yards apart?
The robot holds the cards.
The robot announces the math problem on the flashcard and holds the flashcard up facing the hacker. After about a second, the robot ‘turns on’ and begins to slowly advance toward the hacker.
The hacker must call out the correct answer to disable the robot. An incorrect answer causes the robot to double its speed.
Once the robot has been disabled, a) it stops moving, b) moves the current card to the bottom of the deck and c) announces and displays the next flashcard.
The game ends when either:
The robot makes it through all of the cards. HACKER WINS! The robot is out of directive combinations and shuts itself down.
OR the robot brings robot death to the hacker. HACKER LOSES.
Special cards can vary the level of difficulty of the game and make it more fun. They are shuffled randomly into the deck.
In the most basic version of the game, special cards make the robot move back ten steps. So when the robot gets to the special card in the deck, it simply moves back the ten steps. Then it moves to the next card.
However, if you want to write on the cards or shake up the game, special cards can have a variety of powers. For instance:
TURBO BOOST! They could cause the robot to move forward 3 steps.
REQUIRED MAINTENANCE! They could make the robot stop moving for 2 cards (giving the hacker more time to solve the next 2 cards).
SYSTEM ERROR! Skip the next 3 cards.
They could cause some random event that doesn’t affect the game (maniacal scream).
NOTE: This also would work well as a zombie game. Just sayin.
When she was into ridiculously long, golden hair, we were totally on top of it.
Singalong led by friends who are not above dressing up. Check.
Lite Brite name in ‘Tangled’ font. Check.
The year our kids spent ALL DAY EVERY DAY prowling around the house growling and eating out of bowls on the floor, it was a No-Brainer.
Face Paint. Check.
Deck Turned into Animal Pen. Check.
Actual animals in tutus. Check.
This year, however, she temporarily stumped us. She asked for an Otter Party, and we weren’t sure what to do for that. Pinterest, on that subject, was a BIG BLACK HOLE. I am here today to fill that hole. That’s why this is called “On How To Have An Otter Party”.
First of all, Otters play in the water. That is why we all love them. That, and the fact that they are not afraid of crocodiles. But Jon and I skipped the Crocodile-Fighting aspect of Otters, and went with the playful, slippery part of their personalities. For this, you MUST have a water slide. If you are not willing to have a water slide, we should probably just stop this conversation right here.
And you must not have a LAME-O water slide. Because Otters are NOT lame, and neither are your kids and their friends. We are going for something epic here, people.
So here we go. THESE ARE THE STEPS!!! I can hardly believe that I am telling you STEPS!! Because that makes me sound like some sort of an EXPERT or something!!
STEP NUMBER ONE: Measure your backyard. Ours was 60 feet.
STEP NUMBER TWO: Go to Lowe’s and buy some plastic. It will come in a box that looks like this:
Definitely make sure it says 6 Mil. on it. That means it is thick enough, I think. We bought 100 feet, but it also comes in 50 feet. Ours was like 50 bucks. Also at Lowes, you should buy garden staples and carpet tape if you don’t already have them at home. I will tell you in a minute what to do with those. Trust me on this.
STEP TWO: Go to Dollar Store and buy pool noodles. You will need enough to put down the sides and at the bottom. I think we bought 24!!! Holy Cow, it’s getting expensive, I know!! But you have to remember it’s totally worth it, you need to trust me. You do NOT need to buy your child a present, we NEVER do! So just remember, awesome slide or lame toy. We all know which is the correct answer here.
STEP THREE: Lay out plastic in your backyard. We had a big tarp to put at the end of it, so that is the big green thing at the end. If you have one of these it is a good idea, because it gets pretty muddy down there. Don’t go out and buy one, though! Let’s stick with the necessities. This is what our plastic looked like:
STEP FOUR: Take a board from your garage and roll the top of the tarp over it. This helps to keep the tarp anchored at the top.
STEP FIVE: Use the carpet tape (you could also use velcro for this) to attach the noodles to the sides. Put a noodle in and roll the plastic over it. We made it round at the bottom. Turn the whole thing over when you are done.
STEP SIX: See that bale of hay and the cardboard? This was such a brilliant move! In order to make a softer landing at the top of the water slide, we put down some straw, then put cardboard on top of that. It was a section about 15 ft long, I think. Then put the slide on top of the cardboard. I forgot to take a picture of us doing that, but you get the idea.
STEP SEVEN!! This is the last step! Use the garden staples to staple the plastic down! Then set up your sprinklers!! We used two, one at the top and one halfway down. We also used biodegradable soap on the slide.
Ok, so now I have told you how to make the slide. But as you remember, this post is not called “How to Make a Water Slide” but “How to Have an Otter Party”. So now we move into a brief section of Party Details.
DETAIL #1: The CAKE. The main thing I wanted Pinterest to tell me, which it did not, was what on earth to do about the cake. I found some very fancy cakes with sculpted Otters on top of them, but that was not what I was looking for. I was thinking simple. Not ‘LAME’, please don’t misunderstand me. ‘Simple yet pretty awesome’ is more what I was going for.
So this is what we came up with. Oyster cupcakes. Just stick a Madeline on top of an iced cupcake, and put a candy pearl or two under the Madeline. Now, before you tell me that River Otters don’t eat oysters, let me tell you they totally do. I’m not sure if river oysters have pearls or not, but we let that detail slide.
(At one point, before we came up with the Oyster cupcake idea, I suggested to my daughter that we make cupcakes that look like sea urchins, and she gently explained to me that “we are having a River Otter Party, Mommy. Sea urchins live in the sea”.) I thought that was so adorable that she said that, and I was like “O my gosh, of course.” Here is the best photo I have of the Oyster cupcakes.
DETAIL #2: These two things are VERY IMPORTANT!! DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!! Do you even know how much chaos and possible injury you are going to have if you don’t do this?! The two very necessary details I am talking about are called OTTER GUARDS. They are two older kids who know the rule (no walking on the slide!) and they each NEED TO HAVE A WHISTLE! No one will listen to them if they don’t have one. Also, they need a badge to let the other kids know who is in charge. We made badges, but then realized there was really no good way to attach it to them. It was way better just to tattoo them on with a marker. Now, being an Otter Guard is a VERY prestigious and respectable job and some of the other kids will definitely ask to become Otter Guards too and you may think “why not, the party’s almost over?”, but listen to me, people!! DO NOT LET THEM!! Tell them NO Way Jose!! I will not go into details now, you just need to trust me on this one.
We had our Otter Guards give a little Safety Camp (explaining how Corbett fell on the slide last night because she walked on it) at the beginning of the party. This worked out perfectly. The whole day was just fun and no injuries.
DETAIL #3: You should paint their faces. This is VERY easy. Just a little black nose and white whiskers. Everything is more fun with whiskers.
DETAIL #4: I almost forgot this. And it is not necessary, it’s only if you have a tree. You can make a sign that says “Otter River. Treat Otters the Way You Want To Be Treated”. Our neighbor said she read a book that was called that, and I thought it was SO CUTE and totally stole it. I also wrote that on our Favor bags, which I forgot to take a picture of. But you should definitely put Swedish Fish in the Favor bags. Another idea for Favors is Otter Pops!! My husband grew up in California and remembers these popsickles called Otter Pops and I tried to find them here in Ohio but they are NOT HERE. Anyway, here is our tree sign.
LAST DETAIL: I promise, this is the VERY FINAL THING!! The Otter guards also demonstrated to the younger girls how otters go down the slide: on their belly with their arms behind their back. It was so much fun to watch them all afternoon. They really did look like little Otters. And the VERY VERY FINAL thing is this: tubes help with kids who want a softer landing, and they worked really well. Not as authentically otter, but VERY fun. That is all. I will leave you with some pictures.
We went to Canada this summer on a mission to be more creative as a family. I LOVE wandering in the woods looking for sticks that can be turned into the windowsills, doorways and chimneys of tiny houses. When I first saw the sloping, moss covered ground on the walkway to the lake, I immediately decided to turn it into a village for chipmunks.
It was a delusion destined for destruction.
I blame it on the mosquitoes. And the fact that the other three people building the houses said I couldn’t use superglue.
We were really into ‘Little House On The Prairie’, and Jon and the girls said that if the Ingalls family didn’t have it, I couldn’t either. We stood in the aisle at Walmart arguing about whether or not Pa used twine and I was like “Oh my gosh people he TOTALLY did! How on earth do you think he kept Pet and Patty from running away back to the Indians?!” And they let me get some.
But even the twine didn’t help.
I spent about 47 hours on this.
Kalley tried to help by carving a door.
And then it looked like this.
This is when we got out the pocket knife and tried to notch the sticks. DID NOT WORK.
I was able to build a bridge.
But I watched the chipmunks for WEEKS after I made it and NONE of them ever used it. Probably because it went to the lame-o twine house that I already showed you.
Jon came up with the idea of just making doorways.
But honestly, if I were a chipmunk trying to find a nice place for my family, this would just hack me off.
So we left our mossy bank pretty much like we found it.
It is said that, in writing, you must kill your darlings. In this case, we abandoned them in the woods and drove off.
This was a short story based on actual events at a cottage in Canada. This really happened, people! Even if it is told from a fictitious perspective.
Silence. There was silence all around in the quiet water by the shore. That was the way the mother rock bass liked it. She held herself still in the shallows, hovering over a small clearing in the mud which exposed the sandy bottom. This was her nest.
It was lovely. The short plants that surrounded it formed a neat hedge which protected the precious eggs inside. A large dock nearby provided shelter from predators or sun. But that was almost irrelevant as she would defend her nest vigorously against any intruder and rarely leave it unguarded.
The afternoon sun now shone down through the water, warming the bottom and leaving the mother rock bass feeling exposed. The sun baked her back and she longed for the cool shade of the dock. But she would not leave her eggs. The post was hers and she would guard it.
Suddenly the silence felt wrong. In the darkness of the deep water beyond the dock, something stirred. The little rock bass held as still as she could. Her eyes only twitched slightly as they sought the danger she feared in the dark water.
Slowly, a monstrous head began to materialize as it pushed its way into the shallows. The rock bass froze. Fear clutched her heart. It was an enormous snapping turtle – and it was coming right toward her!
The turtle was ten times her size; it’s hideous head alone was as big as she was. It’s gnarly claws plied the water of the shallows while its scaly tail swished back and forth. It was hunting for an easy meal.
The rock bass sat motionless, her tiny heart thumping. The huge turtle slowly clawed its way toward her through the water. Would she run? She thought of her beautiful nest and resolved to stay. But as the turtle came withing inches of her, her courage failed. The massive head opened its crusty, gaping mouth and it seemed like it might indiscriminately swallow her AND the precious nest. She backed off – her insides breaking with her defeat.
Just then a boom shook the shallows. A thudding BOOM BOOM BOOM stopped the coming turtle still in the water. Above, beyond the surface of the water an even larger monster appeared. And gave a shrill bellow.
“Mommy! Look at the size of that turtle!”
A leering head hung in the air above the turtle. It had a large fleshy face and a long golden mane. The creature’s long pale arms gripped the edge of the dock just above the stunned turtle. Then came more booming.
The water pulsed with the thundering arrival of more fleshy monsters, each of them leaning out over the water and pointing their clumsy claws at the huge turtle.
“Eww!” squealed a newcomer. “It’s so gross!”
“O, My!” said a large one.
“Wow!” said an even bigger one. “Look at its head!”
The turtle was was becoming nervous. The crowd of monsters was right above it – probably gathering to strike. That was too much for the turtle. It pointed its scaly head under the dock and paddled hard away from the rock bass and her nest.
The rock bass hurried back to her post. The monsters above pounded off down the dock looking for a glimpse of the retreating turtle. She let herself breathe and rest a little. The danger had passed. The shallows grew quiet again. And she was on guard, fanning her eggs and resolving again to sheild them from almost anything.
“Good morning, Stranger!” said a woodpecker, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” He thrust a basket of berries at her and said, “It was that or grubs! Ha!”
“Thank you,” she said timidly. “I’m not used to neighbors.”
“Really? Where you from?” asked the woodpecker.
“I used to live in the big oak,” said the squirrel.
The woodpecker gave a long whistle. “Whew!” he said. “Ever-body heard that fall in the storm. What a show! Bet you’re glad to be out of that old thing!”
“I guess,” she said. “It was pretty old. But I grew up there. Almost all my nuts came from that tree. And my nest was so high, I could see all the stars at night. They made me feel like I was never alone.”
“Welp, no stars here!” said the woodpecker cheerfully. “But, no big winds either. Give some, get some, I always say. “
“I suppose” said the squirrel.
“Well, I’m off.” said the woodpecker. And he left.
Knock Knock. The squirrel woke up.
Knock Knock. It was the middle of the night.
Knock Knock Knock! A hole broke through her wall. She leaped from her bed to look out the tree-hole.
“Mr. Woodpecker! What are you doing to my house?” she cried. “You know I live here!”
“Well, I, um…” said the woodpecker.
“And it’s the middle of the night! Have you no sense?” she demanded.
“I just thought….”
“You did?” she said angrily.
“…just thought maybe if I poked some holes up here, that moonlight could shine in and….” he hesitated.
“And WAKE ME UP?!” she folded her arms and glared.
He hung his head. “No. I thought it might look like stars,” he said. “Like in your old tree”.
Her mouth fell open. He stared at his feet. Then, with squirrel-y swiftness, she jumped at him and…..
“Thank you, Neighbor” she said. Her eyes sparkled.
That night, Squirrel climbed back into bed, thinking that maybe friendship has a beauty which rivals the stars. She fell asleep. And she did not feel alone.
(This summer, Jon asked me to write a little story every day about some forest animal usually and then he and the girls would practice drawing pictures about it. This is just a tiny little story about bunnies and we will never do anything with it, it was just an exercise. I guess I would call it “Rainy Day”. Here it is. )
“Mama, the water’s comin’ in!” The bunnies laughed as they ran off to fetch the twig boats that were their favorite rainy-day toys.
Mrs. Rabbit smiled. She cherished the days when there was nowhere to be but together. Putting another log in the stove, she stirred the vegetable soup and sat down to watch her bunnies play.
The water crept into the old familiar puddle by the door. The family had always thought this to be one of the best things about living here, but today! O, how wonderful! The bunnies squealed with delight! The dear old puddle had become a pool!
“Mama, look! ALL our boats can fit today!”
“Goodness, dears, I see! How fun!” Mama Rabbit replied, but quietly worried to herself whether this was a time to rejoice or to call Mr. Beaver. She decided instead to call Papa Rabbit.
When he saw the flood he chuckled warmly and said “O Ho Ho! I’ve always thought this was bound to come, some wet day!” and he happily joined his bunnies in their game.
By supper-time, even the big bed was surrounded, and all of the family gathered there as Papa read stories. Water dripped onto their heads, and the 3 oldest bunnies rode in the big tin wash-pan over to the stove to fetch soup for everyone.
Next day, Mama did call Mr. Beaver for advice, and he wisely recommended several repairs. However, as the family considered the matter, they decided that they didn’t want to change a thing.
And from that day on, each heavy rain turned the hearth into a lake, the bed into an island, and the old den into a sweeter, more irreplaceable home.
(Also, Mrs. Bunny came to be known to have the sparkly-est floors in that part of the forest.)
We spent a month in Canada this summer. On a remote-ish lake, in a cottage that was like a big RV. We read the Little House books while we were there, because we were all sleeping in one big room like they did. The idea for this time was to set up some new patterns for our family, to figure out what we could do all day if we had some extra emptiness.
Every morning I ran through the woods for an hour. The mosquitoes were my tiny coaches, gently encouraging me with their bloodthirsty mandibles. I found this to be a delightful warm-up for the true challenge of the day: my writing assignment. Every day, Jon gave me a new topic to write about. His goal was that I would write a story about that idea and then he and the girls would illustrate one scene or character.
Each time, he gave me a simple challenge. And on every single occasion, I took that straightforward concept and made it as perplexing and arduous as was humanly possible. It was like he gave me a bright, shiny new bike day after day and said “Carrie, I want you to ride this from here down to the corner of this straight street” and I said “yes, definitely I can do that, fantastic”. Then I happily got on that bike and slammed it into the only existing telephone pole. Crash. Crash. Crash. For like 2 weeks. It was exhausting.
If Jon asked for a story about a squirrel finding a new nest, I spent an average of 12 hours trying to describe what she loved about her old one. One day I was supposed to be telling a short tale about two animal neighbors, and I enthusiastically delved into the when’s and why’s of how their backwoods village came to be founded. Crash.
About two and a half weeks in,instead of settling down into my usual chair on the dock to write, I climbed into the paddle boat and took myself out to the beaver lodge across the bay. One of my characters was a beaver and I was sure this would help. From the cottage, Jon saw where I was going and thought I was attempting an escape. Maybe I was.
Sometimes all it takes to get a new perspective is to sit in a different spot. Sitting out there on the water, it suddenly occurred to me: I needed to use Speedo. It was the imaginary button on that paddleboat that Kalley and I pushed if Jon and Corbett were ever too far ahead of us. It made us go really fast. That day I figured out that it totally works on stories too. I pushed that button, introduced my characters, gave them a problem, a solution and a happy ending. It wasn’t very good, and you will never read it, but sitting out on the lake, I constructed a story in an hour, and that was a huge thrilling deal to me. I was finished by the mid-day ski session, which had NEVER happened before.
The next day, I did it again. No paddleboat this time, just a speedo story. This one was about some bunnies and someday, probably tomorrow, I will let you read it.
Disclaimer: This is more of a personal story, but it’s about how a family created something together, and since that’s what we are attempting to do with Rocketwagon, I think it’s okay to put it here.
My daughter has been strangely unwell all winter and when people have asked me how we are doing the only way I know how to describe it is to say that I feel like I am Bilbo with the Dwarves, stuck inside the mountain, the door that they came in has been destroyed, and the only way out leads past the dragon’s lair, so they are just endlessly waiting in the darkness.
And there’s no dragon down there, they just think there is, so they are terrified to go down and can’t go up. The only thing they can do is to sit and worry and wonder.
My tunnel has had a whole bunch of chicken noodle soup and Advil in it. And days that seem to be exactly the same. I sit beside my sweet girl and I miss her. I notice when she smiles, I used to notice when she didn’t.
I just stopped talking about it. I didn’t want to hear any more possible diagnoses, or suddenly cry when someone in Kroger asks me how she is. I think that’s when everything got so dark, and I began to forget what day it was. The Tunnel.
And then a little group of Penguins showed up in my darkness. They held out their little flippers and invited me to come back out.
One morning I came outside and found a sign in my yard that said “Penguins Wanted. Apply Within.”
I hoped that someone had the wrong house. And if they didn’t, I hoped they figured out soon that we used to be fun but now we’re just sad. I took the sign out of the yard and stuck it behind the bushes. I wasn’t in the mood for Penguins or nonsense signs. As I walked into the house, there was this faint little voice from some faraway place calling to me, almost like out of a dream. It said something like “Carrie . . . nonsense signs are one of your favorite things ever . . .”
I thought, “Not anymore, they aren’t,” and let the door slam behind me.
Over the next few days, Penguins began to show up. Running out the door for school, when Kalley was delighted (Mommy, look! Another one!), I was unmoved (that’s nice, get in the car). Until the morning I had already found a new Penguin, then opened the door a few minutes later and found yet another (that had NOT been there before) halfway to my door. He looked so intent on finding a job, and he won me over.
I brought him inside and examined him. His body was a dish soap bottle filled with black water, with a belly that was carefully painted white. His head was a black styrofoam ball with hot-glued on eyeballs and beak, and his little hat and scarf looked as if they had been sewed by someone who was experimenting with their first sewing machine. I immediately envisioned what had gone into creating this guy….paint, glue guns, eyeballs, cut-out beaks, first-time-sewer and fabric had created a huge mess in someone’s kitchen. I was stunned. This was not some silly prank; it was an act of love.
I had been able to avoid the run-ins at Kroger, pretending that I didn’t need to go down that aisle or studying the fake list in my hand. I had gladly made use of the “silent” button on my phone. I was not, however, prepared to guard myself against a whole group of handcrafted arctic birds showing up in my yard asking for jobs. This was not on my radar, a vulnerable place in my carefully planned defense.
The final penguin to appear offered not only an impressive cover letter and resume, but also an irresistible bribe (a gift certificate to ATavola, a restaurant that we can waddle to right down the street). I immediately gave him the management position, and consented to appoint the others to appropriate situations as well. When the final sign appeared, explaining that all of this was courtesy of the Zoeckler family, I texted Kristen that her penguins had awakened me from my self-imposed isolation and her response was, “We love you guys and could tell that you were hurting”.
I sat there in my living room, tearfully thankful to have a friend who was willing to mess up her kitchen for us. And not only that, one who recognized that sometimes nonsense is necessary.
Kristen and Geoff had commissioned their three girls with the task of being Secret Love Ninjas for a week. They had crept around the neighborhood on school nights for a ridiculous reason. It was absurd, preposterous, bizarre, and silly. And it was perfectly, beautifully RIGHT.
I don’t know if nonsense is one of those Love Languages, but maybe it should be, because it’s totally mine. Corbett is still not herself, and some days I still wonder if if there is a dragon in our future. But when I remember that I don’t have to cower in the darkness alone, I feel brave. I feel loved.
When you live in the tunnel, you start to forget who you are. Kristen had somehow understood that a ridiculous surprise would remind me. Those penguins stood in my yard and brought me back to the truth. I was humbled, comforted, and inspired.
Our family’s main creative goal right now is to create another app together, but I would love to try out the Secret Love Ninja racket sometime. This means that the inspired part of this story may show up in your front yard one day.
I am proud to say that our front yard is now the the site of the ONLY local Penguin Cafe (that I know of ). The service is very slow, most of the items on the menu contain fish (I was like “Fish Pancakes, No Thank you!!”), and the seating arrangements are slushy and cold. They do, however, serve hot chocolate (just ask them to hold the FISH) on snow days, which makes up for most of their aforementioned shortcomings.